Friday, August 11, 2017

Primary Sources

Primary sources, I feel, are a writer's best friend, especially for a historical writer.

   I collected Victorian diaries and journals, written mainly by women who have arrived in Australia after leaving England, but also by women born in colonial Australia. These diaries give me an insight to how they lived and what was happening in the world around them at that time. From their personal entries, we can learn what was important to them, their daily routine, their views and opinions. They can also lift some of those myths we in the modern world tend to think as true.

   Diaries aren't the only primary source available to us. We have so many museums and art galleries. I love studying paintings of the different eras and visiting museums that have wonderful displays of every era.

  We should be visiting our local or state libraries for books, letters, newspapers and articles written in the eras we write. Naturally this is difficult for those writing in the ancient periods, but those of us who write about the last few hundred years have sources available and we need to use them.

   If you are writing about the area where you live, join your local historical society, where as a member, you can study maps, paintings and photos are that district. Also the local councils will have documents and maps going back years.

   It is not always possible to visit your chosen setting, but if you can visit, make sure you don't simply go to the main attractions, like a castle, etc, but find the time to visit the graveyard of the local church, sit in a pew and study the stain glass windows, lay by the river and absorb the surroundings, listen to the birds sing, the insect buzz and imagine what it would be like in your era, the smells, the sounds. Glance up at buildings, many have the dates of construction engraved at the top to give you an idea of how the street would looked. Walk the back streets of the village or town, find the oldest parts and touch the walls of the buildings and think of nothing but how your characters would have lived. Would their footsteps have walked where yours have?

 



The photo is taken from a sketch done of Lower George St, Sydney, Australia 1828. I used this as a guide for where my character, Nicola, goes in my book, Nicola’s Virtue, which is set in Sydney, Australia in the 1860s.

Sketches and paintings like these give us the artist's view of those times and from studying it we can see a little of what life was like then.

I found this photo in a book, but the internet has many websites with great antique photos and paintings, some even for sale.
 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Life in the Victorian Workhouse [Part One]


The Workhouse was built for the poor and needy, and intended to be so harsh and hostile that only the truly destitute would seek refuge there. It was hoped it would solve the problem of poverty as many rich people believed people were poor because they avoided work, but for many, this simply wasn’t the case. For example, a family could be surviving very well until the head of the house died suddenly possibly in a work-related instance such as a pit accident, some other injury or illness. The mother and children might well end up in the workhouse as there were too many mouths to feed and they couldn’t survive off the parish. Once there, the whole family would be kept apart from one another, sorted into the following categories.
  • Men infirm through age or illness
  • Women infirm through age or illness
  • Able-bodied men over 15 years
  • Able-bodied women over 15 years
  • Boys between 7 and 15
  • Girls between 7 and 15
  • Children under the age of 7
The idea behind this was so that people didn’t breed, even the elderly were segregated. Each section had its own exercise yard and there were separate boys and girls schools.
The buildings themselves were stark, foreboding places, undecorated and very much like prisons. High walls encompassed the workhouse cutting inmates off from the outside world.

Workhouses contained dormitories, washrooms, workrooms, a 'refractory ward' which was for solitary confinement, a mortuary, bake-house, receiving wards, dining halls and a chapel. Any sick or old person housed on the upper floors would be become a prisoner in the ward because he or she might not be able to manage the stairs.

Space was to a premium. Too many people were crammed into the smallest space possible: for example, eight beds could be put into a narrow dormitory only sixteen feet long; thirty-two men were put into a dormitory 20 feet long; ten children and their attendants were put into a room 10 feet by 15 feet.

The hospital ward took in all cases, so at any one time there may have been patients suffering from any variety of complaints ranging from dysentery to diphtheria, and let us not forget there were several outbreaks of cholera up and down the land during the Victorian era. But sometimes people were better off in the workhouse if they were ill than if they were outside of it as they may not be able to afford good medical care otherwise.

Furniture was basic: cheap wooden beds, flock-filled palliasses as mattresses, only two or three blankets would be provided and pillows considered a luxury, sheets were not provided. Most inmates shared beds. There were no comfy chairs just wooden benches, tables and stools. Seats were not upholstered. Walls were bare apart from lists of rules and regulations and various Bible passages were displayed.

The day began early at 5.00 am with the tolling of the bell. Prayers and breakfast were between 6.00 am and 7.00 am. The inmates were expected to work between 7.00 am and 6.00 pm but they were allowed an hour’s break for lunch between midday and 1.00 pm.  Prayers were said between 6 and 7.00 pm. Supper took place between 7 and 8.00 pm and then they were expected to go to bed and sleep, when the whole rota began again with the toll of the bell at 5.00 am the following morning.

