It’s been a busy year(ish) since starting this blog, and I think I can safely say that things are getting better. Spring is coming and the future certainly looks a lot brighter than it did a few months ago. There are bulbs coming up all over the garden, gloriously bright yellows and blues. And indoors, at my kitchen table, I’ve got writing ideas buzzing around in my head. Now that Thomas Marchant is out there on Amazon, I’m having a little break from the 18th century.
My current work in progress is a possible novella, set in Ancient Delphi. A sort of time travelling first person narrative. Here’s the first chapter of Falling.
I am on the top of a hill. Nearby, a painted building appears to glows; the tiny slivers of quartz in the marble columns dazzle. I am probably dreaming.
A figure in the distance turns towards me. The folds of his white robe droop in places. The man is bareheaded in the sunshine, clothing like something from a dressing-up box. A chiton.
‘ Hello,’ I call.
The man ignores me. I call again.
This time, he seems to notice but takes off down the track. He isn’t friendly.
The building might shelter me from the blaze of the sun, perhaps have a cool interior, a respite from the heat.
I look around. The hills across the valley shade blue into the distance, hazy, soft, and shimmering. The smell of vines wafts up from below in the heat. The sun is directly above. Midday.
The man reappears as I step into the pool of shade around the roofed portico.
He is not alone.
He comes towards me carrying a pole while others wait behind him. I shrink back into a space between a column and the wall of the building. He passes by, apparently unaware of my presence. It’s not a pole; it’s a spear.
I slide further round the column to the interior. In bare feet that make no noise, I feel the smooth floor, cool despite the heat outside; I can breathe.
Noises approach. Angry voices. I am pulled from my hiding place by the many hands of the crowd. I smell the acrid scent of the burnt branches they carry.
‘Aarrh!’ The crowd falls back to form a circle around me.
‘You must help us, Pythia!’ a small woman says.
‘You must help me,‘ I say. Pythia?
‘Your words will give us hope,’ says another.
‘Hope of what?’ I ask.
‘Our prayers are answered, and you must speak,’ says the small woman. They talk in riddles and I make a noise of frustration.
They fall back further. There is a large circle of space around me. Across the invisible barrier, they call to me.
‘We shall bring food and drink,’ says the man with the spear who has stepped forward to the front of the crowd. ‘To the temple.’
‘Who are you?’ I ask.
‘We are your supplicants.’ The crowd speaks as one, as if practised.
The man repeats some of the woman’s words. ‘You have answered our prayers, and now you must speak,’ he says.
Now the man with the weapon is near me. I see that the shaft and blade are covered in thick blood.
The small woman points to the building.
Two more women step forward and lead me down the hill. I am caught. If I run, they will stop me, though I am a head taller and longer limbed than most of them. Too many for me to fight. I must bide my time though the adrenaline tells me to go…now.
This dream needs to end but I cannot shake it off. And it is too coherent. Dreams can be vivid but fragmented. That is not what is happening here.
‘You must enter the Sanctuary,’ the small woman says.
The temple is bright, perfect. There are no bruises in the marble, no broken columns.
Their hands are more gentle now, but they still surround me and guide me towards the back of the building where the smell and the dark close in on me. A door in the distance slams shut. I am a prisoner.
Today’s blog features the fabulous novel ‘By Immortal Honor Bound’ from the pen of Danielle Ancona.
Excerpt from Chapter 5, 332 BCE ~ The Lyceum, Athens, Greece
The tone of Aristotle’s voice signaled Malachi the great philosopher was drawing his public session to a close.
Aristotle concluded the lecture. He turned to move from the stage to enter the annex off the Lyceum.
The crowds surged, wanting to touch the philosopher’s white robes and ask him questions about their own situations. Malachi strained to watch every movement about his silver-haired charge and keep his wards strong and sensitive to infiltration attempts. The few moments of Aristotle’s journey from stage to annex were the most nerve-wracking for Malachi. He scanned the teeming crowd for signs of malice, or voids of emotion and thought, as assassins were often adept at masking all.
Once Aristotle made it to the main door, Malachi caught up with him using camouflaged, preternatural speed.
Relief flowed through Malachi as he and Aristotle reached the other side of the door and his strong wards of protection. They walked through the entrance hall and deeper into the house.
He checked and reset the daily protection wards over and through the compound for the philosopher. He changed them often to prevent the Seraph from learning how to get past his ethereal boundaries.
Aristotle spent his days poring through and coalescing the writings of prior great teachers, including Plato—his own teacher—and Socrates. Plato had also transcribed Socrates’s writings. Aristotle wove the insightful words of many into a multi-faceted, complex, and seamless tapestry of philosophy, the breadth of which left Malachi in awe.
