OK first post up over on Random in Oz. Having trouble copying link over as using ipad and still have yet to fathom out the mystery of cut and paste so do Google name of blog and, hopefuly, you should find it.
Will consult daughter tonight re ipad and see if she can show me how to put links up..
I am off to Australia this weekend to see my darling daughter Kathryn. I shall be away for a month and, during that time, will be posting on my Australian blog which has covered my last two trips, and will put a link up on Random so you can nip across and see what I have been up to.
I have my ipad and Kindle with me and fully intend to read and write while away and keep in touch with you all. I am so looking forward to seeing the harbour and the Opera house again and to be by the sea. Kathryn and I are also slipping in a week in Fiji.
Following on from my read of the wonderful biography of Queen Victoria by Julia Baird I decided I wanted to re-read this excellent book on Edward VII. I would imagine that if you ever think about Edward VII the immediate reaction would be 'oh yes, Lily Langtry, lots of mistresses, he was a bit of a lad and useless as a King' and this has sadly been the case for some time. I have read a lot of Victorian and Edwardian history as I find this period fascinating, and have always felt that poor old Bertie was given a bit of a hard time. I remember reading a biography by Philip Magnus many moons ago and very little since, though it is impossible to read any book about Queen Victoria without Bertie popping up, usually to his detriment.
I adore Queen Victoria and I do not think that the portrait of her not loving her children is a correct one. Mind you she makes it difficult to take this view after reading how she treated Edward, especially in his childhood. But, once again, Julia Baird has made me view it differently. The more I read about Albert the less enamoured I am of him. It seems to me that he totally dominated Victoria and took over here entire life and, in the process, made her doubt her natural shrewdness and confidence. Albert had his way in everything and she acquiesced. Probably easy to do when you are permanently pregnant.
But oh dear, what a dreadful childhood Bertie had and how cruelly he was treated by his parents, and particularly his mother, as he failed to live up to their ideal of what a prince should be. Constantly compared to the precocious Vicky, he resorted to attention seeking tantrums and bad behaviour and instead of understanding why he was doing this, his parents increased the pressure upon him. Not a minute of his day was given up to relaxation or play, his nose was at the grindstone from early in the morning to last thing at night, not a moment unsupervised as a brutal regime of lessons, exercise and whippings were forced upon him.
Of course as soon as he was old enough to spread his wings and have a bit of fun, he did. Losing his virginity to a young and willing lady, was to be expected but the way his parents reacted you would have thought he had committed murder. Albert posted down to see him at Cambridge where he was supposed to be studying and talked to his son about his behaviour. He left behind him a contrite young man who was probably ridden by guilt at the sorrow he had caused his father. I have no doubt Albert laid it on pretty thick. By the time Albert returned home he was soaked through from the walk in the rain and exhausted. He was already ill and when he died shortly after his mother laid the blame for his demise at Bertie's door and if it wasn't for his sister Alice sending him a telegram to come to his father's deathbed, he would have been in ignorance of what was happening.
The years of Victoria's widowhood and seclusion then began and also her pathological dislike of her son and her denying him access to any state papers or details of the working of the government. Ministers tried in vain to make her change her mind but she was adamant that Bertie was thoroughly unprincipled and too stupid to understand such matters. The truth of the matter was that Bertie was not stupid. He may not have been book learned (it seems he never read a book in his life and after his childhood one can hardly blame him), but he had a retentive memory, never forgot a name or a face (a useful accomplishment if you are a member of the Royal Family) and knew how to deal with all around him. Dragooned into an early marriage to Alexandra of Denmark, they set about entering society and making a splash and soon the Marlborough House Set was the place to be.
It is forgotten that in all the articles and publications about Bertie's scandals and his mistresses, it was largely due to him that the Monarchy kept a high profile and survived. Victoria was locked away either at Balmoral or Osborne House, refusing to see anybody and carry out any duties and it was left to Bertie to carry the flag. And of course, it is rather ironic that Her Majesty pretty quick to condemn her son for becoming involved in scandal and gossip, should cause one of the biggest scandals herself - the rumours flying around about her and John Brown have still not been satisfactorily resolved to this day.
There were moments of rapprochement and there are letters in which the Queen refers to Bertie as 'loving' and 'kind' but these did not last long though when she died in 1901 it was Bertie she wanted at her side.
