Tuesday, 26 November 2019

A rainy day in London...

... a couple of weeks ago...

I had the great pleasure of visiting the The Pre-Raphaelite Sisters exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  It's been a while since my last visit here, but London was busy despite the rain, the gallery was espacially busy, probably because of the rain, and the restaurant was full of people keeping out of the rain.  Luckily I'd booked in advance.

The exhibition presents the work of the women who are mostly known as the subjects of the paintings of the pre-raphaelite brotherhood.  But in their own way these women produced works of art just as compelling and stunningly beautiful as their male counterparts.  There are works by 12 women in total including Christina Rossetti, Effie Gray Millais and Joanna Boyse Wells.

During the course of my afternoon there as I meandered from room to room, I had to marvel at the colours of the paintings, the detail included, the careful positioning of the subjects to tell the story of the picture.  One of my favourite little items is a simple water colour, undated but attributed to Effie Ruskin - subsequently Millais once her marriage to Ruskin was annulled.  What I especially like about the picture is that, as I look at it, I feel as though I can step onto the path and therefore into the garden itself.  I never tire of art that conveys that impression.  Taking a few steps back, I can see and understand the science and form of the composition and I have to ponder whether the artist specifically chose that composition or just came upon and thought it would make a great picture.  In this particular room there are also drawings that became full portraits and it is fascinating to see the progression from pencil and paper to framed oil on board or canvas.

In the room for Joanna Boyce Wells, the face depicted in the painting, Thou Bird of God, catches my attention immediately.  The eyes of the subject stare out at you and invite you, or maybe compel you to come in.  In this room I can feel her eyes resting on me benignly.  It's almost as though she is making sure that I don't miss a single item on display.  My catalogue for the exhibition tells me that this particular picture dates from 1861 and is on loan from a private collection.  I have to say, I greatly envy the owner who can look into those eyes every day whenever he, she or they wish.  Luckily for me, this image is reproduced on a set of Christmas cards in the gallery shop.  I can take a copy of her home with me.  It won't be the same as the real piece of art, but it will be enough and if I decide to have the card framed, I already know exactly where I shall hang my copy.

A very happy two hours later and I grab a coffee and begin leafing through details of the lives of the women and their art set out in the book.  I want to preserve the visual feast of colour for as long as I possibly can whilst I'm still in the relative peace and quiet of the gallery.  My table is in a corner out of the way and, as I'm sat with my back to the room, I'm hoping I will be left in peace.  However, I can't stay for too long as I need to catch my train home.  But at least I will have my catalogue...

The exhibition is running through until January next year and is well worth a visit.  You can access the exhibition and book tickets using the link at the top of the page...

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Friend and author, Alice Castle...

... makes a very welcome return to the blog this week.  Hi, Alice, thanks for being here and I think you have something very different for us today...

AC  Hi Angela, lovely to be on your blog to talk about my psychological thriller, The Perfect Widow.
The Perfect Widow is quite a departure for me.  I’ve written seven cozy crime novels, starting with Death in Dulwich.  They are gently humorous whodunits set in a ‘yummy mummy’ world.  The Perfect Widow is, by contrast, a chilling read about a woman who may or may not be a ruthless killer.
Although the books are quite different in tone, they do all explore some central themes I find really compelling.  I am fascinated by the fact that we all tell lies, to protect ourselves or our families.  Often these are unconscious and harmless. Sometimes they are not.  I’m also always interested to know how far people will go to preserve a life they love.  I like to push my characters to extremes and see what they will do – so that we don’t have to go there ourselves!
I’ve long been a fan of the domestic noir genre.  Ever since reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier I’ve been intrigued by what goes on at the centre of the home.  It should be the place where we feel safest but often, very sadly, it turns out to be the most dangerous place in the world.  Statistics show that three women a week are currently being killed in the UK by their partners.  These crimes usually occur behind closed doors.
As well as hopefully providing people with a gripping read, domestic thrillers often provide a mirror to things that should, or should not, be happening to readers themselves.  They can be a guide to forms of abuse and control that are not right, but which can be hard to spot from the inside.  Partners who exercise coercive control, for instance, often ramp it up very slowly, so that by the time the situation becomes entrenched, it is difficult for its victim to see it clearly for what it is, much less escape.  We often shut our eyes to what may or may not be happening in other peoples’ relationships – the ‘clumsy’ friends who are always walking into doors, for instance – but domestic noir books can help by sounding alarm bells.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that most writers of, and readers of, domestic noir are women.  We know this stuff from the inside out.  We live it.  Why, then, do we still consider it entertainment?  The shock of the twist, the bump of your heart rate as the heroine faces peril – it is all designed to be unrelaxing.  But there is always a denouement, and I haven’t read a psychological thriller yet where the perpetrator gets off Scott free.  In a world where rapists and abusers routinely escape justice, it’s no wonder that we find this sort of ending supremely satisfying.  I hope readers will enjoy my own contribution to the genre!

