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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Kenna Seeks Her Revenge: AKA Here We Go Again, it's Nanowrimo Time!

Here I go again, thinking I can write historical novels.  I love research, and have no problem spending time perusing library shelves, doing Google searches or watching YouTube videos about 17th century women's fashions, Cromwell and the Puritans, or King Charles II and his many, many mistresses.  (Loser).  I've learned fascinating historical tidbits:  in the 1600's, men began to wear those long, curly, heinously unattractive wigs, thanks to King Louis XIV, who wanted to hide his shiny bald head.   The word "etiquette," meaning rules for proper behavior, comes from tiny signs ('etiquettes' in French) placed about the gardens of Versailles, reminding people to mind their manners, which included keeping off the grass, not trampling the flowers and picking up one's garbage.  Midwives wore read cloaks and had to swear an oath that they weren't practicing witchcraft. Doctors used to wear these long, birdish-looking leather masks with beak-like protrusions that were filled with aromatic herbs.  They did this to avoid catching the Bubonic Plague when treating victims of the horrible disease.  

Fun stuff!  My biggest problem?  The lingo of the time.  How did people communicate with one another who lived, say, in the poorest slums of Edinburgh, Scotland in the mid 1600's?  Is there a textbook somewhere?  

Google searches yield interesting and fun slang terms and sayings, but it's hard to know whether or not such words were in use more than 300 years ago.  I considered contacting some linguistics professor some where, who, perhaps, specializes in this kind of thing.  I can imagine the phone conversation now:  "I'm an unpublished, unknown wannabe writer who needs to find out how people used to speak and what slang terms they used in Scotland in the mid 1600's.  Can you help me?"  Hmm....  I haven't taken that particular route, yet.  

Well, I decided to take the plunge, anyway, thanks to the fact that November is "National Novel Writing Month," or "nanowrimo" for short.  This time of year just seems to lend itself well to parking yourself in front of your laptop and typing away, while the wind howls outside and you can sip all the hot chocolate or peppermint tea you'd like, while writing fake, historically inaccurate dialogue that makes you cringe.

So, here's my first chapter.  Kenna comes from a well-off family, but after the death of her sister, she finds herself trapped in what she calls "The Close," a warren of narrow passages and alleys between tall tenement buildings in the heart of Edinburgh, Scotland.  As you can tell from the opening paragraph, she's ticked and plans her revenge.  :-)

And, if anyone has any suggestions or comments about that whole 17th century "genuine Scottish lingo" issue, feel free to comment!


by Rebecca Bischoff


If I find Oliver, I will plunge my knife into his heart.  I won’t trifle with powders or potions, the method he surely used to murder his wife.  I will not allow myself the luxury of watching him die by inches, as pain fills his wretched soul.  What I have learned in this filthy place echoing with the squeal of rats and moans of the starving is that I will only have one chance.  One blow, no more.  I must not falter. 

I only want to see Oliver’s life breath leave his body.  Then my sister is avenged.

Annie murmurs and fidgets in her sleep.  I place a hand on her forehead, and my light touch is enough.  She quiets and her breathing slows.  This child, with eyes that are pools of clear water and a tangle of hair that hangs over her round face like a matted curtain, clung to me the moment she saw me.  I could not bear to push her away.  Not in a place like this.  Here, Annie cannot survive without me. 

Yet, it’s not likely I myself will survive this place much longer.  The Close is my prison, and has been these past few days.  If I am to live, and if I am to have my revenge, I must find a way out.

Dawn approaches.  I can tell by the feel in the air.  Light doesn’t truly penetrate here in the Close, except for a few brief moments at midday when the sun is directly overhead, but early morning there is a gradual lessening of the darkness, as though someone has pushed aside a curtain that covers a filthy window and allowed a few weak rays to filter inside a room. 

Careful not to disturb Annie, I rise from my bed, and nearly laugh aloud that I could think of it as such.  My bed is no more than a worn spot on the cobbles, a tiny space of sorts between two buildings and behind a rotten barrel left there long ago.  It is where this child and I huddle at night.  It is a refuge, away from prying eyes, out of reach of the slops thrown at all hours from the upper windows.  Hidden we must remain, especially at night, when The Watchman wanders up and down, up and down, his footsteps interminable, echoing.  He must not find us.  