"Mrs Tuck the Queen's dresser asked her if it was the Prince of Wales she wanted. 'Yes' said the Queen. Bertie returned to her bedside and she said 'kiss my face' whereupon he 'embraced her and broke down completely'.
An overweight, unhealthy middle aged man was now King and Edward felt it had come too late but he underestimated himself, as did others. His years of travelling abroad, his contacts with all the royal families of Europe, most of whom were his relations, enabled him to carry out diplomatic missions which his ministers were unable to do. Keeping his nephew the Kaiser under control was tricky but he managed it while he was alive by a mixture of buttering him up and being as polite to him as he could manage, though in private his feelings were unprintable. He was responsible for the entente cordiale in 1904 (there are some of us who may feel this is not something he should be praised for............) and, despite his past and his ups and downs with the public, he was loved and appreciated as Edward VII. He only had ten years on the throne and he worked almost up to the last minute driven to work and to try and keep the fragile peace, propped up in his chair, until he eventually had a heart attack and was put to bed.
Odd, as the author pointed out in a most interesting appendix, that Victoria who was so intent on being private and secluded, should produce thousands of letters, copious diaries and published her Highland Journals during her lifetime, whereas the public Bertie hardly left anything behind at all. We are given the impression that he was hedonistic, light hearted and light minded and a rather shallow and mediocre person. This marvellous biography shows that we could not be more wrong. He could be hard and cut those who he felt had harmed or offended him, but to his true friends he was loyalty itself, a kindly father who loved his children and though a dreadful husband in some ways, he was devoted to Alexandra as she to him, and she was devastated at his death.
In her introduction to this book, Jane Ridley says that she has tried to show a Bertie who was more able and more complex that the figure we know as Edward VII. She points out that his bed hopping exploits were wildly exaggerated; his name was linked with fifty women and more than ten illegitimate children were chalked up to him though the true figures, were more modest. In order to show both sides of his life she said she has had to 'chip away at the patina of old anecdotes and peel back layers of hearsay which has been repeated so often that it has almost hardened into fact'. It took a while but the author says 'like so many woman in the past, I have greatly enjoyed the years I have spent in the company of HRH'.
This is the seventh in the series featuring Maeve Kerrigan and they continue to get better and better. I liked the first two, then I loved the next two, then I was totally hooked and adored the last two.
This was sent to me by Jane Casey's wonderful publishers who always indulge my importuning and wheedling for books and I am perennially grateful to them. In Let the Dead Speak Maeve is now newly promoted which means that she is now superior in grade to her partner, Josh Derwent. Josh is an Unreconstructed Male - he is rude, sexist, abrasive, takes no prisoners and puts the back up of their boss Una Burt who would love to see the back of him but he manages to checkmate her every maneouvre to be rid of him. He is also a softie underneath, not that he allows anybody to know this, except perhaps Maeve and their relationship has developed beautifully over the series. I love him.
So the story. Eighteen year old Chloe Emery returns to her West London home after cutting short her weekend with her father and stepmother. She arrives and finds the house covered in blood and Kate, her mother, gone. There is no sign of a body yet everything points to a murder having taken place.
There are some seriously creepy people living in this road including a member of a religious sect with his cowed wife and teenager daughter who was friends with Chloe and clearly is hiding something. A suspected murderer lives up the road - all signs point to him committing this earlier crime but no evidence to prove it. Then it appears that Kate, the presumed victim, has been entertaining male callers while her daughter is away and the list of suspects widens.
I am not going to go into the in and outs and twists and turns of this terrific book as I do not want to give even the slightest hint of who dunnit and no wish to spoil it for you. It is multilayered, intricate plotting (you will need to have your wits about you) and, as ever, though the murder is the reason for the story, it is the relationship between Maeve and Josh that fascinates. He clearly cares for her and she for him, though she was dumped rather nastily by a previous partner and is pretty wary of getting involved and she would rather die than admit that she feels anything. But we readers are not fooled....
Oh and do not fail to read to the very last word on the very last page. Once you have read this then you will know why I am telling you this.
Great stuff and my only complaint is that Jane Casey only produces one book a year. Surely she can manage two?
