I love silver. In all its guises. From silver cuffs and statement rings to sugar bowls and tea pots, the lure of a finely wrought piece of silver is irresistible. The hours I’ve spent in the silver hall at the Victoria & Albert museum gliding from one stunning display to the next, have given me an appreciation for silver as art, as utilitarian, and as historical record.
But, as a child, silver meant only one thing. We were eating in the dining room, and all the knives, forks and spoons had to be polished before company arrived. These days my flatware spends more time in the drawer than it does on the table, but not my silver candlesticks.
They are a thing of beauty.
Nothing is more elegant, or flattering, than basking in the soft glow of candlelight. Or more romantic. But before the advent of electricity and gas lighting, candles had a far more practical use, as did silver. Its reflective qualities made life, upstairs at any rate, a little easier and a whole lot brighter.
And there was the beginning of the story.
A single 18th century antique candlestick, rumored to be part of a much larger collection once belonging to King George II, has come on the market. Attracting our modern-day silver expert Samantha Redfern and her boss, Chas Porter, who for very different reasons, are both desperate to own it.
The candlestick was in superb condition.
Just under nine inches in height with a circular base, swirling shell motifs rising up its stem and a petal-shaped lip surrounding the socket. In a London sale, he would expect it to sell for another five hundred pounds. At least. A pair wouldn’t just double the price, it would triple it.
The candlestick’s monetary value has little to do with the story. It’s all about history, Chas’ and Sam’s, and how a single candlestick can change everything.
When Chas asks Sam about her interest in silver in Chapter Two of Outbid by the Boss, her passion bubbles to the surface. She reveals more than she knows, about herself, her childhood and her family.
…“I saw a painting when I was a young girl…called Five O’Clock Tea. It was only a picture in a book…about women silversmiths,” she blushed slightly. “Two young Victorian women sitting on a chintz sofa. There’s a silver tea service arranged on the table in front of them. One wears a hat and gloves and sips from a delicate porcelain cup. She’s the visitor. They’re just friends having tea, yet it was so…captivating.”
Enchanted, Chas watched the memories play across Sam’s face. She really was beautiful, and so much more real to him than she had ever been before.
She must have sensed he was looking at her. “I guess I was hooked.”
“On silver?” asked Chas.
Sam laughed. “Tea parties. My grandmother was a good sport.”
The painting Sam refers to is by Mary Cassatt, an American artist who lived and worked for much of her life in Paris. And the book Sam refers to is on my shelf. Published by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, it catalogues the museum’s collection of works by women silversmiths from 1685 to 1845.
“Businesswomen,” Philippa Glanville writes in the book’s opening chapter, “are not 20th-century phenomena.” Nor was their contribution to the silver industry. They were active business partners, owners and artisans making beautiful and functional objects from buttons and christening cups, to jewellery and candlesticks.
The threads of history continue to intrigue and inspire no matter what I write.
Outbid by the Boss is by Anne Stephenson & Susan Brown writing as Stephanie Browning.
“What’s that secret you’re keeping?”
When Oscar Chump passed, news of his demise spread through the county like wildfire. By noon, twelve hours after Doc Neilson had reluctantly drawn the white sheet over Oscar’s slack face with a finality that sent Nurse Rodgers running from the room in tears, there wasn’t a soul alive within forty clicks who hadn’t heard about it.
Later that same afternoon, over at the Wessex County Beauty Bar on Main Street, Adele Simpson was putting the finishing touches on Charlie Winship’s sister Louanne’s permanent when the telephone rang. Excusing herself, Adele went to answer the call.
It was Muller’s Funeral Home. Anticipating that his next heart attack might well be his last, Oscar Chump had apparently left detailed instructions, Herb Muller informed her, including a request that she, Adele Simpson, the twenty-four-year-old raven-haired cosmetician and sole proprietor of the Wessex Beauty Bar, be the one to do his hair and makeup.
“But Mr. Muller,” Adele protested, “I’ve never, that is to say, I’ve always worked on…” she was about to say “living,” but when she caught sight of Louanne Winship’s aged and hawk-like image staring at her from across the room, she changed her mind and let the sentence trail away unfinished. Dead or alive, Oscar Chump would always be the most famous, the most charismatic and the most charming client she would ever have.
And while it is true to say that no one was shedding as many tears as Oscar might have hoped for, the whole town was caught up in the celebrity of his death. An event for which Oscar Chump was extremely well prepared. It was a pity he wasn’t alive to see it, thought Adele, suppressing a giggle as she hung up the phone.
“I find it extremely odd,” Miss Winship declared when Adele’s reflection reappeared in the mirror above her own, “sending him to Muller’s like that. He should have gone to Tracy’s. That’s where all the Chumps get laid out.”
“I don’t see what difference it makes,” said Adele blithely. She unfastened the plastic cape from around Miss Winship’s neck and shoulders, and gave it a shake. “He’s going to end up in the ground no matter who lays him out.”
“For heaven’s sakes, Adele!” Miss Winship stared at her in disbelief. “Oscar’s a fourth-generation Chump and an accomplished pianist. You can’t just send him anywhere. His family has farmed in Wessex County for over one hundred-and-fifty years.”
“What’s wrong with Muller’s?”
“It’s an upstart parlour with absolutely no pedigree,” sniffed Miss Winship. “Heaven knows how they stay in business.”
Now Adele Simpson might not have known Oscar Chump as long as Miss Winship had — Louanne had been at school with Oscar — but she had seen significantly more of him in recent years and thought she might know him just a tiny bit better than Miss Winship. Adele had driven by the Chump place almost every day when she was boarding with her aunt and uncle and attending the Wentworth Beauty Academy in nearby Colville.
