I am pleased to announce my third novel, Highland Whirl, is scheduled for release in December 2021 from Bold Strokes Books and is now available to pre-order.
“When city girl about town Roxanne Barns reluctantly accepts a holiday invite to her best friend Eve’s birthday party in the Scottish Highlands, the last thing she expects is to fall for the very person she’s been dreading seeing again—the feisty Highlander, Alice Campbell.
The moment Alice learns that Roxanne is visiting her home hamlet of Newland, she couldn’t be more suspicious or defensive. A warm welcome is certainly not the plan, let alone falling in love.
Despite Eve’s warnings that Roxanne is not relationship material, Alice can’t ignore her growing attraction. She absolutely trusts Eve’s judgment, but taking her advice just might break Alice’s heart.
Highland Whirl reunites readers with the characters and landscape of Highland Fling in an emotionally enthralling story of trust, friendship, family, and love.”
“Any emotional border that had been briefly opened was now closed, and guards likely patrolled its perimeter. The country of Alice was once again an island with sharks in its seas and canons aimed at those who dared to trespass”. Highland Whirl by Anna Larner
Today I shaved my hair off To see me, to know me, to own me, to free me. To be me.
Today I shaved my hair off To breathe, to seethe, fermenting the fuck you I should have said long ago To every fucker who kept me small. And fuck me for letting you all.
Today I shaved my hair off Is this what confidence is? Is self-esteem the glance you give that says get your hands off my soul. The tone of voice that holds steady and loud and clear, I’m speaking now you’ll damn well hear.
Today I shaved my hair off You see me now don’t you? You hear me now don’t you? You’ll feel me now won’t you?
Today I shaved my hair off – you might want to, too.
“Make no mistake, this was in every way a late night hold up as she robbed me of my breath and wounded my heart with her smile.”
My story Worry-Free Windows, is all about chance encounters and the chemistry and sparks of connection that can happen when strangers chat over the phone, as they discover not only a mutual rapport but eventually love.
This gem of a book is available for free on bookfunnel.
(And while you’re at it why not check out LesFic Eclectic Volume One.)
Did you know Bold Strokes Books has a YouTube channel with lots of fabulous authors showcasing their books?
Why not checkout the panel discussions from this year’s Bold Strokes Books Bookathon UK – June 6, 2020 starting with Love Changes Things: What We Love About Love Stories.Moderator: Nell Stark Panelists: MA Binfield, Kris Bryant, Charlie Cochrane, Anna Larner, Anne Shade.
At the beginning of February, before a virus changed our world, my good friend and beta reader, Kay, conceived a Love’s Portrait walking tour*. Her aim was to seek out the real-life locations in the historic city of Leicester that inspired the fictional settings and scenes of Love’s Portrait. We had a wonderful day, absorbed in those moments where reality and fiction blur, and I am excited to share highlights of our tour with you here. So put on your virtual walking shoes and follow us, as we take a tour of the landscape of my imagination.
*Map at the end of the blog
The Belmont Hotel
We began at the historic Belmont Hotel, where the fictional Georgina Wright bravely confronts her estranged mother, Lydia Wright. Lydia has been sitting in the conservatory (to the right of the building) hoping that her daughter might just meet with her, if only for the sake of Georgina’s new love, Molly.
An extract from chapter thirty-two…
The lights from the Belmont Hotel’s conservatory illuminated the promenade in blocks of gaudy yellow light that cast the moon in eerie contrast, stark and haunting, white-grey in the dark winter sky. The Belmont Hotel had a faded Victorian grandeur to it which lent a mood of formality tempered by the soft easing of age.
Georgina climbed the short run of steps shaded at their top by a small stone portico. She hesitated at the door, holding it just open. The warm air from the hotel’s reception blew perfumed against her cheeks.
