Articles on this Page
- 08/28/14--05:00: _The History Girls: ...
- 08/28/14--16:01: _Why writing history...
- 08/29/14--16:01: _We're going to need...
- 08/30/14--16:01: _August Competition ...
- 08/31/14--16:01: _Bayeux without the ...
- 09/01/14--23:00: _Bruges by Sarah Gri...
- 09/02/14--16:01: _Ahistorical Fiction...
- 09/03/14--16:01: _Skullduggery and Sa...
- 09/04/14--16:30: _Tiny Bronte Books -...
- 09/05/14--18:00: _Who do you think yo...
- 09/06/14--23:30: _LET ME TELL YOU.......
- 09/07/14--16:30: _'Thumbs Up' by Kare...
- 09/08/14--16:13: _How to Make the Mos...
- 09/09/14--17:00: _What's biting Venic...
- 09/10/14--17:30: _An Old Man and His ...
- 09/11/14--16:30: _The tragedy of John...
- 09/12/14--22:00: _THE MARMITE TENSE: ...
- 09/13/14--23:15: _The News Where You ...
- 09/14/14--21:42: _Laurits Tuxen 1853-...
- 09/15/14--13:30: _August Competition ...
- 08/28/14--05:00: The History Girls: Hide & Seek, by Clare Mulley
- 08/28/14--16:01: Why writing history is like science fiction by Debbie taylor
- 08/29/14--16:01: We're going to need a bigger cabinet by Mary Hoffman
- 08/30/14--16:01: August Competition - old pongs!
- 08/31/14--16:01: Bayeux without the tapestry
- 09/01/14--23:00: Bruges by Sarah Gristwood
- 09/02/14--16:01: Ahistorical Fiction by Y S Lee
- 09/03/14--16:01: Skullduggery and Sabotage in the East Anglian fens by Rosemary Hayes
- 09/04/14--16:30: Tiny Bronte Books - Joan Lennon
- 09/06/14--23:30: LET ME TELL YOU.....A guest post from SOPHIE HANNAH
- 09/07/14--16:30: 'Thumbs Up' by Karen Maitland
- 09/08/14--16:13: How to Make the Most of Overseas Book Fairs
- 09/09/14--17:00: What's biting Venice? - Michelle Lovric
- 09/10/14--17:30: An Old Man and His Cat, by Laurie Graham
- 09/11/14--16:30: The tragedy of John Glasgow by Tanya Landman
- 09/13/14--23:15: The News Where You Are Catherine Johnson
- 09/14/14--21:42: Laurits Tuxen 1853-1927
- 09/15/14--13:30: August Competition winners
The History Girls: Hide & Seek, by Clare Mulley: This month The Folio Society republished one of the great memoirs of the Second World War; Xan Fielding’s Hide & Seek . Described by Ant...
Our August guest is Debbie Taylor, whose life seems to provide enough material for a whole bookshop of novels. Welcome to the History Girls, Debbie!
Debbie Taylor is Editorial Director of Mslexia, which she founded in 1999. She has written for Oxfam, UNICEF, Anti-Slavery, WHO and others about women and social issues. Her books include My Children, My Gold (Virago), a nonfiction travelogue about single mothers, and The Fourth Queen (Penguin), a novel set in a harem in 18th Century Morocco. Her latest novel, Herring Girl (Oneworld), a paranormal historical thriller set on the banks of the Tyne, came out this month. www.debbietaylor.com
We historical girls often like to wax lyrical about the amount of research we do to source the details of the era and characters we're writing about to recreate an authentic period atmosphere.
Sarah Waters immerses herself in the literature of the time, reading letters, newspapers and magazines, as well as novels of all kinds – and latterly, I assume, seeking out radio recordings and transcripts for her 20th Century historicals like The Paying Guests and The Little Stranger. Her policy of total immersion continues while she's actually writing, too, so that it becomes well-nigh impossible not to imbue her prose with the nuances of her chosen period.
Other historical novelists go even further. I'm reliably informed that you can take part in themed weekend extravaganzas, attiring yourself in period clothing and eating and drinking as people did at a particular time in history. (I once suggested this as a joke in a talk to the Historical Novelists' Association, only to be told in no uncertain terms that it was already de rigueur for some hard-core novelistas)
Then there's the method used by Rose Tremain, which is basically to write the book first, making up the historical details as she goes along – and do the research later to correct anything she's got wrong.
Which is the opposite method to that used by Margaret Atwood, who collects boxes and boxes of information on every aspect of her work-in-progress (aided by several research assistants) and plots all her characters' timelines on an elaborate grid, before she starts writing. This is partly because she finds real life far stranger than fiction – indeed she boasts that every bizarre, brutal or arcane event or practice in her novels has actually occurred somewhere at some time in the world – and partly because she lives in fear of some old timer popping up at a reading to correct a detail she's got wrong about butter-churning in the 1920s.
