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If you’ve been following book news in the past week you’ll have read about erotic romance ebook publisher Total-E-Bound’s new initiative: giving classic romance novels an ‘erotic makeover’. Inspired by the success of the Fifty Shades series, the publisher has decided to add some spice to several classic titles. The books, which are beloved of women worldwide – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Northanger Abbey – are being released with additional erotic scenes penned by romance authors. According to the Independent:

Some original fans of Jane Eyre might be unhappy to discover that the female protagonist has “explosive sex with Mr Rochester” in the publisher’s erotic edition. In Wuthering Heights, heroine Catherine Earnshaw “enjoys bondage sessions” with Heathcliff.

Of course, under UK law, these classic English works are outside of the period of copyright restriction, which means anyone can publish – and play with – the words.

Those reacting to the news fall into two, diametrically opposed, camps: those who enjoy creative exploration, and those who believe touching such timeless novels is sacrilegious. I have to confess, I’m with the latter camp. Novels like Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights have been my firm favourites since my teenage years, and I think much of their charm comes from their innocence, from the lack of eroticism. The writing leaves much to the imagination, and I see nothing wrong with that. We respect the era in which these women were writing, the societal norms they had to follow, the constraints they faced compared to how we may write today. Were the original authors able to see their works added to in this way, I think they would be shocked. For how much did the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen know of sensuality and sex? Of the three, only one married.

The question, I think, comes down to one of respect for a work of art. Such is the popularity of these classic English novels that I don’t think it is a stretch to class them as art. Would we re-sculpt Michelangelo’s David to modernise his hairstyle? Or add a section to a Beethoven symphony to make it more in keeping with modern-day rap or rock or pop music?

What do you think? I’d be interested to hear your views on the subject.

When does the urge to be a writer commence? The nights, as a young toddler, that you sit on your parent’s knee and gaze at the scenes in a picture book while the words you hear spoken twist and gallop and soothe all around you? The time you first hold a pencil and, without guidance, form your first recognisable letter? The day you visit a library or a book shop and think not only that you wish you could read every book you see, but also write one and be part of this wonderful ‘club’? Or perhaps it is the moment you first receive praise from another for your writing, or the suggestion that perhaps, indeed, you can write – such an exciting discovery!

It seems to me that most people who write as adults have had the desire, the need, to do so from fairly early in childhood – though it may go unacknowledged for so many years before you are ready to write, or have the space and the means to do so. If that is the case, and great writers are born of inquisitive, creative, inspired children, then education is all the more important.

Have you followed the news in the UK recently about changes that are on the cards for the national curriculum? Responding to concerns about levels of literacy and spoken and written English, the government is planning to tighten up spelling and grammar teaching. And according to a recent article in the Guardian, all children will also learn and recite poetry.

I have my own education, at a convent school in Alexandria, in part to thank for my love of poetry (that and my parents), so I think it will be wonderful for children to get more involved with poetry. And in ‘performing’ a poem, they will engage more with the contents, and gain confidence in their mastery of language. What will be most important, I think, is that they have the opportunity to choose the poems they most like to recite from a suitable selection, because when you allow a child choice, you empower him. And creativity is born of sources of inspiration with which you naturally engage.

I was also interested to read in the Guardian article that proposals are being put forward to make learning a second language compulsory at primary school, from the age of seven. At that age I was speaking French, English and Arabic, and I think it is certainly easier to pick up a language as a young child. As well as the obvious benefits of learning another language (confidence, conversing with people of other cultures, opening up opportunities for travel and so on), should they go ahead, the language lessons for younger children can also help them engage further with writing and reading in their own language – for all study of linguistics feeds the part of the mind that loves to make sense of the world through letters arranged into words arranged into sentences arranged into paragraphs.

It will be interesting to see how the changes roll out. I hope it has the desired effect and helps more children come to know the joy of reading and writing, because it’s a joy that is so deeply affective it stays with you for life.

A carriage ride around verdant Hyde Park. A stroll along the Thames at dusk, admiring the misty lights of the Houses of Parliament. A coffee in a pavement cafe in Covent Garden, watching opera singers vie with circus performers for the public’s attention. A wander around the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum. A show in the West End. A meal at the top of the OXO tower on the South Bank, sitting on the terrace and drinking in the London scene laid out majestically before you.

