MNC Book Report: Elizabeth’s London, Liza Picard

Step one in writing that wretched beast known as a historical fantasy is, of course, research. Ergo, I’m alternating between Elizabethan history books and English fairy lore, on the theory that will produce the correct state of mind necessary for the novel. So far, it’s mostly melting my brain. Whether this is suitable remains to be seen.

But I figure I can at least share the progress of my research with you, the reader, by making brief posts on the books I read as I go along. If you have recommendations of other books I might find useful, or caveats about the ones I’ve read, please share with the class.

First up is Elizabeth’s London, from Liza Picard. For readability, you can’t beat her. Let me quote from the section on period gardening: “Hill suggests olive oil or soot for snails (Oxford snails would come miles for a nice extra-virgin oil) and for that other pest, moles, put a live mole in a pot — first catch your mole — and after a while ‘he will cry and [all the other moles in the neighborhood] will hastily draw near unto him and minding to help him forth will fall into the pot’. But what do you do with a potful of crying moles?” Or there’s the plate caption for a woodcut where, after having carefully identified all the other figures in the image, she concludes by saying “I have no explanation for the man in bondage gear.”

I want to say I spotted something in the book that contradicted what I’d read elsewhere, but a) the other thing I read might have been wrong, and b) I don’t remember what it was anyway. In general, the book is chock-full of concrete facts, including things like different types of cloth and their uses, prices for vast numbers of things, and a very good map with all the halls of the major livery companies marked. In other words, the kind of information most books I read take for granted.

The biggest drawback is not Picard’s fault: this book focuses on the lives of common-to-wealthy Londoners, not nobles, and as such it doesn’t tell me much about life at court. I need another book for that one. Anybody have a recommendation?

0 Responses to “MNC Book Report: Elizabeth’s London, Liza Picard”

  1. deedop

    I can’t think of any offhand, but I do have a copy of The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes and I can check the Elizabeth section for their sources.

    Liza Picard’s Dr. Johnson’s London is another good one – especially for a good look at street life to go along with a reading of Boswell.

  2. mastergode

    I really admire you for tackling historical fantasy. Personally, if I include any of the real world in my writing, I start to freak out. When it’s not present day, that is. Well, I mean, even if it’s present day but in a different country.

    I just freak out about all of the details, and everything. All the stuff that I don’t know.

    Rargh, it upsets me just to think about it. *chuckles*

    • Marie Brennan

      Oh, I’m continually going to have to remind myself that only a tiny percentage of my readers, if any, will notice a certain level of historical inaccuracy. (“There weren’t any Gentlemen Pensioners in 1589 with that name!” “There’s no Hog Lane in that ward of London! But there was a Hog Lane outside the walls . . .” Etc.) The trick will be deciding what point at which I’m willing to let the details go.

      • mastergode

        Unfortunately, there’s no point at which I’m willing to let the details go. I’m just too, well, anal. *chuckles*

  3. snickelish

    Ooh, I really like the sound of the Picard book(s). Sometimes it seems that the concrete details are the hardest things to research, whereas if you want 1,001 scholarly views of Tudor-Church relations, they’re their for the taking.

    • Marie Brennan

      Funny you should say that, as I’m currently eyeball-deep in the section of another book that deals with the religious politics of the age.

  4. princess706

    wherein i ramble

    I need to ask my brother, Steve. His former roommate Mica was a mad historian. (Two PhDs, I think one was in Medieval Lit and the other in something-ancient-Europe. Oh, and she spoke like seven languages, two of which no longer exist and was quite crazy by the time he forced her to move out and had no social skilss and we really don’t like her, but she had brains!) BUT! She had a library large enough to make anyone with a brain jealous and I’ll bet we could find you some good ideas there.

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