29 August 2014

Everyday Fashions: Dressing a Trojan or Hittite Queen

By Judith Starkston

One of the appeals of historical fiction to many readers is the depiction of elaborate clothes. This put me in a bit of a jam when I worked on my novel, Hand of Fire (out Sept 10, 2014), set in the Trojan War, and now as I develop my historical mystery about Queen Puduhepa of the Hittites (cultural cousins and near neighbors to Troy). I am dressing women in the Late Bronze Age, about 1200 BCE, in what is now Turkey, but I have no lovely oil portraits or written accounts of what these women wore. I have to be a fashion designer on a shoestring of evidence.

So what do I have to work with?

Fabrics were woven of wool or linen. We know that noble women, who could afford to spend extravagant amounts of time weaving fine fabrics as opposed to survival-wear, created both elaborate pictorial/geometric patterns and super fine weaves. Homer shows Helen depicting whole mythological scenes on her loom and spinning a golden spindle with precious purple wool (dyed by laboriously milking single drops of ink from each sea snail). We have evidence from Egypt that translucent fabric almost like silk could be woven if a single thickness of twisted linen fiber was used, producing two hundred threads per inch, finer than you typically find modern fabrics. No need to imagine the Trojan and Hittite princesses looking primitive or dowdy.

But what did they do with those fabrics? From rock carvings, pictorial vases and seal impressions we have a rough idea of the shape of the dresses and that part isn’t so sexy.

Here’s Queen Puduhepa herself on the Fraktin rock carving on the Old Hittite Road in south central Turkey. 
Shown are two female figures. The seated one is a goddess and the standing one is Puduhepa pouring a libation to the goddess. They are similarly dressed, which is interesting. They both wear long dresses with what appear to be fairly loose sleeves. They have conical hats that look like they are covered with a veil or mantle that flows down the back and around the shoulders. The standing woman’s garment seems pulled in at the waist but not dramatically so. This is modest garb. The conical hat, by the way, is a feature shared by most gods and kings. Apparently a clear sign of importance either royal or divine was a cone-head. We do have many gorgeous gold diadems from the period, so it isn’t a stretch to imagine that a crown-like diadem could also act as a signifier of wealth or status.

Here's Queen Puduhepa on her own personal seal.
She has the same hat with veil. Her skirt is definitely belted at the waist and her skirt has a diagonal design or fold to it.

Her son, by the way, is on the opposite side of her seal under the protective arm of a god. They both wear short kilts with edging and conical hats. Their hats have horns on them.

Can we add more detail to these depictions?

There’s an intriguing find at Troy that helps. Around the remains of a warp-weighted loom scattered in the dirt, archaeologists discovered hundreds of tiny gold beads. These beads must have been already woven into a partially done piece and fell to the ground when the fabric burned, as we know this layer of Troy did. So you can imagine shimmering gold finely worked into a queen’s dress.
Interestingly, the only significant part of that wooden loom that would survive to show us that a loom had been there would be the stone weights fallen in a tell-tale row. The loom style of ancient Anatolia and Greece is upright and looks quite different from what you’re expecting if you’ve got in your mind one of the modern sit-down looms with foot pedals to change the sheds. Here’s a somewhat rough version of a loom but the line drawing makes the mechanisms clear.

Another detail we can add is that we know there were also special band looms that made brightly colored edgings or braiding. Such edgings are hinted at on some Hittite vases. Here are some musicians and dancers on a vase in the Corum Museum. The lines on their skirts may also indicate pleating. 

Such fancy trims and pleating are much more visible on the Minoan and Mycenaean frescoes, but it’s best to remember these ladies are from a somewhat different period and place than my Trojans and Hittites. They do provide the only color vision, so it’s worth comparing. Here is a Minoan fresco from Akrotiri, island of  Thera, with a beautifully dressed lady of the court:


 We also know they polished fabrics with smooth stones to make them shine.

So what did I do in Hand of Fire to dress my young lady, the future queen of Lyrnessos, an ally of Troy? Briseis doesn’t always find herself in dress-up circumstances, to say the least, but here are two examples when she does.

Briseis is betrothed to the king’s son. In his first formal courting visit, Briseis wears “her best russet skirt, the pleats picked out with multicolored braid and a cream linen veil to cover her bright hair.” Her future groom gives her, among other things a necklace of amber beads.

Here is an excerpt from her wedding day, the grandest occasion I had to dress her up for:
Briseis put on her linen tunic and swirling skirt, bleached a brilliant white and rubbed with an oiled stone until the fabric glistened. Eurome reached underneath the pleated skirt to pull the tunic snugly over her breasts so that the fabric curved and swelled around her body. Briseis ran her hand over the smoothness of the tunic and then spun in a circle to feel the heavy skirt fly out. Eurome laughed and then made her hold still while she tied on a linen belt decorated with gold sun discs. Briseis slid on the matched bracelets that Antiope had received from Glaukos for her wedding day—two wide bands of gold set with cornelian.
            Eurome brushed Briseis’s hair until it glowed, a long red-gold cascade. She wove the front strands into a crown and attached the diadem Milos had fashioned of golden sprays of lilies intertwined with tiny pomegranates. Traceries of flowers and leaves wound down from it, gleaming against the deeper gold of Briseis’s hair. Eurome clasped a matching necklace around Briseis’s neck.
            As Eurome lifted the saffron-colored veil out of its chest, they heard the king, queen and Mynes announced and her father’s greeting.
            “Your husband is here to claim you. Lucky we’re almost ready,” said Eurome. The breath caught in Briseis’s chest.
            Eurome covered her from head to toe in the translucent veil, holding it in place with a golden pin shaped like Kamrusepa’s bee and arranging it so the delicate fabric clung to Briseis’s form and suggested the beauty that it only partially concealed. Her hair, the jewels, and shimmering fabrics glinted through the golden cloud surrounding her.

28 August 2014

Excerpt Thursday: WAYFARING STRANGER by James Lee Burke

This week, we're pleased to welcome author JAMES LEE BURKE with his latest novel, WAYFARING STRANGER. The author will offer a free copy of Wayfaring Stranger to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

In his most ambitious novel, master storyteller James Lee Burke tells a classic American story through one man’s unforgettable life—connecting a fateful encounter with Bonnie and Clyde to the Battle of the Bulge to the merciless frontier justice of the Wild West. 

It is 1934 and the Depression is bearing down when sixteen-year-old Weldon Avery Holland happens upon infamous criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow after one of their notorious armed robberies. A confrontation with the outlaws ends as Weldon puts a bullet through the rear window of Clyde’s stolen automobile. 

Ten years later, Second Lieutenant Weldon Holland and his sergeant, Hershel Pine, escape certain death in the Battle of the Bulge and encounter a beautiful young woman named Rosita Lowenstein hiding in a deserted extermination camp. Eventually, Weldon and Rosita fall in love and marry and, with Hershel, return to Texas to seek their fortunes. There, they enter the domain of jackals known as the oil business. 

They meet Roy Wiseheart—a former Marine aviator haunted with guilt for deserting his squadron leader over the South Pacific—and Roy’s wife Clara, a vicious anti-Semite who is determined to make Weldon and Rosita’s life a nightmare. It will be the frontier justice upheld by Weldon’s grandfather, Texas lawman Hackberry Holland, and the legendary antics of Bonnie and Clyde that shape Weldon’s plans for saving his family from the evil forces that lurk in peacetime America and threaten to destroy them all. 

**An Excerpt from Wayfaring Stranger**

Chapter 1 

IT WAS THE year none of the seasons followed their own dictates. The days were warm and the air hard to breathe without a kerchief, and the nights cold and damp, the wet burlap we nailed over the windows stiff with grit that blew in clouds out of the west amid sounds like a train grinding across the prairie. The moon was orange, or sometimes brown, as big as a planet, the way it is at harvest time, and the sun never more than a smudge, like a lightbulb flickering in the socket or a lucifer match burning inside its own smoke. In better times, our family would have been sitting together on the porch, in wicker chairs or on the glider, with glasses of lemonade and bowls of peach ice cream. 

My father was looking for work on a pipeline in East Texas. Maybe he would come back one day. Or maybe not. Back then, people had a way of walking down a tar road and crossing through a pool of heat and disappearing forever. I ascribed the signs of my mother’s mental deterioration to my father’s absence and his difficulties with alcohol. She wore out the rug in her bedroom walking in circles, squeezing her nails into the heels of her hands, talking to her- self, her eyes watery with levels of fear and confusion that nobody could dispel. Ordinary people no longer visited our home. 

As a lawman, Grandfather had gone up against the likes of Bill Dalton and John Wesley Hardin, and in 1916, with a group of rogue Texas Rangers, he had helped ambush a train loaded with Pancho Villa’s soldiers. The point is, he wasn’t given to studying on the complexities of mental illness. That didn’t mean he was an ill-natured or entirely uncharitable man, just one who seemed to have a hole in his thinking. He had not been a good father to his children. Through either selfishness or ineptitude, he often left them to their own de- vices, even when they foundered on the wayside. I had never under- stood this obvious character defect in him. I sometimes wondered if the blood he had shed had made him incapable of love. 

