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Showing posts from 2015

Happy Christmas 2015

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I would just like to take this opportunity to wish a very merry Christmas and a happy new year to all my readers, editors and writing friends. 2015 ends with a bumper crop of short story publications - most of which can be accessed through my Facebook page - with more to come in the new year.  #MargaretsVoyage is off to a good start, with copies of Silver Hand s winging their way to all corners of the globe.  (Defying geometry there!)  More to come on that front in the new year too.   And maybe 2016 will be the year the Angelio Trilogy sees the light?  The game is afoot!  

Back To The (Dickensian) Future

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Today was Clayton Dickensian Market day in my home village.  Unfortunately, the weather is so awful that the outdoor events had to be cancelled and as many stalls as possible moved indoors.  Claytonians showed true Yorkshire grit, however, and the indoor venues were packed. So, to cheer us along through the storms, I have posted the little story I wrote for this year's programme.  I hope it brings back memories of better years... Back to the (Dickensian) Future Scrooge raised an eyebrow.  “I assure you, Spirit, we have not met.  I think I would recall such outlandish dress.” “Oh, we have!”  The Ghost chuckled.  “Under rather different circumstances.  I dressed in black in those days and did not speak.  You were rather afraid of me, I think.” Scrooge blinked at the Spirit’s youthful smile and colourful, floppy clothes.  It couldn’t be…  It must be… “The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?” Scrooge mumbled the words to his boots in case he was mistaken.  But the Sp

The Two Carlos

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         Charles Edward Stuart, "Bonnie Prince Charlie" On 24 January 1705,  Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi was born in Apulia, Italy, into a noble family that had fallen on hard times.  Fifteen years later, on  31 December 1720,  Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart  was born in Rome, into the deposed royal family of Scotland, England and Ireland.  Since he grew up in Italy, he may well have been known to childhood friends as Carlo.   These two Carlos are better known to history as Bonnie Prince Charlie and the castrato singer Farinelli.                    Carlo Broschi, "Farinelli" Both died in the 1780s, but who had the better life?  Charles Edward Stuart was fĂȘted and adored as a child in Rome.  He had a successful military career, and believed in his destiny to reclaim his family's throne.  Carlo Broschi was castrated at a young age, and had to work and study hard to achieve success as a singer.  However, by 1734, he wa

The Good Death

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I hate the modern Hallowe'en, but I love the idea of a "Season of Remembrance", running from All Saint's Eve on October 31st to Armistice Day on November 11th.  In my opinion (and experience, as someone who has provided the music for a lot  of funerals) death isn't spooky or morbid (if that's not nonsensical).  It's natural, as natural as leaves falling from trees and the year turning from summer to winter.  The dead are not to be feared.  They are our ancestors, our relatives, our family.  It's good to spend time remembering them, praying, or simply lighting a candle. Neither must Death be a figure of fear or horror.  Death can be kind.  We have only to think of the late Sir Terry Pratchett's wonderful character of Death, who always spoke in capitals, and walked with Sir Terry at the end.  Or the compassionate Death, narrator of The Book Thief , who gathers children's souls in his arms during the air raids. In that vein, I giv

Launching Margaret's Voyage - A Giveaway With a Twist

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In Silver Hands , Margaret goes on a voyage that takes her from the English coast to the East Indies, feudal Japan and beyond the Edge of the Map.  To celebrate that, I'm launching a special giveaway that will send Silver Hands on a voyage of its own.  Who knows where it might end up? This is how it will work.  I have two copies of Silver Hands to give away.  I will send them to two randomly chosen followers, regardless of where they live in the world.  (If you live beyond the Edge of the Map, that could be tricky, so we'll limit it to non-magical countries! 😉)  It will then be your turn to give the book away to a person of your choice.  They will then give it away to a person of their choice.  And so on and so on.  The idea is to get these two copies of Silver Hands  on the longest voyages possible.   The book will arrive with a special message inside the front cover, welcoming you to Margaret's Voyage.  Read the book.  (I hope you enjoy it!)  Then comes the important par

Henry III and the Fairies

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I recently picked up a second-hand copy of Nigel Cawthorne's The Strange Laws of Old England.   As a source for story ideas, this is a brilliant resource, full of all sorts of strange legal goings-on, not just in Old England, but also in Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man etc. One thing that caught my attention as a fantasist was a short paragraph saying about Henry III - the king responsible for the re-issued version of Magna Carta I was fortunate to see myself this year in Lincoln.  (There is more than one copy, in case you are about to protest that it is somewhere else!)  The book says that Henry signed a law making it a capital offence to kill, wound or maim a fairy. This sounds almost as if Henry III was making the fairy a protected species, as we would do nowadays with endangered animals.  However, although Henry III had a menagerie, I doubt the fairy was considered an endangered species in the 13th century.  In fact, as a super-pious king, and one who passed  the  Statute of J

The Scandalous Lady at Harewood

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Shaun Evans, Natalie Dormer and Aneurin Barnard in The Scandalous Lady W. Photo: BBC2. Today, I enjoyed a family day out at Harewood House, near Leeds, West Yorkshire.  One of the things I was most looking forward to was a chance to see the portrait of Seymour, Lady Worsley, subject of BBC2's recent courtroom drama, The Scandalous Lady W.  The BBC2 website has this to say: "In 1781, wealthy heiress Seymour, Lady Worsley, caused outrage when she cuckolded her husband, respectable MP Sir Richard Worsley, and ran away with her lover Captain George Bisset. Furious, Sir Richard responded  by suing Bisset for criminal conversation and demanding a record £20,000 for the damage done to his property - Lady Worsley. While Seymour and Bisset hid out in a London hotel, Sir Richard and his lawyers set about proving his wife's infidelity through a series of devious schemes. When the case came to court, Sir Richard lied about his relationship with Seymour, painting a perfect picture of t

The Swanwick Effect

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       Picture from Swanwick website. It's that time of year once again when I arrive home, tired but happy, from a week in beautiful Derbyshire with my fellow writers. I've been attending Swanwick Writers' Summer School for about 10 years now, and it always helps my writing career in a new way.  In the early years, it was invaluable for learning new skills, and for getting inspiration for my stories.  Many of my short stories - Awaken the Dawn is one that springs to mind - began life at Swanwick.  Then it became a place where I could meet agents face-to-face and discover that they were normal human beings.  And this year, my highlight was time chatting with another delegate, who helped me create a plan to organise my time and maximise on my success.  Let's see how it goes! Swanwick is also the place where I first learned the skills of teaching a writing workshop.  This year, I led an early-morning session - with the aid of Story Cubes!  I also led Sunday

EdgeLit Derby - Enlightened by Grimdark

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This last weekend, I went to a convention in Derby for fantasy/sci-fi/horror writers, called EdgeLit.  It was the first time I had been to this or any convention - except for the time I went to pick up my James White Award at the 2005 Hugos, which was a flying-visit blur of nerves, Alan Lee, and people in Ming the Merciless cloaks.  This time, I had actually paid  to go.  It turned out to be a very enjoyable day, both inspiring and entertaining. As is often the case with such things, one of the best sessions was one I only decided to go to at the last minute: a panel discussion entitled  Into the Grimdark – Is Darker Fantasy a Trend, or Here to Stay? The discussion began with an attempt to define Grimdark as a sub-genre.  There was some disagreement as to whether George RR Martin ( Game of Thrones etc.) came under this heading.  I think it was generally agreed that Scott Lynch's Locke Lamora books did.  As far as I now understand it, Grimdark is

Come into the House

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12th July sees the publication of Come into the House , a new anthology from Corazon Books, showcasing the winners and short-listed entries from a  competition they ran in partnership with The Historic Houses Association (HHA), to write a short story either inspired by or set in a historic house. One of those stories is my tale, "The Yorkshire Defiance," inspired by Shibden Hall in Halifax, West Yorkshire.  Outside the local area, Shibden is best known for being home to lesbian diarist and landowner Anne Lister in the 19th century.   Read my blog on Anne Lister and Charlotte Bronte's "Shirley" But there is much more to the Hall than Anne Lister.  When I went to Shibden Hall to write my entry for the competition - "in situ" - I drew inspiration from 18th-century family portraits in the Great Hall, and from earlier members of the Lister family. One such character was Martha Lister, who grew up at the Hall along with her sisters, attending t

The Brontës and Waterloo: 10 Things I Learned

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             The BrontĂ« sisters, by Branwell BrontĂ«.  Credit: The BrontĂ« Society. I've just got back from BrontĂ« Parsonage, Haworth (not far from where I live) where I went to see a special exhibition on "The BrontĂ«s, War and Waterloo."  It was absolutely fascinating.  If you're in the area, go and see it! For those who live further afield, here are 10 things I learned from it: 1.  All the BrontĂ«s were huge fans of the Duke of Wellington.  The Rev. Patrick even wrote him what was basically fan mail.  The Duke's reply (in display in the museum) is typically scathing.  Poor man! 2.  They had a love/hate relationship with Napoleon too (especially Branwell).  Since Napoleon was a Byronic hero to Lord Byron himself, and the BrontĂ«s were big fans of Byron (later producing those famously Byronic heroes Heathcliff and Mr Rochester), you can understand the tug of emotions. 3.  It all began with a box of toy soldiers bought for Branwell.  When told they could choose one eac

Elizabeth and Carlo, sitting in a tree...

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Well, sitting on a sofa, anyway.  Or a sopha, if you prefer. I simply had to share this portrait by the wonderful Kirsty Rolfe (@avoiding_bears) of the Divine Farinelli and I as BFFs.  (It even says so on our mugs.  I hope we're drinking mocha!)  Kirsty had the inspired idea to raise money for relief aid in Nepal by offering a portrait of yourself with your favourite historical character.  I think my selection was a no-brainer!   This is just a scan.  The real thing is on its way to me, in the post.  I can't wait! Thank you, Kirsty, for such a great idea, and for helping to raise funds and awareness at this difficult time for Nepal

My journey into gender-fluid fiction

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            Tilda Swinton as Virginia Woolf's Orlando from the film of 1992: BFI Player I recently listened to a fascinating online lecture by Cheryl Morgan about gender fluidity in science fiction and fantasy.  Regular readers will know that issues of gender and (a)sexual identity feature a lot in my blog.  So I was interested to read some of the books featured in the lecture.  Here's what I managed to find in my local library:  Orlando by Virginia Woolf This famous literary novel is quite strange, and I doubt anyone truly knows what Virginia Woolf meant by everything in it.  The title character, Orlando, begins as a 16th-century nobleman and favourite of Elizabeth I.  By the end of the book, she is a woman (still called Orlando) and living in Virginia Woolf's own day, the 1920s.  The part where Orlando becomes a woman is spectacularly unspectacular.  He goes to sleep a man and wakes up a woman.  (Initial reaction: "Oh, I'm female now.  Whatever"

An Eighteenth Century Easter

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It's Easter!  For Christians, the Feast of Feasts.  For others, perhaps a time associated with eggs, chocolate and weekends off work. But what could you do at Easter in the 18th century?  Let's take a look at a few suggestions from around the world. 1.  Hear a JS Bach cantata.   If you were lucky enough to live in Leipzig, you could hear one of Bach's famous Passions conducted by the maestro himself.  The St Matthew Passion was first performed on Good Friday ( 11 April) 1727 in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, and revised for new performances in 1736 and 1742.  The St John Passion  was first performed on April 7, 1724, at Good Friday Vespers at the Nikolaikirche.  Bach's Easter Oratorio performed  as a cantata  for Easter  Sunday in Leipzig on 1 April 1725, and revived in  1735 and in the 1740s. (Source: Wikipedia)  2.  Bootleg a Psalm. Legend has it that a teenage Mozart heard Allegri’s Miserere being performed in the Sistine Chapel on the Wenesday of Holy Week.  Writing

