From here to Basingstoke…

F4667w Charlie posing on a Hovis loaf, Shaftesbury Today's Charlie picture includes a Hovis loaf. We encountered the loaf in Shaftesbury, where it had been part of a fundraiser. It's made of metal. The picture's from my recent travels, and travel is the topic of this blog.

Why Basingstoke, you ask.

Because when I think of travel, the Basingstoke roundabuot comes to mind.

Basingstoke is a town in Hampshire that always has been on the road from London to the south west with other roads going to places like Southampton the the south coast and and Bristol to the north west. Thus, back in the sixties if hitch hiking  south west out of London, to Devon or Cornwall, for example, getting a lif to the Basingstoke roundabout was a good and quite likely thing.

Why travel, you ask? 

Because it's so important in a book.Franticladyletters

I forgot this in starting my new book. The first chapter went smoothly. The next went okay, but I had that niggling feeling that Something Was Not Right. In that situation I can't go ahead, because likely when I realize what it is that isn't right, the truth will change the story in some significant way.

I don't like to talk about MIPs  (manuscript/masterpiece/mess in progress) in detail, in part because they are likely to change, but also because many readers, including me, don't like spoilers, but this much is innocuous, I think. My hero is in London, hears of a death in the family and goes north to Yorkshire. I wrote the scene of him arriving in time for the funeral, having allowed him a speedy journey of three days.


After a day of fiddling around worrying about the Something That Was Not Right, I saw it. Probably you already have. If it took him, flat out, three days to get north it took the message at least as long to reach London. Once there, the messenger would need to find him, and his lifestyle is not exactly regular. What's more, his family won't be sure he will be found quickly, and they know it will be close to a week before he can arrive, so the funeral goes ahead without him.

That doesn't significantly alter the plot, but it alters the scenes around his arrival.

Another quirk of traveling time is what goes on during it. Past or present, if two people set out on a journey of many hours or even many days, things are likely to happen. If at odds, they may travel in silence, but that will be stressful. Travel tends to throw up moments of stress. How do they react? So if I send my hero and heroine off on a journey I can't ignore it and pick up when they arrive. Sometimes a long journey is interesting, as in A Lady's Secret, which is a "road book", taking Robin and Petra from Abbeville in Northern France to Dover and hence to England. Sometimes it would just be in the way.

A few years ago I wrote a free Christmas story for my readers that involved an elopement to Scotland. My first attempt started in the south and I realized a lengthy journey wouldn't serve the plot, so I moved them up close to the border. If you haven't read that story, it is here.

Cor In another story my medieval characters manage to travel surprising distances in the night. But they are helped by Grail magic. That's in Chalice of Roses, coming in January, and Mary Jo has a story in the collection, along with Barbara Samuel and Karen Harbaugh. Yes, we've collaborated before, in Faery Magic and Dragon Lovers.

I've just seen the positive review from Publishers Weekly. Yay! "Four engaging novellas bring romance to the legend of the Holy Grail etc"

How long did travel take in the past?

That varied a lot, of course, and I like to find snippets of primary source data. Using their own horses all the way, Jane Austen traveled 50 miles in one day. In a mid 18th century play, a character talks of traveling out of London and spending the night at Basingstoke. About 50 miles. On the other hand, travelers in the mid 18th century sometimes found the roads so bad that they only achieved five miles in a day. I have some more information about travel times here.

The consequence of distance is one of the ways in which the past was very different.

I'm always surprised by the way people often traveled by night, and these were regular schedules, so it wasn't always by the full moon. I'd have thought coach lamps could only do so much. Perhaps they had great faith in the horses.

Do you have any wisdom to share about travel in the past?

What would it be like if 50 miles was a day's journey, especially before the telephone, never mind the internet? What would communities be like? Or countries?

Do you think we modern readers are as comfortable as our grandparents with the fictional world of slow travel and communication? Do you enjoy a road book, or prefer a novel set in a small area so people can nip from place to place?