Journaling Life: New Wings and Ephemera Edition

I’ve written more than once about my need to move away from doing only (or mainly) book reviews and pick up other topics, food and photography being two persistent interests. Another hobby has recently developed, probably borne from working on altered books with my son when he was little. It was great fun and the capacity for creativity is truly endless.

Daphne’s Diary, I admit, has little to do with this entry, but I do look to it often for pleasure and inspiration. It is a paper lover’s paradise! Nearly the entire magazine could be used for ephemera, but I can’t bring myself to cut it up.

More recently a friend had been encouraging me to try out art/junk journaling, and it wasn’t difficult to get me on board. I love the beautiful designs and creations, and it definitely doesn’t hurt that so many of the materials used in projects come from items we all have in our homes, accumulating without us even realizing. Thrifting, which I did last weekend, bringing home a lovely haul, is also another option, much less costly than buying new and with the added benefit of a wider variety to choose from because stock isn’t dependent upon the latest craze.

However, I was also to discover something else that made me quickly love this process even more, namely the feelings stirred within. Partly it was an ability to just keep going, even when my creation didn’t have the same lovely look as, say, one I saw online. Also, there was an almost mysterious feeling of peacefulness accompanying the work, one that gently sweeps you into it, allowing you to let go of the worries you had before you sat down.

I began to experience this last week when I attempted my first project: a mixed media page in a journal I wanted to continue to write in, but also fancy up a bit. I followed along with a friend’s video, gluing pages to make them more sturdy, Modge Podging a magazine page to it, adding and spreading the acrylic paint with an old credit card, mixing it up a bit with another color. I had to stop a few times to do chauffeur duty, run errands and the like, go to work and so on. Indeed, it took a couple of days to get this far, and periodically I would stop to gaze at the lovely colors, mixtures of green and blue that I have always loved. Here, though, something seemed off, and it began to dawn on me that the bold colors stood out perhaps a bit too much. They were so…intense.


ephemera noun | \ i-ˈfe-mər-ə , ˈfem-rə \
1: something of no lasting significance —usually used in plural
2: ephemera plural : paper items (such as posters, broadsides, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles
Example of ephemera in a sentence
He has a large collection of old menus and other ephemera.


There was also the sensation of much missing—though I thought this was because I’d not added anything yet—along with the undulating manner in which the paper had dried. Once I was able to sit back down with it, I realized I’d painted. The. Wrong. Page. I quickly glued my painted page to a couple of others and then out of nowhere decided to throw on some mustard-colored paint. I’m not really sure why. It was a bit impulsive, but I didn’t hate the way it looked, and I suppose I was willing to try, then dislike it, because I could always do something about it. This is such a wonderful reality of art journaling, because so much in life isn’t like that, and any perfectionist tendencies honed in other endeavors can inhibit creativity in this one. That was something I knew I’d have to get used to, but it really did help me feel more confident to move ahead and go with the flow.

The pages propped up are the ones I glued; the side touching the tube was the one meant to be painted.

Next up came the gesso phase, which wasn’t a smashing success, but with a little blotting its appearance really changed a lot, and I was soon ready to start adding some ephemera. Here was where I knew better what I was doing—mostly. Stephanie had sent me some beautiful butterflies and I felt they were a great metaphor for the direction I was heading, or at least hoped to be. Looking at doing many things quite a bit differently to how I’d done in the past, perhaps even becoming a bit of a new person in the process. Though I don’t always feel it in a grand, soaring manner, I still saw the possibilities for change, as if I had new wings after having undergone a transformation to get this far. So those were the only two words I wanted on this page, along with my butterflies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From gesso to impulse addition to playing with different looks for the finale. 

In these sessions I learned from practical experience how to bond with the materials, and I’m excited to do a lot more. In the end I recognize that it’s not a masterpiece, but it came from the heart and was a labor of love. It means all the more that the butterflies were gifted to me, recalling that so much we aim for soars higher with the support and encouragement of people who care about us.

Precise definition for ephemera, a semi-new word for me (that is,
I’d heard it before but had to look it up recently) found here

More to come about another project I recently did and loved!

There is also much, much more at Stephanie’s website, Layered Pages, where she has loads of fun and lovely projects. 

The Book of Answers

I was planning to do a blog this weekend with my completed mixed media project – my first ever! Well, at least as an adult and after I went a bit wild with a cool couple of awesome hauls at the thrift stores. (Definitely more about that to come!)

Preview of my take. Those big green books were ten cents each!

For better or worse, my weekend was a bit filled with research reading and paying attention to  my son, who was preparing for two more weeks of Spring Break, extended owing to school closures and COVID-19. Believe it or not, prepping someone bracing himself for a fortnight of nothing scheduled is rather time consuming and even exhausting.

Anyway, so I didn’t get much done (read: I got nothing), though I did organize my pictures this evening. Once I saw how long that took me I knew I wouldn’t have a blog finished and gave it up until tomorrow.

But!

As is so often the case, my friend Vita came to the rescue, with a fantastic gift that I simply had to share with you! She’d texted to let me know she’d dropped something at my door – practicing “social distancing” as we are – including a book for me and one for my son. “I think you will know which book is for each of you!”

When I opened the door I was delighted to find, amongst other items, two books from the Book of Answers series, which I’d become acquainted with when I was gifted The Big Book of Answers at my farewell party from my previous job.

Like the above-mentioned book, each of the two we received today is a fat little bundle of goodness you hold in your hands and focus as you ask it a closed-end question, such as, “Is the job I’m applying for the right one?” or “Should I travel this weekend?” Even better, however, these two are tailor made just for us! OK, well, people like us. 🤭

As a serious film aficionado, Turtle is now the proud owner of The Movie Book of Answers and I, well, what else but The Literary Book of Answers? Yes, indeed, Vita knows us very well!!

And of course, the questions began to fly…

Will I be able to finish my blog tomorrow evening?

“It’s what [you] bring that really counts.” — L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Will I enjoy the book I’m currently reading? (American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins)

“It is worth more than you offer.” – James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers

 Then I became a bit more ambitious…

 Will I complete my current WIP within twelve months?

“Control yourself.” – Gustav Flaubert, Madame Bovary

 It’s like magic! Not only do the answers almost always seem to suit the questions asked, but they also can frequently be interpreted in more ways than one. My WIP question’s answer, for example, could be telling me to get over myself or that with the right measure, it could happen!

Turtle got in in the action too:

Will COVID-19 end soon?

“[You] have nothing to lose.” – Lester Burnham, American Beauty

 Will they put Roman Holiday on Blu Ray?

“[What] you do could have repercussions on future events.” – Doc Brown, Back to the Future

 Will A Quiet Place II be a good movie?

“The force will  be with you, always.” – Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, Star Wars

See what I mean? I suspect a conversation could even get a bit philosophical if anybody were so inclined. For now, though, I’ll just keep it easy and possibly spend a portion of the rest of the evening asking questions and entertaining myself. And until next time, indeed, may “the force be with you, always.”

Stay safe and healthy, peeps, keep busy, remember the Italians who are singing to one another, and be of good cheer!

Grazi, Vita!!!

Cinema 2019: Top Three

So now that I’ve talked a tad about books, allow me to turn our attention to some movies from 2019 I’ve seen and feel worthy to discuss. I’m not an aficionado like my teenaged son, who has been studying film and film history for years but, as I’ve long maintained, liking, even needing, to be told stories is coded into human DNA. I like most genres, but especially love a good mystery, drama, even comedy. My favorite for years has been Casablanca, and no amount of persuasion has ever been able to budge that. There are loads of movies I love—more on that in an upcoming blog—but nothing beats Bogart & Bergman and “We’ll always have Paris.” It was even my go-to sickbed film.

Most of the time I go to the cinema with himself, and it’s not unusual for me to be talked into checking out certain flicks because they are ones I might not have chosen to see on my own. I’m happy to report that I like most of them; occasionally, I’m more enthusiastic about one than either of us expected. Every so often I’m less than impressed. This time there were, however, a few I felt worthy of special mention because they touched me in a meaningful, more long-lasting manner, and maybe they will you too.

Honorable Mention:
Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)

While I’m not a ginormous fan of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, I can see what a good director he is, with shots that work perfectly and tight sequences embedded in nostalgia and paying homage to people and the era in which they lived. Set in 1969 Hollywood, with Sharon Tate and a declining Tinseltown as major characters (even if you don’t see the fabulous Margot Robbie’s Tate very often), Once Upon a Time gives us a view of life backstage and is advantaged with fantastic scenery and costuming. Brad Pitt as a heartthrob was never that impressive to me, but now, older and with a different aura about him, one that conveys a flawed nature, seemingly without much effort, his performances comes off as more on point and authentic. Of course, it helps that his character has more dimension, but I still think he brings something to the role that makes it truly his.

My top three:

Ford v. Ferrari (James Mangold)

3. Don’t let anyone tell you this is a movie for boys only—my mistake ran along those lines. This is one of the shows I was persuaded to go watch and I’m glad I did. First of all, yeah, Christian Bale is sort of out there, but he’s a damn good actor and gives heart to Ken Miles, a sports car racing engineer I’d barely heard of but as a character came to care about. Playing a major role in Henry Ford II’s efforts to compete with Enzo Ferrari’s racing cars, Miles is a little on the edge and this very non-racing-enthusiast was absolutely thrilled with the speed and how the main players dance with each other in their battles of wits.

I found Catriona Balfe’s performance as Mollie Miles a little insipid, but also felt her character was robbed, especially with her dialogue during an argument between husband and wife. Here the exchange casts her grievance along the lines of the whinging, stereotypical woman who goes in for the attack without giving her husband a serious chance at presenting his perspective. Mollie always just kind of hangs back, which I found a bit annoying because though I am aware she is a supporting character, even the screws holding an engine together have to have some dimension—and in this movie they do. Mollie Miles, not so much.

Overall the film does an amazing job of widening its appeal to audiences: I understood what they were talking about and why their endeavors meant something, even though car engine chat makes my eyes glaze over. Even more than that, though, the magic of it all, the passion and the dream—I could practically feel the power of all that coursing through my veins, and not just because of the outstanding cinematography. Bale, whose performance I marvel over even in one of his movies I really dislike a lot, delivers yet again and Matt Damon—whom I used to confuse with DeCaprio—is a fantastic Carroll Shelby whose gum chewing and subtle but powerful facial movements tell so much about the real Shelby and what drove him.

JoJo Rabbit (Taika Waititi)
(Adapted screenplay, based upon the
book Caging Skies by Christine Leunen)

2. I hyper studied World War II in high school and at one time couldn’t get enough. Now, however, I’m a little burned out and can’t—or don’t want to—stomach the way some approach it today, with the current rise in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial and attendant excuses for it. Waititi, however, presents a very different view of this time, not just by individualizing the experiences, which of course has been done before, but also by creating it as a comedy drama. I think we may have learned a bit from the brouhaha over Maus, one of the first graphic novels and one that tells the story of a Holocaust survivor—and royally cheesed a lot of people for telling such a somber story in “cartoon” form. Since then audiences have matured a little more and are able to recognize why the story of JoJo Beltzer and his mother, Rosie, might be told as it is.

I found this format to be the perfect vehicle for this particular era, even more so than it might have done for the Great War, which was novel in its far-reaching destruction and horrific outcomes and consequences. The Second World War, however, opened up to a bitter frustration that more often seemed to find humor as a way to alleviate the pain and fear, many times out of necessity and not just because it could. Rosie embraces this approach, knowing that her Nazi-loving young son won’t be easily separated from the indoctrination by seriousness. Besides, he is lonely for his father, who we (and he) are told is fighting for Germany on a foreign front. At the same time, JoJo’s mother engages a subtle sternness, for example when the pair see a group of executed souls hanging in a square near their house and JoJo turns away. Rosie does the mother thing with her hand—placed on top of her child’s head, which she swivels in the direction of what she insists he look at—and its ordinary mother power is elevated as we recognize that covering a child’s eyes from horror is not the only form of psychological protection.

This becomes more important as we learn Rosie’s dangerous secrets and JoJo becomes embroiled within them. Having failed at a Hitler Youth (“HJ”) weekend camp in which he becomes known as a coward, “JoJo rabbit,” for his refusal to wring the neck of the animal that becomes his namesake, he amps up his efforts to be a good Nazi, along with some help from his imaginary friend, Adolph. Yes, it’s the same Adolph we all know and hate, presented as a bumbling, awkward caricature who aims to appear as an authority figure and dispenses advice to the young boy. One could almost see the spittle flying as the real Hitler would scream at such a depiction: running through the woods, flailing and falling; pleading with a ten year old; gorging himself on unicorn.

Having watched the film in its entirety, a moviegoer might be tempted to point out a presentation flaw in that the sheer absurdity of at least one character—surely this one doesn’t take this garbage seriously?—makes for a predictable arc later on. However, Waititi turns events in a way one might not predict at all, and when we do learn what happens, it is because we didn’t see it that we know for sure. We do know that this can be dangerous territory for a filmmaker to traverse, but Waititi brings us across through the eyes of a child. There is no need to “cut to the heart” of Germany’s 1940s abyss: we already know about it, and JoJo’s ignorance of darker matters is part of the larger point. Apart from that, knowing what we do hasn’t exactly worked out as we wanted, has it? The director’s presentation may be a dangerous one, and it should be: a bitter frustration with what we are seeing, long after we have laughed at crazy Hitler and turned from our awareness even as our real world contains absurdities not unlike one scene in which a fanatical officer comments, “I wish more of our young boys had your blind fanaticism.”

Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
(Adapted screenplay, based upon the
novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)

1. Ah yes, the wee women everyone seems to know all about…except those of us who never read the book as a child. If I recall correctly, it was Saoirse Ronan’s attic scene in a film preview that drew me in, a passionate burst of emotion in which she, Jo March, comes to understand the reality of the choice she faces. Having grown up amongst a close family, she becomes the breadwinner when her father marches off with the Union army during the Civil War. Working as a teacher and freelance writer, she is delighted to discover the income she can attain with these abilities, though family law of the day dictates that everything previously hers, such as real property or finances, passes to her husband upon marriage. Determined not to allow this to happen, she by necessity erects a wall between herself and anyone she might become close with, not fully realizing, until the day in the attic, that this also blocks out many of life’s pleasures.

Greta Gerwig approaches these struggles with a balance that remains faithful to true feminism, one that demands what it does—legal existence—by refusing to forfeit it to marriage. When Jo’s sister Meg prepares for her wedding amidst Jo’s entreaties to run away because “we will be interesting forever,” she scolds her sibling: “Just because my dreams are different than yours doesn’t mean they are unimportant.” Jo’s reluctant acceptance of her sister’s impending departure juxtaposes with an acknowledgement that childhood is over, a strong indicator of the maturity required to recognize and respect the choices of others. Politics have probably always embedded themselves into film, but given the aggressive and bullying nature of today’s cinematic industry, one that steadily alienates those it seeks to attract, it was great relief to witness these scenes when Gerwig could easily have gone in the other direction. The director shows that film can be both romantic and inspiring; indeed, I found myself as sympathetic to nineteenth-century feminists as I always have been and with renewed determination to reach for my own stars.

Told along a split timeline, the March sisters (and others) make statements about life without lecturing the audience. Not all have as strong a character arc as one in particular, though this reflects reality, especially under the circumstances they all endure. They do live a life of genteel poverty, but it is one of struggle, perhaps reflected best in Emma Watson’s Meg, specifically when she goes away for a week to attend a ball. Save for youngest sister Beth, Meg is the kindest of the four, though with low self-esteem. Wearing a borrowed dress, she is browbeaten by her wealthy neighbor, Laurie, for participating in such a pretentious activity. They come to terms shortly after and Meg pleads with Laurie not to tell her sister Jo. One of the most poignant scenes in the film, with Watson’s eloquently subdued expressions magnificently reflecting her insecurity, movements and hesitations, it brings the story into sharp relief.

While I don’t dislike Watson as an actress, I never saw her as a brilliant performer, but here she greatly contributes in a lovely way to Gerwig’s vision for the film: to retain the traditional feel of it and the era in which it is set, while simultaneously making it accessible to modern viewers. Florence Pugh as Amy enables viewers to see that self-centered behavior was as ordinary an attitude in the often-romanticized nineteenth century as it is today. Amy also reflects heavily on how marriage would shape her life, and Pugh’s performance as she works her way through her internal struggles is poignant and masterful. She too presents a face of feminism very unlike today’s movement, reminding us—also without any grandstanding—of the range of hardship women faced, from casual discrimination to literal loss of autonomy.

Certainly not an exhaustive review, this one would definitely would be missing something without mention of costumes. The “traditional modern” is indeed realized in many of the outfits, fitting the period very nicely while also having the character of clothing many of us would quite like to wear today. The hoop skirts are rather another story, though the dresses themselves are quite attractive. Clothing matches characters’ moods or temperament, it seems, though nothing is ever overly or obviously utilized, such as Jo’s red, illustrating the streak of temper within her persona.

There are so many reasons to adore Little Women—the story itself, the many ways Greta Gerwig and others pulled it off, scenery, collaboration and more—and I am sure I will be exploring these in future blogs. As with so many others, this story has shifted something within me, and moving forward will be quite a different proposition than it would have been before I watched this film the first time. This is true with everything one experiences, of course, but we aren’t always privileged to feel that change, extraordinary indeed.

Reading 2019: Better Late Than Never, Right?

I know, I know – it’s nearly March 2020. Hey, it just about matches last year, since that month was when I started to read again. Though there is a bit of an uptick this year, since I did actually blog on January 1, whereas 2019 didn’t see any of that activity until the third month.

Yes, things are still not quite as fast as they once were, but improvement does come, slow as it may be. Happily, I did finish my first book of 2020 just a few days ago and our approach toward March indeed brings my mind back to this time last year, when illness preoccupied my days and ghosts visited at night. As mentioned here, I slept a lot, but by the month of Mars, I’d sat up a bit more and began to reach for the world again.

