Friday, 22 April 2016

Fifty Shades Of Darker Gray - when characters fight back

 


Marston Moor really is going to be a grim book.

(With much humour in it, but I very much fear that it will be a sort of grisly, Babbitty battlefield humour.)

Today I have been much thinking about Gray. It's no spoiler that Gray is a woman; we'd call her genderqueer now, but in the 1640s cross-dressing women were sufficient of a menace that King Charles went public about his disapproval of such wenches in the Army, issuing a proclamation in 1643 to prevent the horror of it all.

There will be probably one day be a Gray story, because she intrigues me, too, but I'm not always sure I like her, never mind understand her.

This all comes from a remark about Tom Hiddleston - an actor who's doubtless a mighty fine actor, but who doesn't float my boat - one of those daft little memes that goes "Tonight, darling, all your neighbours will know my name."

And I thought that was too funny not to use. Now, you know, Hollie - staid old married man whose idea of naked is leaving his sword on the table downstairs and whose definition of ecstasy is ember tart and Het in the same place at the same time - it's not something he'd ever say. And Luce would probably be too busy kissing his way up the inside of the lady's wrist and trying to look poetic and yearning whilst wrestling with her laces. Venning - nah, Alice would kill him. And the chances of Russell going to bed with anybody for another... well... a while, are remote: he's too scared, after the last time.

So it's going to be Gray, isn't it? It's going to be Gray, trying to demonstrate to a troop full of testosterone that she has bigger balls than they do.

The thing is, though, I was thinking about that young lady. I just can't work her out at all. She is a woman, who dresses, fights, and behaves like a man. Does she want to be a man? I'm not sure she does. (I'm not sure it would cross her mind to, either.)

Does she want to be a woman, though - I'm not sure she does that, either, and given that she is going to have a relationship with one and possibly two members of the rebel rabble, that's what I find intriguing.

And that's where I start to flounder a bit. Because imagine this: there's Gray. Young, not exactly what you'd call pretty, but in possession of all the necessary female anatomy, kicking around one of the rowdier sorts of knocking-shop with some disreputable sorts. There she is, swaggering about making slightly tipsy remarks of the nature attributed to Mr Hiddleston. This is the point at which she's going to fall into the arms of some young man who's going to make her a real woman... right?

And the answer is - no. I wish to goodness it was, but she's resisting it every step of the way. She just is not going to let me write it that way. And she's going to have her fling with one of the whores, and ... so she's going to be gay, right, and that's why she dresses as a boy, because she's some sort of butch drag queen?

And - nope, she won't let me do that, either. (She's currently glowering at me with her bottom lip sticking out like a baggage-mule's, and her eyes narrowed. Definite no, then. )

Gray's mother was raped by a soldier at the siege of La Rochelle, but I don't think that's it, I don't think she's frightened of men, I don't think she has any trauma in her past from which the right man will free her. (Don't think she's frightened of very much, actually.) And when it comes to it - so to speak - she does like sex. Though she is, very definitely, the dominant one. So to speak. And then again, possibly not.

Which leaves me with an unpalatable fact.

She's a woman, who is not motivated by "feminine" things. She's not moved by relationships, or sex, or love. She's not gay, and she's not straight either. She enjoys the physical aspects, but she enjoys them just as much with a woman as a man, and she's quite open about that.

Now I could decide that I'm going to write her differently. That I'm going to make her change, when she meets the right man: that really, she's got a heart of gold - because that'll make her nice and accessible, it'll be a nice comfortable read.

But she's not like that.
And yes, the man she marries - and she will, and if you've read all the books you know who she marries - she will break his heart. He's one of the more likeable lads of the rebel rabble and there is a strong argument that he deserves better. But does he? Or is he marrying her because he thinks, in typical cork-brained romantic style, that love will change her into someone he likes much better...?

If you work on the assumption that people in books should be real people - should be themselves, should be believable, even if that means they're not always nice, or kind, or comfortable - she's good.
But by heck, she's hard work to write as herself. 

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Meeting Old Friends in Worcester - Guest Post from Alison Stuart



M.J. Logue’s Uncivil War series begins in the fair city of Worcester (RED HORSE), a city which saw its fair share of strife during the Civil War period, ending with the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651, a battle that is the starting point for my own GUARDIANS OF THE CROWN series. My latest release,  EXILE’S RETURN, marks the end of the series which spans the years of the Interregnum from 1650 to the restoration of King Charles II in 1660.

