The other day I decided I had really better spend the lovely gift voucher I received from the WA school where I paid a virtual visit last year( thank you, Anthony Panegyres! ). So I went to Dymock's and after browsing through the fiction and remembering how many review copies I still had to read, I decided it might be better to pick up a couple of things that could help me in my writing. As I'm a writer of mediaeval fantasy, I wandered over to the history section.
I love history. Even history textbooks usually have something worth reading for the general public, but my preference runs to "history of" books written for entertainment - I have histories of chocolate, tourism, food, medicine, herbalism, even the Four Humours.
There were plenty of bios, such as those by Alison Weir, who does bios of the early kings and queens of England, and very enjoyable they are, too, but as I'm unlikely to create a character based on Anne Boleyn in my Next BigThing novel, which is a teen fantasy with werewolves, I ended up choosing two more general books, The Time Traveller's Guide To Medieval England by Ian Mortimer and Vanished Kingdoms: The History Of Half-Forgotten Europe by Norman Davies.
The first one is a chatty general introduction to daily life in fourteenth century England, which pretends that you're travelling around the country and tells you what you can expect in different types of household, in the country and in town, sort of a Lonely Planet Guide. It uses medieval writings to back it up. I'm already past halfway and reading about why you really, really WOULDN'T want to live in this time. Forget the violence, the sexism, the coarse sense of humour, such as the mediaeval joke about the two merchants chatting about their home life(one says his last three wives hanged themselves in the garden and the other guy asks for a cutting from that tree.) The main reason you wouldn't want to live there is the weird medical practices.
I have only started the intro to the second book, but I know I'm going to like it. It's about all those kingdoms that no longer exist - something that is likely to give me ideas, but also sounds thoroughly entertaining in its own right. The author says he was growing up when the sun never set on the British Empire and guess what? He suggests that people hundreds of years from now will be wondering about OUR lost empires!
I think I've spent my gift voucher well.