Wednesday 11 May 2016

Authors Inspirations - Jean Gill 'Thou shalt be, like, totally awesome' @writerjeangill

It is with the greatest of pleasure that I welcome Jean Gill back onto the blog again. Jean write the most beautiful historical fiction set in the France following the Second Crusade. I reviewed one of her novels, Song at Dawn, earlier on in the year and I absolutely loved it. You can read the review of Songs at!

Let's take a quick look at Jean's fabulous series. 

From Book 1: 'Believable, page-turning and memorable.' Lela Michael, S.P. Review
Winner of the Global Ebook Award for Best Historical Fiction 

1150: Provence

On the run from abuse, Estela wakes in a ditch with only her lute, her amazing voice, and a dagger hidden in her underskirt. Her talent finds a patron in Aliénor of Aquitaine and more than a music tutor in the Queen's finest troubadour and Commander of the Guard, Dragonetz los Pros.

Weary of war, Dragonetz uses Jewish money and Moorish expertise to build that most modern of inventions, a papermill, arousing the wrath of the Church. Their enemies gather, ready to light the political and religious powder-keg of medieval Narbonne.

Set in the period following the Second Crusade, Jean Gill's spellbinding romantic thrillers evoke medieval France with breathtaking accuracy. The characters leap off the page and include amazing women like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Ermengarda of Narbonne, who shaped history in battles and in bedchambers.

I now hand the blog over to Jean. Jean is going to tell us about the challenges a historical fiction writer often faces.
Thou shalt be, like, totally awesome

All writers of historical fiction have to watch our language. How far should we go into ‘olde worlde’ speech? What do readers want from us? What are our options?

When I wrote ‘Song at Dawn’, set in 1150, I knew I wanted to bring the 12th century to life: to tell the story of people whose motives and passions we could understand, within the context of real history. I suspect most writers of historical fiction share this aim but we all choose different ways of capturing the spirit of the past.

We all know that thee and thou, shouldst and wilt are older forms of you, should and will so one option is to use these words. However, they are not just interchangeable words; they have a grammatical place. Thou is the subject and thee is the object so I love thou is wrong. I lovest thee is still wrong as lovest is 3rd person (he/she/it lovest) so is the wrong form of the verb to go with I.

To any reader who has read literature of the past, wrong uses of thee and thou make a book unreadable so I think anybody who chooses these archaic forms should have excellent understanding of their use, as is shown by this famous novelist, writing a 12th century story.

‘Gurth,’ said the Jester, ‘I know thou thinkest me a fool, or thou wouldst not be so rash in putting thy head into my mouth. One word to Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, or Philip de Malvoisin, that thou hast spoken treason against the Norman,—and thou art but a cast-away swineherd,—thou wouldst waver on one of these trees as a terror to all evil speakers against dignities.’

‘Dog, thou wouldst not betray me,’ said Gurth, ‘after having led me on to speak so much at disadvantage?’

‘Betray thee!’ answered the Jester; ‘no, that were the trick of a wise man; a fool cannot half so well help himself—but soft, whom have we here?’ he said, listening to the trampling of several horses which became then audible.*

Classic medieval historical fiction! Except that it’s written in 1820, using a style that’s a mish-mash of Shakespearean language and 19th grammatical structure, and bears no relationship to actual medieval speech.

Actual medieval speech was probably closer to that in the miracle plays, still performed in York where I was lucky enough to spend my teenage years and university studies. If, as I have, you’ve watched the cycle of plays then you can’t help noticing the lively interplay between minor characters. The marital bickering (and physical abuse) between Noah and his wife is a classic example of medieval historical fiction; bringing history – in this case the bible stories - to life. Noah is warning his wife of the flood and she has had enough of his prophesies of doom and gloom.

Noah                          Wee! Hold thy tong, ram-skyt,
or I shall thee still. 

Noah’s wife              By my thrift, if thou smite
I shal turne the untill.
We shall assay as tyte!
Have at thee, Gill!
Upon the bone shal it bite. 
Noah                          A, so, Mary! thou smytis ill!
Bot I suppose
I shal not in thy det,
Flyt of this flett!
Take thee ther a langett
To tie up thy hose! 

Rough translation

Noah                          Oof! Hold your tongue, ram-shit
                                    Or I’ll make it silent.

Noah’s wife              By my virtue, if you hit me,
                                    I’ll face you out
                                    We’ll go to it right now!
                                    Take that, Gill!
                                    May it cut to the bone!

Noah                          Ouch, Mary! That hurts!
                                    But don’t think
                                    I’ll leave this place
Till I’ve paid you back!

Medieval English, even when composed in rhyme, tends to be direct and often vulgar – nothing like the 19th century romanticised version. This is particularly true of 12th century troubadour verse, the heart of my novels. I didn’t want wimpish minstrels and soppy romance; my hero, Dragonetz, is a warrior and troubadour, and Estela is his equal in a time and place where women had far more power than Victorian historians wanted us to know about.

I can’t write in medieval English and be understood so I think ‘authenticity’ depends on suspension of disbelief in the reader. If a reader is caught up in my story and characters, and believes he/she is in the 12th century, then I have succeeded. What I have to avoid is anything that jars, that sounds too modern. In my first version, I used the words awesome and gay in their old senses. The modern meanings are too strong and jarred with my editor so out they came.

One current convention among historical novelists is that you shouldn’t use contractions – or rather ‘You should not use contractions’. I do not mind whether writers keep to this or whether they don’t. Medieval speech used contractions. Thou’llt is a contraction from thou shalt or thou wilt; an in an thou is a contraction of and so there is no logical basis for advising a historical novelist to use no contractions – it’s a fashion and a writer’s choice.

In The Troubadours Quartet I am representing a time (1150-1155), certain places (from Provence to the Holy Land) and a variety of languages, none of them ‘English’; Provencal, Arabic, Frankish, Latin, Hebrew among others. I want to give a flavour of the period and the people. I want readers to live the stories, as I do, and I hope my style helps bring history to life.

At the beginning of Song at Dawn Aliénor (Eleanor) of Aquitaine is riding from Carcassonne to Narbonne, talking to her Commander of the Guard, my fictional hero Dragonetz. Their natural language would be Provencal, what we now call Occitan. I do use some Occitan words (and from other languages) to add flavour but the novels are in the form of English I feel suits them best. My readers must be the judge!

She rallied. ‘Wouldn’t you love to deal with monsters, dragons and ogres instead of Toulouse and his wet-nurses?’ Her smile clouded over again. ‘Or the Frankish vultures, flapping their Christian piety over me. Do you know how Paris seems to me? Black, white and grey, the northern skies, the drab clothes, the drab minds. All the colour is being leeched out of my life, month by month and I cannot continue like this.’

‘You must, my Lady. It is your birthright and your birth curse. You know this.’

*Extract from Ivanhoe by sir Walter Scott

Thank you so much Jean, for such a fascinating post.
Now I am sure you are all wanting to know...

 Where can I buy this fabulous Quartet? 

About the author

Jean Gill is a Welsh writer and photographer living in the south of France with a big white dog, a scruffy black dog, a Nikon D700 and a man. For many years, she taught English in Wales and was the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in Carmarthenshire. She is mother or stepmother to five children so life was hectic.

Publications are varied, including prize-winning poetry and novels, military history, translated books on dog training, and a cookery book on goat cheese. With Scottish parents, an English birthplace and French residence, she can usually support the winning team on most sporting occasions.

Contact Jean at with comments or questions. You'll find a mix of her work, along with fun trivia about books, at Her photo portfolio is at and she blogs at

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the invitation! It was fun getting my thoughts in order on such a controversial topic


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx