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BOOK REVIEW: The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

John Flanagan returns to the world of Ranger’s Apprentice to find out what happens when Ranger apprentice Maddie returns home to Castle Araluen. The Kingdom may have been at peace for a number of years, but there are always those who would commit treason to take power for themselves. Could there be a plot against the crown?


My Thoughts:

For a long time, John Flanagan was one of my son’s favourite authors and I read him book after book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series each night at bedtime. I enjoyed them as much as he did (which was not at all generally true of all our bedtime read-a-thons). Often I’d find myself choked up at the end as Will, the small but indomitable hero, once again triumphed against the bad guys. An irresistible mix of action, adventure, and humour, the Ranger’s Apprentice series has sold more than fifteen million copies worldwide which makes John Flanagan one of Australia’s most successful children’s authors.

The Royal Ranger is the first in a new series which begins when Will must take on a new apprentice of his own, and train them in the mysterious skills of a ranger. His new apprentice is going to be a challenge, however. Not only is she rebellious and spoiled, but she’s a princess! The first girl to ever be apprenticed as a Ranger, Maddie has a lot to learn, and a lot to prove.

I was on a panel with John Flanagan at the Bendigo Writers Festival, and so read this latest offering in preparation to sharing a stage with him. I loved revisiting the word of Araluen, and particularly loved seeing a girl in the role of a Ranger. She was tough, determined, and made a great sidekick to Will. Long may the Rangers rule!


Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

BOOK REVIEW: Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

Friday, October 05, 2018

 


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The first time Julia Beckett saw Greywethers she was only five, but she knew that it was her house. And now that she’s at last become its owner, she suspects that she was drawn there for a reason.

As if Greywethers were a portal between worlds, she finds herself transported into seventeenth-century England, becoming Mariana, a young woman struggling against danger and treachery, and battling a forbidden love.

Each time Julia travels back, she becomes more enthralled with the past...until she realizes Mariana’s life is threatening to eclipse her own, and she must find a way to lay the past to rest or lose the chance for happiness in her own time.


My Thoughts:

When Julia Beckett was a little girl, she pointed at an old house in an English village and said, with great conviction, ‘that’s my house.’ Twenty-five years later, she buys the house and moves to live there. Almost immediately, she finds herself slipping back in time and into the life of Mariana, a young woman in the Restoration era. The slippages are involuntary, astoundingly vivid, and dangerous. Julia is not aware of what her body is doing in her own time, and her life as Mariana becomes increasingly urgent and important to her. She falls in love with the 16th century lord of the manor, Richard de Mornay, and is haunted by the conviction that something terrible happened to him. Gradually, her two lives begin to mesh and Julia discovers why she was drawn to live her past life over again.

A gentle and beguiling story of romance, betrayal, and reincarnation, Mariana has an old-fashioned feeling to it. At one point, a character says, ‘What rot!’ which is what characters always say in my beloved old schoolgirl books from the 1930s. Julia’s brother is a vicar, which somehow adds to the Agatha-Christie-type atmosphere of this small English village, and the only sex scene happens offstage. The book was published in 1994, which is after the invention of the internet, but Julia’s brother must go to the library to dig up tales of reincarnation and past life flashbacks. So it’s difficult to pinpoint when the modern-day sections are set. I don’t mind this at all. I love books written in, or set during, the 1930s and 40s, and the book reminds me of time travel books I loved as a child, like Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pierce and A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley.

In a way, the timelessness of the story makes it even more enjoyable. And I can’t help wishing I could buy an old house in an English village, and discover I once lived there before …

You might also be interested in my review of Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. 





BOOK REVIEW: The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Set in a fading family estate nestled within the Chiltern Hills, this is the story of two summers, sixty years apart, woven together to reveal one dramatic family story.


My Thoughts:

I’ve been waiting for a new novel from Hannah Richell for a long time, having absolutely adored her two earlier novels, The Shadow Year and Secrets of the Tides. I got a real stomach flip of excitement when I saw this book with its gorgeous cover and intriguing title.

Like her earlier books, The Peacock Summer is a parallel narrative that moves between the stories of two women. It begins in Sydney in contemporary times, when Maggie learns of the illness of her beloved grandmother Lillian. Maggie goes back home to Cloudesley, her grandmother’s home in the Chiltern Hills, only to find the old manor house falling into ruin. Lillian is not strong, and there is no money left for the upkeep of the estate. To make matters worse, Maggie needs to face up to the consequences of actions in her past which have made her an outcast in the village.

