Friday, 17 December 2010

Istanbul / Constantinople

Poem by Orhan Veli, recited by Cem Karaca

I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed:
At first there is a gentle breeze
And the leaves on the trees
Softly sway;
Out there, far away,
I am listening to Istanbul.....


Friday, 12 November 2010


Giles Maltravers, the rake of The Rake's Challenge, is a keen yachtsman. A wealthy gentleman, he can afford a large and well appointed sloop, the Kestrel. His ship is also useful as a tool of seduction and he uses it to tempt Anna as he knows she longs to travel and find adventure on the seas.

The British passion for sailing had begun many centuries earlier. Yachts were first seen in Holland, where they were used as hunting vessels. The name comes from Jagt = to hunt.  While a boy in the 1640s, the future King Charles II learned to sail a yacht and developed a love of salt water sailing that was to last his whole life. His brother, James, was equally keen on boats. Between them, they started a new fashion among the British aristocracy, which is still popular today.

During the 17th century, yachting began to flourish across Europe. Vessels of all kinds were commissioned as yachts to the wealthy and powerful, from tiny open boats to small frigates. Yachts were instrumental in discovering new lands or in defending vital waterways. They served both as pleasure craft and as working ships, carrying people and messages swiftly and comfortably from shore to shore.
Early yachts were similar to (or had been) Royal Navy cutters, smuggling and pilot vessels.
Their owners sometimes cruised far afield - A founder member of the Royal Yacht Squadron [formed in 1815] missed the inaugural meeting as he was cruising to St Petersburg. Another is believed to have made a cruise which included a visit to Napoleon on Elba. The Prince Regent joined the RYS in 1817.
Members of this association have published accounts of voyages made for exploration, for natural history research or just for pleasure.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Downton Abbey Episode 3-The Hunt/Mary meets Pamuk

Exceeding all expectations....


Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Turks in top hats

Episode 3 of Downton Abbey featured a "gorgeous Turk" - the Earl's words, not mine. But I do agree, Kemal Pamuk [ played by Theo James ] was gorgeous.  It isn't hard to work out where Julian Fellowes got the name, only in 1912, Turks used a patronymic, not a surname so he would have been Kemal,   ...son of   ---    Never mind, by any name, Kemal Pamuk stole the show, along with Lady Mary's heart.

As I watched - and drooled - it did cross my mind that perhaps Julian Fellowes had read my story April and May and been inspired by my Kerim Pasha, another Turk who speaks perfect English and who wears a top hat.
But no, that's just wishful thinking. Probably he was inspired by photos of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was known as 'Golden Head' in his young, party-going days on the social circuit in several countries. He looked as good in the old Ottoman officer's cap as he did in a top hat.


                                                  Which headgear do you prefer?

Friday, 8 October 2010

Finding inspiration


Our stop in Arles was intended to break a long car journey. We had time to visit the Museum [see previous blog entry] and in addition allowed ourselves another hour for a meal and a short walk in the old town. It was a sunny day, hot enough for everyone to walk in the shade of the massive plane trees that lined the road. The cafe terraces were crowded and the open air restaurants pretty full as well.

Right opposite the Espace van Gogh [what was the hospital when he lived in Arles] we found a small restaurant where we sat under a parasol and ate lamb tagine followed by fromage frais with honey and red fruits. The atmosphere was peaceful, the food was good and the pace of life distinctly leisurely.

                            The Espace Van Gogh, a colourful square surrounded by shady arcades.
There was just time for a short stroll to the nearby Place de la République to see the 'pyramide' and the marvellous carved figures on the façade of St Trophime cathedral.
The impression we gained is that Arles is a town where it is good to live. And we only saw it on an ordinary day. There are many traditions, many festivals. At such times the city is vibrant and recalls its long and rich history.
Plenty there to set the imagination working.



Saturday, 2 October 2010

Inspiring... Arles, the Rhone and Julius Caesar

                                                         Arles centre and the Rhone

The Rhone River: Memories of Caesar.

 This stunning exhibition is currently on display in the Musée Départemental Arles Antique.
For the last twenty years archaeologists have been working underwater, pulling out of the murk and silt of the mighty River Rhone over seven hundred objects that bear witness to to the importance of the city in Roman times. In addition to everyday items and evidence of trade in every type of material, there are artefacts which show the wealth and culture of Arles in the Roman era.
The highlight of the exhibition is this bust of Julius Caesar. The carved head seems so real, so immediate that it is easy to feel this is a man you could meet round the next street corner [on his way to the theatre or the arena... sorry, imagination running away with me there...]

