The Story So Far ...

Monday, 13 February 2017

Writing to Music - HE Bulstrode

Throughout 2017, I'm inviting authors to talk about music, writing, and writing to music. This month I hand the page over to author HE Bulstrode:

Music and the Writing of Historical Fiction

When people write about the relationship between music and writing, much of the discussion tends to be concerned with the former’s impact upon productivity, but what I will focus upon here, will be something a little more nuanced: the manner in which music can help the writer reach back into another time.

Agnes of Grimstone Peverell (H.E. Bulstrode's West Country Tales Book 5) by [Bulstrode, H.E.]

Firstly, however, I would like to make a few observations regarding my own thoughts regarding music’s general usefulness to the process of writing itself. If I have slept well and am at my most alert, listening to music whilst writing can serve as an enjoyable stimulus, but when I am feeling tired, or as if my head were stuffed with little more than cotton wool, music becomes a positive hindrance to composition. Mental fatigue, more so than physical, renders music a distraction and an impediment to the marshalling of thought, and putting together words on paper, or on screen. If I am tired and wish to write, listening to music is therefore best avoided. Music may serve as either a stimulus, or an impediment, to composition, depending upon how alert I happen to be at the time. 

For the author of historical fiction, music presents another means of peering into the past, and attempting to more fully immerse ourselves in a lost world. However, as with our use of other sources in the form of the written word, buildings and monuments, the visual arts and the material culture of everyday life, the further back we go, the more difficult it is to reconstruct the auditory world of our forebears. Today, thanks to radio, television and, perhaps most importantly, the internet, we possess access to a hitherto unimaginable quantity and variety of music.

If we are writing a piece set during the period of directly recorded sound, which commenced with the invention of Edison’s phonograph in 1877, then it is relatively straightforward to identify and locate pieces online, although not a great deal is available from the age of the wax cylinder. From the 1910s onwards, the amount of material greatly expands. Before then, we have to rely on musical notation and more recent performances and recordings of this music, to capture what people of an earlier age heard. This allows us to access at least a sample of what was played and sung during the early modern period, but the music associated with Church and court is better represented in the record, particularly from early in this period, than what was heard in the taverns or at village gatherings.
Detail from Purcell's Chacony in G Minor for Strings c. 1680

Musical notation in its current form became common only in the latter part of the 17th  seventeenth century, and if we venture further back – before the 14th century – we find ourselves in a world in which fixed note lengths are not recorded. The earliest English secular song for which both music and lyrics survive is ‘Sumer is icumen in’ from the 1260s, which many of you may recognise as the tune used to memorable effect in cult horror film ‘The Wicker Man’ in 1973. 

Once we venture back into the early mediaeval period and beyond, matters musical grow very dark indeed, and as for the actual tunes and melodies that were heard in the worlds of ancient Greece and Rome, or, indeed, in ancient Britain, we remain ignorant. That said, you can listen to a rather haunting recording of a melody deciphered from a cuneiform tablet found in the city of Ugarit, Syria, in the 1950s. This hymn to the Hurrian goddess of the orchards – Nikkal – was composed for the lyre over 3,400 years ago. 

With respect to the influence of music upon my own writing, I found it useful to listen to compilations of songs from the 1910s and the 1920s to prime my mood for the writing of the period ghost story, ‘Old Crotchet,’ set in 1920s Somerset. This, however, being upon the cusp of living memory hardly qualifies, in my opinion, as history. What has proved to be more challenging, and indeed, interesting, has been tracking down music that would have been familiar to folk of the middling sort, and lower, during the 17th century, as part of the research for my forthcoming novel ‘Pendrummel: Gwen Gwinnel’s Return,’ and published novella ‘The Cleft Owl,’ which span the late 1670s to mid-1680s. 

Of particular use has been reference to the pieces contained in ‘Playford’s Dancing Master,’ originally published in 1651, and in a number of subsequent editions until around 1728. 

A YouTube search will find not only recordings of many of Playford’s tunes, but also accompanying videos of re-enactors performing historical dances. The Estonian early dance ensemble Saltatriculi include a number of these in their repertoire, such as ‘Moll Peatley (The New Way),’ and ‘Parson’s Farewell,’. Without seeing such dances, I would have had no idea as to how they would have been performed. 

