Tuesday 26 July 2016

Northern Rain

I am so excited to welcome Nicole Clarkston, author of Northern Rain, to the salon. Although we don't often time travel forward to Victoria's era, Nicole has kindly offered to enjoy a cuppa and share the tale of how Mrs Gaskell has inspired her.

Don't miss the giveaway at the end of the post, open to all who leave a comment!


I want to thank Catherine for so graciously welcoming me to her lovely blog, celebrating the magnificent 18th century. It is a delight to consider the profound effects of yesteryear on our world today, and to share that fascination with others. As a mom, I have the privilege of pouring into three young lives on a daily basis, and one of our favourite enjoyments is a good historical fiction read. We delight in the way history comes alive in our imaginations. It lends context, putting flesh on the people we read about and kindling a passion for the world which existed long before we did. 

When I started writing my own historical fictions, I knew that I had to weave some of reality into my stories. Elizabeth Gaskell first published North & South in 1854, at a time when life was speeding up for the entire world. Cities were booming as people without prospects in the country began to realize that a job awaited them in the factories. We all know the story- industrialization made life cheaper, and yet more expensive. Home life changed, thought and politics changed, and the face of the world became at once brighter and also harder.

In writing a story set in this time, the absolute richness of the historical material was overwhelming. The characters did not live or love in a vacuum, so shining the light of the facts of the day on their story breathes life and depth into their motives and pressures. I tried to pay close attention to the calendar and the real events of the time. The story opens, for example, on Tuesday, October 17, 1854, on what I randomly chose as the seventeenth anniversary of John Thornton’s father’s suicide. 

One of the most sweeping events I chose to highlight in this book is the Crimean War. Very early in the book, Thornton and a few other gentlemen are discussing the Battle of Alma, which had taken place less than a month earlier, on September 20. This had been a notable British victory, and could be credited in some small part to the more accurate modern weapons carried by the British soldiers. This was a minor discussion point among the characters, as John Thornton was an ardent proponent of industry and its potential, and here was yet another example of its benefits. 

As a result of this battle, Russian forces were forced to withdraw to Sevastopol, and a siege began. A week after the conversation in the book, on October 25, the Battle of Balaclava took place. Shortly after that tragedy, the gentlemen are again discussing war and politics. I chose not to make this a major plot point in the story, but I hoped to subtly demonstrate the world-wide influences on Thornton’s business, and how events on another continent could affect British industry. This is the last time the war is openly mentioned in the novel, but it is to be hoped that the reader is left with an impression of the intricate balance of economies at play.

Not long later, Margaret takes up an interest in a charity whose purpose it is to attract subscriptions to build a hospital. It was not an uncommon practice to solicit the support of the wealthy for charitable causes. Elizabeth Gaskell herself often employed her own connections to raise funding for such enterprises. There is another minor plot turn when Margaret discovers that the advising doctor connected to the new hospital is actually a quack (and yes, that is a legitimate term for the day! It derives from the medieval “quacksalver”). 

Margaret then mentions Dr Snow and his research, which was another interesting development of the time. In early September of 1854, a cholera epidemic had broken out in London, and Dr Snow’s diligent tracing of the disease back to a contaminated pump handle in Soho became the basis for modern epidemiology. Now, in this, I confess, I took a little creative license. Margaret would probably not have known about Dr Snow’s findings for a few more years, as they had not yet been published, but the events and the beginnings of the research had, indeed, taken place by the time the story unfolds.

I also tried to incorporate details about John Thornton’s mill, and what the state of technology likely would have been. At one point he wishes he could have afforded to upgrade to a Heilmann Comber, which was one of the newer systems of combing cotton at the time. I had a little fun with this, because it was very quickly an obsolete technology- being bested by the French combers very soon after- but to me, it simply highlighted how quickly everything was starting to change in the industrial world. 

Industrial accidents were a big deal, and still are. The looms were driven by an overhead belt, powered by a steam engine with a boiler. Boilers were known to explode, causing dreadfully catastrophic damage. Fires could break out, buildings were brought down by the pressure, and many were killed. In only one example, in 1855, Fieldhouse Mills of Manchester suffered a boiler explosion. Ten people were killed, and thirteen injured. I did not feel it was a stretch at all for Thornton’s mill to suffer such a calamity- in fact, the main part which could be said to be inaccurate was the rather less significant loss of life. By the end of the 19th century, most boilers had tamper-proof safety valves, but that would not have been the case for Marlborough Mills.

Later in the story, Thornton and another character are caught in a heated exchange about the future of manufacturing in Milton. The other character urges Thornton to consider the potential changes coming to the industry with the awakening of American sentiments regarding the slave-owning cotton plantations. Our characters could not know this fact, but within only a few years, the cotton industry would be shaken by the American civil war. Smaller British mills struggled to survive in the wake of higher cotton prices and the increasing scarcity of raw material. By 1865, the weaving industry had begun to centralize around the larger operations- and Marlborough Mills was large enough to be one of those survivors, if the buildings and equipment evolved to keep up with changing times.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing is so remarkable to me because she manages to weave a haunting love story into a raw, gritty industrial treatise, but she does not stop there. She also establishes herself as an accomplished academic and an informed moralist. Thornton, Higgins, Mr Hale, and even Mr Bell regularly trade their very diverse insights on life, and I love the perfectly balanced perspectives that each brings. They are like four corners of a bargaining table. Between the four of these characters, we have one very brilliant, enlightened individual. Interestingly, Gaskell does not withhold Margaret’s input into these conversations. She challenges and questions, and even when she proves herself na├»ve and uninformed, she easily wins the respect of all four very male counterparts with her thoughtful, passionate opinions.

