Where in the World are You?

John_C._Munro_off_Hong_KongNicola here. I've been away travelling for the last couple of weeks and (hopefully!) just got home today with piles of washing to do and (again, hopefully!) lots of lovely memories which I can turn into a blog post or two to share in the future. In the meantime, however, I'm calling up a short, updated Wench classic post from nine years ago. How the time flies! It seems appropriate, though as it's all about travel, whether in real life or via our reading. So, step back in time to 2014:

"There’s a meme that was going around on Facebook a while ago that proved very popular. It asks: “You have been transported to the location in the last book you read. Where are you?” The answers flood in, from Scotland to the West Indies, from the New York of the future to London in 1515 and all times and places in between.

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Poldark Country

Take me to the beachNicola here, with a post that is part travelogue, part about settings and backgrounds in books. 

There’s something about Cornwall, isn’t there. It rivals Scotland in the imagination as a romantic setting for a novel. It's wild, rugged and magical. Perhaps it all started with Daphne Du Maurier and with Winston Graham’s Poldark books and the TV series. I know it did for me.  I grew up on the original BBC dramatization of Poldark, though my teenage heart was mostly given to Dr Enys rather than to Ross. When the more recent dramatization came out I felt it couldn’t possibly match the first one but it carved its own niche in our affections as well as raising interest in the ancient skill of scything. And as for Daphne Du Maurier’s books, well, Frenchman’s Creek is still up there on my all-time favourites list, and Jamaica Inn not so far behind. Both Du Maurier and Winston Graham created the atmosphere of historic Cornwall so evocatively that I was desperate to visit (which was neither quick nor easy 40 years ago from Yorkshire!)

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Into the Woods

Angus beachNicola here. After the beach and the sea, a woodland is probably Angus’s favourite place for a walk. I’m not a dog, obviously, but I can imagine just how exciting it might be for him; so many sights, sounds and particularly smells that are different from the garden or the street. There is something special about the woods in lots of different ways: places to run, places to hide, secrets and surprises just around the corner.

In the fairy stories, woods are often scary places. I remember Hansel and Gretel as one of my least favourite fairy tales because of the sinister cottage in the woods. And doesn’t Little Red Riding Hood meet the wolf in a wood? Woodland is portrayed as a wild, dark place that is full of danger. The same thing happens in other books from Harry Potter, to Lord of the Rings, to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. So often a wood is a threatening place. Often we get lost there.

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Ask A Wench: Treasures Old and New

TreasureNicola here, introducing this month’s Ask A Wench where we are talking about old and new treasures on the bookshelf, which is a riff on the “if you like this author, you’ll enjoy this one” idea. Amazon in particular makes a point of recommending authors on the basis of the books you order from them. Sometimes their recommendations are spot on and you discover another great author in the same genre. Other times, their idea of similar authors is a bit wayward. I cherish the occasion I ordered a copy of Jo Beverley’s St Raven and Amazon recommended I also buy “Crows and Jays of the World.”

My keeper shelf has some treasures that are so old they are falling to pieces: Daphne Du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek, Georgette Mist over pendleHeyer’s Devil’s Cub and Robert Neill’s Mist over Pendle to name but a few. These books are special, as much for the memories we associate with them – when we first read them, what was happening in our lives at the time and so on. It’s difficult to find other, more recent, authors who match. Occasionally though a new treasure comes along to take it’s place beside the old books on the keeper shelf. Perhaps the author’s voice has echoes of an old favourite or their writing reminds us of a long-ago treasure. Below the Wenches give an insight into their thoughts on treasures old and new.

Susan:

Topping my old book treasures list is always Mary Stewart–her books, for me, are still fresh and beautiful,her voice unique and incomparable. I still learn from reading her books. Other older, special stories and voices filling my bookshelves include Anya Seton, Daphne du Maurier, Victoria Holt, Rosemary Hawley Jarman, Elizabeth Peters, Ellis Peters, Dorothy Sayers and more … They dazzle among the older treasures, because each one opened up reading directions that inspired me to explore genres, subjects, writing craft. I'm still in awe of some old nonfiction treasures too, such as Antonia Fraser’s Mary, Queen of Scots, Vita Sackville-West’s Joan of Arc, and Thomas Costain’s history of the Plantagenets. I cherished and reread them all, and learned and absorbed a lot about reading as well as writing good fiction and nonfiction.

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Title Trends

Gone girlNicola here, with a quick and light-hearted look at title trends. I’m just back from the wonderful RNA Conference where one of the sessions I attended was on fashions in commercial fiction. There was some discussion about the importance of titles and the way that publishers brand a particular style of book. This led us on to the “girl” phenomena. It started with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I think. Then there was Gone, Girl, the Girl on the Train and many, many other girls in various situations, places and circumstances, mostly with a hint of danger about them. Last year over 60% of one UK bookseller’s top titles had a female noun in them whether it was girl, wife, mother, sister or something else.

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