Longsword by David Pilling

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Guest blog post!

Today I am a guest on Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Ports, an excellent blog run by Mary Anne Yarde, acclaimed author of Arthurian-themed fiction. My post is on the theme of Edward I and the tournament:

Friday, 28 September 2018

Longsword on audio!

LONGSWORD, the first chapter in the adventures of Hugh Longsword, has just been released as an audiobook by W.F. Howes,  the UK's leading audiobook, digital services and large print publisher. The sequel, LONGSWORD (II): THE SONS OF MONTFORT is also in the works!

England, AD 1266. The kingdom lies in ruins after years of bitter civil war. Simon de Montfort is dead, slaughtered in battle, and his surviving followers fight on with the fury of despair. Known as the Disinherited, these landless men infest the forests and highways and prey on the common folk.

Hugh Longsword, a common soldier, fights for the King against the rebels who threaten to destroy England. He is taken into the service of the Lord Edward, King Henry’s eldest son, and made to work as a spy. Edward sends him into the wild north country, home to the most dangerous rebel captains: men such as Sir John d’Eyvill and his savage cousin Nicholas, known as the Beast for his cruelty.

While Hugh spies on these cutthroats, the King gathers all his forces to attack Kenilworth Castle, greatest of the rebel strongholds. Though hopelessly outnumbered, the defenders hurl defiance from the walls and refuse to surrender. One assault after another is repulsed, even as the north country slides into chaos and another band of Disinherited seize the Isle of Ely in the fens of Cambridgeshire. From their watery fastness they ride out to attack the Jews of Lincoln, burning deeds, slaughtering innocents and kidnapping the wealthiest for ransom.

One of those taken captive by the rebels is Esther, a widowed Jewess. She is carried away to Ely, where the Jews are treated with inhuman cruelty. Esther is rescued by Hugh, and they are hunted through the marshes by teams of soldiers and wolfhounds. Together they must survive all the dangers of a war-torn land, where law and justice are fallen away and only the strongest can hope to prosper.

Longsword is the latest historical adventure novel by David Pilling, author of Reiver, Soldier of Fortune, The Half-Hanged Man, Caesar’s Sword and many more novels and short stories.

Friday, 14 September 2018

An announcement (fanfare). W.F. Howes, the leading publisher of audiobooks in the UK, has signed two of my books, LONGSWORD and the sequel LONGSWORD (II) THE SONS OF MONTFORT.

Longsword is available for pre-order on Audible.com and will be published on 27 September. Huzzah! 

Monday, 3 September 2018

Audio review

The first review is in for the audiobook version of SOLDIER OF FORTUNE (II): THE HERETIC, narrated by Nick Denton, and it's a beauty:

"Soldier of Fortune (II): The Heretic. This is not my normal reading genre but it proved to be excellent, great story line, superb characters, and packed full of action. Up there with the best in the genre. A good entertaining listen that grips you early on and never lets go. Narration is good and all characters are distinguishable. I was given a free copy of this audiobook at my own request, and voluntarily leave this review."

Friday, 31 August 2018

The Lions of Gwynedd

Release day, release day, release day, yay yay yay!

THE LIONS OF GWYNEDD (I): RISE is now available as an ebook on Amazon.com and uk! An audiobook will follow in due course. Rawr!

“Hail Llywelyn, Prince of Wales!” 

1246 AD. The land of Gwynedd, North Wales, is under threat from the King of England. For centuries Gwynedd has resisted the might of the English, throwing back one invading army after another. Now King Henry, the latest would-be conqueror, has marshalled all his forces to finally break the Welsh to his will. Prince Dafydd, ruler of Gwynedd, is a dying man. Unable to lead his warriors in person, he puts his trust in his young nephew, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.

As the king’s armies advance into North Wales, burning and slaughtering all in their path, Llywelyn must lead the host of Gwynedd in a desperate effort to save their homeland. All the while he must cope with the treachery of his own brothers, who seek to topple Llywelyn and seize power for themselves.

The Lions of Gwynedd (I): Rise chronicles the rise to power of Llywelyn, Prince of Wales and one of the most remarkable and dynamic figures of the era. His lifelong struggle for an independent Wales, against a backdrop of bloody battles, constant betrayal and lethal court politics, gave rise to the deathless legend of Llywelyn the Last. This is his story.

Monday, 20 August 2018


I don't usually do reviews, but as a change of pace I just read this excellent compilation of short stories by Carly Holmes, an author based in West Wales.

