Saturday, 20 February 2010

Orchids (& other things) in Kew Gardens

The orchid display in the Princess of Wales conservatory...these are the first photos that I have taken with the camera and downloaded onto the computer.
This chap on the right might have escaped from one of the glass tanks, he was sitting out in the open only a foot away.   He didn't seem bothered by anyone.  Is he a chameleon?   Wasn't sure.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Daphne Du Maurier - Themes & Obsessions


Daphne Du Maurier's Desk
Photo taken at the Museum at Jamica Inn in Cornwall


Article First Published in Writing Magazine - October 1994
Copyright Carol Townend

This article has been scanned in and lightly revised.  I have made another of those resolutions to try and get one on the blog every couple of months...



Themes and obsessions in Daphne Du Maurier’s work

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
This, the opening line of Rebecca is both haunting and elegiac, it sets the mood and tone for the whole novel.  The dream-like, unreal quality does not let up until the last page, when the story turns back on itself and the reader is brought full circle by another dream in which the unnamed narrator sees the road to Manderley under a crimson sky.
    The Oxford Companion to English Literature devotes just six and a half lines to Dame Daphne Du Maurier (1906-1989) stating that many of her ‘popular novels and period romances, including her most famous Rebecca, are set in the West Country.’
This is a small entry for an author whose work has given pleasure to millions, and yet an entry which sums up precisely the difficulties Du Maurier felt she faced in gaining acceptance in the literary world.
    In her biography of Daphne Du Maurier, Margaret Forster points out that Du Maurier’s phenomenal success as a bestselling novelist earned her the tag ‘popular’, and the fact that many of her stories are romantic in the Wuthering Heights sense earned her the label ‘romantic’ with a capital R.  Ironically, once Du Maurier had earned these tags, her credibility as a writer who had something serious to say was undermined, and literary recognition was slow in coming.
    Du Maurier’s narrative style is descriptive and fluent - easy to read but capable of conveying a powerful sense of atmosphere and menace.    Among her works are Don’t Look Now which was made into an eerie film starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, and The Birds - a short story that became a famous Hitchcock horror.
    The best known of her novels - Jamaica Inn; Rebecca; Frenchman’s Creek; The King’s General; The Scapegoat; The House on the Strand - are all atmospheric, and bristling with tension.
   Of her books, Rebecca has been the most successful, and an examination of its themes helps to understand why it has such a strong resonance for so many people. The themes are unusual, and not all of them are immediately accessible.
    The Rebecca Notebook published by Victor Gollancz, gives a chapter by chapter breakdown of Du Maurier’s workings on the plot of the novel, and in this Du Maurier explains that she wrote Rebecca partly to explore the emotion of jealousy. She was much affected by thoughts of a woman to whom her husband had once been engaged. Would she have been jealous if he had been married before?
    In Rebecca a gauche, inexperienced Cinderella of a girl meets an attractive widower, Maxim de Winter, and marries him, but there is much more to the novel than that. A brief exposition of the plot is needed here:
    The girl (the unnamed narrator from whose viewpoint the book is written, and who at the start of the book is a rich woman’s companion) has been told that de Winter is still grieving over the tragic death of his vivacious and beautiful first wife.
    When the narrator falls in love with de Winter, her self-image is so low that she thinks there is no hope for her, but to her astonishment de Winter proposes. They marry.
    The couple return to his famous ancestral home, Manderley, and there the ‘second Mrs de Winter’ finds herself haunted (not literally, but psychologically) by the ghostly presence of Maxim’s dead wife, Rebecca, and the sinister real presence of the grim housekeeper, Mrs Danvers.
    Superficially, Rebecca has all the ingredients of a gothic romance, of which Jane Eyre is a classic example. There is a dark, moody hero. There is a brooding old house crammed full of secrets on the edge of the rugged Cornish countryside and overlooking the sea. There are also mysterious undercurrents.
