Friday, July 11, 2014

Why I Chose Wyoming


As the State of Wyoming celebrates her 124th birthday this July, thought I would  briefly share a few of my reasons for choosing this place of extraordinary natural beauty, fascinating people and compelling history as the central setting for The Liberty & Property Legends, my saga of The West & Gilded Age.
The fundamental theme of The Liberty & Property Legends is freedom.
Everything hangs off this. I wanted a Western setting because in The West people were looking to be free of the constraints that were stifling their adventurous spirits, their strong desire to be independent, their religious and cultural freedoms, and the need to get ahead both financially and personally.
A strong platform for women.
In The West, there is a strong emphasis on the significance of women and their contribution. As I wanted to give my female characters a firm base to strut their stuff, I chose Wyoming, where women had the franchise since the Territory of Wyoming  was created in 1868. Women were integral to Wyoming - the first US state or territory to give women the vote.

Women's suffrage in Cheyenne, Wyoming -
I am very fond of this famous image!

Wyoming is called the Cowboy state.
There is no greater embodiment of the spirit of freedom and independence  than the cowboy.  When you read The Liberty & Property Legends you see this borne out in Luke.

Bucking horse & Cowboy sculpture -
Capitol Building, Cheyenne

If you study the seals of The Liberty & Property Legends you will see two of the motifs which will never change: 
1. the train, which symbolizes the Gilded Age of capitalism and progress;
2. the bucking horse and cowboy, which symbolizes Luke, who embodies Liberty & Property; it is also the symbol of Wyoming and her cultural history, the central setting of the saga to this point.

Happy Statehood, Wyoming,
Land of Dreams, Stuff of Legends!


Monday, July 7, 2014

Contradictions of Wanderlust


And we're back! Here we are, having sighed it's good to be home like most folks upon return from a vacation, as they step through the front door and drop their bags. But then I've been known to say that after a trip to the mall and dropped the grocery bags in the kitchen. So what's really going on when we say that?

The adventurous traveler mostly returns from holiday with a stack of crumpled boarding passes and a bunch of mixed emotions... 
Sad to stop adventuring, although it's good to be back. Live happily like a vagabond, but definitely need some stability and the paid employment (travelling may not be a job, but can be damn hard work). Oh, the excitement of seeing the world... familiar mattress and pillow please. Love flitting from here to there, but isn't it nice not to have to rummage around in a suitcase for clean nickers and socks.

It's complicated. It's the ebb and flow. It's appreciating home because we've been away from it; it's enjoying the freedom and exhilaration of travel because home is waiting for us at the end of the adventure. If we've loved our destination, uncovered a deep connection, there is the strong pull to return, even though a deeper reality - home - is usually stronger. I don't know a different sensation than that of 'I must get back'. That's not everyone's feeling though - is it yours? I would love to hear your thoughts.

I won't keep you with a heap of holiday stories. I'll sort out my holiday snaps, see what might be interesting to share from time to time. Yeah, that's what I'll do. Although here is something I can't resist from my first visit to Sweden...

Above, the view from our Stockholm apartment window... a stoic sun resolving to set in
the Land of the Midnight Sun. In summer the sun sets above the horizon, so the gold fades
but not the light. The time is about 10.30 p.m.
Below, barely a few hours later, and viewable in the window next to the one in the pic above,
the sun rises on a new day; it's about 4 a.m. and the sun is high and the light is pearly.

With that promising vibe, and with that pesky jetlag finally fading, it's back to work :)

Friday, April 18, 2014

'I shot an arrow into the air, it fell to earth, I knew not where.'


Longfellow... for more great images of 
the poet and illustrations of his works, 
check out my Pinterest board dedicated to him!

Okay, I admit it. I am one of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s fangirls. Really, I hear you ask? Shouldn’t that be Lord Byron (She walks in beauty, like the night) or Keats (Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness) or Shelley (Hail to thee, blithe spirit)... Okay, I admit I am one of their fangirls, too.
Poetry is a feature of my novels and the work of these classic Romantic poets is featured in that poetry… well, so far, Shelley has been given the task of romancing Emmaline on Cliff’s behalf in Empire for Liberty and First Country … while Keats has been pressed into action in Volume Four, as you will see later on when it is published. As for Lord Byron, you just never know. I love poetry and always have.
While my characters dally with and drool over the Romantics, this fangirl author has given the verse of American poet Longfellow the singular purpose of gracing those pages that separate one section of the novel from the next. When you breathe out between sections you mostly find Longfellow’s poetry to give you thought and pause about what is to come – a troubadourian timeout with a New World twist, if you like.
On the FAQ page of my website, there is the question of why do I like Longfellow’s poetry so much. Since it’s silly to reinvent the wheel, this is what I have answered… “Longfellow [1807-1882] is a great American poet whose poetry, in content, style and sentiment, is able to span the distance of years from the days of colonial America, to the Revolution where Liberty & Property was the catchcry, to the era in which my novels are set”.
You could understand, then, my delight when on my visit to Boston in 2012 I got to tour Longfellow’s house in Cambridge. As the headquarters for General George Washington in the War of Independence, the house was already steeped in history before Longfellow and his family occupied it. Writers aren’t supposed to use clich├ęs (it’s a harsh occupation) but this was a pinch me moment: the tour docent recited verses of Longfellow’s poetry in the very room they were written. You've got to admit, that's pretty special stuff for an avid fan. Magical moments you don’t soon forget.

