Category: Historical Nuggets (Page 1 of 5)

Revenge In Rubies

REVENGE IN RUBIES

by A.M. Stuart

 

Thank you so much for the invitation to your blog, Alice.

For those who don’t know, Alice and I have been the writerly equivalent of pen pals (she lives in Canada and I live in Australia) for a long time and Alice, more than anyone, has been there chivvying me along through disappointments, frustrations and inertia and was the first to cheer when I finally ‘broke through’ and published my first Historical Mystery, SINGAPORE SAPPHIRE, through Penguin USA in 2019.

REVENGE IN RUBIES is the second in the Harriet Gordon Mysteries and is released on 15 September. For those new to the world of Harriet Gordon, the stories are set in Singapore in 1910 and feature two protagonists, Harriet Gordon and Inspector Robert Curran of the Straits Settlement Police.

I was fortunate to spend three years living in Singapore and it was during that time that I first met Harriet Gordon in the microfiche room of the Singapore National Library.

Of course, she wasn’t known as Harriet Gordon, her name was Mrs Howell and in March 1905 she placed an advertisement in the Straits Times, offering her services as a Stenographer and Typist. She guaranteed “RAPID & CAREFUL work together with ABSOLUTE SECRECY” (the capitals are hers). The now long forgotten Mrs. Howell’s advertisement jumped off the microfiche at me. I loved her commitment to ABSOLUTE SECRECY, and slowly the character of Harriet Gordon, widow, typist, stenographer and failed suffragette began to form.

 

Over the next few years, I started to rebuild her world – a colonial Singapore you can barely glimpse in the modern, go ahead city of Singapore but there are maps, images, contemporary travel guides and those all important newspapers from the period to guide me.

Of course, Harriet does not exist in isolation. She has friends and family and most importantly (for Harriet) her partner in crime, the enigmatic Inspector Robert Curran, head of the Detective Branch of the Straits Settlements Police Force.

There are so many stories brewing in the tropical heat of the Malay Peninsula- where truth and corpses tend to decompose quickly- and I am delighted that Penguin has agreed to publish a 3rd book in the series (my current work in progress) so I am hoping Harriet will be around for a little while yet!

If you like puzzles, here’s a link to a jigsaw of the cover for Revenge in Rubies.

https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=05c50e12a3d0  I

 

Instead of a head shot, Alison sent this photo of the two of us having coffee in Vancouver a few years ago. She’s the one on the right. How often do two friends from the opposite corners of the world get to have a coffee date?

Thanks Alison, for sharing Harriet Gordon with my readers. I hope she as successful at solving mysteries in Revenge in Rubies as she was in Singapore Sapphire.

The book is available for sale here :https://books2read.com/RevRub

Hits: 42

The Mighty Pen

Browsing through one of my favourite blog sites, Writer Unboxed, I came across a title, “Pens, Ranked.”  

As someone who prefers to write my first draft in longhand, I was very excited to see what the experts had to say about pens. Turns out, the post was a humour piece and not a serious study of writing instruments. Although, in this day and age, a little humour is never misplaced.

But, now I was on a mission. I have my own favourite pens. My penmanship is awful, so a fine point is my preference. For some reason it makes my scrawl look better. The grip is also important. Many of the commentators on the WU site liked a fat pen, but I prefer a slim one with a non-slip grip.  I’ll take a ballpoint over a fountain pen, even though I like the elegant look of the latter.  This elegant number was a gift from dh when I sold my first manuscript. I imagined myself using it for autographs at book signings. NOT! This expensive beauty leaked just as badly as the cheapies that blotted my grade three exercise books.

On further searching the internet I found a site that had actually rated the top 100 pens, including ballpoints, gel pens, fountain pens, and felt-tips. Their choices sometimes surprised–and to judge by the comments a lot of people disagreed with the editors decisions–but I did like their judging criteria.

Smoothness: How easily does the pen glide across the page? 

Smudging:  Especially important for left-handers.

