Random Research: Soul Cakes

This week I was doing some research on Scottish Hallowe’en, or Samhain as it was before. I’ve written a short short story which will go on the blog closer to Halloween and ties into one of my WIPs. Wikipedia sez:”The cakes, often simply referred to as souls, were given out to soulers (mainly consisting of children and the poor) who would go from door to door on Halloween singing and saying prayers for the dead. Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from Purgatory. The practice of giving and eating soul cakes is often seen as the origin of modern trick-or-treating.”

They even have their own song:

A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all.

So this morning I decided to make my own. I used this recipe, which was dead easy (har, har) to make. I did make some substitutions so mine aren’t totally traditional. I used 1/4 white flour and 3/4 spelt flour, used dried blueberries as well as a dried fruit mix which had candied peels in it, and I subbed some of the sugar for Splenda.

soulcakes3 soulcakes2Here they are fresh out of the oven. I tried to make the crosses on top with some currants and sultanas, with a bit of dried peel in the centre. They turned out really nicely, if I do say so myself. Spicy and a texture sort of like a flatter scone. They’d probably keep quite well and be nice with clotted cream or jam, but I just ate them plain, while drinking tea and hanging out on Twitter.

soulcakes4 soulcakes1

Random Research: Drum Castle

drumcastle5Drum Castle is another Aberdeenshire castle, based near Drumoak. Clan Irvine owned it. It has a tower house from the 13th century but was greatly expanded during the Victorian era, as with most castles.

It’s also said to be haunted, though it doesn’t have as many ghost stories as other castles. One ghost is a female figure who might be Anna Forbes, wife to one of the Lairds of the castle. The castle is well-preserved and has a gorgeous library. The grounds are lovely, with 17th century rose gardens and a wee chapel which is still often used for weddings. I couldn’t find as much information on it as Craigevar, but I have a fair few photos from the two visits I’ve taken to it.

2005 visit:

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With Craig’s parents. I’m posing like a statue because it was windy
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Teenage us. Hehe
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Always too tall for the doorways
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A hobbit house! And bad fashion sense

2010 visit:

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My mom and me
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My mom: also too tall for the doorways

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Random Research: Craigevar Castle

craigevarcastle6
With my Aunt Ginger in 2010

Over the years, I’ve been to a lot of the castles around Aberdeenshire, of which there are quite a few. I figured I’d do a series of the ones I’ve visited, as some of the details will now prove useful for a project I’m working on.

One of my favourite castles is the fairy tale Craigevar Castle. It’s near Alford in Aberdeenshire, and seems to almost sprout from the rolling foothills of the countryside. Built in the Scottish Baronial style, it belonged to the Forbes family.

This is one of the best-preserved castles. It still doesn’t have electricity, so even on a summer’s day, it’s a little gloomy inside. There’s a secret staircase connecting the high tower to the great hall, and plenty of stories about the family.

The castle wasn’t quite as pink when I first went the first summer I visited Scotland, in 2005. It used to be harled in cement, but it was causing a lot of damp, so they recently reharled it in the traditional limestone. You can see the difference in these two photos, taken during different visits:

craigevarcastle1
2005
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2010
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By the Gatehouse

There’s a few good stories about the castle. Sir Red John, a man with a temper as fiery as his hair and ruddy colouring, once caught a member of the rival Gordon clan sneaking up to visit his daughter. They dueled about the bedroom, and Red John forced him from the tower to fall to his death. I borrowed a bit of this story for the tale of the Phantom Damselfly shared in the Pavilion of Phantoms in Pantomime. This murdered Gordon supposedly haunts the halls, as well as a phantom fiddler.

There’s another interesting tale, though I didn’t find out about it at the castle, but by researching Pantomime. Sir Ewan Forbes, the 11th Baronet of Craigevar Castle, was born Elizabeth Forbes-Sempill. He may have been born with an intersex condition, for after an “uncomfortable upbringing,” he began living as a man as an adult, and studied medicine at the University of Aberdeen, traveled Europe, learned the harp, and recited Doric poetry. He didn’t officially change his gender until he was 40, in 1952, and requested an amendment to his birth certificate, and then he married his housekeeper. There was a court case about inheritance, since as a male he stood to inherit, but not as a female. Wikipedia describes it thusly:

“The re-registration passed without much public comment, and the issue of his gender would remain a private one until 1965. That December, his elder brother Lord Sempill died, leaving daughters but no sons, and thus posing a problem of inheritance. The barony was able to be passed through the female line, and so could pass directly to Sempill’s eldest daughter Ann, whilst the baronetcy – along with the bulk of the land – would have to pass to the first male heir.The family had assumed that Ewan would inherit, as the younger brother. However, this was challenged by his cousin John Forbes-Sempill, who argued that the 1952 re-registration was invalid. This would mean that Forbes was still legally considered a woman, unable to inherit the title, and so it would pass to John Forbes-Sempill.
At the time, gender re-registration was permitted in a limited set of cases; the leading case, decided in 1965, had held that re-registration of this form was only permitted when “the sex of a child was indeterminate at birth and it was later discovered … that an error had been made”. The challenge was taken to the Court of Session, where the case was heard in great secrecy – no papers were publicly filed, and the judge sat in a solicitor’s office rather than in open court to hear the case. However, the records of the case have recently been made available via the National Archives of Scotland. They show that a total of twelve medical experts were called to give evidence, and their testimony was taken by the court to indicate that Forbes was a physical hermaphrodite, which would accord with the legal requirement of “indeterminate at birth”. However, the medical evidence was not conclusive; Professor Martin Roth observed in evidence that he felt Forbes’ condition was closer to that of a transsexual, and Professor John Strong described the medical tests involved as “not wholly conclusive”. The judge ruled in favour of Forbes, though it has been suggested that the judge desired to ensure the estate and the title was inherited by the “right” candidate, and was flexible with his judgement in order to obtain this result. The ruling was appealed to the Lord Advocate, who referred the matter to the Home Secretary, James Callaghan. Callaghan finally ruled in December 1968 that Forbes was the rightful holder of the title, confirming the court’s decision.
The level of secrecy of the case, which was criticized by some contemporary observers, meant that it was not properly recorded or published, and the exact facts of the argument were not known for some time. As a result, whilst it sharply differs from later rulings such as Corbett v Corbett [1970], it was not able to be considered as precedent in later judgments on the legal recognition of gender variance.”
He died in 1991 and was the one to give Craigevar Castle to the National Trust of Scotland.

An interesting and beautiful castle.

And so I’ll leave you with this photo of 16-year-old me, who found a cat and some German children when I visited in 2005:

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Books Read in May

Amber House (Amber House, #1)

I am J – Cris Beam. An excellent book on transgender FTM teen, J, and his quest for acceptance and finding himself. Read for the LGBT-read-a-thon.

Timeless – Alexandra Monir. A time travel YA fantasy/romance. Afraid it wasn’t quite my thing.

The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness. I love Ness’s writing to pieces, but this one didn’t quite work for me, either. I didn’t like any of the characters. Still gorgeously written, though.

The Falconer – Elizabeth May. Are you jealous? You should be! I’m friends with Elizabeth May so I got a sneaky peek at this highly-anticipated fantasy. And it’s very, very good.

One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal – Alice Domurat Dreger. Dreger wrote another book on the history of intersex conditions, Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex, so I was interested in her other work. Very good insight into how conjoined twins and other people of atypical anatomy view themselves versus how the medical field and society view them. Lots to think about. I’ll do a more in-depth review at some point for a Random Research blog post, since I’m thinking of picking up that blog series again.

Amber House – Kelly Moore, Larkin Reed, Tucker Reed. I find it sweet it was co-written between a mother and her two daughters. Set in a big house with secrets in North Carolina, it has a great Southern Gothic feel. I didn’t find it remotely creepy, but enjoyed it a lot.

Blood & Guts: A Short History of Medicine – Roy Porter. Pretty self-explanatory. Research for a book. May feature in a Random Research post later.

Haunted Castle of Scotland – Martin Coventry. More book research! Takes an in-depth look at the Green, White, Grey, and other coloured ladies rumoured to haunt castles around the country, as well as looking at how they might tie into Celtic myths and history. Also mentions phantom pipers, bloody lairds, secret skeletons, and all manner of creepy goodness. May feature in a Random Research post later.

The Badass Lady Pirates of History

Not-so-recently (in 2005 in fact), a racist asshat sent a letter to fantasy author Scott Lynch, offended that he had included a black, female, mother-of-two as a competent pirate in the second of his Gentleman Bastard books, Red Seas under Red Skies. To see Lynch give the writer of a letter a smackdown, please go here. It recently was picked up on Tumblr and has made the rounds.

Still here? Cool. Firstly, applause to Scott Lynch.

I wanted to reply to the section where said asshat states:

Real sea pirates could not be controlled by women, they were vicous rapits [sic] and murderers and I am sorry to say it was a man’s world. It is unrealistic wish fulfilment [sic] for you and your readers to have so many female pirates, especially if you want to be politically correct about it!”

I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a bit of information about the real, historical, badass lady pirates, many of whom where not white.

