Tag Archives: history

Almost Invincible

Here’s an exclusive guest post from Mary Shelley Biographer Suzanne Burdon.


Don’t leave me alone with her. She’s been the bane of my life since I was three years old!” These were the words of Mary Shelley to her daughter in law, who kindly proposed giving Mary, then in her 50s, some time with her visiting step sister.

I read this some four years ago and found it so intriguing, that it led me on a fascinating journey into the early 19th century. What could have caused such vehemence? Why was Mary so anxious about being alone with her stepsister? I knew little of Mary Shelley. Like many people, I was vaguely aware that she had written Frankenstein when she was quite young. I knew also that she was married to the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

That is when I discovered that I am an obsessive researcher. As a sociologist, most of my working life has been spent conducting market and social research and when I started reading Mary’s story there were many aspects of it that resonated strongly with modern life. It was operatic – even a soap opera! There were more scandals, deaths, tortured relationships, loves and losses than in several seasons of Desperate Housewives. Through it all there was Mary, a strong but also vulnerable young woman in socially unsympathetic times. I glimpsed someone who was a teenage rebel, grieving mother, determined author, and long suffering lover of a man well ahead of his time. I wanted to get to know her better, and especially to understand the insidious and damaging influence of her step-sister, Claire.

There are many biographies of Mary, but she is often crowded out by the famous people around her and the complexities of her lifestyle. Finding the real Mary seemed a bit like trying to find a lost child at central station in rush hour. I badly wanted to l understand her emotions and motivations more clearly.

One of the pleasures of writing this book has been the research, not only visiting many of the places associated with her life, but also spending hours burrowing in libraries around the world. There are two major collections of documents associated with Shelley. One is in the New York Public Library and the other is in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. (Since I had daughters living in both the UK and NYC, this was an added incentive to visit). There are many boxes and files of letters and manuscripts from the Shelleys and those associated with them. Even though most of it has now been digitized, there is nothing like touching and seeing the originals. In the Bodleian boxes there was a lovely little notebook where Mary had sketched a story, with a lock of hair pressed between the pages.

The lock of hair

The first thing that struck me was how young they all were. Mary was sixteen when she met Shelley. He was already married with a child. With the Geldorfs recently, sadly in the news, it struck me how like Bob Geldof Shelley must have appeared. He was radical, wanting to save the world, wild in appearance, charismatic, and an atheist – a rebel who had been disavowed by his baronet father. He believed in poetry as a force for reformation and change. Poets, he asserted, ‘are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’.

One of the places I visited was Pancras churchyard in London, where Mary’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, is buried. (She died giving birth to Mary). Mary spent hours there to be near to her mother, and it is where she first met Shelley. I thought it odd that a churchyard would be a place to spend time, but it is still pretty, with lawns and trees and a smattering of monument style graves.

The Old Pancras Churchyard

Mary was just back from a year in the hills of Scotland with some family friends. She was strong-minded and clever, raised in a world of books and ideas. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Her father was William Godwin, a philosopher and political theorist, who wrote a groundbreaking book called Political Justice. Shelley was a disciple of her father, and in Mary he saw a girl who had the genes to achieve great things in literature and philosophy, as well as being attractive. His wife was beautiful but could not match him in intellectual aspiration. In Mary he had found his soulmate. However, she had a surprisingly conservative streak, and Shelley I suspected, would have needed all of his persuasive powers to convince her run away with him. Their diaries and letters are no help for this period, but the recollections of their friends give some clues as to their dramatic and clandestine courtship.

When they eventually eloped they were like kids on a gap year, recklessly setting off to France, weeks after Napoleon was defeated, through villages still ravaged from war. They had little money and few clothes and only the optimism of the very young. The only shadow on their bright future was that when they had left London in the early hours of a July morning, they had taken Mary’s step sister, Claire, with them. There seemed to be no good reason for it, especially as Claire and Mary were not blood relations and were not exactly close or even compatible. It was even more incomprehensible, because Claire was in love with Shelley and had a history of jealousy of Mary. Why did Mary let this happen, especially as it was a decision that infected every thing that happened to her from then on and impacted on her relationship with Shelley? This was one of puzzles I tried to unravel.