Bleed-through:  A major failing for lots of felt-tips and fountain pens.

Feel: The shape of the pen must fit the shape of the user’s hand.

Looks:  A totally subjective call.

For myself, smoothness and feel are primary details. I hate a pen that catches and scratches on the page, or one where the ink skips. I like those little rubber grips the manufacturers have added to the straight, stick pen. I can write for hours with that nifty little detail and no cramping in my fingers. This little give-away pen used as a promotional tool is one of my all-time favourites. It is also purple and sparkly. 🙂

Having discovered that there are people who spend their days ranking writing instruments I kept scrolling and came upon some amazing facts, like a fountain pen that retails for over $2000.00. Really, that’s a 2 with a dollar sign in front and four zeros afterwards.  Could you imagine carrying that in your purse?

I also discovered that there are whole shops devoted to pens — and ink and luxury stationary. How many dollar apiece stick pens does a retailer have to sell to pay the rent on that storefront?

Pens are so common we take them for granted, toss a handful into a desk drawer, add a few to a bag and maybe leave one or two in the car for emergencies. But a pen is a magnificent tool, underappreciated because it is commonplace. 

Since the days of antiquity humans have devised various writing instruments to record our stories. Apparently our desire to leave our mark on the cave wall, is as old as mankind. 

The pen is one of the primary tools of civilization. It allowed communication over long distances. It preserved the works of Shakespeare. It transferred the ideas of Galileo and Newton to paper, and thus making them available to the world.  The innocuous, unappreciated little writing stick littering your desk is indeed mighty.

The Egyptians used a reed pen for thousands of years but the invention of the quill pen in the seventh century revolutionised the art of writing. Using a bird feather, like goose or swan, one could use the hollowed stem to draw ink out of a well and transfer it to paper in a smooth line — writing.  At first people wrote in large, block letters to accommodate the shortcomings of the pen, but over time improvements to the writing tool led to changes in style with cursive becoming common. Those beautiful copperplate letters one sees on old documents were only possible because of the quill pen.

By 1822 the steel pen was invented. It was an improvement on the quill pen because it had a more durable tip, but it still required the writer to sit at a desk with an inkwell and dip his pen frequently to maintain a supply of ink. Then, in 1827 the fountain pen was developed by a Romanian, Petrache Poenaru. This pen was never totally satisfactory, but Lewis Waterman refined the design to create a three channel feed fountain pen that maintained a steady flow of ink and was portable. The act of writing was set free from the constraints of the desk and the inkwell. A portable pen, with its own supply of ink, changed everything– commerce, law, the arts and everyday lives.

By 1888 the first ballpoint was introduced and later refined by Lazio Biro in the 1930’s. The name Biro became synonymous with a simple, ballpoint pen. It was especially important to the RAF during WW2 because, unlike a fountain pen,  it could write at high altitudes.

Felt-tips, gel-pens and other variations have followed, but they are refinements on the original principles developed by Waterman and Biro.

So, next time you scribble your name on a receipt, or jot notes for your next masterpiece, or doodle a cover design, say thank you to the humble pen. You hold in your hand one of the greatest inventions of the world.

Hits: 30

Who do you think you are?

Remember that old schoolyard taunt? It was usually aimed at the unfortunate pupil who did not conform to the standards of the “in” crowd on that day.  i.e boys don’t wear pink, girls don’t wear pants, and “blue and green should never be seen unless they’re in the washing machine.”

I remember, during high school,  raising and lowering my hems every September, because the fashion dictates for the day decreed that an inch more or less of knee dictated whether my school year was fun or miserable.

By some coincidence, I’ve been watching a number of TV shows on women’s rights. Needless to say, they make my blood boil, but they have also disturbed my sense of security. When not conforming to the dictates of society resulted in jail time for a woman in the twentieth century, I’m reminded that freedom is a fragile treasure.

