Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Two brothers, an uncle and attempted murder

On this day in 1793, somebody wounded Richard Lloyd the elder by shooting him in the head with a pistol as he sat reading in the parlor. His nephew, also named Richard Lloyd, was charged with the crime.

Rick was in the parlor at the time of the shooting and Uncle Richard assumed Rick was reading, too, although he didn't actually see the boy. Suddenly, a gun went off. Uncle Richard stood up (I suspect "leapt to his feet" would be more accurate) and cried out, "My God! my God! what is this you have done!" Rick doesn't say a word, but "walked out" into the yard, then to the wash house. Ater that, Rick wound up at a neighbor's, where he was found and arrested.

Uncle Richard never saw a pistol or gun in his nephew's possession at any time that day. He and his nephew had apparently lived "comfortable together" and as far as he could tell, his nephew wasn't mentally ill.

I find it interesting that Uncle Richard says Rick walked into the yard. Although the uncle thought he looked frightened, he wasn't running. Also, the first thing Uncle Richard thinks is that Rick did it. However, if he didn't see anybody else, that might very well be the conclusion he would jump to.

Next comes the testimony of constable Robert Dawson, and here's where it gets even more interesting. Young Rick has an older brother who was originally arrested for the crime because a box of pistols, shot and powder were found in his possession. Turns out Rick's brother, who is not named, might not be the most upstanding member of society, having been apprenticed and run away from his master. The constable doesn't know "how he lived" - how he earned his keep, I gather. Older Bro had lived with Uncle Richard for about 12 years, had frequently been to the house, but Uncle Richard hadn't seen him that day.

Uncle Richard (called the prosecutor, because it was the victim who brought the charges at that time) is questioned further and reveals that the window of the parlor wasn't broken; he can't remember if it was open or not. He can't remember smelling gun powder. If he was shot by somebody in the same room, you'd think he would. However, Uncle Richard also says that the ball "extracted" from him does not resemble the ball found in Older Bro's possession.

Yikes! And oh, for forensics, eh?

I would dearly love to know why Older Bro was released, and have to think it must be this bit of evidence. So Rick, presumably because he was the only other person around at the time of the shooting, got charged instead.

The jury then asks a question -- When Rick was arrested, was he searched?


So Rick was never found to have any weapons on him, and although it's not stated, I assume none were found in the parlor after the shooting.

Rick's found not guilty.

Whew - there's a lot of story seedlings here! The two brothers, one of whom may be a ne'er-do-well. The apparently benign uncle who's given them a home for several years who gets shot at. Who stands to inherit? Methinks Older Bro. What happened to their parents? Why did Older Bro leave his job? What exactly was the relationship between the uncle and his nephews? Was it as happy as he thought? Is he lying through his teeth? Was he really a vicious miser who abused them physically, mentally or both? Who can say what secrets lurk within that family?

If Older Bro did the shooting, did Rick know he was going to? Did he see him coming? Was he in the parlor to open the window?

The constable originally arrested the brother, who had possession of pistols in his lodgings. There were also two children alone in the house. There's another seedling for a subplot, or even potential sequel characters.

Why did the jury find Rick innocent? The stronger evidence against the brother? The fact that Rick didn't run far? That the uncle can't remember smelling gun powder? The uncle's testimony that he and Rick were on good terms?

If I were to use some of these ideas for a romance, something is obviously missing: a heroine. You could fix that by having a brother and a sister instead of two brothers. Or two sisters. Or you could invent a completely new character who's either already involved with this family, or becomes involved because of this incident. Maybe she's the neighbor in whose house Rick was found.

Yep, lots of ideas with this case!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Maybe not a plot, but certainly a character

Sometimes, research can give you an idea for a plot. And sometimes, you may find just a character.

Today, for instance, at the Old Bailey Online, I find not enough for a plot, but such a piece of testimony, I could have a fine old time basing a character on it.

John Lee is accused of stealing a trunk from the boot (back) of a coach. A trunk covered in "hair skin", no less. Does that make it more expensive? I don't know.

