Monday, January 28, 2013

Stan Hampton stops by Penny's Tales

Vellum – It’s What’s for Writing!

            Okay, so that was a bad take-off on a popular commercial from several years ago. Okay, maybe a couple of decades.
            Anyway, I am a middle aged grandfather. I have wanted to be a writer since I was 15 years old, but it was not until 1992 that my first short story was published. And nothing else happened until 2001. After that I have made steady progress in being published. I’m not rich yet, but one can always hope.
            So, why be a writer? I am not sure but I have plenty of stories I want to tell. Though I may never be rich or even well off, I will keep telling stories for as long as I can.
            Hand in hand with the desire to tell stories is my love for books. It probably began when I lived with my grandparents. One day I discovered a bunch of old books in a bookcase. One of those was a large green book in which I first discovered the names of Captain Cook, Ferdinand Magellan, Christopher Columbus, and a host of other explorers, all presented with black and white woodcut illustrations. But what I remember most about the book was the thick, stiff pages—these were heavy duty pages, not like today’s thin pages of paperback books or even textbooks. Then too, that was a heavy duty book meant to last for awhile unlike most of today’s books.
            A thousand years ago books used heavy duty pages meant to last for awhile—vellum. Though I knew the terms “vellum” (parchment made from calf skin) and “parchment” (calf, goat, or sheep skin), their meaning never truly sank in <>. One bright, momentous day not too long ago I discovered YouTube! Suddenly I had a very visual world in front of me. Almost anything I typed into the search bar produced some sort of video clip, usually around 1-3 minutes long.
            It wasn’t long before I learned a bit about how vellum is made—the soaking and washing of the skins until the hair could be scraped away, followed by stretching on a wooden frame. After the reverse side of the skin was scraped free of any remaining meat, the skin was allowed to dry. Then it was “polished” with a stone. Finally, the skin—officially called vellum—was cut out of the frame. Then began the process by which the vellum was trimmed and prepared for writing, illumination, and insertion into a book. As Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame would describe the process, “Fascinating.”
            Medieval society had its throw-away tools as we do, but more from necessity than design. The scribes used bird feathers or reeds to write with. Writing needed ink, which was made from natural materials. For illumination, the multi-colored borders, oversize letters, and painted designs, a variety of materials were blended to produce the needed colors. Again, “Fascinating.”
            Truly, I am in awe of the many scribes who tirelessly and patiently copied ancient texts for monastic and private libraries. Imagine spending hours, day after day whether summer or winter, sitting at a slanted wooden table and copying a book, word for word, onto sheets of parchment. Perhaps their eyes drooped, or their fingers and hands ached from such dedicated labor. But someone had to do it, otherwise so much knowledge, so much history, would have been lost to the future generations.
            We owe a lot to those tireless men and women, and to those a thousand years ago and more who understood the importance of knowledge and the written word.

How parchment is made – Domesday – BBC Two

Medieval Manuscript Reproduction, Part 1: Pricking (BygoneArts)

Medieval Manuscript Reproduction, Part 3a: Writing (BygoneArts)

Medieval Manuscript Reproduction, Part 3c: Erasing a mistake (BygoneArts)

Medieval Manuscript Reproduction, Part 5a: Painting an Illuminated Letter (Bygone Arts)

Parchment and Paper – NYPL’s Three Faiths Scriptorium

Pens, Paint-making, and Illumination – NYPL’s Three Faiths Scriptorium

Writing – NYPL’s Three Faiths Scriptorium

PS: If you would like to hear a little “Medieval Rock,” I recommend Mediaeval Baebes (Temptasyon; Salva Nos; and Blow Northern Wind) or Blackmore’s Night (Just Call My Name; Under a Violet Moon; and Way to Mandalay Bay). Yes, you can find some of their music on YouTube though sometimes there are different versions.

