Posts Tagged 'Rebecca S. Buck'

The Great War: My Tribute to the Women

BSB-HopeHeartWinterIn May this year, I was elected as a local councillor. I am a member of Eastwood Town Council, of which I was subsequently voted in as Deputy Town Mayor. Eastwood is a small, industrial town on the edge of Nottinghamshire. The history of this area is in mining, textile manufacture and the railways but Eastwood is also known as the birthplace and hometown of D. H. Lawrence and is used as a fictionalised setting in many of his novels. I am both a writer and a museum professional. To represent a town like Eastwood, with such a literary connection and such important heritage is an honour and a learning curve. It also presents me with some new experiences and gives me pause for thought.
In my capacity as Deputy Mayor, I was recently given the responsibility of leading the Remembrance Sunday Parade through town, from the church to the war memorial, and laying one of the poppy wreaths, in remembrance of all the men from the town who have died in wars over the years. Remembrance Day (the Sunday closest to Armistice Day on 11th November) is always an important day – thinking of family members who have served in the military, as well as all those young men who marched away from the town, never to return. It was an honour to lay a wreath in memory of them and it brought tears to hear the Last Post echo through the streets where they once lived, and dwell on the horrors of war.
But taking part in the ceremony was significant for me in other ways too. I have a novel coming out in January, set in the 1920s. For all that we think of jazz and cocktails, the Charleston and short skirts, the 1920s, to me, represents a decade of recovering from and responding to national trauma. A nation shell-shocked by the impact of the Great War and trying a little too hard to forget that horror. A generation out to prove that they were more modern than their parents’ generation who had gone so blindly into a war of the old empires.
Much though Remembrance Day is about all wars (not least 1939-45 and the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq), it is the First World War that gives us the Cenotaph memorials, the significance of the poppies, the poetry that is read at every service. I don’t know if it’s the same worldwide but, in the UK, it’s the First World War that drives the imagery and emotion of the November commemorations. All war is tragic but the First World War perhaps the most tragic of all in its pointlessness, in the sheer waste of young life. There was no cause, no evil to fight. Just national flags and national pride and death, in muddy trenches. To remember should be to allow yourself to feel some of the despair and shock of the people who lived through the ‘Great War’. It’s not difficult to see why, if you’d survived it, you’d stumble into the next decade determined to drink and dance and live your life as if there was no tomorrow.
The impact of the war was particularly significant for women. Academics debate the exact numbers but somewhere in the region of two million women were left ‘surplus.’ This was the deficit Fragile Wings 300 DPIbetween numbers of men and women – so many men had been lost to the war. And a woman, if she could not marry and become a mother, had no real function in the world as it was before the war. Therefore, she was ‘surplus’. Not only were their prospects of marriage much decreased, they had often lost fathers, brothers, fiancés, sons and were grieving. The women who lived through the war deserve remembering as much as the men they lost. In many ways, both the short story Hope in the Heart of Winter (available as a free ebook in December) and my full length novel, Fragile Wings (out in January) are an attempt to engage with the women of this generation, who lived beyond the war but were changed by it. That some of my women are queer is significant, of course, they’re not necessarily looking for men to marry, despite being brought up with an expectation of it. But whoever they fall in love with, they were still affected by the way women’s lives changed as a result of the First World War.
Women worked during the war, in ways they never had. It wasn’t that they’d never had chance to work before – women had always been servants, teachers, seamstresses, textile factory girls and suchlike. But now they could take on new roles, vacated by the men who had marched away to fight. Women became bus and tram conductors and drivers, ammunition and metal factory workers, clerks and administrators, postal workers, even police officers. Women learned new skills and proved they could work as men could. They earned much less money, but they proved a point. In 1919 The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act made it illegal to exclude women from jobs because of their gender. This was the beginning of the professions opening up to women.
Moreover, the suffragettes (who had disbanded in 1914 at the outbreak of war, to help the war effort rather than fighting their government) eventually had, in 1918, the first taste of their final victory when the Representation of the People Act extended the vote to some women. There were restrictions, but it was a first step. At the same time, the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, allowed women to stand for Parliament and the first female MP was elected that same year (the first woman to take up her seat was actually Nancy Astor, elected in 1919. The first to be elected, Constance Markievicz, was an Irish Republican and did not actually take her seat). Women first served on juries in courtrooms in 1920. The first woman called to the English bar was Ivy Williams in 1922, the same year as the Law of Property Act allowed both husband and wife to inherit property equally. In 1923, grounds for divorce were made the same for men and women. Finally, in 1928, all women were allowed to vote. The 1929 General Election was nicknamed the Flapper Election because so many young women exercised their new equality.
The history books tell us that when the soldiers came back from the war, the women had to return to their traditional roles: Wives and mothers – now often either grieving for their dead or tending their wounded and traumatised husbands and sons – and domestic servants. But the reality is that what was done could not be undone. There was no going back. Those adventurous women of wartime became the ‘flappers’ of the 1920s – the short hair, short skirts, un-corseted waists, smoking, drinking and wild Charleston dancing the outward signs of a hard won leap forwards in equality and liberty. Many of them would not marry, would become the ‘surplus’ women. There was an undoubted tragedy in this for some. But many, many of them thrived in their new independent roles and the younger generation of women now aspired to something more than their mothers, grandmothers and aunts had done. The war could not have been won without them and they now made their impact on the peace.
Their legacy is still felt today. World War One still stands stark in the British popular consciousness, even though it has slipped from living memory. It is largely acknowledged as a great tragedy, any supposed glory mostly faded by knowledge of the reality. But I think the reason it remains so prominent is that it is the first great turning point of the twentieth century and perhaps the most significant. In 1914, Britain was largely still politically, economically, culturally, the imperial, industrial nation it had been under Victoria. The Great War changed everything. Those four years shattered certainties. Empires crumbled. Cultural and moral reference points shifted. For the women, recovery from this fracture in history meant going forwards into a more independent future.
I felt them standing with me at the war memorial, as I remembered their brothers, sons, fathers, lovers. The spirit of those women, mourning but standing strong. Alongside me on that day were the local Police Inspector, Vicar, Borough Councillor, Member of Parliament and a representative of the Army Cadets. I am the Deputy Mayor. All of us women. All of us standing on the shoulders of those who lived through and beyond the Great War and dreamed and dared to be modern.
It is to the ‘surplus’ women that I have dedicated Hope in the Heart of Winter and it is the impact of the Great War and the trauma which stretched through the 1920s which is the backdrop for Fragile Wings. I hope my writing pays some small tribute to the women who are not memorialised in stone but whose legacy lives on nonetheless.

