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I’m thrilled to be able to share with you today the trailer for my novel Indiscretion, which will publish next week!

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When I write a novel, I immerse myself in the culture of the setting. For Indiscretion, set in Andalusia, Spain, that was an absolute pleasure, for it meant many hours enjoying one of my favourite art forms: the flamenco.

The flamenco originated in Andalusia in the eighteenth century, and it is the dance of the gitanos (Romani people of Spain). It has two main facets:

  • The movement: This includes the baile (dance),the palmas(handclapping) and pitos (finger snapping).
  • The music: The cante (singing) and toque (guitar playing).

What is striking about flamenco is how it draws in both performer and spectator – indeed, there is no such thing as an onlooker; when you are close to a flamenco performance, you are in that performance: you cannot stay still and silent. See, for example, how collaborative the artists are in this flamenco sung by Estrella Morente:

In addition to the music and movement elements of the pure flamenco, a whole culture exists around it:

  • Gatherings like the juergas – informal, spontaneous meetings such as the gypsies hold in my book Indiscretion – through to professional performances. Even abroad flamenco has its place. The famous Sadler’s Wells in London, for example, teaches its students the flamenco and holds a world-renowned Flamenco Festival.
  • Poetry inspired by the movement and music. In Houston, for example, there exists the Flamenco Poets Society that is ‘dedicated to promoting an appreciation and understanding of Latin American & Spanish poets and the Flamenco Arts’.
  • And, of course, the most beautiful costumes. Did you know that fashion designers in the 1950s were particularly inspired by the flamenco? Here’s an example of a dress designed by Michael Sherard that I once saw at an exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum: http://www.vam.ac.uk/users/node/17260.

Flamenco has become not only a symbol of the Spanish passion but also a very popular dance worldwide. In Japan there are more flamenco academies than there are in Spain! What is the draw? It comes down to the emotion that is incarnate in the art form, I believe. Flamenco is about love, and it is about loss, about death. ‘Why couple these two most important experiences of life?’ my heroine Alexandra asks in Indiscretion. Salvador’s response is as follows:

‘Spanish flamenco is the embodiment of passion. Some people say that music is at its best when wild and unleashed. Flamenco is often like that, heels stamping, castanets clicking, skirts of the dancers whirling. But a singer may sing a sad love song. Flamenco, and especially Andalucian flamenco, is a force of nature … like love. The singer reaches deep down into his soul and that is what makes the notes so, as you say, poignant.’

I will leave you with a beautiful example of a flamenco dance by Celina Zambon. Oh, to dance like that!

A recent report by children’s publisher Scholastic found that while parents often stop reading aloud to children once they can read independently, many children up to the age of eleven wish their parents would continue. Reading with a parent is, of course, quality time, but I think the reason also comes down to the joy of hearing a book read aloud.

Storytelling is an art form that dates back as long ago as the formation of speech. But for so many years it was purely oral. So you may say it is in our blood to enjoy a story told aloud – we are programmed, like our predecessors, to sit at the fireside and listen avidly to a story that is not only a good tale, but also one that is told well enough to hold our interest.

Until the digital revolution, audiobooks were not widely popular. They came in large, clunky plastic cases full of cassettes – and then, finally, CDs. Many associated them with the elderly and those with visual impairment. They didn’t have quite the panache of the paperback or the serious weightiness of the hardback.

But then digital as a medium crept into the market, and exploded. People began to demand that technology offer more ways to engage with all manner of cultural things – art, music, theatre, film and, of course, books. Much has been written of the ebook. But alongside the development of the ebook, the audiobook has gone from strength to strength.

Audible became a frontrunner in changing the reputation of the audiobook and working to widen its consumer base. To date, it has amassed 150,000 audio programs from audiobook publishers, as well as broadcasters, entertainers, magazine and newspaper publishers and business information providers, which amounts to more than 1.5 million hours of listening. So successful did Audible become that it was bought by Amazon in 2008.

