Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Historical Fantasy 24 Hours

Over the last few months, I've been asking a group of talented writers and historians to imagine their 'Fantasy Twenty-Four Hours.' I placed no restrictions on time period, place, or format, save that they must go back in time. 

To see where they all went, click on the LINK

But now, it's my turn!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I've only got 24 hours, so I'll make the most of it.  I might as well go where I have to be up at dawn, so let's head for my favourite period, Anglo-Saxon England. But let's make it the later part of that period, and I'd like to pick a section where the country isn't being ravaged by Danes. So I'll go for the mid-tenth century, and I'll pop to the court of King Edgar. 


I'd love to find out the truth about his women and wives - some think he had three wives, some think only two, but some suggest he carried away a nun and impregnated her. His brother was no better, being, according to many of the chroniclers, caught on his wedding night in bed with his wife, and her mother.

Still, much as I'd love to know the truth, I'm not hanging around for long. The food is not great, and unless I manage to find a seat at a nobleman's table, the bread will be so coarsely-ground that I'll lose my tooth enamel if I eat too much of it. Plus there's likely to be ergot* and other nasties lurking on the plates, so let's skedaddle to my next favourite era...


So, it's lunchtime now, and I reckon there'll be a feast in the court of King Charles II. While I'm enjoying the earliest form of Ice Cream, I'm going to take a good look at the king. His portraits don't suggest that he was especially good-looking, yet he had plenty of mistresses. Surely they can't all have been swayed by the power and wealth alone? Did he have some allure that simply isn't in the paintings?

Only trouble is I won't be able to get that close to him, as only his family, other royals and high-ranking officials were allowed to sit near him, apparently.

And, much as I'd love to stay, Charles enjoyed tucking into pineapple, and I hate the stuff, so I'd best move on.

But, I'm not going far, timewise, maybe just slipping into the early eighteenth century, because I fancy some Baroque dancing I'd like a stately Sarabande. (Remember, this is fantasy, so I'll already have mastered the steps😉)
Baroque Dance - Sarabande à deux (Youtube)
So, it's late in the day now, and I'm just going to swap gender, if it's okay. I'd like to be a monk, and sing in a medieval cathedral.  Singing is a passion of mine, and those cavernous buildings have wonderful acoustics.

Perhaps something like this: Testamentum Eternum (Youtube)
Now that it's dark, and I've managed to avoid doing any work all day, I'm heading back to where I started, to an Anglo-Saxon hall.



The food, as I've already mentioned, will not be especially appetising. Depending on the time of year, one might expect meat - beef, mutton, goose or pork in winter, and lamb or kid in spring and summer - and perhaps fresh fish if the settlement is close to a river or the sea. Fresh cheese would be served in spring and summer, and hard cheese available all year round. Fruits, nuts, and dried vegetables might also be on offer.

There'll be plenty of drink, of course: wine, mead and beer (probably in that order of desirability**)

Here, I'll find plenty of camaraderie, boasting, gaming, and maybe, if we're lucky, the scop will tale a tale like that of Beowulf. 
Short extract from Beowulf (Youtube)
There might be a riddle or two to solve, and it might be x-rated:
 A curiosity hangs by the thigh of a man, under its master's cloak. It is pierced through in the front; it is stiff and hard and it has a good standing-place. When the man pulls up his own robe above his knee, he means to poke with the head of his hanging thing that familiar hole of matching length which he has often filled before.  
 Answer? A key! 


I'll settle in for the evening, enjoying the feeling of being part of a close-knit community. I promise I'll come home before daybreak...


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In all of my novels, there are scenes set in the mead hall, where feasting, drinking and boasting take place. It was an intrinsic part of life in Anglo-Saxon times. Indeed, to be cast out from the hall was to be cast out of society. You can find my books on AMAZON
FEEDAREAD and all other worldwide retailers.

Find me on my website at http://anniewhiteheadauthor.co.uk/


*ergot - fungus that grows on cereal crops
** Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon England - Debby Banham

Monday, 18 December 2017

Snakes, Scrolls & Anglo-Saxon Secrets

"Open weekend reveals secrets of historic church." The headline in the local paper was intriguing. Mum kept the cutting for me, and on my next visit to see her, on a sunny Norfolk autumn afternoon, we drove up a narrow, bumpy bridleway, just beyond the village of North Pickenham. 

