Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Days of Mercy

News item: Today I started circulating the first few chapters of my novel, which I am calling Days of Mercy.

Meanwhile, here is an updated description of the story: 

A British spy dies while rescuing a young aristocrat from the French Revolution.  The aristocrat, ungrateful and mortally offended to owe his life to a commoner, determines to discredit the spy’s reputation. Searching for hidden scandals, he inadvertently uncovers a plot to overthrow the British Monarchy, pulling himself into a perilous underworld of treason and crime.  In an epic journey across France, England and Wales, the boy aristocrat can only survive by finding the man within himself, and finishing the work the once detested spy had started.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A(n) Historical . . .?

When one wants to write historical novels, the first question that comes to mind is which indefinite article to use prior to "historical", "a" or "an"? I know, I know. That is not really the first question. My kids hate it when I exaggerate. But it is a point of confusion that was probably never cleared up in Freshman English, and it was bothering me, so I looked it up.

Here is the rule for using the indefinite article prior to words beginning with the letter "h":
  • Use "an" when the "h" is silent, as in "honest." For example, we speak and write: "an honest woman."
  • When the "h" is spoken but the first syllable is unstressed then we use "an" in speech, but we write "a." Thus, in speech we would say "an historical novel", but we write "a historical novel." This rule has transformed over time so that it is usually considered correct to write either "a" or "an." Spoken usage has also evolved to where using "an" in this case is considered formal, even pretentious. Translation: when the first syllable is unstressed, do whatever you want.
  • When the first syllable of the word beginning with "h" is stressed, then "a" is always the correct indefinite article. Example: "a hat."
Conclusion: for the purposes of this blog, I am a historical novelist.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Details, Details, Details

One of the best things about writing a historical novel is that it forces me to dig up and closely examine details from history that I never would have noticed before. It turns out that details are much more interesting than the broad picture and often more informative and compelling, as well. Likewise as a reader of historical novels, reading a reference to a minor character or a long forgotten building can open new vistas for discovering the past. Let me give you one example.

London Bridge, 1799

The Old London Bridge is well-known for being crowded with shops and houses teetering precariously over the Thames, like a bloated version of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. At the time I am writing about, 1792, the bridge had been wiped clean of those structures. All of the houses and shops were torn down, so that the surface of bridge was a clean sweep. However, all of the original pillars, connected by nineteen arches, remained.

Especially interesting to me, the effect of all of those pillars was that they forced the river to run through nineteen separate channels, and when the tide was flowing, each channel was a separate fast moving ten foot waterfall! Daredevil boaters sometimes shot through the channel and sometimes drowned. Passengers from up river avoided the danger by disembarking above the bridge and walking down below the bridge to continue their journey. A whole other fascinating detail was the group of water wheels under the London Bridge, positioned there because of this flow, and which supplied London with much of its not-so-fresh water.

Much more information about the history of the bridge, including detailed diagrams of the water wheels, is available at the Old London Bridge website, here.

Details do bring the past to life, and one of the great virtues of historical novels is that they are informed by details, which can be jumping off points for the reader to do his or her own historical research. It makes history exciting, and that is the point.

London Bridge, 1710