Facts from My Fiction: Nuncheon

Clyties_CallerIsabel Browning was surprised, just a few days later, to see her cousin Samuel escorting Clytemnestra Preston to the Pump Room. He seated Clytie and made his way to the fountain for two glasses of the foul-smelling water. She intercepted him there.

“So, you’ve managed to draw the mouse from her hole. And what an interesting pink dress she is wearing under that blue spencer.”

“Bella, she is my patient and, need I remind you, your future sister-in-law. Please keep your remarks civil.”

“Your patient, Sam? I’ve never yet seen you bring one of your unfortunate soldiers to the Pump Room for waters and nuncheon.”

“Perhaps that is something I shall rectify. If you will excuse me, I believe I have left Miss Preston too long.”

He made his way back to the table, where a pot of tea and sandwiches had already been served. He put the two glasses of water at their places and sat down. — Clytie’s Caller


Nuncheon is an interesting word. It has long since gone out of fashion and usage, replaced by luncheon in modern vocabulary. AngloNorman Dictionary tells us that “The word has a suggested etymology which traces it back to an Old English compound of ‘noon’ and ‘shench’. Its first half, ‘noon’, is derived from Classical Latin ‘nona’ (DMLBS nonus 1929a), meaning the ‘ninth hour of the day’.  In Roman and consequently ecclesiastical time-keeping this would originally have corresponded with 3 o’clock in the afternoon, although in the course of the Middle Ages the word became more and more used (both in Middle English and Anglo-Norman) to refer to an earlier time of day (see AND second edition sub none1, forthcoming). It has been suggested that monastic orders, who had their lunch after the ‘ninth hour’ liturgy, were inclined to perform that service earlier and earlier, so that the term ‘noon’ eventually became associated with midday.”

You may well run across this term in books published during the Regency (e.g., those by Sir Walter Scott) … and now you know what it means, and that it’s not a typo for “luncheon.”

Want your own copy of Clytie’s Caller? Here are the cover blurb and purchase links.

Bath, 1816. Clytemnestra Preston has become so terrified of life that she refuses to leave her room. Not even her family can convince her to take her place in Society again. Doctor Samuel Whittington, late of His Majesty’s Army, may be her only chance for a cure … and romance. Can Sam convince Clytie to open the door, and her heart?

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Facts from my Fiction: Bertha Collar/Neckline

eyeI looked longingly at a window display: a beautiful evening gown in sapphire moiré bengaline with a deep bertha neckline. I lifted its hem and examined the stitching, wishing I had use for such a piece. Not only was the price out of my reach, but I had no opportunity for dining out or attending the theatre. I sighed wistfully and returned to the carriage with my small package of ribbon, stockings, and so on.

“I saw you admire the gown in the window,” Erik’s voice came from the darkened carriage; he had drawn the curtains lest he be seen. When I closed the door after entering, there was no light at all.

“It is beautiful,” I admitted. “But I’ve no need for a dress of that nature; I haven’t the opportunities to wear such a gown.” – In The Eye of The Beholder

Metropolitan Museum of Art (CC0)

A bertha neckline was worn off the shoulders, often trimmed with deep lace (3″ – 6″). The style was most frequently worn by upper- and middle-class women during the Victorian era; a woman from the more common classes would seldom have shown that much flesh.

This gown shows a splendid example of the style.

2019 marks the 10th anniversary of my debut novel, In The Eye of The Beholder.  Want your own copy? Here are the back cover copy and purchasing links:

When French equestrian Claire Delacroix loses her fiancé in a tragic accident, she comes to live at the Paris Opera during its 1890s heyday. Life is not easy for a woman in fin de siècle France, where her rights are determined by a male guardian. Claire, both intelligent and independent, chafes under the strictures of her time.

Whilst working at the opera, she meets a mysterious, masked stranger: Erik. Is it possible that the two of them will heal the pain of each other’s past?

Updated for 2015 with glossaries of equestrian terms and French words used in the text.



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Sample Saturday: Joyeux Noël

This is one of my favorite short pieces. Enjoy!

Sharon E. Cathcart

This story appears in Through the Opera Glass.  The custom cover image for the tale was created by Linda Boulanger.


Author’s Note: The carol Erik sings at the end of this story is a popular French carol, sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”

Christmas, 1891
Just outside Avignon, France

Claire rose to an unusually chilly house. She rubbed her aching back as she eased herself out of bed. Spring, and the baby’s birth, could not come fast enough for her. The house was unusually cold; she hurried into warm, fur-lined slippers and a woolen wrapper. Erik still slept; she was glad of it. His ever-worsening cough sometimes kept both of them awake.

Claire struck a lucifer to light the fire in the grate; the wood had been laid the night before so that it would be ready first thing. The winter winds had buffeted the little house; Erik…

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Sample Saturday, “Music, Mayhem and Bad Decisions,” with Bonus Track

M&M frt Verson 1December 8 is a tough day for me. Even as I prepare for today’s book signing, I remember that 38 years ago today, John Lennon was murdered. Twenty-two years ago today, my maternal grandmother (for whom I am named) passed away.

It’s a tough day, but it’s also one that put my feet on the road toward the music business so many years ago. Today’s sample is from my memoir about those years, Music, Mayhem and Bad Decisions (click here for purchasing links). The subsequent bonus track is David Bowie’s beautiful cover of “Imagine.”

