Women’s History Month guest, Christine Bell

Tonight my guest is a writer whose new book has come out at a most inconvenient time. I asked her to be our guest today because her book is interesting for so many reasons and should not be overlooked just because we live in a troublesome year . The most minor of my reasons for interest is, of course, Wonthaggi. The story isn’t about Wonthaggi, but my Melbourne childhood included a visit there and I have fond memories. The rest of my reasons… read Christine’s blogpost and see for yourself. Gillian

Gems of Research, by Christine Bell

In mid-June 1912, my great-grandfather along with a dozen or more of his fellow Scottish coal-miners left Tilbury Dock on board the steamship Makarini for the shores of Australia and the new state-owned coal town of Wonthaggi in Gippsland, Victoria. Six months later my great-grandmother followed accompanied by their three daughters, and several other families, on nominated Government passages aboard the SS Hawkes Bay.

It was this family history that led me to the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine museum and shortly after to the story idea that grew to become my debut novel No Small Shame – due to be published on the 1 April.

During that museum visit, a voice kept nagging – there’s a story here, there’s a story here and, oh, what a setting! The only problem was that my forebears led very quiet conservative lives. No controversial encounters, criminal history, or rebellions – either personal or political. In short, nothing to see here, folks. But instead of me returning to the novel that I’d begun in the February, the urge to research the Scottish pit village of Bothwellhaugh, immigration and steamship journeys,  and the state-owned town of Wonthaggi found me adding ideas to a fast growing journal of notes. An embryonic idea for a story teased and when the voice of my protagonist turned up with ideas of her own, I had no choice but to give in and write that story.

I didn’t want to write of the coal miners and their day-to-day frictions and work-day lives, I wanted to write the untold stories of the women. I set out to discover the well spring from which women of that era drew their stoicism and resilience, while battling poverty, infant mortality, lack of education, premature ageing and often, separation from families and the land of their births.

The correspondence files from the early years of the office of The State Coal Mine held in Public Records proved a rich seam with its many letters from wives and mothers advocating on behalf of husbands, brothers and sons; beseeching the manager to consider their loved one for jobs, or reinstatement, or tenancy of one of the miner’s cottages. These letters revealed their desperation and struggles to keep a roof over their family’s head and food in their children’s mouths.

The minutiae of their daily life intrigued me along with how our maternal forebears coped with the challenges and hardships that made up the fabric of their lives. Set over the years spanning the Great War, I wanted No Small Shame to explore the social and cultural impact on women on the home front, as well as the readjustment for them when their men returned damaged from the war. The effects of post traumatic shock often went unrecognised or were kept hidden through shame.

Often it was as much cultural and economic influences that prevented men and their families from recovering and resuming full lives, as the lack of support and understanding of PTSD. One particularly helpful resource, Shattered Anzacs: Living with the Scars of War (Marina Larsson UNSW Press 2009), validated the trajectory of my storyline and helped explain the financial implications for families when the rate of a soldier’s’ pension was based on the percentage of the man’s physical injuries. A soldier’s mental health was seldom taken into consideration unless it was extremely evident or he was institutionalised.

Letters to the Base Records Office of the Australian Imperial Forces were often sent by women advocating for reconsideration of a pension reduction, requests for housing, or medical treatments. Women did not let pride stand between them and pleading for what was needed to ensure their family’s survival. It provided me with a real insight into how they often became the spokesperson for the family, though their role was still frequently subservient to the head of the household.

I found many similar gems in non-fiction texts and studies, oral histories and documented recounts, pamphlets and publications that you’d never discover unless rummaging through antiquarian bookshops or the collections of local historical societies and heritage centres. Maps and a government report from 1910 revealed specific details of the state of the housing and challenges of daily life in the village of Bothwellhaugh. Pamphlets and booklets from the Wonthaggi Historical Society told of the town set out and workings, the churches, historic shops and the transition to freehold land.

Upon completing the final edit for No Small Shame, as I packed away my research materials, I considered the variety and richness of the resources I’d gathered over so many years. Where or how could such an archive be preserved? I’m hugely thankful that our National Library retains a copy of every book published in this country, but I wonder if the gems and focused wealth of materials and minutiae collected by many historical fiction authors in the course of researching a book may be lost or disappear on their passing, unless their oeuvre of note.

