May 28, 2017
by Teresa Edgerton
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Bibliography of some of my favorite research resources , Part Two: the 18th and 19th centuries

As with the others, all these books focus on details of everyday life: customs, food, clothes, medicine, furnishings, oddities, etc. rather than on the great historical events of the day. They are a treasure house of information, but I especially recommend the starred books.

THE 18TH CENTURY

**Daily Life in Johnson’s London, by Richard B. Schwarz

**The Waiting City, Paris 1782-1788, by Louis-Sebastien Mercier, translated and edited by Helen Simpson from Mercier’s Le Tableau de Paris (A primary source. The way he describes things is as entertaining as it is enlightening. I imagine it is even better in the original French.)

Woman’s Life in Colonial Days, by Carl Holliday

**Germany in the Eighteenth Century, by W. H. Bruford

**Daily Life in Papal Rome in the Eighteenth Century, by Maurice Andrieux, translated by Mary Fitton

*Journeys of a German in England 1782, by Carl Philip Moritz, translated and edited by Reginald Nettel (Another primary source often referenced.)

A Journey from London to Genoa, by Joseph Barretti (Another primary source. Barretti was an Italian who lived many years in England. He was acquainted with Johnson, Garrick, Hester Thrale, and many other prominent people of the day, and led such an interesting life himself, if you can find a biography it would probably be well worth reading.)

**Daily Life in Venice at the Time of Casanova, by Maurice Andrieux, translated by Mary Fitton

*Pleasure and Privilege, Life in France, Naples, and America 1770-1790, by Olivier Bernier

Daily Life at Versailles, by Jacque Levron

*English Society in the Eighteenth Century, by Roy Porter

Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne, by John Ashton

**European Society in the Eighteenth Century, by Robert and Elborg Forster

French Society in the Eighteenth Century, by Louis Ducros, translated by W. de Geijer

**The Pageant of Georgian England, by Elizabeth Burton (also published as The Georgians at Home)

Daily Life in the French Revolution by Jean Robiquet (This was a book I found at the library, although I was later able to get it as a free e-book online, though I don’t remember where — maybe Project Gutenberg?)

A History of Everyday Things in England 1733-1851, written and illustrated by Marjorie and C. H. B. Quenell

London Life in the Eighteenth Century, by Dorothy George

A Hotbed of Genius: The Scottish Enlightenment 1730-1790, edited by David Daiches, Peter Jones, and Jean Jones

Books that aren’t about the 18th century specifically, but which have good long sections full of fascinating information about that period:

Magic, Medicine, and Quackery, by Eric Maple

Travel in England, by Thomas Burke

Venice, the Lion and the Peacock, by Laurence Scarfe

The Shows of London, by Richard D. Altick

THE 19TH CENTURY (REGENCY AND VICTORIAN)

All of these books are, I believe, readily available through online bookstores, and some of them as free ebooks from Gutenberg, etc.

*1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, by Francis Grose (The title page speaks for itself: “A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence.”)

Jane Austen’s England, by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Fashions in the Era of Jane Austen, by Jody Gayle

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, by Jennifer Kloester

Jane Austen and Food, by Maggie Lane

*The Pageant of Early Victorian England, by Elizabeth Burton (also published as The Early Victorians at Home)

**Sketches by Boz, by Charles Dickens

**Pictures from Italy, by Charles Dickens (Somewhat deceptively named, since the book describes his travels through France on the way to Italy, as well as a more lengthy section about the time he spent in Italy, with vivid glimpses of the lives of the people in every place he visited. Wonderful reading.)

*American Yesterday, by Eric Sloane (This book and the one following focus on rural and small town life in America during the 19th century, and are largely involved with describing the lives and occupations of craftsmen and farmers — how things were made and how they worked. Copiously illustrated with line drawings of tools, architecture, furniture, carriages, mills, etc.)

The Seasons of America Past, by Eric Sloane

And here is one that might also be of interest though it’s a little later (1903):

Daily Life in Russia Under the Last Tsar, by Henri Troyat

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Note: All these “Daily Life” books I’ve recommended in this post and the previous list are part of a series originally published in French, covering periods from the early Christian era into the 20th century. Unfortunately, not all of them have been translated into English — frustrating for me, since I don’t read French. Some of them have been reprinted several times by different publishers. There is a newer series by Greenwood Press, not to be confused with this one. I didn’t find it as helpful, and so don’t recommend it. However, it does have a lot of information.

