Book Review: Boldly into the Darkness

Boldly into the Darkness: Living with Loss,

Growing with Grief & Holding On to Happiness

by Autumn Toelle-Jackson

Life for Autumn Toelle-Jackson started out happy, almost like a dream. When she entered her thirties, however, tragedy made up for lost time. Over the span of a few short years, she endured several miscarriages and the loss of her husband, a dear cousin, and child.

But one small cross-section of a life doesn’t do justice to the amount of love, resilience, growth and blessings a person experiences after such titanic losses. With each new harbinger of grief, Toelle-Jackson was forced to discover another way to survive the pain. In Boldly into the Darkness, she examines all the lessons and outcomes of her life story with aching intimacy and insight. The result is a portrait of healing so complete, it transcends the traditional survivor narrative and enters new territory, a bold light shining where before was only darkness.

*********

It has been quite a while since I’ve read a memoir, so I was pleased to be presented with Autumn Toelle-Jackson’s Boldly into the Darkness: Living with Loss, Growing with Grief & Holding On to Happiness for review. Hers is a story including successive losses, within a short period, of people very close to her: her husband, cousin, then her daughter – and these were following more than one miscarriage. How in the world does one deal with such devastation? How does one overcome the painful fear of vulnerability by allowing the world into their private life?

One reason I found for the ability to realize these and other achievements came rather quickly. At the start of Toelle-Jackson’s narrative, she states, “ [D]espite traumatic events, it’s not a traumatic story. Instead, it’s a story overflowing with love and marked with loss.” When I read these words I felt a bit (selfishly, I admit) relieved, because I had begun to fear the darkness I felt sure was certain to be between the covers of this volume. Death and the destruction of humans, even strangers, is awful for most, and it is such a profound horror I think our brains are wired to not truly be able to grasp it in its huge, stark reality. However, I have also long said that witnessing the profound grief of those left behind makes me question which is more devastating to observe.

I don’t think the author necessarily sets out to comfort readers, and that’s all right – it’s not her job to do that. Moreover, the jolt of events are part of the reading experience and it’s up to us to digest what she offers responsibly, thoughtfully. Still, she does offer us something:

Over time, I learned that, with each new grief, I’d shatter and then find a way to survive, whether I wanted to or not. I  learned that I had choices, and I’ve chosen to do more than live. I learned that while the darkness brought sobs of anguish and never-ending tears, it also held healing and rebirth. I learned to live with my losses. I found ways to grow from the grief I carry. More importantly, I learned to grab hope wherever I could find it and hold on tight, because sometimes the hope that things will get better was all I had.

This passage immediately struck me with the understanding that Toelle-Jackson was presenting her audience with a requirement of sorts: reading her story passively and feeling sorry for her isn’t a viable option. There is more to life than suffering, and crafting its sum—and any reading about it—as a mere grievance narrative, is counterproductive and not akin to what we are made to do, be and achieve. She continues: “Those we lose are more than the loss. They are love, laughter, and happiness. That should be their legacy. Their death shouldn’t define them. Our loved ones are more than that one point in time.”

With this, Toelle-Jackson claims her life and those of her loved ones for something and somewhere brighter and higher—the trick is getting to that spot. As the author moves forward with her story, beginning almost immediately with her husband Joe’s untimely death, she opens the door to the dark part of her life and allows us to gaze within. It is a complex area, organized in segments that play tricks on observer and participant alike, its sting delivered according to role as well as experience and understanding. One passage I appreciated most was that which drew on her relatability to natural forces, occurring during retreat to a small, Pacific-coast town in February. Here were gardens, parks, a beachfront, and as she makes her way through these and other spaces she recognizes actualities that comfort even as they present truth in their sometimes harsh reality. For example, a Japanese-styled garden whose calming area was suggestive of a poem, even within its sometimes wild spots, “a place where suffering was OK because it was part of existence. It was a place where brokenness mixed with peace and beauty because in nature it all goes hand in hand.”

Feeling the sun on her back perhaps enabled Toelle-Jackson to connect her thoughts to what she observed, as she “saw firsthand how life was sprouting out of the darkness of winter and growing from the small seeds of last year’s plants.” This is, of course, the cycle of death and re-birth we all recognize, and a theme Toelle-Jackson expands upon as she screams into the ocean and “the waves below me take their fury out on the rocks.”

I felt the turmoil in my soul. And like the waves releasing their power, I started to let go of my anger…I stood there and screamed, and the roar of the ocean drowned out the noise I made. With each shattering wave, I let go of some of my anger. Not all of it and not for forever, but it was a start. I knew I was angry and had been keeping the emotion to myself. But there on the cliffs, I gave it free rein to erupt from me like the water below.

But she also beckons us through entries to other portions of her past: growing up with a large family, including her beloved cousin Brittany; family trips; horse competitions; working toward future goals; attending college; and maintaining a long-distance relationship. We learn of the drudgery involved in the everyday (e.g. eight-hour drives) as well as the immensely joyful and satisfying: long conversations with Brittany or the college experience in which Toelle-Jackson took part in, that rite of passage involving making one’s own choices and learning how things work, what today we often call “adulting.”

A beautiful family.

These are presented because, as the author stresses, love without loss is not real, and has a talent for showing us this even within portions of life that often seem inconsequential, or at least not glaring examples of an ideal so profound. Her college days, she writes, were “pretty boring”; on weekends she preferred to drive home to compete with her horse, Norman, or stay in with a good book instead of attend parties. Certainly, it might be labeled as on a smaller scale of the love-loss match, but it illustrates the requirement that each one be paired with the other.

It is perhaps this understanding that enables Toelle-Jackson to direct her journey in a more productive fashion, and she does, guiding us as she moves through the lessons she must learn, drawing on the love and support of others as well as what lives within herself. She allows herself to grieve, is painfully honest in her self-assessments and observes, in search of meaning or some sort of recognition. Some of what she speaks of are “easily” recognizable truths, though there isn’t a formula to utilize and grieving is different for everyone. But one thing the author stresses through Boldly into the Darkness is the concept of understanding that we all have choices. She may have been thrust into the darkness, she tells us, but that doesn’t mean she can be forced to stay there, and she doesn’t. Finding her way out and learning to live with its remnants is her story, and she tells it powerfully, truthfully, with compassion for those who experienced it with her.

