The Story So Far ...

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A Brother Receives a Letter - and a Telling Off

I've been deep in research lately, learning all I can about a particular few years of the tenth century, in order to contribute to a forthcoming book, In Bed with the British (working title), to be published by Pen & Sword Books in June 2017.

Most of the documents I've been studying were written by clerics, and usually about 'important' people - kings, heirs to the throne, wives and women of kings. Almost all of these are mentioned as part of the stories of clergymen, those venerated as saints.

But tucked away at the end of a huge book*, my go-to source book, in fact, I rediscovered this gem, a letter written to a 'brother Edward'. It's written in the vernacular, a rarity for this period, and if one reads it as if it's addressed to a family member, it takes on a surprisingly contemporary tone, even though it addresses concerns very specific to the time of the Danish invasions:

"I tell thee also, brother Edward, now that thou hast asked me, that you do wrong in abandoning the English practices which your fathers followed, and in loving the practices of heathen men who begrudge you life, and in so doing show by such evil habits that you despise your race and your ancestors, since in insult to them you dress in Danish fashion with bared necks and blinded eyes. I will say no more about that shameful mode of dress except what books tell us, that he will be accursed who follows heathen practices in his life and in so doing dishonour his own race."
Elsewhere in the letter, the author asks Edward to try to stop 'a disgusting habit among women in rural districts, since he more often goes among these than does the writer'.

This made me smile. In fact there is so much that is wonderful about this missive, not least the opening line, "Now that thou has asked me..." 

Is there a little bit of smugness, too, that it is only Edward who goes more often among women in rural districts? I note that the writer implies that he does occasionally venture there himself, but never so frequently as the wayward brother. And what is the 'disgusting habit'? We are not told. Is this because this letter was not written for posterity, but simply to a brother gone off the rails? One can almost hear the drawing of breath, the whisper, "You know exactly what I'm talking about."

Obviously written at the time of Danish invasion, this letter is a delight, not only for its rarity but because of the wonderful image it conjures up. One can imagine that Edward is mixing with the wrong crowd, has quite had his head turned by the fancy and trendy invaders and has taken, much to the author's, maybe his family's, consternation, to following this new fashion. The 'blinded eyes' does not refer to 'cool shades', but one feels it is the middle-ages equivalent. 

Plus ca change...

*English Historical Documents Ed Dorothy Whitelock

Other related blog posts:
Anglo-Saxon Names
Wulfric Spott: A Mercian Man of Means

Monday, 10 April 2017

Writing to Music - Louise Turner

For the latest in the Writing to Music series, I am delighted to hand the blog over to author Louise Turner:~

I can’t imagine a life without music. It has been with me, quite literally, from the womb: my mother, who was a keen amateur singer, used to recall how she sang in Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass while expecting - my response was evidently very enthusiastic! Perhaps it’s this early experience which explains my love of orchestral brass and late 19th  and 20th century symphonies and tone poems...

With a background like this, it’s small wonder that music forms an important part of my writing routine.  Each of my works-in-progress has its own specific soundtrack, and while the impression I’ve given so far is of an existence dominated by western Classical music, this is certainly not the case.   I’m a child of my time: I may have a soft spot for Mahler and Prokofiev and Bruckner, but that doesn’t mean I’m not averse to a bit of Indy rock, 80s synth pop, or prog rock either….

Now the introductions are over, without further ado, I’m going to take you on a musical tour of my latest release, The Gryphon at Bay, which was published by Hadley Rille Books in late March 2017…

In musical terms, I relate to any work of historical fiction on two levels. Firstly, there’s the research and world-building aspect, and secondly, there’s the actual nuts and bolts of the writing.  With historical fiction, the former is crucial.  You have to get in the mindset of your characters, if they’re going to come across in a way that’s remotely credible. 

I firmly believe that music plays a key role in all of this, equalling literature and art in its importance. So, before we go any further, let me introduce you to the music of late 15th and early 16th century Scotland. We produced one of the world’s finest composers of early polyphony, don’t you know? And the awful thing is, hardly anyone has ever heard of him! 

His name is Robert Carver, and can I just say now that if you’ve never heard any Robert Carver, then you haven’t lived. I’ve added a link to one of his finest works, his Mass for 10 voices.  Listen to it with the sound turned up, in a darkened room, and dare to tell me that the hairs on the back of your neck aren’t standing on end!
Robert Carver - Mass "Dum sacrum mysterium" a 10 (YouTube)
Not linked so closely in time and space, but equally inspiring to me when I’m trying to conjure up a sense of the medieval are the Cantigas de Santa Maria.  While this song cycle pre-dates my novels by several hundred years, it still manages to help me set the scene. There are a number of different recordings from this song book, each very different in their style and execution. The New London Consort’s interpretation of the cantigas remain my favourite version, with one of their performances available at the link below.
 Non e gran causa (YouTube)
We’ll move on now, away from world-building, and research. You’ll find a definite mood change now, a different approach. A switch from the Classical, to the thoroughly modern.

