• Finished!

    It’s been a long haul and I can’t imagine why I thought it would be feasible to write a blog at the same time as writing the actual novel.  Impossible!  Maybe some people can do it, but not this one.  All I can do is quote Stephen King again when he said ‘write with the door shut’ – and to write alongside a blog is to write with the doors wide open and a big sign saying, ‘come on in, folks.’  Not the way to do it.

    The characters followed their own path and Ranulph didn’t end up dead.  In fact he didn’t appear at all.  Others were a surprise. Mistress Sweet and Mistress Sour were unexpected.   Lissa and Simon too.  I’d been reading A Doll’s House when they appeared and after quite a few chapters I realised Delith had crept in under the guise of Norah!

    It’s amazing how characters seep in from elswhere and then become themselves because of the needs of the plot and the story they find themselves in.  Now the pilgrim ship has finally sailed I’m going to miss them.

    All done now. I hope readers will like them.  I’ve had some lovely encouragement recently – when somebody says they stayed up half the night because they wanted to know what heppened next, it makes it all worthwhile.  Thank you for all those lovely comments.  I’ll let you know when The Alchemist of Netley Abbey is ready for the road.

     

  • Strict Rules

    I was in the New Forest archive the other day – not at all dusty as archives are said to be – when I came across a few rules for nuns that would have irked Hildegard more than somewhat.

    It was men who made these rules up, of course, so we have to bear that in mind, and their interests become clear when we see what got them really agitated.

    Clothes.  Rules for how the nuns looked seemed uppermost, so nothing has changed much there then. It was suggested that hair- cloth should be worn next to the skin.  It must have been very itchy. To be fair, St Jerome, among many other sainted men, was said to wear a hair-shirt.  And Becket too, and when he was entombed he was also found to be crawling with lice – but that’s another story.

    The nuns’ garments whether of hair or rough wool, linen of course being forbidden, had to be very well tied, with strapples to the feet, and everything had to be laced tightly. Really tightly.  Well, you can see where that’s heading and I do believe some of them wore grey too, in various shades of…

    They were also forbidden to wear silken veils in any colour but black. Purple was absolutely forbidden.  The men also fulminated against silk girdles and purses (worn, as they were, on a belt slung suggestively low round the hips).   There were also to be no pins in silver or gold whether for the hair or for holding the clothes together.  They were allowed only one ring.

    What was called a peculium was money set aside from the nunnery’s common fund specifically to provide clothes although of course many women who retired to nunneries when their husbands died took their own clothes with them (as well as pet dogs, monkeys, singing birds and so forth, as you do).

    But did the nuns obey these edicts from on high?  Not likely.  The records are full of lists of the nuns’ transgressions despite the many inspections by their male bosses, the bishops, or whoever had the upper hand.  Did these men inspect the hair cloth underwear?  Not much point in making a rule if you can’t enforce it.  Records tell us that a nun called Anneys Bonneville actually wore a fur coat. Scandal.  It was full length.  For the warmth, she said.  Oh yes?  What her punishment was we might imagine but apparently she refused to give it up.

    I found an intriguing note about a priest who bequeathed to Agnes Harvey, a nun and obviously a close friend, his red mantle – a nun in red? – and, suggestively, a tapestry bed cover.  We can maybe imagine to what use these two articles were put when he and Agnes were alive.

    It’s a pleasure to discover that these distant ancestors of ours share the same delights as we do.  Some, like Hildegard, took their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience seriously and wrestled with the morality of breaking them but most people, men and women, were as naughty as they wanted to be. Human, after all.

    An intriguing and beautiful line from the Ancren Riwle is as follows: “They came forth into the nymph-hay with their rocks and wheels to spin.”

    It sounds lovely and there must be a painting somewhere to match such a line.  Any suggestions?

     

  • Mehala

    I’ve just finished reading the most sensational, passionate and powerful novel ever.  I really couldn’t put it down until the last word was read.  The hero out-Heathcliffes Heathcliffe.  It makes Shades of Grey look colourless.  The heroine was the source for  The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowle’s smash hit novel.  I’ll tell you more when I’ve had chance to get my thoughts in order.  Wow!  What a story!  It should never be out of print.

