jennygordon: (Froud - Green Man)
Remember a couple of weeks back, I said that once I'd fixed a couple of things in the first half of MoulderingBook, I wanted to crack on with writing the rest, adding, "As ever, all terms and conditions are subject to change at the sniff of a writerly whim."?

Yeah, that second part.

Having fixed those couple of things over two weeks ago, I found myself still twitchy and uncertain about the story, so I've been spent the time since doing a lot of thinking about why that might be. And I've come to two main conclusions.

Firstly, the balance between the two main strands of the story isn't right. The more I've worked with one, the more I've realised I want to focus on that aspect even more, which means paring the other one right back to redress the balance.

And that led to a long thought process about which aspects of the pared-back strand I need to retain in order for the overall story to work, and how to reshape them to good effect.

The second conclusion I reached was that I haven't gone far enough down the secondary-worldbuilding road. I've said before that MoulderingBook is set in an historical time-that-never-was, with a Gothic and Steampunkish flavour, but what I've realised is that I've been hedging this aspect as I want to avoid the book becoming overly fantastical. I still do. I like my fantasy settings to have their roots firmly anchored in history, or at least in historical possibility.

So I thought some more, and from out of nowhere, the worldbuilding elements I want to work with dropped neatly into place, and opened up lots of lovely doors to possibility. It's such fun.

It all means I've got a significant amount of reworking, reordering and set-dressing to do, but I'm feeling much better about the whole thing. Much more like I'm heading in the right direction. Hurrah!
jennygordon: (Tortoiseshell Butterfly (purple))
Has anyone else been keeping up with events around this week's reinterment of King Richard III? I've been immensely moved by the everything that's been going on, and by the care and thought that's gone into honouring our last Plantagenet king. The scale of the crowds that turned out on Sunday to watch the cortege pass through Leicester was incredible. I love the fact that one of Richard's descendants (whose DNA was key in proving Richard's identity) is a carpenter, and has made Richard's coffin. Whatever your take on Richard (and we can't ever prove absolutely whether he was responsible for the murder of the princes in the tower), it's an astonishing piece of history that's taking place right now.

Lost-and-found kings aside, I've spent the past few days tidying up MoulderingBook. I've written the new chapter I realised I needed before the mid-point. Turns out it is just the one chapter, instead of the two I suspected, as I've managed to say everything I need to at this point in a single scene. I then typed that up and decided to print out the first half of the book, so I have it readily to hand once I embark on what comes next.

And of course, once I had a printed out copy before me, I realised something I need to fix in chapter one, which has a knock-on effect in Chapter Five. It always amuses me how seeing our stories in a different format can kick-start us into recognising issues we haven't before. So anyway, I fixed that, and planned to have a session of note-making to flesh out where I go from here.

However, Life had other plans, which turned out to be very good reasons for not getting around to the note-making session. The first of those plans was a spur-of-the-moment haircut, and the second, reconnecting with a friend I lost touch with 20 years ago, And that brings me back to where I started with this post, because it was thanks to Richard III, and another spur-of-the-moment decision, that we're back in contact. I sometimes love the circularity of history.
jennygordon: (Roe Deer fawn)
Thought I'd share some of those ancient places that make my soul sing.

This is Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey in North Wales. Translated into English, that means "the mound in the dark grove." It's a Neolithic stone circle and henge monument, with a Bronze Age passage grave in the middle. At the rear is a standing stone carved with spirals and ripples. It's a place I've known and loved for over 20 years. Pagans of all shapes and colours gather there at the summer solstice, but most of the time, you can enjoy the deep, quiet atmosphere all on your own.

Bryn Celli Ddu1

And here's the entrance to the passage grave. Inside, it's cool and embracing and smells of rich earth:

Bryn Celli Ddu2

This is another site on Anglesey known as Plas Newydd Chambered Tomb. It's a Neolithic monument. Despite being in the grounds of the stately home of Plas Newydd, the tomb still retains a mighty sense of presence, especially when viewed with the mountains of Snowdonia in the background.

Plas Newydd

Here's a clearer picture of the tomb itself. It's about 10 foot tall at the apex:

Plas Newydd2

This is Stanton Drew Stone Circle in Somerset, although it's actually two huge circles, plus a stone row and a number of outliers. It's a little-known and little-visited site, so usually there's just you and the cows.

Stanton Drew 2

The stones are a beautiful rich, red sandstone:

Stanton Drew 1

jennygordon: (Roe Deer fawn)
(I've been debating posting this all morning, because it's kind of personal, but you know ... we're all friends here, so what the hey?)

Since I was a little girl, I've been drawn to the ancient places in the British landscape — to the monuments built by our distant ancestors to the living and to the dead and to their unknowable gods. Something about those places touches me on a level that is deep and old and true. Spending time at a stone circle or burial mound or other sacred site moves me. It connects me with Deep History, but moreover, it connects me with the ancient soul of the land that I feel in my bones and in my heart. Something in me knows those places. It remembers on a level too deep for conscious understanding.

I've recently discovered an album by modern composers Nigel Shaw and Carolyn Hillyer inspired by the ancient, sacred landscape of Dartmoor and the prehistoric people who once lived there. Dartmoor was once lush and wooded, and during the Bronze Age, a thriving population lived there. Over-farming and climate change combined to create the treeless moorland landscape that exists today, and drove those distant clans away. And somehow, Shaw and Hillyer have reached through the misty miles of time and connected with those peoples, creating an album of songs, chants and instrumental pieces which touch their world and provide a gateway into the Deep Past.

It feels deep and true, and it has set something stirring inside me.

I've long included aspects of ancient landscapes in my writing, but now I want to do more. I want, somehow, to bring these feelings of deep connection with our ancestral past into my stories. It feeds into the reimagined version of ShadowNovel that's simmering in my semi-consciousness. I don't know how I'm going to approach it, or even how I'm going to achieve it, but the desire to do so is a powerful one, and I know I should heed it.
jennygordon: (Magpie)
I'm SOOOOOO excited!

My naughty brain has been secretly pondering my next project. In truth, I've been pondering my next project in the back of my mind since last summer when I decided I was going to reimagine an old work of mine (secret codename ShadowNovel). I've been magpie-gathering bits and pieces of ideas for it ever since.

What? I can't help it; I have a busy-busy brain!

Anyway, I can't wait any longer, so I've decided to start doing some research in readiness, inbetween working on the SeaNovel rewrites. Well, I can't sit at a computer ALL day, can I?

Although I have no clue where the inspiration came from, my magpie-gathering has coalesced around a certain thing, so yesterday, I visited my wonderful library's online catalogue and ordered a couple of books on The Silk Route!!!

How exciting is that???!!!!

Really really exciting in Jenny World!

So many obscure and largely forgotten corners of history to explore! So many delicious new cultures to discover! So much inspiration my brain is fair exploding at the mere thought of it all! And the vast majority of it will be sparkly new territory for me, which is so thrilling.

I love uncovering new bits of history. It's as satisfying for my brain as chocolate is for my tummy!

All I need now is for the books to arrive *drums fingers; checks email for notification AGAIN.*

***UPDATE*** UPDATE***  I've just checked my email (again), and one of the books has arrived, which means I can pick it up within the next hour. Now I really am going to explode!
jennygordon: (Clock)
When people find out I'm a writer, one of the first questions they'll often ask is, "Hey, did you study Creative Writing at university?" Or even, "You must have an English Literature degree then?"

And to both of those questions I reply, "Hell no; I did something much better than that at university - I studied History!"

I believe all the inspiration you could ever want lies in history. Well, an awful lot of it anyway.

If Robespierre claimed that history is fiction (and, okay, I know I'm taking the quote out of context here, as he was talking about the history he was re-writing as the Evil Genius of the Terror of the French Revolution), then you could equally argue that history is fantasy fiction. The further back you go, the more distant from our own time, the more fantastical it becomes. And once you plunge into the muddy waters of prehistory (that is, any time before a civilisation began documenting itself in writing of some form), the game is flung wide open. Consipracy theorists have a ball romping through all the shadowy what ifs, the mysterious sites and the tantalising fragments of the ancient past where academics fear to tread (or at least to draw definitive conclusions).

