I am working on a project at the moment to improve my understanding of the beliefs towards magic in the Middle Ages – specifically fourteenth century England, where I set much of my historical fantasy. I would like to know more about what people of this time thought about magic.
One of my first stops is to look at some of the references to magic in the literature of the time – so where better to start than the best known writer of the time, Geoffrey Chaucer.
I am going to look in more depth in this series of blog posts at each
example, but I am starting here with a quick summary of the instances I have found so far in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
How am I defining references to magic? I am not including stories set in antiquity where pagan gods intervene on behalf of the characters, such as the Knight’s Tale where Saturn causes the death of Arcite. Neither am I including purely supernatural interventions of the devil – such as the Pardoner’s Tale. If someone summons a demon that’s fine, but I don’t think there’s actual magic in the Pardoner’s Tale.
Here are the tales that I have found so far with major examples of magic in their narratives:
Canon Yeoman’s Tale
The Canon Yeoman actually assists his own master in the practice of alchemy and the whole of his tale focuses on that magical art in quite a lot of detail. I’m looking forward to digging into this one in more depth as it should reveal quite a bit about the practice of alchemy in fourteenth century England.
Wife of Bath’s Tale
A man is fooled into thinking he is about to meet 24 maidens, but they magically disappear to be replaced by an old hag – a witch effectively.
On the way to extort money from a widow, the Summoner encounters a yeoman who is apparently down on his luck. The two men swear brotherhood to each other and exchange the secrets of their respective trades, the Summoner recounting his various sins in a boastful manner. The yeoman reveals that he is actually a demon, to which the Summoner expresses minimal surprise—he enquires as to various aspects of hell and the forms that demons take.
This could be a bit like the Pardoner’s Tale, but I’m including as the medieval practice of necromancy involved the summoning of demons.
This tale includes a number of magical items such as a brass steed that can teleport, a mirror that can detect enemies and friends, a ring that allows the wearer to talk to birds and a sword that deals and heals deadly wounds. Also the tale includes a digression on astrology.
Aurelius needs to remove all the rocks on the coast of Brittany in order to win the hand of a lady. He does this by employing a magician.
I am planning to do a blog post for each of the examples above to look into the portrayal of magic in more depth.
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If you don’t play this rather niche PC conversion of a tabletop wargame, then please look away now! I do and I love it. Always have liked wargaming since I was a kid and Field of Glory Digital hits all the right buttons for me. I was a bit doubtful at first because of the hex layout, but I have fallen in love with it now.
I took part in one of the Field of Glory leagues recently, and have just been invited to take part in another one. Last time I had a late Roman army – lots of cataphracts and horse archers alongside doughty legions. I got whipped pretty much – only winning 1 or 2 games out of 10!
Undeterred, this time round I’m thinking of trying my hand at the High Medieval league. I’m thinking of going for a Spanish army – such as the Castilians or Aragonese. What attracts me is the mix of unusual troop types – such as light cavalry jinetes, alongside more traditional knights, spearmen and crossbows. I have been doing some test battles recently – trying to fend off Swiss and Low Country pike armies to see how the proposed Castilian army matches up. With these Field of Glory leagues it seems that you really have to know how to use your army effectively – the AI is quite good, but can usually be beaten, so I’m doing some test runs at the moment to see how well I can do with my medieval horde plus jinetes before committing my choice of armies to the league.
I am also tempted though to play the masochist and try out a French army – you know the ones who kept on getting beaten up by the English. More on this soon!
What I enjoy most about Mark Lord’s writing is that he manages to convey a sense of period without knocking the reader over the head with detail. His settings feel authentic without being manufactured. The dialogue of his characters is perfectly readable and feels natural, as do their actions.
Click here to read the whole review. And to check out Hell has its Demons go here!
I think that I may have a problem as a writer. Hopefully not in the quality of what I do, but in the choice of one of the genres that I like to write in. I do write mostly historical or fantasy fiction, and quite often what I enjoy most is to write historical fantasy. However, I think there’s a problem with that.
The problem is that Historical Fantasy (note switch to capital letters – to provide some more gravitas) is a slippery genre to define. If you check out the listings at online retailers or on places like Goodreads – or reader discussions online – then you realise that Historical Fantasy means different things to different people – and don’t get me started on Wikipedia.
