Observation Journal: Ridiculous (but charming!) situations

This page of the observation journal is the result of reading Regency romance novellas and discovering a pattern of things that amused me far too much.

Double page of densely handwritten observation journal. On left, five things seen, heard and done, and a bad pen drawing of a kookaburra with "how do kookaburras" written under it. On the right, a list of romance situations.

Left page: Forgetting how to draw a kookaburra in spite of having just seen one, and making my housemate watch The Ship Song Project video. Also a note about the “charm of specificity”. That day, it was in relation to seeing a piano removal van, but it applies to most very particular things — shops that only sell sale signs, or industrial sheds advertising billiard table resurfacing. I think it’s one of the reasons the Caudwell manoeuvre works.

Right page: This is another take on finding out why I feel a way about a thing (see also: YA road trips; staginess; alt-DC rom-coms). 

For reasons involving April 2020 and a hospital procedure, I’d been on a strict reading diet of very light romantic comedies and Regency romance novellas. To begin, I simply listed ridiculous situations which kept showing up and which, for all their wild improbability, thoroughly delighted me every time they appeared on the page. starting with the classic “Oh no! I am trapped in a wardrobe with you, my enemy!”

I then listed what seemed to be the necessary elements of each (e.g., attractive enemy, unaware protagonist, potential for antagonist to discover them, wardrobe, reason to be in it).

Once I had those lists, patterns started to emerge. For example, all the situations shared a degree of unlikelihood combined with abrupt intense proximity [Edit — I developed this further in “Unlikely Intense Proximities”]. On the other hand, there were two distinct orders of things: situations which moved characters from passion to love, and those which tended to move them from love to passion. There’s also a note there which says “for difference between romance and Gothic, consider each as it appears in Jane Eyre”, which I’m not sure is entirely substantiated, but is entertaining to consider.

Handwritten analysis of romance situations.

Here’s the full list (I developed it further later in the journal, but if you like tropes, I also tweet about them occasionally). A note: these are the patterns in the books I’d just read, not requirements — there are of course other variants.

  1. “Oh no! I am trapped in a wardrobe with you, my enemy!”
    1. attractive enemy
    2. unaware protagonist
    3. antagonist to potentially discover them
    4. wardrobe
    5. reason to be in it
  2. “I, a sensual — but repressed and terminally honourable — person am trapped in an isolated manor with you, a dangerously attractive (but terminally honourable) stranger! Oh no!”
    1. Sensuous, unusual, but trapped-by-circumstances innocent
    2. Stormy, unusual, but honourable (ish) second party
    3. Isolated location and weather
    4. Locals who could discover them
  3. “I have had a crush on a person for a long time, but now that it is about to be reciprocated I have matured enough to realise that it is you, stormy acquaintance, whom I really love. (Oh no.)”
    1. Innocent
    2. Object of attraction (unworthy but obvious)
    3. Object of affection (unconventional but harbours [own?] crush
    4. Time pressure
    5. A knowing and affectionate parental figure
  4. “In an unlikely turn of events I, an unassuming but fervent individual, am betrothed to the unsuspecting object of my affections, whose would-be-true-love is determined to part us. Oh no!” 
    1. Unassuming, passionate innocent, undervalued
    2. Societally valued object of their affection, apparently oblivious to value of protagonist
    3. Reason for Marriage of Convenience (class/$/reputation)
    4. Dashing rival (a close connection or sibling of protagonist) [not necessarily, see e.g. Heyer, but in all the ones I’d just read]
    5. A calm and functional marriage
    6. Bluff loyal supporter (optional)

Observation journal lessons:

  • Being silly when listing or classifying something generally pays off (see this list of paint personalities).
  • It makes it easier just to get a list onto the page for later analysis (and not worry about what form that analysis should take) — and often reveals patterns of how I feel about things.
  • It also catches the glee (or other emotion) I associate with those things, which makes it easier to use them for my own projects later.
  • Apparently I use the term “Cabot-ish” instead of “rom-com”.

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Heyer has arrived!

Picture of the "Georgette Heyer, History and Historical Fiction" book in a box of old Heyers novels.

