Monthly Archives: September 2011

What’s A Dame To Do?

I’m incredibly intrigued by this Boke of St Albans.  As I mentioned in my previous post, it was written in 1486.  It’s a text, in three chapters, on Hawking, Hunting and Heraldry.  But, amazingly, it was written by a woman!  A Dame Julyans (“Juliana”) Barnes, whose title “Dame” did not, at the time, actually denote nobility in the 15th century, rather it was to say “Mistress” or “Mrs”.

But how strange for us to think of a 15th century “Mrs. Barnes” being a widely-published authoress in such masculine subjects!  But she had no few contemporary authoresses who wrote on many subjects from hunting to politics and so forth, so it’s really just our own projected misconceptions about the time period which make us think so!

It’s intrigued me, and now I’m thinking how it would be to incorporate into The Falconer’s Apprentice the storyline of a woman like our “Dame” who challenges such preconceptions of ours.  A hawking, hunting, politically-aware ordinary woman of the fictional middle ages!

But even apart from the authoress, this is a really interesting text especially for a modern falconer.  The practices it calls for are those we would immediately call inhumane or barbaric – such as the practice of sewing the eyelids shut of a newly-trapped young bird; peculiar – such as getting rid of lice by wrapping a hawk in a hot cloth to draw the beasties out; or outright bizzare – such as promoting “mewing” (moulting) in a hawk by giving “chickens which have been fed on wheat soaked in broth of vipers”.

I have to note, however, that reading the 19th century part of the text is giving me a headache.  Not because of the language or anything, but because it’s a manuscript which uses those antique f’s as s’s, and in my mind the whole thing is being read aloud with a lisp!!!

Brief Update, Research and Impatience

I’m still working on this Falconer’s Apprentice idea, and I’m trying to go about it sensibly.  Very difficult, indeed!  I’m planning to do considerable research, and have found a pdf of an 19th century reproduction of a book written in 1486 on hawking, The Boke of St Albans, which I hope will provide me with enough background on how falconry was actually practised in the middle ages – thus giving me some semblance of chronological credibility!

I’m still trying to work out whether this will be a fantasy story or historical fiction.  Currently I’m just seeing what will happen.  I’m thinking that this could easily be merely one plotline amongst the backdrop of many, and thus have the scope to create a widely explored fictional realm.  Again, whether or not that incorporates fantasy elements, I’m still not sure.  As you may know, I’m always drawn to fantasy so it’s likely it could happen, but it would need to occur organically.

I forsee some trouble for a story with such scope, though, and that’s something which lies in me alone and not the story itself; I’m impatient.  I’m terrible at taking my time with my novels, always wanting to rush ahead to the most important conflicts, and thus everything always reads as rushed and not properly thought-out.  I hope this project can help me work on that!  I’m excited to write it, though, and that’s something I haven’t felt since before the Summer of Creative Absence.

I might forgo this year’s NaNoWriMo, however, if I’m busy working on this story.  I’ve written NaNo novels in the past two years, but I feel that the type of writing I was doing for them is exactly the kind of rushed, poorly thought-out stuff I’m trying to avoid with this story.  But I hope that I can maintain the discipline of writing substantially every day which NaNoWriMo really helped me get into the pattern of doing.

And now I must be off, go to my amazing day job and frolic with falcons!  I kind of love my life.

Bad Poetry and A Balanced Dinner

I wrote a really really bad poem today, in keeping with my resolution to write something, no matter how crap, every day.  It was about crisps.  No, I am not sharing it.

I have also just eaten an entire triangle of brie, and a Tunnock’s caramel wafer (never had one before – Jason always hoardes them!), as well as a bowl of soup – what a balanced dinner!  And I’m counting cider as a vegetable for the purpose of this argument.

It’s only been a couple days, but I’m having a hard time with this “writing everyday” task.  Or rather, I can write everyday, but I can’t write well; my discipline can get me through the motions, but my heart isn’t in it yet.  I think that’ll just take time, though.  I’ve spent the whole summer letting my creative juices run dry!

I’ll get there.  Anyways, this was just a quick post to let you know that I’m still sticking to my resolution!  I’ll try to write something more sensible tomorrow.

Fantastic Bullshitting and a New Story: The Falconer’s Apprentice

I’m sure you’ve heard the age-old advice people give to writers: ‘Write what you know.’  Now this doesn’t really apply to fantasy writers, because let’s face it no one knows squat-diddly about dragons or magic or elves or whatever.  No, instead of writing what you know, fantasy writers have another, more applicable mantra:

“Bullshit really really well.”

