Natasha Lester: Her Mother’s Secret and A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald

Natasha Lester: Her Mother’s Secret and A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald

Natasha Lester is one of the most generous authors in Australia. Her blog is inspiring and informative. It is this generosity, and a love of her travel updates on Facebook as she researches her novels, that inspired me to pick up Her Mother’s Secret – as much as the beautiful cover and intriguing blurb! I scored A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald through a free iBooks promotion via Facebook. I can hardly wait for The Paris Seamstress to come out in March.

Natasha captures the glamour of the 20s – the music, dancing, fashion, cosmetics, and hope of the time. After the first world war, women had had a taste for working outside the home, and they didn’t want to give that up. It was an exciting and liberating period for women. Natasha expertly throws you back in time to experience the ride alongside her beautiful characters.

What I loved most about Her Mother’s Secret and A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald:

  1. In a time when women were just starting to break further into the work force, Leo and Evie are fierce and ambitious. They have career goals as well as romantic desires. They break boundaries and surprise society.
  2. The ‘villainous’ characters exist in the grey. I can’t completely hate them, I have sympathy for them, even though they flaunt their cruelty.
  3. The romances are realistic – the characters are flawed – there are misunderstandings, lies, half-truths, sacrifices and amazing sex.
  4. I love how Leo and Evie each have a bevy of supportive women friends around them.
  5. I loved Alice’s photo shoot, jumping forward to 1930s New York. The tension and the beauty of this scene had me seething with envy. It was delicious to imagine, and Alice’s character really captured that 19-year-old angst and anticipation.
  6. I adored the history – cosmetics, fashion, advertising, ballet, Ziegfeld’s Follies, a speakeasy and obstetrics.
  7. Technically, Natasha is a wonderful storyteller. The novels have the right balance of setting the historical scene and keeping the story moving apace, dialogue and description, career goals and romance. The plots are compelling, and the characters are memorable and inspiring.

There is so much more about these novels that I could say and rave about, but really, you should just go read them for yourselves. Consider yourself forewarned though – they are un-put-down-able.

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Haddon Hall: for Jane Eyre and Princess Bride fans

Haddon Hall: for Jane Eyre and Princess Bride fans

Haddon hall is gorgeous and full of real and cinematic history.

There is no rope or prescribed route. Minimal crowds. You meander your way through as you please.

An oakpanelled room had an open fire and a musician playing twice during the day. A classical guitarist strummed to our visit, but I think they change it up regularly. It cost no extra. You could walk in and walk out as the music suited you.

The garden held a small wedding while we visited… and you could see why. It was so beautifully kept and in keeping with the stony backdrop of the Hall.

It’s a Medieval hall that used to be separate buildings, a hall, a chapel, the kitchens, but over time as the technology improved and the risk of fire reduced, they were connected. Tapestries depicting the senses decorate the walls. The main hall has a slightly raised dais at one end, and a manacle to chain you to the wall at the other end. Time was that refusing to drink was a punishable crime against the spirit of conviviality.

The royals seem to enjoy visiting the hall, they have graffitied the wall above one of the fireplaces. It is covered with glass or something to protect it.

So what kind of literary fan are you? If you were to visit Haddon Hall would you see Mr Rochester’s Thornfield or Prince Humperdinck’s castle?

I adore both. Jane Eyre for its intensity and richness of character. Princess Bride for its comedic value- and one of the best sword fighting scenes ever. I’ve read the books, I’ve watched the films.

Even so, I don’t always like Mr Rochester, I think he’s a bit of a git. As for The Princess Bride, it is soooo corny. The side of my cheek is sore from biting it by the end.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from each:

Jane Eyre

“Do you think I am an automaton?–a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!–I have as much soul as you,–and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;–it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,–as we are!”

“I would always rather be happy than dignified.”

The Princess Bride

“Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!”

“As you wish!”

“They’re kissing again. Do we have to read the kissing parts?”

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Chatsworth house or Lyme park?

Chatsworth house or Lyme park?

