Thursday, 19 April 2012

Did You Know?

I have now finished the 3rd rewrite to the third novel in my Georgian trilogy, working title "Ripples and Shadows." It has gone to my Copy Editor this week and now I look forwards to fighting (sorry working) with her about what stays and what goes. Jo is a history graduate so if I have any historical inaccuracies she will quickly tell me. She will also jump anything that she calls "authors voice" as she doesn't like that.
So the trilogy is nearing completion and I have been asking myself if I will return to the Georgian period in future novels and I don't really know. I seem to have been permanently researching the period for some years now, and perhaps I can share some of the information I have found out about the period, as a sort of, "Did You Know" session.
Let's see: Did you know:-

·        Swearing before women was considered a breach of good behaviour, but swearing other than that was, shall we say, somewhat picturesque. Such as - A plague on you sir – nay a pox. You shit barn door sir. I’ll piss on you sir. Damn you all for a set of sons of whores. The devil take the fellow. Mangy rascal. Scoffing braggart. There were worse ones but for the sake of modesty, well…
·        Not very many English people in the eighteenth century had fruit at all; only a very select, minuscule group of wealthy people had access to fruit. In the 1700s the British feared uncooked fruit; they thought it would give the person who consumed it indigestion or even the plague.
·        Meat made up a large portion of the diets of residents of eighteenth-century England
·        Prisons were profit-making enterprises. Nothing was free in prison. Food and lodging had to be paid for by the prisoner. There were fees for turning keys, fees for putting on of irons and fees for taking them off again. Even visitors had to pay fees.
·        Prisoners with a trade such as tailoring might continue to work and earn while in captivity, but many others were reduced to begging. A grille was built into the wall on the Farringdon street side of the Fleet prison, so that prisoners could beg alms from passers-by.
·        Bow Street Runners were known as Robin Red Breasts.
·        People's behaviour was at its worst in theaters. Drury Lane was wrecked six times in thirty years after the mobs rioted.
·        You could be hanged for one of three hundred offences.
·        Georgians were obsessed with protecting their property. Laws were generally passed to protect the rich and their property. Ergo burglary was punishable by death where theft was usually not.
·        Syphilis was called the French pox. Gonorrhoea was called the Senor.
·        The Prince Regent (the future George IV) was such a glutton he ate pigeon pie made with at least 3 pigeons, 6 steaks and eggs, for breakfast.  (The eggs were found inside the pigeons) all washed down with champagne. His health of course suffered and he became fat, and gouty.
·        Cheese came with cheese mites and maggots - and yes you ate both with the cheese.

Lastly my Copy Editor is Jo Field who lives in Devon. Despite fighting her she is brilliant and I happy to give her a plug here. You can contact her at

Monday, 5 March 2012

Understanding History.

I have just finished the first draft of my new novel, the 3rd in the trilogy about life in Georgian London told through the eyes of characters and their personal stories. It is now time for the first rewrite. As a preview however I am reproducing here the prologue to the novel, where the narrator outlines the difficulty of understanding our ancestors.


History is my passion. No first things first; my name is James Postlethwaite and I will be your narrator through this story and I am an historian - or is it - I am a historian; I never know. Let's get something out of the way to start with; yes I know, Postlethwaite is a bloody stupid name but it doesn't sound so bad in Rochdale where I come from where you can find Satterthwaites, Utterthwaites Olthwaites and other such names. Thwaite surnames by the way originate from an old Viking word for clearing, but then that’s just me being an historian again (or is a historian).
There's something you need to know about history. When you think you understand it, you probably don't. Look at it this way; if I try to explain when I live I can say I live in the present, or I could say I live in the now. If I wish to give this a more precise explanation I could say that I live in 1992, 2012 or 2022. But that in itself creates a problem in that the present immediately becomes the past. The now is transitory whereas the past is, well, is always the past.
But that in itself is a deception. If I try to tell anybody in the present, a story about the present, then although they may have a different view to me they still have, in the main, the same points of reference as I have. If they live in my country they will have gone through the same education process and watched the same television programmes, read the same newspapers.
To look back into history however you have to look back at a point in time or multiple points in time and in every one of these points the people will have a totally different set of references. These long dead people may be of the same nationality as me, or spoken the same language but in most other areas their reference points are different. These people did not behave like I behave, did not think as I think; they are not the same people. To understand them we have to be sensitive to the ripples that come down to us through times, look into the shadows of their stories.
Yet occasionally we get a real glimpse into these people's lives, how they lived, how they thought, the emotions that drove them; ordinary people speaking in their own words from across the centuries. Ok; let's start our story; I will narrate but I will let the two main characters speak for themselves.

The fictional Professor James Postlethwaite is keen that his readers do not think of these long dead characters as modern people - they are far from that. Perhaps I can also share the following piece of research by an actual real life historian that illustrates what he is trying to say.

