MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

Saturday 31 March 2012

(A bit of Trumpet Tootling) Free on Kindle this weekend

A bit of Trumpet Tootling self promotion: 
Discovering the Diamond
tips for new writers by (blush) me. 

As a published author of almost eighteen years, and the Historical Novel Society UK Editor for reviewing self-published historical fiction, I enjoy helping other, new, writers achieve their dream of writing a book.

Finding that I was repeatedly being asked for – and providing - the same advice, I decided to put together a few ‘guidelines’ into one, easy to access package.
With the aid of my UK freelance editor, Jo Field, who added good advice about the essential process of editing, the initial few pages soon expanded.

Demand for Discovering the Diamond proved popular, so I asked Cathy Helms of  Avalon Graphics to design a cover, and Helen Hart of Silverwood Books to publish it on Kindle in the UK and US.

Eager writers will find some useful tips and suggestions, and a few do’s and don’ts regarding the writing and production of a novel - with the ultimate aim of producing a polished diamond of a read.

Not got a Kindle? Try the Kindle for PC  instead!

Friday 30 March 2012

Latest News:

Congratulations to Cathy Harmon Helms of Avalon Graphics for being offered a freelance contract as cover designer by International Publisher Sourcebooks.Inc

Cathy has produced some fabulous covers for my UK books - and designs my booktrailers and website home page (and the website itself)

I wish her the very best for her new venture.

Well deserved!

Yo Ho from me and the Pirate!

Thursday 29 March 2012

Putting your foot in it ~ Thursday Thoughts

You know that feeling when you suddenly realise you've put your foot in it?
We all do it, we mean to be helpful, supportive, or just plain offer what seem good ideas - and end up realising that your number 9 boot has squidged in a cow-pat again.
My problem is, I get carried away. Something interests me, I offer to help - and the help escalates to making suggestions (meant to be helpful, and my own view of things) but the person I'm suggesting things to takes my contribution as being bossy, flatly disagrees with what I've said, indicates that I don't know what I'm talking about, and I realise I would have been better off keeping my mouth shut. Result, shattered confidence, a few tears and a feeling of being an unwanted twit.

Now, is this a phenomenon of e-mail I wonder?
I never had this problem when Chair of the local dyslexia association, or sorting out problems for people who wanted sorting out. So is it because tone, facial expression - and general good intent - is not conveyed as it should be via the 'net?

I like helping, I like being involved. I don't much like being thought of as bossy.
Where does bossiness start and just trying to offer friendly help end? Fine line between the two maybe?
Thing is, more often than not my viewpoint turns out to be right. Which is why I suggested the suggestion in the first place. And I wish people wouldn't ask for advice if they didn't actually want it!

Oh well, think I'll just go shut myself in my office and mind my own for a bit.
(hangs sign on door - "feeling sorry for myself. Come back tomorrow")

Tuesday 27 March 2012

That Sparrow Feller ~ Tuesday Talk

I wrote Sea Witch, my pirate-based historical adventure with a touch of fantasy because I 'met' Jack Sparrow. Met him, liked him – but something was missing.
I wanted more. 
Much more.
I wanted the whole story of a charming rogue of a pirate, all the nitty-gritty detail of the whens, hows and whys of his life, but not the sugar-coated Disney version so I looked for, and found (on a beach in Dorset, England) my own pirate. Jesamiah Acorne 

Many of us were hooked in that first sequence in the Pirates of the Caribbean – the Curse of the Black Pearl – where Jack Sparrow came into shot. 
A man, a pirate, standing tall and proud at the masthead. 

Head back, wind blowing in his black hair and faded red bandanna. The background music.... stirring stuff. And that face. Oh that face! (Actor Johnny Depp at his best).
Then the pirate looked down – and we realise he is actually in a tatty little boat that is rapidly sinking…
I had not seen the movie in the cinema, I had assumed it was a children’s movie – or so the media and Disney had advertised, and as it was made, in fact – a children’s movie to entice families to visit the pirate ride at Disney.

