I first decided
to write a deaf hero after reading an article that said women are attracted to
men who stare at them like they are the only thing in the room.
I thought, who
would stare at a woman like that? A deaf man.
I have friends
who work in the deaf community, plus I have some limited experience with
American Sign Language, so I had a foundation to work with.
Next, I needed
to figure out how he would communicate, and how to convey that to the reader.
This is what I came up with:
"Spoken dialog is in quotes."
Written words are in italics.
And when I gesture there are no quotes, Brander motioned. He added:
If they follow the tag there is a colon and capital letter.
(I had to
explain all of this to my editor so she didn't try to "fix" what was
historical novels and ASL doesn't exist in Europe now, much less in the 1700s.
When I began to describe Brander's gestures, I had to forget everything I knew
and create motions that would make sense to a seven-year-old.
I also needed
to give him a realistic trade, one that a deaf man would not only be able to
do, but do well. As a private
investigator, Brander can use his deafness and lip-reading as some of his
tools. After all, he says, when people find out I'm deaf, they forget
I'm in the room.
I have a scene
in the second book, "A Discreet Gentleman of Matrimony," when a
doctor asks to look into Brander's ears. My discreet gentleman experiences a
moment of shock and wonders if he could regain his hearing.
He cannot. And
when he thinks about it, Brander realizes that he isa better man
because he is deaf. To regain his hearing at this stage of his life would
be a detriment to his career.
That is a very
realistic response. Not heroic. Not bitter. No pounding anyone with a
politically correct agenda. Just real.
Of course, the
hearing people he encounters are as insensitive and ignorant as humans can be.
To write the story otherwise would be a mistake as well.
As I was typing
along, I occasionally made those mistakes. When I did, I tried to work them
into the narrative. Like this line:
"Regin lowered her voice…" Oops. Well, go on with the
thought: "…before she remembered she didn't have to." The hearing
spouse is making an adjustment, too.
I even had a
line of dialog where Regin points her finger at her deaf and mute husband and
shouts, "Don't you ever say that to me again, do you hear me?" Who wouldn’t
use words they were accustomed to in the heat of an argument?
at her like she's crazy and asks: Do you realize what you just said?
what I mean!" she retorts.
And a little humorous, to be honest.
And did I
mention sexy? That intense stare, quick intelligence, and the ability to see
things others cannot make for a uniquely strong character. I confess: I'm
Hard on the heels of The Half-Hanged Man, comes Book One of my family saga set during the bloody conflict remembered as The Wars of the Roses. This period, with its murderous dynastic feuding between the rival Houses of York and Lancaster, is perhaps the most fascinating of the entire medieval period in England. Having lost the Hundred Years War, the English nobility turned on each other in a bitter struggle for the crown, resulting in a spate of beheadings, battles, murders and Gangland-style politics that lasted some thirty years.
Apart from the savage doings of aristocrats, the wars affected people on the lower rungs of society. One minor gentry family in particular, the Pastons of Norfolk, suffered greatly in their attempts to survive and thrive in the feral environment of the late 15th century. They left an invaluable chronicle in their archive of family correspondence, the famous Paston Letters.
The letters provide us with a snapshot of the trials endured by middle-ranking families like the Pastons, and of the measures they took to defend their property from greedy neighbours. One such extract is a frantic plea from the matriarch of the clan, Margaret Paston, begging her son John to return from London:
"I greet you well, letting you know that your brother and his fellowship
stand in great jeopardy at Caister... Daubney and Berney are dead and
others badly hurt, and gunpowder and arrows are lacking. The place is
badly broken down by the guns of the other party, so that unless they
have hasty help, they are likely to lose both their lives and the place,
which will be the greatest rebuke to you that ever came to any
gentleman. For every man in this country marvels greatly that you suffer
them to be for so long in great jeopardy without help or other remedy..."
The Paston Letters, together with my general fascination for the era, were the inspiration for The White Hawk. Planned as a series of three novels, TWH will follow the fortunes of a fictional Staffordshire family, the Boltons, from the beginning to the very end of The Wars of the Roses. Unquenchably loyal to the House of Lancaster, their loyalty will have dire consequences as law and order breaks down and the kingdom slides into civil war.
If that whets your appetite, then please check out the paperback and Kindle versions of Book One below...
My Hundred Years War tale, The Half-Hanged Man, is now available from Amazon
on Kindle and paperback.
I've wanted to write a novel set during the latter half of the 14th century
for a long time. Even by medieval standards, this was a brutal and bloody era,
with much of Europe plunged into dynastic
wars. England under her
warrior-king, Edward III, was at war with France
and Scotland, and Spain and Italy were riven by internal
conflicts. The constant fighting and general chaos offered rich pickings to
savvy mercenary captains such as Sir John Hawkwood, Bertrand du Guesclin, Hugh
Calveley and Robert Knolles, all of whom succeeded in making a fat profit while
"The Half-Hanged Man" is the story of one such captain, though a
fictional one. His name is Thomas Page and like many of his peers he is a
commoner, destined to rise to brief greatness by virtue of wielding a nifty
sword. The book also follows the story of his lover, the Spanish courtesan
known as the Raven of Toledo, and the narrative of Hugh Calveley, a
particularly ruthless soldier and black-armoured giant with flaming red hair
and incisors he had specially sharpened to terrify the French!
Throw into the mix are any number of battles and sieges, including the
Battle of Auray (see pic above) in 1364, where the Franco-Bretons and
Anglo-Breton armies hammered the life out of each other for possession of the
Duchy of Brittany.
Excerpt: “I led my portion of the
rearguard across the open ground to the right of the prince’s battalion, and
surged into the first company of Castilian reinforcements as they tried to
arrange into a defensive line. They were well-equipped foot with steel helms
and leather jacks, glaives and axes, but demoralised and unwilling to stand
against a charge of heavy horse. I skewered a serjeant in the front rank with
my lance and rode over him as the men behind him scattered, yelling in fear and
hurling their banners away as they ran.
