Medieval Monday: Making Barrels and Wooden Vessels

Medieval coopers were important craftsmen in the Middle Ages. Many different types of goods were kept in barrels, such as alcohol and salted meats. But barrels were not the only things coopers made. A variety of wooden vessels were needed for daily use by the average person as well as many other medieval craft and tradesmen. Buckets were needed to draw and transport water, and pails collected milk from cows, sheep, and goats. Wooden churns helped to preserve that milk by turning it into various types of butter and cheese. Tub like containers would have been used for jobs such as mixing flour into dough, pickling vegetables and fruits, salting meat, or making beer, ale, and cider. Larger tubs would have been used for fulling (processing wool), dying fabric, tanning, washing clothes, bathing, and crushing grapes for winemaking. Serving pitchers might also be made out of wood. Their sides were curved for pouring, just like vessels made out of glass or ceramic would have been. When barrels and large tubs had out-lived their usefulness, they were either taken apart and the wood re-purposed, or they were used to line wells and pits.

Oak, which was strong and durable, was the favored choice for wooden vessels, but beech, pine, and silver fir were also sometimes used. The wood grain needed to be straight. The tools of the trade were simple ones, with coopers using mallets, axes and shaving tools to shape the staves. These could be fit together to make the vessels water tight, though not all barrels were. Some were used for dry storage and water tightness was not required. Surprisingly, metal hoops were not used for large barrels until well after the Middle Ages. They were reserved for use on some buckets and expensive drinking vessels. Barrel hoops were made of wood, primarily willow, ash, hazel, and chestnut. Hoop making was a specialized craft of its own.


I tried to find a video of someone using medieval methods to make wooden vessels, and this is the closest I got. George Smithwick is a 6th generation cooper and has been doing this for over 30 years, so I’d say he’s a great authority on the subject! The video is a bit long, and he does occasionally use modern day power tools, but his methods are rooted in tradition and he goes a bit into the history of his trade, which is very interesting. If you have time, I hope you’ll watch this one, even if you need to fast forward through parts of it. Nothing compares to actually watching how things were made–it gives you a real appreciation for the work involved in making simple, every day objects we take for granted in our post-industrialized world.


Learn more about the daily life in Middle Ages by browsing previous posts in the Medieval Monday Index.

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Fantasy Art Friday

Get inspired with this week’s Fantasy Art Friday, where fun fantasy artwork is combined with a writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing.


A lone warrior stands on the river bank, sword at the ready. Through the shifting white mist he sees the enemy. They’re coming. The dense fog is hiding the full size of their force, but he already knows he’s greatly outnumbered. Even so, he must stand firm. The lives of everyone he cares about are dependent upon his strength and cunning. He must hold the enemy back as long as he can. No doubt they have already sized him up and think their victory will be an easy one. But he has a surprise planned for them the moment they hit the river. Will he manage to prevail in spite of the odds? Or are these deep breaths of morning mist destined to be his last?

The Battle Commences by David Benzal


Want to see more Fantasy Art posts? Find them here.

 

 

Character Actions: Should There Be a Reason Why? by Andrea Lundgren

Characters do all kinds of things in fiction. Their actions make up the stories we write, and if they did nothing…it’d be pretty boring.

But how much motivation should there be in what they do? Do you, as the author, need to always know why they’re doing it, or can they just “do something for doing it”?

Let’s take a look at a scene and see how it works.

She walked over to the glass. On the other side was a habitat, all sand and rocks with only a few scaly plants, the surface of their stems mirroring that of the creature who should’ve been inside.

Slowly, she touched the glass. Her hand stayed there for a long moment, not moving, in firm but gentle contact against the clear silica-based partition until it slowly began to warm to her touch.

Then she backed away.

Now, we, as readers, don’t need to know why she touched the glass at this point in the story. It can be something we’re left to speculate about, wondering if she misses the creature or if she is trying to see whether, perhaps, it’s still hiding somewhere in there. Or we could later learn that she touches the glass out of solidarity with the creature, feeling like her own life is encased in glass and she longs to break free, to escape like the lizard or snake did.

Keep reading via Character Actions: Should There Be a Reason Why?

World Building: Creating a Mountain Setting

World building is a lot of fun for me as a writer. It is also important to readers, since a well or poorly written world can make or break a book. I found this post especially interesting, maybe because Ancient Voices takes place entirely in a mountain village. Mine is more an alpine setting, but there are many different types of ranges and associated cultures. Take a look at this article posted on the Mythcreants blog–it’s a good one!


Creating a Mountain Setting

Of all the possibilities for building worlds, the same few types appear over and over again: desert worlds, grasslands, globe-encompassing seas. Despite being passed over, mountainous biomes, whether old and eroded like the Blue Ridge range or “new” and towering like the Himalayas, have a lot to offer. So what makes a makes a mountainous region unique for worldbuilding? What kind of people live there and what kind of environments do they inhabit?
Click to read the rest on the Mythcreants blog

Great News for Indie Authors!

