Across the Pond Part 2: Aquae Sulis

Bath is a very old place, beginning with Celtic roots, then becoming a popular city during Roman times under the name of Aquae Sulis, which means “waters of Sulis.”  Sulis was a Celtic goddess.  Bath was renowned for its natural, healing springs, which the Romans turned into baths that were sought after by many.   These famed baths are still in usable condition today, though they are more for viewing than enjoying the healing waters.  [There are separate baths available for the public.]

Roman Baths of Bath

In the book, Wyrd, which I am currently working on, the city of Bath will play a relatively important role.  Wyrd is a work of historical fiction set in the fifth century, during the Anglo-Saxon invasions, approximately 450-500.  I received the inspiration and story idea for this book from the medieval poem called “The Ruin,” which is partly about a person discovering this old ruin and wondering what could’ve possibly created it; the person thinks it might’ve been giants.  It is believed that the ruin mentioned in the poem could very likely be that of Bath.  Below is the poem and translation from the Wiki page:

Because of technical limitations, some web browsers may not display some special characters in this section.
Original Old English Modern English[1]
Wrætlic is þes wealstan, wyrde gebræcon;
burgstede burston, brosnað enta geweorc.
Hrofas sind gehrorene, hreorge torras,
hrungeat berofen, hrim on lime,
scearde scurbeorge scorene, gedrorene,
ældo undereotone. Eorðgrap hafað
waldend wyrhtan forweorone, geleorene,
heardgripe hrusan, oþ hund cnea
werþeoda gewitan. Oft þæs wag gebad
ræghar ond readfah rice æfter oþrum,
ofstonden under stormum; steap geap gedreas.
Wonað giet se …num geheapen,
fel on
grimme gegrunden
scan heo…
…g orþonc ærsceaft
…g lamrindum beag
mod mo… …yne swiftne gebrægd
hwætred in hringas, hygerof gebond
weallwalan wirum wundrum togædre.
Beorht wæron burgræced, burnsele monige,
heah horngestreon, heresweg micel,
meodoheall monig mondreama full,
oþþæt þæt onwende wyrd seo swiþe.
Crungon walo wide, cwoman woldagas,
swylt eall fornom secgrofra wera;
wurdon hyra wigsteal westen staþolas,
brosnade burgsteall. Betend crungon
hergas to hrusan. Forþon þas hofu dreorgiað,
ond þæs teaforgeapa tigelum sceadeð
hrostbeages hrof. Hryre wong gecrong
gebrocen to beorgum, þær iu beorn monig
glædmod ond goldbeorht gleoma gefrætwed,
wlonc ond wingal wighyrstum scan;
seah on sinc, on sylfor, on searogimmas,
on ead, on æht, on eorcanstan,
on þas beorhtan burg bradan rices.
Stanhofu stodan, stream hate wearp
widan wylme; weal eall befeng
beorhtan bosme, þær þa baþu wæron,
hat on hreþre. þæt wæs hyðelic.
Leton þonne geotan
ofer harne stan hate streamas
…þþæt hringmere hate
þær þa baþu wæron.
þonne is
…re; þæt is cynelic þing,
huse …… burg….
This masonry is wondrous; fates broke it
courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate with frost on cement is ravaged,
chipped roofs are torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen,
the hard grasp of earth, until a hundred generations
of people have departed. Often this wall,
lichen-grey and stained with red, experienced one reign after another,
remained standing under storms; the high wide gate has collapsed.
Still the masonry endures in winds cut down
persisted on__________________
fiercely sharpened________ _________
______________ she shone_________
_____________g skill ancient work_________
_____________g of crusts of mud turned away
spirit mo________yne put together keen-counselled
a quick design in rings, a most intelligent one bound
the wall with wire brace wondrously together.
Bright were the castle buildings, many the bathing-halls,
high the abundance of gables, great the noise of the multitude,
many a meadhall full of festivity,
until Fate the mighty changed that.
Far and wide the slain perished, days of pestilence came,
death took all the brave men away;
their places of war became deserted places,
the city decayed. The rebuilders perished,
the armies to earth. And so these buildings grow desolate,
and this red-curved roof parts from its tiles
of the ceiling-vault. The ruin has fallen to the ground
broken into mounds, where at one time many a warrior,
joyous and ornamented with gold-bright splendour,
proud and flushed with wine shone in war-trappings;
looked at treasure, at silver, at precious stones,
at wealth, at prosperity, at jewellery,
at this bright castle of a broad kingdom.
The stone buildings stood, a stream threw up heat
in wide surge; the wall enclosed all
in its bright bosom, where the baths were,
hot in the heart. That was convenient.
Then they let pour_______________
hot streams over grey stone.
un___________ _____________
until the ringed sea (circular pool?) hot
_____________where the baths were.
Then is_______________________
__________re, that is a noble thing,
to the house__________ castle_______

The poem hints at the theme of creation and destruction, and the significance of a person’s footprint in this world, and what remains after he or she is gone.  Essentially it all boils down to something to the effect of: what is the point of it all?