Sitting down to the mid-day meal with Aristotle and his wife, Pythias, Malachi, and Aristotle enjoyed shared laughs from the colorful antics of the morning crowd. Malachi caught sight of the statuesque Adelpha, Pythia’s handmaiden, striding down the hall from Pythia’s quarters to the kitchens. Her thick fall of burnished blonde hair piled high on her head added to her proud carriage. His admiration of her confidence, natural sensuality, and quick wit rose in the warm smile which stole over his stern countenance.
Adelpha stopped mid-stride as she caught his smile and warm glance. Mischief lit her deep brown eyes when she lifted the corners of her mouth. She broke off the shared moment with that feminine, sidelong look gifted to women, and returned to her business at hand as she entered the kitchen.
Malachi brought his attention back to his meal and dove with appreciation into his midday repast. He enjoyed the crusty, fresh bread paired with salted sheep’s milk cheese and succulent olives while his mind wandered over Adelpha’s lush curves.
“Malachi, your thoughts, if you will,” Aristotle said as he interrupted Malachi’s carnal musings.
Bread halfway to his mouth, Malachi struggled to clear the fog of his daydreams and bring his thoughts from his loins and food to the great teacher.
“If Socrates chose to drink the hemlock, did he commit suicide or was he executed?” questioned Aristotle, referring to the well-known trial and death of Socrates sixty-seven years earlier.
Contemplation took Malachi’s gaze far away while he chewed. He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing, then shared his thoughts, “Plato wrote that Socrates postulated he did not hold wisdom, thus his wisdom exceeded others. He admitted his own lack of understanding. Plato also wrote that Socrates understood that if he did not accept the judgment of death from the courts of Athens, he would turn the citizens against the leaders of the city, and this would be of great detriment.” Increased sureness imbued Malachi’s voice as he arrived at his answer. He looked to Aristotle and said, “He accepted his execution. He would not have chosen to die without the judgment against him. Therefore, he did not commit suicide.”
Aristotle nodded, “Most excellent perspective, my friend. You are indeed learning.”
Interview with Danielle Ancona
Tell us about your latest book.
I have included a bit more information than what is in the blurb, but not too much (I hope):
By Immortal Honor Bound is an epic adventure, woven through history. An uncomfortable alliance is struck between Celestials and deities of the Greeks & Egyptians to protect the pursuit of knowledge and free-will of human-kind from the Seraph Rebellion. This rebellion is led by Gideon, a fallen archangel. This protection of “pursuit of knowledge” takes us through history, and interactions with historical figures. I feature several pioneering women of science through the centuries – which interesting, fun and eye-opening for me to research.A warrior angel, Malachi, leads legions in protecting humankind. He also interacts with the deities quite a bit and is rather the “James Dean” of Celestials–a rebel with a cause, if you will– and is made earthbound by the Celestials as an Immortal Guardian as they consider him blasphemous yet have a dire need to keep him on this side of the alliance. Malachi, while embittered, is loyal to the core. He garner’s Gideon’s attention through the centuries, foiling him many times over, in various interactions.
Malachi is assigned to York in the 1620’s and falls in love with a gifted alchemist, Daphne. Of note, King James passed a second Witchcraft Act in 1604. Daphne apprentices with Dante Santorum, a fictional eminent western alchemist. Contemporary male alchemists are not happy that Daphne has taken they what perceive as their entitlement to apprentice with Dante.
Seeing Malachi’s love as an opportunity to defeat him, Gideon puts dark machinations into play. He influences the male alchemists to use the Witcraft Act against Daphne, as this would get her out of their way.
Malachi is brought to the brink of defeat by Gideon. Will he choose a mortal love, or will he be By Immortal Honor Bound?
Figures of Greek and Egyptian mythology are written seamlessly through the story, their power and skill valued by both camps. These figures of mythology provide for interesting plot lines and interactions, as well as characters.
How do you start your writing routine?
Any way I can.
It’s a challenge with working full time, and then some. Social media also gets in the way, although I am typically fairly disciplined with such.
I have my goals set for the week.
I have what I want to tackle outlined for the morning or the night. I often write at 4am–before work–or after dinner.
I either put my feet up on my bed or on a chair on the patio.
I have coffee and lemonade.
I have my phone for my thesaurus app.
I have my research Word table open and ready to go, with my dates, historical figure and event occurrences I weave into the story, plot outline, character interactions.
