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Tuesday 28 January 2014

By Any Other Name

I am pleased to say that By Any Other Name - a mystery novel - is now available on Kindle, and in paperback. At only $4 or £2.50 for the Kindle version, and £7.27 in paperback, I believe it is well worth the price. Those who have read the draft versions have assured me that they could not put the book down as they were so eager to discover what happened next...

Saturday 25 January 2014

Experts & Resounding Gongs

What exactly is an expert? I have often wondered about this and am often reminded of a nursing tutor stating that ‘a specialist/expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less’ – the kind of person, I imagined, who peers so closely at one part of a human body that the entire person occupying the body become invisible. I have imagined, too, the people who dissect poems and – horror of horrors! – translate each line for children so that they can supposedly understand the poem, whereas in fact they understand only one level of meaning and miss the beauty of the whole, which includes the sound of the words the poet chose. As a child, I absolutely adored the lines of the poem Cargoes by John Masefield:
Quinquireme of Ninevah...rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine.
I assumed that Quinquireme was a person, not a five-tiered ship, but it didn’t matter – it was the beautiful sound of the words and the images they evoked which enraptured me.
Of course, it is important to have experts in particular scientific fields. If a person breaks a bone, they don’t want an amateur fixing it, any more than they want a tinkerer to mend a broken engine. All the same, when it comes to arts subjects, I have my doubts about so-called experts. By what authority does someone assume that title? Art and music are so subjective that, while a specialist might appreciate the artist’s musical or artistic achievements more than a layperson would, so much depends on taste so one cannot say ‘this is good,’ or ‘this is bad’ – the only criteria by which it can be judged is whether or not the artist achieved what s/he set out to achieve, and whether or not it appeals to someone else.
Still more utterly baffling to me is the idea that someone can assume the title of ‘Romanov expert’ or ‘Queen Victoria expert’. One might know every detail of what happened at what time during those people’s lives, but that is really neither here nor there when it comes to understanding a person. Could you say you are an expert on your mother, your father, your siblings or your spouse? I very much doubt anyone would be so arrogant as to make such a statement, and yet it is somehow alright to make such a claim about people who lived in another era! Oh, I would far rather meet with people and listen to people who have a passion and a love for a subject, that to hear the spouting of a million ‘experts’!
I began thinking about this after reading a review of a wonderful book (not one of my books, I hasten to add!), which I greatly enjoyed, where the reviewer suggested that the author should have handed her research to a ‘Romanov expert’. What a bizarre thing to say! It reminded me again of those who dissect poems and miss their meaning, or stare so closely at one organ of the body that they forget that a person is attached to it! I do not honestly believe that there is such a thing as a ‘Romanov expert’ – academics in particular frequently ‘miss the wood for trees’ (I have seen so many of them spouting from their high horses about how weak Nicholas II was, or how terrible a parent Queen Victoria was, leaving me wondering what is happening in their own lives if they view the world with such judgemental hostility) and, from my own experience of academia, I am well aware that more often than not, it is necessary to write and say only what is expected, rather than to interpret and be original, if one is to attain the somewhat meaningless qualifications that are subsequently awarded to enable one to join the clique of ‘experts’ in the fields of art, literature and history.
Amusingly, I think most of us hardly understand a great deal of our own behaviour and reactions, how then can anyone possibly claim to be an expert on someone else? To attempt to do so, for some reason, reminds me of the lines from St. Paul’s letter: If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing”
Among the so-called experts, there seem to be quite a lot of resounding gongs and clanging cymbals!

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Thérèse of Lisieux

St Therese of Lisieux intrigues me. I read her autobiography several times in my youth and, whereas others found it inspiring, it seemed cloying to the point of nausea to me and she was not a saint I would have chosen to imitate (although her 'little way' was very appealing). 
Nonetheless, there is something about this saint which still has enormous meaning for me (although I am no longer a Catholic) and it doesn’t surprise me that she was a major influence in the lives of such diverse people as Vita Sackville-West (who wrote a book about her) and Edith Piaf – both of whose lives were very far removed from that of a ‘little’ nun in an enclosed convent!! According to Wikipedia:   
"Shortly after her birth Edith developed a cataract. She was blind for almost three years. Her grandmother, Louise, took her to Lisieux. She saw. It was a real miracle for Edith. She always believed this. Since that time she had a real devotion to St Thérèse of the Child Jesus...she always had a small picture of the saint on her bedside table."
Many years ago, I spent the summers working in Lourdes. The first time I went to work there, I was just eighteen and had not been abroad alone before. Being the only English person in the place where I was working, I initially felt extremely lonely and wondered how I would get through another 2 1/2 months of it. I wandered, almost by chance, into the underground basilica where there is a small chapel dedicated to Therese and I sat there for a few minutes, just looking at her picture and thinking how lonely I was. Five minutes later, as I left the basilica, a group of Italian people from the place I was working happened to be passing and they asked me to go with them for a walk. All the way there they spoke in English (simply because I was English and didn’t speak Italian – how delightful the Italian people are!!) and laughed and laughed about all kinds of things and within 10 minutes I could not imagine how I could have felt at all lonely. From then on, I absolutely loved every moment that I worked there – it was one of the happiest times of my life and I often think back to it, and how truly miraculously my whole attitude changed after just 5 minutes or so in Therese’s 'company.'
I firmly believe that there are many ‘non-physical’ beings – angels, saints or simply ‘friends in high places’ – who are ever ready to help anyone in any circumstance and one’s religion, beliefs, spirituality etc. etc. (or lack thereof) and way of life are totally irrelevant to them. I think it is only humans who judge by such outwards trappings.
Fascinating, too, is the way in which Therese's autobiography became an almost overnight bestseller - one of the least likely books to do so, one would have thought. I have to say that as someone who received countless rejections from publishers before my books suddenly started to sell well, that, too, always fascinated me and I have no doubt that these 'friends in high places' help facilitate it for me!
Here is a little tribute to the saint for which I wrote the words, and Tony Croft wrote the music. The song was performed by a local primary school, dedicated to St Therese.  I hope you like it...

Saturday 18 January 2014

"The Mind-Made Prison"

Some months ago, someone recommended a book to me – Mateo Tabatabai’s ‘The Mind-Made Prison’. Having read numerous books about spirituality, self-improvement etc. etc., including the wonderful Science of Mind and the works of Joseph Murphy and Florence Scovel-Shinn, alongside the countless spirituality books I read before and after studying Divinity, I was not really expecting to find anything very new. The book, however, took me by surprise with its very practical ideas and exercises, alongside the obvious wisdom and originality of the author and it is a book to which I will return often and highly recommend to anyone with any interest whatsoever in understanding how we function and our self-imposed limitations, or anyone who enjoys contemplating new ideas or wishes to take practical steps to improve his/her life and the lives of those around us.
I was delighted, therefore, when Mateo agreed to talk about his book, his work and his ideas in the following interview:


Thursday 16 January 2014

Prince Albert's Sense of Humour

It is a great pity and a travesty of the truth that Prince Albert has come down through history as a rather dour person when, in his lifetime, he was known for his great sense of humour. 

In his youth, he was particularly fond of practical jokes, and as I am currently in the process of creating a book about him and Queen Victoria as parents, I have come across numerous accounts of his pranks and escapades. One which particularly amuses me concerns a time when he was travelling with his cousin and friend, Arthur Mendsdorf, and, as their carriage approached a post house where they were to change horses, quite a crowd gathered, eager to observe the illustrious occupants. Prince Albert instantly dived to the floor and, urging his cousin  to do the same, had his favourite greyhound, Eos,put her head out of the window to the bemusement of the crowd!

Well, I think that such a beautiful creature deserved the applause and her moment of glory! 

Sunday 12 January 2014

Fireworks for the Jubilee

The New Year's Eve fireworks might be nothing more now than a memory but the spectacular show in London was obviously remarkably impressive this year with its appeal to every sense!

