Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Writing - Jane Austen anniversary

Jane Austen was born 240 years ago today.

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Jane Austen 1775 - 1817


She was a famous novelist writing works about romance within the landed gentry. Books such as  Persuasion, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice have become very famous and many made into films.

Many millions of people have read the books or seen the films and actors and actresses have made careers appearing in the stories. What a legacy!

I wish!

So back to the grindstone of the next novel. I have been considering this next project for quite a while - The Magic Show

As I have already stated, this being a historical novel has raised a different set of issues. 

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A mail coach  

One problem dealt with to a point, was transport. Then I began to consider the way of life of the residents of Tynemouth, the initial setting, and of the lower classes.

Poverty was rife and ever changing among the general population. I have read an biography of Charles Dickens and his early life was far from blessed with fame and fortune. In fact he worked to help have his father released from debtors prison more than once. The people in the 19th century were aware of the laws and punishments linked to poverty and understood the system. Dickens wrote Oliver Twist in response to the New Poor Law of 1834, legislation that aimed to reduce government spending on welfare by deterring the poor from seeking assistance. (Sound familiar?) 

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Oliver Twist

Of course workhouses weren't prisons and a person could leave wit just a few hours notice. Applications to enter these establishments were heard by the board of trustees usually on a weekly basis.

Poverty was something any family of lower middle, or working class background may fall in and out of according to employment openings. There were a number of options that the poor could also call upon for assistance. First was charity, which many socially conscious and religiously motivated elites were only too eager to supply. 

Then there were the secondary survival strategies which ranged from gleaning, gathering leftover grain after harvest, keeping livestock, co-residence and pawning. Then there were the less legitimate activities - poaching, petty crime, prostitution and fraud. Perhaps not the safest of activities if caught.

In Tynemouth there was quite an amount of lively industry, principally engineering, shipbuilding and coal mining. There weren't many situations where people found themselves out of work. 

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Coal mining


Of course the jobs would never pass muster in the current health and safety regime, they were very dangerous and there was a lack of safety equipment. On top of which children were working in coal mines into the 1870s. It was the Education Act of 1880 that made education between the ages of 5 and 10 years compulsory, prior to that young children were partly responsible for the ventilation down the mines, sold cordial in markets and any other small tasks that they could manage.

In tackling an historical novel the above ideas have to play along beneath the surface while I write - probably plus a whole lot more!

God Bless