Just A Fool

“It’s a fool who looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.”

Ulysses Everett McGill – O Brother Where Art Thou

This is one of my favorite quotes from a movie filled with quotable lines. It’s a brilliant adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey and one of my favorite films of all time. I guess I like this particular line because I’m a logic girl. I want things to make sense, and it really bugs me when they don’t. I’m that way with reading—I can spot an inconsistency a mile away and more than one or two will have me hurling a book across the room. (Which, incidentally, is why I usually prefer real books to the electronic kind. It would get too expensive to toss my Nook around very often, and hitting ‘Delete’ isn’t nearly as satisfying as sending the offending volume sailing into the next room accompanied by an appropriately frustrated bellow.)

I like it in movies. I have to watch myself, because more than once I’ve annoyed people watching with me by blurting out, “But… what about…?”, or “Why doesn’t he just…?” I’ve learned for the most part to keep these questions to myself, at least until the ending credits.

It goes without saying that in writing as well, all my fictional effects must have causes.

And God help me, I’m that way in real life as well. Sweeping generalizations drive me crazy, and this being an election year, sweeping generalizations abound. Mind you, I usually keep quiet about this stuff – it mostly does no good to speak out. Both sides are so firmly entrenched in their assumptions and prejudices that to try to inject reason into the debate is an exercise in futility. But the FaceBook chatter over a recent incident has me digging out my old Logic textbooks and deciding to give it the old college try:  

Guilt by Association – an ad hominem fallacy.

A is a B.

A is also a C.

Therefore all A’s are C’s.

Or, in today’s terms – Todd Akin is a Republican. Todd Akin is an idiot. Therefore, all Republicans are idiots.

I know this is a fallacy, because I know that I am not an idiot. I am also not dogmatic, intolerant, war-mongering or homophobic. I am an intelligent, thinking person who finds my political leanings more closely aligned with the conservative side than the liberal.  I also know that by saying this, I risk being pigeon-holed by those whose political leanings align the other way. I am suddenly dismissed. I am now numbered among the ad hominem idiots above.

But, I’ll risk it, because, like I said, I’m a logic girl and I felt like I needed to say this. I’ll end on a purely illogical note, however – because I’m dreaming of the day when someone will start the Reasonablist Party and those of us who are now compelled to align ourselves with one extreme or the other, will be able to meet like-minded folks in the middle and actually work together come up with effective solutions to our country’s problems. Just think, one day we might be able to vote “for” something, instead of against something else.

Now, I’ve got to end this and get ready for a long road trip to a family reunion in Texas. Yes, my family comes from Texas, and if you’re suddenly getting visions of me as a gun-toting, Second Amendment spouting redneck, all I can say is: See Above.

 

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You Crush Me…

Isn’t it funny how funerals bring family members together when nothing else ever seems to manage it? You know… you talk about it: “We really need to get together”, and “You should come see us” and “Let’s keep in touch” – oftentimes all that talk took place at the last family funeral – but despite all good intentions, you never quite get around to making that trip or writing that email until it’s time for the next funeral. And isn’t it funny, too, how even in the middle of these sad occasions (or maybe because of these sad occasions) we remember why we wanted to keep in touch in the first place?

My brother-in-law’s funeral was last week and amid the reminiscing, tears, stories and laughter, we reconnected with my husband’s only other brother.

Now I said all that to get to this: Apart from being a really nice guy, T is a really smart guy. He has a Doctorate (I don’t know exactly what in, but it’s pretty impressive – knows Greek and Hebrew and all that. Taught it at the college level even. Suffice to say – a brilliant mind.) Well, T is currently between positions and, with a little time on his hands, he decided to try his hand at writing screenplays.

And he is so excited!

He wanted to talk about writing, to compare experiences, share inspirations, to tell me all about his plots and characters and plans and to hear all about mine – he is giddy over the thought and idea and craft of writing.  It shines from his eyes and bubbles up from within him. He is infatuated, floating on a cloud. He is in love.

I used to be in love just like that. Just like having a crush on a boy who likes you back – writing liked me back.

