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a few of Anna's favorite things...
December 2009 - More Happy Snaps

November 2009 - Happy Snaps

October 2009 - A Big Country Needs a Big Story

September 2009 - Horsies!

August 2009 -The National Gallery of Art Rocks!

July 2009 - All Roads Lead To Rome

June 2009 - I Wanna Dance in the Pan Pacifics with Fran!

May 2009 - A River that Never Runs Dry

April 2009 - The Lust of the Mohicans

March 2009 - Big Easy To Love

February 2009 - My Heart's In The Highlands

January 2009 - You Kent Do Better Than This!
 
::January 2009 - You Kent Do Better Than This!

Apologies for the awful pun. Well, actually, not really! I LIKE awful puns!

I picked this month's Favorite Things topic because it ties in with TEMPT THE DEVIL, which is a January release from Avon. Seemed a good opportunity. And I've long wanted to share some of my pictures from my travels with you as well. Hopefully you'll see more in coming months!

All of these shots come from a magical visit I made to Kent in spring of 2004. I still remember how enchanted I was by this beautiful county not far from London. It was like the whole world was bursting into flower.

Most of TEMPT THE DEVIL is set in London, at last giving me a chance to describe some Regency high society. That was huge fun! But several key scenes needed to take place in a rural backwater within a day's carriage ride of town. Because London in the Regency was still fairly compact and didn't spread out to swallow neighboring counties the way it does now, I was spoilt for choice. I chose Kent as the venue for those scenes because I remembered it with such fondness.

The blossom pictures are from a visit to Penshurst Place on a perfect afternoon where I got to see their orchards in full glory. Penshurst is definitely one of my favorite things and I hope one day to devote a whole column to how wonderful it is.

The bluebell picture doesn't do justice to how electric that color is when you see it en masse as I was lucky enough to do at the National Trust's Emmett's Garden near Sevenoaks.

I thought you'd enjoy the picture of Bodiam Castle. Isn't that just the most romantic place? Inside, sadly, it's a bit of a wreck although tremendously atmospheric and if you climb the towers, you can see for miles across the lush countryside. Bodiam is officially in East Sussex but it's easily reachable from where I was staying in Tunbridge Wells, which by the way is full of gorgeous Regency buildings, heritage of its days as a fashionable spa.

Another favorite place in Kent is the incredibly romantic (sorry for overusing the adjective but it's the only one that will do!) Ightham Mote (pronounced Itam Moat). It deserves a column to itself too but in the meantime, please check out one of the loveliest pieces of writing I know, describing Barbara Samuel's visit to Ightham a couple of years ago.
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:: May 2009 - A River that Never Runs Dry

When I was growing up, I was a huge fan of old movies and spent many a Sunday afternoon on the couch in the lounge room watching black and white films. Musicals. Historical epics. Romances. Comedies.

But for some reason, I never really got into westerns. They were rough and violent and basically too 'boy' for me. The stories didn't interest me and nor did the characters.

These days, I'm a huge fan of the genre and I wish Hollywood was still making them (and if not Hollywood, then the late lamented Sergio Leone who did some beauties). This month, I'd like to talk about the movie that converted me to a whole genre that previously I hadn't enjoyed at all.

Howard Hawks's RED RIVER (1948) with John Wayne (who starred in a lot of those films I hadn't liked) and a young and very sexy Montgomery Clift.

Why did this film work for me when so many others superficially not that different hadn't? A couple of reasons, I think (not just that Monty C is very easy on the eye!).

The first is that this film is very character-focused and the characters are complex and interesting. RED RIVER recounts the first cattle drive from Texas to Abilene along the Chisholm Trail, but the focus of the story is on the relationship between Tom Dunson, John Wayne's character, and his adopted son, Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift).

Tom Dunson is a heroic character - he builds a huge ranch out of nothing through sheer toughness and grit, then launches what seems an impossible trek to get his cattle to market after the Civil War - but he has megalomaniacal tendencies that end up threatening disaster. His greatest strengths, his stubbornness and courage and single-minded determination, are also the source of his greatest flaw. That's always an interesting element in a character!