If you’re a Pride and Prejudice fan (guilty! Though Persuasion is my favourite Austen) then you’ll likely be familiar with this question. Which makes for a better Pemberley?

Luckily you don’t have to answer it because you can visit both in person like my husband and I did. Or watch either as Pemberley.

In the 1995 BBC TV series, Lyme Park is used as Pemberley, in the famous lake scene semi-recreated here by my handsome hubby.

In the Kiera Knightley version, Chatsworth house features. For Austen fans, Chatsworth house has the added benefit of being visited by Elizabeth Bennet in her tour of Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle.

Both houses and grounds are truly stunning, but with very different histories.

Lyme Park, house and garden was famously home to the Legh family. The house was built in the late 16th century, but Thomas Legh directed substantial renovations to the property in the Regency era. The tour of the house centres on the life of Thomas Legh, an adventurer who traveled through Egypt and wrote about his experiences. On returning home, he became an entrepreneur. The library is also home to the Lyme missal, a 15th century prayer book, touted as the most important printed book the National Trust’s collection.

I loved Lyme Park because we saw a magnificent herd of deer grazing. They also had a second hand bookstore in the basement. There was a lego tour and an opportunity to dress up for families, which was very sweet. My husband and I walked on though. We’ve done P&P dress up before 🙂 I’ll save that for another post. Lyme Park was also less busy than Chatsworth to my delight and relaxation.

Pro tips:

1) Ask the staff lots of questions, they know heaps of history!

2) Wander up to the deer park for a gander.

Chatsworth house was the 16th century home to Bess of Hardwick, the second most important woman in Elizabethan England. The house is still occupied by the Cavendish line (of her second husband). Her fourth and final husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, was tasked with being custodian of Mary Queen of Scots who was kept prisoner at Chatsworth house for a time.

I loved Chatsworth house because it had vast landscaped gardens you could amble through and lose the crowds that gathered in the house. The maze was magnificent and challenging. The house and family have a strong connection with fashion throughout history and there is currently an exhibition throughout the entire house celebrating this relationship. In the chapel, the family wedding dresses, christening gowns and mourning clothes were displayed – it was a deeply moving tribute to life and death through fashion.

Pro tips:

1) We did the garden first thing in the morning, and the house later in the day. The queue for the house was crazy long first thing.

2) Visit nearby Bakewell and The Bakewell Tart Shop (in the footsteps of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan). The Bakewell tart is delicious.

I can’t choose a favourite between them. Can you?

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I want to fight like a girl

I want to fight like a girl

Like Celaena Sardothien in Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass series. 

Like Alanna or Keladry of Tamora Pierce’s many novels set in Tortall. 

Like in Girls of the Wild’s, the Korean manhwa webtoon series written by Hun and illustrated by Zhena (Kim Hye-jin). 

Like Sailor-moon. Like Mulan. Like Boudicca. Like Diana of the Hunt. Like Supergirl, Wonderwoman, Black Widow, Captain Marvel and all the other comic book warrior women.  

Like Emily Blunt’s character Rita in Edge of Tomorrow. Check out this awesome blog about her workout. 

I get this amazing sense of energy, freedom and strength after seeing films or reading about these women. Or even when seeing fighters or dancers on stage!

I want to fight like a girl. I want to train like a girl. I want to be strong, fit and persistent, like a girl. 

Do you get your workout motivation from characters and actors too? 

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Falconry – A day in the Cotswolds

Falconry – A day in the Cotswolds

A few months back, I read Catherine Gaskin’s A Falcon for a Queen. It must have set a spark. 

When I saw the Cotswold’s Falconry Centre on Google maps, I kept clicking through till I found a Flying Start for Two and signed my husband and I up. He’s an adventurous sort and an easy accomplice to many a scheme. 

It was one of the best and most memorable experiences we’ve shared. If you get the chance, I highly recommend you meet some of these glorious birds. It was an honour and privilege to hold and fly them. 

We first met a peregrine falcon: small, with a distinctive beak and nostrils. It was such a thrill to have such an elegant creature perched on my arm. 

