character sketch: Ella Fortune

“Ella and I met in France. She was driving an ambulance and I was stringing for the Picture Post. We decided that after the war we’d strike out on our own. I was fed up with the censorship and she’s always been a bit wild as far as I can make out. She’s the Duke of Walton’s eldest daughter, always had her head. Oxford, Bloomsbury and all that.” He coughed again. “Don’t think Walton knew what to do with her. She married Fortune without her father’s consent a couple of years before the war. He went West pretty early on, Mons I think. She’s a good lass. Flying from Cairo to Cape Town at the moment. Trying to set a record.” Another harrumph. “Supposed to be sending me back pictures.”

Callum McGovern, speaking to Alec Carter in Lost in Time

Ella Fortune is a shadowy minor character in both Lost in Time and Shadows on the Border. She’s the co-proprieter of the Pictorial Examiner, the paper where Lew Tyler works.

When I started writing Lost in Time, I thought Ella was going to have a larger role than she does. However, after helping pull Lew out of the Thames and setting him up with a flat and a job at the paper, she went off in her aeroplane to fly down the spine of Africa. I think she’s actually now going to have her own adventure.

She’s a thoroughly emancipated woman with a background in the Suffrage movement who drove an ambulance for the Red Cross in France during the First World War. She’s lucky enough to both have money and be an ‘Honourable’… the daughter of a Peer. So she can pretty much do as she likes, particularly because she’s a widow. I’m not sure yet whether her marriage to Oliver Fortune in 1912 was a marriage of convenience or whether they were truly attached to each other. She’s in her thirties and has no children by design.

She flies an Avro 504k (as a lot of people did after World War 1- more than eight thousand of them were built during the war), but her long distance flying takes place in a Vickers Vimy, which has been specially modified to take bigger fuel tanks. She’s her own mechanic and navigator but she does sometimes fly with a co-pilot.

I’m not sure what sort of adventures she’s going to have yet, but watch this space!

all about content warnings

As you may have noticed, I’m trying to be a bit more of a community animal recently. That has included blogging more frequently, more interacting, generally spending a bit more time interacting with both readers and writers. I’m enjoying it- I thought it might be awful, I’m a real recluse, generally speaking- but because it’s mostly online, if I get too overwhelmed I can run away and put a paper bag on my head and take deep breaths for a while if necessary.

Anyway. One of the things I’ve forced myself to do is to set up a Bookfunnel Promo. This is where a load of authors get together on Bookfunnel, sling a free e-book/story in to the pot and then when the time comes, promo the heck out of the thing as a whole, so all the participants get the benefit of each other’s followers. It’s worked very well for me before, but there aren’t that many for LGBTQ books and I thought… well, in that case, I’ll do my own. It’ll be open for readers to download free stories in September, although that’s not the point of this post.

The point is that I have only relatively realized that it would be helpful for readers to have content warnings for potentially triggering things in the blurb for each book. And then I went looking for an article about common trigger warnings and couldn’t really find anything both comprehensive and comprehensible for authors new to the concept to send out for my promo participants, because my Google Chi seemed to have collapsed that day.

Eventually though, I found this article from the University of Michigan, which although it’s about content warnings in academic teaching, is very clear, sensible and easily applicable to fiction and sent it out to participants. I’ve copied their list of common content warnings to the bottom of this post.

Then Missy Welsh took the time to email me with this useful blog post by Jami Gold, Content Warnings: How and What to Include?  which is extremely on point and also links to a post by Suzanne at Love in Panels: Content Warnings, What and Why Are They? Suzanne points us to a crowd-sourced list of content warnings on a google-sheet. So it turns out that there is a load of stuff out there, it’s just I was rubbish at finding it. Thank you to all of them for writing such clear and accessible pieces.

I think it’s important to emphasize that it’s impossible to content warn for every reader’s triggers. It’s just not possible. Everything is a trigger for someone. However, that doesn’t mean that as writers we shouldn’t do our best to help readers navigate to stories that are right for them. Authors arguing that we don’t have that responsibility and setting up the ‘everything is a trigger for someone so why bother at all‘ defense as their straw man are being spurious.

