Friday, December 19, 2014

My Christmas Message

I am finally drawing to the end of revising my latest attempt at a novel. As you probably know, I only write historical novels. but my WIP is a total departure of period for me (14th century). It is my interpretation of what few facts there are about the small nuns' priory that once existed in 500 yards from home. As I come up for air, I find it's also high time for me to mull over my 2014. And what a year it's been. 

The progress of this novel has been incredibly slow and faltering. far slower than I ever intended. The third stroke I suffered November 2013 affected me in more ways than the first two. First my hands are stiff and uncoordinated and I now type as if I'm wearing boxing gloves which makes for loads and loads of silly typos. These have always been my downfall but now they are even worse. (In fact, I have found that many of the mental and physical ills I have always struggled with, (physical coordination, balance plus reading long sentences as found in writers such as Henry James as well as arithmetic I always had low marks for) have deteriorated further. I also struggle now with areas I have never struggled with before,  like spelling, vocabulary and sentence structure. That is annoying enough but is also compounded by the fact that my brain does not work as quickly or as efficiently as it used to. My brain synapses are made of weak lengths of string and can easily unravel, especially when I am tired. This has resulted  in a rethink of my writing and reading programme. I have had to teach myself patience for myself as well as others and to accept my snail-like progress. I could never undertake NaNoWriMo these days - not that I've ever wanted to. Just as well.

This all makes me think again about Julian of Norwich who has been at the forefront of my thoughts as I wrote the novel. (I'm not a believer in organised religion of any sort. If pressed, I might call myself a Humanist although I have great affection for Quakers.) 

Despite the horrid start to the year, health-wise which continued when Jon underwent a major heart operation six months later. The rest of the year became a slow and wobbly climb-back for both of us but, at last, we are both bursting with plans and ambitions for 2015.

So I shall leave you with this remarkable 14th century woman whose dates are actually later than my novel which is set in the early years of the century and well before the catastrophic Black Death. The novel could have extra-added oomph if I could have mad use of it. Only, one problem with historical fiction is that you can tinker a little when it comes to interpretation and tone but not with facts and especially not dates. 

Anyway, I leave you with my best wishes for Christmas and the New Year and leave you with Julian of Norwich's words I have have whole-heartedly adopted and on which I have based the premise of the novel as well as used as frontispiece. I dedicate it to all you lovely people who read my blog and have supported my over 2014.

"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well"

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

One of the first Persephone books I ever bought was in the last century. Well, 1999, actually. It was about then they began to re-publish excellent books that had been allowed to go out of print. And what discoveries I have made between there and now; not only fiction, but glimpses into a different world, ranging from novels, both light and dark, cookery books, social history, social comedy, biography - you name it, they publish them. And not only from this side of the pond...

...which brings me to The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. It is now being re-printed as the eleventh Persephone Classic. Looking back, I have a horrible feeling I didn't read it at the time, always intending to do so at a later date. Many I did indeed but somehow missed this one. No longer. And I love it.

So, before I discuss The Home-Maker as a novel with characters, a plot and much to say, please pop over to Persephone Books and take pleasure in everything there is to know about these wonderful books.

Dorothy Canfield Fisher
(1879-1958) was born in Kansas was a home-maker (in the UK we use the term, 'housewife') who also added significantly to the household budget by her writing. She was also an advocate of Montessori children's education system. Today, much of what it encouraged is seen as vital and, yes, normal. At the time when this book was written it must have sounded very odd. Not only were children not heard, they certainly weren't seen and more importantly, weren't actually listened to. Even today, it is still rare in many societies.

The society in which The Home-Maker is set  is dominated, as one might expect, by church and chapel and the Ladies Guild. Everyone knows one another and all shop at the department store, Willing's Emporium, which sells everything. Events takes place not long after the end of the Great War.  The novel concentrates on one family: Lester and Evangeline Knapp and their three children, in descending order of age: Helen, Henry and Stephen.

They are a loving couple we are told. As is de rigeur, Lester has a clerical job in the accounts department of Willings. Evangeline cooks and cleans and cares for the children. Helen and Henry attend school. Stephen is not old enough. Although they have enough to eat, they are well-clothed, thanks to Evangeline's talent with a needle and cooker. Only, all are miserable and some have medical problems. Lester loathed his job and is not very good. Both he and Henry have problems with their digestion and must eat bland food. The youngest, Stephen, is even though to be an impossible child, naughty, even wicked. He is prone to outbursts of hysterical crying and fits of wild anger. Even the perfect, clever, efficient Evangeline is always on the go and suffers from eczema.

Of course, there is a major crisis. (no plot spoilers here.) The result is that Evangeline becomes the wage-earner and Lester, the home-maker. And, with a twist at the end, their health and happiness, both mental and physical improve beyond measure. What begins as an emergency measure becomes essential. Many people have seen this as a novel that advocates women's rights, but this novel is as much about men's rights as well. What's more important the main thrust is children's rights.

As Lester thinks it through: "How about the children? Did anybody suggest to women that they give to understanding their children a tenth part of their time and real intelligence and real purposefulness they put into getting the right clothes for them? A tenth? A hundredth!" The living, miraculous, infinitely fragile fabric of the little human souls they live with - did they treat that with the care and deft-handed patience they gave to their filet-ornamented table-linen. No, they wring it out and hang it up to dry as they did their dish-cloths."

I actually find that Evangeline is the least sympathetic character in the novel. Even though she becomes a happy and fulfilled woman, who is also able eventually to love and enjoy her children, everything she stands for is far less interesting and impressive to me than what Lester learns about his children. I also fail to see that the marriage is a truly loving relationship because they never understand the truth of the situation at the novel's conclusion. They both realise the truth of the situation but they do not talk about it together. Perhaps the point is not so much them, but human society in general.

PS. I cared about Stephen the most. To me he is the most interesting, engaging and sympathetic character in the whole novel. Lester notices that, despite his early struggles handling his intelligence, he is the outstanding member of the Knapp family. Many other readers have remarked on the scene where Lester watches him learning to handle the mechanics of an egg-whisk (without any egg). You must read this short section, if nothing else, if you want to understand the beast way to understand children learn without adult intervention (or rather) interference.


As you've probably realised, my blog has been dormant for far too long - well, it's been a long winter.  Although this blog has b...