The fictional ‘City Museum’
We then strolled along the Regency walkway, New Walk. We called in at the New Walk Museum, the inspiration for Molly Goode’s workplace, the City Museum. The City Museum, along with George Wright’s home (below), provides the setting for many of the key moments in Love’s Portrait. It is where Molly first meets Georgina, and where they discover together the intriguing inscription hidden away in Josephine Brancaster’s portrait ‘All my love always, Edith.’ It is this inscription that sparks the beginning of a narrative fuelled with unexpected and poignant revelations.
An extract from chapter eight…
Georgina looked past Molly to the sweep of the stairs that curved away above their heads. “It’s a grand building, isn’t it?”
“Yes, definitely. It’s early Victorian in origin, built in 1836, so it also has that late Regency neoclassical feel to it which I love. The entrance porch is just amazing, isn’t it, with those imposing columns. Fran reliably informed me on my first day that the porch is a pedimented portico.”
“Yep. The architect was that chap Hansom, who was of course responsible for the Hansom cab.”
Georgina fell into step beside Molly. “Yes, I think my father mentioned something about that once.”
Molly followed Georgina’s gaze as she stared up to the ceiling with its ornate gold leaf mouldings framing the features of the arched glass roof. Molly paused halfway up the stairs. “It started its life as a school, would you believe, and became a museum in 1849. It is without question a public building built to inspire an obedient awe.”
Our next stop, nestled next to the museum, was the beautiful Museum Square, inspiration for the ‘Museum Square’ in Love’s Portrait.
It is this square that Georgina Wright looks out onto from the long windows of her father’s home and first sees Molly, sitting on her favourite bench. Georgina could not have imagined that she was in fact looking at the person who would be the love of her life.
An extract from chapter two…
Leaving the frustrations of her meeting behind, she [Molly] headed to her sanctuary, a small public garden next to the museum. Aptly named Museum Square, the simply designed patch of civic ground was bordered on two sides by parked cars. A collection of benches placed around the inside edge of the square separated the grass from wide borders. A diagonal path, broken up by tree roots, stretched across, splitting halfway along to encircle a large horse chestnut tree. This tree marked the seasons, signalling the changing patterns of the year. In winter, bare and stark against white skies, the tree seemed to shrink, huddled with those brave or crazy enough to stop awhile and sit. In spring, tentative buds relaxed in the welcome return of the first rays of sunshine. In summer, students rested against its weathered waist reading their books, cool in the shade of branches laden with the soft flutter of green leaves. And in autumn, the debris of crushed conkers bashed free from its branches, littering the ground with evidence of battles won and lost and of time passing as the empty husks curled and browned.
The fictional ‘George Wright’s House’
The fictional Regency period home of George Wright was inspired by the Regency era buildings along New Walk, built in the 1820’s. In 1840, Love’s Portrait’s William Wright purchases the home that would remain in the Wright family for generations and become the cherished setting for the blossoming love of Molly and Georgina.
An extract from chapter two…
Molly stepped inside, utterly overwhelmed by the building she had admired from afar. “Wow.” She had always wondered what lay beyond its formal black door. She had daydreamed of Regency grandeur, imagining a long tiled hallway with corniced ceilings and ornate plaster mouldings. Perhaps a heavy hall mirror would hang on a brass chain against the wall, casting the light and one’s gaze along the hallway to the bottom of the stairs, to the fine spindles and curl of the banister. And in one captivated glance, Molly realized that her imagination had been outdone by the imposing beauty of George Wright’s home. The octagon pattern of black and white tiles made Molly want to skip from one to the other. The tall ceilings made her dizzy, and the elegant staircase with its low wide steps begged her to dance up and down them.
The history of the house rushed at Molly to greet her. Was this how Josephine would have felt every time she walked through the door? Did her heart skip a beat? Did she dance on the steps with Edith, perhaps? Or had Josephine’s marriage changed everything, and they’d simply moved on from each other as time ceaselessly moved on with the future its only destination.
We could not miss out this next stop. For there is only one place to go for a breakfast hangover cure in the fictional world of Love’s Portrait and that is Mr Brown’s café, inspired by the real-life Mr Brown’s.