The issue is that my definition, I believe, doesn’t match with that of some others. For me Historical Fantasy should be a piece of fiction actually taking place in an historical setting. So for instance, for my Hell has its Demons story, the setting is Fourteenth Century England. I then add in fantastical elements – basically demons and magic in my story are real.
Yet it seems for other people – and for those genre listings on online retailers particularly – the genre is in fact anything that has a vague historical tinge to it. So you get books by Tad Williams, G R R Martin, Brent Weeks, Michael J Sullivan and Joe Abercrombrie all appearing. If you then look at the sub-genre of Medieval Fantasy – which I think I’m writing in, then you get pretty much the whole Epic Fantasy genre. I just can’t understand how those books muscle into my ghetto and claim historical/medieval definitions!
But another issue with the genre, even if you take a stricter view of it, is that it is a bit of a mash-up. There’s no Historical Fantasy section in traditional bookshops or libraries. There’s actually not that many well known authors/books in the genre. I would say a handful really still writing – Gabaldon, Novik. Susanna Clarke – who wrote what I would say is the defining book of recent Historical Fiction – doesn’t seem to be producing anything new at all, which is a great shame.
So in a sense I am writing in a genre without much of a real fan base. But hey, maybe that’s a good thing! I think there is a desire for this kind of fiction, and it would be great to see it better defined and promoted by the big retailers – kick out the second-world fantasy that includes armour and swords please!
First look at chapter 6 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.
Other chapters from Stonehearted Volume 2 can be found by clicking here.
She knew that she probably only had a few days before someone would come looking for her. Word would spread that the daughter of Sir Henry d’Aubray had run away, and that word would be carried around England and taken overseas on ships from the Eastern ports, and end up in Calais soon enough. Calais being just an extension of the English kingdom.
But that suited her. If she could spend as little time as possible in the garrison port that would not disappoint her.
“How much?” she had said, startled, when she enquired the price of a room at one of the many inns in the town. The rates were double the amount one would pay in Lynn, and seemed higher than London even.
The tight-lipped Madam of the inn with whom she spoke merely crossed her arms and shrugged. “C’est le prix, à prendre ou à laisser.” That’s the price, take it or leave it.
Eolande had left it, hoping that other inns would be cheaper. Down the long street through Calais she walked. Carts of wool trundled past her, kicking up clouds of dust as they went, on their way to the Staple warehouses to be weighed and taxed by English customs officials, having been off-loaded from ships that morning. It was afternoon now, and she wanted to find somewhere soon so she could start asking around after her father. There were plenty of soldiers here who might have served with him on campaign or garrison duty.
But she didn’t like the way that she was leered at as she walked. There were too many men here. Many more men than women. The soldiers of the garrison accounted it seemed for half the male population, every other man she saw wore mail, carried some sort of weapon and had the badge of St. George on their clothing somewhere. And many of the others were sailors or traders from England linked to the wool trade who’s only legal export was through the port of Calais.
Each man who walked or rode past her looked at her. She tried to keep her eyes on the path in front of her, and sometimes looked up at the signs to see if there was another inn. But she could still hear their shouts and whistles. “Just a kiss, love. Heh, Beauty, I’m in love!” And worse than that, words that she didn’t even know.
None of the inns were any cheaper. Some of the prices were going up even. She was near the castle and the town hall and the larger houses of the town merchants. This was no good, she wouldn’t find a cheap room here.
Two women passed her. That was unusual. She had seen some women walking the streets. Servants, wives of shop-keepers on errands, women selling food and pies from stalls in the streets. Most of them middle-aged, older craggy or saggy faced women. Not young. Not enough to draw the attention of the soldiers and sailors.
But these two who had walked past her were young, probably about her own age. They walked fast, their heads were covered like hers and they wore plain woollen clothes, but as they went on Eolande’s nostrils caught the smell of roses. These young women were wearing perfume. She turned and watched where they went. They turned down an alley. Eolande followed.
They walked perhaps half way along and then knocked at a door. After a few seconds the door was opened and they entered. Before the door swung shut again, Eolande could hear music and laughter spill out from within. And then all was quiet again. She walked on and approached the door. There were windows on either side of the door, both shuttered, but slivers of orange light seeped out between the cracks in the wood. Eolande gazed at the door. She tried to make out what kind of house this was. Who lived here? The women had looked modest enough. Were they craft-workers? Perhaps this was an artisan’s workshop? But the music?
Then she spotted it. It was right before her, carved all over the wood of the door, and now she realised on the wooden shutters as well. A goose in elaborate and finely worked carving deep in the wood. It had covered such a large area that she hadn’t spotted it at first. Without thinking she took a step back and fingered the ring on her finger that acted as pretend wedding band. She’d never seen such a place, but she knew they existed. There were some in Lynn, she thought, and in London the whole of Southwark was full of stews owned by the Bishop of Winchester. The Bishop’s Geese they called the whores there. Such a place was not illegal, but the good burghers of any town would not want a brothel on their doorstep, so in London they were away from the city across the great river, and in Lynn and here, the establishment was hidden away, disguised, but less than a bowshot away from the respectability of the richest in the town.
She looked up and down the alley. There was no one else about at this time. No doubt in the evening when men had more drink in them they would be coming in groups to take their pleasure here. There would probably be some of the same type of men who’d been leering at her on the street inside now, unable to control their lusts and with spare coin to pay for their relief. The thought made her heart pound. These men would be soldiers. Perhaps some of them were back from campaign or raiding and might have heard word of her father. Where else would they be more at ease and perhaps willing to talk than when their trousers were round their legs and their pathetic member would lead them to do anything.
Eolande slipped the ring off her finger and put it in her bag. She pulled her shoulders back and pushed up her bosom, held in her stomach, practiced a smile and knocked on the door.
If you want to read the first volume of Stonehearted, By the Sword’s Edge, then click here.
It happens to all writers, I am sure, but for a beginning writer like me it’s probably the main problem I face. I get into a project, start off with enthusiasm, but then at some stage I hit a wall. It tends not to be a “Writer’s Block”, whatever that means, but more a waning of enthusiasm, or a feeling that I would rather be writing about something else. Perhaps I should ditch what I am currently writing and start on another project that might be more interesting?
I think the problem here is just being able to stick at something for the long haul and not give up. Even if you feel like what you are writing is not the best thing ever, it is probably going to help you more as a writer to actually finish the damn thing rather than to stop a third or half of the way through. After all you can always go back and revise your first draft.
So how can you keep motivated and kick start your writing project again. Here’s a few ideas:
Remember Heinlein’s Rules – #2 of which is to Finish What You Start. A professional writer finishes stuff and then makes it better afterwards.
Revise your outline for the rest of the book – if you’re an outliner. Perhaps the reason that you are losing enthusiasm is that what you have to write doesn’t excite you any more. Freshen up the plot and get back your enthusiasm.
If you’re a pantser then consider getting an outline to see you through to the end. This is my problem when writing without an outline – the initial part of the book goes well but then I have no idea where it is going and I despair. A brief outline can provide motivation by giving you a possible ending. You can always change it as you write and come up with better ideas – in true pantsing style!
Read what you have already written. You might find that its not half bad and it will also give you a reminder of why you started writing it in the first place.
Keep putting words down and don’t switch your focus to something else. Your new baby will suddenly take all your attention and you’ll end up where you started from.
I think that writing every day is one of the best ways to stay motivated if you are a writer. But that’s a hard thing to do and the demand to write every day could weigh you down.
Here’s five tips that I find useful for making sure you do write every day:
Have a regular writing time. In the morning is great because then you know you have definitely done some writing during the day. You can always do a bit more writing later if you have time. If you just can’t write in the morning then choose another time when you won’t have too many distractions.
Remember that you write because you enjoy it.Dean Wesley Smith has an excellent post about this – we write because we enjoy don’t we? So try not to forget that and have fun with it. Don’t think of it as a chore – although some days it may feel like it!
Don’t worry about what you actually write.Neil Gaiman says that he thinks of everything he writes as a really rough draft so he just gets on and puts the words down without worrying too much about them. If you’re not stressed about quality the words will
come easier and you’ll end up being able to start writing and write more.
Don’t take time off for the holidays! Just because its the weekend, you’re travelling etc doesn’t mean you can’t spend twenty minutes or more doing a little writing. Learn to write in a notebook, tablet or even a smartphone. Don’t break the habit. Once you do you may lose track of the story you’re telling or forget how much you enjoy writing.
Don’t despair you miss a day! It happens. You get ill or there’s a crisis. Just try to write again as soon as you can, even if it’s just a few words so that you get back into the habit.
