Author Archives: Joanna

Winchester, Jane Austen, Rifles and Rain

Winchester cathedral

By, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

On a recent visit to Winchester — which, to my shame, I hadn’t visited before, even though I lived in Hampshire for 20 years — I felt duty-bound to pay homage at Jane Austen’s grave in the cathedral.

Jane Austen’s Gravestone

It’s a plain black stone, set into the northern aisle of Winchester cathedral, among dozens of others. If you weren’t looking for it, it would be easy to walk over and past it. The cathedral, though, knows it’s a tourist draw so they’ve made quite a display of it, with several stands that tell visitors about Austen’s life, and about her early death in 1817.

Jane Austen's gravestone, Winchester Cathedral

The gravestone makes no mention of Jane Austen’s writing. Women at that time (and later) were usually described by their virtues and by their relationships with men; as daughters, wives, mothers, aunts. So it was with Jane. The inscription (composed by Jane’s brother, James) reads:

In Memory of Jane Austen
youngest daughter of the late Revd George Austen
formerly Rector of Steventon in this County.
She departed this life on the 18th of July 1817, aged 41,
after a long illness supported with the patience and the hopes of a Christian.
The benevolence of her heart, the sweetness of her temper, and the extraordinary endowments of her mind obtained the regard of all who knew her
and the warmest love of her intimate connections.
Their grief is in proportion to their affection, they know their loss to be irreparable,
but in their deepest affliction they are consoled by a firm though humble hope
that her charity, devotion, faith and purity have rendered her soul acceptable
in the sight of her REDEEMER.

Women’s unacknowledged talents?

Women of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries rarely had agency over their lives. They often weren’t allowed to follow their talents, even when those talents were enormous, because a woman’s role in life was seen to be marriage and motherhood. And for those who didn’t marry, like Jane Austen’s Miss Bates, life could mean the bottom of the social pile.

Think of Fanny Mendelssohn, born in 1805, many of whose compositions were attributed to her brother, Felix (conveniently also F. Mendelssohn on the scores). She did marry.

Fanny Hensel nee Mendelssohn 1842

Fanny [Hensel] in 1842

Fanny Mendelssohn 1828

Fanny Mendelssohn 1828


But Fanny’s father epitomised the prevailing view when he wrote to her in 1820:

Music will perhaps become his [i.e. Felix’s] profession, while for you it can and must be only an ornament.


Clara Schumann, 1878, by Lenbach

The celebrated pianist and composer Clara Schumann (born Clara Wieck in 1819) was an exception to the rule, a child prodigy brought up by her divorced father.

Even after her marriage to Robert Schumann she was always the main breadwinner of the family. And she was widowed young (with eight children). So she had little choice but to keep earning her own living.

Clara Schumann accompanies Joachim 1854

The painting (left) seems to me to show the face of a woman who’s had a hard life.

She’s shown right in a drawing from 1854 (when her husband was already confined in the asylum where he died in 1856).

Austen acknowledged…eventually

If Jane Austen had married, would she have become a published author?
How many of her masterpieces might she not have written?
I leave that for you to decide.

Winchester Cathedral, plaque to Jane Austen

At the time of her death, Jane Austen was not acknowledged as the author of the novels, but her name was included in a biographical note in the 1818 published set of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. In the cathedral, though, there was no mention of her writing until her nephew Edward erected this brass plaque on the wall by her grave, in 1870. (He paid for the plaque with the proceeds of his book about his aunt.) It says:

Jane Austen
Known to many by her writings, endeared to her family by the varied charms of her character and ennobled by her Christian faith and piety was born at Steventon in the County of Hants, December 16 1775 and buried in the Cathedral July 18 1817.
“She openeth her mouth with wisdom and in her tongue is the law of kindness”

Jane Austen window, Winchester cathedralLight from Jane Austen window, Wincester cathedralJane’s popularity increased over the nineteenth century. It shows.

Above the brass plaque, there is now a memorial window by C E Kempe, paid for by public subscription and erected in 1900. The head of the window features St Augustine (thought to be a pun on the name Austen).

