Monday, April 02, 2007

An ideal place for a respite for writers?

Also in today's blog
My comments on readers' comments re sex with a stranger

I wonder how many readers will recognise the house in the bookmark on the left side of today's blog?

Long ago, when I was a reporter on the Eastern Evening News at Norwich, the Editor, Alfred Cope, gave me an excellent piece of advice.

A small man, as lean as a jockey, with piercing blue eyes, he said, "Read the obits in The Times every day."

I've been obeying that instruction ever since, though latterly the Daily Telegraph's obits have been better than those in The Times. It was reading the obituary of Sir Joseph Cheyne in the Telegraph recently that inspired today's blog. Unfortunately the online obit doesn't include the photo of Sir Joseph as a good-looking Major in the 11th Battalion of the Queen's Westminsters with whom, during WW2 he served in Africa and Italy where, later, he lived.

From 1976-1990 he was curator of the Keats-Shelley Memorial House on the Spanish Steps where Keats had lived for three months before his death in 1821. From the K-SMH's excellent website, I c&p-ed the following.

"In 1907, the house in which John Keats died was finally bought outright for the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association. This is the story of how that came about."

"In 1903 the rooms in which Keats and Severn had lived were occupied by a pair of American women, both writers, Mrs James Walcott Haslehurst and her mother who spent much time permitting the curious to see where Keats had spent his last days. The house was in a dreadful condition and the women wanted to buy it so that it could be preserved as a shrine but did not have enough money. In February 1903, Robert Underwood Johnson, an American poet, walked down the Spanish Steps to look at the house in which Keats had died, noticed its bedraggled appearance, entered and made enquiries. He called together a dozen of the American literati resident in Rome, one prominent Englishman, and their spouses."

Discovering that the house has a first-floor apartment, with an outside terrace, for short-term rentals, from three nights to six months, and as neither of us has been to Rome, I emailed the site for more details.

By return I had a reply from the Assistant Curator, Josephine Greywoode, who told me the rental rates are - per night 150 euros, per week 700 euros, per month 1500. Mr Bookworm tells me the euro exchange rate on Saturday was 1.44 euros to the pound sterling.

Ms Greywoode also sent me a link to an availability chart and more details about the apartment, including, "The large and comfortable bedroom is set slightly back from the Steps whilst the small living room looks out onto them. The separate kitchen opens onto a creeper-covered pergola and terrace furnished with table and chairs."

Two more replies to readers' comments

Julie Cohen wrote three comments in response to my blog about her and I'm going to reply to the points she raised when I've read the book under discussion.

For the time being I will only applaud her diplomatic tone. Some writers become very hot under the collar about any breath of criticism of their brainchildren, or even of their genre/publisher, but Julie has far too good a grasp of PR make that mistake. Apart from the PR aspect, at both her site and her blog she comes over as an as easy-going, laidback personality. Without having read a book of hers yet, my instinctive feeling is that she will go far and before long, I hope, emulate Jennifer Crusie by breaking free of the constraints of series romance and being published in mainstream women's fiction.

Jenny Haddon's comment

I was surprised and delighted to find a comment from Jenny Haddon because I know how much extra work her role as Chairman of the Romantic Novelists' Association involves.

Jenny began her comment -

"Surely the important thing is that sex with a stranger is the starting point of Julie's book, not the end? According to Robert McKee, stories start when people do (or have to do) something out of their norm. If Julie were advocating SWAS as a lifestyle, there would be no story. "

Jenny's comment continues, "It's not a 21st century phenomenon either. In 'This One Night', Denise Robins's heroine falls into bed with a stranger on a train, as they flee the Nazi advance in Europe. It was published in 1942."

Denise Robins' 1942 novel about sex with a stranger

The reference to Denise Robins made me hunt for my copy of Stranger Than Fiction, her life story published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1965, in which she refers to being elected as President of the RNA in 1961.

Towards the end of her autobiography, she describes a September 1938 holiday with one of her daughters in Czechoslovakia. After crossing the border into Germany, they were woken up, told to pack their bags and leave the train. Escorted by black-uniformed Stormtroopers, they were taken to be questioned by an official.

"I can't say however that we were at all frightened. As yet, the black shadow of the Swastika had not fallen across our country."

In fact it had and a later RNA President, Mary Burchell, was already involved in rescuing Jews from Germany which she wrote about in We Followed Our Stars whose jacket I found at Fantastic Fiction with this summary - "Ida Cook was born at 37 Croft Avenue, Sunderland. Together with her sister (Mary) Louise Cook (1901-1991), she rescued Jews from the Nazis during the 1930s. In 1965 the sisters were honoured for their rescue work and named among the 'Righteous Gentiles' in Jerusalem, thus joining Oskar Schindler among others. Ida Cook wrote over a hundred romance novels, many of which were translated. She helped to found and was for many years president of the Romantic Novelist's Association."

But probably Denise Robins was too preoccupied by her divorce from her first husband and her relationship with the man who became her second husband to be paying much attention to world affairs.

Having, through a slip-up by their travel agency, no German visa, mother and daughter had their luggage searched but were issued with temporary visas.

Although 65 novels are listed at the front of the autobiography, This One Night is not among them. However Fantastic Fiction lists a 1975 paperback published by Avon.

No doubt the novel was inspired by the journey to Czechoslovakia. And it may be that the powerful attraction the author felt towards the man she had met on a trip to Egypt, O'Neill Pearson, made her feel that her hero and heroine, if strongly attracted and feeling their lives were in danger, would make love. Whether Denise and O'Neill consummated their relationship before the divorce from her first husband is not revealed, but seems probable.

During WW2 many virtuous young women who, in peacetime, would have remained virgins until their wedding night, made love with their boyfriends and fianc├ęs for fear that they might be killed. Who, in those circumstances, wouldn't?


At 03 April, 2007, Anonymous Julie Cohen said...

Thanks for your comment, and for calling me laid back! I try to be and do not always succeed.

Do let me know if you can't get hold of Married in a Rush from your library.


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