Writer’s Digest – June 23, 2021

Writing at The Dock, Urangan

It’s 6 am on Wednesday morning and I’m still in bed. Don’t worry, I’ll be getting up soon and will head out for a walk – just at a more civilised hour than usual. My husband is working down near Brisbane this week and next and needs to leave home too early to come walking with me, and given that I still need to be at my desk and day jobbing at 7.30 I’ve been getting up at 4.30 to walk on my own. This morning though, with no day job scheduled and a lovely day of writing planned (and maybe even some baking and soup making) I figured I couldn’t be faffed with the 4.30 thing.

Anyways, that’s by the by.

It’s In The Stars is currently sitting at 30,000 words and I’m well and truly on target. By this time next week, I’m hoping to be close to 50,000. Alice has again changed her mind about a couple of things, but that’s absolutely okay – she’s now suggesting she takes a road trip up the coast. I’m hoping to talk her out of that, but as I mentioned last week, she’s quite capricious, is our Alice.

As for Philly Barker, she’s taking form in my mind; and I’m still following rabbits down holes on Instagram. Auction sites (and catalogues) are becoming my new favourite thing to browse.

First, there was this lovely Coalport coffee set (above) which I could just see Philly having on display in The Barn, but then, in the same auction catalogue I stumbled across this oil painting dating back to the 1600s.

As an artwork it’s not something I particularly like (you know what they say, I’m no expert but I know what I like), but the story behind it is fascinating. 

I’d never seen a picture before where face patches were depicted in such a way, so naturally, I had to find out more. Fortunately, the auction catalogue was able to tell me more. Face patches, it seems, had been worn for hundreds of years to cover blemishes or (often smallpox) scars. They were, by the 17th century, also used as adornment by both men and women. These patches would probably have been cut from little pieces of silk or velvet.

The whole idea of “patching” – or makeup – was, however, associated with both blasphemy and promiscuity and posed a problem for the Puritan movement of the times. The problem with both was that they gave women the ability to change their appearance and present themselves as they wanted.

Perhaps it was that the Puritans really believed that if women could improve their appearance, men would not be able to resist themselves from being tempted by them and would fall into sin.

The idea of changing one’s appearance opposed their theology that God has made everyone as they should be, and therefore that to alter one’s appearance was to tamper with God’s creation. This was blasphemous, as tampering with God’s creation was seen to be, in effect, “playing God”. It would also pose a threat to the patriarchal power structures in the religion if it were true that made up women gained some power over men through the act of hiding something from them. 

From the auction catalogue, Trevanions

So, by showing the patching quite so obviously, this painting now becomes an early piece of feminist art.

There’s more in this painting though – check out the two women in the picture. By painting them in the same style of dress and jewellery, the artist has painted them as companions and social equals – something which must have been shocking at the time.

That’s an awful lot of political commentary in one painting from the 1600s – and little gems like this are what I’m loving about researching this novel (and the series to come).

To something with much less political commentary I thought I might finish these posts with a piece from my vintage china collection. Most of these I’ve had for years. They were either was given to me by my grandmother or found accidentally in op shops. For years they’ve been in an antique bookcase we accidentally bought at an auction soon after we were married and have rarely seen daylight. In fact, they only narrowly escaped the massive purge I had when we sold up in Sydney to move here. But survive they did – and I’m glad they did as they’ve provided some of the inspiration for Philly Barker.

This one is, I think, my favourite trio. It’s by Shelley and the stamp on the bottom indicates that it was probably made between 1925 and WW2. The handle is what Shelley termed Regent design and I love its quirkiness.

Anyways, that’s it from me for this week. I’m about to haul myself out of bed and go for that walk.

Until next time…