Thursday, 20 February 2020


Drunkenness was not uncommon in Anglo-Saxon England.

In the early medieval period people brewed with barley and wheat and the names beer and ale were applied to the drink. somewhat indiscriminately. If there was a difference between them it may have been that beer contained aromatic herbs while ale remained "pure."

By the 10th centry beer  described the  sweet new wort barely fermented. "Beor" was said to be honey-water (hydromel), a Greek name which in Latin translated as mead. Ale was the common name for malted liquor.

The Anglo-Saxons were great ale drinkers, with an ale house in every village, selling bright ale (the dregs well settled), mild ale, and extra-strong twice-brewed ale. Rosemary, yarrow, betony, gale and bog-myrtle were infused in ale and drunk medicinally as well as for flavour and preservation purposes.  Mixed herbs known as "gruit" were added to ale in Germany and hops finally became the ideal ale-herb.

Welsh ale or "cwrw" retained its individual smoky taste until the end ot he 18th century and often figured in food rents in Anglo-Saxon England. "Bragot" was a honey and spiced ale drunk at theWelsh court. 

Mead was the warrior's drink for both Celt and Saxon. It was also a celebratory drink in peace time and more readily available than wine until well after 1066. Wine drinking diminished after the Roman legions left, but gradually Rhenish wine from Cologne and French wine from  Rouen established trade routes into England. 

Milk, buttermilk, whey and water were the non-alcoholic drinks. Bede quotes King Edwin of Northumbria marking the sites of clear water springs at roadsides by means of a post with a bronze cup suspended from it.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Food Matters

The potato is indigenous to Chile and the Andes. Everyone thought the potato came from Virginia, and that was because when Sir Francis Drake stopped in Virginia to pick up English settlers, he had potatoes from Cartagena in Columbia on board and introduced them to England. It had reached Spain around 1570.

Rumour says that the vegetable found its way into Ireland by virtue of the looting of a ship’s store from a wrecked Armada vessel around 1588. Alternatively, the Irish claim Sir Walter Raleigh brought it.

The potato was initially not widely used in England, but the Irish took to them whole heartedly. They were easier to grow than oats or barley and easier to hide in an underground store when soldiers prowled the land. 

By the 17th century potatoes were grown in Lancashire and by the 18th their use was spreading through the rest of the UK, at first as a garden and later as a field crop, even reaching the highlands of Scotland.

At first they were used as a delicacy and if they were of the sweet potato variety, almost a sweetmeat, but it was not long before they became the traditional boil, roast or fried vegetable we all know. By that time the use of pottage had declined, or the potato would undoubtedly have become the main pottage ingredient.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Pottage, anyone?

        Young green peas were cooked in a beef broth flavoured with parsley, sage, hyssop and savory to produce pottage in medieval days. Old dried peas were cooked with bacon stock and eaten afterwards with bacon. meat if you had any. The labourer's family without bacon made do with  oatmeal, flour or breadcrumbs to thicken it. This thick pease pottage  remaned a basic country dish for several hundred years; in fact, we still have it in our home today, usually with some ham and a ham stock cube.

Pottage was a staple of the English diet, came in many varieties. and was eaten by rich and poor alike Onions were the most popular ingredient and demand outstripped supply so that the vegetable and the seed were importd from the Netherlands and even Spain. Garlic was also imported.   
Many other broad green leaves went into it, plants we are not so familiar with today: orche, clary, mallows, patience dock, borage and bugloss. Flavourings included parsley, sage, thyme, mint in all its forms, and fennel . In the medieva period, people chopped up the parsley root fas well as the leaves  and stalks for pottage.  A 15th century housewife grew no less that 48 herbs - though we cannot assume that every housewife grew all of them! Many were gathered from the wilds - such as dandelion, daisy and red nettle. All this greenery should have been very healthy but unhappily the pottages were cooked for so long that all the goodness of Vitamin C would have been destroyed .

Parsnips,  carrots, radish, turnip and rape were grown in gardens as these root vegetables were not yet grown as field crops.   Rape seeds were used as a cooking oil among the less well-off. Dutch immigrants began growing rape in south east England in the Tudor period; before that, the seed was imported from Flanders.                                                                                                                               

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Can't see the wood for the trees?

Time is our enemy. Most people don’t have enough. This is why our writing must be tight, direct and hook early. Modern audiences have the attention span of a toddler hopped up on Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew. We can’t afford to let them drift.” So says  Kristen Lamb in UncategorizedWriting Tips
Here are some of the  reminders I keep for myself –
1. Describing what a character sees can be overdone and more importantly, keeps the reader at a distance, makes her a mere observer and not a participant. Sight is possibly the weakest sense and doesn’t help pull your reader into deep POV. SO: Don’t rely on a lot of description.

For many, the sense of smell is the most powerful sense, followed by taste
Try to use a combination of all the senses.

2. Don’t have body parts doing things. You don’t need a character to raise his hand to reach for the door handle. If he makes it from one room to another, the reader will fill in the details.

3. Don’t State the Obvious
She slammed the door and cursed in anger.
We know she’s angry because she slammed the door.  Telling us she’s angry is redundant.

4. Don’t bring in too many characters too soon. If you have ten named characters by page one your reader will be confused.

5. Too Much Anything v Give Us a Sense of Time and Place
This happens with historicals as much as science fiction and fantasy. If the readers get lost in all the characters, places, clothes, prophesies, weapons, technology, dragons, ships and robots, it is bad. A few details are helpful to orient us where we are – maybe the smell of horse manure, the rattling of carriages or the whir of computers. The readers need to be grounded quickly and easily to become part of the world.

6. From page one, the reader should have picked up the basics about a character.

7. Tighten the Prose
Overuse of the word “was” is an indicator of weak writing and passive voice. If a writer does this on page one it is likely it will continue.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

The Duties of Servants

I bought a book a long time ago entitled The Duties of Servants. 

I think I discovered it in one of the National Trust bookshops and is an updated version of something published in 1894.  The forward claims that this work appeals equally to both mistress and servant. A mistress will gather from its pages the actual services she is entitled to demand from each servant; the servant will learn of what his or her duties strictly consist.

It seems the house steward is the top dog, as he engages and dismisses both men and women servants. Where there is no house-steward at the head of the household, the housekeeper engages and dismisses female servants and  the butler the indoor male servants. 

The master and mistress  engage their own personal attendants such as the valet, lades-maid and nurse.
if there is no housekeeper then the mistress engages female servants and the master  engages the butler and footmen. If the butler is trusted, he is allowed to engage and dismiss footmen.

The line continues down through smaller and smaller establishments. This little book is going to prove invaluable for my latest project! Although 1911 is not strictly Edwardian, there is much that is still present of that period even though a coronation of George V is about to take place in June of that year. There were many in the upper echelons of society who felt that nothing should ever change, that their lovely way of ife should go on and on and history tells us of a huge number of parties given that year.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Is it a bestseller?

How do manuscripts become bestsellers?

Possibly via a referral or through the “slush pile”.
Rumours claim agents don’t read their “slush pile,” but ignoring unsolicited submissions could mean missing out on the next big thing. Agents read new manuscripts from existing clients first. Next those that arrive highly recommended from clients. Interns and assistants comb through the remaining slush pile submissions and identify certain projects as having promise.
Clues in a query letter sometimes indicate that someone is worth closer attention. 
So what will prompt an agent to go for a ms? Good, confident writing. High-concept, ambitious stories. A new voice – something that feels like it simply hasn’t been done before – is a good way to grab attention.
Say the agent comes upon a brilliant ms, and decides to take on the author as a client. What happens next?
The agent and the author will take some time to polish the ms together. Then, the agent chooses the "right " editor at a publishing house. Editors are the people who will acquire the ms for publication. Mainstream editors don’t usually accept queries from authors, only from agents, who have honed their pitching techniques for years.
The pitch - when calling the editor to describe a book is vital. The rapport between agents and editors is vital but little known, built up through regular phone calls, through lunches and coffees over the years so agents know who to call on a specific project.
Picking the right editor and the right way to pitch a book is crucial.
An agent will prepare a proper pitch, clarifying which kind of readers a manuscript is likely to attract, or comparing it to existing titles. A single editor working full-time will take on six to 10 novels a year on average. The volume of offerings has increased drastically over the years. It’s not uncommon for an editor to receive four to eight manuscripts a day.
Fiction is so subjective and may not appeal to an editor who will have to work on it for two years. One editor claims it is all about the voice.
A book should grab the reader immediately. Too often submissions are either beautifully written with no story, or all story but the writing is lacklustre. People underestimate just how hard it is to do both and do both successfully.

See part 2 in the next post.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Staff of Life and all that

Do you know what pottage is?

In medieval days pottage, bread and ale were the backbone of  everyone's diet. We are told by Andrew Boorde (1542) that "pottage is made of the liquor in the which the flesh is sodden in, with putting-to chopped herbs, and oatmeal and salt."

 The object was to  produce a semi-liquid  but thick spoonmeat.
Cereal pottage was based on the breadcorn of the region - rye, wheat, or a combination of the two, often called maslin; barley, oats or dredge-corn (again a mixture of the last two). These might be ground at home with a hand quern or in a mortar. Both resulted in rough grain. Later this became illegal as it was said to deprive the manorial mill of its dues.

Once this was done, the  mixture was washed and then boiled until it was tender and brown. Some recipes had the grains boiled, cooled and then mixed with cows' milk and a beaten egg stirred in. This earned the name "Frumenty." Rich folk ate it with venison or porpoise. Poor folk ate it as a breakfast or supper dish, with little else but for milk or a little cream or butter if it was to be had. Gruel was oatmeal boiled in water.

In Scotland the cereal pottage was brochan - the old Gaelic word for oatmeal porridge, and sometimes eaten with kail and/or onions. The dalesmen of the Pennines and the Welsh ate a similar oatmeal or oatmeal and barley mixture. In the south of England oatmeal became a favourit thickener for meat and herb pottages as well as breadcrumbs or "amidon," a wheat starch very much like Cato's amulum of sixteen hundred years before.

"Drawn  gruel"  contained lean beef, boiled and pulled to draw out the gravy, and with  the addition of oatmeal, parsley, sage, and salt. "Forced" gruel had pork added, once it had been worked to a pulp in the mortar. Eggs were sometimes added, but considered rather extravagent.

Rice from the south of Europe was added to pottage, too. It came with the spice ships from the Mediterranean and the Countess of Leicester used 110 pounds of it in four months during 1265. In a smaller household, the record show only 3 pounds of rice used in the whole year 1419.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Veterinary Blues

We seem to be spending a lot of time with the veterinary in Hexham this week.

On Tuesday he had a lump taken from his leg because an earlier biopsy suggested dodgy cells were present. Today we have been back to have the dressing checked.

I woke last night to find he had somehow licked the bandage down, revealing the wound, so we looked rather shame-faced this mornrng but Hey! the nurse says the wound is healing well and there's no damage done.

Have you ever tried to prevent a dog from licking his wound excessively? It's 2am and you wake to the sound of surreptitious licking and you stop him.  Happens again, and again at three am. You know the cone of shame is in the loft and you are not prepared to go find it in the dark.....He is doing this to annoy me....stamp downstairs, grab his muzzle and go back to bed. He may hate the muzzle but he can't chew the newly healed wound now.  I sleep and wake with a jerk next morning as he whimpers pathetically. Feel guilty, and give lots of cuddles.

So now he has a 3x4 inch plaster stuck on his left foreleg but no bandage. (Can you even see it? It is white...) Maybe he'll find this easier to accept. I hope so. I badly need a good night's sleep!

Monday, 13 January 2020

Winter musings on dialogue

Sometimes the words flow easily.

Other times I cannot think of anything to say.

This can be bad when you want to finish the book you are writing. It is at times like these that I go back to basics and refresh my writing muscle with the wise words of others. This morning I am contemplating a lunch table conversation between antagonistic acquaintences, so I'm  reading up about dialogue as I scoff my bacon, mushroom and black pudding sandwich. (Very tasty!)

Dialogue, they say, should sound natural. At the same time, we need to omit all the awkward pauses, poor word choices , non sequiturs and pointless repetitions. We don't alwys speak in complete sentences, we drop articles and pronouns  and sometimes we just grunt - but somehow we get our meaning across!

In novel form, dialogue is a way of changing relationships, or bringing conflict to a head

It requires direction from the author and the scene direction should change after the conversatin occurs.It is possible that the people in the dialogue do not understand themselves, or their motivations; it is also possible that they do, but are incapable of admitting this to anyone else. Some even set out to deliberately confuse an already tense situation.

By the time I get this far,   I can usually see my way more clearly! I hope you can, too.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Sloppy and wordy construction

Editing the first draft of a story can be a revelation.

