Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Tips for re-creating landscapes in historical romance

Currently I am doing the proofs for A Deal with Her Rebel Viking (out December 2019) and reading it (as well as all the other reading about re-wilding) has reminded  me that I do take very seriously trying to know what the landscape looked like in the 9th century as well as what the *normal* would be for the characters. The baseline has shifted so much.  What is normal was not normal then. And the countryside was changing even in their lifetime.  
In my novel, I have tried to give a sense of the meadows, the forest and the fact that the war with the Vikings (and others) meant that the underwood was abandoned to a certain extent. My eldest knew Oliver Rackman when he was a grad student at Corpus  and introduced my youngest to his books. Because of my interest in history, I was delighted to discover his rural landscape history. He discusses what the land looked like in the early middle ages and explains  about the importance of underwood, particularly at time when there were no saw mills.   I particularly like his Trees & Woodland in the British Landscape – the Complete History of the Britain’s Tress, Woods & Hedgerows.  It has really given me insight into what was going on. And now, I am using some of that knowledge in attempting to figure out when the dene’s wooded area dates from.
I first really became aware of the shifting baseline problem when I reading about lighting in the 19th century. We take the brilliance of our lighting for granted, but to someone living back in the 9th century, their eyes were adjusted to much less light. In many ways, the Romans were probably used to more light as they  used oil lamps than the Anglo Saxons. Romans also had under-floor heating and piped water. If you look at places like Birdoswald, you can see how buildings were adapted to other purposes as the technology became lost.

It is when you realise how much was lost and how they developed stories to explain various unexplained features of the landscape. Hidden Histories –A Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape by Mary-Ann Ochota is also good for this type of thing. My dear friend Kate Hardy who knows I am nerdy about such things gave me this when I became a British citizen and it is truly a fascinating book on many levels. 
With writing in a historical some of the world building involves recreating their normal. It is about thinking what they would see and notice. Think about the wildlife, and the flora. What did they take for granted? How did they use the woods? What was the countryside like  pre-enclosure or pre-highland clearance? We may have lost much but they had not. They experienced a different sort of Britain and I think re-creating this can help to show why we need things like beavers, wild boar and perhaps(whispering here as it is very controversial) lynx or wolves back.

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