Brimstone and the Blitz

The Firewatcher Chronicles are set during the Blitz in London, and in a very specific area by the banks of the Thames: Puddle Dock and the City, up to St Paul’s Cathedral.

Street sign - Puddle Dock

When I was first researching the books, I wanted to set them in a specific place that was affected by the many fires covered by the series. So it had to be somewhere inside the old Roman city but close to the riverbank. I wanted somewhere that’s not famous, just a place where the hero, young Christopher Larkham, and his family – normal working-class people – worked and lived and watched for fires during the Blitz. It had to be somewhere close to the river, so the kids can go searching the riverbank at low tide, and surrounded by those wonderful narrow, winding streets of the old city – streets with fabulous names like Addle Hill and Bleeding Heart Lane. This is how the area was laid out around the seventeenth century:

Puddle Dock map 17th century

I chose Puddle Dock because there are few traces now of the place it once was, and also I loved the name. This is how it looked in the 1940s, with the tide out and the dock itself filled with debris from bombed buildings:

Puddle Dock 1947

Here’s what that area looks like now, from across the river.

Puddle Dock form the south bank

I admit it’s not all that glamorous (besides that glorious cathedral, glowing in the evening light). Puddle Dock now houses a theatre, apartments and offices, and is tucked in between two busy roads.  There’s no dock any more. Great swathes of the City are like that, not just because it is still one of the great financial centres of the world and therefore filled with office blocks, but also because so much of the area was flattened in the Blitz.

Southwark bridge to Blackfriars in the Blitz

Brimstone, the first book in the Chronicles, takes place on  the night of 29 December 1940, when wave after wave of German air force bombers dropped 100,000 incendiary bombs, followed by more than 20,000 high explosive bombs and parachute mines, starting a series of fires that devastated the City.

That night became known as the Second Great Fire of London. Among the worst-hit areas were places burned in the first Great Fire of London  – Paternoster Square and the area around St Paul’s Cathedral, right down to the banks of the Thames, including many of the churches rebuilt after the Great Fire by Sir Christopher Wren. And much of the area around Puddle Dock.

St Paul's surrounded by bomb damage

Hundreds of years before the Blitz, on the night of 2 September 1666, the original Great Fire of London started in Pudding Lane.

This is how the city looked before the Great Fire (that big cathedral on the hill is old St Paul’s, where key scenes happen in Brimstone):

London from Southwark before the Fire

And during it:

Great Fire

How terrifying that must have been!

And here, hundreds of years later, is how the same area looked during that one night of the Blitz:

Herbert Mason's photo of St Paul's

This is Herbert Mason’s famous photo, ‘St Paul’s Survives’, one of the most iconic images from the Blitz, and taken on the night of 30 December 1940 – the night on which Brimstone is partly set. This photo meant so much to Londoners, and people across the world who were watching with horror as the Nazi attacked Britain and many other places. London had just copped a beating, but the cathedral was still standing – surrounded by smoke and flames.

So you can see what poor Christopher has to deal with in Brimstone, time-travelling between not just one but both of these enormous conflagrations.

And, perhaps, why I couldn’t resist writing a story about a kid who fights both of the great fires of London in one night.

 

Photo sources:

  • Imperial War Museum
  • Museum of London
  • Wikimedia 
  • A London Inheritance
  • Me.

Coming up

What’s happening?

It’s Women’s History Month.

I’ll be having a chat about writing about women of the past at the Women’s History day at Eltham Library on March 3.


Then on 19 March, I’ll be reading a bit from the draft of Grace, on the lives of Irish pirate Grace O’Malley and Elizabeth 1, at the Wheeler Centre.

Details here.

Hope to see you out celebrating women’s history month. Or if you’d rather, stay inside and read some instead.

Young People’s History Prize

Exciting news this week. My book 1917: Australia’s Great War was shortlisted for the Young People’s History Prize in the NSW Premier’s History Awards.