Stretching aching bones, I feel my shoulders sag at memories which never cease torment me when I arise.   I remember no dreams.  Yet I must sleep in snatches during my exhausted stupor each long night as I huddle with the child and clutch the knife inside my pocket, not willing to let it go for a moment.  I suppose this is when I see visions of the past, for these thoughts hurt me so each time I awaken.  Feather beds.  Clean linens that smell of lavender.  Plentiful food.  A hot fire.  .
I take a deep breath and wrinkle my nose at the smells that invade my being.  I’m not yet used to the stench here.  Our latrine at home never smelled this bad.  Mrs. Harris kept it clean by pouring lime into it each week.  Drains carried away slops and kitchen scraps from the main house to the river.  Our home smelled of herbs and rushes scattered on the floors, which were swept away each night and replaced each morning.

The Close smells of human waste and the shells of those who were left where they died.  The Body Men have not been sent in.  Cries for help are ignored.

“Kenna?” Annie says.  She sounds startled.

“Hush,” I whisper, turning back to kneel beside her.  “I’m here.”

“Hungry,” she says.  Her voice is not plaintive.  She knows as well as I that hunger is our faithful companion.  Its claws never let go. 

“Let’s go, then,” I say, helping her to her feet.  She clutches her doll and smiles at me, and I force my face into what I hope is a cheerful expression.  I adjust my dress, tightening the laces of the bodice and scratching at my sweaty, dirty skin.  My hair must look much as Annie’s does, though I’ve tried to keep it braided and off my face.

We ease past the barrel and pick our way into the street.  All is quiet, except for the squalling of the babe from somewhere a few stories above our heads.  The little one cries most of the time.  I’ve grown used to the sound.  Annie cradles her doll, a few scraps of fabric fallen from a clothesline high above that I’d wrapped around a bit of wood, and shushes it.   My heart turns over for a moment.  Where is her family?  No one I have asked claims her, nor do they know from whence she came.  It is as though this child, like me, does not belong in the Close.  Yet, I cannot care for her.  I can hardly care for myself.  I must find her family, or someone to take her in.
Hearing footsteps approach, I pull Annie to my side and sweep into a doorway.  Unfortunately, someone else was there before us.

“Shove off,” a rough voice grunts, and a hard fist punches me in the side.  Gasping for air, I back away, trying to apologize but unable to form words.

Annie whimpers as we move off, stumbling along uneven cobbles.  I turn back, straining to see who approaches in the pale darkness of early morning.
A doorway opens and flickering light allows me a glimpse of the pitted face of Mr. Shaw, the baker.  He is not one I’d wish to encounter alone.  He saw me, the second day after my arrival here. Faint after nearly a day with no food, I'd snatched a loaf from the window when his back was turned.  I am certain he knows what I did.

His shop is at the opposite end of the Close, nearly a mile away.  He’s carrying what appears to be a heavy parcel in his arms, and his eyes dart about as though he fears something.  I know the look; I see it in the faces of everyone here.  I suppose I wear that expression most of the time as well. 

The door closes and Shaw passes us by as we back away and press ourselves to the side of the building.  He pays us no mind and I’m about to move on but at that moment, a hand seizes my foot and I cry out.  Looking down, I see that someone has reached out from between the bars of a low window.  I stumble and barely keep my footing, as two hands now have a tight grip on my ankle.

Don’t be alarmed, pretty lass.  Fancy coming down here to give me a bit of company?  I’ll share my ale with you.”

Let me be,” I blurt, tugging and straining in vain against the ever-tightening grip.  Annie begins to cry.

“Use your blade, girl,” a familiar rough voice grunts.  The person from the doorway who hit me!  Why should he wish to assist us?  Yet, with a gasp of relief, I remember my knife.  I’ve not yet had occasion to use it, but circumstances appear to warrant its use, and quick.

The hands release me the moment I begin to slash at the clutching fingers.  Howls emit from the low window as I hurry Annie away from the spot. 

“Best to stay on t’other side from now on when you pass by here,” the voice says.  “And keep your knife at the ready.”

“Thanks,” I manage to breathe.  Annie clings to my side and I try to comfort her best as I can while still clutching my knife, wary of my so-called protector, the one who punched me only moments before.  I pray he can’t see how I tremble head to foot.

“You’ve naught to eat I warrant?  That child is like to blow away in a gust of wind,” the man says.  “Come.”  

