Jilly: Self-Isolation Past and Present

Boundary Stone, Eyam
(via Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday Michaeline shared a fascinating Reddit post about how a foreign resident in China is dealing with food and cooking during the lockdown imposed by the authorities in an attempt to contain the outbreak of coronavirus/covid-19.

In the UK we only have 9 confirmed cases of the virus, but Sir Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of National Health England, has said people may increasingly be asked to isolate themselves here too. This BBC article explains who should self-isolate and what precautions they should take.

It’s sobering to think that one of the world’s most effective tactics for preventing a global pandemic has been around for centuries and depends on ordinary people showing selflessness and self-discipline.

I first learned about self-isolation more than 40 years ago, on a school visit to a local historic site: Eyam, a picturesque village in the Derbyshire Peak District. Eyam is a scant few miles from stunning Chatsworth House (Pemberley!) and Haddon Hall (Prince Humperdinck’s Castle!) but its place on the tourist trail was earned in much grimmer circumstances.

I blogged about Eyam, Historic Plague Village, five years ago, but given current events it seems fitting to revisit the story.

In August 1665 George Viccars, the Eyam village tailor, took delivery of a bundle of cloth from London. The cloth was infested with fleas, and within a week Viccars was dead.

The plague took hold, the squire and the wealthier residents fled, and the villagers were left leaderless. The vacuum was filled by the rector, Reverend William Mompesson. Together with his wife, Katherine, and the previous Rector, a Puritan Minister called Thomas Stanley, they united the village. To slow the spread of disease, they decided the dead would not be given funerals but would be buried by family members in their own gardens. The church was closed and services were held in the open air, where people could congregate at a safe distance from one another.

The deaths continued, so in June 1666 Mompesson persuaded the entire community to isolate themselves from the outside world, knowing this meant almost certain death. They established a system with friends and relatives outside the village whereby food and supplies were left at agreed points and the villagers would collect these later and leave money in return. Two of the places they used can still be visited today – Mompesson’s Well, where money was left in the water, and the Boundary Stone, a boulder with holes where coins could be covered in water or vinegar.

William Mompesson worked tirelessly to bolster the resolve of his parishioners. He made wills, gave out medicines, and nursed his wife when she fell sick, although she asked him to stay away from her for his own safety. Katherine was the 200thperson to die, and she was buried in the church yard. Her tomb can still be seen today.

Eyam’s self-imposed quarantine lasted for fourteen months. When there had been no deaths for a period of several weeks, William Mompesson burned everything he had – clothing, bedding, furniture, the lot – and encouraged the rest of the village to do the same.

In a letter to his uncle, Mompesson described the village as “… a Golgotha, a place of skulls.” More than 260 villagers died out of a total population of 350. Entire families died – a woman called Elizabeth Hancock buried six children and her husband in a period of eight days – but not one person broke the agreement, which saved untold lives in the North of England.

It’s a dark but inspiring story, and one other positive from the terrible event is that it was subsequently discovered that some residents of the village were genetically unique and naturally immune to the plague. Some of their descendants still live in the village today.

I hope we can find a twenty-first-century solution to our twenty-first-century plague very soon.

Jilly: Bujold’s Sharing Knife Books, Old and New

I was super-excited to learn from Michaeline’s post a couple of weeks ago that Lois McMaster Bujold is to publish a new novella in her Sharing Knife universe. I’m a huge fan of the original tetralogy and somehow I never expected her to revisit this story world, so I feel a squee brewing. Yay! Fingers crossed!

The new novella, called Knife Children, should be published later this month. I see from LMB’s Goodreads blog (link here) that it can be read as a standalone, so if you’re tempted to take a look, don’t assume you have to read the original four books first.

That said, if you’re short of something to read right now, and you enjoy engaging, subtle fantasy stories, you could always try Beguilement, followed by Legacy, Passage, and Horizon. I usually revisit these books once or twice a year, so I’ve been enjoying a leisurely re-read this month while I wait for Knife Children.