I often inform my family of the time I have blocked out for writing, so they don’t make other plans which involve me, or so that I have fair warning I need to shift me schedule – my writing and sleep hours and precious. My family time is also precious.
Have you any advice for new writers?
Start with short stories.
Just write – just do it. Like Nike.
Read your work out loud, then listen to it.
Edit your own work, then another set of eyes is imperative.
If someone takes the time & thought to critique your work, listen, think, digest. Do not be offended. This is how you will learn.
Critique another person’s work – you will learn a lot by doing this.
How do you raise awareness of your books?
By doing Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours 😊
I will be doing author interviews who write historical fiction and historical fantasy, this will generate cross audience interest.
Following historical fiction & historical fantasy writers.
Instagram –the hashtags target audiences.
FB ads with a targeted audience.
Word of mouth.
I am still learning 😊
I will take any idea you have
I am grateful for everyone who takes the time to read my stories, and will try to express so in my deeds, and interactions. I believe that comes back to a person.
Which authors do you most admire?
Tom Clancy – he is adept at weaving in technical information without it being an information dump.
Patricia Cromwell, Michael Crichton
Anthony D Redden – Historical horror
Anita Diamont – The Red Tent
Dr. Simon Singh, The Big Bang; Dr. Michael Benton, When Life Nearly Died
I am a huge fan of biographers. I love diving into reading what life what like in the past and political intrigue.
Alison Weir, tons of biographies concerning the Western Europe monarchy – primarily English
David McCullough – several American biographies
Brian Kilmeade, George Washington’s Secret Six
Dava Sobel, Galileo’s Daughter
Lindsay Fitzharris, The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine
What was the scene you must enjoyed writing?
The River Styx. I felt like I could sink my teeth into it.
What are you planning to write next?
I am currently writing Book II, Dante’s Fire. This is Katherine’s story, if you have read Book I. This story spans from 181 CE to modern day; taking place in York, England; Caledonia, the Wall of Hadrian, and the Five Rivers of the Underworld.
Katherine is prominent secondary character in By Immortal Honor Bound and has been many readers’ favorite. She is a Sekhmet Lioness Warrior, of the Goddess Sekhmet bloodline. Sekhmet is the Egyptian goddess of war, plagues & healing. Egyptian monikers for her were: “Lady of Slaughter” and “she whom before Evil trembles”, among others.
Katherine is aptly Sekhmet, as she is entwined with several plagues ravaging York from 181 through to the Black Plague. She serves as a fierce protector of York and another talisman, critical to the conflict–Isaiah, the Ancient, a druidic oak–undercover as an abbess. I have nicknamed Katherine “the badass abbess of York” in my head. The Philosopher’s Stone, a way to eternal youth, will be making an appearance in this book and be a center of conflict, gritty battles, fights to the death. Gideon and the Seraph really want to get their hands on it.
About the Author
Pittsburgh has provided an interesting, vibrant and eclectic place to grow up and eventually become a writer of stories. Stories through which History, Science, Alchemy, Romance, High Stakes, and Mythology are woven.
My writing is also touched by ghostly echoes which greet me as I hike or bike through what were once bustling sites from the age of industry of the region, now reclaimed by nature. These are the ethereal remnants of those who shed their blood, sweat and tears onto what is now sacred ground.
Come dive into the stories shaped by these unique forges. The twists in the path are unexpected, fraught with danger, but always worth the journey.
Where passion and love take root unexpectedly, bloom, and somehow manage to survive against all odds, one surprising way or another.
I’m delighted to announce that my new novella is now published. Here’s a taster of the life of Thomas Marchant and a link for downloading. https://books2read.com/u/4EPGKM
Chapter 1. Like Theseus and Ariadne
The drawing room of Strand House was crowded with wedding guests enjoying a lively rigadoon. Augusta Marchant smiled coyly at her groom, and her Uncle Thomas observed them. His scrutiny was particularly marked when it came to his niece’s new husband. The man was dressed in a pale blue silk coat, embroidered with scrolls and leaves. He strutted through the dance like a peacock admiring his own reflection in a lake. Tom Marchant’s darkest suspicion was that the man was a fortune hunter, and would prey on her. She was a lady with a plentiful fortune, and a trusting nature, and his interest in her came partly from the fact that they were close relatives, and partly from their shared past as pupils in the schoolroom of Strand House under the tutelage of Mr. Dimmock.
His older brother’s child had always been influenced by her friends and acquaintances, and in the case of Sir Henry Jenkins, she had seemed blind to his less attractive qualities. The thing had all come about rather quickly too, in Tom’s opinion. Nevertheless, he noted that she seemed to be very happy, as she basked in the attention of the other guests. Perhaps he was mistaken. He certainly hoped that he was.
