A New Look … Maybe?

As can be seen by a glance at the page, I’ve changed the look up a bit. Actually, I’ve been playing around for a couple of days now and soliciting opinions because I have such a hard time making up my mind. A couple of things I knew I wanted was a sidebar – left or right, I think I’d like either one – and an end to what drove me to redecorate: full visibility for the captions under my sidebar images.

Here’s what I mean:

Seriously, what the heck? I contemplated, though, that perhaps it was time for a change of pace anyway and so started checking out different themes. I finally decided that this (Colinear) was perhaps maybe the one, at least I like it enough to move forward and put my sidebar items back in place – they didn’t automatically place there in this theme like they did in the others. That’s a bummer, and I also don’t really love that I can’t (as far as I can tell) get at a “click to link” option or add in captions beneath the images. Sure, for books the title and author are easily discerned, but I’d like to be able to caption people’s status as award-winning authors, or a prize the book won, and so on. Plus, not everything is a book, but I’m hoping to find my solution as I probe more into the widget options. I also have become aware of a failure to save properly: several times I’ve made changes and the preview had to be closed and draft re-saved several times before the new or corrected text appeared.

I was also at first pretty jazzed to see that there is a specific widget for linking to Goodreads. It’s nice in that it shows all your books, and links to their respective Goodreads pages, and so the blog page’s appearance changes, subtle though it may be, whenever I begin or finish another book. However, I did notice a glaring omission from that list of currently-reading books, and that is a Bible that also occupies my shelf but for some reason Goodreads sees fit to block from my widget. I don’t really care if not a single person employed by Goodreads ever reads one, or they want to throw a few down the nearest toilet; that’s their prerogative, too. My choice, however, is to own and read one, and while I’m not typically quick to accuse, the appearance of them overstepping their bounds is pretty strong and distasteful.

Added Notation: After publication I showed my son the Goodreads widget and he suggested it may be able to hold just five titles and selected randomly. Under his direction we played around a bit more – deleting 1066: The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry and adding in another book, though nothing changed. We logged out and back in, and deleted the new book as well. Then we ensured just five books were on my currently-reading list and not only did the Bible not show up, but also 1066 didn’t go away! Very strange! As before, despite my annoyance at the omission, I am willing to believe it is just random, with the added consideration that this widget works only sporadically. Perhaps by tomorrow the changes on my Goodreads page will have caught up to the widget? (Or is the widget working to catch up to the Goodreads page?) Will the search for a perfect theme continue? Stay tuned!

Added Added Notation: Guess what! Goodreads has not, after all, shown itself an outfit willing to go as far as to algorithm “offensive” titles out of public view: the widget has updated and the Bible shows! My very bad, Goodreads and readers, my very bad! It’s hardly an unreasonable suspicion, what I’d been wondering about, given these strange days we occupy; nevertheless I’m glad I’m inclined to keep questioning, myself as well as others, and that there are times I really love to be proven wrong. Not to mention the situational reminder that asking one’s child for advice isn’t an upside-down proposition at all. And now I really am off to bed. The daylight has tricked me into believing it’s only 20:00 or so, but it’s past 23:00 now and the wowza fatigue has hit. Toodles!

Other than that I really do like the Goodreads widget, which means I can do away with the “What’s on My Night Table” link. I also like that the text area is wider and the lines cleaner, sharper. It looks refreshed. Additionally, unlike several other themes, it doesn’t underline links, which matters because some are titles, some not, and it created a look of inconsistency. Also, the colors, while slightly altered, are at least in line with what I had before in terms of ease of reading: light background, distinct hyperlinks. I still have some work to do on the sidebar, but that will be forthcoming, plus I decided to air out the place some more and put up different kinds of items, such as video, audio and slideshows – and hopefully other things, rotating and static.

I also just discovered my pages (tabs) don’t show, so I’ll have to figure that out as well. If you’re looking for something you knew to be there previously, please bear with me as I make adjustments. If you’d like information on one or more of them you knew to be available before, feel free to drop me a line at scully_dcATyahooDOTcom.

That’s it for now, lovelies! Good night from the Great Land and may your dreams be sweet.

Forget-me-not, our official flower with the same colors – blue and gold – as our lovely flag.
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Journey to Zürich: Zürich Through Time and Space (Guest Post: Martha Kennedy)

Martha Kennedy is the award-winning author of Martin of Gfenn, Savior and The Brothers Path.  To be announced at a December 9 reception, the author will also receive more details of an honor awarded for her short story submissions to Letters from Hidden Lake, the literary magazine of the Alamosa Public Library. Congratulations, Martha Kennedy!

Zürich Through Time and Space

by Martha Kennedy

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Grossmünster (Great Church)

My relationship with Zürich did not start well. On my first visit in 1994, the labyrinthine passageways in the Niederdorf, Zürich’s old town, felt sinister and claustrophobic. The whole thing was “topped” by a barren, stone cathedral called the “Grossmünster” or Great Church. The few images in the church — such as Jesus whipping himself with a cat-o-nine tails — were horrific. I could not have imagined that someday those streets would fill my imagination, the church would become a place of dreams, or that the city held within its long history people who belong to me.

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Three years later, on my second visit, I was with two friends at a famous bar, the Bodega Española. The Neiderdorf, yes, the bar was in the Niederdorf, now seemed less sinister (but equally labyrinthine). We were drinking Spanish red wine as people have done there for a century or so, including Lenin who lived for a time in Zürich. A professor, a Scandinavian man who said he taught Norse literature at the University of Zürich, leaned across one of my friends and asked me, “What brings you to the cross-roads of western civilization? James Joyce’s grave?”

“James Joyce’s grave?” I asked, incredulous. This was strange, and ghoulish.

“He lived here after he fled Trieste and the fascists,” said the professor.

I barely heard the professor. I was still hung up on the idea of Zürich as the “crossroads of western civilization.”

The wonder of complete ignorance, such as mine, is that you get to learn things.

Zürich is an ancient city, but most don’t think of it as they do other ancient European cities such as Rome, Athens or London. Zürich has been around in some form for more than 6000 years as village of lake dwellers, a Celtic settlement, an Allemani town, a Roman trading center. On one narrow lane, Thermengasse, leading to the Lindenhof, where the Romans had their palace, a visitor can look through a grating to see ruins of a Roman bath.

***

Before that second Zürich journey, I had read How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill (I bought it thinking it was a joke) and was flabbergasted by the fact that Switzerland’s patron saint is an Irishman, St. Gall. With my last name being “Kennedy” it is probable there is at least one Irishman in the woodpile of my ancestry, so I was curious about this Irishman. My curiosity about St. Gall drew me into an old world that was new to me.

Back in the day (the 7th century) St. Columbanus and St. Gall, and ten other monks, had crossed the English Channel and walked to the Lake of Constance where Gallus became ill and decided to stay behind. Gallus lived as a hermit with twelve converted Germanic monks whom he taught.

Gallus’ hermitage is now (and has been for centuries) an enormous abbey whose library contains  some of the world’s oldest manuscripts. Over the doorway is inscribed, in Greek, “Medicine Chest of the Soul.” Many of the manuscripts are written in languages known to only a few scholars. It touched me deeply that people had, long ago, written important messages to the future that the future could not read.

***

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Martin of Gfenn is an indieBRAG Medallion Honoree (click image)

When we returned to Zürich, my friend’s mother, knowing of my new interest in all things medieval, said, “Take Martha to see the little church at Gfenn.” Gfenn, pronounced “fen,” (a medieval German word meaning “swamp”) is a village north of Zürich.

We arrived at dusk, and the church was locked. But the stone medieval building captured my imagination. We returned the next day, and I learned that it had been built in the 13th century as part of a community of the Knights of St. Lazarus; the Leper Knights of Jerusalem.

Looking at the faded frescoes surrounding the east window of the chapel, I began a journey in space and time that became Martin of Gfenn. It was as if the protagonist of the story, Martin, a young artist with leprosy, had been waiting centuries for someone to tell his story, and I had practiced writing all my life in preparation. The thing is, I knew NOTHING about the crusades, Catholicism, the organization of the military orders, leprosy, fresco painting, medieval European history or about Zürich.

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I began writing Martin of Gfenn in 1998 and had a completed, but not “finished,” manuscript by 2004. I went online hoping to find a Swiss medievalist historian who might be willing to read the book. I found Rainer Hugener, then a graduate student at the University of Zürich. He’d grown up only a few kilometers from Gfenn and had already specialized in the history of the very place where Martin of Gfenn was set. He was excited that anyone — never mind an American — was interested in this tiny dot on the Swiss map. He read the novel. I was concerned about the quality of my research, and Rainer replied that he was stunned by its historical accuracy. I was relieved and happy.

I decided to visit Zürich in March 2005 and I met Rainer on the steps of St. Peter’s church. Rainer had an early map of Zürich, and we used it to go around the city in our own 13th century time machine. This amazing day culminated in a trip north over the Zürichberg (where the zoo is now located) to Gfenn, mostly on foot, a journey Martin had made. Just beyond the zoo are ruins of a medieval Augustinian cloister, St. Martins, a place of which I had no knowledge, but where Rainer imagined the protagonist of my novel had been raised. It was the perfect place.

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Martha at Gfenn

We reached the chapel at Gfenn just before sunset. We took photos and talked about the paintings, about the ruins of Castle Dubelstein on the hillside across the fields, about Rainer’s research. Afterward, I went home with Rainer whose girlfriend at the time, also a historian, had prepared dinner. We sat around the table, sharing fondue and champagne, and I asked them, “How do you guys like being identified as Swiss medievalist historians?”

They laughed and Rainer’s girlfriend said, “What do you think YOU are?”

Wow. I was a Swiss medievalist historian! Martin of Gfenn had brought me there; Zürich had brought me there.

***

Second cover edition for Savior, also winner of an indieBRAG Medallion (click image)
Second cover edition for Savior, also winner of an indieBRAG Medallion (click image)

The Commander, one of the characters in Martin of Gfenn, seemed to cry out for me to tell his story, so I had begun Savior in the summer of 2004. In my mind was a location, a hillside, with a castle ruin that I had seen on one of my trips to Switzerland in the 1990s. I made that the location of my story, rebuilt (in my mind) the ruined castle, put a family in it. The location was on the Albis Mountains, a small range of high hills southeast of Zürich, in the Sihl Forest, on the “back” of the Üetliberg, the highest mountain in the Albis chain. Because I’d hiked there, the setting I was imagining felt familiar to me. I imagined the family to be that of a very minor noble, a knight and his wife and sons. One of the sons, the older of the two, would become Commander of the community at Gfenn after a long journey that would include fighting in the Holy Land. I imagined it as a prequel to Martin of Gfenn. By 2005, I had more or less finished what was then called Rudolf when life hit me hard. Writing took a back seat for the next five years.

