Sunday, March 30, 2008


In a couple of weeks' time (April 12th), the Historical Novel Society will be holding its 6th conference at the National Railway Museum in York. I've copied and pasted the programme below. There may still be places available for any latecomers wishing to go. You can check for details at the HNS website.'ve been a member of the HNS for ummm.... well since the mid 1990's anyway when it was founded by Richard Lee to raise the profile of historical fiction and rescue its reputation. I attended the first ever conference at Kirby Hall and gave a talk in medieval dress. Bernard Cornwell was there too and it was a great day - especially for historical fiction which had been in the doldrums. I sincerely believe that Richard's founding of the HNS made a strong contribution to turning the perception of the genre around.
I've also spoken for the HNS at a mini conference held in 2000 on the site of the battle of Hastings, with Helen Hollick and Deryn Lake among others. This year I'll be doing a double act with Akashic consultant Alison King as we discuss the 'time travel' method of research and our interractions and interviews with people from the past. We don't know what will happen when we're 'on air' but we're hoping it'll go well.
The programme looks very interesting with something for everyone and a great venue. Hope to see some of you there!

An Akashic Record session in progress

Saturday, 12th April 2008
National Railway Museum, York


Suzannah Dunn is not an historical novelist. Her words, not ours. Find out why as she talks about her two novels The Queen of Subtleties and The Sixth Wife and also gives us a preview of her forthcoming novel, The Queen’s Sorrow.

Crème de la Crime is already a major player in sharp crime fiction, including historical crime. Lynne Patrick tells us about this exciting new publisher and the kinds of historical fiction she wants to publish.


Railway Memories.
The National Railway Museum is the appropriate venue to meet Andrew Martin, author of four crime novels, the latest of which is Murder at Deviation Junction. They arose from Andrew’s memories of the last days of York as a great railway town when you didn't need a railway museum because the whole territory around the station was bustling with activity.


During which, Crème de la Crime launches The Unquiet Heart by Gordon Ferris, his follow-up to Truth Dare Kill.

1) Historical Fiction: The Next Ten Years.
A panel of ‘new’ writers, Sarah Bower (The Needle in the Blood), Roz Southey (Broken Harmony) and Russell Whitfield (Gladiatrix) discuss their paths to publication and what they see as the future of historical fiction. Audience participation is more than welcome in what is guaranteed to be a lively debate.

2) Rewriting Women’s History.
To a large extent, women have been written out of history: their lives and deeds have become lost to us. To uncover the buried histories of women, historical novelists must act as detectives, study the sparse clues that have been handed down to us, learn to read between the lines and fill in the blanks. Authors Jude Morgan and Melinda Hammond, and freelance reader and editor specialising in historical fiction jay Dixon join Mary Sharratt (The Vanishing Point) to discuss their unique take on rewriting women back into history.


An Accomplished Novelist
From Hector Berlioz to Charles II, the subject and style of Jude Morgan’s novels are rich and varied. His latest novel, An Accomplished Woman, is a witty homage to Regency Romances and Jane Austen.

Beyond The Looking Glass.
What if history was recorded on the ether? What if some people could actually read those records? What effect would it have on historical research? Award-winning author Elizabeth Chadwick and Akashic consultant Alison King discuss and demonstrate the use of this unusual resource.

The Conference ends at 5pm.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


In my previous post I'd been busy reading The Trotula and giving examples of the cosmetic recipes available within its pages. However, there is more to the The Trotula than cosmetic recipes: The Trotula is composed of three independent works by three different authors, although all probably writing in the area of Salerno in the twelfth century. On the Conditions of Women and On Women's Cosmetics are penned by anonymous authors. Treatments for Women, however, can be ascribed to one Salernitan woman healer called Trota about whom nothing is known. The modern translator, Monica H. Green has written a thoroughly erudite and informative introduction concerning the medical traditions on which the treatments are based, with recourse to Galen, Soranus and Hippocratic teachings. I'm not going to go into all that here, but the book's out there if you want to read up for yourself! I am certainly going to find it useful in further understanding the mindsets of the Middle Ages. Beyond cosmetics and beautification treatments, The Trotula provides a handy reference work for the 12thC healer and physician on how to cope with various medical situations mostly applicable to women. I say mostly, as there are one or two pieces of advice that do refer to men.
Since the previous post details contraceptive advice, here's one for those who have done away with the weasel's testicles and desire to conceive. Again, testicles are required but they should be those of an uncastrated male pig or a wild boar (a bit difficult getting them from a castrated one I should imagine!) 'and dry them and let a powder be made, and let her drink this with wine after the purgation of the menses. Then let her cohabit with her husband and she will conceive.' Assuming the above ploy is successful and the woman conceives, there are certain signs to be watched for. In order to know whether a woman is carrying a male or female, take water from a spring and let the woman extract two or three drops of blood or milk from her right side and let those be dropped in water. And if they fall to the bottom, she is carrying a male; if they float on top, a female. There are comments on the development of the embryo. In the first month there is purgation of the blood, in the second there is expression of the blood and the body. In the third month, the fetus produces nails and hair. In the fourth month it begin to move and for that reason women are nauseated. In the fifth month the fetus takes on the likeness of its father or its mother. In the sixth month the nerves are constituted. In the seventh month the fetus solidifies its bones and nerves. in the eighth month, Nature moves and the infant is made complete in the blessing of all its parts. In the ninth month it proceeds from the darkness into the light.' However, proceeding into that light can be a tricky business and if everything doesn't go to plan remedies suggested include having the expectant mother hold a magnet in her right hand. She should try drinking ivory shavings. 'Likewise the white stuff which is found in the excrement of the hawk, given in a potion is good.' I am not convinced!
The Trotula understands the seriousness of a retained afterbirth and says 'haste must be made to eject it. Therefore let sneezing be provoked, and let this be done with the mouth and nose closed.' Alternatively the woman should be made to vomit, as again, this would aid in bearing down. An emetic was to be made from the cinders of an ash tree mixed with one dram of powder of the seed of marsh mallow.
The Trotula has some interesting things to say about the care of the newborn. It says its ears should be pressed immediately over and over again, so that milk does not enter them, or its nose when the child is nursing. The umbilical cord should be tied 'three fingers from the belly, because according to the retention of the umbilical cord the male member will be greater or smaller.' To aid the child to talk more quickly, its palate should be anointed with honey and its gums with warm water. The baby should be kept clean and all mucus secretions wiped away. It should be massaged all over and then bound in swaddling. If its belly and loins become too humid and oily, they should be left free to dry out. After breastfeeding, a baby should be massaged. The next passage might almost come from a modern childcare manual. 'There should be different kinds of pictures, cloths of diverse colours, and pearls placed in front of the child, and one should use nursery songs and simple words, neither rough nor harsh words (such as those of the Lombards) should be used in singing in front of the child.' One wonders if Lombard songs were the equivalent of today's rugby chants!
Other headings in The Trotula's medical section deal with a cure for 'Sterility on the Part of the Man', a cure for 'Worms of the Ears', what to do about 'pain of the intestine' and 'itching and excoration of the pudenda.'
While many of the remedies make one thank heaven to be living in the 21st century, this book is a fascinating window on the world of medieval medicine and definitely one of my desert Island keepers.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


