Living with the Anglo-Saxons (6): what about the healthiness of the diet?

In the last blog, I looked at what we know about food and drink in the Anglo-Saxon period. In many ways it might seem to us today that the Anglo-Saxon diet was healthy: no sugar, no fast foods, no ready meals, no additives, no processed foods – all the things dietitians and nutritionists are concerned about these days. So we tend to make assumptions based on our 21st century perspectives of a ‘healthy diet’ or ‘unhealthy foods’. We don’t have the Anglo-Saxon perspective on this!

The paucity of skeletal evidence from bio-archaeological or osteo-archaeological findings make it difficult to assess disease and chronic illnesses of the period. Our assumptions might be that there was lower incidence of obesity, heart disease, cancers because the diet consisted for many people of fresh fruit and vegetables, cereals, fresh meat and fish (although the latter two were more prevalent in the diet of the higher status Anglo-Saxons). And we might assume that this would lead to an increase in dental health, average height, increased recovery rate from infections. But without documentary or widespread archaeological evidence it’s hard to make generalisations.

We do know that there would have been a reliance on seasonal fresh produce because preservation was hard, which could be a problem if the harvest was affected by climate or major weather systems and this would be a vulnerability for Anglo-Saxon settlements. For example, there is evidence of a major volcanic eruption in the mid-530s which caused significant climate change, cold, darkness, ruined harvests. The resulting famine, hunger and starvation, would result in increased disease and deaths. We also know that there was a significant pandemic of bubonic plague in 541-2. Although this may not have been caused by diet it would certainly have ramifications on food production and availability.

The lack of food preservation techniques would exacerbate this vulnerability. There were few means to preserve perishable foodstuffs, apart from drying, smoking, and salting. Salt became such a precious commodity that some might be paid in salt, and social status was marked by how near or far you sat from the salt at feasts (‘above or below the salt’ was a common expression, being ‘below the salt’ indicating lower status). Foods such as fish and meat would be encased in salt for preservation, but it was also used to mask the taste of bad food.

Rotten perishable food was a significant health risk, but it was arguably not entirely widely recognised in this period. We think that it tended to be thought that it was the taste of bad food that was the problem, rather than the bacteria in rotting food. So, as a result, the Anglo-Saxons were keen to disguise the taste of bad food with salt, herbs and marinades. There would have been a significant risk of illness from food poisoning, from meat from cattle that were carriers of disease, and a weakening of strength when physical activity was paramount for the life of the community.

What about Anglo-Saxon medicine? Bald’s Leechbook (9th century) available in the British Library, and other documents, provide some interesting evidence of the way illness and disease was treated in this period. For example, various treatments were advised for wounds, throat infections, skin conditions and some for more serious diseases. Herbs were used for infusions, ointments, salves and poultices (eg an eye salve from garlic), and recipes are given for problems such as nettles for muscular pain. Eating animal liver is cited as a ‘cure for the plague’. The Leechbook suggests a concoction of leek, garlic, wine and bullock’s gall, which was reported in 2015 as a potion that could potentially kill methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)!

A final thought: there is emerging evidence from Anglo-Saxon sites in Cambridgeshire and Kent from the analysis of human skeletal remains for carbon and nitrogen isotopes that suggest diverse diets based on wealth and social status. For example, some studies suggest that higher status, wealthier Anglo-Saxons ate more meat and fish, and lower status people ate more vegetables, and possibly were, in some case, largely vegetarian. This is an ongoing analysis, but it would be interesting to know whether this related to the level of health. 

PS Would you like to know more about life in the Anglo-Saxon period? My novel A Shape on the Air is set in 499 AD as Angle and Saxon tribes began to settle in Britain, although of course this happened over the course of several centuries.

http://myBook.to/ASOTA

Living with the Anglo-Saxons (4)

What would an Anglo-Saxon village look like?