Last year I was fortunate to go back to Worcester. I say ‘back’ because, although I’m an Australian, my family has had a long, long association with Worcester, most notably boasting a High Sheriff of Worcester (my great grandfather) and a well-respected MP and County Councillor (my grandfather) and my father served under the colours of the now defunct Worcestershire Regiment.

My last visit to Worcester had been some twenty plus years ago when I was researching a little story I was writing centred on the Battle of Worcester. I wanted to write about a group of friends/comrades and what this seminal battle of the English Civil War meant to them and their families. This led to the Guardians of the Crown series.  The stories follow the lives of three young men, Jonathan Thornton (.  (BY THE SWORD), Kit Lovell (THE KING’S MAN) and Kit’s brother, Daniel (EXILE’S RETURN). To M.J. Logue’s disgust they are, I am afraid, ‘rascally royalists’. However she will understand what it is to have imaginary friends… and how very real the characters in our stories can be so it will come as no surprise to say I arranged an assignation with my characters during my visit!

We moored our canal boat below the Sidbury Lock within spitting distance of The Commandery and the site of what was once the Sidbury Gate through the walls of the old city (now long since gone). Having an afternoon free, I abandoned my travelling companions and stepped down on to the tow path of the canal (which had not been there in 1651). They were waiting for me - Jonathan Thornton, Kit Lovell and his brother Daniel, my companions from the past and they would be my guides for the afternoon.

We began with The Commandery (that was its name long before the events of 1651). In its past it had been a merchant's house, a hospital and in 1651 became the Headquarters for Charles II.
(Jonathan) attended the meetings at the Commandery and concluded the house had been wrongly named. He saw precious little evidence of command taking place within its walls...In the endless councils that took place in the hall the young King found himself assailed from all sides by conflicting advice.  .  (BY THE SWORD)

From The Commandery we set off up the hill to Fort Royal where a royalist battery had been established to defend the approach to Worcester along the Sidbury road. I won't go into the details of the battle itself (I've written about it elsewhere...click HERE). Suffice to say that while the royalists held Fort Royal, Cromwell had taken Red Hill and Perry Hill. The king himself led an attack on Red Hill but was driven back to the city. Fort Royal fell, the royalist defenders slaughtered to a man and the guns turned on the city itself.

American readers may be interested to know that it was on this hill that an oak tree was planted in commemoration of a visit by Thomas Jefferson who is quoted as reminding all Englishmen that it was at Worcester that the concept of Liberty was fought for... you can read his quote on the plaque below...

My companions led me back down the hill toward Sidbury Gate...
The Parliament guns had been brought to bear on the gate, turning the retreat into wholesale slaughter. Amidst the screaming of man and beast, the carnage of blood and guts and with shot pounding into the walls and the city, the King managed to get back through the gate. Jonathan followed through the confusion, scrambling over an overturned oxen cart to reach his King. .  (BY THE SWORD)

No trace of the gate or walls remain today (destroyed for the building of the canal in the 1760s), just one small plaque on a wall marks its existence. We turned into the city and down one of the last remaining authentic city streets - Friar Street (curse those 70s redevelopments!). Still lined with half timbered houses, it is only here one can still get a feeling for 17th century Worcester.
Wilmot pulled at Jonathan’s arm and they both ran up Friar Street, toward the King’s lodging. Jonathan took only one look back to see Giles, fighting like a virago, a small defence against the mass of red-coated soldiers who now flooded into the city from all gates except one: St Martin’s Gate stood close by the King’s lodging and remained as yet unbreached. .  (BY THE SWORD)

It was here in Friar Street that Jonathan, Giles, Kit and Daniel lodged in a house that may have looked a little like Greyfriars (now a National Trust property). Here they played cards on the night before the battle.
Another evening at the Commandery had ended in bickering and Jonathan trudged wearily back up Friar Street to his billet ... In the downstairs parlour of the large, half-timbered house, Giles played cards with Kit Lovell, who had recently rejoined them. They were both fiendish card players, with a tendency to cheat, and Jonathan declined their invitation to join them. .  (BY THE SWORD)