Hope these tips help someone – I’m always trying to remember them myself!
I write fiction. I am not a bestselling author. My work is mostly self-published at the moment and the work I have available sells modest amounts. I write because I love writing, but also because I would like my work to be read by others and I would like to be successful. So I am probably like many other writers starting out on a career in writing. I have had some good feedback and reviews, which is nice, but I also feel that I could reach more people with my work.
How do you stay motivated when success and fulfillment as a writer seems a long way off?
I am not going to offer a secret bullet, a magic cure, but there are some strategies that you can employ to keep yourself going – which I need to keep myself going. Here’s some ideas that are working for me at the moment:
Write Every Day
This really is important, I think. Like anything – exercise, brushing your teeth etc – if you do something on a daily basis it becomes habit forming. If writing becomes something you do every day then you will keep doing no matter how you feel your career is going. You could choose a certain time of day, but it could just be squeezed in during the day in an odd moment in the same way you might check out Twitter for ten minutes!
Keep Going With Projects
What I mean here is don’t give up on stuff just because you’re having a few bad days with writing it and you think its no good. Sometimes you can be writing good stuff and its still a real struggle. You can always take the attitude (used by Neil Gaiman no less) that whatever you write is just a really rough first draft and therefore doesn’t matter – you can always go back and fix it. If there seems to be something fundamentally flawed in what you’re writing then yes maybe stop, but if you can think of a way to rewrite it so that it is what you want to write.
Multitask Writing Projects
This is something that works for me, but may not work for others and I know goes against some other writing advice out there. I know from experience that I get pretty distracted if I’m writing a novel or other long piece of writing. I am also keen to write short stories and develop that part of my career, so instead of trying to fit those in between novel-length projects, I actually write novels and short stories concurrently. I always prioritize the novel-length work, but if I have a second writing session available in a day then I will use that to do some short story writing. I find that it keeps me fresh and also gives me the satisfaction of finishing a piece of fiction every week or two, which I can then send out to editors.
Don’t Worry About Sales and Promotion or Rejection
This is the one that is really difficult to come to terms with as a newbie writer – and after nine years trying to write I still class myself as a newbie! It can feel like you put a lot of effort into writing with very little gain either financially or from praise of readers or editors. The best way to handle that I think is to remember that you are just learning still. I haven’t written a million words of fiction, but I will do one day if I keep writing every day. And I know that I will get better and that the small number of readers who like my work will start to grow and then hopefully my career will begin to grow too.
Cherish the Positive Feedback
When you’re feeling bad go back and read the good reviews or comments you have – don’t use them as an excuse to ignore criticism, but do remind yourself that you have skills and talent as a writer that you can develop and that readers enjoy. Build on that. Spread the love!
First look at chapter 5 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.
Other chapters from Stonehearted Volume 2 can be found by clicking here.
It looked so easy. No more than fifty French men-at-arms lined up on foot on a flat field in front of a wood, their horses tethered by a lone tree to their right flank with servants holding the skittish mounts. To the French left flank ran the road that the English vanguard had hoped would take them to the gates of Paris.
“I don’t like it,” said Knolles. “We’ll ignore them and go south away from the wood.”
“Across open farmland?” said Minsterworth. “That’s going to take us a lot longer. All day for the carts if there’s hedges and ditches. We could sweep them aside in a few winks of an eye. We have two hundred men-at-arms, and the same number of archers. On the blood of the holy virgin, a flight of two hundred arrows would scatter them!”
Richard was a few paces back from where the two English captains stood looking at the French force. The rest of the vanguard was in a column of march, dismounted however, along the road they had travelled from Amiens. Knolles and Minsterworth were staring across the wheat field, shielding their eyes against the powerful August sun. Richard hadn’t noticed the heat, but when Minsterworth blasphemed he felt he skin prickle with what felt like fire. God was telling him that he was angry. He crossed himself to ward off the evil of his master’s words.
Knolles turned to Minsterworth and smiled. “Well, sir, if you want to take men of your own retinue from the vanguard and try your luck against them then that is your concern, but I am taking the army away to the south.”
“And split the army?” Minsterworth replied. “Would you leave us behind?”
“Yes, if you disobey my commands for the purpose of seeking your own glory.”
Minsterworth turned to Richard. “How many men of my retinue are here? If you don’t know then ask that damned cur, Hugh, to count the bastards.”
