14.12.12

Girl Bands in World War II

Girl Bands in World War II Girl Bands are not a new phenomena. Long before Girls Aloud, The Spice Girls, or even The Supremes there were girl bands of quite a different sort. During World War II Girl Bands took over when the boys joined up. But it was a time when prejudice against women performing was still quite strong. Many people thought it wasn’t quite proper for women to blow into a trumpet or make a sax sing.

There was a wonderful movie called The Last of the Blond Bombshells, featuring Judy Dench. It’s the story of a widow who was obliged to confine her sax playing to the attic while her husband was alive, but on his death decides to follow her passion and start her own band. I loved this film, and the idea inspired me to write my own story about a girl band, set in Manchester during the war.

Dancing on Deansgate is about Jess Delaney, a young girl who loves music and discovers she has a talent, thanks to a Salvation Army sergeant who teaches her to play the trumpet. Despite an abusive uncle and a feckless mother, and with her beloved father away fighting in the war, she decides to make something of her life.

But Jess doesn’t find it easy to get the band underway. Band leaders and ballroom managers frequently accused them of not being able to withstand the physical hardships of long hours of playing.

‘Women don’t have the stamina that men have,’ said one.
‘Limited scope,’ said another.
‘Women are long on looks but short on talent.’
‘We aren’t in the business of employing young ladies who think it might be fun to show off on stage, however charming and genteel they might be.’

This attitude incensed Jess and she would tell them in no uncertain terms that her girls could play In the Mood every bit as well as they could play Greensleeves.

One manager had the gall to say that women had no real sense of rhythm in a jam session, as they were hopeless at improvising.

Another, trying to be conciliatory, remarked, ‘I see why you ladies are offering to step in, with all the men having been conscripted for service and bands desperate for decent musicians. But we’re looking for professionals, not amateurs. We need the best.’

Outraged, Jess’s response was sharp. ‘We are the best, and how can we ever get to be professional if we’re never given the chance.’

A shake of the head. ‘Women aren’t made to sit on a stage and blow their brains out.’
‘We could blow the men right off it.’

As well as proving they were skilled musicians, they were also expected to look feminine, but a glamorous look brought its own problems. Slinky gowns, together with sexy swing music, could bring about unwelcome invitations.

‘Once, at a function for naval officers on board a destroyer, Jess felt able to soothe the girls’ nerves by reminding them that these were a class above the ordinary enlisted men so there would surely be a bit more decorum. She was delighted when not only did they play terrific music that night, but looked pretty good too in new slinky gowns of gold sateen. Perhaps too good, for afterwards the Chief Petty Officer came round and invited them to ‘come and mingle, so they could have a drink with the boys.’

‘I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,’ Jess said, glancing quickly around at the others to make sure they agreed with her. She could see at once that they did, perhaps with the exception of Ena, who was already giving the Chief Petty Officer the glad eye. How that girl ever imagined she could survive in a nunnery, Jess couldn’t imagine.


‘Come on now girls, be fair. You’ve got to be nice to the lads. They enjoy spending time with a pretty woman. A bit of fraternising does no harm at all. They deserve it.’


‘What, exactly are you suggesting?’ Adele asked, dark eyes narrowing to a dangerous slit.


‘Why do you think we invited you, and not a men’s band? Some of these guys might not see a woman again for months, if at all. Do them a favour, girls. Be generous. You know that’s what is expected. Why else would you have accepted the invitation?’

Lulu poked him in the chest with her sharply pointed, fuchsia tipped finger and pushed him backwards out the door. ‘Sod off, you nasty little man. We’re musicians, not tarts!’

They were very careful which bookings they took after that. Enlisted men, they discovered, were in fact far more respectful than the officers, certainly in their experience.’


They called it the Christmas Blitz, but there are no festivities for Jess, locked in the cellar by her feckless, tarty mother. And when Lizzie is imprisoned for shoplifting, Jess is sent to live with her uncle, a bullying black marketeer, who treats her like a slave. 

Jess's natural musical talent offers an escape route - and the chance for love. But Uncle Bernie has never forgiven his niece for refusing to join his illegal schemes, and threatens to deprive Jess of her hard-won independence.

Available from Amazon Kindle Store.