More intriguing for me, was the metal statuette placed next to Caesar - and at a lower level - of the Gaulish captive. This man, stripped of his clothes, hands tied and forced to his knees before the conqueror of his country, is a poignant reminder of the power of brute force, perhaps more so with all the trappings of wealth and ceremony surrounding him.

I'm left with the feeling that his tale must be told....

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Caversham Court Gardens. Using and adapting local elements in stories

Imagination is what keeps a writer writing but a lot of "what ifs" are triggered by facts, events and places in our daily lives. Recently a group of Romantic Novelists' Association writers met up to discuss historical research and to visit Caversham Court Gardens. This site has just reopened after a major renovation.

The medieval manor that existed here from the early 1200s was improved into a beautiful Tudor wooden beam and plaster building called "The Striped House". Further additions followed and a total makeover took place in the 1820s, giving the house crenellations and a mock gothic facade. The gardens remained as lovely as ever, with a long terrace and a lower lawn running down to the river Thames.


At the back of the gardens the crinkle-crankle wall has been preserved through the centuries. The winding shape both holds back the earth of the hill behind and collects heat which encourages the plants in the kitchen garden to grow well.

The house was demolished in the 1930s but thanks to restoration by the Friends of Caversham Court Gardens, there is now a brick "footprint" of the house, with plaques showing which room was which. Here are some of our writers /researchers, taking tea in the drawing room.


As I live in Caversham, I used this lovely setting in April and May. Rivercourt, home of the heroine's aunt, is based on Caversham Court. It is a thrill to adapt something in this way but sometimes I wonder if it blurs reality and imagination a little too much....?

My heroine, Rose, stays with her uncle and aunt at Rivercourt. Rose is artistic and she finds plenty to paint in the grounds of the old house. But her aunt and uncle are antiquarians and more interested in ancient Egyptian civilisation than in keeping their home in good order. While Aunt Emily tries to decipher hieroglyphics, Rose worries about restoring the crumbling plaster, and curing the damp.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Latest review of "April and May"

The August 2010 edition of the Historical Novels Review says of April and May

  [after a brief description of the plot] unusual setting, a tense love story against a background of political intrigue and deadly danger. Some of the details of life in a Turkish household are lovingly described, especially the gorgeous fabrics, but I would have liked more about the city itself and its life. Similarly, the final danger Rose encounters is muted, over almost before it began. Nevertheless, this is a good read and a satisfying love story for those who like suspense and physical danger alongside the romance.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Ottoman elements

The first section of April and May takes place in a wealthy seaside Turkish home, called a yali. These mansions were mainly built of wood and the upper stories overhung the ground floor. They had many windows and so were light and airy inside. The ground floor would only have windows in the inner walls, around the courtyard. On the upper floors lattices covered the windows to ensure privacy.

 The Selamlik was the salon where male visitors would be received for a meeting with the man of the house.
The Harem was the women's quarters and the only men admitted into those rooms would be members of the close family.

This picture of ladies in their part of the house is by Osman Hamdi Bey. He went to Paris to study Law but gave it up to become an artist, studying under two French Orientalist painters. If you like his style of painting, type his name into Google for a marvellously rich series of portraits. He was not only an artist but an incredibly talented statesman and archaeologist.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Research and relaxation

The more times I visit Mavikent, the more layers I discover to the history of the area. We approach the place from Adana, driving past Tarsus, where Cleopatra made her famous visit to Mark Antony, arriving at the city in a gold barge rowed by silver-tipped oars. Then we pass the castle where in 1482 Cem Sultan and the few survivors of his struggle against his brother, the Sultan Bayazid II, slipped down to the sea and set off in a French boat to take refuge in Rhodes.

Korykos and Kizkulesi [ Maiden's Castle]

At Kizkalesi [ Maiden's Castle ] we can set off uphill to an endless series of ancient sites, Greek, Roman and Byzantine, culminating in the sacred city of Diocaesaria, now know as Uzuncaburc [ Turkish for tall columns ] or we can pause at the tiny museum of The Three Graces at Narlikuyu and have a meal in the fish restaurant over the road.

