New episode of my world-building podcast, this time about Prostitution.
New episode of my world-building podcast, this time about Prostitution.
In this episode I focus on deserts and desert cultures, hopefully helping you out with your world-building along the way!
Here is episode 1 of my new podcast, From the World Up. It’s a world-building podcast, and this episode is meant to help you consider ways to work slavery into a sustainable model for your fantasy world.
I have started a new podcast with hideously amateurish equipment and attitudes, to talk about world-building. I want to use my vast array of otherwise useless knowledge about the medieval era to help other people with world-building in a fantasy context.
Now, I know fantasy doesn’t have to be historically accurate, but it does have to be realistic to a degree, unless you’re going full Lewis Caroll in which case, good luck, traveller!
If you have a subject, area, or even a vague notion, which you would like me to talk about, please let me know!
Episode 1, Slavery, is in the works at the moment, and will be followed by Episode 2, Living in a Desert.
Love ’em (we do!) or hate ’em, we can all agree the alpha male is a huge part of romantic fiction. @marcherwitch talks about the right and wrong ways to portray an alpha hero, defining them as either an #Alpha or an #Asshole
— Pink Heart Society (@pinkhearter) May 4, 2018
Hullo! The Pink Heart Society, a website dedicated to all things romance, used my little bit of blurb and edited it into coherence for a piece on the difference between #alphas and #assholes.
I’m chuffed to bits!
So I’ve spent the last months freaking out about writing black- and brown- skinned characters in my Morocco set romance series. I started out just wanting to write about an area I’d enjoy reading about, but which lacked a base of romances that weren’t cringeworthily over the top in fetishizing slavery. I wanted to write black slaves as well as white ones, for feck’s sake and I didn’t foresee any difficulty.
Sure, I’m white but why would that be a problem? I asked in my white privilege, autistic naievete…
Since I completed the first book in the series, the #OwnVoices movement has taken off, and I have learned a lot about what fetishisation is, and that you should never, ever used food to compare a skin tone. Comparing a black man’s skin to chocolate is comparing him to something to be devoured, not loved. I am still searching for a guide on what is, in a medieval or fantasy setting, acceptable and not only that, alluring!
I have used earth tones a lot, trying to draw the metaphor of potential in a man’s skin being comparable to freshly rained on earth, but no one will tell me if that’s offensive.
So, in the spirit of don’t ask for what you won’t give, here is a blog about writing welsh people, particularly in a medieval context.
Let’s get to it…
So you want to write some welsh mercenaries. Or a welsh woman in an english town. Or you want to transpose a norman woman into a welsh setting. You have your names from s.gabriel and you’ve managed to create a cast of characters without reusing the name Gwenllian too many times.
But you don’t want to seem too norman about it. Well done you! Sharon Kay Penman, one of the best and most revered authors of the medieval era, wrote an inches thick book called Here Be Dragons, which chronicled the lives and marriage of Joan Plantagenet and Llewelyn Fawr.
And all the normanised welsh were goodies, and all the welsh welsh were mean and horrid and unwelcoming and waaaaaaah…
Now, the prose is excellent, and Penman had obviously done bags and bags of research, but her attitude was extremely normanised/anglicised. So let’s get some basics on the table:
Most importantly: ‘welsh’ is a false construct. It is an english word meaning ‘enemy’ (originally welisce). Even ‘cymraeig’ is a false construct, born in the days after Llewelyn Fawr. It is a response to attack, not an identity. Just as the army joke about the navy being crap and everyone lampoons the RAF, you will often hear the welsh mocking each other’s regions. The south is all saxon really, and the north is mostly scots. Blah Blah…
This is because Wales is a conquered area consisting of many countries. See map!
These are not counties, they are kingdoms. They warred against each other, they had feuds going back to the dark ages. They had their own royal families (frequently wiped out to the last child by the english), and within those families were their own feuds and wars. If you are writing a welsh character, they will know what kingdom is their origin. The language they speak will differ. Someone from Gwent would have to concentrate hard to understand the dialect from Gwynedd. See if you can find a northumbrian speaking ‘pit yakka’, or listen to the creole dialect in the US, or the variant dialects in the Caribbean.
A welsh person might say “I’m welsh” now, but they would never say it in the 12th Century or earlier. It is an insult, even if we took back the word.
At the time I write, the late 12th Century, Gwynedd had very few towns. It was largely agrarian (sheep… sheep are pretty much all that grow up in the hills), with fishing villages along the coast and small towns around the castles with craftsmen etc. Trade was difficult as the countryside was frequently warring, but they would sail merchant boats into Chester, and attent fairs there. In Powys they went to Oswestry and Shrewsbury, Maelienydd would have attended fairs in Hereford, but the Mortimers there were systematically razing their castles, murdering their people, and picking the royal family off even under writ from King Henry to not do so.
If you are writing modern welsh people, please visit. The towns are poor, the tourism is minimal, and there is still resentment if you speak with a posh english accent (like I do, Dad’s RAF, boarding school). In tourist towns like Conwy it might not be a problem, but stop off the beaten track in Denbigh, and you get glared at. They may not instigate a fight, but 1000 plus years of rebellion being taken out of the gene pool will do that to a people.
Now, here I’m talking about genetic welsh people. Brythonic. Celts with smatterings of gael and saeson in from invading forces.
Heart shaped faces and blonde hair – the south.
Witchy-poo chins and noses and dark hair – the north.
For the most part, this stands as true, but obviously there was a great deal of travel between mining communities in the last two hundred years. Scots and Manx influence brought the copper light into people’s hair, so by the sun or cande light the dark hair lights up with fire. Rather than the gorgeous curls of Africa, welsh black hair tends to be wavy. Think Harry Potter’s hair, how he could never get it to do what he wanted, it just did its own thing. That’s welsh hair, there! If your left side curls demurely under, the right side will stick out.
Eye colour tends toward browns and hazels, with some stone-grey and moss-green if you’re super lucky. Blue eyes are viking, so if you do blue eyes they’d be southerners, or on the coasts were irish vikings pirated and pillaged for hundreds of years.
The welsh. hold. grudges.
If you’re writing a welsh heroine, she will never, ever forget and forgive. She might move past an insult, or accept that her idiot husband did the thing he did, but it will always be there. It will always come out in arguments. We are not a zen people. Hey, you might have noticed that I hold grudges that are a thousand years old. The irish will always be pirates, the english will always be conquerers, the normans will always be oppressors. A welsh person is not gonna go “sure, johnny depp abused his wife, but i’m over it…” A welsh person is not gonna go “oh, mate, you’re back after twenty years? i totally forgive you shooting my father”. Part of the reason the english did conquer us is that we fought amongst ourselves so long. The english encouraged the war of succession in Gwynedd after the death of Owain Gwynedd. They gave Deheubarth money to attack Meirionydd. And all the while there’s the Mortimers killing the house of Rhwyng y Hafren, and the de Braoses massacreing the princes of the south.
And a welsh person will never not correct someone who says “Oh, so you’re english.”
“Je ne suis pas anglaise. Je suis galloise.” “Nein, Walesiche, nicht Englisch.” “Erm…no, I’m welsh… not English…”
There was a swathe of poor, baffled americans left behind with a new history of welsh independence when I visited, and I don’t even think Wales should be independent from England. Mainly because after a thousand years, our trade has been marginalised (think the way entire african nations only produce coffee, because all other trades and crafts and crops have been wiped out for export) even if our people were not sold oversees, and our water is largely controlled by English concerns.
An entire welsh village was evicted and flooded to make a reservoir for Birmingham.
And this shit is under the skin of every welsh person.
I went to school in England, and while my prep school genuinely did not allow bullying, at senior school I was constantly, for five years, told my country’s identity was bullshit, that we were a county, not a country, that there was no reason to be proud to be welsh. Let me tell you the 2005 rugby grand slam was a vindication! Once walking down the street in York wearing a welsh rugby shirt a small boy baahed at me, and his parents laughed.
Because all the welsh fuck sheep. Ha ha ha. No, it’s just the english stole our land and forced us further and further west until the only thing that could grow was sheep and cows that are smaller and tougher than others because the weather…the weather is bad.
When it snows in Gwynedd the roads are blanketted. An American with your big wide roads will not comprehend the single track, hedged in roads with potholes and sections of flattened earth rather than tarmac. My American bestie gets anxiety attacks from the claustrophobic roads and the speed the locals drive on them. If it snows, no one comes in and no one goes out. The rain can be soft drizzle in summer or driving near-hail in February. It breeds people with freckles (we rust…) not with golden tans.
Farmers will have a deep red-tinged leather colour to their skin, but for the most part we are pale, with reddened cheeks and chins and freckles.
I personally loath the comparison “peaches and cream”, but I am good with comparisons to alabaster or quartz, since the welsh tend to have skin like white quartz with rose quartz beneath. Beige is such an unflattering word, so steer clear of that one. It just cuts the romance right out of things. The undersides of arms are white and the blue veins show through, so again, comparisons to stone make sense. Just steer clear of the Edward Cullen marble chest because that’s just…super dumb.
Welsh beaches tend to be rocky, the sand only turned up in the big storms of 1815, so a welsh person before then would not use sand as a comparison unless they had been on crusade. A deep tan is comparable to welsh clay and shropshire sandstone.
Wind makes us go pink. The rain pales us out but raindrops chase pure white light over our skin, and a white welsh person never looks better than when they’re getting rained on.
I recommend you go sky. White as clouds and just as soft. Pinks like November sunsets.
Lips tend towards a dull pink. Darker by dint of being surrounded by the palest part of the face. They purple in the cold (frequent weather).
We are hairy. Hobbits were based on the welsh and even I, a cis woman, have hairy toes. Not quite hobbity but still started getting bullied for it when I was five (primary school). We tend towards chubbiness, rounded, hourglass figures at best, pearshaped most likely. If you didn’t store fat, you starved. English overlords blah blah blah.
We are frequently shortsighted. That brown haired, bespectacled internet girl stereotype? That’s ninety per cent of what welsh women look like in the north.
While not as bold as our northumbrian counterparts (seriously, do you just not feel the cold?), welsh women are quick to strip down to tank tops in the summer. While christianity continues, and there are a lot of baptists and evangelicals in Wales, they have not been able to make us ashamed of our bodies. Magasines do that, but we tend to just strip down to as little as possible as soon as the sun comes out. This year, we think, we’ll get a tan instead of dappled freckles where the sun breaks through our arm hair.
Also, the welsh flag is the best. We don’t worship it, but we grin when we see it flying from the castles our conquerors built 800 years ago.
Because fuck you, Edward Plantagenet. Fuck you.
I hope this helps write welsh people, especially welsh women. If people want more I can go into attitudes to sports in different regions, and food and such. I just felt that since I was looking, I should also provide.
Please feel free to add questions, or your own take on how you like the welsh to be written. I expect to get a fair whack of racism from the english, believe me, there is nothing that I have not already heard.
“Please, Important Man,” she chided, narrowing her eyes and scrunching her nose just a little. “I know everything.”
She leaned once more on the fence, and he found himself wanting to stay and ask her what else she knew. Then her expression changed, her chin jutting toward him, her eyes wide and intent. He almost felt her grabbing him, even though her hands were tucked onto the railing. Sabbah felt oddly cheated that he felt that fervent grip, but did not have it in reality, even though she had him rooted to the spot. He had the entire market to order and organise, and she had roped him about with one urgent look.
“You need me in your life, Important Man,” she instructed him, voice low. “Buy me. I’ll run your house, cook your food, sweep your floors or shake your foundations. Whatever you want. But buy me. Because you need Tison in your life.”
Slavery was the norm in many cultures during the 1100s. It is not easy to write about without feeling massive white guilt (and you don’t get much whiter than welsh). However, the system in Almohad Morocco was sort of wonderful! Owners made arrangements with their slaves, a written document called a Mukrajah, which detailed how long it would take to earn their freedom, or whether or not they could earn a living outside of their owner’s household. Slaves could have a trade of their own, which the master was not allowed to interfere with, and buy their freedom if they chose. Those on the verge of poverty could sell themselves to avoid starving and homelessness.
It’s a fascinating era in a fascinating city. I have so many stories to tell in Marrakech. Tison is a strong woman who has been made to feel as though she is weak, and she will not allow people to break her again. She sees in Sabbah a good man who can help her and whom she can help in return.
He is a bit of a poppet, and I’ve found that to stop a good man being a boring man, I have to have a lot more incidental scenes than I would usually include. I am hoping they don’t end up as deleted scenes, because he is a warm man with good humour and when he relaxes he is the sort of man you could talk all night with and fall asleep snuggled up to his shoulder.
All we have to do is get Tison chilled out enough to let herself do that.