But the Media – and Disney – had completely underestimated the Johnny Depp effect.
I watched the movie about ten months after the initial release on DVD at home one day when I wasn’t feeling too great.

The initial opening sequence was interesting, but I could as easily leave it as take it…. Then Depp/Sparrow appeared…. And I watched the entire movie through twice (on that day, no idea how many more times I’ve seen it since!)

What attracted me to Jack Sparrow (sorry, Captain, Jack Sparrow) in the first place was that he seemed a complex character with one face to the public (that of a useless, drunken buffoon) but underneath he was shrewd and knew exactly what he was doing. Yes he messed up and got himself into situations - got arrested, got put in gaol etc.,  but he was clever and capable; he could always get himself out of predicaments by keeping his wits about him. By playing the fool/the drunk other people dismissed him, which always gave him an edge, and therefore, his chance. He knew that one day the inevitable would happen and he would not be able to escape, but death is a fact, the only certainty in life. 

Although not shown in POC #1 (because of censorship, it being a family movie etc) it was obvious he also had a ruthless streak - if he had to kill he would (had this been an adult movie this side of his character would have been shown I think). He also used women as and when he wanted, he had a sexual encounter past, but his number one interest was…. Jack Sparrow.

The following two movies, #2 Dead Man’s Chest and #3 At World’s End  in my opinion, ruined the character, especially #3 (which I dislike and don't bother re-watching.) For one thing the non-existent plot was like the script had been written as they went along (which it had), there is no co-ordination and no continuity – Will Turner having his heart cut out is an utter load of nonsense because nothing fits or makes sense with the first two movies, and Jack's character now, is just a drunken buffoon, down to he doesn't even know how to navigate the ship. Aw, come on! He's supposedly been a pirate captain for ten years! 

The underlying competent, interesting, basically intelligent character is no longer there, he's just an idiot, which completely destroyed the character’s believable - and endearing - credibility.

The real Johnny Depp
 my own photo taken at the prem of
Dead Man's Chest, London
Movie #4 On Stranger Tides was a little better, although it was ruined for me by that wretched invention of 3-D.
Did you know that a high percentage of people cannot view 3-D if they have eye problems? Or that 3-D is disastrous for children with sight difficulties? The whole movie, to me, was a blur because of my vision problems. Half way through I gave up, closed my eyes and just listened. I have yet to see the movie in DVD, I can’t gather the courage to watch it because I so don’t want to be disappointed – and from the little I saw, I will be.

Sparrow is still the buffoon in unbelievable situations that are not anywhere near made believable by a good plot and good script. The only good thing about the movie is the superb Ian McShane as Blackbeard and a glimpse of my all-time favourite Tall Ship the Rose aka Surprise aka Barbosa's ship (which gets wrecked) - and is the ship I base Sea Witch on.

compilation and all graphics by
Ian McShane (known to me as that charmer of an antiques dealer rogue, Lovejoy, ) was good as Blackbeard. I am interested in the real Blackbeard – awful man – because he is guest character in my third Sea Witch Voyage, Bring It Close. My portrayal of the dreadful man is somewhat closer to the truth, however.

Not that accuracy matters in these sort of movie; they are meant to be entertainment not docu-drama, but it was the undercurrents of reality that made POC #1 so enjoyable. Throughout, despite the deep fantasy elements of living skeletons and such, the whole thing had a ring of truth, which is the basic craft of the storyteller: to make the unbelievable, believable.

In my Sea Witch Voyages I wanted three levels of story: historical accuracy, nautical accuracy and plausible fantasy. I wanted a character who was immediately recognisable as a likable, yet formidable, character – tall, dark, handsome and rugged. Quick to laugh but dangerous when angry. Watch his back and he’ll do anything for you – cross him, and you’re dead.

