biweekly links 6-7-2017

Witchcraft with a dash of art, and some things which may or may not be:

The hocus pocus of witchcraft: this post from the UK National Archives blog covers the basics but links over to their publication Accused: British Witches Throughout History, a nonfiction book about exactly what it says. Do check out their “We think you may also like” section if you’re into this sort of thing.

A radical new look at the greatest of Elizabethan artists: Two paintings have been newly confirmed as Elizabethan miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard‘s, based on the wood on which they were painted. They’re part of the Power and Portraiture: painting at the court of Elizabeth I exhibit that just opened at Waddesdon Manor. Looks like a good one to check out should you be in Buckinghamshire between now and October 29.

Portrait of Elizabethan man with beard and mustache, wearing a cap and ruff
Hilliard’s portrait of Elizabeth I’s alleged squeeze Robert Dudley, 1576. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
The spy who hoodwinked the Nazis with sorcery: file under “interesting if true”. As opposed to “Operation” Cone of Power in which British witches actually tried to repel the Nazis, Operation Mistletoe was just propaganda. Allegedly orchestrated by spy and occultist Cecil Williams, this article suggests it’s uncertain whether this fake ritual happened at all. (Tangentially, a whip ’round Google for “Napoleonic magical ritual” nets nothing about the alleged witchcraft used to repel Napoleon mentioned in the article. Still, possible inspiration for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell?)

trimming the fat

Update on the writing front:

I’ve managed to trim down the first third of my book to under 100 pages! This is something of an accomplishment, as the first draft weighed in at a hefty 475 pages – long even for historical fiction, and inexcusable for a first time author. I’m currently rewriting the second third–if I can slim it similarly I’m on the right track.

Mr. Incredible measuring his waist and liking what he sees
Getting there. Courtesy Giphy

Cutting has been remarkably easy. Because I wrote the first draft out-of-order many chapters wound up with “last time on [book]”- type introductions. Rewriting in order makes these obvious, and they’re the first to go.

Also: anything that bores me. The first draft adhered too closely to the historical record which includes a lot of pedantic to and fro and preparation. Such interludes hobble the story, and if I’m tuning out I imagine my readers will too.

Speaking of which, the day job and other amusements have impeded my going to my local critique group. As such I joined Scribophile at the recommendation of a HNS acquaintance. I’m getting good feedback, in record time and in the comfort of my own home. Gotta give to get though, and I can only hope I’m as helpful to my fellow writers as they are to me.

I’m not going to have the second draft complete by the HNS conference in late June, but I’m further ahead than I thought I’d be, simply because there’s so much I can get rid of!

How are everyone’s works in progress (writing and not)?

 

bonus linkage!

Because I’m short of time this week:

How ‘The White Princess’ Went Against the Norm and Featured People of Color in Tudor England: “Because when you’re making a show about people who have been excluded from history-as women have-it would be entirely hypocritical to exclude other groups of people who have also been excluded from history.” Indeed. Related: People of Color in European Art History Tumblr; “Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe” exhibition catalog.

Mantel to give Reith Lectures on historical fiction: Given Mantel’s controversial statements about the tension between history and fiction I’ll be interested to listen to these once they’re available online. I’m thoroughly impressed by both of her Thomas Cromwell novels, so I admit personal bias.

After 500 Years, Dürer’s Art Still Engraved on Mathematicians’ Minds: And here I was thinking he was “just” an artist. The medieval mind associated the melancholic personality with creativity and intelligence (see this blog’s title); here’s a breakdown of the symbolism in Melencholia I.

Engraving of Melancholy sitting among mathematical and scientific instruments. For symbolic breakdown, see the second link!
Dürer’s Melencholia I, 1515, via Tumblr

biweekly links 5-17-2017

A 17th-century alleged witch inspired Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ – not just “witches” in general but a specific one, who might have been Atwood’s ancestor.

