Tag Archives: Asunder

Asunder’s Here!

ASU - Kindle, Optimal Pixel

Hi everyone!  I’ve been a bit anti-social lately, cyberworld-speaking, as I’ve been polishing up the final stages of my latest novel.  I can now say, “It’s here!!”  Woohoo!  Asunder, the third book in the Northing Trilogy, tells the story of Timothy and Anne Northing – how they meet and come together despite the opposition and dissimilarities of their backgrounds:  Anne comes from a wealthy family, never having known personal hardships, while Timothy’s life has been anything but easy; he’s worked his way up through the toils of the Royal Navy, and is a newly-minted lieutenant when he meets Anne.

The writing process of this novel has been an adventure!  I’ve read dozens of history books, keeping in mind as I wrote that I wasn’t writing a history book – the information I gleaned had to serve the plot and character development or it would land on the cutting room floor, so to speak.    I had certain things that needed to take place in this book, as they were already “history” as far as the other two books in the trilogy were concerned (though this is clearly the third book, chronologically it is the first, which means that the trilogy can be read circularly):  Someone has to go insane; another has to become a captain before he loses half of his leg; another loses wife and child in childbirth; Adriana and Mary have to be born, and the characters have to end up in the place where The Price of Freedom begins.  These milestones take place within the complexities of the relationship between Anne and Timothy as it unfolds, and within the daily duties and dynamics of Timothy’s life at sea aboard the HMS Lulworth.

I can’t describe the feelings yet of holding this book in my hot little hands!  It’s been a long labour of love, and I’ve sometimes been a spectator of my own characters as they’ve developed and ripened over the years that I’ve lived with them in my head.  Even though they’re fictional, I know them well – better than I know some real people!

If you or someone you know loves to read, just click on the image above or in the side panel to the right!  The books are all available in both Kindle and paperback formats.  Please pass the word to your friends and family!  And once you’ve read one of my books and enjoyed it, please put a positive review on Amazon; Indie publishers rely on good reviews to pass the word.  Let your (Facebook) friends know, too!  Thank you!

I’ll be taking a breather at Christmas; in the meantime, I’ve got a lot of bits to do, including adding x-ray to my Kindle versions, updating blurbs and information around cyberspace, and letting folks know.

Have a great weekend, and keep writing!

 

PS:  Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter!

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POV

POV is shorthand in the film industry for “point of view” – in that context, it has to do with not only the narrative context but also the camera angles and editing process.  Changing the POV can affect the way the audience – or readers – perceive a character, an event, or the overall atmosphere of a scene.

Mark Twain - History's Ink is Fluid PrejudiceRecently I was watching a history documentary series from BBC called, “British History’s Biggest Fibs”, with Lucy Worsley.  The basic point of the series is that history is subjective; whoever wins gets to name the battles, and shape future generations’ perceptions about events; the victor gets to smooth over their own weak points and play up their heroism for posterity.  PR and spinning a good yarn helped to shape how reigning kings were perceived and toppled, or usurpers could style themselves as “successors”.

When writing a novel, the POV can drastically change a scene either from the inside, or the outside, or both; by that I mean that either the scene itself changes “camera angles” to tell the story from a slightly different perspective, or that something within the scene shifts slightly, affecting the reader’s perceptions of characters or events in the scene.  For example:  I was reading through a particular scene in my current manuscript that I knew I wasn’t happy with, but couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was that bothered me aside from the outcome.  The scene involved an unjust flogging aboard a Royal Navy ship.  The officer on duty was forced by the captain to either flog the innocent man or be punished worse in his stead.  The original scene played out with the officer carrying out the punishment unwillingly but obediently.  The scene’s purpose is to show the gradually decaying grip on reality in a captain going insane; I wanted a stronger contrast, and so I tweaked the dialogue, which changed the outcome:  The officer refuses to punish the innocent man and takes the punishment on himself.  This outcome builds far more tension among the crew, gives grounds for retribution against the true instigator (a snivelling King John’s man of a junior officer), and contrasts the honourable dealings of the officer on duty against the captain’s failing sense of right and wrong.  By shifting the scene slightly, I take the reader and myself down a much steeper path.

POV - Screenshot Marvel's Avenger'sIn this illustration from Marvel’s Avengers film series, the camera angle chosen gives much more of an adrenaline rush than, say, if you were passively watching from off to the side; the fact that the arrow’s flying straight at you gives the scene that extra “kick”.

If you find yourself staring at one of your scenes – or even an entire premise of your story – that you’re not satisfied with, trying shifting the POV (sometimes it helps me to refer to it as the “camera angle”).  Put your inner eye’s camera in a different position in the scene, and see if that unlocks the key to improving that scene, the story arc or a character’s arc.  Keep writing!

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History Undusted: The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy

L0014984 H. Glasse's "Art of cookery": lady and her maidThe Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy was written in 1747 by Hannah Glasse (1708-1770) and played a dominant role in shaping the practices of domestic cooks in England and the American colonies for over one hundred years.  It is an excellent reference for historical writers, reenactors, and living museums.  Hannah wrote mostly for the “lower sort” as she called them, domestic servants who might not have had much exposure to various cooking techniques or ingredients before entering the service of a larger household.  She wrote it in a simple language, and can come across at times quite condescending; her writing style, spelling variations (including capitalisation which was much like German, with all nouns capitalised), and punctuation are in themselves a fascinating look at the standard of printing and editing, and what was most likely “acceptable English” of the times (I dread to think what future generations might assume is the “standard” of our own times, based on the slipshod average of what is unleashed online…!).  I’ve tried to leave Hannah’s work as-is, though sometimes the auto-correct sneaks by even the most diligent.

In my current manuscript, the third book in The Northing Trilogy, Asunder, my heroine goes from being of the upper class to marrying a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, disobliging her family and being cut off by the father.  Her mother sends her Hannah Glasse’s book, and she writes a journal entry regarding her use of it and trying to decipher just what is meant by instructions that, even with the attempt at instructing servants new to the kitchen, assumes a great deal of pre-knowledge (e.g. “first skin the meat and take off all the fat” or “chicken, which must be very nicely picked and clean“).

She had a very clear opinion as to what was right and wrong, how a thing was to be prepared and “there is no other way to do it right.”  Many of the “receipts” (recipes) are still known, such as Hasty Pudding or Yorkshire pudding, while others would be unthinkable – whole Woodcocks, Ortolans and snipes (with nothing removed), or how to prepare meat when it’s begun to stink.  They served every part of the animal, from entrails neatly presented to split skulls (with specific directions for how to lay the tongue most becomingly…).  There were a surprising variety of spices, herbs and ingredients used, and which she assumed every household would have on hand, such as China root, balsam of Tolu, and liquorice; she even included a few Indian curry recipes, reflecting the East Indian connections.   She minced no words on what she thought of extravagant (read wasteful) French cooking habits, and her disdain was evident in numerous passages.  Her recipes were by no means all original; many were common sense, but many were also shamelessly plagiarised from other published works (perhaps we should be grateful for that now, as otherwise they might have been lost to the mists of time!).  There are recipes of how to certainly avoid the plague, how a ship’s captain could have food prepared for long voyages, and recipes for medicinal purposes.

Not all homes had ovens, and in one recipe it is worded “send it to the oven… when it comes home” – this would imply that it was sent to the village bakery, and brought home to finish off once it had been sent away to be baked.  Because of that limitation, many recipes are for boiling; they seemed to boil the living daylights out of meat, vegetables, or anything else that they could put in a pot.

It is a fascinating historical document, reference work and recipe source (many, purely for the pleasure of grossing out your kids or guests) for those interested; but for those not interested, it would be a torture for me to post hideously long blogs on the topic.  The book can be found nowadays on Amazon in paperback, or online in PDF format. Below, I’ll share the original “pre-index” image, and her own personal note “To The Reader”, which in and of itself is entertaining, informative and historical.  She minces no words on her disdain for the French, so to my French readers, I ask that they please take it on the chin with a pinch of salt and a wink!

Hannah Glasse Book

Hannah Glasse’s “To the Reader.”

