Sunday, April 22, 2012


This is my last post here at Blogger. I took a deep breath, and moved over to Wordpress. I was having a lot of trouble accessing and replying to the comments I was getting on my posts and I hated that. I appreciate everyone who has taken the time and trouble to comment. So finally I had enough.

If you follow the blog, please log in to the new Mr Goodstory at and if you'd like to, you can follow again from there.

I put my new post on there today; it's a quiz about Shakespeare, as April 23rd was a very big day in his life.

Thank you for following me and I hope to see you soon at Wordpress!

Thursday, April 19, 2012



Footbinding produced the so-called ‘lily’ feet or ‘lotus’ feet once common in China. Women today may complain about high heels but this was probably one of the cruellest forms of foot torture ever invented. What were they thinking? Perhaps the Chinese saw what the Inquisition were doing in Europe and felt envious.('We want a Spanish boot too! ... Only let's put it on the women.)
Footbinding first became fashionable China in around the eighth century and persisted for almost a thousand years. Women were literally crippled by this custom.

A noble woman in Imperial China with normal feet was practically unmarriageable. (Only peasants had normal feet, because they needed to get about in the fields and work. A real lady showed her status by staggering around in agony or having someone carry her.)

While still a small child a rich girl had her feet soaked in a bath of urine and vinegar, then all the toes except the big one were folded under the foot, and secured with tight bandages. This soaking and binding process would continue throughout the girl’s childhood, with the result that the feet never grew more than three inches long.

Often this disgusting procedure led to gangrene; this was considered a good thing as the rotting toes would then fall off and cease being a nuisance! The ideal of perfection was to have hardly any foot at all.

Chinese men loved women with lily feet, even though the feet themselves were usually covered in silk slippers. And a good thing, too; under the bandages they were often a rotting, scabrous mess and stank to high heaven. One fashion trend we don’t want back. That, and flares.


But lily feet are not the only form of torture women have endured in the name of beauty. In certain African and Asian cultures neck rings are worn to assist a woman’s matrimonial chances. Was this fashion inspired by African men thinking giraffes were hot? I'm not sure but in certain cultures, girls as young as two were fitted with spiraled metal coils, and these were gradually increased, some by as much as twenty turns. 
photograph Steve Evans

The neck doesn’t elongate of course. That’s called execution by hanging and as such is not a very effective fashion trend. What happens is the weight of the collar depresses the collar bone and ribs down to a position forty five degrees below what is normal. Yeah feels good.

These days the custom only persists because of the tourist industry.


The chopine was a type of platform shoe popular during the Renaissance, used as a sort of overshoe to protect a lady’s real shoes and dress from the mud and ordure that littered the streets back in the day.

They became particularly fashionable among the courtesans of Venice. They were made of wood or cork and covered with brocade or velvet. But the fashion got out of hand; shoes became a status symbol, would you believe! The higher the heel, the further up the social ladder you were. Some were over twenty inches high. A woman could literally tower over her competitors.

Women wearing chopines were often accompanied by a servant on whom they could lean; though the Italian dancing master Fabritio Caroso wrote that a proper lady should be able to dance flourishes and galliards with them on. Really? I would think it was like trying to dance a tango in stilts.


Lead was the cosmetic of choice from the times of ancient Greece right up to the twentieth century, I’m afraid. It gave the wearer a fetchingly pale complexion but turned the blood culture into something you’d expect to find at Chernobyl or Bhopal. It also damaged the skin; the only solution was to put on more lead on it to cover it up.

Elizabeth I, looking suitably pale

It takes years to accumulate to a fatal dose. Victims literally pale into insignificance. Meanwhile they put up with minor side effects like brain damage, paralysis, insomnia, and curiously, a limp wrist.

The most celebrated death from lead poisoning is believed to be Elizabeth the First.


Why do the folk you see on the walls of ancient Egyptian walls wear so much eye make up? Were they all trying to look like Kim Kardashian? 

Actually, it just helps reduce glare. The Egyptians not only had to cope with the bright desert sun but the pyramids and other public buildings were originally covered in stark white limestone (you can only see this veneer today at the very apex of the Giza pyramids) so every time they went outside it was like walking into a row of searchlights. 

But yes, it also looked great on Elizabeth Taylor. She just wore it to reduce the glare, too.


So far we’ve only talked about women’s fashions. But in the mid eighteenth century there was a clique of young male British aristocrats who made today’s metrosexuals look like cage fighters. At one curious point in our history the indulged sons of the Regency rich came back from their gap years in Europe and turned into Lady Gaga.

In an age where men wore plain and simple dress these guys didn’t come out of the closet as such - they just wore everything that was in it. The look consisted of towering, elaborate wigs with tiny hats perched on top like a cherry on a ice cream sundae accessorized with garish waistcoats and bright colored stockings. They even developed their own language, a mixture of French and Italian words with curiously accented English. Regency rap.

It scandalized Britain and attracted widespread outrage and ridicule. The fashion did not go unnoticed overseas: it even featured in a famous lyric in the colonies. "Yankee Doodle went to town a-riding on a pony, stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni."

There; now I finally know what that lyric means. You learn something every day.

Now some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been answering comments; that’s because my comments system keeps falling over. I can’t stand it anymore, so I’m leaving the Dark Side and making the move over to Wordpress this weekend. Wish me luck! I’m sure the new system will be better. Meanwhile I’ll leave a link to the new site here at blogger.

All this week Who Dares Wins Publishing has been promoting AZTEC as a free book, along with Atlantis 'Devils Sea' by Bob Mayer, and Rekindled by Jen Talty. It's a fantastic offer so if you'd like to take advantage of it, follow the links! Offer ends tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Hernan Cortes  was probably one of the greatest of the conquistadores – which is a back handed compliment in a way, like being the best of the Nazis or being named Terrorist of the Year. He was a man of ruthless genius, a Christian crusader possessed of unparalleled greed, even for those times – but his achievements were breath-taking.

He won a land of almost limitless resource for Spain with an army of less than five hundred Spaniards, not all of them soldiers and not all of them loyal, while ostensibly on a simple scouting mission from Cuba.

He did not defeat the Aztecs with Spanish force of arms – he was five hundred men against a nation of a million – but with an astonishing bluff. He took the pot and the game with nothing in his hand. Through good fortune, steely determination, and the help of a Mexican slave girl he achieved what would otherwise have been considered impossible. 

It is one of the great stories of history, a triumph of human endurance and determination, notwithstanding that Cortes’s eventual success was an unmitigated disaster for the indigenous population and resulted in unimaginable misery for hundreds of thousands of people.

The story of Hernan Cortes is the story of a woman named Malinali. Her exact origins are unclear –she was thought to have been a Mayan princess by some – but her place in Mexican history is unparalleled. For without her, Cortes would have got no further than the beach.

Her name was corrupted by history to Malinche; even today the word malinchista is shouted across the floor of the Mexican parliament as a deadly insult – it means a traitor to the Mexican people.

Yet was she the monster that the Mexicans make her out to be? 

There is only one person who ever knew the truth and that was Malinali Tenepal herself – La Malinche. Both concubine and translator to Cortes, her motives and what she said and how she said it will always be a matter of debate - it is what makes hers such a gripping and intriguing story. It is not about the battles but the love affair, one of the most extraordinary pairings in all history.

Not everyone in Mexico agrees with me on my interpretation of  Malinali – but then they don’t agree with each other either. As with  all history, there will always be a thousand versions, and no one can ever say which one is the true one.

But what is certain is that in almost every contemporary drawing and painting she is at Cortes' side, whispering in his ear. She was the only one who ever knew what was being said by both sides, the only one who spoke both Spanish and nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. She was the only one who could have made the bluff work.

She was also the only one to share Cortes' bed. Did she love him? No one can say. Did he use her for his own purposes and then cast her aside? Of course he did. He was only ever interested in gold and glory. 

Fittingly perhaps, Cortes' life after the conquest was one of frustration and humiliation. History has not been kind to him either. I spent the better part of an afternoon trying to track him down. I finally found him not far from the Plaza Major in the Church of Jesus Navareno. He is walled up in a casket by the altar and you have to peer very hard to make out the plaque let alone the inscription. That's how much they think of him now. 

He crumbles to dust in the place where he first met the Aztec emperor Motecuhzoma. And Malinali? 

