Category Archives: Guest Post

The Devil You Know by Sophia Holloway

 Today’s post is from a long-standing British Armitage admirer.

My name is Sophia, and . . .

I write ‘classic’ Regency romances. Sadly, it is something one says nearly apologetically, and sotto voce, because the genre has a very poor image (not entirely unearned). Yet I am not ashamed of the books I write. I follow in the Heyer tradition with an accurate world in terms of history, the fashions, language and attitudes. I want the reader to be able to enter that world lit by candelabra, and clothed in silks, muslins and barathea, and step away from the mundane realities of daly life, from the hassles at work, the heaviness of the shopping or that pile of ironing that grows when you look away for a moment. I want them to smile at the repartee, travel at the pace of a carriage, follow the highs and lows as the romantic relationships build, and emerge in a positive and happy frame of mind. Escapism is not a dirty word! I would also say we are now in a world where sex is all about us and romance in short supply, so I wish to provide it, with floss trimming and intricately tied cravats.

I do not see readers as passive, sponges soaking up what is presented to them. I want them, expect them, to engage, to feel, to use their own imaginations. Unlike Heyer, I write far more of the male perspective, After all, the majority of Regency romance readers are female and thus know how females think, and it is nice to hear the other side of the situation. (I do, by the way, have men read the drafts to make sure I am not getting it wildly wrong.)

This expectation of interaction is reflected in two other aspects of my Regency novels – I do not have bedroom scenes, and I do not over describe the characters’ physical appearance. The primary reason for omitting bedroom scenes is not prudery, but that in the world I describe, that of the Regency social elite, unmarried girls of marriageable age were closely chaperoned, and a hint of immodest behaviour with a man would bring ruin to any chance of a good marriage. A wife was at one level merely the method of ensuring the succession to title and estates. Any doubt as to the fatherhood of an heir was potentially disastrous, and taking a girl to wife whose name had already been bandied about as one less than chaste would be foolish. Failure to marry generally condemned a woman to being a ‘hanger on’ within her family, and left her totally dependent. Thus, for the vast majority of my books, the idea of ‘bodice ripping’ is simply historically a no no.

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Having said which, the first book to be published, The Devil You Know, is set within a marriage, and yet there is no bedroom scene and merely allusions to the disastrous first night that takes place. The book is actually about two people who marry as strangers, and their path towards expunging the memory of that first night. It is also a tale of mutual desire and male sexual frustration, as George Ledbury is used to an ‘active’ bedroomexistence, (with a series of bored married ladies). He tries to be good, but finds assorted circumstances preventing ‘relations’ with the wife with whom he is falling in love. The more desperate he becomes the more mistakes that he makes, to the point he may lose the woman he realises he cannot live without. I could have had bedroom scenes in this book, but few descriptions of the conjugal act are worth reading. Many are cheap thrills or laughable in the manner of description, and if you need to know how it happens, the best answer is a biology text book! The reader’s own imagination is by far better than instruction from an author, whom I feel does better to give the broad brush strokes by allusion and hint, the atmosphere and frisson, and leave the detail to the reader. After all, the reader will pitch the encounter at the level with which they are comfortable, and indeed according to mood. I am sure most adult readers have imagined what happened ‘after the bedroom door has closed’ in books, and in a book that is well-loved, imagined it differently at different times. You, the reader, cannot shock yourself, nor yet be disappointed.

As an extension of this I do not put too much detail into the physical description of the characters. Fifty readers ought to have fifty very slightly differing images of the ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’. How often is a film ruined when the casting is such that you cry ‘but he is nothing like . . .’ as you have imagined him in that book you love.

Despite the above, this being the Armitage Authors blog it will come as no surprise that a certain tall, dark actor has provided material for many of my ‘leading men’. I have reviewed the ten in my novels thus far and confess all are baritone in voice. Mr Armitage has a voice that is an acting class in itself, can be assertive, cold, passionate, pleading, and very funny. George Ledbury is also pretty much totally Guy of Gisborne, with a better haircut and negative leather. I always found Guy’s emotional maturity of a three year old, and his semi permanent confusion, terribly appealing. Hands up those who also wanted to give him back the teddy he’d ‘thrown from his cot’, soothe his insecurity and then . . . Ah, there is where the imagination comes in!

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Of the other gentlemen, a few have little bar the voice, though all are varying levels of ‘tall’ and I am sure you would spot a couple of his mannerisms. Some have his natural colouring, or the dark versions we have seen in various ‘incarnations’. A couple are 85% plus based upon the gentleman. I will not reveal which and spoil things, and hope, if the other books reach print, that you will enjoy finding out for yourselves – and listening to ‘that’ voice when you read his dialogue.

The Devil You Know by Sophia Holloway is available as an ebook and print on demand from Amazon. (Audiobook available in the spring.)
Find out more about Sophia and her upcoming books at sophiaholloway.com
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Fan fiction – a journey into original creative writing

Kate Forrester holds the distinguished title of fan fiction queen in the Richard Armitage fandom. She has written fan fiction based upon more of Richard’s characters than anyone else we know of. She’s written stories based on Lucas North, Guy, Harry Kennedy, John Porter, John Thornton, and John Standring and a few others. (We interviewed her at The Armitage Authors Network two years ago: here. )

Today she tells us a little about her relationship with fan fiction and how it helped her move into writing her own original stories:

It’s strange, I always thought that my writing fan fiction began when I joined C19 back in 2008 – yes, that long ago. However, in writing this, I was reminded that my first piece of fan fiction was written at school for English composition – a Sherlock Holmes story about a jewel thief. I think the reason I forgot about this little story is that life interceded. I became a nurse, a wife, and a mother — and more than thirty years would pass before I returned to creative writing.

I often ponder what might have happened if a certain tall dark handsome cotton mill owner had not passed through my life. You see, I wouldn’t have joined C19. That wonderful place led me to become aware of a genre of writing called fan fiction. I was a reader first, but all too soon I was taking my first tentative steps in writing one. Mr Thornton, how much I owe you!

Pensive Thornton

It is odd to acknowledge my debt of gratitude to this literary character or at least his television incarnation, because he was the character I had the most trouble writing about. Unlike so many writers in the Richard Armitage (RA) fandom, I couldn’t and didn’t start with a North and South fan fiction. John and Margaret were too perfectly drawn by Mrs Gaskell. What did I have to say that was new about them? For a long time, the answer to that question was nothing. Instead, I followed an old adage and wrote about what I knew – medicine. Luckily for me The Golden Hour was shown about the time I entered the fandom and it was easy to write something based on a different ending to the hostage story.

Much to my utter surprise people enjoyed ‘A New Track’. Having written about one of Mr Armitage’s characters I found myself writing about another and then another. I became the RA fan who would write about most of his characters — that is, until he played Thorin. It seemed I had a new hobby and that is what fan fiction was for me — a hobby.

I get so frustrated when I read articles ridiculing and belittling fan fiction. Have the people out there sneering even read any fan fiction? There is a belief, wrongly held, if my experience is anything to go by, that if fan fiction isn’t written by obsessed teenagers, it must be written by middle-aged oddballs or sex starved housewives. Yet, the people I know who are writing fan fiction are normal folk with homes, jobs, and families. Yes, there is badly written fan fiction out there, I’ve even written some, but there is also some terrible original fiction out there as well. It could be and is argued that a lot of Shakespeare’s work is fan fiction, a retelling of old folk stories or history to suit his own purpose. Steven Moffat reimagines Conan Doyle’s Sherlock to huge critical acclaim while I reimagine Gaskell’s North and South as A Nightingale Sings and am nothing more than a fan fiction writer. The only difference is audience size and money.