He hid behind flippancy and cynicism. He rated all politicians “somewhere between mediocre and piss-poor.” His first wife had “a face that could make a freight train turn on a dirt road.” WPA stood for We Piddle Around. If he hadn’t been a Christian, he would have fired the hired help (we no longer had any) and “replaced them with sloths.” The local banker had a big nose because the air was free. Who was my grandfather in actuality? I didn’t have a clue. 

It was right at sunset when I looked through the back screen and saw a black automobile, coated with dust and shaped like a shoe box, detour off the road and drive into the woods behind our house. A man wearing a fedora and a white shirt without a tie got out and urinated in front of the headlights. I thought I could hear laughter inside the car. While he relieved himself, he removed his fedora and combed his hair. It was wavy and thick and brown and shiny as polished walnut. His trousers were notched tightly into his ribs, and his cheeks looked like they had been rubbed with soot. These were not uncommon characteristics in the men who drifted here and yon through the American West during the first administration of President Roosevelt. 

“Some people must have wandered off the highway onto our road,” I said. “The driver is taking a leak in front of his headlights. His passengers seem to be enjoying themselves.” 

Grandfather was sitting at the kitchen table, an encyclopedia open in front of him, his reading glasses on his nose. “He deliberately stood in front of his headlights to make water, so others could watch?” 

“I can’t speak with authority about his thought process, since I’m not inside the man’s head,” I replied. I picked up the German binoculars my uncle had brought back from the trenches and focused them on the car. “There’s a woman in the front seat. A second man and another woman are in back. They’re passing a bottle around.” 

“Are they wets?” 

I removed the binoculars from my eyes. “If wets drive four-door cars.” 

“My first wife had a sense of humor like yours. The only time I ever saw her laugh was when she realized I’d developed shingles.” 

I focused the binoculars back on the driver. I thought I had seen his face before. I heard Grandfather get up heavily from his chair. He was over six and a half feet tall, and his ankles were swollen from hypertension and caused him to sway back and forth, as though he were on board a ship. Sometimes he used a walking cane, sometimes not. One day he seemed to teeter on the edge of eternity; the next day he was ready to resume his old habits down at the saloon. He had gin roses in his cheeks and skin like a baby’s and narrow eyes that were the palest blue I had ever seen. Sometimes his eyes did not go with his face or his voice; the intense light in them could make other men glance away. “Let’s take a walk, Satchel Ass,” he said. 

“I wish you wouldn’t call me that name.” 

“You’ve got a butt on you like a washtub.” 

“There’s a bullet hole in the rear window of the car,” I said, looking through the binoculars again. “My butt doesn’t resemble a washtub. I don’t like you talking to me like that, Grandfather.” 

“Wide butts and big hips run in the Holland family. That’s just something to keep in mind as you get older. It’s a family trait, not an insult. Would you marry a woman who looks like a sack of Irish potatoes?”

24 August 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Ian Lipke on NARGUN

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Ian Lipke with his latest novel, NARGUN. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. The author will offer a free print copy of Nargun to a lucky blog visitor from Australia.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

For many the turbulent history that shaped early Australia has been forgotten. The victorious wrote the history books, and the voices of the vanquished were silenced. The invasion and conquest of the land and the near genocide of the indigenous people were events that rarely receive mention.

Ellie Matthews' academic research drew her to the culture and history of the first inhabitants of Southeast Queensland. One day she receives a poorly written letter that causes her to drive over rough roads to meet with an old aboriginal man who tells her the story of Nargun, a man of the forgotten Galanga people, one of the greatest aboriginal warriors of his day, a war chief caught up in the collision between two cultures and two worlds. In Garunna's tale, we hear of an almost forgotten race…the awful clash of white and black cultures…the story of the spirited leader and his fight for his people. We hear about the women who loved him and the men who followed him.

In Garunna’s story, Nargun, a prince among men, once more leads his people into battle while, at the same time, revealing the path of forbidden love that rewrites Ellie’s own history. 

**Q & A with Ian Lipke**

What was your motivation for writing this story?

It all began as a short story that friends overseas thought should be turned into a novel. Very little has been written that delves into the vast knowledge of our country which the indigenous aborigines possessed. Certainly no novel before mine tries to tell a story based on their lives as nomads. Their culture goes back 40 000 years but its richness has been sidelined by white Australians.

At what period of time and in what geographical area is this story set. Why there?

