As always, I will leave you with a coffee-related question to ponder.
Why in the world would women (allegedly!) be petitioning against coffee in 1674?
I've started work on book three in my Lucy Campion mysteries, and I just got the copy edits for From the Charred Remains (being released in April 2014!) So I'm going to have to take an extended coffee break.
As always, I will leave you with a coffee-related question to ponder.
Why in the world would women (allegedly!) be petitioning against coffee in 1674?
A while back, I was contacted about participating in a local author fair. Not only was I just personally delighted, given how much I love libraries and librarians, but I was just amazed when I saw who had extended this very kind invitation.
The Joliet Public Library, Black Road Branch. In Joliet, Illinois.
Now before I came to live outside Chicago, I grew up in Philadelphia. My father, however, had grown up in Joliet Illinois. His mother, my grandmother, worked at the main branch of the Joliet Public Library for thirty years, retiring shortly after I was born in 1971.
In an interview published in the Joliet Herald-News dated December 26, 1971, my grandmother explained that she'd started as an apprentice at the library, working her first two and a half months without pay! Initially, she mainly shelved books, but was also called on to mend books as well:
"There were no book binders at that time, so when books became damaged by usage and wear, we sewed them by hand. I learned how to build a book from the bottom up."-Josephine Calkins
She left the library in 1936 to get married--my father says she met his father at the library!
After taking coursework at the University of Illinois library school, she returned to the Joliet library in 1953, working in the children's, reference, and adult departments.
From 1956 to 1965, my grandmother was in charge of the library's bookmobile, before becoming an assistant librarian. The experience at the bookmobile, she said, helped her learn about what people liked and disliked, which later informed her purchasing decisions.
When asked to reflect, in December 1971, about what had changed since she first started working at the library, she had this to say:
"A return of the 1930s is reflected in today's reading trends with many requests for books on witchcraft, hypnotism, astrology, numerology and palmistry....We don't have as many male readers in the library today as in the past. There was a time when we couldn't keep enough western books on the shelves...."
I can only imagine what my grandmother would think of current library trends now. Back then, microfiche and microfilm collections as well as "The New InterLibrary Loan Program" were just starting to transform how library patrons could access materials. What would she think of the digital revolution?
Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away in 1987, so we can't know. From what I do remember, she had a deep and abiding love of books, which she passed on to my father and my siblings. I'd imagine she'd be thrilled at the ready access of books and the long reach that modern libraries can attain.
(The other thing I remember about my grandmother was that she taught me to embroider, on one long visit to Philadelphia. While I appreciate that skill, I can't help but wish now she had also taught me how to build a book--a worthy skill indeed!)
As I've mentioned before, I grew up in a house literally lined with books, many of them bequeathed to us from my grandmother. I truly believe that my love of writing stems from my love of reading, a trait inherited from both my parents (my mother was also a librarian).
So I believe it will be quite a moment when I set up my table on Saturday. On one side, my first novel, A Murder at Rosamund's Gate. On the other side, the photos of my grandmother passing out books at the Joliet bookmobile. My parents are even making the trek out! I don't know what to expect exactly, but I'm sure it will be great!
I started writing a post about murder ballads (which I've discussed on my blog before), to share specific examples about how crime was both a source of entertainment and news in early modern England.
At random I selected a ballad to discuss, mainly for the gallows humor embedded in the title:
"Newgate's Garland: Being a New Ballad shewing How Mr. Jonathon Wild's throat was cut, from ear to ear, with a penknife by Mr. Blake, alias Blueskin, the bold highwayman, as he stood at his trial at the Old Bailey."
A garland can refer to a miscellany, or a collection of literary works--so this ballad may have been one of several in a collection.
But 'garland' also refers to a strand of material or wreath of flowers, usually hung in celebration. So I can only imagine there was a garland of sort that appeared when poor Mr. Wild's throat was slit "from ear to ear."
Clearly there is a sense of celebration throughout this ballad, as the first stanza indicates:
"Ye fellows of Newgate, whose fingers are nice,
in diving in pockets, or cogging of dice,
Ye Sharpers so rich, who can buy off the noose,
Ye honester poor rogues, who die in your shoes,
Attend and draw near,
Good news ye shall hear,
How Jonathan's throat was cut from ear to ear,
How Blueskin's sharp penknife shall set you at ease,
and every man round near me, may rob if they please."
