NEW LIFE FOR OLD

Sebastian Faulks, Charlie Higson and Anthony Horowitz have all done it for James Bond.  Alexandra Ripley did it for Scarlett and Rhett.  Jill Paton Walsh did it for Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and PD James did it for the characters from Pride and Prejudice.  There have been numerous attempts to solve Charles Dickens’ unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood.  And even Thomas the Tank Engine has been given a new lease of life, by the son of his original creator.

So what is it that makes authors want to write new stories centred on existing characters?

In one respect, I think, it’s because once the original author has died, there can be a great sense of regret that there will be no more from the same pen.  So if the authors’ stories and characters are popular, why not give their fans more to enjoy, in the form of sequels, prequels, or simply more adventures?  Or you can even give the original story an alternative ending. More on this later.

You don’t need to be a famous, or even a published, author to take advantage of this very useful literary device.  Using a well-loved character (or set of characters) as the basis for a new story can be an excellent way of dealing with an attack of writer’s block.  Think of a favourite character from a book, a play, or even a poem. Imagine what it might be like to meet that character face to face.  What would you say to them? How do you think they would respond?  Try writing a short dialogue between the two of you, and see where it leads.  You may well find that it gives you a springboard to a whole new story.  No writing is ever wasted, even if it doesn’t end up in the final version.

Or think about how the character behaves in the original work.  If his or her behaviour is unusual, what might have happened in the past to affect actions in the present? Let your imagination run riot – prequels make fascinating stories!

When, more than forty years ago, I saw Franco Zeffirelli’s wonderful film of Romeo & Juliet, I came away thinking:  This is the world’s greatest love story, so why did it all have to go so horribly wrong?  That question has haunted me ever since.

Then, a few years ago, I read one of those lists of Things You Must Do Before You Die. To be honest I found most of them pretty underwhelming, but the one which stood out was Write the book you want to read. And this was what first inspired me to start writing the book I’ve always wanted to read: the version of Romeo & Juliet which has a satisfactory outcome. (I’m not by any means the first person to have attempted to re-write the Bard and reduce the body-count. As far back as 1681, a writer called Nahum Tate produced an alternative version of King Lear, in which Cordelia and Edgar are lovers, the goodies survive, the baddies get their come-uppance, and Lear regains his throne at the end!)

The Ghostly Father

The eventual result was The Ghostly Father – a part-prequel, part-sequel to the original Romeo & Juliet story, told from the point of view of the Friar.  I’ve often wondered why, in Shakespeare’s play, he behaves as he does – and by giving him what I hope is an interesting and thought-provoking backstory, I’ve tried to offer some possible answers.

In addition, the novel explores what might have happened to Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers if events had taken an alternative course. In the play, the lovers fall victims to a sequence of misfortunes which combine to produce a maddeningly avoidable catastrophe. But what if just one of those unfortunate events had not occurred? What difference could this have made?

Read the book and find out…

Walking on Wild Air: genius loci and the spirit of place

Genius Loci is a Latin term for the deity that rules over a particular place or location. The Oxford Reference dictionary says “every place has its own unique qualities, not only in terms of its physical makeup, but of how it is perceived”. We humans are fond of personifying inanimate objects and places, and it’s an important part of many mythologies.

Whenever I visit somewhere new I’m keen to find out the local name for it, preferably in the native tongue of the place, which can often give a sense of meaning or history. For instance the Isle of Mull (where Walking on Wild Air is set) derives from a Norse word meaning a high flat plateau viewed from the sea. Seamarks like this were useful to the Norse, who went everywhere on the Sea Roads and could navigate by way of familiar landmarks. ‘Vik’, meaning harbour, and ‘Tarbert’, meaning a low place where boats can be portaged from one seaway to another, are also common around the west coast of Scotland for much the same reason.

I know that once upon a time every landmark on Mull, from the most significant to the most intimate, was named and known and cherished by its inhabitants, from Duart (Dubh Ard, the High Dark Place, globally important as the home of the MacLean clan chieftains) to the nameless spring that bubbles on the hill above the house where I used to live. When places are cleared wholesale, and the inhabitants bundled off into cities or encouraged to emigrate, much is lost, and the names of places are not the least of it.

