Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Tagging and Stuff

Rosalie tagged me, so this post is in the tradition of passing it on to get other author blogs and websites visited - Working from Rosalie’s questions, below are six things about me:

1. I don’t want to be a grandma – I am only twenty five inside my head and don’t anticipate being any older, despite what the mirror and my birth certificate say. But I suppose, like motherhood – you don’t know how it changes you until it happens.
2. Family is the most important thing in life – as long as they don’t touch my laptop- trash my writing or make jokes along the lines of: ‘Mum’s losing it, she’s got her head in that computer again!’ – then I daydream about divorcing them all and living on an island somewhere.
3. I have three wip’s and would like to finish at least one this year and discipline myself to stop tweaking them and move on.
4. We recently stayed in Cheshire, where there is some beautiful countryside and scenic walks Also, the Peak District and the Lake District are both within easy access.
There, I’ve acknowledged it – now leave me alone on the sofa by the fire with my laptop - hiking boots? No, DH I’m not buying any – if you want to go tramping over the hills in the drizzle – get a Labrador!
5. My ambition is to write full time – Although I’m supposed to be a working wife and housewife, actually I’m pretty rubbish at both and spend most of my time writing – I just lie about everything else!
6. My other ambition is to see my books on the shelves of Waterstones, Ottakar’s, Borders and WH Smith.

Here are my six tags:

Ginger Simpson – I know I have done her before, but you really shouldn’t miss her blog for more than a week, it’s hilarious.

Margaret Tanner – Because I know she is promoting her Novel ‘An English Rose’ and if this brings more people to her site that would be great

Lisa Yarde – Because she’s been with me from the beginning of my writing career and I would never have got this far without her continuing help and encouragement – and she’s written a wonderful book which is just waiting to be launched on the world

Mirella Patzer
– This lady is not only a great writer and editor, but also the most prolific blogger and has some really great ones out there – see them all, especially the Women and History Blog and Historical Novel Reviews

Phyllis Marie Campbell – Another author with a great personality and wicked sense of humour who writes lovely romances.

Gemini Sasson – An extremely talented author of Medieval Historical Fiction, she has written a lovely story about Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer - whom I am convinced will be published very soon – and I got to read her work first!

Rosalie Skinner - And of course the lady who tagged me in the first place:

Monday, 29 September 2008

Little Moreton Hall

I managed to get my 'history fix' this weekend and visited this gorgeous Tudor manor house near Congleton.
The name Moreton derives from Saxon and Norse words meaning 'marshland' and 'farmland'. The estate began as a humble Saxon farmstead and prospered under Edward the Confessor but suffered decline in the rule of William the Conqueror. By the time of the Domesday Book the worth of the holding had dropped to a tenth of its former value.
In 1216, Lettice de Moreton married Sir Gralam de Lostock, whose family held the lands at Little Moreton near Congleton. After a few generations, the family adopted the name de Moreton, and Sir Richard de Moreton, a local landlord and tax collector, began construction of a house at Little Moreton at around 1450, of which the east wing still survives.

Sir Richard appears to have been a fiery, unpredictable character and was bound over 'to keep the King's peace', surety being provided by a number of neighbours. Built from the traditional materials of oak and wattle, the original wood would have been unfinished and allowed to weather to a pale silver colour. Today, some restored timbers have been left in this condition to give visitors the chance to picture the house as it would have looked.
Work was carried on during the reigns of Henry VII and Elizabeth with the addition of Elizabethan fireplaces, but the building retains its medieval feel.
The building was extended and improved by William Moreton II (d. 1563). It was during his lifetime that the east wing of the building was rebuilt and extended by the addition of a Withdrawing Room and Chapel. Also, the five-sided bay windows were added by the carpenter, Richard Dale, who inscribed his name on the frieze.

"God is Al in Al Thing: This windous whire made by William Moreton in the yeare of Oure Lorde MDLIX [1559]
Richard Dale Carpeder made thies windous by the grac of God."

The house was further extended by William's son John (d. 1598) who had the south wing built housing a gatehouse with accommodation for guests above and a 68 ft Long Gallery added on top. During the freezing winters, the family would use this long hall for exercise when they couldn’t go outside. The Kitchen and Servants' Quarters were added in the early seventeenth century.

The weight of the Long Gallery that has created the characteristic irregular shape of the building that makes the south wing tilt. The tiles are made from grit stone flags and weigh 200 tons in total.
There is an original 'guarderobe', a tny room contains a bench with a hole in which opens into the moat three stories down.
The decline of the Moreton family came during the Civil War (1649-1654) who were staunch Royalists. With the decline of the family came the decline of the building. The family could never face the cost of maintaining the building and in the 18th century they eventually decided to live elsewhere. Following the trend at that time the property was placed in the hands of tenant farmers.
Towards the end of the 19th century Miss Elizabeth Moreton financed the restoration of the building although it was never again occupied by the Moreton family.
During restoration work, the workers discovered an original oak dining table beneath rubble in the house. It has been put back in the bay window at the front, and is the only original piece of furniture from the house to survive.

