A Victorian Affair in Secret Code

If you came across this while perusing the personal ads of a Victorian newspaper what would you do?

news

Intrigued at finding a secret code I couldn’t resist trying to crack it. It was posted in the London Evening Standard  on the 11th January 1900. The Standard was a daily newspaper that ran from 1827 until the end of 1900 and appears to have been the newspaper of choice for cryptic correspondence.

The code is a basic substitution cipher where one letter of the alphabet is swapped for another. This particular code is a Caesar cipher in which the alphabet is moved along a certain number of letters. Caesar always used 3 moves which made it easy for his enemies to crack his codes once they realised he never changed it.

It was only by moving the alphabet along by twelve letters that this particular code began to make sense. In addition the coder had substituted n for l and i for o as well, just to make it a little more difficult I suppose.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L    l=n o=i

When the coded bits of the message were solved it read:

Eippom (This didn’t translate to anything so I assume it’s a codename)  Returning  home  Satday. Letter awaiting you. Arrive In town Monday next. Can meet you one clock anywhere.  – Shopping to do for sirtom. Will that suit?

Who is Eippom, who is Sir Tom and who is the message for? I had no idea, but a reply was posted in the newspaper the following day.

West Wind-G Arnoe  sauzsfa  faiz egzpmk tabq kaginxx youwbll mdduhq  yazpmqyadz mnagf gxghqz ddufq London qjmof fuyq kagmdq pgq I will yqqfkag  cfmfnaz

Decoded the message is: Going to town Sunday. Hope you will arrive Monday morn about eleven. Write London exact time you’re due. I will meet you station.

The correspondence between these two people go on for months and I still haven’t found all of the messages. They’re not very exciting, just instructions to meet in secret to conduct their illicit affair (both of them are married), but I can’t help wondering who they were and what happened to them. Who knows, they might end up as characters in one of my stories one day.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

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The Ghost of a Christmas Past.

It started with some old photos and postcards of Liverpool. I follow several groups and some postcard retailers who regularly post old photos of the area to Facebook and every now and then there are images of the area I live in, but these are usually of local businesses or transport.

I decided I would do a quick search on Ebay to see if they had anything closer to home and much to my astonishment an image came up in the lists that looked incredibly familiar.

moss-lane-1911

To most people this would be just an ordinary row of houses. Why anyone would produce a photo of them for a postcard was anybody’s guess, but to me it was much more.  One of those houses was mine.

I clicked the link, the seller said it had been posted in 1911. I already knew the houses were built between 1901 and 1911 and had found census records for the first family to live here, but this postcard could be a direct link to those people.

The reverse of the card wasn’t shown, so I couldn’t be sure who’d sent it. The chances it was ‘our family’ (as we fondly refer to them) were slim and the card was priced at £19.00. It’s the most I’ve ever paid for a single postcard, but I had to have it. What were the chances of finding another?

When it arrived I opened it with fingers crossed, but am sorry to say was a little disappointed. It was not sent by any of the people living in my house in 1911 and had no identifying information on who had taken the photo or produced the postcard. That still remains a mystery, but the odd thing was that it had been sent to a place called Orrell Park, odd because that is what this area is called too. It was posted on the 4th of January 1911, the sender thanks the recipient for postcards, papers and Christmas parcel and says what a quiet New Year they’ve had with no visitors. A brief glimpse into a Christmas past.

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Whether it was sent by one of the inhabitants of the other houses on the row I don’t know yet, further research needs to be done when I have more time and access to genealogical records,

What’s interesting about the card is that it shows what the houses looked like just after they were built, and the row further on has changed considerably because they are now all shops with flats above.

But the best thing for me is that if you look really carefully (and I have, with a magnifying glass), it appears that there is someone standing at the upstairs window, holding the curtain back and watching as the photographer took his photo. And just to the right of that the other window is open and possibly has another figure watching from there too. I could be wrong, but I’d like to think this was the lady of the house and her fifteen year old maid, Emily Francis, who we believe still haunts the house, as she has been spotted in her uniform on a few occasions.

