V is for Vita Sacville West

Serpent and Apple
Serpent and Apple — Image by © 68/GK Hart/Vikki Hart/Ocean/Corbis

If I could make use of a time machine, one person I wouldn’t mind acquainting myself with would be Vita Sackville West.  It is obvious that there was much more to her than being an acclaimed poet and noted gardener.  She appears to be a woman whose character resonates and sparkles, the Latin translation of her name is “life”. She was a woman who really “lived” her life. She loved to travel,  she seems to be a born adventurer and her adventures included affairs outside of her marriage, well documented in a controversial book called “Portrait of a Marriage” .

Her life seems to be scandalized in tabloids even in the present day,  check out this Daily Mail headline

Stately home seductress who makes Downton’s wildest plots look tame: Vita Sackville-West was known to have affairs with men AND women but she is reveals she was more voracious than anyone thought

The beginning of the article states Tall, dark and magnetically attractive, Vita Sackville-West had the dubious knack of inflaming passions wherever she went.

Marriages crumbled in her wake. Grown men and women threatened suicide. One lover even produced a pistol and threatened to blow her own brains out.

Yet, on the face of it, Vita led a life of serene Edwardian upper-class respectability. Feted as a poet and novelist — her most successful book was The Edwardians — she was a baron’s daughter who had married a diplomat and borne two sons.

All this despite the fact that she died in 1962,  a year after I was born.  People love to delve into the more “lurid” aspects of her life. I have vague memories of her husband Harold, a brief encounter in the garden at Sissinghurst. She was married to my Great Uncle. My Mother spent a lot of time during the war and has many fond memories of Vita and to this day loves to relates stories about her and was dubbed Vita’s favorite niece.

Here is a woman who had elements of her life being fashioned into a story called “Orlando” written by one of her paramours Virginia Wolf.  The great love of Vita’s life, despite spending a troubled childhood there was Knole, a house with six hundred years of history, but a house she was not allowed to inherit, on account of being a woman.

Here is a woman whose relationship with Violet Trefusis, was dramatized by the BBC, Vita being played by the imposing figure of Janet  McTeer.

Vita seems to represent a woman who was ahead of her times, married to a man who was homosexual  and yet despite each partner involving themselves with other people, they still managed to sustain their marriage as well as bring up two sons, Ben and Nigel.  It is hard to imagine they planned such an open marriage from the onset, but this is how it panned out.  They must have had inklings about  their sexual orientation before they were married,  things were different in their era.

One thing is for certain Vita seems to have all the hallmarks of an eccentric, wearing her trademark jodhpurs,  trying to pass herself off as a man,  while on a amorous sojourn with Violet.  She might have left a trail of pain in her wake, with her risky affairs,  but she seems a spirited woman.

I have met people while living  in France who are avid admirers of both Vita and the Bloomsbury set.  Her legacy seems strong and enduring as ever…

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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R is for Roald Dahl and Rupert Thompson two outstanding writers.

 

R for Twitter

I read Roald Dahl’s Kiss Kiss, so many years ago, I can’t exactly remember when.  Whatever I was really struck by it. Maybe some of the concepts in this book seem a bit dated…but then it was published in 1960 and times were rather different then. Would you call your short story “Parson’s Pleasure” and the main character Cyril Boggis? If you don’t know this story it is about a shady antiques dealer, who takes advantage of naïve country types, and comes across a priceless Chippendale commode, which he acquires for twenty pounds with the intention of selling it for twenty thousand. What we can safely say about Roald Dahl’s stories is that there is a significant twist at the end of each story. It is this aspect that really influenced my short story writing.
With my own short stories, like Dahl, I try to include an unexpected twist at the end. With short stories, you face limits, you have create characters, that the reader will immediately identify with. You have to create strong dialogue. You have to create an opening sentence like no other, that grabs the reader’s attention. Some people believe that authors graduate from being short story writers into full novel writers, a kind of literary rite of passage…me…I really like this format of writing. My work might be much darker than Roald Dahl might have dared…but I really admire his work and “Kiss Kiss” for will always be very special to me.

Rupert Thompson.
I encountered this author while he was writing his first book “Dreams of Leaving”. I was an Art student at the time, my dream to become a famous painter…Rupert at the time was the boyfriend of an Art College friend and was a bit older than me. He came from a similar boarding education as me, but he and his brother, who I also got know, were of a rebellious nature. His sentences are always sharp, his observations equally cutting. More recently I read a book called “This Party’s Got to stop” which is not fictional, but based on the period when I was in contact with him…it is a moving account of when his father died. It is moving, witty but it has a real edge to it.

