Tuesday 29 July 2014

Present and Future Book News!

Hello chums!  I thought I would give you an update on A Curl of Copper and Pearl and a sneaky bit of information about my next novel.  First of all, Curl...

Published back in April, I have finally managed to work out how to publish to Kindle!  Curl is now available from Amazon UK (here) or US (here) or a branch near you.

Anyway, in the meantime I have been working on my next novel.  I can reveal exclusively that it will be called....

.....drum roll.....

We Are Villains All

The Wounded Cavalier
A photographic version of this painting is part of the plot of my new book
We Are Villains All is the story of a Victorian poet, Maxwell Wainwright.  It is 1890 and Max leads a quiet life, encouraging the middle-class ladies of a pleasant market town in their appreciation of poetry.  He has a muse who he never approaches, preferring her at a distance, not disturbing his enforced, safe isolation.  He is desired and pursued by his Ladies, but never caught.  Into his life returns his friend, the photographer Brough Fawley, who he has not seen for 20 years...

Iago Julia Margaret Cameron

What sort of photographs does
Brough Fawley take...?

Brough and Max share a secret, a crime, a lover and a past.  Max does not want to let his friend back into his life for fear that he will destroy everything he has so carefully built up, but cannot bring himself to refuse.  What neither man knows is that with Brough comes the shadow of another from their past, someone who wants bloody, vicious revenge...

I am hoping that We Are Villains All will be out for Christmas 2015, because nothing says 'holiday spirit' like lust and murderous vengeance.

Expect more snippets and extracts over the next year and a bit.  I better get on with redrafting...

Sunday 27 July 2014

Hoylandswaine: A Mural Revealed

I've just returned from a jaunt up north to see the results of the marvellous works that have been taking place in Hoylandswaine, a small village in Yorkshire...

Church of St John the Evangelist, Hoylandswaine
You may remember from my previous posts on the work (here and here), a mural by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope was being uncovered and restored on the wall of St John the Evangelist, an 1867 church built in the South Yorkshire village.  It used to look like this...

Good Lord!
...but the 1960s happened and it was painted over, so it looked like this...

Oh.  Rats.
Anyway, a spanky Lottery grant and two years later and this week brought the unveiling of the work, and the restored mural saw the light of day again.  So here it is...

Ta dah!
I was lucky enough to go to a splendid talk by Stanhope expert Simon Poë on a stunningly hot Friday morning, with the light streaming through the Burne-Jones widow beneath it.  The mural depicting Christ enthroned being praised by archangels (as identified by their red wings).

Angels, Angels, Angels...
Below it, the beautiful window takes on a new life as it has company again at last.

More Archangels at the top...
Christ, Mary and John in the window
From a distance I thought the window was clear glass other than the figures, but each diamond is pale green with a tiny plant.  Beautiful and so very subtle.

They have managed something remarkable, turning back time and bringing back to life something amazing and inspiring.  The way that the village has embraced the work of Stanhope, a local lad, is an awe-inspiring thing to a Pre-Raphaelite lover like me.  As I have reported before, the whole village got involved in the project, responding to the work with paintings, textile work and generally learning more about the treasure they had.  I was really impressed by the sheer scale of the work and achievement when I went to see the mural.  Also, there was a hint that the work has not finished and further adjustments could take place to restore the setting of the mural, repainting the roof to resemble one of its previous incarnations, more in keeping with the heavenly motif.

I encourage you to make the journey up the M1 to see the mural, and while you are there have a jaunt around the Roddam Trail, a copy of which can be downloaded here. Congratulations to the good people of Hoylandswaine and I look forward to seeing you again.

Monday 21 July 2014

Summer Exhaustion

Hello my darlings and I must apologise for my absence.  I have been working my little socks off for my day job, including a stint at History Live! (The exclamation mark is part of the title of the event, I wasn't getting over-excited).  Anyway, I am now absolutely knackered, having spent the weekend in a marquee being slowly boiled to death in the humidity.  I thought, as I recline on my sofa at home, I ought to show you some nice pictures of summer, just to remind myself that it is a beautiful season, even if you are wearing a polyester corporate polo shirt...

