Saturday, April 12, 2014

"Meet my Main Character"

Thanks to Debbie Brown and MM Bennetts for tagging me to take part in this!

It's one stage in a chain of posts by historical fiction authors in which we introduce the main character of our work in progress or soon to be published novel.  Actually I fall outside the precise remit, since this book is already out, but I am going to work on a sequel to it when I've completed my current W.I.P. (which is also a sequel to another novel).

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

George Davenport's name belonged to my great-grandfather, who was a coachman--so in that sense, yes, he was real.  I know very little about him apart from name, date and location. I use his name and his profession of coachman, but I have transplanted him to places where I know he didn't work in real life.

2) When and where is the story set?

The story moves from Carlisle, Cumberland, to the centre of London\(although my great-grandfather actually lived in Cheshire).

I have timeshifted George and Lucy (the real name of my great-grandmother) from the later part of the 19th century, when they really lived, to the earlier part. In "Coachman" I have imagined George aged 22 in 1838.

I chose that year, not because it was the year of Victoria's coronation, which it was, but because it was when one of the major shifts occurred in English culture, when travelling by coach and four horses suddenly appeared old-fashioned, uncomfortable and slow compared to the new means of transport: the steam train.

Some excellent fiction has been written about the "arrival" of the railway age - for instance by Malcolm MacDonald in his "World from Rough Stones" books - but I'm not aware of any stories about the decline of the long-distance coaching trade and the effect it had on thousands of horsemen whose livelihood vanished over just a few years.

Most of the accounts of the era were written towards the end of the Victorian era.  Charles Harper says in  "Stage Coach and Mail in Days of Yore",

"Many coachmen were killed off the box in the exercise of their profession... A considerable number, secure in the affection of the wealthy amateurs, many of whom they had taught the art of driving, entered the service of those noblemen and gentlemen. Something in the long overlordship they had exercised over four horses, and a good deal more perhaps in that hero-worship down the road, of which Washington Irving writes, had spoiled them. Their lives would not run sweetly in fresh grooves. They could not, or would not, take to new employments, and, even subsisting upon charity, were often absurdly haughty, insolent, and insufferable."

There was a cartoon by Cruikshank about the plight of coachmen in the railway boom: "Steamed Out, or the Starving Stage Coachman and Boys", in which "Steamed Out Stagecoach Drivers Starve in the Face of Competition from the Railway". Such hardship, however, can't have been the whole story for every single one of the drivers and their guards. Generalisations are just that - generalisations.

While the accounts from 50 years later are sympathetic to the cause of the out-of-work coachey, they also contain contradictory remarks like "they were never a long lived breed of men" contrasted with examples who lived into their 80s or even 90s.  So I thought I'd explore the possibilities. They made a much more striking story than Cruikshank's cartoon.

3) What should we know about him/her?

George is a horseman, born and raised. His parents are dead and he was brought up by his grandparents in the coaching trade. He has been driving four-in-hand teams since he was 14 and he enjoys working with horses very much, despite the rigours of bad weather and sometimes difficult passengers. Not only that, he's a good-looking lad and a classy driver who is admired for his skill in handling a fast coach and four horses--the Formula 1 driver of his day.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?

George is ambitious. He wants to drive horses and be based in London, which is the centre of the Mail coaching system. This brings him into the employment of William Chaplin, a very successful businessman in coaching. George likes music and the theatre and he earns plenty of money, which in turn attracts pretty girls. When we meet him he's fallen in love with Lucy, who works in her mother's inn/lodging-house in Carlisle. Lucy has had a much harder upbringing than George, as we learn towards the end of the book.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

George moves to London with his wife Lucy, and at first he thoroughly enjoys working for Chaplin. He thinks he's got it made! However, Chaplin's daughter Sarah has a fierce crush on him and she makes his life very uncomfortable, since he's got to be polite to the boss's family! But, because the Royal Mail is about to move a huge amount of its traffic onto the railways, it's Chaplin himself who drops the real bombshell. Foreseeing a rapid decline of his business, he sells all his coaches, making his drivers redundant, along with the ostlers and all the workforce needed to manage horses. George finds himself under a new master, Edward Sherman. Sarah's continued pursuit of George causes him to lose this job too. And as you can imagine, Lucy (who's expecting their first child by now) is not too pleased about that! George ends up having to move back North in order to find driving work; it's the only way he can keep himself, Lucy and his imminent family. There's no way this young man is going to be seen begging like the "Steamed-Out" coacheys in Cruikshank's cartoon. One of the sources of his pride has to go: it's a struggle to give up any idea of regaining his "top of the trees" work in London, but he's able to get a position driving in the North, where the railways have yet to arrive. So his pride in his work can be maintained - if a little tarnished - and he will be able to keep Lucy and their child in a reasonably comfortable household.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

The title is "Coachman". You can read the first section HERE.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?

It's out already. I hope to work on a sequel to "Coachman", but I'm currently working on a sequel to "Against the Odds" which is modern (see

Thanks for visiting this post. I have tagged four authors to follow me; they will post about their main characters on 15th April or thereabouts.

1)         Deborah Swift

2)         Jonathan Hopkins

3)         Mark Patton

4)         Elizabeth Ashworth


Let me know what you think of George!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ruby being must be Spring!

Ruby's not done much because I've been busy, so she has probably had too much opportunity to graze spring grass. She's lost a lot of her winter coat and has come up nice and glossy despite a heavy coating of mud...

We went out for a drive just after lunch and immediately met one of the big timber-wagons that are coming past us for the felling of the wood in Bretherdale. I now know that the Bennington is shorter overall than the Quayside gigs because it went round on a sixpence in our "narrows" between the stone walls of the garden and the field opposite. Ruby stood in the yard while the monster went by, and we started the drive over again.

It all went OK, including having our photos taken at the railway bridge, until we reached Selsmire where the event horses were all out at grass in their heavy rugs. Ruby knows that the first 4 in the field on the left are not really interested in her any more, though they look up and stare; but once again, when we reached the next field she spotted "that grey horse" and ground to a halt. She considered trying the spin-and-run that she caught me with a couple of months ago, but I talked her out of that and she just stood there, assessing. This is most unlike her because she is normally such a bold mare! She has even met this grey horse a couple of times, out on the road. So why the sight of a grey in a rug is so scary, I can't really work out, unless she can only see the legs and head and not the rug in between. Talking to her, twitching the rein and outright smacking her with the whip all produced only one or two steps forward so as I'd got her to the side of the road enabling cars to get by (if necessary) I was prepared to sit it out. Eventually after about 5 minutes a van came from the opposite direction and at that point she appeared to come out of her "trance" and walked on! I think I need to get her a supplement with magnesium in it, to counteract the grass.

I took her another mile or so, then turned and came back. She behaved fine coming past the horses this time (the grey was further away and behind a couple of other horses). We met the timber wagon, again but I had spotted him coming from over a mile away as I came down the hill, and I found a gate open into a little garth, where we stood out of his way and exchanged waves with the driver before continuing on our merry way.

Ruby was hardly damp at all when we got in - combination of shedding winter woollies, and a quite cold wind.

Poor Micky Wippitt was furiously jealous that I had done things with Ruby without taking him into the game - biting the wire of his kennel run and yelping - but I can't let him run free just at the moment because it's lambing time and he is far too keen on chasing after leaping lambies! And if I were to lead him and Ruby, his extending lead would get wound round her legs AND his. Neither of them bother about this, but I'd need more hands than I currently have, to untangle them.