Website:              https://christinebell.com.au

Twitter:                https://twitter.com/chrisbellwrites

Facebook:            https://www.facebook.com/chris.bell.77377

Instagram:           https://www.instagram.com/christinembell

No Small Shame published by Ventura Press (Impact Press Imprint) 1 April 2020

ISBN: 978-1-920727-90-1 (paperback)

ISBN: 978-1-920727-89-5 (ebook)

Published by Ventura Press (Impact imprint)

Australia, 1914. The world is erupting in war. Jobs are scarce and immigrants unwelcome. For young Catholic Mary O’Donnell, this is not the new life she imagined. When one foolish night of passion leads to an unexpected pregnancy and a loveless marriage, Mary’s reluctant husband Liam escapes to the trenches. With her overbearing mother attempting to control her every decision, Mary flees to Melbourne determined to build a life for herself and her child. There, she forms an unlikely friendship with Protestant army reject Tom Robbins. But as a shattering betrayal is revealed, Mary must make an impossible choice. Does she embrace the path fate has set for her, or follow the one she longs to take? From the harshness of a pit village in Scotland to the upheaval of wartime Australia, No Small Shame tells the moving story of love and duty, loyalty and betrayal, and confronting the past before you can seek a future. 

Not Being Alone

Today’s link is for people who find joy in understanding how stories of plague are told. That’s not the only type of joy: there’s also the joy of great writing. The rest is not happy. Other people have been through this and written it into narrative and… lots of people die. Don’t read this article unless you are robust or really want to see what plague literature history gives us: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/03/30/what-our-contagion-fables-are-really-about

Women’s History Month guest, Elizabeth St. John

For me, history is a reminder that we’re not the first: not the first to have doctors, and not the first to have infectious disease. Only… they did it their way. I have a fascination with the lives of seventeenth century women, partly because it was an overlap time. There were still medical practitioners who were apprenticed ie didn’t rely on the male-only university medical training to learn how to heal.
Elizabeth St. John is a novelist who happens to have female family members who were healers. She doesn’t tell us how her family dealt with plague, but she does show us one of the tools they used for their healing. Gillian

17th Century Women Healers

by Elizabeth St.John

“…Sir Walter Raleigh and Mr. Ruthven being prisoners in the Tower, and addicting themselves to chemistry, she (Lucy St.John Apsley) suffered them to make their rare experiments at her cost, partly to comfort and divert the poor prisoners, and partly to gain the knowledge of their experiments, and the medicines to help such poor people as were not able to seek physicians. By these means she acquired a great deal of skill, which was very profitable to many all her life. She was not only to these, but to all the other prisoners that came into the Tower, as a mother. All the time she dwelt in the Tower, if any were sick she made them broths and restoratives with her own hands, visited and took care of them, and provided them all necessaries; if any were afflicted she comforted them, so that they felt not the inconvenience of a prison who were in that place.”

Lucy Hutchinson, Biographical Fragment

Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson

Leaping from the pages of Lucy Hutchinson’s memoirs, this insight to a 17th century woman’s life within the Tower of London immediately set me on a hunt for more information about Lucy St.John and the world she inhabited. Writing about her mother, Lucy Hutchinson chose to focus on the attributes of medicinal skills and recipes she used to tend to the prisoners within the Tower. This paragraph inspired the writing of my debut novel, The Lady of the Tower, and sent me on a fascinating journey into the methods and curatives that were an everyday part of Lucy’s life.

These 17th century remedies were precious commodities exchanged by family and friends alike. A 1680 family recipe book belonging to Lady Johanna St.John is curated within London’s Wellcome Library, the world’s foremost pharmaceutical historical collection. And since Lucy St.John knew her nephew’s wife, Lady Johanna, it was no stretch of the “probable” for me to think that Lucy would be familiar with these recipes, or may even have contributed some of her own.

Already acquainted with Lady Johanna and the Lydiard estate through my own family records, I delved into her recipe book. The beautifully preserved leather-bound book contains recipes designed to help a knowledgeable and educated woman manage the health of her family, servants and livestock. Relying on a great deal of herbal wisdom, as well as the more exotic ingredients found in the London apothecaries, Lady Johanna’s book is a testament to the importance placed on remedies, in an age where so little was still known about the body and its infirmities. When I decided to use extracts from the book to illustrate Lucy’s learnings in The Lady of the Tower, I was fascinated to discover that many of the herbal properties and therapies Lady Johanna recommend are still used in pharmaceutical production today.