He returns to his doorway and I hear the scrape and click of a key turning in a lock.  I remain where I am, unsure, but Annie tugs at my skirts, and my stomach is as empty as the old, long abandoned chapel at the end of the street, so reluctantly, I follow.

Inside, the man lights a taper and sets it on a low wooden table.  He shuffles to another room and I look about me, keeping one hand on the knife and another on Annie’s shoulder, ready to flee at any moment.  No telling what my protector really wants.  It’s what I’ve learned in the Close these past few days.  Trust no one.

The room is bare and worn.  The stone walls weep with moisture and cold seeps through to my bones.  I’ve yet to see a fire here, though I know everyone must feel the chill as I do.  Winter will be upon us soon.  We must not remain here when the snows come.  How will we survive then, out in the street?

“Sit,” the man grunts, as he shuffles back into the room carrying a trencher of bread and cheese.  My mouth waters at the sight.  With a cry, Annie darts over and seizes a bit of bread, stuffing it into her mouth.

“Easy, little mouse,” the man chuckles.  “Go slow or it will like as not come back out.  I know that kind of hunger.”

“Do you,” I venture to ask, reaching with a shaky hand for a bit of cheese.  I wolf it down in a manner that I know would have shocked my genteel sister, so proper and dignified.  Pushing away the memory of her face, I reach for another piece.

“Aye,” the man says.   Then he takes his own bit of bread and sits, ignoring us as he munches. 

I study the man by the light of the candle.  Close-cropped white hair caps his skull like a pile of fine, ashy snow.  Lined and rough, his face is much like that of everyone around here, and yet there is something in his bearing that seems…proud?  Happy?  No, that cannot be!  Not here!  Yet, the man’s thin shoulders are not bowed, though it is apparent he has lived long years.  He is not worn down by the poverty and despair that cows so many who live here.  His face, though crinkled as a shriveled potato and red with cold, is calm.  No darkness clouds his countenance.  Instead, his eyes, peering out as they do from between folds of ancient skin, glow a startling, sapphire blue. 

I do not understand this.  People here are…angry.  Angry and poorer than the dirt beneath their feet.

I used to come here; well, I correct myself as I seize another bit of bread, I used to come to the head of the street at the entrance to the Close.  It was up the hill near Shaw’s bakery, where I would go with my sister Cinaed to hand out food from the baskets Mrs. Harris would prepare on Sundays.  We were proud to say that we fed the poor.  I used to shrink from the grabbing, dirt-encrusted fingers that reached for the pitiful offerings we so officiously gave. 

Now, my own filthy hands are grateful for any bit of food they can find.

A wheezy chuckle interrupts my musings.

“You dinnae belong here,” the man says, dipping his head at me.

“How do you know?” I say, keeping my fingers curled about the knife that rests in my lap.

“I know who you are, Poisoner.  We all do.  You’re that lass what murdered her sister up in New Town.”


  1. Hi Rebecca!
    How are you? Thank you for your warm family sentiments. Thank you for my second chance at friendship. I am glad I finally reached out to you. I apologize for being a bad friend. You seemed genuinely pleased and surprised that I made a comment on your blog. If you like, I will make the effort to comment on each and every posting from now on. Its up to you.
    I know it's Nanowrimo time now, so I know it will be awhile before your next post. I will wish you and yours a happy thanksgiving. I will give you a blog hug and tell you how happy it made me feel that not only you remembered me, but that you still considered me a friend. Your family is truly blessed to have you in their lives. Take care, Rebecca and God bless!

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  3. Wow! I loved the aggressive rage and revenge in the opening paragraph. I loved the yellow skin glow. You have such flawless transitions from paragraph to paragraph, building the story, getting us completely drawn into it. It's only the first chapter! I can't wait to see the rest.
    And you're not a wannabe writer! You are awesome! And it's not a matter of if you'll be published, its a matter of when will it happen. And you have to listen to me because I've known you for a long time. How many novels have you written after this one? Six? Seven? I lost track. How many pages is a 33 chapter 59,000 words manuscript? Are all of them the same in length? I'm sorry way too many questions. I just get way too excited talking about you. For the last five years or so, I would eagerly anticipate your next blog. What a pleasure to read each and everyone one of them. To be able to read what was derived from the mind of a genius was quite a thrill. So, now, I wait once again until the next time!

  4. Wow, thanks for your kind words! I really appreciate the positive feedback. It helps temper the disappointment of rejections from literary agents. :-)