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I am delighted to welcome my fellow Sister Scribe, Kitty Wilson, to my blog. After years living in Cornwall, Kitty now lives in Bristol. She writes the popular Cornish Village School series, which is published by Canelo.

 

Take two characters…

 

When Susanna asked me to write about two characters, one from a book I had written and one written by someone else that I found memorable, I thought knew exactly who I would write about. I have surprised myself.

 

Mine was easy, in the first book in The Cornish Village School series, Breaking the Rules, I have a character called Marion Marksharp who is the head of the PTA and I love her. Like a velociraptor dressed in Cath Kidston, she stalks the school and is terrifying - quelling rebellion with an eyebrow and being the subject of fear and loathing from all of the parents and most of the staff. She is the archetypal competitive playground mum and as both an ex-teacher and parent to two children, I have memories of many real-world incarnations of Marion who both scared the bejesus out of me (whilst bragging about what book-band their child was on and doling out looks of faux-sympathy) but whom I learnt, over time, to admire for their tenacity and determination.

 

Marion began as a side character, a small cast member in the school community but soon developed into a force of her own. I enjoyed writing her and she made me laugh so much that she soon took on a major role, shaping the story far more than was ever intended, her character becoming more complex the more I wrote.

 

What I didn’t expect was readers to enjoy her as much as I did. As I was obsessively reading reviews after publication of the first book, I was surprised to see that Marion was by far the favourite character. This made me so happy and, as I was in the midst of book two, meant that I felt encouraged to feature her heavily, once again giving her a role that shaped the story. As the series has progressed, I have found that I’m so fond of her now that the series arc is based upon her and the final book (spoiler warning!) will tie up all the threads from the first four books and be about Marion’s very own Happy Ever After.

 

Never when I wrote the first book in the series did I imagine that this side character would develop into a steady thread and take over the whole series in the way that she has.

 

When it came to choosing the second character for Susanna’s blog I assumed that because I read so widely as an adolescent, my favourite character would have to come from that time of my life. I have considered Katharine Swynford, Dona St Columb, Sara Dane and Jane Eyre to name just a few but I have surprised myself and landed upon a character that I re-read about very recently. This is partly because the characters that I grew up adoring I haven’t read for many years and I have little faith in the accuracy of my memories but also because of the power of Madeleine Miller’s Circe - her characterisation of this enchantress made me question and revisit my own attitudes and limitations.

 

I’m a terrible history geek, I adore the Homeric Epics and think that The Odyssey has some of the most memorable mythical characters ever devised. There was Cyclops, who many of us may remember from primary school, the Lotus-eaters, the Sirens - a great list that has continued to shape storytelling to this day. Amongst this number was Circe, whose tale has been re-imagined and re-told by Miller and was published last year.

 

When I studied The Odyssey many moons ago, I recalled Circe as being an enchantress, a witch who turned Odysseus’ men into pigs and then returned them to their form as sailors but kept them trapped on her island for a year. Despite the fact that she offered advice on how to avoid some of the dangers Odysseus faced on his way home, fed a shipload of sailors for a year and allowed them to stay for a prolonged period, I wrote her off as a villain, a two-dimensional character who Odysseus had to use his cunning to defeat, to allow him to get on with his journey. Despite being aware she was an enchantress, l pictured her as an older woman with warts and ratty hair - the archetypal witch conjured up in popular culture for centuries. So much for my feminist credentials.

 

The re-telling of this character by Miller drew her as a daughter and a sister, ridiculed and reviled and placed on the edges of society, only to be cast out entirely when she rebelled against the dictates and hierarchy of the ancient Gods.

 

As she became older, she became a lover, a mother and fully embraced her status of witch and the powers it gave her. I saw her anew, as a supporter of Odysseus, a woman who nurtured and encouraged those she loved, sacrificing her own desires to aid those that she cared for. She was a hero of the highest order and, with Miller’s re-telling, I have learnt to adore her. I could write pages and pages in praise of this Circe – I won’t – but it is an interesting lesson in how a character and a story that has existed for millennia can be reinvigorated and reborn in the hands of a truly skilled storyteller.

