The Google rabbit hole (trivial research worries of an historical novelist)

When Lewis Carroll decided to make a white rabbit a central character in Alice in Wonderland, did he wonder what breed of rabbit it was? Did he dress him in a suit and waistcoat because it was easier than working out what breed of rabbit was likely to frequent the Surrey countryside? Rabbit holes remain a major trip hazard in 2020 for the novelist. Google rabbit holes, that is.
In the case of my novel The Tawny Sash, the rabbit hole is not just a metaphor.

Gabriel Vaughan is hiding from some enemy soldiers and a rabbit runs past. The soldiers go in pursuit of the welcome addition to their dinner and one says ‘should be some more varmints about’.
Which got me wondering – was ‘varmint’ a word in use in 1644? Online dictionaries are good for this -giving the origin of words and the date when they were first used. So the answer was yes. I might have left well alone then, but decided (second question), I had better find out the literal meaning of the word.
The answer to this was ‘vermin’. Oh – but were rabbits considered vermin in 1640s England? Rabbits were introduced into Britain by the Romans, but were prized for their meat and fur for many centuries. Landowners were still cultivating burrows for the meat and fur. As we all know rabbits breed like… So at some point they became a pest. Might they have been protected under the Gaming Acts at that time? Were the Gaming Acts in force?

Conclusion – it was really not worth the effort. I deleted the word ‘varmints’, having just got lost down THE GOOGLE RABBIT HOLE!!

Not only rabbits, but hares. Like rabbits, introduced to Britain by the Romans in all probability. Earlier in the book, Will Lucie’s cavalry troop is saved because he catches sight of a hare.

This caused another brief diversion – what colour were hares? Were they considered a delicacy at the time? How were they caught? With dogs as it turns out, but I decided a dissertation on hare coursing was probably superfluous as the hare only had a bit part.

A movement behind a bush caught his eye. He inched towards it. A flash of long, black-tipped ears as the brown hare, disturbed, lolloped away at great speed. They were good eating, if you could catch them, he thought regretfully.

Fortunately for the hare, Will was too busy on cavalry patrol to round up a dog or two and give chase. It had fulfilled its purpose – catching Will’s eye so that he spots an enemy troop emerging from the direction the hare has obligingly vanished in.

A fine day for killing

It would be a fine day tomorrow, a fine day for killing or being killed.” My hero, wandering through the camp the night before the 1644 battle of Cropredy Bridge (a bit like Henry V), muses philosophically on the weather.

Living in Melbourne, it is sometimes hard to remember how cold and wet British summers can be. During the English Civil War, the weather was particularly bad. The battle of Edgehill in 1642 was renowned for the cold night after the battle. As darkness fell on that October day, the armies remained on the field along with the dead and wounded and (in all likelihood) some of the prisoners taken in the battle.

The cold and damp of the muddy ground is soaking into his breeches and chilling him to the bone. He is beginning to believe he will freeze to death before being moved.

Visiting the UK to research the civil war while writing The Welsh Linnet, my tour of the Naseby battlefield coincided with a particularly wet day, one of many in June 2016. My hire car sloshed manfully through muddy lanes. I peered through the misted windscreen for signposts among hedgerows bursting with green and dripping vegetation. On my return to Melbourne I wrote bad weather into the book. A lot of bad weather. I was not making it up.

And bad weather would have had many adverse effects. Baggage and artillery carts would have become bogged down, horses likewise. On a cold March day, as at Cheriton in 1644, a lengthy delay posed a risk to the armies before the fighting even started.

Miller, Williams! Stand straight in your files.” An exasperated corporal shepherded the two men back towards the infantry lines. “Baaaa,” mocked one of Will’s men. Will could not repress a chuckle. The corporals of the Foot were hard pressed, keeping their hungry, half-frozen men from wandering off to forage for food or find shelter from the cold.

On a rare sunny day I visited Roundway Down outside Devizes. The presence of a blue sky helped enormously in imagining the fleeing roundhead cavalry, blinded by the setting sun, galloping full tilt over an escarpment to their deaths.

I discovered that the marshy area by the River Loddon near Basing House in Hampshire is prone to fog. This helped Sir William Waller’s army in 1643 as they launched a surprise attack on the royalist fortress.

Gabriel, standing on the roof of the Great Gate House, was peering out. A thick fog had descended, making it difficult to see very far beyond the precincts of the house.

Foggy day tick! How far could you see from the roof of a (now demolished) gatehouse which was four storeys high? Descend from upper floor of my city office down to fourth floor and peer out of window towards distant cyclists, (who are unaware they are standing in for galloping horses). Tick!

At this point my research came unstuck. Despite visiting the ruins of Basing House (another day wet enough for Noah), I had failed to ask my historian guide about the movements of the local fog. The thick fog should have risen, not descended. It rises, apparently, from the river on a regular basis.

This is why historical novelists invariably have a disclaimer in their books “All mistakes are my own”. I am no exception.

(Photo of Basing House N.Turton )

Letting Go

Don’t be afraid to “murder your darlings” is frequent advice to writers. Letting go of scenes (or characters) can be tricky. When writing my first novel The Welsh Linnet I set an early scene at Petworth House in Sussex, where the heroine met a charming young man who I later killed off in battle. As readers of this blog know, I do try to visit the locations in my books, but Petworth made it no further than my ‘to-do’ list. In the course of writing the Petworth scene, I researched what it is like now, what it was like then, (before it was rebuilt in 1688), the tennis court, and whether the Earl of Northumberland was likely to have been in residence at the requisite time (early 1641).

Eventually I decided reluctantly that the scene wasn’t needed. Dashing Rafe became a friend of the heroine’s eldest brother Will, and Bess met him when Will brought a party of friends home for Christmas. Much simpler, and it cut out unnecessary complications in the lengthy lead up to the start of the English Civil War.

And then there was the prologue – 2 prologues to be precise. Both ended up on the cutting-room  floor. I was a bit sad about scrapping the first one, which featured 12 -year- old Bess running away from home like Maggie Tulliver in George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss. I had spent days on it, with several rewrites and much checking of facts. The sheepdog, for example, which featured at the opening of the scene had to be replaced by an authentic 17th century hunting spaniel (see photo).  But although it illustrated Bess’s adventurous spirit, it also suggested the book was going to be a light-hearted romp. Readers attracted by the prologue were unlikely to enjoy “The stench of smoke has faded, replaced with that of sweat, fear, blood. The cold and damp of the muddy ground is soaking into his breeches and chilling him to the bone” once the fighting starts…

Undeterred by my own decision, I then wrote a prologue to Tawny Sash, but dropped that too. Prologues are a bit ‘love them or hate them’. To be honest, I think their main use is at the start of murder mysteries when the prologue features the murderer or victim and the reader spends most of the book waiting for a clue to how the events of the prologue relate to the plot. But in my civil war saga? Not so far.

Let them eat cake

If Marie Antoinette had little idea, supposedly, of what her own, poorer fellow countrymen ate, the task for the historical novelist is of course harder.

So what was available in 1640s England? “Can’t they eat something but stew?” my editor complained, tired of the monotonous diet of the roving armies. They could, of course. But army rations, for the luckier soldiers whose commanders had organised food for them, were pretty unexciting – bread or biscuit, cheese, bacon, pease pudding (a kind of lentil stew) were the staples. Sometimes an army took their meat on the hoof, driving cattle and sheep along with the foot soldiers – and making for a very slow pace of march.

Vegetables were generally conspicuous by their absence. This was partly because they had a shorter life than hard cheese and salted bacon; and partly because diets, at least for those with the means, were very meat-centred. A soldier in the field, marching long distances while carrying heavy weapons and his personal possessions, needed 4000-5000 calories a day. That meant around 1lb of meat and 2lbs of bread. And beer was part of the daily ration.

Fish was a normal part of the diet of most of the population, whether it came from their nearest river or lake or from the ocean. So much so that London apprentices petitioned to be given salmon no more than 3 times a week. But during the civil war Parliament controlled the fishing ports. This led to King Charles, in his capacity as head of the Church of England, suspending the statutes prohibiting the consumption of meat during Lent for fear his soldiers, deprived of fish, the usual substitute during Lent, would be too weak to fight.

When billeted in a town or village overnight, soldiers dined on whatever their host family did. They did better if they were part of a garrison, for the inhabitants of the town and surrounding villages would be obliged to supply cattle, pigs, poultry and eggs. This might be a formal procedure in the form of demands sent to each “hundred”. Cavalry attached to a garrison spent much time on the mundane task of collecting these levies. Sometimes the garrison just raided the local market town, as did the Basing House garrison in 1644.

“Villains, papist thieves!” Men and women traders grabbed at their baskets of cheeses, herbs or ribbons. Eggs smashed as stalls overturned. Shop keepers yelled at their apprentices to get the shutters up again. Those with livestock vainly tried to herd their startled beasts from the square. Two loose bullocks added to the confusion. (The Tawny Sash)

And in our own days of obsessive hand washing, I was interested to discover that in an earlier era of “share plates” it was the height of bad manners not to wash your hands immediately before eating. Forks were a very recent invention and even the gentry ate with knife, spoon and fingers. Most soldiers (and civilians) carried their own spoon and knife around as a matter of course. More on that another day.

References: Going to the Wars by Charles Carlton and Malmesbury Garrison Accounts

Fog rising from the Loddon- a place as well as a time

“Don’t go any further.” The guide at Warwick Castle put a cautionary hand on my arm. The room at the top of the ancient gatehouse had once been the quarters of the military governor during the English Civil War – but the floorboards were rotten. I had written scenes set in the governor’s quarters for my (then half written) first book, The Welsh Linnet.

I found myself in a warm and spacious room, clearly the Governor’s living quarters.  The roof was lofty and the room well lit by large, curtained windows at either end. The stone walls were whitewashed, unadorned other than by two racks for clothing. On the one nearer the door dangled a sword in an ornate scabbard, a lobster pot helmet and buff coat hanging next to it. The further rack held a cloak or two. 

The wooden rack just inside the door was what really excited me, for I had already written:

Will shoved him aside and erupted into the room. He snatched Major Chatterton’s sword from its hook and drew it from its scabbard in one fluid motion.

Guy’s Tower, Warwick castle

Setting a series of novels in the past is all about recreating the time and the place. Writing convincingly about the place is easiest when I have visited, got the feel for it and ideally talked to someone- the owner, a guide or a “local”, who knows it well. After that, I can decide whether to present it as accurately as possible, as I did with Warwick castle, or I can play with it a little. This is generally when I have used a real place as a fictitious one. Tretower Court and castle in south Wales appears as The Allt. I have used many features of the real house but shifted it nearer to the town of Crickhowell, added a room or two and did not worry too much about the details of the local topography.

Warwick Castle was very easy – everything was there but the furniture. At the other extreme was Banbury Castle, of which not a trace exists today, having been destroyed by Parliament in 1648 for its loyalty to King Charles I. Chester Castle was nearly as bad. I walked the city walls with a knowledgeable guide, but my schedule did not allow me to go inside the surviving Agricola Tower. Rolling up my sleeves, back in Melbourne, I dug into the internet, which helpfully produced plans of the layout of the castle as it had once been.

John, Lord Byron, Field Marshal General of North Wales, … resumed his former posture, leaning on the windowsill. The spartan quarters at the top of the gatehouse, known as Agricola’s Tower, commanded an excellent view of the ancient castle’s outer and inner bailey; and Byron appeared wholly engrossed in watching the comings and goings below him.

At first, I felt aggrieved at the winners of the war who had ordered the demolition of a number of castles which had been garrisoned for the king. But in fairness the draughty and uncomfortable medieval buildings were already falling out of use. The Vaughans of Tretower had used some of the stone from their own castle when they decided it was time to build a modern gentleman’s house 200 years earlier. Much hasty patching up of such abandoned castles ensued when war came to Britain once more in 1642.

