‘Layla, you’ve got me on my knees.
Layla, I’m begging, darling, please.
Layla, darling, won’t you ease my worried mind.’
So sang Eric Clapton. ‘Layla’ is widely heralded as one of the greatest rock love songs of all time, but do you know the story behind the music?
The inspiration for ‘Layla’ is a very old tale, that of unrequited love in 7th-century Persian. It is a story that has been inspiring creatives for centuries, having been popularised by the 12th-century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. Here are just some of the artworks it has inspired:
The story of Layla and Majnun is, as English poet Lord Byron put it, ‘the Romeo and Juliet of the East’. Various versions exist, but at the core of each is a love that cannot be.
A young man named Qais ibn Al-Mulawah (known as Qays) fell in love with a young lady named Layla: deeply, irrevocably, hopelessly in love. He put his all into wooing Layla, and she reciprocated, falling in love with him. But he became so obsessed by Layla that locals dubbed him Majnun, meaning madman. Consequently, when Majnun finally plucked up the courage to ask Layla’s father for her hand in marriage, he refused, on the grounds that Majnun was a crazy, and thus unsuitable, suitor. Against her wishes, Layla was married off to a wealthy merchant, and a heartbroken Majnun fled the village, to wander the wilderness, murmuring love poems to an audience of wild creatures.
Like Romeo and Juliet, the ending is a sad one. Layla died first, of a broken heart, and Majnun then died of grief at her tomb, after inscribing into a rock:
I pass by these walls, the walls of Layla And I kiss this wall and that wall It’s not Love of the walls that has enraptured my heart But of the One who dwells within them.
Another version of the story has the star-crossed lovers meeting at school. Majnun would be beaten for paying attention to Layla rather than his studies, but for each stroke it was Layla, somehow, who would bleed. When their families discovered the powerful and mystical link between the two, a feud sprang up. As the two reached adulthood, their union was forbidden. Majnun ended up fighting Layla’s controlling brother and killing him (shades of Tybalt). To save Majnun from being stoned to death for this crime, Layla agreed to marry another man, while Majnun was exiled. But as time wore on, Layla pined for Majnun, and her new husband was jealous. He decided to remove the threat, and he rode into the wilderness, found Majnun and stabbed him in the chest. At the moment of Majnun’s death, Layla’s heart stopped beating too.
To this day, each June newlyweds and those who are betrothed come to the village of Binjaur in the state of Rajasthan, India, to pay homage at what legend tells is the tomb of Layla and Majnun, a symbolic place representing love and union – for the two are remembered together eternally in the afterlife, where madness and feuding cannot touch them.
Persephone has returned from the underworld, heralding the return of spring: daffodils and snowdrops, blue skies and warming sunshine, longer days and milder nights – spring has sprung!
There is such a feeling of hope in the air, of the promise of rebirth and growth and discovery. As Emily Dickinson wrote, ‘A light exists in spring.’
A light exists in spring… this line has often been on my mind, for the heroine of my latest novel, Legacy, is named Luz (Spanish for light) and her story begins in the spring.
The preceding novels in the Andalusian Nights series are set in the summer: hot and sultry. But for Legacy I wanted to lead in to that Spanish heat. Spring was the perfect season for the opening of the book because of its symbolism. Luz is embarking on a new journey of discovery, learning about the beautiful country and its passionate people, and along the way she herself blossoms into a sensual woman.
Blossom: there is another inspiration for the book. Are you familiar with Vincent Van Gogh’s Almond Blossoms paintings? Here is Almond Blossom, 1890.
When he arrived in Arles in March 1888, Van Gogh was so inspired by the fruit trees in the orchards that he painted them every single day for a fortnight and felt somewhat bereft when they were finished flowering. Two years later he painted this artwork, Almond Blossom, as a celebration of new life: it was for his new baby nephew.
I love the serenity of this artwork, the dreamy hue of the sky, the fact the onlooker is placed in the position of gazing heavenward, as if lying in soft grass under the tree, daydreaming. Most of all I love the blossom: fresh, virginal – and delicate.