Wolfgang Sauber
No one knows what became of her. It is believed she died an old woman in Spain. Cortes showed her his gratitude by marrying her off to someone else.  Her name is still reviled in Mexico. Foreign authors who dare write her story still get assaulted with man bags (see previous post.)

But for all that, her tale, and that of the conquistadores, remains one of the most intriguing and tragic sagas in history. I still believe she could not have foreseen the terrible cataclysm she unwittingly engineered. But if you're ever in Mexico City, don't quote me on that.

If you do, watch out for man bags.

From the 17th to the 21st this week, Who Dares Wins Publishing is promoting AZTEC as a free book, along with Atlantis 'Devils Sea' by Bob Mayer, and Rekindled by Jen Talty. It's a fantastic offer so if you'd like to take advantage of it, follow the links! 

Monday, April 16, 2012


Everything you’ve ever heard about Mexico City is true. The city contains roughly the same population as the whole of Australia and twice as many cars as people. They say that one day walking in the streets of El DF is equivalent to smoking a pack of forty cigarettes.

           I was there for a week a few years back to promote a book I had written about the conquest of Mexico. I had not read the book myself on anything except my laptop and the Australian edition was still in editing. So it was slightly surreal to fly halfway across the world and discover it has been a bestseller in another country for weeks.   

            The central figure of my story was a Mayan princess called Malinali (better known in the west as Malinche), Hernan Cortes’ lover during his 'entrada' in the early sixteenth century.  My book speculated about her life, her motives, her role in the defeat of the Aztecs and most especially, the precise nature of her relationship with the great conquistador.

        Well. You wouldn’t think the Mexicans would care any more, would you? The woman has been dead for half a millennium and her name is almost unknown outside of Mexico. 

But they do care; they care a lot. It was why almost every newspaper and magazine in the city wanted to talk to me.

They care so much, in fact, that at times I was being interviewed by three journalists at a time because there was not enough time to schedule everyone. Not all of the journalists liked the book; halfway through one interview a journalist threw his manbag at me and said he was offended by my interpretation of Malinche, a woman he and many Mexicans regard as a traitor of the first rank. She is responsible for selling out Mexico and consigning her nation to catastrophe and slavery, he said. Well, perhaps. But there's two sides to every story.

Finally he stormed out of the office.

        I didn’t read the review but I got the impression that I wouldn’t be able to use any quotes on the cover of the reprint.

            My interpreter for the duration of my stay was a very attractive young woman by the name of Beatriz, publicity director for the large publishing house that had bought Spanish rights to my book. When I was invited onto a popular daytime television show she found out half an hour before my appearance that she would be required to accompany me in front of the TV cameras as my interpreter.
            She had never been on television before and was very nervous, especially as the show’s host was the notorious Victor Trujillo, Mexico TV's shock jock. Her husband was away on business in Guadalajara and she was afraid that he might see the program; she was also nervous that her mother, a very strict Catholic who disapproved of our host, might also hear about it.
          Victor's particular schtick was to have his guests lie down on a psychiatrist’s couch while he sat behind them and asked them personal questions, like a therapist. Sometimes he would have a blonde in a red leather bikini stride onto the set and sit on his guest's lap to distract them - so really, it was more like a kinky interrogation session than a sombre literary interview.      
           Fortunately Beatrix had warned me about this.

          So when the blonde came on set, I was prepared. I asked, through Beatriz, if the young woman would come back to my hotel with me. I had Victor on the back foot.

Disappointed at not catching me off guard, he raised the stakes. He brought on his second surprise – a male model with a six pack (make that twelve) in a bulging g-string who came and sat on Beatriz’s lap. I don't know who was more surprised; my blushing interpreter or her husband, watching from his hotel room in Guadalajara.
        On the way back to the car afterwards Beatriz was busy fielding phone calls from her mother and her other half. After she hung up the phone she told me she would not be acting for any more Australian authors. I protested that it really wasn't my fault but she told me I was a no-good gringo and I could get my own lunch. So there.

       Wow, this was really working out well.

       The next morning I woke at six o’clock to the sound of bugle and drum, as the Mexican flag was raised in the Plaza Major. It is a big flag, a monster that takes a dozen soldiers standing at arm’s length to furl and unfurl.
       I spent the morning with more journalists (no man bags thank God) and then Beatrix took me to an early lunch and invited me to sample one of the local delicacies, chilli chicken in chocolate sauce. It tastes exactly like it sounds, like chicken covered in spicy chocolate sauce.