Matthew Garth is another interesting character type. The quiet and courageous man of honor who rises to the occasion  when circumstances dictate. He's the self-effacing tower of strength who gets the cattle and the men safely to Abilene. He's the one who is willing to stand up to the man he loves like father and risk death for the sake of what's right. And while his romance with Tess Millay (Joanne Dru) isn't a huge element, it adds a wonderful layer of passion to this story that is basically about two quite different alpha males staking out a workable relationship.
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A wolf in the Vatican museums.
The Pantheon.
The Tiber at sunset with St Peter's in the background.
Something else magical in Rome is that the place is full of cats. I suppose you'd call them wild although they're pretty friendly for feral moggies. There's a stack of really cute postcards of cats sitting on ancient monuments that I must have sent home in the hundreds. I went out to the Protestant Cemetery to pay my respects at Shelley's and Keats's graves (yeah, I'm a romantic poetry junkie as well as a romantic fiction junkie!) and the cats made such wonderful companions as I wandered around that leafy, green, peaceful oasis.

Another touching moment occurred when I visited the Pantheon which is one of the most amazing architectural spaces I've ever stood in. Raphael's grave is there (oh, dear, this is starting to sound like I'm a cemetery groupie!) and someone had placed a perfect long-stemmed red rose on it. I was there just as a beam of sun from the skylight in the top of the dome hit the grave, illuminating this beautiful flower like a spotlight. Again, magic.

Obviously, I could rave on for pages here. But I should stop as I have a book to finish. It's been lovely wandering down memory lane and thinking about a place I love but haven't visited in a long time. Thanks for the opportunity!
 
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I know, I know. Another portrait. But this one really touched my heart. The Scottish artist Sir Henry Raeburn painted throughout the Regency period and I find his faces so full of life and vitality and vigor. There's a lot of his work in Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as in the various Scottish stately homes. Something about the way he paints the eyes with so much intelligence and humanity always gets me. What moves me about this picture is the way he's painted the old man in soft focus and in subtle colors so he's fading into the background full of autumnal shades. Whereas the child is bright, almost in a spotlight, and stepping into the foreground of the picture. It's a beautiful and apt visual expression of the old man fading into the end of his life and the child snatching forward towards the future. The symbolism is underlined by the fact that the child is reaching eagerly for the pocket watch. But the picture isn't didactic and there's no hint that these figures are merely allegorical. They retain their humanity throughout. Beautiful!
I love, love, love the Flemish painters of the late gothic era. Again, it's the faces that call to me. Although I also love the details of clothing and furniture in these pictures. The rich oil paint colors really glow in these paintings like jewels. When I lived in London, I used to haunt the National Gallery there and one of my favorite paintings was Van Eyck's 'Arnolfini Wedding', the famous marriage picture with the convex mirror and the gorgeous little dog. Like the Arnolfini picture, this exquisite 'Annunciation' is small and richly detailed so you can get lost looking at patterns on carpets and the angel's cloak. Aren't the figures beautifully done? The body language is so evocative and look at how beautifully the clothing follows the contours of the figures. My favorite part of this painting, though, is the beatific smile on the angel's face. It's hard to tell in the print but in the actual painting, the smile just glows with heavenly joy.
And just for something different, a landscape! Well, more a riverscape! This painting lights up the room it's in. That moonlight is almost tangible, it's so strong. It's a painting about light, but night light - fires and lamplight on the boats, moonlight in the sky and on the water. It's quite haunting when you see the real thing, partly because it's a large painting so you really feel like you could fall into it. The blue is so deep and magnetic, you can feel the cold night air on the Thames and hear the waves lapping on the hulls of those wooden ships moored at the docks. So atmospheric!
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This film is famous for its brilliant soundtrack by Jerome Moross. I bought this on CD a few years ago and I just love it. But to see it with those epic images of men riding hell for leather through stony canyons, wow, that's something special! Right from the turning wagon wheels of the opening, the music is as necessary to the story as any of the characters.

THE BIG COUNTRY is definitely in the long and illustrious line of revisionist westerns where heroism is tempered by doubt and darkness. It stands up remarkably well fifty years after its release. Seriously, give it a go - it's long and engrossing and the sort of film they definitely don't make any more!
 
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:: November 2009 - Happy Snaps!

