Organised Chaos: a writer’s guide to research

The idea for a post entitled Organised Chaos: a writer’s guide to research arose when somebody asked me a  question a few days ago about how I organise my research when I’m writing a new book. I gave, what was for me, quite a sensible answer. Thinking about it afterwards, I realised that I actually do have a system for this. Many other areas in my life bumble along without much of a plan, but when it comes to writing, I’ve learned what works and I stick to it.An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army

I’m not sure if my system would work for anybody else, but I know that I quite like reading other people’s ideas about organisation, so I thought I’d share the tools I use, in case any of them come in handy for other people. At the very least, you can all have a good laugh at them.

My writing life is very complicated, and every time it threatens to get easier, I find new ways to complicate it further. I’ve published eleven historical novels so far. The earliest two were standalone books but all of the others are linked in some way, although I’ve written them at different times and they are all set at different points of my timeline. So, the Peninsular War Saga begins in 1802 and I’ve published five books, taking me to the end of 1812 and I’m now working on book six. The Manxman series has two books so far and begins in 1806 with the second one taking us into 1810. The two Regency romances are set in 1816 and 1818. In addition, I’ve written eight short stories, all of which are linked to the main books and run from around 1809 through to Waterloo in 1815.

Characters move regularly between the different series. Because I had already published the first four Peninsular books and the two Regencies before I started the Manxman series, I’m not writing the books consecutively. This means that I need to constantly be aware of what my characters do or don’t already know and whom they might have met at a different part of the timeline. I’m time hopping every time I start a new book, which means I need to keep very good records of my characters, even the minor ones. Before I had set up a good system, I discovered during editing that several soldiers who died at Assaye or Talavera were up and fighting again at Bussaco, it was like an episode of the Walking Dead.

A good example of the challenge of this is Giles Fenwick. I first wrote about Giles in one of the Regency romances, where in true romantic hero style, he is a cynical war veteran, emotionally shut down and struggling with what we would call PTSD today. He’s also an Earl. There is a brief mention of his wartime service, where he spent part of his time as an exploring officer. This is Giles in his early thirties. 

I then decided to use him in a short story set during the war, and also to introduce him as a minor character into the Peninsular War Saga. From there, I was writing about Walcheren in the second Manxman book and realised that I’d mentioned somewhere that Giles had been there, so introduced him as one of my main characters. Now I’ve moved back to the Peninsula, I’ve given him a bigger role there, but need to remember that Walcheren, although it was the last book I wrote, was four years ago for Giles. Is anybody else confused yet?

I use four main tools to keep on top of my characters and my research.

Character List Spreadsheet

This one speaks for itself, really. I use Excel and when I’m editing, I check every single character against this list and add any new information. It has columns for all the basic information such as name, age, physical appearance if I’ve mentioned it, family relationships etc. Then there is a notes column where I can not any significant role the character has played in the book. I don’t use this much for the main characters, since I know what they’ve been up to, but it’s useful to remember, for example, that Private Thompson sometimes acted as orderly and valet to Colonel Wheeler, because it means I’ll be consistent about that. A very important column is headed ‘Death’ and I record the date and how they died. This avoids any zombie resurrections, which is always what we want. I keep a single list for all the books, since the characters move between them.

Book Folder

For each book I’ve written or am about to write, I create a book folder. Everything associated with this book, is stored in the one place, including the book itself, the blurb,  the online source folder, book covers, pictures I might like to use on the web page for the book and an ideas folder.

Online Source Folder

In the early days, I used to bookmark really useful sources which are available online, but I found that I was losing track of what I’d found. Sometimes I knew I’d seen something really useful about promotion without purchase, but couldn’t remember where. These days, I create a new research folder every time I start a new book and keep it in the same place as my Scrivener files, and I’ll store links to good online resources relevant to this book all in the same place, under headings that make sense to me. It saves a lot of time searching online for something I’ve already found.

Ideas Folder

Every book in the series has a provisional title, even those I’ve not yet written. I might change that when I come to write it, in fact my current work in progress has just been changed from an Unrelenting Enmity to An Unmerciful Incursion to reflect the change in emphasis of the storyline. This means that if I have a sudden idea while writing one book, that I might like to use in a future book, I can make some notes and store them in the folder.

Notebook

When it comes to the day to day planning for a book, I have to use an old fashioned notebook. Scrivener, which I write with, has the facility to store research and planning notes, and I tried it. I’ve also tried other software such as Aeon, for doing timelines. None of these worked for me. While I’m typing, I much prefer to reach for a book than have endless tabs open on a screen, it just works better. 

It’s also an excuse to use a selection of lovely notebooks. A plain A4 pad would work perfectly well, but of course I don’t use that. As you’ll see from my current notebook, I work best with cute animals, but I’m flexible.

In my notebook, I keep a detailed timeline, almost a diary, of what happened during the period I’m writing about, with quick references to books if I found something particularly useful. I leave a lot of space between dates.  Once I’ve got the historical timeline worked out, I’ll go back as I’m writing, and slot in my fictional characters, so that I can weave my own story into the fabric of the historical events. It’s a bit like a diary, and it can change the direction of the book if I find out something interesting while I’m putting this together.

A good example of this is the shipwreck of the Venerable in 1809 off the coast of Walcheren. I first learned about this from the autobiography of Dr McGrigor, who was on the ship, and I slotted it into the timeline, and read about it. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to mention this in the novel, but I wanted to know a bit more about it. McGrigor mentioned two ladies aboard as well as some soldiers wives below decks, and I went through the sources I was using to try to find out more. In the bibliography of a thesis I’d been using, I came across a reference to the diaries and letters of Captain Codrington, whose wife was one of the ladies on the ship. These were available online and were pure gold. I also realised, to my surprise, that it gave me the opportunity to give a much bigger role to the heroine of my previous book as it was a way of bringing her out to join her husband along with Jane Codrington.

In addition, reading the Codrington letters, which were fairly addictive, gave me an idea for a future book in the Manxman series, which immediately went into the ideas folder. The Venerable shipwreck was added into my timeline along with a lot of useful information gleaned from a friend who was doing research on Sir Home Popham and was able to look at the original logs of the ship during this period.

Along with the timeline, I also write a plan in my notebook. Initially this is just an outline, but once I’ve got the storyline clear in my head, I do a detailed chapter by chapter plan. This will probably change a few times, so by the time I’ve finished, I’ll have several of these in the book. I also have a page for each character who has a point of view in the book, so that I can scribble notes about their development, motivation and role in the story.

I find maps useful. I own a fabulous Peninsular War Atlas, which is marvellous for all the major battles but I also need to be able to trace the routes my characters take when marching. A lot of the diaries and letters published are great for this, particularly Wellington’s correspondence, since you can see where headquarters was situated on the march by the headings of his letters. I have a beautiful set of his correspondence which my husband bought me for our 25th wedding anniversary and I use them all the time, they’re the joy of my life.

To keep track of where we are, I use Google maps to trace what I know of the routes taken. Most of this is done online as I go along, but occasionally it’s useful to have hard copy to keep referring back to. For example, I’ve printed out a couple of maps and put them in my notebook for book six, showing the location of Wellington’s various divisions through winter quarters. It’s a quick and easy reference tool and stops me making stupid mistakes, such as allowing Colonel van Daan to visit the fifth division for a couple of hours when it would actually have taken him a couple of days to get there.

I also keep handy lists in the notebook. At the beginning of each book, I make a new list of my fictional brigade, by battalion and company, and include most of the officers and any significant NCOs and privates. This is a simple word document, which I update when I start a new book, removing anybody who has died, noting promotions and transfers. I then print it out and stick it in the notebook for easy reference. Other lists are specific to each book; I’ve compiled one of Wellington’s staff at HQ since that’s important for this book.

My notebook probably looks chaotic to anybody else, but it’s the basic tool that I work with every day. I started using this method for book four and I love it. I don’t throw the notebooks away when the book is finished, so I have a collection of them now, and they’re quite fun to look through to see how the book developed as I was writing it. More importantly, it stops me writing quick notes on scraps of paper which I then lose. Anything that I need to write down while writing this book goes in that notebook.

Sticky Notes and tags

When I’m first reading up about a campaign, I use a lot of sticky notes and tags to mark pages or sections that are particularly useful. As with notebooks, I much prefer cute tags to plain yellow post it notes, and Sir Charles Oman is currently sporting a fine collection of sea bird tags and Me to You bear post it notes. I’ve got some llama ones that I really like as well. It’s best to be an adult about these things. I don’t make a lot of notes from books, I simply keep the books to hand and refer to them directly as I’m writing.

The End

There’s a magical feeling when the last word is typed, the last edit is done, and the book is finally out there for people to read. One of the great things about writing a series, or even two, is that people are waiting for the books, particularly the Peninsula ones. It can also feel a bit sad. For months, occasionally as long as a year, I’ve lived with these people in my heads every day and now they belong to somebody else. I’ve no control over what people will think of them. Some people will love them, a few won’t, and will say so very vocally in reviews. 

There’s a little ritual that I go through once the book is published, clearing my desk. I remove all the tags from the books and put them back on the shelves, I do a final backup of my computer files to make sure and I close my notebook and put it on the shelf with the previous ones. The desk looks empty and very tidy, usually for about twenty-four hours.

Then I get a new notebook out. I always have a stash, I can’t stop buying pretty notebooks. I write the title of the next book on the top and I put it on my desk. I sit down at my computer and open a new Scrivener file.