 

In 1938, Los Angeles kindergarten teacher Helen Hulick witnessed a burglary, and was called into court to testify against the suspects. But, when she arrived, the conversation quickly turned from the crime at hand to what she was wearing: a pair of slacks. The judge ordered her to return at a later date wearing a dress. When she returned in pants, he cited her for contempt of court and sent her to jail.

A brief history.  

Follow the link above for a brief history of women in pants. We might think the controversy over what women wear is absurd, but it points to the larger issue of conformity. Who decides what a woman should wear? Who decides on a school dress code?  Who decides when the “traditional” should  change? Who decides social mores? Who decides that women must wear hats indoors and men must remove them? Who wields power over others?

Ignaz Semmelwies

–a Hungarian doctor discovered that women in maternity wards overseen by men died more often than in maternity wards overseen by female midwives. His observations led him to the theory of germs carried on the men’s hands from the autopsy room. The midwives did not perform autopsies. He ordered the doctors on the maternity ward to wash their hands after leaving the autopsy room. The deaths on the maternity ward dropped. For his trouble Semmelwies was vilified by his fellow physicians and eventually committed to an insane asylum, where he died of sepsis from a beating. The physicians stopped washing their hands and the death rate on the maternity ward they staffed, soared.

Every discovery in history has come about because someone has refused to accept the conventional explanation and thought outside the box. The Wright brothers and others imagined that flight was possible. Galileo postulated that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around. He was condemned for heresy and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Emmeline Pankhurst thought women should vote, and went to jail and suffered force-feeding for her beliefs.

There are countless examples of those who defied convention, suffered for their beliefs, and were eventually vindicated by later discoveries.

Lest you think the suppression of freedom is a relic from history, consider our present practice of “online shaming.”

That schoolyard cry of “who do you think you are?” amplified by social media, has tremendous power to repress freedom of thought and action. In some cases the “shamer” has misidentified a person or action. In others, they are bent on imposing their own beliefs on dissenters.  George Orwell wrote 1984, in 1949.  When I studied it in school, along with The Chrysalids, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, I thought such absurd worlds could never really exist. We’d “won the war” freedom was guaranteed. Now I’m not so sure.

When I wrote The Man for Her, I thought having the heroine wear men’s clothing showed her practicality and strength. Having considered the history of women in pants, I’m even more proud of my unconventional heroine. 

Most romance heroines are feisty, plucky, free-thinking women who defy the conventions of their day. They marry for love rather than position. They work in traditional male jobs. They are entrepreneurs and astronauts. They chose their own path despite the odds. We admire these heroines. We love to read their stories. But consider the woman who went to jail for wearing trousers, and understand that our fictional heroines are risking their reputations, their livelihoods and maybe even their lives when they go against the traditions of their world.

As I said, freedom is precious. We must never take our rights for granted. They were won for us by brave and committed women.  Don’t let the bullies frighten us into submission.

Hits: 116

2 Real life Heroines

 

International Women's DayOne of the most common tropes of the romance novel is that the heroine be daring, spunky, and unconventional.  Milquetoast heroines rarely invoke readers affection and long-term attention. Lottie, in The Man For Her, is just such an unconventional heroine, unwed mother and tough farmer in a man’s land.

Monday was International Women’s Day, so in tribute to daring women everywhere I present to you two real-life women who dared, who defied the conventions of their time, and travelled the untrodden paths.

Martha Louise Black was born  in 1866, one of twin girls. When the their father was invited to meet his first children, he commented gravely to their mother that he was sorely disappointed. He had wanted a son.  Her twin did not survive, but Martha grew strong and beautiful and intelligent. She received a first class education and was presented to society. She married Will Purdy and for ten years lived the life of a society hostess in Chicago. Then gold was discovered in the Klondyke.

Martha, her brother George and husband Will made plans to travel to the Yukon and cash in on the gold rush. However, at the last minute, Will changed his mind. Martha was incensed and refused to give up her plans. Travelling with her brother and three other men, she set off on the gruelling trip north. The took a steamer from Seattle. The boat was dirty, crowded and overloaded. The captain frequently drunk. There were no luxuries aboard and Martha learned to use her dishpan for breadmaking, bathing and clothes washing.

When they reached Skagway there was no accommodation and they slept in tents or a lean-to on piles of hay. They had money, so instead of carrying their supplies up the 42 miles of the Chilkoot trail, they were able to hire packers. Still the sight of hundreds of dead horses who’d slipped and fallen to their deaths, filled Martha with fear. Her long skirts, corsets and bloomers hampered her as she struggled through sucking mud, clambered over sharp rocks and eventually  faced the final 3000 foot climb up a nearly vertical rock face. She was so tired that the men behind helped to push her up the last 100 feet. When she stumbled and cut her foot on a sharp rock, she sat down and wept. Her brother, unmoved by her distress admonished her to “buck up and be a man!” (From her memoir My Ninety Years.)

When they arrived at the top of the trail, she was was cold and miserable and asked for a fire. Wood cost two bits a pound. Her brother relented and order a five dollar fire. It lasted for one hour but long enough for her to warm up and dry her clothes.

As if the climb up the Chilkoot wasn’t hard enough, she then had to get down another steep, rock-strewn trail that left her with bleeding hands and feet. The final leg of the journey was by water through rapids. It was rumoured that any man who took a woman on that dangerous journey would be fined $100.00. Martha went anyway, nearly capsizing in the Miles Canyon. She finally arrived in Dawson City in 1895.

The promise of gold did not materialize as she had hoped, but she fell in love with the North. Although she returned to her home for a few years, she was not content and returned to Dawson City. In her memoirs she writes, “what I wanted was not shelter and safety, but liberty and opportunity.”

Martha went on to sell her gold claims, operate a sawmill and raise two of her sons in Dawson. She married George Black who was eventually appointed to be commissioner of the Yukon. Martha Black moved into Government House as its chatelaine. She made sure the “people’s house” was open to men and women of all standings, not just the wealthy and powerful.  George recruited a regiment to serve in WWI and Martha joined him in London. When the war was over they returned to Canada and George continued in politics, eventually becoming the speaker of the House of Commons. Years later, with George in poor health and herself aged 70, Martha ran for the Yukon seat in parliament and won.

commemorative plaque to Mrs. Black

Honouring Martha Black

Martha died at the age of 91, in her beloved Yukon.

 

 

 

In 1908 Agnes Deans Cameron, having lost her teaching certification, was making a new life for herself as a travel writer. To this end she set out with her niece, Jessie, to travel to the Arctic Ocean. She went to the premier travel company of the time, Thomas Cook, to make the arrangements. Despite their claim to have guides everywhere, the Cook company could not provide a route or transportation to the Western Arctic. They suggested she go to Egypt instead!

map of Cameron's Arctic journey

map of Cameron’s Arctic journey

While the Thomas Cook Agency could not get Agnes to her destination, The Hudson’s Bay Company could. They also supplied a letter of credit that could be used to buy “bacon and beans and blankets, sturgeon-head boats, guide’s services and succulent sowbelly, at any point between Fort Chimo on Ungava Bay and Hudson’s Hope-on-the -Peace, between Winnipeg-on-the-Red and that point in the Arctic where the seagull whistles over the whaling -ships at Herschel.” (Cameron, The New North.) 

To prepare for this journey that require shooting rapids, navigating sandbars, sleeping under the stars, cooking over an open fire and sharing the air with mosquitos and horseflies, Cameron cut her hair, opted for a wide-brimmed campaign hat and sturdy shoes. She kept her thick skirts but added several short jackets. She also had to take her own tent, mattress, blankets, raingear, hatchet and copper kettle.