 

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Kitty's links:

Her Twitter page  

 

Her Amazon page 

 

What’s in a name? More than you might think – certainly more than I thought. Names are very important to writers. When creating characters, it is essential to find the right name for each one. In my experience, characters generally arrive in my mind fully formed, complete with name – though not always.

 

Take Carrie, the heroine of The Deserter’s Daughter. She went through several names but the moment I thought of Carrie, I knew I’d found the right one. Her sister, Evadne, on the other hand, was Evadne from the start. Likewise, Ralph’s name was always Ralph Armstrong, though it took a while to find the right name for Adam.

In A Respectable Woman, the heroine is Nell Hibbert, named in honour of Eleanor Hibbert, which was the real name of the writer Victoria Holt.

In The Sewing Room Girl, the heroine is Juliet – a name that was hers from the moment I thought of her. Her difficult but vulnerable mother is Agnes and her domineering grandmother is Adeline – again, names that the characters already had when they arrived inside my head. In fact, I had no difficulty at all naming any of the characters in the book – Rosie, Mr Nugent, Hal, William Turton… Each one appeared in my mind, complete with name.

 

So why the question at the start of the blog? Well, there was one character in The Sewing Room Girl who didn’t have a name – not because I couldn’t think of one, but because she was never intended to have one. She only had a walk-on part, so she didn’t need to be called anything.

 

Early in the story, Agnes is given the job of resident seamstress in the household of Lord Drysdale. Because Juliet isn’t old enough to live on her own, she is allowed to accompany her mother to Moorside, the grand house where the Drysdale family has lived for generations. Not being an official member of the household means that Juliet isn’t invited to eat in the servants’ hall. Instead, meals are carried upstairs to the sewing room for her and Agnes.

 

And this is where my walk-on character appeared. In the first draft of the book, she was referred to as nothing more than “the maid who brought their tray upstairs.” I called her that once. Then, a little later, it was necessary for her to appear with another tray, so I called her “the maid who brought their tray upstairs” again.

 

The trouble was, she appeared a third time and – well, I couldn’t go on calling her “the maid who brought their tray upstairs,” could I? So I gave her a name. It didn’t matter what the name was, because she only had a walk-on part. I called her Cecily.

 

And from that moment, there was no stopping her. Before I knew it, she was Juliet’s best friend. Not only that, but she her own sub-plot and her own love story.

 

I swear that Cecily was never meant to do anything more than fetch and carry meal-trays. But the moment she was given her name, she also acquired a full personality – and a family – and an unshakable determination to bag herself a husband.

 

What’s in a name? As it turned out, considerably more than I had expected.

 

Publication Day Memories

Posted on 23rd May, 2019

I am writing this earlier in the week than normal - Thursday May 23rd. Today is that day that all unpublished writers dream of, and the day published writers wait for eagerly - publication day. For me, it is publication day for not one but two books - the hardback and e-book of The Poor Relation and the paperback edition of The Sewing Room Girl.

 

 

Here are a few special memories from today...

 

   ...some of the cards...  

Good wishes from friends mean everything, whether they come from non-writers giving support and saying how proud they are; or from fellow writers, celebrating the special day with an understanding that you get only from other people who are in the same boat, especially if they are the writer-friends who were by your side during the time before you got an agent, a publisher, a book contract.

 

Not all good wishes, of course come in card form these days. I had many messages on Twitter and Facebook. It is truly exciting when other people share or retweet posts about your book, or make comments.

 

And of course there are the flowers. Suffice it to say my study looks like a florist's shop at the moment. Here is the bouquet sent by my Sister Scribes, Jane, Cass, Kirsten and Kitty, which is not only a joy to look at, but also smells heavenly, thanks to the inclusion of the freesias and the stocks (two of my favourites).

 

 

 

Another gift I'd like to show you is the new charm for my writer's bracelet.

 

 

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Isn't that just lovely?

 

Other excitements today were the announcement of The Sewing Room Girl's blog tour, to celebrate paperback publication....

 

 

 

.... and the launch of a prize draw givaway, in which the prize is a set of my four published books. To join in, click this link https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/d17a052e3/ 

 

You will need to log in via either Facebook or your own email address. The giveaway is open to UK readers only. The link will also be available on the book blog sites.

