Tag Archives: research

Calleva / Silchester

Calleva / Roman Silchester

On Monday, my last day of sightseeing / research before heading off for the wedding festivities, I wasn’t quite sure if I should even attempt to see Calleva (Roman Silchester). The blister on my little toe hurt, and I was not looking forward to the prospect of hiking for miles along country lanes in search of old rocks. Maybe I should just head south to the coast, I thought, take a day off and just enjoy the seaside. I’d already seen plenty of sites for The Pendragon Chronicles, and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to use the setting of post-Roman Calleva in A Wasted Land.

But then, when would the next chance come along for me to try to find Calleva? So off I went to Basingstoke again.

And I am so glad I did. Wandering around in the middle of nowhere, I was a bit worried I’d headed off on a wild goose chase. Instead, I ended up getting a personal tour of an archeological dig. If I’d gotten the train I wanted the day before, my experience of Calleva would have been completely different. The dig only started the day I went, and I would have missed it. Talk about a lucky mistake!

For the average tourist, there isn’t much to see in Calleva, so it probably is no wonder that it’s not a big draw and is so hard to find. Walking from the Mortimer station, it took me longer to get there than Google Maps said — there were no signs anywhere, and I stopped and asked people a few times along the way. Apparently, the way from Bramley is better marked, so that would be the way to go, but Google Maps told me Mortimer was closer, so that’s the way I went.

After over an hour, I found the first sign to Roman Silchester, which led me to the former amphitheater outside of town.

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Roman amphitheater of Calleva

From there, I was finally able to find the still impressive remains of the Roman wall.

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Roman wall of Calleva

When I got to the path on the top, I could see what looked like a campsite in the opposite corner of the wide field. Other than that, the only residents of the former thriving Romano-British town were a bunch of cows.

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Present residents of Calleva

I knew there’d been regular digs at Calleva over the years, and I was pretty sure that was about the only thing the tents could be. I headed over to the site along the top of the Roman walls, and some of the students (I presume) having lunch pointed me in the direction of an makeshift information center set up for visitors. There, a friendly young woman by the name of Zoe, an archeologist working on her Masters at Reading University, asked me if I would like a tour of the dig. Duh!

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Zoe, my wonderful guide through the dig at Calleva

The present digs are in Insula IX and Insula III, and platforms had been set up next to each. Zoe took me to the closest first, Insula IX, and showed me what I was seeing — the remnants of the main road going north and south, postholes for the buildings, bigger holes for the wells, a floor — and explained that here in most places they had already reached the layer of Pre-Roman settlement and were nearly done with what they had set out to do. One of the things they’d been hoping to learn more about was when the town was abandoned and what might have caused it, and she said they’d uncovered evidence that it might be later than originally thought.

Naturally my ears perked up at that. I’ve repeatedly come across such theories in my research for the books of The Pendragon Chronicles, and it’s one of the main historical elements I’ve based my world on.

Anyway, looking at the carefully dug up dirt, Zoe and I had a great conversation about how new information keeps cropping up and theories keep changing. She took me over to Insula III, where I saw a hearth or stove made out of old Roman roofing tiles — most likely evidence that the site was still in use after Roman materials were no longer being manufactured.

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Archeological dig at Insula III in Calleva

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Panel explaining the dig

It was more fun than I ever could have imagined. Zoe and I obviously shared a fascination with the mysteries of history. She said her masters thesis was actually on magic and ritual in the archeological record in late medieval times (which sounds absolutely fascinating too!), but she wanted to be at Calleva for the last year of the dig, since she spent several summers working on it while she was an undergraduate.

After I saw the two Insulae and thanked her heartily, I headed for the church that was just within the Roman walls. There, I was lucky enough to walk in on a lecture by the head of the dig for some of the newest students. He mentioned that one of their most significant finds from the previous year was pottery fragments from the sixth to eighth century. In the Q&A session, I asked what he thought that meant for the end of Calleva. He answered that they might have to revise their ideas, that rather than disappearing, perhaps the town shifted to the area around the church. He postulated that the medieval town may have been a victim of the Black Death, since there were references from the 12th century, but little thereafter. (The amphitheater was converted into a medieval hall and King John was recorded as visiting there.)

While I ended up with two new blisters for a total of three, it was a thoroughly excellent outing.

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Silchester church just within the Roman walls of Calleva

You can see the rest of my pictures of Calleva here.

Other posts from my trip to England:
Indulging in a research trip to England: Salisbury and Amesbury
Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral
Old Sarum
Winchester / Venta

Changing horses in the middle of the stream – or, changing projects in the middle of Nano

So, I’m doing something which is probably very stupid, but I’m also hoping to learn more about myself as a writer in the process. I mentioned a couple of posts back that A Wasted Land has been coming along more slowly than I had hoped. Mostly this has to do with me needing to do more research and related brainstorming. I thought I had the plot pretty much mapped out, I had a synopsis and the first chapter with me at the last Villa Diodati workshop and I got some good feedback on it — but I also had a bunch of big, gaping holes: the progress of the battles in this novel, the secondary characters (who are still like ciphers), the settings I haven’t used in previous books. I was doing more research than writing, getting no more than 600-700 words done a day.

So I stopped. Not completely, of course. I’m still adding notes to my Scrivener file and reading some new (to me) books on the Dark Ages. Right now it’s The English Settlements: English Political and Social Life from the Collapse of Roman Rule to the Emergence of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms:

I’ve often wondered if I could write faster if I didn’t (almost) always write such research-intensive stuff. So couple of days ago, I started to think about the kinds of plots I enjoy that aren’t fantasy, historical, or science fiction, something I could set in the here and now, in places that I know fairly well and won’t have to be researching two hours for every hour I write. I hit upon escape plots where the protagonist is running from a mysterious threat. Think The Fugitive, Terminator, that kind of thing. I figured I could set the story in the Pacific Northwest where I grew up. But if my protagonist is running, she could start out someplace else that I know pretty well, the Raleigh/Durham area where I spent a lot of time over the years for IBM.

And I started writing. I don’t have a title yet, nor do I know what the mystery is going to be, but I do have over 6,000 words already. Even though I didn’t do any pre-writing, I’m now at about 1200 words a day on my unnamed thriller. Those still aren’t Nano levels, of course, and I know I’m not going to “win” this thing, but it’s turning out to be a lot of fun writing something where I don’t have to do as much prep. And I’m not trying to imply that this genre is any easier to write than historical fantasy, it all seems to come down to the time factor. I’ve had to look up a few things, of course — what are the most popular cars in the US, where are the superstores in the Triangle and are they open 24 hours, how to get more money than your limit from an ATM — but it isn’t every little detail. And I can find the answers to my questions a lot faster. Besides, for the settings I can rely at least in part on memory. Those are huge time savers.

So if I can come up with a decent mystery for this thing and finish it, I may be in the market for a genre pseudonym. 🙂

For the above reasons, you’re getting something completely different from me this week for WIPpet Wednesday, from my unnamed fugitive novel. WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts. 🙂 My math this week goes like this: 11+2+0 (11/20) = 13. So I’m giving you thirteen short paragraphs from the first scene I wrote a couple of days ago:

Then she heard Rick bellow at the top of his lungs, “Help! I’m –”
And silence.
No! Amber felt as if all the air had been pressed out of her body. She rose again slowly, gazing sideways into the room for confirmation of what she was afraid to see. Rick, slumped forward on the chair, arms limp at his sides, blood pooling on the floor beneath him.
“Do you think anyone heard him?” one of them said.
There was a brief silence and footsteps, going and coming. “No changes in the lights on the houses nearby.”
“Good,” Griffith said. “When the wife gets back, we’ll make it look like a murder-suicide. The police won’t ask too many questions — we have that covered. Then the secret will be safe.”
Amber knew that if she sobbed her pain it would be her death sentence. It was an act of will the likes of which had never before been required of her. But even as she fought with her grief, an important detail had not escaped her — she couldn’t go to the police.
But what was the secret these people thought was important enough to kill for? What could she possibly know that was worth that? She was only a high school drama teacher, after all.
And on the other side of the wall, Rick was slumped dead in their dining room. For what?
For a moment, Amber considered stepping in front of the window, making herself known, allowing them to murder her and lay her beside her husband. What did anything matter, now? And if they had someone from the police on their side, what chance did she have anyway?
Then anger came to her aid, a wave of it so strong, she was sorely tempted to storm through the door with her wimpy hammer and the element of surprise and take at least one of them out. She knew what the odds of that were — very nearly zero.
On the other hand, what were the odds of her ever avenging her husband’s death? With Griffith having the police in their pocket, and her not even knowing what it was they had killed him for? Also very nearly zero.
But better than if she too were dead.