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This tale takes John and Margaret’s story into WW II

 

I don’t think creating fan fiction made me a writer. Somewhere inside of me a writer always existed. Rather, fan fiction facilitated my development as an author. It helped me develop the confidence not only to write a story but to allow that story to be read because that, for me, is the difference between being a writer and an author – allowing others to read and comment on what I have written.

WhileI was writing my John Porter fiction Absolution, I realized the time had come to write an original novel. What followed was Degrees of Silence.  This was the novel I had to write – it was so personal that at times it hurt me to commit the words to paper (well, the computer screen, but you know what I mean). I think because it is so personal it struck a chord with my readers, maybe they know that the two adult characters are, in a way, both me.

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Kate’s first original novel is her most personal work

It occurred to me that my other original fiction could be thought of as fan fiction as well because it is based on a dancing show like Strictly Come Dancing or Dancing with the Stars. I think that The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing is the most commercial thing I have written and the most romantic. It is an example of that other much maligned genre: chick lit. Maligned that is by men, who manage to say ‘chic lit’ in a slightly insulting sort of way. Why is it, I wonder, that Boy’s Own adventures are not nearly as maligned.

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People do wonder why I no longer write fan fiction and I guess the honest answer is that it has served its purpose. I have, to a certain extent, moved on. But I have only written fan fiction based on RA’s characters, and now I cannot watch the shows he is filming. So, you never know … if he re-emerges on British television in a show I love, I may go back down the fan fiction road.

Never say never.

NS10: A Merry Little Christmas Fan Fiction, Part 2

For our final week of the 10th anniversary of North & South we’re pleased to bring you A Merry Little Christmas, a romantic Christmas fan fiction by Catherine Winchester, author of  N&S novels What You Wish For and Northern Light. We’ve split it into two posts with the first two parts yesterday here and the final two below. Thank you, Cat, for sharing this early Christmas present with our readers!

Chapter Three

The next morning I believe we both felt that we’d had our share of being idle and although we took our time in rousing ourselves, we decided to actually get dressed and take a turn around the town. Margaret cooked breakfast this morning, bacon, eggs and fried bread (to hide the fact that it was now a little stale) which we ate at the kitchen table again. Then we decided to take a stroll to the Mitre Hotel for afternoon tea.

“We’re going to be far too early,” Margaret said as she wrapped her scarf around her neck and pulled her winter coat on.

“Then we had best make it a slow walk.”

We headed to the park first, taking our time and enjoying the scenery around us. While many people had returned to work today, most of the shops seemed closed, clearly taking advantage of an extra day off.

Everyone we passed, even those who seemed to be working, had a ready smile and a warm “Good morning” for us.

At we neared the top of the hill in the park, Margaret noted that the park and indeed the whole town, looked magical under its fresh covering of snow. Many of the mill chimneys were active again since many businesses don’t recognise Boxing Day as a holiday but today the smoke only added to the festive look of the town.

There were a few people milling around in the park. Some children were making snowmen, as we had yesterday and another group were having a snowball fight. The adults seemed to be enjoying the view of the town for none of them seemed in a rush to get to their destinations and most kept glancing back over the town.

Margaret began rubbing her gloved hands together so I looked around to make sure that we were unobserved, then pulled Margaret behind a large tree nearby. Opening my coat, I placed her hands around me so that the heat from my back could warm her hands. My chest would have done just as well but this way I also got to embrace her.

We stole a few kisses while hidden back there but when Margaret’s hands had warmed sufficiently, we continued on our way.

Though we had missed the morning service, we stopped in at the local church so that Margaret could say her prayers.

I offered my own silent prayer, thanking Him for my good fortune of late and, feeling the Christmas spirit myself, slipped a generous amount into the pauper’s box on our way out.

With that done we continued to the hotel, pausing to look in some of the shop windows we passed since it seemed that many had gone out of their way to make their windows look festive. Many shops had miniature, hand made nativity scenes on display and it was interesting to see how each one differed from its neighbour. Paper chains and ivy garlands were draped around most windows and wreaths adorned almost every door we passed.

We stopped in at the bakers, one of the few open shops, and bought some fresh bread. The baker greeted us with a hearty smile and threw in two free gingerbread men that had been iced to look like snowmen. We thanked him and continued on our way.

“I still find it hard to believe that there was a time when people didn’t celebrate Christmas,” Margaret said as we walked. “This is all so lovely that I don’t understand why anyone would want to miss it.”

“Perhaps they didn’t know what they were missing,” I reasoned.

“If that’s true, it really would be a shame,” she said, tightening her grip on my arm and resting her head briefly on my shoulder.

Those passing us who might usually look upon such a public display of affection with distaste, today only smiled at us, perhaps understanding the need to show love at this time of year.

As we entered the town square it seemed that we had interrupted a snowball fight among some of the local children and as one hit me square in the chest, the boy who had thrown it paused in fright for a moment. Then obviously deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, he turned tail and ran, his friends hot on his heels.

I was angry and about to shout after them (what if they had hit Margaret instead of me!) when Margaret’s laugher caught my attention. It seems that she found both my predicament and my annoyance amusing.

“They’re only having fun,” she said as she brushed the snow from my coat.

“You call that fun?” I asked. “They could hurt someone.”

“Yes, well you thought it was rather fun yesterday, if I recall correctly.”

She had me there, but I wasn’t giving in that easily.

“You started that,” I reminded her. “And besides, we were in the safety of our garden, not hurling missiles at random strangers in the street.”

Margaret smiled indulgently then reached up and kissed me softly, causing the last of my anger to evaporate.

“Come on,” she said, slipping her arm through mine again. “I don’t know about you but I’m ready for a nice pot of hot tea.”

We continued to the hotel which was not far from the square and arrived just in time for afternoon tea. They seated us by a window and we enjoyed watching the world pass us by as the people outside laughed, joked and enjoyed the snow and festive season.

“I wish we could do this every year,” she said. “I’ve loved these two days on our own.”

“And I, love.”

We both knew that we would not be this lucky every year but a part of me hoped that we could recreate this feeling of solitude some time soon. We had not even had the luxury of a honeymoon after our wedding and now that I knew what time alone with Margaret could be like, I was more sorry than ever for that fact.

The mill would be running as normal in another few months so I began to wonder about the possibility of us taking a late honeymoon, perhaps visiting Margaret’s brother. It was too soon to voice such ideas to Margaret in case I could not be spared from the mill but I was determined to do my best and secure us a holiday in the coming year. Preferably sooner rather than later.

When the tea, sandwiches and cakes were finished, we paid the bill and set about reapplying all the layers of clothing that we had removed when we entered. Bundled up once more, we headed out onto the street.

The snow was falling again, large fluffy white flakes drifting gently to the ground. Margaret put her hand out in front of her, palm up and watched as the flakes landed there and melted.

“Let’s hail a cab,” I suggested. Snow is very pretty to watch but I didn’t much fancy the idea of walking all the way home in it. “I find that I am somewhat eager to curl up in front of a nice, warm fire with you once again.”

