Wednesday, October 14, 2015

In Search of the Highwayman Claude Duval, or, There are lies on the Internet!

Today I walked into Covent Garden to visit the resting place of infamous highwayman and heart-breaker Claude Duval (1643-1670) at St Paul's Church:

Duval (or Du Vall/Duvall) was a French-born servant who became a highwayman in London. He reportedly never used violence and was by some accounts a bit of a hottie. Cue my interest: a swarthy anti-hero in real life? I'm there.

From his Wikipedia page (Wikipedia, I hear you say with scorn. Lazy sourcing. It is linked only for your amusement, not as a verifiable source. Very little about this story is verifiable.):

There are many tales about Du Val. One particularly famous one — placed in more than one location and later published by William Pope — claims that he took only a part of his potential loot from a gentleman when his wife agreed to dance the "courante" with him in the wayside, a scene immortalised by William Powell Frith in his 1860 painting Claude Du Val.

The painting in question, which hangs in Manchester Art Gallery:


I did a lap of the inside of the very lovely church but could only find one plaque from the seventeenth century, but it wasn't Duval's and the person probably wasn't the least dashing and handsome. I moved on.

There was a nice lady selling Christmas cards so I bought a packet of ten and asked her to show me where Duval's plaque was. She looked half amused, half annoyed, and told me that he wasn't buried in the church at all, it was just a story. People came in from time to time asking about him, and when she'd asked the rector about it he'd told her Duval was a criminal who'd been hanged, and therefore couldn't have been buried on consecrated ground. The rector's theory about how the story came about was that someone connected with the church put the story about to make it attractive to visitors. 

When I got home I did some digging. The church was built in 1631 and Duval was hanged in 1670, so the dates fit at least. One source said that he was buried in the centre aisle, but it's covered in carpet now so I couldn't check that. Another source says that the tomb was destroyed by a fire in 1795. The parish records apparently show that a Peter Du Val was buried there the day after Claude Duval's lying in at the Tangier Tavern, St Giles. Could be him. Sounds implausible though.

The epitaph in the tombstone is supposed to read:

Here lies DuVall: Reder, if male thou art,
Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.
Much havoc has he made of both; for all
Men he made to stand, and women he made to fall
The second Conqueror of the Norman race,
Knights to his arm did yield, and ladies to his face.
Old Tyburn’s glory; England’s illustrious Thief,
Du Vall, the ladies’ joy; Du Vall, the ladies’ grief.

The epitaph is credited to Walter Pope, an astronomer. I'm nearing the end of my digging now, dear reader, and this blog post. The epitaph comes from a book Pope wrote called The Memoires of Monsieur Duval. It seems Pope was a little annoyed by the English fascination for highwaymen, and particularly the way women liked to swoon over them. After all, Duval wasn't only a criminal, he was French, by god. 

The book detailed Duval's supposed exploits, but was meant as a work of satire. The full title is The Memoires of Monsieur Duval: Being the History of his Life and Death; whereunto are annexed his Last Speech and Epitaph; intended as a Severe Reflection on the too great fondness of English Ladies towards French Footmen, which is too common a complaint.

You can read it here

The only parts of this story that I was able to verify are that the church certainly does exist (you'll have to take my word for it), and the part of the title above that is underlined. Even the authorship of the work is not certain.

I'll make an educated guess and say that Pope made up the burial at St Paul's Church and Duval was really consigned to an unmarked grave after he met the hangman at the Tyburn Tree. 

TL;DR: Reality is nowhere near as sexy as stories and myth. Also, take what's written on the internet with a good pinch of salt. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

BLOOD QUEEN paperback now available

I'm so pleased to announce that the paperback of BLOOD QUEEN has now been released. There have been such fabulous reviews for the ebook and I'm over the moon. Have you read it? Let me know what you think!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Three special announcements about Blood Queen

I'm very pleased to let you know not one or two, but THREE exciting things about Blood Queen.

The Format

Blood Queen will be available internationally in eBook format. Not everyone enjoys reading digital books, though, and Blood Queen has such gorgeous artwork (it's the same artist that did the Blood Song art) that I'll be releasing book three as a PAPERBACK for online order. 