The Bodleian Library’s outstanding collection of digitised broadside ballads, dating from the 16th to the early 20th centuries, is freely available online, and provides a wealth of information relating to popular preoccupations and attitudes over the centuries. The broadside ballad pictured here, dealing with the reuniting with his lover of a boatswain taken into slavery in Algiers, was published at some point between 1671 and 1704. As you can see from this example, these publications frequently featured only lyrics, and would refer to well-known tunes to which they could be set. 

In sum, seeking out and listening to the music associated with a particular period and section of society, as well as reading the lyrics of popular songs, helps to flesh out the writer’s picture of the past. We can never seek to recapture, and convey, the taste and texture of any part of history in a truly authentic form, as we lack direct experience of it, but in listening to the music and voices of the past, we can step a little closer to that goal. 


Find HE Bulstrode on his Blog
On Facebook
On His Amazon Author Page

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Anglo-Saxon Names

I wrote a blog some time ago about why I thought it was that the Anglo-Saxon era is one of the less popular. 

It's not often studied in schools - indeed, I had to wait until my degree course before I was offered the opportunity to study it - and it's a bit, well, far away. Not as far away as the Romans, though, or the Ancient Greeks.

What probably doesn't help is the names.

In an average day's writing, I can find myself with at least one Aethelwold, an Aelfhere, a couple of Aelfric's, an Aelfsige, an Aethelweard and several Aethelreds. Aelthelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, was far from being the only woman of this age who was given that name.

Of course, I know who they all are. Just as you might know one or more people named Michael; you will be able to distinguish them in your mind. So much so that you hardly notice that Michael from the office, who drives you mad with his habit of tapping his pen on the desk while he works, has the same name as your lovely Uncle Michael who always brings presents when he visits. So it is with me: I know that Bishop Aethelwold of Winchester, formerly abbot of Abingdon, is a completely different person from Ealdorman Aethelwold of East Anglia. And that neither of them has anything to do with Aethelwold, son of Aethelred, who fought at the battle of the Holme in 902 and held a nun hostage...

'Aethelwold' silver penny
To be fair, the Anglo-Saxons were no different from any other age in this regard. Pick up a book set in the later middle ages and you will find the pages littered with Williams, Richards and Edwards. Henry is quite popular too. I believe one or two kings even bore the name 😉

Later on, in the Tudor age, try getting away from folks named Thomas - Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas More, Thomas Tallis...

Parents or teachers today will see the same trends in the classroom. When my children were little, it seemed like every other male child was named Matthew or Daniel, and common girls' names were Hannah and Bethany.

The main problem with Old English names is that they are Old English. They're not familiar, because they essentially come from another language. In written form, they look odd. I haven't used the diphthongs but if I did, they would look even more 'foreign.'

Æ and æ turn the name Aethelflaed into Æthelflæd, which looks better to me, but I imagine it's more difficult to read if one is not used to the OE alphabet characters. Turn it into Æðelflæd and it looks even worse!

Charter of Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians and Aethelred, her husband

So what do these names mean?

Most OE names of this period are composites. The Aethel, or Æthel prefix means 'noble'. 
We also have the prefix Ælf, which means 'Elf'.
Ead, as in Eadred or Eadgar, means 'blessed'. This prefix is very common, and is the original prefix of names such as Edward, Edwin and Edgar.

The endings of names have meaning, too.
Wine means 'friend', so Aethelwine translates as 'noble friend'.

Red, or more properly ræd, means 'counsel'. Thus we have the most famous of all puns on a king's name. Aethelred the Unready, whilst he might always have been caught a bit unawares by boatloads of Danes, was not actually named thus because of his inability to anticipate the Viking raids.

Originally his epithet was a play on words: His name, Æthelræd, means noble counsel. Unræd means badly or ill-counselled. So in OE, Æthelræd Unræd  was 'noble counsel, ill-counselled. He was, as in the title of Ann Williams' biography of him, Aethelred, the Ill-counselled king.