“I know the number, sir,” Richard replied. “Twenty men-at-arms, and thirty mounted archers.” He crossed himself again to ward off the evil of Minsterworth’s continual swearing.
Minsterworth didn’t notice and swung on his heel and looked again at the French forces where they were positioned.
“Richard,” said Knolles smiling not unkindly at the young man, “you have served your master well, and if he neglects to then I thank you for informing him that the odds are in perfect balance.”
“You know that’s not true,” said Minsterworth, a piece of spit flying from his mouth. “You wouldn’t take them! The odds are never equal if one force is in a prepared defensive position. You wouldn’t take odds of eight to one. I know you, you’re no gambling man. Ever!”
“But you are,” chided Knolles. “You want this campaign to give you glory and wealth. You think because the king named you co-captain with I and the others, that means that you command. Then if that is the case take on that duty, but you will not waste my men and those of the other captains on it.”
“They would take the bet as well,” said Minsterworth. “If they were here, they would charge without hesitation at the enemy and run them down in seconds. The truth is it’s you who are getting in the way. We all command this army and will not suffer from your tyranny any longer.”
Knolles looked unconcerned by Minsterworth’s outburst, but Richard noticed that he was now gripping the pommel of his sword in case. “When the army arrives at Paris then we can discuss this with all the captains, but until then I rule. You can’t run an army like a republic.”
Richard nodded his head in agreement to that, and Minsterworth stared at him. “Do you want to say something? Or would you rather go and go and polish my armour?”
Knolles smiled. “The boy is bright, let him speak. It seems that he is even wiser for his years than I thought.”
Richard bowed his head swiftly to the old captain’s praise, and replied. “My lord, thank you for letting me speak. I just could not help but agree with your words explaining the nature of things to my master, Sir John.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” spat Minsterworth, “this whelp should be back in his grammar school!”
“Go on,” said Knolles to Richard.
“God, our Father, does not share his dominion with any others, but rules heaven like a king. So on earth it is natural for men to be ruled by a king in imitation of the pattern set by our Creator.”
Knolles nodded. “You see, John, I was right and this boy’s lesson proved it.”
Minsterworth shook his head. Both captains smiled, and Richard knew that they shared a moment of mockery at his words.
“I am glad that you are able to see the way of God’s will, my lord,” said Richard to Knolles. “It pains me that my master here is an ungodly man, and takes the name of Christ and the Holy Virgin in vain. I will pray for him, and trust in God’s judgment for his soul.”
Both captains were struggling to hold back their laughter.
“Yet I believe it is God’s will that we fight the French wherever we find them. King Edward is by right of God the King of France, and these men stand in the way of God’s will. They must be set right, and if needs must the sword will show them the truth.”
“It looks like you have found a paladin to lead your charge, John,” said Knolles.
“He’ll be out there on his own.”
Richard took a step forward and gripped Minsterworth by the shoulder. “You’re wrong. There are many others in the army who feel the same as I. They will do God’s will.”
Minsterworth shrugged off Richard’s hand as if it were poisonous. “I told you to stop that damn preaching.”
Knolles though came closer to Richard and took his hand in both of his. “How many of the vanguard behind us would follow you, young man.”
“None!” laughed Minsterworth.
“Hundreds gathered in the camp to hear me speak before you banned it, perhaps a hundred of the men here would follow me if God is willing.”
Knolles nodded. “Let this be a trial for you then Richard. If you lead well and win, then you can command men in my army.”
“He’s my man,” said Minsterworth.
“We will see about that,” replied Knolles. “Now go, Richard. Select your men for the attack.”
Richard left the two captains.
“If you raise this boy up then I want compensation,” said Minsterworth.
“You will have it,” said Knolles. “I know how your mind works. I have an instinct about this one. He’s different.”
“He’s burdened with guilt for killing his brother. All he desires is to do penance through death. Probably his own soon enough.”
“There’s something more to it than that, John. This boy has turned. The Stones are no more God-fearing than you or I, but something has happened to this boy. It’s like a fire burns in his soul.”
“Fires burn themselves out.”
“But you can’t help watch them,” Knolles replied. “Tell me are you not going to join the attack? It was your idea.”
“You have chosen your commander for the assault, and besides I would prefer to watch the flames burn.”
If you want to read the first volume of Stonehearted, By the Sword’s Edge, then click here.