First off, you may not be hearing much from me for another week. This weekend is crazy with concerts and trips to the Cities and that sort of thing, and my grandfather coming to visit.
Someone may be wondering, or will read Wind Age someday and then wonder, why I chose early seventh-century England. Next to nobody writes anything set there. The Conversion Era of Britain gets a paragraph, if you’re really lucky, in a history book.
People writing things set in, say, Tudor England have people’s wills, diaries, christening/wedding/funeral records, sometimes tombs or statues, to go on. We have lots of art that realistically depicts what people were wearing. We have lots of poetry reflecting social ideas of the day. There’s no end of things to go on as far as research. Seventh-century England? We have very little art, very few remains in graves, not a whole lot written down. Chronicles (written by those monks, again, I told you they were handy), which, although they are good at telling us who reigned where for how long over whom, aren’t very good at giving us details like what they ate for dinner, which can be important for getting across a realistic feel in a story. We call them the Dark Ages because we don’t know a whole lot about them. Knowing your time and place practically inside-out is essential for a writer trying to do anything with historical fiction. So how can you reconcile these two? Is your book doomed from the start?
Well, I hope not. I have done a bit of research, looking at re-enactors’ groups and blogs and such — re-enactors tend to have high standards for historical accuracy, and if they’re nice enough to share their work, you can learn a lot from them. I’ve also drawn on Norse mythology, which is similar to the Germanic lore the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes brought to Britain from the Continent. Occasionally Norse fashions influence the clothes (the Vikings had not yet started raiding, but at this point were explorers and traders). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (translated) is probably one of the best primary sources. We’re not entirely in the dark.
As for why I chose this period — well, I didn’t. In the car one evening on the way home from school, when I saw the Wild Hunt in the clouds (I have told you how I got the idea for Wind Age, haven’t I?), I knew that it was in England during the time it was — slowly — converting. At the time I didn’t even know what century that was, but made a wild guess that it was 9th century. I’ve learned a lot in the last year. The story would lose its essence if it were put in any other period or any other place.
Writers, has it ever happened to you that you didn’t choose a character, or setting, or era, but it just was that way even though you knew diddly-squat about it beforehand and certainly wouldn’t have chosen it had you been able to do the choosing? I’m curious.