The Anglo-Saxon village or settlement consisted of wooden thatched huts, ceorls’ houses, and larger timber halls for the thegns, usually single storey and all grouped around a central mead hall and large chieftain’s hall. In many cases, these could be combined into one large ‘long hall’. The mead hall served as the venue for feasting with huge celebratory banquets, although generally restricted to the wealthy thegns and ealdormen, and as a place for meetings, sometimes referred to as ‘moot halls’ , the moot being the council meeting or gathering where the higher rungs of society met to discuss the settlement’s important matters of defence, judgement and punishment, tythes or food provisions. A large mead hall might contain rooms for the family of the chieftain (or cūning). As the period progressed halls became bigger and more splendidly furbished to signal the chieftain’s power and status. Recent archaeological work has uncovered huge halls for such purposes.

Even the early Anglo-Saxon villages would be fortified against raiders and would have a band of warriors ready to fight for their society’s protection and security. There would be stables for horses, granaries for storing precious grain, and along the dirt roads would be clusters of tradesmen’s workshops often with wooden shelves or counters outside, displaying their wares: the wood-worker, the metal-worker, the communal bakery, the baker, the weaver, the pottery kiln, and so on. When coinage was scarce, trade was often through exchange or barter of goods or services.

Thatched single-room huts of wattle and daub or wood comprised much of the settlement and these were often flanked by small plots allowed for vegetable growing for the family’s own use (the precursor of our gardens) and middens for human sewage – which proved invaluable for manure to fertilise the vegetable plot!

Gradually the Anglo-Saxons moved away from their pagan heritage and by the 6th century were embracing Christianity, partly through missionaries from Rome or Celtic lands, and simple timber churches could be found in settlements, often adopting pagan sites such as burial mounds, sacred wells or standing stones as their locations.

By the later period, the 9th  to the 10th centuries, we might expect to see the wide development of village churches, still often timber built which didn’t survive the ages, but which later developed in size, architecture, building materials and adornments as the period continued. Many village churches of today bear evidence of their Saxon and Celtic origins, perhaps where they were built in stone (rare) or reveal a Saxon cross in the churchyard.

NEXT TIME: Anglo-Saxon diet and health …

For more about Anglo-Saxon life, my Anglo-Saxon/present day time-slip with mystery and a touch of romance can be found at:

http://myBook.to/ASOTA

Living with the Anglo-Saxons (2)

What did the early Anglo Saxons wear?

Certainly not animal skins wrapped around their torsos, the popular image of ancient Britons, nor togas left over from the Roman occupation of Britain! From the 5th to the 7th century clothing was perhaps surprisingly well refined and often richly dyed and decorated, especially for the higher classes of society. Of course, it depended on your social class, and the lower classes wore simpler garb of rougher cloth (working class serfs, peasants and even geburs who kept small parcels of land, and ceorls who were freedmen). But even so, the garb was not unlike our clothes today. For the higher ceorls and the thegns and their ladies, clothes were highly decorated and accessorised by brooches of gold and jewels.

Upper class ladies often wore several layers, as heating even in the richest houses was rudimentary: a chemise or shift in linen or wool, then on top of this,  a long sleeved full-length under-dress, or kirtle, again of linen or wool or maybe a soft cotton fabric from lime tree fibres. On top was an over-gown dyed with more expensive dyes such as deep reds, purples and blues and lavishly trimmed with braid or fur. It would be fixed around the waist with a leather belt from which hung a pouch for keys and other valuables, a cross between a modern-day pocket and a purse or bag. On top would be an embroidered mantle or cloak fixed with a gold brooch at the shoulder, often jewelled or metalworked. Later in the period, kirtles would be fashioned with gores lined with silk or brocade to match the over-gown or trim.

Ladies’ hair would be twisted and bound or braided. Unmarried girls wore their hair more loosely. Headwear for ladies was a head rail often decorated with silver-work or jewels which fixed the veil beneath. Later, ladies tended to wear a type of wimple and veil reminiscent of nuns or a coif or crespine.

What of the men? As you might expect, theirs were simpler than the ladies. Men of lower class would wear simple tunics, often rough-spun with hose beneath, with higher class thegns and above sporting woollen or linen undergarments and woollen hose beneath their tunics topped with heavy fur-lined cloaks, fixed with gold brooches. Heavy leather belts held daggers and knives not just for fighting but for cutting food in the mead hall feasts.

