05/18/17

Thursday Thought: Our Gang and Other Warfare

I am currently giving my lecture series “CORNWALL: History, Mystery, Mansions, Mines and Modernity” to OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Cincinnati).

They are fascinated with what it was like growing up in England during the Blitz in World War II. You can read my “Memoirs While Memory Lasts”  of a little boy in Cornwall getting through this troublesome time here. My story is titled “Our Gang and Other Warfare”.  Read more here.

Barrage Balloons

Barrage Balloons

12/22/16

Thursday Thought: Nadelik Lowen Ha Bledhen Nowyth Da!

“Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” Now that is a very useful phrase, if not in everyday life at least at this festive time of year.
I had fun describing Christmas traditions in The Miner & the Viscount, and the insatiable curiosity of the miner’s young son Jemmy.
“Why do us put ‘olly in the ‘ouse at Christmastide, Mum?”
“Us be rememberin’ the birth of the baby Jesus,” explained Lizzie, “an’ people saythe red berries be ‘is drops of blood when ‘e were crucified.”
“But why do us put up stuff loike the crucifixion on ‘is birthday?” Jemmy asked.”Don’t make sense. Wouldn’t put a coffin on my birthday table.”
“That’s just what people say,” said Lizzie.
“What people?” pressed Jemmy.
“Well, I ‘spect it says so in the Bible,” Lizzie tried.
“Where in the Bible?” Jemmy persisted.
“You’ll ‘ave to ask Reverend Perry when you see ‘im down chapel; he’ll know for sure,” parried Lizzie.
Read more of Chapter 37 here.
06/2/16

Thursday Thought: Cornish Humor!

N.R. Phillips

N.R. Phillips (Photo by    Tom Tregenza)

Last summer I met Cornish author N.R. Phillips while I was speaking about The Miner & the Viscount at the Penzance Literary Festival in Cornwall. We chatted a while and he kindly gave me an autographed copy of his book Rainbows in the Spray. Since then we have corresponded and Roy has given me permission to share some of his delightful stories and poems with you.

To introduce you to this entertaining writer, here is his hilarious dialect story Coleus.

Do you keep house plants? This is about an indoor gardener whose enthusiasm got away from her!

Coleus

Cresmass comes but once a year. The trouble is, the way they’re going, they’ll soon last ’leven months. They’ll have us hangin’ up our stockin’s on Good Fridays d’reckly. Mark my words, we shain’t know whether they’re full of chocolate eggs or shiny balls. Mind you, it d’ take that long to decide what present to buy some for people. And the closer you are to people, the more difficult it is. Somebody up country, they that you hardly ever see, you can send them a voucher for a book, or something to heave in the bath, or smother on their chacks, and that’s that.

The Cresmass before last, I honestly did not know what to get her. . . Some have green fingers, what they d’ call, and some don’t, and I’d never gov her a plant before. It might have meant the end of a beautiful relationship, like they d’ say. Well, I tell ‘ee what… she was delighted. Said she’d never seen anything like it in her life. Over the moon, she was. We put ‘n in the kitchen winda and it was like a thing grawed there. 

Read the rest of the story here.

03/24/16

Thursday Thought: Cornish Dialect

It doesn’t take a Professor Higgins of Eliza Doolittle fame to tell where you are in Britain with your eyes shut. Just use your ears. Every region has its own distinctive dialect. Even natives find it hard to understand each other!

 

Being a good socialist, George Bernard Shaw saw class differences too.

Here’s Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady:


Hear a Yorkshireman, or worse,

Hear a Cornishman converse.
I’d rather hear a choir singing flat.

An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him.
The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him.

In my historical novel The Miner & the Viscount Catherine Eliot is the gracious lady of the manor. She takes under her wing Mary, the former serving maid now married to the rascally Willy Bunt, and recruits her to help in her grand project of starting a village school. But first Mary must improve her English grammar and manner of speech.  Catherine promises to teach her.

In this passage from Chapter 46 I read the amusing conversation between them.

Would you like to know the rest of the story in Chapter 46? Read more here.

12/31/15

Thursday Thought: From Quill Pen to iPhone!

I have been immersed in the 18th Century and now as a New Year dawns in the 21st Century one reflects on the immense changes that mankind (“personkind”?) has invented over the decades. I tell my grandchildren that I welcome the challenge of mastering, or at least becoming capable of tinkering with, word processing through a computer, since the technology of keeping a quill sharpened with a penknife sufficient to write legibly was beyond me.

Today I can use my iPhone in my own library and give a talk to a book club in Alaska over their smart TV. Awesome!