BLURB: An engineer dedicated to saving Venice from the rising seas, fails in his task. As a severe storm and high tides threaten to burst through the flood walls, he resolves to remain in Venice with a ghostly lover who claimed his heart years before. A woman from his staff who loves him, does not evacuate, but remains to battle his ghostly lover before he dies in a sinking Venice…

EXCERPT: The dull booms, like the measured beats of a primeval heart, echoed through the gray drizzling afternoon. Each boom was a countdown to a finely predicted cataclysm that man, through his mistaken notion that he could control nature, had finally admitted that he was powerless to hold back.
            Dr. Gregorio Romano, tall, with dark brown hair and watchful hazel eyes, stood before the open tall narrow window of his corner office in the ornate, gilded Ducal Palace of the once La Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia, the Most Serene Republic of Venice, and peered into the gray drizzle toward the unseen barrier islands. The almost submerged islands of Lido and Pellestrina, with their channels opening onto the Adriatic Sea, formed the southeastern perimeter of the timeless Venetian lagoon. He listened to the echoing booms of the rising, stormy Adriatic, and thought of a mythical, prehistoric mother who gave birth to an imaginative species that dreamed of the impossible and often made it happen. And now the mother was ready to take back one of the greatest dreams of her children, ready to clasp it deep within her bosom.
            “Yes,” he replied as he gazed at the gray choppy waters of the lagoon.
            “Have you reconsidered? Are you ready to evacuate?”
            “Not yet.” Gregorio tilted his head slightly as a sleek dark gondola glided effortlessly across frothy, white-capped waters and halted before the flooded wharf, the Riva degli Schiavoni, in front of the Palace.
            Patrizia Celentano, the first and last female gondolier of Venice, looked up at him and gave a friendly wave. He raised a hand in return. Her gondola was a traditionally built and shaped boat, but rather than the traditional black as required by law, she painted it a dark wine color. Though she offered to erect a shelter to protect Gregorio from the elements, he always preferred to ride in the open.
            “We can evacuate you by force if necessary.”
            “You won’t,” Gregorio smiled as he turned to face his computer on the polished wooden desk. The broad, bearded face of his boss, Dr. Niccolo Ricci, nodded in agreement. “There’s no need, and a helicopter is scheduled to pick me up from the roof of my home tomorrow morning at 0600 hours.”
            “The calculations might be incorrect. The gates could break tonight...”


SS Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 grandchildren, and a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007). He has served in the Army National Guard since October 2004, and holds the rank of staff sergeant. He is a published photographer and photojournalist, an aspiring painter, and is studying for a degree in photography and anthropology—hopefully to someday work in underwater archaeology. His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories, and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, Ruthie’s Club, Lucrezia Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others. As of December 2011, he became the latest homeless Iraq war veteran in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Wow, Stan, you have been one busy guy!  You are full of interesting facts and your book sounds like a great one. I wish you tons of success and I want to thank you for stopping by to visit with me.


  1. HI Stan,

    The story sounds like a tense thriller. I like the concept. Yes, another for my TBB list.
    Keep them coming.

  2. Lorrie,

    Thank you for your kind comment. Have a great day!


  3. Beautiful writing as usual and excellent post, Stan.

  4. Clarissa,

    Thanks. I appreciate the comment.


  5. Stan, your whole life reads like a novel. Wishing you the best!

    1. Gail,

      Thank you; yes, sometimes it has been. Thanks for stopping by. Have a great week.

      (SS Hampton, Sr.)

  6. Very interesting information on vellum. Thanks for the posting. I can't wait to get into your work. I have told my husband he's gonna love your stuff. Good luck with all the writing. V. L. Murray. For even more info on Stan and his work, check my blog

    1. VL,

      Hi. Thanks for visiting, and I'm glad you liked it. Hopefully your husband will like my writing as well. Good luck with your writing and your blog. Thanks for having me visit your blog.


  7. Fasinating indeed! I could hear Spock say it, as I read your post. And you yourself are as interesting as learning about vellum, parchment and writing utinsels. I wish you much success, Stan. May you find a home soon. Thank you for serving our country.

    1. Jody,

      Hi. Glad you came by, and that you enjoyed the post. And thanks for the well wishes. Have a great week.


  8. From vellum to computers. What a change. Enjoyed learning about you and your work and paper making. Will have to take a look at the videos. Lovely cover too. Best of luck to you with your writing career.

    1. Beverly,

      Thank you for stopping by. And thank you for your kind comments. Yes, the artist from Melange Books always does great covers for my stories. Have a great week!


  9. As you say, fascinating! I realised I never knew the difference between vellum and parchment before. I am now going to dazzle all my friends with my superior knowledge!

  10. Jenny,

    Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Lol, have fun dazzling your friends! Have a great week.


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