I’d wake up in the morning itching to open the computer and lose myself in whatever story I was working on. Stars aligned, muses cooperated, my lovely partner Tina and I would psychically connect across the miles and internet connections and we would make magic. Writing and me were a couple

I have already confessed to being in a total, complete, dark-tunnel-with-no-light-at-the-end, slump, so I have to admit that I was jealous when faced with T’s newly budded romance. I miss that so much and I’ve been trying to get it back. That first love – the flush of infatuation when you can’t think of anything or anyone else but your characters and story. I’ve been reaching and stretching for it, trying different tricks, changing my hair, putting on new lipstick, jumping up and down waving my hands to get the attention I crave—and every attempt fails and I’m so worried that maybe me and writing are through. Is our relationship over? Is it time to go our separate ways even though the thought of it breaks my heart?

And so I’ve been thinking…  

It’s obvious that the first flush of love is over. The mutual crush has faded, but that happens doesn’t it? Like in real life, with a real person, those highs of emotion are simply not sustainable. You have a crush, and you’re giddy and floating on air, but if the love is real, it eventually settles down into something deeper and more abiding – something that, with care and maintenance, will last.

And so I thought some more…

And I think I need to stop chasing the elusive past. It ain’t coming back – writing and I know each other too well and my desperate attempts to recapture the old days are just driving us further apart. I think it’s time to focus on nurturing a more mature relationship. I still love writing, down to my very soul, and I have faith that writing still loves me. Maybe if I stop pushing and striving, we can find our common ground again. Maybe we’ll stop taking each other for granted. Maybe we’ll find each other again.

And who knows… maybe we’ll find some of that joy again.

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Pain Mis-management

Nothing of great import to say today… which is pretty sad considering this is only my second entry in this self-inflicted Slump Busting challenge. But in my defense, today has been the longest day at work in the history of days at work. This is because my mouth still hurts like crazy after oral surgery and I foolishly decided that I shouldn’t take the good drugs because, well… I would be at work.

Note to self and any interested parties: Always take the good drugs. Always.

So I’m sitting here, killing time, waiting for the hubby to pick me up for our homeward commute, having endured nine hours of work day misery, with at least two more hours of waiting-for-the-hubby-misery-plus-the-drive-home misery to endure before I am reunited with my blessed bottle of Vicodin.

I know some people would just tough it out, but really, I have no interest in toughing it out. Pain hurts, drugs work. I don’t see the down side.

So what’s funny though, is that the Bridget Jones in me is secretly calculating how much weight I might lose because I’ve not been able to eat for 7 days now. What makes us think like that? When even in the midst of pain, heartache, stress or illness, we say to ourselves, “Well, at least I might drop a few pounds through this”? Does that speak to our optimism? Or a pathetic self-image?

My money is on the pathetic, but I’m crabby and not feeling very optimistic today. My damn mouth hurts!

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Slump Busting?!?

So this is Day One of an experiment of sorts, I guess. Can one write oneself out of a slump? And if so, how many days does it take? Well, of course I don’t have the answer to that. What I do know for certain is, by doing nothing, it has been 632 days and counting since anything exciting or meaningful has flowed from this stagnant brain of mine.  So I’m going to take my stubborn bull of a muse by the proverbial horns and try to wrestle her into submission. And believe me, it will be a battle. I will write! No matter how I feel or no matter what ends up on the page! Will that show her, once and for all, who’s boss around here?

I foresee two possible outcomes:

1. by some miracle, she actually will learn that I am in charge and start cooperating, or…

2. after x days of publishing embarrassingly inane dribble, she’ll throw her hands up in frustration and say, “All right, already! I get it! You’re nothing without me. Here… why don’t we try something like…” and then we’re off and running once again. Finally.

Actually, I should probably acknowledge the third, and most likely, outcome:

3. I can’t even manage to write embarrassingly inane dribble daily and this experiment fizzles out like everything else I’ve tried to write lately.

