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A sense of time and place #amwriting

Clementine’s Astoria Bed & Breakfast Street View

Last week my husband and I had an opportunity to stay at a B&B in Astoria, one of our favorite towns. We were unsure what to think when we arrived at the curb before Clementine’s Bed and Breakfast. I was a tad surprised to find that the stairs to the front door appear to rise as vertically as a ladder. This first photograph was taken at street level, so you can see how steep the climb to the front door is.

Grandma had trouble climbing them. Yes, the steep steps were daunting for us old folks, but once we were registered, we were shown the gentler way in through the pleasant, lush garden, which completely bypasses the two-story climb out front.

Our room was a soothing, pleasant retreat called the Garden Room.

Yvonne, the innkeeper, and her spouse, Stephen, were absolutely wonderful hosts. Generous with wine, Perrier, and snacks, these two go out of their way to make sure their guests feel like members of the family.

While I sat in the comfortable front parlor, listening to Stephen perform his incredible and original compositions on the baby-grand piano, I realized the owner had gone to a lot of trouble to create a sense of place, a certain ambiance of Old Time Comfort.

I looked around, seeing a relaxing Victorian home that feels as if it’s being lived in by many generations of a single family. Established in 1993, Clementine’s looks as if it evolved gradually over many generations—although it did not.

White Hydrangea

In the early 90s, the house was in danger of being torn down. It was built in 1888 By William Ross and is one of the oldest houses in Astoria. The original owners were long since gone, and it had fallen into disrepair. The new owners put a lot of work and thought into the restoration of the old mansion, and it really paid off. They named the inn after the original owner’s wife, Clementine Ross.

That is a case of using the appropriate name to give the visitor a sense of time and place. I stumbled across the name when searching for places to stay in Astoria, and immediately it evoked a Victorian aura and made me curious.

This is a lesson writers should learn. When we name our characters, we have the opportunity to convey a great deal of information without resorting to explanations. (But please, keep the names pronounceable.)

The owner/decorator achieved a feeling of tradition and continuity the same way we achieve a sense of place and familiarity in our writing. She used layers, small, deft touches. She had a good sense of what is too much detail, as she stopped adding to it once the atmosphere was established, quitting well before it turned into a Victorian parody.

The front parlor is a quiet, restful room. Victorian-era style transitions to Edwardian in terms of furniture; and both eras coexist well with pieces from more recent times, the nineteen-forties, and later. This offers the visual feeling of being a guest in someone’s old family home.

Again, the atmosphere is created on the surface level, with the large comfortable settees and the huge, gentle cat named Bruno, a Maine Coon, who belongs to the inn.

But it is also created in subliminal ways.

Smaller visuals, things that guests subconsciously absorb in the first glance set the scene. A few old-fashioned doilies placed here or there protect the antique tables; not too many doilies, but just enough. The front parlor is decorated with carefully placed objects, many that seem to hail from the far-east, impressing the maritime history of Astoria upon the visitor.

The walls are hung with antique framed pictures and hand-embroidered samplers, their homey simplicity lending truth to the atmosphere of a seafaring family’s long-established prosperity and comfort.

It was easy to believe we were visiting the family home of a long-lost relative, sharing an evening of music and conversation. Yvonne’s talent for making her guests feel both welcome and cared for is without peer.

Clementine’s Dahlia Garden

She and Stephen served a wonderful multi course family-style breakfast, providing well for six sets of guests and going far out of their way to serve me—the vegan who has become a little cynical about dining away from home. I felt as if my company was wanted at the breakfast table, instead of the usual “oh, dear God—she thinks she’s a vegan” attitude that is usually directed my way.

Greg and I like to stay at bed and breakfasts for the same reasons we select certain books. Sometimes we’re looking for something different from the usual chain hotels; something outside established genres. We want to visit a place with a story and have a little adventure. We also want good food and a friendly welcome from people who feel like they could be close friends. Clementine’s more than satisfied us on all accounts.