Penniless, they had to return to England cheaply and so they travelled on a boat along the Rhine. I discovered that there is an old Frankenstein Castle, near Gernsheim in Germany, where the alchemist Dippel lived, who was reputed to exhume bodies for anatomical research. The seed of inspiration for the novel’s title may have been planted there as the travellers passed close to the ruins.

Frankenstein Castle. I loved the way the leaves look like a bat!

On Lake Geneva, where Frankenstein was conceived in Byron’s villa as a result of a challenge to write a ghost story. The Villa Diodati is still there and overlooks the Lake as it would have in 1816. I had always been puzzled that it was July, when the driving rain

and thunderstorms set the scene. Then I discovered that 1816 was known as The Year Without A Summer. Mount Tambora in Indonesia produced the the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history and Europe was blanketed in dust. People thought the end of the world had come.

Villa Diodati

My researches also took me to the Buckinghamshire village of Marlow, where they lived a happy year just after Claire gave birth to Byron’s baby, and where Mary and Shelley helped the poor lacemakers. I visited many sites in Italy where they spent the last four years of their time together. In Pisa, in particular, they felt happy. They called it the Paradise of Exiles. When I was there I was surprised to discover that at that time they had camels pulling boats along the Arno, the wide river that runs through the city. Casa Magni, on the Gulg of Spezia is hard to imagine as the wild and isolated place of their last days. Now it is overrun with holiday makers, but there is till the verandah where Mary and Jane scanned the sea in hope that their men would return alive.

The Arno in Pisa. No camels now!

Author and guide, Maria, on the steps of Byron’s villa at Montenero

Casa Magni. It was one right on the sea shore

Another discovery was that Frankenstein was adapted for the stage several times in Mary’s lifetime. She seemed to feel no concern that they added music and meddled with the script. One production was so scary that women in the audience fainted.

I have loved every minute of the years I have spent with Mary Shelley and I hope that readers will, like me, see her as a complete person, flawed as well as favoured, applaud her courage and sympathise with her trials, as well as understanding something about life in the early nineteenth century.


Childhood Mischief in Wartime Birmingham

Here is an extract from Childhood Mischief in Wartime by Eric Yeates which is currently looking for reviewers if you are interested please see the link at the bottom of the extract.

Rationing has often, rather loftily, been written about as a great victory for British organisation and our great sense of ‘Fair play’. Where I came from it was a glorious opportunity for barter, black-marketing and profiteering.

Petrol was King, as very little was allocated to the private sector, mainly for doctors and similar professionals. Other recipients were skilled engineers in reserved occupations such as our Dad, a toolmaker, who owned a pre-war Jowett – an unusual possession for a working-class family on a Council Estate. Petrol coupons were almost priceless and a subindustry of petrol siphoning soon emerged. Unwary small children were taken out at night by their elder brothers, equipped with a can and a length of hosepipe (readily available cut from stirrup pumps which proliferated in wartime). A victim’s car would be pre-selected in an unlit street and the hose inserted into the tank, facilitated by the lack of cap-locks or double bends leading to the tank. The youngster would then be given the free end and told to suck hard and push the end into the can when the fluid flowed. This instruction was somewhat superfluous as the watching elders grabbed the hose when the child’s eyes opened wide, his face turned a funny colour and he began to choke. A gallon of petrol gained this way was easily sold – sometimes for a whole pound note, a week’s beer or a yard of knicker elastic.

The penalty for this type of theft was severe, which is where Epitaph to ‘Nickle Eck’ 10 the use of a disposable urchin came in. If the scavengers were disturbed they fled in different directions leaving the child, coughing and retching, to ‘carry the can’. He would be too young to be prosecuted – and probably too ill to testify.

Another source was Industrial petrol, available to essential haulage vehicles and from agricultural equipment. This fuel was dyed a reddish-pink colour and was easily identified if used in private cars, but this did not preclude many embryonic alchemists in Birmingham from adding their favourite ingredient to metamorphose it into liquid gold. Of course there were many accidents, as the highly inflammable mixtures metamorphosed the mixers and their garages into ashes. But, such is progress…

There were many illegalities during the war but we never ran short of rationed items. Our Uncle Alf, Mom’s brother, drove a fire engine so petrol coupons for fuel were available to him at all times for such a crucial vehicle and he was never questioned. To conserve fuel all private cars were limited by law to a few coupons each month, but Dad never ran short. Another of Mom’s brothers, Uncle Arthur, was a pig farmer living in Coleshill. Meat was restricted to food coupons, as were almost all other food items, but Uncle Arthur would smuggle a piglet into a hidden sty and slaughter it for all the family so there was no shortage of meat – especially at Christmas.

