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Writing and Authenticity — Tournaments

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

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.


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!

More Tom Swan!

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

I gather there was a political election in the United States.

Enough said.

I’m working on Tom Swan four through six, and yesterday my editor informed me that I can go ahead safe in the knowledge that I will get a contract… Darius Wielec has agreed to illustrate another three, which is lovely. The settings will be Italy and Greece, and the action will center around finding the ring that supposedly belonged to Alexander the Great. A nice tie in…

After that, poor Tom will be sent by Cardinal Bessarion to the Crusades conference in Vienna, and from there, he will go to see if he can find a certain sword—unfortunately finding himself in Belgrade. During the siege.

In other news, Craig Sitch at Manning Imperial is making me an Attic helmet for my Marathon era kit, and we’re talking about doing a Greek Hippeis unit—perhaps copying the kits on the Parthenon Frieze. No, not the naked guys. Next spring, a group of us will be trekking across Lesvos in Greek kit—maybe in medieval kit, too, for a few days.

Speaking of a few days—Tyrant V, the long awaited Destroyer of Cities, will be out in a few weeks. I hope you all enjoy it—it’s been a long delay, as it was actually written before God of War. And my next book—Long War four, which I call ‘Artemsium’, will be done this spring. it’s the next project on the pile.

I’m also working this week on a set of graphic novels set in ancient Greece for Neal Stevenson’s FOREWORLD. Why not? I didn’t have anything else to do…

Tom Swan

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Not my usual Blog entry, but…

Tom Swan is not selling particularly well. Despite that, I enjoy writing it and a surprising number of my friends enjoy it, so I’m writing Tom Swan 4 and 5 this week and a guarantee it will go at least 6 parts and come to a conclusion.

My suspicion is that it isn’t as bad as it seems—sales are quite steady,and I wonder if e-books don’t have a different sales trajectory than standard books. They never ‘come off the shelf’ for example… so as long as people search my name on Amazon or I-Tunes, Tom will continue to pop up. Anyway, it’s a good rationalization to continue Tom, so on I go.

BTW, I got nice reviews on God of War and Poseidon’s Spear from the Sunday Times in the UK, which is sort the summit of every writer’s ambition in criticism, so…

I’m off to the USA to visit NYC with Sarah and Bea this weekend. And do a little research at the Cloisters, and the Met. Wish me luck… NYC is big and scary…

And finally, there’s an election coming in the USA. If you are a US citizen, please vote. I have strong opinions on which side you should vote for, but to heck with that. Just vote. It’s not just right–it is your citizen duty.