Thursday, 26 March 2015

Translating the language of flowers

Since writing The Lost Orchid, I’ve become an avid reader of botanical history. It’s astonishing how many fabulously illustrated books there are to download free, from exquisite Middle Ages manuscripts to Victorian tomes by mad plant enthusiasts.

A few weeks ago, I tripped over some delightful books on ‘the language of flowers’, a fad revived in Victorian times when blooms were used to send a coded message to the recipient, expressing feelings that could not be spoken aloud in polite society.

Such ‘talking bouquets’ or tussie-mussies became the de rigueur fashion accessory.

Delightful books blossomed, such as Kate Greenaway’s evergreen 1883 collection of plates The Language of Flowers (although the poetry at the end is a little sentimental for my taste).

Certain blooms are well-known for their significance (roses for love), but there are lovely subtleties, such as the fact that a yellow rose means infidelity.

However, I was astonished by how many of the meanings had a darker side. Daffodils, for instance, were described by Greeks as a deathless lily flower that grows across the plains of Hades, presumably because of their pale yellow colour. Daffodils were also believed to be the favourite food of the dead.

Hemlock, as you might expect, has a sinister meaning – ‘you will be my death’, but tamarisk means ‘crime’, while the charming hellebore refers to calumny. Of course, the ancient Greeks associated it with demons or possession. Perversely, perhaps, it is said to provide protection and a vase of hellebore brought into a room will bring tranquillity to an unpleasant atmosphere.

If you receive a scarlet auricula, you are accused of avarice, while the white cherry Tree means ‘deception’. A golden kingcup suggests ‘desire for riches’, and crowsbill is envy. Even more sinister is dragonswort, meaning horror, nettles accuse one of ‘slander’, the humble scabious means widowhood, while the humble yarrow signifies ‘war’. 

Of course, the symbolism of flowers goes far beyond the Victorian practice, but once you start looking into this quirky language, so many images take on a new meaning. We recently visited the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest, and one painting in particular resonates with floral significance, Woman in Purple Dress (1874) by Pal Szinyei Merse. The cowslip at her feet is the flower of Freya, goddess of love (along with other legends, one of which features in Last Spring). Alternatively, it could mean ‘pensiveness’ or ‘winning grace’, if you believe Kate Greenaway. She holds a buttercup, which could mean ‘I am dazzled by your charms’, or ‘ingratitude’, so one wonders if the artist had conflicting feelings for the female subject. She herself is seated in the middle of a flowery meadow, dressed in a gorgeous gown as colourful as a flower herself – the ‘modest violet’, perhaps?  

It turns out the lady in question is the young wife of the artist. Critics regard the female figure as not being in harmony with the landscape, and indeed, it was painted in the artist's studio. It is ironic to note that his wife divorced Szinyei in 1887 and died at the age of 101.  

Last Spring dabbles in the language of flowers, but beware! This is a supernatural story with a twist that would have given Victorian flower fans a touch of the vapours. 

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 20 March 2015

Spooky eclipse, Warwickshire-style

I’ve been reading about the eclipse, supermoon and vernal equinox for weeks while working on a supernatural mini-book, so this morning found me on my doorstep, coffee in one hand, camera in the other.

My husband Rob had the secret device, a sheet of silver foil with a hole in the middle. 

By 9am the light was already dimming. It was more like an autumnal dusk than a bright, spring morning - although the birds were singing madly.

We managed a couple of tiny shots of the moon moving over the sun, then ... the brainwave. Rob fished out the binoculars and a sheet of white paper. Bingo.
The strange double crescents were like goblin eyes ...

It's all rather curious, because I'd planned my quartet of calendrical stories to coincide with the winter solstice, vernal equinox, summer solstice and autumn equinox before I even knew of the momentous celestial event this march.


A supernatural story for the vernal equinox
Unearthly goings-on in a very English churchyard. 

 By Pamela Kelt

Thursday, 19 March 2015

A supernatural story for spring

One chilly day just two weeks, we finally visited St Peter ad Vincula, a mammoth piece of Victorian architecture in the tiny village of Hampton Lucy.

The gargoyles alone are worth a visit, but the whole edifice is breathtaking, with its stunning stained glass, floral flooring and archetypal English churchyard (see a previous blog posting).

It’s a must for fans of the Gothic, and inspired the second in a seasonal series I’ve been doing. The newest title, Last Spring, is set in the late 1920s, when three celestial phenomena coincide ...

A Supermoon (although they didn’t call it that in those days), the vernal equinox and a total solar eclipse.

Sound familiar? You'll see why I wanted to get it published before March 20!

I used my own photo of the grotesque carvings for the cover, btw.

If you fancy a chilling story this March, you’ll find Last Spring free on Smashwords, along with part one, A Walk in the Park.

By Pamela Kelt

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Out soon: 'Last Spring' - short story by Pamela Kelt

Here’s a sneak preview of the cover of my latest story, Last Spring.

In fact, at 10,000 words, it’s more of a mini-book – and it’s just out on Smashwords.

It’s the second in a quartet of supernatural stories inspired by the key events of the calendar year – the winter solstice, vernal equinox, summer solstice and autumn equinox.

Richard Lucy is a book illustrator, living in the quiet, Warwickshire village of Hinton Charlecote (inspired by a recent visit to Hampton Lucy).

Despite his hay fever, spring is his favourite season – until this year, when strange start happening in his rural idyll.

A Supermoon ... a solar eclipse ... a vernal equinox. All on the same day?
What on earth could go wrong?

Each tale is has a vintage, botanical theme, featuring new characters from different eras.

A Walk in the Park was the beginning, my response to a challenge to write a Christmas ghost story.

It’s a Victorian/Edwardian winter’s ghost story with a romantic theme. Set one midwinter afternoon, it introduces Lilian Ravenscroft, a ladies’ companion, with aspirations ...

The moon. The stars. One malevolent entity. A supernatural romance of astronomical proportions.

Death will never be the same again.

For a taster, there’s a mini trailer on Youtube.

By Pamela Kelt

Sunday, 8 March 2015

A touch of the perpendiculars

I only needed to go a few miles down the road to come across this magnificent piece of Gothic inspiration.

St Peter ad Vincula is a towering piece of English Perpendicular architecture in the tiny village of Hampton Lucy.

Commissioned by the Lucy family, it was built 1822 - 6 and a wonderful piece of Gothic inspiration.

For church enthusiasts, the nave was designed by Henry Hutchinson and the tower by Thomas Rickman. The chancel, porch and apsidal sanctuary were added in 1858 by Sir Gilbert Scott. The east window is by Thomas Willement and depicts the life of St Peter.

Pevsner describes the church as ‘a very good example of early 19th-century church architecture, the richness of which is due to the generosity of funding’.

A typically academic understatement.

I was particularly taken by a botanical link. The theme of the current book in progress, The Blackfern Conspiracy, is all about mad plant collecting in the 19th century. 

It transpires that the son of the local blacksmith in Hampton Lucy was a plant hunter, who worked for the famous Harry Veitch. His travels were mainly to China and Japan, where he endured mixed fortunes. He was particularly good at finding new trees, such as Daphne genkwa and Abies mariesii.

Curiously, there is a plethora of the most wonderful floral imagery in the stained glass windows. Who was behind this? More research required!

In the meantime, I’ll need to find an excuse to go back, perhaps on a sunnier day, to capture some more of those floral motifs in the stained glass.

But there’s another mystery, too. Apparently, some of the stained glass from Coventry Cathedral was dismantled before the Blitz and ended up in Iceland, where it became highly prized. However, it transpires the glass was actually spirited away to Hampton Lucy, and it’s only just been rediscovered.

This little tale of intrigue has all my favourite ingredients, but there are still some loose ends ...

By Pamela Kelt