23 June 2011

author Suzy Witten


Suzy Witten
 The instant they announced “The Royal Wedding” I picked up my phone and booked my flight... not caring that it was five months away. I was going to witness HISTORY! 
 It had been three years since my last UK visit and almost a lifetime since my first, when a wide-eyed hippy exchange student from America stepped off a student ship for her semester at Leeds, and while taking the train in from Southampton to London met a host of eccentric English. Needless to say, her destiny changed.
I’ve been an Anglophile ever since. And like others of my ilk, I periodically need to make my pilgrimage to Old England (especially after the years spent writing my historical novel about New England: THE AFFLICTED GIRLS A Novel of Salem, intuitively revisiting that infamous witch hunt of 1692, and bringing the old ghosts back to life with voices.)
This time, though, I was coming to witness the Queendom’s big event, to watch monarchs cavort, and to enjoy my own splendid friends (who luckily for my purse, offered free beds, partial boards, and endless hospitality)
I took shelter first in Clerkenwell in the City with my filmmaker/artist friend Kutlug Ataman (one of the art world’s most celebrated talents) who was about to be honored at the Brighton Arts Festival. His diplomat partner Martin flew in from Pakistan to attend. I was invited to all events, including a chartered train ride down to Brighton. In between exhibit and dinner, I toured Brighton with my long-lost-till-Facebook friend, Glen.

Kutlug’s exhibit in Brighton

The ensuing days, I trotted about London until my exhausted hosts went on their vacation to Skye. Then I moved over to West Hampstead-Finchley, where two parties, three restaurants, several scrumptious homemade Mediterranean family brunches and a Feldenkreiss class later, my (yes, middle-aged) trapeze-swinging, tightrope-walking circus trainee friend Rachel, a movement therapist, and I were invited to Covent Garden’s Royal Opera for opening night of “Werther” by its conductor, her client and friend:

I made more rounds about London, visiting other decades-lost friends: first Sam in Chiswick Mall and at the Virtually Acoustic Club (the VAC) in North London, Hampton Court (flowers in bloom) and Bushy Park (swans in pond) with Sandy:

Amid herds of oblivious descendents of Henry VIII’s deer, I walked Portobello Road on Market Day with Julian, had lunch on Fulham Road with Shelley, an Olivier. I consumed Indian food in Kilburn and Wembley, watched cricket in Regents Park with David and Chris, and visited the painting den of the brilliant Nahem Shoa, Rembrandt’s heir, to view his masterful new works (not shown)

I also attended Kutlug’s London opening at the gallery of Thomas Dane.
The fourth week of my visit I went to loll in the Gloucestershire country with my modern bard friends, Sam and Anna (“Silver Sam,” master of the triple entendre, and folk songstress “Anna Giles”) at their centuries old, garden-rich listed village manor in Fairford (the nearby neighborhood)

I happily sat in front of their Aga, stuffing myself with fresh cheese, berries and cream, and the best baked potatoes I’d ever tasted, sharing conversation, laughter and good wine into the wee hours. I was driven past breathtaking Cotswold views, stopped for tea at Katherine Parr’s refuge, Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe, where I crossed paths with the current Lord Henry

(a handsome Lord Dent-Brocklehurst), out in the garden walking his dog.
But best was my friends’ performing at two Cotswold village pubs (The Trout in Lechlade & in Minchinhampton) and at the Lechlade Music Festival.

But I digress... two days after arriving in London, at a fairly early morning hour, I was dropped off by Kutlug’s taxi at the northside of St. James Park. To be promptly informed by police that the park and palace were now “sealed” and that I would have to watch all happenings on the giant looming park screens! ... I suppose if I had listened, I might have felt royally crushed.
 Instead, I walked on until I stood outside Buckingham Palace on the Mall at the front press gate, where the policewoman guarding it decided that despite the hoards of surrounding beggars, I would be the one to stand beside her for the next four and a half hours guarding access to the Royal Court.

The Olde English magic had ordained me an unobstructed view!

I felt so much old world magic in reuniting with beloved old friends and making wonderful new friends, including two fellow historical authors, Jean Fullerton and Helen Hollick, true soul sisters, at the Romance Novelists Association’s monthly luncheon and lecture in London at The Lamb.
So thank you, Helen, for this chance to celebrate my life (and much-needed vacation)... and, hopefully, to regale you and yours!

Suzy's Ten Dinner Guests:

My parents in every decade of my life - to recapture their memories of me;
loved ones and friends on the other side to share all mine that they've missed.

