Archive | December 2011

Traveling in the Past – Cary’s New Itinerary

Cary's New ItineraryWhen writing about characters who live in the Regency, we often need t o get into those character’s heads. We need to see how they lived. We need first-hand experience. I’ve been known to read by candlelight–truly an eye-straining experience–brandish a sword, and even try a pen and ink to see what it’s really like (that’s pen as in a sharpened quill, and boy does it make you take time when you write).

But there are some books that offer a first-hand experience. And one of my favorites is Cary’s New Itinerary.

At the end of the eighteenth century, John Cary was commissioned by the Postmaster-General to survey all the principal roads in England. He did this by walking these roads, pushing a wheel connected to a counter, which kept a tally of the number of rotations and then produced an accurate mileage.

Between 1787 and 1831, Cary put his knowledge to use and published, among other books, the New English Atlas, The Travellers’ Companion, the Universal Atlas of 1808, and Cary’s New Itinerary. The maps and surveys have some of the most accurate and valuable data about the structure of the Regency world. They also provide an insight into how people traveled in the Regency.

Published in 1815, the fifth edition of Cary’s  goes on to explain that it is, “an Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads, both direct and cross throughout, England and Whales, with many of the Principal Roads in Scotland, from an actual admeasurement by John Cary, made by command of his Majesty’s Postmaster General.

There’s more detail provided at the front of the book in an “advertisement” that’s more of a preface.

The information alone on roads and distances, with fold-out maps provided, has helped me sort out the practical problems that face any Regency writer–such as, how far is it really between London and Bath?  And what roads might one take?  However, Cary’s offers much more.

Cary’s divides into neat, organized sections. The man was obviously methodical. The first section lists the direct roads to London– as in all roads lead to this metropolis. The next section gives a list of principal places–i.e., larger towns, that occur along the cross-roads.  A cross-road is a road that crosses one of the direct roads into London.  At this point, you begin to see how London-centric this world really was. As someone living outside of London, it would be your goal to get to a major town, and then you could get to London. Cary, living in London, wrote his book for outward-bound Londoners, and that is how the book is organized.

The next section is as important to a Regency writer as it would have been to someone traveling in the Regency–it is a list of coach and mail departures. This includes the name of the London inn from which the coaches departed, the towns each coach passed through, the mileage, the departure time, and the arrival time. It’s an utter godsend if you have to get your heroine to Bath at a certain hour on the coach. I can also picture Regency Londoners pouring over this information, planning short trips to the seaside, or to watering towns.

The next section lists all direct roads, as measured from key departure points in London, but this is not just a dry list of mileage. Descriptive notes are tucked into various columns to describe houses of note and distinctive sights.  For example, if you’re going to Wells from London, then, “Between Bugley and Whitbourn, at about 2 m(iles) on l(eft) Longleat, Marquis of Bath; the house is a Picture of Grandure, and the Park and Pleasure Grounds are very beautiful.”  This was an era in which slower travel meant taking the time to look at surroundings.

The next section provides a similar treatment for cross-roads, and not to be overlooked, Packet Boat sailing days are listed for England’s various sea ports, just in case an intrepid traveler whishes to travel abroad.

Finally, Cary’s provides an index to Country Seats, or as Cary’s notes, “In this Index the Name of every resident Possessor of a Seat is given, as well as the Name of the Seat itself, wherever it has a distinctive Appellation.”  This is actually a list from the 1811 returns to Parliament, as noted in the book. In the Regency, this actually would have been a much used feature, for it would allow a traveler to look up and visit various great houses and country seats. It was a time, after all, when visitors expected the great houses to always be open for show, and to be gracious in their hospitality.

Overall, Cary’s is not a book that will give you insight into the politics of the Regency, nor into the social structure of that world. However, between its worn covers lays the description of the Regency world that can put you back into that era, just as if you were traveling the roads of England in times long past.

The Desert Island Test

It’s contest judging season, and I have to say most of the manuscripts I’ve seen lately have been failing my “desert island” test. It’s a test I put my own plot ideas through—and it sorts out if all you have going is external conflict.

The question to ask is: If I dropped the hero and heroine in my romance onto a desert island, would there still be any conflict? If the answer is no, you know you’ve put all the conflict into external circumstances. There’s a problem with this.

Stories need conflict—the more the better. When you short-change your characters by having them only focus on external issues, you’re short-changing the romance and the reader. We all have issues. And the hero and heroine in a romance need to have personal issues that relate to the external ones you create to the plot—but these should be core issues. Issues so deep that dropping these two people onto a desert island would result in more than a few arguments—it might even result in separate living quarters on opposite sides of the island.