I could not possibly play with Gaskell’s great work without bringing up some of these conversations on ethics. Had I wished for the book to be half again as long, I would have explored them even further! Most of the interplay I highlighted was between Mr Hale and Thornton, and I had an ulterior motive. 

Gaskell’s Thornton was a man of self-sacrifice and responsibility, and through Mr Hale’s Socratic teaching method, I suggested that Frederick Hale had suffered those same burdens. There are many takes on Frederick’s actions- perhaps he was too impulsive and prejudiced against the figure in authority over him (Margaret and even Thornton, to an extent, share a little of this flaw). Perhaps he felt compelled to sacrifice his own future to do what was right (again, Margaret and Thornton). Either way, Mr Hale with his failing physical health begins to struggle for mental clarity, and inadvertently confuses his favourite pupil with his son. The emphasis on Thornton’s own sense of duty was important, because it exacerbated the conflicts later in the novel which kept him and Margaret apart.

The last little historic tidbit of note goes back to the calendar. The epilogue unfolds exactly two days after the initial scene in the novel, on October 17, 1856. This time, the date falls on a Friday. Why? Well, my dear friends, 1856 was a leap year.

I have immensely enjoyed dipping into history with my pen. Along with important information, I naturally collected a fair bit of random data, with which I was regularly able to amuse my family. History has become an obsession in our house, and it is a delight to be able to bring a small corner of it to life.

About the Book
There is nothing like a long walk in the rain to guarantee a little privacy… unless the last person you wish to encounter happens also to be in search of solitude. 
John Thornton is a man of heavy responsibilities who has many things on his mind, but the most troublesome of them all is Margaret Hale. She wants nothing to do with him, and he wishes he could feel the same. When a moment of vulnerability allows her a glimpse into his heart, she begins to see him very differently. 
Is something so simple as friendship even possible after all that has passed between them? Thornton has every good reason to move on, not the least of which is the lovely Genevieve Hamilton and her wealthy father. Will Thornton act according to duty and accept an opportunity to save his mill, or will he take a chance on love, hoping to change Margaret’s mind?

About the Author

Nicole Clarkston is the pen name of a very bashful writer who will not allow any of her family or friends to read what she writes. She grew up in Idaho on horseback, and if she could have figured out how to read a book at the same time, she would have. She initially pursued a degree in foreign languages and education, and then lost patience with it, switched her major, and changed schools. She now resides in Oregon with her husband of 15 years, 3 homeschooled kids, and a very worthless degree in Poultry Science (don't ask).

Nicole discovered Jane Austen rather by guilt in her early thirties- how does any book worm really live that long without a little P&P? She has never looked back. A year or so later, during a major house renovation project (undertaken when her husband unsuspectingly left town for a few days) she discovered Elizabeth Gaskell and fell completely in love. Nicole's books are her pitiful homage to two authors who have so deeply inspired her.

Buy the Books:



 Northern Rain Blog Tour Schedule:

7/8-9: Launch Vignette, Excerpt & Giveaway at Fly High
7/10: Guest Post & Giveaway at Babblings of a Bookworm
7/11: Vignette & Giveaway at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride & Prejudice
7/12: Author Interview at More Than Thornton
7/14: Review & Giveaway at Just Jane 1813
7/15: Excerpt & Giveaway at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride & Prejudice
7/16: Excerpt & Giveaway at Half Agony, Half Hope
7/17: Vignette & Giveaway at Laughing With Lizzie
7/18: Author/Character Interview & Giveaway at From Pemberley to Milton
7/19: Guest Post, Excerpt & Giveaway at So little time…
7/20: Vignette & Giveaway at Stories from the Past
7/21: Vignette & Giveaway at More Agreeably Engaged
7/24: Review, Excerpt & Giveaway at Margie’s Must Reads
7/26: Guest Post & Giveaway at A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life
9/10: Review & Giveaway at The Calico Critic

(The date is correct for the review at The Calico Critic. It will have a separate giveaway as the ‘official’ blog tour ends on the 26th and its giveaway will end on July 28th.

Rafflecopter Giveaway: This giveaway is for 4 Paperback copies and 4 eBooks copies of Northern RainTwo audiobooks of Rumours & Restlessness, Ms. Clarkston's P&P novel, and two audiobooks of No Such Thing as Luck, her first N&S novel, are also included in this giveaway. There will be twelve lucky winners! Winners will be posted at the end of the blog tour and all stops along the way are included in the giveaway. Be sure to visit all and leave your comments. The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM on the 28th of July.

Written content of this post copyright © Nicole Clarkston, 2016.

1 comment:

Icy Sedgwick said...

Fascinating post! I love reading historical fiction so it's nice to get an insight into how authors pick up details and either weave them into the narrative to give a greater sense of realism, or use them as motivating factors within the plotline itself.