Hopefully not, but in the spirit of inanity, here’s my to do list for today:

  1. Take drugs soon – oral surgery 3 days ago, still hurts like a mother
  2. Take youngest daughter into town to x-ray her toe – dropped a coffee pot on it at work 6 days ago, still hurts like a mother
  3. Plan a family bbq for tomorrow – thinking about grilling Garlic-Lime Salmon, soaking some chicken breast in Italian dressing for the non-fisheaters, potato salad, roasted broccoli and maybe chili beans. Is it weird to serve chili beans with fish?
  4. Take more drugs periodically throughout the day.
  5. Hit the store for groceries for bbq mentioned above.
  6. Hang out with my sister.

And in the short time since I started my list, #1 is accomplished! And now I’m exhausted.

  1. Take a nap.

 

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The Wenches do the Austenesque Extravaganza

We would like to thank Meredith for the kind invitation to participate in the August 2011, Austenesque Extravaganza. It is truly an honour to be numbered among this exceptional list of authors. Of course, the invitation to take part came with a certain amount of angst and pressure as we agonized over choosing the subject of such an auspicious post, and we discussed it at some length (but then again, we seem to find it impossible to do anything without first discussing it at some length). Finally, we managed to narrow it down to two options:

  1. The question we get asked most by our loyal and lovely readers – “How? How do two people who live in different countries and time zones, who communicate exclusively through email and IM, manage to work together to produce a story in such a (we flatter ourselves) seamless manner?” Or…
  2. The question those of you who don’t know us yet are probably asking – “Since you’re always going on about how great Pride and Prejudice is, why the heck don’t you write about Elizabeth and Darcy?”

Well, since we are all aflutter over the thought of first time visitors, we decided that this occasion best lent itself to Question 2. (And to our trusted and loyal friends, we hope you will be patient with us, we do plan to get to Question 1 in the near future.) But without further ado… Here’s why the heck we don’t write about Lizzy and Darcy:

From Pemberley to Cumbermere.
How a love of Pride and Prejudice turned into a new world of Holly and David

How can you not love Pride and Prejudice? How can you not read it time and time again, each time finding renewed delight in the familiar, yet timeless love story, in the elegance of the language and the delightful, wicked humour of it while at the same time, always finding something new and wonderful to marvel at? How can you not despair over Mr Darcy’s clueless arrogance? Or cheer atElizabeth’s liveliness and shake your head at her tendency to rush to judgement? How can you help but fall in love with the characters  that surround them as you do your own family – no matter how ridiculous, silly, pompous, pitiful, annoying or funny they are. And, more to the point of this blog post, how can you not go on living with this wonderful cast long after the book is finished, reliving and recreating their finest (and most devastating) moments and letting your fancy follow them onwards with their fictive lives?

Well, of course you can’t! You watch adaptations, read spin-offs, take an interest in Regency fashion and customs—and lose yourself in fan fiction…

As did we, and through a funny spot of online intercourse and role playing, we found each other and the need to keep living in the Austen universe by creating a little special niche of our own. A niche where we could rule supreme and shamelessly indulge ourselves, staying true to the times but without the need for strict adherence to anything like “canon”.

First we wanted a match for Mr Darcy. He is, after all in Wickham’s words, a very different man in his own circle of friends: “His pride never deserts him; but with the rich, he is liberal-minded, just, sincere, rational, honourable, and perhaps agreeable, — allowing something for fortune and figure.” We wanted to see him at his best, among his equals. And so we gave him a friend, a peer of the realm, no less, to be certain we could catch Darcy among his own and see what he was really like. Lord David Baugham was born! Little did we think our dear creation very soon would surpass his role as companion and sidekick and take on a life of his own, in our minds even over-shadowing his fastidious and wealthy friend.

He has many faults, just like Darcy, but they are of an opposite nature. Lord Baugham is a peer with a troubled past and difficult childhood, as of course, befits a romantic hero. His father was a drunk and a libertine. His mother was a tragic figure. But he is also deliciously flawed in his personality in a way we always hoped would save him from turning into a stereotypical character and making him both much more interesting and more lovable. When we first meet him, he is impatient and nervous, flippant and silly, easily bored and tending to run away from anything that threatens to awaken his deeply hidden sense of duty and moral compass. Somewhere inside Lord Baugham is a good man who just cannot get out, because he sees no reason to change his leisurely and somewhat rakish ways. He is well-to-do, but not as rich as Darcy, nor will he ever be, (though he does have a house in Town, so Mrs Bennet could not disapprove of the connection) but a burden of responsibility stalks him and he does his utmost to outrun it at every turn. We found him interesting enough to want to give him a companion in turn; one who would both complement and clash with him in order to find out who this man really is and what he is truly capable of. Hey presto, Holly was born! And Holly Tournier, we decided, must be Elizabeth Bennet’s cousin because that’s the way it is in all the great old novels and in that way we can throw them all together most effectively!