As a writer, I don’t want to drive a reader in to the sort of fugue I sometimes end up in when I read about sexual violence or miscarriage. I don’t understand why authors wouldn’t want to help their readers avoid that. It’s just being a good human, isn’t it?

Having said that, some of my blurbs are not yet updated with appropriate CWs. But I’m getting there.

Next week: August’s reading roundup


Common content warnings

    • Sexual Assault
    • Abuse
    • Child abuse/pedophilia/incest
    • Animal cruelty or animal death
    • Self-harm and suicide
    • Eating disorders, body hatred, and fat phobia
    • Violence
    • Pornographic content
    • Kidnapping and abduction
    • Death or dying
    • Pregnancy/Childbirth
    • Miscarriages/Abortion
    • Blood
    • Mental illness and ableism
    • Racism and racial slurs
    • Sexism and misogyny
    • Classism
    • Hateful language directed at religious groups (e.g., Islamophobia, antisemitism)
    • Transphobia and trans misogyny
    • Homophobia and heterosexism

research rabbit hole: historical lamps

As you know, I self-id as a complete and utter history nerd and I regularly get sucked down research rabbit holes. I find that I get stuck on how something would work so fixedly that I can’t move on with the story until I’ve worked it out in my own head. A lot of this doesn’t make it in to the book, because it’s simply not necessary for the plot for everyone else to know how corn was harvested in 1920, or what precise underwear working women wore in the mid-eighteenth century, or, in this particular case, what lanterns someone would have used to explore a cave system in the Himalayas in 1780.

This stuffed me for lighting solutions, because advances in oil lamp technology didn’t actually happen until 1780, with the invention of the Argand Lamp by, wait for it, Aime Argand.

Jones and Edith were therefore left with either a candle lantern or a more primitive oil lantern for their explorations. I have allowed them a few candles brought with them from home. But the lighting in the region was primarily from oil lamps, usually using clarified butter or vegetable oil. So I thought that Jones, being very well prepared, would probably have an oil lantern and a candle in her pocket for emergencies. Oil lanterns can have more than one wick for additional light – this YouTube video is a really worthwhile watch.

After watching that, I made myself a little lamp with olive oil and a bit of cotton string supported out of it with some wire, in a glass jar. It gave enough light to hang out and chat, but not really enough to read by unless you were right next to it. I guess more wicks in the jar would make a difference.

My next project is to take the cream off our fortnightly milk delivery, make butter, clarify the butter and see how I get on with that.

One thing that shouldn’t be underestimated is the very real risk of fire with all of these open light sources. There’s a reason that there were stiff penalties for having an open flame below decks on a ship. Horn lanterns, with scraped thin panels of animal horn to protect the flame, served a double purpose – to protect the flame from being blow out, but to also slow down fire if the lamp was dropped or toppled over.

Don’t try this at home without something close by to extinguish flames if something goes wrong!

 

excerpt: the flowers of time

As promised, this week I have an excerpt from The Flowers of Time for you. Set in the 1780s, in England and Northern India, the main characters are Jones, a non-binary archaeologist who has lived in the mountains for most of her life, and Edith, who is a botanical illustrator.


If Pater hadn’t made Jones promises to leave straight after the funeral, she wouldn’t have gone at all.

“You promise?” he’d asked, again and again as his strength waned in the flicker of the butter-lamps. “You promise you’ll go, Frank? You need to get away. Take the green-bound book and go.”

“Yes, Pater,” she had reiterated again and again. “I promise. I’ll go. I’ll go straight down to Bombay, to John and Richard. And I’ll take ship as soon as I can. You’ve already written to Aunt Caroline, I sent the letter myself. I’m ready.”

She had been sniveling to herself as she spoke, hoping he wouldn’t notice how distressed she was in the dim light. She didn’t want to be having this conversation at all. He looked yellow-faced and sunken-cheeked even in the daylight and in the flickering light of the dim lamps at night it was worse. He was already corpse-like.

He moved a thin, clawed hand to cover hers. “My dear, I love you so much. I have perhaps done you a disservice by not sending you home to Caro before now, when you were younger.”

“I didn’t want to go,” she said, roughly. “It’s all right, Pater. I’m all right. I’ll go, as soon as is possible.”