Third Time’s a Charm

 by Rebecca S. Buck

 

The Locket and the Flintlock is almost here. Which is a wonderful feeling. I’m so excited. I am incredibly proud of this novel. Clearly, I liked my first two novels, Truths and Ghosts of Winter but there is just something about my third novel that makes it my favourite.

Perhaps I’m a better writer now than I was two years ago. I’ll leave that to the reader to judge. Certainly, practice makes perfect and the expert guidance of my wonderful editor, Ruth Sternglantz, has helped a lot. Instead of something to wrangle into shape, words have become a tool. A paintbrush with which to paint a world in whatever tones and hues I choose, to colour that world with emotion and life.

As a historical novel, it would be tempting, I suppose to paint this one in shades of sepia, or the yellow of an old manuscript. It is certainly lovely to see history in that sort of soft glow. But for me, it’s never been like that. I love The Locket and the Flintlock because even though I crafted a romantic tale of Regency England, it is vibrant. Not just because it is also an adventure story with action and danger, but because I can see the colours of the leaves on the trees, the mist of the characters’ breath in the night air, the glinting of the light on a stolen ruby necklace. Those details are so important to me when I write historical fiction. Not to make it more “accurate” but to make it more real. I want to remove the “otherness” of history. I want my readers to see it as I do. A colourful world, full of detail. Not faded and distant.

In The Locket and the Flintlock I am especially excited to invite my readers into my favourite period of history: The Regency. That period in British history where the King was declared insane and the fat, indulgent Prince Regent reigned in his stead. The time of Jane Austen and Romanticism. Also the time of the Napoleonic Wars, the Industrial Revolution, rapid urbanisation and enclosure, of failed harvests, revolutionary poets, protest, a bloody penal system, and general unease. It’s a period which has always fascinated me and, in this novel, I wanted to bring together some of the aspects of it that make it such a wonderful time to explore. There is a gentlewoman who, on first appearances, could have walked out of a Jane Austen novel. But her world soon collides with the darker side of the Regency. Many are starving and turning to crime, risking the hangman’s noose in order to make a living. Workers are so dissatisfied with their treatment that they turn to machine-breaking in organised gangs, apparently swearing allegiance to a mysterious General Ludd who hides out in Sherwood Forest. The rules of civilised society still dictate that women often marry for money or social advancement. I wanted to lead my characters through this world and see how it affects them, and their developing love story.