Fish Restaurant [with River 'Styx' flowing into the sea] at Narlikuyu

Then it's on to Silifke, ancient Seleucia, spreading along the Goksu river that comes tumbling down wide and green from the Taurus mountains. There is plenty to visit in this pleasant town, whether we want to study the history of the place or simply visit the shops and wander round the huge Friday market.
North of the town is a monument to Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who drowned in a sudden flood in June 1190, while camped on the river bank on his way to the Third Crusade.

Beach and half-hidden village of Mavikent

But we proceed along the Antalya highway until we reach the almost hidden turnoff for Mavikent. We make our way over the top of the hill and down a series of hairpin bends until we reach the end of the peninsula and enter this secret village. Our aim is relaxation and some research for more stories...with an Ottoman theme.

Monday, 12 July 2010

The Pirate Coast

The southern Turkish coast, north of Cyprus, is rugged and wild. The Taurus Mountains in the background rise high and jagged, sending everything tilting down towards the sea at a sharp angle. The whole region is fragrant with pinewoods and myrtle. The bright green slopes, the dazzling blue sky and the turquoise and deep lapis of the sea create a rich background to life here. The sun shines on at least three hundred days of the year.

 This area has been inhabited since very ancient times.The ancient entrance to the Underworld, where the River Styx flows, can still be visited [by the intrepid] near the little town of Kizkalesi.You can hear the mainly underground river roaring along as you descend into the grotto, which quickly becomes dark and slippery. This is the Cave of Heaven [Cennet in Turkish]. A little further up the hillside is the chasm of Hell [Cehennem]. Prisoners to be punished were cast down into this horribly deep maw. The only way to get in - or out - alive, is on a rope....

The river reaches the coast at Narlikuyu, and flows into the sea after passing through the Greek and then Roman bathhouse with its mosaic of the Three Graces. This is now a one room museum, opened up as required when tourists arrive.

To preserve the mosaic, the water has been diverted back underground at this point [very close to the sea]. It is said that bathing in the water of this river keeps you young. In olden days the pirates put into the bay to take on supplies of this fresh water where it flowed into the sea. Now the rivermouth is firmly in the middle of an open air fish restaurant, where it is the main attraction.

Pirates are only seen on Sundays when they run hour long boat trips from Bohsak Bay or Tasucu Port along the coast to Tisan and back. Of course, any other activities are kept as secret as ever.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Book Launch for APRIL AND MAY

This story has some links to events in my own life. The heroine has a family home in Caversham [where I lived as a student] and where I came back to live after a number of years abroad. She also goes to Constantinople, a city I have visited often. The only difference is that I love it and she prefers London.
She then returns to Caversham....

This launch was a very enjoyable party and the laughter and the interaction of my guests was very gratifying. Oh, and I sold quite a few books. I hope everyone enjoys the story. Waiting to hear about that.
Well, actually, there have been some positive comments already.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

APRIL AND MAY My new story is published

The cover of my new story [published on 31st May] shows sunset over Constantinople.

It is May 1804 and Tom Hawkesleigh is engaged on urgent secret business for the Sultan. The last thing he needs is for three English ladies to arrive at the embassy, demanding help, especially when he finds that one of them is Rose, the girl he has been trying to forget.

Rose is no better pleased to meet up with Tom, the man who abandoned her.

But life in Constantinople is bewildering and dangerous. And the Sultan's chief minister, Kerim Pasha, draws Rose into the secret plan. Danger follows even when Rose returns to London. Tom is desperate to help but she remains fiercely independent. Yet, underneath, as she discovers what drove Tom away four years previously, all her barriers come down. But by this time it may well be too little too late...
Istanbul [as Constantinople is now called] is a magical city and one I've been visiting for over forty years. One day, while crossing the Bosphorus in an 'ordinary' ferry boat, I saw a small wooden caique with red and gold cloth draped over the cabin and being rowed by a dozen sturdy young men in traditional costume with sleeveless red jackets. It's a tourist attraction and costly, but it must be a wonderful experience to glide from Europe to Asia in such a way. Of course, I had to make use of a caique in my story.

Having a Turkish husband, I've been fortunate to experience much hospitality in many homes and many different regions of Turkey. I've tried to convey the sheer kindness of the welcome they give to visitors.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Romance Panel

On Wednesday evening, 2nd June, five members of the Reading RNA Chapter formed a Romance Panel in Reading Library to talk about our writing and answer questions. Of these five published authors, two write historical and three write modern romantic fiction.