Agnes Deans Cameron at Fort Simpson

Miss Cameron in front of old sun-dial at Fort Simpson [from back of photo] B.C. Archives F-08820

The journey began easily enough with the train from Winnipeg to Edmonton. Then it was on to Athabasca Landing over a treacherous road called the “bugs, mud and moonshine trail.” They were supposed to ride in the mail stage, but the mud was so deep that passengers walked to lighten the load for the horses.

From Athabasca Landing they took to the water, running 90 miles of rapids in open, flat-bottomed scows. By the time they reached the Mackenzie River and the Hudson’s Bay stern-wheeler, the S.S. Grahame she is overjoyed to have a room with a bath!

Most of the rest of their journey was by water, sometimes in canoes or rafts, other times in a stern-wheeler. Along the way they visited Indigenous settlements, missionary outposts and Hudson Bay forts. Agnes made copious notes and took rolls and rolls of pictures for the books and articles she intended to write when the journey was complete.

The return journey was just as rigorous, but this time she knew what to expect. After six months, she returned to Winnipeg, her mind full of the images she’d seen and predictions for the lumber industry, the oil patch, and Arctic sovereignty.  The  provincial legislature in British Columbia offered to reinstate her teaching certificate, but Agnes was now focussed on the larger world. She became an international traveller, writer and lecturer. She took up bicycle racing and drove in car rallies. She died suddenly of appendicitis in 1912. Her funeral was one of the largest Victoria had ever seen with most of the elite of the city in attendance.

As one who is more settler than seeker, I can’t help but admire the determination and passion these two women showed in seeking their own paths despite the obstacles, not least of which was the fact they were women.

When we read of gritty heroines in our romance novels, let us not forget the real-life women who dared to go their own ways.

 

I

Hits: 25

Not a Regency Romp

book cover The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor

My book club selection in January was The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor, by Sally Armstrong. This was a fictionalized account of a real historical character, set in the late eighteenth/ early nineteenth century in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The book touched on historical events like the American Revolution, the Expulsion of the Acadians and the displacement of the native Micmac peoples.

Ms Armstrong is a well-respected writer and historian. Charlotte Taylor is one of her ancestors. The book is meticulous in its detail and documents all that could be documented, but part of the tale is fiction as there were no records ever made. Still, we get a good sense of the character of Charlotte and the time and place she lived.

Charlotte came from the gentry class in England. Her father was wealthy. She had an inheritance of her own. She should have made her debut as a young lady, attending balls and seeking a husband. But Charlotte rebelled against the life she was handed. She wanted to make a life of her own. Romance heroines are expected to be feisty and rebellious. Charlotte, not a romance heroine, consorted with the black butler then ran away from home to the West Indies, expecting to become his wife there. This was no flit to Gretna Green. This was a dangerous sea voyage to an unknown destination, beyond the censure or assistance of home and family.

Her life in Jamaica did not work out and she ended up in what was then Nova Scotia. When a well-meaning sea captain, who recognized her name and knew her father, planned to return her to England, she eluded the rowboat that would have taken her to the ship and ran to a Micmac settlement. She spent her first winter there, learning the means of survival. When next she encountered the sea captain, her pregnancy was obvious and he finally understood the impossibility of a return to English society.

Charlotte’s life was hard. She had to expend every ounce of strength and ingenuity on staying alive. She had three husbands, all of whom died early, and ten children, who all survived. She learned to clear land, build a cabin, cook game over an open fire. She learned which berries were edible and which were poisonous. She studied the native lore and learned the medicinal properties of local plants. She fought hard to get a deed to her land. She continued to struggle with the male concept of a “woman’s place.” She lived to old age.

My question when I finished the book was, “was it worth it?” At a time when Jane Austen was penning Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Taylor, wearing moccasins, was trekking through the wilds of Eastern Canada to Frederick Town to demand a deed to her property. The contrast between the old life and the new couldn’t be greater.

Many years after her flight, she wondered about her family and wished for contact with her father, yet it seemed she had no desire to ever return to the land of her birth. Was there joy in her life? Toward the end, when all her husbands were dead and her children grown, maybe.

