Wenchly Weathering the Storm

Owl waterJoanna
here, talking about good books to help us through miserable weather.

Books are a joy in good times and a comfort in bad ones.  More than once I've been delighted to dive between the pages of a book and let the world get on without me for a while, me not being fond of what the world is up to right then. 

This last couple weeks on the East Coast of America lots of folks have found themselves crouching down under the pounding of a hurricane.  I wondered how many of them were reading books by the flickering and uncertain light of candles. 

So I asked the Wenches about their own experiences with storms and whether they had book recommendations for times of stormy weather.

It is from books that wise people derive consolation in the troubles of life.
          Victor Hugo

Weatherly Monty 2010

Nicola Cornick answers: I’m fortunate that I live in a part of the world where the weather seldom goes to  extremes. There has only been one hurricane in England in my lifetime. However over the past few years it does feel as though our weather patterns have been changing. My village was flooded five years ago and there have been increasingly large falls of snow each winter with the village cut off for several days. Usually I enjoy the novelty for a day or two and then start to feel hemmed in. Taking the dog for a walk through the drifts is a fun way to enjoy the different scenery.

If I’m really stuck indoors with no prospect of escape, first I’ll fire up the wood-burning stove. Then I’ll
Weatherly daughtersoffirebrew a fresh cup of tea and settle down with a pile of books. I remember one year Barbara Erskine’s book Daughters of Fire saw me through the worst. The title was appropriately warming and I love stories set in different historical time periods that are linked by a mystery across the centuries. It was completely engrossing.

Joanna popping up to say I've put Erskine on my next-trip-to-the-library list.  I haven't read her books for a couple years.  Now Nicola's made me hungry for one.  It's like somebody mentioning ice cream sodas or fried oysters. Suddenly it's your next craving.

Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in.
          Arthur Schopenhauer


Weatherlyrain wikiPat Rice
says:  Given that I live in St Louis where our weather can veer from tornadoes to hurricanes and earthquakes, all in the same day, weathering weather should qualify as an indoor sport.

We currently live in an area with buried power lines, so fortunately, we haven’t experienced power outages lately. But having spent the better part of my life in areas where the power fails if the wind blows, I’ve learned many methods of coping without TV or movies. So those aren’t my first choices. After I crank up the gas fire or kerosene heater and turn my refrigerator contents into soup on the kerosene stove, I retrieve my battery operated lamps or kerosene lamps and head for the bookshelf. Yeah, I can write by pen and paper and often have when the weather lasts longer than a few hours. But books are comforting when the wicked wind blows.
Weatherly temptation good
My comfort reads almost always turn to humor and romance. There’s enough suspense and horror in watching the wind, rain, and snow outside without adding more. On the
Weatherly nobody's babevery top of my humorous romance lists will be Jennifer Crusie, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Loretta Chase. Terri Medeiros has some great ones, too. I have all their books and I probably ought to start up a Storm Shelf in the basement with those books on it. And then I could add new discoveries as they come along, except I’m buying mostly e-books these days. So I guess I need to start a Storm Shelf on my Nook!

Joanna:  I love all the Romance writers she mentions.  Wonderful reads.  They're on my Keeper Shelf. 

Jo Beverley joins us with:  Like Nicola, I grew up in England, which has a temperate climatWeatherly sand and wave 2e, but I also grew up on the sea front, which is a great place to appreciate what storms do come. The often seemed to come in from the north over Morecambe Bay. I will always remember the great storm of 1987, because it occurred on the day my mother was buried. Up there in the north of England we hardly felt it, but I had a lot of trouble getting south of London to my in-laws' house because of trees on the railway lines. That was when Sevenoaks ceased to have seven oaks.

I realize that I haven't used many storms in my books, and that it might be from fear that they would tip drama into melodrama.  There's no subtle way to write a storm!

What bo
Weatherly checkmateok would I recommend for a storm-trapped time? I think I'd want my copy of Dorothy Dunnett's Checkmate, the last book of her Lymond saga. It's big, complex, and highly enjoyable. I'd hardly notice the weather at all — at least, as long as I had power, and therefore light!

Joanna:  I'm going to just chime in and admit to being a dyed-in-the-wool Dunnett groupie.