I was tramping in the hills near Dervaig back in 2013, looking for rare moths (or at least their food plants) and wondering about the lost names of every hill and vale, every hummock and streamlet I passed. And then I thought to myself: what if there was something here before the Gaels? Before the Irish settled western Scotland and their language began to diverge into what we now know as Scottish Gaelic. Before the Picts, or whoever was living in these parts before the Gaelic speaking kingdom of Dal Riata arose in the Middle Ages. Before the builders of stone circles and chambered tombs got to work here. Before even the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers created trails around and through the valleys of Mull, and its surrounding islands (they are known from several sites here).

What if there was something that came into being in the fiery chaos of the opening of the Atlantic? Something that arose from and was fed by the constant rain of the Hebrides. Something living. Something strange. What would that be like?

And as strange and wonderful a thought as that was: what then, when people arrive, with their passion for possessiveness and ownership and the naming of things?

And so the idea of the spring came to me, as a locus and source of the strangeness that I wanted to write about, and down ten thousand years the people of the land came to me and gave me their names. And Dougie MacLean was born.

My characters’ names are very important to me. Dougie is short for Dougal, in Gaelic Dubh Gall, the Dark Stranger. That seems pretty appropriate for someone who is not entirely of this world, and whose strangeness becomes ever more apparent as the story unfolds. And the main narrator of Walking on Wild Air, Sushila Mackenzie, has her own naming story. The child of Sri Lankan and Scottish parents, she is named after the daughter of a lovely man I worked with long ago. He told me stories of his daughter, away at university, and how she was the sweetest, kindest, cleverest and most wonderful daughter in the world. How could I not channel that deep-rooted stream of love and affection into my character, especially as she was facing so much pain and tragedy in her life?

In ‘Walking on Wild Air’ the spirit of the spring meets the girl with the broken heart, and who will be healed? Who will be loved? Who will be harmed when two such different worlds collide?

Escape to a place forged not by time, but by memories.

mybook.to/WalkingonWildAir

Come along to my Facebook event 8am-midnight BST on Sunday 28 June 2020, for competitions, conversation and music. Drop in any time to take part. https://www.facebook.com/events/254480262667365/

A goonie…and a broonie!

Nancy Jardine bringing you another update from a sunny North-East Scotland. On Friday last, the 29th May 2020, I was scheduled to board a train for York, England. I love walking the wall and wandering the Shambles. I adore visiting the museums, and doing general tourist pursuits. Five years ago, I had a wonderful seminar weekend with some of my co-authors at Ocelot Press, in York. Though, back then, we were published authors with Crooked Cat Books.

York Museum grounds- c. Nancy Jardine

My visit this time was to join the fun at the 2020 Eboracum Roman Festival, organised in the main by York Museums. Loads of Roman themed events and activities were organised – some indoors, though many of them outdoors in the streets of central York. I had planned to fill my camera with amazing photos, but the highlight of the ‘Friday through Sunday’ event was joining a lovely line-up of authors in a ‘pop-up’ bookstore, all of us selling our Roman themed historical novels. I imagined lots of impromptu information being shared with customers, and me getting to know the authors I’ve only met ‘virtually’ via Facebook. In 2019, the author tables were set up in the ‘Hospitium’ in the grounds of the York Museum and I was hoping for the same venue this year. Sadly, COVID 19, changed the plans. Like other major events, it was cancelled.

Though not compulsory to wear re-enactment outfits, I had noticed that a number of the authors got into the swing in 2019. I’ve always meant to make myself a Late Iron Age outfit, so going to York was a brilliant excuse.

In January (2020), I researched possible cloth. The ‘Celts’ used standing looms to weave their cloth which is thought to have been either plain, or with fairly sizeable checks (though not Tartan). Textiles do not survive well in the ground, but there are a few excavated examples that have been found across the Ancient Roman Empire. The fragments found indicate an open weaving technique was used, and they also give an idea of what might have been used to dye the wool. 

