Beauty and the Beast

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Another unexpected literary inspiration – and evocative image – for my story; the traditional tale of Beauty and the Beast. Written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, first published in 1740 (as La Belle et la Bête), and endlessly adapted since for book, screen and theatre. The illustration above is by Warwick Goble from a 1913 retelling of the story (appropriate timing for my story is set in the #GreatWar, #WW1!) We all know the story: A ship-wrecked merchant picks a forbidden rose and is confronted by a hideous humanoid Beast. Fearing for his life, the merchant agrees to send one of his daughters to live with the Beast. His youngest daughter (“lovely, kind, well-read, and pure of heart”) agrees to fulfil this request and lives in luxury with the Beast, enjoying his company, engaging in long conversations but refusing to marry him. After a time, Beauty becomes homesick and the Beast allows her to leave provided she returns to him after one week. Beauty breaks her promise and lingers at home, encouraged to do so (according to the original tale) by her wicked sisters. When she eventually returns to the Beast’s palace, she finds him “lying half-dead from heartbreak” amongst his rose bushes. Beauty weeps over the Beast, declaring her love for him. As her tears fall on his broken body, the Beast is transformed into a handsome prince. The prince tells Beauty that long ago an evil fairy turned him into a hideous beast and that only by finding true love could the curse be broken. (The original tale has the evil fairy attempting to seduce the prince, but Disney glosses over that detail.) The pair marry and live happily ever after. My story reflects the redemptive power of my heroine’s love for a man made ugly by his experience of war. #amwriting #writinginspiration #amwritinghistoricalfiction #historicalfiction #historicalromance

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Shellshock in 1920

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Frontline​ care in the Great War

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Field Medical Cards (Army form 3118) from #WW1 #Great War used by doctors in Regimental Aid Posts (Field Ambulance) close to the front line. If the soldier required further treatment his card would go with him to the Casualty Clearing Station and then to a Base Hospital (and even to Blighty). The first three cards are for men suffering PUO (pyrexia of unknown origin), diarrhoea (a very common compliant, along with boils), and trauma sustained when “thrown by a mule whilst clipping its mane”. All three soldiers recovered. The next man was not so lucky. In spite of aggressive treatment of influenza (including rectal caffeine and Phenacetin, an early analgesic and antipyretic drug) he was pronounced “moribund”. Note high white cell count (WCC) and respiratory findings. The third image shows the medical cards of two more soldiers; one receiving treatment for syphilis (repeated injections of mercury and other compounds) and the other treated with an “infusion of whole blood”; reasonably standard treatment late in the war. If my notes are accurate, this man sustained gun shot wounds to both knees. Sadly, in spite of a bilateral amputation, he died soon afterwards of shock and blood loss. These medical cards are battered and stained. A few are completed in elegant fountain pen, most in pencil. As a healthcare professional I find reading these cards incredibly moving; the familiar terminology, the scrawled signatures, the abbreviations and dashes and arrows. I am also awed – by the innovations in wound care and resuscitation, and by the sheer professionalism of the men and women caring for the sick and wounded in crowded dug-outs and tattered marquees 100 years ago.

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Devotion to duty

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Dancing on active service shock

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Excitable with peculiar mannerisms…

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Another afternoon in the #NationalArchives, this time browsing references written by matrons for nurses wishing serve in France in the #GreatWar #FirstWorldWar #WW1 with Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps #QARANC. The women are all single (there isn’t an option in the register for ‘married’ – although widows were permitted) and in their mid to late 30s. Their backgrounds are solidly middle-class; fathers’ occupations include Army major, dental surgeon, surveyor, solicitor, merchant, farmer, and clergyman (lots of those!) Many trained in London hospitals still familiar today, following this with additional training in fever nursing, the care of children or consumptives – even midwifery training. Some have considerable private nursing experiences; a few served in the South African War of 1899-1902. Whilst I’m sure the “quiet refined gentlewoman” and the “nice minded conscientious girl” are lovely nurses, I particularly like the sound of these two women: “has peculiar mannerisms and is excitable” and “has a critical attitude towards those in authority and gives the impression of being very opinionated with not enough experience to justify it”. I feel a bit sorry for the nurse whose matron considered to be “a thorough nice woman but not one of our best nurses” – and I’m already a scared of the woman who is “not sufficiently patient to train probationers but can keep discipline amongst patients”. According to the record, they were all offered staff nurse posts, so even the opinionated one must have interviewed well.

