it’s never too late…

One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.

Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
‘Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox


I first met Danae Penn at a vernissage, a preview of an exhibition, of my photographs of Gascony, the area I call home in southwest France. I was absolutely charmed by her enthusiasm and joie de vivre. She was kind enough to purchase a photograph of mine that I’d taken of an old mill in the village of Samatan.  My friends, David and Barbara, who brought her with them, told me she was quite the celebrated local historian, a former diplomat and translator for the European Union.

The following year I was invited by Danae to hear one of her historical talks about medieval Condom, the town she lives in. For the past 6 years Danae has given talks about 15th century Gascon history and way of life, complete with costumes and props.

Two months ago I received this email from Danae: “I am writing to tell you that my historical mystery novel called False Rumours has just been published! The novel is based on five hectic days in Condom in 1483 when Belina Lansac, young wife of the town’s detective, learns that the Princes in the Tower are being chased by a murderer who has been ordered by Henry Tudor’s mother to kill them so that she can accuse Richard III of their murder and thereby spread false rumours. At the end of the book I explain why I think that Richard III did not kill his nephews. As you will see, one of the reasons concerns the use of strawberries…”

What a surprise! I had no idea Danae was writing a book. False Rumours drops you head-first into 15th century of France and England and leaves you wanting to unravel the real life mystery of the disappearance of the Princes for yourself.

I met with Danae at her home to ask her about writing a book late in life. She told me it was primarily a way of coping with the death of her husband, who subsequently became a character in her story. She said she’d studied Elizabethan history in school but knew nothing about medieval history nor about writing a novel. After reading Robert Ray’s The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery, she took a writing course. She read dozens of other books, including Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, and various histories about the pilgrimage route of St. Jacques de Compostelle (Santiago de Compostela), which runs through her village. She learned many interesting things, including that Torquemada, the head of the Spanish Inquisition, was a Jew by birth and not a Roman Catholic, that bishops were very rich political appointees not religious ones, and that women had more rights than she’d previously thought. But the most important thing she learned was that she could do it – after fits and starts over the course of 7 years, she finished her first book.

Our family, friends and society give us many reasons why we can’t or shouldn’t do something when we’re older, never realizing that it’s not about the result but the journey. It’s never too late because you’re only old once. Better to be a Don Quixote jousting at windmills than a pessimist in an armchair. In disregarding the voice of doubt, Danae became the real heroine of her story, and in the middle of a crisis found meaning.

* False Rumours is available in paperback and on kindle at Amazon (see Belle Lettres in the right hand column to order) The French translation will be available next year.

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