Awesome words: fart

Canons fire from a tower down onto a group of men in 18th century military regalia below. The men are crawling on their hands and knees, buttocks bared, farting back at the canons. A ship can be seen in the distance.
British cartoon mocking the failed French & Spanish siege of Gibralter, 1782

In keeping with the theme of Wednesday’s post, here’s an extract from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose, available through the Gutenberg Project.

FART. He has let a brewer’s fart, grains and all; said of
one who has bewrayed his breeches.

      Piss and fart.
Sound at heart.
Mingere cum bumbis,
Res saluberrima est lumbis.

  I dare not trust my a-se with a fart: said by a person troubled
with a looseness.

FART CATCHER. A valet or footman from his walking
behind his master or mistress.

FARTING CRACKERS. Breeches.

FARTLEBERRIES. Excrement hanging about the anus.

kinggeorgeiii-as-devil

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This week I’ve been back at work after a lovely two weeks off in which I got a huge amount of work done on the WIP (but didn’t finish it – boo.) One of the pleasures of writing is all the bits and bobs of interesting research I get to do. This can vary from a quick check on Google images to make sure I’ve got a thing right in my mind’s eye, to a two hour rabbit hole from which I emerge blinking and cursing myself. Research topics over the last week have included:

  • Interior decoration of 18th Century upmarket London brothels (see my post on floor coverings)
  • Greek myths, particularly in relation to the Trojan War
  • Medieval herbal remedies (now I know what dragon’s blood is)
  • The history of medical treatment for certain ailments (did you know incubus started out as a digestive complaint? Not a demon in sight.)
  • Baths in the Georgian/Regency era (thank you, Mr Darcy)
  • 18th Century architecture in Clerkenwell, London
  • 18th Century firearms
  • Christ’s temptation in the desert
  • The effect of varying degrees of blood loss on the human body.

And now, this :

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What a handy little chart.

More things that make you go “Hmm…” – Ganymede

I have been doing some research on pre-18th century paintings of Greek myths lately, and I came across this interesting description by the Museo Del Prado of the Peter Paul Rubens painting “The Rape of Ganymede”, which is in its collection:
Jupiter was so taken with Ganymede´s beauty that he transformed into an eagle to carry her off to Mount Olympus, where she became his cup-bearer. Rubens drew this story from the classical poet, Ovid´s Metamorphoses (X, 155-161). He depicts the moment when the eagle catches the young shepherdess and lifts her into the air.

GanyrubnUh…just one problem. Ganymede was a bloke. The story is otherwise bang on.

 I am fascinated as to how or why the Museo Del Prado has fluffed this one up. The fact that Ganymede is male is key to the enduring fascination with this particular story. By all (other) accounts, the Ganymede myth was held as an expression of the acceptance of homosexual relationships in Ancient Greece.

And it’s not like you could actually mistake the Ganymede in Rubens’ painting for a girl. It also doesn’t look to me like Rubens was tiptoeing around the core element of this story. I mean, look at the placement of that quiver, for goodness sake.

It’s all very strange and a little bit hilarious.

Things that make you go “Hmm…”

I’ve been doing a bit of trawling through Wikipedia today, building up a list of historical personages to use as extras in my current WIP. And I came across this lady:

387px-Emily_Duchess_of_Leinster_1770_s
The Duchess of Leinster as painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the 1770s;  courtesy of Wikipedia

Emily Lennox was (according to Wikipedia) married to James Fitzgerald, the Earl of Kildare (and later Duke of Leinster), in 1747, when she was “almost 16”. That is, when she was FIFTEEN.

Apparently the marriage was a happy one.

Well, good. Because the couple had 18 children. That was not a typo. Here, I’ll write it out, just to make sure: eighteen.

Actually, there were 19 children “of the marriage”, but the last kid, born in 1773 was actually the son of the tutor of the Fitzgerald brood, one Mr William Ogilvie. When James Fitzgerald died, in November of 1773, Emily married Ogilvie the following year (which, understandably caused something of a sensation.)

She then went on to have THREE MORE CHILDREN with her new husband!

So that’s a total of 22 children. In an age where childbirth was absolutely a matter of life and death for the mother. No antibiotics. No blood transfusions. No safe surgical procedures. No anaesthetic.

Wow.

Sadly, and predictably, twelve of her children predeceased her. Of those, nine died by the age of 10. Her eldest child, George, died when he was 17 and two others died in adulthood.

Just one other interesting thing I noted concerning the difficulties posed by such an enormous amount of offspring: obviously finding suitable names posed a challenge. She had two daughters named Louisa, two named Charlotte and two named Caroline, as well as two sons called George (ironically, George and George were her eldest children by each of her two husbands.)

Beilby’s Ball

For anyone writing about or interested in Britain in the 18th and early 19th century, the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: a dictionary of buckish slang, university wit and pickpocket eloquence, brought to you by Project Gutenberg, is an indispensable resource.

Here’s a little gem I came across today:

BEILBY’S BALL. He will dance at Beilby’s ball, where the sheriff pays the music; he will be hanged. Who Mr. Beilby was, or why that ceremony was so called, remains with the quadrature of the circle, the discovery of the philosopher’s stone, and divers other desiderata yet undiscovered.

Tyburn_gallows_1746

Map of Tyburn gallows and immediate surroundings, from John Rocque’s map of London, Westminster and Southwark (1746), courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

 

 

Research Rabbit Holes #8 – with David Versace

Research Rabbit Holes can be fabulously inspirational, or horribly time wasting. They can take you in directions that are wildly irrelevant to your story, or can help you add layers of authenticity and meaning to your work. In this series of blog posts I’m sharing some of my favourite journeys down these Research Rabbit Holes, and I’ve also asked some other writers about their experiences falling into these diabolical black holes of eternal fascination.

20140809_150443This week’s guest is David Versace. I urge you to look out his stuff if you haven’t seen it before, because what comes out of his brain is often startlingly original and beautifully written. By way of example, and because he’s too modest to mention it below (or maybe he forgot), you can read his latest story, the flash piece Incidental, on Evil Girlfriend Media.

Tell me a little bit about your latest story and what sort of research you needed to do to write this story.

The story is called “Silver the Moon in Ascension”; it’s a military adventure about magic robots fighting against werewolves. Stop that, I’m serious! As you can probably tell, it’s a secondary world fantasy, so I didn’t need to dive too deep on the research for this one. This was a Wikipedia-skim over the history of alchemy; the general beliefs behind alchemy, the purported qualities of various base metals, their symbolic significance and in particular the weird rivalries and status games of its practitioners. Much of it has been (ahem) transmuted for story purposes, but the real stuff is more than weird enough for future use.

How does research fit into your writing process? Do you research first, then write, or do you research as you write?

With short stories, about half the time something cool I’ve read will prompt further reading and inspire a few ideas – and more reading. The rest of the time the general idea might come first and then I will realise I know nothing about international currency exchange laws or how a dog pound works, and then I hit the books. I try not to kill my writing momentum by going off to research, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. I find it’s usually better to know enough about what I’m describing before I start than it is to rewrite after I discover I was completely wrong.

Is research a distraction or an inspiration?

Both. So very much both. Many of my best ideas have sparked from an “I did not know that” moment – especially when I take an occasional plummet into some corner of history or another. On the other hand, nothing puts the brakes on a story draft like the sudden realisation that you have no idea how the pre-Columbian Mayan economy operated, and your story hinges on whether they kept bees.

(Just an example. I know almost nothing about the Mayans…but now I have an urge to visit the library).

When you’re writing secondary-world or alternate-world stories, how does real-world research contribute to your world-building?

The real world is a pretty good resource when you’re making up a secondary world. The fact that the Mayans kept bees (or not) is a delicious detail that could open all sorts of avenues for your dragon-ravaged, kite-riding fantasy culture. I like to grab cool details from all over the place and then figure out how they could plausibly work together. Semi-plausibly, maybe. If you squint. Those small details, extrapolated outwards, can shape societies and economies and ecologies in ways you’d never expect.

What was the weirdest thing you had to research?    

Over the last couple of years I have spent a lot more time thinking about the economics and politics of different track gauges – the distance between the rails on a train track – than I would ever have expected to.  Those weighty contemplations have had sadly little bearing on the train story that originally prompted them.

Now that you bring it up, I have a dark suspicion I may have wasted quite a lot of my time.

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Next

David Versace (www.davidversace.com) writes fantasy and science fiction in Canberra, Australia. His work appears in the CSFG anthology “Next” and in the forthcoming anthologies “The Lane of Unusual Traders” (Tiny Owl Workshop) and “At the Edge” (Paper Road Press).

He is a member of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, who can vouch for his whereabouts on the night in question. He is a voracious consumer of speculative fiction, comics, wine, and television drama. He is teaching himself basic coding, bass guitar and how to write novels.