Several years ago I was doing some research and looking at all the manorial document of one particular Hall ( took me years to persuade them to let me see the private records and papers) and I found a diary written by the lady of the house ( a Catholic and a family of high nobility at this time) which basically condemned a female servant for 'tempting' her brother on his visit to the Hall for which she was 'put out'....on further research with other ( external documents) I found her in the Workhouse 'with child' the age of 14 years.............something tells me that no 14 year old had controlled a 45 year old man...........on this childs baptism the vicar had wrote some very disturbing , sexist ( in today's standards) and very condemning notes in the parish book about this single mother with bastard child...harsh times, harsh words and the story was very sad....I later found the girls family was 'put out' of their home by the the whole family suffered.

So the lecherous brother defiles a fourteen-year-old servant, but it's the servant that suffers being condemned to the workhouse with her baby, and her family 'put out' of their tied home. If the home was tied the father also probably an estate worker and lost his job so the family would have faced starvation. Even more startling is that the local community in the guise of the vicar sees the fourteen year-old as the immoral one, the undeserving poor that does not deserve their sympathy. The words of the traditional song come to mind:

 It’s the same the whole world over,
It’s the poor what gets the pain,
It’s the rich what gets the pleasure,
Aint it all a bleedin' shame.

NB. I should be able to attribute this piece of research but in my own concept notes I failed to do so. That is my own error; my apologies to the historian. I hope he/she will forgive me.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

An interview with Alan Dance

Those that know me know that I am a member of a writers group, a smashing group of people at NewwritersUK. Last year at Newwriters I met a fellow historical novelist, Alan Dance. I thought it would be interesting to do an on-line interview with him to see how he approaches his own writing.

Here it is - see what you think.

Q1. Historical fiction - why did you choose this genre and not some other?

I chose historical fiction primarily because I have always had an interest in history, particularly the history of Nottingham, where I live. I believe that one should stick to writing what one knows about. I could not, for example, write horror or fantasy, although I wouldn’t mind trying crime at some stage. My first book was actually a non-fiction local history book, published in 1998. Following the success of this, I thought I would like to try my hand at writing fiction, and there is just so much of Nottingham’s past that is crying out to be used as the basis for a novel that I decided to give it a go. Both Narrow Marsh and Leen Times, whilst having totally fictitious plots, also include many real events of the time woven into the story.

Q2. What period in history do you prefer? Are there any others you would like to move on to?

Roughly the period of the industrial revolution; about 1750 – 1850. This period saw the massive transformation of Britain from an agricultural to an industrial nation, when there were so many changes taking place, especially in the early 19th century, which affected the lives of everybody. This must have been a fascinating time to have been alive, but not a particularly pleasant one if you were poor, as most of the population was. There are other periods of history that also interest me (the English Civil War period, for example) but for now I shall stick to the late 18th / early 19th centuries.

Q3. Research. Where do you do this? What sources do you use?

I already had quite a reasonable knowledge of the events that form a background to my books, but I am always careful to check things out where necessary. I use a combination of the traditional sources (books and historical documents), along with the internet. However, don’t believe everything you read, especially on the internet!

Q4. Do you map out all the story line before you start and stick to it?

My first novel was Narrow Marsh. I knew I wanted to write about life in Nottingham in the early 19th century, centered on the framework knitters. I knew exactly how the first chapter would pan out, but beyond that really had no idea of exactly how the plot would develop, other than that the story had to reflect the struggle for survival amongst the poor of Nottingham, amid the massive social changes then taking place. But once I started writing, the ideas began to flow and the plot soon took shape.

However, with Leen Times, the sequel to Narrow Marsh, it was different. After Narrow Marsh was finished, but before it had been published, I had already formulated the plot in some detail, to be used if Narrow Marsh was a success. It actually came to me one day and took no more than about 15 minutes to jot down. Once I started to write Leen Times, I stuck to the basic plot, but did adapt it a little as I wrote, adding to it and, I hope, improving it.

Q5. What do find the most difficult the most challenging part of writing?

Getting going! That is, actually starting the book, and then, on a daily basis whilst writing it. I think one has to be in the mood to write, and it is no good wasting time if one is not. I find that provided I feel keen to write, far more gets done than trying, for example, to set a target of so many words each day and sticking rigidly to that target. Other writers, of course, might work totally differently.

Q6. What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently writing another historical novel, not a sequel to the first two. This one is set in both Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire during the mid-nineteenth century, and is loosely based (with suitable embellishments, of course) on some real events in my own family history. It’s quite an intriguing story, related to me by older relatives. Surprisingly, much of what I was told has turned out to be true, unlike so many family legends one hears.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Now on E-Books

Just wanted to let you know that my books, [No Quarter Asked and A Canopy of Stars], have now been published as multi-format ebooks by Smashwords. As many of you know, the books are historical fiction set the London in the Georgian era.

 I hope you’ll take time to check it out at Smashwords, where you can sample the first 20% of the books for free.

Here’s the link to my author profile: []
Here’s the direct link to my book pages, where you can sample or
purchase the book:s
No Quarter Asked No Quarter Given -

Won’t you also take a moment to spread the word about my book to everyone you know?

Thank you so much for your support!