Hannah Richell’s writing is swift and elegant and a pleasure to read, and she is masterful at lacing the narrative with atmosphere and suspense:

“She runs a hand over the huge, faded tapestry hanging across the wall – then turns to climb the curved staircase to her own room. Halfway up she stops and listens. There is no scrabble of dog paws on the tiled floor, no shuffle of newspaper pages from the library, no distant murmur from her grandmother’s radio. There is nothing; not even the glug of water moving through old pipes. This house, that has witnessed so much throughout the years – dinner parties and laughter, conversation and arguments, dancing and music – a house that had seen so much life, had so many people pass through its doors, stands utterly silent. It is unnerving to be its only occupant. What echoes would she hear – what stirrings from the past – if she only knew what to listen for?

Her eyes fall upon the grandfather clock in the hall and she turns and heads back down the stairs, blowing dust from the cabinet to wind it the way Lillian once showed her. She watches with a certain satisfaction as the pendulum begins to sway, a steady tick rising up out of the old clock like a resuscitated heart beating in a chest. One small thing corrected.
She doesn’t want to think yet of all the the wrongs she still needs to set right.”

The story then moves to her grandmother’s point-of-view. Lillian is in her mid-20s and married to the lord of the manor, a handsome powerful man named Charles Oberon. Yet she feels stifled and unhappy. One day her husband hires a talented young artist to paint the walls of a room in Cloudesley. His name is Jack, and he and Lillian fall in love. Yet it’s an impossible dream. Lillian is tapped by duty and obligation, and Charles is not a man to let go of what he holds.

Back and forth the two stories weave, touching lightly across the decades as Maggie begins to learn her grandmother’s long-held secrets as she struggles to save the house she loves. It’s a story of Maggie’s personal growth and change, as well as a story of mysteries and revelations, and I adored it just as much as I had hoped.

I was lucky enough to interview Hannah Richell back in 2012, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.


BOOK REVIEW: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Saturday, September 22, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.


My Thoughts:

I really loved Katherine Arden’s debut novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, an historical fantasy set in medieval Russia, and was keen to see Vasya’s adventures continue. This is my favourite kind of fantasy –a proud, courageous, and sympathetic heroine, a setting rich in sensuous detail, drenched in the magic of its time, and a storyline that is both suspenseful and yet believable.

In the first book, we saw Vasya grow from a child to a young woman, and face accusations of witchcraft because of her uncanny ability to see magical creatures hidden to most human eyes. One of those creatures is the frost demon Morozko, and Vasya has an ambivalent and troubling relationship with him.

In this sequel, this relationship – which is not quite a romance – takes centre stage, as Vasya struggles to find a place for herself in the world. Offered two choices – marriage or a convent – she disguises herself as a boy and sets out to find adventure instead. The depiction of medieval Russia – vast, snowbound, and dangerous – is marvellously done. Vasya and her horse struggle to survive, and yet she spurns the help of Morozko, afraid of its hidden cost.

"You are immortal, and perhaps I seem small to you," she said at last fiercely. "But my life is not your game.”

It is not easy maintaining her boyish disguise, as Vasya battles with outlaws who are burning villages and stealing children, and deals with family tensions and the unwanted attentions of a mysterious stranger. A compulsively readable and beautifully written mix of Russian history and folklore.

You can read my review of Katherine Arden's earlier book, The Bear and the Nightingale, here.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts.




BOOK REVIEW: Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Caleb Zelic, profoundly deaf since early childhood, has always lived on the outside - watching, picking up telltale signs people hide in a smile, a cough, a kiss. When a childhood friend is murdered, a sense of guilt and a determination to prove his own innocence sends Caleb on a hunt for the killer. But he can’t do it alone. Caleb and his troubled friend Frankie, an ex-cop, start with one clue: Scott, the last word the murder victim texted to Caleb. But Scott is always one step ahead.

This gripping, original and fast-paced crime thriller is set between a big city and a small coastal town, Resurrection Bay, where Caleb is forced to confront painful memories. Caleb is a memorable protagonist who refuses to let his deafness limit his opportunities, or his participation in the investigation. But does his persistence border on stubbornness? And at what cost? As he delves deeper into the investigation Caleb uncovers unwelcome truths about his murdered friend – and himself.

