Boo (It’s Halloween)

My incredibly well-put-together costume of a top hat, a comedy-drama mask, and a plague rat hand-puppet (I wore other clothes too, don’t worry) legitimately scared at least four people tonight–let’s see if my artwork can do better.

Yes, it’s NaNoWriMo tomorrow, and for the thirty days that follow: that means books and books mean book-covers. I’ve been working on this one for ages, and it’s still not done because I took time out to write a short story that wasn’t short enough to be finished on time. It must be the Curse of Halloween!

(because every day is Halloween in Rachelloon-land, apparently. I guess you all know what you’ll be getting for Christmas!)

All that aside, behold! My NaNoWriMo book-cover from rough sketch…

Cover Sketch

… to detailed drawing…

Cover Drawing

… which needed a background decoration I was too lazy to draw on, so ended up doing a single two-leaf–

Background Decoration

–repeating pattern, which I copy-pasted about fifty bazillion times in MS Paint, then transposed the original drawing onto to make…

Cover Attempt 1

… which will be coloured in using pen & watercolour… as soon as I get around to it.

Which, considering it’s NaNo tomorrow, may in fact be never. Then again, it would be a wonderful way to procrastinate actually writing the novel!

Advertisements

A MISTYREE Excerpt!

Let it not be said I renege on my promises (or at least let it not be said that I did so today) what follows in an excerpt of my first serious attempt at a serious novel. Seriously.

Yesterday’s post, where I introduced the Victorian murder-mystery ‘Mistyree’, via all the (terrible) illustrations I did for it, and forewarned of the overwritten navel-gazing contained therein, can be found here: https://racheliliffe.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/some-mystyree-illustrations/

Well, I say all–as you can see there was one left, the illustration for the scene that follows. (don’t ask why the bookcase juts out so far from the wall, nor why Nicky has a picture of some origami on his wall: suffice it to say my deficiencies as an artist are innumerable). Nothing apart from a few paragraph breaks where it got really bad has been changed since it was written in 2007…

The Biggest Bookcase Ever

*~*~*

Excerpt from ‘Mistyree’

CONTEXT: Following the wedding of the MC (Nicky)’s younger brother, (minor gentlemen, both), a series of gruesome and bizarre murders take place in the local village. After being stabbed by a random thief and rescued (though unconscious at the time) by a man whom it is deduced by the detective on the case (who I called ‘Holmes’ as a joke) was probably the murderer, Nicky awakens weeks later to find a mutilated corpse has been placed in his bed in the night…

*~*~*

I looked at her again, and this time tried to see her as a whole. I didn’t recognise her at all, I couldn’t think that she had once been an entity I had shared time with at some point, that some part of my life had been killed with her. I felt more alive when I looked at her. Was that why he did it?

But her, her on the bed—she who had once moved and no longer did—what was she? How could she fit in my perception of the world? Her presence did not seem to change anything in me, I was frightened yes, but still me. What did this body mean? She looked so… so odd, being a body which did not live, a type of human being which I had never seen before and never could have imagined even with my unusual mind.

The right words did not exist to tell my thoughts, to make an argument of any coherency to process properly this incident. I calmed down further and realised I was sitting on the floor again. I couldn’t see her body properly, but saw her blood—even when I closed my eyes that red imprint remained.

At that point a maid came in to open the curtains. Unfortunately it was not Li, she was with Inspector Holmes at the time, but it seemed Mother had seen fit to send some poor servant up to inquire as to why I was not at breakfast. I was not sure myself, and wondered whether I had overslept, or had simply been transfixed by my lifeless companion too much to move for hours.

She screamed at what she saw—the bed, the girl, me, and backed out of the room still screaming. I watched her as I reminded myself that I was fine and could wait until later to exhibit the proper reaction to this happening. She hit the opposite wall of the corridor with an audible thump and never stopped screaming. She sounded hysterical, but even so, somewhat false, as though acting a part in a play. Perhaps such a reaction would always seem false to me, having no other genuine reaction to compare with.

I heard voices outside the room. “What’s happening!? What’s happening!?” A man’s voice cried out—George, I realised in a few moments. This unexpected situation had made my thoughts slower than usual. More than one man was hurrying up the stairs however, and it was Inspector Holmes who ran into my room first, followed closely by my brother.

“Dear God.” Said Holmes, his face turning pale before my very eyes. George turned away almost immediately and covered his mouth with his hand, retching. The maid’s screams continued but sounded raspier as she lost her voice from too much screaming. Eventually her screams turned to sobs and I watched her huddling outside my room. None of them seemed to have noticed me yet.

“George,” Said Holmes forcefully, grabbing my brother’s shoulders and staring at him. I could see that Holmes was just as thrown by the new development, but he held it together well. “George, listen to me.”

“No, no, this is not supposed to happen,” Said George, shaking his head like a small child, “This does not happen to me, not to me, not to my family,” He said.

“George, listen!” Snapped Holmes.

“No, no, not these things, these things do not happen,”

“George!” Holmes roared, shaking him firmly.

George was silent for a moment, “It’s like a nightmare…” He whimpered.

I was confused at my brother’s reaction. George never seemed the type to go to pieces in a crisis. Hadn’t he taken charge the first time? Perhaps it was actually seeing the body that alarmed him so. Although I realised that everyone had the potential to slip into the persona that he was now adopting, I still felt at odds by it. The reactions that entity on the bed provoked, it seemed, were just as disorienting as the body itself.

