I made an interesting discovery this month. More in a moment. Here’s a clue:
A few days ago we drove across Scotland from the east coast almost to the west coast, to the town of Callander, to be precise. Many years ago we had a wonderful family holiday in a Forestry Commission log cabin on the shore of Loch Lubnaig nearby, but we haven’t been back for a long time. It was a beautiful drive in the stunning summer weather we’ve been having: first along the Carse o’ Gowrie, bursting with strawberries and raspberries at this time of year, over the river Tay, skirting Perth, then via Crieff and Dunblane to Callander. The occasion was the chance to meet up with my cousin Susan and her husband Richard, who had come up from Wiltshire for the Commonwealth Games.
Now you may be familiar with Callander under another name. As ‘Tannochbrae’ it featured in the long-running series, ‘Dr Finlay’s Casebook’. If you remember the series you’ll remember that the doctors’ home and surgery was a fine Victorian house standing on a hill above the town, called Arden House.
Well, that’s where my cousin was staying – it’s now a B&B. We sat out in the sunshine on a terrace that I remember from the series, looking out over spectacular views of surrounding mountains and rolling farmland, just beautiful.
Susan had brought with her an album of family photographs (some more than 100 years old) salvaged from our great-aunts’ house and including some of our mysterious great-uncle Arthur Hand, born 1881, who went out to Alaska. No one knows what became of him. We got talking about our great-great uncle, Joshua Hodgetts, born 1857, who was a master glass engraver. We both have examples of his work, inherited from our mothers. Susan has a vase, I have a jug. I was also given a prentice piece by our great-aunts (his nieces) when I was nine, because I shared his birthday. Here it is:
I was told he made it when he was only fourteen. Can you imagine that skill in a fourteen-year-old boy? It’s intaglio work – like a cameo – though it appears to have been made on a piece of scrap glass which looks like a bit of a beer bottle. It’s exquisite, though, very much in the William Morris style. A few years ago, when asked by David what I would like for Christmas, I said I’d like to have it set as a pendant, and the goldsmith designed a delicate little setting for it which picks up the flower in the intaglio.
We’ve always known about Joshua in the family, and I had slotted him into the family tree, but inspired by our discussion, I did a bit more research and discovered that he’s FAMOUS! People collect Joshua Hodgetts glass and pay thousands of pounds for each piece. Heavens! The picture at the top is a decanter by him which is in a glass museum. Here’s a vase, sold two years ago for nearly £7,000:
And another museum piece:
It just shows, one shouldn’t take one’s ancestors for granted.
As I mentioned in last month’s blog, the second book in the Christoval Alvarez series, The Enterprise of England, had just been published then, with Jane Dixon-Smith’s great cover. We’ve worked out a design which will be co-ordinated for the whole series, with Christoval’s (Kit’s) portrait at the bottom and the corners at the top remaining the same. At the bottom, a relevant contemporary illustration (usually black and white), at the top a small coloured illustration which links with the story, and touches of a signature colour. For the first book, The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez, we used an illustration of the Globe (Kit’s closest friend is the actor Simon Hetherington) and a picture of old medicine bottles, referring to Kit’s profession as a physician. The colour is green:
For The Enterprise of England (King Philip of Spain’s term for his invasion) we used an illustration of the Armada battle and a miniature of the Earl of Leicester, who plays a part in the story. The colour is blue, for the sea:
Most of my time this month has been spent working on the third book, now nearly finished, The Portuguese Affair. After defeating the Armada, England decided to send an expedition (the Counter Armada) against Spain, to destroy what was left of its Atlantic fleet and, above all, to drive the Spanish occupiers out of Portugal and restore the claimant to the Portuguese crown, Dom Antonio of the royal house of Aviz. Disaster stalked the expedition from the outset. For this cover, we’ve used an illustration of the English army on the march and the coat-of-arms of the royal house of Aviz. The signature colour is red, standing for all the lives lost:
In each case, we’ve used the same design for the back cover, only changing the text. Here’s the one for the third book:
It contains a small private joke. The seal bears the imprint of the Swinfen coat-of-arms, taken from my signet ring. A symbol indicating ‘Ann Swinfen wrote this’.
It’s been great fun devising this series of covers. I just love working with Jane! How much more satisfying it is to be an independent author! I must be fair. Random House did consult me a good deal about the covers for the three novels of mine they published, which I know has not been the experience of many authors, but now all the decisions are mine. Although I’m no artist, perhaps I’ve inherited a little of my great-great-uncle’s eye for design!
Incidentally, the distinguished author Mary Hoffman will be reviewing The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez on the History Girls website on 1 August. I do hope she likes it!
So, once again this month, I was able to make all the decisions about the cover for the reissue of the last book from my backlist, A Running Tide. This is a story-within-a-story. The outer framework is set in the early 1980s, when the respected war photographer, Tirza Libby, finally confronts the events of 1942, when as a child she lived through disturbing times on the rocky coast of rural Maine, soon after America entered World War II. For this cover we used an image of a woman photographer with a period camera, superimposed on a wild seascape:
The latest news on the audio book version of The Testament of Mariam is that the final recording session with Serena Scott Thomas will take place on 1 August. She will then work with her producer to fix anything that needs fixing. (I have to ‘proof’ the chapters as they are recorded.) Then he will create the final mastered version, ready to go into production by Audible. They have worked remarkably fast, so it shouldn’t be long until it is ready. It’s so exciting! And they are lovely people to work with – they keep sending me emails saying they are tremendously keen on it. What an accolade!
So now I just need to send them my advance notes on the last three chapters, ‘proof’ the three chapters they’ve just sent me and the four they’ll do on Friday, register the new edition of A Running Tide with Nielsen and send a copy to the British Library, finish editing The Portuguese Affair and set about publishing it – oh, and I am just taking time off to go to Madam Butterfly!
Till next time,