This is tough to answer! Everyone has their own concept of Utopia and I would be the last person to insist that anyone lived the way I dictated. However, this is part of why I write historical fiction – to live in another time and experience a world I would like to live in. Dark Ages Britain is not an ideal world by any means: it is full of conflict, invasion, oppression, rivalry and a failing economy thanks to the departure of the Roman Empire. What draws me to this time is the simplicity of everyday life for the common people. Let me explain.
Pollution is minimal. Yes, everyone is burning wood, but there are no cars, aeroplanes, diesel locomotives or fuelled sea vessels. Travel is on foot, by horse or ox-drawn cart meaning distances take longer to cover. Life is therefore slower and without the technological interruptions we force upon ourselves today, such as social media, telephones and television. You don’t have to remember to log your every move on Facebook or keep up with episodes of your favourite television series. Instead, if you want to speak to someone you have to visit them to share news. Communal halls and temples are where large groups can exchange news and ideas for the community, sipping ale or mead and listening to someone sing songs of historic events.
Ever wanted to work from home instead of slogging through that daily commute? Live in the 5th Century AD and you can! You might have to rise a lot earlier than you do now (with the cockerel’s crow at the break of dawn, rather than an alarm clock tuned to your favourite radio station), but you’ll have fresh eggs from your own fowl and warm goats’ milk. Vegetables and herbs will be grown in a plot beside your home – enough to feed you and your family and perhaps some for barter at markets. Oh yes, and there is no coin – money no longer exists. Following Rome’s departure around 410AD coin held less and less value and bartering returned to Britain. You’ll need to fatten that pig so you can get a good price, or have plenty pork to salt and store through winter.
Do you spend half your wages on new clothes and beauty products? In Dark Ages Britain you’d be making both yourself. If you’re lucky enough to own goats or sheep you’ll have a supply of wool to spin and weave into patterned fabrics, having dyed it with vegetables and plants to your own choice of colours. There is no need to fret over that dress size you’re trying to get into – a peplos is ‘one size fits all’! Shoes (if you are wealthy enough to afford them) and belts are made of leather, possibly from another crafts person in your own village and you can knit your own stockings. If you are nobility you’ll be able to add some sumptuous brocade to the edges of your tunics, the fashion status symbol of the time. Beauty products can be made using milk and animal fats, scented with herbs or plant essences.
Many people today are becoming more and more interested in self-sufficiency and this is something I do like to see. We must remember after all, that we are an island. It makes sense to know you can grab some eggs from the bottom of your garden and pick a few spuds and cabbages if you need Sunday dinner accompaniments. Allotments are making a comeback and I often see people at garden centres investing in fruit trees.
Another trend is sustainable energy and the amount of homes with solar panels is growing week by week it seems. If there was one thing I would bring to this simpler Dark Ages life it would be advances in clean energy and medicine. There are already many who have built new homes with sustainable materials, living the eco-friendly life.
I myself have two apple trees and am making preparations to grow my own vegetables. I use flowers from my own garden as cut flowers to save on the cost of purchasing expensive bouquets and currently buy fruit and vegetables from a local supplier. Living close to the land and its changing seasons and making use of the immediate community harks back to these simpler, more ancient times I write about. Farmers’ markets and summer fêtes are lingering reminders of a close-knit ethos that once existed throughout Britain. Whether you live in a village or a bustling city, you can still become part of a community, buying locally and ethically; we can still grasp an essence of earlier times. Turn off your televisions and have a conversation, share wisdom and interests with those around you. The future is what we make it and perhaps we can learn a little from the past.
Elaine’s debut novel ‘WULFSUNA’ (Book 1 in the Wolf Spear Saga series) charts the journey of the Saxon tribe of the same name as they return to Britain. Their mission: to reunite with other ‘Wolf Sons’ they left behind who settled on the isle when the Roman Empire departed. Betrayal finds them and unbeknownst to their Lord’s son Wulfgar, an ancient legendary Saga is weaving his fate. When they discover a dishevelled young Seer on the roadside, destinies are altered for many and the lives of Morwyneth and the Wulfsuna are irrevocably entwined.
‘WULFSUNA’ has already garnered several 5-star reviews from readers and fellow historical fiction authors and was in the May issue of the ‘Historical Novel Society’ Indie Reviews. Elaine is currently writing Book 2 of the Wolf Spear Saga, due for release in 2016. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads and runs a blog and website. She lives in Birmingham with her family and their crazy chocolate Labrador, and loves baking, language etymology and of course, history! She has recently begun making her own 5th Century Saxon costume to wear at events (or round the house).