"Ritual centre," archaeologists mumble of a strange prehistoric stone alignment, or of giants heads perched on the edge of a remote island.

"Evidence of aliens on Earth!" cry the conspiracy theorists.

What greater fodder then for a writer's imagination?

It's fair to say that the majority of my writing has, to one degree or another, been influenced or inspired by history. Whether it's an obscure British folklore belief, or an entire little-known culture, I've cherry-picked my way through all sorts of gems from a wide sprawl of historical eras.

My notebooks are filled with snippets of historical fact and anecdote; my folders crammed with images of palazzos and temples, ruins and megaliths. A sentence in a book detailing the culture of Minoan Crete will send me spinning off along labyrinths of invention; a Renaissance portrait, or a character from the First Crusade will cry out to be reinvented as a character in my latest story. A map of ancient Mesopotamian trade-routes will inform a novel's backstory, while a sculpture from the ancient Kushan Empire will plant the seeds of an entire invented culture.

In studying history at university, I learned to appreciate context and perspective, and how history repeats, over and again. I discovered that the smallest of details can bring a civilisation to life, and the vastness of mankind's arrogance and vanity can see that civilisation become dust.

Studying English Literature might work for some who dream of writing literature themselves. Studying Creative Writing may work for others. For me, however, it has always been history that has fed my imagination and shaped me as a writer. Not as a writer of historical fiction though; for me, history is a jumping-off point; a depthless cauldron of inspiration that feeds me even when I don't fully realise it is doing so.

"History is fiction," said Robespierre. For me, history has become the very source of so much of my fiction. And without an awareness of our history, our worlds, whether invented or real, are but poor, cloudy reflections of a greater whole.
jennygordon: (Angel)
“Nobody seems content with mystery any more.  Except me.  I love mystery for its own sake.  I think a true appreciation of the quality of mystery is the most the majority of us can ever hope for.”   
 
Chalice, Phil Rickman
 
I tend to describe myself as a writer of fiction with a pinch of magic, by which I mean that I write stories set in the real, contemporary-ish world, which include a hint of magical ‘what if?’  It’s not paranormal romance or urban fantasy, rather stories which leave the door ajar to the possibility that there is something more to our world than we generally perceive.  Phil Rickman perfectly sums up how I feel about this ‘mystery’ in the above quote.
 
I don’t like mystery to be laid out and dissected for me, in novels or otherwise; I prefer it to keep its clothes on and glance coyly at me from out of the mist.  When it comes to my writing, I try to include an explanation to the ‘mystery’ element that is perfectly rational, but I also like to include that element of ‘what if?’  I hope this leaves it for the reader to believe whichever version they prefer, while doing my best to ensure that both explanations work in terms of the book’s plot and resolution.
 
As I’ve said before, my background is in history and archaeology, which root me in hard fact, but I’ve always been drawn to the mysteries of our past, our myth and folklore, and the possibilities beyond the hard fact.  Indeed, in many ways, it’s the mysteries that sparked my love of our past, and our ancient heritage. 
 
Now, hard fact is good, and sometimes necessary, but the power of ‘what if?’, the magic of unexplained possibility, is deeply alluring.  For example, I don’t believe we are in any position to understand what the stone circles, barrows and other such prehistoric monuments were originally used for (I’ve talked a bit about this elsewhere).  And while part of me would love to understand, the far greater part is happy to simply wonder. 
 