Much of my own 'historical' knowledge comes not from reading about fishing communities in the 1890s or listening to old recordings of Tyneside voices – though of course I did all of that for my novel Herring Girl (published by Oneworld and out now!). Most of my sense of what life might have been like in 19th Century Northumberland comes from living amongst people in third world countries when I worked as a development journalist. I've slept four to a bed, for example, been bitten by fleas, ticks and mites, gulped down water from sources I didn't dare enquire about, and witnessed traditional healers in the throes of a spirit possession. I know first-hand how to resurface a mud wall, wash head to toe without taking off my clothes, and go to the loo in public – in daylight in an open field, as well as in a bucket inside with an entire family watching.
|Debbie's house in Botswana|
And however much we research our subject matter, however many old letters we read or museums we visit, we can never be sure that we have got it absolutely right. All we can do is use the incomplete information we have to hypothesise what it might have been like in 18th Century Morocco, say (as I did in The Fourth Queen), or 11th Century England (as Paul Kingsnorth does in The Wake). Which is exactly what science fiction authors do.
Starting with a series of assumptions – melting ice caps, mass infertility, alien entities – they painstakingly construct a viable and believable alternative world, along with the viable and believable human (or humanoid) beliefs and experiences that would result.
Indeed many novels in the fantasy genre are set in a sort of hybrid world, part historical part paranormal part science fiction. The recent emergence of the steampunk genre, which marries science fiction plotlines with a sort of grungy late 19th Century milieu, makes this connection even more obvious. Which is why it's not surprising that Margaret Atwood, for all her enthusiastic amassing of contemporary and historic fact, bestrides the fictional world so comfortably between the past and the future. And who knows, perhaps Hilary Mantel's next novel might be set on a far planet in the 23rd Century. I don't know about you, but I can't wait.
|Resurfacing a courtyard in Zimbabwe|
On the 30th of each month, when it's not the last day (i.e. in January, March, May, July, August, October and December) a History Girl puts up an extra post about something she would like to put in our virtual Cabinet of Curiosities. This month it's my turn and I'm afraid I'm going to be greedy.
You see, I want the Bayeux Tapestry.
I have already written about it on my Book Maven blog. And Adèle Geras has written her own post here on the History Girls.
You will have to bear with us. We both saw it this summer and it makes a huge impact. But because it is 70 metres long and difficult to stuff into our cabinet, I'm going to concentrate on the Alderney Finale, a brilliant initiative carried out on the Channel Island to complete the Tapestry, which is missing its final panels.
It was the brainchild of Librarian Kate Russell and artist Pauline Black and was unveiled in April of last year. This summer it has been on display in the Bayeux Tapestry Museum and in fact tomorrow is the last chance to see it there. Then it will return to Alderney.
From the 1st February 2012 when Kate and Pauline applied the first stitches 400 people have had a hand in working on the Finale, including Prince Charles and and Duchess of Cornwall.
There are Four scenes. In Scene one, the victorious William of Normandy has a celebration dinner with his half brothers Odo, who is thought to have commissioned the Tapestry, and Robert. The remnants of the Battle of Hastings are shown: corpses, severed limbs, grieving widows. After the battle is when William gets his nickname of "the Conqueror" though this is not shown here. (Formerly he was known as William the Bastard - no comment on his nature, just that his parents were not married).
Scene two shows William at Berkhampstead, charmingly rendered in Latin as "Bercheha(m)steda," accepting the surrender of English nobles, including the Archbishop of York.
Scene three is the climax of the piece and surely a subject very likely to have been in one of the lost panels: the Coronation of William at Westminster. It is Christmas Day 1066.
Scene four is a little tailpiece showing the beginnings of the White Tower at the Tower of London, built with Caen stone, from Normandy, that shines out to this day.
The Latin inscriptions are by Robin Whicker in forms appropriate to the 1070s. And the style and design is satisfyingly close to the original Altogether an inspired piece of work. You can see lots more pictures on Flickr.
Just as in the 11th century work, there are other scenes enacted and symbols added in the strip that goes along the bottom. A big favourite is the one showing the donkey, toad and puffin, representing Guernsey, Jersey and Alderney itself, all encircled by the tail of the lion of England.
Well worth constructing a bigger cabinet, especially since anything is possible in cyberspace.
Debbie Taylor has given us a lovely question to help to win one of five copies of her latest novel, Herring Gull, kindly donated by publisher OneWorld.
Just write you answer below in Comments. Closing date is September 14th, to allow for holidays.
We regret our competitions are open to UK readers only.