May 26, 2017
by Teresa Edgerton
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Bibliography of some of my favorite research resources , Part One: 7th-17th centuries

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And now for a peek into some the research I do for my books.

I have selected and rated the books on this list according to their practical use in worldbuilding. There are, of course, many more scholarly works, concentrating on the great people and great events of these periods. But for understanding the ordinary lives of ordinary people of all ranks and conditions, and for discovering the kind of details that can make a setting—real or imaginary—come to life, these are books that I’ve personally found useful.

I recommend each of these books, but the ones I have starred most of all. Although most of these books I checked out from a public library, many of those I was later able to buy used from Amazon or Abe Books or other online bookstores.

THE DARK AGES THROUGH THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD AND THE RENAISSANCE

**Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, Pierre Riché, translated by Jo Ann McNamara

Step Into … The Viking World, by Philip Steele (This is a children’s book, but it has many, many photographs of buildings and artifacts from the period.

**The Middle Ages, by Morris Bishop

**Daily Life in Portugal During the Late Middle Ages, by A. H. de Oliveira Marques

*Life in Medieval Times, by Marjorie Rowling

The Medieval Health Handbook Tacuinum Sanitatus, by Luisa Cogliati Arano, translated and adapted by Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook

Popular Religion in the Middle Ages, by Rosalind and Christopher Brooke

The English Medieval House, by Margaret Wood

**Life in a Medieval City, by Joseph and Frances Gies

Paris in the Middle Ages, by Simone Roux, translated by Jo Ann McNamara

**Life in a Medieval Castle, by Joseph and Frances Gies

Daily Life in Florence During the Time of the Medici, by Jean-Lucas Dubreton, translated by A Lytton Sells

*The Pageant of Early Tudor England, (also published as The Early Tudors at Home) by Elizabeth Burton

*The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England, by Ian Mortimer

**The Pageant of Elizabethan England, (also published as The Elizabethans at Home) by Elizabeth Burton

Leaves from Gerard’s Herball, edited by Marcus Woodward (Selections from a primary source: John Gerard’s The Herball or General Histories of Plantes, 1597)

BOOKS COVERING THE LATE 16TH AND EARLY 17TH CENTURY

**Daily Life in Spain During the Golden Age, by Marcelin Defourneaux, translated by Newton Branch (this book covers the late 16th and early 17th centuries)

*Shakespeare’s Europe, Unpublished Chapters of Fynes Morison’s “Itinerary” 1617, edited by Charles Hughes (Moryson is a primary source)

The Age of Courts and Kings, Manners and Morals 1558-1715, by Phillipe Erlanger

SEVENTEENTH CENTURY

Touring in 1600, by E. S. Bates

Versailles, the Court, and Louis IV, selections from the diary of the Duc de Saint-Simon, translated by Lucy Norton (Saint-Simon is a primary source and others have translated his memoirs, so it wouldn’t be difficult to find an inexpensive edition of a different and perhaps more complete selection, but this is the one I have. There is a lot of fascinating information — and obviously first hand — but it only covers a small slice of society, and is of limited use to world builders unless they are writing about court life, which is why I haven’t rated it higher.)

**The Splendid Century, by W. H. Lewis

Spain in Decline, 1621-1700, by R. Trevor Davies

*Amsterdam in the Age of Rembrandt, by John J. Murray

**Daily Life in Rembrandt’s Holland, by Paul Zumthor, translated by Simon Watson Taylor

Life in Stuart England, by Maurice Ashley

*The Pageant of Stuart England, by Elizabeth Burton

The Days of Duchess Anne, Life in the Household of the Duchess of Hamilton, 1656-1716, by Rosalind K. Marshall (these are the results of Marshall’s researches through the Hamilton Archives)

*Travel in England, by Thomas Burke

A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe (published in 1722 this novel is based on actual events during his childhood in the year 1665)

**The Admirable Secrets of Physick and Chyrurgery, by Thomas Palmer (Primary source. From the 1696 notebook of Thomas Palmer, a minister and doctor. Some medical theory, but most is devoted to treatments and remedies.)

and finally, a book that covers the late 15th through the early 18th centuries, the kind of book that is often referred to as an expensive coffee-table book, more pages devoted to pictures than text, but worth every penny of the price as far as I am concerned, because the pictures are so amazing:

**Cabinets of Curiosities, by Patrick Mauries

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Part Two has now been posted.

