Embodying Medieval Women

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I think you will enjoy a post I wrote for the Women’s Literary Culture and the Medieval Canon network, an international network funded by the Leverhulme Trust and centered at the University of Surrey. I feel it a great honor to be invited to contribute to their blog. My post is about how I embody my characters. You can read it here.

 

The Magic of Lists

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King_Henry_IV_from_NPG_(2)A few weeks ago I sat down at the end of a tiring day and picked up a biography of King Henry IV of England I’d been reading. It was that time of the evening when my mind skitters about for a while before settling on the printed page before me—stray thoughts about the day arise, reminders to add something to my calendar, or my to do list. Lists. At any point in time I have so many lists, particularly about the book in progress and future books. Yes, I am a list maker. There is something about adding an idea to a list that eases me, helps me let it go for the moment. And that evening what finally focused my mind was an amusing, fascinating list of some of the items Henry Bolingbroke, heir to the duchy of Lancaster, collected to take with him on crusade in Lithuania (from The Fears of Henry IV, Ian Mortimer, Vintage Books 2007):

7 lb. of ginger
11 lb. of quince jam
4 lb. of a conserve of pine nuts
2 lb. of caraway seeds
2 lb. of ginger sweets
2 lb. of preserved cloves
3 lb. of citronade
2 lb. of “royal sweets”
4 lb. of red and white “flat sugars”
6 lb. of “sugar candy”
3 lb. of “royal paste”
2 lb. of aniseed sweets
2 lb. of sunflower seeds
2 lb. of mapled ginger
2 lb. of barley sugar
2 lb. of digestive sweetmeats
1 lb. of nutmeg
2 lb. of red wax
and 2 quires of paper.

What a sweet tooth! In addition,
506 lb. of almonds
112 lb. of rice
14 lb. of cinnamon
10 lb. of sugar syrup
a huge amount of ale (960 pints arriving in 24 gallon barrels)
10 flitches of bacon
40 sheep
and he bought copious amounts of fish of all sorts along the way.

On crusade?! Reading the list lit up my imagination. All these items—I could see them, I imagined the shops, the haggling. I wondered about how they transported all this. This is how nobility traveled, even on crusade.

What is it about lists? From a New Yorker article:

“…lists tap into our preferred way of receiving and organizing information at a subconscious level; from an information-processing standpoint, they often hit our attentional sweet spot. When we process information, we do so spatially. For instance, it’s hard to memorize through brute force the groceries we need to buy. It’s easier to remember everything if we write it down in bulleted, or numbered, points. Then, even if we forget the paper at home, it is easier for us to recall what was on it because we can think back to the location of the words themselves. Lists also appeal to our general tendency to categorize things—in fact, it’s hard for us not to categorize something the moment we see it—since they chunk information into short, distinct components. This type of organization facilitates both immediate understanding and later recall, as the neuroscientist Walter Kintsch pointed out back in 1968. Because we can process information more easily when it’s in a list than when it’s clustered and undifferentiated, like in standard paragraphs, a list feels more intuitive. In other words, lists simply feel better.” (“A List of Reason Why Our Brains Love Lists” by Maria Konnikova, The New Yorker 2 Dec 2013)

The merchant Richard Lyons plays a prominent role in my novel The King’s Mistress. When I was still deep in research, a friend urged me to read the inventory of goods owned by Richard Lyons drawn up by the sheriffs of London at the time of the seizure of his property in 1376. “The spoons!” he said. “The cushions! You won’t believe it.” Reading it gave me such a strong impression of the man, how carefully he presented himself, how he valued presentation (“The Wealth of Richard Lyons”, A.R. Myers, in Essays in Medieval History Presented to Bertie Wilkinson, ed. T.A. Sandquist and M.R. Powicke)

nature03My files are full of lists of medieval herbal remedies. Here’s a collection from various sources for dog bites:
Betony for the bite of a mad dog—pound it very small, and lay it on the wound.
Plantain—If a mad dog bites a person, pound it fine, and apply it; it will quickly heal.
Vervain—for the bite of a mad dog, take it and whole gains of wheat. Lay them on the bite so that the grains are softened by the moisture and become swollen; then take the grains and throw them to some chickens. If they refuse to eat them, then take other grains and mix with the plant in the same way as you did earlier and lay this on the bite until you feel that the danger is gone and drawn out.
Burdock—for the bite of a mad dog, take the roots of this same plant, pound them with coarse salt, and lay this on the bite.
Cockspur—pound with grease and bake in bread—but takes far too long.
Yarrow—grind it with wheat seeds and put on wound.
Calendula—for the bite of a mad dog, pounds it into a powder, then take a spoonful and give it to drink in warm water, and the person will recover.
Black horehound—for dog bite, take the leaves of this plant pounded with salt. Lay this on the wound, and it will heal in a wonderful manner.
Bulbus (tassel hyacinth)—Mixed with honey it cures dog bites.

