Thursday, September 3, 2015

Historical research: Horses, carriages, stables and automobiles.

On a recent trip to Normanby Hall, a local historical manor house a few weeks ago, I spent a lovely few hours in the sun strolling around the estate and gaining knowledge that will come in handy for writing my historical novels.
I thought I would write a post on each part of the house and grounds, and I'm starting with the stable block.

Horse stalls, made of brass and timber, and note the floor for easy cleaning. The stable block was built in 1818, and was a walled square with open arches. It was a hive of activity and the meeting place for hunts and shooting parties.

The daily duties of a Groom or Coachman

 Feed and Muck out the horse.
Breakfast at the Hall.
Rub down and groom the horses.
Clean and put away any tack (riding and carriage equipment used).
Prepare the coach for the family.
Feed the horses.
Lunch at the Hall.

Afternoon and Evening:
Get horses ready for any family members wishing to ride.
Sweep out the stableyard.
Clean and put away any tack used.
Exercise any of the horses that have not been ridden that day.
If carriage not needed again, carry on with any odd jobs around stable.
Feed horses.
Supper in the servant's hall.
Rub down and give the horses water and hay for the night.
Maintenance work on the carriage - cleaning, brass polishing, and touching up paint.
Soak wheels of carriage to prevent wood from shrinking and spokes becoming loose.

Carriage Lanterns

                                                                                                                                    Carriage interior, with glass windows.   
 Early forms of transport.

The estate had its own horse drawn fire engine, with working water pump. The unit was used for the local village as well. It was officially retired in 1953.

The grooms and coachman lived in housing above the coach house but ate with the household in the Servant's Hall. The groom had to sometimes act as a footman if the family held a large dinner party.

Census records between 1841 - 1891 show that none of the grooms or coachmen were local Lincolnshire men. They came from neighbouring counties, and as far away as London. This shows that people were prepared to travel for work.

By the 1920s, only one side of the stable block was in use as a stable. With the introduction of the motor car in the early 1900s, the stable block was adapted to house up to six motor vehicles.

Normanby Hall.
North Lincolnshire

Next post will be on the estate's garden.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Wartime Secrets by Mary Nichols

Wartime secrets

Almost everyone in my second world war novel, We’ll Meet Again, has a secret. First and foremost are Lady Prudence Strange and Sheila Phipps, two girls from very different backgrounds who become friends. Their secret is that they work at the Government Code and Cypher School, usually referred to as Bletchley Park. It was here that coded German radio messages were interpreted.

'The enemy uses a very clever machine called an enigma, to encypher their radio messages,’ Prue is told when she first arrives. ‘Our job is to find the key to unscrambling it all. We have a modified Type X machine made to work like an enigma, and other more complicated electro-mechanical machines called bombes, which do the job of checking, but they won't work unless we have a crib to start them off, things like call signs, transmission times, the length of the message and - more often than Herr Hitler would like if he knew about it - the silly mistakes of the German operators.  Without those there are 58 million million million possibilities.
'Our work is further complicated because there is no universal setting, every section of the German army, navy, air force and intelligence services, use different settings and they are changed every twenty-four hours. Then we have to begin all over again.'
'Gosh! What a task.  Can it be done?'
'Oh, yes we are doing it. In this hut we are dealing with German army and air force signals.  Other huts are working on different aspects of decrypting, but you don’t need to know about those. I have only told you this much so that you can understand how vital the work is and how important it is to be accurate and never breathe a word to anyone of what you do. It is painstaking work and needs accuracy, dedication and the utmost secrecy. The enemy must never know how we have obtained our information. In fact, most of our own side don't know either.  When we send on the information we to say it comes from a most reliable source.  Sometimes we make it look as though it is a report from a spy.'

This is the secret the girls have to keep. Others have their secrets, some in the national interests, some private and mysterious, all of which affect their relationships with family and boyfriends, who do not understand the reason for it.