The Church of St Mary's, at Houghton on the Hill, is hidden from view, and even when you arrive, it nestles shyly amid the trees.



Houghton on the Hill is mentioned in Domesday, and if the name Houghton has the same derivation as Houghton near West Rudham, then it means enclosure on the hill-spur [hoh (hill-spur) plus tun (enclosure, settlement or farm)].



The main reason for my visit was to see the murals, and they're hard to miss. As you walk through the door, you can see them, in all their - slightly faded - glory. These murals have not been precisely dated, but the general consensus is that they are pre-Conquest, and it's thought that they are the oldest of their type, certainly in England and possibly in Europe. There have been many scholarly articles published, examining the history and the symbolism of these paintings. This blog post is not about that, just about the experience of visiting this unique place and seeing these wonderful murals.



Alan, our guide, explained that they are what's known as a Doom Painting (depicting the Last Judgement.) He showed us the figures who are in Hell, looking up towards God, who has Jesus sitting on his knee. 

The notorious figures holding the serpents/scrolls have been the subject of much discussion. Alan says he is convinced that they are serpents, because of the shape of them. Comparison with the figure on the other side, who is in Hell, would seem to confirm this. The figure here is holding a plump, red, angry 'scroll', which does, admittedly, look very much like an untamed serpent.



My love of all aspects of Anglo-Saxon history has endured for nearly forty years. I studied it for my degree, I've continued to research it ever since, and this has resulted in the publication of three novels, contributions to two anthologies (one fiction, one non-fiction) and a commission to write a history of the ancient kingdom of Mercia. But never have I seen anything like these murals. To view them was a fabulous experience, and I marvelled at the fact that they have survived, and the circumstances which led to their discovery.

Bob Davey found the church back in the 1990s, derelict, and in need of restoration. In the course of that restoration, the murals were revealed.

The Anglo-Saxon images are the earliest paintings to have been revealed beneath the layers of plaster. But there is a fragment of a later painting, which contains words taken from Cranmer's Common Book of Prayer. This was produced during the reign of Edward VI, and demonstrates that for centuries, this was a working church. In all, there are five layers of paintings and the argument persists: should the later layers be completely erased in order to reveal the earlier ones?

On the north wall, the paintings depict the birth of Eve, and one can just make out the figure of Adam leaning against the tree of life.



Nearer the north door, (now blocked up) there was a depiction of Noah's Ark and apparently all around the lower portion of the walls, there was a strip of blue - a reference to the fact that the church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.



Not everything inside the church was a joy to see. When Bob Davey stumbled across the ruined church, hidden by trees, covered with ivy and lacking its roof, he had to evict a group of Satanists before he could begin the restoration. No easy matter, when, as the local police told him, being a Satanist is not a crime. Alan showed us the damage done by this group (see the picture below.) There is also a swastika carved into the church wall, which must be left because, yes, it, too, is a part of the history of the building.



After years of painstaking restoration, the church is now safe, its future secured by the foundation of a trust. Various items have now been returned: a seventeenth-century chest, a prayer book, the font and the stoup bowl.

Alan took us outside for a tour round the building. There was once a round tower, and the existing porch was hit by a zeppelin bomb during WWI, resulting in a gaping hole which remained for eighty years. Lying in the shadow of the south wall is the spot where Robert de Neville's tomb was located. He was the lord of the manor in the thirteenth century, who apparently was executed for being found 'in criminal conversation' with a high-born lady.



Beyond the chancel, it was thought by some that the remains of a Roman baths were visible, but Alan thinks not. He showed us the extent of each generation of building, and the different roof lines.



The window on the north wall was purportedly stolen by GIs in WWII, and the replacement is a 'best guess', as no one knew what the original design looked like.

The replacement window -behind the grave stones
the window can also be seen in the top photo

Between the window and the now blocked up north door, there is a blocked up Anglo-Saxon window. 



Back inside, I photographed the Saxon window on the south wall, which has not been blocked up, but has been glazed. At the time, of course, it would not have had glass in it.



