A Place Without a Name

I’d like to start by thanking all those of you who have read Brightly Shines the Darkness, and for your kind comments.  A couple of people have asked me the same question, and in case others are wondering the same thing, I thought I would answer it here on the blog.

But first a little background.

Sometimes, diaries or journals or other documents tell us as much by what they leave out, as by what they include.  When we’re asked what we did during the day, or when we record it in a diary, we don’t usually say that we got up, and had a wash, and ate some food, and so on.  We leave out the obvious and talk about the highlights, or the unusual, or the infrequent occurrences.  Sometimes we’ll mention something ordinary, if a particular incident lifted it out of the mundane:  we might, for example, say that we had lunch with an old school-friend, if that’s something special, where we wouldn’t have discussed a meal that was entirely run of the mill.

But contexts change, and the background to our lives that we take for granted may be unusual to someone from another time or culture.  And that works in reverse, too:  to understand people from another time or place, we may need to be alive to the details they don’t discuss, because they see nothing special in them.  My son the historian told me recently that it is becoming accepted that at certain times in the past, people would go to bed for a while, and then get up and carry on with their lives before going back to bed for a second period of time.  No-one contemporary with this practice actually writes a detailed description of the prevailing sleep habits:  it’s taken for granted that this is how everyone behaves, so why say so?  Historians are piecing together clues from comments in court records, diary accounts of meetings in the ‘between-sleep’ time, medical practitioners’ descriptions, and so on.  (If you’re interested in learning more about this, Roger Ekirch published a very informative and readable book detailing a great of evidence for earlier segmented sleep patterns in his 2005 book ‘At Day’s Close:  A History of Night-time’.)

It interests me, that people don’t need to explain routines or background that are shared by their intended audience, and sometimes this can inform us about who exactly an author in the past was writing for.  Someone making notes for his own culture to read doesn’t need to explain things that form part of the fabric of their shared way of life, but if the same person had an eye to posterity, he might choose to describe routines that he felt his audience might not otherwise understand.

And this is why I have deliberately not named the village where the characters in Brightly Shines the Darkness live out their lives.  It’s a quiet rural backwater, and if one inhabitant talks about ‘the village’ to another, they both know exactly what they mean.  They have names for other places, such as Levrik, the city three days’ journey away, or Carshak, the prosperous town where exquisite embroidery is made, because such places need to be talked about in terms that leave no room for misunderstanding.  But nobody talks about ‘the village’ except those that live there, and for them, ‘the village’ is enough to uniquely identify it.

I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that, later in the ‘Skywatchers’ series, the village does have a name bestowed upon it, because it becomes a place that needs to be distinguished from other communities.  I wonder if, lost in the long-forgotten past, this may be the reason that places in our own world came to be named.