Here's what Mary Jo Putney has to say:  For me, the difference between a storm being a nuisance and a disaster is whether the electricity stays on.  If we lose cable and internet, I will whine, but it’s bearable.  As long as there is electricity, there's never a shortage of things to do or food to eat.  Tons of books to read, DVDs to watch, food to pull from the freezer.  Life is good.
Hurricane preparations 9a

But lose electricity and things get seriously uncomfortable!  Shivering (or poaching, depending on the season), is never fun.  Candlelight is never adequate for working or reading.  Since my laptop is always charged, an hour or two of DVD can be watched in the darkness, but after that, there’s not much to do but sympathize deeply with the ancestors.

If a major storm is coming, I’ll make sure there are batteries and candles and matches and some food that doesn’t have to be cooked and will not easily spoil, but mostly I give thanks that my little corner of suburbia doesn’t lose power as often as outlying areas.  For this I am very grateful.  Plus, I have battery backups for both the sump pump and garage door opener, which is helpful.  

Weatherly bujoldHurricane Sandy blew by just far enough north that it was a nuisance, not a disaster—i.e., the cable and internet went out, but not the electricity.  So we could watch Star Trek: Voyager or Downton Abbey, and I could read Lois McMaster Bujold’s latest, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which is a delight.  

So this time I was lucky—and I’m sending best wishes to those still suffering the effect of the hurricane.  (But really, “Hurricane Sandy” just doesn’t sound mean enough for the damage caused!)


If you think you have it tough, read history books.
          Bill Maher

Next, we hear from Anne Gracie:  Hugs to all the people badly affected by Hurricane Sandy — or any
Weatherly Brushtail_possumother bad storm.

I'm lucky to live in the south-east of Australia, which has a fairly mild, Mediterranean style climate. We don't get snow, and we don't get hurricanes or cyclones.  We get the occasional big storm, severe hail, or the occasional flood and it can get very hot in
Weatherly Rainbow_Lorikeetsummer — a few years ago it was in the mid 40's C (over 110 fahrenheit) for a week, and that was very unpleasant. But the extremely hot weather doesn't usually last more than a week and then we get a cool change. Really, the worst we have to contend with are bush-fires, and even then, because I live not far from the centre of a big city, I'm not personally endangered. But it's very grim to see the sky go dark and the sun like a glowing red coal through the gloom and know that a large bushfire is wreaking destruction on some poor souls.

I do occasionally worry about very windy storms, but that's because Ihave a very large gum tree (eucalyptus) in my front yard, close to my bedroom window, and I wonder if it's going to blow down on me. I probably should have it cut down but it's beautiful and has been there for 30-40 years, I think. The rainbow lorikeets love it and chortle and twitter in it every morning, which is a lovely happy sound to wake up to, and a possum lives in it, too, and it's very hard for possums to find places to live in the city; another reason why I'm reluctant to have it chopped down. 

Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose speaks from personal experience:  My wooded neighborhood ocWeatherly hurrican isabel wikicasionally loses power during storms because of falling trees or branches, so over the years I've accumulated a set of strong kerosene lanterns. The mellow glow of oil light is rather nice, and I'm good with striking a match and reading, or turning to pen and paper to continue writing (I've actually been experimenting with writing longhand instead of on the computer even when the power is flowing because a writer pal of mine told me about a study that said the brain works with subtle differences depending on which process is used. That fascinates me, but the trouble is, I fuss and fiddle with sentences so much that a paper page becomes an illegible mess. Haven't quite figured out where to go with it–was hoping I might learn to get the words flowing faster!)

But getting back to
Weatherly andrea's-tree-maggedonstorms, a power outage of a few hours or overnight is no hardship, but channeling Jane Austen loses its charm when it goes on for a week. Hurricane Sandy really hammered my property (I lost over 40 100-ft pines, prompting my neighbors to name my place “Tree-mageddon”) Last year, the outage was 6 days during Hurricane Irene, so I bought a small generator to keep the sump pump going. But even with a few primitive comforts-I was able to juggle back and forth between running the fridge and a coffee pot and toaster-the routine of simply trying to keep disasters like freezing pipes and flooding basements at bay consumes all focus and becomes physically and mentally exhausting.

