Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Travels with Lorenzo (in honour of Shakespeare's birthday)

A few years ago, when The Ghostly Father was still very much at the first draft stage, Better Half and I had a holiday in northern Italy.  During that trip we visited Venice, Verona, and (very briefly) Mantua, seeking out the places where parts of the story are set.

When we learned that the book was going to be published, we promised ourselves that we would go back.  The project, which became known as "Taking to Lorenzo to Verona," finally came to fruition at the beginning of this month.

The trip started off on a rather shaky footing, involving an incident at the airport which I've described elsewhere (details here, for anyone who might have missed it).  But the trip itself, despite slightly indifferent weather and a 24-hour vaporetto strike in Venice the day after our arrival, was most enjoyable.

Here, then, are a few photos of Lorenzo, the eponymous hero of The Ghostly Father, in his natural habitat.



The building which was once the Ospedale della Pietà orphanage, made famous by the composer Antonio Vivaldi, is now the Metropole Hotel.  Looking at its grand status today, one would never guess at its original purpose - apart from one clue which can still be seen, tucked away in the passageway which runs between the hotel and the church:



This strange curved wooden doorway is what used to be the ruota dei trovatelli - the turning-wheel where unwanted babies could be left, anonymously, to be cared for by the nuns who ran the orphanage.  


The eighteen-year-old Lorenzo becomes a friar in Venice.  Some years later he leaves Venice... 



(Yes, he is travelling on the causeway, even though it wasn't built at the time when the story is set...!  But then, even the mighty Shakespeare didn't always get it completely right...)


Lorenzo arrives in fair Verona, where we lay our scene...



... and helps to establish a new Franciscan friary in the city.  



This is the cloister of the Basilica of San Zeno - very much how I envisage Lorenzo's new home.

And it isn't long before Lorenzo's path crosses with that of Romeo and Giulietta.  



The building on the left of this picture is known as the Casa dei Montecchi - the House of the Montagues.  It's now a restaurant.




This bronze plaque of Romeo fleeing from Verona after his banishment is on the wall by the restaurant door.  The card tucked behind the horse's foreleg is an impromptu advertisement for the book!


The Casa di Giulietta (Juliet's house) is a much higher-profile place, attracting thousands of visitors every year.



"The walls of the passageway leading from the street into the courtyard are covered from top to bottom with swirling multicoloured graffiti." 
(The Ghostly Father)

"The interior of the house is tastefully decorated and pleasantly cool and quiet, and although the attraction is a modern invention, it is not difficult to imagine how the Capuleti family might have lived." 
(The Ghostly Father)




This bed is the one which was used in the 1968 Zeffirelli film.

Throughout the house, the story of Romeo & Juliet is told on a series of these boards:



Outside in the courtyard, visitors are encouraged to buy a padlock from the gift shop, inscribe it with their names, and attach it to the fence alongside the statue of Juliet.




We were tempted, but instead settled for something we could bring away with us - a pair of interlinked wristbands.



This is Juliet's tomb - the place where, in the original story, the Friar's plan goes so horribly wrong:



And here is Lorenzo, with Verona's own tribute to the great man who provided the inspiration for the book.  Happy birthday, Will!














Happy Birthday Will!

Today is Shakespeare's birthday.  In celebration of this, I'm greatly honoured to be the guest of Brook Cottage Books, talking about my very own take on the Bard's greatest love story.  Do hop over there and take a look!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Author interview

Today the lovely Zanna Mackenzie interviews me on her blog. Do hop over there and take a look.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Falling in love with the great outdoors - a guest post by Zanna Mackenzie

Today I welcome fellow Crooked Cat author Zanna Mackenzie to my blog.  I had the pleasure of working with Zanna as editor of her recent novel If You Only Knew.  Here, she talks about her love of the great outdoors and how it has influenced her writing.

Welcome Zanna!  


Aside from relationships and characters trying to make sense of their lives and what they want from them, there’s another common theme which runs through each of my novels – the great outdoors.

Nowadays, every chance I get I love being out of doors – whether it’s in the countryside, woods, hills, mountains, coast, by a lake or just in the garden!

My husband and I have 4 dogs and they’re always keen to slip on a lead and head off for a walk no matter where, when or whatever the weather so walking plays a big part in our lives.

As a child my parents insisted we all go for a family walk on Sundays. This was – ahem – quite some time ago, well before the advent of Sunday opening for shops, supermarkets and garden centres! If you went out on a Sunday you had limited options back then so a family walk it was! Every week.  At the time I think my older sister and I grumbled loudly about donning boots and coats and traipsing through local woods and countryside with our parents.

It took quite a few years before spending time in the countryside finally became a pleasure for me. It happened on a holiday in Snowdonia about fifteen years ago when my hubbie and I started to explore the many forest and river walking trails in the area. We got a map and leaflet from the local information centre and set off. By the end of that week we were hooked on hiking. It probably helped that the weather was kind to us too!

After that we booked a cottage in the Lake District for our next holiday and, kitted out with proper boots and waterproofs this time, tackled some more ambitious routes and even a spot of fell walking.


Grasmere Lake

Every holiday after that became about walking and we discovered some of our favourite places in the UK – the Scottish Highlands, Dumfries & Galloway, North Yorkshire Moors and Coast, Derbyshire’s Peak District and Cumbria. These places have since inspired the locations in every book I have written. I love revisiting these areas in my head, looking at old holiday photos of the amazing scenery and trying to capture all of that in my books.

The Love Programme is set in the Scottish Highlands, a place I first fell in love with the scenery of via a BBC TV series Monarch of the Glen. A few years after watching the programme we stayed in a cottage in Newtonmore near the Aviemore ski area and explored the lochs, mountains and forests of ‘Monarch of the Glen’ country to our heart’s content.


Glenmore beach and Loch Morlich with a backdrop of the Cairngorm Mountains in the Scottish Highlands

In my second novel How Do You Spell Love it was North Yorkshire’s turn to inspire the setting. I love the wilderness feeling of the North Yorkshire Moors. They have a brooding quality and an emptiness which is both haunting and beautiful at the same time.

For my third novel If You Only Knew, the fictitious village which is home to the coffee shop and outdoor extreme sports centre in the book was inspired by the real life village of Castleton in Derbyshire’s Peak District. The pretty stone buildings nestle in the shadows of the surrounding hills which are home to impressive deep and dramatic caverns.


Dovedale, in the Derbyshire Peak District

I’ve had great fun putting together some mood boards for each of my books over on Pinterest, which include some holiday photos of the scenery in the area where each book is set – some of my favourite places in the great outdoors!

If you fancy a five minute escape to enjoy some beautiful scenery then please feel free to make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, put your feet up and head over to my boards on Pinterest - http://www.pinterest.com/zannamac/
Hope to see you there!

More about If You Only Knew:




Fear versus love
Happiness versus sadness
New love versus old flame…

Faith has a fear of falling in love again, but Zane persuades her to risk a relationship with him.

Maybe this time things will be OK.

Then she discovers who Zane’s business partner is - and her world is turned upside down.

Faith owns The Coffee Pot in the outdoor adventure sports mecca of Derbyshire’s Peak District. She hasn’t had a man in her life for a while, as she’s been too busy serving cakes to weary rock climbers and mountain bikers to find time for the complications of a relationship with the male of the species.

At least, that’s what she tells herself. The truth is that since she got her heart broken she’s had problems trusting men.

When she meets Zane, one of the new owners at the Carrdale Extreme Sports Centre, Faith finds herself enjoying his company even though part of her can’t help wondering why he’s so reluctant to talk about himself.

Then the past comes back to haunt her in the shape of Zane’s business partner Matt, who just happens to be the guy who broke Faith’s heart all those years ago.

With Matt out to cause trouble, and Zane keeping secrets, Faith’s life is about to get very complicated indeed…

If You Only Knew is available in paperback and ebook on Amazon:
*Amazon UK
http://www.amazon.co.uk/You-Only-Knew-Zanna-Mackenzie/dp/190984148X/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_t_1_GMEM


Friday, 11 April 2014

RIP Sue Townsend

It was with great sadness that I heard on the News this morning that Sue Townsend (the creator of Adrian Mole) has died, at the comparatively young age of 68.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ms Townsend some years ago, when she did a book-signing at Waterstones in Manchester.  She was witty, down-to-earth and extremely approachable, and seemed genuinely pleased and surprised that people liked her writing.