The knot garden has been restored to the way it would have looked in the house’s heyday and Moreton hall was used as the background of Granada TV's adaptation of Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders in 1996.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Birthdays, Who Needs Them?

DH left for London at 5.30 am and returned after midnight, so he handed me his card as he was about to leave. I opened the envelope in the half-dark of a September dawn, sleepy-eyed and yawning, to be greeted with an excruciatingly loud electronic fanfare. A musical birthday card! - I hadn't intended getting up, but I was by then!
If I have to have a birthday, I may as well choose my own present so I get something I really want, so I canvassed the family and asked for a Sony E-Book Reader.
As Ginger S said in a recent group post, we need to read more small press novels and promote the authors and their work.
There was a certain amount of resistance to this request, most of it in the form of, 'Do you really think we're going to get something that means you spend even more time staring at a screen?'
But they caved eventually! I'm not a pretty sight when I throw in the ,'I-don't-ask-for-much-do-I?'card.
I'm not really a gadget person, the newest mobile phones leave me cold - But I've looked forward to this one coming on the market since it was advertised a year ago. Typical of Sony, they launched the product and underestimated the demand, so the darned things aren't easy to get hold of.
I don't like the look of the Kindle, not all publishers make their electronic books compatible, and the Iliad is very expensive, so I'll give this one a try, when it finally arrives - and treat myself to the case with the built in light so I can read without disturbing anyone.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Superwoman? Not In This Lifetime!

Are you in awe of these superwomen writers who run a home, look after four children, hold down a part time job, participate in the PTA, five charity committees and find time to write a novel a year?
Well to make everyone else feel better - here's a window into my life!

7.50 am - Stagger out of bed when I hear my better half moving about
7.55am - Run bath and sink down into hot water and listen to the wind rattling the window frame outside – well this is London in winter.
8.05 am - Grab the shampoo bottle and finding it empty, hurl it in the general direction of the waste paper basket. It misses and hits the floor and rolls behind the loo.
Promptly forget it’s even there until Christmas.
8.10 am - Get out of the bath with still dirty hair, slap on some moisturiser and drag on a pair of jeans and a jumper.
8.12 am - Take them off again and don underwear! Then put the jeans and jumper back on.
8.15 am - Make coffee for husband and myself and stagger back upstairs to home office.
8.25 am – Switch on the pc. Realise I didn’t shut it down last night and have just turned it off, so have to wait for it to boot up again!
8.30 am - Husband leaves for office and meetings, at which point I promise myself I’ll only spend half an hour catching up with my e-mails.
10.00 am - Make more coffee.
10.10 am - Complete the critique I was doing last night, to find I haven’t saved the file when I shut down the computer and have to begin again.
11.00 am - Two critiques later I scan the critique groups and find two for me.
12.00 pm - Read through them and re-work wonky passages in my manuscript and send off chatty e-mails thanking my critique partners.
12.30pm - Throw a muffin in the toaster, smear cream cheese and blackcurrant jam on it – main course and dessert all in one. Make another coffee and go back upstairs.
1.00 - Read three chapters of my galley for typos, then make myself stop in case I get word blind and miss some.
1.45 pm - Answer a few phone calls, do a bit of admin – Oh, didn’t I say? I’m supposed to be working but decided to do so from home today – thank goodness for VOIP and web based databases!
2.30 pm - Go into bedroom to find my wip on memory stick and kick dirty shirts on floor to one side.
Have an attack of conscience and scoop them up, take them downstairs again and shove them in washing machine and switch it on.
2.35 pm - Turn machine off again and wait for three minutes until I can open the door, remove memory stick which got caught up in the shirts and turn machine back on.
2.45 pm - Stare at Chapter 6 of my wip for an hour and move two paragraphs round for clarity. Then move them back because they made better sense the first time.
3.45 pm - Check e-mail again and respond to my critique partners with a moan on how I’m not getting anywhere today and wonder how that can be!
4.00 pm – Back to wip – find a chapter which does nothing for the pace or storyline and make myself delete it – despite the scintillating, witty conversation and deep insights into 17th century life. – It’s gotta go!
5.00 pm - More phone calls. Look up and find I am suddenly blind – so get up and turn on the light.
6.00 pm - Husband comes upstairs and I look up, amazed, I didn’t even hear the door go.
‘Any crisis, darling? Did you get that report done for me?’
Oh God what report? “Errr.. not far off now Sweetie, wasn’t urgent was it?”
“Nah, not really, but I need it for tomorrow.”
Phew! reprieve. Start report now and….
“Has the washing machine finished this cycle?”
Yeah, about three hours ago.
“It must have dear if the light’s off”
“I’ll put them in the dryer then. What would you like to eat?”
OK, so he cooks! He likes to cook, he says it’s therapy after having to think all day. And as he plans the menus, it makes sense he does the shopping too – doesn’t it?
6.30 pm - Have an hour in the pub while dinner is cooking to talk about our day (He insists we do this the alternative is he has to stare at the lid of my laptop all evening)
7.30 pm - Go home and eat dinner, load dishwasher
8.15 pm - Boot up laptop and work on my wip for, 'Just another hour, I promise.'
11.00 pm - Look up enquiringly when husband says, “You know, I think that laptop has given me tinnitus.”

