Archive for February, 2020

Middle English and “Effigy of the Cloven Hoof”

Monday, February 24th, 2020

Effigy of the Cloven Hoof is a fictional story set in the time of Geoffrey Chaucer who was the first important writer who wrote in Middle English, the language commonly spoken in England in the 14th century.  If you have studied Chaucer, you may have encountered a sample of that language and how it differs from modern English.  My challenge, as an author, is to give you a sense of English as it was spoken in those times without writing in Middle English which I and most of my readers are uncomfortable trying to read.

To help my readers have a sense of time and place, I have employed several devices.  The text seeks to avoid words which have entered the English language in recent centuries.  For example, I thought the word “prithee” would be of my period but then discovered that this abbreviation of “I pray thee” did not originate until the 16th century.  Our use of apostrophes in contractions was not widespread 600 years ago.  Therefore, Lady Apollonia does not use contractions, nor do those in her affinity who have learned to be well spoken.

Another device is my use of English spellings whenever possible.  Many of my readers are American, and my hope is that by using English-only spellings I will draw American readers more easily get into my stories set in 14th century West Country of England.  This is obvious with words such as centre/center where the English spell it one way and Americans another.  I prefer to use patronise over patronize even though both spellings are permitted in contemporary England because Americans would never use the patronise spelling.  I try to encourage my readers to lose themselves in Lady Apollonia’s world of over 600 years ago as they read my stories.

Social class was important in medieval England, and there were differences in how the classes spoke, as is true in our world today.  Peasants did not speak like nobles any more than a person with a Cockney accent in 2020 speaks like Queen Elizabeth II.  Therefore, I have chosen to create a mild kind of dialect for the common folk in my stories to distinguish them from Lady Apollonia’s type of speech.  Hopefully, it is mild enough for easy reading.  Contractions do appear in this dialect, a contrast with the speech of the nobility.

Next, let me describe some of the early writers of Middle English.  Three of them were contemporaries of my heroine in Effigy of the Cloven Hoof:  Geoffrey Chaucer, Mother Julian of Norwich, and the reformer John Wycliffe.  Chaucer, especially, has been very helpful to me, particularly because of his characters in The Canterbury Tales.  Chaucer is shown above in a 19th century drawing.  Unlike most medieval writers, he wrote about English people who came from all walks of life.  Members of the nobility are included as well as many church figures and other interesting folk, such as the Wife of Bath.  Chaucer’s characterizations provided me contemporary insights into a variety of medieval people but also inspiration for some of the characters in my stories.  One of these, Brandan Landow, appears at the very end of Effigy of the Cloven Hoof as a pardoner.  He is based on The Pardoner in Canterbury Tales.  In all the subsequent books through the seventh, Usurper’s Curse, my pardoner has reappeared and proven to be a character of interest.

Chaucer may be known as the best-known author to write in Middle English, but Mother Julian of Norwich was the first woman to become known as a writer in that language.  Her Revelations of Divine Love was given to my heroine to read at a difficult time in her young life.  Lady Apollonia found Mother Julian’s writings to be a comfort and inspiration as she struggled to understand her faith following the death of her first husband.

The third writer in Middle English referred to in my stories is John Wycliffe, best known as the Oxford scholar who was first to translate the Bible into English.  He is shown in the picture on the left.  What is not well known is that in the very years when he was translating the New Testament, Wycliffe was the Prebend of Aust, meaning that the parish church in Aust provided him with some of his income.  Such a connection of the real-life Wycliffe with the Lady Apollonia’s home village of Aust inspired me to work him into my story.

The Setting of “Effigy of the Cloven Hoof” in Aust

Monday, February 10th, 2020


The village of Aust on the River Severn Estuary is the venue around which Effigy of the Cloven Hoof is set.  I have always been fascinated with this village because Aust is the surname of my father’s family which emigrated from England in 1893.

The village has been inhabited since at least Roman times because of its location at the narrowest point on the Severn Estuary which separates England from southern Wales.  The one-mile distance made it a desirable place for ferry crossings which began in Roman times and continued until the 20th century when the first of two motorway bridges was built near Aust in 1966 for the M4 traffic from London and southern England going into Wales.  That bridge is pictured above.  Its construction ended the ferry service of almost two millennia, but I have worked the medieval ferry into my story which is set in the year 1400.

A second motorway bridge was later built just south of Aust, and these two bridges seemed to lead to the lack of purpose for the village.  Amenities such as the post office which existed on my first visit in 1986 was shut down early in the 1990’s.  The medieval parish church had been declared redundant and closed to all visitors in those days.  Only one single pub was open in Aust, The Boar’s Head, and it continued to be prospering, perhaps in part because Aust was located midway between Bristol and Cardiff with easy access to and from the M4 motorway.  Businessmen from these cities liked to meet there for lunch.

In recent years, I have felt better times were growing in Aust, perhaps as a suburb of Bristol.  There is more activity in the village, homes are being improved and built.  Aust looks more prosperous, and the parish church, which had never been given a name, has been reopened as a chapelry of the Church of England.  For the first time in its history, the church has a name, the Chapelry of St. John, and has services as part of the rota of the multi-point parish of the nearby villages.

I have used Aust’s location on the Severn as an important setting in the opening of my first book.  The Severn Estuary flowing past the village has enormous tides, averaging 50 feet between low and high tides.  This is almost as large as the 56 feet difference between low and high tides found in the Bay of Fundy in North America.  The movement of water rushing up or down the River Severn as the tides change is considerable and required great skill of the ferrymen who manned the Aust Ferry.

The shape of the Bristol Channel (or Severn Channel as it is sometimes called by the locals) and the Severn Estuary, as shown in the map on the left means that an incoming tide is constantly funneled down to a narrower width as it moves up the Severn.  In fact, it can become a tidal wave called the Severn Bore. A fictional description of one of them is a real natural disaster which I use in my story. My husband and I watched one of the largest of the 20th century in 1993, and I can attest that it is impressive.

One of these tidal bores happens during a major storm in the opening chapters of Effigy of the Cloven Hoof, causing the natural disaster which kills many innocent people and adds to the chaos which introduces the story.