My Thoughts:


Caleb Zelic has discovered his best friend lying in a pool of blood, his throat cut. Gary was a policeman with a young family. Caleb is a private investigator who had asked for his help on a case. Caleb is also profoundly deaf.

This is a high-octane thriller, thrumming with pace and tension. The style is curt and intense: ‘It had been an hour before he’d read the message, another two in the car, stuck behind every double-B and ageing Volvo. He should have run the red lights. Broken the speed limits. The law of physics.’

Characters are drawn in swift, deft strokes. ‘Tedesco was watching him: a face hewn from stone, with all the warmth to match.’ ‘Frankie … was wearing her usual jeans and battered leather jacket; her short, grey hair purple-tipped and scarecrow-wild.’

Yet there is poetry in the writing too. Caleb’s deafness makes his voice arresting and unpredictable. The word ‘executed’ is described as ‘a happy-looking word: a little smile for the first syllable, a soft pucker for the third.’ Scott is ‘a soft name, just sibilance and air.’ I loved the freshness of this voice for a hard-boiled detective; it’s bold and confident writing. I also loved the vulnerability of a man in search of a murderer who cannot hear his enemy coming.

Caleb has a love interest – his ex-wife, Kat, a blue-eyed Koori who draws and sculpts. She became one of my favourite characters, being feisty and yet kind and loving. The tension between Caleb and Kat added another element to the story, and helped the story hurtle on towards its surprising ending.

Resurrection Bay is razor-sharp contemporary crime, ramped up with witty dialogue, wry humour, and a dark, deftly handled plot that had the pages whizzing past.

You can read my recent interview with Emma Viskic here, and my review of And Fire Came Down here.

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: The Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart

Friday, September 14, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Amid the Australian Army hospitals of World War I Egypt, two deeply determined individuals find the resilience of their love tested to its limits

It's 1911, and 21-year-old Evelyn Northey desperately wants to become a doctor. Her father forbids it, withholding the inheritance that would allow her to attend university. At the outbreak of World War I, Evelyn disobeys her father, enlisting as an army nurse bound for Egypt and the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

Under the blazing desert sun, Evelyn develops feelings for polio survivor Dr William Brent, who believes his disability makes him unfit to marry. For Evelyn, still pursuing her goal of studying medicine, a man has no place in her future. For two such self-reliant people, relying on someone else for happiness may be the hardest challenge of all.


My Thoughts:

I’m a big fan of Pamela Hart’s vivid and intelligent historical romances. They give me everything I want in a book – drama, heartache, struggle, triumph, and an enthralling glimpse into the past that teaches me sometSuhing I did not know. The Desert Nurse is set mainly in Egypt during the First World War, and tells the story of a young woman named Evelyn Northey who is determined to become a doctor, despite all the obstacles in her way. Her father is a doctor himself, but does not believe that women should be anything but wives and mothers. He refuses to allow Evelyn the money to go to university to study medicine, and withholds her mother’s inheritance until she turns thirty or is married.

When war breaks out, Evelyn disobeys her father and enlists as a nurse bound for Egypt. She makes friends with the other nurses and doctors, and works herself to exhaustion caring for the wounded soldiers of the disastrous Gallipoli conflict.

The romantic hero of this story is Dr William Brent, who survived polio but was left with a weak leg. Unable to fight, he too works tirelessly to save lives and mend shattered bodies. He and Evelyn are strongly drawn to each other, sharing high ideals of compassion, sympathy and determination. Evelyn has sworn never to marry, however, knowing that a husband and children would prevent her from achieving her dream of becoming a doctor. William, meanwhile, fears being a burden. Besides, there is no time for love. Men are fighting and dying in horrible numbers, and at times it seems as if the war would never end.

Evelyn and William’s love story is engaging and heart-warming, as they struggle to find a way to be together, but for me the real strength of this novel is how it illuminates the lives of the nurses and doctors during the Anzac campaign. It is clear that Pamela Hart has done massive amounts of research, but it is woven so lightly and deftly all though the book that the cracking pace is never compromised. I truly felt as if I was hearing the story of a young nurse in the Egyptian war zone, struggling to help in any way she could, and trying to find a way to make her dreams come true. It’s the kind of book that leaves you with a big lump in the throat, helped by having one of the best last lines I’ve ever read.

