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How today’s writers can still learn from Anne Brontë

The Brontë Parsonage Museum at Haworth

I have always loved visiting the homes of famous writers in the hope that seeing where they lived and produced their work might somehow inspire me to become a better writer.
When I visited the Brontë Parsonage Museum at Haworth I was fascinated to see where Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their brother, Branwell, grew up and did some of their best writing.
But it was purely by chance that I came to visit Anne Brontë’s grave in Scarborough one summer.
I was in the seaside resort with my husband who was there for work. I used to spend the day sightseeing while he was covering a cricket match for a newspaper.
We were staying on the North Cliff near the Castle and close to the churchyard of St Mary’s where Anne Brontë is buried.
There were signs directing visitors to the churchyard and it seemed almost discourteous not to go and pay my respects. The grave was easy to find close to the entrance and was marked by an additional stone, which had been recently added by the Brontë Society, correcting the author’s age at the time of her death.

Anne Brontë was just 29 when she died

Anne Brontë’s grave in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church in Scarborough

Anne Brontë was 29 years of age when she passed away in Scarborough, not 28 as the original headstone had maintained for more than 160 years. As someone who is inclined to put things off in life, I found it sobering to reflect on how much Anne had managed to achieve in such a short time in the world.Ironically, considering she was a writer, Anne’s original headstone bore several errors. When Charlotte Brontë visited it three years after her sister’s death she had it refaced, but Anne’s age was still not corrected. The error remained on the headstone to mislead the world until 2013.
Anne was the youngest child in her family, who was born to a clergyman and his wife on 17 January 1820. They moved to Haworth soon after her birth but her mother died before her second birthday.
Her eldest sisters, Maria and Elizabeth died at the ages of 11 and 10 respectively, after becoming ill at boarding school.
Charlotte and Emily were removed from the school and along with their brother, Branwell, the three girls were educated at home by their father and aunt.

Sisters drew inspiration from surroundings

There was little money and the sisters had to do their share of the domestic chores but they had access to their father’s books and periodicals, which they read avidly.There were few toys or treats, but a gift from their father to Branwell of a set of miniature soldiers led to the children creating a rich, imaginary world. Anne would have been six years old when she helped her brother and sisters write plays and stories about the lives of the soldiers. These were recorded in tiny, hand-written books that they produced for the soldiers to ‘read’.
When Charlotte went away to school again, Emily and Anne created another fantasy world of their own and continued to invent characters and stories for it until well into adulthood.
Nowadays we live far more comfortably and have many possessions and sources of entertainment, but these can also serve as distractions and stop us achieving things. Having so little in life made the Brontë children become inventive and they also drew inspiration from the moorland scenery and the architecture of the buildings near where they lived.

Governess work was sole career option

Charlottë Bronte

Charlotte eventually found work as a teacher and took first Emily, and then Anne, to the school with her as pupils to improve their education. This was because the only career option available to the sisters was working as governesses if they did not get married.
They all eventually found suitable situations with families, but in her first post Anne found the children particularly hard to control. She was eventually dismissed, which was traumatic for her, but she learned from her bad experiences and was able to reproduce them in her first novel, Agnes Grey.
Her second post as a governess proved more successful and the family took her on their annual holiday to Scarborough each year. She fell in love with the seaside resort, which inspired many of the locations in her novels.
When the Brontë sisters’ aunt died, they used some of the money they inherited from her to have their poems published under the pseudonyms, Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.
Only two copies of the volume of poetry were ever sold, although Anne later succeeded in having some of her poems published in magazines.

Charlotte’s first novel was rejected

But the sisters were not deterred and turned to novel writing instead. Amazingly, Charlotte’s first novel, the Professor, was rejected by every publisher she sent it to. She never let this put her off and started on her second novel, Jane Eyre, immediately. This was eventually accepted for publication and became an instant success.
Emily’s novel, Wuthering Heights and Anne’s first book, Agnes Grey, were both accepted straight away. Charlotte criticised the terms they were offered as they each had to contribute £50, which was to be refunded when a sufficient number of copies had been sold. History has proved the investment to be worthwhile, so take heart, all modern-day self publishers
Although ‘lady readers’ were warned against Wuthering Heights and Anne’s second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, because of their depictions of wild characters and violent scenes, the books continued to sell well.
Anne is now believed to be the first ‘feminist’ author, but she never received the recognition she deserved during her lifetime.
Branwell died suddenly in 1848 at the age of 31 and then both Emily and Anne were found to be suffering from tuberculosis. Emily died three months after Branwell at the age of 30.
Aware she was dying, Anne decided to visit Scarborough one last time, hoping the sea air would help her. In May 1849, accompanied by Charlotte and a friend, she travelled to Scarborough, where she died four days later.

