In 2021 we need more than ever to uphold the ideal of peace. Politicians must get to work. The current difficulties in implementing Brexit have to be solved by negotiation. Walls should not be needed. Let’s reconcile histories and old divisions and work on what we all have in common, for the sake of our young people and their future.
Image: NornIronphotos via Wikipedia: Creative Commons 2.0
The April issue of The HistWriter newsletter comes to you from Wexford in Ireland.
This month I look at Wexford’s links to the first invasion of Ireland by the English, and review a trio of novels by Irish historical writers. Susan Lanigan, Patricia O’Reilly and Derville Murphy are all fellow members of the Irish branch of the Historical Novel Society, with whom I’ve ‘found my tribe’.
Red roses for St. Valentine’s day, with a dark gothic story of heartbreak and regret. In ‘Death at the Red Rose’ (link), a forsaken love haunts a ruined man in a lonely moorland inn.
#AmWriting #HistoricalFiction #HistWriter
Now that Britain has severed ties with Europe, I reflect on the origin of their geographical separation, the inspiration for my short story: Doggerland (link).
Doggerland is a submerged area stretching from the east coast of England across to Jutland and the Netherlands. A long time ago this was above sea level and it is thought that around 6500 BC there may have been a tsunami which led to it being inundated and cutting Britain off from the continent of Europe.
We know very little about the Dogger folk but every now and again North Sea trawlers have dredged up an old implement, ancient bones, or some other remnant of that lost Mesolithic civilisation. What else might lie buried under the shifting sands of the seabed?
I wanted to write about a distant people who have left virtually no trace of their existence.Perhaps some of their language lives on in the accents of East Anglia and of the Netherlands and Jutland.
I imagined the Dogger people as fisherfolk, living amongst wide waterways like the Norfolk Broads. I thought of a man with a dog and a home and a family, but threatened by inundation. Not knowing whether to move, or whether to remain in place and accept whatever fate might bring.
This is even now a universal dilemma: it belongs to the émigré, to the refugee. It is exactly how my partner and I felt in the UK as we watched the approach of Brexit, so universal that across thousands of years I sense a commonality with that lost people. Eve and I chose to move, and settled in Ireland; we now look back with sorrow, but forward with hope.
In November 1793, Philibert Aspairt went missing. He was the doorkeeper of the Val-de-Grâce hospital during the French Revolution.
His body was not discovered until 1804, 11 years later, in the catacombs of Paris, and was buried where it was found. He must have entered the catacombs via a staircase located in the hospital courtyard. His motives are unknown and the cause of his death was never determined. Aspairt might have been identified by the hospital key ring hanging from his belt.
I’ve signed up for a cross-genre 5-day writing challenge to be held via a private Facebook group, starting 9th November. It coincides neatly with NaNoWriMo, as well as with a week of annual leave that I booked from work so that I could write.
To quote the blurb:
This5 Day Page Turner Challenge will show you how to bring all the elements of a fast paced, gripping read to your fiction, whatever genre you are writing. We’ll be looking at characters, plotting and how important conflict is to generate story – and how to keep your reader turning those pages.
Each day there will be one daily task, this will take between 10-20 minutes to complete (you can devote as much time as you wish).
We’re going to be looking at character, plotting, story development, dialogue and those all important opening lines.
We’re also going to be look at those other writer problems like writers block, imposter syndrome and building good writing habits.
You’ll be given EXCLUSIVE access to our private challenge members only Facebook group, along with everyone else taking part in the challenge. Places are limited so don’t dither!
Every day Sam Blake and I will share one action item in the group for you to complete and post in the comments your results so we, and the rest of the group can see how you got on.
Each task can be done in 10-20 minutes and we’ll be on hand to answer any questions you have. The best bit is the wonderful energy and community vibe that comes from joining a challenge – it’s infectious!
There’s nothing like a reliable and supportive community to turn to when you get stuck – and the challenge always delivers on that. We’ll be live every evening in the group to discuss the day, answer questions and to see how you’re getting on – and we’ll be inviting some special guests along to say hello too.
One of my Amazon.com reviewers has written that the ending of HEART of CRUELTY annoyed her so much that she ‘wanted to throw it across the room.’ Spoiler alert: my novel isn’t intended as a standard romance.
In the standard romance – think of a cover featuring large male muscles and a lady in satin – the alpha-male hero is in some kind of conflict situation with a vulnerable yet feisty heroine and the conflict is overtaken by their mutual attraction; they have a big showdown and separation four-fifths of the way through the book, but end up rapturously united.
I’m not doing that, sorry.
Those alpha-male heroes are hugely suspect individuals and if we met them in real life we might want to run a mile. Ruggedly handsome, brutally strong, devoid of self-criticism, they occupy positions of high social status: royalty; aristocrats; billionaires; warlords. It’s arguable that mostly they maintain their roles by exploiting other people. The elegant and leisured lives of Jane Austen’s heroes were dependent on someone else’s labour, whether that was down an English coal mine or on a Jamaican sugar plantation. And however blissful the marriage, a heroine would still have had to make sure that their husband’s socks were washed and their shirts were ironed, even if this was by the servants.
Have you stopped trusting them yet, ladies?
It makes me wonder if these romances are actually a way of trying to persuade women that these stereotypes are desirable. Does the romance fiction genre promote a patriarchal society?
And a further question: does the notion, widespread in fiction, that good must triumph over evil, promote negative judgments of the down-trodden? ‘Loser’ is a favourite Trumpian insult: what if the loser is in fact a victim?
Here’s an extract from HEART of CRUELTY in which I explore these ideas. Doughty is talking to Jane:
‘If you read a work of fiction, or see an opera, or a play at the theatre, is it the hero or the villain that triumphs?’
‘The hero, naturally. Good triumphs over evil. It is the natural order.’
‘But our prejudices of the natural order corrupt our view. What I have found at inquests is the difficulty in persuading the jury that the deceased are not villains, but victims. The woman who is cruelly violated and murdered is argued to have provoked her attacker. The abandoned infant is deemed illegitimate, unbaptised, it has no place in society. We withhold pity from the weak and the defeated, and instead we forgive their abusers. I blame the scribblers of novels for this pernicious state of affairs…’
I wondered whether his mind had been running on what I had told him but could not ask. He was too caught up in his own argument: ‘…Why, some ladies are only content when reading romances about brutal men.’
So my book is launched today. Initial reactions from my reviewers are: ‘gripping’… ‘a page turner’… ‘hard to put down’. It’s a dark novel and the evil at the heart of it is abuse that is unchallenged.
I’m influenced by my own experiences of working in child protection, as well as by modern day press reports of rape cases, by the #metoo movement, by the Jimmy Savile Inquiry and by the writing and work of Graham Wilmer, survivor of clerical abuse and founder of The Lantern Project.
My experience of prosecuting child abuse has been that every time, even when we know the abuse has happened, it’s a hard battle to prove it in court. To give evidence under cross examination one has to state a complex case in very simple terms, as the lawyers won’t admit to any medical knowledge, and keep stating it over and over again. The defence barrister will attempt to completely discredit the paediatrician, and deliberately twist their evidence or misinterpret facts out of context to try and disprove everything. I have had abuse cases where I had to attend the court for multiple hearings because (in my view) the lawyers did not choose to understand the medical evidence. I won in the end.
If it is stressful for me: an experienced medical witness, articulate, educated, and well-prepared, to appear in court, what is it like for a rape victim? For an underage girl? The adversarial nature of the English court works powerfully against victims who are vulnerable, made to feel ashamed and find it hard to describe what has happened to them. It is no accident that many of the words we use to describe sexual acts are taboo: embarrassing to utter to one’s friends or family, let alone in the austere setting of a courtroom.
In my novel the victims are silenced. My narrator, Jane, knows about the abuse, but lacks evidence and lacks a voice. As she gradually assembles the proofs she gains the courage to state her case and convince those who are reluctant to listen.