Meanwhile, older media have much to offer. I enjoy radio. Listen this Saturday, January 3, 2016,  at 7:00 a.m. to Book Club on NPR’s Cincinnati area affiliate WVXU, when Mark Perzel interviews me about “The Miner & the Viscount”. Mark is an avid reader and an insightful interviewer.

Go to the second part of my BBC interview with the delightful Tiffany Truscott during my book tour in Cornwall.

And, as the Cornish say, “Bledhen Nowyth Da!” Happy New Year!

12/10/15

Thursday Thought: The Road to Hell

Welcome to the first edition of The Cornish Chronicle newsletter!

At the back of the top shelf in the supplies cabinet in my office is a box that once held letter size stationery. These days it holds mementos that should be thrown away when I get organized. Specifically, they are newsletters telling the stories of past enthusiasms.

Look closely and you will see that they have a feature in common. At the top left hand corner of each one there is a notation: “Volume I, No. 1.”

Christmas Goose

Christmas Goose

My mother told me that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. That box is the tomb of several of mine. This time will be different. Today I announce with pride the launch of a long cherished project, my new newsletter The Cornish Chronicle.
It will tell stories of my native Cornwall . . .  its history, mystery, people, culture, beauty, and about the making of my historical novel The Miner & the Viscount and its sequels.
This first edition tells of quaint Christmas customs of bygone days. It includes the delightful conversation in Chapter 26 “Christmas Goose” where inquisitive little Jemmy pesters his mother with questions.

Listen to a snippet.

  •     Christmas Goose
12/3/15

Thursday Thought: The Story Behind the Story

Among the joys of writing The Miner & the Viscount was weaving in stories from my growing up in Cornwall and about bygone customs and how things were invented. During my book talks people ask where the stories came from and how I imagined my fictional characters. These are the stories behind the story.

 

Chapter 26 – “Christmas Goose”

I must confess that Jemmy Penwarden has a resemblance to a little boy in my family, which comprised one little boy with two big sisters. The little boy was very inquisitive. He pestered his mother with questions all day long and always saved one to ask his father when he came home from work and tucked him into bed at night. A special one was, “Dad, how long is a whale?”

In Chapter 26 the Penwarden family celebrates their first Christmas in their new home after Addis has been made captain of the Wheal Hykka mine. Lizzie decorated the house and prepared a traditional roast goose dinner with all the trimmings. I describe her baking a saffron cake. Young Jemmy is unstoppably inquisitive and distracts his mother with questions.

“Why do us put ’olly in the ’ouse at Christmastide, Mum?”

“Us be rememberin’ the birth of the baby Jesus,” explained Lizzie, “an’ people say the red berries be ’is drops of blood when ’e were crucified.”

“But why do us put up stuff loike the crucifixion on ’is birthday?” Jemmy asked, “don’t make sense. Wouldn’t put a coffin on my birthday table.”

“That’s just what people say,” said Lizzie.

“What people?” pressed Jemmy.

“Well, I ’spect it says so in the Bible,” Lizzie tried.

“Where in the Bible?” Jemmy persisted.

“You’ll ’ave to ask Reverend Perry when you see ’im down chapel; he’ll know for sure,” parried Lizzie.

When I was researching work in the tin and copper mines and the tools and methods used, I learned about the danger of blasting with loose gunpowder. It often resulted in fatal accidents. An ingenious miner invented a safer fuse, called the Rod of Quills. I tell the story as if Jemmy had discovered it. On Christmas Day, when his mother was not keeping an eye on him, Jemmy made his own toy. His father sees promise in it and later adapts it to test it successfully down the mine.

Addis had been experimenting with gunpowder, wrapping up small amounts in twists of paper, trying to work out a safe way of detonating it. Jemmy had found the almost empty tin, taken some of the quills plucked from the goose wing, cut off the tips and filled them with the powder. Then he threw them in the stove where they smoldered and sizzled and then burned with a satisfying whoosh, filling the kitchen with a dreadful smell of burning feathers. Addis to Lizzie’s surprise did not scold Jemmy for his mischief. Rather, a look came over his face that signified that he had an idea.

“That lad will be a real somebody some day,” Addis said to Lizzie, when they were out of earshot of Jemmy.

One summer when my family was on holiday at Tregrill Farm, Colin Hocking the farmer’s son and I made charcoal and ground it up, then mixed it with sulphur and saltpeter to make gunpowder. We exploded it on the old-fashioned cast iron kitchen stove with a satisfying whoosh. Not very safe!

When my wife Penny and I visited Cornwall on a research trip in 2012 we stayed at Tregrill where the milking barn had been converted into guest cottages. I’m glad to report that the stove in the farmhouse kitchen is still intact.