 Some of the historical facts in my adventure stories are slightly manipulated - Governor Woodes Rogers had actually left Cape Town in South Africa by the time Jesamiah Acorne got there - but by only a few months. The ship herself, Sea Witch, would not have been built until about 30 years later, as the vessel she is based on was designed circa 1750, but I mention these anomalies in my author's note. 
Take Blackbeard for instance, I have used what we know about him and slotted Jesamiah into those facts. Blackbeard was at Bath Town, North Carolina, then he moved to the Ocracoke where he was ambushed and killed by Lt Maynard..... what the history books don't tell you is that there was another pirate there, Cpt Jesamiah Acorne who specifically said he didn't want his name mentioned in any log books or dispatches. 

So you won’t find his name written anywhere. 
Neat eh?

the loves of Jesamiah's life:
his ship, Sea Witch,
and Tiola Oldstagh, a white witch
For the fantasy and romance element, Tiola (pronounced Tee-o-la) is the female lead character. She is a white witch; she can harness the energies of the Universe and talk to Jesamiah telepathically. She does not do magic as in Harry Potter and she has limitations. Yes, she can conjure up a wind, but she can't click her fingers and make a magic broomstick appear.
She loves Jesamiah deeply, although she sometimes feels like cutting his throat, especially when he has one eye on other women… ah, but the course of true love never did sail smooth before a gentle breeze. 
Rough storms at sea are more fun to write.

So yes, I based my initial idea for Captain Jesamiah Acorne on Jack Sparrow - not the buffoon, not the drunken incompetent, but the complex character who has baggage in the hold, problems to solve and sort, escapades to get involved in – and get out of – and a woman he loves, to tie him down. 
But not too tightly….

Helen Hollick's novels 
On an Amazon page near you :-)

graphics designed by Avalon Graphics
published by SilverWood Books UK

Thursday 22 March 2012

Thursday Thoughts - The horror of being without the Internet

It seems a recent trend here in the UK (well England at least) is to steal copper cables. These cables are things such as essential wiring on railway lines to signals and points - and also going "walkabout" is telephone wiring.

Homes in part of Suffolk have been left without telephone connection after thieves stole 1,300m of cable.

At least 300 homes have been cut off in the Eyke exchange area after three large cables were cut on Friday morning. Engineers are still trying to discover the extent of the damage to existing cables, which has been described as "severe".
A spokeswoman for BT said it could take days before the lines are reconnected. "Due to the scale of the damage and the ongoing assessment, it's not possible to say at the current time when the repairs will be completed," she said.
Some of the stolen cable was left by the roadside and has been recovered along with some of the damaged cable underground. Engineers must now feed new stretches of cable through underground pipes before they can start connecting each line to individual households and businesses.  original article:

or this one:

HUNDREDS of baffled villagers in Elton found themselves without landlines or internet for more than a week after thieves stole underground cable.
The theft caused havoc for residents and businesses – including the village post office and Spar branch – with telephones, card payment machines and ATMs out of order. article link

The problem is serious enough for it to have even been a feature of our famous long-running Radio Drama Series The Archers

telephone-less Borsetshire
Now don't ask me exactly how thieves steal large sections of underground copper wiring, I don't know the logistics, and frankly, I don't really care .... the point is some Tea Leaf stole the cable wiring for the telephones in my local area.
Which meant no telephone... and even more annoying no internet.
And that was the problem - no Facebook. No Twitter for ten whole days. No e-mails, no Googling, no COMMUNICATION...

It was annoying, frustrating, inconvenient, irritating - but most of all, it was unsettling.
The fact that I was cut off from the many lovely people (I go so far as to say friends) I "chat" to on the 'Net was devastating.
No, it wasn't a case of realising the addiction I have to Twitter, or the obsession with Facebook - the deep dark hole of not being able to log on / log in.

It was the utter devastation of not having anyone to cyber talk to. That feeling of being completely alone, isolated and cut off.
So I would like to say how much I value all of you who are bothering to read this.
There again, maybe I'm deluding myself.
Not many people seemed to notice that I was missing for those ten days....
(wanders off, scuffing feet. Checks e-mail: no new messages.... checks phone.... phew, we have a dial tone... checks BT HomeHub... yep, little green connection lights are flashing away...)
picks phone up again, whispers.... "Hello? Is there anyone there?"