  • Looking good at the Castle

    There’s a myth that eveybody in the middle ages ran around looking rough, with uncombed hair, black teeth, bad complexions, and smelling rather bad.  Nothing could be further from the truth if contemporary records are anything to go by.  Beauty tips abound.

    Take hair for instance.  This applies to men and women:  mix dried rose petals, cloves, nutmeg and galangal with rose water and rinse through the hair.  Leave to dry.  Should smell re-e-a-ally good.

    For a smooth, touchable skin melt beeswax, almond oil, rose oil and frankincense in a dish over a flame.  Allow to cool.  Massage into face and body.  It also eases aches and pains after jousting.

    For bright eyes mix one part of wych hazel with four parts water.  Use as eye lotion.  Is said to improve eyesight too so you’ll see those pointed swords coming and it’ll give you an edge down at the butts.

    To lighten dark hair to look like a Florentine blonde soak hair in a bowl of fresh urine.  OK so that does sound wiffy but if you rinse the hair with the rose petal concoction afterwards you should still have plenty of allure.

    Teeth should be brushed using a hazel twig with mashed up fennel and lovage.  And, if you can get it, salt.

    For pleasant breath chew a leaf of mint or parsley.

    To make lips looks red and kissable rub them with beetroot.

    To round off your beauty treatment go to one of the town baths (the stews) and have a bran soak to make your skin  feel like best Cathay silk.

    After all that, don your best poulaines and a clean houplande and go to the feast at your nearest castle where you’ll be the belle or beau of the ball.

     

     

  • A Lead-lined Coffin

    It was Richard II’s birthday at Epiphany but it will also be the anniversary of his murder on St Valentine’s Day.

    He is believed to have been murdered by his ambitious cousin Henry Bolingbroke, one-time Duke of Lancaster, the usurper Henry IV.  King Richard’s body was carried out of Pontefract Castle at night in a wooden coffin.  When it reached London it was displayed before 20,000 people who came to pay their respects – or to see for themselves whether it really was King Richard, ‘the golden boy.’

    For this reason, and to put an end to the hopes of anybody thinking of over-turning Henry IV’s grab for power, his face was open to the public gaze.  It was said to have been serene in death.  And yet, the rest of his body had a lead lining hammered over it.  Was this to conceal the wounds that had been inflicted?  Only by exhuming the body from its tomb in Westminster Abbey where it lies next to his beloved wife Anne of Bohemia will we ever know the truth.

    DNA might also put to rest the rumour that, in fact, it is not King Richard at all, but a look-alike priest called Maskelyne who was murdered earlier.  Richard, the story goes, escaped to Scotland where the king there gave him a small annuity until 1419 when it stopped, presumaably because Richard had then died of natural causes.

    Is this true?

    Can we ever know?

    At least we would know if his DNA matched that of the other Plantagenets.  Or would we?  Maskelyne himself was said to be an illegitimate son of the Black Prince, Richard’s father.

    Mystery on mystery.

    This is why history is so fascinating.  A few answers, though, would help me sleep better at night.

    What do you think the truth is?

  • A sentimental journey

    To York again after some time.  The minster is still glorious, the walls intact, several wonderful buildings remain but the rest of it is so changed I felt as if I was visiting an entirely new place.  It was still buzzing however and great to be there.  Did an interview for BBC Radio York and Russell Walker was as lovely as everyone had said.  Thanks, Russell.  Then for some signing of the new paperback, The Law of Angels, at Waterstone’s and to meet their helpful and charming staff and after that over to the West Riding  to David Ford’s great little bookshop in Myrtle Place close to David Hockney’s gallery in Salt’s Mill to meet some of his customers.  All in all a really good day.  Thank you everybody for making it so enjoyable.

  • Clear or Cloudy

    Just heard the fabulous Emma Kirkby singing  ‘Clear or Cloudy’ from Dowland’s Second Book of Songs.  Hildegard would love this.  Bliss! Pity she was born too early (and missed Bach, Handel, Mozart too)