A Visit to Stourhead National Trust: a Perfect Vision of an Idyllic Landscape and Lake; an Infamous ‘Romantic’ Encounter in the Temple of Apollo

Before visiting the gardens at Stourhead, Wiltshire the other day I looked forward to seeing for myself this ‘living work of art’, for I had created a brightly coloured, stylised copy of a photo of that iconic view just last year, during the first UK lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic.

When we visited the garden, originally created in the eighteenth century by the Hoare family, we learned that Henry “the Magnificent” (‘gentleman gardener’) had relied on elements of concealment and surprise in his grand vision of this classical landscape. So we took the route that Henry had set out specially for his guests to take, from the house to the lake, and experienced the concealment and surprise and revelation for ourselves.

The first lookout point, Stourhead gardens, from which you can see the Temple of Apollo
Further along the path from the first lookout point, Stourhead gardens
The second lookout point, Stourhead gardens – here you can see the Pantheon
The third lookout point, Stourhead gardens – a clearer view of the Pantheon

Finally, having received glimpses of both the Temple of Apollo and the Pantheon through the carefully selected, planted, cultivated and shaped trees, we came upon the iconic view itself, where you can see the Pantheon across the lake beyond the bridge:

The iconic view of bridge, lake and pantheon at Stourhead gardens

I was enchanted as this was the view I had copied in acrylic paints from a photo back in the lockdown. I felt as if I was walking into my own painting, albeit with more subtle colouring than my own fluorescent production!

Stylised acrylic copy of photo of the iconic view of lake and pantheon in the gardens at Stourhead

Later, after visiting the house, we walked around the lake and climbed up to the Temple of Apollo.

The steps at the Temple of Apollo at Stourhead gardens – this was where Keira Knightley stood, in the role of Lizzie Bennett, in the film of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when Darcy came striding towards her to propose marriage in the pouring rain – she turned him down.
The Pantheon which you can see across the lake, beyond the bridge, in the iconic view of Stourhead gardens
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A Visit to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard: HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose, a perfect time capsule that transports us into another world

On a recent trip to Portsmouth, we were absorbed into the lives of the great ships there, and their rich histories. The Mary Rose Museum shone out for us with its immersive experience and its astonishing recovery of details of the sailors’ lives back in 1545.

View of Portsmouth Gunwharf Quays Marine from the HMS Warrior

But HMS Warrior and HMS Victory also enthralled us as we explored both ships, full of wonder at the insights flooding in on us (in the metaphorical sense only!).

HMS Victory

The audio tour of the HMS Victory helped us to relive the dramatic and heartrending moments of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s fatal injury, his journey to the surgeon’s quarters and his final hours, with his loyal second-in-command Captain Hardy.

HMS Victory

The audio narration and dramatic re-enactment engaged us on every level, enabling us to imagine the feelings, sights, sounds and smells of that experience, along with all the emotions of horror and disgust and tragedy and to guess at how the news of victory may have provided some compensation to Nelson for the imminent loss of his life.

Underneath HMS Victory in the dry dock
Underneath the bow of HMS Victory

HMS Warrior, a magnificent Victorian armoured ship in immaculate condition ‘never fired a gun in anger’. Built in 1860 it ran on half sail half steam.

On board HMS Warrior

Now, with Living History actors on board playing the part of the original sailors we felt a real sense of how it must have been to spend time on board as a member of the crew.

HMS Warrior

Beyond these two wonderful ships, the Mary Rose Museum filled us with awe. Sunk in the Solent in 1545, and raised over four centuries later, the Mary Rose and her story exerts a curious power over us: her many artefacts recovered along with the mortal remains of 129 crew, this exhibition was a truly amazing experience for us. The number of people originally on board at the time of the tragedy is not known for sure and it varies between 500 and 700. It is thought the shop was overloaded, and this may have been one of the factors causing it to sink. The number of survivors is also thought to have been between 35 and 40. They would have chanced to be in the right place on the ship at the right time to escape and be rescued by small boats sent out to save them. Many others were trapped by the “anti-boarding nets” stretched over the decks to prevent the enemy swarming on board. The ship sunk very quickly, and half of it ended up deep in silt so it was preserved.

Now, the recovered part of the timber hull is held in a state of perfect equilibrium, so the timbers no longer need to be sprayed with water or viewed through portholes. Instead, thanks to a fine balance of atmosphere and temperature and a series of air-lock doors, we may gaze at the recovered hull in its entirety, at every deck level.

Most poignant of all are the many objects and possessions of the sailors and the remarkable amount of details about several individuals on board: the Master Gunner, the Master Carpenter, the Pursar, the Archer, the Surgeon – their lives, medical histories and personal items.

I am in awe of the skill, ingenuity and expertise of the archaeologists, the divers, the forensic anthropologists and other scientists and all those who made this exhibition possible, for us to see and imagine and empathise with those many hundreds of people who lost their lives that day in 1545.

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A Poignant Story from Charlestown, St Austell Cornwall

We recently visited Charlestown, a beautiful little Cornish seaport, which opened up several stories for me. Not only did we explore the moving and compelling tales of numerous historical shipwrecks and recovered artefacts  in the Shipwreck Treasure Museum: but also I learned the poignant story of the man who created, designed and built Charlestown: Charles Rashleigh.

Along with the history of Charles Rashleigh’s rise and fall, we have numerous heartrending accounts of shipwrecks in the museum. As we wander through the museum gazing at the recovered treasures and reading of the sea tragedies  we may reflect once again on the high risks humans take, for the chance of adventure and the dream of making their fortune. Some succeed; others perish. In no other sphere of human aspiration can we best reflect upon fate than in the realm of sea voyages. The sea remains powerful, mysterious, cruel and merciless: yet a source of unending wonder and attraction.

Charlestown Harbour  St Austell Cornwall

Charles started building the seaport in 1790. It was completed by 1804 and  has changed little since: now it is popular among film location scouts and has appeared as a film location on several occasions.

Views of Charlestown Harbour

The poignancy of Charles’s story lies in the fact that he created Charlestown out of his own personal wealth and was a hugely gifted man, for the port was highly successful: yet in later life he formed an attachment to 2 young men, Joseph Dingle and Joseph Daniel, who betrayed him and brought him to bankruptcy.  The whole story is told in the book ‘Charlestown: a guide to Charlestown and the Shipwreck Treasure Museum’ by Richard and Bridget Larn.

Blog Tour for ‘Creativity Matters’, a new inspirational anthology compiled by Wendy H Jones

I’m pleased to be hosting a stop on the blog tour today for an exciting new anthology for writers, Creativity Matters, the third of a series published by Scott and Lawson, and compiled by Wendy H Jones.

Wendy H Jones is a fellow author who has been a great encouragement to me and many other authors, and for this book she has invited a number of writers to contribute chapters. So you will find a wide variety of different types of writing represented here, together with varied outlooks and themes. This makes for a stimulating collection of encouraging pieces which seems set to be very popular among aspiring writers.

Wendy H Jones, author and compiler, Creativity Matters

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY 

Wendy H Jones is the Amazon #1 international best-selling author of the award winning DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries. Her Young Adult Mystery, The Dagger’s Curse was a finalist in the Woman Alive Readers’ Choice Award. She is also The President of the Scottish Association of Writers, an international public speaker, and runs conferences and workshops on writing, motivation and marketing. Wendy is the founder of Crime at the Castle, Scotland’s newest Crime Festival. She is the editor of a Lent Book, published by the Association of Christian Writers and also the editor of the Christmas Anthology from the same publisher. Her first children’s book, Bertie the Buffalo, was released in December 2018. Motivation Matters: Revolutionise Your Writing One Creative Step at a Time, was released in May 2019. The Power of Why: Why 23 Women Took the Leap to Start Their Own Business was released on 29th June, 2020. Marketing Matters: Sell More Books was released on 31st July 2020. Bertie Goes to the Worldwide Games will be released on 5th May, 2022,  and the third book in the Fergus and Flora Mysteries will be published in 2021. Her new author membership Authorpreneur Accelerator Academy launched in January 2021. Creativity Matters: Find Your Passion for Writing, the third book in her Writing Matters Series, is published in September 2021.

