Life is but a stage, says Will

My girlfriend told me a great joke: A lady was asked if she’d ever read Shakespeare, to which she snorted, “Yes, but it was just a bunch of cliches!”

In her less-than-enriched world.

As we know, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Twelfth Night

Some never learn that, “The better part of valor is discretion.” Henry IV

For, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Hamlet

“Truly, what fools these mortals be!” A Midsummer Night’s Dream

And, specifically for our lady …
“Get thee to a nunnery!” Hamlet

April 23rd is William Shakespeare’s birthday. He’s around 456 years old. This date comprises one of the cosmic clumps in my life, for April 23rd is also the birthday of our youngest grandchild, James, who is turning seven; plus, it’s the birthdate of a dear friend’s husband, as well as the date of his passing. There’s great significance to this last coincidence, for Dr. Roger Gross was a renowned professional Shakespearean scholar, director, actor, composer and playwright. Dr. Gross taught Shakespeare and playwriting at the University of Arkansas and wrote a marvelous book entitled, “Shakespeare’s Verse,” which scrutinizes and explains with masterful authority how properly to scan Shakespeare’s writing.

I’m currently rereading Macbeth. I guess I just can’t get enough of those witches, which, incidentally, originally were played by men.

The main reason I’m taking on this darkest of Shakespeare’s tragedies is that Malcolm III figures prominently in the play. Yes, that Malcolm, the husband of Queen Margaret of England, about whom I’m writing my trilogy. I’m half-through Book Two’s manuscript, which centers on the Norman Conquest. Book Three is all about Malcolm and Margaret.

In Macbeth, Malcolm and Macduff rise up to defeat King Macbeth, with Shakespeare giving Macduff the honors of beheading Macbeth. This is most likely dramatic license, or else post-Shakespeare scholarship has simply decided differently. You’ll want to hang with me through Book Three to find out. In the meantime, for me to read Shakespeare’s character of Malcolm, while continuing to research the historic Malcolm, is another cosmic clump, which makes my life fuller and more meaningful. And it’s so cool.

“To thine own self be true.” Hamlet

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare, Roger Gross and James Bowman!

A Blond Moment at Dunfermline Castle

By now, most of you have seen some photos of our trip to Scotland and the visit to Castle Dunfermline. It was inspirational for me, since I’m writing about Queen Margaret and King Malcolm III.

Now I’m going to let you view an “outtake” from the excursion. My excuse for what you’re about to watch is that I’d recently had leg surgery and was still gimpy. Those of you who know me personally may insist that no, this is just typical Lisa, although I can’t imagine why.

Our friend Colin Hewitt (see my last post) and I went down inside the ruins to the kitchen area. I don’t know how the servants got up and down the steep and very narrow winding stairway. My right leg was having none of it, so I wound up crawling. What I didn’t know, was that Chuck was waiting for me at the top of the stairs. No problem. I think I salvaged my dignity.

My Scottish Family

1st National Company of "A Chorus Line." I played "Maggie," who sings "At the Ballet." I still miss doing the show.
You may have wondered how I came to write “As a Deer Yearns for Running Streams.”
Here’s the story.
I was in the First National Company of “A Chorus Line,” back in the horse and buggy age. That’s me, center company, second from the left. You’ll find my maiden name, Lisa Donaldson, on the left side of the photo, near the bottom. I did the show for a year in Los Angeles, and for six months in Chicago. When I decided not to sign a continuation of my contract, I thought, “I’m in Chicago and that’s half-way to Great Britain!” (I hadn’t traveled much, as you can plainly tell). Regardless, I made plans. Sort of. I made plane reservations, bought a Brit Rail pass and made one hotel reservation, just for the first night in London. I’d get on the train when I felt like it and get off when a place looked intriguing. Then I’d try to find a place to stay! The only place I nearly struck out in was Bath, but it turned out to be my favorite place, because I slept in the attic on a small feather bed, with a space heater I had to keep putting coins into so I wouldn’t freeze to death. Ah, youth! And I met the nicest people.

Somewhere on my journey, on some rail station platform, I stood in a crowd, hoping to catch the right train. An unintelligible announcement came over a scratchy speaker. I couldn’t understand a word, so I turned to a rosy-cheeked gentleman to my right, asking, “What did he say?” John Hewitt laughed and filled me in. We chatted and decided to sit next to each other. Across from us was an Englishman and an Aussie – each of us speaking a different flavor of English. My accent sounded crass to my ears, but it was quite an amusing ride to Musselburgh, where John and his family lived.

John told me he was taking me home, where the family would take care of me for a few days. They did, driving me all around the countryside, where I saw lambs gamboling for the first time; and to castles; and back to their home for dinner. They had three boys, David, Colin and Alistair – three fine lads – I liked them all.

After my two weeks in Britain ended and I returned to Los Angeles, the Hewitts and I stayed in touch. John and Doris and I corresponded for years. Doris sent me photos as the boys grew up. Then John and David died, but Doris and I kept up, until one day, the letters stopped. I knew.

About two years ago, Chuck and I decided to visit Edinburgh, so I could research my trilogy about St. Margaret of Scotland. I wanted to reconnect with the “boys.” I remembered that Colin had become a policeman. In this era of social media, I found him in five minutes. He’d gone on to become a detective, and was now retired. He picked up where his parents had left off, driving us to Dunfermline, the home of Margaret and Malcolm III.

My husband, Chuck, on the left, and Colin on the right, stand outside a closed St. Margaret’s Cave, where she often went to pray.

Colin points to a large chimney in the kitchen adjacent to the abbey. Cooks got burned frequently in those days!

Yes! 1072!

This is the new church at Dunfermline Abbey. For an image of the old section, in which Queen Margaret and King Malcolm III were married, see the photo at the top of this page. Do you remember the Mel Gibson film about William Wallace, “Braveheart?” Well, Robert the Bruce was much more important to Scotland’s history than Wallace was. Would you like to see what Robert the Bruce looked like? He’s just to the right of the altar.

(He probably looked cuter with eyeballs).

Anyway, the next day, we met the “boys” and their wives for lunch at a local pub called Greyfriars Bobby.

Bobby was a sweet Skye Terrier who guarded his master’s grave for 14 years until he died in 1872. People still leave sticks for the pup to play with. Don’t miss Bobby’s grave the next time you visit Edinburgh.

“Let his loyalty & devotion be a lesson to us all.”

Good dog-dog.

Oh, my heart.

Finally, what you’ve been waiting for: Colin Hewitt; my husband, Chuck; and Alistair Hewitt. We toasted John and Doris over lunch. I’ll never forget John’s kindness to me at the train station that day, so long ago. The Hewitts will always be a part of my family.

Here’s the rest of the “family.” In the back, left to right: Colin and Alistair. In the front: Carol, Colin’s superb wife; me; and Liz, Alistair’s fabulous wife.

By the way, after all those years as a detective, Colin has written a detective mystery you will want to check out: Neglect of Duty.

And now that you know my story, I invite you to read the result of that first visit to Scotland – Book One about Queen Margaret of Scotland’s life.

As a Deer Yearns for Running Streams

My Favorite Things

These are a few of the books I referenced at home in writing “As a Deer Yearns for Running Streams,” about the eleventh-century Queen Margaret of Scotland. I also scoured ten or so more books during our stay near the the Scotland National Library in Edinburgh, and took copious notes from more than thirty at San Marino’s Huntington Library. Research is truly one of my favorite things: it’s falling down the rabbit hole; searching for Easter eggs; holding the golden ticket for Willy Wonka’s factory. It’s weirdly exhilarating !

If you enjoy historical novels or know someone who does, may I suggest this book as a Christmas present? It’s full of history, as seen through the eyes of many of those who lived it. Queen (and Saint) Margaret was a beautiful, kind and conflicted woman. “As a Deer Yearns for Running Streams” is Book One in a trilogy. Book Two is well underway on my computer, and, surprise – there’s even a prequel in the works! This is a project from my heart. I hope it will touch yours.

Buy on Amazon:


Queen Margaret’s Palace

  • “Lisa brings history alive … a marvelous panoramic view of a young princess’s life in the eleventh century … a fascinating read and a marvelous addition to historical fiction.”

– Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Reader’s Favorite

  • ” … before Lisa’s book, Margaret could never have been understood as the complex figure she was … Lisa Di Vita has succeeded in presenting her holistically as the robust, energetic, holy and courageous woman she truly was.”

– The Very Reverend Canon John E. Crean, Jr., Ph.D

  • “A perfect book for readers longing to be transported to another time. This enthralling eleventh-century saga is filled with all the color and historical details needed to enter palace intrigue and understand that powerful life forces remain constant no matter the civilization.”

– Nan Rae, Internationally recognized Chinese Brush Painter, Author of “The Ch’i of the Brush.”

Welcome to Dunfermline! It is the town from which Malcolm and Margaret ruled Scotland. The original palace would have been made of wood. Beginning with King Malcolm III in the eleventh century, (soon to be joined by Margaret), it became the royal residence of Scotland.

Before approaching the palace, I needed to pause and take in the fact that I was really here.

I’d like to know what the stone mason was drinking when he laid these. Whoopee!
I must say, it’s festive.

The entrance to the church. As I walked up the steps, I spied some gorgeous detail.
I photographed one on my right. See it just below:
This image is on my iPhone screen – regal, yet joyous.

My husband, Chuck, who’s never without a camera, is standing just inside the door of the church. This newer version of the church encloses the space of the original. Malcolm and Margaret were married not far from where Chuck’s standing. In the eleventh century, not everyone was married in church, but Margaret would’ve insisted. Plus, they were royalty.

More of the old church. We’re getting into Romanesque arches here.
Note the graphic designs on the back two columns.

Now we’re down below the church, where the Benedictine abbey was located. Every monk had to take his turn in the kitchen, with blazing fires that likely caused a lot of accidental burns. That’s Colin Hewitt pointing to the kitchen chimney. You’ll learn about Colin and the rest of the Hewitt family in my next blog. I met them more than thirty years ago, and they’ve remained dear to my heart all these years. This will be a story about the kindness of strangers.

The abbey. If these magical stones could talk … think of the history they’d relate.
An attached guest house was located down here, as well.

One of the places I was most excited about seeing in the town of Dunfermline was Queen Margaret’s Cave, where she liked to pray. I guess it was a medieval version of a “she-shed.” But sadly, not only was it located in a parking lot, but the door was locked.
Then I turned around …

… and there was a stream, not twenty steps away! If you’re reading “As a Deer Yearns for Running Streams,” you’ll know the significance of streams to Margaret. How often did she come here, to the cave or the stream? This private place must have brought her peace. Her duties comprised a heavy load to carry – she likely rejuvenated right here.

You’re invited to enjoy eleventh-century history in Book One of a trilogy about
“The Pearl of Scotland,” Margaret of Wessex.

The Castle

Mighty Edinburgh Castle, built on Castle Rock, has been besieged 26 times in the 1100 years of its existence. In the 16th century, much of the original castle was lost in a bombardment.

Just one example of the outcroppings that pop up throughout the Castle grounds.
Hence the name, Castle Rock.

One of the buildings to survive the bombardment of Edinburgh Castle is also its oldest, Queen Margaret’s chapel. The current building was erected by her son, David I, after she died at Edinburgh Castle in 1093. This chapel is thought to have been built to honor the spot on which she died. It’s small inside, but is lovely and bright and peaceful. Scroll down to see.

Margaret’s tiny chapel feels holy. It’s a happy place..

The stained glass window depicting Margaret, whom we know was beautiful.
Look at those Medieval stones!

On the wall opposite St. Margaret’s window is this replica of her 11th-century Gospel-book … which still exists! The original copy is held at the Bodelian Library at Oxford University.

In “As the Deer Yearns for Running Streams,” she receives this book as a young girl.
Since we don’t know when or exactly how she acquired it, I picked a date. The book fell into a river when she was an adult but was found several days later, undamaged by the water, except for one or two cover pages. It was proclaimed a miracle.

Small wonder people love Edinburgh.

Detail from Mary Philpott’s exquisite tile, used on the book’s cover.

Artist Mary Philpott –

Link to Amazon books:

Cherished Edinburgh

I do seem a little bleary here, I note. Looks like the makeup wore off trans-Atlantic.

These photos are from an earlier visit to Scotland. We were dragging our tail feathers until we got to the hotel and looked out at the city of Edinburgh. As I mentioned in the previous blog, the National Library of Scotland was right across the street, making my research about Margaret, 11th-century Queen of Scotland, pleasantly convenient.

Edinburgh. Old. Glorious. A place that played an important role in the life of Queen Margaret of Scotland.
Narrow Victoria Street, right around the corner from our Radisson Hotel on the Royal Mile, is purportedly where J.K. Rowling wrote the first “Harry Potter” book at one of the small restaurants. We drove past her current home a few days later. It was nice.

These were in a store window on Victoria Street. No, we didn’t buy anything.
The royal kids are on their own

Same street. Random photo. I just liked the stairs and the red wall. This street winds down to the wider ones of Grassmarket and Cowgate, names relevant to earlier times. Edinburgh was buzzing even in the eleventh century. We found a terrific French restaurant on Grassmarket.

This image of a house from 1630 was taken in front of Edinburgh Castle, looking the other direction. Notice the books in the window. Perfect. I post this to tantalize you for the next blog, which will take us to EDINBURGH CASTLE.

As a Deer Yearns for Running Streams:
The Story of Queen Margaret of Scotland

As a Deer Yearns … the Story of Queen Margaret of Scotland is coming.

Tile by Mary Philpott

You may remember seeing this tile crafted by Mary Philpott on this blog. Scroll down to earlier posts to read the story about how I “met” Mary online and asked to use this tile for the cover of my historical novel, which is entitled, “As a Deer Yearns for Running Streams, The Story of Queen Margaret of Scotland,” and will be out in about five days, as an eBook and soft bound.

This novel is one in a series of three about a fascinating 11th-century queen and saint who conquered personal loss, survived the Norman Conquest and became a beloved queen. Researching her for nine months, both in Scotland and at the Huntington Library in Southern California was an exciting adventure for me.

Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing some images from our 2018 trip to Scotland. I managed to book a hotel right across the street from the National Library of Scotland.

I hadn’t been in Scotland since I was 25. (I’m older than that now.)

I love Scotland and Chuck and I had a great time there. We traveled to Dunfermline, where Malcolm III and Margaret lived. I can’t wait to show you the photos from there.

I’d love to share Margaret’s story with you. You should be able to preorder the book now on Amazon, at least the eBook. The bound version will be showing in a few days. Amazon looks favorably on preordering, so if you feel so moved, please do. Here’s the cover:

Crown Jewels, Jewels, Jewels

Heavy the head that wears the crown. Well, actually, the quote is, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Shakespeare wrote it for “Henry the Fourth, Part Two,” and he’s referring to uneasy sleep when you carry heavy responsibilities. Still, any way you slice it, crowns are heavy. Can you imagine trying to nod your head while balancing this on it?

St. Edward’s Crown

But there’s something very special about this particular crown: it holds the oldest jewel in England’s crown jewel collection. Nope, it’s not the large jewel in the center of the crown. It’s the one at the very top and it dates back to the eleventh century. This sapphire once belonged to King Edward the Confessor, who is responsible for beautiful Westminster Cathedral. His death in 1066 precipitated the Norman Conquest, which changed history.

Edward, who despite his renowned piety, left something to be desired as a king, wore the sapphire in a ring. The legend goes that one day he came across a poor beggar and discovered he had nothing to give him, so he removed the ring from his finger and handed it to the beggar. Several years later, two men returned the ring to him, saying that St. John the Baptist had appeared to them. The biblical John had told them that one day, he had approached King Edward disguised as a beggar and that the king had given him the ring. Because of his generosity to the poor, the king would be blessed forever.

The stunning sapphire has been recut since the eleventh century, but it truly is a crowning jewel in England’s rich history. And now you know, if you didn’t before.

Are you biphasic?

You just might be and you don’t even know it.

But don’t worry, no one can tell just by looking at you.

Find out if you’re biphasic:
1. Do you take a nap during the day?
2. Do you sleep for awhile at night, wake up and do some things and then go back to bed?
3. Did you live at any time in human history before about 1925? (!)

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are biphasic, meaning you sleep twice during a 24-hour period. In fact, from the dawn of mankind, until electricity became common (by 1925 half of American homes had it), many, if not most, people went to bed around dusk for their “First Sleep,” awakening around midnight. Then they might play a game, stoke the fire, meditate, do a few chores, have sex, or steal some fruit off a neighbor’s tree. After about an hour, they’d go back to bed for what was called “Second Sleep,” until the sun came up.

A Demon Tempting a Sleeping Monk

Of course, Medieval monks had to be biphasic, rising around 2:00 a.m. during winter for Matins (one of the divine offices as set by St. Benedict), after which they might or might not go back to sleep for a while longer. The above picture depicts a demon suggesting to an eleventh-century monk, Raoul Glaber, that he stay asleep, rather than dragging himself to pray the Psalms in the middle of the night. “I wonder why you are so eager,” the demon would say, “to jump so quickly out of bed, as soon as you’ve heard the signal, and to interrupt the sweet rest of sleep, while you could give yourself up to rest until the third signal.”

The wealthier the Medieval individual, though, the later they tended to go to bed and the more likely they were to take their sleep in more or less a single block, say, going to bed at midnight and awakening briefly early in the morning and then going back to sleep until the sun was fully up. In fact, it was something of a status symbol if one was able to sleep all night without waking up.

Interestingly, it was recommended that children sleep through the night, getting nine or ten solid, consecutive hours. I’m thinking that was more for the parents than the children.

Unfortunately, biphasic sleeping didn’t eliminate sleep disturbances like insomnia or sleep-walking. Nor did it quiet the neighbors’ barking dog. Furthermore, studies show that people who sleep for a single block of time live longer. Einstein slept ten or more hours a night, so I guess it also makes you smarter.

Sorry, sometimes I simply need that nap.

– Lisa Di Vita