Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Stringing along...

One thing people who have known me far too long will know is that I love puppets, so much so that when I was a teenager I wanted to grow up to be a puppeteer...

Yes, that's me in the papers in 1990
And actually, even though art history's gain has been puppetry's loss, I still love puppets.  I blame early exposure to the Muppets...

Me and my elderly Kermit, a love affair that has lasted 40 years so far...
When I was in Prague in the Autumn I couldn't resist buying a wonderful handmade puppet from Axa Marionettes.  She is a fairy, made by the extremely talented Xenie...

Xenie the Fairy, made by Xenie the Marionette-maker

She's over two foot tall and is just exquisite.  She also added about 2kg to my luggage but was utterly worth it.

Anyway, I was wondering about the Victorians and their puppets...

A Marionette Show in the Town Square (1850) British School
Puppets appear in paintings as part of the burgeoning leisure time enjoyed by Victorians.  As fairs and circuses visited, they brought with them a Punch and Judy or little dancing marionettes, which often echo the little dancing children in the audience. 

Punch and Judy Show Edward Smythe
Punch and Judy was less popular in early Victorian times due to its subject matter probably; for those that don't know, Punch and Judy is the rather violent tale of Mr Punch, a right sod who batters his way through his family, law enforcement, feeds his baby through a sausage machine and then gets eaten by a crocodile, or something.  Much hilarity ensues.  As you can imagine it was wildly popular in Restoration times but became synonymous with the seaside culture enjoyed by the Victorians and their popularity revived. The man behind the curtain working the puppets was known as the punchman or the professor.  There was often a man out front, keeping the audience involved (such as our chap with the drum in the picture above), and he was known as the 'bottler' (he collected the money or 'bottle').

Punch and Judy Show (1810)
In this Regency painting, the Bottler appears to be dressed as Mr Punch and seems to be going bonkers.  A man observes the whole terrifying scene from his house, considering how much his house price has dropped since they arrived outside.

People Watching a Punch and Judy Sarah Louise Kilpack
These days, Punch and Judy puppeteers tend to appear at events or you pay up-front to watch, so there is no need for a bottler, but in art, they tend to be there with their drum, taking the money and engaging with the audience.

Punch and Judy (1912) Arthur Elsley
There is something about images of Punch and Judy that give the impression of a bit of colour in a otherwise quiet world.  In the image above the booth is cheerful and Mr Punch and Toby the Dog appear very bright and colourful.  Is Toby a real dog?  That is an awfully realistic dog. All else in the picture (bar the little girl in the front) is quite neutral coloured, a sort of dull echo of the action in the booth.  I especially wonder if we are supposed to notice the man in the brown smock with his hand on his hip in the middle of the crowd, with the stick over his shoulder.  He's in profile facing Punch, also in profile.  Is he a right sod too? I notice that the girl in the front in the pink bonnet is wearing a checked skirt that seemed to echo the booth.  Are we to assume her life is going to be as colourful as the puppet show?
Although I dabbled in hand puppets (like my Romeo and Juliet I was pictured with in the newspaper), I always loved marionettes.  There is something elegant and magical about the tiny people moving about by the tweak of a string.  De-Randel and his marionettes (both refined and clever) were in England in the 19th century.  His puppets were bought from other shows which shared stories and scenarios, and audience came to expect certain stock characters from puppets shows, such as skeletons, minstrels, stilt walkers and so on...

Richard Barnard's 'Columbine'
Clowes and Tiller Marionette Company's 'Drunken Wastrel'
Marvellous.  It's not a good show without a drunken wastrel.  Anyway, further to this, I was delighted to find out a very special sort of puppetry made the rounds in the 19th century...

William Corder and Maria Marten in puppet form
These two lovely puppets were part of a charming story of Maria Marten, a molecatcher's daughter, and her lover William Corder.  Once upon a time there was a pair of lovers and they planned to elope.  They met at the Red Barn near Polstead in Suffolk and off they vanished, never to be seen of again until her body turned up buried under the barn.  He was then hanged for her murder. That's the way to do it!

It's all very Penny Dreadful and the Victorian's love it but I am both delighted and puzzled to work out how on earth they managed to re-enact the whole murder with stringed puppets. I am also glad that you can see it with a new comic pantomime and children can get in for a penny.  Awesome. If you feel up to it, you can watch a bit of it here.