The sort of work the men were expected to undertake was: bone crushing , stone breaking, oakum picking [which was untying threads from ropes used on ships etc’,] and sometimes working in the corn mill or on vegetable plots at the workhouse.

For women, it often involved domestic duties such as working in the laundry, scrubbing floors, blacking leading fire grates, etc.

On admission, the inmates own clothing was removed and sanitised. They were searched and washed and made to wear a uniform and their hair cropped to prevent infestation of head lice. Women wore a shapeless dress which reached ankle length, long stockings and knee length drawers and a poke bonnet. Men wore striped shirts and ill-fitting trousers that were made shorter by tying pieces of string at the knee, thick vest, woollen drawers and socks and a neckerchief  and, in wintertime, a coarse jacket.

Meals lacked nutrition for the inmates and often the Board of Guardians got to dine like kings and queens whilst the inmates made do with a thin watery gruel for breakfast, and at other times a thin vegetable soup and piece of bread. Sometimes they had meat but it was very sparse.

Children were sometimes educated inside the workhouse where there was a boys’ school and a girls’ school, so in that respect, workhouse children might be better educated than those who received no education at all in the community. When children got older they learned new skills and became apprenticed to learn crafts such as carpentry or midwifery. And some workhouses had industrial schools where children learned such skills.

PART TWO COMING SOON!


Lynette's book, The Workhouse Waif is now available from Amazon 







Sunday, August 6, 2017

Inspiration for Forgotten Women

We first had a village holiday home in Spain but in the late nineties bought an olive grove in a village in the mountains and built a house upon it. Here we enjoy a relaxed and reasonably stress-free lifestyle. We have space to breathe and enjoy the wonderful climate and a lovely outdoor life: walking, swimming, and working on the land. I generally spend an hour or two every afternoon gardening as a short break from writing. We do now spend our summers in the UK but happily spend each winter in Spain.

The subject of the Civil War is still not an issue the Spanish wish to talk about much. The horror stories we’ve heard from our village is that the priest was killed by being dropped down a well. Not a happy thought, but it was not an area that approved of Fascists and never entirely taken over by Franco. I’ve also heard stories about lost children, a dismissive attitude towards women and having lived there so long, I couldn’t resist doing some research on it.

The Spanish are delightfully friendly people, making ex-pats feel very much a part of the community and we love visiting different places in Spain. Ideas came to me when we visited the Salvador Dalí museum in Figueres, the Prado in Madrid, and the museum in Cartagena. La Colina de Arboledas is fictional, but all other places mentioned are real.

I read many books and articles on the Civil War. My favourites being: A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War, and Doves of War, both by Paul Preston. He is very much an expert on the subject. Other books included: Memories of ResistanceWomen’s Voices from the Spanish Civil War by Shirley Mangini; Malaga Burning by Gamel Woolsey; Homage to Caledonia by Daniel Gray; Tales of the Kirkcudbright Artists by Haig Gordon.

But I did not wish this novel to be too depressing, as war undoubtedly is, so chose to add a little mystery and intrigue by adding the story of Libby’s granddaughter and what she discovered. I do think a little light relief in this kind of historical fiction is a good thing. Nor was there a happy ending for the Civil War in Spain and I did want one for this book, plus a little romance.

Thanks also to Maria Dolores Castro, a Spanish friend who checked the Spanish language for me, and to my brother-in-law, Michael, who helped to check the historical facts.

I would also like to thank all my readers who follow me on my newsletter, Facebook: and Twitter: @fredalightfoot If you wish to sign up for my newsletter please visit my website: http://www.fredalightfoot.co.uk 


It is 1936 and Spain is on the brink of civil war. Across Europe, young men are enlisting in the International Brigade to free their Spanish brethren from the grip of Fascism, leaving sisters and lovers at home. But not all women are content to be left behind. In Britain, Charlotte McBain and Libby Forbes, friends from opposite sides of the class divide, are determined to do what they can; in Spain, Rosita García Díaz, fiercely loyal to her family and country, cannot stand by and watch. Three brave women, inspired by patriotism, idealism, love and even revenge, dare to go into battle against tradition and oppression. 

Tying them all together is Jo, Libby’s granddaughter. Five decades later she travels to Spain hoping to make sense of a troubling letter hidden among her grandmother’s possessions. What she learns will change all of their lives forever. Deceit, heartbreak, and a longstanding fear of reprisals must all be overcome if the deeds of the forgotten women are to be properly honoured.


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