Liam and Alice have found their happily-ever-after …or rather, they’ve found each other and promised to rebuild their lives together. Happiness will take them some time. This is definitely a book that has to have an epilogue, just as Halifax did. The above photo shows reconstruction happening circa 1918, and here's a modern street scene where destruction once reigned.
I’ve found it isn’t easy to write about the devastation of a place you know and love, even if it all happened over ninety years ago. The recent tragedies in Japan and New Zealand haven’t made it easier, but after all, Halifax’s story does have a real happy ending. The human spirit is unstoppable. Now, I have to go back to the beginning and make sure I’ve done my characters justice.
I wish I could step back in time, just for a day, and see the community of Richmond as it used to be. All the accounts I’ve read are full of real affection. I think it was a place where I would have liked to live, an unpretentious neighbourhood where people knew each other’s dogs and cats and kids, with backyards big enough for a milk cow and a few hens. The Hydrostone District that replaced it – named for the cement blocks used for rebuilding after the Explosion – is attractive, with rows of neat garden homes and a strip of fashionable stores and restaurants, including my favourite French bakery.
It’s become a trendy and relatively expensive part of town, but it’s less to my taste than the old neighbourhood would have been. Still, the Hydrostone is a testament to the resilience of Haligonians, and so I appreciate it too.
Surfing Amazon discussion boards the other day, I came across a comment from a reader who said she didn’t care for historical romance because ‘let’s face it – the women back then were hairy and the men stinky.’ She was actually praising a historical that she’d picked up against her inclination, but she started me thinking. Just how bad was hygiene in ‘the good old days’, meaning the mid-Victorian era where I set my stories?
There’s no denying that in some places and situations, it was awful. I’ve read of discussions in the U.S. Cavalry about allowing soldiers water to bathe once a week. For troops on the march or cowboys on cattle drives, washing would not have been a priority, nor would doing laundry. Eww! But what about the ordinary folks leading settled lives?
The wood stove was the heart of a rural home, and those old ranges really were an example of appropriate technology. We used to have one at our cottage, and I loved it. The first person up started the fire, and it burned all day, winter or summer. The stove’s boiler provided hot water for cooking, cleaning and bathing. While getting out the wash tub and filling it for a full bath would have been a production, there were basins and ewers. I imagine most people washed at least once a day.
By the end of the Civil War, doctors had made the connection between cleanliness and health and it had started to filter down to the general population. If a man had done his time in the Army and experienced the discomfort of being truly filthy, I think he’d welcome cleanliness. So, stinky heroes? Maybe at times, but I make my guys wash!
Hairy women? Perhaps, but back then armpit and leg hair was taken for granted. It wasn’t until the advent of shorter skirts, sleeveless blouses and sheer stockings in the early to mid 20th century that advertisers set to work convincing North American women that body hair was unsightly. To this day, many European women don’t shave. I’ve also read that, due to the smaller proportion of fat in people’s diets back then, women in general had lower testosterone levels and therefore less body hair in earlier times. For facial hair, there were tweezers and, after 1903, safety razors.
The same advertisers have convinced us that all natural scent is a social crime, that we should be scentless or perfumed. We forget what a natural clean smells like. So, I’m not surprised that some readers find the thought of a hero who doesn’t use deodorant revolting, but to me the thought of a man who uses aluminum chloride as a substitute for soap and water is worse, and they’re out there.
So, when I read historicals, I don’t think too much about these things. How about you? Do considerations of cleanliness affect your choice of reading material? Inquiring minds want to know.
And for Folk Friday, here’s some classic Willie Nelson with wonderful photos to match. Enjoy!
Last night I marked the release of McShannon’s Heart with a launch party at The Company House, a cosy acoustic music venue in downtown Halifax. Friends and family showed up to help me celebrate: my parents, Everett’s cousin and his wife, neighbours and members of Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada, including Tara Macdonald of Charlie Mac Productions, who along with Frances Leary from Bconnected worked hard on publicity for the event. It was great to see Judith James there, and Julia Smith kindly snapped some photos. Here I am signing Julia’s copy of the book.
Everett, my DH, and Kathy MacGillivary, friend extraordinaire, provided the music, and I chimed in on a few tunes. It’s been a long time since I’ve played in public, but I felt more comfortable than I expected. I felt even more comfortable off the stage listening to Everett and Kathy float through jazz tunes.
Normally I’m nervous reading from my books, but not this time. I guess I’m slowly getting used to it. I enjoyed sharing Chelle and Martin’s first meeting, and the scene from Chance where Beth learns the perils of baking with a wood stove.
I’m blessed to have such a talented partner in life, an equally talented and generous friend in Kathy, and a family that is always there for me. Thanks to one and all for making the evening special.
I'm a teacher, an amateur musician and, for over thirty years, a writer. I fell in love with words at a very early age, and the affair has been life-long.
Glimpses of the past spark my imagination. There's an archaeologist buried in me somewhere. I'm currently working on a series following the McShannon family as they put down roots and find love in the old world and the new, against the background of the American Civil War. Along with this series, I'm writing a story set at the time of the Halifax Explosion in 1917. I'm really enjoying delving into the history in my own backyard.
I write for children as well as adults. When I'm not writing I garden, play guitar and spend time with my DH, our cat Emily, and our dogs Chance and Echo, the most spoiled Duck Tolling Retrievers on the planet. I live in Nova Scotia, in my opinion the most beautiful place in the world.