At any rate, the coachman, William Miller, claims the trunk was in the boot, then he saw John Lee take it. Or, as he apparently put it, "a man came and tried to take the trunk off; he dropped it down, and I caught him myself, the trunk is here; the prisoner is the man, I saw him come and take it, I stood by the fire while I saw him take it, it was about a quarter before five, the 24th of January."

The part that really caught my interest was "the trunk is here, the prisoner is the man" which has a neat sort of rhythm, as well as the repetition of "I saw him come and take it, I stood by the fire while I saw him take it."

In my mind, I could see this guy as pretty agitated and excited, either by what happened or because he's in court and testifying.

Miller then goes on to say, when questioned, that "he was never out of my sight, he did not run twenty yards; I said nothing to him, he dropped it, I pushed after him, and he threw it down, and I took him."

Pretty basic, and yet I could still see this as agitated and excited, ending with the triumphant, "and I took him."

John Lee's defense? "I never saw the box at all, I have no witnesses."

And thus, no alibi, either, apparently.

The judge believed Miller, and John Lee was sentenced to be twice whipped and jailed one week in Newgate.

William Miller might not make a hero, but he could certainly be a great secondary character, either as a coachman, a valet, or some other sort of servant. And a similar sort of recitation of events need not be in court. It could be in a drawing room, maybe right after the event and perhaps be a pivotal point in a plot.

So...wait a minute...there might be a plot in there after all, starting with answering the question, "What's in the trunk?"

Then, why is John Lee stealing it? Does he know what's inside and want or need it? Was he simply paid to steal a trunk without knowing what's inside? If so, by whom? And why?

Yep, seems there's a few seedlings in here, after all!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Not every crime in a story need be theft or murder

Here's a case from today's Old Bailey Online that demonstrates that not every crime in a novel need be as serious as theft or murder to give a writer a lot of story possibilities.

Thomas Eady was charged with damage to property, for the unlawful cutting down of a horse chestnut tree on land leased from "Mary Jane Dowager Lady Dacre" by Sir William Dolben, a baronet. (Shades of Sir Walter Elliot!).

As the case proceeds, it's clear that there was a chestnut tree cut down, it was chopped up into four pieces, and loaded into a cart by Eady and two others known only as Welch and Crow. Later boards of chestnut were found in the establishment of a man named Webb, who has run away. Apparently Welch and Crow had absconded as well, as a search of Old Bailey Online didn't turn up anyone by those names being charged with that crime in 1798. I do note, however, that "There were two other Counts for a similar offence, varying the manner of charging it." Maybe this refers to Welch and Crow? I'm not sure.

Tom claims that he only helped load the wood, not cut down the tree.

Interestingly, Sir William Dolben gives Tom a "good character," and Tom is let off with a fine of 1 shilling. This tells me that they believed Tom only helped with the loading and not the cutting - although why Tom would think the cutting was legitimate is not explained, and we don't know who Welch and Crow might have been. Perhaps they claimed they had permission, although the fact this was apparently done at night might have given Tom pause. It also makes me wonder if Tom wasn't too bright, and everybody knew it, so they could believe he could buy whatever story Welch and Crow told him about the circumstances.

What gets my story-telling imagination going with this case, however, is the discrepancies. When Tom's taken into custody and is allowed to go home to leave his tools, his father, with whom he lives, is reported to have said, "why, you were not concerned with Welch and Crow in stealing that tree; the prisoner said, yes I was; the old man said, oh dear, to many domes as I have asked you about it, and you have always denied it..." I was confused by "to many domes" so I looked at the original text and I believe it actually says, "so many times".

So apparently Father had questioned his son about the tree, and the son had always denied being involved. One could argue that if Tom only helped load the wood, he wasn't directly involved and perhaps that's what he meant, but I find it interesting the Father is ready to believe his son has been lying to him. However, I also note that Father is not called upon to repeat this in court; this is reported by a constable named Trott.

Also, according to another constable named Pidkin (I can't make up names like these!), Tom freely confessed that not only had he helped cut it down, "there was a d-d deal of trouble in it, it lodged in the next tree, and we were forced to cut off three lengths before it would drop..."

