stairs to the queen’s garden


The castle, built on a hill, had several levels; one level’s roof might be another level’s courtyard or garden. Not all of the gardens were ornamental. The gardeners tended vegetables, too: an architect’s provision for if the castle came under siege. As was the moat that filled at high tide. But they had been conquered without coming under siege. The invaders had simply entered through the city gates, at her invitation.

She now stood beside a low wall at the end of one such garden, traditionally referred to as the Queen’s Garden. And she had, indeed, made use of it. Fountains bubbled in each of the four corners and, larger, in the center. Two sides were lined with orange trees, with cushioned divans beneath their branches. One end of the garden opened into a covered patio which joined the palace. The opposite side, where she stood, faced the east. From here she could see both the city and the sea. She need only turn her head, look south, to see the gate the Caspar had entered, and the tree-lined avenue where her husband had been killed. She did not know by whom.

The Queen’s Garden was still hers, even though she wasn’t queen anymore. Caspar had annexed her country; now she was duchess to the Caspar duke. The barons blamed her for the Caspars’ coming and for the king’s death. Hadn’t she, after all, suggested they invite the envoy?

No longer holding any responsibility for the duchy, she often read poetry in the orange grove. Her new handmaidens didn’t like that she read, but she shouted down all of the curses from the Bedzi gods and her Akkadian ancestors that–even if they didn’t understand a word she said–they stopped trying to keep her from the library or from taking books out to the garden.

And of course, the Queen’s Garden was on one of the higher levels. She could access it from inside the palace, which, though longer, was a less grueling climb. However, she often chose to take the outer stairs. She enjoyed seeing her handmaidens, red-faced and puffing, as they collapsed onto the divans in the shade. The Caspar were not made for the Bedzi sun, and she took what victory she could, however small.

But, leaning against the wall, she, too, felt weak. The Caspar women, feigning confusion, refused to taste her food when she ate alone, and so she allowed herself only the food from her new husband’s plate at dinner. She did not know who wanted to kill her more: the Bedzi barons or her Caspar step-son.

What she did know was that she wanted to stay alive.

Photo: Castelo de São Jorge in Lisbon, Portugal.

New schedule

As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve created a new work schedule and this was my first week to try it out. I spend the mornings in my office doing research and writing my thesis. After lunch, a friend and I go to a café (we alternate between two favourites: one with good tea and wifi, the other with excellent cake) where we mutually ignore each other for an hour and a half. She reads, and I work on novel planning. I’m currently working on Serpents, the not-prequel to Bede. It’s amazing how much world-building you can do in just an hour a day. Then afterward I return to the office to see what other PhD-y things I can do for the rest of the afternoon.

I research better in the mornings, and I’m somewhat saner when I’m in the midst of a creative writing project. I also find it easier to do my research when my mind is already occupying that level of puzzle-making that comes with creating a world for a story. So the new schedule is working well.

However, it still needs tweaking after this first week of experimenting. I need to go to bed earlier, for one. Also, it’s somewhat difficult to get back into research in the afternoons. I may have to relegate the afternoon hours to thesis-related material, e.g. resuming Latin or reading contemporary primary texts, rather than to the actual research and writing of the thesis itself. Unless I’m in really good form one day, of course, or if there’s a deadline coming up.

Overall, I am pleased that I am getting more or less the same amount of thesis work done as I did when I used to spend the whole day in the office, and I’m getting other things done, too.

Conspiracy theories

1. A Conspiracy of Kings — Read in whirlwind of cover-to-cover, staying-up-past-midnight bliss, it was, of course, marvelous. Thinking of it still brings a smile to my face. Though, I realized with some horror that I will most likely have my PhD by the time the next book comes out. It will be the highlight of my year.

2. Bede: a novel — I have sent my edits to my co-author. The black binder that holds my copy of the manuscript no longer sits conspicuously on my desk; the map that has hung over my desk for over a year and a half has finally been taken down.