I highly recommend this book.

Hits: 32

A Bride for Brynmor — review

 

My latest historical read was this tale by Jacqui Nelson. I’ve long admired Jacqui’s work and her new novel is no exception.
Hope you enjoy it too.
Back Blurb
Can a sister who’s lived only for others find freedom with one man? Family has always come first—for both of them. He’s never forgiven himself for letting her go. She’s never forgiven herself for almost getting him killed.

When Lark and her songbird sisters are separated fleeing their cruel and controlling troupe manager, only Brynmor Llewellyn can help Lark save her sisters and escape to the far west. But Lark wants more. And so does Brynmor. When they’re stranded in a spot as difficult to guard as it is to leave—a rustic cabin at a train junction between Denver and the mountain town of Noelle, Colorado—they find themselves fighting not only for survival but for redemption, forgiveness, and a second chance for their love.

Will the frontier train stop of Songbird Junction be Lark and Brynmor’s salvation? Or their downfall when her manager, a con artist who calls himself her uncle but cherishes only his own fame and fortune—demands a debt no one can pay?

A note about story links: A Bride for Brynmor is the first book in the Songbird Junction series. This American Western Historical Romance is a sweet rated standalone read, but it also includes characters (such as reader-favorite Grandpa Gus Peregrine) featured in my Noelle, Colorado, Christmas storiesThe Calling Birds (set in 1876) and Robyn: A Christmas Bride (set in 1877).

Welcome to Songbird Junction where Welsh meets West in Colorado 1878. The journey to find a forever home and more starts here. Brynmor, Heddwyn, and Griffin Llewellyn are three Welsh brothers bound by blood and a passion for hauling freight—in Denver where hard work pays. Lark, Oriole, and Wren are three Irish-Cree Métis sisters-of-the-heart bound by choice and a talent for singing—in any place that pays.
The book is for sale here
Enjoy!

 

Hits: 81

The Cost of the Vote

 

Monday was voting day in Canada, our 43rd general election since Confederation in 1867. I voted on a miserable, stormy day and gave thanks for the privilege. As Sir Winston Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government except for all the rest. 

2019 is also the 90th anniversary of the “persons case” in which women were declared by the Privy Council of Great Britain to be legal persons in Canada, and therefore entitled to election to the parliament.

In the 21st century it is hard to imagine that women could be declared legally non-persons, but such were the prejudices and self-interest of men. In fact, throughout history, power has had to be wrested from one class to the next.  The barons  of England gained power from the king with Magna Carta, but they wouldn’t share with the commoners until forced. Those with land wouldn’t share power with renters, until forced. Whites wouldn’t share with Indigenous peoples and men wouldn’t admit women to the halls of power, until ordered to do so.

Canada derives its parliamentary system from Britain, so the history of the UK shaped our own.

Even in the US, founded on the principles of freedom and “no taxation without representation,” the founding fathers conceived the Electoral College as a way to keep the “riff raff” from having too much power.

 It seems everyone who champions the cause of democracy, changes sides when they have something to lose. 

But the human spirit is stronger than politics.  Men and women insist on being part of the process, not mere subjects commanded by the whim of a monarch. Every time I mark the X on my ballot, it tip my hat to those who fought for that right.

  I especially raise a teacup to the women who suffered ridicule, slander, incarceration and the torture of force feeding, that I might have a say in my country’s government.  Thank you famous five, and all the others who worked to secure my rights.

Hits: 63

Singapore Sapphire

Set in the far east, Singapore Sapphire isn’t my usual cup of tea, but I like the author, A.M. Stuart, so decided to try the book.

The far east is still not my favourite place to visit, even in fiction, but I thoroughly enjoyed this first of the Harriet Gordon mysteries.