Photography is not permitted inside Longfellow's House in Cambridge but there are no restrictions in the gardens!
Longfellow’s Tales of a Wayside Inn, featuring the iconic Paul Revere’s Ride, still conjure the atmosphere of inn and hearth in which they were written. And then there is the perennial childhood classic The Village Blacksmith. And who has never heard of The Song of Hiawatha? At the top of my list of favourites is The Courtship of Miles Standish. The poems he composed to express the loss of his beloved wife are unbearably poignant. Across the length and breadth of his work there is adventure and history, tenderness and romance, wisdom and philosophy, lyrical beauty and narrative splendour. Longfellow’s poems run the gamut of human emotion and experience; it’s what the great poets do best.

I hope as you are reading the grand saga of The West and Gilded Age, you enjoy the poetry. The people of the era enjoyed, appreciated, considered and discussed these poems, which gave public voice to the philosophy of love and life in the days when this difficult task belonged to the poet.
For a list of the Longfellow poems I have included in the series so far, please visit Poetry & Song 


Sunday, March 30, 2014

In My Writing Space

On the shelf above my computer in my writing space I have a greeting card. In fact, if you look about my website you will see it pop up (as well as other representations of eclecticism I keep in my writing space, such as my Dr Who stress squeezy, my globe and my African violets).
The greeting card depicts a boy and girl from a bygone era, with the little boy’s arm tucked around the little girl’s waist, with her arm snuggly holding his in place. They are walking away from us, across a park. Flip over to the back and the card description reads: A boy places a protective arm around his young companion during a walk in the park in London, England – 1937. It’s adorable… I love her cosy ribbed tights and his sticky-out ears, amongst many other delightful details.

The writing on the front reads: TO THE WORLD YOU MAY BE JUST ONE PERSON; BUT TO ONE PERSON YOU MAY BE THE WORLD.  My husband gave me this card for my birthday last year. I loved it at first sight. He knows I’m a sucker for cuteness, details, images with stories in them and meaningful sentiment. Then I opened the card and he’d written: TO ME YOU ARE MORE THAN MY WORLD, YOU ARE MY UNIVERSE. Front of card sentiment, considered yourself trumped! And I’m thinking if he bought me this beautiful, romantic card and wrote that melting message in it, I think he means it!

I look at this card every day. Sometimes I imagine if we had known each other as little kids we would have been best friends, if we’d been in the same class at school always in trouble for talking, and if we‘d attended the same high school we would have been dubbed the couple most likely to get hitched. We did go to my high school formal but partnered other people. We met when I was just turned eighteen.

Three children later, lots of married years and the highs and lows, ups and downs of life under our belts, he is still giving me heart-melting cards. Sometimes when we are sharing a significant occasion or if I’ve really amused him, he’ll say, I wouldn’t want to be sharing this moment with anyone else but you.

Aw, such as when I gave him a card for our anniversary in January. The front has a sad, big-eyed character saying: BEFORE I MET YOU I WAS A LONELY WEIRDO [let’s face it, writers are at least a little weird]… inside it my big-eyed character, now with a grin, is declaring NOW I'M NO LONGER LONELY! HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!  It still brings infectious chuckles of laughter. It sits on top of the fridge. Considering how numerous visits to the fridge are, I can’t think of a better place.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bumping into History at the Old Courthouse


History teaches us so much about who we are now and how we got here, for it probes our thoughts and opens our eyes, unplugs our ears. This is our world. How did it, and we, get this way? Why do we do the things we do, have the attitudes we have, be as complex as we are?

I tend to go searching for it, as so many historians and history buffs do, but sometimes it finds you!

Being on the spot when something historical goes down is one effective and exciting way of having all those probing questions have their way with you. One such event happened to Tank and me on our visit to St Louis, Missouri, in June 2012. The day we came to town we had no idea that a particular landmark event was about to take place beside the steps of the Old Courthouse. That event was the unveiling and dedication of the Dred and Harriet Scott Statue.

The Dred Scott case is famous.  Dred Scott was a black slave who sued for his freedom. He began in 1846 and didn’t give up until the case made it to the US Supreme Court in 1857. The final decision in the case was made by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger B. Taney, who ruled that Dred & Harriet were not citizens and therefore could not sue and had to remain slaves. The consequences of this influenced Abraham Lincoln, the outbreak of the civil war and the emancipation of slaves. The Scotts were freed after the case but by their owners, the Blow family.

These links are excellent:

As an extensive group of people gathered around the front of the Old Courthouse, milling patiently in the high summer heat, with the statue still cocooned in its red shroud, all manner of thoughts paraded through my mind.

For Tank and me, it seemed that history was calling, a history stretching back over 150 years to antebellum America when slavery was a hot political and social issue. And, appropriately, an issue of liberty and property, no less, for you may recall that liberty is being free from oppression and property is ‘you’, and no one has a right to you and your worth but you (to paraphrase John Locke)! But of course these principles did not extend to black slaves in America, as the decision in Dred Scott's case illustrated only too well.

Here we were, standing on the old steps where thousands of men, women, children and babies were bought and sold as chattel. Sobering and chilling. But now, in this same spot, a black slave and his wife were being remembered and celebrated for their courage, determination and historical significance.  What an auspicious moment!

Civil war swept this 'antebellum' era away. And slavery and the slave trade in America were finished. A new era was coming, of progress and prosperity, of great waves of free emigrants and different masters. And all the while and forever after the wound of slavery ran long and deep. Festering due to the racism that underpinned it, slavery scarred the nation for the century to come.

However, on this particular day, June 8, 2012, the worst of what humanity can perpetrate upon itself was remembered as both tragedy and triumph… Dred & Harriet Scott, their heads held high, by the steps of the Old Courthouse in St Louis, looking out across the Mississippi, and into a future of freedom and hope. They made a difference.

Present at the dedication, Dred Scott Madison, Jr., great-great-grandson of Dred & Harriet, and his cousin Lynne Jackson, who worked tirelessly to have the statue erected on the south lawn of the Old Courthouse in St Louis.
He said, "I have often told her she's doing God's work, and she is, just as our great-great-grandmother and grandfather did. They dared to defy man's law and represent God's law. This is truly a nation under God, something that could never have been while slavery was in existence."

The plaque beneath this image displayed in the Old Courthouse Museum, St Louis, read: 'In the presidential election of 1856, the question of whether Kansas would be admitted as  a free state or a slave state dominated the debate. In August 1856, St Louisans gathered at the Courthouse to hear about this issue. So many people attended that the crowd overflowed into the street.'

The plaque beneath this image displayed in the Old Courthouse Museum, St Louis, reads: 'These westward pioneers, camped on the banks of the Mississippi River across from St Louis in 1846, could be headed west to settle in Oregon Territory. Is this black woman, in the left foreground, a slave or a free person? What would her future hold in her new home in the West?'

Images above are entirely from my 2012 album 'Go West, young man...or woman as the case may be'


Monday, March 17, 2014

Queen City of the Plains


A display of images that fall into the ‘now and then’ category - 'yesteryear & present day' - is a useful and entertaining way of viewing history. My research tours to the US have led me to Denver twice and it is one of my favourite cities, one I would always be happy to return to. The photos in this research montage are from my album ‘Western Odyssey’, acknowledging  Denver Public Library and Denver Union Station.

Denver was dubbed ‘Queen City of the Plains’ and for good reason. Like so many western towns, in her early days she was rough, but on the back of the mining of precious metals this hard-working, hard-drinking mining town soared to prosperity, surpassing all expectations. Mining, manufacturing, smeltering, ranching, the railroad and much more delivered wealth, culture and a large population. Denver became a world-class city.

The rough elements  - prostitution, crime and corruption - remained, their notoriety and function deftly incorporated into one booming city of enormous wealth, whose inhabitants stretched from poor migrants working the gardens along the creek to millionaires of supreme power and influence.

By the 1880’s, when The Liberty & Property Legends are set, and where volume three First Country takes the reader to Denver, this city epitomises the Gilded Age in The West.

'Toward Denver City let us know propel,
of its strange sights and startling wonders tell.'

Pike's Peakers of '59 ~ Lawence N. Greenleaf 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Our local paper writes up Liberty & Property Legends

I am particularly thrilled to have this feature in my local newspaper today. There's a great sense of appreciation, and satisfaction too, in being recognised in this way. And it's always great to get the word out about my growing saga, with the recent release of FIRST COUNTRY ~

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The season to be jolly is over, and now it's full steam ahead (still with a bit of jolly...)

I hope your Holiday Season and New Year's was all you'd hoped for and more. And now that 2014 is zooming ever onward it's wise to have plans well in hand before the  rapid pace of life has us on 2015's doorstep.
I have received some excited responses to First Country from readers, so my 2014 plan to release the next book in the series - volume four - has definitely had a boost.

Most writers will tell you, however, that starting off is the hardest part. But this far into a series I am aware of all sorts of issues that a stand alone novel doesn't have.

How do I bring readers successfully up to speed with the story so far? How do I top my last book so that the dynamics of the saga doesn't let up? It's got to be better, better, better!!!
Suddenly my simple plan of whipping volume four into shape is complex, huge and enough to have a body staring blankly at the page or scratching the head.


Or worst still, finding a million other things to do rather than putting that plan into action.
That's right - avoidance on a grand scale.

Baking cookies = classic avoidance.  

So it's Keep Calm and Starting Writing... And Keep Writing!  And revising and editing! It's all to do. But my intention to make volume four the best book yet is underway! I should let you in a little secret though.... when all is said and done, it's more fun than you can poke a stick at.