Being a complete Luddite, I don't own a digital camera. Well, there's the one on my phone but everybody comes out looking fuzzy. So it's taken me a while to get my latest lots of films developed. But I thought I'd share some of the highlights with you from the Romance Writers of America Conference in Washington D.C., the Romance Writers of Australia Conference in Brisbane and the Australian Romance Readers' Convention in Melbourne over November and December.

First up, the Romance Writers of America Conference in Washington. Next month, I'll put up the rest of the photos.
Anna Campbell at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home in Virginia. For years, this has been on my list of things to see before I die. A wonderful experience. 
The fabulous romantic suspense author and fellow Bandita, Jeanne Adams,  looking out across the hills near Monticello.
A wonderful trio - historical author Nicola Cornick, historical author Deb Marlowe and Silhouette Desire author Tessa Radley  in the bar at the conference.
Michelle Buonfiglio of Romance: B(u)y the Book hosted a magnificent breakfast for the Bellas and their buddies in Washington. Here's a great group photo.
Four Bellas at the Michelle Buonfiglio breakfast - Barbara Vey who blogs for Publishers Weekly, Becke Martin  who reviews for Michelle and runs a couple of bulletin boards at Barnes and NobleMiranda Neville who writes historicals for Avon and Delilah Marvelle who writes historicals for Harlequin.
Wonderful historical author and fellow Bandita Christine Wells and Anna Campbell near the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.
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Anna Campbell and Harlequin Presents/Sexy/Modern author Annie West at the wonderful Punch Lane restaurant in Melbourne as we celebrate the publication of TEMPT THE DEVIL.
ARRA committee members Juleigh Start and Maggie Nash with Anna Campbell at the Australian Romance Readers Convention in Melbourne in February 2009.
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:: August 2009 - The National Gallery of Art Rocks!

This column is overloaded with pictures but they are worth a thousand words! There are thousands of magnificent items in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. but I've picked out a few pieces that really spoke to me. Honestly, how lucky are the people who live there that they have this fabulous gallery on their doorstep and it's free!
::March 2009 - Big Easy to Love

One of my favorite films from the 1980s is The Big Easy. I watched it again this week so I could write this review and it's still great! Although just a word of a whinge - the DVD version misses out the gorgeous marriage proposal at the end that I remember so fondly from the video. I was watching the DVD because I lent the video to somebody who never returned it. Grrrr! On both counts, the bad cut and the non-return!

For those who haven't seen it - and it always surprises me that a lot of people haven't! - it sounds like a fairly bog standard mystery/suspense/cop thriller with a bit of romance thrown in. But 'bog standard' are the last words I'd use to describe this wonderful film.

First of all there's the setting. "The Big Easy" is what they call New Orleans (I only know this courtesy of this film!) and the atmosphere and vibrancy of the city permeate the story, as does the presence of the Mississippi.  The setting also lends itself to one of the glories of the film, the great soundtrack featuring amazing Cajun and Zydeco artists. It's one of my favorite CDs!

Then there's the romance. Because the heart of this story is the relationship between uptight out-of-town lawyer Anne Osborne (Ellen Barkin) and louche, sexy bad boy cop Remy McSwain (Dennis Quaid). What's funny is that I've just re-read WELCOME TO TEMPTATION by Jennifer Crusie for a review on Romance Novel TV and this movie gets a mention in that as one of the best love scenes ever. "Your luck's about to change, chere." Wow, what a man!

Watching this again, I was struck by the fact that this film is about how appearances deceive. The city with all its glitter and flash has a dark underbelly of racism and murder and drug addiction and corruption. Remy isn't at all the shallow, careless, pleasure-seeking rogue he presents himself as at the start. In fact, Remy would be a great Regency hero as his character undergoes an arc from rake to genuine man of honor. Anne is both stronger and sexier than she either believes or acts when we first meet her. It's lovely that Remy immediately recognizes how smart and brave she is when she's so awkward with herself and her sexuality. By the end (the lovely marriage proposal missing from this DVD), he's the one unsure of himself in this new landscape of love and she's the one who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it.

Nothing is quite as easy as it seems in The Big Easy!
:: February 2009 - My Heart's in the Highlands

Do you know that lovely Robert Burns poem? It seems appropriate to quote it as I'm writing this on the 26th January, a day after Burns Night when Scots and Scotophiles all over the world celebrate the birth of Scotland's most beloved poet. Anyway, the first verse goes:

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer -
A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Because I enjoyed writing last month's column about Kent so much, I thought I might do pieces about a few more places I've visited and loved. Perhaps My Favorite Things should be retitled My Favorite Travels for the moment! Blame the fact that I've finally worked out how to use my scanner so I can share some of my photos with you all!

Today I'm going to talk about Morar and Mallaig on the north-west coast of Scotland. Mallaig is well known as the gateway to the Isle of Skye (well, the southern tip of it anyway). Morar featured in a great 1980s movie called LOCAL HERO if any of you saw that. It was quirky and sweet and funny, and showed some amazing scenery, a lot of which was based around the Silver Sands of Morar. Doesn't that name alone make you want to visit? And they really are silver! One of the nicest beaches in the world, I think. When the tide's out, it seems to go forever.
In 1995, I stayed very briefly at the Morar Hotel and while it was pretty chaotic and not very pleasant in terms of accommodation, I always remembered the site. It's on the headland looking straight across to the Small Isles of Eigg (pronounced 'egg') and Rum. In the photos, Eigg is the curiously shaped flat one rising to a bluff and Rum is the mountainous one in the distance. Next to Rum is a rounded headland which looks like a whale's head. That's Canna which apparently means 'whale' in Norse. In the evening, you can sit in the hotel dining room and watch the sun set behind the Hebrides - a very romantic way to finish a glorious day in the Highlands!  Here's the hotel website with more photos to whet your appetite for a visit.

On my last visit to the UK in 2007, I looked up the hotel and was delighted to see it was under new management and starting to get a reputation for great cuisine. I finished my four-week stint in Britain with a couple of days there at the start of July. I was tired after all my travelling so spent quite a bit of time just staring out the window at the amazing view. I've included two photos taken from my window at different times of day so you can see the changes in the light.

Britain's shortest river, the Morar River, runs just a quarter mile from Loch Morar to the inlet in the photos. The green picture shows its lovely sparkling falls. The Loch is Scotland's deepest and features a monster even shyer than the much more famous Nessie. Her name is Morag - and no, I never saw her, even after several Drambuies! I like to think of Morag and Nessie perhaps one day getting together - well, I do write romance for a living!

Mallaig, just a few minutes' train trip up the line - and a very beautiful coastal trip too - has become a bustling center recently. When I first visited in 1985, it was only a couple of houses and a herd of sheep was wandering down the main road. These days, the sheep have been chased out by all the outdoor sports and wildlife enthusiasts. It's a great place to book sea trips around the beautiful, wild and remote coastline. I went across to Seal Island near Skye and also did an amazing boat trip to see the Knoydart Peninsula which houses what is officially the most remote pub in the UK, the Old Forge. The photo of the mountains coming down to the sea is from that excursion. You can see what I mean about spectacular scenery!

Another glorious place just a few train stations south of Morar is Glenfinnan where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard and rallied the clans in 1745. I've got to give him points for stage management. It's an amazing location and one I'll perhaps talk about more in another column. There's currently a National Trust center on the site and it's well worth a visit.

Harry Potter fans love this part of Scotland because the Jacobite Express, a restored steam train, doubles as the Hogwarts Express and travellers get to go over that amazing viaduct that features in the movies. The Morar Hotel is directly opposite the train station so the big black puffer started to feel like an old friend by the time I left.

Oh, I could go on and on! But seriously, if you're in Scotland, consider a drive up the Road to the Isles or taking the spectacular train journey from Fort William to Mallaig. You won't be at all sorry!
Kent is called 'the garden of England' and after my visit, I could see why. It's lush and green, almost shockingly so for someone from brown old Australia. One of the most famous and most  beautiful gardens is Sissinghurst Castle Garden,  the creation of Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson. It's got so many wonderful associations for a  writer, not to mention the coolest writing room I think I've ever seen, Vita's study in the tower looking out across the rolling countryside. Again, a place deserving of its own column!

I hope you've enjoyed this quick tour of a county that inspired part of my latest story!
Roman spring at sunset
Me at the Trevi Fountain
Jan van Eyck,
The Annunciation,
c. 1434/1436
James McNeill Whistler, Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, 1862
Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait, 1659
Agnolo Bronzino,
A Young Woman and Her Little Boy,
c. 1540
:: June 2009 - I Wanna Dance in the Pan Pacifics with Fran!

