Guest Post: “A World Lit Only by Flame” by Kit Grindstaff

flame-in-the-mist-shadow-225Joining us today is special guest Kit Grindstaff, whose middle-grade historical fantasy, The Flame in the Mist, debuts April 9, 2013.

“A World Lit Only by Flame”
by Kit Grindstaff

I’ve always loved to immerse my imagination in the past, particularly medieval through Tudor times. Being English, I grew up absorbing the evidence of lives gone by: castles, manor houses, half-timbered cottages, churches, museums displaying everything from jewels to pots and pans, letters and books. Ancient bones are buried everywhere—even those of kings, ’neath parking lots.* On the darker side, any tourist can visit places like the Tower of London with its stocks, rack, ax, and other delightful remnants of bygone justice.

01.Uses for rotten food

So when it came to writing The Flame in the Mist, the setting of a parallel version of Olde Englande was a no-brainer. True to history, there’s a castle, thatched cottages, and a general sense of the muddy unwashedness of jerkins, boots and breeches that the huddled masses wore back then. Tapestries adorn the walls of the evil rulers’ castle. People travel in carts and carriages, or on horseback. And casting its glow over everything is their one source of heat and light: fire.

This, to me, is probably the most evocative feature of medieval life. How did flame light affect mood and tempers? Get up on a dark winter’s morning and light a candle or lamp rather than flicking a switch; there’s a stillness, a beauty, that the hard glare of a lightbulb snatches away. The glow of flame hazes a face in a beautiful way, adding warmth and softness, instilling calm and commanding patience—something you’d need for the slower pace of pre-electric life. Imagine, for example, having to wait for water to boil on a fire or stove – bucketsful of it, if you wanted a bath – and the time it would take to light every torch of a dark corridor, every candle of a chandelier.

02.Medieval Bathtub
But while flame imbues the world with an air of tranquil, magical mystery, paradoxically—and wonderfully for the historical author—it also ramps up drama and intrigue. Shadows and light dance off walls; dark corners hide lurking dangers; silhouetted figures wait in ambush. The mysterious becomes a threat, sparking deep, primal fears in our beleaguered characters. There’s no phone for them to call for help, no alarm button, no battery-powered torch, even, to search out and reveal a would-be assailant.

03.Silhouetted figures...

As readers and writers, we can always close the book on our heroes and heroines, abandoning them to their dark ages while we scurry back to the 21st century in a blaze of fluorescence. But what if we couldn’t? What would it really have been like to live such a life, with only one’s wits to depend on, and only a lamp to light one’s way? I’m back to square one, immersing my imagination in The Flame in the Mist’s sequel. But much as I enjoy rambling through Olde Englande, I’m glad I’m not actually there, huddled in the cold and scratching away with my quill in flickering candlelight. That, I’ll leave to my characters.

04.Skull in waiting

* The remains of King Richard III were recently found under a parking lot in Leicester, England.

kit-225Kit Grindstaff is the author of The Flame in the Mist, a medieval-flavored middle grade fantasy about a 13-year-old girl destined to save her beleaguered country from its evil rulers and the sinister mist they create (Delacorte Press, April 9th). You can find out more about Kit and her book on her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. (Photo by Laura Pedrick.)


About Cat Winters

Cat Winters’s critically acclaimed debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, was named a 2014 Morris Award Finalist, a 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults pick, a 2013 Bram Stoker Award Nominee, and a School Library Journal Best Book of 2013. Her second novel, THE CURE FOR DREAMING, is a 2015 Amelia Bloomer Project Nominee and a 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults Nominee. Her upcoming books include THE UNINVITED (William Morrow/2015) and THE STEEP AND THORNY WAY (Amulet Books/2016), and she’s a contributor to the 2015 YA horror anthology SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS. Cat lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids. Visit her online at

4 thoughts on “Guest Post: “A World Lit Only by Flame” by Kit Grindstaff

  1. J says:

    We invented the future because the present has traditionally been a sucky place to be. So we not only have light on demand, but chemistry to keep ourselves fed and kitchen robots to wash our dishes. I like the past right where it is.

  2. Wonderful post, Kit! I love the idea of time being slowed down by the use of fire. The sense of place was also narrower, wasn’t it? Cavernous castles aside, a small room was easier to heat than a large one; and lanterns light only a small part of a space at any one time. Those folks were much better tuned to the natural rhythm of the seasons, too, going to bed not long after dark fell and rising with the dawn. I do enjoy my conveniences, but I’d love to visit those times just for a day.

  3. Laura Golden says:

    Elegant and lovely post, Kit! Like Claire, I wouldn’t mind visiting Olde Englande for a day or two. The deal breaker for me wouldn’t be lack of conveniences, but what I may have to eat. Liver or kidney anything? Pass.

  4. Thanks, Claire and Laura! I agree, a day trip would be about it for me. Warm flamelight aside, I’d go nuts having to draw water for a bath, then heat it. Looks like we’re all on the same page as J: leaving the past to the past, and visiting it in our heads.

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