Friday Flash – Her First Monet

I think I’m getting my fiction mojo back! Here’s my first Friday Flash in a loooong time.

claude monet impression sunrise

Impression, Sunrise, by Claude Monet, public domain image

She knew she had arrived when she bought her first Monet. No longer the ingénue, the starlet under the thumb of a would-be Svengali, she had finally graduated from forgettable supporting roles to star billing. Her name was now above the title, and she was in a position to pick her own scripts.

And buy her own art.

It began when she accepted a role in an edgy independent film for next to no money and many column inches, and headed to London. It showed what she could do and it made her Svengali’s teeth grind, which was always a plus.  And the shoot had coincided with the first auction of impressionist art of the year.

She always did have great timing.

It was a cold, bright day in February, she remembered. She had been warmly wrapped up in coat, hat, and gloves, the very picture of elegance. At the auction house she mingled with the sharply-dressed crowd like she had been hobnobbing with the wealthy all her life. Then she took her seat and composed herself, as she would before a performance. All these years later she could still feel a remnant of the adrenaline that had coursed through her as she imperiously raised her paddle for the first time.

No-one could do imperious quite like her. All the critics said so.

For a moment she had been worried that she wouldn’t succeed. But one by one her rivals fell away and the Monet was all hers.

It would set a pattern for the years to come. Win an award, buy a painting. She had quite the collection, but that first Monet would always have a special place in her affections.

They do say you never forget your first.

 

A return to the Charles Dickens Museum

I have written about the Charles Dickens Museum before in Calling on Charles Dickens, but that was before I discovered the video button on my camera. The museum is fascinating and well worth a return visit, especially now that I have my National Art Pass and can get in free! Here’s the video – here’s hoping it whets your Dickensian appetite for your next visit to London.

The Charles Dickens Museum is at 48 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LX. Adult tickets cost £8 (free with National Art Pass from the Art Fund).

Book reviews – The Roma Sub Rosa series, by Steven Saylor

In a mingling of Greek and Egyptian myth, the rose came to be associated with secrecy in the ancient world. According to one version of the story, Aphrodite gave a rose to her son Eros, who in turn gave it to Harpocrates, the god of silence, to ensure his mother’s indiscretions were not disclosed. Harpocrates was the Greek name for the Egyptian god Horus.

When a rose hung over a council table, all present were sworn to secrecy, an ancient form of the Chatham House Rule. Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series is therefore the secret history of Rome, as seen through the eyes of Gordianus the Finder. Gordianus is an ancient Roman private detective, a cross between Philip Marlowe and Sherlock Holmes, and he has a great eye for the wonders, absurdities and dangers of Roman life.

I first read these books some years ago, and loved them. I am now rediscovering their virtues, as I work my way through my boxes of books, and I’m reminded of why they’re so good. In books like The Venus Throw and Rubicon Saylor shows the scholar’s knack for fascinating detail, allied to a wonderful sense of story. He also has a great talent for genuinely surprising endings that at the same time make you think “Of course!”

The books are set in the last decades of the Roman Republic, when powerful figures such as Sulla, Catalina, Pompey and Caesar are jostling for power. Saylor uses real events and real characters as backdrops to his stories. There’s certainly enough dramatic material there to fuel a hundred books!

I talk a little bit more about these books in my video. (These videos are fun, but there is a learning curve!)

For more information on the series, check out the Roma Sub Rosa page on Steven Saylor’s website.

 

Free museums! Courtesy of the National Art Pass

I recently got myself a National Art Pass from the Art Fund. I’m a museums/art galleries/history geek, so I don’t really know why I didn’t get one long before this. The pass gets you free entry to loads of museums and art galleries around the country, along with discounted entry to exhibitions. I foresee a very cultural autumn coming my way!

Of course, many of the big museums in the UK are free anyway, but a lot of the smaller, more specialist museums aren’t, so my arty horizons have opened up a bit. I started with a visit to the Courtauld Gallery in London, famous for its Impressionists. To be fair, the Courtauld isn’t exactly expensive – tickets for the permanent galleries cost £7, but there is a certain frisson about getting to see an art gallery for free. There’s such a frisson, that I even made a video about it!

This YouTube venture has been equal parts frustrating, scary and fun. The frustration comes with getting the audio right (there’s a slight sound hiccup in this, sorry!), scary because I’m on camera, speaking to people (potentially lots, but probably not), and fun because, well, it’s new territory. I’m learning new things, which makes me happy.

I hope you enjoy the video! Let me know in the comments what you think of the National Art Pass. Do you have one?

My YouTube Adventures!

As you may have noticed, I’ve been getting interested in YouTube lately. I’ve mostly been catching up with documentaries I’ve missed, along with old television shows and clips from favourite movies.

I’ve also subscribed to a few channels catering to my various and sundry passions – sci-fi, books, film and so on – and have noticed that many of them are run by talented and enthusiastic but not very well-known people. Some are, of course, but in a fairly narrow, and wonderfully geeky, niche. I’ve been particularly inspired by the channels of Felicia Day and David Hewlett.

The penny finally dropped. You don’t have to be a megastar to have your own channel on YouTube! The barrier to entry is really quite low. All you need is a camera. (And a personality – I’m working on that.)

So, have camera, will video! Or, in my case, will slideshow.

I have a lot of photographs from my travels – in this digital age, it’s easy to get carried away – so I thought I would start off with slideshows, complete with music. YouTube has a range of copyright-free music you can use. The whole copyright issue looks to be a minefield, so best to steer clear.

The slideshows have been fun to put together, mostly through a process of trial and error. I know a lot more about imovie now than I did last month!

Here’s  an example, about the gorgeous Miramare Castle in Italy, to give you an idea.

I then got a little ambitious, and added a voice-over to one of my slideshows, which leads me to revise just what you need to make a successful video. Namely, a camera AND a proper microphone. The internal microphones on most consumer dslr cameras are not up to the task, to be honest. This realisation led to much surfing the web in search of information about recording sound.

After wincing at the price of much of the equipment I came across, I then remembered I have a digital recorder I bought in China. It took a bit of fiddling about, as I hadn’t used it in ages and the instructions were in Chinese, but I finally got it to work, and the quality was much better. All I had to do was upload the file to my computer, and move it across to imovie. Voila!

So, now I’ve got slideshows sorted, more or less, I’ve been toying with the ideas of moving pictures, and maybe doing pieces to camera about history, travel, and books (or anything that takes my fancy, if I’m going to follow David Hewlett’s example, although I doubt I could talk as fast as him).

So, if you’d like to follow my first tentative steps in the world of YouTube, head on over to my channel (I do like typing that!) and subscribe. It would be great to have you!

You Tube Slideshows

It occurred to me, a little belatedly I know, that I really should do more with my abundance of photographs. To that end, I’ve been getting to grips with iMovie and You Tube – there’s a bit of a learning curve, here – and putting together a series of slideshows of pictures from my travels. I’ve added a couple below, and you can see more over at my channel on You Tube.

Yes, I have my own channel, and how cool (strange) is that? It’s very much a work-in-progress, but it you’d like to see how it develops, please subscribe.

No, really. Please subscribe!

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