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Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Girl-less, Cuss-less Telephone

A hundred and four years ago this month, the small town of Epsom in Surrey in the United Kingdom made history as the first place in the UK to use an automatic telephone exchange.
Luckily for Epsom, this was a free trial or the cost would have been astronomical. As it was, three hundred and fifty homeowners signed up for the privilege of dialling direct the numbers they wanted to reach, rather than having to wait for the operator to connect them.
The equipment had been patented by an American inventor, Almon Strowger who opened his first exchange in Indiana with seventy-five subscribers. He advertised it as "the girl-less, cuss-less, out-of-order-less, wait-less telephone" because you no longer had to wait to be connected by the operators (almost invariably women) at the central hub.
Epsom was chosen as it was considered to be a typical suburban neighbourhood. The system was finally adopted as standard in 1922. It changed the way we communicated forever, and in its day was probably as much of a revelation to people using it as the mobile is to us. 

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Echos of History

Readers often ask what inspires my novels. I've written elsewhere about the inspiration I've found in Impressionist paintings so here, I want to say something about the political situation that caught my imagination and led me to write City of Dreams.

Many writers of historical fiction are drawn to the medieval or Elizabethan periods, both fascinating, but in City of Dreams I wanted to explore a period that is less well known.
I wove the story of Anna, a Russian girl who comes to Paris with her new husband, into the history of that city in the second half of the nineteenth century. I wanted to explore a period that is not so familiar to most people but nevertheless extremely interesting. 
For many years Paris was the most fashionable and envied city on earth, but in 1870, diplomatic wrangling over rival influences in Spain catapulted France into the Franco-Prussian war. It was a war that France never expected to lose and the consequences of defeat were dramatic.
Emperor Napoleon III (Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew) went into exile, leaving a shaky government that had to pilot Paris through a terrible siege and then a struggle for power with the leaders of the Commune, the political movement that foreshadowed the advent of Communism in the 20th century.
The historical importance of the struggle is best encapsulated for me by the fact that when the first three-man team of Soviet cosmonauts went up in Voskhod in 1964, they took with them into space three sacred relics: a picture of Lenin, a picture of Karl Marx and a ribbon from the Communard flag.
Yet however interesting the historical detail, I'd be the first to agree that a novel needs a good story to drive the narrative forward. I believe the number of 4* and 5* reviews City of Dreams has received on Amazon show that new readers won't be disappointed.
City of Dreams is free on Kindle at present. To go to  the page for more details, just click on the cover image in the sidebar.