Monday, 26 July 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Landscape of a Marriage, by Gail Ward Olmsted

Fictional  Biography

"A marriage of convenience leads to a life of passion and purpose. A shared vision transforms the American landscape forever. New York, 1858: Mary, a young widow with three children, agrees to marry her brother-in-law Frederick Law Olmsted, who is acting on his late brother's deathbed plea to 'not let Mary suffer.' But she craves more than a marriage of convenience and sets out to win her husband's love. Beginning with Central Park in New York City, Mary joins Fred on his quest to create a 'beating green heart' in the center of every urban space. Over the next 40 years, Fred is inspired to create dozens of city parks, private estates and public spaces with Mary at his side. Based upon real people and true events, this is the story of Mary's journey and personal growth and the challenges inherent in loving a brilliant and ambitious man."

Landscape of A Marriage is a life of the 19th-century American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted seen through the eyes of his wife Mary. While the projects of his life form a framework for the story, they are not the focus. Instead, we see Frederick as husband and father, and both his weaknesses and his strengths.

Mary had been previously married to Frederick’s brother John, who died of tuberculosis. The marriage was perhaps one of convenience at its beginning, a duty on Frederick’s part, a safety net for Mary and her three children. The author, through Mary’s eyes, shows us a partnership growing from affection into love, although Frederick was far from an easy man, focused on work and frequently away from home for extended periods.

The story is told in a series of vignettes, and fitting the time and conventions of the period, there is a restraint to them, as if Mary is writing to a friend but still with the reticence and decorum expected of a middle-class woman.  Problems are mentioned, but usually made light of, and almost every vignette ends with a solution. Only in grief do we glimpse the woman behind this façade.

The author evokes time and place well, and she weaves Frederick’s projects and Mary’s life together effectively. Mary was brought up to believe ‘she was made of sterner stuff’; weakness or reaching for help is beneath her, and this colours what she chooses to reveal. Her reserve in recounting episodes in her marriage leaves much for the reader to ponder and consider. We are left with an impression of a strong, practical woman who has made the best of what life offers her, choosing to highlight her blessings and downplay – but not ignore – the difficulties.  

Like an old photo album, she shows us a life filtered through a lens, memories captured in light and shadow, chosen and arranged for posterity. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Marian L. Thorpe
 e-version reviewed

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Sunday, 25 July 2021

Guest Spot - Lucienne Boyce

Continuing our Sunday Series
of taking a look at some fabulous authors!

Hello Lucienne, welcome to our Discovering Diamonds Guest Spot. Along with my readers and visitors I love to hear from authors who write wonderful stories. There’s nothing better on these long, cold winter evenings, than curling up with a good book in front of a cosy fire, box of chocs and glass of wine to hand. (Unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case it’s still the wine, but a platter of cheese, crackers and grapes to hand, while stretched out in a deckchair in the garden on a warm, sunny, evening...)

Q. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself...
A. Hello and thank you for inviting me onto the Guest Spot. I was born and brought up in Wolverhampton – the birthplace of Slade – but I live in Bristol now. Bristol is a lovely place to be as it feeds my twin loves of history and place. I always get pleasure from walking the streets and imagining the people who were here before me. It was that way of looking at place which inspired me to write a book about the Bristol suffragettes, which was originally planned as a leaflet with a suffrage walk in it.

I’ve been researching the suffrage movement ever since, and my interest in women’s history has led to my involvement with the West of England and South Wales Women’s History Network – see I’m a member of the steering committee. Our aim is to promote the study of women’s and gender history, and membership is open to everyone. (There are other regional groups and a national group – see if you’re interested in finding out if there’s anything in your area.)

My other great interest is the Georgian era. In 2007 I completed an MA in English Literature with the Open University specialising in eighteenth-century literature. Since then I’ve published four novels and a novella set in the period. I’m not really interested in the tea cups, frocks and drawing room images of the period, but in the so-called “ordinary” people who history has often tended to overlook. 

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. Anglesey. 

Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A.  I’ve seen one or two cottages I like in and around Beaumaris. 

Q. Cat,  dog or budgie?
A. Budgie. We always had a budgie when I was growing up and regardless of the bird’s colour or sex it was always called Joey. 

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. Dining room. 

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. I love watching the detectives. Favourites include Poirot, The Murdoch Mysteries, Midsomer Murders, Lewis, Endeavour and Shetland. I binged on Silent Witness during and after the spring lockdown. I’m also partial to fantasy and science fiction – Dr Who of course. I loved The Witcher, and am currently watching Battlestar Galactica for the third time.  

I like listening to radio drama too. At the moment I am enjoying the Charles Paris Mysteries with the wonderful Bill Nighy, Daunt and Dervish and – for comedy – Cabin Pressure.

Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. To The Fair Land, set in the 1780s, is the story of struggling young author Ben Dearlove who sets out to find the anonymous author of a best-selling novel about a voyage to the fabled Great Southern Continent. It soon becomes clear that Ben is involved in something more dangerous than the search for a reclusive author. Before he can discover the shocking truth, Ben has to get out of prison, catch a thief, and bring a murderer to justice. 

