Wednesday, 29 July 2015

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT.





I'll have to admit I'm partial to reading stories that are scary, strange, magical or bizarre. My favourite childhood book was Alice in Wonderland. I love that off-kilter, slightly nightmarish world  that Alice discovered at the bottom of the rabbit hole and beyond the looking glass where nothing was as it seemed and weird happenings seemed suddenly logical. Or the magical world of C.S Lewis's Narnia series. After reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe I honestly hid myself in my parents' wardrobe and willed the wooden backing to dissolve and lead me to the snowy pathway where Mr. Tumnus waited by the lamp post.



Later in life I discovered I wasn't a fan of hardcore horror. As a student I went to see The Exorcist and was so terrified I had to sleep on a friend's floor. I couldn't eat pea soup after that movie.
When I read the book later I found it even more terrifying than the movie. I had a similar experience reading Bram Stoker's Dracula. His images of the Count, transformed into a wolf or a bat crawling up towards Mina's bedroom window and scratching on the glass, became all too real when tree branches scraped against my window at night.


  I was, however, a sucker for the X-Files with its unseen but ever present aliens and the paranormal occurrences that Muldur and Scully were called to investigate. More recently I devoured the wonderful Wayward Pines series inspired by Blake Crouch's creepy trilogy.


I was always a fan of the fantastic tales of the late Ray Bradbury and loved the story he told about how he started writing after he met Fantastico, the magician in 1932. At the end of his performance, the magician reached his sword out to the 12 year old Bradbury and commanded him to live forever. Bradbury started writing every day and his works have certainly immortalized him.
Later I became a fan of Sarah Waters after reading her chilling, Booker Prize shortlisted novel, The Little Stranger.
An amazing cover by the talented Valdas Miskins
I love these kinds of stories so much, I decided to write some. That's how Doll's Eyes and Other stories was born. The title story was inspired by an incident in my son's childhood. One night when he was very young, he couldn't sleep. I went to his room to find out what was the matter and found him staring at his Ernie doll. He said, "Mom, take Ernie away. I don't like the way he's looking at me." That incident stuck with me ever since and - we all remember the clown doll in Poltergeist or the evil clown creature in Stephen King's It! 

 I also have scary memories of the laughing clown encased in a glass bubble outside the fun house in Seaburn, on the north-east coast of England. I used to stare in horrified fascination at it, imagining what would happen if I came back to the fairground at night and found the glass bubble empty and the clown lurking around in the darkness.

Another story in the new collection is MayOne, my tribute to Ray Bradbury and the third, The Flamebearer, is an excerpt from a longer work and was inspired by a childhood nightmare.
It seems that a lot of people like weird, bizarre stories because Doll's Eyes and Other Stories has already reached #14 in the Amazon Bestsellers Short Reads in Mystery, Thriller and Suspense.
Check it out and if you enjoy it, don't forget to put a review on Goodreads or Amazon. These are so important for authors!! Happy reading, but don't forget to close the windows, lock the doors - oh - and if you hear a strange noise, don't look behind you!! Mwaahaha!!!





Friday, 17 July 2015

THE ANGEL AT THE HEARTH




While doing research for my last two books (The Savage Instinct and A Proper Lady) I kept coming across a term that was used to define the role of women during the Victorian era. The term Angel at the Hearth or Angel in the House defined the ideal image and essence of womanhood. It was widely portrayed in the art and literature of the time and was used as a standard to define the perfect woman, mother and wife.
This idea actually gave rise to a whole genre of painting known as domestic pictures in which the ideal wife was portrayed as an earthly though angelic Madonna, soothing, comforting and submitting to her husband. Selflessly encouraging, watching over and nurturing her children while presiding over a well ordered, highly moral household.
A poet named Coventry Patmore actually coined the term in his narrative poem The Angel in the House, first published in 1854 and dedicated his first wife, Emily, whom he considered the ideal woman.
Emily Patmore, painted by John Everett Millais

Though the poem wasn't very well received at first, the ideas soon took off some years later with popular artists and writers. Julia Margaret Cameron, the celebrated Victorian photographer offered her own interpretation of The Angel in the House. In this portrait of Emily Peacock, Cameron frames her subject in soft, white fur and uses muted lighting to give the appearance of gentle beauty.
Painters vied to portray the ideal Victorian household. The picture below entitled Home Sweet Home by W.D Sadler is typical of paintings of this era.

While this might seem like a perfect way of life for some, it could be stifling for a woman with aspirations or interests outside the home. Middle or upper-class women who were unmarried were regarded as "redundant" and unimportant with no actual status or role, and when they sought to fulfil themselves by working outside the home they were seen as rebellious and unusual. In popular media of the time they were often portrayed as objects of ridicule. Check out this late 19th century cartoon from Punch in which the elderly and unattractive (of course!) spinster tells her friend she's given up campaigning for women's rights, to dedicate herself to finding eligible widowers or women's lefts.

At the other end of the spectrum, lower-class working women like seamstresses, governesses and maids were seen as objects of pity and portrayed by socially conscious artists such as Richard Redgrave whose painting, The Poor Seamstress, captures the image of the poor working class woman, slaving from morning till night, sacrificing her life in a dark attic to feed her children.

And those women who dared to step away from the rigid bounds of respectability became fallen women, who would suffer dire consequences as portrayed in Redgrave's, The Outcast, in which a young woman and her illegitimate child are forced from the household into the dark, snowy night by the stern, respectable patriarch of the family. Earnest entreaties from a distraught sister go unheard, while Mother comforts her sobbing son.

Perhaps it is Edmund Leighton's painting, Till Death Do Us Part, that truly portrays the idea that many Victorian women had little choice in determining the course of their lives. In this picture, the dejected young bride casts her eyes downwards in sorrow as she walks down the aisle with her rich elderly suitor, while her dashing young lover looks on, knowing she's lost to him forever.