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#100 Days of Writing

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A Hobbit, a Wardrobe and a Great War (research review)

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I do like audio books! I remember information according to where I was when I heard it – certain roundabouts or stretches of motorway – so things do tend to stick. The ideal medium, in fact, for ploughing through history books. A Hobbit, a Wardrobe and a Great War (good title!) by Joseph Loconte is not the best book I’ve listened to recently but it filled a drive to Herefordshire and a couple of trips to Kew. The premise is good enough – faith, friendship and literary inspiration from the “cataclysm” of WW1 – but, unless you’re happy to listen to lengthy extracts of LOTR (I’d rather watch the films, frankly) it does rather drag (and this from the woman who listened transfixed to 26 hours of Into the Silence about climbing Everest). There is a very informative section on Christianity and the role of the established church at the start of the 20th century, a useful exploration of the impact of WW1 on faith, and some interesting insights into how their war experience fed into the novels of Tolkien and CS Lewis but that’s about it. Constant repetition of the book’s basic premise and endless reiteration of the ghastliness of war but worst of all (for picky me) was the gloomy mid-Atlantic narration. I can forgive mispronunciation of Malvern (I know, hard to get that wrong!) and, maybe, Magdalen (as in College – not Mary) but not of Somme (“sew-mer”). That really got on my tits. Sorry #Audible! #GreatWar #WW1 #history #christianity #faith

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Margaret MacMillan Reith Lectures (research review)

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This year’s #ReithLectures by my favourite #historian Margaret MacMillan are well worth a listen (search online or in your podcast app). The title of the 2018 series of lectures is The Mark of Cain. Erudite, thoughtful, honest and drawing on examples throughout history including #WW1 #GreatWar the five lectures were recorded live in the UK, Canada and Lebanon. ‘War and Humanity’ looked at the impact of war on societies and nations and asked if war is an inevitable part of being human. ‘Fearing and Loving: Making Sense of the Warrior’ asked why people chose to fight and how war affects individuals. ‘Civilians and War.’ ‘Managing the Unmanageable’; efforts to control and regulate war, and peace movements. ‘War’s Fatal Attraction’ on the art and culture of war, and remembrance. #amresearchingformynovel #BBCradio

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The joy of primary research

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Fascinating and strangely emotional day @nationalarchivesuk looking at #WW1 #GreatWar medical records. It’s one thing to read in a text book about the German Spring Offensives of #1918; it’s quite another to see the evidence in a battered Field Ambulance Admissions book. March 20 is occupied with the usual scabies, boils and impetigo, plus the odd kick from a horse. March 21-23 is page after page of “gassed” and GSW (gun shot wound – with body part indicated by neat Roman numerals). The handwriting stays steady as the deluge continues but the details get sparser. One can only imagine the crowds, the noise and the growing exhaustion as the wounded are admitted, triaged and quickly dispatched to a Casualty Clearing Station. Many CCSs were overwhelmed – or overrun by the advancing enemy – so for some definitive treatment came only after a slow and painful train journey to a base hospital on the coast. #amwriting #amwritinghistoricalfiction #amresearchingformynovel

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Immersive afternoon reading medical sheets #WW1 #GreatWar @nationalarchivesuk My box full of abdominal wounds (I’m going back next week to look at shells hock neurosis and septic). Each sheet a story – not only of the wounded man, but the people who cared for him. Doctors’ handwriting better back then, but the language hasn’t changed. “Had a bad night. Stump painful.” “Good progress.” “Would Mr X kindly take an X-Ray?” (Some patients were quaintly “enfeebled” – but what a great word!) The detail of the injury: “GSW sustained July 12 whilst inspecting barbed wire near Ypres. Pt crouching, facing the enemy”. Details matter – not just because that’s how the soldier would tell and retell his story – but because posture dictates the path the bullet took through the body; crucial information for a surgeon. Lots of pus and discharge, lots of fistula and sinuses, lots of smelly, chronic wounds foreshadowing years of sub-optimal health and personal misery. Some of the sheets had observations charts (“TPR” – no blood pressures); neat and careful, the conscientious contribution of the VAD nurse. And, in amongst the sheets, a forgotten scrap of paper on which some long-forgotten nurse noted the results of a urine test: “urine clear, normal colour, albumen nil, blood nil”. It could have been written by any nurse or midwife today. #amwriting #amwritinghistoricalfiction #amresearchingformynovel

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