 

So there it is - a glimpse of publication day. Huge thanks to everyone who has helped me celebrate. You have made my day very special.

 

 

 

 

Well, it's good news all round this week. Here I am with my friend Jan Baynham, and we both have splendid news to share with you.

 

 

Jan's news is that she has signed a 3-book deal - yes, a 3-book deal! - with Ruby Fiction. The first book, Whispering Olive Trees, will be published in 2020. When she announced it on Twitter, Jan said, "I didn't think it would ever happen and am still in a bit of a daze."

 

My own news is that The Deserter's Daughter has been selected by BBC Radio Berkshire as their Book of the Month and it will be discussed on Radio Reads on June 4th. Fingers crossed, please, everybody, that the panel enjoys it!

 

After Jan's wonderful news, it makes it even more special for me to welcome her back to my blog to take part in the Take Two Characters series. Jan is a Grecophile who writes about mothers and daughters. Her stories all have secrets at the heart of them. In a recent blog she said, "I'm fascinated by the way families have skeletons in their cupboards and these sometimes come to light only when a family member dies."

 

Here are the two characters she has chosen:

 

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I have been enjoying the ‘Take Two Characters’ feature on Susanna’s blog where she invites writers to choose two fictional characters, one from their own writing and another from a novel they’ve admired and enjoyed. As an as yet unpublished author whose debut novel is going to be published by Ruby Fiction in 2020, imagine how thrilled I was when Susanna invited me onto her blog to talk about my choices.

 

Elin Morgan is one of the main characters in my dual-narrative mother daughter novel, ‘Whispering Olive Trees’. Brought up in rural mid-Wales, she is an only child who has been left devastated when her father dies suddenly.

 

Having completed her studies at Art College, in the summer of 1979, she travels to Greece, the country her dad loved so much, and enrols at the Simonides Painting School based on an idyllic Greek island. There, she is enthralled by the beautiful colours of the sea, the beaches, the heat and the friendliness of the Greek people.

 

She understands why her father used to talk about his travels to the country with such passion. Her time there is cut short by a tragic event and she is forced to leave behind the man who has stolen her heart.

 

Elin is very much a creature of her time and its social conventions. In her eyes, she does the right thing and, in doing so, she sacrifices her own happiness. She never paints or mentions her time in Greece again.

However, she does have a conscience and leaves her diary of that summer to her daughter, Lexi, to be read after her death. Lexi travels to Greece to find out more about what happened to make her mother keep a life-long secret.

 

I loved writing about Elin and wonder what decisions she would have made had she been living today. Was she right to keep her secrets from Lexi? Setting the story in Greece also took me back to the times we visited my auntie and Greek uncle on the beautiful island of Spetses and to the holidays we’ve spent in Crete since.

 

It was hard to choose one character from all the wonderful characters I’ve met through my reading but in the end, it had to be Nerys Watkins in ‘The Kashmir Shawl’ by Rosie Thomas. Nerys, like Elin, is from rural mid-Wales. As an innocent newly-wed, she accompanies her husband, Evan, on a Presbyterian missionary posting to Kashmir in India. Although disillusioned at first, she is determined to make the best of her new circumstances. Life changes for her when the men are sent away to war and she becomes a young wife struggling to cope in wartime, eventually blossoming into a different woman. In view of her husband’s apparent indifference to her, it seems perfectly understandable to me that she is attracted to a handsome charismatic mountaineer.

 

The sounds, smells and colours Nerys would have experienced are brought to life in the writing. I felt I was right there with Nerys in 1940s Kashmir. It is a world bursting with vibrancy, with the Second World War always present but not obviously so.

 

Evan seems to be too austere and serious for her but Nerys would never leave him and, like Elin, she does the right thing in her eyes, keeping secrets to the end of her life. How Nerys comes to be in possession of the beautiful Kashmir shawl isn’t revealed until near the end of the book after her granddaughter, Mair, embarks on a journey to India to find out about her grandmother’s life there during the war years.

