Friday, January 29, 2010

The Challenges of Writing Sequels

I’m working on Book 3 of my Muskoka Novels series, and am once again struggling with a few issues. With the Dickensian cast of characters having over 1100 pages of experiences behind them, how much do I reiterate so that those who have not read the first two books will know what’s going on, while those who have just finished them won’t be bored? It’s a fine line to tread.

Continuity also has its challenges. Each character is for me a real person, so no problem recalling how they look or “who” they are. I do have profiles for them, which include their favourite expressions, what other characters think or say about them, whether someone gave them a gold locket or a silver cigarette case, and other minutiae, which may become relevant at some time.

I’ve spent weeks combing through the first two books to compile a list of continuity facts, which also include descriptions of places and events. For instance, Grandmother Wyndham had her portrait painted by John Singer Sargent, so of course it has to hang somewhere. Hothouse flowers were shipped regularly from the Wyndhams’ city estate to their summer cottage on the lake. A lucent necklace of gas lamps encircled the entire point of their island. I have over 40 pages of these types of notes.

So now it’s time to immerse myself in another world again!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Historical weather and other tidbits

Trying to recreate an era as accurately as possible, I’m continually amazed and delighted that so many historical tidbits can be found instantly on the Internet. I know that in 1914 the July full moon fell on Tuesday the 7th, which is when my characters have a moonlight cruise on the lake. I’ve seen photos of the first class dining lounge on the Lusitania, and know what was served to my characters for dinner as they departed for England. I know what a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost ambulance looks like, as driven by one of my young women. I’ve watched funerals for those killed in air raids, and followed Edward, the Prince of Wales, on his tour through Canada in 1919.

I need a good understanding of the time to be able to realistically place my characters in it. So even trivial things like the weather are taken into account. Looking at the climate data for 1919, I see that June was incredibly hot, with half the days registering over 30°C, while July was almost as hot, and had only four rainy days. How unlike our summer last year, which was lamentably cool and wet. The weather certainly has an impact on how you spend time at your lakeside cottage, as my characters do.

After two cool summers here, I know I’m not the only one looking forward to a blistering 1919-type one. In the meantime, I’m spending the winter there!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Victorian Dress Torture

Imagine walking around every day with anywhere from 20 to 88 pounds of constant pressure around your abdomen. That’s what the corset provided as it cinched women’s waists to as little as 17 or 18 inches. “It also restricted oxygen intake, crushed the internal organs, caused chronic fatigue and headaches, and created serious long-term medical complications,” explains Joshua Zeitz in his fascinating book, Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and Women Who Made America Modern. A girl at boarding school related how the merciless tight-lacing was painfully intolerable, but that it was an inflexible rule, and the cruel laces not relaxed except during illness. One critic of the day said, “The effects of a tight cord round the neck and of tight-lacing only differ in degree… for the strangulations are both fatal. To wear tight stays is in many cases to wither, to waste, and to die.”

“The loudest defenders of the corset routinely used words like ‘discipline’, ‘confinement’, submission’, and ‘bondage’ and spoke favorably of ‘training the figure’ with a degree of pain ‘rigidly inflicted and unflinchingly imposed’.” One man said, “The corset is an ever present monitor indirectly bidding its wearer to exercise self-restraint: it is evidence of a well-disciplined mind and well-regulated feelings.”

If they couldn’t move or breathe easily because of corsets, women were further hampered by crinolines. ”Built of flexible steel, whalebone, or wood, these contraptions were little more than hooped cages…. sometimes as much as 5 yards in circumference.” Wooden crinolines commonly caught on fire when women stepped too close to a fireplace or candle (i.e. within a couple of yards). One Victorian woman wrote, “Take what precautions we may against fire, so long as the hoop is worn, life is never safe… all are living under a sentence of death which may occur unexpectedly in the most appalling form.”

Appalling indeed! Is it any wonder that Victorian feminists felt that the fashions reinforced women’s subordination to men, keeping them quite literally imprisoned? “How can you ever compete with man… for equal place and pay with garments… so cumbersomely fashioned, and how can you ever hope to enjoy the same health and vigor as men, so long as the waist is pressed into the smallest compass, pounds of clothing hung on the hips, the limbs cramped with skirts?” asked Elizabeth Cady Stanton who wore comfortable “bloomers” in protest.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Welcome to the Age of Elegance

My name is Victoria Wyndham, known to close friends and family as Ria. I'd like to introduce you to some of them.
Well, perhaps a few words about me first.