“I know, George,” Said Holmes, not unkindly, “But listen to me. You take that poor girl downstairs,” He meant the maid, “and do not let anyone else enter the room apart from Doctor Dudley, do you understand!?”

George whimpered a bit but Holmes merely shook him again, “Do you understand?” He asked. George hesitated, then nodded and staggered to the door of my bedroom. I turned my head to watch him leave, he and the sobbing girl grasping at each other for support. I thought of Homer, at least, I think it was Homer, and Odysseus grasping at his wife like a drowning swimmer. Funny that such a thing should have come to my mind at that moment.

When I couldn’t hear him anymore, I turned my head again to look at Holmes. His back was facing me and having caught his bearings he was examining the entity. I wondered if he’d even seen me. I suddenly wanted him to notice me more than anything, and tried to make some sound to grab his attention. No sound would come. It seems silly that I wanted to take his attention away from her, but that was how it was.

Holmes sighed and shook his head. He moved very little and I felt my mind start to wonder to other things. George would have been telling the others, I wondered what their faces would look like when he did. Shocked? Devastated? Exasperated? Well father might be, this was the fifth body and still no leads.

The slight shaking of the floor that one only feels when one is not thinking of anything warned me of the next approaching figures. Two of them—who had accompanied Dudley? I guessed who, and lo and behold accompanying the good doctor was my dear Xanatos, pale and worried. He relaxed somewhat upon seeing me in safety, then changed his mood to horrified when he saw the stains covering me.

“Nicky!” He breathed and dropped to my side. Dudley coughed heavily as he came in.

“Blast! Another one, eh?” He complained, “When you catch this diseased demon I swear I’ll kill him myself!”

Five times over? I wondered.

“Look at the pattern of blood.” Holmes said, ignoring Dudley’s comment, “He’s killed her here. Slit her throat right on this bed, he’s never done that before.”

“Getting braver?” Asked Dudley.

“No,” Holmes replied, his face screwed up in concentration, “No, this one never had any fear.”

Xanatos interrupted them as he rubbed my uninjured shoulder gently, “Doctor, could you please see to Nicky?” His hand on my shoulder was not particularly comforting, but I knew he had meant it to be and that was comforting. “I do not believe he’s injured, but he’s certainly—”

“My God!” Cried Dudley, “You were here? What did you see?”

I tried to answer him and found I could not move.

“Mr. Attfield?” Asked Holmes.

“I…” I managed ‘I’ but couldn’t get anything else out.

“See to him, John.” Said Holmes.

Dudley didn’t move. “Well what’s he doing here anyway? How did he get covered in blood—it’s obviously not his!”

“This is his room!” Hissed Xanatos. He saw what they were implying before I did, and he didn’t like it. Rather sweet of him, I thought.

Dudley stared, mystified. Holmes wore much the same expression but managed to voice what by this point we were all wondering. “This man,” He meant the murderer, “Took the poor girl into this room and slit her throat over the bed,” He paused, “While Mr. Attfield was sleeping on it? And then he just put her on the bed and left and you didn’t hear or see anything?”

Dudley started to walk towards me as I tried to remember how to talk. “Uh… I… w-was… I was a-asleep,” I began shaking. Dudley knelt down next to me, bones cracking with old age. He then sniffed at my face, which I thought rather odd.

“More than asleep.” He said with a humourless laugh, “Chloroform.” But the suspicion in his eyes didn’t waver. “Then again, Wat and I have seen killings staged more elaborately than this.”

“What!?” Xanatos spat out, moving so that he was diverting Dudley’s attention from me, “I suppose you don’t know how utterly ridiculous you sound?” He said.

Dudley sneered, “This is his room.” He said. “What other place to start but—”

“John!” Holmes interrupted. “I’ll admit the situation could be argued either way. Just get Mr. Attfield to another room and clean him up, I’ll ask him questions later.” He paused, then added as an afterthought, “Make sure he doesn’t go anywhere. This one has far more to do with our murderer than I’d like.”

“What on earth do you think you’re talking about, sir!?” Xanatos growled. “If you knew for one second—”

“Xanatos?” I said, lifting my arm up to grab his sleeve, “I think my legs aren’t working properly.” I wasn’t lying, they were twitching without my control, but not moving when I wanted them to. Xan looked concerned and reached for me, lifting me up, miraculously without jarring my shoulder.

“Arthur’s room is closest,” He said bitterly. “I’m sure he won’t mind.”

I nodded and wished that everyone would leave immediately. I caught another glimpse of the body as Xan carried me out. How cold she looked. I wanted to give her a blanket or something. Then I saw something else I immediately reminded myself to remember for later—it may have interested Holmes, after all. Kuka and Imily were sitting on my desk on the other side of the room, free of bloodstains and definitely not where I had left them. I could only catch a glimpse of them however, before we stumbled further down the corridor to Art’s room.

Art was elsewhere, probably riding a horse or something, and I was disappointed, because I’d have loved to see the expression on his face if he had to deal with me covered in blood again. Xanatos put me down on the bed and went into the adjoining chamber. I lay down and thought of nothing in particular for a few moments, before I suddenly remembered that I was covered in the blood of a dead girl.

Then it struck me—why had the killer left her in my bed? This was the second time he’d shown a strange sort of interest in me and I couldn’t understand it. I found myself very interesting, but everyone else either pretended I didn’t exist or pretended I was someone else (except on certain occasions of course). Had he just picked me at random?