If all the Castilians had behaved in such a manner, we would have had an easy
time of it, but now Enrique flung his household knights into the fray. It had
started to rain heavily, sheets of water blown by strong winds across the
battlefield, and a phalanx of Castilian lancers on destriers came plunging out
of the murk, smashing into the front rank of my division. A lance shattered
against my cuisse, almost knocking me from the saddle, but I kept my seat and
slashed at the knight with my broadsword as he hurtled past, chopping an iron
leaf from the chaplet encircling his basinet, but doing no other damage.
My men held together under the Castilian charge, and soon there was a fine
swirling mêlée in progress. I was surrounded by visored helms and glittering
blades, men yelling and horses screaming, and glimpsed my standard bearer ahead
of me, shouting and fending off two Castilians with the butt of his lance.
Another Englishman rode in to help him, throwing his arms around one of the
Castilians and heaving him out of the saddle with sheer brute strength, and
then a fresh wave of steel and horseflesh, thrown up by the violent, shifting
eddies of battle, closed over them and shut off my view.
I couldn’t bear to lose my banner again, and charged into the mass of fighting
men, clearing a path with the sword’s edge. A mace or similar hammered against
my back-plate, sending bolts of agony shooting up my spine, and my foot slipped
out of the stirrup as I leaned drunkenly in the saddle, black spots reeling
before my eyes.”
Intrigued? See the links to
the Kindle and paperback below:
Today is the feast of Crispian, i.e. the 25th of October, the day that all good men are supposed to teach their sons about the Battle of Agincourt. Lacking any handy sons, I've decided to preach about it on here instead.
Agincourt was fought on the 25th of October 1415, and was one of the highlights of the epic slugging match of the Hundred Years War, fought to determine whether a Frenchman or a man of French descent should sit on the French throne. A couple of centuries later Shakespeare turned it into the main event of his play, Henry V, a glorious hymn to English patriotism. The speeches he puts into the mouth of the heroic King Hal at Harfleur and on the eve of Agincourt are pretty much familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of English literature. When expressed by a great actor, they still have the power to electrify, as dear old Kenneth Branagh demonstrated in his 1989 film version:
Modern-day scholarship, that most joyful of enterprises, has asserted over and over again that the historical battle was anything but a glorious event, and in fact consisted of loads of men bludgeoning each other into gory oblivion on a freezing winter's day in the middle of a muddy field. So much mud, in fact, that thousands of the heavily-armed French knights and men-at-arms drowned in the stuff, while the lighter-armed British archers - English, Welsh and Irish - danced rings around them.
Doubt has been cast over the traditional view of the battle, in which the French cavalry charged forward to be mown down by a storm of arrows. The longbow, some critics point out, lacked the power to send an arrow through heavy plate armour. Most of the French dismounted before the battle and trudged forward on foot, wishing to avoid a repeat of earlier disasters like Crécy and Poitiers, where they did indeed charge on horseback and came thoroughly unstuck. Mud and rain, it seems, won the day for King Harry and Saint George, who can count themselves lucky the weather was on their side.
The other fondly-held view of the battle, that Henry's 'poor and starved band' was hideously outnumbered by up to sixty thousand chortling, garlic-spewing Froggies, has also come under the microscope. In her 2005 book 'Agincourt: A New History' Anne Curry argues that the French army numbered about 12,000, and the British about 9,000, which vastly evens up the odds. However, in the same year Juliet Barker flatly contradicted Curry's claim and stated that the British were outnumbered by four, possibly even six to one. Contemporary accounts, given as they were to ridiculous hyperbole, are of little help, and the surviving records are too patchy to build up a clear figure.
A more interesting question might be - is Agincourt still a valid reason for celebration? It made for brilliant propaganda in World War Two, when Laurence Olivier's 1944 film of Henry V was used as a brassy, tub-thumpingly patriotic morale-booster for a British public exhausted by years of war. These days, however, it is possible to view Henry V's invasion of France as a largely futile exercise.
Henry's bid to win the French throne was scuppered by his own early death and the rebound of French nationalism, spearheaded by Joan of Arc, that followed a few years later. The English position in France was steadily eroded until the last English field armies were blasted to pieces by new-fangled artillery at Castillon and Formigny, and the English nobility slumped into the murderous round of infighting remembered as The Wars of the Roses.
Thus the Hundred Years War ended in defeat and civil war for England, and the eventual result was the Tudor dynasty. Which in turn led to those dreadful Cate Blanchett movies, and the even worse CBC/Showtime TV series with Jonathan Rhys-Meyers embarrassing himself as Henry VIII.
...S.G. Rogers Sets Sail! Suzanne has the platform for this post, centred on things nautical and her spiffy-sounding new fantasy novel, Tournament of Chance - clew up the futtock shrouds, Ms Rogers, and Roger the Cabin Boy!
'Research poses many challenges, whether an author writes
historical fiction or fantasy literature.In the former, a writer must do his or her due diligence as part of the
craft.Although some readers might
assume fantasy worlds are just completely made up, that’s not necessarily
true.For me, fantasy worlds work best
when I can picture them clearly. As a writer, I try to have clear and concrete details
available before I pen a scene. Since the setting for my latest release, Tournament of Chance, is Earth-like, the
medieval-ish setting required a surprising amount of research.
One particular area of inquiry involved maritime transportation.The plot required the main characters to make
two voyages in a two different ships.My
challenge was to describe the ships in such a way to paint a picture in the
mind of the reader, but avoid immediate association with any particular
nation.Fortunately, as a fantasy writer,
I’m able to fudge eras!
I was looking for a vessel that was small, maneuverable, and
could be sailed by a very small crew.I
chose the cutter, which is a single-masted sailboat.Although the ship in the illustration above (Louis Le Breton
(1818–1866)) is a French cutter from the 19th century, it had the
look I wanted and the generic name I needed.
For the second voyage, I needed an armed ship manned by a
larger crew, so I selected a corvette.