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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M is for Maggot

Serpent and Apple

Maggot is one of my short stories, it is about a circus owner, who has run into debt and is forced to sell his daughter in order to be debt free.  He is a buffoon, an oaf, with no evidence of any real likable traits. The story starts with him bargaining with Excellency, the cruel tyrant who he hopes will give him a good price for his daughter. His daughter is brought in, like some kind of merchandise.

The young girl beneath the veil might have been Cleopatra, except that but for a fine gold thong, she was entirely naked. Gold coins strung on golden chains hung from all four sides of the palanquin, making chinking sounds with each of her carriers’ steps

She has been coerced into being sell-able  goods, having been cruelly beaten by her father.

She couldn’t be more than sixteen. Her long black hair flowed  over her shoulders down to her waist, barely covering her adolescent breasts. Every male in the room stared greedily at her, none noting the smudged makeup highlighting her deep brown eyes, the result of a copious flow of tears at having been coerced.

After the young girl Apollonia is presented, some crude bartering takes place.

“Is she…pure?” demanded her would-be purchaser, shooting a quick glance in Maggot’s direction, as if this would have direct bearing on the “price” of the goods he was considering purchasing.

“Of course, Excellency,” said Maggot boldly. “She’s never been touched.”

 Finally the two men come to an agreement and Maggot’s greed is seen through the way takes the money.

 Maggot grasped the money in his gnarled fingers, trying his best to give the impression he really wasn’t interested, though, in fact, he undeniably was. His beady eyes drifted from the coins in his hand to the remaining ones flashing and glinting inside the treasury box.

 The unwilling merchandise makes one final plea to stop the sale…which will inevitable end up with the slimy tyrant violating her.

The girl’s fate decided, the four strong men shouldered the palanquin while Apollonia searched her father’s eyes a final time, beseeching him to change his mind. It was a useless gesture, as Maggot was busy counting and ogling the gold coins. To her dismay,he never gave her a second glance, and she was carried, wailing inconsolably, through the massive banquet hall doors and down a short hallway.

Maggot is a despicable man without scruples, what kind of man would sell his own daughter?

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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Winner of COMPILATIONS/ANTHOLOGIES – Flight of Destiny – Frances H. Powell (winner)

Pacific Rim winner

 

My book Flight of Destiny won one of the categories for the  Pacific Rim book festival,

COMPILATIONS/ANTHOLOGIES – Flight of Destiny – Frances H. Powell (winner)

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Flight of destiny Is a collection of short stories about misfortune. They are characterized by unexpected final twists, that come at the end of each tale. They are dark and surreal tales, set around the world, at different time periods. They show a world in which anything can happen. It is hard to determine reality and what is going on a disturbed mind. People’s conceptions about morality are turned upside down. A good person can be transformed by an unexpected event into a bad person and then back again to their former state. The high and mighty often deliver flawed arguments, those considered wicked make good representations of themselves. Revenge is often a subject explored.

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Why are there so many great Irish writers?

Famous Irish writers big

One area Ireland has made a big imprint is writing…why is this the case ?
Testimony to this is the fact that if you check the list of Nobel Prize winners since its inception, you’d discover that Ireland ranks eighth in terms of how many it has produced over the years.

You have to go back in time to discover the origins of Ireland’s propensity to create great scribes. Ireland can boast that it has one of the oldest forms of vernacular literature in the world, with only Greek or Latin rivaling it. The Irish could claim to be literate from the very earliest centuries, making use of a simple writing system called “Ogham” which was a way of communicating by way of inscriptions on little stone tablets. “Tain Bo Cuailnge” also known as “The Tain”, a story of a battle between the Queen Medb and her husband was written around the sixth century is widely regarded as one of the first major epics in literature and storytelling and is still published in various translations for a modern audience. The tale itself was written in classical old Irish and later into a more recognizable form of Gaelic called Middle Irish more readily understood for those wishing to keep the language alive.

Put aside the ancient roots of Irish literature, some might say it is the intervention of alcohol that has contributed a lot to Irish literature. Take James Joyce for example, accredited as being a “functioning alcoholic”, able to work and write to the best of his ability despite being known for being a heavy drinker (something that ran in the family, his father equally liked to drink). Joyce, seemingly quitea wild man, could be found in the streets, going on binges and getting in fights. It was only the “morning after” while recuperating with friends that he would set his mind to writing great literature.
Samuel Becket led a colorful life, his writing is known to express a bleak outlook on human life and culture while incorporating gallows humour and black comedy, Becket slurped red wine every night until the early hours of 5am, did his drinking habit impinge on his writing?

