Longsword by David Pilling

Monday, 11 March 2013

George RR Martin, the Wars of the Roses and me...

I want to talk a little about what influenced me to write The White Hawk, which will be available as a free download on Amazon on Wednesday and Thursday this week. Since this is my blog, I shall!

By God, I love the power.

Besides my lifelong passion for medieval history, and the more recent desire to divert that passion into writing fiction (the other option being re-enactment, and standing in a muddy field in a suit of armour pretending to be the Duke of Somerset ain't my thing), the major inspiration was "A Song of Ice and Fire", George R.R.Martin's brilliant fantasy series.

Some free advertising

There are many good reasons to love this series, but for me it is the power politics and vicious intrigue between the various 'Houses' of Westeros that make the books so compelling. Frank Herbert pulled off a similar trick with the Great Houses of Atreides and Harkonnen in the first couple of Dune novels.

Westeros is essentially a late medieval environment, and the noble families of Stark and Lannister etc are fantasy versions of the medieval dynasties that fought like rabid dogs over the crowns of England and France in the Middle Ages. The bloodstained doings of the Plantagenets and Capets seem to be particular inspirations, no more so than the vicious round of aristocratic infighting remembered as The Wars of the Roses.

This era has always provided ideal breeding grounds for fiction, and I'm by no means the first author to have the bright idea of writing a series of novels set during the period. I did want to avoid writing about the various kings and nobles, or at least relegate them to secondary roles. The answer was to invent a fictional family.

Thus the Boltons were born. The obvious template for them was the Pastons, the real-life Norfolk family who left an invaluable record of their time in the form of the famous Paston Letters. This remarkable cache of letters provide us with a snapshot of minor English gentry and their trials and aspirations during the late fifteenth century.

One of the Paston letters

The Boltons are from a similar background to their real-life counterparts, though they have their home in Staffordshire rather than Norfolk. Like the Pastons, they have their sights set on climbing the social ladder.

They also have a number of problem sons. Richard, the eldest, is vengeful and unstable, and his brother James a corrupt and drunken cleric with a taste for local widows. Their mother, Dame Elizabeth, has her hands full keeping the family together. Dynastic civil wars are repeated on a local level, and the Boltons frequently find themselves having to defend their property and their lives. The Boltons often make terrible mistakes, fall in love with the wrong people, and fight on the wrong side during many of the epic set-piece battles fought to decide the future of England.

Book One of the planned three-part series climaxes with the Battle of Towton. This was a holocaust of a battle, perhaps the most dreadful slaughter ever committed on English soil, in which a significant percentage of adult males in England were massacred. 

The Battle of Towton. Nowhere near as much fun as it looks. 

This delightful affair was fought on a freezing hillside in Yorkshire in the middle of a snowstorm. To describe the sheer uncompromising horror and brutality of Towton was a major challenge, and hopefully I managed to convey it to some degree. The result of the battle has a major impact on the fortunes of the Boltons, as well as the kingdom in general, as readers can discover in Book Two...

Below is a link to the Kindle and paperback versions of the book, with the splendid cover art for the Kindle version done by my good friend and co-writer Martin Bolton:

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments at Davidpilling56@hotmail.com


  1. Hi David :-) I love your story! It's always so fascinating to learn how the particular novel was "born" :-) and where did the inspiration come from.
    The Boltons sound like a truly likeable stock (:-)) and I can't wait to read your Towton scene. Writing it must have been quite a challenge.

    P.S. In your biographical note I have come across the info that when you were still a boy you forced your parents to castle rambles. I'm very curious where did this inspiration come from? At such an early age?

    Have you ever actually tried re-enactment and "standing in a muddy field in a suit of armour'? :-) I'm planning to try one day.

    1. Thanks Kasia, glad you liked it :) I'm not sure the Boltons are likeable - maybe one or two of them are, but mainly they are just flawed people trying to survive in a really horrible world...

      I'm not sure how or when I developed an interest in castles. Just caught my imagination I suppose. The landscape of West Wales is very evocative. I have tried my hand at fencing but not re-enactment - not for me, I'm afraid!

      Thanks for the interest :)