Category: writers and books

The Great Gatsby and all that jazz

The Great Gatsby and all that jazz

The Great Gatsby novel showcases the rich but disenchanted youth of the 1920s Jazz Age. In fact, it was its author, F.Scott Fitgerald who coined the term The Jazz Age when he wrote his short story Tales of the Jazz Age. So, what was this Jazz Age and when did it occur? Let’s explore The Great Gatsby and all that jazz. Though not popular on release, the novel is now a staple bestseller worldwide and heralded as a wonder of American literature for its depiction of the American Dream.

What was The Jazz Age?

The Jazz Age was a time of musical innovation, namely the blues, brass music, ballads and ragtime also called the Harlem Renaissance. The music began in New Orleans in the late 19th century as an expression by oppressed African Americans It became more widespread through speak easy joints and radio. The music attracted the attention of the white population and became the means for returned soldiers and the young to celebrate their freedom at the end of WWI. In time it became the worldwide soundtrack for the 1920s.

Who embraced the Jazz era?

It was mostly the young who embraced the jazz movement. Adolescents at the time became known as the Jazz Generation and the returning soldiers became known as The Lost Generation. Both groups enjoyed this rebellion against the previous more serious generation of their parents. Not only did they dance till dawn to the great music but they drank and exhibited risky behaviour. Dancing on tables, sliding down bannisters, riding on taxi roofs, they partied all night. Even their manner of dressing was considered scandalous. Especially for the women. Abandoning corsets and bodily constraints, young women wore sack like dresses with higher hemlines. They also cut their hair into chic bob style and wore jewelled headbands around their foreheads.

What was it like?

Despite prohibition in America, liquor was surprisingly easy to obtain. Smoking was also the go especially for women who had never smoked before. Another risky behavior in the eyes of the older generation. But possibly the riskiest was the free sex embraced. With the stirrings of votes for women worldwide, women suddenly wanted it all. They had worked as equals during the war doing men’s work so why should they now return to the kitchen and domestic sphere? They wanted to be Thoroughly Modern Millies or flappers. This last term refers to the dance style where dance partners appear to flap. The Charleston and The Black Bottom were very energetic dances.

The Jazz Age was fast-paced

Along with the fast dances and energetic jazz beats was a tide of rising consumerism. Radios, planes and cars were very exciting additions to everyday city life. The economy seemed to be booming and many invested in stocks and bonds. It was a time of optimism and hopefulness. Not only were the musicians transmitting these vibes, but writers and artists joined the energetic craze sweeping the world.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitgerald, the writer of The Great Gatsby was born in 1896 in Minnesota, USA. His family were not rich and so his early love, Ginerva King rejected his courtship overtures. Devastated, he enlisted in the army since WWI was in progress. While at Camp Sheridan, awaiting deployment he met southern belle, Zelda Sayre, the 17-year-old daughter of a wealthy man. They fell in love but  again Fitzgerald was rejected for lack of money and status. Determined he took to writing as he enjoyed it and had a talent. His short stories made money, so then he turned his hand to novels.

This Side of Paradise

Fitzgerald’s debut novel, This Side of Paradise, published 1920, was an instant success. Suddenly money poured in, and he was over the moon because Zelda accepted his marriage proposal. They married in 1920 and lived in luxury at The Biltmore Hotel, partying like there was no tomorrow. In 1921 their first and only child Frances was born. She would always be called Scottie.

The Beautiful and The Damned

This was the title for his second novel published in 1922 about an artist and his flapper wife. Fitzgerald’s writing was again quite biographical they moved to Great Neck, Long Island. Across the bay was the classy Manhasset Neck. The situation would be used to model East and West Egg in his third novel, The Great Gatsby. The Beautiful and the Damned was not as well received as his first novel and money became scarce.

The Great Gatsby

Needing a break and inspiration, they moved to Paris in 1924. Many Americans gathered there to write and paint. He met Hemingway and the arty set and worked on his third novel which would become The Great Gatsby. Originally entitled Trimalchio then West Egg, it took off to a rocky start. Eventually his publisher, Schribners. insisted on the title The Great Gatsby after the main character, Jay Gatsby. Another intervention also paid off. Cugat, a Barcelonian artist responded to a commission to paint the book cover. His mesmerising image of giant tearful eyes overlooking a Coney Island Fair pleased Fitzgerald so much that he reworked the plot to include a roadside poster with similar large eyes near the turnoff past the Wilson garage. This is just one case of the brilliant use of symbolism in the novel.

Not a success

The Great Gatsby was not a success on release in 1925. Critics cited the improbable plot. They missed the symbolism entirely and were unappreciative of the beautiful prose and characterization. The book only ever made the author $2000 in his lifetime and sold only 20,000 copies. Some reviewers despaired of the lack of decent characters, especially a female one that readers could relate to. The shallow, vain and cruel Daisy Buchanan was not popular. She was neither the everywoman or a heroine to the mainly female reading audience.

But later became one

However since, Jay Gatsby’s attempt to raise himself up to nouveu riche standards is seen as the embodiment of The American Dream. Ie Anyone can make it in America. With the vision of distance, time has enriched the message taken from the novel and the public enjoyment of its story and prose. Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda both died young, unhappy and apart. Zelda had mental problems and ended her days at 47 years in a fire in a sanitorium. Fitzgerald died in 1940 three years earlier at just 44 years in 1940 from alcohol abuse and its related health issues. He published one book more in 1934, Tender is the Night. Interestingly, it was written in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, the location of one of my own novels, The Last Hotel. Another, The Last Tycoon, published after his death due to Edmund Wilson completing the manuscript.

Although Fitzgerald also wrote many short stories and Hollywood film scripts to keep himself and Zelda afloat financially, he was never a success in the literary world until after his death. During WW2, soldiers were given free copies of The Great Gatsby to read, and this kick-started an appreciation of this book and his writing. By 1960, The Great Gatsby was selling 100,000 copies per year. Now it has sold 30 million copies and is available in 42 languages. I guess the people of Fitzgerald’s own time were not ready for his work. The Jazz age with its sad optimism was too close and his message and prose fell on deaf ears. At the time the flawed characters of Gatsby and Daisy were not popular. Perhaps they were too real and like themselves. People wanted romantic escapism not reality. That is understandable! In the 1930s in the grip of The Great Depression, people wanted to escape or be cheered up.

Joni Scott is an Australian writer with four published novels. See her books and more on




Philoxenia and the kindness of strangers.

Philoxenia and the kindness of strangers.

Whilst at a book signing recently a customer browsing books nearby approached me with a book in hand. Unexpectedly, he asked what the title Philoxenia, a seat at my table. meant. Maybe he thought seeing as I was an author, I would know the meaning of the obviously foreign word in the title.