Charter of Aethelred the Unready (detail) note all the 'Æ' names

Stān, meaning 'stone', when added to Æthel, gives us the name Æthelstān, or Athelstan, a fitting name for a king: 'noble stone'.

Other name endings include 'thryth', or ðryth, which means 'strength'. 
Thus, Queen Ælfðryth, or Aelfthryth, has a name which means 'elf strength'.

Many noblewomen's names end in gifu, meaning gift, and pronounced 'yiva'. Perhaps the best known of these is Lady Godgifu - modernised to Godiva (from Godyiva)

These names, by and large, are reserved for the 'upper classes', and are prevalent in the later portion of the period. Go back to the seventh and eighth centuries and you find more variety in the personal names, partly as a result of there still being separate kingdoms, with family, tribal and linguistic traditions. Thus the royal house of Mercia had two branches, known as B and C, with names such as Burgred on one side, and Ceolwulf on the other. Going back further still, the names get even stranger, but even so, patterns are detectable. Penda, Peada and Pybba were all from the same family. (And all male, which might seem strange to us - as was King Anna of East Anglia.)

Other OE names have a similar composition to the later, noble names, but are easier on the eye: compound names beginning with Wulf, for example, such as Wulfstan, Wulfric, and Wulfnoth. 

Older compound names are less easy for our modern eyes to read: Cynewulf, Cynethryth, and Cynegils, for example.

Some are simply delightful because they incorporate what we would refer to as nicknames.
Eadulf Cudel was an eleventh century nobleman from the north east. Cudel means cuttlefish.

Eadwig Ceorlacyng's nickname translates as 'king of the peasants' although we don't know why he was known as such.
Athelstan Rota was so named because he was Athelstan the Red, and so, presumably, red-haired.
It's fairly safe to assume the reason why Æthelweard the Stammerer was so called. Or how about Godwine the Driveller?
Possibly the most infamous was Eadric Streona - whose name translates as Eadric the Grasping, but one of my favourites is Æthelmær se greata - Aethelmaer the Fat.

Ladies, too, had their nicknames, although goodness knows whether Æthelflæd Eneda's nickname 'the duck' was meant as a compliment or an insult.

Another Æthelflæd was known as 'The White' (se hwita), perhaps to describe the colour of her hair? We must assume that Eadgifu Pulchre was rather beautiful, since her by-name means The Fair. 

The name Eadgyth Swan-neck (swanneshals) conjures up images of a beautiful, long-necked woman, perhaps someone like Audrey Hepburn, but it's a shame that somewhere along the way, many of these OE names became modernised in real life and yet, at the same time, unfashionable - Eadgyth becomes Edith. 

Then there's Cuthbert, Wilfrid, Mildred, Audrey (yes, there she is again, although Aethelthryth Hepburn doesn't have the same ring to it), and even, though it was never an OE name in and by itself, Ethel. Some, however, retained their popularity and their noble bearing - Alfred, Edmund, Edward.

I like them all - although I stopped short of naming my children after any of them! And pronunication? Well, take your pick:
Many people call her Ethelfled, Lady of the Mercians. But I have also heard her referred to as Athelflat. I know which I prefer. 

The difficulties with these OE names, and the evidence for the use of by-names or nicknames, helped shape my decision to modernise some names in my novels, and to give several characters nicknames or pet names.

So I gave my Aethelflaed a nickname: Teasel. If you want to know why, pick up the book - the pet name leads to some confusion...

To Be A Queen - the Story of Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Review/Interview - In the Shadow of the Storm: Anna Belfrage

In the second of my monthly review/interviews, I'm going back to the reign of Edward II. February's featured novel is In the Shadow of the Storm.

Had Anna Belfrage been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

More about Anna on her website or on her blog

It's a while since I read an historical novel in which the main characters are fictional. Some authors choose to work entirely with 'real' people, some don't. In this instance, I felt the fictional characters gave the author room to manoeuvre and gave me as the reader the added bonus of not having to try to understand and get to know a host of real 14th-century people. 

This is the first of Anna's books which I've read, and I don't know if this is typical of her style, but straight away we are thrown right into the story, much as the central female character, Kit, is literally thrown into it. Immediately, I wanted to know who this woman was, and how she came to be in such a predicament. I didn't have long to wait. What could have been a complicated exposition becomes a deftly drawn, fast-paced painting of the scene. We are off and running.

Characters are introduced quickly and efficiently, and there is no slowing of the pace, yet I still felt as if I was getting to know these people. For all that they are, in a way, fully formed when we meet them, they have some distance to go with their stories and I wanted to journey with them. Sibling rivalry is introduced with minimum back-story, and yet is believable, not only in its own context, but in a universal way too. Anyone with a brother - or sister - will empathise. 

The story of Kit and Adam would have worked very well as a stand-alone adventure, and yet it is weaved into the historical framework of the turbulent reign of Edward and the rebellion of Roger Mortimer. I knew the basics of this period of history, and having read the book I feel much better informed, but at no time did this feel like a history lesson; facts are given when needed, but never shoe-horned into the story.

I finished reading this, the first in a series, late at night, and next morning I found that the characters were still 'with' me. A true indicator that I'd spent the previous evening in another world, fully absorbed in it.

Be warned - there are some brutal, bloody scenes, but these are so realistically drawn that I felt I really was watching the horror unfolding. The brutality is powerful, shocking, and it works as truthful historical drama.

After reading the book, I put a few questions to Anna:

You've spent a long time in a world of time-slip and Scottish and American 17th-century history. Was it always your plan someday to visit the 14th century? 
AB: Yes. The medieval period is something of a first love for me, and the story of Roger Mortimer is particularly intriguing. I did consider writing it as a time-slip, but neither Adam nor Kit showed any inclination for being born in another time than their own, so I had to scrap that.

Once readers have enjoyed this book, what can they expect from the next in the series?
AB: That the story continues? Book one ends in 1323, and the next book, Days of Sun and Glory,  covers 1324 to 1326, with a lot of focus on Queen Isabella and the as yet very young heir to the throne, Edward of Windsor. The entire series is based on historical events, but I’ve also given Adam and Kit their own share of adventures.

Are you planning to write any more about Kit and Adam? And have readers of The Graham Saga heard the last of Matthew and Alex?
AB: The series featuring Kit and Adam consists of four books. The third will be published in April of 2017. And yes, as I have serious separation angst whenever I get to the end of a series, I am toying with a fifth book – but it would be totally stand-alone. That separation angst is also why there is an almost finished book nine in The Graham Saga. Thing is, is it good enough to be published or is it just me pandering to my sense of loss? Matthew is not entirely thrilled at the thought of yet again being paraded before my readers (or so he says: one never knows with him) and besides, the story is pretty sad, so he keeps on scowling at me and telling me it isn’t fair of me to put him and his Alex through all this. What can I say? Life is no walk in the park, is it?

Universal links: 
In the Shadow of the Storm
Days of Sun and Glory

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Blog Round-Up

January can be a quiet month, but for me there's been quite a bit going on. As well as reeling from the news that Alvar has won a Discovering Diamonds Special Award, and a Chill with a Book Readers' Award, I'm busy working on my contribution to In Bed with the British, which will be published by Pen & Sword books later on this year. But I shall still be blogging.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and indoor

My aim for this year is to post four or five times a month. These posts will comprise:~

  • A Review/Interview
  • Some midweek musings about writing, generally
  • A guest post where an author writes about music
  • A 'Right to Reply'  - where three authors tell me, and each other, about aspects of their chosen period of history
  • And an extra post, like this one, or an interview, when there are five weeks in the month

As well as being part of the Editorial Team for EHFA - and please get in touch if you would like to write for us - I have two other sites:

My Time Traveller blog is where you'll find my ramblings about my ramblings. These posts go out monthly. Ish.

My Lighting Up the Dark Ages site is more like a website, but there you'll find the occasional blog post about history, and all the latest news about my books.

Since I'm talking about other blogs, please let me direct you to another page on this one, where you will find lots of other really good blogs.