“I Believe I have attempted a branch of Cookery, which nobody has yet thought worth their while to write upon:  but as I have both seen, and found, by experienced, that the generality of servants are greatly wanting in that point, therefore I have taken upon me to instruct them in the best manner I am capable; and, I dare say, that every servant who can but read will be capable of making a tolerable good cook, and those who have the least notion of Cookery cannot miss of being very good ones.

“If I have not wrote in the high polite style, I hope I shall be forgiven; for my intention is to instruct the lower sort, and therefore must treat them in their own way.  For example:  when I bid them lard a fowl, if I should bid them lard with large lardoons, they would not know what I meant; but when I say they must lard with little pieces of bacon, they know what I mean.  So, in many other things in Cookery, the great cooks have such a high way of expressing themselves, that the poor girls are at a loss to know what they mean:  and in all Receipt Books yet printed, there are such an odd jumble of things as would quite spoil a good dish; and indeed some things so extravagant, that it would be almost a shame to make use of them, when a dish can be made full as good, or better, without them.  For example:  when you entertain ten or twelve people, you shall use for a cullis, a leg of veal and a ham, which, with the other ingredients, makes it very expensive, and all this only to mix with other sauce.  And again, the essence of ham for sauce to on dish; when I will prove it, for about three shillings I will make as rich and high a sauce as all that will be, when done.  For example:

“Take a large deep stew-pan, half a pound of bacon, fat and lean together, cut the fat and lay it over the bottom of the pan; then take a pound of veal, cut it into thin slices, beat it well with the back of a knife, lay it all over the bacon; then have six-penny worth of the coarse lean part of the beef cut thin and well beat, lay a layer of it all over, with some carrot, then the lean of the bacon cut thin and laid over that:  then cut two onions and strew over, a bundle of sweet-herbs, four or five blades of mace, six or seven cloves, a spoonful of whole pepper, black and white together, half a nutmeg beat, a pigeon beat all to pieces, lay that all over, half an ounce of truffles and morels, then the rest of your beef, a good crust of bread toasted very brown and dry on both sides:  you may add an old cock beat to pieces; cover it close, and let it stand over a slow fire two or three minutes, then pour on boiling water enough to fill the pan, cover it close, and let it stew till it is as rich as you would have it, and then strain off all that sauce.  Put all your ingredients together again, fill the pan with boiling water, put in a fresh onions, a blade of mace, and a piece of carrot; cover it close, and let it stew till it is as strong as you want it.  This will be full as good as the essence of ham for all sorts of fowls, or indeed most made-dishes, mixed with a glass of wine, and two or three spoonfuls of catchup.  When your first gravy is cool, skim off all the fat, and keep it for use. – This falls far short of the expense of a leg of veal and ham, and answers every purpose you want.

“If you go to market, the ingredients will not come to above half a crown, or for about eighteen-pence you may make as much good gravy as will serve twenty people.

“Take twelve-penny worth of coarse lean beef, which will be six or seven pounds, cut it all to pieces, flour it well, take a quarter of a pound of good butter, put it into a little pot or large deep stew-pan, and put in your beef:  keep stirring it, and when it begins to look a little brown, pour in a pint of boiling water; stir it all together, put in a large onion, a bundle of sweet herbs, two or three blades of made, five or six cloves, a spoonful of whole pepper, a crust of bread toasted, and a piece of carrot; then pour in four or five quarts of water, stir all together, cover close, and let it stew till it is as rich as you would have it; when enough, strain it off, mix it with two or three spoonfuls of catchup, and half a pint of white wine; then put all the ingredients together again, and put in two quarts of boiling water, cover it close, and let it boil till there is about a pint; strain it off well, add it to the first, and give it a boil together.  This will make a great deal of rich good gravy.

“You may leave out the wine, according to what use you want it for; so that really one might have a genteel entertainment, for the price the sauce of one dish comes to:  but if gentlemen will have French cooks, they must pay for French tricks.

“A Frenchman in his own country will dress a fine dinner of twenty dishes, and all genteel and pretty, for the expense he will put an English lord to for dressing one dish.  But then there is the little petty profit.  I have heard of a cook that used six pounds of butter to fry twelve eggs; when everybody knows (that understands cooking) that half a pound is full enough, or more than need be used; but then it would not be French.  So much is the blind folly of this age, that they would rather be imposed on by a French booby, than give encouragement to a good English cook!