"What aroma from the past are you grateful no longer to smell? And what past aroma would you like experience again as a part of everyday life?"
Please also email your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org, so that it is easier to get in touch with you if you have won a copy.
So I thought I'd tell you a bit about the town it resides in. Bayeux really is a little known gem of Northern France, a small town in Normandy, whose visitors come for one reason only. But it is well worth exploring in its own right, for its long and interesting history.
It was a Roman town, built after the invasion of Gaul on the river Aure, and named Augustodurum. Before the Romans got there it was a market town of the Bodiocassi tribe of Gauls and its name might come from them. In the 9th century it was ravaged by Vikings. But it is in the Middle Ages that it becomes important. Guillaume le Conquérant, as he is known in France (William the Conqueror) gave the Bishopric of Bayeux to his legitimate half-brother Odon, who enlarged the cathedral, which was dedicated in 1077. Over the years the basically Romanesque building acquired its distinctive Gothic additions.
Unfortunately William made Caen his capital and in the years after his death Bayeux declined, until it was burned by the victorious Henry l of England, who had seen off his rivals. It went on suffering throughout the Hundred Years War, only achieving some sort of stability and peace in 1450.
Back to the cathedral where, as we entered, our guide told us about "Saint Catherine" who turned out to be not-quite-a-saint. Catherine of Bayeux was an Augustinian Sister, who went as a missionary to Canada, which brought me up with a start: we were clearly no longer in the Middle Ages! She was a 17th Century Augustinian nun who was Beatified in the late 19th Century, so Blessed Catherine, not (yet) Saint.
But in the Crypt, the oldest part of the Cathedral, there is genuinely ancient art, recently discovered frescoes, thought to date back to the 15th century:
Each pillar is topped by an angel playing a musical instrument.
You emerge blinking into the daylight to tales of hundreds of years later. Bayeux was the first town liberated by the Allies on 7th June, the day after the D-Day landings. Family traditions tell us that the inhabitants hid in the crypt and burst out crying "there are no Germans here!" thus saving their town.
Today it is small and fascinating town (the population was little more than 13,000 five years ago), ideal for a long weekend, as full of gastronomic delights as historical ones. It is also remarkable crime-free. We didn't see the single beggar, who is named Roger, because he wasn't yet up. And we also did not see any graffiti, of which there are apparently two!
All this and you get the Tapestry too.
Mary Hoffman was a guest of Flybe and the Normandy Tourist Board in July 2014
A walking tour of Bayeux in English
Museums in Bayeux
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Perhaps we all feel we have a stake in the BBC’s version of Wolf Hall, to be filmed in Bruges this summer. After the Bookers, and the rave reception it’s had on the boards, the book and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, have reached national treasure status. But I feel more of a stake than most. Before Wolf Hall, another BBC crew were in Bruges, shooting the adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen. And before, either of them, there was me.
Half a millennium ago, before any of us, there was Margaret of York; why I was there, really. I was writing a book, Blood Sisters, about the women behind the Wars of the Roses – and I can tell you, it didn’t come easy. Not only are the written sources notoriously patchy, but it’s very hard to know where to go to get into the mood for that period – or to do visual research, as is sometimes put, politely.
It’s a strange, specific time, that changeover between the medieval world of castles and clashing knights, and the far more familiar Elizabethan era in all its glory. In Britain it’s oddly hard to find . . . some of the Oxbridge colleges, maybe? It was a problem for me – and for the Wolf Hall team too, maybe. Thomas Cromwell’s later career took him to palaces like Hampton Court; but where do you go for his home turf, the City? Where did I go, to find women who predate Hampton Court by half a century? To Bruges. Curled up in a window seat in the Gruuthuse museum - where Margaret of York’s brother Edward IV once took refuge, while the turmoil of the Cousins’ War briefly thrust the opposing Lancastrians back onto the throne – I felt that at last I had finally found the fifteenth century.
In Bruges you don’t even need to gaze at the turret on the Markt from which Margaret of York watched the tournaments in her honour, when she was brought here in 1468 to marry the Duke of Burgundy. You don’t need to take out a second mortgage, as I did, and stay in the hotel which has been made from part of her palace. (The Dukes’ Palace Kempinski, since you ask, and the tower once decorated with marguerites for her name is still there plain to see.) Just to walk the sparsely-vehicled streets is to be clobbered by history. The past – not some mouldering ghost but bustling, prosperous and full of energy, just the way it would have been – is there in the very layout of the streets, in the shops full, now as then, of covetable goodies.
I bought embroidered silk purses and some good modern jewellery; chocolates go without saying; as far as I’m concerned, you can keep the lace and embroidery. Back in 1468, as part of Margaret wedding party, John Paston wrote that for the splendour of the jewels he saw at the Bruges feasts, he ‘heard never of none like to it save King Arthur’s court . . .’ But then he had just been fed on gilded swans, while trained monkeys tossed beads and purses to the company.
The Burg is one of the finest medieval squares in Europe; the outside of the Stadhuis a white Gothic wedding cake. The glowing decorations inside the Heilig-Bloedbasiliek, the Basilica of the Holy Blood, may date in part from the nineteenth century, but the great black chimneypiece in the main chamber of the Bruggemuseum-Brugse Vrije is a Renaissance masterpiece - and that’s even before you’ve headed into museum territory.
Edward IV stayed in the Gruuthuse, across the Dijver canal, with his younger brother, the future Richard III. So did Charles II in his exile, and the carved angels, the tranquil rooms flanked by waterways, gave reassurance to him, too, maybe. From the private chapel of the Gruuthuse, a discreet window looks straight down into the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, the Church of Our Lady, and the golden tombs of the ducal family, caught with their pet dogs at their feet. It seems to be another of Bruges’s specialties – that combination of colourful richness, and an unexpected intimacy.
On the other side of Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk is Sint-Janshospitaal, which did indeed function as a hospital from the twelfth to the nineteenth century. In the old hospital church you’ll find a small museum, Memling in Sint-Jan. Stop in front of Memling’s The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine, and the faces of the saints Catherine and Barbara may be those of Margaret of York, and her stepdaughter Mary of Burgundy.
It’s a cliché that Bruges is the ‘Venice of the north’, firstly for the canals that circle and cross the city. But while Venice is a lateral waterscape of pale dreaming tones, Bruges is vertical and verdant, built in warm brick and of the earth, earthy. Except when it isn’t. Bruges boasts many different brands of charm, for a place so tiny. Up to the north east of the Markt is the Sint-Anna district – what used to be the artisan area – has open streets of small houses, elegant in their simplicity , where the almshouses and folk museum still pay tribute to the city’s craft history.
One of attractions for film makers must be that Bruges offers so many different moods, without ever having to step outside the late medieval past. Ten minutes walk from the craggy medieval buildings of the centre is the Minnewater - the Lake of Love, with swans sailing on the dark water - where the secluded spaces of the Beginhof manage to feel a world away. Founded in 1245 as a beguinage, a refuge for religious-minded women who stopped short of the full nun’s vows, it operated as such until very recently. Past meets present again – it is still a Benedictine convent today.
I mean – if we can just lower the tone for the moment - even the eating in Bruges is the kind of thing you’d expect to find after a careful study of medieval cookery. Rich and satisfying, with sometimes unexpected combinations of flavours. Never mind the mussels and the waffles, and the fries with mayonnaise; there’s also eel with herb sauce, or hare cooked with prunes; carbonnades and chicory. Cherry beer served warm on a cold day; and yes – has anyone warned the BBC? - the weather does tend towards the damp and chilly. Margaret of York arrived in July but it was pouring anyway.
The citizens were impressed that she still got drenched leaning out of the litter to wave to them; but give the girl credit, she knew what was expected - the demands of royal life are still the same today. In Bruges, you do get used the idea things haven’t changed much since the fifteenth century. Wolf Hall is being produced for the BBC by the same firm, Company Pictures, who did The White Queen, which may or may not worry us slightly. But give them credit – they learned one thing, on that earlier production. They knew to come to the right city.
What am I doing here, amongst the History Girls? After all, my title isn't a typo. I really mean "ahistorical fiction" and for the purposes of this post, I'll define it as a subset of historical fiction that includes elements which stand apart from mainstream history. I'm not talking about fantasy (set in an imagined world that may or may not straddle our own) or speculative fiction (which includes fantastic, supernatural or futuristic worlds). Neither do I mean fiction that is broadly anachronistic (Napoleon with a smartphone!) or counter-historical (undermining the very idea of history). Today, I'm here to defend the use of ahistorical elements in otherwise realist historical fiction.
The obvious, reflexive objections are:
1. Doesn't that undermine historical fiction as a genre?
2. Why bother with ahistorical fiction at all? Why not write something else?
My short answers:
1. No, it enriches it.
2. See answer no. 1.
Are you ready for my longer answers? In the afterword to Code Name: Verity, Elizabeth Wein explains some of her plot choices and acknowledges that her first priority is not perfect historical accuracy. Instead, she says, her goal is simply to tell a really good story. I like that justification; it's at the core of my writerly impulse, too. And Wein makes it sound so clean and easy. But I think it skims over some of the tricky decisions and border-drawing that happens when writers carefully include ahistorical elements in their work.
