Author Archives: Sophie

October Day

This week has been generally frustrating and guilt-making – except for one glorious October day. Nothing went to plan. It was very exciting in one way but… Well, see what you think.

It started before dawn. I woke up to fog. Real Gothic fog.

Now, from my fourth floor window I normally look across a cityscape of roof and skylight and the odd church tower. The staircase of the nearest block of flats shows a searchlight beam all night. Fantasy-tall cranes in the distance carry a red warning light on skeletal antennae. In the pre-dawn, there are lights in a few attic windows.

But this morning early there was none of that. Just fog, swirling and eddying like sea fret.

I got up and went out. The lights were shifting and formless, like blobs of paint dropped in running water. I couldn’t find a lamppost I knew was there, until I was close enough to touch. It was cold; still and very quiet.

Gothic October Day

So, of course, I came home and wrote up a Gothic scene. A damn good scene, I may say. Good enough to  have had Wilkie Collins gnashing his teeth with envy. Continue reading

Space Breaking Up Text, the Reader’s Friend

Punctuation was invented to help the Reader. And the very first invention was space breaking up text — so you could tell one word from the next. Seriously.

A couple of months ago I was putting the final touches to an online course on punctuation. Not a subject to rock them in the aisles, I thought. Mind you, I love the stuff. But I have learned that, as a subject of conversation, it doesn’t generally draw children from play and old men from the chimney corner.

exclamation mark in fireSo when I was preparing the course, I thought I’d throw in a bit of history for context.

Only then, of course, I had to check online whether what I remembered was a) accurate and b) still received wisdom. And found something new to me: Aristophanes, Head Librarian of Alexandria aged sixty. He was sitting there, receiving rolls in Greek, the language of the prevailing empire.

Most people then, of course, would be illiterate. So the purpose of these scrolls was to provide a text for someone else to deliver in the market place or to perform as an entertainment.

BUT they arrived with all the letters in a continuous line. Presumably to save papyrus and possibly time, as they were being hand-copied by scribes.

So Aristophanes thought of a way of marking up copies of the text to help the Poor Bloody Orator who had to read them out loud. Continue reading

Imperfect Past of Romantic Author

fog of memoryThis week I have been contemplating the imperfect past of a romantic author, namely me.

It is imperfect in two distinct ways. First – it was often a pretty messy present at the time. Second – I’m not at all good with recalling precise details. In fact, the only bits I remember with any clarity are the stuff where I went badly WRONG.

London skyline with St Paul's dome and skyscrapers in fogExample: I’m drifting with a vague image of some day, pleasantly foggy, footsteps on wet pavement maybe. And then BAMM!! I’ve fallen over a stranger’s suitcase.

I’ve probably pushed the poor chap into the gutter, to boot. And he’s bleeding and going to miss his train and I can’t even apologise properly because he doesn’t speak enough English…

You get the picture? Wince-making, right? Continue reading

Pauline Borghese’s House

Joanna’s blog of three weeks ago, set me thinking about Pauline Borghese’s house in Paris. JoannaPauline Borghese's house was talking about her visit to the Villa dei Mulini where Napoleon lived during his first exile. She described an enormous gilt mirror flanked by busts of Napoleon himself and “a woman in antique dress”. Tradition has it that the woman is Pauline Borghese.

Well, I thought that was odd. Maybe it would have been impolitic to take a bust of Josephine. But surely Napoleon had fallen out with Pauline (not for the first time) because she disliked his second wife, Marie Louise of Austria. Why would he want a bust depicting a family he had fallen out with?

So I dug about a little. And it seems that, after her brother’s first defeat, Pauline sold up everything and went to live in Elba. Apparently she was the only one of his siblings to visit him during that time. Continue reading

Inventive Punctuation and the Popular Novelist

exclamation mark in fireLet me start with an admission: I love inventive punctuation. Of course, you can do an awful lot, just by changing a comma into a dash. But some people go the whole hog into brackets, asterisks and the wild excesses of the exclamation mark. It all fascinates me.

Most people, of course, ignore it. Well, readers pick up the writers’ signals, I hope. But they don’t actually play around with the stuff. Why should they?

For some people, though, punctuation is a real headache, indissolubly tied to (horrors!) grammar. It’s a terrible shame.

That was the reason that, several years ago, Elizabeth Hawksley and I wrote a simple guide. Its working title was Punctuation for the Petrified, which the publisher vetoed for excellent reasons. It reflected our feelings, though. We wanted people to learn a few principles, have a source book to check things that worried them and, above all, relax and have fun. Continue reading

Who made Georgette Georgian?

  1. Special Licence Marriage — Heyer’s Research Failing?
  2. Heyer Heroes And Falling in Love With One
  3. New Heyer Stories? Guest Post by Jennifer Kloester
  4. Day 8 of 12 Days of Christmas : 8 Maids a-Milking & Heyer
  5. Beautiful heroines, handsome heroes : never ugly, never bald?
  6. Georgette Heyer Study Day
  7. The Romantic Hero Revisited — Essential Hero Qualities
  8. Heyer’s children : too young, too old, just right?
  9. Georgette Heyer: the problem of brothers (for sisters)
  10. Who made Georgette Georgian?