But why would slitting Mr. Wild's throat be a cause for celebration?
I began to wonder who Mr. Wild was. So I looked for additional ballads and pamphlets that may explain why Blueskin, that noted highwayman, had sought to murder him.
That's when I found another ballad, this one titled: "Jonathan Wild's final fairwell to the world."
This would seem more promising. Yet I noticed right away that this ballad was dated in 1725, a full year after the other ballad. Moreover, this ballad described how Jonathan Wild was executed at Tyburn Tree, not murdered at all. Certainly, there was no mention of the throat-slashing incident.
So a little MORE digging revealed a fascinating story...
As it turns out, Mr. Jonathan Wild was quite famous. After being arrested for debt in 1710, he was thrown into prison. During this time, he began to play two sides of the justice system.
In a highly corrupt prison system, Wild first began to do small tasks for the jailers, to a point where he was even trusted to leave the prison to run errands.
After a short time, he became a "thief-taker," which was akin to a bounty-hunter in this period before the establishment of a systematic police force. Great Britain's Privy Council even consulted with him on the best way to reduce crime in the country. His answer, not surprisingly, was to raise the reward given to thief-takers from forty pounds per criminal, to a hundred pounds each.
Yet, even as he publicly brought criminals to justice--by some accounts, he brought nearly fifty criminals to justice--he was also running a large criminal operation of his own.
Wild did very well for himself for quite some time, but his luck turned sour when he was caught helping some of his men break out of prison. Brought to trial, he was mocked roundly by thieves. It was at this point that Blueskin took that near-fatal swipe at him. That part of the ballad makes a little more sense now:
"When to the Old-Bailey this Blueskin was led,
He held up his Head, his indictment was read,
For full forty pounds was the price of his blood.
Then hopeless of life,
He drew his Penknife,
And made a sad widow of Jonathan's wife,
But forty pounds paid her, her grief shall appease,
and every man round me, may rob if they please.
Wild was in jail for some time, until he was finally brought to the Tyburn Tree for hanging. People were so eager to see him executed that they waited for hours before he arrived.
Along the way, Wild was subject to great physical and mental abuse, even having rotting animals and feces thrown upon him as he was carted towards his hanging. He seems to have been dazed and disoriented by the time he emerged from the cart. After he died, apparently his body was stolen, illegally dissected by surgeons, and ended up on display at the Hunterian Museum in London.
Already famous before his death, Jonathan Wild became further immortalized when Daniel Defoe wrote about his exploits and sojourn into organized crime.
Later, the novelist Henry Fielding--who as a young man was among the spectators of Wild's execution--parodied the man's life and death in the fictionalized History of the Life of the Late Mr. Jonathon Wild the Great (1745). (Check out, too, historian Peter Ackroyd's wonderful discussion of this parody).
Who knew that this murder ballad--which actually turned out to be an attempted murder--would have an incredible back story!
Today, I'm taking part in a "blog hop" celebrating the launch of Castles, Customs and Kings, a compilation of essays from the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. If you go to the blog, you can enter for a chance to win a free copy!
"Read the history behind the fiction and discover the true tales surrounding England's castles, customs, and kings." --Official excerpt
I have a piece in here about the political activities of Quaker women, who spent a lot of time speaking against the King.
But today, since a number of bloggers are discussing palaces and castles, I thought I would write about my personal experience living near the ruins of Winchester Palace in London.
When I was a pirate serving aboard the Golden Hinde, the museum replica of Sir Francis Drake's ship dry-docked in the Thames--(okay, I was a tour guide or 'living history interpreter')--I spent a lot of time gazing at the ruins of Winchester Palace.
Located in Southwark, near Shakespeare's Globe, the Clink and the Anchor (most fun pub in London), the ruins of the 13th century Winchester Palace loom incongruously from a modern parking garage (Car park!)
Not to be confused with the more illustrious Winchester Castle--or Winchester Cathedral, as many a dismayed tourist has done—Winchester Palace was founded by Bishop Henry de Blois, brother of King Stephen, in the early 13th century. It was designed to serve as a place for visiting bishops to stay when they journeyed to London.