Further up Friar Street we came to the building now known as The Charles II house (and rather ignomiously - a pie shop) which had been the King's Lodgings and from which he escaped.
They found the King within his lodgings, watching uncomprehendingly as Buckingham burned papers on a hastily lit fire.
‘We must go, Your Majesty,’ Wilmot said.
The King looked up at his old friend and advisor. ‘Leslie will come,’ he insisted. ‘We will rally again.’
‘No, Your Majesty,’ Buckingham spoke. ‘It’s too late. Leslie has failed us, Hamilton is fallen. We must away while we still have breath in our bodies.’
The noise of the fighting, drawing closer up the street, brought the King to his feet. With the Parliament’s soldiers at the front door of the house, the King and his party left by the back. Taking the nearest horses they fled, at a hard gallop, through St Martin’s Gate, the gate that led th(e way to the north. .  (BY THE SWORD)


Finally at the great Worcester Cathedral, we took a moment to visit the tomb of bad King John (according to M.J. Logue in RED HORSE, defaced by a large, bad tempered black horse in 1642 when it was used to stable Parliamentary cavalry). The prisoners from the battle had been held in the Cathedral following the battle.

At the end of that bloody day, the King had become a fugitive in his own land and Daniel, nursing a wound to his right arm, had huddled against the tomb of King John in the great Cathedral of Worcester, a prisoner like the hundreds of others who had survived the battle. With the cold stone pressed against his face, he had hoped that no one would notice the shaming tears of humiliation. (EXILE’S RETURN)

Here we parted company, my imaginary friends returning to the past, and I trudged back through the streets of Worcester to meet my real friends at the Worcester Porcelain museum (in what had been a thriving factory on my last visit!).

About EXILE’S RETURN
The breath-taking conclusion to Alison Stuart’s English Civil War trilogy introduces a heroine with nothing left to lose and a hero with everything to gain…

England, 1659: Following the death of Cromwell, a new king is poised to ascend the throne of England. One by one, those once loyal to the crown begin to return ...
Imprisoned, exiled and tortured, fugitive Daniel Lovell returns to England, determined to kill the man who murdered his father. But his plans for revenge must wait, as the King has one last mission for him.
Agnes Fletcher's lover is dead, and when his two orphaned children are torn from her care by their scheming guardian, she finds herself alone and devastated by the loss. Unwilling to give up, Agnes desperately seeks anyone willing to accompany her on a perilous journey to save the children and return them to her care. She didn't plan on meeting the infamous Daniel Lovell. She didn't plan on falling in love.
Thrown together with separate quests – and competing obligations – Daniel and Agnes make their way from London to the English countryside, danger at every turn. When they are finally given the opportunity to seize everything they ever hoped for, will they find the peace they crave, or will their fledgling love be a final casualty of war?

If you would like to hear an excerpt from EXILE’S RETURN professionally read. Click HERE

EXILE’S RETURN is available on AMAZON, KOBO, Ibooks and all reputable ebook stores

ABOUT ALISON

Award winning Australian author, Alison Stuart learned her passion from history from her father. She has been writing stories since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that her first full length novel was published. A past president of the Romance Writers of Australia, Alison has now published seven full length historical romances and a collection of her short stories.  Many of her stories have been shortlisted for international awards and BY THE SWORD won the 2008 EPIC Award for Best Historical Romance. 

 

Her inclination for writing about soldier heroes may come from her varied career as a lawyer in the military and fire services. These days when she is not writing she is travelling and routinely drags her long suffering husband around battlefields and castles.

 

Readers can connect with Alison at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

 

And don’t forget to enter my Guardians of the Crown contest (Closes 15 March):  click HERE

Monday, 29 February 2016

Brockt up in Flanderis - Montrose's regular cavalry: Guest Post by Charles Singleton


The early modern period was to be a period of rapid development in military affairs. The phrase Military Revolution has been coined to describe this period of change. The increasing use of black powder weapons was to user in growing professionalism and thus ever spiralling costs and financial demands on armies and the execution of wars. This was an all embracing movement that affected almost all of Western Europe.

The contribution to military developments made during this period by the Scots is frequently overlooked. During the period in question, one of Scotland’s principal exports was men in the shape of mercenaries to fight in the European wars. In Scotland’s harsh economic environment, the lure of money, adventure and booty drew many to the colours. Many Scots were to achieve fame and high rank overseas; none more so than Alexander Leslie, Earl of Leven, who entered Swedish service in 1605. In 1636 he was promoted to Field Marshal.

