Monday 30 June 2014

June Competition

Are competitions are open only to UK residents - sorry!

We have five copies of The Lion of Sole Bay to give away to those who answer this question:

"What is your favourite novel about any battle at sea – whether historical or invented?"

Leave your answers in the Comments below and remember also to send them to me at so I can have email addresses for contacting the winners.

Closing date 7th July

Sunday 29 June 2014

After the Battle - a Guest Post by Julia Jones

Our June guest is Julia Jones, who writes about a sea battle that might be unfamiliar to you.

Julia Jones was running a bookshop and local publishing business in Essex when she discovered Margery Allingham's WW2 autobiography The Oaken Heart. This was a life-changing moment. She's since re-published two editions of The Oaken Heart, written Allingham's biography and spent more years that she likes to admit working through the extraordinary archive material that Allingham preserved from her father, Herbert Allingham's, working life. Closure was finally achieved with Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory which was published in 2012.

Julia and her partner Francis Wheen own Peter Duck, a yacht built for Arthur Ransome, on which Julia sailed throughout her childhood. The return of Peter Duck from her adventures in Russia with the Palmer family was the catalyst that convinced Julia to begin writing fiction of her own – hence the 'Strong Winds' series. It also initiated a friendship with History Girl Imogen Robertson (Mrs Ned Palmer). One of life's neater narrative sequences perhaps?

Julia Jones writing on board
Lovely June weather means open season for naval warfare in the waters around Britain. The 'miracle of Dunkirk' (May 27th – June 4th) was only made possible by several days of light winds and calm sea conditions and the weather forecasts before the D-Day landings (June 4th) have been described as “the most important in history”. That single weather window of opportunity – overlooked by the Germans, gambled on by the Allies. It was, indeed, a game-changer.

Seventeenth century seafarers had fewer resources at their disposal. They could watch the clouds, observe the rings around the sun and check the level of mercury in their barometers but ultimately What You Saw was What You Got in meteorological terms. The morning of the Battle of Sole Bay (May 28st or June 7th 1672, depending which calender you were using) dawned light and fair. The combined English-French fleets were at anchor off the coast of Suffolk. The English had been at sea since the beginning of the month and had been forced to withdraw from harassing the Dutch in order to replenish their supplies and undertake various maintenance tasks. HMS Prince, flagship of James, Duke of York, the Lord High Admiral, was heeled over on her side being careened. James and his entourage had elected to avoid the discomfort by sleeping ashore in the small town of Southwold. It was the day before his brother King Charles II's birthday so they'd stayed up late, partying. Considerable numbers of other officers and crew were also in the taverns.

The Dutch under their great admiral Michiel de Ruyter were more focussed. The union of Protestant England with Roman Catholic France, which had been secretly established by the Treaty of Dover in1670, threatened their survival as a republican nation. De Ruyter was a master strategist who liked to pick his own times for fighting. He discovered the Duke of York's whereabouts from a captured collier and early in the morning of May 28th he and his seventy five ships were nicely positioned to windward and making the most of a light east-south-east breeze to bear down on the unprepared Allies.

It took four hours to get the sailors out of Southwold and back to their ships. Then there was the technical difficulty of getting sailing vessels away from a lee shore. Somehow, in the process James's orders to the French admiral d'Estrees were misunderstood. The French fleet headed south, as per the agreed original battle plan: the English tacked north in response to the new conditions. The English accused the French of cowardice. Admiral d'Estrees wondered aloud whether the reason James had failed to make himself clear was that he hadn't fully recovered from the previous evening's celebrations.

The early morning breeze soon died and by the time the fleets engaged it was a serene and beautiful day. The sails on the ornately decorated wooden warships hung limp and almost useless as they drifted up the coast with the ebb tide, pounding each other with their cannon or dispatching fireships to burn their opponents. “The sea was all day as smooth as a fishpond and the day very hot and fair sunshine, the fairest day we have seen all this summer before,” recalled John Narborough of HMS Prince. By mid-morning his senior officer had been killed and he had been promoted captain of a battered, semi-sinking wreck. The Duke of York was forced to move his admiral's flag first to the St Michael and then to the London as he was targeted by de Ruyter's gunners. The fleets came close to running aground on the Lowestoft shoals but were able put about in time and, when the tide turned at around midday, they drifted back down the coast again, still fighting.

Door and windows rattled for miles inland – as they would centuries later when the heavy guns of both world wars were felt in the eastern counties. Spectators gathered along the low Suffolk cliffs but could see nothing. The lack of wind meant that the smoke from the cannon and the fireships hung over the combatants like shrouds. HMS Royal James, the newest addition to the English fleet and the first to be attacked, endured hours of her own private hell as ships which might have come to her assistance sailed blindly past. Finally she was set ablaze by a Dutch fireship and most of the remainder of her eight hundred crew were burned or drowned.

The lurid end of the Royal James is the subject of one of the most unforgettable paintings in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. It's the work of Willem Van der Velde the Younger and was based on the sketches and observations made on the spot by his father, the elder Willem Van der Velde. He was official war artist to the Dutch fleet (as far as I'm aware he was the first accredited war artist there had been in Europe) and his perspective was unique. Van der Velde would travel on board one of the warships then, as the fighting began, he would transfer onto a galjoot, a small unarmed sailing boat supplied by the Admiral. The sailing master would be instructed to take the artist wherever he wanted to go and Van der Velde would sit amidships sketching events on long strips of paper which rolled up securely as he went. He sometimes included himself in his drawings and labelled one section of his Sole Bay record “My galjoot luffing to be out of the way of the action.”

After the Battle of Sole Bay Van der Velde would have expected to return to his studio in Amsterdam and work up his sketches into highly detailed grisailles which he could sell as far afield as the Italian courts. Sometimes they would be used as in tapestry design. His son, Willem the Younger, would develop his father's notes and drawings into oil paintings for rich patrons.

A freshening breeze developed towards evening and by nightfall De Ruyter's ships were heading back towards his own coast with the English in pursuit. They attempted to fight again on the following day but were prevented, first by fog and then by strong winds. It continued to blow “a stout gale” for the next two days until the Dutch took shelter among the shoals of Walcheren and the English returned to Sole Bay. Overall it had been an inconclusive encounter, though with about 2,500 dead and wounded on both sides. The Dutch had wreaked the most tangible damage: destroying the Royal James and seriously damaging the Prince and several other first rate ships: the English had captured a single, somewhat elderly, warship named the Stavoren.

Strategically however the Allies had triumphed. While De Ruyter and the fleet had been away Louis XIV had invaded overland with a 100,000 strong professional army. It was a cataclysmic moment in Dutch history and the end of their Golden Age. Five of the seven provinces were occupied and the last two, Holland and Zeeland, were only saved by opening the dykes and inundating the countryside. The republic fell, its leaders, the de Witt brothers were lynched and Stadtholder Willem III seized power. Sixteen years later he would also become King of England, deposing James II, the former Duke of York.

The more I learned about the Battle of Sole Bay and its aftermath, the more fascinated I became.

I had been to school in Southwold and studied seventeenth cuentury history. I had learned nothing about the Third Anglo-Dutch war and can only assume that the arbiters of the curriculum were too ashamed of the part played by merry King Charles II and his aristocratic relatives. I was born in Suffolk and from babyhood used to shout out “red wo-wo, red wo-wo” when my brothers or I spotted the distinctive pub sign of the Red Lion, Martlesham. More than fifty years later I stumbled across the fact that it had been the figurehead on that single captured ship, the Stavoren.

Van der Velde had sailed on board the Stavoren to the Battle of the Sound in 1658 when she was trim and newly built. The English used her to fight against her former owners in the summer of 1673 but she was badly damaged at the Battle of the Texel and was eventually broken up, probably in Ipswich. Van der Velde and his son also ended their days in England, though in more comfortable circumstances. War chaos in the United Provinces was too extreme for artists and craftsmen to continue working after the French invasion so Charles II issued an invitation to Dutch craftsmen to settle in England. He paid Van der Velde and his son generous salaries and offered them studio space in the underused Queen's House at Greenwich. There the younger Van der Velde painted his masterpiece, the Burning of the Royal James and the elder supervised the production of Sole Bay tapestries, some of which were hung in Hampton Court Palace. Such pragmatism was non untypical in the seventeenth century.

I'm not a historical novelist however. I write adventure stories and my interest is in the effect of history – the influence that the actions of former generations have on the lives of my young protagonists. As I worked on the first draft of the novel that became The Lion of Sole Bay I realised that my increasing interest in the seventeenth century was threatening my imagining of events in the twenty-first. I couldn't simply cut out the history as I guessed that many of my potential readers would be as ignorant about the Third Anglo-Dutch war as I had been. When I showed school children pictures of the Stavoren's red lion figurehead, for instance, they usually guessed that it was a Chinese dragon. I thought about writing a prologue but that felt clichéd as I'd done something similar in my first novel, The Salt-Stained Book. I experimented with interwoven chapters which were clunky and slowed the pace of the story. Flashbacks were insufficient and possibly confusing without knowledge of the historic context.

In the end I was lucky. My heroine suffers from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and I was talking to the mother of a child with a similar condition. “Of course the parents often have something similar – I can recognise it my husband and myself,” she added disarmingly. “But we express it differently – in our various obsessive behaviours, for instance.” I looked at the fictional father of my unhappy heroine and realised that my friend was right. His coping strategy for his own disorder was a single-minded fascination with local history. He shared a surname with the Van der Veldes though he'd never been able to trace a direct family connection – much to his disappointment. Why shouldn't he be invited to give lectures on the Battle of Sole Bay? They could be printed at the back of the book so that anyone who wanted the seventeenth century facts could refer to them whenever they chose. Those who didn't would be free to hurry along with the fiction as the lunatic fringe of twenty-first century Dutch nationalism prepare to take back their trophy – the figurehead of the unfortunate Stavoren, the Lion of Sole Bay.

[All illustrations by Claudia Myatt, except the photo of the Red Lion pub sign, taken by Julia Jones]

You can find out more about all of Julia's titles at Golden Duck Publishing.

Saturday 28 June 2014

D Day + some, by Clare Mulley

This 6th June was the 70th anniversary of D Day, the day when Allied troops landed in Normandy to start the liberation of Nazi German-occupied western Europe. Despite the moving coverage given to this anniversary, it is hard to imagine the courage of those who took part, or to quantify the terrible losses of that day. As this summer progresses we should also remember the heroism of others who were called to action for the liberation of Europe.

On 5th June I went to the launch of Paddy Ashdown’s new book, The Cruel Victory: The French Resistance and the Battle for the Vercors, 1944, which tells the story of the French maquis who rose up to challenge the Nazi occupiers of their country, declare an area of free France, and tie-up battle-ready Wehrmacht troops who might otherwise be deployed north. 

