"FUIMUS - We Have Been"

"FUIMUS - We Have Been!" motto of Clan Bruce

All material on SHIMMERCASTDREAMS copyright of Marie Bruce and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Sunday, 31 March 2013


This looks like my sort of night class.

Image from www.deviantart.com

Over the past few weeks I have been toying with the idea of returning to a course of study in the evenings. I have done night classes in the past and enjoyed them, though these were usually dance and music classes. I am now thinking of returning to college to study something more academic, say psychology, sociology or something like that; something that will help to make me a better, more insightful writer and which I can bring to my career as an author.

Being a proactive type I have spent much of the Easter bank holiday looking over the short courses available at local colleges. One thing that struck me was how expensive the term fees are; on average a single term of once-a-week academic (as opposed to hobby orientated) night classes will cost around £500. With three terms to one academic year that soon adds up to a substantial fee.  Gone are the days of access to education for all.

My plan, if I decide to go ahead, is to begin a short taster course in the autumn and see if I enjoy it.  I do enjoy learning new things and I like to be back in the classroom.  Night school is great as you can fit it around work commitments and family obligations. The courses are usually broken up into shorter blocks, so it does take longer to achieve a qualification if that's what you want, but it also means that you can do a taster  course in each subject that interests you, just for fun.

For someone like me who works from home, night classes give me the opportunity to get out and about, to meet new people who share similar goals and ambitions.  It is a fun way to learn something different.  It is also a good way to put some additional structure into my week. I believe that any positive experience, such as a learning experience, will make me a stronger writer.  We are all learning all the time anyway, so we might as well give our learning some strategic direction. For some, night classes are the path to a new career or a promotion in their current career.  For me they are a great night out for my inner Blue-Stocking!

Have you ever thought of taking up a night class of some sort?  It is a great way to enhance the work-a-day week and to feel re-energized and pro-active in your own life.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

IVORY TOWER; Knight of the Holy Grail Arrives!

This beautiful picture, hand signed by the artist, now hangs in my bedroom.

One of the nicest things about being a writer is when I get to interact with other creative people.  I have artists, musicians and fellow authors I correspond with, usually by email and we often exchange goodies. It is like a cyber Bloomsbury Group and I love it. It is a great part of my job as we share our creative experiences and support one another's work.

There came a knock upon the door this afternoon and it was the postman.  He had brought me something wonderful!  A rolled cardboard tube containing the promised print The Knight of the Holy Grail from the Jack Shalatain Studio in Cornwall.

This is a very special gift, beautifully hand signed by the artist himself, and although I knew it was on its way to me as he'd emailed me earlier in the week to arrange it, it was still a wonderful surprise when it arrived.

The print is quite large at A3 size, printed on expensive vellum paper, so it has the look of a canvas. The signature is in flowing script and dated.  It is a stunning piece of art from one of my favorite artists.  That it is signed and dated makes it even more special to me... I feel so very lucky to own it.

Enclosed with the print was also a note card, depicting more of Shalatain's work. Inside, hand written by the artist is a note of thanks for my support of his work, with hints as to a new knight painting he is planning.  Apparently The Knight of the Holy Grail is one of Jack's favorites among his paintings and I can see why; it is completely captivating.  This note card was a lovely personal touch from a lovely artist. I will put it away safely with the rest of our correspondences from years past.

Of course I spent the majority of the afternoon getting this treasure framed.  It now hangs in my bedroom and the deep tones of the painting complement the violet decor.  It fits in perfectly with the four-poster bed and the overall theme of the room, as I already have a few fine arts prints of knights and ladies hung in here.  As I type it is almost dusk; the candles are flickering on the Knight of the Holy Grail - he is alive tonight and I am thrilled and enchanted.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

BOOK NOOK; Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

A wonderful Gothic novel

I have just finished reading Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey.  I couldn't put it down. Set in the Victorian era this stand alone novel is the story of sixteen year old Violet Willoughby, the daughter of a fraudulent medium. What intrigued me most about this book is the fact that the author is fearless in tackling the topic of a toxic parent.  Indeed Mrs Willoughby is a fine example of a Narcissistic Mother; resentful, controlling, manipulative and self-absorbed.  She frequently tries to put Violet on a guilt trip with her 'after all I've done for you!' speeches and she is not above using emotional blackmail to get her own way.