According to the English Heritage website, the Palace once consisted of a Great Hall, which led to a buttery, pantry and kitchen. In its late medieval heyday, the Palace had been a site of great spectacle, feasts and grand dinners, even have hosted the wedding dinner of James I of Scotland and Joan Beauford in 1424.
The majestic qualities of the palace are suggested by the presence of a rose window, a common feature of more lavish churches and palaces built in this time. There is also evidence that the palace had a tennis court, bowling alley and pleasure gardens, to keep the bishops entertained while on royal and administrative business.
Underneath the hall was a vaulted wine cellar, no doubt full of great vats and bottles to keep the bishops and their guests merry. There was also a passageway to the river wharf along the south bank of the Thames, to bring supplies into the Palace.
The palace seems to have been surrounded around two courtyards, a brew-house and butchery. The Clink prison, under the auspices of the Bishop of Winchester, was also nearby. (Yes, this is where we get the phrase being ‘thrown in the clink.’)
After the Reformation and King Henry VIII’s dissolution of many church properties, the palace changed its purpose. By the 17th century it was divided into tenements and warehouses. In the 19th century, much of the palace was destroyed in a fire in 1814. The ruins remained in disrepair until the 1980s when the area began to be redeveloped. Now only the bare remains and beautiful rose window suggest the former grandeur of the Palace.
When I used to lead school children on tours of the ship, we’d often pause by the Palace ruins. There, I couldn’t help but whisper about the mysterious happenings the Golden Hinde crew had all witnessed during our long moonlit stints on ship watch...
A shadow moving slowly through the grounds, when the source of the movement could not be detected.... A flock of black birds, arrayed in a perfect circle, as if convened at a great table.... And most odd of all: one night, our whole crew heard the strands of a madrigal being sung from deep within the ruins...By the time one of us mustered up the courage to peer over the guardrail, the unknown singers had vanished. To this day, I sometimes wonder who those anonymous singers were...
But that's the intriguing romance and mystery of the ruins of Winchester Palace....
I had the fun of meeting the guest on my blog today--fellow crime writer Helen Smith--last year at Bouchercon. We also share the same awesome agent, David Hale Smith of Inkwell Management. Hilarious in person, Helen has a way of writing that makes her books witty and engaging.
From the official blurb:
Twenty-six-year-old Emily Castles is out of work… again. So when famous romance author Morgana Blakely offers her a job helping out at a conference in London, Emily accepts. Just as eagerly, American blogger Winnie Kraster accepts an invitation from Morgana to attend as a guest, not realizing she has, in effect, accepted an invitation to die.
As a cast of oddball characters assembles at the conference hotel, grievances, differences, and secrets begin to emerge. When Winnie goes missing, and then is found murdered nearby, Emily begins to suspect that someone involved with the conference is responsible. Could it be one of the organizers, one of the authors, a member of the hotel staff, or even the supplier of the chocolates for the conference gift bags? Emily teams up with guest speaker and eccentric philosophy professor Dr. Muriel to find out.
Offbeat and engaging, this entertaining comic mystery is the first full-length novel featuring amateur British sleuth Emily Castles.
What inspired Invitation to Die?
I wanted to write a murder mystery in a setting where a group of strangers – and old friends who might have grudges against one another – were brought together and had to stay together for a short time. I had done a couple of events at the Bloomsbury Festival and liked the idea of using a hotel in Bloomsbury, London, for the location, with a romance authors’ convention as the excuse for everyone to be there.
So, did you draw on your experience attending mystery conferences when creating this backdrop? I had to laugh at the way you characterized many of the authors!
I attended my first mystery convention last year, after I had finished writing this book. (It’s called Bouchercon and it takes place in a different US city each year. I loved it and I’m going back again this year.) So I’m afraid that the characters are invented. I have worked as an administrator setting up conferences, though, so there’s some authenticity in the background to the story.
Tell us about Emily Castles. What’s her background? How does she understand the world?
