Reading matter: Medieval underpants and Other Blunders

photo I was half-way through the book when it happened. Up until that point it had been a perfectly enjoyable historical fiction novel: good plot, strong characters, authentic-sounding dialogue, and plenty of research that grounded the novel in the era in which it was set without being overwhelming.

And then it happened. The Thing that pulled me right out of the world the author had created. A simple, trivial little thing. Perhaps, to many readers, it would have gone unnoticed but to a local it was glaring: the hero travelled to Sheffield and spoke admiringly of the flat, open expanses of fields to the west of the city.

The most trivial online research will tell you that Sheffield is a city built on hills, and to the west lies the Peak District/South Pennines. Oops.

Which brings me to Susanne Alleyn’s excellent book, Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (& Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, & Myths. Not only is this highly educational for anyone who likes their history with a side of geekery, I think it’s also a must-read for anyone writing – or thinking of writing – historical fiction.

It won’t tell you how to write, or how to write HF; what it does instead is walk the reader through the most common errors and misunderstandings (and why you really shouldn’t use Hollywood movies as a source) about all kinds of topics. Food and drink, social customs, clothing, modes of address, travel, arms and armour – it’s all here, explained simply and clearly.

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