Friday, 16 March 2012

The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 struck San Francisco and surrounding towns over a distance of almost three hundred miles on the coast of California at 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18, 1906. The tremors were felt as far north as Oregon and as far south as Los Angeles.

Due to the San Andreas fault, and the Hayward and San Jacinto faults, San Francisco had always been prone to earthquakes. The city suffered countless tremors each year as the plates constantly shifted against each other and stress built up, and still does. But nothing of this magnitude had been experienced for almost half a century before 1906. Strict codes on construction had been put into place. Sadly it wasn’t enough to save them.

Even more devastating than the earthquake itself was the fire that followed which ruptured gas mains, destroyed approximately 25,000 buildings, and 3000 lives were lost.

In this short extract from The Promise we see Georgia attempting to escape and save the lives of her mother and sister.

All night the city burnt. By dawn the sky was blood-red, marred by a thick pall of smoke in shades of ochre, rose and lavender. There seemed little hope of ever seeing the sun again. Whole buildings were broken, tilting at impossible angles; twisted columns and pillars stood as if petrified by the flames. 

And over all lay a brooding air of silence. 

I’d never witnessed anything like it. With not enough water to fight it, and the dynamite blasts to create firebreaks often making matters worse as surrounding buildings couldn’t be damped down, the fire had swept the entire district below Sansome. We heard that it had jumped Kearny then devoured Chinatown, gobbling up shops and houses with their pretty balconies with as much ease as it did the paper lanterns and carved wooden dragons which gave the district its unique character.

Hand in hand, we stumbled on. As did hundreds of others, many dragging their trunks and luggage, their children and themselves, up and down San Francisco’s unforgiving hills, only to meet a wall of flame at the top and have to run for their lives in the opposite direction, often leaving everything behind. 

The fire scorched down the corridors of Frisco’s long streets, destroying all in its path and leaving gutted ruin in its wake. The very heat of the flames cracked solid stone, crumbled great pillars, and bent iron and steel into a newly sculpted art form. 

Finally we reached Union Square where we managed to grab a few hours sleep huddled together on the grass, along with our fellow refugees. The lucky ones slept in government tents, cooking supper on stoves they’d salvaged from their homes. 

‘No point in trying for the ferry yet,’ they told us. ‘The roads are blocked all around with hundreds of refugees desperate to get a boat for Oakland.’

‘And the authorities are being hampered by crowds of sightseers pouring off the ferry,’ someone else put in. ‘Coming to gawp at the scenes of horror and cluttering up the roads and sidewalks. “Earthquake tourists”, they’re calling them. And tempers are growing ugly.’ 

I had no wish to have Mama caught up in an affray, and my fragile sister was suffering yet another fit of weeping that might never stop. I thought her close to a breakdown and certainly too exhausted to walk another yard. 

It seemed that for now we must stay put. 

Ten days later we had set up camp in Golden Gate Park. The fires had died at last, leaving our city a smoking ruin, in parts little more than heaps of ash. Some streets were already being cleared of rubble and trailing wires, burst pipes mended, but few buildings were safe to enter, so here we were, sleeping in makeshift shelters or government-issued tents, our throats parched with the acrid taint of smoke, our clothes blackened. Every morning I would stand patiently in the bread queue while Prue did the same in the soup line, and Maura would go off to find a grocery store that might be open and bargain for a scrap of meat or fish. Even if she was successful the task always took her hours, but she was so restless she persisted in her daily search, quite unable to sit still.

Mama sat beneath a piece of corrugated iron atop a pile of boxes and broken chairs, demanding that Prudence, Maura and myself wait on her hand, foot and finger, in lieu of the servants she’d lost. 

‘I am bored with fish soup,’ she would complain, as if we might conjure up a little caviar for her instead. ‘And do find me a proper bed, dear. I really cannot tolerate lying on this heap of old coats for much longer.’ 

‘There are no beds, Mama. The fire burnt them all, remember?’ 

‘Then something must be done.’

Poor Cecilia Briscoe. Not a woman accustomed to making do, or suffering any sort of discomfort. Her life had been near perfect until the quake, one of the city’s well-to-do with impeccable European bloodlines. More importantly, her daughter Georgia’s life too was about to change for ever.

