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BOOK REVIEW: Do You Love Me or What? by Sue Woolfe

Monday, May 29, 2017




BLURB:


A brilliant collection of short stories by the bestselling, award-winning author of Leaning Towards Infinity, Painted Woman and The Secret Cure


Do You Love Me or What? is a collection of eight sparkling, nuanced short stories from one of Australia’s most celebrated and loved writers. Written in elegant, shimmering prose, Sue’s stories are woven with themes encompassing love, loss and yearning, memory and identity, the desert and water, and people who live on the periphery of society. Her sentences are spare and evocative, yet paint fully realised pictures that speak of the poignant, shared experiences of the nature of relationships, past and present.


MY THOUGHTS:


A collection of eight elegant and poignant short stories, Do You Love Me or Not? is concerned with the (often failed) search for connection and love between humans. Each story introduces a new character, yet there are connections between the stories in setting, theme and language. 


Some of the stories are achingly sad, others frightening, and some tender and heart-warming. ‘Small Talk’ was my favourite. It tells the story of a woman who goes to the desert  and wants to connect with the local Indigenous people, but finds that the silence between them is more difficult to bridge than she had imagined. It is not until she listens to the silences that she begins to understand. The story is gorgeously written and vibrant with colour and sensual detail.


‘By early evening of that day, she’d travelled beyond the mountain range and was in country so flat, with trees so low, that when she turned on her heel, she saw the entire circle of the horizon spinning by. She didn’t put up her tent but lay under the dome of stars, watching the trajectory of the Southern Cross move directly above her toes, then above her stomach, above her chest, above her head. Until dawn, the black sky was spangled all the way down to the ground, all around her.


She felt herself become braver.’ 


I also loved ‘The Dancer Talks’, told from the point of view of a tango dancer who fears she is going blind. The story is full of the intensity and anguish of dancing: ‘Magdalena … had never ceased to marvel at the way dancers considered their bodies rather like the way her carpenter father considered a tool, something that, with enough skill, could create a heaven on earth.’


Just wonderful. 




BEAUTY IN THORNS: Edward Burne-Jones's Sleeping Beauty paintings

Thursday, May 25, 2017



Beauty in Thorns is an historical novel for adults which tells the astonishing true story behind the famous 'Sleeping Beauty' painting by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones. Told in the voices of four very different women, Beauty in Thorns is a story of love, desire, art, and awakenings of all kinds. 

Burne-Jones painted the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale many times over the forty-odd years of his career: 




In May 1856, Burne-Jones drew a pencil sketch of his betrothed, Georgie Macdonald, as the Sleeping Beauty to amuse her little sister Louie on her birthday. He was 23 years old and Georgie was sixteen. I believe this is the sketch, though it has not been officially confirmed. 





In 1862, Burne-Jones designed a series of 'Sleeping Beauty' tiles for a client of the Morris & Co decorating firm, of which he was a partner. The princess looks very much like Lizzie Siddal, who had died a few months earlier of a laudanum overdose, and the prince kneeling to kiss her awake looks very much like her grieving widower Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The peacock (featured on the wall of the boudoir) is a symbol of immortality and rebirth.  This tile is one of nine in a sequence that begins with the baby in her cradle and ends with the marriage of the prince and princess. The tiles can be seen at the V&A Museum in Kensington.




In the 1870s, Burne-Jones had a tempestuous affair with one of his models, the sculptor Maria Zambaco, and he painted a very sensual version of Sleeping Beauty with his mistress modelling as the princess. The affair ended badly, with Maria attempting to drown herself in Regent's Canal.  At one point, Ned planned to run away with Maria but he ended returning to his wife and family so they would not be besmirched by the scandal. 

This painting - now in Puerto Rico - was the final in a sequence of three paintings that showed the prince in the briar wood, the king and his councillors asleep in the council chamber, and the princess asleep with her maids.




This beautiful drawing is a chalk study of his daughter Margaret that Burne-Jones made in 1881, when he was planning another sequence of painting inspired by the fairytale. Margaret was then fifteen, the age of the princess in the story.





And this exquisite painting of his daughter Margaret as Sleeping Beauty was created by Burne-Jones in 1884-1887,  as the final in a sequence of four enormous painting which now hang in Buscot Park, in Oxfordshire. Margaret was aged in her late teens and early twenties, and had fallen in love with a young poet and scholar named John William Mackail, much to her father's distress. 