The vessel above is a type of corvette, which is a
small warship about 40 to 60 feet in length.The term dates back to the 1700s. I found this illustration (used with
permission) on Rob Ossian’s Pirate’s Cove website, dedicated to pirate and
nautical information: http://www.thepirateking.com/index.htm
The Pirate King has a wealth of information for authors and
enthusiasts, from biographies of historical figures to rum reviews.
Although neither illustration appears in Tournament of Chance, I referred to them
when I was writing the nautical scenes. I began my research on Wikipedia, by
the way, and moved on from there. For attention to detail, I discovered
beautiful ship models at The Art of Age of Sail: http://www.ageofsail.net
Writing a fantasy novel with historical detail takes a lot
longer, but the results can be well worth the effort. My research in no way
made me an expert in historical sailing vessels, but I have a much greater
appreciation for them than I did before.For example, I discovered a belaying pin makes a mighty fine weapon in a
~ S.G. Rogers
Heather peered at Ariel.
Despite his tough façade, the boy radiated loneliness and deprivation. “If you
make it back to Ormaria, call on Lady Parker at the castle. Tell her Heather
sent you. She’ll help.”
Ariel gave Heather a
mistrustful glance. “Why should she help me? I’m nothing to her.”
“She’s very kind,”
Heather said. “And you’re not nothing; you’re a person.”
Bast’s uninjured hand
descended on Ariel’s shoulder and knocked him to the deck. “You’ve been told
not to talk to Heather. I’ll whip you for this.”
“You will not,”
Ariel scrambled backward
as she stepped between him and Bast.
“Get out of my way,
girl,” Bast roared.
Bast shoved Heather aside
and advanced on Ariel, who cowered in a quivering lump of fear. Heather plucked
the nearest belaying pin from the pin rail alongside the bulwark and brought it
squarely down onto Bast’s injured hand. He screamed in pain.
“Run, Ariel!” she yelled.
“Hide in the cargo hold.”
Bast turned his murderous
temper on Heather. The crystal around his neck flared, and she found herself
tumbling through the air with the belaying pin still clutched in her hand. When
she landed at the base of one of the four cannons, everything went black.
In Tournament of Chance, a
hunter’s daughter becomes the spark that ignites a revolution—in time.
beautiful commoner enters the Tournament of Chance archery competition, her
thwarted victory sparks a revolution in the oppressive kingdom of Destiny.
Although Heather never believed the legends about the restoration of Ormaria,
after three shape-shifting Ormarian wizards awaken from a long magical slumber,
she joins their perilous quest to regain the throne. Heather battles vicious
predators and angry trolls to free the wizards’ magic, but at a horrendous
cost. She is unexpectedly torn from the arms of the man she loves and hurled
back in time to fulfill a prophecy not yet written. The ensuing maelstrom tests
Heather’s survival skills, wits, and endurance. Will she become an unwritten
footnote in history, or can she trust the magic to lead her back to her one
available in all e-formats from Musa Publishing HERE.
Also available for the Kindle at Amazon.
Coming soon to BN.com and wherever fine e-books are sold. To learn more
about author S.G. Rogers, visit her blog at www.childofyden.wordpress.com
...and finally gets to climb off his knackered horse, peel off his rusted armour (or 'harness', to use the historically correct term) and hang up his dinted broadsword over the fireplace. Yes, Sir John Swale's opus is coming to an end with 'The Wolf of Fairburn', Part Thirteen of The John Swale Chronicles, released at the end of this month by Musa Publishing. All loose ends will be tied up (hopefully), all wrongs will be righted (maybe) and all of the long-suffering Sir John's enemies and problems will be banished forever (almost certainly not).
Still, at least the poor man gets to take a break. He's had a hard time of it, what with fearsome outlaws, Scottish rebels, slaughtered kinsmen, ambitious kings and the general nastiness of 14th century life to contend with. My heartfelt thanks go to Musa for giving me the platform to tell Sir John's story, otherwise it might have remained lost forever inside some musty old leather-bound chronicle.
Will he return? Maybe, though it might be best to let his ghost rest awhile. He does, however, have a daughter...
I'm currently reading 'Martyrs and Traitors' by Marina Julia Neary, a novel about Bulmer Hobson, a member of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Republican Brotherhood and a key figure in the 1916 Easter Rising. This isn't a period of history I knew much about, and well out of my usual medievalisms, but I highly recommend it. Neary's prose style is informative without being the slightest bit dull or plagued by 'info-dumps', and she recounts events and personalities with a vivid, lyrical ease that I can only admire. Get It!!
A plot summary of the book is below, taken from Amazon:
'Dublin, Good Friday, 1916 Kidnapped and held at gunpoint by his former
IRB comrades, Bulmer Hobson, the misunderstood antihero of 1916,
denounces the ill-fated Easter Rising he had tried to prevent. While his
captors joke about shooting him and dumping his body on the railroad
tracks, his terrified fiancee roams the chaos-ravaged city in search of
him. Fifteen years of political rivalry, international conspiracy,
botched love affairs, and taunting promises of glory culminate in a
bloody showdown. Once branded 'the most dangerous man in Ireland' by the
police, Hobson is about to be deleted from history. Based on
historical accounts, Martyrs and Traitors is an intimate glance into the
conflicted and shattered heart of Ireland's discredited patriot.'
…probably. The discovery of a medieval
skeleton in the remains of the Choir of Greyfriars church has inspired a lot of
excitement in recent days, for the bones could well be those of King Richard
III, one of the most controversial figures in English history.