The Awards were held on Friday night in two stunning rooms in the State Library of NSW – one had hundreds of early editions of Don Quixote in glass-fronted bookcases. It was lovely to hear the Premier say that she’s a voracious reader, to hear the Minister for the Arts talk about his own writing, to welcome the new State Librarian of NSW, and to be part of the launch of History Week. My thanks to the State Library (where I also spent all day yesterday deep in research), Create NSW, the History Council and the judges for this recognition of 1917 and for inviting me to be part of the evening’s celebrations. I’ve been on literary awards shortlists but it’s a very different kind of feeling to have my book acknowledged  as a work of history-making.

The History Awards are judged by an extraordinary panel of senior historians, and I’m honoured to be shortlisted – and to be in the company of the authors and creators on the Young People’s History Prize list and all the shortlists. Congratulations to every single one. And of course now I want to read all the books.

Our shortlist was pretty short. The two other books were:

Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda—Lake Eyre (Pamela Freeman & Liz Anelli, Walker Books)

Book cover Desert Lake

Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story (Christobel Mattingley, A&U)

Book cover Maralinga's Long Shadow

And the prize was won by Christobel Mattingley for Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story. In accepting the award, Christobel talked about the artist Yvonne Edwards, her family,  and the Anangu people, so many of whom were exposed to radiation by the nuclear bomb tests on Maralinga Tjarutja lands, and so many of whom have died of cancer since the bombs – including, sadly, Yvonne. Profits from the book go to her family. Congratulations to Christobel, who also worked with Yvonne and the communities to tell their stories  in Maralinga, the Anangu Story, so that their children and other children can know the truth of their experiences.

It’s wonderful that there is a Young People’s History Prize alongside awards for Australian, general (as in, everywhere else) and community or local history, as well as multimedia. That says a lot about the important work we do encouraging young people’s engagement with history.

1917 is partly about the divisive conscription campaign on the Home Front, and I remember choosing not to use the word ‘plebiscite’  when I wrote it, because young readers might not know what that old-fashioned word meant. I had no idea then that the country would undergo another plebiscite debate in 2017, and that young people would take to the streets to protest about it. But perhaps we always write and read about the past to reflect on the present.

Some of the fictional characters in the book are based on members of my family, especially my great-aunts who were children – and peace activists – during the war. I wish they were still with us so they could see how they – like young readers today – really do make history.

Eight year-old Madge (my great-aunt) led the United Women’s No Conscription Procession in 1916.

 

 

Header image: Inside the Mitchell Library by Littleyiye

Creative Commons by Attribution

1917 places near and far

Anzac Day, 2017.

I’m remembering the fallen.

Remembering the airmen in the skies over the Battle of Arras in April 1917, whose life expectancy was only 17.5 hours.

Yes. Hours.

The Red Baron and the German hunting packs dominated the air war on the Western Front. The new RE8 two-seaters were being brought into the Front Lines.

On the Eastern Front, Russia was falling apart, following the February Revolutions.

The war hung in the balance. Again.

I’m remembering being in Ypres, and standing under the Menin Gate, waiting to lay a wreath to honour my great-grandfather.

So today I’m remembering places – places I visited, touched by the war, places I tried to capture in 1917. And some places I borrowed as sites for my fictional family.

This is Bailleul in Flanders, the site of the airfield (I think) where 3 Squadron AFC was based. This is where Alex and Charlie end up in 1917.

There are so many airmen buried in the cemetery right next door. (There are so many cemeteries, large and small, in Flanders and across northern France. All are immaculately maintained.)

A few miles away as the RE8 flies, the town of Ypres was reduced to rubble by shelling during the war.

Source: Australian War Memorial

Those few walls you can see were all that remained of the medieval Cloth Hall.

But after the war, it was rebuilt, and today it houses the brilliant In Flanders Fields museum.

But 1917 is not only set in Flanders, of course.

It’s also set near my home, in Melbourne, in the suburb where my great-grandfather lived before he left to serve in the Medical Corps in Flanders.

If you’ve read the book, you’ll know that Maggie and the family live next to the railway station, in a station manager’s house. Here’s one just like the house they might have lived in – near Moreland Station in Melbourne.

Railway house. Source: Pictures Victoria/Coburg Historical Society

And the station – which still stands – looked like this. So you can imagine little Bertie running wild around this very impressive-looking Victorian edifice, while his father tries to appear dignified.

Source: Pictures Vic/Moreland Libraries

It still looks a lot like it did then. Even the signal box in which I imagined Bertie playing is still there, although it’s not in use any more. But there’s a lovely park now on both sides of the lines. (The Government is about to remove the level crossing – I hope they don’t also remove the heritage station or signal box.)

One place in the book that’s very close to my heart is Station Pier in Port Melbourne. That’s where so many families waved off the men and women going to war, not knowing they’d never see them again. And then later in the year it was the scene of strife during the General Strike, and Dame Nellie Melba’s inglorious concert.

(My grandfather worked on the wharf, and he used to take us there to look at the ships, when I was little.)

Source: Victorian ANZAC Centenary

And what about Maggie’s life on the farm? Well, here’s Main Street in Mordialloc (around 1910), which is now a very busy spot indeed.

Source: Kingston Libraries/Kingston Collection

And this is the place I had in my mind for the orchards and farms around Box Hill where Maggie and Lizzie work: Schwerkolt’s Cottage, Mitcham,  just a few doors from where I grew up. In fact, it gets a mention in the book, and the room where Maggie and Mrs Bennett chat is exactly a room at Schwerkolt’s – and they were one of the German families affected by the war. (I spent a lot of time as a kid exploring the bush and old orchards around the cottage. It has since been restored and houses the local museum.)

Source: J.T. Collins Collection, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria.

And I realise as I write this how often I include places close to my heart in my books. Venice. Paris. London. Station Pier. (It’s like one of those tea towels – “New York. Paris. Mitcham.”)

So here’s one more place that I love. Oxford. I can’t tell you how delighted I was to discover, last time I stayed there, that the airmen had trained there during the war. Hoorah! I thought. I can put it in the book. And so I did.

All those spires. Excellent navigation aids.

Real people, real stories

Readers have asked me about the real people who appear in 1917. Here are just a few of them – some faces from the Home Front.

Vida Goldstein (1869-1949). Vida’s life as an activist began in 1890 when she helped her mother collect signatures for the Woman Suffrage Petition, and over the next decade she became deeply involved in a range of political and benevolent groups, especially focused on the fight for women’s right to vote.

After some women were granted the vote in federal elections in 1902, she was one of four women who were the first in the British Empire to stand for election to a national parliament – as a candidate for the Senate in 1903. To agitate for the vote in the states, she formed the Women’s Political Association (WPA) and ran a newspaper, the Woman’s Sphere. In 1908 Victoria granted (some) women the vote, and after that victory, Vida made four more attempts to gain election to Federal Parliament: in 1910 and 1917 for the Senate and in 1913 and 1914 for the House of Representatives, always as an independent, and ran The Woman Voter newspaper.

When the Great War began,  she focused her energy on campaigning for peace and later against conscription, and working on a range of issues that affected women and children.  She formed the Women’s Peace Army in 1915,  a women’s unemployment bureau in 1915-16 and the Women’s Rural Industries, which ran the Mordialloc Women’s Farm. In 1919, with Cecilia John, she attended the Women’s Peace Conference in Zurich. After the war, Vida continued to argue for disarmament and peace, as well as birth control and other measures towards equality.

The federal electorate of Goldstein is named in her honour.

Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography and That Dangerous and Persuasive Woman, Jeanette Bomford, Melbourne University Press, 1993.