Next was a common buzzard, Ivy, that we later took on a training flight. A length of rope was attached to her leg. We held food out to her in a gloved hand and she would fly from a post to your arm to eat the food. 

We held Thumper, a large European Eagle Owl. He was lighter than he looked, puffed up by so many fluffy feathers. While I was holding her, an eagle in the flying display just over the fence made a spectacular dive that whistled through the air. Both the owl and I jumped, wide-eyed. 

Saus was an eagle, he and his friend Lulu liked to sun themselves whenever the clouds parted. 

The main flight we had was with Kaiser, a stunningly beautiful owl. She would fly in low to the ground and swoop up onto your arm at the last minute. She was very blind at short distances and couldn’t see your hand in front of her face, so you had to stand still for her. 

We stayed around afterwards for the final flying show of the day when the vultures were let out. They were incredible. Large and majestic. I loved how they squabbled with each other for food or the best place in the sun. 

It was fascinating to learn so much about all these birds, their feathers, their sight, their preferred methods of flying and hunting. It was touching to see the interaction between them and their handlers. They were well cared for and each had personalities of their own. 

One of the biggest takeaways though, was the endangered nature of some of these birds, especially the vultures. Poaching, baiting and other human practices have had a devastating effect on some of these species. Read more about it here

Do you want to see a bird of prey fly? 

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The Paper House by Anna Spargo-Ryan

The Paper House by Anna Spargo-Ryan

Highly recommended. Find it here

When I finished this book, I wrapped my arms around my husband and cried a little. 

While I was reading it, I would often set it aside and curl myself up on his lap for a hug. 

A third of the way through, I had to set it aside for a few months until I felt stronger. This isn’t a book to be read over breakfast or lunch. It hurts too much. 

This is a book that sweeps you away in the stream of its beautiful prose. It portrays grief and anxiety with grace and sensitivity. It is raw and unflinching. It opened wounds and stitched them back together again with a fragile hope. 

It is a vivid and heartbreaking masterpiece. 

Have you read The Paper House? What did it make you think and feel? 

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London Film and Comic Con and YALC

London Film and Comic Con and YALC

I made it! My first comic con and literature convention. It was awesome! I loved it 🙂

My friend has a Back To The Future poster that was signed by almost all the stars. Tom Wilson who plays Biff was there and completed the set, except for Crispin Glover, who he reckons he is unlikely to get.  He also got photos with Tom and Christopher Lloyd! 

I was more interested in the talks. We saw the two of them chat about BTTF and their favourite actors. We also saw Alan Tudyk. He’s a favourite of mine from Firefly, Dollhouse, Rogue One and all his voice over work. Incredible talents. They were all so kind as well!

Other stars there on the day included Benedict Cumberbatch, buried under hundreds of fans; Natalie Dormer, looking absolutely stunning; Allison Hannigan, couldn’t get near her! So my inner fan girl was just melting into a puddle on the floor. Peter Mayhew was in the house, I like that Wookiee. 

The costumes were incredible. There was not as much cosplay as I expected, but there were some really brilliant outfits. My favourites were a lego batman in his bathrobe with a lobster on a plate, Kaylee from Firefly in her frilly pink dress and the Stark family complete with Ned’s severed head. 

At the Young Adult Literature Convention, there was V E Schwab, Holly Bourne and Emily Lockhart amongst others. I wandered around adding more and more books to my Goodreads Want To Read list. I feel like I’m spending so much time catching up on reading that I’m a little behind. There are not enough hours in the day. 

Interesting to see how social media is changing the industry. There were a number of stalls for book boxes. I’ve seen a lot of these on Instagram. They are so creative, often filled with knick knacks as well as new reads. I plan to subscribe to a one when I get back to Sydney. Suggestions?  Most likely a YA one …

Have you ever been to a comic con or a literature convention? What was your favourite experience?

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Where I Write

Where I Write

The Australian Writers’ Centre Newsletter is one of the few I receive that I regularly read. They don’t send it too often. The format is predictable and the quality is high. I almost always get a giggle out of it. It has fun quizzes. It tells me stuff I want to know.

