Sunday, April 13, 2014

Spring, etc

What is it about spring that makes people want to spend like crazy? I spotted a lovely little house for sale about a mile from where I live. (and by lovely, I mean derelict- it's not as though I could afford one that doesn't have boards on the windows; but I see possibilities there)  After a week of dithering, I decided yes, I do want to pursue  it. I'm not really sure how this is going to go, but one thing I'm sure of: 

It's going to take money

I'll be emptying my bookshelves onto Ebay over the next week. Art& craft, fantasy, history, alternative building. They kind of accumulate between purges, you know? I'll post a link when they're up. They'd be up already, but I found 4 drained batteries for the camera and no sign of the charger. 

Yeah....Spring cleaning is overdue. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

18th century graveyard trivia

So, a bunch of peasants rubbernecking at the crazy lordling; also, the reason they rarely get speaking lines: dialect. Rural England has a variety of regional dialects that can be nigh unintelligible (or is that illegible?) Luckily, my main characters are all well-educated enough to speak standard English.

It's such a sad subject that I inserted inappropriate humor in order to cope. Look at the servants. The footman was too slow to hand Her Grace out and is afraid he's in trouble, and the maid is struggling with the heavy umbrella.

I read rather a lot about graveyards, most of it unnecessary for the level of detail I put in here. Allan is kneeling by a chest tomb, a fancified tombstone. It resembles a sarcophogus, but the body is buried under it rather than being interred within. It is right next to the church wall (a preferred spot). The Stanhopes are THE most important family in the parish and may well have funded the building of the church, to show off their awesomeness.

Most people (read: less important than an Earl) would have a headstone and likely a footstone to mark their grave. Some of them resembled headboards and footboards of a bed, as though the deceased were sleeping. Epitaphs were everywhere, and so were carvings of cherubs, skulls, hourglasses, wheat, and other trite symbols of mortality. We're mostly past the time when people would insist on being buried in the church; literally under the aisles, but there is probably a fancy monument to the deceased inside the church as well, paid for by the family.

Do you know why graveyards were traditionally fenced? They would keep sheep in them to keep the grass cropped short!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

18th century umbrellas...and traditional burials

So my difficult-to-answer questions of this week are what did period umbrellas look like? I know they were heavy, cumbersome, and uncommon to see in London even in the 1780s (reading between the lines I conclude they were used outside the cities and/or by foreigners). In London they took covered conveyances when it rained and of course the men's greatcoats shed the rain. An umbrella was kept in the hall to convey women to the coach but was not used in walking about the city. Silk sun parasols were lightweight and common to see but were not made to withstand the rain.

The other question had to do with grave stones and monuments. In England people were buried (never cremated) according to strict custom and more or less according to wealth. If you could afford it, you would be interred IN or UNDER the church or in a family vault. The south side of the church was always popular. The north side was always damp and in shade, so it was a likely burial spot for the poor. Non-christians and unbaptised children had to be buried outside the churchyard. The rare suicide was buried at a crossroads with a stake holding them down (yes, even in England).
Perhaps its Gothic of me, but a Church cellar or aisle doesn't seem as good a setting for a scene as a graveyard. Besides, the Church is half-burnt. That's a different kind of scenic, I suppose.... I just need to find some period-correct examples of monuments/vaults.

Here's a few tidbits from Akenfield by Ronald Blythe. The village gravedigger in the last chapter is quite a character with decided opinions on how things ought to be done:

"When you bury a parson you always bury him re incumbent - the opposite way to everyone else. Everybody lies with their feet to the East so that when they rise they face the Lord. But a parson, you see, you bury him with his feet to the west, so that when he rises he faces his flock."

"Village folk have been buried over and over again in the same little bits of churchyard. You have to throw somebody out to get somebody in- three or four sometimes. I always put all the bones back so they lie tidylike just under the new person. They're soon all one."

I also read Jane Austen's England this week, good lot of information there even though I had to sift it carefully.
Here's an episode of BBC Cold Case (good series!) The Woman with Three Babies, where they discuss deviant burials in some detail. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Titles are handed down, not up

This is a very radical notion, actually. Not just gentle birth but birth order weighed heavily in the English class system. Allan implying he is as good as, or entitled to the same privileges as a titled relative is absurd. Sure he'd inherit it if Stephen were dead, and no one would argue the claim, but he's very much alive and so Allan is a nobody... such a strange double standard.

Okay, and another thing about titles is that they are handed DOWN, never up the family tree. If Hugh died and Stephen inherited, Allan could never inherit after that, even if Stephen died without sons. The title would go to a collateral line. If Stephen died and then Hugh died without other sons, then he Would inherit. So not only birth order, but death order is critical to the inheritance structure.

