Thursday, 21 July 2011

A Perfect Day

There are some days in your life when everything goes right. This was one of mine. I had planned a day out on the Isle of Portland in Dorset with friends. The itinerary was good but unforseen events made it tip-top. For a start, the weather held up and was sunny all day.

We never intended to begin our trip in Weymouth but it was lunchtime and we were hungry... Well! when we got to the old harbour, a folk festival was in full swing. There were country bands playing and morris dancers prancing everywhere.

My particular target for the day was St George's Church at Reforne on Portland which I had glimpsed on a previous visit. Built betwen 1754 and 1766, it no longer functions as a church but is run instead by the Churches Conservation Trust. The gravestones dotted about tell fascinating stories of local smuggling and shipping disasters in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

St George's was built to replace medieval St Andrew's Church at Church Ope Cove, destroyed by a landslip. Game for anything, we went in search of it. A difficult path led down past the ruined church and tumbled down graveyard and there, at the bottom, was this hidden gem - Moonstone Beach. It was the cherry on the cake, which of course we also managed to fit in, along with a pot of tea, at a cafe overlooking the 2012 Olympic sailing venue in Weymouth Bay.

A perfect day indeed.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Caerwent and Chepstow Castle

The great thing about driving to the RNA Conference at Caerleon, and staying overnight on the Sunday, is the opportunity it afforded for some sightseeing on the Monday. The area around Caerleon is rich in Iron Age and Roman remains. Caerwent, known as Venta Silurum to the Romans, is just a few miles to the east along the A48. Founded in AD75 it was the only Roman town in Wales. The view below is from close to the Parish church. It's difficult to believe that this village, these quiet fields, were once a thriving Roman town.

Further east, just above Chepstow and overlooking the mouth of the Wye, is Bulwarks Iron Age Camp inhabitated in pre-Roman times by the Welsh tribe of the Silures. There is little to be seen on the ground because the defensive banks and ditches are now overgrown. The cleared area inside is a recreation ground where local people exercise their dogs! An aerial view gives a better idea of how important it must once have been. There are several on the Internet.

Less shy about its location and heritage is Chepstow Castle (above). What a chunk that is in the landscape. The most striking thing about it is its location on cliff at a bend in the River Wye, a river which forms the border between England and Wales. Building on the castle began soon after the Norman conquest in 1066, and one of its most famous residents, just a century later, was William Marshall. This in the entrance he built.

In the picture below is one of its massive gates, looking far more artistic than it was meant to.

Opposite the Castle is Chepstow Museum, definitely worth a visit for the beautiful curving staircase and the cupola-like window above which lights it. The house was built at the end of the 18th Century. The staircase reminds me of one at Tiffany's in Old Bond Street which was once a house lived in by Horatio Nelson and Emma Hamilton.

This last photo is of the view from Chepstow Castle, across the River Wye.

RNA Conference, Caerleon, 8-10 July 2011

For the first time, the Romantic Novelists' Association Conference took place in Wales, at the town of Caerleon where once the soldiers of Rome's 2nd Augusta Legion had their military base.

What a thoroughly enjoyable weekend it was. There were seminars by RNA members, and talks by editors and agents who also offered us opportunities to discuss our work with them. The most memorable session was given by Freda Lightfoot who generously shared with us her experience of publishing novels on Kindle. See below.

Liz Fielding advised us on how to blend humour with emotion, Rachel Summerson on creating characters we can believe in, and Lesley Cookman, Jean Goodhind and Penny Grubb revealed how they turned to crime! Another useful workshop was given by Linda Gillard (pictured below) on the virtues and pitfalls of using description.

There were some practical sessions too. Alison King had strategies for helping us sit down and get words on the page, while Valerie Webster got us back on our feet with a dance practical!

For next year's conference the RNA will be back in the north of England at Penrith. The date has already gone in my diary.