For those interested, there is an active discussion about books history books which have influenced and been eye-opening for other writers in writing their historical fiction (or historically based fantasy) here: https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/568224/

May 14, 2017
by Teresa Edgerton
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My Schedule for BayCon

BayCon is the San Francisco Bay Area’s longest-running (and largest) fan-run convention.

This year it’s at the San Mateo Marriott, and the theme is Dystopias and Utopias. I will be there all four days, and I’ll be appearing on several panels.

Here’s my schedule, with times and the room locations for the panels:

FRIDAY MAY 26

3:00 Historic Urban Fantasy (Synergy 4)
with Kevin Andrew Murphy and Alex Westmore

SATURDAY MAY 27

2:30 Fantastic Beasts and How to Write Them (Connect 5)
with Kevin Andrew Murphy, Chaz Brenchley, Helen Stringer, and Mark Gelineau

4:00 Girls Will Be Girls (Inspire 1)
with Loren Rhoads, Margaret McGaffey Fisk, Linden Tarr, and Carrie Sessarego

SUNDAY MAY 28

5:30 Romantic SFF / Paranormal Romance (Connect 5)
with Jean Martin and Kevin Andrew Murphy
Note: I’ll be moderating this one.

MONDAY MAY 29

1:00 History and Anthropology for Writers (Connect 4)
with Kevin Andrew Murphy, Gregg Castro, and Marie Brennan

Of course I plan to visit with friends, view the art show, visit the dealer’s room, and take in some other panels, because a lot of them look like they should be fun.

For more information on the convention: http://baycon.org/bcwp/

May 7, 2017
by Teresa Edgerton
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What I am Reading, Early May (2017)

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THE MAGICIANS AND MRS. QUENT, by Galen Beckett

The setting of this fantasy-of-manners is reminiscent of England during the Regency era, but a world and a history different from our own, where various forms of magic have helped to shape that history—although only the formal “magick” performed by men of the upper classes is acceptable and respectable. The style of the prose has an early nineteenth century flavor, with delightful touches of Austenian irony.

Ivy Lockwell is the oldest of three sisters. Brought up in comfortable circumstances, they are slowly coming down in the world, due to the mental decline of their magician father. They are forced to rely on his small inherited income and they live in a house that belongs to their mother but which, due to an entail, will pass to a disagreeable male cousin on her death instead of to her own children. Yes—shades of Pride and Prejudice!— should either parent die before the girls marry, Ivy and her sisters could go from living in modest circumstances to genuine poverty. Indeed, since their mother is far from capable at handling money, it is only because of practical Ivy’s guiding influence and her insistence on economies that her mother is resistant to make that they have managed as well as they have.

There are mysteries surrounding Mr. Lockwell’s mental illness, and warnings that he left for Ivy in the form of riddles and puzzles. As Ivy gradually comes to understand, these involve dangers that imperil not only their country but their entire world. In addition, Ivy has always felt that she ought to be able to work magick, that it is only by magick that she can cure her father, since magick appears to have been the source of his illness—but unfortunately her efforts to do so have always failed, and she has no one to turn to for guidance because in their society women are not magicians.

Two other characters alternate with Ivy as protagonists and viewpoint characters.

One is the young nobleman, Dashton Rafferdy. Rafferdy is something of a social butterfly, witty and fashionable, but there is a certain dissatisfaction beneath his frivolous exterior. The problem is that he doesn’t know what would satisfy him or give his life meaning. At one point he thinks it might be Ivy, and she returns his affection, but they both know that anything more than friendship between them is impossible, because of the wide difference in their social stations. Meanwhile, the mysterious Mr. Bennick, an ex-magician, is trying to lure him into the study and practice of magick, for which Rafferdy has apparently inherited an aptitude from distant ancestors, but he is skeptical and resists.

