Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall at sunset

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Historical Research

Along with all the time I actually spend writing my 3rd novel, historical fiction set in Ireland and Boston in 1848, an equal amount of time is spent doing historical research. My first 2 books were set in the 5th century. At first it seemed as if that time period would be difficult because there are very few writings available from that time period for Ireland and Roman Britain.

But I am finding out that writing about the 19th century is even harder. Why? Because there is so much more to know about the 19th century. I am researching fashions using Godey's Ladies Book from 1848. I have to look at Boston in 1848, research what people were eating for dinner then. One difficult area has been trying to find out what kind of banking practices were in operation in 1848 as far as a female immigrant was concerned. What did they use for identification? Etc.

Here is an example of the research I have done this past week just to be able to write a couple lines with accuracy.

The main character in the 3rd novel is Bernadine Devane. I call her Deanie. And the working title of the book is Deanie's Tale. In the beginning of the book she is leaving Ireland. The Great Potato Famine is taking place and Ireland is being decimated by hunger and disease.

She is sailing on the Royal Mail ship, the RMS Cambria, an early Cunard steamship. (THAT was days and weeks of research - learning about the Cunard company.) Her father has left her some gold coins, hidden in the bottom of her portmanteau.

So I have to find out what kind of gold coins she would be carrying. I discover that Ireland didn't have its own money then, so it would have to be British. I learn that it would probably have to be a British sovereign, worth about one pound Sterling. So now I research photos of British sovereigns from that time period. I learn that gold sovereigns didn't last in circulation too long because gold is soft and the figures on the coin would wear away quickly.

Then I must figure out how many gold coins she could logically carry. At first I wanted her to have 800 sovereigns, but then I discovered that 800 sovereigns would weigh about 14 pounds, way too heavy for a girl to be carrying along with all the other stuff she would have in the bag.

So I dropped it to 400 sovereigns, which would weigh about 7 pounds. I also had to think about what 1 gold sovereign would have been worth in 1848. Through more research I learn that a sovereign in today's dollars would be worth about $28.00. So those 400 sovereigns for Deanie would be worth about $11,200 today. A small fortune.

I look at gold sovereigns online from the time period of 1847 and 1848. I learn that Queen Victoria's profile would be on sovereigns produced from 1838 to 1874. These sovereigns used the "Young Head" portrait of Victoria on the obverse (!) and a shield design on the reverse.

OK. Now I can write the scene where Deanie unwraps the coins. Whew!
I sure am learning a lot! I am continually ordering books from Amazon and my library is filling up.

Next I'll tell you about the research I did on the Colt revolver.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian was the Roman emperor who built a wall across what is now the "waist" of Scotland. Hadrian wanted to "separate Romans from barbarians." The Wall marked the northernmost boundary of the Roman Empire.

The Wall was built by Roman legions in the year 122. The wild northern reaches were cold and inhospitable and a far cry from the warmth of Rome.

Originally the Wall would have been 14 feet high. Turrets and milecastles marked it at intervals.

The Picts and Scots who lived north of the Wall would have never seen anything like it. It would have had a psychological effect as well as being a physical wall. In front of the wall, on the "wild side", there would have been a deep vallum, or ditch, as further protection. On the protected side, a paved Roman road was built that would allow 2 chariots to drive side-by-side.


For a lovers of archaeology the Wall is a fascinating place to visit. Much of the Wall remains standing, and many of the Roman forts can be visited today. Discoveries are still being made and digs are ongoing. (Digs - that's archaeology-speak for a site being actively investigated!)


This is the site of a temple to the Roman god, Mithras. Mithras was a particular favorite of soldiers. No women allowed! In my second novel, Eleri's Tale, my character investigates the ruins of a Mithraic temple.

If you're interested in learning more about Hadrian's Wall country, you can check out http://www.roman-britain.org/. Everything you might want to know about Roman Britain is there.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pagan Babies

Several people asked me about pagan babies after my last post.

Most kids who went to Catholic school in the 50's and 60's know about pagan babies.

Each class in each grade collected nickles and dimes to buy a pagan baby. It cost $5.00.

When I entered first grade I remember coming home and telling my my mother about them. I said that when I got mine I was going to take care of it all by myself.

My mother wisely refrained from saying much about it. (She went to Catholic school too, and I don't know if they had pagan babies then but I bet they did.)


Anyway, I was wrong about getting a pagan baby. You didn't buy one with the $5.00. Your class picked out a name for the child and it was baptized with that name into the Catholic Church. The class would get a certificate for each child they named. There was a bit of competition between some of the nuns as to whose class had the most. The certificates were pinned up on a bulletin board.

The photograph at the top is the cover of a book named Pagan Babies, and the container that the coins went into. I don't remember a container like that, though. Mostly we used cigar boxes.


This is a photo of a real Pagan Baby Certificate. You can see that this pagan baby was named Susan.

I went to Catholic grade school at St. Amelia's for 8 years. We must have had at least 5 pagan babies in each class. That's 40 pagan babies right there. I think most of them were in Africa.

Going back for this high school reunion has me thinking about all kinds of things from my Catholic school days, like using Necco wafers to practice First Holy communion. And the time I put together a shoebox with all the items I needed to go and baptize my Jewish friends across the street, Amy and Kenny Wolpin.

But that's another post.