I eyed the attractive cover which featured a bowl of olives and a plate of rustic bread.”It looks like it is a Greek cookbook,” I commented. This was confirmed by the nature of the author’s names, Kon and Sia Karapanagiotidis. Delightfully long Greek names. The man smiled but still hovered. I had not answered his question. What does the word Philoxenia mean?

What does philoxenia mean?

I looked at the word again and recognised within it two smaller Greek words. They are ‘philos’ meaning friend and ‘xenos’ meaning stranger. “I think it means ‘the love of strangers'” I said, “but as it is obviously a cookbook, not sure if I am right.”

“I will google it,” he offered. Why he didn’t do this in the first place, I did wonder. Maybe he just wanted company or a chat with a ‘xenos’, a stranger like me. Or was I starting to look like a Miss Marple in my autumn years? No, that can’t be it, surely not, he is too young to be an Agatha Christie fan like me.

“It means hospitality or kindness to strangers,” he announced, flashing his phone towards me. “Ah!” I replied, “That makes sense. What a lovely word with a special meaning. We have both learnt something today. Thank you!” The stranger now a little less of a stranger, smiled. he had a lovely smile that further brightened my morning. Smiles are like that, aren’t they. So much better than frowns or blank stares! You feel less invisible.

Becoming more visible thanks to philoxenia

At book events, even though you are meant to be increasing your visibility as an author, you can feel very invisible. Folk wander by immersed in their own world, fair enough, I guess. But I always smile and say ‘good morning’ but many just give me a blank stare or grunt in return. Not practising philoxenia obviously. My new word.

The stranger stayed. His name was Brad. We chatted about food which made me a tad hungry as I had rushed to get here and not had breakfast. Then we chatted about travels another wonderful engaging topic. He like me had travelled widely and now we had our word, we extolled on the hospitality or philoxenia we had both experienced abroad. We had both been adopted for meals by Greek and Italian families we had randomly met. Yes, these lovely Europeans like to share their wonderful earthy cuisines with strangers. Meals made from the most basic of ingredients, fresh from the market and transformed into luscious comforting and delicious dishes for all to share. I remembered that I had included a chapter about this phenomenon in my latest book, Time Heal my Heart. 

Philoxenia and the English man

In Chapter 27, I think it is, the characters Oscar and Luigi retire from the exhausting Giro d’Italia bike race of 1914 (the most difficult race ever) They visit Luigi’s uncle and aunt in nearby Florence. There in the courtyard garden, they are plied with plates of steaming spaghetti to reinvigorate their stiff aching limbs. There in the garden, Oscar the Englishman marvels at the ‘philoxenia’ of Luigi’s family. Estranged from his own family in London, he has been a runaway for years and not even informed his parents where he is. How different is this happy, loving family sharing a splendid meal under a splendid tree in beautiful Florence.

Oscar will remember his sojourn in Florence for years to come. His time there with this family and their philoxenia prefaces the horror of the years to come. Even though Oscar and Luigi have no idea at this time, the world is about to erupt into war. In a few weeks’ time as they travel to Sarajevo, they will coincide with its outbreak, the opening shots fired by Gavrilo Princip that will echo around the world.

How a sandwich led to the outbreak of WWI

And this is another foodie story because Gavrilo would not have shot Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie if he hadn’t stopped for a sandwich at Moritz Schiller’s delicatessen! Now that’s a story in itself. See above link to Gavrilo Princip to read about this amazing coincidence that changed the lives of millions. I could not resist having my boys Oscar and Luigi also eating a salami sandwich nearby. A sort of Forest Gump moment. They become firsthand witnesses of the shot that lights the powder keg and boom! we have a world war. The first one ever. They called it The Great War. But it was not so great if you became embroiled in it as millions worldwide did. Oscar escapes the rising tensions by taking off to Argentina, but Luigi stays and takes the confusing consequences of his country changes sides during the war.

Philoxenia rules the day!

Now I have come a long way off topic and away from my chance meeting in the bookshop. What happened, you might ask if you made it this far? (having survived my digressions and rants) Well done you. My stranger now not a stranger stayed to chat as I said and this led, I believe to other people thinking I was worth talking to and maybe not so invisible, so a few people hovered. They picked up and turned over my books to read the blurb on the back cover. Two wondered off to the counter with copies of The Last Hotel, my bestseller. Not everyone wants a signature and mine is not flash since I have CRPS in my right hand.

Thanks to the kindness of a stranger and later a few more strangers who stopped by, I had a lovely afternoon in Rosetta’s Bookshop, Maleny in the lovely hinterland of Queensland, Australia where I live. If you are ever here in our great southern land make sure to visit the Sunshine Coast Hinterland where you can view from a distance The (stunning) Glasshouse Mountains to the south. In Maleny and nearby Montville you can experience the hospitality or philoxenia of Queenslanders! There are many cafes, cheeseries and wineries where you can share a bowl of olives and some rustic bread just like the Greeks do.

Joni Scott is an Australian writer. See website to read her history blog and find her books.

The Tragic Romanov Sisters

The Tragic Romanov Sisters

The tragic Romanov sisters were the grand duchesses of Russia, the four daughters of Tsar Nicholas II and his empress Alexandra. Their names were Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia in order of birth. These young girls were also the great granddaughters of Queen Victoria as Nicholas and Alexandra were both grandchildren of the queen. It was normal for cousins to marry and interbreed as royalty had to marry royalty not commoners. However, if the grand duchesses had married even to commoners, their lives may have been saved. Instead, they were murdered at the ages of 22, 21, 19 and just 17 years old, along with their young brother Alexey, just 14, and the tsar, tsarina and servants. Such was the tragedy of the Romanov sisters.

Victims of the Russian Revolution

The whole family were the victims of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Due to social unrest, the progress of WWI and political machinations, the tsar was advised to abdicate in early 1917. Not a strong man or leader, he agreed readily and unwittingly signed his own death warrant and that of his young family. The Bolsheviks took control of Russia and imprisoned the royal family in their own beautiful Alexander palace at Tsarskoe Selo near Petrograd. For five months they lived a peaceful domestic existence there under guard before being transported like prisoners to Siberia to a town called Tobolsk. Here in this Siberian backwater, they led a dull existence with no visitors or outings until May 1918 when they were transported yet again to their place of execution at Ekaterinburg further southeast. Despite this fall from royalty and the consequent change in living conditions, the family remained hopeful and united.

Suffering of the tragic Romanov sisters

According to historian, Helen Rappaport’s books, the family knew their days were numbered. Their prison was becoming more dire and heavily guarded. The Red guards mocked them in many acts of disrespect. It is horrible to think of the suffering of these pretty teenage girls, their invalid brother who had hemophilia and their devoted parents. The Romanovs were not nasty people, but a loving family positioned in the wrong time in history. Nicholas was not a born leader. He preferred the quiet of the countryside, walks, nature and reading. His German born wife loved her husband and children but was more autocratic and prouder. As such being German born and appearing haughty, Alexandra became very unpopular with the Russian people especially when she became close to the spiritual monk, Rasputin.