During my book tour of Cornwall in July with my daughter Sarah I gave a talk at The Book Shop in Liskeard, my home town. A young woman came up to me at the end with The Miner & the Viscount in her hand and asked me to autograph it. She said, “Colin Hocking is my grandfather, and my husband and I farm Tregrill.” We gave each other a big hug.

Oh, the joy of writing!

 

 

 

Read all Chapter 26

11/12/15

Thursday Thought: One way to deal with Bullying

Another memoir while memory lasts

I feel embarrassingly left out of conversations about unhappy childhoods and their devastating effects upon our adult psychology. I was the youngest in the family, the only boy spoiled rotten by three mothers, if you count my two adoring older sisters as sharing the maternal role. It was a perfect existence. I have no complaints.

There was one upsetting moment when I was four years old. I overheard my eldest sister Pam making a comment about me to our mother as she was helping her in the kitchen. It sounded disparaging and I stormed indignantly to my own defense.

“I am NOT a kizzling doney child!”

My sister reassured me. “No, no, I was just saying to Mummy that with Pat and me being ten and thirteen years older than you, you are equivalent to an only child.”

Well, what was so bad about that? I got lots of attention, and I had playmates close to my age all around. And I had just spent three months in Copenhagen alone with my mother with her undivided attention except when my father took us over and then came to bring us back. The stormy North Sea crossing from Harwich was horrible and my mother and I were seasick most of the way. However, she had to go to Denmark for specialized medical treatment that was not available in England. She had contracted lupus though careless dental surgery. The dangerous infection was in her jawbone and face and could only be eradicated with cauterization. The Danish doctors were kind as well as skilled and saw her through a grueling experience that would end her beauty, although that loss was much more important to her than to us children or our father.

The food in Denmark was disgusting and smelled foreign. I so looked forward to jam and clotted cream and the saffron bun my father promised to bring when he came to bring us back. And there was a young woman in the rooms next to ours where we were staying. She was an aspiring soprano and she practiced shrill scales and arpeggios hour after hour, day after day. My father telephoned and said I should just stuff an onion in her mouth.

Anyway, after we got home to England my parents decided it was high time for me to go to school. I was close to the compulsory school age of five. So at the start of the new school year in September my mother dragged me on the short walk, about a mile, to the small private school in the center of Liskeard.

Fortunately, we didn’t encounter any of my friends on the way. It would have been really embarrassing. You see, actually the full name of the school was Highwood House School for Girls. My sisters had gone there but I did not want to go. A few boys were admitted to kindergarten and thereafter until they were old enough at ten to go on to the secondary school. Older pupils were girls only. I imagined that only soppy boys went to the school and I did not want to be perceived as one of them. However, I was soon to learn that there was a nasty little tough among my schoolmates.

Liskeard Book Shop

Liskeard Book Shop

Memories of the school were among the many brought back during my book tour of Cornwall in July. I gave a talk at the Liskeard Book Shop. It is on Barras Street, just a couple of buildings along from Highwood House. John Rapson, a nephew of the headmistress was in the audience and shared professional photographs he had taken of me as a boy.

Miss Rapson was a precise no-nonsense teacher as was her companion Miss Wilkes. The school was in their house. They were both formidable disciplinarians with acerbic tongues. To start the day each of us had fifteen conduct marks, which were whittled away with each passing infraction of studiousness or behavior. In the first form we sat in rows on long benches attached to long wooden desks. There were grooves along the top to stop our pens and pencils rolling down and ink wells at every place. There were individual lids so that we could keep our pencil boxes and exercise books and pen wipers and spare nibs inside our own desks. There were still one or two slates in the room but Miss Rapson had decided to get up to date and provide her pupils with exercise books and paper.

I was a good little boy and hated getting into trouble. I usually sailed through the day with conduct marks intact. I paid attention in class and avoided the sarcastic scolding that some pupils endured. I memorized the multiplication tables, right up to twelve times. My sisters helped me practice spelling so I did well in the daily tests and quickly learned to read. My handwriting was not very tidy and was abundantly decorated with ink blots, like my fingers, but I was careful to make the loops upright. I hated drawing and painting and had trouble not going over the lines. Fortunately, we boys were not made to do needlework like the girls.

Every day there was recess. When it was really wet and cold, Miss Wilkes would make us play singing and rhyming action games indoors. I remember the one about the bells of London’s churches.Oranges and lemons, Say the bells of St. Clement’s. You owe me five farthings, Say the bells of St. Martin’s. When will you pay me? Say the bells of Old Bailey. When I grow rich, Say the bells of Shoreditch.”

