Recently I have been researching a novel. Rather like going up to the loft, I was often distracted by lines of enquiry unconnected with my actual quest. I started to wonder why this should always happen. Why does an interest in modern popular music appear to connect with Anglo Saxon politics? Why do the bones of King Alfred The Great lead at once to a shipwreck in the year 1899. Soon it was apparent that all of this connected to a deceased wonderful English lady poet and the man dubbed the worst poet of all time. The answer, of course, is obvious. Everything is connected. All knowledge leads along the same paths to the same point – whatever that is.
OK – here’s my point. Everything in a modern romance novel is about a heroine. I always wanted to be a full-time heroine but I failed my heroism exams at school. This led me to a life of making up heroines that I would have been in person if I’d stayed in, ignored the boys, and got the grades. A recent character of mine was a kinda twerky starlet looking to get noticed. Within a few googles I’m checking out the life of Lady Godiva who rode naked through the streets of Coventry in about the year 1050. Now that was my kinda gal. She ordered that no one look as she passed by. The one guy who did so was dubbed “Peeping Tom” and was struck blind. Dear me! If I had the front to do such a thing I’d be maxing-up the book sales all the way along the route. Watch this space. And, my dear, dear Tom, relax and enjoy – reading my books is a private pleasure. It doesn’t make you go blind. I don’t even wear glasses.
Next up was research into the church of Saint Bartholomew in Winchester, Hampshire near to my place in the UK. When Saxon legend dubbed this area as possibly the burial place of King Alfred the Great, I immediately set out to find a recipe for griddle cakes. Oh yes – forget all the battles with the Danes and his possible foundation of the Royal Navy and University of Oxford, this was the guy who burned the cakes. This was all I knew of him. The story is that whilst on the run from capture by tall blond men wielding cans of lager, he was hidden by a peasant woman. She popped out to buy a lottery ticket and left Alfie to get the cakes out of the oven. He was so busy thinking about battle strategies that he forgot the cakes. Multi-tasking lets these alpha-males down every time. The true heroine was that poor woman with nothing to eat. There’s no mention of her getting a lottery win either.
Within a few yards of the church is an old flint style cottage which was the home of the English poet Elizabeth Bewick. She died quite recently but I did have the pleasure of meeting her when I used to hang out with proper poet types. She was a real lady and even presented me with a couple of her books. She also told me that the Bewick swan was named after her father who produced wonderful books with illustrations of birds. One day they’ll put a plaque on the wall of her cottage. And just imagine having a father who invented a swan. I mean “White Long Neck Bird Lake” just doesn’t sound like a ballet does it?
One of the things I discussed with her was the phenomenon of Sir William Topaz McGonagall who is often honoured as the worst ever poet. I had come across his work when researching a feature on a heroine named Mary Rogers, who drowned in the wreck of the SS Stella in 1899. You may begin to gather that I am on a female heroine quest. This lady has a monument on the sea front in Southampton which is also near my base in the UK. She was a stewardess on a ship that struck rocks near the Channel Islands. Instead of saving her own life, she led others to boats and finally gave her life belt to another. She went down with the ship. Another heroine was also identified in the same wreck. The then famous operatic soprano Greta Williams sang the hymn “Oh Rest in the Lord” to survivors in her lifeboat.
And so to the poet McGonagall. This poor wretch died a pauper, was banned from venues and reviled all his life. Yet he is still remembered today and his works remain in print while many of his highbrow detractors have faded from view. The fact is that he created not poetic work but the poetic twerk. He did what you or I could do, gave it a bit of a spin and had the balls to put it in your face. His most famous poem was the Tay Bridge Disaster. Here are the opening lines to give you a flavor.
Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas I am very sorry to say!
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
Now how’s that for a poetic waggle? This is how he immortalized the wreck of the “Stella”.
‘Twas the month of March and in the year of 1899,
Which will be remembered for a very long time;
The wreck of the steamer “Stella” that was wrecked on the Casquet Rocks,
By losing her bearings in a fog, and received some terrible shocks.
All my inquiries have led me back to where I began except for the full story on griddle cakes. My latest novel “Shannon’s Law” comes with a companion cookbook called “Cop’s Kitchen”. There’s enough cakes to build you a bottom really worth shaking. You see – if you’re prepared to dig in and follow the path, it all joins up.
Emma Calin was born in London in 1962. She currently lives part of the year in the UK and spends the rest in France. She has been writing since childhood and has won numerous local, national and international prizes for poetry and short stories.
Emma enjoys writing love stories firmly rooted in social realism. She blogs about the contrasts in life on both sides of the English Channel, which she likes to explore on her tandem whenever weather and fitness coincide. She is a Lifestyle Contributor on Loveahappyending Lifestyle.
She defines herself as woman eternally pedalling between Peckham and Pigalle, in search of passion and enduring romance.
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