2017 goals

Do a little exercise every day – aerobic/weight as well as stretching

Write a dozen short stories based on notes from The Campaigners (starring Portugal, below)

Finish Campaigners second draft to the point that first beta-reader can read it

Practice better listening

Practice active citizenship

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2016 Peterloo remembrance an act of creation

Each year, people gather in Manchester to remember the massive gathering there on 16 August 1819, when a meeting to demand political change turned into a bloodbath when local militia and military cavalry attacked the unarmed crowd. Speakers read speeches of the day and the listing of those killed at the meeting, now called Peterloo, a word that combines the remembered carnage of the battle at Waterloo a few years earlier with the location of the march, St. Peter’s field (near St. Peter’s church).

This year, organizers have invited everyone to create a piece for “The Peterloo Tapestry,” expressing their vision of what a planned permanent memorial should be. The plan is to erect such a monument by 2019, the bicentenary of the march. A news video by That’s Manchester shows some of the pieces.

The finished tapestry will be first shown in public during the reading of the names ceremony at 1 pm on 16th August, after the names are recited, near the protest spot. Find more event details on Facebook, where you can also keep up with all the doings of the Peterloo Memorial Campaign. Though I can’t attend this year, I expect some great photos from the events – and organizers say they have an even bigger event planned for 2017.

The events around Peterloo are the setting fothe final act in An Untitled Lady.
The events around Peterloo are the setting for the final act in An Untitled Lady.

More on Peterloo and on how I used it in my novel, An Untitled Lady:

Prelude to Peterloo: Reformers call for peaceable assembly – Text of the poster calling on people to march to Manchester in August 1819

Prelude to Peterloo: Reformers call a Meeting – Text of the newspaper announcement calling for a public meeting

Remembering Peterloo – While writing my sprawling romantic historical An Untitled Lady, I arranged to travel to Manchester, England, the week of 16 August 2010, the 190th anniversary of the big protest march I set at the heart of the story.

Getting the details right: Peterloo – How writers try to resolve conflicts in historical and eyewitness accounts. Includes photos of some of the banners people marched with

A Response to Peterloo – On Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “The Masque of Anarchy”

Why I put a melee in a romantic novel – It might seem odd to set a story about two people falling in love in the middle of the troubles that led to Peterloo, but for me love helps people see things more clearly—including the outside world.

Sources: Manchester 1819 – The main references I used when writing An Untitled Lady

Book-club guide for An Untitled Lady – Covers story and history


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July sale at Smashwords

The Spanish Patriot and An Untitled Lady are among the thousands of ebooks at Smashwords on discount this month: Both are 75% off. If you’ve been waiting, now is your chance! Coupon code is SSW75.

Happy shopping!

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Historical fiction writer’s lament

It would be interesting to know how officers’ wives intellectualised their experiences in Spain and Portugal. However, setting aside a collection of epic lays of little relevance to our topic–viz., Anon., Poems founded on the Events of the War in the Peninsula by the Wife of an Officer (London, 1819)–the only text that has been located in this respect is a brief memoir of a very impersonal nature that offers little in the way of personal experience. CF. F.M. Fitzmaurice, Recollections of a Rifleman’s Wife at Home and Abroad (London, 1851).

— From the endnotes to Charles Esdaile’s Women in the Peninsular War (2014), p. 295

While fiction writers do make up tales, it would help so much to have at least a little fabric to start with.

Sources: reviews of Esdaile’s book (Goodreads), Fitzmaurice text (Google books), Anon, Poems (archive.org)


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Tolstoy: How history differs, for historians and for artists

pevearFrom “A Few Words Apropos of the Book War and Peace” (1868)

(5) The divergence between my description of historical events and the accounts of historians. It is not accidental, but inevitable. A historian and an artist, describing a historical epoch, have two completely different objects. As a historian would be wrong if he should try to present a historical figure in all his entirety, in all the complexity of his relations to all sides of life, so an artist would not fulfill his task by always presenting a figure in his historical significance. Kutuzov did not always ride a white horse, holding a field glass and pointing at enemies. Rastopchin did not always take torch in hand and set fire to his Voronovo house (in fact he never did it at all), and the empress Maria Feodorovna did not always stand in an ermine mantle, her hand resting on the code of law; but that is how they are pictured in the popular imagination.

For a historian, considering the contribution rendered by some person towards a certain goal, there are heroes; for the artist, considering the correspondence of this person to all sides of life, there cannot and should not be any heroes, but there should be people. Continue Reading

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Remembering the Battle of Corunna

Statue of Sir John Moore in San Carlos Garden at A Coruña. Photos by me.

In 1808, Britain sent an army to the coastal town of La Coruña (A Coruña in Galician) with orders to march toward Madrid and, joining with British forces coming up from Portugal and Spanish on the field, rout the invading French armies from Spain. As I depict in my novel The Spanish Patriot, nothing went as expected for the allies, and in the end, the British army was forced to retreat, a starving forced march over wintry iced mountains that killed so many people and animals that some wondered if there would be an army left when they reached the coast. Continue Reading

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A Cold Christmas Story, 1808

Henry_Paget_modI’ve posted an excerpt from The Spanish Patriot that takes place on Christmas Eve, though few in the story know that is the date. It doesn’t exactly radiate the traditional “holiday spirit,” but if you need something a little sharp between all the season’s sweets, have at it. It’s on Wattpad, and should take only 8-10 minutes to read.

Lt Frederick Wakefield and his troop are on patrol, in the sleet and snow, trying to spy the French army, said to be nearby. The day before, his troop, part of the 15th Hussars, had surprised a cavalry outpost in Sahagún and sent them packing after a powerful charge led by Henry, Lord Paget. At right is a variation one of Paget’s many portraits at the National Portrait Gallery.

May the holidays bring joy and peace for all.

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Research for Writing: Stories of Women

1800-10 White muslin dress brocaded silk with gold cord chain stitch to drawing floral motifs, and garnished with an application of silk satin ribbon in purple diamond shaped and rectangular. Decorating with ribbon decoration is similar to wearing the dress of the Countess of Chinchon Francisco de Goya portrait in 1800. Museo del Traje.
1800-10 White muslin dress; brocaded silk with gold cord chain stitch and  silk satin ribbon. Diamond ribbon decoration is similar to the dress of the Countess of Chinchon in a portrait by Francisco de Goya in 1800. Source: Museo del Traje; see dress alone

One of the delights of writing about the Regency, especially stories that include soldiers, is the sheer amount of on-the-scene documentation available. This is said to be the first conflict in which soldiers as well as officers could read and write, and many have left diaries and memoirs of their experiences. I used many of their memoirs and diaries as background for The Spanish Patriot.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of these writings are by men, few of whom cared to put the details in that would help me describe a domestic scene during wartime, or even a camp scene that was not part of a battle. Finding a mention of women in all these pages is a little easier than finding a needle in a haystack, but not much. Yet thousands of women also took part in the Napoleonic campaigns, as wives, camp followers, nurses, canteen vendors, and even a few soldiers. How to tell their stories?

For this story, set in Galicia, Spain, I started with the memoir of Henry Crabb Robinson, known as the first English foreign newspaper correspondent. Writing for The Times of London, Robinson covered the British army’s campaign starting in Corunna in 1808, the exact setting for my story. Robinson is a fair observer, and gives quite a bit of detail of dress and demeanor. I based my scene of the Galician tertulia, or “dance party,” from his description:

“At these Tertulias the ladies sit with their backs against the wall on an elevated floor, such as we see in old halls. The gentlemen sit before them, each cavalier on a very small straw-bottomed chair before his dama, and often with his guitar, on which he klimpers, and by aid of which, if report say truly, he can make love without being detected.” – page 273

I found in each of the military accounts a couple of tantalizing details of daily life, but still nothing by women, at least nothing in English. I used Google translate to search for historical texts that might be written in Spanish (which I do read, painfully slowly), and even contacted a British historian of Spain in that period to ask if she knew of any English-speaking women’s writing on Spain from that time. Nada. Continue Reading

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Join me on (virtual) tour!


With the great help of Amy Bruno at Historical Fiction VBT, I’ll be flying around the web this month. Hope to meet up with you here and there! Continue Reading

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Galicia: Songs of Love

Miniature from Cantiga 120 (Alfonso X), from supramusica.com via Wikimedia Commons
Miniature from Cantiga 120 (Alfonso X), from supramusica.com via Wikimedia Commons

In Chapter Eight of The Spanish Patriot, Louisa translates some lines from a troubadour song as it is being played. It’s a small note in the scene, but comes from a deeper place: my discovery of this beautiful song and my search to learn more about it and about the Portuguese-Galician troubadour tradition. Cantigas are medieval monophonic melodies, songs of love and songs of friendship, or of satire, or of faith. In one of the cantigas de amigo, a father warns his daughter to listen to him and not her boyfriend (!), but most are in the female voice.

Lovely daughter, look what I’m telling you:
Do not talk with your boyfriend
Without me, o lovely daughter.

And, daughter, if you want my love,
I ask you that you never talk with him
Without me, o lovely daughter.

And there’s something else you’re careless about:
You lose every word you talk with him
Without me, o lovely daughter.

Of course I fell for a cantiga de amor, attributed to King Dinis of Portugal, “O que vos nunca cuidei a dizer.” Here’s one version of the lyric: Continue Reading

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