1. Ching Shih or Cheng I Sao

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Not actually her, obv

This was one badass lady pirate. You can listen to a podcast about her here, which is where I first learned about her. “A brilliant Cantonese pirate, she commanded 1800 ships and more than 80,000 pirates — men, women, and even children. She challenged the world superpower empires at the time such as the British, Portuguese and the Qing dynasty. Undefeated, she would become one of China and Asia’s strongest pirates, and one of world history’s most powerful pirates. She was also one of the few pirate captains to retire from piracy.” You can get a brief overview of her life on Wikipedia, the source of the quote.

And yeah, she was so badass that governments paid her a lot of money to stop pirating.”The Red Flag Fleet under Ching Shih’s rule could not be defeated — not by Qing dynasty Chinese officials, not by the Portuguese navy, not by the British. But in 1810, amnesty was offered to all pirates, and Ching Shih took advantage of it. She ended her career in 1810, accepting an amnesty offer from the Chinese government. She kept her loot, married her lieutenant and adoptive son Cheung Po Tsai, and opened a gambling house” (Wikipedia). And hey, look, she was a mother, too! Although married him, which is a bit weird.

Basically her motto was: “Can’t touch this.”

2. Alfhild

According to the Gesta Danorum (book 7), Alfhid was super hot, and so her dad put her in a bedroom guarded by snakes so no one tried to use their one-eyed snake on her. Alf was not deterred by this, and impales the snakes with red-hot pokers to get to Alfhild.

See those snakes? They dead.
See those snakes? They dead.

Alf was all “so, where’s my sexeh new bride?” but Alfhid’s mum was like “I dunno about this dude” and so “Alfhild was led to despise the young Dane; whereupon she exchanged woman’s for man’s attire, and, no longer the most modest of maidens, began the life of a warlike rover” (source: Gesta Danorum book 7).

Alfhild goes off and does pirate lady things like raiding the coasts of the Baltic Sea with other pirate ladies, and Alf pursues her.

Lady pirates doing piratey things
Lady pirates doing piratey things

The Danes, led my Alf, started fighting these pirates, though they were “wondered whence their enemies got such grace of bodily beauty and such supple limbs.” Alf knocks off Alfhild’s helmet and sees she’s the hot lady she wants to marry, and she decided she’d pillaged enough and became queen instead.

3. Jeanne de Clisson aka the Lionness of Brittany

I don't think this is actually her, but it's how I imagine her
This isn’t actually her

Jean-Louise was married at 12 but her first husband died. She married a second time, and this was for love. But her husband, Olivier III de Clisson, was beheaded for treason.

Jeanne de Clisson’s reaction? OH HELL NAW.

She swore revenge on the king, sold off her possessions, bought three warships, and became a badass lady pirate.

“The ships that Clisson purchased were painted all black on her command, and the sails dyed red. The ‘Black Fleet’ took to the waters and began hunting down and destroying the ships of King Philip VI, and were merciless with the crews. But Clisson would always leave two or three of Philip’s sailors alive, so that the message would get back to the King that the “Lioness of Brittany” had struck once again. Jeanne and her fleet also assisted in keeping the English Channel free of French warships, and it is very likely that as a privateer she had a hand in keeping supplies available to the English forces for the Battle of Crécy in 1346. When King Philip VI died in 1350, it was not the end to Jeanne’s revenge. She continued to wreak havoc among French shipping, and it was reported that she took particular joy in hunting down and capturing the ships of French noblemen, as long as they were aboard. She would then personally behead the aristocrats with an axe, tossing their lifeless bodies overboard” (Wikipedia).

After 13 years of piracy, her anger finally abated and she hid in England and married again. Also? She had seven kids between her first two husbands. SEVEN.

4. Anne Bonney & Mary Read

Mary-Read-AnneBonny2Anne abandoned her husband when she fell for the pirate Captain “Calico Jack” Rackham and they went about as pirates together. She had a baby and left it with friends in the Caribbean so she could go back to pirating. Not the mothering type.

She soon partnered with Mary Read, who for many years disguised herself as a boy. She fell in love with another sailor and told him her true sex and they bought an inn together, but then he died. She went back on the ships as a boy and fell into Anne Bonney’s company. They both had reputations for being badass and bloodthirsty, even more so than the men.

One day they were overwhelmed by the British Navy, and the men went below deck and hid, either because they were too drunk or cowardly. Anne and Mary fought them off as long as they could.

“Captain Jack and the male members of his crew were tried on November 16, 1720, and were sentenced to hang. Anne was allowed to visit her lover in his cell before his execution, and instead of the consoling, loving words he was undoubtedly expecting, her scathing comments live on throughout history: “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”

Anne and Mary were tried one week after Rackham’s death and were also found guilty. But at their sentencing, when asked by the judge if they had anything to say, they replied, “Mi’lord, we plead our bellies.” Both were pregnant, and since British law forbade killing an unborn child, their sentences were stayed temporarily.

Mary is said to have died of a violent fever in the Spanish Town prison in 1721, before the birth of her child. Other reports say she feigned death and was sneaked out of the prison under a shroud.