about the author... Before turning to crime, Alice Castle was a feature writer on national newspapers including the Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Alice writes psychological thrillers for HQDigital under the name A.M. Castle. The first, The Perfect Widow, was published in November 2019. She also writes the Death in Dulwich cozy crime series for Darkstroke/Crooked Cat as Alice Castle. The seventh in the series, The Slayings in Sydenham, came out in December 2019. Alice lives in south London and is married with two children, two step-children and two cats.

You can follow Alice on Twitter or her website Website.

You can find her books on Amazon and Death in Dulwich is also available as an Audio Book

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

I'm in conversation with Aria Ligi...

... author of the collection of poetry, The Hammer of God.

I was sent a copy of this collection of poetry for an honest and frank review.  All comments recorded here are solely my own.

I have always loved poetry and have spent many hours reading, learning and reciting the work of many and varied poets from Shakespeare and Spenser to more modern-day greats such as Sassoon, Owen, Auden, Plath, Hughes and many others.  It was a great pleasure to be asked to review this particular collection.
As with any author new to me, I go straight to the writing.  I want to read the words without any pre-conceived ideas and without any background knowledge that might colour my enjoyment or influence my assessment of their work.
I thoroughly enjoyed this particular body of work.  Each poem has its own rhythm which changes and flows as the words move through the exposition of the central subject to a conclusion.  For me, that is important.  A poem is an entity in itself in the same way that a novel moves from its beginning to a conclusion.  I was impressed by this author's use of language and her extensive vocabulary - there have been so many times I've picked up a poem that began well but quickly fell into doggerel, often purely for the sake of the rhyme.  There's none of that in this collection.
I found the subject matter of some of the poetry to be a little heavy.  I did get the opportunity to ask Aria about this and her explanation provided the clarity I needed.  Having started writing when she was eight, Aria became interested in anything that would allow her to express herself.  Like me, she grew up in a house full of books.  At 'a very young age', she said, she 'was reading Byron, Poe. Yeats, etc' and had her 'first poem published at the age of eight, which was a small work about birds.'
When prompted about The Hammer of God she said it 'was written following the deaths of several family members. These events along with the political and racial turmoil that was starting to seep into the social landscape were a catalyst' for the collection.  Through her poetry Aria admitted she had tried to find 'solace'.  And yes, I get that.  The poetic form can, and does support the presentation of difficult and harrowing subjects.  So many of the poems in this collection caused me to think and to go back and re-read them.
Having had a life-long association with poetry myself, it has just never occurred to me to write in that form, my preference being for stories and novels.  I was intrigued to find out if Aria had only ever written poetry.  'I have written five screenplays, many short stories and a novel,' she said.  But then admitted that she did 'find novels tough and prose more of a sticky wicket in terms of keeping the thread going.'  Hmmm and I know exactly what she means!
One last thing that I wanted to put to Aria was about the use of illustrations in her book.  As I was reading through it I noticed a Delarouche, a Cowper, an Edwin Davis illustration, and a mention of Dali (I assumed Salvador) in one of the poems.  Aria, like a lot of creative people, loves the arts, per se.  And she said she has 'been drawing since a very young age,' of about 'five or six.'  No wonder the collection is illlustrated so well.

about the book... The book begins with a chord of anger, with the titular work, Hammer of God, traveling through personal angst which then reaches outward to worldly considerations returning at the end, to a place of peace.  This is rather akin to therapy in which the individual who seeks help is often distraught, but through inner reflection, finds solace in the process, and through it comes out on the other side, wholly changed, and often to such an extent, they are no longer the same.

about the author... Aria Ligi is an award-winning poet who has been writing for over fifty years.  She has a great love of history, and in particular, the English Romantics. Her work has appeared in October Hill’s Winter’s, Fantasy Realm, Z Publication’s New York’s Best Emerging Poets anthology, Light Journal: the Australian Times, University of South Dakota’s Vermillion Literary Project, and New Poetry to name a few.  She has been a frequent guest on Progressive News Network’s Blog Talk Radio and is the Senior Poetry Editor at October Hill Magazine.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Remember, remember, the fifth of November…

Image from Pixabay
… the gunpowder, treason and plot…

I'm sure that, as children, those of you from the UK, will have chanted this little rhyme  on this day at some point in the past.  Just as I have.  But I have no intention of dwelling on the exploits of Mr Fawkes today!