One of my book buys on a recent binge was a translation of The Trotula by Monica H. Green/University of Pennysylvania Press ISBN 978 0 8122 1808 4. Basically it's an ensemble of three works on women's medicine from 12th Century Italy and reflects some of the new theories, practices and medicines coming out of the Arabic world at that time.
As well as dealing with ailments specific to women, The Trotula also gives advice on child care and various interesting recipes for cosmetic beautification - one of which has found its way into a scene in The Time of Singing.
'But when she combs her hair, let her have this powder. Take some dried roses, clove, nutmeg, watercress and galangal. Let all these, powdered, be mixed with rose water. With this water let her sprinkle her hair and comb it with a comb dipped in this same water so that her hair will smell better. And let her make furrows in her hair and sprinkle on the above mentioned powder, and it will smell marvelously.'

I also mention this one in passing: If the woman wishes to have long and black hair, take a green lizard and, having removed its head and tail, cook it in common oil. Anoint the head with this oil. It makes the hair long and black.' I am quite tempted to try out the first one at a re-enactment event, but I'll leave the second one for more adventurous souls. This next one too is on my 'give it a miss for now' list. 'For whitening the hair. Catch as many bees as possible in a new pot and set it to burn, and grind with oil, and then anoint the head.'
Want white teeth? The teeth are whitened thus. Take burnt white marble and burnt date pits and white natron, a red tile, salt, and pumice. From all of these make a powder in which damp wool has been wrapped in a fine linen cloth. Rub the teeth inside and out. Hmm, must show this my dentist!
As a complexion aid: 'For whitening the face and clarifying it. Take the juice of pignut and mix steer or cow marrow with it, and let them be ground, and in these ground things add powder of aloe, cuttlefish bone, white natron, and dove dung. Let all these be ground, and let there be made an ointment. With this ointment the woman should anoint her face.'
One might think Yeeeukkk, until one starts to ponder on the ingredients for modern cosmetics.
I've just looked up the ingredients on my anti-frizz serum (see decent hair day photo!). I've chosen this because it has the least list of ingredients to type out I could find. I have no intention of copying the mile-long list from a body lotion bottle! the frizz-ease contains Cyclopentasiloxane, dimethiconol, ethylhexyl, methoxycinnamate, liquid paraffin (I've anglicised it!) hydrolized silk and algae extract. Who knows, the chemical compounds involved in lizard extremities could well be hidden in there! I guess that sometimes nothing really changes that much.

Much of The Trotula is concerned with discussions of women's ailments in relation to conception and childbirth. The treatments are often very different to today being based on different medical beliefs - although basic common sense is often spoken too. I'll save them for another post. However, to say that for any woman reading this who is thinking of taking a break from the Pill, it is probably not a good idea as an alternative to 'take a male weasel and let its testicles be removed and let it be released alive. Let the woman carry these testicles with her in her bosom and let her tie them in goose skin or in another skin, and she will not conceive.'

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Quick drop in and the cover story.

Sorry for the month of silence. I've been busy finishing off and handing in THE TIME OF SINGING. Responses so far have been extremely positive, although I'm not resting on my laurels.
I've thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Roger Bigod II, builder of Framlingham Castle and Ida de Tosney, his wife and former mistress of Henry II. They've taught me a lot.
I am now sorting out the chaos around me before I get going on the next project. I know there's a house somewhere under all the detritus! I've been housekeeping on my PC too and doing jobs that that have been on the 'One day' pile for far too long. To that end, I've now created a blog for all of my book covers.
It's so interesting to see publishing trends and what sells in other countries that wouldn't necessarily sell here!
I have also arranged all of the Akashic Record sessions into chronological order. A word count shows around 220,000 words, the equivalent of a 700 page book - who knows they may be one day.
I hope normal service will be resumed in the next couple of days. I have a pile of new research books for starters, one of them containing some rather alarming recipes for hair care!
In the meantime, here's a picture of one of my household - Dottie (by name and nature!).