Reading did offer a respite at night-I became immersed in Island of Bones, the third book in a series of wonderful Georgian-set historical mysteries by Imogen Robertson, and the cunningly complex plot was intriguing enough to take my mind off the chaos all around me for an interlude.
Weatherly island-paperback-best
Aside from the physical challenges, I also found myself stressed over being “unconnected” to the internet because all phone/tv/internet was out. I try to keep my daily interactions at a reasonable level because I would rather spend my time writing-but I was surprised at how cut off I felt. Thoreau would likely be appalled at such lack of self-reliance. And I was a bit, too. Now that all is back to normal, I am thinking about that and what it says about modern life. Hmmm. I will likely ponder it even more during the next storm! (Oh, and thanks to Joanna and her lovely descriptions of her toasty wood stove, that's the next item on my list as I try to make sure my house will survive the next nor'easter that roars through my town.)

Weather forecast for tonight: dark. Continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning.
          George Carlin


And finally,  Susan Fraser King/Sarah Gabriel says:  When I was a kid, weathering the fierce
Weatherly snowman wikistorms in Upstate New York meant excitement and fun–watching huge thunderstorms from a cozy window seat, decking myself out in rubber bands and rubber-soled sneakers, and if the lights went out, the fun got even bigger with flashlights and candles and scary stories. Winters with heavy snowstorms and even blizzards brought a fire in the fireplace and hot chocolate with marshmallows, and once we were crammed into parkas and boots, there were snow angels and snowmen and forts to make and snowball fights to win. And school was cancelled! What could be more heaven sent, from a kid's perspective.

Weatherly candle wiki 1But it's very different as an adult, isn't it, with the family and the house to watch over. If the power goes out, there's the fridge to empty, there may be flooding and yard and house damage and so on. And yet I still love the sturm and drang of a good storm and I even enjoy having no power for a few days (provided all else goes well!). I love the peacefulness when the house and the world are quieted and lit by candlelight (until the neighbors turn on their generator– that noise is crazymaking). During Hurricane Sandy, my family was thankfully safe, although one of our sons lives in coastal Connecticut. His neighborhood was walloped and left without power for a week. Luckily he made it through without lasting effects. My heart goes out to all those who got way more than a wallop from Sandy, and I hope all our Wenchly readers stayed perfectly safe.  

there are always books to read on those stormy days to be weathered. My
recommendation for rain, hurricanes and candlelight would be to catch
up on the TBR pile! I did that during the recent storm when I plucked
WIZARD by Gene Wolfe from the bookshelf, having read KNIGHT a while
back. Gorgeous. 

Books are funny little portable pieces of thought.
          Susan Sontag

Deer in snow 2As for myself:  Here in Virginia I caught only the slightest edge tickle of a nudge of the passing of Sandy.  In one of those odd reality that wouldn't make any sense if you tried to put them in a book . . . I got snow. 

Not too much of it.  About six inches of the gloppiest wettest hugest-flakes snow you can imagine.  It practically came out of the sky thump, thump, thump.  But it was the first snow of the year, and beautiful, and no disaster befell me, so I found it a peaceful interlude.  It's very quiet in the mountains when it snows.
Weatherly last unicorn

Am I the only one of us who settles back with nonfiction when I'm feeling snowed in, literally or figuratively?  I read some in Laslett's The World We Have Lost: England Before the Industrial Age, a lively social history and something of a classic.  Very readable.  For fiction, I'd go with Peter S. Beagle.  Maybe start with his, The Last Unicorn, but anything he writes is lovely.


So what's your favorite book in times of sirocco, sandstorm, typhoon, tree-mageddon or other challenges of nature?

How Far the Candle

Sargent-carnationlily 1885lily Joanna here, talking about light, and how folks avoided being the thing that went bump in the night and banged its shins in 1800 or so.

"How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world."  William Shakespeare
The Lacemaker-s
For the most part, people took the low tech approach.  Daily life followed the sun.  Country folk got up with the chickens, not just because the chickens were making an almighty determined racket, but because there was a day of work to get to.  Every hour the family stayed awake past sunset cost money.   

They made good use of the daylight while they had it.  The well-to-do had tall  windows in their houses, the better to invite the sunlight inside.  Even the stables had windows. In 1800, if you wanted to shell peas or sew some fine embroidery, you'd take it to the windowseat or go sit on the doorstep of the cottage. 

Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_On_the_Threshold The hero is apt to find the heroine reading a letter on the garden bench because that's where the light's good. 

"When Thomas Edison worked late into the night on the electric light, he had to do it by gas lamp or candle. I'm sure it made the work seem that much more urgent. "
George Carlin

When you didn't have free light from the sky, or didn't have enough of it, you made your own.

The oldest form of lighting known to man is probably collecting a stick of something that burns reliably and poking it into the fire till it catches and then walking around with it till, ouch, it singes the fingers.  The final flowering of this line of thought is the rushlight and the torch.

A rushlight — sometimes the name says it all — is made from a rush.  That's a tall weed that grows in Rush lights after being dipped picture from 1904 marshy places, with which the British Isles are plentifully supplied.   Women and children collected rushes in the summer, peeled off all but a thin layer of the tough greeRush pith hung up to dry after stripping picture from 1904n skin.  The pith was long and thin.  Think reeeealy thick spaghetti about two feet long.  This was hung up in bunches, dried, and then drawn through melted  fat.  You can see the dilemma for a poor family here.  They can eat that fat or they can burn it for light.  If you stayed up late chewing the fat, you were also burning it.

"It is not economical to go to bed early to save candles if the result is twins."
Chinese proverb

A typical rush light would burn maybe a quarter hour to as long as an hour.  The rush went into the jaw of a split piece of wood or a metal holder that held it at an angle so it wouldn't burn up all at once.

Rushlight was the poor man's candle — it gave off about the same amount of light as a candle — and the rushlight was made even more attractive because candles were taxed in England between 1709 and 1831.  Candlemaking required a license.  That's why your Regency heroine messes about making perfumes, cosmetics, herbal remedies for the poor and maybe some potent cherry cordial, but does not make interestingly scented candles.

Moving along to the other primitive light source — torches.  A torch is a stick with something at the end Linkboy C18 that burns . . . not too fast and not too slow.  Pitch is the traditional torch fuel. 

Your Georgian and Regency folks would most often encounter the torches carried by linkboys as they made their way home from the theatre or a party.   According to Samuel Pepys, “links were torches of tow or pitch to light the way.”  Linkboys were men and boys who, for a farthing, ran in front of the carriage, or accompanied sedan chairs and those on foot, to light the road ahead.  In thieves' cant a linkboy was called a "moon-curser" because they didn't find work on moonlit nights.

 Here's a GeorGeorgian link extinquisher wikigian link extinguisher on the side of the house for the linkboy to douse his glim and save the torch till the next customer.

The other old form of lighting is the oil lamp.  In its simplest form, an oil lamp needs only three elements — the liquid oil, the wick and the fire.  It's nice if you can add a glass chimney around the fire to keep the flame steady and to keep it from Oil lamps attrib surajramk blowing out.  On the other hand, open lamps lit everything from caves to igloos . . . (Igli?) . . . for millennia before glass chimneys.  Long after 1800, primitive crofts in the hills and fishers' huts by the sea might still have an oil lamp on the table that would have been at home in Babylon.

I experimented with primitive oil lamps technology as I was sitting down to write.  I poured olive oil into a dish — actually a big ole' spoon rest — and cut a shoelace for a wick and laid it in to soak up the oil.  My 'lamp' burned pretty durn well, with a fine, steady, smokeless yellow light.  I don't know how long it would have continued to burn.  (I was pleased to get it started at all.)  The oil didn't smoke or smell in the slightest.

What's technically interesting about the whole 'oil lamps' thing, is that the wick doesn't burn.  What the wick does is 'wick up' the burnable oil toward the fire.  The fire drinks it off and more oil gets pulled up but the flame burns 'on top' of the wick.  Little, if any, of the wick is consumed. Lighting a lamp at sea 3 q c19 louvre
Oil lamps lit the streets of London.  Lamplighters made their rounds, cleaned the glass, trimmed the wick, and refilled the reservoir.  Oil lamps stood at the mouths of harbors to mark the entry to safety.  Oil lamps went underground with the miners. Cavid alphonse leroy lamp maybe 1785




 The snazziest oil lamp of the Regency period was the Argand — above and to the left.  This was the space-age technology of the Regency.  It was patented in 1780 and would  have been  a familiar sight in the study of every Regency gentleman.  The oil resevoir is there in the middle and fed down to the lamp.  It had a tubular wick, so it must have produced a round circle of flame, I should think.