Grandmother says I'm incorrigible and impulsive. Father calls me "utterly selfish, inconsiderate, and disobedient". My mother died when I was born and he has never forgiven me for that.

Prickly Aunt Phyllis has condemned me as a "brazen troublemaker" and "undisciplined hoyden", but of course, she has never liked me, nor I, her. Luckily, Aunt Olivia and Uncle Richard have always been generous and loving, so that I feel very much a part of their large brood, and particularly close to my twin cousins, Zoë and Max, who are my age. Max is such a card, and Zoë is clever and wonderfully outspoken, even with Grandmother. They're onboard for any adventures that I dream up.

Stuffy cousin Henry claims that I'm reckless and always venture beyond the bounds of his imagination. His younger sister, Phoebe, is surely more inclined to do that, since she is quite mad, and talks to her sinister two-faced doll - who apparently replies. Their brother, Edgar, is easily the most likeable of Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Albert's children, although Grandmother thinks him too self-indulgent.

I should explain that we have a summer home on Wyndwood Island on a pristine lake in Muskoka, about 100 miles north of Toronto, where we live the rest of the year. We Wyndhams spend three or four months together at the cottage every summer, which doesn't always make for harmonious relationships. Especially after Jack arrived.

None of us knew, until this summer of 1914, that we had more Wyndham cousins! Jack's father was disowned for marrying a "showgirl". Jack is a charmer, and devilishly handsome - "divine," as Lydia Carrington remarked. Grandmother admires him as well, although she doesn't trust him. She thinks that because he grew up so poor, he will be ruthless, and use everyone to get ahead. She would be scandalized if she knew how Jack and I first met. He has three younger sisters, one whose remarkable voice has already impressed a Broadway composer. The eldest, Lizzie, is a bit harder to like, although I can't put my finger on why.

Cousin Bea - Lady Beatrice Kirkland - who is visiting us from England this summer, is truly sympathetic, but she thinks that I have "the unfortunate habit of running away when things get tough". She just doesn't understand how soul shattering some "things" are!

Chas Thornton told me at a ball that I have "the most stunning eyes. Like azure pools. A chap could drown in them." Chas is an outrageous flirt! And tremendous fun. He enjoys life and radiates joy. His family owns a neighbouring island, and his father is one of the richest men in Canada. Our friend, Ellie, thinks he's "absolutely beautiful" and adores him, even though she detests his lifestyle and lack of ambition.

Of course Ellie - Eleanor Carlyle - doesn't approve of conspicuous wealth. A medical student, she is also something of a crusader, with perhaps too much of a social conscience. She would populate our homes - which she finds obscenely large - with unwed mothers and orphans. But I like her down-to-earth honesty, and she is the staunchest of friends.

Her brother, Blake, is already a doctor, and very much the love of Zoë's life, if only he would realize it!

Chas's younger brother, Rafe, is rather dissolute, and he unsettles me with his rapacious attentions. He seems to be a frustrated boy living in the shadow of his charismatic older brother. Perhaps his aggressiveness is a reaction to Chas's gentility.

Justin Carrington, on the other hand, is the kindest and most gentlemanly friend. I had a terrific pash for him when I was fifteen, and now I fear that he has rather fallen for me. Grandmother is trying to encourage our marriage, maintaining that "friendship and mutual respect are far better than passion for building a good marriage." But she doesn't know where my heart lies.

I have many more friends, whom you can meet if you read The Muskoka Novels - The Summer Before The Storm and Elusive Dawn.

And I fear for my dear friends, as several are going off to war, Jack and Chas to become daring aviators. But we girls are not about to be left behind! We are as patriotic and plucky as the men. Zoë intends to become a VAD - a volunteer nurse. Ellie is almost finished her studies as a doctor. And I fancy driving an ambulance. Vivian Carrington and I are going to England aboard the Lusitania, the fastest and most elegant ship on the seas. Vivian did her VAD training and is using this as an excuse to meet up with her forbidden love, who's already overseas in the Veterinary Corps.

I do wonder why our generation is being so severely tested. Have we been living in a fool's paradise?

As for Muskoka, it's our sanctuary. Once you visit our island with its stately pines, sparkling granite, and distant vistas of craggy, tufted islands floating on the cobalt blue lake, you might understand why my soul hungers for it.


my inspiration for a series of novels - visit for more info

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Gabriele Wills's books on Goodreads
The Summer Before The StormThe Summer Before The Storm
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A Place to Call HomeA Place to Call Home
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