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer with antihero the Duke of AvonWe are coming up to the centenary of Georgette Heyer’s first published novel, a Georgian romance called The Black Moth, in September this year. I, like many people, first encountered Heyer as the great exponent of Regency Romance. So it startled me, when I first read the The Black Moth, to find it solidly placed in the middle of the eighteenth century.

And that is not the only odd thing about the book. It is also clearly the prequel of These Old Shades, another Georgian romance. It is also a favourite of huge numbers of her fans, and her first runaway best seller. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, but The Black Moth is clearly the back story – well, a good slug of it anyway – of the devastatingly supercilious Duke of Avon. Continue reading

Buckingham Palace Garden : trees, family, courage

Buckingham Palace, garden front

Garden front, photograph by Elizabeth Hawksley

This week I had a great treat. I visited Buckingham Palace Gardens. For the first time they are open for members of the  public to explore on a so-called “self-guided tour”.

The idea has been so successful that demand for tickets outstripped supply. So there are now additional ticket for dates throughout July to September.

Indeed, it looks as if even the newly released  tickets have already sold out. But they urge you to check back for possible cancellations. Given the uncertainty of British Weather – that great Cleopatra, as Charles Lamb called it – I should think there may be plenty

Two go to Buckingham Palace

Continue reading

Punctuation and a New Challenge

owls, Little owlThe week before last I spent a blissful holiday in Dorset as a birdwatcher’s companion. We went on long walks in sea air and generally marvelled at the countryside. It was in full fig and glorious.

The Birdwatcher saw a couple of birds he didn’t expect, as well as one genuine rarity. And I spent a couple of hours communing with a Little Owl. It sat so still I worried that it was a stuffed toy. The Amiable Birdwatcher agreed that it might be a decoy to attract owls to that quarry as a des res, so took us back to check. And then, Sleepy Sam came out of his stupor to pursue a fly up one level on the rock face. So  after that, I stayed and watched him doze.

Punctuation – the Reckless Volunteer

writing energy magic, book, bluebell woodThe peace and quiet was very necessary. This last week I have been wrestling with new and exciting challenges. For I am to deliver an online course on punctuation next month and I have never done such a thing before. The online course, I mean.

Punctuation I had covered – or thought I did, anyway. Continue reading

Blinking into the Sunlight

Janus gateways to 2016I’ve been wondering all week who it was who first “emerged blinking into the sunlight.” It’s a lovely phrase but these days it’s turned into a cliché. Google it, and you find rather a lot of very dull examples but no source.

That is especially true now that Covid 19 restrictions may be coming to an end at last. For the time being. Perhaps.

So where did this lovely phrase originate? Shakespeare? The Bible? Milton? Doesn’t look like it.

Or could it be Mole, abandoning his whitewashing for the sheer delights of the spring, the river and friends?

London skyline with St Paul's dome and skyscrapers in fogOr poor devastated Orpheus, evicted from the Underworld, alone.

Maybe, though, it is more mundane. Maybe even collective. Prisoners, say. Or people who have gathered underground as a refuge. Maybe even an audience at some all-night movie show, leaving the cinema as day breaks.

A Mole Moment

So this morning, I woke up just after dawn. I’m a lark, not an owl, and this is normal for me. But it had rained like Niagara nearly all of yesterday and the light this morning was extraordinary. Piercing is the only word. It was my Mole moment. I wanted to be out there adventuring.

And pretty soon I was.

With a herd of elephants on the move.

I should explain that last night friends came to dinner. The first friends round my table for eighteen months! (I was like a labrador whose master has just come home from a year in Space.) And on the way to my house they had photographed this herd.

I  needed to see them. So out I went into the diamond-bright morning to look. And there they were, heading in determined convoy across a playing field. That’s the playing field outside the Saatchi Gallery at the Duke of York’s Headquarters on the King’s Road. Continue reading

Cosy Crime Novel, the Continuum

Lockdown seems to bring out the frustrated book clubber in loads of people. Over the last few weeks people keep asking me if I’ve read this cosy crime novel which is:

  • a murder mystery
  • a phenomenal success
  • in spite of being “only a cosy”.

Well, of course, say to a romantic novelist that a book is “only” anything and we’re onto our skate board and off to the nearest bookshop, out of sheer fellow feeling.

So, yes, I’ve read it. Now.

Of which more later*.

Cozy as a Term of Art

woman walking away, rose, cosy crimeBut that made me realise that I’ve always wondered about “Cozy Crime”. [US spelling because, at least in origin, it seems to be a US term.] I mean, what’s cosy [British spelling because this is me talking now] about crime?

By definition, crime is antisocial, the antithesis of cosy. Crime hurts people, sometimes terminally. It deprives them of something or someone they value and may well make them reassess their whole lives.

What’s more, crime can throw whole groups of family, friends and neighbours into turmoil. 

Maybe that’s why “crime” is often modified to  “mystery” when used in this sort of  label. Continue reading