            She then drove me back to the television studios for an interview that was to be syndicated throughout Latin America, South America and the US. I was happy enough with this but did not discover until a minute or so before we went on air that it would last for the better part of an hour. I also discovered, to my chagrin, that my interviewer, who could speak perfect English, would instead ask me the questions in Spanish, and these would be relayed to me through my earphones by an interpreter – at about a split second delay. 

            Now if you’ve never had this experience you may not appreciate how disconcerting this is. You have no idea what to do with your eyes for one thing; if you look at your interviewer’s face, the lip movements are out of synch with what you’re hearing and you end up staring at your interlocutor like an imbecile and going “Huh?”

            Or if you look away and just concentrate on what you’re hearing through your earphones you look like someone who’s lived with their bedridden mother all their life and has lost any ability for social interaction.

            To compound my panic the chocolate chicken I had eaten for lunch had come back to haunt me. Montezuma had decided to take his revenge on the latest author to slur his name and not only could I not look my interviewer in the face – I also began to sweat, wriggle and cross and uncross my legs every few seconds.

            I survived the interview with seconds to spare. Was it Beatrix's revenge? I suspect so.

            All in all, my author tour of Mexico was a chastening experience. Oh, and I got mugged. But hell, it's Mexico. Doesn't everyone?

            Would I go back and do it all again? If I could get another book on their bestseller; lists, you bet. I'm a writer - it's okay to be shameless.
            But next time I'd pass on the chili chocolate chicken.

From the 17th to the 21st this week, Who Dares Wins Publishing is promoting AZTEC as a free book, along with Atlantis 'Devils Sea' by Bob Mayer, and Rekindled by Jen Talty. It's a fantastic offer so if you'd like to take advantage of it, follow the links! 

Thursday, April 12, 2012


A hundred years ago today, at just about now in fact, Jack was standing on the bow of the Titanic with Rose, arms outstretched. It seems like yesterday, doesn't it? The iconic ocean liner was set to become the most celebrated shipwreck in history; and Jack and Rose the most famous lovers since Romeo and Juliet.

But for all the movies and the exhibitions and magazine articles about the Titanic, how much do you really know about her? Here’s a short quiz to test your TQ (Titanic Quotient.)

1. Where did the Titanic sail from?

(a) Liverpool
(b) Southampton
(c) Northampton
(d) Hollywood

2. The band kept playing as the ship went down. But what song?

(a) Nearer my God to Thee
(b) Autumn
(c) the theme from the Love Boat
(d) My Heart Will Go On

3. Why did the Titanic sink?

(a) it collided with the Carpathia
(b) it struck a reef
(c) it hit an iceberg
(d) the captain was Italian

4. What does Jack Dawson shout when he stands on the bow with Rose?

(a) I’m the King of the World!
(b) I’m the King of the Sea!
(c) I’m the King of the Ocean!
(d) If I push you off now there’ll be more room for me later on that door!

5. Finish this expression: ‘Women and .... first.’

(a) millionaires
(b) cross-dressers
c) Italian ship captains
(d) children

6. What was not actually on board the ship when she foundered?

(a) an ancient Egyptian mummy that cursed the ship
(b) a diamond called the Heart of the Ocean
(c) a jeweled copy of The Rubaiyat
(d) an Alexander III commemorative Faberge egg

7. There was no J. Dawson on the Titanic. True or false?

8. Jack tells Rose he used to go ice fishing on Lake Wissota as a boy. What’s wrong with this assertion?

(a) There was no Lake Wissota then
(b) There are no fish in Lake Wissota
(c) Lake Wissota is in Peru
(d) Lake Wissota is one of Beyonce’s back up singers

9. The day after Jack stops Rose from leaping into the water, they are walking along the promenade deck. What unlikely object can be seen in the background?

(a) an orange life preserver
(b) a jet airplane
(c) a hill
(d) Celine Dion lying on a sun lounger

10. If Rose loved Jack so much why didn’t she make space for him on the door? Write your answer as briefly as you can. Spare paper is available at the front desk if you need it.