Now, either Tom said this, or he didn't. If he did help cut down the tree, why would he confess to the point where he's complaining about the effort it took to the constable when he's in custody and then deny it on the stand? Is he lying on the stand? Perhaps, although Sir William apparently thinks he's a good guy.

Or is the constable lying? Why would he do that, especially when it seems Sir William liked the guy enough to speak for him at the trial? And why put it so graphically (with the cursing)? And is Trott lying, too, about what his father said?

Or could both stories be true? What if Tom was intellectually impaired but also eager to please and seem like a "regular guy," or perhaps even a tough guy. Constable Trott's questions give Tom the notion that Trott will be impressed if he helped cut down the tree, especially such a large one. So he says yes, he did it -- and what's more, it wasn't easy. He isn't thinking of the consequences of that confession; he's only trying to impress the constable and seem like a formidable fellow.

What if one or both of the constables have it in for Tom? What if Tom's relatively light sentence angers them?

What's the deal with Tom and his father? Father seems so ready to believe Tom's guilty -- why? What does that say about their relationship? What caused that? Or is Constable Trott lying about what he heard? Why would he do that?

If I were to write a story based on this, I'd have Tom either slightly mentally retarded or so young he could be naive enough to be tricked/conned by Welch and Crow to help them. Then I'd give him a sister, and make her the heroine. Sir William becomes a handsome nobleman who wants to believe Tom's not involved, but can't deny at least some of the evidence against him.

According to the transcript, Tom works as a laborer, so clearly the family's not well to do. What if Sis is in service at Sir William's house? That gives them an existing relationship of master and servant, and would serve to bring them together and keep them in contact.

Sis could be very protective of Tom, especially if Father's constantly expressing his disappointment in his son, or always suspecting him of being up to no good (perhaps because of a childhood incident of minor theft or lying).

Let's think about Constable Pidkin, the one who claims to have heard Tom confess. Maybe he's a jilted suitor of Sis. Or maybe he has another reason for wanting Tom imprisoned. Maybe he thinks Tom's some kind of threat to the community and takes this incident with the tree as evidence to prove his point. He could be well-meaning, but over-zealous.

If Trott and Pidkin are both lying, obviously they're friends -- unless you wanted to have Trott forcing Pidkin to lie for him for some reason, or vice versa. That would make for another layer of conflict.

Maybe Sis had a relationship with Pidkin or Trott, but the appearance/arrival/presence of Sir William has affected her feelings as in, she's way more attracted to Sir William than the constable. But there's no way a baronet's going to marry a maid. They could certainly become lovers, though.

And what about Welch and Crow? Do they return to make more trouble?

This is a relatively minor legal action - truly a seedling. But there are many ways one could grow a story out of it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Don't come back too soon!

Today's case highlighted at Old Bailey Online concerns a man "indicted for having been found at large in the city of London before the expiration of the term for which he had received sentence to be transported." Not only that, but apparently he was up to his old tricks, trying to break into a house. Other witnesses identified him as a man sentenced to transportation for robbery.

The prisoner's explanation? He was "taken up" in Philadelphia, accused of being a convict from England and they were going to keep him imprisoned unless he "left the province." So he got on a ship that was supposedly going to let him off at one of the "lower provinces" but the captain wouldn't let him go and they sailed to Bristol.

A witness agreed that the accused (Joseph Taylor) had been imprisoned in Philadelphia and accused of being a convict from England, and that he was taken by two officers to the ship bound for Bristol, "but did not know whether he objected to going on board that ship or not."

Verdict? Death.

Why death? Because if you returned from transportation before the completion of your sentence, you would be subject to the other penalty for the crime for which you were convicted, which was usually death.

However, I note that the witness in America says Joseph Taylor was escorted to the ship by two officers. That doesn't sound like Joe had a lot of choice in the matter.

On the other hand, why was Joe arrested in Philadelphia in the first place? Was being a convict in England enough? I'd have to do some more research on that, although if I wanted to avoid a lot of time trying to find out something that may not be easily got, I'd have Joe caught stealing again. After all, he was caught doing that back in England. What would have happened if the man had just laid low and gotten a regular job?

