Sunday, May 21, 2017

Dying then and now



There’s an old saying that goes, “The rate of death has not changed since the days of the Bubonic Plague. It’s still one per person.”

What has changed, and most dramatically, is people’s attitudes to death and they way it is dealt with. Many writers forget that penicillin (that is, antibiotics) weren’t in common use until 1945 and there was a war on then, so many ordinary people still didn’t know about them, or had no access to them. Germ theory wasn’t proven until 1905 and even after that many people refused to believe something they couldn’t see could make them ill.

Therefore death was common and expected. Most families, even in the early twentieth century, had a child who died from measles, or influenza or diarrhea. One hundred years earlier, one quarter of all teenage brides still died in childbirth, and most women were married before they were twenty. Families did not mourn their children any less than a family does now, but death was expected, considered a part of life. Death was a fellow-traveler, always present and as likely to strike from a simple infected cut as from cholera or typhoid—diseases which appeared regularly with droughts and floods.

Take a walk through any old cemetery. Take note of the ages on the gravestones. There’ll be dozens of babies and children, a lot of people in their thirties and forties, and a very few in their eighties or even their seventies.

Any historical novel needs to accurately reflect this situation and the attitudes of those times. Today’s treatment of diseases, death and dying, are totally different from those of last century. Every time I read about a heroine washing the wound, pouring alcohol over it to cleanse it, then carefully sterilizing her needle before sewing up the wound, I shake my head. No, no, and no. A village wise woman may have learned that cleaning a wound helped it heal, but the local water supply was probably full of germs, alcohol was more likely to be forced down the victim’s throat to help them bear the pain, and the wound may have been covered with moss, or spider webs, or a dirty piece of old fabric.


Helen Woodall

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Crazy things authors do in the name of research



Over the years as an editor, I’ve had to ask various authors if what they’ve said in their books is accurate. The internet is a wonderful place for an author to begin their research, but it’s not necessarily completely correct.

I know of several authors who had to check whether certain buildings were still in various towns. Google Maps is a good place to start, but Google Earth is even better. Best of all is a friend living in that town who can do the leg work for the author.

I know of several authors who’ve been on a police program where they travel with officers on their daily/nightly duties. That really gives immediacy to the writing.

I’ve previously mentioned the well-known erotic romance author who freely confesses to having broken arms and legs off some of her Barbie and Ken dolls while researching her sex scenes. But it’s good to know what finally gets in her book works.

Then there was the author who wanted her heroine to escape from a certain model of car. Not owning that type of vehicle herself, she went down to the local car sales yard and asked to view one. I’m not too sure what the salesman thought as she practised climbing in and out of the trunk, but hey, I knew her heroine could do it!

One of my favorite stories is the author whose heroine needed to escape from a villain during a romantic scene. Her husband came home from work one night to find candles on the table and an unopened bottle of champagne. He was really happy until she explained that she was going to hit him over the head with the full bottle, and see if she could drag his unconscious body down the hallway as her heroine would need to do. Her husband just looked at her and said, “Can’t I drink all the champagne and get unconscious that way instead?”

You may already have read of Anny Cook’s research into making acorns into food. An entire chat loop of authors was waiting with bated breath for each new step of this adventure. It ended up as a great blog, but the actual book she was using it for went in a different direction from the one she was expecting and her hero and heroine never had to cook the acorns.
But maybe one day in a future book….
The acorn story is here: http://annycook.blogspot.com.au/p/great-acorn-hunt.html

Helen Woodall

Monday, May 8, 2017

Achievement unlocked. Helen sees white kangaroos


So it turns out that white kangaroos are extremely camera shy.

This is the sort of land where they live. Bordertown is the absolute middle of nowhere, just on the South Australian side of the SA/Victoria border.


I chatted to the locals and learned where the white kangaroos like to hang out, then drove my motorhome as close as I could get to the paddock. I could see maybe five white blobs in the distance. As soon as I zoomed my camera in to look at them they bounded off into the distance. My RV and I pursued them along a track that was probably not designed for cars let alone motor homes. The roos saw me coming and headed off in the opposite direction. It took me quite a while to negotiate a U-turn (did I mention the track was very narrow? And there were 2 trees in my way as well). But finally one of the white roos stared at me and permitted me to take its photo.


I also visited one of the original 1955 soldier settlements. This area was pioneered by servicemen who returned from the Second World War. There was nothing at all here and they built a farming community between them.


Back across the border in Victoria, I visited the site of the Gold Miner's first hospital 1859.


Fascinating stuff, history.

Helen