When Martin of Gfenn was finally published in 2011, I sent several copies to newspapers in and around Zürich, hoping for reviews. The book was received enthusiastically, and I was interviewed by several papers. It was read by English-speaking Swiss, one of whom sent me an email suggesting I had Swiss ancestry. He said many Americans did. In the 18th century Swiss Anabaptists, Mennonites and Amish, had fled Switzerland.

After eating macaroni and cheese in Appenzell in 1997, a dish that, in the first bite, took me back to my grandmother’s kitchen in Billings, Montana, I’d suspected my grandma of being Swiss. At that time, I did a little search, but found nothing. I gave it another shot at this man’s suggestion and there they were, a family named Lunkhofen with close connections to another family with the nickname “Schneebeli.”

The Lunkhofens had lived in a small castle fort on the Albis Mountains above the town of Affoltern am Albis, or “Appletree Village on the Albis,” the very location in which I had envisioned the family. They had two sons. The names I’d given the characters in my story were, all but one, the names of the members of my own family. My family tree provided an ending in which I could believe. Down the road, this discovery led to The Brothers Path.

Learning that part of my OWN story began in this complex, ancient and beloved place made me inexpressibly happy — but it was eerie, too.

***

This past summer I returned to Zürich for the first time since 2005. I saw the streets as familiar old friends I knew not only as they are today, but as I had come to know them through time, through old maps and the footsteps of the characters in my novels.

I met Rainer and his wonderful girlfriend, Kirsten, for dinner. As we planned our meeting, we decided to meet in front of the Grossmünster. Because the focus of my writing had moved on some three hundred years, Rainer met me with maps of 16th century Zürich and surrounding towns. We had dinner in a sidewalk cafe in the Niederdorf. It turned out very “Swiss” as a group of Alphorn players came by and serenaded everyone on the patio.

Martha pointing at the navel of the world
Martha pointing at the navel of the world

We talked as, in my life, only Swiss medievalist historians can.

“How long has it been since you saw each other?” asked Kirsten.

“Ten? Eleven years?” Rainer answered.

“That’s a long time.”

When our dinner was over, and I really had to go, we all walked to the parking garage.

We passed the Cabaret Voltaire, the home of DADA. In 2005 Rainer took a photo of  me pointing up to the “Navel of the World.” That evening, Kirsten took a photo of both of us pointing.

Rainer and Martha

As we said goodbye, Kirsten said, “Don’t wait another eleven years.”

I’m nearly 65. I quickly did the math.

“I won’t. I love Zürich. I’ve missed it.”

“Zürich loves you,” said Rainer.

And I kind of think that might be true when I look at all the gifts Zürich has given me.

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About the author…

Martha Kennedy has published three works of historical fiction. Her first novel, Martin of Gfenn, which tells the story of a young fresco painter living in 13th-century Zürich, was awarded the Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society Indie Review and the BRAG Medallion from IndieBRAG in 2015.

Her second novel, Savior, also an BRAG Medallion Honoree (2016), tells the story of a young man in the 13th century who fights depression — and discovers himself — by going on Crusade.

Her third novel, published in July 2016, The Brothers Path, a loose sequel to Savior, looks at the same families met in Savior three hundred years later as they find their way through the Protestant Reformation.

Kennedy has traveled intensively in Switzerland, journeys that have at once inspired and informed her writing. She has also published many short-stories and articles in a variety of publications from the Denver Post to the Business Communications Quarterly.

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Kennedy was born in Denver, Colorado and earned her undergraduate degree in American Literature from University of Colorado, Boulder, and her graduate degree in American Literature from the University of Denver. She has taught college and university writing at all levels, business communication, literature and English as a Second Language. For many years she lived in the San Diego area, but has recently returned to Colorado to live in Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley.

All of Martha Kennedy’s novels are available in both paperback and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other online booksellers. You can also contact the author!

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Follow Martha Kennedy to learn more about the author and her books at her website, Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, Indie B.R.A.G. author page, or her Savior blog and Facebook pages, and the Martin of Gfenn webpage.

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Photos courtesy Martha Kennedy

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Author Martha Kennedy will be signing books at the San Luis Valley Book Fair on December 2. (Click image for more details.)

This post has been updated to replace the copy of Martin of Gfenn‘s cover with the second edition image and add a link to author bio.

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Blog: “Senlac Ridge” (Ian David Churchward)

Today we are so grateful to host a guest blog, with re-print of lyrics from “Senlac Ridge,” by English folk singer Ian David Churchward and the Legendary Ten Seconds. The lyrics, reading like a poem, depict King Harold’s race to London following his victory against the Vikings at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. His army depleted, he now faces a terrible decision: allowing time to revive his army to fight the invading Normans would concede the continued pillage and raping of English villages on the coast. Or should they dispatch without delay to the Battle of Hastings, despite a weary army and reinforcements not yet arrived?

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The Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066 at this location: the English position was on top of the hill where the abbey later stood, and the Normans approximately where the photographer is standing. (Image and caption courtesy Christopher Hilton via Wikimedia Commons) (click image)

Senlac Ridge

At Stamford Bridge King Harold

Took the Vikings by surprise

But shortly after victory

From the south bad news arrived

William had landed

To claim the English throne

He had the Pope’s blessing,

Men at arms and knights so bold

Harold raced back to London

His housecarls close behind

Receiving news of rape and pillage

In the English countryside

Harold was determined

Not to waste precious time

Though his army was depleted

He had courage, he had pride

From the woods the Saxons gathered

Out on Senlac Ridge

Though they were weary

They would not give an inch

Up the slope the Normans charged

The shield wall held firm

The Normans they fell back

William had them charge once more

The battle raged on all day

An arrow took out Harold’s eye

The shield wall was broken

Beneath the autumn skies

Yes, the battle raged on all day

An arrow took out Harold’s eye

The shield wall was broken

Beneath the autumn skies

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“Harold the King was killed”: Section the Bayeux Tapestry illustrating the death of King Harold and the traditional legend that he was killed when hit in the eye by an arrow. (Wikimedia Commons) (Click image)

About Ian Churchward…

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“Senlac Ridge” appears on the album Woeful Wonders & Stupendous Blunders. For more information, please click image.

The Legendary Ten Seconds was originally a solo music project of Ian Churchward who has played guitar in various bands after starting to play the guitar in 1979. Ian’s first band was called Chapter 29 and after this band split up in 1986 he started a new indie pop band called The Morrisons later that year. This band released a flexi disc, which was played on the John Peel show on BBC radio one in 1987. From the late 1990’s until about 2007 Ian also played in a ceilidh band called Storm Force Ten which then became a new band called Phoenix.

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A bit about “Senlac Ridge” appears in Churchward’s Songs About Richard III: A Richard III Music Project. (Click image)

You can learn more about Ian Churchward and the Legendary Ten Seconds and their music at FacebookCD Baby, a blog dedicated to The Richard 3rd Projects and Twitter.

For a promotional video of Songs About Richard III, click here.

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Click here to see my review of the Legendary Ten Seconds’ album Richard III.

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Lyrics re-print courtesy Ian David Churchward.

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This post was updated to include a correction re: the promotional video.

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Book Review: Susanna: The Early Years

Susanna: Volume 1 – The Early Years

(Book III in The Merencourt Saga)

by Carol Edgerley

B.R.A.G. Medallion-winning author

Download a FREE copy of Susanna: Volume 1 – The Early Years between November 10-14!

Available at Amazon and Amazon UK.

susannaWe were first introduced to author Carol Edgerley’s French side of the family via her great aunt, Marguerite de Merencourt, who lends her given name to the series’ first installment. Edgerley herself comes to this family history via clandestine story hours meant for her to improve her math grades, but thankfully her tutor aunt—a different one—gave in to her niece’s begging for family history and the result is the mesmerizing Merencourt Saga, of which Susanna is the third.

Despite being this far into the series Susanna could easily be read as a stand-alone, and if that were all any given reader wanted to dip their toes in, I would say don’t miss it. However, there is a richness in Susanna’s background, amazing tales of strong women, perseverance and a will to succeed that informs each generation. Marguerite and Claire bring us through these eras and we can see where Susanna gets the stoicism that carries her though the worst of times. Never to worry, however, dear readers, for anyone who starts first with number three will simply want to reach back and devour all the stories, much like Edgerley herself did as a child.

Marguerite de Merencourt was unwanted and disliked by her aristocratic mother, who with her favored son carried on a lifelong campaign against the girl, ultimately resulting in her banishment to an Irish convent school, followed by elopement and hasty relocation to British India. In an era when women existed in the shadows of the men they were connected to (fathers, husbnds), Marguerite’s life seems like payback for having made her own decisions. Ultimately she plans a way for herself, but the price she pays is steep.

Claire takes us to the next generation of Merencourt women, a journey through which we discover that dysfunction prefers to travel in packs, and no one seems spared from the misery of ambition, pride, righteousness and bigotry (in a variety of forms). The teenage Claire grows into a rather bitter woman whose lot in life is to deal with the overturn of almost every fortune she might ever receive. She throws it right back at the universe, not taking the time to think about those who stand in the way, and her behavior is at times very difficult to read.

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Claire is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

So it may come as a surprise when this very same Claire opens Susanna’s story as the doting and affectionate grandmother, now living in France, who takes the sickly toddler into her home while the girl’s mother runs a school in the Himalayas. Diana’s occasional visits seem designed to disrupt any balance or security in Susanna’s life, for she comes with an irrational anger, blaming her daughter for the distance between them, lobbing accusations and subjecting her to violent abuse. Claire is mortified by this and pleads with Diana, who only reminds her of past transgressions and denies her any redemption, thereby absolving herself of the wrongs she too perpetuates.

Not long into Susanna the girl’s delight of her mother’s new baby is severely punished when she peers into the pram and the nanny reports to Diana that Susanna has attacked the infant.

I’m catching this wicked, BAD girl attacking Baby in her pram, Madam!” declared the nanny in outraged tones. So jealous she is, wanting to hurt our little baby. See how poor Samantha is crying!”

N … no! I didn’t hurt —”

 “Why, you vicious little brat!” Diana surged to her feet, scarlet in the face with fury. “I’ll teach you to attack a defenceless baby!”