There is something so delicate about blossom, and precious too, due to its ephemeral nature. Rather like first love, don’t you think? In Legacy, ‘blossom’ is a word I associate with Luz’s developing sensuality; her need for Ruy is blossoming. But that need is delicate and fragile, and it must be carefully nurtured if it is not to be fleeting like the blossom on the trees in spring – or indeed like spring itself, which passes, as Emily Dickinson writes, and leaves us with ‘a quality of loss’.
In a place as beautiful as Cadiz, Andalusia, however, there need be no loss when the spring has passed. There, in the ‘city of light’, the summer is long and heady – all the light that exists in spring can exist in summer too for Luz… if she only opens her heart to it.
Would you like to read Legacy? I have a limited number of books available for reviewers, so do let me know if you’d like to read the book in exchange for posting an honest review on Amazon.
My home in the South of France – a French mas (Provençal farmhouse) in Ste Maxime – affords beautiful views over the Mediterranean. I often write in the garden, in the shade on the terrace, or in my writing room if the heat is too much; and as I write I glance up now and again to drink in the colours of the view, especially the azure ocean. Sometimes, though, a glance is not enough: the view commands my attention!
This is especially the case at the end of the summer each year, when a regatta, Les Voiles de St Tropez, takes place in the gulf of St Tropez. This is what I see from my house:
I love to watch the sailboats racing through the waters; they call to mine this verse from Lord Byron’s The Corsair:
O’er the glad waters of the dark blue sea,
Our thoughts as boundless, and our souls as free,
Far as the breeze can bear, the billows foam,
Survey our empire, and behold our home!
Freedom, exhilaration, abandon, joy – these are sensations that I associate with sailing, and they were inspirations for my Andalucían Nights series.
The second book, Masquerade, and the final book, Legacy, are set in the city of Cadiz, Spain, which is known as ‘the Bride of the Sea’ because it is almost entirely surrounded by the ocean. In Masquerade, my heroine Luz is spirited and liberated. She feels an affinity with the sea, and is confident in taking to the water herself:
On one of her outings of exploration, as she climbed through the opaque forest of thick vegetation that wound up and down the coast, she had burst into a clearing. From there, as if out of nowhere, she had come upon an expanse of shimmering blue ocean enclosed within a small cove. It lay at the bottom of the escarpment, surrounded by little creeks and rocky caves, with lonely golden beaches sandwiched between haciendas. Since it was impossible to reach by foot, the next day she hired a small boat and, using her sense of direction, found one of the approaches to this magical place through the rocks. It looked lonely, with only a few seagulls strutting about on the wet sand at the water’s edge. And there, in complete seclusion, she bathed until sunset. After that, she came every day.
Later in the book, the hero Andrés takes her sailing and… well, I wouldn’t want to give away the plot. Suffice it to say that I explore the dramatic, as well as the serene, side of sailing.
Legacy, the final book in the series, resonates with echoes of the past, one of which is a return to the water. Ruy takes Luna sailing on the Vela Gitana (Sailing Gypsy), a 1953 yacht. It may be old, but it is also handsome and romantic –‘What a dream,’ Luna says as she climbs aboard.
I could not resist working in at this point Les Voiles de St-Tropez. Ruy explains:
‘Last year she entered the regatta of Les Voiles de St-Tropez, which used to be known as La Nioulargue, and she more than held her own among all the modern yachts, as well as some really beautiful traditional ones.’
There is something sublimely romantic about sailing; but beyond romance, a sensuality can spring up. In both Masquerade and Legacy sailing stirs emotion in the characters; their proximity to nature, to the wild and tempestuous sea, fires up their chemistry.
I will leave you with a poem by one of my favourite writers from English literature, William Wordsworth, which perfectly encapsulates the fusion of sailing and sensuality.
With ships the sea was sprinkled
With ships the sea was sprinkled far and nigh,
Like stars in heaven, and joyously it showed;
Some lying fast at anchor in the road,
Some veering up and down, one knew not why.
A goodly vessel did I then espy
Come like a giant from a haven broad;
And lustily along the bay she strode,
Her tackling rich, and of apparel high.
The ship was nought to me, nor I to her,
Yet I pursued her with a lover’s look;
This ship to all the rest did I prefer:
When will she turn, and whither? She will brook
No tarrying; where she comes the winds must stir:
On went she, and due north her journey took.
