Know Your History – 9th January


know your history - writing

On this day….

9th January

2000 – Nigel Tranter OBE, Scottish historian and author died.

Nigel was a skilled writer and creative in many genres including Historical Fiction, adventure, westerns and children’s literature. He also wrote many non-fiction books on Scottish History, Architecture and Travel.

He published his first book at the young age of 25! An amazing achievement.

Although his first fictional novel was rejected by publishers, a second fictional novel was written and soon accepted. The Queen’s Grace (1953) was his first novel to focus on an historical character (in this case, Mary, Queen of Scots), although it contained a high fictional content. Two trilogies followed: the MacGregor Trilogy (1957–1962) and the Master of Gray Trilogy (1961–1965). By this time, Tranter was well established as a writer of serious historical fiction. The fictional content decreased as he became more experienced, and his later novels were almost entirely…

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Know Your History – 10th December – Melvil Dewey born

know your history - writingOn this day… 10th December, 1851 – Melvil Dewey born

Melville Louis Kossuth (Melvil) Dewey (December 10, 1851 – December 26, 1931) was an American librarian and educator, inventor of the Dewey Decimal system of library classification, and a founder of the Lake Placid Club.


Dewey was a pioneer in American librarianship and an influential figure in the development of libraries in America in the late 19th and early the 20th century. He is best known for the decimal classification system that many public and school libraries use. But the decimal system was just one of a long list of innovations. Among these is the idea of the state library as controller of school and public library services within a state. Melvil Dewey - library.png

In Boston, Massachusetts, he founded the Library Bureau, a private company “for the definite purpose of furnishing libraries with equipment and supplies of unvarying correctness and reliability.” Dewey’s Library Bureau Company is also said to have introduced hanging vertical files, first seen at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago.

Did You Know?

In New York, Melvil Dewey had “initiated a program of traveling libraries-collections of one hundred books sent to communities without public libraries.”

His efforts spurred other state organizations and private individuals to create traveling libraries. Increased library services to small or rural communities and underserved populations fortified the efforts of many to seek out education and self-improvement.

Know Your History – 9th December – Joanna Trollope born

know your history - writingOn this day… 9th December 1943 – Joanna Trollope born.


Joanna Trollope OBE (born 9 December 1943) is a British writer. She also wrote under the pseudonym of Caroline Harvey. Her novel Parson Harding’s Daughter won in 1980 the Romantic Novel of the Year Award by the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Trollope’s books are generally upmarket family dramas and romances, that somewhat transcend these genres via striking realism in terms of human psychology and relationships. Several of her novels have been adapted for television.


On Writing


Tips on Writing from Joanne Trollope:


  • You can’t be too old to be a writer but you can definitely be too young. My advice would be not to write until after 35. You need some experience, and for life to knock you about a bit. Growing up is so hard you probably won’t have much emotion to spare anyway.
  •  I don’t always set stories in villages, more often in towns. But always in smallish communities because characters’ actions are more visible there, and the tension is heightened.Joanna Trollope - librarys books
  • I plot the first 5 or 6 chapters quite minutely, and also the end. So I know where I am going but not how I’m going to get there, which gives characters the chance to develop organically, as happens in real life as you get to know a person.

Did You Know?..

 By her own admission, Joanna is not someone who loved her schooldays.

 ‘I only really started to enjoy education when I got to university. No school can be blamed, however, it was more my childhood and adolescent sense of being an outsider, of not belonging (a very formative sense, I now know, for being a writer) that made me miserable at a time when 99.9% of children long to conform. But, I was very well taught, however, and I think I sensed this, even then.’

Know Your History – 8th December – Bill Bryson born

know your history - writingOn this day… 8th December 1951 – Bill Bryson born.

William McGuire “Bill” Bryson, OBE, FRS (born December 8, 1951) is a best-selling Anglo-American author of humorous books on travel, as well as books on the English language and science. Born in the United States, he was a resident of Britain for most of his adult life before returning to America in 1995. In 2003 Bryson and his wife and four children moved back to Britain, living in the old rectory of Wramplingham, Norfolk. He served as the chancellor of Durham University from 2005 to 2011.

