I do enjoy writing about the law, editors, agents, self publishing, etc., etc., etc. What my heart wants is what it wants, and I love history. I crave knowledge about the past because in knowing and understanding the past, we will create a better future,at least theoretically. As one of my mentors told me, “pick a time in history, live it, write it.” Those were the only words I needed to hear to craft my first work of historical fiction, a two-book series, “Reign of the Holy King/Reign of the Oak King” set during the Wars of the Roses (a historical misnomer by the way – the term was not contemporary to the time).
I’m not going to give away the plot but leave it to say, it opens doors that I found long buried in the historical record. I grew up going to the Donnell Library in NYC to listen to medieval instrumental music, the madrigals of Spain, and the songs composed by Henry VIII. I laughed my head off about the instrument called a sackbut (a form of trombone) and still do. In Chicago’s Art Institute, I perused real medieval manuscript illuminations, studying the intricate detail and painstaking care it took to produce even one page on vellum (sheepskin) for my final paper in AP European History. I always disputed the theory that the dark ages were dark in intellect and achievement. They were far from it.
The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. Every year it seemed, something was being revealed, discovered, dug up, or brought to light that made my chosen field of study (Renaissance/medieval history) closer to accessible in the modern age. DNA testing, forensic archaeology, architectural scans…none of these existed when I was a kid. The only reality for me was found in Chaucer, Chretien de Troyes, pages of “The Once and Future King”, and every variation of the Arthurian legend I could get my hands on. Throw in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (grounded in Norse sagas) and I was set.
I think when we look at how people lived hundreds or even thousands of years ago, it gives us perspective on two facts: (1) excluding technological advances, we really haven’t changed all that much, and (2) we’re still interested in the same types of things although they take a different form in 2015 than in, say, 1415.
I often wonder what I would do if I had to hunt for my food; lacked motorized transportation; and make my own clothes. Think about it: make your own clothes? Hunting I can handle, travel by foot or horse, check, but making my own togs (love that word), ouch. And with no sewing machine no less. Clothing, therefore, would have a very high value the more refined the fabric used to make it with, right? That is part of the reason why nobility dressed so fine compared to, say, a local farmer in France. That’s also why it would be bizarre to assert they were filthy people. Sure, bathing was not popular with the Puritans, but the nobility most definitely bathed and often. Edward III of England put hot and cold water taps in Westminster Palace in 1351 to fill his tub (personal bathtubs were rare).
We all see parodies of Renaissance feasts where turkey legs are hucked all over creation. Not so. Because the clothing was so expensive, the nobility took care to keep it clean. Pages with ewers would pour scented water over guests’ hands between plates or courses so they would be clean.
A good piece of historical fiction can bring the time period to life and lend insight into how people lived, loved, and fought. We can read these books and see ourselves reflected in the characters. I think some things would have grated a bit, for example, the fact that women were considered property during the Renaissance. Dower and curtesy is what you paid (a bride price) to marry into a good family. That system was finally abolished during the early 20th century. Surprised? I wasn’t. Women nonetheless ran households, commanded armies, and had real power in their own right. That was cool.
Some recent series and films offer a glimpse into the late Medieval/pre-Tudor world. The Vikings series is beyond awesome. When you see people dressed differently and definitely not speaking the English they would have in The White Queen, their reality comes crashing into our own in a very pleasant way. We watch them and think how much we the same yet different. I love that.
I’m working on several historical pieces now set in various countries and spanning almost a thousand years between the three. I devour archaeological news scanning for something wonderful and exciting that has come to light. I know there are many of you out there who share that passion for the time when nights were dark, roads not traveled, and the only light was golden and emanated from a taper or torch. The time when the world was a quiet place and magic was as real as peoples’ connection to the land and earth that has long been lost. Is it a place lost to memory or the renewed act of remembering? I prefer the latter. I would love to read what your favorite period in history is. Oh, a note about the clip below: Edward IV did die suddenly. Many suspect he had untreated type 2 diabetes which really wreaked havoc on him as he grew content and became quite the glutton.