I don’t know if I could say which of those three is the most crucial “ingredient”; perhaps none are more vital than any other. The power socks it to us, providing the details of events that create scars in the soul. As her new world, a world now without her loving and much-loved husband, carries on, the author relates how she felt, what she needed, what she didn’t know she needed and how she came to learn. These are not always pretty truths, but Toelle-Jackson’s sincerity produces invaluable awareness for all of us, some of which could also be applied to ordinary relationships of all kinds—those with or without tragedy as partner, and those involving love, friendship or even just colleagues or neighbors—in which constructive honesty creates authentic bonding, the benefits of which are too numerous to list here. In turn, such authenticity reveals a care for others within a cyclical nature that turns back and shows people truths about themselves that they choose to follow up on or not. That Toelle-Jackson chose to wasn’t in itself a magic bullet: the journey had to be undertaken. Here she presents the peaks and valleys of that expedition, speaking truths without judgement in a manner many others could find solace in. Her writing is gracious and smooth, even when the emotions are raw and jagged, and I can’t help but consider what a thoughtful writer Toelle-Jackson is.

Boldly into the Darkness is a bit of a tour through that frightening space, as its author mines the deeper parts of her soul and the human psyche, determined to find the light that must exist alongside. She reminds us that though there is no love without loss, the dark cannot exist without light, and tells her story as one way to help others find something to grab on to that they too might pull themselves up and recognize that we are designed to survive. Individual losses present unique journeys, and various pathways she traversed might not work for some others. But the strength and hope Toelle-Jackson presents is a ray of brightness that may benefit all of us, in the best and worst of times.

About the Author

Autumn Toelle-Jackson has lived a life of love and loss, filled with happiness and marked by tragedy. Labels are too simple, but they do have meaning and they do tell part of her story: wife, widow, mother, survivor. The loss of a husband, a beloved cousin and mentor, her daughter, and miscarriages have left scars on her soul and memorial tattoos on her body, but Autumn learned to grow through it all. She found love and reasons to get up each day until those days strung into weeks, then months, then years. Autumn and her family created GrowingwithGrief to provide those who are grieving with a place to find community, resources, and help.

Autumn Toelle-Jackson’s website may be accessed here, and you can purchase Boldly into the Darkness at this page. This wonderful memoir may also be found at Amazon, Amazon UK and Books2Read, a page with links to major online vendors for the ebook and audio book.

Images courtesy Autumn Toelle-Jackson.

A copy of Boldly into the Darkness was provided by the author in order to facilitate an honest review.

Accidental Duplicate Giveaway: Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates

(See below the blurb for my own commentary and contest info)

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates:

The Forgotten War that Changed American History

by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

This is the little-known story of how a newly indepen­dent nation was challenged by four Muslim powers and what happened when America’s third president decided to stand up to intimidation.

When Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801, America faced a crisis. The new nation was deeply in debt and needed its economy to grow quickly, but its merchant ships were under attack. Pirates from North Africa’s Barbary coast routinely captured American sailors and held them as slaves, demanding ransom and tribute payments far beyond what the new coun­try could afford.
 
Over the previous fifteen years, as a diplomat and then as secretary of state, Jefferson had tried to work with the Barbary states (Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, and Morocco). Unfortunately, he found it impossible to negotiate with people who believed their religion jus­tified the plunder and enslavement of non-Muslims. These rogue states would show no mercy—at least not while easy money could be made by extorting the Western powers. So President Jefferson decided to move beyond diplomacy. He sent the U.S. Navy’s new warships and a detachment of Marines to blockade Tripoli—launching the Barbary Wars and beginning America’s journey toward future superpower status.
 
As they did in their previous bestseller, George Washington’s Secret Six, Kilmeade and Yaeger have transformed a nearly forgotten slice of history into a dramatic story that will keep you turning the pages to find out what happens next. Among the many sus­penseful episodes: 
 
·Lieutenant Andrew Sterett’s ferocious cannon battle on the high seas against the treacherous pirate ship Tripoli.
 
·Lieutenant Stephen Decatur’s daring night raid of an enemy harbor, with the aim of destroying an American ship that had fallen into the pirates’ hands.

·General William Eaton’s unprecedented five-hundred-mile land march from Egypt to the port of Derne, where the Marines launched a surprise attack and an American flag was raised in victory on foreign soil for the first time.
 
Few today remember these men and other heroes who inspired the Marine Corps hymn: “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles in the air, on land and sea.” 
Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates recaptures this forgot­ten war that changed American history with a real-life drama of intrigue, bravery, and battle on the high seas.

*********

A few years back, I’d read another book by these authors: George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, and was quite smitten with it, not least because spy had been my very first ambition in life at age six (that and writing poetry). I also had a historian father who frequently told me tales of the American Revolution, and enjoyment of these legends has never left me. I later came to know of Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates and have been wanting to read it for a long while. So when I was shopping last Friday—experiencing one of those shopping moods in which you are determined to buy something, and in this case I was hungry for books—I came across and decided to buy it. I vaguely wondered when I’d have time to read it, given my stack of books and research obligations. Well, no worries, I reasoned, it’ll happen. Of course it will, my sarcastic inner self replied. Along with the other two high seas and Barbary Wars books shelved not far from your night table.

OK! OK! But I’m still getting it, I hissed to myself.

Not long after I returned home and was engaged in lovingly looking over my purchases (the true end of the shopping expedition, as opposed to simply getting in your car and going home) when a sudden stab in my awareness gave me pause to look at my American history shelf and…there it was. Propped proudly next to a George Washington biography stood my already-copy of, you guessed it, Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates. With the wonderful facsimile of Nathaniel Currier’s Tripolitan War, 1804 on the cover; cast of characters on opening pages; broad map of the then United States and Western Europe and North Africa with sailing corridors in between; periodic map sketches throughout (I love maps; they truly help appreciate the stories better); and an eight-page insert of color and black-and-white images, the book is equipped to tell a marvelous history.

Since I now had an extra copy, I decided to do a giveaway and, wonderful people, here we are. Unfortunately, sending books overseas is no longer the economical wonder it once was, and the costs are now prohibitive if one is manually sending off a physical book. Therefore, I have no choice in this instance but to limit winners to the United States. Never fear, though, I’m developing ideas for other giveaways, so stay tuned for more fun opportunities—wherever in the world you are. And, hey, feel free to comment here or any blogs at BtSS.

To get in on the contest, which will be a drawing, please comment below and you are automatically entered. Say hello, mention or talk about your favorite American history story, recommend a book—anything appropriate is welcome. (You may also comment at this Twitter link – FB link to follow) On Saturday, July 24, we will do a drawing and announce the winner. Please be sure to provide an email address in your comment (this is not visible to the public; please do not put your email address in the body of your comment) so I can notify you if you are the winner. At that time I’ll ask for your address to send the paperback via U.S. Mail.

Thanks for playing, peeps, and see you soon!

~Lisl~

An artist’s depiction of the Philadelphia aground off Tripoli, in October 1803. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Anne Bradstreet: The First American Poet

THE TENTH MUSE Lately sprung up in AMERICA. OR Severall Poems, compiled with great variety of VVit and Learning, full of delight. Wherein especially is contained a com∣pleat discourse and description ofThe Four Elements,

The Four Constitutions,

The Four Ages of Man,

The Four Seasons of the Year.