 Seizing Susanna by the arm, she hoisted the shrieking child into the air and began to violently beat her. “See how you like that, you vile child!” Diana panted between wallops. “If I catch you anywhere near my baby again, you’ll get another thrashing.”

While Edgerley writes in the same style as in her previous novels, with a flair and grace that embodies a bygone time and its mannerisms, mores and standards, she also captures events in an economic style that tells all we need to know, reaching out to our hearts for this little girl while avoiding a literary sort of voyeurism that would threaten to lessen the story’s value.

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Opening novel in The Merencourt Saga series, Marguerite is also a winner of the indie B.R.A.G. Medallion

One of the novel’s greatest strengths is that as Susanna grows older, the narrative takes on deeper layers as we witness the ins and outs of Diana’s horrific projection and psychological abuse. Astounded at such cruelty, I found myself frequently asking, “But why? Why and how is this mother so cruel to her child in such a way that most of us would not inflict on a dog?”

A great part of the answer goes back to Marguerite; in the review for this book I mused on the perils of wasted talent and forced idleness in a society and era in which women’s mobility barely existed. While we in our age do not often dwell on it, movement in reality equals freedom, both of which Marguerite claims for herself in opposition to her parents’ plans for her. The hand of authority—again, back to the standards of the time—nevertheless reaches to her in India all the way from France, inflicting in other ways its harsh grip and affecting her relationships.

However, the die was cast. As I read Susanna I mused more on a conversation within the events of a popular reality/time experiment television series in which a family lives for three months, in every way possible, as would a typical household in Victorian England. One participant reflects the manner in which people of the era—particularly women—threw themselves into their projects and with sustained interest because the day’s enforced limitations resulted in boredom so severe it could drive individuals to madness. While Susanna is unfortunate in being confined within such parameters, she has inherited Marguerite’s imagination and drive, never willing to settle for dutifully giving in to the tasks and activities assigned to her.

The historical Claire, aged about 48, in France
The historical Claire, aged about 48, in France

Within this Edgerley reminds us that this is not mere knitting and fainting couch dwelling—not that this isn’t bad enough, though usually the sort of image we conjure when thinking of women’s lives in this time. As Susanna’s cognitive abilities sharpen with age, so too do Diana’s strategies for emotional manipulation and mental exploitation. Inserting herself into every corner of the girl’s life, Diana even makes use of casual conversation, constantly reconnoitering, the intelligence drawn from it utilized for offensive attacks. She forcefully employs Susanna in occupations that some then and now might find interesting, but are not where the girl’s heart resides. Humiliating Susanna with accusations terribly exaggerated or blatantly untrue, each turn of the screw brings her closer to the edge.

Acting in part almost as a psychological case study—sans the paucity of soul within institutional jargon—the author skillfully shows us the delicate balance her heroine is faced with: bestowed with the benefit of strength of character, the teenage Susanna must also confront the demon that plagues each generation as a cycle of abuse is passed from one to the next. Will her strong personality become a detriment as her ambitions are thwarted? Even if she does manage to break the horrific progression, will she be able to differentiate her actual desires from choices effected by spite?

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Susanna does have an ally in her grandmother Claire, and she engages in happy times in France and India, the author vividly portraying people, places and events in a manner so marvelously descriptive the passages come alive, though not only in image form: we feel the aura, hear the roar of the ocean’s waves, mingling of the people, mouths water at the platters of food as we stride through scenes.

Flora led the way through the house to a colonnaded terrace adjacent to the swimming pool area, where elegantly dressed people chatted together in groups. A band played popular music, and white-coated bearers, wearing the traditional muslin pugri, slowly circulated bearing canapés on silver trays. Garlands of fairy lights twinkling around the pool area added to the festive atmosphere.

 Words are subtly employed as actors to facilitate our engagement with the prose: hair tumbles defiantly about Susanna’s shoulders, Diana surges to her feet in anger and the heat seeps through the ground to our feet or the salt water sprinkles noses as we travel by sea. Hints of culture sprinkle themselves through the novel as Edgerley moves us between continents and years.

Readers ought not be tempted to see Susanna, smaller in appearance than its predecessors, as a book of lesser consequence. It is so readable one might find they have read quite a chunk as the time slipped by, though despite this ease of immersion the content’s dual layers of story and study captures our attention in totality. As The Early Years in the life of Susanna Lalinski, we can expect a part two, and I shall be anticipating it as much as I did each subsequent novel after I first read Marguerite. Readers should keep alert for it as well, and in the meantime, if they haven’t done already, reach back into a room where a young girl was meant to be practicing numbers, but instead begged a tale be told ….

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Carol Edgerley tells us in her own words a bit about her amazing life…

Born in Calcutta, Carol spent most of her early childhood in France and then Jersey in the Channel Islands. Educated first at a French convent, she then attended Jersey College for Girls and later went to Heathfield, a girls’ boarding school in Ascot.

carol-edgerleyThroughout her long life (and three marriages) Carol has travelled extensively, visiting the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, living several years in France, India and Hong Kong.

A qualified teacher, Carol ran a successful tutorial in Hong Kong for many years, teaching children French and English towards eventual O-Level examinations. She is delighted to still keep in touch with a number of ex-pupils.

Upon retirement to France, Carol was able to carry out a burning desire to write the story of her French great grandmother’s astonishing life, told to her by a great aunt when she was twelve years of age. In the delightful surroundings of her home in the Dordogne at that time, she wrote the story of Marguerite in long hand, initially for the benefit of her three children.

Years went by, and sweating blood and tears, Carol battled the mysteries of a computer, Mac, Word and email … finally Facebook and Twitter. Encouraged by friends and her three children, she re-invented herself as a writer and typed out the manuscript of Marguerite on her new Mac computer, editing furiously as she went. The exercise, however, took decidedly longer than she had imagined!

Unwilling to pursue a (generally) disappointing path to literary agents and publishers, being dismally aware her work might end up unread, and thrown on a “slush pile,” Carol ventured into the world of self publishing. It was one of her life’s greatest emotional moments to hold a print copy of Marguerite in her hands for the first time!

Delighted by readers’ response to the book, Carol went on to write Claire, the story of Marguerite’s wilful elder daughter, who led an amazing if somewhat tragic life. Now there is Susanna: The Early Years (Volume 1), this being the story of one of Claire’s granddaughters. This particular book shines a light on bullying in its worst form, an unpleasantness that unfortunately persists to this day.

Susanna: A Tale of Passion and Betrayal (Volume 2) will follow in due course.

Carol still lives in France, now in a comfortable old farmhouse set in the centre of its own twenty-eight acres of pastureland in the Vendée. Sitting at her desk in the veranda, she is invariably surrounded by six much-loved adopted dogs of all shapes and sizes.

Find and follow the wonderful Carol Edgerley at her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

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A gratis copy of Susanna: Volume 1 – The Early Years was provided to the blogger in order to facilitate an honest review.

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Images courtesy Carol Edgerley

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This post was updated to include links to free downloads (between November 10-14, 2016).

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950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: Sons of the Wolf (With Giveaway)

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Sons of the Wolf is an indieB.R.A.G. Medallion honoree, another indicator of Paula Lofting’s superior storytelling abilities. (click image)

Today as we look back on the events of the year 1066, author Paula Lofting shares with us an excerpt from her novel Sons of the Wolf, set in the years leading up to the one that would change so much. I first read this novel several years ago and recently re-read and updated my review, which can be found here. I have always seen this particular passage as one of utmost importance, for various reasons having to do with events in the future of Wulfhere, his family and his country.

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See following the excerpt how you can claim your chance to win a copy of Paula Lofting’s magnificent story, Sons of the Wolf.

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Gunnhild was a good organiser and set about preparing the hall for the feast, delegating the work to the helpers in a precise and orderly manner. Winflaed had to agree that she did this with aplomb, unlike her mother whose anxieties about the outcome sent everyone into a state of confusion. Winflaed observed, with secret admiration, how her aunt seemed to facilitate the task with confidence and without disorder, seeming to know exactly what to do and how to do it.

When it came to the wall hanging, she commandeered some men to help them lift it and hook it onto the iron poles that projected from the walls. As she and Winflaed helped to straighten and buffet the dust off it, she told her about the Wulfcynn, who were the followers of, Aelle, leader of the Súþseaxa. More than five hundred and fifty years ago, they had followed him to these shores across the sea from the continent. Their own chieftain had been a man called Wulfgar, who was the forefather of many of the families that now lived in those parts, hence the name prefix Wulf that had traditionally remained prevalent thereabouts. Winflaed forgot her fear of her aunt and found herself entranced by the story. There was something quite exciting about hearing tales of one’s ancestors.

Once the hanging had been positioned to her aunt’s satisfaction, they stood back from the wall to study it in its entirety. Winflaed marvelled at the magnificence of the work. It stretched along most of one side of the wall. It was a little tattered in places, but nothing that could not be repaired. Winflaed’s eyes rolled over it from one side to another before they alighted on the scenes near the end.

“Look, Aunt Gunnhild, there is a scene here with a bishop and a church … and people instead of the wolves.”

“Aye, it seems that those scenes were added later, to depict the baptism of the wolf people,” Gunnhild informed her, joining her at the end.

“What is this?” Winflaed turned and saw it was her father who had come to admire the new wall hanging. “Have we acquired new décor for the hall?”

“It came from Grandmother’s treasure chest, Father,” Winflaed replied proudly.

“Yes indeed. I am surprised it has not seen the light of day for so long,” Gunnhild agreed haughtily. “Your daughter and I have saved it from your wife’s clutches. She wanted to burn it.”

Wulfhere studied it intently. “I can see why, wolves howling at the moon. Not the sort of thing that should be hanging in a Christian household.” He observed it closer. “I remember this from when I was a small child,” he said animatedly. “It once hung here in the very same place it is hung now. But Grandmother Gerda did not like it. She tried to make it seem more Christian by adding that scene at the end, but she always said it did nothing to dispel the pagan magic from it and brought them nothing but bad fortune whilst it hung there, so she made my father take it down. He did it for her, though, in truth, I believe he loved it.”

“I remember as children your father used to tell us stories of wolves and the coming of the end of days when there would be the Vargold, the Age of the Wolf. How I loved to listen to him,” Gunnhild said. There was a wistful look in her eye and momentarily, Gunnhild was once more that young girl again, recalling happier times from her past.

Wulfhere nodded. “When chaos would come to this earth, and brothers would battle to the very end, and there would be betrayal and confusion in the lands,” he reminisced. He smiled and shook his head. “But we must not talk of such things in these Christian times.”

“’Tis harmless enough. Nobody in their right minds would believe the tales anyway,” Gunnhild said.

Wulfhere cocked an eyebrow and chuckled. “So, our ancestors were mad, is that what you’re implying, Gunnhild?” Then he turned to Winflaed. “What else was in this chest you spoke of, daughter?”

“I’ll show you, Papa.” They left Gunnhild to get on with her work and she took him to where the chest stood. “We had not thought to look for anything else.” Wulfhere studied it and Winflaed could tell he was admiring its beauty.

“Open it, Papa,” she said and he lifted the lid. She reached in and pulled out a small piece of folded linen. It was a much smaller piece than the wall hanging, shaped like that of a standard, the type one took into battle. It was rectangular in shape, with a long body that graded to a tip. The background colour was a shade of amber. At the centre, someone had sewn the emblem, a running wolf, its head shaded with brown and amber threads. Skilful hands had obviously produced it with loving care, but the years had not been kind to it and it was torn, battered and threadbare in places.

“Is it the wolf-king, Papa?” Winflaed questioned admiringly.

“Indeed, I do think it is,” Wulfhere agreed, fingering the broken stitching with a distant look in his eyes. “’Tis your grandfather’s old war banner. He used to ride into battle with it held high, proudly fluttering in the wind above men’s heads.”

He studied it fondly as if he were reminiscing.

“What is it for, Father?” Winflaed asked him softly, sensitive to the poignant look in his eyes.

“It is a war banner, sweeting. Something that a lord takes into battle …” He took a spear down from the wall and hooked the banner onto it, “… and raises it high so that his men will recognise it and rally to him. Just like this,” he said, raising the end of the spear above his head and waving it.

“Does Earl Harold have one?”

“Oh yes, he has the Golden Warrior.”

“And the King?”

He nodded. “The Dragon of Wessex.”

“Who makes it for them?”

“Why, most likely their womenfolk do.”

“Do you have one, Father?”

“Not anymore.”

“Why don’t you use this one?”

“It is in need of repair now.”

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Coin of King Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex when Wynflaed mentions him. Godwinson’s rise to the throne is to shape the direction of Wulfhere’s life. (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)

Winflaed climbed into his lap as he slunk down onto the floor by the open chest. Around them, Gunnhild and her team of workers carried on with their jobs, whilst father and daughter were oblivious to their clamour. Winflaed held the banner in her lap. “So the Earl has a warrior, the King a dragon. What is so special about a wolf?” she asked curiously, looking up at her father, her eyes round.

“Haven’t you listened to anything your aunt told you about our ancestors being wolves?” Wulfhere said, pretending to rebuke her.

“But that is just legend, is it not, Father?” She looked up at him with her huge, innocent blue eyes.

“Legend? Good heavens, no! All of it is true! Soon you will have your own wolf hair and then you will see.”

“No, Father, I don’t believe you.” She laughed.

“You mean you have not grown your wolf hair yet?” She laughed as he took her arm and pretended to search it for hairs. “See, here look at these. They are starting to grow already!”

Playfully, she retrieved her arm. “No, they are not!” she declared. “You haven’t told me why the wolf is so important.”

“Because, of all the gods’ creatures, the wolf was considered the most fearsome of beasts,” he replied in an ominous tone. “A wolf meant slaughter was afoot, it is an eater of carrion on the battlefield. No matter who won the battle, it was always the wolf who was the true winner. You see, the wolf need not exert himself…for men show their respect by providing him with their enemies, dead, on the field, for them to feast on.”

She looked at him intently. “Such a fearsome creature!” she said with childlike awe. “Is that why men hate him so much?”

Wulfhere shook his head. “No, little Fléogenda. We do not hate the wolf. He is a creature to be feared and respected, but not hated… And they eat little girls just as easily as they would eat warriors on a field of slaughter!” He playfully attacked her, making wolf noises and nibbling at her neck. She squealed, and her girlish laughter rang out across the hall.

Suddenly she leapt into his arms and covered his face with kisses. “Oh, Father, I love you so! Please don’t ever go away and leave us again!” she begged.

“Daughter, what troubles you that you should say such a thing?” He held her back from him and studied her.

“You and Mother … you fight terribly and I fear that it is my fault.” She began to cry.

“’Tis no fault of yours, sweeting.”

“But we brought you the package, Tovi and I.”

“’Tis not your fault. You weren’t to know the mischief that package would bring. Now dry your tears. Tonight we will have fun and there will be storytelling and riddles and –”

“Father?” Wulfhere looked up. It was Tovi. “Mother wishes that you attend to her upstairs.” There was a look of jealousy in Tovi’s eyes.

Her father patted Winflaed’s back and urged her to her feet. “I will go to her,” he said awkwardly, standing up slowly, nodding at his son.

Winflaed watched their interaction. Wulfhere was attempting to make her sullen brother smile, ruffling his hair; but the boy dodged him and slunk away. Their discomfort made her feel anxious, and she felt her heart palpitate.

Her father looked at her knowing eyes and shrugged. “At least you are talking to me, little Fléogenda.” He bent down and kissed her forehead. “I must go to your mother. I have my orders!” He smiled and walked away.

“Father,” Winflaed called after him. He turned to her. “I would like to fix it for you.” She held the ruined banner up. “So you can have a banner to take into battle.”

“I should like that,” he replied.

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Author Paula Lofting has so generously offered TWO free Kindle copies of Sons of the Wolf to gift to a couple of lucky readers. Simply comment below, OR at the review (here) OR at our Facebook page (here). I’ll do a drawing for two names and will announce winners on November 19. Good luck!!!

Drawing November 19

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About the author …

Paula has always wanted to write. Since she was a little girl, coming home from school to sit at the table with her notebook and write stories that buzzed around in her head. A prolific reader, she loved nothing better than to spend weekends with a book in her hand. Earliest influences such as Rosemary Sutcliffe, Leon Garfield, Charles Dickens, C.S.Lewis, inspired an interest in history. It became her lifelong wish to one day write and publish a book, but not being able to type, and having no funds for a typewriter to learn on, this ambition was reluctantly put on hold.

duckie-pooWith the advent of PCs and a need to retrain and use a computer, this old ambition was stirred and she decided to rekindle her love of books and writing at the grand old age of 42. At this point, she had reached a turning point in her life and studied nursing, and also decided to write the book she had promised herself one day she would write.

Her debut novel, Sons of the Wolf, was first published with the assistance of SilverWood Books in 2012. More recently she has republished it with her new publishing company, Longship Books, in Kindle. A new paperback version will be published by June. It is a story set in the years leading up to the Norman Conquest of England and the first in the Sons of the Wolf series, about this amazing time in English history.

She has always admired the works of Sharon Penman and Bernard Cornwell, Edith Pargetter and Mary Stewart, amongst many others. History is a great love of hers and her interest in the subject goes beyond that of the keyboard. She also enjoys Anglo-Saxon re-enactment with Regia Anglorum, also a great source of research for her writing. Paula says: “Write for enjoyment, write for yourself, regardless of what others say you should; for if you don’t write what you love, then how can you expect others to love what you write.”

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Follow author Paula Lofting and keep up with her news, including her magnificent new blog and impressively researched and written entries about 1066, as well as the sequel to Sons of the Wolf, The Wolf Banner, as well as the upcoming Wolf Bane, third in the Sons of the Wolf series. You can find her at her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

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Stay tuned for my review of The Wolf Banner!

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This post was updated to highlight drawing date

On My Retrieval of Apple Pie from Sweden (A Chat with Author Anna Belfrage)

A few weeks ago (or is it months?) I had a chance to visit with Anna Belfrage, award-winning author of The Graham Saga series (links to reviews below) as well as her newest, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the first of which, In the Shadow of the Storm, I have reviewed and you can find here.)

I was delighted and flattered that the chocoholic Anna Belfrage baked a scrumptious apple pie in honor of our role reversal. Usually, you see, I’m the one asking her questions, but this time she’d decided she wanted to pick my brain a little bit. So pick she did ….

An author’s best friend…

…is a good reader. Today, I’ve invited Lisl to visit, precisely because she is just that – a good reader. She also happens to be a very good writer, which is apparent not only in her excellent reviews but also in her poetry and those snippets of prose she has chosen to share. If you want to experience Lisl’s writing (and fab reviews) at length, do stop by her blog, Before the Second Sleep. In honour of the occasion, I’ve baked us a nice apple-pie. Plus, I might add, my home-made custard is to die for.

It is so nice to see you here with me, Lisl, what with you being all the way over in Alaska!

Thanks so much for having me, Anna! I’m loving your weather—makes me feel so at home.

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Moose’s Tooth in the Central Alaska Range (Wikimedia Creative Commons)

Ha! I imagine it does…Speaking of Alaska, what is it like to live there? I suspect you too struggle with myths along the lines that polar bears wander down your streets in full daylight (at least it’s a myth here in Sweden).

Well, it can be somewhat isolating, especially if one doesn’t have many connections to Outside, as we call it. I don’t have television programming, for example, which is why I rely so much on the Internet, because I want to know what’s going on in the world. But that’s just me—we do have television here! It’s also really lovely in summer and winter with loads of stuff to do.

The myths I hear most are how many people don’t realize we don’t have penguins, they think we might not accept American money and are surprised to learn we have cars. At one time I worked in a small specialty shop frequented by tourists and loved hearing these silly things—typically they came from people who genuinely wanted to learn about Alaska, and interacting with their sincerity and friendliness made that one of my favorite jobs ever.

Like me, you live in a place where the seasonal differences are not only due to temperature but due to lack or excess of light. Do you think the dark of winter vs the endless light of summer has a permanent impact on the people living that far north?

Oh, definitely. People form habits and patterns based on these conditions and as part of our culture they are so ingrained we joke about them while simultaneously don’t even notice, if that makes sense. For example, the Summer Solstice is observed by just about everyone, even those with zero interest or real knowledge in the history behind it, because it marks a transition in our year when we psychologically start prepping ourselves for termination dust and the coming of winter. There’s an old joke (one of many) about how you know you’re an Alaskan, because you make your Halloween costume large enough to wear over a coat.

keplerPeople who run into you on FB and the like, will probably mostly know you as a book reviewer – one of those readers who highlights aspects of the book not even the author may be entirely aware of. I get the impression you read very carefully. Does this mean you also read very slowly?

I don’t suppose I read slowly, though certainly I’m no speed reader. Overall it probably depends on the book. I think I do read carefully, which is a natural habit but there are others to thank for helping me develop my skills, including a particular professor. She engaged our classes rather than lectured and with her we learned so much regarding reading and writing about literature. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers her fondly.

