Saturday, February 21, 2009

A review of "Shadow Song"

"Shadow Song" by Lorina Stephens is a beautiful novel of historical fiction, very much in the British tradition.

The novel begins in 1830's England, but quickly moves to the wilds of Canada, and you can feel the author's love of this wild country and its native inhabitants.

The protagonist, Danielle Fleming, moves from an affluent life in England through trials which prepare her to withstand the harsh life in colonial Canada, and which open her to the beauties and the magic of the untamed forest. This is a story about growing up, in years as well as in wisdom. I don't want to say too much, as I don't want to give away any of the story. It is quite worth going on this journey for yourself.

This was a fascinating read. I couldn't put the novel down.

You can buy this novel at, or at almost any online bookseller.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why write a book about color?

I started writing Elephant's Breath & London Smoke to fill in my own ignorance of colors, especially Victorian era color, but the more I researched, the more colors appeared that I had never heard of before. And in reading Victorian transcriptions of Elizabethan wills, I discovered colors I had never dreamed of. What was Gallant color? I could take a stab at Ratte color, but what was Sad color? Some colors, like Chesen, I could only guess at, but others, like Russet (which started out gray!) I could define with the help of dictionaries written in 1440 and 1530.

I read or skimmed thousands of books – my bibliography is 12 pages long of sources I used, and not everything I used (usually if I only pulled a single reference from it) is in there.

I own hundreds of Victorian magazines, and I started by going through them and writing down every color definition I could find. That did not satisfy my curiosity, so I began to look in Google books. Jackpot! Sort of – the Victorian era books in Google caused me to expand the scope of the project. At first I just read fashion magazines. Fun stuff, but short on definitions. That lead me to look for early books on color – which turned out to be books on fossils and mineralogy in general. Lots of definitions! I was beginning to see the light!

And then I stumbled on Victorian transcriptions of wills and inventories. I became addicted to pre-1600 wills. To my great frustration, most wills written before, oh, 1450, were written in Latin. But there is the occasional will in old English, or in a mix of Latin and English. While hunting for definitions of the colors found in the wills (what was New color?), I found transcriptions of a 1440 English-Latin dictionary and of a 1530 English-French dictionary. They weren’t always helpful, but they proved that certain colors were colors and not just fabric types.

My book is available from my publisher, at in Canada, or online from Barnes and Nobles,, and Books-a-Million.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A review by Sandy and Pierre Pettinger

My sincere thanks to Sandy and Pierre for writing this review.

There is a wealth of sources for historical clothing and costume research. The variations in corsets, sleeves, skirts and jackets since the 16th century can be traced nearly to the year. Fashion reviews from the period are plentiful and not overly difficult to interpret.

But what do you make of a reference to an Abraham skirt with fauvre ribbon embellishments? Would you realize the skirt was a dingy yellow and the ribbons were deep yellow? Unlikely; and most sources would not be able to enlighten you. By dint of extensive research and library searches, you could probably find out, but the road would be difficult.

Elephant’s Breath & London Smoke helps address this difficulty. Historic costume researcher and pattern designer Deb Salisbury has collated references from hundreds of sources to produce this fascinating palette of colour names from the last 400 years.

She begins with the dictionary. Over 200 pages of color names and descriptions from Aaz (a red dye from India) to Zulu pink (a pale strawberry tinge). Dictionaries, of course, aren’t meant to be read straight through. But dipping into the entries a bit at a time and finding those gems of shade, pigment and language is a delight.

Deb also includes sections with commentary from various periods addressing colour and fashion, historical color names ( covering cloths, dyeing, make-up and even colours of horses and livery), colour symbolism and harmony of colour. It also touches on the conventions of mourning colors. These sections are wonderful to read. The words of the period are essential to understanding and appreciation of the fashions.

This book is a delight and an essential addition to any costume library.

And what are Elephant’s Breath and London Smoke? Well what would be the fun if we told you?