We’ll Meet Again is out in paperback now. ISBN: 9780 7490 17040.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Lizzie of Langley Street & great covers!

Asda is a busy, bustling store and always has an awesome display of books. So it was great to see ‘Lizzie of Langley Street’ on the shelves this month. Lizzie was my first heroine more than a decade ago and Simon & Schuster have brought her back with a new and fabulous cover. ‘Lizzie of Langley Street’ is the first book of my Lizzie Flowers series, with The Fight for Lizzie Flowers following in September. And both covers are super showing period detail that means so much to the reader! The winds of change blow fairly frequently through publishing but it was wonderful to note so many other hard-working historical writers on Asda’s shelves along with their breathtaking covers. Cross-fingers for us all for 2015!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

1932 and the year in which 800m runner Tommy Hampson won one of the four golds for Britain in the Los Angeles Olympics and when, more famously, Aldous Huxley published his controversial novel, Brave New World. His was a repellant vision of the future, that at the time, seemed too far fetched for public consumption. Whoever could have imagined 83 years later, that Huxley’s fictionalized babies fertilised in laboratory bottles, would resemble today’s cloning? Or his sleep-learning to brainwash the young to be obedient citizens, the precursor to George Orwell's spinechiller, Nineteen Eighty Four. Or Huxley's conception of the Talkies to become Feelies, now upon us in our riveting 4D cinemas. And how chilling it is to compare his fictional drug Soma to those used today in our clubbing scene. During this wildly paradoxical decade of the 1930’s, I continue the tale of my Great War cast, the Flowers family, in THE FIGHT FOR LIZZIE FLOWERS, published September. The Flowers, like many others worldwide after the mass slaughter of millions, are trying to balance conscience with survival in a contemporary age. 83 years down the line from Huxley's vision of doom and gloom, we are still trying to improve the world. On the one hand our daily doses of social media and smart phones give us a power that even Huxley could never have conceived possible. On the other, underlying this sophistication and the digital masks we wear, the real problems still exist. How to make money. How to pay bills. How to work faster. How to hold family together. How to live and love and find our individual space. Like us all, Lizzie Flowers is trying - and trying hard to meet the challenge of everyday life. When she thinks she’s a breath away from success, her brave new world starts to tremble, like a distant earthquake. Who of us haven’t felt that same tremor, or waited breathlessly on the brink for the danger to pass? One last word, Lizzie’s journey may be hard, but it’s hopeful too. Huxley may not have agreed with me, but I’m ending this post with an old and rather cliched quote; to every cloud, there is a silver lining. Simple wisdom. But I like it better than doom and gloom any day, don’t you?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pigeon Power by Janet Woods

Pigeon Power

During WW11, pigeon extraordinaire number 139 was based at Madang in New Guinea.
               Along with the rest of his attachment, number 139 served with the Australian Corps of Signals Pigeon Service. Their members were a hush-hush unit with superior navigation skills. They were able to fly at a moment’s notice and at a high altitude.
               Usually, the birds went about their business silently and mostly they remained undetected as they breasted the tough and muddy trails and high mountains of Papua New Guinea. Their main job was to send and receive messages and maps that reported the position and movement of enemy troops. Sometimes the Pigeon Postmen were detected and brought down by enemy fire - sometimes killed. There were those who were intercepted by the enemy and used for counter espionage by sending false messages back.
               One of the drawbacks of being a pigeon: Quite a few would have been posted as lost while serving their country – but alas, some of those would have been dished up as a tasty meal for hungry allied soldiers and enemy soldiers alike! Not many survived to pass on the tale of the cooking pot I would imagine.
               Several thousand homing pigeons served with the British in WW1. Far fewer were needed during WW11 due to the improvements made in radar, radio and telephone communications, approximately a quarter of the amount.
               Still, it was a lot of pigeon power, and it would be fair to say that, generally, the pigeon postmen were a brave and fearless unit that made a significant contribution to winning the war. Reports show that the birds flew with bullets lodged in their bodies and wings, trying to complete the tasks they were trained to do until they could go no further and fell out of the sky. 
               Pigeon 139’s unit was especially suited for marathon flights since Australia and its war zone had wide open spaces of sea and land that need to be covered quickly. They are truly power-packed birds. Pigeons can manage a mile a minute and sustain the pace for hours on end, apparently without any stress. Previous to his award winning dash, pigeon139 had clocked up over a thousand miles during 23 operational flights without fraying a feather.