It almost seems too good to be true, but it
certainly sounds like our man: Richard, as every schoolboy knows (or did,
before they discovered the pleasures of happy slapping and crack cocaine) was said
to be deformed, and was very definitely killed in battle against the ragtag
army of the Welsh usurper, Henry Tudor, at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The
man found under a council car park near a ring road in Leicester
has an arrow-head in his back, pronounced scoliois or curvature of the spine,
and a mangled skull:
Whether or not the bones really are those
of Richard III, what is undeniable is the emotional response from many quarters
to his possible discovery. Despite being over 600 years dead, Richard has a
great many fans and admirers, often termed ‘Ricardians’, and there is even a
Richard III Society dedicated to cleaning up his rather murky historical
reputation. Since the discovery of the bones journalists have been lining up to
say nice things about the man and his brief reign, such as this, um, interesting piece in The Telegraph
calling for a state funeral and comparing Richard favourably to ‘bloodthirsty
maniacs’ such as Edward I and Henry VIII:
Whatever is finally done with Richard’s
remains – assuming they are his – it would be nice to think that his discovery
and burial will lead to a more balanced assessment of a man who was neither
hero nor villain, toad-like hunchback monster or maligned hero-king. It’s
difficult to attempt a balanced picture of such a complex and divisive figure
in a few glib paragraphs, but I’ll give it a try.
King Richard III was memorably vilified by
Shakespeare as a matchless villain who intimated his evil thoughts to the
audience and slaughtered his way to the throne, mowing down Edward of
Lancaster, Henry VI, his brother George, Duke of Clarence, William Lord
Hastings, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers…and of course, his two nephews, the
famous ‘princes in the Tower’, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York.
Of this rather impressive list of victims,
Richard certainly had Hastings killed in a shocking and illegal fashion, and
Anthony Woodville and his nephew Richard Grey were both seized and executed on
Richard’s orders. There is no direct evidence that he had a hand in the deaths
of most of the others, and none at all that he murdered the princes.
Various arguments and justifications have
been put forward justifying Richard’s apparently ruthless and self-serving behaviour leading to his seizure of power in 1483. The pulse-quickening joys of
contemporary documents such as Titulus Regius and the Stillington Precontract are often
wheeled out in Richard’s defence as part of explanations for his actions, and
in 1984 he was even granted a televised trial for his alleged murder of the
princes (verdict: Not Guilty). It has also been pointed out that up until 1483 he
was a model subject, absolutely loyal to his brother Edward IV, and never
showed any signs – unlike his grasping brother Clarence – of harbouring
The man does not lack for defenders, then, but
in this blog’s view none of it is enough to wipe his slate clean. The principal
charge against Richard’s reputation, the murder of his nephews, may never be
proved conclusively one way or the other, but at the time of their
disappearance from public view in 1483 he had the prime motive and opportunity
to be their assassin. Other suspects have been put forward – principally the
Duke of Buckingham and Henry Tudor – but none, to my mind, are convincing.
Whether or not Richard was capable of
ordering the deaths of innocents depends on your reading of the man. He was
raised during The Wars of the Roses, during which time much of England’s
baronage wiped each other out in an orgy of battlefield deaths and drumhead
executions. Richard’s own father was killed in battle, and from an early age he
was used to violent death and bloodshed: at the age of just 17, he took part in
the treason trials of Henry Courtenay and Lord Hungerford, and at 18 he fought
at the Battle of Tewkesbury, where the last Lancastrian army was defeated and
butchered with a cruelty typical of the age. Thus Richard grew up in an
atmosphere of murderous realpolitik and
bloodstained paranoia, where a man learned to act in ruthless and predatory
fashion if he wanted to survive.
Above all, Richard learned the importance of striking
quickly at those that threatened him, hence his actions in 1483. Remarkably
little sympathy is wasted on those that definitely did fall victim to Richard,
and some effort has been made to justify his actions by portraying them in a
negative light: Lord Hastings, for instance, in reality one of the most loyal
and capable supporters of the Yorkist regime, has been depicted in fiction as a
murderous paedophile. The fact that Richard’s thugs dragged Hastings out of a
council chamber and hacked his head off, without waiting for even the semblance
of a trial, is made much more palatable if Hastings can be vilified.
In the end, propaganda works both ways.
Richard suffered from it for many centuries, and now it seems that some of
those who wish to recast him as a tragic hero are prepared to exercise it on
his behalf. The grim and unexciting reality is that Richard III was a
competent, ruthless aristocrat, typical of his class and time, who got greedy
and paid for it on a bloody August day in 1485.
Lord quotes some fearsome statistics: total book sales in the UK in April this year were down a quarter on the previous April, and overall UK sales of novels have crashed by 50% in the last two years. This is understandably making agents and publishing houses nervous of taking on new authors. This in turn forces authors to turn to other routes to get their work out in the big wide world.
Food for thought for all of us...much of it difficult to digest.
Switching from historical to speculative fiction, Part One of 'Sorrow', the first of a series of mini-sequels to my fantasy novel, "The Best Weapon", co-written with my good friend Martin Bolton, is due to be released by Musa Publishing at the beginning of September.
The wondrous thing about writing fantasy as opposed to historical fiction is that the writer can just make stuff up, and not have to justify any of it to The Ricardian Society. "Sorrow" was a joy to write in that regard, as Martin and me (Martin and I? A writer really should know his grammar) got stuck into the fabric of the fictional universe we created between us.
Much of The World Apparent, as we called it, was created in London pubs when we both worked at the Tate Gallery, and the cities and oceans and continents first came to life scribbled on the back of beermats or in puddles of stale booze. The pub, as William Shakespeare might have agreed - he is said to have died after a mammoth drinking session with his mate Ben Johnson - has always been the hub of all the best in British creative thinking.
"Sorrow" takes place a few years after events in The Best Weapon. The World Apparent is still an unstable place, wracked by factions and vicious civil wars, and threatening to slide back into barbarism at the drop of a broadsword. Into the maelstrom wanders Sorrow, a mysterious little boy who everyone suddenly wants a piece of...