And it all begins again.

 

 

Christmas with Wellington

Christmas with Wellington is an excerpt from the next book, An Unmerciful Incursion, which is book six in the Peninsular War Saga. Lord Wellington was actually away from headquarters for the Christmas of 1812, as he travelled to Cadiz and then Lisbon in appalling weather for discussions with the Spanish and Portuguese governments. In the book, Paul van Daan has organised an early celebration and a surprise gift.

“The tree, General?” Wellington said.

Paul grinned and surveyed the room. “German Christmas customs, apparently, sir. They make a good deal more of the season than we do. We always used to decorate with greenery at home, mind, I can remember as a boy helping the farmhands cut down branches and boughs to bring in on Christmas Eve. And we used to have a Yule Log, which I believe is a very ancient custom. After my mother and my sister died, my father refused to do it any more. I missed it.”

Wellington shot him a sideways glance. “How old were you?”

“I was ten. As to this, General Alten is joining us and I wanted to do this for him. He misses home.”

Wellington gave a snort. It was his first of the day, and it had a pleased sound to it, which boded well for the meal. “You are appallingly sentimental, General, it quite shocks me.”

“That’s rich coming from the man who was making sounds like a turtle dove to my five week old daughter five minutes ago. Don’t deny it either, I heard you.”

Wellington sipped the wine. “She is my god-daughter,” he said huffily.

“She might be, but I’m not sure that has anything to do with that soppy expression you wear every time you see her,” Paul said with a grin. “Don’t look so defensive, sir. You must miss your boys. Why don’t you get your wife to bring them out for a while, now that we’re settled in winter quarters?”

“It would distract me,” Wellington said. “There is so much to do, to prepare for next year. I have no time.”

Paul said nothing. After a short silence, Wellington said abruptly:

“My wife is not like your wife, General. She has excellent intentions, but I know very well that she would not understand what I need to do and how little time I have to spare. We would quarrel. And it would distract me. So I am afraid you must put up with me doting upon your daughter instead.”

“Not a problem, sir. You know how sentimental I am, after all.” Paul raised his glass. “To Christmas.”

“It is not yet Christmas, General, as you well know, and I have no time to celebrate anyway. I am setting out for Cadiz tomorrow. Really, I should be back at my desk now, there are some final orders…”

“Stop it,” Paul said. He saw the blue eyes widen in surprise, he was seldom so abrupt with his chief, but he was suddenly exasperated. “I know you need to go to Cadiz, sir, and I know why. I think you’re bloody mad to travel in this weather, you’ll be forever on the road and my sympathy lies with every single one of the men travelling with you, you will be horrible. And I am grateful that you didn’t insist on me going with you. But my wife has organised this very early Christmas dinner so that you at least have one day to eat a decent meal, have a drink with some of your officers and mend some bridges after that appalling memorandum you sent out last month. She’s put a lot of work into this, and I am not having you grumbling over the roast mutton because there is one more rude letter to some hapless Portuguese administrator that you forgot to write. Are we clear?”

There was a long and pointed silence and Paul tried not to look as though he was holding his breath. Eventually, Lord Wellington took a long drink of wine.

“There is still time for me to insist that you come with me,” he said, and Paul laughed.

“Having me with you, while you insert one of Congreve’s rockets up the arse of the Spanish government sounds like a really bad idea, sir, they do not need two of us.”

Wellington smiled with real amusement. “That is why I am leaving you behind to do the same to every senior officer in my army who fails to follow my instructions on the drills and training to be conducted during winter quarters this year,” he said. “By the time we are ready to march, which I hope will be no later than April, I want every man of my army to know what he is doing. That is your job, General.”

“And a lovely Christmas gift it was too, sir. I’m going to have to take a bodyguard out with me, they’re going to hate me. Now stop grumbling, and come with me.”

Paul led the way outside and took the path towards the stables. Wellington was frowning. “Where are we going?”

“I’ve something to show you. In here.”

One of the stalls at the end had been roughly blocked off with wooden slats. Paul stopped in front of it, lifted the makeshift barrier out of the way and bent down. “Here, girl.”

The dog rose and stepped forward on long elegant legs. She was silvery-grey and smooth-coated with a long nose and a pair of arresting golden brown eyes. Paul allowed her to sniff at his hand then stroked her head. The dog nuzzled his coat and then turned and surveyed Lord Wellington with some interest. Paul looked around at his chief and suppressed a smile at Wellington’s expression.

“How old is she?”

“Almost a year. She’s had some training and she has a very good hunting pedigree. One of our neighbours in Leicestershire breeds hunting greyhounds and I asked my brother to bespeak one of the next litter. Her name is Pearl, but you can change it if you’d prefer, she’ll learn.”

“No. I like Pearl. It suits her colouring.” Wellington held out his hand and after a moment, the greyhound stepped forward and sniffed. Wellington stroked the smooth head and scratched behind an ear, and the dog moved closer and leaned against his leg. Wellington was smiling.

“Happy Christmas, sir. If you’d like, we’ll keep her with us until you’re back from your travels. Nan can work with her, she’s good with dogs.”

“Thank you, I would appreciate that.” Wellington bent down still fussing the dog. “Pearl, General van Daan has probably paid an extortionate amount of money for a dog to keep an eye on me when he cannot do so. He is, as I have said, appallingly sentimental.”

“You’re talking to a dog, sir.”

Wellington gave one of his unexpected hooting laughs and got up. “I am, General. Thank you very much, it is the best Christmas gift I have received in many years. Is that General Alten I see arriving?”

“It is. Come and be social, sir. Just for today.”

Wellington gave the dog one final pet and made his way to the stable door to greet the German commander of the light division. Paul nodded to the groom to replace the barrier and followed his chief back to the party.

 

Summerhill Glen #OscarWalks

Summerhill Glen #OscarWalks is the first post Oscar and I have done for some time. We’ve been out for walks, of course, but I’ve been away a few times and Oscar had his little operation, which meant we’ve not been out and about around the island as much as we’d have liked. Needless to say, we’re going to be a bit limited for a while, but even close to home, there are some interesting places to go, and one of our favourite places for a daily walk is Summerhill Glen, which is only five minutes from our front door.

 

“Are we going down Summerhill Glen today, Mum? I love Summerhill Glen.”

“We are, Oscar, but I’m afraid we won’t be able to play with any other dogs at the moment. I doubt there will be many about.”

“No, it’s very quiet. I like the quiet, though. Not so many scary cars and lorries on the road. Easier to cross.”

Summerhill Glen has two entrances.  The top entrance is on Victoria Road near Governor’s Bridge, and the main entrance is on Summerhill, just up from Douglas Prom. It was apparently originally named Glen Crutchery. The water from the river was used to provide power to a snuff mill on Strathallan Crescent, but the mill burned to the ground in the late eighteenth century. The road became known as Burnt Mill Hill, and then later, Summerhill from a mansion house at the bottom of Blackberry Lane.

In 1833, the glen was purchased by Douglas Waterworks to provide water for the first Douglas reservoir. The reservoir was still in use in the 1970s, to provide water for washing down the prom, but after a fatal accident, the reservoir was filled in although it is still possible to see where it was. The glen as we know it today was developed in 1932-1933 by young men aged between 18 and 22 on a ‘work for the workless” scheme.  It was then leased by Douglas Corporation. Initially, there was a proposal to call it Waterworks Glen but this was rejected in favour of Summerhill Glen, which I personally think was a good decision.

Summerhill Glen is a beautiful little oasis close to the centre of Douglas, with a series of paths leading between trees and shrubs, alongside a stream with a little waterfall. In the 1980s a fairy grotto was created, and this has been upgraded several times since then, with carved wooden seats and illuminations during the summer season and at Christmas and Halloween.

“I didn’t like the Halloween lights, Mum. That dog.”

“You mean the Moddey Dhoo, Oscar? You got used to him.”

“I know. I don’t mind him now, but when I first saw him, with all that fog around the marsh, and that howling noise, he frightened the life out of me. Now, I just think he reminds me of old Toby.”

“Toby and Joey both loved this glen.”

“And who wouldn’t? There are trees and flowers and bushes and mud and water and ALL THE SMELLS!!!!!”

“There are also a lot of steps and it’s quite steep, Oscar, stop pulling.”

“Sorry. Got a bit excited. What’s that?”

“It’s a waterfall, Oscar.”

One of the advantages of the glen for us, is that we can walk down to the prom and the beach from home. It’s possible, during the summer months, to take the horse drawn tram from the bottom of the glen right down into town, which is a picturesque, if not particularly speedy way to get to the shops. Alternatively, we can just walk along the prom, or take Oscar onto the beach.

 

 

Spring is particularly lovely in the glen, with daffodils and wild flowers forming splashes of colour in the middle of the dense green of the vegetation. The main path is very good, although some of the side paths can get a bit boggy and slippery which can be an issue with an over enthusiastic labrador. Oscar has got so good on the lead now, though, that I don’t have to worry about him.

 

Oscar’s first visit to the cannon at Summerhill Glen. He’s grown a bit since then…

“What are those?”

“Cannon.”

“I’ve seen cannon somewhere else, haven’t I?”

“You have. There were some in the little fort on St Michael’s Isle. I believe these are here because there used to be some kind of fortification here as well, to defend this part of the island.”

“It’s a shame you can’t use them against this virus-thing.”