Yet despite the contribution to military developments made during this period by the Scots, the development of the Scottish regular is all too often overlooked by that of archaic Highland Warrior. This is especially so when reading of Montroses campaign of 1644-45.

The backbone of Montrose’s armies throughout the Civil Wars was to be regular troops. Amongst these regulars were the regiments which formed the ‘Irish Brigade’. They were mostly professionals, described by one contemporary source as, ‘brockt up in West Flanderis, expert souldiouris’. The Brigade was despatched to Scotland by the Earl of Antrim on behalf of the Irish Confederation, and the nature of its composition can be gleaned from the list of officers sent by Antrim other than listing the officers by name also divides these forces into three regiments with companies, various officers, ensigns and non-commissioned officers attached. This structure would seem to fit the model of most infantry formations that were to have been found in Western Europe at this time.

Like their Scottish and English counterparts, the Irish were to be found in the military camps of Europe. As the Thirty Years’ War drew on in Europe, the French in particular were to make extensive use of Irish troops. The French promoted Michael Wall of County Waterford, perhaps echoing David Leslie’s achievement in the Swedish army, to army commander in 1639. The outbreak of the Irish rebellion was to see considerable numbers of Irish troops, experienced in the latest military practices, return to Ireland.

The returning veterans, in addition to bringing military experience, also brought back the latest ideas on how to support armies. After the initial series of uncoordinated attacks, the Catholic rebels had to create administrative structures with which they could support not only their new armies, but also at the same time procure monies and equipment. A supreme council was established, along with an association, which was to resemble the English Parliament’s regionalized war efforts. The rĂ´le of the supreme council was to appoint military commands, build up war materials and create taxes with which to support the war effort. The Confederacy was also able to gain support from abroad. France, Spain and the Papacy were able to contribute significant sums of money to the Catholic cause. However, the bulk of finances would be gathered from home. Using methods that proved to be very similar to the ones used by the warring factions in England, the Confederates cast the net far and wide. Supporters were asked to contribute, whilst merchants provided loans (considered by many to be an essential part of military funding). In addition a mint was established at Waterford. Traditional sources of revenue were used and others developed. Significant percentages of church tithes and freehold taxes were allocated to the support of the army. Excise duties were introduced and placed on liquor, tobacco and cattle.

With the establishment of a financial infrastructure, the Confederates were able to develop a home armaments industry. Apart from over running production centres, such as furnaces and forges at Kilmacoe in County Wexford, they were able to establish their own industrial plant, such as the iron works at Artully in County Kerry. To run the new plants and contribute their experience, foreign arms workers were sought out by the agents of the Confederacy to come to Ireland. Special efforts were made to attract foreign gunsmiths.

The modern nature of the Confederacy administration and war effort was also reflected in the equipping and organisation of its army. The ‘traditionalist’ school is led by writers such as James Hill, who claim that the sword was the principal weapon of the Celts, and that the charge was central to their tactics. Closer examination, however, reveals a far greater degree of change and sophistication in military affairs. By the start of the seventeenth century, the swordsman, whether in Celtic or Western European society, was rapidly becoming an anachronism. In the early sixteenth century European armies, especially the Spanish were to field considerable numbers of sword and buckler men. By the early seventeenth century the swordsman had almost disappeared from the European battlefield. Like the longbow, a skilled swordsman could not have been produced in a matter of weeks and, like the longbow, its demise was hastened by the relative ease by which soldiers could be trained to use either pike or musket. Those Irishmen that flocked to the colours of the Confederacy in 1641 would have been the veterans of pike and shot warfare in Flanders and Germany, or were to be trained by these veterans in these modern methods. Like those veterans returning to Scotland in 1638, many Irish troops were to bring arms and equipment in lieu of pay with them on their return. Owen Roe O’Neill, who returned in 1642, was not only to bring three hundred commissioned and non-commissioned officers, veterans of Spanish service, but also a considerable amount of equipment and monies.

The output of the home industrial base certainly reflects the manner of weaponry made. Immediately after its capture by the Confederates, the ironworks at Lissan were immediately turned over to the production of pike heads. Special emphasis was placed on the home production of musket barrels and locks. The home industry was to become so well established that, after the Cessation of 1643, English Royalists were to place orders with the Irish arms industry.

Export records are also able to build a profile of the equipment ordered by, and issued to, the Confederate armies. Early in the rebellion, contact was made with friendly foreign powers and merchants and, as a result, the import of foreign weapons was soon well established. Shipments began to arrive in January 1642 and, by the end of February, the Venetian ambassador was able to report the large scale of deliveries to Ireland from the continent. A sample delivery from Europe would be that made in October 1644 by Nicholas Everard and Jean de la Villette. Together they were to import: 4,000 muskets, 1,000 pairs of pistols, 1,000 carbines, 20,000 lbs of match and 600 barrels of gunpowder. So lucrative was the export of goods to the Confederacy that France, Spain and the United Provinces all attempted to solicit the business of the Confederates’ agents and representatives.

Various Scottish regular units further supplemented the Irish regulars. Regiments such as the Strathbogie had actually been in existence since the Bishops’ wars. A contingent of this regiment was described at the time as ‘about 60 musketiers and pikoniers, with twa cullouris, ane drum, and ane bag pipe’. They were trained by a professional soldier, Lieutenant Colonel Johnston, and were equipped with both musket and pike that the King had despatched to his Scottish supporters in the Bishops’ Wars. This unit, amongst others (possibly even Highland clan regiments), was to benefit from the capture at Aberdeen in March 1645 of 1,800 muskets and pikes. Montrose’s attempts to raise significant numbers of Scottish regulars met with only limited success. To a greater extent this was his own fault. By failing to foster good relations with various other Royalist rebel factions, such as the Gordons who dominated the north-east of Scotland, he was unable to consolidate control of an area long enough to raise and train viable numbers of regulars. An army of Scottish regulars would have gone a considerable distance to legitimise Montrose’s cause. The use of Irish troops only served to alienate him to potential supporters.

The lack of regular cavalry prevented Montrose from capitalising on his early victories in the autumn of 1644 and establishing himself in a commanding position in the Scottish lowlands a year earlier than he did. The Royalists’ dearth of horse was rapidly transformed by the defection to their cause of a regular cavalry unit led by Lord George Gordon. From the descriptions of contemporary accounts, Gordon’s horse and the other small troops of cavalry raised in support of the King’s cause were seemingly trained and equipped in the orthodox ‘harquebusier’ style. Though not numerically strong, cavalry were to play an increasingly significant role in Montrose’s victories, particularly Auldearn, Alford and Kilsyth.

Montrose’s lack of political tact resulted in the loss of considerable numbers of Gordon’s horse, when after the battle of Kilsyth their use in the invasion of lowland Scotland would have been critical.


Charles Singleton has researched the War of the Three Kingdoms for over twenty five years. He lives in the West Midlands and works within the Museum and Heritage industry. He is the editor of the 2012 edition of the Oxford Guide to Military History, and is the author of "Uncharitable Mischief, barbarity and excess in the British Civil Wars" published by the Pike and Shot Society. His third book, on the battle of Naseby, will be also published by Helion.
His book on Montrose is available from Amazon here

Friday, 26 February 2016

William Dobson: the Cavalier Chronicler


Tide, time and weather have not yet permitted me to go over to St Michael’s Mount to look at the mysterious miniature, so I have been a little remiss in this latest blog post. 

But in the meantime – this Dobson chap. 

William Dobson was described by the diarist John Aubrey as “the most excellent painter that England hath yet bred”. 
He was born in 1611, the son of another decorative artist called William Dobson, and died in poverty after what is tactfully described as “an irregular life” at the age of 35, buried on 28thOctober 1646 in St Martin in the Fields. He married twice: once to Elizabeth, who was buried at St Martin-in-the-Fields on  26thSeptember 1634 (bearing in mind that at the time of her death Dobson would have been twenty-three years old. That’s no age to be a widower -) and then to Judith Sander, of whom he painted a rather lovely portrait, in December 1637. She survived him, to re-marry: there is a record in the church of St Bartholomew the Great, London, of a little girl, Katherine, daughter of a William and Judith Dobson, christened 16 April 1639. 