Bryson came to prominence in the United Kingdom with the publication of Notes from a Small Island (1995), an exploration of Britain, and its accompanying television series. He received widespread recognition again with the publication of A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003), a book widely acclaimed for its accessible communication of science.Bill Bryson - travel

On Writing

Advice, in the wise words of one of the most well-read travel writers, Bill Bryson: “A basic error with travel writing is assuming everybody’s interested. You have to work from the opposite assumption: nobody is interested. Even your wife is not interested.”

Did You Know?..

Bryson is a staunch supporter of organ donors

Bryson even launched a campaign to get students at Durham University to sign up for organ donation.

Know Your History – 7th December – Willa Cather born

On this day… 7th December 1873 – Willa Cather born.

Willa Sibert Cather ( December 7, 1873 – April 24, 1947) was an American author who achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, including O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Ántonia (1918). In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours (1922), a novel set during World War I.

Cather grew up in Virginia and Nebraska, and graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She lived and worked in Pittsburgh for ten years. At the age of 33 she moved to New York City, her primary home for the rest of her life, though she also traveled widely and spent considerable time at her summer residence in New Brunswick, Canada.

On Writing

Cather was one of the country’s most successful woman journalists before she was a novelist. According to a letter she wrote in 1908, her boss, the inimitable S. S. McClure, told her “that he does not think I will ever be able to do much at writing stories, that I am a good executive and I had better let it go at that.” In 1912, she left her job with McClure’s to become a very successful full-time writer.Willa Cather - love miracles

Cather said O Pioneers!, which was published in 1913, was her second “first novel” because it was the book where she where she hit her home turf and found her own voice: “This was like taking a ride through a familiar country on a horse that knew the way, on a fine morning when you felt like riding. The other [Alexander’s Bridge] was like riding in a park, with someone not altogether congenial, to whom you had to be talking all the time.” Actually, though, she might have called O Pioneers! her third first novel. She had earlier written a novel called “Fanny” and set in Pittsburgh that never made it into print.

Did You Know?..

Cather’s most widely-read and widely-admired novel, My Ántonia, was nominated for the first-ever Pulitzer Prize but didn’t get it.

The one for which she later won a Pulitzer Prize, One of Ours, was thought by many to be a weaker work. Although it follows its hero, Claude Wheeler, to the battlefields of World War I, she insisted it should not be understood as a war novel and had to be talked out of titling it simply Claude.

Know Your History – 6th December – Arthur Golden born

know your history - writingOn this day… 6th December 1956 – Arthur Golden born.

Arthur Golden is the author of Award Winning “Memoirs of a Geisha”. Golden was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and was educated at Harvard College, where he received a degree in art history, specializing in Japanese art. In 1980 he earned an M.A. in Japanese history from Columbia University, where he also learned Mandarin Chinese. Following a summer in Beijing University, he worked in Tokyo, and, after returning to the United States, earned an M.A. in English from Boston University. He resides in Brookline, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.

On Writing

The novel Memoirs of a Geisha was written over a 6-year period duringArthur Golden - troubled mind which Golden rewrote the entire novel three times, changing the point of view before finally settling on the first person viewpoint of Sayuri. Interviews with a number of geisha, including Mineko Iwasaki, provided background information about the world of the geisha.

Did You Know?..

 After the Japanese edition of Memoirs of a Geisha was published, Golden was sued for breach of contract and defamation of character by Iwasaki.

The plaintiff claimed that Golden had agreed to protect her anonymity, if she told him about her life as a geisha due to the traditional code of silence about their clients. The lawsuit was settled out of court in February 2003.

Know Your History – 5th December – Joan Didion born

know your history - writing“On this day… 5th December, 1934 – Joan Didion born

Joan Didion (born December 5, 1934) is an American author best known for her novels and her literary journalism. Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work.

On Writing

I came across a really interesting article by Joan Didion titled Why I write. Here is a few excerpts I found interesting.

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind?” Joan Didion - stories

“All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed.”

Did You Know?

Didion Originally Wanted To Be An Actress

“I originally wanted to be an actress,” Didion said. “I didn’t realize then that it’s the same impulse [as writing]. It’s make-believe … The only difference being that a writer can do it all alone.”