The Vercors rising was one of the largest resistance actions of the war and, although brutally suppressed, Ashdown argues that ultimately it was nevertheless a ‘cruel victory’. Although I take some issue with this conclusion, that does not diminish the importance of the action in the Vercors, or of this book in assessing it within the wider context of the Allied war strategy, and providing a fine tribute to the men, and women, who served on the plateau. Read my review for The Spectator.

I knew that Ashdown was working on this book because he had been in touch about the role played by Christine Granville, Britain’s first female special agent of the Second World War, and the subject of my last biography, The Spy Who Loved. Paddy describes Christine rather memorably as ‘beguilingly beautiful, extraordinarily courageous and enthusiastically promiscuous’. She was also a brilliantly effective special agent, and ultimately highly honoured for her huge contribution to the Allied war effort. 

Christine serving in France, summer 1944

Christine had been parachuted into France some weeks before the Vercors rising to act as a courier for Francis Cammaerts, the rising star of SOE in France who was coordinating resistance plans to support the Allied liberation in the south of the country. Christine’s role was to take messages between the different resistance cells, and help to coordinate the clandestine supply of arms and equipment. Although she and Francis did serve on the Vercors plateau during the rising, her most important work - work which would make her legendary within the British special services - was yet to come.

Francis Cammaerts, 1944

Allied planes dropping canisters of supplies
to the French resistance in the Vercors, summer 1944

The morning after her retreat from the overrun Vercors battle zone, Christine threw herself into her next mission. Over the next few days she established the first contact between the French resistance on one side of the Alps, and the Italian partisans over the mountains. She then single-handedly secured the defection of an entire German garrison on a strategic pass through the mountains. On her return she learnt that Francis, and two of his colleagues, had been arrested by the Gestapo during a standard roadblock check. Christine begged members of the local resistance to mount a rescue operation. Probably wisely, they rejected the idea. At this point in the war they could not afford to risk either the men or the weapons required for such an operation. In any case, the three men were held in a secure prison and due to be shot within days, so any rescue attempt seemed doomed to failure if not suicidal. Undaunted, Christine cycled over to the prison, assessed the situation, and secured the release of all three men on her own…

Francis and Christine returned to work immediately. The American General Patch, who commanded Operation Dragoon (Anvil), was due to land with his troops on the French Mediterranean coast on 15 August. The American forces' plan was to break out of the bridgeheads and fight up the Route Napoleon towards Grenoble with the aim of rendezvousing there on D-Day +90. They had not counted on French support. Francis’s resistance circuit, and connected local resistance groups, felled trees and blew up bridges to harry and redirect German troop movements while clearing the through roads for the Americans. MRD Foot, the father of SOE historians, believed that Patch arrived eighty-four days ahead of schedule as a result of this brilliant work. Paddy Ashdown believes it took Patch just 72 hours to get through, and he cites this work as one of the greatest contributions of the French resistance to the Allied war effort.

Christine sitting by a water duct near the blown-up bridge at Embrun,
Haute-Savoie, France, August 1944

The Germans stipulated that they would only surrender to the Americans. Poignantly, however, in the event they were obliged to surrender to Lt Colonel Huet as well, the French commander of the tragic Vercors resistance. That evening Francis and Christine went freewheeling down a hill in a US jeep to celebrate the victory.

D Day was a harrowing day of incredible bravery and fortitude. As we commemorate the courage of the men who stormed the Normandy beaches, we should also remember their colleagues-in-arms among the courageous French resistance and the British, Polish and American officers who worked with them either in the invasionary forces or with the special forces in the field. Among them were Francis Cammaerts and Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, who shared their goal of a free Europe, and who would never forget their fallen comrades. 

Christine paying her respects to those lost at the Battle of Vercors
at a memorial event,  July 1946.

Friday 27 June 2014

Welcome to The Heroes' Wecome by Louisa Young

Photo credit: Sarah Lee
June has been an unusual month, with two of our History Girls, who have been with us from the beginning, nearly four years ago, having big, big novels out that are receiving a lot of attention. On June 1st I interviewed Michelle Lovric about The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters and now I have the opportunity to do the same with Louisa Young and The Heroes’ Welcome.

In January 2012, the History Girls did something we’ve never done before or since – we took over the blogpost date of one of our number and devoted it to rave reviews of her novel Louisa had suffered the loss of her fiancé, the composer Robert Lockhart, and we wanted to rally to her but it wasn’t only that. So many of us had read My Dear I Wanted to Tell You and it had had a tremendous impact, creating quite a buzz among the HGs.

In the months that followed we were thrilled to see the success of the book – a Richard and Judy pick, shortlisted for the Costa, winner of the Audiobook of the Year at the Galaxy Awards – all the while knowing how hard it was for Louisa to rejoice at that while going through such a difficult time personally.

So there was a big investment in knowing that – two years on – the sequel was coming out. The Heroes’ Welcome takes us on to after the end of the Great War in 1919.

The first book tells the story of Riley Purefoy, an intelligent working class boy and his sweetheart, Nadine Waveney, who comes from a higher social class. They are both damaged in different ways by the war but find their way back to each other and to what they had before guns and trenches and grenades did their work.

That doesn’t mean that everything is easy or straightforward and their ability to be at cross-purposes while loving each other so deeply is both moving and instructive.

