Sunday 22 February 2015

Alice's Adventures in ... Llandudno?

After an absence of ten years, I recently moved back to a village just outside the Welsh seaside town of Llandudno. At first the town seemed much the same as I remembered. And then I walked around a corner and bumped into this ...

The White Rabbit

... an enormous wooden statue of Alice in Wonderland's White Rabbit, which seemed a little bit random to say the least! But I did some research and found out that these carved wooden characters from the famous book by Lewis Carroll appear all around Llandudno as part of the Alice in Wonderland Trail. Alice herself waits outside the railway station and The Queen of Hearts is located close to one of my favourite Italian restaurants. But the one I like best is The Hatter, who can be seen gazing up at the Great Orme from the Promenade.

The Hatter

So what is the connection between this Victorian seaside town and one of the most famous children's classics of all time?

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, more famously known as Lewis Carroll, was a clergyman and mathematics don at Oxford University. He had written stories from a very young age but he was inspired to write Alice's Adventures in Wonderland while taking the three eldest daughters of the Dean of Christ Church College (Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell) on a boat trip up the river to Godstow. During this trip Dodgson told the girls a story, which would later become Alice's Adventures Underground. In 1864 he presented this story as a handwritten manuscript, complete with his own illustrations, to Alice Liddell as a Christmas gift, "In memory of a summer's day". A longer version was finally published in 1865 as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, with illustrations by Sir John Tenniel.

St Tudno Hotel
There is no evidence that Dodgson ever visited Llandudno. However, in 1861 the Liddell family (the Dean, his wife, their five children and various servants) visited Llandudno during the Easter holidays. They stayed at the Tudno Villa lodging house (now known as St Tudno Hotel) on North Parade and must have enjoyed themselves for the following year they came back to Llandudno, this time staying at St George's Hotel over on West Shore, before the Dean commissioned a  mock gothic house to be built there in 1862, which he named Penmorfa. The Liddells visited their new second residence regularly, during Easter, summer and Christmas holidays, and entertained many distinguished guests, including William Gladstone and Matthew Arnold.

Much has also been made of the family's friendship with Prince Leopold, the youngest son of Queen Victoria. He matriculated at Christ Church College in 1872 and often visited the Liddell family at the Deanery in Oxford. In 1873, Prince Leopold paid a secret visit to Llandudno and stayed at the Imperial Hotel - but why? There was at least one occasion where Prince Leopold had taken Alice Liddell on a boat trip along the river at Oxford. Did they have a secret romance in Llandudno? We'll never know but later, after they had both married other people, Alice named her second son Leopold - and Prince Leopold called his daughter Alice ...

Penmorfa was sold in 1873, later to become part of the Gogarth Abbey Hotel. Despite a huge local campaign, the house was sadly demolished in 2008.

These wooden statues are not the first to commemorate Alice's connection with Llandudno. In 1933 a marble statue of the White Rabbit standing beside a hollow tree stump was unveiled by the former Prime Minster, David Lloyd George, at West Shore close to Penmorfa. Alice Liddell was invited to the unveiling but by now she was 84 years old and unable to attend. She wrote "I still have the happiest memories of Penmorfa, as my father's house at Llandudno was called then, and of the rambles over the Great Orme's Head and among the Llandudno sand hills. I wish I could come personally in gratitude for those joyous days, and for the days spent with Mr Dodgson."

Sadly this marble statue was vandalised over the years. The poor White Rabbit lost his ears and paws - even a steel dome cage around the statue couldn't save it. Eventually the statue was taken into the care of Conwy Council for repair and is awaiting relocation to a more secure and central site.

The Queen of Hearts

I've lived in Wales for 12 years but I was born in Hampshire. My books are based in a fictional area based on the New Forest and, in one of those weird coincidences, Alice Liddell also spent most of her life living in the New Forest following her marriage to Hampshire cricketer, Reginald Hargreaves. She died in 1934 and her ashes were interred in the graveyard of the parish church of St Michael and All Angels in Lyndhurst.