The four paintings - called 'The Legend of Briar Rose' - caused an absolute sensation when they were first exhibited in 1890, with queues of carriages along Bond Street and crowds of people returning again and again to view them. Burne-Jones sold the quartet of painting for fifteen thousand guineas, the most money a British artist had ever been paid, and he was subsequently knighted by the Queen. 





His final painting is a small circle, entitled 'Wake Dearest' which he painted for his ever-loving and faithful wife Georgie in the final year of his life (1898). I believe she was the model for the princess. This tiny masterpiece - along with 37 other tiny glowing circles - were left to Georgie in his will, and later published as 'The Flower Book'. 

My novel Beauty in Thorns tells the story behind the creation of these exquisite drawings and paintings - a story of love, betrayal, heartbreak, death, and awakening of all kinds.  


It will be released in Australia in July 2017. 

BEAUTY IN THORNS: celebrating the Pre-Raphaelites!

Thursday, May 25, 2017


‘We cannot censure at present as amply or as strongly as we desire to do, that strange disorder of the mind or the eyes, which continues to rage with unabated absurdity among a class of juvenile artists who style themselves PRB.’ 
The Times, 1851

What were the Pre-Raphaelites?
In 1848 in England, a group of young painters rebelled against the Royal Academy, which rigidly adhered to rules laid down by the eighteenth century painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds. They wanted to paint in a more natural style, drawing from myth and fairytales and poetry, and trying to make their paintings more true to nature. In a spirit of fun and defiance, they formed a secret society called The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB).

Who were these young daring painters?
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (age 20) founded the group along with Sir John Everett Millais (19), and William Holman Hunt (21).  Later, many artists followed the style set by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, Ford Madox Brown, and John William Waterhouse.  Although the Brotherhood was meant to be a secret, four others were later invited to join.  


Self-portrait by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

What were they trying to do?
The Pre-Raphaelites felt stifled by the rigidity of the Royal Academy's idea of what art should be. The PRB believed the only true great art came from before the 16th century Italian painter, Raphael (hence the society's name). The PRB wanted to produce works based on real landscapes and real models, and paid intense attention to accuracy of detail and colour.

What is so special about their art?
Instead of painting the typical landscapes and seascapes, the PRB drew their subject matters from medieval tales, fairy stories, and classical mythology.



'Ophelia' by John Everett Millais, modelled by Lizzie Siddal


Scandals of the Pre-Raphaelites

John Ruskin, one of the major critical supporters of the Pre-Raphaelites, never consummated his marriage to Effie Gray, with many believing he was shocked by the sight of her pubic hair. She annulled the marriage amidst a storm of scandal, and married his protégés, John Everett Millais. 

After Millais painted Lizzie Siddal as Ophelia, she caught pneumonia after being made to lie in freezing water for hours and almost died. 

Lizzie Siddall then became the muse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and eventually – after many affairs and problems including her addiction to laudanum – they married. She only lived two more years, however, and some believed she committed suicide. Rossetti buried his poems in her grave, but seven years later had her exhumed so he could retrieve the manuscript. 

William Morris fell in love with Rossetti’s favourite model, Jane Burden, and married her. But Jane and Rossetti began a passionate affair after the death of Lizzie Siddall, and eventually the three managed a strange and painful ménage-a-trois.  



Jane Morris, painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, with Kelmscott Manor (the house Rossetti shared with the Morrises) in the background 


William Holman Hunt fell in love with his wife’s sister. After his wife died, he fled England with his sister-in-law so they could marry.

Edward Burne-Jones had an affair with his model, Mary Zambaco, who was a talented sculptor in her own right. When he refused to leave his wife and children, she tried to drown herself in Regent’s Canal. 

He painted his mistress over & over again, including this provocative image of her as Summer. He then painted his wife as Winter.

 

The love triangle between Edward Burne-Jones, his wife Georgie & his mistress Maria Zambaco, echoing that of his best friend William Morris with his wife Jane Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, are the subject of my new novel Beauty in Thorns - out in July 2017!

SPOTLIGHT: The PreRaphaelite Sisterhood

Thursday, May 25, 2017

To celebrate International Women's Day, I thought I would spotlight the real (and unjustly forgotten) historical women whose lives I have drawn upon in my fiction.

As many of you will know, I have spent the past few years researching and writing about the fascinating lives of some of the women in the Pre-Raphaelite sisterhood for my novel Beauty in Thorns




BEAUTY IN THORNS is an historical novel for adults which tells the story of the tangled desires behind the famous painting ‘The Legend of Briar Rose’ by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones. 

Four very different women tell the story: the wives, mistresses, and muses of the Pre-Raphaelites, Georgie Macdonald, Lizzie Siddal, Jane Burden, and Margaret Burne-Jones, the artist’s beloved daughter. 

