I promised Katherine a blog about medieval research, but I think I should begin with a confession. A few years ago, when I first stumbled across the period my novel is set in, I did it for the dress. A true girl at heart, it was what the ladies wore that first caught my attention. I just loved the sweeping lines of the gowns (which I now know are called bliauts) and the girdle slung low on the hips.
And while I am confessing, I may as well get the rest off my chest. The dress led me to this amazing King named Stephen of Blois. Up until this point, I’d never heard of him. Best of all, his reign was characterized by anarchy and barons pretty much doing what they wanted. Perfect, I thought. I won’t have to kill myself doing all that boring research because ‘hey, anything goes!’
But historical research is a trap. It sucks you in until you find yourself lost in a sea of insignificant minutiae that you can’t wait to share with the world.
Fortunately, my husband enjoys history and is always happy to listen to one of my ‘Did you knows …’
The challenge, at this point, is not to shove as much into your novel as you can and bore your reader rigid. It’s just all so darn fascinating.
One of the biggest challenges for me with this period (1153, I should mention) was language. Ladies didn’t witter away their daily musings in diaries. Men didn’t pen great oratory letters to each other. In fact, most people were barely able to read and write. It was only when Chaucer came along that we got our first hint at how people related to each other day by day. And he didn’t show up until almost 200 years after the setting for my novel.
My trusty companion through this has been my Oxford online dictionary. So much of what we have absorbed into common language, simply did not exist at this time. Or, even more interestingly, was not used in the manner we do today.
For such a hearty, earthy lot, they were woefully short of good swear words. “By the Rood”, which doesn’t mean at all what I thought it did and “God’s Wounds” are about as bad as it gets. You could call someone a whoreson, but even bastard lacked the shameful connotation it took on at a later point.
Did you know (uh huh, I went there) Women, quean (not a typo) and wife were synonyms in Old English, all meaning woman, but were masculine, feminine and neuter respectively. Today’s language has lost the grammatical gender. Old English also showed a remarkable capacity for making it up as they went along – medicine was leech-craft, arithmetic was number-craft and astronomy (you guessed it) star-craft.
With the Norman invasion came the French and their language. Henry Bollinbroke (1399-1413) was the first King of England who spoke English as his mother tongue. The bishops, however, were preaching to the common people in Old English or local dialects.
All this to say that we medieval scribes, in essence, make it up as we go along. There is no way to write authentically for this time period and anyone who has read Chaucer will know you need to translate as you go along.
The best I can do, is to take my Oxford dictionary, track the etymology of a word far enough back to make little appreciable difference. Some of the words I have used are only traced back to about the 1400’s. Because of the lack of written texts from this time, it is virtually impossible to say for sure that a word wasn’t used in speech just because it didn’t appear in writing until a certain date. I am sure there are linguists yelling at their screens right now and, for that, I apologize.
So, how do we do it? Like I said, track the word back as far as is reasonable. Try not to make any massive gaffes like talking about they way his tone electrified her into action and do a close approximation on the patterns of speech.
And beg the indulgence of our readers.
By the way, for those with gutter minds, like myself, by the rood is to swear by the wood of the cross.
My debut novel, The Bride Gift, is scheduled for release in Spring 2014 with Soul Mate Publishing. Drop by and see my some time.
1153, in the period dubbed ‘The Anarchy’, King Stephen and Empress Maud are not the only ones embroiled in a fierce battle of the sexes.
Determined to control her own destiny, wilful Helena of Lystanwold has chosen just the husband to suit her purposes. But, when her banished guardian uncle attempts to secure her future and climbs through her bedroom window with a new husband by a proxy marriage, she understandably balks. Notorious warrior Guy of Helston is everything Helena swore she would never marry; a man who lives by the sword, like the man who murdered her sister.
This marriage finally brings Guy close to his lifetime dream of gaining lands and a title. He is not about to let his feisty bride stand in his way. A master strategist, Guy sets out to woo and conquer his lady.
Against a backdrop of vengeance, war and betrayal, Guy and Helena must learn to forge a united front or risk losing everything
ABOUT SARAH HEGGER
Born British and raised in South Africa, Sarah Hegger suffers from an incurable case of wanderlust. Her match? A hot Canadian engineer, whose marriage proposal she accepted six short weeks after they first met. Together they’ve made homes in seven different cities across three different continents (and back again once or twice). If only it made her multilingual, but the best she can manage is idiosyncratic English, fluent Afrikaans, conversant Russian, pigeon Portuguese, even worse Zulu and enough French to get herself into trouble.
Mimicking her globe trotting adventures, Sarah’s career path began as a gainfully employed actress, drifted into public relations, settled a moment in advertising, and eventually took root in the fertile soil of her first love, writing. She also moonlights as a wife and mother.
She currently lives in Draper, Utah, with her teenage daughters, two Golden Retrievers, a very new cat and aforementioned husband. Part footloose buccaneer, part quixotic observer of life, Sarah’s restless heart is most content when reading or writing books.
Where to find Sarah: