Describing What Didn’t Exist
Hi, I’m Jill Hughey and I write a historical romance series set after Charlemagne’s death, so I am WAY back there in the 830s. One of the challenges of writing in the medieval period is that there were inventions and materials that we take for granted that didn’t exist, and objects that we consider mundane or disposable that were very important and special in the middle ages.
When you picture a saddle, it includes stirrups, right? I mean, how are you going to get on the horse if there are no stirrups? Good question. Imagine my surprise when, studying medieval horseback riding, I learned that some genius invented the stirrup AFTER the time period I write in. I never figured out how to show a reader that the saddle didn’t have stirrups. How would you do that, after all, without using the word “stirrup” and then completely jarring the reader right out of the story by explaining that there wasn’t one?
In my first book, Unbidden, I decided to use the lack to my advantage by making the heroine’s ability to mount a horse important. She has always been aware enough of her surroundings to make sure she has something to use as a mounting block nearby. When she meets the hero and he consistently helps her mount her horse she gets a little complacent, resulting in a situation where she needs a log or rock to get herself on her own horse, can’t find one, and is endangered because of it. She rails at him that this kind of dependence is exactly what she is trying to avoid.
Also absent in medieval times is an important part of most historical homes: fireplaces. In the middle ages, most homes had one central fire pit in the main room of the house and a hole in the roof to vent the smoke. Not exactly conducive to a private love scene on a rug in the bedroom. So, in my second book, Redeemed, I make that hearth an important place in the household my heroine is trying to set to rights and define her position in. When she first arrives, she notes that the fire seems to be the only thing functioning properly in the entire place.
Simple objects like needles were made from whatever materials were available. Peasants would use bone or thorn. Only wealthy people bought brass needles. In my third book, Vain, the heroine is a tailor — a member of the merchant class — who marries an aristocrat. She does not want to ask him for spending money, her need for it hasn’t occurred to him, and eventually she can’t afford to buy needles at the market. Of course, one of his friend’s wives notices and alerts him to the oversight, which creates the opportunity for him to start the conversation about money and home management that they really need to have.
Romance treads a fine line within the medieval period. After all, romance has to be romantic at some level, but, back then, existence for all but the very wealthiest was hard and dirty and not very glamorous. The heroine in the fourth story, Little Witch: Historical Romance Novella, yearns to escape her mundane life of farming and gathering. She leaves her family home, knowing she needs a life with more variety, more people, more everything!
I hope you’ll give my Evolution Series a try. Unbidden is free at most ebook vendors. I also have a book bundle that includes the first three novels plus a bonus short story. The links for it are included below. Thank you for the opportunity to visit here, Delilah!