As has been customary for me, I write a tad about that world, found in such a large portion in the books I read, and my first from last year, I am super excited to say, is coming up for review here pretty soon:

A true story based on a 1680 ballad, The Ghost Midwife is book two in Annelisa Christensen’s Seventeenth Century Midwives series.

Not long after I began to look at books I’d been wanting to read (catch up on the Alexander McCall Smith series) or re-read (Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China), and there was also some familiarity in store with authors established in my repertoire (Joanne Larner, Lars Hedbor). I did some reading about ravens, given a group of them had a longtime habit of hanging out in my back yard, and one used to perch on my window to watch me as I typed. Another curious animal showed up in The Inquisitor’s Tale and I encountered a new portrayal of old favorites (The Retreat to Avalon).

Recommendations seemed to dominate this last batch of reads, which started with Karen Maitland’s The Owl Killers, in follow up to this same author’s Company of Liars, read in 2017. In reading this second novel, I knew I was safe from dangerous events within, but Maitland’s narrative kept me on the edge of my seat and to this day I still use the word scary as one descriptor for this un-put-downable tale. Gone Girl and Little Fires Everywhere have both been made into movies, and The Midwife’s Tale came to me from someone who knew of my attachment to Annelisa Christensen’s midwives and fondness for mystery. I’m looking forward to more from both authors.

It wouldn’t be a real follow-up to my January blog entry if I didn’t mention 1066, gifted to me years ago by the same sweetie who sent this fabulous stash. It’s important because events discussed in this book are a significant reason for my current WIP, a story being partially dictated to me by someone who lived at the time of the last ubiquitous palindrome before 2020-02-02 – over 900 years ago. She’s called Adela and I bet you can easily spot the two books below that more than strongly hint at which former kingdom she called home – and that I’m perfectly smitten with.

So, I’ve only read one book so far this year, but I thoroughly enjoyed it – extra lovely given it was a Christmas present. I’ve got a few more going and, though I know it will stay slower owing to my research reading, I’m getting there, aiming to end up with another one for your shelf. In the meantime, Adela is looking forward to it.

Journaling Life: Little Women Edition

 

In all its glory: A packet full of goodness, spread out like a feast.
Our updated bookcase: Two special new editions of Little Women adorn a shelf of other classics we have collected.

A week ago today my son and I went to watch Little Women, a movie whose book I’d never read save for excerpts in elementary school primers. I’d never pursued it further, and as for the why, I’ll get more into that in a future post. For now, suffice to say there are so many reasons to love the movie, which I have now watched twice (the book I am still reading), and the craft within is one of them. Marmie, Jo, Beth, Amy and Meg create much, and these items are not only meaningful and discussed, but also utilized in activities that bring them together, as a family and within their community, something sadly absent in much of today’s world of mass- and commercially-manufactured goods.

With this re-appearance of Little Women, two paths came together in my world: the re-stirrings of creative instinct and Louisa May Alcott’s story of four sisters who have captured my  heart. An online friend and I had been discussing crafting over the last couple of months, and last week I received a packet of items from her to help me get my kit going at a bit of a fuller speed. On Thursday evening I was literally sorting through her wonderful items just minutes before my boy and I were about to dash out the door for my second round of the film (his third).

There may be a dye bath in this material’s future.

In the days since then I’ve developed a minor obsession with the tale—again, more for another post—and ideas related to the March girls passed through my head as the materials caressed my fingers. I recalled my mother sewing wee clothes for my dolls, and I contemplated a shawl from some gauzy fabric for a little Jo, or perhaps Meg. Might I start a small doll collection now? Would I be able to use some of this material for their 1860s clothing, which I love so much? (Except the hoop skirts, a dreadful fashion mistake.) I’m not exactly sure at this point where I’ll go with some items or ideas, but it’s fun to comb through the treasure trove as I brainstorm possibilities.

Have a look at some images from my haul and ideas as they begin to develop ~

From far end of table seen in the first image above

Some of these items appear to be or are pretty fancy, but many of these types of things can be created with your own hand, especially if you are decent at drawing. If you’re not, you can still make beautiful items that Amy March would adore, using stencils, stick- and sew-ons, water colors and more.

I adore the old-world feel of the products advertised on so many of the labels I’d seen on vintage brands, if only in pictures online. Sometimes I wonder that to antebellum or later Victorian eyes, these labels seemed quite modern,  especially with their arching fonts or, as with the letter C in the image below, a swooping, sweeping stroke.

I am certain today’s manufacturers are quite aware of our affinity for such reminders of the world our ancestors inhabited, and make good use of their knowledge.  I shan’t name any names, but there are those amongst us who purchase some items simply for the label appeal: the faraway-ness of the times in which these labels originated made way for their descendants, simultaneously bearing that same distant feel yet striking familiarity.

Beautiful flowers to adorn nearly any idea a journaling artist could come up with. These are manufactured but can also easily be made with tissue paper or even napkins, as in the absolutely gorgeous junk journal’s opening pages at the link (click image)
Wouldn’t this make a pretty tablecloth? Beth would surely love to feed her doll at such a lovely setup.
Steam punk! These itty bitty spools, clothes pins, what look like the innards of a clock and more give off an old feel, transporting our imaginations in time. One could probably even do spirograph-type imaging with these small, circular pieces, resulting in pictures that illustrate what we’ve learned about the historical eras on our minds.

Join us going forward with this new series exploring various types of journaling and the creativity one can bring to it, using items such as the above or with simple things one might ordinarily toss or recycle. Inspirations are endless and can come from literature, science, history, geography, film, travel, nature, industry, fashion, memoir, food, the animal world or any theme you can possibly come up with.

How could I forget!? A very special thanks to Stephanie for all the wonderful trinkets and treasures! Have a  look at her website for more, right here!

Additional Note: Oopsie! I’ve come back in and cleaned up a few editing errors I discovered upon subsequent reads. 

Book Review: The Price

The Price by Martha Kennedy
Winner of the B.R.A.G Medallion

It’s been awhile since I’ve read anything from Martha Kennedy, and it didn’t take very long, once I opened up The Price, for me to settle into her simultaneously dramatic and rhythmic  style of writing. Old worldish yet familiar, the story takes us once more through a portion of the author’s own family history as the stage is set for the characters’ eventual migration to the New World. Some readers may feel a bonding of sorts with those who people The Price, familiar as they are with parts one and two of Kennedy’s trilogy of the Swiss Schneebeli, though who also could not relate to a lifetime of longing?—especially when, as we see, it relates to liberty.

Like so many others before and after them, multitudes of Anabaptists from Switzerland who arrived on American shores did so to escape religious persecution. Their belief in separation of church and state was a forerunner to our own religious protections, but before this the Swiss Anabaptists suffered the indignities of arrest and imprisonment, torture, even the removal of their children. When Hans Kaspar Schneebeli reads the words of William Penn and the freedom and opportunities they promise, he yearns to escape the oppressive environment, dictated from Zürich, for a breakthrough life wide open with possibilities.

While at its foundation Kennedy’s tale seems to match so many others we’ve heard, she brings to it the individual nature of a world that directly plays a role in establishing our own, resulting in a recognizable link peopled by those whose joys and anguish we see almost personally as their fortunes waver throughout the years. Hans Kaspar is one such, and the author’s honest portrayal of him as a flawed man, whose own behavior leads to some of his own adversity, allows us to empathize in a more genuine fashion. Certainly we feel for him, even when he is hardheaded or irresponsible. Again, however, Kennedy’s skillful narrative—without ever once presuming to tell us how we should think—gently allows us to consider our own fallibility and offer a little forgiveness, or at least view him as a whole person as opposed to the sum of his sins.

My favorite vignette shows Hans Kaspar confronted by his own conscience, introduced by one of Kennedy’s carefully chosen chapter headings ~

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me—Matthew 25:40

 “My heart is torn[,]” he tells the pastor, at whose home he seeks refuge from his internal battle between his greatest desire and those affected by whatever he chooses to do: venture to America, leaving behind a vulnerable old man as well his own innocent, motherless baby; or stay to care for them, despite having finally, finally earned enough to pay the exorbitant tribute fees. In the end we are left to make our own decisions regarding Schneebeli’s choices, his selfish attitude and brooding nature, but Kennedy’s portrayal also leaves room to consider his humanity. This evenhandedness is much more real for its refusal to plant the man squarely, or even majorly, in one camp, good or bad, and her theme of faith pairs with that of family, with references to ancestry and the series’ previous two works, Savior and The Brothers Path, weaving their aura throughout this installment and even the people themselves. They value their ancestors and mourn the reality that if they leave, they go forever, as “it is a crime to emigrate,” punishable upon return.