“Isn’t it just, Oscar? Right, are you ready to walk back up?”

Look at these ones, Mum, they’re quite high. I suppose fairies can fly, though…

“Yes. Can we look at the fairy doors?”

“We can. We should get two with Toby and Joey’s name on one day.”

“And mine?”

“Why not?”

“I like it down here at night, when it’s all lit up. Will that happen this year, Mum?”

“I don’t know, Oscar. It’s a bit different this year, they might not have the summer illuminations. But I think we’ll be back on for Halloween and Christmas.”

“Christmas was my favourite, it was like magic. I’m sure some of those lights looked like fairies.”

“They really did, Oscar. You tried to chase the moving ones. Beautiful. We’ll keep an eye out for the summer though, they might be back on around August time.”

The fairy doors throughout the glen were created by local schools, play groups and other organisations, and they give a real sense of magic to the glen. It’s a favourite activity for  local children to run through the glen spotting new doors and reading out the names on them. Oscar always gives the ones he can reach a good sniff, but he takes them in his stride, unlike my old fella Toby, who always took exception to ANYTHING NEW on one of his regular walks. Over the years, in addition to the fairy doors, he was know to lose it with such disparate items as new rubbish bins, a new bus shelter, a statue of a pig in somebody’s front garden and a Christmas tree on the quay. Toby didn’t like change, whereas I think Oscar has a sense of adventure.

You find fairy doors in the strangest places in Summerhill Glen, those fairies get everywhere
Oscar checking out some of the fairy doors in the glen
Fabulous tree carving at the top of the glen

“Look Mum, it’s the big wooden thing.”

“You mean the tree carving, Oscar. Yes, it’s lovely, isn’t it?”

“I remember coming here when I was a puppy. I loved this tree, there are so many different carvings on it.”

“You were a lot smaller then, Oscar. You couldn’t get up onto this seat back then. Want to have a sit down?”

 

 

Oscar is enjoying having a sit down on the seat which is part of the tree carving.

“Yes. This is such a cool seat. What’s that?”

“It’s an owl.”

“Really? Let me see. I like owls. I got an owl toy for my birthday, didn’t I? I love my owl. Let me see this one close up.”

 

Oscar investigating the owl carving
He really likes this owl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are there any more owls round this side?

“Right, let’s get home, Oscar. I need to get some work done.”

“Will Jon be there?”

“Yes.”

“And Anya?”

“Yes.”

“And Dad and Rachael?”

“Everybody’s working at home for a while, Oscar, they’ll all be there.”

“That’s great. You know, it’s a shame we can’t go far, Mum, but this lockdown isn’t all bad, you know… I think I’ll cuddle my owl when I get home and have a nap.”

“Sounds like a plan, Oscar.”

Oscar and I will be keeping closer to home for a while, but we’re looking forward to the challenge of finding some interesting places for #OscarWalks to investigate nearby. 

Don’t forget that there are eight short historical fiction stories available here, which will give you a flavour of my writing and give you something to do during lockdown.

 

If you enjoyed Summerhill Glen #OscarWalks and want to hear more from Writing with Labradors, or find out about my books, why not follow me on Facebook, Twitter,  Instagram or  Medium?

 

Oscar has grown a bit since this early photo beside the tree carving at the top of the glen
Definitely Larger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wellington Socially Distancing

Wellington Socially Distancing, is in no way intended to make light of the current situation. Nevertheless, we all have our own ways of coping with stress and something I often do to lighten a difficult situation, is to ask myself What Would Wellington Do? Usually, by the time I’ve come up with a scenario, I am a) laughing and b) feeling better.

As many of you know, Lord Wellington is an important secondary character in the Peninsular War Saga, and over the years, I’ve developed my own personal view of him, which makes it easy to imagine how he might respond to different situations.

 

Wellington Socially Distancing

It is 1813 in Freineda, Portugal and Wellington has just been informed by his chief medical officer that due to an unusually dangerous and highly contagious outbreak of camp fever, he and his staff must keep away from the rest of the army. His military secretary, Fitzroy Somerset has arrived for his morning briefing.

Wellington: “Ah, Fitzroy. Come in. That is – are you able to come in?”

Fitzroy: “Yes, my Lord. Dr McGrigor tells me that your immediate staff may proceed as usual, although we may not get close to anybody else. This will change the way we mange the post.”

Wellington:“The post? The POST? Are you telling me I will be unable to send letters?”

Fitzroy: “Well, my Lord…”

Wellington: “Absolutely unacceptable, I cannot allow it. I need to be able to give my orders, I need to send reports to London, and I absolutely need to write a great many letters to both the Portuguese and Spanish governments. If I do not constantly remind them of my expectations, it is impossible to know what might go wrong.”

Fitzroy: “No, my Lord, you misunderstand me. The post will go as usual, but it will be delivered differently. Major Scovell has arranged for it to be left on a table at the front door, and when the messenger has gone, I will bring it through. No direct contact, you see.”

Wellington: “Ah. Excellent.”

Fitzroy: “Dr McGrigor says that you may continue with your daily ride, but that social hunting should be avoided for the present.”

Wellington: “Hunting?”

Fitzroy: “Hunting, my Lord.”

Wellington: “Why, in God’s name?”

Fitzroy: “Because of the need to keep at least six feet away from the other officers, sir.”

Wellington: “Ha! Well that isn’t going to affect my hunting, Fitzroy, none of them are ever going to get within six feet of me on the hunting field, they ride like a pack of milk maids! What else?”

Fitzroy: “Your immediate staff may continue to work directly with you and to dine with you, sir, as long as we do not mingle with the rest of the army. This means your orders will all need to be given in writing.”

Wellington: “Well that is always my preference, Fitzroy, I cannot rely on any of them to carry out my instructions reliably unless I write everything down.”

Fitzroy: “Just so, sir.”

Wellington: “When you say my immediate staff, do you mean my ADCs?”

Fitzroy: “Yes, sir. I have impressed it upon them that they must not break social distancing until give express permission. I am sure they understand.”

Wellington: “Even the Prince?”

Fitzroy: “I believe so, sir.”

Wellington: “Watch him anyway. If anybody is going to be climbing out the back window to go on a spree with the officers of the grenadiers, it will be the Prince of Orange, trust me.”

Fitzroy: “Very good, my Lord.”

Wellington: “Any visitors allowed?”

Fitzroy: “No, my Lord.”

Wellington: “Excellent. Well, I must say, this is not looking half so bad as McGrigor made out. Oh, Fitzroy, did you send my letter to Colonel van Daan?”

Fitzroy: “I did, my Lord. He has enforced very strict rules to stop the contagion spreading within his regiment and the rest of his brigade.”

Wellington: “What about his wife? Did you tell him of my suggestion that Mrs van Daan move to headquarters during this perilous period, to ensure that she is safely quarantined and remains safe and well.”

Fitzroy: “I did, my Lord.”

Wellington: “And his reply?”

Fitzroy: “Sadly, I appear to have mislaid the letter, my Lord, but I did read it, and the gist of his reply was ‘No’.” 

Wellington: “Hmm.”

Fitzroy: “There was also a note from Mrs van Daan, my Lord, enquiring after your health, and begging that your Lordship take extra care to wash your hands during this contagion.”

Wellington: “Washing my hands? Why?”

Fitzroy: “I have no idea, sir. It seems that during her work nursing the sick, she has observed that cleanliness improves recovery, and possibly prevents the medical staff from becoming infected. She does not say why.”

Wellington: “What a ridiculous idea. Still, the ladies do take these strange notions, and sometimes it is best just to humour them. I shall write directly assuring her that I will wash my hands frequently. Very well, Fitzroy, I think we can get on with the business of the day, I have wasted enough of my time on this matter. Where is the letter from General Castanos, it requires an immediate reply?”

Fitzroy: “Yes, sir. Oh, there is just one thing.  Charles Stewart has been unable to set off for England as planned, due to the travel restrictions, so he will be remaining at headquarters for a time.”

Wellington: “Stewart?”

Fitzroy: “Yes, sir.”

Wellington: “Not going home.”

Fitzroy: “No, sir. Not immediately. He will remain at headquarters.”

Wellington: “Is there nothing we can do about that, Fitzroy?”

Fitzroy: “Not really, my Lord. Unless, of course, he should display any signs of infection. Then he would need to be fully isolated.”

Wellington: “Well that is it then! I’ve noticed that he has been looking a little peaky, and I heard him cough three times when we were hunting yesterday. From six feet away, obviously. Inform Dr McGrigor that I believe it will be better if Stewart is kept in isolation until all travel restrictions are lifted.”

Fitzroy: “Where, my Lord?”

Wellington: “Somewhere else. The next village. Or the one after that. It will matter little to Stewart, as long as he is able to take his cook, a pack of cards and a case of champagne. Send him a case of the good port, will you, Fitzroy, with my compliments and good wishes for a speedy recovery.”

Fitzroy: “I will, sir.”

Wellington: “Well, this is excellent. I foresee a few weeks of uninterrupted work, no irritating visitors and no Charles Stewart to cause trouble among the staff. Now all I need is Murray back and a dry spring and we will be ready for the new campaign. New equipment, tents for the whole army and the men will quickly shake off this winter ague. I feel very optimistic, Fitzroy, and am determined to endure every inconvenience without complaint, in order to set a good example to the rest of the army. I shall be perfectly pleased to remain at home, work quietly, and follow the medical board’s instructions.”