Apprenticed to the younger William Peake, and thought to have then joined the studio of the German-born painter and tapestry designer Francis Cleyn, it’s interesting that unlike his mentors Dobson seems to have been exclusively working in paint. 
Cleyn was described in his heyday as “a second Titian” and as “il famossisimo pittore, miracolo del secole” – most of his employment was in decorating the mansions of the gentry, including Somerset House, Carew House, and the Gilt Room at Holland House in London. With the civil war his patrons were forced to cut back in their spending, though, and most of Cleyn’s prosperity came from engraved book illustrations and etchings 
William Peake was credited with making a gilded staff for the effigy of the young Prince of Wales in 1612, and although no copies of his paintings still exist, there are various engravings either by him or published by him in the National Portrait Gallery – mostly of eminent courtiers like Lord Darnley and the Earl of Worcester. 

Master Dobson, though, painted: and so far as we know, nothing else. There are no surviving engravings, sketches, sculptures – nothing but a substantial body of some sixty pieces of art, which, given that Dobson died at the age of thirty-five, and assuming that the majority of his work displays an adult maturity, must have represented aphenomenaloutput. We know nothing of any apprentices, and his death in reduced circumstances would suggest that he had not been in a position to train a younger artist for some time previous to this: I am surmising, therefore, that all his work was done by himself, not – as was often the case with many of the fashionable artists of the Stuart era – merely the face and hands, and the background filled in by a journeyman. 

During the 1630s he made a modest living – presumably as a portrait painter – and but when Charles I’s court painter Anthony van Dyck died in 1641, Dobson became serjeant painter to the King and groom of the privy chamber. (There is a story that Van Dyck himself introduced Dobson to the King when he saw one of the young artist’s paintings in a shop window.) 
When civil war broke out, he followed the King to Oxford 

He was, in effect, the King’s chronicler, and so it was no surprise that towards the latter end of the war when the Royalist star was waning, that poor Dobson’s popularity - and commissions -declined with it. 

Now I have to say, from a personal point of view, I love his paintings: they’re not formal, posed artworks, but real flesh and blood people – not all of whom I would like to be in a small space with, to be fair: Endymion Porter looks like a beery old toper and there is a twinkle in his pouchy eye best described as lewd.Carry On Cavalier, in his full glory. 
copyright Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

My own personal favourite is the portrait of a family, probably that of Richard Streatfeild, c. 1645. 
Mum looks as if she wants to laugh, and is stroking the curls of a very impish young miss in a pink frock, who appears to be playing peep-bo with the artist. 
Dad is looking sternly into the middle distance, whilst being poked in the belly by his youngest with a handful of coral. 
It is a very real, and very tender, family portrait, with real – and not very beautiful – people in it. 
(If it is the Streatfeild family, and if you’re curious, the children would be Alice, who would have been about 18 months old, William, who would have been a few months old, and six-year-old Henry. William and Henry lived into the first quarter of the 18thcentury, and Alice went on to marry William Woodgate, the Sherriff of Kent, in 1664. Richard and Anne Streatfeild had another three children after these three, and amazingly, every single one survived to adulthood. Don’t you love happy endings?) 

So. William Dobson. Fantastic painter, not as well known as he should be, a short but tragic life. 
Dead at 35, dying in debt in 1646 back in London. 

How did he manage to paint a miniature of King Charles for Sir Bevil Grenville, when he wasn’t a miniature painter –so far as we know?

The mysterious miniature of St Michael's Mount plays a part in my new book The Serpent's Root, available for pre-order at mybook.to/TheSerpentsRoot

Sunday, 14 February 2016

To PENTHESILEA the Amazonn Queen, on the Occasion of Her Slaying the King of The Tribe of Cynick

Fair queen! When thou shall slay thy foe
With fatal dart from amber eye
When thou with honour lays him low
To submit his sorry self, or die

When gently thou with slippered foot
Will press thine enemy's neck
And make his heart thine arrow's butt
And call him at thy beck

Thy CYNICK must love from afar
Without hope of return
As distant from thee as the star
To be forever spurned

I die,  pierced by Penthesilea's lance-
No wit, no hope, no charm - no chance.

Attributed. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1665)

Later evidence suggests the poem was written by the little-known Parliament!entarian poet Lucifer Pettitt in an attempt to discourage Wilmot's unwanted attentions to his niece, Thomazine Russell, the "Penthesilea" of the poem.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The Mystery of the Miniature on the Mount - St Michael's Mount and the Grenville Miniature

And it's not one that I have an answer to, I fear.... yet.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Whispers of Immortality


It must have been a long, hard couple of weeks for the Grim Reaper - first Lemmy, then Bowie, and now Alan Rickman.
(I am imagining the poor bony sod with Lemmy's gravelly sweariness down one ear, Alan Rickman being sinister and growly down the other, and trying to work out which David Bowie he's got hold of - but there we go.)

