Jilly: Relaxed, Entertained, Informed, Inspired

How do you like to spend your evenings?

I’ve always been a morning person. I find that I do my best writing from breakfast time until early afternoon, when I slow down and eventually grind to a halt. Then I’m usually good for business or household challenges until dinnertime. After that I have an hour, maybe two or three, when my brain doesn’t seem to want to work, but is oddly susceptible to ideas and impressions. If I use this downtime well, it can be incredibly useful later.

On weekdays I try to be careful how I spend those hours, because I want to keep my subconscious in the world of my WIP. I don’t read new fiction, because if the book is good, it takes over my imagination, and I find myself thinking deeply about what I liked (or didn’t like) about the story, the characters, the plot, the world, the lot. If I can, I’d rather direct that creative stimulation inward, toward my own characters and plot, and save other writers’ stories as a weekend treat.

Favorite books bring a different kind of problem. Even if I’ve read them countless times, I get immersed in the world and find it impossible to walk away until the story is resolved. Which means that unless I pick a novella, catching up with a book I know and love means an investment of at least three or four hours. If I try to dip in and out again, chances are I’ll either stay up way too late or finish the book the next morning when I should be writing.

So I was really happy to discover the perfect creative feast for my weekday evenings: a BBC TV series called Tudor Monastery Farm, starring freelance historian Ruth Goodman, aided and abetted by archaeologists Peter Ginn and Tom Pinfold. I’m not quite sure how to describe the episodes—historical documentaries sounds dry, and they’re anything but. The team aims to live as tenant farmers would have done during the Tudor period, but what I really like is that the program makers put all their focus on the constraints, priorities and innovations of people who lived during the period, instead of making it all about the presenters. Ruth, Peter and Tim wear their learning lightly and get their hands dirty in their quest to bring history alive. They come across as honest, likeable and enthusiastic, and they’ve really made my mental wheels turn.

So far I’ve watched the team plough a field with oxen and a wooden plough; grow and harvest peas; weave hazel fencing; make rushlights; raise pigs, sheep and geese; make ale and cheese; make flour and turn it into bread; shear sheep, spin the wool and weave it into cloth; make rush matting for a floor; make traps for eels, catch, cook and eat them; keep bees and collect the honey; mine and smelt lead; cast iron and tin; make a pen, and paper; make a clock…the list seems endless.

I’m guessing the sheer relentless effort of keeping on top of so many basic tasks would be familiar to today’s subsistence farmers, but the use of the tools and techniques of the period scales up the degree of difficulty. It’s been fascinating and illuminating to think harder about how the day’s routines were driven by need to work by daylight; about how it must have been to drink ale from breakfast to supper because water wasn’t generally clean enough; to live on a daily diet of bread and ale supplemented with butter and cheese, with maybe fish, meat, or pottage; to regard white bread or beeswax candles as an unimaginable luxury; and to see every stroke of good or bad fortune as the consequence of divine will.

The episodes are an hour long, so I can watch one or maybe two in an evening.

I chose the Tudor Monastery Farm series and Ruth Goodman’s companion book How To Be a Tudor, because while my WIP isn’t strictly set in this time period, it is close enough that I can get some great ideas and immerse myself in the rhythms of a life before electricity and guns.

When I’ve finished Tudor Monastery Farm, I’m planning to watch Secrets of the Castle. According to the blurb, it examines the techniques used by builders of castles in Medieval Europe based on the experimental archaeology project at Guédelon Castle in France. I’m not planning to write Medievals, but I bet I can get some great ideas from that. There are also Edwardian and Victorian series, which I might buy now and save up for after I’m done with Alexis’s story.

If you’re interested, I believe you can find a sample of Ruth Goodman and her team on Youtube.

What’s your preferred way to spend a free evening?

4 thoughts on “Jilly: Relaxed, Entertained, Informed, Inspired

  1. That sounds like an interesting series, Jilly. I know a few years back we had Life in a Georgian House and Life in a Regency House – shows that had individuals living, as one would have, in those time periods. They were obviously set up for entertainment, rather than rigorous historical accuracy, but they presented an interesting glimpse into the past. I’ll have to see if your Tudor Monetary Farm is available on this side of the pond.

    As for what is my preferred way to spend an evening – these days much of my time after work is spend catching up on the political news of the day, researching things, and figuring out who I need to call about what the next day. Becoming more politically active takes a lot of time.

    When not doing that, I’ve been reading a great deal lately. I have a Kindle full of books I’ve picked up from Amazon for free and I’m trying to work my way through them. Most, sadly, have barely been worth what I paid for them, but I can at least learn something about writing / storytelling from them. I do hit the same problem you mentioned of staying up too late to finish a story once started, but I’m getting better at stopping in the middle of a story and continuing later, rather than reading a book all the way through in a single shot.

    When not immersed in news or reading, evenings are frequently my brainstorming time; a chance to mentally work through ideas that have come up during the day see what interesting connections I can find (similar to what Michaeline mentioned in her post yesterday). I do always make sure that my last thoughts before bed are about my current story, however, so that I can retain some semblance of focus. Sometimes it works; sometimes it does not.

  2. Oh, that sounds like a rabbit hole for me! Something I’d love, but I probably better not start.

    I have rabbit holes I’ve dug for myself — I just ordered the Big Box Set of Peep Show, and I hope I don’t regret it. I watched a few episodes on YouTube, and it seemed interesting. I just loved That Mitchell and Webb Look (which was a sketch show featuring the stars/writers? of Peep Show). It’s a few years old, but so funny. Some of the sketches are just bittersweet though. They come a bit too close to reality . . . .

    I’m also reading a book by Dave Gorman. (-: I guess May is British Isles Month for me. I’m really liking it a lot, and it’s very episodic, so I can pick it up for reading on the exercise bike, and put it down again, feeling satisfied that I’ve gotten a full story, and knowing that there will be more waiting for me next time I get on the exercise bike.

    (-: None of this is for my writing, but it may feed my Girls in unusual ways.

  3. Pingback: Jilly: The Joy of Podcasts – Eight Ladies Writing

  4. Pingback: Jilly: The Seeds of a New Story – Eight Ladies Writing

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