A word about writing and research

9, February,2007

I have a secondary character (Vation) who’s name is a variation of a name (Vatius) found in a piece of ancient Roman grafitti (you know, the old ‘hinting at methusala’ ploy). Vatius, mmm, a bit like Valentine I thought.  I might be able to tie that in as well. 

So I hit wikipedia, and this is what I found out.Well, St Valentine was possibly one of three men martyred in the late 3rd century during the reign of Emperor Claudius II.   That’s it!  That’s all we really know. 

He evolves from an unknown dead Roman into a romantic figure in the middle ages.  Around 1260 they have him restoring the sight and hearing to the daughter of his jailer before getting his head cut off.  Chaucer (despite being the writer of some truly excellent fart jokes) makes the mistake of being the first recorded person to link Saint V’s Day with romance in 1382.   

By the middle ages (the age of courtly love) people are just making things up. They have him passing love notes and arranging secret weddings. Saint V’s day as we know it doesn’t really kick off until the mid 1800s.  We can probably lay the blame at the feet of Esther Howland of Massachusetts, who started mass-producing valentines of embossed paper lace. 

In the second half of the 20th century the Halmarks and Interfloras of the world (always on the lookout for a sentimental buck) got seriously behind Esther’s idea, turning Saint V’s day into the manufactured celebration we know today. To honour her name (and the impact she has had on their bottom line), the Greeting Card Association gives an annual “Esther Howland Award for a Greeting Card Visionary”.  

They do this with no sense of irony.

What does this say about research?  It can be a distraction.  It can be a waste of time.  It probably shouldn’t be wasted on secondary characters. I do have a positive research story, but I’ll save that for another time.

onward and upward 


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