The house was garlanded for the occasion, with swags of festive greenery from the grounds of the house, and there was a general air of festivity that, try as he might, he could not shake off. He had been determined to remain quietly disapproving, but, catching his brother’s eye across the crowded room, realised that it was not his place to express an opinion one way or another. For this Christmas festive period, his views would remain private. Biting his tongue might prove to be a difficult task, but the parties would soon disperse, and then he could slip off to his beloved workshop to continue his latest experiment, and he would no longer be in danger of seeing the peacock again that day.
Tom’s older brother Robert and Robert’s wife, Serena, led the next dance round the room. They had been very concerned that the family would not find they had much in common with the Dowager Lady Jenkins, Sir Henry’s mother. But they needn’t have worried. The smiles that were exchanged with that lady, as they sailed past her together, confirmed that the match of the young couple was approved of by all parties. Serena had put great effort into the preparation for the occasion and the provision of comforts for Sir Henry’s mother, and her pains had been rewarded. She had also spent hours on the adornment of the drawing room for both Christmas and the wedding, and it gleamed with foliage, and the shine of wax polish.
Until the moment came when Tom could slip off, he decided to concentrate on circulating among the other wedding guests, making conversation with their friends and neighbours, and admiring one particular young lady from afar. Her blue gown was particularly fetching this evening, an unusual choice for her. It was a perfect match for her eyes.
Emily Evans eventually noticed his glances, and made her way towards him.
‘Tom, you really must not frown so,’ she said. ‘You can return to your musings once the guests have gone.’
‘Hm?’ he said.
She tapped him on the arm lightly. ‘I wonder whether your brother and his wife will hold any more events, now that Augusta is married. She used a great deal of persuasion whenever she felt it necessary to enliven the house, but I suspect that her parents will be quite satisfied that they have now no need of balls and parties.’
‘Parties? No indeed. Robert has no time for such entertainments.’
Tom did a passable impression of one of his brother’s pronouncements. “‘I am far too old at forty three for such things.” Robert would much prefer to be talking to his foundry-men. Their conversations can last for hours.’ They both laughed.
She put her arm through his, and walked him to a window that looked out over the river. It was only four o’clock, but the sky was rapidly becoming suffused with moonlight. It created a path across the river like a pale jetty. A fine mist hovered just above the surface of the water, a strange, ethereal effect. No matter how many times he had read descriptions of the moon, and examined Hevelius’s maps, the sight of that celestial body never failed to overawe him. It put him in his place, a tiny creature among many others, one that would soon disappear whilst the universe continued, unaware of his passing. He loved this view from the house, even on a gloomy winter’s afternoon. It reminded him of the view from his rooms near the Cam at his student lodgings.
‘What a magnificent river we have!’ he remarked aloud. ‘I should be sad indeed to have to leave it.’
‘But you are surely home now, where you may be Robert’s valuable assistant. There is no cause to leave this place, is there?’
‘Yes, my brother has welcomed me to Chiswick to give me the chance to decide on my future. But will this be where I shall build a career? Robert has very particular plans for the future, and I am not sure that I can do the work I have always dreamed of. It is a puzzle, and I do not know how to solve it. I can only hope that time will show me the path of my future.’
He did not dare to say that he could also be near to Emily again, to renew their precious friendship. Coming home to Emily had more than made up for the loss of his student life. At Cambridge, he had often thought of her sweet face, and now he could bask in her presence as often as he wished. He smiled to himself.
‘Tom, you are away from me for the second time today,’ she said. ‘You really must learn to pay more attention to the social niceties. I cannot conceive what it is that you must be considering so deeply. I can only pray it is not the calculus of infinitesimals again. If it is, I shall go and talk to Robert and Serena.’
Tom grinned. ‘No indeed,’ he said. ‘I am merely wondering about the latest addition to our family, Sir Henry Jenkins.’
‘Yes,’ I can understand that,’ she said. ‘He is a striking adornment to our otherwise dull neighbourhood.’ Emily’s blue eyes flashed with mischief, and he realised that she was mocking him very gently.
‘Do you remember, from our schoolroom days, how Augusta would scour our textbooks for heroic characters to admire? It would seem that she has found a real live one.’
‘Do you believe so?’asked Tom, in surprise.
‘No, of course not!’ she scoffed. ‘But the important thing is that she believes him to be so.’