WWI and then the Revolution

Once WWI erupted, with Russia and Germany enemies, German affiliation was suspicious, and Alexandra became even less favored. To the Bolsheviks, this was the time to act to depose the 300-year tsardom of Russia. It did not matter that Alexandra and her teen daughters were serving as nurses in Petrograd, working long days in the hospitals. Olga and Tatiana as the older girls dressed wounds, helped in operations and comforted the wounded. They were sisters of mercy and devoted to their country. The younger girls Maria and Anastasia also volunteered at the hospital after their lessons at the palace. Did this service make them appear less royal? Should they have upheld their position and remained distantly aloof as most royals are?

Four sweet sisters

But to read about the sisters, is to empathise and admire their spirit and kindness. They were sweet innocent girls in a time of horrible terror. As sisters they were very close both in age and association. Born just two years apart from each other over a ten-year period, Olga, Tatiana and Maria in the last years of the 1800s and Anastasia in the new century. Three years later their baby brother was born to much fanfare. An heir, a son, at last. The sisters never resented the gender bias of succession. It was normal for the times. Succession was usually via a son not a daughter.

Hemophilia, a German empress and a mad monk

But the long-awaited son had inherited the deadly royal disease of hemophilia. This reality was to seal the Romanov’s fate. Though the family tried to hide this weakness from the world by withdrawing from public events, the truth finally came out as Alexey grew past babyhood. By then Rasputin was a frequent visitor as he could heal the boy’s bleeds when they occurred. Injuries easily happened due to normal little boy bumps during play.  A frail heir, a mad monk, a German empress; it was not a combination to endear the family to the Russian population. Besides they were at war with Germany and the people were hungry and fearful of the progress of the war.

Despite their royal birth, the Romanov sisters had not enjoyed a life of opulence, gala events and public adoration. On the contrary, their young lives had been spent mostly at the Alexander Palace doing lessons and caring for their ailing mother and brother. Alexandra was not a well woman. She long suffered from neuralgia, sciatica and headaches and then had heart problems too. More often than not, she did not attend royal functions with her husband. Olga and later Tatiana attended instead. This was unusual and talked about in unflattering terms. Alexandra’s absence was seen as haughtiness. She was not the empress of her people.

The sisters liked soldiers not princes

For a while in their later teen years the older two grand duchesses, Olga and Tatiana attended balls and soirees and the peopled loved them. They were beautiful and gracious to all. By the time Olga was 18, there were moves to marry her with Prince Carol of Romania. The families met at the Crimea where they loved to go each summer. However, Olga’s parents left the decision to Olga. They wanted her to marry for love as they had. Olga did not fancy Prince Carol nor he, her. Carol preferred her pretty jolly young sister, Maria. But Maria was too young at the time to marry. So, nothing eventuated.

Olga along with her sister, Tatiana, preferred the fun company of the handsome soldiers who guarded the family at the palace and on the royal yacht. Later during the war, they had crushes on soldiers they nursed in the hospital. But always, their royal position prevented an alliance. Olga, Tatiana and later Maria could only dream of these men. They were off limits. The young Romanov sisters would all die virgins, never knowing the physical love of a man.

What were the Romanov sisters like?

So what were these Romanov girls like? As you can see from the photo on the cover of Helen Rappaport’s book, Olga had a wide, pretty face and Tatiana, the beauty, a more delicate appearance like her mother. Tatiana’s eyes were beautiful, and her heart shaped face made her very noticeable as a beauty. She was a devoted daughter and nurse and very organized. Her mother relied on her abilities. Olga could be moody, perhaps understandably as she was denied a normal life for a young woman of her time. Palace life was isolating and denied her socialization with other young people especially men of her age.

Olga, the eldest

By 20, she should have been married but offers from royal princes did not come. By then the war raged and it was not the time to ally with mighty Russia. Besides by then the riyal houses of Europe were aware of the presence of the deadly hemophilia in the Romanov family and they didn’t want it in theirs. Modern DNA analysis of the Romanov sister’s remains proves that only Anastasia the youngest was a carrier. They need not have feared but they did. Olga remained with her sisters and parents until 22, the age of her death by firing squad.

The younger sisters, Maria and Anastasia had more solid builds than their slender older sisters. Maria had a sweet, happy nature and a lovely smile and eyes. Anastasia the youngest was the plainest looking and a precocious child. She was inattentive to lessons, cheeky and at times disrespectful. her tutors had a hard time with her. But she did enliven the family gatherings. During the last days of imprisonment in Siberia, it was Anastasia who cheered the freezing government prison house with her charades and one act plays.

The royal jewels

One of the last sisterly sessions of camaraderie was sewing the royal jewels into their dresses to secure them from looting by the Red Guards at the final prison house. It was these hidden jewels that made the bullets ricochet around the basement where they were shot. These last remnants of the glorious reign of the Romanovs prevented a swift death for the girls. Instead, they suffered in terror as rounds of bullets flew around the bunker, injuring but not killing them. In the end, bayonets were used to kill the innocent young Romanov sisters. An end not fitting for their status nor kind, innocent souls. It was this terrible fate that ended the reign of the tragic Romanovs. Why didn’t anyone save the Romanovs? Read this previous blogsto discover.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published books. Whispers through Time and Time Heal my Heart are historical fiction and set in the early 1900s around the era of WWI. The Last hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles are contemporary fiction and set in exotic locations. Visit her website at

Photo is of the cover of Helen Rappaport’s wonderful historical book.

Romanovs, Rasputin and the Russian Revolution

Romanovs, Rasputin and the Russian Revolution

Queen Victoria of Britain had nine children and most of them married into the royal families of Europe. This was normal in the 1800s as marriage with commoners was not allowed so the royal families interbred. But such inbreeding led to the persistence or magnification of bad genetic traits. One such genetic defect in Victoria’s line was the gene part (called an allele) that codes for hemophilia, a rare blood clotting condition. This inherited disease passed through her descendants either via female carriers or affected males. The incidence of hemophilia in the Romanov royal family was one of the contributing factors to the Russian Revolution of 1917. Let’s examine this fascinating topic of Romanovs, Rasputin and the Russian Revolution. It has a lot to do with hemophilia which will be explained below so keep reading.

Hemophilia and the Romanovs

Alexei, the tsarevitch and only son of Romanov tsar Nicholas II of Russia had this game changing hemophilia gene defect. Because of this he was destined to a short life of restricted activity lest he bleed to death from an injury. His four older sisters, the grand duchesses, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia being girls, did not have the disease though they possibly were carriers of it. Historian, Helen Rappaport eludes to this in her brilliant books. Modern DNA analysis of the duchesses remains reveal that only Anastatia was a carrier. The gene lottery was more kind to the daughters than the son. The chance of being a carrier if your mother is one is 50% yet three of the girls escaped being carriers purely by chance.

