Friday, 29 March 2013

Winchester Cathedral

Winchester has been a christian centre since the seventh century, when the Old Minster was constructed, becoming the most important royal church in Anglo-Saxon England. By the tenth century it was a large church, base for the Bishop of Winchester, priory church of a community of monks and starting point for the Pilgrim's way to Canterbury. It's status was greatly enhanced by the veneration of St Swithin, an earlier Bishop famed for healing, although his first miracle was more mundane. He restored a batch of eggs that a widow dropped and smashed. Nowadays he's best remembered for his association with wet summers.His weather-rhyme, well known throughout the British Isles since Elizabethan times.
'St. Swithin's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.'
 It certainly applied in 2012, let's hope for a fine St Swithin's day in 2013, that's July 15th.

     After the Norman conquest the new masters of England quickly took control of the church and, under a new French bishop, demolished the Old Minster and rebuilt a vast new cathedral in the Norman Romanesque style, a statement of their superiority over what went before. The transcept is the Norman original while the rest of the cathedral was heavily altered by installing towering gothic arches in the 14th century.

The next great challenge for Winchester came with the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. This saw the closure of the 600 year old St Swithin's Priory and the destruction of the saint's shrine, now replaced with a modern interpretation. Many of the medieval treasures of the cathedral, notably most of the stained glass were also destroyed by the puritains. By the sixteenth century the cathedral had arrived at its present form. Since then there have been minor changes and some notable burials. The writer Jane Austen is buried there, not for the modest fame that she attracted in her lifetime, but rather because of the influence of her clergyman father. 
 What was I doing there? I was checking out St Swithin, who makes a cameo appearance in my third novel, A Pilgrimage Too far. I've checked the lyrics of the 1960's hit song, Winchester Cathedral. It sounds as though the writer fell out with his girlfriend on a visit there!
The Glorious Twelfth by Alan Calder published by Museitup - Links

Also by Alan Calder, The Stuart Agenda published by Willowmoon



Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Glorious Twelfth - Inspirational Caithness

Many writers draw inspiration from the buildings and physical geography of their surroundings.
     In my second novel, The Glorious Twelfth, the Sinclair mausoleum at Ulbster is the model for Sir Ranald's mausoleum. It stands in open farmland near the ruined farmstead of Ulbster Mains to the south of Wick. The weather vane on the top records 1700 as the date of construction. Maps indicate that the site was formerly a chapel dedicated to St Martin and the surrounding graveyard bears testament to the ground being consecrated. An ancient Class II Celtic stone originally stood in the graveyard confering great antiquity on the site. The stone now stands in the Caithness Horizons Museum in Thurso.
     The square building has very pleasing proportions, topped by a complex ogive shaped roof where the tile size varies accoring to the slope. Internal steel bars have been installed to provide further support for the roof. The burial crypt was cleared of remains and filled in some time ago. It had long since been supplanted by a new mausoleum built near Thurso Castle by Sir John Sinclair, the famous agricultural improver, around 1800. 
The second inspirational building is the ruined Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, built by the Sinclairs. A major archaeological project is currently in progress to both understand the history of the building and stabilise it against further deterioration. The latest research suggests that a building stood on the site as early as the thirteenth century. It was heavily fortified and the major administrative centre of its day, but was abandoned as early as 1680. Cycling to this castle was a favourite boyhood outing. We climbed the walls, explored the dungeon, heart in mouth, and went down the passage to the sea. It is the fictional site of the final dig at the end of The Glorious Twelfth.  
 Also by Alan Calder, The Stuart Agenda published by Willowmoon

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Creative Fasting for Writers

Fasting Diet for Writers

In the aftermath of the season of goodwill and rampant excess, many of us take a look in the mirror or are shocked by the tightness of skirt or trousers. Writers who sit for long hours at the computer may be more liable than most to the perils of unwanted flab. I'm certainly heavier than the skinny university student of my youth but not obese, like a growing fraction of my compatriots.
Over the years I've successfully lost weight with many diets. Most have messianic or faddist overtones backed by dubious science, mumbo-jumbo that attempts to disguise the plain truth that its what you put in your mouth stupid that causes the trouble. However much you theorise, its calories that count (but what kind of calories I hear some say?).
I'm happy to admit that I always put the weight back on, albeit enjoyably through adventurous home cooking or in restaurants, washed down with good wine. I find most diets depressing with rigid rules to follow and hunger a frequent companion.
In that context I thought that fellow writers might like to hear of my experience with the latest 'diet sensation' based on fasting. In the second half of 2012 Michael Mosley hit the headlines with a BBC Horizon programme: Eat, Fast and Live Longer. It was already well known that calorie restriction extends life expectancy at least in animals and there are communities of individuals in the USA who are testing extreme versions of that theory for humans. I hope it works for them!
As well as weight loss the other attractive aspect of fasting based diets is the promise of improved health based on the body going into repair mode in the fasting periods as evidenced by measurements of a variety of blood markers.
From Monday 5th November 2012 I started alternate day fasting, giving me a useful two week trial period before a visit to Paris . Alternate day fasting means restricting intake to 600 calories (five hundred for women) every second day, eating normally on the alternate days. So it isn't even real fasting with nothing at all to eat.
For 600 calories you can get; Breakfast- a boiled egg or small portion of porridge plus a small apple. Lunch- a fat free yoghurt with fruit. Dinner- a small portion of fish and spinach. With all the possible minor permutations within the 600 calorie limit, I found this very easy to follow on the promise of eating normally the next day. Of course you mustn't cheat and binge on the normal day.

Finally, to get to the important bit of interest to writers. I'd been stuck at 50,000 words on my third novel, A Pilgrimage Too Far. I found that following the diet regime helped me to focus more clearly on my writing. My powers of concentration increased and unleashed a bout of creativity that got me the next 20,000 words in the two week window before the Paris visit. It does look like a useful piece of discipline that supports the writing environment that we need to envelop ourselves in to produce our best work. I lost weight as well!
Have any other writers experience of fasting diets?
The Glorious Twelfth by Alan Calder
Also by Alan Calder, The Stuart Agenda published by Willowmoon