Pigeon 139 joined the army in 1943. Bred by pigeon expert, Gordon Whittle, he was one of several birds recruited by George Adams from the Yarraville pigeon club and donated to the Australian fighting services, where he shared mobile quarters in an uncomfortable, but portable bamboo cage when he wasn’t as base or on the wing. This was probably carried on a man’s back. It was a far cry from the spacious loft accommodation with views over the rooftops that he’d left behind in Yarraville.

So how did pigeon number 139 win his medal? He was in a boat running much needed stores. The weather in the South Pacific was unpredictable on his tour of duty and there was a heavy tropical storm brewing. The boat’s crew was dismayed when in heavy seas the engine failed and their craft was washed ashore on Wadou beach in the Huon Gulf, leaving them in a vulnerable position.
               Pigeon 39 did his utmost to carry out his duty to the letter. Taking to the air he flew through the storm, travelling the 50 miles back to base in 40 minutes, the mayday message secured in the little canister attached to his leg. It advised the recipient that the boat was carrying ammunition, stores and much needed equipment. The engine had failed in heavy seas and they desperately needed help. The boat and its crew survived to deliver their cargo safely, and it was all due to one little pigeon.
               For his valiant rescue effort in 1943, Pigeon 139 was honoured with the
 * “Dickin” medal. This medal is the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. It was one of two awarded to Australian Pigeons.

I can find only limited information about the second awarded pigeon, Q879. He was bred in Elwood, Victoria by A.J. Flavell and donated for war duty. It appears he was attached to the US forces.

Q879’s brave feat of endurance took place in 1944 and his story was similar to that of 139, I imagine. The award was made for gallantry after the plucky little Aussie bird carried a message through heavy gunfire to fetch help for his beleaguered human compatriots. Surrounded by enemy fire they had no other means of communication to draw on at the time.

Both medals were awarded in 1947 and the heroic birds’ bodies returned to Australia, where they now have a special place of honour in the Australian War Memorial Museum in Canberra.

 *The Dickin Medal is a British award supported by The People’s Dispensary for sick animals. The citation advises that it is awarded to “animals that display conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while serving or associated with a branch of the armed Forces or Civil Defence Units.”

Janet Woods

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Thank you.

On behalf of my fellow authors, I'd just like to say a big thank you to all our readers of this blog. We've received over two and half thousand page views last month alone. We obviously have a faithful band of followers and regular readers of this blog, and although not all our authors are regular contributors, we must be doing something right with what we do post.

So thank you for reading, and hopefully buying our stories. We appreciate it very much.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Inspiration for the book For All Our Tomorrows

Why did the Yanks come? The river valley and creeks of Fowey were well defended, as they provided a relatively secure place to hide munitions which the enemy would more likely expect to find in Plymouth, surely never thinking to look in this secret, wooded hideaway.

 The docks, from where the ammunition was shipped and the china clay dispatched, were guarded around the clock, with nobody allowed in without a pass. There were guards stationed in the Pillbox at Whitehouse, and Albert Quay had tank traps across the centre with barbed wire along the seaward edge, as did many of the beaches. In addition, at St. Catherine’s, closer to the mouth of the river, there was a gun point, and one on the opposite side at Polruan.

The navy came first with their minesweepers and Z boats, armed trawlers and motor gunboats, swiftly followed by the RAF, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, plus many units doing jobs nobody quite understood or dared question. Situated as the town was, relatively close to the Channel Islands and to France, the movement of the French fishing fleet within these waters was common place, and who knew what they were up to half the time? Hush-hush boats, they called them.

