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Mrs Burnett and Mr Baret: Women at Sea

I’ve recently reissued my first novel, To The Fair Land , with a new cover. Set in the eighteenth century during the Age of Sail, it tells the story of struggling writer Ben Dearlove’s quest to discover the anonymous author of a best-selling book about a fictitious voyage to the South Seas. Far from engaging in a genteel literary pursuit, Ben finds himself up against some ruthless people who will lie, steal and even kill to stop him.   The new cover of To The Fair Land Both the British Royal and merchant navies were all-male preserves. However, female sailors were not unknown in the Age of Sail. Wives accompanied their husbands in Nelson’s warships. They helped to tend the sick, and during battles carried powder to the guns or looked after the wounded. Officially, though, they were not part of the ship’s muster, and so they were not paid or provisioned. Some women didn’t travel as wives. There are many stirring tales of women who disguised themselves as men in order to go to sea. Tal
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My Month in Books: 2021

I've picked out two of the books I read this month which look, in their different ways, at issues around women's agency in a patriarchal society. First is The Invader , a novel by Hilda Vaughan. It's followed by John Sutherland's biography of Mrs Mary Ward.  The Invader, Hilda Vaughan (William Heinemann, 1928) The Invader is Welsh author Hilda Vaughan’s ( 1892–1985) third novel. Daniel Evans is a sheep farmer whose Welsh hill farm is centred around the eighteenth-century house, Plas Newydd. The farm belongs to an absent English landlord who has no interest in it apart from receiving the rents. Daniel passionately loves his house and his land and has been saving up for years to buy the property. He is one lambing season short of raising the capital. Disaster strikes when the owner dies and the property is inherited by English woman Miss Webster, who teaches in an agricultural college. Miss Webster decides to farm the land herself, and Daniel is ousted and rele

My Month in Books: February 2021

It’s been a women-history themed month for both my non-fiction and fiction reading with Wendy Moore’s Endell Street: The Trailblazing Women Who Ran World War One’s Most Remarkable Military Hospital and Old Baggage by Lissa Evans. Endell Street: The Trailblazing Women Who Ran World War One’s Most Remarkable Military Hospital , Wendy Moore (Atlantic Books, 2020) This is a fascinating and well-written account of the work of doctors Flora Murray and Louisa Garrett Anderson who treated war casualties during the First World War, first in France and then in London where they established the military hospital at Endell Street. The women had both been active in the militant suffrage campaign – Louise Garrett Anderson had spent a month in Holloway for window breaking. It’s a remarkable and inspiring tale of how the women and their all-female staff overcame prejudice against women doctors and medics – for example, that men would not wish to be treated by women, that women couldn’t perform

Suffrage Autographs: Cicely Hamilton

I’ve often wondered why owning the signature of someone you admire or are interested in is so appealing. I supposed it is because a signature feels like a part of the person concerned, something produced by their own hand. It can also feel intensely personal if it is dedicated to you, which is why so many people ask authors to write their own names – “to so-and-so” – at a book signing. Cicely Hamilton's Autograph I’ve never collected signatures but I have acquired one or two over the years. Recently I obtained this signature by writer and suffrage campaigner Cicely Hamilton. It was probably sent to someone who had written to her and requested her autograph. Cicely Hamilton (1872-1952) is one of my favourite authors. A novelist, playwright and actress, she found fame with her 1908 play Diana of Dobson’s . She was a member of the Women’s Freedom League, formed after a split within the WSPU in 1907, and the Actresses’ Franchise League. She also worked with both the WSPU and th

Authors Alison Morton and Helen Hollick in Conversation

Alison Morton, author of the stunning alternative history Roma Nova series, and Helen Hollick, whose historical fiction ranges across the centuries from King Arthur to pirates of the Caribbean, have both taken exciting steps into new genres. I recently eavesdropped on them in conversation during their current Blog Tour, talking about the challenges and rewards of moving in new directions...   Thank you, Lucienne, for hosting a stop on our joint tour for our new released mystery/thriller novels Double Identity by Alison Morton and A Mirror Murder by Helen Hollick. Helen: It was quite coincidental that we both decided to branch out from our usual genres into mystery/thrillers at more or less the same time, wasn’t it Alison? My A Mirror Murder is a novella ‘cosy mystery’, while your, Double Identity is a fast-paced thriller. What they have in common is the theme of investigating a murder. Alison: I wanted to write a character with strong roots in France, which is where I live. Ma

My Month in Books: January 2021

Here are two of the books I've enjoyed reading this month. They're both fantasies, but are very different from one another. Kingdoms of Elfin , Sylvia Townsend Warner (HandheldPress) This collection of short stories describes the Elfin kingdoms which exist side by side with our own world in the forests of Brittany, the Welsh mountains, the Netherlands and elsewhere. Warner’s fairy creatures are wonderful creations. They are untroubled by many of the things that humans obsess over: the fleetingness of life (they are long-lived though not immortal); morals (they have none); conscience (they don’t have any); the state of their souls (they don’t have souls and so have no concept of an after life). They are carelessly cruel, though they aren’t without feelings; mercurial and changeable though they cling to tradition; and though we see them through the prism of human concerns (love, vanity, ambition, hatred etc etc), they are simply, deliciously un-human. The structure of the s