 

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Jan's Links:

Twitter - @JanBayLit

Facebook – Jan Baynham Writer

Blog – www.janbaynham.blogspot.co.uk

 

Viewpoint Characters in The Poor Relation

Posted on 25th April, 2019
 
Thank you to everybody who has sent such kind messages commenting on the cover of The Poor Relation. I love it. As well as being very attractive, I think it is an appropriate illustration in that the girl isn't looking directly out of the picture but is glancing away, as if hiding her thoughts, which is what Mary Maitland has to do much of the time in the story.

 

In my previous blog, I introduced the social background to the book. This week, I'd like to tell you about the viewpoint characters. Many authors write from a single viewpoint, but I like to tell my stories through several viewpoints. I think this adds richness to the telling and it can also provide an effective way of building the tension. There's nothing quite like it for racheting up the suspense as having the story switch back to Character B, just when you're dying to know what happens next to Character A!

 

Here are the viewpoint characters in The Poor Relation. Let's start with the poor relation herself...

 

MARY MAITLAND

MARY is an attractive, intelligent girl of 23, who has worked as a Town Hall clerk since leaving school at the age of 13. Mary is happy... up to a point. Being a dutiful daughter and conscientious worker is all very well, but she feels stifled. When she gets a new job at a women's employment agency, it causes ructions at home, but it expands her world and gives her the chance to develop her outlook and her initiative.

 

LADY KIMBER

As a girl, she had a passionate affair with her cousin GREG RAWLEY, but their elopement was scuppered by their mutual aunt, HELEN RAWLEY. Emotionally, Lady Kimber never recovered from this. Pushed into a suitable but dull marriage by her parents, she was widowed young and then set her sights on marrying SIR EDWARD KIMBER, not for her own benefit, but to provide the best life and opportunities she could for her beautiful daughter, ELEANOR. She wants Eleanor to marry CHARLIE KIMBER, the heir, and succeed her as the next Lady Kimber. When it looks like Mary might derail this plan, Lady Kimber sets out to destroy her.

 

HELEN RAWLEY

Aunt of Lady Kimber and Greg Rawley. A lonely, prickly old spinster, she has lived a life of being resentfully beholden to the men of her family. Long ago, her father left her in his will to her brother's care. Now, thanks to her brother's will, she faces a future of being beholden to Greg, the nephew whose life she ruined. All she wants, even after years of being cold-shouldered by Lady Kimber, is to be reunited with her once-beloved niece.

 

NATHANIEL BREWER

A successful and committed doctor who is on a personal crusade to bring affordable medical provision to the slums of Moss Side. A serious individual with high standards of personal and professional conduct, he lives for his work. He married IMOGEN, the girl from up the road, largely because everyone expected it, including himself and Imogen. She is the perfect wife, magically appearing with the clothes' brush whenever he is about to leave the house and specialising in stews and hot-pots that will bubble away happily if he is late. Nathaniel finds that Mary Maitland and Helen Rawley between them challenge his ideas about women.

 

GREG RAWLEY

Cousin and former lover of Lady Kimber, who is the love of his life; nephew of Helen Rawley. A debonair man-about-town, his livelihood relies on his skill/luck at the card table. He is up to his ears in debt to the sinister, silver-tongued money-lender, MR JONAS, but he has a safety-net, namely the certainty of inheriting from his uncle ROBERT RAWLEY (Helen's brother). But when Robert's will is read, it plunges Greg into unforeseen difficulties....

 

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I hope you like the sound of my characters and that you'll want to read Mary's story. The hardback and ebook of the The Poor Relation will be published on May 23rd in the UK. The ebook price will come down in November, when the paperback is published.

 

The cheapest way of all, of course, is to borrow it from your public library, so do put in a request for it. As a former librarian, I love knowing that my books are popular in libraries.

 

Introducing "The Poor Relation."

Posted on 12th April, 2019

Yesterday my editor emailed me a mock-up of the cover for my latest book, The Poor Relation. I can't share it with you yet, because it has to be checked and finalised, but I can tell you that it is a lovely cover and very appealing - I hope you agree when you see it!

