Flat bottoms and Yorkshire Cobles

One of my fondest memories of growing up in the coastal town of Redcar was walking along the promenade with my father and seeing the flat-bottomed fishing boats being pulled up onto the beach after they crashed through the breakers on the shore-line.

People went down to meet them on the fine sand of the beach to see what they had to sell of their catch. I would eagerly peer inside. Fresh fish meant just that: mackerel, cod or crab to name but a few, depending on the season.

Sadly, this scene is no longer common. The boats that once lined the promenade are few. All along the bay towns of the northeast coast, the fishing industry has diminished.

In Phoebe’s Challenge, she instantly looks upon the distant boats and the sweeping bay as a scene of beauty when she sees the bay open up before her for the very first time. This story is based on a village I call Ebton, which has striking resemblances to Saltburn.

In my previous blog post on Cobles and Contraband, I talked about the versatility of the cobles (often called cobbles locally) and their use in smuggling at the turn of the nineteenth century. When the sea wall was being built at the end of the eighteenth century many men were housed in the small towns of Coatham and Redcar. They supplemented their income, like the local people, by working in gangs to bring contraband ashore from the colliers and luggers that would hover illegally off the coast. They would then distribute it before the beleaguered customs service could catch them. They would have been vastly outnumbered anyway.

One historic boat, which does still have pride of place in its own museum, is the Zetland Lifeboat.

In October 1802 this oldest surviving lifeboat in the world arrived at the small coastal town of Redcar in North Yorkshire. In its time it has been used to save over 500 lives and the service that began with it has continued to work in the exceptionally dangerous conditions of rescues in the North Sea. Grace Darling was an exceptionally brave lady who risked her own life to save others. The RNLI continues to save lives. These days their boats do not need pulling down to the edge of the water, but they face the same dangerous, treacherous seas as their forefathers.

Roses are Dead: Burglary and Intent

Occasionally I drift away from my love of history for a change of pace and venture into a contemporary world of suspense, love and adventure. This usually happens when something in reality has struck a nerve, such as when a friend’s home was burgled.

Jen’s world is turned upside down when she should be at a happy beginning in her life. She is hounded by a string of unnerving events and then someone breaks into her home; her new sanctuary.

We read about burglaries all the time. However, they are not only a violation of a person’s belongings and space, but also their peace of mind. How quickly a person bounces back from such an experience will depend upon the individual and the extent of the theft and damage.

Doubts can linger regarding the motivation behind the crime – Was it a random event? Was I targeted? Did they know my work pattern so that I would not be there? Do they know me?

In fiction we can play with these questions, keeping the answers and consequences within our control. However, in reality, overcoming such a personal violation can take a lot of time. Authors often focus on the crime and catching the criminals, but I respect that for the victim this is only part of the process of healing and restoring that inner peace.

If you want to read Jen’s story, Roses are Dead is available from Amazon and Smashwords.

Yorkshire Parkin


My earliest memories from my young life in the small coastal town in North Yorkshire include running into my Aunty Mary’s house and smelling the fresh baking coming from her kitchen. She was a lovely lady who would bake a cake for anyone in need, simply as a gift to share, or to have something in to offer a visitor with a cup of tea.

She was not wealthy, her home was ordinary, but the feel of homeliness within it was something money cannot buy. Among her many recipes was my favourite chocolate cake with lovely icing that seemed to dissolve on your tongue as the cake melted away. The next memorable taste sensation, which I always associated with November, was her sumptuous ginger cake – Parkin.

This warming winter treat was rich in spices, sugar, ginger, oats and treacle. It was not for a calorie controlled diet, but for a comfort food that when warmed would leave you full for hours.

In my stories, cooks occasionally share their treats with the young miss of the households – like Hannah and Abigail. Parkin is often linked to Guy Fawkes night and bonfires, but to me it is a trip into nostalgia and many lovely visits to a lady who taught me the meaning of giving and a loving home.

Here is a simple recipe to follow from the BBC Good Food website.

York

I am so lucky that in the course of doing my research for my own titles I have been able to visit some fascinating historic places. York is the one that encapsulates time as now other. If you were a Roman, it was known as Eboracum. If you had lived there through the Saxon era, then it would have been called Eoforwick. Perhaps it is better known historically as Jorvik because of the state of the art Jorvik museum which brings Viking York back to life.

Walking through the city’s narrow lanes is like seeing all eras of time side-by-side. Medieval wooden structures stand next to Georgian houses and over them all are the famous towers of a grand cathedral known as The Minster.

There are far too many aspects of this fantastic place to mention in one post so I am sharing some photos of the city with you that I discovered when researching locations for Abigail Moor.

Congratulations to Cindy!

I was delighted to read today that Cindy Kirk has just become the President of Romance Writers’ of America, which has a membership of over ten thousand.

The RWA represents romance writers in the same capacity as the Romantic Novelists’ Association does in England and the Romance Writers’ of Australia.

These wonderful organisations are focused on advancing the professional interests of career-focused romance writers. They offer a network which is helpful and informative to their members as well as holding events, conferences and high profile competitions such as The RITA, RoNA and ARRA awards. Two of my own titles: Hannah of Harpham Hall and Moving On were short-listed for the now named RONA Rose award. I have been a member of the RNA for many years and find their willingness to guide new writers inspiring.

You can read more about Cindy in my interview with her earlier this year. I hope she has a really marvellous time promoting the organisation she so obviously loves.

