Elizabeth

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Margaret Llewelyn Davies (1861-1944) was, from the 1890s to the 1930s, an inspirational campaigner for women’s causes who has, quite undeservedly, been allowed to slip almost into oblivion. Fortunately, a new book, Margaret Llewelyn Davies: with Women for a New World by Ruth Cohen, has just been published which sets the record straight. So what did Margaret do that we should remember her?

Margaret as a young woman: attractive, energetic, persuasive and with a great deal of charm; her friend Virginia Woolf remarked that she could ‘compel a steamroller to dance.’ 

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I wrote six novels between the age of ten and sixteen and the stories just poured out but, every now and then, I’d stop and think about a particularly grown-up word I wanted to use and feel pleased with myself when I found it. Naturally, I always looked forward to the next Big Scene – like the love scenes – and I have to confess that the occasional renunciation love scene always left me in tears.

Port Carnow Cove, Cornwall, from print in E. Hawksley’s collection

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A day or so ago I visited the British Museum – the first time for months. Of course, I had to book a timed slot, wear a mask, make sure I used the hand gel and so on; and we were only allowed on the ground floor, so I had a choice of things Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek, or Middle-Eastern. I decided to take a look at the Parthenon Frieze. I was particularly interested in the south frieze reliefs depicting a sacred procession with priests leading heifers to be sacrificed. One relief in particular, shown below, is supposed to have inspired the poet, John Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn.

 

The south frieze with the heifer

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A few days ago, I went to see The Enchanted Interior at the Guildhall Art Gallery, curated and developed by the Laing Art Gallery and Madeleine Kennedy, and adapted by the Guildford Art Gallery. It examined the fascination Oriental art and life in the Middle East held for Mid-Victorian to early 20th century British artists. What appears to have attracted them most was the allure of beautiful women hidden away in harems, living in a ‘gilded cage’. The exhibition is full of pictures of exotic Oriental interiors – usually in Constantinople (Istanbul) or Cairo, or somewhere similar. There are elaborately ornamental wooden grilles to keep the women safe from prying eyes; exotic, colourful Oriental carpets; maids bringing in food and drink; and – probably most the important – the women lounging on the carpets or ottomans all seem perfectly contented.

John Frederick, Life in the Harem, Cairo. 1858. The lady lounges on an ottoman, she has flowers in her lap. A female servant enters with refreshments. A eunuch follows her.

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If you need inspiration for a novel, you could do a lot worse than visit your nearest stately home. The magnificent Kenwood House, built in the 1760s by Robert Adam for the Earl of Mansfield, is not too far from where I live. It struck me that what novelists sometimes need is not an in depth knowledge of a stately home’s architectural highlights but a record of some of the everyday objects which a heroine would come across.

Rear of Kenwood House, showing the Orangerie

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 In the 21st century, Church of England clergy are hard-working men and women – usually running a number of parishes, as well as struggling to pay for the upkeep of churches which may be in need of serious repair. They are expected to have several services on Sundays, possibly in different parishes, and to see to the spiritual needs – and often the material needs, if the parish is a poor one, of their parishioners. They are also pretty poorly paid.  Still, at least they can count on a roof over their heads and the job carries a pension and the security of knowing that they will have somewhere to live once they retire.

Henry Tilney at Woodston, Northanger Abbey

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This is the week of my e-book launch of Highland Summer and I’d like to tell you a bit about the book.

I try to set myself a technical challenge with all my books and those of you who have been following my e-books story so far, will know that Highland Summer is where I intersperse the third person narrative with extracts from the heroine, Robina’s, journal, as I explained in my blog last week. It was fascinating to see how Robina’s character gradually changed as I allowed her to have her say in what was going on.

 

e-book cover for ‘Highland Summer’. I’m so thrilled it’s coming out tomorrow! Continue reading

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I am busy getting my Elizabeth Hawksley back list of ten historical novels into e-books The first e-book will be Highland Summer and I’ve been remembering the struggle to introduce my heroine, Robina (an intelligent but naive seventeen-year-old girl) in such a way as to make her interesting. The novel was in the third person and I was getting desperate. And then I had an idea: I would write Robina’s diary and see what happened. Perhaps a (temporary) first person viewpoint would help to free the block.

I’m stuck, dammit! What am I to do?

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On 10th May, I put up a post about my lockdown project of getting my Elizabeth Hawksley historical novels into e-books. Now, ten weeks later, the first book, Highland Summer is almost ready and it’s been a steep, not to say precipitous, learning curve. However, thanks to computer wizard John Hocking, and his wife Janet Gover, another computer wizard, both brilliant at explaining things, we are at last getting there.

Elizabeth looking apprehensive but trying not to show it. Photo by Sally Greenhill

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