Holly Tournier, then, is Mr Bennet’s niece, the daughter of an invented sister. This sister of Mr Bennet’s borrows many traits from her own niece Elizabeth in that she is head strong and very capable of holding strong opinions and acting on them. In fact, we have decided, this strong-headed-ness is something of a Bennet family trait, because Arabella Tournier née Bennet’s daughter Holly is very much of the same mould: a determined and strong girl who knows exactly what she likes—or doesn’t like to be more precise—and she very quickly decides she does not like Lord Baugham. The feeling, as it happens, is mutual. Once we had these new characters sketched out, we decided to place them all inScotland, in a little village in the Boarders called Clanough, to have it out and have each other.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to Happily Ever After. We became more interested in telling the story of these new characters than in re-telling the story of Miss Bennet and Mr Darcy. After all, we had invested so much time into fleshing them out… and was not Miss Austen’s original telling of the story of Darcy and Elizabeth perfection in itself? And had not other Austeneseque authors already explored the ‘what-ifs’ brilliantly as well? In short, we fell in love with Lord Baugham, the wicked man, and with sweet, stubborn Holly and happily went off trailing them!

In Twixt Two Equal Armies, our first book, we plucked Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy straight out of Pride and Prejudice, just after Elizabeth has given Lady Catherine deBourgh a piece of her mind in the prettyish kind of a little wilderness, and transported them to Clanough to find their way. Confused and upset,Elizabethflees to the safety of likeminded women at her Aunt Arabella’s and her cousin Holly’s cottage. As it happens, Lord Baugham, Mr Darcy’s particular friend, owns a prettyish kind of little wilderness of his own nearby, in the form of a hunting lodge called Clyne Cottage. Mr Darcy soon convinces his friend to escape to the place he loves the most, as well as to receive his best friend there. After a few misunderstandings and tribulations, we let Mr Darcy and Elizabeth return south to settle their business the way they do in the novel while we follow the rocky path that Lord Baugham and Holly seem to be determined to travel. In fact, we ended up following them through seven more stories (and counting!) and expanding into our own little spin-off series set in other Centuries! Two of these stories have been published as books by Meryton Press and we are hard at work at getting the third one spruced up for the same honour.

What can we say, we love them. Holly and David are silly and stupid and act extremely badly sometimes, but we love them for what they do to, and for, one another, and for the wonderful times they have given us while writing their story. How these two come to love and live with each other is a wonderful journey. It has been a delightful process both for them and for us and if you haven’t had the chance to get to know them yet, we invite you to come along for an enjoyable ride. Leave us a comment or question below for a chance to win a free copy of our books, courtesy of Meryton Press.

 

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True Confessions

While Tina is off skiing in the frigid wilderness, I thought I’d indulge in some personal… well, indulgence. Or maybe I had better classify it as a True Confession. You see, I have fallen in love.

With a tree.

 On the first of the year, we moved house, from the desert to the mountains, and the view from my front door went from this:

To this:


It’s beautiful and I love it! I can now look out my front window and see a mountain instead of stucco! I see horses romping in the fields instead of roving bands of hooligans traipsing up the street to the Walmart. Well, calling them hooligans might be a little strong, though they were certainly pesky! But enough of that. As much as I love the mountain and the horses out front, it’s the tree out back that pierces my soul.


Here it is, about a week after we moved in. Isn’t it lovely, in an ancient, venerable sort of way? It’s old, and craggy, and full of character and secrets. But wait, that’s not all.


Here it is the morning after a freezing fog, all dressed up in a sparkling coat. I wish my camera could have captured the falling shower of ice crystals once the sun peeked over the hill. The sight and sounds were breathtaking.