We also have a dedicated blog for 1066 Turned Upside Down

and you can find me on Twitter
and Facebook

Look out for February blogs, which will include a rather lively 'Dark Ages Right to Reply', a review of a great new book, the second in the 'Writing to Music' series, an interview with Janet Wertman, author of Jane the Quene, and over on the Time Traveller blog, we're deep in historical Wales...

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Right to Reply - The Tudors

This year I am launching a series of what I hope will be monthly posts, where three authors will give me their opinions on a particular era. Some will be quite 'civilised' whereas a future debate about the 'Dark Ages' promises to be a riot of 'flyting' (boasting in the Mead Hall!) Sometimes the authors will agree, sometimes not. But all are experts on their particular period, so all opinions are valid. First up, authors Gayle Hulme, Deb Hunter (who writes as Hunter Jones) and Judith Arnopp have their discussion about the Tudor age:

The first question I put to them all was:
Who is the greatest figure from Tudor history, and why?

Gayle: My favourite Tudor is Anne Boleyn.  She was able to hold to her principals and refused to become Henry’s mistress.  However when marriage was finally offered she used every ounce of her considerable charm, courage and wit to get the process over the line.  Although she was a very able and educated woman for her time, she had her vulnerabilities as all humans do.  On one hand she would react furiously when under threat or attack, but was also a woman with devout christian faith and charity.

Deb: That is such a fantastic question! Honestly, I don’t know how they are measured historically, and the answer may vary according to the person you ask. The era was filled with so much drama, and intrigue, you have a wealth of characters to choose from. 
Henry VIII is larger than life ( really bad pun? ) and his love affair with Anne Boleyn still captivates us. I agree with Gayle, but for me, the main character is Elizabeth I. She overcame so many obstacles yet became the English Monarch that sets the standards for the British Crown even today. The advances in arts, science and warfare during her reign opened the doors for our modern world. 

Judith: I agree with Deb that the achievements of Elizabeth I probably entitle her to the label of The Greatest Tudor, but I’d like to say a few words in defence of her father, Henry VIII. On his death, Henry left an unfinished canvas for his successors to complete. Without her father, Elizabeth would never have been ‘great.’ Henry is the king of England everyone remembers; he is the monarch that sparks the interest of school children and launches them into further study. Most people on the street can easily identify him from his portraits. His instantly recognisable image keeps history alive.

Henry was so much more than the caricature butcher king we are all familiar with. In his early years he was athletic, intelligent, and creative. He had a vast interest in the world around him, from politics to the arts. One of my favourite stories is of a New Year’s gift he received from the Archdeacon of Rochester; of a map of England, the ‘Angliae Figura'. The Lord High Admiral noted that Henry had become ‘marvellously inflamed’ by it, and I can just imagine the king bending over it, stabbing it with his stubby forefinger as he excitedly pointed out small details. 

Recorded instances like this illustrate that he wasn’t just ‘evil’ as he is so often described; he was humanly flawed, horribly disappointed with himself for his failure to provide more than one male heir.  Henry made huge improvements to the navy; he allowed the bible to be translated into English, and he was a huge patron of the arts. I think it is a shame that his good points are so often overlooked. Yes; he treated his wives abominably, even for the period. Yes; many wonderful abbeys and churches were destroyed in his name but who among us would want to be remembered only for their darkest hour? 
To understand Henry, one has to understand the age he lived in, his childhood experiences; he was flawed, he was sometimes ruthless, he was human. Historians and psychologists will never resolve the enigma of Henry’s deterioration from a golden Renaissance prince into a vindictive despot, and so he will continue to enthral us and to dominate historical debate, possibly forever.

The second question was:
If you could change one event/incident - which would be the most urgently in need of change, and why?

Gayle: If I could change one event it would be the stillbirth at Hampton Court that Anne experienced in July/August 1534.  Anne’s future looked bright at that point.  She had married the King, had a glittering coronation, given birth to Elizabeth, and although the sex of the child was a disappointment, both mother and child had survived and Anne had quickly conceived again.  I believe this incident was the first tiny pin prick in the bubble of Henry and Anne’s relationship.  It rocked and shattered their confidence that all they had done had been God’s will.