Flaming June Frederic Leighton
No discussion of summer collapse can begin in anyway other than Flaming June.  I used to think the lady's name was June when I was little and that possibly the painter was cross with her.  Flamin' June!  She must be the archetypal woman who can no longer cope with summer, but she does it so elegantly and with only a hint of nipple flash.  I am going to pretend I look this elegant, sprawled on my sofa.  You can't see me and therefore can't point out that I am more of a disorganised heap of womanhood rather than a gorgeously curled goddess.  Moving on...

Midsummer Albert Moore
If you want images of summer heaps, then Albert Moore is definitely your man.  This is such a lovely image and always reminds me of Flaming June.  I wonder if Moore had seen Leighton's orange-y masterpiece when he produced this?  Anyway, I want to be the one in the middle of this picture, gently fanned by my loyal handmaidens who really aren't muttering 'lazy cow' under their breaths.

A Summer Night Albert Moore
I like to think the one in the middle is laying there thinking 'Why does it always end up like this?  Three bottles of Lambrini and a boob contest!'  Actually, I find the palette he used for this one rather chilly, compared to that of Midsummer.  Maybe someone turned the air-conditioning on?  I really like the pale gold of the furniture, with the white drapes and the black lacquer.  Albert Moore always seems to do jelly-mould boobs, it's most peculiar.  They are solidly set, that's for sure.  Incidentally, I have a boob jelly mould; it was a present and they also gave me some gold leaf to gild the nipples.  Nothing says decadent jelly like a gilded nipple.  Moving on...

Summer Pleasures (1890) Hugh Cameron
 I get to go to the seaside on holiday in a few weeks time, I can' wait.  I used to live by a beach and there is no more lovely feeling than cool water over your toes in the heat of a summer's day.  Look, even the dog knows it in the picture above.  Glorious.

July Sun (1913) Henry Scott Tuke
I have a soft spot for Tuke as he evens the score for the endless nudey ladies there are in art.  Well done that man!  He does a great line in collapsed young men in the sunshine too, so it's good to know it's not just the fairer sex who just can't cope.  The man in the picture above is looking at the sea while sitting on a rock.  Now, I don't mean to be picky but he can't be very comfy and surely he'd do better to go into the sea and cool down.  Maybe he's waiting for someone?  Hang on...

Noonday Heat (1903) Henry Scott Tuke
That's good.  If you are going to recline in sunshine, do it with a friend.  At least you have someone to talk to.  One of these gentlemen is still vaguely dressed.  What's that all about?  Really, that's not in the spirit of it at all.  How did he get into a Tuke painting with his clothes on?  The water looks rather splendid behind them, all twinkling and clear, but they are too absorbed in each other. I do hope they are wearing suntan lotion.

Summer Morning Interior (1917) Ernest Townsend
This might win as my favourite image of summer as it is just beautiful.  It is awfully Vermeer-y, and also reminded me of some of William Paxton's pictures of this era, although Townsend is at the far end of it.  The parasol is delightfully furled against the wall, waiting to go out.  It is an image of summer which is joyous and sensible.  The woman looks happy as the sunlight streams on her face.  She is literally all lit up.  However, she is dressed sensibly, with a parasol to hand and is not venturing out in the heat, merely observing the glory of it from a window.  Sensible lady.

When Apples were Golden and Songs were Sweet but Summer had Passed Away
(1906) John Melhuish Strudwick
Strudwick's catchily titled ode to the passing of Summer is my endnote today. However hot and floppy I feel, it will soon be autumn.  I will endeavour to enjoy the sunshine, probably from indoors, while it lasts, liberally sprayed with my rum and clove mix to keep off the mosquitoes.

 Remember to take care in the sunshine, m'dears, and I will catch up with you at the end of the week...

Tuesday 8 July 2014

The Romance of Fable: Cinderella

About the same time as we saw Maleficent in May, I saw a trailer for a new Disney film, due out next year.  See if you can guess what it is...

Okay, it's not exactly a toughie, even if I hadn't given it away in the title, but no shoe is so iconic (save possibly the ruby slippers of Oz) as the glass slipper of Cinderella.  I have questions about comfort and practicality, but that is a very beautiful shoe.  The Victorians agreed it seems, as the images of Cinderella were widespread and plentiful...