Tretower Castle

 “The old castle is the only defensible part of The Allt. I believed you were to make a few repairs. A little work will render it capable of withstanding attack. The ramparts on the house may enhance its majesty and impress visitors, but, alas, they will not withstand ordnance for a single day.” Gabriel Vaughan reproaches his father in The Tawny Sash.

Thanks to the staff of Loseley Park in Surrey, I discovered that the house, which appears as Chadshunt Hall in my novels, once had a west wing incorporating a long gallery, the coach house and a chapel.

Boconnoc House in Cornwall was a bit of a challenge. Beautifully restored in recent years, it retains few of the medieval features of the original house. The owner kindly allowed me to look around house and grounds and I bought a copy of the fine book about Boconnoc and its history. From visit and book, I discovered that the original house was an S shape, with towers and that it originally faced west.

Boconnoc House, Cornwall

The mass of the house, a tower at each end, loomed as a dark and silent presence in the night. The thick walls shut out any sound of those within, and no candles could be seen. It could have been deserted, but the family were held prisoners.

And what would a wander around Britain’s historic places be without a visit to a pub at the end? In this case it was the 16th century Globe Inn in Lostwithiel at which I stayed, gleefully inserting it into Tawny Sash. Sadly, the owner, although telling me something of its history, could not tell me what its name was in the 1640s when the roundhead army occupied the town. A dramatic moment ensued there.

Emerging from the inn was a tall officer. Walking briskly, he grabbed the drunkard by the arm and thrust him out of the way. He wore a tawny sash knotted across his shoulder which marked him as one of Essex’s officers. …

“Wait!” The anguished cry went unheard in the hubbub of the crowded street.

Globe inn, Lostwithiel

I had intended a further visit to such places in 2020, for the War without an enemy of 1640s Britain is not yet at an end. Sadly, there is another war we are all fighting in 2020 and so, for the moment, I can only visit these places through books, the miracles of technology and in my imagination.

And the fog rising from the Loddon? That must wait for a separate blog about Basing House.

The Rider of the Black Horse

I was quite content with the rider of the black horse scene until a member of my writers’ group suggested it could do with a little more tension in between the unpleasant enemy officer condemning the hero to immediate death and the timely intervention of a more principled (and historical) figure.

The scene took place near the English River Cherwell and the intervention took place beside a nearby, and imaginary, watermill. Several hours later I confessed to my husband I was having problems with the revised watermill scene. I had spent most of that time on Google, calling up photos, designs and online brochures of English watermills dating from Tudor times.

“They’re really quite simple,” he soothed. “No they’re not,” I wailed. “Where do I put the mill pond and the weir?”

“Are you writing an engineering manual or a scenic backdrop?” he asked. If he were the hero in a period drama he would have said it with a raised eyebrow, a curl of the lip or a flick of his tail coat. But this was 2020, so he grinned and went back to watching soccer on tv.

Suitably chastened, I decided the top floor of the mill could be referred to simply as “the uppermost floor” instead of spending a further half hour researching whether it was called the “bin floor” in 1644, because were they in fact using bins?Did any of this add to the tension? Probably not. And so, returning to my hero’s peril, I rewrote the scene and forgot about the weir.

Candles caused me to burn the midnight oil on other occasions (apologies). Those familiar with Jane Austen’s Emma may recall a character breathlessly extolling the virtues of a country house so luxurious that there are wax candles in the school room. Contemporary readers would have understood without explanation that inferior tallow candles were the norm for children, servants and the poorer classes.

Hours and hours of research ended with my characters trimming wicks and using snuffers and drip trays. Heady stuff! Did you know that self-trimming wicks were not invented until the 1800s? Or that “burning the candle at both ends” was literally that- setting fire to both ends of a rush light to maximise its feeble glow? My hero does this, poring over a hand drawn map of Cornwall as the roundhead cavalry make a daring midnight break for freedom.

And finally it was back to the point of that scene.

The mist clung to the fleeing horses and their riders, muffling the sounds of the 3000.

Another small victory during lock down, against the evil forces of Covid-19.

Original image by G Tozer

Bringing the dead to life

“He deserves to lie near his home, and not among strangers.”

