February 6: Just a date?

February 6: Just a date?

Ruth E. Walker

Why is February 6 an important date? For James II of England/James VII of Scotland, this is the day in 1685, he becomes king upon the death of his bother Charles II. In ancient Pompeii, AD 60 to be precise, a bit of wall graffiti shows February 6 as the earliest date the day of the week is known: Sunday apparently, though it would be Wednesday using our calendar. And for British women over the age of 30, this day in 1918 gave them the vote. At last, some women were considered to be adults…

From facts to inspiration

I’ve never paid attention to this particular date, February 6, and many other days that pass me by, year after year. But I got to thinking about how writers and other artists can find inspiration and ideas by checking out a day here or there.

Right now, I’m thinking that my friend and author of historical novels, Cryssa Bazos, would be able to tell me what inspired her to write about 17th century England. Perhaps she was just Googling dates when all the intrigue, civil war and passions of that time caught her attention.

And Pompeii? The place that captured the people and places of the ancient city, buried beneath a mountain of volcanic ash, is rich with high-tension moments. Unable to escape, families, friends and strangers succumbed to the poisonous gasses and then were covered with ash in their desperate last seconds, frozen with an arm extended in fear or draped around a loved one to protect one last time.

It was so sudden that tables were set with food, prepared for a meal never eaten.

Archeologists unearthed a time capsule, including that February 6 day-of-the-week discovery. And for writers, there’s been no end to the stories imagined by the vignettes revealed.

“Nice women don’t want the vote.”

Thinking about British women’s right to vote February 6, 1918, I was reminded how hard won our right to vote is in Canada. Not so very long ago, it was meted out, inch by excruciating inch, province by province, until Canadian women finally got the right to vote federally on May 24 1918.

Of course, there were exceptions. And there were restrictions. You had to be 21 or older, and not a Status Indian or Inuit woman (or man, for that matter.) And restrictions applied to anyone disenfranchised provincially for reasons of race. Thus, Japanese, Chinese and South Asians in B.C. and Chinese in Saskatchewan were kept from voting.

As a writer, this rabbit hole of research got me thinking.

Japanese Canadian soldiers WWI

I’m driven by character, and I try to imagine what the power to vote might have meant to a woman who, on May 23, 1918, couldn’t vote.

I’ll call her Edith.

And what it meant to a woman who, on May 24, 1918, still couldn’t vote.

I’ll call her Miko.

Consider the opportunities for tension if I put these two women in the same house. A Japanese immigrant, Miko is a cook in a boarding house. She is 48 and widowed. Her only child, her son, died fighting in the Great War. Edith’s mother owns the boarding house, and 25-year-old Edith joined the women’s suffrage movement with exuberance. She doesn’t understand why Miko is so quiet on this day because it is a day to celebrate. Whatever is the matter with Miko?

From character to plot. And all because of a date.

So, what about you? Did any of this tickle your Muse? Have you ever checked out an innocuous date and discovered a treasure trove that inspired you to release your Muse and take you on a journey to people or places you’d never thought about before?

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6 thoughts on “February 6: Just a date?

  1. Our Muses are voracious. What a creative way to feed them. Great post, Ruth! And thanks for thinking of me and asking the question. The English Civil War was a time of revolution and social evolution. There were so many true heroines on both sides, keeping their families whole while resisting the enemy against incredible odds. There is no end to inspirational stories. As for special dates, September 3rd (1650, 1651, and 1658) gets my vote. Each of those years saw significant reversals in the epic struggle of Cromwell v Charles II. I even started my blog on that anniversary (not that it’s epic or anything).

    1. Thank you, Cryssa. I beg to disagree. I think your novel is epic and gives life to a time and place that is so far from our contemporary world. But you find the threads of common human actions and reactions. And that always brings history to life and we learn from that. September 3rd is also the date in 1939 when France, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand entered the Second World War. World changing events. Epic indeed.

  2. Much appreciation Ruth. It was not February 6th., but rather January 17th. of this year, when we visited what’s called ‘The modern day Pompeii,’ the buried city of Plymouth in the Caribbean Island of Montserrat. Although tons of ash and boulders belched out of the bowels of Soufriere Hills in 1995 and 1997, obliterating the capital city in its valley and nineteen of its citizens, still today heavy hangs despair over the heads of the survivors. I was so moved by its loss of life, culture and history, that I was inspired in reverence to write a poem titled ‘Volcano.’

    1. Thanks for sharing, Ray. It is incredible how tragedy can fuel our pens. I take it to be a sign of empathy — the ability to imagine the suffering of others — that inspires us to find their stories. From novels to plays to stories to poems, writers find the voice to share these stories with others.

  3. Fantastic article. Last year, an exercise in our Baysville Library Writers’ Circle (Baysville, ON) was to write about an historical event on the date of our next meeting, March 29th. I chose The Hyphen War. I’ll leave you to look it up! ( Hint: Czechoslovakia)

    1. Thanks Wendy. What a great exercise the Baysville Library Writers’ Circle tackled. And I love your choice for two reasons. It’s an intriguing title AND I learned something that will help me understand ever-changing world maps and the parade of Olympians even better. What a diplomatic challenge you wrote about! Hats off to March 29.

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