Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Also called Lughnasadh, this is another pre-Christian high holiday which was taken over by the church. Lammas marks the end of summer and the beginning of the harvest season. Approximately half-way between the midsummer solstice and the autumn equinox, Lammas is also the time when the days are becoming perceptively shorter and the nights longer and darker. When I lived in Alaska, I noticed this was the time when the middle of the night was dark enough to see stars overhead once more. (For the curious, I lived in Juneau for five years - fairly southern as Alaska goes - and Juneau is about the same latitude as Brora in northern Scotland.)

That's all I have time for - I'm off at dawn for Pennsic War. While I'm gone, a guest blogger may be filling in for me from time to time.

But that's a story for another day.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Answer to Friday's riddle

Before I forget - the answer to Friday's riddle is "a harp."

Reference Book of the Week

Today's pick: The Iron Age in Northern Britain: Celts and Romans, Natives and Invaders, by D. W. Harding, professor of archaeology at the University of Edinburgh. First published in 2004 by Routledge.

A bit expensive at $49.95 for 368 pages, but still very good value. Copiously illustrated with black and white photographs - many of them excellent aerial shots taken by the author - and line drawings. Plenty of maps, too. Again, this is a university-level textbook, not a coffee-table book. As the subtitle makes clear, this book covers a longer period than is usually implied by the term "Iron Age" in southern Britain, generally terminated with the Roman Conquest in 43 AD. In contrast the northern British Iron Age continued from the mid-first millennium BC to the period of Norse settlement in the late-first millennium AD.

A distillation of the author's fifty years' involvement with British Archaeology, in locations ranging from Wessex to the Outer Hebrides, this is not light reading, but the insights and clearly expressed explanations of how archaeology works make the persistence needed to get through the volume worthwhile. He is also good at pointing out the weaknesses of various received theories, as for example his closing comments about the Picts: "Differences between the Pictish language and the Gallo-Brittonic of the Votadini to the south should not be magnified into a major linguistic and cultural watershed on account of a relatively short-lived political anomaly of the mid-second century AD ... older elements in topographical names could doubtless be detected elsewhere without fundamentally undermining our perception of the native communities of Iron Age Britain. The demise of the Picts and Pictish language by the tenth century ... might occasion less surprise if the assumed archaeological associations of the Picts were examined more rigorously in the first place." Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Quick and Easy

For those who haven't read Storyteller, and are even vaguely curious, here is a direct link to the Amazon preview page. Can't make it easier than that...

Now back to packing!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Another Riddle

From Pryderi's Pigs and Other Poems:

Struck with sharp nails, this tree will sing
and leafless still sweet harvest bring –
freely she sings, though wound with wire,
and flameless burns with Apollo's fire.

(answer posted on Monday)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pennsic Panic

Less than a week now before I leave for Pennsic War, and so many things to do! Sorting and packing the camping gear is not too big a job, given that the tents are still in their bins in the back of the pickup from Glory (hey, why bother to move them?), but other things still need to come out and be checked. Checklists are important - last trip I didn't use one, figuring I knew what I was doing by now, and forgot the hammer! Fortunately I borrowed one from the next camp, but still...

Then there's the last-minute sewing projects, and this year the "bookstore" as well. I'll be taking thirty copies of Storyteller with me and selling them through one of the merchants (also an SCA bard). Busy, busy, busy ... at least the weather's cooler here for the next couple of days, which will help.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Reference Book of the Week

Today's pick: Eating and Drinking in Roman Britain, by H. E. M. Cool, a professional archaeologist and archaeological consultant. First published in 2006 by Cambridge University Press.

The paperback edition is good value at 294 pages for $36.99, and even better at Amazon's current discount price ($29.59). No color plates, but a reasonable number of black and white photographs and some nice line drawings, also a lot of tabulated data of various types. There are also good reference maps in the front for the various localities discussed - particularly helpful for those not familiar with British geography. The reference list is good, and the data for the tables is fully and professionally attributed in the appendices.

This is a book for the serious Roman Britain enthusiast, amateur or professional. In addition the book is clearly and even amusingly written, with a dry and perceptive wit which makes it a pleasure to read. A brief quote from the preface will show the flavor: "Roman Britain is a very strange place, much stranger than the many popular books written about it would lead one to think ... This book is offered as a kind of hitchhiker's guide to those who would like to explore this material, but who lose the will to live when faced with the reams of specialist reports that even a minor excavation can generate."

After an introductory chapter ("Aperitif"), the author discusses the food itself, packaging, what we can learn from human remains, written evidence, kitchen and dining basics, staples, meat, dairy products, poultry and eggs, fish and shellfish, game, greens, and drink. This is followed by four time-based chapters covering the conquest, the development and decline of Roman Britain, and the period after the Roman withdrawal. This book will not give you recipes for Roman Britain - there are other books for that - but it will tell you the state of current archaeological knowledge regarding what foodstuffs and drinks were available in various parts of the country and how people were probably using them. In the process the author uses this evidence to tell us some surprising things about those people themselves. Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

It's Done!

OK, there's still a lot of proofreading and formatting work, cover and book design, maps and appendices to do. But I've finished the last chapter of Flight of the Hawk. On schedule, too! Hooray!

Now back to the grindstone in hot, sunny Denver, where I suddenly have all the ripe tomatoes I can eat.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Guernen Sang It

In Tuesday's post I mentioned that the riddle I was printing was from my poetry collection called Guernen Sang Again: Pryderi's Pigs and Other Poems. This is the second of the two poetry books I have available on Lulu.com; the first is titled Guernen Sang It: King Arthur's Raid on Hell and Other Poems. So what's the logic behind these titles? What is this "Guernen Sang It" business?

The idea comes from the early Welsh poem (or collection of poems) called Y Gododdin. This poem is attributed to someone called Aneirin, who is supposed to have been famous as a bard or poet in 6th century Britain. The only surviving copy of his work is a manuscript called Llyfr Aneinin - the book of Aneirin - which currently resides in the National Library of Wales at Aberystwth. And at the beginning of the manuscript someone has written, "Hon yw y Gododdin - Aneirin ei cant" - "This is the Gododdin - Aneirin sang it." So when I collected my poems for publication - poems mostly written in and for the SCA - I followed my medieval exemplar in the title.

And the "Guernen" part? Not hard - my official name in the SCA is Guernen Cimarguid. But that is a story for another day.

(Answer to Tuesday's riddle - "poetry")

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Reference Book of the Week

Another new feature - mini-reviews for reference books I've found useful, or recently discovered, or just enjoy.

Today's pick: The Archeology of Celtic Britain and Ireland c. AD 400-1200, by Lloyd Laing, professor of archeology at the University of Nottingham. First published in 2006 by Cambridge University Press.

At 420 pages, copiously illustrated with line drawings and black and white photographs, this is good value for money ($50 for the paperback edition on Amazon). No color plates, but you can't have everything. This is essentially a university-level textbook, not a mass-market coffee table book. The material is clearly written and extremely well-organized, and the author has, as he says in the preface, "endeavoured to remove as much jargon as is feasible." The book includes three appendices, abundant footnotes, suggestions for further reading, and an impressive bibliography.

After an introduction and a general survey of the Celtic world, the author gets down to details. The next eight chapters cover settlements, farming, everyday objects and equipment, industry and technology, trade and communications, clothes and jewelry, art and ornament, and the church. This is followed by area-specific chapters on south-western Britain, Wales, Ireland and the Isle of Man, Southern Scotland and northern England, and Northern Scotland. To cover all this ground in the space available (the appendices start at page 335) means that no discussion can be in any great depth, but Laing still manages to cram in an impressive amount of detail, and the abundant citations allow the interested reader to follow up on any particular point. No space is wasted on philosophical arm-waving; this is an "only the facts" treatment. I recommend it heartily.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Something New

In order to post more often, I'm going to try something different. The following piece is from my poetry collection Guernen Sang Again: Pryderi's Pigs and other poems, available as a free download on Lulu.com. This one is a riddle - I'll post the answer on thursday.

no box of wood this treasure bright can hold
nor can one mind its meaning wide enfold
each in his way some part of it may own -
a weapon sharp each in his way must hone,
or endless stream that sings as it does flow,
or garden bright where brilliant flowers grow.
if you’re unable still to name this prize,
the answer’s here before your dreaming eyes!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Coming of Age in Medieval Wales

Back to the Law of Hywel Dda again, with some snippets about coming of age.

Young children up to seven years old were considered to have no legal capacity or judgment: "until [the child] is seven years old it is right for its father to swear and to pay on its behalf ... [because] the child has no judgement." "A daughter, after she is baptised, until she is seven years old, is not entitled to take an oath." The father is bound to make good any damage the child does, just as for animals. "From the end of its seventh year, it is for the child itself to swear for its acts, and for its father to pay."

Maturity for boys was fourteen. "From when the son is born until he is fourteen years old, it is right for him to be at his father's platter, with his father as lord over him. And no punishment of him is right save his father's." If his father should die before he is fourteen, the lord appoints a guardian for him. When the boy turns fourteen, however, "it is right for the father to take his son to the lord and commend him to him. And then it is right for him [i.e., the son] to do homage to the lord, and to be dependent on his lord's status; and it is for him himself to answer on his own behalf to every claim that is made against him ... his father is from then on no more entitled to strike him than a stranger."

Girls, it was recognized, mature earlier. "From when she is born until she is twelve years old it is right for her to be at her father's platter. From twelve years old ... she is ... of age to be given to a husband; and from then on, even if she does not take a husband she is entitled to control what is hers, and it is not right for her to be at her father's platter unless he himself wishes it."

I have a theory that because people were legally recognized as adults so much earlier, there was no teenage rebellion to speak of in medieval Wales.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday update

It hasn't been a good week for blogging - my turn for a revolving extra duty at work, which tends to break up the day and keep me here later than usual. On the writing front, I've finished the first draft of Hawk except for the last chapter, and am filling in the time while I wait for an undisturbed weekend (hint: this won't be one) by copy editing the rest. I know what goes in the last chapter, which should be relatively easy to write, but it doesn't hurt to have the whole course of the book fresh in my mind before I do it. And in two and a half weeks I go to Pennsic War!

More later...

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Back Again

It was a very good weekend.

Imagine a tent as high and long and wide as a king's hall. A tent of white canvas, made in sections, open at the ends to the night breezes; open here and there between the sections to the night sky.

Imagine pine trees around it, and more stars overhead than you've seen in many, many, many years.

Imagine a fire in the middle of the tent-hall, bright and central as the fire in a British mead-hall. Along the sides of the hall and in the back are chairs. At the head of the hall, a King's and Queen's thrones.

Imagine people in the chairs, and a crowned King and Queen on the thrones. They are waiting, all of them, for a performance. They are waiting, all of them, to choose a Royal Bard.

The first of five competitors rises and steps out beside the fire, and begins to sing. She sings in Welsh and then in the common tongue, a lament made by a bard for a king's son in the very-long-ago. She sits down, and the second bard arises, to declaim poetry. And so it goes, until each has performed twice. The King and Queen retire to consult, and return to announce their decision to the people's applause.

And the night's performances have only just begun.

Stories, songs, poetry, poured out like a bright stream from the cauldron of inspiration. At last the night is old, and the fire is quenched, and all those in the tent-hall stumble off through the darkness to their beds.

Welcome to the Current Middle Ages, and the best of being a bard at an SCA war.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Off to the War

Probably no more posts on Tre Gwernin until Monday, as I'll be involved in the big northern Outlands event, Glory War, for the next few days. This will include bardic circles, bardic classes, and bardic competitions, among other delights; I'll also spend a certain amount of time wandering around with my harp. More about all these activities when I get back.

Another writing update -- I'm on the last chapter of Flight of the Hawk, and could sit down and finish it now if I wasn't busy packing for war. It still needs some polishing and proof-reading, but I'm very satisfied with the book as a whole. There is a good bit more action compared to Storyteller, and more of an overall plotline, though there are also some new interior stories as well. Although the book starts off where Storyteller ended, I think I've included enough backstory that it should be a good independent read.

In the meantime, happy (what's left of the) 4th of July to all!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Bards and the Irish Laws - Part IV

A little more about the training and repertoire of the Irish bards, based on Proinsias Mac Cana's The Learned Tales of Medieval Ireland.

Regarding the development of the poetic curriculum, he says, "in its earliest form the curriculum envisaged the student-poet as passing through these [seven] grades [of filid] in a period of seven years. But the curriculum was gradually lengthened, at least in theory, and in the next stage ... it extended over ten years ... in its final form ... [the curriculum] ... cover[ed] a course of twelve years."

The subjects to be studied in the first year included twenty tales, in the second year, thirty, and so on, until in the seventh and final year the original curriculum would have included eighty tales. What is not clear is whether the number of tales was inclusive of those previously learned, or represented the number of new items to be learned in a year. The latter supposition would result in the number of 350 given by one of the two extant tale lists as "the professional qualification of the fili in so far as it consists of stories and coimcne to be narrated to kings and princes."

Whichever interpretation is correct, it is clear the fili was supposed to know, and in some cases to tell, a very large number of stories and other traditional items of lore. According to an eighth century tale, "when Forgoll the fili came on visitation to the royal house of Mongan mac Fiachna, he told a tale every night ... and such was his learning that they continued thus from Samain to Beltaine." A master-poet with 350 tales at his command could keep this up for a year.

Some tales, however, were only supposed to be told during the winter, between Samhain and Beltane. This included especially the hero-tales, the tales of battles and raids and ravagings, expeditions to the underworld, and the birth and death of the hero himself: for in the Celtic lands it was the hero's death as much as his life which defined how he would be remembered. As Y Gododdin says, "he slew a multitude to win undying fame."

But that is the subject of another post.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Busy, Busy

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth - or at least, not quite. Last week I was mostly too busy for posting, and since Thursday I've been writing. I'm on the home stretch with Hawk now, with two and a half chapters to go, and things are still looking good for a November release. Then I might take a couple of months off and actually read other fiction, something I haven't done in quite some time.

The wait for the next book - tentatively titled The Ash Spear - will be a little longer; it probably won't be finished until some time in 2009. I had a headstart on Hawk, because it was originally supposed to be the third section of Storyteller, but it kept getting longer ... and longer ... until I finally decided to cut it free to be its own book. Also, before I can finish Ash Spear, I'll need to make another trip to Wales to make sure I've got the scenery right.

I can hear the groans of sympathy already.