Saturday, 1 July 2017

Summer Books by guest author Brenda Brittan

 I welcome Brenda Brittan, Writer from The Greek Mani Writer's Group to share her favoured summer reads.

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning – Laurie Lee

This delightful sequel to Cider With Rosie, is an ideal summer read when one wants to escape the restrictions of everyday life and visit somewhere different.  This is a captivating tale of a curious young man who does this when he decides to leave the security of his village and see more of the world. 

Leaving rural Gloucestershire Laurie Lee begins his ‘walk’ taking the road to Southampton supporting himself by playing his violin.  Encouraged by this ability he heads for London managing to pay rent for a room by working as a wheelbarrow pusher’ on a building site and by playing his violin. When he has to leave his room due to his landlord letting it out to a prostitute and realising the building he is working on is nearing completion he knows he needs to move on and on the basis of knowing the Spanish for ‘Will you please give me a glass of water’ he decides to go to Spain landing in Galicia on the north west coast in July 1935.

His wanderings with only his violin to pay his way and the optimism and freshness of an idealistic young man take him from Vigo in the north down to the southern coast crossing a county where signs of an impending civil war were in evidence.  He befriended locals who more often than not gave him shelter and food.

His travels were stopped at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War however in 1937 he returned to Spain to enlist for the International Brigade to fight against Franco.  Despite suffering epileptic fits his officer described his conduct as ‘excellent’.



The Glassblower of Murano – Marina Fiorato


 Murano is a series of islands in the Venetian Lagoon linked by bridges and is famous for its glass making. It was once an independent commune, but is now a frazione of the comune of Venice.’

The story begins in 1681 with thirty-year-old Corradinio Manin looking on the lights of San Marco, Venice for the last time.  He is being hunted but there is one last thing he has to do before his hunters catch up with him. He hears footsteps behind him, at last he reaches the Calle della Morte – appropriately named the street of death – he stops, as do the footsteps.  His last words are ‘Will Leonora be safe?’  The last words he hears are ‘Yes, you have the word of The Ten’.

In Venice in 1681, glassblowing is the lifeblood of the Republic and Venetian mirrors are more treasured than gold.  The Council of Ten will go to any lengths to protect the glassblowers of Murano and their methods, virtually imprisoning them on the island. Corradinio Manin has sold his methods to a person. In their eyes he has betrayed them.

In the present day, Nora Manin, a teacher in ceramics and sculpture wakes at 4am.  Her marriage to a doctor is over, shattered. Today is the day she is going to leave England and begin a new life in Venice as a glassblower

And thus the scene is set for a combination of mystery, historical intrigue and love, written by an English/Venetian author, telling a story of passion, genius and betrayal linking the present and the past.



Lion – A Long Way Back - Saroo Brierley


As a five-year old in India, I got lost on a train. Twenty-five years later, I crossed the world to find my way back home.’


In the early 1980’s an Indian man walked out on his family leaving his wife and children in a state of poverty. The wife found work in construction whilst five-year-old Saroo and his older brothers begged at railway stations. One evening Saroo went with his older brother Guddu on a train from Kwanda to Burhanpur.  Saroo collapsed with tiredness and fell asleep on a train.  When he woke Guddu was not there.  Panic set in, he tried to remember which train he should take to get home but without success and eventually he ended up on the streets of Calcutta (Kolkata).

The story follows his life on the streets, an inner sixth sense helping him to survive including escaping from a railway worker who befriended him and then showed him to a friend. Saroo felt something was not right and he ran from the house where he had been ‘invited’ to stay. Eventually a teenager took him to a police station and he was taken in by the Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption. The Society tried unsucessfully to locate his family.  What Saroo did not know was that he had been unable to give them enough information for them to trace his hometown and he was officially declared as a lost child.

There was an adoption scheme between the Indian and Australian governments and Saroo was adopted by a family in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, the Brierley family.  His new life began in Hobart. 

During the relatively short passage of time from the late 1980’s to the present day, the world wide web became part of everyday lives and following a lead, Saroo realises he may be able to trace his family in India by using the Social Media sites.



The Messenger of Athens – Anne Zaroudi



A light-hearted summer murder mystery read set in Greece. It is set on the fictional island of Thinimos and is the first book in a series based on the Seven Deadly Sins. This being based on ‘Lust’ and features a rather strange detective, Hermes Diaktoros of whom little is known, other than he appears when what is seemingly a straightforward death has occurred. 

Mystery surrounds him. Could he be an ‘avenging angel’ only reporting to a ‘higher authority’ and there to ensure justice is carried out?