Why the growing interest in stories told aloud? I think several reasons exist:

  • Audiobooks are more readily available than ever, via various means. You can buy a CD, for example, or you can access the book on a pay-per-month platform like Audible. You can even, via Whispersync for Voice, switch between reading a book on the Kindle and listening to it as an audiobook.
  • As more and more publishers go audio, a wider range of books is available, making it a viable format for many listener-readers.
  • They’re more in vogue than ever. Those who can read now sometimes choose to listen instead.
  • The pace of life has picked up, which can make fitting in the time to sit and read a book more difficult. Audiobooks allow one to multitask – ‘reading’ while commuting to work on the train, for example; thereby giving eyes overloaded with digital information from phones, tablets, computers and so on a much-needed rest.
  • Production has become even more professional. Some of the narrators are just wonderful, and so much thought goes into making the book. Here, for example, is the narrator of the audiobook for my novel The Echoes of Love (actor Matt Addis) sharing a little about the process:

The future, then, for audiobooks is bright indeed, with ever-more innovative initiatives being rolled out to entice new readers to the medium. Audible, for example, has launched the ‘Stories that Surround You’ campaign in an attempt to bring onboard new, younger readers. It has created a brilliant video showing the joy of immersion in a story world via oral storytelling. I love the blend of the real world with fantasy: it really conveys what it is to be a book lover.

My books The Echoes of Love and Indiscretionwill be available as audiobooks soon. Watch this space for news!

In my novel The Echoes of Love Paolo and Venetia take some time out to get to know each other on the island of Sardinia. There, they attend a very special ceremony in Castelsardo, in the northwest of the island, which is a key part of the town’s cultural identity.

The Lunissanti takes places on the Holy Monday right before Easter, and it involves a procession focused onthe Mysteries, the instruments of the Passion of Christ –different objects relating to Jesus’s crucifixion: the chalice, the glove, the pillar, the chain, the scale, the crown of thorns, the cross, the ladder, the hammer and tongs, the spear and the sponge.

Early in the morning, at sunrise, the people of Castelsardo attend a mass at the Church of Santa Maria. Then the apostuli (those chosen to bear the Mysteries) begin the procession to voices lifted in song provided by the cantori – three choirsof twelve members each, called lu Miserere, luStabat and luJesu.

The procession winds through the streets, lined with people, to its destination: the abbey of Nostra Signora di Tergu. There, the apostuli place the Mysteries in front of the altar, andanother mass is held.

Afterwards, the people feast before the abbey to celebrate the arrival of spring. And then, as the sun lowers in the sky, the procession reforms and returns through now candle-lit streets to the Church of Santa Maria, for a rite of thanksgiving. I describe the scene thus in The Echoes of Love:

Suddenly from afar burst the swelling melody of the Miserere, throbbing through the night, sung by a perfect choir and perfect soloists. An impressive silence blanketed the town while they listened to the exquisitely mournful sound. Soon the procession came marching up the narrow medieval street on their slow way home to the Church of Santa Maria where it had all started at dawn.

Men that were part of the Confraternita di Santa Croce were dressed in white tunics and cloaks with thin, high-tapering hoods… The cowled men and the pilgrims all held torches or candles, the golden glow of which threw a warm tone over the attendant multitude, swarming like bees to get a nearer view. As the procession passed by, the crowds lining the streets fell devoutly upon their knees.

Paolo and Venetia joined the worshippers on their way to the Church of Santa Maria, following the wooden cross and the human skull set on a tray, both carried by the apostles and accompanied by prayers and religious chanting of the three choruses. 

There was an intensity about the worship which Venetia had not observed before, even in Spain. It was as if a great mystical shadow was being cast by the twenty-four hooded men and it stirred Venetia’s emotions profoundly. She could well understand how this sort of rite recalling the Passion of Jesus and involving legions of devotees would awaken a lagging faith and leave an indelible and unforgettable impression for all time – for who could ever erase the memory of one of these processions wending its glimmering way at night through the narrow medieval Sardinian streets into the immensity of the dark, waiting church? 