 

Set in Edwardian times, The Poor Relation is about the two branches of the Kimber family. There are the Kimbers themselves - they have the title, the money, the family seat, the social standing; and there are their lower-middle-class relations, the Maitlands. John Maitland, a Town Hall clerk, is Sir Edward Kimber's cousin. The Maitlands live their lives walking on social eggshells. They have to be ultra-respectable so as not to bring the mighty name of Kimber into disrepute. The flip-side of this is that they also have to be aware of what the neighbours are thinking, because they mustn't seem to be trading on their grand connections and getting above themselves.

 

The Kimbers and the Maitlands see one another once a year when the Maitlands are invited to Ees House for Sunday lunch. On that day, the Maitlands have to be ready extra early because not only they must not keep the Kimbers waiting, they mustn't keep the Kimbers' coachman waiting either; and as they walk down the garden path to the carriage, they have to be careful not to smile too broadly in case the neighbours think they're showing off.

 

 

The story shows the social extremes of the time, so we have the Kimbers with all the privileges of rank - the mansion, the servants, the posh dinner parties - as well as the deprivation of the slums in which Doctor Nathaniel Brewer sets up his clinic for the poor. Social reform provides part of the backdrop - the means test, the upper-class charity committees and the women's movement to improve the lot of lower-class women and working women.

 

The story also touches on the place of women in society - the changing role of the female gentry and the push for better working conditions for women, as well as the forcible feeding of suffragettes. In Edwardian times, modern-thinking women sometimes chose to 'love, honour and cherish' in their wedding vows, instead of saying 'love, honour and obey,' and articles were written questioning the legality of these marriages.

 

It is against this background that the heroine, Mary Maitland, John Maitland's daughter, is inspired by her social-reforming friends to embark upon a journalistic career. But is it possible to spread her wings at the same time as being a duitful daughter and obedient poor relation?

 

 

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I hope you like the sound of Mary's story. If you do, it is published in hardback on May 23rd. Hardbacks are mainly for the library market, so do put in a request at your local library. The paperback will be published in November.

 

I am delighted to welcome Merryn Allingham back to my website to have a chat about her latest book, A Tale of Two Sisters.

 

Born into an army family, Merryn travelled around as a child. Not surprisingly, she still loves to travel and visit new places. As a writer of historical mysteries, she especially enjoys places with an interesting history.

Merryn, welcome back to my blog. It’s lovely to have you here again, especially on such an exciting occasion. Your latest novel, A Tale of Two Sisters, was published by Canelo on March 21st. Congratulations!

 

I know that the most obvious question is to ask you about the two sisters in the title, but I’d like to start with the book’s setting – Constantinople. What drew you to that as a location?

 

In fact, an entirely different city was the origin of the book. Or at least, the journey there. A few years ago, I travelled to Venice on the Orient Express and fell in love with the train.

 

The compartments, dining carriages, even the mosaic bathrooms are almost unchanged since the train’s heyday. And whereas nowadays the journey to Istanbul is a special once a year event, in 1907 there was a regular service from London to Constantinople. I wondered what it must have felt like for a young woman travelling alone for the first time in her life and on such a train.

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I remember what a remarkable job you did of portraying the Indian setting in The Girl From Cobb Street. What aspects of Constantinople did you find fascinating?

 

The city has an amazing history, first as Byzantium, the capital of the eastern Roman Empire, then as Constantinople, the centre of the Ottoman Empire, and finally the place we know today as Istanbul. It’s a city rich in art and craftsmanship and Topkapi Palace in 1907 – where most of the novel’s action takes place – was filled with the most exquisite beauty. It was an extraordinary building, a city within a city, housing thousands of residents – soldiers, administrators, slaves and of course, the imperial family . Until Dolmabahçe Palace was built in the middle of the nineteenth century, Topkapi was the home of every Ottoman emperor.

 

 

 

 The story is set in 1907. How easy was it to find sources of information from the period?

 

In the past, history was always written from the top down so I wasn’t surprised to find the lives of ordinary people sparsely documented. I did a lot of reading on the political situation and that feeds into the novel (lightly, I hope!) – it was a febrile time with mass discontent at the autocratic rule of the sultan and all kinds of plots to bring about democratic rule. The sultan in A Tale of Two Sisters is the last of his line to rule and a few years later in the aftermath of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire itself disappeared. There was a lot of material, too, on the heirarchy of power within the imperial family and the way in which the slavery system functioned. I found this very interesting since it was so different from that operating in the US and the Caribbean. Slavery as a way to climb the social ladder took some digesting!