Back in the sixties when I was a mini skirted young thing, I worked in Highgate Library. Bliss for me as it meant I had access to as many books as I wanted. While I was working there a biography of Queen Victoria by Elizabeth Longford was published, we had three copies and a waiting list a mile long. It was the first major biography of the Queen for some forty years and Lady Longford, who was pretty well connected, had access to archives and papers that nobody had seen for decades. It was a huge best seller and once it was off the reservations list I brought it home with me and read it.
And that was it. I was hooked on this marvellous woman and I wanted to find out more. On my shelves as I write this I can see biographies of both Victoria and Albert by Stanley Weintraub, David Duff, Cecil Woodham-Smith, Christopher Hibbert et al. Other related works, Victoria on the Riviera, Becoming Queen, Magnificent Obsession by Helen Rappaport and several battered old volumes of letters between the Queen and her eldest daughter, Vicky who became Empress of Prussia also take pride of place.
A fascinating and amazing woman. A woman whose reign was only eclipsed in longevity by our own Queen Elizabeth II this year. A woman who seems to subsume her entire personality into that of her Beloved Albert, who produced nine children, who suffered the most appalling grief and heartbreak when Albert died and yet who endured, who came through, whose strength of character and love of live was irrepressible even in the depths of despair – in short, a tough, feisty woman who I have come to love and admire the more I read about her.
I have not read a full biography of her for some time and, freely admit, that I wondered if there was anything more to learn about Victoria and did we really need yet another tome to add to the shelves? Well, after reading this book the answer is yes. From page one this biography by Julia Baird gripped me and I could not put it down. In the end I forced myself to take a break and I stopped reading for a day or two after Albert’s Death. I cannot read of his passing without a lump in my throat and feel for the Queen in her loss. The most heart breaking thing of all is her saying ‘there is nobody to call me Victoria any more’. That sentence encapsulates her loneliness and distance from everyone even her children.
Her love and adoration for Albert and total giving of self must surely hark back to her miserably unhappy childhood when she was hedged and confined and badly treated by her mother and her comptroller, John Conroy, who were plotting for power and hoped to run the country as a Regency. But King William, who was determined to live until Victoria reached the age of eighteen managed it, and from that moment Victoria took control. She rejoiced in her freedom and her ability to do exactly what she wanted ‘from the first she showed a disposition to conform strictly to her own standard of conduct rather than adapt herself to expected standards’. This attitude vanished as soon as she fell in love with Albert and married him. She only regained her self-reliance and self-confidence when she was single again.
I have always admired Albert for his hard work, for his intellectual mind and the enormous breadth of his interests, and all in such a young man who was only twenty one when he married Victoria. But as the years have passed and I have read more I find myself less and less sympathetic towards him. Albert wanted power, he had been trained for it. This is an extract from a letter from Albert to the Duke of Wellington:
He believed it was his duty to “fill up every gap which, as a woman, the Queen would naturally leave in the exercise of her regal function, continually and anxiously to watch every part of public business, in order to be able to advise and assist her in any moment in any of the difficult questions brought before her, personal or social, to place all his time and powers at her command as the natural head of the family (my emphasis on natural), superintendent of her household, manager of her private affairs, her sole confidential adviser in politics and the only assistant in her communications with the officers of the government, her private secretary and her permanent visitor”
In other words he wanted total control and as Victoria produced child after child and was happy to hand over all this to Albert, he got it.
Julia Baird makes it clear that there was also plenty of support for Albert as major intellectuals of the time agreed with him that a woman’s natural state was ‘wifely subjection’. Albert encouraged her into thinking her education and abilities were lesser than his and her confidence, shattered after years of childbearing and comparison with Albert’s knowledge, gradually wore away . I cannot help wondering what would have happened if Albert had not died as young as he did leaving the Queen to find herself and her confidence once more.
And thought she was Dubbed the Widow of Windsor and people got cross and angry with the Queen they never saw, she never stopped working. She was nervous of being seen in public, she claimed her nerves would not allow her to be seen and refused to open parliament and show herself. This feeling grew stronger over the years but her grasp of politics and world affairs never faltered.
This is a wonderful book and my copy is bristling with yellow post it notes and underlinings to remind me of my thoughts as I read it, but I simply cannot write about every single item else this review will be pages long. I just wanted to capture the essence of Queen Victoria and how much I love and admire her.