I’ve also been pondering, not for the first time, exactly why these books fit so well with my personal id list—the tropes, characters, premises and details that I, as a reader, really, really like (click here to read more about id lists).

I’ll try to describe in a fairly generic, non-spoilery way what I enjoy most about the stories.

The books are set in an imaginary pre-industrial country that looks a lot like America. There are typical fantasy elements—romance, a hero with mage-like powers, scary mythical creatures, blood magic, powerful objects, horses-n-swords, success against overwhelming odds—but here the story is so grounded in normality that the fantastic aspects blend seamlessly with the familiar.

Right from the start of the book the hero and heroine’s romance is as inevitable as it appears improbable. Fawn is a dewy eighteen-year-old farmer’s daughter, two months pregnant after a disappointing tryst in a cornfield, who runs away from home rather than be branded a slut. Dag is a fiftysomething-year-old one-armed battle-scarred widower who has nothing left in life but thankless duty. From their first desperate encounter with one of the aforementioned scary creatures, Dag and Fawn rescue one another, and it rapidly becomes apparent to them (if not to anyone else) that their differences make them perfectly suited, empowering them both. Her common sense, logic, honesty and hungry curiosity challenge his idealism and stimulate his talent for innovation, leading him to develop all kinds of hitherto unsuspected abilities.

Continue reading

Justine: Recipe Week at Eight Ladies

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Image (c) Shutterstock.

This week, in honor of US Thanksgiving, some of the Eight Ladies will be sharing their favorite recipes…and not just food recipes, either (although there will likely be plenty of that…see below!). Be sure to check in each day to see what sort of goodies we’re revealing!

I started thinking about recipes for the kind of books I like while discussing with Jilly some of my favorite romances. My recipe for a good romance includes competent women and men who DO things for them, plus a dash of community.

In the era of women’s rights and #metoo, I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to writing (and reading) romance. Not that I have anything against competent women who can do for themselves, who know their potential, and who go for what they want. In fact, I AM one of those women, trying to make a career out of writing while raising two kids, taking care of two pets, and managing a household with a husband who travels…a lot.

It means I DO a lot…from helping with homework to shuttling kids around to fixing leaky toilets and installing ceiling fans. And most of the time, when something’s gotta give, it’s me and my work. Sometimes, though, I just want another person to do the shuttling/fixing/installing for me, without me having to write a check.

That’s where my heroes come in…both the ones I read and the ones I write.

Without a doubt, I admire heroines that are self-sufficient, capable women. And I like it when their heroes understand, accept, and especially celebrate that. But in my mind, what better way to show your love for a lady than Continue reading

Jeanne: Writing the Unlikable Protagonist

Some of my very favorite books have unlikable protagonists:

  • Ain’t She Sweet, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  • A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby
  • Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn,
  • Girl on a Train, by Paula Hawkins
  • A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy O’Toole
  • Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.
  • Citizen Vince, by Jess Walter

But, you point out, most of those novels are literary fiction. Only one is a Romance.

True, but I’ve never subscribed to the notion that Romance can’t take on the same challenges as other genres. The only two rules your book has to follow to be a Romance are:

  1. Must have a central love story.
  2. Must end with a happy ever after.

That’s it. Somewhere along the way, a lot of romance authors (and, to be honest, readers) have added a third, unwritten rule: The protagonist must be likable from Day One. I beg to disagree. Continue reading

Nancy: The Big Reveal: Harrow’s Finest Five Series

If you’re a long-time follower of the blog, you’ve no doubt seen Harrow’s Finest Five mentioned in many of my blog posts. It seems like I’ve been discussing this series for years because, well, I’ve been discussing it for years! You might have wondered if the stories in this alleged series would ever see the light of day. You wouldn’t be alone – I’ve had the same question myself. But today, I’m happy to announce the first novella, which launches the series, is coming out this November!

Next week, I have so many things to share about that upcoming release: the cover, the back-cover blurb, how to sign up to be an ARC reader, and where to read an excerpt of the first book PLUS a free prequel short story and sample chapters from the next two books! And, if all goes according to plan, I’ll also be able to share the exact release date of the book.