7.12.12

Out and About

Unbelievably, Christmas is almost upon us. After a wet summer spent at our holiday home in the UK, we are quite pleased to be back in sunny Spain. Within days of arriving home we were into the olive harvest, ably assisted by our trusty band of pickers. The day was bright but with a cold wind and we were glad to warm up with a lunch of hot chilli and apple crumble. Wine, of course, was involved and anyone still sober valiantly went back to do more picking.


David, helped by one of the crew, took the crop to the local cooperativa where it weighed in at 167 kilos, which resulted in 28 litres of extra virgin olive oil from 30 trees. Plenty for our pickers, and ourselves. It was classed as muy fuerte, which is very strong, as olives should have a high acid content. Good quality olive oil will keep for a year or more if stored in a cool dark place. There are still more to pick, once they ripen from green to black, but the bulk of the work is done, and what a fun day it was.

In November I attended a conference in New York organised by the Novelist Inc. It was a hectic three days with the first talk beginning at 8am, and the last finishing around 10pm, but it was excellent. American authors are savvy operators, very businesslike and I learned a great deal from them.

We found time to do some sightseeing in New York itself, but had to make rather a hasty exit as Sandy was about to arrive. BA found us an earlier flight, the last to leave New York on Sunday evening at 9.55. Scary! The subway, trains and buses had already stopped running. I confess it was something of a bumpy take off, with everyone very quiet, but we were all happy to be leaving. We’ve watched events since with great sadness and heartfelt sympathy for those caught up in it.

I also attended the Romantic Novelist Association Winter Party, which was a very lively event. No one can talk like a writer, maybe it’s because we spend so many hours in silence.

But now I have my head down writing, having a deadline to meet, so I will wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous and healthy 2013.

29.11.12

Dora Jordan - a woman of strength and a warm heart

Despite seeing herself as Irish, the famous actress, Mrs Jordan, was in fact born in London near Covent Garden in 1761, no doubt where her stage-struck parents were seeking work at the time, and where she was baptized Dorothy Bland. Her sisters called her Dolly. She preferred Dora and adopted that as her stage name.

Turning to acting out of necessity rather than choice, her father having abandoned his family to marry an Irish heiress, she became known as the most famous comedic actress of her day. Dora began her career on the Dublin stage and became the sole source of income for her family from the age of sixteen. Suffering a sexual assault from the manager she fled to Yorkshire, already pregnant, where she went on the circuit to learn her craft. She endured much jealousy from her fellow actors, but her talent was soon recognised and she moved on to Drury Lane where her fame spread.

Not considered to be a classic beauty, her nose and chin being somewhat prominent, she nevertheless had the sweetest smile and the most alluring dark eyes, cupid’s bow mouth and rosy cheeks that gave off a healthy glow. Her expressive face was perfect for comic roles, as was her mop of brown curls. She was not particularly tall but had a neat, elegant figure, was articulate with good diction, and a voice considered to be strong and clear. Most of all she had vivacity, confidence and a natural stage presence. Her finest feature proved to be her legs, which were shown to perfection in her cross-dressing roles. Men in the audience worshipped those elegantly shapely limbs, considered by some to be the finest ever seen on stage.

Ultimately she became mistress to the Duke of Clarence, later William IV, with whom she lived in happy domesticity for nearly twenty years, presenting him with ten children while striving to balance both career and ‘marriage’ as her modern counterparts do today. Her life was blighted by an insincere and weak father, a dependent mother, inadequate siblings, selfish children, and more than one man who betrayed her trust. Her flaw was that she was perhaps a little too trusting, caring and eager to help those she loved, which proved to be her downfall in the end.
 
She was a woman of great courage and independence, fiesty, warm-hearted and generous to a fault. But when things started to go wrong she needed to call upon all her resources to survive. Yet she bore her troubles with astonishing good will, and to the end of her life never said a word against the Duke. ‘Had he left me to starve I would never have uttered a word to his disadvantage!’ And following their separation the Duke collected as many portraits of her as he could find, so perhaps he did still love her after all.
 