1. Southampton. If you said Northampton go and stand in the corner.

2. You get a point for (a) or (b), though if I were to be really pedantic I would have to insist that none of the answers is correct. One passenger asserted that they were playing Nearer my God, but the passenger who recalled that particular hymn being played got away quite some time before the ship sank. So really, no one can be sure what they were playing when the ship broke up. All seven musicians perished.

3. The Titanic was struck by an iceberg. The time between the first sighting and the collision was around thirty seconds. 

a photograph of the actual iceberg taken several days later

4. I’m the king of the world

5. the answer is (d). If you answered (b) give yourself half a point. Two male gamblers, Doc Owen and Kid Homer, actually did dress up as women to gain access to a lifeboat. 

6. In fact (a), (b) and (d) were not on board. The Rubaiyat by the 11th-century Persian astronomer Omar Khayyam was the only truly rare item lost. The binding of this incredibly luxurious book contained fifteen hundred precious stones, each set in gold. It had been sold at auction in March 1912 to an American bidder for £405 - 15 years worth of wages for a junior crew member on the ship. The supposedly cursed mummy of Amen-Ra was not on board, as myth suggests, as it was on display at the British Museum at the time. The Heart of the Ocean is a fiction and no one knows what happened to the Faberge egg.

7. True. After he finished the script director James Cameron found there really was a J. Dawson on the Titanic. Gravestone #227 is the one most visited in the cemetery at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where most of the victims are buried. The grave actually belongs to Joseph Dawson, an Irishman who worked in Titanic's boiler room as a coal trimmer. Many filmgoers, moved by the story, left flowers and ticket stubs at Dawson's grave when the film was first released.

8. Lake Wissota is a reservoir in Chippewa County, Wisconsin. The lake was formed by the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Chippewa River, in 1917.

9. While Jack and Rose are walking on the promenade the day after he rescues her, a small hill with a building on it is visible over Jack's shoulder.

10. Sorry, I won’t accept any answer for this one. That’s a two person door if ever I saw one.

Just to finish, I found this little gem on the internet. It’s a Lego version of the Titanic. Warning: it contains spoilers. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


The wonderful children's author Lynn Kelley at and historical author Mirella Patzer (who has one of the best history blogs and review sites) at both tagged me for the Lucky 7 Meme. It works this way:

1. You go to page 77 of your current WIP
2. You go to line 7
3. You copy down the next 7 lines, sentences or paragraphs and post them, as they're written.
4. Finally, you tag 7 authors, and let them know they're tagged. 

So to take part in the Lucky 7 Meme, here's my excerpt from my historical epic STIGMATA, which I'm editing right now and is due to be published by Corvus Atlantic later this year.

‘I had a friend in Outremer. He  was a southerner, from the Languedoc. A good man. Once I saw him knock some ruffian down for abusing a horse. And twice he saved my life. He was devout in his faith, went regularly to communion and would never do any man harm. But the manner of his death was beyond imagining. He took a wound to the belly in a skirmish and died a week later, still howling. He deserved a sweeter fate. Other men, they wore the cross even while they raped women and took the greatest pleasure in torturing their prisoners, yet they survived our wars in good humor and good health. I confess, I do not understanding the workings of God or the life he has put us in.’
‘Yet we are here, and we must make the best of it.’
Philip laughed. More a bark really, abashed at having spoken so plainly with his own squire. ‘Yes, you are right. We must to our duty. And yet . . .’ He traced the carving of her name on the stone. ‘Sometimes, if you take a single man or woman from the world, it is suddenly empty.’
‘She left you something to remember her by.’
‘This runt of mine took her life from me.’
‘I am sure he did not wish to be without his mother. He is as wronged as you in this grief. And what of your good wife in heaven now, pray God? Would she want you to abandon him?’
Philip sat up reluctantly, and clapped him on the shoulder. ‘How did you come to be so wise when you have only eighteen summers? You are right. Enough now. Show me my son.’

And so to the seven authors I'd like to tag, if they'd like to take part:

Alica McKenna Johnson

Deborah Krager
Stephanie Drayer
Sherry Jones
Kim Rendfeld
Roberta Trahan
Dianne Capri

Thanks Lyn and thanks Mirella!