Julie Cohen, Beth Elliott, Tania Crosse, Janet Gover and Nina Harrington faced a packed audience full of goodwill and eager to ask how we find our ideas - and more importantly, how we find a publisher. Other areas of interest were what is involved in writing a good sex scene and how do we go about research for each new novel.

With so much interest and so many ideas to share the time went by far too quickly for all of us.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Another piece of the jigsaw of writing and publishing

This is my dear friend Seyda, who until her retirement worked extremely hard as an English teacher in Adana, Turkey. She taught in a Science Academy, where the students were high-flyers and went on to study medicine, engineering, etc. They needed to be fluent in English before starting a university course, so the standard was very high.

Seyda's two daughters were also high-flyers and grew up learning to speak good English as well as studying very hard in all their subjects. In fact, Arzu, her elder daughter, has been teaching English at Bosphorus University in Istanbul for a number of years. Arzu has also found time to research translation, a subject she finds endlessly fascinating. At present we are waiting for her to finish her PhD on a related area. Already she has brought out this book, which casts new light on the role - and manipulation - of translating texts from one language into another.

Thursday, 20 May 2010


The most common fan in the 18th Century was the folding variety based on Chinese models. Unlike their Asian counterparts, however, European fans had elaborately carved and decorated sticks, made of ivory, mother-of-pearl, horn, wood, and tortoise shell. Fan leaves were made of vellum and paper and were both hand painted and printed.

A Vernis Martin fan of the early Eighteenth Century.

Lace fans were extremely unusual and fabric fans were not used at all until the 19th Century.

The sticks and guards of this Nineteenth Century fan are made of mother of pearl. The lace is further embellished with embroidery.

In 1709, Sir Richard Steele commented in The Tatler that "the fan is the armour of women" and "the men's minds are constructed by the waving of that little instrument...our thoughts in composure or agitation according to the motion of it".

The language of the fan could be understood by both sexes and was an important means of communication. A quick gesture conveyed a silent message that could escape the attention of a chaperone or a jealous spouse. Thus, drawing the fan across your left cheek indicated 'I love you' or letting it rest on the right cheek meant 'yes'. Touching the tip of the fan with one finger meant 'I wish to talk to you' but holding the closed fan with your little finger extended meant 'goodbye'. There is a long list of what the various gestures mean - no wonder the gentlemen were in 'composure or agitation' at social gatherings as they sought to decide their ladies' mood on that evening.

It was considered acceptable for a gentleman to offer a fan as a gift to a lady, perhaps at Christmastime. Many of these were works of art, with pierced and gilded ivory or mother of pearl sticks and guards, and delicately painted leaves of paper, embroidered muslin or lace.  

File:Hand fan 1815 1820.jpg

Blond horn brisé hand fan with steel dots applied. It is a typical exemple of the early decades of XIX century.

Friday, 23 April 2010

St George's Day

Today is a bright sunny day, and the trees are covered in clouds of pink and white blossom or else tender pinkish and palest green leaves. The gardens are bright with tulips and violets. A perfect English Spring day to celebrate St George.

It's amazing how very universal he is. Images of George slaying the dragon can be found all the way from England through the Balkans into Greece, Turkey, Syria and beyond. There is a link to the routes taken by waves of crusaders but maybe St George is popular everywhere for being a warrior and a hero. What could be more romantic?

He has also become entwined with local customs and legends, so that he is associated with a variety of traditions. On Buyuk Ada, the largest of the Princes' Islands close to Istanbul, there is a monastery dedicated to St George [Aya Yorgi ] on top of the highest hill. On 23rd April, any girl who wants to find a husband, will walk up the final kilometre barefoot, unwinding a reel of cotton as she goes. If her cotton is long enough and does not break before she reaches the church on the hilltop, she will get her husband within the year.

PS After reaching the church and going in to light a candle, examine all the pictures and hangings and writing a wish to put in the wish box, everyone heads off to the open air restaurant on the very crown of the hill. It's a fact that a simple meal here tastes like the finest feast, due to the fresh air, the sense of achievement at getting to the top and the splendid views across the sea to Istanbul in the distance.

Monday, 12 April 2010

VENETIA and later

After joining in the Riskies' readalong of Georgette Heyer's Venetia, I began to wonder [as I always did on reaching the end of a story I'd enjoyed]... what did happen to them all.

So here's my version.

Damerel married Venetia by Special Licence six weeks after she had finally convinced him she understood what she was doing. He whisked her off on a prolonged tour of Europe [with the first stop in Paris for the purchase of dashing new clothes] and the Mediterranean. It was a dream journey for two people very much in love and able to understand each other's ideas so well.