His methods of investigation are unorthodox, his trademark a pair of immaculately kept white plimsolls, possibly a modern version of the winged sandals worn by his namesake Hermes, messenger of the Gods. The reader is never told how he gets his information thus adding to his mystique.

In this first book based on ‘Lust’, a young girl’s body has been discovered lying at the bottom of a mountainside.  Her death is shrugged off by the local police as an accident or suicide until Hermes appears on the scene. He is determined that the truth of her death will be told and his investigations depict a darker side of Greek life in a protective community where myths, lies, corruption and tragedy along with a touching love story are revealed.

Despite the fantasy element it is a good mystery story and a must for anyone who loves to read about Greek culture other than the sun, sea and sand holiday aspect.

Thank you, Brenda, for sharing your summer reads.

May I also say that my new novel The Woman in the Shadows about Thomas and Elizabeth Cromwell will be published by Accent Press on 4th August 2017. Pre Order on Amazon.



















Sunday, 28 May 2017

The Tudor Way of Death

My new novel The Woman in the Shadows opens with the death of Elizabeth Williams' husband's death. She has kept his secret for years but now she is free. She is a widow, ready to take on the management of her cloth trade. Then, she meets Thomas Cromwell who helps her to overcome her father's opposition and that of jealous traders. She marries him. As Thomas Cromwell rises to be a merchant and lawyer during the fifteen twenties we see his ambition through her eyes. We also see what their family life might have been. Look at my website for more about this novel. It is on amazon pre order and is released on August 4th.

If you pre order the paperback let me know via my website email and I shall send you a signed bookplate for your new book.

www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk


In this post, I write briefly on the dark subject of the Tudor way of death. When a person was dying, the Parish bell tolled. It tolled again at the point of burial. This alerted the community to a death and it showed respect for the deceased. The bell also summoned attendants to the graveside. It is at Tom Williams' graveside in St Albans' churchyard that we first encounter Thomas Cromwell, in Chapter 1 of The Woman in the Shadows. Attendants would bring comfort, not only to the living, but to the dead. Mourners were prompted to prayers which helped the soul on its precarious journey to heaven. The bells sanctified the soul in its passing and, for the superstitious, even ward off evil spirits which could molest the soul. After the Reformation in the 1530s and particularly during the Elizabethan Age this tradition was limited.

Heaven after Purgatory

Medieval Stone Church not unlike St Albans Church
Winding and watching was a practical necessity. If necessary, a surgeon would be engaged to open the body first and investigate the organs to establish the cause of death. Infectious bodies were always buried as soon as possible. Watching involved sitting through the night with the dead body. The body might be laid out on a floor or table and covered with a sheet. Candles would be lit above it. This secured another mark of respect to the deceased and his/her family. It also prevented tampering with the corpse. Sometimes watchers saw visions which could be frightening.



Most bodies rested on biers from the time they departed for the church until they were placed in a grave. A bier was a frame with handles designed to transport and support the corpse. Often these were supplied by the Parish and kept at the back of the Church. The Parish might also loan out a mortuary cloth, a pall to cover the bier and companies likewise provided such trappings for company members. The fishmongers had a gorgeous covering done in Opus Anglicanum work, cloth which was used at burials of prestigious members of the Fishmongers Company. A hearse was originally a frame to hold candles that were placed over a body during the funeral service. The meaning changed to include the whole ensemble whether just bier or coffin that transported the corpse to its grave.

The Surgeon Visits

The funeral procession was a very solemn journey. The poor, who expected the distribution of a funeral dole, were sometimes employed to accompany the corpse. Funeral processions in London were traditionally led by members of the poor clad in mourning livery. The journey was usually short, just as far as the nearest Parish Church. Black was the Tudor colour of mourning. The wealthy, who could afford acres of black cloth, which was expensive, provided draperies, covers and mourning gifts. These might be gloves or rings The gifts were for the funeral guests. Mourners who accompanied the body to the church were often be fortified with wine or spirits. Later the guests would enjoy refreshment at a table laden with meat and drink. Funeral meals were semi public occasions and a large company could be expected. Thus vast amounts of food and wine would be consumed at a Tudor funeral.

The Funeral Procession

Rosemary was the herb of remembrance. Mourners would scatter nosegays of rosemary and laurel on the corpse as earth falls on the shrouded body. The sharp smell cut through the putrescent smell emanating from the deceased in his/her shroud.