"With darkness diminished, the opportunities for privacy and reflection are lessened."

Candlesticks cc And we come to candles, candles candles — the go-to choice for carrying upstairs at that country houseparty the heroine is attending.  She picks a candleholder from the table at the bottom of the stairs, lights herself up from the central candle there, and heads off through the long, dark, chilly halls . . . doubtless with the hero sneaking along behind in the Stygean gloom, taking an interest.

Authorial Real Life Tidbit here.  When I was in the upcountry in Africa, some places didn't have any electricity.  When night falls in a land without electricity, it gets DARK.  Walking about a village from house to house I was perfectly willing to believe in hobgoblins, will-o'-the-wisps, boggarts, trolls, witches, nightsneaks, ghoulies, ghosties, long-legged beasties and werewolves.  Dark is scary.

"Let the night teach us what we are, and the day what we should be."
Thomas Tryon, 1691

Ok.  Back to candles.
Candles use the same wicking principle as a lamp.  The wick can slurp up only the fuel that's melted at Candle 2 cc the top in the upper cup of the candle.  The whole 'puddle of melted wax' situation at the top of a candle is an integral part of its operation, which will certainly make me more understanding next time I have to clean drops of wax out of the carpet.

It was 'one fuel for the rich, another for the poor'.  Beeswax for the parlor; tallow candles in the kitchen.  Tallow candles apparently did not fill the air with a pleasant aroma.  To add insult to injury, beeswax candles burned 30% brighter than tallow.

Let me quote a modern source experimenting with historical candle lighting:
"I had expected the wax candles to smoke and smell more than they did, in line with a number of contemporary references. . . .  a second batch of tallow candles . . . as unrefined as possible, just animal suet in effect, . . . still failed to create a smelly fug.
Martin White

Candles were expensive — remember the tax?  To light the night with beeswax candles was a statement of wealth.  There was nothing democratic about candlelight.  In Georgian and Regency England it was the province of the wealthy and the growing middle class.   

Lantern as early as 1700 metal met Macret the kitchen maid lantern france 17801 For those who had to venture out into the night, the lantern was the flashlight of its day.  It could hold oil, but was more frequently a candle affair.  There'd be glass or horn on the four sides to keep it from blowing out.  Others were made of metal where one side opened to show the road ahead.  These 'dark lanterns' were discreet, of course, but they were not solely used to be secretive.  The dark lantern had the advantage of sturdiness — no glass to break — and cheapness in a time when glass was expensive.

A single light in a dwelling place, like a single source of heat from the fire, meant that everybody 800px-Vincent_Van_Gogh_-_The_Potato_Eaters gathered round sociably.  Or not so sociably, depending upon the family.  There was an enforced togetherness in a time when candles were not made to be wasted, rooms were not lit without a good reason, and the bedside taper was extinguished at once to lessen the chance of fire.

"One 60-watt electric bulb generates the light of approximately 60 candles."

Candles often had a reflective surface behind them to double the illumination in a thrifty way.   Folks would place them next to mirrors.


Lampstand drawing by me 2 My single bottle for lacemaker And there were  'lacemakers lamps' — used for fine work during the day — concentrated light by focusing it through a globe filled with water. 

Pepys writes of something that may be similar.  ". . . and so home to my office, and there came Mr. Cocker, and brought me a globe of glasse, and a frame of oyled paper, as I desired, to show me the manner of his gaining light to grave [note — engrave] by, and to lessen the glaringnesse of it at pleasure by an oyled paper. This I bought of him, giving him a crowne for it; and so, well satisfied, he went away, and I to my business again, and so home to supper, prayers, and to bed."

"I shall make electricity so cheap that only the rich can afford to burn candles."  Edison

[lantern is from the Met, here.  open oil lamp cc attrib surajramk]


How do you feel about night?  Aside from the obvious, what do you want your hero and heroine to get up to at night?


One lucky commenter will win a copy of The Forbidden Rose, or Spymaster's Lady trade edition, your choice.