Book Release & Reading: The Agony of St. Alice

Come one, come all! The third book in the Lizzie Saunders series, The Agony of St. Alice, will be held on October 19 at the Cumberland Museum & Archives, starting at 7 pm. Come and join us! Bring friends! Let’s talk BC history, Victorian medicine, a little bit of murder, and a whole lot of writing!

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3…2…1… LAUNCH!

Psst! Hey you!

I’m going to be launching my next novel, Mark of the Magpie, on Wednesday Oct. 22 at 7 pm, and you’re invited. In this sequel to Bucket of Blood, you’ll find British Columbian history, a little bit of murder, Victorian theatre, sassy ladies and clandestine affairs… the launch party should be fun! All welcome to join us at the Stan Hagen Theatre, North Island College in Courtenay, BC for this free event. Woot woot!

A Time Machine Where You’d Least Expect

Located in London’s Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Brompton Cemetery is arguably one of the most stunning Victorian cemeteries in the world. It covers roughly 40 acres and houses more than 35,000 monuments, which mark the resting place of more than 205,000 burials. Populated by birds, foxes and friendly squirrels, it provides visitors with an oasis of greenery studded with marble headstones, mausolea, and contemplative stone angels.

And possibly, half-hidden amongst the shrubbery, one very mysterious time-machine*.

An imposing mausoleum, decorated with elaborate Egyptian-like figures, houses a mysterious trio of spinsters about whom almost nothing is known. The wealthy Courtoy spinsters, an unmarried mother and her two daughters, are reputed to be buried inside, but the key is missing and the huge bronze door has not been opened in 120 years. Nor can any plans can be found for the mausoleum, setting it apart from other structures in Brompton cemetery, which required careful planning and schematics to be approved. The mother, Hannah Courtoy, died in 1848 but the tomb was not completed until 1853, when her body was moved into it.

The imposing trapezoid of dark polished granite is twenty feet tall and decorated with narrow bands of carved hieroglyphics – not surprising, when one discovers that the builders of the mausoleum were Samuel Warner, an eccentric Victorian inventor, and Joseph Bonomi, an architect and Egyptologist.

Bonomi was part of the team that first deciphered the hieroglyphic texts found on papyri in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. Some speculate that the text he studied discussed the possibility of time travel, a topic which fascinated the Victorians.

At the time of his death, Samuel Warner was in negotiations over his plans for aerial bombs and sea mines with Duke of Wellington, and his unmarked grave lies nearby. Sixty feet away, Bonomi’s gravestone bears similar hieroglyphic carvings to those found on the mausoleum, including a portrait of Anubis, the Egyptian god of the dead. Anubis appears to be sitting on a depiction of the mausoleum and staring in its direction.

To add to the mystery of the site, some people believe that Samuel Warner was either murdered to prevent his designs for weapons falling into the wrong hands, or by someone who stole them from his dead body. Others believe that Warner was a fraud and conman whose inventions never worked.

Together, Bonomi and Warner may have developed plans to build a time machine, and gathered financial support for their venture from the wealthy, eccentric Courtoy ladies.

Maybe the women wanted to cheat death and travel into the future. Perhaps they felt no one would suspect that a building in an isolated corner of a graveyard could be an experimental doorway through time. After death, they vanished as surely from the face of the world as if they had stepped out of this era and into another, for there is also almost no trace of the Courtoy spinsters; they left no records of their existence, even though the opulence of their tomb suggests they were immensely wealthy.

In the same year as the Courtoy mausoleum was completed, the Irish peer Francis Jack Needham, the second Earl Kilmorey, sought permission to build a magnificent Egyptian-style mausoleum in Brompton Cemetery for his mistress, Priscilla Hoste. After much quibbling and at great expense, the Kilmorey mausoleum was built, but frustrated by persistent bureaucratic red tape, Needham moved it to the grounds of his house at Chertsey Park in Weybridge in 1863. Why did cemetery officials give Needham such a difficult time? Perhaps they felt that one mysterious, eccentric Egyptian-style time-machine on their grounds was quite enough.