Or was he genuinely paying me attention?

I was somewhat excited at the prospect. I didn’t like a lot of attention from other people, which was fortunate because I didn’t get much, but sometimes I did feel momentarily…left out. I would much rather be left alone, and could see myself living perfectly well without any sort of human company (provided someone left me some food once and a while) and yet this prospective interest our killer had in me of all people was in turn of interest to me.

It was flattering, of all things, and not in a sycophantic way like the people I saw or imagined I saw in Hell, but something far more subtle than that. But I felt I’d probably got it completely wrong and he wasn’t interested in me at all—after all I didn’t conform to his preferred type of victim and I wasn’t part of the force assembled to catch him. One would think he was far more interested in Holmes, his arch-nemesis or whatever he saw the detective as. I knew that Holmes was certainly focussed on him.

And me? Well, this whole time I’d mostly been thinking about myself and my own idiosyncrasies. Even now I was self-analysing, wondering what it was in me that he could possibly find interesting rather than what it was in him that could be interested in me.

I hadn’t really given him the thought he was due, just compared him with myself, used him as a way to try and further understand myself, never tried to understand him because I had never been able to understand anyone. Perhaps he was trying to attract my attention. So who was he? He didn’t think or act like normal people, that was clear enough, and neither did he think or act like me.

Category One: Normal People. Category Two: Me. Category Three: Murderers. No, some normal people could be murderers as well. Evil? Well, for lack of a better word I supposed, even if it did not exactly describe this person. But evil was supposed to be hated, if one was ‘good’ or mostly good, and loved if one was ‘evil’, and vice versa. I couldn’t seem to feel either about either, as I had explained to the vision of Lucifer, though I could usually tell the difference—the difference according to society as a whole, I realised.

Seeing as how I didn’t seem to feel either of them, they probably didn’t exist for me. But the murderer had to be termed something, and as Holmes insisted he was not insane, I had no other recourse but to call him evil. Evil was simply not necessarily a negative element to me, merely a different one. Had I contradicted myself? Did I say earlier I preferred good, or something to that effect? Hmm…I suppose I could still prefer good and not have an all-out hatred of evil.

An evil person, the first I’d ever come across. How to quantify him, was the question. Perhaps I was the first un-normal person he’d ever come across too, and that was why he was interested in me?

Evil Plans

My friends, this weekend was taken up with planning for NaNoWriMo (the research needed for next month is over 9000; so great that it has forced me to reference lame, outdated internet memes), so I have only a single image to share with you; as a tantalising clue to what this year’s project will be about. Until next time!

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/14/Psalter_of_Bonne_de_Luxembourg.jpg/280px-Psalter_of_Bonne_de_Luxembourg.jpg

CAPTION:

Skeleton One: Seriously, Chase, I’m going to go in for those breast implants after all; I look like a fucking rail here!

Skeleton Two: Oh, Barbara! Must you feel the need to conform to the beauty standards of the life-supremacist human-normative feudal-capitalist-patriarchy when your true beauty is on the inside!?

Skeleton Three: Ha ha, you two kill me, you sad, sad assholes…

(Credit to Jean le Noir for the image; wouldn’t want him coming back as a progressive skeleton and DMCA-ing me!)

The Same Old Story

In the old days of two years ago, I posted the prologue to my NaNoWriMo 2013 novel, ‘The Ritual of DUELS’. You can find that post here: https://racheliliffe.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/a-nano-sample-of-nano/

Today I thought I’d entertain you by showing you what that prologue looks like now, after two years of going back and editing it every time I read it again to remind myself what happened in it, having just read someone post about the dos and don’ts of prologues, because according to the dos and don’ts of Rachelloon, you don’t take other people’s advice for writing prologues, because you inevitably disagree with them.

All thoughts on the words are welcome. If you can be bothered to read the November 2013 version and compare it, those thoughts are welcome too; the main difference between them (apart from the revised one being somewhat longer) is that the new version explains more about the premise of the story since I’d been told the following chapters were difficult to follow by someone who read them.

*~*~*

The Rings were spinning again.

Each of the seven brass coils spun in a different direction; floating in the air—all seven adorned like a massive charm bracelet with seven of the crests of the Custodians each, spinning on more than one axis with a speed that challenged the Custodian Heads to follow with their eyes.

Tension was thick in the dark recesses of the windowless, amphitheatre; rivals giving one another sidelong glares and allies worried glances as they lost track of their crests in the golden blur the rings had become. Only two of them had lived long enough to have seen the Ritual of DUELS before, and neither had been Head of their families at the time.

This once-in-a-lifetime experience was putting even the most confident in the group on edge.

“You see the outcome with your powers yet, Chamoiseau?” muttered one man.

“My magic eight-ball told me to ask again later, Alkadhi” replied another, sarcastically.

The lights from the rings grew brighter every moment, shivering against the high stone walls. Some rings scraped against each other as they turned and made sparks, while the sound of spinning became ever more high-pitched and the long moments passed. Not even the most stalwart Head could stand to look as the spinning reached its crescendo.

Then it was as if there was a flash of lightning, the brightness and the sound of it was so similar, some Heads even flinched back as the point of choosing was reached, and then the Rings slowed down, and one by one they hung horizontally in the air.

Those who recognised their crests in the hanging rings were a mixed bag; many of them displeased to say the least, some unconcerned—they’d known no family members were eligible this time, perhaps—but some were probably even more relieved not to have the responsibility thrust upon a daughter of their family.

One Ring still spun upright, like a wheel of fate. But in time it too slowed to a stop.

The de Alvear crest glowed apple green at the top of the Ring.

“Isabella,” whispered the shadows.

Each Head turned to Elena de Alvear; even those who tried not to look, as if the others would decide they were too confident to care and respect them more for it. Elena’s trembling hands slowly clasped together in front of her chest, her eyes wide, her lips just stretching into a wide grin etched with giddiness. Fernando Páez hissed a ‘T’ noise in disgust, but Elena hardly noticed.

It was even more awkward than the usual meetings of this group, and that was saying something.

“Well, congratulations,” said Ray Bartlett—breaking the ice so to speak. He made the valiant effort to hide stark disappointment; they all knew his great-niece Amanda had been a favourite to be chosen as the Princess, but it wasn’t like Isabella de Alvear had been a wildcard. One by one, each of the closest representatives copied him with faux-sincere congratulations.

Isabella de Alvear; seventeen years old, had been chosen as the Princess of Two Worlds for the next eighty-one years. With almost complete certainty, it would fall to her to control the Shifting Shadows that lead from the Human World to the realm of the Shaedai, and to preside over any matters that could not be resolved by the local Custodian courts.

It was a power unparalleled. Many of the forty-nine had coveted it.

But it was more than disappointment or jealousy in that respect that was bothering Ray and most of the others. There were still ten more choices to make.

Nine boys to be Suitors for the Princess’ hand; the main players in this old and dangerous ritual.

One other girl to be the Challenger, and test Isabella’s worthiness of the title. To ‘keep the Princess Human’ as the Shaedai put it. Hers was the unluckiest fate, and every girl the forty-nine Custodian Heads might have hoped to be the chosen Princess was now in danger of being selected for the other role.

Elena said a prayer of thanks to God, and the Rings started spinning again.

They did so much sooner than the gathered Heads had expected, making the selections of the Suitors much faster than they had the Princess.

The Roesdahl-Kessle crest was first, accompanied with a whisper of “Arne,” and Sven Roesdahl-Kessle let out a bark of laughter in response. It was difficult for the others to guess why he did so, because few of them had heard of an ‘Arne Roesdahl-Kessle’.

Still, to a man they scrambled for pen and paper to record the names—most being too old-fashioned for tablets. However, Giles Rhys-Revailler, Lord Constanton, surprised his colleagues by being one of the few despite having only a few years to go before his centenary.

“Look at what my granddaughter gave me, Noni,” he was saying to Noni Okino, solemnly. “They call it an ‘i-pad’, and you touch the keys here just on the screen, and look! The words are right there. Genius, isn’t it?—the things they come up with these days.”

Noni tried not to laugh.

Lang was the second Suitor chosen, but it was the crest of the old former Hopi line rather than the main branch that shone; the Ameri-Langs as they were often known.

“Xiangfei.”

Jiaoqi Lang nodded to himself grimly. Shifan clicked his tongue when the exiled branch of his family was chosen, but that selection had also caused a more general murmur throughout the room; Xiang was heir to his House, after all.

The Mwangi crest came next, and Njau Mwangi was chosen to compete in DUELS, to the great pleasure of his father’s cousin; while when the Páez crest glowed on the turn after that, Fernando seemed still too bitter about his hated rival’s daughter becoming Princess to be pleased his nephew Lorenzo now had a chance to become Prince.

When the Himori crest lit up cherry-blossom pink on the next turn, Juichiro Himori looked happy at first. Then the gathering heard the whispered name of “Yuusuke,” and his face fell.

“Yuusuke?” murmured Vladimir Milescu. “Isn’t it ‘Takanata’ they thought might be picked?”

“They’re both his great-nephews,” said Marie Ahanda. “But one’s considered a bit more… princely.”

“Ah.”

If Juichiro had heard that he made no mention of it, and had his features schooled back to serenity by the time the Henderson-Sembene crest was glowing in the chosen position, with James Henderson-Sembene being selected much to his father’s delight. In recognition of their traditional enmity, Clarence Henderson-Sembene looked particularly to Noni Okino for her reaction, but was disappointed to find she didn’t seem all that bothered.

The next colour that bathed the room was a dark blue. Ultramarine, the family called it, and that family was Rhys-Revailler Constanton.

“What?” Phyllis McKinley blurted out. “You don’t have—”

“Tarquin,” said the shadows.

“Tarquin?” Phyllis repeated. Giles himself looked just as confused.

Is there someone in my family called Tarquin?” he asked, looking around the room.

“Your cousin’s great-grandson,” Ravi Khamavant supplied, and rather than looking annoyed with Giles inability to remember his own family members, he looked pleased. “The younger of my sister’s son’s boys.”

Phyllis rolled her eyes. Obviously Ravi would be pleased someone of his blood had been chosen for DUELS, even if they weren’t of his House.

“He’s a quarter McKinley too,” Ravi told her gently.

“Not from the Irish side, I bet,” Phyllis replied, and Ravi left it there so she was probably right.

Delmonte was the eighth House to have a suitor chosen, Juan Delmonte the Suitor in question. His grandfather’s expression didn’t change at all at news of the selection, and a few of the Heads weren’t entirely sure the man hadn’t fallen asleep. He had been known to do so at Court in the past.