Things explained are things deprived of their wonder, their magic, and I believe there are things in this world that we’re not meant to understand.  They simply are.  A world deprived of its wonder is a world I have no interest in being a part of.  It’s that wondering wonderment, and the pinch of magic in ‘what if’ that inspires and informs my writing.  Like the character in the Rickman quote, I love mystery for its own sake.  Which is why I like to leave the door of possibility open a crack in my stories: leave it for the reader to believe the version that sits best with them, keeping mystery veiled in the mists.
jennygordon: (Bluebells)
The other day, I was chatting to my local Crystal Man about all the amazing places he visits in his quest for crystals and fossils and all things sparkly to sell on his market stall. He travels the world, attending the massive US gem fairs, as well as visiting tiny mines where he buys direct from the local miners. Now, I don’t have the travel-itch that some do, but I love hearing about the incredible places other people have visited, as well as going on adventures of my own inside my head. Which is wonderful, because it means I’m restricted neither by money, nor the borders of reality. I thought I’d throw together a Top Ten of the places I’d love to visit (real and imaginary). In no particular order:

1. Venice, Italy"You never see Venice for the first time: she is already floating inside you."  Lovric, Carnivale. I visited for 4 days in the depths of winter with the buildings emerging from the freezing fog, then vanishing again. Like a dream.
2. Alhambra, Spain – an exquisite confection of a palace, and a poignant survivor of the once-great Moorish kingdoms that once dominated the Mediterranean.
3. Midwinter Masque at the Night Court, City of Elua – the fabulous Midwinter celebration held in the capital city of Terre d’Ange of Jacqueline Carey’s novels. Gorgeous fancy dress is worn, joie is drunk (a rare liqueur distilled from mountain flowers), and at the stroke of midnight, members of the Night Court enact the death of the Winter Hag and the re-birth of the Spring Maiden.
4. The Northern Lights – seen from wherever in the northern hemisphere you go to see them at their best.
5. The Faraway Tree – the vast tree of Enid Blyton’s “Faraway Tree” books; so tall that a ladder amidst its highest boughs reaches into the myriad worlds cycling above. But be careful: stay too long and the world will move on, trapping you in it until it reaches the Faraway Tree again!
6. Petra, Jordan – the city carved out of sheer, rose-red sandstone, hidden within a basin in the mountains. It is famous for The Treasury, yet this is only one of countless rock-cut buildings and tombs.
7. The Wildwood – the British woodlands of our Mesolithic ancestors, before the Neolithic folks began cutting down the trees to begin farming the land. Filled with wolves, bear and boar; the heartwood of our native mythology.
8. Rivendell – It’s always been my favourite Tolkien location, perfectly imagined by Alan Lee in his illustrations, and later in Peter Jackson’s films.
9. Water caches, Arrakis – in our own world where water is an increasingly precious resource, just imagine the wonder of the vast, hidden caches of water deep beneath the deserts of Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s “Dune” novels.
10. Topkapi Palace, Istanbul – primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years, glittering with treasure and architectural wonder, dense with stories.

So there you have it: ten of the places I’d most like to visit before teatime. There are so many more, but these were the first that sprang to mind, so I’m sticking with them.

How about you? Where in this world, or any other, would you love to visit? Where have you already been that you think everyone should experience? What is it about those places that makes them special?
jennygordon: (Water Lily)

“Anyone who pokes around in history long enough may well go a little mad.”


Elisabeth Kostova, The Historian



There have been some real quality History programmes on TV in the UK over the past year or so.  We’ve had everything from Professor Robert Bartlett’s high-brow study of The Normans, Richard Miles’ Ancient Worlds and Amanda Vickery’s At Home With the Georgians, to a series of programmes on the Anglo-Saxon world, Neil Oliver’s History of Ancient Britain, and an excellent one-off on life in Pompeii.  



There’s been something inspiring to take from each, and I’ve had my notebook at my side as I watched, but what has inspired me more than any of those was the 200th episode of Time Team.  (For those of you who don’t know, this is a long-running series in which a team of archaeologists undertake a trial dig over the course of 3 days at sites all over Britain).  For this particular episode, the team was at Tottiford in the Dartmoor National Park in Devon.  At the site, which had been submerged under a reservoir since Victorian times, the team unearthed a previously unknown Prehistoric sacred landscape, including a stone circle and stone row from the Bronze Age, and evidence of flint-working from the Mesolithic, which means the site had been used over as many as 10,000 years.  Yep, that’s 10,000 years!