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St Albans… ‘render unto Caesar’

Photographer and author, Sue Vincent, takes us on a journey through British history via the architecture of St. Albans. It is in this village where the real influence of the Romans can still be seen. Roman and Victorian building styles collide and create something uniquely British.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

st albans january hols 001

Tuesday morning looked promising as we headed out early for St Albans. The beautiful sky soon clouded over, though, leaving us with a chill and persistent rain. We’d been meaning to visit the town for a long time, knowing that the history and stories associated with the place tied in heavily with many areas of our adventures…not least because of St Alban himself.

st albans january hols 129

Recorded as the first British Christian martyr, the saint was beheaded for his faith in Roman Verulamium, now the town of St Albans. There are many versions of his story and we had not really researched them before we left and had only the briefest of outlines. I remembered vaguely that he was a cephalophore, one whose voice had continued after the beheading…and that a spring had welled from the ground where the head had rolled; a common motif in the stories of the saints that seems…

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An unexpected guide

Sue Vincent is an amazing writer and photographer. Images from her blog, Daily Echo, has kick-started my creative muse many, many times.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

The hill was barely visible through the sudden mist that had descended to shroud the morning, a hill we needed to climb. There was, though, no sign of a path by which to reach it…and no-one in this wild landscape who could tell us which way to go…

10 Blakey Topping (7)

‘There is a Llama in the next field!’
I smile nonchalantly, determined not to fall for that one.
‘There cannot be a Llama in the next field Wen, because we are in the North Yorkshire Moorlands and not the Mountains of Peru.’
Still some distance ahead, Wen turns back to look into the field and then back to me. ‘Not only is there very definitely a Llama in the next field. It is now looking directly at us.’
‘There cannot be a Llama…’ I start to remonstrate again but then I catch up to Wen and look into the next field… at…

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Stormy Weather

Amaranthus and Savvy at the needles by haystack rock cannon beach Haystack Rock Cannon Beach ©cjjasp 2012

Amaranthus and Savvy at the needles by haystack rock cannon beach Haystack Rock Cannon Beach ©cjjasp 2012

We are on holiday in Oregon, at a little town called Cannon Beach. This is a wonderful place, famous for the rock formations and caves, and the scenery was featured in the film, The Goonies.

Even in August, the northeastern Pacific Ocean on the Oregon Coast is cold and frequently cloudy and rainy. But when the sun shines, it is amazing.

Watching the storms roll in from the safety of the porch of the condo is nothing less than awesome. The beach is uncrowded, and Amaranthus and Savvy can play to their heart’s content, running wild the way cousins have always done since time began.

Amaranthus digs bunkers, and wades waist deep in Ecola Creek where it runs into the ocean. He rides his skim-board along the edge of the ocean like a pro, using his skate-boarding skills to the max. When he steps onto the porch, he is chilled to the bone, and his 6 foot tall, 14 year-old frame is shivering. His lips are blue from the cold, and he doesn’t even have to be told to take a shower–he’s a man now. He knows what to do.

Leah and Christy Cannon Beach 2012 © cjjasp 2012

Leah and Christy Cannon Beach 2012 © cjjasp 2012

Savvy is bright-eyed and deeply interested in creating marvelous sculptures of sand, just like her mother, my daughter Christy and her Aunty Leah. All our children were keen sandcastle engineers! The girl also rides her skim-board and stays out until she is blue from the cold.

It’s a family tradition.

Savannah is 11 and she’s a girl, so she also doesn’t have to be told to warm up. She wants only to sit in the Jacuzzi when she finally has to abandon her sand castles.

Sandcastle Sam 2010

Sandcastle Sam 2010

Nephew Samuel is 16, and is fixated on riding his bike the length of the beach, from Rockaway Point to Ecola Creek as many times as he can fit into the vacation. He is also a sand castle excavator, bringing spades, a pick-axe and many other large implements for proper excavation. No matter how cold, blue and near death from hypothermia Sam is, he won’t take any advice on how to get warmed up, preferring to sit in a corner looking like death-warmed-over. Did I mention Sam is 16?

Rockaway Beach © cjjasp 2013

Rockaway Beach © cjjasp 2013

This year I’m here resting up, recovering from my surgery, and writing intense scenes for the revised version of Julian Lackland’s story. This is the perfect environment for me, and with everyone else checking out the caves on Rockaway Beach and trudging down to Haystack Rock, I have the perfect combination of peace, quiet and beautiful scenery to motivate me. Throughout the rest of the year I live for this week of writer’s paradise.

Local legend says Ursula K. Le Guin spends time writing here in Cannon Beach, which seems right since she lives in Portland, 1 hour and 45 minutes away. I know that this place inspires me more than any other place we go.

The Needles at Cannon Beach ©cjjasp 2013

The Needles at Cannon Beach ©cjjasp 2013

The weather is frequently awful, but we know it, and we plan for it. But there will be two days of glorious skies of a blue impossible to adequately describe.

The moods of the Pacific Ocean are anything but peaceful. It is a wild, beautiful thing, that is never the same two days running.  The waves crashing against the sea stacks and  the cries of the sea birds combine with the wind to clear my mind, and at last I am free to just write.

Haystack_rock_monochrome

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