Ladies, Gentlemen and a League of Liars

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Last night, I had my first experience of Liars' League Leeds.  Until a few weeks ago, I had never even heard of it.  In fact, when I first read the call-out for stories, I thought it sounded like a Yorkshire Locke Lamora! It turns out there are Liars' Leagues in Leeds, London and New York- at least.  The premise is simple.  Writers write.  Actors read.  Audience listens.  Everybody wins.  Every month or two, the Liars' League gives a call-out for stories on a particular theme.  Five or so are chosen.  They are then read out by actors on the night.  It's like being on the radio.  Only live.   The theme for this particular night was "Ladies and Gentlemen".  The stories chosen were nicely varied, and covered a variety of settings and moods.  It was interesting how many of the other writers had taken the typical showman's announcement as a starting point.  (That approach to the theme hadn't even occurred to me).  There was the moving tale of a conjoined tw

Cards on the Table...

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This week, when working on my current work-in-progress, I decided that my characters should be playing a game of cards.  I eventually decided on scopa, an Italian game with a long history.  I downloaded an app so I could learn how to play - and have some idea what I was writing about!  It is a fun game, which involves capturing cards with other cards of the same value.  You can score extra points by clearing the table and by possessing certain special cards. What makes it especially fun for me is that it is played with a different set of cards from the one I am used to.  Before I started researching this week, I didn't know that different European countries have their own traditional packs of cards.  Traditional Italian cards are divided into cups, swords, coins and clubs (batons), the numbers go up to seven, and the three picture cards are all male.  Traditional German cards are divided into hearts, acorns, bells and leaves.  (I love that one!) Readers of different backgrounds to

One God, One Farinelli! Well, two Farinellis, actually...

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Iestyn Davies as Farinelli, Globe Theatre, Brenner Photos. One of my most popular posts on this blog has been a short piece on the castrato Farinelli and the music therapy he undertook for Philippe V of Spain.  So what could be more exciting than a play entitled Farinelli and the King?   Taking place in a reconstructed 17th-century theatre?  Featuring arias that Farinelli himself sung?  Starring countertenor Iestyn Davies as the singing voice of Farinelli?  Human spontaneous combustion!! This is what I experienced last night at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (the new indoor addition to Shakespeare's Globe in London).  The play was written by Claire van Kampen, and also stars her husband, Mark "Wolf Hall" Rylance as King Philippe, Melody Grove as his Queen, and Sam Crane as the acted part of Farinelli.  (More on those two Farinellis later!)   So, where to begin?  Let's start with the magical space of the theatre itself.  I was dying to see this even before I heard about F

Boxes of Delight

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  In December, I wrote a blog about The Box of Delights , which fans of the Christmas classic were kind enough to enjoy.  For my birthday, I received my very own box of delights, a keepsake box with a secret way of opening.  What could I possibly keep in it?  How could I make it as magical as the box Cole Hawlings gives to Kay Harker?  Obviously, it couldn't really transport me into the past or on an adventure with Herne the Hunter.  Or could it?  What if I turned it into my own miniature cabinet of curiosities? Cabinets of curiosity have fascinated me for a while now.  They feature in Brian Selznick's wonderful children's book, Wonderstruck .  I once went to a multi-arts event entirely inspired by them.  And I've just (in the last hour) looked round an exhibition very much in the spirit of the curiosity cabinet, Stranger Than Fiction by Joan Fontcuberta.   The artist has created photos (and actual taxidermy) of strange beasts, of the sort our ancestors used to collect

Arty New Year!

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Well, it's 2015!  My Christmas decorations are coming down, which is very sad, but there are lots of things to look forward to in the new year.  Of course, no one can predict the future, but these are some of the arts and history things I'm looking forward to this year: 1. A glut of costume dramas exploding onto my TV as the new year kicks off.   The Musketeers, Grand Hotel, Foyle's War a nd Mr Selfridge , to name but four I know of. 2. Watching my two Christmas gift DVDs that I haven't yet seen: the new La Belle et la BĂȘte and Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart. 3. Going to the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse in London to see Farinelli and the King  in February.  Not only is the play about my all-time 18th-century icon and the subject of one of my most popular blogs, but it's in a theatre I've been dying to see, and stars Iestyn Davies, one of my favourite countertenor singers. 4. The Manga Jiman Competition exhibition at the Embassy of Japan.  My daughter is involved