Here's how I'd use such a situation for a story seedling:

If I wanted to make Joe the hero, he'd either have been falsely accused and convicted, or else on the road to redemption. But something happens that forces him to return to England -- either he's caught and sent back against his will, or he willingly returns because he has a compelling reason, even though he knows he'll be executed if he's caught.

Or I could have had him already be back in England, living under another alias and leading an honest life, while carrying the burden of his secret and the knowledge of what might happen if the truth is discovered. I'd have to decide if he was innocent and falsely accused, or guilty and trying to redeem himself.

What of the heroine? Well, she could either be completely unaware of the past and what can happen if he's discovered, or somehow involved in the original charge and conviction.

What if she's completely ignorant of his past? The man she's falling in love with is keeping something from her. What? How important is it? Does it involve another woman? Maybe it does -- that would add another layer to the conflict. Why was Joe stealing? To survive? To retrieve something? Something incriminating that belonged to the woman he thought he loved? Or did she put him up to it and he was naive enough to agree? That could make a guy bitter, so not only does Joe have this secret that could have life-threatening consequences, he feels wronged by a woman. It'd take some heroine to get that guy to not just fall in love, but express it.

But let's not stop there. What if it's not Joseph Taylor, but Josephine? And what if one of the people who recognizes her back in England is the man who loved her and believes she betrayed him? Does he rat her out? Or does he approach her and...what? Offer to keep quiet if she'll sleep with him? If I wanted to write an erotic historical, this might be a way to go.

If he's just a guy who recognizes her, he could make the same threat, and then he'd be a villain. Who would the hero be? Could be a relative who wonders about Villain's new squeeze and realizes she's been coerced. Could be a friend of the villain, or perhaps a man from her past who also recognizes her. Would she admit what's going on? Pretend she's a willing participant? Beg him to forget her? Fear he was going to turn her in?

Clearly, there are a couple of ways I could go with such a story. How do I decide? I go with what's going to give me interesting characters with a compelling backstory and an interesting, deep conflict on multiple levels that will (hopefully) pack the biggest emotional whallop for the reader.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Murder and Motive

On January 11, 1732, John Tapper was brought to trial for the murder, by stabbing, of Joseph Cannon.

The chief witness for the prosecution was Joseph Rohan, who claimed that the deceased got upset while playing cards and gambling. He wanted to pawn his vest to gamble some more, his wife got angry, he chased her out of the house to a neighbor's, where she may or may not have miscarried (later in the transcript at Old Bailey Online, it isn't clear that this happened). And then Rohan adds insult to injury: "By and by some-body came in, and told him (the deceased), his Wife was miscarried; What, says the Prisoner to the Deceas'd, was your Wife with Child? Yes, says the Deceas'd, and that's more than yours will ever be. How do ye know that? says the Prisoner. Because, Mr. Tapper, says the Deceas'd, I have tapp'd her many a time. Have ye so? says Tapper, Why then, G - d d - n ye, I'll tap you."

Council gets Rohan to admit both the men had been drinking, that the two men often quarreled, that the deceased had stumbled over the accused while the accused was sharpening his knife, which he'd just been using on his fingernails (!). Rohan then goes on to say that when he met the accused later, the accused said, "I am only sorry that I did not give him a prick on the other side."

Other witnesses for the prosecution are called and interestingly, all offer similar, yet slightly different reports of the accused's remarks after the incident. Ann Hoskins claims he said, "I am only sorry that I did not cut his Throat." Joseph Ackers credits him with declaring, "I'll go and pay the Surgeon the half Guinea, and then I'll stab him [Cannon] on the other side." Richard Austin says he said, "if any Body would give him a Quartern of Gin he would stick him on the other side, and send him out of the World." Mary Richards (yes, that gave me a Mary Tyler Moore vision) claims he said, "Damn him, I'll give him a prick on the other side, and that will set him upright."

Now, maybe I've seen too many episodes of Law and Order, but it was as if somebody told them to say the accused said he was sorry he hadn't also stabbed the victim "on the other side" as well, and each witness then came up with their own embellishment to the basic story.

And then nurse Margaret Roberts states, in what I cannot help but imagine is a melodramatic way: "A little before the Deceas'd dy'd, he took me by the Hand, and said, Tapper is the Man that has murder'd me, and I expect that you will see him brought to Justice, that he may suffer himself as he has made me suffer."