All my interviewees remembered the American soldiers with great affection, how they were great at throwing a party for the children, and Santa Claus would arrive in an army truck loaded with sacks full of presents, one for each child. The local girls clamoured to get to know them, as do the two sisters in my story. For fun, they went dancing to the Armoury, up near the doctor’s surgery, or to the flicks, which was near Berrill’s yard. So many lovely memories were told to me.

Sara is asked if she would help organise the school children into collecting bagfuls of seaweed. This was a special commodity which the coastal towns of Cornwall could provide, being a variety known as gonothyraea, used in the making of penicillin. Janet, one of my interviewees remembers doing this as a girl – I think she quite enjoyed the excuse to miss school.

By December Sara has been co-opted onto the War Weapons Week committee where plans are in progress for a major fund-raising event the following year. They also had something called Salute the Soldier Week. In reality the town raised tens of thousands of pounds to buy boats and equipment although they had no real idea what operation was being carried out in Cornwall before their very eyes. They collected vast amounts of salvage, old magazines, letters, books and paper of every sort. Tin and other scrap metal, rags and bones. Jam jars, bottle tops and old iron bedsteads. Apparently the pavements were piled high with the stuff. The council paid 10 shillings a ton to the St John Ambulance for each ton of salvage they received. And all this from a population of no more than 2,000 living in 600 houses.

They put up a sign outside the Council offices as the salvage collected increased: ‘Hitler sank into a barrel.’ Even the children were involved, saving for Tommy Guns. What would our education officials think of that today?

So what was all in aid of? Operation Overlord. This was to be the master plan for an Allied invasion of Europe. Everyone knew that something was going on, but nobody dared speak of what they saw or knew. Edna, another of my interviewees, remembers being brought from her bed as a young girl, and told this was a moment in history that she must see.

‘Ships filled the River Fowey, so many that you could have walked from one shore to the other without getting your feet wet. A living mass of men and machines, seething with activity and noise: a throbbing, whining, whirring and rattling; a clattering of gas masks, canteens and weapons, and the endless chatter of hundreds, packed tightly into every corner, waiting for the order to leave. 

Hour upon hour they waited, cold and damp, sick to their stomachs with apprehension and fear, in full combat gear, weighed down with equipment. 

The loading had been done chiefly at night, scores of vehicles driving straight onto the LSTs; thousands of foot soldiers directed up the gangway and counted on board. 

It was June 4 and they left later that night but by the following day were driven back by the weather to spend yet another night in harbour. After all these months of preparation, all the careful planning and organising, the fate of Operation Overlord appeared to be at the mercy of the elements. There was a storm brewing and if the weather did not improve, there would be further delays. 

Twenty-four hours later the decision finally came. This time for real. On the night of June 5 they left the safe waters of Fowey, Falmouth and the Helford River, and all the other ports along the south coast for the last time and headed out to sea. Operation Overlord was underway at last.’ 

We all know the heavy toll of their victory in reality. What it brings to the lives of my characters I’ll leave you to discover for yourselves.

So many memories, of rationing and making do; colour prejudice, fights and love affairs; Fowey Home Guard who once sank the boat they were towing upstream; French Fishing boats and Secret Operations; the huge camp up at Windmill; the wounded being brought home on soiled and stinking mattresses and nursed back to health in lovely quiet Fowey; school children competing to collect the most salvage and being told off for straying under the coils of barbed wire.

There were tragedies, of course, much pain and suffering, fear and trauma, and no one will ever forget those brave men. But most of all we like to remember the good times, and the spirit that is essentially Fowey.