All amazing stuff that appealed to the archaeologist in me, but what really got me was the beauty of the setting.  A secret valley high on a plateau, through which a river once flowed, the place was lushly greened and surrounded by trees.  Even seeing it on
the telly screen, I got shivers down my spine.  You could really feel the sacredness of the valley, imbued both in its natural setting, and in the weight of belief of the people who used it over thousands of years.



We can guess, but we’ll never truly know why our ancient ancestors built stone circles, stone rows, and many other strange monuments that scatter the British countryside, but in a place like Tottiford, you can still sense something of what drew them there and led them to build their enigmatic monuments to life, to death, and to
what comes afterwards (or maybe they were just for music festivals – who knows?!)  



While Stonehenge and Avebury are the best known of these, it’s the lesser-known sites that hold more attraction for me: Stanton Drew stone circle in Somerset, Bryn Celli Ddu burial chamber and henge on Anglesey, and the many remote monuments across Dartmoor.  Whatever your beliefs, or lack thereof, you can’t deny that there’s something special about all of these places, if only as a memory of a more ancient land.  Once my historian/archaeologist brain has finished sorting through the few facts we have, it’s the mystery of the places that envelops and holds me, and I find myself reaching backwards in my imagination, trying to conjure what it was like there several thousand years ago, sensing ghosts of the sacred and hearing a whisper of what it was that our ancestors once knew.



Incidentally, what the hell's going on with LJ formatting?  I can't get the text in this entry to behave!

jennygordon: (Clock)

It’s true, I do.  Always have, really.  Okay, so some of the things I saw in Rome were incredible, and their achievement was pretty amazing.  And so are some of the innovations of civilisation they introduced – writing, roads, central heating, bathing, taxation, organised military ... oh wait, at least 2 of those things are a long way from being great, and most of the others were nicked from other cultures.

 

And that’s the point.  The Romans to me were just big bullies.  They claimed all kinds of things that weren’t theirs to claim, not least vast tracts of the Western world.  Look at all the fantastic, beautiful cultures they squashed into the mud and then stamped on several times, just because – the Etruscans, the many Germanic tribes of Europe, the Celtic Iron Age in Britain.  Those are the cultures that fascinate me.  Wherever they went, the Romans stamped the same boring template on their subjugated peoples; everything was straight and regimented, with no variety.  I’m damned sure there must have been some master handbook for all things Roman that they used wherever they went (want a villa?  There you go, page 113; taxation system, page 3).  And I know some people think this is one of the marks of their greatness, but I beg to differ.  No, I don’t beg – I shout it from the rooftops!

 

For a start, it’s a rare event for a piece of Roman art to move me, yet Celtic art – oh good god, Celtic art – exquisite, enigmatic, swirling, curving, spiralling.  The pre-Christian Romans might have worshipped aspects of the natural world, but the Celts lived with it, a part of it, and those swirling, spiralling designs in their art seem to me to be born from a deep connection with nature and the spirit within it.  What a loss to us all that the Romans smooshed all of that.

 

It’s one of the huge ‘What Ifs’ of history, isn’t it?  What if the Romans never came?  What if the Romans never emerged from their obscure tribal origins to become the power-hungry, dogmatic, controlling bullies they did?  What if the peoples they subjugated were never conquered?  I can’t help but think the world would be a far more interesting place if the Roman part of history never happened.  And you know what?  For me, if never did.  Though I studied history from prehistory to 1250 for my degree, I skipped the Romans completely.  I learned about what came before, and the repercussions of what they left behind when they departed and their empire collapsed.  But the Romans themselves.  Not for me, thanks.

jennygordon: (Water Lily)

One of the ideas Patricia McKillip ponders in her latest novel, The Bards of Bone Plain, is the question of where myth leaves off and history begins.  In the context of her story, the characters are involved in researching the legend of the Bard of Bone Plain, winding up tangled in the myth themselves when the Bard appears to walk out of myth and history into their lives.

