Longsword by David Pilling

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

REIVER reviews

The first couple of reviews are in for REIVER, and they are goodies.

'Set in the 16th century in the March lands between England and Scotland, 'Reiver' is a very enjoyable blend of fact and fiction. It is a fast-paced, captivating novella, packed with action, intrigue, blood-feuds and exciting battles.

The characters, a colourful mixture of real and fictitious ones, are both realistic and engaging. I particularly liked the author's portrayal of Sir John Forster, but also his Richie Reade and his mate Ruth.
The story is well-told. I enjoyed the regional dialogue and reading about the weapons of the day. The occasional flashes of humour also brought a smile.

In short, a great read about a fascinating period in British history!'

'It's got it all going on, for a novella. Action, intrigue, love and politics - all in 190 pages.in fact, my main problem with Reivers is that it wasn't long enough - not only in that I wanted to know more, but that I was left with a strong sense of questions unanswered at the end, as if this was a prequel to a full novel.

There's a strong sense of the Robin Hood about Richie o'the Bow, the young hero - he very young hero, aged all of sixteen, we meet in the opening pages with his equally-young lover, Ruth. (As an aside, I liked Ruth a good deal. She's that rare thing in the world of historical adventure, a young woman with her head screwed on, whose femininity is not germane to the plot.) And the reader is lulled into a false sense of Wolfshead security: that when Richie and his Bairns hole up at Hope's End, we are venturing into the territory of Merrie Men, with Ruth in the sweet guise of Marian under the greenwood tree.

Nah. This is a much harder, much darker, story than that.
Richie is a “broken man” but he's not by any stretch broken by his outlawry.
These are not a band of tragic outcasts and misfits. They're rough fighting men who - for the most part - are the instruments of their own destruction, part of a society with all the moral rectitude of a weasel in rut. At one point, Richie suggests that they ought to stop fighting and try and work towards a society where they can all live in peace. His lads look at him blankly…He can't see it happening, either. It's the only world they know, every man for himself and Devil take the hindmost. And they quite enjoy it...no wrestling with conscience here, thank you.

David Pilling writes with a zest and a very appealing black humour, and a firm grip of the chicanery of 16th century Scots and English politics. Wonderful, vicious action sequences vy with regional dialogue that thrums with colour and threat. Most of my knowledge of the Border reivers - to my shame, my mother being a McLellan, descended from this brawling knot of amoral cattle-rustlers! - comes from George Macdonald Fraser, and the author is kind enough to give his source material for those who want to go further.

I can see this as an early episode in the career of Richie’s Bairns, despite its completeness as a work in its own right. Is the Countess going to be Richie’s own Milady de Winter, in future books? Will the Bairns come to acquire a moral compass, under the shadow of the English?

I do hope we’re going to find out.'

Friday, 11 November 2016


Mane tossing, nostrils flaring, hooves flailing - my new novella, REIVER, has just plunged out of the stable. Set in the late 16th century, during the reign of Good Queen Bess (or Bad, depending on one's preference), REIVER follows the adventures of Richie Reade or Crowhame, otherwise known as Richie O'the Bow or Richie Crow-Bait.

Richie is one of the Border Reivers, those famous criminal gangs who made the Anglo-Scottish border a living hell and left a tremendous legacy in the form of the Border Ballads, first compiled by Sir Walter Scott in the 18th century. Bold, brutal, belligerent, the reivers lived by the sword and generally died by it, assuming the hangman didn't get them first. Richie is just such a man, and he and his followers, known as Richie's Bairns - Richie's Children - must survive treachery, blood-feud, raid and counter-raid, even as the clouds of war pile high over the Marches....

REIVER is currently available on Kindle only, but a paperback version should be available soon.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Wedding day

Today is the anniversary of the marriage of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, married at the monastery of Las Huelgos, Burgos, on 1st November 1254. Edward was 15, Eleanor just 12.

 Theirs was one of the more successful royal partnerships. Over the course of their 36-year marriage the couple produced 16 children, though only 6 lived to adulthood. The sheer number of stillborn and infant deaths may have induced a certain emotional detachment in the parents: for instance, they made no effort to visit their 6-year old son Henry as he lay dying at Guildford in 1274. Of their adult children, the longest-lived was Margaret, Duchess of Brabant, who achieved the grand old age of 58.

Eleanor was unpopular in England. She didn't bother to learn English and amassed a fortune by buying up cheap or encumbered manors and squeezing maximum profits out of them. This made Eleanor very rich and the English very annoyed. As a popular rhyme had it: "The king desires to get our gold, The queen our manors fair to hold..."

When Eleanor died in 1290, aged 49, the annalist of Dunstable recorded her passing with a terseness that spoke volumes: "A Spaniard by birth. She acquired many fine manors."

One person at least adored the Queen. Edward, extreme in all his passions, clearly loved Eleanor with deathless intensity. After her death in 1290, aged 49, he said thus of his late wife in a letter to the abbot of Cluny in France: "My harp is turned to mourning. In life I loved her dearly, in death I cannot cease to love." 

Edward seems to have been paraphrasing Job 30:31, a modern translation of which reads thus and may give an insight into his state of mind:

'When I hoped for good, evil came,
When I looked for light, then came darkness.
The churning inside me never stops,
Days of suffering confront me.
I go about blackened, but not by the sun,
I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.
I have become a brother of jackals,
A companion of owls,
My skin grows black and peels.
My body burns with fever,
My lyre is turned to mourning,
And my flute accompanies those who weep.'