The location needed to be a dramatic one that I could exploit for story-telling purposes. I chose the Glasshouse Mountains area of South East Queensland, Australia for that reason and because I lived in the area as a boy.
The time was fixed by the years when white settlers moved into that area viz. the 1820s to 1830s. My book is set at the very beginning of the period. I tied the story to the cruel Captain Logan (killed by convicts in 1824).

What made you feel you could write a novel about these people?

Having grown up in the country I have always admired the aboriginal respect for the land and, as a teacher, I realized that all history books and novels are written from a white perspective. When I wrote this book, no white person in my part of Queensland showed the slightest interest in aboriginal culture. I wanted a more inclusive Australia and I wanted to stir up debate.

What response have you had from readers of your book?
I’ve actually been very pleased. No matter how often or how loudly I protest that my story is fiction, readers congratulate me on the apparent authenticity of the aboriginal customs and events described within the covers. I published the book late last year and have already sold more copies than I ever thought possible. What’s more, none of the anticipated criticism has surfaced. People who have bought Nargun include university academics, teachers, administrators in adult education institutions in Queensland and overseas. The book has been reviewed positively at the following addresses:

Is there any dispute among authorities about the facts of your story?

Yes. Martin Knox alludes to a different interpretation in his review. He says that most authorities believe that the Australian aborigines as a race were a peace-loving people, very different from my warriors. There is some support for my view in academic circles, and in all fairness, Knox brings this support to the fore. However, I maintain in a prominent spot at the front of the book that I set out to tell a story. The needs of the tale-telling would always be what is important.

Why did you select that particular passage from your book for blog readers and other participants to read?

I could have selected a passage that featured a large number of skills at which the aborigines excelled. That would have run the risk of blurring the detail. I chose this particular passage because of its narrow focus on a specific skill, that of tracking. This has always been perceived as a particularly aboriginal skill.

Have you published any other works?

Yes. Back in the 1970s I co-wrote two history textbooks for junior high school students. Since Nargun, I have self-published a crime novel called Lest Evil Prevail, also set on the Sunshine Coast, and I am working on another crime novel at present which is set in Brisbane.
Nargun may be purchased at www.booklocker.com/books/7462.html

Lest Evil Prevail at www.booklocker.com/books/7512.html as print books for $USD22.99 or as eBooks for $USD2.99.

About the Author

Ian Lipke became a teacher of primary children in 1958, transferring to secondary schools in 1964. He has taught in schools in remote and metropolitan areas of Queensland, Australia. He left school teaching in 1977 to lecture at the University of Queensland and at Queensland University of Technology. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, he was a deputy principal at several high schools, before retiring to manage his own tutoring business. In 2006, he returned to postgraduate studies through research at the University of Queensland. His whole life has been devoted to academic studies, which he very much enjoys.

He has co-written two textbooks for older school children, a novel called Nargun that depicts aboriginal-white confrontation in early nineteenth century Queensland, and at the time of writing was president of the University of the Third Age, Brisbane. While carrying out his administrative duties, he has written and published a crime novel called Lest Evil Prevail. A third novel, Family Matters, has been accepted for publication. His books are available for purchase at www.booklocker.com.

In addition to his administrative responsibilities he coordinates the ‘words’ section of M/C Reviews, a highly commended online journal that is the brain-child of Dr Axel Bruns of Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. In 2014, he conducted a seminar on the self-publishing industry, an area that he has made his own.

Ian has a wife, two children, and two grandchildren.

21 August 2014

Excerpt Thursday: NARGUN by Ian Lipke

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Ian Lipke with his latest novel, NARGUN. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. The author will offer a free print copy of Nargun to a lucky blog visitor from Australia.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

For many the turbulent history that shaped early Australia has been forgotten. The victorious wrote the history books, and the voices of the vanquished were silenced. The invasion and conquest of the land and the near genocide of the indigenous people were events that rarely receive mention.

Ellie Matthews' academic research drew her to the culture and history of the first inhabitants of Southeast Queensland. One day she receives a poorly written letter that causes her to drive over rough roads to meet with an old aboriginal man who tells her the story of Nargun, a man of the forgotten Galanga people, one of the greatest aboriginal warriors of his day, a war chief caught up in the collision between two cultures and two worlds. In Garunna's tale, we hear of an almost forgotten race…the awful clash of white and black cultures…the story of the spirited leader and his fight for his people. We hear about the women who loved him and the men who followed him.