Is it just me, or does this seem a little over-the-top? And why on earth would the dying man say such a thing to the nurse?

Then we get the council for the defense asking questions, and lo and behold, a very different picture of the fight/quarrel/stabbing and the aftermath. It seems the deceased was surprised to learn of the wound and didn't consider it very serious, even saying at one point that "Damn it, I don't mind it, I'll drink it off." His main concern seemed to be getting the accused to pay the cost of his treatment from the surgeon, who likewise didn't consider the wound very serious at first. (It sounds as if he died from slow internal bleeding.)

It also seems the deceased blamed another person entirely for the cut: his wife. According to witness Thomas Williamson, the deceased said, "He told me, if it had not been for the Bitch his Wife, it had never happen'd, for he had never minded the Prisoner whetting his Knife, if she had not put him in a Passion, and that thereupon he push'd the Prisoner against the Table." Edward Wilcox repeated a similar remark. Nobody else heard the insult regarding "tapping" the accused's wife.

I notice Mrs. Cotton, wife of the deceased, was not called upon to testify. Neither was her mother, with whom they lived. I suspect, all things considered, Mrs. Cannon was not particularly sorry her drinking, gambling husband who had chased her with the intent of beating her was dead.

Several others were called to provide evidence of Tapper's generally benign temperament, and the death was ruled an accident.

If I were to make a romance out of this, I'd have Tapper the hero, falsely accused after accidentally killing another gambler. You could have him be Lord Tapper, and have the game at a gentleman's club, if you wanted to set this in the 19th century. Or at a house party, if you wanted to keep the cast of characters small and the setting claustrophobic, to make for more suspense and conflict.

Rohan seems to be have a beef against Tapper, because he's the only one who mentions the alleged insult to Tapper's manhood and that the deceased claimed he'd slept with Tapper's wife, in an attempt, or so it sounds to me, to give Tapper a motive for the stabbing, to bolster the notion that it wasn't accidental. There's something to think about. What reason could Rohan have to hate Tapper that much? And it's interesting that he comes up with adultery for a possible motive. You could probably get some interesting conflict, both internal and external, out of that.

And then we need a heroine. Tapper must have been married for Rohan to come up with that insult. Let's say Lord Tapper is married -- but estranged from his wife. His Grace, the Duke of Rohan, repeats the rumor that Earl Cotton claimed to have slept with her. Does Lord Tapper believe that, or not? Do other people? What of Lady Tapper? What does she do when she hears this rumor? What is her reaction to the notion that her husband's heard the rumor?

What does she think when she learns her estranged husband may have killed a man, and the very man to whom she's been scandalously linked? Does she think him capable of such an act? Is she afraid of what he might do to her?

At some point and fairly close to the start of the novel you'd have to get them together. Personally, I'd be tempted to have them in a relatively isolated setting (say, a country house), where they're forced to interact, so you could keep the emotional intensity at a pretty high level.

So you've got a hero, a heroine, a setting, a situation to get the ball of reconciliation rolling.

There's one other thing I get from this transcript and I do believe I'll keep in my mental file. That would be the nurse, the hopelessly melodramatic, romantic Margaret Roberts. I just love how she describes the deceased, who sounds like a drunken, vicious brute, holding her hand and expecting her to see that justice is done. I think she'd make a fun secondary character.

Or if humor's not your particular thing, she could be one seriously disturbed stalker.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Woman Scorned...?

On January 8, 1793, William and Elizabeth Hitchins were on trial, charged with the theft of the household goods of Hannah Fisher. In fact, they were accused of stripping Hannah's house clean, taking all the furniture, linens, etc. while she was ill.

As I started reading this transcript at Old Bailey Online, I thought poor Hannah Fisher had been ripped off by her tenants. That she was a sick and elderly woman who was likely senile, too, because her answers were extremely vague and she'd been so slow to take action when she was being robbed and immediately afterward.

However, no ages of the participants was noted, and as I read on, it morphed into a different case entirely.