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Harris' List of Covent Garden Ladies

In Georgian England, for a man about town to enlist the services of a prostitute was an accepted part of life. London in1797 contained a total of 50,000 ‘Ladies of the Night’, which was around one in ten of the total female population. Covent Garden theatres were built with ‘retiring rooms’ connected to the boxes in order for the entertainment of clients while they enjoyed an evening out at the theatre. Even the vocabulary used to describe them was colourful.

• Prostitutes who waited outside theatres for the plays to finish were called, ‘spells’
• Lower class streetwalkers were ‘flash mollishers’
• Covent Garden Ague was a term for venereal disease
• Covent Garden Nun was another name for a prostitute
• Covent Garden Abbess was a bawd [madam] most of whom started out as whores themselves

Between the years of 1757 and 1795, a publication was produced each Christmas entitled, ‘Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies’, This book was handwritten to begin with, but soon went into print and sold a quarter of a million copies during the thirty eight years it was produced. The List, priced at two shillings and sixpence, was a catalogue of around eighty up-market prostitutes. It included biographical details of each lady, together with a description of her appearance, personality and her sexual specialties, together with their charges.

The name ‘Harris’ referred to a Jack Harris, the head waiter at the Shakespeare’s Head, a Covent Garden tavern frequented by sea captains and the directors of the East India Company. Harris christened himself the "Pimp General of All England", but in 1757, he was in Newgate prison for debt. He gave an impoverished, heavy drinking Irish poet by the name of Samuel Derrick, permission to use his name for the book.

A 'common whore' could be purchased in London for a shilling, perhaps two or three shillings to enjoy her company in a bedroom in a local tavern or lodging house. The average wage at the time was around a pound a week, two pounds was a fairly large sum of money. With some of the ladies on Harris’s Lists charging a guinea a time, the lists represented the top end of the market.

An account of one young woman from the 1773 edition reads; Miss M__tague is a well-shaped girl, about twenty-three, good-natured and said to be thoroughly experienced in the whole art and mysterie of Venus's tactics and as soon reduce a perpendicular to less than the curve of a parabola. She is rather generous and you may sometimes find your way in there free of expence.

From the 1780 edition, the entry for a Miss B____rn. of No. l8 Old Compton Street, Soho; This accomplished nymph has just attained her eighteenth year, and fraught with every perfection, enters a volunteer in the field of Venus. She plays on the pianofort, sings, dances, and is mistress of every Maneuver in the amorous contest that can enhance the coming pleasure; is of the middle stature, fine auburn hair, dark eyes and very inviting countenance, which ever seems to beam delight and love. In bed she is all the heart can wish, or eyes admires every limb is symmetry, every action under cover truly amorous; her price two pounds.

The list also alerted its readers to those women who were best avoided, a Pol Forestor was reported as having "breath worse than a Welch bagpipe" and warned against the "contaminated carcase" of a certain Miss Young from the Turk's Head Bagnio. And warning them off Miss Robinson, at the Jelly Shops, "a slim and genteel made girl - but rather too flat";

A review of one resident of Drury Lane reads: 'Very impudent and very ugly; chiefly a dealer with old fellows. It is reported that she uses more birch rods in a week than Westminster school in a twelvemonth.'

And another: 'Known in this quarter for her immense sized breasts, which she alternately makes use of with the rest of her parts, to indulge those who are particularly fond of a certain amusement. She is what you may call, at all; backwards and forwards, all are equal to her, posteriors not excepted, nay indeed, by her own account she has most pleasure in the latter. Very fit for a foreign Macaroni - entrance at the front door tolerably reasonable, but nothing less than two pound for the back way.'

A Mrs Crosby of 24 George Street, for example, 'being particularly attached to the sons of neptune', [sailors] had married an elderly sea captain. When he died he left her a small annuity. This was enough to keep her off the streets, but not enough to live on - so she worked as a part-time prostitute.

