Today’s advent offering sits on my bookshelves but is not actually a book. If that sounds like a Christmas riddle, I will explain. It is a bound volume of the twelve issues of The English Woman’s Domestic Magazine from 1854. It was given to me many years ago by a family history friend (thank you Peggy) and is a real gem. There is no better way to investigate social history than through contemporary writing. There are some second hand copies being offered for sale and some issues are available online. It was published, from 1852-1879, by Mr Beeton. His wife’s famous book of Household Management developed out of the supplements that she wrote for the magazine. There is much that the reader of modern women’s magazines would recognise: short stories, recipes, fashion advice, household hints, book reviews, competitions, readers’ letters and the ubiquitous problem page. In the pages of the English Woman’s Domestic Magazine you can discover how to cook shank jelly, how to deal with rats (discharging a pistol near their holes), how to cure stammering (talk between clenched teeth for two to three hours a day) and how to deal with a man who wants to be ‘more than a friend’. The reply to the latter plea to ‘Cupid’s Post Bag’ recommends a different solution depending on the hair colour of the lady so troubled. This magazine was, of course, aimed at more comfortably off, literate ladies but it is nonetheless an interesting insight into life at the time.
A few weeks ago, I responded to the challenge, issued by a Devon library, to write a fifty word crime story. I am usually accused of using at least four words where one will do, so this was well out of my comfort zone. I do enjoy reading crime novels, primarily those that are set in the past but it is not something I would consider writing. Barefoot on the Cobbles does involve a crime but I refer to that as a why-done-it not a who-done-it. I summoned all my O level summary writing skills that have been lurking in my subconscious for forty five years. I wrote something. I left it for a few days and tweaked it a bit. I sent it to ace beta reader Martha. I emailed it to the library, in a suitably spooky font and then forgot about it. Yesterday came the news that I had won! Ok, so it isn’t exactly the Booker Prize but it is the first time I have consciously laid bare anything that I have written in a competitive arena. I did wonder if only I and the library cat had submitted entries but no, it turns out there were others. I was invited to collect my prize from library, which is thirty miles and a good hour’s drive away. I debated whether this was worth it and decided that it was. Though my shed-lifting damaged back did not agree. Nonetheless, I am now the proud owner (temporarily) of a bottle of whisky and hot toddy making kit and a warm glow – and that’s before we open the bottle. Thank you Crediton Library.