Add the Royal Wedding, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the upcoming Olympics, and it’s little wonder that London has come out top in a poll to discover Europe’s most romantic city.

Commissioned by MissTravel.com, a travel dating website, survey respondents indicated that London is the ideal destination for a romantic break. According to the Evening Standard, the next most romantic European city was Rome, then Paris, Milan, Prague, Amsterdam, Budapest, Venice, Antalya and finally Barcelona.

I do love London – the parks, the restaurants, the culture and the architecture. But I think that often when you live near a place, it lacks the attraction of a less familiar, more exotic location. I quite understand why the top ten list is dominated by Italian cities, and I think this is the direction in which I would lean. I am currently writing a novel set in Italy, and so I recently spent some time there. Such a romantic place!

I think, though, that one’s most romantic city can quite simply be shaped by the experience you have there. Even in a city lacking all the trappings of romance, if you are with the right partner, the magic is there and the city will always be a wonderful place in your memories.

I’d be interested to know what your most romantic city would be – within Europe and worldwide.  Where have you been that you loved? Where have you been that you thought would be wonderfully romantic, but disappointed you? In which city would you most like to have a date?

With the Queen on most people’s minds, the Huffington Post recently published a list of favourite queens from literature. They included three queens from Alice in Wonderland, Tatiana from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Guinevere from the many stories of King Arthur, Lady Macbeth from Macbeth, the White Witch from the Narnia series, the Faerie Queen from Edmund Spenser’s poem, and several others with which I am not familiar.

The characters of queens portrayed in literature appear to fall into two camps: wicked, power-hungry and cruel, like Lady Macbeth, the Narnia witch and the beauty-obsessed queen of the Snow White fairytale; or they are so virtuous and good and beautiful that they transcend normal humanity and become ethereal and magical. How difficult to be a queen, then, who is simply a normal person, doing her best in her role but making mistakes as would anyone.

This article sparked my imagination, so I decided to do some research online and look for other queens portrayed in literature. Google misinterpreted my search query and led me straight to the website of the University of Indiana, to a library page on children’s games of the past. There I read about a deck of playing cards created in New York in 1886 called ‘Queens of Literature’. It is amazing in that people respected and admired female writers sufficiently to dub them queens. The cards feature eight authors, of whom Louisa May Alcott, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte and Harriet Beecher Stowe are the most familiar to us today.

Whom would you include if you were to settle on eight ‘queens of literature’? Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Dickinson, Margaret Atwood, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, JK Rowling, LM Montgomery… isn’t it wonderful that there are so, so many possibilities!

Did you watch any of the Queen’s jubilee celebrations on the television? I enjoyed watching the flotilla, the fireworks after the concert and the coverage of the National Service of Thanksgiving; but what most drew my attention was the television footage of the Royal Family from many years ago. One film in particular caught my eye – Princess Elizabeth’s visit to Kenya in 1952, aged 26, during which she discovered that her father had passed away and she had acceded to the throne of England.

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip were attending a state dinner at Treetops Hotel when the news reached them. As conservationist Jim Corbett, who was one of her party, put it: “For the first time in the history of the world a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess, and after having described it as her most thrilling experience, she climbed down from the tree the next day a Queen.”

Treetops is located in Aberdare National Park, near the township of Nyeri, and is a unique and wonderful building – a treehouse that affords guests an uninterrupted view of the surrounding wildlife from the observation lounges and ground-floor hides. The footage of the Royals included all manner of wild animals, which the young prince and princess were delighted to see up close.

Watching the footage, my mind at once skipped to another young woman taking in the sights of Kenya two decades later, grieving a lost father and having to take on new, weighty responsibilities: the heroine of my novel Burning Embers.  Nyeri is not far from where Coral stays with friends near Nairobi and Narok, and through the course of the book Coral explores much of the surrounding area – by car, by plane, by hot air balloon. She too is keen to see the wildlife in its natural habitat, undisturbed.

Built in 1932, Treetops has long attracted notable guests. As well as the Queen, who visited the hotel again in 1983, guests have included the 1st Baron Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouts, Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford and Lord Mountbatten. I like to imagine that Treetops would be a destination for Rafe and Coral too as they go forward in their lives together – an ideal spot for a romantic weekend away, in the very heart of the country they love.

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An unforgettable passion ignited in the heart of Africa. A fragile love tormented by secrets and betrayal. Coral Sinclair, a beautiful but naïve young photographer

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