When we use ahistorical elements, we're being selective. We're not haphazardly inventing conveniences to rescue a stalled plot or sprinkling in some cute embellishments. Instead, we're trying to open up our understanding of historical relationships. For Wein, this is having an English girl pilot crash-land in Nazi-occupied France. For me, in the Mary Quinn mysteries, it's the creation of a women's detective agency in 1850s London. In both cases, the ahistorical element is technically possible (just about). For my detective agency, I'm leaning on two historical precedents: the beginning of progressive girls' education in the mid-nineteenth century (Bedford College was founded in 1849) and the career of Aphra Behn, the eighteenth-century playwright and spy. (The Agency is also an affectionate homage to Miss Climpson's "typing bureau" in Dorothy L Sayers's Peter Wimsey novels.) These specific historical leaps allow writers a different way of asking the big question at the heart of historical fiction: what if?
When I began to write A Spy in the House, the first Mary Quinn novel, I wanted to focus on an orphan girl without any advantages of money, social status, or education. I quickly realized that such a novel would be a swift, bumpy descent from poverty to prostitution to prison and, almost inevitably, early death. (This last sentence basically gives away the plot of Emma Donoghue's Slammerkin, which I highly recommend. It's a gorgeously excessive tragedy not the least bit diminished by its inescapable ending.) Yet I wanted to rescue my protagonist, not sentence her to death. I decided to play with ideas of power by giving my orphan, Mary, a quasi-realistic opportunity to make her own way in the world: a handful of allies, a good education, a job that was more than underpaid drudgery. She would carry with her the baggage of her childhood suffering, but she would have a second chance. It was my way of using fiction to right an ongoing injustice. It was also a way to, in David Copperfield's words, make Mary the hero of her own story.
Ahistorical elements in historical fiction are a way of rearranging the furniture. They're also a bit like social history's quarrel with the great-man narrative of history: what about everybody else? What if we shift our focus away from what's always been there, and ask a different question? The use of ahistorical elements is born of love and respect for history and historical fiction. As in any relationship, though, sometimes you bump up against its limits. Sometimes you crane your neck, trying to see what exists outside its bounds. Sometimes, a fresh idea knocks you breathless. And once you've considered it, it helps you to see your old love anew.
Y S Lee is the author of the award-winning Mary Quinn mysteries, published by Walker Books (UK) and Candlewick Press (USA). Rivals in the City, the fourth and final book in the series, is now available in the UK and will be released in North America in February 2015. Ying blogs every Wednesday at www.yslee.com.
|Making eel traps|
|Ely Cathedral (The 'Ship of the Fens') today|
Then and now. Ancient 'bog oak' forced to the surface through peat shrinkage
A fen dyke today
The herd of wild Konig ponies at Wicken Fen
The elusive 'booming' bittern
Another delightful resource I wanted to share with you can be found here. Nine tiny handmade books, written and constructed by Charlotte and Branwell Bronte when they were children - to just see these little objects through the glass of an exhibition case would be a treat ...
Scenes on the great bridge, November 1829
The silver cup: a tale, October 1829
Blackwoods young mens magazine, August 1829
An interesting passage in the lives of some eminent personages of the present age, June 1830
The poetaster: a drama in two volumes, July 1830
The adventures of Mon. Edouard de Crack, February 1830
Branwells Blackwoods magazine, June 1829
Magazine, January 1829
Branwells Blackwoods magazine, July 1829
And, with a certain sense that I may be lowering the tone, here is a video for something I long to own -
|Queen Anne of England|
|My dad Derek Cudmore, Evelyn's son.|
Robert Edwards’ tragic loss at sea with all his legal papers immediately after he signed the lease to the church is highly coincidental, if not downright suspicious. There was supposed to be a Trust Fund, set up for his heirs, in the Chase Manhattan Bank – which denies all knowledge of this. The resulting century-old struggle to reclaim the money for the Welsh heirs from the powerful (and now extremely wealthy) Trinity Church, with its potential for a rags-to-riches happy ending, would make a great historical novel for an author with romantic fantasy twist… hmm, maybe I should write it one day?
She is retiring from the History Girls blog to take up a Royal Literary Fund Fellowship, while she works on making her first million the hard way.
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A note from Adèle Geras:
This month I'm handing over my slot on this blog to my daughter, the novelist and poet Sophie Hannah. To introduce her, I'm quoting the back flap copy on her new novel which stars Hercule Poirot: THE MONOGRAM MURDERS
"Sophie Hannah is the internationally bestselling author of nine psychological thrillers which have been published in more than 20 countries and adapted for television. Her novel, THE CARRIER won the 2013 Specsavers Crime Thriller of the Year. Sophie is an Honorary Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, and as a poet has been shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize."