“Nay, Sir. Let him lie. It will not bring him back; and making a great pother in the midst of war about one young lad is foolishness, when there are thousands like him who lie in mass graves.”

Writers are often asked why we write, or why we choose a particular subject. For me, the two are inextricably intertwined. Writing about 1640s England and Wales, I long to create a modest memorial to those who fought in a largely forgotten civil war which nevertheless shaped the freedoms that today we take for granted.

Those who died in the war were lucky if their place of burial was marked, or even known. The fortunate ended up in hallowed ground, a churchyard. Churches and cathedrals are sprinkled with memorials to gentlemen who died in the conflict. Inevitably it is easier to write about them because their names and families are known. One such memorial to a civil war officer in Cornwall and his sister inspired Daphne Du Maurier to write a romance, The King’s General, about the famous Cornish general Sir Richard Grenville and this real, but unknown gentlewoman, Honor Harris.

For me, a research trip in 2016 to the Cotswolds turned into something of a pilgrimage thanks to those memorials, one in particular. He was a captain in King Charles’s forces and he died in the last battle of the civil war. His father had him buried under the floor of the nave in the church a stone’s throw from where the fighting ended. It is an unusual grave because the metal plaque covering it had a full length carving of the young man. He is dressed in his uniform. His curly hair falls to his shoulders and his face retains a boyish roundness. Beside him is a musket, indicating he was an infantry officer.

I spent a long time standing beside his grave and when I got home to Australia, I Googled him and found his will online. In the 17th century it was unusual for men to make a will until they thought they did not have long to live. Most wills were written by fairly elderly men, not by a man of 21 who was unmarried and still living in his parents’ home. And then I realised he had done so because, in joining the army he thought, correctly, he might not have long to live. The date of the will may tell us when he received his commission.

As a gentleman’s son, he had money he had inherited from his grandfather, which was “still in the hands of my father”. I already knew the name of his father. From the will I discovered the names of his mother and numerous siblings. The will itself inspired my hero, Gabriel Vaughan, to make a will when he, too joins the king’s forces in my first novel, The Welsh Linnet.

But the young musketeer was not done with me. He became an important character in the sequel, and I have grown very fond of him, marrying off his sister Jane to one of my major characters, Harry. Here he interrupts Jane and Harry immediately after Jane has fallen from her horse and Harry has proposed to her.

He had clearly run all the way from the stables. He wore a torn leather tunic over shirt and breeches. From the smears on them he had been helping the grooms muck out the horses.

“Jane, have you been riding Beauty without my leave? She came back trailing a broken rein. What happened? Why are you laughing, Harry? It is no jest.”

His frown of annoyance was replaced by puzzlement as Jane, between gasps of pain, joined Harry in hysterical laughter.

It is August 1644, and he is about to join the army.

The new commission nearly came to grief as it was being passed from hand to hand and hot tallow dripped onto the parchment… The festivities in the great hall only ended when Jane belatedly remembered the sleeping puppies, now removed from her father’s closet to a corner of the disused minstrels’ gallery above them. The candles, in any case, were almost burned out.

The new officer has just over 18 months to live. He will be killed in action at the age of 23.

Reading the Past

An Unlikely Partnership

Ghost of the Bamboo Road (A Hiro Hattori Novel) by Susan Spann

Susan Spann has recently published Ghost of the Bamboo Road, (Simon & Schuster 2019), the seventh novel in her Hiro Hattori series, set in 16th century Japan. “Spann is meticulous about the details but weaves in various aspects of this medieval, foreign culture so skilfully, the reader is never taken out of the story with mere information,” was the verdict of the Historical Novel Society reviewer, Mary Burns, on the second book in the series, Blade of the Samurai. In 2015 Spann was chosen as Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year.

This ability to include enough detail, but not too much, is something Spann is conscious of when writing.

“I try to focus only on the details I need to immerse the reader in the time, place, and setting—and to keep the story moving,” she explains, “While still ensuring that the historical details I include are both accurate and historically plausible.”

