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Hippeis

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August 4th, 2014

Writing and Authenticity — The Wild

Wilderness camping

If, as they say, the past is another country–I know one of the ways to get there…

Every year, my friends and I do something we call ‘The Trek.’ We pack up our historical kit from one of our time periods, pack as light as we can manage, and head off into the wilderness.

Wilderness is a complex word, full of associations,and people tend to toss it about, so I’ll be more specific: this Friday, with fourteen friends, I’m going to go seven miles from any road or path, to the place in the picture and perhaps beyond, over one more ridge and into our own ‘undiscovered country.’ It is an area so wild that the number of people who have ever been there can probably be counted on your fingers and toes–at least, that’s how many have been there int he last century or so.

To add a level of challenge, we’ll all go in mid-18th century kit, which,a s I’ve said elsewhere, is beautifully adapted to the North American wild. We’ll carry all our food==beef and greens, corned beef, bacon, pork, rice. split peas. The British Army ration of the day. And rum. Don’t forget rum. My historian friend Douglas Cubbison has suggested that the three essential military food groups are sugar, alcohol and tobacco, and that armies can do wonders when fully supplied with all three, and I confess I agree. At any rate–we’ll go for a week. It’ll rain, and we’ll be very wet. It’ll get cold and we’ll be cold. It will get hot and we’ll be hot. No nylon, no gortex. What nature dishes out, you get to take.

I write about the past–in history and fantasy. One of the blinding realizations of my early writing (maybe not blinding to you, fair reader) was that, for those who’ve never known bug nets and deet and gortex, the past wasn’t ‘uncomfortable.’ People simply endured. That was life, so to speak. And by spending a week or more ‘in their skin’ I get a sense of a different rhythm, a different world, really–a world where the weather matters more than anything except the quantity of food; where one sip of rum is more wonderful than a whole liquor cabinet at home; where the quiet conversation of friends or the loud singing of songs is all the ‘entertainment’ there is, and it is wonderful.

If the past is truly another country, I like to think I can go there via the wilderness, and I get to go there once or twice a year. This is a depth of immersion that no reenactment can give. I think it makes me a better writer–in every way, from observing people under stress (and in a state of joy) to the sheer practical knowledge of how to live (not fight, but live) in period kit. Reenacting is, by comparison, both easy, and less informative.

Of course, in my Traitor Son series, the Wild is a character. I see it that way–perhaps a little too Jack London of me, but the Wild has voices and feelings and moods and sometimes seems to react to our presence. I don’t being there as ‘survival’ or as a test of manliness but more as complex web of relationships–being tough seldom gets anyone fed, and it’s far more fun to swim and be clean then complain and be dirty. It is the same wilderness that inspired James Fenimore Cooper, and while few people read Cooper anymore, I grew up reading him by the light of campfires in these same endless woods.

At any rate, I’m on page 675 of Traitor Son 3. I’ve enjoyed writing it immensely and it is almost complete. I’ll polish it after I go back to the well, so to speak. After I visit the Wild one more time, and see what it has to tell me. It is, really, another country.

You should come sometime…



July 10th, 2014

Writing and Authenticity — Tournaments

Yesterday I wrapped up the ‘Tournament’ portion of Tournament of Fools (or whatever my publishers will eventually call it.) I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but I thought that it might entertain readers to get an idea of the process.

Here’s the writing problem. In the Red Knight series, I am, deliberately, trying to use most of the standard tropes of Arthurian Romance (NB that’s a little different from the standard tropes of Arthurian fantasy, right… ok, pedantic mode off.) One I’ve wanted to play with from the first day of writing this was the wonderful adventure of the knight incognito riding into a tournament to save/rescue the princess or win the prize where no one knows who he is. Frankly, from the Morte D’Artur to Ivanhoe, I LOVE those scenes.

So where’s the problem?

Well… How–and I mean, how, exactly–does the brave knight get to the lists, incognito? Tournaments in the real world were complex affairs–and very dangerous. Kings and princes knew full well that getting several hundred dangerous men in armour together could lead to ill-feeling and violence. Tournaments were tightly controlled by the late-14th century, and since that’s the ‘feel’ of the Traitorson books, I wanted ot stick to that. besides–it is a ‘Royal’ Tournament.

I’m including some pictures from the last Tournament I attended, the Torneo del Cigno Bianco in Verona, Italy.

tents and ropes

Here’s a good recreated tournament (foot combat only) outside the walls of a beautiful 14th c. castle. So let’s note a couple of things right away–the crowds of people, and the tents and tent ropes. Tournaments were surrounded by tent ropes. Where else would all the noble knights live? In hotels?

Tournaments also have rules, and men who administer the rules–Marshals and Constables and Heralds. They don’t let just anyone fight. Some of that is about out-dated concepts of birth and nobility–but no one wanted to let an incompetent fighter into the lists, either–not then, and not now. So our knight incognito has two problems–a practical problem of getting through the welter of tent ropes and people, and a ‘game’ problem of getting past the bureaucracy of the tournament. Put another way, could you ‘sneak’ into the heavyweight finals and compete? Even at a relatively low-level MMA fight, there’s security and rules and people to watch the ring…

And then–let’s just ask–does our knight incognito really keep his helmet closed for several hours to avoid recognition? If he has a visor, he doesn’t ever raise it to, say, drink water/ if he is wearing a great helm, he’d have to take it off… Listen, I wear armour all the time. The moment I’m not fighting, I want my visor open.

Fighting

And just for fun–what about horses? And squires? And pages? No knight–at least, no knight risking his life in an all or nothing joust a l’outrance–wants to ride his destrier for a couple of hours to tire the horse before the moment of combat. So he needs to come on a riding horse, and change, just before he sneaks into the lists… no one will notice him and his entourage… few things sneakier than a mounted knight in armour…

But… if it did happen, how could it have been done?
I’m not telling today. But I enjoyed writing the scene, the details, the planning, all so one character could face another in a climactic fight. And I thought I’d blog about the ‘how.’ This is where my reading of books on this sort of stuff — like Barber, Richard and Barker, Juliet, Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages, Boydell (1989) Kaeuper, Richard, The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi De Charny: Text, Context, and Translation, University of Pennsylvania Press (1996) De Pisan, Christine, The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry, Penn State University (1999) Lull, Raymond, Book of Knighthood and Chivalry (late 13th c), published by Chivalry Bookshelf (2001) Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (Dick Kaeuper again, because he’s my favorite) (Oxford University Press 2001) and perhaps most important, Maurice Keen’s seminal work, Chivalry (Yale University Press 2005) — was that too many titles? anyway, this is where all the reading links up with all the reenacting, and together, we can explore the details of the how and why of a great tournament–and give the characters some tools to accomplish the author’s mission. Well, and their own.

I confess that in the end, Gabriel and Bad Tom and Amicia–and the Queen and Blanche–ran off with this scene, and not everything went as i expected.

But that’s why it’s fun to write!



March 19th, 2014

Misquotes

I’d like to ask all peoples of all political persuasions to STOP pretending that Aristotle, Socrates and Plato said anything that would allow them to be quoted on Facebook or in any modern political spectrum,. To that I’d add Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. I’d say that in the last year on my FB feed along I’ve picked up 200 false quotes.

Ancient Greek philosophers were, by and large, aristocratic gentlemen who had no time whatsoever for the masses or for anything we might now interpret as ‘freedom.’ They believed in highly disciplined societies run on a fuel of excellence, and their world views, fascinating as they are and sometimes even practical, would not fit with either Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative. I suspect that pure fascism would come the closest, and even that wouldn’t be elitist enough for Plato–ok, I’m joking. But seriously–please stop misquoting the ancients!

Word up–Google and Duck Duck go are now sufficiently advanced that you can check a quote in one button press, English or Greek. I AM watching. Because History matters, and is not just a fuel for your f-ing propoganda.



January 28th, 2014

Okay, It’s all true

It’s all true. I am Miles Cameron as well as being Christian Cameron. But it was too much work for me and my friends who maintain websites for me to be two people, so we’re moving to just one. I’m Miles Cameron. People who want to talk to me should come and talk on the Agora on this site–there’s now topics for fantasy and for the way history and fantasy relate.

Why am I writing fantasy novels? Two reasons. First, it is what I have read for forty years or so. I love fantasy, and have since my mum read me the Hobbit at age five. Second, I do actually like to say things, and Fantasy, like Sci-Fi, is a genre the is also a bully pulpit. In my fantasy stories, I can say some things that don’t fit exactly in history. Sometimes those things are almost banal (like, how easily the West might have saved the Byzantine Empire) and some are ethical (like, that I don’t actually believe that grim, evil characters who are ‘gritty’ actually accomplish much in any world, because they have no friends, no allies and no way to train…because no one likes them!). I can also design my world to fit my own notions–and have been doing so since i first played D+D in 1977…

But History remains the backbone. What else can we describe, except experience? And a good deal of this site, for newcomers, is about the way we (my friends and I) experience reenacting and the past through martial and domestic arts. Or to paraphrase one of my younger sword students ‘we camp with swords.’ Yes, we do.

At any rate, over the next month, Hippeis will be updated to reflect my status as an historical and a fantasy writer and I hope I won’t lose any old friends while I welcome some new ones. Thanks for visiting. Welcome aboard.