It all started with Victoria it seems. It is important to know that females have two X chromosomes to determine gender and males have an X and a Y. Therefore, females are denoted by XX and males by XY. Variations to this pattern are very rare.

Hemophilia is caused by a gene mutation

Victoria carried a gene mutation on one of her X chromosomes that can cause hemophilia to be expressed. A gene mutation is an accidental change in the genetic code of an individual. It can occur during the copying of genes as the cells multiply and most of the time these small changes do not affect anything adversely. However, if a mutation affects the coding or instructions for an enzyme or metabolic factor this mutation can be deadly for the person who has or inherits the mutated gene code. In the case of hemophilia, the gene alteration prevented adequate production of clotting factor 8 and 9 which are essential for the body’s response to a hemorrhage of any magnitude.

The gene mutation for hemophilia is on the X chromosome

Such was the case for Queen Victoria’s mutation. How it occurred no one knows. She may have inherited this genetic alteration from a parent or happened first in her gene code. It was only noticed after the event when one of her sons, Prince Frederick started having blood clotting issues. Because the defect for the gene determining the clotting factor 8 was on one of her two X chromosomes and is a recessive ie not dominant allele, her other normal X chromosome masked the defect. Queen Victoria consequently did not suffer from the disease. Females with the defective X chromosome do not have hemophilia.

In the late 19th century, genetic science was in its infancy. The occurrence of this gene mutation had been noticed because it was in the royal family. From then on the royal families of Europe were watchful for its appearance in their sons. With the line of succession usually via the male descendants this was a worry. Victoria only became queen because there were no male descendants to take the throne.

The need for a male heir for the Romanovs

Male gender-based succession has led to many lives lost throughout history. There are those who killed to get the throne or kings like Henry VIII who killed his wives because they could not give him a male heir. Then there was the War of the Roses where everyone killed everyone for hundreds of years just to secure royal succession. Much blood was shed. But for one small boy in Russia last century, no blood could be shed. Alexei’s blood could not clot and allow the smallest wound to heal. Yet he was the boy who was destined to inherit his father’s tsardom.

Clotting factor 8 is the essential factor which allows wounds to heal so if it can’t be made by the body, the individual’s wounds no matter how small cannot heal. As well, any falls or bumps can cause internal bleeding which also can be fatal. Such was the fate of little Alexei the heir to the Russian throne.

It is doubly tragic that his parents anguished about not having a male heir for many years before he was finally born. Alexandra his mother had four normal healthy daughters over a ten year interval before he was finally born. A boy! The whole of Russia celebrated. The Imperial dynasty of 300 years could continue now. Nicholas’s brother the standing heir stood aside now Nicholas finally had a son.

But it was only days before Nicholas and Alexandra knew their new baby had health issues. His umbilical cord was still bleeding days after the birth. The dreaded royal disease had raised its head again. Already the two young sons of King Alfonso of Spain had inherited hemophilia. Alexandra realized she had passed the fatal gene onto her son. She was a carrier through her mother, Princess Alice of Hesse. Alexandra’s brother had the disease.

Hemophilia occurs in the Romanov male heir

The hemophilia gene mutation is recessive and only expressed if there is no other normal X chromosome to mask it. As males have  an XY chromosome make up not XX as females do, the faulty X chromosome from their mother Victoria expressed itself in Victoria’s sons not her daughters. Prince Leopold inherited this fault and had hemophilia and Princess Alice and Beatrice inherited the faulty X trait but because they had another X chromosome from their father that was normal the hemophilia was masked, and they were carriers not affected by hemophilia themselves.

The defect in their beautiful baby son had to be hidden. If the Russian population knew then the tsardom was in peril. Already there was trouble brewing. The people were poor and hungry, and Nicholas and Alexandra were distant, autocratic and lacking in empathy with their citizens. Alexandra as a German princess bride had been unpopular from the start. But Nicholas had married for love not politics. But politics can be ugly and turn on unpopular monarchs. The Russian people did not like Alexandra, the tsar’s wife. This and the poor health of the tsarevitch contributed to the failure to save the Romanovs.

The hemophilia of the Romanov son had to be kept a secret

Alexandra was an introverted, cold woman in public yet at home she was an adoring mother and wife. Really both Nicholas and Alexandra were unsuited for their royal roles. They were homely, family orientated couple wrapped up in each other and their children but negligent of their duties in the royal dynasty.

Alexandra withdrew more from public life as she protected her little son and hid his defect from the world. Even other royal cousins did not know as Russia could not know. She must have realized that even if she could by chance have another son, he too could be affected by the disease. The chance of another son being affected was 50%. Hemophilia had struck twice in Spain’s royal family. There was no certainty that the genetic lottery would spare any future Romanov sons. Besides, Alexandra had already born five children and was not a well woman herself. She suffered sciatica, circulation issues and heart problems. Often she would stay in bed for days or weeks. Her mauve boudoir at the Summer Palace in Petrograd was the centre of her existence.

Rasputin, the infamous monk

The family rarely left the palace grounds to mix with the people or travel abroad. When WWI erupted life became more difficult. She was of German origin and Russia was at war with Germany. Plus, her little son was often ill from bruising due to falls. In desperation for help she sought the services of Grigory Rasputin, the mystical monk with healing powers. His inclusion in the royal household made her even less popular with the Russian people.

Russian Revolution

In 1917, while the war raged, the Russian people had enough of their autocratic, uncaring tsar and his wife. There was a revolt and Nicholas reluctantly abdicated. Alexandra was furious. She was not there when he signed the papers and would have stopped him. Stronger than him mentally, she believed in the dynasty and their rights of succession. Nicholas was weak and not a born ruler. His focus was on his family not his country. But because of his abdication and the ensuing politics, his family would pay the ultimate price.

If their little son had not been so delicate, would the Romanov dynasty been able to survive? The occurrence of hemophilia in the one Romanov child who needed to be robust was a tragedy. It was one of the factors in the dynastic and family tragedy of the Romanovs.

To learn more read my linked Romanov article just above or on my blog Helen Rappaport’s books on the Romanovs are also wonderful informative reading.

Creating characters in novels

Creating characters in novels

Readers treasure their favourite books for many reasons. It can be for the story or plot, the setting, the language but more often it is for the characters. A story can have a great plot and be written beautifully or set in a glorious place but if the characters don’t seem real, how can we get involved and enter their world? How can we relate to them if they are just cardboard stereotypes or ill-defined ghosts of reality? Minor characters can be less defined but the main characters in a novel need to be bold and reflect real life people. Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, Madame Bovary from the book of the same name or more contemporary characters like ditsy Bridget Jones or socially challenged Elizabeth Zott from Lessons in Chemistry. Creating memorable characters in novels is an art and some writers ace it and others not. If you are starting your first book let me share a few tips.

