Author Archives: Joanna

Creating Atmosphere 2 : Using Light and Shade

Creating atmosphere : with shade in the picture

contrast in shade

Light and shade help to create atmosphere. It doesn’t have to be deep gloom or blinding sunlight, just a degree of contrast.

To see what I’m getting at, have a look at the 3 pictures in the slider  below, showing roughly the same view of a snowy landscape, but in different kinds of light. I reckon the changes of light and shade move the viewer from misery (or at least gloom), through hope, to something much more positive.

The question is: can we do the same thing, subtly, with mere words? Continue reading

Creating Atmosphere : British India Comes Alive

Atmosphere : unspoken unease and menace

At Sophie’s prompting, I’ve recently been reading a new (to me) crime writer, Barbara Cleverly   (a writer who only just missed the cut for 12 days of Christmas). Cleverly’s first 4 books are set in India in the 1920s, after the horrors of the First World War (which haunts many of her characters) but while the British Empire still rules.

Atmosphere: Last Kashmiri Rose coveratmosphere : ragtime in simla coveratmosphere : damascened blade cover

What stayed with me, apart from her genius for plotting, was the atmosphere she created for her pre-independence India — an underlying feeling of unease, even menace.

Cleverly’s British Raj is like a thin and very fragile glass lid on a huge cauldron of broth. Readers can see through the lid to the liquid below. Not quite boiling yet, but with the occasional large bubble forcing its way through the shimmering and (apparently) serene surface. As readers, we sense that it wouldn’t take very much to crack through that flimsy lid from below. Continue reading

Day 3 of 12 Days of Christmas : 3 French Hens & translations

Day 3 cover Little Red Hen French and EnglishDay 3 should be 3 French Hens but, since we couldn’t find said triplet chooks,
we decided to give you a singular hen —
red
— and appropriately, in French.

A peu près la même chose?
as our cross-Channel amis might say?

Which raises the tricky question of translation,
especially of beloved books like The Little Red Hen. Continue reading

Christmas Wishes and 12 Days of Goodies to come

curl up in front of fire for 12 days of Christmas

Goodies to Come for the 12 Days of Christmas…

Starting on Boxing Day, we’ll be posting a daily fun episode of the 12 Days of Christmas, but instead of suggesting a song to sing, we’ll be focusing on books we have read and a few of the ideas — sometimes silly or frivolous, sometimes serious — they’ve given rise to.
Please join in with your own suggestions. We’d love to hear what you think.

Don’t miss the First Day of Christmas, here on 26th December
pear tree at the ready…

When is it Art and when is it Porn? The Pompeii Poser

Warning: this blog contains images of full-frontal female and male nudity; if you are likely to be offended by those images, please do not read on.

On a recent TV programme on BBC4, Andrew Graham-Dixon mentioned (just in passing) that, in the nineteenth century, it was illegal for a woman to pose in the nude for a male artist. Really? Didn’t anyone tell Ingres?

Ingres: Odalisque with a Slave (1839)

Ingres: Odalisque with a Slave (1839)

Graham-Dixon was showing TV viewers nude paintings of ordinary Danish women. He said they would have created a scandal if they had been shown in public. So it was OK to put nude figures into classical poses, but not into modern-day, realistic ones?
Ingres’ Odalisque or Botticelli’s Birth of Venus was art but a Danish working woman was not? Continue reading

Empathy with characters: good AND evil? glad OR gory?

Empathy with characters:
what is it and who has it?

Empathy? Roughly, it’s feeling what another person is feeling, from their point of view. Even if that other person is fictional.
So readers may identify with the heroine in a romance, or with the spy in a thriller, or with the detective in a crime story.

Writing Regency romances, my aim was always that my [mostly female] readers would identify with my heroine and fall in love with my hero.

But readers don’t all react in the same way to our characters and our plots. And I’m beginning to wonder if age is one important factor in that. Continue reading

RIP writer Sara Craven, our friend Annie Ashurst


autumnal path at Westonbirt, RIP Annie AshurstIt is with great sadness that we mark the passing of our very dear friend, Annie Ashurst,
who, as Sara Craven, was a worldwide bestseller and beloved by thousands of fans.
Annie will be much missed by her many friends in the RNA and elsewhere, for her wit,
her brilliant mind (she won Mastermind) and for the kindness and support she offered to so many. She was also, of course, a terrific writer from whom we all learned.
RIP dear Annie

A Highland Regiment has History, with Added Badger

highland dancing as practised by regimentsIf asked to name a Highland Regiment, many people would think of The Black Watch, though it’s by no means the oldest; that title belongs to The Royal Scots.  But Sophie’s recent post about the reel of the 51st (Highland) Division reminded me of two other famous regiments that we have come to know by the amalgamated title of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

There were originally two separate regiments: the 91st (Argyllshire) Regiment, raised in 1794 by the Duke of Argyll; and the 93rd (Sutherland Highlanders) Regiment raised by the Countess of Sutherland in 1799.

Raised? What did that entail? How much choice did recruits have? Continue reading

Stirling Castle & Mary Queen of Scots’ Dad!

Stirling Castle, sitting on extinct volcano

Apologies for the tongue-in-cheek title to this post. I’m guessing that if I had headed it “Stirling Castle and James V”, quite a few of our readers would have said, “Who he?”

Stirling's statue of James V as Old Testament prophetHe is James V, King of Scots. Yes, he was the father of the rather better-known Mary, Queen of Scots.
James V and Stirling Castle had quite a relationship. (And did you know that the mound on which the castle sits is actually an extinct volcano?)

Portrait of James V of ScotlandBoth these images represent James V. In the statue, he has a long flowing beard, like an Old Testament prophet, ready to usher in a golden age for Scotland. In the portrait, he has his normal neat beard and gorgeous clothes.
He didn’t make it to prophet status. James died when he was just 30, leaving one legitimate child (Mary), who was only 6 days old. James also left at least 9 illegitimate children, so he was definitely neither saint nor prophet 😉 Continue reading

Forth Bridge #3 — the Queensferry Crossing

Forth bridge #3 the Queensferry Crossing

Forth Bridge #3 the Queensferry Crossing

A few days ago, on 4th September 2017 to be exact, the Queen opened the #3 crossing of the River Forth, at Queensferry. The date was chosen, I assume, because it was 53 years to the day since she had opened the #2 crossing, the original Forth Road Bridge, back in 1964 (shown below with the Queensferry Crossing beyond).

Forth Bridge #2 the Forth Road bridge

The Queen did not, of course, open the original Forth Bridge; that was done by her great-grandfather, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) in 1890. Continue reading