The other main character is his friend Eldyn Garritt. Eldyn does have a goal. His family, too, has come down in the world, although from a higher status than the Lockwoods. His dissolute father disgraced the family, squandered his fortune, and then when he died left Eldyn with the responsibility of looking after and providing for a younger half-sister, with nothing to live on, a gentleman’s education (which is to say: no training for a lucrative profession), and a sense that he owes it to his sister to restore her to their original place in society. Desperate for money to invest in what looks like a promising venture that might solve all his problems, he is pressed to accept a loan from a man he already distrusts, and finds himself up to his ears in what increasingly looks like a plot against the king. And, oh yes, the company he invested his money in turns out to be a swindle.

When tragedy strikes the Lockwell family, and their financial situation is found to be even worse than she feared, Ivy takes a job with her father’s old friend, Mr. Quent, as governess to his two young wards. During her time on Mr. Quent’s secluded country estate—a period which encompasses several chapters—the plot takes a gothic turn, but it’s all preparation for what Ivy will face when she returns to the city and her path will cross that of Rafferdy and Garritt again. And (this is no spoiler, because the title gives it away) she also finds a new love.
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One thing that I particularly liked was that the characters are true products of their society and the time period it is based on. Beckett doesn’t give in to the temptation to make them more sympathetic by giving them attitudes and values more in keeping with our own times. As a result, they sometimes suffer heartbreak because they hold true to the values of their society, but they don’t give in to self-pity because of it. They grieve for what might have been, but they move on with their lives to the best of their abilities. Some readers might find this frustrating—they may want the characters to do what they themselves would do in the same situation (as though they would ever find themselves under the same sort of pressures)—but for me these small daily acts of courage earned as much sympathy as greater acts of rebellion might, and are more plausible within the setting.

The book has flaws, as many other reviewers have pointed out. There are odd aspects of the worldbuilding which I felt ought to be explained, but never are—leaving me to wonder if the author had even worked out an answer. Some important characters are underdeveloped. I sometimes wondered how well Beckett actually knows the Regency period. It’s the author’s invented world, and it’s his prerogative to make what changes he will, but some things still grated, as I couldn’t decide whether they were deliberate or the result of careless research.

Since this is the first volume in a trilogy, quite a bit of time is spent setting up events that will not develop until later volumes, which makes for a somewhat slow start, and of course with two more volumes to follow not every plot line is neatly wound up by the last page. But once things start moving there is plenty of magic, politics, mystery, and romance, and an ending that was satisfying enough to tide me over until the next volume (which I was not slow in obtaining), while leaving me eager to find out where the story would take the characters next.

April 29, 2017
by Teresa Edgerton
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What I am Reading—April (2017)

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MIDNIGHT NEVER COME, by Marie Brennan

Set during the reign of Elizabeth I, Midnight Never Come tells of two Englands: one a realm of mortals ruled by Elizabeth, and one a realm of fairies, ruled by the heartless and exceedingly ruthless Invidiana. The two realms and the two rulers are linked by a pact which brought both queens to their thrones. But while Elizabeth has no interest in interfering with Invidiana and her subjects, the fairy queen’s agenda leads her to both help and hinder Elizabeth. She has spies in the mortal court, and has manipulated events in such a way that Elizabeth has sometimes had no choice but to act as Invidiana chooses, not as she would choose herself.

Because much of the plot hinges on politics and espionage we see little of the pageantry and color of Elizabeth’s court, but we do get to see its darker corners, and meet some of history’s most fascinating characters, like Doctor John Dee.

The protagonists of the tale are Lune, who hopes to better her precarious position within the cut-throat politics of Invididana’s “Onyx Court” by accepting an assignment to disguise herself as a mortal and spy on the humans, and Michael Deven, a young Englishman whose family has recently been elevated to the gentry, and whose ambitions lead him to work for Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster. It is inevitable, of course, that these two should meet, and that their agendas should clash over developing events The difference is that Lune knows most of what is afoot, and for much of the book Michael is ignorant. However, once he is assigned to uncover a suspected secret influence on the queen, it is not in his nature to leave any possibilities unexplored.

