... Maggie Secara on Gossip, Tudor-times and the Gregorian calendar

Maggie ecara... Maggie Secara ...
... on Gossip, Tudor-times and the Gregorian calendar

zur deutschen Fassung
When it comes to the everyday history and rulers' history of the Tudor period, I turn with confidence to Maggie Secara.
 
In the short time that I know her, I was impressed by the many large and small facts that she knows.

When I then received a review copy of her Tudor-Compendium (Link), I knew Maggie is more than a gossip ... but read for yourself.

Maggies Book Zauberspiegel: Maggie, regarding your books, reading your postings in the Tudor-Group on Facebook, one might get the impression you are the „Queen of Tudor Knowledge“ - ok, I am exaggerating a bit. Who is Maggie Secara, and why does she know that much about English History?
Maggie Secara: I’m hardly that! Really, I’m less a historian than a gossip. I can’t bear the idea that something happened 400 years ago that I don’t know about. So I have to dig for details! And I’ve been doing it since 1987, so a lot of details have piled up. And there’s this website, see. And this book.

Zauberspiegel: Why did you focus on the Elizabethan era resp. Tudor era as „your period“? Why is it so special to you?
Maggie Secara: I was in love with Shakespeare from an early age, so the Elizabethans have always been of interest to me. A great 400-year-old play is partly a good story told wonderfully, partly an artifact of another place and time. One thing led to another, which led to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and a 35-year on-going research project. There’s still so much I don’t know, and I still find it fascinating.

Zauberspiegel: What is it that makes this period of history of the Tudors, especially the time of the compendium period, special for British, perhaps European and perhaps World-history?
Maggie Secara: You don’t want much, do you! There’s no simple answer to that. And I’m not really qualified to address that. I do know that it was not a significantly simpler time than ours. It was complex, dangerous, brilliant, punctuated with famine, inflation, political unrest, and religious strife. It was not a comfortable time to be alive in England, I’m sure, especially in the last 20 years of the reign. No “golden age” is ever perfect! And yet there’s this image of Merry England that endures

Zauberspiegel: Maggie, you compiled the „Compendium of Common Knowledge 1558-1603“. It is, as the subtitle says, a collection of „Elizabethan Commonplaces for Writers, Actors & Re-enactors“. You mention a few of your resources, you have attended seminars, and I bet you did a lot of reading. What are the major sources of your knowledge?
Maggie Secara: I do have a Masters degree in English, which I took largely because there was no way to major in English History at my university. Literature can’t exist with a context, and that’s history! So basically, the source is books! Lots of books. Journal articles when I can get at them. Occasionally other like-minded people whose studies have taken them in various other directions. I’ve always said I don’t have to know everything, as long as I know who to ask. There’s a nice big bibliography at the back of the Compendium with all or most of the resources I’ve employed, including the odd expert who has volunteered their knowledge in email and conversation. I learned a good deal about bread that way.

Zauberspiegel: A compendium the way you issued it, will never truly be finished, there is always something new to talk about. You wrote, you are working on a second edition already. To what extent will the (hopeful many more to come) editions differ from each other?
Maggie Secara: Really, they’ll be what new additions to it always were: more stuff. New pages, new topics. The existing pages are only changed when they need to be corrected—and there’s always something. New information always gets a new page of its own

Zauberspiegel: I love printed books, since I can carry them around, underline text, write comments on the edges. Yet fact books like yours do in general contain information one can find doing research in the Internet for free. Why should people buy your book? Except for the fact that YOU wrote it of course Laughing
Maggie Secara: They can get it for free any time they like. We give it away free every single day, and a whole lot more, on the internet, at Elizabethan.org. The Compendium itself is here.  They should buy it for the very reasons you mention: so they can write in the margins, take it on the bus, read it in bed. For years, people asked me why they couldn’t find this book in their library. Teachers asked about it! I thought I could never sell it because it has such a small niche market, it wouldn’t be worth it to a publisher. Plus, it would need to be revised from time to time, and never go out of print. Finally, enough people prevailed on me, so I published it myself.

Zauberspiegel: What I found especially interesting about your book was the fact that it is for native English speakers. For German readers this adds to the „simple“ historical information certain features such as this: Usually we refer to all sorts of grain as „corn“, yet „corn“ is a particular grain - When talking about grain in Tudor times, you don't refer to corn but to barley or rye. Yet it might seem to be nitpicking – why do you regard it important to be so precise?
Maggie Secara: Nitpicking is a virtue. It’s not about precision so much as knowing what we’re actually talking about. The general is meaningless if you have no grasp of the particular. A farmer knows whether he’s sowing wheat or barley—different growing seasons, different strains, different needs. And corn, at least in period, meant different grains in different places. A writer, re-enactor, and even an actor preparing for a role should know this.
Also, while the British, and the historical record, generally refer to grains as “corn”, in the US, we use that word for what everyone else calls “maize”. I made a note in the Compendium about it, because it’s easy for a US reader to read “corn” and imagine they’re talking about corn-on-the-cob.

Zauberspiegel: There is a German philosopher who said: Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. Dealing with the time period of the Elizabethan era, what do you think we can learn from for modern life?
Maggie Secara: That we never make the same mistakes twice in the same way.

ReenactmentZauberspiegel: We met at Facebook because I saw you in historical costume. You participate in a re-enactment group. What kind of group is it?
Maggie Secara: I really don’t anymore. I’ve been involved with Clan MacColin of Glenderry (Highland/Irish), Kriegshund Fähnlein (Landsknechten) and the Guild of St George (Royal Court). All of these groups are very costume-intensive, and intense in other ways as well. All strive for a high level of understanding and, dare I say it, authenticity. I learned a lot from them, but not I’ve stepped away from direct participation and am putting what I’ve learned into my writing. My new novel, Molly September, draws on the living history experience I many ways.

Zauberspiegel: Apart from working on your second edition of the Compendium. Do you work on writing professionally? What other things do you write about?
Maggie Secara: I make my living as a technical writer, doing user manuals and online help, and other useful but less interesting things. I’ve written poetry, too. And in the last couple of years, I’ve really gotten into fiction. My first novel, Molly September, a historical, romantic adventure, just came out a few weeks ago. It’s the culmination of years of work and re-work, and I’m very proud of it. I’m working on a time travel-faerie-fantasy trilogy right now. The first volume is finished and looking for a home; the other two are in revision (fantasy agents, please take note). It’s really the most exciting thing I’ve ever done!

Zauberspiegel: Is there anything you would like to add?
Maggie Secara: Yes! A blatant typo in the current edition, at the bottom of page 8, says the Gregorian calendar was adopted in the 12th century. That’s absurd, of course. Please take your pencils and mark out the 12, and insert 16. It is correct on the website (the website is scrupulously maintained ) and will be fixed in the coming edition; don’t be the only one who doesn’t know.

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