Fitzroy: “Yes, my Lord. Although, about the new equipment…”

Wellington: “Well?”

Fitzroy: “Transport problems, my Lord. Merchant ships are not sailing as often, some of the crews have become unwell. London writes that there may well be considerable delay in the arrival of the new tents and guns, and…”

Wellington: “What? WHAT? Which fool is organising this? Do they not understand the importance of having my supplies delivered in a timely manner? We shall see about this! The letter to Castanos can wait, I shall write to Horse Guards, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary for War and the Commander in Chief! What are the commissariat doing about this? And the quartermasters? Where is De Lancey?”

Fitzroy: “He is in isolation with the rest of the QMG’s department, sir, over at…”

Wellington: “I shall ride over there directly I have finished these letters, he is so idle, he will do nothing without my personal supervision.”

Fitzroy: “But my Lord, the epidemic. The quarantine. What about social distancing?”

Wellington: “Hang social distancing, I shall socially distance De Lancey by kicking him into the Coa if he does not immediately take steps to secure my supplies. Bring me writing materials! And have my horse saddled immediately!”

 

Disclaimer: No actual history was harmed in the writing of this sketch…

Keep safe and well, everybody.

 

Social Distancing With Labradors

Generally speaking, my posts tend to be related to history, historical novels or dogs, but given that the world around us has changed so much, so quickly over the past weeks, I thought I’d welcome you all to Social Distancing with Labradors, as Oscar has very definite views on what is going on around here.

To bring you all up to date, the Isle of Man now has twenty cases of Covid-19 on the island, and at least one of them appears to have been passed from person to person on the island. We are not yet in total lockdown, as the UK is, but schools, pubs, restaurants and all public places are closed, all events have been cancelled and supermarket shelves are often bare. 

In the house, we have five adults working at home. Two of us are used to it. It’s a new experience for my 21 year old son, who is able to work remotely, while his girlfriend and my daughter are both home from university, struggling to finish work without the use of libraries or looking forward to online teaching. Nothing like this has ever happened to any of us before, and it’s weird.

It has also taken over our lives far too much every slight cough is a cause for temporary alarm. Three of us were in the UK fairly recently which makes us worry more. Most conversations centre around the crisis and we follow news updates with unhealthy enthusiasm. I’ve got a feeling that it’s time to put a stop to that. There’s not much we can do now, and although I know we need to pay attention to any changes in the new laws, it’s not useful to read the opinions of 85,000 armchair experts and then rehash them around the dinner table. Today, at dinner, we’re going to talk about something else.

And then there is Oscar. Walks are still happening, but we’re staying local and well away from other dog walkers and their pooches. We’re lucky enough to have very large gardens at front and back, so we can play fetch and chasing games. More importantly, there are five people here all the time, to play with him and sit with him and cuddle him. Oscar is doing all right.

“So what is going on, Mum?”

“It’s called a virus, Oscar. It can make people very ill, so we’re all staying at home for a while to avoid catching it.”

“Can dogs get it?”

“No.”

“Can you get it?”

“I could.”

“Don’t.”

“I’ll do my best, Oscar.”

“You know what, Mum? It’s not all bad.”

“You think?”

“For me, I mean. I know you all like to go out or go away. But I like it best when you’re all here, with me. The girls haven’t got to go back to that University place for ages, and I get to sit outside with Anya every morning and curl up on the sofa next to Rachael every afternoon. I’m helping her with her work.”

“I bet you are.”

“She says I am. How long will it be like this, Mum?”

“I don’t know, Oscar. We’ll have to wait and see. But you’re right. As a family, so far, we’re doing okay.”

“I love my family, Mum.

“We love you back, Oscar.”

“Even when I’m naughty?”

“Even then.”

“Even when I steal food?”

“Yep.”

“Even when I dig up the lawn?”

“Yep.”

“Even when I sit on your head?”

“Even then.”

“What about when I eat your books?”

“Just about. Don’t do it though.”

Oscar is right, though. There have been positive things about this crisis. My three young people are doing so well, without moaning or complaining. They’re cooking a lot, vying with each other to make great meals and yummy desserts #dietinglater. And we’re all finding that being thrown together for a long time without being able to go out with friends is a lot better than we thought it would be. It turns out that we all get on quite well.

We’re worried of course, not just about our own health, but about friends and family all over the world, and we’re looking forward to better times. In the meantime, I’ve a book and a short story to write, and another project that I’m considering, and Oscar is looking at me with those big “take me for a walk” eyes. so there’s no time to be bored or miserable here at Writing with Labradors.

I can’t help thinking of all the people who read my books and stories and follow the adventures of Oscar online. I really hope you’re all safe and keeping well out there, and like me, looking forward to a return to at least partial normality. I’m working on the new book as fast as I can, and I also have a couple of freebies in the pipeline to keep you entertained. And I’ll keep you up to date on Oscar, who literally just managed to get himself stuck down the side of the garden shed for no logical reason whatsoever.

Keep safe and keep well, everybody. Oscar sends virtual hugs from all of us here at Social Distancing with Labradors.

 

Salts Mill and Saltaire

Salt Mill

I’d never been to Salts Mill and Saltaire, the Victorian model village in Shipley, Bradford, until a recent visit with friends, and it turns out that I’ve been missing out. There is enough history there to satisfy a geek like me, with the added bonus of specialist shops, a gallery and two cafes to keep the rest of the party entertained.

 

Saltaire was built in 1851 by Sir Titus Salt, a leading industrialist in the Yorkshire woollen industry. Salt was a cloth manufacturer who took over his father’s textile business in 1833 and expanded it over a period of twenty years to be the largest employer in Bradford. He was an alderman and then mayor of Bradford, and was elected to Parliament in 1848. Salt’s business was spread between five different mills, and with business booming, he decided to build a new mill, consolidating his operations into one place.

 

 

Salt, a deeply religious man, and a known philanthropist, was concerned about the over-crowded conditions in Bradford so bought land in Shipley, just outside Bradford, beside the River Aire, the Midland Railway and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.  Building began in 1851 and Saltaire Mills opened in 1853. To accommodate his workers, Salt then commissioned housing close to the mill. A model village grew up, which included well-built houses, a hospital, bathhouses, almshouses and churches.  The Congregational church, now known as Saltaire United Reformed Church, was built at Salt’s own expense and he donated the land upon which the Wesleyan Chapel was built. With the moral improvement  and probably the work performance of his workforce in mind, he forbade public houses or beer shops from the village. The village had a public institute which included a library, a reading room, a concert hall, billiard room, science laboratory and a gym. There was also a village school, a park, allotments and a boathouse.

Salt wrote little about his motive for building Saltaire, but it was probably a combination of Christian charity and economic good sense. The village provided a well-housed, local workforce which was very good for business. At the same time, it is clear that Salt sincerely believed that he was doing God’s work in creating a clean, healthy environment for his people, which contrasted with the appalling conditions in the slums of Bradford.

Sir Titus Salt died in 1876, leaving the business to his son. Saltaire was then taken over by a partnership led by Sir James Roberts. Salts Mill finally closed as a textile mill in 1986. Today it has been renovated and houses an eclectic mix of commercial, leisure and residential spaces. The mill is enormous, a monument to Victorian industrialism, with the village neatly laid out beside the canal.

Inside the main mill building is the 1853 art gallery which is devoted to the works of Bradford born artist David Hockney. There are two good cafes, a book shop and a gallery shop which sells prints, cards and art supplies. I love gallery shops and have a tendency to spend more money than I should on beautiful notebooks and pretty cards. I keep a notebook for each new book I write, and they are never ever a plain A4 pad.

I was not tempted by The Home which sells designer furniture and other homeware at eye-watering prices. I’m genuinely fascinated trying to guess who would spend £2500 on what looks like a very ordinary plastic chair to me, but I’m happy to acknowledge my ignorance of modern interior design and save my pennies for books and gorgeous stationery.

My favourite part of Saltaire, though, was not the shops, the gallery or the cafes, although all are lovely. It wasn’t even the museum area, which shows a film telling the history of the village and some memorabilia associated with Sir Titus Salt and Saltaire, although I do recommend that, to get an overview of how this project came about. The real joy of Saltaire is in the narrow streets of the village itself, which give a real sense of a bygone era. I had a weird sense of familiarity walking through those streets, some of which probably came from my memories of similar workers cottages which still existed in London’s East End during my childhood, although I did discover afterwards that Saltaire is used as a location for filming Peaky Blinders, and I’m a big fan.

A surprising number of the original buildings survive, including the Institute which is now known as Victoria Hall, and the beautiful United Reformed Church. The houses are lived in and clearly much loved. Modern shops have moved in, and I was particularly entertained by a rather nice looking bar and restaurant, imaginatively called “Don’t Tell Titus” in reference to the founder’s refusal to allow alcohol to be sold anywhere in the village.

United Reformed Church

From the village streets, I walked down to the church and then across the bridge to the canal towpath. On a sunny February afternoon, the canal was beautiful, with the towpath clearly very popular with local families. There is an attractive park alongside, and beyond that, the River Aire. The park was originally known as Saltaire Park, and is now known as Roberts Park, and it was laid out for the recreational use of the inhabitants of Salt’s model village.