Together with an Exact Epitomie of the Four Monarchies, viz.The Assyrian,

The Persian,

The Grecian,

The Roman.

Also a Dialogue between Old England and New, concerning the late troubles. With divers other pleasant and serious Poems.

By a Gentlewoman in those parts.

Printed at London for Stephen Bowtell at the signe of the Bible in Popes Head-Alley. 1650.

The full title of Anne Bradstreet’s The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung up in America, as it appeared on its title page


In the runup to the Fourth of July, fellow writers from the Historical Writers Forum are posting this week about various events in American history. Thus far we have read on some of the more famous moments or those closely related, such as Dr. Joseph Warren’s 1775 Boston Massacre Oration, as well as lesser-known topics, including taxes and people’s attitudes toward them in 1862 America. These glimpses back on our history run the timeline continuum from America in the making to its status as a fully established nation. Today our Blog Hop looks back a bit further, this time to an America in her embryonic stage, when very little really was secure at all, including whether some even wanted to step upon what author Charlotte Gordon refers to as “this hulking continent” (5).

Nineteenth-century depiction of Anne Bradstreet by Edmund H. Garrett. No portrait made during her lifetime exists. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

Such was the perspective of eighteen-year-old Anne Dudley Bradstreet on the morning of June 12, 1630, when the Arbella steered into Salem Harbor after seventy-seven days at sea. Expecting soon to see the lively outpost they were on their way to join, Bradstreet and her fellow colonists’ hopes were dashed when they saw for themselves the results of the advance party’s efforts. Only a small amount of acreage had been cleared, and the settlers who greeted the new arrivals turned out to be survivors of a brutal winter of starvation and related illness. Their skin was paper thin and many were invalids, so disoriented and lethargic that they had taken to leaving their own waste behind their crudely constructed homesteads, covering the filth with dirt that failed to disguise the stench (Gordon, 8-9).

The new arrivals did not stay long in what they deemed to be a wasteland, and Bradstreet and her husband, with an ever-growing family, moved a number of instances in subsequent years. Over time she raised eight children, which in itself entailed enormous responsibility, particularly in an era before our own so-called “timesaving devices,” but also when nearly everything they knew to exist in a modern society had to be constructed from scratch. Deprivation was the rule and before the year was out, over two hundred immigrants died and a further two hundred fled back to England. Gordon reports that one colonist, Edward Johnson, testified that in nearly every family “lamentation, mourning, and woe was heard” (13).

Physical hardships, naturally, were not the only drawbacks, and attitudes toward women at the time offered little to encourage intellectual contribution. Moreover, women were raised to be obedient, and Bradstreet was no exception. She had loathed the idea of leaving England in the first place, but followed along. On her father’s orders, she was part of the exploratory group from Arbella, whose plowing ahead into the small skiff bouncing on the waves perhaps provided some reassurance to those who watched them row away, knowing intuitively that some newcomers surely drowned in that short distance to land. Her fear subdued enough to carry on, though through her life she experienced feelings of loneliness, isolation, uncertainty in her relationship with God, and frustration at the societal wall placed before her, despite having been extremely well educated in England.

So it was that in such circumstances Anne Bradstreet carried on with her duties as she also began to write poetry expressing not only her disillusionment or doubts but also, for example, about her love for her husband or admiration for Queen Elizabeth, whose leadership abilities she references in questioning the common view that women were inferior creatures. She wrote about politics, theology, history and, important to the development of her verse, topics related to what is was like to experience life as an American. She was said to have had a collection of books that numbered over eight hundred, though many of these were lost when her home burned down, an event she memorialized in a poem that also reflects her struggle between love for God and her attempts to overcome the pain she feels at the loss.

I, starting up, the light did spy,
And to my God my heart did cry
To strengthen me in my distress,
And not to leave me succorless.
Then coming out, behold a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And when I could no longer look,
I blest His name that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust;
Yea, so it was, and so ’twas just.
It was His own; it was not mine.
Far be it that I should repine.

—from “Verses Upon the Burning of Our House, July 10, 1666”

Though Bradstreet’s early education was heavily influenced by male authors and was naturally quite English in outlook, she was also inspired by Du Bartas, a French poet whose great, unfinished poem about Creation was beloved by the Puritans. Her love of poetry and skill in assessing it did not at first seem to convince her that she might one day achieve a similar goal;  writing of any kind, let alone what was seen as the exalted art of poetry, was beyond the ability of women. Perhaps her later successes in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, beginning with that first, tenuous step into the skiff, served to re-inform her judgement of herself; paired with her suspicions regarding perceptions of women’s intellect and, not unlike girls in later repressive societies who realize their potential after witnessing the foolishness of brothers who are supposedly superior to them, she may have struck out, if only to show herself her own capabilities.

In 1650, The Tenth Muse Lately Come to America was published, ostensibly without her knowledge, to great fanfare and making Bradstreet the first poet, male or female, to publish from the New World. It was widely read in both England and the colonies, and showed up in a number of distinguished libraries. Though taken aback and perhaps embarrassed by the mistakes across the pages of the volume’s first printing (whether hers or the publisher’s), the publication’s success instilled more confidence in the poet moving forward.

Most of what she chose to write about is very personal and important to the development of later American literature, which sought to distinguish itself from its British and European counterparts. A literature that chose to be more than merely the extension of an existing body, works after the Revolution pursued a distinctly American flavor not derivative of its heritage, rather portraying its own society and landscape, on its own terms, depicting such values and themes as rugged individualism, self-reliance and sense of place, resulting from awareness and knowledge of untouched wilderness—political and spiritual in addition to physical—that Old World works did not.

Second (posthumous) edition title page of Bradstreet’s poems. Note her change in title from Tenth Muse to Several Poems. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

Later in life, Bradstreet distanced herself from the idea of being a muse, an identity provided with her first publication, as it was a “safer” identity than one such as Anne Hutchinson bore, and paid the price. Instead, Bradstreet preferred to be a woman who wrote poetry. It had been necessary, at first, for “reassurances” to be provided her readers, that she did not neglect her familial and societal duties in order to write poetry. Now she sheds this cloak and goes forth into the world, rejecting, as does her narrator in “The Prologue,” years earlier ~

    I am obnoxious to each carping tongue

    Who says my hand a needle better fits.

    A Poet’s Pen all scorn I should thus wrong,

    For such despite they cast on female wits.

    If what I do prove well, it won’t advance,

    They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance.

