Three years ago, I decided that writing a research essay on some aspect of medieval history once a month would be a good idea.
To be clear, it was a good idea. Although I’d already written the first draft of the first book of my historical fiction trilogy in 2006, I went on a six year writing hiatus after that, during which time I’d convinced myself I was giving up writing forever.
Obviously, I reversed that life-altering decision. However when I started writing again, I found that not only did I not quite remember how, neither could I remember much of the reams of research into 13th century England I’d done in support of writing that first book.
And so I set out re-learning all that I’d once known so readily, I would routinely trot it out among friends and strangers alike.
I re-read all the reference books I’d previously studied from (luckily I still had them in my possession, all bearing the copious markup that is my habit when it comes to nonfiction books). I then wrote the first draft of books 2 and 3 of the trilogy in the two and a half years that followed.
It is said that the best way to learn something is by teaching someone else. In 2015, even though I’d done all my research twice, I still felt like I hadn’t engaged with the material enough.
Even though I was applying it in my WIP, the amount of research that actually makes it onto the page is a fraction.
(A very small fraction, I’m still discovering to this day as I push through ongoing revisions.)
I worried that with the passage of time, I’d yet again forget all that I’d learned, or worse—remember, but not recall the specific source of the information. I also worried that my reference books and their precious annotation might not hold up over the long term with my constantly referring back to them.
As well, research is hard work, and if it wasn’t all going to make it into the story, I wanted people to realize just how much I’ve suffered for my Art.
(Re)Searching for the answer
So “Medieval Mondays” was born. Since 2015, I’ve written 29 posts on the last Monday of most months covering 11 different topics. These included the following:
- The topic I originally told myself I wasn’t going to cover: the medieval Church—such a huge topic in which I barely scratched the surface
- The topic I couldn’t wait to cover: medieval sex, because the customs were at times so contradictory and unbelievable
- The topic I covered twice after communicating with a medieval historian who set me straight on my initial misinterpretation of the research: medieval divorce on account of a husband’s impotence, which again was related to medieval sex, and again because the customs were so unbelievable.
There are so many more topics of medieval research that I could investigate. Indeed, a growing interest of mine has to do with race, immigration, and intercultural contact and communities in the Middle Ages.
These are topics that seem to be newly at the forefront of Medieval Studies. More likely, they were being studied all along and simply never received coverage in popular media, out of a desire to promote a preferred interpretation of the medieval period.
The topics I mentioned above are things I want to learn more about and reflect in my future writing set during the Middle Ages.
However, after three years—with my WIP revisions seeing me subtracting history rather than adding more, as well as the fact that the next book I plan to write will not be set in the Middle Ages—the time has come to put this essay-writing exercise to rest.
I do still have one more topic to cover—the most important topic of all with regards to my novel. The topic of medieval women and their role in society.
The very topic that inspired me to write my novel in the first place.
These posts (I could easily write three to four) I’ve decided to save for when my novel is soon to be published—whenever that will be—in order to better discuss my motivation for writing it. At that time, so too will I revisit my previous Medieval Mondays posts to discuss how the research they contain was applied in the story itself.
I also have one more post to write about medieval sex, an important one about the medieval rape culture and sexual mistreatment of women, and its modern parallels. This will likely be posted on the last Monday of next month.
But in the meantime, I feel good about calling Medieval Mondays a success, even in the midst of calling it quits.
And who knows? With the next novel I plan to write being set in Ancient Greece, I fully expect to commence my “It’s Greek to Me” blog series sometime in the future.