Violet is forced to assist her mother, who is basically a con woman, in elaborately staged seances.  I was very interested to read about some of the 'tricks of the trade' that fake mediums would use to support their claims of otherworldly activity and communing with spirits.  It is quite shocking that anyone could profiteer from grief and bereavement, but in the Victorian age mediums were all the rage and there was money to be made.  Violet and her mother live a life of luxury and faced with the prospect of destitution, the seances are their only means of income.  Due to the nature of her mother's 'gift' Violet doesn't believe in ghosts, so when she comes face to face with the ghost of a drowned girl she tries to ignore it.  But the ghost won't go away and Violet suspects that she was murdered.  As more ghosts turn up, she is forced to accept her gift as real while trying to keep it secret from her mother who would surely view Violet as a cash cow if she knew of Violet's new ability.  As Violet tries to track down the killer and lay the girl's ghost to rest, she puts herself in very grave danger, asking too many questions and raising suspicions.

This novel is so many things; it is a Victorian coming of age story, a thriller, a paranormal romance and a murder mystery all rolled into one. It has all the key notes of a traditional Gothic novel; a dead girl, a beautiful country house, secrets and deceptions, strange weather patterns at play, supernatural events etc.  It reminded me a little of Jane Eyre in that respect.  There are some beautiful descriptive passages of the library and boudoir suite of Rosefield House which I loved reading.  All in all Haunting Violet is a fun take on the classic Victorian ghost story. Definitely worth a read.  I'll be looking for more novels by this author next time I visit the book shop. 

Sunday, 17 March 2013

ONCE UPON A DREAM; I want to live in Rivendell

This Sunday finds me in a dreamy mood, listening to Enya, sipping elder-flower tea and wishing I lived here...

I would marry Arragorn in an instant...
...And discover wonderful new books in an ever-increasing magic library...

...I'd spend my days reading on a day bed...
...Then I would wander through the Elvin palace by candle light...

...To end the day in the comfort of a beautiful study...
Hello Lover...

What could be better than escaping into Rivendell by the power of a magical wish...and so I sip my faery tea from an Elvin Goblet, close my eyes and disappear...

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

MUSICAL DOLL; A Knight's Tale

The inspiration behind one of my new tracks. 
 Image from www.shalatain.co.uk 

I have been a fan of Jack Shalatain's artwork for many years now and I have quite a collection of his prints dotted around my home. We corresponded some years ago and I still have his hand written letter, chatting about artistic inspiration and wishing me luck with my career as a writer which was just taking off at that time. His website is a great form of escapism and well worth a visit.

I especially love his knightly pictures and the one above has been the inspiration 'mood board' behind one of the songs for my new album.  I had been struggling with this last track; I couldn't seem to find the right tone, all I had was a song title. I knew I wanted the track to echo the days when ladies had champions and soldiers were knights in armor. I had a handful of key words, mostly on a soldiering theme, but it has taken some time for the melody and lyrics to come together on this one.

As is usually the case for me, the track came together at about 3am  and I have been working on it all night. It is the penultimate track on the album. It is a combination of personal memory and mystical mythology.  It's completion means that the writing stage of my second album is now finished. The next step is to record the demos to send into the label Paradise Music. I'm really excited by the prospect of recording again.  I am also quite relieved that I have finished writing the album. It has been a long process. I have shared the inspiration behind some of the tracks here on my blog, but for the most part the album remains my little secret. It is a secret I am greatly looking forward to sharing with my readers once the album is ready for release. Watch this space for more updates!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

WRITER'S DREAM; Are You Good Enough?

Are you good enough to join the Great Writers?

Writing is a craft and an art.  Publishing is an industry.  Like all industries, publishing exists for the purpose of making a profit.  It does not exist for the sole purpose of making people's dreams come true. It is not there to pander to the egos of  aspiring writers. In reality, editors and agents are the lions at the gates of publishing that a hopeful new writer has to try and get past.  It's a dicey business.  There are no guarantees of success, no matter how hard you work, or how ever many years you try.  Even if you achieve the success of becoming published, staying published and maintaining a career as a writer is even harder. You are only as good as your current publishing output and the industry knows it.

Think about the last time you were in a high street chain book store.  Hundreds, possibly thousands of books on the shelves, yet only a handful of those authors will be household names.  The rest of the shelf space is taken up by authors you have probably never heard of. Unless you stumble across their genre and pick up their book on spec, chances are you will leave the bookshop unaware of their presence.  Yet these are published authors; the dream come true. Their books are shelved in Waterstones, Menzies and Smiths.  They are successful writers.  But you don't even know they exist.  And you leave the store, and their success, behind.

If you achieve your dream, what are the chances that your book will gain any more notice than the vast majority of titles shelved in a book store; what are the chances that your title will be one to break free from the ranks and hit the Big Time? It could happen.  But it is more likely that your book will simply join the ranks and remain there. And you should be proud to have it there.  Publication is a huge achievement.  But it's probably not a sensible, reliable retirement plan. It's too uncertain, too risky.  If you crave or need financial security, a writer's life is not for you.