Very rough first draft, any and all comments welcome. Especially if you have any cool ideas what kind information or cover-up or whatever could be going on here. I have NO experience writing mysteries! 🙂

A research dilemma: new archeological discoveries at Caerleon. (And an update).

I do love research. Collecting information and brainstorming plot elements that will fit what I’ve found is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing for me. And now that I’m back to The Pendragon Chronicles with A Wasted Land, I’ve been collecting new research gems and brushing up on old, creating a visual mosaic using Pinterest.

This last week, while I was googling visuals for the various settings of the novel, I stumbled across a fascinating link to new archeological discoveries in Caerleon, the Caer Leon of my novels. A complete building complex outside of the walls of the original Roman fortress, unknown of until just a few years ago, had been excavated and is being analyzed.

Archeologists are now debating whether Caerleon might have been much more important than previously presumed. While I absolutely love historical mysteries like this and the way they change the past we think we know, it presents me with a bit of a problem: when I was writing Yseult, no one knew about the existence of these “new” buildings, and so they are not a part of my descriptions of Caer Leon. I completed Yseult around 2004-2005, and these excavations did not take place until 2011. Theoretically, I could have read about these new developments while I was working on Shadow of Stone, since the geophysical surveys on which the excavations were based were conducted between 2006 and 2011. (I completed the first draft of Shadow of Stone in 2010.) But while I was writing the second book of The Pendragon Chronicles, I was under pressure to finish the book quickly, and I was relying heavily on previous research for the first book.

Now I am sorely tempted to go back and add a sentence of description here or there in the first two books, integrating the additional buildings into the setting. I realize that few readers will be aware that buildings are missing in my description, but, well, I want to get it right, you know? At the same time, I know there is no direct evidence that Caerleon was even occupied during the period I am writing about, Sub-Roman Britain and the Dark Ages. Except: the name Caerleon (Caer Leon) is derived from Welsh “fortress of the legion,” which seems a pretty clear indication that the location was regarded as a military site for some time. Also, it’s surprising how several of the streets of the present-day town are on a similar grid with the northern half of the former Roman garrison. Common sense would seem to indicate ongoing occupation, given those details, but of course, common sense is not scientific. I’m writing fiction, though, and it’s details like that which inspire me to create my own fantastic version of history.

Which I might now have to change …

* * *

Progress this week has continued to go well. Yesterday was a family day, so I only got a few hundred words of research and notes in, but today, I wrote about another 1500 words on A Wasted Land — despite more research and note-taking. The birds in the garden have no respect for my notes, however — at one point, I had to wipe a rather unseemly blotch off the papers. But better that than the keyboard of my netbook, I guess.

Anyway, A Wasted Land in now over 10,000 words, putting me at almost 7,000 words for the week. Still not breaking any records, but for me this is very good progress, especially without experiencing any kind of stress to speak of.

Next week, however, there will be a lot to do for the upcoming trip, so I’m not expecting the same kind of progress. Then Iceland and the Pacific Northwest, and this blog will temporarily become more of a travel blog. 🙂

Using Pinterest for research bookmarks, and an update

First off, I have to thank Emily Witt for a recent post of hers which I read. It was primarily about music for characters, but she also went into using Pinterest for images for book projects. I’ve been hearing for a long time about how Pinterest is yet another great social media site where authors can reach out to their readers. All I could think was, “Oh, no, another social media site where I’ll be expected to spend way too much time reaching out to my readers.” AKA, another time sink.

I’m pretty good these days about not wasting too much time with social media (maybe too good), but when I saw the images Emily had collected for her WIPs, a light went off in my head. I collect oodles and oodles of bookmarks for the research I do on my books and stories, which then get buried in oodles and oodles of other bookmarks in a big long list of URLs and page names. So for the sake of experiment, while I was working on the last revision pass for Island of Glass, every time there was something I wanted to look up on the internet, I would pin an image to my board for the project. I haven’t done much searching for images that fit my characters yet, like Emily suggested, but I can see where Pinterest would also be very good for that as well. Right now, I’m just thrilled with the visuals for my research links.

I finished another revision pass of Island of Glass yesterday and sent it off to my niece today. For my next project, I’m returning to Book III of The Pendragon Chronicles, A Wasted Land. After printing out the jumble of scenes and notes I wrote in March, I made a Pinterest Board for that project as well and started adding maps and images. I love having all those images in one place! If anyone had told me a week ago that I would become an enthusiastic Pinterest user, I would have thought they were crazy. 🙂

And the way I’m using it now, it isn’t really much of a time sink at all. If I’m researching something anyway, and the article I’m reading has a cool photo or map, I just add it to the appropriate board.

Besides returning to A Wasted Land, I will probably also soon be tackling another publication project of my collaborations with Jay Lake, if I could only decide which! I’m also considering taking an incident from Shadow of Stone, the story of Gawain and Ragnell, and publishing it as a short story, making it permanently free as a kind of advertisement for the novels of the Pendragon Chronicles. I’m a bit worried that it might piss off readers who don’t read the description (I certainly intend to make it very clear that this is NOT new material). But I originally wrote that episode thinking I could try to publish it as a short story in traditional markets to drum up interest for the books. What do you guys think? Would that be ok? Or should I just finally write another Arthurian short story for the same purpose?

Summer Solstice Free Fantasy (and various other updates)

As you can see from the badge off to the right there, I will be participating in a group giveaway next week, Summer Solstice Free Fantasy, with 28 fantasy novels for folks to chose from! Please pass the word along. 🙂 In addition, I will also be having a single free day for Shadow of Stone tomorrow, to try to get things moving a bit. As a result, however, in the last couple of days I’ve been spending more time on marketing again, announcing the freebies with all the usual suspects.

In anticipation of the Summer Solstice event, I have also finally updated by blog to include all of the ebooks I have available until now. If you check the sidebar, you will see that there are a lot more books than there used to be! One thing I can cross off my to-do list. I still have to do the same thing on my web page proper, however.

I’m also working on a guest blog about my sources and research methods for a German site, Verlorene Werke (“Lost works”). That should be finished and off today. I will announce it here once it goes up, for my readers who know German. If there’s interest, I could translate it somewhere down the line and post it to this site as well.

I have made some progress on my fiction, however. Rereading / revising Chameleon in a Mirror, I am up to page 74. And I had a fabulous research epiphany regarding an anonymous Restoration play that is often attributed to Aphra Behn, The Woman Turned Bully, which just might be perfect for some of the complications I wanted to add to the novel. I so love it when that happens!

Marie de France, Aphra Behn, and changing horses midstream

So here we are, at the beginning of a new round of words, with new targets and new projects, and I’m finding myself having to admit I need to change my goals. After months of concentrating on ebooks and editing, I returned to Fragments of Legend with the best of intentions, especially once I looked at the numbers and realized that with only 500 words a day, I could get a complete rough draft finished in a couple of months. Then after several days when the writing was like pulling teeth, I realized that for the section I’m working on, I not only need a compelling complication, I need to do way more research.

Sometimes resistance does have meaning.

At first I was hoping I could brush up on what I needed as I worked, and I started going through my books on Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine again, consulting the web for more sources and to look up references the books only mentioned in passing. And then I stumbled across Marie de France.

Since I’ve done plenty of research on Arthurian literature, I know of Marie de France, but I was unaware that the works that have come down to us are in Anglo-Norman French, and many experts place her at the court of Henry II. And since my main character, Judith, is a medieval woman who will eventually write an epic, Marie de France would be a perfect addition to my cast of characters! (I love those kinds of moments while writing.)

The problem is, I know next to nothing about Marie de France, and have only ever read one of her lays, many years ago. So it’s back to the books and the doodles for a while until I can get this section worked out in my head (or on scrap paper).

So in order to get back into the habit of writing regularly, I’m returning to my old Aphra Behn novel project, Chameleon in a Mirror. Rereading the old material a few months back, I realized that my style had changed quite a bit, and I’m going to have to start all over almost from scratch. But as compared to Fragments of Legend, in my Aprha Behn time travel, all the parts are there and all the research has been done; the words getting me from the first sentence to the last just have to be different. So here are my new research and writing goals:

– Read up on Marie de France and her contemporaries, while beefing up on Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 1180s. From this research, come up with appropriate complications for Judith’s time in England.

– Write 1,000 words a day on a new version of Chameleon in a Mirror.

In other news, “Looking Through Lace” is doing much better during this promo than during the last. During the first 24 hours, I had over 2000 downloads, and it is now in the top 100 Free in the Kindle store, and #2 in Science Fiction. (Carolyn Ives Gilman is beating me out, but that is definitely something I can live with.) If you don’t have my novella yet, please download a copy!