Sunday, 24 January 2016

Conveying an ancient scene- with some 'big' words

Happy Sunday wishes to you! 

It's been a while since I've done a 'Sunday Snippet'. Since The Beltane Choice is one of the featured historical novels this week at Crooked Cat Books page on Facebook, I've chosen a section that I vividly remember toying around with many times at the draft stages of the novel. 

I'm always eager to convey the image I have of the surroundings in a scene through the use of highly descriptive prose. For me, that tends to mean using words that immediately pop into my head as the best fit - even if they are words now regarded by many readers (and sadly for me, authors and editors as well) to be too 'big', too uncommon, and sometimes need a dictionary to find the particular meaning of them.

As an ex-teacher of 11-12 year old pupils during their formative years, I always felt that learning at least ONE new word each day was essential. I aimed for MANY new words during each day for the more receptive children. Rightly or wrongly, I hope my strategies were appreciated at a more mature time by a good number of my Primary Seven pupils - the typical class roll being 33 kids.

The English language is FULL of fabulous words - so why dumb them down? Why not learn something new? Enrichment can be very rewarding. I know that's an old fashioned idea but I feel that if I become lazy about something - I am lazy. If I need to do something because I've said I would - completing the task makes me a lot LESS lazy. I feel the same about the English language. If one particular word is a much better fit to give a better impression of something, then I want to use it.

In The Beltane Choice I purposely used a form of 'archaic' speech in an attempt to convey the ancientness of my setting. The inclusion of 'harder' words is quite natural to me - even though I'd not fare all that well if I were a contestant on one of the TV programmes that are based on a 'Do you know the meaning of this word'.

I set a challenge to the readers of this excerpt from The Beltane Choice. Are there words you would remove and put in a simpler word? If so, which ones and why?

At this point in the story Nara, of the Selgovae tribe, has been taken prisoner by Lorcan who is of the Brigante tribe and a neighbouring Celtic enemy. She is being taken back to Lorcan's home hillfort of Garrigill but they stop en route at the Crannog settlement of Gyptus. Brennus is Lorcan's brother and one of the Brigante band of men who have her as their captive.


Above the noises of the marsh creatures and the flapping of birds rising out of the boggy waters Nara heard sounds of people at their daily work as Brennus padded behind her, keeping her moving at a steady lope. A child cried somewhere, but the direction was impossible to tell. The marshes deadened the sounds, muffling them, baffling inexpert ears like her own, and tall marsh plants set up an odd sort of disorientation. The sounds of iron on an anvil hummed close by; a voice sang a merry accompaniment. The acrid reek of the forge mingled with the smells of the waterside and the nauseating stench of tanning leather.
Brennus forced her into a large clearing close to the lake’s edge, Lorcan’s warrior band having spread around the perimeter, where they sought somewhere sound enough to tether their horses. Nara had no need to do so as Brennus kept a tight grip on Eachna’s rein.
“Lorcan!” Brennus’s laughing tale was imparted deliberately across the clearing, loud enough for all around to hear. “You will be glad to hear your Selgovae captive did not succeed in her futile escape attempt.”
A glower, wild as a thunderstorm, raked her for long moments before Lorcan spoke to the warrior beside him, the torque and armbands adorning the young man proclaiming his rank at the crannog settlement.
Nara felt the back of her throat thicken as she tried to ignore the umbrage in Lorcan’s gaze, his saying nothing making failure feel even more acute. Anger she could rally against; ignoring her was more hurtful to her frayed emotions.
The ground Brennus then forced her over was solid underfoot, constructed of hard packed earth reinforced with binding materials to keep it firm. A timber walkway, some twenty paces long, led out across the lake water to platforms accommodating two crannog roundhouses with adequate space all around them. One dwelling was of the usual size; the other a smaller one for storage. Two horses were tethered alongside the smaller in a covered but wall-less enclosure. A forge just outside the larger roundhouse spewed out dense black smoke while a smith plied his craft, hammering a rhythmic ring-ting as he fashioned a metal tool.
Grond called out to the sweating smith Nara could see hunched over the anvil.
“Look after these horses for Lorcan. I will send a boy to help you. We go to see my father.”
Grond took another pathway leading out of the clearing, Lorcan following him. Just before they disappeared out of sight, Nara felt Lorcan’s gaze fleetingly alight on her, as though making sure she was still there. Though he was across the opened space, his eyes held hers in silent censure before he trudged on, the downturn of his lips marking his displeasure.
Willing herself not to be upset by it Nara pretended indifference…but it hurt to see condemnation in Lorcan’s eyes. And that was foolish. He was her enemy as much as every other Brigante around her.
Head down she trawled behind as the warrior-band followed Lorcan, making their way along another reinforced pathway and across a log causeway bordered by wattled walls. Brennus followed in her wake, taking his guarding seriously. Once into the open at the lake’s edge she could see the roundhouse they approached more clearly, no longer obscured by the tall reed and fronding light-green willow cover.
The crannog dwelling sat tall and proud, this one a little larger than a typical roundhouse. Built out over the water, its circular wooden platform sat on stilted foundations, the walkway access edged with a waist-high woven wall of willow, with an infill of thinner twigs. The wattle and clay daubed wall of the dwelling was low, no higher than Nara’s head, the thatched roof beams protruding over the top of it, creating a shady overhang. On the outer circular platform edge two children played a game on a wooden board with marked coloured stones. Close by, a young woman stood weaving at a tall upright loom under the overhang near the children. A little further round, Nara could just glimpse a skin-covered coracle and a dugout boat floating at a protruding landing stage, accessible from the platform edging.
“Mother,” Grond called ahead, “Lorcan is here to visit Father. Where is he?”
On their approach the children scurried away, an older woman appearing immediately. Then, more slowly, an older man whose smile was a beam of sunshine came out.
“Lorcan. Welcome!” The older man clapped Lorcan on the shoulders, greeting him warmly while he gave an invocation of hospitality to all. “It is long since we talked.”
“My thanks, Gyptus. It is good to be here again.”
Lorcan’s confident smile as he and Gyptus walked round to the landing-stage made Nara feel neglected. She wished the smile was for her, now her own situation was back to threatening. A lone Selgovae, she was surrounded by even more Brigantes; from the hostile look on their faces none happy with her presence.

Are you up to that challenge? Please pop your thoughts in the comments section. 


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