Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Thank You, Lizzie, for the Irresistibly Sweet Award!

Thank you, Lizzie Walker, for awarding me the Sweetest Blog Award!


The Rules of this award are easy to follow:
1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
2. Share 7 random facts about yourself.
3. Pass the Award on to 10 deserving blog buddies.
4. Contact those buddies and let them know.
  1. My children and God are the most important things in my life.
  2. Pachelbel's Canon is one of my all-time favorite pieces of music
  3. I like learning languages.  (And presumably one day I'll even master some of those I study!)
  4. I like trying new food, although I draw the line at anything that still has eyeballs or suction cups.
  5. If I had more time and money, I'd do a lot more skiing, downhill, cross country, and water.
  6. I enjoy finding interesting and unique things at thrift stores and Half Price Books.
  7. My upcoming trips include New York City and anywhere with a better chance of seeing the Northern lights than where I live.
Below are my nominees for sites I really like.  Many are book blogs.  A few are my friends with large families.  I would have loved to include a few more!  Enjoy. 

A. Yamina Collins  at Yamina Today
Christina at Hands Full and Loving It
Carol McFarland at Clan Chronicles

There are still a few more hours left on the Splash Into Summer blog hop!  So if you haven't already, sign up as a follower here and click LIKE on my facebook page (you should be able to do both in the right hand sidebar) to be entered for a $10 amazon.com gift card giveaway.  Please leave a comment so I can contact you easily if your name is drawn!  And it's not required, but for fun, tell us where you'd love to go this summer.

Then, hop along to any of these other great blogs sponsoring give aways!  The drawing is tomorrow, so there's not much time left:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Green Lady of Stirling Castle

Stirling is one of Scotland's great castles, architecturally and historically.  It dates back at least a thousand years, with reports as early as the 1100's of Alexander I endowing a chapel there.  Standing at a crossroads, it has been the site of many battles, and has associations with such great figures in history as Robert the Bruce, several Jameses, and Mary, Queen of Scots.  A tour of the castle includes the beautiful Unicorn tapestries, the chapel, palace, regimental museum, the Douglas gardens, and more.

But perhaps the most intriguing stories of all are not the greats who once dwelt there, but those lesser known, who refuse to leave.  Stirling has several, at least.  (One site says there are over 1,000.)  Most often mentioned are the Green Lady, the Pink Lady, and the Highland Ghost, who likes to pose as a tour guide.

green lady of stirling, ghost, ghost stories, Scotland, legends, Blue Bells of Scotland
Most famous among them is the Green Lady.  She has haunted Stirling for several hundred years, and seems at times to become quite engrossed in, almost entranced by, watching the daily activities of people now living, but at other times appears sad. 

She has a habit of appearing at unexpected times, in unexpected places.  In one famous incident, dinner failed to arrive for the army officers then stationed at Stirling.  Apparently, the Green Lady was fascinated with watching the chef prepare dinner.  Sensing he was being watched, he turned and saw her, a misty green figure, engrossed in his cooking, and he promptly fainted.

It is not known who she was in life, but two theories are put forth.  Some believe she was the daughter of Stirling's governor, betrothed to an army officer stationed at the castle.  In an accident which is not described, her father killed the officer.  She, in turn, threw herself from the battlements and died on the rocks 250 feet below.

A more detailed story tells of an attendant of Mary, Queen of Scots.  One night, the attendant dreamed that the queen was in danger.  She jolted awake and rushed to the queen's chamber to find the bed curtains on fire, and Mary sleeping soundly inside.  She rescued the queen who later recalled a prophecy that she would be endangered by fire while at Stirling.  It is suggested that this attendant remains at the castle as the misty green figure still seen today.

Tales from the Stirling Ghost Walk elaborates on the story, saying that the maid died of injuries received in rescuing her queen, and that she wore a green gown that night. 

(There is a part 2 to this video.)

Today, she is often feared, as her appearances, in particular, the ones in which she appears sad, frequently precede some kind of disaster, including several fires.  As a result, reports of her appearances are taken seriously and all documented.  If this is indeed the ghost of the brave attendant, I prefer to think that she is offering warning, and still trying to save people.

Please join the fun of the Splash into Summer Bloghop!  All you need to do is become a follower here and click LIKE on my facebook page (the button is right here on my page).  Please leave a comment letting me know you did both, and contact information, and you are entered in a drawing for a $10 gift card to amazon.com!  Easy!

Just for fun, tell other readers where you'd love to vacation this summer.  My answer, of course, is Scotland, ghosts and all!

Also, stop by any of these many other blogs, all of which are also hosting giveaways!

If you enjoy an author's posts, please like and share.
It helps us continue to do what we do!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Thrills and Spills of Researching the Distant Past

Congratulations to Karine, winner of the $10 gift card to amazon.com!  And now, please welcome Nan Hawthorne, novelist, songwriter, and internet DJ!

The Thrills and Spills of Researching the Distant past

Nan Hawthorne, author of Beloved Pilgrim, a novel of the Crusade of 1101

In history class in college we learn about the difference between primary and secondary sources, but anyone who has tried to research events in the Middle Ages knows that primary and authoritative are not necessarily one and the same. The Crusade of 1101 stands out as one example. Of the three so-called primary sources for chronicles of this time and event, only one, Anna Comnena’s "The Alexiad", is truly primary, the others by Exxehard, Abbot of Aura, and Albert of Aix being respectively written by someone who did not travel with the three arms of the crusaders in Turkey and by someone who was never there at all but writing ten years later. Even Anna’s is by someone present for only those events that took place in Constantinople at her emperor father’s court. How then can one be certain what she reads bears any resemblance to the historical facts?

Many historical novelists, Sharon Kay Penman, for instance, do intensive research by traveling to locations where their stories take place and finding those primary sources in court records and monastery libraries. The amount of this sort of material is surprising and a testament to the packrat mentality of the record keepers themselves. However, even where an individual author can lay hands on this sort of primary source, not every event was written about or can one find the records still in existence. This is very much the case of the Crusade of 1101 and many other events of the early Middle Ages.

My own research on the Crusade of 1101 for my novel “Beloved Pilgrim” started with the work of historian Sir Steven Runciman. His highly regarded “A History of the Crusades” (three volumes, Cambridge University Press 1951) is admittedly secondary and based entirely on materials such as the chronicles mentioned above. What you have with Runciman is a combination of masterful research and analysis. He clearly compiled his information painstakingly and made a coherent narrative from it. However, even I as a lowly historical novelist with my research buddy, a medieval warfare enthusiast, found some unlikely conclusions based on knowledge of the fighting techniques of the era and the terrain and nature of the land where the battles occurred. How does this reflect on the rest of his research?

Whether an author is a strict historian or a novelist aiming to turn historical events and characters into enlightening entertainment, it is important to think outside the box of the chronicles of the era. The fact is that monastic clerks kept most records on the events. They could certainly be relied upon to keep track of certain economic and legal information, but when recounting events let’s just say their bias was showing. It is the contrast with narratives by Islamic scholars this is made most clear. These latter tended to present factual detail while the monks were the “spin doctors” of their culture. For example, while the Christian chronicles make little or no reference to women who were involved in the Crusades and in particular in battle, the Islamic scholars had no compunction about describing the bodies of female combatants after a battle, such as the siege of Acre.

The researcher can derive some insight into the personalities involved in such an event by what people involved in what happened are willing to say about it. That occurred to me with the very fact that the leaders of the Crusade of 1101 who acted in what seems to my mind to be a desperately dishonorable desertion of their followers nevertheless admitted to what they had done. What sort of people would expect admiration and approval for cowardice of this magnitude? Luckily, being a novelist, I was in a position to use this in the characterization of these historical figures. I was able to show them behaving badly, whereas a historian would balk at such storytelling.

My conclusion about doing research on the Crusade of 1101 was that I needed to do four things:

1. Read the generally accepted accounts,

2. Consider what I read against other sources,

3. Apply my own judgment and common sense, and

4. Remember that I am a storyteller and not writing a history textbook.

The historical novelist has a responsibility to her readers not to stray egregiously from the known facts of an event or historical person, but when the “known facts” are in question, are secondhand and may even consist of propaganda, it is necessary to come clean to readers about any embroidery on the facts as they are known and to stay faithful to what one has learned, not imagined, about the life and culture of the periods she depicts in her novels.

Nan Hawthorne’s recently released “Beloved Pilgrim”, the story of a young woman who chooses to live and fight as a man in the doomed Crusade of 1101, is available at Amazon and Smashwords.

About Nan:
Nan Hawthorne is a historical novelist who lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her husband and doted-upon cats.  She has been in love with history and historical fiction since, at four, she discovered the Richard Greene “The Adventures of Robin Hood” television series.  She wrote her first short story at seven, then launched into the letters and stories with a teen friend that ultimately became her first novel, AN INVOLUNTARY KING: A TALE OF ANGLE SAXON ENGLAND (2008).  The author of one nonfiction work on women and body image, she now concentrates primarily on historical novels set in the Middle Ages. 

Her latest novel, BELOVED PILGRIM, looks at gender identity and self-realization during the chaotic and doomed Crusade of 1101.  She writes several blogs on historical themes, owns the medieval-novels.com catalog and also Internet radio station, Radio Dé Danann.