Your imagination lit up as you read those, didn’t it? Are you a list maker? Or a collector of lists? We’re not alone. Umberto Eco called the list “the origin of culture” in this article: http://bit.ly/1d5oIUr

I have more articles about lists—a long list of them! But I’ll stop here.

Why Study History?

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What is the importance of doing history? I once posed this question to a friend, the historian AC (Compton) Reeves. His response, at once playful but also clearly sincere, resonated so strongly with my own feelings that I wrote it on the whiteboard in my office: “I think there are some among us who have empathy for those who lived in the past, and want to know more about them. History is the most humanistic of all disciplines, in that it includes all that folk in the past have done in all areas of endeavor. Doing history is an art, not a science, and it appeals to our creative instincts. Doing history also expands our specious present into what ever age and area of human history … catches our fancy. To do history, then, makes us more human, for only humans among the creatures can have history. For us it is a mystical thing, keeping in mind that ‘medievalist’ and ‘mystic’ are both ‘m’ words. Is it not of practical value to become as richly human as we are able to become? Is it not the purpose of life for each of us to grow in our individual humanity, and is not the study of past lives an exposure to the life pilgrimages of those who have gone before and can guide us?”

the life pilgrimages of those who have gone before and can guide us…  On this Winter Solstice, I’m taking time to meditate on this. Humbly, with gratitude.

Happy Solstice!

 

Warmest Wishes for the Holidays!

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Rises above Whitesands Bay, St. David’s, Pembrokeshire

My quiet street is alight in the evenings and the Christmas ships twinkle on the lake below. The longest night is near. For me the weeks surrounding the winter solstice share a magic with sites such as Carn Llidi, where the barriers between the mundane and the magical are so thin one might cross over all unaware. I’m steeped in dreams of otherwhere, otherwhen.

For those of you who haven’t yet signed up for my newsletter (on my website), here’s a link to yesterday’s issue, the first, to entice you.

Warmest wishes for your holiday season, dear readers!

Some medieval carols!

York as Muse

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Here’s a link to a guest post I wrote for the blog, Raven-Haired Girl. I reused a title from a talk I gave at York St. John University six years ago, but that’s where the similarity ends. I had fun with it!

http://ravenhairedgirl.com/2015/11/22/guest-post-candace-robb-author-of-owen-archer-mystery-series/

St Mary's mortar & me 001I mention the mortar from St. Mary’s Abbey. Here’s a photo–the beautiful pattern isn’t as clear as I’d like, but you can see the size of it.

Sadly, I didn’t copy edit the post as carefully as I should have. Two typos jumped out at me as I read it the morning it was posted. Can you spot them?

An Appreciation of the Art of Editing

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Editing is an art.

Before I was a published writer, I worked as an editor of scientific and technical publications in a university laboratory. I came to the job without a strong background in the lab’s research area, oceanography, underwater acoustics and polar science, but with a curiosity about how things work, and a skill for seeing patterns. So I would ask questions about an object until I understood it, and questions about the manuscript until I understood what the writer had intended to say, and then helped the author(s) fill in the missing steps so that readers (often administrators who had long been away from hands-on work in the field) could grasp the intention, the process, and the results.

You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke. ~  Arthur Plotnik

It might not seem as if scientific and technical papers are written from a fire burning inside the researchers, but you’d be wrong. Those who are passionate about their work devote their lives to small aspects of the larger picture. I respected the people I edited, was often in awe of them–and a bit jealous. I wanted to pour my passion into something of my own, as they did. But mostly I enjoyed the work and found it deeply satisfying.

Editing is the same as quarreling with writers—same thing exactly. –Harold Wallace Ross

I began this post just after I’d finished working with my editor’s first pass on The Service of the Dead, the 1st Kate Clifford novel. This part of the process of writing involves a dialogue with the editor. She calls something out, either questioning it or asking for more information, and I look at the passage, puzzling out whether she just didn’t get it, or I didn’t say what I meant to say, or I skipped a vital point, and, as I read, I often find myself wondering just what I did mean. By this time I have gone over the manuscript many times, and it’s been edited by three careful readers. yet there will still be passages that don’t stand up to a challenge. A good editor teases all this out by asking questions that occur to her as she reads.

