Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Princess and the Glass Piano

There once was a princess of Bavaria… No, this isn’t the beginning of a limerick. For one, I’m not much good at rhymes. And for another, this line has too many syllables in it. So, no limerick. Just a little story that I stumbled across in my current research rabbit trails: the story of the Princess Alexandra Amalie of Bavaria.

schonheitengallerie1I was looking up the Gallery of Beauties, a collection of 36 paintings in Nymphenburg Palace in Munich, which I got to see last year on my trip to Germany (pardon the blurry photo). King Ludwig I of Bavaria was a notable connoisseur of feminine beauty, and so between the years of 1827 and 1850 whenever he met with a particularly beautiful young woman, he commissioned a portrait of her to be hung in his gallery. Yes, some of those ladies he had affairs with, but most of them are just beautiful girls he liked to look at. They came from all walks of life – one of the most famous one is “die schöne Münchnerin” (the beautiful Munich girl), Helene Sedlmayer, who was a shoemaker’s daughter and servant girl delivering toys to the royal palace.

1826_alexandraBut the one whose story caught my interest was about as far from a peasant as you can get – she was, in fact, Ludwig’s own daughter. Alexandra Amalie, born in 1826, really was beautiful (notwithstanding the weird early-Victorian droopy spaniel-ear curls she wore. Can’t blame her for the fashion aberrations of her time). And gifted, to boot – she has several published books to her credit.

But she was also a bit, um, disturbed. By the sounds of it, she was a germaphobe at a time when germs hadn’t even been discovered (the accounts describe it as “an obsession with cleanliness”). And then one day, when she was around 23, she was found to be sidling awkwardly down one of the corridors of the palace. Apparently she was of the firm conviction that when she was a child, she had swallowed a glass grand piano, which was still inside of her – so if she walked normally, straight on instead of sideways, she might get stuck in doorways. Or the piano would shatter, or something.

Yup. That’s some delusion alright. Then, so the story goes, one day when she was throwing up, some quick-witted servants chucked a little model piano in the bucket of barf, and told her that she had now vomited up the instrument and was rid of it. Unfortunately, the account I read didn’t say if it cured her of her grand delusion. But I do hope it did – it must be awfully uncomfortable to be living with a glass piano in your belly.

Incidentally, Alexandra Amalie was the aunt of Ludwig II, the Bavarian king who squandered massive amounts of state funds to live out his fantasies, building several “fairy tale castles” (including Neuschwanstein) so he could pretend to be a medieval monarch or be dining with the French Sun King Louis XIV (who’d been dead for almost two centuries by then). Apparently he came by his, uh, imagination honestly.

And those are the kinds of things you can learn about when you’re hopping down the research rabbit trails.

Life, the Universe, a Princess and a Grand Glass Piano. Aren’t you glad you know about her now?

PS: Most of this story I got from unverified Internet sources, chiefly Wikipedia and a couple of other sites. So it’s pretty much hearsay; don’t take it as quotable material – if you’re trying to do real research on the royal house of Bavaria, keep digging.

PPS: The English writer Deborah Levy wrote a radio play about Alexandra Amalie, The Glass Piano, which was produced by the BBC in 2011. Quite interesting – you can listen to it here.


Filed under this and that

Wordless Wednesday: Untitled



12 October 2016 · 09:00

Messing Up

I just got a review of Cat and Mouse on Smashwords. So exciting, right? Wrong. What it said was, “It’s supposed to be Cat & Mouse, but it’s just another copy of Seventh Son.” Aaaaaargh!!!

So what happened was that back in July, I uploaded a “new file” to Smashwords (which sends the files to Kobo, Nook, iBooks, etc etc), which had a teaser for Checkmate in the back. But obviously, I grabbed the wrong file. So very embarrassing…

Needless to say, it’s fixed now, and I put a post on Twitter to that effect, to let people know. I guess there’s some advantage to the fact that I’ve not been getting much sales; there won’t be a lot of readers (other than the one who kindly pointed out the mistake) with the wrong file on their e-readers. But still, I feel terrible. I screwed up. I made a big, public mistake. I’m awful, I’m a failure…

I was just going to post another tweet to that effect, how bad I feel about having messed up. And then this popped up in my feed:

I mean – wow. Yes, yes, I get the message. Thank you, Jeff Goins.

