Friday, 20 March 2020

How I Found the 'Write' Inspiration

Have you ever read a book that you loved so much, that as soon as you finished it you had to go right back to the start and read it all over again? Have you ever read a book so many times that it eventually fell to bits? And when you went to buy a replacement, although the book had been reprinted several times, you had to have the version with the exact same cover as the one that had disintegrated? Reading a book just like that led to me becoming a writer.

I was 13 years old and on a family holiday to the Isle of Wight. It was the height of summer, so it rained and it rained and it rained. While my brothers disappeared off to the amusement arcade, I found myself in a little café/bookshop on my own, sat next to a carousel stacked with books by an author I’d never heard of: Jilly Cooper.

I know what you’re thinking: Jilly Cooper writes huge, glitzy, blockbusting novels about horses. But before Riders and Rivals, Jilly wrote a series of romantic comedies with girl’s names as the titles: Emily, Bella, Harriet, Prudence, Octavia and Imogen.

I handed over my pocket money in exchange for Emily and was soon transported to Scotland along with the heroine, who finds herself married to a brooding artist, spends the night in a haunted castle and is caught stealing roses in a see-through nightdress. I quickly handed over the remainder of my pocket money for the other five books and my parents didn’t see me for the rest of the holiday.

I think the reason I loved Jilly’s books so much was that they were hugely funny and didn’t take themselves too seriously. The heroines made the same mistakes as the rest of us, but rather than whinge about it they just cracked a joke and moved on. My favourite (the one that fell to bits) was Imogen. The heroine falls in love with a bad boy tennis player and is whisked off on holiday to the French Riviera, which at the time seemed a very long way from a rain-lashed Isle of Wight.

Three years later, for my English Literature exam, I had to give a presentation on my favourite books. My friends (being complete suck-ups) picked authors like Dickens and Orwell. I chose Bella, Octavia and Imogen. Unfortunately, my passion and enthusiasm for all things Cooper failed to impress the examining board and I passed with only a B+.

I didn’t mind. If you’re the kind of person who loves reading, sooner or later you’ll want to create stories of your own.

And that is exactly what I did.


This post was previously published on the Chick Lit Club blog

Links:

If you'd like to find out more about Jilly Cooper, click here for her website.

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Sunday, 5 August 2018

Speke Hall, Liverpool


As some of you may already know, I moved house about three months ago, closer to the English border and the cities of Chester and Liverpool. This has opened up a whole new world of stately homes and castles that were always too far for me to visit before!

Speke Hall (front)

Top of my 'wish' list was Speke Hall, just outside Liverpool and run by the National Trust. I've wanted to visit this house for a long time because of the beautiful Tudor facade. Although, as it turns out, appearances can be deceptive!

Speke Hall (rear)

My favourite room was the Oak Drawing Room. The ornate plaster ceiling dates from the 17th century, and shows flowers and grapevines - and the occasional snake! The carved panelling above the fireplace dates from around 1560 and shows Sir William Norris surrounded by his two wives and nineteen children! But by the 18th century the house had fallen into disrepair, the floor had been used as firewood and ivy was coming in through the walls and windows.

The Oak Drawing Room

The Norris family owned a house on this site since the early 14th century but the building of Speke Hall began in around 1530 for Sir William Norris. The family survived persecution as Catholics, and were on the losing side during the Civil War,  but still managed to hold onto their estate until it was sold in 1795 to Richard Watt, who had made his money from sugar plantations in Jamaica.

The Great Hall

But the most fascinating character for me was the last person to own Speke Hall, Adelaide Watt, who inherited the estate at the age of eight, following the deaths of her parents. Brought up by her Great-Uncle in Scotland, he taught her all about estate management and when she came of age, she took over the estate and turned it into a profitable business. She sounds like an amazing lady! 

The Kitchen


Links:


Sources:

Speke Hall, A Souvenir Guide by Richard Dean

Photographs:

Copyright: Louise Marley 2018

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

A Visit to Llanrwst (or, the Missing Prince and the Empty Coffin)

Llanrwst is an old market town close to where I live. I've often driven through it, mainly on my way to somewhere else, and although Gwydir Castle and Tu Hwnt I'r Bont are two of my favourite places, I've never really stopped to explore. So last weekend, when the 'kids' were home for the holidays, we decided to stop for a longer visit.

Pont Fawr and Tu Hwnt I'r Bont
The view of Llanrwst everyone always recognises is the famous Pont Fawr bridge and the tearooms beside it. The photo above was taken on Saturday and it was pouring with rain, as you can probably tell. Here's one I took a couple of years back, which might make it a little more recognisable!

Tu Hwnt I'r Bont
Pont Fawr was originally built in 1636 and is attributed to Inigo Jones. The Tu Hwnt I'r Bont Tearooms beside it were originally a 17th century courthouse - and they serve the best scones ever! (I've previously blogged about Tu Hwnt I'r Bont here.)

Inside Tu Hwnt I'r Bont
Fortified against the weather by coffee and scones, we walked around the town and ended up in Church Street beside the Almshouses. These were built in 1610 by Sir John Wynn of Gwydir Castle, originally to 'shelter twelve poor men', but by the 18th century women were allowed to live here too. The last resident moved out in the 1970s and the buildings became derelict until being restored in 2000.

The Almshouses (on the right)
From the Almshouses we passed beneath an archway into the the graveyard of St Grwst Church, which is right beside the River Conwy. St Grwst was a holy man who lived in the area in the 6th century.  The church was built in the late 1400s but burned down during the Wars of the Roses (in revenge for Denbigh Castle being set on fire), before being rebuilt. The Gwydir Chapel was added onto the side by Richard Wynn of Gwydir Castle - see the crenellated roof. Like the bridge, it is also thought to have been designed by Inigo Jones.  

The Church of St Grwst
Inside the church, the nave and chancel are divided by a medieval rood screen, complete with musician's loft, which is almost as old as the church. This was taken from Maenan Abbey after the dissolution of the monasteries. Apologies for the poor quality photo - my camera isn't great and it was a bit dark. You'll have to take my word that it was amazing!

The Rood Screen
One of the reasons I was so keen to visit this church was that the Gwydir Chapel contains a stone sarcophagus that supposedly once held the body of Llywelyn the Great (Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Gwynedd). Llywelyn had originally  been buried at Aberconwy Abbey in 1240, but when King Edward I built Conwy Castle the Abbey was forced to move to Maenan in the Conwy Valley. The legend says that the monks took Llywelyn's remains with them to the new abbey. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, the now empty sarcophagus ended up in the possession of the Wynn family before being moved to the Gwydir Chapel.

Llywelyn's Sarcophagus
Beside the sarcophagus is a stone effigy of a knight. This is thought to be Howell ap Coetmor, who died in 1538. He was a commander of longbowmen under Edward, the Black Prince, at the Battle of Poitiers. He was the first recorded owner of the nearby Gwydir Castle, later sold to the Wynn family, who also have many monuments on the walls of the chapel.

Howell ap Coetmor's effigy

Monument to the Wynn family


Related Posts:

A Grave Obsession: The Church of St Mary's and All Saints, Conwy
Castles and Cream Teas: (Includes Gwydir Castle, Llanrwst)