Going commando under skirts is not a new thing. In fact, women didn’t start wearing underpants until well into the 19th century. This is one of the facts I learned from MEDIEVAL UNDERPANTS AND OTHER BLUNDERS. I also learned about food, language, firearms, inherited titles, coinage, burial customs, and many other things, all while being entertained by Alleyn’s lively examples and gentle humor. Writers of historical fiction owe it to the reader to get their facts right. Alleyn shows them how.
MEDIEVAL UNDERPANTS AND OTHER BLUNDERS isn’t an exhaustive encyclopedia. It’s a jumping off point. Alleyn points out the most common errors she sees in historical fiction, and then shows writers how to fix them. Her focus is on European history, but the principles can be applied to any place or era. Alleyn gives common sense rules such as “never assume,” and “do not borrow your period details and information from other people’s historical novels and movies.” These rules seem like no-brainers, but we’ve all seen the results of writers breaking them, especially in Hollywood.
A writer could do a lot of quality research and still get facts wrong if she’s looking at history through a modern lens. Alleyn gives a very telling example of a 16th century fruit platter piled high with strawberries, peaches, and grapes. What’s wrong with that picture? Although those fruits were grown in Europe, they were not all available in the same season. Alleyn does a wonderful job of piercing through our assumptions (year-round fresh produce requires modern shipping and refrigeration) making the writer slow down and think before giving characters things they couldn’t possibly have.
MEDIEVAL UNDERPANTS AND OTHER BLUNDERS ends with a large bibliography as well as some tips for internet searches and some advice for research in general. A writer of historical fiction could spend many happy hours with Alleyn’s suggested titles. By following Alleyn’s guidelines (“look it up!”) a writer will give her readers many happy hours as well.
[Note: I bought MEDIEVAL UNDERPANTS AND OTHER BLUNDERS in ebook format, and I’m glad I did. It’s superbly formatted (rare for non-fiction ebooks) with everything properly hyperlinked, including the footnotes. It made the book even more of a pleasure to read, knowing I could always find what I’m looking for.]
Rating: 4 stars
Pie slices: 8 slices craft
This book is best for: beginning to intermediate writers
I recommend this book