My Musket Training at Colonial Williamsburg

I’d never fired a weapon in my life. The closest I’d come was holding Baron de Berenger's unloaded musket at the Kensington Central Library.

Yet lately three seemed to be a lot of pistols and such in my stories. I watched many videos and read books. What I learned from the books was how difficult it was, once upon a time, to load a gun and then shoot straight. Actually, the loading part, with practice, could be done quickly and efficiently. Shooting straight was another matter. The pinpoint accuracy in my stories is a case of the author taking liberties.

Given my interest, imagine my excitement last November, at an appearance with author Caroline Linden, when she told me that one could fire a black powder weapon at Colonial Williamsburg. Susan Holloway Scott —aka the other Nerdy History Girl—sent me photos of her family's experience with these weapons not long thereafter. “The next time I’m in CW,” I told myself, “I’m doing this.”

So much of history is available to me only through books. When the opportunity comes to experience it firsthand, I’m taking it. If I’m in a place where historically accurate carriages are being driven up and down the street, by knowledgeable drivers, I’m going to get on the carriage, and pester the driver with questions. If there’s shooting with historically accurate weapons and ammunition on offer, I’m shooting.

So, to the guns. The video here is very short. What I learned is very long. I fired two weapons, a musket and a fowler. What you don’t see in the video is Loretta trying to heft them. The musket weighs ten pounds, the fowler is a little bit lighter, and they're both looong, which makes them unwieldy for someone like me. My arms shook, lifting the gun. Then I had to hold it in my shaking arms, sight along the barrel, and figure out where to aim it. Turns out, the ball isn’t going where you think it’s going. Luckily, I got some good advice as I was aiming.

Another thing you don’t see in the video is how hard it is to draw back the cock. It doesn’t just flip back. You need to pull, and it fights you. I had to use two hands. (I do need to work on my upper body strength.)

Meanwhile, there's the loading process, with which I received a great deal of assistance. Otherwise, I could have been there for half an hour for each shot. Soldiers could load their weapons in 15 seconds, I was told. Well, getting shot at by a line of guys firing muskets is good motivation to load quickly.

These are far from accurate weapons. Even when you know how to aim, you can’t be sure the ball will go where it should. This is why armies created lines or squares of men, all firing at the same time. Standing or kneeling shoulder to shoulder, you were bound to strike the enemy, even if it wasn’t the enemy you were aiming at. But yes, in spite of these difficulties, and much to my amazement, I did badly wound a couple of paper bottles.

Video: Loretta Shoots!!
On my YouTube Channel
Readers who receive this blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be. To watch the video, please click on the title to this post or the video title.

 

Fifes and Drums of Colonial Williamsburg

This is the "Red Carriage." (Yes, I know. It's a CW thing.) This is an open carriage, with facing seats. It's something like the landau that Ripley and Olympia travel in (in A Duke in Shining Armor) when she takes him back to Camberley Place after he tries to run away to London. But the landau has folding hoods, while this is completely open.

Whenever I'm in Virginia, I try to spend some time in Colonial Williamsburg. This year, our schedule allowed me to have two full days of exploring the site. It's not nearly enough time. For instance, I could have stayed in the Print Shop's Press Room for hours, the presentation was so fascinating. And that's just one shop!

Even though I write books set in England in the before-Victoria part of the 1800s, CW is incredibly helpful. Things changed more slowly a few centuries ago, and British influence is there, whether one is talking about the colonial period or afterward. Until the American Revolution, much of what appeared in the shops was imported from England. The latest fashion ideas traveled across the ocean from Paris and London. Of course, Americans gave things their own distinctive approach, but for a researcher like me, there's always historical gold in CW. All the interpreters have something to teach me.

Among other things, I took a carriage ride and pestered the driver with questions, because, while horse-drawn vehicles changed over time, basic principles remain: the way the harness works, the correct way to hold the reins and whip, etc. And of course, horses are horses. I had studied all this in books—a lot of books—but there's nothing like experiencing the real thing. For someone like me, with no personal experience of horses and driving a carriage, simply watching the coaches at work was educational, and will, I hope, make my stories feel more authentic. I watched and watched. And took pictures.

And then, when I was still hanging around, late in the day, came the Fifes & Drums.  Remember that my thing is Great Britain and its aristocrats some fifty-plus years after the War of Independence began. But the first sound of the fifes and drums had me at attention. People crowded along the sides of Duke of Gloucester Street to watch and listen. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who found the experience deeply moving. You can watch some video clips here.

Next time I will try to have the presence of mind to shoot my own video. Meanwhile, here are my photos. I have to say, it was a terrific, unexpected experience.