To give a better idea of the setting and background to all this, I thought the following review of The Best Weapon taken from Amazon might be useful:
'To me, most of the sword and sorcery fantasies follow the same
storyline. The Best Weapon, on the other hand, offers a new twist on
the genre with a tale with an original plot. In this world, gods are
petty, selfish beings more intent on their own position amongst the
others. The Lords of Hell are twin demon brothers, two scheming,
conniving beings. When the brothers perceive an approaching threat,
their only recourse is to create two brothers out of clay and place them
into the wombs of woman at opposite sides of the world where they will
grow and mature until the demon brothers can make use of them.
brother, Naiyar, is born into the Djanki tribe, a fierce, warlike
people, bent on conquest. The other brother, Fulk, is born to a woman
in the far north where the remnants of the Old Kingdom have taken root.
Orphaned at an early age, he is taken in by the Knights Templar, and
ancient order dedicated to supporting the rightful king. Or at this
time, the infant queen, the king recently dying with no male heir.
Through trials and tribulations, events point to the brothers meeting,
but what they might do then is unknown.
The rhythm and tempo of
the book flows well, despite bouncing back and forth between the two
brothers and some assorted characters such as the Archpriest Flambard,
the regent of the Old Kingdom. The character voice is appropriate, and
the details of this world are well thought-out and logical.
point I liked was the transformation of the Archpriest from a scheming,
but not horrible man, to someone evil after being "touched" by one of
the Lords of Hell. With only a few sentences here and there, the fact
that this is a transformation out of the Archprinest's control is
I also liked the fact that the various characters had
their own individual voices and speech patterns. Too often, each
character in a book speaks with one voice, that of the author. But in
this book, I could read a quote and recognize the character. The two
brothers, in particular, ahd their own identities (I wondered that as
the book has two authors, if each one took one of the brothers and
penned his dialogue.) Of course, by making them different, they came
across differently. I felt that of the two, Naiyar was the more
colorful, complete, and complex character.
William Mallet, the
Master-at-Arms for the Templars was perhaps my favorite character.
Initially seeming to be a callous tyrant, the authors gradually coaxed
out a fuller picture of an honorable and brave man. We were never
directly told this, but his true character was revealed by his actions.'
No, I've not been overdosing on merry pills - these are the words of the Antwerp chronicler, Lodewijk Van Velthem, recording the antics of the notorious Flemish pirate, John Crabbe. Translated into modern English they read something like: "'And in addition to the harm these men wrought, Crabbe also contributed his share. He wrought great damage on the seas, showing mercy to no one. Now he appeared here, now there..."
Van Velthem signed off by saying of Crabbe and his associates that "Such is the evil company of robbers - they do not keep to what they promise; and in the end themselves are deceived."
John Crabbe, however, was immune to any form of deception. In a long and wildly varied career as a pirate and seafaring mercenary, starting in about 1305 and ending with his death in England in 1352, he enjoyed the kind of success that later small-time buccaneers such as Blackbeard and Calico Jack (the inspiration for Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, incidentally) would have killed for. He is also the latest villain to make an appearance in the ninth of my John Swale Chronicles, a splendidly amoral character, if little-known these days, and one I couldn't resist including.
Born some time in the late 13th century in Muiden, a small town on the Flemish coast near the mouth of the Zwin, Crabbe had an inauspicious start to life. His surname was a fairly common one in Bruges and other places in Flanders - for instance, there was a Clais Crabbe recorded as living in 1347, and Crabbe's nephew, 'son of Peter Crabbe' (recorded as 'Crabbekin', possibly to avoid confusion) served as a pirate aboard his famous uncle's ships.
John Crabbe's name first appears in connection with piracy with a robbery committed near the port of La Rochelle on the Bay of Biscay, in 1305. Here he and his crew forcefully seized a a ship called the 'Waardebourc' belonging to one John de la Waerde, a merchant of Dordrecht. The pirates made a thorough job of it, snatching 160 tuns of wine and all the goods on board, torching the ship and holding the crew to ransom. De la Waerde appealled for justice and recompense to just about everyone, including Philip the Fair, King of France, but even with the help of the Count of Flanders it proved impossible to bring the slippery Crabbe to justice.
Nothing more is heard of the pirate for a few years, but in 1310 he struck again. This time he bagged an even richer prize, a ship belonging to Alice the Countess Marshal carrying a fortune in gold, jewels, expensive cloth, silver, and other items valued at 2000 pounds sterling. The ship was sailing peacefully in the Strait of Dover between Dover and Whitsand when Crabbe's ship, the De La Mue, descended on it. This time the King of England requested that the hapless Count of Flanders bring his wayward subjects to justice, and once again Crabbe slipped the clutches of the law.
It turned out he had made good his escape to Aberdeen in Scotland, where he cleverly re-invented himself as a merchant and a soldier-for-hire, assisting the Scots in their endless wars against England. In his absence he was convicted of robbery, and condemned to a particularly nasty death - breaking on the wheel - if he ever returned to Flanders. But return to Flanders he did, many times, to sell goods from plundered English vessels in Flemish ports, and no Flemish official had the nerve to lay a hand on him. This is unsurprising, for by 1315 Crabbe had won fame and reputation as a tireless and ruthless freebooter, and not a man to cross.
Crabbe made himself indispensable to the Scots, advising them on the defence of Berwick-upon-Tweed when the English attempted to recapture the place in 1318-19. The Scottish chronicler John Barbour was moved to praise Crabbe in verse, saying that "John Crabbe, a Fleming was he, a man of great subtlety..." The pirate took advantage of such plaudits to wring favours from the Scottish government, and by the time he appears in my tale - 1332 - he was a respected burgher of Berwick, and in receipt of handsome payments for supplying the town with arms and stolen goods.
He is, however, about to be pitched into a new war between Scotland and her old foe England that even John Crabbe, with all his experience and resourcefulness, might be hard put to survive...
...or so said the Lanercost chronicler, describing the events of the 10th-11th August 1331. The chronicler's definition of 'marvellous' might not be everyone's, as he was enthusing over the great piles of dead soldiers that lay on the field of Dupplin Moor - "the pile of dead rising up from the ground was more than a spear's length in height", drooled the chronicler, clearly experiencing a tight little thrill of ecstasy at the thought. Well, a medieval monk in an isolated monastery had to get his kicks where he could.