A few years later, I was (very briefly) a member of a book club.  The book I chose for the group was Sue Townsend's The Queen and I.  I must confess to being more than a little shocked at how few other people in the group saw the book's true message. I had to explain to them in detail that it was not an overt criticism of royalty, but a very clever social comment.

And that is true of many of Sue Townsend's other books.  She takes a situation and applies it to a character (or, in the case of The Queen and I, a group of characters) who is/are hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with it, and by so doing paints a vivid picture of that situation in a way which speaks volumes to the reader. In the novel Rebuilding Coventry, a woman who has always had a roof over her head suddenly finds herself homeless and penniless in a strange city.  In the later Adrian Mole books, the author shows men what it's like to be sandwiched between single parenthood and increasing responsibility for ageing parents.  And in The Queen and I, people who have always been rich and privileged find themselves literally having to count every last penny.  There is a wonderful scene in the book where the Queen goes shopping, and discovers, when she comes to the till, that she has to put something back because she doesn't have enough money to pay for all the items in her basket.  But she would have done, if she had not previously had to pay an extra 30p to take her dog on the bus.

Sue Townsend's influence extended into my own household.  In the first Adrian Mole book, Adrian asks his mother for an excuse note when he misses a morning at school.  When he hands the note to his teacher, he discovers that his mother has written Adrian did not come to school this morning because he did not get out of bed until 12.45.  This spawned a whole series of spoof excuse notes throughout my sons' school years.  For some reason, though, the boys didn't seem too keen to give their teachers notes along the lines of Please excuse [name of son] from Games today because he absolutely loathes it.  But we did all have a jolly good laugh.

Sue Townsend was a great lady who gave us many great stories.  It is very sad to think that there will be no more from the same pen.


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

CAVEAT PEREGRINATOR: A warning for anyone who ever has to go through Airport Security

Those of you who know me at all well will know that the S in my name doesn’t stand for “serious.”  However, I can be serious when the need arises, and this, dear friends, is one such occasion.  The airports won’t tell you about this, so your warning will have to be the story of our experience at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 1 last Thursday morning. 

Picture the scene.  It’s 5.50 am, and we’ve just joined the long queue to go through Security. Progress is horrendously slow, because the scanners bleep for just about everyone who walks through them, meaning that virtually every single passenger has to undergo a detailed search.  I’m one of the very few who doesn’t, but Better Half isn’t so fortunate.  By the time we’re both through and have reclaimed our hand baggage, it’s almost half past six.  We’ve still got plenty of time (our flight is due to start boarding just after 7 for a 7.30 departure) but we decide to go through to the departure gate area now, so we won’t have to rush at the last minute.  We fight our way through the obstacle course known as the airport shops (which are carefully designed so that you can’t easily walk straight through them), find a couple of seats where we can keep an eye on the indicator board, and settle down to wait.

Five minutes before the flight is due to start boarding, Better Half opens his bag to sort out what he needs for the journey.  Out of the corner of my eye I can see him hunting frantically through the contents, then eventually he exclaims, “My camera’s gone!”

We rush back through the shopping area (even more difficult to negotiate when doing so against the tide and against the clock) and eventually arrive back at Security.  The missing camera, together with a drawstring pouch containing a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, is quickly located behind the manager’s desk.  When we ask what has happened, we are given a perfunctory explanation: “Oh, they will have gone through on a separate tray.”

Presumably, in the fifteen or twenty minutes when Better Half was going through Security and his bag was, through no fault of his own, out of his sight, the camera and headphones were removed by Security staff and re-scanned, but were not then reunited with the bag.

Better Half was lucky – he got his camera and headphones back.  But the incident has left us wondering: how many other people are not so fortunate?  Passengers are given absolutely no warning that items might be removed from their bags without their knowledge, and hence may well not discover that things are missing until it’s too late to reclaim them.

So, dear friends – here is my warning: If, when going through Airport Security, your hand baggage is out of your sight for any length of time, CHECK THE CONTENTS THOROUGHLY AS SOON AS YOU GET IT BACK





Monday, 7 April 2014

Author Interview

Today I'm the guest of fellow Crooked Cat author Jeff Gardiner.  Hop over to his blog and take a peek!