BLURB

Have you always thought about writing a book but don’t know where to start? Are you an experienced author and want to spread your wings? Are you looking for inspiration for every step in your writing journey? This is a book for everyone who wants to write, whether history or contemporary, science fiction or humour, local fiction or set in a made-up world, fiction, non-fiction, memoir, there’s something here for you. Join thirteen authors as they share their passion for why you should write in their genre and find your own passion as you read.

It’s time for you to spread your wings, follow your dreams and find your passion for writing.

MY REVIEW OF CREATIVITY MATTERS

This book brings us the work of several different authors, who have each contributed a chapter about the particular genre in which they write, and why they love it. The editor and compiler, Wendy H Jones, herself provides three chapters: on writing Humour, Crime and Non-fiction. In her introduction, she promises “ideas will be popping up and exploding all around you.” She  encourages the readers to have confidence in their ability to try new genres.

I enjoyed the array of authors who share their passion in this anthology. Sheena McLeod opens up the subject of historical non-fiction; she was first motivated by a desire to convey little known stories about Scotland’s history.

Next, Janet Wilson sets out her thoughts and feelings about children’s books; what she writes is powerful and inspiring, and it rings with truth.

Allison Symes writes flash fiction, and I will certainly be following her recommendation to polish up my writing exercises, turn them into flash fiction and submit to writing competitions.

Fay Rowland offers a witty and funny piece about scriptwriting.  Joy Margetts expresses her own passion for historical fact-based fiction; her dedication to research is evident.  Kirsten Bett writes Cat Tales, and again her passion for this genre shines through.  Jennifer Ngulube’s piece on writing memoir is challenging and stirring.

Maressa Mortimer provides two chapters:  in the first, on writing faith-based fiction, I found her arguments moving, convincing and thought-provoking.  The second, on writing novels set in a different world, sparkles with infectious enthusiasm, and fills the reader with a “can-do” attitude.

Nanette Fairley moves and excites us with her thoughts on writing in the ‘Third Age’. Andrew Chamberlain’s chapter on Science Fiction and Fantasy, I found fascinating, and it may well be the chapter that most inspires me.

Wendy H Jones writes in a stimulating and enjoyable way about crime and mystery; she gives good practical tips on the topic of writing Humour; and makes some intriguing points on the subject of writing Romance.

I love the quote at the end of the book, under the title “What Now?”

Fortune favours the brave and the future belongs to those who are not afraid to step out.

This is certainly a book which will awaken fresh enthusiasm and new ideas in its readers and encourage writers to try out new genres.

AMAZON LINK TO BUY 

Please include the hashtag #CREATIVITYMATTERS  and the following social media handles when you are sharing your posts about the book. Wendy’s website may be found here.

FACEBOOK

https://www.facebook.com/wendyhjonesauthor

TWITTER

@WendyHJones

AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE

INSTAGRAM

https://www.instagram.com/wendyhjones/

Compton Verney, Warwickshire

Sunflower at Compton Verney

Compton Verney is one of my favourite places in Warwickshire, and it features in my current WIP, Illustrated Tales of Warwickshire. A gracious Georgian mansion set in a Capability Brown landscape with a tranquil lake, it has a fascinating history. During the course of the twentieth century, this brought it through a variety of owners, into a state of near dereliction, and on to its ultimate rescue by a major arts foundation who renovated the building and transformed it into a well-loved arts centre and magnificent art gallery. Amongst many other artworks in its permanent exhibition, it houses an outstanding British Folk Art collection, which I love.

Here is a selection of photos taken at Compton Verney. Here, I have tried to show the wilder aspects of the planting around the grounds.

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Fiction Genre: What is it Exactly?

As a writer, I believe we should be willing to explore new areas, and to step outside our comfort zone. And that applies very closely to our lives as readers too.