‘Well, I hope I am proved to be wrong about him, but I have a horrible suspicion that all that glisters is definitely not gold. However, Robert and Serena seem to approve. Who am I to object?’
‘I could not agree more,’ she whispered in his ear. ‘But still, he comes from a good old family and has impeccable manners. He dresses so beautifully too. What more could a well-bred young lady wish for?’
‘It has all happened too suddenly,’ said Tom, cautiously putting his thoughts into words. ‘Far too suddenly.’ He turned away from the view outside. ‘Should you like some Christmas punch?’
‘I should very much enjoy that,’ she said.
He made his way through the throng to a footman. He guessed that Emily too, had reservations about the suitability of Sir Henry for his niece despite her humorous comment, but there were only so many warnings that one could give another, without seeming to be envious or insulting.
The three young people had always been close, so he felt better to have unburdened himself about his doubts. Augusta was in the man’s thrall. It was true what Emily had said about the past. Augusta had always found characters in history books to moon over. Whilst she was supposed to be paying attention to quadratic equations, she had actually been reading ‘Fables Ancient and Modern’. For himself, he had been secretly reading ‘Principia Mathematica’ under the desk and under the guise of studying his Greek grammar, so “pot” and “kettle” came to mind.
On one occasion, Augusta had announced that Theseus was the ‘perfect man’, forgetting to mention that Ariadne would probably not have agreed with her, especially after she had been abandoned on Naxos. There had been a good deal of ribbing in the schoolroom about Augusta and her views on the subject, particularly when the trio performed extempore dramas for the entertainment of their families on special evenings. Tom recalled the dressing up that had been involved, the lines that had had to be written and learned, and the fuss that Augusta had made over the sheet that had served as a gown for her rôle as the stricken Ariadne.
With two glasses of punch in his hand, he returned to Emily, anticipating that they would find quiet seats in a corner of the room. But she was no longer alone. She was in conversation with Viscountess Rochford, Augusta’s friend, and had fallen into her habitually shy behaviour. He marvelled that such a wit as Emily should be so completely overwhelmed, when faced with unfamiliar faces.
‘Your Ladyship,’ he said bowing, and gallantly handed the two cups to the pair. ‘I understand you will be in Gunnersbury for just a short time before your return to Versailles.’
‘Indeed yes,’ she replied. ‘My husband is required to attend on His Majesty, King Louis, on New Year’s Eve, at the gift-giving. It is expected, and so I regret that we cannot stay much longer.’
‘In that case, I must marvel at your fidelity and friendship for my niece. You will have travelled many uncomfortable miles in a short space of time to be here.’
She smiled, ‘I could not miss such a joyful occasion.’
Tom had the impression that Her Ladyship, or Miss Sophia as she was, would willingly have remained in England, surrounded by her friends and loving family. In any event, her husband crossed the floor to join her, and the couple smiled warmly at each other. They had only just become husband and wife themselves, and seemed to be able to ignore those around them, in order to concentrate on each other. The Viscount kissed the tips of his wife’s fingers and she gazed long at him. Tom wondered idly if such gallant was what was expected of gentlemen at the French court. and whether he could risk seizing Emily’s hand in his own hot grasp, in order to earn that kind of look. He thought probably not; it would take a bold man indeed to carry out such a manoeuvre with Emily. Her capacity for mockery was finely tuned, and swift to come.
Tom grinned at his own imagined daring, and further emboldened said to Sophia, ‘I understand that your father is at home at the moment. Perhaps I could call on him soon.’
‘I am sure that he would welcome a visit from a fellow enthusiast for Cornish tin mines,’ she said. ‘Mama and I have so little knowledge of the subject that he is rarely able to discuss the works. Your conversations with him entertain him vastly, and he frequently names you as a man of common sense and enthusiasm. I shall tell him to expect you, and you can wax lyrical about beam engines and similar, until you are both thoroughly blue in the face.’ Thomas’s family, had had dealings with Mr Pocock in the past, being licensed to build pumping equipment for his mines, and in fact, it was his own brother’s recommendation that had brought George Pocock to Gunnersbury in search of a property in the first place.
‘I should very much enjoy that,’ said Tom, without a trace of irony. ‘I always look forward to a conversation with your papa. His knowledge of machinery is second to none, and he is open-minded.’
The viscount led his wife away gently towards the dancers.
‘I admire the man’s manners, said Tom, with a sigh. ‘He is so elegant, sophisticated, and so obviously in love with the lady he has married. What a handsome couple they make. It proves the point that it is possible to marry for love rather than for convenience, position and four hundred pounds a year.’
