Wine, Anyone?

On the southern coast of my fictional land, in what is roughly the 7th century, the southern village of Karst grows grapes for wine. Given that this land is an analogue of Britain, how reasonable is this?

Grapes have been grown for millennia; six thousand years ago, grapes were grown in an area reaching from the far east of Europe to Asia Minor and through the Nile Delta. Grape cultivation spread westward with the Hittites, into Crete and Thrace as early as 3000 BCE. (The first written laws governing the wine trade are from Hammurabi, in 1700 BCE.) The Phoenicians took grapes ever further west, and Rome brought them to Britain shortly after its conquest in the first century CE.[1]

Even before the Roman conquest, wine was being imported to Britain.[2]  But Rome saw wine as a necessity, available (in differing qualities) to everyone. Wine was imported to its outposts, but vineyards were also established wherever possible, to save the cost of shipping. Increasing consumption of wine in Romanized Europe also meant less of it was available for import, so growing their own was a sensible solution.  

After Rome left Britain ‘to see to their own defences’, winemaking primarily fell to the monasteries. As Christianity – or any widely organized religion – doesn’t exist in my world – I didn’t incorporate it. But the idea that grapes grow in the south of my land is based on historical record. In the Domesday Book, that great record of population and agriculture and land ownership compiled in the late 11th Century, there were 42 vineyards in England, all below a line from Cambridgeshire to Gloucestershire.[3] 

Domesday Book vineyards are all south of this line.

So what Lena sees, looking south from an escarpment towards Karst could, possibly, have been seen in England too, at the equivalent time to the setting of Empire’s Daughter.

Below us, the forest gave way to fields, each planted with precise, parallel rows of trellised vines. Dirt tracks ran between the fields, houses, and outbuildings scattered among them. Smoke rose from the houses, and in the far distance, I spotted a larger building with a tower: the central meeting hall. Beyond that were more fields, and then a shimmer at the horizon: the sea.  


[1] https://ipm.missouri.edu/MEG/2013/8/Grapes-A-Brief-History

[2] New Light on the Wine Trade with Julio-Claudian Britain. PAUL R. SEALEY Britannia Vol. 40 (2009), pp. 1-40 (40 pages)

[3] https://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/07/medieval-warmth-and-english-wine/

Featured image Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

Lena and Maya: Can This Relationship Be Saved?

Lena and Maya, characters in Empire’s Daughter, are partners in life and work; like many young village couples, they’ve known each other all their lives, moving from playmates to a closer bond. They apprenticed together, and now as adults – which they’ve been for a year, in their world – they work together on a co-owned fishing boat. Maya is six months older than Lena, practical, organized, disliking of change. “Maya needed order and predictability,” Lena thinks. “In our business partnership, her need for stability balanced my impulsiveness. In our personal relationship, it had always cast a small shadow.”

Image by prettysleepy1 from Pixabay 

Lena describes herself as a dreamer, given to mood swings and doubts.  But Maya sees something else: “You think this is an adventure, Lena?” she accuses. “Something new? Something different? You always want to sail a little further, find another cove, even though the ones we know provide us with all the fish we need.”

Now the Emperor has made an audacious request: will the women of his land learn to fight, to help protect their country from invasion?  They’re needed, in his judgment: the men alone cannot win, not without leaving the northern frontier underguarded and vulnerable. It’s a departure from hundreds of years of tradition, an abandonment of the Partition agreement that structured the lives of men and women into distinct roles. Men fight; women fish and farm.

Lena doesn’t admit to Maya that, yes, she sees an adventure in the choice that has been presented. Fishing needs all her wits: the seas can turn nasty in a moment. It should be enough to deal with that day to day. But there’s a drive in her – inherited from her father, although she doesn’t know that – for new horizons, new challenges.

Maya just wants things not to change. Tradition is important to her. She wants her village to refuse the request: it’s the men’s job to protect the land, not women’s. And she thinks if they agree to this, and survive it, what else will change?  The idea frightens her, and she’s become rigid in her thinking.  “Don’t make up my mind so soon?” she snaps. “I know how I feel, Lena. What Casyn is asking, what the Empire is asking, is wrong. I know that, and so do you.  Women don’t fight. We don’t kill or harm others.”

This relationship had some issues before this divisive request. So, readers, here’s your question:  even if the request to fight had never come, could this relationship survive?

Empire’s Daughter is available from Amazon.

Featured image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Divided Lives

Tali grinned, her teeth white against her tanned face. “Oh, there’s a problem,” she said. “Our prospective new metalworker is neither from Delle, nor newly-qualified. As a guess, I’d say our new smith brings thirty years of experience—military experience. And his name is Casyn.”

I stared at my aunt, my hands tightening on the crab trap. Maya gasped. All men left the villages at seven to enter the Empire’s military schools, spending their adult years serving in the army. In retirement, they raised horses or grew grapes or taught in the schools, finishing out their days with whatever part of their regiment had survived. Twice a year, war and distance allowing, they came to the villages for Festival, to be provisioned, to gather food and cloth and wine, to make love and father children, to give and carry messages. Festival lasted a week, and then they left. This pattern had shaped our lives for generations.

I shook my head. “But he can’t.”

Can you imagine a society where men and women’s lives are so divided? But this is the society into which my protagonist Lena has been born, and it’s all she knows. Readers ask where this idea came from.  There isn’t a simple answer, but I’ll do my best.

History is one source. The idea of male children being taken at seven into military training is from the social structure of the ancient city-state of Sparta, where exactly that happened.  Spartan boys were basically cadets until age 20, when they took on greater responsibility in the military; they could marry at 30, but did not live with their wives, but stayed with their military comrades in barracks….and that was the germ of the idea of the men and women living almost completely separate lives, except for a couple of weeks each year.

Icelandic and Viking women, where women frequently were completely responsible for farming and fishing and all the other work while the men were at sea, either fishing (Iceland) or raiding (Vikings) was another source.  The apprenticeship of girls at twelve to a trade is simply based on long practice throughout much of the world.

Woman blacksmith – England ca. 1915 – 1920

I must tip my hat, too, to a book with a similar societal structure, Sheri Tepper’s The Gate to Woman’s Country. In her book, set 300 years in the future after nuclear war, a society has developed where women and children live in towns with a few male servants; most men live in warrior camps beyond the town walls. I read The Gate to Woman’s Country about five years before starting Empire’s Daughter, and it was definitely a direct influence.

In Empire’s Daughter, we learn that this division of men and women’s lives came about due to a disagreement between men and women about the expansion of the Empire. Villages were governed by a council of three women, the men being away too often for war. When the Emperor asked yet again for men to fight, the women had had enough, forcing a country-wide assembly resulting in the partition of their lives, known from then on as the Partition Agreement. Here I was tweaking two ideas: Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata, where women withhold sex until the men stop fighting, ending the Peloponnesian Wars, and, the Ent/Entwives conflict in The Lord of the Rings, where a similar wish for exploration vs a settled life leads to the sundering of the lives of male and female Ents.

This way of life is not without its costs, and some of those are made evident in Empire’s Daughter, and over the rest of the books in the series, as war and peace bring new challenges and new ideas.

More on this divided life, on the idea of twice-yearly Festivals, and on partnerships between men and women, in future posts.  

By the way! Subscribers to my newsletter are getting a monthly instalment of a story about how the Partition Agreement came about, a prequel to Empire’s Daughter set several hundred years earlier.

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The Birth of a World

Yesterday, I was tidying shelves in my study. I found a spiral-bound notebook, a multiple-subject one with interior dividers, rather old and battered. For some reason, I leafed through it, checking to see if it was unused, I think.