A good demonstration of this actually showed up in the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Captain Jack and Elizabeth are stuck on a desert island. Now these two are not the hero and heroine of a romance—the movie’s action/adventure—but you get instant conflict. She has ideas about how he should be acting, and he has ideas about getting drunk on rum, and since she’s here maybe he’ll have sex with her. The rum goes into an alert fire, thanks to Elizabeth. And now he’s ready to feed her to the sharks. She’s proper—he’s not. She’s focused on being active, facing their situation, taking charge—he’s focused on trying to avoid most everything, particularly the situation. You have personality conflicts showing up in action. That’s what makes a good romance into a great one.

Here’s the trick with this—it’s no good just giving a character arbitrary personal issues. These issues have to rub against the other person’s issues—if she likes cats, he has to be  dog guy, and vice versa. They have to be motivated in the character’s past—that makes the character more believable as a real person. And they work best if they have something to do with the external issues as well. As in, if these are cat and dog people, animals should probably come into the external problems (which is why you see stories about shape shifters and he’s a wolfman and she’s a cat-person quite literally—that’s amplified personal conflict since cat and dogs don’t even speak the same language).

For example, if you have a heroine who has been brought up a tom-boy, she’s going to have a pretty blunt way of taking action. She’s going to be insecure about having much skill with feminine grace, and she may end up pushy and take-charge. This is going to rub against a guy who is also take-charge and who has a pretty blunt way of taking actions. This is where being too much alike creates as much friction as does two opposites. I used this in Barely Proper for part of the conflict between here and heroine. I also did something similar in Under the Kissing Bough—the hero and heroine are two people with deep insecurities. They have different ways of hiding that they don’t feel adequate, but their insecurities keep cropping up and coming between them. For A Proper Mistress I went for the opposites. The heroine is level-headed and practical—she’s had to be due to her past. The hero is a bit of a wild cannon. They both learn from each other—she learns to enjoy spontaneity, and he learns a bit about responsibilities. So their issues become strengths to the other person—that makes for a very satisfying relationship, and a satisfying read.

So take a look at your characters—what would happen if you dropped them onto a desert island? Would they get along fine? Would one take charge and the other would allow it and all is good? Or would they fight and argue best plans for rescue? Would one be all about accepting the situation while the other is fighting it? Would one be exploring the island while the other hugs the beach, refusing to go into the dark jungle? How would their personalities clash—and how would their personalities complement each other?

Free Books at Amazon — What’s All the Fuss?

Amazon’s launched their “Select” program — meaning that Amazon Prime members can read enrolled books for free. These books have to be exclusive to Amazon for now. Authors decided if they want to opt in or not, and are compensated from a pool of funds that all participating authors share in based on total number of books read through the program. And you would think from all the fuss that the sky is falling yet again. (It used to be falling about every couple of years, but technology has accelerated this so that it’s falling at least once a month now.)

Personally, I think it’s an author’s decision what to do with his or her own writing. Give it away, sell it to the highest bidder, sign a contract with a publisher (a good one, or a even one that’s going to make your life hell)…it’s a personal choice and we all get to make ’em.

For Amazon’s program, I did sign up. I’ve two books enrolled, and I’m about to bring out a new book and put it in the program. It’s an experiment, but isn’t everything right now in this ever shifting market. However, what really got me excited about the program is that fact that it works like a digital library.

As a kid, I got my reading start in the local library. I still remember the pleasure of getting my very own first library card so I could check out my own books (instead of checking them out under my mum’s card). Free books at the library made me into a life-long reader. So free books online–a way for folks to access books and read more. That’s fantastic.

I don’t expect to get rich or famous from the program — I’m one of many authors. I do hope I’ll get additional exposure and perhaps sales of other books will go up — I know if I like a book, I don’t just want a copy from a library, I want a copy at hand. I don’t really think of this as “losing sales” — a sale isn’t a sale until money has exchanged hands, so I think folks looking for free books are folks looking for free books.

As to what anyone thinks of the program, I recommend taking a deep breath and going and reading the actual terms. There’s a lot of not quite true facts being batted around, and a whole lot more about how this is going to put other folks out of business, and given the number of books that are out there I think this is more than unlikely. There are tons of books out there, and exclusive distributions have been around for a long time in a lot of different outlets.The sky is not falling, publishing is not dead, books are still going to be around, and that means we’ll have booksellers, too.

It’s up to each author to decide for yourself if it’s right for you or not. Make the call that you can live with. If you don’t like the terms, don’t opt in. If you do, try it out. It’s that simple. No one is an idiot or a fool for making a choice here. And that’s the real joy of being an author right now–there are choices. Lots of them. And if you just want to post your books for free on your site, go for it. We all write for different reasons, and it’s about time we started to celebrate that diversity of choice.

