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Monthly Archives: January 2017

Walking in the footsteps of the ‘greats’.

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Last weekend I finally managed to watch Sally Wainwright’s ‘To Walk Invisible’ which I had saved on iPlayer and which was about to be withdrawn even from there. I had put off watching, thinking I knew the story backwards, forwards and upside down and would be bored by two hours of it. However, from the first few moments I was absolutely hooked and really on edge at the exciting parts, even when I knew what would happen. It was brilliantly scripted, produced and acted. It also made me think of my own history.

The reason I am so familiar with the Brontë story is that I went to Casterton Boarding School for Girls which is the school (albeit in different buildings) Charlotte and Emily attended, together with their sisters Maria and Elizabeth who died of typhoid and whose graves are in the churchyard at Casterton.

To say the Brontë sisters and their works were shoved down our throats is the understatement of the decade, never mind the year.

You can see a brief history of the school if you Google the Wikipedia entry. It’s in a village of the same name on the edge of the Lake District, just outside Kirby Lonsdale. The sisters attended the school at Cowan Bridge in a building that is still there. Later, the clergy daughters’ school merged with a school for servants (housekeepers?) at Lowood, and together the schools moved into new buildings in the village of Casterton. (The three villages are not far apart.) Recently, the school merged with Sedbergh – a boys’ school – and so far as I can tell from my own visits and from those of friends/former classmates, the school we attended effectively no longer exists.

I am in touch with all my class with the sad exception of four who died (suicide, cancer, car crash and heart attack) so I have just over 30 ‘old girls’ to keep in touch with. It’s a bit like having 30 sisters who unfortunately don’t live in the same town. Because it was a boarding school, we were very much thrown into each others’ company, evenings and weekends, during term time, without any input from siblings or parents. There were house mistresses and matrons, and prefects, but we relied on each other. I was there from the age of 9 to 17. Think about it…There were in fact a few ‘day’ girls: the vicar’s daughters, and the doctor’s daughter spring to mind. But they were the exception.

We slept in dormitories, changing dorm from time to time. The largest I was ever in had 16 beds, and the smallest, 3. By the time we reached sixth form status we had 2-bed cubicles but these were separated by low walls and we could still talk to everyone. When we visited (as a class) for the millennium Founder’s Day celebrations we found that most girls were in 2 bed rooms and that a cluster of separated rooms was still known as a dorm.

We were divided into houses. The junior department was in a building called Brontë House and the houses within it were Lowood and Cowan – fierce rivals. The photograph at the head of this post is of Brontë House a few years ago before it was sold off for conversion to flats.

I was 9, as I said, and didn’t really understand all the fuss about the famous writers or the school’s history. We were taught to be proud of the connection and shown the graves. The senior school had portraits lining the walls of the main corridor and when we went there for assemblies etc. some portraits were specially singled out. There was the ‘founder’, William Carus Wilson, who was, we were told, the template for Mr Brocklehurst, and Miss Beale, who was very pretty (and very Victorian) during her time at Casterton and was the presumed model for Miss Temple. She later left and became the first headmistress of Cheltenham Ladies’ College. The school song, in those days, was ‘Jerusalem’ and not the many-versed history that is sung today (I have no idea whether that has survived the merger but I wouldn’t weep for it).

We were taken to the senior school when I was nearly 11 to watch Wuthering Heights – it was in episodes so clearly was on television (there was a projector with a big screen in the hall) but I have not been able to trace it. It might have been a repeat of an earlier series. Or perhaps BBC showed a film in weekly parts? I had no idea what was going on but developed a deep and abiding dislike not only of Heathcliff but of all the characters and indeed of the entire story. I honestly think we were exposed to it too young…

We read it of course, which simply served to increase my dislike. We also read Jane Eyre and at the time I liked it. I was a little older, I think.

Our route to school (and back at the end of term) was by train over the Pennines so we had a close relationship with the moors and fells where the sisters grew up and wrote. The same fells surrounded the school and we went on enforced walks at weekends and runs during the week. I was never sure whether to blame William Carus Wilson, the fictional Mr Brocklehurst, Charlotte, or Jane Eyre. I didn’t feel I could ascribe hockey or lacrosse to any of them but the games fields were in full view of the fells so there was still a feeling of connection with the history and the fiction.

There were occasional parallels between our universe and that of the sisters. I vividly recall a flu epidemic when we were all just bundled into the first available bed as they filled dorm after dorm and designated them as sick bays, so that denizens of different houses (the senior houses were called after ex-headmistresses) were all mixed in together. It was impossible not to think of Jane’s typhoid epidemic, which of course was based on Charlotte’s real experience.