Most of it was. But in the third section, there were a few pages of notes. The date on the top of the page was December 22, 1997. Twenty-three years ago, plus a few days. The first part of the entry was banal, comments on the weather (cold). But then:

The idea of an alternate world, a separate reality, similar to those of LeGuin in the EarthSea trilogy or Lynn, in the Dancers of Arun trilogy, is appealing. Into this world I could fit not only Lena, but Widowmaker, and, in a different form than first envisaged, even the story of my Norfolk family – all but the murder mystery, which is an entirely different genre.

Sometime over the holiday I hope to sketch the world, clearly Europe but modified – and perhaps do a rough timeline.

I just stared at it for a minute. I was 39 when I wrote those words; I’m 62 now. In that brief paragraph is the genesis of the world and characters that have lived in my mind for over two decades, and an acknowledgment of the two major influences in my world-building, Ursula LaGuin and Elizabeth A. Lynn. I felt like a historian of my own mind.

Several reactions occurred. (One of which was ‘good gods, my handwriting was nearly legible back then’.) Surprise was dominant: surprise that Lena – my MC of the Empire’s Legacy trilogy – had a name, a presence, as early as 1997. There must have been some work done, some notes or early paragraphs, because I’d treated Lena as a title, underlining it as academia taught me to (a habit I’ve never broken.) Another surprise was that my decision to create an alternate world, my analogue post-Roman northern Europe, was a conscious choice: I thought it had just emerged as I’d written.

And then there was the mystery: what was Widowmaker? Again, underlined, so a title. Of what? I had no memory at all of it…but as the afternoon progressed, and I thought about the word’s connotations for me (not the gun, nor the video-game character): a storm and fishing fleets, I remembered. At the time of Kenneth McAlpine, king of the Scots in the mid 9th century, the Picts ‘disappear’ from history. A theory proposed was the loss of most of their men in a ‘widowmaking’ storm while they were out fishing, leaving the women to be subsumed into the Gaelic culture. Clearly, I’d meant to do something with this concept.

Which, I believe, I did, because Empire’s Daughter opens with Lena, in her fishing boat, returning to a village devoid of men. For very different reasons…but was that seed of the idea that grew into my gender-divided world? I can’t know, so many years later. But I suspect so.

Then, of course, I spent some time leafing through other partly-filled notebooks, looking for more entries like this one, but without success. They must have existed, but in one bout of tidying up or another, they’ve been lost. Not that it matters: none would hold the wonder for me this one did, this glimpse into the birth of the alternate reality that I live in for at least part of each and every day.

The (Successful) Book Launch

Friday – yesterday, the day after my book launch for Empire’s Hostage – I was an exhausted wreck.  Partly dueme reading ebar cropped to only four hours sleep (more on that later); partly due to the adrenaline-overload aftermath.  The launch was beyond-my-expectations successful.  The room was full, the applause after the readings generous, and I sold a lot of books.

So how did this happen?  I put posters up in all the cafes downtown, and did lots of Twitter and Facebook promotions, which were generously retweeted and shared by a lot of people and organizations in our town. The local arts council put the event on their calendar, and did their share of advertising. The bookstore in whose upstairs bar the event was being held did their share with an in-store display and advertising on their website. And then I crossed my fingers, ordered nibbles for twenty-five people, and hoped for the best.

I had asked a couple of my writing friends, one a poet with a newly-published book, one an established writer of genre fiction, to read that night as well.  That broadened the appeal a bit, I hope, and provided some new exposure for both of them, as well. Anyhow…it all worked.  I could have ordered a lot more food; the beer and wine flowed nicely at the bar, people stayed for the whole evening.  I signed my name on title pages many times. It felt like a good night.

But I am not a night person.  I start falling asleep about 8:30 most nights, and struggle to stay awake till 10 pm. The first thing I’d done when arriving to set up at 6:30 was order a coffee.  It was quite a large coffee, and I drank it all.  So I was very awake for the whole evening…and the late evening….and the early morning…. Even the pint of beer I’d had after my reading didn’t help. I finally fell asleep about 2 am, and slept till 6 am.  Yesterday felt like the day after an overnight flight. I managed to send thank-you emails and twitters and facebook posts. I organized breakfast for my overnight guests (even baking muffins); I remembered our appointment with our lawyer to sign our wills.  I went grocery shopping (and didn’t forget anything).  And then I crashed. The day is a blur from early afternoon onward.

Would I do it again?  Definitely!  But next time (perhaps when Empire’s Exile comes out) I won’t drink a large coffee at 6:30 pm.  Mid-afternoon might be better….

Here’s the link to the books on Amazon.  The e-books are free through Sunday the 28th.

(The less-than-wonderful photo is a friend’s phone shot.)

Book Launch Night! and some freebies.

This evening is the official launch of Empire’s Hostage, Book II of the Empire’s Legacy spinesseries.  It’s being held in a bar downtown, one that is part of an independent bookstore/cinema/restaurant complex that hosts many cultural events, from book launches to indie bands to art shows to indie filmmakers. I’ve invited a couple of other writers to share the stage with me, a poet and a novelist. (I figured that way their friends would come too!)

So how do you spend the day prior to a book launch?  I practiced the excerpt I’m reading one more time. I packed bags with books and cash, raffle tickets, tape, pens, business cards, bookmarks, a receipt book.  That took maybe an hour.  Otherwise…

I went grocery shopping. I did laundry, and made beds. I cleaned bathrooms and bedrooms and the kitchen. I made cookies. Because I have family coming for the launch, and staying overnight, and needing dinner and breakfast. I’m not complaining….but I am curious.  Were I a male writer, would I be doing all this?  Share your thoughts!

And in honour of the official launch, the Kindle editions of both Empire’s Daughter and Empire’s Hostage are free on Amazon until Sunday, August 27th.  Grab them both while you can!

Meanwhile, I still have to figure out what to wear…

 

 

 

 

Second Books are like Second Children

I’m the third sibling of three…the baby.  My father was an amateur (and then professional, for a while) photographer.  There are hundreds of pictures of my sister, the oldest. (Remember this was 1948, when black & white film had to be hand-developed.) Hundreds. 

When my brother came along, six years later, there are fewer.  A couple of requisite baby shots, the christening, a few more.  But his presence clearly wasn’t as exciting, didn’t need to be recorded in the same way.

This is fairly typical, from what I’ve seen with the photos and video of my nieces and nephews, too.  The first baby gets a lot of attention; the rest…not as much. (There are even fewer photos of me.)

And that’s pretty much how I’ve been reacting to the publication of my second book, Empire’s Hostage. Yes, I’m pleased to see it in print. I’m doing my part to promote it.  But I lack the ‘look at what I produced!  It’s the best baby ever!’ excitement that first child/book engendered. Don’t get me wrong…I think it’s a fine book, a worthy sequel to the first. I’m proud to have written it. Some of the reviews have blown me away. But it’s the second child. I’m more realistic about its prospects and the work involved in getting in out into the world. And with the first still needing attention, and my mind already pregnant with the third, it’s going to fight for its share of my time. Do me a favour? Pay it some attention; it wants to be read.  And its older sibling is free right now, on Amazon, for the Kindle reader or app….so for a minimal price, you can have them both.  Think of it as a kindness. If I know other people are giving them their share of attention, I can focus on gestating the third baby!

Empire’s Legacy Book One is FREE

For a limited time (Sunday July 23rd to Thursday July 27th), the Kindle edition of Empire’s Daughter, Book I of the Empire’s Legacy series, is FREE on Amazon.

Empires_Daughter_Cover_for_Kindle

 

“… the world building is quite remarkable and the characters incredibly real. The reader is pulled in by the rich descriptions – the action scenes are brilliantly done, and the romance is unforced. This is a good one.” Rebecca Rafferty

 

 

 

While you’re there, you might want to check out Empire’s Legacy Book II, Empire’s Hostage. It’s not free, but it’s priced as low as Amazon will allow for the Kindle edition.cover ebook under 2MB smaller

Involving, evocative, intelligent—an outstanding historical fantasy.” – Maria Luisa Lang

For some of the background to the Empire’s Legacy series, take a look here.