Suzy Witten is the American author of “THE AFFLICTED GIRLS A Novel of Salem” 
(ISBN: 978-0-615-32313-8), winner of the 2010 IPPY Silver Medal for Historical Fiction 
(avail. UK, Paperback & Kindle eBook) (Ages 17 and older) 
“Something terrible happened in Salem Village in 1692 ... but it isn’t what you think!” 
Next Time - July 7th as part of my Sea Witch Blog Tour

 Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics

16 June 2011

Gadsby not Gatsby!

That’s me - June Gadsby - and not so great, but since I moved to Gascony in France in 1991 I’ve had to correct the French who instantly relate me to The Great Gatsby
The fact that I am a writer is just a coincidence.
With my photographer/ornithologist husband and two miniature Yorkshire terriers I live in a small rural village of 360 inhabitants and over the years I have acquired three very different “hats”.  Madame the writer, Madame the white witch and, by most as Madame the artist.

Our house is apparently the only one left still with its original Gascony design, built in 1808, and we have managed to keep most of its original features. Opposite our main gates we have the very pretty view of the village church and the old ruined chateau.

On a clear day when the leaves have left the trees we can look out onto the snow-capped Pyrénées.  In winter the snow can be a foot deep forty minutes down the road, but it generally only manages a good hoar frost here. 
I’ve written all my life from the age of eight years, but apart from travel and nostalgic articles and one or two short stories on radio, I remained unpublished as a novelist until 2001.  Now, I have something like 25 titles under my belt, novels and novellas, most of which have also appeared in Large Print format. They are, for the most part, romantic suspense, very often in exotic settings. 

My latest, “The Raging Spirit” out in May 2011, has attracted some superb reviews, for which any writer would be thrilled. All thanks to publishers Robert Hale.

"Gadsby's fluent style of writing and propensity for drama bring the characters to life" Accent Journal.
"Spiced with the fresh air of originality and realism" Myshelf.com.
     "The book's ring of authenticity" Shields Gazette.

Years ago, I was told to give up writing as I would never manage to get published. The collage above of just some of my books is proof that “they” were wrong and I was so right to persevere. 
If you believe strongly enough in yourself and follow that dream, it’s half way to success. 
The rest is hard work and lots of luck.

My French neighbour named me Sorceress of Labatut-Riviere some years ago – this is where the white witch bit comes in.  I dabble in aromatic herbs. This came about when we were pretty new here in France and found ourselves without health cover either by England or by France.
To take out a full health scheme policy cost more than our meager incomes put together, so I started experimenting – first with the only herb we had growing in our half-acre plot – sage.  It cured me of an 18-month long digestive problem in ten days.  From there I started growing more and more herbs until I had a well-established plot of aromatics. I studied herbs and spices and eventually came up with what everybody calls my “magic ointment”. This has been known to cure or at least ease everything from psoriasis to a burnt finger and muscular pain. The local French have been known to trundle up our drive and ask for more as it’s the only thing that works on their ailments. The recipe is secret, of course, but no animal products or artificial enhancers are used in the making of it.

And speaking of animals, my two little canine buddies are also my children and, in the evening, when I relax in front of the telly they snuggle up to me like a couple of pannier bags. Candy is the sweetest little lady at almost 12 years old, but is somewhat intolerant of Toby, who is just 18 months and full of mischievous energy. They are with me now as I write – mascots and lucky charms. It was Candy who inspired my first novella to be published and she was immortalized in that story. I’m sure Toby will get into a novel somewhere. 
It will probably be a very humorous story.

On the art side, I’ve recently been lucky enough to have some friends build me my own studio where I can relax, paint, listen to music and thoroughly chill out.  
Art has been a great part of my life since I was 21 months old – yes, I have some original sketches to prove it, found among my mother’s effects when she died a couple of years ago. 
I hasten to add that my work has improved greatly since then. People always ask what I specialize in. Well, I paint just about anything in all different styles, but I have recently taken up painting pet portraits as animals are my first love.

I also paint landscapes and flowers. In the village I have been allowed to use a hall in which I give painting lessons to beginners and the group meets twice a month over paint, coffee, cake and a good laugh. The medium I use is ChromaColour – it’s magic. Far better than water colour, gouache, acrylic or oils. I’ve painted animals for years, but I’m quite new to still life and flowers. 

The painting of the figs was my first attempt at still life. I sold it to someone who wanted it as a wedding present for a friend. The friend took it to get it framed and it was stolen from the framers. It’s the second time I’ve had a painting stolen.

I suppose I should feel flattered that someone should think they were worth breaking the law for. 
My life started out as pretty dull by anybody’s reckoning, lviing in my grandparents’ small miner’s cottage overlooking the River Tyne with grandfather, grandmother, aunt and mother. However, as I grew older and wiser it got a whole more interesting, though at the time when certain events took place it was more traumatic than funny. I can only now look back with a smile and a chuckle and put it all down as experience, lessons well learned and great fodder for a writer.

