Monday, 29 February 2016

Leap of Faith

Please welcome author Sue Barnard to my blog...

Today (29th February) is a very special date.  It occurs only once every four years – and, in some cases, not even then.  It is Leap Year Day.
The origin of the Leap Year as we know it dates back more than two thousand years, to the time of Julius Caesar.  The Earth’s orbit round the Sun takes 365¼ days, and it was Caesar who first decreed that to make up for the odd quarter-day which is lost every year, an extra calendar day should be added every four years.  The extra day (Leap Year Day) is added at the end of February, which is the shortest month.  A year is a Leap Year if its last two digits can be exactly divided by four. 

Special though this day is, it has one obvious disadvantage.  People who happen to be born on this extra day (Leap Year Babies) can only, strictly speaking, celebrate their birthday once every four years.  This anomaly is used to great effect in the Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera The Pirates of Penzance.  The hero, Frederick, is contracted to serve as a pirate until his 21st birthday – but he was born on 29th February, and so will not in fact reach this birthday until he is well into his eighties.

Sometimes, to add insult to injury, Fate deals Leap Year Babies a particularly bad hand.  Adding a whole extra day every four years slightly over-compensates for the irregularity, so in order to keep the calendar in check, century years are leap years only if the whole year is an exact multiple of 400.  Thus, 2000 was a leap year, and 2400 will be, but 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not – so Leap Year Babies who were alive at those turns of the century (such as the composer Gioachino Rossini, who was born on 29th February 1792) would have to go without a birthday for eight years rather than four.
The crime writer Ruth Rendell made good use of this little-known peculiarity in her short story When The Wedding Was Over.  The key to the mystery centres on the fact that 1900 was not a leap year.

But Leap Year Day also brings one notable advantage, particularly for the girls.  According to tradition, marriage proposals can only be made by the male partner in the relationship.  But once every four years, on Leap Year Day, women are able to take a giant leap of faith and propose to men. 

And they are in excellent literary company.  In what is probably the world’s most famous love story, the first mention of marriage is made not by the hero but by the heroine – none other than Shakespeare’s Juliet.

Three words, dear Romeo, and goodnight indeed.
If that thy bent of love be honourable,
Thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow,
By one that I’ll procure to come to thee,
Where and what time thou wilt perform the rite,
And all my fortunes at thy foot I’ll lay
And follow thee, my lord, throughout the world.
Romeo & Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2 (the Balcony Scene), lines 142-148


That marriage takes place in secret the very next day, with the connivance of Friar Lawrence and Juliet’s nurse.  But almost immediately after the ceremony the story begins its dreadful downward spiral into tragedy.  One catastrophic event follows another, culminating three days later in the young lovers’ maddeningly preventable double suicide.

I’ve always loved the story of Romeo & Juliet but have always hated the way it ended, and I’ve often wondered what might have happened if even just one of the events leading up to the tragedy had happened differently.  This was what prompted me to take a huge leap of faith of my own, and write my first novel, The Ghostly Father.

 The book is a re-telling of the original Romeo & Juliet story, told from the point of view of the Friar (the eponymous Ghostly Father), but with a few new twists and a whole new outcome.   I originally wrote the book just for myself, because I wanted to give the characters a better chance at happiness – but judging by the number of people who have bought it, read it, and been kind enough to say they enjoyed it, it appears that I’m not by any means the only person who prefers the alternative ending.

The Ghostly Father is published by Crooked Cat Publishing, and is available from Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords and Apple iBooks.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

An Interview with Daniel Caspi

Miriam Drori
Please welcome Miriam Drori to my blog this week.  Miriam is interviewing Daniel Caspi, one of her characters, all about love...

MD  Hello Daniel. Perhaps you could start by telling me something about yourself.
DC  I’m nearly seventeen, so still at school in Jerusalem. I’m studying science and hoping to go on to study at the Technion in Haifa. I love discovering things for myself, so I want to become a research scientist. I haven’t decided which branch of science to concentrate on yet. It’s all fascinating.
MD  What sort of a person are you? How would you describe your character?
DC  Happy, generally. I get on well with people. And I know my mind. I know where I want to go and I’m determined to make it happen. A go-getter, I guess you’d say.
MD  What about your love life? How has it been and which way do you want that to go?
DC  So far, it’s been non-existent. I’ve been out with a couple of girls from school, but that was nowhere near serious. I guess I plan to meet a girl someday and settle down with her and raise a family. My parents are happily married, so I want the same for myself. But I know love is a complicated business. It’s not something you can prepare for, like a career. It so depends on the other person.
MD  Do you have any girl in mind?
DC  No. Well…
MD  Yes?
DC  It’s much too early to say. I’ve only just met her. She was at a meal my parents and I were invited to. I took her for a walk to the new canal by the zoo. That was all we did, but I felt a something for her that I haven’t felt with any girl before. A sort of tingly feeling. It was weird. And I felt she was fighting with herself.
MD  How do you mean?
Jerusalem Park
DC  Sometimes she was really sweet, and then it was like she remembered she didn’t want to be sweet and she was kind of nasty. But I loved it when she stopped to take in a tree full of blossom…
MD  Tell me about her.
DC  Her face is… kind of perfect. She has long, straight hair that, like, flowed over her bare shoulder. I wanted to stroke those shoulders. It was… enticing. Surprising, too.
MD  Why surprising?
DC  I’d heard about her background. She used to be haredi… you know… ultra-orthodox. All covered up with black tights and long skirts and sleeves. I was surprised to see her in a sleeveless top. It had a rather low neckline, too, and her jeans were really tight.
MD  But she left the haredi lifestyle, you say?
DC  Yeah, but… only recently. I thought she’d take the transition more gradually. It’s kind of worrying.
MD  Why worrying?
DC  It’s like she’s thrown all her upbringing away in one go… too quickly. I’m afraid she’ll go too far too fast and go off the rails at some point.
MD  But why do you care? You only met her once.
DC  Good question. I used to laugh when people talked about love at first sight. My parents said as soon as they met they knew they were right for each other. I said, “That’s crazy. It doesn’t make any sense. How can you know just like that?”
MD  And what do you think now?
DC  I think I understand them.

Daniel Caspi will appear in the sequel to Neither Here Nor There, a romance with a difference by Miriam Drori.

Neither Here Nor There is available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes and elsewhere.
Miriam Drori can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, Wattpad and on her website/blog

Friday, 19 February 2016

Reduced for one week only from February 19th

What would you give for a world free of war, dependence on fossil fuels, pollution and terrorism?  That is the premise for the Alchemy series

An accidental discovery solving the problem of fossil fuel brings this Utopian vision closer but at what cost? Could there be unforeseen consequences and how dire would they be? Who could fight demons if all established religion had been abolished?

Put aside demons and add two people more doomed than Romeo and Juliet who are forced to fight alongside each other. Mix in some very energetic Goths and an undercover Christian Granny for an explosive result as  the stories move at breakneck speed into the near-future blending magical realism with pizza, ritual with slang, deepest hatred with impossible love, shape-shifting with public transport.

Book 1 Alchemy              
Book 2 Shaman's Drum 

Monday, 15 February 2016

An interview with…

Beth Samuels who is visiting the village of Messandrierre

AW  Beth, tell us a little about yourself.

BS   Where to start.  Well, I was born in Yorkshire and have lived there all my life.  My parents are dead, unfortunately, but I do have three brothers who are all older than me.  I studied at Leeds University and now I live in my own house on the outskirts of Leeds and I'm thinking about my using my skills as a photographer on a more commercial basis.

AW  I see and what got you interested in photography in the first place.

BS  My dad really.  He was a very keen amateur photographer himself.  He belonged to a number of camera clubs and, from being a youngster, I've watched him line up shots and heard him talk about focus and light and F numbers for the aperture of the lens and so on.  He had a dark room for a long time and I used to help him in there too.  I've still got some of his old cameras, but I don't use them now.  They just decorate the top of my bookshelves in the room at the back of my house on the outskirts of Leeds.


The view from the hotel window in Burgundy
AW  What is your favourite style of photography and why?

BS  I suppose I would have to say scenery and landscape are my favourites, but I have done portraits and weddings before - but only for friends and relatives.  For me it is the composition of the picture that is crucial.  And with a landscape, if you can draw the viewers eye into the depth of the picture then you can encourage them to see the detail that's there, the detail that perhaps they would not have noticed otherwise.  It's very challenging to get that exactly right and I like that.


AW  So being here in the CĂ©vennes will present you with ample opportunity for scenic photos...

BS  Yes, that's what I'm hoping for. 

AW  Are you planning to stay for long this time around?

BS   I've not got a fixed date to return to the UK but I would like to get back home before the end of the month.

 AW  But you've visited the village before I think…

BS  Yes, I was here a year ago.  But for little more than a week really.  I had personal things to a deal with at home, so I couldn't stay longer.

AW  But a little bird tells me that you met Jacques, the local gendarme, when you were here last…

BS  Umm, yes I did.  And if you know that then someone in the village has been talking.  The people are very friendly here but of course they all know everyone else's business.  I'm used to Leeds and the buzz of city life and the anonymity that brings. 


The view from the chalet on the edge of the village
AW  So, what is it that has brought you back to Messandrierre…the chance to meet up with Jacques again perhaps?

BS  That's a very pointed question!  Yes it would be nice to see Jacques again, but I'm actually here to finalise some business matters in relation to the hunting chalet that I have inherited.  So I won't have much time for socialising really.

AW  But you will be staying for a little while…and it's a very small place…so it will be hard to avoid Jacques…
BS   Now you're teasing me.  If I run into Jacques, then…I don't know.  I have to focus on the business that brings me here and the village is very different from home and very quiet.  I think I will need that solitude to enable me to conclude everything in connection with the chalet.  Maybe, when I've done all that there might just be a little time for a coffee and a catch-up with Jacques.  Perhaps. 

You can read more about Beth's reasons for visiting the village and whether she and Jacques do meet up again in my book Messandrierre.  Follow the buy links below.
Amazon US
You can also visit my website : and you can find me on
Facebook : Angela Wren  and Good reads : Angela Wren 

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Love and Marriage Go Together Like…

Please welcome Vanessa Couchman to my blog this week...

Corsica, setting for 'The House at Zaronza'
Today, we assume that people marry for love, at least in Western society. Look at the number of hugely popular boy meets girl novels.
But this is a fairly recent trend. Dynastic marriages between medieval royal houses were the norm. They were often contracted when the couple were small children, or even babies. It was common for little princesses to leave their parents to be brought up in the household of their intended.
Royal women had to produce an heir and several spares, since child mortality was high. Eleanor of Aquitaine, for example, had 13 children with two husbands. But if the spares survived to adulthood, there was often a bloody tussle about who should inherit. And royal spouses thought nothing of getting a papal annulment on the grounds of consanguinity, only to marry someone just as closely related if it suited them.
Personal feelings didn’t count, and nobody expected them to. The troubadours composed and sang ballads about love and romance, but this was part of the courtly tradition and had little to do with marital relations.
This approach to marriage didn’t end with the medieval period, nor was it restricted to the ruling classes. Marriages were contracted at all levels of society for money, land or social prestige. They had a solid, practical basis.
When researching into Corsican history for my novel, The House at Zaronza, I was fascinated to discover that, until the interwar years, “Marriages were nearly always the outcome of long, careful negotiations between fathers. The children were rarely consulted.” (Dorothy Carrington, Granite Island: A Portrait of Corsica).
Money was scarce on Corsica, so wealth was rarely the reason for marriage. The power and prestige of the families were deciding factors. Land was often a motive, too, especially when it involved neighbouring plots. Cousins habitually married to keep landed property “in the family”.
This is what happened to the young woman on whose true story I based my novel. She and the village schoolmaster fell in love in the 1890s. Her bourgeois parents would have disapproved, so they met and corresponded in secret. His letters were discovered a century later, walled up in the attic of what is now a B&B. The lovers were doomed never to marry. She had to marry a cousin to keep the family possessions together, but her husband later emigrated to the West Indies without her.
Such Corsican marriages weren’t always unhappy; rather, they were seen as partnerships and the couple accepted this for the good of the family group. Even so, World War II undermined the traditional Corsican code and things changed rapidly after that.

Maybe marrying for practical reasons it wasn’t such a bad thing. But I prefer the modern style!

Vanessa Couchman has lived in France since 1997 and is passionate about French and Corsican history and culture.  Her short stories have been published in anthologies and placed in competitions  She is working on a sequel to 'The House at Zaronza', set in World War II and another novel set in 18th-century Corsica. Vanessa works as a freelance writer and is a member of the Historical Novel Society.

Universal book link: The House at Zaronza

You can follow Vanessa using the following links.
France blog: Life on La Lune
Amazon author page: Amazon UK
Facebook page: Vanessa Couchman
Twitter: @Vanessainfrance

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Turn Around When possible...

My brother James has decided to go all high tech.  He has bought one of those navigating satellite things that sit on the dashboard of the car.  Apparently it’s going to be very useful whilst we are here in France.
I’m quite enamoured by the new gadget, myself, so I’ve decided to call him Thomas.  He’s got a very nice voice.  In fact, if he were human, with a voice like that, I’m sure he would be terribly tall, dark-haired and exceedingly handsome.  I have thought about inviting him into my sleeping bag.  His mellow dulcet tone telling me to ‘turn around when possible’ is bound to guarantee a decent night’s sleep.  But my brother James said I would only flatten his battery.  So, I have to be content with listening to Thomas only when we are in the car.  The problem is that James keeps interrupting him, as he did yesterday…
Renault Alpine - I want one of these!

There we were on the D92 with the intention of driving to the Manoir de l’Automobile on the outskirts of LohĂ©ac.  Thomas was all set and knew exactly where he was going, I had the map and knew exactly where I was going, but James clearly had a completely different idea.
‘We’re going in the wrong direction,’ I said as we turned right towards Liffre.
‘No we’re not,’ said James.
‘Yes we are-‘
‘Turn around when possible,’ said Thomas.
‘-we were running parallel to the RN157 and now we’re heading north.’ I said.
‘No we’re not.  This is the ring road round that little town.  I did it yester-‘
‘Turn around when possible,’ said Thomas.
‘-day on my bike.  This is the right road.’
I glanced at Thomas for support but he was replanning and remained silent.  So I looked at the map and crosschecked.  ‘I really think you should stop.’
‘At the roundabout take the fourth exit,’ said Thomas.
But James went straight across.  ‘This ring road won’t be in Thomas’s memory yet.  It’s too new.’
I looked out of the window at the verge, which appeared to me to be anything but new.  ‘James,’ I said snapping the map book shut.  ‘We are heading in the wrong direction and I really think you should-‘
‘Turn around when possible,’ said Thomas.
‘How prescient!  You see, even Thomas agrees with me.’
A poster from the museum
At the entrance to a field James slowed and pulled over.
‘What does that sign over there say?’  I asked.
‘Liffre,’ said James.
‘Turn around when possible,’ said Thomas.
‘And what does that say on Thomas’ display?’
I opened the map at the marked page and pointed.  ‘If that is Liffre and this is the D92 then we must be heading north.’
‘Alright,’ said James and he shifted back into first gear.
‘Turn around when possible,’ said Thomas, so I gave him a pat on the head.