A Landscape of the Heart: Building the World of my Books, Part 1.

Norfolk has a firm hold on my heart, my imagination, and a place in the construction of my fictional world.

The English county of Norfolk, as those who have been following my blog for some time know, is my second home. When I will see it again, in the wake of COVID-19, is another question, but it has a firm hold on my heart, my imagination, and a solid place in the construction of my fictional world.

Anyone who knows Norfolk – and my books – may now be asking how?  A flat land, for the most part; arable, with little rivers and chalky soils and patches of reedy fen. Not the hilly, sheep-grazed moorland that so much of my world encompasses. No, the influences are more subtle.

Firstly, Norfolk was part of the Danelaw, the part of England under Scandinavian rule. Twenty-nine existing places in Norfolk have ‘thorpe’ as a suffix or prefix, and while this happens to be my last name, its meaning ‘outlying hamlet, small village’ is from the Norse þorp, and from it I take my settlement names in Linrathe and Sorham.  In fact, Ingoldstorp, mentioned several times over the series, is the name of the village (Ingoldisthorpe, pronounced Inglesthorpe) just north of the one where I have spent my winters since retirement.

The next village north from that is Snettisham, and I borrowed Snetti’s name, too, for a minor character. There are more examples, but I won’t belabour this point. But in the last paragraph I wrote ‘twenty-nine existing places’.  There are also thirty-three ‘lost’ villages in Norfolk with ‘thorpe’ in their names, and it is these missing settlements that also inform my world.

Deserted medieval village is the correct term for these abandoned settlements.  In many cases there is nothing but a few lumps and bumps on the ground, and perhaps the ruins of a church. (Or sometimes, a church still in use, but standing in the middle of nowhere, apparently.) The reasons for abandonment are many, including land enclosure and parkland created for manor houses. Others suffered as rivers changed course or land flooded. But in Norfolk, one reason was simply depopulation.

Norfolk is now 40th of the 48 counties of England in population density, the number of people per unit of land. But in the middle ages, it was the most populous county, and its county town, Norwich, the second city of England. Until the plague: first the Black Death in 1349; then, two centuries later, a third of its population died in the  epidemic of 1579, and another third in 1665.  

The land Lena inhabits is like this, a depopulated land, villages scattered and distant, too few men to defend the land against threats from two directions. The reasons for the Empire’s depopulation and that of Norfolk are pretty much the same, although the Eastern Fever isn’t the Black Death.

But while Norfolk – and the Empire – are depopulated lands, they both have long histories. If Lena rides east from her coastal village, she will come to the military road, running north and south, wide and paved. If I walk or drive east from my Norfolk village, about, in my mind, the same distance, I come to a Roman road, running north and south. No longer paved; no longer very wide, but a reminder, every time I walk it, of a time there was a Roman fort on the coast, and villas along the ridge overlooking the Wash, and the coins in use bore the likenesses of emperors far away.

Peddar’s Way Roman Road, Norfolk

Danes and Romans; disease and depopulation; all these are important aspects of my books, influenced – sometimes consciously, sometimes not – by what I know. Not reproduced, but borrowed, moulded and transmuted into a different form, almost recognizable, almost history.

map of Scandinavian place names https://www.mygen.com/users/outlaw/Outlawe_Viking_Origins.htm

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The Procurator & The Governor

How does an Empire, sure of its institutions and its laws and traditions, integrate its practices with those of another country?

Two new characters are introduced into my ‘Empire on the edge of history’ in the novella Oraiáphon and the novel Empire’s Reckoning:  Decanius, the Procurator from Casil, and Livius, the Governor. Who are these characters, and what exactly do they do?

A Procurator in the Roman Empire was the man in charge of the finances of a Roman province. He worked beside the Governor but was not subordinate to him, and his responsibilities included tax collection, rents on land belonging to imperial estates, pay to the military and other public servants, and the management of mines. You can see how this might be a position that allowed for enriching yourself, and your friends, and also could make the office-holder extremely unpopular among the residents of the province. Are tax-collectors ever admired?

Decanius arrives first, because the army must be paid, and tariffs and taxes are going to be collected as soon as possible. He’s an accountant through and through, counting and measuring everything, and he has no interest in the people of Lena’s land, or their laws and traditions. His name derives from Cato (or Catus) Decianus, the Procurator of Britannia at the time of Boudicca’s fight for freedom from Roman rule. Dio, writing a hundred years and more later, suggests that heavy taxation was behind the rebellion, and it would have been Decianus who was responsible for that. So with a little tweaking, the historic, hated Decianus becomes the fictional, hated Decanius.

File:Boudicca Statue.png
Statue of Boudicca at Westminster

Livius is the new Governor. (I just liked the name, in his case.) A Roman governor was responsible for the civil administration of the province; he was also the judge in capital crimes (smaller crimes often being left in the hands of the people he was governing) and was the commander-in-chief of all military units deployed in the province. Unlike the Procurator, who was a civilian, the Governor was a military officer. So almost the first thing Livius asks to do when he arrives from Casil is inspect the troops. An experienced official, Livius governs with affability, but he’s also adamant about what has to happen. “There’s iron behind his smile,” Sorley says of him.

Domitius Corbulo, the Roman governor of Germania Inferior

There were differences in how Imperial provinces (under the control of the Emperor) and Senatorial provinces (under the control of the Senate) were governed, but to say more about that might reveal too much of what happens in Oraiáphon. The roles and responsibilities changed over the years Rome had an Empire, and I chose the pieces that work. I’m not tied to a specific timeline: I borrow concepts, not exact history, in creating my alternate world. What I was interested in was how an Empire, sure of its institutions and its laws and traditions, integrates its practices with those of another country; not a conquered one, but one that has agreed to become a client province. Do they integrate, or do they impose? “We might have been a province of the Eastern Empire once before,” Lena says, “but we kept almost none of its laws and traditions, except in the army.” Peace has a price.

Oraiáphon Amazon

Empires’s Reckoning Amazon

E-pub

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Statue of Domitius Corbulo: photo by Carole Raddato, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Statue of Boudicca:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boudicca.jpg Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Statue of Julius Caesar (Featured Image): By Skitterphoto –  Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.