Deb: The world would be different if Henry VIII would’ve had a milder temperament. I wish he would’ve sent Anne Boleyn to a convent instead of murdering her. That is such a chilling, brutal moment in history. Again, I agree with Gayle’s answer, but, I have to look at the daughter of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I. As a hopeless romantic, I really wish Elizabeth could’ve married Robert Dudley. Her mother didn’t get the happy ending we wanted her to have and neither did her daughter—at least in her love life. Although, Elizabeth did get the sweet taste of revenge by becoming Gloriana. 

Judith: I used to answer this question by opting to change the outcome of the Battle of Bosworth but if I altered that, I would not be able to write about the Tudors so I shall adjust my answer. I would erase the mystery of the Princes in the Tower; I’d have them grow up well-documented, in a safe, obscure part of Europe, happily disinterested in taking back the English throne. This would remove the vast number of cut-throat, pointless arguments I see on Facebook every day and call a halt to the continuing war of the roses.

And finally:
You're playing 'Top Trumps' - which is the best aspect of Tudor life, and why?

GayleI think it would be terms of the court and how Henry VIII managed to do such a great PR job on himself  He used his clothes, his sporting prowess and charm to create a glittering spectacle wherever he went.  It was this in the early days that inspiring loyalty and love.

Deb: Being American, I’m not certain what Top Trumps is (*giggle*) but the best part of Tudor life—if you were fortunate enough to be wealthy, which Henry VIII definitely was—has to be the clothes and gloves! He played the role of King and used all the theatrical techniques available to ensure that his Court and Realm knew he ruled by the Divine Right of Kings. Gayle is absolutely correct in saying that he set the stage early in his rule with his looks, his vigor and his finery. 
(Personally, I love the colors, rich velvets and damasks. Gloves are one of my favorite things, and the Tudor Era gloves are as swoon worthy as the apparel. It would be fabulous to dress in such fabulous, sumptuous attire!)  

Judith: It has to be the Renaissance. These days we are snowed under with images, ideas, and innovation, yet in the Tudor period everything was fresh, energetic and vibrant. The influx of new ideas from Europe included art, invention, philosophy, music, dancing and religion. The fifteen century saw the dawning of a new a world where the introduction of affordable printed books brought access to learning and new philosophy, offering fresh and radical ways of seeing the world. Who would not want to be part of that?

[Digital image of Anne Boleyn created for Hunter S Jones by Alexei Gural of Athens, GA.]
Images of Henry and Elizabeth Public Domain

Thank you so much, ladies, for a fascinating - and polite - discussion. I would love to know what other people think about this, so please do leave a comment below. Meanwhile, you can find out more about these authors:

Judith: Website

I'm also thrilled to announce that since we had our little chat, it has been confirmed that our book, In Bed with the British, will be released by Pen & Sword Books later on this year. It also includes contributions by Jessica Cale and Regina Jeffers and Samantha Wilcoxson.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Writing to Music - Jenetta James

A new series for 2017 ~ Every month I will be inviting an author to talk about writing to music. It might be music that has inspired them, music that helps them write, or a bit of both. I'm delighted to welcome, Jenetta James to kick off this new series. Over to Jenetta:~

"When I was 16 I was forced, entirely unwillingly into the school choir. Fortunately for my pride, it was large and non-auditioning. So the secret, that I could not sing, was safely under wraps. I made sure that it stayed there by singing very quietly and never being the last person to stop. At first, I was such a sceptic. Luckily, others were both more talented and more sporting. After a few sessions of singing scales and doing questionable exercises, we began to rehearse what would be that term’s concert; Faure’s Requiem. 

Almost immediately, a door opened that has never closed in my mind. I’m still a rubbish singer but I love choral music. I love the quiet power and delicate tension. I love how the sound can pick you up and bump you around, or almost take you to sleep. Here, for those who would like a listen, is a clip:

In Paradisum: Faure Requiem (Kings College, Cambridge)

Having a work of art to rehearse and practice for performance stopped being a chore and started being a joy. I also found myself doing my homework to it and reading to it. I had always previously worked in silence but now I seemed to have an unlikely backing track. 

In subsequent terms, I stayed in the choir. I didn’t have to after the first term and I still couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I did bother to try. It had slipped under the covers of my life and way of thinking. 

In subsequent terms, the choir sang Handel’s Messiah, Vivaldi’s Gloria and Bach’s Magnificat. Each of them were like parallel worlds with their own elements. I sang right up untilI was doing my exams, and it was time to leave school for new things. Below, are a couple of my favourite moments here for listening ears:

I Know That My Redeemer Liveth (Handel) — Choir of New College, Oxford
GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO. Antonio Vivaldi. Director: Antonio Fauró 

This slightly eccentric backing track of ancient and religious music took me into adult life. Whenever I had to concentrate really hard, I had it on in the background. 

When you come to write, you have to somehow submerge yourself in the world of the story. Some writers probably find this easier than others, and some find it more necessary than others. Everyone has their strategies, and this is one of mine. 

In the last couple of years, I have published two novels, Suddenly Mrs. Darcy and The Elizabeth Papers. Both are Jane Austen inspired historical romance. I am now working on a mystery story. And, like many writers, I have that other “big novel” in the background. Actually it is a short novel aspiring to be big. It progresses at a rate of about 500 words a month and one day I hope it will speed up. All of my writing has historical elements and I am a bit of a history girl generally. 

I got started writing Suddenly Mrs. Darcy with my old stalwarts - some of which are mentioned above. Once the story was underway, I started listening to music which had some relevance to the story. Piano music, played in the home has quite a role, so I listened to plenty of that while I was plotting my scenes. Beethoven’s sonata’s were my favourites and I still shut my eyes and imagine swishing skirts and candlelit parties when I hear them now. 

I have experimented with listening to more modern music (which I listen to all the time in my “normal”/non-writing life), but somehow it doesn’t work. There is too much getting up and making a cup of tea or remembering that I haven’t put the bins out. Maybe if I ever write an entirely contemporary novel, I might branch out. I’ll keep an open mind. What I do know, is that music helps me engage with other, fictional worlds and that has helped me write stories. 

The process of editing a book I find is a different kettle of fish. I love editing but have not yet found a sound track for it. The wonderful Christina Boyd has edited both Suddenly Mrs. Darcy and The Elizabeth Papers. On both occasions, she has turned an uncompromising light on my romantic ramblings. It is about sifting and assessing and I find that it works better in silence. 

But for now, I am deep in writing, so here is an old favourite for those who wish to listen:

Agnus Dei - Samuel Barber

Thank you to Annie for allowing me to post in this series. I am very much looking forward to reading of other writers and their musical tales, and maybe listening to a few new things. "


Jenetta James is a mother, lawyer, writer, and taker-on of too much. She grew up in Cambridge and read history at Oxford University where she was a scholar and president of the Oxford University History Society. After graduating, she took to the law and now practises full time as a barrister. Over the years she has lived in France, Hungary and Trinidad as well as her native England. Jenetta currently lives in London with her husband and children where she enjoys reading, laughing and playing with Lego. She is the author of "Suddenly Mrs Darcy" and "The Elizabeth Papers”.
Find her on Facebook, on Twitter
Suddenly Mrs. Darcy The Elizabeth Papers

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Home - Where the Heart is?

Did you know that, in space, moss spirals? 

It doesn't not thrive, but it's not at its best. 

Not doing what it should.

It's not at home.

Home. It's literally a universal concept; it's the only one that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial knows. Who among us hasn't at one time or another put on a silly voice, held out a finger and said 'E.T. phone home'?

At the end of the Mad Max film, Beyond Thunderdome, the narrator talks about how the group of children "Started the haul for home," and explains why they keep the oral tradition - so important in history - alive. "We lights the city... for all of them that are still out there ... there'll come a night when they sees the distant light, and they'll be coming home."

So what is home?

“The home should be the treasure chest of living,” said Le Corbusier, but this was an architect's point of view. The concept of home has little to do with its contents; in literary terms this is not what makes a house a home. There are lots of homes in book titles: The Little House on the Prairie, The Mill on the Floss,  while some fictional houses are memorable by name - Pemberley, Manderley (but these are settings, and whilst important, are not necessarily yearned for.)

Be it a house, a village, or just something loosely described as a homeland, it calls us. And the yearning to return to it is a powerful theme in literature. Although not central to the story, in The Lord of the Rings, the little hobbits dream of home; they remember the Shire with longing as they journey ever further away from it, and from what they know.

Languages all over the world have words for this feeling. In Japanese - 故郷を慕う (kokyō o shitau) means to pine for home.

They also have 離郷 (rikyō) which means to separate from one's hometown. It doesn't have an English equivalent and yet we can understand the sentiment, immediately.

The Welsh have hiraeth. It's a longing for one's homeland, but it's not mere homesickness. It's an expression of the bond one feels with one's home country.

In Portuguese, saudade is 'a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves.'

And of course, with homesickness, the longing, invariably, is not simply for the place, but for the people there, too. As a bullied child at boarding school, my homesickness was as much about longing to go back to a place which offered unconditional love, as it was about missing my creature comforts.

The urge to return home is perhaps nowhere stronger than in the book, based incredibly on a true story, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington, where three young Aboriginal* girls defy odds and the authorities to work their way home across nearly 1000 miles of Australian outback, using the aforementioned fence as a navigational aid.

The Rabbit-proof Fence 2005 - by Roguengineer under CC Licence

Yes, this was a true story, but a great deal of dramatic tension can be created in a novel by taking the character out of their natural environment.

The 'New kid in Town' can upset the equilibrium, as Vianne does in Chocolat, by Joanne Harris, when she arrives in the French village of  Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and scandalises the village and disturbs its occupants, for better or worse, or maybe they feel out of place, like the moss in space: Leo, in The Go-Between, is very uncomfortable in his new world - literally, since he has only a thick woollen suit to wear as the Norfolk summer temperature rises and rises. Not only has he been removed from his home, he has been transplanted to the world of another social class. He does not know how to act. More significantly, he is a child thrust into the world of adults, with disastrous consequences not only for him, but for them.

'Fair Use' Image

I subconsciously made use of this theme in my own novels. I didn't set out to do it, because the outline of an historical novel is, by definition, already in place, and yet I've recently realised that the theme is there in both of my novels and my short story. 

In To Be A Queen, a huge part of Aethelflaed's struggles hinge upon the fact that she is a 'foreigner', in a country she knew as a small child but yet is unfamiliar to her as an adult. She is not, initially, accepted and she reacts defensively, closing her mind to the possibility that these foreigners might be either as civilised, or indeed as brutalised, as her own countrymen have been. Much of the drama unfolds as the two 'sides' learn, gradually, to understand one another.

Surely there was nothing about this in my second novel? It's a fairly straightforward tale of love, lust, and politics. But, here again, is a character who is taken out of the world he knows; in this case, Alvar the fighting man, the local lord, finds that he has to contend with the deadlier arena of the royal court. If he knew the phrase 'fish out of water', I think he would readily have applied it to himself.

Now, I can see that I understood completely what each of these characters must have been feeling and that's why the theme permeated the books.

Is it because I was so frequently a 'new kid' myself that this aspect of their stories resonated with me, or is it, as I said, a universal condition, the sense of alienation which we all will feel when taken away from our cultural, spiritual or physical home? 

Even in my short story for 1066 Turned Upside Down, not only are the English, naturally enough, fending off the invaders who threaten their country, but my central characters, Edwin and Morcar, are also fighting for their homeland, and for their rights. 

I'm not 'from' anywhere. I'm a forces brat, and I have a sense of rootlessness that makes my story very hard to tell. The word 'belong' is a strong one. We humans need to be able to feel it as a truth. What happens when we are removed from home, and the quest to return to that place where we belong, makes for powerful drama.


(If you want to know what the moss in space looks like - click on the link. I couldn't contact anyone to gain permission to use the image, but I can direct you to it. Take a look; it's the oddest thing  - NASA - Fire Moss)

*I did a bit of research into whether or not the term 'aboriginal' was acceptable. This issue is complicated (my thanks to Prue Batten for her insights) but on balance it would appear that the word is largely acceptable, so I have risked using it. I hope not to have caused any offence by so doing.