Look what’s arrived! My contributor edition of Georgette Heyer, History and Historical Fiction, with chapters on everything from linguistics to war — including mine on “Heyer . . . in Space! The Influence of Georgette Heyer on Science Fiction.”

The book, edited by Samantha J. Rayner and Kim Wilkins, is available from UCL Press, and although the print version is very reasonably priced for an academic publication, the ebook version is free!

And while it is an academic book, and sprang from an academic conference, the delight of all the authors in their subject has been delightful. For the Un-Conference launch, we even had such fans of Heyer as Stephen Fry, Philippa Gregory, Lois McMaster Bujold and Jennifer Kloester involved!

Harriette Wilson’s Daleks

In celebration of the launch of the Georgette Heyer, History, and Historical Fiction, which contains my chapter, “Heyer . . . in Space! The Influence of Georgette Heyer on science fiction”, here is a Georgian Dalek (only shown previously to supporters of the calendar over on Patreon, who occasionally get glimpses of other works in progress).

Pen and ink drawing of a Dalek carrying parcels for a lady in Regency dress, while a man in uniform calls up to a Dalek in a window.

This drawing is for the splendid, risqué (though really not), human, ridiculous Memoirs of Harriette Wilson, infamous Regency courtesan but also basically Lydia Bennet if she had lived her best life. 

Scandal! Black pudding! Rivalries! Patent medicine! Bracing walks! Byron! Coconuts! Self-improvement! The Duke of Wellington! 

You can find the book on Project Gutenberg, but I recommend the edition with Lesley Blanch’s introduction and the correspondence with Byron in the appendix. 

I know this is Harriette Wilson, rather than Heyer, but as proof of my credentials, Heyer has featured in the Dalek Game previously (from ages ago, before I finally worked out that I do in fact also like recently-written Regencies (although still for largely for other reasons than I enjoy Heyer), and fell among romance writers, and started playing in the fringes of that genre, too.

Pen-and-ink drawing of a Dalek in a Regency dress
Regency Dalek
Pen and Ink drawing of a Dalek peering out from behind a stage curtain
The Reluctant Dalek

I still do draw the Daleks occasionally! I’m slowly building up a stock to start posting again, but occasionally supporters of the calendar over on Patreon get to catch a glimpse of various works in progress.

Georgette Heyer Un-Conference Thursday 25 Feb

Look what’s happening this Thursday 25 February (UK time)! It’s the launch of Georgette Heyer, History, and Historical Fiction, and features an astonishing lineup of live and pre-recorded events, including Lois McMaster Bujold and Stephen Fry (!!!).

You can sign up here: Georgette Heyer: An Un-Conference – 25 February 2021

The book is from UCL Press and is very reasonably priced for an academic book (including free digital access).

And here’s the table of contents:

  • Introduction: the Persistence of Georgette Heyer
    Samantha Rayner and Kim Wilkins
  • Part 1: Gender
    • 1. ‘Where History says little, Fiction may say much’ (Anna Barbauld): the historical novel in women’s hands in the mid-twentieth century
      Kathryn Sutherland
    • 2. The not so silly ass: Freddy Standen, his fictional contemporaries and alternative masculinity
      Geraldine Perriam
    • 3. Judith Taverner as dandy-in-training in Georgette Heyer’s Regency Buck
      Laura George
  • Part 2: Genre
    • 4. Pride and prejudice: metafiction and the value of historical romance in Georgette Heyer
      Kim Sherwood
    • 5. Loving and giving: realism, emotional hypocrisy, and generosity in A Civil Contract
      Jennifer Clement
    • 6. Georgette Heyer and redefining the Gothic romance
      Holly Hirst
    • 7. Heyer . . . in Space! The Influence of Georgette Heyer on science fiction
      Kathleen Jennings
  • Part 3: Sources
    • 8. All’s Well That Ends Well: Shakespearean Echoes in Heyer’s Regency novels
      Lisa Hopkins
    • 9. Georgette Heyer, Wellington’s Army and the First World War
      Vanda Wilcox
    • 10. Georgette Heyer and the language of the historical novel
      Tom Zille
  • Part 4: Circulation and Reception
    • 11. A reluctant movie? The Reluctant Widow on screen
      Lucie Bea Dutton
    • 12. Georgette Heyer – guilty pleasures
      Amy Street
    • 13. Data science: Georgette Heyer’s historical novels and her readers
      Helen Davidge

Read and Seen — July 2020

A test (themed for Envious Casca)

I’m testing different gold-and-sihouette techniques in the interests of catching up on my book posts. For this one I used black, white and (real) gold paint pens.