And so research on this kept me busy and away from writing the novel for several days, but it was the discovery of a secret code that distracted me for the last weeks of summer. I’ll tell you about that next time…

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

Becoming a Deltiology Detective

In my last post I promised to explain how I’d become sidetracked by a hundred year old postcard that showed a picture of the house I live in (105 years actually), but first I should explain how I became obsessed with old postcards in general.

It all started three or four years ago when I began my access course at the University of Liverpool. We were invited to a lecture given by Professor Andrew Popp from the Management School whose specialism is family businesses and their history.  Not something you would usually associate with postcards, but he had discovered an old postcard that had been posted in the early twentieth century from Liverpool to London and it fascinated him enough that he wrote a paper on it.

He had no idea who had sent the postcard, but the recipient was a young lady by the name of Miss L Warden. The image on the card was of the Liverpool Exchange building with the memorial to Nelson on the lower right hand side and various employees, clerks and brokers, milling around in the foreground.

the postcard Andrew Popp gave a lecture on

On the reverse of the card was a map of the UK showing the route of the rail line between Liverpool and London and Hastings was also highlighted.

reverse of the card showing map and angle of stamp

You can see the original post on the Postcardese blog and here.

An enormous amount of information was gleaned from the scant details on the card, even the angle that the stamp was placed at on the card gave a clue to the relationship of the sender and recipient. In this case it tells us they are romantically linked. The red line showing the route that the train took to deliver the card also emphasises how far apart this couple are. Does Hastings have some significance for them, a romantic weekend away perhaps?

Professor Popp had used genealogical records to piece together the mystery of who the couple were and what happened to them after sending the postcard. I’d been doing genealogy on my family tree for several years and was fascinated to see it used in this way. The lecture inspired me to go out and buy my first postcard and become a deltiologist (postcard collector) – it was a picture of the old chemistry building at the University of Liverpool (I’ll tell you all about that another time) and my collection quickly built into one of over a thousand cards.

Postcards were the social media of their day. They were delivered several times a day and you could post one in the morning and have a reply within a few hours – almost as quick as a text. Not all of the ones available to purchase today have been posted, their value lies in the images on the front of the card, but the most interesting ones have been sent far and wide and all have a story to tell.

Professor Popp’s card was a glimpse into the lives of two people, a moment in time that is now long gone, but those moments live on in a few scrawled words on the backs of old postcards for anyone who cares to decipher their mysteries.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

Summer’s End

Summer’s End -sounds like it should be the title of a tragic romance novel, but no, it’s that time of year where I start to panic that time is running out and begin frantically looking up the price of academic text books. In a few short weeks I’ll be back at uni getting to grips with Victorian literature and the Vikings  and of course that means less time for writing.

Not that I’ve done much writing in the last few weeks. I admit I have been sidetracked by other things – namely a one hundred year old postcard of my house, the personal columns in newspapers of the 1900s, and getting reacquainted with my arty side.  It’s been a long time since I did any painting so I am having to relearn a lot of things I haven’t done since school.

Persephone Reborn (still not sure this is the best title) has been left to bubble away at the back of my mind, primarily because I’m having to restructure some of the scenes. I had a very clear plan of where I was going and what happened from chapter to chapter, but then one of the characters said something that changed all that and well… who am I to argue with a character?

I’ve promised myself, that whatever the workload,  I am going to be super organised and ultra disciplined, keep to a timetable planned with military precision, get up early so there are more hours in the day, but I’m also realistic and often at the mercy of fibromyalgia which wears me out and makes me want to curl up in a ball and sleep a lot. Luckily, I don’t lack for determination, so everything does get done – eventually.

In the meantime, I have just under three weeks of summer break left, writing this post is a good start to getting on with it all and in future ones I’ll explain about the postcard and the personal columns…

found on Pinterest (missing an apostrophe in it’s – tut tut).

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

Mathematical Models on Vampire Population Strategies or How to Stop Your Vampires From Wiping Out Humanity

And the award for longest blog title goes to….