The church, which has never been de-consecrated, is Grade I listed. It is in the middle of nowhere now, but there was a village nearby. The church is close to Peddar's Way, the old Roman Road, and was on the pilgrimage route to Walsingham, (apparently Catherine of Aragon visited with her entourage.) Of the village, there is now no trace. Richard Muir's Lost Villages of Britain does not mention Houghton on the Hill, and there seems not to have been one specific reason for the disappearance of the village. I wondered about plague, or enclosure, but it seems as if the village simply shrank over time. 
"By 1603 the rector reported only fifteen communicants, that is, adults who took communion. In 1676 this had risen slightly to eighteen. In 1664 the hearth tax recorded seven individuals charged for fourteen hearths, seven of them in one household - presumably Houghton Farm, the only substantial dwelling in the village." (Friends of St Mary’s Trust pdf)
The church, still owned by the Church of England, is safe, but the trustees still work hard, and rely on donations to fund the ongoing restoration, plans for which include the uncovering of the paintings on the south wall. 



As we stood in that tranquil place on that quiet autumn afternoon, I contemplated how the church would have looked to its eleventh, maybe even tenth-century congregation. Paintings, in bright colours, covering all the interior walls, and depicting scenes from the Bible, must have been a truly awesome sight.

Links and further information: 
Twitter

[All photographs by and copyright of the author]

Monday, 11 December 2017

Anglo-Saxon Music

Over the course of this year I've invited a number of authors to write about the music that inspires them, either to write, or while writing. I suppose it's now time for me to do the same!


Some of the authors chose music which came from the period in which their novels are set. It's not so easy for me to do this, as my writing is all set in the pre-Conquest period. I do have a CD, however, which attempts to give the flavour of the music of the time, and it can be quite useful for creating atmosphere.



Sanctus seeks to recreate the sounds with which Bede might have been familiar, taking traditional plainchant and adding harp and pipe.
Factor est cum Angelo
It's fair to say, though, that this is probably not a true representation of the music of the time. Few musical instruments have been unearthed from this period, possibly because they were mainly made from wood. Flutes made from applewood and hawthorn were unearthed from the Anglo-Scandinavian levels at York [1] but where the soil composition is not so conducive to the preservation of such items, they will have been lost. The sound would be more sonorous than those made of bone:
Sheep Bone Flutes (Youtube)
Some flutes were also made from the bones of swans' wings.

The other main musical instrument that we know about is the lyre, referred to in the sources as the harp. The most famous of all these finds is probably the Sutton Hoo lyre, but it is rather more ornate than those which would have belonged to a 'jobbing' musician, or scop. It was made from maplewood, and had six tuning pegs. The sound board was secured using pins cut from a strip of sheet copper alloy [2]
Anglo-Saxon Harp (Youtube)
The highest level of woodworking skills were required to make the instruments. A lyre has two main elements, the sound-box and the yoke into which the tuning pegs were seated. The lyre at Sutton Hoo had a 16mm deep soundbox carved from a single piece of maple. The soundboard, 3mm thick, was nailed over it, and the joints used to fix the yoke to the arms of the sound box were 'bridle joints', not 'mortise and tenon' [3]


Replica Lyre at Sutton Hoo - authors' own photo

Scops, the poets and singers, would have played the harp, but it seems that others were expected to have playing skills, too. Important occasions were marked by feasts, accompanied with music and entertainment. According to Bede, "When a cause for celebration had been determined ... they must all sing with a harp in turn."

However, stage fright appears not to be a modern phenomenon. "Whenever all those present at a feast took it in turns to sing and entertain the company, he would get up from the table and go home directly he saw the harp approaching him." [4]

Another instrument was the handbell, made from iron and primarily used for cows, but also used by Irish monks in the early Christian period. The figures below are depicted at Edward the Confessor's funeral (Bayeux Tapestry)




Much mention is made of the power of song. "That every day he heard the pleasure loud in the hall, the scop's clear song." (Beowulf 1.86-9)

It seems that there were different types of song: giedd (narrative and often sad), the leoð (also narrative), folcræden (tribal tradition) [5]

It's possible that as well as being played and sung in the hall in the evening, the scop's music was also used to rouse the slumbering warriors the morning after - a precursor to the alarm clock!

It's clear that music, and particularly song, was important. From Widsiþ:
...and I with a bright voice, raised a song for our victorious lord. Loud with the harp the sound mellowed, when many men, proud with mead, spoke their words,who well knew, that they had never heard a better song."

 We can't be sure what any of this music sounded like, but we have a little information dating from the end of the period. The Winchester Troper dates from around AD1000 and includes possibly the oldest written music, designed to be performed in Winchester Cathedral. A sample can be heard on YouTube.


