BEHIND THE SCENES: The Making of “Cuthwin”
I wanted—needed—to have a story to tell,
and for me that required a distinct voice and “drive” behind that story. Most writers, I feel, want a voice that has energy and purpose. A journal auto-loads this, as it were. The very purpose of a journal keeper is to communicate events in chronological order to someone else, meaning a journal is not a diary. Now the journal keeper might not know when or by whom their journal will be read, but they continue on. Clearly, a journal can function as a diary. And a diary can appear in print in a journal format (e.g. The Diary of Anne Frank, etc.), but the division is a real one, in my view.
So, there are many creative literary works in journal format, and again as I had in The War Journal of Lila Ann Smith, I elected that format. In this way, the reader 'hears' the journal keeper's voice with increasing closeness. They hopefully become as emotionally involved as I became during the writing of it.
The Society of it all
At the start of “Cuthwin”, I was certain I wanted the reader to “hear' a narrative from the common everyday person—from the so termed 'third' layer of society, meaning “Those who worked”. Feudal society was made up of the three estates: The first estate being the church and its many offices; the second estate were the nobles, or those who ruled and fought; the third estate being those who worked.
There was mobility between the first and second estates, but less between the third and other two. I look at it this way: There were those who raised food and worked to earn a living and who directly or indirectly fed, clothed or equipped society. Then those who ate the food and were often embroiled in power and/or land issues. During these conflicts they killed each other, including anyone who got in the way, too often those who raised and prepared the food and were non-combatants.
This is how our protagonist Cuthwin views events around him, and he was right. So, he avoided all the power players in every way he could. This is an important and intelligent component of Cuthwin the person and character. Almost every time in my novel when Cuthwin becomes associated directly or indirectly with “power players” in the first or second estates, very bad things happen.
A commonly held concept was that, “Life (i.e for ordinary workers) on the medieval manor was perhaps dull and uninspiring...there must have been little time left over for things of an intellectual or cultural nature.” (Kries, 2001).
This, of course, wasn't wholly true, and a challenge to a storyteller.
One of the main problems was little was written about this “third estate” or common worker. This continued for the first seven hundred years of the medieval period. (In schools of my time, they termed them the “dark ages”, which was more appropriate for teachers and fellow students than a historical period.)
Much more was written about the second estate (those who fought and ruled) and the first estate, those who prayed. In fact, much was written about both of the foregoing in verse and prose history. So, then and later a great burgeoning of verse and prose fiction had a foundation to built upon around activities of war and conflict between the two estates. Meaning, the two often were complicit in wars and scourges and during them dealt out plentiful 'collateral damage' of the time.
Language and Sources
In the 11th century England people spoke a hodgepodge of languages if they got around at all. In fact, most who traveled on business or such were distinctly polyglot—able to speak in local Saxon dialects, and the language spoken in “Daneslaw”, that area which is roughly north of the Umber river. In the north they spoke a mixture of Old East Norse and Old English, which supposedly were mutually comprehensible.
However, much of the population lived on farms either as thanes/freemen, serfs/cottars or slaves, and didn't travel far from home their entire lives. These people would speak the language of their area (say, Saxon, which was beginning to be called 'Anglish') but a regional dialect of Saxon; therefore, just listening to a person speak you could make like Henry Higgins and know where they were from.