"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Saturday, October 31, 2009

On the Move

La Belle Fog--I mean, France--from the Eurostar train on the way to Lille.

I even shot video as we zipped along.

We disembarked at Bruxelles-Midi railway station.

Eight years have passed since I was in Brussels, that station or the city. But shortly after we left the train the intervening years evaporated. I was enveloped by remembered smells as I inhaled the combined and very heady aromas of melted chocolate and pipe tobacco. The scent of Brussels. And suddenly I wished--for a moment--that we were staying, instead of hurrying on to Platform 20 to catch the Antwerp train.

I'm always conscious of the creativity and whimsy of the Belgians. The station was hung with paper pumpkin cut-outs, dangling from on high. And a baguette shop's Halloween window display featured not only pumpkin art, but this fierce fanged carrot. I love that the artist made use of that other orange vegetable!

Lovely sunset just before we entered the city, visible from the train windows. I fear it may be the last we see of the sun for a while...but that's all right. Unless I'm headed for the Caribbean, I don't travel for the weather!

Friday, October 30, 2009


The intrepid photographer prepares for a busy day.

The morning market in Pye Street.

Channel 4 television has its logo created in brollies.

I started the day at the Tate. When I went there I didn't know what would happen. I re-visited favourite works (especially the John Singer Sargents--Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, et al. The Constables. The Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. The Hockney Room.

Unexpectedly I found the elusive answer to a research question in an enormous Canaletto view of a London scene.

And (news flash!) I found the subject of a new novel.

That's the trouble when the brain lies fallow. The ideas come springing up like weeds. I already know the novel after this one, and now I've found the one after that. It's exciting and inconvenient all at the same time. I've got loads of revision awaiting me, and then the intial work on the next novel...and now this. But all in all, it's a Good Thing. And proof that one never knows where or when lightning will strike.

Walked along the river through Chelsea. Just before Chelsea Hospital for soldiers (built by Christopher Wren for King Charles II supposedly at Nell Gwyn's instigation), I passed Keats's House. Well, not exactly. Not really. It was miles out of place (the proper place being Hampstead) and the wrong century and ringed by scaffolding. Oh, how I laughed. Anyone who sees the film Bright Star will recognise that this is most definitely not the poet's neighbourhood.

Wouldn't you know it, Shelley House was right next door. Minus the scaffolding.

The grounds of Chelsea Hospital and Ranelagh Gardens adjacent were a great boost to my Dogs of London photo project.

On my way to the Chelsea Physic Garden I stopped at the National Army Museum, where they've got some big guns.

The Physic Garden deserves more time and attention than I can give it at present. Suffice it to say that I took many, many, many photos. At least two scenes of my novel take place there...in its present incarnation. Incarnation of the novel, that is. One or both scenes might come out, I don't know yet. The Physic Garden, which back then was known as the Apothecaries' Garden, looks different than it then did, but its function is unchanged.

Kept walking to Cheyne Walk (it was funny watching staff from a party planning company threading fake spiderwebs all over the black iron gates of a grand Victorian house, and posing statues of witches and hobgoblins and placing jack-o-lanterns on the front steps. Halloween party tonight! How things have changed in the UK. I've spend many an October 31st here, but we used to be the only people who even knew it was Halloween. Now the kiddies go trick-or-treating and even non-Yanks do decorations and throw parties.

Took a taxicab back to the hotel and just had time to change before meeting friends for drinks and dinner. They'd come all the way from France to see me.

We started out at the pub where the MP's hang out when not attending debates in Parliament. Sort of the Barley House of Westminster. (The Barley House is the bar/restaurant across the street from the NH State House!)

We gradutated to London's longest bar.

Then we went to the restuarant, a Portuguese place that is a longtime favourite but neglected of late. I paused to photograph the Frock of the Day in a shop window.

Wishing you a very Happy Halloween with some Chelsea pumpkins--or rather, pompions as they were known in the 17th century. (I know, technically, this variety is a sort of squash. But it's so seasonal!)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What I'm Doing

I was in transit.

On arrival I indulged in a favourite beverage.

This church is the burial site of the protagonist of my next novel. I stopped by to tell her I hadn't forgotten about her!

Many scenes in my novel-in-progress take place here at Kensington Palace.

