The Draw of Anachronisms

Not Helen but a contemporary. Wikimedia Commons.

Not Helen but a contemporary.
Wikimedia Commons.

In my WIP, which is set in 1841, one of the threads sees Helen Anderson becoming involved in her father’s business. He’s a rich Aberdeen merchant whose ships sail back and forth between Scotland and North and South America. Helen is determined to show him that she’ll be an imaginative, active partner in the enterprise. As part of her learning process, she’s determined to join one of his ships as a passenger to experience conditions on board at first hand and be in a position to offer a better service than shipowners who only know of such conditions through hearsay. Reluctantly, her father agrees to let her sail as far as Thurso. Her mother, Elizabeth, however, is appalled at the idea and, at the moment, I’m stuck at the scene where, with the voyage imminent, the subject crops up as the three of them sit together. The draft goes as far as this:

‘Don’t remind me of that foolish enterprise,’ said her mother. ‘I still haven’t forgiven your father for agreeing to let you go and I’m not sure I ever will.’
Helen saw the concern in her face and went to sit beside her.
I know, Mama,’ she said. ‘I’m not treating it lightly. When I think of being out there at the mercy of it all, I’m very fearful.’
‘Then don’t go,’ said Elizabeth.
‘I must. It will teach me so much. And I shall be back with you in less than a week.’
‘A week during which I shall have no rest.’
And that’s where I’m stuck. The advantage of writing crime novels set in the 1840s is that

Helen's father with iPad circa 1841. Wikipedia Commons.

Helen’s father with iPad circa 1841.
Wikipedia Commons.

there’s no DNA profiling or any of the other sophisticated forensic (and highly technical) procedures available, so the sleuthing is of the imaginative, intuitive variety and focuses more on people and motives than on blood spatter, fibre analysis and the like. On the other hand, in this specific instance, some of today’s ‘advances’ would have been helpful. For example:

‘…A week during which I shall have no rest.’
‘Oh Mama. I promise to text you every day.’
Her mother shook her head and, discreetly wiping a tear from her eye, opened her vinaigrette to inhale its soothing mix of lavender and apple blossom.
‘But my darling,’ she said, ‘you know how reluctant I am to place my faith in any discourse reliant upon the vagaries of HTML.’
Her father unrolled his iPad Scroll, tapped its surface and held it for the two women to see.
‘Besides,’ he said, ‘the long range meteorological predictions are for perturbations in the ionosphere. Reception will be intermittent.’
‘OMG,’ said Helen. ‘You are so, like, negative.’

See? It would be so much easier. Ah well, back to the half-formed world of early Victorian Aberdeen.

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