Read

  • Slightly Foxed #66. This quarterly is going to cost me a lot of money.
  • Envious Casca — Georgette Heyer. I’m fascinated by the idea of country house murders as tragedies of manners.
  • The Blue Castle — LM Montgomery. I still love this sweet ridiculous book, and Valancy’s bid for happiness. (If you’ve read it, you might enjoy this live-tweet of Emily (@otherpens) reading it for the first time.
  • Taboo — Kim Scott (Picador in Australia, Small Beer Press in the USA). Luminous, unsettling, with a subtle approach to time. Stunning opening. If you’ve read The Mere Wife, I particularly recommend checking this out. (Not just if you’ve read The Mere Wife, obviously.)

Seen

  • The Lady Eve. (Not in a cinema, but as an arranged outing at least.) I do like old-fashioned screwball comedies (although I like them better at the caper-end of comedies of manners). This is charming but did not make nearly enough use of its snakes.

Georgette Heyer, History, and Historical Fiction

Samantha Rayner and Kim Wilkins have edited a book of papers originally presented at the Nonesuch conference at University College of London in 2018. Now Georgette Heyer, History, and Historical Fiction is coming out from UCL in February 2021. And I have written an actual academic chapter! My paper is “Heyer… in Space! The Influence of Georgette Heyer on Science Fiction”.

Here’s the table of contents (all the papers I saw presented were fascinating):

  • Introduction: The Persistence of Georgette Heyer Samantha Rayner and Kim Wilkins
  • Part 1: Gender
    • 1. ‘Where History says little, Fiction may say much’ (Anna Barbauld): the historical novel in women’s hands in the mid-twentieth century Kathryn Sutherland
    • 2. The Not-So-Silly-Ass: Freddy Standen, his Fictional Contemporaries and Alternative Masculinity Geraldine Perriam
    • 3. Judith Taverner as dandy-in-training in Georgette Heyer’s Regency Buck, Laura George
  • Part 2: Genre
    • 4. Pride and Prejudice: Metafiction and the Value of Historical Romance in Georgette Heyer Kim Sherwood
    • 5. Loving and Giving: Realism, Emotional Hypocrisy, and Generosity in A Civil ContractJennifer Clement
    • 6. Georgette Heyer and Redefining the Gothic Romance Holly Hirst
    • 7. Heyer . . . in Space! The Influence of Georgette Heyer on Science Fiction Kathleen Jennings
  • Part 3: Sources
    • 8. All’s Well That Ends Well: Shakespearean Echoes in Heyer’s Regency Novels Lisa Hopkins
    • 9. Georgette Heyer, Wellington’s Army and the First World War Vanda Wilcox
    • 10. Georgette Heyer and the Language of the Historical Novel Tom Zille
  • Part 4: Circulation and Reception
    • 11. A Reluctant Movie? The Reluctant Widow on Screen Lucie Bea Dutton
    • 12. Georgette Heyer – Guilty Pleasures Amy Street
    • 13. Data Science: Georgette Heyer’s Historical Novels and Her Readers  Helen Davidge