We were encouraged to see ourselves as potential wives and mothers, preferably of good Christian men with whom we could spread the gospel and perform charitable works. If we were intelligent we could try for university but once graduated, there would be the same expectations.

There were, in my day, 250 girls in the school aged between 8 and 18, and there were 50 special places for the daughters of clergymen, with much lower fees than the norm. I was one of these recipients of a ‘clergy place’ and we were very aware of our status, and of the fact that our fathers got to know each other (and the vicar, who was the school chaplain) over the years. We were, we were told, the spiritual ‘descendants’ of Charlotte, Emily, Maria and Elizabeth. Anne was never mentioned; of course, she never attended the school. Branwell was never mentioned or if he was it was in hushed tones and I think we possibly conflated him with Heathcliff.

My home experiences in the school holidays involved living in a country parsonage rather like the one at Haworth though we had a washing machine – and an Aga. It was something else that made the Brontës’ life seem very close and personal.

I gradually read not only Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre but also The Professor, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I think I like Anne’s style best of the three writers although I can see the literary merit in all of them. They were all surprisingly feminist for their time, especially since they were living in a country parsonage with very little contact with the wider world. Their characters were feminists of a kind, though I was amused when my daughter, reading Jane Eyre for GCSE, threw it down and declared that Jane was a wimp, always just reacting to events and never making things happen.

I have, of course, visited Haworth. A close friend lives near there. I have also visited the house on Dominica that was the original for the house where Mrs Rochester was supposed to have grown up in Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. I am familiar with all the countryside that provided the locations for the more recent TV series.

I feel as though perhaps I ‘own’ Jane Eyre (or perhaps it owns me?) in a way that doesn’t occur to me with other books. It is by no means my favourite ‘classic’ – I would struggle to choose between Austen’s entire oeuvre and some of Trollope’s Barchester novels for that, and might even come down on Trollope’s side, with Ayala’s Angel in top place – not Barchester but wonderful. However, Charlotte ‘speaks’ to me, as a pupil at Casterton, as a student of literature, and as a writer. I don’t necessarily answer.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2017 in personal, reviews

 

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Snow

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Small flakes spiralling

Cold on damp melting

The world greying

Houses shiver under wet roofs

Trees drink in great gulps

Cars slow then spring ahead

Lights sparkle or quaver

Sound quavers too

Then stills

 

Sharp flakes needling

Ice on ice driving

The world hurting

Houses flinch beneath metal skies

Trees sway at the assault

Cars spin then skid awry

Lights dance or flicker

Sound flickers too

Then stills

 

Huge flakes smothering

White on black swirling

The world narrowing.

Houses cower behind closed doors

Trees shrivel into deep roots

Cars loom then disappear

Lights fail or waver

Sound wavers too

Then stills

 

White drifts glistening

Quartz on silver shimmering

The world shining

Houses crouch inside warmed walls

Trees display jewelled arms

Cars slide then come to rest

Lights pale and are muted

Sound is muted too

Then stills

 

(The tree is at the bottom of our garden but I took this picture a few winters ago)

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2017 in poetry

 

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The Crown. My New Book Is Out!

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The latest volume in my fantasy detective saga, The Skilled Investigators, is live on both Amazon and Smashwords! I proudly present to you: Book 3, The Crown.

For once I had no formatting problems whatsoever, though I did initially forget to organise an ISBN with Smashwords. This only means I had no problems once I uploaded to the sites – my editors and others know all about the angst I underwent whilst perfecting the document prior to uploading!

In Book 1, The Scroll, Genef fought to achieve her dream of training to be an Investigator with the Guild. A serial killer came literally to her door and she was instrumental in solving the case. In the course of the story Genef was gifted with the Skill of Knowing Touch. When she started her training the Guild gifted her with Teaching Taste. The king was so pleased with her work that he assigned her to trace some stolen royal jewellery so Book 2, The Market, saw her sailing to The Spice Islands with her brother, Fel. They had to deal with murder and enslavement but Genef found most of the jewels. A crown, however, had been sold on to traders from The Ice Country. After she received the next Skill, Inner Hearing, Genef was instructed to follow the trail of the crown and retrieve it.

The Crown sees Genef and her mentor Rath travelling to The Ice Country, where the land is always frozen. Scratch accompanies her, hoping to find other dragons in the snow-covered north; he has no contact with his family or indeed his species. Genef is settling into her role as an Investigator and now has Rath at her side, as well. Together they face more slavery problems, some unpleasant deaths, kidnapping and deceptions, bitter cold and Scratch’s growing independence. Can they find the crown and return it to Lonis? Will Scratch stay with Genef ’till the stars fade’ as he promised, or will he join northern dragons in the snowy wilderness? And will Rath find a way to court Fel on their return? Genef hopes so – she loves her brother and thinks Rath would make an excellent partner for him. This is chilly (and occasionally chilling) adventure for a perfect midwinter read.

The story will continue later in 2017, in The Lantern, which is currently being written.

Here are the links to the book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N4MBOG3

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/695351

The book is also available on amazon.com with a very long URL so presumably the non-UK site links back to the UK one. Other self-publishers will no doubt know!

The first person to comment on each of my sites – i.e. WordPress, Facebook and my Dreamwidth and LiveJournal blogs can claim a free copy of The Crown in the form of a coupon for free download of the Smashwords edition (which includes a mobi version so is suitable for Kindles as well as other e-readers). I should perhaps point out to WordPress and Facebook friends that my blogs (I’m moth2fic on both sites) are friends-locked but I welcome new friends.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2017 in publishing, writing

 

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15 favourites (and another 15)

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Fellow writer Sheenah Himes posted a list of authors. She said:

The Rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors that you will always auto-buy
List the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag at least 5 friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what authors my friends enjoy and I always like to add to my TBR !!
By the way any one that sees this please feel free to join in on it!! I want to see as many authors as I can under this!!

I don’t auto-buy anything, even bread or milk, but I do look out for particular authors. I didn’t spend much time on this and I will have left out important names – yours might well be one of them! But some are absent either because so far I’ve only read one work/series and my mental jury is still out, or I’ve liked most of their stuff and then come across something they wrote that I found really dire and that has made me wary. Or, in one sad case (Ruth Sims) because the writer died so I know there’ll be no more. For the same reason my second list doesn’t include writers like Tolkien or Pratchett, or any of the ‘classics’. The names are not in any kind of order, either alphabetical or favoured! Just instant response.

I needed two different lists… (and it still only took 15 minutes)

1. m/m romance including detective/fantasy/contemporary

Rhys Ford

J.C. Charles

Harper Fox

Heidi Cullinan

Alex Beecroft

Charlie Cochet

Chris Quinton

Alexandr Voinov

Jaime Reese

Jordan Castillo Price

Keira Andrews

Tamara Allen

Joanna Chambers

Angela Benedetti

Sarah Granger

2. longer, less genre-specific (though some have m/m elements) novels including detective/fantasy/contemporary

Alyx J. Shaw

Anel Viz

Tanya Huff

Seanan McGuire

Naomi Novik

Ben Aaronovitch

Deborah Harkness

Tracy Chevalier

Sharon Penman

Stephen King

Neil Gaiman

Lindsey Davis

Kate Elliott

Phil Rickman

Ian Rankin

Consider yourself tagged, because, like Sheenah, I love to see what other people read and enjoy.

The picture is the story tree outside Marple library, in Cheshire, UK.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2017 in other writers, reviews

 

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New year reviews, resolutions and wishes.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all!

 

Reviewing 2016 and resolving for 2017.

My favourite books of the year.

We’ll start with non-fiction:

A Slip of the Keyboard/Terry Pratchett – autobiography mixed with articles and speeches about writing.

The Establishment (And how they get away with it)/Owen Jones – a look at modern Britain and the problems in our politics, media, etc.

An anthropologist on Mars/Oliver Sacks – case studies of patients with interesting conditions such as visual problems and autism.

Thinking in Pictures/Temple Grandin – autobiography by the famous autistic writer/speaker/designer of animal handling facilities

The Road to Little Dribbling/Bill Bryson – more humour from the American who see Britain through fresh eyes.

Then fiction:

Gryphons/Alyx Jae Shaw – sprawling sci-fi with romance, coming of age, excitement, and social commentary (see more details at https://jaymountney.wordpress.com/2016/04/13/gryphons-a-review/)

Return on Investment/Risk Return/Aleksandr Voinov – really gripping novel and sequel set in the world of banking; I suppose it might be seen as an m/m romance but it’s so much more.

The Second Footman/Jasper Barry – fascinating story of a young bisexual man who seeks revenge for family disasters in nineteenth century France.

Have you seen her?/Karen Rose – I will try anything by Rose – formulaic thrillers with an undercurrent of romance, yes, but they invariable grip me.

I will also read anything by Kate Elliott (sci fi/fantasy) and Lindsey Davis (history/historical thrillers) but have not come across anything new recently (which is not to say there isn’t anything).

Series.

Closed series:

Temeraire/Naomi Novik. Dragons in the Napoleonic Wars.

Gay Amish Romance/Keira Andrews. Detailed and intriguing look at the US sect.

Nightrunners/Lynn Flewelling. Fantasy series with m/m elf/human partners as spies.

Fall of the Gaslit empire/Rod Duncan. Steam-punk politics and mystery for a woman who passes herself off as her (non-existent) brother to get work as a private investigator.

The Magpie Lord/KJ Charles. Witches, magic and mysteries plus m/m romance in an alternate regency England.

Open series (so I’m looking forward to more):

Rivers of London/Ben Aaronovitch. Magic and policing with a diverse cast set mostly in modern London.

October Daye/Seanan McGuire. Urban fantasy with a parallel fairyland accessed from San Francisco.

Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries/Ashley Gardner and Jennifer Ashley. Captain Lacey turns private investigator on his return from the Napoleonic wars with injuries that preclude further military service.

Dowser Series/Meghan Ciana Doidge. Fun magic and mystery in modern US.

Merrily Watkins series/Phil Rickman. A woman vicar in the Welsh Border country (English side) is persuaded to take on a second role as diocesan exorcist. Great mysteries, a scattering of supernatural hints, and some wonderful characters to ‘invest’ in. I don’t like the author’s one-off novels nearly as much and perhaps that’s why – I like following Merrily and her family and friends.

Seraphina/Rachel Hartman – fantasy, and a new ‘take’ on dragons.

What I’m currently reading: (and yes, I usually have more than one book ‘on the go’)

The Folklore of Discworld/Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson. A really good look at folklore in both our world and Terry’s Discworld, and how ideas spread, mutate, etc. (Paperback in the lounge.)

Pwning tomorrow – an anthology of short fiction from the Electronic Frontier. Like most anthologies the contents are mixed but there are some excellent stories building on current IT trends to posit a chilling future. The EFF want their book widely shared and you are encouraged to donate and download at: https://supporters.eff.org/donate/pwning-tomorrow (On my Kindle so available to take out.)

The Secret History of Fantasy ed Peter S Beagle. Another mixed collection with some gems and some interesting commentary by Beagle and Le Guin. It contains one of my all-time favourite stories by Gaiman: a new twist on Snow White. (Paperback upstairs for bedroom or bathroom reading.)

Monks and wine/Desmond Seward. Engrossing account of how, where, when and why monks contributed to the history of wine in Europe and elsewhere. (Hardback upstairs for bedroom or bathroom reading.)

Well now – non-fiction of all kinds and then huge helpings of fantasy, dragons, murder, and romance. Yes, that about sums up my reading tastes. I read 118 books in 2016, two of which were re-reads. That’s over two a week and I also read novel length fanfiction so I suppose it’s quite a lot!

My favourite films/shows/DVDs of the year:

2016 doesn’t seem to have been the year of the cinema for me and although I’ve watched quite a lot of films on DVD the only one that stands out is:

Pride. A fantastic (and true) story of how some LGBT people from London campaigned alongside the Welsh miners during the miners’ strike.

2016 seems to have been a desert in terms of my theatre going, too. though we have booked for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time at the Salford Lowry theatre later this month. (At least partly because we know one of the cast and there’s a party after the first night…)

I’ve been catching up on series:

Game of Thrones Season 4. Season 5 was in my Christmas presents so that’s sorted – and I’m not bothered by spoilers because I have read and love all the books so far and just wish he’d get the story finished. For anyone who doesn’t know it – politics, murder and mayhem in an alternate universe that is loosely based on the Wars of the Roses with added magic and monsters.

Lewis Season 8. Season 9 (the final one) was also among my gifts. Again, for the unaware, murder mysteries set in Oxford.

The West Wing Seasons 6 and 7. I had never watched the final seasons though I’ve owned them for years. This was a fascinating way to access American politics and their electoral process through a fictional but very real series and it truly helped me (a Brit) to set the US election in some kind of context.

Ripper Street Season 3. Victorian policing in the aftermath of Jack the Ripper. I loved the series and the acting but it has become very dark. Season 3 ended quite satisfactorily for me and I think I will give later seasons a miss.

I’m hoping to try Yuri on Ice (Japanese anime m/m romance) and Westworld (cowboys and robots series based on the film, which I liked) – both highly recommended by friends. I really wish there would be more Spiral (Parisian cop show), and am hoping for another season of The Bridge (Swedish/Danish cops this time).

Actors I would watch in anything:

Aidan Turner though I can’t say I particularly liked And then there were none (January 2016)

Johnny Depp

Ben Whishaw

Sean Bean

Richard Armitage

David Tenant

James Nesbitt

Lenora Crichlow

Helen Mirren

Judy Dench

Allison Janney

Billie Piper

Maggie Smith

Music

My classical favourites are unchanged: Mendelssohn and Bruch violin concertos followed closely by Rodrigo Concierto De Aranjuez. I’m always surprised by my choice because I would have said the piano is my favourite instrument, but there we are.

Current favourites in non-classical (i.e. things I play a lot) include Cohen’s Hallelujah, Jagger’s Streets of Berlin and Hozier’s Take Me To The Church. All musically interesting, angsty and hard to pin down.

My ongoing fandoms: (Why yes, I am a still, and probably for ever, a keen consumer and producer of fanworks.)

These are the ones I will always read in and sometimes write in:

Harry Potter – various pairings or none but I usually prefer it when the characters have left school.

Lewis – and my writing is a crossover with Harry Potter. I don’t usually read anything under 1000 words, but I do follow all the challenges, secret santas, etc. even when I don’t contribute.

The Hobbit/LotR – I can get lost in long Hobbit fanfic for days but my own writing tends more to the LotR end of the story.

I’ve read all the Professionals Big Bang fics this year and will still read novel length works but tend not to bother with anything under 1000 words. I haven’t written anything recently.

Stargate Atlantis. I have downloaded all the longer stories in the secret santa and am looking forward to luxuriating. I really ought to finish my own WIP…

Bandom – there’s a dearth of long AU fics – the kind I adore – since the bands started to disintegrate. I have never written in the fandom but some of my all-time favourite reading is there.

Hawaii 5.0 I love the longer fics but have lost interest in the show – too much stress on family problems and not enough on the tight team ensemble/casework that attracted me in the first place. I’ve written the guys into a spoof crossover but I find writing American characters difficult.

Star Trek. I like most of the characters and enjoy the sci fi component. I don’t write it myself because the combination of mostly US cast plus technical detail looks hard to manage.

My most popular works according to AO3 are still

The Paths of the Living (LotR and my first/only threesome/incest story)

First (Rome, and perhaps the story I’m most proud of.)

The Crying Game (Grimm, written for a challenge and unlikely to be followed – I wrote a ‘first time romance’ for them, including a case to solve, and that, says my brain, is that.)

I continue to be a bit of a fandom magpie. Working for AO3 as a staffer brings me into contact with a lot of fandoms I would not usually consider and I will try anything once! That and icon making (which I find relaxing) are my other main contributions to being a fan. I didn’t manage any conventions this year but did have meet-ups with fannish friends from various places – Portugal, Germany, England, and Finland (although she lives in UK and I saw her in Portugal). There was to be a meeting with a US friend who was visiting UK but when we saw the rail prices and timetables we gave up. One sad note was the loss of a Pros artist friend in Japan, in January 2016. It wasn’t just the rich and famous who disappeared from our lives.

Altogether a satisfying year in terms of reading, watching and listening, and I hope 2017 will be as interesting and full of mostly excellent surprises.

Resolutions.

I’ve decided that quality is better than quantity – and more likely to be achieved. So I thought long and hard about what I didn’t do in 2016 and what I want out of 2017. I ignored the ongoing things that we all promise ourselves every year like healthy eating or tidying the shelves. Here are my three resolutions, which I am calling the 3 Ps.

1. Publish, publish, publish. There are two novels and a novella languishing on my hard drive which are doing nobody any good at all. Last year I managed one novel, some poems on WordPress, some flash fics on WordPress and Dreamwidth and some fanfic on AO3. Must do better!

2. Post, post, post. I can hardly believe how few posts I managed in 2016. I must try harder, prepare stuff in advance, cross post to various social media, and regard it all as marketing myself as well as my work. I have very little idea of why it doesn’t happen but I am determined to make more effort!

3. Photograph (and photoshop). I love making e-cards, icons, banners, online jigsaws and my own book covers. I find it really relaxing and have the quite costly tools to do it properly. However, somehow it gets crowded out of my life and I don’t want that to happen!

I suppose I had better look back at this at the end of the year!

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2017 in reviews

 

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