 

It got me thinking about our own ancient myths, especially those native to Britain such as The Mabinogion and Beowulf.  The former is the title given to a collection of eleven stories collated from medieval Welsh manuscripts.  The tales draw on pre-Christian Celtic mythology and provide a wealth of information on both early medieval life and historical traditions, including the older, and somehow ‘truer-feeling’ stories of King Arthur.  It is believed that some of the elements may originate in the Iron Age – that’s as early as 800BC!  Beowulf, on the other hand, is an Old English (Anglo Saxon) epic poem, dated between the 8th and 11th century AD, although its origins may also be far earlier.

 

Both of these relate stories of heroes who (probably) never existed in reality, and yet Beowulf contains details of pattern welded swords that glitter in the light – such swords have been discovered in Anglo Saxon graves.  Likewise, The Mabinogion includes a story about the Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus, who we know was real.  More than that, beneath the heroic stanzas of Beowulf and the often dreamlike atmosphere of The Mabinogion, is a wealth of detail about the lives, beliefs and attitudes of our ancestors.  In the same way, the fiction written today, whatever its genre, reflects the beliefs and attitudes of modern man.

 

As I've said before, I studied History at university, and my specialist period was Early Medieval Europe (that’s from the fall of the Roman Empire to around 1000AD, though I went a little later).  These texts were one of the tools we used, along with archaeology, place-name evidence, and what few historical documents survive, in attempting to understand what are commonly known as The Dark Ages. But my interest in these texts now is as a writer, and for a writer, these ancient stories are a fascinating resource, taking us away from the kind of characters we might create with our modern mindset, and showing us a small window of the reality of peoples of the distant past and the world in which they lived.  And it’s only ever that: a small window, tantalising and strange, yet oddly familiar at times as well.  Your find yourself wondering at all the knowledge we have lost, puzzling over the shadowy clues of forgotten things.

It's rare that a writer is able to capture this distant half-remembered past in a way that feels 'real', as opposed to the contrived faux-historical past of so many fantasy settings.  Yet t
hese ancient tales have survived time’s currents, told over many generations, written down at some point in their later history, shifting and changing as they pass from teller to teller, until finally they reach us with their hints and whispers of something older, something we can almost touch.  And somewhere along the way, the strands of myth and history they are woven with became so tangled that it no longer matters where one leaves off and the other begins.

* Patricia McKillip, The Bards of Bone Plain

jennygordon: (Bluebells)
You know, the Regency period has largely passed me by until recently.  I never studied it, either at school or at university; I never read novels or watched costume drama set in the era (unless you count Blackadder the Third, that is!)  It just never really grabbed me.  But then I watched the BBC's series At Home with the Georgians, delightfully presented by Amanda Vickery.  It was so crammed full with fascinating characters and unexpected detail about society in the Georgian period that I've been completely won over.  And then, this weekend, I was invited to this gorgeous place: 



It's Elton House in Bath, one of the properties owned by The Landmark Trust, which you can take as holiday lets.  A friend takes it every year for his birthday weekend and invites all his friends over to celebrate.  I was only there for an evening, and oh my God!  What a place.  The main house is decorated sympathetically in period style, while the basement and attics are left disused (though there's original C18 wallpaper in the attic!)  On the ground floor is a small museum of objects collected by a previous owner - fascinating things so filled with memory and story that I spent far more time there than was probably polite at a party!  There were no labels and the inventory has gone missing, so it's all left to guess-work and imagination as to what some of the objects are. 
Things like this ... )
jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)
"Historical fantasy offers a unique reward.  There is an inexpressible pleasure in examining the vast canvas of history and reworking it in broad strokes, of weaving together the strands of what might have been and what never was to create the world anew out of whole cloth." Jacqueline Carey.

As a history graduate, much of my writing is influenced and informed by my love of the past.  Merovingian France, Victorian Britain, the Middle East of the Crusades, Ancient Greece, Bronze and Iron Age Europe - history offers such a treasure trove of inspiration, and the further back in time you go, the more fantasical the setting seems.  Little wonder then that writers of fantasy turn, time and again, to history for their ideas. 