Family is no less important in America, though the journey has exacted a price, and Kennedy’s most internal theme begins to more strongly emerge with implied and actual questions pertaining to that which humans value most in life. Can one truly make a home away from their ancestral location? Is the price reflected in the novel’s title a worthy one to pay? Can we be as strong here, or perhaps better, than we were before? These and other questions are not always explicitly presented, making for a stronger narrative as further descendants arrive, in turns musing over family heirlooms we’d connected to much earlier in the tale. Not unlike the small thrill—or aching recognition—we feel with reference to the series’ other characters (such as the Swiss setting near the estate of those presented in the earlier books), the history of these items are ones we long to reach out and tell these people about: I know how much this meant to your mother or She crafted this with her own hands might blurt from our lips as Kennedy’s strength in historical storytelling has preserved for us too the lamentations, longings and lives of people, the very essence of whom lives on in items whose creation we were also party to. Material possessions they may be, they nevertheless provide a meaningful vehicle for the carriage of sacred memories and significance from one generation to the next, and the portrayal of that to readers. Kennedy performs this task with sensitivity and skill, and it is no wonder it is so easy to fall in love with her family and see them through the centuries, even when it is not.

If you have not yet been introduced to Martha Kennedy’s Savior or The Brothers Path, I encourage you to explore these remarkable reads—for the author’s wonderful storytelling, the depth of plot and meaning of the characters’ lives, to themselves and others, including us.

About the Author

Martha Kennedy was born in Denver, Colorado and earned her undergraduate degree in American Literature from University of Colorado, Boulder, and her graduate degree in American Literature from the University of Denver. She has taught college and university writing at all levels, business communication, literature and English as a Second Language. She has traveled intensively in Switzerland, journeys that have at once inspired and informed her writing. She has also published many short stories and articles in a variety of publications from the Denver Post to the Business Communications Quarterly.

For much more about the author and her books, see her blog, I’m a Writer, Yes I Am! and website, here. You can also follow Martha Kennedy at  Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter and Indie B.R.A.G. author page.

*********

The blogger was furnished with a free copy of
The Path to facilitate an honest review.

2020, The Year of My WIP: Reading, Dreaming, Writing

As 2019 dwindles to a close, I think a little about its opening days, when I stayed mostly in bed under extra-heavy covers, protecting myself from the steel-like cold that gripped our house while we’d been on vacation. Chasing it away was a weekend affair in which my son and I both violated the house rules against eating in our bedrooms. I had a pile of books nearby to keep me company but, truth be told, I didn’t touch them. I was wrecked from travel, but it was more than jetlag. I was severely burned out.

Eventually the house warmed up and the year marched forward, pulling me along as I ran to keep up. Part of how I managed to do this is that I didn’t pick up a book until March, spending the interim fighting illness. I dreamed a  lot of ghosts, which brought my mind back to the days a few years before when some very odd occurrences visited our home, and this in turn led to my first read of the year, The Ghost Midwife by Annalisa Christensen, whose debut novel, The Popish Midwife, I’d previously read, loved and reviewed.

Musing over all these ghosts gave way to some thinking about the imprints of characters populating my own mind, whose initial sparks gave way or, in a couple of instances, sometimes persisted. One such was a young girl from twelfth-century East Anglia, a place that for reasons unknown, I feel some connection with. (I can’t explain it; I’ve never been there. It just is.) Once I was randomly surfing my way through a lazy and occasionally boring evening and came upon a hit that made me sit up straight, almost as if I’d been emotionally poked by someone trying to capture my attention. This young girl immediately appeared, as if I had “found” her – in that nanosecond I recognized and knew so much about her, and spent the following days getting to know her better.

King’s Lynn, originally Bishop’s Lynn and referred to by locals as, simply, Lynn, as seen from the River Great Ouse. Image courtesy Ben Dickson at Wikimedia (click for more info)

She wasn’t an easy study, partly because she is young, reticent and inexperienced with strangers. She also is native to an era many centuries before our own, even a couple of hundred years preceding another medieval period I’ve studied. Still, I learned quickly about some of her passions, prejudices, fears, dreams, disappointments, even tragedies—her own and that of her grandparents, who survived William’s Harrying of the North. But those differences persisted and for awhile, she has hidden herself behind a veil—of time, of space? No matter, I sense she is still there, waiting, even wanting to be found again, and perhaps she will have greater confidence next time, as will I, I hope.

Part of why Adela, as I know her to be called, slipped away so easily could also be laid at my own feet, in that my attention was breathtakingly captured by another girl, slightly older and who also instantaneously, albeit unwittingly, revealed much of herself to me. With Perle, however, I felt almost as if we were playing a game, one involving puzzles that I have to piece together with information she seems to be leading me to—and let me tell you, it’s one of the biggest thrills of my life. Each set of two put together forms a more complete understanding in my mind and it’s not that I think to myself something like, “Oh, I have an idea for this story!” Rather, it is as if I have just realized something—realized—and draw in my breath with a gasp not just at that it pieces together, but how amazingly suitable all these details are with each other. And the conduit, whoever or whatever they might be, enthrall me as well as the tales they tell.

Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church, Sibyl of the Rhine. Perle and Adela might have known about her. Image courtesy Wikimedia (click image for more info)

Some of my readers may recall that I am in love with the ordinary people of the world. With that, of course, comes the awareness, for better or worse, that the vast majority of them through history are out of my reach, owing to illiteracy and death rates, lack of recordkeeping, destruction or deterioration of materials, enforced and environmental silence, to name a few factors of time. Nevertheless, I do believe many of them were so dynamic and colorful, and life would have been more exciting, intriguing or joyful when living it with them. How do I know this? Well, I don’t, not really. But it is so that there are people in every era like this—the disappointing part is that most are not remembered past their own time. They didn’t come from a notable family, were never party to any litigation, had no inventions or famous successes to their names. Those who knew them before they died eventually also passed on without leaving anything—at least nothing that can be conclusively connected to them, written, spoken or created—and new generations grew up knowing nothing of these people or their influence.

At various periods in my own life, certain instances of forgetfulness have haunted me a little, such as that of Pompeii and Herculaneum. I used to marvel that entire, thriving cities of people who once were, and who died all at once and so tragically, could be forgotten—snap!—like that. How could it happen? Of course, Pliny the Younger wrote about Vesuvius a quarter of a century after its magnificent eruption, though these letters were only published long after Perle and Adela were living, by which time the cities weren’t even, as they say, “only a memory.”

I’m not entirely familiar with the chain of custody of Pliny’s writings, only that they were published in Italy in the fifteenth century. And so I wonder: Is something still a memory if no one alive knows about it? Does it make a difference that somewhere, in some vault or archival depository, rests someone’s written descriptions of people, places, events? I want to believe it does, because to be forgotten seems to me a fate worse than death. Perhaps there is a bit of hyperbole within that pronouncement, though I assure you it is not deliberate, only born of a thought that this is a truer death than any kind experienced by the physical body.

What if, in a realm in which beings could mentally connect with those alive who exert connections to the past, what if these beings could somehow tap into the realm inhabited by the living and act the muse? The muse, of course, is not an original idea, I just sometimes contemplate that inspirations on some occasions are in actuality real people communicating real events to those of us with the means to record them. I must also give credit for this idea, or at least the lead-in to it, to Dying to Meet You, a kid’s novel I read with my son some years ago for battle of the books. I’ve forgotten much of it, but the gist is that a writer looking for a comeback settles into a new project, advised by the resident ghost, who harangues and harasses him in ways that made us howl with laughter. The point being, of course, that perhaps some historical fiction characters are those who have recruited authors to tell their stories, the ones that never made it to history books but that many want to hear. I’m sure this also has been the more serious plot of some historical fiction already written, so even this is not so innovative. I suppose the difference here is my suggestion that it is much more common and real than we know.

So far, none of these shadowy beings have harassed or harangued me, though they do seem to be telling their stories, and did even when they were hovering in shadows while I slept through the first quarter of 2019. Those dreams: Some were fairly vivid, others were shadowy and vague, but all led to one of the largest book-buying binges I’ve experienced in my life. As I attempt interpreting the information the ghostly beings pass along in their leads and murmurs, I wonder if they whispered all those months ago not only for themselves, but for me too, to rise up from my bed and find what I love. And so I carry on like a literary, historical detective, a position I never imagined I’d occupy, given that I am by no means an historian. But the variables gathered in the way they did, and this is how I move forward into the next decade.

I’m looking forward to my massive amount of reading as well as telling about some of it, and hope you’ll stay tuned for this journey I have been quite willingly drawn into. I’ve got other ideas too, some of it from past new years, but also some new new, inspired by a bunch of gabbing and creative ideas I’ve been witnessing.

At this writing, it’s getting closer to midnight, which means it soon shall be 2020. I’ve had a peek outside, and it is snowing magically and quietly as worlds meet between the hours. It’s going to be glorious.

 

Coming Upon the King: How I Came to Be a Ricardian

Not long ago I had opportunity to reflect on events that led to my re-introduction to Richard III, the last English king to be killed in battle and who, in the over 500 years since, has been regarded by many as a murderer of children – worse, a murderer whose motive was to steal the crown. To be honest, I was never really interested one way or the other, partly, I suppose, because when I first learned about Richard—in elementary and high school—I felt overwhelmed with details and loads of other eras and figures to keep track of. At a certain point more recently I thought maybe I’d read a bit about him just to catch up. I never imagined I’d be drawn into a medieval drama and determine to follow-up with it. Nor could I predict it would be one of his detractors that not only influenced me to further investigation, but also lead to my eventual determination.

In this season of reflection and consideration of others—those we relate to and don’t—it seemed fitting to re-blog my look back, which first appeared at Murray and Blue in the opening days of this month.

16th-century painting of Richard III

I’ll be perfectly honest with you: I was never really that interested in Richard Plantagenet, later Richard III. In school I had avoided the Anglo-Saxons like the plague, and Richard, well, perhaps like a round of the flu. He wasn’t quite as intimidating, despite the double-murder allegation lodged, and I got away with not having to write about him once my father, who was big on essays, unearthed a book about the famous American swamp fox. Not that it was easy to outsmart my dad; there was just so much history to know and he loved imparting it. In fact, he adored learning of most kinds, and almost every time I saw him he had a book in one hand, cup of tea in the other. Every weekday morning before work he would sit at the dining room table for about two hours, enjoying his study in the quiet atmosphere between night and day. He read almost anything he could get his hands on, with the notable exception of Shakespeare, of whom he was not a huge fan, though he never said why.

By the time I reached university I’d managed to evade Richard a few more times (and those fearsome Anglo-Saxons!), despite his seeming determination to capture my attention. I had to capitulate a bit when Shakespeare (him again) showed up in his own required course. I quite liked his poetry and how he played with language, but frankly didn’t care about star-crossed lovers (everyone read that in high school), a brooding Danish prince (that one too) or evil kings who seemed to be a dime a dozen. And the evil king who repeatedly crossed my path was none other than – you guessed it, Richard III.

I had to read Richard III three times because the professor, who in my opinion was quite brilliant but mystifyingly static in his forward movement, could present it in his sleep. So we read it in two regular lit classes and then in Shakepeare, in which our fearless leader liked to occasionally take on the parts of people he was teaching about. He had a larger audience here, and the more sizable lecture area gave him the space to move around as he caricatured his way through Richard’s role and the frequent trivia he was fond of. At the end of the semester I was appalled to discover that not only did 75% of our grade rest on a ten-question quiz, but also the questions had little to do with, say, history, critical theory or literary devices. A representative sample’s answer was, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” I wasn’t a snobbish student, but did possess the expectation I be delivered the education I was paying for, not a bunch of trivia and phrases repeated so often, here and elsewhere, that they became cliché.

I didn’t realize it then, but I was in equal parts driven away from all talk of Richard III and hauled back to him by the frustration of knowing that even I considered the standard presentation tiresome. Students way more brilliant than myself repeated the stock phrases, though, and I felt like shaking them as I cried out, “Wake up, man! I want to read King Lear and Huntingdon won’t teach it!” My actual response consisted of acquiring a fish (the only pet I could get away with) and calling it Richard, as if that somehow revenged a king, allowing him to be something besides the pitiful stock bad man. I was irked, perhaps even irritated, but not yet inspired.

At the time I knew nothing of the Richard III Society and wouldn’t for some years, for after I graduated, my poor fish had been given last rites and I was just so relieved to have passed statistics and survived senior year burnout. But, as the universe seemed to want to have it, Richard came up in casual conversation, at this point two years before the discovery of his remains in a parking lot. I admitted I really knew very little of the man I’d previously complained kept coming, uninvited, into my life, and determined I’d remedy that. The universe, being as accommodating as it so often is, arranged for a car crash that left me immobile for an extended period, which in turn provided for quite a lot of reading time to fill.

Sir John Everett Millais’ The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1473 (1878). Privileged placement of the work on the cover of Alison Weir’s 1992 edition of The Princes in the Tower is utilized toward this author’s assertion regarding Richard: the “two pale, innocent, bewildered boys” of her blurb paired with existing stereotypes of medieval society, seek to convince viewers of Richard’s culpability. 

I started with Alison Weir’s The Princes in the Tower. It had a fairly beckoning cover and I really had no idea of any given book on this topic to another. Mainly I was looking for details. My intention was, quite simply: read one and be done with it. And so it began. Here was an account that claimed to have studied the case of the missing princes, one heir to the throne, both rumored to have been murdered by their “usurper” uncle, King Richard III, the bodies of the two “pale, innocent, bewildered boys” never found.

It didn’t initially strike me as odd that Weir would contradict herself—on the same page of her preface, no  less—with two opposing statements of direction: “The historian’s job is to weigh the evidence available, however slender and circumstantial” and “We are dealing here with facts, not just speculation or theories.” In all honesty, I was unaccustomed to reading like an historian; instead I read for elements such as repetition, privileged position, arcs and development. Still, my literary training had served me well—even including the aforementioned professor, who really did have good reason to be on staff; the pince-nez and dressing gown during office hours was an added bonus—and I began to wonder that perhaps historical writing really does have much in common with literary.

For example, Weir’s placement of Image 15 of the insert photos: One of, if not the most biased image in the insert collection, is a picture of two child-sized skeletons, discovered nearly two centuries after the princes’ disappearance. It is cleverly shadowed with near-opposing black and white shading that easily grabs the eye. Set in the page’s upper left corner, its positioning exploits our societal left-to-right reading direction as well as the “above-the-fold” tendency book browsers often engage when skimming though potential purchases. Its caption reads: “The remains found in 1674: ‘They were small bones of lads in their teens, fully recognised to be the bones of those two Princes’ (Eye-witness report, 1674; Archaeologia).”

Should the casual observer take the time to scan the rest of the page, the two remaining images—one of the urn in which the skeletal bones now rest, another of the exhumed skull of the princes’ eight-year-old relative Anne Mowbray—each play their role in telling the story the author wants readers to believe. Anne’s stark and startling skull, shown in a fairly large photo at bottom, plays on reader emotion with the mouth in its characteristic gaping position, not unlike a scream. It is included, positioned and designed to evoke pity, for both the untimely death of this little girl as well as the boys she was once close to. Of this Weir writes: “The skull of Anne Mowbray: York’s [the younger prince, Richard, Duke of York] child-bride and the Princes’ cousin, exhumed in 1964. Dental evidence indicates a familial relationship between her bones and those in the urn.”

The urn image is somewhat sympathetic, but rather generic and positioned to the right, closer to the book’s binding. Still, it has its role in this page-long tale, with its insinuation of finality. These bones are those of the boys, Anne’s remains prove it, end of story. Three statements, three images, we’re done here. A would-be consumer who saw even only the most privileged photo (the skeletons) before placing the book back on the shelf stands a high chance of walking away believing these were indeed the missing princes—a question not even entertained on the page discussed—and with Weir’s use of the word “murder” and the accusation against Richard in the jacket blurb, we’re a handshake away. Actually reading the story within all three captions and the deal is sealed. I am inclined to believe that readers have been lazy in every age, but also know that Weir and her publishers are very aware of how the demand for instant gratification and disintegration of critical reading skills in our era has further influenced the formation of opinions.

A quick disclaimer here: I personally don’t begrudge Weir her manipulation of privileged position or other literary techniques; these are what make books appealing, literature fascinating and history come alive. Human forms in photos engage our minds in a way an inanimate object doesn’t. We don’t relate to an urn, especially if we don’t know this is what that image is, but we do relate to images of people who were once alive, especially if they are children. However, I do take issue with the dishonest verbiage she carefully chooses to create the impression discussed above. For instance, the caption below Image 15 doesn’t say what year the princes died, presumed to have died, or disappeared (c. 1483). Yet an “Eye-witness report” from 1674 “recognised” the bones to be those of the missing princes? Did this eyewitness dabble in alchemy in his 200 + year lifespan? And where did he obtain his forensic expertise, with which he surely would be able to differentiate this set of remains from the twelve-year-old sons of Henry VIII’s cousins, whose families ended up in the Tower of London, where the Plantagenet brothers were last seen? Are there any signs of cause of death? The name dropping of Archaeologia lends some needed credibility, as does the dental evidence that “indicates” a familial relationship amongst all three deceased. These are only some of the questions Weir understands all too many consumers won’t ask; they’ll just take her word for it because they are in a hurry, don’t care enough or it doesn’t occur to them. There probably are other reasons as well, but the end result is that many will accept the information at face value.

Still, this was an awareness I came to later in my reading of The Princes in the Tower, or actually, even after I had finished and contemplated what I’d read. I had a niggling feeling about the perceptions I’d experienced. As I moved deeper into the book, Weir seemed to become more aggressive in her voice, and in previous remembrances I thought I even recalled a bit of name calling, which might have been the initial turnoff. (I could be wrong; stay tuned for another entry addressing this.)

The White Tower, Tower of London. Romanticized with its modern artificial lighting, we must imagine it in the days when the complete darkness of night, the likes of which many of us have never experienced, shrouded much in and around it.