Here it is in the cloudy dusk. (If you think you’re bored now, just wait til I have grandchildren.)


In the fog as a storm rolls in. (Honestly, I can’t stop taking pictures of this tree.)


And the next morning, after the storm arrived.

There you have it. My latest crush. I just thought I’d share.

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The Twixt Picture

Some details of pictures become just as or even more famous than the main painting itself: the cherubs on Raphael’s Sistine Madonna or the hands of Adam and God in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. We have to admit the two putti, symbolizing heavenly and earthly love, sitting on the floor by Danae’s bed in Correggio’s painting always are our main focus when we look at the depicted scene.

The painting was painted around 1531 and depicts one of the four stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses about the loves of Jupiter. It was commissioned by Frederick II Gonzaga in Mantua as a present for Charles V. It has changed hands and houses many times over the centuries and now it hangs in the Galleria Borghese in Rome.

What we love is the way the putti sit there in the lower right hand corner, wholly oblivious to Danae’s fine form as she is lounging and waiting to receive Jupiter, impregnating her in the form of golden rain descending on her, while a child Eros undresses her. They are so busy with their own little project they pay no attention at all.

Actually, they really look exactly like two mischievous children, deeply buried in mischief, and so they are. They are testing the metal point of an arrow of gold against a goldsmith’s stone to see if it is sharp enough. After that, no doubt, the two rascals will waste no time in handing over the fateful arrow to Eros, who will aim his bow at an unsuspecting couple and cause them to fall in love.

 To us this picture of unsuspected mischievousness while greater events are going on elsewhere close by perfectly represents what we wanted to do when we set out to write Twixt Two Equal Armies. The framework was that familiar and loved story of Pride and Prejudice between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy but we added our own unsuspecting couple right beside their classic love story. We also transported all of them away from Hertfordshire and Derbyshire to an even more northern location. Mischievous indeed! And arrows and sharpening certainly fits our story the way Holly and Baugham clash before they surrender!

So maybe we have to concede that the detail of the little scoundrels says as much about us as our story although we do prefer the epitaph of scheming wenches to chubby putti. Anyway, next time you look at a monumental painting, it would be good to pay attention to the smaller details. Who knows, there might be a fascinating story lurking about where you least expect it!

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As a Foreign Land…

The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.  ~G.K. Chesterton

I came across this quote and liked it. Not because I am a great traveler, because I am not, but because it reminded me of a wonderful aspect of writing that seems to happen just when I need it most: the opportunity to look at something so very familiar, yet to see it with new eyes.

Confession time. The wenches have been in a slump for quite a few months. For one reason and another, neither of us has had much time, inspiration or enthusiasm for writing. We’d try. We’d pick up something we started previously and try to jump in again. That would work for a while then it would peter out… So we’d start something new that sounded fun. That would work for a while and then it would peter out… so for a while we just stopped writing and chatted instead. Then Christmas hit. Then school and work holidays. Then moving house and family weddings. Before we knew it, we realized we had not posted anything new since August and for two wenches addicted to comments from their devoted readers, this was unacceptable!

In desperation we dug through our archives and pulled out a story that we had written last January and had put aside to rest. We do that from time to time – we will write a story straight through and then set it aside to give us some distance. When we return to it, it’s easier to look at it dispassionately and to find inconsistencies and plot holes that were overlooked in the frenzy of writing. (Oh, how I miss that frenzy of writing…)

Somehow, this story sat there, languishing, for an entire year while we tried to write other things in fits and starts, until our frustration forced us to double-click on that little folder icon and give it another look.

OMG!!! We started reading and couldn’t stop! We marveled to each other! We grinned as we lost ourselves in the plot and characters. That’s part of what is so fun about letting a story rest – the coming back to look at it with fresh eyes – as a foreign land to a traveler long away from home. It had been so long that we couldn’t exactly remember what was coming, or how we had decided to resolve certain conflicts. Scenes that I wrote blurred into scenes that Tina wrote and merged into a seamless story. I just finished the last part today and I can tell you that I am excited, thrilled, proud, humbled and anxious to finish polishing it and start posting… (drumroll please):

Peace Weaver: The story of a Saxon lord and a Norman lady, taking place in the time of William the Conqueror. Look for it at AHA in the next few weeks.