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The pacing of the first part of the story is slow, as Brennan sets up past and present events. Just as I was becoming interested in one group of characters, she would switch to another. But I have some familiarity with the period and with fairy lore and I was intrigued by the way she wove real events so cleverly with the folklore. Then, about halfway through the book, when the various strands of the plot began to come together, and when the personalities of the main characters were more established, the story itself began to hook me.

As well as Invidiana’s role in manipulating English politics, there is the mystery of her own origins, the creation of the vast underground Onyx Court, and her ascension to the throne, which Lune and Michael join forces to discover. There is also a developing romance, where I would have liked to see more depth of emotion, but the tragedy inherent in a mortal and an immortal falling in love are sufficiently obvious, perhaps the author decided to leave that aspect to the readers’ imaginations.

Brennan is able to inject quite a bit of darkness and suspense, without resorting to much in the way of violence or gore. Vicious and ruthless as the fairy queen is, it is the subtlety of her methods and punishments that makes her the most dangerous. Overall, I found this a clever and entertaining book, and went straight to Amazon after finishing it, to order the sequel.

April 25, 2017
by Teresa Edgerton
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SF & F and Romance Part II

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My own fantasy novels tend to include vast landscapes and large casts of characters, and it would seem incredible (as in implausible) to me—as though something vital were inexplicably missing—if such an integral part of life as the search for love were left out.

In fact, I think that the subject of love must be an obsession of mine. Not just romantic love, but the deepest bonds of friendship, and the love between parents and children, brothers and sisters. Intact families used to be rare in fantasy. Many authors slaughtered the hero or heroine’s entire family, or clan, or village, in the epilogue or the opening chapter, just wiped them off the stage in one single brutal swipe, so that their characters could concentrate on having adventures without worrying about such questions as who was going to stay home and watch the baby. (The obvious answer is, of course, that when disaster strikes and adventures are unavoidable you have to take the baby with you, and that makes everything a good deal more complicated and challenging, as I found when writing the second Celydonn trilogy.)

These days, when authors may provide their protagonists with large families, it sometimes seems as though they do so just so that they might have the pleasure of killing them off, one or two at a time, over the course of several volumes. We may be entering an era where instead of starting out as orphans, the protagonists, over the course of several books, achieve orphandom, or have orphandom thrust upon them.

But the great enduring tales, the classical and medieval epics, and the fairy tales we all remember, usually center around families: the rivalries between brothers fighting over a crown, the evil stepmothers plotting to advance their own children at the expense of their stepchildren, the adulterous love triangles . . . what are these but family dramas? Some of these plots are staples of modern fantasy and are not unknown to science fiction (particularly in movies and on television), which is not surprising since those same old stories make up a family tree of which modern speculative fiction is but one branch, but they also turn up with great frequency in soap opera—though the kings have become tycoons and the kingdoms corporations. So many popular characters in soap opera marry so many times, there is never any shortage of step-families, either.

In romance novels, families have always been very present indeed. Even if one party is orphaned and/or an only child it is likely that the other is abundantly provided with relatives. And if the characters are short on nuclear family, then they usually have aunts and uncles and cousins to fill in: sometimes loving and supportive, sometimes very much the opposite. One familiar theme is how the still-resonating effects of old family traumas provide obstacles on a heroine or hero’s way to believing in and accepting true love. Historical romances, in particular, draw on blended families, arranged marriages, lost heirs (who don’t stay lost forever), elopements, tyrannical parents, scheming relatives, and feuds between and within families.

And in any tale of epic proportions—whatever the genre—it would be strange indeed if none of these elements were to occur. Epics and family dramas have always gone together, and the same kinds of plots that stirred our ancestors centuries ago continue to resonate for us. Which is not surprising, because these same elements, even when exaggerated, do reflect enduring truths about the human condition.

In times of crisis, when life becomes incredibly hard, that’s when family loyalties are tested, when already existing tensions can grow to huge proportions. A family facing enormous challenges or heartbreak can either grow closer or fall completely apart. Divorce often follows on a tragedy, yet other families just become stronger. When the decision has to be made about taking on the care of an elderly and ailing parent, this is one of those times when we discover who we can really rely on, as some people disappoint us and others rise to the occasion in the most unexpected and inspiring ways. When financial disaster strikes and we find ourselves without a roof over our heads, will our relatives provide us with temporary shelter? Again there may be surprises in those who are willing to sacrifice their own comforts to save a family member from living on the street . . . and those who could do so with the least convenience but find a thousand excuses not to offer.