The day I discovered I had used "has/have/had" twenty one times on a single page and had my characters "sighing" thirteen times on another page convinced me of the need for editing.
Your problem areas may not be the same as mine, but here are some of the things I look for. They all come under the heading Sloppy and wordy construction.

Top of my list - Participle phrases. You know - things like "was waiting," "running," "crying"
was, were - passive words that should be replaced with active
had, has, have  - passive, dull constructions
it, there, here - vague pronouns, should be replaced with something more dynamic
that, but - overused and lazy conjunctions
preposition  such as:  


See if you can't replace them with one or two better, clearer words.
Unnecessary words such as: together, start, plan, almost, just, then, own, thing, began, reach, rather, instead, even, back, very, good, great, really, suddenly, finally, about, only, totally, eventually, almost, exactly, fairly, so, such.

I use the Find Box to see where the words are hiding and I spend a day going through each and every one. It tells you how many culprits it has found and if it lists only five or six in 75k words, I will let them stand -  as long as the are not close together in the text! 

The last time I did this, I edited out 10,000 words from an 88,000 word document. I've done this after each first draft, and the nice thing is that each successive novel has required much less work than the previous one, which means I am slowly erradicating my bad habits.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

THe Regency gentry

To qualify as landed gentry a family of the Regency period must own 300 acres which gave a sizable income. Examples Mr Bennet had £2k a year, Mr Darcy £10k a year, Bingley £5k.

A circulating library was wildly popular in 18th century. The rise of the Gothic novel began with H Walpole's Castle or Otranto in 1765. Horror and romance mixed, supernatural, terrible family secrets, and female victims locked in castles by evil tyrants. Ann Radcliffe made the Gothic novel acceptable (The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian) and the market flooded with cheap imitations (The Monk by M G Lewis.) Fanny Burney spearheaded the comedies of errors - Cecilia, Camille and Evalina.
Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792

Between 1811-1817 Jane Austen earned £630 (about £38,000 today) Her dress allowance was £20 a year .(about £2k today)
Young people met at dances or through family friends. Young ladies were chaperoned, but they might play cards, perform duets, join in family conversations but shoud not walk out alone with   a young man.
Proposals usually took place at the young ladies family home and her only contribution was to accept or reject. If her father approved, marriage articles were drawn up outlining the disribution of wealth and property plus provision for wife and children on the husband's death. She might receive a jointure - part of his property - on his death but that would be unusual.

The potentail bride would buy a new wardrobe; clothes she would need in her new role, including a white wedding dress, which was a sign of wealth.

A barouche-landau was a small carriage with two rows of seats faceng each other.
A chaise waas a close carriage for travelling
A curricle was a two-wheeled vehicle pulled by two horses - one driver and one passenger.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

More notes on Regency period - a Timeline.

This is an abbreciated timeline of events in the early Regency period that I found useful and did not want to discard. It resonates quite nicely against the Poldark books and TV series. It also resonates in a personal way because I have just found an ancestor who was born in 1756....

1775 American War of Independence
1770 Penitentiary Act - introduction of state prisons.
1780 Anti-Catolic Riots against Papist Acts  - Gordon Riots
1783 William Pitt the Younger is PM
1783 Evacuation of American Colonies
1787 Convicts sent to Australia for the first time
1787 Abolition of the Slave Trade committee formed
1788 George III's first attack of madness
1789 Storming of the Bastille
1791 Parliament rejects the Bill to abolish slave trade
1792 French monarchy abolished
1793 French King Louis XVI executed
1798 British go to war against France; the Irish rebel against British rule
1799 Napoleon named himself First Consul - military rule in France
1801 Actr of Union
1805 Battle of Trafalgar
1807 Slave trade abolished in UK
1812 George IV as Prince Regent; Luddite protests
1815 Battle of Waterloo

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Is it a Gig or a hack?

Because I'm about to dtch a notebook that is now devoid of empty pages but holds a few notes that deserve keeping here are a few notes  about writing stories set in the Rgency period that I might need to refer to in the future. I find it terribly easy to be confused by terms such as these when I am notusing them on a regular basis.

Entailment:  Inherited property inherited only by the male line. Legal agreement, not easily broken.
Gig: a two-wheeled carriage for two people drawn by one or two horses. Young man's choice!
Hack: Rented carriage. Scandalous for young women to travel alone in one.
Militia: Several militia regiment of soldiers stationed throughout the country. A man from the lower classes could enter as an officer. In the army, a man had to be of respected background and have enough money to buy his commission.
Pelisse: long dress-like coat made of silk and lined with fur.
Petticoats: made of linen
Phaeton: an open carriage with four wheels.
Post chaise: Long journeys began with one's own horses and chaise; the horses were sent home and hired horses completed the journey.
Postillion: person who rides/guides a horse pulling a carriage. (For years I
thought a postillion was a Chinese building!)
Reticule: laadies bag with a drawstring closure and a long strap.
Spencer: Tight fitting waist length jacket for ladies
Travelling post: hiring the chaise, the horses and the postillion.
Stagecoach: public transport for the lower classes. No lady travelled alone by stagecoach. Royal Mail coaches were quicker but more expensive than the regualar stage coach.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Digging into the past

Great grandmother
There is so much bad feeling on the internet right now that I am staying away from it!

Since my year with Find My Past has recently expired I am now exploring the UK Gov Census to see if it is any better or more accurate. I am happy to believe that our grandparents were not so hot on reading and writing, and that generations before them were almost illiterate, but I was unprepared for the variation in ages quoted for the same family member on each census. Some people quoted figures that varied by seven or eight years.

That got me thinking that if you didn't have a diary or an equivalent to hand, then how did you record such vital facts? You would have to rely on memory, or else pin the event to an important year. "The year the king died," or "the year Titanic went down." Even then people would remember and argue about the year. "It was 1912", says one. "No, it was 1914, just before the war broke out," says another.

Newspapers would have to be consulted, and to do that a trip to the nearest library that held archives would be necessary. Mostly, given the difficulty of travelling into town, they would give it their best guess when the enumerators came around every ten years. Hence the variation. I did notice that most ladies guessed their ages to be younger than they were!

Then there are the people who did the clerical stuff. Some of the names are spelled most imaginiatively. Towns are usually correctly labeled, but villages and hamlets have many variations. It was surprising how many men changed their profession during a lifetime. Agricultural labourer to colliery engine driver. Butcher to registrar of births, marriages and deaths. Obviously, they followed the work that was to be had, for their addresses changed as often as the jobs. Some followed a gradual upward trend, and others did the opposite. The unfortunate few ended their days in the poor house, or living with a family not their own - and labelled "pauper" on the census return.

Fascinating stuff. I just wish they hadDi begun doing the census earlier that 1841.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

The Summit of Stainmore as a Place of Residence.

On a cold day last week, in a carriage travelling along the Tees Valley Railway, between Romaldkirk and Middleton, one of the passengers called attention to the exposed situation of two dwellings, perched on the heights on the left of the line, remarking that, in this weather, the people living there would have something to do to keep themselves warm.
"Its nowt ti t'Summit o'Stainmore, where aw've lived," said another passenger; "them bouses is hivren itsel', compared wi't' Summit! I' winter, at t'Summit, it snawsan' it blaws; an'all frist o' t'year it rains an' it blaws, — it nivver gi'es ower. Sometimes yan sees t'sun shinin' down, owther at t'Westmorland or t'Yorkshire side, when itiowtber rainin' or snawin' wi' uz, an' f wind blawin' eneugh ti tak' yan's heed off. T Summit, sartenly, 's t' varry last pl'yas that was m'yad!"
Said a third passenger, " Why, aw've read i't' newspapers that they're growin' taties an' cabtrishee at t'Summit, now?" "Grunstanes an' horseshoes, far liker!" retorted the second, derisively; "they can eat tatios an' cabbishes at t'Summit, but if they had ti grow them tharsels, tbey wad nivrer see them."
The other rejoined," What for diz onybody live there, then, if its sike a pl'yas as ye tell on ? Its warse then Botany Bay !" "Na, na," said the man who had dwelt at the Summit, "its avast better then that: for, ye see, a workin' man, at t'Summit, when he gets his wages, hez nowt ti tempt him ti spend them, an' be keeps bis money in his pocket. Its a rare pl'yas for yan's hilth, te, for yan nivver wants a doctor."
Here the train stopped at Middleton, and the passengers alighted and dispersed. "Continuing the thoughts suggested by the above conversation," adds our informant, "I could not but believe that if, at the Summit, the workingman preserves his health (which is his capital), and saves his wages (which are the interest of his capital), he might find a very much worse place of abode.”

A snippet culled from the Mercury Times 1870