Tuesday, April 16

Travelling The World in My Pyjamas

I started an international tour today to promote my medieval thriller, The Fifth Knight. I'll be stopping off in different locations in the US, the UK, Canada and Australia. But it's a Virtual Book Tour hosted by the great Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. There are huge advantages to the tour being virtual.  I won't be leaving a massive carbon footprint, and my bank balance will be in a far healthier condition too. And, as I saw another blogger put it, you can do the whole thing in your pyjamas. I'd like to take a moment out to confirm that while, yes, this an option, no, I won't be. Like most writers, I have to be prepared to encounter the postman/delivery guy/meter reader/courier without actually frightening them. Something forgiving on the waist is enough of a compromise. 
A couple of people asked me beforehand what a Virtual Book Tour entails. It's very straightforward. HFVBT work with a great group of successful bloggers and reviewers. They match up a good fit between your novel and that group. Your tour consists of a number of dates where your book gets a review (always with the independent opinion of the reviewer) or you do an interview about your book. Giveaways and contests are linked to different stops. And that's it! As a writer, it's possible to reach lots of new readers, which is fundamentally what this writing game is all about. Explanation given, the reaction is usually the same: ''Oh that's great. You won't have to travel so much. It's such hard work.'' 
Well it is and it isn't. Modern travel is pretty darn easy. Much of it requires sitting on your rear end. (I refer you back to something forgiving on the waist.). I write medieval and that of course means researching how people traveled then- and that was definitely hard work.
There is a myth that medieval people clung close to home and only ever ventured a few miles. Did they heck. Like humanity has behaved since the dawn of time, they were forever on the move. Europe was volatile politically throughout the medieval period so armies were constantly being raised and traveling en-masse. Pilgrimages were enormously popular. Canterbury Cathedral, with its shrine to Saint Thomas Becket, is probably the most well known. An astonishing 100,000 people came in search of a miracle in the year after his death alone. 
Canterbury Pilgrims in the 1300s
But people didn't just stop at travel within Britain. People went on pilgrimages to Italy, Germany and the Holy Land. And they walked. Armies, crusaders, pilgrims. Yes, horses and carts were used. But carts aren't a lot of use with few highways and you had to be wealthy to have a horse. If you set off from medieval Manchester, a walk to Jerusalem is a walk of 2,383 miles. With the small problem of the English channel (still tunnel-less for another few hundred years) in the way. That meant taking to a boat. Astrolabes weren't commonly used until around 1400 so sailors preferred to keep the land in their sights. We regard the English channel as a mere puddle today but it could take up to three days to get across in poor weather. Of course huge numbers of people died on their travels. But many didn't. And having arrived safely, then turned round and came back. 
What (for me) is almost as remarkable was the fact that there were very, very few maps in existence. The Gough map of Britain was produced around 1350 and is the oldest surviving route map.
The Gough Map: Britain having a lie down
It wasn't however a lot of use to the average traveller because as Ian Mortimer points out in his brilliant 'Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England', it is 'about the size of a door and made of stiff vellum.' 
For those intrepid souls intent on reaching Jerusalem, you could use a Mappa Mundi, or the medieval version of a map of the world. The most famous of these is the Hereford Mappa Mundi, which dates from around 1300. 
The Hereford Mappa Mundi c1300
This Mappa Mundi has Jerusalem at its centre. It is also very useful for making your way to the Garden of Eden, which is helpfully included.
The other great motivator for travel was of course trade. People will always risk their lives for wealth, for precious and exotic goods. It was this desire that was almost (literally) the death of medieval Europe. From 1347 to 1351, the Black Death, the Plague, the Great Mortality, moved across Europe, killing around 25 million people- one third of the entire population. It is widely accepted that the plague had its origins somewhere in inner Asia, then spread westward into Europe along international trade routes. An outbreak occoured in the city of Caffa, which is the modern day city of Feodosia (or Theodosia) in Ukraine. (And yes- Theodosia is my heorine in The Fifth Knight. No links, I promise). Caffa was ruled by the Genoese and it was their trade ships that brought a fleet of 'accursed galleys' back to Italy, filled with diseased and dying people and flea-carrying vermin.
Victims of the Great Mortality
Slow as travel and communication was, the disease marched steadily across Europe, destroying its population.
But of course Europe survived, survived to thrive again and think about travelling further and faster. The rest, as they say, is history, which is not at all a cliche (clears throat) but a link back to where we started. Because we're now so good at traveling, I don't even have to leave. You can travel with me too- pyjamas optional. Please do!

You can hop on board the tour at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

The Fifth Knight is a medieval thriller and is a #1 Amazon.com bestseller in Action & Adventure and Historical. You can find it on here on Amazon.com and here on Amazon.co.uk

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