With her success, Bradstreet had proven wrong those who believed it was all a fluke, or that she could not advance. As with her poetry, this sentiment is linked to that of America itself, and here too Bradstreet played a significant role in proving not only the American spirit but also speaking and writing about it. This understanding changed the course of American literature, an experiment like the nation, that struck out on its own, matured in its own role and provided a say in the world about its own identity and the unique culture it came to represent.

Source

Gordon, Charlotte. Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America’s First Poet. Little Brown, 2005.


Thank you for joining us in our July 4 entry in the American History Blog Hop by Historical Writers Forum

Please check out our many other great posts!

Here presented an introduction to Anne Bradstreet and what she means to American history.

Please stay tuned for more posts with greater exploration of her poetry itself.

Happy Fourth of July!!

Book Release Update: Our Anthology Has Been Released!

The Road Not Travelled: Alternative Tales of the Wars of the Roses

for Richard Tearle

Silver groat of King Richard III (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Back in April, I dropped an update about an anthology I had written a short story for and preparing for a July release. There was a lot of back and forth re: corrections and I too received some returns from our editor, Joanne Larner, whose attention to detail truly saved me from making some very silly mistakes.

At the time I also didn’t know who would be writing our foreword. While this may be “old news” for some now, as my update comes a bit late, I’m still pleased as punched to report that we have had an early release with a foreword by Matthew Lewis, Chairman of the Richard III Society. He penned a really fantabulous bit, including some background for those unfamiliar with the whole Wars of the Roses shebang.

And now guess what!? I can’t believe I was able to contain it for this long, but a few days ago I received my box of author copies! The box was super heavy, though I didn’t notice it until I tried to shift it up the stairs. “How in the world did you carry this thing?” I queried my son, who just shrugged. Ah well, boys, you know, it’s just a box to them! He rolled his eyes when he looked into the box, supremely uninterested in the Wars of the Roses as he is. My eyebrow went up just a tad, though, because for someone who says he doesn’t really care all that much, he sure does know a lot about Richard III! And I still have a wonderful little drawing of Richard he made when he was younger.

So, I haven’t finished reading the entire book yet – it’s a little over 350 pages! Not just some flash-in-the-pan, thin volume you read in one day and forget about by the next. It’s got some heft to it, and that’s not only attributable to its physical weight. What I have read so far is very thoughtful and considered, and this just renews what I’d already felt about being in the company of this group of authors: extremely privileged and humbled. What great company to be in – thankfully they would have me! And that would include the late Richard Tearle, to whom the volume is dedicated. I did not know Richard very well myself, only becoming acquainted with him a few years back when he very kindly gave me permission to use some of his photos here at the blog. He was always very friendly with me and made transfer of info and photos back and forth practically effortless. Sadly, Richard was no longer with us to see publication, but I have hope that he can see us from his place now, as pleased as we are. I believe he can hear me when I say, “Well done, Richard! Your story shines.”

My own yarn, “Episodes in the Life of King Richard III,” is the penultimate tale, the final one being a wrap-up of a three-part story that serves as a foundation to the book. I think I may just skip mine when I get to it – I’m a little scared to look at it! That final one, though, I’ve ready it about thirty times already, and I adore it. This is really very thrilling and I hope you all will have a look at our volume, which I also am happy to add again benefits the Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK). King Richard himself, noted even by his enemies to be a skilled and courageous warrior, suffered from scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine that can reduce lung function owing to the extra space the curve takes up in the chest. According to the Mayo Clinic, while some cases of scoliosis might be caused by cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, the cause of most cases is unknown.

The Road Not Travelled: Alternative Tales of the Wars of the Roses is available in Kindle and paperback, at Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon Australia and Amazon India. (There may be others I am unaware of.) Please consider leaving a review, which are akin to gold for indie authors! It need not be long, fancy, intellectual, academic or any of those other things lots of people think book reviews must be. It can be if you like, but really even just a few words saying what you liked about the book, what might make it better, etc. Even something as short as “It’s a fabulous book!” works! My fellow authors and I will be most grateful.

Speaking of authors, here is a list of those whose stories appear in The Road Not Travelled*, in chronological order of story:

Maria Grazia Leotta

Jennifer Bradley

Alex Marchant

C.J. Lock

Toni Mount

Brian Wainwright

J.P. Reedman

Roslyn Ramona Brown

Joanne R. Larner

Sandra Heath Wilson

Bernadette Lyons

Susan Lamb

Terri Beckett

Kit Mareska

Kathy Kingsbury

Joanna Kingswood Iddison

Michéle Schindler

Clare Anderson

Richard Tearle

Jennifer C. Wilson

Lisl Madeleine

*several authors have contributed more than one story

…with amazing cover art by the talented Riika Nikko

About the Blogger

Lisl Madeleine’s first career goal in life (at age six) was to become a spy. She fell in love with Merlin, however, and espionage took a back seat. For better or worse, she is intrigued by ghosts and loves rain. She is currently at work on an expanded version of her short story, “Episodes in the Life of King Richard III,” as well as historical fiction set in the final months of King Harold II’s reign and another a couple of generations following Hastings. She writes poetry and enjoys reading Rumi, Keats, Tagore and Rosetti, amongst others, and insists that poetry is meant to be read aloud.

Added Note: This post has been updated to include an

escapee paragraph with links and note about reviews. Thank you!

Five Things I Love About the U.K.

Not too long ago I was sort of roaming around on the interweb and came across this video ~

~ from YouTube personalities Joel & Lia, discussing what they like about America. It was pretty friendly and funny, so I decided to look around a bit. Perusing their site, I saw that they seem travel to America a lot, therefore put out, amongst other topics, a fair amount of comparisons between the U.S. and U.K. (I confess I loved their language ones, which reminded me a bit of my fondness for using literally translated phrases from other languages into English to kid around with people.)

It also got me thinking in the opposite direction to what they discussed, and the things I like about the U.K., and it was pretty easy to come up with a few. While I admit my list is not exactly of the same flavor as Joel & Lia’s, which tends toward elements one might happen upon as they are actually traveling through American streets and society, I also point out that this is a deliberate move on my part, as there are many American readers who have not in the past or don’t have the chance very soon (or may never) to make a journey to Britain. I wanted to talk about things that everyone interested would have a better opportunity to look into or learn about, even if they have to do it from a distance. Of course, that could lead to something more up-close, which naturally would be fantastic. So let’s have at it! In no particular order ~

Page from the will of Alfred the Great (Image courtesy Wikimedia)

5. Loads of historical sites ~ Of course, we do too, and many (most) other countries’ sites go back further in time, as do Britain’s. Perhaps that my own family’s heritage comes from this little island is what draws me, but also there’s an angle I don’t hear many people discuss, and that is that we have a shared history. The events that brought America into being are also, of course, part of British history, and before these, our history traces back to Britain. So when Americans sift through history before, say, the Tudors, they’re also exploring their own country’s journey through time. And what a journey it was! I confess to being jealous of the ability to look at items, “in the flesh,” so to speak, that date back to Alfred the Great or Harold Godwinson or Richard III and those who lived in these times. The links between so many of these people, and even commoners, replete with twists and turns, is so fascinating to study and fills me with awe to know that someone who lived, monarch or ordinary person, 500 or 1,000 years ago wrote this document or purchased that item. I continually think about their ordinary days and what it might be like to have experienced life at this time. I’ve often heard it said that we are the descendants of survivors—our ancestors survived plague and rebellions, wars and massacres (and much more), and I often wish I could talk to the people who contributed to what and who I am today.  

4. They have great music ~ Again, we do too, but I don’t think anyone can deny that the British Invasion of the 1960s, influenced by our own homegrown blues, was simply fantastic. The Beatles aren’t going away (my eighteen-year-old son thinks I’m crazy to rate them after Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd) and Traffic’s music reaches deep into your soul, as music should. As a teenager I was addicted to David Bowie, and there were a number of others who followed these larger acts that I later learned about and who fed my hunger for ideas (on various levels), music and identity.

3. Bubble and Squeak ~ If love of music is as universal as I believe it to be, then so is conversation around and about food, and one thing I’ve found I have in common with many people is that we all agree leftovers are simply fantabulous. Sure, it’s often the case that the spices and all-around flavors that group together overnight are more intense, and thus supremely delicious, the next day. However, I also believe it to be something in our psyche that gets touched, which is why even breakfast for dinner, or midnight eggs and toast at a diner, can be a memorable feast. It’s not fancy, but the company kept around the table, especially if any of the participants joined together to prepare the food, seals the deal. So is it with Bubble and Squeak, by definition left over, and by company something to remember for always. It doesn’t hurt that I simply adore repurposing food, which so often reminds me of my Scottish granny (who had her own version of Bubble and Squeak) in her tiny kitchen.

2. East Anglia and Dartmoor ~ I’ve never been to either of these places, but for some reason unexplained, I’ve developed an obsession with the first and own a growing interest in the second. I joke about having lived in East Anglia in a past life and that perhaps this explains my attachment to it. As for Dartmoor, well that surely traces back to having seen it discussed in a documentary about Edwardian times and leading me to contemplate how places now of growing interest to us were wild and frightening to our ancestors, places to be avoided. In truth, I’d probably be afraid if I lost my way in the middle of a moor, though also crossing my mind would be how we often regard my own land: a dangerous beauty that can reward one greatly with its bounties or bring devastation if its wildness is not respected.

A typical Dartmoor tor, this one located near Haytor (Image courtesy Wikimedia)

Honorable Mention: Rain ~ We get rain, but it’s “spit,” as I’ve heard people from Outside call it. We rarely get thunder and lightning, and so whenever I watch a movie set in, say, London, with its famous rain pouring down, I long to cuddle with a book by a window and periodically look up to watch it streaking against the glass as it pours down, with the occasional thunder and lightning, the sort that people hide from under their beds.  

1. Richard III ~ I enjoy history, but King Richard III is perhaps the most meaningful to have crossed paths with. Having embarked upon a study of him following “a quick read” (that has lasted now since just over ten years), I was intrigued to discover that we have him to thank, at least in part, for our perspective on justice, specifically pertaining to his legal reforms, including strengthening of the bail system and prohibiting the confiscation of property before conviction. This is linked to our belief in “innocent until proven guilty” held in great esteem in America today. He also strengthened use of the English language, especially and including in the printing of statutes. His removal of trade restrictions on books, paired with the aforementioned support of English, promoted the spread of knowledge, an enlightened and progressive attitude that I daresay even some today seem to work against.

Given that there is lots more to love about this island

nation – and in many more far-flung areas – I’ve already decided that

we will be re-visiting this topic, so stay tuned!

Dragons with Many Faces

Illumination of a 15th-century manuscript of Historia Regum Britanniae showing king of the Britons Vortigern and Ambros watching the fight between two dragons. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

In recent months I’ve continued to check out social media, but not in the ways or as frequently as I used to (which is a good thing). Over the last weeks I’ve been super busy and looking for a lot of lighter items, such as the snooty cat or book addict memes that brighten the days. These are so perfect because it only takes a moment to read them – often the only space of time someone has in a frantic day – but you can carry the good feeling away with you, remembering that spark of sunshine.

In the past month one meme I’ve seen a fair few times is the dragon one: take the opening line or some segment of a particular book/book you last read, &tc. and add the following sentence: “And then the dragons arrived.” I’d wanted to post my own the first time I saw it, but didn’t have time, and you know what happens to “saved” ideas, right?

That turned out to be ok, actually, that I forgot to do it, because when the weekend arrived, I was thinking of this line for a lot of books, including one I had been reading through. My eyes roamed over titles when I passed bookshelves, thinking, how would that line work with this one? Or that one? Then I began leaving tasks I was involved in to go get books whose titles popped into my mind. I began pulling books down solely for this purpose and ended up with a few I think are worth sharing, including at least a couple that could bend how events with these dragons and the characters’ particular situations turn out. It might not be as predictable as we first presumed *rubs hands together* Starting with my favorite book ever, enjoy!

“I am an old man now, but then I was already past my prime when Arthur was crowned King. And then the dragons arrived.”  Mary Stewart, The Crystal Cave

Part I – Emperor

Chapter One

“Four Princes of the World”

“The Balkan Hill town of Tauresium appears on no modern atlas, and was almost certainly absent from maps that were in use during the centuries that modern historians call late antiquity. The only reason that the village, in the Roman province of Illyricum, is remembered today is that, in the closing years of the fifth century of the Common Era, a boy departed it. Twelve years earlier, his mother, a peasant girl named Vigilantia, had christened him Petrus Sabbatius. Many years later, after his journey to the capital of what was still the world’s largest empire, he was known by the name he gave himself: Justinian.

And then the dragons arrived.”

— William Rosen, Justinian’s Flea: The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire

Chapter One

“The Boy Who Lived”

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you

very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

And then the dragons arrived.”

                 —  J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“First Day”

“Fairest ladies, whenever I pause to consider how compassionate you all are by nature, I invariably become awre that the present work will seem to you to possess an irksome and ponderous opening. For it carries at its head the painful memory of the deadly havoc wrought by the recent plague, which brought so much heartache and misery to those who witnessed, or had experience of it. But I do not want you to be deterred, for this reason, from reading any further, on the assumption that you are to be subjected, as you read, to an endless torrent of tears and sobbing. You will be affected no differently by this grim beginning than walkers confronted by a steep and rugged hill, beyond which there lies a beautiful and delectable plain. The degree of pleasure they derive from the latter will correspond directly to the difficulty of the climb and descent. And just as the end of mirth is heaviness, so sorrows are dispersed by the advent of joy.

And then the dragons arrived.”

                                    — Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron

Book One – Mistress of Magic

Chapter 1

“Even in high summer, Tintagel was a haunted place; Igraine, Lady of Duke Gorlois, looked out over the sea from the headland. And she stared into the fogs and mists, she wondered how she would ever know when the night and day were of equal length, so that she could keep the Feast of the New Year. This year the spring storms had been unusually violent; night and day the crash of the sea had resounded over the castle until no man or woman could sleep, and even the hounds whimpered mournfully.

And then the dragons arrived.”

                                    — Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon

Preface

I. The Quarrel Between Agamemnon and Achilles

Sing, O Goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the councels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.

And then the dragons arrived.”

                                    — Homer, The Iliad

Book Review: Distant Echoes: Richard III Speaks! by Joanne R. Larner

In the time following the discovery, beneath a Leicester parking lot, of the remains of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, the medieval monarch has indeed gained a wider audience as we learn more details about the find. For example, it was announced that he was not, after all, the scary neighborhood hunchback; rather, he suffered from scoliosis, which actually makes him more of a boss, given his accomplishments, as reported even by his enemies.

Much material continues to be released, and many people, even those not previously inclined toward history, have started seeking out all things Richard. Publishers give it to them too, though the nature of these offerings is sober; they tend to be serious reads of medical and martial material with, really, no happy ending—at least not for the Richard of 1485. Alas, Bosworth still is soaked in blood, and Richard still falls. In fairness, it’s not really a walk in the park to spin that into something cheerful.

Author Joanne Larner has long lamented the same, so she set out to shake up the playing field a bit with her debut novel, Richard Liveth Yet. A more lighthearted look into the latter Wars of the Roses era by way of time travel, she also brings Richard Plantaganet to modern England and we get a glimpse into his perceptions of us, rather than only the standard fare of vice versa. With her latest, Distant Echoes: Richard III Speaks!, Larner takes time travel to a different level—dimension—by way of innovative software and science that teams up a subject’s DNA with technology to track voice vibrations, even those that occurred over 500 years ago.

Stepping back for a moment, it is worth giving attention to the book’s epigraph, song lines from “Sheriff Hutton” by the Legendary Ten Seconds: “Where distant echoes still resound/That which is lost may still be found.” Capturing the attention of readers of a genre whose very nature evokes images, events, perhaps even portions of collective memory, echoes from the past, it further stimulates the need to positively identify all this and wonder if we really could experience history and, amongst other events, hear the speaking voice of a medieval king.

Larner opens the novel with protagonist Eve experiencing the end of a romantic relationship and moves forward with her signature chapter titles named after songs. A medium that transcends time, music of some sort appeals to just about every human; it seems to be coded into our DNA to like it, nay, need it. For this I can’t help thinking Richard would have appreciated Larner’s creative idea; even if he didn’t always love some lyrics, he would recognize that most messages are those that touch someone, somewhere, and the relatable forms they take can promote unity.

It was with a similar unity that, even amongst differences and a mixture of complex personalities, Eve’s professional team moves forward with their project and echoes of the past filter into the modern lives of these Future Tech employees. Larner also puts a bit of a twist into the sessions in that not everyone experiences them the same way, which, in reality, makes great sense as individual perspective and changing variables play into it all.

Eve’s colleagues possess different levels of understanding when it comes to history, and Larner cleverly utilizes this to determine what and how much information is communicated between characters and, as a result, readers, many of whom might also maintain differing degrees of awareness. Of course, everyone, reader and fictional researcher alike, wants to know about the ultimate medieval mystery: What happened to the princes in the tower? It is with great dexterity that Larner manages the range of perspectives, historical knowledge and “eavesdropping” abilities of her cast as each individual keenly looks forward to the moment of truth. Amongst the chaos, intrigue and dangerous, unknown loyalties of 1485, and those that develop in Eve’s own time, will they find it?

One of the best elements of Larner’s novel relates to the manner in which the narrative moves forward. Alternately giving us glimpses into Eve’s private life, already wracked by the grief of losing an important relationship, we also witness her discovery into other areas, how she copes with learning and what she does with her new understanding. This parallel plot does make for a more meaty tale, but it doesn’t just simmer near the first. Instead, they both marinate, the two forming a deliciously satisfying whole impossible to forget.

Really quite innovative, Larner’s novel demonstrates her richly developed sense of Richard Plantagenet, and two thoughts come to mind: one, that hopefully this author’s amazing imagination continues to give us wonderful stories of the king and; two, that the science doesn’t actually exist shouldn’t preclude Distant Echoes! from gaining a wide (and wider) audience, as it doesn’t seem these days to surprise very many, though it does intrigue, when once wild ideas are developed. Larner not only has her finger on this pulse, but also presents it in an accessible, smoothly flowing work, reminiscent of Daughter of Time, that allows historical players to tell their own tale.

*********

Before a few tweaks, this review first appeared at Murray and Blue.

About the Author

Joanne Larner was born in London and moved to Rayleigh in Essex (UK) in 2001. She had wanted to write a novel since the age of thirteen and finally managed it in 2015. She was helped by two things: National Novel Writing Month and Richard III. Richard was her inspiration and she became fascinated by him when she saw the Channel 4 documentary The King in the Car Park in February 2013. She researched his life and times and read countless novels, but became fed up because they all ended the same way – with his death at the Battle of Bosworth.

So she decided to write a different type of Richard story and added a time travel element. The rest is (literally) history. She found his character seemed to write itself and with NaNoWriMo giving her the impetus to actually DO it, she succeeded. After she began writing the story that was in her head, she found that there was far too much material for one book and, in fact, it finally turned into a trilogy consisting of Richard Liveth Yet: A Historical Novel Set in the Present DayRichard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country and Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change. Book II takes place mainly in Richard’s time and Joanne found that many actual historical elements seemed to match serendipitously with her requirements. For example, the characters who were contemporary to Richard, the date of Joana’s death, the fact that Lorenzo’s wife, Clarice, had twins that didn’t survive the birth, etc.

The idea for Distant Echoes began when Joanne listened to Sheriff Hutton by The Legendary Ten Seconds and it reminded her of a sci-fi novel she had read as a teenager, where friendly aliens could see the ‘echoes’ of events after they had occurred. She wanted to write about the real Richard III, telling of acts of his that, though documented fact, are not known by the average reader, his good laws and fair judgments being eclipsed by the presumed and unproven murder of his nephews. The idea lent itself to ‘eavesdropping’ on Richard, using his own words where possible, and Distant Echoes was born.

