Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Role of Medieval Women

When I wrote Genghis Khan, my Brother: The Story of Temulin, I was plunged into a world that existed eight hundred years ago. Every little thing had to be researched: tanning hides, making armor, what the soldiers wore, what a ger was like. I find myself in the same position again now as I begin researching the Cathar Heresy and Inquisition which occurred at almost the same time as Genghis Khan’s rise to power on the other side of the world.

Europe was experiencing the Dark Ages, a period in which learning and progress seemed to have stalled, while in Asia, the Khan was plundering and fighting across the continent. He introduced innovative ideas, changed the way war was waged and introduced many other ideas that were strange for that time. Women fought alongside men; they worked alongside them, there was no such thing as a division of labor as far as everyday living was concerned in Mongol society. Europe, by contrast introduced the idea of chivalry ( to tame the rapacious knights) but the peasants, who performed all the work in the fields and elsewhere, treated their women like chattels. They were workhorses in the homes and in the fields, raising children and going it alone when the men went away to fight in the Crusades.Education was for the nobility and peasants remained ignorant and uneducated. The Bible was in Latin, as were the church services. Life was an unceasing round of toil and death came early to people. Forty was considered old; marriage occurred very early in life and many women died in childbirth. Superstitions abounded and the Catholic Church held sway over their minions, making them pay penances and indulgences which was blatant robbery.

Strangely, single women had more freedoms than married ones. A married woman’s land became the property of her husband; she lso lost her legal standing, having to defer to her husband in all legal issues. Women were bakers, brewers, dairymaids and gardeners and relied on a network in the community for support and news.

The Cathars

The Cathars were an heretical bunch who believed in allowing women -yes, women – to become priests. What sacrilege! Their take on Christianity was very different, not necessarily better, than that of Catholicism. They believed in duality, good and evil; the body was evil and so were its impulses. Humans were thought to be fallen angels in flesh. They practiced vegetarianism and were generally peace loving people until the decided to murder the Pope’s legate in France.

My current research takes me into the lives of the woman of the time, the role they played and the things they accomplished. It was the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine, a fearless woman undaunted by the restrictions placed upon women. She made a bit of a nuisance of herself by joining her husband, King Louis VII on the Crusade with a retinue of her ladies-in-waiting and about three hundred non-noble women. They set off from Vézelay, reputed to be the grave of Mary Magdalene.  She died before the Cathar Inquisition, but her life gives one a fair insight into the times of the 13th Century.

It makes one wonder though, the entire Cathar story…   

More to come.Watch this space.




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Characters, They Live in your Head

Life experience is a rich source for character development in a novel. As a writer it is important to have had a variety of experiences -good and bad…especially bad – to be able to make one’s character believable. Imagination works too, but drawing together aspects of people’s personalities is a great resource.

In my newly published novel, The Root Cellar, the story of a Jewish boy who is on a journey of self-discovery, I brought my experience of working with boys with Asperger’s Syndrome and autism as a basis for the character’s need to hide, to self-soothe by repeating multiplication tables, Pi and the constant preoccupation with figuring out things based on mathematics.He cries often to express frustration and sorrow, another behavior I associate with one of the boys I worked with. Although I did not make autism a direct feature of the novel, or a cause in the name of autism in any way, I used my experience to include this in the protagonist’s behaviors.

I wrote the novel from the  point of view of Josif, the main character, deliberately omitting certain mundane matters because he just wouldn’t notice details that did not directly speak to his interests. His own family, once he is married, are secondary to his interest in engineering and physics. At that time it was not uncommon for men not to be very involved with raising their offspring; they are secondary to his raison d’etre. He is not close to them the way he was with his mother and sister Nadya. His love for his sister is almost obsessive and drives him to go back to Russia after WWII has ended.

Similarly, when he is forced to kill two of the characters who were cannibalizing a corpse, Josif is able to push this experience into the back of his mind until something triggers it. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, so will not go into detail about this!

I really loved working on this novel, doing hours of research which is always very satisfying to me! If you are kind enough to purchse the book, please give me a rating or review on Amazon, it really helps! Thanks so much!


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