Made Global’s “An Evening With The Authors”

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On Saturday 24th September, Made Global Publishing (the fantastic bunch who are publishing my book!) are hosting “An Evening With The Author’s” at The Venue on London’s Malet Street. The event itself is a fantastic opportunity to meet both historians and historical fiction authors, discuss history and have a chat about how to get your manuscript published. Authors such as Claire Ridgway, Adrienne Dillard, Melanie V Taylor, Phil Roberts and Sarah Bryson will be there – and so will I! Please do pop along if you love books and history – everyone will be happy to have a chat and you’ll even be able to get involved with question and answer panels.

The event starts at 7.30pm and lasts until 10.30pm, with tickets available here.

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Paris Day 3 – The Conciergerie, Place de la Concorde and Eiffel Tower

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The Conciergerie

It had been our plan the day before to visit the Conciergerie, the infamous prison used to house those awaiting their fate at the Guillotine, but alas due to food poisoning we decided to hold fire on it. So the next morning, with my partner feeling much better, we decided to finish off our visit to Paris by visiting the remaining places we wanted to go to. First on the list? The Conciergerie. I’d been stupidly excited about visiting the prison since we first booked our holiday – perhaps that’s morbid, but I was utterly fascinated to see the place that was known as the Guillotine’s waiting room, and the place in which Marie Antoinette spent her final hours.

So off we went, hopping off the Metro at the Louvre – Rivoli and walking the rest of the way. We wandered across the Seine before heading past the intimating walls of the Palais de Justice (which was once the Palais de la Cite) before disappearing down the steps into the murky world of the prison.

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You immediately find yourself in a large, vaulted hall at the end of which is a display from visiting school children about their visits to the museum. Up a small flight of stairs to the left (behind the bars in the background of the above photograph) you find yourself in a small bookshop and it’s beyond the shop that the visit truly begins.

Guided through, you first of all come to what look like cells. These are in fact what were considered offices – one of which, although a reconstruction, would have been a tiny little room in which prisoners were brought before they were taken out to the cart that took them to their death. In that little room, their hair was hacked off and their hands tied.

You are then led up a flight of stairs and into a room that is covered in a list of names, sombrely lit with strip lighting above the panelling.

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Les Guillotines de la Revolution

I think the name speaks for itself. But it was quite eerie to sit on one of the benches in that room and see all those names – including famous names such as Capet (as the Royal family were known after their titles were taken away) and Robespierre.

Further upstairs you then get to see reconstructions of some of the cells that prisoners were kept in during the Revolution.

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Straw. And a wooden bucket. For those who could not afford to buy themselves any sort of comfort.

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If you had the money, you could at least buy yourself a bed

But even if you did have the money the likelihood was that when the prison was as overcrowded as it was during much of the Revolution and the Terror, the living conditions would have been horribly unsanitary. The smells that must have lingered about the place don’t even bare thinking about.

The next part of the visit takes you through a display of documents from the Revolution and the Terror, many of which were signed by Maximillian Robespierre himself as well as drawings and portraits of some of the victims sent to the scaffold.

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I thought this gentleman was rather dashing

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Guillotine blade. I’d always imagined them to be bigger.

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Maximillian Robespierre. Horribly, smarmy git who deserved to meet his death in the same way that his thousands of victims did. Is that harsh? It’s probably harsh. But I’m very proud of this photo of his bust.

You are then taken down a small staircase and into a large chapel. Behind the altar is a small room – this was originally the cell in which Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before her execution until it was remodelled into a smaller chapel. Today, it houses a little alter with later paintings of Marie Antoinette hung above it as well as memorials to her husband and her sister in law. I was particularly struck by the beautiful stained glass in her window which overlooks the courtyard outside.

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We sat on one of the pews in the main chapel for a while after being inside Marie Antoinette’s chapel and I found myself feeling a little emotional. This was the place that the one time Queen of France spent her last 72 days. Yet in those last days she kept her strength and dignity, going to the scaffold with courage and bravery despite so much heartache in her short life.

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The courtyard, used for excersise.

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Marie Antoinette’s window

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One of the last portraits of Marie Antoinette.

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A reconstruction of Marie Antoinette’s cell. The real one, now a chapel, is next door.

I found the Conciergerie to be an incredibly moving place. To think that this prison is where thousands of people waited to be taken to their deaths is just mind blowing – and it’s not really somewhere you yourself can imagine being. Even if you have the most vivid of imaginations. I was moved and I was humbled to have gotten to visit this place, and it’s somewhere I would like to go back to.

