– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

novelists in the archives

This morning saw the last of four Thursday morning Come Write In sessions for NaNoWriMo – (inter)National Novel Writing Month. Over the four mornings, we’ve had an average of 4 (out of a possible 7) novelists – 9 different people –  come for 3 hours each time, 10-1 more or less, and bash out an average of a couple of thousand words each per session. Now that’s productive! I haven’t been writing a novel but doing various regular work tasks, from filing to photography, and it’s been encouraging to me to have other people beavering away at their own work here without needing to ask me questions or request their next box of material, as researchers necessarily do.

The event was advertised through NaNo channels – the local Oxfordshire NaNo Facebook group and the Oxfordshire forum on NanoWriMo.org. It was open to any member of those forums, but because there is a limited number of seats in the reading room, I asked participants to sign up in advance so that we weren’t oversubscribed. I used Twitter to live tweet during the sessions and report the total word count by the participating novelists in each session, mentioning @OxonWrimos and using hashtags #NaNoWriMo and #ComeWriteIn for each tweet.

Everyone has been struck by the atmosphere of St Cross – the combination of ecclesiastical and bibliothecarial architecture and furnishings seem to inspire both calm and industry. And since the under-floor heating is working much more effectively than it did last winter, nobody has frozen to death either! All in all, a good place to work. This is good news – NaNoWriMo was a test case, so more similarly structured writing sessions on other themes will be coming up in the new year.

At today’s session, one of the participants had some research questions about ancient books. I’m posting the answers here – but without any clues about their connection to what will happen in the novel. We’ll all have to wait to find out… But to make an educated guess, you could read the first two books in the series, Paradox Child and  Therianthropy – I’ll post a link to the third one when it appears. I look forward to seeing St Cross in print!

1. medieval herbals and recipe books:

  • Balliol College MS 367, a thousand-year-old antidotarium, or book of medicinal recipes
  • Balliol College MS 329 C15 copy of anonymous texts ‘On the Virtues of Herbs’ and ‘Book of Remedies’, both in Middle English. Images & transcriptions of recipes for: Dragannes, Lavender, Mint, below
  • Leiden, University Library MS VLQ 9, Pseudo Apuleius, Herbarium (early medieval)
  • Oxford, Bodleian Library images from 3 11th and 12th century herbals

2. medieval monstrous races:

  • the Map Psalter, British Library MS Add.28681 f.9
  • cf the world map, celestial map and barely-visible drawings of monstrous races on ff. 68r ff. of Montserrat, Abbey Library MS 1, the Llibre Vermell (Red Book) of Montserrat
  • British Library’s Medieval Monsters page
  • and a few printed books:
    • Alixe Bovey’s Monsters and Grotesques in Medieval Manuscripts
    • Elizabeth Morrison’s Beasts Factual and Fantastic
    • John Block Friedman’s The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought

3. herbal recipes and remedies: details from Balliol MS 329


Dragancia: Dragancia ys an erbe th[a]t me clepyth Dragannce Addyrworte or cerpentyne The v[er]tu of this erbe ys [an = if] he be stampyd and dro- nke w[th] wyne he puttuth a wey all man[ner] ?vermis Also it helyth akyng of erys an they be a noyntyd th[er] w[ith] Also yf the powdyr be blowe in to a mannys nose it clansyth the nose and kepyth it from renyng Also it woll dystroye the gowte the cankyr and the festryng of gowtys wounds and he muste be gathryd in the monythys if June and July

Lavandula-MS329-f018v Lavender: Lavandula ys an erbe th[at] me clepyth lavandyr The vertu of this erbe ys yf he be ?soode in wat[er] and then drynke th[at] wat[er] and it ys good to hele the palsseye this er- be ys hot and dryeMenta-MS329-f021r

Mint: Menta ys an erbe th[at] me clepyth mynte The v[er]tu of this er- be ys yf he be ete it woll sle wormys in a mannys wo- mbe Also yf a man have eny botchys or bylys or swellyng th[at] rennyth in a mannys hed take this erbe and stampe it and ley it to the sore and it woll make it hole Also yf a manys tehe stynke sethe it with wyne and eysell and with the lyquor wesche the tethe ther with and then take the powdyr of it and robbe the tethe there with harde and thu schalt have a swete mowthe Also it ys good for swace and to make a man to have good appetyte Also when ther schall eny medsyne be geve to dystroy ve- [rmis?] it ys good to geve it with the juse of this erbe for he h- athe v[er]tu to dystroy ve[?rmis] Abd tger ys many p[ro]o[er]cys of it for it ys gote and drye

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