Q. What was your last novel about?
A. Death Makes No Distinction is the third full-length Dan Foster Mystery. Bow Street Runner Dan has just started investigating the murder of an unknown beggar woman who had been beaten and left to die in a Holborn outhouse. He is ordered to drop the case to concentrate on finding the killer of a bluestocking who was formerly a lover of the Prince of Wales. Her jewellery is missing – and so are her memoirs, which threaten to expose the indiscretions of the great and the good. But Dan, adamant that a poor, nameless woman deserves justice as much as a wealthy courtesan, refuses to drop his first investigation. His enquiries take him into both the richest and foulest places in London. Things get personal when the people he loves are targeted by a shadowy and merciless adversary. 

But I have also republished To The Fair Land with a splenid new cover:

Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
I write historical fiction and non fiction, and biography. 
My historical fiction to date is set in the eighteenth century, and includes the Dan Foster Mystery Series: Bloodie Bones, The Butcher’s Block and Death Makes No Distinction. There’s also a prequel novella, The Fatal Coin. Dan is a Principal Officer of Bow Street – more popularly known as the Bow Street Runners. 

My non-fiction work centres around the history of the women’s suffrage campaign. I’ve written The Bristol Suffragettes, a history of the militant suffrage campaign in Bristol and the west country. I’ve also published a collection of short essays, many of which are based on my blog, The Road to Representation: Essays on the Women’s Suffrage Campaign, and contributed chapters to other publications, as well as giving talks, walks, and interviews about suffrage history.

I’m currently working on a biography of suffrage campaigner Millicent Price (née Browne), and her husband Charles, who was a conscientious objector during the First World War. 

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A.  I love reading fantasy and I’ve always wanted to write a fantasy novel. 

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. Dan Foster and the Citoyen. The Citoyen is a French spy Dan meets in The Butcher’s Block. Despite being on opposite sides, and although Dan never learns the Frenchman’s name, the two strike up a friendship of sorts. I think Dan has always hoped their paths would cross again one day. Who knows, perhaps they will? [Helen: yes please Lucienne!]

Q. Where would you go / what would you do?
Well, not for a drink as Dan doesn’t drink. He’s an amateur pugilist and prefers to focus his energies on keeping himself in good condition – he’s usually at the gymnasium at 5 or 6 am every day. That’s not an outing I’d join him on, nor do I think I’d really fancy going to a boxing match, especially eighteenth-century bare-knuckle style. I don’t think it would be the Citoyen’s style either. So I think they’d both enjoy spending time in a good coffee house. Their mutual regard for one another would overcome the fact that they both have secrets to keep.

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. I don’t drive and so I love travelling by car so I can watch the scenery go by and control the music. 

Q. You are out for a walk. You see a chap sitting on a wall, looking right fed up – but there’s something odd about him... What? And what do you do?
A. Depends what sort of oddity. If it’s the waving-a-knife-about sort of oddity I’d turn back, if it’s the groaning-in-pain sort I’d ask what was wrong, and if it’s mime or street theatre I’d run a mile. 

We have a long-running Radio programme here in the UK called Desert Island Discs on which celebrities talk about their life and select eight of their favourite discs... so changing that slightly...

Q. If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what eight books would you want to find left in an abandoned hut? (There’s already a Bible, the Quran, and the complete works of Shakespeare)

I’d want books I could read again and again (no knowing how long I’d be on that island) so I would choose:-

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. 
2. The Lord of the Rings (the three volume paperback edition). 
3. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.
4. Here Are Lovers by Hilda Vaughan. 
5. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers.
6. The Well at the World’s End by William Morris.
7. Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb (am I allowed to cheat and have the whole Farseer Trilogy?). [Helen - oh go on then!]
8. Evelina by Frances Burney.

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A.  Anglesey, of course! Though I admit it’s hard to be deserted there…so let’s call it Ynys Môn and imagine it’s more remote. 

Q. And you would be allowed one luxury item – what would you want it to be? (a boat or something to escape on isn’t allowed.)
A. Assuming there’s no internet, I’d have a typewriter with a bottomless supply of ribbons and paper. If that’s out of the question, then the same miraculously endless supply of pencils and paper. If that’s out of the question, then a manual on how to make your own paper and pens with whatever’s to hand...and failing all that I’d just sit and make up stories out loud. [Helen: you can have the typewriter and  all that goes with it]

Twitter: @LucienneWrite

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Amazon UK
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All novels are available in paperback, on Kindle, Nookbooks, Kobo and AppleBooks. For information and buying links see:-

The Dan Foster Mysteries:-

The Fatal Coin: A Dan Foster Mystery (novella) is available in ebook only (Kindle, Kobo, Nookbooks, AppleBooks)

The Bristol Suffragettes: Available in paperback

The Road to Representation: Essays on the Women’s Suffrage Campaign is available in paperbook and Kindle ebook, or as free ebook to newsletter subscribers (in epub, mobi or pdf)

Click HERE (and scroll down to 'B') to find our  reviews of Lucienne's books  on Discovering Diamonds

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