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Writing and Authenticity — The Wild

Monday, August 4th, 2014

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…


Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

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.

Okay, It’s all true

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

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.

What is an expert?

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

It is all very fashionable to denigrate experts. We’re all equal, I’m sure. Certainly, as a sometime instructor of historical swordsmanship and the various knightly fighting arts, I’m endlessly less than amused by the desire of various people to tell me that their opinion about a technique or a form is worth listening to.

In the past two weeks, I had the pleasure of attending WMAW, a western martial arts symposium (and tournament) in Racine Wisconsin. There, instructors from all over the world allowed students of the arts to sample techniques in rapier, sidesword, longsword, spear, poleaxe, and even the Italian folding knife of the nineteenth century.

And then, after all that, I got to host Guy Windsor, of the School of European Swordsmanship. Guy is the most expert swordsman I know–and I know several hundred very competent swordsmen. He is, in fact, an expert.

He’s an expert–like Leo Todeschini at Tod’s Stuff and Jiri Klipac at The Armoury of Jiri Klipac and Tasha Dandelion Kelly at cotte simple because he can not only perform all of the techniques of historical swordsmanship, he can explain the bio-mechanics of the actions and he can teach students of the meanest understanding–to paraphrase Patrick O’Brian. Tod understands blades–not just how they feel and what they look like, but how they are worn, suspended, drawn and used. Jiri understands armour–how it looks, and how it works, and how it fits in three dimensions. How to make the curves fit your body and still retain the aesthetic of the period, rather than a modern aesthetic. Tasha understands the intimacies of cut and construction and the techniques by which those intimacies are achieved–a level of expertise far beyond mere ‘costuming.’

I’m quite fond of experts, myself, but to get the most out of them–to get anything at all out of them–requires an effort of humility. Perhaps that’s what we find hard. Sometimes I do, too. It can be very hard to say “I’ve studied this for years, but compared to you, I really don’t know anything.’ That’s antithetical to our societies take on information and info acquisition. Information, after all, should be free. And our abilities should be equal. But–they are not. Sometimes I argue with experts, and mostly, I find myself saying ‘I know something, too!’ when I should be listening.

The dedicated men and women who are truly expert preserve something precious. They are–at least, all four of the experts I have named–preserving skills that would otherwise be lost to us, and to history.

And of course–history matters!