Pamela Raymont kept choosing me as a partner, which was pretty embarrassing and I avoided her. She was a farmer’s daughter and lived in the country. She was very pretty with blonde hair, blue eyes and a beautiful pink and white complexion. After we both went to the secondary school she really blossomed and I wished I had paid her more attention but by then it was too late. Vivian Danners was the son of one of the local butchers and he got pretty rough when it came to the bit about “Along came a chopper to chop off her head!”

On fine days recess was outside. There was a big upper playground for the girls and a smaller playground for the boys. Vivian Danners always wanted to play rough games, like fighting, and wrestling. He was a lot stronger than me and always beat me. I did not like that but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I tried to avoid him but he always found me. You couldn’t tell Miss Wilkes because that would be sneaking. My father said I should punch him on the jaw but I was afraid he would just punch me back harder. I would think of something eventually.

Most of the time school was pretty enjoyable. One term my sister Pat came to teach part time while she was waiting to start her training as a physiotherapist. She tried to be strict with me so that the other children would not think I was her favorite, but she could not help being pretty nice. And once every term there was a special treat.

The whole school was invited into the private part of the house to sit in the big front hall where Miss Rapson would show us her museum. Her father had been a Methodist missionary in Africa and she would tell us lots of stories about converting the heathen and persuading them to give up being cannibals. I thought I would like to be a missionary but then I learned it was pretty dangerous and very poorly paid. Anyway, Miss Rapson had a marvelous collection of things her father had brought back from Africa and we loved looking at them and even holding them. There were masks, costumes, sculptures, primitive art, assegais (those sharp short stabbing spears), shields made of rhinoceros hide, knives, elephants’ tusks, stuffed animal heads, beads, pots, and letters and old photographs about the missionaries.

We learned a lot at Highwood House. We certainly got a solid grounding in the three Rs. We learned manners and good behavior. We learned about the world and developed an interest in geography. Those were innocent days. It never occurred to us to wonder exactly what were the living arrangements for these two spinster ladies living all their lives in the same house. Our parents never brought up the subject. We just assumed it was convenient and perfectly natural. Sometimes when we are nostalgic for the good old days it is that kind of innocence that I most miss.

There is one more memory. Vivian Danners went to the secondary school at the same time as me. We were not in the same form but we had recess at the same time. He was still rough and strong and liked wrestling and fighting and I was still unable to avoid him. But then the war started. The whole British Empire came to the aid of the home country. My father had cousins in New Zealand and George Rawstron came and stayed with us for a few days. He was in the RNZFAA, the Royal New Zealand Fleet Air Arm, and I think he had come over on convoy escort duty.

George had just taken a course in unarmed combat. He gave me the booklet and taught me how to knock a man down with two fingers, but you had to be careful if you didn’t want to kill him. We practiced until I could even knock George down. The next day at recess Vivian Danners grabbed me with a hard squeeze around my neck. I tried the two finger trick. It worked! Vivian Danners lay in a heap at my feet. He never bullied me again.

 

Richard Hoskin © 2015

10/15/15

Thursday Thought: How I came to own a Rustic Inn

The best things to do with one’s fantasies is to fulfill them.

I have always fancied myself retiring as an innkeeper, a jovial mine host in a charming country pub in my native Cornwall, serving those delicious ciders to jolly customers.  Readers of The Miner & the Viscount come across several descriptions of picturesque inns at the heart of community life in rural villages.

Turk's Head, Penzance

Turk’s Head, Penzance

Well, at last it is going to happen! Cornwall is a long way away when you live in Kentucky. However, there are parts of America that remind me of Cornwall and Maine is prominent among them, with its rocky Atlantic coast and its pretty towns and quaint old villages.

Blue Hill Inn, Maine

Blue Hill Inn, Maine

 

I am going to own the Blue Hill Inn in Maine! It’s a beautiful old place dating from 1840, hard by the Atlantic Ocean. It has 11 guest rooms and a reputation for comfort and excellent food, especially blueberry pancakes. I’ll need some help, and I’m hoping members of my family will join me. It will be such a fun venture.

All it takes is winning a contest with an entry fee of $150! The present owner is setting off to Paris to make a new life, and this is her creative way of selling her inn. So I will just write a brief essay of why I want to own this lovely place. I’m looking forward to all of you coming to stay.

Of course, realistically I’ll have to win the contest and there will be hundreds of entrants. Here’s a link http://bluehillinn.com/ Maybe I’m fantasizing. But I am a novelist and that’s what writers of fiction do. Aargh.