The central light in the upper row shows David with his harp and bears the legend (in Latin) Remember in the Lord, Jane Austen together with her date of death.

Rifles and rain in Winchester

Winchester cathedral altar

Winchester cathedral is full of memorials, many of them to dead soldiers from The Royal Hampshires, The Kings Royal Rifle Corps and The Rifle Brigade. You find yourself treading on them in the aisles. And their rolls of honour are there to be consulted, in modern digital form:

Winchester is also the spiritual home of St Swithun who was buried (and reburied) in the cathedral but whose remains were swept away during the Reformation. This is his current memorial.Winchester cathedral, St Swithun memorial and iconostasisIn the background, you can see the nine icons painted in the 1990s by the Russian iconographer, Sergei Fyodorof. St Swithun’s icon is at the extreme right (partly obscured in this image by the canopy over his memorial).

It wasn’t raining during my visit. But there’s a nod to rain in the embroidered inscription on the edge of the canopy. It’s one that many of us learned at our mother’s knee:

St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain • for forty days it will remain
St Swithun’s day if thou be fair • for forty days ’twill rain nae mareWinchester cathedral, St Swithun memorial

Being a history nut, I was happy to look at memorials to real riflemen. But for fans of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe books — and of the irresistible green Rifle Brigade uniforms — I’m pasting in some Sean Bean eye candy that wasn’t available in the cathedral. Enjoy!


Joanna Maitland, authorJoanna

PS There was also a fantastic exhibition in Winchester cathedral: Kings and Scribes: the Birth of a Nation. Definitely worth a visit. Sadly, photography wasn’t allowed so it’s difficult for me to blog about it. However the link above includes official stills and video. Maybe worth a look?

A Writer’s Dilemma : Creating or Editing

romantic novelist busy creating or editing

The writing life is hard. And some parts of it are harder than others. [Yes, I know. Cue violins?]

light bulb image for ideasWhen i do talks for readers, they regularly ask me, “Where do you get your ideas from?” I answer. Of course I do. But for me — and, I suspect, for a lot of other writers — the challenge isn’t finding new ideas to write about. My challenge is turning the zillions of ideas fizzing around my brain into words on the page.
Thousands and thousands of words.

man reading book in open air

If you’ve read any great books recently, the chances are that you raced through thousands of words in a few hours. Perhaps you missed out on several hours’ sleep because you just had to keep turning the pages? That’s really pleasing for the writer. But it’s also daunting. Because you, dear reader, may well want another book by the same author.
Now. Immediately.

It takes a few hours to read a great book. It takes months, or years, to write one.

Getting the words down : creating or editing?

Continue reading

Heroic professions : why not a plumber?

electriician at work

Electrician Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Lately, I’ve been involved with various tradespeople — the plumber, the electrician and so on — following a number of domestic …er… difficulties.

Technology seems to have been ganging up on me, these past few months. Weird electrical faults that don’t repeat themselves when the electrician is on site.
And incidents with animals.

Don’t believe me?

The dog ate my homework?

dishwasher not working, plumber needed

Dishwasher image by FotoRieth from Pixabay

Well, a mouse ate my dishwasher, for starters.

No, I kid you not. This is not a “Please, miss, the dog ate my homework” kind of fabrication, even though it may sound like one.
It happened.

I live in the countryside.
There are mice here. Continue reading

Swanwick Conference : forgetting how a newbie feels

Swanwick main buildings and gardens

Last week, I attended The Writers’ Summer School at Swanwick for the first time. I must say that I’d forgotten what it’s like to be a writing conference newbie — I’ve been going to the RNA Conference for more years than I’m prepared to admit — and it was salutary to experience newbie-dom all over again.

(At my first RNA Conference, I wasn’t published and didn’t really know anyone. But I met loads of writers whose books I’d read and loved. I remember chatting with Nicola Cornick who was then one of my writing heroes, and still is. The RNA sort of enfolded me, from that point on, it seemed.) Continue reading

Read aloud : an author’s critical editing tool?