Know Your History – 4th December – Thomas Carlyle born

know your history - writingOn this day… 4th December, 1795 – Thomas Carlyle born

Thomas Carlyle (4 December 1795 – 5 February 1881) was a Scottish philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher. Considered one of the most important social commentators of his time, he presented many lectures during his lifetime with certain acclaim in the Victorian era. One of those conferences resulted in his famous work On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History where he explains that the key role in history lies in the actions of the “Great Man”, claiming that “History is nothing but the biography of the Great Man”.

On Writing

By 1821, Carlyle abandoned the clergy as a career and focused on making a life as a writer. His first fiction was “Cruthers and Jonson”, one of several abortive attempts at writing a novel. Thomas Carlyle - endurance

A respected historian in his day, his 1837 book The French Revolution: A History was the inspiration for Dickens’ 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities, and remains popular today. Carlyle’s 1836 novel Sartor Resartus is considered one of the finest works of the nineteenth century.

Did You Know?

Carlyle was the chief instigator in the foundation of the London Library in 1841.

He had become frustrated by the facilities available at the British Museum Library, where he was often unable to find a seat (obliging him to perch on ladders), where he complained that the enforced close confinement with his fellow readers gave him a “museum headache”, where the books were unavailable for loan, and where he found the library’s collections of pamphlets and other material relating to the French Revolution and English Civil Wars inadequately catalogued. Carlyle’s eventual solution, with the support of a number of influential friends, was to call for the establishment of a private subscription library from which books could be borrowed.

Know Your History – 3rd December – Joseph Conrad born

know your history - writingOn this day… 3rd December, 1857 – Joseph Conrad born

Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski; 3 December 1857 – 3 August 1924) was a Polish-British writer regarded as one of the greatest novelists to write in the English language. He was granted British nationality in 1886 but always considered himself a Pole. Though he did not speak English fluently until he was in his twenties (and always with a marked accent), he was a master prose stylist who brought a distinctly non-English sensibility into English literature. He wrote stories and novels, many with a nautical setting, that depict trials of the human spirit in the midst of an impassive, inscrutable universe.

On Writing

Heart is a psychological masterpiece about the subconscious mind. Influenced by Dante, Conrad takes his readers on an Inferno-like descent into the underworld of human existence—searching for lost idealism, a center that holds, a meaning to life, and the essence of our existence.Joseph Conrad - terror

Conrad explored the boundaries and limits of epistemology: how it is that we know things. How do we know what we know is one of philosophy’s greatest unanswered questions.

Did You Know?

In his twenties, Conrad resolved to kill himself with a gun – but miraculously he survived.

Joseph Conrad was a bit of a gambler in his youth. In 1878, up to his ears in gambling debts, the young Conrad attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest. The bullet missed his heart, and he lived for the next 46 years, long enough to become one of the most important writers of his generation, with novels such as Heart of DarknessLord JimNostromoVictory, and The Secret Agent earning him the respect of critics and fellow writers.

For this and other interesting facts on Joseph Conrad visit

Know Your History – 2nd December – Ann Patchett born

know your history - writingOn this day… 2nd December, 1963 – Ann Patchett born

Ann Patchett (born December 2, 1963) is an American author. She received the Orange Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2002 for her novel Bel Canto. Patchett’s other novels include Run, The Patron Saint of Liars, Taft, State of Wonder, and The Magician’s Assistant, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize.

On Writing

Some writing tips from Ann Patchett

  1. Ideas are everywhere. Lift up a big rock and look under it, stare into a window of a house you drive past and dream about what’s going on inside. Read the newspaper, ask your father about his sister, think of something that happened to you or someone you know and then think about it turning out an entirely different way.Ann Patchett - reading
  2. Even if you’re writing a book that jumps around in time, has ten points of view, and is chest-deep in flashbacks, do your best to write it in the order in which it will be read, because it will make the writing, and the later editing, incalculably easier.
  3. One method of revision that I find both loathsome and indispensable is reading my work aloud when I’m finished. There are things I can hear—the repetition of words, a particularly flat sentence—that I don’t otherwise catch.

Did You Know?

A few years ago, Ann Patchett opened an independent bookstore in Nashville called Parnassus.