His heartfelt dream is to stop drifting aimlessly through the Australia Public Service, where he has worked for over 20 years. Until the dream becomes reality, he remains focused on corporate governance, risk management and business continuity, the sexy invisible lifeblood of well-regulated government.

He lives with his wife Fiona and two children. They tolerate his interests with patient good humour.

Down the Research Rabbit Hole #7 – with Ian McHugh

Research Rabbit Holes can be fabulously inspirational, or horribly time wasting. They can take you in directions that are wildly irrelevant to your story, or can help you add layers of authenticity and meaning to your work. In this series of blog posts I’m sharing some of my favourite journeys down these Research Rabbit Holes, and I’ve also asked some other writers about their experiences falling into these diabolical black holes of eternal fascination.

IanThis week’s guest is Ian McHugh, who sports what is surely one of the most resplendent beards in the Australian speculative fiction scene. His writing speaks for itself and has featured in publications such as Asimov’s, Clockwork Phoenix and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. He is renowned as a blunt and fearless (and therefore extremely useful) beta reader, and his critiques often start with a variation of: “Your story starts here on page 3.” He can frequently be found running workshops at the ACT Writers Centre, or teaching at the University of Canberra.

Tell me a little bit about your latest book/story and what sort of research you needed to do to write this story.

I’m currently writing a secondary world fantasy novel with early modern technology – steam engines and gunpowder weapons and whatnot – combined with magic. It’s not steampunk, I just wanted to step away from the standard medieval-era for adventure fantasy. So, I needed to know early steam technology, firearms and artillery, as well as naval warfare in the transition from sail to steam, siege warfare with early cannons and (because it’s a magical secondary world) golems.

What was the most interesting or surprising thing your research turned up?

This current project started with canals. The canal infrastructure from the early industrial revolution in Britain was incredible. They had actual mechanical lifts – not locks, lifts – for barges, where the barge would go into a gated tub and be lifted, water and all, straight up a cliff, with a counterweight tub coming down. So, that canal infrastructure became a bigger part of the story as I wrote, and a number of the pivotal moments in the story are built around canal things.

How does research fit into your writing process? Do you research first, then write, or do you research as you write?

I tend to research big things before I start writing, then research details as I go. As such, research is important to both my writing process and my procrastination process. It also means I do a fair bit of backtracking to retrofit corrected details as I write, so forward progress some days can be slow even if I’m working hardly rather than hardly working.

Is research a distraction or an inspiration?

I think once you have writer-brain, everything and anything can become research and inspiration. Generally speaking, research is inspiration. Research is also incredibly distracting. So many rabbit holes to disappear down! For example: I recently wanted to know if a 1700s era cannon was in an elevated position – on top of a wall, say – how close to the foot of the wall could it shoot? How did they shoot downwards? Could a cannon’s barrel be declined to shoot downwards? Was it ever the done thing? I lost hours. Found a multiplicity of blogs and rants and treatises and articles and instructional manuals about the optimum angle of elevation for maximum effective range for every kind of cannon and carronade and culverin and mortar and firestick. But what about when the other fellas are nearly at the bottom of the wall? I know they used a cotton bung to stop the cannonball rolling out when the gun was pointed down, but beyond that, I’m as ignorant as when I started.

When you’re writing secondary-world or alternate-world stories, how does real-world research contribute to your world-building?

Something like how to shoot artillery from the top of a wall might seem like a detail I could write around, but it’s the little details that can catch you. If I want to have my characters defend a fortress when both sides have artillery, I need to know what the actual real strategies were for both attacking and defending a fortress with artillery. Just because it’s a secondary world, I can’t just make shit up that sounds good to me, because it will probably be completely wrong. Whatever secondary world you’re writing, it’s going to have a lot of real-world stuff in it. You have to get that stuff right first, if you want your secondary world to have any kind of credibility, then figure out how your magic and dragons and whatevs fit in with it and change it.

Tell me about a time when your research threw up something that changed your story or a character.

I think you need to approach research with the expectation that it’s going to change your story, because research is a critical part of the process of developing and refining your story idea. And, if you’re like me and keep researching as you write, it’s also part of your drafting process. As such, every bit of research tends to have consequential changes for my plots and scenes and worlds. Less so with characters, I think, unless they’re non-human (and I find a cool way to pimp them up some more) or based on historical figures (and I turn up an interesting factoid about the real person).

I have a draft of a historical fantasy novel currently filed in the Cry For Help folder, which featured a version of Peter Lalor, the leader of the Eureka Stockade gold miners’ rebellion. I originally conceived him as a fairly idealistic figure, but then reading about the real man, I discovered that, after leading this rebellion to demand democratic rights for gold miners, he became a member of parliament and voted against those rights. Although the men he led to take up arms were Chartists and other advocates of democracy, Lalor wasn’t. He was a republican and a liberal, but not a democrat. Given that the conceit of my novel is, in part, “what if Lalor’s rebellion was successful?”, this tidbit threw up some interesting questions. So my version of Lalor now became a kind of Australian Robespierre and his rebellion/revolution followed the template of the French Revolution – including the Terror. Suddenly my character had way more depth and a way more interesting arc.

Have you ever researched something that made you abandon a story idea?

I said before that research is inspiration. Sometimes it’s also an obstacle or a roadblock. I don’t know that I’ve ever abandoned a story because of something my research turned up, but research often turns up inconvenient bits of knowledge that then need to be accounted for. In my story (deep breath) Extracted journal notes for an ethnography of bnebene nomad culture, I conceived an alien species with five genders. Initially, I just said they had three available sex chromosomes which could be paired in five viable combinations. But then I read about the other non-chromosomal ways that gender is determined in nature, like temperature variance and haplodiploidy (look it up), so I had to not only have my scientist protagonist consider those possibilities as well, but I had to consider for myself whether they were more realistic than what I’d proposed.

What was the weirdest thing you had to research?    

Research for stories is often esoteric, but I think it’s only weird to other people. If you’re geeking out on it, it never seems weird. And if you’re (if I’m) researching for a story, then you’re (I’m) probably geeking out. You just end up knowing a lot of unusual factoids – for my recent story Demons Enough I decided I needed to know how much blood is in an adult human (five litres, for anyone who’s interested). Knowing it wasn’t critical for the story (read it, you’ll see) and finding it out didn’t change how I told the story, but I was geeking out on the story, so I wanted to know. Not weird at all, see?

What kind of research have you needed to do for stuff that doesn’t exist? How do you approach that?

If you’re writing speculative fiction of any kind you’re always researching for stuff that doesn’t exist. I think most of the time, you’re riffing on what’s real – extrapolating technology or politics, mashing things together to make a monster, filing off the serial numbers from some meditative technique and saying that’s what you do to work magic. And if you’re not riffing on what’s real, you’re probably riffing on something someone else made up before. So, for me, I don’t think there’s a difference in the research approach – writer-brain is always switched on. It’s more what I do with it once I’ve done the research. If I’m researching something that exists, then I regurgitate it as accurately as possible into my story. If I’m researching something that doesn’t exist, then I bang together things that do until I get sparks of something new.

A gigantic metal angel statue stands over a city with one arm raised. The buildings in the foreground are low and dark, the buildings at the angel's feet are tall and gleam with the reflected light of a setting sun.Ian McHugh’s first success as a speculative fiction writer was winning the short story contest at the 2004 Australian national SF convention. Since then he has sold stories to professional and semi-pro magazines, webzines and anthologies in Australia and internationally. His stories have won grand prize in the Writers of the Future contest, been shortlisted five times at Australia’s Aurealis Awards (winning Best Fantasy Short Story in 2010), reprinted in Australian year’s best anthologies, honourably mentioned for world year’s bests and appeared in the Locus and Tangent Online annual Recommended Reading Lists. He graduated from the Clarion West writers’ workshop in 2006. His first collection of short stories, Angel Dust, was shortlisted for the Aurealis Award for Best Collection in 2015.

Ian lives in Canberra, Australia and is a member of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild.

Down the Research Rabbit Hole #6 – with Cat Sparks

Research Rabbit Holes can be fabulously inspirational, or horribly time wasting. They can take you in directions that are wildly irrelevant to your story, or can help you add layers of authenticity and meaning to your work. In this series of blog posts I’m sharing some of my favourite journeys down these Research Rabbit Holes, and I’ve also asked some other writers about their experiences falling into these diabolical black holes of eternal fascination.

This week’s guest is Cat Sparks, an award winning author, editor and artist who, among other things, can rightly claim to be the inspiration for the latest Fablecroft anthology-in-the-making, In Your Face  (which is running a Pozible kickstarter at that link you can support if you hurry). If you’ve been to any of the spec fic conventions in Australia, you’ll have been lucky to escape without her snapping your photograph (well, not lucky. It’s actually kind of a privilege to be photographed by her).