The Release Date

I know Goodreads has been driving some of you up the wall. Blood Queen is in it's final stages and it will for sale to read in a matter or weeks. 

The Blurb

After losing Rodden at the last Turning, Zeraphina is alone. Or she would be, if her mother and Prince Folsum would leave her in peace. The prince, blind in one eye after an attack by Zeraphina’s brant, has taken up residence in her home and is insisting she marry him. When an accident happens, Zeraphina flees – straight into the arms of a waiting harming.

Now a captive, she discovers she’s being taken to Lharmell. But not to be executed. To be crowned queen. The identity of the one who has given the orders is shrouded in mystery, and Zeraphina can’t help but be suspicious. After everything she’s done the Lharmellins should want her dead. Just who is awaiting her in Lharmell?

I'm excited. Are you excited?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Haunting of Hill House -- read the book or watch the movie?


The Haunting (1963)

Sometimes it feels like without books the movie industry would grind to a halt. Think about the biggest films of this year. Think about the hugely hyped movie that's being released this Valentine's Grey. I mean Day.

Mostly I don't see the movie. Sometimes I didn't love the book, like the Life of Pi, or I was too distressed or depressed by it, like The Kite Runner and Gone Girl. Or a really liked the book and just wanted it to stay a book. In my head. My pictures.

The adaptations I do see and love bring something new to a book. Like the BBC's Sherlock. Different, but respectful. And that's how I feel about The Haunting (1963) and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. But enough of this philosophical crap. On with the reviews.

The Book

Eleanor has spent her whole life looking after her invalid mother. With nothing to show for her efforts, she jumps at the invitation to spend a few weeks at supposedly haunted Hill House with a professor of the paranormal. There's something so self-conscious and sweet about Nell at the opening of the book, relishing and narrating her own journey to Hill House. Then about the instant bond she forms with Theodora. After residing in the house a little while she quickly becomes self-conscious and strange. She seems to be suffering from some sort of social anxiety and a fervent wish to belong somewhere. ANYwhere. It's needy, and it's worrying.

The Movie

The first thing I'll say here is I AM TALKING ABOUT THE 1963 ADAPTATION. Not the god-awful slush that seems to be the 1999 remake. The second thing I'll say is that the premise of the film is exactly the same as the book above. It is also presented in a slick way with a short prologue stuck on the front that gives the viewer a quick (and augmented) history of Hill House. The black and white footage is stunning and the production is fantastic. What is interesting is the way the film takes the same main character, the same setting and the same basic ending, conflates things, twists others, and shoves it into a little black dress that is so damn engaging and so damn thrilling.

So, Which One?

Do you like to be scared?* No? Well, stick to the book. But if you do like to be scared, spend a little time with the movie. The book isn't scary and it has all the good things about the film except the things that go BANG in the night ... Almost.

I have to say, I like the film better. (Why do I feel like that's heretical?) I like what the film did with Dr Montague and his wife. (His poor wife!) I like all the creepy statues in the house and the doors that swing open, not closed. I like the trapdoor (spoilers, won't say any more). It's tense. It's direct. But most of all I like the clever, clever ending. The book gives you two plausible endings. The film gives you three.

*My boyfriend wasn't scared. But he's scared by movies like Jaws, not by ghosts.

Have you read the book or watched the film? Which one did you like?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Gothic

I've been on a bit of a gothic kick this last fortnight. It started with The Art of Gothic documentary and Dracula (1958) on the BBC for Halloween.

Above, Christopher Lee as Dracula, emerging from his coffin. His suave, classy and ferocious interpretation of Dracula is probably my favourite. From interviews he seems to have a love/hate relationship with playing the role, and with Hammer Production, the British film company behind the 60s and 70s horror revival. Playing Dracula made him famous, but he was frustrated that the films ignored just about every line that Stoker wrote for the character. For the purists, you can find recordings of Lee reading the 1897 novel -- Stokers words and Lee's stentorian voice. *frisson*

The Good

As well as loving the above, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar I've munched my way though The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole (1764), The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving (1820), and Honeysuckle Cottage, P.G. Wodehouse (1975). Otranto is one of the silliest novels I've ever read. I rather liked it. Sleepy Hollow could have done with more talk about ghosts and less of food, but the writing was fantastic. And Wodehouse, what can I say. Always a pleasure. In this short story a dead aunt is exerting not a malevolent influence on the residents of her former house, but a soppy, sentimental one.