Rationing worked splendidly if the families of a working class council estate understood the basic premise, which was flawed. Bread was not rationed and few families could eat all the bread allowed, but distribution was restricted to only one daily delivery and Mom made sure our family was always at the front of the queue. Therefore, if a family needed extra bread we, the Yates’s, honed in on them and began to barter. Mom found that a local family, named Jebb,

were supreme champions at eking out the meagre tea ration – which was based on the little-understood fact that very little tea was grown in England, especially in Birmingham.

For Reviews and Interview Requests please see: http://publishingpush.com

The Iron Masters: An Historical Novel of the Napoleonic Wars

Free promotion time and this is a book that’s close to me personally. I absolutely love books on the Napoleonic wars and even better this is a book about Wales too. And the best news of all is you can get it for free until the 19th of February. So what are you waiting for? Oh right, the blurb – here you go:

In the 18th Century five men created the biggest industrial city, civilisation had ever seen. They were the Iron Masters, masters of metal and men. Their cannons saved a kingdom, forged the greatest empire in the world and changed the history of the human race. Intrigue, bribery, adultery and murder were common in Merthyr Tydfil, a town where the furnaces burned day and night, the sun seldom pierced the soot filled sky and the Iron Masters ruled without pity.

Nye Vaughn, a humble farm boy, walked to Merthyr to find his destiny, unaware that a war was coming which would engulf the known world and make bold men rich. To fight Bonaparte, Britain needed cannons, thousands of them. Vaughn built the largest foundry of them all and made his fortune but, when the world changed, the iron behemoth he constructed turned on him.

Graham Watkins joins the ranks of historical authors as he weaves fiction and fact together with a pace that makes the reader turn the pages. The Iron Masters is a story of family, greed, betrayal and war. It’s scope is epic from Wales, to Baltimore, from the age of sail to steam railways, from the Battle of Trafalgar to the defiant raising of the American flag over Fort McHenry, signalling the confidence of a new, powerful nation. Many of the characters and events are true and reveal an amazing time in our history.

In his American book review, Alex Dunbar compares The Iron Masters with the writing of C.S. Forester and Margaret Mitchell, and adds, ‘The Iron Masters is an epic tale covering half a century as Nye Vaughn fights his way from humble beginnings to create one of the most powerful families in Wales. Vaughn isn’t Rhett Butler, he’s a more complex character, but his story is equally compelling.’ Gone with the Wind was written by one of the great classic authors and Forester’s Hornblower sea stories are considered to be some of the best fiction written.

Above all, The Iron Masters is a book about extraordinary men and women and how they deal with life’s challenges. If you enjoy a classic novel, are interested in stories set in Georgian Britain when Wales was the British Empire’s armourer this is one of the best books to read.

Download for free until the 19th February 2015 here!

Once a Goddess

To celebrate her new novel, Once a Goddess, author Sheila R. Lamb discusses some of her inspirations, including the two incarnations of Brigid of Ireland. Follow along with Sheila’s virtual book tour this week for more unique content about Once a Goddess!


Synopsis of Once a Goddess: For the sake of peace, Brigid of the supernatural Túatha de Danann enters into an arranged marriage with Bres, the prince of the enemy, and casts aside her own hopes for happiness. Set in a time when myths were reality, Once a Goddess brings the legend of the Ireland’s magical Túatha dé Danann to life…


St. Brigid’s Day: Pagan and Christian

Brigid: Goddess, druid, saint. Saint Brigid’s day has numerous meanings and goes back to pre-Christian times. In ancient Ireland, pre-Christian and pre-Celtic Ireland, Brigid was Goddess. Daughter of Dagda, wife of Bres, sister of Fodla and Banba. She was known as the one who blessed the ewes, the one who spoke poetry, the one who cried laments.