Harris’s List says…, Mrs Crosby could be contacted at home during the day or in the theatre at night. She has dark hair flowing in ringlets down her back, languishing grey eyes and a tolerable complexion. She charged one guinea (£1.05).

Of a Mrs Grafton of Wapping ……. Her 'best customers are sea officers, who she particularly liked, as they do not stay long at home, and always return fraught with love and presents'. At 40 years old, the lady …. could give more pleasure than a dozen girls half her age. Her price was 5 shillings (25p). Most naval officers could afford that, as a day’s pay for most captains in this period was about 20 shillings (£1.00).
Harris often used nautical terminology when describing the charms of the women. Miss Devonshire of Queen Ann Street had… 'a fair complexion, cerulean eyes and fine teeth.' And …. many a man of war hath been her willing prisoner, and paid a proper ransom…she is so brave, that she is ever ready for an engagement, cares not how soon she comes to close quarters, and loves to fight yard arm and yard arm, and be briskly boarded.

The mood turned against such 'immorality' when a Mr Aitken was convicted at the Kings Bench for the offence of publishing Harris's List in November 1795, which hereafter went out of print.

A copy of the 1790 edition was sold for £5,170 at auction in March 2008.

Do Authors Read For Pleasure?

Since my own novels went into print, I no longer read for pleasure, but to study other styles, content, character expectations and plotlines. This wasn’t a conscious decision, but since I started critiquing other writers' work, I home in on the inappropriate dialogue tag, or an unnecessary gerund.

My local bookstore – not a small independent who would welcome a local author sitting inside their front door at a rickety table with a pile of my own, signed works – but a three story branch of Waterstones the British Library would envy. They are currently promoting a reprinted range of ‘Classics’ for the appreciation of, well I don’t know exactly what. A more leisurely time when we were able to enjoy pages of convoluted description and introspection from our main characters, perhaps?

Curious as to what was considered ‘stellar writing’ in times gone by, I bought a copy of a work entitled, ‘The Enchanted April’ by an author named Elizabeth Von Arnim. Born in Australia but brought up in England, Ms Von Arnim's second husband was Francis, second Earl Russell, although the marriage lasted a mere three years.

The story is about four women from diverse daily lives, two of them downtrodden by today’s standards, who rent a medieval villa in Italy for a month. A storyline which would work well in a contemporary novel, I imagine.
Published in 1922, this novel is described in the introduction as, ‘akin to Noel Coward’s 'Hay Fever', and contains the head-hopping, author intrusion and slipping into omniscient point of view within scenes which was acceptable then.

From the first few pages, it occurred to me why modern publishers require a more succinct, ‘clean’ method of writing in a specific point of view. e.g. on page two:
Looking out of the club window into Shaftesbury Avenue - hers was an economical club, but convenient for Hampstead where she lived, and for Schoolbred’s where she shopped, - Mrs Wilkins, having stood there for some time very drearily, her mind’s eye on the Mediterranean in April, and the wisteria, and the enviable opportunities of the rich, while her bodily eye watched the really extremely horribly sooty rain falling steadily on the hurrying umbrellas and splashing omnibuses, suddenly wondered whether perhaps this was not the rainy day Mellersh – Mellersh was Mr Wilkins - had so often encouraged her to prepare for, and whether to get out of such a climate and into the small medieval castle wasn’t perhaps what Providence had all along intended her to do with her savings.’

Evidently written during the days when Critique Groups were unheard of, editors were minor clerks and an author was allowed, nay encouraged, to retain their own unique style, as long as it was wrapped around an engaging story with memorable characters.

However, despite the rambling tone and over use of gerunds, author intrusion and all the other technical difficulties, I still understand what was being said. I could see the drab London Street with its ‘hurrying umbrellas’, the sadness of the woman trapped in a frugal and mundane life who longed for the hot sun and a view of a wisteria climbing a medieval stone wall.

Ms Von Arnim also has a pithy way of conveying a character as well. Grey little Mrs Wilkins, ….who must be at least thirty…., describes her own husband as a man who …..produced the impression of keeping copies of everything he said…. It’s worth ploughing through the heavy narrative to unearth sparkling lines like that.

My question is, are we better writers than they were in the first quarter of the last century, or are we simply different? Do our readers want fast paced stories with no ‘dead space’ and a satisfying ending, as our publishers tell us, or do they like to see a situation or a character from the author’s point of view?
One line of ‘The Enchanted April’ says: ‘….She became very earnest, just as she did when trying patiently to help and enlighten the poor…’ thus telling far more about the author’s views about charity than it does of the character she attributes the words to.

While I was in Waterstones - Because they keep closing the gap on the shelf I make between ‘Da – De’ in the Fiction section, I brought up a copy of my first book on their website on the computers in the ‘Customer study Area’ and left it emblazoned on all eight 23 inch screens.

They were still visible from the door!