Creating great characters in novels

What tools do writers need to create great characters? Well, you may be surprised to realise that life itself is the best teacher. Your life experience of people and understanding of what makes them tick is your best guide. So, I guess in that way, the older writer can have an advantage. I’m a great people watcher and love to listen to the stories others tell me about their families, marriage and friends. My husband says I’m a busy body! But I do listen and take interest in others and this has helped me enormously in writing and creating characters. Why people do things is particularly interesting, isn’t it? I don’t mean crimes as such but just more everyday things, like fall in love with the wrong guy, decide to move overseas or just run away.

Capturing real life people as characters

As I write this, I realise that all of my five novels have characters, notably women that run away from their current lives. Maybe it is a coincidence or possibly more because I myself am a runaway! The whole runaway concept fascinates me, so I guess I used my own experience to fashion these characters. Did you know that Agatha Christie was also a runaway? My runaway characters run away to escape trauma in different forms. A failed love affair, an abusive marriage, to conceal a pregnancy, a death in the family are the motivations for my women characters and for Oscar, my runaway male character, it is his perceived grievance with his family.

These characters are all based on people I know or meet. They are heavily disguised in most cases. You have to be careful not to just model your characters on friends or family! No one likes to find themselves in a novel unless the writer airbrushes them into a hero or heroine. The characters in my novel The Last Hotel are based on strangers I met while at Nice airport in March 2020. Stranded by the Covid-19 outbreak, I sat for endless hours hoping for a flight home to Australia. While people watching, I observed then chatted with a male ballet dancer, two young British girls then a mother with her teenage daughter. All of them like me had their lives interrupted by the lockdowns in Europe. We all had nowhere to stay as hotels were closing one after the other. Our common fate pulled us together. We shared details of our lives. They became characters in a book that was only just crystallizing in my imagination. Read more here about the crazy writing process of The Last Hotel. 

Heroes and heroines?

But did I create these people as shining heroes and heroines? No, I didn’t. Because they do not know they became my characters, it was ok and better to make them the thawed people they are and like we all are. Each of us is a mix of contradictions. We can be strong then weak, loving then mean, depending on what happens to us. If character always behave the same in every situation they won’t be like real people will they? Nor will the story be interesting. Perfect guy meets perfect girl. End of story. Yawn. There has to be conflict to drive the plot and characters create this conflict. You just have to decide on what that conflict will be.

Use characters to describe other characters in novel

Minor characters are needed to help drive the plot and also it is through these minor characters that we can learn stuff about the main characters. They can talk about their character, looks or their past in a more interesting way than the narrator (you, the writer) can. I use this technique in my contemporary romance, The Last Hotel.

“I think there’s something going on between Jenny and the dashing Rene. They look like love struck teenagers,” commented Tim. This is one character’s observation of two other characters.

Another character, Maggie comments on Jenny’s looks. ‘Are you a dancer yourself? You are so slim and dainty just like a ballerina.”

Just a note about mirrors. So many writers use the tool of the character looking in the mirror to see themselves (often naked, he he). I think this is a bit cliche now. Use another character to comment on their appearance and not necessarily a naked description. Sometimes this is too much information that is not easy to dismiss in the imagination. Maybe the mirror thing works better for male readers.

Actions speak louder than words

Just don’t describe your characters, let them speak and act to reveal themselves. Give them gestures, movement and dialogue in different situations so we see how they react. When Tanya first meets Vinnie in my mystery romance, Colour Comes to Tangles, she has to steady herself by grabbing the counter. She loses her ability to act and speak normally. The reader quickly senses she is smitten by him.  In The Last Hotel, when Sasha grabs his mother and dances with her in the kitchen, the reader realizes they have a close bond. Writing is such fun. It’s like painting a picture that becomes a world to escape into. The final creation is often quite different from the original layout.

Read your story aloud.

As the story progresses, ideas come to you and instinctively you feel what works and what is not working. Read your writing, especially the dialogue of the characters ALOUD. Then you can hear if it sounds authentic. Also this essential technique also lets you see if you are telling the reader too much. Less can be more. Leave some room for the reader to create the character in their mind’s eye. This is why some films wreck books. What a lovely, imaginative escape is a book or film. Some films are so right for us that we can watch them over and over again. The same goes for reading books. But beware of the film made from your favourite book. If the film director has interpreted the character differently, butchered the plot or made the character’s appearance different then we can be shattered. I felt this way when I viewed a BBC production of Pride and Prejudice wherein both Darcy and Elizabeth have wishy washy complexions and blue eyes not dark- haired and dark eyed as in original. it put me right off!

Point of view and thoughts of characters in novels

starting your book


This is a massive topic in itself. Point of view refers to who is narrating the story. Is it third person omniscient, a narrator who knows all and can tell all. This has been a standard for many novels through history. Or is it first person, ie “i’ or ‘me’ narrated. This form does give us more insight into the main narrating character but can be annoying if “I’ is overused. There is no need to write, ‘I saw..’ or ‘I heard..’when this form is chosen. The character can just report ‘the sky was achingly blue..’ or whatever. Some writers use third person and first person combined but it is a bit tricky. Maybe not something to try for the first book!

Point of view leads to the topic of thoughts. The thoughts of the characters can add to our understanding of them. But keep the thought dialogue to a minimum, I think. No long reflections as this can interrupt the flow of the book and action. Use thoughts instead to build tension. eg ‘Will he be there? Can I dare face him again?’

Well, thanks for reading if you did. Lots of other blog posts on books etc on my website.

Ciao for now.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels: Whispers through Time, The Last Hotel,  Colour Comes to Tangles and her latest historical WWI drama, Time Heal my Heart. Joni has her own website;



A story at Christmas

A story at Christmas

Hi there and if you celebrate Christmas, have a good one. Since it is holiday season and there maybe more time to do what you like, you might take time to read a story or two. A Christmas story. I personally have never written a story set at Christmas, but many authors have. I am aware of a few like The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Polar Express and Little Women but notice there are so many online. So, you should be able to find a story at Christmas that suits you.

I mean, the actual story of Christmas is an amazing story in itself. What better combination than a couple in love, a journey and then the miraculous birth of a baby who is born to save the world. They don’t come much better than that whether you believe it to be true or not. It also aces other stories as it is a story that has kept delivering its magic and message for centuries. Very few stories can tick that box.

The Christmas Carol

But returning to actual book type Christmas stories, I will start with A Christmas Carol as it seems to be one of the first well known fictitious stories set at Christmas and it has a meaningful message as well. The novella was published in 1843 in London and is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge an elderly miser who is too mean to give his employee a day off at Christmas or put a donation in a charity pot for children.

That Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by his old business partner, Marley. The ghost is weighed down by chains and money boxes because of his lifetime of greed.  Marley warns Scrooge he will suffer the same after life unless he rethinks his ways. Later to enforce this ghostly message, the spirits of Past, Present and Yet to Come visit Scrooge. These visits reveal Scrooge’s past and his worship of self and money. He sees how he lost the love of his long ago love and present a future vision of his poorly attended funeral and unkempt grave. These visions affect Scrooge the old man and he is upset enough to transform into a kinder man.

The spirit of giving

Some believe the story is an allegory of Christmas itself. But whatever, its message is one of kindness and giving which never goes astray, especially at Christmas. There are many film adaptations of this story and even Disney used the character Scrooge to create a Scrooge McDuck. Christmas time and stories like this remind us to give and forgive not just with gifts but with a spirit of kindness to all.

Yes, it’s an old-fashioned story but one still relevant today with our spirit of rampant materialism. Money does not make you happy in itself. It can help by buying us comforts and provisions but if we are a miserable sod like Scrooge was, our mean spiritedness weighs us down rather than buoying us up.  Giving and making others happy does that.

Little Women

In the early 19th century, Christmas was evolving into a time of family gatherings, seasonal food and combined worship. But it also was a time to be aware of others who had little and make their Christmas a bit brighter. We see this spirit of giving in the story of Little Women by Louisa May Alcot which has a scene set at Christmas. The March girls blessed with lovely food at Christmas decide to share with neighbours less fortunate. They carry the food across the snow to a family in need. If you have never read this classic, give it a try. It is a lovely story of four sisters, and I am sure you will find one of them to relate to despite the passage of time since the book was written. I always related to Jo. My real name is Joanne so this was easy to do. There are sequels to this book as well that are also great reading.

Polar Express

Maybe you have seen the film version of the 1985 children’s book by Chris Van Allsberg. It stars Tom Hanks and is a great film even for adults. The Polar Express is a story about a little boy who boards a train for the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Written and illustrated by American author Chris Van Allsburg, Polar Express is a classic Christmas story for young children. It won the annual Caldecott Medal for illustration of an American children’s picture book in 1986. Van Allsberg has a great imagination. He also wrote Jumanji which is one of my favourite films to rewatch. 

Polar Express starts with a young boy looking through a window to see a train right outside his house. The conductor looks up at his window. Encouraged, the boy tiptoes downstairs and goes outside where the conductor tells him the train is called the Polar Express and is heading to the North Pole. The boy hops onboard. There are many other children in their pajamas. They all sing carols and enjoy candies and hot chocolate as the train races north past towns, through forests, and over mountains. On arrival, Santa tells them one of them will receive the first gift of Christmas, a bell. The bell rings for true believers of Christmas. I hope this does not spoil the story but just illustrate its point. The book ends with the following line:

At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.

So whether you are still a child at heart and whatever you believe, I wish you a happy Christmas!

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels: Whispers through Time, The Last Hotel,  Colour Comes to Tangles and her latest historical WWI drama, Time Heal my Heart. Joni has her own website;


Writers and readers hate errors in books

Writers and readers hate errors in books

Editing drives writers to distraction. Writing is fun when the inspiration and words flow but then going over it all is so tedious, often de-motivating and just boring. That is why we prefer to farm this activity out to the publishers who promise painstaking editing and proof reading. This is how it has always been. But I suspect these editors and proofreaders also find these tasks tedious and possibly fall asleep on the job. Or do they now just computerise the task, claim they proofread it but didn’t really? Writers and readers hate errors in books.

Readers find errors

It is bad enough reading over your own work and fixing it but imagine reading someone else’s and staying interested and awake. Well, this is my theory why every time I have a book released, it is my readers who find errors. Though I read the manuscript oh so many times and the editor supposedly did too during one, two, three four rounds of editing and then a final proofread, there are still errors. ARGH!

Types of errors

Now these errors can be punctuation; missed capitals, commas, apostrophes or full stops or they can be spelling errors. Maybe these are the most forgivable errors that we can blame on a printer. lol. My book The Last Hotel contained a few of these in its first edition because the writer, me, wrote it or rather tapped it out with one hand. I had lost the use of my right upper body to CRPS at the time so was a writing cripple for about two years. I really relied on the editor. But they let me down.

Reviewers also find errors

However, the reader did not know this, so had no sympathy for these errors and besides shouldn’t the editor have found these errors before publication? I had to make a fuss after an reviewer rated the novel one star down because of the punctuation though they said it was ‘the best book they had read that year.’ The publisher ultimately edited the book again for me for free and now the new version is all good. Yeah!

Historical errors

In my first book, Whispers through Time, there is a date error in the chapter about Lisbon that has a king living for over a century and a half. Oops. That one is a typo of the date. In Colour comes to Tangles, Josie drives a VW at the start of the book but has a Peugeot by the end. This sort of error is an inconsistency one. When I wrote it over the period of a year, I did not notice that I assigned a different car to her and neither did the editor.

In my newly released novel, Time Heal my Heart, I am disheartened to be informed again by a reader that there is an inconsistency as to who named Manly. It is the beachside suburb of Sydney where my characters honeymoon. In the beginning of the book, Sebastian tells his new wife that the suburb is so called because a first settler thought the original native people looked ‘manly.’ This is true. But at the end of the book, another character mentions a different first settler being the origin of the name.

No, it wasn’t Captain Cook!

Now how did this happen? I have the research that tells me the first guy Captain Arthur Phillip named the suburb so how did I attribute this later to Captain Cook who never really settled on Australian soil? A blonde moment? Dementia setting in? Brain fatigue after hours of rereading? Captain Cook was a sailor and voyager who mapped the coastline and died in Tahiti. But his name is more well known than Phillip’s so maybe it popped into my head at this point later in the book. Oh, dear and sorry!

Editors are meant to save us

Now this is embarrassing but there is no recourse to fix this error once the book is published as it is not a self-published book wherein you can just reload the file to Amazon. So, it has to stay there now and shame me forever. Sigh Editors are meant to save writers from this. Writers and readers hate errors in books.

Editors are meant to catch my mistakes, but they don’t seem to be up to the task as well as editors in the old days before digital. You never see many errors in the old classics or books before around 2000 but errors have multiplied in modern books. Do editors now just run our work through Grammarly or ProWriting Aid? Do they even proofread with their own eyes not a computer program? Because they are often young are they distracted by their phones or just can’t spell?

Should we self-publish?

I have no answer to this. In frustration, I am going to ask a reader to proofread my next novel. They seem to be the best proofreaders. And they do it for free! Thank you, darlings! Writers and readers hate errors in books!

