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Not fit for fiction

December 1, 2008

I’ve just spent the last two days in bed surrounded by a chaos of medicines, tissues, drinks, phone and laptop wires and a happy cat who doesn’t usually have someone to sleep on during the day. All of which has led me to realise just how divorced from real life fiction is. When did you last read a story where a major character had the flu?

Admittedly it’s hard to get involved in exciting action when your legs are made of jelly and your brain has turned to blancmange…  It’s not easy to write blog posts either. Maybe flu’s absence from fiction indicates that it’s really not very interesting to anyone else.

Ah. Sorry about that, then. I’ll go back to bed now.

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4 comments

  1. Hi Ruth,
    Sorry to hear you’ve been under the weather. Although, by now you’re hopefully enjoying the Christmas season and the flu is just a bad memory. I’ve always heard that authors are constantly squirreling away experiences which later reappear in their work in one form or another. I wonder what Ruso would have made of bacterial or viral infections? I imagine that as an army doctor most of his medical experience would consist of dealing with various forms of trauma — cuts, broken bones, severed limbs, etc. I wonder what he would have thought of early British healers and their approach to medicine?

    Regards,

    Mark


  2. Yes much better now thanks, Mark!

    Ancient doctors seem to have had myriad theories about the causes of disease (most of which I can’t remember) but they didn’t have our understanding of bacteria – although it must have been clear to them that cleanliness and health tended to go together, hence ideas about disease being caused by ‘bad air’.

    I’ve seen it suggested that army doctors, whilst being very competent witth physical injuries, would have lived in fear of epidemics. I can categorically state that a good dose of flu would have flattened a fighting force without the enemy having to lift a finger. In fact I think I read somewhere that one advantage of having each squad of soldiers cater for themselves (instead of having a mess system) was that it made the unit as a whole less susceptible to food poisoning.

    Have you read about the ‘druid healer’ burial found at Colchester? There’s an article about it at http://www.britarch.ac.uk/ba/ba99/feat3.shtml. From what was found in the grave it looks as tho’ the British healers were pretty knowledgeable – altho’ I guess you do have to be a bit careful about assuming that possessing something means knowing how to use it. (We owned a piano for years. Mind you, I don’t think anyone ever suggested burying me with it. Except perhaps the neighbours, who could hear every note – which was why we got rid of it.)

    I digress. Anyway, thanks for the good wishes and some interesting questions. Who knows, maybe the flu will pop up later in a novel!


  3. Hi Ruth,
    Glad to know you’re doing better.

    I was mulling over further what the Romans might have known about bacterial-based diseases. I believe the Romans became acutely aware of the plague around 541 during the reign of Justinian. I’m not sure how aware of it they were prior to that, or what they thought of it (although this book may give you some insights into that: http://books.google.com/books?id=6ivCsJoWtDUC&pg=PA283&lpg=PA283&dq=Byzantium+plague+warfare&source=web&ots=uKaFImdGo3&sig=qAuPHFIH_vg7tX9VGEmmLpUucA4&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPP1,M1 )

    I seem to recall that Mongols used an early form of germ warfare by throwing plague-infested bodies over the walls of the cities to which they were laying siege. I don’t know if the technique was used prior to the 500s.

    I hadn’t heard of the “druid healer” burial that you mentioned. But it definitely looks interesting. More fodder for your books!

    I’m guessing that by reading up on Galen you would have a pretty good idea of what the current medical theories were at that time. Although Galen was actually born a few years after the setting of your books.

    I understand that most authors keep a backstory about their characters which they use to determine how the character might act or react in a given situation. We’ve seen part of that backstory when read some of the letters from his family. I’m curious about Ruso’s medical training — whether that was entirely “on the job” training with the army, or something that he went to school for?

    I was also wondering if you had read any of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books “Mists of Avalon” books? I know it’s a different genre, but it’s interesting how retelling a story we think we know, gives us different insights into the culture of the times.

    I’m looking forward to reading your new book when it comes out.

    Merry Christmas,

    Mark


  4. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the link to Famine and Pestilence – looks like interesting, if not very jolly, reading! While we’re on the subject… there’s been a recent dig in Gloucester where they’ve found 91 possible victims of the Antonine Plague. This devastated the Roman army in Mesopotamia and Europe in the 2nd century (or so ‘Current Archaeology’ tells me).

    Yes, by a happy chance, Ruso predates Galen so I don’t have to struggle through his writings. I know he was a genius (as he keeps reminding his readers) but he was awfully verbose.

    Ruso was trained by being apprenticed to his Greek uncle Theo, who hasn’t been mentioned before because, as the editor says, he’s irrelevant. I think I’ve managed to slip him in this time, though. I don’t think they had our idea of ‘medical schools’ and apparently anyone could call themselves a doctor – so no wonder people turned to the gods.

    No I haven’t read the ‘Mists of Avalon’ books but will look them out in the Library when the rush stops.

    Have a merry and non-pestilential Christmas!

    Ruth



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