In the meantime, though, it occurs to me that while you’ve heard of the series existence, I haven’t told you much about the whys and wherefores. Today, let’s remedy that, shall we?

What: Harrow’s Finest Five Series, seven (we’ll get to that shortly) mid-Victorian era romances centered around five old school mates from Harrow, one of the handful of boarding schools for boys from all the best British families (read: titled and wealthy). They were given their tongue-in-cheek name by novel 3’s hero, who is also the group trouble-maker and all around fun guy.

But let’s remember these are romance stories! So they’re as much about the fab women these men love as they are about our Harrow mates. Here’s the series tagline: Continue reading

Jilly: Alpha Males Revisited

Is anyone up for more discussion on the evergreen topic of Alpha Male heroes in romance fiction?

Mr. Alpha has been on my mind recently, thanks to a combination of circumstances. I lost a chunk of writing time earlier this year following the death of my mum. Dealing with her estate has been a time suck, so the books I had hoped to self-publish this year are now rescheduled for 2019. Which means that I will still be unpublished at the end of 2018. That’s frustrating, but the upside is that the RWA has decided to run the Golden Heart contest for one more year, and now I will be eligible to enter. I would love, love, love to final in the Golden Heart, to join the supportive and welcoming sisterhood that Jeanne described in her recent post, The True Heart of the Golden Heart.

In planning my final assault on the contest, I decided that in addition to entering my Alexis paranormal stories, I’d dust off the English/Scottish contemporary romance I worked on at McDaniel and which I haven’t read in the last three years or so.

I got fairly close to snagging an agent with that manuscript, and it finaled in a number of local RWA contests, so I thought it should be relatively easy to tweak.

O.M.G. I am sooo glad I never sold that book. It didn’t need a quick edit so much as a comprehensive rewrite. I think the general premise, the characters, the community and most of the plot points are solid, but among other things, the hero (who is, obvs, a very good guy) made me cringe. He was guilty of arrogant asshattishness rather than the kind of consent offences Jeanne discussed in her excellent post The Thin Line Between Alpha and Predatory, but still. Even if his BDE showboating was a persona rather than his true self, the patronizing way he interacted with the heroine was simply not okay. I had to give him a thorough makeover.

The thing I found curious is Continue reading

Jilly: Public Proposals–Swoon or Cringe?

Where do you stand on public marriage proposals?

I’m a sports fan, and I had the England v India cricket match playing in the background as I sat down to write today’s post. Normally I find cricket commentary provides the perfect background for writing, but today there was a break in the action, the cameras focused on a tense-looking young man in the crowd, and the TV presenter said “That’ll be Martin*. He’s here today with Suzanne*, and I believe he has something to say to her…” Martin went down on one knee and fished out a ring box. The giant TV screens said DECISION PENDING. Suzanne cried and kissed him. The screens switched to SHE SAID YES! The crowd went bonkers.

The whole episode made me cringe so much I turned the coverage off. Then I started wondering if I’m a grouchy curmudgeon who’s incapable of appreciating a heartfelt romantic gesture.

What do you think?

I’m not talking about a spontaneous proposal that occurs in front of other people because Circumstances. I love those, in life and literature. My problem is with a carefully orchestrated piece of showmanship set up with the intent to share a serious, potentially life-changing decision with as many strangers as possible, without the decision-maker’s knowledge or consent.

Why might you do that? The best answers I could come up with were:

  • The young man, his beloved, or both, are narcissistic exhibitionists;
  • The young man sees the public proposal as a grand gesture, a demonstration of the strength of his love;
  • The young man is afraid the object of his affections might refuse him, and he is relying on public pressure to tip the scales in his favour;
  • The young man is so thrilled and giddy at the prospect of marrying his beloved that he wants to share the moment with the whole world.

Which brings me to my next question. Generalizing here, but do you think a public proposal of marriage is something the twenty-first century bride dreams of? Continue reading