Watching the Corpse

The Woman in the Shadows is located in London and throughout the story festivals such as Christmas and Easter are described as Elizabeth and Thomas Cromwell live out their daily lives, and the events are revealed that mark his passage from successful Cloth Merchant to canny lawyering for Thomas Wolsey and finally Cromwell's imminent involvement with the Tudor Court. It follows Elizabeth's family life as well as the couple's house moves within the City. There are, described vividly, the dangerous challenges they face in a London where time is marked by trading, processions, birth, marriage, death and a city which is frequently visited by plagues, particularly the disease known as 'The Sweating Sickness'.

Early Tudor London-Wood Street was between St Paul's and St Bartholomew

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Medieval Female Embroiderers

Embroidery was equated with luxury in medieval society and culture. It covered religious garments and enhanced secular garments indicating wealth and status. Whilst England was a great producer of wool, the highest status fabrics were silks and by the fourteenth century velvets. Opus Anglicanum means English work, and is used to describe embroidered textiles. The method was a technique of underside couching, attaching threads which might be gold or silver or silk to the support fabric from underneath, providing a texture which would catch the light, and give a sense of flow and texture.


Opus Anglicanum, possibly a purse


Who were the embroiderers of these valued, exquisite works both religious and secular? They were both male and female. However, the medieval church had a misogamist attitude towards women.


Opus work for a book binding

The following words were written in The Decretum, the systematisation of church law set down in the twelfth century- 'Women's authority is nil; let her in all things be subject to the rule of men. And neither can she teach, nor be witness, nor give guarantee, nor sit in judgement.'




Men often owned the workshops but not exclusively, nor were they always the embroiderers of religious embroidery, nor did men necessarily design these embroideries.

Women were viewed in a dual manner by the church. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the cult of the virgin meant that women were revered as mothers. Often on a cope there would be an embroidery depicting The Coronation of the Virgin, placed high on the cope, lying on the upper part of the priest's back.

Key images placed below The Coronation of the Virgin  would incorporate scenes from the Bible and the saints from The Golden Legend. Women were also regarded as temptresses and as lesser beings than men. This originates in the notion that Eve was created out of Adam's rib and she was tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden and tempted Adam so that they were expelled from the garden.


Garden of Love- Women as Temptresses

Yet, women did run embroidery workshops as well as men and they were responsible for much of the Opus Anglicanum work during the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries when its popularity was at a height and English embroidery both religious and secular was valued throughout Europe.

Female embroiderers who owned workshops or were apprenticed in workshops run by men cut across the notion that the majority of thirteenth and fourteenth religious embroidery work such as copes was worked in convents or monasteries, in Beguine societies or by noble ladies. Embroidery was produced in both secular workshops and in religious houses.




Medieval crafts were, in fact, open to women. There were women chandlers, iron makers, net makers, shoe makers smiths and goldsmiths. There were female embroiderers too. The existence of 'femmes soles' who worked independently is recorded.




Guilds made provision for widows so that women could carry on the family business. The widow would have had to have taken part in the work for at least seven years before succeeding to her husband's business. Children were apprenticed, both sexes, and business women took on apprentices too.

The medieval records for the Embroiderer's Guild were unfortunately destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Interestingly , however, by the fifteenth century, male embroiderers received seven pennies and a farthing to ten and a farthing for a day's work. Women were only paid four pence and a farthing to six pence a day. The wages varied according to the embroiderer's qualifications.

Many embroidery workshops of the thirteenth century were situated around Old St Paul's. The centre of domestic and public life was the workshop. The sale of goods was transacted in the house. The household dwelling place incorporated the workshop. Workers included the whole family and were included within the family eg apprentices.
London in the thirteenth century

I am writing a new trilogy set in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and have been researching female embroiderers as one of my characters will be an embroiderer working for Ailenor of Provence, Henry III's queen.

Whilst researching, I discovered that a widow, named in relation to embroidery during King Henry III's reign was 'Joan, late the wife of John de Winburn who was paid for a cope of 'samite embroidered with the Jesse Tree which the king offered in St Peter's Church at Westminster at St Hillary's.' (the time of year/ saint's festival).

The Jesse Tree was a popular image, tracing the lineage of Christ as royal from The House of David.


Opus Work -Jesse Tree Vignette

Another thirteenth century embroiderer, Mabel of Bury, appears twenty four times in the Liberate Rolls of Henry III between 1239 and 1245. She was apparently a 'femme sole' and not employed by the king's merchant suppliers. She was paid £10 in 1239 for embroidering a chasuble and offertory veil. In 1241 pearls were purchased for her to use on the commissioned chasuble. She also had forty shillings to buy gold.