It also takes submissions for Where I Write photos and descriptions. Gah! Some of the views are so beautiful! The massive macs people have; colourful corkboards and whiteboards; inspiring quote cards and towering bookshelves; standing desks, old wooden desks, desks covered in notes and tea.

I’m glad I’m coming back home to Australia soon. I can get myself a desk again, stick it in front of a wall with no view, like Stephen King describes in On Writing, and just sit down and write. Or at least that’s the theory.

One bedroom living in London with my husband, and an open living area that, as often as not, sleeps my brother-in-law on a blow up mattress (also a writer, so we get to talk tech sometimes which is fun :)) – is not conducive to a desk or space or quiet or anything of the sort – even when said husband and brother-in-law are super supportive. And yet.

When kids come, and we’re planning on them, I’ll probably look back on these years, like I currently look back on my university years, and wonder: what on earth did I do with all that free time? Wasted?!

Netflix and catching up on reading? London living? We are out and about most nights and weekends. There is always something to do and see. Back in uni? I can’t remember… was I hungover? Chasing boys? Sleeping? I think mostly I was sleeping. I slept a lot at uni.

So for now, most of my reading and writing is done:

On the tube or bus, on my iphone, using the scrivener app, often stood and hoping no one is reading over my shoulder.

Sometimes I will write on the lounge, or at the dining table, on the beanbag, sat on the staircase, sat in the bath beneath the skylight. But most of my words are written on public transport. There you have it. This is #WhereIWrite.


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Opening Lines

Opening Lines

What is in a good opening line? Is it worth agonising over weeks on end? Is it the first thing you write or the last? What makes you keep reading the second line, the third and so on? Can you fail the first line, but have a great first page, or first chapter?

So many questions, I don’t have answers, not to any of them. If you think you do, please let me know!

For now, take a look at the first lines of some of the books I’ve been reading recently, and some favourites thrown in too:

  • “When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.” The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
  • “When we came into the world, silent and cowled, my sister and I were attached by our big toes.” True Born, L.E. Sterling
  • “The screw through Cinder’s ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle.” Cinder, Marissa Meyer
  • “If ever there was a place for the zombie apocalypse, this could be it, thought Rose, shivering in the wind, which felt like it had blown direct from Antarctica to the Shingle Valley.” Rose’s Vintage, Kayte Nunn
  • “Kelsea glynn sat very still, watching the troop approach her homestead.” The Queen of the Tearling, Erika Johansen
  • “I am merely copying out here, word for word, what was printed today in the State Gazette: In 120 days from now the building of the INTEGRAL will be finished.” We, Yevgeny Zamyatin
  • “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy.
  • “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell
  • “All children, except one, grow up.” Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
  • “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

What are some of your favourite opening lines?

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Weekend coffee share

Weekend coffee share

If we were having coffee this weekend, it would be at Burgate Coffee house in Canterbury. I ordered a single shot flat white with almond milk, which made you laugh. I can’t handle more than a single shot of coffee … about once a week. I’m way to sensitive to the caffeine. As for the almond milk, er well, I prefer the nutty flavour and have been avoiding dairy for a little while for my stomach.

I was with friends in Canterbury this weekend checking out the Cathedral and wandering around the town. It was really nice – had some very pretty gardens – and old walls and gates. The crypt of the Cathedral was very peaceful. It was being set up for a wedding and looked very romantic. The train from London felt long, but is probably one of the shorter trains I’ve caught in England, cheaper too, for booking in advance.

I got in plenty of reading and am almost finished Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. Loving it! Given that I usually adore highlander romances and have a special interest in time travel – this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. I love the references to local mythology like waterhorses and changelings. The treatment of the witchcraft arc was so powerful! It’s a great window into the history of the Jacobite era.

I haven’t visited Doune Castle (pictured) just yet, but I hope to in August. It features in the TV series of Outlander, and in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The latter is how I hope to entice my husband on the trek. It’s about an hour’s drive from Edinburgh, or closer to two hours by public transport.

Have you been to Canterbury Cathedral or Doune Castle? Are you an Outlander fan or Monty Python fan?


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