Category Archives: a writer’s life

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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Healing Story

This week I have been desperately searching for a healing story. To begin with, I dug into my memory for what R S Thomas called something to set against the heart in the long cold.

But the state of remembered tranquility was not enough. I wanted a story, with a beginning a middle and an end. Particularly I wanted a happy ending.

And serendipitously, the search got me back to a place where I really did feel healed. This is how.

Stage One – Reason for the Quest

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Foodie ramblings: gardening? anyone for beetroot?

Following Joanna’s wonderful blog on pheasants the other week, another food-related post. About gardening. Sort of.Well, more a ramble, really, but there is some (vaguely) writerly stuff at the end. Promise.

Confession time

Gardening? I am “NotAGardener”. There,  I have said it.

NotAGardeners” will know how inadequate they feel when they see a well tended veg patch, straight lines of leeks standing to attention, beans and peas running riot over a network of canes. Lettuces, cabbages, potatoes – to say nothing of herbaceous borders bursting with colour, flowers waiting to be picked to adorn the dining table. It would be (naturally) groaning under the weight of food I have grown, harvested and prepared with my own fair hands.

Gardening? Nah

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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

Red Boots and Bow Tie (or RNA Awards Ceremony)

Hello again. I’m back about the RNA Awards…

Recently I was here with Louise Allen, chatting about how it felt like to be shortlisted for the RNA Awards. Now the Awards are over, and I’m back to tell you all about it.

RNA Awards invitation

Romanceland has been buzzing about the RNA Awards

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PGW’s Royal Romance

I have just read PGW’s royal romance, The Prince and Betty. When I first wrote about romantic novelists in Wodehouse World, I knew that the book existed but I had never read it. Now that I have, the story itself and, indeed, the history of its publication is a jigsaw puzzle.

However, I’ve also learned something about how it fitted into PGW’s life and other writing. And it has made me think again about Wodehouse’s place in romantic fiction.  And, indeed, of romantic fiction in his own life. So I thought I would share.

PGW’s Royal Romance – before the beginning

gold coinsWodehouse made his reputation initially with school stories. By 1909, however, he wanted to leave that behind and “butt into the big league,” as he told fellow free-lancer L H Bradshaw.

In New York, on leave of absence from his UK employer, The Globe, he found a literary agent who sold the two short stories PGW had brought with him for US$500. He was earning less that 10 guineas a pop from magazines in the UK. Continue reading

It all began with a garden…

January sees the publication of my 70th book for Harlequin Mills and Boon and in the darkest days of winter, it offers the scents and colour of warm early summer days.

Redeemed by Her Midsummer Kiss

Click Cover to buy the book

The garden…

When a book is written and has been through the publication process, I often struggle to remember what inspired the original idea. How it got from a blank screen to the physical book that I’m holding in my hand.

Redeemed by Her Midsummer Kiss was like that.

blackberries

https://pixabay.com/users/pixel2013-2364555/

I do know that I was thinking about an earlier book in which the garden had featured heavily and which I’d loved writing.

That one had started with blackberries hanging over a garden wall. Continue reading

In the flesh! With hugs!

hugging a tree but hugs between writers are betterSome of the Libertà hive, plus friends and supporters, have been on writing retreat this past week. In the flesh! With hugs!

And it was utterly wonderful.

Yes, I know that the image here is someone hugging a tree. We did that too, but the real joy was hugs with each other. Wine bottles may also have been hugged. Usually while still partly full.

Why Zoom can’t compete with hugs

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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

Finding appropriate images to use legally and fairly

glorious beach, north-west Scotland © Joanna Maitland

glorious beach, north-west Scotland © Joanna Maitland

How often, when you’re writing a blog or preparing something for social media, do you tell yourself you need to include an image? Most of the time, I’d guess. But finding appropriate images can be difficult.
Certainly time-consuming.

And even when you’ve found one, can you legally use it?

This one on the right, of a glorious beach in north-west Scotland, is fine because I took it myself. My copyright. No problem.

That’s my first tip.
Tip #1 Use your own pics whenever you can.
And if you’re worried about other people snaffling them, make sure you mark them as your copyright. (I don’t do that, normally, but in this instance, I have. Note to self: I probably should claim copyright routinely though I’m already partly covered by Tip #2 below.) Continue reading