Suffragette and anti-conscription campaigner Vida Goldstein (Photo: State Library of Victoria)

 

Cecilia John (1877-1955) was a feminist, agriculturalist, music  and dance teacher and opera singer. As a young woman, she built and ran a poultry farm at Deepdene, to pay for her musical training, and later helped run the Women’s Farm with her friend Ina Higgins. She was an acclaimed performer on the Melbourne stage, but once war broke out she devoted her energy to the Women’s Peace Army, and later on to the Children’s Peace Army.

One of Vida Goldstein’s closest friends, she managed The Woman Voter and they travelled together around the country and overseas to promote peace and women’s activism. She sang the anti-war song, ‘I Didn’t Raise My Son to be a Soldier’ so often at public demonstrations and meetings that the song was banned, and she was also once charged under censorship laws for ordering banned anti-conscription leaflets. After the war and her visit to Geneva in 1919 with Vida, she became involved with the Save the Children Fund and the fight against poverty.

Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography

Miss John and Miss Goldstein collecting for the poor. Photo: That Dangerous and Persuasive Woman, Jeanette Bomford, Melbourne University Press, 1993.

Adela Pankhurst (1885-1961) was the youngest of the famous Pankhurst family of suffragettes, all of whom campaigned for the vote in Britain before the war. Once war broke out, the family split – Mrs Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel wholeheartedly supported the war, while sisters Sylvia and Adela did not. Adela was packed off, alone, to Melbourne with only £20  to her name, and quickly joined Vida Goldstein and the WPA in their campaign against the war. She was a brilliant public speaker and became a committed socialist. In 1917 she spent some time in prison for speaking at banned rallies and refusing to stay silent about food shortages.

I wasn’t able to include all the complexity of Adela’s year in the novel, but by the end of 1917 she had married unionist Tom Walsh, spent several months in prison, and split with the WPA to join the socialists – although she continued to speak at WPA rallies against conscription.

In later years, Adela and Tom were founding members of the Australian Communist Party but later moved to the right, with Adela even being briefly interned in 1942 for her friendship towards Japan.

Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography

And last, but most certainly not least…

My gorgeous great aunts Connie and Madge, who indirectly inspired the character of Maggie.

Rica Kirby and Connie Gardiner (right) at work at the Women’s Farm in Mordialloc. Photo: That Dangerous and Persuasive Woman, Jeanette Bomford, Melbourne University Press, 1993.

 

Eight year-old Madge led the United Women’s No Conscription Procession in 1916. Bless her.

I’ll write more about my family’s connection to these stories one day soon.

Next episode: some of the real pilots and soldiers featured in 1917. Stay tuned.

The good old Harry Tate

A few people have asked me about the aircraft Alex and Charlie fly in 1917.

Here’s an RE8, nick-named the Harry Tate after a music hall star. This one is a plane from 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps –  the real unit to which my fictional characters belong.

3 Squadron RE8 on the Western Front

3 Squadron RE8 on the Western Front

The RE stands for Reconnaissance Experimental, and this was the eighth model in the line. It was pretty revolutionary, as the first British two-seater aircraft with the observer (or gunner – in 1917 that’s Charlie) in the rear cockpit, with a clear view of the sky. The observer defended the plane while the pilot (Alex) in front flew, navigated, took the aerial photographs, and if necessary used the Vickers machine-gun. The Vickers was synchronised to avoid hitting the propeller blades. (That might sound obvious, but the technology didn’t exist at the start of the war.) The RE8 had a 150horsepower engine and a maximum speed of 102 miles per hour. It could stay in the air for over four hours  – significantly longer than many other planes of the time.

You might think that taking a few snapshots would be easy. Here’s the kind of camera they used.

Aerial camera operated by the pilot.

Aerial camera operated by the pilot.

And here’s what the trenches looked like from the air. (I’ll write more about that soon.)

Deep, well-dug German front line trenches and support system

Deep, well-dug German front line trenches and support system

Each squadron had a ground crew of skilled mechanics, armourers (like Len in 1917), riggers and other craftsmen to keep the planes flying. They worked around the clock under pretty harsh conditions – while the airfields were set back from the trenches, they were still shelled and bombed and freezing in winter.

Mechanics from 3 Squadron AFC on the Western Front

Mechanics from 3 Squadron AFC on the Western Front

And of course, no plane was safe flying about over the Lines. Both sides had hunting packs of swift “scouts” or fighter planes, whose job it was to knock the other side’s aircraft out of the sky. Books written by pilots after the war (such as Winged Victory by V.M. Yeates or Sagittarius Rising by Cecil Lewis) try to capture the madness that was the aerial dogfight.

A pilot, in the second between his own engagements, might see a Hun diving vertically, an SE5 on his tail, on the tail of the SE5 another Hun, and above him again another British scout. These four, plunging headlong at two hundred miles an hour, guns crackling, tracers streaming, suddenly break up. The lowest Hun plunges flaming to his death, if death has not taken him already. His victor seems to stagger, suddenly pulls out in a great leap, as a trout leaps at the end of a line, and then, turning over on his belly, swoops and spins in a dizzy falling spiral with the earth to end it. The third German zooms veering, and the last of that meteoric quartet follows bursting … But such a glimpse, last perhaps ten seconds, is broken by the sharp rattle of another attack.

– Cecil Lewis, Sagittarius Rising ( Folio Society edition, London, 1998, p122)

dogfight

Casualty rates, in training and in combat, were high.

This is Lieutenant Leslie Sell, from Albert Park, Melbourne, beside an RE8. A 25 year old photographer prior to enlisting on 23 October 1916 as Private Sell,  but quickly became an Air Mechanic 2nd Class. He left  Melbourne with 4 Squadron on 17 January 1917 aboard RMS Omrah. After arriving in England, he undertook pilot training and on 20 December 1917 he was commissioned as a Flying Officer (Second Lieutenant). In early 1918 he joined 3 Squadron AFC in France.

Lt Sell was shot down on 25 March 1918 and died later that day of his wounds. He is buried in the Hazebrouck Communal Cemetery, France. (Source: ADF Gallery and Australian War Memorial)

Lt Leslie Snell. Killed March 1918.

Lt Leslie Sell. Killed March 1918.

 

 

Feature image: RE8 at Duxford Air Show, by John5199 (Creative Commons)

Cry me a river

It seems I’ve been making people cry.

Well, not so much me as my book.

And yes, that is the plan.

I’ve posted before about the decisions I made in writing 1917, especially about portraying violence and loss.

But while writing it, I was also thinking about the tears I shed over books when I was the same age as my readers – over Helen in Jane Eyre, over everyone in The Isle of the Blue Dolphin … and don’t get me started on Little Women.  I might be scarred for life about the sad demise of Beth March, but it’s the sort of scarring that is easier to bear in fiction than in real life. It’s loss that feels real, but isn’t.

When you write about the First World War, you can’t shy away from sorrow. The world was grieving – and I do mean the world, as there were civilian and military casualties from so many countries. By 1917, communities on the Home Front reeled from the news every day of more loss, more destruction. They mourned family members and friends, and in some cases entire villages or workplaces, especially after the slaughter of 1916 on the Somme.

British cemetery at Hooge, just after the war. Image: Imperial War Museum

British cemetery at Hooge, just after the war. Image: Imperial War Museum

And for those in the fighting, the terror and grief never ended. Shell-shock was finally beginning to be understood and treated, but the diaries, letters, poems and memoirs tell us that almost everyone was profoundly affected by the loss of friends, the constant bombardment, a sense of foreboding, and the physical effects of sleep deprivation, inadequate food and water, lice and rats, mud and snow, disease, living out in the elements every day and night – a nightmare that never seemed to end.

Shell-shocked German soldiers. Image: Imperial War Museum

Shell-shocked German soldiers. Image: Imperial War Museum

It’s war. I couldn’t write about it honestly, couldn’t do justice to the voices in those diaries, letters and memoirs, without trying to reflect that reality. Without breaking a few hearts.

I just remembered this old interview I did with Writers Victoria, published while I was researching 1917:

When was the last time you cried after reading a book? Which book and why did it make you cry?

I’ve been reading a few World War One diaries lately. They are all heart-breaking but sometimes they just stop. Yesterday I saw one in the State Library and got to an entry that reads, “I seem to have come through all right so far”. Then that’s it. There’s no more.

 

So it makes me cry too.

 

British women laying wreaths near Abbeville after the war.

British women laying wreaths near Abbeville after the war.

The history in historical fiction

I recently chaired a debate between historical novelists and historians at the conference of the Historical Novel Society of Australasia‘What can historical novelists and historians learn from each other?

Our thoughtful and entertaining panellists were Jesse Blackadder, Gillian Polack, Rachel Le Rossignol, and Deborah Challinor.

It was great fun, but of course being in the chair meant I couldn’t answer any of my own questions.

But it’s my blog and I’ll rant if I want to.

So here begins a series of posts on thoughts about the intersections of history writing and historical fiction: arising in part from the conference debate, tracing the questions I posed (and also many that I didn’t get to ask), but also bubbling up from my own reading.  And some tips for writers of historical fiction on how to act on some of the issues raised.

Image of Balmain town hall

The HNSA conference in action: Balmain Town Hall. (Photo via HNSA facebook group)

So… this is where we began the other night:

Without history writing, without libraries and other collections, archaeologists, without the ancient recorders of events and daily life, what we novelists write would be fantasy. On the other hand, we know that fiction works as a gateway drug to history writing and research for both readers and writers. But how alike are these two forms – these two disciplines?

And what techniques, skills, tools and models might they share?

Of course the work of history is diverse, and practice and approaches change dramatically over time. But if historical imagination operates in both history writing and historical fiction, does it work differently – does it feel different to the writer as well as the reader? Does narration work differently? Does interpretation?

Does the history we present look different?

Those are some of the questions I’ll cover in the next few posts.

A proposition

If history writing and historical fiction are about  “understanding what it means to be human” (Carl Degler, 1980), are they part of the same project? Practitioners of both forms seek out  stories from the past, engage with them creatively, sort and interrogate them, pull them into some kind of narrative shape and interpret them for readers.

That seems so obvious, but the ongoing conversation between historians and historical novelists has been rather testy at times.  There is misunderstanding on both sides (if indeed they are ‘sides’) about the commonalities, purposes and practice of both disciplines.

You will often see, for example, historians portrayed in fiction as rigid, data-obsessed researchers (the same might be said of many fictional portrayals of librarians – and academics). They are gatekeepers guarding facts, keeping novelists and readers in the dark about what really happened.

And yet writers of historical fiction depend on writers of history texts – creators of secondary sources – for the information they use to build their imagined worlds; worlds that are, according to Jerome de Groot, “manifestly false but historically detailed.”

What’s going on here? Let’s try to clear the air.

It ought to be clear to us all that the writing of history is a creative process, just like the writing of fiction. It has been since the days of Herodotus. Equally, we can all recognise the depth of research that goes into many works of fiction. So we have a great deal in common. But our approaches may be different – of which more in a later post.

There is, as Gillian Polack pointed out during the debate and in her own writing, an idea of history and historians based on nineteenth century concepts of not just the historian figure but also what the field of history is, does and means. The discipline – the work of interrogating and engaging with the meaning of history, even our understanding of what that word means – changed radically during the twentieth century, and continues to change. But many people haven’t noticed.

I agree with Gillian that historical novelists tend to see ‘history’ in its nineteenth century guise – that thing we all fell in love with in school or in early historical novels – and our responses to the corpus of history writing are seen through this lens. That means we also run the risk of seeing even primary sources and the research process itself from this limited viewpoint. Without an understanding of historiography, of approaches to the work of history, we run the risk of relying on outdated concepts and disproved theories.

Here’s a simple but striking example, discussed by Gillian in one of her articles: Historicising the Historical Novel: How Fiction Writers Talk About The Middle Ages. As a medievalist as well as a writer of fiction, she can see how many novelists view the Middle Ages through the lens of nineteenth century British and French medievalism – that gorgeous romanticised William Morris tapestry version that projected Victorian values onto a certain version of ‘the past’, and influenced many generations of historical novelists. It is, as Deborah Challinor memorably pointed out in the debate, the past without the pus – without a realistic view of life for real people.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I often sound off about the myth of authenticity: this idea that fiction can somehow capture the actual experience and voice of people in the past. It’s nonsense. Or rather, it’s not authenticity, but an expected form of the genre, perfected by Walter Scott and others.

What writers create and readers have come to expect is the medievalist view of the world (even of eras that are not medieval) – it has nothing to do with authenticity, and may indeed have little to do with actual history.

If that’s what you’re writing, all well and good. Recognise it for what it is – medievalist fiction. That’s a thing. But it doesn’t need to run the risk of being incorrect or based on out-of-date data.

What next?

So what can we learn and do?

Keep up to date with new thinking and writing about the theory of history. I find it fascinating: you might not.

At the very least, read current research about the era on which you write, explore new data and interpretations. (I’ll post later about research methods and historical thinking.)

Write with clear(er) eyes about our subjects. We can enrich our world-building and characterisation with recent findings, and our own work with primary sources will be enlivened and informed by the latest analysis by experts in the field – and in other fields. I follow archaeologists and anthropologists as well as historians, for example, and read updates and debates everywhere I can, from Twitter to  specialist history societies, from academic or professional journals (available free and online through your nearest state or national library) to popular media such as the BBC’s History magazine or Inside History.

History and fiction are a tag team, sometimes taking turns, sometimes working in tandem, to deepen our understanding and imagination – Tom Griffiths, ‘History and the Creative Imagination’,  History Australia, 6: 3, 2009.

Some reading suggestions

If you really want to get your teeth into some of these issues, try these:

Is History Fiction? Ann Curthoys and John Docker, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2006.

Re-thinking History, Keith Jenkins, Routledge Classics, London, 2003 (first published 1991)

The Historical Novel, Jerome de Groot, Routledge, London, 2009

The Fiction of Narrative (Essays), Hayden White, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2010.

You might be able to access the journal Rethinking History through your library.

And here’s a list of Gillian Polack’s publications.

To be continued…

New post on new posts

Oh I know.  I’m blogging all over the joint at the moment. I can’t keep track myself.

So here are a few of the most recent, from my current travels:

On literary pilgrimages (on my Sublime blog)

On the Irish pirate queen Grace O’Malley (on my Field Notes)

Going to Grasmere (on Sublime)

Going to Bletchley Park (on Field Notes)

(I like to post on tumblr as well as here, because it is a great place for finding resources, especially images, and sharing them – but it does get confusing.)

The pleasure of ruins

I’ve been in England and Ireland the past few weeks, researching lots of things at once.

But I keep getting distracted by the many ancient stories all around me, some of them told in stone, brick, weeds and rubble.

 

Image of ruined cloister

 

I’m reminded of the lovely book The Pleasure of Ruins by Rose Macauley (I like it so much I have two editions – one with photographs by Roloff Beny).

The intoxication, at once so heady and so devout, is not the romantic melancholy engendered by broken towers and mouldered stones; it is the soaring of the imagination into the high empyrean where huge episodes are tangled with myths and dreams; it is the stunning impact of world history on its amazed heirs.

Especially on the west coast of Ireland, the ruins of cottages and whole villages often tell the story of the Famine or the Rebellions and their aftermath, or the expulsion of small farmers, or mass emigration of people like my own ancestors, or simple poverty – or all of these.

 

Deserted cottage on The Burren

 

Then there are ruined castles and towers, churches and abandoned graveyards, wells and tombs and ancient monuments.

 

Image of Poulnabrone dolmen

 

So many stories can be read – or imagined – in ruins, in stone.

 

Image of Stonhenge