 

Now – back to those sisters! Tell us a bit about them.

 

Lydia Verinder has been in Constantinople for over a year, since she was bundled out of England to escape punishment for a suffragette ‘crime’. She is there to work as a governess to the daughters of Sultan Selim, but her elder sister, Alice, has not heard from her for months. Alice suspects thoughtlessness – Lydia has always been indulged – but she’s worried.

 

Two years ago, the sisters’ sibling, Charlie, suffered a fatal accident and as a result their parents’ health has gone badly downhill. Alice has been forced to take responsibility for the London household and her feelings for Lydia are decidedly mixed. She loves her sister and admires Lydia’s courage and passion, but feels resentful that she has been left caring for their parents. She decides, completely out of character, to go to Constantinople herself and search for Lydia.

 

The narrative moves back and forth between the two sisters, each story a shadow of the other, and as the drama unfolds, Alice is forced to confront difficult emotions.

 

 

Are they new characters or have they been bobbing about inside your head for ages, waiting for their turn to be written into a book?

 

I think that probably Alice has been at the back of my mind for some time. On the surface, she is the rather dull, dutiful Edwardian daughter we all know, whereas her younger sister is a free spirit – impulsive, passionate, full of fun. Yet, Alice has passion, too, though she does her best to subdue it. You can see it in the lacy silk petticoat she wears beneath a sensible skirt and buttoned blouse. And in the decision to travel alone to a country she has barely heard of. I wanted to release her from this self-imposed purdah – but I couldn’t make her journey to freedom an easy one!

 

 

 

Is there another character you are particularly fond of? One who perhaps ended up demanding a bigger part in the story than you were expecting?

 

If there is one, it’s my political plotter, Ismet Kaya. He’s a handsome and intelligent man and naturally Lydia falls under his spell. Ismet is well–educated, Westernised in his attitudes and committed to political reform. Anyone would like him. But ultimately he proved a difficult character to write because although he has good qualities in abundance and plays a pivotal role in the plot, he couldn’t be depended on when the chips were down.

 

 

How much of a planner are you? Do you plot everything in advance before you start writing?

 

I wouldn’t want to plot the novel chapter by chapter – that way I’d lose the excitement of not quite knowing where the story was going. I have to feel certain of where I’m starting, though, and where I hope to finish – with maybe a few scenes in my mind of how to get there. But these can change, characters can refuse to ‘fit’ my early ideas. In which case, all I can do is go with the flow.

 

Merryn, many thanks for joining me today and answering my questions. Thanks also for bringing the wonderful photos with you! I wish you every success with A Tale of Two Sisters.

 

 

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Merryn's links:

 

Her Amazon author page   

 

Her website   

 

Her Twitter page  

 

Her Pinterest page    

 

 

 

A Writing Retreat - the Writers' Treat.

Posted on 15th March, 2019

This past week I have been on a writing retreat with fellow writers Maddie Please, Jane Ayres, Christina Banach, Chris Manby and Kirsten Hesketh. We hired a beautiful old house deep in the Powys countryside. The photograph above is deceptive. The house was like the TARDIS, with lots of rooms.

 

The sitting room was big enough for each of us to have our own settee. All working together in here one afternoon was one of the week's highlights.
Ever tried lighting a wood burning stove in high winds? Not a good idea! Smoke belched forth into the room.

Maddie and Jane iced a cke with mini unicorns for Kirsten's birthday.

 

What? Champagne? Us?

 

I am delighted to welcome Lally Brown to my blog this week.  A talented photographer, Lally now lives on the Isle of Wight, but she previously lived on Montserrat, which inspired her books, The Volcano, Montserrat and Me; High and Dry in the BVI; and The Countess, Napoleon and St Helena.

 

Lally has agreed to take part in the Take Two Characters series and has produced an interesting take on the subject, not just because her own books are based on true events, but also because she has interpreted the second part of the brief - choosing a favourite character from another author's writing - rather more widely than previous guests have done.