I’m not a huge fan of Victorian paternalism, and it’s easy to see the economic advantages to a man like Titus Salt in creating a model village for his workforce. Nevertheless, there is still something admirable about Salt’s genuine interest in the welfare of the people who lived in Saltaire and worked at the mill. Salt Mill and the village of Saltaire are a fascinating piece of nineteenth century Victorian history and a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Also, the cake in the tea shop was really, really good…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Battle of Tenerife (Comedy version)

The Battle of Tenerife, (Comedy Version) was written sitting by a pool in Tenerife last year. For several years, various historian friends and I have occasionally lightened the mood of researching and writing about some of the darker moments of history by writing sketches about how things might really have happened on the day.

In real life, these were battles and things went wrong and men died and there is no intention to forget this. I write about that aspect in my novels. On the other hand, sometimes, reading about and researching a particular military episode, I find myself thinking just….why? How? Who even thought this was a good idea? And I’m sure that there were men out there at the time, who were thinking pretty much the same thing. 

I knew nothing about the Battle of Tenerife other than the fact that Nelson lost his arm there, until I visited Santa Cruz last year and toured the various sites and museums. This sketch is the result of my bewilderment.

Today is the anniversary of the victory at Cape St Vincent. A naval historian friend has been very cross that the shops are full of Valentines Day cards, with not one card celebrating this famous battle. I didn’t have time to write anything about Cape St Vincent, so I thought I’d resurrect this instead, in honour of Admiral Jervis who was probably glad he didnt go to Santa Cruz de Tenerife in person.

Please enjoy, and remember that Nelson went on to far greater things…

 

Somewhere at Sea, 1797…
Admiral Jervis is still celebrating his memorable victory at Cape St Vincent. He’s also a bit cross about Cadiz not working out quite so well and those pesky Spanish whizzing treasure ships around right under his nose. The sailors are getting restive. The Admiral is feeling the pressure. It’s Saturday night, a few drinks in the Admiral’s dining cabin and Jervis has had enough…
Jervis: What we need is a win. A nice little win. No, a nice big win. Big fat hairy prizes. Loadsa money…”
Captain: I say, Admiral, are you all right? Good wine, this. Strong, though. Maybe we should…
Jervis: Pour another one. A big one. Cadiz was a stupid idea anyway. Who goes there? Nobody. Nothing to see, nothing to do. We want somewhere nice. Somewhere sunny. Somewhere popular, full of treasure ships and nice forts we can blow up. We want….I know – Tenerife!
Captain: Tenerife, sir? Are you sure? I mean, why?
Jervis: Lovely place. Great for holidays. Should be British. Don’t argue with me and pour another glass. Now, who shall we send? I know! Whatshisname! You know. Little fella with the funny hair and squeaky voice.
Captain: Do you mean Admiral Nelson, sir?
Jervis: Nelson. That’s the one. Send him a message, will you? Now, anybody for charades?
Portrait of Nelson by Healy, George Peter Alexander (Wikimedia Commons)

HMS Theseus, July 1797

Nelson: Well here we are, chaps. Almost at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and a very fine day for it. Now, I’ve got my plan of attack all worked out and if everybody does exactly as I say, it will all go swimmingly.
Troubridge: I hope not, Admiral.
Nelson: What the devil do you mean, Troubridge?
Troubridge: Swimmingly, sir. Swimming not really the idea here, what?
Nelson: Was that a joke, Troubridge?
Troubridge: Er – yes, sir.
Nelson: Not funny. Not even slightly. If there are jokes to be made, I’ll make them. I’m the Admiral. All jokes should be run past me, clear?
Troubridge: Yes, sir.
Nelson: Now, here’s the plan. Troubridge, you’ll lead a night time landing. The frigates will approach the shore stealthily and disembark troops then attack the Spanish batteries north east of the harbour. Crompton, you’ll open mortar fire on the city. My ships of the line will enter the harbour at break of dawn, gloriously, seize the Spanish merchant ships and win the day.
Troubridge: Gloriously.
Nelson: That’s me. I’m going in gloriously, you’re going in stealthily. Is that clear?
Troubridge: Do they know we’re coming, sir?
Nelson: Don’t be an ass, Troubridge, it wouldn’t be stealthy if they knew we were coming, would it?
Troubridge: No, sir. It’s just there are those mountains and cliffs. They’re pretty high, you can see them for miles. And I sort of think maybe they can see us coming for miles.
Nelson: Mountains? Cliffs? What nonsense, I see no mountains or cliffs. Anyway, these are the Spanish. Admiral Jervis assures me they’re hopeless. Haven’t a clue. Totally disorganised. No, stealth is the word here. Followed by glory. It’ll be no trouble.
Troubridge: Glad to hear it, sir.
Nelson: Oh, and by the way, I sent a note to the Spanish authorities demanding the surrender of all Spanish cargo, and threatening the destruction of the city. That’ll show them.
Troubridge: Very stealthy, sir.
20 July aboard the Theseus
Nelson: Right, chaps, final plans. Two phases to the attack. 1000 seamen and marines will land at Valle Seco beach and surround and capture Fort Paso Alto. I’m sure they’ll surrender immediately but if by some remote chance they don’t, the landing party will march on the port and attack.
Troubridge: Stealthily, sir?
Nelson: Exactly, Captain. Everybody ready? Good. Let’s go get ‘em, boys. I’d stay to chat but I need to pop off and write my glorious victory speech along with the prayer I’m going to say before going into battle.
Hood: You write out your prayers, Admiral?
Nelson: Not all of them, Hood, only the ones the newspapers might want to publish. Otherwise the fools might get it wrong.
The attack, Part 1
Troubridge: Right, men, we’re off. 23 boats aiming for the Bufadero cliff, the other 16 head straight for the city. Let’s go.
Marine 1: Huzzah, we’re off! We’ll show those Spaniards.
Marine 2: Great prize money out of this. Good job too, I could do with new trousers.These make me look fat.
Marine 3: Bollocks, Smithy, your gut makes you look fat. What’s going on?
Marine 1: Not much, by the looks of it. We’re getting nowhere here. These currents are impossible.
Marine 3: Row harder, lads. We can do it.
Marine 2: Er…is that gunfire I can hear? From the city?
Marine 3: Oh bugger.
Troubridge: Back to the ships, lads. Row for your lives, they’re sinking our boats. Some bloody stealth attack this was…
Interlude, aboard the Theseus
Troubridge: It was impossible, Admiral. The tides were against us, the city guns were sinking our boats and we seemed to get no help from our ships.
Pointed silence
Nelson: Well what help could we give, Captain? The big ships can’t get close enough, the frigates can, but their guns can’t fire high enough to hit the city, the mortar is doing no good at all and the carronades are useless in this situation. We did the best we could.
Troubridge: What did you do, sir?
Nelson: We cheered you on. We supported you. I even said a prayer. I’ve got a copy of it if you want one.
Troubridge: Thank you, Admiral, that’s a big help.
Nelson: I knew you’d appreciate it. Right, time for another attempt. I’ve got the perfect plan this time, it can’t fail.
Troubridge: Like the last one then.
Nelson: Button it, Captain. This time we’ll get the boats to tow the frigates in, so they can anchor close to the cliffs. That way we’ll get past the currents and land men and equipment. After that it’ll be a piece of cake. Admiral Jervis is going to be so pleased, I can’t wait to tell him.
The Attack, part 2
Troubridge: Right, we’ve landed. Thank God for that, bit hairy with those guns firing on us. Right, Crompton, Thompson, let’s get this artillery moving and into place.
Crompton: How, sir?
Troubridge: Well I don’t know, I’m not a soldier or a marine. How do we usually move guns?
Thompson: Horses, sir. Or mules, in an emergency.
Troubridge: This is an emergency.
Crompton: Didn’t Admiral Nelson give any orders about this, sir?
Troubridge: No. But it’s all right, Captain Jackson of the marines will know. Where the devil is he?
Thompson: Er – still at sea, sir. Saw half the boats going off in that direction and he was in one of them.
Troubridge: What the devil is in that direction?
Thompson: Not much that I know of, sir. But then I didn’t know what was in this direction either. I don’t think any of the officers knew where we were going.
Troubridge: For God’s sake, didn’t someone tell them they were going the wrong way?
Crompton: Orders were to land in complete silence, sir, otherwise I’d have yelled. Because of stealth.
Troubridge: Didn’t anybody do anything?
Thompson: We waved, sir. And jumped up and down.
Troubridge: And?
Crompton: I think a couple of them waved back, sir. Hard to tell in the dark. But cheer up,we were very stealthy.
Shell lands close by them on the beach
Troubridge: Ha bloody ha, Captain, clearly they’ve no idea we’re here. Take cover!
July 23, aboard the Theseus
Nelson: Troubridge, I have had enough! Two days, God knows how many landings and withdrawals, half the boats spent the night wandering around aimlessly in circles and the rest of you couldn’t even make it off the beaches. This is not how it was meant to go! Admiral Jervis assured me it would be easy!
Troubridge: Anybody know if Admiral Jervis has actually been to Santa Cruz, sir?
Nelson: Don’t get funny with me, Captain. Right, new orders. Now that all the troops are back aboard, I’m sending the three frigates past that beach and I want them to fire at those big cliffs.
Troubridge: At the cliffs, sir? Any particular reason?
Nelson: They keep shooting at us, Captain
Troubridge: From the forts, sir. Which we can’t reach
Nelson: There might be some defenders up there
Troubridge: We haven’t seen any, sir.
Nelson: Shut up, Troubridge. I’m as mad as a wet hen and I just want to shoot something.
Troubridge: I’ll send the signal then, sir
Later that day, aboard the Theseus, Nelson has called a meeting of all his captains…
Nelson: Right, I feel a bit better now. By gum, those guns did some damage to those cliffs. And now I’ve worked out what I’ve been doing wrong. I’ve been trying to run this campaign from behind the scenes. It’s time I stepped up and got involved personally. I’m leading the attack. No more Admiral Nice Guy. Once they see me in the boats they’ll know we mean business.
Miller: Sir, is that a good idea? I mean you don’t have much experience of fighting on land, and…
Nelson: Nonsense, how hard can it be?. Have you seen some of the idiots who lead the army, they don’t even have to pass an examination to get in? We’ll attack the San Cristobal fort directly and put a stop to this nonsense. Assemble the troops. I’ll be in the lead boat, when they see me the men will scent victory! Troubrige, Miller, Hood, Waller and Thompson you’ll lead the other boats. Huzzah!
Troubrige, Miller, Hood, Waller and Thompson (Gloomily): Huzzah.
10.30pm, 24 July, in the boats
Nelson: Cloth-padded oars to keep the noise down. Genius, eh, Nesbit? Now this is what I call stealth. Should have done this right from the start, never wise to delegate too much. Heard that from an army chap called Wellesley I ran into one day. He was definite that you can’t leave anything to anybody else if you want it done properly and I’m beginning to think the man had a point. They won’t see us coming, they’ll have no idea and we’ll be upon them before…what was that?
Nesbit: Warning shot, sir, from that frigate. I think they know we’re coming.
Nelson: Well row faster, for God’s sake!
Nesbit: Going as fast as we can, Admiral. Winds and tides are against us. You remember Captain Troubridge mentioned the winds and tides?
Suddenly a hail of cannonballs and musket bullets from the batteries of Paso Alto, San Miguel, San Antonio and San Pedro begins to rain down on the British boats
Nelson: Shoot back! Fire! Why is nobody shooting back, for God’s sake?
Nesbit: Powder’s wet, sir, seawater. Nobody can fire.
Nelson: Never mind! Once we’ve landed and they see our brave lads advancing up into the town, they’ll turn and run. Admiral Jarvis assured me…oh F**k.
La Consolación convent, Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Troubridge: Right, we’re in.
Hood: But we can’t get out
Troubridge: Any news of the rest of the troops?
Hood: Not good, sir. A lot of the boats were hit and the Fox was sunk. A lot of casualties on the beach. Bowen managed to spike some of the guns and rushed the town but he and his men were cut down by grapeshot. Most of the troops had to retreat. And there’s worse news. Admiral Nelson was wounded in the boat and had to be rowed back to the Theseus. I am sorry.
Troubridge: So the Admiral isn’t able to give any more orders?
Hood: I don’t think so.
Troubridge: Well cheer up, Hood. We might get out of this alive after all. Right, send a message to Gutierrez demanding the surrender of the San Jose or we will burn the town.
Two hours later
Hood: There’s a reply from General Gutierrez, Captain.
Troubridge: What does he say?
Hood: I don’t know that word. Anybody here speak Spanish?
Troubridge: Don’t bother, Hood, I know that word. What’s that noise…oh bloody hell. Take cover, everybody!
One hour later
Hood: Good news, Captain. We’ve got a message from the fleet. Admiral Nelson has survived the amputation of his arm and is sitting up and able to give orders again.
Troubridge: Bugger.
Hood: Also bad news. The Spanish have blockaded the pier so we can’t escape. Admiral Nelson tried to send 15 boats with reinforcements but they were driven back with the loss of 3 boats.
Troubridge: Oh stuff it, I’ve had enough. Send another message, Hood. In fact take it yourself. Find out what Gutierrez will accept in terms of surrender and let’s get out of here.
Some time later, somewhere in England, debriefing meeting
Jervis: So you surrendered to the Spanish, Nelson?
Nelson: Not in so many words, Admiral. Technically, Troubridge did. I was disappointed. If only I’d not been wounded, I’m sure we would have prevailed.
Jervis: What terms?
Nelson: Very generous, I thought. Very good chap, Gutierrez, very gentlemanly. Our men were allowed to return to their ships with full military honours as long as Hood undertook not to burn the town, or make any further attacks on Tenerife or the Canary Islands. And he lent us two schooners to help us on the way back, we were a bit short with so many being shot up and sunk. As a matter of fact I sent a thank you letter to Gutiérrez along with some beer and cheese. I got a very nice reply with some Spanish wine and cheese. Dreadful stuff but he meant well.
Jervis: Well I’m disappointed, Admiral. In fact, I’m more than a bit cross. When you think of my own glorious achievements, and you couldn’t even manage a smelly little port in the Canary Islands. Still, I suppose every man deserves a second chance. How do you fancy having another crack at it when you’re fully recovered?
Nelson: Another crack?
Jervis: Yes.
Nelson: At Santa Cruz?
Jervis: Yes.
Nelson: Tenerife?
Jervis: I can tell you’re following my train of thought here
Nelson: No
Jervis: No?
Nelson: No
Jervis: Are you sure?
Nelson: Admiral, I would rather lead a column of ships into a hail of broadside fire from the ships of two navies in a full scale sea battle than go back to that hell hole again.
Jervis: Oh all right, I get the point. Who needs Tenerife anyway, leave it to the Spanish. And I suppose even with your defeatist attitude we can find you something else to do…

