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Here is the link to the previous interview.

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Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 26 books. She creates stories with kilts, corsets, fantasy and happy endings. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.

The Original Botch Up

As writers our tools are words so their meanings and origins are important and interesting to us. That is the case with the word botch. It means to bungle something or patch something up in a sloppy way. It’s origin can be traced to the Victorian era.

Thomas botchThe word botch comes from the name Thomas Bouch, a Victorian architect and railway engineer. At 26 years of age, he became Engineer and Manager for the Edinburgh and Northern Railway where he designed and introduced the first roll-on-roll-off rail ferry. He also helped develop the caisson, a watertight retaining structure where water can be pumped out, keeping the work environment dry. In addition, Bouch popularized the use of lattice girders in railway bridges

He reached his height of fame when he built the Tay Bridge to carry the Edinburgh to Aberdeen railway two miles high above the Firth of Tay. At the time it was open, it was the longest bridge in the world.. After Queen Victoria rode across the Tay Bridge she rewarded Bouch with knighthood for his great accomplishment.

Unrecognized by Bouch, there were some design flaws in the bridge. The iron piers supporting the lattice girders were narrower and the cross-bracing less extensive than then should have been. Also, since he’d gotten expert advice on “wind loading” when designing a proposed rail bridge over the Firth of Forth, he didn’t make any additional allowances for wind loading in the Tay Bridge. There were other flaws in detailed design, maintenance, and in quality control of castings.

The Tay Bridge disaster occurred during a violent storm with a wind force of 10 to 11 on the beaufort scale with gusts even higher.  The Tay bridge collapsed into the Firth of Tay and a train with all of it’s passengers and crew plunged to their deaths. There were no survivors. Bouch was hard hit by the disaster, became ill and died less than a year later.

William McGonagall, acclaimed’ as the worst poet in history, wrote the poem, The Tay Bridge Disaster in 1880.  It begins:
“Beautiful railway bridge of the silvery Tay. Alas! I am very sorry to say that ninety lives have been taken away on the last Sabbath day of 1879. Which will be remembered for a very long time.”

So now you know how the word botch came to be. And when you botch up something at least you have the comfort of knowing you didn’t botch it up as bad as Bouch.

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Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 26 books. She creates stories with kilts, corsets, fantasy and happy endings. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.

stoneagearchitecturalEspecially for my friends who are in the cold snowy parts of the world, while I am here in Hawai’i suffering with a fan on to keep my room cool enough to sleep in… :D

A quote from Godey’s Lady’s Book 1870 –

“A fireplace goes farther than anything else in giving to a room character and beauty. Every parlor, dining-room, and nursery, at least, should have one. In the cool weather of spring and fall, when the morning and evening air is a little sharp, or when a long cold rain-storm is making everything damp, moist, and uncomfortable, there is nothing more delightful, both for old and young, than a brisk fire upon an open hearth. With what beautiful rosy light and a gentle warmth, it fills a room, and how it laughs and dances and seems to say to every one, ‘be glad with me!’ And then, aside from its home-like beauty and good cheer, the depressing chills and miasma, the floating seeds of disease, will be seized by its friendly flames and whirled up the chimney before they have time to lay a finger on us.” – Sarah J. Hale

nadeausauctionWhat does a fireplace bring to a room in a novel. Do they gravitate toward it for warmth? Do they need the light to decipher a strange message? Perhaps they need to burn a document or piece of evidence?

Is it a stately marble creation with grand designs? Is there a dent in the copper plating? Would it benefit from some cleaning? What does that tell you about the occupants of the house?

Lighting a Victorian Life

lampKerosene gets it name from the Greek word Keros (meaning wax). Petroleum, related to the production of Kerosene, was discovered in Pennsylvania in the mid-1800s and helped fund a number of American industrial fortunes. Oil for the home lamps had a new source.

Kerosene was cheap and burned brightly. Lamp development was quick and kerosene lamps were one of the primary light sources in homes during the second half of the 19th century.

studentlampThe Student Lamp (not used widely in America until late 1870s) was a special type of lamp. Rather than the static construction of most lamps, a student lamp was based off of a ‘stem’ and the actual light could be ‘swung out’ or positioned over a book or paper that needed illumination.

In our modern world, light sources cast WIDE beams and can make a room bright and cheery. The Victorians had a different experience.

When writing your stories.. keep in mind where the light sources are.

When you’re in a room at night or in the center of a house where there are no windows, where is the light?

How much light comes from each source?

How does that change where people stand in a room?

How does it change their activities in the dark hours of the day?

Or, if a character lacks the funds or access to such conveniences… do they go to sleep with the sun or find alternative methods of producing light?

Facts from – A Style and Source Book – American Victorian by: Grow & Von Zweck

Going Ape

If you‘re looking for a fun character for a Steampunk novel, why not throw in an ape? Gorillas and Apes were popular in Victorian literature. With the British colonies in Africa, the Victorians had a strong interest in the unique continent. Another reason for the popularity of these human-like creatures was the topic of evolution spurred by Charles Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species, published in 1859.

The most famous gorilla was Edgar Allan Poe’s mass murderer from his tale, The Murders In The Rue Morgue, published in 1841. It stands as the first detective story ever written.

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs came out in 1912 and Apes are strong secondary characters and are an intricate part of the storyline. The story begins in the year 1888 when John, Lord Greystoke with his new, young wife, Lady Alice sail to Africa. There is a mutiny on their ship and they are abandoned on the coast of Africa near a jungle. Alice has a baby there but shortly after the child is born, Alice dies and Lord Greystoke is killed by a gorilla. A female gorilla, Kala, who had recently lost her baby, takes Alice’s baby and raises him as her own. She names him Tarzan. She was the only mother he ever knew.

This is a short excerpt from The Return of Tarzan: “And I, on my part, loved her, Paul. I did not realize how much until after the cruel spear and the poisoned arrow of Mbonga’s black warrior had stolen her away from me. I was still a child when that occurred, and I threw myself upon her dead body and wept out my anguish as a child might for his own mother. To you, my friend, she would have appeared a hideous and ugly creature, but to me she was beautiful—so gloriously does love transfigure its object. And so I am perfectly content to remain forever the son of Kala, the she-ape.”

In the return of Tarzan he finds a lost city of gold and the people, though human, speak his native language, that of the gorillas.  When Tarzan escapes the City of Gold and sees Jane in the Jungle with the man she chose over him, he returns to his tribe of apes, broken hearted and wanting nothing more to do with humans. Later in the story when Jane is captured by the men from the City of Gold, it’s a gorilla that tells Tarzan she’s been taken.


Six-Gun Gorilla is another r interesting story, published as a fifteen-part serial in the British Pulp, Wizard in 1939. Set in the 19th century American wild west, a kidnapped baby gorilla ends up in Colorado with a kind prospector, Bart Masters. The gorilla, O’Neil, loves the prospector like a father. Unfortunately, Tutt Stawhan, head of the Strawhan outlaw gang, murders Bart Masters. O’Neil vows to revenge Bart’s death. He straps a bandoleer across his broad, hairy chest and holsters two Colts. Then he sets out on a quest to track down, shoot and kill every member of the Strawhan gang.

Rupert Cornelius is a popular Steampunk gorilla.  I had the pleasure of meeting, this educated Ape, at Aetherfest in San Antonio, Texas a few years back. This brilliant gorilla answers such mind boggling questions as pirates vs ninjas, The borg vs the daleks, and what he would he do for a Klondike bar?

And of course there’s DC comics’ Gorilla Grodd, arch nemesis of the  Flash. Created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, the  premise is that in the 19th century, a spacecraft crashed deep in the heart of Africa in the Congo Basin. Grodd and his troupe gain super intelligence and Grodd and another gorilla, Solovar, are also empowered with telepathic and telekinetic abilities as well as mind control. Uner the leadership of the alien pilot, the genius apes build Gorilla City where they live in a society far advanced from our own. The apes dwell in peace in this secret city hidden in the mountains, until they are discovered by explorers.


