Tag Archives: London

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

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under Articles, History, Military History, Musings, Nuts & Bolts, Research

Odd Jobs #14: Virtual Assistants to Worm Farmers

This is the last of my series of odd jobs; along the way, there have been some amazing, some disgusting, and some downright puzzling ones.  Somewhere out there, beneath the deep blue sky, there’s someone thinking, “Why did I take this job, again?”  Having said that, every job has some kind of perk; it’s just that with some jobs, you have to dig into the muck to find it.

martin-luthers-haus-postille

A friend of mine had a grandfather who was a rubbish collector back in the 1950s here in Switzerland; times were slim for the family, and he used to bring home things he thought were interesting, useful, or perhaps valuable that he’d found in the rubbish.  One of those things he’d brought home was a large tome, with gilt embossing and brass knobs on the pictorial cover board (these “feet” are at the four corners, and were used to support the book cover and protect it from wearing on the gold leaf when it sat on the wooden pulpit), and deep, plain embossing on the back board.  That someone would throw it away rather than giving it to a charity is beyond me.  Be that as it may, it was discovered to be Dr. Martin Luther’s Haus-Postille (sermons), with illustrated lithograph engravings throughout, by W. Walther, from Dresden, dated from 1890.  It was passed down through the family to my friend, and she had no use for it; she knows I collect books (including antique books) and have a library, and thus it has now come to me.  It is in excellent condition, and is being well looked after now, despite its close call in the rubbish!  [The image does not do justice to the brilliant golden gilt that still shines clearly on my copy, even after all these years…]

So, on with the final lineup of odd jobs!  The first and last links take you to another list of odd jobs, which includes the two here.  A couple of the jobs seem a bit dangerous to me – either flying off the side of a water slide that doesn’t quite meet safety standards yet, or dangling by a rope off of a glass building… if I had to choose I’d take the water rather than London pavement as a place to land.  Safer, but not necessarily easier, is the job of a voice-over artist; dubbing languages for films, or filling in the voices for rough tracks in animated films, or even – and I find this particularly unethical, as a singer myself – to be paid to replace a recording artist’s voice, such as the scandal involving Milli Vanilli, which destroyed their careers.  Enjoy browsing the final list; perhaps in the future at some point I’ll bring along another addition or two.

  • Virtual Assistant
  • Virtual Head Hunter
  • Voice-Over Artists
  • Water Slide Tester
  • Wax Figure Sculptor: Mold wax to create figures, often for, but not limited to, the human form. Figures are often made in the likeness of people who have achieved historical or celebrity recognition.
  • Wig Maker: Put simply, they make wigs, but the process is anything but simple. First, wig makers create a plastic model of the wearer’s head and hairline, and then they transfer the mold onto a padded canvas similar to the client’s general head size, covering it with wig lace. Using a needle, they knot and pull thousands of hairs, one by one, through the mesh cap. Once all the hairs are in place, the wig is styled to the wearer’s preference.
  • Window cleaner for the Gherkin (London): It takes a team of 9 cleaners 10 days to complete the task, as the building stands 180 metres tall and consists of 7,429 panes of glass.
  • Worm Farmer

14 Comments

Filed under Articles, Images, Lists, Musings, Research

The Third Place

We humans are social beings; we crave, in varying degrees and in varying times, social interaction.  For extroverts that comes more frequently than for introverts; but at some point in time we all want to connect.  We each have what are known as physical “places” in our lives:  The first place is the private home; the second is often either the workplace or school; the third place is an environment in which we feel comfortable, “at home”, or refreshed in one way or another.  Some examples of third places are libraries, the barber’s or hair salon, Starbucks, pubs, public recreational centres, and restaurants that don’t breathe down your neck to order or clear your table.  The first two places are where we go because we need to, but the third is where we go because we choose to.

Bloomsbury Coffee House, London

Bloomsbury Coffee House, London; image credit – TripAdvisor.co.uk

Companies like Starbucks, or television shows like “Cheers” capitalize on this craving; they create an environment which feels like a home away from home, a place to slow down, to rest awhile, to read or write or study, and they attract people in droves.  In this cyber age we also have virtual places:  Facebook is the virtual equivalent to a pub, where people hang out and share their lives while friends are free to share and receive to whatever degree that suits them; in a way, it is essentially selfish:  We all have those friends who bask in the sunny parts of our lives, but shy away from our shadows; cyber platforms such as Facebook merely amplify that tendency.  Nevertheless, it provides a platform to connect with others with whom physical contact may be impossible; I have family abroad and friends in every time zone, and keeping up with them would be impossible without Skype and Facebook.

My third place varies:  We have a large flat with peaceful neighbours, so this introvert doesn’t necessarily need a third place on a regular basis; we have a library in our home, where I usually write, though I sometimes settle on our upstairs couch to work as well (just for a change).  When I go out, I go to a local restaurant during its slow hours, and I can unpack my laptop and work a few hours without a sideways glance from the personnel.  My favourite third place is actually in London; located in the cellar of the hotel (St. Athens Hotel, on Tavistock Place) I usually stay in while I’m there, Bloomsbury Coffee House is a friendly pocket-sized place with about twenty tables, and they are usually filled with students on laptops in work groups, and lone readers, writers and businessmen out for quiet breaks.  It’s dangerously close to (just around the corner from) London’s largest second-hand book store, Skoob Books.  The combination is irresistible.

Where is your favourite home-away-from-home place?  Where can you stretch your wings, sit back and relax, people-watch, read, write or simply contemplate the deeper things of life?  Let us know in the comments below, and inspire others with your ideas!

7 Comments

Filed under Articles, Musings

Thoughts From Gibraltar and London

I just returned from a research trip a week ago; after the dust of “coming home” has settled, it’s time to sit down and get to work in earnest on my next novel.  I’m working on the third book in my 18th century historical trilogy, and to be honest, up until this trip I would have rather been working on a different manuscript!  My time away was research into the major section of the book which takes place in the Royal Navy aboard a ship of the line.  Part of the reason I think I’ve had “writer’s block” on this manuscript is that the military aspect of the plot is not my favourite topic to delve into from a writing aspect – I love reading about it, but condensing that down into dialogue and prose is not my forté.  But I know myself:  As with anything, if it’s not my strength I’ll work at it and hone it until it is.

The Cutty Sark 1

The Cutty Sark

A very important thing for me to remember in the midst of the research is that I’m not writing a maritime history book, but a novel; I’ve got to take the research, sift it for the elements that support my plot and leave the rest of the information aside as “nice to know”.  I’ve bought, read and taken notes on dozens of history books focused on the Royal Navy; I spent a day taking in impressions aboard the Cutty Sark (one of the fastest clippers from the days of Sail, on the right), and talking to curators both there and in the Maritime Museum, as well as the British Museum; I spent time on a clipper on the Thames, taking in the sights, sounds, smells, salt spray and tastes of the river.   My hotel was literally just round the corner from the largest used book shop in London (Skoob Books)… a very dangerous thing.  Trust me.  I found some great gems, from a history book on the Seven Years War (exactly in my time period), to a portrait collection of 18th century fashions – invaluable visual aids, with explanations of things like mob caps, waistcoats, etc.  If I’d had more time (and more room in my carry-on-sized luggage), I still would have had to leave hundreds of great books behind…!

Gibraltar - Barbary macaque 2

A Barbary Ape, with Spain in the distance.

Gibraltar itself was a special time:  I was there with my husband, who then took off for a 10-day bike ride toward Madrid on the day I flew to London.  Gibraltar was vitally important as a British Naval base for centuries, and you literally cannot walk down any street without being reminded of its military past:  Atop the Rock are the ruins of fortifications; St Michael’s cave was a strategic hideout; in the town are cannons everywhere; ramparts are now part of walled parks, and everywhere there are military street names, town square names, and military ships in the harbour; Spain is a spit away, and Morocco is visible even on a foggy day; it is literally the gateway to the Mediterranean.  Taking a cable car to the top of the Rock you’ll find Barbary Macaque (aka Barbary Apes, though they are tailless monkeys) everywhere; they were originally brought from Africa in the 18th century by British sailors.  A few of them escaped and set up house on the rocky slopes above the town, and now they run the show; tourists are lower down in the pecking order than they are, and if they get half a blink they’ll steal your food if you’re silly enough to take it outside.  They usually stay up on the Rock, but it’s still not wise to leave your hotel window open…

Gibraltar: The War Memorial with a Russian cannon in the foreground.

Gibraltar: The War Memorial with a Russian cannon in the foreground.

So now that I’m back, I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into this new manuscript!  Sometimes it just helps to get away, get new impressions, percolate ideas, and become inspired.  If you’re stuck on something you’re writing, get out!  Go on a research trip, or if you can’t afford it time- or money-wise, then get out to a park, or somewhere different for a change; take your notebook, and let your mind wander.  You’ll find a way through the block!

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, History, Research, Writing Exercise