My first exposure to the Portland music scene came when I did something completely out of character for me. It was December 1980, and I skipped school to go downtown for a John Lennon memorial in the aftermath of his murder. A local band called The Malchicks was playing and, honest to God, I thought the lead singer was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. His name was Billy Rancher, and I am sure that my parents grew mightily sick of hearing about him. Of course, I was in huge trouble for ditching school, but I didn’t care. I was a senior with very good grades, knew I would graduate — and had just gotten a tiny taste of the world I hoped to inhabit.

At about the same time, along came something new: MTV. (Yep, I’m old enough to remember when MTV played music videos and nothing else.) Suddenly, I was hearing a whole different sound. Consider that the most popular bands among my classmates were Van Halen and Blue Oyster Cult. Now, suddenly I was listening to The Yachts, Bram Tchaikovsky, Human League. It was like a whole new world opened up to me.

As I said, I went to a semi-rural high school. We lived across the street from a dairy farm. I don’t remember more than a handful of people of color among my classmates — including the exchange students from places like Japan and Iran. Being “different” was strongly discouraged, to say the least.

There was this tiny enclave of people, primarily in speech/debate and/or theatre, and we embraced this new music. Devo and The B-52s were requested at school dances and we would pogo merrily away. We were the “punk” crowd, according to the Van Halen fans. It must be said that this does not mean we were the proverbial “cool kids.” Quite the opposite, in fact. However, we didn’t let that stop us.

Sample Saturday: “Sui Generis”

sui-generis-v3Hello, everyone. Today’s sample is an essay from my sampler eBook, Sui Generis. It’s always free on Smashwords.

I chose this piece because it is World AIDS Day. I have lost many friends to this disease, including the man named Byron mentioned herein, who passed away in 2013.

This piece was originally written for a 2010 project called AIDS Begone, to be curated by Angela Bowie, which unfortunately never came to pass.

Today, in memory of those who have parted, I share it with you.

Speaking Their Names

“We are here in the memory of those who have parted …”

The lyrics float up through the rotunda of San Jose, Calif.’s City Hall. It’s Dec. 1, 2009, World AIDS Day. I am one of the two altos singing in an acapella octet, under the direction of composer Ruth. It is my first public performance in 14 years.

Three people away from me on the stage is a grey-haired man with a seeing-eye dog. Karl’s gorgeous tenor sends the music soaring. HIV is robbing him of his vision, but not of his vigor. He is active on the city’s HIV/AIDS task force, teaches A Course in Miracles, helps run an HIV support group, works as a church administrator and leads the congregation in song. I know he does a whole lot more that I know nothing about. He is just one of the people in my life who live with HIV or AIDS.

There are a few more performances after we have sung our songs, and several speeches. At one point, we are asked to call out the names of loved ones whose lives were taken by AIDS. I name Mat M. and Ric T. Both of them were gifted performers, gone far too soon. I am a former actor and a theatre junkie; far too many of my friends in the community have been affected by this horrible disease.

We are then asked to name someone in our lives who is living with HIV. I name the friend I’ve never met in person. Byron is a former Broadway actor and author. As kind as he is handsome and talented, Byron has sent me notes of encouragement and support during some very dark times of my life. His story is that of someone who faced enormous trials with a level of grace to which I can only aspire. He is a true inspiration to me every single day.

We are then asked to name caregivers: those who help our loved ones. To my embarrassment, I draw a blank. Then, someone names Marianne. She recently retired as the director of the Neal Christie Center, which helps people living with HIV and AIDS.
I helped serve Thanksgiving dinner to the Christie Center’s clients just two weeks prior to World AIDS Day. I met wonderful people and heard more stories of grace and inspiration. How can I call my life hard when I’m talking to a man who is grateful that he has a motor home to live in after he and his partner lost their house in the face of catastrophic medical bills?

That day, I told Marianne that I wanted to help somehow even though the Christie Center’s hours were reduced to two days a week and to times when I was at work.

“You are helping, honey. You’re here,” she said.

I remember the early days of combating AIDS, when one of the bands I worked with did a benefit for San Francisco’s Shanti Project. The man who came out from the group was surprised that I was so willing to return his hug.

“So many people think it’s passed just by touching,” he said.

So much ignorance still abounds about this disease. I see it daily on the Internet in discussions about marriage equality. The implication is always that it’s a “gay man’s disease” – despite statistics that show heterosexual women of color to be the largest growing patient population. There is always an undercurrent in those comments that we should just let HIV/AIDS patients “suffer for their sins.”

To that attitude, I must ask, “What sin did the HIV+ infant commit?” Moreover, what sin did anyone with this disease commit? HIV and AIDS are amoral. The virus doesn’t care if you’re gay, straight, male, female, black, white … it just is.

I am grateful that HIV/AIDS is no longer the death sentence it was 25+ years ago. We know so much more now. Yet, we are far from having a cure – and I firmly believe that the “gay man’s disease” attitude is the reason.

For many years now, I have felt helpless to do more than throw money at this devastating disease. Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS gets most of my donations; they help organizations in 44 states as well as providing local support to my beloved theatre community. I always find myself wondering what else I could do, particularly when funds are too tight to donate.

So here I am, using my gift of words to name my friends: wonderful and inspirational people who also happen to be HIV/AIDS patients. To say how much I loathe the disease and the ignorance that still surrounds it. To honor the memory of those who have parted, just as we sang on World AIDS Day 2009.

To say that it’s past time for a cure.