Writers: DON’T DO THIS

okay, reading a deeply awesome Ancient Rome-set gladiator school book. Great characterisation, interesting plot, good side characters, made the story flow properly without making it seem like you’ve dumped all the research on the readers heads…


whenever the writer mentioned the gladiator training school, they used ‘ludus’ instead of ‘training school’, and when it came to clothing, ‘subligar’ instead of ‘loincloth’.


It literally brought me up with a jolt every time.

SERIOUSLY.  Don’t use words there’s a translation for when everyone’s speaking the same language.  A specific type of boat?  I see your trireme in the bay, it looks very menacing.  A specific weapon? Just don’t wave that trident near me. Type of wine? Pass the Falernian.  Just… not everyday items.  It just makes you look like you want to show that you did research when we can see you did your research already. A subligar’s not a bloody toga.  Everyone knows what a toga is, we literally don’t have any other word for ‘giant piece of cloth that you drape and wind around your entire body’.  But we do have a word for a loincloth.

I looked up ludus after finishing the book to confirm it meant what I thought it did.  I’d figured it out by context, but why didn’t you just use ‘training school’?  And worse sin by editor: ‘subligar’ and ‘ludus’ were italicised.  To draw even more attention to it.  You weren’t using ’panem’ every time you mentioned them eating bread.


heels and superheroes (or not)

Twitter discussions I can’t believe I waded into: wonder woman’s heels.

It started with a costume designer talking about how pleasing it was that Wonder Woman’s costume in the 2017 film is obviously based on Roman armour vs the old lingerie it used to be based on in the old tv series. In comics there’s been a gradual trend since… the 80s?  early 90s? to draw Diana’s serious battle armour as Greek Hoplite based, complete with strip skirt, especially after Xena aired on tv, which segued into a 2000s trend for pretty much any time you were drawing AU Diana you went with a leather strip skirt and made the top look a  bit more sturdy, sometimes with *gasp* shoulder straps.  In the current version this has become her actual costume, bathing suit ditched. (the original Wonder Woman costume is based off a Worlds’ Fair bathing suit)

Then came the boots discussion.  The costume designer was pointing out how much better the film boots were, complete with greaves and armoured kneepads, á la Hoplite armour again (which she mistakenly labelled as Roman again – most Roman soldiers were just wearing sandals, only the top lot got the leg and knee greaves).  However, as is right, people started talking about heels.  Because they gave her wedge heels.

Yeah.  Heels.  Not great for fighting and running in, but Hollywood being what it is, they wanted her to be taller.  See Scarlett Johanssen as Black Widow.

Cue a bit of a discussion of history of heels, and people asking about the riding boot bit. With some saying nobles wore them to stay out of the muck. Me: *twitchtwitchtwitch* *not an expert, just read a fair bit about history of fashion, including ex-pony girl youth*

Okay. Settling this.  Heels were developed so you could stand up in your stirrups for better shooting of arrows and throwing spears.  The separation of heel and sole enables this so your foot doesn’t slip.  Originally they were higher like cowboy boots, but current riding heels are about an inch.

The Wonder Woman film boots are wedges.  USELESS FOR STANDING UP IN STIRRUPS.  They’re still just decorative.

In the 1500s, the heel was adopted by noblemen in North Europe after the Persians came to visit as a military fashion so they were of course *manly*.  Plus the fact that heels back then didn’t have a last that enabled you to walk in them without turning your feet out, so you couldn’t walk very far in them.  Like taxi shoes – heels so high the most walking you’re going to be doing in them is from the cab to the door.  Which was the mark of a noble, someone who wouldn’t dream of walking any distance at all.  Women adopted heels when there was a trend to ape men’s fashions, including jackets.  Heels went out for a long while with all things noble and frivolous due to the French Revolution and Puritan movement.

Heels had been worn prior to this and for other purposes than riding, but it was normally ceremonial.  Butchers and prostitutes and the Japanese had worn heels to keep their clothes and feet out of the muck, but please note these were normally platforms.  There’s no point in keeping your heels out of the muck when you’re not keeping your toes out of it too. (prostitutes wore ridiculous height ones to stand out of the crowd, often so tall they had to have someone on either side of them to hold on to)

writing scientific discoveries in historical fiction

Was reading a historical romance where a scientist was working on one of the early versions of a telegraph system. A lot of historical fiction with inventors makes the mistake of ‘x inventing this years before history officially said it was but it got burnt/ never recognised’.

Which… no. Scientists didn’t work in a vacuum. They were constantly corresponding with each other and publishing in journals, and a lot of them worked on similar ideas as the technology and understanding of processes advanced. Oftentimes, the ‘inventor’ whose name goes down in history is the one who made the breakthrough and got it patented/ recognised (leaving aside serial patenter Thomas Edison). F’r instance, there were a LOT of telegraph systems already around in the 1830s, and the credit for the invention is split between the UK and the US – William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone in the UK and Samuel Morse, Leonard Gale and Alfred Vail in the US. The UK team’s telegraph system was being used for railway signalling, and was based on a system of five magnetic needles that could be pointed around a panel of letters and numbers by using an electric current. Samuel Morse developed morse code and was the first to do a sentence & get the infrastructure down. He had the science ready in the late 1830s but US was cash strapped so no-one had the money for extensive pipe works so delayed to 1844.

Back to the book: satisfying as a portrayal of someone working on telegraph science and making some breakthroughs in sending electrical impulses over wires for messages but not the same ones as Morse and Cooke and Wheatstone (one important stumbling block observed in the book was that a lot of the shorting out was being caused by having too many wires, one for each letter). Most importantly it was very clear on how breakthroughs aren’t made in isolation – correspondence, applying others’ work in an unexpected way, etc.  Not to mention believed in the scientific method of repeating the experiment to see if you get the same result.

Name me some absolute historical shits. Go on.

Like, people in history that have a terrible reputation. The kind of person your history books don’t have a good word to say about. Even the kids history books from the 50s who want to believe that everyone’s quite nice and de-emphasize the blood and guts struggle to say anything nice about.

But as anyone who’s ever read a few history books knows, perceptions of actions change over time, depend on the mood – remember the absolute fear of communism in mid-20th century America – depend on the politics, depend on the writer, depend on the editor. There’s a reason revisionist history exists as a genre and study piece.

So after gaining a bit more knowledge than was in that first book you read that painted someone as a hook-nosed villain, you might hear the revisionist histories. You might study the period a bit. Figure out political motivations. See who wrote those tales and histories to see why they mgiht benefit from painting their predecessors as black hearted murdering villains.

Case in point : Richard III, onetime Duke of Gloucester.

murderer of the Princes in the Tower
One of Shakespeare’s creepiest villains.
crook-back and hook nosed and lank haired and old and creepy and…

And then you read facts. Bare bones history. Look at all the other players. Look at the actual reign. See that Shakespeare was writing to please the Tudors, who… oh hang on a minute, wasn’t granddad Henry VI? Henry Tudor? Who was well known to have one of the weakest blood claims of the Lancastrians to the throne and married the prince’s sister so might have, oh, some reasons for getting rid of the princes himself? For a long time it was reckoned that the smear campaign was so bad that the crook back thing wasn’t true. A little physical deformity, maybe a bit of a limp. Then we discovered the skeleton in a car park that had a really bad case of scoliosis. Right age (early 30s). Right historical dating. Horrible wounds from a battle that had clearly killed them. Really rich diet. Like, completely over indulgent, used to the absolute best of everything at all times. So. Er. Yes. Looked like the physical description was correct. But still, plenty of the other legends didn’t add up. Not all bad, not all good.

So with this in mind, you look at other villains of history. the ones that feature in your nation’s history. You look at other heroes. You learn the shades of grey. You learn that some ‘great men’ were monsters. (William the Conqueror) You learn that the so called teaching legend that makes them look a fool was actually a teaching legend about the man calling his advisors overweening idiots. (Canute)

So double back. look at the villains from your childhood history books. Think that they can’t be all that bad, there’s got to be some redeeming qualities. The bad rep is just the Hollywood legend, reinforced by said king/noble being a figure in a particular legend.

Case in point : King John.

everyone’s favourite overweening weak, cruel monarch from the Robin Hood legend, where his brother King Richard who’s portrayed as the great hope of England and the peasantry. (you soon learn Richard bled the country dry for his Crusades)

So if Richard was a gloryhound who taxed the country to the hilt and beyond, surely John didn’t deserve his rep, right?

Well, he – and – oh good lord, really? Ew. Wow, that many nobles’ wives and daughters? …Oh, that’s some shit deals. How did you rule that badly and not get kicked off the throne? Oh. yeah, that nearly happened except for bad timing… Serously, how did you manage to double cross that many – the starving people to death in prison thing. Um. Surely there’s someone that actually had a good word to say about him except dad and mum, both of whom he turned against when he had the chance? Looking for a good word, looking for an alternate view… Oh, there’s a monk who insisted he’d been poisoned, he didn’t die of a gut problem – oh. No-one gave enough of a shit that they went looking for reprisals. ….this is going to be William Rufus’ ‘hunting accident’ all over again. Someone so deeply unpleasant that no-one in the land is going to do more than shrug a bit at the news of their death.  Impressively, this is a king with a reputation so bad that no monarch since has taken the name.  The name that’s the most common in the country.

So name me some absolute historical shits. Go on.

Wolves and Valentines

Valentines is coming. You may hate it. You may love it. You may just be in it for the chocolate like me.

You may know it takes place at the same time as the Roman festival of Lupercalia. (one of the many Mediterranean fertility festivals that took place around this time of year) and had nothing to do with some made up Christian martyr (there’s at least three St Valentines, celebrated in all kinds of ways and the 14th Feb thing and any connection to romance was really, really late on). Wolves and young worshippers of Lupercal running around with soft leather whip thongs while young women and girls lined up along the route to get hit by the thongs to ensure fertility, prevent sterility and ease childbirth pain.

Why can’t we merge the Lupercalia bits with the hearts and flowers? It’s not like stuff on similar dates hasn’t been merged before in the name of partying and commerce.

We’ve all seen those really amazing realistic heart cakes and cards, right?



Imagine how much cooler if Valentines stuff got wolf-associated.

Even all the horrendous Hallmark stuff with non specific puppies and kittens could have wolf puppies on it.  See?  Aren’t they better?


on plague articles

Came across a new plague article today. my ‘oooo! plague article! yay!’ reaction got a couple of raised eyebrows. I work on all kinds of subjects. There are some subjects that I love that I’ve since been convinced that I can’t stand reading articles about. Some subjects you’ve read a few and everything after that it’s more about the minutiae.

Historical plague, otoh… endlessly entertaining.

*Always* a new angle. Want something about the society it took place in? New medical musings? Social inequality? Careful examination of trade? Vectors? Mathematics? Unreliable narrators? Archaeology? History? Writing? Religious hangups? Biology? Human behaviour? Meteorology?


Seriously. Today I had one that was examining plague outbreaks in medieval Iceland.

It talked about rural society makeup in a good couple of centuries apart, possible ways the plague got to Iceland due to it being isolated, which possible version of the plague it was due to how it was described (bubonic – that’s the fleas one – or pneumonic) and the time of year. Comparisons between different versions of the plague and the ones that had been reported in China and throughout Europe at that point. Disputing its own first theories on this later due to how warm it had been during the winter in that century. There was examination of unreliable narrators due to the monks that were compiling the stories were getting them from the elderly and they were talking about events that happened 50-60 years previous. How the stories and descriptions fitted into narrative and fairytale structure. Rat vs mice behaviour and rat populations in Iceland but also how rat populations could go relatively unnoticed if they were sufficiently hidden. Archaelogical discoveries regarding farms. Taxes and rents in lands owned by the church and how they were or weren’t collected. (adult cattle could be rented. Did you know that?)

All in one paper. And this was all stuff I’d not read before on the subject, or had new angles and new details. I’ve read ones that talked about the rise of highwaymen and ones that talked about how plague completely tore up societal structure and created a demand for labour so peasants and anyone with a skill didn’t have to be tied to the land or one lord and went where the wages were best. Created the roots of laws we take for granted. Medical discoveries! Religious fervour and new atheistic movements!

So yeah. Read plague papers. They’re worth it.

Statues of racists

Had a debate with my mum about the thing for pulling down Rhodes’ statues.

My viewpoint is that if the people who live and work in a place don’t want it there (for what he did or aesthetically), they’re allowed to remove it.  She feels very strongly that you shouldn’t remove it, who are they to decide if the people who put it up and previous generations were okay with it, and how wide a net should you cast for majority vote at a university. Just those there now?  What about people on the university board? Why don’t we get rid of Caligula statues because he did horrible stuff? I pointed out that we got rid of images of Jimmy Saville and she had no objection to that.  Caligula has been gone long enough that no-one cares.  Rhodes will still be in the historical record, they just don’t want to have to pass his image every day.

She has this… really weird attachment to statues and images.  Like, just because one set of people in the past felt strongly enough to put the money up to put a statue up, no-one down the line should be able to remove it.

I asked how she felt about buildings that people don’t want any more. She doesn’t think that’s the same thing.  I don’t see why.  You don’t want it or what it represents (or no-one remembers who it is and what they represent and think it’s ugly), majority vote of the people who have to live with it should be allowed to get rid of it.  thoughts?