But seriously (really?) it’s a real problem.  The majority of vampire novels, Stoker’s included, don’t consider the logistics of vampire to human ratios or how long it would take their vampire populations (the predators) to wipe out humanity (their prey) – around a 165 days for Dracula in case you’re wondering. You might be surprised to find that this has actually been worked out by a number of academics who have published papers on their findings (see links at the bottom of the post) and as I’m currently in the middle of writing a novel with vampires in it it suddenly looked like a good idea to waste an afternoon reading them. Also, I’m always on the lookout for a possible dissertation subject that will make my Academic Advisor roll his eyes.

These maths equations are mesmerising…

Most of these papers use a Lotka-Volterra system (1) that gives equations for working out how natural world predator-prey populations change or adapt over time. We know that fluctuations in one population affects the other, a reduction in prey results in a reduction in predators, but also, in the natural world, predators (lions, tigers etc) and their prey (antelopes, buffalos etc) both have a finite lifespan that results in natural death, whereas vampires live forever, so the model has to be altered in order to compensate for this and other certain variables.

One paper (2) uses a very simple equation to work out how long it would take for the entire global human population to be wiped out entirely. They begin with one single, solitary vampire and a human population of over 500 million and calculate that if vampires only fed once a month, we would all be dead (or undead) within two and a half years. Their reasoning falls down however, because they assume that every human being fed upon will turn into a vampire. As a result vampire numbers increase exponentially and humans reduce exponentially.

But we know that not all bitten humans turn, nor do they all die.  And vampires are still rational thinking beings (mostly), capable of understanding that if they eat or turn their entire food source it’s going to cause problems for their own survival. Something normal human beings don’t seem to be able to grasp, given their continuing destruction of the planet they live on – but that’s an argument on a different subject.

A more sophisticated model by Hartl and Mehlmann (1980) (3) introduced the birth rate of humans and the death of vampires by vampire hunters, as well as optimal rates of feeding that showed vampires would have to manage their resources if they were to survive. Appalled by what he saw as the authors attempt to help vampires “solve their intertemporal consumption problem” (4), D Snower wrote a paper in which he proposes that a human labour force be put to work producing stakes with which to destroy vampires, the more vampires that exist the more stakes are needed. However, he does not seem to take into account that stakes (depending on which vampire infested universe you happen to be in) could be used more than once. In Buffy for example, one human could kill any number of vampires which turn to dust on staking, whilst in other milieu vampires can be revived after a stake is removed from their chest.  He then goes on to prove, through some mathematical equation I can’t possibly hope to understand or explain, that wiping out vampires completely would not be good for the human race!

Finally, a paper published in Applied Mathematical Sciences in 2013 (5) used the same nefarious reasoning as paper 2 to show that in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles it would take Lestat and Louis 48 years to eradicate humans from the world, but again they forget that Lestat was not the only vampire in existence when he turned Louis. There is no mention of Armand, the Theatre de Vampires or Marius, Pandora etc etc, their reckoning is wrong.  Ok it’s only a hypothetical mathematical model, but I say if you’re going to do something based on a fictional world you should at least do it right. They then came to the conclusion, using Meyer, Harris and Kostova’s books,  that certain conditions would result in a peaceful co-existence of vampires and humans where both species could survive in a world not too dissimilar to our own. The balance was fragile though, and any deviation from the appropriate conditions might bring the whole thing toppling down.

At the end of the day, all of this only matters if you think fictional worlds should conform to real world science – which I don’t. Or at least I don’t believe that real world science has all the answers which certainly helps when you write about angels, fairies, demons and vampires. In Persephone Reborn I intend keeping my vampire population in check by using a system of human/vampire co-operation in which some humans are aware of and work for and alongside vampires while the majority of humans are oblivious to their existence. In addition, at some point in the past, an organisation called The Covenant came into being for the sole purpose of regulating vampire numbers and ensuring they abide by a set of rules that, should they be broken, will have dire consequences. Of course, there’s always someone, somewhere, willing to break the rules…