 Publication Date: 29 Nov 2012
Passion, jealousy, scandal and betrayal - a true-life Regency Romance of the rise and fall of an extraordinary woman born into extraordinary times. Growing up in a poverty-stricken, fatherless household, Dorothy Jordan overcame her humble beginnings to become the most famous comic actress of her day. It was while performing on Drury Lane that Dorothy caught the eye of the Duke of Clarence, later to become King William IV. Her twenty-year relationship with the Duke was one of great happiness and domesticity, producing ten children. But ultimately, Dorothy's generous nature was her undoing and she was to be cruelly betrayed by the man she loved. 

Find it on Amazon.

6.11.12

The Next Big Thing

Frances Brody http://www.frances-brody.com/blog/, author of the Kate Shackleton murder mysteries, has invited me to take part in a blog event entitled THE NEXT BIG THING - a series of questions and answers about what’s happening next in my writing life. 

What is the title of your book?

My next book, published at the end of November, is THE DUCHESS OF DRURY LANE.

What genre does your book fall under? 

Biographical historical fiction.

Where did the idea come from for the book? 

It’s a true story about a real person, Dorothea Jordan, known as Dora. I found her while researching eighteenth century theatre. Brought up in a poverty-stricken, fatherless household, she overcame her humble beginnings to become the most famous comic actress of her day, and mistress to the Duke of Clarence, later William IV. Her twenty-year relationship with the Duke was one of great happiness and domesticity, producing ten children. But ultimately, Dorothy's generous nature was her undoing and she was to be cruelly betrayed by the man she loved.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
She would need to be a woman of spirit and independence, yet with the sweet vulnerability, and natural, wholesome beauty that Dora possessed. So it would have to be Kate Winslet.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A true-life Regency Romance of the rise and fall of an extraordinary woman born into extraordinary times.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

THE DUCHESS OF DRURY LANE is published by Severn House in hardback on 29 November, and of course an ebook. A trade paperback comes next spring.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I don’t think in terms of first draft or second draft. I just keep going over and over it until it's done. I started researching and planning the book some six months before I began to write. The actual writing took four months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 

This story was originally told by Jean Plaidy as Goddess of the Green Room, which she wrote some years ago. I wouldn’t presume to compare my version with hers, and although I read Plaidy’s book as a teenager, and loved it, I didn’t risk revisiting it when writing mine. Besides which, she wrote it in third person, and I’ve written mine in first for a more intimate insight into Dora’s character.

Who or What inspired you to write this book? I absolutely love the Georgian period.

It is a time of great excess, of gambling, drinking, and a celebrity culture that might almost match our own today. I also love the theatre, so writing about it was a joy. Dora's roles were mainly what were cross-dressing parts, where she played the role of someone pretending to be male. This was a rare opportunity for the men in the audience to glimpse a woman's legs. 
 
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?


Having read several books on the period, William IV and Dora Jordan, I was filled with admiration for her. Was he a cad or just weak? I think most modern women struggling to balance motherhood with a career, as well as keeping her man happy, will totally empathise with the choices Dora had to make. At first her connection with the Duke of Clarence was considered to be perfectly acceptable by the royal family, but when duty called everything changed, and she had a fight on her hands.

My thanks to Francis Brody for asking me to take part in this blog event. 


 

The following authors will pick up THE NEXT BIG THING baton next Tuesday, 13 November. 

Wendy Soliman http://wendysoliman.blogspot.co.uk/ Writes sexy historicals and contemporary romance. 

Kate Jackson-Bedford http://katejacksonswriting.blogspot.co.uk  Writes novellas and short stories for D C Thompson magazines. 

Heidi Rice http://heidi-rice.blogspot.co.uk/ Writes sexy, sassy, contemporary romance with alpha heroes and heroines. 

Rae Sommer http://minxesofromance.blogspot.co.uk/ Writes sensual romance for Wild Rose Press.

Nicky Wells. http://nickywellsklippert.wordpress.com/ Nicky’s debut novel is Sophie's Turn, a glamorous contemporary fairy tale featuring a rock star and the girl next door. 

2.11.12

Raising your Profile

For any writer, raising your profile is important. Having just returned from a fantastic Ninc conference in New York, I thought I'd list some of the tips I picked up.

Social networking: 
You can’t do everything, so choose what suits you and do it well.
Try to find out where your readers are. How are they finding you?
Fewer than ever find books in stores now. Sad but true.