Step two: I revise, clarify, then send it back. She reads, still paying close attention to the questions that arise as she reads, because quite often clarifying one passage illuminates a slight problem in another.
Editor: Why hadn’t she considered this?
Author: Oh, good point. Fixed.
Editor (or Author): Uh oh, now that she’s considered that, wouldn’t she do this?
And so it goes, back and forth, until we’re both satisfied. In the process, we develop an appreciation for each other’s dedication to getting it right. That’s a good author/editor relationship, and I’ve been blessed with several, including the current one.

So I don’t agree with the quote from Harold Wallace Ross above. An editor who quarrels with the writer has forgotten that he or she is an advocate for the writer. Or, as James Thurber put it so well:
Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counseling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, ”How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?” and avoid ”How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece?” –James Thurber

My editor and I have now resolved the manuscript. Between the two of us we teased out several subtle but rich threads that were there, but hidden. It’s now with a copy editor.

When I described this process to my husband, he nodded. “You’re writing for the reader; the editor is reading for the reader.” He’s right. As I was for the administrators on whom the lab depended for their funding.

But back to my first statement: Editing is an art. There is nothing simple about reading another’s words and gleaning precisely what it is they mean to say, then helping them add or subtract or clarify in order to allow it do say just that. And how to do this with compassion—the scientists often hated writing, suffered over the first drafts, but (most) knew how crucial it was that the report was not only clear, but communicated the brilliance, the significance of their work. Asking them to rewrite was asking a lot. So, too, with a novelist. Our characters come out of our psyches, we pour our hearts into the work, and a novel is a long undertaking. So the editor must not only be gifted in the art of shaping a story and felicitous language, but must also be perceptive, psychologically astute.

So let’s give editors a hearty cheer for working so brilliantly behind the scenes! Time for you to take a bow!

 

Two Interviews on the Margaret Kerr Blog Tour

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I’m momentarily distracted by an ongoing, quite heated argument between Kate Clifford and her mother. While I deal with them, I thought you might enjoy reading two interviews that appeared this week as part of Maggie’s tour. In the first, I’m interviewed; in the second my characters are interviewed. Enjoy!

http://www.singinglibrarianbooks.com/author-interviews/interview-with-candace-robb

http://www.boombabyreviews.com/?p=1513

And, in celebration of autumn, a photo of my beloved red bud putting on its annual display of Halloween colors.

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Celebrating Owen and Maggie with Virtual Tours

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I’m celebrating the reissue of the Owen Archer and Margaret Kerr mysteries in the US and Canada with two “blog tours” this autumn, one for each series. What is a blog tour, you ask? It’s a form of online publicity, like a traditional book tour except the stops are all virtual. Instead of going from bookstore to bookstore, the author goes from blog to blog–or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that either the author or the books go(es) from blog to blog. The tours are arranged by small businesses who maintain connections with active book bloggers–in my case TLC Book Tours and Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. Some of the bloggers review the books, others interview the author or the characters, and occasionally they invite the author to write a guest post. The Margaret Kerr tour extends for two weeks from this past Monday, the Owen Archer extends through mid November–several bloggers are reviewing multiple books.

Here’s a guest post that I wrote before leaving for the world mystery convention (Bouchercon) last week, for the Owen Archer tour:
http://bit.ly/1Qor4l8

And an interview for the launch of the Margaret Kerr tour:
http://tonyriches.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/guest-interview-with-candace-robb.html

If you’d like to try your luck at winning e-books from either series, you can enter via any stop on the tours. The links are here:
http://tlcbooktours.com/2015/08/candace-robb-author-of-the-owen-archer-series-on-tour-october-2015/
and
http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/margaretkerrmysteryseriesblogtour/

It’s always wonderful to meet readers in person, as I did in Raleigh, NC, last week. But the blog tour is a delightful addition. Check it out!

 

 

Shop Talk with Susan Signe Morrison about Grendel’s Mother (2 of 2)

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And now, without further ado, talking shop with Susan Signe Morrison, whose novel Grendel’s Mother: the Saga of the Wyrd-Wife is just out from Top Hat Books!

Q:  In Grendel’s Mother you use a spare style, no psychological explorations, no in depth descriptions of clothing, customs, explanations of the culture as one often finds in historical fiction. Is this style book-specific, to echo the language of Beowulf, or might you use it again?