Oscar had become quite the gadabout by then, spending ten months out of every twelve on the road, playing honky-tonk piano and hawking records out of the trunk of his old Buick. When he was away, the old farmhouse stood empty, its white clapboard siding and green trim standing foursquare to the wind and looking sad. Occasionally, someone would hear Oscar’s name on the radio and talk would start up about asking him to play at the band shell in the park, but Oscar always said no. By the time he got home, he said, all he wanted to do was stay there and let the world come to his door.
Which was exactly how Adele finally met him.
It was a Saturday night. Adele had just finished giving her Aunt Ida a home permanent and was at the sink, feeling a little sorry for herself. The day had been a real scorcher and the windows in the house were all wide open. Honky-tonk filled the air, and gales of laughter drifted across the fields taunting her with their happy sounds. “That Oscar,” as everybody referred to him, was having a party.
Adele wasn’t the only one who couldn’t sleep. Around midnight, her uncle had come stomping down the stairs in his bare feet, his dressing gown flapping behind him. He was hot, he was irritated, and he was threatening to call the police.
Adele saw her chance and offered to go next door. If she asked nicely, she told her uncle, maybe they’d tone it down. Or even better, she said to herself, ask her in. But ten minutes later, when she hammered on the front door of the Chump house wearing a crisp white blouse and a fresh coat of buzz-buzz pink on her lips, whoever answered it took one look at her and slammed the door shut in her face.
Not one to give up easily, Adele rapped even harder the second time.
The blonde who answered was a knock out…
Revenge With A Twist!
Three mystery shorts, three twists in the tale…
Oscar Chump! “What’s that secret you’re keeping?”
In celebration of the new year and the end of another, writing as Stephanie Browning with longtime friend (and former college room mate) Susan Brown, it’s time to repeat our list-everlasting…
And announce the spring publication of our next Stephanie Browning Romance…
Making Up Is Hard To Do!
We have a running joke, Susan and I, that sees us sharing digs once again, only this time, instead of beer and cigarettes (that was me, I’m afraid, guilty on both counts), it’ll be tea and cookies and incontinent supplies. And maybe a bottle of scotch. Our biggest concern is that we won’t remember where we stashed it!
However, in the meantime, (we figure we’re good to go for at least another twenty or thirty years) here’s our list-everlasting of New Year’s resolutions!
- Make money, lots of money…preferably by writing books that generate enough of an income for us to travel and retire in style.
- Write books that people want to read.
- But first, write the books that we want to write, not the ones we think we should.
- Pat ourselves on the back (as we are wont to do!) for everything we have done; whether we make the money we’d like to have or not!
- Revel in the writing process ‘cause there’s nothing finer than a well-chosen word or a well-writ phrase.
- Celebrate in style when we do succeed.
- Which means finding that perfect dress, one which hides life’s bumps and bruises and show us to be the grand dames we have become…of course, if we stick to the script, that would be red for Susan, black for me.
- Take a nostalgia tour of all our old haunts and be able to eat and drink like we did in the old days without fear of not fitting into the aforementioned perfect dresses.
- Be thrilled with our accomplishments when it is time to put down our pens even though we said, way back in ’92, that if we never did anything else, we would be happy anyway.
- Remember each and every moment so we can relive them in conversation, laugh merrily at our own foibles and toast our successes.
Over and over again….
To read an excerpt from Making Up Is Hard To Do, click here!
How we almost hit the big time & lived to tell the tale!
When Susan Brown and I decided to adapt The Mad Hacker, our first co-authored book, for television, we realized we would have to come with a name that was perhaps a little less indicative of an axe murderer, and more in keeping with a pair of adventurous twelve-year-olds.
Amber Mitchell and Liz Elliot had been best friends forever and were, shall we say, chips off their creators’ old blocks…
The plotline revolved around the sabotage of their grade-eight computer projects. Rather progressive, we thought (and still do) given that we wrote the first chapter of The Mad Hacker in 1985 using typewriters. Neither of us actually owned a personal computer at the time. Our kids were in primary school; they had the access and we had the story.
Several years later…The Mad Hacker had sold over 75,000 copies in book form in Canada, New Zealand and Australia, Something’s Fishy at Ash Lake, our second book featuring the girls and their friends at Ash Grove Junior High, had by then been sold to Scholastic Canada, and negotiations were underway with a Toronto production company.
We decided it was time to “rebrand” the series. Scholastic had billed the first two books as Ash Grove High Mysteries, but we wanted something new and a little less cumbersome. So we culled our collective memories as well as the current TV pages, listing show titles that worked, especially mysteries, right back to the early days of television.
Nine times out of 10, the most successful series had titles which were either situation-specific or simply used the main character, or characters’ names, to sell the show.
Our characters weren’t that well-known, but they were memorable, especially when they played off each other like that other famous pair of detectives: Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes. After all, Amber had been heard to address Liz as “my dear Elliot” more than once in both books.
So, Amber & Elliot, it became.
We liked the cadence. We liked the way Liz’s surname gave the team more weight. But most of all we liked the fact that it didn’t sound, as “Amber and Liz” would have, like two little girls going to a birthday party.
Amber & Elliot may not have made it to the big time (the pilot aired on The Family Channel and CTV), but we felt like we did – if only for a short time. And, among many lessons learned, we came to appreciate just how important titles (and hanging onto your rights) can be!