I’ve been to two very different exhibitions this month, one was in a village church to honour the men who fought in the First World War, the other was the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall. But curiously I found the same item on display in both – a little good luck charm called Fums Up. It took the form of a tiny doll made of wood or metal holding up a thumb, as a good luck gesture.
These dolls were first made around 1880’s, appearing not just as models, but on cards and china too. Back then they were commonly called ‘Baby Mercury’. But they become increasing popular in the First World War when girls sent these charms to sweethearts and brothers who were fighting in the trenches, to bring the soldiers luck and keep them safe. They were worn as lapel badges, on neck chains or on tucked into pocks. But why were the Fums Up charms thought to be lucky?
For a long time it was one of those popular myths that thumbs-up gesture originated in the Roman gladiatorial arenas. That's largely been discounted now. The thumbs-up sign is probably much older than that. But by the Middle Ages it was recognised as sign of good faith and peace. In some parts of the country, right into the twentieth century, children would make the thumbs up sign to declare a truce in a fight or indicate they wanted to halt a game.
Though kith and kin and a' revile thee,
There's my thumb I'll ne'er beguile thee.
The famous line from Macbeth -By the pricking of my thumbs something wicked this way comes was based on an old superstition that a tingle or twitching of the thumb, especially the left one, was a sign that unwelcome company or an enemy was approaching.
Many of the first Fums Up charms sent to the soldiers of the First World War were made of wood which made them doubly lucky. We still say touch wood, even if we don’t actually do it, when we’re talking about future plans – Touch wood, I’ll have the book finished by Friday. This harps back to one of mankind’s oldest and most enduring fears that if we talk about any good thing, something bad will happen to curse it. So we try to avert that, by warding off the evil – touching wood.
|British paratroopers of the World War II preparing |
to go into action giving the thumbs up sign.
Sadly, although I’m sure the Fums Up charms brought a great deal of comfort to the soldiers in the
trenches, not least the knowledge that a sweetheart was waiting for them, it did not keep many of those young men safe from harm. It must have been one of the most poignant things for those grieving families and girlfriends if they found the cheery little doll returned to them among the soldier’s personal effects. Fums Up came home, but they never would.
|My spot at Le Livre Sur Les Quais Book Fair 5-7 Sept 2014|
|Tasja Dorkofikis (centre) with Caroline (right) at GEMS|
|A literary cruise ships for Le Livre Sur Les Quais in Morges|
|I went to La Côte twice in one day: once to talk, once to sign!|
|Giving a talk on brand new equipment at GEMS Academy|
|Bring books to give as prizes and gifts|
|Be sure to sample the local delights!|
|Le Livre Sur Les Quais book tent|
In fact, the most fearsome eating you see in Venice goes on in Byzantine stone circles: reliefs, between 20 and 80cm, which can be seen on the walls of many secular buildings. This is one of the most vivid.
There are also lions eating dogs or wolves or horses.
Many are not in their original locations. This is because Venice’s vernacular architecture frequently succumbed to various waves of fashion: Byzantine, Gothic, and Renaissance. Buildings were torn down, or re-facaded regularly. The patere were saved and added to the new walls, as were other pieces of public art. Or new walls were built around them, as this interrupted rabbit shows, on the wall of the church of San Giacomo dell'Orio.
Other buildings were razed to the ground punitively, such as the palazzo of Baiamonte Tiepolo at Sant’Agostin after his conspiracy to murder Doge Pietro Gradenigo in 1310. The patere from Baiamonte’s home ended up on the walls of the Tagliapietra chapel in San Vio. Here are some details ...
|the column of infamy of Baiamonte Tiepolo |
at Sant'Agostin - now secreted in a storeroom of the Doges Palace
|patere at San Trovaso|
This feline creature –‘Musipul’ is a character in my work-in-progress for children.
In this, she is a testy Arabian leopard from the Castle of Jabrin in Arabia. But that's another story ...
Michelle Lovric's website
Her latest book is The True & Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters, published by Bloomsbury.
A month after Misha’s death, on July 17th 1918, in Yekaterinburg, the Imperial Family were woken from their sleep and murdered. The following day, in the town of Alapaevsk, a further six members of the Romanov family were killed: Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna (the Tsarina’s elder sister) with one of her fellow nuns, Varvara, three Grand Dukes from the Konstantinovich branch of the dynasty, and 22 year old Vladimir Paley, a young poet and one of the morganatic offspring of Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich. Here is a photograph of Vladimir in his cadet uniform.
In the dead hours of the early morning they were bundled into a cart, driven to an abandoned iron working and thrown down one of its shafts. What the fall failed to accomplish was finished off with grenades and bundles of burning brushwood. None survived.