I began to research the earthquake following a wonderful holiday we’d enjoyed in the town. I discovered that people did strange things in the face of disaster, such as marry in haste, or commit atrocities. Life goes on, babies are still born even as people are dying. And keeping track of your loved ones when the world is falling about your ears could not have been easy.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I began to dream up the plot of The Promise. I have set part of the story some fifty or so years on, in post war Lakeland where Chrissie is struggling to understand why she has no contact with her grandmother, and what is the big family secret that her mother refuses to reveal.

Georgia Briscoe, in love with British sailor Ellis Cowper, is unwillingly betrothed to Drew Kemp. Her husband is mired in the San Francisco underworld, with a penchant for gambling and other women. Georgia plans to escape to be with the man she loves but Drew has other ideas. And then comes the earthquake… 

LONDON, 1948 
Chrissie Kemp travels to the Lake District to meet her grandmother for the first time, only to discover a shocking family secret. As the truth unfurls, the passion, emotion and astounding love that blossomed in San Francisco is revealed forty years earlier, and three generations of one family are tested to their limits. 

ebook available from Amazon

Paperback published by Allison & Busby coming in September.

Friday, 9 March 2012

To Take Her Pride by Anne Brear

My latest historical novel, To Take Her Pride, has just been released in paperback.

Blurb:  To Take Her Pride

1898 Yorkshire.
Aurora Pettigrew has it all, a loving family, a nice home, a comfortable life. She’s waiting for the right man to offer her marriage, and the man for her is Reid Sinclair, heir to the Sinclair fortune and the love of her life.
But, Reid’s mother, Julia, is against the match and her ruthlessness unearths a family secret that will tear Aurora’s world apart.
Unwilling to bring shame on her family and needing answers to the allegations brought to light by Reid’s mother, Aurora begins a long journey away from home. She leaves behind all that is familiar and safe to enter a world of mean streets and poor working class.
Living in the tenements of York, surrounded by people of a class she’d never mixed with before, Aurora struggles to come to terms with the way her life has changed. By chance, she reconnects with a man from her past and before he leaves with the army to war in South Africa, he offers her security through marriage.
Aurora knows she should be happy, but the memory of her love for Reid threatens her future.
When tragedy strikes, can Aurora find the strength to accept her life and forget the past?