I read a wide variety of books, both non-fiction, and fiction of all genres. I admit I do like psychological insight but I believe all good writers in every genre should incorporate that in their novels anyway.
I find that the way I think about genre is influenced by my own eclectic reading habits. Now, as I work on a new novel I still have trouble trying to work out what genre I’m writing in.

I have just received reports from five beta readers and am considering their thoughts, and working on polishing and sharpening my final draft. One of the big questions has been: what genre do they consider this novel to be?

Writers are given an enormous amount of advice these days, mostly from online sources, and amongst them is this adage: Write the kind of book you most love reading. But if you read a wide variety of books, how does this help?
Another piece of advice we find floating around the publishing scene is that an author should, when pitching to a literary agent, be clear what genre he or she is working in, so the agent reading the letter can immediately think, “Whereabouts in the bookshop will this book will go?”

Another piece of advice suggests you should name a few established authors to whom your novel could be compared.
All this is anathema to me – and to many other writers, I suggest. Yet we are forced into this kind of mindset.
So now, for the benefit of the readers of this blog, I shall say that my WIP is most likely to be gothic mystery.
An example of my willingness to go into new areas is my recent attendance of the UK Games Expo at the Birmingham NEC, as one of three writers on the Authors Stand.

So what do fighting fantasy and interactive and roleplay games have to do with books such as the ones I write?
The atmosphere at the Games Expo is always wonderful, there’s a great sense of fun, excitement and good humour. The gaming world is one in which a vast number of “tropes” flourish: adventure, quests, danger, violence, fantasy, history, steampunk, sci fi…

My own fiction is indeed using some of those tropes, for instance, the predicament of the main protagonist as he finds himself in a deadly situation from which he must escape. Hidden chambers and secret passageways and dark rooms all find their place in the gaming world. There is an unexpected connection for me.
Hidden chambers and secret passageways and dark rooms all act as symbols for states of mind – and thus their connection to my fiction genre. Family relationships also play a strong role in my novels… I find these provide a fertile stage upon which the action can be played.
Which leaves me still with a fluid situation as regards genre; sometimes magical realism, paranormal, ghost story, gothic mystery, psychological suspense … all is possible.

Fun on the Author Stand at the UK Games Expo 2021

This year we were delighted that the UK Games Expo went ahead ‘in real life’ at the Birmingham NEC.

Three authors displayed their books on the Author Stand; Philip S Davies, Richard Denning and myself. Covid passes were required for all who attended, and everything was much more spaced out than usual.

The atmosphere was warm and friendly, and visitors seemed delighted to be able to come and immerse themselves in a vast array of games, have fun and dress up in quirky clothes and cosplay once more.

I also enjoyed going to the Viking encampment outside and chatting to one of the Vikings who was keen to clear up a few historical errors about his life and times!

Here are a few photos to give a flavour of the weekend.

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Blog Tour: ‘Scent of Water’ by Penelope Swithinbank

Today I am pleased to be hosting a stop on the blog tour for Penelope Swithinbank’s new book, Scent of Water, published by Malcolm Down and Sarah Grace Publishing.

BLURB

When Penelope Swithinbank’s mother died tragically and suddenly as she watched the out-of-control car sweep her away, she plunged into deep depression. She found nothing that reached her dark soul of the night, nothing that helped her know that God was still with her. She was numbed by grief, frozen into solitude and nothing and no one seemed to be able to penetrate her protective walls. She found it very difficult to pray or to read the Bible. She couldn’t concentrate, nothing seemed to help, and she wished there was a specific daily devotional to help her to connect with the Lord in and through the grief. For a full two years she was there. When hugs rubbed her raw and consoling, well-meant clichés did not ring true. When God seemed far away. She was far away. She couldn’t read. Anything, let alone the Bible. When the depression and the blackness were all-consuming and life was barely worth living. Eventually, out of that experience, she wrote a daily devotional to help others going through the first six months of bereavement. Those who found it on her website and either used it themselves, or passed it on to others who were grieving the loss of a loved one, kept asking her to publish it so that it could be easily given to those who mourn. Maybe as a gift in their time of need. So here is A Scent of Water. Penelope hopes it will help others in times of bereavement and grief. Just a verse and a few thoughts for the times when mourning and grief mean that anything longer, anything deeper, is impossible.