In my reading I use a great deal of what I learned to this day, even with casual, not-for-review reading, though it doesn’t necessarily slow me down. Having said that, there are some books I do read more slowly, especially if it’s new information or a lot of characters to familiarize myself with.

Do you read more than one book at the time? If yes, do you read similar genre or totally different genre?

For better or worse, I do this a lot. At one time I tried to give it up, but finally just accepted the habit. It can be overwhelming on occasion, but then comes the satisfaction of closing up that last page of one book, then another and then another all within a short period of time.

Whether the genres are similar or different just depends upon circumstance—if I happened to have seen a book that looks really great, for example, and can’t wait, like a book on Kepler I recently came across. Now you’ve got me thinking about it, I think most of the time they aren’t the same, but perhaps there is always some connection: something in, about or related to one book leads me to another. What I can say for certain is that except for review books, which I read in order of when I received them, books choose me, not the other way around.

I have recently noted a certain fascination from your part regarding graphic novels – the modern day version of what I used to call comic books.

I first read Spiegelman’s Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale in a lit class in which we discussed the controversy of placing Holocaust memoir in graphic novel form. I thought it a great way to engage readers on all levels. Later I came across Satrapi’s Persepolis and Persepolis 2, of growing up in an Iran adversely affected by the 1979 revolution. They could be painful to read but by the genre’s nature the pictures show more than just events: we as readers gain greater dimension to the author’s insight, including images of herself as she perceives herself. It is very, very powerful.

I can’t say I’ve read a ton of graphic novels, but you’re right; largely thanks to Turtle they are becoming more of a presence in my reading repertoire and it seems a shift is indeed occurring.

What brought you to your love of reading, and what books were fundamental to igniting this passion you have for the written word?

witchHonestly, I don’t really know how I came to love reading in the first place, though my parents modeling it as a worthy pursuit—they were both enormous readers—surely played a large role. I can remember, even picture in my mind, books I found on shelves and flipped through, books about a boy in a jungle and animals that talked. Like now, perhaps the books beckoned to me and I couldn’t resist. Various people habitually brought me books as well: The Witch of Blackbird Pond; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Island of the Blue Dolphins; Strawberry Girl and The Cricket in Times Square were just some from my mother. My father also brought home books for me, most memorably Francis Marion: Swamp Fox of the Revolution. Even my older brother—horrible in my then opinion– picked up books he thought I might like. I still have from him Galahad: Enough of His Life to Explain His Reputation and The Favorite Poems and Ballads of Rudyard Kipling. The Crystal Cave and The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself both also surely went a long way toward my own writing, possibly because they both instigated a deeper delving into myself, owing to my fascination with and curiosity of their subject matter, but also they spoke of times I instinctively felt a close connection to, and it seemed almost as if I was trying to discover who I was, and why what mattered to me, did.

I know you have a son – and that he too is a voracious reader. How have you transferred over your love of reading to him?

I did the easiest thing any parent could do, but what is also the most powerful—I read near and to him. I never gave him any kind of spiel about how important books are, and didn’t have to act enthusiastic because I really was. Before he was born I read aloud—partly because I’d heard about how babies can hear their mother’s voices—but also I really enjoy feeling the words as I read. After he was born I continued to read to him, at that time whatever it was I was reading. As it turns out talking or reading to babies triggers an amazing series of events within the brain that in turn opens windows to further development. I remain in awe of how such a simple, pleasant act can benefit such complex systems.

Turtle has been a library enthusiast his entire life. Very early on he shared plots, illustrations, criticisms, favorites and so on with me, and we still read to each other. Over the years we have developed our own special little traditions or funny jokes, a development covered in Mem Fox’s wonderful Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever. Simple to read, colossal in guiding children toward reading and other success.

I also try to support the idea that what he chooses matters—ask questions, let him read funny or other parts of note to me, discuss ideas that arise from readings—and have always let him choose his own books from the time he could. Unless it’s for school I never make him finish a book he isn’t enjoying—how is that reading for pleasure?—and provide a nice place for his collection as well as comfortable spots to curl up and read.

What would you consider are the main benefits of instilling a love of reading in a child?

Apart from what I’ve mentioned above, there are some very practical benefits. While nothing is fool proof, I have nevertheless seen over the years that children who enjoy reading are less likely to be drawn into negative behavior. They also have a larger vocabulary, especially if they have been read to because they’ve made the connections between how a word looks as well as sounds, and are more confident about experimenting with new words. Children develop better communication skills and academic achievement tends to be higher. Perhaps best of all, it fosters loving relationships between people who truly share when they communicate.

Are there books you wouldn’t allow your son to read? And if so, why?

Well, I’ve found there are goalposts that have to be shifted a bit periodically, as well as maintained.

dh-us-jacket-artI don’t own a single book I wouldn’t let him read, primarily because we have always been able to discuss different topics, even if my side of the conversation was/is delivered with age appropriateness in mind. Having said that, I will say that when he was younger I might have had some difficulty with this “policy” of mine I have maintained because some books—specifically history—might have been really scary for him. Some of them are scary for me. As for books we don’t own—as far as I know, no, though that is said with some relief at him having reached this age, when I feel he is ready to read some of the more disturbing historical events.

Most parents worry about sexual content as well, and though that is a concern for me, I have to let him learn to be a responsible reader. Plus, I’ve tried to communicate that he’ll never get in trouble for asking me questions. In support of that I attempted to go beyond the standard “You can ask me anything” by communicating that while many kids ask and tell each other lots of details, much of this is incorrect and can lead to real trouble. He agreed the possible awkwardness of asking mom is way better than trouble encountered from following bad advice. I periodically re-inforce that with how I respond to books we read together, though we haven’t come across any real sexual situations in the books he chooses. Swear words, yes, and we’ve had decent conversations about appropriate—and not—places to say that sort of stuff. Hopefully this will keep working with continued maintenance, which is the real point.

I note that quite a few of my “new adult” acquaintances never read – they spend their time on social media and streaming movies instead – or channel-hopping between TV shows. Personally, I worry this leads to a general lack of reflection. Would you agree? And do you see a similar trend?

Sadly, yes on both counts. I suppose some people are more inclined to reflection than others, so even movies could trigger that for them. However, film can’t convey what words can, so a lot will get missed. And of course there’s the danger of shutting down imagination—if the film production company tells you what a dragon looks like, why should you try to imagine it? It creates lazy thinkers, in my opinion.

Nowadays I become really happy when I see people exchanging ideas or engaging in healthy debate, largely because it’s sorely lacking anymore. Even many families act, as someone wrote recently, like a group of people who happen to live in the same house rather than as a cohesive unit. We’ve got a rule we hope can create a positive difference: Read the book first.

You are not only a reader, you are also a writer. Tell us a bit about this!

Well, in school I loved to read and had a really great rapport with my English teacher. She encouraged my fledgling efforts, which at that time I think were small and not necessarily directed toward a bigger picture; they just sort of came and I didn’t have any real desire to complete them. This changed at one point, however, when I wrote a short story about two teenage girls during the Salem witch trials. I really liked the tale—secretly though, because I was unsure it was any good by actual standards. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep it, though it has been in my mind lately and I think at times of trying to re-write. At any rate, from there I did start to write more, but the results were most often poems. I later did write down some rough outlines for stories that lately have been repeatedly knocking, so I’ve been working on them.

What is it that attracts you to writing poetry? Which are the challenges vs writing prose?

10-3-14-4My mother was an enthusiastic reader of Edgar Allen Poe—she read and re-read his works a lot, and aloud, especially his poetry. She never came out and said poetry had to be read aloud, but I could hear in her voice what came to pass in the words, the narrator’s passion as he speaks of his Annabel Lee, or the isolated anguish of the man mourning the lost Lenore. Though at the time I wouldn’t have described it this way, I had an appreciation for how so much—events, emotions, information, even entire lifetimes—could transpire in so few words. That they were also lyrical and lovely captured my entire imagination and as I began trying my own hand at poetry, I experimented with different words, explored their meanings and histories, sometimes simply repeating the words to hear the way they sounded as compared to how they looked.

Unarticulated thoughts began to transform into phrases born within my soul, and it was slightly intoxicating. I had never before been able to speak with great confidence—I was a rather shy child—but poetry was akin to a new language possessing the words I needed that my native tongue didn’t have, and it opened the world to me. Though the contexts are not exactly the same, I felt a little like the astronomer depicted in L’Atmosphère: Météorologie Populaire as he crawls under the edge of the sky.

In some ways it seems like poetry comes easier to me, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say poetry is easy. In university, when my writing skills really improved a lot, I was a language tutor and somewhat of an MLA [Modern Language Association] geek. Between that and the papers I wrote, I developed into more of an analytical writer. When I first started trying to expand on my stories this presented a great challenge as creative writing skills were now what I needed, but didn’t really possess.

keatsWriting poetry requires saying a lot with few words, which is true of prose, of course, but the parameters tend to be narrower. Also, a word might not feel right, or could turn out to be much different to what you’d intended and you think, “What do I do with this now?” Although in poetry, this may be a pro because of the separations between poems, despite the relationship uniting them all in one volume. For example, I once tried to write a poem directed at a country—not my own, but one I really do like. I was trying to express anger, but the end result was something so radically different to what I’d aimed for I was astounded. When I thought about it more I wondered that what I had inside me was communicating a different anger that also needed to be directed elsewhere, not at this place I was so fond of. The result was a complete product—with its own challenges toward my intentions, but still a workable poem.

Like all writers, I suppose you also use your writing as a cathartic exercise, i.e. you write with no intention of ever letting those particular words see the light of the day. And yet – in my case, at least – sometimes that writing is so intense it is almost a pity to hide it away. Your thoughts?

Ohhhhhh, yes. The poem I just talked about falls into that category. It feels so very personal, and I have some reservations, but I still thought, “And now I just put it back in the drawer?” Some work is so emotive it just can’t be contained again.

As a final question, which books would you bring with you to a desert island? You are only allowed three and they must last you a life-time…

This is really difficult. I mean really difficult. Just three?

I thought about The Complete Works of Shakespeare. I have a Bevington edition from my university class that could keep me busy for many years. It’s not that I’m a huge fan of Will, but what he did with language was inspirational, and all those plays could really keep me thinking, and probably writing. And let’s not forget the poems!

Possibly Boorstin’s The Discoverers. He covers a variety of topics—astronomy, measurement of time, science, geography, history, key figures in exploration and expeditions for spices, discovery, the opening of China and so on. I’ve read it a few times and each reading grants me a new observation on something that didn’t quite settle in the last time.

Nikolai Tolstoy’s The Quest for Merlin. This may come as a surprise for you, given my oft-repeated love of Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave [“Yup,” Anna says]. I do love Stewart’s book and feel almost drained leaving it off, but would have to confess that Tolstoy’s, which I read just once, leaves more room for discovery. Plus it has pictures. OK, well in all seriousness I don’t feel quite so connected to Merlin [in Tolstoy’s book] as with Stewart’s work, but the less familiar material would lead me through terra incognita and perhaps a few wonderful surprises.

Wow, not exactly the easiest of reads…Thank you so much for dropping by, Lisl – it has been most inspirational!

Thanks so much, Anna, for having me and I hope we’ll do this again sometime.

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Links to my reviews for Anna Belfrage’s The Graham Saga series …

A Rip in the Veil 

Like Chaff in the Wind

The Prodigal Son (with Chocolate Cake Author Interview)

A Newfound Land

Serpents in the Garden

Revenge and Retribution 

Whither Thou Goest

To Catch a Falling Star

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Cover Crush for A Rip in the Veil

Chocolate Brownies Author Interview

Stay tuned for updated review for A Rip in the Veil

(Winner of The Reviews Book of the Month Award)

and

Sunken Pie Author Interview (Of Pies, Books and Other Essentials)

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The Flammarion Engraving is given its name as its earliest appearance can be traced to its inclusion in Flammarion’s 1888 book L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology) (Wikimedia Commons)

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Lisl is a contributor to Naming the Goddess and her poetry has appeared at Bewildering Stories and in Alaska Women Speak. She is currently editing her volume of poetry, Four Seasons, and scribbling away at a collection of novellas, tentatively titled Border Dwellers.

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Note: This post has been updated to include links to reviews for Whither Thou Goest and To Catch a Falling Star.

Music Review: Richard III

Please note the time sensitive Christmas ordering special below, as well as info about band appearance and narrative notes.

Richard III by Ian Churchward and The Legendary Ten Seconds

 Track Titles

  1. Sheriff Hutton
  2. Richard Liveth Yet
  3. Written At Rising
  4. Act III, Scene IV
  5. The Year of Three Kings
  6. Hollow Crown
  7. Remember My Name
  8. Lord Lovell’s Lullaby
  9. Requiem
  10. Royal Title
  11. Ambion Hill

Additional narrative notes are also provided (see below).

r3-3rd-album-front_med_hrHaving read the Legendary Ten Seconds characterized as a folk band, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I received their third CD to review, though I was intrigued with the concept album format whereby all the songs map out historical events. More precisely, they detail a specific series of events pertaining to a key figure: Richard III. This release, aptly titled Richard III, highlights instrumental periods in the monarch’s life, through melodic tunes reminiscent of medieval music itself. Listeners will recognize certain moments in which the band pays homage to their medieval forebears, with particular use of mandola notes, bells, organs and other instruments. However, there is balance with a modern sensibility, so while the music is identifiable as medieval-inspired folk, this is neither the monophonically-textured sound we tend to associate with the Middle Ages, nor stereotypical folk often heard mainly at summer forest fairs. What it does present is much of the heritage—our own—that we are taught about as children and will recognize in themes of truth and loyalty, pastoral poetry and the timeless desire to be remembered. It is all presented here so engagingly that even those who might tend toward reluctance will find themselves drawn in, for the music as well as the history it recounts.

“Sheriff Hutton,” the album’s first song, opens with an immediate sense of storytelling, as if the music itself is performing the gesticulations of one about to move forward into a verbal narrative. It is the perfect song to open the collection owing to this musical smoothing out of one’s apparel as well as the lyrics themselves, which tell of discovery as the speaker describes what he experiences upon visiting three sites: Sheriff Hutton, where as Duke of Gloucester Richard stayed, given its proximity to the north; Middleham Castle, the setting of his formative years and where his beloved son, Edward, was born and tragically dies too young; and Bosworth Field, site of the battle where Richard loses his life and the Plantagenet dynasty comes to an end. The song itself encapsulates the story of Richard’s later life as the singer takes us forward in time to “one fateful day,” having already experienced the sense of loneliness and brokenness that permeate the sites, and mindful of Richard’s own experiences when he himself stayed there.

fotheringhaycastle
Fotheringhay Castle (click image)

There is a newness to this start of the CD, yet also a wistfulness, perhaps undetectable to some unfamiliar with the life and times of Richard III. However, the musical arrangement is such that it acts also like a sort of foreshadowing, for once familiarized, these listeners will be able to detect the melancholy, recognizing it the way readers realize they do clues in a story, leading them to the often typical train of thought that commences with, “What if…?” This is paired with opening to the aftereffects of a tragedy as the album then takes listeners back in time to “see” the events that lead to this moment.

With the singer, or storyteller, we embark on a journey from a time when the infant Richard is noted in the “Clare Roll,” a poem documenting the armorial history of the prominent Clare family, the earls of whom Richard, Duke of York is descended; the second song’s title is drawn from his son’s mention within.

The youngest son of the Duke of York

Born in the castle of Fotheringhay

October 1452

Was the sun shining on that autumn day

Richard liveth yet

Richard liveth yet

Richard liveth yet

Born at the castle on the rise of the River Nene

Noting Shakespearean word order within one line, the song also foreshadows the playwright’s role in Richard’s posthumous reputation, and another depicts a scene from Shakespeare’s Richard III, with several vocalists taking up the roles of different characters as they discuss Edward V’s coronation date. While it may seem a curious choice to base a Ricardian song upon, it sets the stage for Richard’s coming rule while also highlighting a central Shakespearean reconstruction re: the alleged withered arm. While we now know that Richard III suffered from scoliosis, the useless arm is a fabrication.

Male and female vocalists appear on the various tracks and they are used to great effect—to play different roles, for example, as mentioned above; in duets, sometimes partner, others as counterpoint; and perhaps to change up the sound “appearance,” though this is carefully considered as their voices and particular and varying uses of them match the individual pieces of narrative so well one might be forgiven for believing each track was written specifically for those particular voices.

Richard III (click image)
Richard III (click image)

In linear fashion the CD progresses through eras in Richard’s life, including leadership roles in which he must manage shortage and adversity, through to the “year of three kings”—1483—which sees the death of Edward IV, Richard’s brother and monarch, to be succeeded by his son, Edward V. As Edward IV’s heir is too young to assume full duties, Richard is named protector and becomes king, followed by the disappearance and presumed deaths of Edward and his younger brother, also called Richard. Marking a turning point in the album as well as Richard’s life, events in “The Hollow Crown” are depicted from Richard’s point of view, and he discloses that in addition to the grief he feels at his own son’s passing, he knows full well what people are saying about his reign, and the darkness that threatens to overtake him:

This hollow crown upon my head

They say Queen Anne will soon be dead

The sky is dark though it is day

With my book of hours I do pray

Following is a transitional tune, one that could be told from Richard’s perspective, that of a soldier, or even both, in parts. Sung with alternating solos and Dylanesque duets (think “Mozambique” or the even smoother “One More Cup of Coffee”), it is a brilliant approach to take given there, of course, would be many expressing the sentiments within, but also to magnify the reality that Richard himself may have struggled with his decision to go to war. There are plenty of pros and cons, and the loneliness of the tune is mindful of what the monarch may feel in these moments, lost as Edward and, now, Queen Anne are to him. Still, he retains his book of hours and it could be he finds solace in prayer, remaining in low spirits but not remotely near to, as some have suggested, a death wish. The tune ends with a rather rapid fadeout, akin to a musical ellipses, mirroring acknowledgment of the terrible realities of war and remembrance.

From this point on the lyrics reflect thoughts and emotions of others, for the king is dead and can no longer speak. The singer channels these figures, such as Margaret, mourning her brother, killed so viciously, and references antiquarian Sir George Buck’s The History of King Richard III. In the end a ghostly apparition beckons to our storyteller, who acknowledges that some may or may not believe all he has laid out. Important to note, however, is that despite many circumstantial attempts to destroy Richard’s reputation and legacy, evidence exists to prove previous claims false or perverted—evidence available in the Titulus Regius, for example, discovered by Sir George, evidence that, like Richard himself, long lay buried and perhaps some still does—that despite all this, “the truth, it has survived.”

This is a wonderfully evocative account of the life of Richard III, one that will draw listeners again and again.

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The Legendary Ten Seconds was originally a solo music project of Ian Churchward who has played guitar in various bands after starting to play the guitar in 1979. Ian’s first band was called Chapter 29 and after this band split up in 1986 he started a new indie pop band called The Morrisons later that year. This band released a flexi disc which was played on the John Peel show on BBC radio one in 1987. From the late 1990’s until about 2007 Ian also played in a ceilidh band called Storm Force Ten which then became a new band called Phoenix.

Richard III is the third album from the Legendary Ten Seconds. For more information on previous music, click here or images below.

Tant le désirée
Tant le désirée
Loyaulte Me Lie
Loyaulte Me Lie

 

 

 

 

 

You can learn more about Ian Churchward and The Legendary Ten Seconds and their music at FacebookCD Baby, a blog dedicated to The Richard 3rd Projects and Twitter. For Richard III-related links, see Lord Z (and tab above).

Special Notes:  An additional album, The Legendary Ten Songs Of Sir Ian Of Churchward may be purchased as a download from CD Baby OR it can be gotten for FREE before Christmas when purchasing any other album from Lord Z (this link ONLY). Be sure to get it from Lord Z! Additionally, for as long as supplies last, album purchase includes a FREE Ricardian Legendary Ten Seconds beer mat (see and click image below).

Free beer mat with any album purchase from Lord Z (click image)
Free beer mat with any album purchase from Lord Z (click image)

Concert Information:

The Legendary Ten Seconds will be appearing at Stony Stratford in February!!

poster for stratford gig

Narrative Notes:

On Tant le desiree the narratives are written and read by author Sandra Heath Wilson. They are fictional and read from the point of view of Richard III’s mother, Cecily Neville.

On  Richard III  the narratives are historical and factual. These Richard III narratives are written, read and recorded by Matthew Lewis and provide information about Richard III.

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The reviewer was provided with a copy of Richard III in order to provide an honest review.