Sir John Swale, the much put-upon knight of Cumberland and 'hero' of my series of historical tales - courtesy of Musa Publishing - is about to experience the slaughterhouse that was the Battle of Dupplin Moor in the forthcoming instalments of his Chronicles, "The Mercy of God" and the appropriately-titled "Dupplin Moor". Driven by his endless quest for revenge on the Scottish knight who murdered most of his family, and to rescue his sister from slavery, he joins the army of the Disinherited led by Edward Balliol, would-be King of Scotland. At Dupplin Moor Balliol's vastly outnumbered army finds itself squaring up to over three times their number of Scots, led by Scotland's regent, the Earl of Mar.
The reasons behind Balliol's invasion are complex. Son of John Balliol, the man remembered by history as 'Toom Tabard' or the 'Empty Coat' for his short and hapless reign as King of Scotland, Edward spent much of his early life in exile in France, dreaming of returning to Scotland to claim his inheritance. Evidently a proud and arrogant man, he refused to marry while in exile, for no French noblewoman (as he thought) was worthy to marry a future King of Scots.
His chance came in 1329, when Robert I of Scotland - Robert the Bruce of spider-bothering fame - died of leprosy and left his kingdom to his infant son, David II. David's right to rule was challenged by "The Disinherited", a group of Scottish and English nobles who had lost their lands in Scotland as a result of opposing the Bruce. After two years of scheming, Henry Beaumont, the chief of the Disinherited, sailed to France to meet with Balliol and plan for his much-delayed return to power and glory. With the young and ambitious King of England, Edward III, urging them on and offering covert military support, Balliol and his cronies started preparing for war...the results, as John Swale is about to discover, were unpleasantly gory.
M'good friend and co-writer - as well as talented illustrator - Martin Bolton has written a rather wonderful short story, 'The Peace of Elias', now available from Amazon. I recommend everyone checks it out!
Elias is a poverty-stricken farmer living on a ridge over-looking the
town of Arc-Stone in far Western Temeria with his only surviving
relative, his giant mute son, Zia. Living on the fringes of society,
their dilapidated farmstead sits high on the ridge next a dark, tangled
forest, reputed to be haunted and shunned by the people of Arc-Stone.
Elias and Zia are regarded by the townsfolk with a mixture of fear and
When they stumble across the unconscious form of Cyrus, an
arrogant young noble, he accuses them of robbery and plots their deaths.
But Cyrus underestimates the power of the bond between Elias and his
son, and Elias finds out what Zia has been doing in the forest...
After a short break to catch its breath, the John Swale Chronicles are set to ride again - and walk, and stagger, and probably collapse, riddled with arrows, a couple of times - in the next instalment, 'The Pretender', to be released by the lovely folks at Musa Publishing on the 6th of July.
Here the scene switches to Scotland, where Robert de Bruce has recently died, leaving the throne to his son, David, and the regents Donal of Mar and the Earl of Moray. The future looks bleak for the Scots - their new King is just a boy of seven, Moray is dying, and the ever-covetous English are casting their covetous eyes north, where the pickings have just got easier now Bruce is gone.
However, the young Edward III is wary of sticking his toes in the boiling pan of Scottish politics, and needs a convenient stooge to do the fighting for him while he settles affairs in England: enter Edward Balliol, the 'pretender' of the title. He is the son of old John Balliol, otherwise known as 'Toom Tabard' or the Empty Coat, once King of Scotland and now very definitely dead. Having spent much of his life in exile in France, Balliol junior is desperately keen to get his hands on the Scottish crown, and eagerly snatches at King Edward's covert offer of military support.
While these high and mighty events roll and tumble, John Swale's sister, Margaret, faces the prospect of losing her husband and her son to the looming war with England. Her son, a belligerent and fiercely patriotic youth, ignores her pleas to remain at home, and rides away with his father to the coronation of King David, leaving Margaret bereft and alone...
Take a look at this guy. It's a climactic scene in *That Movie*, and old beardy
here in the unflattering metal hat is about to order his archers to shoot at
his own men in order to win a battle. Check out those true-blue eyes. Brrr. And the prosthetic nose.
Pretty nasty, huh? That's the least of his crimes. Elsewhere in *That
Movie* he institutes the mass rape of newlywed women in Scotland, hangs unarmed
Scottish noblemen, beats the tar out of his own son and – in a scene that
appears to be played for laughs - throws a homosexual out of a window.
That's Edward Longshanks for you, the 'most ruthless man to ever sit on the
English throne' according to the strange leper/hobbit-type creature that is Robert de Bruce's father in *That Movie*. He's a mean, nasty, cruel,
inhuman piece of work, played to perfection by the late Patrick McGoohan. And
what's more, he's got one of those posh BBC English accents, which is always a
clear sign of evil.
to a 1960s textbook my father gave me - 'The Living World of History', no less -
we have a rather different description of the same man: 'King Edward I, who
reigned from 1272 to 1307, was a rare character. Tall and erect and sinewy, his
length of leg gained him the nickname of "Longshanks." He was a proud
and truly royal prince, a fearless and peerless knight, and altogether a man's
So there - separated by just a few decades, we have one portrayal of Edward as
a peerlessly erect - *blush* - prince, and then the sneering slimeball of
Mel's opus. Divergence of opinion on Edward is nothing new. Victorian
historians tended to lionise him, such as Bishop William Stubbs, who
called him The English Justinian. We don't hark much to the Victorians these
days, what with them being horrid imperialists who got sexually aroused by
table legs and all - yah, no, it's totally true, I saw it on a
documentary somewhere - but the generally positive view of Edward's
reign and achievements is still maintained by modern academics such as
Elsewhere opinions on Edward are pretty negative, and undoubtedly influenced by *That Movie*. I've noticed in recent weeks
some extreme comments made about him on internet and Facebook forums
(surely the founts of all knowledge), including wild claims that he was in the
habit of torturing and murdering his prisoners, and a sort of medieval Hitler who
committed mass genocide on a more or less daily basis. The poor guy can’t catch
a break anywhere, and one recent author of self-proclaimed ‘historical
integrity’ claims that Edward wasn’t even his father’s son, but the bastard
offspring of an affair between Simon de Montfort and Eleanor of Provence. Portraying
English medieval queens as wanton adulteresses who had affairs and then
foisted their backstairs spawn on the throne is a nasty tendency in recent
historical fiction, and really needs to stop.