    The reader senses that nothing is as it seems, and that the shy, insecure narrator will be unable to cope with the drama and passion that her obsession with the first, dead, Mrs de Winter is sure to stir up.
    As the plot unfolds (and it is beautifully crafted with a couple of stunning twists towards the end) the innocent narrator grows in maturity and self- understanding as she begins to resolve the mystery surrounding Rebecca and her tragic death.
    Initially the narrator’s grasp of her own personality is tenuous. She tells us she is handicapped by a rather desperate gaucherie and filled with an intense desire to please. Her character is largely unformed. She is introverted and extremely susceptible to the will of others.
    Rebecca, by contrast, had been everything the narrator is not. Rebecca, the narrator tells herself, was beautiful. Rebecca was confident. Rebecca was clever; good at organising Manderley and a brilliant and witty hostess. Maxim adored her. The narrator’s inferiority complex runs wild, and she convinces herself that Rebecca must have been a saint.
    Criticism has been levelled at this novel because of the apparent weakness of the main character. But the second Mrs de Winter’s insecurity lies at the heart of the novel. It is vital the narrator should have a shy, introspective nature, otherwise she would not be intimidated and awed by the dead Rebecca.
    In classic gothic novels, the heroine’s life is often threatened physically, while in modern psychological novels, the danger often lurks within the character’s own psyche. Rebecca is a deft blend of the two. The threats to the second Mrs de Winter are real but by the end of the book she discovers that her own personality has been the cause of much of her torment.
    Psychologically Rebecca is perfectly crafted, showing how people are fascinated by those who are their opposites. The second Mrs de Winter is a thinker rather than a doer.  She has a passive, introverted personality, and becomes obsessed with the first Mrs de Winter, an extrovert who was everything she was not, and apparently possessed those qualities the narrator covets for herself. Obsession, therefore, is another theme running through the book.
    Rebecca was published in 1938 - well after the great gothic novels of the 18th and 19th centuries - but the book prefigures later psychological thrillers.   The success of Rebecca, and other Du Maurier works with similar themes, has undoubtedly influenced the development of the psychological thriller.
    The idea of characters who become preoccupied with people who possess qualities that they themselves lack, ties in closely with another of Du Maurier’s favourite themes, and one which she tackles almost twenty years later in The Scapegoat.  This time it is the need for a character to accept and reconcile opposing and paradoxical sides of his nature that lies at the core of the book.
    Novelists have to be good psychologists, otherwise their characters are not convincing. If the psychology is wrong, then the characters will not sit well in the novel, and we have a jigsaw puzzle where none of the pieces fit.   Du Maurier had an instinctive and acute understanding of psychology; so her characters’ motivations are convincing and her stories ring true.
    When a novelist chooses to write about themes similar to those they have tackled before they do not have to restrict themselves to similar plots - take a look at The Scapegoat.
    The main character in The Scapegoat is John, a responsible but rather lifeless individual who feels he has achieved nothing in life, he is depressed. He has no family, no ties, and feels cut off from his fellows. He meets the Comte Jean de Gué, a charming roué, who is his exact double, and is everything but responsible.
    Jean drugs John, and walks off, effectively stealing John’s life and catapulting him into a new life as Comte Jean de Gué.   The psychological profile of John echoes that of the second Mrs de Winter in that both feel insecure and inadequate.

Some biographies of Dame Daphne Du Maurier:
Margaret Forster: Daphne Du Maurier.
Flavia Leng: Daphne Du Maurier, A Daughter’s Memoir
Martyn Shalicross: The Private World of Daphne Du Maurier

Published in Writing Magazine October 1994
Copyright Carol Townend


View of Bodmin Moor from Jamaica Inn - November 2009

Friday, 5 February 2010

Blackthorn Winter - Cover, Blurb, Excerpt, Reviews

Blackthorn Winter is the second of the Herevi Sagas.   The decades-old feud between the De Ronciers and the Herevis is first explored in the earlier medieval saga The Stone Rose. The eBook edition is out in October 2014. 
Here's the new cover with the blurb below:






















THE SECOND BOOK IN AN INVOLVING AND HEART-RENDING SERIES ABOUT A FAMILY FEUD IN TWELFTH CENTURY BRITTANY.
Arlette de Roncier, the young and innocent daughter of Count François de Roncier, one of the most ruthless nobles in Brittany, agrees to an arranged marriage in faraway Aquitaine. She has no idea that her father’s greed for a few acres of family land has led him to murder his own flesh and blood.
Arlette is sent to meet her betrothed, unaware that one of the men in her entourage, Gwionn Leclerc, is in truth her distant cousin, Raymond Herevi. Raymond has seen his family destroyed by Count François and is out for revenge. In Arlette he thinks he has found the perfect scapegoat...
This story is not a traditional romance, but a richly detailed evocation of living and loving in the middle ages. First published in 1993, Blackthorn Winter has been revised and given a less ambiguous ending.

Readers Write

‘I am a big fan of Elizabeth Chadwick and I think this book matches the storytelling talent of Chadwick. Loved it.’

Some places that inspired Blackthorn Winter:



Rocamadour, South West France
Medieval Gateway - Rocamadour

The sword of Roland embedded in the rock in the Ecclesiastical City - just visible on top left 


The famous Black Madonna - pilgrims come to pray here

The place where St Amadour's body was found


Ecclesiastical City
Roofs in the lower town seen from the Ecclesiastical City



Vannes, Brittany in France


St Peter's, Vannes
Locmariaquer, church


Romanesque arches in Locmariaquer church


Dolmen of Mane-Lud, Locmariaquer

To read a sample, please click below:
Below is the 1993 cover of the original Headline edition.
Cover Blurb
The Breton castle of Huelgastel is not the easiest place to believe yourself the equal of any man, and though Arlette de Roncier tries her utmost to prove herself, the only way she will ever be a worthwhile offspring in her father Count Francois de Roncier's eyes is to make a favourable marriage.   But marriage is not what Arlette wants - and especially not on the Count's terms.

In the nearby village of Locmariaquer, Raymond Herevi sits and waits, licking the wounds that de Roncer's men inflicted when they overran his father's manor.   Raymond has lost his family and his heritage, and some of his good looks, to de Roncier's thugs and is determined on vengeance.

When Raymond arrives at Huelgastel, disguised as a would-be squire, Arlette immediately catches his eye.  Her glossy red hair is a beacon that draws him across France to the Aquitaine where Arlette is to join her betrothed - a man more than three times her age.  It seems the situation is ripe for Raymond to gain his revenge...

This novel was inspired by a true story, that of Agnes of Essex. In 1163 Agnes’ father was disgraced and her fiancé, Aubrey de Vere, the first Earl of Oxford, rejected her. Agnes of Essex was shut up in a tower and at length the Church insisted that the marriage took place.  Please see the comments box below!

Excerpts

Count Etienne drew himself up to his full height. 'Use what weapon you will girl. There will be no wedding between you and me. I've no use for you. I'll give you a day to pack your belongings. You can take your entourage back to Brittany.'
'I shall not go.'
'Indeed you will.'
The Count's face suffused, just like her father's did when he was angered. It made Arlette's heart quail.
'No, I won't,' she stood firm. She was used to standing firm in the face of a man's fury. . . 'I will be your wife. I will become Countess Favell. You have made a legal contract with me and, God help me, I'll make you honour it.'

.....................................................................................................................................................


A deep flush stole over Arlette's cheeks. 'You kiss very sweetly. I didn't know it could be so sweet to kiss a lover'
'We're not lovers,' Gwionn said.
She pushed his hand into the neck of her gown and placed it on her breast. Impossibly her expression was trusting, innocent and seductive all at once. Her breast was warm, a perfect handful. Barely Gwionn mastered the desire to press himself upon her.
'No. But we will be.'