Pistols and Duels

Part of the allure of the English Regency is that it’s an era for swords, horses, and flintlocks. Everything to buckle the perfect swash. Dueling–and a lady’s muff pistol–became part of my novel, Barely Proper.  The dueling information came from research, but the lady’s muff pistol, complete with safety latch to prevent accidental shots, came courtesy of my uncle, Eric Ericson, who collects flintlocks.

Part of the allure of the English Regency is that it’s an era for swords, horses, and flintlocks. Everything to buckle the perfect swash. Dueling–and a lady’s muff pistol–became part of Barely Proper.  The dueling information came from research, but the lady’s muff pistol, complete with safety latch to prevent accidental shots, came courtesy of my uncle, Eric Ericson, who collects flintlocks.

Barely ProperActually, by the mid 1800’s, the duel had become extinct in England. Queen Victoria, and the British government, had taken steps to end duels in the army–it was, after all, difficult enough to lose officers to battle, let alone, losing them to each other’s bullets. However, in Regency England, gentlemen could settle any disagreement with pistols, and might well be acquitted by a jury of any murder charge.

The notion of a duel of honor first appeared in England in the early 1600’s. The duel between Sir George Wharton and Sir James Stewart was recorded in 1609.  Prior to that time, an Englishman could settle slights and quarrels by hiring a gang of assassins to avenge any slight. Through the 1700’s, duels tended to be fought with swords. This was due, in part, to technology.

Hand guns date back to the late 1300’s in Italy and appeared in England around 1375. These used gunpowder, a mixture of potassium nitrate, saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal.  It would take another half century, however, for a mechanical device to appear to actually fire a hand gun. The standard flintlock gun came then came about in the early 1600’s, and by 1690 flintlocks has become standard issue for the English army.

The flintlock had been developed in France as a more reliable improvement upon matchlocks and wheel locks. The principal was simple–a trigger released a lock that held a flint which would then strike a spark in the priming pan. This pan held a small amount of gunpowder. When ignited, it then would ignite the main gunpowder charge in the barrel, firing a lead ball.

In contrast, the older match lock had used a “matchcord,” a braided cord of hemp or flax soaked in a saltpeter and dried. The slow-burning matchcord would then be lit. Pulling the trigger caused the lit matchcord to be pressed onto the flashpan causing ignition. The wheel lock improved on the matchlock with a system that worked rather like a cigarette lighter. Pulling the trigger caused a rough-edged steel wheel to strike a piece of pyrite held in a metal arm called a dog head.

Misfires with matchlock and wheel locks had been common. And the effort to reload consumed time. While flintlocks still loaded the main gunpowder charge and ball from the front, the only addition work was to then pour a little gunpowder into the flash pan.

Around the 1750’s, the practice of carrying a small sword or dress sword also died out, and with the advances in gun making, pistols became the standard for duels. Dueling pistols developed into matched weapons with a nine or ten inch barrel. Most were smooth bore flintlocks.

However, pistols could be as individual as the maker, or the owner. Jean-Baptiste Gribeauval made a pistol for Napoleon Bonaparte around 1806 that had a twelve inch long barrel. And a set of dueling pistols made around 1815 by W. A Jones and given to Duke of Wellington by the East India Company boasted saw-handled butts, which made it easier to steady the pistols, as well as “figured half stocks, checkered grips, engraved silver and blued steel furnishings.”

By the mid-1700’s London was well-known for its excellent gunsmiths. George Washington patronized a London gunsmith named Hawkins (a family name in my lineage, as this was my grandmother’s maiden name). As with many of the pistols from this era it offers silver decoration.

Dueling PistolsIn the late 1700’s, and during the Regency, Joseph Manton became one of the best and most fashionable gunmakers. Manton’s shooting gallery on Davis Street was where a gentleman went to practice before he might use one of Manton’s pistols in a duel. And an apprentice of Manton’s left in 1814 to strike out on his own with a business in Oxford Street. James Purdey’s company is still renown for its shotguns. Part of Manton’s success came from his first patent, taken out in 1777.  Manton went on to open his shop in 1793 and was soon known for shotguns and pistols. His fame came from guns that “were light, trim, well balanced, fast handling, and impeccably fit and finished. Stocks were slender and of fine English walnut with a hand rubbed oil finish.”

In the early 1800’s, a new development came along when a Scotsman named Forsyth patented the percussion lock.  This did away with the flashpan and flint.  Instead, an explosive cap was used, so that when the cap was struck by the pistol’s hammer, the flames from the exploding fulminate of mercury in the cap move into the gun barrel and ignite the main charge of powder.

