A Quick Saturday Update on the First Medieval Guide Book

This Saturday I am sat here feeling a little bit smug and also a little excited. I am smug because I am way ahead in my schedule for my first draft of Crime and Punishment in Medieval England – an Easy Guidebook For Writers and Readers of Historical Fiction and excited because I have rediscovered enjoying writing again – although at times it still feels like pulling teeth! If you remember, my last post talked about the projects I have in the pipeline and how brilliant I felt about it all – and I hadn’t even begun anything at that point!

Pillory - 16th CenturyWell, now I am about 12000 words through my Crime and Punishment book. As I am planning it to be around 25-30000 words, this is just about half way. I had anticipated finishing the first draft somewhere in mid September but it looks like I’ll have it done before then. Then I’ll put it away for a couple of weeks while I start on something else before beginning 2nd draft. I am managing just over 1000 words a day (except Sunday when I have a day off) – I could do more but the research is slowing me up a fair bit. The fascinating thing is that I thought I knew a lot about the subject, but after looking through text books, primary sources and academic articles, I realised that actually what I thought I knew was either (a) wrong or (b) more complicated. But that makes the whole process even more interesting.

My favourite bit is looking at actual cases from the assizes or eyres. At first it is just names, descriptions of crimes and whatever punishment was handed out, but then you realise that these were real people, with real day-to-day concerns, just like any of us. Of course I have to be careful not to get too sucked into the records or else nothing else gets done! Just one example from the Shropshire Eyre in 1203:

Alice Crithecreche and Eva of Lilleshall and Aldith and Mabel, Geoffrey and Robert of Lilleshall, and Peter of Hopton were taken for the death of the said woman slain at Lilleshall. And Alice, at once after the death, fled to the county of Stafford with some of the chattels of the slain, so it is said, and was taken in that county and brought back into Shropshire and there, as the king’s serjeant and many knights and lawful men of the county testify, in their presence she said, that at night she heard a tumult in the house of the slain; whereupon she came to the door and looked in, and saw through the middle of the doorway four men in the house, and they came out and caught her, and threatened to kill her unless she would conceal them; and so they gave her the pelf that she had. And when she came before the justices [in eyre] she denied all this. Therefore she has deserved death, but by way of dispensation [the sentence is mitigated, so] let her eyes be torn out. The others are not suspected, therefore let them be under pledges.


For anyone who is interested, I have used Scrivener for both structuring and writing the book – the first time I have used it for a non-fiction project. I find it has lots of advantages:

  • I can plot chapter headings and subheadings, move them around (or delete if unwanted), and write them as I have the information without necessarily having to do it in a linear manner.
  • I am not doing end notes for this book as I don’t want it to be overly academic, however I do want people to be aware that the content is based upon good research and so I am putting a bibliography relating to every chapter. Scrivener’s notes at the side of the pane mean that I can jot down which reference source I am using for that particular part.
  • Scrivener’s project target pane allows me to see how much I’ve written that day and also how far along I am in the whole manuscript – I find that to be a great motivator.

This is the first book in a series of little guidebooks – I already have plans to write one on Nasty Diseases in the Middle Ages and also Horrible Ways to die in the Middle Ages. Going by the number of searches I get on Lady Despenser’s Scribery for ‘execution’, ‘hanging, drawing and quartering’, ‘medieval torture’ etc – they should have a market! But of course there will be ones on food, clothing and other everyday things as well!

I am able to feel this motivated because of several books, blogs and videos about writing, time management and motivation that I have been studying in order to change my writing habits and career around. In my next post I shall be reviewing one of these and revealing why I’ve found it to be so helpful.


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