Margaret put her hand down and nodded her agreement. I hailed the first passing cab and after telling the driver our address, we climbed into the carriage. Thankfully it was enclosed and we were somewhat sheltered from the biting cold.

Though most surely shocking to anyone who might have seen, I couldn’t resist Margaret any longer and removed my hat before I leaned over and kissed her. She responded with equal ardour and by the time the cab slowed to a stop, we were both slightly breathless and her lips were quite red and swollen.

After I had paid the driver, we headed inside and although all I wanted to do was have my way with Margaret, I knew that the fires needed tending first.

I had built them up this morning so none had died out but the range in the kitchen was on its last legs. I stoked up the rear parlour fire also in case we spent any time in that room, then I headed up to our bedroom to find that Margaret had already taken care of the fire in there.

She was lying under the eiderdown by the fire and as far as I could tell, not wearing a single stitch of clothing. She had taken her hair out of its bun so it lay fanned out around her head and I paused for a moment to admire her.

“Come and join me,” she pleaded.

‘How is a man meant to resist a request like that,’ I asked myself? The answer was simple; ‘he isn’t.’

Chapter Four

A little later that afternoon we ventured down to the kitchen once more for some more of Cook’s excellent Christmas pudding with brandy cream and mulled wine, which we took into the rear parlour and sat on the window seat to watch the snow falling.

“If it keeps on at this rate, Milton might be snowed in by tomorrow,” I mused, wondering if the mill would be affected. The hands were all within walking distance so they should be able to come to work but would the trains and canal boats be running? We could probably survive on our reserves for a week or so if the worst came to the worst and we were cut off. If it went on any longer though, I would begin to receive fines as some orders would become overdue.

“We’re supposed to be on holiday,” Margaret reminded me.

“Sorry,” I said a little sheepishly. Margaret smiled indulgently.

“If you want to worry about something, worry about all this rich food going straight to my hips,” she said, unapologetically popping another forkfull of pudding into her mouth.

“We walked half way across Milton this morning in four inches of snow,” I reassured her. “I think it’s safe to say that we have already worked the pudding off. Besides, you would have eaten much more if we had accepted Fanny’s Christmas invitation; Mother told me that she was planning on serving a twelve course luncheon on Christmas Day.”

“Twelve courses! Your mother will be fit to be tied when she gets home,” Margaret said, knowing how much my Mother dislikes extravagance and detests waste.

“She knew what she was letting herself in for,” I reassured her, though we both realised that we owed Mother a large debt of gratitude for giving us this time alone.

I finished my pudding and brandy cream and placed my plate to one side.

“Good,” Margaret said, spearing a piece of her pudding onto her fork. “Now you can help me.” She grinned as she aimed the fork at my lips.

I took the offered morsel and quickly swallowed.

“I see; so you want me to become rotund so that you can keep your girlish figure?”

“Exactly.” Margaret laughed. “And while we’re on the subject of rotund, I’ll be expecting you to have all the babies.”

She was so guileless that for a second I might have believed she meant it.

“Oh you will, will you?” I tried hard to suppress my smile but I wasn’t as successful as she.

“Yes.” She fed me another piece of pudding.

“That might make running the mill rather awkward,” I reasoned once I’d swallowed.

“You’ll manage,” she smiled. “You always do.”

Between us we finished her pudding and as the daylight faded, left the window and pulled the heavy curtains closed to keep the heat in.

I spied the piano in the corner.

“Do you know any carols?” I asked.

“I used to know a few but it’s been a long time.” I could tell from her tone that she was reluctant. I’ve heard her play though and perhaps she isn’t a virtuoso but to my ear her playing is lovely.

“Please?”

I could see her wavering.

“If I’m carrying the babies for you, I think the least you can do is sing me a song.”

She laughed at my reasoning and finally nodded her agreement. She made her way over to the piano, sat down and lifted the lid. Her long hair fell over her shoulder and she brushed it behind her ear, out of her face.

“I can’t see what I’m doing,” she said.

Realising that the firelight wouldn’t reach over there, I lit two oil lamps and a five arm candelabra. I placed the oil lamps on top on the piano and the candelabra on a table to the side so that she could see the keys. It still wasn’t much light; when we had a dinner party this room would be ablaze with candles but this was sufficient for our needs.

Margaret began playing “Silent Night.”

I hadn’t thought it possible to love her any more than I already did but the voice that accompanied her playing was so soft and exquisite. I have heard her humming to herself before but nothing like this. It revealed a vulnerability that few people were privileged enough to see. I moved around the piano so that I could look at her while she played and her hesitant expression reminded me of our reunion, when, although she thought that I no longer cared for her (because fool that I am, that is what I had told her) she had still offered to loan me money for the mill.

She looked up at me and I smiled reassuringly.

“That was lovely,” I said when she had finished.

“It was a favourite of my father’s,” she confessed.

I considered asking for another but she still looked reluctant so instead I sat beside her on the piano stool.

“So, come on then, teach me the basics.”

She smiled and tried for a while but it quickly became clear that I had no musical talent. Instead she suggested that I read to her.

Before Mother left for Fanny’s home, we had been reading nightly from A Christmas Carol. We were nearing the end now and she had once told me how much she enjoyed the ending, so with the candles, lamps and a fresh pot of tea, we retired to our bedroom. We settled on the floor by the fire once more, my back against one of the chairs and Margaret lying across the eiderdown, her head resting on my lap.

With one hand I lazily played with her hair while my other held the book. Every now and again I would glance down at her to see if she was still enjoying herself and often caught her smiling, especially as the book drew to a close. Margaret did so love a happy ending.

I put the book down when we were finished and Margaret sat up.

“Thank you,” she said, leaning forward and kissing me.

“My pleasure.”

Just then we heard the clock downstairs chime eight o’clock and shared a look. We both knew that tomorrow morning we would be back to reality; the mill would reopen, the servants would return and Mother would come home. Our solitude was coming to an end.

“We shouldn’t be too late to bed,” Margaret said somewhat sadly. “We will both have busy days tomorrow.”

I nodded and sighed, then an idea occurred to me.

“I think that perhaps we should have a very early night,” I said. “In fact I think we should retire to bed within the half hour.”

Margaret caught my meaning and smiled.

“Why don’t you go down and get us each a small brandy while I put the eiderdown back on the bed.”

“What a very good idea, Mrs Thornton.” I kissed her then headed down to get our drinks.

I was still awake as the clock chimed ten o’clock but I could tell from Margaret’s deep breathing that she was fast asleep. Her head was resting on my shoulder and her breath lightly tickled my chest with each exhalation

I was still unwilling to sleep for the next thing I would know was the hustle and bustle of daily life.

I imagined what Margaret would say if she knew why I was still awake and smiled as I heard her voice in my head. And she was right.

Yes, tomorrow we would be back to reality and to the daily routine but no matter what the future held for us, we would always have the memories of the last two days to help see us through.

I kissed the top of Margaret’s head.

“Goodnight, my love. Sweet dreams.”

I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.

The End

Cat Winchester can be found archived under the tabs John Thornton, Armitage Inspired Heroes, and Other Works by Armitage Authors on the header above. Our interview with her appears tomorrow.

#NS10: A Merry Little Christmas Fan Fiction

For our final week of the 10th anniversary of North & South we’re pleased to bring you A Merry Little Christmas, a romantic Christmas fan fiction by Catherine Winchester, author of  N&S novels What You Wish For and Northern Light. We’ve split it into two posts with the first two parts today and the final two tomorrow. Thank you, Cat, for sharing this early Christmas present with our readers!

