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?

Mind your language – A (very) short history of swearing!

Nicola wenchmark Nicola here. Those readers who do not like profanity may wish to look away now, as this blog post carries an 18 certificate! Today I am writing a little about the history of swearing. I’m sure you can imagine the difficulty I had in trying to work out how to illustrate this blog with pictures.

Swearing, profanity and vulgar slang is a complicated subject. It’s one of those topics that can divide the British and the Americans, with certain words meaning quite different things depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on. Mention a fanny pack to a Brit or an Australian, for example, and you will get a blank look at best and possibly a far more extreme reaction. As the online dictionary says when defining the word fanny: “Serious misunderstandings may arise…”

 Taking the name of the lord in vain

 If we go back to the Tudor and Stuart periods we find that swearing was mainly a religious issue. Just as taking an oath was to call upon God to guarantee the truth of a statement (so help me God), profane swearing took God’s name in vain. Then as now, some individuals tried to shock by transgressing against the accepted standards of the age. It was also a way to show one’s worldliness and social standing – showing off, in fact. The dissolute libertines of the Restoration court were very free with their profanities, using oaths such as “damn me”, “God’s wounds” or “By Our Lady” in an attempt to get a horrified reaction from the more god-fearing members of society.

Swearing was equally as common amongst the lower social classes and wherever The libertine men in particular were gathered, for example in the army or at labour. At male-dominated social events it was likely that “several volleys of execrable oaths,” to quote one disapproving gentleman, would resound from all sides. Moralists saw the rise of religious swearing as a sign of the decline in society. Protestants were keen to stamp out the Catholic oaths. Between 1603 and 1820 in England, laws were passed criminalising swearing with the punishment being a fine or some time in the stocks. Slowly, however, attitudes changed towards the religious profane oath so that words such as damn and even bloody, deriving of course from “by our lady”, came to be seen as less offensive than some other forms of swearing. Today in England damn is generally considered a very mild swear word indeed.

Meanwhile back in the Tudor and Stuart period, we have Shakespeare, master of the oath. He tended to make up his own insults rather than draw on the religious profane. Some examples from his plays: "Thou beslubbering, swag-bellied maggot pie." "Thou mewling, sheep-biting hugger mugger." "Thou yeasty, reeling, ripe bum-bailey." A bum-bailey was actually a bailiff or sheriff’s deputy in Shakespeare’s time but some scholars suggest he was giving the phrase other, more sexual, connotations as well.

Vile Bodies and their functions

Which brings us to swearing that is sexual or scatological in nature, and to the Anglo Saxons, who frequently get the blame for words which later came to be used in swearing. In fact many of these taboo words came into the English language from other sources. The origin of the f-word, for example, is disputed with some scholars suggesting that it derives from the old German ficken, to strike or penetrate, which in turn was related to the Latin for to prick. The verb futuere in Latin had the slang meaning of to copulate. A record of 1278 refers to a man named John LeFucker – one hopes this was not an instance of someone being named after their occupation – and the f word was in common usage in England by the 16th century. However it was not used in the vulgar sense until the 18th century.

Sard Swear words can fall from popularity as well as attain it. Back in the Middle Ages the word “sard” meant the same as the f-word but these days you never hear anyone muttering “sarding hell” when something goes wrong. Some words change usage or fade altogether. Today sard is a gemstone (pictured)!

The c-word is the last taboo in British English and again is derived from various Magpie Lane words in Old Norse, High German and Latin. The word appears to have entered the English language in the 13th century and both Oxford and London had districts called “Gropecunte Lane” in explicit recognition of the prostitutes who plied their trade there. The Oxford name was later changed to Magpie Lane, (in the picture of the right) and the London one to Threadneedle Street. It is now the home of the Bank of England…

Old berkshire hunt Interestingly the English insult “berk” also derives from the c-word, being Cockney rhyming slang for the “Old Berkshire Hunt.” This word was very popular in the 1970s and 80s but again has almost fallen out of usage now and I suspect many people who used it would have been appalled to have discovered its derivation.

The word sh1t is a true Anglo Saxon word. It appears in literature in the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, but at this stage of its usage it was simply a word not a swear word. By the 18th century it was used in the vulgar sense, notably in Jonathan Swift’s The Lady’s Dressing Room, which contains the immortal lines:

“Thus finishing his grand survey,
Disgusted Strephon stole away
Repeating in his amorous fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia…” (I’ll leave you to complete the rhyme!)

