Tag Archives: ebook

Why I love Victorian paintings

I grew up with this picture:

The Travelling Companions

On Saturday mornings, while my sister was at youth orchestra, my father and I would often have a quick scour round the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. It was the galleries devoted to Victorian painting that I always loved the best and I was lucky because Birmingham had one of the best collections in the world. For me it was magical.

I loved those big necked Rosetti women with their flaming hair and pouty lips, (and possibly thyroid problems.) I loved  ”Christ in the Carpenter’s shop in Nazareth” by Holman Hunt and I loved Ford Maddox Ford’s “Work”, where the figure of a man dressed in women’s clothes slinks down the side of the composition to hide from the police. I loved the “Death of Chatterton”, with the chalk -faced poet stretched out on the couch beneath his attic window, looking so beautiful and romantic in death and I loved “The Last of England”, with the baby’s hand reaching out from under the mother’s wraps as the parents look mournfully out, surrounded by cabbages for the long voyage to goodness knows where. A terrible, sad tale indeed, but I never tired of looking at it and wondering.

The Last of England

I realise now these pictures turned me into a storyteller. They are seared in my brain. I can recite their contents like poems learnt off by heart. And those two sisters in grey silk by Egg, one asleep, one with her book – how I wondered who they were and where they were going. Were they sisters? Did they mind being dressed the same? What is she reading? Of what is the other one dreaming? The same questions still throw themselves at me and I long to answer them. Maude and Florence? Lucy and Susan? Mary and Kate? Who are you and what is your story? Do you love the same man? Does your mother favour one of you over the other? Have you enough money to last you through the winter in Rome?

Now I look for the people in the stories I write in Victorian paintings. Sometimes I even find them.

May I introduce to you Felix Carswell, the young hero of The Butchered Man?  I found him staring out at me in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. I hope he approves of my biography of him.

The Butchered Man – buy here on Kindle, Smashwords and now in paperback


Novel Landscapes: Green Grow the Rushes

I have just seen the trailer for what looks a wonderfully naff film about the burgeoning romance between a certain Kate and William. What strikes me about it is the complete lack of sense of place – in this case St Andrews, which really ought to be the star of the piece as an all round very romantic place.

This got me thinking about place in my work and how I like to use places that I know or visit as a jumping off point for my imagination. I have talked a bit about this process here for The Daughters of Blane, so I thought it would be fun to have a look at some of the other locations I’ve used. Being your own location manager is one of the best bits of writing fiction and much easier than fanatasy casting.

I shall try not to give away too much of the story as I do this, in case you haven’t read it.

Green Grow the Rushes starts in the Scottish Borders, in a country house called the Quarro. The location and general setting of the The Quarro is Traquair House

but the house described in the book is Errdig, near Wrexham.

Errdig is a complete time capsule of a house with all the staff quarters beautifully preserved and has the most extraordinary other worldly quality to the place which seemed perfect for the opening phase on the novel, when the characters all fall in love with the wrong people.

The next phase of the story is in Edwardian Edinburgh and I had my heroine Jessie and her new husband set up home in a flat in Marchmont Road that actually belonged to some friends we had at the time. But the best place to get the idea of a middle class flat in a Scottish city of the time is to go to the Tenement House Museum in Glasgow.

Ralph Erskine and his family live on the other side of Edinburgh in Rothesay Terrace, in a house that was in fact built for the owner of the Scotsman newspaper.

It is now the Melvin House Hotel and currently being refurbished. I shall go and have a look when it is done!

Alix, Ralph’s sister goes off to study at St Andrews University, where she lives, like many respectable women students of her day in the all female hall of residence, University Hall.

I lived here myself for 2 years. When my mother (ex Newnham College) dropped me off for my first term she remarked “This is just like Newnham” which is what the founder, also ex-Newnham, intended.

The Erskine family decide to retire to Fife and buy an old mansior near Cupar, which they hire Philip Winterfield (the architect hero of my first novel) to remodel for them. This house is called Allansfield and is inspired by the very wonderful Hill of Tarvit, also near Cupar.  Sadly, because of financial squeezes, the house is now closed but the gardens are still open.

In fact, I love this house so much I have included it in my only contemporary novel so far, The Wild Garden, (coming soon as an ebook) and the house still belongs to the Erskine family.

It features a wonderful, state of the art Edwardian kitchen and adjoining Butler’s Pantry (with a wooden sink) as well as some incredibly beautiful rooms for the family to live in. It is terribly sad that it’s closed and I can’t send you all off for a day trip there.

If any of this takes your fancy you can find out more about where to buy Green Grow the Rushes here.


My perfect ebook reader

I haven’t seen it yet, but I  will know it when I see it. And then I will buy one.

  • It will be about 13cm by 20cm and about 1cm thick. About the size of an ordinary UK paperback in fact. There is a reason real books are the size they are – they fit comfortably into human hands.
  • It will not be too heavy to carry about.
  • It will have a lovely clear full colour screen like the one on my Samsung phone or for that matter the iPod Touch.  The screen will be touch sensitive.
  • The non-screen part will not be made of some shiny sexy material so highly polished that it slithers out of your hand (like the iPod).
  • It will have some kind of a handle that makes it easy to hold for long periods, particularly if I have arthrtitic or unsteady hands.
  • I will be able to plug it into the mains to recharge or via a USB cable to my laptop. It will have superb battery life of course.
  • I will be able to get it in other colours than black.
  • I will be able to store my music on it and listen via headphones.
  • It will have full internet connectivity.
  • It will have great library software so I can store, organise and bookmark all my reading.
  • It will also store my photos – but probably doesn’t need a camera
  • It will be incredibly simple to operate.
  • It doesn’t need to make phone calls. It would be a bit silly at that size.
  • All software developers can develop and sell apps for it without fear of censorship.
  • It will be robust – I will be able to drop it and my child can smear jam over it.
  • The screen will be scratch resistant already so I don’t have to buy, cut out and stick on that fiddly clear plastic sticky stuff.
  • It will have a virtual keyboard.
  • It might have a stylus and could operate as a graphics tablet/sketchbook.
  • It will look gorgeous and be an object of desire.
  • Clever people will make elegant cases/bags for it, not tatty plastic things.
  • It will be sensibly priced to make adoption very widespread.
  • It will be the book 2.0 really.