 

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When Susanna invited me to contribute a post for her “Take Two Characters” series I was hugely flattered (I’m a great admirer of Susanna’s novels!) and I knew without hesitation which two characters I would choose.

 

I’m delighted to be able to share them with you, although I am slightly apprehensive that you might think my choices unusual and my second possibly even a little frivolous, however here goes.

 

Up first is a character from my own writing, the beautiful aristocratic French Countess Françoise-Elisabeth (Fanny) Bertrand.

 

I should explain that Fanny is not a fictional character but an historical figure and her unusual and unhappy story is entirely fact-based and the result of research into primary source manuscripts in the British Library and on the island of St. Helena.

 

Most people know that after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to remote St Helena, what few realise is that he was accompanied by an entourage of twenty-four, and among them was

my heroine Fanny Bertrand, her husband and their three children aged 4, 5 and 6.

 

Like Napoleon’s first wife Josephine, to whom she was related, Fanny was a Creole born in Martinique. Tall and elegant she was beautiful, spirited, excitable, and very passionate.

 

Fanny’s marriage was arranged on the orders of Napoleon and was not a love match. In fact Fanny was most unflattering about her future husband complaining to Napoleon ‘he looks like the Pope’s monkey!’

 

However against all odds the two did become very fond of each other, possibly because they were such opposite characters. Her husband was Napoleon’s Grand Marshal. He was much older, very quiet and quite simply rather boring, whereas Fanny loved fashionable clothes, parties and having fun. She was very popular and shone in high society. Her husband called her his ‘fiery Creole’.

 

When she heard her husband had agreed to accompany Napoleon into exile Fanny was distraught. The thought of living on a remote island in exile with her embittered ex-Emperor horrified her. She begged herhusband not to go, even attempting to throw herself overboard into the harbour. But loyalty and duty to his Emperor and a belief that the exile would be short-lived decided him.

 

Fanny was sea sick for much of the journey to St. Helena, and when she saw the rugged bleak outline of the island for the first time she was appalled and is quoted as saying to Napoleon “The devil sh*t this place as he flew from one continent to the other”.

 

It was not the short exile Napoleon had hoped, instead he was to die on the island and the little Bertrand family remained on St. Helena for over five years. It was a time of great stress and sadness for poor Fanny.

 

She hated the island and was deeply unhappy with no friends, no society, restrictions imposed upon her by both Napoleon and the British Governor, and although one son was born successfully she suffered several dangerous miscarriages. The final straw came when towards the end of his life Napoleon demanded that Fanny become his mistress. That was just too much for poor Fanny, she refused absolutely and again begged her husband to leave. Napoleon was humiliated and angry and never forgave the couple saying that ‘her husband should have prostituted his wife and that he ought to have made up her mind for her when she proved refractory.’ Napoleon took his revenge by spreading malicious untrue rumours about Fanny’s infidelity with British Officers and refusing to see her until he was on his death-bed.

 

Fanny, her husband and four children left St. Helena three weeks after Napoleon’s death. Pardoned by the French Government they returned to a quiet life at their château in France. Fanny died of cancer fifteen years later.

 

For two years I lived in the house they built for Fanny on St Helena. Her presence was with me daily. But no-one could tell me anything about her except that her ghost, dressed in black mourning clothes, was supposed to haunt the house. So I determined to research the story of this unhappy and forgotten ‘Fiery Creole’ on St Helena who was forced against her will into exile with ex-Emperor Napoleon. The more I discovered the more I admired this resilient, strong willed, unhappy woman who was controlled absolutely by the men in her life.

 

*

 

 

My second choice could so easily have been the lovely Russian Countess Anna Karenina or the dashing Fitzwilliam Darcy, that aloof romantic hero in Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (sigh!) but instead I have chosen a character who has been a favourite in my family for four generations, the adorable little bear Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne.

 

My mother, an accomplished actress, read ‘Tales of Pooh’ to me when I was an infant and I honestly believe this little bear had a profound influence on shaping the person I was to become. He certainly inspired me to write my first ‘poem’ when I was six and his pearls of wisdom are as pertinent today as they were when the book was first published in 1926.