It’s tough enough writing 120, 000 words into a story without having to edit, proofread and then market the book. No, publishers are slack there as well. They get all the money and don’t hold their weight which is why so many of us are turning to self-publishing. You have control over the rights to the book, can fix the errors and earn more royalties.

I am sure there are some excellent editors out there and I wish you writers luck finding one who does your work justice.

Image source

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels: Whispers through Time, The Last Hotel Colour Comes to Tangles and her latest historical WWI drama, Time Heal my Heart. Joni has her own website;

Please be kind, review our books!

Please be kind, review our books!

Authors need encouragement, please review our books.

Reviews are the bread and butter for authors. Please be kind, review our books. As an avid reader I make a habit of reviewing every book I read whether I was impressed with it or not. Usually, I do this on Goodreads as it is so easy. This click takes you to my soon to be released fourth book. You just find the book you want to review, click on it, and under the book details is a place to leave a rating (one to five yellow stars) or below a blank box to write something about the book. This written comment is far more encouraging for the author and more informative for a potential reader. But I post a comment politely and make it more about my preferences not their bad writing.

On Goodreads as on many book platforms you can join up as a reader and list your finished reads like you are part of a club. Reading (and writing) are lonely pursuits, so it is nice to sometimes share with others. This feedback from readers allows other readers to decide if the book is for them before they buy it. Few readers actually bother to write a review. It’s less than 10%. So, authors need all the reviews we can get and preferably positive ones. After all, we make no money from books. Too many middlemen take that. It’s a mug’s game. Please be kind and review our books.

Too difficult to be nice? How about a star rating instead.

But if you feel you can’t possibly say anything good then just pop a one or two star. This is kinder than a brutal slaying. Consider how you would feel if someone roasted your book baby alive. Books take about a year to write and almost twice as long to get published. So please review our books.

Unless you are an author who opts to be an Amazon uploader in which case it’s instant. I tried this for my contemporary romance, Colour comes to Tangles, just to experience the spontaneous buzz. But I do prefer the wait and the box of books that come all the way from London. My fourth book, Time Heal my Heart just arrived this week that way. Twenty-five copies hot off the press.

Someone left a two-star review for me last week. Fortunately, my first ever. This one was long and ranting as well. The reader did not like my ‘overuse’ of commas, and she found a typo that I was aware of but powerless to fix post publication. So let me know if you too feel I am guilty of comma overuse. As the review was for my debut novel and I’m now up to book 5, I won’t lose sleep over this one.

It is far outweighed by good ones like this lovely one from another author and besides I’ve learnt a lot since book one and become a better writer and certainly know editors miss a lot of unintentional errors. Once a book is published traditionally it is very expensive to request a typo correction. With uploaded to Amazon self-published books, it is as easy as it was to publish. Just a click away.

We all need praise and encouragement, please review our books

I am now a little conscious of it lest it is true. It is possibly Prowriting aid‘s fault as they keep flagging my lack of comma, so I let them override my text and add one. They just did it. I’ve given you the link to a comparison of the most common writing, spelling and grammar aid . Are there too many commas for your liking too?

Encouragement is not just needed for authors but for everybody. Praise is lovely. We bask in it, like the morning sun. Try to find the good in people not the bad. The same goes for books.

Kindness matters especially for authors

So please hold or bite your tongue and let the emotions calm. Not easy but counting to ten helps. Or walk away, make a coffee. Whatever. It deflects the moment and helps compose a kinder or more instructive rebuke.

The one thing the whole world needs is more kindness, more saying sorry, more good listening to other’s concerns. oh, no, more commas! It would be lovely if everyone respected each other’s opinions, rights and values. I know, a pipe dream. But it’s good to dream, good to be positive. Oops, more commas. Sorry.

But, seriously, let’s use our voices for good not to tear down others. One day someone might tear you down and then you will know how it feels. Have a nice day and please be kind when you review for our books.

Photo Source

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels: Whispers through TimeThe Last HotelColour Comes to Tangles and the latest World War One romance, Time Heal my Heart. Joni also has many posts on a women’s blog; and has her own website;

Surprised by Joy

Surprised by Joy

Life is so wonderful that I am often surprised by joy. This is the title of a book by C. S Lewis but I think it is a great phrase to keep in mind as one goes through life. I am so frequently surprised by joy, the joy of living, the joy of love and of all the beautiful things in the world. Call me a cock-eyed optimist but as Desiderata so wisely and beautifully says,’ For all its broken dreams and promises, it is still a beautiful world.’ Borrowing again from the inspiring and insightful verses of Desiderata, ‘Many persons strive with high ideals and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Joy in the wonder of life

Most people are kind, nature is awesome and the world is a wonder of God’s creation. This leads me to be often surprised by joy. As a biochemist, I see the intricacy of the blueprint of life that no man could ever design. Not even the new smart A1 or NASA scientists could get the metabolic feedback mechanisms of the human body so perfect that this machine can go on for nearly 100 years.

My mum just turned 100 and it is amazing that she is still here and what she has seen in her lifetime. World wars, The Great Depression, the building of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, the life of Queen Elizabeth II, her contemporary. So many man-made inventions, the airplane, the car, telephone, television. computer, space rocket. The list goes on, but none are as intricate as the workings of the human body and the mind.

In our self-centered busy lives, we can lose sight of the wonders of ourselves and our environment. We get caught up in our own needs and forget others not as fortunate and fail to notice the wonders of the natural world. We put too much stock into material possessions and not enough into richness of spirit, that of kindness, patience, forgiveness. Also, we destroy our natural world, not realising how essential it is for our life within it.

Joy is kindness, patience and forgiveness

These human qualities are the benchmark to aspire to and not always easy to implement when surrounded by vexatious and critical people. These human virtues feature in all the religions of the world as a code to live by. The grim alternative is to succumb to the law of the jungle which is every man for himself. Forgiveness however is probably most celebrated within the Christian religion as it is integral to its message. Which brings me back to the phrase ‘Surprised by joy’.

C.S.Lewis and Surprised by Joy.

Clive Staples Lewis wrote a book called Surprised by Joy. Born in Belfast, he came to study at Oxford during the interwar years and was a contemporary of J.R.R Tolkien (of The Hobbit fame). Tolkien led a reluctant Lewis to Christianity. After much academic argument, eventually Lewis conceded that a divine creator made more sense than nothingness and explained the wonders of the universe better than attributing it all as pure chance. He went on to write many books with Christian themes and is probably best known for his Narnia series including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Along the way he met a woman called Joy. She was Jewish and had escaped an abusive husband. Lewis and Joy fell in love.

The book, Surprised by Joy is about their relationship and is a poignant read. There is a film version too with Anthony Hopkins as Lewis. But the title of the book also refers to Lewis’s newly found joy in life itself. When Lewis himself died he along with other writer luminaries was interred at Westminster in Poet’s Corner. The inscription on his tomb reads, ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.’

Joyful books

As a writer, I like to write joyfully, to uplift and inspire. No crimes in my books! Check out my happy fiction reads on Joni’s Beautiful Books Page. If you like to read nonfiction then both Desiderata, the poem, and Lewis’s books are great reads to make you pause and think on the human condition within the heavenly universe.

My favourite Desiderata verse is ‘Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.’ It is hard to find silence these days. Everywhere people talk on mobiles letting the world know their private lives, cars roar, music blares. Even at the beach there are jet skis! Arrh! but try to find a spot to read or reflect and nurture your soul and spirit. God bless.

Focus on the good and you will be surprised by joy!

Joni Scott is an Australian author with three published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; and has her own website;

Enigmatic Elizabeth von Arnim

Enigmatic Elizabeth von Arnim

Elizabeth von Arnim, a woman of mystery and myths, was an enigmatic woman mostly of her own creation. Her extraordinary life story reads like a fancifully constructed novel. It is hard to believe so much happened to a woman who was born in the then backwater colonial Sydney, in the late nineteenth century.

The Countess of Kirribilli

I recently read a biography about Elizabeth called ‘The Countess of Kirribilli‘. I found the book for sale for $6 at the local post office! It captured my attention because I am interested in women from history. I often post about women from history. Here was an interesting Australian woman of history also an author who I had never heard of. Elizabeth von Arnim was born Mary, or ‘May’ Beauchamp, and lived her early years at a mansion named Beulah on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour. Such a position now would be worth millions for its waterfront vista of the expansive and beautiful Sydney Harbour. It boasts a view of the iconic white-sailed Sydney Opera House.

A one-way trip to Europe

Her father was a successful businessman and her mother a poor Tasmanian girl who got lucky and was adopted by wealthy relatives. Mary, who became later known as Elizabeth, was the youngest of six children and the second daughter. The Beauchamp family also had many cousins of the Lasseter family. When Mary’s uncle Fred Lasseter proposed a year-long family trip to Europe, Mary’s father Henry jumped at the chance. He wanted to experience some culture and so the whole Lasseter and Beauchamp tribe left the colonies on an adventure across the oceans to Europe.. They did plan to return to their Sydney lives and waterfront mansions but never did. Mary and her family instead lived their lives abroad in Europe and London, never returning to their colonial roots. After years of restless but luxurious living with her family in Europe, young Mary married a much older German aristocrat, Count Henning August von Anim-Schlagenthin.

An estate in Pomerania

This is interesting enough, but the other detail is unusual. They lived in Pomerania. Now I didn’t know this was even a place. I like most of you, probably associate the word with a fluffy dog breed. But yes, they come from there and yes, Pomerania is a countryside area of Germany. Their house was very grand and was an estate with woods and a lake. An idyllic place to live if you didn’t have a demonic husband and baby after baby. Mary was in an unhappy, controlled marriage with her count. She had four daughters in quick succession before finally giving birth to the much-anticipated son. This was difficulty for the slight built Mary, who many referred to as dainty. The marriage did not improve even after the heir was born, because of financial problems and the Count’s many affairs.

Mary who became Elizabeth loved to write

In 1898, just before the turn of the century, Mary wrote a semi-autobiographical novel called Elizabeth and her German Garden. Writing helped her cope with life with her bombastic husband and the stress of so many young children. She published the novel anonymously. When the books attracted attention, readers wondered about the identity of Elizabeth. Newspapers postulated it could be the charming young countess but Mary never verified it. She continued to write for the rest of her life, later adopting the name of Elizabeth von Arnim. Her wit and humour captivated an audience. To give her time to write she relied on staff and tutors for her children. One of the tutors was young E.M Forster who later became famous for his own novels, Passage to India and Room with a View.

Australia’s answer to Bridgerton’s secretive Lady Whistledown

The Sydney Morning Herald wrote an opinion piece on Mary or Elizabeth as she became known, dubbing her Australia’s Lady Whistledown. “Long before Bridgerton was a TV hit an Australian-born author hid her identity to write about taboo topics, as the world’s press worked to unmask her.” Mary’s life became stranger and stranger, the stuff of fiction. Fortunately for Mary her count husband died suddenly. She was free and so in 1911 she bought a chalet in Switzerland. She loved the country, preferring it to Germany. She expanded the chalet and entertained literary and society friends. She had a mini chalet built to give herself the privacy to write.

An affair with H.G Wells

From 1910 to 1913 she was the mistress of H.G Wells, the famous science fiction writer. He maintained his marriage with his very understanding wife Jane, who was a friend of Mary’s. Mary became interchangeable to Elizabeth, the name she continued of use for the rest of her life. Her books became best sellers especially in America. Elizabeth married again to an older man, Frank, the 2nd Earl of Russell. He too was controlling and difficult. Try to avoid this type if you can. Look for the early signs. Elizabeth had other affairs with younger men in literary circles. They offered distraction and provided fodder for her writing. Much of it is biographical in nature. But don’t many authors take from the life they live? I know I do.

A War and Personal Tragedy

Elizabeth sent her youngest daughters to expensive boarding schools in Europe. They became trapped behind German lines when World War One broke out. Her youngest daughter died at 16 of pneumonia, without seeing her mother. Elizabeth took her two older girls to London for safety, but their German accents led to internment. She managed to send them to America, using personal contacts, where they settled and married in America.

Escape from Marriage

Elizabeth fled her second abusive marriage after three years. She travelled, had affairs, wrote and lived a luxurious glamorous lifestyle. But despite all this, as always throughout her life, money and fame did not make her happy. This is so often the case. Why do so many wish for money and fame when so rarely does it bring happiness?

Literary Fame

Elizabeth’s books however, did happily blossom and attract readers and received great reviews. The wit and humour in her novels is based on the satire of marriage and love. Her 1921 novel, Vera draws on her disastrous second marriage and is a dark and brooding love story. The Enchanted April sets a different tone and showcases Italy’s Portofino as a resort. It is a lighter read than her previous novels, despite being written at a dark time of the author’s life. It has been made into Broadway shows. Her last novel Mr Skeffington was made into a film with Bette Davis and was nominated for an Academy Award.

But then Elizabeth is forgotten?

Elizabeth von Arnim lived alone in her later years in the south of France. She died there in 1941. Despite her fame and best-selling books, she seemed to slip beyond the public radar, and is as unknown today as she was anonymous in her early writing days. But Elizabeth was an interesting woman. She achieved a lot, wrote much on women’s matters and the difficulty of matrimony and defied the restrictions of the times in which she lived. Photo by Lukas K on Unsplash Joni Scott is an Australian author with three published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Joni has her own website;

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