She’s also penned my favourite line so far about an author’s relationship to research.

Bolstering my own ideas with research is like retrofitting the skeleton into a dissected organism.

Read on…

Tell me a little bit about your latest book and what sort of research you needed to do to write this story.

The working title of my current manuscript is The Salted Earth – a title that will probably change at some point. The novel forms the greater part of my PhD. My research investigates the way authors utilise scientific data in the construction of science fiction texts, specifically young adult climate change stories. All my own research has to be accurate. Everything has to be sourced. Not only has this PhD changed the way I write fiction, it’s changed the way I think about text in general. It’s turned me into a research junkie and I doubt I’m ever going back.

I need to keep up with climate science reporting as well as the fiction generated in its wake. These are rapidly expanding areas, not to mention terribly depressing. There wasn’t much climate fiction around when I began. Now everybody’s arguing about what terminology we should be using to describe it – anthropocene, hyper-object, slow apocalypse, cli fi – and whether or not it’s a subset of science fiction.

What was the most interesting or surprising thing your research turned up?

Two things:

  1. The legitimacy of weather modification technology. I had totally presumed there to be no such thing outside of tinfoil hat wackjob conspiracy theory. But the Beijing Weather Modification Office is as real as the CIA. They spend millions every year trying to keep rain of their parades.
  2. Gaps in the literature. Many people are currently writing climate fiction but there are loads of stories not being told, avenues not being investigated, which makes me feel that I need to get in there first. But I’m too deep in to my own research to change tack now with my major project. This leaves the option of short fiction and essays, but everything takes so much time to research and get right – or as close to right as possible.

How does research fit into your writing process? Do you research first, then write, or do you research as you write?

Here’s where the rabbit holes really kick in. Writing for me used to be a fairly surgical procedure. I’d get an idea, I’d write it down, flesh it out – produce a step sheet, and from that generate the story. Voila! That was back in the days when I could conceivably write a story in a day or three. Now it takes me three weeks just to work out what it is I’m trying to say. Ideas beget research, which begets further ideas of the vast, conflicting and potentially more interesting variety. Before too long I’m so confused I’m really not sure what I’m writing. That’s when archaeology kicks in; me with a metaphorical trowel on my knees trying to uncover structures in the narrative mud. Or something.

My story ideas ferment like liquor. Theme needs to be drawn out. I have many friends who churn out stories at an alarming rate, but I just can’t do that. Even when I think a story is finished, I’m usually wrong. I’ve still got three or four drafts left to do.

Is research a distraction or an inspiration?

Both. Constantly. Research seems to have become the entire point of the exercise. I’ve learnt that I don’t really know much about anything, not in a genuine sense. I’m just a spongy filter through which data passes, diverts and degrades. Bolstering my own ideas with research is like retrofitting the skeleton into a dissected organism. Add style for animation — then the story might take on a life of its own.

As a reader, stories not grounded in research bore me. We have become such technological creatures, with easy access data at our fingertips. It’s impossible to get through an Internet-fuelled day without learning stuff. Science fiction is a particularly research-needy field, which doesn’t make quality technobabble a requirement (although I am impressed with the writers who manage to pull that trick off convincingly). Science fiction readers are smart and they’re interested in real science. SF needs to come across as genuine and solid. Writers like Kim Stanley Robinson, Ian McDonald, Julie Czernada and Ramez Naam have set the bar very high for the rest of us.

When you’re writing secondary-world or alternate-world stories, how does real-world research contribute to your world-building?

Real-world examples serve as excellent templates for minting alternate world elements. Societies – be they real or invented – need economies and politics. Their food supply has to come from somewhere. People have been living in cities since the Neolithic revolution. Basing an imagined society upon the mechanics of a real one makes a lot more sense than reinventing the wheel. The writer doesn’t have to fully comprehend how everything in the alternate world ought to work, but they must be able to fake it with aplomb.

Fiction writers are like pirates. We steal everything that isn’t nailed down.

Cat portrait

Cat Sparks is a multi-award-winning author, editor and artist whose former employment has included: media monitor, political and archaeological photographer, graphic designer and manager of Agog! Press amongst other (much less interesting) things. She’s currently fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine while simultaneously grappling with a PhD on YA climate change fiction.  Her debut novel, Lotus Blue, is forthcoming from Talos Press in February 2017.