Ocelot authors write about their favourite historical figures

Who’s your favourite historical figure? There are plenty to choose from! Some are eternally famous, while others might have been prominent in their own time but have slid from recognition today.

Starting today, the Historical Writers Forum is organising a blog hop over a fortnight, in which seven historical fiction writers choose their favourite character from history and tell us why they find the person so fascinating.

Four Ocelot Press authors are involved:

Jennifer C. Wilson will write about Mary Queen of Scots, whom she has admitted to stalking before moving on to Richard III. Mary was imprisoned by Elizabeth I after she was forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son James. Mary was held in captivity for more than 18 years and then executed, having been found guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth.

Nancy Jardine shines the spotlight on General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola, a Roman general who was responsible for much of the conquest of Britain, but who seems to have fallen out of favour later in his career. Nancy’s atmospheric Celtic Fervour series focuses on the struggles between the Northern tribes and the Roman conquerors.

Sue Barnard’s choice is William Shakespeare – a name that people can’t fail to be familiar with! The Bard of Avon’s plays Romeo & Juliet and Julius Caesar are the inspiration behind two of Sue’s Ocelot Press novels: The Ghostly Father and The Unkindest Cut of All.

Vanessa Couchman is on a mission to rehabilitate Pasquale Paoli, an 18th-century Corsican leader, who attempted to rid the island of Genoese rule. He headed the short-lived Corsican republic from 1755-1769, and combined the roles of statesman, lawgiver and general. He has a cameo role in Vanessa’s novel The Corsican Widow in her Tales of Corsica series.

Don’t miss our authors’ insights into their favourite historical characters.

Here’s the full programme of articles.

Food, Glorious Food!

This week (11-17 May 2020) is National Vegetarian Week here in the UK.  The aim of the event is to make more people aware of vegetarian food and to encourage them to try something new.  Whilst I’m not a vegetarian myself, I’m very interested in vegetarian cookery, and I’ve written a short post about it elsewhere, which you can read here.

But in any case, I never need an excuse to think about food – and that includes in my writing.  I like to use food as a metaphor, and it works very well in a romance-based plot.  It gives the heroine (and the readers) an insight into how much more enriched her life could be if she chooses to share it with the hero.

This can be seen in the following extract from The Unkindest Cut of All.  The heroine, Sarah, would be the first to admit that her cooking and housekeeping skills leave much to be desired.  Enter Martin, bearing culinary gifts and much more besides…

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Whilst [Sarah] was waiting for the kettle to boil she realised too late that the bread she’d been keeping for toast had gone mouldy. Ferreting around in the cupboard, she eventually unearthed a half-consumed packet of breakfast cereal of unknown vintage. As she poured a bowlful, she found herself thinking that it looked like lumpy sawdust. And as she took a mouthful, she found herself thinking that the resemblance didn’t end there.

When her phone rang, it was such a welcome diversion from her inedible breakfast that Sarah didn’t have time to wonder who on earth might be calling her so early on a Sunday morning. Her heart leapt as she saw Martin’s name on the display. She chewed furiously to empty her mouth of the tasteless gunge.

“Hello?”

“Sarah? It’s Martin. I hope I didn’t wake you up.”

Sarah usually had a stock response to this: “No, that’s all right – the phone was ringing anyway.” But this, she decided, was hardly the time for wisecracks.

“Hi, Martin. No, you didn’t. I’ve been awake for a while. Didn’t sleep terribly well, to be honest. How about you?”

“The same. Look, I need to talk to you. Can I come round?”

“Yes, of course.” Sarah’s heart leapt again. “When?”

“Any time now. I’m in the road outside.”

Sarah caught her breath. “Hang on. I’ll come to the door.”

By the time she had fumbled with her keys and got the front door open, Martin was already standing on the doorstep. He looked tired, but was smiling, and holding a bulging paper bag.

“Breakfast? I wasn’t quite sure what you’d like, so I got some of each.”

The bag felt warm in Sarah’s hands as she took it and peered inside. It contained two croissants and two large pains au chocolat. Sarah’s mouth watered as the buttery scent caressed her nostrils. She looked up and smiled gratefully. Martin’s eyes were as dark as the chocolate. She looked down again quickly, hoping that her cheeks didn’t look as flushed as they felt.

“Mmm. Thank you. These look divine. Please, come in.”

As Martin hung up his coat, Sarah gratefully cleared away her unfinished bowl of cereal and set out two plates and knives and an extra mug. Her earlier excavations in the cupboard had also yielded an unopened jar of apricot jam. She put this on the table too, positioning it carefully so that Martin couldn’t see the Best Before date…

 

The Unkindest Cut of All is an Ocelot Press publication, and is available in paperback and e-book formats.

VERSE AND WORSE

April is the cruellest month for poets.

It is National Poetry Writing Month (often shortened to NaPoWriMo, or sometimes just NaPo), which takes place every year throughout the month of April.  Each day a prompt appears on the NaPoWriMo website, and poets throughout the world are invited to take up the challenge and post their efforts on their blogs.  The latter probably calls for far more bravery than the actual writing.

I first did NaPo way back in 2013.  Here is one such pathetic effort from that far-off time:

THE BALLADEUSE’S LAMENT

There once was a wannabe poet

whose verses were dire, sad to say.

Then one April, she found NaPoWriMo:

thirty days of a poem a day.

 

Each morning she looked at the website,

and in the available time

she grappled with form, structure, metre,

enjambement, content and rhyme.

 

‘Twas the twenty-fifth day of the challenge:

“Write a ballad” the task on the site,

but by bedtime she’d still written nothing

and her muse had retired for the night.

 

She woke up at three in the morning

with a wondrous idea in her head,

but she could not write down this great epic,

for alas she’d no pen by her bed.

 

Then sleep once again overcame her

and hijacked her poor addled brain.

On waking, her great inspiration

had vanished like snow in the rain.

 

And if this sad tale has a moral,

it is this: always be on your guard,

for if you let go of the moment

you’ll never succeed as a bard.

 

My original blog, which you can find here, even owes its title to poetry.  Fans of Robert Browning (I’m sure there must be some of you out there) will probably recognise the sly reference to one of his best-known works.  Here is an unashamed spoof of one of his others:

THE PIED PIPER OF LIMERICK

A town in a faraway nation

had a terrible rat infestation,

about which the mayor

appeared not to care

(to the townspeople’s rage and frustration).

 

The plague had become so acute

that the townsfolk were quite resolute:

“We must do something here!”

Then who should appear

but a man in a weird coloured suit.

 

“I see you’ve a problem,” said he.

“Now listen: if I guarantee

to dispose of your rats,

give me one thousand crowns.  That’s

my fee.”  Said the mayor, “I agree.”

 

The stranger, with fingers a-quiver,

piped a tune which made all the folk shiver.

But the hypnotic air

made the rats leave their lair

and leap to their deaths in the river.

 

Oh, great was the joy in the town!

Then the piper said “My thousand crowns?”

When the mayor, looking shifty,

just offered him fifty,

the piper’s smile turned to a frown.

 

He glared, strode out into the square,

and, raising his pipe in the air,

played another refrain.

The town’s children came

and followed him – Heaven knows where.

 

The mayor’s desperate pleas went in vain,

for the children were ne’er seen again.

So the lesson inferred

is “You must keep your word”

and to think otherwise is insane!

 

And finally, in homage to Shakespeare, here are two limericks based on Romeo & Juliet and Julius Caesar (which inspired my Ocelot novels The Ghostly Father and The Unkindest Cut of All respectively).  My long-term aim is to produce a limerick for each of the Bard’s plays, but that is still very much a work in progress.

 

ROMEO & JULIET

Two households, one ongoing row;

sprogs meet and exchange true love vow.

Next day they are wed;

three days later, both dead.

Their tale makes me weep, even now.

 

JULIUS CAESAR

A soothsayer (very astute)

tries to warn of impending dispute.

But though told to beware

Caesar claims not to care,

then he’s killed by a backstabbing Brute.

 

If you’re still with me, well done.  Go and pour yourself a stiff drink.  

BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH…

My first encounter with Shakespeare was at secondary school.  Then, as now, studying his works was a non-negotiable part of the English Literature curriculum.  Like most stroppy teenagers I found it very hard to understand the plays, and even harder to understand why anyone in their right mind would ever want to read them.  Faced with a few hundred pages of solid text written more than three centuries earlier, and in a near-incomprehensible style into the bargain, our collective response was “What on earth is the point of all this?”  (That, at any rate, was the gist of our collective response…)

What we stroppy teenagers had totally failed to appreciate, at least at first, is that the plays are not meant to be read in the same way that one would read novels.  They were written for performance.  It’s only when the text is translated into speech and action (on stage, screen or radio) that it really comes alive – and nowhere is this more apparent than in works which consist entirely of dialogue.

In an attempt to keep us interested, our English teacher allocated the main parts in the play to members of the class, and the key scenes were acted out at the front of the classroom.   Our efforts were hardly RSC standard, but they did serve as an early lesson in the basic principle of “show-don’t-tell”.  After this, Shakespeare did begin to make some kind of sense.

The play which we studied for O-Level (the equivalent of modern-day GCSE) was Julius Caesar.  As I struggled with the idiosyncracies of rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter, little did I realise that more than forty years later this very play would form the backdrop for what was to become my third novel.

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The Unkindest Cut of All is a murder mystery set in a theatre, during an amateur dramatic society’s production of Julius Caesar.  The novel’s title is adapted from a quotation from Mark Antony’s crowd-turning funeral speech after Caesar’s death.  The play is staged during the week which contains the Ides of March – March 15th, the date on which, according to tradition, Caesar was murdered.

Continue reading “BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH…”

The Ghostly Father is now available in audiobook format

Huge excitement here at Ocelot Press as The Ghostly Father, Sue Barnard’s wonderful rewriting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, is launched in audiobook format! This is the first – but certainly not the last – of the Ocelot list to become an audiobook, and more will follow soon.

In the meantime, you can now listen to The Ghostly Father in the car, on the train, while you’re doing household or gardening tasks, or even in the bath (but be careful not to drop it in the water!). The possibilities are endless.

Think you know the world’s most famous love story? Think again. The alternative version of Romeo and Juliet, The Ghostly Father, is now in #audiobook format. @OcelotPress

If you haven’t already come across this lovely story, here’s the description:

Think you know the world’s most famous love story? Think again. What if the story of Romeo and Juliet really happened – but not quite in the way we’ve all been told? 

This part-prequel, part-sequel to the original tale, told from the point of view of the Friar, tells how an ancient Italian manuscript reveals secrets and lies which have remained hidden for hundreds of years, and casts new doubts on the official story of Shakespeare’s famous star-crossed lovers. 

If you love the Romeo and Juliet story but are disappointed with the way it ended, this is the book for you.

The Ghostly Father has two narrators: Danielle Cohen, a rising star in the audiobook narration world, who can master an amazing range of accents; and Philip Rose, a voice actor with long experience in voice-overs and audiobook narration.

You have a treat in store!

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