Greetings! I’m back for my quarterly post about various and sundry things related to writing historical fiction.
In my last post I talked about the delights of playing with words and creating Tom Swifties.
Today I’m talking about the difference between English and English, as in American vs. British.
Is it fall? Or is it autumn? More on that later.
Words are the building blocks we writers and speakers use to create story. We start hoarding those blocks early, and the resulting vocabulary says much about our own personal settings—where we grew up, what our social milieu is, what our family is like.
A case in point—my grandkids’ first words. We waited with bated breath for each munchkin’s first spoken vocabulary word. I coached them repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) to say “mama”.
But for both of them the first word was… DOG! (Yes, we do love our dogs.)
are taught “write what you know”. I wonder why? It’s a lot more fun to step outside the known world. But it does lead to challenges.
The biggest challenge: You don’t know what you don’t know.
For a 21st century American like me trying to set a story in Georgian England, there are a million opportunities to err.
First there’s the issue of etymology. Was a word used during this story’s time period?
A couple of examples from a Regency first draft I was beta reading for a friend:
And a couple from my own first drafts:
Which brings up another potential pitfall for the fledgling Regency Romance author.
Americans and Brits may speak the same language, but we use different words.
I’m fortunate to work often with an editor in England, and so I’ve compiled my own list of Americanisms for my own pre-editing purging.
Some more examples:
This very funny post from a British writer complete with illustrations.
And a list of 60 American English words translated into British English.
Once, long ago, while reading one of Georgette Heyer’s books, I wondered why they kept writing “cosy” instead of “cozy”. Why had so many misspellings slipped past the editor?
The British spelling was different enough to make it a jarring read for this ignorant and unaware American who happens to be a good speller. Fortunately, I’m wise to them now.
There are also punctuation differences. Here’s a short post about some of those.
I don’t believe Regency readers will pillory an author over this issue, so I’ve settled on using American spelling and punctuation in my stories.
One might say, in this area at least, I’m writing what I know!
Do you suppose we’ll ever go “one-world” on the spelling and punctuation rules?
Happy fall (and autumn) to everyone, and I’ll be back in December!
Images credits: autumn leaves and dog are from Stencil (I’d happily claim that dog though!); image of words is from Wikimedia Commons.
One of the rules of contemporary fiction is that all words ending in -ly ought to be found in a Word search and banished.
Another rule is to avoid using substitutes for said: no murmurs, grunts, hisses, etc.
In what I always think of as the Golden Age of pulp fiction, an author might get away with a Tom Swifty. Though I have a degree in English and I’ve been to countless writing conferences, I only just learned this term from one of Anne R. Allen’s blog posts.
In case you don’t have time to link to the Merriam-Webster article here’s the definition:
“A Tom Swifty is a play on words taking the form of a quotation ascribed to Tom and followed by an adverb.”
Or, as Wikipedia says, it’s
“a phrase in which a quoted sentence is linked by a pun to the manner in which it is attributed.”
First published in 1910, the Tom Swift books spanned multiple series, and were written by Edward Stratemeyer and other authors under the pseudonym Victor Appleton. Stratemeyer was also the creator of the Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew books.
I haven’t read Tom Swift, but I grew up with Nancy Drew. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have as many successful book series as Edward Stratemeyer?
Another famous author of commercial fiction used this sort of “punny” literary device: Charles Dickens. Ah, the good old days when authors could have more fun.
A whole book has been written on the subject, Tom Swifties, by Paul Pease and Bill McDonough. The few copies available start at $40 on Amazon!
But, the Wikipedia article on the subject has a long list of howlers like these:
I could see these working in a humorous cozy mystery!
Do you have a favorite Tom Swifty? Share in the comments below!
We’re living in interesting times, and I was tempted to write a post about historical plagues and pandemics… But, if you’re like me, you’re heartily sick of hearing about them.
So, since March is Women’s History Month in the U.S., I’m sharing a gem of a book I found about women bankers.
Regency romance enthusiasts will know the story of Sarah Sophia Fane Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey and one of the patronesses of Almack’s. Sarah inherited a partnership in Child’s Bank, and became an active participant in the bank’s management until her death in 1867. (Her mother, also named Sarah, had been cut out of the will after her scandalous elopement to Gretna Green with the Earl of Westmoreland!)
The authors explain how some women, either through the wisdom of enlightened parents or their own power as widows managed this:
The law has always offered loop-holes. Provision could be made in her marriage settlement for a woman to retain the use of her own property . . . It was also possible for a woman’s property to be placed in the hands of trustees before her marriage, so that her husband could have no use of it without her consent.
Marriage settlements were extremely important financial and legal agreements negotiated by wealthy parties prior to marriage. Today, we call those “pre-nups”.
The book includes the stories of Lady Jersey and Harriet Mellon Coutts, an actress who inherited her husband’s interest in Coutts Bank and went on to marry the Duke of St. Albans (and still retain ownership of her wealth). But most of the seventy-six women bankers were solidly middle-class.
Many women established country banks with husbands or sons. Some inherited banks. Many also engaged alone or with husbands in other types of commerce, such as shipping, mining, or manufacturing.
And you won’t find most of these women mentioned in Wikipedia!
If you’re interested in a chronicle of women in business in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, you might enjoy this book.
I’m back with my Quarter Days’ post!
If you celebrated Christmas a few days ago, I hope you had a merry one with family and friends. And if you’re in the midst of celebrating the eight days of Hanukkah, well, my wish for you is the same!
Which reminds me of a story my sister once shared. She was lamenting about having to choose and buy Christmas gifts for her three kids. The doctor she worked with said, “Ha! Try having to buy one gift for each night of Hanukkah for each of my three kids.” (Maybe it’s not obvious, but this was a mom-doctor, not a dad-doctor.)
