Category Archives: Research notes
My Scrivener file for The Raven’s Wing is enormous. I’ve done so much research, spending a big gobbet of time making sure I get as many details right about 1322 as I can. One of the best things about research is the learning process itself, and this quest for accuracy is a lovely bunch of fun. How much do you know about the 14th century? No, nor did I until I began to write this book, but it’s an intriguing period. Did you know they didn’t have orange carrots yet?
I’ll pop a lot of the fascinating things that I’ve discovered into Author’s Notes at the back of the book, as usual, and you’ll perhaps be interested to learn that as with Fog, there will be a Raven’s Wing Special Edition. Think of this as the extended DVD version – the four-disc Lord Of The Rings type extended edition. It’ll be in hardback for a start, and will contain a lot more historical background information than the paperback.
There will also be “Deleted scenes” – chapters not in the paperback that cover events that happen ‘behind the scenes’ of the main plotline. There may also be a few versions of events written from a different character’s point of view.
Add to this the added graphics, medieval art, character sketches by Kit Cooper, maps, my drawings of locations – and perhaps, just perhaps, I’ll tell a backstory that cries out to be told; that of Moss, the one-eyed fire-dancer who hints at a secretive, violent past. FYI Moss is named for my author friend Sophie Moss. whom I’m pretty sure doesn’t have a shady past.
I only wish I could include a CD of all the songs that are scattered through the book (my hero is a minstrel after all), performed by me and Blondie, my uke. Perhaps I’ll post a series of YouTube videos. The book’ll be a few more months coming, but it’ll totally be worth it. It’s going to be FUN.
Oooh, research into medieval pies (shut up) has led me to this recipe for veal & cherry pie. I may be forced to bake one purely for research purposes. Think I’ll serve it with hot peascods.
“Chawettys.—Take buttys of Vele, & mynce hem smal, or Porke, & put on a potte; take Wyne, & caste þer-to pouder of Gyngere, Pepir, & Safroun, & Salt, & a lytel verþous, & do hem in a cofyn with ȝolkys of Eyroun, & kutte Datys & Roysonys of Coraunce, Clowys, Maceȝ, & þen ceuere þin cofyn, & lat it bake tyl it be y-now.”
After spending far too long being distracted by short fiction in all its forms, I have today finally re-immersed myself in my medieval saga of blood, of magic, and of music, The Raven’s Wing. A happy three hours this avvy reacquainted me with the intricacies of the plot and characters, aided in no small part by the remarkable writing software, Scrivener. Tucked away in the rather large research section was this little gem, which may or may not make it into the final story. I thought you might like it, though.
The holy breast milk of the Virgin Mary was an extremely popular relic in the middle ages. An entire church was built outside Bethlehem on a rock which had miraculously turned white after coming into contact with the Virgin’s milk as she breastfed Christ. Another legend says that St Bernard was praying before a statue of the Madonna when milk sprayed from its breast into his mouth. Many vials of “breast milk” began to appear all over Europe. The French theologian John Calvin said:
“Had the virgin been a cow her whole life she could never have produced such a quantity.”
I do enjoy researching the middle ages for ‘The Raven’s Wing’. It turns up delights like the Urine Wheel, used by medieval uromancers to analyse the look, smell & taste (yes, you heard) of a patient’s piss in order to ascertain their health and, in some cases, predict their future. You can bet that this will make an appearance in the book.
And then I discover that we can now buy Urine Wheel earrings. What a place of wonder is this modern world.
A few thoughts on recent writings. It turns out that leaping head first into writing a Western tale wasn’t as scary or as difficult as I thought. “Blood on the Ground” is scheduled to appear in an anthology of short stories before the year is out. Watch, as ever, this space. As usual when I begin a project, I researched the wiggins out of the subject (i.e. I searched the internet for ‘Cowboy slang’)*. Here are some of the more striking ones I found, some of which wormed their way into the story.
She’s a real lady of the line (prostitute).
He’s “airing the paunch”. (vomiting)
Never miss a good chance to shut up.
He’s all hat and no cattle.
Hot as a Whorehouse on Nickel Night.
Ugly as a Mud Fence.
She’s wearing the bustle wrong (pregnant).
He don’t know dung from wild honey.
If all his brains were dynamite, there wouldn’t be enough to blow his nose.
His moustache smelled like a mildewed saddle blanket after it had been rid on a soreback hoss three hundred miles in August.
That last one’s a bit specific, admittedly, but it gave me a smirk.
*You know how Google has become a verb – “I googled it”? What do those of us who use DuckDuckGo say? I duckduckgoed it, or I duckduckwent it?
Here’s another snippet of life in the 14th century, discovered during research for 1322. The physician John Mirfield wrote a handbook of cures, and as a cure for scrofula he advises the drinking of women’s milk, sucked directly from the breast. If a willing donor is not available, then the milk of an ass or goat sucked from the udder itself may suffice.
In addition, sufferers should take a medicinal bath prepared as follows: “take blind puppies, remove the viscera and cut off the extremities, then boil them in water and bathe in the water four hours after you have eaten, keeping all the while your head covered and chest wrapped in the skin of a small goat as a preservation against a sudden chill”
He also, like many other doctors of the time, relied heavily on astrology and numerology. A quick way of diagnosing the seriousness of an illness is, according to John, to “take the name of the patient, then the name of the messenger and also the day that he/she came to tell the doctor about the condition of the patient. Count all the letters together and if you have an even number the patient will die, if the number is odd the patient will recover.”
Thank God for the NHS.
I think you’ll like this. The Nothing Song was written in the 12th century, by the gloriously randy Duke William IX of Aquitaine, Eleanor of Aquitaine’s grandad. According to William of Malmesbury he ‘roved the world, bent on the seduction of women’ and had an insatiable thirst for sensual passion and adventure. He once planned to establish a convent of prostitutes.
While married to his second wife, Phillippa, William was excommunicated for “abducting” the beautuiful Viscountess Dangerosa (great name, eh?) from her bedchamber. The lady, however, appears to have been a willing party in the matter. He installed her in his castle in Poitiers and even painted a picture of her on his shield, saying it was his will “to bear her in battle as she had borne me in bed”.
Phillippa was understandably pissed off to discover another woman living in her palace, and retired to the Abbey of Fontevrault, where (in a twist you you would decry in a novel) she was befriended by Ermengarde of Anjou, William’s first wife. Anyway, here’s his song about nothing at all. And yes, I am using it in 1322, my current work-in-progress.
I made this verse on sweet F.A.
There is no person to portray
No talk of love or youth at play—
Nothing, of course.
Composed while sleeping yesterday,
Sat on my horse.