A Merry Little Christmas

by Catherine Winchester

Chapter One

Given how lavish Victorian dinner parties and balls are, you are probably thinking that my and Margaret’s first Christmas was a lavish affair with a nine course dinner and weeks of parties leading up to the big day. However on this occasion, you would be wrong.

We had not long been married then, only a few months, and it had been difficult for us to spend much time alone. I was still struggling to get the mill back up to full capacity and living with servants meant that time on our own was a precious commodity.

I was surprised when Mother announced her intention to spend Christmas with Fanny and Watson, since I know she does not take much pleasure in their company. I questioned her decision but she was adamant; she had already arranged everything and was to leave us on Christmas Eve and return the day after Boxing Day.

When I told Margaret that evening as we lay together in bed, she raised her head off my chest and smiled at me.

“Imagine, two whole days alone,” she sounded wistful.

“There will still be the servants,” I reminded her.

“Only if we want them,” she bit her lip to stifle the cheeky grin that wanted to escape. “We could send them home to their families for the holiday and then we would have this whole house to ourselves.”

“And what will we eat?” I asked.

“I can cook us something. I don’t promise fine fare but it will be edible and tasty. Besides, man cannot live on bread alone!” She said that last line so innocently that if I had not known her well, I might have thought she was talking about spending the day in church.

Thankfully I did know her well by then and rarely have I heard such a tempting idea. I quickly found myself agreeing.

Dixon was the hardest since she viewed Margaret as family and enjoyed taking care of her, so Margaret made the arrangements for Dixon to spend four days with her sister and all but ordered her to go. The other staff were much easier to convince to take a day off, especially since I assured them that they would still be paid.

As we awoke on Christmas morning, we heard something that I have never heard before; perfect silence. The Mill was empty, none of the usual hustle and bustle was happening inside the house and even the street traffic seemed to have disappeared.

We lay there for a while, not talking of anything special, just enjoying the peace and quiet.

“We had better get ready soon if you don’t want to miss the morning service,” I reminded her.

Margaret looked up at me, her eyes shining with tears.

“I…” She sat up so that her back was to me, looked down at her hands and began picking an imaginary speck of dirt from under her nails.

“What is it?” I asked, sitting up and putting my hands on her shoulders.

“I have always attended my father’s service and since we came to Milton, gone to church with him,” she said, her voice so soft that I almost had to strain to hear her.

I moved my hands from her shoulders to around her waist and pulled her back against my chest, holding her there.

“God knows that you love him,” I assured her. “I do not think He will mind you missing one service because it is painful.”

“Do you think so?” she asked.

“I know so,” I assured her. “Besides, God knows what is in your heart and it does not matter if you pray to him in a church or in a shed, he will still hear you.”

“You’re right, of course.” I could feel her visibly relax. “Thank you.”

I kissed her shoulder.

“Now, why don’t you go and wash up and I will play the hunter-gatherer and see what we have in the kitchen!” I teased.

She nodded and slipped from the bed to pull her robe on.

“And Margaret?”

She paused on her way to the bathroom and turned to me.

“Would you leave your hair loose today?”

She smiled and nodded, making a grand show of swishing her raven locks around her head as she resumed her course to the bathroom.

Margaret’s hair is as beautiful as she is and I love seeing it loose. Indeed it is so thick and full, hanging at least half way down her back, that I often wonder where it all hides once Dixon has put it up for her.

By the time Margaret found me in the kitchen I had rekindled the fires in our bedroom and the kitchen and lit a fresh one in the back parlour. I was just melting some butter into a pan on the stove when Margaret came in, clean and washed but still in her night clothes, as was I.

“Have you looked outside?” she asked. “It’s beautiful.”

There had been a fresh snowfall overnight and she was right; although I’d only glanced outside, it did indeed look beautiful.

“Not as beautiful as you,” I told her.

She blushed.

“Well, let’s just hope that the snow keeps any callers away. With us both in this shocking state of undress, I should hate to think what might happen.” I teased.

“We will no doubt become the talk of Milton once again,” she smiled and came to stand beside me. “You didn’t tell me that you could cook?” she chided me.

“I can’t, not really but we had a few midnight raids on the kitchen at boarding school,” I smiled.

“A mis-spent youth,” she teased. “And the fires?”

“We kept our own rooms and had a rota for which of us would clear and light the fire every day.”

Margaret slipped her arms around my waist and peered around me.

“So what are we having?”

“OEufs a la Jean avec du jambon.”

Margaret began laughing.

“That’s a very grand way of saying ham omelette!”

I smiled at her teasing and poured the beaten eggs into the pan. While I prepared the food, Margaret got the plates and cutlery out and set two places at the kitchen table. I served the food and we chatted, giggling like schoolchildren at the oddness of the situation.

It’s very strange how, although we own the house, we can still feel like intruders in certain parts of it!

With breakfast over we headed to the parlour. The room had been decorated for Christmas with lots of ivy garlands, paper chains, a mistletoe ball hanging in the centre of the room and in one corner, a pine tree which has been decorated with hand made ornaments, lots of holly berries, paper flowers and red and white sugar canes.

Around the candelabra on the mantelpiece snow-tipped holly leaves and pine cones had been placed and the cinnamon and vanilla pod bunch which lay there was giving the room a slightly sweet and festive scent.

We placed some cushions in front of the fire and sat down there to exchange gifts. Margaret had brought me a gold watch, inscribed on the back with “To John, your loving wife, Margaret.

“It’s beautiful,” I told her, leaning over and claiming a kiss. Every day now I would be wearing a token of Margaret’s love for me and that feeling was worth more than any gift on its own.

I had bought Margaret a ruby and diamond eternity ring (ruby is her birthstone) and had the inside of the band inscribed, “With love J”. I didn’t have as much space as there was on the watch so I had to be brief.

Margaret seemed pleased with it though and made me place it on the ring finger of her right hand for her.

“Is it the right size?” I asked, worried that I had done something wrong.

“It’s perfect,” she smiled.

She leaned over and kissed me but this was not a kiss of thanks, it was a soft kiss of desire.

Chapter Two

I would have been happy to lie in front of that fire forever but it seemed that Margaret had a better idea.

As I rose to build the fire up again, she pulled her robe on and handed me mine. I raised a quizzical eyebrow.

“We’re getting dressed,” she said.

“We are?” I may have sounded a little petulant.

“We are.” She got to her feet and headed for the door. I followed, curious as to what she had in mind.

Once in our bedroom she told me to dress in old clothes that I wouldn’t mind getting wet, then took me out into the back garden. It wasn’t much of a garden at the mill house but blanketed with fresh snow, it looked beautiful.

We proceeded to build a snowman. Despite the many layers I wore, I soon grew cold. My hands and feet turned numb, my nose turned bright red and I don’t believe I have ever been so cold in my life. I enjoyed every single second of it; laughing and playing, stealing the occasional kiss and creating a snowman that had rather a lopsided coal smile and spindly twigs for arms since we could find nothing larger. It would not be winning any prizes for beauty, that was certain.

After that, a snowball fight ensued and after knocking Margaret off her feet and into the soft snow, I claimed my prize as victor; a kiss. I would have claimed more but it was even too cold for me!

We returned to the house; Margaret warmed some mulled wine that Cook had left for us while I went to build up the fire in our bedroom. I stripped out of my cold, wet clothes, dried off and pulled my dressing gown on. I then laid the eiderdown from our bed on the floor in front of the fire and sat down to wait for my Margaret.

She kept me waiting quite a long time but when she returned she had a tray laden with food and drink and I rushed up to help her.

“Get changed,” I told her. “You’ll catch your death if you stay in those wet clothes for much longer.”

Margaret handed the tray over to me and headed to her dressing room. I placed the tray down on the closest table and followed her through.

“John!” she cried, shocked that I had entered.

“Well since you have no lady’s maid, I thought that you might want my assistance,” I smiled.

Margaret laughed at my impropriety and I reached out to take her hand.

“Margaret, you’re freezing!” I admonished, grabbing up her dressing gown. “Come and stand by the fire.” My firm grip on her hand let her know that I wasn’t fooling and she allowed me to lead her back to our bedroom.

Her skin was icy cold and I rubbed each area of skin that I uncovered to warm it. Margaret stood placidly and allowed my ministrations. I dried her carefully, not wanting her to suffer chapped skin and once she was dried and at least a little warmed, I held her robe out for her, which had been laying by the fire and was nice and warm.

Margaret stepped willingly into the garment and wrapped it around her as she leaned back against me.

“You do take care of me,” she said softly.

“I try,” I sounded a little tart. Truth be told I was angry at myself for not realising how cold she had become.

“I’m fine, darling. I spent many hours in the snow in Helstone and have been much more chilled than this.”

She turned in the circle of my arms and reached up to kiss me.

“Now, are we going to let this food go to waste?” she asked.

I shook my head, ‘no’ and we sat down on the eiderdown with the tray beside us while I examined the treats she had brought up.

There was a large plate of sandwiches, a bowl of sugar plums, another of fudge and a third of sugared almonds. There were also two slices of the Christmas pudding that Cook had left us; a carafe of mulled wine and a jug of milk.

“I’m afraid the wine will be cool by now,” she apologised as she poured two glasses.

“It will still taste good,” I assured her.

We spent the rest of the evening by the fire, venturing downstairs only once for a pot of tea and some supper. When the daylight faded we lit only two candles, rather enjoying the romantic atmosphere that the firelight gave us. We talked a lot, swapping stories from our pasts that we had not yet shared, reminiscing about our favourite Christmases past and just enjoying one another’s company.

When it came time to sleep, rather than retiring to bed we doubled the large eiderdown over so it acted as a top cover and bottom sheet, then fetched our pillows from the bed and went to sleep in front of the fireplace.

Cat Winchester can be found archived under the tabs John Thornton, Armitage Inspired Heroes, and Other Works by Armitage Authors on the header above. Parts Three and Four of A Merry Little Christmas will appear tomorrow.

#NS10: Going Back To The Beginning

The Armitage Authors Network continues our celebration of the 1oth Anniversary of  North & South this week with a special post from three of the authors we’ve archived: Elizabeth Hanbury, Phillipa Ashley, and Georgia Hill. They recently spent some time exploring Quarry Bank Mill, a site that Elizabeth Gaskell may have used as inspiration for Thonton’s Mill and the Master’s house, and they shared their photos and memories of what the early days of the fandom was like below.

Happy Anniversary!

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the first broadcast of the 2004 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South.

Anyone who has only recently discovered the delights of N&S and John Thornton/Richard Armitage might not know the internet phenomenon that followed its original broadcast. The three of us (Phillipa Ashley, Liz Hanbury and Georgia Hill) were there when it happened and to celebrate this special occasion, we’re sharing our thoughts and recollections of those heady days.

“Quarry Bank Mill – it’s believed that Elizabeth Gaskell would have known the Gregs (who owned QBM) as her uncle was employed as doctor to the child apprentices there and Hannah Greg was a Unitarian and therefore part of EG’s circle. It’s been speculated that EG based N&S/JT/MH on Quarry Bank Mill, Samuel Greg and Hannah Greg.” Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

So let’s begin with a bit of background…

Back in November 2004 there was very little pre-publicity about this new period drama series North & South, even from the BBC. It arrived on British TV screens on Sunday evening, 14th November, relatively unheralded and unannounced. Then (as now) the BBC has a specific area on its website – messageboards – for comments and discussion on TV and Radio programmes. A messageboard for N&S was started shortly after episode one was broadcast. At first these discussions took place on the BBC’s general drama board. The contributions were plentiful but initially fairly restrained because the board was strictly moderated – more on this later. Then, someone asked “Is it just me, or is Richard Armitage hotter than a thousand suns?” and the floodgates opened!

By the end of November, the volume of messages being posted had swamped the general board, so a new board was opened especially for N&S in mid-December which sparked another 5,000 messages. This unprecedented reaction to North and South and the outpouring of emotion caused such a stir it even got a mention in the UK national press.

"Reconstruction of a mill workers cottage, built in Styal village near to Mill." Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury

“Reconstruction of a mill workers cottage, built in Styal village near to Mill.” Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury,

Liz says…

I was desperate to find out more after watching North & South. I’d never had such a reaction before to a TV drama before and to this day I don’t know why this production and Richard Armitage/John Thornton got under my skin as they did. Some people have described it like falling in love and it’s a fair comparison. It was certainly a wonderfully intense response. Having searched on line, there was very little information about the adaptation and even less about Richard Armitage, unless you were looking for the former US Deputy Secretary of State! I didn’t make the connection when watching N&S but I’d actually seen Richard before briefly, on stage, when he played Angus in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth in 1999.

Eventually I found the BBC drama messageboard where a very long conversation was already going on about North & South. My first feeling was one of relief. I was just pleased to find others had been similarly affected. I thought I was the only one going crazy over it!

I joined and did at least remember to use a pseudonym although the weirdos I’d been worried about finding in an on-line chat room all seemed remarkably intelligent and erudite people, quoting Gaskell, comparing the original text with the adaptation and discussing many aspects of 19th century culture and literature. The atmosphere was heady and strangely comforting for those of us caught up in this extraordinary passion. Discussion was fast, furious and fun with dollops of desire for a certain TDHCMO (that’s short for ‘tall, dark, handsome cotton mill owner’ – we created our own acronyms and phrases for speed of posting and to get around the moderators. For example, ‘South American River’ was used when you wanted to point people towards ‘Amazon’!) alongside sensible literary discussion and analysis.

A campaign was started to get the series out on DVD as only a few lucky souls had had the foresight to record every episode.

The board was strictly moderated, and messages would be removed without warning if the moderators thought we had broken the rules. We never knew who the moderators were. We only knew the two BBC hosts, Ian and Claudia, who occasionally popped up to post in the threads. There were no pictures on the board and no smilies.

Also, the board was only open until 10pm in the evening, so there would often be a mad rush just before then to post messages. It was hard to tear yourself away, such was the intensity of the discussion. One evening I made the mistake of putting on a face pack thinking I’d spend a few minutes checking on the latest postings and news. Three hours later I was still staring at the PC screen, utterly engrossed and still wearing the face pack!

And some of the threads were side-splittingly funny and off-the-wall – there was a Milton Pantomine thread featuring Henry the Horse and a thread which discussed which washing powder Mrs Thornton used to get John’s shirts so white!

