Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Swearing and sex, medieval style

The blog Historical Boys has a nice guest entry from Jeri Westerson. She also has a blog called Getting Medieval. Both of these are on my blogroll. The entry concerns medieval "swear words", which were quite different from "swear words" nowadays. "S-words" and "f-words" would simply have described bodily functions or bodily activity, I don't have much to add to this, except that in Anglo-Saxon times, calling someone a "nithing" was considered an insult --- though it wasn't a "swear word". "Nithing" was an insult because it implied that the person so named had done something so horrible that he was basically outside society. On the other hand, people in medieval times probably would not understand what all the fuss with some hip-hop artists is all about. And on still another note, Nan Hawthorne has some "cautionary tales" about medieval attitudes toward sex. She correctly points out that the manuals directed at couples, were written by monks, therefore not precisely objective. Again, I don't have a whole lot to add here, other than that the advice in these manuals apparently varied, depending on the monks who wrote them. Some of them apparently felt that, while sex was a duty for procreation only, enjoyment could be mixed with "duty" since "enjoyment" was, according to these monks, more likely to produce children. I suppose what they actually observed was, that if the couple truly enjoyed each other's company, they were more likely to spend the right sort of time in each other's company, that would insure that children were produced! Still, even if they came up with the right answer for the wrong reasons, it definitely suggests that medieval people were not the mealy-mouthed puritans some of us imagine today.
Anne G

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Historically real, or not?

On one of the e-mail lists I inhabit from time to time, an interesting discussion has been going on. It concerns the question of whether one prefers historical fiction with real historical persons as central characters, or whether one prefers historical fiction with fictional characters.

Let me say at the outset, that I prefer the latter. I've tried to read several fictional biographies over the last few years, and frankly, I haven't found them all that interesting. Why? Because, especially if the central character is well-known, the plot is, in essence, predictable! Margaret George's Autobiography of Henry VIII comes to mind here. I never finished it, although Margaret George is an excellent writer, and many people like her material. But really, how many books can people write about Henry VIII without "saying it all over again"? Some writers can pull this off, especially if they are dealing with people and times that aren't so well known. This is one reason why I like the earlier Middle Ages --- there were plenty of interesting real people around then, but often you have little to really "go on" about them.

To go a little further here, the debate came down to whether or not people preferred to

write about real people in real historical situations, or fictional characters who participated in some historical event. It turned out(though I wasn't terribly surprised, in one sense, that some writers consider writing about real people "easier", because they don't have do so much story plotting. Well, that depends. These writers often seem to feel that you can "invent" their emotions, and it's enough trouble trying to "get at" the historical person's actual character or personality, and let the history take care of the plot. I guess that's fine if you want to do character studies, but that is not enough to a novel make, as they say.

This doesn't mean interesting work can't be done about real people in real historical situations. Another of the debaters on this list, is writing a book about a real person who I think I've heard of, but is basically very obscure, yet apparently led a very interesting life. I am sure the writer of this novel did the best he could to learn as much as he could about the period in which the person lived, and tried to be as accurate about the accounts of that peson, as he could. But the author is dealing with "obscurity" and probably had to do a lot of inventing. This often works.

What doesn't work, for me, at least, is taking a very well-known character, and writing yet another fictional biography about him or her. As I said, try as these authors might, their lives are too well-known to be anything but predictable. And that "turns me off".

I much prefer something like Patricia Finney's TheFiredrake's Eye, which takes place in Elizabetghan England, but the majority of characters are products of Ms. Finney's imagination, working their way through very real historical events and processes. This makes for compelling reading if done right, and, if done right, may stimulate reader to learn more about whatgever period the author is writing about(though I myself am not a big fan of Tudor or Elizabethan; there's just too much of it).

And, I might modestly mention that my own work is, of course, in the latter category, though it is built around some very real medieval events. Some of the real people are well-known, but one of the characters, whose activities the story is basically built around, is historical but decidedly obscure. And two of the really central characters aredefinitely products of my doubtless overworked imagination! I've had a lot of fun digging out "historical nuggets" from a variety of sources, though, and even more fun putting them together ito my Great Medieval Science Fi ction Masterpiece(or should I call it "romantic science fiction"?). In any case, I continue to take the advice or writers who have gone before me, and read, read, read, everything I can get my hands on, not all of which is historical fiction, but is always valuable.
Anne G

Enough, for now

I'm going to try to refrain from blogging anything more about Neandertals for the next little while. First, I have a lot of writing to do. Second, I suspect some people are bored to death with this. Finally, there is so much going on, that I'm going to have to try to integrate, that it's going to take some time to do that. And so,it's back to writing
Anne G

Monday, September 22, 2008

Neandertals liked their variety -- or at least the ones in Gibraltar did!

