Archive for the ‘History in the Buff’ Category

Coming next week!

Coming next week!

Hi Folks,

Besides dealing with a broken ankle, I’ve also been working like crazy on my new book, A New Look at Old Words. And guess what! It’s nearly ready to go! I’ll be firing up a new Kickstarter for it next week if all goes well with the video editing.

A New Look at Old Words is exactly that. It’s all your Pirate Words of the Day collected and organized into categories for you to peruse. I created it as a reference for historical fiction writers like myself, but I’ve also added illustrations, quotes and commentary to make it an interesting read for anyone who loves old words.

I can’t wait to share it with you!

Cathy Thrush


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bookfront1Hello Everyone,

Sorry I’ve been AWOL on my posts of late – other than “Word of the Day.” I’ve been working my bum off on a special project.

Introducing: A New Look at Old Words

When I was working on Lady Blade I bought a reprint of  A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant and Vulgar Words written in 1860. I was so excited. I thought it would be perfect for adding some salt to the dialog of my pirate characters.

Problem was, since it was a dictionary, I needed to already know the slang word in order to look it up. I knew the bookfront2definition, not the word. For example, if I wanted a slang word for a black-eye I’d have to read the whole book to find one! Basically the book was no help at all, until I reorganized it.

I typed in each word and then grouped all the words into categories such as Body Parts, Insults, Professions… so that I could find what I was looking for quickly and easily. And I couldn’t help adding a bit of artwork and commentary. The result – a 700 page book full of all the wonderful words you’ve been enjoying each day, laid out by topic.

Now the book is ready to go to Kickstarter – after some final edits.


And here is where I could use your help. I’ve created 3 versions of a cover, and I want to see which is the most popular.

So vote away! I want to hear from you. Which do you like best?


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International Talk Like a Pirate Day

International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought for Talk Like a Pirate Day I’d let Carter, a orphaned ships boy strut his stuff.

In general I kept the slang to an occasional phrase or two, but sometimes you just have to let yourself go. This is from my yet-to-be-published novel Lady Blade. The scene takes place shortly after Francesca has been forced to join the pirate crew. Carter has been tasked with teaching her the ropes – literally. They’ve climbed the shrouds to the “top” or a platform halfway up the mast. They’re joined by Willy Brown a sixteen-year-old crew member.

Once her heart stopped pounding she looked around. If the sea and sky seemed vast from deck, they seemed ten times more immense from fifty feet above. To the north the blazing white cliffs of Dorset grinned like teeth. Fishing boats dotted the sparkling gray sea. For a moment wonder and awe rose from Francesca’s belly, but Carter and his lesson brought her back. “‘At’s the mainsail below us and the tops’l above and the top gallant ‘bove that,” explained Carter.

Francesca looked up. There were at least thirty more feet of mast above her. A watchman perched on a tiny platform above the next higher sail. “That’s the crow’s nest, right?”

Carter nodded. “Some calls ‘em the topmast trees. And them,” he said, pointing to ropes running along the edges of the main sail. “Is the clew lines, fer raising and lowering.”

Carter went on, but Francesca’s attention was drawn to the captain, pacing the deck below. She watched his movements, graceful, and catlike. She wondered again what he meant by “any living woman.” Surely it implied he had lost someone…

Willy climbed over the side of the platform. Carter explained that only lubbers use the hole in the platform specifically made for easy entrance.

“Willy ‘ere is in Ol’ Nob’s mess,” Carter said to Francesca. “She’s yer new messmate,” he said to Willy.

Willy nodded amiably as he sat down dangling his feet off the platform. All of their legs dangled, but only Francesca’s fingers were white where she gripped the rail. Willy gave Francesca an overview of topman duties, most of which sounded horribly dangerous.

“Don’t worry,” said Willy. “Long as ya keep yer feet under ya and yer eyes on yer work, you’ll be fine.”

“There’s ol’ Miller blowin’ a cloud,” said Carter pointing to the man Francesca had threatened with the ceramic shard. He sat on a coil of rope smoking a pipe below them.

“Bet ya a bob I kin gob ‘im,” said Carter.

“Done,” said Willy, shaking Carter’s hand.

Carter leaned over, carefully judging the wind and the sway of the ship, and spit. His careful judgment was in vain.

“Carter!” said Francesca, “What if you had hit him?”

Carter shrugged. “I’d a’ won a bob. ‘Sides, Miller wouldn’t give it no mind. ‘E and I are ol’ pals. It’s cuz of ‘im I joined up.”

