The WordPress blog of author and poet Sue Barnard

COMPLAINT 20.1

Bureau of Complaint

Eyes Down
by Sue Barnard

Prize for a full house:
the title “Non-Working Mother”

Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet whose family background is far stranger than any work of fiction.She was born in North Wales some time during the last millennium.She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad. If she had her way, the phrase “Non-Working Mother” would be banned from the English language. Sue now lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.

Image by Candid_Shots from Pixabay.

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Jennifer C. Wilson

WHERE IT ALL HAPPENED

A soothsayer (very astute)

tries to warn of impending dispute.

But though told to beware,

Caesar says “I don’t care!”

then he’s killed by a backstabbing Brute.

Today on the blog, I’m delighted to be hosting the wonderful Sue Barnard, writing friend, fellow Ocelot, and the editor of my Kindred Spirits series and The Raided Heart. Her novel, The Unkindest Cut of All is the first Ocelot Press Book of the Month, and today, she’s here to tell us all about the setting for one of the most famous assassination plots in history. And, it happens, a place I visited whilst on holiday last September! Over to you Sue…

BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH…

Brian Wilmer is God’s gift to amateur dramatics – and he knows it. So when the Castlemarsh Players take the ambitious decision to stage Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, there is only one man…

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Vanessa Couchman

Today, I’m delighted to welcome my Ocelot Press fellow author and friend, Sue Barnard, to the blog. Sue’s novels often take inspiration from classic works of literature, including Shakespeare. Her The Unkindest Cut of All is set in the present day, but takes Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, as its starting point. It’s our Book of the Month on Ocelot Press this month (which just happens to include the Ides of March).

Sue has written a fascinating post about one legacy of many the Romans left us.

Sue also has a competition for you to win a paperback copy of The Unkindest Cut of All. And the book is on special offer in Kindle format for a short time. Read more about these offers at the end of the post.


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Jennifer C. Wilson

Have you come across Jolabokaflod before? The Historical Writers’ Forum is celebrating this Icelandic tradition throughout December, with members giving away copies of our books – make sure you’re following our page on Facebook, to read all the blogs, learn about us and our books, and of course, take part in any special offers or giveaways…

Today, I’m giving away three ebook copies of my border reiver romantic adventure, The Raided Heart.

To go into the draw for the chance to win, follow me on Twitter and Facebook, then simply tell me this: What’s your favourite Christmas song? For me, Christmas begins when I hear Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody in a public place. One of my happiest memories was in London a couple of years ago, and hearing it as I looked into the gorgeously-decorated window of Selfridges. We’ll ignore the fact that it was tipping…

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Ocelot Press

Who’s your favourite historical figure? There are plenty to choose from! Some are eternally famous, while others might have been prominent in their own time but have slid from recognition today.

Starting today, the Historical Writers Forum is organising a blog hop over a fortnight, in which seven historical fiction writers choose their favourite character from history and tell us why they find the person so fascinating.

Four Ocelot Press authors are involved:

Jennifer C. Wilson will write about Mary Queen of Scots, whom she has admitted to stalking before moving on to Richard III. Mary was imprisoned by Elizabeth I after she was forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son James. Mary was held in captivity for more than 18 years and then executed, having been found guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth.

Nancy Jardine shines the spotlight on General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola, a Roman…

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Ocelot Press

We’re absolutely thrilled here at Ocelot Press to announce our first collaborative venture – a collection of historical short stories and character interviews by five Ocelot Press authors!

Doorways to the Past takes you on a journey through time, starting in Roman Britain, and hopping between Britain, Corsica, France and Italy up to the present day. You’ll meet a range of characters from servants to monarchs and read about their hopes, fears, joys and setbacks in often perilous or strange situations.

All of these characters appear in, or are mentioned in, our novels, but they have been so vociferous behind the scenes that we had to let them have their own stories and interviews!

Participating authors are:

Sue Barnard

Vanessa Couchman

Cathie Dunn

Nancy Jardine

Jennifer C. Wilson

And our newest Ocelot, Yvonne Marjot, whose Walking on Wild Air was published in June under the Ocelot Press imprint, has written…

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Food, Glorious Food!