… so wrote playwright Christopher Marlowe in this speech for Doctor Faustus:
Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss:
Her lips sucks forth my soul, see where it flies!
Come Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven be in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena!
These lines date from the sixteenth century, and yet their meaning resonates to this day. For a kiss can be so soulful: remember ‘Soul meets soul on lovers’ lips’ (Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound). A kiss is also of pivotal importance in a love story, whether at the beginning, at the end or as a turning point.
Recently, TLC television network conducted research of 2,000 adults in the UK to discover the nation’s favourite on-screen kiss. In first place was Rose and Jack’s kiss in Titanic. The top of the list is as follows:
1. Titanic (on the front deck of the Titanic)
2. Lady and the Tramp (kiss over spaghetti)
3. Ghost (Sam and Molly’s last kiss)
4. Pretty Woman (kiss on the fire escape)
5. Dirty Dancing (kiss at the end)
6. Bridget Jones’s Diary (kiss in the snow)
7. Spider Man (the upside kiss)
8. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (kiss in the rain)
9. Gone with the Wind (‘You need kissing badly’)
10. The Empire Strikes Back (Han Solo and Princess Leia’s kiss)
11. The Notebook (kiss in the rain)
12. An Officer and a Gentleman (Richard Gere and Debra Winger)
My personal favourite has to be Gone with the Wind, although I think I prefer the scene in which Rhett and Scarlett almost kiss, but Rhett declares: ‘No, I don’t think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.’
Which is your favourite on-screen kiss?
I confess, while I love to watch movies, and go to the theatre, I am far more likely to be found immersed in a literary world, and consequently when I consider kisses in love stories it is fiction that springs at once to mind.
Take a look at this excerpt from the novel Gone with the Wind:
“Scarlett O’Hara, you’re a fool!”
Before she could withdraw her mind from its far places, his arms were around her, as sure and hard as on the dark road to Tara, so long ago. She felt again the rush of helplessness, the sinking yielding, the surging tide of warmth that left her limp. And the quiet face of Ashley Wilkes was blurred and drowned to nothingness. He bent back her head across his arm and kissed her, softly at first, and then with a swift gradation of intensity that made her cling to him as the only solid thing in a dizzy swaying world. His insistent mouth was parting her shaking lips, sending wild tremors along her nerves, evoking from her sensations she had never known she was capable of feeling. And before a swimming giddiness spun her round and round, she knew that she was kissing him back.
“Stop–please, I’m faint!” she whispered, trying to turn her head weakly from him. He pressed her head back hard against his shoulder and she had a dizzy glimpse of his face. His eyes were wide and blazing queerly and the tremor in his arms frightened her.
“I want to make you faint. I will make you faint. You’ve had this coming to you for years. None of the fools you’ve known have kissed you like this–have they? Your precious Charles or Frank or your stupid Ashley–”
“I said your stupid Ashley. Gentlemen all–what do they know about women? What did they know about you? I know you.”
Phew! Now that’s a memorable kiss, don’t you think? For me, it’s a much more poignant and stirring than the visual version.
One of the best things about being a romance novelist is that you have free licence to daydream about kissing – a lot. My absolute favourite part of writing a novel is putting on paper the first kiss. Usually, as in my latest novel Legacy, I build up to it slowly: a polite peck on the cheek that lingers a little too long, lips pressed to the back of the hand in a courtly fashion, a night-time dream that is so vivid the heroine can almost feel his lips on hers.
Here’s an exclusive peek at that heady first kiss in Legacy, which has been a long time coming for both Luna and Ruy:
Before she knew it, he had taken her in his arms, his mouth closing over hers with all the pent-up fire that had burnt them both since they had first met. Unable to resist, she responded with equal fever. He pushed his body against her until she was backed up against the wall of the summerhouse. Flames erupted between them as their lips, hands and bodies tried to satiate the craving that had tortured their days and nights. The hard pressure of his arousal pushed against the curve of her thigh and pleasure surged through her like white, liquid heat. His tongue found hers, plunging into her mouth and retreating over and over again in such a wildly suggestive rhythm that she thought she would go mad. In that moment, with the whole of the world shut out, only the two of them existed.
That, I think, is the very essence of why a kiss is so important: it creates a moment in which only she and he exist. The world, with all its clamour and cynicism, falls away, and there is only sensation and soul.
I will leave you with my favourite poetic rendering of a kiss, taken from Lord Byron’s Don Juan (Canto II):
They look’d up to the sky, whose floating glow
Spread like a rosy ocean, vast and bright;
They gazed upon the glittering sea below,
Whence the broad moon rose circling into sight;
They heard the wave’s splash, and the wind so low,
And saw each other’s dark eyes darting light
Into each other – and, beholding this,
Their lips drew near, and clung into a kiss;
A long, long kiss, a kiss of youth, and love,
And beauty, all concentrating like rays
Into one focus, kindled from above;
Such kisses as belong to early days,
Where heart, and soul, and sense, in concert move,
And the blood’s lava, and the pulse a blaze,
Each kiss a heart-quake, for a kiss’s strength,
I think, it much be reckon’d by its length.
By length I mean duration; theirs endured
Heaven knows how long – no doubt they never reckon’d’
And if they had, they could not have secured
The sum of their sensations to a second:
They had not spoken; but they felt allured,
As if their souls and lips each other beckon’d,
Which, being join’d, like swarming bees they clung –
Their hearts the flowers from whence the honey sprung.
This holiday season, I have been fortune enough to do some stargazing. The night skies have been velvety blankets sprinkled with stars, and the moon… magnifique!
I have always been fascinated by astronomy and astrology, but more than anything the moon has captured my imagination since childhood. Little wonder back then when it features so prominently in children’s stories and rhymes – from the cow jumping over the moon in ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ to little lost Hansel and Gretel trying to follow their trail of breadcrumbs in the moonlight. But then childhood melted away, yet feeling wonder whenever I looked up at night never did.
Of course, I am not remotely alone in my fascination with the mysterious, omniscient moon. For centuries dreamers have gazed upwards and pondered. One of my favourite such ponderings is this poem by Thoreau entitled ‘The Moon’:
The full-orbed moon with unchanged ray
Mounts up the eastern sky,
Not doomed to these short nights for aye,
But shining steadily.
She does not wane, but my fortune,
Which her rays do not bless,
My wayward path declineth soon,
But she shines not the less.
And if she faintly glimmers here,
And paled is her light,
Yet always in her proper sphere
She’s mistress of the night.
When it came to writing my latest novel, Legacy, I found myself very drawn to the line ‘She’s mistress of the light’, so much so that I named my heroine Luna. Here is the hero Ruy’s reaction when he learns her name:
‘Luna,’ he murmured, as if tasting the sound on his tongue. From his sinfully perfect lips, her name sounded positively decadent. ‘A Spanish name. The moon, Queen of the Night … Yes, of course.’
Ruy has reason to be moved by this name, because a gypsy once foretold:
‘The moon will sail up into your sky one day, my boy, and will take hold of your soul. Fate has a strange way of playing tricks on its chosen ones. Go with the tide. If you fight your fate, you will be punished. She is a capricious mistress.’
The symbolism of the moon is threaded through the book; there is the sense that just as the moon watches over all eternally from the skies, in Legacy the moon is ever-present, wielding a quiet but potent magic. For Ruy and Luna, forging a future together means stepping out of the darkness and into the light; it means, in a sense, capturing that moonlight.
‘I have seized the light – I have arrested its flight!’
So declared Frenchman Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre way back in the nineteenth century. Though little fanfare is made of it, today is in fact a historic day: on this day in 1839 Daguerre took the first photograph of the moon.
Daguerre was an artist who was renowned for his theatre design work, and he invented the diorama (which merits an article of its own). But he is best remembered as the founding father of photography. If you’re thinking that his name, Daguerre, is familiar, it is likely because he created the daguerreotype process, the Polaroid film of its day and the foundation for all modern photography.
Sadly, two months after taking his moon photograph, Daguerre lost all of his work when his laboratory burnt down, so I can’t share that seminal picture with you. But here is the oldest surviving daguerreotype photograph of the moon, taken a year later by American doctor John William Draper (source: Time magazine):
Such an early photograph says much about the human fascination with this ethereal and beautiful mistress of the night. When I look at such photographs and read poems like Thoreau’s, I am stirred to thinking we should all look heavenward more often and ‘seize the light’.