The story takes place at the beginning of the twentieth century, before two world wars changed the order of things for the British Empire. In the midst of the Malay jungle we have a Church of England school and a proper Cricket Club. Alongside these pillars of the ex-pat community are the Dutch traders and native Malays, Chinese, and Burmese. All thrown together in the heat and damp of Singapore. Along with murderers and thieves and smugglers, the climate itself acts as an enemy to European sensibilities. Fine buildings fall into decay, mouldering away almost as soon as they are erected. Rot seeps up from the docks, corruption lurks behind fine facades.

Harriet Gordon is an interesting character, widowed and hiding the secret of her time in Holloway prison for women, she is both bold and timid, bowing to conventions in her brother’s house, yet poking her nose into police business and seeking to solve a murder. There’s a hint of romance, even though it seems doomed at the outset.

Although Singapore is not on my list of places to visit, the author clearly knows and loves the area. Her descriptions of sights and sounds and smells brings the city and the time alive and will appeal to those with a taste for exotic locales.

I read the book in paperback but it is also available in e-book.

You don’t often see book recommendations on this blog because I only promote those I’ve actually read and enjoyed. Singapore Sapphire is a good read with lots of twists and turns in the plot and lots of historical and geographical detail to thrill the armchair traveller. 

I’ll be watching for the next Harriet Gordon mystery.

What about you? Read any good books lately?

 

 

Hits: 61

The Barn

“Go to the barn. Get the stink off you.”

This contradictory decree was usually issued by a harassed parent when children were underfoot, quarrelsome, cranky and complained of being bored. In other words, when they were stinky. The condition usually occurred when intemperate weather confined said stinky children to the house.

The barn gave mothers respite and the children a magical place to work off their orneriness.  There were calves to brush, hay forts to build, ladders to climb and beams to walk along. Often there was a nest of kittens to find, or a barn owl perched high in the rafters.

The barn was so integral a part of my childhood it wasn’t until later years that I realized the term meant different things to different people.  There are English barns, Dutch barns, round barns, low barns and stone barns, among others.

Bank Barn

When I think of “barn” I picture the bank barn. This is a barn built into a side hill, so that haywagons can drive into the upper or mow section and the livestock is housed on the ground level. In areas with hard winters, these barns have steep roofs to shed snow and provide huge spaces for hay storage.

 

In my book, The Man for Her, I envisioned an English barn at Pine Creek Farm.

This barn is not as large as the barn of my childhood and is all on one floor. The hinged wagon doors allowed Lottie to drive her wagons directly onto the threshing floor. There was no lower level, but livestock was housed on one side of the main aisle while hay and grain were stored on the other. This barn still has a high roof to accommodate the hay mow. That’s why Sean had to climb a ladder up toward the roof, despite his fear of heights.

Round Barn

This is an example of a round or polygonal barn.

These were first built by Shakers in the 1800’s but were not plentiful. They underwent a revival in the 1880’s as farmers sought more efficiencies. The idea was that the circle created more useable space with fewer materials. A central silo was added in later editions to allow gravity to move feed from the top floor to the cattle floor. In theory, the round barn was a great idea, but in practical terms there were drawbacks. It’s biggest shortcoming was the inability to expand. If the barn were built to accommodate twenty milking cows, it could not be expanded to accommodate thirty. As the farmer increased his herd, he had to built another barn.

The barn in this picture has been converted into a craft shop, saving it from the wrecker’s ball.

The interior of a wood frame barn is as beautiful as a cathedral, with soaring timbers, squared off to create sturdy beams. Smaller logs create the rafters and vertical siding allows ventilation between the boards.

 

Sadly, these iconic wooden structures are disappearing from Canada’s rural landscape. Some are merely abandoned as farms cease production. Others are replaced by modern, steel barns as agriculture moves forward with the times.

Modern Barns

Efficient feeding, cleaning and milking parlours make this modern barn state-of-the-art in today’s agribusiness. Via computer the farmer can set a feed schedule for each cow, monitor her milk output and control her milking timetable. Open sides allow light and air to enter the stable, and the use of tractors to clean the barn floor.