Edward could certainly be cruel. Matthew Paris records an unpleasant
story, possibly untrue, of the youthful Edward and his Lusignan buddies
setting upon and mutilating a defenceless peasant for a laugh. He at times
behaved with great savagery in Scotland and Wales, including the infamous massacre at
Berwick, the incarceration of Bruce's female relatives in hanging cages, and
his refusal to allow the garrison at Stirling to surrender until he had tried
out his new toy, the gigantic siege engine 'War-Wolf', on the
defences. More horrors could be added to that list. Medieval warfare was
unimaginably brutal, and Edward's enemies were equally ruthless.
Contemporaries accorded Edward a great deal more respect than they did
his predecessor and successor. Hard he may have been, but the 'first knight of
Christendom' united England after the catastrophes of his father's reign,
earned a heroic reputation on Crusade, made monumental legal reforms, and
strengthened the power of the English crown. More than that, he was lucky (he
once narrowly avoided being crushed by a collapsing ceiling while playing
chess), had the gift of inspiring loyalty in his barons (most of the time)
and was supremely successful in war. 'England rejoice, thy prince is
peerless,' was the verdict of the Lanercost chronicler after the Battle of
Falkirk, which was the kind of press Henry III and Edward II
could only dream about. Bar a serious crisis in the late 1290s,
Edward was extremely popular with his English subjects. One of the most
popular acts of his reign – obscene to modern eyes – was his expulsion of the
Jews in 1290. As Sharon Penman said on her blog recently, Anti-Semitism was a
virus that all medieval Christians inhaled at birth, and the English were no
person, Edward must have been mesmerizing. At six feet two inches, he was
taller than most of his contemporaries, with arms too long for his body, a
drooping eyelid inherited from his father (not Simon de Montfort) and a lisp.
His rages were terrifying, and one prelate was said to have dropped dead from
sheer fright after Edward erupted at him. He did indeed assault his son, the
future Edward II, on at least one occasion, tearing clumps of hair from the
prince’s head and kicking him out of the room after Young Ned had unwisely
asked for lands to be bestowed on his best friend, Piers Gaveston.
was a softer side to this towering bully, and some evidence of a sense of
humour. He broke down and wept when informed that his (real) father had died,
and fell to pieces when he lost his beloved first wife, Eleanor of Castile. “My
harp is turned to mourning”, he wrote as her funeral cortége travelled south to
London, and the final staging-post of her journey, Charing Cross, is testament
to his love for her: ‘Charing’ is a corruption of ‘Cher Reine’ or ‘Dear Queen’.
A record of a bet Edward had with the royal laundress Matilda of Waltham, in
which he challenged her to a horse-race (and lost), suggests he was capable of
cracking a smile, as does the letter he wrote in the 1300s concerning Nicholas
de Segrave: that knight, Edward recommended, was to be given plenty of parkland
to roam in, for ‘we well know his talent for running away’. The joke creaks,
but it’s something.
then there are the slaughtered innocents of Berwick. Ultimately, Edward was a
hard man in a hard time, and in many ways an alien and repellent figure to our
eyes. But very few medieval kings could possibly be described as pleasant
people by modern standards, and it wasn’t their job to be nice. As cruel and as
able as his despised grandfather, King John, but a great deal luckier and more
successful, Edward I could perhaps be judged as W.L Warren judged John: a man
with ‘the abilities of a great ruler, but the inclinations of a petty tyrant’.
...don't do it, is the message of this blog post. A number of fellow writers and bloggers have recently - and quite rightly - taken up cudgels against the defamation of long-dead people for the sake of 'exciting' alternative takes on history, usually in novels. Recent blog posts on Kathryn Warner's rather wonderful site about Edward II are well worth reading:
This sort of thing has been going on a long time, and is an easy habit to fall into - readers of my novel might notice that I don't hestitate to stick the boot into certain historical personages, but I like to think there is at least some justification for it. But some things are beyond the pale, particularly the very nasty trend towards depicting medieval queens and noblewomen as whores: these kind of slurs are essential, otherwise most 'alternative' theories concerning the parentage of certain kings are dead in the water.
So - any of you aspiring historical authors out there, have a sense of empathy and responsibility, and pause for thought before depicting William Marshal in print as a cackling paedophile (or whatever). Failing that, simply change all the names and locations and tout your package of wanton lies and half-truths as a fantasy novel. Sorted!
I highly recommend that everyone checks out 'Killing The Sandman', a gritty new tale from the very talented Paula Lofting Wilcox, author of 'Sons of the Wolf' - see the blurb and link below!
'A hardhitting, gritty drama about a young man struggling to live with an abusive step-father and an alcoholic mother. Young Tony Sherrin harbours a dark secret whilst trying to protect his little sister from the monster he calls the Sandman. In this first part of the series, Tony turns eighteen and is set to celebrate his birthday with his friends. Somehow, the night doesn't go quite to plan and Tony finds that his life is about to take on a terrible dimension...'
Firstly, the latest in my John Swale saga, A COMPANY OF THIEVES, has been released by Musa Publishing - in this instalment, we catch up with the evildoing of that bad man, Eustace Folville, and his attempts to add a shine to his fading reputation...
And in other news, the Historical Novel Society has just launched its shiny new website, including a story of mine, The Torch of God, first published in their print magazine Solander back in 2009, links to this blog and my joint website with Martin Bolton, and the review the HNS did for Folville's Law :)
This weekend sees the beginning of Unreality: a Live-Action Roleplay Experience - LARP for short - the annual charity tournament dedicated to live-action roleplay and games. The event is being held at a venue near Ashford in Kent this year, and the site will be available from 7.30 on Friday.
As an added plus, my book, Folville's Law, will be one of the giveaway prizes in the Auction!
Please see the links below for more information on the event and the sponsored charity:
The 16th of March sees the release of THE BLACK LION OF FORBES, the latest in the John Swale saga. This time we learn the gruesome fate of his family at the hands of a Scottish raiding party, how his sister has fared as a prisoner in the Highlands, and why his brother insists on even numbers...
THE BEST WEAPON is out today!! More Templars, forbidden gods, ancient tombs, ruined castles, lost lands, cackling sorcerors, high-kicking jungle tribesmen, and zombie ghost ships, than you can handle!! Also comes with extra Brio.
The Best Weapon is the first in a planned series of fantasy tales set in The World Apparent to be released by MUSA PUBLISHING over the next few months - next up is the SORROW mini-series, following the further adventures of Fulk and Naiyar, and their increasingly eclectic supporting cast.
Looming large on the horizon, dim yet glittering, is THE BEST WEAPON, co-written by myself and Martin 'Bol-Tan' Bolton, and due to be released on the 3rd of March by Musa Publishing.
Unlike my previous Musa tales, The Best Weapon is no historical tale, but an epic fantasy focusing on the adventures of two warriors from opposite ends of The World Apparent. Without giving anything away plot-wise, the book contains more swords and sorcery than you could shake a very large stick at, and we are both very proud of it!
You want armoured knights smacking each other about the field? You want a Queen tumbling to her doom, a horse cut in half by a falling spar, and a man who wears no armour on his legs just to show how pretty they are? Then come get some ROYAL FAVOUR, latest in the FOLVILLE'S LAW series - and all this, for just one shiny dollar!
The saga - and the trials - of Sir John Swale will continue in "Royal Favour", the latest instalment from Musa Publishing due to be published on the 24th February.
Now a knight at the court of the young Edward III, Sir John has wasted no time in trying to attract the notice of the king by smashing his fellow knights all about the tournament field. But there is more than one way to win royal favour, as his increasingly isolated and neglected wife Elizabeth is soon to discover...
Nice review of Folville's Law by The Historical Novel Society - I am very happy right now :)
FOLVILLE'S LAW David Pilling, Musa Publishing, 2011, e-book (Kindle edition), $4.99, 398 KB, ASIN B00669O0BO
The very grimness of this novel of the last year of the reign of Edward II is one of its best features. The plot follows several of the players in the events leading to the fall of the Despensers and their king and the mixed benefit of the new regime under the queen, her lover, and her son, the future Edward III—and no character, fictional or factual, is entirely sympathetic. The result is a novel that tells more of the real story of the time, no glossing over or romanticizing, something this reviewer found rather refreshing. The central plot concerns Sir John Swale, a Despenser follower sent to discover why justice has not been served on a blatant murder, leading the reader into the decay of Edward II’s base of support and the rise of his enemies’. Corruption has become the standard, and ironically, it is outlaws and corruption that spell the reign’s doom. The most admirable of the characters know they must make painful compromises. Away from Swale’s story, we receive insightful glimpses into the historical figures Isabella, Mortimer, Hugh le Despenser the Younger, and Edward II himself. No warm fuzzies here. They all are flawed and forced to make compromises as well. The writing itself is sound and compelling, and for the most part, the research faithful to the events and conditions of the setting. --Nan Hawthorne
The 2nd of February sees the release of 'Exiles', the third episode in the saga of Sir John Swale, and by no means the last.
As the title suggests, this latest mini-sequel to Folville's Law follows the (mis)adventures of Sir John and his wife Elizabeth, now living in exile in Gascony, one of England's few remaining territories on the Continent. However, war is looming on the horizon between the King of France and England's new hyper-aggressive monarch, Edward III, and Sir John has an itchy sword hand...
Today sees the release of MORDRED'S APPLE, first in my series of short stories written from the perspective of Sir Kay, King Arthur's foster-brother. I've put it up for just one shiny U.S. dollar (or 77pence) on Amazon:
The much-altered and abused character of Kay has always interested me, and I thought it was high time he was permitted to voice his own version of events at Camelot (or Caerleon, as I've called it in my version of the tale, after the naming of Arthur's city in Geoffrey of Monmouth).
Kay is also one of the oldest characters in the legend. He first appears in various Welsh texts as Cai, one of Arthur’s chief warriors and capable of superhuman feats, such as breathing underwater for nine days and nights and giving off magical heat with his hands. In Geoffrey of Monmouth he is downgraded to a brave but ordinary knight, and from Chretien de Troyes onwards he is downgraded further to a malicious, spiteful, incompetent braggart, a foil for the more heroic knights to play off against.
Pondering the development, or degeneration, of his character led me to create my own version of Sir Kay. ‘My’ Kay is a sort of Francis Walsingham figure, a ruthless, scheming politico whose chief concern is to protect Arthur and the security of Arthur’s realm, no matter the cost. The following is my first attempt at recasting him in this mould. See what you think…
Something different today. The lovely Kristie Davis Dean (pictured) has a book out full of helpful advice for those who wish to travel to Europe on a budget. Check out a preview below!
How I Travel to Europe Every Year on a Teacher’s Salary
I am a school teacher, so I don’t get paid all that much. Yet, I’ve managed to travel every year to Europe since 2001. I’m often asked, “How do you do it?” like there is some secret fountain of travel wealth to which only I have access.
How You Can, Too
It’s not a secret – I manage to go to Europe – especially the United Kingdom – because I’ve studied the information necessary to do it. I’ve practiced what I’ve learned and worked out what did and didn’t work. Now, I’m planning to show you how to benefit from my experience. And on a tight budget, too.
Budget travel itself is not glamorous. But, the joy of seeing another country for the first time or meeting people from another country and learning firsthand about their customs is amazing. Seeing places that you’ve only dreamed about is an experience worth repeating often!