One undeniable fact is Ireland steeped in a rich cultural history which sets it apart from many others. Significantly it’s also a history that is chequered and turbulent continuously up to the present day. A close look at their history reveals they have been conquered and repressed and made to suffer at the hands of invading tribes, from Celts, the Angles and Saxons, followed by the Vikings who came to rape and pillage and finally the English left their mark on this country. All these incursions igniting ideas for meaningful literature, a culture desperately fighting back against perceived Imperial suppression.

Part of a St Patrick’s Day blog hop, read other articles by writers and bloggers.

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Men watch out for Black Widows!

Black Widow inner image
You come home from work, perhaps your loving wife greets you with a kiss. The smell of the dinner your wife has prepared wafts from the kitchen. You exchange small talk and sit down for dinner. The food looks good and wholesome…but there’s a catch…your wife has only gone and laced it with arsenic…you have succumbed to a Black widow.

There are quite a number of them out there… Back in the mid 1860s, we encounter Lydia Sherman who was facing life with an unemployed husband and six dependent children. She found the idea of getting divorced as unappealing, her answer lay in poison a cheap and easy solution. So she served her husband a bowl of oatmeal gruel laced with arsenic. Following this, she gave arsenic-laced chocolate to her six children and calmly collected the insurance money.

On to pastures new Lydia found a wealthy farmer considerably older than her. She didn’t bide her time she poisoned his clam chowder a year later.
After hitting the marriage trail again she just couldn’t help but poison her third husband for good measure. Between 1864 and 1871, Lydia Sherman dispatched 10 people to an early grave. Dubbed “The Derby Poisoner,” “America’s Queen Poisoner,” or “Connecticut’s ‘Lucrezia Borgia’,” Lydia Sherman was accused of murder in 1871. She escaped the gallows because women were not sentenced to death at the time. Instead, she received the maximum penalty of life in prison.

Gesche Gottfried, seemingly a sweet attractive blond had men flocking to her doorstep, only to choose a loser alcoholic called Mittenberg, a handsome yet unsuitable man who she married in 1815.Their marriage proving a disaster Gesche took a lover, while deciding it was best to get shot of her husband. Having slipped arsenic into his beer, with no suspicians raised as to all and sundry he’d died alcohol poisoning, her next move was to induce her lover into marriage. He declined, due to her having two children, so she promptly poisoned them. When her parents raised objects to the marriage she cherished, of course they joined her list of victims. Due to his persistent refusal to marry her, Gesche poisoned her lover, however they did marry on his deathbed and Gesche was recipient of all of his fortune. She was finally brought to justice, the exact number of her victims is hard to define, but it could be up to 30.

Madeleine de Brinvilliers, a French aristocrat was reckless in the way she went about poisoning people, her Father and two brothers were among hher victims, her motives finacial. She attempted to poison her husband , having earlier taken on a cavalry officer lover. Her end was not so happy she was tortured, beheaded, and her body was burned at the stake in 1676.

Vera Renczi from Bucharest was a woman of rare beauty sent a grand total of sent two husbands, 32 lovers, and her own son to early graves.
What can we deduce? Most Black Widows are after their husband’s fortunes and are particularly interested in insurance money. Some are distrustful of men, driven by jealousy and paranoia. Another trait of a Black Widow is they have to be accomplished liars, to cover the tracks of their heinous crimes, especially if their murders are botched jobs, as in the case of Michele Williams who murdered her husband, successful businessman Greg, claiming she had been shot by an intruder, adding other unlikely stories in the mix, which only thrust more suspicion in her direction.

It is advisable that any Black Widow, plays the role of the grieving widow, something Michele failed to do, the next day going a restaurant for a celebratory big fry-up breakfast. It was later claimed Michele was a man-eater, who moved from one man to the next to get what she could, living the dream life. Under the pressure of the police Michele kept changing her story, coming up with ludicrous alternatives, for example that her husband had committed suicide and that she was simply try to hide this fact from her young daughter. In the end all fingers pointed to her and she was arrested. This compulsive liar continued to spin lie after lie, including saying she was pregnant with twins. It also turned out she was dating a toy boy Gene, a personal trainer. After angering judges, repeatedly changing her story, she finally was awarded a sturdy prison sentence.

In my book Flight of Destiny, one of my stories is called Black Widow. A woman Mercedes Shwartz, is a young woman whose marriage was short-lived. She lives in a remote luxurious house, on her own. She lures a man to house and then after they have had sex has his inexplicable urge to kill him. Suddenly luring unsuspecting men, having sex with them and murdering them becomes a ritual way of life for her.