 

St Michael’s Isle to Derbyhaven #OscarWalks

St Michael’s Isle to Derbyhaven #OscarWalks

Good weather gave us the chance for a beautiful walk in the south of the island. Oscar was on the lead for most of the way, but was able to have a couple of off-lead runs which he loves. I have to tell you in advance that he was a VERY GOOD BOY today.

 

 

 

The old chapel on St Michael’s Isle

St Michael’s Isle, also known in the past as Fort Island, is about 400 metres long and is just off the Langness Peninsula, joined by a narrow causeway and it features in An Unwilling Alliance, when Hugh Kelly takes Roseen to visit. It’s a beautiful place, covered in springy grass and vegetation, surrounded on all sides by a rocky coastline. I’ve been there in a high wind and it’s a wild place, but today was sunny and calm, although freezing, and there were few people about.

“I’ve been here before, haven’t I, Mum?”

“A few times, Oscar. The last time we came, Anya was with us. And Joey.”

“Don’t cry, Mum. He’s all right, really he is.”

“I know that, Oscar. I just miss him.”

“So do I. Do you remember that day, when he ran off?”

Joey and Oscar at Derby Fort last year

“I really do. We were so concerned about you, we kept you on the long lead, but we let him off. He gave us one look and then started waddling at high speed right towards the rocks and Anya had to run after him.”

“He was after a swim, he loved swimming. Can I swim today?”

“Not here, it’s too rocky. Later you can go in at the beach.”

“What’s that, Mum?”

“That’s St Michael’s Chapel, Oscar. It was built in the twelfth century on the site of an older Celtic keeill.”

“A what?”

“A keeill. It’s a Manx Gaelic word for a chapel. Very old.”

“It looks it. What’s that other building over there. It’s broken too.”

“Ruined, Oscar.”

“Ruined. Broken. Whatever. What is it?”

“It’s called Derby Fort, it was built in the 17th century by James Stanley, the 7th Earl of Derby who was Lord of Mann during the English Civil War, to protect what was then the very busy port of Derbyhaven.”

“Doesn’t look that busy now.”

“Nowadays we have an airport, Oscar. Times change.”

“I suppose so. Can I look inside?”

“Through the gate, it’s not open. Over here.”

Interior of Derby Fort

“What’s that?”

“A cannon.”

“A what?”

“A big gun.”

“Oh right. Like the ones at the bottom of Summerhill Glen?”

“That’s right.”

 

“I like it here. Lots of grass and rocks and sea and smells and…what are those flying things that I like to chase?”

“Birds.”

“That’s right.”

“It’s a bird sanctuary.”

“It must be. I never catch them. But look, Mum – DOOOOOGS!!! Can I go and play?”

“Off you go then.”

“Whew, that was fun. They’re not youngsters, those two, but they could run. Although that one waddled a bit like old Joey. Where now?”

“Let’s get your lead back on. We’re going along the coast towards Derbyhaven.”

The walk along the Derbyhaven coast was just over three miles and we were able to do a lot of it on the beach although retreated up to the path or the road where it was too wet or too rocky. Oscar loves the beach, but needs watching as bizarrely, he likes to eat seaweed. This was new to me; neither Toby or Joey would have dreamed of eating anything so nasty and smelly. Recently, Oscar has been learning the valuable command “Leave” and we had the chance to practice this a lot today. It went very well.

“You’re being very good, Oscar.”

“Thanks. What’s that?”

“It’s the back of the airport. When we go away, we sometimes go on airplanes.”

“That’s why I hate airplanes. You should stay here. What’s that big building over there. It’s not broken.”

“Ruined. No, that’s King William’s College. It’s the only public school on the island. Which really means it’s a private school, because you have to pay to go there. I’ve never really understood that.”

“I don’t care. Did Jon go there?”

“No.”

“Did Anya?”

“No.”

“Not an interesting place then. What’s that?”

“It used to be a cafe and bar. I’ve never been in, but I think it’s closed down now.”

“Pity. We could have gone for tea. I like this walk.”