A step removed from the familiar medievalesque settings of so many fantasy novels are authors such as Carey and Guy Gavriel Kay, who specifically set out to re-image a historical setting within the fantasy bounds.  "Fantasy," Kay explains, "is not just about magic and supernatural quests.  It can also be a way of dealing with history, with elements of our own past."  By taking history out of its very specific time and place constraints, he goes on to say, it opens up the possibilities for the writer to explore the themes and elements of the story, eroding prejudices or assumptions that exist about the real historical period, and thereby giving it more relevance to the reader's own life.  In writing purely historical fiction, the writer is inevitably bound by the actual events (or the events as accepted versions of history would have them).  In couching the people and events in fantasy, the writer is liberated from these contraints, as well as the moral considerations of writing about real people.  It offers a measure of distance, underscoring that the author is not claiming to know how that person thought or behaved - or indeed how anybody thought or behaved at a period in the past which we cannot pretend to fully understand.  Carey, whose on-going Terre d'Ange series cherry-picks its settings and background from a swathe of world history, clarifies: "I love doing the research needed to ground my work in tangible reality.  And as a fantasy writer, I have an equal love for the process of forgetting, of allowing myself to recreate the world." 

Thinking back to my formative reading, I believe I came to reading fantasy fiction by way of historical fiction.  The books I grew up with were novels of Ancient Egypt by Alexandra Hamilton, of the deliciously debauched Borgias by Jean Plaidy, non-fiction about the Ottoman Turkey and about Crusader Outremer.  It was natural to then encompass Anne McCaffrey's Pern books and Tanith Lee's strange, exotic worlds, so many of which contain a flavour of our own history.  After all, much of history, especially the really old history, is as fantastical a world to our modern eyes as Pern or countless other invented fantasy settings.

It says something of the skill of authors such as Carey and Kay who build on the rootstock of history to shape a fresh world, using broad strokes, conjured with a light touch, to welcome a reader to a realm that might have been.  In The Lions of Al-Rassan, Kay reimagines the Moorish kingdom of Andalusia, while Carey gives us a Britain where Pictish/Celtic culture survived into her Renaissance period, where the Medieval court of romance endures in Terre d'Ange, and Menekhet offers a version of Egypt where the old gods and beliefs survived.  Seasoning their imagined worlds with elements of our own offers strangely familiar settings, and may even nudge the curious to delve into the aspects of our history that inspired them.  For the writer of such fiction, the pleasure is in the research, while the joy is in the forgetting and the reimagining.  And, as Carey concludes, "At the heart of it always lies a story."
jennygordon: (Gargoyle)
Ken Follett's opus The Pillars of the Earth is about to hit UK screens in the form of a mini-series tonight, and yesterday, I read an interview with Follett in which he says that, "the Middle Ages are close enough for us to imagine that the people were essentially the same as us - in less than 1,000 years human beings don't change that much."  Hmmm, I thought.  Hmmmmm.  Because I don't really agree.  In fact, I don't agree at all.  After all, it was only 1,000 years ago that peasants from all across Europe were rushing off to the Holy Land on the promise of a free pass to Heaven if they went and slaughtered a bunch of people who didn't hold quite the same religious beliefs as them.  And if that concept isn't so alien to parts of modern life, then the point is that tens of thousands of perfectly ordinary men, woman and children actually believed that this was their ticket to salvation.  They weren't extremists, they were people just like us ... or were they?  Can you really see that same fervour at the heart of all the people on your commuter train, of all the people who live on your street?  Because that's what it amounted to.

*Mumble mumble* years ago, I was a History undergraduate studying the period across Europe from prehistory to 1250, so I know a little about the era Follett is talking about.  For me, the attraction of that era was, and continues to be its very unfamiliarity.  Okay, so biologically human beings don't change so much, but emotionally, mentally, psychologically, spiritually - in fact in all the ways that really matter, we have changed enormously.  It would take a considerable stretch of the imagination and intellect to understand, let alone relate to Medieval man, whose beliefs, priorities and morality was so different from ours.  And the further back in time you go, the more unlike us humans become.  Impaired by the modern mind, we can never get close to truly, deeply understanding why our ancestors built stone circles, why they took such glee in watching the slaughter in the gladitorial arena, why ... well, look at it this way ...

Rant continues below the cut ... )

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jennygordon

January 2016

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