Before re-visiting the locations of specific scenes in my book, I saw the Last Debutantes exhibition.

Here's the dress I want.

Staff member keeping the palace tidy.

The best-looking tree in the city.

Almost everyone who passed the red tree paused for a photo op with it. During my strolls through the grounds several times I offered to shoot couples or groups so everyone could be in the picture with the tree. I took a lot of pictures of it myself, from many vantages--up close, at a distance, from various palace windows.

Lots of scenes in my book take place in this section of the palace.


And here.

Discarded wigs and a tiara. That must've been one wild and crazy ball!

Queen Victoria looks like she's perched atop the hedge.

The Round Pond. I spent lots of time here during my student days, feeding fowl. It's half-term right now, so plenty of families in Kensington Gardens today.

Stopped by my favourite department store. Yes, it's already Christmas season at Selfridges.

Popped into my favourite bookshop. This one's for the reader-bloggers I know who enjoy the books from this publishing imprint.

Sunlight in Jermyn Street.

My protagonists occupied this house, briefly. My female protagonist resided in 3 different dwellings in St. James's Square--and was probably born in one of them.

View of the square from my favourite bench.

Time for a little nosh. I always pick up roasted chestnuts from the man in Oxford Street and bring them to the square.

Equestrian statue of William III. He's a character in my book.

Buckingham Palace from the bridge in St. James's Park.

A little heron fishing in the decoy area of the park.

Dinner in Mayfair at the tapas restaurant. I love this bar--and not just because it's where the mojitos are made! It's very picturesque.

What you aren't seeing: the Kensington palace gardens and most of the 17th century rooms I photographed. I'm saving those for web pages later. Nor am I posting my Dogs of London series, as I've only just got started on it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Casting Call: The Duke

Busy day. Tuesdays often are...my schedule today is different than usual, but still quite full.

Writing about real historical people has its advantages. If a person is well known--even if only in his or her lifetime--you can unearth all sorts of factual information about their habits, personality, activities, opinions. And it's possible to locate portraits. The characters in my work-in-progress often sat to painters, and my art research has been most enjoyable and informative.

When creating fictional characters I've also been inspired by portraits--or else by real life faces of actors, actresses, models, people I pass on the streets of London or spot on Underground trains.

Just for fun lately I've played around with faces, trying to match specific performers with my fictional characters, as though casting a film of my book. It turned out to be lots easier than I thought it might be. From time to time I'll share what I found here on the blog.

I'll start with the duke. This Kneller portrait was most likely painted a little before 1690, when he was in his late teens, possibly at the time of his military service with Emperor Leopold.

In my view the British actor (correct nationality is essential) who most fits the face in the portrait is Ben Barnes. Mostly because of the hair and the eyes and the complexion and the shape of his face. And he's got that indentation in his chin, which in the duke's case is rather more obvious in a later portrait by Kneller.

He looks right in fighting kit when performing in period films.

He can do remote and soulful.

And he's got quite a nice smile, too. (The duke had a sense of humour.)

Mind you, those look more like 21st century teeth than 17th/18th century teeth!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Stroll: Indoors and Out

So much rain fell last night and yesterday that today's sunshine and clear blue sky are almost shocking.

I began today's stroll indoors, where my plants are blooming.

I've brought this fluffy bi-colour impatiens in, hoping I can keep it going for some or all of the cold season.

My anniversary kalanchoe still doing its thing.

The red cyclamen in the kitchen window. (That burst of golden light behind it is the beech tree--which you'll soon see in all its glory.)

Stepping outside, I find yellowing rugosa leaves and red hips poking through the rails of the lower octagon deck.

My mermaid's bathtub is getty leafy.

A stray maple leaf on the moss.

In the front we have a towering beech tree and an even taller oak. I love them. They are a food source for our birds and chipmunks and squirrels, providing ample mast upon the ground in the form of beechnuts and acorns. And at this time of year they light up the property with their colours.

The beech sheds its leaves from the crown. Depending how much wind, the lower leaves tend to cling all winter, growing papery-thin over time.

When the sunlight hits the beech tree, the golden glow ricochets right into the house. It becomes a source of both light and colour. The section of wall in the photo below is, in fact, off-white, not bronze.

My favourite photo of the morning.

Thank you for accompanying me on my stroll. If you want to continue, visit Aisling's blog.