“So do I, it’s very pretty. Right, we’re going to turn back and go up to Hango Hill on the way back.”

“Can I go on the beach?”

“Yes, but don’t eat the seaweed.”

“Okay.”

“Oscar, leave!”

“Sorry.”

“Oscar, leave!”

“Sorry.”

“Oscar, leave it!”

“Sorry, Mum.”

“What is it with you and seaweed? Neither of your brothers ate seaweed.”

“I just like the smell. And the taste.”

“Try not to, Oscar, it’s really bad for your tummy.”

“I’ll do my best. I’ll go and paddle instead.”

“Good idea. A bit cold to swim.”

“Ooh. What’s that?”

“Hango Hill.”

“Eh?”

“It’s called Hango Hill.”

“It’s a very small hill.”

“More of a mound, really, but it’s very old.”

“It’s got another one of those broken buildings on top.”

“You mean ruins?”

“That’s them. You really like ruins, don’t you, Mum? Ruins and books. And dogs, of course.”

“Yes, that pretty much sums me up. Come and see, Oscar.”

Hango Hill is a small mound by the side of the coast road between Castletown and Derbyhaven, overlooking the beach. It was possibly an ancient burial site and a Bronze Age flat axe was apparently discovered there. The name derives from the Norse words for Gallows Hill and was used as a place of execution until the seventeenth or possibly early eighteenth century.

The most famous execution to take place on Hango Hill was that of William Christian, also known as Illiam Dhone, (Brown William) for his participation in the 1651 Manx rebellion against the Derby family who were Lords of Mann at the time.

Illiam Dhone, from the National Art Gallery at the Manx Museum

Christian was a Manx politician of his day and is seen variously as a patriot, a rebel or a traitor. He was appointed as Receiver-General by Derby and when the Earl left for England to fight for Charles II he left Christian in charge of the island militia. Derby was taken prisoner at the Battle of Worcester and his wife,  a redoubtable lady called Charlotte de la Tremouille, who held Castle Rushen for the King, tried to save her husband’s life by negotiating the surrender of the island to Parliament.

The ensuing rebellion, led by Christian in 1651, was partly due to national politics and partly due to local discontent at some of Derby’s new agrarian policies. The rebels took several local forts and Christian then began negotiations with the Parliamentarians. The Countess was forced to surrender Castle Rushen and Peel Castle, and failed to prevent the execution of her husband. Christian remained Receiver-General and became Governor of the Isle of Man in 1656.

Derby’s family did not forgive or forget. Fraud charges were brought against Christian, who fled to England and was imprisoned for a year in London. On his release he chose to return to Mann, believing that his rebellion against the Earl would be covered by the Act of Indemnity, but the new Earl immediately ordered his arrest. Christian refused to plead at his trial, was found guilty and executed by shooting on Hango Hill on 2 January 1663.

Oscar enjoying my lecture about Illiam Dhone

“So what was this place before it was ruined, Mum?”

“I’m not sure, Oscar, but I think it’s the remains of a kind of summerhouse used by the Earl of Derby. It was built after Illiam Dhone’s execution. They used it as a banqueting hall as well, and used to organise horse racing along these dunes towards Langness. I read somewhere that these were the very first “Derby” races. I suppose that’s when they stopped using it for executions.”

“Good thing too. Bet it’s spooky at night.”

“Shall we come down here one evening and see?”

“Not funny, Mum, you know what I’m like in the dark. What does that writing say?”

“It’s just a little bit about the history of the place and Illiam Dhone. Each year, on the anniversary of his death, they have a gathering here and make a speech in the Manx language.”

“I’m surprised you don’t come, it’s the sort of thing you’d do.”

“I might one year. It’s always so cold in January, though.”

“It’s blowing up a bit now.”

“It is. The light’s starting to fade as well, I forget how early it gets dark. Right, back to the car then, we’ll be warmer if we’re walking.”

“Mum. This was a long walk. How far?”

“Probably almost six miles with all the detours and the running around on the beach and the island, Oscar.”

“That’s a long way. I’m going to need a long sleep when I get back. And dinner. I’m starving.”

“Have a biscuit, then. You’ve been such a good boy today, Oscar, I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks, Mum. Won’t be going out next week much, I suppose?”

“No, you’ve got your operation on Friday. But it won’t take long to recover and the weather will be getting better soon. There’s the car. Hop in, baby boy.”

Oscar about to settle for his post-walk nap

Look out for more #OscarWalks posts to come and if you enjoyed this and want to hear more from Writing with Labradors, or find out about my books, why not follow me on Facebook,Twitter,  Instagram or  Medium?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heretic Wind by Judith Arnopp

The Heretic Wind by Judith Arnopp is released this week and I’m delighted to welcome Judith as a guest on Blogging with Labradors to give us some information about her latest book.

Judith’s novels concentrate on strong female characters from English history. Her trilogy of Margaret Beaufort, The Beaufort Chronicle, provided Margaret with a credible voice. She does much the same in this novel of Mary Tudor, Queen of England. Mary, due to the violent punishment she inflicted on heretics has come to be viewed as little short of a monster. In this novel, Mary isn’t white-washed; she is simply allowed to tell her own story. Judith says:

‘I always think it would be awful if, after my death, I was only remembered for the very worst thing I’ve ever done. Everyone is guilty of something, and people like Mary, and her father Henry VIII carried out horrible deeds. Unfortunately those actions have come to define them. Burning anyone to death seems terrible to us but it was the standard punishment for heresy in the 16thcentury. It would be wrong to look upon Mary as some half-mad monster, glibly sending Protestants to their death. There was much more to her than cruelty. She was kind, generous and terribly well-meaning. She adored her people but her reign wasn’t as benign as she intended. My study of Mary Tudor revealed a sad, isolated and desperate woman whose intention was to be a good and loving Queen. The fact things turned out rather differently were mostly due to exterior forces. In The Heretic Wind, the mortally sick and embittered Mary looks back on her life and explains to some extent, the reasons why things happened as they did.

Short blurb

Adored by her parents and pampered by the court, the infant Princess Mary’s life changes suddenly and drastically when her father’s eye is taken by the enigmatic Anne Boleyn.

Mary stands firm against her father’s determination to destroy both her mother’s reputation, and the Catholic church. It is a battle that will last throughout both her father’s and her brother’s reign, until, she is almost broken by persecution. When King Edward falls ill and dies Mary expects to be crowned queen.

But she has reckoned without John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, who before Mary can act, usurps her crown and places it on the head of her Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey.

Furious and determined not to be beaten, Mary musters a vast army at Framlingham Castle; a force so strong that support for Jane Grey crumbles in the face of it, and Mary is at last crowned Queen of England.

But her troubles are only just beginning. Rebellion and heresy take their toll both on Mary’s health, and on the English people. Suspecting she is fatally ill, and desperate to save her people from heresy, Mary steps up her campaign to compel her subjects to turn back to the Catholic faith.

All who resist will face punishment for heresy in the flames of the Smithfield fires.

Judith Arnopp is the author of twelve Historical Fiction novels:

The Heretic Wind; the life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England

Sisters of Arden

The Beaufort Chronicles: the life of Lady Margaret Beaufort (three book series)

A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York

Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr

The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn

The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII

The Song of Heledd

The Forest Dwellers

Peaceweaver

To discover more, visit Judith’s website or author page

www.judithmarnopp.com

mybook.to/thw

author.to/juditharnoppbooks

 

 

 

Iris Bryant

Iris Bryant would have been 89 today. 

I try to imagine what it would be like to still have her with me. These days, it’s not unheard of for a woman to live to that age, and to be sound in mind, if not always in body.  She’d have loved to have seen her grandchildren grow up and she’d have been desperately proud of both of them. She’d have been proud of me too. She was one of the first people I allowed to read one of my unpublished books and I was very nervous about it. Mum was a voracious reader who haunted the public library and was on first name terms with all the staff there. She was also honest. She handed me back the manuscript of A Respectable Woman with a casual air, as if it didn’t mean much to her.

“If I’d got that from the library, I’d be looking for more books by that author,” she said, in matter of fact tones. “Better get writing some more.”

It was one of the best tributes I ever had as a writer.

Mum was born in 1931 in an old weavers’ cottage in Bessy Street in Bethnal Green, East London. Her parents, Herbert and Hilda Taylor had seven children, although the youngest, Joyce, survived only a few days after birth. My Mum used to tell us that she could remember them using a dressing table drawer as a crib for the baby. The family later moved to a small terraced house in Hartley Street, close by.

My Uncle Herbie was the eldest, followed by Hilda, Violet, Jimmy, Mum and then Ronnie. The family was poor, in a way that it’s hard for us to imagine now, but fiercely respectable. There were iron-clad rules about cleanliness and tidiness and if you wore white socks they had to BE white. My Nan washed down her front steps every morning until she no longer had her own front step, net curtains were bleached  and windows were cleaned even when there wasn’t much to eat. I never knew my grandfather, but I’m told he ruled the family with a rod of iron, and for all the humorous stories told about him, I’ve always suspected that all of them felt a sense of freedom along with their sadness when he died in 1946 when my Mum was just fifteen.