STRICTLY BALLROOM (1992) is my favorite Aussie film EVAH!

I must admit in general I'm not a huge fan of local cinema. Aussie films are often grim and bleak and sacrifice a compelling plot for creating atmosphere.

There are exceptions to the rule. I loved MY BRILLIANT CAREER although I haven't seen it since I was a teenager. Never quite forgave the story for sending the heroine off alone although obviously I'm meant to go, yay, she's stood up for her feminist principles. BREAKER MORANT has a really compelling story and great acting. I also loved PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK which somehow managed to overcome my atmosphere versus plot prejudice. But wow, what atmosphere!

There was a really nice romantic film called DEAD LETTER OFFICE made by the people who produced and wrote SEA CHANGE on ABC TV. Hardly anybody saw that film but it's lovely and completely unpretentious. And as a strange coincidence, it also uses dance as a form of liberation for people stuck in old, unproductive ways of living. LANTANA was undoubtedly grim but worked - I have a number of theories why, starting with a really great script, but I'll share them at a later date. I'm sure there are other Aussie films I've liked but I can't think of any right now. Which is rather sad.

So why does STRICTLY BALLROOM buck this trend? I think because it uses a really compelling story model. It has an obvious hero, standing up against the odds for freedom of expression and accepting the consequences. Definite elements of the hero's journey there. Scott Hastings leaves the tribe, faces numerous trials and tribulations which he overcomes thanks to his sidekicks and his own courage, and he returns to the tribe bearing the elixir of a new way of dancing which revitalizes his family and friends. There's even a symbolic death when he decides towards the end that he's going to toe the line for the sake of the people he loves, even though that means breaking the heart of the girl he loves.

Wow! All this mythic structure. I love it.

There's even more. If we look at Fran as the protagonist, she's a classic fairytale heroine. Elements of the Ugly Duckling and Cinderella abound. She even gets to go to the ball with her prince and what role does her grandmother play but that of fairy godmother?

Among the other mythical archetypes, we meet gatekeepers who seem to work against Scott but actually work on his behalf. Characters like his wonderful father played by the brilliant Barry Otto. Or Fran's strict father who turns out to be a flamenco master.

All of this is packaged in bright, neon colors and with a brilliant combination of knowing irony and deep emotion. It's a hard mix to bring off but here it works like a charm. And the fantastic soundtrack tangos and waltzes and mambos its way throughout, giving the film a glorious rhythm.

I also think the casting is masterly. Ballet dancer Paul Mercurio with his flat Sydney accent makes a wonderful Scott Hastings. He even makes a white singlet sexy! Tara Morice as Fran transforms from ugly duckling into a swan with magnificent effect. There's a host of established Aussie actors who attack their roles with dash and vim. Barry Otto is really touching as Doug Hastings, Scott's despised father who turns out to be a magician in disguise (if we're sticking to the mythic theme!). Bill Hunter as the egregious Barry Fife who wants to keep his power in the ballroom dancing hierarchy and recognizes Scott as the genuine threat he is. Pat Thomson who is Dickensian as Scott's mother Shirley. Gia Carides as Scott's former dancing partner.

When STRICTLY BALLROOM came out, I was living in a riverside Brisbane suburb called New Farm and there was a good arthouse cinema about twenty minutes' walk up the road. SB ran there for about 12 months and I can't tell you how often I saw it. There was a 4pm Sunday session and I was usually sick of writing by then so I'd wonder up for my fix of glitz and glamour and singlets. I haven't seen the film since then until I watched it again for this column. And you know what? It's still great and the final paso doble sequence still gives me goosebumps!
:: December 2009 - More Happy Snaps!

Some more photos to share this month from events in Australia. It's always great to get out and meet readers and other writers.
Winner of the 2009 Anna Campbell Award for historical romance Amy Matthews with Anna Campbell at the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Brisbane.
Fabulous Silhouette Desire author Rachel Bailey with the pile of signed Eloisa James books I gave her as a present when she heard she'd sold her debut. This photo was taken at the wonderful Langham Hotel in Melbourne where the Romance Writers of Australia conference was held in 2008.
Regency writer Bronwyn Stuart and Anna Campbell at the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Brisbane.
Four happy historical romance panellers at the Australian Romance Readers Convention. (L-R): Anna Campbell, Alison Stuart, Stephanie Laurens and Sara Bennett.
Christine Wells and Anna Campbell at the Romance Writers of Australia conference held in Brisbane in August 2009.
:: October 2009 - A Big Country Needs a Big Story!