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Why do we tell ghost stories at Christmas?

Christmas story reading

 

Christmas has a binding association with ghosts, going back in time just before Christmas 1642, for instance, shepherds were said to have seen ghostly civil war soldiers battling in the skies. Ghosts have long been in people’s minds. In The Egyptian Book of the Dead, departed people are shown to return, not merely looking as they did in life, but dressed in similar garments.

Christmas has different memories for different people. One memory I hold is there was always a “ghost story” on TV as well the fact that Charles Dickens also often featured. It seems a strange combination, “ghost stories” and” Christmas” so where does this union come from?
The answer is commonly assumed would probably be Victorian times. This period which is usually seen as being rather staid, prim and proper, but also was characterized by those who wanted their share of thrills.
Charles Dickens is heralded as perpetuating this desire to be captivated by chilling tales at Christmas. There is little evidence prior to Dickens that authors wrote ghost stories for Christmas in mind, but some have their own points of view.

The writer Peter Haining, in the introduction to his collection of festive chillers Christmas Spirits says about Dickens. “Yet despite the seeming timelessness of this tradition, it has to be admitted that the idea of creating ghosts stories especially for telling at Christmas goes back no further… than the time of Charles Dickens.”

Dig further back into the past quite a while before Dickens and you have a famous bard who might also lay claim to originating this fascination with spine chilling stories. One of William Shakespeare’s most famous works Hamlet can be considered as being a ghost story. He also includes many traits of Ghost Stories with his Winter’s Tale.
The tale which begins ‘There was a man dwelt by a churchyard…which leads us to believe it is going to be a ghost story. Winter tales were similar, if not identical to Christmas ghost stories.

Dickens writes in Telling Winter Stories, from The Christmas Tree in 1859, “There is probably a smell of roasted chesnuts and other good comfortable things all the time, for we are telling Winter Stories – Ghost Stories, or more shame for us – round the Christmas fire.” Shakespeare used the phrase in A Winter’s Tale, “A sad tale’s best for winter: I have one. Of sprites and goblins.” And a hundred years before that in 1589, in the Jew of Malta, Christopher Marlowe writes:
“Now I remember those old women’s words,
Who in my wealth would tell me winter’s tales,
And speak of spirits and ghosts that glide by night”

Shakespearian scholar Catherine Belsey writes of Shakespeare.
Among the terms in circulation in the period for far-fetched narratives and improbable fables, one favorite was “a winter’s tale.” In the long, cold evenings, when the soil had been tilled to the extent that climatic conditions permitted, the still predominantly agricultural community of early modern England would sit and while away the hours of darkness with fireside pastimes, among them old wives’ tales designed to enthrall young and old alike.

We can trace the telling of ghost stories as a popular winter craze to the 16th century and that it was an integral part of the Elizabethan Christmas festivities. A ‘winter’s tale’ has become synonymous with weird stories of the fantastic and phantasmagoric, however the tradition most likely goes back at least a century further…

While I used to cower behind the sofa watching a riveting ghost story on TV, prior to television, my ancestors would be gathered around a roaring fire, some might say much more atmospheric.
Inherent in Christmas are many ancient supernatural aspects. I remember while living Austria, being told of the ritual of Krampus, which is still followed in modern times in rural areas. While Saint Nicholas may bestow gifts to good boys and girls, ancient folklore in Europe’s Alpine region also tells of Krampus, a frightening beast-like creature who emerges during the Yule season, looking for naughty children to punish in horrible ways — or possibly to drag back to his lair in a sack. I heard stories of people dressed as Krampus running amok in Austrian villages.

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The work of Henry James often features as a TV adaptation. James’s work helped bring back the tradition from obscurity, as the formed the basis of the BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas, which was a yearly Christmas offering dating back to 1971.
M R James is recognized as the undisputed master of the Christmas Ghost story. His stories, were written to be read around Christmas to a select group of friends. His work encompassed the dual nature of the season – the cosiness of sitting round the fire, but at the same time the need to banish the dark.
Can you pass through Christmas without watching Scrooge, the antithesis of the Christmas spirit? Or curling up in front of a roaring fire, with a good ghost story in hand?

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Francis H Powell, author of Flight of Destiny, 22 quirky short stories…

I enjoyed these tales as they gave me a fantastic break from my daily routine and I enjoyed remembering them and day dreaming about them afterwards. They’re a little Ray Bradbury, a little Stephen King, but with Powell’s own unique twists. Very interesting read.