Dark green commercial dye.

I fancied a mid-green colour for the long dress and a checked material for a bratt (shawl). York in late May can be pretty warm, so a pure woollen cloth sounded very hot and scratchy. I wanted to be as authentic as possible but suitable green cloth eluded me. I opted for light grey which, I imagined, could be dyed to my preferred colour. The cloth arrived but it wasn’t the open weave I expected from the little photograph. (It must have been a very high magnification)

And it didn’t dye. Not at all!

I tried a deep green commercial hand dye which dulled down the checked material I had bought for the shawl, but the grey for the dress was still grey.

I then thought maybe if the suiting material (supposedly 55% wool) had a mordant process done to it, it would accept a natural dye. Using beetroot might make it a pale dusky pink – which I could live with, instead of green. Beetroot is a more recent variety of the Beta Vulgaris species, but 2000 years ago the Iron Age Tribes would probably have eaten a variety more like chard. However, it’s also possible that the Ancient Romans introduced to Britain the forerunner of the modern sugar beet that we grow and eat today, since Ancient Romans ate a number of Beta V. varieties.

The Beetroot Broonies!

The mordant treatment, a boiling in (vinegar and salt) for an hour was pretty stinky, but the soaking in the cooked beetroot juice was even more so. 24 hours later, the indestructible cloth was STILL grey but a machine wash, thankfully, got rid of the pong. The dyeing processes were useless, but all was not lost – I used some of the boiled beetroot to make beetroot brownies, which were yummy, and the remainder is pickled.

My ‘goonie’ is a bit boring so I used some of the shawl material to give it a lift. Is it authentic for Northern Romano Britain? Since we don’t really know what styles they wore, I can only imagine that any embellishment to dresses was of a practical nature!

What do you think of it? It’s surprisingly comfortable and I will wear it when selling my paperback novels, or for author talks etc.

I’ll be putting my name on the 2021 list of authors selling at the next Eboracum Roman Festival…and who knows what I’ll be wearing.

p.s. I’m thinking that when the COVID 19 situation eases and I can shop again, I might look out for some more exciting cloth that I don’t need to dye!

My stock for the Festival, available in paperback and kindle formats from: Amazon Author Page

If you’re quick, you’ll find that Books 1 and 2 are at #99p/99c across Amazon for a limited time in early June!

Book 1 The Beltane Choice

Book 2 After Whorl: Bran Reborn

Celtic Fervour Saga Series

Chapter 1 of Augustine

Have a sneak peak at Chapter 1 of Vanessa Couchman’s Augustine, coming soon!

Vanessa Couchman

Augustine is a bitter-sweet romance set against the rolling landscape and hilltop villages of southern France in the late 19th century. This novella is a prequel to the Alouette Trilogy and is currently on pre-order on Amazon Kindle for publication on 30th April 2020. Read Chapter 1 below.

Belcastel, one of the beautiful villages of Southwest France

View original post 2,001 more words

Augustine: Cover Reveal and Launch Details

We’re thrilled to announce Vanessa Couchman’s latest book, Augustine, a prequel novella to the Alouette trilogy.

Vanessa Couchman

On 30th April, I’m publishing a prequel to the Alouette trilogy, Augustine. This is a novella (about half the length of a standard novel), set in rural Southwest France in the 1880s. It tells the story of Augustine and Joseph, who appear in Book 1 of the trilogy, Overture.

My fab cover designer, JD Smith, has come up with the goods yet again. The cover fits the story really well and is just what I wanted.

Here’s the blurb:

Love conquers all. Or does it?

Rural France 1880. Augustine is not conventionally pretty and fears that she may never marry. Joseph rents his land and dreams of owning a farm one day. But without a wife and children, he lacks the help he needs.

When Joseph saves Augustine from a drunkard at a dance, they are immediately attracted to each other. They meet again, and the attraction…

View original post 141 more words