Only by embracing such modern inventions can the farmer meet the demand for more food produced at lower cost that twenty-first century consumers expect.

It combines the latest in science and animal husbandry.

I’m not sure it will help kids “get the stink off.”

To read more about the history of the barn in Canada, I suggest this link. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/barns

Do you have a favourite barn memory? Did you ever jump in loose hay? Please share your story.

Hits: 74

Calico Kitten vs Bathroom Scale

Exploring her new domain, a calico kitten jumped on the bathroom scales. The needle moved. Kitten reared back, raised her front paw and gave that needle a good smack.

I applauded. I’ve often wanted to smack the scales. Being a writer, I started to wonder if I could use the incident in a book. Since I write historicals  and bathroom scales are a modern invention, the answer is probably not, but I’ll store the idea away for future reference.

Then I got to thinking about body shape in romance novels. Harlequin novels of a certain era used to spend a lot of words describing the heroine in minute detail from tiny waist to slim hips to curvy bosom. She had fine eyes and a cupid’s bow mouth, porcelain (or sun-touched) skin. Always slight enough for the hero to carry her in his arms.

Corsetry through the ages pinched and prodded women’s forms into many shapes to suit the taste of the day. Small waist, no waist, round hips, flat hips. It seems the female form always had to be constrained and manipulated.

Clothing too played a role in our view of the ideal feminine shape. From Jane Austen’s heroine with the waist right below the bust and slim body, to Victorian panniers and enormous sleeves, women’s forms have been hidden by clothing. However, a look at nude paintings of various eras will show that in the 16th century, the ideal woman was full figured with rounded hips and thighs and an obvious belly.

By the eighteenth century she was shown with small breasts and a flatter stomach. Raphael’s “Three Graces” is an example.

By the mid-nineteenth century, tiny waists were de rigueur. Scarlett O’Hara boasted of  a seventeen inch waist. Later in the century, Edward VII’s mistress Lillie Langtry’,  measured 18 inches about the waist.

Moving into the 20th Century we see women of the flapper era going for a boyish silhouette, even binding their breasts to appear flat-chested. After the privations of the Great Depression and WWII, Christian Dior brought out his “New Look.” Once again, women were curvy. Liz Taylor’s 36-21-36 figure was the ideal. Skirts swirled wide at the hem, tight bodices showed off full breasts.

But fashion is fickle. By the 1960’s we had Twiggy and ulta-skinny was the shape du jour. By the 1980’s women were on the fitness bandwagon. Remember Jane Fonda’s workout video? Remember when Jane Fonda was a sex kitten?

Today’s woman is any shape she wants to be, although, in general, today’s twenty-something is larger than her grandmother at the same age. Better diet, in childhood is the most likely cause.

All of which brings us to the question of how historical romance writers should treat the depiction of women’s figures. Do we go with the style of the day and describe them as wasp-waisted. Do we dwell on their high, round bosom? Do we denigrate those who don’t fit the mores of the day?

In my own books, I don’t spend too many words of physical descriptions of the heroine. I’m more likely to pick one feature and use that as a touchstone throughout the novel. i.e. red hair is symbolic of temper and impulsiveness, so those character traits will be emphasized in the action of the story and be referenced to the hair colour.

In my latest book, Her One True Love, the heroine is a photographer. Portrait photos are usually meant to flatter the subject, often wearing her best clothes and posed before a pretty backdrop. My heroine, Louisa, says “Maybe I can make my career photographing women as they really are, strong, stubborn and hard-working.”

I think the modern romance reader has outgrown those dainty Harlequin heroines of a bygone era and would rather see their female protagonists as “strong, stubborn and hard-working.”

What about you, dear reader? Do you want a lot of detail about physical appearance? Do you want your heroines to come in many shapes and sizes? Can too much “reality” spoil the romance?

Leave a comment and your name will be entered in a draw for a free copy of “Her One True Love.

 

 

Hits: 139

« Older posts

© 2020 Alice Valdal

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