Author Archives: Joanna

Queen Elizabeth: with gasps and laughter

mourners for Queen Elizabeth II outside Buckingham PalaceTomorrow is the Queen’s funeral. There will be a great deal of black and much sombre music. And probably quite a few tears. Not a day for laughter.

But the Queen was a woman who had a mischievous sense of humour, a woman who, in private and sometimes in public, loved a joke.

Remembering the Queen’s sense of fun

So today, in advance of all that sombre black, I suggest we remember her funny side. Mostly, as Sophie said last week, she kept a straight face in case someone was offended. But sometimes, just sometimes, she had a chance to let her puckish sense of fun have full rein.

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Cover help and a Free Book Giveaway

I’m desperately in need of cover help.
Basically, I can’t decide between two different covers for the Christmas book that I’m about to republish. I’ve revised and extended it and I want it to be right. So I’m asking for advice here.

Please tell me which cover you think I should choose. Continue reading

Punctuating Dialogue (3) the Full Punctuation Rules?

magic bookIn this third and final part of the blog series on punctuating dialogue, we’re back in the magical, fairytale kingdom of Bel Paese with the unpunctuated Ricotta Dialogues [click to download]. There’s a link to the punctuated version later in this blog.

You can find part 2 of the series here, and part 1 is here. The latest version of The Rules is at the end of part 2 but I’ll be expanding them at the end of this blog, and providing a printable version, so you might prefer to wait for that magic rule book to be opened 😉

But first, last week’s answer?

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Punctuating dialogue (Part 2) Beyond the Basics

Lichtenstein castleLast week I introduced you to the fairytale kingdom of Bel Paese and gave you the first three rules of punctuating dialogue. Today we go beyond the basics.

If you want the recap, it’s at the end of my previous blog here. And you can still download the Ricotta Dialogues here.

This week we’re going to look at slightly more complicated punctuation of dialogue. It’s not used all the time, but it is useful to learn and apply the rules.
As before, they’re simple.

But first, last week’s answers?

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Punctuating dialogue need not be scary (Part 1)

woman tearing hairPunctuating dialogue seems to be a problem for many writers. But it need not be scary. There are conventions (rules) to apply, but once you know them, it’s straightforward. Honest 😉

Beautiful Woman Sitting At Night Forest And Reading Fairy Tale BookCome and discover the rules in the company of Princess Ricotta, her dim but impressively ripped suitors Prince Square-Jaw and Prince Six-Pack, and her conniving servants Slack-Britches and Mozarella. The fairytale kingdom of Bel Paese awaits you.

Those of you who are already confident about punctuating dialogue can read the fairytale just for fun. I hope you enjoy Ricotta’s adventures, even with unpunctuated dialogue. For those whose punctuation might need a bit of help, keep reading.

Punctuating dialogue is only convention

The conventions of punctuating dialogue have evolved over many years. Some of them seem pretty arbitrary but rules often are. We just have to accept them. Their aim is simple, though: to make it easy for readers to understand what’s going on. Continue reading

Normans in Sicily : the Golden Age

I left my previous blog on the Normans in Sicily in 1108, at the point where Roger II became Count of Sicily, aged 9. He was an astonishing character and began to rule for himself when only 16. He expanded his rule through conquest and, in 1130, became King of Sicily. This is how John Julius Norwich describes Roger’s Sicily by the 1140s:

Cover of Kingdom-Sun-1130-1194-Normans-SicilySicily, first of all, has grown steadily richer; and as her prosperity has increased, so too has her political stability. In contrast to the endemic confusion of the Italian peninsula, the island has become a paragon of just and enlightened government, peaceable and law-abiding, an amalgam of races and languages which seems to give strength rather than weakness; and, as its reputation grows, more and more churchmen and administrators, scholars and merchants and unashamed adventurers are drawn across the sea from England, France and Italy to settle in what must have seemed to many of them a veritable Eldorado, a Kingdom in the sun.