Wartime came, bringing the Blitz to the East End and the family separated. Herbie went into the army, Hilda joined the ambulance service and the youngest four were evacuated to Norfolk. It wasn’t a good experience, and as an adult, my Mum spoke very little of her time there. We never knew why they were brought home, right back into the middle of the bombing, but it was clearly bad. For a time they remained at home. Vi was old enough to leave school and start work, and the youngest three attended the local school, dodging air raid wardens on their way home and collecting shrapnel from bomb sites. They were still in London in June 1943 when the tragedy of the Bethnal Green Tube Disaster took the life of one of their cousins and they could remember the falling of the first V1 flying bombs. 

Mum, Jimmy and Ronnie with Mr Wiggins

At some point, probably in 1944, they were evacuated again to a farm near Tamworth. This second experience was very different to the first. Mr and Mrs Wiggins were an older, childless couple, who probably chose the Taylors because the two boys could help on the farm, but they were very kind, if old-fashioned, and took good care of the children, inviting my Nan to visit and sending farm produce home to her when they could. My Mum was very attached to them and remained in touch after the war. I can remember the excitement of visits to the Wiggins farm as a small child.

The letter urging my grandparents to let Mum take up her scholarship

After the war it was back to London and a short time back at school before Mum left at 14. She was already something of a rebel, and rejected well-paid jobs in local factories to travel up to the West End to work in an office. Her father was furious, believing that it was her duty to contribute as much as she could to the family budget, but Mum was determined. She was clearly bright, although it was many years later while sorting out some old family papers, that she discovered that she had been offered a scholarship to carry on with her education at the local girls grammar school. The headmistress of her school wrote a very eloquent letter begging her parents to let her go, and assuring them that the scholarship covered all expenses, even the uniform. Mum had never known about this, and I think it was a shock even after all those years, with both her parents dead, to find out that they’d refused it on her behalf without even telling her about it.

Mum did well at work, taking every opportunity she could to learn new skills. War ended in Europe and then Japan and Mum accompanied her elder sisters to the celebrations proudly wearing home made blouses sewn from parachute silk. Hilda and Vi married and soon afterwards, Hilda emigrated to Australia with her new husband.

Mum in her Land Army uniform

Life changed in 1946 when my grandfather, who had been ill for many years with chest problems, probably an industrial illness, contracted pneumonia and died. My grandmother was ill in hospital with the same thing, and with elder sisters married and moved on, Mum was on her own with the two younger boys until her eldest brother arrived, rushed home on compassionate leave from the army. With her father gone, there were suddenly new freedoms for my Mum and she made the most of them. At the age of seventeen, she surprised everybody by announcing that she had signed up to join the Women’s Land Army.

Mum had very happy memories of her Land Army days near Cambridge and we loved her stories when we were children. The women’s land army finally received a veterans’ badge and acknowledgement for their service in 2007. I can’t tell you what Mum said about that, but she was actually very proud of it. I still have the badge she wore at the time. Mum’s stories made even the worst tasks sound like a laugh and talked fondly of dances at the local American and Canadian air bases. She had several boyfriends during those years, light-hearted romances with a Canadian pilot and an Irishman from an army base, called Paddy, but then towards the end of her time there, she met Kurt, a former German POW who had chosen to remain in the area after the war, working on a farm. Kurt was different, it was serious, and for a time I think she genuinely thought she might marry him, but the prospect of him possibly wanting to move back to Germany one day made her hesitate.

She was still undecided when she left the Land Army, and went up to Cambridge at weekends to visit Kurt, hitching lifts on Army lorries to save the train fare in a way that would terrify us today. Perhaps she would have taken the risk eventually, but in 1950, working as a telephonist in a City office, she was asked to be bridesmaid at a close friend’s wedding. The best man was the best friend of the groom, a young builder’s apprentice by the name of George Bryant and my Mum had been dodging him for months, knowing that Violet and Bobby were trying to set up a date. She later found out he had been doing the same thing, as he was still recovering from a broken romance. They couldn’t avoid the wedding though, they met, and my mother’s life suddenly became a lot more complicated.

It took several months for her to decide. Unusually, she was completely honest with both Kurt and my Dad, and she continued to go up to Cambridge at some weekends. Others were spent getting to know my Dad. They were both broke, so dates often consisted of long walks along the Embankment. Dad was from South London, not far from the Elephant and Castle, and wasn’t seen as a very good prospect by my Mum’s family. He was very quiet, very shy and came from the wrong side of the river, with no education. Her brothers, all as confident and full of it as she was, used to tease him unmercifully. Dad put up with it, got used to it, and won my Nan over very quickly by offering to decorate her house in his spare time. He was very good at it, ignored Jimmy and Ronnie’s tormenting and quietly waited.

At some point, he must have decided that it was decision making time. I’ve never known how that was worked out, but Mum went up to Cambridge to talk to Kurt and promised my Dad that she’d give him a definite answer on the Sunday evening when she got back. The ensuing story is a family legend, with something farcical about it which could never happen in these days of mobile phones and messaging. Mum’s train was delayed and she missed their rendezvous which led Dad to think she’d decided to marry Kurt. He went home, miserable, but then decided he still wanted to speak to her so went back out and got the underground to her house. She, meanwhile, got the underground to his house, only to find he wasn’t there. In their mutual upset, it took two more cross London train journeys before they finally managed to meet up. They were married in 1952 on Christmas Day.

Mum’s last job was as Matron’s secretary at an Old Folks Home.

Theirs was a traditional life. They lived in rented flats and houses all their lives, worked hard, saved their money and raised two daughters. Both worked their way to better jobs, my Dad spending a lot of his working life working for the Post Office and then British Telecom, my Mum doing a variety of office jobs, then staying home with the children until I went to secondary school when she took a job in a bank. There was nothing remarkable about Mum’s life, and yet in her own way, she remained quietly different.

Mum was fiercely independent to the end of her days. Although her education was severely cut short, both by the war and by her parents poverty and limited viewpoint, she was self-taught. Like my Dad, she was a reader, good at arithmetic and passionate about history. My childhood never took me on foreign holidays but I grew to know the winding back streets of London in a way that few of my schoolmates did. We walked for miles every weekend, fed pigeons in Trafalgar Square, went to every royal event, saw the Changing of the Guard regularly and got locked in the park after the firework display for the Royal Wedding, my sister and I having to hoist Mum and Auntie Vi over the fence to get out.

Never too old to crawl into a Thomas the Tank Engine tent…

She supported me through school days, very hands off unless I asked for help with a problem, but willing to step in if necessary. She valued independence and would probably seem almost neglectful in these days of helicopter parenting, but she was always there, rock solid, if I needed her. She supported me through university, through working life, through marriage and children. She adored her grandchildren and was very hands on, a favourite playmate, even though my choice of late motherhood meant that she was not as active as she would have liked.

 

In later life, she had a variety of health problems and wasn’t always patient about it when they got in the way of real life. She and my Dad enjoyed retirement, took up sequence dancing, got more adventurous about holidays and finally got a dog. We talked sometimes about them moving to the island after we came to live here. Dad seriously considered it, he loved the countryside and being by the sea. My Mum loved them too and visited three or four times a year, but she refused to consider a move. Mum was a Londoner, and a city girl. As with her ventures into rural life as a girl, she enjoyed the outdoors, but her roots were in London, in the East End, and along the banks of the Thames where she’d done her courting and fallen in love.

When they finally moved to the island it was too late. Dad had cancer and died only a couple of months after he got here and Mum, by then, was already showing signs of dementia. She’d smoked all her life, long after Dad gave up, calmly asserting that it was her one vice and she knew the risks. We gave up arguing about it, we knew how stubborn she could be. Vascular dementia was the legacy of that vice, a series of small strokes over the years, which gradually took her away, until she no longer knew who I was.

Even in the home, with declining faculties, she was something of a legend. She found a friend who clearly reminded her of my Dad, and they managed to make themselves the centre of the day room, passing acerbic comments on whatever was going on around them. She was funny to the end, reminding me heartbreakingly of the mother I adored with the occasional sharp comment. She outlived my Dad by six years and was buried beside him on a quiet hillside in Braddan, a long way from her home town. Mum wouldn’t have given a damn about that, it was the living she was interested in.

At her funeral, the weather was appalling, and my sister and I were wholly unsuitably dressed for it, tottering over to the graveside in heeled shoes and our smart funeral outfits. The wind howled, the rain came down, and our flimsy umbrellas were instantly wrecked. The vicar, clearly Manx, was well-prepared with a big solid umbrella, and there was something slightly smug about him as he stood reciting the final words of the funeral as the coffin was lowered into the grave. There was a sudden huge gust of wind which caught his umbrella just the wrong way, and took him off his feet, knocking his glasses off and nearly sending him into the muddy open grave. 

Mum and her girls, an early holiday. I’m the little one…

Suddenly she was there with me, laughing. I looked at my sister and I knew she was hearing it too. We stood there on that rain lashed hillside, holding each other up laughing, as we’d once had to hold Mum up, hiding behind the car at a family funeral when her much-loathed posh hat blew straight off her head and into a puddle before she even made it into the church. We cried laughing that day, despite our grief, and we did it again at Mum’s funeral, knowing that she’d never really leave us.

 

 

Happy Birthday to Iris Bryant, nee Taylor, an East End girl to the end of her days. I’ll go up in a bit and put daffodils on the grave, they were your favourite flower and both your grand daughter and I love them just as much. You’re laughing somewhere at me doing that, telling me not to be daft, to take the flowers home and enjoy them myself. I’ll get some for me as well. I always do on this day.

You were a remarkable woman in an unremarkable life, and I will never stop missing you.