Tuesday, February 26

Reader's Digest- Part of (My) Ancient History

I usually write medieval and about medieval, but for this post I'm going to look at something different.
I don't know how many people caught the news during the week that Reader's Digest has been put into bankruptcy to shed $465 million in debt as consumers shift to electronic media. Reader's Digest is a publication that has attracted a lot of criticism over the years but it's still a publication with a 91 year old history. I'll bet that many of you were introduced to it at dentists' surgeries (I know I was), it being forever linked in your mind with the sound of a whizzing drill in a nearby room and the urge to run somewhere very fast. Out the door, preferably. 
But I couldn't help just the tiniest twinge of nostalgia. I knew I had a copy that I'd kept years ago, simply for the novelty that it was published in the year I was born. 'Ah', you say. 'Here comes the ancient history part.' And indeed, it does. I present to you a little reminder of how the world was in March 1965- according to Reader's Digest.
Reader's Digest, March 1965 Edition
So here we have it, with its instantly recognizable format: articles listed along with their original publication, the picture in a band down the left hand side that fully covers the back. This one is imaginatively titled 'Playing Cards' and was 'specially painted' for RD. The opening pages are of course advert after advert: But these adverts aren't presented as such. Oh, no. 'Buy Lines', by Alison Grey, presented adverts as mini-tale. There's a man who writes to Alison: My wife wants a fully automatic washing machine and I'd like her to have it. I can see that an ordinary twin tub isn't the answer on wash day.'  Alison replies cheerily: 'The nice husband who confided in me this way might voice your views!'  Like hell. There wasn't a man alive in 1965 who gave a hoot about wash day. Alison is also thrilled that you can now buy frozen prawns and stick plastic on your books or maps (eh? Hope it folds, Alison). But she also provides reassurance. Apparently, what worries middle-aged men and women is 'not so much their increased size round the middle, but the increased discomfort and tiredness it brings.' She recommends a giant elastic thingy, called the RALLIE Health Belt which you strap on and pull hard (stop sniggering at the back) for just 5 minutes a day. Problem solved. 
Reluctant though I was to move on from Alison, I carried on and came to this chap.
Dress Sharp, Fly High
Yes, this man is pleased to announce: '£2 TO SATISFY A DREAM'. He asks 'Have you ever gone to the airport and seen someone walk out to a trim, eager airplane, climb into the cabin and shut the door on the outside world?' Well, yes. A pilot. Not sure about the door. And dressed like this guy? No. He's keen, though. 'You'll go along safely at 122 miles an hour and the feeling is wonderful.' And you need a coupon along with your £2. I don't know if it's a general rule but I think, in life, it's probably a good idea not to get in a plane with someone who is flying it via a coupon deal. The advert is also typical of the weird US/UK mix that was always present in Reader's Digest. The currency is in Pounds Sterling, yet he refers to an 'airplane' as opposed to the British 'aeroplane'.
We then leave the adverts for a page or two. Time for an article! 'What Every Young Cat Ought to Know.' Yep, it's an article about kitten-rearing, written charmingly in the voice of a first-person kitten. Aw. 
Just as well your heart is now well and truly warmed, because the next article is a an emotional glacier. Its title is 'IF ONLY THEY HAD WAITED', capitals courtesy of RD. It is written by Anonymous. Anonymous had to wait six months before writing her article because 'the hurt was so deep that only time could partially heal the wounds... and no matter how hard we try to avoid admitting it to ourselves, tragedy is what has occurred.' Sounds terrible! I braced myself.  Turns out Anonymous's son, Paul, had got his girlfriend, Nancy, pregnant. There followed a full five pages of how morally lax he'd been. Anonymous even narrowed it down to where the evil deed had taken place: 'Now, too late, I realized that our playroom was the place where the tragedy had started.' How?? Anonymous finishes off with: 'Paul, your life and the lives of those who love you will never be the same, will never be as contented or happy or or hopeful as they once were.' Poor Paul and Nancy. They sounded just fine. They got married, got jobs and presumably The Tragedy was a cutie. 
The mood lightens a bit again thanks to an advert for tights.