No record of Anne’s execution has ever been found. Some say that her wealthy father bought her release after the birth of her child and she settled down to a quiet family life on a small Caribbean island. Others believe that she lived out her life in the south of England, owning a tavern where she regaled the locals with tales of her exploits.

And yet others say Anne and Mary moved to Louisiana where they raised their children together and were friends to the ends of their lives.” (Source: The Legend of Anne & Mary)

5. Sayyida al Hurra

sayiddaSayyid was an Islamic pirate queen of the 16th century.

“Perhaps because of the memory of being forced to flee her home in childhood, Sayyida, like many other Muslims in the area, turned to piracy against her Christian enemy. She reached out to Barbarossa of Algiers, who controlled the eastern Mediterranean Sea while she controlled the west, and assembled her own fleet. She wreaked havoc on Spanish and Portuguese shipping lines, and was the undisputed leader of the pirates in the region.”

Later, she remarried the King of Morocco. But she wanted to let him know who was boss, and “to show that she had no intention of giving up her power and position, she refused to leave Tétouan for the marriage, forcing the king to come to her. This is the only time in Moroccan history that a king married away from the capital.” (Source: Amazing Women in History)

Eventually, her son (yet another pirate mother!) overthrew her, and people don’t know what happened to her after that.

So there you go. Plenty of awesome lady pirates were able to wrangle both other male pirates and have babies and do whatever they wanted. So, booyah to your sexist preconceptions, Mr. Asshat.

Further reading:

  • Cordingly, David Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways, and Sailors’ Wives
  • Druett, Joan (2000) She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea. Simon & Schuster
  • Lorimer, Sara (2002) Booty: Girl Pirates on the High Seas. Chronicle Books

If you haven’t read Scott Lynch, you should pick up his books, The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies, which are some of the best books in the fantasy genre.

For another sassy lady pirate, try reading The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke.

Guest Post: Dulcimers & Draughtsmen: Misconceptions of 18th Century Technology

Today I’m pleased to welcome to the blog a member of my online writing group, Rob Haines. He’s a veteran of last year’s Angry Robot Open Door month and wrote a book about warring chefs in an alternate Paris, which has some amazingly cool steampunk technology. Here, he discusses his research for writing his novel.

When I sat down to write a novel set in an alternate early-19th Century Paris, I thought I had a good idea of the level of technology available in Western Europe at the time: simple windup toys, tinny music-boxes, clocks with big swinging pendulums, that sort of thing. So I wrote a first draft based on my assumptions and a quick scan of the internet, exaggerating the level of clockwork technology available in line with the alternate history I was creating.

But once the draft was done and I buried myself in researching clockwork and automata in more depth, I rapidly discovered how wrong my assumptions had been. Even prior to the onset of the steam age, inventors and artisans the world over were no stranger to mechanisms so complex they can seem totally anachronistic to us, and suddenly the advanced technology I’d introduced in my draft seemed rather tame compared to reality.

As far back as the 12th Century, the Islamic scholar al-Jazari was renowned for his Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, a handbook on the construction of machines from complex astronomical clocks to hand-washing automata, providing soap and towels to the user at pre-defined points in the process. So if simple robotics were already well-known mid-way through the Crusades, what technological advances would the next seven-hundred years bring?

Flashing forward to the 1700s, French clockmakers were pushing forward the art of automata. Jacques de Vaucanson, a glove-maker’s son, built a life-size robotic flute-player which genuinely played the instrument, blowing air between articulated lips, modulated with a metal tongue, the airholes obstructed by its fingers – gloved in skin, after Vaucanson realised wooden fingers lacked the proper acoustics. It’s hardly surprising that when he created a set of automata to serve dinner for the visiting head of a religious order, the visitor declared Vaucanson’s creations to be profane, and ordered that his workshop be destroyed.

More impressive – and a little less creepy – is Henri Maillardet’s Draughtsman-Writer, the inspiration for the film Hugo:

 

When this marvellous device was rediscovered in 1928, its origins were unknown, but within its century-old memory – movements enscribed in the undulations of the cams beneath its feet – this writer held seven drawings and poetry, which it was designed to write on command. Once repaired, the automaton raised its pen and spelled out the name of its creator.

By this point it was clear I’d vastly underestimated the technology of the time, even if it was mostly employed in toys and amusements for the wealthiest members of society. I’d definitely be ramping up the complexity of automata and clockwork in my next draft. But even as I sat down to write, I encountered one last astounding automaton, far removed from my stereotypical ideas of toys and music-boxes; a beautiful German gift for the French Queen, Marie Antoinette:

 

Rob Haines is a writer, podcaster and ex-turtle biologist. His work can be found at www.generationminusone.com