The other couple who take almost as big a share of the stage in the Heroes’ Welcome are Riley’s old commanding officer, Peter Locke and his wife Julia. Peter’s physical wounds are minor but his post-traumatic anguish drives him to a life circumscribed by whisky bottles and Homer. Obsessively he reads about the death of Patroclus but, returning to his Ithaca, he finds it impossible to relate to his Penelope.

Julia is damaged too but believes, wrongly, that if she just loves Peter enough, he will get better. She is no better at relating to their son Tom, who is bundled back and forth between his horsehair-stuffed grandmother and his parents.

As a reader, one is put through the wringer – by Riley and Nadine’s painful struggle to be a “normal” married couple, by Peter’s frozen state, by Julia’s agonising attempts to rescue her husband and by her ultimate fate.

But there is so much hope too in Riley’s rehabilitation and his production of the kind of pamphlets useful to the men who come limping back into civilian life. And in the future that can happen for Peter’s cousin Rose who is able to stop looking after everyone in the family and train as a doctor.

By the time the book ends in 1927, those who survive have begun to live again and there is even new life to celebrate. But Louisa has described in forensic detail exactly at what cost that hope is achieved. “Died of wounds” is the poignant description of what happens to many ex-combatants but in The Heroes’ Welcome we see that it can happen to civilians too and that not all wounds are visible.

This was another book I had the luck to read in proof and I heard bits of in Venice even before that last October, so I knew it would be another terrific read. It already looks set to be as admired as My Dear … with excellent reviews in The Times, Observer and Guardian.

“So good, so strong, so accomplished, so emotionally powerful,” said Philip Gwyn Jones on Radio 4’s Open Book. And it’s true that these characters, particularly the five principals I have mentioned – and Jack Ainsworth, who is not in the second book for obvious reasons – now feel like people I know and have not just read about.

When I caught up with Louisa this month at the British Library, where she was working on book three, I had already started to re-read The Heroes' Welcome and have finished it since, in heart-in-mouth mode, even though I knew what happens.

I began by asking whether there had always been going to be three books.

Louisa: ‘My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You’ can easily be read as a standalone novel. But it did soon become clear to me that there would be more.

Mary: I always felt strongly that Riley and Nadine would be all right, no matter what happened, even though you put them through a lot.

Louisa: I couldn’t do anything so evil to them as to not let that happen.

Mary: Even though some pretty evil things happen to others?

Louisa: Of course. No bad things, no story . . ..

Mary: Towards the end of the current book, Nadine discovers some Italian cousins she didn’t know about, which is going to be important for the rest of the story. Tell us about your own connections to Italy.

Louisa: I’m a classic Inglese Italianata: conceived there and never got over it. Nowadays I ‘divide my time’, as the author biogs used to say.

Mary: What else can you tell us about the third book, which you are writing now?

Louisa: It’s set partly in Rome and northern Lazio, with these Italian cousins, and takes us up to 1939. Then a fourth book continues what happens in Italy during the war .

Mary: So we will be definitely dealing with the next generation – Tom, Kitty and the Italian cousins. [You will have to read THW, to find out who Kitty is]

Louisa: Oh yes. Tom is pretty much the hero. The new books also approach the complexities of the lives of the Fascist Jews of Rome in the 1930s and during the war, which unlikely as it sounds was a real thing.

Mary: Can you tell us anything about what happens to Rose, Peter’s cousin, who trains as doctor in the 1920s?

Louisa: Rose, again, is someone who deserves a happy ending, and I’ll see what I can about giving her one.

I learned a lot more about book three, currently without a title, which will come out next summer, but if I told you, Louisa would have to kill me.

So I’ll end with a passage from The Heroes’ Welcome.

Riley realises that he needs Peter to be saved as much for his sake as for Peter’s own survival. Peter asks him if he knew what the Sirens sang of to bound Ulysses and his ear-plugged crew. Riley guesses Love, but that is not it. Peter tells him:

“You’d think it would be that, wouldn’t you? Or of some idyllic home they had all come from and were travelling to. Each to their own Ithaca. But no – the Sirens were in a meadow of beautiful flowers and corpses, and they sang songs of the heroic past. Of heroes of war. They sang the truth about the past. That’s what it was not safe for the returning soldiers to listen to. Succumb to that and your ship wrecks, and your companions die. You have to sail on, sail on, into the future. Odysseus was tied to the mast, so he could hear the song and yet survive it. He is tied to the vehicle which carries him into the future, and yelling to be released, to be allowed back into the past. Arcadia – the past – is death. Do you see?”

Photo credit: Sarah Lee

Louisa Young tells the truth about the past but is very good about sailing on into the future.

Thursday 26 June 2014

The Jazz Age and the French Riviera Carol Drinkwater

On 12th June, I attended the Prix Fitzgerald award ceremony at the Hôtel Belles Rives in Juan-les-Pins. The hotel looks out over the Mediterranean and has views all along this famous stretch of French Riviera. I live inland of this smart address on a rundown olive farm and although I am no longer one for swanky parties, this invitation attracted me because it is an award given to honour the memory and literary excellence of F. Scott Fitzgerald whose life and works are intrinsically linked with this coast.
My invitation
The term ‘The Jazz Age’ was coined by Fitzgerald in 1922, the same year The Great Gatsby is set. The phrase was intended to describe the flamboyant, anything goes mood, that had taken hold of America after WWI. Europe and the States were reeling from the effects of WW1, from the phenomenal losses of an entire generation of young men and women who had gone to war and never returned. Those who were alive were grabbing life by the boot strings and partying till they dropped. Seeking pleasure, they were running from the horrors of recent history.

In his first full-length novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), published when he was twenty-four, Fitzgerald described this young generation of pleasure-seekers thus: ‘Here was a new generation ... grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken..’

Another aspect of the post-war disillusionment was an exodus of American writers, musicians and artists across the Atlantic to Paris, known for its more liberal attitudes.

Amongst these were Gerald Murphy and his beautiful wife, Sara, née Sara Wiborg, heiress to her father’s printing-ink fortune. Murphy, a Bostonian, was also to inherit. He was heir to a luxury-leather goods business (still going strong), but his dream was to become a painter.

As both their parents disapproved of their marriage, the Murphys set sail for to Paris in 1921, three years before Scott and Zelda, where they built up an illustrious circle of artists around them. They became acquainted with established as well as the more bohemian crowds. Gerald studied modern art with the futurist Natalia Goncharova and painted sets for Serge Diaghilev’s groundbreaking Ballets Russes. To celebrate the premiere of Stravinsky’s Les Noces in 1923, Sara and Gerald threw a sumptuous party on a barge on the River Seine where the music played till dawn.

The couple were never less than immensely generous with their wealth and their energetic support of those who were trying to make a name for themselves in the arts.

In that same year of 1923, Gerald collaborated with another expat who had left the States in 1917 to join the French Foreign Legion and whose parties at his luxury flat in Paris were extravagant and scandalous, songwriter Cole Porter. Together, Porter and Murphy wrote a short jazz ballet, Within the Quota. Its success and the fact that it was the first American jazz ballet ever penned was a huge career boost for young Cole who, at that stage, had published very little material.

Cole Porter and his heiress wife, Linda Lee Thomas, introduced the Murphys to Antibes, a Riviera resort alongside Juan-les-Pins little frequented in summer. Gerald and Sara were so enchanted with the location that they bought themselves a ‘seaside chalet’, christened it Villa America and hosted parties and holidays that changed forever the personality of the Riviera. Their guest list included the Porters, the Picassos, the Hemingways, Man Ray, Dorothy Parker, Gertrude Stein... in fact, almost everyone who counted in fashionable, avant-garde artistic circles.

In 1924 Scott and his wife, Zelda, with their daughter, Scottie, fled the craziness of New York and the extortionate amount of dollars their hectic life-style was costing them and sailed to Paris. This was their second trip to Europe. Zelda loved to party and Scott was always at her side even though he already knew that the all-night drinking and hard living was cutting into his writing regime. He craved peace, somewhere to exist more simply, concentrate his creative energies and earn a living. He hoped to find it in France!

The Côte d’Azur (the Blue Coast) was pretty much undiscovered back then. Villa rentals did not claim the fabulous prices that they do today. Winter was the high season, not summer. The British monarchy, the White Russians and, of course, many painters enjoyed the warm, gentle climate of winters here and the softness of the light.

However, around this time, Coco Chanel travelled south with the Duke of Windsor on her arm. She was the first to allow her skin to tan and thereby created the rage for summer sunbathing. Private swimming pools began to be built at the grand villas, Art Nouveau palaces, and this Blue Coast was gearing up to become the most fashionable summer destination in the world.

The piano bar at the Hôtel Belles Rives.
Upon arrival in Paris, Scott and Zelda were introduced to fellow Americans, Sara and Gerald Murphy. The Fitzgeralds decided they would also travel south. Scott was hoping to live ‘dirt cheap’ and dedicate his energies to his work. His first rental was a little further west than Juan-les-Pins, in St Raphael, where he worked on The Great Gatsby (published in 1925). But Scott did not live the life of a recluse. He and Zelda used to motor east along the coast in their little turquoise car to join in the fun at Villa America For Scott, this was a seminal period. His friendship with the Murphys played a vital role in his work and they remained lifelong friends.

And times were changing fast for the Cote d’Azur. This injection of international, predominantly Russian and American, artistic extravagance certainly put Antibes and its neighbouring fishing village, Juan-les-Pins, on the map. Life was one long carnival and those involved lived like they didn’t have a care in the world. The US Jazz Age had crossed the Atlantic and moved south from Paris.

Picasso who was married at that time to the Russian ballet dancer, Olga Khokhlova, became so enamoured with Sara Murphy he used her as a secret muse for at least four of his paintings during his neoclassical period.

Woman Seated in an Armchair, Picasso, 1923. Detroit Institute of Art

In 1926, the year after The Great Gatsby had been published to critical acclaim, the Fitzgeralds were back in the south of France. This time they went straight to the heart of its summer playground and rented the Villa St-Louis in Juan-les-Pins. This villa is today the Hôtel Belles Rives. Its present owner who conceived the Prix Fitzgerald has maintained the hotel’s gorgeous Art Deco interior in the public rooms (see hotel’s photo of piano-bar below). She recounts a story of when Scott hired a local band, locked the musicians inside his rented villa in an upstairs bedroom and tossed away the key, forcing them to play dance music all night for his guests, forbidding them to leave before sunrise.

Piano-Bar Fitzgerald, Hôtel Belles Rives.
Ever since those golden summers, Juan-les-Pins has had a taste for nightlife and music, particularly jazz. Jazz has been injected into its blood. Since 1960, each July, the Jazz à Juan festival takes place steps from the villa Fitzgerald rented. First-rate musicians, the top in their field, play beneath the stars and the umbrella pines with the Mediterranean sunset as their backdrop. I have sat in that magical setting on numerous occasions, transported by the notes of Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Diana Krall, Oscar Peterson and many others.

