5 Bittersweet Real-Life Love Stories

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It’s Valentine’s Day, the romantic holiday with pagan roots. Although love may be grand, it’s not all sunshine and roses (sometimes it’s rejection and hard time). Here are 5 love stories from history that are equal parts romance and tragedy…

Cleopatra and Marc Antony

cleopatra and antony
Cleopatra greeting Antony, A.M. Faulkner

She was Queen of Egypt, he was co-ruler of the Roman Empire. He envisioned himself as  Dionysus, Greek God of wine (and drama), and she captured his heart by presenting herself as Aphrodite, Goddess of love. Their relationship was based on passion and ambition, and it reached mythic proportions. Their twins were named Alexander Helios (the Sun) and Cleopatra Selene (the Moon). Circumstances kept them apart much of the time, and Antony was even forced to marry his rival Octavian’s sister, but Antony and Cleopatra met when they could and celebrated triumphs (and failures) together. Unfortunately, their actions led to war, invasion, and ultimately, defeat. Anthony fell on his sword in an honourable suicide. Cleopatra, knowing she would be paraded through the streets of Rome in humiliation, arranged to have an asp (an Egyptian symbol of divine royalty) smuggled to her. With a bite from the snake she committed what is possibly the world’s most famous suicide, while at the same time attaining immortality for her and her love.

Héloïse and Abélard

heloise and abelard
Abélard and his pupil Héloïse by Edmund Leighton

In 12th century Paris, an intelligent, inquisitive young woman named Héloïse was introduced to Abélard, a philosopher and teacher enlisted by Héloïse’s uncle to tutor her. Their intellectual bond soon deepened into love. Héloïse became pregnant, and to avoid a scandal they secretly married after she had the baby (a son named Astrolabe, which goes to show that geeks have always existed). Unfortunately, scandal found them anyway (mostly thanks to her infuriated uncle). Héloïse was sent to a convent, while Abélard was viciously attacked and forcibly castrated. He went on to become a monk, and she a nun. Although they never saw each other again, they did resume a correspondence, and their letters stand as testament to their feelings. After they died, their bones were moved so that they could finally be together (there’s a dispute as to whether they’re buried at The Oratory of the Paraclete, or in their famous tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery).

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

wilde and douglas

Lord Alfred, or ‘Bosie,’ as he was known, was Wilde’s love and muse at a time when LGBTQ rights were not only nonexistent, homosexuality was illegal. Their relationship was tempestuous, and marked by arguments, separations, and reunions (the latter, thanks mostly to a forgiving Wilde). Bosie’s father (the Marquess of Queensberry), angry about the relationship, denounced Wilde publicly. When Wilde’s libel suit against the Marquess failed, he was arrested and ultimately sentenced to two years of hard labour for “gross indecency.” Wilde and Bosie were reunited after Wilde was released, but it should be no surprise that their friends and families forced them apart. Then again, Bosie was a selfish and reckless person, and it’s debatable how much he really returned Wilde’s feelings. Interestingly, the phrase “the love that dare not speak its name” was coined by Bosie, not Wilde, as most people believe. Maybe a better love story was the one between Wilde and Robert Ross, who was possibly his first male lover and also a lifelong friend. Ross was with Wilde at his deathbed, and later commissioned Wilde’s tomb at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Ross asked the artist to include a small compartment in the tomb for his own ashes, which were transferred there in 1950.

Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley

elizabeth and dudley
Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth I

Sometimes genuinely loving someone isn’t enough. Elizabeth and Dudley’s story is a complex one, further complicated by rumours that have persisted through centuries. Dudley earned Elizabeth’s love early in her life, when he stood by her at a time when she was in trouble and it would have been easy to abandon her. Although Dudley wanted to marry her for many years, she could never allow it. As Queen, Elizabeth was averse to marriage, not least because marrying would have transferred her power as monarch to her husband, while she would have been relegated to quietly producing heirs. But even if she had wanted to marry, she couldn’t have married Dudley. There was no strategic political advantage to marrying him, he was generally unpopular, and he was a commoner (whatever position he had in society was directly thanks to her). He was also already married. After his wife died under mysterious circumstances, he was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, but belief persisted among many that he’d had her killed. Eventually, Dudley accepted that Elizabeth would never marry him, but since he wanted heirs he went on to (secretly) marry twice more, for which Elizabeth never entirely forgave him. Still, he was her clear favourite and she gave him titles, prestige, and power; in turn, he gave her companionship, support, and devotion. They shared an emotional bond that even most married couples at that time could only dream of.

Dante and Beatrice

Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_Salutation_of_Beatrice_-_2
Salutation of Beatrice 2 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Alighieri and Beatrice Portinari’s story is one of unrequited love. Dante claimed he fell in love when he met Beatrice at the age of 9 (she was 8). Despite his intense feelings for Beatrice, Dante married Gemma Donati when he was around 20, while Beatrice married Simone de Bardi when she was 21. She died three years later. Although they barely knew each other and met only a handful of times, Beatrice would be Dante’s idealized love and muse for the rest of his life. She was his inspiration for Vita Nuova, and his guide to heaven in his Divine Comedy. Despite the lack of any real relationship between the two, the love Dante had for Beatrice has sparked imaginations to this day. There are paintings of the pair and poems written about them, references in books and on TV, and even an asteroid named after Beatrice.

Some of these stories may be more bitter than sweet, but perhaps that’s why they continue to inspire. Love isn’t love without a touch of the tragic. Or as the immortal Shakespeare put it, the course of true love never did run smooth.

What do you think? Do you have a favourite historical couple? Share in the comments. And happy Valentine’s day ❤

Read More:

Cleopatra and Marc Antony

Héloise and Abélard

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

The Life of Elizabeth I

Dante and Beatrice

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What happens when a predator loves its prey?

Centuries-old Mara is dying a slow death when she meets Lee, a young man whose life has never belonged to him. Thrown together, they’re forced to fight those who would destroy them and survive a slew of enemies they never expected, even as Mara falls into a downward spiral of delusion and obsession. Will she make a devil’s deal to save both their souls? With pasts like theirs, can they ever have a future?

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❤ Happy Valentine’s Day ❤

Bookstore Cat Love

grey and white long coated cat in middle of book son shelf
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Given that libraries have kept cats as far back as Ancient Egypt, it’s probably safe to assume that bookstores have had resident cats for as long as there have been bookstores. Besides stopping rodents from destroying the books, cats are a soothing presence to (non-allergic) staff and visitors, act as a store’s (or library’s) public face, and add life to what can be a sterile environment. On top of all that, cats and book people are simply a natural combination. Here’s a small sampling of the bookstore cats who keep books safe and hearts warmed…

Spike at Left Bank

“Magnificent” Spike lives at Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri. Spike has his own page here, where you can find out fun facts about him, like his one-word description mentioned above.

 

parrot at pegasus

Parrot, from Pegasus Books in Oakland, California, may be grumpy but she still gets fan mail.

 

The Wild Rumpus (Minneapolis, Minnesota) kitties:

booker at wr

Booker T (who loves strollers)…

 

Trini Lopez at wr

Trini Lopez (has a thing for tasty crickets)…

 

Walter Dean at wr

…and Walter Dean (the youngest and the biggest of the three). Wild Rumpus has several other store animals too, including Ferdinand the Ferret and Thomas Jefferson the tarantula (my kind of place!)

 

Kona Stories on Kailua-Kona in Hawaii also has two cats in residence:

Noble at Kona

Noble (once a twosome, along with “Barnes,” who found a forever home with a garden)…

Chloe at kona

…and Chloe (who adores attention). They have their own page on Kona Stories’s website.

 

Copperfield’s in Healdsburg, California, is also a multi-cat store:

sweetpea at copperfields

Sweetpea (who lives up to her name, although she thinks she’s tough)…

 

jack at copperfields

…and Jack (who’s a bit of a bully to visiting dogs).

Coincidentally, all these stores carry Love Lies Bleeding in paperback (and some also offer it and my FREE short story Blood Magic in ebook–check their sites.) You can also get Blood Magic here.

Does your favourite bookstore (or library) have a cat? Share in the comments 🙂 You can read more about the history of library cats here.

4 Ways Travel Can Help Your Creativity

person pointing at black and gray film camera near macbook pro
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I recently read a great article about how travelling can enrich your writing. In it, the author outlines how travel is unpredictable, fosters empathy and reflection, and creates authenticity in your writing. All excellent points. The article got me thinking about how travelling has helped my writing, and how it can help you with your creative endeavours. Here are four more ways travelling is good for creativity, even if you go no farther than the other side of town…

1. It breaks up your routine. Even the most imaginative person needs inspiration, and nothing is less inspiring than doing the same things and seeing the same few places over and over again, day after day. Going somewhere new shakes you out of your rut, gives you a fresh perspective, and re-ignites creativity.

silver car beside building
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2. It helps you learn. If you go somewhere you’ve never been, you’re bound to learn something, whether it’s a few words in another language, facts about local history, or even a new skill (so many places now offer classes and workshops for tourists). What you discover can be the spark you need for your current project, or the impetus for something new.

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3. It gives you the chance to be a different kind of creative. There are so many opportunities for creativity while you travel, and if you can do so in a way that’s not your usual, so much the better (I’ve written before about how creativity begets creativity). Take pictures, write a journal entry (or poetry or even short fiction) about your trip, sketch what you see, take part in a workshop, talk to interesting people you meet along the way. Use it all as inspiration when you get home.

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4. It can help you in unexpected ways. When I was having trouble finding the right image for the cover of Love Lies Bleeding, I decided to look through my photos to see if anything would be useful. Going through shots I’d taken in Paris, I realized the statue at the base of the Medici fountain at the Jardin du Luxembourg was perfect, so I ended up using it:

Love Lies Bleeding by Aspasia S. Bissas

(The statue at the top of the fountain is on the back cover.) Not only that, but another photo I’d taken at the Louvre became the cover for Blood Magic:

BLOOD MAGIC by Aspasia S. Bissas jpg

And I have a third photo in mind for my next book, which I’m currently working on. The point is, I didn’t go to Paris to take photos for my book covers, but my travels led to exactly what I needed. You never know what going somewhere new could end up doing for you.

You don’t have to travel to be creative, but it really does help. Even if you can’t make it to another country or continent, try getting on a bus and exploring a different town, or go for a walk and visit a neighbourhood in your own town that you’ve never been to. The important thing is to break out of routine and try something new. It could lead you to places you never expected.

What do you think? Has travelling helped your creativity? Share in the comments…

5 Famous Authors’ Drafts

brown wooden desk
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Although readers are generally interested in a writer’s final product, it can be interesting to see the early process. Drafts can be funny, surprising, and illuminating. For example…

Joseph Conrad’s preface to Victory:

jc victory

Conrad had trouble deciding on the right wording to convey his meaning in this preface. He was hesitant about using the word “victory” in relation to World War 1, and he couldn’t decide whether he was worried about “misleading,” “deceiving” or another word I can’t make out (any guesses?) the public.

Sylvia Plath’s outline for The Bell Jar:

sp bell jar

This outline was written two years before The Bell Jar was published. Since no copy of the manuscript draft survives, this outline is the only evidence of Plath’s original intentions for the book. Apparently Plath had planned a “coda” of two extra chapters at the end of the book. There are also smaller changes, such as the character of Joan starting out as Jane.

Marcel Proust’s draft of Remembrance of Things Past:

mp remembrance of things past

Shirley Hazzard’s draft for The Great Fire:

sh the great fire

Both Proust and Hazzard show that, no matter the time period, the first draft is never the final draft. How either could even decipher their edits is a mystery.

Mark Twain’s notebook:

mt notebook

Twain, pondering the concept of a doctor writing a play, jotted down several potential character names, including Siphillis Briggs, Asphyxia Beedle, and Typhoid Billings.

Would you want to see your favourite author’s early drafts and notes? Share in the comments…

See more:

Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God

David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King

George Orwell’s 1984

Emily Dickinson’s poetry (written on an envelope)

Christina Georgina Rosetti’s poetry

A Peek Inside the Notebooks of Famous Authors, Artists and Visionaries