Ocelot Press

This week (11-17 May 2020) is National Vegetarian Week here in the UK. The aim of the event is to make more people aware of vegetarian food and to encourage them to try something new. Whilst I’m not a vegetarian myself, I’m very interested in vegetarian cookery, and I’ve written a short post about it elsewhere, which you can read here.

But in any case, I never need an excuse to think about food – and that includes in my writing. I like to use food as a metaphor, and it works very well in a romance-based plot. It gives the heroine (and the readers) an insight into how much more enriched her life could be if she chooses to share it with the hero.

This can be seen in the following extract from The Unkindest Cut of All. The heroine, Sarah, would be the first to admit…

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VERSE AND WORSE

Ocelot Press

April is the cruellest month for poets.

It is National Poetry Writing Month (often shortened to NaPoWriMo, or sometimes just NaPo), which takes place every year throughout the month of April.  Each day a prompt appears on the NaPoWriMo website, and poets throughout the world are invited to take up the challenge and post their efforts on their blogs.  The latter probably calls for far more bravery than the actual writing.

I first did NaPo way back in 2013.  Here is one such pathetic effort from that far-off time:

THE BALLADEUSE’S LAMENT

There once was a wannabe poet

whose verses were dire, sad to say.

Then one April, she found NaPoWriMo:

thirty days of a poem a day.

Each morning she looked at the website,

and in the available time

she grappled with form, structure, metre,

enjambement, content and rhyme.

‘Twas the twenty-fifth day of the challenge:

“Write a…

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Ocelot Press

My first encounter with Shakespeare was at secondary school. Then, as now, studying his works was a non-negotiable part of the English Literature curriculum. Like most stroppy teenagers I found it very hard to understand the plays, and even harder to understand why anyone in their right mind would ever want to read them. Faced with a few hundred pages of solid text written more than three centuries earlier, and in a near-incomprehensible style into the bargain, our collective response was “What on earth is the point of all this?” (That, at any rate, was the gist of our collective response…)

What we stroppy teenagers had totally failed to appreciate, at least at first, is that the plays are not meant to be read in the same way that one would read novels. They were written for performance. It’s only when the text is translated into speech and action (on…

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Today marks the halfway point in the Ocelot Blog Hop. 

This interview first appeared in June 2014, under the heading Brothers in Arms.

The Ghostly Father is available to purchase here.  Ailsa’s books should be coming to Ocelot Press at some point in the future.  Believe me, they are well worth waiting for.

Whilst recently chatting over a glass or three of wine, I and fellow-author Ailsa Abraham realised that our male lead characters (Lorenzo in The Ghostly Father and Iamo in Alchemy and its sequel Shaman’s Drum) have a great deal in common.  They come from similar backgrounds, they’re both monks, and they’re both somewhat unorthodox in their outlook on life.  So we decided to get the two of them together and ask them a few questions.

Let’s start at the beginning – what made you enter a monastery in the first place?

LORENZO – I had no choice.  I was told by my father that this was what I must do, and he threatened to disown me if I did not obey him.  To say that this was a shock does not even come close to describing how I felt; he was a kind and just man, and for him to behave thus was completely out of character.  I did not find out the real reason for his actions until almost twenty years later.

IAMO – I had felt a sense of vocation from my early years and studied with the Temple while I was at university. It was a natural progression for me to take my vows as soon as I finished my studies.

Did you have a happy childhood? Had it always been your ambition/vocation?

LORENZO – My childhood was privileged.  My father was a Venetian count and we lived in a palazzo.  All our needs were taken care of by our servants.  I had one brother, three years my senior.  Sadly I never knew my mother, who had died at my birth.

It was never my ambition or vocation to enter Holy Orders.  My one desire was to become a physician.

IAMO – Not particularly. Like Lorenzo I was born into an aristocratic family but I found myself unable to take an interest in the things expected of me and I became interested in the Path very early on. I had almost no contact with my parents but adored my Nanny. It was probably through her that I found my vocation.

