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The World of Christian Cameron

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Fact and Fiction

Monday, June 24th, 2013

I was lucky enough to spend most of the last month traveling to the places where my novels happen. I fought in a Medieval Tournament in Verona, Italy and I shot arrows from a fourteenth century fortification in Thrace built by John Cantacuzenos, I stood in a church built by Alexios Comnena and saw my first Altichiero painting ‘in person’ rather than in an art book. My family was sculled through the canals of Venice while we looked for Tom Swan and Alessandro di bembo, and then we followed William Gold across Italy, and then we watched the Persian Fleet form up off Samothrace, seen by Arimnestos.

Europe has a wealth of history that is almost unimaginable to a boy who grew up with the Battle of Gettysburg as ‘old.’ At one point my friend Giannis took me to a set of Turkish baths — from a hot volcanic spring, of course — that are still in use. You can all but see the Janissaries coming in to bathe. But in the walls, and all around on the ground, are scraps of another past—Byzantine crosses, Roman statuary, a dedication from 300 BCE and an Archaic column. All within fifty feet of the baths. Those baths have been in business for a LONG time.

East of Alexandrouplois in Thrace, we drove through the verdant countryside—richer than Boeotia—and I suddenly saw why the Greeks worked to hard to take it from the Thracians. The Evros River delta is some of the finest farmland in the whole Mediterranean, with small, protected valleys and easy access to the sea. The land it self is so valuable that I had to stop taking photographs of ancient ruins—because everyone, from the Archaic Greeks right through to the modern Greeks, has built something to protect or claim it, from hilltop fortresses to modern concrete bunkers for tanks. As a novelist—I honestly think I couldn’t have fully expressed the richness of the area, its value, and it’s historical role without going there.

Likewise, Verona, in Italy—a city with its fourteenth-century core beautifully preserved, so that you can wander about and easily imagine what William Gold saw in 1380. The magnificent striped buildings—the incredible wonder that is Saint Anastasia…

The next time someone tells you that there were ‘Dark Ages,’ toss out the following factoid: In about 700 AD, the citizens of the Commune of Verona formed an association—actually a corporation—to protect and maintain the Roman Amphitheater. They did a wonderful job—it’s still there, hosting opera. Think of the sheer number of conquerors and cultural waves that have passed over Northern Italy since 700 AD.

That’s history!



Nihil humanum mihi alienum est

Friday, April 26th, 2013

It is fairly trite to announce to people, in the wake of the collapse of a garment building in Bangladesh, that we all live in the same neighborhood — that what happens in Bangladesh is part of our lives. So trite, in fact, that some people wish to ignore it.

Let’s put this in perspective. First, right now—if you buy clothes made at Joe Fresh or Walmart — you are wearing something made by a man, woman, or child who died — horribly — and to no point — so that you could have cheap clothing. And so that someone else could make a tidy profit on their poverty and desperate need for wages. And every pundit in the world is saying the same. The thing that annoys me is that so many people can understand the overseas roots of — say — terrorism. We can at least guess at the desperate anger of Afghans or Chechins — even when we disagree utterly. I think it is ironic that we have earned the cultural ire of part of the Islamic world when, in many ways, the West genuinely sought to help — while in Bangladesh and China, we have, in fact, directly oppressed the population with rapacious economic policies. We are, in fact, responsible.

And while we visit the issues of current policies on future history, I’d like to remind my readers that the ruler of North Korea may be loathsome, but he is not merely posturing. He sits in a capital that was once won from the Japanese in battle; his country was occupied by Japan for many years, both recently (1930s) and in the 16th century. Both he and his Chinese masters (then, and now) fear the aggression of Japan — and Japan’s allies. All of North Korea’s actions have to be seen through the lens of history. That doesn’t make the policies less barbaric — merely more comprehensible. History matters because it allows us to understand why other people do what they do. Perhaps in Bangladesh, someone is reading about the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the working poor in Britain. To try and understand.



Lent!

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

In the Middle Ages, Lent was a major period of fasting and renewal. Many things were not done during Lent—tournaments, for one. There were more fast days—depending on observance, either six in a row, or forty in a row. (Some Christians celebrated Sundays as a ‘day off.’ Some people had indulgences that allowed them to eat meat on fast days—it was a very human, if not humane, system). Christians were also supposed to pray—rendering justice to God—as well as give alms (rendering justice unto their neighbors). It was popular, and remains so, to give something up.

Despite the fact that I’m about to start writing a novel set in early Classical Greece—about the battle of Artemesium—I’m taking those forty days and giving up the internet. So I won’t be on the Hippeis forums, and I won’t be on Facebook and I will only check emails to make a minimal response to work related e-mails. Please bear with me. I’ll write more (good for my readers) and I’ll also, I think, be happier.

I’m afraid I’ve come to see the world of Social Media as largely an excuse for angry people to be angry without a social responsibility to hold their peace. Frankly, there aren’t enough cute kittens, babies and good reenacting stuff on Facebook to counter-balance the angry insecurities of a great many people.

I will save about an hour a day. I may even find time to pray. 🙂



Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Or whatever suits you best as long as it is festive. Happy Hanukkah! Happy Yule! Celebrate Solstice! Or, as someone told me last night (tongue in cheek) ‘Have a delightful day of rationalist materialism and gift giving!’

I’ve complete Tom Swan Four and Five and I’m about eighty pages from completing Secret Project Two which weighs in at about 900 pages… Then I’ll edit the Ill Made Knight about 14th century England, France, and Italy, write Tom Swan Six, and begin Long War Four about Artemesium.

This has been the hardest writing year of my career. On the other hand, it has been very productive, and as long as I don’t breathe hard or look down, I’m pretty sure I can keep it up.

And finally, last night my new gauntlets by Jiri Klepac of Czech Republic arrived. They’re like art; they have beautiful decoration, they’re light as air, and they have correct period gloves by Karl Robinson of the UK. They aren’t just the best gauntlets I own–they’re the best I’ve seen anywhere. I got to fight in them in full armour last night, and they made me feel five years younger, which is lovely at age 50, believe me. BTW, let me stress that I DO leather work–Karl’s has to be seen to be believed. The quality of his stitch work is like the real thing!

(Small rant here–hand sewing is not any guarantee of authenticity. Most people’s hand sewing doesn’t look anything like Medieval or 18th century sewing. But Karl’s does.)

While I’m advertising suppliers at Christmas time, let me also recommend Peter Fuller and his armoury, Medieval Reproductions. He made my new breast and back–his work is superb. He’s also making several items for my books, and I hope all of you order something from him.

Leo Todeschini of Tod’s Stuff makes beautiful reproductions of many, many things–knives and swords, common household items, sewing equipment–with an eye for detail that is superb. He also makes a RANGE of toys–his crossbows are especially wonderful. I probably spend more time than is good for me prowling his pages. When I look at photos of our Medieval reenactment group, I feel we’re an advertisement for his blades. An eating set from Tod makes an awesome Christmas gift!

And finally, since I got to wear my full harness last night for the first time in its final form, Craig Sitch of Manning Imperial made the helmet–I hand sewed the liner and added the straps and aventail. And Mark Vickers of Saint George Armoury made my legs as well as my friend Mark’s superb tournament sword. His work is wonderful, and spending a day fitting my legs with him in his shop was one of the high points of my year.

There it is–run out and buy armour! Swords! and other good reenactment equipment!

And a couple of my books, if you don’t mind. Thanks!