Category Archives: Middle ages

Robin Hood

I saw the first of the new series of Robin Hood the other day – utter rubbish (and even the sight of Richard Armitage couldn’t detract from it).

It began with Robin appearing to be dead with an arrow through his eye being discovered by a group of what looked like a cross between the gestapo, bondage fetishists and paras. (Did they have berets in the twelfth century? Or tight black leather with loads of buckles? I really don’t think so…)

I know this isn’t strictly relevant, but it is set a few years further on from my novel, so I’m always interested to see how the period is interpreted by others. I don’t have a problem with the modern language that they use (I’ve already decided to avoid fake ‘archaic’ language myself).

But if the BBC carry on at this rate, Robin will be turning up on a Harley Davidson next…


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Filed under Middle ages, Writing

More about getting into a writing frame of mind

I’m still having a rest from writing the novel – and still feeling vaguely guilty about it. It’s made me think a lot more about the writing process: why I want to write, and also why sometimes I find it so hard.

Being ‘in the mood’ for writing is definitely a key thing for me – but as writing is a large part of my work as well as something I do for myself, I don’t always have the luxury of waiting until the mood hits me.

So how come I can churn out press releases and brochures to order, but not the next few chapters of my novel? They key is preparation or warming up. At work there are things I always do as preparation – but because they are things that I do at work, I haven’t been applying them to myself at home when I feel as if I should just be able to leap straight in. Here are a couple of techniques that I’m going to try to transfer from work to home:

The friendly Martian

At work, I often have to spend time explaining what it is that I’m going to write about to other people, usually to elicit information from them. But often the act of explaining is just as useful to me as the information that I get out of it because it makes me think it through carefully and maybe look at the project from other angles.

Of course, to apply it to my novel, I’ll either have to find a willing victim or perhaps write questions and answers.

Word association or clustering

This is like mental doodling – letting your mind wander and think through the problem. (It makes you look more efficient than staring aimlessly out of the window when at work, too.)


Clustering (a technique I picked up from Gabrielle Rico’s book Writing the Natural Way) also helps to organise ideas. It’s similar to mind mapping, but I enjoy the action of circling words and phrases, then joining them up to form a huge web of ideas.

It helps me to organise ideas as well as find new connections; I’ve already been clustering to help me organise the sections of the novel. But I’ve also noticed that my writing comes easier after clustering so I’m going to work through some of the exercises in Rico’s book, especially those on modelling and re-creating.

Know the subject

When I get stuck writing something at work, it’s usually because I don’t know what I’m really writing about. Some people can work their way round that and make the best of what they do know – I’m not like that. My writing is like an iceberg: what appears on the page is only part of what goes on to create it.

One of the hang-ups of the book at the moment is the uncertainty of what is going to happen next. The characters are moving towards a pivotal point in the book, and none of us know what is going to happen next. And I’m getting twitchy about not knowing enough about the court system in early medieval England. It’s in danger of becoming too much of an episode of The Bill or Inspector Morse because that’s more or less the sum total of my knowledge of criminal law…

Obviously research and asking questions is going to be the answer for this – but I’m also going to explore visualisation techniques too. The passages of writing that have been easiest and turned out best were where I had a very clear picture in my mind of what was going on. All I had to do was describe what I saw in my head, and so it follows that if I can train my mind to rehearse parts of the novel in my head, writing it will be easier.



Filed under Anxiety, copywriting, Middle ages, Motivation, Research, Writing

I hate typing up!

I’m still typing up my handwritten sections but I’m determined that I’m going to get it finished by the end of the week. In some ways it’s good: it doesn’t matter if I’m a bit tired or if Josh is awake until late and keeps coming in to speak to me because typing up is fairly easy-going on the mind. You can start and stop every five minutes and it doesn’t take too long to get back into the swing of it.

And very boring. I wish that I’d just typed it straight in and got it over with! I’ll know for next time.

I’m going on holiday next week, so I won’t be getting any writing done then. I’m going to be doing some research (I hope): CWRD Moseley’s Reach – a brief history; Trevor Bevis – Water, water everywhere: The draining of the fens and Joan Lennon – The Wicket Chronicles. The last one is worrying me slightly as it’s a children’s novel set in the fens during the middle ages, which sounds horribly familiar. I mean, that’s my idea! Ho hum.

Oh – and I’m back to the old Harry Potter series (number 5, The Order of the Phoenix). I came into the living room and found Josh sitting in the middle of a pile of the Harry Potter books. ‘What you up to?’ I asked. ‘I’m reading them to myself,’ he said, and sat studiously looking at the pages for ages while I washed up. Then he said, ‘Can you read me the next Harry Potter book?’

