What a Quiz!

Quiz winnerNicola here. This weekend we took part in our local village charity quiz, fifteen teams trying to answer questions on everything from the names of Disney princesses to Olympic swimming champions. Amazingly, we won – as a team we knew a lot of obscure, random general knowledge! – plus we raised some money and enjoyed an evening out with friends and neighbours. It was all very good humoured, unlike some of the quizzes I've been involved with where professional teams got very irate if they didn't win!

I’ve always liked the word “quiz.” It's got a fun feel to it, and, being a writer, I've often wondered where the word originated from. I remember it featuring in Georgette Heyer, but as a description of a person rather than an activity. So I set out to find out more.

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From Page to Screen


Photo by Gage Skidmore

Christina here. Authors are often asked if we’d like our books made into film or a TV series. (Anne discussed this in one of her posts here). Silly question – of course we would! We can spend hours imagining exactly which actor we’d like to play our heroes (Chris Hemsworth usually for me, in case you were wondering) or actresses for the leading lady role. But personally, I’d rather see some of my favourite books by other authors being turned into movies. There are so many that would make absolutely wonderful viewing!

It's rare though that when it happens, it is done right. And by right, I mean that the film actually turns out to be as amazing as the story it’s based on. I am always very reluctant to watch adaptations because I’m invariably disappointed. The producer and/or screen writer often leave out details I consider crucial, or they invent some new sub-plot – or even major plot point – that wasn’t in the book to begin with. I find that infuriating because it’s not what I want to see!

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Childhood Reads and Influences

Little PrincessChristina here – I was chatting to some of my writing friends via FaceTime the other day and for some reason we started reminiscing about our favourite childhood reads. We came up with one great title after another and I thought back to those exciting days when I would go off to the library to browse the children’s section – there was so much waiting for me to discover! What really struck me, however, was how similar my reading experiences and tastes had been to those of my two friends – all the Enid Blyton stories (especially the Famous Five series), Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Little Princess and The Secret Garden, L M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, and many more. And because we all write romance now, it made me wonder whether we are all predisposed to liking certain types of stories from an early age? Is it tied up with our personalities or are we influenced by those around us?

GrimmPersonally, I seem to have been fixated on fairy tales, romance and happy-ever-afters right from the start. This could have been because of the stories I was told (my grandmother especially passed on lots of Swedish folklore), but as far as I can remember, my parents read me lots of different things and not just about princesses and castles. I just happened to like the romantic ones the best and I was hooked on fairy tales. Only the nice ones, though, I didn’t like the Brothers Grimm stories in their gory original versions (wasn’t Snow White’s step-mother’s punishment just horrendous?!?), and I positively loathed Hans Christian Andersen’s sad tales.

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Rochester sleepingNicola here. Today I’m talking about sleep. Do you sleep like a log (like Rochester in the photo) or are you a light sleeper? An insomniac, even? I tend to sleep for about four hours, wake up, lie awake for a while and then go back to sleep. Until recently I had no idea that this might actually be quite normal and a throwback to the not so distant past. New research however suggests that as recently as the 19th century the idea of “first sleep” and “second sleep” was common. It was only with the introduction of artificial lighting and the push towards a more efficient use of time after the industrial revolution that the idea of sleeping over two separate parts of the night disappeared.

First and Second Sleep

"And at the wakening of your first sleepe You shall have a hott drinke made, And at the wakening of
Full moon

your next sleepe Your sorrowes will have a slake." This quotation comes from an early English ballad called Old Robin of Portingale. In the medieval period it was the norm to sleep in two portions. The “first sleep” started about two hours after dusk. Then there was a waking period of about two hours when people would have a cup of tea, smoke a pipe, write letters, read a book or even go out to visit friends, and then there was “second sleep” until daybreak. Evidence for this comes from court records, diaries, medical text books and other literature including prayer books, which give a number of readings and prayers suitable for the time “between sleeps.” Between sleep was also the best time to have sex, if you believed the medical practitioners of the day, and the best time to conceive.

Spreading the Light

The lamplighter“Second sleep” started to disappear in the late 17th century when coffee houses in the cities started to open all night and more entertainments took places during the hours of the night. Previously the period after dark had been the province of criminals and of the supernatural, the haunt of highwaymen, prostitutes and witches, as one writer said. Although the wealthy could afford candles, most ordinary people could not afford to light the nighttime hours. Paris became the first city to light its streets at night in 1667, with Amsterdam following and London lit by 1684. It became fashionable amongst the urban classes to be up at night although in the country where there was no street lighting, fashions did not change so fast.

The industrial revolution encouraged an idea of clock- watching, time-consciousness and efficiency. Parents were encouraged to get their children out of a natural pattern of two sleeps per night. A medical text book of 1829 disapproved heartily of a first and second sleep; it was no longer the done thing and by the early 20th century the idea of splitting the night into a first and second sleep had completely vanished from public consciousness.

A Fascination with Sleep

Sleep, however, continues to be of fascination to us both in terms of our own experience and also in
Sleeping beauty Burne Jones literature. Fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White involve magical sleep, as do other myths. King Arthur, for example, is said to be asleep by enchantment and will come again to save Britain when he is needed. The myth of the sandman, which I remember my grandparents telling me when I was a child, also stems from the medieval period. Shakespeare wove themes of sleep through his plays, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and in Macbeth, for example, and wrote beautifully on the subject:
"Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care, the death of each day's life, sore labour's bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, chief nourisher in life's feast."

In the past there were not the scientific and physiological explanations for sleep that we have today hence its close association with magic and even death. But that wasn't to say that people had not noticed the detrimental effect that worrying had on good sleep. Charlotte Bronte commented: "A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow." William Wordsworth tried counting sheep and imagining the soothing sound of rain falling and the hum of bees. These days there is everything from Sleep Labs to hypnosis to help us get a good night's sleep but I wonder if the reason some of us still wake is because sleeping through the night is actually an artificial state for our bodies and we are actually meant still to have a first and second sleep?

So how well do you sleep? Do you have a favourite myth or story that involves sleep? Do you like the connection between sleep and magic? And if we still had first and second sleeps, what would you enjoy doing with your “between sleep” time in the middle of the night?

All About Aunts

Spinning wheelNicola here. Today, 7th January, is St Distaff’s
Day and I am writing in praise of aunts. I expect a lot of us may have been
back at work a while but in the past the 7th January was
traditionally the day on which everyone went back to work after the Twelfth
Night holiday. It took the name St Distaff’s Day because it was the day on
which we ladies were supposed to be picking up our spinning once again, the
tool of the trade for women being the distaff to spin flax. From the trade of
spinning comes the word spinster, a recognised legal term for an unmarried
woman. The spear side and the distaff side were legal terms to distinguish the
inheritance of male and female children. 

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