Friday, 29 June 2012

Castle Interiors

Durham Castle from the riverside

The typical nobleman’s house contained kitchens, communal space, withdrawing rooms and a chapel. In the early days, they may have been housed in separate buildings, but by the 12th century the separate parts began to come together in one building.

The Great Hall had services (ie kitchen, pantry, buttery) at one end and the withdrawing space (ie one withdrew from the hall into a private space) at the other. The Great Hall goes back into legend – Beowulf awaited Grendel in the Great Hall. Built of timber, with a huge open timber roof – ie no upper storey, the halls were built on the same plan for a thousand years, in differing scales and in every form of dwelling. Gradually homes expanded and life went out of great halls and into withdrawing spaces, but we still have a hall, which is the space a visitor first sees on entering our homes today.

In the middle ages, the entrance to the hall was through a porch in one of the long sides of the hall, and then visitor a “screens passage” to the hall. Timber screens or partitions on one side of the corridor closed off the view of the hall. Two doors led from the passage to the “low status” end of the hall; on the other side of the passage, there would be three doors – one to the kitchen, another to the pantry and the third into the buttery.

A step ran across the width of the hall and separated the nobility from the hoi polloi. At the end furthest from the screens passage, beyond the step, was a raised dais at the “high” end of the hall. After the fourteenth century it was often lit by a projecting bay or an oriel window. Behind the dais a door led to the withdrawing chambers beyond. The open fireplace was in the centre of the hall, and smoke escaped via an opening in the roof. Fireplaces were common in other dwellings by the fourteenth century, but halls persisted with the central hearth.

Trestle tables, set lengthwise along the walls, were set up for meals while the head of the household sat at a single high table that ran across the width of the dais. There would be several “sittings” for meals in large households, and by the fourteenth century the head of the house most likely ate in his withdrawing chamber.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

What went on in castles?

Naworth Castle
After the conquest, Castles developed into administration and judicial hubs, and came into the hands of the greatest families of the realm. A castle became the grandest residence you could own: an “inheritances” in its own right. The monarch generally licensed applications for castle construction, though at certain times over the centuries, the Bishop of Durham, the earl of Chester and the earl of Lancaster  also issued licenses.

What went on in castles? Essentially a castle was a great household divided into two parts. The steward oversaw the practical management of the household, ie preparation and distribution of food. The chamberlain attended to the public, ceremonial side of the castle. These people were predominantly male. The third strand was clerical, with responsibility for divine service and maintaining household accounts. In the royal household, this post would be held by the chancellor.

Outdoors, the horse was important for so many reasons – travel, hunting, farming, and war, so stables were important and some animals lived in stony splendour while others made do with planked accommodation.

Livery held a different meaning in medieval days. All followers received “liveries” – and in 1130 this included money, food and goods. The King’s chancellor received a livery each day of five shillings, one fine and two salted simnels (wheat bread), a sextary (probably four gallons) of sweet wine and another of ordinary wine, a large wax candle and forty candle ends, which was seen as a pretty good deal. From 1200 it became common for the livery to include clothing and by the fourteen hundreds this had become so complex that the clothing identified the employer and in what capacity the servant was employed.

The household moved at regular intervals, and took everything with it, including furniture and utensils, partly to visit remote estates and use the resources there, and partly for sanitary reasons. Royal households had in effect two separate households, one for the king, and one for the queen. The earl of Northumberland had a household of 166 people, but when he took off to his estates, his household was reduced to 36 – the “riding” household. With all this in mind, a castle had to house vastly different numbers of people at different times. Spaces were flexible, and often changed use.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Castle or not?

Bamburgh Castle
We accept castles were military buildings. But the strange fact is that medieval people did not use the term, and nor was there a single term to describe the buildings they built and used.
Twelfth century words included: chastel,(Fr) castellum, arx, mota, turris, oppidum, munitions, firmitas and municipium (all Latin). Sometimes, we use one of the rare medieval terms today without realising we are doing so. London’s castle is called The Tower of London; and the name comes from its medieval name Turris Londiniensis.

Nowadays, some people talk of Real Castles when they mean a private and fortified residence of a lord. When that term is used, then other castles have to be given another name, or else be deemed a fake. The Anglo-Saxon chronicler who wrote of Dover’s castelle in 1051, before the Norman conquest, and before the introduction of feudalism and the  concept of “castle,” was actually talking about what should technically be called a fortified settlement or burh.

Modern historians also talk of castles of display, or chivalric castles and they mean buildings that have crenellations but no proper fortifications. These,  Goodall says, are the castrati among castles– appealing but singing in the wrong register.

There’s also the confusion about manors, which are also seats of lordly authority. When is a manor distinct from a castle? Again there is confusion. In 1521 the Duke of Buckingham’s new residence was described as the manor or castell. Sir John Paston’s will dated 31/10/1477 refers to Caister in Norfolk, usually called a castle as “my seid maner and fortresse.”

But whatever the correct technical term, the medieval and early modern nobility of England occupied buildings we call castles, and from 1066 to 1640 a nobleman without a castle was like a knight without a horse.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Durham - motte and bailey castle keep

I’ve found a wonderful book by John Goodall, Architectural Editor of Country Life. It’s called The English Castle, and it’s horrendously huge and heavy with loads of pictures and 547 pages. A great weight to carry home from the library but it contains wonderful photographs and I expect to find many fascinating snippets to pass on.

In his introduction, Goodall says we have the French to thank for our ancient castles. Evidently the overthrow of the French nobility after the revolution in 1789, and the subsequent necessity for the government to care for the medieval buildings that were left, meant that the ancient buildings were studied, analysed and valued. At the same time, Walter Scott had something to do with it too; the success of his novels Ivanhoe and Kenilworth, which celebrated castles and all things chivalric, fed popular interest and as early as 1882 we had the Ancient Monuments Protection Act.

It’s often hard to distinguish a castle from a hall. I’ve noticed that in my own locality when I was wandering around Aydon Castle/Hall and wondering which term to use. The definition is this: a castle is a private and fortified residence of a lord. The Normans introduced castles at the Conquest to enforce the Norman, feudal political settlement over an unwilling Anglo-Saxon population. When government failed, people retreated to their castles and waged war on each other. Governments made attempts to obstruct the building of private castles, but it was only when new siege technology made earth and wood defences obsolete in the late 12th century, that the sheer cost of building in stone limited their construction.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

On Kindle today!

Far After Gold by Jen Black is up on Amazon Kindle today!

The paperback has been lying forgotten on my shelves for a couple of years since Quaestor ceased trading in 2010 due to the owner's ill-health. The book had just over a year of life as a viable paperback, and I suddenly thought - why waste all that effort? why not put it up on Amazon Kindle?

Checking my pc, I didn't have a file for it. None of my USB sticks held a copy. The thought of re-typing it all from the paperback, or scanning it, was not encouraging. Finally I found a copy on an old hard disc, which reminded me How Things Have Changed in a few years!

So I began with an old computer version. I put it into text to take out all the Quaestor formatting, and then began the laborious task of putting all the punctuation back in again. It takes time. As I inserted paragraphs and suchlike, I began tweaking the words themselves; a word here, a deletion there, but soon, I was taking out and rewriting whole chunks. All I can say is I wrote FAG, as I call it, about six or seven years ago, and I've learned a lot since then.

So, it's now a smart, sexy, romantic tale of a young Christian girl bought as a slave by a young Viking warrior.

Here's an excerpt: 

“Come with me.”

Emer stood rooted to the deck. Flane reached the gangplank, turned and beckoned.

Emer scowled and did not move.

Flane clicked his fingers. Astounded, Emer lifted her chin, turned her head and stared pointedly out to sea. From the corner of her eye she saw one sailor nudge another and both stopped what they were doing to watch what would happen next. Memories of the overseer and his cane flashed through her mind, and she decided moving might be her wisest choice even though he treated her like his favourite hound. Pride stiffened her spine as she halted before him.

“My name is Flane.” He tapped his chest and repeated the words, as if she were stupid, and then sighed. “Trust me to pick a girl who doesn’t understand the language.” He drew his dagger, and the fierce blade flashed silver in the sunlight.

Emer’s heart leapt into her throat. Would he kill her because she could not speak his language? What other reason could he have? Should she speak now, before it was too late? She met his blue glance for an instant even as she took a swift step back, ready to run, heedlessly, in any direction.

He caught her wrist and dragged her in close.

Her heart thudded wildly at the sudden contact of chest, hip and thigh. Mesmerised by his steady blue gaze, she stood there in the thin sunlight with the sound of water lapping against the ship and the smell of seawater and seaweed in her nostrils. She drew a swift, choked breath of air. Her last moment in the world had arrived, and she could not free her tongue to speak. Dear God…. She shut her eyes, awaiting the bite of cold steel at her throat. Dear Lord, accept my soul this day

He hooked one finger under her leather slave collar. Surprised, she opened her eyes and flinched at the sight of the steel blade flashing wickedly in the sunlight.

“Steady, steady,” he murmured, as if to a nervous animal. “I thought you’d rather be free of this.” He gave a couple of gentle tugs on the leather collar at her neck, and before she grasped his intention, the steel sliced through the hated thing. She never even felt the coldness of the blade.

He dangled the strip of leather with its attendant piece of rope in front of her. “Do you want to keep it?”

Furious at being frightened and then gentled like a nervous horse, Emer seized the hated collar and hurled it far out over the loch.

Monday, 18 June 2012

A talk, the torch and changes

Durham Cathedral
Had a great day with Jean Fullerton on Thursday and Friday. She came up from London to talk to our writers group, The Border Reivers and we all enjoyed a welcoming BBQ at the home of one of our members even though it was far to chilly to stand about outside. Only the actual barbie stood outside!
At one stage I thought the Olympic Torch going through Newcastle was going to jam up our arrangements for getting Jean back on time to the 4pm train to London, but all worked out well.

She spoke of cringing when she looked back at some of her early works (books that didn't get published) and I so sympathise with her, because I recently set out to get an old title ready to go up on Kindle and got quite a surprise as I started reading.

The storyline was fine, but there were signs of muddled motivation and a fair bit of repetition, not to mention some odd sentences here and there. As I read through I certainly cringed - and immediately started putting the thing right. Far After Gold has been truly re-edited over the last fortnight, ready for its second debut. I've almost re-written it!

The uploading process to Amazon had updates in April this year and the process certainly seem to work better for me than they did last time I tried it. I have a cover to sort, but in a few days, I'll chance uploading my story and see how it goes.

Thursday, 14 June 2012


 Durham Castle Keep
I've been horrendously busy and will be again until Saturday when I can relax like the advert for those toffees with chocolate inside them!
So: I'm going to cheat a little by giving you the gist of Nicola Morgan's take on synopses. It's relevant, because I've been thinking about the darn things, since our writers' group is having a session on synopses on Friday. (Her blog, btw, is a mine of info: Help I need a publisher)

Here's what she says:
If your book is a journey, the synopsis needs to include:
1. Who is on the journey and why?
2. What is the intended destination and why?
3. What terrible thing will happen if they don't reach their destination and who or what is trying to stop them?
4. What happens to knock the travellers off course?
5. What characteristics and tools do they use to get back on course?
6. What is their actual destination and who survives and with what injuries?

Here’s what we do not need to know:
1. All the detours they took along the way - unless without it we can't understand the book
2. The weather.
3. What they said to each other.
4. What the scenery was like.
5. The people they met along the way, unless without them we can't understand the book.
6. The route in order.

So my message to you today is: when writing your synopsis, cultivate a really crappy memory like mine, a memory that forgets everything except essence. To paraphrase all of our mothers: if you can't remember, it can't have been very important. And if it's not important, it has no place in your synopsis.

Therefore: whatever you do, don't look at your book when writing your synopsis. Your book has no place there.

PS Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. Possibly by Saturday.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Tennis and tv?

It's a dreary Monday following what seems to me like a month of dreary days. Waging war on snails decimating my lupins makes me feel guilty, but if I want flowers, then it must be done. I tried carrying them (the snails) into the fields behind our cul-de-sac and setting them free there, but a neighbour tells me they are territorial, and will slime their way back to my garden. They're certainly here in great numbers. The trouble is when they're small, they're so very delicate and well, cute, and I have to remind myself that they grow into voracious monsters.

I can look forward to the rest of the men's single final at Roland Garros - if it isn't rained off. If it is postponed again, then they may as well scratch it, because Rafa and Novak will have other commitments and what kind of a match is it that goes on spasmodically over three days? On Sunday afternoon - starting at the idiotic time of 3pm despite the weather predictions - the balls must have been soggy and thick with red dust and, depending where they'd been on the court, at different weights due to the water they'd picked up. If three grams on a tennis rackets means weeks of relearning one's shots, then how do they cope with balls of various weights in one match? Plus which the light was dismal, and the footing insecure.

Novak must have the best trainer in the world. Half an hour in the locker room, and he comes out transformed, first serve perfect after two sets of banging it into the net. What on earth did the trainer say to make such a difference?

With such a lot riding on this final for both men, it was no wonder they were nervous and played tentatively, anxious not to make the slightest error - which of course, led to lack-lustre tennis and errors all over the place. Hardly conducive to making them feel good about themselves or their tennis. Add in the on-court conditions and is there any wonder tempers got heated? Novak wrecked two rackets and a bench seat, and Rafa vented his feelings verbally with the umpire.

The culprit in all this? I have to wonder if tv schedules and the ensuing payments and contracts make all the decisions these days. Arguments and temper tantrums on court make for good tv, so the tv people are happy while the RG people  (whoever runs the tournament) knuckle under and let the cameras roll regardless of the danger to players who may well injure themselves in such conditions. Money talks, as ever.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Catching Up!

This week has flown by and I missed both Wednesday and Friday posts. Several reasons - watching the tennis at Roland Garros, receiving my first cheques from Amazon for sales since my first self-published title in October 2011 and, of course, banking it!
Then the four day celebrations of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee - so much to watch on tv! At the beginning of the week we had the living room emptied while dh painted it, but we managed to finish it before having people in on Wednesday night after a lovely meal at Caffe Vivo on the Quayside in Newcastle.
Yesterday I put FAIR BORDER BRIDE up for free for a day on Amazon Kindle and almost 1200 people downloaded it - 1 in Spain, 2 in France, 24 in Germany and the rest split between the UK and the US, with the bullk in the US. One day I might reach Italy, too!
I have an equally busy week coming up. A walk with a friend either Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on whcih is the better day weather-wise, a hair appointment and the usual mundane grocery shopping. Thursday and Friday will be taken up with Border Reivers activities. Orion author Jean Fullerton is coming from the deep south (London!) to talk to us about various topics to do with writing, which promises to be entertaining as well as instructive. We're planning a BBQ on Thursday night to welcome her, and the meeting is on Friday.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Cromwell as we don't know him

My clematis is in flower
Telling a story seems simple, doesn't it? You think of a few characters. What do they want? Why do they want it? How do they go about getting it? What stops them? What are the consequences? There you go - in a nutshell, there's the basic premise of writing a book.

 Then I find the Telegraph review section on Saturday with its article by Hilary Mantel in which she describes how the book she thought would be done and dusted in one volume turned into three. "Cromwell is a work in progress."

 I quote her: "It is the privilege of the imaginative writer not to retell but to relive. I was rigid with tension, rinsed by fear." I have been lucky enough to feel a little of what she describes, enough to know what she means, certainly; but sometimes it's more of a struggle to try and get into the mindset of a sixteenth century character.

I've seen Mantel on tv a couple of times, and she speaks to camera in a slow, measured way, in perfectly structured sentences, almost as if she wrote a speech that morning, edited several times and is now prepared to share it with viewers. Perhaps she always talks in this way, perhaps she even thinks this way. I have to confess I find her ability alarming, but I'm also totally in awe of it.

Fiction, she says, is inherently unpredictable. Even when you know the end of the story, you don't know how you're going to arrive there. There is a choice of route maps, but at a fork in the road you hesitate; the scenery is not as you imagined. And that, I suppose is where the trouble, or the delight, begins. Read the article - it is well worth it.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Street Parties

I don't think anyone in the UK will be reading blogs much this weekend because the nation is thinking in terms of A Giant Street Party. We're having one in our cul-de-sac, and I have a Pavlova to make for Sunday. It will be on the red, white and blue theme - cream, strawberries and blueberries! The Street Parties started as a celebration for the end of the First World War and now seem to have taken hold of people's imagination. The Queen has reigned for 60 years and that is something special. The last one was for Queen Victoria in 1897, 115 years ago, so not exactly in living memory. Until this year, that was the only diamond jubilee in recorded history of England, and no one alive today is likely to see another one. (If Prince William took up the crown tomorrow, he'd be 90 by the time he'd reigned 60 years. The odds on that happening are not great!)

So there will be food, drink, games, and quizzes out on the street on Sunday. Most of the neighbours, adults and children, will join in, and people come and go all the time. The last one was for the marriage of William and Kate, and the weather was rather on the chilly side. The weather forecast for Sunday has the north of England in sunshine, but the south has a blanket of blue across it  - but these forecasts are often wrong!

Taking a Risk

  Poised on the cliff edge about to take the leap! No thoughts of suicide - oh no! Or perhaps only in terms of covers for my e-books. I am a...