Anubis Attending the Mummy of Sennedjem

Anubis, you either have (a) a tiny head or (b) really huge feet.

*this is a repost from one of my long-ago, dusty, long-forgotten blogs of yesteryear, so if you’ve read it before, my sincere apologies.

Ice Machines and Trojan Horses

So, apparently televisions and refrigerators have been hacked and are sending spam. Over 100,000 devices were exploited, used as self-contained web servers to send out over 750,000 pieces of email between December 2013 and the first week of January 2014.  Who knew that these innocent-looking gadgets, welcomed into our homes under the guise of helpful appliances, could be used for such nefarious purposes?  Beware! They’re trojan horses, bringing us gifts of food & entertainment!

I’m especially intrigued by the phrase, “The internet of things”. We no long live in a world of autonomy. Instead, we exist in a web of interconnected items that surround us, influence us, and guide us without our knowledge. I was watching ‘Some Like it Hot’ earlier tonight, and I honestly wondered for a brief moment where Miss Marilyn carried her mobile, given the sheer nature of her dress… it actually took me a second or two to remember that this movie was made during an era when people could walk away from phones and not feel a sense of panic.

Their fridges didn’t try to sell them penile enhancements and cheap t-shirts with funny slogans on them.  Isn’t it kind of sad, that such frighteningly insidious marvels of technology are used for banal purposes? Sigh. I guess we should be happy it’s just sex pills and clothes. There have been no reports yet of sentience or self-awareness, but it’s probably only a matter of time, people. First spam, then Skynet.

Before our fridges pass the Turing test, I recommend a return to ice boxes, play houses, and carrier pigeons.

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Ferdinand Carre’s ice making machine. I bet it never sent anyone an email.

What’s in a Name?

I was editing the manuscript of The Tattooed Wolf today, and to better support one of the characters, I needed more information about an old book of fairy tales. So I took to the wild and woolly Thunderdome of Ebay to look at antique books.  Here’s what I found: a rare 18th-century English translation of the Fairy tales of Countess d’Aulnoy.  Perfect for my needs!  Apparently, the Countess, aka Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, aka Baroness d’Aulnoy*, was the first to use the term ‘fairy tales’, and so I tip my hat to her.  This book, which was published in 1817, includes the following stories:

  • The Palace of Revenge,
  • The Story of Young-and-Handsome,
  • The New Gentleman-Citizen,
  • The Story of the White Cat,
  • The Story of the Pigeon and the Dove, and
  • The Tyranny of the Fairies Destroyed – Perfect Love**
  • and many more.

I’m so curious about these stories. The titles are arrow-straight yet intriguingly vague. What’s so damn special about that white cat? And did the fairies sabotague a perfectly lovely relationship, or did the author experience perfectly lovely delight while destroying the fairies? I just! don’t! know! If only the book wasn’t $450, I’d snap it up right now.

And seriously, ‘Young-and-Handsome’? You don’t get a more specific character name than that. Why bother with describing a character when you can just slap some adjectives directly on him?  I love the economy of it. I love the logic of it.  If only we all followed d’Aulnoy’s rules of writing!  Why, we’d have enduring classics like ‘The Adventures of Deerstalker-Wearing-Sociopath’, ‘Young-and-Naive in Wonderland’, and ‘Brave-but-Befuddled-Boy-Wizard and the Philosopher’s Stone’.  Do you have any favourites you’d care to share?

And with that, I’m adding a picture of Deerstalker-Wearing-Sociopath and his sidekick, Dr. Was-a-Soldier-Sensible-Fellow, because I can’t wait to watch Episode 3 and any excuse for a picture… Squee!

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*I imagine she had difficulty fitting her name on business cards and credit card applications, and woe be to any man who needed to find her a personalized pen.