I think that since Allan's father didn't disinherit him, his brother can't. Can siblings disinherit? I haven't found any similar examples so I'm not actually sure.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Obsessing over Heirloom Tomatoes

You'll have to excuse me. After an extra-long, extra-chill Ohio winter, what's occupying my mind lately has been.... tomatoes. If there are tomatoes, it must be summer...right? They do take a while to grow, so it will be summer before they produce any fruit.

My dad grows the usual home varieties, Better Boy, Early Girl, but I'm a sucker for heirlooms. They may grow monstrous big, but they have character.

Last year I tried two heirloom varieties: Brandywine, and Yellow Oxheart. I didn't tie them up properly, so they sprawled all over; but I hope to mend that this year. I wasn't as keen on the Oxheart; I picked them because someone once gave me a 5-pound red oxheart tomato, but the ones I grew were regular-sized. All the same, the bright yellow makes a good bright contrast in salads and salsas.

There's always fun in trying new things, so I picked two new varieties I wanted to try, and ended up with three. Opalka is a meaty, hot-pepper shaped tomato, said to be excellent for sauces (and hopefully for sun-dried tomatoes, my goal!) Sun Gold is my only hybrid choice, a cherry tomato that produces fruit a month earlier than the heirlooms and regularly wins taste tests. And on a whim, a packet of seeds for Cherokee Purple because it was half off. Cherokee Purple has fans who rave about its awesome taste; on the other hand it produces irregularly.

How am I growing these? That IS an excellent question. My only south-facing window is shaded by an awning, and grow lights are expensive. I don't have a greenhouse or even a plastic row cover. There's an unused glassed-in emergency exit at my work, a former Kroger store, and I have permission to use it so long as I don't block the door.  I'm testing the glassed room for suitability, since I suspect it may overheat. After that, we'll see. I plan to encourage my coworkers to grow herbs and vegetables and swap with me.

I could have taken $20 and bought 4 tomato seedlings. Instead that $20 will start, with luck, up to 100 tomato plants. Without luck, at least 25 plants, right? That feeds a lot of people.

Wealth doesn't have to be about money. Sometimes it is about having enough to eat and enough left over to give away.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Happily Ever After, Really?

This panel is a good snapshot of his personality; black eye, defiance, denial, and all.

Most fantasy stories end with some variation of "the happy ending," where the main conflict has ended and the main characters either marry or shack up with their love interests. This bothers me because a. such a creative genre ought to have more imaginative endings and b. if there's a sequel it involves finding a new love interest because IF HE/SHE IS "THE ONE" EVERYTHING IS NATURALLY PERFECT AND IF IT ISN'T, HE/SHE ISN'T "THE ONE" aaaand the sequel is about finding "the real Mr/Mrs Right."
Okay, so maybe I'm complaining about a particular urban fantasy/romance I was suckered into reading. However, emotional maturity comes from working through problems in a relationship, not transferring your affections/dependencies/neuroses to the next available guy/girl. YOUR EMOTIONAL BAGGAGE, IT GOES WITH YOU!

I can name two fantasies from my childhood that broke with tradition. Naturally they're among my favorite books. The Hero and the Crown, and The Last Unicorn. I won't ruin the endings for those of you that haven't read them, but I will say that if you can live without the words "Happily Ever After" you might give them a try.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Witch's Heart

A year and a half ago, August, I was gathering information and doing research for this story but hadn't got beyond pencil sketches. I went to a local reenactment (The Fair at New Boston; I've raved about them before!).

I enquired of most everyone about gentlemen's clothing of the 1760s; and other mannerisms, and ended up spending a lot of time with a... musician is too loose a term. A maestro of period music. At one point he took out a 19th century violin from his cart, pointed out the differences between it and a modern violin, and played a very complicated melody. It wasn't even his primary instrument! He had a German flute, rare reproductions of 18th & 19th century music books, and a custom made pushcart with an awning to protect everything. Period music was obviously his overriding passion. Anyway, I asked him about clothes, and one thing he showed me was a pin.

A heart, with the point twisted to one side, and a crown of garnets.

"Most people wouldn't think to show you this," he said. "It's hidden under layers. But men's shirts were open-fronted and this held them closed."

He was wearing, he added naturally, an antique pin, and gave me the rest of the lore. "The Witch's Heart" was an English charm against witchcraft in the 1600s- early 1700s, similar to the Scottish Luckenbooth. It was pinned to baby blankets and baby clothes; infant mortality rates were high and people were superstitious. By 1800 it had become more of a lover's token, signifying "You have enchanted me."

I mean! A 200 year-old pin for his costume! And no one would even see it! THAT is being in character~!

I went home and drafted a chapter about it, I was so inspired. It's been reduced to this one page, unfortunately. If I ever redraw/rewrite this story from the beginning (it needs it!) it might get that chapter back. It has potent symbolism, but so does the pocket watch, and I'd have to time it more carefully so they're not competing for attention in the same chapter.

Finally I was able to share that story! By summer perhaps I will be able to share the REASON this is set in the very particular year of 1761......