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First Impressions

Or “How the Wenches discovered Jane”

Tina:

I know the exact date and place and circumstance when I first read Pride and Prejudice. It was at Easter, in 1996 at my in-laws and I have two men to thank for it: my husband and Andrew Davies. Actually, I should thank my mother-in-law as well because as a former English teacher she had rows and rows of English classics on her more than well-stocked library shelves and one of them was a charming little hard-cover 1960’s copy of Pride and Prejudice with careful annotations and bright orange covers. Anyway, that copy would perhaps still be unread by me if my husband had not fallen ill with the flu and been forced to retire to his bed and stop pestering me for wintery walks and ski trips and all sorts of activities and if Andrew Davies had not produced his 1995 BBC miniseries that were shown on TV as an Easter special. Without these two circumstances, I would never have plowed through that bookshelf in search of reading and then forsaken all other alternatives once I spotted that bright little orange book. I think the miniseries was at Episode 3 or something and I could not bear to wait for the next one. I read the book instead in one sitting and I am so very glad I did!

***

Gail:

My love for Jane Austen started in the Spring of 1999, in rather unusual circumstances. A very dear friend of mine and her five children came to our house with little more than the clothes on their backs, having to flee from a troubled situation at home. We made two clandestine trips back to her house to gather clothes and personal items… the process was as follows:  We would drive past the house once to make sure it was empty, then on the second pass I’d pull up in the driveway and wait with the car running while she rushed in to grab as much as she could. She’d rush back out and we’d speed off like bank robbers on the lam.

The second time we did this, I waited nervously until she jumped into the car breathlessly and closed the door, but before I could slam the engine into reverse and peel out, she cried, “Wait! I forgot my movies!”

Movies???” I seriously thought she had gone over the edge. I mean, who risks their life and well-being for movies? But it was too late, the car door was open and she was on her way back into the house. Moments later she came out with an armful of tapes and we made good on our escape.

Turns out, the movies were video recordings she had made from PBS and A&E broadcasts (back when A&E still aired the good stuff):  Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow, Branagh’s Henry V, Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility, and the icing on the cake, A&E’s Pride & Prejudice.

With twelve of us crammed into the house, nine of them children, movies were the only way we kept sane and kept from killing each other or each other’s kids during that long, hot summer. Almost every afternoon, we’d send the kids outside, draw the shades, grab a tall glass of ice water and let ourselves be whisked away to a more genteel and peaceful world. We watched them all, but more often than any other, we’d stick in Pride & Prejudice.

We somehow survived that time. My friend and her children moved on and out of the house, but when she left, she took her tapes with her. I was glad to have my house back, but I missed the movie afternoons. I found solace in reading all of Jane’s works over and over as I checked the TV listings in hopes of catching any re-broadcasts. I was an internet innocent and never thought to search to see if the films were available to buy, but then one day I came across the 6-tape boxed set of P&P at Best Buy! For $138!!! I secretly socked away money, $5 and $10 at a time until I had enough and I marched down there and bought it. (To this day, I don’t think my husband knows just how much that first set cost.) I wore them out and they eventually had to be replaced, but by then the price was much more reasonable so I bought a second set. I bought the DVD as soon as it was released. I bought the Widescreen edition. I bought the 10th Anniversary edition.  And now, I am the proud and very happy owner of the Blu-Ray! But since I’ve worn out several paperback copies of the books as well, I can convince myself that I’m quite an accomplished and well-rounded individual.

***

So Gail & Tina are dying to know… how did you discover Jane???

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Twixt is Challenged!

We are so happy, flattered and excited to note that the highly discerning ladies of Austenprose have added Twixt Two Equal Armies on their Reading Challenge List for 2011:

http://austenprose.com/2010/12/29/historical-fiction-reading-challenge-2011/

There it is, our baby, together with 24 other very distinguished works. We take a bow and submit our labour of love for your reading pleasure while we eye the other participants with watering mouths. So many lovely books!

Twixt Two Equal Armies

Twixt Two Equal Armies

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