lol3Extraordinary Female Affection was the title of a 1790 newspaper article on two female friends, Miss Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler, who had defied convention by running away to live together.

The article, which appeared in St. James’s Chronicle, the General Evening Post and the London Chronicle, made it quite plain what the author thought of such goings-on, describing Butler in disapproving tones as of masculine appearance (this was true) and the couple as bear[ing] a strange antipathy to the male sex, whom they take every opportunity of avoiding – which was decidedly false; the ladies entertained many male guests, including the Duke of Wellington, Sir Walter Scott and William Wordsworth. The author described Ponsonby as Butler’s particular friend and, more censoriously (for the time), the bar to all matrimonial union. Needless to say, the ladies were less than happy with the tone of the article, and took legal advice.

However, the attitude of society in general was very different. The zeitgeist of the time was for romanticising all things, including nature, landscapes and the bonds of friendship, and their story captured the popular (educated) imagination. The ladies were celebrated for their romantic friendship and presumed celibacy, to the extent that they became celebrities of the day—similarly, one supposes, to many early female Christian martyrs who were lauded for their chastity as much as for any miraculous deeds.

There is plenty of the romantic in the ladies’ story: both were from aristocratic (though attainted) families in Ireland and both were under intolerable pressure from their families—Butler to enter a convent, and Ponsonby to accept the advances of her guardian. Close friends for many years, when Ponsonby was 23 and Butler, 39, they hatched a plot to run away together dressed as men, taking with them a pet dog and a pistol. Having ridden through the night to catch a ferry to Wales, they were hit by what we tend to think of as a bane of modern life: transport cancellation. Unluckily, they were discovered and brought back home.

Much as for Marianne in Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (who would have known of the Ladies of Llangollen), for Ponsonby, romantic disappointment was swiftly followed by dangerous illness. To comfort her friend—and escape her family, who had stepped up attempts to ship her off to that convent—Butler fled to Ponsonby’s house, where she concealed herself in her friend’s bedroom, aided by a sympathetic maid, Mary Carryl. When, after some days, she was discovered, the families evidently decided that enough was enough, threw up their hands and consented to the couple removing to Wales as they’d wanted all along.

Ponsonby later wrote up the tale in Account of a Journey in Wales perform’d in May 1778 by Two Fugitive Ladies, showing she had an eye for a catchy, if long-winded, title.

The ladies eventually found a house near Llangollen where they settled down and lived happily for the next fifty years in quiet retirement—apart from the steady stream of society visitors.

Were they lovers? Nobody knows. Even in their own lifetimes, opinion was divided. They addressed each other in terms used between husband and wife, and they shared a bed—but this was not unusual behaviour for friends at the time. They also cropped their hair and wore masculine hats and coats—although retaining their petticoats. Their visitors included Anne Lister, who was, by her own writings, what we would nowadays term a lesbian and had physical affairs with women, and Anna Seward, who although romantically interested in women is not known to have had a sexual relationship with any.

It’s often speculated that Butler, the more obviously masculine of the two, was a lesbian, but that Ponsonby, the younger, more femme partner, might have been just as happy with a man. I personally tend to take this more as evidence for the enduring quality of stereotypes than as anything else.

 

Further reading: Rictor Norton (Ed.), “Extraordinary Female Affection, 1790”, Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 22 April 2005, updated 15 June 2005 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1790extr.htm>.

Nancy Meyer, Regency Researcher http://www.regencyresearcher.com/pages/ladies.html

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Waterhouse_a_mermaid hiresJL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea.  She read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where she learned many things, chief amongst which was that she never wanted to see the inside of a lab ever again.  Her one regret is that she never mastered the ability of punting one-handed whilst holding a glass of champagne.

JL Merrow is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, International Thriller Writers, Verulam Writers’ Circle and the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet organising team.

Find JL Merrow online at: www.jlmerrow.com, on Twitter as @jlmerrow, and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jl.merrow

A CERTAIN PERSUASION 1600px.jpgJL Merrow is the author of “A Particular Friend” which appears in A Certain Persuasion, a new anthology of stories set in and around the writings of Jane Austen, featuring LGBTQIA characters, which was released on 1st November.

Thirteen stories from eleven authors, exploring the world of Jane Austen and celebrating her influence on ours.

Being cousins-by-marriage doesn’t deter William Elliot from pursuing Richard Musgrove in Lyme; nor does it prevent Elinor Dashwood falling in love with Ada Ferrars. Surprises are in store for Emma Woodhouse while visiting Harriet Smith; for William Price mentoring a seaman on board the Thrush; and for Adam Otelian befriending his children’s governess, Miss Hay. Margaret Dashwood seeks an alternative to the happy marriages chosen by her sisters; and Susan Price ponders just such a possibility with Mrs Lynd. One Fitzwilliam Darcy is plagued by constant reports of convictions for ‘unnatural’ crimes; while another must work out how to secure the Pemberley inheritance for her family.

Meanwhile, a modern-day Darcy meets the enigmatic Lint on the edge of Pemberley Cliff; while another struggles to live up to wearing Colin Firth’s breeches on a celebrity dance show. Cooper is confronted by his lost love at a book club meeting in Melbourne while reading Persuasion; and Ashley finds more than he’d bargained for at the Jane Austen museum in Bath.

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Lives of the First World War is a site which aims to combine historical fact with an insight into the hearts and minds of those who served. Of particular interest are combatants like JR Ackerley and Siegfried Sassoon, whose pages seem to be pretty accurate, because – alas –  some of the ‘facts’ at this site are a bit dodgy, including getting Wilfred Owen’s middle names wrong.

As with any online resource, the information presented is only as good as that uploaded; even the Commonwealth War Graves site has the odd typographical error.  It’s always worth reporting these, as reputable sites are usually grateful to have such things flagged up and our LGBT ‘heroes’ deserve an accurate record to be kept.

 

 

History is littered with people whose lives and achievements would risk being unbelievable in historical fiction. One famous example is Adrian Carton de Wiart, who fought in the Boer War and both World Wars. As it says in the introductory paragraph to his Wikipedia entry:

He served in the Boer War, First World War, and Second World War; was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, and ear; survived two plane crashes; tunnelled out of a prisoner-of-war camp; and tore off his own fingers when a doctor refused to amputate them. Describing his experiences in the First World War, he wrote, “Frankly I had enjoyed the war.”

(If you want an alternative source to Wikipedia, here’s a BBC article about him)

In the course of researching Under Leaden Skies, I came across accounts of a number of people and events which made my jaw drop, and I’d like to share a few of them here.

Stewart Keith-Joppkeith-jopp

Keith-Jopp was one of three one-armed pilots who served in the Air Transport Auxilliary, having lost an arm – reportedly on a bombing run – as well as an eye during World War 1. He certainly seemed to have been quite an influence in the ATA, and was the man I had in mind that my character, Drummond, had met, when he mentions to Teddy that “I know for sure there’s at least one chap flies for them who’s only got one arm.”

There’s a little more information about Stewart Keith-Jopp on the RAF Museum website, but I didn’t find any further details about the other two one-armed pilots, First Officer R.A Corrie, and the Honourable Charles Dutton (later Lord Sherborne), other than their mention in Spitfire Women.

Douglas Fairweather

Despite (or perhaps because of) his name, Captain Fairweather was renowned in the ATA for his ability to fly, and arrive safely at his destination, in the most atrocious of weather. The best account I found of his method is in Diana Barnato Walker’s Spreading My Wings, as her style of writing really suits this gentleman’s apparent approach to life.

ATA pilots were supposed to carry a map to aid navigation: Fairweather carried with him a 2″x3″ map of the British Isles “quite obviously torn from nothing larger than the back of a pocket diary”, and according to Spitfire Women, at one point the map he carried was of Roman Britain! His method of navigation in poor or nil visibility required knowing the direction and distance of his destination from where he had taken off, and flying at a steady speed. Once airborne, he chain-smoked cigarettes. He knew that each cigarette lasted him 7 minutes, and by lighting each cigarette from the previous one, he timed his flight and therefore knew exactly how far he’d flown!

Smoking was, as we would these days expect, forbidden. So on landing he brushed the ash from his uniform and made sure to open the cockpit window in time for the smoke and smell to dissipate.

Veronica Volkersz, the first British woman to fly a jet

Whilst the above examples are of people whose story might be seen to stretch the boundaries of believability in fiction, in Volkersz’s case it is the circumstances around her first jet-powered flight which stretch modern credulity. In an earlier draft of Under Leaden Skies, I based Teddy’s first jet-flight quite closely on Volkersz’s, but the feedback I received was along the lines of “Surely he had some extra training first? They wouldn’t just put people in jets with no training?”

Erm… sorry to tell you folks, but that is exactly what they did! Verging on incredulous for us, used to the dangers of jet engines, and well aware of the differences between jet-propelled craft and propeller-driven ones. As stated in Giles Whittell’s Spitfire Women (which, as you’ve probably gathered from the number of times I’ve mentioned it, is an excellent book & you should read it if you haven’t already):

[Volkersz] was offered no conversion course, no cockpit inspection, no helpful hints, no comment. Just a new four by five inch card to be inserted in her ringbound Ferry Pilot’s Notes in alphabetical order between Martinet and Oxford, to be glanced at on her way out to dispersal.

Of course, she was a brilliant pilot, and had requested a chance to fly a Meteor. No doubt also, that all pilots would have kept abreast of developments as much as they could – the aviation magazines Flight and The Aeroplane were published throughout the war, and of course pilots would talk to each other, so I am sure that Volkersz’s commanding officer would have been assured of her ability to adapt to and handle the differences.

However, I will admit that the “two-hour lecture” and extra time in the schedule for Teddy to familiarise himself with the Meteor which appear in my story are entirely fictional… There’s only so far you can push the suspension of disbelief, after all😉

Everyone reading this blog is, I am sure, well aware of the importance of writers Doing Research to make sure they are Getting It Right. Well, there’s research and there’s research… Some “research” is really just a whole bunch of fun, having an excuse to read a raft of books about a topic one is interested in. Other research can become painstakingly dull (triple-quadruple checking that you’ve got a particular aircraft’s layout / take-off sequence just right), and occasionally one comes across research which you really want to put down and turn away from – mostly, for me, this happens when focusing on social attitudes. Casual racism, homophobia, misogyny… you name it, they didn’t even try to hide it in the past.

books-etc-ULS-research

A selection of the physical materials I acquired in research for Under Leaden Skies (the CD at the front contains pdfs copies of the official Pilot’s Notes for Sunderland Mk I & II)

But the research which really gets me is the first-hand accounts: not just books and TV footage but, particularly when writing in an era such as World War 2, the accounts one finds online. In particular, I’d like to point you in the direction of the BBC People’s War archive. I don’t recall hearing about the project until I came across the archive in early research for the story which became Under Leaden Skies, but the more time I spend there, the more useful I find it.

There are stories recorded of so many different experiences of the 1939-1945 conflict: not just Britain and her allies, but stories from all sides of the conflict. I find it can be a little difficult to navigate in terms of searching for information, but in a way that’s one of its strengths: you can’t just quickly dip in & out, you get drawn in to reading different people’s stories, and sometimes find a gem of information, or a throw-away comment which makes you dig deeper elsewhere. For example, when I needed to ‘flesh-out’ the time which Teddy and Cheeks spend in Gibraltar, I read through a whole host of stories from people who’d been on ‘The Rock’ at the time, and I found myself not just expanding what I had written, but completely revising it.

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ULS-200x300Under Leaden Skies was released on 1st August, published by Manifold Press

On Monday, two new works of historical fiction by members of the Macaronis will be available for your perusal…

Eleventh Hour by  Elin GregoryCOVER IDEAS 3

Borrowed from the Secret Intelligence Service cipher department to assist Briers Allerdale – a field agent returning to 1920s London with news of a dangerous anarchist plot – Miles Siward moves into a ‘couples only’ boarding house, posing as Allerdale’s ‘wife’. Miles relishes the opportunity to allow his alter ego, Millie, to spread her wings but if Miles wants the other agent’s respect he can never betray how much he enjoys being Millie nor how attractive he finds Allerdale.

Pursuing a ruthless enemy who wants to throw Europe back into the horrors of the Great War, Briers and Miles are helped and hindered by nosy landladies, water board officials, suave gentlemen representing foreign powers and their own increasing attraction to each other.

Will they catch their quarry? Will they find love? Could they hope for both?

The clock is ticking.

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Under Leaden Skies by Sandra LindseyULS-200x300

Love. Loss. Betrayal. Forgiveness. Honour. Duty. Family.

In 1939, the arrival of war prompted ‘Teddy’ Maximilian Garston to confess his love to his childhood friend, Huw Roberts. Separated by duty – Teddy piloting Sunderland flying boats for RAF Coastal Command, and Huw deep underground in a South Wales coal mine – their relationship is frustrated by secrecy, distance, and the stress of war that tears into every aspect of their lives.

After endless months of dull patrols, a chance encounter over the Bay of Biscay will forever change the course of Teddy’s life. On returning to Britain, how will he face the consequences of choices made when far from home? Can he find a way to provide for everyone he loves, and build a family from the ashes of wartime grief?

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We’ll be popping back here soon to tell you interesting tidbits of information we found in our research, and other historical delights!

Sea WolvesI’ve just finished reading Sea Wolves by Tim Clayton with a view to rewriting my WWII submarine story ‘Under the Radar’ for possible submission.

This book had the capacity to have me in tears–the sheer loss of human life in the submarine service was staggering–but it didn’t.  And it wasn’t that the book didn’t focus on the human face of the service. There were human stories mixed in with the development of the submarine and the progression of the war and how the Powers That Be viewed the use of submarines in the war effort. Tales of their life at play as well as time spent on duty, of falling in love, and, in most cases, of how they died.

The origins of the submarine service, and, to a degree, the chapters on the pre-war service were fine as background information to the main event. The problem for me, and I think the reason that I didn’t connect with the book on an emotional level, was that once war was declared the author chose to focus on the different areas and campaigns. Chapters on the invasion of Norway, the submarine base at Malta, Japan taking over the Pacific, the development of midget subs.

The same names cropped up again and again as they moved from one submarine to another or were promoted—quickly, ensuring relatively young officers in a service that many didn’t want to volunteer for—and transferred to another campaign. I’d say eighty to ninety percent of the names mentioned died or were on board a sub that ended up being missing in action. And yet I could not cry for them. I recognised the names, recalled other submarines they had served on, people they had served with, even on occasions the women they had courted or married. And yet I could not cry for them.  I felt the despair of such vast losses, the futility of some of the campaigns (midget subs may have well have been titled suicide missions), their realisation of time running out, could often tell which report would be each participants last. And yet I could not cry for them.

I can’t deny that I cry easily. So why couldn’t I cry here?

Because the author would not let me. There was no continuity to each participant’s story. The information was probably all there, but in most cases it was spread over so many chapters that it left me feeling disconnected from the human aspect of their tale, and ultimately their death. The characters in this book—and believe me there were many interesting characters in the submarine service—were nothing but pawns in a document that detailed the campaigns and what happened to damn near every ship. In the end, despite the final chapter and his acknowledgements, I felt that the author treated the personnel of the submarine service no better than the Powers That Be, as a means to an end.

As a documentation of the development of submarines, of how it felt to be on board in wartime, and the changing view of the PTB this book could not be faulted. If you want to know what happened to most subs in the service, again this book is probably for you.

However as a celebration of the characters and mavericks that made up this service, as a thank you to them for putting their life on the line every time they stepped on board (even in peace time or friendly waters) this book was sorely lacking.

If you want to check out Sea Wolves or see what other folks thought of it, here’s the link on Goodreads.

 

Pals 

We met first day at school.

Play time he knocked me down, so I knocked him down.

Both got the cane.

Best buttys ever since, through thick and thin.

Scrumping apples, knocking on doors and running off, climbing the wall to see the match for free, always together.

Because where Billy went I ‘ad to follow.

 

Shared our first cigarette, both of us puking up afterwards, back of the chapel.

‘ad our first working day at the same factory, the same time.

Our first pint at the Working Men’s. Together.

Our first kisses, with those awful Probyn sisters, down the Tanky Woods.

Whatever Billy did, I tagged along, and he didn’t mind.

 

We signed up, pals in the Pals’ Regiment, me hoping I wouldn’t get rejected if he was accepted.

Trained together, trying to outdo each other at drill, or spit and polish.

Stood in the same holding trench at Mametz, me behind him, the only one who could see behind his jokes and his games and spot the fear.

Said to him, “I’m here, Billy, it’ll be alright,” meaning, “I love you, butty, as a man loves a maid,” only I couldn’t have told him.

 

Woke up in hospital, half my leg shot away.

Couldn’t find out if Billy ‘ad gone where I couldn’t follow yet.

Next morning, he’s there at the bedside, arm and head bandaged up.

“I was wondering where you’d got to, you silly sod,” he said, meaning, “I love you Harry, but I can’t say it here.”

Only I didn’t find out that was what he meant until later, after; “Seeing as we’re two cripples, the sort a maid would never look at, just as well we’ve got each other isn’t it?” and, “Neither of us could look after ourselves so we’d best look after each other.”

Pals.