Category Archives: writing

Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Second Crusade

Amy Kelly’s engaging and evocative biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings says about Eleanor’s participation in the Second Crusade, citing Michaud’s History of the Crusades as her source:

With the queen came “many other ladies of quality,” Sybille , Countess of Flanders, whose half brother was King of Jerusalem, Mamille of Roucy, Florine of Bourgogne, Torqueri of Bouillon, Faydide of Toulouse, and scores of others whom the chroniclers could not afford the parchment to enumerate.

Do a google search for a few of those names. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You’ll find that scores of other writers, both in published non-fiction and fiction, as well as web-based sources have taken those words as gospel truth and have published that list of names almost word for word — Allison Weir, Norman Cantor, Antonia Fraser, etc.
Problem. Not one name on that list actually accompanied Eleanor to the Holy Land — and as it happens, Michaud mentions none of them. Let’s take a look at them one by one:

  • Sybille of Anjou, countess of Flanders: She did eventually make it to the Holy Land, travelling with her husband on his third pilgrimage there, at which point she refused to return home and spent the rest of her days as a nun in the convent of Bethany. But during the Second Crusade she stayed in Flanders to run the county, leaving her husband to go to Jerusalem alone.
  • Mamille of Roucy: Died around 1122.  The Second Crusade began in 1147
  • Florine of Bourgogne: There is a Florine of Bourgogne who was married to Prince Sweyn of Denmark and apparently they both went on the First Crusade where both of them died in 1097.  One source suggests she remarried and died in the Holy Land in 1102.
  • Faydide of Toulouse:  She, at first, seemed the most promising because her husband, Alfonso Jordan of Toulouse did go on the Second Crusade.  But it seems Faydide died long enough before the crusade that Alfonso was able to marry and then separate from Ermengard of Narbonne before he left for the east.
  • Torqueri of Bouillon:  Not only can I find no evidence of anyone of this name, “Torqueri” does not even seem to be a woman’s name.  Or a man’s name.

So, frankly, shame on all these authors for simply accepting Kelly’s words as fact, especially the ones who claim to be writing non-fiction. But the lie has been repeated so many times, it has become a commonplace. Faced with that, what does the historical novelist do? Work the myth into the story — or change it?

Page 56 Meme

Julianne tagged me for the p. 56 meme. I’m supposed to pick the book closest to me and then post the fifth sentence, and a few more.

The book closest to me is actually the section of Livy’s Histories that deal with the Roman wars with Hannibal. It has a very nice elephant on the cover and page 56, sentence 5 begins:

From the Druentia, Hannibal advanced towards the Alps mainly through open country, and reached the foothills without encountering any opposition from the local tribes. The nature of the mountains was not, of course, unknown to his men by rumour and report — and rumour commonly exaggerates the truth; yet in this case all tales were eclipsed by the reality. The dreadful vision was now before their eyes: the towering peaks, the snow-clad pinnacles soaring to the sky, the rude huts clinging to the rocks, beasts and cattle shrivelled and parched with cold, the people with their wild and ragged hair, all nature, animate and inanimate, stiff with frost.

And then I’m supposed to go to the 56th page of the book I am working on and post the fifth sentence from there. This bit comes from the end of a chapter:

After some time she grew concerned. Surely she and Liisa should have reached the high street by now. She was certain she’d recognize it from the noise. She noticed a new smell, replacing the former stench of animal parts and hides. It was burnt wood, but not from a householder’s hearth fire, more like a whole building that had burnt down and had been left to sit in the weather for a long time, a big building from the magnitude of the odour. If she had passed it on her way to the shop, she knew she would have noticed it before. There was no question about it, she was lost.

And now I tag five people:

Nan Hawthorne

ChristaCarol

Dr. B. who can do it when she gets back.

Lady Tess

and

C.W. Gortner

NaNoWriMo

Yup, I’m doing it this year again. I don’t think I’ll get to 50,000 words, but I expect to get a good chunk written even so, and it will help me get into a consistent habit of writing every day. I’m somewhere around 12,000 right now. This isn’t a new work started from scratch — I never do that. I’m adding words to a work already in progress. Technically cheating, but I’m not going to verify my writing at the end so it is okay.

What’s NaNoWriMo you ask? Why, it is National Novel Writing Month. Actually, it should be called International Novel Writing Month because thousands and thousands of people all over the world take it into their heads every year to write a novel of 50,000 words in the month of November, but InNaNoWriMo sounds silly. Okay, more silly.

I usually do this pretty much under the radar, but I decided to come out of the closet on my NaNo habit because of all the hostility to the idea of NaNo I found over in the comments to this thread at Jonathan Lyons’s blog. Look, if I were an agent or an editor, I’d pretty annoyed to get fifteen thousand poorly spelled 50,000 word NaNo novels postmarked December 1 on my doorstep. And it is no secret that some NaNoers can be annoying. But the critics should reconsider. First of all not everyone is even interested in publishing what they write. What’s wrong with writing a 50,000 word novel in a month, just to prove you can? And for someone who does want to get published some day, NaNo is a great tool if you are having trouble getting in the habit of regular writing. Yes of course you are a perfectionist who wants every word to be polished to gemlike perfection. And if at a page or a paragraph a day, you have managed to finish a novel to your satisfaction, then NaNo probably isn’t for you. But if you have worked and reworked your first chapter more times than you could count but never felt able to make that big move to chapter 2, maybe give NaNo a try some time. Your novel can’t be perfect if it isn’t finished.

Here’s a secret: the novel that got me an agent was a NaNo novel. I wrote 50,000 words one year and then finished it up the following November. And no, it wasn’t crap when I was done. Sure, I had to revise, but there is no reason a decent writer can’t write 4 to 5 pages a day of good writing, which is what the NaNo pace is. And my agent doesn’t know this because I saw no reason to tell her. So agents who fear NaNo, relax. The last book you sold at auction may have had its start in those 50,000 words.

Tournament

I’m trying to write a scene about a tournament and it’s a bit of a stretch for me.  That was an understatement.  I tend to skim battle and fight scenes in books, and glaze over in the movie theatre, and now I find myself having to come up with something more interesting than “He hit him with his sword and then the other guy struck back and then…”

So while I’m procrastinating, I will offer you this interesting factoid I just learned.  Did you know that our word “tournament” comes from the fact that, after the two jousting knight had made their initial charges towards each other on horseback, they had to quickly turn around, the “tournament,” to face each other and charge again?  Imagine the challenge of halting the momentum of a galloping horse, heavy with armor-laden rider, and turning the animal in the opposite direction.  The one who could do this with the most speed and skill had a definite advantage.

Point of View

Before I started writing, point of view was only something I’d ever identified in grade eleven English class.  I’m a voracious reader of fiction, but it never crossed my mind that a book might be written in first person, third person, objective, omniscient, close, limited, whatever.  And I had no awareness of a preference for what I liked to read best — though in retrospect I realize most of my favourite books are either in third limited or omniscient.  Indeed, I was well into the first draft of my book before I realized it was something I might want to pay more attention to (No, Lucy, third limited salted with omniscient for flavour and head hopping when you get lazy is *not* usually an effective style).

Now, I angst over it.  Will readers care about my heroine if they only encounter her in the third person?  Will they be bored of her yapping half way through if I tell the tale in first? Do I have a strong enough narrative voice to write omniscient?  Will I get everything in if I stay limited?

And if any of these terms confuse you, Dear Reader (note rarely attempted second person POV),  and you want to know what I am talking about, I highly recommend Ursula LeGuin’s Steering the Craft on this question and so many more relating to questions of more advanced writing style and technique.