Sadly, the Kingdom in the sun lasted only until 1194. But it has left wonders behind.

The Normans’ Greek Admiral of Sicily

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Sicily and the Normans

green Sicily en route Palermo © Joanna Maitland

© Joanna Maitland 2022

Sicily was a surprise to me when I visited last month. It’s amazingly green and lush. Not at all what I expected.

My mental image of Sicily was derived from watching the arid backdrop to the Montalbano TV series. Wrong 😉

I snapped this picture from our moving bus. It shows the road through the mountainous interior as we travelled from the airport at Catania in the east of the island to Palermo on the north coast.

Green Sicily with citrus trees

© Joanna Maitland 2022

And there was more. Lush citrus groves as shown left. Plus lots of olive trees and vineyards.

I arrived just at the beginning of the hot season. There wasn’t a spot of rain during the 10 days I was there and it was hot. So I can understand how the dry and dusty backdrop to Montalbano comes about.

History of Sicily?

Too complicated to describe in detail here. Except that, since Sicily was strategically important in the Mediterranean, all sorts of peoples strove to control it. It was colonised by, among others, the Phoenicians (also known as Carthaginians) and the Greeks. The two groups were rivals there from the 8th century BC.

Temple E (5th c. BC) at Selinunte

Temple E at Selinunte, built 460-450 BC, rebuilt 1950s © Joanna Maitland 2022

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Conveniences: Shampoo, Toothpaste, Electric Light?

If you found yourself translated back to a previous era, what modern conveniences would you miss? It’s a question I often think about when I turn on a light, for example, or when I read a book or watch a TV documentary about how things were, way back then.1900 House book cover, a story with few conveniences

I am reminded of the Channel 4 documentary, The 1900 House, the first of several such re-enactments. The whole family had signed up for the project, but they met problems and lack of conveniences that none of them had expected.

Shampoo?

One of the most contentious problems was the lack of shampoo which hadn’t then been invented. Continue reading

Pheasants are for more than game casserole

cock pheasantPheasants can be fun for stories. So… once upon a time, there was a cock pheasant. And “once upon a time” is not in the past. He’s still around.

He lives in my garden. Most of the time, that is. Sometimes, he goes on a foray next door, in hopes of convincing the neighbours that no one feeds him — no one ever! —  and he is a poor, starved creature. It works, too, according to the neighbours.

He is a handsome bird with shimmering gold and rust-brown feathers, a very long elegant tail and a wide white ruff round his neck. (Louise Allen, friend of Libertà, tells us that the bigger the white neck-ruff, the more testosterone in the, ahem, cock.)

cock pheasant close-upThis cock pheasant certainly fancies himself. He thinks he owns all he surveys. King of the World, in fact. And he tries to see off any other cock pheasant who dares to set foot on his patch. He barks — a sound like a strangulated cock crow — and rouses his feathers to show his importance and warn off rivals. He is a large chap with a small head and an even smaller, pea-sized brain. If he were human, I’d say he was “all mouth and (no) trousers”.

I’ve named him Boris. Continue reading

Regency food and characters

fabulous hotel foodRegency food is really interesting and characters’ preferences tell us a lot about them. Their preferences for drink do too, as I tried to show in my earlier blog about what characters (Regency and modern) drank.

But this week, I’m blogging about food in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Sometimes, food in glamorous surroundings, too…

Where Regency food came from…? Meat, fish, game

Mr Darcy and Lizzie Bennet at the danceThere isn’t much detail of food and drink in Pride and Prejudice, but Mrs Bennet does mention preparations being made for dinners to fête Mr Bingley’s return to Netherfield.

“Mrs Nicholls…was going to the butcher’s, she told me, on purpose to order in some meat on Wednesday, and she had got three couple of ducks, just fit to be killed.”

That shows that meat wasn’t instantly available from a butcher’s as it is now. And a hostess knew and accepted that providing meat entailed killing animals. Continue reading