For more about the author and her books, sign up or follow her at FacebookTwitter and her blogDistant Echoes: Richard III Speaks!, the books mentioned above and more are available at Amazon and Amazon UK.

Updates: Growth Spurts, Graduation and Gloucester

The Lascaux Cave paintings came up for discussion & we talked deep into the night.

Not too long ago, my son asked as he surveyed his Blu Ray collection of over 500: “Remember when I opened my desk drawer and said, ‘This is where I’ll keep my DVDs’?” Indeed, at the time he had just a few DVDs, and I suppose we both didn’t think beyond the point when what he owned would no longer fit in that drawer. Since then, the collection grew, and one day he decided the DVD was a reviled thing of the past. “Dirty Vile Disks,” he called them. He set out to replace every single DVD he owned with the Blu Ray version, while simultaneously growing that collection. He now has difficulty fitting them in his room, though in my opinion this is because his shelving is inefficient.

But who am I to talk? I’ve shifted furniture every so often for his entire life and between my ideas and his, we’ve found some pretty clever ways to create more storage, especially for books. And yet I’m still running out of space. We both have a lot of books. His most recent purchase was John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed.* Mine was How to Be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman, and Digging for Richard and…well, never mind, we don’t have to get all into that. At least not now. The point is, I, uh, well, I’m in the market for an additional bookshelf, as of last Sunday at about noon when I left the library book sale a few dollars poorer and a lot of books heavier. I’ll just leave it at three boxes – some of them might have been super fat books, hey?

I’m not quite ready to divulge how much I spent, or exactly how many books I came home with. Let’s just say I had a bit of a growth spurt. Keep an eye out for more details.

*********

A couple of weeks ago my son graduated from high school. I’m not exactly sure how this happened, because twenty minutes ago I was standing in the kitchen holding his little face as it peered up at me, telling him I won’t be able to do that much longer. He refused to believe me, but here we are, him towering over me and laughing because I can’t get my Swiffer to reach the top of the wall. Hey, it’s a cathedral ceiling! No matter, he still demands hugs, and that works.

Here is what I wrote the night he walked:

I am severely overdue for this: gratitude of the day.

I am so grateful for my son: a fine young man at eighteen, he always tries to do the right thing. He is smart, sensitive, hard-working and likes to move in sport. He has always enjoyed reading, is very into film history and can solve a Rubik’s cube without blinking, the latter portion of it with his hands literally behind his back. He has chosen at various times to immerse himself in lots of different learning: languages (Spanish & German), music (baritone & tuba), oceanography, studies of Ancient Rome and history of the Americas, theater, trigonometry, African literature, was “Swedish for a day,” loves animals and children (and is compassionate, playful and wonderful with both), attempts to understand politics thoughtfully and honestly, loves to bicycle and play basketball. We often reminisce about a research project he did in first grade about otters – he is still quite proud of that experience. He earned over $5,000.00 one summer for a trip to Europe and continued to hold down that job – in which he got a promotion within the first month – through the rest of high school, which he just graduated from with honors and as part of two honor societies, one of which he volunteered for on numerous occasions. He has written two books (one for very small children, the other young adult) and self studies techniques and other about film making. His friends are terrific and I am so happy for him that they’ve all met and shared as much as they did.

I know I’ve left a lot out, but even just that small bit above is more than I accomplished at his age, and I am so blessed, truly blessed that he is in my life. I am so excited to see where he goes! ~

I know I used which a lot at one point in there, but bear with me. I’ve got something in my eye.

You know what else is about to graduate? One of my wips is soon to be published in an anthology. It’s a short story about Richard III and you probably remember me mentioning it here. I’ve contributed to another anthology in the past, so I guess I could already call myself an author, but it wasn’t original work in the sense this is. Of course this draws on established history, but what historical fiction doesn’t? Here I create a character – or she brought herself to my attention would likely be more accurate, informing me in a rather dignified manner that she would be telling the story from here on out, thank you very much. She discovers something she wants to talk about, and ohhh is she talking. I suppose I should be grateful because when I was first recruited for this project, I recall thinking, “Sh**! I don’t think I can do a battle scene justice!” I don’t know why my first anxiety went to the need to write a battle scene, but Persephone sort of rescued me because now she does the heavy lifting. I just have to type it all!

There have been a lot of great things about this project, and the tip top is the group of people I assembled with. Scholars and researchers of many levels, they share information as opposed to hoard it, and are encouraging; they celebrate each other’s successes. Our team leader, author Joanne Larner, also lucky for me, is inclined to appreciate even the very teensy details of things like punctuation and grammar, and she both accepts and dispenses constructive criticism with grace. The project definitely lives up to the stereotype (or should I call it the reality?) that every time you look at your manuscript, you’ll find something else wrong with it, so it’s good that in my experience with this fabulous group, everyone’s attitude seems to be “it is what it is” as we plod on. Now we’ve plodded a lot together and the book awaits the completed foreword by Matthew Lewis, Chairman of the Richard III Society. Our book too has experienced its own share of growth spurts, as it went from idea to reality to contents bulging and soon – July 6, to be precise, it will be released.

The updated cover for our anthology, as presented by Joanne Larner, with Riikka Nikko’s illustration. I love everything about this cover!!! Mwah!!!!!

It’s good that my first published work of historical fiction is a short story. I mean it makes the process a little less painful because it’s a smaller sum total to have to weave together, and I suppose it’s good practice for a longer tale, which I actually had been working on before I put it down for this. I don’t regret it, though, because it was sort of overwhelming before, and now I have a better idea of where to go with all the details and ideas swimming in my head. Swimming is said to exercise every muscle in the body, so hopefully that will help me pull it all together more effectively as my storytelling grows, in spots and spurts, and see where it takes me from there.

*You may recall Green from his video included in my blog post about

The Catcher in the Rye.

The Road Not Travelled may be pre-ordered from Amazon and Amazon UK. Paperback option to be added.

Browsing Books: Ricardian Reading Edition

It’s happened! Our local library has re-opened for limited browsing, though I haven’t yet been in. I’ve had the good fortune, however, of receiving lots of reading recommendations, most online, and today I share a few, including a couple of the lesser-known titles. Here’s to bulging bookshelves!