The Stone Rose - Cover, Blurb, Excerpt, Reviews etc

The first of the Herevi Sagas. The new 2013 eBook edition is now available.

Here's the new eBook cover:


Cover Blurb
THE FIRST BOOK IN A PASSIONATE AND POIGNANT STORY OF A FAMILY FEUD IN TWELFTH CENTURY BRITTANY. WILL LOVE AND INNOCENCE TRIUMPH?

The illegitimate daughter of a knight and his concubine, Gwenn Herevi has all the innocence of youth. But she grows up quickly when a festering family feud erupts into violence, pitting her father against her uncle. At stake are the family lands in Brittany.

Into this scenario come Captain Alan le Bret and his cousin Ned Fletcher, mercenaries from England in the pay of Gwenn’s uncle. One woman, two men – passions run high as their lives become entangled and choices must be made.
A richly detailed evocation of living and loving in the twelfth century.

To read an excerpt, please click on the widget below:



Below is the cover of the original 1992 edition - publisher: Headline:


Original Cover Blurb



Life at Sir Jean's St Clair's Breton manor is peaceful enough until he finally marries his concubine, Yolande Herevi, and a legal heir is born.  Count Francois de Roncier cannot stomach this final insult from his mother's relatives, the Herevis - it seems he has not succeeded in removing the threat to his estate and lands by merely exiling them - and he determines that this time St Clair and his family will be shown no mercy.

Young, beautiful and no longer as naive as she once was, Gwenn Herevi escapes from a bloody massacre to find herself beholden to the two soldiers of fortune she once thought her worst enemies...And set on a course that will reveal the secret of the Stone Rose - her grandmother's mysterious madonna.


Excerpt

Her eyes were dark as sloes. They were inviting. He let her keep his hands and cautiously dipped his head so his mouth found hers. It was the first time they had kissed as lovers and it was very sweet. Her lips were warm. They trembled beneath his, and while she did not fling herself at him, she did not draw back either. Her eyes were huge watching him and something in them made his insides melt. And then because the sight of her was threatening to make him lose control, Alan shut his eyes, fought down a desire to snatch her into his arms, and made his mouth explore hers slowly.


Reviews

'passionate and poignant'
- Lancashire Evening Post

'an absorbing story full of colour, vigour and romance'
- Birmingham Evening Post

'startlingly dramatic and compelling reading'
- Million


Readers Write

‘Rich in literary allusion.’

‘Gripped until the end.’



Inspiration for one of the scenes in The Stone Rose came from the village of Shere which has had its fair share of saints and sinners.  The village stocks are sited outside the pub, and local miscreants might have been pelted with rotten eggs and old cabbages.



















Unusually, in the case of the village of Shere, it's the saint who fascinates rather than the sinner...



Shere Church, St James's, housed an achoress in the fourteenth century. Her name was Christine Carpenter. Christine was enclosed in a cell built into the wall of the church in 1329. She was actually bricked in! It's hard to believe that someone would be voluntarily enclosed in this way. (Christine wasn't literally a saint, later on in her life she broke out of the cell and had to be forcibly re-enclosed, poor woman.) 




The picture below is the squint through which Christine would peer to watch Church services.



















And this is the quatrefoil through which Christine received Holy Communion.


















There was likely to have been an aperture in the outside wall of the Church through which Christine would have received her food and drink, though I very much doubt she would be able to see the fruit and vegetables growing in the villagers' field strips. She would have listened to pilgrims pleading for her to intercede for them, and she might perhaps have put in a plea or two of her own. She might have asked for apples, or plums, or bread baked from freshly ground wheat.   In one account Christine escaped her cell several times and in the end was allowed her freedom.  Learning about Christine Carpenter inspired one of the escape scenes in The Stone Rose.