The final House to be given the opportunity to put forward a contestant in DUELS was Nkosi-Elzevir, and seeing his family’s crest light up at the top of its Ring made Jeremiah Nkosi-Elzevir jump up and down like an unruly teenager. Jeremiah’s young cousin Matthew was chosen for DUELS, the ninth for this round, and a collective breath was exhaled in defeat from most of the remaining Heads.

But the Spinning was not over.

A scant few moments passed before the Rings spun again, and this time much slower than before, as if the Shaedai enjoyed drawing out their Custodians’ agony. The thirty-nine Houses that had not been chosen were mostly disappointed, but when those Rings moved they all remembered there was a worse fate than not being chosen to participate in DUELS.

A much worse fate.

For although times had changed, and no one expected that the Challenger would be executed as a matter of course this year… historically, the fates of even those who had survived their Challenge had been grim. Save for the one time the Challenger had prevailed; and no one wanted that either.

Spinning as slowly as they had when first the gathering had arrived, the Rings soon accelerated again, while the Heads watched in various stages of anxiety. Even those who had no daughters eligible looked nervous, even those who had already been chosen and were therefore safe. All except Elena de Alvear, whose joy could apparently be dampened for nothing, even the rings which at that very moment spun for no other reason than to choose a girl who would be given one, unrefuseable mission.

To kill the Princess.

At one point Pablo de la Vega, whose daughter’s fate was one of those on the line, dropped the notebook he was holding and startled Ray Bartlett, who looked about ready to slap him in turn, but ended up being too distracted by the spinning. Pablo thought he saw him mouthing ‘not Amanda, not Amanda, not Amanda’ to himself as he watched.

Round and round and round the brass Rings went. Brighter they glowed, until a second flash of lightning that sounded like a thousand crashing cymbals filled the room and made the Heads’ eyes close again. The Rings fell into position one by one, the proverbial wheel of fate made its choice and the last crest of this generations’ DUELS fell into place with a click.

Okino.

“Elodie” said the shadows.

As they had when Isabella had been chosen, each Head turned to look at Noni Okino in a ripple of swivelling necks. Even Elena de Alvear spared her a glance, though her glance was wary. But for the others, jealousy was replaced with sympathy—sympathy even from disagreeable sorts like Fernando and Shifan, even from Clarence Henderson-Sembene, whose family hated the Okinos.

Noni ignored all this and kept her eyes fixed on her family’s crest, spreading shadows over the room in the black that was the family colour; right up until she threw her cane on the ground and folded her arms with clenched fists.

“Well, damn it,” she said.

Robin Hood the Climate Change Denialist

On Authenticity and Relatability in Historical Fiction.

Authenticity vs. Relatability

Many years ago one of the most popular shows in the Rachelloon house was a comedy sketch show of my native land of Britain called Dead Ringers. And one of the sketches that has most stuck with me over the years was a scene they did ripping on the then-airing historical drama ‘Robin Hood’.

The only Dead Ringers Robin Hood sketch that I can find on YouTube now isn’t the one I remember, but I did remember the introduction that was at the beginning of that video, which runs:

And now on BBC One we’ve a brand new series of Robin Hood, where we’ve taken a much loved classic tale, given it a typically 21st century makeover, and made it shit.”

The sketch that I do remember had the Sherriff of Nottingham planning to impose a Carbon Tax on the local peasants, only to find himself facing strong opposition when Robin of Loxley stirs up the people, insisting that the case for global warming has not been proven.

I know you all know where this particular long ramble is going…

[Disclaimer: I know nothing about anything and don’t listen to a word I say or read a word I type. Just give me mindless praise instead.]

*~*~*

As someone with a strong interest in history I’ve always found it very difficult to watch historical dramas or read historical fiction without sniping ‘that’s wrong!’, ‘that’s really wrong!’, and ‘okay, the writers were on crack when they came up with this’. The only exception being Da Vinci’s Demons, which not only describes itself as ‘historical fantasy’ rather than ‘historical drama’, but has the added crucial element of actually being good.

(And even that will probably be ruined by the upcoming new season, just like all my other favourite shows. /grumble).

On the other hand, ‘updating’ historical persons/characters for the 21st century is not done without reason on the part of writers, and it’s easy enough to see why.

To begin, an excerpt—taken from my new book for NaNoWriMo research, which contains a number of extremely interesting writings from that period; this particular excerpt from the pen of Paolo de Certaldo of Florence, in probably the 14th century:

“Young girls should be taught to sew, and not to read, for it is not good in a woman, knowing how to read, unless you want to make her a nun… Feed boys well, and dress them as you can, in a decent fashion, and they will be strong and vigorous… Girls should be dressed well, but it does not matter how you feed them, as long as they get enough to live: don’t let them get too fat.

… I remind you again, if you have girls or young women in the house, that you should discipline them and keep them on a tight rein. And if, as often happens, any of them is looked at by young men, don’t get angry with such youths, but punish and warn the girls…”

(‘The Towns of Italy in the Later Middle Ages’; Dean, Manchester, 2000, pp195-6)

How widespread this sentiment was is debatable, how often put into practice unknowable, but from what we can tell the advice book this extract is taken from was very popular at the time, and if you write a novel set in this period then these are undeniably some of the prevailing views of the day. How can you make a character have or tolerate the above sentiments and still be relatable? If you make your character not have this sentiment, how do you explain why they don’t?

The answer to that last question is simple enough, and yet it raises a much bigger problem. That being (and I can assure you of this), that the extract above is in no way the uniform view of the time, of the place, of the era. The problem is that there is no such thing, and no such thing for far more than simply the care of one’s daughters.

Historians can’t agree amongst themselves about the reality of life in the Middle Ages, and the perceptions of your average readers can certainly be far off from the truth, if they even know anything about it at all when it’s likely the only thing they remember from school history lessons is ‘Divorced, Beheaded, Died; Divorced, Beheaded, Survived’.

(Well, if they’re British anyway).

Take the Crusades, for example. Few people now would think of them as a glorious struggle to regain stolen land from the evil Saracens anymore, and even at their height there were those in Catholic Europe who didn’t either, but what were they really in that case? Was it just wave after wave of bloodthirsty religious fanatics attacking those of another faith unprovoked? Were there far more Machiavellian motives behind the actions of the crusaders; opportunistic men of fortune seeing a chance to gain wealth and prestige without the disgrace of shedding Christian blood? Or did the whole thing start as a well-meaning attempt to come to the aid of fellow Christians in the Byzantine Empire that went very, very wrong as time went on?

All three of these things? Different things for different people in different places and at different times? None of the above?

And how much of a point in striving for ‘authenticity’ is there when those readers who do have a little knowledge of the subject will differ wildly in their perception of it?

One internet argument that comes to mind concerns a favourite of this blog; that of the treatment of women in Game of Thrones. It runs something like this…

A: “There is no excuse for the excessive brutality committed against the women in this series.”

B: “Except that that was what things were really like for women in the Middle Ages, and the author is just trying to remind people of that to contrast it with other medieval fantasy.”

A: “But fantasy is the operative word here—Westeros is not a real place. Therefore it was entirely the whim of the author that depicted such atrocious abuse of women so often.”

B: “Westeros isn’t real; but fantasy set in a medieval European pastiche is a genre in itself; and part of the point of GoT is to remind people of the realities of that era.”

A: “Especially the dragons and ice zombies, right?”

B: “But that’s also the point of fantasy and speculative fiction—realistic people in unrealistic situations.”

A: “So what reliable data do you have for the violence women faced in the real medieval era?”

B: “Well… to some point that’s going to be a matter of interpretation.”

A: “And of course, G. R. R. Martin interpreted it in a way that made him write as much rape as possible into the series.”

B: “But you can’t ascribe malicious motivations to him for doing that just because you personally didn’t like the results.”

One may take issue with the fact that I suddenly started writing about historical fantasy pastiche here when I had been talking about historical fiction, but I think the same points still stand: people, or some people at least, don’t want the realities other people have interpreted. They want their reality.

They don’t want to see a medieval town of uniformly white faces when they know there were some ethnic minorities in Europe during the Middle Ages, no matter how unlikely it was that you would have seen one in any given town—especially in the north. Or they don’t want to accept that the man widely acknowledged as the greatest painter who ever lived, a genius and an inspiration to millions, was in all likelihood a homosexual—because it’s not like there’s a da Vinci sex tape floating around the internet that would prove it, right?

(Unless it’s Da Vinci’s Demons’ da Vinci, because I wouldn’t have put it past him to casually invent the digital camcorder over a long weekend. Incidentally, the creator of that show got at least one death threat just for making the character bisexual, let alone gay).

And so we get Robin Hood the climate change denialist. And no, to my knowledge no one has ever gone that far and been serious about it, but examples that irk me nonetheless follow fast upon one another.

Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow: ‘Hi, I’ve been transported here from the eighteenth century, but conveniently I hold no views that would be unpalatable to a modern-day liberal audience!’. The female medical examiner in Murdoch Mysteries: ‘I can’t believe my nineteenth century Catholic boyfriend is homophobic! How backwards!’. Achilles in Troy: ‘Allow me to introduce you to my COUSIN Patrocles. *cough* no homo.”. Celaena in Throne of Glass:

Just… Celaena in Throne of Glass.

No doubt the list goes on, and while one can find sources enough that prove unpalatable sentiments were in no way uniform throughout any given period, it ends up that if not only your hero, but every ‘good’ character in the novel goes against the grain of the day, one has to ask why they do so; and the closer the views of the characters get to those of the modern era, the harder answering that question can get.

Ultimately, the easiest answer is that the characters believe what the writer believes because writers everywhere delight in dropping messages as anvils onto the heads of their readers/audience. But to an extent there’s only one way they can do that now that we’re already living in the age of widespread discussion or acceptance of such formerly taboo or radical ideas—by transporting us back to a time when they were still radical so those anvils can fall with impunity.

Thus everyone learns a valuable lesson about whatever. And they learn it over. And over. And over. Forever.

Why not try educating your audience about history, instead of ideas and values they already know about? You don’t have to eject ‘strong’ female or gay characters from the work—it’s not like they didn’t exist. If you want to sink your teeth into the medieval answer to feminism, for example, pick up Christine de Pizan and go from there; fighting misogyny in a way that was authentic to the period.

But if instead your heroine sounds just like a 21st century hipster except that they use the words ‘verily’ and ‘mayhap’, then they sound fake, and if they sound fake, then the possibility of the reader’s immersion ends.

Or it does for me, anyway. As I’ve said before, some people ‘just can’t even’ with characters who they deem unpalatable, and I guess you’ve also got to ask yourself why bother with historical fiction if you can’t stand historical people? So you can have your cake and eat it?

For those of us who can stand to be around characters whose views and beliefs are different—sometimes almost unfathomably so—it’s worth remembering that the people of the past were human too, capable of empathy and compassion. Even if you strive for true authenticity your own interpretation will give colour to the work that some people won’t like, but there’s nothing in true authenticity to any era of history that will make a character automatically unpalatable.

And then again, if something’s good, then it’s good. And if I say it’s good, then it’s good—and my historical novel that I’m going to start for NaNoWriMo this year will be the greatest novel that ever walked the earth!

[It’ll walk when the rats that are munching on the pages after it’s been abandoned in a basement for fifty years decide to make hats out of it, and then scurry away to give people more plague].

Appalling Appellations

Here’s another book I’ve bought to use as research for this year’s NaNoWriMo, and to pique the curiosity of all two of my readers by revealing only the image for some research I’m doing for the book, not a discussion of what the book itself will be about. This kind of limits my options when it comes to future posts about this book, but you can’t win ’em all now, can you? Especially if you were fighting for the French at Crecy…

However, my affection for meaningless mystery has, as it turned out, fallen on my own head as I returned to view the files I kept from my days at university–where I studied Medieval History–to see what I had left over on my computer that might help me with this painstaking research.

Behold–two screen-caps showing said files (in the two folders that were relevant to this period):

Friar Files Literature Files

I don’t know if the file names will be legible when this is posted–maybe if you click on them they will be, but you’re probably not that interested in my medieval files so I’ll give you a list of my favourites with some commentary. Be warned, some of these are more intuitive than others…:

  • Amazing Friar’s Essay!’, which makes me wonder why the ‘FINAL VERSION’ was merely titled ‘Friar Essay‘. Was it no longer amazing? No wonder I only got a 2:2…
  • Article on Thingamybob‘. Ah yes, ‘thingamybob’; essential reading when conducting a study of the early mendicant orders. (incidentally, religious orders from 1200-1370 turned out to be what the article was actually about).
  • ‘Humbert 1 and 6’
  • ‘Humbert 7’
  • ‘More Humbert’. Who is Humbert? Why do I have so many PDFs about him? What happened to Humberts 2 though 5? Out of all the files that were just titled with names of guys I no longer remember, this wins the dubious honour of being probably the most vague. (incidentally, these turned out to be original sources from Humbert of Romans writing about the Dominican order)
  • Moar Dominicanz’. Check out my Mad Skillz at naming files, homies! St. Dominic would definitely approve! (No. No, he wouldn’t).
  • Rubruck’s Mystical Journey of Joy!‘. I actually immediately remembered what this one was about just by reading the file name even though I’d completely forgotten the name of William of Rubruck. The irony is, his journey wasn’t at all mystical because he didn’t run into any of the monsters all the other friars did when they journeyed east! They must have told them he was coming and gotten them to hide as a joke. Poor old Bill…
  • Some Whiny Guy’. As you can imagine, it turned out the only way this title could have been more accurate would have been if I’d titled it ‘William of St. Amours’ Short Treatise on the Dangers of the Last Times’. Actually, I take that back–my title is still more accurate, because the PDF definitely contained some whiny guy, but his treatise was anything but short.
  • 25095923‘. Pretty self-explanatory, I’m sure you’ll agree. Actually, it turned out to be a semi-incomprehensible essay on Chaucer’s ‘The Reeve’s Tale’, one of my least favourite Canterbury tales. Just goes to show the mystery is far more exciting than the truth…
  • ‘Apparently useful for Anti-Semitism’. Er, yes. This was another one I knew the contents of immediately, but it wasn’t immediate enough for me not to have a sudden ‘I have a guide to being anti-semitic?’ moment when I saw it. Just so everyone knows; what it means is that it’s useful for studying medieval anti-semitism.
  • ‘Haz B and the Monarchy’. It also took me a while to remember that the Host of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was called Harry Bailey and that this title probably referred to him. Of course, I was 100% right.
  • Jones and Sprunger or Whatever’. I imagine I was tired when I named this file and not up to my usual standards of wit. (First commenter: You mean a halfwit? Hahahahaha…)
  • ‘Something About Bodies’–either an essay about substance in medieval Jewish-Christian debate, or an unpublished Agatha Christie novel I absconded with in my TARDIS. You be the judge!

And those are all the good ones. We may never know what their contents truly were. Mostly because half of the PDF files had been scanned in sideways so I had to tilt my head to read them, and that was really annoying. Likes, comments, follows; give me everything you’ve got–I have a cold and I demand your sympathy, otherwise my next post will be on William of St. Amours!

The Camp NaNoWriMo Makeover

Ah, makeover–the word every girl loves to hear, even me. (if ironically).

This month, I’ve decided to add what will hopefully be 40K to the novel ‘Ah-Seti-Ten The Dread‘; an epic high-fantasy drama that’s pretty dark, all things considered. I mean, it starts with the main character being sold into slavery; even Game of Thrones waited until Book 5 for that!

Hopefully this will bring the novel’s wordcount up to a total of… 40K, because while I’ve already written five thousand words of ‘Dread’, I’m afraid I’ve just looked over those words… and most of them have to go. Yes, the beginning of ‘Dread’ is getting a makeover, so for comparison, here is the original first page of the story:

*~*~*

“Lot thirteen—seventeen-year-old female, Nietszentine!”

Well, that was me.

I took one last desperate look at the carriages behind me to see if I could see Orinetph; if he’d poked his head out of whichever cart he was stuck in when he heard my description, but I didn’t see a thing before one of the auctioneer staff grabbed my shoulder and pushed me towards the stage. He wasn’t exactly rough about it, but he could hardly be called gentle either.

It was a cloudy day. I saw many umbrellas among the crowd, and now I was outside I could tell it had been raining earlier. The man who I think had been the one to buy me from the Keian army—it was either him or someone he worked for—stood at the front of the crowd, facing them rather than the stage. He glanced up at me and rubbed the bristles of his moustache with a frown.

The crowd themselves were a colourful bunch. I recognised the Keians easily enough, and Farsuchites; the natives of the city we were just outside of, they made up the most of the gathering. There were even some of my own people, most of whom scrunched their faces up, in some cases turning their backs on me entirely. I saw two women from Gestyen (judging by their jewellery) notice this and laugh.

If the customs of the Nietszentines amuse you, buy me, I thought. I’d rather them then have one of my countrymen decide to increase their standing with T’hiea by buying one of her fallen servants and restoring their honour. I preferred my head on my shoulders, as it turned out.

“A priestess of the temple of Tee-yah,” said the auctioneer, “trained to work with textiles and suitable for most domestic labour. Forty jeahl!”

Forty. He did say forty. It had been only three months since my enslavement, so I’d yet to fully grasp the Farsuchite language, but I was pretty good with numbers. Jeahl was the currency, I’d known that much for years, and I was pretty sure he’d said ‘textiles’ and ‘domestic labour’ so from that I could quite clearly tell what he’d meant.

I suppose what I could do could be described as working with textiles to an outsider. I could do other things too, of course. It was a little annoying that that was the extent of his sales pitch.

“I have forty,” said the auctioneer.

I’d seen the five who went before me brought onto the stage, so I knew what to do by now without being manhandled by the staff. After the first bid, you turned around slowly, arms outstretched. I did so.

“Ah, she learns fast! She learns fast!”

Those words were easy to recognise, the overseer had said them to me several times when we were being taught to speak Farsuchite.

“Forty-five!” called someone.

“Fifty!”

The crowd was too big for me to see who was calling, I could only hope for the best.

*~*~*

And here is the revised introduction to this universe, wherein I do things like… try to make the writing good. Or at least good-ish. I don’t know, leave your opinions below if you like.

(1st comment: “I liked the first one better!”)

Or just go and celebrate Canada day. Stupid Canadians–bet it’s not thirty-five degrees where they are. Stupid hottest day of the year–you can see it’s influenced the makeover!

*~*~*

The stage was set for my performance—banal and empty as it would be; a raised platform still seemingly sturdy after its timbers had started to turn grey with age and at the corner nearest to me where the thick posts rose above the platform the little round head of the nails that had joined each length to their supports had rusted dry-blood red, like the stain on the wood next to it that had soaked in who knew how many years ago?

Despite everything I couldn’t help but feel a kind of thrill when they called for me to take up my new role and be judged.

“Lot thirteen; Nietzentine female, fifteen years old!”

I hesitated. I’d been seventeen since the last autumn and for a moment it made me wonder if that meant the auctioneer had been referring to the girl next to me, but the attendant at the foot of the rickety-looking steps took my upper arm in hand and dragged me forward.

“Stupid girl,” I heard him mutter. His fingers grazed my kalsehschin marks and sent a shudder across my shoulders, as if it was still sacrilege for them to be touched after everything that had lead to this moment.

Well, if it hadn’t been me they’d meant then it was their own fault. I was not foolish enough to want to give them any reason to add my blood to their stage.

The dust that clung to by feet scraped slightly on the steps as I forced myself to climb them; I found myself trying to brush them off as much as I could even though my legs shook whenever one of them carried my entire weight. The sun disappeared into a sea of ash-like cloud as soon as I reached the top. I was thankful for that. My nose was already sunburnt today.

“Quickly, quickly!” ordered the auctioneer, though by the sound of his voice the only hurry he was in was to be doing something more interesting than this. He was a stooped and elderly man, thin, his hands a somewhat yellowish colour with their fingers wrapped around a small leather crop.

I was a slave now, so I supposed I’d have to do as he said until someone else bought me. I watched the wood beneath my feet for holes or splinters as my shaking legs carried me front and centre where I’d seen the girl before me stand. The cotton shift felt heavy on my shoulders, damp with sweat; the collar shifted uncomfortably against my neck as I raised my head to take my first look at the crowd.

Before that moment, I’d only been able to see part of the front row, and then only after I’d come to the front of the queue closest to the stage as my fellow chattel and I were hidden from our potential masters behind linen screens. I’d been able to hear their chatter, but perhaps I wasn’t used enough to the sound of large numbers of people after the isolation of temple life to have accurately guessed their number.

There were far more of them than I’d thought there to be. A hundred and fifty at least, maybe two hundred; mostly men with some professional-looking women in their number, mostly native Farsuchites with some lighter, northern faces dappling the crowd; Keians, Barasi, Noryens, Soloese, and a few darker to make it calico. Their clothes were more varied in their style and value than I could properly comprehend at a glance, and all along the edges there were carriers of various sizes and colours, sparkling with the wealth of their owners encrusted along their edges—telling you what you needed to know about them since they hadn’t deigned to show their faces. They probably watched me through a slot in the front of the contraption—my father’s wives had owned such equipment.

*~*~*

That’s the post for today, everyone–I blog less in hot weather. Happy camping, comrades!