Posts Tagged ‘Middle Ages’

I love the Middle Ages, that period in European history when feudal lords spent centuries bullying each other in a battle for domination, and from which the first fragile seeds of our modern society emerged. I love it in the same way that I love villains and traitors – it’s a great subject for stories, but I’m bloody glad I wasn’t there. War, plague, famine and of course death – Europe got a huge dose of the four horsemen during that period, not to mention some pretty unsavoury religious and political practices.

Those of you who’ve read From a Foreign Shore or paid attention to my responses to the Writing Excuses exercises will have noticed that I channel this passion into a lot of my writing. It helps that I have an MA in medieval history and two years research experience, which between them save me a lot of research time. But that experience comes from the same source as my medieval writing, rather than inspiring it. My fascination for that era keeps drawing me back.

Happily, I have medieval stories coming up in the next two issues of Alt Hist, the magazine of historical fiction and alternate history, edited by Mark Lord.

Issue 7, available now via Amazon (the ebook edition isn’t up there yet, but I’m sure it will be soon), features my story ‘Cold Flesh’, a horror story set during the fallout from one of England’s many medieval rebellions. The rebels have been hanged, but will their memory let the victors move on?

Following on from that, I’ve just had a story accepted by Mark for issue 8. This one’s a straight up piece of historical fiction, giving a child’s perspective on the horrors the Hundred Years War inflicted on northern France. When writing historical and fantasy fiction, it’s all too easy to glorify war and focus on its more active  participants. But stepping back and remembering the victims isn’t just important, it’s a way of finding different sorts of stories, different perspectives on life.

So if you’re in the mood for something medieval, why not pick up a copy of Alt Hist or check out their website.

Hal stood on the track out of Olbry, feeling the wind whip off the moor, watching a dark shape soar on rotten wings. He heard the cawing of the raum crow and the whimpering of his son from their hut. The cawing filled him with anger, but the other sound ripped his heart…

I have a new story out today in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, an ezine that’s free to read and does what it says on the tin – plenty of heroic fantasy. My story, ‘Feathers’, is about a longbowman who, after years of war, finds himself facing a different sort of danger – a curse that is plaguing his home and that threatens to kill his son.

IMG_0670[1]Like so many of my stories, ‘Feathers’ was inspired by people and events from history. Longbowmen played a huge role in English military successes in the later middle ages, and archers in general have played an important part in warfare and hunting down the centuries, yet they don’t seem to feature all that much in fantasy fiction. I wanted to find a way to make their particular skills central to a fantasy story.

I’ve actually learnt more about longbows since writing this story, thanks to the folks I met at a historical reenactment fair. It turns out that, while the best longbows are crafted to the right height and draw length for a specific archer, they were often mass produced for armies and the archers then had to adapt to what they were given. It wasn’t uncommon for bows to snap in battle, given the strain of repeated use and the less careful crafting that went into producing hundreds in a short space of time. Imagine being that guy – an armoured knight’s barrelling down towards you, you draw the bow ready to take him out, there’s a snap and suddenly you’re trying to fight him with two ends of broken stick. Definitely a scene I’ll squeeze into a story at some point.

So go check out ‘Feathers‘ at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, and if you enjoy it there’s also a coupon code at the end of the story to buy my collection By Sword, Stave or Stylus for only 99c.

And of course let me know what you think of the story in the comments below, and if you enjoy it then please tell other people about it.

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NaNoWriMo update:

I’m slightly ahead of where I need to be, with 3601 words written in the first two days. My main characters now have names, and the first chapter has turned out to be longer than expected, meaning I won’t have to plan chapter two until tomorrow. So far so good.

How are you guys getting on?

A knight so stupid he might just win.

A prisoner haunted by ghosts, or are they shadows?

A demon investigating an angel’s death.

Action, art and mystery all feature in my fantasy short story collection, By Sword, Stave or Stylus, out today as an ebook today via Amazon and Smashwords.

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High Resolution

The stories in this collection:

  • Live By the Sword – art and magic combine in a fantasy version of the Roman arena.
  • Leprosaria – a knight and his chronicler uncover strange goings on in a leper hospital.
  • Long Nights in Languedoc – something monstrous pursues an English army through medieval France.
  • The Essence of a Man – the magical power of art is tested under siege.
  • Shadows, Stones and Hungry Ghosts – a prisoner faces a haunting interrogation.
  • The Wizard’s Stairs – a young man, an angry wizard and a test of love.
  • Striking Black Silence – a ninja becomes the shadows on a deadly mission.
  • The Edge of the World – a lowly gutter dweller carries a vital message across a strange rooftop world.
  • The Hunter in the Stacks – a scholar takes up his spear and goes hunting knowledge.
  • The Suspicions of Shadowvalt – a demonic whodunnit.
  • The Faces of the Fallen – Detective Shadowvalt returns to investigate a murder in Hell.
  • The Magpie Dance – a group of morris dancers are more than they seem.
  • One Minute of Beauty – art, revolution, absinthe and a visionary moment.

It’s an eclectic selection of stories, and one I’m proud of. So if you’re looking for some reading why not go pick up a copy from Amazon or Smashwords. It’s only 99c for the first two weeks of release, after which I’ll be putting up the price to a princely $2.99.

And later in the week, once I’ve stopped reeling from the excitement/nerves of hitting the magic ‘publish’ button, I’ll discuss some of the stories in more detail.

As will be obvious to those of you who’ve been reading From a Foreign Shore, I’m a big fan of the Middle Ages. Like a lot of people who grew up reading about Middle Earth and Narnia, I loved the idea of knights and chivalry and everything that came with them. When I was a kid we’d always visit castles during our summer holidays, running around ruins and playing at King Arthur and Robin Hood.

I specialised in medieval history at university, and that took some of the romance out of it, but not the fascination. Sometimes the past truly is a foreign country, and the deep sense of duty and hierarchy that held up medieval Europe is all the more intriguing for being so different from my own values. Sure, the knightly ideal of chivalry was observed more in the breaking than the following, but it was still an ideal, and one that combined courage, romance and a twisted sort of concern for the people around you.

It helps that the era’s most staggering architectural achievements, its castles and cathedrals, never stopped being awe inspiring. I went to Durham University, and there are few sights more breath-taking than Durham Cathedral seen from below, lit up against the night sky.

The Middle Ages are full of great writing inspiration, from the spectacle of pitched battles to the delicate craft of monks creating illuminated manuscripts, the rough belligerence of Viking raiders to the fragile courage of Joan of Arc. If you’re looking for heroes, villains and strange settings then the medieval has it made.

I’ve grown past the point where the medieval is the only era for me. All of time’s rich tapestry is full of fascinating pickings. But the Middle Ages will always have a special space in my heart.

Now your turn – what’s your favourite period of history, and why?