Dodgson went on to write a sequel, Through the Looking Glass, and continued to teach at Christ Church until his death in 1898. Although he always said that the character of Alice was not based upon any one child, the epilogue for Through the Looking Glass is a poem, in which the first letter of each line spells out Alice's full name: Alice Pleasance Liddell.

Sunday 8 February 2015

Five Books Which Romanced Me

I'm not quite sure how I ended up writing romance. I'm not in the least bit romantic! My books do have a mix of comedy and/or suspense, and the hero and heroine usually end up falling in love by the end - mostly by accident - but I'm still that person who puts their hand over their eyes during the romantic scene in a movie with, "Ugh, mushy bit!" But as I also put my hand over my eyes during scary bits, gory bits and definitely rude bits, it's a wonder I've seen any movie all the way through.

Luckily I don't have this problem with books!

(It's a bit difficult to read with your eyes closed ... )

So here are five of my favourite romantic reads, in five different romance genres, for Valentine's Day.

(Guaranteed mush-free.)

A Fairy Tale Romance:
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

In the land of Ingary, where seven league boots and cloaks of invisibility do exist, Sophie Hatter catches the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste and is put under a spell.

Deciding she has nothing more to lose she makes her way to the moving castle that hovers on the hills above Market Chipping. But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the souls of young girls…

A fairy tale romance - where the heroine spends most of the book transformed into a little old lady. Who else could get away with writing that? There is also a huge twist towards the end which I certainly didn't see coming. (I always love books that take me by surprise!) If you enjoy it, there are two other books in the series, Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways.

A Funny Romance
Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella

Emma is sitting on a turbulent plane. She's always been a nervous flyer. She really thinks that this could be her last moment. So, naturally enough, she starts telling the man sitting next to her - quite a dishy American, but she's too frightened to notice - all her innermost secrets. 
She survives the flight, of course, and the next morning the famous founding boss of the whole mega corporation she works for is coming for a look at the UK branch. As he walks around, Emma looks up and realises...

It's the man from the plane.

What will he do with her secrets? He knows them all - but she doesn't know a single one of his. Or... does she?

Sophie Kinsella is the author of the hugely successful Shopaholic series but this stand-alone book is one of my favourites (another is The Undomestic Goddess). I love it because we've all made that huge mistake that's come back to bite us and because it really is very funny.

A Historical Romance
Duchess by Night by Eloisa James

After a lifetime as a wallflower Harriet, the Duchess of Berrow, is finally seeking a little pleasure of her own. And where better to begin than at the house of one of the most disreputable men in the country, Lord Strange? However, the high-stakes games of lust and chance that rule Strange's household mean that to cross the threshold could entirely ruin her reputation. So Harriet swaps her hoops and corsets for a pair of breeches and transforms herself into a young male relative of the Duke of Villiers. Before she knows it she's writing bawdy missives on behalf of a young actress, not to mention winning card games played by the most powerful men in England. But when she starts attracting male attention, Harriet must decide whether to stay in her disguise - or to reveal that she's really a duchess by night ...

This story is part of the Desperate Duchesses series, set in Georgian England. (It is #3 in the series but you don't really have to read them in order. Another of my favourites is The Duke is Mine). I love Eloisa James's novels because although they're historical they're written in a light-hearted, modern way - sexy and very funny. And I love the covers! Watch out for the scene where Lord Strange (who has finally wised to Harriet's secret) teaches her to fence.

A Romance with Bite
Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse is a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. She's quiet, keeps to herself, and doesn't get out much - not because she's not pretty. She can read minds. And that doesn't make her too dateable. And then along comes Bill: he's tall, he's dark and he's handsome - and Sookie can't 'hear' a word he's thinking. He's exactly the type of guy she's been waiting all her life for - but Bill's a vampire ...

I LOVE the mix of humour, mystery, suspense, horror and romance of these books. They were made into a TV series, True Blood, and now I'm going to be one of those boring people who go on about how the books are much better than the TV/movie version. But they are.

A Thrilling Romance
Nightfall by Anne Stuart

Richard Tiernan has been sentenced to death. With an ulterior motive and a heart full of dark truths, he agrees to tell all to an ailing writer whose greed and ambition are so strong that he will even give his own daughter to Richard in return for one last Pulitzer-winning story.

Cassidy’s spent her life struggling to earn her father’s respect and love. Now his health is failing, and her feelings for him are even more complex. Loyalty is a sacrifice. Daughters can be broken by their fathers. She has to help when he calls. He’s bailed Richard Tiernan out of prison just long enough to coax the shocking facts out of him. What happened that night? What did Tiernan really do to his family?

Her father will sell his soul to the Devil before he dies. So  be it.

Richard Tiernan may take them both to Hell.

If you regularly read this blog, or follow me on Pinterest, you will know that Anne Stuart is one of my favourite authors. The author delights in having the darkest, most twisted characters for her heroes. Can the heroine redeem this one? Deliciously dark - I loved it. 

Related Posts

Five Books Which Chilled Me
Five Books Which Influenced Me
Ten (Slightly Random) Ways to Choose a Book
Most Favourite Books in the World Ever (Pinterest board)

(Book covers and blurbs copyright the individual publishers)

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Music: Wings to the Mind

'Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything' - Plato

Yes, I know, I'm not usually in the habit of quoting Plato, but he sums up how I feel about music. I love music. My mother once made a comment about how I live my life to a constant soundtrack and she was probably right. (Mothers usually are; mine definitely is). Music follows me everywhere - in the car, at the gym, all around the house - and I always have it playing on the laptop when I'm working. Especially while I'm working.

And this is why:

It's a better class of white noise. You can guarantee that the exact moment I've crafted the perfect sentence, will also be the exact same moment workmen will begin digging up the road or someone's dog will start barking and the sentence is lost forever. Because music is constant, once I get into the story I'm working on even that sound becomes background noise and I don't hear it anymore.

Some people have comfort food, I have comfort music. Writing is my job, so I can't just wait around for some kind of Muse to roll up and inspire me, as appealing as that might be. If the story is going badly and I'm feeling particularly fed up, I'll listen to something loud and kickass to snap me out of it, usually by Pink. Actually, thinking about it, maybe this is why my heroines are usually kickass too ...

Music can help me set the right atmosphere. It's fairly typical (now bordering on traditional) for me to be working on a Christmas story during a heatwave and a summer one after I've been snowed in and the heating's packed up. I've long been in the habit of creating a playlist of about 12 songs for each individual book. What can I say? I'm weird.

The weather was so hot during the writing of Something Wicked, I had to take my laptop out into the garden just to get some fresh air. I was supposed to be writing about a sinister blizzard - while trying not to get sunburnt! I couldn't play Christmas music, because it wasn't a Christmas story, so I dug out some old Halloween tracks instead. People Are Strange (Echo and The Bunnymen) helped me get inside the heroine's head on her arrival in a new village, where the inhabitants, both past and present, are eccentric to say the least. The witchy parts of the story were light-hearted, so another track I had stuck on repeat was Frank Sinatra's Witchcraft - there's definitely no nicer witch than Meg!

Although occasionally the music does creep into the story ... I was listening to a Little Boots album while writing Nemesis. The lyrics to her song Remedy, about dancing with the enemy, was very much how Natalie felt about Bryn. Then, when I was trying to think up a name for the club Natalie visits, it ended up being called Remedy too.

... Randomly ... I was writing a scene for my next book, Trust Me I Lie, when an old Tom Jones track came on the radio and I had one of those lightbulb moments. It would be perfect for the scene - but dare I use it? You'll have to wait and see!

Finally ... Have you noticed how the best songs are, in fact, stories? OK, very short, tiny snippets of someone else's life, but they are proper stories in which you, as the listener, have to do the rest of the work to fill in the blanks and finish it - and perhaps create a whole new story of your own?
I can't think of a better way to kickstart the imagination.

Can you?

Related Posts:

Let It Snow
Seeking Inspiration
Keeping It (Un)Real
The Distraction of Silence - a track-by-track list of the songs which helped to inspire Nemesis (a guest post for Roz Morris)