‘A very specific amount of money!’ declared Emily. ‘I wonder what brought that sum to your mind.’ She giggled.
She was mocking him again.
Thank you for reading the first chapter. Drop me an email if you would like to read more.
“If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.” Jane Austen
Sophia frowned at her aunt. Their conflict seemed to be constant at the moment. Whatever Sophia asked of her, the answer was always an emphatic ‘no’. So, it was no to a visit to the island of Murano in the company of other tourists, to watch glass being made; it was a no to the invitation to Count Albanolo’s party.
After frequent refusals, Sophia decided that she wouldn’t bother to ask any further. If there was something she wished to do, she would find another way to achieve it, a way that didn’t have to involve being accompanied by Aunt Matilda. She was frustrated that they had come to Venice, a place that was so full of energy and excitement, yet she had taken no part in anything.
Aunt Matilda sat opposite in serene ignorance of Sophia’s churning emotions, calmly drinking tea and eating a muffin. She was a lady of predictable and conservative habits, so that travelling by carriage and six, and living in the Palazzo seemed to offer enough novelty to satisfy her.
In the weeks they had been in Venice, they had only done a little shopping, and visited an artist’s studio.
The painter, Signor Zapetti, had worked hard to charm the old lady, and convince her that a portrait of her niece would be the very thing to take home to Sophia’s papa, as a lasting souvenir of their trip. So Sophia had dressed carefully, in a sumptuous blue gown trimmed with lace for the sitting, wearing her 18th birthday gift, a gold enamelled fob watch on a chain, her pride and joy. And unbeknown to Aunt, the artist had put another proposal to her, that she should occasionally model for him, and be an eye-catching addition to a Venetian palazzo wall.
Of course she had accepted, and took pleasure from the knowledge that she could model for the fresco because her aunt had turned down the invitation to the Villa Bellona and would never see the finished article. She had worked out how to attend the sittings without her chaperone, and was expecting to complete them that afternoon.
Her aunt yawned. ‘I must say, I believe this muffin is excellent. Ring the bell, my dear, and we’ll have another. Would you like another?’
‘No thank you Aunt.’
The bell sat a mere four feet from her aunt’s languid hand, but the suggestion that the lady might care to ring it for herself might have seemed impertinent. Instead, Sophia did her duty, and on the return to her seat, yawned too. It must be catching. She was beginning to think that there was little more excitement to be wrung from Venice, but then pulled herself up, mentally. What could she be thinking? Of course there was! She just needed to show a little more creativity, and all would be well. She had an advantage. It would not occur to Aunt Matilda that her niece would set out to deceive her.
At home in Amersham, Sophia probably never could, for life in the English provinces had been tame, she was kept close, and the neighbours knew every movement of everyone else in their circle. In Venice, however, anything was possible. She was an unknown foreigner who, in an evening mask, might remain completely disguised.
With a claim that she needed a lie-down, Sophia left her aunt in the salon, and without being seen by the servant, slipped out of the palazzo door into the side street. Then she rounded the corner to the artist’s studio. Once there, Signor Zapetti ushered her impatiently to the screen, behind which she quickly undressed. She stepped onto the dais for her pose. The afternoon sun glanced through the wide studio windows and touched the curves of Sophia’s figure. It gilded her bare leg, and inched up her thigh as the sitting progressed.
Thank goodness it was spring, she thought, and almost shivered at the memory of standing naked on the same spot two months earlier, while rain had flung itself at the windows outside. And in May, here she was, still trying to look as if she were Diana, Goddess of the Moon. However, she could only afford to spend an hour here without discovery. Signor Zapetti knew of her circumstances and seemed happy for his muse to be available, whenever she could.
From the platform, Sophia could see the great city below. Its startling beauty never failed to enchant her. The lagoon glittered, a sharp golden contrast to the soft, misty colours of the buildings, whose panorama of domes and spires gave the scene its familiar outline. It was different to her Amersham home, where life for its inhabitants was narrow and restricted. And then there was the climate.
Even in spring, the cold weather in the Chilterns could leave frost on the roofs of the cottages, huddled together along the road that ran between London and Aylesbury. So she had longed for a change of scenery and people. The move to Italy had seemed to be a capital idea. It was to be an adventure that would free her, at last, from her humdrum life in England.
‘Stay still, stupid girl,’ said the artist. Then he added, more kindly, ‘I am nearly finished. Give me five more minutes.’
She was familiar with such comments. Five minutes would turn into thirty, and until the light faded, she would have to remain like a statue. But today, she thought that she might be fortunate. The artist was finishing his preparation, and hoped to start at the Villa Bellona within days. The hour should be sufficient for the work, and then she could sneak back to the palazzo.