I was also keenly aware that the Regency was a very fleeting period. Times would soon change. The Victorian era, arguably England’s greatest and most in/famous age, obscures the Regency from view in many histories of the nineteenth century. These years were the last years before photography and the window into the past it allows. The last years in which workers still laboured in their homes rather than factories. The last time it was feared Britain might have another revolution in the manner of the French. It was the last era that highway robbers still prowled the streets, before turnpikes and formal, organised policing wiped them out. The sense of time passing and things changing is something I wanted to capture in my writing too. A moment in time preserved forever, before things changed inexorably.

It will be up to my readers to tell me if I captured the essence of this period successfully. I’ve not loaded the novel with historical detail. I want you to feel the Regency, not read about it. I am so incredibly passionate about this time period, and in The Locket and the Flintlock I feel as though I’ve painted a colourful picture of it. I hope I have. It’s why I’m so especially proud of this book.

That, and because the overriding theme is all about freedom and making choices. I think a book captures a particular moment in its writer’s life. At the moment I’m all about freedom. When my characters gallop on horseback through the woodland…I can feel the wind in my hair with them.

Time Travelling

by Rebecca S. Buck

When people find out that my upcoming novel, The Locket and the Flintlock is a work of historical fiction, they seem impressed and intrigued, which is lovely. It also puzzles me, since I find writing historical fiction easier than writing a contemporary story. I think it seems like a difficult feat to many people because historical fiction implies the knowledge of both how to write well and of a lot of rather dry historical detail. The historical writer’s task is apparently to breathe life and colour into what, to many people who remember studying history at school, a lot of dates and lists of events.

To be fair, I do know a lot of dry historical detail. I’m a history geek and increasingly proud of it. But that’s not my starting point for historical fiction. I don’t take a historical fact and write my story around it. I start with the people. Not all historical writers work like I do. My own personal favourite historical novel, Sharpe’s Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell, takes an hour by hour account of that famous Napoleonic battle in 1815 as its starting point and weaves the fictional characters into it.

But for me, it begins with the imagination, not the facts. A moment in time. A scene. One character.

I thought this blog would be a good place to explain how it this process works for me, since it’s one of the questions I’m most commonly asked. I felt the process at work very recently, and I’ll use my account of that to explain what I mean.

I went on a trip to the town of Newark on Trent in north Nottinghamshire. Of course, England is blessed with historic sites all over the place and this could have happened anywhere, and frequently does. But on this day it was Newark. Though only a market town it’s a special place. It was very significant during the English Civil War, and has a beautiful castle on the banks of the River Trent, now in wistful ruins.

While walking in these ruins, I happened to glance up at one of the old stone window frames, devoid of glass for a long while. And instantly I asked myself “who is standing there?” It’s a very specific question. I can conjure up, through historical knowledge, images of King John (who died there in 1216) or Cavalier soldiers in the 17th century. But that’s not what I’m asking myself. What I’m asking is “who do I see there?” And, invariably, it’s not a well-known figure from history or a generic representative of an era, but a specific person from the decades in between. The years when life went on as normal and there were not battles or visits from kings. In this case I saw a woman, in a long dress.

I have to focus at this point. Who is she? A Norman, a Tudor, or later? A Victorian visitor to what was already, by then, a ruin? I try to connect with the sense of the place I’m in and see how she fits. Then I know: she belongs to a time when the castle was complete, a home as well as a garrison. Perhaps the sixteenth century. Before the Civil War, certainly. Her dress is not fine, but she’s no servant. Perhaps the wife, sister or daughter of one of the commanding soldiers based at the castle. She is pretty, with long, light brown hair. She rests slender hands on the window ledge as she looks out at the view. She seems to be thinking about something that makes her rather pensive.

What is she thinking about? Her future? Her past? Her family? A lover?

Hmm. A lover. And who is that lover? Why does thinking of them make her look so pensive?

These thoughts continue for a while. Slowly, the lady in the window acquires a back story. Sometimes even a name. In this case, I called her Melisende. She is pensive because her father, commander of the garrison, is to be stationed elsewhere and she does not want to leave Newark, because her lover is there. She smiles and flushes when she thinks of her lover, despite her sadness. She can barely believe she is so deeply in love.