3. Short stories — Onward to the stars: time to edit and (I hope) write science-fiction, in which things are still not all what they seem.

Notes and edits

Two weeks in a row now I have completed my weekly goals by Friday afternoon. It is a good feeling. Especially today, because I have sent off a draft of some mostly-okay words to my oh-so-kind friends to edit, thus leaving me to blissfully ignore the literature review over the weekend. Thanks friends. Now I might get to reread Bede tomorrow, going over my own edits, before beginning the typing-up process of said edits.

Also, I am highly enjoying rereading Queen of Attolia. Last night I read one of my favourite lines: ‘If I am the pawn of the gods, it is because they know me so well, not because they make up my mind for me.’

To follow up on an earlier post about health care reform, this story was on NPR this morning: Christian Groups Find Way Around High Health Costs. It is about a ministry called Samaritan Ministries in which families help each other cover health care costs. The ministry has quite a few caveats and exceptions, though, most of which are understandable given the contexts of a Christian organisation. However, just from what is said in the article, it does seem that the ministry is catering more towards Christians than it does at helping out non-believers.

It’s Friday

As the wind, rain, snow, sleet howls outside and pounds on the window, I am rationalising that this tiredness is the result of recovering from a week-or-more-long funk, of the weather, of poor sleep, trying not to admit that perhaps, again, I ought to have my sinuses checked, that perhaps all I need is sleep. Yes, sleep: that blissful unconsciousness that doth restoreth mind, body, soul. Thank heaven it is Friday. How boring am I that I look forward to going to bed early on a Friday night, that I may sleep all the longer on Saturday morning?

Two of my favorite lines from The King of Bede come from the same chapter:

‘The sea air put him into unpredictable moods.’


‘A stranger am I, and a wanderer, searching for the edge of the world.’

A weekend

Full moon over the North Sea

This weekend almost doesn’t fit in one post. Saturday, we had Thanksgiving at the Sharpes’. My mother brought corn meal all the way from Texas in order to make corn bread, to the enjoyment of several Southern and Western American ex-pats. We had quite a spread. In addition to the turkey, polenta, cornbread, mashed potatoes, stuffing, turnip-something, two types of cranberry sauce, two types of gravy, pecan/cheese biscuits, sweet potatoes, and waldorf salad, we had three types of pie (pecan, pumpkin, fudge walnut) and apple crumble and ice cream. And we watched the Peanuts Thanksgiving, and, of course, had an overall great time.

As you may have noticed, my NaNoWriMo badge has changed from “participant” to “Winner!” and my word count widget has remained stationary at a triumphant 50,194 words. I finished The Faerie King on Sunday, 29 November, a full day early. According to the first response from my most faithful reader, I have succeeded in writing not only a fun story, but a fantasy one, and a funny one at that. And before I can say, ‘Now what do I do?’ I remind myself that I have Bede to edit. But hey, a month ago, I didn’t have a novel. Now I do.

The Cathedral

Oh, and then on Monday I graduated. I knelt before the university chancellor in front of an auditorium of people, and the chancellor said, ‘Et super te’, tapped me on the head with a three hundred-year-old cap (rumoured to be made out of John Knox’s breeches), and I was made Master of Letters. Most of the ceremony was in Latin. When the University Court processed out of the hall, the graduates followed them and we walked down North Street to Sallie’s Quad. For me, the most magical moment was walking beneath the double arches of Sallies—it truly felt like Harry Potter.

Monday was also St Andrew’s Day. My mom and I went to the castle, because it had free admission. The town piping band led a procession down South Street and Castle Street. Some people carried torches and there was this sense of camaraderie as we marched alongside other townspeople under the bright full moon; this deep sense of doing something old, something that people in this town have done for hundreds of years. The procession led to a stage of some sort set up on the Scores where there was a modern music and dance performance of a story of Cuchulainn, but I couldn’t quite follow it. But there was fire, and that is always exciting.

Cuchulain awaiting battle.

Anyway, I would say that this was a very full, but good, weekend. Now it is already nearly half way through an already busy week—and, what? December already? Oh my!

Hello October

The calendar changed and October came in with a gust of enthusiasm. Temperatures have dropped almost 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) since last weekend. I stepped outside on 1st October to crisp cool air, high blue skies, and the ground littered with red and yellow leaves. Then the wind came, bringing with it angsty, rainy clouds and though the skies have mostly cleared today it’s only because the wind is blowing at 50 mph. That’s Fall for you.

October also means that sign-ups for NaNoWriMo are now open! I’ll be writing—will you?

On the subject of writing, Kelly and I have finished writing Bede, successfully completing our first co-written novel. I’ll be editing first, but it feels good to have a completed draft.

In other news, I’ve survived my first week as a PhD student: literally survived, because I was almost hit by a car crossing the street to get lunch on my second day. I had looked, and there weren’t any cars, and then suddenly there was. No injuries: only a very startled me and an angry driver. I’ve always thought the intersection at Market Street and Church Street to be potentially dangerous.

Anyhow, I made and have kept to the syllabus I made on Monday. This week I read the collected works of Richard Rolle, a fourteenth-century hermit who wrote letters to Margaret Kirkby, a nun who was going to be an anchorite, as well as a smattering of medieval literary theory and some other introductory texts. I have been appointed the new web admin for The Red Wheelbarrow and will start volunteering in Special Collections next week.

Now on this sleepy and lazy Saturday I’m trying to decide if I should go down and make some snickerdoodles, or go back to bed and read…

Crown & Court

‘You can’t get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.’
-C. S. Lewis

crown_duelOne of the hazards of being a fast reader is that good, long books are never long enough. Last night I finished Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith, approximately 450 pages, after only five sittings. As much as I enjoy the country and people and world of Remalna, Renselaeus, and the court of Athanarel, there is still a sense of disappointment that I could not enjoy them longer. This is my first reread of the book since last summer, where it took me longer to read because I had to check out the two books from the library (Crown Duel and Court Duel, though now they are published together as one book). While I read I would occasionally think, “These events are happening a lot faster than I remember them happening”—but then, this is a 450-page book, they actually weren’t. It was me who was racing headlong through the story and I suppose it’s my own fault that it finished before I wanted it to.

Though, in some ways, I am surprised that I like Crown Duel as much as I do. Publishers Weekly says that it is, ‘A fantasy world fit for the most discriminating medieval partisan’, and I agree. The world, the court, the plot, the people, are all in character and in period, even if it is not exactly Earth’s medieval period (because it isn’t). But I do just want to shake Meliara, often, because she sees only what she wants to see and most of the time she’s wrong. Yet she is also honest, and even when she makes the wrong decisions she makes them for the right reasons. She is very much a dynamic character; her growth is both noticeable and believable. As Vidanric so astutely observes, she does have the remarkable ability to win partisans, even very exasperated readers.

I am also surprised because this time around I was often reminded of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. Marguerite also saw only what she wanted to see, and refused to speak to the one person who would be able to illuminate present questions (albeit her refusal was for different reasons). Marguerite annoyed me to no end. I think, however, this is in part to Baroness Orczy’s florid and sensational writing. The reader was never allowed to forget that Marguerite was the ‘cleverest woman in Europe’, ‘a queen among the wittiest persons in Paris’, etc etc, and yet nearly every decision Marguerite made was misguided and nearly led to disaster. Crown Duel, I am proud to say, is writing much more suited to my tastes and Meliara is never presented as being beyond her abilities; though she is very smart, she is ignorant, and once she becomes aware of this fact, endeavors to remedy it. Though, I will admit that it was worth reading the 210 pages or so in The Scarlet Pimpernel to get to the snuff box scene. That one scene is fantastic.

However, I am still slightly deflated that Crown Duel is over. All of my books are already packed, and while it isn’t too difficult to pick another one out, I’m not sure what I want to read next, and whatever it is, it will inevitably be at the bottom of the box. However, today is September 1st, the first day of the final month for Bede, and so, perhaps, I shall spend today and tomorrow rereading the 150 pages or so of our little story about the magician and the beautiful foreign queen.



I have been lied to. I was supposed to have Internet on the train for the six hours it took me to come south, but did I? Alas, I did not. But, no bother. I spent the time writing finishing Chapter 10 of Bede and reading articles for my dissertation. In the month of July I wrote two chapters of my dissertation and a chapter of a novel to a grand total of at least 12,000 words. Hooray!

I also sat with an American couple from New Mexico. They were both retired and were on vacation. As expected, they asked what I was studying. “I’m a PhD student in medieval literature.” (blank stare) “So what will that prepare you for?” “Well I’ll have a PhD” “So you’re going to teach?” (A little part of me died inside.) “Yes,” I answered.

Then, before the woman would let me alone to continue working on Bede, she asked, “Do you know the capital of Indonesia?” She was working on a crossword puzzle. “Jakarta.”

Later on she asked, “Are you from Edinburgh? Or London?” She was surprised to hear I’m from Texas. I don’t think my accent has changed that much. Practically the entire School of English is American. My neighbors are all Chinese. You get the picture.

She later told her husband that Rick Steves said to be very careful of pickpockets in London—“wear your fanny pack”—I’ve never really thought about London being dangerous. I guess perhaps on the Tube. But if you don’t make yourself stand out, if you stay aware of your surroundings, you should be fine. Tourists who stand out as tourists are the most at risk. I must admit, I derived some pleasure today out of going from Kings Cross station to Paddington station via the Underground without giving it much second thought. However, I did not like that when I bought a sandwich, the clerk waved my Scottish note at her manager in confusion and then smiled at me, “You’re from Scotland?” Yes, and I’m tired of my money being suspect whenever I come south, thankyouverymuch.

I do not intend to sound critical of my train companions, they merely baffled me. They reminded me of how friendly Americans can be, even if somewhat exasperating. In the woman’s favor, however, she did ask about the details of what I was studying, and I was able to spread knowledge about medieval cycle dramas. When she asked me what Doomsday was, I answered “Judgement Day. It’s when Jesus comes back to judge the living and the dead”—and immediately realized that I answered with the Creed. Oh well.

(Also, Harry Potter’s birthday is today. Happy 29th!)

After being on the move for literally ten hours, I finally sat down in Christ Church meadow to be still while at least three clocktowers tolled 6 o’clock. Tomorrow I shall dive back into the books and articles and revise in earnest, but for now, I have paid for my Internet with a pot of peppermint tea, and now I’m going to enjoy it.

Progress Report

Chapter One: 100% completed
Chapter Two: 75% completed
Total Status: ~50% complete

I had my Second Meeting with the supervisor today, during which I apprised him of my progress and he gave feedback about the excerpt I gave him last week. His enthusiasm for my very clear writing style has me slightly baffled, as my opinion of the excerpt was that it was very much a draft, but perhaps the sheer amount of writing I do is actually paying off. My writing this week has slowed down due to a double ear infection (it’s more the itching than anything else), so if I seem slightly spastic it’s because my. darn. ears. won’t. stop. itching. But otherwise, progressing happily along. Apparently I am self-disciplined after all. Among others, my Old Testament and New Testament* playlists have been quite helpful.

In celebration of a good meeting I shall spend this evening working on Bede. I need to prepare for the battle, but first I need to nurse my character back to health as Kelly left her half-dead at the end of the last chapter.


* Same drill: 1. Download and unzip; 2. Drag songs into iTunes; 3. File -> Library -> Import Playlist, and select the appropriate .txt file.