Emily is a bright, practical young woman who is cheerful and inquisitive. She doesn’t have a university education and she struggles to find a job that’s right for her. She tends to do a lot of temp work in offices. It bores her, but as she’s always on the lookout for a new job, and open to new experiences, it means she goes into situations where she ends up investigating whatever mystery interests her.
During the course of his investigation, one of your characters, Detective Rory Jones, comments to Emily, “It’s human nature to want to see ourselves at the heart of a drama.” Assuming that’s true, where do you see yourself in this story? Do you identify in particular with one of your characters?
I probably identify most with Dr. Muriel. But I’m like a crazed creator in a Gothic horror story: I put a little bit of myself into all my characters to make them come alive; sometimes it’s only the equivalent of one drop of blood, but it’s there.
Who or what has most influenced your writing? (This series, or generally?)
I love Agatha Christie. I admire her achievements as an author, but I love her stories, too. I read a lot of them when I was making the transition from reading children’s books to reading adult books and I still look forward to watching the new adaptations on TV. Miss Marple is one of my all-time favorite characters. (Mine too!)
As far as writing style goes, I have probably been most influenced by Evelyn Waugh. He has a light, comic touch that I would like to emulate. My writing was once compared to his in a review in Time Out, so naturally I was thrilled about that.
What is your favorite part of writing/publishing? Least favorite?
My favorite part of writing is the editing – polishing up a story after it has been written. I find the actual writing hard-going. My favorite part of the publishing process is seeing the cover because you’re seeing a visual interpretation of what someone else thinks of the book. Your editor will usually say something nice about the manuscript when they read it, but the cover shows you, for the first time, what a stranger really thinks of it. It’s weird, exciting and scary – and flattering, too.
What has surprised you the most about writing/ publishing?
Oh, that’s a tough one. Being published has lived up to my expectations in lots of ways – the parties are just as much fun as I hoped they would be. I suppose the most surprising thing about the writing is that it never gets any easier. When your first book is published, you think that all the hard work is over. But it isn’t.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Keep going! You’ll get there. Good luck.
What’s next for Emily? What else are you working on?
The next book in the series, Beyond Belief, will be published by Thomas & Mercer in January 2014 in ebook, paperback and audiobook format. When a celebrated psychic predicts that a famous magician will be killed in the English seaside town of Torquay, Emily is hired to investigate.
I’m currently working on the next book after that, which will be published in January 2015. It takes place at the Edinburgh Festival.
Thanks so much! I'm looking forward to your next book!
Helen Smith is a member of the Writers Guild of Great Britain, The Crime Writers Association and English PEN. She travelled the world when her daughter was small, doing all sorts of strange jobs to support them both - from cleaning motels to working as a magician's assistant - before returning to live in London where she wrote her first novel, which was published by Gollancz (part of the Hachette Group). She writes novels, children's books, poetry, plays and screenplays, and was the recipient of an Arts Council of England Award. She likes dancing but she doesn't like driving. She likes knitting. Check out her website at http://www.emperorsclothes.co.uk/
I'm joined on my blog today by award-winning author, Anna Lee Huber. I had the pleasure of meeting this talented writer, last year at Bouchercon, during a signing for new authors. On Saturday September 14, Anna and I will be doing a joint signing at Centuries and Sleuths in Forest Park, IL at 11:00. Hope to see you there!
Scotland, 1830. Lady Kiera Darby is no stranger to intrigue-in fact, it seems to follow wherever she goes. After her foray into murder investigation, Kiera must journey to Edinburgh with her family so that her pregnant sister can be close to proper medical care.
But the city is full of many things Kiera isn't quite ready to face: the society ladies keen on judging her, her fellow investigator-and romantic entanglement-Sebastian Gage, and ultimately, another deadly mystery.
Kiera's old friend Michael Dalmay is about to be married, but the arrival of his older brother-and Kiera's childhood art tutor-William, has thrown everything into chaos. For ten years Will has been missing, committed to an insane asylum by his own father. Kiera is sympathetic to her mentor's plight, especially when rumors swirl about a local girl gone missing. Now Kiera must once again employ her knowledge of the macabre and join forces with Gage in order to prove the innocence of a beloved family friend-and save the marriage of another...
Thanks for joining us today! Mortal Arts, the second in your series featuring Lady Kiera Darby, is set in Scotland in 1830. What made you choose this particular place and time?
When I decided to write a historical mystery series with a heroine who has some knowledge of anatomy, I knew 1830 would be the perfect time period. It’s just after the trial of Burke and Hare, two body snatchers-turned-murderers, which plays into the public’s fear of Kiera once news of her involvement with her late husband’s dissections comes to light, and it’s just a few years before the Anatomy Act of 1832. Not to mention all of the other reforms being made with the Catholic Act of 1829, the Reform Act of 1832, the beginnings of the building of railroads, the ramping up of industrialization. It’s a very interesting period. Lots of conflict.
Could you also tell us a little about what inspired you?
I have difficulty pinpointing exactly what first inspired me to write the Lady Darby novels. I was very deliberate in choosing the genre, and I crafted Kiera’s backstory to give her the investigative skills I wanted her to have, and the rest of her history was created from the consequences of that. The plot of Book 1, The Anatomist’s Wife, even grew from that. I chose to set it in the Scottish Highlands because I needed an isolated location. I tell people that Kiera feels like she’s always been there, in the back of my mind, and I think it’s true. From the very first, even before I knew who she was, I could hear her voice very clearly in my writing. So perhaps that’s why I have trouble deciding on the inspiration. It happened when I wasn’t paying attention.
Lady Darby has been described as “an unusual and romantic heroine.” What makes her so unusual? Is she someone you would want to be friends with?
First of all, she’s a gifted portrait artist, determined to pursue her art—something not very common for a woman in her time. She has the ability to lose herself in her art, and to see to the heart of the person she is painting, which often unnerves people, even as it makes her portraits special. Even more startling, she was forced to assist her late husband, who was a famous anatomist and surgeon to royalty, with his dissections, sketching them because he did not wish to split the credit for his anatomy textbook with an illustrator.
So she has knowledge of anatomy that she’s unwillingly collected. When the scandal broke over her involvement with her husband’s work, society and the general public vilified her, concocting all sorts of gruesome rumors about her. Her standoffish demeanor and quiet reserve do not help matters. She is not comfortable in society or large gatherings, but she is fiercely loyal to those she cares about. She is intelligent, insightful, and witty. I would definitely want her for my friend.
Tell us about Sebastian Gage, Lady Darby’s romantic interest. Can you give us a hint as to which actor you would cast to portray him in a film version of the novel?
Sebastian Gage is a gentleman inquiry agent who works with his father to help the upper class with their sticky situations. He is charming and extremely attractive, and a bit of a golden boy who is much in demand at society’s gatherings. He also has a reputation as being a bit of a rakehell, but Kiera soon begins to doubt that persona. His true self is somewhat a mystery and he does not share himself easily, which frustrates Kiera to no end. If I got to cast Gage, I would choose someone like Rupert Penry-Jones. He was fabulous as Captain Wentworth in the BBC version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. (Hmmm...me likes!)
What was your favorite part of writing Mortal Arts?
My favorite part of writing Mortal Arts was getting to spend more time with the characters I’d created in The Anatomist’s Wife and take them further along on their journey. I love it when they surprise me.
My least favorite part was struggling with the doubts and crisis of confidence I had in myself. I had quite a lot of trouble with “imposter syndrome.” There’s this fear, irrational as it may be, that you fooled everyone the first time around. That you truly can’t write. And now you’ll be found out. I constantly had to shore up my belief in myself as a writer.
How did writing Mortal Arts compare to writing your debut novel, The Anatomist’s Wife? What was similar about the process? Different?
Writing Mortal Arts was my first attempt at writing a sequel, and it was also my first time writing to a publisher’s deadline, both of which added pressure. In one sense it was harder, feeling all of that added pressure, fearing I wouldn’t be able to write another good book. On the other hand, it was also easier. The book was already sold, so all of those worries I felt that I would never be published were no longer there. I’d achieved what I wanted, and that was a huge relief. I had to do more plotting with Mortal Arts. However, I already knew many of the characters, so that was less work.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Do you have any manuscripts buried in a drawer somewhere?
