Friday, 5 June 2009

The past is another country...

'Stonehenge' by John Constable (from Wikimedia Commons)...They do things differently there.' (L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between)

Setting any story in the distant past brings its own delights and perils. For me it allows my heroines to be engaging and ingenious, sometimes accepting historical society's conventions and restrictions, sometimes going against them, but always provoking inner or outward conflict. Heroes can be shown off to great advantage, really doing something - protecting, rescuing, struggling with great war-horses, battling the elements or the bad guys.

However, the backdrop against which all this high-stakes, high-adventure romance takes place needs to be carefully drawn and considered. Fashions are different, right down to underwear (or lack of it). Transport, law, weapons, animals, trees, climate, customs - these can all be very different from the present.

My oldest book, in both creative genesis and the date at which it is set, is Bronze Lightning. This is set in the Bronze Age, before the eruption of Thera (the modern Greek island of Santorini), the island shown below in a Bronze age fresco. Some structures, such as the pyramids and Stonehenge, were already old when the story opens in 1562 BC, although these also looked different. The pyramids I have imagined with their wonderful limestone covering, which would have made them gleam a brilliant white in the landscape. Stonehenge was also complete and not yet fallen into the decay already familiar when Constable created his painting of it.

Ritual places are not the only things that were different in the distant past. Some activities, such as the smelting of metals, farming, brewing, the making of clothes, were all different from what came later and very different from our own time.

Bronze age fresco from Aktrotiri in Thera (Santorini)(Wikimedia Commons)Beliefs and religion were also very different and, given the few written sources we have from Bronze Age Europe, must be inferred from archaeology and other means. Fearn the hero believes in a Sky God who has some characters that are similar to the later Viking God Thor: all later religions tend to have 'clues' of past faiths in them. He also undergoes a trance state where he sees symbols that modern shamans have also reported seeing in trances and which have been painted by cave painters.

In Bronze Lightning I bring the heroine Sarmatia right to my own doorstep. The winter house she lives in is set where my parents' house is now, and the wild apple and cherry trees she sees in blossom are ones I have known since childhood. Lots of other details are changed, however, because the distant past truly is another country.

In the Bronze Age, the climate in England was warmer and drier than today. There was much more woodland, and animals such as beavers, bears, wolves and wild boar in the woods. We have lost all these creatures excerpt for the boar, which has escaped from farms in southern England and is making its home in woodland again. Lime trees flourished, and orchids and other flowers that are rare or extinct today. The sheep Sarmatia care for were more like Soay sheep, that do not flock and whose fleece is not at all like the thick fleeces of modern breeds. The cattle were smaller or completely wild. Even the stars she followed were different. Even the polar star hung in a different place in the Bronze Age.

I exploit these differences to show the past in my story, to remind my readers that they are in another time, another place... where magic and romance do truly go hand in hand.

[This piece was posted as part of Classic Romance Revival's Carnival event. Contest winners are listed here:

http://www.classicromancerevival.com/blog/?p=967

A CRR free read package for the 100th lucky subscriber is still available - we are so nearly there! It could just be you! While you're at the CRR blog, look for the subscribe2 block in the sidebar, enter your email address and click send.]

27 comments:

lainey bancroft said...

Good job, Lindsay. I'm in awe of authors who take the time to research and get those neat little details woven in to their stories so a reader learns unique facts while being entertained with a great story.

Kaye Manro said...

You are such a great historian in your own right, Lindsay. And you have such a talent for visually pulling it into your stories. Setting a story in the Bronze age is not only like another contry, but another world as well! Wonderful job!

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks, Lainey and Kaye! (Wow, I'm blushing!)

If you go to the Classic Romance Revival blog you will find more wonderful blogs on setting - comment on each and you have a chance to win lots of prizes!

Kathleen O said...

This is what makes a book so real is getting the detail just right. Kudos to you Lindsay for doing your homework..

lastnerve said...

WOW! Awesome blog. I love how much you research for your books!

Val
lastnerve2000@gmail.com

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks Kathleen and Val!

I should make it clear to everyone- in order to win the prizes on offer at Classic Romance Revival this weekend, you will need to visit all the blogs mentioned at CRR and leave a comment on each.

There are some super articles on offer, very interesting, and the prizes are well worth having!

Lindsay Townsend said...

Here's the blog address for the CRR blog. From there you will be able to visit all the other blogs featured in this travel and treasure hunt!
http://www.classicromancerevival.com/blog/

Jacquie Rogers said...

I love imagining what life would be like in ancient or pre-historic times. Kudos to you for tackling such a project. All your books sound amazing!

Hywela Lyn said...

What a fascinating post, Lindsay. I know how much research is involved in writing about the past myself - inlcuding 'lack of underwear' LOL!

Your books sound wonderful, I really want to read Bronze Lightning now - and I love the picture of Stonehenge, so atmospheric.

Linda Banche said...

I like exotic settings. And a ancient time as well as an exotic place makes for doubly exotic.

Miriam Newman said...

Lindsay, your grasp of history is amazing and that photo at the top of your column knocks me out (in a good way!).

She said...

A well researched historial romance is a good way to begin learning about a place and time I can no longer go. If I'm interested enough about the time or place I can then do more research and find books about the time or place. If the subject doesn't interest me, then I have learned something about it but haven't bored myself.

Babyblue22 said...

Hey Lindsay!
Great Post!!! I'm amazed at how much you know..LOL
Your very deticated to your work and it shows. You definitely transport us back!!
Thanks!!

~Afshan
Afshan522@aol.com

MAGGI said...

Wonderful research, Lindsay. It makes your books very special.
Maggi

Monya Clayton said...

Very nice post, Lindsay, very interesting. I'm glad you like descriptions as well as I do - I should have been a 19th century British author, I think, so I could get away with them.

Alas, I must work at being a 21st century writer, technology and all.

Monya (Mary) Clayton

MarthaE said...

Lindsay - it sounds like you do a beautiful job of blending your own personal family settings with the world that you create in your story! That would seem to make it both scenic and significant right?! It also sounds like you put a lot of work into the details considering transport, weapons, etc. to fit in the time period. Good job!

Danielle Thorne said...

I cannot imagine the breadth of research that would go into writing something this far back. I stand amazed by authors who choose to write in such early periods. You are such a diverse and intelligent author, Lindsay.

PhyllisC said...

I enjoy your books very much. Historical genre is my favorite. I see why I enjoy yours so much, because of all the time and effort that you put into your research. Thanks for the effort.

Sandra Kay said...

Lindsay, thank you for a beautiful portrait of times past. What a challenge to set a story in the Bronze Age. Another country indeed!

You take wonders that are still visible today, and transport them back in time to the glory of their beginnings.

Simply Scenic? Or 'Specially Significant? I think the way you describe them makes them "Specially Significant.

E.A. West said...

Wow! I'm in awe of all the research you've put into your writing and the amazing amount of historical knowledge you have. Authors who can bring ancient history to life in such a believable manner deserve a huge round of applause. And your title is so true. What a country is like now can be completely foreign to what it was centuries ago.

pams00 said...

Lindsay, enjoyed your post. I have always thought that historicals/historical romance would be one of the hardest things to write because of all the extra research involved to get things "right" with the time period.

Bronze Lighting looks wonderful! I am a big Greek Mythology and Bronze Age fan.

Pam S
pams00@aol.com

LK Hunsaker said...

I love the bronze age detail, Lindsay! Your historical research does show so nicely in your work. :-)

LORETTA CANTON said...

I'm in awe at the things that I can learn from reading. Good Post.


lbcanton@verizon.net

Lindsay Townsend said...

Many, many thanks to all of you for reading and commenting so generously on my blog piece! I'm thrilled you enjoyed it and I hope you also enjoyed the other blog articles shown as part of the CRR blog Carnival.

The Results of the Carnival will be announced shortly. To learn more about the next part of the CRR Carnival and the prixes, please go here:

http://www.classicromancerevival.com/blog/?p=688

Best wishes, Lindsay Townsend

Lindsay Townsend said...

Oops! That should be PRIZES!!
Sorry about that. Best wishes, Lindsay

Lindsay Townsend said...

Hey everyone - we have our winners in the Classic Romance Revival Blog Carnival Contest. You can find the list at:

http://www.classicromancerevival.com/blog/?p=967

NOTE: CHECK YOUR NAME TO SEE IF WE NEED YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS. If so, please email us offlist at this email address so that we can send you your prize.

Finally, our free read package for the 100th lucky subscriber is still available - we are so nearly there! It could just be you! Look for the subscribe2 block in the sidebar, enter your email address and click send.

See you on the blog!
Jude

Lindsay Townsend said...

Hello, SHE!

Many congratulations - you have won 2 prizes in the Classic Romance Revival Carnival! To send your prizes, I need your email, please.