The Pre-Raphaelites were a collection of daring young artists who outraged Victorian society with their avant-garde paintings, their passionate affairs, and their scandalous behaviour. 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848.  His work and ideals inspired Edward Burne-Jones and his friend William Morris to create their own art, and with it, to try to change the world. 

The ‘Sleeping Beauty’ fairy tale haunted Burne-Jones’s imagination, and he painted it many times over the course of thirty years, culminating in an extraordinary quartet of paintings that were greeted by the public with ‘enthusiasm amounting to ecstasy’ in 1890. It was bought for 15,000 guineas, the largest amount ever paid for an artwork in Britain, and Burne-Jones was consequently knighted in 1893.



Burne-Jones and his friends drew together an extraordinary group of young women who all struggled in their different ways to live and love and create as freely. 

In chronological order of birth:




Lizzie Siddal (b. 1829)
Discovered working in a milliner’s shop, Lizzie became one of the most famous faces of the early Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, modelling for paintings by Rossetti and Millais (she is his famous Ophelia). She and Rossetti began a passionate and turbulent affair. Heart-broken by his infidelities, Lizzie took refuge in laudanum. As she lay dying, Rossetti promised to marry her if she would only recover. They were married in 1860, but the birth of a dead child caused Lizzie to sink further into depression and addiction.  She died of an overdose in 1862. Rossetti famously buried his poems with her but later had her exhumed to retrieve the manuscript.






Jane Burden (b. 1839)
Jane was discovered by Rossetti and Burne-Jones in Oxford, and became one of their most striking and famous models. She married William Morris, but began a scandalous affair with Rossetti after the death of Lizzie Siddal. She had two daughters, Jenny and May. Her eldest suffered from epilepsy, then thought a most shameful disease.
                                                



Georgie Macdonald (b. 1840)
The daughter of a God-fearing Methodist minister, Georgie met Ned Burne-Jones when she was ten. He awoke her to a new world of art and poetry and beauty, and she shared with him her favourite fairy tale “Briar Rose”, which inspire him to create some of his most beautiful paintings. Georgie married Burne-Jones at the age of nineteen, after a four-year engagement. 

The early years of their marriage was idyllic, but in 1864 Georgie contracted scarlet fever, which brought on the premature birth of her second child, who consequently died. Her third child – a daughter named Margaret – was born in 1866, the same year as Burne-Jones began a passionate and ultimately calamitous affair with his model, the beautiful and fiery Maria Zambaco.





Margaret Burne-Jones (b. 1866)

The third child born to Edward and Georgie Burne-Jones, after the tragic death of their second son. She was a shy and reserved child remarkable for her beauty. As she grew, she found herself in demand as a model for the Pre-Raphaelites, but struggled with the unwanted attention. In 1888, she fell in love with the Scottish writer, John William Mackail, but her father refused to countenance their marriage. He was obsessively working on his painting of her as the sleeping princess in "The Legend of Briar Rose" series, and was afraid of losing his muse. Margaret had to find the strength to defy her father and marry the man she loved. 

The Pre-Raphaelite circle also included Effie Millais, Fanny Cornforth, Christina Rossetti, May Morris, Mary de Morgan, and many others who I wish I could have included in my novel. maybe one day I'll write something about them too ....  

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

BOOK REVIEW: A Court of Roses & Thorns - Sarah J. Maas

Monday, May 15, 2017

Sarah J Maas made her name when her first novel Throne of Glass, a heroic fantasy for young adults, became a runaway bestseller. She began writing the story when she was only sixteen and posted the first few chapters on FanFiction.Net, where its popularity encouraged her to try and find a publisher. Almost a dozen novels and novellas have followed, many making the New York Times bestseller lists with the series being optioned for a TV series. The story is said to be a loose retelling of Cinderella, with the premise that the heroine is not a down-beaten servant but a highly skilled assassin, who goes to the ball not in the hope of marrying the prince but with the intention of killing him.

A Court of Roses and Thorns is the first in a new series which takes ‘Beauty and the Beast’ as its starting point. I have studied this fairy-tale for some years, and written my own reimagining, and so I was interested to read what Sarah J. Maas did with it.

The story begins when 19-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the snowy woods. She suspects that it may be a shapeshifting faerie from the magical land across the borders, but kills it anyway as she hates the faeries. Then a beast-like creature storms into her house, demanding she pays for her crime. Feyre is taken back to the beast’s home – a huge mansion – where she is kept captive. Gradually, however, she comes to care for the beast (who is really an extremely handsome High Lord of the Fae) as he saves her – and she saves him - from various malevolent forces.

Sarah J. Maas’s writing is vivid and supple, and the world of the Fae is brilliantly evoked. The story is suspenseful and surprising too, with lots of interesting plot twists. My primary concern with the book is the high level of sexual violence. Both Tamlin (the hero) and Rhysand (the dark love complication) are the sort of brooding, dangerous, and overly forceful Alpha men that seem to be so beloved of certain romance novels of late. Their behaviour is controlling, jealous, and obsessive, and the heroine is often kissed, touched and manhandled against her will. I find this a very troubling trend in both fantasy and romance, and worry that young women will come to believe that such behaviour is not only acceptable, but desirable. 

BOOK REVIEW: An Isolated Incident – Emily Maguire

Sunday, May 14, 2017

BLURB:

When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is brutally murdered in the small town of Strathdee, the community is stunned and a media storm descends.

Unwillingly thrust into the eye of that storm is Bella's beloved older sister, Chris, a barmaid at the local pub, whose apparent easygoing nature conceals hard-won wisdom and the kind of street-smarts only experience can bring.

As Chris is plunged into despair and searches for answers, reasons, explanation - anything - that could make even the smallest sense of Bella's death, her ex-husband, friends and neighbours do their best to support her. But as the days tick by with no arrest, Chris's suspicion of those around her grows.

An Isolated Incident is a psychological thriller about everyday violence, the media's obsession with pretty dead girls, the grip of grief and the myth of closure, and the difficulties of knowing the difference between a ghost and a memory, between a monster and a man.

MY THOUGHTS:

An Isolated Incident by Australian author Emily Maguire is a contemporary psychological suspense novel set in a small Australian town, with a particular emphasis on the traumatic effects of suspicion, grief and the voyeuristic curiosity of the public.

Bella Michaels is only twenty-five when she is found brutally raped and murdered on the side of the highway. Her sister Chris must find some way to deal with the intense scrutiny that the police and the media bring to every aspect of her and her sister’s lives. Chris works at the local pub, and sometimes takes a truckie home in return for a little extra cash. She has a broken marriage behind her, and drinks too much. She is haunted by her sister’s last moments, and paralysed by her own bleak future. 

Intense, powerful and raw, An Isolated Incident is an all-too-real look at the terrible cost of sexual violence in our society, and a profoundly intimate portrait of anguish and rage. It has justly been shortlisted for the Stella award. 

BOOK REVIEW: The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane

Friday, May 12, 2017


Robert Macfarlane was one of my great discoveries in the past couple of years (meaning that I discovered his books, not him!) I’ve been slowly reading my way through his oeuvre and have loved everything he has written so far.

The Wild Places was his second book, and established his style – beautiful, poetic writing that twines together landscape, nature, history, literature, and his own personal journey. Robert sets out to see if there are any genuinely wild places left in Britain, and then writes about what he discovers. One of the chapters – ‘Holloway’ – I had read before as it was expanded and published as an exquisite illustrated book about the lost greenways of Dorset. The other chapters have equally evocative names – ‘Beechwood’, ‘Moor’, ‘Summit’, ‘Grave’, ‘Storm-beach’ and ‘Tor’, for example. It’s the kind of book that you can pick up, read a few chapters, then put down for a while, as each chapter is an essay on a particular place.  His writing is sublime. It feels so effortless, but has all the quick-fire surprise of the perfect metaphor. Just wonderful.


BOOK REVIEW: The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Best known for his fast-paced contemporary thrillers, The Tournament is a real departure for Matthew Reilly. 


Told by Queen Elizabeth I on her death-bed, the action of the book is set in 1546 when the young princess was only thirteen years old. She accompanies her tutor, Roger Ascham, to Constantinople to attend a chess tournament. Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, had issued an invitation to every king in Europe, ‘to determine the champion of the known world’. 

Soon after their arrival, a powerful cardinal is found brutally murdered. Roger Ascham – known for his brilliant mind and incisive logical skills - is asked to find the killer. Bess, of course, is drawn into helping him.

Other murders follow, and soon Bess and her tutor find themselves and the rest of their party in ever increasing danger.

I love books set in Elizabethan times, and I am a chess addict, and so this book was always going to appeal to me.  


Of course, you need to suspend your disbelief at the young Princess Elizabeth as a sleuth, and I have to say the book is surprisingly sexy, but I enjoyed the story immensely and have to say The Tournament is now my favourite Matthew Reilly book. I hope he writes another just like it! 


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!


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