One particular recipe of interest is that for “Gilbert’s Water.”

“It is bad for nothing it cures wind and the colick restoreth decayed nature good for a consumption expels poison & all infection from the Hart helps digestion purifies the blood gives motion to the spirits drives out the smallpox for the grippes in young children weomen in labor bringeth the Afterbirth stops floods for sounding and faintings”

Lady Johanna St.John

Recipe Book, 1680

Lady Johanna devotes two pages of her precious recipe book to Adrian Gilbert’s Cordial Water, which was perhaps indicative of the importance she placed on its curative powers. The recipe itself was complex, requiring Dragons Burnett leaves (probably the simple dragon’s mace, a common weed), and then moving on to a page full of rarer ingredients, such as “Crab’s eyes taken in the full of the moon.”  Promoting the contemporary belief man shared the virtue of the plants digested, Mr Gilbert was taking no chances with his curative, empowering the recipient with dragon strength to fight his condition.

But there is more to the story and its connections to Lucy St.John and the Tower of London. Adrian Gilbert was a well-known alchemist and amateur scientist, and half-brother to Sir Walter Raleigh, himself a distinguished botanist. Adrian’s brother, Humphrey Gilbert, was under the patronage of Robert Cecil and Robert Dudley who maintained an alchemical laboratory in Limehouse. Now it gets interesting. When Sir Walter Raleigh was under the care of Lucy St.John during his imprisonment in the Tower of London, Lucy funded his scientific experiments, lending him her hen house in which to perform his alchemy. I don’t believe it is that much of a stretch to think that Sir Walter and his half-brother Adrian Gilbert traded medicinal recipes, nor that Lucy St.John would keep a record of any precious curatives that came into her possession. For her to then pass these on to her niece, who shared her passion for botany, gardens and curatives, would a natural occurrence.

Writing credible historical fiction is often about linking the probables, and in connecting Lucy St.John with Lady Johanna and using their common interest in medicinal curatives, I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to inform my writing. What is undisputed is their common desire to protect their families and charges from the dangers of 17th century life, a shared concern for health, hope for treatment, and the rewards of recovery.

Extract and Photograph is of Lady Johanna Saint John’s Recipe Book, archived at The Wellcome Library, London, MS 4338.

Created by ImageGear, AccuSoft Corp.

Portrait of Lady Johanna St.John by kind permission of Lydiard House & Park.

Not Being Alone

There comes a day when one is isolated or semi-isolated when one needs meaty reading and to do lots of thinking. I have so many bookmarks for such days! The one I was mulling just now is an academic one. Academic books cost an arm and a leg and then another arm, so this site is a gem: https://www.cambridge.org/core/what-we-publish/open-access

I want to collect a series sites like this and string them up so that I can chose, at will. That makes them a necklace rather than a single gem. Mostly I use them for research, but some days I browse and the browsing is lovely.

Not Being Alone

For all those out there who sew and have stashes of cloth and never quite had time to diminish it and are always tempted to buy that little bit more and who have dreamed of making their own historical costume: https://ko-fi.com/costumingdiary

Women’s History Month guest, Dena Bain Taylor

One of the things I adore about Women’s History Month is that I get to introduce everyone to writers who they should read, but I also get to show a tiny corner of the world just what amazing and varied lives omen have. Dena Taylor is a good example of both these. And she’s talking about Beowulf! What more could you want? A bio? You’ll find it just beneath the essay. Gillian

The Women of Beowulf

by Dena Bain Taylor

I’ve been fascinated with the story of Beowulf since I was in first year university. I had fallen madly in lust with a handsome young prof who happened to teach Anglo-Saxon poetry and I took all of his courses over the four years of my degree. Decades later (I won’t say how many), I’m now publishing my first novel, Bones & Keeps, a historical fantasy about Beowulf that’s due out in early October 2020.

