07/22/13

Nostrum: Episode 3 Released

 

*SPOILER ALERT* The post below contains minor spoliers for Episode 3. Read at your own risk.

Another second Tuesday means another episode of Nostrum. In this episode, Edward, Tristan and Belisencia have their minds blown by a medieval televangelist, but does King Matheus really believe what

he preaches? That’s the question, and it’s a question I didn’t want to answer just yet. What do you guys think? Does he really think Judgment Day has come? Or is he profiting from the plague? I’d like to hear your thoughts on it.

Robert Daniels, one of my readers, asked about the tapestry that Matheus showed to Edward, Tristan and Belisencia. He wanted to know if it was a real tapestry, and my answer to that is: 42. *grin*

The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych by Hieronymus Bosch.

The tapestry is *realish*. It’s quasi-real. It’s Pamela Anderson after she took out the breast implants real. There was no prophet named Joseph the Devout who had visions. I made him up. But when you look at medieval artwork, a stunning amount of it is devoted to depictions of hell and purgatory. There are many famous depictions of Judgment Day and the netherworld. In fact, this sort of macabre painting school has its own name: Doom Painting. The artist Hieronymous Bosch was probably the most famous, although he wasn’t around until the 15th century. But his paintings were the ones I was thinking of when I wrote about the tapestry. Most of the doom paintings are quite gruesome; their painters were encouraged by the church to be as graphic as possible, to scare Christians straight. Many of the elements I spoke about in the tapestry are elements that I took from real works of medieval art. So, is the tapestry real? 42.

The crumbling remains of a spiral staircase leading to the top of the gatehouse at Bodiam Castle. Why did Edward build them clockwise?

In the episode, Edward notes that the stairs of the church tower spiral anti-clockwise. That is, anti-clockwise when going down the stairs. This allows defenders coming down the stairs to swing their weapons freely, while attackers will have difficulty swinging because of the spiraling wall of the staircase. Edward also mentions that he overruled Elizabeth, and that the stairs in Bodiam Castle would be similarly anti-clockwise. But  he relented a little (Elizabeth might have cried), because there are two sets of clockwise staircases in Bodiam. One is on the servants quarters (possibly so that servants could not revolt and hold part of the castle) and a second above the main gates of the castle.

Why would Edward want stairs going clockwise to the top of the castle gatehouse? He had a very sound reason. A free signed copy of The Scourge to the first person to post the correct answer in the comments.

That’s all for now. Hope you are enjoying episode 3 and that you continue to enjoy Nostrum!

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07/20/13

Can Language in Any Historical Novel Truly Be Authentic?

My historical fantasy novels are riddled with anachronistic speech.

There I’ve said it. But you know what? So are everyone else’s. Writing a medieval novel using only the language from the middle ages (even limited to dialog), would be asinine. (I had no idea asinine only had one S. Go figure). No one would understand a book written that way. I understand adding medieval flavor to a book. I get that. I do a lot of that myself. And I understand making an effort to avoid expressions that are too modern, another goal of mine. But let’s face it, we aren’t going to write a book in Old English or even Middle English. And most writers don’t know enough about the language of that time period to make a convincing stab at it. My argument is that historical language should yield to clarity.

Look at it this way. I read a period book recently that had all the characters speaking with thines and thous, saying huzza and lavishing accolades upon one another.

There are some authors who really try for that medieval flavor. And I applaud that. I try to add a taste of the middle ages to my writing as well.

 

But if an author tries to be historically accurate by using words like huzza and accolades, then they have failed. More to the point, very few people are really well-versed in the language of the middle ages. So by all means, try to sprinkle medieval seasoning on your mutton, but don’t ruin the meal with it.

Writing a medieval novel using only the language from that time period, would be asinine. No one would understand it.

Take the word huzza. It’s an old favorite at medieval festivals and gaming conventions, but it has nothing to do with the middle ages. Huzza came into use in the late 16th century, by sailors. The word thou is tossed around a lot in medieval novels and, though it was certainly used in the middle ages, it became a sort of insult when using it to address anyone except your close family or your lover. A tiny historical distinction that could put a glaring hole in the accuracy of your book.

Yes, I know. Just two examples. I have more. But I want to state my case here. The people who argue that medieval novels should have dialog reflective of the medieval period usually do so out of a misplaced sense of historical accuracy. When a 14th century knight asks his squire to “Bring me mine warhorse!” he is inaccurate twice: Mine (as in my) was no longer used after the 13th century. And the word warhorse wasn’t used until the 17th century. Warlord wasn’t used until 1856.