However, I just came across an interesting article, which shows that the Victorians were equally keen on fantastic firework displays, particularly when it came to celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of the monarch!

Here is the very interesting article about the Jubilee was celebrated in Kendal in 1897:

Kendal Fireworks

Friday 10 January 2014

"By Any Other Name"

Coming soon - my new novel By Any Other Name was inspired by a brief time I spent working in an old Victorian psychiatric hospital (now no longer in existence). At the time I worked there, it was a bright, cheery place but there were certain parts of it which gave me a feeling of being absolutely drained of energy and utterly depressed.

I arrived there in summertime and the weather was beautiful but as soon as I entered one particular part of the building, it was as though a century of unhappiness had left so strong an impression on the fabric of the building that the negative energy was almost overwhelming.

My new novel does not centre around this aspect - it is a mystery (unlike any of my other books) set in the late 1980s, wherein a young artist returns to her native town to uncover the truth about her mother who was rumoured to have committed suicide. As the story progresses, Maria (the artist) finds herself drawn into a web of hypocrisy and deception, while dealing with her own emotions and her lifelong attraction to a man she believes she hates...

I was equally inspired to write this story during a visit to Paris when, on entering a room in the Louvre, I was awe-struck by the size and beauty of a painting - La Jeune Martyre by Delaroche...

The book will be available very soon:

Sunday 5 January 2014

Beethoven's Minuet in G performed by Cadenza

This is very enjoyable - "A unique interpretation of Beethoven's Minuet in G for accordion and melodeon, played by Cadenza." Even though it is a German piece performed by English musicians, the accordion/melodeon sound always evokes thoughts of France...

Saturday 4 January 2014

New Year - New Sites

To start the New Year on a new footing, the Hilliard and Croft website is having a major overhaul and now it is possible to access this blog, the ‘Shattered Crowns’ blog, ‘Lost in the Myths of History’ and my Twitter account, all on that one site, along with the various uploaded YouTube videos. Please do drop in for a visit!
May I also recommend to anyone who is interested in mathematics or music – particularly French Cafe music and accordion/melodeon music - a visit to this new site: Tony Croft
This blog, too, is about to undergo a revamp; New Year...new start...and all that! Please keep visiting and, as always, thank you for dropping in!

Thursday 2 January 2014

Prince Albert's Letter to Queen Victoria

The beautiful letter from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria, which is to go on display at Windsor Castle, surely contradicts all the nonsense written about the Prince being forced into the marriage, and the idea that he was simply some kind of control-freak who wanted to rule everything! So much is written about Queen Victoria’s adoration of her husband, yet so little is mentioned of his feelings for her, and this letter demonstrates that their love was mutual and passionate. Far from being the dull prude of popular imagination, it demonstrates, too, that Prince Albert was a passionate man whose fidelity to his wife sprang not only from his high moral values but also from his genuine love for the Queen.
At last, an article which nears the truth about the Queen and Prince: Prince Albert's Letter
So different from the balderdash proliferated in such sweeping and unjust articles as this:  Complete and utter judgemental balderdash!!

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!
I love New Year more than Christmas as it creates such a feeling of optimism and newness and, although there are many weeks to go, it feels like the winter has turned and spring is on its way. It’s the same feeling as starting a new project as a child – having a new file, exercise book, pencil, ruler and pencil case – and even though you know that within a matter of weeks, the exercise book will be as filled with mistakes as the last one, there are still endless opportunities for something entirely new.
New Year resolutions seem rather pointless as they are usually negative and are invariably broken by the end of January and that only leads to a feeling of ‘more of the same’ but there is still a lovely feeling of being able to return to our innate ability to create a better world by being ‘transformed in the newness of’ our minds and hearts, and the knowledge that this doesn’t only happen at New Year but every single day and moment of our lives.
Whoever you are, if you are reading this, I wish you a very, very Happy New Year! May all your projects prosper and may you and all you love step into 2014 with hearts wide open to joy and endless possibilities!