Me paranoid?


(whatever did we do before we had the Internet?)

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Tuesday Talk - Rosemary Sutcliff

I first encountered Rosemary Sutcliff at school when I was about 14.
Our English mistress, Mrs Llewellyn, was a real dragon. We were, on the whole, terrified of her. It must have been towards the end of term, I assume she had covered the Curriculum (such as it was back in 1966/7) for we trooped into class and she announced, “Settle down, I am going to read you a story for the next few lessons.”

From that day my opinion of  ‘Lulu ‘ altered. She had already sparked my desire to write when I’d received back a homework assignment with the gut-wrenching words See Me After Class scrawled in red ink. I duly, timidly, approached her desk when the other girls had gone, assuming I was in for a roasting (although for the life of me I could not see what was so awful about my work.) “Now then Helen,” she said, “this is good, but it could be better.”

She then proceeded to show me how, by altering a sentence around, adding words, taking a few out, my story could be improved. She showed me how to write, she  must have seen some glimmer of early talent in me I suppose. I remain grateful to her to this day.

Sitting there, listening enraptured to that story (The Queen Elizabeth Story) my delight was complete. Until then I had basically only read pony stories (I so wanted a pony of my own) but Rosemary Sutcliff transported me into another world of the enchanted past. I had no idea a novel without a single equine in it could be so utterly engrossing.

I would like to say I was immediately hooked into reading nothing else, but exams and studying – and the usual distraction of a growing teenager got in the way, so it was a few years later that I re-discovered Rosemary’s books.
By then I was working as an assistant at the local library, having left school at 16. I was still writing, although I had moved on to science fiction and fantasy, for these were the days of Star Wars – first time around. I came across Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave / Hollow Hills and realised from her author’s note that King Arthur properly belonged to the post-Roman period, not the later Medieval era of knights in armour, turreted castles, jousting and courtly love. I was so thrilled – I hated those traditional tales of Arthur, they never seemed real.  I became absorbed in reading all I could about Roman Britain and tracing Arthur to the years circa 420 – 520 A.D.
And then I found Eagle of the Ninth on the shelf. Instantly, I recalled the delight of those English lessons and grabbed it. I read it in a day, couldn’t put it down. Wanted more – Frontier Wolf, The Lantern Bearers, The Outcast, Sun Horse Moon Horse, Song for a Dark Queen – Mark of the Horse Lord – I still cry buckets at the end of that one.  Her characters were so alive, so real, so believable! Her words were so beautiful.
More than anything I wanted to write like she did.
And of course I had devoured Sword At Sunset, Rosemary Sutcliff’s own brilliant novel about Arthur, which, like my own Trilogy was set in the more accurate post-Roman world.
I began writing what turned out to be The Kingmaking in earnest in 1987, although I was not accepted for publication until 1993.
I eventually plucked up courage to write to Rosemary to tell her I was working on an Arthurian novel, how her writing had inspired me, and how the character of Arthur was almost possessing me at times.
To my delight I received a letter back, written in her own, somewhat unsteady handwriting – she did, after all have arthritic hands. This is part of what she wrote:

“I do hope all goes well with your King Arthur – I know just how you feel about him, he almost killed me when I was writing “Sword at Sunset”. His demands made me take work to bed with me, work till the small hours, and wake up at 6 am still thinking about him and planning the day’s work. And when the book was at last finished, having spent two years thinking and feeling as a man, and that particular man, it took me six weeks to get back inside my own skin again.
With all good wishes
Rosemary Sutcliff”

And she continued the last ‘f’ into a cartoon dolphin – the famous dolphin from the flawed signet ring.

I treasure this letter. It lives inside my copy of Mark Of The Horse Lord, which is my favourite of all her stories.

I am now a published author in the UK and North America, but I still wish I could write even half as good as Rosemary.