There was then a six month hiatus before the final Bolshevik cull of Romanovs. Grand Dukes Paul Alexandrovich, Dmitri Konstantinovich, Nicholas Mikhailovich (aka Bimbo) and George Mikhailovich aka Gogi) had at first been detained under a fairly lenient form of house arrest in Vologda, free to associate with one another, but after the assassination of Nicholas and his family they were transferred to the Shpalernaya House of Detention in Petrograd (now St Petersburg).
On January 29th 1919, long before dawn, they were brought by truck to the Peter & Paul Fortress. Grand Duke Paul was so frail he had to be carried to the place of execution and was shot where he lay on a stretcher. The other Grand Dukes had the briefest moment to embrace each other on the edge of the trench that had been dug to receive their bodies. For me one of the most poignant details of that scene - four elderly men, taken from their beds, stripped of their shirts in sub-zero temperatures, and shown the grave that awaited them - is that Grand Duke Bimbo, the Romanov’s oddball intellectual, botanist, historian, enthusiast and prankster, had brought his cat with him from jail and his very last act was to entrust it to one of his executioners and ask him to care for it.
THE GRAND DUCHESS OF NOWHERE, Quercus Books, will be published on October 2nd.
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Another example, though one much more straightforward and written in the first person, is from Philippa Gregory in The Boleyn Inheritance. The teenaged narrator Catherine Howard is about to be carted off to the Tower. She still believes she will be pardoned when her uncle Norfolk comes to tell her she is to die.
'You should acknowledge your sins, and ask forgiveness,' he says promptly.
I am so relieved I could almost weep. Of course I will be forgiven if I say I am sorry.
I do not know who cries it, she or I: I reel away unnerved. But in the second I have her skin between my fingers, my own flesh leaps in a kind of relief. I shake horribly for almost an hour. 'Oh, God!' I say, hiding my face. 'I'm afraid, for my own mind! Do you think me mad? Do you think me wicked, Sue?''Wicked?' she answers, wringing her hands. and I can see her thinking: A simple girl like you?
This quote from Fingersmith, illustrates the intensity and immediacy of the present. We inhabit the flesh of narrator Maud as it 'leaps' and 'shakes', and we are able to observe her watching Sue, who is not party to what the reader and narrator know. We are drawn right into the plot because we are on the inside of Maud's narration. Waters has used both present and past tenses to tell this story. Sue, the sly cockney girl relates her part in the past. This seems to be an inversion of our expectations; wouldn't a girl like Sue employ the more casual tense of the raconteur? But the past is the knowing tense, and Sue knows, or thinks she knows, exactly what is going on. Maud's narration is told in the moment, as if without hindsight. Again there is an oddness to it; Maud is a refined girl employed to read to her uncle and surely more suited to the formality of the tense of literature.
This quote from
Waters's subterfuge is clever here because, as it turns out, neither girl is what we first think and so the tense they narrate their stories in works as a key to our overall understanding. But the action is almost subliminal because, if the writing is good enough, the reader, lulled into the voice and world of the novel, loses awareness of the tricks perpetrated by the author.
So one afternoon – it must have been the middle of May 1914 – I was sitting in the cake shop with one of my occasional partners...We had long ago finished playing our usual three games, and were just idly talking about this or that... but the conversation was drowsy, and as slow as the smoke from a cigarette burning down. At this point the door suddenly opens, and a pretty girl in a fulll-skirted dress is swept in on a gust of fresh air...
Find out about Elizabeth Fremantle's novels Queen's Gambit, about Katherine Parr, and Sisters of Treason, about the younger sisters of Lady Jane Grey, on ElizabethFremantle.com
I think a book came out with that title recently I think by Catherine Flynn, but that's not what this blog is about. It is, like a lot of books, about identity and local TV news and is more than a little muddled.
|Deedee Cuddihy's Glaswegian Yes Egg|
This goes out on the 14th, a few days before the momentous Scottish referendum. There as been so much said about this and I am in no way Scots, although there is a good chance that one of the plantation owners in the hills of Jamaica who gave his name (and no doubt his genes) to my family was. And I have no say in the vote and when all is said and done if I did, I certainly see the optimism and hope that comes with the power to vote in a high taxing, high spending socialist/green government along Icelandic lines.
There have been a lot of posts from English people who want the status quo, who feel Scotland shouldn't go, there's talk of family break ups... This does not resonate with me at all. I don't think Scots will be foreign, they'll still be British, there are not building a wall or using the Trident missiles to disengage Scotland from England and sail their new country down to the more salubrious Med.
So while it has been fascinating to see the excitement of the debate, I still feel that it is fundamentally nothing to do with me. What has got to do with me is being English. I have never - I don't think - typed I am English anywhere ever before. I don't go around saying 'I am English'. I think at the age of 52 I probably ought to start. I have always been happy with British, but English? It's not got the excitement of the Celtic fringe, we're not the downtrodden we're the ones (usually) doing the treading.