Séance Through Science: Edison’s Ghost Machine – didn’t know this hard-headed inventor was into “that kind of thing”. Mind, it might have been a hoax. Still, something smells strange in Menlo Park.

Build The Spirit Radio That Creeped Out Tesla Himself – Tesla embraced the weird and now you can too!

A statue of Nikola Tesla in Silicon Valley radiates free Wi-Fi in memory of Tesla, who wanted free power for the world.
This is true – I checked it out. Photo via Tumblr.

Woodville witches in “The White Princess”

Like a lot of histfic fans I’ve been enjoying Starz’ “The White Princess”. I’m not sure how historically accurate it is. I’m not sure it matters.

The story plays with one of the gaps in our knowledge that is so ripe for fictionalization: how did Henry VII and his queen Elizabeth of York develop a happy marriage? Sources tell us Henry mourned Elizabeth deeply when she died, but not how a woman could be happy with a man who killed her uncle and deposed her family.  Two episodes in I think the miniseries (based on Philippa Gregory’s novel of the same name) plays with this question admirably.

It also plays with the usual wild rumors: that Richard III intended to marry his niece Elizabeth of York and that one of the Princes in the Tower survived as Perkin Warbeck. But of course the most appealing historical mystery to me is whether Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s widow, practiced witchcraft.

animated gif of a woman in medieval gown spinning a pendulum
Essie Davis witching it up as Elizabeth Woodville in “The White Princess.” Image found by Gramunion via Tumblr.

I don’t have the time to do the subject the research it deserves, so alas, I’m not including any footnotes. It does seem Elizabeth Woodville’s mother Jacquetta was accused of witchcraft twice, both times by political enemies who conveniently had her imprisoned before they charged her. Jacquetta denied her guilt and the accusations dried up when the Woodvilles came back into power anyway.

Even if the Woodvilles did try to lure Edward IV into marrying Elizabeth through supernatural means they may not have had to: she was reputed to be a great beauty and charming to boot.

Essie Davis in costume as Elizabeth Woodville from The White Princess
If the real Elizabeth Woodville looked like Essie Davis it certainly didn’t hurt. Via Tumblr.

Still, if those lead figures were Jaquetta’s she was using them for something, but that may not mean much. People at all levels of society dabbled in witchcraft during the early modern period. For that I do have a footnote: Keith Thomas’ Religion and the Decline of Magic.

biweekly links 5-3-2017

Steve Bannon and the occult: The right wing’s long, strange love affair with New Age mysticism: old news, but it seems everyone pulled from this article. Lest you think “New Age alternative spirituality is solely the domain of lefty hippies” indeed. See also: Peter Levenda’s “Sinister Forces” Trilogy (too many links to choose from; you know how to Google).

scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Nazis are incinerated by the Ark of the Covenant. The movie's been out over 25 years, this is not a spoiler.
Mind, the last time alt-righties seriously got into weird stuff it didn’t go well for them. Via FerdyOnFilms.com

Weird Norfolk: The Witch’s Heart of Kings Lynn: a modern reminder of an old crime.

From yob to nabob: the astonishing rise of the Tudor merchant adventurer: Stephen Alford tackles international trade in Tudor London. Alford’s “The Watchers” on Elizabethan espionage was a key and enjoyable research resource for The Book so I have faith he can make this seemingly dry topic just as riveting.

the valley of suck

Yea, though I walk through the valley of suck, I will not falter…At least, I hope I won’t.

It’s fair to say that I’m not going to have the second draft done by the HNS conference in June. Well and so–I work with the time I’ve got and while it’s not as fast as I’d like at least it’s steady.

But I’ve run into parts of this book that I…despise is not too strong a word. One section in particular I still hate despite acting on quality feedback, and though I move on to the next part I have to wonder if my second draft isn’t turning into just another, worse, first draft.

My plea to my regional Historical Novel Society chapter resulted in: get more critiques. Which I can’t argue with. Second (and third, and fourth) pairs of eyes catch what I can’t because I’ve been looking at the damn thing too long.

I have a local critique group but can’t always get to physical meetings. I’m checking out Scribophile on the recommendation of another HNS colleague to see if online critique exchanges are equally helpful.

Totally unrelated (or not?): my fencing game has been in the valley of suck as well. New coach, new footwork, so I’ve been clomping all over the strip like an asthmatic elephant for months.

Until this past weekend when some of it finally “clicked”.

back of bronze medal. Reads: Third Place Vet 40=49 NAC Women's Foil North American Cup, Baltimore MD
This is my best ever result in this event.

This is a consistent pattern with my fencing: I have to sweat away in the valley of suck to make a higher (how’s that for a cheesy/tortured metaphor?) I wonder if my writing progress will be the same. I’ve been fencing sixteen years and this pattern remains. I’ve only been writing for four.

Four!  (I started at the cusp of a previous government shutdown, and here I am again).Has it been that long? Or has it been that brief?

biweekly links 4-19-2017

All Tudor, all the time this week:

Crews damping down after ‘suspicious’ blaze ravages 16th century mansion: it breaks my heart that this is lost. As of this writing no word on whether the fire was intentional or not.

Rare Tudor organ on show at Romsey Abbey / Alumnus Charles Metz to perform Elizabethan music on period virginal April 19: that’s a reproduction organ and extant virginal. This kind of “hands-on history” thrills me.

How The White Princess is a Girl-Powered Game of Thrones: short version: the real Game of Thrones. George R. R. Martin borrowed heavily from the Wars of the Roses but the history doesn’t need much embroidering: woman has to marry man who just killed her uncle – the uncle who may have killed her brothers to take the crown for himself. Throw in conniving relatives and shifting alliances for spice and I’ll be watching.

trapping the plot bunny

A plot bunny bit me last week.

medieval illustration of rabbit blowing a trumpet
From the 13th century Ashridge Petrus Comestor, Royal 3 D VI in the British Library’s illuminated manuscripts catalogue.

Not the kind of plot bunny I can just scratch a couple of lines and save in my “to write” file either. It’s a really great weird historical/intrusive entity/questionable reality type bunny.

It’s so good I’m loath to share it with anyone for fear of getting scooped (which is silly, but that’s another post). So good, in fact, that I’m tempted to drop the novel-in-progress to plummet down this new research rabbit hole.

But I reined myself in.

Look, I’ve been struggling with rewrites. My schedule is cluttered of late and distractions of every sort compete for my limited time. Research is comparatively easy because I don’t have to invent anything or kludge all the cool stuff into a coherent narrative: all the things I beat my head against with the WIP.

But part of this novel-writing thing is finishing the damn book. That means keeping at it even when it’s not fun or easy.

So I’ve (carefully, lovingly) trapped the plot bunny with a list of sources and ideas and filed it away with the others. Pro: I’ll never run out of ideas. Con: I can only do them one at a time.

 

biweekly links 4-5-2017

Gore blimey! New exhibition looks at Tudor medicine: in case you find yourself in Stratford-Upon-Avon between now and December. More about “Method in the Madness: Understanding Ourselves Then and Now”;  the exhibit will include replica surgical instruments and other interactive elements.

Parchment drawing of a wheel with flasks around the edges, each flask filled with a different color.
Fifteenth century drawing of a urine diagnosis wheel from Johannes de Ketham’s Fasciculus medicinae. This and other fabulous public domain medical illustrations are available in the National Library of Medicine’s digital collections.

Henry VIII clauses and how 1539 compares to 2017: Brexit, sport, and public humiliation – the more things change, the more they stay the same, or do they? What do you think?

Does Bela Lugosi’s Ghost Still Haunt This $3M ‘Hollywoodland’ Tudor? Former residents Jon Cryer and Kathy Bates aren’t saying. Frankly, it doesn’t look all that Tudor-y to me, but the beamed ceiling is nice.