We can only guess that Nancy was a wearer of Kayser nylons, because it would appear that one doesn't wear any skirt with them. The use of a tiger skin in an advert is jaw-dropping but is indicative of how little awareness there was of conservation issues in 1965. Tiger numbers were already under threat but few people wanted to know. Tigers are of course now on the endangered species list and their numbers outside of captivity are in the low thousands. Leafing through more articles in our 1965 edition, we see that 'The Falling Tower of Pisa' is going to be flattened in 50 years.(Still up- yay!). We learn social etiquette from another advert: never chew gum in company, but you go for it when you're hurtling down the black slopes. Gulp.
Gum Etiquette
We continue with the usual Life's Like That and Humor in Uniform where readers would send in their own anecdotes. An article asks politely: 'Are You Well Adjusted?', another extols the virtues of saying 'Thank You.' Another is about 'Edward Durell Stone: Architect Extraordinary'. Nice. Then this one:
Wasn't Expecting This One...
Yes, a deadly serious article on the hunt for one of the surviving members of Hitler's elite. A war criminal that was still actively being hunted in 1965. And of course he was. It was only twenty years since the end of World War Two. Yet the article seems so incongruous in the middle of all the bland items in there. The article gives all of his last known movements as well as a physical description. It also bizarrely  notes: 'An indefatigable woman-chaser, he is said never to have met a female whom he didn't press for an affair.'  I do wonder about the breadth of that statement. If it were literally true, it would have made him quite easy to identify in any public place. The article ends with an astonishingly low-key instruction. It states: 'If you know or have seen a man whom you believe to be Martin Bormann, telephone the West German Embassy.' But because this is a British edition, it has a further footnote: to make sure you contact the right one: 'German Embassy, 23 Belgrave Square, London S.W.1. Telephone: BELgravia 5033). Were law enforcement agencies too busy??
We end on a more light-hearted note. Just look at the laughs you can have with your typewriter:

Typing Fun!

I don't know if you just sit there at your typewriter amusing yourself, or whether you type a funny , then rush across to another typist to show them. The working day must have flown by. 
So we bid good bye to Reader's Digest 1965. For some of you, I hope it's been an enjoyable nostalgia-fest. For the young, you should thank your lucky stars that someone invented the Internet, where things are completely different. On the Internet, you can look at funny cat pictures, stare at non-skirt wearing lady's legs, read moral diatribes, swap amusing word thingies...oh, I give up. Back to medieval for me.

My medieval thriller The Fifth Knight (published by Thomas & Mercer) can be found here on amazon.com or here on amazon.co.uk 

Saturday, February 9

Hearts Through History Blog Hop

Welcome to the Valentine’s Hearts Through History Blog Hop! Hop from site to site (the list is a the end of this post) and enjoy historical anecdotes and trivia tidbits about all things romantic. Stories of old love, fascinating insight into love/courting/marriage and weddings from all over history await! Even better, each stop is offering a giveaway you can enter with just a comment, so hop away!

Saints and Lovers

I write medieval thrillers and have long had a fascination for all things medieval. One of the aspects of medieval life that has always intrigued me has been people’s devotion to saints. I’ve touched on it in a previous blog post A Dead Man's Tongue, where I looked at saint’s relics. Hang on a minute, I hear you say. This blog is for Valentine’s Day. Should I be looking at preserved body parts here? I think not. But I would like (like our medieval forebears would have) to look at the saints that might appeal to us at this time when all thoughts turn to love. You might be surprised by the findings.
Let’s kick off with the saint who names the day. Saint Valentine himself. As with many saints, the origins of who he was (and there is evidence there may have been three saints) are vague. But don’t expect him to have been elevated to sainthood because of any kind of special involvement with lovers. Valentine was a holy priest in third century who helped out persecuted early Christians. He was arrested and tried before the prefect of Rome. The prefect tried to make him renounce his faith but Valentine refused. The prefect ordered Valentine be beaten with clubs, which still didn’t make him change his mind. He was then beheaded. His execution took place on February 14, about the year 270. Interesting that the record is clear about the date being February 14, but a bit hazy about the year!
This can be explained when we fast forward to medieval times.  The concept of courtly love with aloof, desirable women was hugely popular during this period. Troubadours celebrated these women through song and poems. In the fourteenth century, Geoffrey Chaucer brought the popularity of courtly love to new heights with his poem The Parlement of Fowles. This poem first introduced the idea of Valentine’s Day being a day for lovers. The Cour Amoreuse was founded in the French Medieval Court, supposedly in honour of women. It first met on Valentine’s Day in 1400, ruled over by a ‘Prince of Love’ who was a professional poet. Noble ladies heard various love-poems and presented prizes to the winners. 
But what’s interesting is that in the canon of Catholic saints, Saint Valentine isn’t the saint of wistful lovers in the throes of a new romance. He is the patron saint for those who have already found their perfect partner. Being the patron for those seeking love actually belongs to the lesser known saint, Saint Raphael. Saint Raphael, according to legend, helped Tobias enter into marriage with Sarah, who had seen seven previous bridegrooms perish on the eve of their weddings. (That has to be a run of bad luck if there ever was one.) Saint Raphael is the patron saint for what is called happy encounters (how sweet!).
You could of course always try the Welsh Saint Dwynwen. She is the Welsh patron saint of love and friendship, who lived during the fifth Century and was one of the 24 daughters of King of Wales, Brychan Brycheiniog. (When I came across those statistics, I felt perhaps that Brychan should patron saint of something, but I wasn’t quite sure what). Dwynwen was devout and very beautiful, and was broken hearted when her father refused to let her marry the man she loved. When praying for help, she was visited by an angel and God granted her three wishes, one of which was that the hopes and dreams of lovers would be met. Dwynwen founded a convent on Llanddwyn, on the west coast of Anglesey, where she was joined by other broken-hearted women. After her death in 465AD, a well named after her became a place of pilgrimage and it remains there today.
There is also of course related saints: Saint Agnes, patron saint of virginity. Saint Anne, the patron saint of fertility and childbirth and Saint Gerard Majella, patron saint of motherhood, both good to call on when Saint Agnes has gone off duty. And of course, good old Saint Fotino, the patron saint of erectile dysfunction, who has a reassuring big white beard.  
So, lovers of love, you are not restricted to just Valentine on February 14. You can take your pick of saints- just like the medievals did!
I am giving away prizes for this hop.  I have three copies of my medieval thriller The Fifth Knight on Amazon.com or here on Amazon.co.uk (paperback or e-book for UK, e-book for elsewhere)
Comment for your entry into the contest.  Extra entries can be earned for new blog follows, twitter follow, pinterest follow, facebook page likes and a double entry for e-newsletter subscriptions. All extra entry activities can be accessed from the buttons on my website. I have comments set to moderation, so if your comment doesn’t appear right away, don’t worry, it will soon.
Be sure and visit the other blogs!
  1. Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
  2. Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
  3. Sally Smith O’Rourke
  4. Darcyholic Diversions (Barbara Tiller Cole)
  5. Faith, Hope and Cherry Tea
  6. Rosanne Lortz
  7. Sharon Lathan
  8. Debra Brown
  9. Heyerwood   (Lauren Gilbert)
  10. Regina Jeffers
  11. Ginger Myrick
  12. Anna Belfrage
  13. Fall in love with history (Grace Elliot)
  14. Nancy Bilyeau
  15. Wendy Dunn
  16. E.M. Powell
  17. Georgie Lee
  18. The Riddle of Writing (Deborah Swift)
  19. Outtakes from a Historical Novelist (Kim Rendfeld)
  20. The heart of romance (Sherry Gloag)
  21. A day in the life of patootie (Lori Crane)
  22. Karen Aminadra
  23. Dunhaven Place (Heidi Ashworth)
  24. Stephanie Renee dos Santos

Monday, February 4

Maid Madeleine, The Merchant & The Medieval Manuscript

Last week, a junior literary agent left New York to pursue another life. Not really of note, you might say. But this agent was the rather special Maddie Raffel. Maddie was the assistant to my agent, Josh Getzler, and had landed a deal in her own right. Maddie had her own reasons for leaving the world of publishing, as well as issues relating to the industry. Josh wrote about it on his blog, linking it to a thought-provoking piece about where the publishing industry is at right now. You can read the full post here, and I recommend you do.
All of us who have worked with Maddie wish her well. And as a writer, what do I have to give her except a tale I found in the medieval archives? (Note: it is unlikely to have been dug up with Richard III). Here it is.