That’s what I’m hoping my character is going to find out.  It also delves into an issue I’m pretty much always addressing or exploring in some way in my own writing.  I intend to do a more exploratory post on this particular subject, but a year or two ago I discovered, much to my surprise, that I often had characters who either were complete strangers in a new world, or felt like they didn’t belong in their own particular world, or felt alienated in some way.  As someone who now lives very far from their original home, it’s certainly an interesting subject to talk about.  Even more so considering I was originally unaware that I was writing these characters in my short stories and novels.  Then I noticed it in one piece and proceeded to go through all my writings and was quite shocked at the result.  As I said, this will be discussed and explored further in a future post.

While at the famed baths of Bath, I was also able to try some of the warm waters, for a nominal fee of 50p.  I didn’t find it that horrid of a taste, warm and metallic, kind of like the water that comes out of a hose at first on a summer’s day.  I was also able to pick up a great guide/history book on Bath and the baths for a good price, which will help me in my research.

For anyone thinking of visiting Bath, I’d recommend it in a heartbeat.  I traveled from London and was able to reach it in a couple of hours; there is also a train service available.  Throughout the day there are a number of free tours offered that last about two hours and take you all over the town, and often to places you might not have discovered or thought to visit on your own.

Bath is filled with beautiful works of architecture in the form of churches and buildings:


Bath Building
Bath building

And then of course there’s the river and the view looking down upon it:

Bath river
Bath river

“The Last Kingdom” by Bernard Cornwell (Harpercollins, 2005)

The Last Kingdomstarstarstar

I’ve been working on a novel for the last four years or so that’s been going pretty slowly. I’ve been doing it in chunks, mainly because it’s historical fiction and involves a lot of research and I’ve essentially been getting stuck at some point and needing to research more before I can get started writing again.  Now I’m at a point where I need to read a few books to complete the current research.  The book was called The Ruin, though I recently changed the title to Wyrd, which is Anglo-Saxon for destiny.  While the book is set in the fifth century in England and has characters that may turn out to be Arthurian (I’m not sure yet), the intention of the novel is to encompass the feel and texture of the Early Middle Ages, at a time when society was essentially beginning anew for this forgotten island.

When I started reading The Last Kingdom by one of my favorite authors I got the chilling feeling that Cornwell had done what I was trying to do with my book.  And after finishing it, there’s a lot in it that I can see coming out in my novel, and yet Wyrd will go in different directions and achieve different goals.  Nevertheless, The Last Kingdom was a great book for anyone wanting to get a feel of the ninth century and what it was like for the Anglo-Saxons living there and having to deal with the invading Vikings who were trying to settle and do essentially what the Anglo-Saxons had done a couple of centuries before to the Britons.  While the main character, Uhtred, is but a boy at the beginning and the narrator, our hero is Alfred the Great (the only British king ever to be called “the Great”) and while I’m not sure how long the series is going to be, the reader will see Alfred grow up and become the great king that earned him the title.  I’m quite familiar with Alfred’s history and life and how he emulated Charlemagne in a lot of ways, and it’s really enjoyable to see this fictionalized account from a great author, which has been well researched, and to see these historical characteristics in the fictionalized characters.

I will freely admit that Bernard Cornwell isn’t exactly the most in depth and complex of historical fiction writers, and his characters aren’t always the fully developed real people they should be, but he still does the job well and gets his point across in giving the reader a look into this life, just as he did with his Grail series set in the Later Middle Ages, and his Arthurian series.  It’s also the kind of book that anyone can pick up and get fully sucked into without getting confused or lost along the way with heavy history and jargon.  Cornwell is also sure to point out as much of the native languages as he can, with plenty of translations, to clarify it all.

Next I have The Pale Horseman to read in the series, with Lords of the North to come in January.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on September 15th, 2006 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Bernard Cornwell check out BookBanter Episode 5.

The Journey Begins . . .

I’m all dialed in. Got my research done and all my pages of notes surrounding me in a protective circle of paper. And I’m about to embark on the writing of a new book called Wyrd (which is Old English for fate).

I first started this book in 2005 under the title of The Ruin (from the Old English poem), and got about a hundred pages done. Then my cast of characters stood on the shores of England looking out at the channel for four years. And now they’re about to be picked up again and continue with their journey. Except I’m starting from scratch, with some resets, revamps, and redos (or is it redux). Some big changes that I may talk about here, not sure how much I want to give away yet.

I’m sure they’ll be a few stalls and stops along the way– probably some more research too — and while I might have the option of doing this for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), I know this book is going to be long and going to take me a while and I want to go at my own pace, while juggling a full-time job and running BookBanter. But after meeting authors like Seanan McGuire and reading Jeff Vandermeer’s BookLife, I feel a little less intimidated and overwhelmed as there are many published and successful writers who do this every day.

So for now, here goes and . . . see you on the other side . . . along with the million stops and updates along the way . . .

But first I have to move the laundry into the dryer.