The story of Beowulf comes down to us in three written sources. The most famous is the epic poem Beowulf, written in Old English in (likely) the early tenth century but telling the story of a sixth century Scandinavian king. I’m fully prepared to argue over drinks that it’s the greatest poem in the history of English literature. In the first 2200 lines of the poem, the young Beowulf sails with his warband to Denmark and saves Hrothgar’s kingdom by killing the man-eating monster Grendel, quite spectacularly tearing off its arm and pursuing it to take its head. He follows up by wrestling down and killing Grendel’s equally monstrous mother. In the second part (972 lines), Beowulf is an old king compelled to fight and kill a dragon that has been ravaging his people. He succeeds but is himself killed. There’s an inescapable sadness at the end of Beowulf. For all his greatness as a king and a warden of the land, Beowulf dies alone, deserted by all but one loyal thane. He has no heir to leave his wargear to and he knows that his people, the Geats, are doomed to destruction at the hands of their old enemies the Swedes once they get news of his death.

The poet devotes exactly ten lines to what happens in between the two stories: Beowulf succeeds his uncle Hygelac as king of the Geats, rules his land well for fifty winters, and grows old and wise. And then the dragon wakes. Bones & Keeps rose out of my need to answer a question that’s been burning me ever since I first encountered the poem: So what happened in that 50 years? What changed Beowulf from a young hero surrounded by loyal followers and honoured by two kings to an old man deserted by all but that one loyal thane?

Ah, but wait, there’s one more person who turns up at the end to weep over the king’s body. An unnamed woman. Stripped of her identity by the poet, we’re left to wonder what her relationship is with the great king. No mother, wives or children are recorded for Beowulf — only this mysterious woman who mourns at his funeral. Wife? Daughter? Lover, perhaps? In Bones & Keeps, where Beowulf navigates a sea of rivals for his throne and a witch-queen sister determined to destroy him, I gave him a young daughter named Keana. She is, as he puts it, the only trouble-free female in his life. I’ve imagined that it’s she who mourns his passing, with a love that’s as pure as the love she felt for him as a child.

The saga literature of which Beowulf’s story is a part usually omits the names of women even though they seem to have exercised a considerable degree of ritual and political power in 6th century Scandinavia. Writing the novel gave me much opportunity to reflect on the role of women in the tale of Beowulf.

Events within the political realm are as integral to the Beowulf poem as the monsters who bookend his life. Feuds, wars, invasions, alliances, marriages, the nature of kingship and queenship, all are discussed and illustrated over the course of the poet’s vividly descriptive and exciting account of Beowulf’s heroic battles with his monsters. It’s here that we see the power exerted by women.

For one thing, women had very real power in matters of succession and inheritance. A sister’s son had a greater right to claim the throne than a king’s own son. In Beowulf, Hrothgar’s queen Wealtheow — speaking publicly in the hall before Hrothgar and all his thanes — urges her husband not to adopt Beowulf and make him his heir, as he’s just offered to do, but to favour his sister-son Hrothulf as successor to the Danish throne. And so her husband immediately drops the idea of adopting Beowulf. I couldn’t bring Wealtheow into Bones & Keeps as a character (though she is mentioned) because she belongs to that earlier period of his life, but a central driver of the plot is the fact that Beowulf’s sister-son, Skuld’s son Hring, has at least as much expectation of being named the king’s heir as Beowulf’s own son Siggeir.

Another imposing female presence in Beowulf is Yrsa, who wields both military and political power as a noblewoman belonging to both the Danish and Swedish royal families. I incorporated her as a character in Bones & Keeps, and I think her story alone would make a great Netflix series. It’s complicated but, basically, she unknowingly marries her own father, has a son (the same Hrothulf who’s in line for the Danish throne), flees in horror from Denmark to Sweden as soon as she discovers the truth, and saves herself by agreeing to marry the Swedish king who turns out to be a greedy, grasping asshole. Years later, she must manipulate her husband to save her son from his treachery. It doesn’t end well for anyone.

All the sources of Beowulf’s story share an old problem, that ‘his’tory excludes or diminishes the role of women. Luckily, historical fiction and historical fantasy give us the opportunity to dig beneath the surface and bring to light the true agency of our powerful foremothers.