Cinderella J E Millais
Unlike yesterday's Sleeping Beauty images, there are many, many moments in the Cinderella story that are ripe for illustration.  I was especially intrigued to see the images of the young girl pushed into her life of drudgery after her father's death.  Millais' little girl is pocket-sized elegance in her grubbiness.  I love the strange juxtaposition of the broom and the peacock feather and the little mouse on the floor (is that the same little mouse that appeared in Mariana?), all foreshadowing her future.

Cinderella (1899) Valentine Prinsep
Similarly, Valentine Prinsep goes for the grubby girl in the kitchen vibe, and throws in a pumpkin for good measure.  There is a quality of being forgotten, hidden in the kitchen as she is tucked around the corner keeping the fire alight.  Who is she looking for?  Is she being summoned by the ugly sisters or is her fairy godmother twinkling down from wherever fairy godmothers come from?  Where do fairy godmothers come from?  Is it Vegas?  I never really thought about it before but they have to hang out somewhere when they are not granting wishes.

The Sisters of Cinderella (1905) Walford Robertson
Talking of the ugly sisters, check out these two.  Remarkably un-ugly on the whole, but then ugly isn't always on the face, just to come over all deep for a moment.  In fact Cinderella's sisters are very beautiful indeed and she is merely in the background, holding the mirror.  Without the title, the edge would be lost because they are just pretty, slightly vain young women.  By knowing they are Cinderella's sisters, another layer is added.  Exactly how vile are they, considering they are so lovely to look at?  Terrifying stuff if you start to think about it.

Cinderella (1854) George Cruikshank
Right then, trotting along with the story, here we have the Fairy Godmother.  I was expecting someone taller but that might be rude and the sort of thing that doesn't get your mice turned into horses.  I don't mean to nitpick but I'm hoping that Tiny Godmother doesn't pouf up a carriage and horses in the kitchen. Look at the doorway and then look at the pumpkin. Take it outside, Tiny Godmother, take it outside.

The Slippers of Cinderella (1894) Aubrey Beardsley
So, Fairy Godmother has been and we have a lovely new frock.  I love this illustration by Beardsley, partly because Cinderella seems to be rocking the New Look fifty years early.  It almost seems to be a picture from Alice in Wonderland, it has a very 'Red Queen' feel about it.  Also, the slippers aren't exactly eye-catching, but possibly if they are glass then they would look like that. They are rather too 'ballet pump' for my tastes and we all that I can't wear a ballet pump, I'm only two generations away from the plough for heaven's sake. Mind you, if they have a heel you risk the whole 'clear heels' vibe and that is entirely another way of attracting men.  Either way, she did enough to pull a prince...

Cinderella About to Try on the Glass Slipper (1842) Richard Redgrave
So, you've worn the frock, you've gone to the party in a vegetable driven by rodents and pulled royalty.  Then disaster!  Midnight and it all goes back to being mice and rags and stuff.  Oh well, one night was pretty good.  But you left behind a shoe which inexplicably didn't disappear or turn into a rodent or vegetable!  Let's not over-examine the plot hole because this is where the magic happens.  The prince can't forget you, mainly because you are a chick in glass shoes, and he brings the shoe house-to-house in order to find you.  Redgrave gives us the exciting moment when Cinders comes forward to try on the shoe in front of an audience of her nasty family and assorted townspeople.  Lovely.  Plus Cinderella appears to be wearing a quilt.  Ho hum.

King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid (detail) Edward Burne-Jones
In some ways the Victorian's love of Cinderella is an interesting contradiction.  She is a social climber who uses magical deception in order to disrupt the status quo and snare a prince, but let's just ignore all that and concentrate on the romance.  I suppose they liked the themes of hard work and goodness being rewarded, of evil deeds not paying off and nice people ending up on the throne.  The idea that the lowest in society can be the most worthy and therefore the most desirable is also played out in stories like King Cophetua and his Beggar Maid, but how well the Victorians took to women who married so far above them is another story for another day...

