Tuesday, 27 February 2018

#Guessing? #Historical writing. Not half!

Tuesday talk to share today. 

I've popped over to a lovely author friend, Angela Wren, today to talk about how to avoid guessing when writing in a landscape of around 2000 years ago. 

You can visit her blog HERE

I'm re-blogging it here so that I remember what I've written...

"It’s all a bit of guesswork, isn’t it? - Well, no, not totally.

That’s a question and an answer that are pertinent to writing historical fiction in a period that’s considered to be pre- historic—though my era of choice is actually on the cusp!  What does pre-historic mean? Essentially, for me, the term covers the period before written sources were created. So, why is my writing on the cusp?

My Celtic Fervour Series of historical novels are set in late first century A.D. (CE), northern Roman Britain (from Yorkshire northwards into Scotland): a time and location that’s not covered by many authors. It’s easy to see why because it initially seems like there isn’t much material to research to ensure a story is as realistic as possible without veering into the realm of a fantasy. Agricola, and occasional references in the work of other Ancient Roman writers about late first century northern Roman Britain but all of these prime sources need to be used with caution as their accuracy is considered to be lacking in historical terms. The works I refer to were never intended to be an actual historical record, they were written for something more like political propaganda or entertainment, often both at the same time.
Drawing from an ancient bust of Cornelius Tacitus
There are sources like Cornelius Tacitus’

More was known about Iron Age tribes in Europe during late first century so some interpretations for the tribes of northern Roman Britain are extrapolations based on scant evidence. Even calling my novels the ‘Celtic Fervour Series’ throws up problems for some people who don’t like my use of that generic term for tribes living in my location. Other experts conclude that there’s sufficient evidence about the daily life in ‘Aberdeenshire’ to broadly term them ‘Celtic’ tribes. What I know is that to describe my series it’s much easier to say ‘Celtic Fervour Series’ than ‘Roman Britain Iron Age Tribes Series’.

Not having a lot to go on initially is what I love about writing in this era because, although it’s extremely hard work, there’s always something new to discover that’s ‘under the surface’. Every other word I write in my WIP throws up a mystery that needs to be solved first. (Perhaps that’s why I also write contemporary mysteries?) Simple examples might be: Can I say that my Roman Scotland Iron Age characters are tucking into bread every day? That sounds pretty normal but was it usual two thousand years ago in what is now Aberdeenshire, Scotland? I can’t write that in my novel before I check. If it’s a Scottish setting would they be nibbling on oatcakes and cheese? Check! What kind of animals would they be hunting for food? Check! Did they eat the plentiful fish from local rivers and lochs? Check! Were there forests nearby for hunting boar or deer? Check! What was the weather like? Check!

Today, specialist scientific disciplines, used in conjunction with archaeology, have interpreted that the farmers in ‘Aberdeenshire’ of 2000 years ago ‘tended’ more stretches of grazing for sheep than they cultivated fields of grain. The wheat of today wasn’t grown in Aberdeenshire though they did grow some spelt - an earlier form of wheat - according to soil deposit samples. 
hordeum Vulgare  -6 row barley
However, the main cereal crops were ‘6 row’ barley and to a lesser extent oats (field core samples and midden heap faeces sampling). So, my characters could perhaps have the occasional bit of unleavened spelt bread and eating some kind of oatcake is probable. 

Brose or soup is thought to be the most likely daily food made from barley, oats or a mixture of both (again faeces samples from midden heaps backs this up).  

Vegetables for soup were rare and not what I’d be buying in the supermarket today. Fat hen (we’d call that weeds) was used as was a type of wild garlic but most of the vegetables of today aren’t indigenous. The Romans actually introduced some of today’s veggies to Britannia but since I write about the Roman invasions it’s too early to refer to my ‘Celts’ eating leeks, cabbage, peas or onions, though my Romans can tuck into some assuming their supplies have not been attacked by my resourceful Celts. 

You can read more of the aspects that I need to constantly check for my 2000 years ago setting on my own blog.

N.B. Finding out that spelt was being grown by my ‘Aberdeenshire’ Iron Age tribes 2000 years ago was interesting but what was really exciting during my research was finding that a local Aberdeenshire farmer is currently growing spelt as a trial because it is a highly nutritious form of wheat and good for people who cannot tolerate high intensities of gluten. Spelt has a considerably lower gluten content.

I bought some spelt flour and so far have made scones and pancakes. When I can clear some more time for experimental baking, I’ll try some bread!

Roman Marching Camp bread oven

I won't, however, be making it in one of the more than 120 Roman Bread ovens found at the Roman Marching Camp in Kintore, Aberdeenshire c. 2003

The references below are about my spelt baking.



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