Death and the Chapman by Kate Sedley – In truth, I’m not quite sure who recommended this one, though I can guess. I ordered it from the library, received it, forgot about it and then just yesterday started to read it. I haven’t gotten terrifically far in yet, but it’s enough to see this isn’t precisely Ricardian reading as we tend to define it. Still, I include it here because the narrator, Roger Chapman, an old man who looks back into his youth when Richard III was king, mentions Richard and a few pages later gives a lengthy enough explanation of how the seeds of the dynastic wars of his era were sown – with Bolingbroke usurping Richard II’s throne – and how Richard III became king. Lengthy enough, that is, to make me wonder if more of this will come into play within Roger’s own story. So this I have yet to see, but even if it doesn’t, it appeals to me because I’m terribly interested in the ordinary people of the day, how they made their living, what their struggles were, their thoughts about the monarchs and those in their courts. 

The Rose in Spring: The Fascinating Story of Cecily Neville (Book I in the Cecily Neville quartet) by Eleanor Fairburn – Based on one review, this looks to be the story one wishes to read about Proud Cis: not a bodice ripper, it is said to present a reasonable story of the early years of the Rose of Raby, through her engagement to Richard Plantagenet (father of Richard III), and concluding at the time of her husband’s exile to Ireland. Every Ricardian has heard much about Cecily Neville: her strength, her will and determination, that she outlived every one of her sons. Some, however, myself included, know very little about her up close, and this historical fiction series seems to present a great opportunity to begin changing that.

Garland of the Realm by Janet Kilbourne – Presents Richard III in the last years of his life and, interestingly enough, written when the author was just fourteen. This knowledge may bias any conversation regarding the book’s worth, having read a quite glowing but fair review, as well as commentary about it being filled with clichés and “one of the worst” of Ricardian fiction. The reviewer maintains her position, citing examples such as individuality bestowed on characters and a “childlike animosity” from Prince Edward and conversations “done nicely” between this heir and Richard, at the time Lord Protector. The ending described also seems quite fascinating and I am intrigued to read how Richard’s realizations, as the reviewer mentions, play out in his mind. 

I, Richard Plantagenet: The Road from Fotheringhay by J. P. Reedman – It’s a bit tricky here because not only has Reedman written a boatload of books, I also want just about all of them (and you may as well, so fair warning). A reconstruction of Richard Plantagenet’s early childhood, it opens with Richard in later life musing about those days as he makes a notation into his Book of Hours. This story draws me to it because for years I’ve read that we know very little of Richard’s earlier years, but here the author draws upon recent research and DNA – and of course other, already-established documentation – to piece together a tale said to be worthy of a king. For instance, the death of Richard’s father and older brother Edmund, and Richard’s own subsequent exile as his mother is captured by Margaret of Anjou’s army. The childhood story continues in Tante le Desiree, and I don’t plan on missing either of them.

The White Rose and the Red: A Narrative Poem about the Battle of Wakefield by Bard of Burgh Conan – This entry perhaps jumped out at me the most because of its presentation. I’ve never before come across a full Ricardian story in verse, a genre ideally suited not just to any Ricardian tale, but specifically the one it does concern itself with: the Battle of Wakefield. This is where Richard, Duke of York and his son Edmund, mentioned just above, were brutally killed, the former’s head displayed on a pike at Micklegate Bar and further mocked with the placement of a paper crown. Less than forty pages, it is chancy to say this is an evening’s read, as I’m unsure how dense the writing is or is not, or how much reflection might be involved. Nevertheless, it strikes me as a must-read piece, and I look forward to adding it to my collection. Note: Upon searching for the poem online, I saw that it appears only to be available as an e-book. However, I did stumble upon a notation that it was to be included in a collection: Conisbrough Tales: A Canterbury Tales for Conisbrough by Christopher Webster, Bard of Burgh Conan. 

Previous Browsing Books Entry:

35 + Books Everyone Lies about Having Read

Book Release Announcement – The Road Not Travelled: Alternative Tales of the Wars of the Roses

It is a simply beautiful day outside and I’m even happier than that because I have a fabulous announcement to make.

I am so proud and humbled to be part of a fantastic group of writers recruited by author Joanne Larner to contribute to an alternative historical fiction short story anthology set in the Wars of the Roses era. Each author looks at a specific moment in this period of time and explores circumstances had they been altered a bit, or had some historical figure made a choice different to what they actually did in history. 

Joanne provides a great example: “[W]hat if Richard’s father, Richard Duke of York, had not been killed at Wakefield but had defeated Margaret of Anjou’s army and claimed the throne (HE would have then become Richard III).” 

She named the book The Road Not Travelled, a nod to the times in life when a fork in the road appears and remains unchosen. In our stories, that side of the various branches are traveled, and we see what might have happened had time marched forward on those bifurcations. One single decision, one momentary happenstance can transform someone’s entire life and that life, history. How might history had played out if we spoke of Richard III, formerly the Duke of York, and his Queen Cecily? We might never have heard much of the younger Richard Plantagenet, or he might have risen to great heights indeed. Would he have been influential in laws to benefit English society that later informed our own? Would the United States even have been founded? Would there be a Shakespeare? 

I feel so lucky to be part of such a fabulous writing group of individuals from so many walks of life and various parts of the world, all with this one passion in common, to put together such an anthology. I’m also absolutely chuffed—as the English like to say—to have had my story copyread by two skilled editors with fantastic observations and wonderful constructive criticism to help make it the best it can be. I’m really grateful to them both, as well as to Jo, under whose eagle eye it will pass for a final exam. 

To think I never would have begun this journey had I not chosen one particular pathway—out of sheer curiosity, mind you—by reading a book about Richard III, one I had no intention of following up on. I did, in fact, do just that, owing to my great surprise at the outright bias plaguing the entire piece of work, frequently finding myself re-surprised at why it even mattered to me – and yet it did. Once I knew more about Richard, I understood he cared about the people whom he served as king, and I believe, despite his tragic end all too soon, echoes of this consideration passed down through time, perhaps even touching our own age.

I recall feeling awe and admiration at his fighting abilities and the courage he displayed, even when he might have experienced intense pain from the scoliosis he’d suffered from since, probably, adolescence. While such a condition never affected me personally, I did know someone in elementary school who’d had to wear a back brace to correct her own curvature. Of course, this means nothing to my own situations in life, but it left some sort of imprint on me, I suppose, given that I remember my classmate’s struggle. Other contributing factors were the back issues I had following injuries sustained in a car accident, an experience of my own that later enabled me to thoughtfully consider Richard’s experience. On some days I struggled to stand up in the morning; Richard took it to a battlefield and fought for his country. 

So it is with great pleasure to also say here that the book will be sold in aid of the Scoliosis Association UK

The publishing aim is July 6, the 538th anniversary of Richard III’s coronation. Also hoped for is the ability to pre-order very soon – watch this space because I will most definitely be announcing news as I receive it!

Oh! My story is called “Episodes in the Life of King Richard III,” and I hope you will enjoy it – and the others – come July.

Click here for a sneak peak at the cover for

The Road Not Travelled,

drawn by talented artist Riikka Nikko.