The novel I’m writing now is set in mid-16th century England. During this time period episodes of black plague and the quickly lethal “sweating sickness” came and went. With each epidemic, enormous numbers of people died.
Long ago, when I started to research, these events were simply blips on a timeline. With the advent of our Covid-19 world, such facts became far more vivid to me. I hadn’t understood the fear and heightened state of caution epidemics caused.
A 16th-century story to set the stage: a man and woman in a village in England lost children to the plague. Another child was born, and when plague returned to their town, they sealed shut the windows and doors of their home. Thanks to their precautions, their child survived: his name was William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” (and “Macbeth,” and “Antony and Cleopatra”) during plague years when the London theatres closed down. (The rule was that once the death toll went over 30, playhouses had to close.) In short, he was out of work and had time on his hands.
“King Lear” is one of his bleakest plays, written while living in a bleak time:
The mood in the city must have been ghastly – deserted streets and closed shops, dogs running free, carers carrying three-foot staffs painted red so everyone else kept their distance, church bells tolling endlessly for funerals … (The Guardian, March 22, 2020)
Plague also changed the nature of the plays he wrote. Plague killed off men in their 30s, so the demographic of both his actors and audience changed.
Although A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe is not, in fact, a contemporary account—Defoe was a master of what I would call fact-based fiction—it is thought to have been well-researched. I was struck, reading it, how well-organized England was in combating epidemics. For example, if infected, people were prevented from leaving their homes. One needed a certificate of health in order to travel. Interesting!
Certainly, it is reminiscent of what we are going though today:
City authorities are sane and composed concerning the spreading plague, and distribute the Orders of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London. These set up rules and guidelines for the arrangement of searchers and inspectors and guardians to monitor the houses, for the quieting down of contaminated houses, and for the closing down of occasions in which enormous gatherings of individuals would assemble.
Here’s a truly contemporary word of caution from 1665:
This poem by U.S. poet Daniel Halpern was published—astonishingly—seven years ago in Poetry Magazine. (Likewise astonishingly, he doesn’t remember writing it.)
There are fewer introductions
In plague years,
Hands held back, jocularity
No longer bellicose,
Even among men.
Breathing’s generally wary,
Labored, as they say, when
The end is at hand.
But this is the everyday intake
Of the imperceptible life force,
Willed now, slow —
Well, just cautious
In inhabited air.
As for ongoing dialogue,
No longer an exuberant plosive
To make a point,
But a new squirrelling of air space,
A new sense of boundary.
Genghis Khan said the hand
Is the first thing one man gives
To another. Not in this war.
A gesture of limited distance
Now suffices, a nod,
A minor smile or a hand
Not in search of its counterpart,
Just a warning within
The acknowledgement to stand back.
Each beautiful stranger a barbarian
Breathing on the other side of the gate.
Stay safe! Stay healthy!
Links of interest:
Shakespeare in lockdown: did he write King Lear in plague quarantine?
Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine. What are you doig with your time?
5 People Who Were Amazingly Productive in Quarantine
What Shakespeare Teaches Us About Living With Pandemics
(Warning: tech talk ahead!)
I’ve been putting research documents into Scrivener, assuming that they were searchable. After all, one oft-stated advantage of using Scrivener is that you have all your documents in one place.
It’s true that I can put everything and anything into Scrivener, but I also need to be able to search within those documents. I mistakenly assumed that one of Scrivener’s many superpowers was the ability to make all documents searchable. In other words, I assumed that Scrivener utilized OCR (Optical Character Recognition). Not so. :-(
Having searchable documents is important for my current WIP because it’s set in the 16th century, and a number of the resources are rare and/or ancient and only available on BooksGoogle or InternetArchive. I’ve taken to clipping relevant parts of such documents (shift-control-4 on a Mac) or exporting them whole as PDFs before sending them to Scrivener. The clips are a type of image, so they need OCR to be searched, and most PDFs are not searchable as well.
And so I began to look at ways to make documents searchable before putting them in Scrivener. In the process, I discovered that anything to do with OCR opened a bottomless pit. I will try to keep this simple.
Dedicated OCR software
One possibility would be to invest in a software programme dedicated to making documents OCR searchable. The highest-rated programme for Mac is ABBYY FineReader Pro, available on trial for 30 days. I tested it out on a clip (below), and in seconds had a searchable Word document that beautifully preserved the formatting of the original.
This is the original clip:
And this is the searchable Word document:
Databases that make documents searchable
The other possibility would be to use a database that automatically makes documents OCR searchable. The advantage of using such a database is that it is—duh—a database, a logical place to store research documents. … which brings me to OneNote and EverNote.
Both EverNote and OneNote convert documents to OCR, so I decided to test them both using the test clip above.
It took well over an hour for OneNote to convert it to a searchable text, but EverNote has yet to do so even a day later!
Once made searchable, there is a way to create a copy in EverNote, a copy that can then be put in Scrivener, but it’s weird and basically unreadable, showing every word as a separate object.
In OneNote, once the document has gone through the OCR treatment, it’s possible to easily create a searchable text version. (Control-click the document and select “Copy text from picture.”)
This is what I got from my test clip:
Here comes old Woodcock, the Yeoman of Kent, that’s half Farmer and half Gentleman; his horses go to the plow all week, and are put into the coach o’ Sunday.
Tunbridge Walks or the Yeoman of Kent, act I, sc. 1
Not as pretty as ABBYY FineReader, but not at all bad. (I did clean it up a bit.) This text can now be copied and pasted into Scrivener or wherever I want it.
Note: It would have been nice to be able to send this searchable text directly to Scrivener. I passed on this recommendation to OneNote and discovered 1) that their help menu actually helps (EverNote Help is extremely basic), and 2) that they ask how to improve. What a concept! (But do they listen? That remains to be seen.)
A word about Web Clippers
One beautiful thing about EverNote is its Web Clipper. With it, I can send the contents of any webpage to EverNote and, at the same time, indicate which notebook it should be filed in and how it should be tagged.
OneNote’s Web Clipper is not functional on Safari right now due to recent OS changes at Apple. I trust that this will be solved. In any case, it is available on Chrome or FireFox.
It’s a good clipper, but it’s not as useful as EverNote’s. Although you can choose what OneNote notebook to file it in, you can’t specify beyond that with tags, and you can’t file it in more than one place.
Which brings me to Tags
Being able to add tags to a document in EverNote is great. For example, I’d be able to tag an 18th-century French recipe for roasted swans as 18th century, France, food, recipes and swans. This would allow me to narrow a search for a perfect detail regarding a roasted swan snack.
OneNote doesn’t have a tag function, alas—at least not that I can see.
What about cost?
I use EverNote heavily, so I need their Premium plan, which costs $5.83 US a month when paying annually. For that I get 10GB uploads per month, and am able to search PDFs. (For more information about Evernote pricing, click here.)
OneNote is included in an Office 365 subscription package. (Some claim it’s also now available as a free stand-alone, but I’ve not been able to confirm that.) Since I’m already subscribed to the Office 365 world, I can start using OneNote at no additional cost. With OneNote, I get unlimited uploads, so win-win.
Say what? A scanner app?
Scanning pages from books is too slow to be practical. I’m delighted with the Microsoft app Office Lens, which will send a image directly to OneNote. This will save me lots of time.
For example, I took the image below with Office Lens and sent it to OneNote at 10:30 am. In under 30 minutes, it was searchable and even the all-text extract was surprisingly good.
EverNote or OneNote or … ? My conclusion
I do need a database, but given the pros and cons of OneNote and Evernote, where do I stand?
Because of the expense and inconsistent, slow and inadequate OCR function of EverNote, I have decided to migrate my extensive EverNote database to OneNote.
I should mention, as well, that there are indications that EverNote might be heading into hard times, and I don’t want to be left in the lurch.
It’s possible to import EverNote documents into OneNote using their OneNote Importer app, but judging from this note—
The importer software described on this page is still available for you to download and use, but we’re no longer actively developing or supporting this tool.