Forget this awful view of her being humourless and disliking her children. It is simply not true.
In a letter to Charlotte Canning Victoria says 'I have so much to thank God for. Such a husband - such affectionate children that I will not murmur at what I have lost'.
Charlotte described the Queen's letter as 'simple and true' and says that the Queen 'has had credit for qualities not hers and that nobody knew what real softness and feelings she has in some ways'.
Yes, she and the future Edward VII had a combative relationship to say the least, but she never failed him in times of scandal and trouble and supported him throughout. She found some of her children annoying and irritating at times – well with nine of them it would be incredible if she didn’t. She was a doting grandmother who allowed them much more leeway than she did her own children. As a grandmother myself, I can understand that.
She could be demanding and selfish and thoughtless, but knew when she was wrong. In a book I read a few years ago by Kate Hubbard Serving Queen Victoria, she was humble enough to admit her faults. After a particularly wearing and difficult time her doctor James Reid had to take time off as he was suffering from exhaustion. A letter from Her Majesty greatly distressed at his becoming ill 'from the worry I caused you the last few months and especially the last week which might all have been prevented but for my senselessness and want of thought'.
And her people loved her. She connected with them and knew it. Albert may have had the intellect and the brains but he lacked the common touch which the Queen had in spades.
At the time of her Jubilee in 1887 the Queen sat in her carriage outside Westminster Abbey listening to a thanksgiving service for her long reign. She sat, her eyes full of tears. Before her were her rows of her royal men, sons and sons in law and grandchildren.
“A mob of workmen ran alongside Victoria’s carriage cheering and shouting as loudly as they could ‘You go it old girl! You done it well! You done it well!”
I was simply delighted when this dropped through my letterbox this morning and my grateful thanks to HarperCollins for sending me this (it was included with the new Maeve Kerrigan book by Jane Casey which was TERRIFIC more on that later). Look at the cover. Isn't it wonderful?
Dame Agatha was rather dismissive of The Big Four calling it a 'rotten book' but this may have had a lot to do with the circumstances in which it was published. Dame A had had the most enormous success with the Murder of Roger Ackroyd which, if you have not read it I urge you to do so, and the publishers, natch, wanted another title as quickly as possible. Ackroyd was published in 1926 and at that time she was having a horrid time in her personal life. Her mother, who she adored, had died and now her husband with impeccable timing told her he wanted a divorce as he was having an affair with another woman. Her famous disappearance followed later in the year and the resultant publicity regarding this made the publishers even more keen to cash in on her notoriety (I personally think she just buggered off for a bit of peace and quiet and when she read that the Press were all over her 'disappearance' and even suspected Archie of doing her in, decided to let him suffer a bit. But it all points to a depressive episode which has never been really explained).
So a new Christie was wanted and it was her bro in law who came up with the solution of adapting twelve short stories Dame A had written for the Sketch Magazine and published in 1924. Great idea and they edited and adapted and wrote new material, abandoning the original title The Man who Was Number Four and calling the finished work The Big Four.
This book is very much in the style of The Man in the Brown Suit, The Seven Dials Mystery full of mysterious China men, glamorous but mysterious women, secret societies and a Master of Fiendish Disguise. I simply loved it and do not think it is rotten at all. The Big Four are determined to take over the world and, naturally, Poirot is the only one who can stop them despite the fact that governments and intelligence agencies have tried and all failed. He has by his side the indefatigable but intellectually challenged Hastings and together they set forth. Each chapter is a mini story in itself, as it would have been for the original serial readers, and so you can pop in and out as you please but I read it straight through.
There is one chapter when Hastings is taken to see one of the Big Four and is told that unless he delivers Poirot into their hands by writing to him to meet him there, his wife Bella (who he has left behind in Argentina who seems perfectly happy for her husband to linger in England for upwards of a year - wonder why) who has been captured by a Big Four minion will suffer the most unimaginable tortures. So he writes but feels the most incredible guilt and just as Hercule arrives he shouts out and warns him. Goes without saying that Poirot had already realised it was a trap and had Inspector Japp and loads of officers with him (to no avail as No 4 gets away) and then blithely informs Hastings that he had moved Bella to a place of safety some months before (cannot help but feel it would have been a good idea if this had been mentioned but no matter) and then realises that Hastings would not sacrifice him even though his wife was, as he thought, in danger:
"They tortured you with a lie".