She tried to concentrate on her rôle as Diana the Huntress, holding an intricate bow in her left hand. Her right hand appeared to be drawn forward by a dog on a leather leash. The dog, for it was real rather than a prop, had already disgraced itself ten minutes earlier. Though it had since been patient, she thought that it must surely be flagging. She glanced down. It had closed its eyes.
Finally Signor Zapetti put down his charcoal. ‘There,’ he announced, ‘you begin to be immortalized. Now go!’
The drawing was the preliminary study for artwork that had been commissioned for a magnificent palace, the home of his patron. Sophia was to be the central figure of an allegorical painting representing Night, on the wall of Count Albanolo’s dining room. Her nakedness would be very appealing to the Count’s friends and neighbours, connoisseurs of the female form, whose tastes ran to the exotic and the sensual. Their hypocrisy about art was not lost on her, but she was a pragmatist and, in any case, relished the danger of the assignment.
The artist had his back to her as he examined the sketch, and he clearly expected her to leave without further conversation. So she prodded the dog awake with her bare toes. It yawned noisily and licked its lips, gazing at her in expectation. The painter wanted her to keep it out of his way, so drawing on her clothes behind a screen, she smoothed the creases in her robe, and guided the dog down the staircase into the courtyard. The creature, a brown and white gazelle hound, had been borrowed for the occasion and would soon be collected. It seemed happy to settle onto the tiled floor in a bright square of sunlight that blazed down from the open sky, warming the spot where it curled up.
She made her way quietly through the courtyard door to the bridge over the canal and from there to St. Mark’s Square, where the famous astrological clock was chiming the hour. She looked up at the carved figures who struck the bell, and longed for time to pass more quickly. It was the week before Ascension Day, and Sophia felt a little thrill of excitement about the approaching Festival di Sensa. The costume for her planned and secret attendance at the event had been carefully chosen. It would be eye-catching enough to be seen in the crowds that would gather along the canal banks to watch the rowing competitions. It was also appropriate for attendance at one of the lavish parties that followed, and to which she had been secretly invited by one of the painter’s clients.
She considered the outfit, newly finished and now hanging on the back of her chamber door, concealed beneath other clothes. The dark green bodice sparkled with gold lace, and the colours were echoed in the mask that she had chosen for the occasion. The ensemble looked much more expensive than it was. She had developed blisters on her fingers, having painstakingly made the gown from cast-off brocade curtains, using her skill and imagination.
She justified the work in her own mind by viewing it as an investment, part of an opportunity to go to the ball undetected, and perhaps even fulfil her dreams of social advancement. The artist’s payment for her modelling had barely paid for the trimmings, but now that the gown was finished, she would ensure that every moment that she wore it would make all the effort worthwhile.
For she had no desire to return to Amersham, without having profited from her time in this great city. That return would be when her aunt, a woman of considerable fortune, but narrow tastes, grew tired of their time in Venice. No, she pictured her return home as merely a visit, part of a triumphant progress through Buckinghamshire to visit her relations, before she returned to the imagined splendour of life in some country house or palazzo of her very own, with an aristocratic and adoring husband in tow. All she had to do was give her aunt the slip, and find the right man.
End of first chapter. Available on Kindle Unlimited.
The novella is the first in a series of three, chronicling the lives and romantic relationships of a group of fictional characters who live in 18th century West London. It introduces us to the young lives of a number of the characters featured in ‘Artists and Spies’ thirty years later.
The story begins in Venice in 1720 when a young woman, Sophia Pocock, travelling with her chaperone, Aunt Matilda, decides to escape from the confines of their rented palazzo on the Grand Canal on the day of the Festival di Sensa. Free for once, from the careful guardianship of her aunt, she makes two fateful decisions that will set her on a dangerous course, experimenting with the boundaries of acceptable genteel behaviour.
Henry Jenkins, meanwhile, is on the loose, in pursuit of a hedonistic lifestyle. He is in the city as part of his Grand Tour after his latest misdemeanour at home. He is also in the crowd at the festival that day, accompanied by his friend James Connaught, as the pair ready themselves for the dubious delights of an evening in the company of the infamous Count Albanolo.
When the worlds of the three young people collide, their encounter will have repercussions that will follow them home and reverberate for years to come.
My writing process begins with an ideas book. Hardback, grid pattern. Beautiful. My current book is A5 size in Royal Blue and I use the front and back for separate sets of ideas. Currently, short story plans in the front half, novel in the back. I have my favourite fountain pens too, and I like ink, a lot. I particularly like shimmer inks although I’ve learnt to be cautious with them. I don’t put them into valuable pens, because I don’t want trouble! Hence the Wing Sung purchases mentioned in my previous post. Round about the £5 a pop, and if they play up, out they go, once I’ve removed good nibs ( Sailor Music nib; Twsbi 1.1 stub)
My favourite of this list is the Diamine Golden Sands. It’s got a good sparkle, and is lighter than it looks here. I use it at Christmas for cards and gift tags. The MontBlanc lavender purple was bought to use in my MB Chopin, so that it gives me no problems whatsoever, and never has to go to the nice people at MB for attention. The Caroube de Chypre is lovely; a rich, very sparkly brown in a wonderful bottle. It also cost me what I think was a ridiculous amount of money, but hey ho. I bought it in Bruges and it was in short supply elsewhere, so I justified it in my own head.
The blues/ greens here are all lovely. I don’t think the image does them justice, but Emerald of Chivor is spectacular – gold highlights at the edges when there’s plenty of ink around. The Diamine, however, has touches of pink on occasions . They all behave well when you want a good ink flow, although the Herbin has flecks in it – again perhaps not one to use in a precious pen, especially a vintage one, unless you want to be cleaning it out frequently. A word of warning. The picture above illustrates the perfect storm of fat nib, flowing ink and paper that’s just about coping. So I know it’s a waste, but I tend to write only on the right hand page. In journals I use the left for illustrations, photos, occasional notes. Darker inks do show through this paper: you can’t have everything.
It may sound a bit random, but at least it’s a subject connected to writing – fountain pens. My collecting habit. It started out with one find at an antique fair. I’d done lots of homework on the internet, identifying pens I liked and thought were fairly desirable. Then I started to find them in the real world.
My first find turned out to be my best one! a 1926 Canadian Parker Duofold flattop, in lapis, blue on blue. It’s also in the most amazing condition. (And there’s a story in there somewhere) However, I discovered that I hated writing with it. It’s a huge pen and I don’t have huge hands to go with it. So I started looking for other little pretties and, sticking with Parker, came up with a whole range of Vacumatics. The nibs are wonderful, the Junior size is quite small, and some of them are very rare beasties indeed.
Here’s one I bought a few years ago, with a matching propelling pencil. It’s a Vacumatic Golden Web, and writes like an absolute dream. Another big bonus is that I have learnt how to repair them, after shelling out a small fortune on the first few I bought. They nearly always needed new sacs, and with the right pieces of kit ( Vacumatic wrench etc) can be repaired satisfactorily.
And finally, my current favourite. It couldn’t be more different from the two above. It’s a cheap Wing Sung from an internet auction site. I bought a Sailor Pro Gear a couple of years ago, and it recently started leaking everywhere. There was a huge crack in the section. But it had a very special Sailor Music nib. So I put the nib from the Pro gear into the Wing Sung ( size 5) and hey presto, it lays down a fat wet line. Fab!
Thanks Tony Riches (https://tonyriches.blogspot.com/ ) for the banners that I have put on today’s blog. I’ve been kept busy lately with the promotion of ‘Artists and Spies’ on social media, including my guest spot on Tony’s blog.
So here is a link to a taster of ‘Artists and Spies’, available as an ebook and in paperback on Amazon. I hope you enjoy it.
August already. My next project is underway, and I’ve been working hard. I’ve written a series of short stories with the hope of publication at some point in the future. Who knows?
The distractions have poured in, and writing a few hundred words a day has become much more difficult. I’ve also just read Stephen King ‘On Writing’ and found his insights inspiring. Some days I’ve felt no desire to visit a fictional world at all, and I’ve learnt that there’s is not much to be gained by forcing the issue. Much better to take the day off and admire the sunshine/ rainclouds/ etc. I’ve also discovered websites where in exchange for writing review of other people’s work, you can have your own pieces put under the microscope. It’s a whole new world (as someone once said). And finally, I’ve also discovered the wonderful website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art whose Open Access programme allows use/ sharing of all kinds of great art. Here’s an example of what I mean…..
George Romney’s portrait of the Countess of Derby. Wow! It’s inspiration enough.
Some of my choices for stories written recently. The cover of ‘Artists and Spies’ kept bothering me; it was too generic. Then I found the painting which you can see here on the Metropolitan Museum website, copyright free. Right century, female artist with her apprentices; a self portrait by Adelaide Labille Guiard. What a beautiful image it is. So the novel creeps towards being what I want it to be.