The every day…from the past

January 28, 2010

If you’re anything like me, finding an old box full of papers–deeds, bills, bank statements, mortgage papers–gets you extremely excited!  Especially when they’re dated as early as 1905.  Some of my finds were too precious to keep in the box for just me to see.  So throughout the next couple months I’ll be sharing with you some of the treasures I’ve found: the, as I’m calling it, every day stuff…from the past.

I particularly love this one for many reasons. 1) Notice the hand writing! 2) This is from 1905, but the original form still had the "eight hundred" on it which they crossed off and filled in "nine" and 3) the words "in the year of Our Lord."

click to enlarge image


Guests of War

January 25, 2010

In a recent post, I credited a trip to London in 2005 for inspiring my three WWII-era novels.  The idea came to me after visiting the Imperial War

My photo of the Imperial War Museum, London

 Museum, where I’d strolled through a temporary exhibit called “The Children’s War.”  It told how WWII affected British children, including those who lived in big cities, those who were sent to the countryside, and those who were sent abroad.  My protagonist and her sister are the last of these, often termed evacuees, “seavacuees,” or “war guests.”  And in case you care, like I came to, here’s a rundown of what happened.

Picture it: London, 1939.  England and France have watched Germany take over Austria and Czechoslovakia without much bloodshed, but Poland is next on Hitler’s list.  They issue warnings, saying there’s no good reason to invade a nation with no military power like Poland, but those warnings fall on the deaf ears of a madman.  If he’d go after Poland, mighty England might be next, and the British children will be turned into little Germans before their parents’ eyes.  If you’re a parent living in a major British city, what are you going to do?

Not sit back and take it, that’s for sure.  As early as September 1, two days before England and France declared war on Germany, the English government organized a mass evacuation of children from London to the

photo of Julie Allen, from her article

countryside, which was less likely to be bombed.  Children who remained in London and other cities were given gas masks that made them look like mutated elephants.   Residents of London “blacked out” their houses every night with boards and heavy curtains to keep all light from escaping into the sky so as not to alert a Nazi pilot flying overhead.  Fire fighters and air raid wardens patrolled the streets at night, keeping watch for enemy planes and homes with light showing through.  Sirens sounded at any sign of an attack, calling all residents to seek shelter in their basements, the London Underground, or Anderson bomb shelters constructed from aluminum siding.  Road signs were removed to confuse any Nazis who managed to cross into England, though of course it confused the English as well.

But not much came from this early panic.  The British called the first eight months “the phony war,” because the invasion they had prepared for had yet to happen.  It hit closer to home when the Nazis took over France in May 1940.  England then lost her most important ally, and the Nazis was only a few miles away across the English Channel.  Now the English had reason to fear an invasion, and many parents didn’t feel their children were safe enough in the countryside.

That spring and summer, thousands of children were evacuated abroad.  A government program known as the Children’s Overseas Reception Board sent children to English dominions, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.  Though the government program could not send children directly to America, thousands of children went there, staying with family, friends, or complete strangers.  Companies such as Kodak and Hoover, which had offices in both England and America, set up exchange programs where English employees could send their children to live with employees in America.

Some children traveled with their mothers or nannies, and some boarding schools evacuated their staff and students together, but most children went alone.  The evacuations ended when the ocean liner SS City of Benares was torpedoed by Nazi U-boats on its way to North America on September 17, 1940.  By then, the infamous London Blitz had begun and while London was bombed nightly for over 53 nights, Germany never occupied any of Britain except the Channel Islands to the south.  The invasion so many parents feared never came about, but by then their children were overseas and it was safer to keep them there.

For further reading, I highly recommend Jessica Mann’s book Out of Harm’s Way, which helped greatly when I began writing my first book about two sisters who spent the war on the other side of the ocean from their mother.

But there is an even darker side to why my girls had to leave England, and I will go into more detail about that next week.

Contest: Hidden Voices

January 22, 2010

One aspect I really liked about Hidden Voices was its time period.  Very little has been written about 1700s Venice and it was very enjoyable to read about that time.  I also loved the history I learned about Vivaldi–it made me pull out my classical cds and listen to music as I read.   So this month to win a copy (not signed) of Hidden Voices by Pat Lowery Collins tell me about a composer you’re fond of and what your favorite piece is by that composer.  Or to be entered in the contest you can also leave a thoughtful comment in response to my interview with Pat.

Interview with Pat Lowery Collins

January 20, 2010

Everyone welcome Pat Lowery Collins, author of Hidden Voices: The Orphan Musicians of Venice, a historical novel that takes place in Venice, Italy during the 1700s.

1- Hello Pat.  Welcome and thank you for taking the time to stop by Damsels in Regress to talk with us.  So I’m going to jump right in and start off by asking what drew you this particular setting?  It’s a very unique time period that we’ve seen very little written about in children’s historical fiction.

I was inspired by a comment on a classical music station that Vivaldi wrote his vast array of concertos in order to showcase the orphans of the institution where he taught. Presumably, their musical skills would help them find husbands or employment. It seemed amazing to me in this age when the arts are downplayed in the curriculum, that the orphans in all of the Venetian ospedali were taught to play an instrument and it was considered one of the most important parts of their education.

When I dug more deeply, the notion of the foundling wheel appealed to me, as did the fact that the ospedale was primarily a girl’s school, the dynamics of which are very familiar to me. I was also immediately drawn to the challenge of portraying the lush beauty and 18th century life of baroque Venice.

2- In your author’s note you talked about the research you did for this novel from reading books to websites and even a trip to Venice.  Tell me a bit about the trip.  How much did it help you with your research and in writing the novel.

I had definite goals when I set off for Venice: to see where Vivaldi lived and worked and to learn as much as I could about his life, the life of the orphans under his tutelage, and the period. I knew that without being able to adequately set the scene and place the events, there could be no novel.  Such institutions as the museum of the 18th century, Ca’ Rezonnico, and the Doges’ Palace, gave me an intimate view of the furnishings, embellishments and flavor of the times.  The name of Rosealba is actually taken from that of a famous pastelist, Rosealba Carriera, whose paintings adorn the Ca’ Rezonnico. I also needed to see St. Mark’s Square and what views would be possible from the windows of the Ospedale della Pietà. While in Florence, which I visited as well, I came upon a display of musical instruments of the period and a wonderful illustrated book describing them all.

Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Hidden Voices

January 18, 2010

Hidden Voices: The Orphan Musicians of Venice
Pat Lowery Collins
Grades 9-12
340 pages

Hidden Voices: the Orphan Musicians of Venice, by Pat Lowery Collins is a story about three orphan girls whose search for love pulls them in different directions.  Hidden Voices follows the lives of Anetta, Luisa, and Rosalba living at the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage renowned for its extraordinary musical program.  Set in early 1700s Venice in a time where choices for women were limited these girls’ musical talent offers them a chance at a better life.  The girls want more than what is offered though.  Anetta rejects marriage, Luisa longs for the love of a mother who abandoned her and Rosalba dreams of a forbidden romance outside the walls of the Ospedale.

Told through alternating viewpoints, Hidden Voices follows each girl as they try to obtain their dreams.  The author does a wonderful job of giving the girls distinct voices and personalities that are true and believable.  The reader can relate to them as their struggles are universal and carry through time.

Hidden Voices is a fictional novel based, in part, on the eighteenth century Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi.  Through Anetta, Luisa and Rosalba, who excel in voice and instrument, the novel seamlessly weaves in the history of Vivaldi’s early musical career.  The setting is wonderfully portrayed.  Venice comes to life on the pages from the orphanage to the streets and even the country side, Hidden Voices paints a vivid picture of life in the early 1700s.  While full of descriptive passages that bring 18th century Venice alive, the novel does have a slow beginning.  Give it time.  It’s a historical novel well worth the read.

And a little side note: I love the book cover.  I’ll pick up a book just because the cover catches my attention and this one encompasses everything the novel is about.  Lovely.

Different Historical Period: Jennifer

January 15, 2010

If 1830s Rural New England didn’t exist…

When Emilie suggested we write about a time period different than the one we’re currently obsessed with, my problem wasn’t thinking of another time period, but narrowing it down to just one!  The reason I decided to write a time travel series was so I could explore all the time periods that fascinated me.  As you all know, my first novel in the Abigail Wenworth Series covers 1830s rural New England, which I must admit is my favorite.  However, in the other novels I plan to explore 1900s California, Medieval France, 1600s Virginia, 1875 New York City, World War II France (the resistance) and 1920s Chicago (given in no particular order).  I have a wide variety of interests when it comes to history.  One of these is more near and dear to me than all the others though—1870s New York City.

I first became interested in the history of New York City when I learned that ancestors from both sides of my family immigrated there.  My first trip to the city left me a little starry-eyed and full of questions.  The biggest question being: How did New York come to be?  That started me on a three month research spree, which in turn left me fascinated with one particular time period: the 1860s through the 1880s.  My mom’s side of the family had emigrated here from Ireland around the time of the potato famine, and my father’s side would arrive from Germany in the early 1900s.  Yet neither of those eras drew me in.  My fascination lay in that twenty year span where life was changing drastically in New York City–mainly because of immigration, but also due to the advance of technology.  The first subway (albeit not large and soon abandoned) was built.  The Brooklyn Bridge was under construction, sweatshops ran with few to no restrictions on how workers were treated and tenement houses filled lower Manhattan.  The Statue of Liberty wouldn’t be built for years, and Central Park was still “under construction.”  It was the everyday life that once again drew me in.

Most historical novels are about “everyday life,” but they use major historical events as a backdrop: the Revolutionary War (Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson), the Holocaust (The Devil’s Advocate, by Jane Yolen), and War World II (Ten Cents a Dance, by Christine Fletcher) to name a few popular choices.  Maybe because so much has been written on those topics my attention is drawn elsewhere.  Like 1830s in New England, New York City in 1875 isn’t a widely popular time period for historical books.  So to me, those are the time periods I want to know more about.  They’re the ones I feel compelled to write stories for.  They’re the ones that get me so excited I can’t stop talking about them (even after people start tuning me out, my dear friends and parents :)).  Give me the ordinary over extraordinary any day when it comes to a historical event.  I guarantee that’s the event I’ll be drawn to.

Different Historical Period: Tricia

January 13, 2010

I’ve never really thought about writing in a different time period. If I did, though, I would follow an “art through the ages” path. Art history is a love of mine and I included Impressionist painting as part of my story line in An Inherited Evil.

Isabella d'Este, painted by Titian

Renaissance art would probably be the first stop on my journey—and where I’d spend the most time. The wealth of art in the 15th and 16th centuries, with its changes in painting, sculpture, and architecture, would provide a number of possible story ideas. Plus, the politics of the age, where rival families vied for wealth and power, is an ideal backdrop for magic.

The other factor I’d search for in a historic time period is the rise of strong women. People like Catherine the Great, tsarina of Russia in the 18th century, or Isabella d’Este, the wife of the ruler of Mantua in the early 1500s are fascinating. Both were skilled politicians and leaders who promoted culture, the arts, and in Catherine’s case, education. And they did it in times when men held most of the power and privilege.