“I should never have kept you out here, once I realized that the book has some truth behind it,” he said. He had been rambling a little about his books in the last week or so, as he had become weaker. “You must take it back with you. And put it in the library at Stamford Hall. That’s where it came from. Put it in the library, up high, on one of the top shelves to the left of the arched window. Use the ladders. And then it will be safe.” He drew a rattling breath. “Promise me, Frank.”

She turned her hand over beneath the fragile skin of his own on the counterpane and clasped it carefully. “I promise, Pater.”

“And don’t do what I did,” he added in a harsh whisper. “Don’t search for the source. All these years,” he said, “All these years I have been following the trail, looking for the source. And now, here we are. And it’s not a source for good, my child. It’s not a source for good at all.” He was lapsing in to rambling again. “I want you away, Frank. I want you and the book safe.” Finally he slipped in to the restless sleep that was consuming more and more of his time. She bent her head over his hand as she clutched it. He was the only family she had ever known and she was terrified to lose him.

“It won’t be long now.” The soft voice of one of the older monastery healers came from behind her in the slow Bhoti they used with her. “But you know that.”

She turned slowly on her stool, not letting go of her father’s hand, and nodded. “Yes. I know. Thank you, Jamyang. I do appreciate everything you are doing for us.” Kalsang was behind him, she noticed, his apprentice and shadow. “Thank you for helping him wash earlier, Kalsang.”

“You are most welcome, Jones.” Kalsang nodded with all the formality a teenager could muster.

“He wants me to go home. To England. To my aunt.” She swallowed and looked up. “It’s all arranged. He’s written. Sonam will take me down to Bombay.” She heard Kalsang’s indrawn breath of shock. Bombay was months of travel away. She had only been once herself, about fifteen years ago, when Pater had made the trip to take some artifacts down to send home.

“Will you come back?” Jamyang’s voice was unchanged, still calm and unshocked.

She met his gaze. “Yes. Yes. He wants me to stay in England a year. So I can learn where I come from.” She disengaged her hand gently, not waking her father, and stood. “He’s right, in a way. I should know. But my home is here. And my work is here. His work. It’s so important the people at home in England learn about the wonderful things here in the mountains. There are buildings and people here that people in England never even imagine. Things so old, so precious! I want to keep documenting it all, keep exploring.”

Jamyang watched her, with a small smile and then patted her arm. “You are a good person, Jones,” he said. “You are your father’s child. Franklin has been my friend for decades now, since you first came here when you were a tiny child after your mother died.” He stepped forward and took her hand. “We will welcome you back when you come, child. You will always have a home here with us. But do as your father wishes, now. Take the book he speaks of back to England. And leave it there. He has protected you from it for this long. Now, your protection must rest on your own shoulders.”




 

 


Next week, my monthly ‘what I’ve been reading in July’ roundup!

character sketch: Alec Carter

Alistair Carter, one of the two main protagonists from Lost in Time and Shadows on the Border, is a Detective Inspector with the Metropolitan Police. I imagine him as looking quite like the chap on the left on the cover of Shadows, although with a raincoat and a Homberg hat.

He’s in his mid-thirties at the start of Lost in Time in 1919, which means he was born in the late 1880s, to quite a well off middle class family who were pretty upset when he joined the police instead of becoming a solicitor or another professional. He was in the Military Police in the war and served on the Western Front. Afterwards, he came back and took up his old job with the department and works out of the Poplar area of London, at Wapping Police Station, on the Thames. He was promoted to Detective Inspector when he came back from the army and is quiet and insightful and good at working out what people mean from what they don’t say.

His brief, abortive marriage to Kitty has left him with a big empty house next to Hamstead Heath and a lot of guilt. He married a woman because it was expected of him and he could have made it work if they’d become friends, but she was really only interested in being a trophy wife and by the time she died, although he was devastated, there was also an element of relief because he was so unhappy.

He’s cross most of the time for reasons he can’t really put his finger on. Unsettled in his skin. And that only gets worse when he meets Lew Tyler during the course of a murder investigation. He isn’t unused to finding men attractive and has had liaisons before and one particular person he was very drawn to, but no-one as strongly as Lew.

Alec is probably my favorite character from the two books. He’s grumpy and defensive and not at all in touch with his emotions. It makes him really interesting to write.