I'm back to talking about a favorite movie. This month it's THE BIG COUNTRY, directed by William Wyler in 1958, and with an all-star cast including Gregory Peck, Carroll Baker, Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston, Chuck Norris and Burl Ives. It's odd - I wouldn't say I was such a huge western fan, but they seem to be featuring a lot on the website!

I first saw this film when I was about thirteen and it sparked a major crush on Charlton Heston who plays the secondary male love interest in the story. He's lean and mean and tortured and passionate, and looking back on it many years later, I can kinda see where the fascination came from.

I've seen the movie a couple of times since and I must say over that time, my interest has definitely switched from Charlton to Gregory Peck who plays a really great hero in this story. But more on that later.

The story is on an epic scale, made a year before Wyler's mega-hit classic BEN-HUR, also starring Charlton Heston but in what is strangely a considerably less interesting role. BH is heroism personified. His character, Steve Leech, in this movie is much darker and more conflicted and I think he's better for it. Like BEN-HUR, THE BIG COUNTRY pits a strongly emotional story against an action-packed, sweeping background.  It's to Wyler's credit (and his actors and writers) that the background doesn't overwhelm the personal story.

In the late 19th century, wealthy East Coast sea captain Jim Mackay (Gregory Peck) travels to meet his fiancee's family on their ranch in the west. The actual state is never mentioned - I have a feeling it's Texas but I could be wrong! He stumbles into a land war between his future father-in-law, Major Henry Terrill (Charles Bickford), who seems to personify all the virtues of civilization, and the Hannassey clan led by the brutish (at least superficially) Rufus Hannassey. Burl Ives plays Rufus and his Academy Award was well deserved - it's an amazing performance that steals the show whenever he's on screen.

Caught in the middle is the woman who owns the ranch with the only reliable water in the area. Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons) owns the Big Muddy and gives both the Hannasseys and the Terrills access the river but she's a woman on her own and she's vulnerable to the rough men who rule this country.
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:: September 2009 - Horsies!
 
Joseph Mallord William Turner, Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight, 1835
Sir Henry Raeburn, John Tait and His Grandson, c. 1793
:: July 2009 - All Roads Lead to Rome!

And isn't that the corniest headline ever?

After a rash of movie reviews, I thought it might be nice to talk about something other than celluloid. Although given how well you in eat in Rome, I should say this is about cellulite rather than celluloid.

This column let me revisit some extremely ancient history - and I don't mean of the Caesar variety. I've been to Rome twice, a longish stay in spring of 1985 and a shorter one in autumn of 1995. I'd love to go back - one day soon, I hope! I decided to illustrate this post with some of my own photos and that sparked a journey of nostalgia. So apologies if the pics, all from 1985, are washed out. They're getting on, a bit like the photographer!

Recently I did a blog with fabulous Blaze author Tawny Weber and I had to finish with an either/or question. I went for Paris versus Rome because I have a German friend who says that people tend to love one city or the other. In my experience that's true.

For me, it's Rome.

Sometimes whether we love a place or not is as shallow as did we have nice weather there. And that first visit to Rome, my best friend with whom I was travelling and I hit the place just as spring burst into full flower. You'll see the blossom in one of the pictures - just beautiful. So it was warm, it was sunny, it was packed with flowers and not with tourists as the season hadn't really started yet. So you could wander around a place like the Pantheon or the Forum and soak up the atmosphere, without tripping over tour parties everywhere you went.

What struck me about Rome is how vibrant it is. It's several thousand years young, in fact. All that history contributes to that richness of life in the current era. You don't feel like you're in a museum. You feel like you're in a place that bristles with energy and vitality and style and pizzazz.