 

 

 

Difficult Dukes #2 and Other Things

 from Egan, Pierce & Cruikshank, Isaac Robert,   The Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic

from Egan, Pierce & Cruikshank, Isaac Robert, The Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic

Sometimes the writing gods gaze down benignly upon me and send encouraging rays of sunlight and gentle breezes to waft me on my way from the beginning to The End of the story.

Sometimes I have all I can do to launch my boat. Then, having launched, it promptly sinks. Or I fall overboard.  Repeatedly.

“There is always a point in the writing of a piece when I sit in a room literally papered with false starts and cannot put one word after another and imagine that I have suffered a small stroke, leaving me apparently undamaged but actually aphasic.”—Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

All of this is to say that Ashmont’s story is still in the process of being written and he’s being a ducal pain in the neck about it.

In other, better news:
A Duke in Shining Armor has continued to receive stellar reviews, most recently in the current (9 April 2018—Naomi Judd on the cover—lots of red) issue of First for Women, currently on the shelves of many, many supermarkets. (Yes!) The review is titled “7 books we’re loving now.” There I am with the likes of Margaret Atwood and Jodi Picault.

The image was sent by my dear friend Claudia on Cape Cod.

And what do you think my amazement (and fear) was when I found out it had been reviewed in the New York Times Book Review? And when I discovered only mild snark in the review?

Another happy moment was seeing the book reviewed by the Historical Novel Society, which covers all historical fiction, not romance exclusively.

From the writer’s traveling cave:

Between storms

I’ve lived in New England all my life, but must say that the cold, snow, and dark started wearing on me a few years ago, and my husband and I started heading south during late winter. This year, due to an unfortunate series of events, we left later than we liked. But we did narrowly escape the cascade of blizzards.

We are in our last days in South Carolina. We’re on an island, and there’s a lot of marshland. Plus we have a golf course, more or less  in the back yard, which has the usual water features. In this part of the world, though, the water features harbor critters you don’t see on New England golf courses.

As I write this, it’s early evening. Today we’ve had a series of thunderstorms and we’re on the lookout for tornados. My computer is unplugged from the electrical outlet, and we’re listening to thunder, thunderous rain, and intermittent hail.

An alligator. Not ours. This one's from Florida

During the late morning thunderstorm, we watched an alligator swim toward our side of one of the golf course’s lagoons. It’s still a looong way away from us, but it was pretty thrilling. We have counted three alligators so far, on the golf course, in whose lagoons they lurk when they’re not lying on the bank, sunning themselves. The island is chock full of the kind of swampy territory they enjoy. I know this isn’t a plus for most people, but I have great respect and admiration for alligators and crocodiles, who’ve managed to survive all this time.

I feel lucky to be able to travel and make a writer’s retreat just about anywhere I go. What a job! So, yes, I bang my head against the wall, as indicated above, but you know I’ll keep at Ashmont’s story until it’s done right.

 

 

Blog Exclusive: Loos of London

In the course of visiting museums and historic sites during my stay in London last summer, I visited, as you’d expect, quite a few ladies’ rooms. I’m not sure what set me off. Maybe the first one or first few were so pleasing aesthetically. At any rate, I started photographing them. Not all. In some, the space was too tight. In others, there were other occupants, and I did not want anybody emerging from a stall to find my camera pointed at her. And once or twice I forgot my camera. Still, a good representation remains.

 

 

News from here and abroad, including Brazil & Portugal

It's been a while, and I have a lot of catching up to do. For instance, what have I been doing all this time since May? For one thing, I was in Europe: a month living in London, a week in Albania, a week in Italy, then back to London and home again, home again. Where the page proofs for A Duke in Shining Armor awaited me.

Page proofs are my last chance to correct errors and crazy, twitchy stuff I can't believe I did, which nobody else caught for some reason. Things like using a certain phrase over and over. This happens in every book, and it's always a different phrase, and every single time, I don't pick up on it until the page proofs come. This may have to do with seeing pages that actually look like book pages, rather than typed manuscript pages. Or it could be my brain. Because. You know.

But the page proofs have gone their merry way, and everything seems on time for the December 2017 release of my first Difficult Dukes book. There will be some public appearances connected with this, which I will tell you about when details are confirmed. Suffice to say that they will involve some of my favorite author friends, and I am very excited.

Also, before long I'll be reporting on my travels abroad. I would have reported while abroad, but the technology issues became daunting. It was all I could do to get a few Two Nerdy History Girl posts in here and there. And yes, I was very busy trying not to waste one fabulous minute, which left not much time or brain power for social media.

Until then, for your visual enjoyment, here are some lovely new editions to look at, from Brazil and Portugal, of Vixen in Velvet.