It's not always possible to follow the age-old advice to "write what you know." What if I want to write a book where the protagonist is a guy? I've never been a guy! What do men think about all the time? Is it true that all teenage boys are always hungry, all the time? I don't know such things. Fortunately for me, however, I live in a world that is comprised of about 50% males, so if I have a question about how men work, I'll always have someone to ask.
I'm not always that lucky.
For example, I'm pretty sure that no one who lived in the middle ages ever sat and thought, "I'll bet someone is going to write a book set in this era. I'd better make a time capsule for them. I'll include clothing, recipes, musical instruments, farm implements...."
No. They were very selfish and didn't think of the future. Now I'm in a quandary.
See, there's a particular Irish instrument called a timpan. No, not a timpani, a timpan. Historians agree on exactly one thing about it: it had strings. We don't even know how many.
Most people agree that, after the timpan died out and Irish people started immigrating to America, they picked up an Appalachian instrument known as a dulcimer and started playing it instead. A dulcimer, therefore, is a modern timpan. But we still don't know a thing about the original.
Historians disagree about what a historical timpan looked like. Some say it was a form of lyre, or something similar to a Welsh crwth (pronounced cru-ith). Others say it was a rectangular board with strings, and that it was played with hammers. Still others look at the etymology of the word and say that the timpan was a drum of skin stretched across a wooden frame with strings running across it, making it something like a short-necked banjo.
We don't even know how the darn thing was played, thanks to the Irish language. It might have been strummed, plucked, picked, hammered, or bowed. Or any combination of the five.
And old Irish instruments aren't the only thing we aren't sure about. We still aren't entirely sure what medieval people wore, or how they styled their hair. I, for one, am pretty miffed. But I suppose that the imagination picks up where history leaves off, and I get to fill in the gaps to my own pleasure.
However, I did find a local dulcimer store. I'm going there to pick their brains about the link between dulcimers and timpans. Let's see if they've found more historical sources than I have.
Have you ever had a difficult time researching something? If you were to make a time capsule, what would you put in it? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.