The only self-determined choice for a fallen woman was depicted in George Frederick Watts' painting, Found Drowned, based on Thomas Hood's poem, The Bridge of Sighs. Here a poor young woman atones for her sins by paying the ultimate price.


These are just a few of the paintings I came across in my research, but they're a fascinating way of understanding the mindset of that era and the way it has influenced us and continues to influence us to this day! 
Also, the fact that these pictures were painted a little over a hundred years ago is a sign of how far we've come in terms of women's rights in many areas of the world, but should also serve as a reminder that a large majority of women still suffer terrible restrictions to their rights and freedoms in many other parts of the world.

BOOK NEWS!
For all Winnipeg readers! THE SAVAGE INSTINCT and LILAH will be available at McNally Robinson Booksellers starting this weekend!







Wednesday, 1 July 2015

SUMMER FUN!!




So a long, lazy summer has just begun and it's time to get outside and enjoy the sun. The flowers are planted, the lawn seeded, watered and groomed and all your garden knick-knacks and solar lights set up.
Here's a photo of our backyard.
My husband keeps sneaking out and buying more lights and ornaments. The latest one is the lighthouse with a revolving solar light. And he's threatening to bring in some garden gnomes. As if the pelican with the knapsack isn't enough!
So now what? It's time to enjoy it all with some great food, drink and fun!

COCKTAILS ON THE DECK: There's nothing better than having friends over for a deck party and sipping on some cool summer cocktails. Check out these great recipes from Pinterest.

Blood orange margarita: a rich, tangy taste! Get the recipe here
I'm very partial to gin-based cocktails, so here's another one for a cool basil cucumber gin cocktail from Host the Toast
  • Cool raspberry lemonade sangria. get the recipe here





















    TASTY BARBECUE BITES
    Come on - you can do better than burgers and hot dogs! Be adventurous with the marinades and rubs. Check out these ideas. Recipes are linked to the photo captions:

    Barbecued shrimp and peach kabobs
    Spicy marinated shrimp with Tabasco

    Dry rub spicy barbecue chicken wings
    I have a thing for crispy, mouth-watering potatoes and an ever bigger thing for rosemary. This recipe combines the two:
    Grilled rosemary potatoes

    A GREAT BOOK
    There's nothing better to lose yourself in than a great summer read. On the deck, at the beach, by the pool. A great page-turner can bring some magic to those leisurely summer days. Check out these suggestions:
    THE CHAPERONE by Laura Moriarty. Read what happens when a plain, shy housewife accompanies the young, beautiful and unpredictable starlet (real-life) Louise Brooks, to New York. A tender, beautiful story about love, passion and liberty.

    THE OTHER TYPIST by Suzanne Rindell. A chilling and addictive thriller set in 1920's New York, with an unusual narrator who becomes increasingly strange and unreliable as the story progresses. Reminiscent of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
    MARY COIN by Marissa Silver. A breathtakingly beautiful novel that mixes fact with fiction in the imagined story behind Dorothea Lange's iconic Depression era photograph,  Migrant Mother.
    APPLE TREE YARD by Louise Doughty. You'll lose yourself in this page-turning suspense story of a fiftyish woman - a renowned geneticist who finds herself on trial for murder. Across the courtroom is her lover and accomplice. How did she end up in this situation? Why did she make love to him the first day they met at the Houses of Parliament? Read the book and find out!

    Okay - now everything's set, kick your feet up and enjoy. There's a long, hot summer ahead.

    LATEST BOOK NEWS:

    THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER is back on the Amazon bestsellers lists in the US and UK. It never ceases to amaze me how popular this book is. (I'm now considering another similar book called THE ICE CREAM SELLER'S SON. More news on that later)  That's me two places behind E.M Forster's A Passage to India, and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry:

    My first thriller LILAH, actually entered an Amazon bestseller 100 list for the first time. If you're looking for romantic suspense, check it out:

    THE SAVAGE INSTINCT is out on all Amazon marketplaces now and for those of you in Winnipeg, will soon be at McNally Robinson. It already hit the Amazon.com Top 100 literary historical fiction list last week, so check it out at Amazon.com, Amazon.uk and Amazon.ca. If you love to read novels that mix fact with fiction, then check it out. It's set against the backdrop of real life mass poisoner, Mary Ann Cotton's arrest and trial.

    Here's an excerpt from the beginning:

    Mary Ann Cotton, she’s dead and forgotten
    She lies in a grave with all her bones rotten
    Sing, sing, oh what shall I sing
    Mary Ann Cotton is tied up with string
    Where, where? Up in the air
    Sellin black puddens a penny a pair

    DURHAM, MARCH 1873


    I was twenty six when I became acquainted with madness. That same year I encountered the murderer, Mrs. Cotton, and learned that the evil ones among us mingle freely in the gilded drawing rooms of the respectable middle class, as well as in the filthy alleyways of abject poverty.
    I’d always viewed the world with an artist’s eyes. Drawn to edges, angles, curves and textures. The way light plays with shade, casting surfaces into bold relief until the beauty of their imperfections are revealed. But now I know this does not apply to people, whose flaws can be so loathsome - so entrenched that nothing can redeem them
    And I fear the shadows now, for they conceal a small figure with a chequered shawl, blank eyes and a pitiless soul. She stands at the foot of my bed holding a cup out to me.
    Drink, drink, she says, for two pennorth of arsenic dissolves nicely in a hot cup of tea.


    Just remember - if you read and enjoy one of my books, it would be great if you'd write a review for Amazon. This really helps to promote the books to other readers!