Facebook and Twitter. 
Attract - engage - don’t put people off with buy, buy, buy, or book, book, book.
Don’t be philosophical, complaining or negative.
Likes are good, comments better, share is best.
Pure text posts have less impact: Add a picture or link whenever you can.
Profile pictures should not be a book cover. Use a picture of yourself so people can connect with a person rather than a product.
Involve readers in choices for your books. E.g.: name for a dog you intend to feature.
Talk about the book or writing of it in a fun way.
Let your personality shine through.
 Check your reach in your stats on the hide part of your Facebook Page.
Use Tweetreach to discover how many people you reach on Twitter.

Goodreads and Shelfari: 
Chat about books in general, not your own.
Do reviews on Goodreads, but always good ones. Otherwise you could incite trolls.
Perhaps review what you’ve read recently, or those that influenced you as a writer, or when growing up.
Do a Goodreads giveaway.
www.shelfari.com This is for readers, but an author can add bonus material, and make sure it’s correct.
Pinterest and Linked In: Can be a major time suck as you have to find pictures to pin. There are copyright issues too, so always leave in place the link to the site you borrowed the pic from, or get permission to use. I haven’t tried this one yet. Nor Linked In.

Website:
We had an excellent talk from David Wind on how to improve our website. Whether it’s a free Word Press one, done by a web designer, or any version in between, it should have all the important words to describe your books at the top of the home page for best search engine optimisation. (SEO)
Don’t use all caps. The web crawlers don’t pick them up.
Always tag pictures so they can be picked up too.
Keep the site updated.
Add value content such as excerpts with links, or more information about the fictional world you’ve created, or settings for your book.
Add links to FB, Twitter, Pinterest, Blog, etc.
Add a sign-in for your newsletter.
Offer a free short story or download of an ebook.
Put on a counter to check out your stats, or use Google analytics.

Blogs:
Only do one if you can keep it up at least once or twice a month.
Don’t forget you can schedule posts in advance.
You can also synchronise with FB, Author Central, your website etc.
Guest blogs are a good alternative, or you can do these as well.
Find and list suitable sites and keep their details in a separate folder for future use.


Newsletter: Liz Maverick gave lots of advice on this subject:
Aim to drive people to something on your website first, then on to your buy link.
Have an enticing subject to encourage an open click.
Keep it short. Quality over quantity.
Aim for a soft sell. Be chatty in your own personal style. Be excited. Make it feed into your general strategy. Put the links in the editorial.
Be consistent with your timing, and test the response for the best time.
Keep it simple. Remember it has to look good on a smart phone/mobile. One column, no side bars, works best.
Have contests and giveaways, but don’t give away chocs or stuff that will attract contest junkies.
MailChimp allows you to check your analytics to see which works best for you on click throughs. Compare with your sales spikes.

Videos, trailers, etc: 
Apparently only 5% actually finish watching a 2 minutes video, so if you make one, keep it short.

Amazon: 
Dan Slater from Amazon gave an excellent presentation taking us through the tools of promotion.

What drives sales?
Availability.
Discoverability.
Pricing.

Sales drive up the rankings, but encourage your readers to like your book pages. This helps to raise it in the search engines and gets it picked up by Amazon’s algorithms, which will help create sales.
Choose the right tags.
Reviews - develop a thick skin, and never respond.
Don’t have fellow authors review your books, Amazon will take them down.
Price strategies drive traffic. Have a promo price that creates a snowball effect by driving traffic on to your normal priced books.
With ebooks it’s about the long tail, not how many you can sell in the first month.
Make it easy for the buyer. Link your backlist to Amazon titles.
Author Central. Helps communicate with readers. Fill out your profile, add links to your blog etc. It also offers sales data - rankings - history of rankings which change hourly.
Search inside. These sell 8 - 9% more.
Once you start selling well, Amazon will send out automated emails, recommended for you, customers bought - etc. Associates: Sell your book from your website. Use links, widgets to do this.

Kindle Owners Lending Library:
Prime account holders who own a kindle device can check out one book at a time once a month. Amazon says lenders go on to buy books by that author, that KOLL titles grow faster than non-KOLL titles. But the book has to be exclusive to Amazon. I haven’t tried this myself as I am wary of offending my readers if they can only find me in one place.

Support Teams, or lifeboat teams as they are called in the US: 
Work with other authors to share and retweet, or you could mention each other’s new titles in your newsletter.
Like each other’s pages.
Some have done an anthology together to promote each other’s work.
If nothing else they can offer emotional support, which we all need at times.

Most important of all: Write the next book!

14.10.12

Leeds-Liverpool Canal

Pictures taken on a lovely walk along the canal towpath on what is known as the Lydiate Loop. The entire walk is about 6 or 7 miles, and most enjoyable.


7.10.12

Visit to The Hardman's House in Liverpool

Edward Chambré Hardman was born in 1898 in Dublin. He became a talented photographer, often travelling abroad to France to take photographs. He and his wife Margaret lived in a tall Georgian terraced house in Rodney Street, Liverpool. Most of the house was used for their business. A waiting room and changing room on the ground floor, the studio on the first floor where Mr Hardman would photograph young debutantes, brides, anyone in fact who could afford to pay his considerable fees for a handsome portrait of themselves. 5 guineas bought you a sitting and 2 portraits. His wife, Margaret, also a photographer, would take pictures of children. Babies might lie on a lambskin rug, or a leopard skin was quite popular.
 

You can also see his own private dark room where he prepared his photos, and the rooms on the ground floor where the staff worked.
 

Their living quarters were surprisingly cramped. Clearly space for the business was more important for them, and very redolent of the era. Here is their 1950s kitchen with its Baby Belling cooker.



 
Their 50s style bedroom.


And the wind-up gramophone in the living room where they sat of an evening, reading their penguin paperbacks.


At weekends the pair would set off on their bicycles to explore the countryside, often taking the train to North Wales where they would take the landscape photographs which was their passion. Mr Hardman was also keen on taking photographs of the city in which they lived, often walking out of an evening with him camera. The exhibition at the house of some of his finest works, are quite stunning. They sound a rather Bohemian couple, socialising with other artists, chain smoking their Capstan full strength cigarettes, as people did in those days, enjoying their wine, their books and radio, and generally going out to eat. They had no children and lived to good age, dying in the 1980s, but in all the time they lived in the house, they never threw anything away. It remains, to this day exactly as they set it up in the early 50s: a time capsule of another age.

Now owned by the National Trust The Hardman's House is well worth a visit, open from 14 Mar - 28 Oct, Wed through to Sundays, plus bank holidays, from 11 am to 3.30 pm. You need to call The N T in advance to book a tour.

21.9.12

The Secret Purpose of Masques at the French Court.

Catherine de Medici is reputed to have imported the fashion of masques to France from her native Italy, along with works by the Italian dancing masters. Her festivals and tournaments were famously lavish and spectacular entertainments. She spared no expense and employed the finest artists, musicians, choreographers and skilled craftsmen to create the necessary dramas and effects. A highly talented and artistic woman, she took a major role in planning and devising the most elaborate festivities, which she liked to call her ‘magnificences’.

A masque was a tableau or pageant in which the courtiers, often in some form of disguise or costume, would dance and perform. It could be anything from a simple ceremony or procession with torchbearers, to an elaborately staged classical story or mythological fable. They took place at Christmas, Easter and other festivals, would celebrate a wedding, christening or betrothal, or welcome visiting guests to the French court. They might include ballet or other dances, dramatic tales and songs, and even offer gifts to the spectators, often followed by a masked ball. These sumptuous court rituals sometimes incorporated martial sports and tournaments, which Catherine used as a means of allowing her feuding nobles to express their grievances with each other without reverting to open warfare, thereby maintaining her own power over them.

As queen mother of three sons who became King of France, Catherine used her entertainments to dazzle and impress visiting delegates and political leaders, the more fantastic and extravagant the better. At Bayonne she organised a water festival to take place on the river with an artificial whale leaking red wine from a supposed wound, and King Neptune riding his chariot pulled by sea horses. This was her way of showing the strength and riches of France, her adopted country. Her ‘magnificences’ certainly cost an inordinate sum to stage, but Catherine, being the wily operator she was, always had a political purpose behind them. Once her distinguished visitor had been sumptuously entertained, as with the Duke of Alva in Bayonne in ‘Hostage Queen’, the first of my Marguerite de Valois trilogy, she then embarked upon political discussions which, in this case, proved to have dire consequences.

Masques also provided an opportunity for a young lady to show herself off to advantage. Gabrielle d’Estrées in ‘Reluctant Queen’, second in the trilogy, chose the prettiest, most lively ladies of the court to take part in the ballet. She herself, splendidly attired as a queen in cloth of silver and ice blue satin, led the dance and was hailed la belle des belles.

Flirting and dalliance was very much a part of the scene, of which Henry of Navarre, later Henry IV of France, was an expert. The nymph-like figures would often be scantily dressed. In ‘The Queen and the Courtesan’, last in the trilogy, on seeing the King watching her, pretty little Charlotte tossed back her blonde tresses and pirouetted gracefully across the room, then lifting her bow aimed the arrow at the King’s breast. She struck his heart not with the arrow but with love, which was not good news for his official mistress, Henriette d’Entragues.

Henriette, or Madame la Marquise as she was known, has her hopes set on a crown, but is devastated when she hears that Henry IV is considering marriage to the Italian princess, Marie de Medici. The masque, with all its busy hubbub and noise, was an excellent place to involve herself in a little subtle intrigue on how best to rid herself of this rival. But whether it will gain Henriette what she most desires, or lead her into mortal danger is a risk she is willing to take.

Extract: 
Even as she let him peel off her silk stockings and pleasure her beneath her skirts, her mind was busily devising how to dispose of the Italian threat. Assistance soon came in the shape of Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy, a son-in-law and ally of Philip II of Spain. He arrived at Fontainebleau on the fourteenth of December with an entourage of his most important ministers and nobles, and twelve hundred horse. Henriette took a dislike to him on sight. 

‘What a strange little man he is,’ she whispered to her brother as the court gathered in the cold courtyard to receive him. ‘Like an ugly dwarf with that humpback, and over-large head with its abnormally broad brow.’

‘Hold your waspish tongue, sister. He is a powerful man, and whatever his deficiencies, rumour has it that he has enjoyed as many mistresses in his time as Henry of Navarre, and consequently acquired as many children.’ 

‘Poor souls,’ Henriette giggled. ‘I trust they do not resemble their father. His head looks like a brush with that great tuft of bristled hair atop it.’ 

‘Be nice to him,’ Auvergne warned. ‘He could be important to us. He bears many grudges against both France and the King. Apart from ongoing disputes about land, he had hoped to marry one of his daughters to Gabrielle’s son, little César, whom, had she lived, would have become the next Dauphin. Now that alliance has been lost, which he sorely regrets.’ 

Henriette considered this tidbit of gossip with eager interest. ‘You think he might help us then?’ 

‘It would not be in his interests for the Italian alliance to go ahead as the huge dowry offered might well be deployed by France to start a war against himself. Much of the territory he once captured from the French in the religious wars has now been restored, save for the Marquisate of Saluzzo. We, of course, regard that piece as of great strategic importance to our nation, being situated as it is on the Italian side of the Alps, but he resolutely refuses to surrender it. So guard that virulent wit of yours, sister, and practice more charm.’ 

The Duke was given a warm welcome by the King, and made much of with endless balls, jousts, masques and hunting-parties. After a week of this the court moved to Paris where the festivities, many devised by Madame la Marquise herself, continued over Christmas and into the New Year of 1600. Henriette was striving to be agreeable, and to please Henry, which was in her own best interests, after all. She even allowed the Duke to lead her out in a dance, although she returned to her brother’s side with a sardonic curl to her lip. 

‘I do not care for that odious little man. Small of stature, large in ego.’ 

‘Remember what I told you. Ah, he is coming for you again, now put on your best smile and be gracious.’
The Queen and the Courtesan, published 29 June, can be found as a paperback or ebook here:

10.9.12

Norwegian Fjord Cruise

 

Voyages of Discovery was our ship. Here she is in port.

 

We spent 10 days at the end of August on a magical cruise around the fjords of Norway.  

 

 

Starting from Harwich, our first stop was Oslo where we visited a World War II museum then to an open air museum with houses dating from the fifteenth century and earlier. Note the grass on the roofs.




And an amazing church.