It is an odd thing, but I have been much possessed by throughts of mortality of late - not my own, I'm not that old, but in general.
I think I have a fairly solid attitude to death. When it's your time, you go, and that's all there is to it. Sometimes it's fair, and sometimes it's not fair, but there is no raging against the dying of the light. We have not that choice.

We do have a choice about how those of us who remain, go on. Whether we love, and remember the good things, or whether we try and stop ourselves at the moment when we lost part of our lives. And I think, I hope, I will choose the first.
I remember very clearly speaking at the Wascally Woyalist's memorial service, at Veryan church on a bright and breezy spring day with the rooks thrown like rags over the high trees. (Bloody cold in that church it was, as well.) I remember the sunlight being behind me, though there wasn't much warmth in it, and I remember being very passionate that we should not forget Ensign Crowhurst of the 32nd Cornwall Regiment of Foot, but nor should we make him into a thing he was not. He was who he was - he was kind, and funny, and intelligent. He was also useless with a paintbrush, fiercely conservative, and prone to farting in the freezer department of the supermarket and running away.

There will always be someone left behind. That is the nature of mortality; it's probably the one thing you will do, absolutely alone. No one else can go with you, no one can prepare you for it or do it for you.

I was saying last night to someone that in my fantasy-Hollywood casting of "Red Horse", Alan Rickman would have been my choice for the Earl of Essex. And I'm not sure any more that's true.
By all accounts decent, poetry-reading, a man to whom no breath of scandal was ever attached: a good man, with a reputation of honour and decency and kindness. He'd have had to be Fairfax, wouldn't he?

Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Serpent's Root - Cornwall 1646.Two months and counting....

Release date of March 21st and if you're wondering what may have befallen Hollie Babbitt and the rebel rabble since the end of "A Wilderness of Sin" - here's a taster...

“I want to go home,” Luce said dully, and turned his head on the pillow, though his eyes stayed closed. “I want to go home, Hollie.”

“Aye, I thought –“

He was mending, and his hair was lank, sticking to his forehead with sticky sweat: bless the lad, there wouldn't be a girl in Hampshire who'd look at him twice, now, but he opened his eyes then and looked up at Hollie.

"It's all right," he said, in that rusty, thready voice, strained with coughing. Closed his eyes again. "I'm sorry. I - she - I dreamed of her. Of Gray. It was nothing. The fever. I -" He trailed off, and under the blankets, his chest jerked, as if he might have sobbed. Only the once. "I almost believed it was real. That it - that she - that this was the dream, and she the reality. That I might wake and find myself at Bristol again, and be -. It was the fever. Nothing more."

"Just the fever. Aye. I know." And he wanted to do something reassuring, just a reaching out so that Luce might know that his lost girl might have faded like smoke, but that his friends were here, and real, and solid. But what comfort was that, when you had dreamed of a loss made whole again, and woke to find yourself in a lonely bed? Hollie put his hand on Luce's shoulder, and squeezed, gently. (The brat was a boy again, all skin and bone and tousled hair. That made Hollie's heart hurt, too, for the lad had no right to be so fragile.)

"Just the fever," Luce echoed. "Surely." And then he closed his eyes, and one single tear made its way from under his lashes, and slid down his face into his tangled hair. "It was a good dream, though. I wish -"
"No you don't," Hollie said, for that way lay madness.
“I miss her,” he said, as if Hollie had not spoken, and his voice was as flat as ever, as if he were talking of a skipped meal, or a forgotten engagement. “All the time, I miss her. And I do not know how I might bear it.”

And how could he answer that, without sounding as if Gray were a thing of no account? You get used to it? There will be other girls? “Yes,” he said, eventually, and hoped that was sufficient.

“She was not beautiful. I never counted her beautiful. But she was- alive, she was always so, so – she was never still, was she?” For the first time in weeks, another slow tear made its way from under his lashes, trickling down into his hair, soaking the greasy pillow. “Hollie?”

“Aye?”

Luce covered his eyes with the back of his wrist. “How do you forget?” he said, in a tiny voice.

And all Hollie could say was, “You don’t, Luce. You keep putting one foot in front of t’other. You don’t forget. But you get used to it.”
No consolation to think that after almost ten years there were still nights when he dreamed of Margriete, and still hurt to wake and find her gone. And that just for that first heartbeat, it hurt as much as it had.
“It will always hurt?” Luce said, and Hollie nodded, forgetting the lad had his eyes screwed tight shut.

“Like any other scar, brat. It will always hurt, if you get touched on it.”

“Good,” he said fiercely.  “For – I c-cannot bear that she should not be here, Hollie, and yet I cannot bear to pretend she never was.” And he sat up, quite forgetting that he was supposed to be on death’s doorstep, with all his tangled dirty hair falling about his face, and he buried his face in his two hands and sobbed like a little boy, with no thought for his beauty or his dignity. “It hurts,” he wailed, “it hurts, Hollie, it hurts!”

Aye. Well. Luce had forgot his beauty and his dignity, but Hollie was reminded, suddenly, that he had a daughter. And that one day, as the sparks flew upwards, she would look to him to comfort her. It was thinking of Thomazine that he sat on the edge of the bed and put his arms round the brat, patting him gingerly on the shoulder as he wept.
“It’ll all come good, Luce,” he said, and closed his eyes and thought of Thomazine. “It’ll all come good.”

Monday, 4 January 2016

The (Public) Rights of Man. And Woman

I got my log-in details for my Public Lending Rights registration today.

Now, unless you're an author, that probably means very little to you, and if you are an author, you're probably thinking "PLR? oh crikey yes!"

Basically, I'm now recognised as an author whose work is available in libraries, and I get paid royalties for same. Which is kind of exciting, and makes me kind of sad at the same time, because there should be something more to it than an email saying that I'm now registered. I don't know, a fanfare? A raspberry? It's sort of the stamp of recognition that I am a Real Author, and holding my own against people with epic publicity budgets and dedicated PR teams. And there's me, writing like stink in the back bedroom on a laptop with most of the keys missing.

But more than that, it made me think about libraries, and other institutions that we take for granted - education, that we take for granted, and the ability to read books. I live in Cornwall, and I can't walk much more than a mile from my house in any direction without coming across one of the Passmore Edwards Institutes.
John Passmore Edwards was born in Blackwater, within walking distance from me, in 1823. He was the son of a carpenter, and like the children of many of the Cornish working poor of the 19th century, pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He became a journalist, and then a media magnate, as well as a delegate to peace processes in Europe between 1848 and 1850. However, and most significantly for me, he was also a passionate believer in the working man's right to an education; he was a generous donor to the Workers' Educational Association, and gifted libraries, schools, and art galleries for men and women whose hard working-life meant that they - or their children - did not have the luxury of access to full-time education.

I wonder sometimes if perhaps we turn full circle; if perhaps having been given the right to education, people no longer see it as a hard-won privilege, a thing that men and women fought to achieve. That to many of us now it's devalued currency, as taken for granted as our air and clean water. Two hundred years ago, my little boy would only have been going to school tomorrow if we could afford it, or if he could be spared from wage-earning labour that put food on the family table. (Yes, two hundred years ago, children were still working in mills, their nimble little fingers, speed, and small stature being valuable, and their poor little bodies being cheap to feed and dispensable.) Schooling until the age of ten was only made compulsory in 1857, and the age at which a child could leave school was only set at sixteen, in 1972.
We - people my age - we have never been part of a society in which we want to learn but are deprived by circumstance of the ability to do so. Have never, thank God, lived in a world where books are "for your betters" - not beyond the reach of poor people, or working people, or children, but are for everyone.
And, you know, maybe we need to think about that. That maybe education and literacy are still a prize, an achievement to be proud of, rather than a casual box to be ticked. That there are still places in this country where adult literacy is not universal, before we even consider that there are countries in the developing world where parents are still fighting for their children's opportunities to be educated out of poverty. We don't hold any moral high ground on literacy at all. When you think that Passmore Edwards and his like made it possible for every adult in England to access literacy and learning, the idea that there are grown men and women who have the physical and mental capacity to gain an education, and make a conscious choice to remain ignorant is rather obscene.

Books are not our friends. Books are as necessary as breathing. Not just mine, but science books - romance books - books about keeping fish, or driving test theory.

If you're reading this, it's because someone fought for your right to an education. Don't ever take it for granted.

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Awarded for Excellence in Research by 17th-Century Specialists

Awarded for Excellence in Research by 17th-Century Specialists