Here's my effort at lit crit:

'Figurehead is a superior collection of short tales and poems, full of intellectual and emotional honesty, often not for the faint-hearted. Carly Holmes writes with a savage eloquence that grips the reader’s attention and refuses to let go. As another reviewer noted, there is an earthy sensuality to Holmes’s writing; one can almost sense the stale, hungover atmosphere of booze, cigarettes, bad sex and endless disappointment hanging over the more character-orientated stories. Blood, dirt and semen drip from every page, though Holmes is too skilful a writer to deal in mere shock or exploitation. Each one of these tales is carefully constructed and imbued with a fierce intelligence.

Holmes also has a keen grasp of horror, expressed in more traditional spiritual forms (Ghost Story, Three for a Girl) and the starkly physical (They Tell Me). Ghost Story in particular is a brilliant rewriting of the age-old ‘lonely cottage in a forest’ trope, most famously exploited onscreen in The Blair Witch Project. The author is a master of generating and prolonging tension, and possesses an apparently bottomless sack of nouns; the forest is described as a ‘gnarl of woodland’, for instance, conjuring the image of ancient wilderness, full of mystery and hidden evil. Holmes’s invention in this respect, the ability to avoid clich├ęs and describe the humdrum with vivid clarity, puts fellow authors to shame. They Tell Me is a downright horrific account of a defenceless woman’s ordeal in a mental hospital, slowly ripped to pieces by her doctors in a vain effort to uncover the source of her ‘insanity’. Their brutal methods are described in vivid detail, both repellent and intoxicating.

 Holmes also writes with a deft touch and a keen sense of the absurd, as demonstrated in the twin-part opener, The Demon L and Miss Luna; the unlikely but compelling adventures of a murderess turned bearded lady. Sleep is the merciless tale of a single mother’s struggle to cope with her mentally damaged child, while Alter, Heartwood and Into The Woods express Holmes’s visceral fascination with nature. True nature, red in tooth and claw, rather than some bloodless story-book version. Heartwood also explores the contrast between wilderness and civilisation and how they relate to themes of human happiness. Alter and Into the Woods explore the theme of transformation, of people physically returning to the wild via altered states and consciousness.

It isn’t all savagery and horror. Gentler themes of ageing and parent-child relations occur in Strumpet and Bake Day. The latter is a touching account of a lonely mother with three young sons to look after, and how much of her individuality is swallowed up her children. They, in turn, only exist with her permission. The image of her ‘eating’ her sons by consuming gingerbread versions of them is particularly memorable. The collection ends on Rootless, an eloquent and brutal dissection of fairy tales, in which ‘tooth fairies’ appear as cruel, manipulative creatures, using the extraction of teeth to control humans. If I have one very minor criticism, it is that I would have liked to read more of Holmes’s take on ancient fairy tales, with all their blood and cruelty and dark magic (or magick, if you prefer).

 No hesitation in awarding five shiny gold stars.'

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Stoned grunts!

This blog has been very quiet recently, so to kick it back into life I thought I’d share an article I wrote for today, the anniversary of the Batle of Falkirk in 1298.

 STONED GRUNTS - by David Pilling 

‘To Edward I the longbow owes its original rise to favour.’ - Charles Oman, The Art of War in the Middle Ages

The Battle of Falkirk, fought on this day in 1298, has been presented by Oman and others as a watershed moment in English military history: the day when the Welsh longbow made its bow (pun intended) on the world stage by mowing down hordes of Scottish spearmen. Edward I, it is argued, had acquired painful first-hand experience of the weapon during his Welsh campaigns. After the conquest of Wales he turned his pain to gain by employing thousands of Welsh archers in his armies, who obligingly shot the Scots to pieces at Falkirk. This joyous event heralded the English domination of the Hundred Years War, in which Scottish and French armies were massacred by the sturdy yeomen of Olde England (the Welsh tend to drop out of the narrative here) armed with the deadly longbow or war bow.

 The popular image of longbows at Falkirk rests on a single line from an account of the battle given by Walter of Hemingburgh: “But our foot-soldiers shot at them with arrows, and then, securing a quantity of round stones, of which there was abundance near, stoned them.”

And that’s it. None of the other chronicle accounts put any emphasis on archers, while some don’t mention missile troops at all. The chronicles of Lanercost and Rishanger claim the battle was won by Edward’s cavalry, who outflanked the schiltrons. It’s difficult to see how this achieved very much, since Wallace’s spearmen were arranged in rings and you can’t ‘outflank’ a circle. The cavalry certainly charged, as the loss of over a hundred horses listed on an expenses roll afterwards shows. These were merely the horses lost by the paid cavalry; the unpaid probably amounted to two or three times that number. Casualties among the riders, however, were very light. Only two English knights were killed, one of them the Master of the Templars, and a handful of squires. Hemingburgh says that the cavalry wiped out Wallace’s archers, but were unable to break the massed spears. This job was done by the bowmen, who opened enough gaps for the cavalry to charge in again and sweep Wallace’s men from the field.