I was lucky enough to interview Pamela Hart for the blog this week, you can read it here.

You might also be interested in my review of Pamela Hart's earlier book, A Letter From Italy. 

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

INTERVIEW: Pamela Hart

Friday, September 14, 2018

  

Today I welcome Pamela Hart, author of The Desert Nurse, among other books, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Not so much since I became a mum! Mostly, I’m a night-dreamer… the time just before I fall asleep is when my imagination takes off. Which makes getting to sleep a bit tricky, some nights.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I guess I figured out when I was about 12 that being a writer was a far-off possibility, but I thought at the time that only people who’d lead ‘interesting’ lives could be writers, and my life seemed far too boring to allow me that privilege - so when I was 15 I decided to work in television. Apart from being fun in itself, that seemed to me to be ‘interesting’ enough to qualify me as a writer-in-potential. And, of course, that was what happened - I was working at ABC Kids when I began to write children’s stories (as Pamela Freeman).

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Sydney - in Parramatta, in the Western Suburbs. Now I live in the inner west, quite close to the city. As for what I like to do: well, read, mostly. And wander up to the café on the corner to have a nice bacon and egg roll for brunch. I also love theatre, live music, opera, jazz… we make a lot of music in our house, and I do spend some time practicing the drums and playing my guitar. Also cooking. I like to make things from scratch - today I made cumquat marmalade!

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
The inspiration for The Desert Nurse came quite a few years ago, when I was writing The Soldier’s Wife. That book was based in part on my grandfather’s experience of being wounded at Gallipoli and coming home having to cope with the consequences of the injury. The focus of the book was on the relationship between that soldier and his wife, and was based in Sydney. But I knew that my grandfather’s life had been saved by good nursing, since he developed a very dangerous fever after he was operated on in Cairo. Without anti-biotics, it was only dedicated nursing that saved him and thousands like him. So as I was writing The Soldier’s Wife, I knew one day I wanted to write a story honouring those extraordinary women.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
That varies enormously from book to book. In some, I know exactly what’s going to happen. In others, I have no idea at all! I’ve found it’s best not to get too attached to any one way of working. Each book has its own challenge.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Only once - and it turned into a not-very-good story, so… but I am not much of a dreamer. I very rarely remember my dreams (I’m assured I have them by science, but sometimes I have my doubts!)

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
No… I think a lot of my discoveries were made during the research for The Soldier’s Wife, which I’ve written about here.


Where do you write, and when?
At the moment, since we’ve just renovated, I am setting up my office. In the meantime, I’m writing as I have done for some time, sitting crosslegged in an armchair in the living room! As for when - I write best in the afternoons.

What is your favourite part of writing?
The playing with ideas at the start. So many possibilities - it’s like trying on clothes in a fabulous store, where everything fits but some things just feel better than others. I try on lots of ideas about my characters and story before I begin to write, and it’s the best game ever!

What do you do when you get blocked?
I write something else. As Pamela Freeman, I write children’s books, and I usually have some work I need to do on one of those, so I switch across - and vice versa. It’s a great way of getting some perspective on the current problem. During the writing of The Desert Nurse, my kids’ book was Amazing Australian Women, and that gave me lots of impetus to write about wonderful women.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

Research! Writing historical fiction is fantastic because, every time I do the research for one book, I find half a dozen stories I might like to tell. There are so many great, true stories out there, I doubt I’ll ever run out.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Nope. I began to write seriously while I was a consultant in organisational communication, and I ran the writing parallel to the consulting work. I had very little time to devote to writing, and I learnt to ‘flip th switch’ in my head whenever I had the time to spare. ‘Flipping the switch’ for me means changing the way my mind works, from the very logical and presciptive way it had to for my consulting work, to the imaginative way I needed for fiction. That’s my only ritual, I guess. It took some time to develop, but it became quite reliable. Of course, it doesn’t work if you haven’t been thinking about the story in your downtime moments, getting ready for the moment when you have time at the keyboard.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Well, you, Katie, of course! (And you know that’s true!)

I have very wide tastes. I started as a Shakespeare girl, and he’s still right up there. I also read a lot of poetry. For fiction, though, Jane Austen, JRR Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart - and, recently, George Saunders, Ben Aaronovitch, Sue Whiting, Anita Heiss.

What do you consider to be good writing?

I guess I look for three things. Any one of these will keep me reading, but a great book has all three:

A story to keep me interested,
Characters I can and do care about
A style which reinforces the theme and feeling of the book.

So that might be Austen at one end of the literary spectrum, and Matthew Reilly at the other. They are both very good at what they do, and in the right mood, I can like either one. John Banville’s detective fiction, for example, is basically a series of tone poems. I love it - but I’m just as keen on Val McDermid’s darker and grittier style, because it fits her stories. I try not to be a snob about writing - in the end, if a story keeps the reader’s interest and engages her emotions, that’s what counts.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

Just do it.

Seriously. Just start. It doesn’t matter what you start with - the main thing is that you need practice in creating characters and stories, so start practicing! I teach writing, and it’s so satisfying to take absolute beginners, who’ve never written anything before, all the way through to publication. It’s possible. It’s very possible - but it won’t happen if you don’t write, and rewrite, and write again.

What are you working on now?
My current book is Dancing with the Prince of Wales. It takes two minor characters from The War Bride, Jane and Jonesy, and follows them to London where they go on to be stars on the English stage in the 1920s. It’s inspired by two Australian actors who did just that - Cyril Ritchard and Marge Eliot. I’m having to do a HUGE amount of research for this, because so many real people are characters - Noel Coward and Fred Astaire, Gertie Lawrence and Ivor Novello - and of course the Prince of Wales (the one who later abdicated). It’s a lot of fun, but rather nerve-wracking. The only one I feel really comfortable writing is Fred Astaire, because I’ve been an Astaire tragic my whole life! It will be out in 2020.

You can read my review of Pamela Hart's latest book, The Desert Nurse, here.



BOOK REVIEW: The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession by Susan Orlean

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The Orchid Thief is Susan Orlean’s tale of an amazing obsession. Determined to clone an endangered flower—the rare ghost orchid Polyrrhiza lindenii—a deeply eccentric and oddly attractive man named John Laroche leads Orlean on an unforgettable tour of America’s strange flower-selling subculture, through Florida’s swamps and beyond, along with the Seminoles who help him and the forces of justice who fight him. In the end, Orlean—and the reader—will have more respect for underdog determination and a powerful new definition of passion.


My Thoughts:


I remember when The Orchid Thief came out in 1998, it caused a real buzz. It was a New York Times bestseller, a Barnes and Noble Discover book, a Borders New Voices selection, and an honoree in the American Library Association book-of-the-year selection. It also eventually inspired a movie called Adaption, starring Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean, which must have been a weird and wonderful feeling for the author. It is also credited with beginning – or at least propelling into wide popularity – the genre of narrative non-fiction, in which memoir, biography, travel writing and/or literary journalism is spun together into an engaging and fascinating read.

I love narrative non-fiction, particularly when it has to do with nature, but it is only now that I managed to move The Orchid Thief to the top of my reading pile, perhaps because I am writing a novel about an obsession with Chinese roses.

The Orchid Thief
is the story of a man named John Laroche who is determined to clone an endangered flower - the rare ghost orchid Polyrrhiza lindenii – but is caught stealing one from a swamp in South Florida, along with three Seminole Indians who claim they are the rightful owners because the swamp once belonged to their tribe. John Laroche is highly intelligent and unsettlingly odd. He leads Susan Orlean into a two-year exploration of the world of orchid enthusiasts, and the result is a series of inter-connected essays all focused on some aspect of this delicate and difficult flower.

Susan Orlean’s style is warm, intimate, and humorous. She goes to great lengths to get her stories, trekking deep into the swamps, visiting orchid fairs, and meeting a wide range of funny, eccentric or half-mad characters. Sometimes the essays digress far away from John Laroche and his orchid mania, but they are always interesting and insightful. One of my favourite quotes from the book reads: ‘The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people, too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world seem not huge and empty but full of possibility.’

I too believe it is important to care passionately about something. As the sub-title says, this book is as much about beauty and obsession as it is about the orchid thief, and that makes it a fascinating glimpse into human desire.

For another great book about flowers, you might be interested in the novel The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland.

BEAUTY IN THORNS: celebrating the Pre-Raphaelites!

Monday, September 10, 2018

THE PRE-RAPHAELITES: THEIR LIVES & LOVES

‘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 now!

SPOTLIGHT: The PreRaphaelite Sisterhood

Saturday, September 08, 2018

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 ....  

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