“What about your family?” said Francesca.

Carter’s brow lowered and he stared off toward the cliffs. “Pa chipped and ma did fer eight. The lot gripped while I coopered, ‘cept my wee brother.”

Francesca looked from Carter to Willy blankly.

“‘E said ‘is pa was a carpenter and ‘is ma looked after their eight children,” said Willy. “The grip, influenza took ‘em while ‘e was away, apprenticed to a cooper makin’ barrels, exceptin’ his younger brother.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Francesca. She put a hand on his shoulder.

Carter shrugged her hand off. “My brother was blewed up in the big-house, but I tipped my boom toward the docks.”

Francesca looked to Willy again for a translation.

“‘Is brother died in a work-house but Carter ran away ta the docks.”

“Didn’t I just say ‘at?” said Carter shaking his head.

“Go on,” said Francesca.

“Well, I beak-hunted an’ cabbaged when I got banded, ‘til I ran afoul a pack of bludgers.”

“‘E stole chickens and pilfered when ‘e was hungry, ‘til ‘e ran inta a gang a’ cutthroats,” said Willy.

Carter frowned, exasperated. “‘At’s what I said!” He looked at Francesca. “Don’t they teach ya Italians how ta talk?”

Francesca shrugged and winced. “Apparently not.”

“Well, they’d a’ done me if I ‘adn’t met Miller. Miller run ‘em off. After that I signed on with ‘im and the cap’n. It’s almost a year an’ I gots no complaints. I loblolly fer Barnacles, fetchin’ and runnin’-”

“Who?” said Francesca.

“Barnacles – the doc. I fetch fer the doc. Workin’ fer ‘im is easy; I got a hammock, belly-timber, grog on Sunday, an’ only a cuff on occasion. Not a bad bargain.”

Francesca nodded. “What about you, Willy?”

“‘E’s a son-of-a-gun,” said Carter.

“A what?”

“My pa was a sailor a’ some sort, I expect,” said Willy. “Me mum worked the docks.”

Francesca stared blankly a moment, then blushed. “Oh.”

“She was right good ta me ‘til she went toes up. Been on me own since I was six an’ at sea since I was somewheres ‘round ten. It’s a good gig.”

 Orphans all, thought Francesca. They had that in common. She may have spent her childhood in the salle among young noblemen, but she knew what it was to lose loved ones and end up alone. How many such stories ended aboard ships like this? For how many of the pirates were the hardship and danger a “good bargain?”

She breathed in. Much as she disliked being among pirates, she loved the snap and hum of the sails, the smell of salt spray, the vastness of the sky, and most of all, the curiosity about what lay beyond the horizon. But the bosun’s whistle tweeted, calling them to duty. Willy climbed farther up into the rigging and Francesca and Carter headed to the deck to clap hands on ropes and haul sail to tack the ship.


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Blue Train Books Historical Fiction Section

Blue Train Books Historical Fiction Section (Photo credit: Blue Train Books)

I found a disturbing article today about writing historical fiction.  The Ugliest Word in Historical Fiction: Anachronism

So apparently after pouring your heart and soul into writing a book for years, then struggling years more to find an agent and publisher, its likely some historical fiction aficionado will pick up some detail inappropriate for your historical period that you missed in your exhaustive research and shout “Anachronism! Anachronism!” to the social media world.

Yikes! As if this job wasn’t hard enough already.

I’m sure there are anachronisms in my writing despite my years of research. Unless you have a time machine and can check things out personally there are bound to be errors. Even if you do have a time machine, how good are your powers of observation? And even if you get thing right, they might well seem wrong to our ears.

So to anyone who has a burning desire to wheedle out errors and shout them to the world, please don’t read Lady Blade when I finally get it published. It’s meant to be enjoyed. It’s meant to introduce you to characters that I love and a world I find fascinating. It’s meant to explore concepts of honor and right and wrong. My intent was never to accurately display my knowledge of a certain historical period – although I tried to do that as well. And if there is anyone out there with a time machine who has recently visited the 1720s, I’d love to buy you dinner and pick your brain.

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A new swashbuckler from C. J. Thrush

A new swashbuckler from C. J. Thrush

Hi Friends,

I’ve put another piece of Francesca’s story on Booksie and Watpad to read for free.  This is the story of Francesca’s birth and of course, me being who I am, it happens during a pirate attack. As if a ship full of Barbary Corsairs wasn’t enough for her father to deal with, I throw in a very pregnant wife and a mother with a broken hip. I am just so mean! The story is called My Brave Girl.