In my novel Harold the King (titled I am the Chosen King in the US) one of the historical characters was Eadric, Captain of King Harold II’s fleet; he was one of the first men to be arrested and imprisoned by Duke William after the English defeat. In my acknowledgements I  have written:
‘The books by the late Rosemary Sutcliff, an historical fiction author sadly missed, have always been an inspiration to me. Her last novel brought the feel of the sea and those beautiful – but deadly – Viking longships to life. As a small personal tribute to her gift of storytelling, Eadric the Steersman’s ship, The Dolphin, is for her.’

A small, but heartfelt way of saying thank you to a fabulous writer.

Rosemary Sutcliff CBE (14 December 1920–23 July 1992) was a British novelist, and writer for children, best known as a writer of historical fiction and children's literature. Although she was primarily a children's author, the quality and depth of her writing also appeals to adults; Sutcliff herself once commented that she wrote "for children of all ages from eight to eighty-eight".
She contracted Still's Disease when she was very young, and used a wheelchair most of her life. Due to her chronic illness, Sutcliff spent most of her time with her mother—a tireless storyteller—from whom she learned many of the Celtic and Saxon legends that she would later expand into works of historical fiction. Sutcliff's early schooling was constantly interrupted by moving house and her disabling condition. She did not learn to read until she was nine years of age, and left school at fourteen to enter the Bideford Art School, which she attended for three years.

Sutcliff began her published writing career in 1950 with The Chronicles of Robin Hood. She wrote The Eagle of the Ninth in 1954 and won the Carnegie Medal in 1959 for The Lantern Bearers and was runner-up in 1972 with Tristan and Iseult. In 1974, she was highly commended for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. The Mark of the Horse Lord won the first Phoenix Award in 1985, and The Shining Company in 2010.

Sutcliff was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to Children's Literature, and was promoted to be a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1992. She wrote incessantly throughout her life, and was still writing on the morning of her death in 1992.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Thursday Thoughts ~ waiting around mind games

Where does time go? Here we are at Thursday and so far I’ve got darn-all done – yet I have been busy all week.
Well OK so Tuesday was a day out because I had raging toothache. The pain started on the Monday night and got progressively worse during the night, to the extent that it hurt even to talk. Definitely a duff tooth, not an abscess or anything. So a quick call to the dentist – who took the rotten rotter out.

Now I want to make it quite clear: I hate the dentist’s; I’d go as far as saying I’m petrified. And the blood pressure and stress level was sent through the roof because there was a long wait as they were running behind schedule, the waiting room was therefore packed, and noisy.
Not helped by an entire family who came in – Grandma, two aunts, mother, son and his wife with their baby in a pushchair (I am assuming the relationships as they spoke in a non-English language I had nothing else to go on except the interaction, the loud chatter and the obvious age differences.) They were also rather large people (except for the daughter-in-law who was slender and pretty.)
They filled the small waiting room; did they really ALL need to go into the consulting room with the son for his teeth check up? Apparently so. I think I'll drag husband, daughter and her boyfriend along with me next time.

Add headache to toothache.

I gather the mass family moral support is not a common thing because the receptionist was also frustrated with this family. 
It rather reminds me of the "old days" when medical practises were regarded almost on a level with magic. I assume some poor soul who needed a tooth pulled could expect an interested audience.... a room full of people while a woman delivered her child (particulalry if the woman was a queen). No privacy for "bedroom" entertainment, ditto for "bathroom" necessities.
The past has its fascinations. Its lack of privacy is not one among them.

I passed the time while waiting with one of my usual mind games, designed to keep the stress levels down by diverting my attention – going through the alphabet with different categories. 
This time I had time for three games. A - Z of Films, then Actors and Actresses and I just managed TV programmes.

In old days would it have been an A - Z of parts of a knight's armour, I wonder?