As I sat with my casted leg propped up one evening, I realized with a grunt of dissatisfaction that I could not let it go until I read some more. My back was healing, but at this point pained easily after short periods, and my best friend was dispatched to collect a book or two from the university library. She returned with about fifteen, one of which was, by chance, Josephine Wilkinson’s Richard: The Young King to Be. She ignored my pointed stare.

It wasn’t long before I recognized a quote in Wilkinson’s book that Weir had utilized—in part. I suppose it was my naiveté with regard to historical reading that surprised me a little as I realized Weir had cherry picked what supported her agenda and left the rest. (Here also, stay tuned for more specifics.) At this point it really began to annoy me, and I was flummoxed as to how so many people could have gushed about what a fabulous book this was when I so easily picked out inconsistencies. Actually, I’ll have to revise that a bit: I read several reviews in which the authors did criticize Weir, but dismissed her liberties because “there’s no real way to tell” or “he probably did it anyway.” I’m pretty sure none of these people or any of us would want that standard upheld at our own trials.

Unknown to me, at roughly this time, the now-late historian John Ashdown-Hill published Eleanor: The Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. An analysis of the life of Eleanor Talbot, the woman said to have been married to Edward IV, Richard’s elder brother, before making Elizabeth Wydville his queen, the work follows a number of pathways, including those secreted in forensic dentistry. Ashdown-Hill discusses Anne Mowbray’s line of descent, an important angle given Weir’s assertion regarding the similarities between the teeth of the young bride and those of the bodies discovered in 1674, and a condition of congenitally absent teeth. The author notes that Anne Mowbray was related to the princes via a number of lines of descent, some more distant than others.

If those who have claimed that Anne Mowbray’s congenitally missing teeth prove that she was related to TL1 and 2 (and that therefore these were Edward V and Richard, Duke of York [the princes]) are correct, Anne’s dental anomaly must almost certainly have descended to her via her Neville ancestry (184-5).

Ashdown-Hill goes on to relate information about the battlefield identification of Anne’s grandfather, John Talbot, in connection to an absent left molar. This provides some evidence of the congenital condition being a Talbot trait, further leading to the speculation that if Anne did indeed inherit her dentition from her grandfather, “then those same missing teeth cannot very well be cited as evidence that TL1 and TL2 are Edward V and his brother, since the relationship of these latter to [Anne’s grandfather] was extremely remote.” Of course, it is possible John Talbot lost the tooth in some other manner and Ashdown-Hill further advises that Talbot’s remains had been disturbed several times, thus making elucidation on this point difficult (184-5).

Weir, in contrast, utilizes very little more than coincidence and contradictory information when aiming to prove that the bodies discovered in 1674 are Richard’s nephews, including the discovery to begin with. This position continues with her insistence that, apparently, only Plantagenet royalty could possibly have worn velvet, a type of material present with the bones and, given its availability timeframe, unlikely to indicate the remains were Roman, as had been suggested. She even goes on quite at length about all the experts and authors who examined the 1933 reports of Wright and Tanner, who themselves examined only an urn full of bones picked apart from those of animals (!) centuries after their initial discovery and under questionable chain of custody. Nevertheless, on all of this Weir categorically pushes the conclusion that “the evidence that the bones in the urn are those of the Princes is as conclusive as could be desired” (by whom?)(255-6).

Historian John Ashdown-Hill’s analysis of Eleanor Talbot’s life includes a far deeper discussion of the dental angle as glossed over by Weir, despite the absolute nature of her accusation against the king. (Click image for more information.)

It is easy to deduce there is much more to what I have summarized here, let alone the captions under three pictures in the middle of a book on the Bestsellers! table. As mentioned earlier, this dental information I didn’t know about when I first read Weir’s book – and she counts on that as well as the likelihood that few readers will check up on her words. The truth is, she’s right: few do follow up. For how long had my professor posited the claim that Richard III died shouting the line about the horse? How many from my class still believe this today? And this is counting just the influence of one person. Multiplied by how many readers Weir (and others) has persuaded, most of whom have very little time and/or inclination to look into what she says—some of whom, frankly, are as willing to manipulate the truth—it’s no wonder there is such widespread belief that Richard did the deed.

Of course, many people simply don’t care. At one point I was one of them. I liked history but wanted it on my own lazy terms, not having to deal with dates or the same few recycled names. Others view eras such as the Middle Ages with an attitude of “life is cheap,” which perhaps explains their willingness to allow an anointed king to be so maligned, and when looking back I found it curious that it stirred something within my being. I am, after all, an American with not a single drop of royalist blood running through my veins.

This, however, may be the because rather than the despite, thanks to our Magna Carta-inspired Constitution, the law of the land guaranteeing our rights, including those of the accused, a topic on which Richard III also had something to say. The widespread reliance upon and acceptance of misinformation to convict someone from the past bothers me for the same reason similar attitudes light a fire in me today. It doesn’t matter if someone dislikes or even hates Richard or any other political figure: Anyone who claims to value justice should be alarmed when someone is prosecuted and convicted under such inconclusive evidence, especially for the sake of bragging rights to having solved a centuries-old puzzle. This king may have lived and died over 500 years ago, but thirst for power and willingness to tyrannize others to achieve it is alive and well. Why would any tyrant stop with politicians? As we have seen throughout history, they don’t.

I had the great benefit of a father who taught me how to look a bit deeper, and though I don’t have quite the historian’s mind he did, I believed fiercely in justice. I also loved a good yarn, so followed with rapture as my father related to me tales from a variety of eras.

I only vaguely recall him telling me of Richard’s ability to fight, even something favorable about Henry VII (I used to refer to him as “the Henry after Richard the last”). His narratives often changed direction and he occasionally refused to answer questions, and at some point I understood he was teaching me to think. This surely colored my perception of Weir’s ridiculous portrayal of modern writers of Richard III as those who (a) believe the monarch guilty but too timid to admit it or (b) believe he is basically a saint (1). I also question the word “revisionist” as applied to Ricardians. It seems to me the revisionism began full force August 22, 1485, with the backdating of Henry Tudor’s reign to the 21.

I also grew up with a Scottish mother who never let me forget the Stuarts; at some points my eyes simply glazed over, and it all probably contributed to my lazy childhood approach toward history, despite my love of its people. This laissez-faire attitude extended to Richard, and for most of my life I didn’t care enough about him to have an opinion on his culpability. Interestingly, it was his detractors who chipped away at this armor as they repeated ad nauseum their claims, much of which was rank hypocrisy or projection. This entry has focused on one who chose as her work’s epigraph a Shakespeare quote that illustrates both, which reads in part: “Insulting tyranny begins to jet” (Richard III, Act II, Scene IV). Here Elizabeth Wydville wigs out over fears for her family, Shakespeare conveniently ignoring her role in all of this, as does Weir. (Talk about revisionism!)

There have since been others, but Alison Weir ended up accomplishing, in my case, the opposite of her intention in that I found her scholarship to be suspect, so I looked into it; what I came to believe through further reading and discussion was that Richard III, while certainly no saint, cannot justly be convicted of a double murder on the evidence she presents. That she has to go into stealth mode and employ manipulation, insults and overreach says much more about her than it ever could about King Richard III.

Despite Weir’s preface statement that “it is unlikely the truth of the matter will ever be confirmed by better evidence than we already have,” since the 2012 discovery of the king’s remains in a parking lot, more of consequence has been learned. For example, the Shakespearean depiction of Richard as a hunchback is in fact the propaganda it has long been characterized as. Rather, the king suffered from scoliosis, resulting in a sideways, spiraling twist to his spine, as discussed in a 2014 press release from the University of Leicester, a deformity not immediately visible to those encountering him. The hunchback myth traces back to Thomas More, on information from John Morton, Bishop of Ely, instrumental in Henry Tudor’s seizure of the throne. (This alone makes their party line suspect.) Owing to this accomplishment, Tudor historians, and not Plantagenet, were the ones relating the history. As my father drilled into my mind many times, and we have all heard in history class, the winner writes the story.

Shakespeare strove to be part of that winning group, though doing it for Elizabeth I, Henry Tudor’s granddaughter, over one hundred years after the fact, illustrating the reality that low-information readers (playgoers) existed long before the rampant misinformation pushers of our own time. Granted, we are often over-saturated with details, but this also gives us advantage in having the ability to track down more than ever before, even from places far removed from a small corner of England, within which one king and his men fought within the loyalty to which they were bound, and so became we.

—Lisl P.

Sources

Ashdown-Hill, John. Eleanor, the Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. Stroud: History Press, 2010.

Weir, Alison. The Princes in the Tower. United States: Ballantine, 1992.

Images

All images courtesy Wikimedia unless otherwise noted. Click any image for more details and, if any, annotations.

Guest Post: “Playing God” – Taking Liberties with the Lives and Personalities of Historical Figures

 

Poster copy

BITTERSWEET TAPESTRY 

BY KEVIN O’CONNELL

Publication Date: November 1, 2019
Gortcullinane Press
eBook & Paperback

Series: The Derrynane Saga, Book Three
Genre: Historical Fiction

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

A dramatic decade has passed since sixteen-year-old Eileen O’Connell first departed her family’s sanctuary at remote Derrynane on the Kerry coast to become the wife of one of the wealthiest men in Ireland and the mistress of John O’Connor’s Ballyhar – only to have her elderly husband die within months of the marriage.