An Interview with Liesel Schwarz

LieselI am delighted to welcome Liesel Schwarz, Queen of Gothic Steampunk to my blog this month. I first came across Liesel’s work when I read her debut novel ‘A Conspiracy of Alchemists’, which is an action packed adventure described as “Combining the best elements of Gothic fiction with contemporary Steampunk”. It was chosen by Random House to launch their SFF imprint (Science Fiction and Fantasy) Del Rey in the UK.

Welcome, Liesel, and thank you for taking the time out to answer my questions.

To me the combination of history, invention, science, fantasy, romance and thrilling adventure is a magical blend – literally too, as it reveals a deadly game between Alchemists and Warlocks as the creatures of light and dark walk among us.

Hi. Thank you for inviting me!

How do you describe Gothic Steampunk?

That’s a question that requires a rather long and convoluted answer. I think steampunk, in broad terms, is the fascination with Victorian optimism. It concerns itself with technology and progress. The Victorians had this obsession with making the world a better place, by “civilising” it. We know today that much of what they did was deeply misguided, but I think their hearts were in the right place. Steampunk takes its cue from those intentions. Gothic romanticism is more about Victorian disillusionment. It is the 19th century’s nostalgia for the romantic ideals that originated in the Dark Ages. I’ve always been a fan of the 19th century Gothic literature and I love steampunk and so I thought it would be cool to create a world that was bright and technologically progressive on the one side while dark and organic on the other. Two sides of the same coin, but in direct opposition with the other. This is how Elle’s world came into being and so I suppose in a way this is why they described the books as Gothic Steampunk.

That’s a great description which captures the complex essence of the genre. When I read your first novel what struck me most was the energy and enthusiasm that came through the words on the page. Have you always been a natural story-teller?

I’m not so sure about the story telling part, but I do know that I have however always been a natural story maker-upper. Telling the stories you create in your head is, I think a natural progression in this case.

Where did your writing journey begin?

When I could hold a crayon. It took a few detours, and I decided to start writing more seriously after I left university but I think writers tend to be born that way. It is again a natural consequence of story maker-uppers.

How long did it take you to become a published author?

A few weeks! No, I’m serious. I was incredibly lucky. I met my agent, he sent my book out to market and I literally had a book deal a few weeks later. Before I met my agent, I did however spend years and years honing my craft. This involved writing stories, polishing them, having them rejected and then starting all over again. I also studied the craft of writing quite intensely. I have an MA in Creative Writing and I am also busy with my PhD on the subject.

Will you ever forget the moment when you were told yours would be the debut novel of Del Rey?

I think I was more excited by the mere fact that my book was going to be published, to be honest. The fact that it would be the debut for a new imprint only really registered with me a bit later. It’s great when you have a good relationship with your editor and publishers and again, I am extremely lucky in this respect.

There are many aspects to your novels. The research of actual inventions must be meticulous – but you have also blended in your own to make the fiction appear real and the impossible plausible. Have you always been drawn to this age of invention?

Yes. I think it started when I was very young. I remember watching films like Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and I found the sheer eccentricity of it all irresistible. This fascination grew as I started reading and it’s been with me ever since.

Do you have great fun spending many hours inventing your own machines on the page?

Actually, many of the machines I use in the books were actual patents filed in the British Library. I think the Victorians were far better at inventing fantastical machines than I could ever be. I think the reason for this is because there was an element of naivety about their inventions. Today, with all the marvels we have at our fingertips, we are a little jaded. Although, I suppose that in a hundred years from now, people will look at us and think, “Oh, how quaint!”

Elle Chance and Mr Marsh are strong characters who continue to develop. Do you have plans for the series to continue over many novels?

I think all characters must develop within a narrative. You can’t really have a story without that and so yes, I have further plans for Elle and Marsh. There will be a book 4 and a book 5 in the future.

Do you constantly jot down ideas for the next book as you work?

I must admit that I am quite bad at jotting things down. Or, I tend to jot things down and then forget about them. Ideas that are live and have potential tend to stick in my mind. They niggle away at me until I write them into a story. I do however carry a notebook with me at all times. I sometimes jot down bits of conversation I’ve overheard when I’m sitting in a coffee shop.

Elle travels widely – how do you research the many locations that your novels cover?

I like to travel and so the settings I use tend to be places I’ve visited. You have to place settings into historical context though and so I do a lot of research as well. I am particularly fond of old city maps. For example – the Cafe d’Enfer in Paris which appears in Sky Pirates really existed in the early 1900s. Today, it is a 1-Euro store (Pound/dollar store) but the doorway still exists. I find that fascinating.

What is next for Liesel?

Well, I have two short stories which will be appearing in anthologies next year and I am currently working on a standalone novel before continuing with the Chronicles of Light and Shadow – so keep watching this space.

More from Liesel

The Laundry Maid’s Lye

I have just revisited the beautiful Georgian house and grounds of Beningbrough Hall, north of the ancient city of York. It was as I walked around the laundry in the grounds of the house, crossing through the archway of the bell-tower, that I created the heroine Miss Chloe Branton and Mr Tobias Poole.

The life of a laundry maid was hard. In the days before running hot and cold water, it had to be either hauled from a well or stream or pumped up from an underground source. Once they had the water they then had to heat it and use substances such as lye soap to soak, wash or scrub the garments, which was hard on the hands. Even the garments were more difficult to maintain as before modern textiles, dyes and methods of controlled cleaning the garments may have to be unpicked to separate delicate lace, from wool or silk and each section cleaned or washed separately. Materials were not colorfast and were often heavy. A careless laundry maid could cause shrinkage, pilling and ruin a garment and easily lose her already lowly position.

It was a hard life, but it was also an excellent place for someone to be hidden away for a short time. Chloe was unused to hard work, in a building with a cold stone-flagged floor, lifting heavy loads. She needed help and a good friend to survive.