Author Photo: Penelope Swithinbank

My Review of the ARC:

I found this book beautifully presented and full of sensitive observations. It gives comfort to those who mourn, particularly in the early stages, and acts as a companion for the bereaved who may find themselves overwhelmed by conflicting feelings and unable to pray. I loved the structure of the book, especially the way it is divided into different sections for specific times like the first time the birthday comes round, or the first Christmas, or the first anniversary of the loss. The book is full of lovely photos of the natural world along with thoughts for every day of the week under each of these headings. It also includes common questions that the bereaved ask. There are helpful words too, for those who want to accompany and comfort the bereaved, to help them understand the best way to go about this.

Finally the book ends with the quote from the final page of The Last Battle by CS Lewis.

A highly recommended book, published 9th July 2021.

AUTHOR WEBSITE LINK 

http://penelopeswithinbank.com/

The author and publisher both want to see and share your posts. 

Please include the hashtag #SCENTOFWATER and the below social media handles when you are sharing your posts 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pjswithinbank  (author) 

Insta: @penelopeswithinbank     

twitter: @minstriesbydsgn  

Linkedin: Penelope Swithinbank

Book Blog Tour for ‘Beyond the Hills’ by Maressa Mortimer

I’m pleased to be hosting a stop today on the blog tour for Maressa Mortimer’s new Young Adult novel Beyond the Hills.

Beyond the Hills is book 2 in the Elabi Chronicles series, and it was published on 18th June 2021. I read the opening book in the series on 8th February this year, and here is the first paragraph of my review.

This is an intriguing Young Adult novel set in a dystopian world which employs some curious combinations of futuristic technology and elements from the distant past. Gax enters the controlled, conformist society of the City of Elabi, on a mission from the free world to bring love, emotion and a spiritual vision back to the repressed people of this city state.

In the sequel, Beyond the Hills, our main protagonist is Macia, and here is the blurb:

Macia Durus, daughter of the well known Brutus Durus AMP, works hard to achieve a life of honour and prestige in her beloved Elabi. When a so-called “friend” challenges her priorities, Macia’s confusion threatens her carefully constructed plans. And her decision to investigate a forbidden book could have serious consequences for Macia as well as her family, turning their lives upside down.

Maressa Mortimer, young adult author, and author of Books 1 & 2 in the Elabi Chronicles series both published 2021:
Walled City and Beyond the Hills

In Walled City, I was particularly struck by the compelling description of life inside a repressed society. The novel is set in a dystopian future, but the society the author shows us reminded me of what I imagine life to have been like in East Berlin or indeed for some people today in North Korea. It is a society from which all emotion and religion has been stamped out. The society is run by a shadowy “council”; it values physical fitness and compliance highly but keeps all its citizens closely watched and controlled with some very sinister methods of punishment and social control, especially in regard to areas like marriage, disabilities and weakness and euthanasia. This results in a society of tense, closely watched, sullen, withdrawn, guarded, joyless people, and the author presents this very well, with some quite chilling moments.

MARESSA MORTIMER

I have met Maressa, both on and offline, and she is a lovely, bubbly, very supportive and encouraging member of our author community. She inspires us with her prolific output of books and her enthusiastic approach to life and to the whole business of being a writer. Maressa is Dutch; she grew up in the Netherlands, and moved to England soon after finishing her teaching training college. Married to Pastor Richard Mortimer, she lives in a Cotswold village with their four children. She is a homeschool mum, enjoying the time spent with the family, travelling, reading and turning life into stories. Maressa says, “I want to use my stories to show practical Christian living in a fallen world.”

Here’s a Q & A with Maressa, about her life as a writer, and how she came to start writing her series about Elabi.