On Halloween itself we watched Don't Look Now (1973), an adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier supernatural thriller, The Wicker Man (1973) and Taste of Fear (1961).

Don't Look Now was very good, but I sense that the book would be better. The Wicker Man ... more on that below. But Taste of Fear! What a gem. Another Hammer horror film.

A young wheelchair-bound woman comes home for the first time in ten years to find her step mother (above, top) acting strangely. Her father's corpse keeps appearing and disappearing around the house. The doctor (above, below) seems to be in league with the stepmother. Yes, that's Christopher Lee again. He says its his favourite Hammer film that he was in, but I would say it's far from his best role. It might have been if they'd fleshed out his character a bit more, like they did with the chauffeur. 

Above is a photograph I took at the British Library yesterday. What an UTTERLY FABULOUS exhibition. It had handwritten Blakes, Brontes and Byrons, original models of Gothic houses, old film reels, paintings, set sketches from Hammer horrors. Do go see it if you're in London.

The Bad

You can't love everything as much as you want to. This book and this film are classics with legions of adoring fans but they are just not for me. The Turn of the Screw (1898) is a famous ghost novella about a governess who keeps seeing the ghosts of the previous governess and the former valet about the place. They had an affair, and the governess suspects that the children know, and now their Innocence Has Been Tainted. Are the ghosts real, or are they hysterical projections of the governess's Victorian fear of sex? It is a good book as far as themes (oh my god the themes the themes) go, but frankly the writing is impossible. If pressed, I might even say rubbish.

Ah, The Wicker Man. A cult classic. Horror's answer to Citizen Kane, apparently. Appearing in Top Ten British Films of All Time lists since the 90s. Christopher Lee's self-professed best film he's ever been in. (Yes Lee again!) I make a habit of ignoring reviews before I see a film but these tid bits I gleaned from the IMBD. I can proudly say I didn't know what it was about before I watched it.

Now I've seen it I'm still not sure what I watched. I think it was conservative paranoia. Or possibly a musical. But it wasn't scary and I don't think it was very good. Perhaps in 1973 it would have struck a chord with me.

The best part of it was Edward Woodward. Not his acting, but just saying his name. And then saying it without the ds: Ee-war Woo-woo. Hours of fun.


Dracula, what have they done to you? *sobs*

The Gothic ... on my reading and watching list

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), and more Hammer horror in general
The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
M.R. James short stories
More Susan Hill -- I saw her speak at the British Library a week ago, she's fantastic
Finally finishing the epic The Castle of Udolpho

What have you been reading and watching for Halloween?

Saturday, October 4, 2014


You are all being so patient and I am so, SO close to writing THE END it's not even funny. Blood Queen has been a very tough book to write because of the book itself and because of silly old real life getting in the way. I know! What's that about!

I want Blood Queen to be as vivid and entertaining as the first two books, and getting it right is the most important thing. Zeraphina won't let it be anything other than just so, or she'd be so pissy with me. It's her story, after all.

Monday, August 11, 2014

This week in Portugal ...

This is where I'm staying, a remote villa outside Silves in southern Portugal. It's hot and peaceful and there's lots of fresh fruit and Portuguese custard tarts to eat. The water is very cold and refreshing.

This is where I'm working on Blood Queen this morning (below). There's a sea breeze blowing and a few puffy white clouds blowing overhead, but soon it will pass 30 degrees celsius (80 F? 190F? I have no idea) and I'll go to the pool to read and swim. I finished A Wizard of Earthsea yesterday and loved it. Review soon.

And these are keeping me company as I write, a family of tabby cats, a mother and two younger cats I think. They are very friendly and semi-domesticated. They love pats and scratches but never venture into the house, and they don't know what laps are for. They're skinny but not unhealthy, but I'm feeding them up anyway with lots of cat food and tid bits from our cooking.

There are only birds and cicadas to be heard. It makes such a change from London life. Now, back to Blood Queen for me.