I was, for a time, personal secretary to one of the country’s most notorious politicians and ended up giving evidence against him in a bribery and corruption case at Leeds Crown Court. Desperate for a life of my own, home, family etc., I married in haste and came close to losing my life at the hands of my schizophrenic doctor husband. I’ve travelled widely to places such as South Africa, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Patagonia, Argentina, Chile, the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon jungle – and, of course, many places in Europe too. All this has given me great backgrounds for my books.

Through my present husband, Brian, I was involved in his work at the Washington Centre of the Wildfowl and Wetlands trust where we lived on site at the edge of the park with 1200 different species of wildfowl, many of them endangered. Many was the time I would open our door and be presented with a foundling bird needing TLC. 
My favourite was a young kestrel. An old man pushed it into my hands saying that his grandson had found it. The bird clamped itself to both my thumbs, the door closed behind me and I had to sit on the step for two hours to wait for my step-daughter to come home from school to let me in. 
My least favourite event of this kind was spending hours trying to clean oil off birds caught in a local oil spill.

Through my husband I met, on more than one occasion, Sir Peter Scott and his wife Lady Philippa, and the Trust’s Patron, Prince Charles along with other notaries.  And worldwide best selling writer Catherine Cookson called us in to solve the mystery of her “childless ducks”. 

 I spent a wonderful three hours chatting with her and, at the end of the day her lovely husband, Tom, served us tea and cake, which he had made himself.

Most of my working years were spent as Medical Secretary and Administrator for Newcastle University and the NHS where no day was ever the same and the work enjoyable though hard and stressful. I saw life from every angle, met some great and some not so great people and had lots of laughs. Working in a hospital situation you have to see the funny side of everything. Being too serious and getting upset over sick and dying patients doesn’t help anybody. 

In Endocrinology I dealt with many abnormalities and learnt to keep an unflinching smile on my face because I never knew who or what to expect walking through my office door – acromegaly giants looking like James Bond’s “Jaws”, dwarfs, homosexuals, transsexuals, hermaphrodites and sexual deviants. In Psychiatry the patients looked okay, but you never knew what was going on in their minds and the psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers seemed to think that my office was where they gravitated to if they needed someone to talk to.
So, there you are. So many changes in one life and I have the feeling that there are more to come. I’m that kind of person.

Who would I like to invite as Dinner Guests?

Goodness, that’s difficult. Of those who are no longer with us in the flesh I would certainly want to invite Leonardo Da Vinci for his artistic brilliance and technical genius long ahead of his time; Catherine Cookson so I can thank her for her wonderful hospitality and inspiring advice; Barbara Cartland (just for the fun of it and the fact that she was the author of the very first romance I read at the age of fifteen),  Sir Peter Scott for his beliefs in conservation and his eccentric humour and T. Dan Smith (my notorious employer) who was not nearly as black as he was painted and was an artist and a poet with great charisma.
Those who are still on this planet – Prince Charles so I can talk to him about gardening and blots on the landscape; Barack Obama because he is a great writer, great philosopher and will probably go down as one of America’s greatest Presidents; Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest men that ever lived; David Attenborough, because he’s lived the life I would have loved, given the opportunity; and Alan Bennett for his enviable real life humorous story-telling.

There are so many more people I would like to invite, but as I’m restricted to ten, let’s leave it there. 

Next Time: author Paul Bailey 

1 June 2011

Well you know me - anything about the ships or the sea.... so...

... I am delighted to welcome my guest - William C. Hammond, an American novelist of  nautical historical fiction best known for his Cutler Family Chronicles series. (H.H. which I am reading and loving!)

All seven projected novels in the series present the American perspective in the Age of Fighting Sail, and all seven have as a backdrop the creation of the U.S. Navy and the emergence of the United States on the world stage as a commercial power.
The novels feature the Cutler family of Hingham, Massachusetts and Fareham, England as well as a supporting and ever expanding cast of characters.
The combined family owns a sugar cane plantation on the island of Barbados and ships barrels of sugar, molasses and rum to Europe and the Far East.

 Two novels in the series have been published.  A Matter of Honor is set during the Revolutionary War, although the action in the novel takes place mainly on the high seas, England, France and the West Indies

For Love of Country, published in October of 2010 by the Naval Institute Press, is set during the 1780’s, a time when the infant republic has no viable government or a navy to protect its vast merchant fleets from piracy throughout the world, especially off the Barbary Coast of North Africa. 

The Power and the Glory, to be published by the Naval Institute Press in October of 2011, has as its backdrop the Quasi-War against France in the West Indies

Other books in the series will feature the war against Tripoli, the events leading up to the War of 1812, the war itself, and the war against Algiers in 1815. Every novel has been / will be vetted by qualified historians for accuracy. 

While these novels feature plenty of swashbuckling sea action, they also reveal close interpersonal relationships among family members and friends in both England and New England, as well as in Barbados.  At their core they chronicle a life-long love story between Richard Cutler, the main protagonist, and his English-born wife, Katherine. 

Together, Richard and Katherine  interact with other men of honor and women of passion, some fictional, many of them real historical characters such as John Paul Jones, Thomas Jefferson, Horatio Nelson, Dey Mohammed bin Osman of Algiers, and the Marquis de Lafayette – each of whom has been meticulously researched. 

An interview with Bill Hammond

Hello Bill, welcome to my guest page

Thank you, Helen.  It’s an honour to be here.

HH - My own friends and readers know I adore any novel about the sea and tall ships – so you know you are on to a winner straight off with me! What inspired you to write the series?
WCH – I’ve always had a fascination with the sea, having grown up on the shores of Cape Ann in Massachusetts.  As a young man I wanted nothing more than to attend the Naval Academy, but a serious football injury got in the way of that.  I have always loved to read and write, and I have always enjoyed studying history.  When I came of age, so to speak, writing a nautical / historical series seemed the perfect outlet to combine my life’s interests - especially because so few writers have presented the American perspective in the Age of Fighting Sail.

HH – You have a wonderful cast of characters in your books (I have read For Love Of Country – loved it!) Who, out of all your characters, is your especial favourite?
WCH – I would have to say Richard Cutler, the main protagonist.  He combines those traits I most admire in a man: a sense of honour and duty, yes, but also a realistic sense of self, a sense of humility, a passion for his wife and a love of family, and above all, a sense of humour.

HH - There were many scenes that left me enthralled – and so believing I really was at sea – are you a sailor?
WCH Indeed I am.  My father used to jest that I could tie a bowline before I could tie my shoes.  I love to sail, and do so whenever I can.  There is something magical and extraordinarily remedial about casting off the lines and concentrating only on wind, boat and sea.

HH -  What is your own favourite scene?
WCH  That’s a tough question, because my favourite scene (and my favourite novel in the series) is the one I happen to be working on.  But if you tie me up and threaten me with the lash, I would have to say that my favourite scene in For Love of Country is the sea battle in the Mediterranean between Falcon, Richard Cutler’s armed merchant schooner, and two heavily armed Arab xebecs.

HH – I have a favourite vessel – the replica the Rose, now known as Surprise. I have used her as a “model” for my own hero’s ship, Sea Witch. Have you a favourite from the past – or a present vessel perhaps?
WCH Yes.  USS Constitution. She does not play a role in this novel (in For Love of Country the United States has no navy), but she plays a central role in all subsequent novels in the series.  I have been aboard her perhaps twenty times in Boston.  She is an absolutely gorgeous ship.

HH – If I had a time machine I would want to travel back to 1066 and try to alter the outcome of the Battle of Hastings. What historical event would you change?
WCH I would change the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.  I would have the newly installed radar do what it was built to do and have the U.S. Navy on alert and fully prepared to repel the enemy assault. 
It is traditional for my guests to invite 10 dinner guests to an imaginary dinner.
They can be alive, dead or fictitious. 
Who would you choose and why?

Winston Churchill – My all-time favourite historical figure
John Paul Jones – the father of the U.S. Navy
Elizabeth I – a queen of honour, duty and extraordinary courage
Horatio Nelson – the greatest naval commander ever to have lived
Jack Aubrey – a post captain of note, and the main character of so many excellent novels
C.S. Forester – One of the oldest and still one of the best writers of nautical fiction
Marcus Aurelius – a Roman emperor of bravery, wisdom and wit
Cleopatra – An Egyptian pharaoh of bravery, wisdom and wit
George Washington – A man who made the impossible become a reality
Ferdinand Magellan – A sailor for the ages

Originally from Boston, William now lives with his three sons in MinneapolisMinnesota. Bill recently lost his dear wife, Victoria, but he is determined to continue his series of novels in her memory. He sails whenever possible on Lake Superior and off the coast of Maine.

H.H. Thank you Bill –  my condolences for your recent loss. It’s been a great pleasure to have you as my guest, I wish you a fair wind and a calm sea for the future!

Bill Hammond Website

Next Time - Gadsby not Gatsby, author June Gadsby talks of her life living in France

I have spaces for more guests: contact Helen