Unhappily returned to Derrynane, within a year, under the auspices of their uncle, a general in the armies of Maria Theresa, Eileen and her sister, Abigail, departed for Vienna and a life neither could have ever imagined – one at the dizzying heights of the Hapsburg empire and court, where Abigail ultimately became principal lady-in-waiting to the Empress herself, whilst Eileen, for nine momentous years, served as governess to the Empress’s youngest daughter – during which time Maria Antonia, whom Eileen still calls “my wee little archduchess,” has become Marie Antoinette, dauphine of France, though she continues to refer to her beloved governess as “Mama.”

As Bittersweet Tapestry opens, it is the High Summer of 1770. Having escorted the future Queen of France from Vienna to her new life, Eileen and her husband, Captain Arthur O’Leary of the Hungarian Hussars, along with their little boy and Eileen’s treasured friend (and former servant) Anna Pfeffer are establishing themselves in Ireland.

Their ties to Catholic Europe remain close and strong; in addition to Abigail and her O’Sullivan family and General O’Connell, his wife and young daughter in Vienna, their brother Daniel is an officer in the Irish Brigade of the armies of Louis XV, whilst their youngest brother, Hugh, is studying at École Militaire in Paris, his path to a commission in the Dillons’ Regiment of the Brigade. His gentle Austrian friendship with Maria Antonia having inevitably waned, Hugh’s relationship with the strikingly-beautiful young widowed Princess Marie Thérèse Louise of Savoy is blossoming.

Though happily ensconced at Rathleigh House, the O’Leary family estate in County Cork, being prominent amongst those families which are the remnants of the old Gaelic order in the area, Eileen and Art find that the dark cloud of the Protestant Ascendancy hovers heavily, at times threateningly, over them.

Bittersweet Tapestry is a tale of stark contrasts – between Hugh’s life of increasing prominence amidst the glitter and intrigue of the French court and Art and Eileen’s in English-occupied Ireland – especially as the latter progresses into a dark, violent and bloody tale . . . ultimately involving an epic tragedy, which along with the events leading up to it and those occurring in its dramatic wake, will permanently impact the O’Learys, the O’Connells – and their far-flung circle of family and friends in Ireland and across Europe.

With his uniquely-descriptive prose, Kevin O’Connell again deftly weaves threads of historical fact and fancy to create a colourful fabric affording unique insights into the courts of eighteenth-century Catholic Europe as well as English-ruled Ireland. As the classic story unfolds amongst the O’Learys, the O’Connells, their friends and enemies, the tumultuously-dangerous worlds in which they dwell will continue to gradually – but inexorably – become even more so.

Bittersweet Tapestry joins O’Connell’s well-received Beyond Derrynane and Two Journeys Home as The Derrynane Saga continues – an enthralling epic, presenting a sweeping chronicle, set against the larger drama of Europe in the early stages of significant – and, in the case of France – violent change.

Today here at Before the Second Sleep, author Kevin O’Connell talks about the merging of imagination and history in the historical fiction genre and some of his personal experience – the ups as well as the downs – of doing. See below for more stops on Bittersweet Tapestry‘s blog tour!

02_Bittersweet-Tapestry

“Playing God” – Taking Liberties with the Lives and Personalities of Historical Figures

Few if any other literary genres give an author the latitude that historical fiction does in allowing her or him to stray beyond the boundaries of fact well into the realm of fancy.

What is fascinating – especially in this age of instant information which permits us to seek and obtain “facts” with a few keystrokes – is that it is rather easy to believe that we “know” history: Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, Washington crossed the Delaware, Joan of Arc heard voices and, at least for a time, led the French armies, the Bastille fell on 14 July.

But what is perhaps equally fascinating is that in many, if not most, instances we actually know very little beyond major events, beyond those happenings that were recorded as they occurred – or at least shortly thereafter. The reality is that so much more happened – or, at least in the mind of the historical fiction writer – may have happened. It is in this mystical sphere, where fact and fiction might be said to somehow intersect, where a good historical fiction author has the freedom to visualise, to roam far afield from recorded history to the locale of “perhaps” or “maybe,” most definitely to the area of “but this certainly could have happened….” Therein lies the magic – and the fun!

The “rules” are few, but rather clear: When “creating history” what one writes of as occurring must be plausible – wholly-believable by even the most knowledgeable reader.

Thus, actual events must stay true to history – unless, of course, one is writing parallel or alternate versions of history.  And even there, one must be careful.  “What if” can be interesting – it can also be wearisome, if not done properly.  Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel,  Man in the High Castle (currently a television series),  comes to mind as alternate history extraordinarily well done.

Staying “true to history” can be a challenge – especially when one is feeling, shall we say, clever or especially creative. An example from my own work: Those familiar with the earlier books of the Derrynane Saga will know that Eileen O’Connell and her young charge in Vienna had developed a close, virtually maternal, relationship such that the future Marie Antoinette would address her governess as “Mama.”

As the time of preparation for the young archduchess’s departure for Paris approaches, I had Eileen begin to discuss – in  rather significant, even graphic, detail –  the intimate particulars of married life with the barely fourteen-year-old, soon-to-be-wed Antoine, who reacted with wide eyes, much giggling and a not insignificant degree of interest. In my mind I had entitled the episode, “The Birds and the Bees – Done Well!”

Hubris – pure hubris – and awful . . . as I learnt when that part of the manuscript was quickly returned by my awesome editor, who reminded me of things I was well aware, but had dismissed in the name of “being creative”: that Antoinette and Louise Auguste’s marriage would remain unconsummated for some seven years for the very simple reason that both of them were basically ignorant of the mechanics of sex. Indeed, it was not until the young Queen’s older brother, the  Emperor Joseph, actually journeyed from Vienna to see what could possibly be wrong with the marriage that the situation finally began to normalise. Had my imaginative little scene made it into the book it would definitely not have been a positive addition. Thus, one must be very careful and mindful of the “realities” even whilst writing fiction!

Now, in terms of people, in writing of the Imperial Habsburgs thus far in Beyond Derrynane and Two Journeys Home,  I did not stray very far from reality in presenting the Emperor Francis Stephen, Maria Theresa’s beloved albeit charmingly lecherous consort, nor their haughty next-to-youngest daughter, the Archduchess Maria Carolina, who became Queen of Naples and as prodigious a baby-producer as her mother.

I have, however, taken certain freedoms with the Archduchess Maria Antonia – Eileen’s beloved “wee little archduchess,” who was becoming Marie Antoinette, dauphine of France as Two Journeys Home progressed towards its close. In Derrynane, she was the pretty, pliant little girl of the history books. As she grew into late childhood and adolescence, she developed a gentle, at times wispy, personality – with moments of spark, such as when she expressed in no uncertain terms to the Countess von Graffenreit that she was going to France only as a matter of duty.

I have spoken of writing the Empress Maria Theresa as a “kinder, gentler” version of her real self, noting that I believed it was her interaction with my characters which perhaps made her less daunting than history would have us believe she was. These private moments with Eileen – as governess to her youngest daughter, and perhaps even more so with Abigail, who as Beyond Derrynane was ending, had risen to the post of Maria Theresa’s principal lady-in-waiting, the closest servant to the then-most powerful woman in the world – were gentle and laced with humour. Abigail’s gentle humour, her subtle-comedic personality definitely softened her mistress and their interactions almost from Abby’s arrival. In their relationship, there was little evidence of the prudish monarch, who sponsored “morality squads” to ferret out those courtiers she viewed as being sensualists, libertines. And, indeed, as the years passed, Maria Theresa laughed more and judged much less harshly – I believe because of Abby, and, to a lesser extent, of Eileen.

From these experiences, I concluded that the genre of historical fiction  permits its practitioners to depict not only actual historical events in a fictional manner but also events – and people – which could have happened . . . and who could have lived. Taking dramatic advantage of this latitude, I believe and hope that I have stayed within these bounds – and will continue to do so.

It was not, however, until the Princess Marie Thérèse Louise of Savoy was introduced in the closing sections of Two Journeys Home that I took the liberty, for the first time, of straying rather deeply into historical fancy – well far-afield beyond the known or recorded facts.

So it has been in connection with the planned re-appearance and development (in Bittersweet Tapestry) of Hugh O’Connell’s “Louise” that I am experiencing the creation of a significantly different temperament, indeed, personality and, in most ways an entirely dissimilar life for a relatively well-known historical character, and feel that the same can be rather daunting.

I must admit that, as with many of the twists and turns throughout the writing of the Saga to date none of this was at all well-planned, but rather developed as the story progressed and began to take shape or, as has been said of my work, that my “characters have pulled me along”!

As it was since their meeting in the closing pages of Two Journeys Home, Marie Thérèse Louise and Hugh continued – some days rather annoyingly –  coyly circling each other in my imagination, I continued to research the princess, in effect getting to know her better. This was achieved not only by reading, as well as studying literally dozens of portraits of her, but also – as the result of a beautifully-scheduled trip – by visiting her homes in Paris, both the Hôtel de Toulouse (the headquarters of the Bank of France), as well as a “country residence” she acquired in then largely-rural Passy in the mid 1780’s (now the Embassy of Turkey). I developed a sense that she perhaps might have been a more complex, indeed certainly a more interesting person than history has shown her to be.

Several of her portraits depict (at least to me) a very pretty young woman with a gentle, perhaps even playful sense of humour, one who laughs and makes others do so as well. She is, at least at this stage of her life, to a degree both shy and guileless, most likely a result of her sheltered life in Savoy and despite her singular position in the French monarchy. As she appears in Bittersweet Tapestry her life is undergoing rapid, totally-unforeseen changes – it and she are clearly both works in progress.

Lamballe is my greatest challenge to date because – at least to those even casually knowledgeable about the Ancien Regime and the horrors of the French Revolution – she is a familiar character.

At court, history tells us, she had a prudish, pedantic reputation (though it was also rumoured that she was for a time the Duc of Orleans’ lover) – as an aside, Orleans was the regicide who cast his vote in favour of the execution of  his cousin Louis XIV. Later known by his self-bestowed sobriquet Philippe Égalité, neither his name change nor his opportunistic striving proved sufficient to prevent his own execution on the guillotine.

It appears she was viewed by most as – at best – odd, strange . . . perhaps in more modern-day parlance she was a weirdo, most definitely not in the mainstream of the French royal family and aristocracy.

As people most likely sensed from reading  Two Journeys and will definitely experience in Tapestry, Hugh O’Connell’s Louise is quirky – but not in these ways. She is an interesting mix of hauteur and wide-eyed guilelessness – a Princess of the Blood with a sense of wonder, of whimsy.

As she continues to develop, she will – at times – be gently comedic in the way of Abby O’Connell. I believe this is but one of many reasons for Hugh’s attraction to her – she is an obviously bright, perhaps in some ways brilliant, most definitely beautiful young woman who can be funny, sometimes when she doesn’t mean to be. She is loving, she is kind, but she can – as is apparent from several scenes in Tapestry – also be a wee bit of a bitch!

As it has been alluded to, Louise and Hugh O’Connell will play prominent roles in the fourth volume of the Derrynane Saga. I believe that the liberties I have taken thus far – and shall continue to take in the fourth volume – with regard to the personality and life of the Princess de Lamballe, will make for a more compelling story going forward and, as the French Revolution descends into violence and terror, a much more dramatic and significantly more emotional conclusion to the Saga itself.

About the AuthorKevin O'Connell copy

Kevin O’Connell is a native of New York City and a descendant of a young officer of what had—from 1690 to 1792—been the Irish Brigade of the French army, believed to have arrived in French Canada following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October of 1793. At least one grandson subsequently returned to Ireland and Mr. O’Connell’s own grandparents came to New York in the early twentieth century. He holds both Irish and American citizenship.

He is a graduate of Providence College and Georgetown University Law Center.

For much of his four-decades-long legal career, O’Connell has practiced international business transactional law, primarily involving direct-investment matters, throughout Asia (principally China), Europe, and the Middle East.

The father of five children and grandfather of ten, he and his wife, Laurette, live with their golden retriever, Katie, near Annapolis, Maryland.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | GOODREADS

Blog Tour Schedule

Friday, November 1
Review at Gwendalyn’s Books

Sunday, November 3
Review at Carole’s Ramblings

Monday, November 4
Review at Locks, Hooks and Books

Wednesday, November 6
Interview at The Writing Desk
Feature at Chicks, Rogues, and Scandals

Friday, November 8
Feature at Maiden of the Pages

Monday, November 11
Interview at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, November 13
Review & Guest Post at The Book Junkie Reads

Friday, November 15
Guest Post at Before the Second Sleep

Sunday, November 17
Review at A Darn Good Read

Monday, November 18
Review at Books and Zebras

Tuesday, November 19
Feature at What Is That Book About

Wednesday, November 20
Review at Al-Alhambra Book Reviews

Friday, November 22
Feature at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Monday, November 25
Review at Hooked on Books

Tuesday, November 26
Review at Red Headed Book Lady
Review & Guest Post at Nursebookie

Wednesday, November 27
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Friday, November 29
Review at Broken Teepee
Excerpt at Coffee and Ink

Book Review: The Year 1070 – Survival

The Harrying of the North Series: The Year 1070 – Survival
by Rod Flint

51UFE3CwlIL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_I came across Rod Flint’sThe Year 1070 – Survival quite by accident, but once I’d found it, was rather excited to read, given that my previous 1066 and Harrying of the North material has mostly been non-fiction. I was intrigued to see how Flint would handle the storyline, how many historical details he would add and in which direction he would take the tale of Hravn and Ealdgith, young cousins suddenly displaced by the Normans’ vicious assault on their and others’ villages following the post-Conquest uprising in the year within the title’s name.

Flint wastes no time getting the harrying started and, as there must be in any group of harassed peoples, the boy and girl cousins emerge as two with the wily abilities to find an escape and proceed forward in pursuit of a safe haven. This isn’t to say the pair do not encounter doubt or setbacks; they certainly do, and both they and their creator put them to good use as perilous learning experiences. One such is when the fugitives stumble upon bandits who, amongst other threats, gleefully hint at what they plan to do with Ealdgith before killing her. It is a horrific fate that, in most people’s minds, tends to spring to the forefront of possibilities. The author’s use of the word rapeseems to reflect how it is regarded and feared by the vast majority: its presence as a potential is so glaring it hardly needs to be mentioned to know that everyone is thinking about it, whether victim, witness or perpetrator, and for the first few times anyone comments, it is only in reference. Still, Flint does not dance around the word, and the characters’ utterances of it accompanies a bold stand of defiance against any who dare try bringing it to life.

At the risk of beating too much into this angle, it is worth mentioning how well this comes off for Flint, a male author putting words into the mouth of a female character. This is a corner I do not often choose to play because, while I do think effectively portraying a female character is more challenging for a male author (and vice versa), it can be achieved, and here it is done competently. This author has the added burden of portraying characters who lived nearly 1,000 years ago, people so different to us we often forget how similar they also are. Still, they are realistic, their speech and mannerisms sincere, fears and strengths unaffected.

As the novel progressed, I found myself immersed in the characters’ lives on the run and where they would end up. Hravn and Edie – a gender non-specific name Ealdgith adopts, as a protective measure, to match her shorn locks – could have been given a bit more dimension, although it would not be accurate or fair to say they have absolutely no development, and they begin to come into their own as readers witness some of their growth, though portions of this are by reference. That said, this young adult novel will most certainly reach out to its target audience of people in a phase of life developing their own identities, with a definitive relatability, even given the differences in rank, circumstance, abilities, native historical era and so on.

The author is also well-skilled with descriptions of his settings, as if he had been there at the time the harrying was taking place. Naturally, these areas would have experienced immense change in the passage of time but, as mentioned in the author’s historical note, he utilizes tax and other records to map out harrying activities as well as Hravn’s and Edie’s chosen routes. Readers can also access these via Flint’s list of place names and the appearance of most on a map presented in the book’s beginning pages. The author is so thorough in his descriptions that one can follow the map as the tale progresses to watch the directions taken by the pair. I found this very satisfying because, apart from my regular love of maps, it also gave me a visual to keep track of where events were taking place, which can make a big difference in following many stories.

While a marvelous tale, the novel did suffer a bit from its great need of a really thorough edit, particularly in regard to punctuation. A few times I had to re-read sentences, but all in all it was not difficult to determine intent, and it definitely did not put me off the book. However, the story and the people it portrays deserve better, so I hope changes will occur in future editions.

As an introduction to the topic of the Norman Conquest, which Flint discusses quite objectively in his notes, The Year 1070 – Survival is a fantastic choice, especially for its prime target demographic, but also for adults who enjoy YA (as I do). For those more well-versed too, it provides a story of humanity in the midst of violent upheaval and a glimpse into how average people, who so often are my own heroes, might have coped and sought to claim back their own future. The series continues with The Year 1071 – Resistance and Revenge, available now, and concludes with the soon-to-be-published The Year 1072 – Retribution. I’ll be looking for both.

About the Author

Rod Flint is a Cumbrian born in exile in the south of England. A career as an officer in the British Army was interspersed with time in the financial and legal services, and as a safari guide in Cyprus.

He has lived in North Yorkshire, with his wife Judith, for twenty years and enjoys the challenge of exploring the remoter fells and dales. Unravelling the mysteries of local and family history is a hobby that has carried across into writing historical fiction woven around his own, one-thousand-year-long family connection to the north. Rod Flint is also a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Find author Rod Flint on Facebook and at his website, Hindrelag Books, and the Harrying of the North series at Amazon and Amazon UK.