And thus the story grows and begins to take on a life of its own. The characters start to dictate their own futures. From Melisende, I move on to her lover. I think of names, back stories, descriptions. Then I work out how these people relate to each other and how their story will unfold. That gives me a plot.

Only then does the historical period become important. What period suggested itself to me right away? Is the plot suitable for this time period? Do I need to adapt it at all because of social and cultural considerations of the setting? Sometimes the historical period suggests other characters, or deviations in the plot. But I never let the history dictate the story.

I aim to always be historically authentic. I say authentic rather than accurate, because sometimes some artistic license is necessary. But my story, language, characters and scene building have to have the “feel” of the period I’m writing about.

In my historical writing, my aim is to bring the unknown people of the past to life. It’s not to deliver a history lesson, nor is it to present a different interpretation of some famous historical figure or event. Those sorts of stories can be wonderful, but they’re not what I feel passionate about writing. I want to write the stories of those the history books miss. The story of a woman who once stood in a window of Newark Castle and admired the view, sighing a little as she did so. I can’t travel in time. I can’t see through the centuries to the real people no one noticed. But I can imagine what might have been. The people who could have been in the places I visit. I’m less interested in the ones who were documented as being there. I want to fill in the gaps. Because it’s in those spaces that people like us lived their lives.

So, my historical writing nearly always begins with a place. A moment. And one character who could have been there. From there, hopefully, it expands into a short story or novel. But it remains about the characters, not the history.

The Locket and the Flintlock began in a woodland clearing. I saw a highway robber, dashing, brave, and female. I heard her whisper the words “Stand and deliver,” but she was not robbing a carriage when she said them. She wore a dark cloak and a tricorn hat, even though she lived in 1812 when tricorns were going out of fashion. And from there, I created a novel.

Is “predictable” always bad?

 by Rebecca S. Buck

Hi everyone. I’ve been asked to post this blog (which I published on my own blog yesterday) to the BSB authors’ blog. So here you go! I would love to hear everyone’s opinions on this one! 😀

Writers shouldn’t read reviews of their work.

It’s excellent advice. It’s also incredibly difficult to stick to when you see that someone has written a new review. I suspect it’s even harder for new writers than it is for the ones who are old hands at this. Curiosity can just get too much. Because writers thrive on feedback too. And I care what my readers think…I want to listen, to learn, to improve…I don’t want to to disappoint people who do me the honour of buying and reading my book.

So I just read a reader’s review of my first novel, Truths (published April 2010 from Bold Strokes Books), on Amazon.com (you can read the review here). It’s mostly a very good review and I’m very grateful indeed to the lady called Beth from LA who wrote it and gave me 4 stars out of 5 and said I was a “promising” writer. However, in her last paragraph, she describes my novel as “predictable”.

Which got me thinking. I’m not going to debate the question of Truths being predictable. I guess that depends very much on each individual reader. I’ve had other readers tell me that certain aspects of the way the novel concludes took them by surprise. And, honestly, I would agree that some parts of the book are predictable. You know–more or less–how it’s going to turn out, from at least half way through.

That’s not really what I’ve been thinking about. What I’ve been debating with myself is this: Is “predictable” necessarily a bad thing for a novel to be?

I constantly read reviews on the backs of books and in the front matter proclaiming how “unexpected” certain plot twists were…how wonderful it is that the reader is kept guessing…how shocking the ending of a novel is…how clever for being so surprising. Clearly readers–at least those who write reviews considered worthy of reprinting–enjoy a novel that twists and turns and takes them by surprise. I’ve enjoyed novels like that myself. One of the best is Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith. The twists in that novel are real shocks when they come and it’s a delight to read.

But sometimes I like the comfort of a “predictable” read too. Fingersmith isn’t my favourite of Waters’s books precisely because the twists startle me so much. I don’t necessarily mean I need a simple story. I don’t mean one without any twists or unexpected happenings at all. But isn’t it sometimes nice to know what’s going to happen? To get the happy ending you’re hoping for? It’s comfortable and unchallenging perhaps. But does a book always have to be a challenge? Does it always have to shake you up to be a good read? Some of the classics of literature are really predictable. I knew Lizzie Bennett and Mr. Darcy were going to get together from the time they danced together at the Netherfield ball. Jane Eyre was going to end up in the arms of Mr. Rochester from the moment they met on the road to Thornfield. The events of the novel–a younger sister’s elopment or a mad wife in the attic–we can’t forsee. But we know how we want the novel to end…and it’s a good feeling when we get what we want.