My Brave Girl on Booksie

My Brave Girl on Watpad

I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do with this. I think it will either be a prologue for Lady Blade or it will be the first chapter of the prequel to Lady Blade. Either way, I really like it and couldn’t wait to share it with people.

Here is a little teaser for you:

Salerno, Italy
June 8th, 1701

                Thurio DiCesare, the world-famous fencing maestro, felt his heart beat a staccato rhythm as he hurried toward his mother’s house. Chaos filled the narrow, cobbled streets packed with horse-drawn carts. Men and women ran in and out of houses piling wagons with belongings. Children wailed. Men driving carriages cursed as they tried to squeeze between other vehicles and became wedged, bringing traffic to a standstill. Voices rose, fist fights broke out.

                Fools, thought Thurio. Their avarice will doom them. If they left their belongings and fled they might have a chance.

                He turned a corner and entered the blue door of a gray stone house. He called out as he rushed up a staircase two steps at a time. “Mary! Mother! Where are you?”

                Two women appeared at the top of the stairs, their faces pale.

              Mother wore a navy-blue dress that, along with her gray hair, was so tidy as to be severe. She leaned on a carved-wood cane. “What has gotten into them?” she asked. “The entire town is in the streets!”

            Thurio reached his wife Mary and took her in his arms, relieved that she and their unborn child were safe for the moment. He buried his dark face in her red hair and breathed in her earthy scent. She pressed away and looked up at him with spring green eyes.

             “What is it this time, my love,” she said. “Is the world ending yet again?” There was bravado in her light tone, but the narrowing of her eyes meant she was frightened and her heart pounded. The Scottish accent to her Italian words reassured him as nothing else could.

            “Barbary corsairs,” said Thurio, moving past them into the bedroom. “They’ve raided Amalfi and are headed this way.”

            “Slavers,” hissed Mary, putting protective hands around her swollen belly.

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A tuscan Villa

A tuscan Villa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a historical fiction writer, it is enormously annoying when history does not cooperate with my story.

At the moment I’m contemplating writing a prequel to my yet-to-be-published novel LADY BLADE. I’m thinking of serializing the prequel and using it as a lead in to the novel. LADY BLADE begins when my main character Francesca DiCesare is eighteen, so the prequel would start when she is a few years younger.

The setting is one of my favorite places in  the world, a hilltop villa in Tuscany in the early 1700s. This particular villa serves as the world-famous fencing school, Salle DiCesare, where Francesca’s father teaches the art and science of the sword to young noblemen.

Now, I was hoping that history would provide at least a bit of a tumultuous background for Francesca’s formative years. After all, the Spanish War of Succession was going on and the Italian Inquisition was still around. But the Italian battles in the Spanish War all happened a few hundred miles north of Salle DiCesare  or off the coast, and the Italian Inquisition for the most part was giving people a slap on the wrists. Darn it.

Really, I should give history a break. It was enormously helpful when I decided to write about Francesca’s birth, supplying corsairs from Algiers to harass her family and kill her mother. But now history is being stingy. Oh well, you can’t get corsairs all the time. I guess the tumult with have to be a bit more local.

BTW, I’m looking for a floor plan of a Tuscan Villa from the 1700s to serve as a basis for Salle DiCesare.  If anyone has seen such a thing, give me a holler!

Happy writing,

C. J. Thrush

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Hi Friends,

Blue Train Books Historical Fiction Section

Blue Train Books Historical Fiction Section (Photo credit: Blue Train Books)

I just read a cute article I found on the Historical Fiction Daily. It’s called Wait, historical fiction is doomed? When did this happen? In it the author quotes an article she read that says that we should just let historical fiction die.

Hmmm. You can try I suppose. But like the author says, a good story is a good story no matter what time or place it’s set in.

To be honest, I didn’t set out to write a historical fiction. That was the last thing on my mind. I love pirates. After all, they’re the rock stars of their time. And I loved reading about Sir Francis Drake and his adventures.  I had a story to tell and I told it, and people have suggested I put it in the historical fiction genre after the fact. If you took away the historical fiction genre then it would be an action/adventure. Although it could be young adult. And it has a love triangle so you could call it a romance.  The film version of LADY BLADE is an action/adventure since there is no real historical fiction genre. I suppose you could call the movie script a period piece, but those tend to be a bit slower moving. Personally I like the term swashbuckler. So where is the bookstore section for swashbucklers?