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotka-Volterra_equations

2. Cinema Fiction vs Physics Reality Ghosts, Vampires and Zombies Costas J. Efthimiou and Sohang Gandhi

3. The Transylvanian Problem of Renewable Resources by R. Hartl and A. Mehlmann

4. Macroeconomic Policy and The Optimal Destruction of Vampires by D. Snower

5. Mathematical Models of Interactions Between Species: Peaceful Co-existence of Vampires and Humans Based on the Models Derived from Fiction Literature and Films  by Wadim Strielkowski , Evgeny Lisin  and Emily Welkins

 

 

 

 

Another Year Over

 Last Thursday was the last exam of the year and now that I’m just about over the trauma it’s time to start planning for the summer. I started looking over what I’ve already written for ‘Persephone Reborn’ last night and although I have a synopsis, some rough chapters and a lot of notes totaling nearly twenty thousand words there is still a long way to go.

Frankly, it is a bit of a mess and the summer seems no where near long enough. But, I am determined to crack on with it and start kicking it in to shape. Will power is key. Sitting down everyday just to keep working through the plot and getting the story down is the plan, except I’ve lost track of the number of times I go back to chapter one and change the opening paragraphs because it’s too cliche, or gives the game away, or because the characters keep changing how they look in my head.

I think it was Stephen King who said you can’t write a scene until you’ve lived it. That might not be an exact quote, but it’s close enough and so I spend a huge amount of my time staring into space whilst I visualise the story, over and over and over again. It was a great piece of advice, because you realise there are things going on around your characters and they’re not just standing doing nothing while they talk to each other. When you get really good at it you can disappear into your imaginary world and become your characters or an invisible observer. If you can get that experience down on paper your readers will feel the same. That’s the hope anyway.

I also plan to get Blackfeather and Immortal out in paperback and maybe submit a couple of short stories to competitions or magazines. So it looks like it’s going to be a busy summer ahead. I’ll do my best to keep you posted.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

 

Thoughts On Theory

https://wordsouldotnet.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/reading-woman-by-19th-century-russian-painter-ivan-kromskoi-photo-by-paukrus-under-a-creative-commons-license-on-flickr1.jpg?w=408&h=500My favourite module of this semester has been “Ways of Reading”. The title attempts to simplify the idea of literary theory, or theories, since there are so many, and sums up what literary theory/criticism is about which is essentially different ways of reading any text.

It’s also been the most frustrating module since, by and large, the lectures and tutorials have been less structured in their approach to teaching. In some ways it couldn’t have been any other way. Reading is a very subjective and often mysterious activity with as many perspectives on the text being read as there are readers. How you interpret Blackfeatherfor instance, may be entirely different to what I intended to write and different again to any other reader’s interpretation.

Another complication is the fact that many theories originate from other disciplines- Marxism from politics, psychoanalysis from psychology and any number of philosophical approaches – each with its own technical language.

And what is literature anyway? This question hasn’t been answered satisfactorily on the course. Once upon a time it would only have included those texts deemed worthy of study – the Classics for instance – but ideas of literature and worthiness changes over time. In his day Dickens appealed to the masses with his serialised stories, now, I think, we would consider him if not literary at least part of the corpus of Victorian literature worth studying for historical purposes. Likewise, Conan-Doyle, who could come under genre theory of detective fiction, amongst others.

Taking any particular approach also poses problems. Feminist theory will look at a text from the perspective of gender, women writers, do female characters even have a voice, what do the actions of female characters say about the text, the author, history and so on. Psychoanalysis interprets a text from a Freudian perspective, looking at sexual imagery, suppressed sexual desires, dreams etc whilst ecocritiscism interprets the natural world and how it is portrayed, the landscape may mirror a character’s feelings for instance. In King Lear the wild stormy moors reflect Lear’s state of mind. The presence of a lake may signify the hidden depths of a character or secrets they are keeping.

These are just a few of the ‘isms’ associated with literary theory and even if you believe you are reading a text from say a feminist perspective there isn’t just one feminist perspective to use.

So, you begin to see my problem with the module – there is no black and white, no one set of rules to follow, but equally no right or wrong way to read.

Multitasking Reader, image by Dr Motte, Flickr Creative Commons

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter