Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 9


If you’ve ever seen the movies Love Actually, Goldeneye, Sherlock Holmes, The Duchess, Shanghai Knights or Last Chance Harvey (amongst others) then you’ve caught a glimpse of Somerset House, just off The Strand, in London. Known by many (of a certain generation) as Register House, it was, until fairly recently, where official hatch, match and dispatch certificates were filed. (Birth, marriage, death.)

The first building in this location was a Tudor Palace, and it remained a royal palace for many years, housing three queens, including Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II. Extended over the years, it fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1770 to be replaced by the present Somerset House, designed by architect Sir William Chambers, and built to house the Headquarters for Offices of State, especially the Navy and Taxation.

somerset tree

Somerset House Ice Rink, December 2014

With official departments being moved out at the end of the 20th century, much of the building was opened up for public use. Somerset House now hosts the Courtauld Gallery, shops, cafeteria, museum, concerts, summer fountains and winter skating. (For winter skating, it’s advisable to book tickets in advance as many dates/times quickly sell out in advance.)


The Fortnum and Mason Christmas Arcade, Somerset House 2014


During the Christmas Season, the famous Piccadilly store Fortnum and Mason takes over one of the ground floor wings to provide a beautiful shopping arcade. Fortnum and Mason was founded in 1707 by footman William Fortnum who sold candles made from wax stubs left over from the Royal Household. Over the years F&M became famous for their travelling food baskets, and sent over 10,000 Christmas puddings to the Western Front every year during WW1.



Part of the tour of Somerset House.

Tours of various parts of the building that are normally closed to the public take place on Tuesdays at 12.45 and 14.15. Tickets are only available in person on the day and cannot be booked beforehand. For more information, please click here.

When Somerset House was built, the Thames was much wider – there was no Embankment – so boats sailed right up to Somerset House. Nowadays there is a small museum where the boats docked, with audio-visual displays depicting the evolution of the buildings on that site from earliest times to present day.


Memorial Stone. Somerset House

Given that this was once a royal palace with a chapel (and graveyard), there are still some memorial stones to those who were buried within its grounds. One in particular caught my eye, the date of death being 1691/2.  I’ve seen that before on old gravestones and never quite understood why. How can you have 1/2 or 5/6 or 8/9 as the last number on a date? The answer is to do with the changeover from the Julian to Gregorian calendar, with the last two numbers reflecting the date according to both calendars. (The Gregorian calendar, which more accurately reflected the solar year, was introduced into some European countries in 1582. Canada, the US and the UK adopted it in 1752 with Turkey being the last to introduce it in 1927.)

If you are interested in visiting Somerset House, please click here for more details.



Everything I know about writing… Part One

Everything I know about writing I learned from two sources.  The Alberta Romance Writers’ Association (ARWA) and Michael Hauge.

ARWA is a wonderful writing organisation. If you want to learn about the craft of writing, this is where to do so.  Established in Calgary twenty-six years ago by the writer Judith Duncan, it remains one of the most successful writing organisations in Canada.

Still, when I tell people I belong to ARWA, they sometimes give me ‘that’ look.  You know the one.  It’s the expression that says – You wouldn’t catch me dead reading one of ‘those’ books.   (Which doesn’t exactly ring true because 80% of all books sold in North America are romance novels, so somebody has to be reading them.)

I have to wonder what it is that makes people so embarrassed about the idea of reading – or writing – a love story.  No other genre comes in for such ridicule.  (Western, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Who-dunits.)  It makes me question whether or not we really believe in that famous quote,  “No man ever said on his deathbed, ‘I wish I had spent more time in the office.’”   But I think we do.  Remember Hugh Grant’s line from the beginning of Love Actually, where he recalls that all the messages sent from the twin towers on that fateful day were messages of love?

I’ll be honest, I joined ARWA with the notion of scribbling a few romance books, making some money, and then going on to write ‘real’ novels.    I mean, how hard could it be?

Very hard, as it turns out.

Before the reader even cracks open the front cover of a love story she knows how it’s going to end. This is unlike any other genre and means the romance author must be highly accomplished to keep the reader engaged with her characters and story through 50,000, 85,000, or 100,000 words.  To do that, one needs a thorough understanding of plot, character, conflict, structure, theme, POV, voice, dialogue, tension, outlines, synopsis, etc.  Which is where ARWA comes in.

For twenty-six years, ARWA has offered monthly classes in all aspects of the craft of writing.  They’ve hosted conferences and brought in writers, agents and editors from all over North America.  For the last two years, they’ve hosted a panel discussion at the When Words Collide Conference in Calgary.  This year, two of ARWA’s members, Sarah Kades and Lorraine Paton are presenting a three hour workshop on Creating Sexual Tension.  This workshop is for all writers, not just romance writers. Some of the most memorable/iconic moments in ‘non-romance’ books/movies are the relationships between the characters.  Think John Book and Rachel in Witness.  Han Solo and Leia in Star Wars.  Hawkeye and Cora in Last of the Mohicans. Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca.

I’ve known Sarah and Lorraine for several years.  Both are intelligent and passionate writers and teachers of the craft. Their upcoming workshop is not to be missed. I’m going to register right now.  Why don’t you join me?

Ooops.  I seem to have run out of time. I’ll tell you about Michael Hauge tomorrow.