I turned my head aside. Poirot put his hand on my shoulder. There was something in his voice that I had never heard there before.
"You like not that I should embrace you or display the emotion. I know well. I will be very British, I will say nothing, but nothing at all. Only this - that in this last adventure of ours the honours are all with you and happy is the man who has such a friend as I have"
And that is why Dame Agatha was wrong when she said this was a 'rotten book'.....
I have new books coming out of my ears. I have tottering piles of review copies. I am helping organise speakers for the Felixstowe Book Festival, I am now running Friends of same Festival and sorting all that admin out, I am trying to get my holiday to Australia and Fiji sorted re insurance etc etc. I have steam coming out of my ears and I simply CANNOT concentrate. So I have turned to one of my favourite authors for a re-read. I am sorry publishers, I love you dearly but this weekend I have read T Tembarom by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is one of her adult books and not very well known. In fact, I have yet to find anybody who has heard of it.
Go on Random Readers prove me wrong. Bet you can...
The main theme in this title is one she recycled in Little Lord Fauntleroy, that of an unknown American inheriting the title and lands of an English estate.
Having read a biography or two about the author and knowing that her marriages and life was not totally satisfactory, I feel that she created stories with a Cinderella like quality and a happy ending to fulfil a need for happiness that she never achieved. The Making of a Marchioness is another one these lines, poor, lonely and poverty stricken woman achieves a rich and wealthy marriage as well as love; A Little Princess where Sarah Crewe goes from wealth to poverty to wealth and happiness again; The Shuttle, an abused and unhappy wife is saved by her strong sister who also finds love in the doing; The Lost Prince in which the hero comes into his own kingdom and, of course, Little Lord Fauntleroy where a young child redeems the miserable and unhappy life of his grandfather, alone and lonely in his great house.
T Temberom is an orphan in New York. Left alone by the death of his mother who was married to a feckless Englishman, he has nobody to care for him and has to live by his wits. This he does and gradually achieves a second hand society column in a local paper and a room in a boarding house. Here he meets Mr Hutchison, a Lancashire man who has come to the USA with an invention which will make his fortune, only it doesn't and he and his daughter Ann are on their uppers and soon to go back to England. Ann or Little Ann as everyone calls her, is a wonder of virtue, wise advice and motherly instincts who could be a rather irritating character but she isn't, she escapes it somehow. Burnett has the knack of knowing how far she can go with a 'good' person and stops short of making them totally insupportable and nauseating.
T Tembarom falls in love with her and she with him but then the unexpected happens. An English solicitor calls at the boarding house to inform him that he is the last surviving relative of Temple Temple Barholm and the heir to a mighty estate in England. He has to go there to claim his inheritance and Ann refuses to marry him until he has been there a year, seen and met with the cream of society before she will allow him to think of making her his wife.
So off he goes and with him goes a man who he rescued in New York when he discovered him homeless and ill with memory loss and not knowing who he was or where he came from. He was an Englishman so T Tembarom thinks that being at home in his country might help him recover his health and strength and restore his memory.
Then we find out that the heir to the title and estate vanished in disgrace years before, accused of cheating at cards and fled to America and went gold prospecting and his death was reported after a mine explosion in which many perished. He left behind the woman he loved, Joan, now bitter and unhappy and locked into a dreadful hateful relationship with her mother as they both clung to the edges of society, the only way out being a marriage for either of them.
The scene is set: a rough New Yorker inheriting the title, a missing heir, a man who has no recollection who he is, a bitter unhappy woman mourning her lost love, her scheming and malicious mother and the possibility that the missing heir might just be alive after all............
I love this book. T Tembarom is an immensely likeable young man who takes everything thrown at him with cheerfulness and steadfastness, he sticks to his love Ann through thick and thin and the story of his rags to riches career is delightful. While some of the servants despise him for an upstart, those he takes into his confidence and who help him with the everyday etiquette and dress and manners that he knows he lacks, become his devoted admirers and supporters. His easy way with the villagers and his care of their needs endear him to them as well and he is a character very easy to like and love.