A writer's life is full of uncertainty; royalty cheques fluctuate, payment is sporadic at best, non-existent as worst, advances never seem to be as big when doled out in portions.  Still, the rewards are many.  You might supplement your writing by maintaining your full time job, or writing for magazines - though top magazines are generally looking for known authors as their contributors as this adds the stamp of authentic credibility.  You might have a financially supportive spouse and your writing income is the family fun money.  You might get to work from home. You might diversify and write across different genres or branch out into music and song-writing or something, as I have.

Becoming a writer is the dream of many, but sadly only a few make it through the doors to the publishing industry.  Just because someone is doing their best does not necessarily mean that it is good enough.  Everyone who auditions on X-Factor is undoubtedly doing their best, but for the majority, it's simply not good enough for the industry they are trying to break into.  It's the same with publishing. With variables. Not good enough now doesn't mean you won't be good enough in the future. You can always rewrite; reword; edit and polish.  If you have written something that a publisher can make a profit on then you will get published. If you haven't, you won't.  It isn't down to luck. Published writers are the ones who did their best, consistently, over and over again, perfecting and improving their work.  It is hard work. It is time consuming. It is mentally exhausting. It's the job. It's amazing!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

IVORY TOWER; Victorian Writing Slopes

"...and my precious desk, containing my letters and papers, my small amount of cash, and all my valuables, was about to be precipitated from the three-storey window. I flew to rescue it."
Quotation taken from the novel Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

One of my writing slopes, with a Charlotte Bronte journal and Clan Bruce paper weight.

I am just an old fashioned girl at heart.  I love anything that brings back the romance of a by-gone era.       I dream of the days when women were ladies who wore velvet gowns, satin slippers and bonnets; when dance cards fluttered from wrists on threads of silk ribbon and gloves were made from lace and crochet.

One of the reasons I enjoy reading classic authors such as the Bronte sisters is because it is a form of complete escapism. It is the closest we can get to actual time travel. Written at a time when men were usually the main property owners and held all the wealth, the heroines of classic novels had few possessions they could call their own, so what little they did own was very precious.  A workbox and frame for needle work, a vanity chest for jewelry or cosmetics and a portable desk or writing slope were among the items a woman could lay claim to.  

I have always liked writing slopes. They are quite an ingenious invention, akin to the laptop of today.        A writing slope is a small box that folds open on an angle to reveal a sloping desk area.  Each end of the desk area lifts up to access storage space beneath for paper, envelopes etc.  Most writing slopes had built in pencil box compartments, ink wells and velvet skivers to stop the notepaper slipping around.  Ladies would keep diaries, letters, money and personal possessions in their writing slope, locking them safely away from prying eyes.  With a writing slope tucked under her arm, a lady could wander off on her own to write, muse and read private letters.  Writing slopes really were the laptops of their time.

I have two writing slopes. The one pictured above is the one I use most often.  I have written vast amounts of first draft work at this writing slope, before I transfer the long hand manuscript to a Word document on the computer, editing as I go. I like using the writing slope for outdoor writing, journal writing and pondering ideas on the page.  If you have read any of my books, chances are it's first draft incarnation was written here, at the writing slope above, just as it appears in the photograph, set upon the dining table. I feel inspired each time I open it out to begin writing. It is one of my most precious possessions and it has played a significant role in my career.  I doubt if it will ever live in a museum though.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

MUSICAL DOLL; A Rose for a Rose

The purity of a white rose upon a bed of virgin snow

For the past few days I have been pondering on the pure beauty of the rose.  It is a flower that symbolizes so many things; true love, fidelity, constancy,  purity, loss, fairytale romance, enchantment, beauty, frailty and virginity.

The white rose always makes me smile and I knew I wanted to include it's symbolism on the new album.  It is the emblem of Yorkshire, my home county. It was the chosen flower of the Jacobites in Scotland and being a Bruce, I like this rebellious association. I am also very fond of the word itself - Rose.
 A beautiful name...it speaks to me of pure love.

I have been working on a new song, inspired by the rose. Often associated with loss, grief and funerals the white rose has a darker, Gothic side to it.  It is a flower which haunts the living in every rite of passage through births, marriages and deaths. It marks the passing of a woman's life from virgin bud, to full bloom, to frail fading petals. It is a ghostly, spirit flower.

Creatively I have an image of a single white rose blooming, unseen, unloved, amid a frosted winter landscape of virgin snow.
In my song the white rose is so much more than meets the eye.  As the dark Gothic fairytale of the album unfolds, we meet her passionate alter-ego the red rose too. 

A rose for a rose, bound together in melody and lyrics where none can tear them apart and where love blooms eternally, by a standing stone, amid the falling snow.
Constant and True.

The White Rose of Yorkshire