Another wonderful thing about it is that there's just so much wonderful art and beauty around, it becomes part of the fabric of life, not something separate. In 1995, I was just wandering around and I popped into an empty church in which I discovered four absolutely magnificent Caravaggios including the famous one of the calling of St. Matthew. Breathtaking, amazing, awe-inspiring, and all just for me. No security guards. No bored school kids on an art excursion when they'd rather be necking behind the bike sheds. No crowds between me and four glorious paintings. Magic. 
::April 2009 - The Lust of the Mohicans

I know that's a tacky headline but honestly, Daniel Day-Lewis in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS always sets my heart to pitter-pattering. Or perhaps that's in sympathy for all the running he does. Seriously, there's a lot of RUNNING in this film.

Perhaps they should have rechristened Nathaniel Running Bear (who loved little White Dove with a love as big as the sky-yyeee). All that activity is utterly exhausting to watch. Nobody ever WALKS anywhere! It would only be in my fantasy life that I'd like to be DDL's character's squeeze. In real life, I'd just sit back and have a nice cup of tea and let the bad guys get me. I wouldn't manage all that dashing around!

The first time I saw this film, I was absolutely blown away - which isn't a pun on the amount of gunfire involved in the story, although it could be. I went one Sunday afternoon with my best friend and we saw it on the big screen. Wow! That scenery is gorgeous. And not just Daniel, I'm talking about the mountains and the woods. Mind you, just as an aside, Eric Schweig as Uncas isn't too hard on the eye either.

Another wonderful element of this film is the fantastic soundtrack by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman. It's powerful music with a strong Celtic influence. One of my favorite scenes is when the hero and heroine share passionate kisses on the ramparts of a doomed fort while a relentlessly rhythmic Scottish reel plays and then the love theme surges over the dance music. 

I've seen this film numerous times since and it's never lost its magic for me. In fact, when I worked as a captioner, I was lucky enough to prepare the DVD subtitles for the version for the Deaf and the hearing impaired. That was captioning nirvana. A fabulous script, great direction, wonderful acting - and not a lot of dialogue! I always knew when I had a really great film if I liked it more after working on it as a captioner than I did originally. That was true for THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (and coincidentally BRAVEHEART).

Nathaniel is the ideal romantic hero and for quite a while there, he was the physical model for my male leading characters. Tall, lean, dark, intense, smart, his own man, a lone wolf, a rebel, an independent thinker, passionate, brave, physically adept, canny, sexy. Oh, and a commanding nose. I do like a hero with a commanding nose! Somehow it's an essential part of the alpha persona.

But what particularly makes him the model for a romance hero is that from the moment he first sees Madeleine Stow's character, Cora Munro, he knows that she's the one for him. She is his complete and utter focus and he'll do anything to keep her safe. Wow, what a man! That complete and immediate intensity of commitment makes Nathaniel more than just an action man. This is a man who is emotionally mature and knows what he wants when he sees it. It's an enormously appealing characteristic!

I suspect I haven't seen the last of THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS!
Like a lot of writers (as I've discovered over the years), I'm inclined to be slightly obsessive about my enthusiasms. This was a character trait I developed very early in my life. I can't speak for the cradle but I'm sure by the time I was toddling, I knew what I liked and I wanted more of it. And then even more! In hindsight, it makes me very sorry for my parents!

One of my obsessions as a primary school girl was horses. This is nothing unusual. Lots of little girls love horses. Some big girls even love horses although most of us grow out of it. I think my next obsession after the horses was romance fiction and that one definitely stuck.

My conversation was really boring for anyone who didn't enjoy sentences that went, "Hey, I packed my school lunch and did you see that pretty horse over there?" Strangely that covered a lot of the world and particularly my family.
So I fed my obsession with books about horses.

Fortunately, because so many little girls go through the horse and pony stage, I had plenty of choice. I don't think there's quite such a selection of saltwater crocodile or llama literature for young girls!

My bookshelves were groaning under equine volumes. My library, both shire council and school, supplied more. Which was good because I was a quick reader and - did I tell you? - slightly obsessive. I wanted my horse books and I wanted them now.

I'd read anything relating to horses. Showjumping books. Gymkhana books. Cowboy books. Wild horse books. If it had four legs, hooves, a mane and a tail, I was in there like Flynn.

I remember reading Anna Sewell's BLACK BEAUTY under the bedcovers after my light was out. My parents told me all this reading in the dark would ruin my eyes. Well, that came true! I remember crying like a loon when poor Beauty staggered to his knees drawing the Hansom cab. Oh, man, that broke my poor little eight-year-old heart!