After we left the Conciergerie, we hopped back on the Metro and took ourselves off to the Place de la Concorde. I wanted to visit here because this is the site that once held one of the main guillotine’s during the Revolution, the very one at which Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette lost their lives. Today, the square is full of traffic and tourists so it’s hard to even imagine the blood that was spilled there.

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Like the London Eye, but smaller

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We rounded off our trip, and indeed our holiday, with a walk to the Eiffel tower (we were going to go up it, but found the queues to be far too long – so instead settled on a quaint little cafe for a bit of chocolate cake.

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Paris Day 2 – The Louvre, Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle.

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The view from beneath the famous glass pyramid at the Louvre.

Day two honestly didn’t start out that well. After having breakfast at the hotel, we went back up to our room and my other half suddenly felt very unwell – he’d come down with a nasty bout of food poisoning thanks to what we believe were under cooked sausages (seriously, they were pink in the middle) and dodgy eggs. I of course went straight down to reception who promised that they would sort it out and send someone up to our room to fix an issue caused by their dodgy food. Somehow my partner managed to soldier on through it and, wanting to enjoy the holiday, insisted that we go to the Louvre as originally planned.

From the moment I stepped foot in the museum, I was in awe. I absolutely adore museums – the British Museum is one of my favourite places in the whole world after all. But the Louvre was just…ten times better. And three times the size of the BM!

Our first stop was, of course, the Mona Lisa. It took us a while to find her, as the signs that pointed towards her seemed to mysteriously disappear. But eventually, after following the insane amount of people through the Renaissance gallery, we found her.

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If I’m brutally honest, I really wasn’t impressed by her. Yes she was painted by the amazing Leonardo Da Vinci, but he’s done paintings that are a lot better. And his inventions are far more impressive. Truly, I don’t see the fascination with this painting at all.

Once we’d fought our way out of the crowd taking selfies with the Mona Lisa, we doubled back on ourselves and made our way through the Renaissance paintings. I was in absolute heaven here, seeing works by Boticelli, Raphael and Fra Angelico. And then there was the portrait of Sigismondo Malatesta, the Wolf of Rimini – I had no idea his portrait was in the Louvre so when I saw it I couldn’t help but get a little over excited. The guy was a monster, but his life and deeds are morbidly fascinating. I even mention him briefly in a comparison to the Borgia family in my upcoming book.

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Sigismondo Malatesta, The Wolf of Rimini, by Piero della Francesca.

The portrait truly exudes power. You can tell that this is a guy you don’t want to mess with!

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We thought the boy on the right looked like the kid from The Walking Dead

After the Italian Renaissance paintings, we wandered around the rest of the museum. My particular favourite galleries were the Egyptian ones, and the ones that involved Louis XIV and the reconstruction of his rooms. I took hundreds of pictures within the museum of various displays, spending hours wandering the veritable treasure trove of relics.

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The Princes in the Tower by Paul Delaroche. I might have squealed when I saw this.

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Okay. I admit there was a lot of childish giggling at this one.

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Because everyone needs a mirror selfie at the Louvre

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Madame du Pompadour

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Beautiful detail on a shield

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After the Louvre, we took a slow walk towards the Ile de la Cite to see Notre Dame, one of the most iconic Cathedral’s in the world. Just as we got there, we decided to swing into the little archaeology museum in one of the crypts beneath the square. It was a very sweet little museum, showing the development of the Cathedral as well as archaeological finds from the area.

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I found Notre Dame itself to be incredibly beautiful, but then again I’ve always had a fascination with churches.

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Our last stop of the day was the beautiful Sainte Chapelle, holy chapel of the Kings of France. Built by St Louis (IX) in 1243, it was to be used to house relics of the Passion. Louise brought the Crown of Thorns and a part of the “True Cross” from the Byzantine Emperor for an astonishing 135,000 livres. Compare this to the cost of building the chapel itself – 40,000 livres! The moment we stepped foot inside the upper chapel I was lost for words. You are immediately surrounded by the most beautiful stained glass windows that tower above you, and then there is the beautiful rose window as well. The chapel exudes magnificence, and only the King and his personal entourage were allowed in the upper chapel (It was connected to the palace by a walkway). It truly is no wonder that this little chapel, hidden away behind the walls of the Palais du Justice, is one of the most visited sites in the whole of Paris. I’ll be writing a bit more on this magnificent chapel and it’s gothic architecture soon.

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Day two ended with me back at the hotel getting shouty at them over the food poisoning issue. It worked, and we got money knocked off the bill as well as a huge apology. An early night for my partner was on the cards for him to recover, while I ended up having to get room service for dinner – rather bravely, I must say, given the events of that morning!

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Paris Day 1 – Versailles

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As I’m sure many of you are aware if you follow me on twitter, I’ve been in Paris for the past few days. In fact, it’s mostly all I’ve been prattling on about for the past few months. So, on Wednesday, we headed off to our local airport (which by the way has to be the smallest airport I have EVER seen) and made our way over to Paris. After an exhausting day travelling, we decided that our first proper day in Paris would be spent at the Chateau Versailles. First of all, I just want to say that getting to Versailles was an absolute nightmare! Thanks to various metro closures due to engineering work, we had to get off the RER line and get a bus. Yet the woman sat outside the train station gave us completely the wrong directions and so we got on the wrong bus – it was only when I asked the bus driver if we were on the right bus that he laughed and said “Oh dear, how embarrassing. You’re on the wrong bus”.

At any rate, we arrived at Versailles just after 9am and I was immediately surprised by the high amount of security there was. This would be a constant during our visit to public attractions, and I’m guessing it’s a massive thing since the recent awful terrorist attacks in Paris. Still, it was a comfort that such security measures were in place even in the shopping centre local to our hotel.

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First glimpse of the sprawling palace

As we queued up to get in, we walked past the famous gold leaf gates. These gates are only a replica of the original, as the original gates were torn down during the Revolution.

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Once inside, the first stop was the famous Cour D’Honneur with it’s beautiful marble flooring. As we stepped into the courtyard, I was speechless at the beauty of the place and it took me more than a moment to remember that at one point, this had been a simple hunting lodge until Louis XIV expanded it to the sprawling palace that we see now.

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The chapel in which Marie Antoinette and Louis-Auguste were marrried

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The Hall of Mirrors

The Hall of Mirrors was one of the places within Versailles that I was very excited about seeing. I was stunned by it’s beauty, the mirrors on one wall reflecting the light from the large windows which made the hallway seem so much bigger than it was. Add that onto the many chandeliers that hung from the beautifully painted ceiling, I was in complete awe when I stepped into the hallway.

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The gardens of Versailles have to be the most gorgeous gardens I have seen in my life. The flowerbeds are tended to with loving care, the bushes and trees looked after. We even saw one of the shaped bushes being tended to whilst we were walking back from the Petit Trianon.
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By the time we reached the Petit Trianon I was feeling incredibly unwell and found myself sitting on the steps around the back of the sweet little chateau. I found the little hamlet to be a very peaceful place, and could imagine Marie Antoinette wandering the gardens with her friends and children. The little chateau had been given to Marie Antoinette by her husband after previously being the domain of the hated Madame Du Barry, and the Queen spent many happy years there. It was her escape from the rigorous etiquette of Versailles proper.

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Seeing the famous portrait of Marie Antoinette holding the rose was one of the highlights of the day for me. I absolutely love the portrait, painted by the extremely talented Le Brun – she was the only artist able to capture Marie Antoinette’s regal look as well as her fun loving nature. Yet, like many artists that tried to capture Marie Antoinette, Le Brun struggled to capture Marie Antoinette’s complexion.

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Marie Antoinette’s bedroom

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Marie Antoinette’s initials – I spotted these as I was standing at the top of the main stairs, the ironwork pattern repeated all along the balustrade.

Following on from the Petit Trianon, we walked to the Grand Trianon. I found the gardens there to be stunning, providing a beautiful backdrop to the marble colonnades of the building.

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The Grand Trianon

You definitely need a full day to see all of Versailles, simply to give yourself the time to not only see the inside of the palace but also to see everything around the estate as well. The gardens are a lovely place to wander around, and I found the open space to be a much needed relief after being jostled amongst so many tourists within the palace itself. There are parts within the grounds that are so peaceful – I felt so calm and at peace within the gardens of the Petit Trianon, despite the fact that there were still people milling about. I’d also recommend wearing comfortable shoes! We ended up walking over nine miles on this visit, simply by wandering the palace and the gardens – I made the mistake of wearing a pair of boots that I believed were comfortable as I wear them everywhere, but by the end of the day I could barely put one foot in front of the other. Still, having such sore feet is worth it to see what was at one point the centre of power for the French Royal Family. And Versailles is somewhere I will definitely visit again.

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A peaceful walk back through the grounds.

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Some Fantastic News!

I’m super happy to announce that my first book “Cesare Borgia in a Nutshell” is going to be published by Made Global very soon! I’m so freaking excited about this, it’s unreal.

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