“What are some of the coolest/weirdest/funniest/most disturbing things you’ve researched for a story?”
Hooo my stars . . . where to begin?
From a matter of personal experience, I think younger authors often have the more amusing stories to tell about researching oddments for stories - less life experience to draw on and all that twaddle. Allowing myself to critically examine my childhood (for, yes, I can now call it childhood!), though, I think it's more down to the interests of the author as to what sort of hilarity and horror they run into in the name of research.
Doubtless you are all expecting me to tell you some tale of the depraved and evil things I have typed into Google for the sake of finding out exactly how far I can push my poor characters before they give up the ghost. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the finer points of gangrene, ancient painkillers (a short search for a short list!), the side-effects of various mental illnesses, mediaeval torture methods, which everyday kitchen implements can be used as weapons, how long one could survive after being partially vivisected . . . And that's just within the last year.
Today, though, I think I shall share with you an area of research that I find just as fascinating, and which has the added bonus of being less likely to cost your your lunch.
Weapons. Ancient weapons, to be exact.
I'm sure I'm not the only wannabe fantasy author who has a bit of a thing for swords. I was fairly late in picking up the interest, here, but a few history lessons on the Wars of the Roses and an introduction to the works of Bernard Cornwell and Simon Scarrow soon had me hooked on the intricacies of these glorious old weapons.
Most of my research centred on European weapons, mostly dating from the late Mediaeval period, because that's the sort of time where I tend to set most of my fantasy stories. But, as much as I loved picking up on the differences between longswords, shortswords, and their "bastard sword" cousins, the moment I got a look at some of the other gorgeous weapon variations, I couldn't stop myself. Sabres, rapiers, scimitars, katanas, heck even stiletto daggers - they've all found their way into my search engine sooner or later.
Of course, I've since progressed into a thousand and one other weapons-based obsessions (I'm currently having a drool over a glorious variety of historical siege engines; ballistas, scorpions, catapults and trebuchets just to name a few), but swords, I think, will always hold a special place in my heart.
And possibly not for the reasons you might think. Of course I can't help but goggle at the precision, time and energy that goes into these things (particularly blades like katanas or scimitars, which often require special treatment in order to get right), not to mention the simply spectacular messes that have been made with them throughout the centuries.
Most of all, though, I love swords because of their cultural significance. Here in Britain, especially, with every wave of invaders that's come to sit on top of their predecessors and call this damp, misty isle their home, each of them has brought their own worldview and, for many, the sword has played a central role. To many of the invaders who became our ancestors, they were more than just tools; they were status symbols, family heirlooms, things with names and histories of their own that often rendered them just as famous as their wielders - what's King Arthur without his Excalibur, after all?
To me, the sword reflects so much about life the ancient world; as technology progresses, so does the blade, from copper to iron to steel so sharp it slices on contact. Different swords were worn for different occasions - the tourney blade, the ceremonial steel, and the scabbarded menace that's drunk more blood than Dracula on a binge - and, just as these different weapons reflect different aspects of society, they also mirror the multi-faceted nature of human existence. Humans don't just do one thing and repeat it over and over, we are varied beings who need equally varied tools - and the history of the sword reflects that perfectly.
At the same time, although the weapon itself is long outdated, there is something marvellously eternal about a sword. It's a cultural icon of our time, harking back to an age that maintains a hold on our imaginations even today.
I'll end this shamelessly obsessive ramble with some links to a couple of sites I've found particularly good when one's looking for an easy, yet comprehensive, reference for swords and other ancient weapons:
- "Mediaeval Sword Vocabulary"- courtesy of historical fiction author Sarah Woodbury
- "Mediaeval Swords and Armour" - also by Sarah Woodbury, and full of even more useful links!
Now what about you, readers? Does anyone here share my passion for Ye Anciente Weapons of Murder? And what do all of you like to research best?
~ Charley R