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!

Wednesday WIP: Historic Portsea on Parade

Two Wednesdays ago, I mentioned that one of my works in progress is set in picturesque Portsea (that’s Portsea, Victoria, Australia, not Portsea, Portsmouth, England, just in case you were wondering).

As part of my research, I looked at (and took) a lot of pictures of the Portsea pier, which is on the beach behind the Portsea Hotel (which featured in the other post).

In the process of finding these photos, I came across some gems from the Australian screen archives.

They show happy people – probably mostly day-trippers from Melbourne – frolicking on the beach and pier at Portsea in the 1920s.

I love the stripey beach shelters, the variety of 20s beach fashions and the blase attitude people show to being filmed. I wonder if we would be more or less relaxed about a camera on the beach these days?

It’s also interesting to see how many people were there.  Now wonder someone thought it was a good idea to set up a pub in those sand dunes!

My novel is set in the present day, but I still found these fascinating and thought you might too.

I’m sorry, I can’t embed them, but if you click on the links you’ll be taken to the page.  Don’t bother turning up your sound – they’re silent!

http://aso.gov.au/titles/newsreels/picturesque-portsea-pageant/clip1/

http://aso.gov.au/titles/newsreels/picturesque-portsea-pageant/clip2/

I love little snippets of history like this.  What about you?  Have you come across anything interesting in your travels lately?