Madeira Mondays: A folk song about a Revolutionary War soldier

For today’s ‘Madeira Mondays’, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite pieces of art about the Revolutionary War. It’s a quiet little song by New Mexico-based folk musician Eliza Gilkyson. It’s called ‘Jedidiah 1777’ and it comes from her 2005 album Paradise Hotel.

It’s a song about a young American soldier called Jedidiah and it’s actually based on letters written by Gilkyson’s own ancestor, Brig. Gen. Jedidiah Huntington, who fought in the Revolutionary War!

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Friday Finds: The Poetry of Sappho

Here in garlands, goddess of love, as a sign

to our own festivities, with a graceful hand

in golden cups pour nectar out like wine.

from Sappho: Songs and Poems, translated from the Greek by Chris Preddle

I must admit: I don’t know much about antiquity. Frequent readers of this blog will know that I’m interested in 18th and 19th century history which – believe it or not – is fairly recent (when we take into account all of human history). But what I do know is that there were many complex and vibrant civilizations long before our own and we can still feel their influence today in our beliefs, our values and our art. And how cool is it that one of the most famous and lasting poets in all of Western literature was a woman?

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Madeira Mondays: My new historical short story ‘Feminine Absurdities’

“It wasn’t until my fourth or fifth sip of tea this morning that I noticed Miss Nancy Carson was missing her eyebrows. I promptly set the cup down and stared at her across the breakfast table. I wanted to make certain she had not simply hidden her brows under too much white pomade. The girl is at an age where she has begun to prepare her toilette, and painting takes practice to master. But her brows were not covered up. They were gone.”

That’s the opening paragraph from my new historical short story – ‘Feminine Absurdities’! It was published last month in CALYX magazine. You can listen to an audio recording of the full story right here.

‘Feminine Absurdities’ is set in 18th century New York City during America’s Revolutionary War. As many of you will know, that’s the war when the American colonies fought for independence from Great Britain. But that’s not what my story is about. My story is about a schoolteacher who notices that something is wrong with one of her pupils. Her eyebrows are gone! But what’s actually wrong with the girl might be deeper and darker than it first appears…

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Madeira Mondays: A Visit to Greyfriars graveyard in Edinburgh

Some of you may recall the walk that I took with Alan, my friend and fellow Georgian House volunteer, back in December. He very generously led me on a walk through The Royal Mile – the famous street that cuts through the city of Edinburgh – from the Castle down to Holyrood palace. During our walk, he shared with me tales of forgotten Edinburgh residents, catastrophic fires and years upon years of fascinating history.

A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I joined Alan for another walk, this time around Grassmarket which, locals will know, is a lively area of the city’s ‘old town’ that is full of pubs and cafes. We saw a lot on our walk, but instead of trying to cram everything into one post, I thought I’d focus instead on one of my favorite elements of the walk: our exploration of Greyfriars Kirkyard! (A ‘kirk’ is a Scottish word for church, by the way!)

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Madeira Mondays: The National Museum of Cinema (Turin, Italy)

Madeira Mondays is hitting the road for this one, folks! In early January, I headed to Italy to visit my partner’s family (he’s from a town outside Milan). We spent a few days in the nearby city of Turin. Turin is a beautiful northern Italian city, nestled at the base of the Alps, and it’s home to a unique museum: The National Museum of Cinema.

While I was impressed with several aspects of the museum, the coolest thing about it was its collection of old pre-cinema devices, the 18th and 19th century inventions that were popular right BEFORE cinema became a thing. So if you’re wondering what sort of moving images people watched before they went to the movies, then step on into the museum with me…

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Friday Finds: My three favorite novellas

‘One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.’

– The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

I wrote a ‘Writing Reflections’ post recently about why my recently-published book, All the Orphans in the Galaxy, was a novella and not a novel. There’s a lot more in that post about what exactly a novella is (essentially, longer than a short story, shorter than a novel!) and why I think it’s such a good form for experimentation. You don’t have to ‘commit’ to one thing for too long and you can really focus and zoom in on just a couple of characters (or a really unique premise!).

In that post, I also mentioned that lots of my favorite books are actually novellas. I thought I’d recommend a few of them here!

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Writing Reflections: Why I wrote a novella, not a novel

‘So what exactly is a novella?’

This is the most common question I got when I told friends and family I had a novella coming out. And, honestly, it’s not a question I probably could have answered myself until relatively recently. However there’s a fairly short answer.

Put simply: a novella is longer than a short story and shorter than a novel.

So what does that mean in practice?

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Madeira Mondays: Exploring The Royal Mile, Edinburgh (Historical Site Visit)

If you’ve been to Edinburgh, then it’s very likely you’ve been to the Royal Mile. It’s right smack dab in the heart of the city and it’s where most tourists flock to, evidenced by the abundance of souvenir shops called things like ‘Thistle do nicely’. If I’m quite honest, it’s an area that many locals (myself included) tend to avoid, especially during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival when it’s full to the brim with actors in face paint or wigs or funny costumes asking you to please please please come see their show (I’ve been one of those actors too, by the way). All this to say: I don’t hang out on the Royal Mile too often.

But when my friend Alan, who I know from the Georgian House, offered to take me on a private historical tour through the ‘hidden’ aspects of the Royal Mile, I jumped at the chance. Turns out, there was a lot I didn’t know about this famous street.

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Introducing my debut sci-fi novella: ‘All the Orphans in the Galaxy’!

Over the 2020 lockdown, a lot of people learned how to bake sourdough bread. Some took up knitting. Others got very into gardening, or puzzles, or reorganizing their closets. I, on the other hand, got very into 1990s’ sci-fi TV and, specifically, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. These far off worlds were my escape. My world had become so small. I really wanted to go BIG in my imagination. Space operas felt perfect.

I had started watching Star Trek during my PhD, a few years back, and it had become a comforting escape for me during stressful periods. But Deep Space Nine hit differently somehow. I’ve heard people say that it’s the ‘grittiest’ Star Trek series and, from what I’ve seen, that’s definitely true. During the lockdown, it particularly resonated with me because of its themes of grief, loss and people trying to pick up the pieces after dark and difficult things.

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Madeira Mondays: A Visit to the Hill House (Helensburgh, Scotland)

Keeping historic houses in good condition isn’t always an easy job. And the folks at The Hill House in Helensburgh have had a particularly challenging time. This quirky and unique house – designed by the wildly creative Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1900 – has been threatened recently by water damage. You’ll know if you’ve been to Scotland, but it can get pretty wet here!! Water got into the walls of this beautiful house and was threatening its existence. So that led them to a drastic and very inventive solution to save the house.

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