Even if today Juan-les-Pins is brimming with trendy boutiques and roars with the sound of motorbikes, the sweet sounds of jazz have never entirely died away, but I often ask myself how many of those who come here to holiday have any idea whose ghosts walk alongside them?

View from hotel towards Cannes, 2014

The Fitzgeralds spent their last summer on the Côte d'Azur in 1929, but on that occasion they stayed in Cannes not Antibes. By then the stock market had crashed, the wave of the Depression was crossing the Atlantic, money was tight, spirits were low, Zelda was soon to suffer her first nervous breakdown and they were no longer in a celebratory frame of mind. The party was over. It was time to go home.

Why should the lives of these incandescent people mean anything to us today? Well, aside from the immortal works of art and literature that were born out of that period, a lasting legacy of their encounters and experiences, these artists and jetsetters were ‘The Lost Generation’.

Gertrude Stein, literary critic, art collector, novelist, who lived in Paris with her lover, Alice B. Toklas, whose Left Bank salon was the celebrated Saturday evening event, was also godmother to Hemingway’s son and a guest at the Murphys’ villa in Antibes. She was a very vocal member of that wealthy, expat scene and she it was who, according to Hemingway, penned the expression ‘The Lost Generation’.

Stein was in a garage in Paris where her car was being repaired and she had reason to complain to the management. In response the manager shouted at one of the young male employees: ‘Vous etes une génération perdue.’ ‘You are a lost generation.’

Stein repeated the observation to Hemingway, using it to describe all those young writers and artists who came of age during WWI.

The expression was also taken up in Britain but used to describe the actual loss of an entire generation who went to war and died, whose bodies were never returned to the lands of their birth. These included poets such as Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke and many, many others, too numerous to name here.

The Murphys on the beach in Antibes with Dorothy Parker
In 1930, Zelda was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Beyond that her health was always fragile and she was hospitalized in Maryland in 1932. Her medical costs added another strain on Fitzgerald’s work. He rented the La Paix estate in Towson, Maryland so that he could work and be close to her. Here, he began to write Tender is the Night.

The charismatic ‘Dick and Nicole Diver’, the protagonists of Fitzgerald’s 1934 novel, Tender is the Night, were inspired by his good friends, Sara and Gerald Murphy.

Tender is the Night, is partially set along this Riviera coast. It is a celebration and a heart-breaking account of the times ‘the Divers’ spent in Paris and on the Riviera and the people they shared those bitter-sweet, sunny days with and it is partially set at the villa that today has been transformed into the Hôtel Belles Rives.

By the time the novel was published in 1934, the Fitzgeralds and the Murphys had returned permanently to the States. Tragic events had destroyed their happiness, but the golden glow of those Riviera summers of the Roaring Twenties, the Jazz Age, will live on forever in the works of Fitzgerald, Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises), Picasso and others.

Speaking of that period of their lives in France, Sara Murphy said later: "It was like a great fair, and everybody was so young."

Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940 in Hollywood where he was rather desperately trying to earn a living as a screenwriter. He suffered a massive heart attack brought on by alcoholism. He was 44. His funeral was attended by barely a handful, but amongst those present were Gerald and Sara. They never abandoned him.

The few paintings that have survived of the insubstantial collection of work painted by Gerald Murphy are impressive and one wonders whether if life had not spoiled, if the Depression and the ill health of one of his sons had not driven him back to the States, followed soon after by the tragic and unforeseen death of both his sons, might he have found his place as a cubist artist of significance alongside his friend Braque. He exhibited at the Salon des Independants in Paris in 1924 and his work, in particular a masterpiece now missing entitled Boatdeck: Cunarder, was much praised. His work prefigures the Pop Art movement.

In the mid-thirties when life had turned sour for them all and Zelda had been permanently institutionalized, Fitzgerald wrote to Gerald, ‘The golden bowl is broken indeed, but it was golden.’

My cocktail hour at the awards ceremony was a thought-provoking moment reflecting upon all the above. I suspect the hotel’s proprietress had cleverly hand-picked many of her guests from a list of fabulously wealthy Riviera residents (not me!). I sat at a small table on the sideline never daring to venture further. I watched and I observed. Two widows took up seats alongside me: a finely Botoxed Swiss millionairess and her French friend, a princess who told me that she was the wife of a Byzantine prince born in Italy. (If Scott had been in my chair, I feel sure he would have winkled the bones of a short story out of the golden-haired princess). She gave me her card – she was giving out cards like a tea lady hands out cups. The card indeed states ‘Princess ----’.

The champagne flowed, the outfits were sumptuous, glittering in the evening light. Many languages were being spoken as the sun beat down upon the amber-lit Mediterranean. The laureate was an American writer, Walt Stillman, honoured for his film and novelization of film The Last Days of Disco. He gave his acceptance speech in perfect French having lived here for a decade. It was a very swanky party indeed. Fitzgerald would have been in his element but, I suspect, he would have seen beneath all that surface sophistication to the damaged hearts and created yet another masterpiece.

Hotel Paradise is one of two short stories I have written commissioned by Amazon. It is set in the 1990s between Paris and an Art Nouveau hotel along this ravishing blue coast.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

NEVER FORGET by Eleanor Updale

Last month I wrote about coming across a monument to the once-famous author, Catherine Sinclair, and I’m glad to say that it looks as if we will be able to rustle up a little fuss for her in August, on the 150th anniversary of her death.  I’ll keep you posted on that.
In the meantime, I’m staying on the monuments theme. No doubt, like me, you often walk past familiar landmarks hardly knowing why they are there. Sometimes it’s impossible to find out on the spot.  What seemed obvious cause for commemoration when a statue or sculpture was installed now needs an explanation, and too often there is nothing to read.  That’s why I was so glad to come across this obelisk, which is a storybook in itself.

I was in Southport for an awards ceremony (my book The Last Minute was shortlisted, and to my amazement, it won). The weather was balmy, and I went for a walk through that gloriously elegant Victorian  seaside town.
Here’s what I found, and I’m glad to say that I can tell you all about it simply by transcribing the (lavishly punctuated) inscriptions around its base.
First, there’s a wonderful evocation of the mix of private philanthropy and civic pride that characterised the late Victorian age:

JUNE 28TH 1888,


I’d love to find out more about all those people, and even more about the events listed on two other sides of the oblesik:

1840, SAVED
1861, SAVED


1874, SAVED
IN A GALE DEC. 9-10.1886,


But the best part of all is the inscription on the fourth face:

Will some kind hand 
please place 
a flower on 
this Obelisk
in honour of all 

And what a joy it is that someone has done exactly that.

This business of leaving flowers can be tremendously emotionally powerful. 

It can be awful (in every sense) of course, I can’t be the only person who was taken aback by the sea of cellophane outside Kensington Palace after the death of Princess Diana, to say nothing of the the horrible sign near a London florist at the time of the Soham murders in 2002 (‘You can send flowers to Holly and Jessica from here’).
For a while, I worked on the Mile End Road in London, where there always seemed to be bunches of flowers tied to railings, marking the latest spot at which a pedestrian had lost patience with the incredibly slow traffic lights. They never failed to bring home the tragedy of a life suddenly cut short.  The white ‘ghost bikes’ at the scene of cycling accidents in London have the same effect on me.
But sometimes flowers, and particularly a single flower can be remarkably uplifting.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we all adopted a neglected grave in a local cemetery, dropped by with the occasional flower, and maybe even tried to find out something about the person buried there.
That lovely tribute to lifeboatmen, nearly 120 years on from the erection of the Southport obelisk, fills my heart with admiration for everyone involved - including the mystery person who placed the latest bloom there.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

SALT AND CRUSHED ROSES - Medieval pregnancy and neonatal care By Elizabeth Chadwick

Last week we welcomed a new baby boy into our family. (left). At the same time I was reading up on pregnancy and the care of babies as part of my general research, so I thought I'd talk on the subject for my monthly posting.

In the thirteenth century, a Tuscan physician called Aldobrandino da Polenta, left his homeland to become personal physician to countess Beatrix of Provence who was the mother in law of King Louis IX of France. While thus employed he wrote and dedicated to his employer a medical text in French called the Regime du Corps, which translates as Regimen for the Body. (1256) Here is his Letter to her, dedicating the work.
His writings, particularly on the section concerning the care of the mother during pregnancy and then of the newborn child were principally sourced from Arabic works that had been disseminated through Europe in earlier centuries.

His view of pregnancy was that when it began it was like a tree when the fruit was first set and was vulnerable to wind and rain - what we now call the June drop where all the fruits that haven't taken, wither and fall. Then the fruit took a firmer hold on the branch and as it grew became more difficult to  dislodge. Once ripe, however, it was again ready to fall at the lightest touch.
As a result of these stages, Aldobrandino thought it was nto a good idea to bleed the mother or perform medical interventions in the first four months, but that it was all right for a while after that because the child was now firmly established. However,when the baby was at full term it was again inadviseable to bleed the mother.

As far as a mother's general regimen went, he advised her not to eat anything that was too salty in case it caused the baby to be born without hair or nails. She should not eat anything that might cause her to menstruate.  This included such items as haricot beans, rue, parsley - or lupins!  And she was never to gorge herself.  Instead she should eat small meals frequently and they should be easily digestible. Chicken was especially good.  He also cites partridge, blackbirds, kid and mutton as being beneficial.  She should not drink straight wine but cut it with water.  She should also keep calm and avoid anything that might cause stress and anger. Instead she should cultivate all things that gave her joy and comfort, again with particular attention to the first and last months.  She should also put herself in situations where the smells were nice. Her clothes should be fresh and clean and she should not remain out for too long in the sun.

 Aldobrandino suggested that a good tonic for a pregnant woman to take should be made from whole pearls that have never been pierced mixed with root of Spanish pellitory, ginger, mastic, zedoary root (not unlike ginger) cassia bark, cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon, sea lavender and long pepper.  All of this should be powdered and put into a sugar syrup.  I should think the taste was very aromatic and ginger is good for sickness, but I'm not sure about the powdered pearls!
Zedoary plant

About three weeks before her delivery date, Aldobrandino said the woman should bathe every day in water that had been steeped with mallows and violets, linseed, fenugreek, barley and camomile.  Her thighs and genitals should be anointed with oil of camomile, chicken fat, foam from the top of butter and a compound called dialthea made from the marsh mallow plant.   She was to take fortifying drinks of balsam and wine - or if she was poor, roots of costus and artemisia cooked in wine with a two pennyweight of bull's bile added.
Thus fortified, she should make herself sneeze but hold her breath by the mouth and nose, and then force herself to walk, and go up and down stairs.  Having done her exercises, she should have her feet and hands rubbed and inhale nice aromas while this was being done.  She should also anoint her genitals with costus root and spikenard (for their olefcatory effect).