Finally I have to say a few words about the word “pish” as they call it in Scotland since it has such an Mannekin Pis interesting history. It’s origins are pissare (Latin) and pisser (French) and it has long been used as a vulgar word. In the 17th century a man who was considered full of himself would be called “p*ss-proud.” The new canting dictionary of 1725 sums it up in a derivation of ostentatious and vainglorious:

“One that boasts without reason or pisses more than he drinks.”

The illustration is the famous Belgian statue the Mannekin Pis in Brussels.

I could go on – there are many more swear words with interesting historical derivations and usage. But I’ll end with the news that the BBC is introducing swear words into its latest adaptation of Wuthering Heights, in order to give the book “a more contemporary feel.” This prompted one national UK newspaper to speculate on what it would be like if swearing was introduced into other classics such as Dickens Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the time when everything was totally, like, cr*p.”

Where do you stand on swearing in books? Do you think that the judicious use of profanity reflects society and can add something to the language or do you think we can do without it altogether? Would you like to invent your own profanities, like Shakespeare? Is there too much swearing around these days or is it all part of a rich cultural heritage?

The Gentleman Poet: a Chat with Kathryn Johnson

Cat 243 Dover by Mary Jo

Today Kathryn Johnson, author of over forty books in several genres, is stopping by for a chat.  I’ve known Kathryn for years through Washington Romance Writers and knew that she was a thoroughly versatile pro, but it was her most recent book, The Gentleman Poet, that brings her to the Word Wenches today.

I got an early read of The Gentleman Poet when Kathryn asked if I could KathrynJohnson look at the manuscript for a possible quote. Talk about getting lucky!  Her book isn't a romance, but it's romantic and has a fascinating blend of fact, fiction, and speculation.  The story is built around a real seventeenth century shipwreck in Bermuda—a wreck that might have been the inspiration for William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  (Plus, she has recipes!)

The real and the fictional threads are woven together into such a complex tapestry that I can’t do it justice, so I’ll turn the pixels over to Kathryn. 

MJP: Welcome to the Word Wenches, Kathryn!  You said once that this was a book of your heart that you’d been wanting to write for a long time.  What inspired you?  Tell us about your research!  How did you blend fact and fiction?  What intriguing tidbits did you learn about the Bard?  And where did you find out how to cook a turtle when stranded on a desert island?  <G>

TheGentlemanPoet_jpg250 KJ:  Wow! Lots of great questions! Let’s start with “book of my heart.” The thing is, I was a history major in college, so you’d think I’d immediately gravitate toward writing historical fiction. Right!

My first manuscript completed was a novel set in Constantinople in the 12th century. It was heavily researched and I was totally into the period. I was sure it would sell. It didn’t. No agent, no editor wanted it. Now granted, maybe my writing wasn’t ready to be published. But it might have sold if publishers were hungry for realistic historical fiction at the time. They weren’t. Historical romances were selling well, but the romance in this was way too thin and the research way too heavy.

So I gave up on that idea and went on to write other things—contemporary romances, juvenile and young-adult novels. But I kept thinking about using history somehow. I did write two mystery novels for young readers with historical settings: Secret of the Red Flame (set in post Civil War Chicago) and The Star-Spangled Secret (during the War of 1812).

But I had to wait a while longer before readers’ tastes shifted to welcoming the type of historical I wanted to write—lots of juicy historical details, a touch of fantasy and suspense, and a touching love story.

Map of Bermuda When people ask what inspired me to write The Gentleman Poet, I say, “My husband.” In a way, it’s true, because the germ of the plot occurred to me on our honeymoon in Bermuda.

Ours was a later-in-life romance and so the expense of a wedding would be shouldered by us, not by parents. We just couldn’t afford a big wedding and reception, so we looked for ways to do it as inexpensively as possible while still making it special.

We found a cruise line that would plan a very private wedding for us (just 8 guests allowed) and include our honeymoon cruise to Bermuda. So we were married in the ship’s library (perfect for a writer) and the cruise line supplied a gorgeous cake, champagne, and a lot of little extras that made the trip special.

Wreck of the Sea Venture While we were in Bermuda we toured the Maritime Museum and learned about a legend that connected a real ship wreck off the Bermuda coast in 1609 with Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was said that he read an account of the wreck and of the following 9 months when the survivors lived on the deserted island while they built a new ship to sail the rest of the way to Jamestown, Virginia.