For more about Anglo-Saxon life, why not read my novel, A Shape on th Air, a time-slip from the present day to 499 AD

http://myBook.to/ASOTA

An author’s life (part 4) : country baking through the seasons – oh, and writing of course!

Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com

If you’ve been following my seasonal series on using my lunch break from my laptop to bake something delicious and comforting, you’ll know that my summer bake is often my Chocolate Fudge Cake, so easy to make and so moreish the cake won’t last long! I don’t know why I feel that summer deserves chocolate (melting properties!), except that any season is the season for chocolate, isn’t it?

Chocolate Fudge Cake

So delicious and scrumptious with coffee or with tea. It’s rich, moist, and fudge-y with a gorgeous chocolate ganache. You can even have it as a pudding with fresh cream poured over a slice.

You’ll need:

200 g. (8 oz.) butter, cubed

200 g. (8 oz.) light muscovado sugar

125 g. (4.5 oz.) self-raising flour

125 g. (4.5 oz.) plain flour

3 large eggs

200 g. (8 oz.) good-quality dark chocolate, chopped (min 70% cocoa solids)

25 g. (1 oz.) cocoa powder

100ml (3.5 fl. oz.) water

75ml (3 fl. oz.) crème fraiche

For the buttercream filling:

50 g. (2 oz.) good quality dark chocolate

100 g. (4 oz.) butter, softened

200 g. (8 oz.) icing sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

A little milk

For the chocolate ganache:

150 ml. (5 fl. oz.) double cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. butter

150 g. (6 oz.) dark chocolate

Chocolate shavings to decorate if desired

Preheat the oven to 170ºC, 335ºF/gas mark 3. Grease and line with baking parchment/greaseproof paper, two 20-m. (8-in.) deep sandwich tins. Melt chocolate, butter, and water in a pan over low heat until smooth. Set aside to cool. Sift flours and cocoa powder into a bowl and stir in the sugars. Beat the eggs and crème fraiche together until smooth, then beat in the chocolate mixture. Fold in the flour mixture. Divide the mixture between the two cake tins and gently level the tops. Bake in the oven for about 35–-40 minutes. Cool and then turn out onto a cooling rack.

To make the buttercream: Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Meanwhile, beat the butter, icing sugar and vanilla in a bowl until smooth. Add the chocolate and fold until smooth. Add a little milk if the icing is too thick. Spread onto one cake and sandwich both together.

To make the ganache: gently heat the cream, vanilla butter and chocolate in a pan. Remove from the heat and beat until smooth. Smooth the ganache on the top of the cake. Circle the top with a fork, or pipe swirls of frosting along the edge and decorate with chocolate shavings.

This recipe and more can be found in my book: The Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchen at http://myBook.to/TheOldRectory

Which books make me cry? And 10 fun facts about me – hmm!

My book tour continues! Today I’m interviewed by Jasmine at http://bookreviewsbyjasmine.blogspot.com

She asks me about the books that made me cry and if you scroll down there are also ten fun facts about me that you never knew!

  1. What is the first book that made you cry?

Little Women (Louisa May Alcott) because I was mad with Jo and I thought that the gorgeous male protagonist married the wrong person (trying not to give spoilers). I was very young! Then One Day (David Nicholls) and latterly A Single Thread (Tracy Chevalier). I cry very easily, at just about everything! I even cry at my own books; A Shape on the Air, for example – what happened with Dr Viv’s partner, her mother, betrayal, Lady Vivianne’s betrothal, the mystery they had to solve … I’m almost in tears now!

  1. How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?

I usually reckon 6 months for research and 6 months to write the book. Even if I know the historical research base well (as with early medieval/Anglo-Saxon England which was my original research field), I have to research specifics for that particular book. For A Shape on the Air I had to research minute details of daily life in 499 AD. The same with my Drumbeats Trilogy, which begins in Ghana, West Africa in the 1960s, even though I had lived there I had to research the locations and what was happening at that time (music, books, politics, current events, etc). I love reading about how people lived in a different historical period so it’s a joy to do the research. My problem is where to stop!

