Ostenheim

Ever since I started imagining Ostenheim, I’ve been scribbling maps on scraps of paper, adding, deleting and altering as the stories developed and the city grew in my mind. I’ve wanted to get a proper map of the city made up for a long time, and now I have. Here it is:

Ostenheim(web)

(Click to enlarge)

The map was drawn up by the very talented Robert Altbauer. You can see more of his work at his website. I can’t express how delighted I am with his work – it’s a great experience to finally see the image that’s been in my head for such a long time. We chose a style similar to the Renaissance era city maps from books like Civitates Orbis Terrarum; something that looks like it was created at the time it is set in, rather than a modern map of an old city.

The map will be a great accompaniment to the series of posts about the city that is upcoming, and will make my job of explaining where all the important buildings are a lot easier!

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On success…

Someone posted this Michael Jordan quote over on the Kboards forum a few days ago (here) and I really liked it so thought I’d repost it.

I’ve missed over 9,000 shots in my career.
I’ve lost almost 300 games.
26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed.
I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.
And that is why I succeed.

-Michael Jordan

Wikiquote attributes it to Nike Culture : The Sign of the Swoosh (1998), by Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson, p. 49. I haven’t read it, so if I’m mistaken on this, feel free to correct me in the comments below and I’ll update.

With such an uplifting quote, I feel the need to restore balance and impart a little misery. Here’s my least favourite piece of advice, which I’ve just heard on TV and am thus reminded of it.

You have to manage your expectations.

Eugh. ‘Nuff said.

Why I love writing…

I sat down this morning to start work on a new project, (actually, I sat down to pack my bag for the gym, but that didn’t quite happen…) and as I come to the end of my first day of working on it, I’m reminded about what it is that I really love about writing.

When I started writing this morning, there was nothing more than an idea floating around in my head, and scribbled across a few pages. 5,000 words later, there are new people, new places and new events starting to take shape. Brave deeds, conflicted heroes and morally dubious villains; breathtaking vistas, rustic villages and sprawling cities, none of which existed this morning. That’s what I really love about writing.

Swords and Honour

Number 3 in the inspiring areas of history series of blogs. Usual caveat found here applies!

Plagues aside, the Renaissance period generally saw a substantial growth in the size of cities, Venice, Florence and Genoa begin good examples in Northern Italy. As people began to spend more time in cities and with the explosion in commerce that came around the same time, social mobility was high. In a society with strong social stratification, it became more difficult to tell who came from what rank and those who wished to stand out had to find new ways to do so. Simply looking well fed and clothed was no longer enough. For gentlemen, one method was to carry a sword.

While there are other factors at play in explaining the fashion for carrying swords, one was certainly that it was a statement of social rank. Carrying, and being able to use a sword was a statement that you could afford to own it, and you had the free time to learn how to use it, i.e. that you didn’t need a day job to earn a living!

In terms of the shape and style of swords, this period takes us from the plain cruciform shape that had dominated the medieval period to long bladed rapiers with complex hilt designs. As an accessory to a gentleman, they became something of a fashion statement and there are many particularly impressive examples to be found in museums around the world. In some respects they can be seen in the way flashy jewellery is today as their design was often as dictated to by style as practicality.

With lots of ‘honourable’ gentlemen wandering about with swords and too much free time, duelling among civilians over matters of honour became more common. This brings us to an area that I think is particularly suited to interesting fiction of both the historical and fantasy varieties and is the reason behind this blog post. With people being quite sensitive to any perceived slight on their character, there is a huge amount of potential for conflict development in stories. Instead of going home and being angry about an insult for a few days and then forgetting about it, it was quite likely that a gentleman in this era would draw, or at least attempt to draw blood over it!

Gunpowder

This is blog number 2 in my ‘inspiring areas of history’ theme. The same disclaimer in the first one applies here!

I’m sure most of you have seen the diagrams from da Vinci’s notebooks of flying machines, tanks and other ahead of their time ideas. For me however, the factor that had the biggest impact on the development of technology during the Renaissance period was gunpowder.

It first appeared in Western Europe at some point in the latter half of the thirteenth century. By the battle of Crécy in 1346, canon were appearing on the battlefield. Gunpowder was yet to take centre stage; at Agincourt in 1415 it was the longbow that drew fame in contributing to the English defeat over the French, due to its success against the French cavalry.

The drawback with the longbow was that it required considerable training to use effectively, not to mention a huge amount of strength to draw. The firearm on the other hand required far less time to train someone in its use. In defining the move from the feudal age, perhaps the most significant aspect is the effect that canon had on siege warfare; they essentially rendered the medieval castle obsolete.

Similarly, by the latter half of the 16th century, with the development of the musket, it was virtually impossible to make a suit of armour that could withstand a bullet. Indeed, handguns were so effective that cavalry forces dropped the lance in their favour, which also aided in the decline of the use of armour, as mobility was favoured over heavy protection. Armour was gradually reduced, piece by piece until all that was left were the helmets and breastplates that were still in use at the time of the Napoleonic wars.

As with all great change, it is rarely possible to attribute it to any one single factor; most often there are many, but the introduction and ever greater use of gunpowder must be seen as significant among them.

In terms of inspiration for writing, I think the aspect of change discussed here is very fertile ground. This period marks a shift in military culture, from feudal knights in ever more elaborate armour and their levies, to standing forces that were taking on the first characteristics of modern armies. This means certain individuals would find themselves and their way of thinking obsolete, while for others, more receptive to change and perhaps less heavily invested in what had come before, there were great opportunities to be had. The dynamic of the clash between old and new ideas is always a very interesting concept to explore and this period, 1400-1600 or so, provides a great many examples.

Additionally, if you write fantasy, there is also the clash between technology and magic. Would the presence of magic stifle the need for technological development? Would proponents of the two different concepts come into conflict? Plenty of inspiration to work with here I think!