alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

Prithee, Mistress, what art thou about, fixed to that glowing square as though ’twas a broadsheet? Art though mazed by its unearthly glow? Nay, surely it will bewitch thee, and thou shouldst smash it. Smash it now afore thy soul be sucked from thy very bones!


Gytha and Wulfwaru at Kim’s feast, informally dressed – it was very hot!

Funny, right? Me talking in bad mimicry of the little I remember of Shakespeare, and pretending not to know what a computer screen is. It’s funny because we both know it’s a game, and in fact I am well aware of the internet and I’m also well aware that you know about computers too. If we stopped pretending, then we could have a conversation about what a Tudor person might make of the internet in the relaxed and informal atmosphere of knowing that we are two people of equal standing, with a similar grounding in the concepts that we’re using.

If one of us knew of research or evidence that proved the Tudors would have thought the computer wasn’t a danger to your soul, they could share it, easy as saying “There’s an article in History Today that suggests the Tudors were already blase about the printing press – I think they’d have seen this as a parallel technology rather than a spiritual threat. I’ll send you a link.”

But imagine trying to have that conversation while the first person is determined not to break character – not to say anything that could not have been said or thought by a Tudor person. Suddenly you have a communication gap. Suddenly you have to explain the internet to someone who already knows what it is, because they refuse to stop pretending that they don’t. If you want to talk about research, you must invent some period-appropriate method of getting it into the conversation. Woe betide you if it’s archaeology, and you then have to explain why 21st Century archaeologists think it’s okay to dig up graves.

If you’re anything like me you’ll give up in frustration within the first few sentences.

I imagine there is a way to interact with re-enactors who are determined to pretend they’re actual inhabitants of a different time period. Perhaps I should have come up with a backstory for myself involving time travel, allowing me to also pretend I was in the past.

The trouble is that if I was in the past, I wouldn’t have walked round in a modern sundress and shorts taking photos. I’d have known that was inappropriate. I’d have found a way to get some Tudor clothes and prepared a story about being a Finnish princess whose strange behaviour could have been treated as foreign eccentricity.

In other words, to enjoy the pretence, I would also have had to pretend. I would have had to pretend in some way that put me on a footing where I could converse with the reenactors as an equal, rather than allowing myself to be a prop to whom they could impart their wisdom.

I didn’t like being cast as the clueless modern who knows absolutely nothing about the past. I am a re-enactor myself and I know how to churn butter. I know perfectly well what you’re doing with that spinning wheel, mistress, I don’t need you to explain it to me. I know, Mr. “Coppice Worker,” that this clearing you’re sitting in with your pole-lathes hasn’t been coppiced since it was planted. How about you stop trying to tell me things I already know and allow us to have a conversation where you treat me like a person instead of your stereotype of a clueless member of the public?

Perhaps I should explain. It was our family summer holiday recently, and naturally we used the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the things we like. Which turns out to be history and eating large meals. We managed to encounter two different species of re-enactment in the same week. One day we went out to Kentwell Hall, for one of their Tudor days, and the next we went to Wychurst, the feast hall of Regia Anglorum, to celebrate the life of Kim Siddorn, its founder, and erect a cross in his memory.

Gytha adds a handful of soil to the base of Kim's cross. Everyone present added theirs before it was filled in.

Gytha adds a handful of soil to the base of Kim’s cross. Everyone present added theirs before it was filled in.

I should declare a bias – I am a member of Regia Anglorum, and although I don’t take part in many of their events any more, I am still proud of Regia’s simultaneous commitment to authenticity and cheerful willingness to discuss anything with anyone.

Regia takes the view that if we were to pretend to be Anglo-Saxons or Vikings, we would be speaking a different language to the public. We would be mutually incomprehensible – and what would be the point of that?

So if you come onto a Regia site, you will see nothing that you would not have seen in the 9th Century. You will see people carving wood and stone, cooking on a fire-pit, making cheese, spinning, weaving, telling stories, playing music etc as closely as we can get it to how they would have done it in the 9th Century.

But if you come up to someone and say “I thought the draw-knife didn’t come in till the Normans? I thought everything was done with an axe before then?” A Regia re-enactor will look up and smile, recognising a fellow enthusiast, and either say “Oh blimey, I don’t know. Let me get Ketil, he’s the woodworking expert,” or “Well, there’s a marginal drawing in the Gesta Anglorum that shows something that looks like a draw-knife, and the cut pattern of the timbers on the Oseberg ship suggests something more controllable than an axe, so we’ve ruled it as a possible. You’re into woodwork yourself, or…?”

And then you can have a conversation in which you both learn from each other. This is not to say that Regia doesn’t also meet clueless members of the public(tm). I remember one who asked me “Did they have wood in those days?” and about my daughter – sleeping in a rush basket by my feet – said “Is that a real baby?” But (a) we don’t go into any conversation assuming the person knows nothing, and (b) we had a good chat about both of those things anyway, because we could do it without making them feel stupid or talked down to.

Everyone has moments of saying awkward things when they’re doing something stressful, like talking to weirdos in strange costumes. It still doesn’t mean you’re always going to be teaching them. Quite possibly, if you chatted like equals, you would find out that they were experts at knitting and they could help you work out that naalbinding stitch you can’t figure out for the life of you.

Is there a point to this rant?

Mostly, I admit, it is to help me to figure out why the experience of being talked to by the Kentwell Hall re-enactors freaks me out so much. What are the underlying principles behind my feeling that it’s such a horrible experience I don’t want to go again?

I think it is this – history is more fun if you don’t forget that your audience are modern people just like you. History is more fun if you assume your viewers/your readers know as much as you do, and talk to them with the mindset that you are talking to an equal. They might well know more than you about certain things, but even if they don’t, they are still someone who has valuable insights of their own. History is hard enough to get to grips with if you don’t introduce a deliberate culture chasm by interposing several new layers of pretending and falsehood.

We can’t talk to the Tudors, and there’s something very fake about pretending that we can.

To be frank the whole experience drove me up the wall, like that ‘game’ cruel children used to play at school where instead of responding to what you said they’d just repeat it until you had to accept that language was broken, the social order was destroyed, and you could only protect yourself by running away and refusing to speak around them ever again. It was, for me, an experience of an utter failure to communicate, and you can call me a killjoy all you like, but I found it almost scary.

This is without the whole sexual harassment thing, of course. That’s another story.

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

The summer holidays have thankfully come to an end, edits on the Trowchester books can only last so long, and that leaves me with the rest of the year to write something new. So, what should it be?

I’m currently writing a fantasy about three sets of people from diverse cultures who get stranded together on a floating island due to shipwreck/the death of the gods. That’s slow going as I gradually work out the world building, but very entertaining. But after that, I have a choice of:

1. Another 3 Trowchester books – small British city contemporaries featuring the occasional murder and a bit of morris dancing.

2. A follow up of The Reluctant Berserker where Brid the slave gets a story of his own. (For which I need to do some research on Celtic Britain in the 6th Century.)

3. Kind of tempted to do a sort of action/adventury jewel thief m/f romance with an option of turning it m/m/f later on.

4. A follow up to The Wages of Sin.

5. A follow up to The Crimson Outlaw.

6. Something else of your suggestion?

I’d welcome anyone’s advice, as I really don’t have a preference at all.


I keep thinking I ought to leave Tumblr because it’s such a time sink, but I find so many interesting things there. For example, this post about a multi-racial casting for founders of the Hogwarts houses

particularly the erudite response of supernatasha to the claim that everyone was white in Europe during the middle-ages. I feel sure this is going to be of particular relevance to me once Blue Eyed Stranger comes out and people discover that one of my main characters is a black Viking reenactor. As a matter of fact, the knowledge that people of colour have probably always been in Britain is a fact that Martin himself is passionate about passing on to his own pupils. It’s nice for me not to have had to assemble the research on that myself. I can just refer anyone who objects to go to the excellent Medieval POC.


And since I appear to be doing a bit of a tombola – pick three tickets at random and see what you get – kind of blog post, I’m going to end with something that made me happy this week:

YouTube Preview Image

I just wish I could buy it somewhere!

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

*g* It’s a slightly inflammatory title, I admit, but I do have a point, though it would be clearer if I rephrased it as “History and Historical Fantasy, is there a difference?”


I’m discussing this over on the Samhain Romance blog

and although I wouldn’t say I was 100% serious about it, having seen how easily the contributions of women have been written out of the history I was taught, giving an entirely false impression, I’m not really 100% joking either. It would be nice if we could be sure history was more than just a story made up from various different viewpoints to try to fit whatever small scraps of evidence we have left, but I’m not sure if we can.

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

How come I know a bunch of boring stuff about Henry VIII and didn’t know about this?


As part of my ongoing love affair with all things Romanian, I now discover that in Roman times they had artifacts of spectacular weirdness and opulence. Why have I not heard of the Dacians before? I was assuming a people the Romans thought of as ‘barbarians’ would be at a level of sophistication comparable with Dark Ages Saxons, not living in cities whose watercourses could be blocked to end a siege, and dining in such splendour as this:


wearing a wreath like this one

Sofia - Odrysian Wreath from Golyamata Mogila

Although, speaking of Dark Ages Saxons, this is described as Dacian gold, but I’d have pegged it as Anglo-Saxon any day:

I do honestly feel quite cheated that I was pretty much taught that the Romans were the only interesting people out there at the time, and everyone else was a mud-covered bog dweller. History (like the Truth) is out there, but sometimes you don’t know it’s there to be found until you stumble over it by accident.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

That feeling you get when you open a mysterious cardboard box, unexpectedly delivered by the postman in the morning, and lift out the glossy-backed print copy of a book you wrote yourself.


Actually, there is something like it, and it’s the feeling you get when you hold your new child. Admittedly, the second thing is bigger and scarier and more life changing, but there’s something of the same disbelieving joy about both things. I did that! And behold, it was good.

I think the similarity between books and children is behind a lot of the antics of authors behaving badly on the internet. No parent is going to stand for it if some stranger insults their child. Most authors feel a similar surge of protective outrage on behalf of their books. Both sets of people eventually have to get out of it by accepting that a grown up child/story ought to be capable of defending itself… but now my metaphor is wandering off somewhere without leaving a forwarding address, so I will leave it there.

On a different note, I finally got a good photo of the new lighting effect. It’s not quite as 70s looking as this makes it seem, mind you!


And on a third note, I’ve been having an interesting conversation about Mary Renault’s The Charioteer and other books over on Goodreads. I had said I picked up a misogynistic vibe from The Charioteer which made me reluctant to revisit her other books, even though the historicals had been favourites. I didn’t want to risk finding out that they gave me the same feeling.

One of the comments I got in return said that Renault was just reflecting the authentic misogyny of ancient Greece, and I replied that, since an author could choose whatever they wanted to put in their own book, just because ancient Greece was misogynistic didn’t mean that she had to be. She could write against that grain. Coincidentally, but fortuitously, I came across a post on my friends list which said much the same thing, only better:

I’m sure it holds equally true for historically authentic sexism in historicals too. I know I’m constantly running into new research that undermined all I was taught about women’s roles in the past. Pilots, hermits, warriors, merchants, scientists, philosophers, poets, craftspeople, midwives, doctors, witches, pirates, queens… all of it rubbed out or defaced by history, where ‘history’ means ‘the stories we tell ourselves about the past.’ And you know what, wives are not bad things to be either. Mothers, sisters, aunts (maiden and otherwise), daughters and wives don’t have to be written as the stultifying forces of emasculating convention either. Lady Mary Wortley-Montague would have something very cutting to say about that, if she could leave off spinning in her grave long enough.

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

So, it’s worth thinking about light, if you’re writing a historical novel, particularly if you live and/or were brought up in a city. We moderns are as unaware of light as a fish is of water. We switch it on where we need it, and the night goes away in an even wash of colourless white illumination. Even when we switch it off, outside the windows the lamps keep shining and all our streets are yellow and the shadows are madder-brown.

Photographers and painters spend their lives acutely aware of the light – it’s angle, its intensity and its colour, and the fall of the places where it is absent. But writers have a tendency to ignore it, because we are less visual beings and we’re too busy worrying about plot and characterisation, and wondering if we’ve got too much description rather than too little.

I think that’s a shame, because if you’ve ever sat in a room illumined only by candlelight, you’ll know that it’s an entirely different experience from sitting in the same room under electric light. There’s a sense of human impermanence and fragility from the fact that the light is so vulnerable – too sharp a draught and those little flames that flicker so brightly on the end of their wicks could snuff out. The darkness is behind them all, waiting for its chance, and it can be felt, like a prowling presence just outside the protective circle.


Candlelight is also far more beautiful than electric. The colour of candlelight is the colour of the light before a storm – thick, golden and sweet. Garments look richer in it, faces look smoother, soft-focus, dusted with gilding. It’s a warm light that encourages quiet voices and secrets, intimacy and intrigue. And it casts more shadows.

Out there, beyond the charmed circle, outside the light, who knows what lurks? Even the rooms of your house fill up with hidden things, whether that be murder clues or secret trysts or supernatural terrors.

If you’ve ever walked outside, in the countryside, where there is no light pollution, on an overcast night, on your own, you’ll know you can feel buried alive even in the open air. And if you’ve done the same under a full moon, when the sky is indigo and green as a bad bruise, and all the world is tricksy silver-blue, you’ll appreciate how hard it was for our ancestors not to believe in elves and wights and headless horsemen. Under that lunatic light, you can practically see them wherever you look.

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

This weekend saw me in two layers of thermals and a big black coat playing as one of Coton Morris Men’s musicians, and can I just say that (a) the inventor of handwarmers is hereby promoted by me to the status of a minor god, and (b) nobody told me that whistle players need to carry a windsock to make sure they stand with the wind behind them. Otherwise, while you’re trying to blow a note, the breeze blows back and all you get is silence and red in the face.

I have decided to drop all that Irish- tin- penny- nonsense at the front. The instrument doesn’t originate in Ireland, isn’t always made of tin, and even the cheapest ones cost about a fiver.

Here, for example, is an article about the oldest musical instrument in the world which is still playable, a bone flute from Jiahu in Henan province in China and here is a vulture bone one from Germany 35,000 years ago. Both of them are end-blown, from what I can see, so ‘flute’ is a bit misleading.

In deference to the fact that the whistle is one of the most ancient instruments on the planet, I’m adopting the plain Anglo-Saxon word for the instrument (hwistle) and just sprucing up the spelling a bit.

Speaking of Anglo-Saxon whistles, have a lovely video of someone who is either admirably non-gender-biased about their name, or not really Kate Corwen at all, playing one.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft.


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