Read (not seen) — May 2020

A pen and watercolour sketch, on gridded paper, of a woman reading in an alcove

Read

  • Sisters of the Vast Black — Lina Rather. Nuns! In! Space! and much more earnest and focussed and charming than that sounds. But also: nuns in space!
  • Lord Ashwood Missed Out Tessa Dare. The high glee of Tessa Dare’s romances is very welcome in difficult times.
  • A Lady by Midnight Tessa Dare. See above. I started a list of “unlikely abrupt intense proximities” in lighter-hearted romances at about this point.
  • Delicious — Sherry Thomas. Something about Sherry Thomas’ books always makes me feel like I’ve run into someone who agrees with me about certain decidedly unromantic historical novels. It also prompted me to work out my thoughts about food magic (this will probably show up at some point in the observation journal posts).
  • The Monster of Elendhaven — Jennifer Giesbrecht. Nasssty oily murderous far north industrial gothic fantasy, my precious. Lovely writing.
  • The Tallow-WifeAngela Slatter. Not published yet! But I’ve been illustrating it…
  • You Let Me In — Camilla Bruce. I quite liked the origin of the fae in this one.
  • Chalk — Paul Cornell. Argh! Also it was interesting reading it beside You Let Me In, working out the boundaries of folk horror and my own tastes. Also loved opposing magics (earth vs ad-hoc pop magic).
  • Thus Was Adonis Murdered — Sarah Caudwell. (Reread). The straight-faced flipping of steretypes. The wine. The legal humour. The first line. “Scholarship asks, thank God, no recompense but Truth.” The beautiful Ragwort…
  • Black Sheep — Georgette Heyer. (Reread). There’s a trick played at the end of this book that I always kind of forget is coming.

Unseen

For obvious reasons, I didn’t get to a cinema in May, and I hadn’t been in the habit of recording other things I watched.

Four pen and watercolour sketches on a gridded journal page: A woman with a book and ominous shadows; A person with a candle looking at an opening chalk-drawn door; A woman in a cloak with a fan; A woman reading in a window embrasure.
Thinking about this month’s reading, and doors, and shadows, and things that ought not to be let in

Read and Seen — April 2020

I’d been reading a lot of novellas, and thinking about books which felt just the right size, so above is Melisande from “Melisande, or Long and Short Division“, by E. Nesbit.

Books

  • The Time Traveler’s Wife — Audrey Niffenegger. There’s some intriguingly ominous pacing in this one: the awareness of something bad that will have happened at some unspecified point. It reminded me of the countdown effect to some great termination or absence in Three Days to Never by Tim Powers, and also of how these are both in a way holding out on the effect in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in which you’re just outright told what will happen, and then get to watch in horrified fascination as it inevitably unfolds. And the way other genres (mysteries, romances) expect the reader to know (to an extent) how the story will then, which make the thrill about the getting there. I read a few very centre-of-genre romances recently which managed to have me on the edge of my seat about how the characters would ever manage to resolve their situations.
  • Upright Women Wanted — Sarah Gailey. Librarians of the Wild (again) West! The Handmaid’s Tale meets Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
  • Red, White & Royal Blue — Casey McQuiston. Like reading a very explicit Meg Cabot for adults. It belongs in its own way to a very charming subcategory of romantic comedies set in a fantasy of Washington DC (All American Girl, Dave, etc).
  • N or M — Agatha Christie. There was a scene in this, in which you know something bad has happened to a character (A). The following scene is of other characters playing cards, while waiting for character A. It’s incredibly tense, because it is so mundane and you’re waiting for it to be shattered, and then it… just doesn’t happen. Nothing intrudes. It’s surprisingly stressful. Not unlike parts of Picnic at Hanging Rock.
  • A Civil Contract — Georgette Heyer. I liked it so much more this time around.
  • Ceremonials — Katharine Coldiron. This is “a twelve-part lyric novella inspired by Florence + the Machine’s 2011 album” and one of only two Gothic-adjacent books I’ve read (in the last year, too) to draw their mythic resonance from the story of the Minotaur.
  • Mistletoe Wishes: A Regency Christmas Collection (The Winter Wife, Her Christmas Earl, A Pirate for Christmas, Mistletoe and the Major, A Match Made in Mistletoe, The Christmas Stranger) — Anna Campbell. Look: people getting locked in a closet together is never not going to be funny.