Winchester Troper


Here's a recreation of what multi-instrumental music might have sounded like:
Anglo-Saxon Folk Music - "Wælheall"

and a demonstration of music played on replicas of instruments found together as grave goods.
UR Pipes & Lyre

The theme of this series of blog posts has been Writing to Music. For all the reasons stated above, it's hard for me to do this in the way that some authors can. If music inspires me, it's usually the lyrics which spark my imagination. Lyrics, for me, are a bit like the poetry of Tennyson: an elegant yet simple summation of the things we all feel, but struggle sometimes to put into words. Songs often dig down and expose the centre of my characters' situations. If you've read my books, then you'll know who I'm talking about:

Chasing Cars - Snow Patrol: sums up how Ã†thelred of Mercia feels when he's tired of the struggle and wants his wife to just be with him, supporting him. (To Be A Queen)

You're Beautiful - James Blunt: simply  a perfect way to describe how Alvar feels when he first meets Káta. (Alvar the Kingmaker)

Leaving the Land - Mary Black: a wonderful expression of Káta's belief that you can't go forwards in life if you're always looking behind you. (Alvar the Kingmaker)

I can't make you love me - Bonnie Raitt:  a pivotal moment in the lives of Edwin and Carinna. (Cometh the Hour)

Angel - Sarah McLachlan: this track happened to be playing while I was writing one of the saddest scenes of Cometh the Hour. If you've read it, you'll know.

None of these tracks is remotely medieval in sound. But emotions are timeless, aren't they? However, there is something which bridges the gap between authentic Old English music, and the atmosphere conjured up by those artists and writers attempting to recreate the past. So, fianlly, enjoy this video and the accompanying music.
Wedding (Wardruna)
Amazon Author Page

[1] Wilson, 1976, (Quoted in The Mead-Hall - S Pollington)
[2] [3] Anglo-Saxon Crafts - Kevin Leahy
[4] Cædmon's Vision, Translation by Kevin Crossley-Holland
[5] Bloomfield & Dunn 1989

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Historical Fantasy 24 Hours - Round-Up

I asked a few authors to imagine their Fantasy 24 Hours. The only restriction on their flight of fancy was that it had to transport them, somehow, to the past. The rest was up to them.

They didn't let me down! I received such a variety of posts, and here, in case you missed them, are the links to all these diverse pieces:~

Author Diana Wilder took us on a boat down the Nile















And next time, it's my turn!! Well, of course there'll be some Anglo-Saxons involved, but this is fantasy, right, so I could end up absolutely anywhere...

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Noises Off: Folklore & Ghostly Goings-On

What do Oliver Cromwell, Sunken Churches, Wolves, and Witches all have in common? Along with all manner of boggarts and beasties, they are all associated with folklore and ghost stories.

I recently had cause to research the tale about the supposed killing of the last wolf in England and thought that folklore, generally, would be a good topic for a blog post.

Well, yes and no. One book on my shelves is over 800 pages long, with about five or six tales or legends on each page!

I thought I'd narrow it down to my favourites, one related to each part of history, from pre-Roman times to the seventeenth century, all to do with people, rather than beasts. And all very noisy!

The Lost Warriors
Hockwold, in the East Anglian Fens, was a burial place for three separate hoards of pewter items dating from Roman times. They were crushed and dismantled, giving rise to speculation that they were deliberately buried as some kind of offering. 

They were discovered in the 1960s, but long before that time, the Hockwold Fens were said to be haunted by ancient warriors. Their battle cries could be heard, sounding loud across the fenland. Perhaps they were British warriors, Iceni maybe, fighting the Roman invaders?

Some of the Hockwold Pewter


The Shrieking Pits
Between 850 and 110o, iron workings between Aylmerton and West Runton Heath in Norfolk left depressions in the fields. Slag from the furnaces found their way into the walls of nearby Saxon Churches. Shrieks ring out in the dark night, near St John's Church, utterances of a ghostly woman who is searching among the hollows for the body of her baby.

Legend has it that her husband buried the child in one of the pits, as well as murdering his wife. She now wanders, searching, for she does not know which hollow contains her child. As she looks into each of the holes, she shrieks with despair as it reveals itself to be empty.

St John's Church, Aylmerton


Wild Edric
Sometimes it's not the spirits of dead people that inspire these tales. The Vita Haroldi, a glorified celebration of the life of Harold Godwineson, last English king of pre-Conquest England, suggests that Harold did not die at Hastings, and later sources suggest that he lived until he was over 150 years old. 

More fantastical yet, was Edric, a Shropshire man who did survive the Conquest, and fought William as a rebel. He, apparently, was still alive in the nineteenth century, living in the mines under the Shropshire hills. His noise was a knocking sound, which would tell the miners where the best lodes were. He would ride out to foretell war, and was seen riding with his wife, Lady Godda, just before the outbreak of the Crimean war.

Snailbeach, Shropshire - note the mine chimney. Photo Humphrey Bolton

Screams at Castle Rising
I've visited Castle Rising many times. I used to drive past it on my way to work. For a time, it was the 'home' of Isabella, wife of Edward II. Froissart, and fourteenth century chronicler, says that her son, Edward III, imprisoned her there, after the execution of her lover, Mortimer. 

It is said that she went mad from loneliness and that her screams could be heard as she wandered the battlements, lamenting her fate. In fact, she was not a prisoner, although she certainly lived there for periods, as it was one of her own properties, but she actually died in Hertford Castle. Her son allowed her £3,ooo, rising to £4,000 per year, so it's likely that far from wandering the Norman keep as a prisoner, she lived a comfortable life.

Castle Rising 


Footsteps at Husbands Bosworth
The ghost of a Protestant lady prowls the hall at Husbands Bosworth in Leicestershire and her footsteps can be heard loud and clear as she wanders, unable to settle. She suffers remorse for not allowing a Catholic priest to attend a dying servant. Elsewhere in the hall, a stain on the floor remains permanently damp, and it is allegedly there as a result of communion wine, or blood, being spilled when a priest escaped Cromwell's men. 

Whether this is a reference to Thomas Cromwell of the Reformation, or Oliver Cromwell who was responsible for the destruction of churches in the seventeenth century, is not clear. Our poor lady would have been more reluctant, one assumes, to summon a Catholic priest during the reign of the latter. But the former was known as Hammer of the Monks, so we cannot be sure who it was who would have taken punitive measures against her.

Bosworth Hall - photo Richard Williams

This is just a tiny sample of the tales that survive. They appeal to me because of their historical context, and because if I'm going to encounter a ghost, I'd like it to make some kind or warning sound first!

Further reading/bibliography:~
Froissart's Chronicle
Vita Haroldi
The Old Stories - Kevin Crossley-Holland
The Lore of the Land - Westwood & Simpson
Folklore of the Welsh Border - Jaqueline Simpson
Norfolk Ghosts & Legends - Polly Howat
Tales of Old Norfolk - Polly Howat
Norfolk - A Ghosthunter's Guide - Neil Storey
Folk Stories and Heroes of Wales, Vols I&II - John Owen Huws

Monday, 20 November 2017

Historical Fantasy 24 Hours - Georgian London

I asked a group of talented writers and historians to imagine their 'Fantasy Twenty-Four Hours.' I placed no restrictions on time period, place, or format, save that they must go back in time. 

This month it's the turn of author and historian Catherine Curzon, who takes us back to eighteenth-century London...


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What would be my fantasy day? 

Hmm. 

Well, since writing became my full time job, I’m fortunate enough to say that I’ve had plenty of days like that. Whether it’s going into the National Portrait Gallery and seeing my books there on the shelf or sharing a stage with Adrian Lukis, an actor I’ve admired for decades who I can now call a friend and colleague, I get to make my dreams come true more often than I ever thought I might.

As a historian of the Georgian era with a speciality in Georgian royalty, it’s not going to be a surprise to learn that I’d life out my fantasy 24 hours in London. I'm going to be a little woolly on the exact year, but somewhere in the early 1780s would do nicely. Let’s say 1782, just to give Mrs Robinson time to get really annoyed at the Prince of Wales, and to give Mrs Siddons time to get settled back into the London theatre scene.

Mrs (Sarah) Siddons

What might surprise those who know me well, however, is that I’ve got no intention of going digging about the palaces of George III and his family. George’s court was built on strict protocol and wasn’t exactly renowned for being a rip-roaring and entertaining way to spend a day. So, since I’ve got just 24 hours to live out my fantasy, am I going on a breathtaking, whirlwind tour of the sights of Georgian London?

Not a chance of it, because I’m going to spend them sitting around and drinking tea.

The trick to sitting around and drinking tea, as anyone who does it often will tell you, is who you do it with, and I won’t be drinking tea alone.

I’d like to start the day with a stroll through the streets of London alone, soaking up the sights, sounds and of course the smells of the world into which I’ve been happily plunged. I want to walk beside the Thames and potter about Hyde Park and just watch, experiencing that lost land in which I spend so much of my creative time. I’ll gaze into print shop windows and peek into coffeehouses, hear the cries of the street traders and potter along quite happily, unremarkable in the sort of unshowy frock that lets you pass unnoticed as part of the Georgian crowd. It doesn’t do to stand out when you’re pretending to be one of the locals, after all!

A lady cannot live on sightseeing alone though, and that’s where the sitting around and drinking tea comes in.

After my morning of strolling, I’ll head up to Strawberry Hill for lunch and an afternoon in the company of that glorious Georgian, Horace Walpole. Walpole is probably my absolute favourite Georgian and a few hours in his company will be worth a year in the city, because he knew everything about everyone. An inveterate gossip, taleteller and wit, what Walpole didn’t know about 18th century movers and shakers wasn’t worth knowing and I can’t think of a better fellow to spend an afternoon with. 

Horace Walpole

After a leisurely lunch, Horace and I will be joined by Mary Darby Robinson and Richard Brinsley Sheridan and, with the tea still flowing, we’ll while away an afternoon. Happily, with three Whigs together, political arguments - always a mainstay of Georgian society - might just about be kept to a minimum!


Richard Brinsley Sheridan

There’s nothing I love more than tea, theatre and Georgians, so this would be an absolute dream come true. Between them this trio had an intimate knowledge (literally in Mary’s case) of the House of Hanover and the world of Georgian theatre and in my dream world, they’d be more than happy to share it!

Mary Robinson

We’d wander Strawberry Hill with Walpole as an enthusiastic guide, learning about this dreamy Gothic palace from the man who created it. Then, as the evening began to draw on, where better to end the day that at the theatre? A little trip to Drury Lane would be in order, I think, to fulfil the dream of everybody who loves there and the 18th century - the chance to see the legendary Sarah Siddons in action.

It was Sheridan who brought Mrs Siddons back to London after her disastrous earlier appearance alongside Garrick, and her appearance at Drury Lane in Fatal Marriage in 1782 launched her into the stratosphere, so to see her perform with Sheridan in the seat beside me in the company of Sheridan would be utterly epic!

Going round after a performance is always fun so we’d join the divine Mrs S after the show for a drink or two and that would, I think, crown the perfect day. I would come home to the 21st century feeling very happy indeed!

So, I’ve got nothing in my diary for the next couple of days and I’m raring to go - when do we leave for 1782?


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Catherine Curzon is a royal historian. She is the author of Life in the Georgian Court, Kings of Georgian Britain, and Queens of Georgian Britain


Her work has been featured on HistoryExtra.com, the official website of BBC History Magazine and in publications such as Explore History, All About History, History of Royals and Jane Austen’s Regency World . She has appeared with An Evening with Jane Austen at venues including Kenwood House and Godmersham Park and has spoken at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, Lichfield Guildhall, the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich and Dr Johnson’s House, among others.


An Evening with Jane Austen - Cast Photo

Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, writes fiction set deep in the underbelly of Georgian London. Her novels, The Crown Spire, The Star of Versailles, and The Mistress of Blackstairs, are available now.

She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.

www.madamegilflurt.com
www.facebook.com/madamegilflurt
www.twitter.com/madamegilflurt


[All illustrations in the Public Domain. Photo supplied by the author]

Monday, 13 November 2017

Writing to Music: Guy Donovan

For the latest in the series, Writing to Music, I am delighted to welcome author Guy Donovan to the blog:


An Ex-animator’s Take on Music and Writing

Before becoming a struggling, unknown indie writer of epic historical fantasy, I was a struggling animator and designer in Los Angeles. Working on such films as “Quest for Camelot,” “Osmosis Jones,” and, my personal favorite, “The Iron Giant,” I used music to keep the outside world at bay so I could focus on churning out all the drawings required by traditional animation. While I sometimes listened to music with lyrics, I tended toward instrumentals. 

Now I rely on music even more. Rather than working on someone else’s property, with most of the real creativity already done long before my job even started, the written world I create is all on me. Even though my “Dragon’s Treasure” series of e-novels is set in the very real world of 5th century Wales and Scotland, the fact that so little is known about that time period opens up a tremendous opportunity for me to “fill in the gaps.” 




The music I listen to while doing that provides as much inspiration as it does distraction from whatever is going on right around me in the “real” world. 

Classical, especially the bombastic stuff, is a great means of transport, but I’ve been a lover of film scores since the mid ‘70s, so I most often go that route. While other kids my age were rocking out to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, et al, I was more interested in John Williams (Star Wars, Jaws, etc.), and Jerry Goldsmith (Patton, The Omen, Logan’s Run, yadda yadda…), along with many, many more. It’s only natural that those composers provide the fuel for my own creation. 


So when I’m writing a thoughtful conversation between Domelch, my Pictish caregiver of eleven-year old Princess Cerys of Môna, and Owena, a lady-in-waiting to the queen, about the conflicts between Christianity and their own pagan faith, I’ll rely on a track like Randy Edelman’s “Cora,” from “The Last of the Mohicans” to help set the mood. 
'Cora' - Last of the Mohicans (Youtube)

Alternately, a hyper-energetic scene like the one in which my series’ dragon, Talorc, defends his adoptive family of Humpback whales against a pod of hungry Orcas requires a more rousing piece like Thomas Bergerson’s “Star Child” to pump me up. 
Star Child' (Youtube)
The years I’ve spent writing “The Dragon’s Treasure” has led me to patch together a “score” for the series. Like a film’s temp track (prior to the composer writing music specifically for the film), I use that collection of pre-existing music to back up the scenes I see so clearly in my head. Rather than underscore specific action beats though, as that sort of editing and direction need to come from my reader as much as from me, my “score” sets the mood, or maybe a rhythm, that reflects what’s going on in the story. In one very specific instance, however, I needed something more precise.


Throughout the series’ first novel, “The Forgotten Princess of Môna,” the titular princess, Cerys, habitually hums a tune that her father taught her. By the second instalment, “A Cold, White Home,” Cerys is pressed into coming up with lyrics for it. Now Dirty Harry taught me as a young child that “A man’s gotta know his limitations,” and one of mine is poetry. There I was though, faced with writing a poem. My wife also writes, so I asked if she would be willing to help out. When she finally stopped laughing long enough to say “No, good luck with that,” I resigned myself to the task. 

To be politely honest, my best efforts were…trash. Then my previous career came to mind. Typically, new animators start in something called “cleanup” (essentially taking someone else’s rough, off-model drawings and redrawing them to not only move right, but also look right). Armed with that thought, I looked up a piece of music that I thought sounded right, and then researched songs of the period (or at least as old as I could find), mining them for ideas. I selected Jerry Goldsmith’s title theme for the film “Rudy,” as I liked the simplistic, honest “feel” of it. Then, as a lyrical springboard, I picked an old Welsh song (possibly 17th century) called “The Ash Grove.” Between them, and a head full of my fictional character’s hopes, fears, and dreams, I formulated a song that fit her needs. 

While the music as written doesn’t accommodate my lyrics perfectly, it’s easy enough to mentally rework it some to fit. I’ve included a link and my lyrics below for you to listen yourself and see if you agree. Even if it’s not quite perfect, my more musically inclined readers can no doubt imagine something they like better. 
'Rudy' Main Title (Youtube first track)


My Cold, White Home


“When I think of my home, I see only a place 
That is lonely and cold and white. 
And I dream of the day when I’ll finally join those 
Who have left my sight. 

“I’m alone and I’m traveling through 
Many places with nobody who 
Knows my pain. 

“Every step that I take wakes many mem’ries 
As aimlessly free I roam. 
And I know in my heart that my journey will end 
In a cold, white home. 

“Each night as I lie in my bed, 
I see faces of those who are dead 
In my mind. 

“There’s no dream of the future my spirit can cheer. 
I can only brood on my plight. 
For the dead that I mourn are all waiting for me 
In that cold and white. 

“My tears, they will no longer flow 
For I know where I’m going to go 
When I die. 

“So I lift up my eyes that are red and so dry 
As I look up to clouds like foam 
For some sign that my family is waiting for me 
In that cold, white home.” 

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my musings on music, lyrics, and resurrecting facets of old careers to benefit the new. Please feel free to leave a comment. 


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More information abut Guy Donovan's Dragon Treasure series can be found HERE

And you can find him on his Amazon Author Page HERE

Guy was also a contributor to the Horde of Dragons anthology which can be found HERE