Today, instead of talking about historical traditions related to the Yuletide, I wanted to share Of The Book, a new anthology–not fuzzy-feeling-inducing holiday romances, but scary, raise-the-hair-on-your-neck stories.
In a word, horror! And more specifically stories rooted in Jewish folklore.
I’m especially excited that this anthology includes a chilling story by my niece, Hadley Scherz-Schindler. (Proud aunt here!) More on her contribution, “The Baby Naming” below.
Around the time I was planning this post, I received an email about a new marketing report from Alex Newton founder and proprietor of the book analytics firm, K-Lytics.
Alex has just published his first ever Horror Fiction report. He often has his finger on the pulse of the market, and he’s seen a surge of interest in straight up horror fiction. I wish that the late Joyce Ward, who once told me she loved writing Horror, was around to take advantage of this trend.
In any case, if you’re a fan of the genre, here’s a bit about the anthology:
For nearly 6000 years the Jewish people have been gathering stories. Stories of sheydim and golem. Stories of heroes and monsters.
For as long as the People of the Book have been, they have been storytellers. Gathered here are tales of contemporary Jewish folklore. Frightening, supernatural, uplifting and upsetting. These Jewish writers took old tropes, legends and concepts of an ancient faith and spun it into something incredible and new. From across the diaspora, they gather in Of The Book.
The blurb for “The Baby Naming”, by Hadley Scherz-Schindler
A distant Lithuanian cousin, a scholar of the Kabbalah, crashes the naming ceremony for little baby Rachel, sharing a warning about a family curse, and the sacrificial requirement to defeat the demon. But will the exhausted parents heed the warning? And what will happen if they don’t?
Short and scary, I loved this story! I’m dipping into the other eleven hair-raising tales as I get up the nerve.
Hadley Scherz-Schindler grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, a city full of music, barbeque and ghosts. She converted to Judaism when she married into a family of rabbis and has four children who drift between college, grad school and home. Hadley still lives in St. Louis with her husband, Josh, and their collie, Frodo.
A few ideas popped up for this post, but since I write historical fiction, I decided to honor Midsummer by talking about Queen Victoria, with a passing mention of mangoes.
June 28, 2019, is the 181st anniversary of the coronation of the nineteen-year-old Queen Victoria. Her stable and fecund marriage and her famous stodginess has branded the looooong years of her reign in the same way the post-World War II 1950s are remembered as Ozzie and Harriet-land.
For someone so stuffy and boring, Victoria has managed to stir up a lot of twentieth and twenty-first century publicity. The movie Mrs. Brown depicted her long and intimate friendship with Scottish servant, John Brown; The Young Victoria covered her early life, marriage and court intrigues; and of course, there’s the PBS mini-series about her which just finished its second season.
Her most recent depiction in film is Victoria and Abdul. The movie features the “Munshi-mania” surrounding her close friendship with another much younger and much more-foreign-than-a-Scotsman male servant. Abdul Karim, a Muslim Indian from Agra, became her teacher, or “Munshi”.
Last year Victoria’s name popped up when the Wall Street Journal featured an article by novelist Chandrahas Choudhury about the 1663 varieties of Indian mangoes. Persuaded by her Munshi’s praise of the “Queen of Fruit”, Queen Victoria ordered her household to import mangoes from India. They were, predictably, “off” because of the fruit’s short shelf life.
I personally don’t like mangoes, but Choudhury has an explanation for that:
Whichever god brought forth the mango, she did so as a project that would frustrate imperial desires in the 19th century and defeat even the global supply system of capitalism in the 21st. That’s why almost all the mangoes in American markets are the fine-looking but bland, fibrous pretenders from Florida, Brazil or Mexico, not the storied ones of India.
Someday maybe I’ll get to visit India and sample a true Queen of Fruit.
Motivated by the mango story, I watched the movie Victoria and Abdul and started the book on which the movie is based. Shrabani Basu’s book is a beautifully written work of nonfiction. She delves into the patronage culture of Victoria’s court and British colonialism to tell the story about the deep friendship between the Queen and Karim.
When the elderly Queen Victoria is smitten by young Karim, the court is appalled at their growing friendship and the gifts she showers on him as he tutors her in Urdu and Indian culture.
What was the Queen’s motivation? Basu has this to say:
What her family could not comprehend was that the Queen was a born romantic…The death of her beloved husband had left her lonely and heartbroken…It fell to John Brown to draw her out of her self-imposed isolation, and the Queen soon leaned strongly on him. Brown was devoted to her and she could talk freely to him…His death once again robbed her of a companion.
When the Munshi arrived…his presence lifted her spirits…The Queen sensed a certain depth in Karim and found she could talk to him comfortably despite the language barriers. Karim brought her closer to India, the country that she had always longed to visit.
Is true friendship and loyalty possible between a powerful older woman and a younger man? Why would Karim leave the warmth of India for the cold and hostile British Court?
In the film, an Indian servant tells the British courtiers that Karim was toadying for favors like everyone else there. Otherwise, the filmmakers depict a close friendship between the Queen and her Munshi. Based on her research, Basu believes Karim’s regard for the Queen was genuine.
“All history is written by the victors,” and worthy of questioning. This is especially true of films which are crafted to make sure tickets sell and the audience doesn’t fall asleep. Setting, costume, and language bring a story to life, but filmmakers pick and choose what to include, what to omit, and what to make up to hit all the plot points and story arcs.
The Victoria and Abdul filmmakers did a good job, but they were honest about their craft. The opening credits include this statement:
Based on real events mostly
My vote: if you want the full story, the book is always better. What do you think?
If you’ve read this far, thank you for indulging my historical nerdiness. Happy Summer!
All images are from Wikimedia Commons except for the mangoes which are from depositphotos.com
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