The Condottieri

This is the first of my blogs on historical subjects that interest me and influence my writing. They are not intended to be a authoritative exposition on the subject area, just a general discussion on things that interest me. If the topic catches your imagination, a peer reviewed academic work is the place to go for the definitive story! Feel free to point out if you think there is anything blatantly wrong, but I hope to keep it all as accurate as I can!

Today’s subject is the condottieri. To me, even the word is quite eye catching. Simply put, it derives from the Italian word for ‘contract’, and it was used to refer to the mercenary troops that were prevalent in Northern Italy from roughly the middle of the 14th century.

A large proportion of these troops, particularly in the early days, came from other parts of the world, many being English troops looking for work during the lulls in fighting during the Hundred Years War in France. The Germanic mercenary Landsknechts are another example, but there were men from many parts of Europe present.

Around this time, Northern Italy was becoming very wealthy, with several towns and cities growing and seeking to assert both their independence and authority. As these cities and the personalities behind them started to come into contact with each other, violence often ensued. This created a vibrant market for the services of mercenaries.

There are a number of very colourful characters in the story of the condottieri, such as Sir John Hawkwood, an Englishman who had fought in France and later was in the service of Florence, where he would ultimately be granted citizenship and become something of a hero. He is also notable for leading one of the great mercenary bands, The White Company.

The stories of the condotierri make for very interesting reading; they were heroes and villains and they lived lives of adventure and violence and there is so much inspiration to be drawn from them that a 500-ish word blog post can’t even begin to scratch the surface. While there were many larger than life characters, most were just ordinary soldiers who passed in and out of this world unnoticed, but they too had stories, even if they’ve never been told.

The condottieri were just one element in the society of early Renaissance Italy, and there were many factors that contributed to their existence, some of which will form the topics for later posts in this series. It was a particularly conflicted era, with so much beauty being created by famous artists like da Vinci and Michaelangelo on the one hand, and a huge amount of violence on the other. As such it is a very rich and vibrant period and it represents one of my favourite in history. There was so much change as the old feudal order of the medieval world began to give way to the concept of early modern Europe. It’s an incredibly interesting and inspirational area for both fantasy and historical fiction writers.

Cover Design

My whistle stop tour of Renaissance history is going to have to go on hold for a few days, as this post is to bring updates that are infinitely more exciting! The cover design for The Tattered Banner is finished, and the final proof is below. I’m pleased with how it’s turned out as think it is very much in keeping with the vibe and atmosphere of the book.

Tattered Banner Cover Low Res Proof(click to enlarge)

Otherwise, I hope everyone has a very happy Christmas and I will start posting my Renaissance blogs a few days after!

Coming up next…

I’ve mentioned in a few previous posts the influence that history has on my writing, and I think also the fact that I started off writing historical fiction but drifted toward fantasy for the greater imaginative freedom this genre offers. History as a subject represents something of a first love for me and I have a masters degree in the subject.

This leads me to the subject matter of this post. For my next few posts, kind of a Christmas special, I’m going to spend a bit of time talking about the historical periods that interest me and the aspects of them that have been particularly influential on my fantasy writing. In terms of discussion, it’s also something that I can talk about ’till the cows come home with a smile on my face, so feel free to pitch in if you’ve anything to add or would like to hear more about any topic I’ve touched on.

I expect I’ll start posting them either toward the end of this week or early next week, so do try to contain your excitement until then!

Back cover blurb…

Ok, back cover blurb has been settled on, so here it is!

Unique talent always attracts attention…

In a world where magic is outlawed, ability with a sword is prized above all else. For Soren this means the chance to live out his dreams.

Plucked from a life of privation, he is given a coveted place at Ostenheim’s Academy of Swordsmanship, an opportunity beyond belief.

Opportunity is not always what it seems however, and gifts rarely come without conditions. Soren becomes an unwitting pawn in a game of intrigue and treachery that could cost him not just his dreams, but also his life.

I hope to have the final version of the cover settled before Christmas as it is very close to where it needs to be. Interior layout is finalised, so happily one more thing crossed off the list!

On maps…

This blog is a follow on from my previous one on realistic societies.

I spend a lot of time making maps, badly. I’m not particularly good at drawing and don’t have the first idea of how to use any of the cad or image manipulation software that some people use to great effect in mapping, but I’ve always been fascinated with maps and enjoy making them when I have time. I think that they’re also a pretty important step in fantasy world building for a number of reasons.

One of the things a fantasy writer has to give some thought to, something that is perhaps not so big an issue for a fiction/historical fiction writer, is distances and travel time, and they have to be consistent. For this, a map, drawn to scale, is utterly invaluable. Add in a little research that is appropriate to the technology level your world is based around on travel speeds and you’ve got something to work with. Sailing speeds, marching speeds, riding speeds, walking speed all gives you an idea of how far your characters can go in a day, and how long it will take them to get to wherever it is you need them to be.

The next thing that they are useful for is to work through what physical geographical features are going to impact on the characters over the course of their journey. It’s a reference point that allows you to make their behaviour a little bit more consistent across the board. If a city is on the coast but surrounded by mountains on its landward side, they’re far more likely to travel by sea than land without good reason.

It can also fuel creation; the physical features of the land might explain why a city is where it is, and what the events were that made it an attractive spot. Venice is a nice real world example of this.

As with all background work for a novel, just because you know it, doesn’t mean it needs to or should go into the story. Just because I know it takes my character three days to get from A to B, doesn’t mean I should devote any more than a sentence or two to the journey!

Back cover blurb and updates.

Changes to cover and interior format have been submitted; it will be interesting to see what comes back from that.

The next step is to write a blurb for the back cover. My approach to this has been just to sit down and write about ten different versions. In a day or two I’ll have a read over them, see which I like, which I think are garbage, try to narrow them down to a few strong contenders and edit accordingly. I might write some more if anything new comes to me, but I think I’m on the right track with what I have so far.

I think that the important elements to get across to the reader in the blurb are a sense where the story is set, a sense of who the story is about, and an idea of what the story is about. And let’s not forget an overwhelming and irresistible desire to buy the book…