I think we do a disservice to readers by forcing books into narrow categories. Although, I  admit, I don’t have a better suggestion on how readers are going to find what they’re looking for in the bookstore. Still, curtailing or shoehorning a story to fit a genre can diminish a story and books that cross too many genre lines often have trouble attracting a publisher, no matter the merit of the story. I’ve run into that myself.

I suppose that is the beauty of self-publishing. You can cross all the genre lines you like without being punished or ignored. Readers can find you by keywords on-line instead of by genre in the bookstore. But with so many self-published books to sift through, how do they find you at all?

Anyway, I hope historical fiction isn’t quite dead yet. I’ve still got a story or two to tell and they include tall ships, swords, and cannons.

C. J.

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Hi Friends,

Map of Italy showing the Tuscany region in red

Map of Italy showing the Tuscany region in red (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just found a great new app for historical fiction writers that I had to share. It’s called Google Books Ngram Viewer and it allows you to find out if a particular word was used in the time frame that you’re writing about. It does this by searching a database of books from that time period and letting you know if, and how often the word was used.

I learned about it in an article titled Historical Fiction: Get the Correct Words for the Era  in the Historical Fiction Daily. The author of the article had lots of good uses for the app.

For me, it has partially answered a long-standing question. My yet-to-be-published novel, Lady Blade, begins in Tuscany, Italy in the 1720s. Historically speaking, Italy was not a unified country until the 1800s. Before that time it was a collection of autonomous city-states. So, would someone from Tuscany refer to themselves as a Tuscan or an Italian? Did people have the concept of “Italy” before it became a nation?

The app has told me two things.

First, that English speakers tended to think of Italy as a whole. English books from that era referred to Italy.oo48 percent of the time whereas they referred to Tuscany only about .0001 percent of the time.

Second, in Italian books they were much more likely to mention Tuscany than Italy.

So what does that mean for my writing? That my main character would think of herself as a Tuscan, while her English crewmates would think of her as an Italian. A subtle difference perhaps, but interesting and valuable.

I’m sure I’ll find many more uses for this app!

Happy writing,

C. J.

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The misfortune?

Well, back in the 1500s and through into the late 1700s, the Barbary corsairs (pirates from the Ottoman Empire largely based in Algiers) would raid the coasts of Spain, Italy, and most of the Mediterranean for slaves to sell in Algiers. They would pounce on a coastal village and round up all able-bodied men, women, and children. Those with no value as slaves – the old and infirm – were herded into a church which was then set on fire. Entire villages were destroyed. Thousands at a time were taken captive and forced into a life of hard labor.

Horrible. (Although, in truth, the Europeans were doing the same to people in Africa.)

And wonderful.

Not, of course, for the victims, but for my yet-to-be published historical fiction novel, LADY BLADE. My story takes place around 1720 and my main character, Francesca DiCesare lives in Italy. I had already written that Francesca’s mother died when Francesca was born, and in the back of my mind I knew that it wasn’t childbirth alone that killed her. Something more was going on.

Recently I decided that I need to flesh out that little bit of backstory and strengthen Francesca and her father’s hatred of pirates. And voila, the Barbary corsairs stepped in to help. It’s easy enough to put Francesca’s father, Maestro DiCesare, world-famous fencing master, and his very pregnant wife in a seaside village.  Add a pirate attack, and let the story write itself. The maestro and his wife will try to escape by sea before the corsairs arrive, but they’re too late. The ship is attacked Francesca’s mother is injured in the battle which brings on early labor.  Francesca will be born during the pirate battle that killed her mother. Seems like more than enough motivation to hate pirates to me.

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

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Hello Friends,

English: Sibyl Marston holding a foil for fencing

English: Sibyl Marston holding a foil for fencing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I saw this today and had to share. It is an article about Miss Sanders who taught a woman’s self-defense class around the 1900’s.  They even have some nice pictures of her taking on a “villain” with her parasol.

Early on in my historical fiction novel LADY BLADE Francesca, who’s trained in fencing, takes on three rogues with only a wooden cane.  For all those naysayers who say it could never happen,  here you go.

Miss Sanderson and the womanly art of parasol self-defence

Personally, as a woman fencer for many years, I found my greatest asset in a mixed tournament was that men underestimated by abilities. It is a huge advantage that I exploited whenever I could. Not only because it helped me win, but it taught a lesson to those ready to dismiss women, and I savored that.

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