Read aloud: as writing tutors advise

Almost every writing tutor — including Sophie and Joanna of this parish — will tell aspiring writers that it’s a really good idea to read aloud during the editing process, in order to judge whether the manuscript needs more work. Basically, if you fall over your prose while trying to read it aloud, you haven’t got it right. Yet.

Apparently, we and all the other tutors are guilty of logocentrism. (Is that another of those incomprehensible words that Dame Isadora was ranting about, a few weeks ago? Maybe, but I haven’t been able to ask her, because she’s off in one of the wilder parts of the world, advising some government panjandrums about communication skills. I imagine her audience is still reeling…)

Logocentrism — wot?

Continue reading

Explicit Sex in Romances : how often, how necessary?

woman in bed uncorks exploding champagne, metaphor for explicit sexExplicit Sex in Romances: none, lots, somewhere in between?

Explicit sex in romances is a complete turn-off for some readers. They like the bedroom door firmly closed and refuse to read any romances where it is not. That, of course, is absolutely their choice. And I have written some romances that, in my opinion, worked very well without sex scenes. Indeed, one of them — Rake’s Reward — has been called “fizzing with sex” even though it contains no explicit sex at all.

But, equally, I’ve written romances with a lot of explicit sex on the page, even though that is bound to have lost me some potential readers.

So, are there any guidelines for authors here? Continue reading

Spring colours : yellow and blue?

Spring colours : daffodils in flower among trees

Spring colours — and all aspects of spring, as we said a few weeks ago — gladden the heart. But have you ever noticed that Spring flowers are mostly yellow and blue? Think daffodils, like those above, grape hyacinths, a drift of bluebells…

mist of bluebells among trees

Spring colours: is white included?

Continue reading

Easter : Just Chocolate and Fluffy Bunnies?

Easter bunnies and eggs

Image by annca from Pixabay

If we believe the torrent of adverts, Easter is just a foodie challenge, mostly directed at children (and their parents).

How much chocolate can you eat and in how many different shapes and sizes?

Monster chocolate rabbit anyone?

Easter Eggs

Straw-decorated Easter eggs, image by Jan KameníčekEaster traditions vary across the world, though a lot of them feature Easter eggs, like these beautifully straw-decorated eggs from the Czech Republic. Like jewels, aren’t they?

Not surprising that eggs feature, perhaps. Not only do eggs symbolise new life and rebirth, they were a forbidden food during Lent. There probably wouldn’t have been many about, early in the year. The old stock of eggs would have been gobbled up on Shrove Tuesday, in yummy pancakes.

Fabergé Coronation Egg by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia CommonsThink of those amazing Fabergé eggs, given as gifts to the women of the Romanov family after a Russian Orthodox Easter service. Of course, Easter would usually have been later there than in non-Orthodox countries — most years, the Orthodox Easter is later than the Western Christian Easter. In 2019, the dates differ by a week. But in 2025, the dates will be 31 March and 5 May. (Children in places like Cyprus may get Easter eggs twice over, if they have friends from both communities.
Good, eh?)

Here, in the Libertà hive, we’ve been doing a little research about Easter traditions. Hive members chose their own area to pursue. (And they do not have to come clean about their level of chocolate consumption, either…) Continue reading

Spring gladdens the writer’s heart

It’s the end of March. The Vernal Equinox is past. We can properly talk about Spring.

spring sunshine, trees and snowviolets in springOf course, by the time this blog is published, it may be snowing again, but we don’t have a crystal ball here in the Libertà hive. So…

Instead, to gladden hearts and look forward to lighter, brighter days, we asked each hive member to give us a flavour of the things she most looks forward to with the coming of Spring. Violets rather than snow? Continue reading

Writing Retreats : Pleasures and Pitfalls

woman reading book in hammock against dark sky

Writing retreats do NOT include this. Sadly.

I’ve been on quite a few writing retreats. And as you read this blog, I’m probably off on another one. If you’re reading this blog after 20th March, though, you’re too late. I’m back 😉

This post is about writing retreats in general, and what I’m hoping to get out of this particular one. I’m also looking at some of the benefits of writing retreats and — sorry, but I won’t lie to you here — the pitfalls.

Writing retreats : what are they? what do writers do there?

Continue reading