I first started writing in elementary school, and I have a box full of old stories I wrote then. I moved away from it in high school and then college, but returned to it again after graduation. I wrote four unpublished manuscripts before The Anatomist’s Wife sold. Some of those manuscripts may someday see the light of day, after extensive edits. But others will remain buried on my computer, as they should be.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
First and foremost, never give up. I’m a testament to the power of perseverance. I always say, the only way you are guaranteed not to succeed is if you give up. Second, write, write, write. It’s absolutely the best way to learn. And then find a critique group or a few trusted people who know what they’re doing to help you make your writing better.
The third Lady Darby novel, A Grave Matter, is scheduled for release in July 2014. I’m finishing that up, and then I want to work on a side project I started a while ago. It’s more of a straight Gothic suspense novel set in Regency England, and I hope to have that polished and ready to go by the end of the year.
If it's anything like the first two, it will be another winner! Congrats on your success!
Anna Lee Huber is the award-winning author of the Lady Darby historical mystery series. Her debut, The Anatomist’s Wife, has won and been nominated for numerous awards, including two 2013 RITA® Awards and a 2013 Daphne du Maurier Award. Her second novel, Mortal Arts, released September 3rd. She was born and raised in a small town in Ohio, and graduated from Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN with a degree in music and a minor in psychology. She currently lives in Indiana, and enjoys reading, singing, traveling and spending time with her family. Visit her at www.annaleehuber.com.
My post in WD appeared Sept 6, 2013
A few years ago, when I was first trying to figure out how to get my debut novel A Murder at Rosamund's Gate published, I came across Writer's Digest.
Full of advice for the fledgling writer and published author alike, Writer's Digest gave me some great insights into what I needed to do to polish my manuscript and write a compelling cover letter. (I mean, tell me it's not important to know "How to see your work through an agent or publisher's eyes?" or, "Knowing when to stop: Expectations for a satisfying ending.")
So I really appreciated the opportunity to write a guest post, "How to write historical fiction: 7 tips on accuracy and authenticity" for Writer's Digest. In this post, I talk about the tensions I've experienced as a historian-turned-novelist, while writing historical fiction. I also try to offer a few strategies that have worked for me in reconciling these tensions. Check it out!
And while you're there, try out the daily writing prompt! Although I have to giggle, because today the prompt is: "You are a local news reporter for a failing network. Your boss tells you to ramp up the news by getting “creative” and constructing your own stories. What’s the first fake news story you create and broadcast on air?"
Fake News! Totally fun! Accuracy Shmackeracy! If you do take up the challenge, will you post it here too? I'd love to see it!
I think a simple quote by the late great science fiction writer, Douglas Adams, will summarize what I've been thinking, as I work my way through my edits....
"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." --Douglas Adams
Still trying to make my deadlines, so will be blogging again soon! Nearly done though!
I know I really need to play it cool, but I just can't. The Bouchercon panels were recently announced, and I'm going to be on a panel with not one, but two, of my very favorite authors: Anne Perry and Caroline Todd (half of the Charles Todd writing team).the first Pitt novel
I'm really looking forward to meeting the other authors on the panel too: Susanne Alleyn and Anna Loan-Wilsey, who have written some top-notch historical mysteries. And to top it all off, the session will be moderated by the lovely and talented Holly West, who was kind enough to interview me on her blog a while back.
I started reading Anne Perry's novels about twelve years ago, right when I first finished my Ph.D. in history. I hadn't been able to read for pleasure for many years--writing a dissertation will do that!--and I knew I missed reading mysteries in particular.
Somehow, I stumbled on Anne Perry's Inspector Pitt series, and I was hooked. I think I read her first TWENTY books in about six months. I kid you not. I loved the characters, the mystery, and of course the history, and I couldn't get enough.
When I ran out of Anne Perry novels, I turned to--you guessed it--Charles Todd. And then Rhys Bowen, Jacqueline Winspeare, and a whole slew of other authors who write great historical mysteries.
These were the authors who inspired me to write my own historical mysteries. I don't know how many authors are lucky enough to meet their personal literary heroes. Back in May, I did get the opportunity to meet Caroline Todd at Malice Domestic, which was a thrill. But I can honestly say, I never expected to get this opportunity, and I have no doubt it will be a highlight of my writing career!