“I doubt I shall not gain the esteem of those gentlemen; however, let that be as it will, it little concerns me; but should I be so happy as to gain the good opinion of my own sex, I desire no more; that will be a full recompence for all my trouble; and I only beg the favour of every lade to read my Book throughout before they censure me, and then I flatter myself I shall have their approbation.

“I shall not take upon me to meddle in the physical way farther than two receipts, which will be of use to the public in general: one is for the bit of a mad dog: and the other, if a man would be near where the plague is, he shall be in no danger; which, if made use of, would be found of very great service to those who go abroad.

“Nor shall I take upon me to direct a lady in the economy of her family, for every mistress does, or at least ought to know, what is most proper to be done there; therefore I shall not fill my Book with a deal of nonsense of that kind, which I am very well assured none will have regard to.

“I have indeed given some of my dishes French names to distinguish them, because they are known by those names:  and where there is a great variety of dishes and a large table to cover, so there must be a variety of names for them; and it matters not whether they be called by a French, Dutch or English name, so they are good, and done with as little expence as the dish will allow of.

“I shall say no more, only hope my Book will answer the ends I intend it for; which is to improve the servants, and save the ladies a great deal of trouble.”

Originally posted on History Undusted, 28 May 2013

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A Little Light Reading… Not

I will admit that I have quite odd tastes in reading, especially for a woman; I tend toward history, nautical, and obscure or long-forgotten books.  In writing my current manuscript, which is Asunder, the third book in the Northing Trilogy, I’ve read more than a fair share of military history books, specifically covering the 18th century of the Royal Navy.  Once, on a research trip to London, I searched out a bookstore that specializes in military and transport books, even reputed to have remainders; I don’t think they’d seen a woman in the shop in years (who’d entered intentionally) by the looks I got; one of the men even said, “The beauty shop’s two doors down, love.”  When I asked if they had the out-of-print autobiography by William Spavens, a unique lower deck view of the 18th century navy, they froze as if they hadn’t heard me correctly.  The question must have been laced with catnip, because after that I had the entire shop of men eating out of my hand, and I spent nearly two hours in there being helped to the finest pick of naval history books (including the autobiography I was after!).  Sadly, the last time I was there the shop was gone, but I’ve since found the largest used book shop in London, Skoob, which is highly dangerous for a bibliophile with a private library…!

A few of the books I’ve read in the course of research for Asunder are fairly gory, like Medicine Under Sail (I’d bet my bottom dollar that the screen writers for “Master and Commander“, with Russell Crowe, read that book as they wrote the script) and “Poxed & Scurvied” – the story of sickness and health at sea, while others have been like reading a thriller, such as “The Seven Years War” by Rupert Furneaux  or “A Sailor of King George” by Captain Frederick Hoffman.

I devour history books like other people devour pulp fiction; but especially during the first draft of the book, I had to continually keep in mind that I was writing historical fiction, not a history book; the details that I included had to serve the plot and character development, and not visa versa.  Only a fraction of what I learned has gone into the book; but those rich details give salt to the waves, creaks to the ship, and whip to the rope (I’ve also spent hours aboard the Cutty Sark “filling in the blanks” of a docked ship, so to speak, but that’s another story).  I could have peppered the dialogue with so much naval slang you wouldn’t have been able to swing a cat (naval slang, by the way), but if readers were to get ripped out of the story trying to figure things out, then I would have missed the mark.

So, the next time you sit down for a little light reading, you might want to consider one of the books linked above; then again, if you don’t want gory dreams, rather go with “The Price of Freedom“, or “Redemption“, or “The Cardinal, Part One or Part Two“…  and enjoy!

third-rate-ship-of-the-line-diagram

One of my library posters

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Novels Worth Reading

As a novel writer, I’m first and foremost a reader; I love to read, I love to buy books, smell them, feel them, upload them… any form is fine by me.  I want the books I read to be witty, intelligent, and well developed in terms of plots, characters and environments.