Hannah wasn't just sick -- they forced her to stay in her room. Well, no, the door wasn't locked -- but they'd threatened her! Still, I thought that could very well be.

Until the defense attorney started asking the questions. (Note, having a defense attorney was a very new thing in 1793 and their function was still limited. For instance, they had no power to compel witnesses to appear.) It seems Hannah and William the hairdresser had been living together after the death of Hannah's husband. Hannah couldn't say who bought the furniture. She denied that William had paid the rent directly (the "customers" had done it); she denied William had paid to outfit her son to go to America. She couldn't remember who had paid for her household goods, or when she'd gotten them.

And just when did Hannah decide to charge William and Elizabeth Hitchins with theft?

A fortnight after William married Elizabeth.

Yep, sounds like Hannah was miffed William married somebody else after living with her for over ten years.

Seems the jury might have gotten that idea, too, because the verdict was "not guilty."

How would I use this? Well, it's not like a woman scorned hasn't been a villain in a romance novel before. And frankly, this woman doesn't sound like the brightest light, given her answers. I really thought she was senile. She could be the sort of woman who figures if she bats her eyelashes and flirts she'll get what she wants, but that's been done a lot, I think.

What if William's the villain? What if he claimed to love Hannah and was going to marry her? What if she really was sick and that's why she's so confused? What if William drugged her? If so, it would take some nerve to accuse him and go to court with her cloudy memories.

What if Hannah honestly believed she was married to William and he faked the marriage ceremony? This did happen. And then he drugs her and robs her blind and marries somebody else. Maybe Lizzie's in cahoots, maybe not. There'd be more opportunities for conflict if she wasn't.

I'd shorten the time span between the marriage and the robbery if I were going to go this route with a romance novel.

And then who's the hero?

I've done attorney heroes (one a Regency barrister, one a Restoration solicitor), so I'd probably go with the defense attorney because there's a good opportunity for conflict. The hero's defending the guy who duped and robbed the heroine. He starts to fall in love with her and doubt his client even as William is painting her as a complete psycho who ought to be in Bedlam. He might even get her sent there...which could make for some pretty dramatic scenes and one mighty heart-wrenching rescue and reunion.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Taking a break

I have a lot coming up this summer, so I won't be doing any more Story Seedling postings until September.

Until then, you can follow me at my other blog or via my website. You can also sign up for my email newsletter and become eligible for my monthly draw for a $25 electronic gift certificate from Amazon.

Have a safe and happy summer!

On temporary hiatus

This summer is a busy one for me, so I won't be doing any more Story Seedling posts until September. Until then, have a safe and happy summer.

Summer Break

I have a very busy summer ahead, so I won't be writing any more Story Seedlings posts until September.

In the meantime, you can visit my regular blog or website. You can also sign up for my email newsletter or follow me on Twitter (WriterMargMoore).

Have a safe and happy summer, everyone!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Death by Hedge Clippers

From Old Bailey Online today comes one nasty piece of work in the shape of Joseph Still alias Cutterel, who killed a servant with a hedging-bill (hedge clippers) after attempting to break into a house. It goes into some pretty gruesome description of the wound, as well as the events of the robbery and fatal wounding, which the defendant claimed was in self-defense.

The victim, John Green, was "the best Servant (Mr. Carpenter) ever had, or feared ever should" while Joseph Still was " a long Practitioner in such Deeds of Darkness" and when he claimed he carried the shears "to defend himself from Rogues", "it seems he need not have been under much Apprehension of meeting any greater than himself, either in Person or Impiety." Not exactly an unbiased opinion -- and no doubt already being burned in the hand for theft was literally a mark against him. Not only that, but "several Person's came many Miles to do him and themselves Justice, in ridding themselves of so troublesome and dangerous a Neighbour."

The verdict? "The Evidence being as plain as the Fact was barbarous, the Jury found him Guilty" and he was sentenced to death.

So ol' Joe was apparently one bad egg and his neighbors were glad to be rid of him -- meaning, I take it, that he was a local fellow with a bad reputation. I note that no occupation is given for Joe, which strikes me as unusual for the court records, and would seem to bolster the neighbors' reasons for distrusting him, let alone the previous conviction for theft.