I’m not comparing myself as a writer with Austen and Bronte. I’m actually talking about my experience as a reader. I’m not a fan of most mystery fiction or crime fiction because most of it goes out of its way to keep me guessing. Sometimes it feels like a plot twists just for the sake of it. Sometimes I don’t want to be a detective. I just want some entertainment. That doesn’t mean it can’t be thought provoking or touch my heart. It can be intelligent and unusual. It can be educational and stimulating. It just means I don’t always need to be surprised to enjoy a good read. A plot can keep me guessing what I’m going to discover in the next chapter, even when I sense I know where those chapters are leading to.

Knowing the destination doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the journey.

Rebecca

www.rebeccasbuck.com

First posted on www.rebeccasb.wordpress.com

BSB in the UK (July 29th 2010): A Personal Perspective

By Rebecca S. Buck

Hello! I thought I’d venture tentatively into the blogosphere by talking about the recent BSB reading and signing evening in Nottingham, England. This is less an account of the events of the night and more about the feelings it produced in this new writer…

 

BSB in the UK (July 29th 2010): A Personal Perspective.

In July 2009, with a hand shaking with excitement, I signed the contract for the publication of Truths with Bold Strokes, still amazed and honoured anyone wanted to publish my unusual novel. A year later, July 2010, and I’m sitting in a bookstore in Nottingham with five other BSB writers and one editor (Jane Fletcher, Lesley Davis, Gill McKnight, Justine Saracen, I. Beacham, and Victoria Oldham) clutching a copy of Truths, waiting to read from it, and then answer questions from an audience of forty enthusiastic readers. My name is on a card in front of me. I’m a writer.

It’s exciting so many people came to see us. It’s wonderful to finally meet some of my BSB family. It’s a real thrill BSB is making headway in the UK and people who’ve never heard of our books are asking excitedly where they can buy them. To be able to tell them “in all good bookshops” feels like a privilege in itself.

But for me—the newbie writer—it’s more exciting still. In many ways it’s a life changing night. I finally realize what I’m part of. A roomful of so many enthusiastic and friendly people, brought together by the power of books. Books they can relate to, about characters they can feel a connection with. How important BSB is for our community—in Europe as well as the USA—strikes me full force.

There is still—in these modern, fast-paced, digital times—such an enthusiasm for books. Our audience listens keenly to every reading, and have more questions ready for us than I expected. From whether the sex we describe in our books is true to our real lives (politely declined to answer that one!) to what our favorite books are (after a long indecisive pause I finally say The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro). That people are interested in me because I write is both wonderful and surreal to me. I know it’s not that I’m so fascinating myself; it’s that books still carry a touch of magic in their pages. I can feel it in the room.

And there are so many aspiring writers there too. Asking questions about publishing, editing, why we write what we do. Dreams are floating and trembling in the air. I suddenly realize what I have achieved. I’ve been allowed to grasp hold of one of those dreams. I’m not sure I have any business giving advice about getting published, but I do my best, leaving most of the words of wisdom to my more experienced BSB colleagues. But the sheer enthusiasm—the passion for writing—in the room seeps into my blood. I was already buzzing when Truths was published. But my excitement reached new levels in that few hours in the bookstore (and, yes, in the pub afterwards!). In nearly all of the photos from that night I have a hugely stupid grin. I couldn’t stop smiling.

I never did come back down to earth. That one night has fired my passion for books and writing for the rest of my life. I am currently working on my next novel, Ghosts of Winter. I’ll admit I didn’t write the first draft very well. In the process of redrafting it there were times I felt disheartened. It wasn’t going as smoothly as Truths did. Editing can be brutal for a sensitive soul. But if I feel a little bruised and battered by it I remember that night in the bookstore. Instead of brutal, the process of editing—making a book the best it can be—becomes rewarding. I want to be a better writer. I want to be the best I can. I want to deserve this.

Books are so very important. They entertain and amuse. But they can also bring people together, inspire, and change lives. It is an honour like nothing I’ve ever known before to be a writer. To be a real part of this well beloved world of words and dreams.

On July 29th  2010 Bold Strokes Books invaded the UK to great success. Hopefully we’ll do it again soon and it will be bigger and better. But July 29th taught me a lesson too. What I learned that night is this: I appreciate every writer who writes—published or not, whether I like their words or not. I am grateful to every reader, to everyone who loves words, whether they read my novels or not. Publishing is an industry with trends and markets. Writing can be hard work at times. But books are—and have always been—something magical.


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