Were you not bothered about the vows of chastity etc that you had to take? Did you give those a lot of consideration before making your decision?

LORENZO – Having lost the love of my life before I entered the order, the vows of chastity did not cause me any problems.  I knew that I could never replace her.

IAMO – in my Order we were only required to take celibacy vows after a certain time and by then I was so set on my career as a priest that I gave it very little thought. I had never been in love and felt that the pro outweighed the con inestimably.

Once in the order, were you happy?

LORENZO – To my great surprise, yes.  I am sure this is due in no small part to the influence of Fra’ Roberto, the Father Superior who became my own “ghostly father.”  He displayed a level of kindness, sympathy, compassion and good sense which I had never anticipated of a monastic.

IAMO – Probably less so than Lorenzo. I became the assistant to the High Priestess of our Order and my responsibilities were onerous. I failed in my duties several times. Although Scribe has never said so, I think she has hinted that I was itching for adventure.

Did you ever envisage leaving the order?

LORENZO – Never.  Indeed, I did not imagine that it would even be possible.  I had always understood that the vows were for life.

IAMO – As far as my past life was concerned, I had burned my bridges. All contact with my family had been cut and they were furious that I was not going to return to give them the heir they wanted. Not having considered any other way of life, I never imagined anything else.

Did you have much of a life on the outside “in the world” before taking your vows?

LORENZO –- I was eighteen when I first entered the friary as a postulant, but for the year before that I was apprentice to an apothecary.  This is where I learned the skills which prepared me for my later tasks as herbalist and infirmarian.

IAMO – Yes. Like all privileged little boys of my class I went to prep and public school. My studies were then pursued at university because I wanted to study under Professor Oliver, so I had the life of a student with all the attendant excesses. Also, in an effort to marry me off and dissuade me from the monastic life, my mother had shoved various prospective brides at me. Yes, I think it’s fair to say I had my share of “real life”.

How did you decide on your monastic name?

LORENZO –- My real name is Sebastiano Lorenzo Matteo Giovanni Battista Da Porto.  I was always known as Sebastiano, but when I came to take my vows I was asked to choose another name because there was already a Fra’ Sebastiano in the friary.  I chose Lorenzo because it is my second given name.

IAMO – I would rather not reveal that as I have been Iamo for so long now and will stay that way. Perhaps if I just say that it is composed of my initials.

When you entered the order, what did you miss most of your earlier life?  How did you cope without it?

LORENZO – It was all so different from what I had previously known that for a long time I was not comparing like with like, so the question did not arise.  Once I had accustomed myself to the new way of life, the biggest difference was being a servant rather than a master.  But that was the way of the Franciscans – their task was to serve.

IAMO – Nothing. Oh yes, the occasional cigarette. Mostly I was very happy in the Temple.

Was there anything you were glad to leave behind when you entered the order?

LORENZO – Unhappiness.  I had just had to bid farewell to the love of my life.  And also (I am ashamed to say this), following my father’s inexplicable change of demeanour, I was glad that I should not have to have any further contact with him.

IAMO – Yes, killing. My father belongs to the “hunting, shooting, fishing” brigade and such things leave me cold. I cannot bear the taking of sentient life for no reason. I’m vegetarian and the only things I kill willingly are demons, but that is a moot point. Are they in fact “living” in the first place? I was glad to get out of a world I didn’t fit into.

From what we can gather, neither of you seem to have had much difficulty about bending the rules when it suited you.  Do you feel guilty about that?

LORENZO – I had to (as you describe it) “bend the rules” on one particular occasion – which was to help a desperate person out of a desperate situation.  I have no feelings of guilt about that – but I cannot even begin to imagine how I would feel if the outcome of my actions had been different.

IAMO – I have to agree with my brother monk here. I didn’t just bend the rules, I broke them, threw them on the ground and jumped up and down on them. I had to pay for that but no, I do not regret it for a moment because I did it for the finest of motives – love.

Thank you both, gentlemen – this has been a fasinating discussion!

This post is also available on Ailsa’s blog here.

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