Odds always stacked against Anne Brontë

Anne Brontë: a watercolour by her sister, Charlotte

Charlotte decided to ‘lay the flower where it had fallen’ and buried Anne in a churchyard close to the sea.
Many people writing today may not be as talented or inventive as Anne Brontë, but if they are lucky enough to live long enough and prepared to work hard enough they at least have the chance to improve their skills. Ironically, we have easier lives than people in the 19th century, but perhaps this has made it harder for us to be disciplined or have the will to persevere with writing.
The odds were stacked against Anne Brontë as a writer from the moment she was born. As a woman she was considered to be a second class citizen and her writing was not taken seriously until she submitted it under a pseudonym. As the youngest in the family she was patronised by the other children and expected to be submissive.
But she was quietly determined and immensely self-disciplined and in her 29 years she managed to write two good novels and some powerful poetry.
In today’s climate of redundancy, women who have been pushed aside in the workplace and made to lose confidence should take heart from her and be inspired by her because if they are lucky to live long enough and prepared to work hard enough they may yet still achieve their ambitions.
It is claimed that Charlotte Brontë would not allow the reprinting of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall after her sister’s death and, lying in her cold grave in Scarborough, there was nothing Anne could do about it.
But like the error on her headstone, this was put right in time and Anne is now seen as not just a minor Brontë, but a major literary figure in her own right.

The Shooting in Sorrento

A new Butler and Bartorelli mystery

At last, my second novel, The Shooting in Sorrento, has been published on Amazon.

I feel a big sense of achievement now I have produced another Butler and Bartorelli mystery, the sequel to Death in the High City, which was set in Bergamo in Lombardy.

The book features journalist Kate Butler and her partner, Steve Bartorelli, a retired Detective Chief Inspector. They are in Sorrento for the wedding of the daughter of one of Steve’s Italian cousins.

When tragedy strikes an English family staying at their hotel, Kate feels she has to help them, having already become friends with the mother, Janice, who is a woman of about her own age.

Steve is distracted by meeting up with Italian relatives he has not seen since he was a child and is also wary of becoming too involved with the family because two of his cousins are senior officers in the Polizia di Stato.

Kate is determined to get justice for her new English friends and joins forces with another visitor to Sorrento to investigate, after it becomes clear the Italian police aren’t looking much further than the English family.

The book will delight readers who know and love Sorrento as much of the action in the novel takes place in the ancient streets in the centre of the resort and at locations out along the Sorrentine peninsula.

Kate’s enquiries cause her to wander the narrow streets that run parallel to the Corso Italia and take her down to the beach at Marina di Puolo, but she ends up putting herself in danger when her sleuthing gets her too close to the truth.

I have been able to indulge in my fascination for Italian culture by writing about Sorrento’s colourful history and describing the local wine and food specialities for which the resort has become famous.

The Shooting in Sorrento is believed to be the first British crime novel set in Sorrento.
It is available to buy in paperback or as a Kindle edition from Amazon.

For more information about Sorrento visit www.bestofsorrento.com.

Death in the High City

It is with a big sense of achievement, but also with some trepidation, that I have just published my first novel on Amazon.
Death in the High City is a crime novel that takes place in Bergamo in northern Italy. It is the first book in a series featuring detective duo Kate Butler, a freelance journalist, and Steve Bartorelli, a retired Detective Chief Inspector who is of partly Italian descent.coverpic
The novel has enabled me to write about Italian culture, food and wine and also indulge in my fascination for detective fiction.
Death in the High City is believed to be the first British crime novel to put the spotlight on Bergamo. It centres on the investigation into the murder of an English woman who was writing a biography of the composer Gaetano Donizetti.
The victim had been living in an apartment in Bergamo’s Città Alta and much of the action takes place within the walls of the high city. The local police do not believe there is enough evidence to open a murder enquiry and so Kate Butler, who is the victim’s cousin, arrives on the scene to try to get some answers about her cousin’s death.
Kate visits many of the places in Bergamo with Donizetti connections and her enquiries even take her to nearby Lago d’Iseo. But after her own life is threatened and there is another death in the Città Alta, her lover, Steve Bartorelli, joins her to help her unravel the mystery and trap the killer.
For more information about Death in the High City visit www.bestofbergamo.com

What inspires people to write about their travels?