Author Bio

Dena Bain Taylor has spent most of her life in Toronto, Canada, pursuing her joint passions: music and books. She is a classically-trained singer. She is also a writer, critic, tv script advisor, literary award juror, and erstwhile owner of Ben Abraham Books (specializing in the occult and William Blake). Along the way, she had a long career at the University of Toronto – first as a Professor of English Literature, then as the Director of the prestigious Health Sciences Writing Centre. She now lives with her husband in a small palace in the sky overlooking Lake Ontario.

She has published extensively, and eclectically. Bones & Keeps (Prism Publishers) is her first novel, a historical fantasy about the great Scandinavian hero Beowulf. Visit her website at www.denabaintaylor.com.

Not Being Alone

These are the online places I need to dream about today. Join me! https://www.buzzfeed.com/ariellecalderon/surreal-places-to-visit-before-you-die

Not Being Alone

I have to admit, some days I need more colourful language to deal with this special kind of isolation. Or the news. Or the doings of politicians who never seem to think things through. I don’t actually use this language, but it’s in my mind, lurking, and waiting, and ready… and it makes everything a lot more bearable: http://words.fromoldbooks.org/NathanBailey-CantingDictionary/

Not Being Alone

Today is a day to explore. Somewhere close and familiar and yet so far and alien. I’ve wanted to visit here for years: https://www.helensburgh.com.au/metropolitan-tunnel/

Women’s History Month guest, Annie Whitehead

Today I have the joy of introducing someone whose writing I need to read. Helen Hollick introduced me to her work. Writers know other writers no other writers. We never run out of amazing discoveries to make. Annie ‘s work is set in the Early Middle Ages according to my own Medievalist mind (there are as many definitions as there are Medievalists), which means her post is going to be particularly interesting to those of you know know that period particularly well. I want to say, in a dramatic voice, “You know who you are,” but there is no real drama in it. In this case the discovery is extra-useful, for Annie Whitehead shares a non-fiction publisher with me. It’s a lot of fun when an historian and a fiction writer are the same person. This means you share my joy, and my curiosity about her approach to the Middle Ages. Gillian

Shining Lights: Women of the ‘Dark Ages’ and How to Find Them

A line was drawn across history in 1066. Not only did William the Conqueror defeat the last Anglo-Saxon king, but he and his Norman court changed the way of life in England. Even though we often call the ‘Dark Ages’ the ‘Early Medieval Period’ now, we cannot assume that what was true of Anglo-Norman and later medieval life was true before the Conquest, and this particularly applies to women’s lives.  

In general, a woman’s lot in England pre-1066 was (in theory and law) a relatively happy one. Looking at marriage contracts we can find evidence that, far from the women being sold by their fathers to their prospective husbands, the bridegroom paid the money (morgengifu), to the woman herself, giving her financial security and independence within marriage. 

A marriage agreement from the later part of the period confirmed that the groom gave his bride some land to give and to grant to “whomsoever she pleased during her lifetime or after her death.” It was clearly hers to bequeath and deal with as she liked.

King Cnut’s laws decreed: “A widow is never to be consecrated as a nun too hastily”  and, “neither a widow nor a maiden is ever to be forced to marry a man whom she herself dislikes.” 

Of course, life was slightly different for those in the ruling classes, for the freedom to marry where they liked was not always extended to them and some royal wives might not have retired to monasteries through choice.

One woman about whom I’ve written in fiction and nonfiction, is Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great of Wessex. Her marriage was indeed an arranged one, made to strengthen the alliance between Wessex and its neighbour, Mercia. There is actually very little mention of Æthelflæd in the chronicles, yet we have enough in the documented history about her husband to make deductions about her, and we have the Mercian Register*, which details her activities (until her death in 918) from 902. Her husband, Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, having been mentioned fighting alongside Alfred and his son Edward, abruptly disappears from the record at this time, and in 907 we are told that ‘Chester was restored’ (i.e. wrested from Viking control) but not by whom. 

If it was Edward (Alfred’s successor, by now king of Wessex), or Æthelred, why not say so? It seems strange that at this pivotal time, a woman was allowed to lead, yet it’s hard not to conclude that Æthelflæd was in charge of Mercia at this time, and that her husband was ill. 

