Sunday, 16 June 2013

For My Father: les gens du Nord...

Les gens du Nord
ont dans les yeux le bleu qui manque à leur décor,
Les gens du Nord
ont dans le coeur le soleil qu'ils ont pas dehors.

Because you were so proud to be from the North of France.
Because you absolutely loved that song.
Because I miss you today and always...

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Der Wundermann or the Original International Man of Mystery!

If you are interested in 18th century European history and the occult, in alchemy and secret societies, then you have probably come across the elusive and mysterious Count Saint Germain.

                                          The only known portrait of Count Saint-Germain

Why the lasting fascination for this character? Was he the illegitimate son of European royals or just a spy? Was he an alchemist who could 'make' gold nuggets and huge diamonds, a Rosicrucian who had mastered the secrets of eternal life or a charlatan? In his correspondence with Frederick the Great of Prussia, Voltaire called him 'Der Wundermann' and said that he was 'a man who knows everything and who never dies' (although the philosopher being known for his irony, we can presume that he was joking).

It is easy to understand why such a character has fascinated people for so long. Not only did Saint-Germain cultivate the mystery around his lineage, but his name was also linked to powerful secret societies - the Freemasons and Rosicrucian.

Were his parents Francis II Rackoczy, Prince of Transylvania, and Princess Violenta-Beatrice of Bavaria, like he confided to Prince Karl of Hesse-Kessel, or was he the illegitimate offspring of Marie-Anne de Neubourg, Queen of Spain? If no one knows for sure who his parents were, it is however established that he was raised in Italy by a member of the Medici family and attended the university of Sienna.

                                             Prince Francis II Rakoczy of Transylvania

He seemed to possess a vast fortune, was always immaculately dressed and had a predilection for precious stones. He spoke several languages fluently, had a charismatic personality. A virtuoso violin player, he composed sonatas and arias. He was also a talented painter and a scientist interested in new processes to dye fabrics. He mixed in the most exclusive circles, and travelled extensively under different names (he called himself Surmont in Belgium, Count Tsarogy in Bavaria, Count Welldone in Germany...)

It is during the Jacobite rebellion that the Count's name first appears in official documents. In a 1745 letter to Horace Mann, Horace Walpole writes that a man who calls himself Saint-Germain has been arrested, then released without charge although it is believed that he is a spy. Walpole writes that the man is 'mad' and certainly 'not a gentleman' despite possessing a vast fortune and playing the violin 'wonderfully'. He then comments about Saint-Germain never having 'any dealings with a woman or a succedaneum' (a substitute??). As for his appearance, it seems at odds with the only known portrait of him, since Walpole describes him as having 'extremely black hair' and a beard.

                                                              Horace Walpole

Saint-Germain reappears twelve years later in France when he is introduced to the French court by Maréchal Belle-Isle. He is granted quarters at the chateau of Chambord and quickly becomes a favourite of Louis XV and his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. The French King gives him a hundred thousand Francs and a laboratory to invent new dying processes for fabrics. More importantly, he starts using him as a secret agent, against the advice of his minister for foreign affairs, the Duc de Choiseul, who is deeply suspicious of the Count.

Things then become even more blurry. Desperate to discredit Saint-Germain, the duc de Choiseul hires an actor named Gauve to impersonate him. The fake Saint-Germain parades in fashionable salons, spreading ridiculous stories about being hundreds of years old, and having met Greek philosophers, Alexander the Great and even Jesus, to whom he predicted 'an abominable end'. When Gauve is found out, Choiseul's plan fails miserably. Instead of discrediting Saint-Germain, he only added to the man's appeal and mystery, and made him even more popular at court.

Soon people comment on how he never seems to age but retains the appearance of a man between forty and fifty years old. A Comtesse de Gergy tells Madame de Pompadour that he hasn't changed at all since she met him in Venice in 1710, where he supposedly gave her an elixir of youth (see below for receipe). The legend of Saint-Germain is born: does he really possess the secret of eternal life?

Although invited to many dinner parties, Saint-Germain is never seen eating in public. In fact, he  says he only eats a kind of oatmeal mixture he prepares himself, and drinks an elixir made of elderflowers, fennel and senna pods soaked in spirit wine (senna pods? Aren't they used in laxatives?) which he advises fashionable ladies to take if they want to retain their youthful appearance.

In 1760, Choiseul almost manages to arrest Saint-Germain after the King sends him on a secret mission in Amsterdam, but the elusive Count escapes to England. After a couple of years, Saint-Germain travels to Belgium where he buys land under an assumed name. He then goes back to France in 1775 where he is rumoured to have warned Queen Marie-Antoinette about the impending revolution which would put in place a 'bloodthirsty republic' instead of royal power.