These buildings were painstakingly dismantled from their original sites and reconstructed here in the museum.







Two of the friendly stewards keeping busy in a traditional way.







 

 

We then moved on to the Viking Museum to see ships that date back to around 820-1000 AD. There was a great deal of detail to explore about the archaeological digs which had recovered skeletons, as well as ships. Fascinating for a history freak like me.




Kristiansand was the next port of call with its delightful timber cottages. This is Hollen, a former fishing village, now a popular residential area.

 



Lysefjord is awe-inspiring, although as you can see the same could not be said for the weather. It felt almost as if we had slipped back to ancient times.






Here is the spectacular Pulpit's Rock, as viewed from our small river boat.



The goats came down to the boat to be fed.




Alesund, a delightful little town with art deco style buildings as it was rebuilt in 1904 following an earthquake. The time travel museum is worth a visit, and there are plenty of good shops.


 

Flam is a small village in the Aurlansfjord, largely dependent on the salmon and trout fishing. But from here you can take the railway up into the mountains for stunning scenery and an astonishing fete of engineering.

 

 

  

 

A kindergarten group enjoying a damp day on the railway. 

 



Back on board we sailed up the Naeroyfjord.
This is Gudvangen. Beautiful and so remote. 

 


 

 Lastly we visited Bergen, which is a bustling, charming seafront town with an ancient Hanseatic wharf with lots of local craft shops to explore.



And will I now write a Viking romance? You never know.


7.9.12

Renaissance Women in 16C France

‘Frenchwomen,’ said a critic, ‘are very devout in seeming, but in point of fact they are very light and very free. Every one of them, even if she be a courtesan, wishes to be treated as an honest woman, and there is no lady of bad fame who has not some objection to make to the morals of her neighbour.’

Nuns, apparently, were worse. But then many were quite secular in their habits, certainly Henry IV of France enjoyed affairs with several, including Marie de Beauvilliers, abbess of Montmartre. He did like to spread his favours. But then women often chose to enter a nunnery, considering this a better option than marrying a man they didn’t care for. And who could blame them since women often had little control over their choice of husband. Many Renaissance women, however, were independent and well educated.




Marguerite de Valois was proficient in French, Italian, Latin, Greek, music and mathematics as well as her devotions. But it wasn’t only royalty and the aristocracy who believed in education. The bourgeoisie were also great advocates of such refinements. It was considered that an educated woman was better able to maintain her family’s health, raise her children well, make her husband content and keep a household in order. The reformation also encouraged education for girls so that they were able to read the scriptures for themselves and be spiritually closer to God.

 

Daughters, however, were kept very much on a tight rein. They
were expected to walk behind their mothers, and were rigorously attended and chaperoned at all times. When travelling they were expected to ride en croupe (pillion) behind a servant, observing the proprieties by clinging only to the pommel and not by putting their arms about the servant’s waist. Clearly that would have been beyond the pale. Once having gained some skills she may be allowed to ride side-saddle, which required hooking one leg around the horn of the saddle.

Nor were young ladies allowed to drink, although their mothers might add a splash of Burgundy to give their water a little colour and flavour. ‘But their deportment,’ said an observer, ‘conveyed rather their good taste than their truth.’

Men grumbled, of course, at women’s independence, just as they do now. Nothing changes! They complained that their wives talked too much, stopping to gossip with passers-by in the street. They objected about their readiness to go alone to church or market, often being out and about for hours at a time, and ‘their husbands never daring to ask where they were.’ So a passion for women’s rights obviously simmered beneath the surface. One amusing rule I found for widows, was that they were obliged to wear a high necked dress, long cloak and a veil, and the authorities felt obliged to pass a law restricting the style as widows’ veils had become ‘dangerously attractive.’ You can’t keep a bad girl down.

Henriette d’Entragues was clearly of an independent mind, being highly ambitious and manipulative, with her sights set upon wearing a crown. But while Henry IV might have been sufficiently besotted to agree to anything to get her into his bed, his political advisers and ministers were another matter altogether. A King was not expected to marry his mistress. Could Henriette raise her status and break the rules of etiquette? She was very determined to try.

The Queen and the Courtesan, published 29 June, can be found as a paperback or ebook here:
 
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