If a writer has her 12th century minstrel nod to the princess, she has made two historical errors. Minstrel wasn’t used until the 13th century, and princess wasn’t around until the late 14th. Knights couldn’t charge into the fray until the 16th century (fray:14th, charge:16th). Any historical writer who has a character nod, should make sure the character is in (at least) the 15th century, when the word was first used. Want your farmer to pet his cow? Better make sure he’s in the 19th century (Famer:16th, Pet: 19th).

When a 14th century knight asks his squire to “Bring me mine warhorse!” he is inaccurate twice: Mine (as in my) was no longer used after the 13th century. And the word warhorse wasn’t used until the 17th century.

But surely there are some blue-chip medieval terms that all historical writers can use, no? I mean, what’s a medieval action story without guards, right? Well, just as long as it’s a 15th century story, because that’s when the word came into use in English. And a knight should be allowed to brandish his sword, shouldn’t he? Only if the knight lived in the mid-14th century or later. The list goes on:

Stop: Mid-15th
Field (as in field of war): 16th
Melee: 1640s (it meant to mingle before that)
Road: 1590s
Groggy: 1770 (and it meant drunk at first)
Cemetery: Late 14th
Hello: 1883
Walk: Late 14th
Shout (as in give a shout): Late 14th
Haggle: 1600s
Rest (as in, rest on something): Mid-14th

Okay, so writers may use some words that are not accurate to the period. But surely we should stay away from words we know aren’t accurate. Modern sounding words obviously don’t belong in a period piece. I mean, you wouldn’t want your knight calling out, “Hey!” right? Or using words like baboon, or calendar or susurration?  In truth, hey and calendar were around in the 13th century. And susurration was around in the 14th. And there are many others

You see, when writing a historical novel, period speech is the last thing you should worry about. The reader knows that you are translating. You are providing a version of the text that is understandable to your reader. It’s the same way with movies. Directors may have the actors speak in a different language, but there are subtitles right there for you to read. Often, they simply have the characters speak a little of their language, then break into English and it’s understood that they are still speaking their language. It’s the same with writers. We are the subtitles.

I can hear grumbling out there, and I know I risk being misunderstood. I am not saying that your historical novel should read like a James Patterson book. The reassuring cadence and diction of medieval speech is part of why we read these types of novels. And I think writers should strive for that. I work hard to avoid using words that I know were not around in the time period I am writing in. I do not use expressions/figures of speech that were not around in their day. But how can contorted would my story be if I couldn’t use the word road? Or stop? Or shout?

Directors may have the actors speak in a different language, but there are subtitles right there for you to read. It’s the same with writers. We are the subtitles.

I try to give my characters the flavor of medieval speech, while making sure that readers won’t stumble. Some people have said that my characters sound too modern when they speak; I wish they knew how religiously I check my word usage, and how hard I work to balance accuracy with readability. Do my characters say things in a way that wouldn’t have been said in their time period? Hell yeah. I know that my book would be completely incomprehensible to a person from the 14th century.

But then again, so would any other historical novel.

 

 

07/2/13

Nostrum, Episode 2 Released

 

 

Episode two picks up where episode one left off, with Edward, Tristan and a nun tied to a tent pole. The three of them are in a place called Edwardstone, in Suffolk, just outside of a church devoted to St. Mary the Virgin. The village and church are both real, although I took some liberties with the size of the church. There is no gallery from which choirs would sing, and there is only one aisle, on the north side of the church. Despite its small size, the building is quite beautiful, as you can see from the images. It was built on the site of an older Saxon church and has been updated and expanded several times — in the 15th century, the 19th century and the 20th century. It most likely would have been even smaller in Edward’s days, but I like to think the interior would have looked the way I described it, with carved angel corbels and the like.

The ceilings of the church are of a simple tie-beam style, but the beams are gorgeously old. Have a look at that crazy, wonky beam on the right. It looks to be an original 13th century beam. Not straight, but beautiful and efficient. It did the job. Maybe the church builders understood that churches, like people, should embrace their imperfections.

There is paneling on the back wall of the nave, but alas, there is no misericorde. That’s not to say that there never was. The beauty of writing about time long-ago time periods is that you can imagine it as you think it would have been. There is no one to say that you are wrong. And speaking of me not being wrong, do you see the wrought iron chandeliers hanging from the roof? Those have been there for at least five hundred years and, before being electrified, once held candles. Can you imagine the body of a plaguer setting them swinging? There is no place for the imagination quite like a church.

So what do you think? Does the church look like what you imagined? Did you enjoy the episode? I’m anxious to hear from all of you.

Edwardstone: A small village that is difficult to find.

St. Mary’s has only one aisle, but I had to pay $30 to renew my poetic license this year and I figured I should use it =)

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