• Fran Stewart

The Cat and the Fiddle


One of my favorite bloggers, Heidi Wilson from ThursdayNightWrites, asked last week if there is ever such a thing as too much research for writers. Although many critics warn writers against becoming so caught up in the research that they stop writing, Heidi contends (as do I) that research is one of the fun things about writing, so why should we limit ourselves?

One of the byproducts of research is that it can lead us into new story twists that we might not have devised otherwise.

She quotes Christopher de Hamel’s 2017 blockbuster, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts. "Okay," she says, "it may not have been on the bestseller lists. But it’s 632 pages long and weighs three pounds." That must count for a lot.

De Hamel writes about medieval manuscripts, and Wilson was fascinated by his description of the numerous drawings in the margins of these manuscripts. The marginalia, she writes, are:

…calculated to appeal to a child. One of them shows a cat playing a rebec, a sort of early fiddle. This image occurs in many illuminated manuscripts and harks back, de Hamel believes, to whatever tale or folk belief gave us “Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle.” He adds that when a dinner guest of his own, a master of medieval music, arrived with a rebec, an experiment became possible. The musician played, and de Hamel’s cat “rushed in as if drawn by a magnet, rolling on the floor in ecstasy, as punch drunk as a dervish.”

Now, I ask you, can you imagine what Wilson might have missed if she’d stopped after just a page or two into de Hamel’s book?

If you want to read the whole blog post, here’s the link to it.

I’ve gotten sidetracked myself in researching the numerous subjects and time periods covered in my WHITE AS ICE quadrilogy. I researched the first World’s Fair of 1876, which was put on in honor of America’s first centennial celebration; I looked up “woolgathering," which came from the aimless appearance of people who roamed around meadows gathering tufts of wool caught on shrubs after sheep had passed by; and the powerful solar storm of 1859, which set telegraph offices on fire. I looked into the gas-rationing program of 1942, the origin of the straw boater, and women’s hats in the 1800s, which is how I found this photo of a "hat" made of ribbons.

I didn’t think to look up "hey diddle, diddle," but I did do quite a bit of reading about nursery rhymes in general and about jump-roping chants. Great fun.

Can’t wait for these four books to be released so you can share in the fun!

#HeidiWilson #ThursdayNightWrites #WHITEASICE #researchstrategies

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