The Puppeteer Charles Swyncop
I was a child when I fell in love with puppets, mainly thanks to living close to the Pelham Puppet factory. For tiny hands, they are both instantly accessible and something you can develop a skill for, making the puppet move in more and more lifelike ways. The child in the painting above is just learning to control the figures which have rods by the look of it.  The metaphor for life is obvious, that children learn how to control themselves and others as adults.  I wonder if we are to see children and puppets as a comment on innocence.  The children roar with laughter at the exploits of Punch, the lord of misrule, and his appalling and murderous ways. 

The lovely Xenie the Fairy from Prague
 In the Victorian tale I'm sure Punch was shown the error of his way by the constable and the children would have learnt that mass murder was frowned on.  Similarly, the Red Barn Murder play would show us how errant young men who want to run away with us will probably bump us off and bury us under a barn.  That is something I could have done with learning earlier. All useful life lessons and the stuff of Jeremy Kyle. I was beginning to think that we have nothing like that anymore, we no longer have puppets telling us stories but we had Spitting Image and the marvellous Mongrels, not to mention Team America (for those who wondered about how peculiar a marionette sex scene would be.  Answer, very) and obviously The Muppets. One thing that brings women of my age together is the effect the film Labyrinth had on us, and it wasn't just David Bowie's tights, but also the wonderful dark magic of Brian and Wendy Froud.  Puppets are still very much with us and I for one am delighted to be pulling the strings.
For those that would like an Axa Marionette of your very own, they ship worldwide and are wonderfully friendly people.  Check out their marionettes from the link above.  Many thanks to Xenie for the beautiful fairy who has her name, and to Petr Našic for looking after our puppet until we could collect her from his studio.  It made Prague even more special to bring her home!

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Thursday 24th December - George Henry Boughton, the King of Muffs

Happy Christmas Eve, my dear Reader, and thank you for joining me for the last day of Muffvent.  I have for you a veritable Muff-extravaganza (Muffaganza?) this morning, all thanks to the art of one man, George Henry Boughton.  Unleash the Muffs!

Girl with a Muff
George Boughton was a great painter, but possibly his greatest gift to art was his plentiful and gorgeous muff pictures.  Born in Norfolk in 1833, his family emigrated to America when he was just two, and Boughton spent his youth in New York, where he taught himself to paint.  He opened his first studio at the age of 19, and one year later the American Art Union purchased one of his pictures for enough money to fund six months studying back in Britain.  By the end of the decade he made the decision to move to Europe to study further then set up his studio in London.  It's curious to think of him painting art in London at the same time as the Pre-Raphaelites but there is sympathy between his style and that of Millais. 
Girl with Muff, Winter Scene
Many of his muff pictures feature women out in harsh weather alone, on their way to church.  I couldn't work out why this young lady had one cold, pink hand out of her muff but then I realised she is carrying a book.  What book would be important enough to freeze your fingers off for? I really hope it's not far to church as that cape is not long enough to keep her kidneys warm...

Puritan Maid
It is good to know that however tyrannical the Puritans were, they approved of a good muff.  Here is another young lady with rather nice fingerless gloves and a cross-your-heart scarf, providing warmth and uplift. That hat doesn't exactly strike me as very pure either.  Oh well, as long as you are clutching a Bible, you probably can get away with quite a bit...

Woman in the Snow
I'm not sure if this young lady is concerned or delighted to find she is being followed.  I think she is pleased as he doesn't appear to be sneaking up on her, black being the most rubbish colour to wear to blend in to the wintery background.  I think she has been cast all a-flutter by the hottest puritan in the village and has to clutch a wall. We've all been there.

This is an unlikely pair, although the gentleman on the left makes quite an unlikely pair on his own.  I'm puzzled by his smock-and-garters-country-rustic-ness and the turquoise posh brolly.  Is it the woman's brolly that he is returning?  Have they just stopped to speak as they pass each other?  The lady is all bundled up in her muff and furry scarf but I bet she dying to ask about the brolly.  Did men even have exquisite turquoise brollies?  It's a side to George the Farmer she had never seen.  And she liked it...
I'm guessing Boughton intended this to be a picture of Samuel Richardson's heroine, rather than any old woman called Pam. It doesn't seem to portray any moment in the novel, certainly not any of the more exciting ones, but as Pamela is a good, chaste heroine, it could just be a mood piece.  If that is a pond she is next to, it could be the bit where she is considering making people believe she has drowned so she can attempt to escape the clutches of the naughty Mr B.  It is a great novel and a lot easier to read in the bath than Clarrisa which is enormous...