An – admittedly unreliable – fragmentary annal from Ireland known as the Three Fragments tells us that when Chester was overrun, messengers were sent to the ‘King of the Saxons [Æthelred] who was in a disease and on the point of death’ and suggests that Æthelflæd was in charge, acting on his advice. Itdoes seem likely that she was the de facto ruler of Mercia from 902 onwards. Though he died in 911, there is no mention of Æthelred’s being present at the battle of Tettenhall, deep in Mercian territory, in 910. In 909, it was his wife who was credited with building a fortress at a place called Bremesbyrig. So it’s probably safe to conclude that he was indeed ill, and for some time.

When Æthelred died, Edward took London and Oxford under the direct control of Wessex, but left Mercia ‘proper’ to his sister. He was facing Viking threats, and rebellion from within, so perhaps couldn’t control Mercia too. But why not appoint an ealdorman to rule the province in his name? A woman leader was not unique but was rare. Edward didn’t allow Æthelflæd’s daughter to succeed, so perhaps this speaks of both women’s personal qualities. 

We don’t know that Æthelflæd wielded a sword, however. The Mercian Register focuses on her building programme, rather than the fighting, with Edward building five fortresses and Æthelflæd building nine. The campaigns were strategic and coordinated. 

In addition, the Mercian Register tells us that in 916 she sent an army into Brycheiniog in Wales to avenge the death of an abbot. The following year she took control of Derby and in 918 the Three Fragments says that she directed a battle against the Dublin-Norse, ordering her troops to cut down the trees where the ‘pagans’ were hiding, suggesting (though this is the only source that says so) that she was conducting her own campaign against the Norse. 

On 12 June 918, Æthelflæd died. Six months later, her daughter was taken into Wessex. The Mercian Register complains that she was ‘deprived of all authority’. Why was Edward content to let his sister govern Mercia, but not her daughter; did the daughter not match the mother in terms of ability? Timing may be a factor here; by this stage, Edward had adult sons, who needed more inheritance than could be provided by Wessex alone. But that Edward left his sister in charge, firstly after her husband’s incapacitation, and then again after his death, when he could have marched in and brought Mercia under his direct control, surely tells us a lot about her and their relationship, especially bearing in mind that he did exactly that once she’d died. It speaks to me of her personal strengths.

Æthelflæd wasn’t a queen and her husband, though leader of a kingdom, wasn’t a king. Their status as a couple is anomalous; unique. She continued her husband’s quest, she worked closely with her brother, was succeeded albeit briefly by another female ruler, and it’s clear she was a remarkable woman. 

Remarkable, yet barely remarked upon; we really can fit what we know about her into a few short pages. The paradox is that those few short pages can easily be expanded to fill an entire novel. Her strength of character, fascinating to the historian, also appealed to me as a novelist. When writing To Be A Queen, I could easily imagine the close bond which must have existed between brother and sister, and her challenges in persuading the Mercians to accept her rule. Warrior woman or not, what she achieved was astonishing.

She’s far from the only one, however. My book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England will be published by Pen & Sword Books in May. It includes around 150 named women: women who influenced royal successions, educated bishops, left detailed wills, exhibited high levels of literacy, and ruled as regents for their sons. With law codes, charters and chronicles (and again, reading between the lines where necessary), it is possible to reconstruct their lives. They didn’t always have a say about whom they married, but some did. They didn’t always rule in their own right, but a few did. One razed a town to the ground, perhaps in support of her son’s claim to the throne (she preceded Æthelflæd by nearly 200 years). A number of these women remained powerful at court even after their husband the king had died, either as regents, or respected mothers of kings. It was a rewarding challenge to bring their stories into the light.

*The Mercian Register is a series of entries contained within the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle concentrating exclusively on Æthelflæd, recording her death with the words ‘the eighth year in which she had held power with right lordship’. There are only two mentions of Æthelred. There may have been a lost annal, one in which Æthelred played a much more prominent role but, if there were such a chronicle, it’s lost to us. The focus as we have it now, is very much on Æthelflæd’s role as ruler. Even so, typed out, it still only covers one A4 sheet of paper. I know; I’ve done it!

Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. She has written three award-winning novels set in Anglo-Saxon Mercia: To Be A Queen, Alvar the Kingmaker, and Cometh the Hour. Her first nonfiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, is published by Amberley. Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England is available for pre-order now.