  1. How do you select the names of your characters?

Oddly the names often arrive in my head before the complete plot. I tend to have a character and inciting incident/initial situation/conflict before I start. I always have a ‘mood board’ for each novel WIP on my pinboard beside my desk and when I have a picture of my character on it, the name follows pretty quickly. Maybe because when I sit in a restaurant/bus/train and do my naughty ‘people watching’ I give them names as well as jobs and situations. For A Shape on the Air, I chose a picture of Rachel Weiss and thought of Dr Viv, and James Norton and thought of Rev Rory. Don’t ask me why! But it’s also true that I had to find similar names that fitted both time periods: Dr Viv in the present and Lady Vivianne in 499 AD, Rev Rory/Sir Roland, Tilly/Tilda, and so on. I decided not to use completely authentic  names for 499 AD as the characters were from different ‘tribes’ or ethnicities (Roman, Celtic, Briton, Saxon etc) and some would not be so easy to read for the modern reader. For myself, I always found it hard to read names I have to really concentrate on to remember.

  1. What creature do you consider your “spirit animal” to be?

I’d like it to be a wise owl or an elegant horse or gazelle, but it’s probably a cat (curled up by the fire and looking piercingly at what’s going on around).

  1. What fictional character would you want to be friends with in real life?

Cormoran Strike (Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling). I think he’s fascinating, hard but a softy at heart. He’s had such interesting experiences and I think he’d be full of anecdotes. I feel he’d keep me laughing as well.

  1. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t give up; keep at it and believe in yourself. Read through your finished draft as though you are the reader, not the writer; if it doesn’t capture your attention throughout, then it won’t for anyone else. Make a great opening that grabs the reader’s attention and a great ending that makes them rave about your book. Create memorable characters and get to know them inside out: make a profile of them, what do they look like (very important), what are their little foibles, what are their likes/dislikes, what’s their history? And for heavens’ sake, do your research!

  1. What book do you wish you had written?

Kate Atkinson’s Time After Time.  Brilliant. What an intriguing concept: what if there were different ‘realities’  and history could repeat itself, but change for the better (hopefully). It’s a bit like a time-slip, I guess, but one that actually alters history – something we normally try not to do in time-slips – for the benefit of mankind.

  1. Tell us 10 fun facts about yourself! 🙂
  • I love rhubarb and ginger gin and hate beer
  • I like rugby (watching!) and hate football
  • I love walking in the countryside and hate running (mainly because I have a spinal injury)
  • I love baking for family and friends: my current specialisms are ginger flapjacks (there seems to be a ginger theme going on here!) and almond macaroons, granary bread, and cauliflower & blue stilton cheese soup
  • I love crime novels, police procedurals and psychological thrillers, but I could never write them
  • I like gardening and growing my own vegetables and fruit
  • I’m really into healthy eating – all things fresh and homemade, not shop-bought, plastic wrapped and transport-miles
  • I actually have a PhD! In socio-linguistics, how men and women talk to each other. The research was fascinating!
  • I’m a qualified yoga teacher
  • I love clothes but hate shopping and changing rooms

And there we have it! That’s it for today. Let’s see what tomorrow has in store …

Lives intertwine across time and space

Can an ancient key unlock the secrets of past and present? Two women reach out to each other across the centuries in A Shape on the Air. It’s a medieval timeslip mystery with more than a little romance. To celebrate my upcoming Bookbub deal on April 16th when it will be on offer in the UK, US, Canada and Australia, my publisher Has reduced the price to 99p/99c for a couple of weeks. So I’m tempting you with a free preview of the first chapter. Just click below. I hope it’ll be a treat in time for Easter. Get it soon and enjoy! Along with the chocolate and hot cross buns of course!

And thank you so much for your interest. If you enjoy the book and have a moment, please do post a short comment up on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Authors really do appreciate reviews, however short.