Kitchen Sink Realism

Everyone has different tastes – that’s why there are so many different genres; but for me personally, there’s also a list of things I don’t want in a novel:  I don’t want to be confronted with messy lives dealing with self-inflicted problem after problem; I don’t want tragic or sad or bitter endings; I don’t want to be confronted with the grit, grime, blood and gore of dysfunctional lives that end up learning nothing, making no character arcs, and end up in the mud by the end of the tale.   This genre description actually has a name:  Kitchen Sink Realism.  It was a cultural movement in Britain back in the ‘50s and ‘60s that was portrayed in films, books, plays, and art – the grit, grime, anger, disillusionment and harsh realities of realistic social scenarios.  It’s what might also be referred to as postmodernism.  My personal response to this kind of novel is, “If I wanted that kind of realistic tension, I could just go hang out at the nearest bar.”

A Tough Nut

I once had an English student, and our focus was medical English in preparation for their upcoming medical exams (two nurses came together for semi-private tutoring).  As part of the lesson we needed to work on basic conversational skills and sentence structures, and I find that the best way to bring in a wide variety of scenarios is usually to do a type of role play – nothing embarrassing, but each person is given a character to put themselves into a situation that they might not normally deal with:  They may be a chef, or a secretary, or a customer in a hardware store.  This particular student, when asked what kinds of books she read, said, “history and autobiographies or biographies”.  When asked what novels she read, she said she found such things ridiculous and a complete waste of time (this was back before I became an author!); she categorically refused to even try to put herself into someone else’s shoes for the scenarios.  My impression of her as a person was that she was narrow-minded, knew it, and was proud of that fact.  She was a hard character, and all the time I knew her or met her afterwards, I never saw a soft side emerge, either toward herself or toward others; I often found myself wondering why she’d gotten into the nursing profession in the first place – as a patient, I wouldn’t necessarily want her working on my ward…  A line from the novel I’m currently writing (Asunder, the third book in the Northing Trilogy) would have fit her life too:  “he has never had the propensity for engendering compassion; I pray he never needs it, as he never gives it.”  An epic love story might do her a world of good.

What’s Worth Reading

What I want when I read a book is to be transported into another life, whether that’s in the past, present or future, on this earth, or on another planet, or in another dimension; I want to be entertained, made thoughtful, learn something about the world around me, and learn something about myself.  Ideally, I will come away from the experience having been changed, in even a small way.  I want to feel connected; somewhere out there is a person I can relate to – whether it be the author, or the character, or other readers that appreciate the same books.

Aside from places and times that are genre-specific, such as science fiction and alien planets in the future, or London in the 18th century, all of the elements of what I like in novels are universal.  Humans the world over, in every century, want to feel connected; to feel that they can relate to something someone else is going through; even to have parts of their own life’s experiences explained through someone else’s perspectives in similar circumstances.  Above all else, at the heart of every good novel – regardless of the genre – is a story of love; that is the ultimate connection between characters.  It may be a child finding the love of a family after being shoved through the knocks of life too much for their age; it may be the hero or heroine finding love; it may be a widow or widower finding love again, or reuniting with true loves; it may be someone coming to the point in their life that they accept and love themselves just the way they are.

On to You!

When you read novels, what is it you’re looking for?  I would love to hear about it – please comment below, even if it’s just a few key words!

novel-colin-firth

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The Thorny Issue of Horns

As an author and writer, I do a LOT of research.  I love history particularly, but then I could say the same thing about the topics of geology, astronomy, archaeology, science and technology, crafting, drawing, botany, and a dozen others.  As I apply my studies to my work, I am sometimes faced with the issue of horns – Viking helmet horns.

Real Viking Helmet

 

Accurate Viking helmet, reproduction.  Photo credit, Pinterest, unknown

 

While everyone seems to accept as a historically proven fact that Viking helmets had horns, the actual fact of the matter is that they didn’t.  While there were many horned helmets dating to before the rise of the Norse powers of Sweden, Norway and Denmark, most, if not all, were for religious or ceremonial purposes.  However, if I write a description of a Norse helmet and leave off the horns, someone will inevitably point it out.