Buy it now or download a sample - Amazon

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Values of Newsletters, Google+, FB and Twitter

Why the title, "The Values of Newsletters, Google+, FB, Twitter"? Well, because the value is in the connection. Great ways for writers to get to know more about their readers. And even more so now after the publication of my recent first Newsletter - the next will be in summer when my new book Lizzie of Langley Street is published. Social media such as Google+, FB and Twitter, are perfect vehicles for learning more about your lives and what you enjoy reading. These little pearls of information help me to know where you're coming from and how I can improve in delivering my stories to you. Almost everyone has a computer in the house and I'm happy to say that my books are gathering great reviews. Giant online retailers like Amazon invite readers to discover the best Family Saga Fiction in the Best Sellers lists and find the top 100 most popular items. And I've accepted this offer many times and count myself lucky to have my sagas featured. One click for an instant ebook, or just a day or two’s wait for a paperback by post. How I love to receive a paperback in the post wrapped in its trendy parcel! Paperbacks are still hot and my readers tell me that just the smell of the pages transports them into another world. Audio versions of my Best Sellers are available for those who want a laid-back form of reading or enjoy browsing the libraries. So it's a big hurrah for books of all shapes and sizes in 2015 and just as big a cheer to the social media platforms supporting them! I'll be waiting to hear more from you in response to my next Newsletter, complete with a competition, pics, prizes and hot gossip. Meanwhile, if you haven't received my Newsletter already, go to this link, subscribe - and read all about it. With love and very much more to follow! CAROL'S NEWSLETTER

Monday, March 2, 2015

Great Recipes ...

During the wartime era we were slim! Housewives dreamed up recipes from the basics. Austerity recipes? I hear you gasp. Well, yes, but great recipes all the same. 40's recipes avoided the more harmful fat and preservatives we eat today. Here's a pic of a 1944 mutton and mash recipe, ingredients used from the weekly basic allowance for one. I've added celery as a 2015 treat! It would more likely have been carrots, cheaper and easier to source unless you grew your own. (Which everyone was urged to do!) Coupons were a way of life during the 40's and 50's. Rationing didn't completely end until the mid fifties. In those 15 years, we changed our shapes and our stomachs grew accustomed to smaller proportions. We appreciated the coveted treats of tea, coffee, chocolate and tinned fruit - to mention just a few. Enter the 60's and sex, drugs, and rock n' roll kicked off. With affluence, we started to pile on the pounds. (Or ounces as they were in those days.) In came the slimming fads and the dietary meals, the G5 slimming machines and the appetite suppressants. No wonder the previous generation were astonished! They'd only had a world war to contend with to maintain a slim figure! So, if you'd like to know more about all things 40's and 50's, why not try some of my novels as well as the nosh? I love writing about these eras. And I can heartily recommend the corned beef and lentil hotpot illustrated here as I cooked it only yesterday! The ingredients are included in my March newsletter. So if you are keen to know more, please click on this link carol 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Normanby Hall my inspiration

After a three year break from writing new work, I've had thoughts to get back into it. More than thoughts really, as I've gone as far as opening an old, unfinished manuscript and reading it. Naturally, reading led to editing and fiddling with sentences. It's been so long since I started writing this story, I found that the characters jumped from the page, as if to say, hey here I am, you've forgotten me, but once I started reading, I knew I hadn't forgotten them -- life had just sidelined them and my writing ambitions for a while.

So now I thought to make a promise to myself. I'm going to try and finish the story. Write the novel. Not think ahead to the agonies of promoting it. Just write. I'm hoping this will help me to keep opening the manuscript and plugging away at it.

Also, to help this process I've been looking at historical research, since the book I'm writing is set in the Edwardian era, starting at 1912, and research is very important to me.

Harry, the male character, owns an estate, and much of the surrounding village and the local coal mine. For his home I found inspiration from Normanby Hall, a local grand estate near where I work.
Visiting places like this helps the imagination, fills the creative well, so to speak.

I've decided to share the some of my research. Obviously, Harry's home isn't Normanby Hall, but I can create something similar in my story to make it lifelike and more true to the times.

If you wish to learn more about Normanby Hall please visit this link.