It was a magical and unforgettable time and out of it came things I’ll always I treasure: the N&S DVD which might otherwise not have seen the light of day, and which continues to gain the series new fans and incite the same passionate response we experienced back in 2004; some wonderful friendships and plenty of laughter; and indirectly the push I needed to take my scribblings out of the drawer, dust them off and start writing again.

I hope Richard and the rest of the cast and crew of N&S 2004 find it heart-warming to know how many good things N&S 2004 has been the catalyst for, and feel proud to have been involved in something that continues to delight 10 years on, as well as engender a strong sense of community and goodwill among its many fans worldwide.

"Kitchen garden at the Apprentice House – produce from kitchen garden was used to feed apprentices." Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

“Kitchen garden at the Apprentice House – produce from kitchen garden was used to feed apprentices.” Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

Phillipa says….

 I’ve never heard that face pack story, Liz! I’d love to have seen that.

 Whizzing back ten years to that dark Sunday evening in November 2004…

 I’d always loved period dramas and when I saw N&S trailered, I thought I’d give it a go, BUT (please hide behind the sofa at this point) I hated Thornton in the first episode. I thought he was vile when he kicked the millworker and not handsome, but scary. I told my husband and daughter that I might not bother with episode 2, however, they really enjoyed it so I decided to give the series a second a chance.

 Some way into episode 2, I suddenly thought: wow, this is good and wow, this character has a magnetic charisma that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Basically I was completely hooked on the series and on Richard’s portrayal of Thornton and I wanted more of both.

 Internet forums were relatively new back then, so while I was looking for more details on the series I happened upon the BBC Drama messageboard. It was there I saw a thread that said something like: “It is just me or is John Thornton hotter than 1000 suns?”

 The board is where I ‘met’ Liz and Georgia but they had screen names then. It wasn’t until many months later that we finally met in the flesh.

 I have North & South to thank for that, and for introducing me to writing fiction and to my other C19 close friends.

"Inside the mill with machines and cotton dust!" Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

“Inside the mill with machines and cotton dust!” Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

 Georgia says…

Heady is exactly the right word. It was an extraordinary time. I’d gone through something similar with the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, back in 1995. The big difference? No internet! I had to make do with a ‘Making of’ behind the scenes book and a trip to some of the film locations. Although I still harbour a fondness for both television series and Colin Firth (who doesn’t?!) the obsession soon waned. With North & South, I had a access to a community of intelligent, educated and, let’s face it, swooning Richard Armitage fans! It revived my love of 19th century literature and history and introduced me to many books I probably would have otherwise overlooked.

I have very fond memories of the BBC site. I’d never been on an internet chat forum before and it was an absolute delight. Like having a non-stop gossip with like-minded people. We’d begin a thread discussing one thing and it would drift into something really quite different. What began as an opera topic, ended up as a discussion on whether we thought our literary hero was a virgin. There were in jokes galore too. The main snag was, at that time, I only had a dial-up internet connection. This meant not only was the phone ‘engaged’ for hours on end, I quadrupled the phone bill. That took some explaining.

Meeting up in London – for the first time – was scary. It didn’t help that a friend suggested all these women may not be all they seemed. The person who claimed to be a Jane Austen literature expert on the board may be something completely different for real! Thankfully, everyone turned out to be as lovely in real life as on the board – and as easy to talk to. We’ve gone on to have some really enjoyable weekends – to mills, Chawton and to Edinburgh where many N&S locations were filmed. I’ve made some lasting friendships which I treasure. And, of course, it sparked off my writing career.

Great fun and happy memories.

"Tables set out for celebration dinner – complete with yellow roses of course!" Photo used with kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

“Tables set out for celebration dinner – complete with yellow roses of course!” Photo used with kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

 Footnote…

The BBC N&S board carried on until February 2005, when it was shut down in a cost-cutting exercise. Allegedly ;0) Actually I don’t think they could cope with the deluge of posts! Richard Armitage himself posted a message to us the day before it closed and the response caused the board to go into meltdown. It never quite recovered before its final closure the following evening!

One of the members had already set up another board elsewhere for discussion about 19th century literature. When the BBC board closed, she kindly set up some extra boards about N&S for us on the C19 Messageboard, and most of us moved over there.

Copies of some of the conversations we had about North & South on the BBC board in the three months after it was aired can be found in the archive board on C19. A few members had the prescience to save some of the best ones.

And that mention in the UK national press? The Times printed an article about the phenomenon that was the BBC N&S board just before Christmas 2004. You can read it here.

We hope those who were never on the BBC board enjoy reading about that heady time. We certainly will never forget it! Let us know if you have any questions about those early days and we’ll do our best to answer them.

You can find Georgia Hill in our archive here. Follow her on Twitter @georgiawrites. Phillipa Ashley is in our archive here. Follow her on Twitter @PhillipaAshley. Liz Hanbury can be found in our archive here. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Hanbury.

#NS10: Thornton and Thorin in NORTH & SPOOF

The Armitage Authors Network is delighted to invite Damaris Osborne to reveal a little of how her parody, North & Spoof, came into being. A long-time fan of Richard Armitage, Damaris concocted her spoof shortly after Peter Jackson’s casting announcement that gave Richard the role of Thorin. With inimitable wit and a generous dose of zaniness, she’s combined Thorin and Thornton into the always-brooding Mr Thorinton. Her work is nothing short of gently deranged genuis!

Askance Thornton

That face is way too serious to be taken seriously. Richard Armitage in North & South

by Damaris Osborne

[This article contains a basic spoiler if you have no idea how The Hobbit ends.]

The parody or ‘spoof’ is a genre that is sometimes sniffed at, because it is not ‘original’, and it is not ‘heavy literature’. Well, sometimes one does not need ‘heavy literature’ but the chance to forget what your superior said about your latest idea at work, or how grim it is queuing in the supermarket when their computer systems are on a go-slow, or how much you hate clearing up fur balls from Godzilla the kitten. At such times, I think we all need something superficially mindless to cheer us up. A spoof is there as ‘comfort food’. Like ‘comfort food’ it is best not taken day after day, not because it makes you fat, but because it jades the palate. However, taken as a treat, an indulgence, it may even be better than ‘a nice cup of tea’ at improving your mood.

It is not ‘original’ since it is parodying something already created. However, there is originality in the manner of the spoofing. Spoof writing is not for everyone. You need to be on top of the material from which you are drawing the ’spoofables’ and you need to be able to look at things through a form of mental mirror that does not simply distort, but also focuses on literal meaning. An awful lot of word ‘jokes’ are founded upon the fact that what we say is NOT what we mean. You then combine what you see with what you know of the contextual material and await what your slightly kooky mind concocts.

North & Spoof just had to be, from the moment Mr Richard Armitage was announced to play Thorin in The Hobbit films. I wrote it in November 2010 before he ever flew to New Zealand. Thorin and Thornton were within a hair’s breadth as names, and I had always thought Margaret Hale’s line ‘I have seen Hell, and it is white, snow white’ really ended with ‘and has seven dwarves’. From that starting point I just did as Top Cat (or Boss Cat) used to say in the cartoons – ‘Mingle, mingle, mingle’.