It’s always good to get encouraging news when you’re an indie author, and I found a whole lot of encouragement in this article so I thought I’d pass it on. Not all that long ago there was a huge stigma associated with self-publishing, but not so much any more. Hard work and perseverance does pay off! Special thanks goes to all you readers out there who are helping to change the trends. It wouldn’t be happening without your support.


Traditional publishers’ ebook sales drop as indie authors and Amazon take off – By Frank Catalano (published in GeekWire)

 

Ebook sales are dying. Ebooks are insanely popular. If the short definition of cognitive dissonance is holding two contradictory ideas to be true, ebooks are about as dissonant as digital content gets.

Yet ebooks may also represent a chapter in the still-being-written story of how keeping track of what’s happening with content hasn’t always kept pace with the technology that’s transformed it.

Let’s start with the bad news. Two new sets of numbers covering 2017 show ebook sales are on the decline, both in terms of unit and dollar sales.

The first, released in April by market research firm NPD’s PubTrack Digital, saw the unit sales of ebooks fall 10 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. In absolute numbers, that meant the roughly 450 publishers represented saw ebook sales drop from 180 million units to 162 million over a year’s time.

The second, just released by the American Association of Publishers, reported a decline in overall revenue for ebooks, a year-to-year decrease of 4.7 percent in 2017. AAP tracks sales data from more than 1,200 publishers.

This ebook decline occurred in an overall publisher revenue environment that AAP said was essentially flat in 2017. So some other kinds of book formats that AAP watches, like hardback books, went up as ebooks went down. For its part, NPD says when combining print and ebook unit sales, ebooks’ percentage of the total dropped from 21 percent in 2016 to 19 percent in 2017.

It turns out this downward ebook trend isn’t new. It may actually be an improvement, of sorts. “The pace of ebook decline appears to be cooling,” AAP’s Marisa Bluestone said, noting 2017’s drop was, “significantly less than the double-digit declines experienced in 2015 and 2016.”

Among the categories showing a decline in both NPD’s and AAP’s figures were kids’ ebooks. Children’s ebooks had the most dramatic decline in unit sales, and children’s/young adult ebooks have suffered double-digital revenue drops every since year 2015.

And yet, NPD reports, even though it’s also declining, adult fiction remains the most popular ebook category, with 44 percent of all adult fiction sales in digital form.

On the surface it would seem like all of this is going to come as a surprise to boosters who thought ebooks would replace traditional paper book publishing completely.

But there are three key words to keep in mind: “traditional book publishing.” And that’s the good ebook news. Because the very same technology that allowed traditional publishers to create and sell ebooks also allowed authors to do the same — directly to readers.

NPD and AAP don’t measure those indie sales. Centralized reporting of direct-from-author sales is tougher to come by, but by all anecdotal measures the independent market has taken off, notably in the also-still-large category of adult fiction.

Click to read the rest of this “good ebook news” on GeekWire

 

Medieval Monday: The Damsel

It has been a while since I made a Medieval Monday post, but I’ll get back to it now that my book is finished. I’ll resume with this BBC episode of Medieval Lives, which is all about women’s roles in medieval society. A very interesting take which somewhat debunks current views of how women were expected to behave and were treated during the Middle Ages.

WARNING: This is probably NSFW, as it does deal in part with how women’s sexuality was viewed from medieval times through the Victorian era. There is some “nudity” as taken from medieval artwork, so maybe not something you want to watch with kids hanging over your shoulder, either. I considered not posting this one at all, but the purpose of my Medieval Monday series is to show what daily medieval life was really like, and this was a significant part of life, particularly in a society where having children was critical to survival and marriage was often more about politics/social maneuvering than love.


Learn more about the daily life in Middle Ages by browsing previous posts in the Medieval Monday Index.

Fantasy Art Friday

Get inspired with this week’s Fantasy Art Friday, where fun fantasy artwork is combined with a writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing.


A wolf sits in wait by the grave of his master; a warrior in life, a hero in death. All around the stone are the swords his comrades set in place to honor him, and to pledge their continued loyalty. Each man is ready to take their sword back up and swear their fealty anew when they meet again in the next life. Yet as the days and weeks pass, each one of them eventually departs. There are more battles to fight, and life must continue. Not for the wolf.

Many out of concern tried to lure him into the living world with them, offering food, and affection. But a wolf only has one master, and his told him to never leave his side. And so the wolf waits. Death is meaningless. He knows what the others do not–what no human could. The ancient lore of his kind says that there is no more sacred bond than that between a wolf and a worthy master. Loyalty beyond reason, beyond hope, even beyond death, will be rewarded.

As he waits alone in the dark of the night, a light suddenly shines all around. It does not come from the distant moon, nor from any light made by man. The wolf watches warily as a bright beam shoots out from the stone itself. A vague form appears, though he cannot make out what it is just yet. Something is finally happening…are the promises of the ancient lore finally coming to pass?

 

Title and Artist Unknown


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