Medieval Group Online: “I Wish to Recall Everything”: a Workshop on Medieval Creative Writing’

On the 5th May, the Medieval Group hosted its very first online workshop, entitled ‘“I Wish to Recall Everything”: a Workshop on Medieval Creative Writing’.

This original and interactive online event was led by Francesca Petrizzo, Maroula Perisanidi (both from the Institute for Medieval Studies (IMS)) and Madeline Hernstrom-Hill (Northern Michigan University), with an intimate group of fifteen staff and postgraduate members of the IMS taking part in the session.

The workshop began with an icebreaker activity, during which participants discussed their favourite and least favourite historical novels, leading to a wider discussion about the group’s preferences when consuming pop-culture medievalist literature. Participants put forward examples such as Pope Joan (1996), The Other Boleyn Girl (2001), and The Templar’s Secret (2012), which were reviewed in terms of their historical accuracy, credibility, and entertainment value. 

Madeline Hernstrom-Hill gave the first short presentation, taking her examples from the 1983 novel, the Mists of Avalon. Hernstrom-Hill highlighted the author Marion Zimmer Bradley’s feminist intervention into the representation of women in medieval fiction, by pitting a hyperfeminist paganism against a patriarchal Christianity, which engendered a discussion of how historical fiction is reflective of current social and political views. Hernstrom-Hill concluded that historical fiction should be considered and read through the lens of contemporary culture, and that “consideration and nuance are necessary” when assessing a novel’s historical reliability.

Following on from this theme, Francesca Petrizzo led the second talk, which focussed on the grey area in medieval fiction between the historical accuracy that researchers expect, and what most readers believe to be true. Petrizzo warned that although researchers who write fiction are often keen to stay as faithful to historical accounts as possible, many casual readers will have expectations for the story that rely more heavily on medieval cultural stereotypes than historical accuracy. In spite of this, Petrizzo underlined that first and foremost, writers of historical fiction should seek to write for their own pleasure, as much as for the enjoyment of a readership.

The third and final presentation was given by Maroula Perisanidi, who opened up a discussion surrounding the importance of love stories in fiction, observing that the inclusion of a romantic plot might help to familiarise the unknown, historical setting to a modern reader. Building on previous themes discussed by Hernstrom-Hill and Petrizzo, Perisanidi went on to consider the importance of walking the line between fact and fiction when writing historical novels; finding the balance between not cramming the story full of your research, and not relying entirely on imagination.

After the talks, participants were split into three interactive workshop groups - Plot, First Paragraph, and Character - each focussing on improving a different aspect of creative writing. Participants were given the opportunity to consult one of the three speakers on their chosen subject, and to try their hand at generating some ideas for creative writing based on their research interests. At the end, the sub-groups came together and discussed what they had learned.

All in all, the session was an immense success, and participants were keen to praise the three speakers as well as the Medieval Group for such a stimulating and original workshop.  Future events held by the Medieval Group will be posted here on the website and on the IMS social media channels.