16th century historical novels are more likely to tread the well-worn path of subjects like the Tudors, but Spann has always been fascinated by what Japan was like during that turbulent century. She has loved, and studied, Japanese history and culture all her life. In college, she majored in Asian studies, with a focus on medieval Japanese history, art/architecture, and culture.

“I have always liked the 16th century in particular because so much was happening (culturally and politically) in Japan at that time,” she says.

Spann acknowledges Agatha Christie as one of her all-time favourite authors.  Fans of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (Collins Crime Club 1934) will enjoy the claustrophobic atmosphere of protagonist and characters trapped in a snowy village.

Each novel explores different elements of the culture, despite being set in the same time and country. Spann does this by choosing victims (and killers, and methods of death) that allow her to send her detectives—and, by extension, the readers—into those particular areas. Ghost of the Bamboo Road delves into the culture of the supernatural, as well as the troubles faced by villagers in the remoter regions of Japan’s medieval travel roads.

Although resident in the USA, Spann makes regular research visits to Japan. When writing Ghost of the Bamboo Road, she hiked one of the ancient travel roads three times to get the details right. The characteristics of the road are not just interesting background; they are important to the plot. Spann explains why.

“Japan’s historical travel roads were frequently-traveled and well-maintained, but also subject to dramatic changes as a result of natural disasters,” she says. In several places, historians and priests explained the way the roads would shift in the wake of these disasters, often as a result of falling trees or landslides that damaged portions of the roads that ran through mountainous areas. I wanted Ghost of the Bamboo Road to include a landslide to force the characters to deal with the way the changing physical landscape had an impact on the roads (as well as the people who lived and worked along them)”.

The detective duo who feature in each of the books are an unlikely combination – a Japanese ninja and a Portuguese Jesuit priest. The ninja detective, and main protagonist, Hiro, was not the result of preplanning.

“In a sense, my ninja detective, Hiro, chose me,” she says. “He jumped into my head fully formed.”

The Jesuit priest, Father Mateo plays Watson to Hiro’s Sherlock Holmes. While narrator Watson’s solid common sense serves primarily as counterpoint to Holmes in terms of solving a problem, the dramatic contrast between Hiro and Mateo serves a dual purpose. It is also entirely possible from the perspective of authenticity.

“Since the mid-16th century was not only the height of the historical ninjas’ influence in Japan, but also a narrow window when Westerners (Portuguese Jesuits) were permitted to live and work in Japan, a Portuguese priest seemed like an excellent foil for Hiro, as well as a useful tool for translating Japanese culture to the reader.”

Rather than narrative explanations of burial practices, village superstitions and Japanese concepts of honour, the Portuguese priest constantly questions what is going on and why. This is a similar approach to the Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus modern detective novels by Faye Kellerman (HarperCollins) where orthodox Jewish practices are explained through the technique of having a man brought up as a Southern Baptist (Decker) marrying an orthodox Jewish woman (Lazarus).

Spann is very aware of the Holmes and Watson parallels, but explains that in the case of her characters,

“Father Mateo developed into a far stronger character than I anticipated. I originally planned him to play the role of ‘Western Dr. Watson’ to Hiro’s Japanese Sherlock Holmes. In reality, each one brings unique strengths (and weaknesses) to what has become a far more balanced partnership,” she says.

Spann is committed to portraying “the culture and its people honestly and accurately.” She acknowledges that there were many things that are difficult for modern people to accept in the culture of 16th century Japan, and which she personally disagrees with. However (in comparison to, say Tudor England of that period) Japan was more enlightened in many aspects.

“16th century Japanese women were allowed to own and inherit property, to own businesses, and to belong to many artisans’ guilds in their own right’” she explains. “While many women were subservient, many others were independent, and many even took a leading role in their communities.”

Beyond that, she aims to avoid stereotypes and allow readers to draw their own conclusions.

A.J Lyndon is based in Melbourne. She is writing a series set in 17th century England about the English Civil War. Book 2, “The Tawny Sash” will be released in 2020.

(This feature article first appeared on the Historical Novel Society website in 2020.)

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

%d bloggers like this: