Beating carpets: or, why I don’t write historical novels

Yesterday, I beat my back door mat.

Those of you who read my previous post about my aversion to housewifery of the cleaning variety may find this odd.

Those of you who are aware of the existence of vacuum cleaners may also find it odd.

To the former, I say, even I get fed up with the crud eventually (and there is no end to the things a writer will do when the words are not co-operating).

To the latter, I say that, a mat walked over my by dog many times a day from our muddy back yard would challenge any vacuum cleaner (and there is a limit to what I am willing to ask of my nice, gently nurtured vacuum cleaner).

220px-Carpet_beater

A carpet beater, courtesy of Wikipedia. Not the human kind, you understand, but what the human kind would do the job with…

Now, as is often the case while my hands are involved in such tasks, my mind was busy doing other things – namely, wondering about the days when vacuum cleaners were not available and beating mats and carpets was the only option.

Inevitably, my mind wandered to the people likely to be doing such tasks, who were probably maids, at least in the times I was thinking of.  What would they be thinking of while they were so engaged?  Would they be happy to be outside in the sun (since you would be unlikely to beat the carpets in the rain, methinks)?   Would they be learning the right way to do it from an older woman?  Would they have the chance to chat while doing it, or would the billowing dust mean they were better off with a hankie tied over the mouth and nose?  What sort of household were they in?  Was it well run and adequately staffed, so that they could do these jobs with any level of enjoyment, or would they be so overworked that they could only think of how they would never get this done in time to finish their other chores in time and how their back ached and their feet hurt and they’d give the world to just sit down for a minute?

One of the lesser-known facts about me is that in my Arts degree, I studied history.  It wasn’t my major – that was English – but it was pretty much everything I studied other than English and I loved it.  But I stopped pursuing it as an academic subject when I realised that the history I was most interested in was not what is usually covered in history books.  I was interested in how people lived.  When I read of the movements of the court from one great house to another, I wanted to know who had to organise the provisioning.  I wanted to know if the cooks had nervous breakdowns before, during or after such an event and if the scullery maid got any sleep at all.  And I wanted to know, when they swept the rushes out, what they swept them with.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that these things aren’t studied in academe – they are.  But it’s the hardest area of history to study.  Piecing together people’s day-to-day lives is the work of lifetimes and involves many complimentary disciplines to do well – or at all, really.  It’s absolutely fascinating, but it takes forever.

And herein lies the rub, for me.

If I started in to write historical fiction, I would spend so much time tracking down what kind of button, say, that the hero had on his shirt that I would never get the story done.  In the joy of digging through the vast library of material on the internet, I might end up with a Masters in history, but the novels would lie sadly neglected.

So, for now, at least, I will stick to contemporary stories and enjoy other people’s historical stories – and the freedom to wonder about previous carpet-beaters, without having to know for sure!

~

Speaking of contemporary stories, I’m pleased to say that the print version of Rules are for Breaking is still available at Australia Post outlets for a limited time and that the companion story, Playing by the Rules should be available digitally later this year!

14 thoughts on “Beating carpets: or, why I don’t write historical novels

    • Ah, that’s kind of you to say, Cheryse! I must admit, while I was standing there on my back verandah, marvelling at how much dust a thin doormat could hold, I was thinking about stories. The stories of those women. I suspect the temptation will get the better of me one day, but I think I need to get a bit faster at the story bit first! 🙂

  1. I love reading historicals for the rich ‘wallpaper’ they do provide, but think like you, Imelda. Would prefer to write contemporaries!

  2. Great post Imelda! I’m reading it just as hubby has pulled our ‘big’ carpet out from where it’s been rolled up under a bed (I’ve just discovered our sweet little rental house has sweet little mice and I’ve been worried the mice might be devouring my rug under that bed). So the rug is out and hubby is vacuuming it! And he’s complaining about dust. No word of a lie, he just put this in a sentence: “I’m thinking of buying a dust filter.”
    I have two Turkish ‘things’ that I bought when travelling in 1990 in Turkey. They (apparently) are saddlebags. I love them, but they too are dust traps. In my day I have beaten them – they’re like cushions so they can’t be vacuumed and they’re sewn up, so only one time in their life when we cut out the stitching and emptied all the stuffing have they been washed. So I used to put them over a couple of chairs and beat them with the stick-end of a broom. Yes – in the sun (rare sometimes in Hahndorf). Sometimes i’d lay them over a horizontal fence post surrounding our vegie patch. And I’d go hard. Good exercise. I don’t know that I ever thought other thoughts. I think I was focused on dust puffs. 🙂
    Great post! Love your work.
    Lily M

    • Indeed, that’s one way of doing it! 🙂 The historical recreation peeps are a wonderful resource for writers. There’s nothing like the experience of doing it for real for verisimilitude!

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