Aurora walked along the streets of York, head down against the wind. The end of summer was proving difficult this year and warm days would be followed by squalls of rain and blustery winds such as today. Since Ethel Minton’s visit six days ago, Aurora had gone out looking for work and new accommodation. Each day she had come home despondent on both issues. Without a wage they couldn’t look at the better houses, and the poorer areas were the likes of Edinburgh Yard, which she and Sophia were adamant not to go back to. Noah and Lily had spoken as one offering their home to them, but Aurora was reluctant to agree as they’d be on top of each other, especially when the two babies came.
Aside from the anxiety of finding money and lodgings, she had become aware over the last few days of someone watching her. She couldn’t define what made her so sure someone was, but instinct told her she didn’t walk the streets alone. Then, last night, while closing the curtains a stranger lingered in the lane looking at her windows. As yet she hadn’t mentioned it to Sophia, who after the attack was nervous enough and jumped at any loud bangs or sudden shouts. Perhaps she should mention it to Noah, ask him to keep an eye out, and just hope that she was imagining it all.
Her feet throbbed as she turned into Coney Street. The baby kicked, a new sensation that Aurora marveled at in secret joy. She rubbed her stomach and hurried on. She needed to buy some buttons and thread, as Sophia was letting out all her skirts. She’d have liked to buy some linen material too, for a blouse, but every penny had suddenly become precious now neither of them was working.
She passed a tailor’s shop and was bumped into by two men coming out of the doorway. She apologized, even though it wasn’t her fault, at the same time the gentleman did too. Then she stopped and stared. Tom Sinclair stood gaping back at her, open-mouthed.
“Aurrie?” He frowned, puzzled.
She was the first to recover. “How are you, Tom?”
“My God!” Tom enveloped her in a tight embrace and for a moment she relished being held by him. It’d been a long time since a man had held her, and Tom was as close as she would get to Reid. He stared at her in amazement. “What are you doing in York?”
“Shopping.” She smiled brightly, acting as though them bumping into each other was an everyday occurrence. “And you?”
“Oh this and that.” His gaze roamed over her and his grin faltered as he took in her appearance. He’d never seen her in anything but beautiful clothes and neatly groomed. She put a hand to her hair escaping from her felt hat and blushed. He’d noticed her faded clothes beneath her coat, which also needed a sponge and brush. Her shoes hadn’t seen polish for weeks.
Tom turned to his companion. “Hal, my friend, I’ll meet you back at the hotel.”
Hal, a tall, healthy-looking young man winked, a devilish smile in his eyes. “As you wish, my good fellow, but remember we leave on the evening train tomorrow.”
Aurora’s blush deepened, imagining what Hal would think of her. “You should have introduced me, Tom. He thinks the worst judging by that remark.”
“That’s more exciting than the truth though, isn’t it?” Tom’s smile flashed, but the amusement in his eyes had vanished completely. “There’s a tearoom on the corner. Let’s go.” He took her elbow and so shocked was she to see this serious side of him that she let him escort her into a small tearoom and assist her onto a wooden chair in the corner. He sat on the other side of the square table and lifted his hand to the passing waitress. “Tea and a plate of-of cakes…er…food, sandwiches and the like.”
“Tom, I—” The words dried in her mouth as she saw the agony in his eyes. “What is it?”
“I cannot believe it.” He shook his head and looked as if he was going to cry.
Her heart leapt to her throat and she leaned forward. “Good God, Tom, what?”
“What happened to you?” His voice came out on a whisper.
She sat back in her chair, again conscious of her appearance. “You must be shocked.”
“Shocked?” he squeaked and then clearing his throat, he held his hands out as if in question. “I thought you were travelling with your father’s aunt? That’s what your mother is telling everyone. Is this aunt without funds? Doesn’t your father know—’
“Please, Tom, stop.” She rubbed her forehead, wondering how to tell him, whether she should tell him. “I’m not with my father’s aunt.”
“I don’t understand.” He scratched his chin. “Aurrie, dearest, you look like hell. You’re so thin and…and shabby.”
She wanted to laugh at being called thin, especially when the front fastening corset she’d bought only two weeks ago no longer fitter her. The top button of her blue skirt was left undone and her white blouse strained across her breast, which she hid with her coat, but his expression of horror wiped the laughter from her instantly. Apart from the parts of her body concern with the child, the rest of her was thin, her hands and arms especially. “It’s a long story.”
“And I’ve got all day.”
“But I haven’t.” She stood. “I must go. It was nice seeing you again.”
“No.” He grabbed her wrist and forced her to sit down, causing the other customers to glance in their direction. “Don’t go, not yet.” He let go of her as she sat and the waitress brought over a tea tray, which she set out on the table. Tom watched Aurora the entire time and she knew he was full of questions. “I want to hear it all, Aurrie.”  
“Do you?” She pulled off her gloves, revealing her red and work-chapped hands and ignored his gasp of surprise at the sight of them. Dropping a cube of sugar into her cup, she then stirred it slowly with a teaspoon. “I don’t think you want to know, Tom, not really.” She gave him a sad smile, knowing his personality as one of fun and laughter, never taking anything seriously.
“I thought we were friends?”
“We were. When life was simple.”
“Aurrie, please. I can’t bear to see you like this.”
“This?” She waved at her worn clothes. “Good lord, Tom, this is a good day.” Her chuckle was brittle. “We had enough water last night for a bath so I washed my hair…’
“We?” He leaned forward over the table, cradling his teacup in one hand and took her hand in his other.
“My mother, Sophia. We live together.”
“Your mother Sophia?” His eyes widened. “Dearest, are you ill?”
“Mad you mean?” This time she did laugh. “I wish I was, but alas I’m quite sane.” She bent over the table until their faces were nearly touching. “Can you cope with knowing the truth, Tom Sinclair? The man who has never had a moment of responsibly in his life?”

If you're looking for a fairy tale with a twist, then look no further than To Take Her Pride. The characters may not fill out all the classic roles precisely, and you'll get to meet the entire townspeople around the "castle", but they are beyond a doubt entertaining and very adeptly written. It's a great read that reminds the little girls in us that sometimes the princess has to become Cinderella in order to be a good queen one day.
Books N Beans

 To Take Her Pride is available in paperback from and Amazon UK