A Country Walk
Anyway, George Boughton lived a happy, easy and prosperous life in London, marrying and then adopting a daughter.  He was friends with fellow American migrants, James Whistler and Henry James, and his circle was described by the press as 'Anglo-American' in the many parties he and his wife gave at their Campden Hill House (designed by Richard Norman Shaw).  He managed to have an affair with Violet Hunt which she immortalised in two (no doubt appalling) novels Their Lives (1916) and Their Hearts (1921). When he died, he was described in his obituary as 'kindly, genial, humorous, a lover of a good story, the essence of hospitality, and wholly free from jealousy, malice, and incharitable judgments'. That's a rather lovely way to be remembered.
So my last Muffvent image for this year has to be this one...

The Lady of the Snows
The mother of all muff pictures, The Lady of the Snows is a wonderful painting.  The matching cape and muff are a riot of texture and colour - is it velvet?  Is it embroidery? Look at that fur with the stitching running along the middle! The pink of the dress and bonnet are neatly echoed in the sparse winter foliage, just as the snow echoes the fur.  Look at that massive brooch! And that muff is a triumph, both huge and snuggly.  One could hibernate in such a muff and only emerge in the Spring.  May your Christmas be as warm and welcoming as that stupendous muff, dear Reader, and may you spend it with those who love you (as much as George Boughton loves a muff)...

So, my last pressie suggestion is something that I would very much love you to give me.  If you have read and enjoyed We Are Villains All, see if you could find a moment to leave me a review on Amazon. Nice reviews encourage other people to give my book a go, and that will keep me in stockings, fans and gin.  

As an independent author, I rely on the kindness of my lovely readers to tell people that my book is worth reading.  So make an author happy this Christmas, leave a review and have my eternal gratitude.

Happy Christmas, Lovely Ones!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Wednesday 23rd December - Old Market Hall and Fountain

Are we almost there yet? Lawks, I just got back from one of the seven circles of Hell, or the local shops as it is usually known.  The only nice bit was when we had to pop into Ikea for some hot cinnamon buns.  There was absolutely no-one there, as is the case with Ikea at this time of year.  It is an absolute pleasure at Christmas.  Who saw that coming? Anyway, on with our penultimate muff....

Old Market Hall and Fountain (1880) Walter Langley
I never thought of the artist Walter Langley in the context of Birmingham, but that was actually where he was born in 1852.  More commonly known as a founder of the Newlyn school, Langley had his Brum side as well, as seen by today's offering of a young lady waiting in the Market Hall (now the site of the Bull Ring).

Walter Langley's entry in the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists membership register
In 1881, Langley was given £500 for a years work by a Birmingham photograph and with that money he moved his family to Penzance and Newlyn.  You probably know his work as being fishermen and women waiting for ill-fated fishing boats, and his wonderful watercoloured views of Cornwall.  I am less familiar with his work beyond that but I found this little treasure while muff-hunting. A young lady in smart clothes waits by the fountain in the old market halls in Birmingham.  Who is she waiting for? She looks like she is walking away - has she given up waiting?

Market Hall, Birmingham (c.1910)
Opened in 1835, the Market Hall in Birmingham was built to tidy the stalls into one place rather than have them willy-nilly over the streets in ramshackle shambles. It was built to accommodate 600 stalls, with a fountain added in 1851 in the form of a Greek tazza, at the cost of £900.

The fountain in the Market Hall (1851-1880)
The fountain that our lady waits by was actually removed in the same year this was painted.  Did the artist know as he was painting it that the fountain would be gone, and is that what is to happen to the young lady? Is she off as well?

Market Hall after its 'redecoration' 1939-45
Birmingham was heavily bombed in the Second World War and the Market Hall took a few hits, hence the above photograph.  You can still see the arches around the edges which are visible on the painting. It continued on without a roof for a while but ultimately was demolished to make way for the Bull Ring.

Mid century Market Halls
All-new, weird looking Bull Ring
Anyway, I like the Langley picture as you get a sense of what fashion was like in 1880.  The clothes the woman is wearing are not ostentatious, but fairly simple and practical, with her muff as a touch of warmth. Often what we see in paintings is not 'street fashion' but something very specifically chosen for the image, but with Langley's girl you get the sense of someone who just happened to be there, waiting.

As you might remember from last year, I wrote a bedtime story for my Christmas Eve post.  This year, my present suggestion to you is a foxy story written by someone else. 

I've bought Coralie Bickford-Smith's The Fox and the Star to read to Lily tomorrow night, and it is absolutely charming.  A fox lives in a deep, dark wood and as long as he can remember his only friend has been a star.  Then one night the star isn't there and the fox is all alone in the dark...

Beautifully illustrated and sweetly told, this is the stuff of proper bedtimes and so I urge you to pop into your local bookshop and nab a copy.  It's available at Waterstones and obviously Amazon and probably little bookshops everywhere.

See you tomorrow...

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Tuesday 22nd December - Clarice Honor Edwards

Today's post had to wait until I had seen the new Star Wars, and so I am writing from a position of happiness and comfort as I sit on the sofa listening to the driving rain.  I also have my hair in Princess Leia buns but I think the less said about that the better.  Let's move on...

Clarice Honor Edwards (1905) William Robert Symonds
William Symonds was a late Victorian and Edwardian painter of portraits and genre subjects, known for his pictures of sentimental subjects and children.  His skilful portrait of six year old Clarice Edwards shows a little princess in her ringlets and fur.  At first glance she seems perfect, sitting in her antique chair in her Sunday best, but I am intrigued by the dropped glove.  As lovers of Victorian art, we all know a discarded glove is never a positive symbol...

Detail of The Awakening Conscience (1853) William Holman Hunt
Discarded glove alert!
A common meaning to a discarded glove is a girl who will be used and tossed aside but little Clarice is only six, so that seems a little harsh.  So what can we find out about Clarice?  She was the daughter of James Edwards, of the Edwards shipbuilders from Tyneside.  Their household in 1901, in Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire (very posh too), consisted of a butler, three housemaids, two nurses and a laundry maid.  By the 1911, she was a pupil at Bentley Priory Girls Private School (la de dah), so we can guess she had a fairly comfortable life.  Possibly the dropped glove refers to the riches she has; she doesn't need her lovely gloves as she has an even more lovely muff.  Could the painter be suggesting the little girl is a tad spoiled?

The Princess and the Frog (1894) William Robert Symonds
The Princess and the Frog shows a regal little girl, again with the ermine motif, considering the frog.  She lets the cloak hang onto the floor carelessly, about to lift the curse from the slimy prince.  Her carelessness might refer to a lack of desire for riches, a generosity rather than avarice and maybe that is what Symonds sees in little Clarice, and possibly not in her parents.  Little Clarice is careless with her belongings as she has not learnt the value of and desire for money.  Her casting of a glove in order to put her hand in the muff may be a sign that she doesn't want more than she needs; she doesn't need both gloves and a muff, so she takes off her gloves.  As details in a painting goes, that solitary glove does give me pause for thought.

Anyway, today's pressie is hot off the press!

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is one of my favourite Pre-Raphaelite collections and they have just launched a splendid new guide! Available from the museum shop (an ideal excuse to sneak in and see E R Hughes while you are there) or give them a call on 0121 348 8072 to get one by post.  It cost £5 which has to be a smashing bargain and so I'll be giving them a call and reviewing it here after Christmas!

See you tomorrow (and may the Force be with you)....

Monday, 21 December 2015

Monday 21st December - Collette Gervex

It poured with rain yesterday and a goodly part of the day was spent erecting a shed in the garden (yes, yes, I'm sure you can imagine the level of humour we used to combat the wind and rain).  Today is the first proper day of the Christmas holidays, and the shortest day to boot, and so Lily and I are having a sofa day while I finish knitting my father's shepherds for his knitted nativity set.  Best not to ask.
On with the Muffvent pictures...

Collette Gervex (1910) Henri Gervex
Here we have a charming young woman in a wintery lane, all wrapped up with furry hat, scarf and massive muff.  She is Collette Gervex, daughter of the artist Henri Gervex.  This is not the first time he had painted her...

Collette's First Steps (1895)
Fifteen years previously, Gervex had painted his daughter taking her first steps (what a parent-y thing to do) and then, as she became a young woman, he painted her again with all the accessories of womanhood.  The significance of the picture is that it is a 'coming of age' portrait, much in the same way as people used to have photographic portraits done (and possibly still do).  I recently was given my mother's 21st birthday portrait and it seemed like a really moment in her life that we don't really mark in the same way anymore, or at least not quite so formally. In Collette Gervex's portrait, her father shows her as a poised and presentable young woman of whom he is obviously proud.

Portrait of Madame Gervex (1893)
It wasn't just his daughter that Gervex painted with her fluffy muff, as here we have a picture of Mrs Gervex looking very splendid.  I love that cape with the white lining, very swish.  The red background contrasts with her black outfit and the whole effect is very striking, drawing your eye up to her face.  I have to admit Gervex is one of my favourite painters ever since I saw this painting at the Musee D'Orsay...

Rolla (1878)
This is such a wonderful painting.  It was seen as utterly immoral and scandalous at the time of its (attempted) exhibition and was excluded by the Salon for being too rude.  Now, it wasn't the subject matter, a prostitute sleeping after a frolic with a client, nor the fact that she is very nude indeed.  Heaven knows she wasn't the only naked lady submitted that year.  No, it was the still life of her discarded clothes that got people all over-excited - the petticoat (goodness me!), the garter (lawks!) and the corset (swoon!) all piled up with the gentleman's hat on top with his walking stick poking through it all in a suggestive manner.  Feel free to go and have a breath of fresh air if this all become too much for you. In the end Gervex exhibited it in a gallery and the outrage in the press meant that loads of people paid to see it and be utterly disgusted by the subject matter.  I'm sure some people were so horrified that they had to see it a number of times just to make sure they were as horrified as possible...

Right, now I have got you all overstimulated with thoughts of corsets and loose morals, I should offer you a pressie to buy for your nearest and dearest, or yourself.  When I was writing We Are Villains All I had lots of images of foxes to inspire me, and one of them was this wonderful screen-printed fox who you can sew into a cushion...

Felix the Fox is the creation of Sarah Young, and you can buy him from her Etsy shop (here).  I love Etsy, you can find such unique and unusual things for presents, plus you are buying directly from the clever folk who make the items.  It really should be my new year resolution to buy all birthday and Christmas presents from Etsy if I am not making them myself because at least you know you are getting something made with love and care.

See you tomorrow...

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Sunday 20th December - Portrait of Mme X

Goodness me, it is dark this morning, but I suppose we are a day away from the solstice and the shortest day of the year.  After that, I can get the seed catalogues out and plan my garden for the year ahead.  Anyway, today's picture is one of the most jolly you'll see anywhere...

Portrait of Mme X (1884) Marie Bashkirtseff
While not an instantly glamorous canvas, only in shades of brown and grey, there is a warmth and beauty to today's muff wearer, the mysterious Mme X, as painted by the Ukrainian-born artist Marie Bashkirtseff.  Bashkirtseff studied in Paris and was openly critical of the way that many prestigious art schools did not accept female students, and that she, as a woman artist, did not have the same freedoms as her male counterparts.  She petitioned her fellow students at the Academie Julian to be allowed to draw from male models and the result of her actions can be seen in her victorious picture of her doing just that (well, after a fashion...)

In the Studio (1881)
Marie is the figure in the blue apron in the middle
Our Mme X with her muff is, I think, the same woman in another of Bashkirtseff's paintings...

Woman Smiling (1883)
I rather like Mme X as she seems to be a happy sort indeed and that is a hell of a corsage she is wearing.  Anyway, back to Marie Bashkirtseff and her most famous picture is The Meeting which hangs in the Musee d'Orsay...