A:  When I began writing the novel, I want to echo the language of Anglo-Saxon 9781785350092literature. In terms of word-stock, this meant using a lot of Germanic words. More key, I felt, was the style. How could I replicate– but also update for a contemporary, novel-reading audience–the feeling of Old English conventions? Almost unconsciously, I layered the texture of the writing with many appositions–noun and verbal phrases that function like synonyms. For example, rather than just saying, “the fierce warrior,” a more Anglo-Saxon thing to do would be to write, “the fierce warrior, weapon wielder, war-like wreaker.” I tell my students that this poetic device increases the density and weight of such verse. A Picasso portrait might have three eyes for an individual in order to show how that person looks from all sides. It creates a 3-D effect. I think the Anglo-Saxon habit of doing this in writing does an analogous thing: conjuring up a multi-dimensional world. I ended up loving this spare style and might indeed return to it in the future. I hadn’t thought about a sequel until an Amazon reader’s review: “It would make a great mini-series. (And there’s room for a sequel.)” I’d certainly be up a mini-series. :-) So now I’m thinking: what should/would a sequel entail? I’m pondering poetic possibilities (to put it alliteratively).

Q: Chapter 3, Gobban’s God, is a delight to read, the priest’s awkward attempts to explain his Christian beliefs, the amusing puzzlement of Brimhild and her parents, her mother’s attempts to politely relate the wildest ideas to their own Norse gods. The Scylding beliefs sound like a far more pragmatic system. I wondered as I read whether this hilarious discussion evolved from classroom discussions. Did it? Am I right in guessing that this chapter was great fun to write?

A:  Thanks for seeing the humor here! The book on the whole is quite serious, so it’s important to spice it up occasionally with rough comic moments. Your asking this question makes me think: yes, it does stem from some classroom discussions. I remember distinctly a particular incident. A student was presenting an oral report on a song by Hildegard von Bingen, that great, multi-talented twelfth-century doctor, visionary, healer, theologian and musician. The student said, “I don’t believe in God, but if I did, I wouldn’t believe in three gods like Hildegard!” I furiously thought, “What is she talking about? There aren’t three gods in that song!” And then I realized: the student had never heard of the Trinity before, a key concept of Christian thought. Ever afterwards, I never assume prior knowledge about any religious reference in medieval literature that students encounter. This certainly influenced the scene with Gobban. I tried to imagine: why would anyone convert? Why would you change your religion if you had a perfectly fine mythology and panoply of gods? How would you understand your first encounter with Christianity if you were a pagan (a loaded term!)? Not only that, but Germanic peoples were not naturally given to “turning the other cheek.”   Sæwald is highly skeptical about Gobban’s awkward description of Christianity, but the young Brimhild is haunted by the thought of a little god born in a manger.

Q:  Did you find it difficult to stay within the known structure? Any temptation to change someone’s fate? Perhaps someone you grew fond of? Or to change it for the sake of a good story?

Fyrkat_hus_stor

A reconstructed Viking Age longhouse. (Fyrkat_hus_stor)

A:  Actually, having the confines of the known story of Beowulf was the most helpful thing of all in my act of writing. The boundaries of the narrative forced me to build the world of Grendel’s Mother within the walls of the hall of the Beowulf poem, so to speak. I chose to lurk in the obscure corners of that edifice, much like Grendel and his mother. Beowulf includes a lot of flash-forwards and flash-backs, what are sometimes called the “digressions.” These moments briefly and tantalizingly suggest violent and tragic events taking place, as it were, offstage. That’s where I went. I did change people’s fates. After all, Grendel’s Mother–my Brimhild–is not killed by Beowulf. Nor is Grendel’s fate exactly like the one as portrayed in the original poem. And making Grendel and his mother human definitely deviates from most readings of Beowulf. I believe the poem allows, even invites, alternative readings of history, mythology and story. After all, in lines 874 and following of the Old English original, the scop or minstrel tells the story of Sigemund and the dragon. There were many differing versions of this lore at the time the Beowulf poet wrote, so I feel doing my own take on a legend is even invited by the story itself. I did feel bad, though, about Freawaru’s and Inga’s fates, which were necessary to bring home the bloody fate doomed by the culture.

Q:  Some of the characters in the book do not appear in the poem, and all are more fully developed. I imagine the additional details and insight come from your research—other poetry/folk tales/history of the period, and some from your own imagination, building on that background. Could you talk about your process?