** Upon a second viewing, I think this is actually two separate stories: ‘The Tyranny of the Fairies Destroyed’, and ‘Perfect Love’.  I’m still curious about what those fairies decided to tyrannize, because that’s not a verb I normally associate with butterfly wings and gossamer gowns.

The Loss of Nellie May

Along the western edge of Vancouver Island and Washington State runs the Graveyard of the Pacific, a treacherous stretch of isolated coastline that combines unpredictable weather, rocky cliffs, uncharted reefs, and fearsome tides, all wreathed in winter fog and summer storms.  It’s not the friendlies of places to navigate a ship; during the end of the 1800s and into the 20th century, thousands of ships went down along this coast, with hundreds of lives lost.

The Nellie May was one of these ships. She was a bark*, a sailing vessel with three or more masts and fore- and aft-sails, and she disappeared in heavy seas off the coast of Cape Flattery in January of 1890. She had departed from the deep water bay of Port Madison in Washington, and she was bound for San Francisco with a cargo of lumber.

The Nellie May had been built at Newcastle, Maine in 1867, and she was owned by three men: Capt. Axtel Austin, W. P. Sayward of Port Madison, and E. M. Herrick of San Francisco.  She had a crew of thirteen, comprised of Captain Austin; J. D. Wilson, first mate; C. Wright, second mate; J. E. Perkins, Edward White, G. Larson, Paul Ritters, Otto Nasch, P. Peterson, John Bowers and one other sailor, as well as a steward and a cook.  They’re names are unknown, and no photographs have been found of the Nellie May.  She was just a working ship of little consequence, I suppose, and no one thought to document her.

So she set sail with her cargo of timber, but she didn’t get very far. The nasty winter storms blew in from the North Pacific, dashing against the exposed point of Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point of the contiguous United States.  On the night of January 23, 1890, the Nellie May vanished, and the only traces ever found of the ship or her tragic crew were bits of wreckage of one of her life boats, discovered by a group of Nuu-chal-nulth men in Clayoquot Sound, and her name-board, which was picked up off Cape Flattery by the tug Lorne in early May.

The story of the Nellie May seems so desolate and sad to me. She was a fine, serviceable ship of no high regard, a work horse without any claim to infamy, and she was unceremoniously swallowed up by the night and never to be seen again.  I suppose I wanted to write a blog post about the Nellie May to commemmorate her and her crew. She is a small, interesting bite of Pacific history; one ship amongst thousands, I know, but perhaps due a little bit of recognition for her place in the Graveyard of the Pacific.

barque

*also spelled barque, although the Nellie May was registered as an American vessel, thus the US spelling.

Full Steam Ahead!

I’m less than 24 hours into 2014, and already I can see that it’s going to be a busy year.  Good. I like to be busy.  When I have free time, I’m never quite sure what to do with myself, and I get a little gloomy.  Here’s what we have on the calendar:

(1) I have a short story appearing in Fox Spirit’s ‘The Girl at the End of the World’ Anthology, coming out in February.  Competition was fierce, and I was pleased as Punch to be accepted. Not so pleased that I took a stick and beat anyone’s head in, of course; I was able to keep the violence to a minimum.

(2) Then my novel ‘The Tattooed Wolf’ will be released by Hic Dragones Press in late February or March, and goodness, that’s going to be exciting.  Nothing fills my heart with joy quite like werewolf mythology. Awoooooo!

(3) Then, sometime in late summer, the sequel to ‘Bucket of Blood’ will be released. I’m not saying too much about this yet, as the manuscript is not quite finished… the title ‘Bucket of Blood’ didn’t appear until that book was done, so perhaps the working title of this one will change, too, once it’s complete. Who knows? But I’m having fun writing it and the preliminary feedback from my cadre of trusted beta readers is promising.

So be forewarned: there’s going to be a strange intersection between lycanthropy, Canadian history, steampunk, and apocalyptic fiction in my blog posts this year.  It should make for a lively mix.

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