An extract from chapter sixteen…
Molly held up a defensive hand. “Don’t judge me. When I have a hangover, the only thing that seems to help is a full monty breakfast roll from Mr. Brown’s around the corner. It literally has everything. I figured if I needed one, then you probably did too. Oh, I made an executive decision and went brown sauce and runny yolk. Good morning.”
“Thank God for you.” Georgina meant every word. “I’ll make you a strong coffee to go with it. I’ve already had two. I frankly feel like death warmed up.”
Molly beamed a smile in reply. She took off her hat and her hair fell loose at her shoulders and back. “Yep. I get that. I’m dosed up on paracetamol.” Molly gingerly lowered her sunglasses. “And still everything’s a bit too bright and a bit too loud.”
Church of St Mary de Castro, Castle View
The mood became contemplative when we arrived at our next port of call the graveyard of St Mary de Castro.
Love’s Portrait was conceived from an earlier writing project ‘Women’s Writing in the Midlands 1750-1850’, which explored the work of brave female Abolitionists Elizabeth Heyrick and Susanna Watts. The significant contribution of women to the Abolitionist movement has been largely overshadowed by a patriarchal history. I began to ask myself what happens if your life’s achievements went unrecorded. And then imagine if your love went unacknowledged too, hidden from history. What then? The tragic character of Edith Hewitt was my answer to these questions.
In Love’s Portrait, I described Edith’s gravestone as marking just her name and dates of birth and death, leaving out the meaningful details of her existence. Susanna Watts is buried in St Mary de Castro. I had not at the point of writing seen the grave of Susanna Watts, and there was a sober, chilling sensation as we realised standing in front of Susanna’s grave that it was exactly as I had described Edith’s. A reminder, that the most powerful part of fiction is its truth.
An extract from chapter twenty-one…
Georgina turned to Molly and said with a quiet disbelief, “She was only twenty-six. She died so young.”
Molly looked at her with a face shadowed with sadness, the smile that always greeted Georgina and that lit her heart with joy now heartbreakingly absent.
“Yes,” Molly said. “And the inscription on her gravestone is so cruelly brief, isn’t it? I mean, there’s no mention that Edith was a campaigner. No words of affection from her family or any loved one. Nothing. With such omissions and such silence they condemned her to be lost forever.”
Georgina moved to Molly and slipped her hand in hers and said, “She’s found now. You’ve found her.”
They stood silently looking at the grave with their unspoken thoughts, cast against the background rustle of the wind in the surrounding trees, blending in uneasy harmony with the sound of the city.
The fictional chambers of Brancaster & Lane, New Street
We cheered ourselves up with a silly walk along New Street, retracing the steps of those real-life solicitors and barristers who had no doubt ‘silly-walked’ there before us.
We spotted a doorway which evoked the entrance to Charles Brancaster’s chambers, and sparked the memory of the scene of Edith rushing to a door just like this one, to tell her love Josephine of the passing of the Abolition Act. Beyond that door excitement was replaced by heartbreak as Edith stumbled upon Josephine’s engagement to William Wright. Just like in real-life the door is a silent witness to the dramas that unfold behind it.
An extract from chapter thirteen…
28th August 1833
“Yes! Yes!” Edith ran with all her might through the city streets, dodging market stall holders’ baskets, skipping over stagnant puddles, narrowly avoiding the wheels of carts and the hoofs of horses. The church bells of St. Martin’s rang out in celebration, their peel of notes carried on the wind up and over rooftops and out beyond the city to the workers in the fields. Edith would not stop running. She lifted her skirt up from the floor with her right hand and she held a copy of the Leicester Chronicle tightly in the other. Her legs had all but given way, and her chest burned as she reached the steps of Brancaster and Lane. Edith leaned her back against the door with exhaustion and knocked at it with the heel of her shoe. She felt a gust of warm air at her legs and the pungent smell of ink as the door opened. With a last gasp of breath, she said, “Good morning, Mr. Brancaster. I have just heard the news!”
Charles beamed at Edith and held the door open for her to enter. “Good morning, Edith. Yes, truly a day to remember indeed.”
When Edith found her breath once more she said in one hurried string of questions, “And has Jo heard? Does she know? What has she said? I have already composed what our response should be. I think we shall not boast. No. Our words will be modest, as the facts will speak in proud ever-increasing volume for themselves. So has she? Heard? Mr. Brancaster?”
St Martin’s Church, now Leicester Cathedral
One of my favourite scenes in Love’s Portrait takes place in our next stop St Martin’s Church. The scene describes the moment Josephine marries William. Everything about it should have been joyful and the beginning of the future, yet everything about it is shaded in sadness and the sense of ending.
Cathedrals are the perfect setting for rites of passage and the perfect place to reveal the often stark contrast between formal public obligations and duty with personal sacrifice and private pain.
An extract from chapter thirty-one…
The congregation stood and the organist began to play. William turned and glanced behind him with the glint in his eyes of emotion caught in the candlelight. Josephine lifted her head as one who bravely faces that which they fear most. “I am ready.”
It was Charles who found his feet reluctant to move forward. He wanted to say, I am not, but he would not default in his duty and walked Josephine slowly towards the altar, each step a peculiar anguish towards his daughter’s fate.
Releasing Josephine’s hand into William’s, he quickly looked away knowing that William would now see the tears beneath the veil and feel her sadness at his side.
He felt some relief to hear William whisper, “I love you,” and Josephine solemnly reply “I know.”
Cank Street, the fictional lodgings of Edith Hewitt
Our penultimate stop was to seek out the street sign that marked the fictional location of Edith’s lodgings.
I chose Cank Street because not only was it likely by geography in history to be a possible setting but also because of its starkness. It seemed to be infused with the rhymes of ‘rank’, ‘blank’ and ‘sank’ mirroring Edith’s bleak past and her heartbroken desolate future. In fiction, a name is always much more than a name.
An extract from chapter thirteen…
Edith ran with all her might, stumbling through the puddles, catching her legs and ripping her skirt on the baskets of the market holders, all but deaf to the cries of the drivers of the carriages brought to a halt to avoid her. With no breath, just adrenaline, to carry her up the steep flight of stairs to her room.
She collapsed onto her bed and lay there staring at the ceiling. For how long she could not tell. When the world returned to her, she could not feel her limbs, and all she could taste was the iron of blood in her mouth from the raw dryness in her throat. Nausea gripped her when she attempted to sit up, but lying down seemed worse. She felt the most awful bone-aching chill.
With legs that trembled, she made it to the fireplace. It took several goes to light the kindling in the grate. Numbly she lifted wood from a basket into the fire and stood, swaying slightly, and watched the edges of the wood char and begin to glow. The heat stung at her eyes and cheeks, forcing her to turn away with her palm against her face. As she stood back her ankle caught at the table, causing a canvas stretcher that rested on top of it to wobble. She reached out to steady it. Josephine stared back at her from the canvas that stretched across the wooden frame. How many months she’d spent working on the painting, discarding canvas after canvas, beginning again and again, struggling to quite finish it. For how could she truly ever capture the depth of their love?
Pizza Express, New Walk
It only seemed fitting to end our tour with a glass of wine or two at Molly and Georgina’s local Pizza Express. I half-expected them to walk in, laughing together, as they order spaghetti bolognese, their cheeks glowing with love and red wine.
So if you fancy following our Love’s Portrait tour then here’s a map marked up with our stopping points. Enjoy!
Love’s Portrait by Anna Larner Foreword INDIES Book Of The Year Finalist
Tropicana, 3801 Las Vegas Blvd S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Largest multi-fandom event for LGBTQ women and allies, ClexaCon brings together thousands of diverse LGBTQ fans and content creators from around the world to celebrate positive representation for LGBTQ women in the media.
Make sure to visit the Bold Strokes Books stalls/panels/readings.