A glance at the wage lists for Edward’s army suggests the battle was realy won, not by archers or mounted knights, but the P.B.I. (Poor Bloody Infantry). Edward’s army was huge, and the total number of English and Welsh footsoldiers during the period up to 20 July, two days before the battle, was 25, 781. For the next period, covering the battle, this number is reduced to 22, 497, a drop of 3284. Granted, the army was suffering from lack of supplies, and some of these men may have deserted. Yet such a dramatic cut in numbers cannot have been due to desertion alone, and the likelihood is that most of the missing men were casualties, killed or wounded on the day of battle. The Welsh contingent of Edward’s army numbered 10,584, and from 21 July six contingents of Welsh suffered a total loss of 195 men. Thus, even though the Welsh made up almost half of Edward’s infantry, the majority of the casualties were suffered by his English troops.

Who were these faceless grunts? Most are recorded only as numbers on a payroll, with few names given. The chroniclers generally ignored them, though the Chronicle of Bartholomew Cotton does at least give one account of how footsoldiers were raised in this era. According to Cotton, a commission of array was set up in the southern counties for service in Gascony in 1295. Hugh Cressingham and William Mortimer came into Norfolk and summoned from the local towns and villages a large number of potential recruits at Newmarket. The men were inspected there, and those not up to standard sent home. Those who remained were issued with white tunics, sword and knives, all provided for at the expense of local communities. Shortly afterwards the muster was abandoned, and the tunics - called ‘blaunchecotes’ - stolen and sold off by local profiteers. The blaunchecotes were worth 3 shillings each, suggesting they were padded jackets or aketons rather than simple tunics dyed white.

We may picture, then, the mass of Edward’s infantry as conscripted peasants, kitted out in their white aketons and armed with swords and knives. They were paid 2d (pence) a day and arranged into units of twenty, each unit commanded by a vintenar. Five sections of twenty men were combined under the command of a centenar, a fully-equipped cavalryman with a barded horse. As desertion or death thinned the ranks, units would be combined together and reformed. The rolls show that archers carried a quiver apiece with no more than two dozen arrows, which explains why they ran out at Falkirk.

The number of casualties on the Scottish side is impossible to ascertain. No wage lists exist for Wallace’s army, and the English chroniclers gleefully exaggerated the losses: Guisborough claimed that fifty thousand Scots were killed, while Rishanger went for sixty thousand. Lanercost went the whole hog and suggested a hundred thousand. Rishanger also claimed that the Scots had the larger army, which seems unlikely. We can only rely on scraps of evidence. Geoffrey Barrow, for instance, noted that between forty to sixty of the free tenants of Coldingham fought for Wallace at Falkirk, and many killed. The most conservative figure on the English side comes from the official report of the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield to the mayor and aldermen of London. He stated that 200 Scottish men-at-arms and 20,000 infantrymen had died on the field. For a very rough estimate, it may be permissible to halve this figure. A 3-1 kill ratio, given that most losses in a medieval battle occured when one side broke and ran, seems realistic.

There was a darker element to the Edwardian military system. From 1294 onwards the king was at war on several fronts and in desperate need of men. One solution was to empty England’s prisons and fill the ranks with convicts. A number of these criminals most definitely served at Falkirk. In the weeks after the battle, Edward pardoned over 150 men for various crimes in return for doing military service in Scotland, Flanders and Gascony. Of these, 125 received their pardon for service in Scotland, which must have included the battle. Most of these men were murderers, with the occasional rapist or thief among them. One man, William le Fevre of Haydenbrigg, had been hanged at Newcastle for robbery, taken for dead and removed for burial to a local church. He was found to be alive, and so sent off to Scotland to fight ‘for the honour of God and the reverence of St James.’ None of the convicts received wages, and their pardons were conditional upon good service. If they misbehaved, the gallows beckoned.

With twenty-four arrows apiece in their quivers, Edward’s archers must have killed a fair few Scots. Once the ammo ran out, they were apparently reduced to lobbing stones. The loss of over three thousand men from the infantry suggests the grim work of tearing apart the schiltrons was still not done, and had to be achieved at close quarters. We may imagine the chaos and the bloodshed as Wallace’s spearmen fought hand-to-hand against untrained peasant levies and murderous convicts. Thousands of English footsoldiers were killed, but they had served their purpose. Once the schiltrons were ‘softened up’, Edward sent in his cavalry again to finish the job. They probably galloped over a fair few of their own infantrymen in the process, but who cares about those guys?