 

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

 

Love is taking a few steps backwards, maybe even more, to give way to the happiness of the person you love.”

 

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”

 

My mother’s 3rd Edition copy (1935) of ‘Tales of Pooh’ has been handed down and read to each new generation. Looking a bit battered now but still much loved.

 

By his own admission Pooh was not the sharpest tool in the box “For I am a bear of little brain and long words bother me” who was “short, fat and proud of that”. Maybe he was a little naïve but so kind-hearted, brave, surprisingly wise, very sociable, a steadfast friend and a talented poet. In my opinion an all-round happy-go-lucky great guy!

 

Well it’s almost eleven o’clock so I’m off to get a little smackerel of something before I slip out for a game of Poohsticks before returning for lunch ..... Hurrah for Pooh!

 

 

Lally's Links:

Her Twitter page

 

The Countess, Napoleon and St Helena

 

The Volcano, Montserrat and Me 

 

 

High and Dry in the BVI 

 

 

 

This week, my Take Two Characters series continues with a guest post by Kate Field.  Kate's contemporary novels delve into the complexities of relationships and family life.

 

Her debut novel, The Magic of Ramblings, won the Romantic Novelists' Association' s Joan Hessayon Award. This was followed by The Truth About You, Me and Us and The Winter That Made Us. She also contributed one of the stories to the short story collection, Miss Moonshine's Emporium of Happy Endings. Kate's latest book is The Man I Fell In Love With.

I was delighted when Susanna asked me to take part in her new blog feature, because it sounded such an interesting idea. The timing was perfect too: my post was scheduled for February, the month that my latest book was due to be published, which spared me a tricky decision over which of my characters to choose!

 

The lead character in The Man I Fell in Love With is Mary Black. Mary has been contentedly married to her best friend, Leo, for almost twenty years, and she’s at the centre of a close-knit family – so close, that her mother lives in the converted garage, and Leo’s mother lives next door! Her family, and especially her two teenage children, are everything to her and so her world is shattered when, in the opening chapter of the book, she discovers that Leo has fallen in love with another man.

 

What would you do?

 

The idea of the story came to me when I heard about a similar situation, and I wondered if there were any circumstances in which a wife would support her husband in his new relationship.

 

Mary wandered into my mind during the course of that day, and I abandoned the book I’d been planning to write so I could tell her story instead.

 

Not everyone will agree with the way Mary reacts; some readers will think that she should have been angry or taken revenge. I’m not saying that Mary’s choice is the right one, or the best one, and I’m certainly not sure that I could behave in the same way. But it is her choice, because of what has happened to her in the past, and because she wants to protect her children. I think it would take real strength to hide your own pain and put your family first.

 

I loved writing about Mary; she’s loyal and determined, funny and kind, and I hope that readers will root for her as she reshapes her life, and agree that her story has the ending she deserves!

I pondered for a long time about which other character to choose. My ‘go to’ answer for every question about a favourite book or character always involves Persuasion by Jane Austen, so I tried to think of something else. But the more I thought about Mary Black, and how much I admired her quiet strength, the more I realised that I liked the same thing about Anne Elliot, the lead character in Persuasion.

 

I was lucky enough to study Persuasion for my English Literature A level, but I was the only student in my class who liked the book – my teacher even wrote a tongue-in-cheek message in my autograph book when I left school, to say that I was the only one who really understood it!

 

Like Mary Black, Anne puts her own happiness last: she gives up the man she loves because she’s persuaded by the maternal figure in her life that it’s the best thing to do. Years later, they meet again, and the book is full of agony and joy as she sees him attracted to someone else, but eventually return to her.

 

 

Anne is a quiet, bookish character, past her bloom as Jane Austen puts it, but she’s kind and understanding, and her true strength is shown in a crisis. I first encountered her when I was a shy, insecure teenager, and she’s stayed with me because her story gave me reassurance that it’s okay not to be the loudest person in the room, and that even quiet characters can have an important role to play.

 

Kate's Links:

Twitter: @katehaswords

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KateFieldAuthor

The Man I Fell in Love With: Kindle edition

Kate's author page on Amazon