I have got stuck on episode 3 of a serial I am supposed to be writing for The People’s Friend. I am blocked on the Regency vicar’s parsimonious sermon which I have planned for the opening scene. In despair I decided to start writing events before the sermon. Which led me to the knotty issue of weather.
The problem is that I recently spotted a villager (real) buying The People’s Friend from the post office across the road. Oh dearie dearie me, I thought. They’ll read my story, see the name and put two and two together. If I don’t get my historical facts right they’ll Let Me Know. So I really need to know what was the weather like the weekend after Peterloo happened.
Thankfully, Google led me to the online diaries of William Rowbottom, a handloom weaver of Burnley Lane, Oldham. These are a wonderful record of the life and times in Oldham in the years around the Peterloo massacre. I printed out a few pages which had relevant information such as food prices (my main character is a shop keeper) weather reports, and activities relating to reformers in August 1819. Then I took these few sheets to digest in the bath.
What surprised me most (apart from the abundance of gooseberries in an unusually warm summer) was the number of suicides reported on these few random pages. April 23rd, 1818 – an old woman ‘in a fit of despair’ hanged herself. August 3rd 1818, 81 year old man hanged himself. May 11, 1819 seems to have been a particularly bad day. A young woman (16) threw herself down a coalpit; a 19 year old lad drowned himself after a quarrel with his girlfriend. (There is no suggestion the two events were linked). Inquest on a young woman who drowned herself due to ‘lunacy’. May 18th 1819 – a man (age not stated) who was known to be despondent, drowned himself.
We tend to think of mental distress leading to suicide as a modern phenomena. Reading this diary it clearly is not. It appears to have been an all too familiar occurrence two hundred years ago, and looking at the ages of those involved and the causes cited the issues have changed little over time – teenage angst, depression and the loneliness and fatalism of old age. One wonders how long this has been so.
I am just back from Bloody Scotland. No, I’m not swearing, I’m referring to Scotland’s prestigious crime festival in Stirling. I’ve been rubbing shoulders with the likes of Val Mcdermid and Ian Rankin. What I’m writing about today, though, is Stirling castle.
I first saw this from a distance, perched on a hillside as I flew past in the car to Fort William. From that day, roughly 45 years ago, I’ve wanted to visit it. Probably I’ve done well to wait this long as there has been an extensive restoration programme completed in the last 20 years or so.
When I got into the queen’s chambers in the King’s palace today, I had a bit of a shock. ‘Why,’ I said turning to my husband, ‘have they got IKEA furniture.’ Then I stopped and had a think.
We are used to seeing old buildings full of old furniture. That is, furniture which was made a long time ago and which has aged. What we are not seeing is old furniture as it was when it was made then. I’m sure that sixteenth century carpenters were perfectly capable of cutting things in perfectly straight lines, of making things that were not warped or split and which had perfectly sharp angles and edges. Similarly, tapestries, when just completely, were fresh and vibrant. Light fittings were not tarnished or rusted.
The more I looked around the queen’s rooms, the more I realised that yes, this is probably how they would have looked when they were new. So why shouldn’t historic Scotland put on that sort of display now given that they don’t have the originals to show us anyway? It threw me for a while. Probably they had not used IKEA furniture. But wherever they got their brand new table and ceiling mounted candle holders, at the same time it has made me rethink historic settings.
Instead, I lost sleep over some utter twerp who had no grasp of the subject he was opining on. Worse, when it was correctly pointed out that ‘I am tired’ is not an example of the passive voice, he went on the attack: ‘why do you say that? What evidence have you got? I can prove it is passive…’ And then he put forward an argument for a weak verb, which is a creative writing concept, not a passive clause, which is a grammatical structure.
It’s the internet! What was I expecting?
I have the argument and the evidence to put him right, but Icouldn’t log in to share it without sharing my Facebook details with goodness knows who. And I’m not prepared to do that for a twerp.
So I switched out the light, muttered and ground my teeth for half an hour before switching the light back on and reading one of the delightfully old-fashioned crime short stories that my husband bought me for my birthday.
I’m tired this morning, and I’m still muttering about it.
So if anyone out there is having issues with an editor/critic who thinks every instance of ‘was’ is the passive voice, just let me know and I will happily explain it all, with references.
I’m about as anti-feminist as you can get. But I did find this blog about the effect of using a male nom de plume very interesting (I’d have reblogged it but I don’t know how).
I’ve worked all my life and have learned to avoid committees and meetings of all sorts if I possibly can because they are all talk and no action. Mainly it’s the men that do all the talking. The women (with a few exceptions) have been far more ‘right, so what do we actually need to do?’ This is the basis of my theory for women not doing as well in the boardroom – they can’t be doing with all that endless waffle.
The question is, when I start sending novels out again, should I switch my name round, as my real life surname is a man’s Christian name? Worth a thought.
Then I could probably just repost this rather than provide a link. I have done little writing recently, despite being ‘on holiday’ at home, mostly because I have been breaking several of the rules – not writing every day, even 150 words, not sticking to one project and not keeping off the internet (I’m on it now!)
As for his guru’s advice of not writing sentences of more than 10-12 words, I’ll have to think about this. Of course we don’t know if that initial book was written in English or not. But generally I totally agree with shorter rather than longer, and using simple words: my huge beef with academia is that proponents of it seem to be hung up on long, unnecessary words (‘psychologisation’ is my favourite unnecessary word to date): I think it says a lot that those academics who sell millions by popularising complex science do it in the words and ideas of the common man. That’s a skill that requires a vast amount of knowledge and understanding – not all of it scientific!