How would I use a character like this in a book? Well, on the surface, he seems irredeemably bad. I mean, look at his choice of weapon! But why has he taken up this life of crime? What alternatives did he have? Once he was branded for theft, how possible would it have been for him to get a job? Did he have any other choice but to continue stealing?

What if the victim wasn't the swell fellow his employer claimed he was? What if Joe was innocent of the first theft and John Green was somehow involved in casting the blame on him? Or to make things really complicated, it could be that while John Green is no saint, he truly believed Joe was guilty.

Joe also claimed he was on his way to visit his sister. What must she be like? How would it be being the sister of somebody held in such loathing by the neighbors? How does Joe treat her? What happens to her after Joe's convicted?

What if she had a thing for John Green? What if James Howland, the other servant who witnessed the attack, has a thing for her? What if his employer, Mr. Carpenter, does? How would this murder affect those relationships?

As you can see, I'm veering away from using Joe as a hero. To me, using hedge clippers to kill somebody, even if it was self-defense, pushes him out of hero territory for me. It might not for you. But the sister, mentioned only briefly, has definite heroine potential. Add to that the employer, the other servant and the neighbors, and you've got some interesting story ingredients.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Welcome to Story Seedlings!

I've been a professional writer for nearly twenty years and one question I'm constantly asked is, "Where do you get your ideas?"

Frankly, it isn't so much where I get them? as what do I do when I find one? How do I take that initial idea and create a 400 page historical romance from it?

Well, I'm going to show you how I spin a story from one of the great sources for historical writers -- minor historical incidents. My source is going to be the records of the Central Criminal Court in London, the Old Bailey, specifially Old Bailey Online. They post a transcript of a real case every day.

Now, since I have other books to write, I can't do this very often. I'm not sure how frequently, in fact, as it will depend on what else is going on.

But let's start today, shall we?

On this date in 1798 (because apparently it wasn't a holiday in England), Margaret Thompson was charged with stealing a pewter pot worth six pence from Mary Clarke, who kept the Golden Key public house.

The witness to the theft was one George Hanna, who killed bed bugs for a living. He was in the tavern, which was crowded (sounds like a typical New Year's Eve in a pub) when he noticed the accused wrapping a pewter pot in her apron. Realizing his was missing, he went after her, caught her by the door and found a pewter pot in her basket.

The pot in question was produced by Thomas Minett, the constable.

The only defense Margaret Thompson offered was that she didn't know how the pot came to be in her basket.

She was found guilty and sentenced to a year in the House of Correction.

(Personal note: We stayed in what had been the gatehouse of a House of Correction in Folkingham, Lincolnshire, which had been built on the site of a Norman castle. Very cool -- and it came with ye olde handcuffs, too. And see that end table by the brass bed, the one that looks like a chest of drawers? It's a commode!)

But back to creating a story out of this.

Here's how my imagination works:

Did Margaret Thompson really take the pot? That is one lame excuse, but maybe she really didn't do it. If so, who did? Did George the exterminator do it? He's the only witness out of what was presumably a crowd. Why would he? What if he had a beef with her and this was his way of getting revenge?

What if she did steal the pot? Why would she? Desperation? Compulsive kleptomania? A beef with Mary Clarke?

A year is a long sentence for what we would consider petty theft. A lot can happen in a year. Margaret Thompson could die, or her family suffer. What if her family never finds out what happened to her? What if she leaves young children orphaned and impoverished? That could be the backstory for a hero or a villain, or a heroine, too.

What would have happened if this had been at a dinner party in Mayfair, with Lady Mary Clarke accusing Lady Margaret, daughter of the Duke of Thompson, over a missing drinking glass? What if George was a comely footman? Or a nobleman? Would the constable have been called, and how would he have proceeded?

What if Lady Margaret is the mother of one of the main characters? Or a sister? What if she's the heroine? Who's the hero? George? Or is he the villain? Could Thomas be the hero?

Basically, the theft could either be the inciting incident for your story, or it could be a vital element in the backstory of one or more characters.

See? Finding the idea was easy; creating a whole unique novel? That takes a lot more work.
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