My previous get out was that I was a Londoner, and if I still lived there would see all kinds of advantages in (so long as we lost Boris) cutting loose from the rest of the UKIP addled country, slashing house prices and letting out the Shard and every other half empty ball swinging 'look at me' tower block as utterly affordable housing.
One of the worries that have been raised about Scottish nationhood is the possible rise in English Nationalism. English Nationalism for any of our overseas readers, unlike the Celtic sort has always been problematic. This is to do with history of course. In the UK family England has always been the bossy one, the one who ate all the pies and told the others what and how to do.
|Jim Murphy talks to Nos. From the BBC|
Scots Nats have had in the past, a reputation for anti Englishness, Welsh Nats too. Those pesky Welsh - they are just like the French and the Spanish - they will insist on speaking their own language in pubs and shops even when English people walk in....
English nationalism is probably best illustrated by the hearty lads and lasses of UKIP or the EDL or the now almost defunct BNP. These parties stated aims include an end to immigration and an end to 'Politically Correct Culture'.
I believe the difference in the two forms of nationalism is that the Scots and the Welsh sort are not - these days anyway - driven by fear in a way that English Nationalism seems to be. I am well aware I may be wrong, this is just my viewpoint.
I was always terrified of moving away from London. London is a bubble of comparative safety and normalcy for the brown skinned. In the past year and a half out of London enjoying fresh air and sea views, I have only experienced friendly enquiries about my provenance, in fact the most recent was from a woman who introduced herself as a Tanning Consultant. She informed me that my skin shade was the one her white clients aspired to most.
God I have got completely off the topic. Excuse me.
Right, so I love local news. In Hackney I loved the Gazette, and here in Hastings we have our precious Observer. There's also that bit on the end of the BBC News at Ten - The News Where You Are.
So the first spring I was here the one big thing I noticed was how often they referenced Calais. Calais with it's desperate hordes, just across the water, all waiting to jump on lorries, cars, trains, little boats, maybe soon, with global warming they will be walking across and taking our jobs. I am being facetious but the fear level was high. The way they have told this story must engender fear. Fear among these Kent and Sussex residents that they are suddenly going to be swamped. Fear among those of us whose melanin levels are higher than most.
And then this summer there has been the explosion in anger and desperation among the (mostly) men camped out desperate to find work and help their families back wherever they came from. Can we imagine (perhaps with the help of Gillian Cross's excellent book After Tomorrow) what these people have gone through to get here?
What am I saying here? You're thinking, does this woman want the floodgates open? She should go back to where she came from if she's going to mouth off? What exactly is her argument?
I suppose it is this. We all want safety, we all want hope, and we all want fairness. Please lets not talk up fear, and please lets emphasise similarities not differences. In whatever country we happen to be in,
by Marie-Louise Jensen
Den druknede bringes i landThe drowned man is brought ashore
Wikimedia Commons; no restriction.
I was lucky enough to be in Skagen this summer at the time of the Tuxen Exhibition at Skagens Museum. This ran from 3rd May to the 14th of September 2014 (its last day is in progress as I write this).
The exhibition is a gathering together of the work of artist Laurits Tuxen. In the picture above, Laurits Tuxen has painted a Skagen scene. In many ways this is typical of the Skagen paintings; its focus on everyday life and death in the isolated community at the time of the artist community in the late 1800s. The focus on fishing, fishermen and drowning was a frequent motif. It resembles paintings by Ancher, Krøyer and others; though it has a more photographic quality to it, to my mind. (Tuxen worked from photographs). I have grown up going to see the paintings and they were important to the writing of my first novel Between Two Seas.
But Copenhagen-born Tuxen was not a typical Skagen artist.
Like many of the Skagen artists, he lived and studied abroad for spells. He married a French wife and they had three children together. But he was commissioned to paint portraits of many of the European royal families. It must have been quite a career. It certainly surprised me to come face to face with paintings of the British Royal family (including Queen Victoria) and of a Buckingham Palace garden party in the exhibition.
What struck me most about his life was the tragedy. He lost his wife and his first three children to tuberculosis and meningitis. It must have been such torture, watching them fade and die one after another, until he was left alone. I felt heartbroken, reading his life story in the museum. It was heartening to see that he remarried and had more children (what courage!) and eventually settled in Skagen with his new family. Tuxen was instrumental in founding the Skagens Museum, where so many of the artists' works are preserved and displayed.
We had lovely answers to the "old pongs" competition! This month's winners are:
To get your copies of Herring Girl by Debbie Taylor, please email your land addresses to: Lamorna Elmer in publicity at OneWorld
Congratulations to you all!
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