Tolkien wrote from a deep knowledge of Viking and Anglo-Saxon literature and culture, and this influenced Middle Earth tremendously. The dwarves were especially northern (whilst the elves had quite a lot of Celtic in them). It was therefore proper that a northern mill town would have dwarves, who would be John Thorinton’s kinsmen, although they would be dwarven height, and he was six foot two. You might see this as a problem, but in fact the answer was obvious to me. Mr Thorinton was filled with Longing, which meant he was still a dwarf, but over the centuries Longing had made his blood line grow ‘longer’ and their beards shorter, which meant John Thorinton did a great line in stubble, but never risked getting a beard stuck in the warp and weft. He would also be running a mithril mill, making a form of Crimean War period kevlar equivalent, which made military uniforms tougher against projectiles. With me so far?

This one, too. Richard Armitage in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

This one, too.
Richard Armitage in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

I hold my hand up and admit that Terry Pratchett’s concept of dwarves also influenced me, rather more than Walt Disney, who only made me use ’suitable’ names for the seven dwarves ( plus Musically, who works in the office). This set up the environment in which I would poke fun at North & South, and primarily the BBC version, because so many things were known about the making of it. One of those nuggets was that the house the Hales lived in was actually filmed in Edinburgh, so I made their address 14, Lookslikeedinburgh Street, and of course the ‘300 mile look’, where the steps to the Town Hall up which Margaret Hale climbed are 300 miles from the window from which John Thornton saw her. That is, of course, way before we reach ‘the Woman in Brown’ at the station scene. With so much to reference for N&S fans, the opportunities seemed endless. As an example, here is Margaret’s meeting with Mr Thorinton in Middlearth Mills, where she sees him dismissing a worker, with violence. The F word, in this context, is ‘Fire’, the mere mention of which might set the mithril ablaze, and I changed Hale to Hile, because I was longing (not full of Longing) to use ‘Miss Hile’ and ‘crisis’ together.

‘Bully!’ she cried.
He frowned.
‘You do not understand.’
‘No gentleman would shake a man like that.’
‘How would he do it?’
‘Politely, and after asking permission in writing, of course.’
‘Ah, soft Southern ways. Well, here, Miss Hile, we act, not write notes about acting.’ He paused. ‘You should not be here. What is it you desi . ..want?’
‘The key to the cupboard in the basement.’ It sounded a bit silly now.
‘The key to a cupboard? You came right across Millstone for a key to a cupboard.’
‘I, er, needed the walk?’ she suggested.
He looked broodingly at her. My, how well he brooded. She had never seen a soft Southern brood half as fine as this. It was dark, glowering, like chocolate. Once you had a little brood, you wanted more. She shook herself, and it looked as if she had severe dandruff.
‘This place,’ she murmured, ‘how can you stand there and look me in the eye?’
‘By inclining my head downwards a little.’
‘No. I mean, look about you. This is . .. appalling. Those poor children. Have you no . . .’
She stopped, as one of the ‘children’ crawled out from under a loom and stared up at her angrily. 
‘Children! Why, you size-ist wench!’
‘Hush, Lowly.’ Mr Thorinton spoke gently to the short and heavily bearded figure. ‘She means no insult.’
‘Sounded an insult to me. We may need to place it in the Grudge Book.’
‘No need. Be about your work.’
‘Aye, Maister John. And thank you for saving us from the F word.’
‘My duty, Lowly. Now, off you go, and tell Grimly, Glumly, Irascibly, Huffily, Curmudgeonly and Cheesedoff that they can take their tea break now.’
His face hardened as he looked at Margaret Hile.
‘You speak of what you do not know. The dwarves are my kinfolk, many generations back. Few will employ them except upon short term contracts, and they are short and contracted enough. There is less work in the mines nowadays.’
‘You? But you are so tall, dark and ha . . . hard to talk to. You cannot have dwarf blood.’
‘I do, but I am filled with Longing.’
‘For what?’
‘No. Longing. It is the reason I am six foot two and stubbled, not bearded.’
She lowered her gaze. She had noted the stubble. It was something that in the past she had only seen in cornfields after the harvest. She wondered, suddenly, what it would be like if . . . she swallowed hard.
‘You were cruel.’
‘I have a temper. It is a dwarf thing. But I protect my people. These are my people. I will not let them be claimed by the F word. Long, long ago my ancestors were driven from great riches by a beast that breathed it. I have installed Smaug detectors around Middlearth Mills to protect the place.’
‘Smaug? I thought it was a form of metropolitan fog?’
‘Ha. In the soft South perhaps. But here it is a great dragon that sweeps from its sleep upon the hoard.’
‘How dare you!’ Margaret flushed scarlet.
‘Er . . .’ Mr Thorinton looked confused.
‘To mention such women in front of a lady.’
‘Er . . .’ The penny dropped. He picked it up, since every penny counted. ‘I said ‘hoard’.’
Margaret covered her ears and went lalala. He gave up.

I did say I was a bit kooky, didn’t I?

What I found interesting was that however much I poked fun at the story, John Thorinton’s character was not mocked. That he would be like Thorin in so many ways was not a surprise. From the Gimli of Lord of the Rings, and Thorin from the book form, I made calculated guesses about Mr Armitage’s Thorin. He would bear a Grudge, with a capital ‘G’, have a very strong sense of kindred and duty, a temper, and frown a lot. Hey, that was pretty much John Thornton anyway. There is an integrity to them both with which I never tampered, and I think keeping a core of truth in the lunacy accentuates the madness. Had there been a huge discrepancy in how I saw the two characters, I do not think I would have found the inspiration to create North & Spoof.

It was then a case of working through the story, the scenes and situations, playing with words, stretching concepts. ‘The colour of fruit’ had been something picked up upon by N&S followers, so I used it as a theme, and also the North and South divide, in attitude and in accent. Having lived from the ages of eight to sixteen in a fairly remote area on the coast of the English Lake District, I was painfully aware how real the language problem could be, especially in an era without modern communication. In Britain we hear accents on television and radio from all parts, and become used to them. The Hales/Hiles would have never heard the northern intonation, let alone northern dialect words. The potential for misunderstanding, as with ‘hoard’ and ‘whored’ was too good to ignore. One other aspect I wished to highlight was the way Fanny was very much a peripheral person in Hannah Thornton’s eyes, and in her heart. This was a woman focused on her son, almost exclusively. There was therefore a running joke in which she called her daughter all sorts of names beginning with F except Fanny.

I wrote North & Spoof because it was in my head. That is what happens with wordsmiths, and the head can be a crowded place. With a spoof inside it, well, that really needs letting out as soon as possible. The actual writing of the chapters, and the whole thing is only forty something thousand words, was completed in a few days, after which I returned to sanity ( I hope). It was over a year before I saw Thorin on the big screen, and my guesses were proven accurate. I know the brow was prosthetic, but wow, it furrowed and he brooded! Huzza!

So here we are, in November 2014, a decade on from North & South, though it feels as if yesterday (much like that look seeming a hundred yards not 300 miles), and with the final part of The Hobbit trilogy set for December. Thorin, always the tragic hero, is doomed, but his last fight, his death, is his redemption, and we always knew it would happen, since it was in the book and has been building up in the films. To avoid carrying a large box of tissues to the cinema, and under a compulsion from Mr Armitage wondering about Thorin’s ‘lost love of his life’, I wrote, in far from spoofing form, a back story for Thorin, a back story that then continued, without me knowing how Jackson, Boyens and Walsh would handle it, to the end of the tale. It gave Thorin, in death, reunion in the Halls with his beloved. It even gave a new slant to his changed manner when back in Erebor. It is available to members of the C19 forum only, and is titled “Thorin’s Loss.” There was only ever one hard copy, and so it will remain. I doubt it was read, and I doubt it still exists. I let out my ‘inner dwarf’ for “Thorin’s Loss,” and filled the early part with details of dwarven courting protocols, and a youthful and impulsive Thorin. It was an odd thing to write, because The Words came largely because I felt Mr Armitage had commanded them to do so. It began quite lightly, with things that would make one smile, but then spiralled into the tragic, and in places I had tears running down my face as I typed. It hurt to write, though the tragedy of the loss of Thorin, King Under the Mountain, was tempered by his passing to an eternity with his Sigrid. Tragedy and comedy are two masks of the same face. At least with North & Spoof you get all comedy and a happy ending . . . and the ‘Woman in Brown’ hitting a dwarven station master over the head with her reticule.

North and Spoof is available at Amazon here

N&Spoof

North & Spoof cover courtesy of Damaris Osborne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wordsmith: Crafting The Words by Sarah Hawkswood

This guest post on the writer’s craft was submitted by The Armitage Authors Network author Sarah Hawkswood. We thought it was the perfect way to kick off November as National Novel Writing Month and we thank her for writing this thought provoking piece. Best wishes to all of you who are participating in NaNoWriMo this year!

‘Everyone has a book in them’ is often said, but I think it is not strictly true, at least when it comes to fiction. Just as there are people who are tone deaf, and for whom music is meaningless, there are those who have no effective creative imagination. Such people do not read fiction because what is on the page is simply typescript. For them no picture is created in their head by the words before them. So do we narrow it very slightly and say ‘Anyone who reads and enjoys fiction has a book in them’? I would still argue that the answer is in the negative. Richard Armitage said recently in an interview that there are people who act and there are actors. I would say the same about people who write and writers, or, as I prefer to call them, wordsmiths. Why that term? Well, I think that creative writing at a level that can be considered publishable, has two required elements, which are ‘The Words’ and the means to craft them into poetry or prose, ‘The word(s)’ and the smithing. If there is one without the other then you are stuck. You can take as many creative writing courses as you like, and learn how to construct dramatic tension, good subordinate clauses, etc,, but if you have not got ‘The Words’ you lack the material on which to use those skills.

To me, a book, or poem, is like a pattern welded sword. It is not a case of hammering a bit of metal into a shape with a pointy end and sharp sides and there you are. It takes the the twisting and hammerwelding of the heated steel and iron rods, correct tempering, and a combination of strength and delicate skill to forge a pattern welded blade. In the Anglo-Saxon/Viking period, such weapons were treasured, given names. The wordsmith has to have ‘The Words’ as those rods, and the craft to create with them. ‘The Words’ are a gift, and an occasional curse too, since it is very awkward making sure dinner is on the table, or the tax return filled in, when one’s head is crammed with ‘The Words’ desperate to get out. If a person has ‘The Words’ then they may be able to develop the skills to work them into something which communicates not just on a literal level, but at one which is deeper, more visceral and emotional. It is most obvious in poetry, but is also part of prose.

Writing is communication. That sounds obvious, but one only has to see the appalling morass of gibberish that is put out, especially by official bodies, to see that it is often forgotten. This does not mean paring every phrase to the bone, but writing in context. The instructions for putting together that flatpack bookcase ought to be, and so often are not, simple, concise, and clear. The style of the writing has to be appropriate, to purpose, to pace, to period. Describing the couple enjoying a picnic and romance beneath the trees in a park should have a languor, a sense of savouring everything in that event, that in a fight or a chase would be ridiculous. There might be a single moment in the action when juxtaposing a more poetic image actually heightens the impact of the rest of the scene, but it has to be there for a very specific reason. As to period, try writing a paragraph and then writing it again in the style of another genre, or even another writer, and see what happens. It is utterly changed. I write in two different genres and two different styles, although I have certain ‘markers’ and traits. This is not just a change of speech pattern and language, but it seeps into the narrative element as well. What I find fascinating is that I do not make a conscious distinction, or ever find I have slipped into the wrong one. I think that is down to ‘world’. As an historical writer I step from the present into the past within my imagination, and everything from the smells, the sounds, the colours, the textures of clothing and buildings, to the way in which people form their sentences is different when writing my 12th century murder mysteries compared with writing Regency period romance. The only problem is when it comes to writing the synopsis of a period novel, because I find it exceedingly difficult to revert to contemporary style. In fact I have even had to have my husband rewrite a synopsis and ‘translate’ it, just because of the way the sentences were formulated when I thought about the characters.

In the old days before the microchip, I would have found writing very difficult, because I need to get what is in my head onto the page or screen with a flow. This meant scrawl I had trouble deciphering afterwards, and, in the era of the typewriter, a huge boost to sales of correcting fluid. The computer has been a great asset, because it is so easy to simply delete not only the typo but that phrase that sounds laboured, add that snippet which floods the ‘picture’ with colour and a luminescence that lifts a scene from the two dimensional and turns it into an alternative reality. This is not to say that every sentence is dissected and weighed word by word, because when the writing is going well the flow is such that the words have a momentum. However, I would recommend that a wordsmith always reads yesterday’s progress at the commencement of the new day’s work, not only to immerse themselves in the situation and ensure good continuity of fact and mood, but also to look at exactly what those fingers on the keyboard set down. There will be clauses, sentences, even possibly paragraphs, that jar, and that require alteration, or excision, and also, just occasionally, one can sit back and feel that glow from seeing a sentence that you know has its own intrinsic beauty from the way the words work together in a harmony that equates to a perfect chord in music.

To go back to Mr Armitage, I would suggest that writing and acting have many correlations, and not just that they are creative arts. For a start, most writers need other income, in the same way as most actors, although in the case of writers they tend to remain in a more permanent ‘day job’ rather than interspersing the creative craft with something to pay the bills. Secondly, there are those who emerge from their training and hit the big time through one brilliant role ( and a lot of luck). There are authors like that out there, as equally rare. Then there are the competent stalwarts whose face you recognise, but whose name is on the tip of your tongue. They make a living, and are more in work than ‘resting’. They equate with many writers whose names appear on library shelves with a few titles and inches to their name. There are also the ‘stars’, but not all stars are the same. Some achieve ‘celebrity’ and become a name in themselves, even though, if one looked closely at their ‘craftsmanship’, it might be remarkably average, or very limited. There are writers whose names are ‘famous’ enough to be larger than the title of their latest book, but it does not mean they write beautifully. Finally, there are others who are true masters of the craft, the Maggie Smiths, the Laurence Oliviers, the James Masons, whose brilliance goes beyond the transience of life, like the literary greats. One must add that not every role they ever played was pure gold, just as not every paragraph that Dickens or Dostoevsky set on paper, not every poem by Keats or Kipling, was a gem. I believe the day may come when Mr Armitage may be admitted into that thespian group, though I am certain he would say he is always learning, with much still to learn, and would not place himself among the elite. If you saw The Crucible, you know that he is way beyond ‘someone who acts’ and is very advanced as ‘an actor’. If he has inspired or unknowingly assisted in your writing, I humbly suggest you also strive to be as good in your craft as he is in his.

Sarah Hawkswood is the author of the soon-to-be-released mystery The Lord Bishop’s Clerk: A Bracecote and Catchpoll Investigation, available for pre-order on Amazon here. Learn more about the book at her website. Read her essay about her muse at FLY HIGH!,  linked here with the kind permission of Maria Grazia.