Book Review: Revenge and Retribution

Revenge and Retribution (Book VI in The Graham Saga)
by Anna Belfrage

A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

The first installment of this series, A Rip in the Veil, opens with a frustrated Alexandra Lind hurriedly trying to make her way to an Edinburgh meeting when she encounters a crossroads and a thunderstorm, with inconceivably shocking and perilous consequences. The circumstantial combination creates a rent in the fabric of time, and results in a topological defect, as it were, an unstable vacuum that momentarily lifts the divide between eras and violently pulls her through, landing the frightened woman in 17th century Scotland.

revenge-retribution-coverMany of us have expressed the desire—for the sake of curiosity if nothing else—to travel through time, with the caveat that we make it back, of course. Alex, however, meets up with Matthew Graham, an escaped convict wrongfully imprisoned, making his way home, and later concludes she wants to stay. She isn’t idealistic about the shift; she’s not fond of a number of 1658 ways of life and misses parts of her old existence, but decides this time she has been brought to is where she is meant to be, and Matthew is who she is meant to be with. Interestingly, her son Isaac is a part of her old life she doesn’t seem to miss much; Alex carries emotional baggage related to the boy’s birth and she opens up to Matthew regarding this and other portions of her past.

Or would that be her future? This is a question Alex plays with throughout the series, and when we meet up with her again in Revenge and Retribution we find she has known, despite chronological numbers, where her future really is. Since A Rip in the Veil and four subsequent books in the set, Alex’s family have grown and the religious persecution they escape about mid-series has led them to the colony of Maryland. The lifestyle has been difficult but not without rewards and an alliance of sorts has developed between the Grahams and a local tribe of Natives. Alex fears the cost of this alliance, not only from some settlers out to exact revenge, but also the very group from which she has earned a measure of respect.

As in the series’ other installations, Belfrage is tasked with a precarious balancing act: she must weigh the sensibilities of the day with the reality that Alex carries with her: a consciousness often in defiance of those perceptions. So it is not unfitting for Alex to take some of the steps she does, though sometimes foolhardy, given her past experiences in this new/old time. Equally, it makes sense, historically speaking, to observe people referring to indentured servants and slaves the way we might speak of the weather: it varies but it is. Such competing concepts existing side by side—albeit one very much in the minority and hidden from most others—require careful maintenance to remain in the realm of the feasible, and Belfrage not only pulls it off, but also makes it appear easy.

Following a point in which Alex’s transport is threatened with exposure and she a dreaded accusation of witchcraft, she prepares for a hearing at which she will testify on her own behalf.

“What will they ask me?” Alex asked Matthew as he accompanied her to the meeting house later that same day. “It’s not as if I know the whole bloody Bible by heart, is it?”
“It will help if you don’t refer to the Holy Writ as the ‘bloody Bible’,” he said drily. “They’ll ask you from the catechism, and you know most of it.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t always agree with it.”
“That you must keep to yourself. Concentrate on the questions and on replying to them, not on voicing your opinions as to how Lot treated his daughters, or how unfair some of the laws are to women.”
“Hmm.” Alex wiped her hand surreptitiously against her skirts.
All in all, it wasn’t too bad, Alex thought afterwards, curtseying to one after another of the ministers. Despite being barraged by questions from Minister Macpherson, she had acquitted herself well enough to earn herself a wink from Minister Walker.

Although all the previous novels entail some violence and tragedy, within Revenge and Retribution the Grahams reach a turning point, even if they aren’t quite as aware of it as they ought to be. Several previous events, while not occupying large parts of the stories in which they are contained, foreshadow a system that now seems to be breaking apart, or leading to something much larger than anyone might have ever conceived possible. A darker force is ushered in, its influence silently spread, interestingly enough through the keeping of secrets.

We as readers, however, have all the links that individual characters lack, and see the ominous overtones hovering like a dark cloud, embodied at one point in a Voice:

After death—was the Voice dead?
The Voice laughed. Death was a relative in respect of time. For a person born in the future to fall back and die in this time, how could they be dead if they had as yet not been born? No, the Voice clarified, some people died—the lucky ones.

This is not a contemplation—philosophical or realistic—that has escaped Alex. She has learned to move forward, but is intelligent enough to be afraid of certain conditions, even when—especially when—she doesn’t know exactly what they entail. Belfrage’s treatment of Alex very wisely assigns her vulnerabilities peculiar to her, and her anger becomes more wild as events stack up against her. She finds comfort in her husband, Matthew, even following often bitter arguments that test boundaries: between the pair as a couple as well as over the times each comes from. Belfrage’s masterful, lyrical introspections show us both the strengths and frailties within Alex, and brings us, wherever she may be, to the scene as if we are experiencing the moment ourselves.

They lapsed into a comfortable silence, watching as the sun transformed the frosted trees into prisms of magical colour. It was very quiet, the migrating birds long gone, and the remaining sparrows and thrushes keeping low to the ground, or at least going about their business without expending energy on making noise. A crow cawed, it cawed again, and then it was all absolute stillness.

Within the pages of Revenge and Retribution is when Alex faces what may be her most difficult challenges yet. There is indeed a lot of violence and for this reviewer it was the most difficult to read of all novels in the Saga. Belfrage skillfully shows Alex in the same boat experiencing it all, as well as the manner in which she opens up to faith, finding some comfort within and reaching out to her past. Readers feel for Alex’s entanglements, and perhaps the most enthusiastic nod for Belfrage’s talent is how we respond as if Alex were a close friend, someone we care about who is confused and hurting. The author through the series enables each novel to be stand-alones, but rest assured readers will not be satisfied with that, as the next book will always be eagerly sought.

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Read my review for A Rip in the Veil (Book I in The Graham Saga)

Read my review for Like Chaff in the Wind (Book II in The Graham Saga)

Read my review for The Prodigal Son (Book III in The Graham Saga) (with author interview)

Read my review for A Newfound Land (Book IV in The Graham Saga)

Read my review for Serpents in the Garden (Book V in The Graham Saga)

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Anne Belfrage can be found at her blog, which also maps out the The Graham Saga series for readers. Find her as well at Twitter, Facebook and at her Amazon author page, where you can also learn about her newest novel, In the Shadow of the Storm, first in her new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy. 

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This review previously appeared at the blog’s alternate location and a copy of Revenge and Retribution  provided in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Life and Demise of Norman Campbell

Today, October 4, 2015, marks 109 years since the birth of Mr. Norman Campbell, who passed away in 2012.

The Life and Demise of Norman Campbell

by Norman Campbell/compiled by Diana Jackson

25% of proceeds from the sales of this book are donated to the local Kingston on Thames branch of Age Concern and Cancer, UK, Mr. Campbell’s chosen charity

I have a gcampbell book coverreat love for the ordinary, perhaps largely because so often it translates across history or events as extraordinary, rendering otherwise lesser details worthy of great note. Objects become artifacts, experiences awe, and so often people in later eras feel some link to those of times past; connections bond them despite the enormous differences of their environments that they may nevertheless both relate to so closely.

So it occurs within The Life and Demise of Norman Campbell, in which we the readers are given a firsthand glimpse into life in the earliest years of the 20th century, on through to the end of that era and into the 21st. Narrated by Campbell in a conversational style, the commentary seems to be directed at readers, and parenthetical laughter occasionally pops up, as it would when people are sitting together remembering.

young norman
Young Norman

Campbell starts with his parents’ marriage, followed by his birth in 1909, then continues on in linear fashion, through two world wars, his adventures to and in Australia, the advent of radio and television, his passion for music and perhaps surprisingly, his interest in surfing the Internet.

His words, so like the spoken words they actually are as recorded by Diana Jackson, revive for us memories of memories, perhaps stories heard from relatives about an era in which ordinary goals are reached by exhausting and extraordinary means. They then transition us with great succinctness to the present. Campbell does this with the fluidity of a born historian who in just a few sweeping words provides a glimpse of something that was and how it became something else.

Under the stairs was the coal cellar in those days. You could still find coal dust down there today but I’ve put a bit of carpet over it now. The coal man used to come in here with the coal on his back and that’s where he used to shoot the coal. All the dust would fly up in the hall. Schewww! You can imagine.

Most people have taken this cupboard out to give more room and maybe have a telephone or something under the stairs. I have filled in the banisters though, and put in a false ceiling because it was far too high up to paper.

Illustrated throughout, the pictures take on a new dimension of fascinating when we recall a passage from the acknowledgements:

This book, Norman’s memoirs, is also illustrated by photos and pictures from his multitude of albums and scrap books, squirreled away over more than a century.

For most people scrap books initiated 100 years prior, even if they ran for only a few seasons and indeed are exhilarating to take in, typically come from an older relative or, in some exciting instances, are discovered in attics or lofts. That these were held in reserve and collected for so long (100 years!) and by the same person, is nothing short of stunning.

sunlight soap labelExamination of the pictures reveals our own past, in people, places or items recognizable or not, and one finds their breath at times drawn in to realize the forebears of some of what we know today. This isn’t just about seeing a quaint-looking label on, say, laundry soap, though that is charming as well, but also to reflect about the conditions under which these products came to be or operated. Sunlight soap, for example, was created in 1884 using palm oils as opposed to the heretofore utilized tallow seen in depictions of early sculleries in which the maid’s hand would dip into a jar, emerging with a palm full of goop used for washing up. Sunlight was manufactured into a bar for the sake of convenience and the product came with a £1,000 guarantee.

Interestingly, such advert artifacts appear only at the start of the autobiography in close proximity to family photos. In fact, the Sunlight ad is the first image not of a family member, and subsequent clippings—one for linoleum, the next from an outraged citizen offering to pay £100 to anyone who can prove true the rumor about his consumption of horse meat—given Campbell’s age (toddler) at the time they are dated, points to a collection, perhaps of his mother, that inspired his own continuity of the habit.

spencer and annie campbell
Spencer and Annie Campbell

Did Annie Campbell have a sense of history that she perhaps passed on to her son, encouraging him by word or deed to preserve his present for the future? While it may seem an extravagant or extraneous question, its exploration makes other inquiries, of the Campbells as well as ourselves. How many of us today clip and retain product adverts? Do many people now see these even as worthy of retention? While the labels were mass produced in Annie Campbell’s day, now they are produced in mind-boggling numbers, awareness of which perhaps makes them truly unspecial in the eyes of many today. Annie Campbell, perhaps aware of the import of the product’s ingredient transition and maybe with a keen sense of the changes occurring in her world, might have kept them for others. “She was a bit of a clairvoyant. She used to dream of the future,” Campbell says, “and tell fortunes with the cards and tea leaves[.]” Perhaps she looked to the future and wondered what we might make of the people of her time, and wished to provide some answers. If so, she must have known there are clues sprinkled throughout her artifacts.

In addition to this glimpse into perspective, we see notation for images in a font resembling handwriting, much like people did when they pasted photos into the black pages of the old-time albums. When we see, then, the placement of some images at angles, rather than always straight and flush with the same sides of the pages, it brings the realization that the entire autobiography is itself the album. Campbell has not only invited us into his world, but also his time, and over the course of his lifetime has gone to great lengths to ensure we get an extended view. The chapters being headed by the years and a title facilitate the album presentation as it allows readers to peruse from beginning to end or to flip through, much the same way we flip through an album, skipping, going backwards for a second look, comparing the people within at the end to how they appeared—or what they did—at the start.

Surrey Comet, 1953

Compiled by Diana Jackson following Campbell’s death, the inclusion of an occasional address to Jackson herself does not take away from this album being meant for others to share in, and in fact shows a greater depth to Campbell’s invitation for us to participate in his life’s experiences, for indeed he must have realized the connection between readers and himself simply by knowing even portions of what he knew, such as television: Most have seen it, and he reaches out to add to our awareness of the space it occupies in our lives. When television is developed in 1953, and Campbell witnesses on one the wedding of Princess Elizabeth (current Queen Elizabeth II) he sees himself as a pioneer, and later contemplates a purchase.

I thought about it and since I was spending so much in the Kinema and so much in the Elite and so much in the Empire, I thought that all of it could go to pay for the television instead and then we didn’t have to go out.

We’d have all our entertainment indoors; magic. But that was the worst thing that could ever happen. All our social life went. I’ve never been out to the pictures since. The other thing is that everyone is scruffy these days. No one ever dresses up anymore. And then many of the picture houses were turned into Bingo halls when television took over.

As it turns out, Campbell’s wary observations were very keen indeed, for like the labels that are nowadays cast off as ordinary and of little importance for the eyes of the future, activities that once were central functions in people’s lives also transitioned into the ordinary. The processes that got people to those events–saving money, planning for, dressing up—were eliminated as something that once was magical sunk into the insignificant.

In this sense Campbell’s compilation might also serve as a cautionary tale as well as a memorabilia that enables us to cherish our own forebears. In displaying to us the charm of the ordinary, he also discreetly advises us—in his way of saying much with so few words—of the danger of the reverse, of becoming nonchalant in the face of the remarkable. It is here we see that he, too, might have been “a bit of a clairvoyant,” drawing from his mother more than he—at least on the surface—lets on, and presents to us this brilliant autobiography that could be read on a number of levels.

This amazing man continues his story, with clarity and dignity even explaining the pattern of his days with carers, not just for physical assistance but also to help him bear the loneliness around him. At 102 years of age, those from his generation are gone, he is widowed and, living in the home he grew up in, is surrounded by their memories. He finds joy in the Internet and reaches out to his extended family who live, literally, all over the globe. His story is written in a simple manner, but it is by no means simplistic and, as mentioned earlier, he presents it to us with many layers to peel back and discover that beneath it all is great complexity, which is, as Campbell himself might say, “as simple as that!”

To the end, Campbell displays that bright spark, a telling humor that makes us want to dig deeper to understand what else it is he knows, what is he trying to tell us, or even just share with us. Diana Jackson:

I saw Norman in hospital three days before he passed away and he said[,] ‘I’ve got it Diana! The name of my book. The Life and Demise of Norman Campbell!’

‘You can’t call it that,’ I spluttered. ‘You’re still with us.’

Indeed he is.

same house

Norman at 102 years of age He passed away just two months later
Norman at 102 years of age
He passed away just two months later

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(All images from The Life and Demise of Norman Campbell.)

Thank you to Mr. Norman Campbell, for sharing your remarkable life with us!

For more from Diana Jackson, see her blog, where you can also read more about Mr. Norman Campbell.

To purchase this fantastic book, please go to Amazon or Amazon UK.

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This post previously appeared in 2014 at the blog’s alternative location

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Book Review: A Newfound Land

A Newfound Land (Book IV in The Graham Saga)
by Anna Belfrage

Winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion

The fourth novel in Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga series opens with promise: the sun on the eastern rim and Alex awake before anyone else, moving forward towards her morning refreshing, seeing the “stands of grasses to her right sparkle with dew, and just by the door her precious rose was setting buds.” By this time the Grahams had been here, in their Maryland homestead, since four years, long enough for Alex to derive a sense of comfort from the permanence of the building. Alex likes roots.

newfound landThat yearning would be understandable, given her circumstances: Thrown through a severed veil separating time from her native 2002 back into the Scotland of 1658, Alex has had to endure a great deal of building in order to create and maintain the life she has acquired. Now married to Matthew Graham, whose familial history entails bitter feuding, questionable circumstances of birth and death, and the attempted destruction of his life and marital family, she has also suffered with him the religious persecution that finally drove them out of Scotland and to the early Colonies.

By this time Alex has been in her adopted era since fourteen years, and the narrative shifts between her current here and now and the world she left behind, particularly with her father, Magnus, who later connects with Alex. In one scene between the pair Belfrage addresses the issue of how Alex manages to reconcile her previous lack of belief with her current faith in God, even if that faith isn’t exactly in line with Matthew’s. The exchange is painful but realistic in its provision of explanation, not despite but because of its passion as well as shortcomings.

“Your faith?” Magnus broke out in loud laughter. “Come off it, Alex,” he said once he had calmed down. “You’re not sitting here telling me that you’ve developed a belief in God, are you? What happened to my super-rational daughter?”

She gave him a cold look, stood up and moved away from him, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Alex, you can’t believe all that stuff.”

“I can’t? How would you know? You have no idea what my life has been like these last fourteen years or what events have shaped me, do you?” She looked out into the yard where Ruth and Sarah were playing a game of tag, and then turned to face her father. “In this life, God is a constant. Sometimes He’s all we have. So when I say our faith, that’s exactly what I mean: our faith. I may not be quite as much of a Bible reader as Matthew, and there are aspects of his belief I don’t agree with, but I’ve learnt the hard way to put my trust in God and hope He’ll keep me and mine safe. And so far He has.”

The Grahams need this protection because this installment introduces them to the Burleys, a set of brothers so corrupted and foul that nothing seems too extreme for them. They also encounter an unwelcome ghost from their past, lies intended to trap them, Indians with whom they fortunately get on, even if it is an uneasy alliance, and a host of ordinary events that pepper the lives of people over the years and ones part of a foundling community.

One of the larger challenges Belfrage herself encounters in portraying the relationship between Alex and Matthew is the bringing together of their two worlds. Like Magnus, readers may question not only how she adapts but also why she accepts some of the circumstances she does. Alex speaks well for herself on many occasions, not only to us but also her husband, who, while adamant in his determination to retain the patriarchal status as provided by the coverture system, also listens to and thoughtfully contemplates where his wife is from and what she says. The pair don’t always agree, but his serious deliberation exists, and the author maintains a balance not just for balance’s sake: she makes a considered approach to what is believable not only to us, but also to Matthew.

What works for Matthew might strike some modern readers as anachronistic, given the reputation 17th century men have for keeping women in their place. But Belfrage doesn’t deviate or follow a disingenuous path; Matthew is a strong enough personality that he would never allow this. He does come to “absorb” some of Alex’s perceptions or at least appreciate them, and though he makes himself heard, he also listens, forcing us to question our assumptions about his people’s humanity and sense of compassion.

Following an especially bitter and ongoing row over a minister tasked to educate their children in religious studies, the methods of which Alex objects, Matthew forces his wife to apologise for her rude behavior. Her refusal and subsequent avoidance of him—she is deeply hurt and angry at being humiliated via the minister’s relentless misogyny and Matthew’s failure to check it—in turn causing him despair at the “walls of impenetrable ice she was putting up around herself.”

When the pair at last arrive at a place where they can exchange words, he speaks his own hurt:

“Do you recollect, once, very many years ago, when you told me I was all you had?”

Of course she did; a dark night in Scotland when she’d pleaded with him to put her and her children first—before his religious convictions.

“It’s the same for me. You’re all I have, Alex. All I want and all I need, and when you choose to close me out as you’ve been doing these last few weeks, you leave me standing very alone in a cold and unwelcoming world.” He rested his forehead against hers. “I don’t like it out there on my own.”

As stated, however, Matthew is very much his own man, despite the control Belfrage holds over him.

“Another one?” Magnus sounded disgusted. “But David’s just seven months old!”

“As I said, it isn’t always easy to avoid.”

But, of course, in this specific case there’d been no question of attempting to avoid it. Matthew had set out to make her pregnant and she had silently acquiesced without really knowing why. That was a lie. She knew exactly why: because the loving had been spectacular, a reconfirmation that it was she and Matthew against he world—and because he’d demanded her submission.

Addressed in this installment as well are relations between the colonists and local Indian tribes, and Belfrage does an impressive job of bringing Alex’s 21st century sensibility into the mix without falling prey to what so many authors do: the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle anti-Americanism that has more to do with sneering than valuable critical commentary. With this formidable skill she enables readers to continue stepping through time closer to what it really looks like as opposed to a whitewashed version of events.

Indeed these are times when alliances could mean the difference between life and death, and with the Burleys on the rampage, warring Indian factions spilling over borders—unrecognised by them, of course—and the ghostly past inhabiting, indeed invading, his present, a friend is never unwelcome. The Grahams are provided with a uneasy glimpse, however, of what such partnerships might cost, as well as the fearful understanding that paying it may be their only option.

A Newfound Land, while part of a series, is readable as a stand-alone novel. While the past is a large part of the events occurring in this installment, Belfrage takes care of that by skillfully and effortlessly weaving necessary details throughout the story via dialogue and other means, which readers don’t at first realise are for their benefit because the author does not rely on formulaic fillers.

Having said that, prepare yourself for the need to go back to the beginning—not owing to any lacking of the current book, but rather because Belfrage’s storytelling, melodic, detailed, filled with the passion and hunger for life and historical understanding, will make you wish to experience all that as you peel away the layers of events that brought Alex and Matthew together in the first place.

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Read my review for A Rip in the Veil (Book I in The Graham Saga)

Read my review for Like Chaff in the Wind (Book II in The Graham Saga)

Read my review for The Prodigal Son (Book III in The Graham Saga) (with author interview)

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Anna Belfrage can be found on Amazon, Twitter and Facebook. You can also learn more about Belfrage, her characters and her world at her website and blog, which also contain details about her upcoming series.

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This post previously appeared in 2015 on the blog’s alternative location.

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