A  Aristocats /Anthony Hopkins / A-team
B Bambi / Orlando Bloom / Big Bang Theory
C Chitty Chitty Bang Bang /  Charlton Heston / Cheers
D Dumbo / Johnny Depp / Downton Abbey
E Elephant Man / Eddie Murphy  / Eastenders
F Fiddler on the Roof / Errol Flynn   / Foyle’s War
G Gladiator /Gary Oldman  / Groundforce
H Harry Potter / Goldie Hawn / Hollyoaks
I Ice Station Zebra / Ingrid Bergman / Inspector Morse
J Jurassic Park / John Mills / Jack Frost
K King of Kings / Kate Winslett / Kavanagh Q.C.
L Lord of the Rings / Lewis Collins / Lewis
M Mary Poppins / Maureen O’hara / Magic Roundabout
N Never say Never Again / Natalie Wood / Neighbours
O Oliver! / Oliver Reed / Open All Hours
P Pirates of the Caribbean / Gregory Peck / Poirot
Q Quo Vadis / Anthony Quinn / Question of Sport
R Raiders of the Lost Ark / Micky Rooney / Road Wars
S Singing in the Rain / Sean Connery / Sooty
T Toy Story / Tom Hanks / Timeteam
U Untouchables / Peter Ustinov/ Untouchables
V V for Vendetta / Victoria Wood / Victoria Wood on TV
W West Side Story / Whitney Houston / Walking with Wainwright
X  X-men / ?? / Xena  Warrior Princess
Y Yankee at the Court of King Arthur / Young Ones
Z Zulu / Catherine Zeta Jones / Z Cars

No prize but it would be nice to fill in the ?? gap in X.

images from Google Search

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Tuesday Talk - The Gruesome Topic of Decapitation

The topic for discussion at the London Chapter of the Historical Novel Society for 3rd March 2012 was – Death. Neither I nor Pamela Mann could attend the meeting but Pamela had prepared a piece about Anne Boleyn’s beheading, so I offered, as my contribution, to post it here on my Tuesday Talk Blog.

I thought I’d add some more facts to Pamela’s article – so this is a joint effort.
It’s a bit gruesome though – be warned -

An interesting explanation of what happens when someone is decapitated.

Beheading, as a form of Capital Punishment, has been used for several thousand years, although the term ‘Capital Punishment' is a fairly recent one. The word 'capital' was used to describe execution by decapitation and is derived from the Latin ‘caput’, which means 'head.'

Decapitation by sword (or axe) was considered the honourable way to die for an aristocrat; in England it was considered a privilege of noblemen to be beheaded. This would be distinguished from a dishonourable death on the gallows or through burning at the stake. In medieval England, high treason by nobles was punished by beheading; male commoner traitors, including knights, were hanged, drawn and quartered; female commoner traitors were burned at the stake. (Note most witches were hanged – not burned.)

There is much speculation and debate regarding the length of time that the brain remains conscious after the removal of the head from the body. Does a beheaded person almost instantly lose consciousness due to the massive drop in blood pressure, and/or the impact of the used decapitation device, or are the many eyewitness reports describing lingering moments of awareness accurate? It is possible that the brain in a severed head may remain lucid long enough to know what has happened.

Anne Boleyn’s Execution

Henry VIII sent for the Hangman of Calais the day before Anne Boleyn’s trial because it was a two day ride and he wanted her to be executed as quickly as possible after the trial.
(HH. Which goes to prove that the trial was an utter sham, because the verdict was already decided.)
The Hangman of Calais was known to be the best swordsman, who used the finest Flemish steel. Anne was therefore beheaded according to the manner and custom of Paris.

The sword was three or four feet in length, with a 2” wide, double edged blade and a leather-bound handle so that it could be gripped by both hands. A groove was normally scored the whole length of the blade to channel the blood away from the razor-sharp edge to prevent its being blunted.*

* HH I have been informed that this is an incorrect statement (see comments below). The information was taken direct from Alison Weir's non fiction book The Lady In The Tower. Apparently several"facts" in her various works are disputed. 

Most people were hung, drawn and quartered so it often took the axeman, who were not skilled with beheading, several attempts before the head was separated from the body - as happened to Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and Mary, Queen of Scots, who required three strikes at their respective executions. Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury, required ten strokes before the fatal blow.