Across the world, there are other things of note happening today.  In Australia, one of the most prestigious and most well-known horse races is being run today.  The Melbourne Cup was instituted in 1861, the field included 17 horses, and the prize was 700 gold sovereigns.  Now, the race always runs on the first Tuesday in November.  It is also a public holiday in the state of Victoria.  The event draws enormous crowds and attracts a healthy TV audience too.  Estimates are that more 100,000 people are likely to attend the race track this year and some 700 million people worldwide are expected to be tuning in.  So, if you fancy a change from burning effigies and costly fireworks, you could just hop onto Captain James T Kirk's transporter and get yourself a bit of Ozzy magic.

All that travel a bit too much?  Well, I can tell you that today is also dedicated to the Saints Elizabeth and Zachary, the parents of John the Baptist.  And don't worry, I'm not getting all religious all of a sudden.  It's just that having mentioned a 'baddie' at the top of this post, I feel obliged to bring Elizabeth and Zachary to your attention, to provide a balance.

In addition to the parents of John the Baptist, this day is shared with Elizabeth Ann Seton (previously Bayley, 1774 - 1821).  Her parents, Dr Richard and Mrs Catherine Bayley, were some of the earliest European settlers in the area of New York.  Despite many privations throughout her life, Elizabeth established the first Catholic Girls' School in Maryland and founded the first American congregation of the Sisters of Charity.  In recognition of her work, Elizabeth was canonised in 1975, making her the earliest born American to become a Saint.

Image from Pixabay by D Zitouniatis
But that's not all.  Are you aware that today is also National Doughnut Day (NDD)?  Well, it is, and this festival occurs twice a year.  Today, and there's the original NDD that is celebrated in June which was first established in the 1930s.

Of course, there are other celebrations happening across the world today, too.  But with a limit of 500 words, I can't cover them all.  What I can say is that later this afternoon I will be celebrating with a scrummy jam doughnut.  As I munch my way through it, I might possibly ponder whether Guy Fawkes, had he seen the headlines in the British papers of late, would think that perhaps he may have been born in the wrong century!

Saturday, 2 November 2019


... picks up some glowing reviews...

Authors need reviews like humans require air to breathe. They are essential to a book's existence and provide the author with feedback from a wider audience than just his/her editor, agent and beta readers. Reviews provide balance and the specific content can be used by an author when making choices about the path of future stories. As Dame Agatha Christie once said, 'criticism… is helpful' as 'you know how' the book 'has struck one reader'.

Today I'm delighted to say that Marseille, the fourth book in my Jacques Forêt series of cosy crime mysteries has picked up some fabulous reviews on Amazon already.

The first reviewer found the book to be an 'enjoyable French policier'. This particular individual went on to say that they were 'getting hooked on' the mystery series as a whole. And from my point of view as the author, that is really great to know, so thank you. The reviewer also said that they liked the 'characters and the descriptions of the countryside, villages and people.'

The second reviewer headlined his review with the comment that Marseille was 'a really great story.' He goes on to say that he started to read it and just kept 'on going' until he got to the end. I really hope he didn't lose too much sleep as a result! For me, that comment means the pace of the novel has hit the right level.

As an avid reader myself, I have often picked up crime or mystery stories and found myself so engrossed that it is the end of the day as well as the end of the book before I lift my head out of the book. And there's something, in my own humble opinion, that is very satisfying about that. I also think that only the crime and mystery genre really fit that kind of treatment. I have a sneaking suspicion that it may have been Agatha Christie who made some sort of comment about crime novels being readable in a day. When I was a youngster and gradually working my way through all the crime novels in my local library alphabetically, being able to get to the end of the puzzle at one sitting was always my preference as the agony of having to wait until the next day to get to the end was just too much.

A third reviewer has labelled the book as 'a good read'. The comment may be short and to the point, but it says all it needs to say. Thank you.

For the reviewers who asked for more stories - yes, there will be more, just not quite yet, as I need to take a break from Jacques. Lastly, I just want to record my very grateful thanks to these reviewers for their comments and for taking the time to read my book.

You can read the reviews Here and Here and the quote above and others are available on Literary Ladies Website