After more travels, Saint-Germain finally settles at the court of Prince Karl of Hesse-Kassel in the duchy of Schleswig-Holstein. The Prince is so taken by Saint-Germain that he calls him 'Old Papa'. He buys a factory near Gottorp, on the Baltic sea, for Saint-Germain to experiment with various fabric dying processes. He even writes to Jean-Baptiste Willermoz, a silk merchant in Lyon and sends samples of the Saint-Germain's dyes in the hope of getting him interested in a joint venture. The project however never sees the light of day. Count Saint-Germain dies of pneumonia on 27th February 1784.

Or does he?

Even though his death is registered in St Nikolai church at Eckernförde and it is recorded that he was buried in tomb No1 inside the church, there are soon rumours that Saint-Germain is still alive. Over the following decades, people swear to have spoken to him. One of them, Comtesse d'Adhemar, one of Marie-Antoinette's ladies in waiting, claims she saw him in 1815 and again in 1821!

Count Saint-Germain is one of the 18th century's most mysterious characters. I was always fascinated by the many tales and stories surrounding him, so much so that he was my inspiration for my debut historical romance Angel Heart. In the novel, my heroin Marie-Ange, whose mother was Saint-Germain' goddaughter, has to retrieve a mysterious Templar relic of which Saint-Germain was made guardian and which is said to give eternal life...

 Angel Heart is published by MuseitUp Publishing and is available from:

Monday, 10 June 2013

Find out all about unicorns with Suzanne de Montigny

Today I am venturing into the world of children literature, and in particular the wonderful 'The Shadow of the Unicorn', a fantasy by Suzanne de Montigny which is aimed at children between the ages of nine and twelve years old.

So let's find out a little about her book, and about unicorns of course...

Hello Suzanne and thank you for coming on the blog today. What attracted you to unicorns and what can tell us about them?

Ah yes, unicorns. One of my most favourite topics of conversation. They’re beautiful creatures: pure white except for their hooves, and with a spiral horn that crowns their head. They’re smaller than horses and even have different hoof prints. They neigh, whinny, bray, and hee-haw. Plus they sing on beautiful nights. But it’s not regular singing like we human folk do. They create a cacophony of noises in rhythm. They whinny, sneeze, rumble and neigh. Even the other animals join in from afar. And did I mention they have healing powers in their horns? That’s why they were considered very valuable by the tyrant, Ishmael, many thousands of year ago when dinosaurs, mammals, and humans, dwelt the earth together.

They have healing powers in their horns?
Yes, one touch of the horn can cure bubonic plague, but their healing powers aren’t meant for constant use. They need time to recuperate, so when Ishmael captures one of the herds and exploits it, he becomes the town hero but at the expense of the lives of nine unicorns.

Nine unicorns? How terrible.
Yes, but he doesn’t want to stop there. He wants to harvest their horns to sell as a healing powder.

It almost sounds like what happens today in Africa where hunters poach elephants and rhinos for the ivory in their horns.
Exactly my point. You’ve got it! That’s the underlying message behind my story. Here, kids get to experience what elephants and rhinos live through from the point of view of magical creatures.

So is there hope for the unicorns?
Yes. Darius-the-seer, the last surviving dinosaur, teaches Azaria some tricks to outsmart Ishmael, but I won’t tell you what. You have to read the book.

I understand you give half of all your profits to the Third World Eye Care Society. How did this come to be?

I’m a great believer that everything happens for a reason. Last summer, I developed a frightening vision problem. For some reason, I had a wash-out spot in the middle of my right eye. It kept getting worse and worse and soon, I couldn’t read the newspaper without a magnifying glass. I was very quickly ushered into the office of one of B.C.’s top ophthalmologists who not only ran numerous tests on me, but also sent me to see several other specialists – all for free. And I got to thinking that in third world countries, many people can’t afford eye care at all. Many children go without the glasses they need to read. And so I became involved with TWECS.

 It sounds like a really worthwhile charity. What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on two novels right now – the second of The Shadow of the Unicorn series, and another very creepy middle grade/YA novel entitled: A Town Bewitched. It’s a story about a child prodigy in classical violin growing up in a small town. Her best friend is a girl adopted into a white family from China. As you can imagine, they have trouble fitting in and to make matters worse, Kira’s dad passed away from cancer. A strange guest attends his funeral – a red-headed fiddler with strange blue eyes, who takes over the whole town by bewitching them with her Celtic music.  When someone vandalises the town, leaving dead and gutted birds as a calling card, only Kira knows who the real perpetrator is. But will anyone believe her?