Anne Boleyn, in the Tower of London
Although Anne heard the swordsman call for his sword, she then didn’t know where he was because he took off his shoes so that he couldn’t be heard. He raised the sword above his head and swung it in a circling motion in order to gain momentum. (HH. She was, therefore, I assume sitting upright, not prostrate with her head on a block ?)
A record of someone watching in the crowd saw, as everybody else did, that right after decapitation Anne Boleyn’s mouth and eyes moved.

Was she still alive? How long does it take to “die” if decapitated?
(this is the gruesome bit – don’t read on if you have a weak constitution)

Late 19th century research suggested that most people die within two seconds, while a more modern estimate would be an average of thirteen seconds. This is because oxygen is still being carried to the brain by blood, the brain is, therefore, still functioning - which means so is consciousness and awareness.

Anecdotal evidence describe blinking eyes, wandering gaze, and moving lips. As grotesque as this sounds, muscular spasms are not uncommon after death – the nerves remain twitching giving the impression that limbs, etc, are still alive and moving. More difficult to attribute to nerve reflexes are specific facial expressions of beheaded victims - expressions changing several times - ranging from pain and confusion to grief and fear in the last few moments.

Aristocratic heads on pikes
 a cartoon from the French Revolution
In 1905, a French doctor observed that a decapitated criminal’s eyelids and lips worked for five seconds before the face relaxed and the eyes rolled back. At that point he called out the man’s name, only to see the eyes’ gaze fixing on him and the pupils focusing before the lids fell and the pupils glazed over again.  He called the victim’s name a second time and the same thing happened. The man’s eyes popped open and his sight fixed on the doctor. The whole process had taken 25 to 30 seconds.
As written in Archives d’Anthropologie Criminelle, here are the doctor’s observations:

‘Here, then, is what I was able to note immediately after the decapitation: the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds … I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased.
The face relaxed, the lids half closed on the eyeballs, leaving only the white of the conjunctiva visible, exactly as in the dying whom we have occasion to see every day in the exercise of our profession, or as in those just dead.
‘It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: ‘Languille!’ I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions … Next Languille’s eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves … After several seconds, the eyelids closed again, slowly and evenly, and the head took on the same appearance as it had had before I called out.
‘It was at that point that I called out again and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time. Then there was a further closing of the eyelids, but now less complete. I attempted the effect of a third call; there was no further movement and the eyes took on the glazed look which they have in the dead.
‘I have just recounted to you with rigorous exactness what I was able to observe. The whole thing had lasted twenty-five to thirty seconds.’

In the U.S. in 1989, a man was decapitated in a car accident. His face registered shock, then terror, then grief, as the living eyes looked directly at the witness before dimming.
An Army veteran was riding in a taxi with a friend when it collided with a truck. The witness was pinned to his seat, and the friend was decapitated by the collision:
‘My friend’s head came to rest face up, and (from my angle) upside-down. As I watched, his mouth opened and closed no less than two times. The facial expressions he displayed were first of shock or confusion, followed by terror or grief. I cannot exaggerate and say that he was looking all around, but he did display ocular movement in that his eyes moved from me, to his body, and back to me. He had direct eye contact with me when his eyes took on a hazy, absent expression . . . and he was dead.’

So perhaps Anne Boleyn, and other poor men and women, did experience a few dreadful moments of awareness of what was happening. 
(HH. I think I’d rather pass away peacefully in my bed, thank you.)

Pamela Mann is writing a novel set in the 16th century, when suspicion was rife, religion was a roller coaster ride and, unless you got into the right carriage at the right time, you didn’t survive. In this uncertain world lives a naive, wealthy, plain girl who falls in love with a servant and takes whatever steps are necessary to marry him.

But when her parents die she is left alone and penniless, has to practise midwifery and finds herself the subject of malicious gossip. Now that she is finally leading a good life, how can she be accused of witchcraft? Watch this space to find out!


Members gathered in a London Pub to discuss the topic of "death and death scenes in historical fiction" and it proved a popular topic with some great examples read out. Here are the books brought along:

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears ...  a passage where a convicted criminal, condemned to death, is being asked to decide what should be done with his body after he is executed. An unscrupulous man is offering to have his body pickled (!) rather than given up for the usual dissection which was common at that time.

The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa. The story of the post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin and his grandmother Flora Tristan ... the final scene, where Gauguin is dying and some of the people around him discuss him as if he's already dead.

The Apothecary's Daughter by Charlotte Betts. Set at the time of the plague in 1665, it is about a girl who longs to practise as an apothecary, but can't because women weren't allowed at that time. The scene Carol read out was of the heroine watching as her father is buried unceremoniously in a plague pit with lots of other victims.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, in which a man allows himself to be killed because the woman he loves doesn't love him back. The entire novel deals with death and the belief in the possibility of rebirth and redemption ... set during the time of the French revolution.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne set in 1942 and seen through the eyes of a 9-year old German boy. He befriends another little boy, who is wearing pyjamas, on the other side of a fence. Somehow, he manages to get inside the fence as well and borrows a set of pyjamas, but doesn't understand when they are all led into a gas chamber ...

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse  a scene where a 15 year old boy hears of his brother's death on the Front during World War I.
A battle scene from Philippa Gregory's The Red Queen (the story of Margaret Beaufort). It was from the well known battle of Bosworth, but given a new perspective by having an omniscient narrator who shows what is happening both to King Richard and to Henry Tudor.

Sharpe's Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell, which contains a very long drawn out grisly death, where the poor wounded man takes over 80 pages to die!

Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace - a pregnant woman says goodbye to her husband as he's going away. She is having her first child and is scared of childbirth (and in fact she dies soon after while giving birth).

Cynthia Harrod-Eagle's The Princeling Set during Tudor times, the scene depicts a family coming home travelling by cart when they are set upon by thieves and robbed. A 13-year old girl is abducted and the others set off to look for her in a nearby forest. They find her with her throat slit in a horrendous way.

Creatures of the Kingdom by James A Michener, a compilation of chapters from his various books featuring animals... a chapter about a salmon called Nerca, who returns to the lake where he was born in order to die.

Helena by Evelyn Waugh, a fictional tale of the life of the Emperor Constantine's mother.

Gallow's Thief by Bernard Cornwell, which starts with a death scene, the hanging of four people in Newgate prison.

Oliver Twist by Dickens where Sykes kills Nancy – the cold-blooded murder makes for very chilling reading and is vividly described!

The Winter Mantle by Elizabeth Chadwick - the scene where Earl Waltheof (a Saxon) is beheaded for treason by the Normans.

HH. My choice, had I attended would have been the second Poldark Novel - Demelza by Winston Graham. There are two vivid scenes where Ross Poldark's baby daughter dies and the event is almost immediately followed by a shipwreck - both are very emotional scenes.

Thank you to Pia (who writes as Christina Courtenay ) for the information

The next meeting will be held on Saturday 31st March at the Zetland Arms, South Kensington, London,  and the theme will be 'birth'.
Anyone interested in Historical Fiction is welcome to come along e-mail me if you are interested.

Doing anything interesting in September?
Then why not come to the 

Thursday 1 March 2012

Thursday Thoughts ~ The Death of Davy Jones

Sad news to hear the death of Davy Jones, although I hated the Monkees. For a silly reason. I was a Beatles' fan. George Harrison was my favourite.  And I so resented the Monkees taking their place in my best friend's heart! She took all her Beatles posters down and put Davy Jones up instead. At the time, I thought I would never forgive her.

It seems I must have done, though, because I don't really care now. Mind you, George is also dead, so perhaps it's that - or the awful realisation that "in the 60's" does not refer to the 1960's but will, next year for me personally, mean in my 60's.

want something else to read? Scroll below for a few interesting articles or visit with my Guest of the month My Pirate

Meet you back here next Tuesday?