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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Two great entertaining books - 'The Mesmerist' and 'Darcy and Fitzwilliam'

The Mesmerist by Barbara Ewing

I borrowed this book from the library, knowing nothing about Barbara Ewing, but just liking the sound of the story. And I have discovered a great popular writer, who I see has just published another book, The Circus of Ghosts. Obviously lots of other people know how great she is, because it is currently sitting in the number one slot in Smith's. So yes, I have bought that one too.

The Mesmerist has been brilliantly researched and gives insights into the Victorian craze for mesmerism with its then scandalous and salacious overtones of being able to affect another person through the use of
healing hands. This area of human capacity is still mysterious even today, and indeed is mysterious to Cordelia, the mesmerist of the title. Ewing does a great job of exploring the intricacies of how it might feel to mesmerize - or be mesmerized.

The book also has a great forward-moving rags to riches plot with many twists, which is based around the struggle of women for respectability in professional life, and how they might seize responsibility in a man's world. I can't say much more about it, or it will spoil the unfolding story.

The main characters are women who are seen at all stages of life, from very young to the dementia of old age, all of whom are interestingly drawn and leap vividly to life off the page. There is murder, a riveting court case, and all the fun of the theatre.
Very highly recommended.

Darcy and Fitzwilliam by Karen Wasylowski

I am not a particularly fanatical Austen fan, certainly not a purist, but I do like the wit of Jane Austen, and so was ready to embrace the tale of Darcy and his cousin with open arms. I was not disappointed. What impressed me most about this book was that it was the feel of Austen, but updated. It is very difficult to be funny in an Austen-esque way and still be fresh. Too often the humour doesn't properly succeed. But the impact that Austen must have had in her day is all here, in this laugh-out-loud romp through Darcy's post wedding adventures, and those of his irrepressible "brother".

I was unprepared for just how funny the book would be. The scene where Lizzie is giving birth, with Amanda's small, curious, stiffly-educated son looking on, is hilarious, and had my husband wondering why I was laughing so much. Even the servants have been wittily expanded, and the book is funny because it is so well-observed. It pokes fun at regency attitudes to women, and gently lampoons the mores and morals of the time. There is also a sense in which the English themselves are satirized, and this is refreshing, but not at all offensive.

After the initial forty or so pages of set-up the book fairly sweeps along with misunderstandings aplenty, and it is no slight volume. The characters have to be impeccably constructed for the situation comedy to work, and Karen Wasylowski has done this thoroughly, also the research on her period and The Peninsula War gives the reader just the right amount of setting.
A great read, that works whether you have read any Austen or not.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Doodle Day

Welcome to she-writers from the blog hop. How do you doodle!
You can find out more about the blog hop here.

Welcome to the SheWrites Blogger Ball!

Thinking Time

As a writer I often feel I need some thinking time. It is tempting to launch in to the writing with a feeling that only physical writing is what matters. And we are told to write, write, write.

But this can be a little unbalanced if it is not preceded by some thinking time. I don't even mean the "Let's work out the plot" thinking which feels like hard graft, but rather the free-form flow of thought which is the writer's equivalent of doodling. The doodle up top is from

I love to doodle down my ideas around my novel. These can be vague atmospheres, things I am interested in, images I'd like to include. Half-formed or unformed ideas. Some of my jottings seem random, but often I find that there is some sense in my nonsense. Did any of you make these sorts of doodles around people's names when you were at school? (See below) Go on, admit it! I use this idea sometimes to work around a concept or character in my writing.

The more professional doodle on the right shows how you might like to use word and image together, it is from this blog. Do you doodle? Happy Doodling!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A Writing Saint

The village where I live has a fantastic flower festival every year, where various individuals and organisations dress the church with floral tributes. The theme this year was "For All the Saints" and there were 17 displays in all. Each had a picture of the Saint and a depiction of their attributes in flowers. There were the obvious ones, like Francis of Assisi, complete with birds flocking around him, and the less obvious like St Bernard Mizeki who was murdered in Africa as late as 1896 in a tribal uprising. The amount of work that had gone into these displays was awe-inpiring.

But of course my favourite was Saint Luke, who is believed to have written Acts as well as his own Gospel. I can imagine him sitting there with his blank sheet and writer's block, and thinking what can I blog about today?! He was a physician before he became a great friend of St.Paul and was convinced by him of his faith. Thus he is the patron saint of physicians, and also of all creative artists including writers.

Whoever made his display had done it beautifully and included some healing herbs such as digitalis (foxglove) and his writing implements.

Also beautiful was the tumbling ivy in a swathe around the pulpit. What you will be unable to experience from my pictures is the scent and light. So many flowers gave off a wonderful aroma in the church, and the light pouring through the stained glass was breathtaking.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Books on the Move

I'm privileged to have a mobile library that visits our village once a fortnight. Originally set up to visit care homes and sheltered housing for the elderly in our area, it also stops at several villages including ours.

The driver, Gerry, who has won an award for the best mobile librarian, told us this week that because of restructuring, the service will be stopping for slightly less time in future, so we will have to be quick if we want to change our books. It is quite a skill being able to drive this monster down our country lanes, and then still be able to have a conversation about books. The library service is not just about access to books, but about the expertise of the librarians who can help you to find just the title you need.

Last week I nearly forgot it was 'library day' and my husband had to yell, "The library's here!" and I had to hurry up the road to catch it before it left. Inside the van it can be a squash working round the other people who are also returning books or browsing. Evidence of its visits to Care Homes is in the big selection of Large Print books on the shelves. Apparently there are Large Print reading groups in some of the homes.

Magna Books - large is beautiful

The Lady's Slipper is being published by Magna Books in large print. Last week I passed through the small Yorkshire village of Long Preston where they are based and stopped to take this pic.
Long Preston has a lovely village green with a maypole, and an old-fashioned inn. The stone building on the left houses this publisher. Through the windows I could see cardboard boxes of books - I hope mine's in one of them and that soon it will be gracing the shelves of our mobile library and available to borrow at all the care homes the big yellow van visits. And I hope with the advent of ebooks large print companies such as Magna will find a way to continue to survive.