Well Suzanne, I wish you good luck with your two projects. Thank you very much for coming on the blog today. Where can we find your novel?
You can buy it at the following links:

Here the trailer for 'Shadow of the Unicorn'

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Helena Fairfax is visiting today!

Today I am delighted to welcome Helena Fairfax whose debut novel, The Silk Romance, was released on Friday 24th May by MuseitUp Publishing, which happens to be my publishing house too. What is exciting for me is that Helena set her novel in Lyon, the town I grew up in! Her novel is wonderful and I absolutely love the cover!

Bonjour Helena, and congratulations on the release of your novel. 

Bonjour Marie, and thank you so much for having me on your blog!  When I found out that a fellow Muse author was actually from the city of Lyon, I was thrilled.  It has long been one of my favourite cities, and forms the wonderful setting for my first novel, The Silk Romance.

I am very intrigued...Why did you choose Lyon for the setting of The Silk Romance?

You must be curious to know how someone from a small town in the north of England came to have this love for your city.  Well, when I was a student – many years ago now! – I spent a few months in Lyon working as an au pair.  (And by the way, I wish I had known you then, Marie.  It would have been lovely to visit you in your home town J )
As an au pair I lived with my family in the most romantic location, right on the banks of the river Saône, overlooking Lyon’s old town.  Right beneath my window was a large, colourful market, full of beautiful fruits, and bustling with sounds and smells. 

You can imagine the contrast for a young girl, coming from a bleak, grey town in England, to this wonderful, bright, sun-filled and vibrant city.   Everywhere there are cafés and people spilling out into the streets, and for a young girl, the night-life was wonderful.  The evenings were warm and it was possible to sit outside the bars and restaurants and relax with friends, in a way which is rarely possible in my chilly part of the world.
So you can understand that when it came to writing my first novel, I wanted this beautiful city to be the setting.  I also had another interest in Lyon.  Some time after I left university, I started work at a woollen mill in Yorkshire.  My home county of Yorkshire is famous for its woollen weaving industry, in the same way that Lyon is famous for its silk-weaving.

In fact, silk-weaving is literally built into the fabric of Lyon.  All through the city you will find little covered stone alleyways, called traboules.  These shadowy alleyways were used by the silk-workers, so that their rolls of cloth were protected from the rain.  You can walk through many of the traboules today, and they are a fascinating reminder of Lyon’s past.

I decided to set my novel in a silk-weaving mill – a mill which is owned by the gorgeous hero of my novel, Jean-Luc Olivier.  If you’d like to know more about silk-weaving in Lyon, I have written a post on the subject here on my blog:

And if you’d like to find out more about Jean-Luc, and my charming heroine Sophie, here is the blurb to The Silk Romance:

Jean-Luc Olivier is a courageous racing driver with the world before him.  Sophie Challoner is a penniless student, whose face is unknown beyond her own rundown estate in London.  The night they spend together in Paris seems to Sophie like a fairytale—a Cinderella story without the happy ending. She knows she has no part in Jean-Luc’s future.  She made her dying mother a promise to take care of her father and brother in London.   One night of happiness is all Sophie allows herself. She runs away from Jean-Luc and returns to England to keep her promise.

Safely back home with her father and brother, and immersed in her college work, Sophie tries her best to forget their encounter, but she reckons without Jean-Luc.  He is determined to find out why she left him, and intrigued to discover the real Sophie.  He engineers a student placement Sophie can’t refuse, and so, unwillingly, she finds herself back in France, working for Jean-Luc in the silk mill he now owns.

Thrown together for a few short weeks in Lyon, the romantic city of silk, their mutual love begins to grow.  But it seems the fates are conspiring against Sophie’s happiness.  Jean-Luc has secrets of his own.  Then, when disaster strikes at home in London, Sophie is faced with a choicestay in this glamorous world with the man she loves, or return to her family to keep the sacred promise she made her mother.
If you’ve enjoyed my taster of Lyon, please come and visit me some time on my blog, on my Facebook page, on Goodreads, or you can find me on Twitter @helenafairfax  I always love to meet new people J

The Silk Romance is available from the Muse bookstore, or from Amazon and most major e-tailers.

Merci beaucoup, Marie!  Thanks very much for inviting me to your blog.  It’s been great to meet you here, amongst so many reminders of my happy time in your home town.

À bientôt!
Thank you for being a guest today Helena and 'bonne chance' with The Silk Romance. I really enjoyed your novel and I must say that I fell in love with Jean-Luc...