Maid Madeleine, The Merchant and The Medieval Manuscript

“Hurry up, Maddie! We’re going to be late.”
Maid Madeleine quickened her step at Merchant Getzler’s urge.
Ahead, atop a high mound, its pale-yellow walls gleaming in the early winter sun, lay the castle. Though founded as the Castle Isbn, many called it the castle of dreams. For it was from here that tales, stories, epics, sagas, and misery memoirs came that held the people of the land in thrall.
“Maddie.” Merchant Getzler’s tone was sharp as he halted. “I hope this isn’t straying into omniscient POV?”
Maid Madeleine flushed. Merchant Getzler had an exacting  eye. Why, he could almost always locate his carriage from whence he had left it the day before. “Internal narrative, I assure you,” she said.
They set off again. The throng surrounding the castle was thicker than ever this morning. Hordes of citizens, waiting. Some clutched older manuscripts, sharing them with their fellow goodreaders, discussing each one at length. Most just waited, noses already buried in an unfurled manuscript, half an ear open for an interesting announcement from the battlements. Some sat in small groups, listening to storytellers read from their own parchments, handing over coin when the story pleased them, exclaiming happily at the modest cost and how quickly they had the story in their hands. But a few, solitary folk stared at the castle, stared at it  with a fierce intensity, knuckles white as their fists clutched at the front of their cloaks.
“I see the scribes are here as usual,” she said.
“You know,” said Merchant Getzler. “They really can blink. They’re not going to miss the call if they do.” He put a courteous hand to the shoulder of a bearded man who carried a huge sack. “Excuse me, merchant coming through.”
The man wheeled round. “Merchant? Merchant, eh?” A bubble of spit flew from his mouth as he smashed his sack to the ground. “I don’t need any follogagging merchants!” The man ripped a manuscript from his sack. “Lookee here! I’ve sold 4,000,000 of these. Meself!”
“Wow,” said Merchant Getzler.
“You might indeed say wow, Mr Merchant, “ said the man. “Just listen to what you’ve missed.”
Merchant Getzler went to leave on but the man ripped open the roll and began to read.
“I woke up to the cockerel crowing and I didn’t know where I was and beside me there was a half nekked body of a woman and I didn’t know who she was and then I saw she was dead and then I thought there was a murky secret here and then there was a serial killer who was psychic and then there was a pandemic and I thought well first I’ll have a shower and then I’ll go to work-”
“Like I said, wow,” said Merchant Getzler. “And you’ve sold how many, you say?”
“For how much each?”
The man stared at Merchant Getzler. “I sell ‘em for free. Don’t you merchant guys know anything?”
“Probably not. Good day, sir.” Merchant Getzler motioned to Madeleine.
Madeleine clutched her stack of manuscripts as the man hauled his sack back on to his shoulders and pushed past her.
“Hey!” He shouted to a nearby group of goodreaders, waving his open copy. “Look at this! Bestseller!”
“Quick, Maddie. While he’s not looking.”
Madeleine didn’t need telling twice. She hurried away, her footing unsteady on the melting snow from last night’s heavy fall.
The rampart led steeply to the castle gates, the guards making sure that only those who were summoned could enter.
Madeleine followed the merchant as the guards waved them through to a wide courtyard. Her pulse tripped faster as she saw the group of knights in one corner, already deep in conversation with other merchants. She increased her pace and skidded on the icy cobbles. Her manuscripts flew from her grasp and landed in a heap of wet snow.
Merchant Getzler wheeled round. “Heaven’s sake, Maddie. Get those out of that pile of slush. Now. Before somebody sees.”
Madeleine hunkered down and scooped them back up in her hands, cursing silently at her mistake. She’d had all these prepared and ready as she always did. She handed them to Merchant Getzler. This was where the tales could be sold, sold for a princely sum.
She crossed the courtyard with the merchant, both waiting politely as the knights were in deep discussion. They were all here, as usual.
Sir Hachette, with his clothes of fine, French silk. Sir Harper de Collins, his surcoat emblazoned with red flames atop the blue of the ocean’s waves. Sir Simon & Sir Schuster, for all the world like two men who moved as one. Laird Mac Millan, the rough woven wool of the Celts high on his red-haired legs though the morn be chilled.
Snippets of the discussion floated over to Maid Madeleine and the merchant.       “Gentlemen.” Sir Hachette’s tones were as smooth as his robes. “Of course the manuscripts can contain vampyres. Vampyres have been around since the dawn of time. It is only fitting they are in our lore till the crack of doom.”
“I prefer kings,” said Sir Harper de Collins. “Goodwife Mantel says she’s got a bit more on Henry VIII. Who would’ve thought that possible?”
“Who’s?” said Sir Simon.
“Henry?” said Sir Schuster.
“VIII?” said Sir Simon.
“The one that comes after Henry VII,” said Sir Harper de Collins with a withering look.
“Yet we are only up to Henry III, are we not?” asked Sir Hachette. “We’re medieval, remember.”
“Well, we’ve,” said Sir Simon.
“Got a,” said Sir Schuster.
“King, too!” said Sir Simon.
“Really?” said Sir Hachette, eyebrows a perfect arch.
“Yeah,” said Sir Simon.
“Stephen King,” said Sir Schuster.
“Doesn’t have a number, though,” said Sir Simon.
With a sigh, Sir Hachette turned to Mac Millan. “And what do you have in preparation, Mac Millan?”
“This wee beauty.” The Laird held his weapon aloft in triumph. “It’s mah Flatiron. In need of ah bit o’ work. Ye ken?”
Sir Hachette drew breath to reply but a sudden movement from a doorway stopped him.
Silence fell as a large black-and-white flightless bird wandered out, its path random as it weaved across the wet stones and disappeared through an arch.
“Poor thing,” came Merchant Getzler’s whisper in Madeleine's ear. “No-one’s quite sure where it’s going at the moment.” He took a manuscript from her “Now, I’m going in with this, the one by the Hibernian scribe. It’s got knights in. Bet they like it.”
Madeleine held her breath as Merchant Getzler approached the group with a deep bow. They listened carefully to his impassioned description, then passed it round for a look. A few nods came as they read, and hope leapt in Madeleine’s chest.
“Does it have vampyres?” asked Sir Hachette.
“No, my lord,” said Merchant Getzler.
“What about maidens being smacked on the bottom?” said Sir Harper de Collins.
The others all nodded enthusiastically.
“That would,” said Sir Simon.
“Be great!” said Sir Schuster.
“Indeed,” said Sir Hachette. “The goodwives loved that one.”
“Afraid not,” said the merchant.
A disappointed sigh came from the group of knights.
“Then we shall all have to pass. Now please leave us. We have only twenty four phases of the moon to release another manuscript to the citizens. Castle Isbn never sleeps.”
“Thank you, good sirs,” said Merchant Getzler. He returned to Madeleine. “No luck this time. Onward!”
They made their way back down the rampart to where Eileen, the Hibernian scribe, waited as she did every day.
“Anything?” she asked.
“Not this time,” said Merchant Getzler. He drew breath to offer his words of comfort, when movement in the crowd caught his eye.
A young knight who had recently come to the land stood by a huge cart. A tall, tall woman with a bow slung across her shoulders was selling manuscripts from the tottering pile on it.
“Why, it’s Sir Thomas Mercer!” exclaimed the merchant to Madeleine and Eileen. “Now, he likes a thrilling tale. Come.”
They drew close to the cart. The tall woman was expert. No sooner had a coin landed in her hand, then she whipped the right manuscript from the cart and thrust it into the hand of the waiting customer. “Next!” she cried.
Merchant Getzler raised his hat to Sir Thomas Mercer.
After an astonishingly brief exchange, Sir Thomas smiled. “Yep. I’ll buy that.”
Eileen the Hibernian Scribe jumped up and down with excitement. “Really? And will I get to be all famous and have my name and my image on the side of every manuscript saying I lost 14 lbs thanks to This Weird Old Sorcerer’s Trick?”
“I’m a publisher, not a miracle worker, love,” replied Sir Thomas Mercer.
He shook Eileen the Hibernian Scribe’s hand, and they lived Happily Ever Single Book Contract.
“I just love happy endings,” sighed Maid Madeleine.
“Me, too,” said Merchant Getzler.
Madeleine went on. “But you know what?” She waved a hand to the castle. “My scribe will have to wait for all those moonrises until her manuscript can be released.” She chewed on her lip as she surveyed the rest of the scene. “And I’m not sure that all this is for me either. I think I want to go back to the lands of the West.”
Merchant Getzler looked saddened. “That troubles me to hear. But you must be happy in what you do. And whatever that is, you will succeed and flourish, because you are clever and talented and young and loved.”
“Thank you for everything.”  She smiled. “Who knows, I may be back.” With a wave, she disappeared into the crowd.
Merchant Getzler raised a hand. “Godspeed, Maddie. We will miss you.”
And we will.

The Fifth Knight is a medieval thriller published by Thomas & Mercer is available now in Kindle and paperback format. You can find it at Amazon.com here and Amazon.co.uk here. It is also available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr and Amazon.it

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