Hello, readers! I’m working on an editorial calendar for 2014. Please let me know in the comments about any topics you want to read about: anything Arthurian, Celtic, about books or writing (mine or the process in general). Are there people you’d like to see guest post? (I don’t know Stephen King, so he’s not an option, but I do know some historical fiction and fantasy writers, so I can at least ask them.) Do you want to guest post? I want this site to be as useful to you as possible, so if there’s something you’ve been wondering about, please tell me here and I’ll address it in 2014. Thanks for reading!
We’re talked a lot about the Celts here – their culture, religion, what they ate, in what kinds of houses/castles they may have lived – but I don’t think we’ve ever touched on exactly what the Celtic world looked like in the period of my novels (roughly 470 – 530 AD) and who lived where.
First of call, the Celts would not have called themselves Celts. That is an outside term from the Greek “Keltoi” or Latin “Celtae.” The Celts may have referred to themselves as Brythons or Britons. (They were not called English until after the rise of the Anglo Saxons later on in history.)
The term “Pict” meant “the painted people” and was used by outsiders to refer to anyone north of the Forth-Clyde line, an area that’s come to be called the Highlands. The Picts probably would have called themselves Cruithni, which translates into “the native people.” Their neighbors to the south usually called them Prydein or Priteni.
In Britain, there were many, many tribes (complete listing and some cool maps here) and kingdoms, but to summarize about the people, there were:
- The Saxons – This map doesn’t show it because it’s before the major influx of Anglo-Saxons, but by the end of the fifth century, pretty much the entire eastern coast from Dover up to Hadrian’s Wall was inhabited by the Saxons, who relentlessly kept pushing north and east. Within a century or so, they would gain influence over most of the country, driving the Celtic people into what is now Wales and Cornwall or forcing them to emigrate to Brittany.
- The Romanized Celts- Most of the country, roughly the areas in yellow and pink in the map above. Roman influence seems, logically, to be most keenly felt in major Roman towns and forts. The extent to which their influence spread into the countryside varies by location. The Roman towns and villas are likely where Christianity first touched the Celts of Britain.
- The less-Romanized Celts – In the west, the kingdoms of Gwynedd, Dyfed, Gwent and Powys (in modern Wales) were influenced by Rome, but perhaps not as much as in other areas. Laing nad Laing suggest that though they had major forts at Careleon and Caernarvon, the Roman influence was more of “regularizing” the government (110) than superseding it, especially in the western reaches, though they admit the influence Roman life was strong in the post-Roman era. In the south of Britain, the areas of Devon and Cornwall were relatively untouched by Roman influence, despite the town of Exeter being Rome’s westernmost holding.
- The Lowland Britons – The lands between Hadrian’s Wall and Antonine Wall (what is today southern Scotland) were peopled by four main tribes of Britons: Votadini, Damnonii, Novantae and Selgovae. These “Men of the North,” as they were sometimes called, lived in a military zone in the first two centuries of the Common Era and some of the tribes were frequently attacked by the Roman army. But after that, Rome pretty much left them alone. This area is pinkish-purple in the map above.
- The Highlanders – Today, we would call them Picts, but the were really a group of many tribes (some were thought to be nomadic). The Caledonii are the most well known, both for their fierceness and ability to live in extremely cold and bleak landscapes, but we would be remiss not to mention the others: Taexali, Vacomagi, Cornovii, Smertae, Caereni, Carnonacae, Creones, Venicones, and Epidi.
Obviously, my books focus on the area that is today the Britain and Scotland. But there were also Celtic people in Brittany (the Bretons) and Amorica/Galaicia (Gaul) at the time. And of course, the Irish were also Celts, perhaps the only ones completely devoid of Roman influence, since the Romans left them alone. I’m saving the Irish stuff until I write about Tristan and Isolde, so we have something to talk about then.
The Britons by Christopher Snyder
Celtic Britain and Ireland by Lloyd and Jennifer Laing
The Celts by Jean Markale
The Native Tribes of Britain (BBC)
What questions do you have about the Celtic peoples of Britain?
Some of you may remember a post I did a while back on “Guinevereian fiction,” i.e. Arthurian legend that’s focused on Guinevere. I came across this article from the Medievalists’ site and wanted to share in case any of you were interested. While, as you will see, there’s a lot I don’t agree with in this article, I’m happy anytime someone brings the role of Guinevere to the forefront of discussion in Arthurian legend, which is usually focused on the men.
Guinevere, the Superwoman of Contemporary Arthurian Fiction
By James Noble
(I have not read most of the books discussed, only The Mists of Avalon, Firelord and Beloved Exile. I’m purposely avoiding the others until I’m done with my own story. Noble summarizes each book, so you can make sense if his arguments even if you haven’t read the books.)
I’m all for celebrating a strong Guinevere and I agree with Noble’s assessment of the character in The Mists of Avalon. However, the use of the word “superwoman” in the article made me bristle. My first thought was the author is being pejorative in the use of the term. (Perhaps not, but that’s how it struck me.) Why, if a man raises children and rules his people, is he considered a hero, but when a woman does both (even if it is through the pen of a fiction writer), she has to be called “superwoman?” The term, to me, evokes a feeling that Guinevere is being over-characterized into something impossible, a comic book caricature, which I’m sure is not what Newman, Wooley or Miles intended in their novels.
The focus on motherhood/maternal instincts in this article doesn’t sit well with me, as that was never Guinevere’s sole function in Arthurian legend. The tradition of her being sterile or her children being stillborn is an old one (attributed in part to the need for Mordred, Arthur’s son/nephew to inherit the throne), a fact never mentioned by the author. Even in the medieval tales where Guinevere has little agency, she is more than a brood mare. She is a wife and mistress, an object of affection, if nothing else (not much better, but still). In the modern tales analyzed by Noble, she is also a queen. Why then, restrict the focus of such an essay to the traditional role of mother?
I take great offense to this statement made by Noble toward the end of the essay, “Indeed, one cannot help but wonder if it is not the mythology of the triple goddess that ultimately also gives shape to the trilogies by Newman,Woolley, and Miles, each of whom makes a point of affording her heroine a ‘maidenhood,’ a profound experience of motherhood, and what Malory would have been certain to describe as ‘a good ende’ as a wise woman.” Hello?! Putting aside the New Age triple-goddess reference, those are generally the three phases of life of any woman. Just as a man starts out as a boy, grows into a man and becomes (we hope) a wise old man, women’s lives follow the same pattern of girl, mother/adult woman (if she doesn’t have children), and wise woman. How else are you supposed to tell a life story? This is the same pattern followed in every biography (fiction or non-fiction) out there.
Perhaps he is reacting to the “happy ending” given to Guinevere in these books as a wise woman/healer. Why is it so wrong that the authors chose not to have her die young or end her life useless? That is their right. Personally, I don’t find that surprising coming from female authors who are writing for a modern audience. Part of writing stories like Guinevere’s is keeping your audience in mind, a group who I don’t think would take kindly to reading three books about a character only to have her wither away helplessly in the end.
If you can’t tell, it is attitudes like this that moved me to create my Guinevere, a 5th century Celtic woman, who like her ancestors, is a warrior, a priestess, mother, wife and many other roles. Though our historical evidence for warrior queens in the 4th and 5th century is lacking (as is almost all knowledge of that time), Celtic myth and what we know about Celtic culture gives us a solid basis on which to build the idea of a realistically strong Guinevere. This is not a “superwoman” who is in some way superhuman, but a woman of her time who used the opportunities life gave her to her advantage and prospered (or not) because of them. Guinevere is not above and beyond all womanhood; she is actually intimately accessible because she represents so much of the female experience.
So, what do you think of the article? Have you read any of the books analyzed? Do you agree or disagree with the author? Do you think I’m misinterpreting the article? (It’s always possible.) In your opinion, is it right for modern writers to try to make Guinevere into a strong woman or do you find that anachronistic? How do you think she should be portrayed?
So, I’m back to Book 3 in Guinevere’s story, and am excited to be exploring brand new terrain: the land of Brittany.
Today, Brittany is part of northwest France, but in Arthurian times, it was its own kingdom, though often considered a colony of Britain, peopled as it was by many former Britons, some of whom fled from the Anglo-Saxon invaders in late fourth and early fifth centuries. In some references, it’s even called “Less Britain” or “Little Britain,” and was part of a larger area known as Armorica.
Like many locations, its origins are murky. Historically, Brittany was home to five Celtic tribes in the time before the Romans conquered it: the Curiosolitae, the Namnetes, the Osismii, the Redones and the Veneti (Wikipedia has a longer explanation, if you want to learn more). Brittany became part of the Roman Empire in 56 AD. and had strong trade ties with Britain and Gaul, especially in the tin trade.
Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that the Brittany we know from legend was founded when the Roman emperor Magnus Maximus (a historical figure who reigned from 383 – 388 AD) took his army of Britons there and crowned a man known either as Conan Meriadoc or Eudaf, depending on the source, as king. King Arthur’s grandfather, Constantine, was said to be the brother of Conan’s successor, thereby giving Arthur a relation to Brittany.
In Arthurian legend, Brittany is most famously associated with Lancelot, Tristan, Viviane/Nimue, Merlin and to some extent, King Arthur. There are many more, but I am going to focus on these characters.
Brittany is the location of the famous Forest of Borceliande, the setting for many Arthurian stories. In some, it is the Breton equivalent of Avalon, ruled over by another Lady of the Lake. It is in this forest and by this woman that Lancelot is raised after his father Ban of Benwick (also in Brittany) dies. He gets his surname, du Lac or “of the Lake” from this upbringing. Borceliande is also where Merlin is trapped by Viviane/Nimue in the Estoire de Merlin. If you want to go visit Borceliande (I know I do, it’s next on my Arthurian list) look for the Forest of Paimpont, which is how it is currently known.
In addition to being his birthplace, Brittany is also home to Lancelot’s castle and possible final resting place, Joyous Gard (or Guard), which appears in the Vulgate Cycle of Arthurian legend. This castle was first called Dolorous Guard because of a dark curse, changing to Joyous Gard when Lancelot puts an end to the evil being done there. Other traditions refute this location, saying Bamburgh Castle off the coast of Northumberland in England is the true Joyous Gard.
In some versions of Arthurian legend, Lancelot flees to Brittany with Guinevere after rescuing her from death at the stake. In other versions, she remains behind, while he flees, causing Arthur to chase him, which leaves the throne open for Mordred, which results in the battle of Camlann.
In Gottfried’s version of Tristian’s lineage, he is Breton by virtue of his parentage: King Rivalin and Queen Blanchefleur. Even if he is not, he marries into Breton royalty when he takes Isolde of the White Hands (not to be confused with Isolde of Ireland, his first love) as his wife. He is said to live with her in Brittany until he dies of a broken heart, falsely believing Isolde of Ireland abandoned him in his hour of greatest need.
Brittany is also the home of King Hoel, who was a relative and ally of King Arthur, and in many traditions, also father-in-law to Tristan through his marriage to Isolde of the White Hands.
The Giant of Mont-Saint-Michel
If you’ve been around here a while, you know an Arthurian roundup wouldn’t be complete without at least one weird association. Brittany, or more specifically, Mont-Saint-Michel, was said to be besieged by giant from Spain, who had quite rudely kidnapped Lady Helena, a relative of King Hoel. Though thousands of knights tried and failed to best the giant, only King Arthur was victorious.
What do you know about Brittany from Arthurian legend? What do you want to know more about? Share your questions and I’ll try to find answers.
Arthurian Romance in Brittany
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Arthurian Legends by Ronan Cohhlan
Encyclopedia Britannica Online: Brittany (region, France)
King Arthur and the Grail Quest by John Matthews
Knights of the Round Table (Pitkin Guide)
The other night I came across an inspiring post by author Jane Kirkpatrick about how the acronym YIELD can be used to show us how to find happiness as writers. Check it out. I'll wait.
Are you back? It's great stuff, right? Well, it got me to thinking about the concept of "yielding" and how it fits into our lives as readers, writers, and human beings.
I don’t quit projects easily, but not all novels work out. I’ve stopped writing Glastonbury, the book I began on November 1. After almost 20,000 words, I’ve realized I don’t have the passion for these characters, this story, that I do for my Guinevere books and some of the others I have planned. I’m forcing a story that is not ready to be told – or may not even be mine to tell – that’s why it’s not working.
I may pick it up again someday, who knows. The research and the writing, the time I’ve spent on the project will benefit me somehow, even if I can’t see it yet.
The good news is, I can still finish out NaNoWriMo with book 3 of Guinevere’s story. This afternoon I’m going to take a hard look at the plot and what needs to be done. Then, I’ll get back to writing it. Things happen for a reason, right?
PS – The title of this post comes from a song. Can you name the song and/or artist?
“First I created the mess. Then I had to clean the mess up.” - Maryka Biaggio, author of Parlor Games
This morning I started listening the series of workshops from the Historical Novel Society’s 2013 conference that I purchased as audio files a few months back. That quote is one of the gems from the workshop about writing women in history. Ms. Biaggio was talking about her research process, but what she said can just as aptly be applied to the writing process.
It’s also pretty much how I feel about writing a first draft. You have to create the world, it’s characters, their conflicts and dialogue before you can polish it to make it something readable. I have told myself this over and over the last few days (well, actually the last few months, if you’ve been following my struggles with book 3 of Guinevere’s story).
So far NaNo has been bi-polar. We started out manic at over 5,000 words on the first day. Okay, chalk that up to the enthusiasm of a new book and the excitement all over the interwebs about NaNo. All I know is, by the end of day 1, it felt like I could write the whole novel in November. The book wanted out and it wanted out NOW!
Yesterday was still pretty productive, at nearly 2,500 words, some written in places as crazy as the hair salon, since it was a busy day. But for some reason, I hit a slump last night – like the “ready to chuck it all in the trash bin” kind. I started several scenes, only to leave them unfinished because I wasn’t sure how I’d use them in the end product. I broke the #1 rule of NaNoWriMo: don’t think, just write.
Today I decided to give my brain a break and do other things this morning like walking at the lake (yes, I’ve made my every other day exercise goal this week!) and just sitting and watching the leaves fall. It’s sad, but I can’t remember the last time I slowed down enough to do something like that.
Time came for one of our local write-ins. I went, full of enthusiasm and hope, but I couldn’t seem to get in the groove. I started and stopped a few scenes, but couldn’t block out the conversations around me and the truly terrible music piped in overhead, even with my iPod on loud. Finally, I gave up and went home.
Having only written something like 500 words, I felt like a failure. I even tweeted it. Then I drank half a bottle of wine and wallowed in self pity for a while. But then I saw a tweet by author Robin LaFevers (whose His Fair Assassin books I cannot recommend highly enough) saying she wrote 4,000 words today, a feat she rarely achieves. I congratulated her and she wrote back a very encouraging note. This inspired me to get off my duff and try again. Two hours later I had 1,400 more words, a few of which are the first truly beautiful lines I’ve written in this book. A few hours after that, I surpassed 10,000 total for the first three days.
(For those who haven’t realized it yet, I’m a wee bit competitive. I’m proud to report that as of the moment I hit publish on this, I was the second highest in word count in my region. Yes, I’m bragging. Ahem.)
I still have no idea how this mess of scenes is going to weave itself into a book, but you know what? I’ve gotten better about not worrying about that (note I didn’t say I’ve stopped worrying about it; I’m a work in progress). It always works out after a few weeks/months of editing. (This is my fourth book; you would think I’d know that by now, but apparently I don’t.) What matters right now is getting the words down, telling the story to myself, as it were. I’m going to need all of you to remind me of this many times over the next month.
So, it was touch and go for a while, but Glastonbury lives. And it seems to have all of its fingers and toes and is starting to emit a healthy wail, now that I’ve stopped trying to control it. I think I was putting too much pressure on myself hoping for four 5,000+ word days in a row (wanted to pad my word count for week nights when the brain will be too fried to write) and when that didn’t happen according to plan, I got in my own way. Now my goal is back to what it should be. Reach 50,000 words this month with the best writing I can (anything above that is gravy) and fix it when I edit in January. I’m the only one expecting any more than that from me.
Have you ever faced a similar struggle where you set yourself up for a fall? How did you resolve it? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo orROW80? How’s it going for you?