OK, so I'm rarely in jeopardy, but I write woman-in-jeopardy novels—otherwise called "Modern Gothics"—and this is my blog. It will probably have lots of time between posts, but I'll try not to bore you. Welcome.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

But Why Is It "Bellewether"?

Some of you have written to me asking what the title of the new book means, and why it’s spelled wrong.

“Bellewether” is, in fact, the original Middle English spelling of the word bellwether.

Apart from its literal meaning—a sheep that wears a bell to lead the flock—the term can also apply to a predictor or harbinger of something.

Without spoiling the story, I can tell you there’s a character who serves the first purpose, and events that serve the second, so that’s why the title—when it first rose up and attached itself to the text—seemed like a good one to keep.

As for the spelling, I chose it because the original version appealed to me, and because I hoped to reduce confusion with Connie Willis’s science fiction classic Bellwether (although if you’re searching for my book and buy hers by mistake, I will totally forgive you—it’s a great story), but also because that’s how one of the characters spelled it when he named his ship in the book, and I liked how it looked on the page.

Here’s the scene where that happened:

* * * * *

Lydia wasn’t entirely sure herself why the mare favored her, but they had shared this rapport from the very first day that her father had brought the mare home as a yearling. Just as a horse could sense a nervous rider or a cruel one, it appeared that the mare could sense Lydia already carried a full share of troubles and did not need more. Whatever the reason, the mare bent her head to the halter and made no complaint and submitted herself to be led.

Not that Lydia was in a rush to be leading her anywhere just at the moment. The day, being only begun, was still peaceful; the chill of the air making mist of her breath as the sun ventured up from its bed into view, sending pink and gold streaks spreading over the eastern sky.

Here on the upland where the land had been well cleared, she had a view not only of the bay but of the wider Sound, and of the ships that came and went continually between New York’s harbor and the sea.

Benjamin had come here often as a boy to chase his dreams of grand adventure, studying the passing ships so that he could, like Joseph, know the types of vessels by their varied shapes and rigging, be they brigs or sloops or bilanders or snows. He’d watched them for so long that he could name most of the New York ships on sight, amazing Lydia, who only recognized her brother William’s four: the Bellewether, the Honest John, the Katharine, and the Fox.

Of these, her favorite was the Bellewether, because although the smallest of them all it was the prettiest and swiftest.

“She will run before all others,” had been William’s explanation of the sloop’s name. “Like the sheep we bell to lead the flock.”

“You’ve spelled it wrong,” their mother had said mildly as she’d read the brave name painted on the hull. “It is spelled ‘bellwether,’ without the second e.”

“But ‘belle’ is French for ‘beautiful,’ and she is surely that,” had been his answer.

And she was. Built to outrun the privateers that prowled the trade routes, she had turned the tables on them many times and carried her fair share of captured ships as prizes into New York’s harbor, but the true prizes for Lydia had been the letters carried from Jamaica from her brother Daniel, and the gifts and parcels that he regularly sent, which, since their mother’s death, had been one of the few bright things their family could look forward to. The sight of the Bellewether’s sails sweeping past in the Sound was a sight that, on most days, brought Lydia joy.

But this morning, the sight of sails sliding below her and into the bay brought a darker confusion.

Those sails were the Bellewether’s, but they’d been set strangely. In this uncertain light, moving through shadows and mist on the dark water close to the shore, she appeared to have no more than half a mast, less of her rigging, and dangerous, jagged holes scarring her deck.

Lydia, who had been stroking the mare’s warm neck, stilled her hand. And then she moved it and took a firm hold of the mare’s tangled mane, and in one scrambling motion she hauled herself up, clinging to the mare’s withers and urging her into a quick walk at first, then a run, down the slope of the field, racing home with a warning.

Because on the heels of the Bellewether, gliding now into the bay, sailed a second ship—larger and darker and trailing the wounded sloop’s wake like a predator.

* * * * *

The book comes out April 24 in Canada, and August 7 in the USA. You can order/pre-order it here, from my website.

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