It would seem that Neandertals, at least the ones living around Gibraltar(who were also among the last of them) liked their food variety. At least there seems to be evidence that they liked to eat marine mammals when available. Previously, it seems, a lot of people thought they ate nothing but meat, meat, meat, from woolly mammoths or some other four-footed land creature. Here, though, they apparently even ate mussels, and they weren't raw, either.

John Hawks(You have to scroll down a bit to get to his comments, though) has a commentary on the original paper, which went into considerable detail about the Gibraltar Neandertal diet.

About all I can say to this is, every time someobody comes up with a theory as to why "modern" humans are here and Neandertals aren't, a discovery like this comes along to confound people. We really don't know why Neandertals aren't around any more. IMO, the reason probably has a lot to do with their rather small and scattered population, But I'm only a Starving Writer, not a scientist, so I know no more than anyone else.
Anne G

Sunday, September 14, 2008

More thoughts about this blog

It's been a little over a year since I started this blog. Okay, I said that already, in another post, which you can read here That was "anniversary musings", and it was more about Neandertals than about writing. Which brings me to the central point of this little essay.

I write a lot about Neandertals: the latest discoveries in the news and what they seem to imply, any studies I can get my hands on, and my thoughts on them, and the musings of other writers on Neandertals, where appropriate. For example, see my thoughts on a recent Robert Sawyer essay(there are links to that piece). I do this because Neandertals, and some of my ideas on them, are a central element, and implicitly embedded in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals. Even the setting in medieval England is used, as there are mentions of places like Boxgrove.

Less frequently, I write about medieval subjects. I say, "less frequently", simply because medieval-themed material of the kind I'm interested in, doesn't get into the public venue(at least not in the US) with anything like the frequency news Neandertals does. "Neandernews" isn't all that frequent, but when it comes out, I usually get it rather quickly. I have some ideas about medieval-themed stuff, too, but it's as much to correct misimpressions that people then lived in a dark and ignorant age. They didn't, but that's another story for another time.

This dichotomy of subject matter has produced interesting results. I get a fair number of comments(yay!), but they come from two quite different groups. One group seems to be intereste in historical novels, and the other group seems to be interested in prehistoric humans. That's all fine and good, and believe me, I've had some interesting conversations with members of both groups. But there is
absolutely no crossover interest! I realize that people interested in medieval things and people interested in prehistoric things are basically two different groups, but surely I'm not the only prson in the universe, so to speak, who has interests in two divergent topics and am trying to combine them in writing or some other venue? But then again, maybe I am.

This has been an interesting revelation to me, and perhaps a litle bit saddening, but on the other hand, if I'm out there by myself, I'll start a movement. Or maybe not. In any case, I look forward to another year of blogs and comments on them, where appropriate. And regardless of interest, all are welcome to comment.
Anne G

A lesson learned

Because I'm still waiting for the Family Computer Guru to help me transfer my files from my old computer to my new one, I had a little problem. Or rather, I have one. I can't print out whatever I'm working on, and revise it from there. So what I had to do was, turn on my old computer at the same time I had my new one on, and copy the old chapter exactly. I knoew I had to revise it, but I had no idea, until I actually copied the whole thing down, how much I've learned about the writing process since I started writing this Invaders trilogy! I'm still learning, but I think my writing has improved derasticly, and I have less trouble cutting out a lot of the fat, e.g. tightening chapters and concepts into something workable. I saw where I could chop out a lot of "ands" "buts", "he said/she said" stuff, to make it tighter and move more smoothly.

But there was another problem which I didn't have at the time I first started writing this. One of the characters, called Mat, was originally a rather minor one. And one character who was definitely secondary, didn't "jell" at all, so I cut m out in this, the second draft. Mat became so important that though he's a secondary charactefr in this set of books, he will have his own story whenever I get through with this one. That will be a prequel. So I will have to make some adjustments, because the revisions so far have found Mat(originally, one character went looking for him). This is important to the development of the story, as I've found out some intriguing and suggestive possible information about one of the historical characters that will probably alter parts of the 'story arc"(though not by much; it will all come out the same in the end)

The point is, unless the writer has an extremely clear idea of where the story is going, and how it's going to get there, and plots every chapter and scene in tremendous detail --- and there are writers who do this --- changes of one kind or another are inevitable. Even those writers who spend a lot of time "plotting out" their work(as mystery writers and some historical writers have to do), will find inevitable changes. It's startling, and sometimes disturbing to a writer, that this process almost inevitably happens , even if the writer has been writing for a long time.

On the other hand, all this means is, that creating a work is also a wondrous thing. You never really know what changes lie around the bend. I have a much clearer idea about some of my characters, major and minor, than I did before I started this. And I'm not sad about it, though sometimes the process itself is difficult. But it was a real "learning experience" to go through this and see exactly what I wrote. I would never have seen this, had I been able o simply print out the old chapter and then correct it.

Every writer should go through this experience.
Anne G

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Real writing, some good advice

Cute Writing(don't ask me why the title), is a writer's blog. And it's a good one. Today, it has some really good advice to writers. It's good, because of the questions she asks of potential writers:

For example: Why are you writing?

How do you picture yourself once you've published your first novel? Are you still picturing yourself writing?

What kind of writing are you doing, and why?

What kind of audience are you looking for?

Finally, she reiterates something I've heard over and over from other writers: Don't try to write like the latest bestselling author! It just won't work, and if you do, you have less chance of selling your work, than if you follow your own writing passion.

I don't feel very confident about my own chances of selling my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, but OTOH, I feel it's important enough for a variety of reasons I won't go into here, to keep on writing it, and hoping I can interest somebody, somewhere, in it, enough so that it can be published! That's really all any writer can hope for.
Anne G

Monday, September 8, 2008

Two items on two of (my writing) fronts!

I got a good "double whammy" today. One is from Elizabeth Chadwick, one of my favorite writers, whose own work has helped me gain the courage to write my own Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece. But there's another part --- the "With Neandertals" part. And that's where the "double whammy" comes in. Because it now seems, according to a study published in a prestigious journal today, Neandertal brains(or at least their heads), grew pretty much the same way ours did and do. Which suggests a similar growth rate pattern, and not a "primitive" one at all.

This is important, because one of the salient themes --- though implied --- is that the "moderns" of the medieval time period in which theNow Neandertals end up operation, don't really "recognize" most of the differences between Neandertals and ourselves, that seem so "obvious" to people nowadays. They do recognize that there's something "different" about them, but it's not what many people nowadays would think it is, and they interpret that quite, well, differently. The "brain study" only reinforces my own beliefs that, whatever differences between "them", and "us" there were, they were actually rather subtle, and may or may not have contributed to their eventual demise(bear in mind that there were never very many of them to betin with).

Now, to Elizabeth Chadwick: She's apparently writing abook about Mahelt Marshal, the daughter of the much more famous William Marshal. Interesting project, that, since she admits that almost nothing is known about her, other than that she was Marshal of England for a while --- in the later 13th century! MosMipeople think that the Middle Ages was "a man's world", with knights riding off to do whatever they did and fair ladies just waiting around. . . .well it was "a man's world" in some ways, but that doesn't mean the fair ladies just waited around. They could be, and sometimes were, just as active in their own way, as their men. Of course, women didn't have the choices women do today, but heck, most men didn't have all that much choice either, at least not in the 13th century. Life tended to follow expected patterns, and most people "complied", at least to the extent that they had to: they followed in the footsteps of whatever status their parents had, they got married and had children, inherited lands if they were of the nobility, But even here, some men and women made their mark. William Marshal certainly did, and benefited. So, apparently --- at least according to Elizabeth Chadwick, did some women. I am really looking forward to seeing what she does with Mahelt Marshal. I'd really like to see her write more about strong women in a historical context. And maybe my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals will complement her efforts in various ways!
Anne G

Friday, September 5, 2008

Finally, at long last, peace and quiet!

At last, at last! I finally get to blog again. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever have time. My computer works, my printer works, and all I have to do now is get my old files tnsferred to my new ocmputer. I'm left with a pile of critiques and a chapter to upload to an online critique group, which will keep me busy for a while, but I'll stop in and keep everyone informed of my progress. Maybe I'll drop a few lines about some advice I've gotten recently, and how that meshes with my own writing experience, too. As they used to say, "the beat goes on"!
Anne G