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Before I announce the winner of A Perilous Journey by Gail Eastwood, I’d like to share some fun stuff I’ve learned about the history of ballooning while working on my next story, which features a Waterloo veteran turned aeronaut.

Fun Fact #1
The first creatures to fly in a balloon were a cockerel, a duck and a sheep. They ascended in a Montgolfiere (hot air balloon, named after the brothers who invented it) in 1783, with an audience that included Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. I have heard that the sheep was taken to live on Marie Antoinette’s farm, but I haven’t been able to verify that story.

Hot air balloons were kept aloft by burning straw, old shoes and rancid meat, which must have had a delightful smell. Because there were no fuels at the time that could burn for long flights, hydrogen balloons became more popular for a time.

Fun Fact #2
The first unmanned hydrogen balloon, created by the scientist Jacques Charles, took off in 1783, after the first hot air balloon flights. On landing it was said to have been destroyed by peasants with pitchforks who were frightened by the strange creature that hissed and spewed noxious gas. Pure hydrogen is odorless, but the process of creating it involved pouring “vitriolic” (sulfuric) acid over iron shavings. When I consulted a chemist, she told me that the process would  have been imperfect. She concurred with my guess that the result may have smelled like rotten eggs.

Fun Fact #3
The first aeronauts to cross the English channel were a Frenchman, Blanchard, and an American, Dr. Jeffries. They departed from England on the 7th of January, 1795. They found themselves losing altitude over the water, possibly because the balloon was overloaded or because the cold had cooled the hydrogen, or a combination of the two. To avoid landing in the Channel, they had to ditch all non-essential items. This included most of their clothing.

Fun Fact #4
Blanchard’s and Jeffries’ problems were not over with crossing the Channel. They began to descend again over dense woods south of Calais. As landing in trees is not advisable, they once again had to lighten the load. Since they had ditched just about everything, they decided to pee their way out of danger!

I hope this was interesting. Which (if any) of these facts do you think I’m using in my own balloonist story?

And now for the winner of Gail Eastwood’s giveaway…

Congratulations to Ruth!

Please email me at elena @ (no spaces) to let me know whether you prefer Nook or Kindle, and which email address you’d like Gail to use in setting up your order.


Hi–These are some additional images to go with the blog post to follow (Blanchard and Jeffries’ balloon flight across the English Channel). Blogger tends to start to refuse uploads of pictures once my post gains a certain size, it seems, so I couldn’t include these.

It’s interesting to note that two of the three pictures show the craft with some of the articles that were thrown overboard. They did not make it to Calais with the “wings” attached.

The take-off from Dover. Picture two shows them divesting themselves of excess weight.

Arrival in France….


It is Saturday, and as usual, it is one of the two days I have to catch up on everything I couldn’t do during the week–and to make it even worse, the sun has come out and is shining on the nice, fluffy new snow. I am thinking about our Regency House Party next week and what I am going to present (it’s a secret!). As for today…

JANUARY 7, 1558. France regains Calais–the last English possession on the French mainland.

JANUARY 7, 1610. Galileo discovers the four satellites of the planet Jupiter.

JANUARY 7, 1785. Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard and his patron Dr. John Jeffries crossed the
English Channel by hydrogen balloon. Hmm. This sounds interesting.

JANUARY 7, 1789. George Washington becomes president in the first US national election.

Let’s go back to the balloon. I’ve always wanted to ride in a balloon; besides that, this little
adventure happened just before the period we call the Regency.

Jean Pierre Francois Blanchard was a small Frenchman, born in Normandy of poor parents, who made his name in early ballooning history. Dr. John Jeffries was his patron from Boston, Massachusetts who accompanied him on their historic crossing of the English Channel from Dover to Calais, France. (Hm–an interesting connection. France regained Calais on Jan 7, 1558. Synchronicity!).

Blanchard built his first balloon (hydrogen) in 1784 and took it on its first flight on March 2nd from the Champ de Mars in Paris. In 1785 he moved to London in search of patrons and conducted further experiments there. I do take exception to Blanchard carrying out his first experiment with parachutes by dropping from his balloon a CAT attached to a silk parachute in 1785! Anyone who knows me knows my affinity for cats, even though I have just returned to my chair after my cat dipped his paw into my coffee cup. He has now claimed my chair, so I am sitting on the edge of it, typing.

In any event, Dr. Jeffries was an enthusiast, and he had a practice in London, so he became a partner with Blanchard on the historic Channel flight. There is now a cat on my keyboard…

Blanchard was an interesting character. He made up for his small frame with intelligence, a flambuoyant personality, and wiliness. He didn’t want to share the Channel passage with his patron and tried to show that the balloon would not lift both Jeffries and himself by attaching a belt of lead weights under his coat, but he was found out! Hence both he and Jeffries took off from the edge of the cliffs of Dover at 1 PM.

However, the balloon was truly overweighted, as they could not get enough height. They began throwing the ballast overboard–extravagant gondola decorations, Blanchard’s steering gear consisting of wings he had constructed, followed by the anchors, then the men’s coats, then their trousers. As they were skimming the waves the balloon began to climb, and they crossed the French coast and landed safely twelve miles inland–in their underwear.

There is more to Blanchard’s story, but I am stopping here on his achievement of January 7. Still, there is one more bit worth mentioning–Blanchard made another ascention in Philadelphia at dawn on January 9, 1793, and George Washington was a witness to his ascent.

More synchronicity!

Laurie Bishop
SIGNET, January, 2006.

A few weeks ago I posted some fun stuff about ballooning but today I’ll talk about the risks taken by the early aeronauts.
Pilatre de Rozier, along with the Marquis d’Arlandes, was one of the first aeronauts to go up in a hot air balloon (Montgolfiere). He was also the first to die in a balloon accident. After a number of hot air balloon flights, De Rozier planned a Channel crossing. Since a Montgolfiere could not carry enough fuel for such a flight, he devised a hybrid hot air/hydrogen balloon. De Rozier himself may have been concerned about this combination of airborne furnace and a highly flammable gas, but nevertheless he and his companion, Pierre Roumain, set off in June of 1785. Accounts I’ve read vary as to whether the balloon actually caught fire or not. What is certain is that the balloon crashed, killing both aeronauts.
The earliest English balloonist, James Sadler, had many misadventures. During one flight, the balloon dragged him for several miles, illustrating the difficulty of landing in windy conditions. Another time he ended up in the Bristol Channel, where he was rescued by a boat. Sadler’s son Windham was the first to cross the Irish Channel in 1816. But sadly, he died in 1824 when his balloon struck a chimney stack during an attempted landing.
Another famous tragedy was that of Sophie Blanchard, the wife of balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard. After his death she continued ballooning, making over 60 ascents. However in 1819 her luck ran out. During an exhibition over the Tivoli Gardens in Paris, the fireworks she was letting off ignited the hydrogen. Her balloon crashed onto the roof of a house and she fell to her death.
Another English balloonist, Thomas Harris, died in 1824.  He was trying out a new safety mechanism: a gas discharge valve intended to quickly deflate the balloon and thus prevent the balloon from dragging the car (basket) and its passengers on landing. Theories differ on how it happened, but the valve must have discharged prematurely, setting the balloon plunging. Thomas Harris was killed but his companion, Sophia Stocks, survived. According to one account (possibly romanticized), Harris jumped out early to lighten the balloon and thus save Sophia’s life.
So now I leave it to you to guess which of these perils might threaten my balloonist hero.
And now congratulations to librarypat! You have won an ebook of your choice from my titles. Please email me at elena @ (no spaces) and let me know which book and format you’d like.

I usually write my posts earlier in the week, but it’s been a busy week so here I am trying to blog off the cuff. I don’t do it as well as other Riskies, but I’ll try!

I’ve been continuing to work hard on my balloonist story. Since I started again on it this spring, I’ve heavily edited the first half that I’d written earlier. Recently, I got to the chapter I was on when my husband suffered his stroke. Chapter 13 that is. And I struggled with it just as I struggled with Chapter 13 in my last full length romance. I’m not superstitious. Actually, I think my longer stories tend to hit a major turning point around that spot and so it takes more rewrites to make it work. I’m happy with it now and forging on, getting close to the really fun balloon stuff.

Since it’s hard to read the dialogue in this Regency cartoon online, I will tell you that the lady is saying “How it rises!” and the gentleman agrees “It ascends exquisitely!” Yup, about right. 🙂

At the same time, I’ve been busy continuing to look into art for reissuing my backlist and musing more on the issue of how and why covers should convey the level of sensuality of the story. I’m an eclectic reader and have enjoyed anything from the sweet traditional Regency to erotic romance. I’m fine as long as the characterization is good. But many readers seem to be like me when I go to our local pub that has the best Buffalo Wings in the area. I order only the medium wings, because anything less is kind of boring and anything more has me in tears. Maybe that’s what it is for some readers? Anyway, I’m continuing to look for different treatments for my reissues, because they range from my first book, which was on the sweet side, to my last, which was a Super Regency and had sex scenes that horrified the traditional Regency purist.

I’m looking forward to summer. Although I’m not going to RWA this year, I’m eager to start a new writing schedule. Since I won’t be so busy in the morning getting my kids ready for school, solving fashion emergencies and locating lost footwear, I can take that hour (while it’s quiet and cool) to write. Since I’m a morning person, I’m really happy about that.

So how about you? What have you been busy with? Anyone superstitious about the Number 13? Do you like your chicken wings or your romances at just one level of heat? And are you looking forward to summer?


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