A Meeting (1884)
A Meeting seems a fairly straightforward painting at first glance: a group of boys gather round an elder boy and listen to him intently.  It appears to be a typical Victorian image of childhood, but a note of disquiet is introduced by the retreating female figure on the right. It is suggested it is a painting about the exclusion Bashkirtseff felt as a woman in the male art world. Even we the viewer are excluded from what the elder boy is showing or discussing with his friends, so we share the girl's exclusion.
Self Portrait (1880)
Unfortunately there is no happy ending to this story as Marie Bashkirtseff died at the tender age of 25 of tuberculosis and is buried in Cimetière de Passy in Paris.  Her tomb is a full-size artists' studio that has been declared a historic monument by the French government.  That's style for you...
Bashkirtseff tomb, Cimetière de Passy
As today is Sunday and it is going to be hellish at the shops, here's another free pressie for you, dear Reader.  Due to the wonders of the internet, you can read the diary that Marie Bashkirtseff left absolutely free of charge by going here.  Hurrah!
See you tomorrow...

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Saturday 19th December - Frost Fair, 1684

It is the last weekend before Christmas. Have you been doing any last minute shopping?  Have you been wrapping pressies?  Drinking mulled wine?  What ever you have been up to I hope you are feeling positive and relaxed and ready for the last week of Muffvent...

Frost Fair, 1684 (1900) Henry Gillard Glindoni
I love Henry Gillard Glindoni, or plain old Harry Glindon as he was known before fancying-up his name.  He painted extremely entertaining scenes, and this vision of the first official Frost Fair is no exception.  Between 1309 and 1814, the Thames froze at least 23 times, and on a number of these occasions, including the winter of 1683-4, the frost was thick enough to hold a fair.  Glindoni shows the scene as he imagines it, with ladies, gentlemen, dogs and royalty all meeting on the ice for their leisure and entertainment. 

You'd think his legs would get cold, but his stockings must be thermal...

Charles II was a man who liked a good time and so he attended the fair.  He bought a souvenir sheet that was printed on a stand on the Thames that said he had attended and is recorded as having eaten part of an ox that was roasted on the ice at his palace at Whitehall.  The Great Frost of 1863 was one of the worst on record, hitting Britain on 20th December and not lifting until 2nd February.  Deer in the parks died, many animals and birds perished and plants died.  Fuel became scarce and expensive and London became choked with smog from all the fires desperately burning.  The trade that usually flowed up and down the Thames ceased for obvious reasons.  Trade had to happen on the ice and suddenly there were street of stalls and places of merriment...

A gentlemen and his two 'nieces'....
The diarist John Evelyn described the attractions on offer as being bull baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays, food, tipling and 'other lewd places' - 'so it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph'.  No doubt where there was ale there were jolly women who were willing for a shilling and I think that is in evidence by the trio on the left of Glindoni's canvas.  It is very likely that morale was no small part of the jollity of the Frost Fair, feeding people who couldn't find food, and keeping up spirits by filling people will ale and the promise of a good time.  Also, what could possibly keep you warmer than finding a willing companion.  Or two.

The King and Queen on ice!
Turning to the muff in the picture, here we have Charles II and Queen Catherine holding their commemorative sheet saying that they had been to the Fair.  Beside them is Mr G Crook and his printing press, printing out the sheets that listed what famous people had been out there, which is how we know Charles, Catherine, the Duke of York (probably the man behind the sleigh) and other members of the royal family had attended.  I was a little uncertain of who the lady in the sleigh was, but given that it is a very splendid sleigh indeed and she is holding an ermine muff (the royalty of muffs) then I think she is likely to be Catherine of Braganza.  The date he attended was 31st January 1684 and we know from contemporary accounts that he had a whale of a time: fox hunting, roasting meat and generally thundering up and down the river on horseback.  Lawks!
The Frost Fairs tended to end abruptly with the thaw, and there were often people lost as they fell through the ice.  Luckily we haven't seen a winter quite that hard in a while, although 2010's winter was the coldest since 1890 and the Thames froze once more.  Sadly, no Frost Fairs appeared, although I'm not sure people really need ice to encourage them into bacchanalian practises...

Turning to my present suggestion today, extreme weather conditions remind me of a splendid book I read this autumn.  Beauty Secrets of the Matyrs by Verity Holloway tells the unusual story of a martyred saint trying to give the world hope by keeping the other saints looking good as they head into a environmental apocalypse.  Told with humour and wonderful prose, this tale takes you back and forth through time, and the lovely Saint Silvan tries to bring hope to the hopeless.  Long winter nights are perfect for a splendid read and so I thoroughly recommend this one to you.

Verity's novella is available from all good bookshops and Mr Amazon, obviously (UK here or USA here)

See you tomorrow...