What a cool story! I thought. So I got to work imagining, with the help of that account written by William Strachey, what it must have been like for them during those terrifying months so far from England.

You asked about research? Well, some people shy away from the labor of digging up facts and details, but I love, love, love it. It’s like playing detective. The more details I uncovered about the real journey of the Sea Venture and its passengers, the more material I had for my plot.

I returned to Bermuda and holed up in a guest house there to gather more information and start writing. The guest house is the Granaway, and it was built by an 18th century privateer. It’s a wonderful (and reasonably priced) place to stay overlooking the harbor across from Hamilton.

Seaventure I stayed there for two weeks, soaking up the atmosphere. It was off-season, so it was chilly and rainy, just as it would have been for Elizabeth, my heroine, and the 149 others marooned there. I chose to blend fact and fiction, rather than write a historical novel so heavily embedded in fact that I had no freedom to fantasize.

The one big mental leap I asked my readers to make was to imagine the possibility that Shakespeare might have not simply read the account by Strachey; he might Shakespeare have actually been on the ship, eager for one last, great adventure as he moved toward the end of his life.

What tidbits did I learn about the Bard while writing this novel? Lots. Of course, I’ve never been a Shakespearean scholar by any stretch of the imagination, so as I read book after book about him written by people who have been studying him all of their lives, I was learning fresh material.

I was surprised to find as much information as there is about him. Yes, he’s still rather a mystery even to the scholars, but most agree that he was a real person who wrote the plays attributed to him (not a titled person writing under a pseudonym).

There are paper trails—court documents that prove he was in London or in Stratford-upon-Avon at certain times. He had a room in a house in London for several years and apparently went to bat for his landlord’s daughter and apprentice to facilitate their marriage, seemingly at the request of the mother. So this gave me a sense of his willingness to play matchmaker to young lovers.

He also was a good businessman, buying property as an investment and also investing in grain and other things as a hedge against, one can imagine, the economy or his theater being shut down. (As sometimes happened because of politics or an outbreak of plague.)

He was apparently a quiet man who kept to himself much of the time, and wasn’t into drinking and brawling as were other playwrights of the time. All of the little details I was able to dig up I used to create, in my own mind, a man who would be human, vivid, and interesting to the reader.

Bermuda Turtle Turtle Soup! How did I learn how to make it? More research. I decided that since cooking for others changed my heroine’s life, I needed to find out what sorts of foods the English in 1609 might normally eat.

Having researched that through reading good nonfiction accounts of the times, I then found a colonial cookbook that was reprinted for tourists by the Williamsburg Foundation. The trouble with using these recipes (or receipts, as they called them) was that my heroine wouldn’t have had access to many of the ingredients.

Once the crew and passengers on the Sea Venture managed to get themselves to shore safely, they discovered that virtually all of their food supplies had been destroyed. They had no flour, sugar, salt, and very little of anything else including vegetables and meat. So she had to improvise and use whatever was at hand on the island.

The real problem was flour, because a great deal of their normal diet depended upon bread, or its use as a thickener. However, there were wild hogs, a wonderful assortment of fish and wild birds…and sea turtles. The turtles provided meat, eggs, and oil for cooking.

I found a turtle soup recipe in a replica of an early Bermudian cookbook and compared this recipe with the colonial recipe, and ended up using a little from each, adjusting the seasonings to what Elizabeth might have been able to find growing wild. And by the way, the recipes included in the book aren’t likely to produce dishes that would be appealing to our tastes today. In fact, I looked for those that were either humorous or strange sounding, thinking readers would find them that much more fun.

Well, I need to go off and work on a new novel, as well as catch up with my mentoring clients. I’m so proud of the new writers I work with. Such a talented crew they are. I sometimes think I learn as much from them as they learn from me!

Thank you, Word Wenches for inviting me to visit for a few moments. It’s been fun. Now, if I can just buy myself a little pleasure reading time, I’ll dig Mary Jo’s latest out from my to-be-read pile and follow one of her adventures!

Hugs, Kathryn

TheGentlemanPoet_jpg250 Kathryn Johnson will give a signed copy of The Gentleman Poet to one person who comments between now and midnight Thursday.  So feel free to ask about Shakespeare, The Tempest, Bermuda, and turtle soup!

Mary Jo