Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Friday, March 26, 2010

Changes to the blog


I’ve changed the blog.  No, not the title or the content, just the background.  I’m trying to make it more like I wanted it in the first place.  I don’t know if I’ve succeeded, but I changed the background somewhat, and I then had to change the link colors so they would be  more or less “reader friendly”.  I will probably continue to do more tinkering, but not so much  that it’s completely unrecognizable.  I just want to have it both imaginative and “writerish”.

Let me know how you like it,

Anne G

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Yet another book review, and medieval at that

Hoffman, Mary


Bloomsbury Press, 2009

291 pp.


I came across Troubadour quite unexpectedly.  I was in the local library, as is my habit at certain times, to see what might be there that would make good, entertaining reading, I had never really paid much attention to Mary Hoffman, the author, though I have seen some of her work – Young Adult-type books set in a sort of “alternate” Renaissance Italy, based on some visits to Florence that she’d made earlier.  Troubadour looked interesting, but I didn’t pay much attention to it in the bookstore, either.

However, when I came across the book in the library, I did pay attention.  It’s not often you see a book aimed at “young adults” that the library staff feels adults might enjoy. And they were right; I enjoyed it very much. I knew next to nothing about the Cathars, or the “crusade” against them, mainly motivated, apparently, by the desire of the king of France to gain more control over southern France, and the desire of a number of his vassals(many of whom were semi-independent), to grab more land. The “crusade” itself was long and bloody, but the Cathars were finally crushed.

Judging by the way the book is put together, and considering the audience the book is aimed at, Ms. Hoffman does a very good job of pulling a complex time, place, and set of characters together, while not appearing to be preaching a “history lesson”.  Her principal focus is on a young girl of marriageable age, named Elinor.  Her parents, or at least her mother, are very worried about her seemingly wild ways, and her mother decides this can be cured by getting her married off to a much older man with children of his own.  Part of this reason has to do with the dark clouds on the political horizon, which eventually led to the so'-called “Albigensian” crusade, which resulted in terrible bloodshed against the “heretics” known as Cathars(though they themselves apparently never used this term calling themselves “Good People”). As the story develops, it becomes apparent that she and her family are in danger, because her father is a secret Cathar, and it also turns out that this is one of the reasons her parents are so anxious to get her married off.

However, Elinor has no intention of marrying the man chosen for her, although women in Southern France at this time had considerable freedoms of their own.  They could inherit property, and prospective husbands had to pay a bride price for them, rather than having property in the form of a dowry passed to them.  Furthermore, there were apparently some quite strong and competent women in this region at the time. Be this as it may, Elinor manages to run away, disguised as a boy, and joins a troupe of what Hoffman calls joglars, basically entertainers of both sexes.  She has a nice voice, and is allowed to sing some troubadour compositions(Troubabours composed the verses, and they were usually of higher rank than the entertaiiners; they didn’t have to sing). She is particularly interested in one troubadour called Bertran, who also turns out to be a secret Cathar, and because he has taken certain vows, can’t marry anyone, let alone the impressionable young Elinor.


Basically a “coming of age” story set in a very turbulent time and place, the story focuses on what Elinor learns about herself and others, and her realization of who she is really meant to be.  This book is full of adventure, and there are some terrible and sad parts, but they are never overdone. Without entering a spoiler here, suffice it to say that the story does end happily for Elinor, though in the time period she is “on the road” and away from home, she matures into a very wise young woman. While this story may be a little “lightweight” for some adults who prefer more “serious” stuff, fans of historical fiction, of any age, should enjoy it.  I certainly did, and I’d like to see more in this vein out of Ms. Hoffman.

Anne G

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Opinions, please, gentle readers!

On a writer’s site where I have a version of the first book in my trilogy uploaded(with great difficulty, I might add), I also do reviews and critiques of some people’s work.  I do a fair amount of reviewing sci-fi/fantasy, and some historical novels, since The Invaders is a hybrid – of sorts – or both genres. 

Which brings me to my dilemma, the one I want opinions about. I’ve noticed a tendency on the part of some writers of historical novels, to use “old” place names instead of their “modern” equivalents.  I can understand the reasoning behind this: in Anglo-Saxon times, for example, the city of York was called something like Eorferwic or Jorvik(by Viking-era Scandinavians who traded there).  The problem for me is, such usage may turn out to be very confusing for the average modern reader.  And yet some readers of historical novels actually prefer this.  Again, the reasoning behind this preference seems to be that it is more “authentic” to give the “old” place name, because that was what was used at the time, rather than the modern one, regardless of whatever confusion a reader may feel. I think, too, these writers(and a fair number of readers who may know more than “average” about whatever historical period the novel is set in), want what they feel is consistency here.  They don’t want what they feel are “modern” attitudes seeping into their novels, and if this means using “old” place names, so be it.

And I can understand that, too.  I used to read a lot of romance novels, and got rather disgusted with the historical ones, when the writers would use out-of-period, or obviously made-up names that no one in that period of time would ever have used, or had things like castles in the wrong places or times(I actually started critiquing a historical novel that was set in a time when there weren’t essentially, any castles.  This woman appears to have had serious problems, because she got all upset when I mentioned this to her, and I never did find anything out about her novel.  I suppose you can credit my anthropology background for some of this sensitivity; names tend to “belong with” periods and “ethnic” groups.  Names make the people of such ethnic groups and/or time periods instantly recognizable as who or what they are. 

I also understand that many writers think that their readers want easy-to-swallow history lessons, because they fear history is not taught in their schools or in their country, particularly well.  In this, they are right, but I’m not sure that this kind of attention to detail is going to “teach”  the reader anything he or she really wants to know. If they really want to  learn about “what really happened”, there are libraries, and the interested reader will probably be interested enough to get such details about the period, on their own.  I did much of my own research this way: I knew a little bit about Neandertals before I started writing(they existed in the past), and nothing at all about earlier medieval England, except a vague blur of events.  I had enough sense to want to get it “right”.  At the same time, though, I did not want to burden any potential readers with a lot of  facts; rather, I wanted to give a flavor of the times, as accurately as possible, while at the same time telling an interesting, and hopefully compelling, story.  I hope some  potential readers will be interested enough to do their own research, and if they’re really dedicated, write their own novels.  That, I think, is the best any writer, even of a “hybrid” genre like mine, can do.

Which brings me to my dilemma.  Well, I guess it isn’t really a dilemma, at least not for me.  I don’t use “old” place names; I think the extra possible authenticity(and I have come to the conclusion that authenticity is as much in the mind of the writer as it is “factual”) is negated by the possible confusion to the reader – even if that confusion is, to some extent mitigated by a glossary or end notes of some kind.  So I use modern place names.  I also avoid expressions like “ere”, “nay” “mayhap”, etc. like the plague.  For me, these particular words may well have been used in “olden” times, but the problem is, the people living in “olden” times, sounded just as modern, to themselves, as we do now.  I am fairly sure that at least some of those who could read, might have found “olden” language used in their time, stilted and unnatural. 

By the same token, then, I use what I call “modern standard” English for dialogue(indicating when people are speaking some other language when necessary). No, I don’t use slang, though I do try to add “flavor” by using expressions that were probably used in that time period. I realize a  number of writers, and readers, would disagree with me here.  I also know that some very fine writers, who have immersed themselves in a particular period, are happy to use a “flavor” of “olde-timey” language, just the way some writers use, or think they can use, “dialect”(the number of people who try to imitate Scots is really unbelievable, and they never get anywhere close to the real thing). Yes, this may be less “authentic” in some ways, but I think it’s more important to suggest authenticity in other ways.  A writer can, for example, flavor their character’s thoughts about things by, for example, contrasting the common way of thinking about, say, Native Americans, in the 18th century, with their own, if their own attitudes happen to be different for any reason(maybe they were brought up in Quaker households, for example).  They can describe clothing and buildings in some detail.  They can, without overpowering the reader, describe what kinds of medical treatments were available.  And so on.  The astute reader will ”get the picture” if they’re alert enough.  And as I said earlier, if they’re really interested, they might read more about the period and the people of that period, especially if information is abundant.

In other words, my primary concern is, telling an interesting story, while keeping any historical side as accurate as possible. I’m not here to give a history lessen, especially in view of the fact that what I’m writing is kind of a hybrid(I call it “romantic science fiction set in medieval England” for lack of any other way of describing it).  As there is also “prehistoric” detail involved(which is a whole other area of research), I’ve “flavored” the book with that as well. But again, my purpose isn’t, per se, to give a lecture no the course of human evolution. If people are sufficiently interested, they will also do research on this, for themselves.  Therefore, I’ am not so “historically obsessed” as some, but I’m not going to lie about anything that “happened”; I’m going to get as much “right” as

possible, but that simply weaves in and out of the story I’m telling. 

Which, when push comes to shove, I am inviting comment here.  What do you think?  How accurate do you need to be in a situation like mine. Remember, that although I’m writing what I call “romantic science fiction set in medieval England”, I am most definitely not writing a romance, although there are some perfectly delightful romance writers out there, who write in “historical time”. I’m must writing “my” story.  And I try to pay attention to the historical side, without letting it overwhelm me.  So I will part by once again asking, what do you guys out there think?

Anne G

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Another Neandertal reconstruction

Well, actually, it’s a whole series of human evolutionary reconstructions, all of them quite good.  I have a lot of respect for John Gurche, the reconstructor. In this particular instance, he’s done a spectacularly good job of reconstruction.  And I stumbled across this piece via Julien Riel-Salvatore's "A Very Remote Period Indeed" So thanks, Julien Riel-Salvatore, for sharing this with us.

For those interested in the Neandertal, you can see the picture here:


Is there some archaeological evidence, somewhere, that Neanderguys wore ponytails?  Just wondering.  I should have thought they didn’t have messy hair.

Anne G

My computer is back, and working properly now

I’ve had a lot of problems, of one sort and another with this computer since December. First, I got a bunch of junk in it, and had to send it to the computer store.  Then my hard drive died in February.  Don’t even ask why it died.  It wasn’t that old.  Then, when that was fixed, I couldn’t access the Internet when I got home.  Why?  Well, I couldn’t exactly figure that out for a while, though I finally turned to a gadget that allowed me to access the Internet, and I was fine with that.  Only trouble was, it was a problem with the router, which was old and cranky, and it apparently died, which was bad for the other members of my household who use laptops and wireless.  Ugh, ugh, ugh, until the Family Computer Guru came along with a brand-new router which works fine, and we now all can get on the Internet when necessary. It’s too bad you have to both love and hate computers and their peripherals; everything is fine when they work, but when they don’t. . . .well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.  It didn’t affect my writing, though, as I continued to do that. It didn’t require Internet access.  But now I have a “funny” other thingie. . .

Anne G

Monday, March 1, 2010

Another fine novelist and blogger

This is the first of March,and I would like to make an announcement.  Which is to say, I’m adding another fine blog to my blog list.  It’s Sharon Kay Penman's blog.  She is a fine novelist who has written such works as The Devil’s Brood, her most recent work.  The other reason I’m adding it is, she writes fiction about medieval England.  Her works are mainly biographical fiction, which is not usually a genre or subgenre I read, but Ms. Penman is a definite exception, and I’ve enjoyed most of the things I’ve read from her.  I have certain disagreements with her about her style and approaches to certain things, but that’s not because I don’t consider her a good writer.  I do.  And besides, I haven’t blogged about any medieval stuff for a long time.  That needs to be rectified.  So thanks, Ms. Penman, for your blog.  I’ll be following it with great interest!

Anne G