Thursday, 29 May 2008

Bathing in the Middle Ages

Yes, washing was popular then, and I bet London smelled better, too...

I remember Michael Palin remarking that they'd got it wrong when making Monty Python and the Holy Grail - they'd blacked out people's teeth, assuming that in the absence of dentists, teeth would rot and fall out. Of course, without sugar, medieval teeth were in better shape than our own, as can be seen in surviving skeletons of that period.

Another misconception is that no one washed in the Middle Ages. In fact, bath houses were popular, and some castles had running hot and cold water, and a full time bathman.

One of the most charming rooms in the twelfth century part of Leeds Castle is the Queen's Bathroom, with its draped barrel-shaped bathtub, with a tent-like canopy to keep off the draughts and afford a little privacy. Hot water, with herbs and flower petals, and a maid to hand you a towel - real luxury.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

He uttered a vile oath...

...but should I tell the reader what it was?

Swearing comes from early forms of word magic - the entirely correct idea that words have power. How far should you go with swear words in a book teenagers may read?

There's a scene in Torbrek...and the Dragon Variation where Tor, out hunting on her own, finds a boy apparently unconscious in the forest. She runs to help, and is crouched over him when his eyes open and look past her. He is a decoy. 'Oh no!' she cries, spinning round to confront five men come to get her.

My daughter read this and said, 'She wouldn't say oh no.'

Minty is eighteen, the same age as Tor, and I take her opinion seriously. 'What would she say, then?'


'Ah.' I left it for a couple of months, then there was an interesting discussion on the Youwriteon forum about swearing in historical and fantasy novels. I decided I should be more creative. What about, for general abuse and disparagement;

Go shag a dragon
He thinks he's the dragon's bollocks
Oh, pick the scales off a dragon!

...and from my friend Cat;

Skirt clinger
Go lay a dragon egg
He's the northern end of a south-bound donkey
You pile of dragon dung
His ladder doesn't reach the top

I have to say, I decided my daughter was right. For the moment at any rate, Tor's dismayed reaction is what Minty's would be.

Friday, 9 May 2008


I was lucky enough to be one of the first seven pre-beta testers of the new website for unpublished writers, Authonomy (the link won't let you into the site yet, as it's still beta).

You are able to load anything over 10,000 words of your book(s) - unlike most members, I've loaded all of mine, in case anyone gets carried away and wants to read the whole thing. You also load cover art, a pitch to make others want to read your book, and an image to represent you.

Each member has a virtual bookshelf he/she can load with up to five books from the site. I'm swapping mine around as I read new extracts. And you can leave a comment on other people's books.

It's all rather fun.

Monday, 5 May 2008


Those of you who regularly scan my blog for the tiniest activity on my part (I hardly like to say it, but perhaps you should get out more) will have noticed that I have changed the name of the novel formerly known as Rising Fire. I've also tinkered with the covers.

I'm not saying that Torbrek...and the Dragon Variation will be the final title. But that's what it is for now. Thank you Norm, whose suggestion it was.

I'd write a little about titles, but am reluctant to quote the excellent examples I've come across of unpublished novels' titles, as I think that while one's novel is most unlikely to be stolen, an amazing title is actually quite likely to be pinched by the unscrupulous.

Raymond Chandler used to list any good titles that occurred to him in case they came in handy. Sensible man. Wish I'd done that.