1.What first drew you to write a novel?

I loved exploring character, and at the same time processing questions I had. Before I knew it, I got to 100,000 words! Home-schooling my children means that for me, sitting down to write is a time to concentrate and focus; to be in the moment.

2.When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest? 

Yes, because the market for Christian fiction is very small in Britain. After Sapphire Beach, which was done through a hybrid publisher, I decided to self publish.

3.What kind of research have you have to undertake for this novel? 

I used Roman food for Elabi, so I looked into that. Then there was paddle-boarding, so I learned about that. The factories Beyond the Hills are cotton factories, so I read a lot about old mills and the accidents that could happen.

4.Do you have a particular favourite scene in the book and why?

There are a few passages I like, but my favourite is probably about Macia stumbling through the tunnel with the dog, with the old man singing behind her…

5.If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you might have planned?

I’m writing a novel about teens, with under-earth dwellers that kidnap baby girls to combat inbreeding, as well as plotting book 3 in the Elabi Chronicles about Downstream. I’m also plotting a series about Vikings and time travelling. So lots of fun to come!

I look forward to reading Beyond the Hills and hope this has whetted your appetite to buy a copy or download onto your kindle.

Buy Beyond the Hills here.

AUTHOR WEBSITE LINK:

http://www.vicarioushome.com/

AUTHOR’S SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

AMAZON AUTHOR PROFILE: Amazon.co.uk: Maressa Mortimer: Books, Biography, Blogs, Audiobooks, Kindle

INSTAGRAM/FACEBOOK @vicarioush.ome

Thoughts on ‘Witch Child’ by Celia Rees

Today I share my review of ‘Witch Child‘ by Celia Rees, now out in a special 20th Anniversary edition. This is a compelling historical novel of the arrival of a group of Puritans in New England in 1650, of their encounters with the Native Indians, and a tale not only of religious intolerance but of the deep-seated fear human beings have of anybody who dares to be different.

Cover design for Witch Child by Celia Rees – 20th Anniversary edition

Having just finished reading The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory, about Catherine Parr and the dangerous path she trod through religious fanaticism and intolerance, I feel my senses have been sharpened to this theme of rejection of women for being different. It seems that historical fiction is an excellent vehicle for this theme but sadly the theme is also highly relevant in today’s world.

Witch Child is a Young Adult novel and has been firmly established on the schools curriculum for the challenging issues it raises, vital for children to wrestle with, themes of intolerance, the true nature of freedom, the forces of conservatism, spirituality and female independence.

The book opens with a horrific account of the persecution of a woman in late 17th century England. Through the eyes of a young girl, we learn how her grandmother is dragged away – feared and reviled as a witch for her role of village “wise-woman and healer” – tortured then hanged for witchcraft. We are confronted with the intense hatred, fear and hysteria that flares up among the local ‘authorities’ (often self-appointed); their fanaticism aroused by another opportunity to publicly shame, humiliate and destroy a woman for being different.

As I read the story of Mary’s departure for the New World with a group of Puritans, I was keen to refresh my knowledge of this period of English history. As it happened, the Puritans sought freedom in another land to practice their own brand of religion freely. Ironically they took all their own prejudices and narrow-mindedness with them and transplanted it into the communities they built in New England.

I was moved by Mary’s growing connection with her two allies from the local Indian tribe, White Eagle and Jaybird. They too knew what it meant to be ostracised for bring just what they were. The themes of nature-connection are strong between the girl trained in ways of herbalism and intuitive healing, and the native people with their deep spirituality and knowledge of the earth and their environment, as with all First Nation peoples.

I loved the overriding structure of the book, pages of an authentic historical journey, found sewn into a late 17th century quilt, and the mystery with which the book ends. I know the author wrote a sequel, but this book left the way wide open for me to imagine exactly how I wanted it to end and what I hope happened to Mary next.

A compelling story from an author who has just brought out a new book, this time for adults, called Miss Graham’s War. Set in Germany in 1946, and published by Harper Collins in May 2021, this will be my next read.