Thursday, December 8, 2016

Author Michael Bolan Talks About Adding Archaisms to Your Writing - Author Guest Post

It all started when my editor changed ‘conceit’ to ‘concept’. She wasn’t aware of the alternative meaning of the word, and dutifully suggested the correction. She was concerned that my average reader would not know the more archaic definition and think it was a typo. I write historical adventure fiction, and I know how well-read my readers tend to be, so I changed it right back again. Over the course of three novels, other examples presented themselves, prompting heated discussion on each occasion. “You mean he sat ON his horse?” “No, dear editor, I do indeed mean that Reinald sat his horse well…”
Language is constantly evolving and certain words and expressions naturally fall out of fashion. That said, there is an expectation when writing historical fiction that older forms of words should be used. George R. R. Martin is a notable exception to this truism, as he uses completely contemporary language in his books, despite their setting in a medieval world. He gets away with it for two reasons: one – he’s George R. R. Martin and Westeros is his world, and two – he is consistent throughout (that’s kind of basic – obviously a professional author isn’t going to jump around using krappy inconsistencies). I have been striving for a hybrid model – accessible to the mainstream reader, but with enough of a historical feel to satisfy diehard histfic fans.
The editorial arguments set me to thinking, though, about what linguistic gems have been cast aside in the name of progress. I have quietly started to collect some of these and use them in my work. Aside from amusing me in a whimsical manner, they display the richness of the language which is our stock in-trade. Here’s a few of my favourites…
Groak/ groke
Although it used to be applied to dogs, this is just as valid for my kids. To groak/ groke is to gaze at somebody while they're eating in the hope that they'll give you some of their food. It’s look that your kid has when he spies the last morsel of food on your plate. You know? The best bit, the one you had saved to round off the meal? Well, think again – it’s gone, victim of groaking.
Roynish and Spavined
Animals had a hard time in the Middle Ages: dogs were curs, horses were nags, and pretty much everything was underfed. But a roynish dog evokes more than manginess, it suggests dirt, disability and disgust. And scabs, lots of scabs. Meanwhile, you can still ride a nag, but a spavined nag is as likely to collapse under your weight. The reader can almost hear the crack of brittle bones breaking…
I spent half my life snudging at work, striding around as though I’m terribly busy, when in fact I’m doing nothing. Even easier thanks to the invention of the smartphone.
Possibly my favourite word in the English language. Who else but the Greeks could give us an elegant word which means ‘fair-buttocked’. They say that Helen of Troy’s face launched a thousand ships, but they don’t mention what impact her bottom had.
To a certain extent myself, but definitely my character Leo, a vinipote is a wine-drinker. I like to think of myself more as a ‘ginipote’. A new word to go with an old.
Widdershins and deosil
I have made these part of our daily vocabulary, usually when chasing the kids round the living room. They’re so much richer than anti-clockwise or clockwise.
Luciferous and lucriferous
From Satan’s name in his angel period, luciferous means light-bringing, or shining. But add in just one letter and you descend into Shylock’s seedy world of money-lending and profiteering. Stemming from filthy lucre, a lucriferous guarantees vast returns.
Comely and homely
Staples of the historical fiction and fantasy genres, another quick letter switch can change a character from being beautiful to being ugly faster than raising three kids. The comely wench stood out from her homely companions like a cuckoo in a nest.
Eric and Weregild
I laughed the first time I read that a murder victim’s family had demanded an eric from the murderer. It turns out they didn’t want a spectacled accountant called eric, they wanted a bloodprice for the crime. AKA weregild, which conjures all sorts of ghoulish images.
This just means a nagging woman, the sort that Shakespeare would have described as a shrew, which are incidentally poisonous. Why I love termagant is because the word comes from the belief that the moon wandered between heaven, earth, and hell as the goddesses Selene, Artemis, and Persephone, always on the move, never satisfied. Just like my editor…
When I asked other writers for advice on this issue, the overwhelming answer was to stick with the obsolete vocabulary, as it adds authenticity to the story, and a sprinkle of zesty linguistic flair to the text. So now I strive to pepper my books with these words in the comfort that they will bring a smile to the face of the historical fiction reader, like the quiet nod of a doorman at a private members club.
There are dozens more to add to this list, be they archaisms, dialect or slang. My Top Ten is always changing - what are your favourites?


Michael Bolan is a nomadic Irish storyteller. 
It took him over two decades of running in the corporate ratrace to realise that all he actually did was tell stories.

There was no Damascene revelation for Bolan which caused him to pen his first work of fiction, "The Sons of Brabant". An avid reader, he simply felt that he could do as good a job as many of the authors he read and decided to put his money where his mouth was.

Living and working in many countries left him with smatterings of a dozen languages and their stories, and his love for history focused his ideas on the Thirty Years War, the most destructive conflict that the continent has ever seen.

Now living in Prague (again), Michael brings alive the twisted alleys of the 17th century and recreates the brooding darkness of a fractured Europe, where no-one was entirely sure who was fighting whom.

Michael writes while liberally soused in gin, a testament to Franz de le Boƫ, who was mixing oil of juniper with neat spirit while the thirty Years War raged around him.

Please visit Michael's Amazon Author Page and connect with him on his website

New Release Coming Soon! 

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