When you visit somewhere new, even the everyday things seem fascinating and you will find yourself telling friends and family about them when you get back.
Just as people like to show you their holiday snaps when they return, or send postcards or text pictures to you while they are away, enthusiasm about what they have seen makes them want to tell others about it.
A compulsion to share what they experienced abroad was what inspired the earliest travel writers.
Centuries ago people kept journals about their travels or wrote long letters home giving detailed accounts of what they saw.
Thank goodness they felt the need to share their experiences, because what they wrote has given us a marvellous insight into what places were like in the past.
It is fascinating visiting Venice and seeing it through Lord Byron’s eyes, trying to imagine him in the narrow calle near his various residences, which have changed little since his time there.
He wrote detailed letters about his experiences in Venice to his friends and so we know that he actually preferred to travel by gondola or swim along the Grand Canal to avoid being recognised walking about the city by the tourists of his day.
One of Byron’s acquaintances in Italy at that time was Marguerite, Lady Blessington. She travelled further south after Byron set sail for Greece and spent more than two years in Naples staying in rented palazzi. Her journals give us a fascinating insight into what Naples was like at that time.
It was on 17 July, 1823 that  Lady Blessington began her Neapolitan Journals with an account of her first glimpse of the city. She wrote: “Naples burst upon us from the steep hill above the Campo Santo, and never did aught so bright and dazzling meet my gaze. Innumerable towers, domes and steeples, rose above palaces, intermingled with terraces and verdant foliage. The bay (pictured below), with its placid waters, lay stretched before us, bounded on the left by a chain of mountains, with Vesuvius, sending up its blue incense to the Cloudless sky.”Image
Lady Blessington was to fall in love with Naples and embrace the culture, attending local events, making what at the time were adventurous excursions and entertaining Neapolitan aristocrats and intellectuals.
Those who know Naples will recognise in her vivid descriptions places that have remained unchanged for the last 200 years. She also provides a valuable insight into what life was like at the time for ordinary people as well as the rich and privileged.
People who already love Naples will find her journals witty and endearing and those who have never visited the city will be inspired to go there as soon as possible.
 
For more information about Lady Blessington’s Neapolitan Journals visit http://www.bestofsorrento.com/2012/07/see-naples-and-die.html

What price a room with a view?

Looking out on a beautiful scene from your hotel window in Italy can be an important part of the holiday for many people.
If you are in Venice it is wonderful to be able to see a canal or the lagoon. If you are in a resort on a lake or by the sea it is lovely to have a view of the water. And if you are in an historic city it is exciting to look out at a famous building or piazza.

View from the Hotel Dania Capo di Sorrento

The view from my favourite Sorrento hotel

Wonderful views have drawn me back to the same hotel in Sorrento each year for the last 20 years. When I stayed there for the first time I arrived late at night with my husband and two young children. When we woke up the following morning to see the fabulous views of the bay of Naples our love affair with the hotel began and we have returned to stay there nearly every summer since.
The hotel, which is at Capo di Sorrento, has a large terrace overlooking the sea with panoramic views that I never tire of looking at.
My favourite view is from the terrace outside my room from where you can see the point of land known as Capo di Massa, which has the remains of a Saracen stone tower on the end where the land meets the sea.
From the dining room, or the terrace outside our room, we enjoy seeing cruise ships going past at night, lit up so they look like glittering diamond necklaces strung out over the sea.
In the mornings we enjoy watching the ferries and hydrofoils crossing from Sorrento to Capri and Ischia, or sailing past Capo di Massa to round Punta Campanella and reach the resorts along the Amalfi coast.
But sometimes when you are planning a holiday it is worth considering what you are going to be doing when you get there and whether it would be more practical to book a hotel in a handy location even if the views are not all that spectacular.
For example, if you are planning to travel about to other places sightseeing it might be better to book a hotel close to the railway station or bus station rather than in the heart of the centro storico.
Then when you return tired after a long day out you won’t have far to go to get to your hotel in order to shower and change for dinner.
If you are travelling with a car it might be worth considering an out of town hotel with free parking close to the autostrada so that you can get on your way quickly each morning.
Hotels in these types of locations are often modern and specially equipped for business travellers, meaning you will have the benefit of the extra facilities. Also, prices tend to be lower than those charged by hotels in the centre of town that have views of the historic sights.
There are many beautiful things to see in Italy while you are out and about during the day and you don’t necessarily have to be able to see them from your bedroom window.
But whether to be romantic or practical is entirely a matter of personal choice and deciding between a great view and a convenient location can be part of the fun of planning your holiday.

Lady Mary’s writing put Lovere on the map

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who is considered to be the first female English travel writer, was born 323 years ago today (15 May, 1689).Lovere
Lady Mary travelled extensively at the beginning of the 18th century with her husband, who was appointed British ambassador to Turkey and during this time she wrote the poetry and letters that established her literary reputation.
She also became an advocate of inoculation against smallpox, having witnessed the practice on her travels.
But in 1739 she left her husband and went to live in Italy alone. After spending time in Brescia in Lombardia she moved to live in Lovere on Lago d’Iseo (pictured above) on the advice of her doctor who thought the climate of the lakeside resort would be good for her health.
Lady Mary was to spend nearly ten years in Lovere, preferring it to the resorts of nearby Lago di Garda which were more well known and popular with English tourists.
She constantly praised Lovere as a holiday resort and is reputed to have once declined an invitation to the Venice carnival saying: “There are plenty of things to do in this village, which, by the way, is one of the most beautiful that exists.”
She bought an old palace where she spent happy years designing the garden and reading the books her daughter sent out to her from England .
She enjoyed entertaining local nobility and making the occasional trip to Genova and Padova, inspired to write poetry by the beauty of Lago d’Iseo and the “impassable mountains” surrounding it.
While living in Lovere she wrote in a letter to her daughter: “I am now in a place the most beautifully romantic I ever saw in my life.”
She returned to live in England in 1761 and died the following year. Her last words were reputed to be: “It has all been most interesting.”