Join Bold Strokes Books authors for an amazing weekend of literature and laughs. Ask questions, hear us read from our latest work, buy exciting new LGBTQ fiction, and mingle with the authors in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
The GCLS’s annual conference is the premier lesbian literary event for both authors and readers. The event brings together readers, fans, writers, editors and publishers to celebrate lesbian-themed literature.
Raymond Carver – What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
The most disturbing of reads I find are not the supernatural tales or horror stories or even crime thrillers but those works that meticulously describe the human condition in a state of poverty.
By ‘poverty’ I not only mean financial strain but in particular the all-pervading poverty of spirit which has a soul crushing bleakness that blows through the reader as the coldest of winds. Raymond Carver is a master of conveying this state and the characters that inhabit it.
The short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is a perfect example of the form of writing known as ‘dirty realism’ or ‘literary minimalism’. Carver explores the lives of predominately working class Americans living or perhaps more correctly struggling to survive in the Pacific Northwest region. Prevalent themes across the collection include the breakdown of marriage through boredom and or infidelity, the devastation of grief, and the futility of both aspirational ambition and love in a world diminished by financial and social pressure.
Images resonate long after the stories finish of claustrophobic lives only tolerable with the short-lived relief provided by alcohol, cigarettes, and or sex. Given this, unsurprisingly, there is also a palpable sense of violence barely restrained within the wafer-thin constraints and facade of a ‘civilised life’.
The closing story ‘One More Thing’ for example, is haunting in its depiction of the anger and desperation of a husband forced out of his home by his wife and child following his own deplorable behaviour of drink and aggression. There is so much pain and so much futility.
‘L.D. put the shaving bag under his arm and picked up his suitcase.
He said, “I just want to say one more thing.”
But then he could not think what it could possibly be.’
Carver employs a stripped-back language as the stories unfold through the naturalistic observations and conversations of his characters. This minimalist technique gets the reader right inside the head of the character. We feel what the character feels and see what the character sees and fully inhabit their world. The detail of the writing is visually striking and in just a line of text he crafts the landscape and sets the mood of the moment. In the story ‘The Third Thing That Killed My Father Off’ Carver writes,
‘It was a warm, drifty day. You could see the dust hanging in the air.’
Beyond setting, Carver keenly captures the physical traits that succinctly depict a character. In the tragic and powerful story ‘The Bath’ about a child knocked over by a car on his birthday, Carver observes of the mother staring lost and anxious at her son lying in the hospital bed,
‘The woman stood there a while longer, working her lip with her teeth.’
With each story you get the sense of arriving into the narrative where something has happened outside of it, with the effect that the drama builds and lives on in your imagination from what is implicit as much as what is explicitly described. In the opening story ‘Why Don’t You Dance?’ a man’s possessions, the entirety of his belongings, sit in the driveway for sale. The question is why? We are never given the answer, just the careful detail of each object that spoke of a life now changed or ended.
But the most disturbing story of the collection for me is its title namesake ‘What We Talk about When We Talk about Love ’. In this penultimate story two couples in love sit around a dinner table slowly getting drunk. They discuss in a rambling way what they think love is. One suggests even violence and suicide is forgivable in the name of love. Another ends their discussion by suggesting to his horrified lover and friends that love simply doesn’t last, even true love is only true for a limited time. In the context of the whole collection it is a message which is devastating, after all the only thing that doesn’t rely on money is love. The only thing that perhaps can lift a life from poverty is love. The loss of love is the loss of the purpose for life itself. This devastation is embodied by the narrator’s final observation,
‘I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.’
Commentators note that Carver’s own life carries the themes within it that his writing explores. This makes perfect sense and explains that the power in his work comes from personal experience, adding fuel if it is needed to the writing adage ‘write from your heart’ even if perhaps the end result is hard to read.
Anna Larner – Author of Highland Fling, Hooper Street, Love’s Portrait and Highland Whirl.
Finalist in the 2019 Foreword INDIES Book of The Year, 2019 Rainbow Awards and 2018 Golden Crown Literary Society Awards.
Featured in women.com, DIVA magazine, Gscene magazine, and Publishers Weekly.