Grodd forces an explorer to kill the alien, so he can rule Gorilla City. But Solovar and the Flash thwart Grodd’s evil plan. Many times through the years the Flash and his allies including Solovar save the world from Grodd.

If you’ve read or written a book featuring a gorilla, tell us about it or comment on anything else regarding the post. I love to hear from readers and other authors.

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Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 26 books. She creates stories with kilts, corsets, fantasy and happy endings. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.

Mail Myself To You

Just last month, everyone was wrapping packages and mailing them to relatives and friends. It’s hard to believe but in 1913 when the parcel post service began in the US, at least two children were mailed with stamps stuck on their clothes. I swear I’m not making this up. There’re actually pictures of mail carriers with children they delivered.

This inspires all sorts of ideas for books. A child could be sent by mail by the mother to the baby’s father, who didn’t know about the baby. A child could mail themselves to the North Pole so they could see Santa and get all the toys. A runaway child could even stamp themselves to go out west for adventure. A child could get delivered to the wrong address.

Western mail order brides could actually be sent by mail with stamps on their dresses or foreheads.  A mail order bride could be delivered to the wrong man. Instead of a train to deliver mail you can use an airship or a mail balloon to send stamped people about. And you certainly don’t have to keep this practice in the Edwardian era, you can move it to the Victorian era wild west.

A mailed woman or child could end up riding pillion with a pony express rider through Indian country. They could even ride on a stage coach that carries mail.  If the train, stage or airship is held up by outlaws and a mailed person is taken as a hostage is that tampering with US mail? Would the Calvary be brought in to recover the stolen person or rather package? The ideas are endless.

Wood Guthrie wrote a cute song about this practice of mailing children.

This practice of mailing children is definitely one of those what were they thinking scenarios. In this case what they were thinking was how to do something cheaper. How to get out of the cost of an expensive train ticket. The how to do something cheaper thought process often causes people to do strange things. You can always use it for one of your characters; have them try to do something cheaper that ends up being pretty crazy. It might be a challenge to come up with something crazier than mailing children but if you can think of it chances are someone has actually done it. For many people cheaper and easier seems to outweigh unresponsible and dangerous and leads people to make some pretty foolish mistakes. Also characters who always try to do things on the cheap can be funny.

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Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 24 published books. She creates stories with kilts, corsets, and happy endings. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.

timemachine1Dickens On The Strand was earlier this month. It included a holiday parades of pirates, fellow Steampunkers, choirs of carolers, beggars, a host of other memorable Victorian characters and also the suffragettes. This picture of me next to H. G. Wells’ time machine as I’m wearing my Votes for Women sash is fitting. I went back in time on the strand as I marched with the Victorian suffragettes in the parade.

We sung: All I want for Christmas is the right to vote The right to vote The right to vote All I want for Christmas is the right to vote So I can govern my existence

votesMarching as a suffragette was a blast but the real suffragette movement was serious business and a long hard fight. Millicent Fawcett founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage in 1897. The movement began with peaceful protest arguing that if women had to pay taxes they had the right to vote.

But because Fawcett’s progress through peaceful protests was slow, a lawyer, Richard Pankhurst, his wife, Emmeline, and daughter, Christabel, made a fresh attempt to gain the vote for women and formed the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903. They pursued civil disobedience for the cause. Suffragettes protested by chaining themselves to railings and eventually by smashing windows.

As you make your New Year resolutions tomorrow, think about these brave women of the suffragettes movement who resolved to gain us the vote and did so, both Suffragettes in England and also in America. They gave us a great gift, the opportunity to vote.

Consider adding a suffragette sash to your Steampunk costume. I’m going to continue to wear mine. Also consider making one of your Steampunk characters a suffragette – it worked well for Mrs. Banks in Disney’s Marry Poppins film.

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Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 24 published books. She creates stories with kilts, corsets, and happy endings. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.

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