‘The Miserere’, to which I refer, is a psalm by the sixteenth-century Italian composer and priest Gregorio Allegri. It really is beautiful, as this video portrays.

This song, and others, are core elements of the Lunissanti, and deeply moving ones. Paolo tells Venetia, ‘It is a profoundly spiritual ritual. I found it cleansing somehow.’ And as she watches him in the church, she sees how engrossed he is in the ceremony, and it touches her. I write:

She had sometimes wondered if Paolo had a faith, and now she found a potential new facet to his personality that intrigued her. Her heart flooded with compassion and love for him.  At that moment, she wanted nothing more than to make him happy, to compensate for all the countless years and memories he no longer had.

Perhaps not the most conventional of dates for a courting couple. But I love the connection it creates for them.They are not so much people in that church, they are souls. Soulmates.

A very happy Christmas to you!

The radio station I listen to while pottering around at home waited until the 1 December this year before digging into its Christmas archives, but since then I have heard plenty of seasonal tunes. But only one makes me stop what I’m doing and listen. It’s so hauntingly beautiful, it gives me tingles, and the more I hear it, the more I think it’s the most romantic of Christmas songs. Here it is:

‘The Power of Love’ was a December number-one hit for the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood back when it was released in 1984, but it is Gabrielle Aplin’s version (number one exactly 28 years later) that really moves me.

First, I like the fact that this isn’t overtly a Christmas song. The connection to Christmas comes from the release date of the original song and the nativity theme in its original video, and a certain quality to the emotion of the song; as the song’s writer Holly Johnson put it, ‘there is a biblical aspect to its spirituality and passion’. The store John Lewis harnessed the Christmas spirit embodied in the music by making it the theme for its sweet Christmas advert in 2012.

But for me, it’s the lyrics of the song that earn it my vote for most romantic song.

Feels like fire
I’m so in love with you
Dreams are like angels
They keep bad at bay, bad at bay
Love is the light
Scaring darkness away

I’m so in love with you
Purge the soul
Make love your goal

The power of love
A force from above
Cleaning my soul
Flame on burn desire
Love with tongues of fire
Purge the soul
Make love your goal

I’ll protect you from the hooded claw
Keep the vampires from your door
When the chips are down I’ll be around
With my undying, death-defying
Love for you

Envy will hurt itself
Let yourself be beautiful
Sparkling love, flowers
And pearls and pretty girls
Love is like an energy
Rushin’ rushin’ inside of me

The power of love
A force from above
Cleaning my soul
Flame on burn desire
Love with tongues of fire
Purge the soul
Make love your goal

 

This time we go sublime
Lovers entwine, divine divine
Love is danger, love is pleasure
Love is pure, the only treasure

I’m so in love with you
Purge the soul
Make love your goal

The power of love
A force from above
Cleaning my soul
The power of love
A force from above
A sky-scraping dove

Flame on burn desire
Love with tongues of fire
Purge the soul
Make love your goal

The language is so carefully chosen for effect. Active, emotive verbs: feel, purge, desire, protect. Nouns that encapsulate all it means to fall in love: dream, angel, light, darkness, soul, power, flame, energy, danger, lover, pleasure. Descriptions that bring imagery to life: undying, death-defying, beautiful, sparkling, sublime, divine, pure.

The result is a song that conveys the message that Holly Johnson later said he wished to share: ‘Love is the only thing that matters in the end.’

What do you think? Do you like this song? Is there another song you put on the stereo to create a romantic mood at Christmas time? Please do share if you’d like to.

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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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The Echoes of Love is a touching love story that unfolds at the turn of the new millennium, set in the romantic and mysterious city of Venice and the beautiful landscape of Tuscany.

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Secrets, danger and passion under the scorching Spanish sun. Set in the wild landscape of Andalucia, Indiscretion is a compelling story of love and identity, danger

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