Monday, September 01, 2014

THE ALMSHOUSE OF NOBLE POVERTY

Isn't that a wonderful expression?
At first I wondered if it was some sort of weird Medieval idea that poverty was enobling, but no, it actually means an almshouse for penniless nobles. In truth though, the Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty, just outside the city of Winchester in England, was first and foremost a charity for the poor, with the almshouse for nobles a later thought. If you want to be cynical, you could say it was primarily a way of ensuring one's own entry to heaven through charitable works, but I prefer to think of it as something intrinsically humane, creating a place of dignity and peace for the less fortunate, termed "brethren".
And, oh yes, maintaining to this day the tradition of the dole to passing travellers: free food and a drink, the "Wayfarer's Dole" -- now a tiny bit of bread and a tumbler of beer. 
We paid for afternoon tea (cake cooked by one of the brothers) instead.

And yes, this is all part of research for a future novel.
Entrance gate Beaufort Tower mid 15th C.
The reverse side of Beaufort Tower

 The truly remarkable thing about the hospital (hospital in the Middle Ages sense of hospitality) is that it was founded in the 1130s (think about that for a moment) and still stands today serving precisely the same general purpose, housing twenty-five brothers in a community that has evolved over the centuries, had its problems, but has emerged vibrant. 

The church, the brethren's quarters, the kitchens and dining hall, the ambulatory and the tower, all form the sides around a grassed quadrangle.
Looking towards the church  1150-1400
The Ambulatory 1492-1675 (gallery between Master's Quarters & church)
Brethren's apartments 1439-47
Brethren's apartments, Brethren's Hall, Beaufort's Tower

 More about this place some other time...




Saturday, August 30, 2014

FANTASYCON 2014: MY SCHEDULE



 The British Fantasy Convention this year is in York 
(Friday 5th-Sunday 7th September), 
and I will be there -- my first time at this particular convention.


I will be a panellist on two panels (see below)
and also giving a 20 minute reading from either
 The Lascar's Dagger or The Dagger's Path.

And I'd like some help here. 
If you have an opinion on these panel topics, 
email me, or comment here or on facebook or twitter... 

For example:
What fantasy/SF books have you read
(apart from The Isles of Glory!) 
where there was a platonic friendship between women
forming a central part of the book (or fantasy TV series/film)?

Why do you think (if indeed you do) that such platonic friendship 
between women in fantasy fiction is rarer than male ones?

Is it necessary to dispose of the parents of young protagonists? 
Can you think of successful examples where parents were a full participant of the young hero/heroine's adventures?


Saturday 12.00 Noon  
Dead Parents, Burned Homesteads and Wicked Stepmothers
Is it essential to write out the parents before youthful characters can head out on adventures? Are adult figures always unhelpful or malign? Should writers search for ways to keep parents around — or do fantasies of a world without parents fulfil a real need?
Marc Gascoigne (m), Edward Cox, Emma Newman, Sophia McDougall, Glenda Larke, Laura Lam

Saturday 3.00pm 
She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Sister
Kirk and Spock, Luke and Han, Frodo and Sam – epic friendships between men are common in fantasy, but friendships between women, or platonic relationships between men and women that stay that way – are much thinner on the ground. The panellists discuss why it matters and examine some of the rare exceptions.
Roz Kaveney (m), Mhairi Simpson, Glenda Larke, Charlaine Harris

Friday, August 29, 2014

More Medieval Research on Anglesey, Wales

 PENMON PRIORY, Anglesey

Thanks to the kindness of Welsh friends from Porthmadog, my Welsh exploration continued -- all background and research for another novel, I must admit. I can't look at Medieval architecture and remains without knowing that one day I have to write a novel set in those times. 
(Many people seem to think that fantasy novels are all Medieval. In fact, I have 13 novels already published or underway, and not one of them is set in a landscape belonging to the Middle Ages. However, that will change in the future.)

Above: the complex of Penmon Priory
Front left: the Dovecote, 
Background left to right: Ruins of the monastery, Prior's house, Church

 A 6th Century saint, Seiriol, founded a monastery here in Penmon, Anglesey. In the 13th century it became a priory of the Black Canons, the Augustinians. There is (of course) a holy well and a hermit’s cell nearby.  The earliest wooden church was burned by raiding Danes in the 10th century. 
 












 

The church has been extended, but the older part contains some interesting Celtic crosses (predating the church & monastery) from about 1000 CE. One arm was sawn off for a lintel of a refectory window. The font resides in the pilfered base of another Celtic cross c1000. Monks were nothing if not practical!
The arches show Norman influence and the arcading is early twelfth century, and the figures on the wall above it are interesting. 

 The one above is shiela-na-gig, a woman exposing herself (so says the blurb on the leaflet…) and why that should be considered appropriate for a church transept is a mystery to me. (When I was growing up, ‘shiela' was a common word for ‘woman’ in Australia — not exactly respectful but not exactly derogatory either.)

The property was taken over by a private family in 1536 (I would guess someone friendly with Henry VIII and other royals) who then built a dovecote and walled an immense area as their own private deer park. Doubtless that particular family thought the dissolution ot the monasteries was a fabulous idea.

The Prior’s house above on the left is now a private residence. The monastery, also adjoining, (not in the photo), now a ruin. 

 The photo above is from the refectory, the floor now missing, and the window on the left has steps leading up to a seat, where a canon would have read holy texts to the monks while they were having their meals (no red meat, being Augustinians, but they did have a fishpond…)
The gem of the complex, though is the dovecote (above), built in 1600. The birds — free flying — would have entered through the top cupola of the corbelled roof, and then nested in the holes in the interior wall. 

The central brick structure inside (below) is a mystery, possibly some sort of aid to support ladders, which were needed to reach the uppermost nests. There are 930 nesting holes. (Cleaning the dovecote would have been a nightmare.)

 The doves would have supplied eggs, but also poults — the fledglings. Pigeon pie would not have been made from adult birds (flying develops muscles and birds therefore are usually tough eating) but from birds not yet old enough to leave the nest.


Puffin Island (above) is where St Seiriol died, a hermit. I’m not sure why being a hermit was regarded as saintly; to me he was probably another selfish old man, more interested in his own afterlife than in helping living people. Either that, or he was mentally ill. Anyway, Serriol's remains are now buried under the altar of the modern part of the church. He is supposed to have made a point of always walking with his back to the sun — earning him the name Seiriol the Pale — so he was certainly eccentric.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A 5,000-year-old grave: BRYN CELLI DDU, Anglesey.

This dates back to later Neolithic, when farming first started. Perhaps appropriately, the site is now surrounded by farm fields.
Beginning as a henge (14 upright stones surrounded by a bank and a ditch), it was later deliberately covered and turned into burial chamber. The theory postulated is that this was done by people with differing beliefs to the first lot. (Yep, maybe rival religious cults is nothing new…)
 
The grave entrance is flanked by portal stones leading into a stone passage and a chamber where stone slabs supported two giant capstones. 

 
View from entrance looking inside
Inside this chamber is a standing stone, which is rather unusual.
Inside the chamber
Visitors have left offerings: coins, weavings of vegetations, flowers, fruit. My husband contributed a coin in remembrance of a loved family member, whose death had just occurred.
This view shows the standing stone in front of the back slit.
The original mound was larger, and after burial was apparently sealed. It was, after all, for burials. At some stage, an ox was buried in a chamber outside the entrance, possibly all part of rituals conducted there.
Looking out of the back entrance



Monday, August 25, 2014

THE FORSAKEN LANDS: BOOK TWO

Here's the cover!
 
That's Ardhi, by the way...
 

Due out January 2015!
 
THEY FOLLOW WHERE THE DAGGER LEADS

When sailors came to Ardhi’s island home, they plundered not only its riches, but its magic too. Now Ardhi must retrieve what was stolen, but there are ruthless men after this power, men who will do anything to possess it . . .
Sorcerers, lascars, pirates and thieves collide in this thrilling sequel to Glenda Larke’s epic fantasy adventure, THE LASCAR’S DAGGER.

 ‘Outstanding all the way to the last word.’ – Elizabeth Moon on The Lascar’s Dagger

VICTORIA & ALBERT, I love you...

If you have never been to the V & A, you have missed a treat.
It's hard to categorise this London museum because it seems to have such a random selection of fabulous stuff, rather like a pirate's treasure trove of plunder. (Come to think of it, I suppose some of the items were in fact plundered at one stage or another, before they ended up in England...)
 
For a writer of fantasy with a historical bent, this is the place for...
inspiration...
research...
instilling a sense of wonder...
widening one's knowledge about a certain period...
getting detail right...
and just plain enjoying oneself!
 
 And so it was that Karen Miller and I ended up spending a day here, looking at things like this:
 Cutlery
The knife on the left is engraved with music for a blessing, made in about 1550.
Note the case for the cutlery set on the right.
 The above is called a  roundel.
It dates from late 15th century Netherlands.
It portrays the life of a merchant as he weighs goods, using a set of standardised weights. If you look closely, it will not only tell you what a merchant of that era might have worn, but you will see the artist was making a cynical commentary about profits...
 Writing a battle scene?
How about this -- from Southern Germany about 1550.
A horseman's hammer, for the pounding and tearing of armour, yet it is delicately decorated with silver overlay designed by a Nuremberg printmaker.
 An ornamental ship for pure decoration?
Nope. This is a salt cellar made of a nautilus shell and gilded silver, from France of the mid-16th century.
It would have been placed before the guest of honour, the salt in a small bowl on the ship's deck.
 A door knocker from the late 15th Century
 An elaborate casket for valued religious relics
And this, my all time favourite:
a large wooden carving to be hung on an outside wall,
 just to show a would-be thief what might happen to him if he dares a burglary.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Real Fantasy Castle?

Caernarfon Castle, Wales
 As a writer of fantasy novels, I'm always looking for inspiration, background, ideas. And every so often, one comes across a place that speaks its history so loudly, it sends shivers down the spine.
This castle -- this fortress -- is so huge, so impressive, so symbolic, it appears more fantastic than historical, something worthy of a film set.
But real it is, with a history of repression, of labour and extravagant expenditure, of pomp and splendour, of the birth of one king and the investiture of a prince, of  the besieging of royal troops, of the imprisonment of felons and debtors.
 Edward I commanded its construction after the defeat of the Welsh
and the death of their prince, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, in 1282.
 It still wasn't completely finished when work on it was stopped in 1330.
 It overlooks the River Seiont, and was linked to the walls around the town.
 And the views from the Eagle Tower are truly spectacular.


Friday, August 22, 2014

When trains and writing don't mix...

As some of you know, I have written parts of books on just about every form of transport there is. Trains are great for this -- but here I am in Porthmadog, Wales, and for most of the Welsh journey by train, I was far too busy to write -- looking out the window instead. This is a GREAT train journey. Forget any derogatory things you have ever heard about Arriva Trains.
We left Euston Station in London in the morning.
When we arrived in Porthmadog I sent a text to my daughter.
She replied: 'You could have been in Los Angeles in that time!'
Ah, but the scenery...
Although erecting tents so close to the windblown coast of the Irish Sea would have made me nervous.
You don't get this from 30,000 ft up in the sky.
 (Above, a caravan park.)
Drystone walls and white sheep and hedgerows...
Sheep with TAILS. Almost unheard of in Australia, where you really don't want to see a flyblown sheep.
 (Not sure about those red marks on their backs, but in some parts of the world, dye is a way of telling which ewe has been serviced by which ram...according to the dye bag he has strapped to his underside.)
The train runs alongside a cliff, and you can look straight down on the sea. Scary.
Look out the window and you feel as though you are flying over the water...
Barmouth
Harlech Castle
The last part of the journey is -- at the moment -- by coach, as they are reinforcing a railway bridge.