A:  I’ve taught Anglo-Saxon poetry, culture, and language for over twenty years. So I am pretty familiar with the Old English corpus of poetry and prose. Naturally this exposure, over time, bled into my writing process, even though I hadn’t originally read these works in order to include them in my novel. Once I began writing, I still had to do a lot of research. For example, how would have an Anglo-Saxon hall looked? I was toggling back and forth between research about Anglo-Saxon culture and what continental Danish culture was like from about the 4th to 6th centuries. I took the liberty of applying Anglo-Saxon traits–which date from later than the setting of the book–to the situation in Denmark around the year 400 C.E. I would interlace these discoveries into my narrative.

Q:  What was your inspiration for how Brimhild comes to Hildilid and Saewald? [You might have answered it in one of the other questions.]

A:  My inspiration definitely lies in the opening lines of Beowulf itself when the reader/listener hears about Scyld Scefing, who arrives among the Danes according to the floating founding legend. Scyld is the great-grandfather of Hrothgar, who is a central figure in the Old English poem and in my novel. As a feminist, I was interested in imagining what would happen if a girl child had arrived in a basket, much as Scyld had arrived. What would be the consequences? That’s where my novel begins.

Q:  Telling the story from the perspective of the women, you are able to explore the grim underside of the lives of “heroes.” It affords the opportunity for observations such as Freawaru’s when the queen tells her that the beheadings are “man’s business.” Freawaru thinks, “Surely…this is woman’s business, too. We are the ones married off as peaceweaving brides after the blood and gore have barely dried.” Was this the driving urge behind your writing it from this perspective, for a reality check?

A:  Absolutely. Two moments in Beowulf continue to haunt me. The first is the Fight at Finnsburg. The scop sings about Hildeburh, a Dane who marries into a Frisian family as part of a peace-weaving marriage between her clan and that of King Finn. However, as inevitably happens in Anglo-Saxon tales, that attempt at harmony falls apart violently. Not only do Hildeburh’s uncle and son die, but ultimately her husband as well. She is sent back to her own people, bereft of her marriage family and resentful of her blood kin. Another woman’s fate we learn at the end of Beowulf. This nameless woman laments about the fate of Beowulf’s people after his death; they are doomed to death or slavery. I wanted to explore what this culture was like for the women, compelled to participate in peace-weaving marriages doomed to failure and oppressed as victims of rape and bondage.

Q:  If you were using Grendel’s Mother in a Beowulf seminar, would you have students read it first, then the poem, or visa versa?

A:  Either way would work, depending on what you want to emphasize. Currently I picture-4am teaching a seminar called “Beowulf’s Literary Hoard: Contexts, Interlace, Allusion, Influence, and Intertexuality.” In it, we begin with an introduction to Old English and start doing basic translation. We read a number of shorter Old English poems in translation because I believe it’s best to come to Beowulf knowing some of the images and conventions that can be found in all sorts of Anglo-Saxon material, from elegies like The Wanderer and The Seafarer, to saints’ legends like Juliana with its totally kick-ass heroine. Next we read three different translations of Beowulf. One is by Seamus Heaney, the Irish Nobel-laureate. It works as an thrilling adventure and beautiful poem. We also will use Roy Liuzza’s facing-page translation so we can see what the Old English is for specific lines. And now Christopher Tolkien has just had published J. R.R. Tolkien’s own translation! This is incredibly exciting, given that Tolkien basically transformed the state of Anglo-Saxon studies in the 20the century. He drew on Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Germanic material for his own work. After reading Beowulf, we will read works inspired by that iconic poem, including Tolkien’s own Sellic Spell and The Lay of Beowulf and John Gardner’s Grendel. We’ll conclude with my own Grendel’s Mother. Then students will write their own creative responses to this amazing material. Many high schools teach Beowulf alongside Gardner’s Grendel, which has the perfect “emo” and angst-ridden protagonist that resonates with teenage boys. I hope teachers will include Grendel’s Mother to give the female point of view of girls and women in that culture, so that teenage girls find characters with whom they can identify or from whom they find inspiration.

Q:  There are a number of short poems/lyrics in the novel. Are all of them gleaned from manuscripts, or did you compose some of them?

A:  I composed them all, except for those indicated under Sources for Quotes (section epigrams and medical charms). I was inspired by some medieval short lyrics called Frauenlieder (women’s songs). There are a few in Old English: Wulf and Eadwacer is a very short poem voiced by a woman about fraught and erotic encounters with two males. The Wife’s Lament is uttered by a betrayed woman trapped under an oak tree. These compact verses affected my lyric composition. Originally I wrote them when I had a number of fantastic MFA poetry students in my Anglo-Saxon seminar whose own work became heavily affected by the verse we read. In turn, I found myself spontaneously writing short poems. Only later in my revision process did I integrate them into the prose of Grendel’s Mother. Fortunately, they expressed emotional states that would have taken many pages of prose to convey.

Q.  In your Note to the Reader you list the sources for the medical recipes, procedures, and charms, and warn readers “Do not try these recipes at home!” Hah! You add that you amended some. Could you give some examples?

ht_1000_year_recipe_tl_150401_16x9_992A.  That would be telling! Actually, a lot of these recipes can be found in Bald’s Leechbook–one of the best names of a work ever. I believe I would leave out an ingredient or two just so someone could not replicate such a recipe. Some recipes seem, from our modern perspective, “crazy.” For example, it is suggested that a woman who bleeds too much should find a horse “turd” and put it on a fire; she should stand over it to be fumigated by the smoke. I always wondered how someone would avoid being burned! So I wouldn’t try that at home. But other recipes and folk remedies may have been efficacious, and not just as placebo effects. After all, a tea made of willow bark is said to cure headaches–aspirin is synthesized from elements occurring in the willow plant. Many recipes involve chanting charms. Music therapy is said to be curative; the charms and their rhythms might have had a healing effect.

Q:  Also in you Note you remark that you have “set the story about one century earlier than the usual dating of the action [6th century] for dramatic purposes.” Could you elaborate?

ASpoiler alert!
I don’t want to give everything away, but I wanted the final scene to involve Hengest. The 8th-century monk Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People writes that Hengest and his brother Horsa were the original Angle chieftains to invade Briton in the middle of the 5th century. So that meant moving the (supposed) action of Beowulf back a century. It’s fiction, after all, not history.

This was such fun. Let’s do it again soon, Susan!

You can follow Susan on her website: grendelsmotherthenovel.com
which includes a blog: http://grendelsmotherthenovel.com/category/blog/
And Susan’s on Twitter: @medievalwomen

Susan Signe Morrison’s novel Grendel’s Mother: the Saga of the Wyrd-Wife (1 of 2)

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9781785350092This past winter I had the pleasure of reading the manuscript of Susan Signe Morrison’s novel Grendel’s Mother: the Saga of the Wyrd-Wife. Here’s what I wrote after a few days of walking around with this wonderful book in my head:

In Grendel’s Mother: the Saga of the Wyrd-Wife, an emotionally rich retelling of Beowulf, Susan Signe Morrison reveals the tragically human monsters obscured by the heroic bravado of the original poem. Only a scholar and poet steeped in Anglo-Saxon literature and culture could conceive of such a lyrical extension of the poem from the perspective of the women in the mead hall. Reading it opened the poem to me as never before. What a gift! Grendel’s Mother is sure to become an integral part of every class on Beowulf.

Who is Susan? Though I made a point of having lunch with Susan at the medieval Women_pilgrims-210-expcongress at WMU this past spring and now count her as a friend, I’m going to feed you the great bio that appears on the book:

Professor of English at Texas State University, Susan Signe Morrison lives in Austin, Texas, and writes on topics lurking in the margins of history, ranging from recently uncovered diaries of a teenaged girl in World War II to medieval women pilgrims, excrement in the Middle Ages, and waste.

In a praise-filled review, Kirkus calls the book an enchanting, poignant reimagining of Beowulf,” the review also says:

….Morrison writes in alliterative, lyric prose that evokes the Old English of her source text: ‘There she saw the soft seaweed, barnacled bed, of a marine monster. Leaving her work, approaching with caution, she listened for linnets along the lime lane.’ An incredible world is spun out of blunt, staccato words: a world of customs and objects, of heroes and faiths, and, of course, of monsters. Morrison manages to update the medieval morality of the original poem while preserving its mournful sense of the old ways passing away.

And the blogger Andy Lloyd (Andy Lloyd Book Reviews) says:

[A] gritty, no-holds-barred epic….[A]n English Prof. doing ‘Conan the Barbarian.’

Conan the Barbarian. Hah! As Susan says, “never in my wildest dreams…” I can just see her grinning ear to ear.

So of course I invited Susan to talk shop here on A Writer’s Retreat. Tomorrow you can read it here!

You can follow Susan on her website: grendelsmotherthenovel.com
which includes a blog: http://grendelsmotherthenovel.com/category/blog/
And Susan’s on Twitter: @medievalwomen

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