In Garunna’s story, Nargun, a prince among men, once more leads his people into battle while, at the same time, revealing the path of forbidden love that rewrites Ellie’s own history.  
**An Excerpt from Nargun**

Chapter One

A single footprint pressed into the ground, clear evidence that someone had crept along the stony ridge towards the small stream that trickled from the foothills of the Brimstone Ranges. No member of Nargun’s clan had left such a mark. None of the children came this way, yet the footprint was that of a child. Curious, Nargun studied the area around the print with great care and interest. Throughout most of his sixteen summers he had been taught by Guterangi, the master tracker, to read the story of the bush. He crouched and lowered his face until it almost touched the ground. He sighted along the surface and immediately spotted a tiny scuffing of dirt such as might have been made by a kangaroo or bush wallaby. He knew he would have disregarded it, if he had not seen the child’s footprint nearby. Guterangi would be pleased with his clever reading of the signs.

Casting wider in search of an explanation, he picked out the faint suggestion of a concealed track. A small party had passed this way, one that did not want to be observed, too few to be hunters, certainly no war party. The presence of a child made that impossible. Instinct and tribal law required him to investigate these unfamiliar signs, but Nargun also knew that he would have to inform the clan of his actions and whereabouts. Therefore, he placed several small rocks on the path and used a sharpened stick to point the direction he intended to travel. He knew that when the guards came to relieve him they would read his signal. Checking that his war club was secured at his side, his axe and spears easily available to him, his mind alert for danger, he set out to identify the strangers travelling across his land.

There was something about these tracks that made him uneasy. For a moment, he wondered if the signs had been placed for him to find, a test perhaps, but he dismissed the idea as unlikely. Nargun opened his nostrils to the light breeze as he had been taught when trying to detect a scent. He smelt nothing but wattle and gum tree. He listened, but apart from the chirping of crickets and the snuffling of some larger animal, which he quickly identified as a wild pig, there was nothing unusual to suggest that there was any danger near at hand. He took particular note of the position of the sun. It had traversed a large part of the sky on its daily journey to bed with the mountains in the west. Nargun quickly reasoned that the intruders could not have entered Galanga lands during the daylight hours. Even the laziest of the guards would have sighted a party crossing into their territory in daylight.

Nargun paused for a moment but then shrugged off as foolish the notion that the intruders might be visitors from the spirit world. Although such ghostly figures always preferred to move through the country at night, they were never known to leave signs of their passing. It made sense that the makers of the tracks must have entered under cover of darkness and lain hidden in the scrub until they had taken the decision to move in the slowly fading light of day. He tracked steadily onward, sharp eyes picking up the occasional overturned leaf that should not have settled on that particular stony ridge, his spear ready to do battle if the occasion presented itself. Soon the direction of the travellers’ path became clear.

The shadows were lengthening. A wagtail and a bluish-green parrot fluttered through the bushes in that lethargic way they had of resting during the afternoon heat before feeding again as night began to fall. Nargun’s quarry was heading towards the creek that trickled from the base of mighty Beerwah, the mother of all mountains. Nargun realised the intruders were searching for a place to camp for the night. He moved in total silence towards the creek, his heart thumping loudly in his chest. The signs now showed that he was on the trail of a party of three, a man, a woman and a child. The care with which the tracks were hidden suggested the skilled presence of a woman.

What would Guterangi do? Nargun thought, as visions of his younger days spent learning the craft of the bush under the old man’s strict discipline, flashed through his mind. I couldn’t have spotted them unless they’d made the mistake with the footprint. They were careless. That may cost them their lives.

A light breeze touched his cheek and went on to stir the dust on the rocky ridge. Silver-tipped leaves in the light scrub land nearby whispered among themselves, but Nargun could not understand what they might be saying. Hmm … now the strangers wander from the easy path… are they weary, I wonder? They’re not stupid – their tracks are too well concealed for the most part. Well, they won’t escape me. He thought of the great stories that would be told of his courage and his prowess as a reader of signs. He scratched his head and murmured aloud. “There’s something odd about this track… what are they doing?”

A mud lark, startled by Nargun’s movement, complained loudly at being so rudely interrupted as she began feeding. Moving quickly away from the noise, Nargun dislodged a rock, and he cursed his carelessness. Guterangi would have punished that foolish mistake, he thought, and was pleased his old teacher was not with him. “Pee-wee, shh,” Nargun whispered to the fluttering bird. “You want to tell everybody about me?” He waited until the lark had become accustomed to his presence before moving on slowly.

The creek was very close now. Nargun crouched and scanned the scrub ahead. It was near to nightfall and he strained in the gloom to catch any sign of his quarry. There! A tiny flicker of light, such as that given off by a camp fire well concealed in the dense undergrowth. He crept closer, very close, ever cautious not to alert his foes to his presence. He made his way like a wraith, silent and unchallenged. His keen nose picked up the faintest trace of wood smoke, and he paused. He was more alert than he had ever been.

A feeling, a sense of immediate danger, suddenly washed over him. There was danger here.

Additional Material:
http://reviews.media-culture.org.au/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=5851
http://reviews.media-culture.org.au/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=5692


About the Author

Ian Lipke became a teacher of primary children in 1958, transferring to secondary schools in 1964. He has taught in schools in remote and metropolitan areas of Queensland, Australia. He left school teaching in 1977 to lecture at the University of Queensland and at Queensland University of Technology. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, he was a deputy principal at several high schools, before retiring to manage his own tutoring business. In 2006, he returned to postgraduate studies through research at the University of Queensland. His whole life has been devoted to academic studies, which he very much enjoys.

He has co-written two textbooks for older school children, a novel called Nargun that depicts aboriginal-white confrontation in early nineteenth century Queensland, and at the time of writing was president of the University of the Third Age, Brisbane. While carrying out his administrative duties, he has written and published a crime novel called Lest Evil Prevail. A third novel, Family Matters, has been accepted for publication. His books are available for purchase at www.booklocker.com.

In addition to his administrative responsibilities he coordinates the ‘words’ section of M/C Reviews, a highly commended online journal that is the brain-child of Dr Axel Bruns of Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. In 2014, he conducted a seminar on the self-publishing industry, an area that he has made his own.

Ian has a wife, two children, and two grandchildren.

19 August 2014

Everyday Fashions: The Vikings + flash giveaway

By Michelle Styles

To a certain extent, it is hard to know precisely what Viking women wore and how they wore their hair. The are no portraits of Viking women and very few representations of them in statues or on coins (the usual sources for such things).

However, unlike Christians in this period, their graves can be full of grave goods but textiles are rarely preserved. Enough scraps have been found to attest that the Vikings seem to prefer bright colours and good quality cloth. It is known that sometimes cloth was given as a high status gift, particularly silk. 

We know that women wore two broaches which fastened their apron dress to a long under-gown.  The apron dress might or might not be pleated. Sometimes the long under gown had a train. The under gowns always seem to have gone to the floor.  Given the types of cloth found, plus the fragments of looms, we know the gowns were often trimmed with  embroidery or gold or silver shot ribbon.

Reproduction of a Viking woolen apron dress
The shape and decoration of the broaches indicated where in the Viking world the women came from but most were oval. And when they are discovered in a grave, it is a huge indication that the grave belongs to a Viking woman.

Around their waist, they often wore a chain  or chatelaine where the keys to various trunks and items used for personal grooming such as an ear-spoon or tweezers. It is postulated that a Viking woman’s status is very much tied to the quality of her chatelaine and the various objects which hung from it.

We know from an Arab account about a visit to Hedeby, Viking woman wore eye make up to increase their beauty. There is some evidence that men wore eye makeup as well!

As necklaces of beads are often found in graves, we can assume that women wore beads. The beads are often imported, showing that they did help give the woman status.

On her head, she most likely wore a line head dress which tied under the chin.

In cold weather, she might a cloak with fasten on one shoulder. Depending on her status, it might be made of fur.

As the Viking Age progressed, there is evidence that women abandoned their traditional style of dress to ape the fashions of the Carolingian and later Ottoinan courts. Basically, the oval broaches start disappearing from the graves and more silver pendants are found.

Various items would hang from the belt as they did not have pockets.

For men, everyday clothing consisted of a long tunic, belted over trousers. They wore leather shoes laced up around the ankle. Any cloak would be fastened with a single broach.
The clothes were simple but functional. It was rare for cross-dressing but it could occasionally happen. For example a woman who was a shield maiden might wear masculine dress to emphasize her status. If the sagas are to be believed, when she stops being a shield maiden, she returns to female dress.

FLASH GIVEAWAY:
Michelle Styles is offering  a signed copy of her latest book SAVED BY THE VIKING WARRIOR to one commentator. The winner will be chosen from the comments on Friday 22 August. Void where prohibited


Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance in a wide range of time periods, including the Viking. Her latest SAVED BY THE VIKING WARRIOR is published today 19 August 2014.

17 August 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Louise Turner on FIRE & SWORD

This week, we're pleased to welcome author LOUISE TURNER with her latest novel, FIRE & SWORD. The author will offer a free copy of Fire & Sword in ebook format from Amazon to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.


On the 11th June in 1488, two armies meet in battle at Sauchieburn, near Stirling. One fights for King James the Third of Scotland, the other is loyal to his eldest son, Prince James, Duke of Rothesay.

Soon, James the Third is dead, murdered as he flees the field. His army is routed. Among the dead is Sir Thomas Sempill of Ellestoun, Sheriff of Renfrew, whose son and heir, John, escapes with his life.

Once John’s career as knight and courtier seemed assured. But with the death of his king, his situation is fragile. He’s the only surviving son of the Sempill line and he’s unmarried. If he hopes to survive, John must try and win favour with the new king.

And deal with the ruthless and powerful Lord Montgomerie...


**Q&A with Louise Turner**


There are numerous historical novels set in Scotland – so what makes Fire and Sword an ‘unusual historical’?

Scotland’s varied history has long been a source of inspiration for writers – in fact, if it wasn’t for Sir Walter Scott and his much-loved ‘Waverley’ novels, historical fiction might never have achieved the popularity it has today.   

But when you think about it, the range of subject matter to be found in Scottish-based historical fiction is often quite restricted.  Readers can choose between the Wars of Independence (with stories invariably featuring Bruce or Wallace), the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, or the Jacobites.  It’s unusual to find anything else, though just recently the post-Flodden period (1513 onwards) has begun to receive the attention it so richly deserves.

Fire and Sword bucks the trend because it doesn’t fall into any of these settings.  Its events unfold during the late 1480s: we’re all familiar with the turmoil in England at this time as the War of the Roses built up to a climax, but in Scotland this period is often ignored.  Occupying an awkward hiatus between the Wars of Independence and the Reformation, it has been neglected by both novelists and historians: in fact, renowned historian Jenny Wormald once described it as ‘the bread-and-butter period between two layers of jam.’*  Wormald herself considered this assumption to be unfair, and certainly, when I was researching the novel, I found the history of this time anything but dull and static. 

* Wormald, J, 1981. Court, Kirk and Community: Scotland 1470-1625 (Edinburgh University Press), p. 3

So tell me more about the history behind the story

The key event which inspired Fire and Sword was the Battle of Sauchieburn (originally known as the ‘Second Battle of Bannockburn’) which took place on the 11th of June 1488.  It ended with the murder of Scotland’s reigning monarch, James III, by men loyal to his son. James’s heir then succeeded to the throne, ultimately becoming Scotland’s well-known Renaissance king James IV.

The period of transition which marked the beginning of James IV's reign was certainly not a comfortable one, with a great deal of unrest and tit-for-tat retaliation taking place over the winter of 1488 and onwards into 1489.  These unsettled times provide the backdrop to Fire and Sword, the novel itself examining the implications this regime change had for a member of the minor gentry who had the misfortune to be fighting for the losing side.

And the story itself?

Based on real characters and real historical events, it follows the changing fortunes of a young man named John Sempill of Ellestoun.  When John’s father dies defending King James III at the Battle of Sauchieburn, his heir’s future as Laird of Ellestoun and Sheriff of Renfrew is thrown into doubt.  John finds his lands and titles coveted by others, men who have thrown their lot in with the winning side and who are taking every opportunity they can to move against him. 

Unmarried, with no son to carry on his line, John’s situation is precarious.  If he’s to prosper, he must find an ally amongst the new government, but the only man who appears willing to help him is Hugh, Lord Montgomerie, a local magnate who’s earned a dubious reputation for violence and treachery.  Accepting any kind of assistance from Montgomerie is hardly a risk-free strategy: Montgomerie is himself embroiled in a feud with the Cunninghame family which threatens to escalate and engulf the whole of the Westland in violence.  Caught between these two warring households, John must somehow renegotiate his way into the new King’s favour, without getting caught up in Montgomerie’s feud.

What inspired you to write it?

I was inspired by the landscape and history of the area where I live in the West of Scotland.  John Sempill left us a marvellous architectural legacy in the form of the Collegiate Church of Castle Semple – you can still visit the ruins near my home.  When I started to research the history of the church, I stumbled across a reference to Sempill in one of the local historical accounts.  Only a couple of sentences were devoted to him, but they intrigued me.  They related how his father died defending the king at Sauchieburn, and yet a year later Sempill was made 1st Lord Sempill. 

This rapid transformation of fortunes seemed quite extraordinary, given that Sempill seems to have made a deliberate choice to opt for peace in a time when feuding and conflict was considered the norm. Writing a novel seemed like an ideal way to explore how this situation could have come about, and in the end it allowed me to travel to places where historians could not possibly tread without venturing too far beyond the bounds set by the available historical evidence.

How did you go about transforming fact into fiction?

It was an exhaustive process.  First of all, I looked in detail at the local historical accounts and mapped out the genealogies of the significant families:  to begin with this was quite a tedious exercise, because the local sources are full of fairly banal stuff like ‘such and such was at feud with someone or other’, leaving readers with the impression that late 15th century Scotland was full of tetchy barons falling out over nothing and perpetuating feuds which originated from nowhere.

It was only when I started to consider the local picture in its wider political context that things really became interesting.  The feuds that seemed so meaningless often had their roots in political grievances, real and imagined.  As I pieced together the facts, I discovered that events which happened here in Renfrewshire were key to the success of James IV’s reign.  The real John Sempill and Hugh Montgomerie had together played a fundamental role in these events, the story I’d unearthed much more complex than I’d ever anticipated.  In the end, what started out as a fictionalized biography of the life of John, 1st Lord Sempill turned into an exploration of how events unfolded over a mere eighteen months of this life. 

What do you find particularly interesting about this period in history?

It was clearly a time of transition.  The end of chivalry – if indeed, it ever existed – had come, while at the same time the whole chivalric code was being mythologised by career knights and nobles who knew that their time was coming to an end.  Progress at court by this time was as much dictated by political acumen and legal dexterity as it was by force of arms. 

Medieval self-loathing was also giving way to a more relaxed, humanist attitude, thanks to the growing popularity of Classical thinking, with transformative forces at work throughout all aspects of society.  The middle classes were becoming increasingly powerful through the growth of the burghs, artillery was changing warfare, and I haven’t even gone into the changes in religion which were to become ever more prevalent as the 15th century marched into the 16th!

 I find this an immensely invigorating and dynamic period of Scottish history: it’s a time when the country was beginning to flex its muscles and making efforts to make its presence felt on the European stage, thanks mainly to the energetic and charismatic leadership of James IV.  The great tragedy is that this period of self-confidence was brought to an abrupt and catastrophic halt with the death of James and much of the ruling class at Flodden in September 1513.

Sounds like this is mainly a novel about politics – is there a love interest?

I’d like to think that Fire and Sword is a novel about life, and about trying to make ends meet during very difficult circumstances.  Marriage and the continuation of the line is a fundamental part of the late medieval world, so yes, there, is a love interest, but the relationship between John and his new wife is a far from straightforward one!  I wanted to explore what could happen when wider issues impacted on the personal level.  John’s been betrothed in his youth to a young woman whose parents support the winning side.  In the aftermath of the battle, her family are reluctant to release their daughter to someone they perceive as a failure, but eventually, politics make the marriage a necessity.

I wanted to explore how a woman trapped in this kind of situation could make her displeasure felt and understood, and I also wanted to find out whether it was possible for two individuals brought together in such trying circumstances to eventually settle their differences and work together as a team.  Very little is known about the real Margaret Colville: to try and recreate her story, I had to rely very much on analogy and research into the lives of those real medieval women who have, thankfully, left their mark on the historical record.

You’ve used real historical personalities and real historical events – how much of the story actually happened?

I’d say the novel’s about 20% fact, 30% educated conjecture, and 50% fiction.  When I first embark on writing a historical novel, my initial task is to create a fixed framework of events which can then be used to establish the backbone of the plot.  Once this is done, I use the historical sources as inventively as I can to recreate what might have been going on in the background.  I’m quite fortunate (if that’s the right way of putting it!) because for this period of history, there are great big gaps in the evidence.  That’s where the creative aspect becomes vitally important, and this of course is the same territory where any respectable historian is afraid to tread.

Have you any future works in the pipeline?

The sequel to Fire and Sword was completed earlier this year, and will hopefully be submitted to the publisher in the near future.  Called The Gryphon at Bay, it turns the spotlight away from John Sempill of Ellestoun and on to Hugh, 2nd Lord Montgomerie, charting his very spectacular fall from grace when he abuses his privileges and kills one Cunninghame too many.


There will be more books in the series, but for the moment I’m taking a sabbatical from late 15th century Scotland.  My current project marks a radical departure from the standard historical novel: it’s a time-slip novel set partly in modern England and Wales and partly in Ancient Sparta, and it follows the trials and tribulations of a young man from Sparta who finds himself trafficked into the modern world and must learn how to survive here.  It’s an exciting project which is far from straightforward to write, because there are two separate plot strands detailing events occurring in two different timelines 2500 years apart.  It may end up as two novels, it may end up in some other format entirely – who knows!  All I can say right now is that I’m having great fun working on it.

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