Some places mentioned in The Stone Rose:

Vannes, Brittany in France


Ancient covered wash houses in Vannes by the river
St Peter's Cathedral, Vannes


Suscinio Castle, Ancient Hunting Lodge of Dukes of Brittany


Suscinio




Dolmen, Locmariaquer



Rose-coloured rocks in Ploumanach
















Church at Locmariaquer, Brittany

Royal Russia - Cover etc

(Blog file update)
Publisher: John Blake Publishing

Latest Publication: 2006 Hardback
(1st published GB 1995 Hardback Smith Gryphon)




Introduction:
Royal Russia brings you 140 photographs from the private albums of the Russian Imperial Family with a 5,000 word historical introduction by Carol Townend. Carol tells the tragic tale in a clear, lucid and authoritative style. All rare or previously unpublished, the photographs, some formal, some delightfully informal, portray the last years of the Imperial Family. Beginning with portraits of a life of great luxury enjoyed in palaces and on grand estates, the story ends with the brutal execution of almost everyone pictured.


The Foreword by HRH Prince Michael of Kent, himself a blood relation of the Romanov family, reads:

'I am pleased to endorse this accurate and well-researched little book. The interesting photographs, some never published before, combine with the text to provide a telling account of this poignant and moving period of Russian history.'


The section headings are as follows: A Doomed Dynasty, Star-crossed Lovers, The Children of Tragedy, Mystics and Bolsheviks, End of the Empire, The Ekaterinburg Massacre.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Leaves on the Wind - the original UK cover, blurb and excerpt

Publisher: Harlequin Mills and Boon

First published: 1990






















Original UK Cover Blurb:

Cyprus 1099 - the First Crusade had just ended, and Rannulf de Mandeville sought a ship to return him to his brother Hugo's estate in England.

At the harbour he idly watched a slave auction - and saw Judith Coverdale, the daughter of the Saxon lord who once owned Hugo's land, being sold to a House of Pleasure.  The hatred that existed between Saxon and Norman at Mandeville Chase would rule out any future, but he could not leave her to her fate...

Excerpt

That first kiss had gone some way towards preparing Judith for the havoc Rannulf could create within her. His lips felt warm. The gentle pressure increased. This time she did not pull away. They were standing very close. His hands were firmly linked to hers, his lips were moving gently over her mouth but that was all. There was no other contact. Their bodies were not touching but the muscles in her stomach tensed, and a warm, sweet tide of feeling flooded her senses.



Readers Write


‘I can’t tell you how much I loved that book. It was one of the books that made me want to write…’

Sapphire in the Snow - Cover, Blurb, Excerpt

WINNER of the ROMANTIC NOVELISTS' ASSOCIATION NEW WRITERS' AWARD
First published in 1989 with Harlequin Mills and Boon, this début novel has been revised and reissued in paperback and as an e-book.

Cover for new e-book Edition























New Cover Blurb

KIDNAPPED BY THE ENEMY…

Raised in a convent, innocent Beatrice Giffard never imagined she’d be stolen away by the fierce Saxon warrior, Edmund of Lindsey. Her handsome abductor is going to use her as a political pawn because she is Norman!

After his brother is killed in a massacre, Edmund is thirsty for vengeance. Using Beatrice will bring him closer to his enemy, but he’s unprepared for the strong attraction to this beautiful maiden. Her gentle ways are laying siege to his heart…but how will he choose between protecting his family or loving her? 

Sapphire in the Snow is a passionate and dramatic medieval romance set in England in the turbulent aftermath of the Norman Conquest. 
This début novel won the Romantic Novelists’ Association Award for New Writers in 1989. 

To read an excerpt, please click on the widget below:






















Original Cover Blurb

Bullied out of her French convent to accompany her cousin, Lady Anne de Vidames, to her wedding in England to Aiden, Thegn of Lindsey, Beatrice is at first bemused, and then torn, by this twist in her fate.   Anne's escort, Baron Philip de Brionne, has no love for the Saxons, despite the edicts of William the Conqueror, and he precipitates a massacre!  
Rescuing Edmund, Aiden's half-brother and newly Thegn on Aiden's death, Beatrice uses her nursing skills to good effect.   Except that when Edmund recovers enough to go into hiding, he takes Beatrice along too!

Excerpt

The kiss went wild. Her lips softened, parted for him. Gold fire ran along her veins. He'd set her alight. Every inch of her tingled where she had touched him . His mouth moved under hers, warm and tender. She pressed closer. She could feel the warmth of his chest through her gown and it made her breasts ache. Even the leg that was still half over him tingled too. Beatrice groaned and, soft and malleable as melting wax, she sagged against him.
    Edmund ran a hand down the length of her body. A frisson of delight rippled through her.
    How do you do that?' she gasped.

Readers Write

Here's what a reader says of the original on Goodreads.


A recent reader on Amazon.com gives the new edition 5 stars. 

 
   
      Sapphire in the Snow
   
 
  

 



 

Reviews from Goodreads.com

 'Comes over beautifully. A real love story with gentleness.'

'I'm not a reader but I loved it. TV firmly off!'

'Couldn't put it down. Read to the end.'


'Stayed up until 3 am to finish it.'

A recent review of the original edition may be found here.



A moody view of the Fens

Shattered Vows - Cover, Blurb, Excerpt

First published in 1989 with Harlequin Mills & Boon

News...

Shattered Vows has been revised and re-released as an e-book. (August 2013.) It is set in Yorkshire in the twelfth century, in the anarchy of King Stephen's reign. Here's the  cover for the New Revised Edition:


Shattered Vows - Revised Edition



Blurb for the New Revised Edition:


TRAPPED! CAN LOVE FREE HER? 

Rosamund Miller longs for the lord's handsome squire, but is forced to wed another. And now she must face the dreaded custom of droit de seigneur, the lord's right to bed a new bride in King Stephen's England. 

Warrior Oliver de Warenne is determined to become a knight, to gain wealth and power by wielding his sword. And he has hardened his heart against all else, including the lovely miller's daughter. 
Then one night changes everything for them both...

Passionate and involving, this medieval romance is set in twelfth century England during the troubled reign of King Stephen.

A major theme of this novel is class division in medieval England. I tried to give a real feel of how it would have been, which sometimes makes for uncomfortable reading. The droit de seigneur conceit is a familiar one and it seemed to fit the theme.
Rosamund would have had little education and little understanding of life at the castle, but she has a great heart. She is a wonderful teacher. Oliver too has been moulded by his upbringing and by what life has thrown at him. He has many prejudices. Rosamund - and love - redeem him.

To read an excerpt, please click on the widget below:



A review of the Revised Edition of Shattered Vows may be seen on Amazon.co.uk.

The original cover and blurb - it was published by Mills & Boon in 1989 - are below.



Original Cover Blurb

It was a moment out of time, for the miller's maid and the squire from the castle, as they dallied on May Day. It was unlikely they would ever meeet again. Rosamund Miller was to marry the stone-dresser, and Oliver de Warenne was hell-bent on winning his knight's spurs from his cousin, Sir Geoffrey Fitz Neal - and in the anarchy that was Stephen's reign, he had every chance. But when the miller asked Sir Geoffrey's permission for Rosamund to wed, the lord ignored the bride fine and demanded droit de seigneur. It was unheard of! No-one could remember when a lord had taken a bride's first night.  Geoffrey's mischief caught Rosamund and Oliver in a chain of events that turned their world upside down.


Excerpt (from the original edition)

She had tried to imagine this kiss. Some deep primitive instinct buried in the core of her had known Oliver's kiss would not be like anyone else's. Somehow she had known she would not shrink from the touch of Oliver's hands on her body.

But her wildest imaginings had not prepared her for reality. She had had no experience which had ever hinted that a kiss could be like this.



Readers Write

I have read it several times and have loved it…A wonderful novel, full of romance and humour – pure escapism for a wet afternoon.