This book is sentimental and warm and, of course, you know what is going to happen and what the ending will be but though I have read this many times and am familiar with the outcome, I find myself breathlessly reading the last few chapters and waiting for the denouement with great excitement. I never tire of it and I never tire of reading and re-reading books by this author. I think Frances Hodgson Burnett is a wonderful writer and though she is known and rightly so, for her children's books, I maintain that her adult books are her best. She was writing them long before Little Lord Fauntleroy sent her into JK Rowling territory and popularity.
As I said, sentimental and warm but at the heart of all of her books there are characters who are good and true and who are determined to do the right thing come what may.
Do try it - it is free for your Kindle along with many of her other titles. Or you could really throw caution to the winds and buy her entire works for 99p.
At the Felixstowe Book Festival this July I am hosting An Afternoon of Romance (will give more details in another post). I love romantic novels and am not ashamed to say so though there is a feeling that these books are not worthy of being classified in with the litterati literature and that makes me cross. Marketed with pink and pastel covers and aimed at the female market, I suppose it is inevitable that this will happen but there are so many good writers out there who go unappreciated. I was therefore delighted to receive, in the last few weeks, two press released of events celebrating Romance and I am very pleased to feature them on Random.
UK’s leading publisher of romantic fiction returns to roots, taking #RomanceOnTheRoad for Valentine’s Day
Mills & Boon partner with The Reading Agency to champion mobile libraries- Over 70 mobile libraries around the UK to take part in #RomanceOnTheRoad campaign, 6th - 20th February. Mills & Boon to celebrate origins of success, rooted in mobile libraries.
Mills & Boon sell more than 200 million novels a year around the globe, but how many of us realise that its success was rooted in the mobile library where Charles Boon worked before co-founding Mills & Boon in 1908. (The publishers was not totally given over to romance as it is today, but published books of all kinds, including school text books and, also, was the publisher of Call of the Wild by Jack London - my note).
Working with the mobile library Boon knew what his market wanted and he developed a brand that was not only awarded special status in World War 2 for its boosting benefits, but has continued to be loved worldwide up to day. Mills and Boon appreciated the cultural importance of mobile libraries and are demonstrating their support to deliver the love of reading to everyone, especially those who do not have access to a static library.
When I worked as a librarian I used to go out on the mobile library and it was my favourite day of the week as I met so many lovely people and got to know their likes and dislikes and used to put books to one side for them. These days mobile libraries are even more important as local libraries are being shut down on a regular basis which I think is criminal stupidity of the worst kind. This is what Lisa Milton, executive publisher at Mills & Boon has to say about mobile libraries:
"We are really excited to be working with the Reading Agency once again, particularly on this campaign to recognise and reward the work of mobile libraries......growing up I visited my mobile library every week on Fridays after school and even now I can remember climbing up the steep steps into the van and the joy I felt when the librarian handed me a book I had ordered..."
That feeling is one I still feel today - so check it out #RomanceontheRoad.
Also popping up in my In Box as week or so ago was another email re a Romantic Event. Details are as follows:
On Monday 13th February four romance writers will get together at Tottenham Court Road Waterstones and discuss the Romance genre; how it has evolved over time - the impact of feminism and Self-Publishing - and where it is heading now. Audiences will also be offered a free glass of wine upon arrival!
Our four writers are Isabelle Broom (My Map of You) – writer and books editor of Heat Magazine – Sarah Morgan (New York, Actually) - the USA Today bestselling author who specialises in traditional "chick lit" and well-crafted happy endings - Nicola Cornick (The Phantom Tree) – international bestseller of historical fiction and vice chair for the Romantic Novelists Association - and Jean Fullerton (Wedding Bells out to Fanny) – writer of the well-loved East London Nurses series. They will be interviewed by Fanny Blake, books editor for Woman & Home.
This sounds great fun and very interesting and if I can manage to drag myself out of my comfy armchair I will try and attend. All these writers are being interviewed by Fanny Blake, who appeared at the Felixstowe Book Festival last year alongside Veronica Henry, and was just lovely and lively and interesting.
So lots of Romance coming up and, as I said earlier, I am hosting An Afternoon of Romance at Felixstowe this year and I am really looking forward to it. Hope to see you there...