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Friday, November 14, 2008

Welcome to the Seventeenth Century

What is it about the seventeenth century that makes it so unapproachable for readers and publishers?

This was the century that had it all, the century that marked the turning point between the medieval world and the modern world. In England it was a century torn by a civil war, a revolution from which the whole basis of modern concepts of democracy arose; a king was executed by his own people; another king spent years in exile, yet another was deposed. It saw wars, spies, warming pan babies, dispossed royal bastards, the battle for religious freedoms, London burned down and rebuilt, plague...and on the list goes.

As a writer of historicals with a romantic bent, what could be a better source of inspiration than the English Civil War, where the cavaliers "were wrong but wromantic" and the roundheads were "right but repulsive" (to quote Sellers and Yeatman from 1066 and All That)? Yet I have been told by publishers that as a setting for a historical novel it is "unsaleable" and "unmarketable".

I am a reader too! Sitting on my bookshelf is a small selection of my favourite writers of the period beginning as a youngster with Rosemary Sutcliff ("Simon" and my all time favourite "Rider of the White Horse"), Barbara Softly ("Plain Jane", "A Stone in A Pool" and several others now out of print and hard to find), Ronald Welch ("For the King"). My desert island book and the book that began my passion for the ECW "The King's General" by Daphne Du Maurier, the Wintercombe and Heron series by Pamela Belle - all read until they are falling to pieces.

Please add your own favourites to my list...

In the meantime, watch out for a new space for writers and readers to get together - coming soon!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Du Maurier Revisited

(Warning: may be spoilers)

I have just finished reading Daphne Du Maurier's JAMAICA INN. I last read it as a teenager (prescribed school text) and I loved it! Mind you I was already a Du Maurier fan, having adopted THE KING'S GENERAL quite early in my life. I also think "gothic romance" novels appealed to me - JANE EYRE being my "desert island" book of choice.

So it was interesting to go back to it with an adult's eye and realise what a highly inappropriate book it was for a 13 year old - being black with the overwhelming threat of violation and the murderous deeds of the wreckers. No one can write like Du Maurier. She has the power of words to bring the Bodmin Moor to life as a character in its own right, as black and dangerous as the landlord.

But it has left me with a question. Is it a romance?

I had to give a lecture at a school on this subject. The girls were studying REBECCA specifically as a romance and the teacher thought it would be diversionary to get a romance writer in to talk about the subject. I'm not sure if she was best pleased with my conclusion - that REBECCA is NOT a romance and neither is JAMAICA INN...yes the hero and heroine end up together but there is no promise of a 'happy ever after' and the reason for this, I think, lies in Du Maurier's heroes. They are, to a man, flawed almost beyond redemption, incapable of love. Maximillian in REBECCA never really appears at all and while Jem Merlyn displays some heroic qualities, you are left with the query in the back of your mind as to whether blood will out and Mary, is in fact, going to end up just like her Aunt Patience. As for Sir Richard Grenville in THE KING'S GENERAL, there was never going to be a HEA there. The heroes of Du Maurier's books are "mad, bad and dangerous to know" and the heroines love them without reserve, but it is an animal attraction. Mary Yellan even accepts this...she says at one point in JAMAICA INN that her attraction to Jem Merlyn is not a romantic attraction, but an attraction as old as men and women. An irresistable attraction she describes as love but not romantic love.

I would love to know what you think...Would you describe Du Maurier's books as "romances"?


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Secret Lives

You can see from my profile that I have a number of "lives", of which writer is only one! I have been pondering this strangely schizophrenic life. In my 'real' life (the one that pays the bills!), I am a senior executive with a large not-for profit organisation. For three days a week (in real time, more in emotional time!) I balance the demands of board meetings, board reports papers and ongoing requests for legal advice. For two days a week I try (not terribly successfully) to be Alison Stuart, writer...and in between I fit wife, mother etc. into the equation.

The people you meet and interact with in your day to day life form a certain image of you in their own mind. For many years, when I first started writing, I would no more have admitted to my secret life than stood up in front of a Melbourne Cricket Ground crowd and declared myself a born again Christian! It was even something a little shameful , a secret vice like eating too much chocolate ... or buying really expensive Italian shoes...

I had to really trust a person before I confessed my secret life, generally prefaced by something like: "Just for fun! Just stories, not great works of literature..." I was so afraid that if my colleagues knew I wrote historical fiction (with romance) my professional credibility would be undermined in some way. This is one of the reasons I chose to write under a pen name. It freed me up to be another person, the Jekkyl to my Hyde!

As I've gone on, I have gained a little more confidence in my work colleagues and most of them now know that beneath the senior executive in the tailored suits (that is a look I am definitely trying to shed!), there is a whole other side to my life. This has, in its turn, invited similar confidences about the secret lives of my work colleagues - martial arts champions, crime writers, poetry writers...

I would love to know how you balance your secret lives? Do you have work colleagues with secret lives? How does knowing a person's secret life affect the way you interact with them?

The Book of My Heart!

If you have read my earlier blogs and visited my website, you will know that BY THE SWORD is the book of my heart. A little story that began when I visited Harvington Hall at the age of 11 and has been with me through thick and thin - endured rejection and rewrite, consignment to sock drawers and resurrection is now an Eppie Award winner.
The awards were announced in Portland on Saturday night but, of course, being in Melbourne Australia I did not see the results until Monday morning. My husband, hearing the shriek, came bounding up the stairs two at a time, convinced I was being savaged by a monster spider....
Thank you so much to those out there who have sent me so many good wishes that I am sloshing in cyber champagne and to Fiona Lowe and Mel Scott for "blogging me"...and most of all to those of you who have read and enjoyed the story. THAT is why I write :-)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Room of One's Own

I have no pretensions to be the next Virginia Woolf but that superlative writer wrote an essay on this subject which you can read in full at . In short she said to write fiction, a woman needed money and a room of her own.

I have always had, in one sense or another, a room of my own or should I say, a place of my own where I worked and I could make identifiably MY space. My sons had their bedrooms, my husband his shed and I claimed the room in the house loosely termed "the study". Two and a half years ago I lost that space when my husband's employer unilaterally decided my husband should work from home. I don't propose to go into the fine details of that (still ongoing arrangement) that left my desk stranded on a (large) landing.

I attempted to claim that space on the landing as my own, but nothing I could do altered the fact that it was still a thoroughfare. I mourned for my space and my writing effectively dried up, except, oddly, on those few days when I was home alone and the whole house once more became my space, but crammed into a corner and subject to the continual interruptions of sons and husband was not a good place for a writer.

There are probably those of you who say, a good writer can write anywhere, and certainly when the muse is with me, I could write in a train station in the middle of peak hour, but I need a sense of order around me to get that muse kick started and working on the landing, I never seemed to achieve that sense of physical or mental order.

When I lived in Asia, I learned quite a bit about Feng Shui - certainly enough to know that the basic precepts of not cluttering and freeing up energy lines have some considerable credence. Certainly they do for me!

My eldest son has upped stakes and is travelling overseas for the next year so I, after some basic consultation with him, claimed his room. Over the Christmas/New Year period I painted the room and moved all my "stuff" into it, hung my pictures on the wall and made the space mine. I am not just a writer, I also sew (quilting/ embroidery) and with all my sewing materials pushed into available spaces around the house, I have even felt myself unable to pursue that side of my creativity. Now it is all with me again and I feel the space in my head opening up again.

Along with the space, I have also embarked on some new year's resolutions which I fully intend to keep (and by declaring them publicly - I can keep myself honest!). The first was to undertake one of Margie Lawson's on-line courses on "Beating Self-Defeating Behaviours". Through the course, I have hooked up with a wonderful fellow-writer in Canada, Alice Valdal , to be my change coach. We share a lot in common - including the same self-defeating behaviours.

The second was that old chestnut - exercise! I have given up on the unused gym membership and taken up a programme called "Step Into Life" - group exercise in the great outdoors. With a stressful job and the general pressures of daily life, physical fitness is the most worthwhile investment I can give myself. So keep me honest! Exercising outside is wonderful at the moment because the days are long and the weather is warm - roll on winter and it may be a different story.

Two questions:

1. Do you need a "room of your own"? Or If you have a "room of your own" tell me about it.

2. What new year's resolutions are you absolutely committed to keeping this year?

I look forward to hearing from you.