—that may not always be possible, so migrating now is perhaps wise.
I’ve never been a Microsoft fan—Mac users aren’t their priority—but OneNote for Mac looks worthy, so I’m going to make the move. I’ve also purchased ABBYY FineReader Pro, and given that I will be unsubscribing from EverNote, I’ll be coming out ahead in more ways than one. :-)
The links below might be of interest.
Be aware that there are differences between OneNote for Mac and the mothership OneNote for PC users. Also, OneNote for Mac has been recently “updated”—but the changes have caused quite an uproar because it’s no longer possible to arrange tabs along the top, as in this example:
I would love to have such tabs back and I’m hoping the OneNote engineers succumb. Some long-time users are even advocating reverting to the 2016 version and vowing never again to upgrade.
Evernote vs OneNote: The Best Note-taking App in 2019
Top 10 things you didn’t know about OneNote
Using Onenote for your Novel I was excited about trying out this template but it’s for an old version of OneNote, and possibly not applicable to Mac.
Why OneNote is One-Derful for Writers. Inspiring!
I’m pleased to announce the beautiful Canadian paperback edition of The Game of Hope. It’s fresh and fun to have a new cover. The first person to email me* a selfie holding the book will be sent an autographed hardcover edition.
In other news, I’ve just returned from a three-week trip to the UK, researching the early life of Queen Elizabeth I and the village of Adisham, where I’ve set my other heroine, young Molly the falconer.
Researching falconry at The Hawking Centre was a highlight of my trip.
In one month, shortly after Canadian Thanksgiving, Richard and I will be heading south to San Miguel de Allende for the winter. Once settled, I plan to NaNoWriMo-write the rough first draft of Molly & Bess (working title). I’m not yet sure if it’s one novel or two. This will be one way to find out.
*sgulland AT sandragulland DOT com
One of the most challenging things for me in writing a YA novel based on the scant (and most likely apocryphal) stories “Mary of Canterbury” has been figuring out where to place her. I needed to find an old village in the countryside close to Canterbury and not far from the cliffs of Dover. Proximity to the Pilgrim’s Way of Chaucer fame would be a plus. Also, because of how my story was evolving, I needed proximity to a pond.
I had originally thought that I would “simply” fabricate such a village, but I discovered that that was far from simple—at least for me. It appears that I need a real place to dig into. Ironically, without facts, I am creatively lost.
In researching the turbulent years leading up to the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, I learned of a tiny village not far from Canterbury that was rife with conflict. Like a story-seeking missile, I had found my village.
Adisham (pronounced—I think—AD SHAM), is an old village not far from Canterbury, not far from Dover, and not far from one of the Canterbury Pilgrims’ paths. And it had had, in former times, a “dangerous pond.” How good was that?
The more I learned about Adisham, the more fascinating it became. A poltergeist in a house near the church? A witch dunked in the pond? A main street called “The Street”?
The biggest bonus was the discovery of John Bland, Protestant rector of the church of Adisham.
A “Canterbury Martyr,” John Bland was one of the first to be burned alive at the stake under the rule of Elisabeth I’s half-sister, “Bloody” Queen Mary. It is also claimed, likely falsely, that he was 103 years old when executed!
I’m about to embark on a research trip to the UK and will be visiting Adisham, talking with people who live there. I’ve already learned that they warn new rectors of what happens to those who run afoul of the churchwarden and the people of the village. :-)
Here are two links on Adisham:
This one shows numerous photos of the church, along with historical details.
Here is a link to a description of the parish, published in 1800, opening with the charming words: “This parish lies exceedingly pleasant and healthy … “
Yesterday I began searching for my next raptor to paint and I was captured by this lady, named, appropriately, “Imperious.”
I wanted to find out the breed of this bird and to know if it might be one my character in The Next Novel might have had experience with. In other words, what was this bird, and was it common to Elizabethan England?
I’d discovered Imperious on the website of Raphael Historical Falconry, and so I wrote to them. This morning, I had a long email from Emma Raphael, giving me a full and very interesting explanation. (People are so very generous with their knowledge!) Imperious is a Golden Eagle hybrid, and Eagles were rarely seen in Elizabethan England. In fact, there was only one recorded, in the ruins of an old castle near Chester, and was persecuted by farmers who feared for their young cattle.
The beauty of the Red Kite
The wild raptor most associated with Elizabethan England, Emma went on to explain, is the Red Kite.
The red kite might be a scavenger raptor, but it is so beautiful! I believe I may have found my next painting subject. (Note: I did!)
Emma went on to explain about red kites in Elizabethan England:
They were at their highest population levels ever at this time because of the spread of human settlements and all the open rubbish pits found in towns and villages in which they scavenged. They flocked in their hundreds and could be seen wheeling around the skies like crows whistling and calling.
She suggested I look at the painting “The Wedding at Bermondsey” — a painting of a wedding in Elizabethan London. From a detail of the painting, red kites can be seen in the sky.
Emma goes on to explain that …
The royals throughout the period hunted kites with Gyr Falcons because they were so numerous and there are lots of accounts of “kite hawking” in Londonshire, Cambridgeshire and Huntingtonshire.
Cambridgeshire is the initial location of The Next Novel, and so here, with a simple inquiry about Imperious, I have a wealth of scene possibilities.
The charm of men in bloomers
Additionally, ” Wedding at Bermondsey” is a painting I could get absorbed in for some time. The details are delicious. The 16th century is new to me, and I confess that men in bloomers are charmingly captivating.
Belgium artist Joris Hoefnagel painted “Wedding at Bermondsey” some time after his visit to the UK in 1569.
In preparing for a video presentation of The Shadow Queen to book clubs here in San Miguel de Allende, I’ve been revisiting the world of that novel — especially the magical world of 17th century theatre in Paris. Rereading this blog post, written long ago, I was captured once again by the story of Molière and his much younger wife Armande. Theirs was a story I was planning to write before I got spirited away into the world of The Game of Hope.
And so here, to share, is my post from 2009, spruced up with wonderful visuals. (Thank you, Internet!)
I’m doing a great deal of research right now into the theater world of 17th century France. My focus is on Claude de Vin des Oeillets, the daughter of actors, but along the way I’ve been encountering many wonderful characters. So many stories!
Molière’s wife Armande, 23 years his junior
One, in particular, is that of the actress Armande Béjart, Molière‘s wife. He was 40 when they married, she only 17. She had known him all her life, and must have regarded him as something of a father and teacher. Indeed, he had taken charge of her education as a child.
They were a miserable couple. It is said that Armande was heartless and vain. She was considered a frivolous, giddy flirt, and was quite likely unfaithful (possibly to Lauzun, and possibly to the comte de Guiche); certainly Molière was consumed by jealousy. After the birth of a son, and then a daughter, they lived apart, yet they continued to work together closely on the stage. Molière could simply not stop doting on her . . . and neither could the public. She was a brilliant actress, and Molière was inspired to write many roles specifically for her.
A mutual friend eventually persuaded Armande to reconcile with her increasingly consumptive and love-sick husband. She did, putting him on a strict meat diet, yet he continued to decline. On the day of the 4th performance of “The Imaginary Invalid,” in which he starred, Armande begged him not to play. He refused, knowing how many depended on the performance for their livelihood.
At the end of play, Molière (ironically playing the part of a hypochondriac) had a convulsion, which he tried to disguise with a harsh laugh. The curtain was hastily lowered and he was carried to his house. Always a comedian, he said on his deathbed: “I have set a detestable example. From now on, no playwright will be content until he has killed an actor.”
After her husband’s death, Armande proved to be anything but giddy and frivolous, fighting passionately for her husband’s right to be respectfully buried by the church (a fight she sadly lost), and then running Molière’s theatrical company with astonishing confidence and aplomb, making a number of difficult decisions that proved to be very successful. He would have been pleased.
I love her saucy attitude, but most of all I love how talented she was, and how capable she proved to be as a widow. Someday I hope to write about her.
[Note: This post was originally published on Hoydens and Firebrands, a website of women who write about the 17th century.]