With the advent of the percussion cap, guns with revolving chambers became reliable weapons. The revolving principle for a gun had been around for as long as the invention itself. “…There were repeating matchlocks as early as 1550, some capable of firing as many as eight shots with multiple barrels, each fired by a separate flash pan and operated by a sliding trigger mechanism…Both French and Italian gun makers as early as 1650 had developed magazine-fed muskets.” The “pepperbox pistol” had between two to six barrels that revolved upon a central axis.

Examples of such pistols that still exist include a double-barreled turn-over flintlock pistol, a six-shot flintlock had been made in France in the late 1700’s, a three-shot Venetian pepperbox dates back to the mid 1500’s, and Twigg of London had even made a 7-barrel flintlock pepperbox in 1790. A three- barrel design made by Lorenzo some time in the 1680’s exists that carries the Medici Arms upon it. However, the pepperbox pistol was notorious for the mechanism jamming. Or worse, all the charges in the barrels might be ignited at once time by a flint strike, resulting in the entire pistol discharging at once–or blowing up in your hand. The first accurate chambered weapons date from the latter part of the Regency, around 1810 to 1820. Multiple shot pistols, however, were not allowed in any duel.

The elegant matched sets of pistols manufactured for a gentleman might boast silver filigree or gold inlay. Their balance was paramount, for a pistol that could not be easily held up at arm’s length might mean an inaccurate aim and shot. Also, the “hair trigger” or a trigger that responded to the slightest touch could mean the difference in being the first to get off a shot.

In the early 1800’s duels might be fought for honor, as in the case of a duel fought in Hyde Park in March 1803 between two officers, and reported to have been held to avenge a sister’s dishonor. Or it might be an absurd affair, as in the duel fought in London on April 6 that same year. This second affair involved Lieutenant-Colonel Montgomery of the 9th Regiment of Foot and Captain Macnamara of the Royal Navy, and was reported to have started when the two men, both riding in the park and each followed by a Newfoundland dog, had their dogs start to fight. This led Montgomery to exclaim, “Whose dog is that? I will knock him down.”  That set off an argument that resulted in a meeting at seven that evening near Primrose Hill. Even the Duke of Wellington fought a duel.

Taking AimDuring the Peninsular War, Wellington had been known to frown on dueling among his officers.  However, in 1829, Wellington’s support of the Catholic Relief Bill angered the Earl of Winchilsea, who then made public a letter that disparaged the duke accusing him of having, “…insidious designs for the infringement of our liberties, and the introduction of Popery into every department of the state.”  Wellington pushed for reparations, and would be satisfied with nothing less than a meeting over pistols at Battersea Fields. “At the word ‘fire,’ the Duke raised his pistol, but hesitated a moment, as he saw that Lord Winchilsea had kept his pistol pointed to the ground.”  Wellington then fired at random, as did the earl. The press did not approve and reported, “…all this wickedness was to be perpetrated–merely because a noble lord, in a fit of anger, wrote a pettish letter…Truly it is no wonder that the multitude should break the law when we thus see the law-makers themselves, the great, the powerful, and the renowned, setting them at open defiance.”

Illegal as they were, duels were numerous, and were often not prosecuted unless proven fatal.

In the duel between Macnamara and Montgomery fought over their dogs, both were wounded, Montgomery fatally so. Macnamara recovered and was tried for murder, and his arguments for his motives being that of “proper feelings of a gentleman” carried enough weight that the jury returned a not-guilty verdict, even though the judge asked them to find Macnamara guilty of manslaughter.

Times and sentiment changed, however and in 1838 when a Mr. Eliot shot and killed a Mr. Mirfin in a duel, the jury returned a verdict of willful murder. The trial smacked of class prejudice, for in 1841 when Lord Cardigan was tried in the by his peers in the House of Lords for dueling, he was found not guilty.

By 1843, an Anti-Dueling Association had been formed and by 1844, Queen Victoria was discussing with Sir Robert Peel how to restrict duels in the army by “repealing an article of the Mutiny Act, which cashiered officers for not redeeming their honor by duel.” The Regency by then had long passed, and so had the era of pistols for two at dawn to settle affairs of honor, and so had the art of the elegant and deadly dueling pistol.

To read more on dueling pistols, try:

Antique Guns by Hank Bowman, Arco Publishing Co, Inc.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Firearms by Ian V. Hogg, New Burlington Books

Gunmakers of London 1350-1850 by Howard L. Blackmore, George Shumway Pub

The Duel: A History by Robert Baldick, Barnes & Nobel