It’s all about bluffing, because so long as you can be convincing enough for readers to believe it actually happened no one actually cares if you’re 100% accurate.

Or so I’m hoping.

I’m actually planning to write something based on both writing mantras, for the subject of this latest endeavor is falconry.  But the bullshitting will come into play because obviously I know modern techniques and in a mediaeval fantasy time period they don’t have cable ties and radio telemetry.

So here’s the beginning of The Falconer’s Apprentice:


Tommas was feeling deflated, odd in a boy as large as himself. The days leading up to today had been full of excitement as he readied the preparations for what was to come. But now that it was here, and the long-awaited event had passed, Tommas was left feeling cheated.

He’d waited for this day to arrive for six years, ever since he was sent as an apprentice at the age of eight. His master was an imposing man, stern of eye and implacable when it came to detail, but then he had to be; he was the Master Falconer to their liege lord. And as his apprentice, Tommas had done all and more that was required of him, from scraping hawk shit off the walls to being bitten and footed by hungry falcons when attending their needs. Even so, it was two years before he was allowed to enter the mews where the birds perched, alert and wary of his strange presence. Two more before he was allowed to pick one up. And after another two, he was to be given his own bird to train and care for.

That day was today. But it was not as he imagined.

‘What’s that you’ve got there, boy? A blue-tit for catching flies?’ The men loitering outside the smithy laughed and jeered as he came near. Tommas ground his teeth, but kept quiet.

‘Raffe!’ called the Master Smith when he saw the falconer’s apprentice. His own apprentice answered his call, popping up greasy-haired and coal-streaked from the bowels of the smithy.

‘Tommas, let’s see it!’ the lanky other boy’s face lit up when he saw his friend approach. He knew what day it was. But as Raffe approached, he saw what sat upon Tommas’ gauntleted fist and frowned. ‘Is that it?’

Tommas sighed.

‘You know,’ one of the loiterers called to the townspeople who had started to gather round to see what their laughter was about, ‘they say the size of a man’s hawk tells you the size of his prick!’ The crowd roared with laughter.

‘Well,’ Tommas blustered, red-faced, ‘I’ll have you know it’s a falcon, not a hawk.’

‘Yeah,’ chimed in Raffe, ‘it’s opposite with falcons, you see.’ That just raised a louder roar of hilarity.

‘You’re not helping,’ the large boy groaned.

‘Sorry,’ his friend grinned. ‘Come inside and tell me everything.’


Cocky young Tommas is obviously less than pleased with the bird he’s given, but the Kestrel was historically the bird of servants and apprentices.  The conflict of the story will be when his master is given the task of training a young Gyrfalcon destined to be given to the King,  and Tommas steals it for himself.  As this would probably be considered a hanging offence, my task is to now work out plot-wise what this cheeky boy is planning to do now he’s got himself into heaps of trouble.

Eventually he’ll find that the Gyrfalcon is pretty but useless, and the Kestrel he’s abandoned stays his loyal companion and keeps them all from dying of hunger whilst on the run, even if they’re only eating mice and field voles.

The moral of the story: don’t be a twat.

Confessions of an Absent Blogger

I would like to tell you that the reason I’ve not written an entry in months is due to some significantly productive venture on my part.  I’d even be happy to use the excuse of being so hectically busy in my day-to-day life that I didn’t have a moment to spare for writing, blogging or being generally interesting.  But sadly this isn’t the case.  I’m just a lazy, absent blogger who has lost all her creative discipline.

I used to at least be able to boast that I wrote something, be it blog post, prose or poetry, every day no matter what.  But for some reason this summer has brought out the worst of my procrastinatory nature (is “procrastinatory” a word? If not, it should be).  I feel like I have a tiny voice in my head who, whenever I settle down in front of a word document, says, “Oh just leave it for a little bit and toodle about on the internet, go on!  Go on, go on, go on, go on!”

Yes, I have Mrs. Doyle from Father Ted speaking from my subconscious.  And just like Mrs. Doyle, this voice has become so insistent that I just can’t ignore her.

So it’s time to give Mrs. Doyle the boot.

Hopefully this signals the return to regular service, and please do give me virtual pokes, stern glances and lectures if I appear to have gone absent again for any length of time.  Writing well takes time, effort and discipline like a regular workout for the mind.  And I’ve gone creatively flabby in the last few months!  I need to get back into mental shape!

In other news, since I last posted here I’ve moved house and got some fancy chickens.  Don’t believe how fancy?

These ain't your grandmama's chickens - unless she lived in China and liked blue chicken meat.

That’s some damned fancy chicken action right there.  Just look at those feathery toes!