Opus Anglicanum Cope

The king called in appraisers to assess her fees; London embroiderers to advise him as 'he did not want to offend in this matter or incur to some extent condemnation of himself.' Mabel embroidered a stole, a fanon, an amice, collar and cuffs. Her last work for Henry III was an embroidered standard for the altar at Westminster Abbey which was his life's building work. 

The standard was to show the Virgin and St John. Mabel controlled the design. She then disappears from the historical record until 1256 when King Henry made a pilgrimage to Bury St Edmund and gave Mabel a gift because she had served the king and queen for so long creating ecclesiastical garments. She was given six measures of cloth of her choice and the fur of a rabbit for a robe. A furred robe was a traditional mark of great respect in this period.




So with Opus work, there is a contradiction between the misogynist attitude of the medieval church and that of the actuality of women's independence in the thirteenth century. Men and women were employed in medieval workshops making art for the church as well as secular items and often, like Mabel, they were able to design the work too.

It is why if you look carefully at a cope from the era you can often see little every day life additions such as midwives attending the birth of Jesus, obviously attesting too to the virgin birth, or, for instance, a dog barking at the angel Gabriel who appears to the shepherds during the Nativity, or even animals peering from the leaves in the Tree of Jesse. The art of this period displayed a concern with nature and the every day life of craft workers.


Buy from amazon or good bookshops


Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Venice in Autumn- City of Dreams


If New York is the city that is so good that they named it twice then what does that make Venice?


The view from the Campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore


The Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge

La Serenissima, Queen of the Adriatic, City of Water, La Dominante, City of Masks, City of Bridges,The Floating City, City of Canals and Venezia. The multinominal champion of cities. Venice, the dream city, the city that if left unvisited will leave a lacuna in any traveller's cultural history. 


St Mark's Square reflected on the San Giorgio Vaporetti Stop


I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs:
A palace and a prison on each hand
..Byron
The Centro Storico is home to less than 60,000 residents who host an annual influx of 20 million visitors. Venetians seem inured to the wonder around them. They seem content in the knowledge that their home is the citta per eccellenza and they consider the rest of the world as merely 'campo', an outland. 


Local Graffiti of an Outlander
Outside Cafe Florian
"Streets flooded. Please advise" Telegram to his Editor from Robert Benchley.
A Night at the Opera
Seeing and being seen at La Fenice.

You will rarely meet a Venetian in Harry's Bar or Cafe Florian, except perhaps, during the deep night when the exhausted incomers have wearily decamped to their hotel beds. You will perhaps spot the Venetians if you venture to Teatro La Fenice for an opera or to Teatro Goldoni to see a play. In these cultural oases, in their Italian finery and jewellery, they gather to be seen as much as to see.


During our last visit the goddess Fortuna smiled on us and allowed us the pleasure of attending a performance of the Globe Theatre's production of The Merchant of Venice at the Goldoni. Tickets were a steal at around 22 Euros and with a long run under their belts the cast gave a flawless performance. Jonathan Pryce ( 'as seen in' Brazil, Tomorrow Never Dies, Evita, Glengarry Glen Ross and currently in BBC's Taboo, as the DVD blurbs burble, )  was particularly Shylockian playing opposite his real life daughter Phoebe as Jessica,the daughter of Shylock. Father and daughter and the Merchant IN Venice, a double whammy.


Many a time and oft in The Rialto you have rated me..

Teatro Goldoni in the rain


Taking a richly deserved bow

Apart from the Temples, Churches, Galleries, Museums and Architecture, Venice has myriad other pleasures. Getting lost in the labyrinthine alleys away from the signposted arteries to the Rialto and St Mark's, stumbling upon obscure piazzas, visiting the outer islands such as Torcello and San Michele the burial place of Ezra Pound, Stravinsky and Diaghilev, supping inexpensive Aperol Spritz while savouring a variety of gorgeous chichetti in a canalside bar, these just a few of the pleasures of Venice.


Spritz for two
The piazza of Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore
Shop window display, St Mark's Square
Everyone has noticed the Venetian taste in shop displays, which extends down to the poorest
bargeman who cuts his watermelons in half and shows them, pale pink,with green rims against
 the green side-canal, in which a pink palace with oleanders is reflected- Mary McCarthy



 As John Ruskin wrote, 'And now come with me, for I have kept you too long from your gondola: come with me, on an autumnal morning to a low wharf or quay at the extremity of a canal, with long steps on each side down to the water, which latter we fancy for an instant has become black with stagnation; another glance undeceives us, -- it is covered with the black boats of Venice'.










Che bello, che magnifici, che luce, che colore!