Other

  • National Theatre Jane Eyre

Books read, things seen: May – September 2016

A big, brief, catchup post, but here are some Cold Comfort Farm sketches to brighten it up. Also, I’m starting to keep track of books read on Goodreads as well.

kjennings-coldcomfortfarm

Books

  • Crusade – Peter M Ball (part 3 of the Flotsam Trilogy omnibus)
  • Bone Swans – C. S. E. Cooney: Such beautiful novellas. I wept. I drew fanart.
  • Tempting Mr Townsend – Anna Campbell
  • A Few Right Thinking Men – Sulari Gentill
  • Madensky Square – Eva Ibbotson: I had not read this Ibbotson and it is enchanting! A romance of pre WWI Vienna.
  • Winning Lord West – Anna Campbell
  • Pawn in Frankincense – Dorothy Dunnett
  • Q’s Legacy – Helene Hanff: So charming! So tiny! The follow-up to 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. Has influenced my driving.
  • The Ringed Castle – Dorothy Dunnett. Suffocated sounds of distress.
  • The Foundling – Georgette Heyer: Perhaps a new favourite.
  • Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons: The first time I’ve read it, and I finally read it due to being presented with it at breakfast as a fait accompli by my landlady at a Devon B&B. I read it as a science fiction novel set in the world of The Fantastic Mr Fox, which was certainly memorable. I love her sheer disregard for agriscience.
  • The Tree – John Fowles
  • Stranded with the Scottish Earl – Anna Campbell
  • The Summer Bride – Anne Gracie
  • A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald – Natasha Lester
  • [Can’t tell you about it yet but very good]
  • Cotillion – Georgette Heyer
  • The Devil’s Delilah – Loretta Chase
  • Marked for Death: The First War in the Air – James Hamilton-Paterson: Fascinating WWI aviation history.

Movies & theatre

  • Captain America: Civil War
  • The Nice Guys
  • The Hunt for the WilderpeopleThis is really, really good, people, I highly recommend it.
  • Something Rotten (musical)
  • Shuffle Along (musical)
  • Fun Home (musical): Helpless crying.
  • Ghost Busters 
  • Love & Friendship: A remarkable study in telling only the connective tissue between big events, which works because it is all about the main character’s continuous, inventive self-justification and repositioning.
  • Sully
  • Star Trek: BeyondSuffered for being seen between Sully and Deepwater Horizon, in both of which people try to actually do a headcount of surviving passengers and crew.
  • Bridget Jones’ Baby

Books read, things seen: April 2016

In which even the contemporary Australian noir fantasy has a Regency connection.

Books

April-reads

  • [Lady Helen and] The Dark Days Club – Alison Goodman: Regency urban fantasy, with a beautifully precise approach to research and a heroine who doesn’t actively dislike her ladylike life (even if she doesn’t get much chance to commit to it), but I may never forgive Alison Goodman for opening my eyes to the true horror of Regency presentation gowns. Also I really, really like the typography on the cover of the edition I have. Here is Angela Slatter’s interview with her (which I illustrated): Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club: Alison Goodman
  • The Grand Sophy – Georgette Heyer: A re-re-read, and out loud to my dad. This time it struck me that Sophy is basically a Regency Pippi Longstocking, down to the absent indulgent father, the vast bank-account, the horse and the monkey. If you haven’t read it, Mari Ness’s reread on Tor.com (while of course containing spoilers) also discusses the, ah, problematic issues of the book and will give you a fair idea of whether you want to read (or re-re-read) it.
  • The Seduction of Lord Stone – Anna Campbell: I… did not read this one out loud to my father. Though I must give a general cheer for forthright, determined heroines and negotiation of relationships (and while it exceeds my tolerance levels for certain content, since I belong to the ‘curtain blew across the screen’ school of romance, I do enjoy Anna’s writing in all the other scenes).
  • Exile – Peter M. Ball:  You may think I broke my Regency streak with these two, but the main character reads Persuasion on stakeouts. Myth-heavy hardboiled Gold Coast pre-(assorted)-apocalyptic fantasy. It resonates with the parts of my mind where American Gods took up residence.
  • Frost – Peter M. Ball: See above – I’m reading the third now and will report in the May read.

Movies

listing_the_boss

  • The Boss: Disappointing. It was two movies: a mildly crude disgraced-business-mogul-turns-good farce, and a violent-angry-girl-scouts classic comedy. Either could have been strong, but it never committed to one or the other. Which is a shame, because I like Melissa McCarthy, enjoyed Spy and I’m fairly sure would have adored the movie the end credits promised. Although we knew from Hotel Transylvania that good end-credits can retroactively ruin a decent movie.