In a novel, the challenges, the happy surprises, the disillusionments, may differ in magnitude from anything that we ourselves may ever experience, but they don’t differ in their essence or in the emotional costs.

I am happy to be able to say that in our first two books from Venus Ascending, Beneath the Skin by Carolyn Hill and The Beguiler by Suzanne Jackson, these family dynamics are much in evidence: the jealousies, tensions, and rivalries; the dirty family secrets; but also the loyalties and the love that give us the strength to survive, even when it almost seems like survival isn’t worth the effort.

April 19, 2017
by Teresa Edgerton
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SF & F and Romance Part I

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For the last year and a bit, I’ve been acting as acquiring editor for Venus Ascending, a line of romantic fantasy and science fiction. And during that time I’ve often been asked, “What could possibly be the appeal of combining science fiction or fantasy with romance?”

I must admit that I find that an extraordinary question. Because to me the appeal seems quite obvious.

Speculative fiction is not just about gadgets or magic, alien worlds or fantasy landscapes. To be worth reading, it must principally be about people of one sort or another (not always human people, of course, but people nevertheless, whether they be elves, undead, or extra-terrestrials) and how they react to the gadgets, magic, alien worlds, etc. And one of the things that people tend to do in all times and in all places is fall in love, or wish to fall in love, or get fallen in love with, or . . . well, one way or another, love influences most everyone, sooner or later.

One of the great things that both science fiction and fantasy do is allow us to explore familiar things from an unfamiliar perspective and so see them without the distraction of the context we have come to identify them with much too thoroughly. We, as individuals, exist within a context that influences us in so many ways, but we aren’t that context, and that context isn’t us. When we can see ourselves, and our emotions, our hopes, fears, loves, hates, as divisible from that context we come that much closer to truly knowing ourselves.

The best way to show people true things is from a direction that they had not imagined the truth coming.
—NEIL GAIMAN

And if we see speculative fiction as a way of providing new insights and new perceptions of the things we tend to think we know everything about already (but which in reality are much too complicated for us to ever know everything there is to know about them), why would we neglect to explore one of the greatest motivators of human interactions?

In storytelling terms it makes sense, too.

Fantasy and science fiction plots usually present their protagonists with extraordinary challenges, and not infrequently extraordinary perils. Extraordinary challenges and perils can produce heightened states of emotion, and in a state of heightened emotion one of the things that people are inclined to do is fall in love. And when you have a mixed cast of characters some of whom are single and who match up in terms of their various genders and sexual orientations such that they could fall in love, what would be more natural than that they would fall in love?

Realistically, that love might not long survive the end of the adventure, but then again it might, since shared experiences can form a bond (especially when the experiences are the kind that nobody else but the person you shared them with would ever quite understand). And there is another thing about extraordinary circumstances: they test people in ways that show either their best or their worst sides, qualities that might have stayed hidden forever under ordinary circumstances, which is another great catalyst for people falling in and out of love. If both those things happen (out of love with one person and into love with another), you have the classic love triangle.

Adding that romantic element can also provide some exciting opportunities in plotting a story, because falling in love—and here I mean truly and deeply falling in love—can add to the tensions and the heightened emotions of the challenges that the characters already face.

What if the cause you are committed to, or the great task you have already undertaken, also happens to endanger that person you love so truly and deeply? Or what if you find yourself falling in love with someone on the opposite side of a bitter cultural, political, or religious divide? Which loyalty comes first? How far can you compromise, for their sake, and still retain your integrity—and how can you manage to go on if they might suffer horribly or even die as a result of your choices?

This is the kind of intensity that romance can add to speculative fiction. In turn, the science fiction or fantasy setting can offer the love story new possibilities. In genre romance, there are a great many plot ideas that are endlessly recycled (I will note that they are recycled because they work—I’m a sucker for some of them myself): the marriage of convenience, the fake betrothal, the lovers separated for years by misunderstandings who get a second chance, etc. etc. But fantasy and science fiction settings offer new cultures, new ways of looking at love, new obstacles to overcome in finding it and keeping it, new ways to test it and examine it . . . and maybe come closer to the truth of it, by coming at it from an unexpected direction.

March 11, 2017
by Teresa Edgerton
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Review—THE GIRL WITH TWO SOULS, by Stephen Palmer

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I promised this review months ago, didn’t I? Well, it was that kind of winter, the kind where it seemed like every contagion making the rounds decided to take up residence in the Edgerton household. I was either sick, or busy trying to catch up with things that I let slide while I was sick, or arguing with myself that I ought to be catching up with one thing instead of another that seemed more appealing at that particular moment (with the result that I did neither of them), or . . . well, I didn’t write the review until now. But here, at last, it is:

THE GIRL WITH TWO SOULS, by Stephen Palmer

A new book by Stephen Palmer is always an exciting event for me, as he is one of the most inventive and imaginative fantasy writers I know of, his special brand of mad creativity and intellectual curiosity both idiosyncratic and challenging.

The Girl With Two Souls lives up to each of these expectations.

The setting is a steampunkish alternate Edwardian England, a world where sophisticated automatons are a fact of everyday life, servants to humankind, but also viewed by many as a threat because of rising unemployment, and also because of their enigmatic nature and origins. Everyone knows where they are made, but nobody knows how, or what gives them at least the appearance of sentience.

The main character is Kora Blackmore, illegitimate daughter of industrialist Sir Tantalus Blackmore, who owns the factory that produces the automatons. As the story opens, he has confined her to Bedlam, because she is either mentally ill (a split personality), or perhaps because she is something far rarer and more valuable/dangerous, a being who genuinely possesses two different souls: the rather conventional Kora, and the more questioning and rebellious Roka.

When kind Doctor Spellman appears to rescue her from the confines of the asylum her adventure begins, and it is one filled with action, danger, and increasing mystery. The setting alternates between the cozily domestic and the darkly Dickensian, and the large cast of characters (human and automaton) is varied and eccentric.

On the face of it this book is something of a departure for the author, since the alternate-historical setting and certain features of the plot make it more accessible than his previous books. At least it may seem so reading the first few chapters, but read a little further and it becomes obvious that Palmer’s fascination with philosophical themes—most notably the nature of consciousness and what constitutes a sentient being—continue on from his previous work, and have become perhaps even more complex and nuanced than before, and to these he has added a hefty dose of religion and politics circa 1910. For that reason, though the main character is only fourteen, grappling with the usual YA questions of identity and independence, I wouldn’t classify this as YA fiction, Though teenage readers might well be intrigued by the premise, the characters, and the unfolding mysteries, I think few at that age would be much interested in these philosophical matters—which are, I think, very near to the heart of the story, as they are very near to Palmer’s. But even though I don’t believe the story was written especially for them, that might not prevent young adult readers from reading and enjoying The Girl With Two Souls.

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November 28, 2016
by Teresa Edgerton
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Guest Blog — Stephen Palmer

And what better way to revive my blog than with a guest blog by the incomparable Stephen Palmer. (Next up will be a review of The Girl With Two Souls.)

FACTORY GIRL / CRAFTING AUTHOR: CONSTRUCTING THE WORLD OF FACTORY GIRL

Though I use the word crafting in the title of this guest blog, opposing factory production lines, it is in jest. The Arts & Crafts leader William Morris was ambivalent on the place of the machine in nineteenth century manufacturing, though at heart he did want a new tradition of crafting, where the qualities of the materials being used were truly appreciated both by the individual and by society.

In a blog post earlier this year introducing the Factory Girl trilogy – The Girl With Two Souls / The Girl With One Friend / The Girl With No Soul – I wrote: ‘In September 2013 I was watching the news one evening when I began thinking about a writing project that had been bubbling up from my subconscious. Unusually for me the title had come first, and I’d had it for quite a while – The Girl With Two Souls. Who was this girl? When and where did she live? Suddenly a few ideas popped into my head. I grabbed an empty notebook and began jotting down the ideas as they arrived. Soon it was a deluge. When I looked up, two hours had passed by – in a subjective twenty minutes. I had outlined the entire structure of the trilogy: all the main characters, what would happen, how, where, when and why.’
This kind of full, sudden inspiration comes rarely enough, even to prolific authors such as me. I can only remember a couple of times when it happened before, one of which was the creation of the book that eventually turned into my 1996 debut Memory Seed. But once I had the characters, the basic ideas and the trilogy structure in my notebook, what then?

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Constructing a large scale world is the task of the crafting author – inspiration, creation, complexity, authenticity, truth. Like all authors I love that time preparing a work when the ideas are flowing thick and fast and the milieu becomes ever more sophisticated, ever more real. But the Factory Girl trilogy was a major departure for me: my first serious novel set in a historical period. Admittedly it was an alternate Britain of 1910, but I wanted the world to be as true to history as possible
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Yet I didn’t do much by way of research. My ‘research’ tends to be ongoing – I mostly read non-fiction these days, so everything I read goes into a great pot labelled ‘Possibly Useful.’ However I did read one particularly helpful book, Max Arthur’s Lost Voices of the Edwardians: 1901–1910 in Their Own Words, which is a wonderful oral history of the period, delivered from a wide range of social stations. I even lifted a famous comment made by a Suffragette when demeaned by a male speaker, mentioned in the book. The book was also useful for surnames, for instance Honey, a surname I’d never encountered before, which I applied to a mechanic and film pioneer in Manchester.

The other research I did was more of inclination than anything else. The milieu’s theme is the nature of the automata made by Sir Tantalus Blackmore’s Factory, used in parallel with the human themes. I watched a fascinating documentary called ‘Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams,’ in which Professor Simon Schaffer details the extraordinary automata made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This was first broadcast by the BBC in summer 2013, and it may well have inspired the Factory Girl automata. Either way, it is a superb documentary, which I’ve re-watched a couple of times since. Another film that inspired me was Martin Scorsese’s ‘Hugo,’ in which a young boy and a young girl have to find the truth behind a broken automaton and a notebook – a wonderful and emotional film, with two terrific central performances from the young actors; also a great performance by Ben Kingsley, and a surprisingly chilling, yet sensitive and witty performance by Sacha Baron Cohen.

There was a small amount of other serious research that I had to do, but I can’t mention it here because of spoilers. Overall, my research load was light. I imagined as much as I could in freedom.

Of course, constructing a fictional world isn’t only research. It’s surprising what details can illuminate a reader’s mind. In creating Sir Tantalus Blackmore’s automata I devised an instruction system based on stenography; the novel has strong themes of religion and science, so I invented an angelic class of automaton; and there was the vast, anvil-headed black cloud which perpetually hangs over the five mile wide Factory…

Then there was the matter of accents and dialect. The Factory Girl trilogy is mostly set in Sheffield (a British city in Yorkshire), where people speak with distinctive accents. One of the earliest lessons I learned as a youthful writer was the importance of conveying character through idiosyncrasies of speech, and accent is an important part of that. But in Britain it is not uncommon to hear the Yorkshire accent spoofed by comedians (Monty Python’s ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch is world famous), so I knew I had to be very careful. Luckily I had a good friend at work who was a Yorkshire lass, so I went to her for advice – which I then partially ignored. But her advice was very useful. The problem with accents is how far to go. An author can never use it at all for the sake of maximum readability, or they can use it thick and full for maximum authenticity, like Richard Adams’ Geordie fox, The Tod, in The Plague Dogs. But The Tod’s speech is almost unintelligible, and, for me, his sections make for uncomfortable reading – and mostly skimmed. So I decided to go for a happy medium, using many of the characteristics of a Yorkshire accent, and using them consistently, but not going too far. Doubtless I’ll get some complaints of inauthenticity though…

So the world of Factory Girl is a mixture of real research from academic books, free-floating imagination enjoyed during day-dreaming episodes, and proper history. Though the work is set in an alternate Britain I did want it to have the oil and grease, the muck and mud, and the noise and din of Edwardian times. I wanted realistic accents in my imaginary scenes, accents which are not least the sign of realistic characters.

William Morris said, “Nothing should be made by man’s labour which is not worth making, or which must be made by labour degrading to the makers.” He also wrote, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” I hope I have crafted something that was worth making, and I do hope it has a certain oil-stained, grease-smudged beauty…

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