Monday 7 July 2014

The Romance of Fable: Sleeping Beauty

I fancied doing a couple of posts on the popular portrayal of two fairy-tale princesses.  The common link for these two are that one appears in a Disney film this year and one will appear in a Disney film next year, but these are by no means their first appearances.  In fact, it seems the wonder of this pair has been irresistible for a while, but for the Victorians, as for us, they provided inspiration for some beautiful creative work.  We'll start with a lass who made forty winks look so wonderful...

Back in May, the family Walker went off to see the new Disney film Maleficent which is basically a version of the Sleeping Beauty story told from the viewpoint of the 'bad' witch, Maleficent.  The lovely Elle Fanning, above, played Aurora, the princess who should not take part in any needlecraft whatsoever and she fell into her enchanted sleep in a very elegant manner indeed.  The whole film is a lovely take on the tale and everyone looks splendid, especially Angelina Jolie's cheekbones.  This made me think about Victorian art.  Let's be honest, everything makes me think about Victorian art...

The Rose Bower (Buscot Park Dining Room) Edward Burne-Jones
Anyone who has been to the glorious Buscot Park will have stood staring in awe at the dining room.  Surrounding you on all the walls is the story of Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty's more fancy name).  Breathtaking and swoon-worthy, the panels creep like the brambles of the story, leading you on to the bower of the beautiful, corpse-pale princess and her maids.  I adore the sea greens and deep blues of Burne-Jones' pallette, both colourful but restful.

Sleeping Beauty Joseph Edward Southall
Well, isn't she lovely?  I do wonder if this actually the Sleeping Beauty or just a sleeping beauty because this lass seems to have fallen asleep while fingering her lute.  Really, some of you just make me feel ashamed.  The two maids by the window seem to be spark out too so I think this is meant to be Sleeping Beauty but for some reason she has replaced the spinning wheel with a musical instrument.  Possibly she couldn't get a decent tune out of the spinning wheel.

Sleeping Beauty Daniel Maclise
If you want a full-scale cavalcade of enchanted madness you can't beat this one from Daniel Maclise.  Everyone has dozed off in her bedroom and there are shafts of sunlight and winged envoys of love aplenty.  Center stage we have Sleeping Beauty sleeping peacefully while squished into a corset (well you have to look your best if a Handsome Prince is about to turn up) and Handsome Prince in some thigh-high, heeled boots.  I'm not judging, any port in a storm.  This is the sort of picture I'd love to see in person as it is stuffed with details.  All is richness and colour, lots of red and green and gold. It's a full-scale production number and our corsetted beauty will awaken to an audience.  Mind you, looking at the above image, it reminds me of a few parties I went to as a teenager...

The Bad Fairy Visits the Christening (1913-22) Leon Bakst

The King Pleads With the Good Fairy (1913-22) Leon Bakst
The Prince Awakens the Princess with a Kiss (1913-22) Leon Bakst

The above are taken from the Sleeping Beauty cycle by Leon Bakst from around the time of the First World War.  The dense, jewel-like colours of the castle show the opulence of the kingdom and yet even within that blessed household, bad stuff happens.  In some ways Sleeping Beauty is a cautionary tale of how it doesn't matter how rich you are, there are certain things you can't escape.

Sleeping Beauty Edward Brewtnall
The Prince discovering the Princess is definitely the most popular moment for illustration among the stand-alone works.  Brewtnall shows her slumbering in an overgrown bower, without maids cluttering up the place.  Her handsome prince has battled his way in without damaging his lovely jacket and is now gazing upon her.  I'm not convinced how much use a spear is in hacking your way through an overgrown castle.  I would have gone with some pruning shears at the very least.

Sleeping Beauty William Breakespeare
One thing that Sleeping Beauty tends not to be is a sexy piece.  Mr Breakespeare however goes the hoochie route and has Sleepy all slinky on some animal furs.  At first glance I thought she was nudie too but that was just an illusion.  Mind you, she's looking quite alluring with all those beautiful scarves and stuff.  This is the 'Hello Boys' approach to being rescued...