Recently I spent a couple hours on Skype with one of my Beta readers for my current project, the third book in the Northing Trilogy (set in 18th century England).  Several of her comments were based on her knowledge of the 19th century as portrayed by Georgette Heyer, while others were based on her lack of historical knowledge that I, as the author, have amassed over time.  While some of that knowledge needs to seep into my writing to help the reader along, I have to continually remind myself (especially with this particular book in the trilogy, as it is centred around the Royal Navy) that I am not writing a history book but a novel, and anything I include needs to support the plot – the plot should never be forced to support a history lesson.  So it is that questions arose as to the behaviour and manners of the children of the time.

In any time period up until the mid-20th century, children in western societies matured far sooner than their modern counterparts, both out of necessity and out of cultural understanding of their roles in society.  Many families were dependent on the contribution made by the children in their household, whether it was housework, factory work, or working on the streets as beggars, shoe shiners, chimney sweeps, street sweepers, selling newspapers, or any other job they could earn money with (this is still true in many poorer countries of the world today).

If they came from a wealthy family, children were educated, but as to what extent and to which form it took very much depended on their particular circumstances:  They were educated either at home by tutors, or sent away to a boarding school.  Leaving school might be anywhere between ten and twenty; Jane Austen finished her formal education at the age of 10 or 11, whereas Charlotte Brontë’s character Jane Eyre left school at 18.  Boys who were second sons were often educated (after their basic education in either a college or at home) toward the military or toward a life as a minister (if their families held a high status in society, they might be trained toward politics; first-born sons, heirs, were rarely sent to the military due to the inherent dangers).

Midshipman Henry William Baynton, aged 13 -1780 - Wikipedia.jpg

Henry William Baynton, aged 13 years, 6 months, midshipman on the Cleopatra.  Photo Credit, Wikipedia.

If their fathers could afford to do so, these younger sons were often bought commissions in the military so that they would start off their career with some smidgen of position, such as a midshipman in the Royal Navy; the younger they entered, the sooner they could rise through the ranks, and thus it was not uncommon for lads of 7 or 8 to enter the navy.  Aboard ship they were trained in various skills, which included not only practical skills to do with the day-to-day running of the ship, but how to read navigational charts and how to use instruments such as sextants. How fast or slow they rose to higher ranks thereafter depended on their skills, intelligence, connections, and luck.

If poor children were either abandoned or given to workhouse orphanages because their families could not afford to keep them alive, they were also trained:  The girls were trained toward becoming servants (paying back society for the privilege of being alive), and the boys were trained for a life in the military (ditto).  They were taught to read using the Bible, and were expected to live by its principles.  Unfortunately, religion was often used as a guise for abuse and heavy-handed tyranny, but as the characters in Jane Eyre portrayed, some were true Christians in their behaviour toward her, such as her friend Helen, or the kind apothecary.  If the girls were going to become governesses, they would also be trained in more refined accomplishments such as French, drawing, needlework, history, etc.

All of this is to say that, were I to include all of this kind of information in a novel (and believe me, there’s a lot more where that came from!), it would get boring rather quickly.  And so I need to pick and choose what is used in the organic flow of the plot and character development that both serves those elements and also helps inform the reader; sometimes it’s a tricky balance.  So when the 11-year-old boy acts far more mature than a modern boy, unless the reader is aware of the historical context, I will inevitably get feedback to that effect.  Sometimes I can help their understanding by including e.g. the subjects he might be learning with his tutor, such as French, sciences, or elocution, but more than that might drag the story into the realm of a history lesson.

There are many modern myths, like the Viking horns, that people have accepted as historically accurate, when in fact they’re not.  One of my pet peeves is Christmas films that inevitably portray three kings showing up at the manger along with the shepherds in Bethlehem.  I won’t go into that here – if you’re interested in the historical details, read my article on History Undusted, here.  Other urban legends include:  We only use 10% of our brains; the full moon affects our behaviour; lightning never strikes the same place twice; cracking your knuckles gives you arthritis, and antibiotics kill viruses.  If I rankled any feathers there, or you said to yourself, “But that one is actually true,” then I would suggest you do your own research on the issue… I’ve got my plate full at the moment with the 18th century.

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