A mother to be should be kept warm when it was cold, and cooled down when the temperature was warm. Indeed, it was beneficial Aldobrandino said, for her to sit in a lukewarm bath up to her navel.
During labour Aldobrandino suggested an energy-giving drink should be presented to the mother, made from water in which dates had been cooked, and then flavoured with fenugreek. He also advised placing a cushion under the woman's belly to support and comfort her.
Once delivered (and this is assuming an untroubled birth) the woman should bathe and be given nourishing food to eat, and medicines administered for any after pains.

As a side note, what strikes me from the above details is how matter of factly bathing is taken, and how therapeutic. It's another strand of evidence to support the argument that actually yes, people did bathe in the Middle Ages and that it wasn't frowned upon.

So, onto the baby now that he or she had been born.  The next piece of advice from Aldobrandino is rather worrying to a modern mindset.  He advises that the baby should be wrapped in crushed roses with fine salt. This doesn't sound like a good idea but let's go on.  The umbilical cord should be cut and powdered 'dragon's blood' put on it. This is actually the gum of the East Indian climbing palm. Also sarcocolla (similar), cumin and myrrh and the whole covered with a linen bandage soaked in olive oil.  Aldobrandino doesn't actually say he has done this - it's just what's taught.  Or you can tie off the cord with a thread of twisted wool and cover it with an olive oil bandage.

Once the umbilical cord has dropped off, the area should be covered with a mixture of fine salt mixed with powdered costus or sumac or fenugreek or oregano. He then cheerfully advises the mother to salt the baby's whole body with this, particularly  the nose and mouth. (I'm amazed any child survived!).  Aldobrandino says that a newborn child is very tender and easily feels the heat and the cold, so may need this salting more than once to toughen it up!

Anyway, after the mite has endured the salting, it gets a wash thank goodness.(that is of course from my modern perspective!).  Aldobrandino tells his readers that the nurse must have trimmed nails so that she doesn't harm the baby.  She should help it urinate by pressing lightly on its bladder. Of its own accord, a healthy baby will 'fill its bottom nicely.'

When swaddling the baby, the members should be arranged to give them a good shape because it's like forming wax and whatever shape you give a malleable baby now will impinge on its future physical development, so a mother should employ a wise nurse to do this. 'you should know that beauty and ugliness are due in large measure to nurses.'

Having been swaddled, the baby was then put in its cradle to sleep. The cradle was not to have hard things in it (unspecified) but soft things that would comfort it and keep it warm.  It should sleep in the dark because bright light might damage its eyes.

After sleep, the baby should be taken up and washed if necessary. The baby should be washed around 3 times a day and gently massaged and stretched before being dried in soft towels and put back to sleep.

Interestingly when it comes to feeding the child,  Aldobrandino is all for the mother doing it herself as the natural mother's milk is the best source (this rather flies in the face of the aristocratic habit of employing wet nurses, although the latter seems to have been strongly ingrained culturally). The reason for the mother's milk being best for the child comes from the notion that this milk nourished the child in the womb and once the baby was born, the milk reverted naturally to the breasts.

 Aldobrandino 's advice was to put a little honey into the baby's mouth, then press on the breast to squirt out a small amount of milk, and then put the infant to nurse.  The baby should be fed about three times a day, but not to the point where it was bloated.

A good wet nurse, should one need to employ such a person ought to be around twenty five years of age when her health would be at its best. She should have a good colour and be buxom with a good bosom, but not too much flesh.  It was a well known fact that nurses whose breasts were too large were the cause of snub-nosed children! She had to be in excellent health because it was well known that a sickly nurse would kill a child straight away. She ought to be of sound moral character and have a sweet nature. A nurse who was hot tempered or nervous might pass those traits onto the child if one was not not careful.

The prospective employer should also examine the milk produced to make sure it was of good quality.  This involved checking the colour, appearance and taste. 'To know if it is too gross or too thin, take a drop and put it on your fingernail, and if it drops off without your moving the nail, it is too thick. So take a nurse whose milk is neither too thick nor too clear.'
 Aldobrandino also thought it preferable that the prospective nurse had borne a boy child of her own and it should be at least two months since she had given birth.  She should not lie with a man while nursing the child and must certainly not become pregnant (although that might prove less likely because lactation inhibits ovulation) because that would kill her nursling.

A baby should be breast fed until it was two and then weaned, the nurse first chewing up the food herself to soften it for the child. Porridge too could be given made with breadcrumbs, honey and milk. Teething pains and the need to gnaw in order to teethe were to be alleviated with liquorice root or gladioli root because they were thought to strengthen the gums.  The gums might also be anointed with butter and chicken fat.

All this advice by  Aldobrandino  is an interesting mix of lore, some of it very different from our own way of treating pregnancy, childbirth and infancy, and some of it still very recognisable.  I found  Aldobrandino's  notes on the matter fascinating and informative and I hope you do too.  I shall certainly be searching out the rest of his work in translation.
You can find the full translation of the Aldobrandino's thoughts on pregnancy, childbirth and care of the infant in this wonderful book that I'd highly recommend to anyone interested in the culture of the Middle Ages.