Life, the Universe, and Messing Up. Looks like I am doing my work, indeed.


Filed under Cat and Mouse, life, The Septimus Series, writing

Wordless Wednesday: Mirror



5 October 2016 · 08:57

The Fairy in the Pansy Flower

Meanwhile, back in the land of imagination…

Did you know there’s a fairy in every pansy flower? The wild pansies, not the big cultivated ones you buy at the garden centre. I didn’t know about this until just the other day, when one of the other members of my Writer’s Circle read us a story of how she was a little girl, and her grandmother told her that there were fairies in the flower garden. She showed one to her, picking the petals off a pansy flower and laying them in the little girl’s hand, until the girl could see the fairy’s tiny face, her beautiful yellow and purple skirt, and her big green petal bonnet.

I had never heard about that, so I had to go home and check – I have quite a few wild pansies in my garden (which in this case aren’t wild, but carefully grown from seed). And it’s true! See?


Isn’t she pretty? I’m not sure what her name is, but I think she and her sisters have been looking after my garden quite admirably. I’m pretty sure they’ve also been having conversations with the ladybugs that like to sit on the leaves of the marigolds. It would account for the whispering I sometimes hear when I’m up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and step out on the balcony to look up at the stars.

Oh, and then I found out another neat thing I didn’t know. I was just looking up the flower, which is actually properly called viola (‘pansy’ is generally the term for the cultivar). The Viola tricolor has a whole raft of names, according to Wikipedia – Johnny Jump-up (that’s the name on the seed packet I grew mine from), heartsease, heart’s delight, tickle-my-fancy, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, come-and-cuddle-me, three faces in a hood, and – drumroll! – love-in-idleness. That’s the one I hadn’t known (or if I did, I’d forgotten).

And it’s cool, because, of course, love-in-idleness is the flower in Midsummer Night’s Dream that Oberon and Puck use to enchant Titania, Lysander and Demetrius, making them fall in love with whomever or whatever they first set eyes on when they wake up:

OBERON: That very time I saw …
Cupid all arm’d: a certain aim he took …
And loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow, …
Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew’d thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
Fetch me this herb; and be thou here again
Ere the leviathan can swim a league.

PUCK: I’ll put a girdle round about the earth
In forty minutes.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, II, 1

I hadn’t realised that Shakespeare is talking about the humble viola here. Which makes sense, that the flower that has a fairy in each of its blossoms would be ready to do the Fairy King’s bidding, doesn’t it? (The last few lines of that passage also tells you the top swimming speed of a leviathan: less than 1 league in 40 minutes – a league being 5.556km, that comes to 8.33 km/h, or 5.18 mph, which translates to 4.5 knots. Good to know, just in case I ever need to outrun a leviathan when I’m out sailing. Who says Shakespeare hasn’t his practical uses?)

So, apart from the fact that a viola is really pretty (as well as edible), it also has some significant mythical qualities. Between all the fairies in the pansy flowers, and the dragonsbane (tarragon) plant in the herb bed, my garden should be well protected against mythical intruders. At least the undesirable ones. I’m not sure how I’d feel about Puck, or Oberon himself, making an appearance – but we’ll have to see, won’t we.

(There’s also a frog in one of the flowerbeds – he croaks quite loudly sometimes – but so far I’ve been unable to spot him, never mind kiss him or chuck him against the wall. Besides, even though I am the youngest daughter in my family, I’m married already, prince or no prince. So it hardly matters. But if you’re in search of a prince, come on over – you can have a chat with all those pansy fairies, they might point you in the right direction.)

Life, the Universe, and the Fairies in the Pansy Flowers. I’m so glad I found out about them.


Filed under fairy tales, this and that