Why do people read books? To vicariously experience someone else’s life. That means the writer has to describe the world of that character so vividly that the reader feels as if they’re there, and that means the writer has to know that world intimately. So how do you do that when you’re writing a historical¬† novel? You do lots and lots and lots of research. I’ve read a ton (probably literally) of books about dark-age Britain, Celtic culture and the ‘historicity’ of the Arthurian legends. Some of them have been pretty dry, to be honest, and in some of them I only found a couple of nuggets of information I could use, but others were incredibly entertaining. These are just a few of the many books I read that shone a light into Scotland in the Dark Ages and into the Arthurian legends.


Dark Age history

The ‘Historicity’ of Arthur

Tristan and Isolde


A writer, however, wants a lot more than a historian can provide. She wants to know the details; what did they eat for breakfast? How did they say ‘half-an-hour later’ when there were no clocks? (I still don’t know that one.) She doesn’t just want to know what was definitely true, if that’s even knowable. She wants informed speculation. For example, we don’t know when porridge was invented (I assume) but we can speculate that it was eaten in dark age Scotland, although not necessarily for breakfast, because there is evidence of oat grain on sites that date from the period and pollen data from the area.¬† For informed speculation as opposed to academically agreed ‘facts’ one turns, very carefully, to the Internet. There is a lot of rubbish out there but there are also a lot of enthusiasts who are generous with their passion for history. In addition, there are some excellent reference sites, including the National Library of Scotland which has a great collection of historical maps, not dark-age, obviously, but old enough to give a sense of an ancient landscape. Wikipedia, of course, is a fantastic source of information about everything. And I enjoy visiting re-enactment sites for their enthusiasm and images of what life might have been like in the past.

Dark Age History

Arthurian Legends