Aubrey joined them when they visited Italy and Greece. In Athens they met various families involved in excavations and the preservation of ancient artefacts. The bluestocking daughter of one such family became a great friend of Aubrey's, a relationship which blossomed - but that's another story....

Eventually, Venetia and Damerel took up residence at the Priory, where renovations and improvements slowly turned it into a splendid home. With Venetia's experience in land management, rents improved and Damerel eventually rebuilt his fortune. He was much inspired in this work by the birth of two lovely daughters and a son.

The rose garden was Venetia's special place. It became a perfumed outdoor room, a delight for the senses. When they were not absent on one of their journeys of exploration, it was here that she and Damerel liked to walk every afternoon to recall their first meetings and all the events of a full and happy marriage.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010


Lisbon is a delightful city to visit. It has a historic centre that is unusually harmonious. After the earthquake of 1755 threw down everything except the eastern, Moorish quarter, the centre was rebuilt on a grid pattern. The wide avenues and large houses remain largely unchanged from that period, creating a peaceful, pleasant setting. There are many enormous squares, all paved [like the streets] in tiny black and white cobbles and with impressive fountains playing. The town then grew westwards with fine villas and state buildings added. However, it is still a comfortably small city.

You cannot go far in Lisbon without going steeply up or downhill. But if your legs get tired, the public transport is a dream - clean, frequent and cheap, whether it's buses, trams or the Underground.

At the back of the tram is a small notice : Passengers-20 seated, 38 standing. Even fully loaded, these trams cruise smoothly up and down the hills along tiny, winding alleys.

In early March the sun shines, even if the air is still chilly. The many trees and shrubs are putting out their first blossoms. The buildings rise in coloured tiers on the hills that make up the city. To the east, Alfama shows it's origin as the oldest, Moorish town in its narrow, winding alleys, tiny squares and flights of steps where  the hills are too steep for a road. Above it is the Castelo di Sao Jorge, originally Moorish but much enlarged by the Portuguese kings and now a focal point from every part of the city.

The River Tagus is incredibly wide and offers tremendous scope for commercial and tourist ports. A number of ferries operate for those people who live south of the river. My next story begins when my hero arrives in Lisbon in 1808, so of course I needed to approach the town as he would have done - from the water. Research like this is a very pleasant pastime especially when the Portuguese people are so friendly and helpful.

Friday, 19 March 2010

A big thrill

Today I'm feeling very pleased because of a trip to my local Waterstone's bookshop. Lo and behold my own stories were there - not just one but several copies of my books on the shelf. That has really made my day.

I write adventure romance tales set in Regency times. They are published by Robert Hale and Hale hardbacks are not often seen on the shelves in bookshops. You can find them in libraries or order them from Robert Hale, Amazon or The Book Depository.
So at the moment, I'm walking on air. The photo is to reassure myself I didn't dream it.


Saturday, 27 February 2010


Anything and anyone can be a source of inspiration for a character. If it's a question of a beautiful mouth, this one is ideal. The lips form a perfect bow.

This is Mahsun Kirmizigül, a Turkish singer, song-writer and film maker.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Beautiful and sad. Kazim Koyuncu sings "Didou Nana"

Didou Nana

Kâzım Koyuncu (November 7, 1971 in Hopa, Artvin Province, Turkey – June 25, 2005 in Istanbul, Turkey) was a Turk-Laz folk-rock singer, song writer, and activist.

An ethnic Laz, Koyuncu recorded songs in a number of languages spoken along the northeastern Black Sea coast of Turkey, as well as the language of Laz.
He died during treatment for lung cancer in 2005.
Although he primarily sang in Turkish, he is most famous for having sung in Lazuri. His albums also contain several songs in Armenian, Homshetsi, Georgian and Megrelian.
He was a well-known activist in environmental and cultural issues, as well as other things that were at risk and needed protection in Turkey.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Valentine heroes - the winner

All week it was such a pleasure to refresh my creative senses by gazing at the photos of George Clooney, Roque Santa-Cruz and Ildebrando d'Arcangelo. [ see post below ]
They certainly cheer a girl up!

But for Valentine's Day, the ultimate hero has to be Antonio Banderas.
I'm just a sucker for those Latin eyes..... sigh. The air sizzles and..... he's certainly going in my novel.