In this post, I've put up covers for a few favorites and what memories they bring back. A lot of my favorites are still on the bookcase in my bedroom. Actually something I notice about my beloved horse books is that they're nearly all weepies. I've got the Wyoming trilogy by Mary O'Hara. I've got a whole stack of Marguerite Henry. I particularly loved KING OF THE WIND although it was such a sad story. The Godolphin Arabian had a really tough life! And of course, there's the Australian classics, the Silver Brumby books by Elyne Mitchell. Fantastic reads!
Another thing that struck me, watching this movie again a week or so ago, is how compact the storytelling is. There's no wasted scenes, nothing self-indulgent there. An emotional point is made, then the story moves on immediately. No lingering on inessentials. Every moment forwards the story and convinces you of the epic nature of the struggle between these two men and with the environment that has created them.

It's to Howard Hawks's credit that the action never overwhelms that central conflict between Dunson and Garth. And also to the credit of Wayne, who I've since grown to admire enormously as an actor (check out THE SEARCHERS, which like RED RIVER, is another critique of the stereotypical western hero), and Clift that their characters dominate this powerful story rather than find themselves submerged in the sweep of the story.

This is a really great movie. Even if you don't like westerns, give it a go. You won't be sorry.
I found this Bronzino portrait of an unknown young woman from the Medici Court in Florence in the mid-16th century completely hypnotic. First of all, you're drawn to look at her by that beautiful red dress with its gorgeous brocade pattern. Then you're transfixed by the sadness in her eyes. I did a tour of the Italian collection with a gallery volunteer. While she unfortunately didn't feature this picture in her lecture, when I said how much I love it, she told me that the little boy was added later because he died before the original portrait was done. No wonder this beautiful woman looks so sad. I love portraits from the past - when you get a really good one like this, it's really like talking to someone who is still alive.

Speaking of portraits, isn't this a magnificent Rembrandt self-portrait? I love the progression of his self-portraits, from the cocky young man to the older, disillusioned painter, the man who knows about sorrow and failure and endurance. The man who lost a beloved wife and faced bankruptcy and had come to terms with his genius. When he painted this portrait, he was 53 and there's such wisdom and humanity and compassion in those eyes, it makes me want to cry. How is it that an arrangement of colored pigment on a canvas can cut straight to my heart like that? I have no idea. The other interesting thing about Rembrandt is that he's one artist who, for me, never really comes across well in reproduction. You need to stand in front of the actual painting to get that killer emotional hit.
Actually it's only just struck me how heavily my selection relies on portraits. As I said, I love them. I love looking into faces from the past and imagining their lives and their feelings. It's probably part of what turned me into a historical romance writer, that need to view the past as a living, vivid reality. This Whistler portrait is of another sad-eyed girl. It's right at the end of a long corridor and the white is so startlingly clear, it just draws you nearer. It's close to life-size too which makes it very imposing. So the girl is a powerful figure but she seems to shrink from that power. It has a very ambivalent emotional charge, this picture.
One of the things I love about this film is that nobody is exactly what he or she seems on the surface. Under his smooth fašade, Major Terrill is a ruthless bully who insists on complete power over everything within reach. That includes his ranch, his workers, his foreman (Steve Leech, who he took in as an orphan child), the land, the water rights, his daughter and his prospective son-in-law. Rufus Hannassey has a stronger grip on honor than Major Terrill will ever have and his sons' loutish behaviour leads to a moment of genuine tragedy towards the end of the movie. Pat Terrill appears to be a passionate, independent woman but as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that she's completely under her father's thumb.

Jim Mackay is derided as an eastern dude and a coward because he refuses to enter into the power games that the other men in this harsh landscape play. Yet he proves himself a true hero throughout the film and especially at the end when he rides alone to rescue Julie Maragon from the Hannasseys in an amazingly tense scene that will have you on the edge of your seat. Jim demonstrates the quiet brand of courage that is incredibly moving and you know in Julie Maragon, with her steadfastness and honesty, he's met his true match. One of the best scenes in the film is when Jim rides a bucking horse into docility. You'll cheer his doggedness and determination.
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