Sleeping Beauty (Resting) Victor Gabriel Gilbert
Finally then we have this very striking and simple image of a beautiful, sleeping woman.  I love how the detail of her hands is so sharp, contrasting with the abstraction of her hair, and her face is absolutely perfect.  There is a sense of luxury in her surroundings, a glow of gold against the infinite depth of her black gown, as she waits and sleeps.  For Sleeping Beauty the story isn't about the richness or peril, it's about her sleep, deep and dreamless until she is awoken.

In some ways, Sleeping Beauty is a difficult character to empathise with as she seems entirely the passive victim in her story.  She is grasped by fate, by inevitability, and she has no part in her curse nor in its cure, unless you count her beauty.  Mind you, it is a story I love because sometimes in life somethings are unavoidable, they just happen to you and there is nothing you can do.  What Sleeping Beauty tells us that one way or another, everything will be alright.

Tomorrow I have some pictures for the shoe-loving girls among us...

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Review: Elizabeth, The Virgin Queen and the Men Who Loved Her

There are a couple of reasons why today's review is such a pleasure.  Firstly, it's the new book by Robert Stephen Parry, author of The Arrow Chest, so I'm happy to start with.  Secondly, and possibly more pertinently, it's a book that explains who the main players in the life of Elizabeth I were.  In some ways, it would seem weird for a Victorianist like me to get excited about Tudor books but then the Victorians were quite excited about the Tudors, and quite rightly so.  If it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me...

Dr William Gilberd Showing his Experiments in Electricity to Elizabeth I and her Court
Arthur Ackland Hunt
In many ways the Elizabethan era and the Victorian era were very similar.  Both were ruled over by a Queen who had an almost mythological status.  One was a Virgin Queen and one an Empress, the mother of half the world.  Both eras are intensely nationalistic, both moved away from Europe towards Empire and expansion overseas.  Outwardly, the Victorians saw Elizabeth I as epitomising female weakness and vices, a vain, childless spinster who reveled in almost masculine behaviours, which was the opposite of Victoria, but something in the Tudor past called to the artists of the nineteenth century.  Romance, drama and the beauty of the period together with the characters from the past provided ample subject matter for Victorian artists.  I am fond of a bit of Elizabethan-ness myself but being a Tudor Tourist I was sometimes at a loss to know who was who and where they fit into the story.  Therefore I was rather delighted to read Elizabeth, The Virgin Queen and the Men Who Loved Her..

This little book, presented as a series of light-hearted lectures, fills you in on the different men in the life of Elizabeth I, from father figures to friends and lovers.  There is a handy timeline to show you where their influence was felt in the period and a charming Tudor rose rating at the end of each entry.  To give you some idea of exactly what the relationship was like, at the end of each factual description of a player in the court, there is a scene which helps you see precisely how Elizabeth felt about them.

Queen Elizabeth in a Rage Augustus Egg
I loved this book because I had only a sketchy knowledge of Elizabethan history, garnered from Tudor-tastic television and film and the occasional lecture from Mr Walker.  I adore that part of the National Portrait Gallery and really wanted to learn more, but there didn't seem to be a handy character guide.  Elizabeth, The Virgin Queen and the Men who Loved Her is concise, understandable without being simplistic and enormously entertaining.  Mr Parry has a gift for making his nonfiction as engaging as his fiction and so you instantly get where people fitted into Elizabeth's social circle.  Each of the relationships also enabled you to understand the Queen a little better through the people she surrounded herself with.

John Dee Performing Experiments Before Elizabeth I Henry Gillard Glindoni
I merrily galloped through The Virgin and The Crab, Mr Parry's debut novel, and this acts as a handy companion piece in many ways, lending a little more non-fiction background to the story.  There are so many fascinating men in Elizabethan history, it was interesting to read about their influence and relationship to the monarch, and in turn her influence over them.

The Boyhood of Raleigh John Everett Millais
As with all of Mr Parry's works, the descriptions are beautiful and the dialogue well observed.  This should definitely go onto your summer reading list - a pocket sized guide that you will come away from better informed and entertained.  Gorgeous stuff.

To buy Elizabeth, The Virgin Queen and the Men Who Loved Her visit Amazon UK (here) or US (here) or a branch near you.