The Catholic Saint Brigid is considered to be patron saint of blacksmiths, infants, and poets, to name a few. In various versions of Catholic hagiography, Brigid is patron saint of many more aspects. Which Brigid is celebrated today? It all depends. Traditional Catholics will honor the day of Saint Brigid, the druid-raised woman from Fotharit who converted to Christianity and ran a nunnery in Kildare. Stories about her vary. For instance, most say she was converted and ordained by Bishop Mel. Other stories point her conversion to Saint Patrick. Almost all the stories recognize Kildare as under Brigid’s influence, though some pagan resources believe the nunnery actually began as a druid school.

Those who are in the pagan realm will celebrate Imbolc on the first of February. This is the mid-point day between winter solstice and spring equinox. The specialties of both versions of Brigid intertwine. The stories encompass both versions of Brigid, pagan and Catholic.  Both are associated with Candlemas, lactating ewes, milk cows. Both were considered to be a friend to the farmer and friend to the poor. Saint Brigid is believed to have died on February 1.Book Photo 1

Brigid of Imbolc was celebrated with light, as days grow longer toward spring. Others in the Imbolc tradition might keep candles lit for the bringer of light, one who brought life into the dead of winter (qtd. Condren 58). Known to be goddess of ewes and of cows, bowls of milk and butter are set out in traditional households for the spirit of Brigid who may pass by in the night. In Catholic belief, Brigid celebrated light with her perpetual flame at Kildare. A St. Brigid’s cross woven from grass or rushes symbolizes the Christian cross.

Brigid of Ireland is a blend of pagan and druid beliefs. It’s possible her pre-Christian mythology carried over into Christian hagiography. It’s hard to say where the line divides. Which of these is Brigid of Catholic belief? Which is of pre-Christian, pre-Celtic, pagan?

Though documentation is scarce about Brigid, Irish myths, traditional stories, and Church hagiographies tell us she did exist. Light candles, read poems, set out the milk and butter. Welcome the lengthening of days as the earth turns toward spring. No matter which belief is celebrated at the beginning of February, Brigid will be there.

Author Photo

Sheila Lamb received an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte and an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from George Mason University. Her stories have earned Pushcart and storySouth Million Writers Award nominations and can be found, along with a few photographs, here. She’s also the journal editor for Santa Fe Writers Project. Sheila has traveled throughout Ireland and participated in the Achill Archaeology Field School. She loves Irish history, family genealogy, and is easily distracted by primary source documents. She lives, teaches, and writes in the mountains of Virginia. Once a Goddess is the first book in the Brigid trilogy.



Bitel, Lisa. St. Brigit of Ireland: From Virgin Saint to Fertility Goddess (2001). Ohio State

University, Monastic Matrix. Web. 1/19/2015.

Condren, Mary.  The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion and Power in Celtic

Ireland. New York:  Harper Collins, 1989.

Grattan-Flood, William. “St. Brigid of Ireland.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New

York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 19 Jan. 2015

“Cross & Crucifix: St. Brigid Cross.” Cross & Crucifix: St. Brigid Cross. Web. 19 Jan.


“Saint Brigid of Ireland.” SaintsSQPNcom RSS. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.


Grace Revealed – Trailer

Last post I showcased Grace Revealed by Greg Archer and today you can check out his book trailer… so what are you waiting for get the popcorn and get watching!


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Grace Revealed

Take a look at this exclusive article about Grace Revealed: A Memoir by Greg Archer

Seventy-five years after Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror across Eastern Europe, author and entertainment journalist Greg Archer takes a step back from Hollywood and examines his Polish family’s mind-bending odyssey of the 1940s. In the process, he exposes one of the most under-reported events of the 20th Century: Stalin’s mass deportation of nearly two million Polish citizens to the Siberian Gulags and the life-and-death events that followed.

But the author’s quest takes a dramatic turn. As he walks an emotional tightrope between the past and the present, can a serendipitous overseas adventure become a saving grace, heal the ancestral soul and bring justice to his family and their forgotten Polish comrades?

In a tale that goes from glitz to Gulags, Grace Revealed

boldly strips away the sunny disposition of celebrity obsession and uncovers a part of history that was nearly swept under the rugs. It also reminds us all that Hitler was not the only monster from World War II and that many of Stalin’s atrocities remain overlooked. What is revealed, too, perhaps, is the true gifts that can be found in exploring ancestry and the uncharted waters from the past.


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Scott Skipper

I’ve got an exciting post today. This is a totally exclusive character interview from Scott Skipper’s Face of the Angel, enjoy!


In 1984 independent German journalist, Ingrid Dorffmann, contacted fugitive Nazi, Josef Mengele, through his son, Rolf. Through a convoluted series of messages, Mengele agreed to be interviewed. Andreas, the son of Mengele’s friend Wolfram Bossert, led Frau Dorffmann to the clandestine meeting place in a São Paulo café of Mengele’s choosing.

The interview began over coffee:

Dorffmann: Thank you for meeting me. I know that it takes courage for you to do this.

Mengele: Not at all, to spend a few moments with someone so charming as you brings a little joy to an old man.

Dorffmann: Thank you. So, why do they call you the Angel of Death?

Mengele: That is a lie perpetrated by the malignant Jews. At the camp I was called the “Angel of Auschwitz” because I tried to help people.

Dorffmann: How could you stand on the platform and decide who lived and who died?

Mengele: Liebchen, I was sent to Auschwitz to do a job. I was simply instructed to select those who were physically capable of working. You want to know about the gassing. That was not my decision. It was going on long before I got there, and in fact, it ended before I left.

Dorffmann: Is it true you removed the eyes from living people trying to learn how to change eye color?

Mengele: It was impractical to retrieve the bodies from the gas chambers and I had my orders. I thought it was a silly waste of time, but the Führer had brown eyes and wanted them to be blue.

Dorffmann: Could you not have anesthetized them?

Mengele: Ach! There was no anesthetic.

Dorffmann: Then you could have shot them.

Mengele: Do you take me for a monster?

Dorffmann pauses, slightly stunned.

Dorffmann: Then what about the other experiments on live subjects?

Mengele: Experiments? That was scientific research for the betterment of the German race. I did not invent Auschwitz. It was created to support the war effort by exploiting an inferior race. My research was only a small part of that effort.

Dorffmann: But attempting to force twin births your idea, wasn’t it?

Mengele: Yes, it was my idea, and I later succeeded, but only with cattle. The twins owed me their lives. I saw to it that they were treated well.

Dorffmann: But what became of the twins?

Mengele: I did all I could to save them. It was the Russians who caused their deaths. All I could do was flee to the west fully expecting to run into the arms of the amis.

Dorffmann: Did you ever meet Hitler?

Mengele: Yes, but only to salute and shake hands. He once toured my family’s factory in Bavaria, but I was away at university at the time.

Dorffmann: What did you think of him?

Mengele draws a deep breath and looks at the ceiling.

Mengele: He was the man of the century—another Alexander or Fredrick the Great—but he was poorly educated and he surrounded himself with weak men who filled him with bad advice. In the end, he simply could not win the war by himself.

Dorffmann: Let’s get back to your assertion that the German race is superior. What evidence do you have that one race is superior to another?

Mengele: It is obvious. There is scientific proof. It can be proven by studying the prehistoric migration routes of the Aryan race as compared to those of the mongrel races. It can be further proven by genetic studies. We are superior mentally, physically, morally and genetically.

Dorffmann: You have been living in Brazil for many years, how do you rate the Brazilians?

Mengele: They are subhuman.

Dorffmann: Do you not think there are any intelligent Brazilians?

Mengele: Ach, some are brighter than others, but it is like teaching a monkey to do clever tricks. The monkey can learn to do amusing things but it cannot understand its own motivation. It is driven not by lofty thoughts, only greed for the treat it will receive.

Dorffmann: How do you account for all the scientific breakthroughs made by non-Aryans?

Mengele: Plundered German science.

Dorffmann looks exasperated.

Dorffmann: One last question, how have you managed to avoid capture for the last forty years when every Nazi hunter on earth is looking for you?

Mengele: Most of them are Jews of course, and so not very enlightened. When they grabbed Eichmann in Buenos Aires I was very nervous naturally, but I had many good and generous friends who understood the wrongness of the Jew led witch-hunt. I suppose by now there must be fifty people who know who I am and where I am and are willing to help me. I only wish they would send more money.

Ingrid Dorffman’s interview was never published and Mengele was never captured.

Read the whole remarkable story.

Face of the Angel

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