‘But I thought you’d had enough for a while?’

‘I had, but now I really miss Harry.’ And how could I refuse that? I’m sure a lot of these later books will go over his head, but he seems to be enjoying them.

If only the chapters weren’t so long!

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Filed under Children, Fenland, Harry Potter, Middle ages, Research, Writing


I went to do a bit of research today. Part of the trouble with writing the novel is I don’t know what the fens looked like in 1141. I’ve got a reasonable idea, of course: flat, wet, smelly etc; but that’s not enough for a description.

Wicken Fen is a nature reserve in Cambridgeshire and not too far from where I live. It’s a piece of fenland that’s been left to go back to a more natural state, so I went to take some photos, hoping that I’d get a better idea of what the landscape would have looked like 866 years ago.

Despite forgetting to take suncream and insect repellant, I survived the experience: although it was very hot and I should have not worn jeans and a black t-shirt…

FenlandWind pumpWoodlandWater and sedge

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Filed under Fenland, Middle ages, Nature, Research

Choice – is using modern language right?

Just thought that I’d write a quick post about a choice that I’ve made in writing the novel.

The story is set in 1141, but I’ve deliberately chosen to use modern English for the dialogue. I don’t see the point of writing in a fake olde-worlde style just to try to give a flavour of the middle ages. I want to get across how the characters interact with each other and what they are feeling. It seems that the best way to do that is to use language that will be instantly understood by readers – that way the only decoding that needs to be done is of the ideas and emotions – not the language itself.

Also, using ‘archaic’ language is silly anyway – in 1141, most of the common people would have still spoken Old English – or Anglo Saxon – while the nobility would have all spoken a form of Old French or Anglo Norman.

In case you’re not familiar with how different Anglo Saxon is to modern English, here is an example:
Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum si þin nama gehalgod tobecume þin rice gewurþe þin willa on eorðan swa swa on heofonum…

No, I don’t know what it means either… I found it here though.

So to litter my dialogue with lots of ‘Prithees’ and ‘Hark thee heres’ etc makes as little sense as just sticking to plain everyday English. So, yes, they might say ‘OK’ – which is anachronistic, but carries more meaning to most modern readers than ‘yea, verrily’. And after all, my early medieval characters wouldn’t have said ‘yea, verrily’ any more than they would have said ‘OK’ or ‘How’s it going?’

Using modern English helps to define characters more easily than archaisms. For example, ‘How’s it going?’ is a different kind of greeting to ‘How do you do?’ and says more about the character than an archaic greeting as it would always tend to sound formal.


Filed under Language, Middle ages, Writing


Yesterday’s writing didn’t go so well. I’d decided to edit through the first few sections that I’d written mainly to get everything straight. A lot of the story has changed since I began writing and I wanted to change a few loose ends. For example, Arif started out as Stephen’s son – now they are brothers. Stephen and Geoffrey originally met in the crusades – now they are half-brothers and Stephen is the son of a crusader. I’d also toyed with the idea of making Stephen related to royalty, but that all got too complicated to fit in as a sub-plot.

As I was twisting my way back through all the now-contradictory things I’d written before, I just couldn’t focus. All I wanted to do was close my eyes and sleep – so I gave in after an hour and went to bed.

Where I tossed and turned for what seemed like hours, only to be woken up at 4:00 by the cat!

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Filed under Middle ages, Sleep, Time, Writing

Time management

I just read through the last post that I wrote. I think I must have been feeling a bit manic then – I suppose it’s the thought of all the things that I want to do and the little scraps of time that I have to do them.

I need to work on my time management. I have a tendency to take on a lot of projects, but plan to work on each of them as if they are the only one I have. Every so often I take stock, cut back on a few things, get a more realistic approach – but then, before I know it, I’m back to behaving as if I can stretch time, or live in parallel universes. I forget that sometimes I just need time to relax – and sleep!

I also need to admit that I’m my own worst enemy in getting Josh to bed. The problem is that we both like stories, so when he says, ‘Read a bit more!’ I’m only too willing. And Harry Potter has such very very long chapters… Tomorrow, no more than 15 minutes reading. I promise!

But I did manage to put in an hour’s writing tonight as well as a little research. I tantalisingly discovered an article in a journal that should give some good background for the setting of the story – but I now need to find a library that holds the journal!

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Filed under Children, Middle ages, Self sabotage, Sleep, Time, Writing