With best wishes, and love,

Julia

Book Tours and a plot ‘spoilers’ challenge

The brand new Drumbeats Trilogy Omnibus edition is just out in ebook from my publisher Endeavour, and it’s available on Amazon right now – all three novels together in one place for only £5.99. The trilogy overall is a saga about love, betrayal and second chances – and one woman’s search for the strength to rise above adversity.

http://mybook.to/DrumbeatsOmnibus

It’s the story of Jess and we first meet her in Drumbeats as an 18 year old in 1965 on a gap year in Ghana (West Africa) where she’s teaching and nursing in the bush. She goes with a naive mission to make a difference in the world, but faces tragedy, civil war, and a new romance – with the echoes of the village drumbeats warning her of something … but what?

The next, Walking in the Rain, follows Jess back to England, and marriage, motherhood, and disaster … and the drumbeats continue to pervade her dreams.

The final book, Finding Jess, published singly just last August, sees Jess coping with betrayals, family problems and desperately trying to juggle a job at the same time … and finally returning to Ghana to try to ‘find herself’ again as an individual. Will she succeed? And what are the drumbeats trying to tell her throughout it all?

Some of the wonderful reviews I’ve already received: “scenes of raw emotion”, “an emotional roller-coaster”, “a heart-warming read, wonderfully written, compelling, warm and uplifting”“feel the searing heat of Ghana burning right off the pages”, “a powerful story”, “so evocative, it transported me to a different time, different place; I couldn’t put it down”.

There’s a major launch of the omnibus edition and a book blog tour with Rachel’s Random Resources from January 26 to February 8. The tour’s full and all ‘sold out’ for 42 stops. So, I’m busy preparing content for the tour: guest posts, Q&As, selecting extracts …

How do you select extracts from all three books without giving away ‘spoilers’ for the plots? Goodness, it’s difficult! I’ve worked on several attempts. One host wants an extract from just one of the books, OK, but I have to select very carefully as it’s the second book in the series. Two of the hosts want extracts from all three and a few words about the context of each one. Fair enough, but what a challenge. All three hosts need a selection of different extracts, because I guess many blog readers will be following the whole tour and obviously don’t want to be reading the same stuff over and over! I wouldn’t! Should I take a different ‘theme’ for each, maybe? But even so, how do I do it, especially the context statements, without giving away too much of what happens to Jess through three whole novels and 30 years?! Well, I’ve given you enough above! Yikes.

Any advice, gratefully received! In the meantime, I’ll be ensconced in my study for the duration.

Get those brain cells working overtime, Julia. I WILL get there … eventually! In the meantime, I’ll pop up the official book tour banner from my tour organiser shortly. Six guest posts and Q&As drafted … nearly there …

Need help with manuscript editing? Or need a writing mentor?

 

Have you ever thought: I wish there was someone I could ask about this part of my narrative, or my research report? Does it work for the reader? Does it make sense? Is it accurate – or are there errors?

Online 1:1 editing support

I have a new business venture coming onstream: Archbury Consultancy.

So many people have been telling me recently that they need help and support with their novel or short story manuscript. Or maybe with a piece of academic writing, a paper or article, or a draft of  a dissertation or thesis. It’s not entirely the content, it’s the getting your ideas down on paper more effectively. Sometimes we think we’ve written what’s in our head … but unfortunately it’s not really appearing on the page as we intended!

Even when we proof read and edit ourselves, it’s easy to miss spelling errors or punctuation problems, expressions that don’t come across well to the reader, even though they may be perfectly clear to us in our head.

At the moment I have a special introductory offer for my services through Archbury Consultancy so don’t miss out, find out more…

 

 

Apologies and news!

PhotoFunia-1444664744

Firstly my apologies that I haven’t posted for so long! We have finally moved house (what an exhausting procedure) having had our previous house on the market for over 2.5 years! And a serious health scare did not help! Nor did the nearly 2 months we were without broadband (thanks, BT!). However, here we are now in our new home and settling in well in the village, with friends old and new.

Other great news: I have an offer of a publishing contract for my new novel A Shape on the Air! The contract is sitting on my desk as I speak, waiting for me to sign. Very exciting. Not only that, but another publisher has told me that they will contact me by Monday! So I have to sit it out until Monday to see what will happen. Wonderful that I have a publisher anyway, whatever happens – so celebrations all round!

There will be more about A Shape on the Air shortly …

And a final apology to anyone who has tried to send me a message via my Contact Me page on this website – there is a problem and emails have not been getting through to me I’m afraid and currently it seems to be being passed backwards and forwards between BT.com and WordPress! Let’s hope they sort it out soon, hey? !

 

Madeira: sunshine, relaxation and 29 hours at one of the world’s most dangerous airports

The beautiful island of Madeira- we love it. It’s given us 18 years’ enjoyment of the chilled out holidays in the sun we all dream about. We swim before breakfast, then over a relaxed meal on our decking overlooking the deep azure blue ocean, we decide what we feel like doing that day: will it be sailing round the coast or to the Desertas Islands, taking the ferry over to the wide hot sands of Porto Santo, walking the levadas, golfing (my husband) or reading (me) … or maybe absolutely nothing but lying in the sun getting a smooth tan, and listening to Il Divo and Adele on the CD player/laptop iTunes?

The biggest decision we have to make is which restaurant we’ll choose for dinner: our favourite The Old Fort in Funchal, or the gorgeous O Classico, or musical Goya? Or maybe our annual retro meal at Casa Velha: steak diane and crepes suzette? Or perhaps we’ll just chill out on the balcony with a freshly caught espada, parcel-baked in our oven, jacket potatoes and salad? Listening to the haunting cries of the seagulls and watching the little bright-coloured fishing boats sail out.

Wherever else we go during the year for a more active holiday, we love to return to this ‘garden isle of the Atlantic’ with its beautiful scenery, flowers and interesting history. A novel set in Madeira is swirling round my head!

Each time we like to discover new things: last year I was exploring the old town of Funchal and photographing the lovely door paintings. This year we visited the new CR7 museum (Cristiano Ronaldo) and hotel, and we took the children to the waterpark for the first time.

And finally, another first – and this one, not so good. For the first time in 18 years we were subject to a delay at the airport. It happens in Madeira; it is, after all, one of the most difficult airport landings in the world, if the winds are high and especially if there are cross-winds that drive across the runway. We arrived at the airport to find that there were, oddly, no planes out there. After we had checked in the hold luggage we found out that no planes were landing in the winds. We could see the flares of forest wildfires above Funchal. We sat in the lounge watching the planes attempting to land but wooshing off into the distance. Our plane was supposed to be taking off at 5.25pm but there was no plane to take us off the island. In fact there were no planes. Full stop.

Eventually we heard (from the internet trackers) that our plane had been diverted to Tenerife. By midnight we were told to go to collect our hold baggage again (we’d have to go through the whole process again the next day) The comfortable premier lounge (which we always book because of my spinal injury) was closed for the night. No hotel was being organised for the passengers by Jet2. Yes, folks, we spent 29 hours on the hard airport seats – with all food/drink outlets closed. The temperature that day had been 34 degrees in the shade. We eventually were given a small bottle of water around 5.00am and a voucher for food around 9.00am – I had to queue for 1.5 hours to buy a sandwich and a coffee for us.

Our flight was rescheduled for 3.00pm the next day and then was delayed again until 7.30pm, with doubts as to whether we would, in fact, be taking off at all that day. Another night in excruciating spinal pain on hard seats was simply not on. We decided to claim our baggage back again and find a hotel ourselves. We were by then in contact with a friend and knew we had a room at a lovely hotel set aside for us. But at about 7.15 we saw on the departures board a call to the gate and that our flight was boarding. We pretty much ran!

We touched down in the UK nearly midnight and arrived home around 1.30am – exhausted. So, after such a wonderful sojourn in Madeira again, thank you (said with irony) Jet2 for our first – and hopefully last – experience of your passenger care policy …