I often have a roughly chronological order to my playlist, but Gryphon has bucked the trend somewhat in that its musical inspiration is largely thematic. To start with, I’d like to establish the right atmosphere by travelling down a fairly predictable route and enjoying some tracks by that well-known Celtic folk/alternative band, Clannad, and their album Anam.  

The first of my two choices from this album, is Ri na Cruinne, a beautifully atmospheric piece which conjures up in my mind’s eye images of armoured men-at-arms riding through the summer sunshine, with the waters of the Clyde sparkling as a backdrop.  Yes, I’m being romantic and fanciful here.  Firstly, it’s very rare to have the waters of the Clyde sparkling as a backdrop in a Scottish summer.  And secondly, I’m quite sure these men-at-arms (with Hugh Montgomerie in the lead on his grey horse Zephyr...) are on their way to doing something extremely nefarious, but at this point in time, it all looks very noble and impressive: -
Clannad - Rí Na Cruinne (YouTube)
But there’s a shadow lurking.  Hugh may have found success, but Fortune’s always fickle, and who’s to say that Fortune’s wheel won’t turn?  So let’s turn now to another Clannad track, In Fortune’s Hand. This has to be one of the important theme tunes of The Gryphon at Bay, which has at its heart the vagaries of Fortune, and how the Mighty can be toppled, whether by hubris, or their own poor judgement.  Apologies for the quality of the video on this one, and for the dodgy late 1980s fashions & haircuts….
Clannad - In Fortune's Hand (YouTube)
The theme of Fortune’s Wheel turning takes me neatly onwards to another of the important musical influences which helped me write this particular novel. It’s an album which is my standard accompaniment in the car when I’m heading out for a reading.  It sets me up correctly, sliding me neatly into a late medieval mindset, and it’s my favourite album by indie/Goth band Dead Can Dance: Aion.

Aion weaves an interesting path between medieval folk (tracks like Saltarello) and modern Goth rock. It includes themes which are very appropriate for the medieval period, such as the abuse of justice, and the vagaries of fortune. It inspired me when I was writing Fire & Sword, and it remains relevant for Gryphon. One track in particular stands out, Black Sun, which I see very much as Hugh Montgomerie’s theme tune.

Hugh’s definitely something of an antihero, and musically, Black Sun seems to suit his personality. It seethes.  It boils along with restless, barely contained energy, and it has a dark, cynical undertone, too.  Its opening lines, ‘Murderer/Man of Fire/Murderer/ I’ve seen the eyes of living death -’ are so very Hugh, when he’s in a Very Bad Mood Indeed…  
Dead Can Dance. Black Sun. (YouTube)
Can I add that I particularly like the way it’s been combined with imagery by Hieronymus Bosch in this video…

Continuing the aggressive, warlike theme a little longer, we’ll move onto Kasabian’s Empire. The hero of my first novel Fire & Sword was John Sempill of Ellestoun. John still plays an important role in The Gryphon at Bay, where he often finds himself struggling to remain level-headed and calm when the world around him is collapsing into chaos.  This track – as well as having one of the most wonderfully evocative and brilliantly anachronistic historical fiction-themed videos EVER (careful with that electric guitar, boys!) – sums up John Sempill’s attitude to life, the universe and pretty much everything throughout this particular book ( being called to war, AGAIN, when he just wants to sit at home with his feet up…).  It’s also a very appropriate soundtrack for the scene in the book (when Hugh does a very Bad Thing indeed) which forms both the turning point of the book and his own fortunes….
Kasabian - Empire (YouTube)
With war and unrest comes death, of course, and with death comes grieving, and ultimately, in some circumstances, revenge. For my musical accompaniment in this respect, may I present to you Mcgreggor by Elbow.  The imagery is striking (it always is, with Elbow) and it’s perhaps not surprising that I adopted it as the musical backdrop for a funeral scene. In particular, the image of the woman, standing like ‘the prow of a ship,’ reminds me of the Dowager, widow of Alexander, Earl of Glencairn...
Elbow - McGreggor (YouTube)
So far, so grim….  Let’s lighten the mood now, shall we? 

Enya released her album Amarantine when I’d just started out on the writing of Gryphon, and this next track – The River Sings - became synonymous with young Cuthbert Cunninghame.  Cuthbert is Hugh’s nemesis – and we meet him in Gryphon as a young lad on the cusp of manhood, whose first appearance has him practicing his skills against the quintain. The two men were often at loggerheads in reality: not only did the ‘real’ Cuthbert Cunninghame go on to enjoy a long and impressive career at the Scots court (he’s the future 2nd Earl of Glencairn); he was also appointed the King’s Champion at a joust held at Barassie in the 1490s, so I don’t think I’m far wrong in portraying him as proficient at the joust.  

Enya - (2005) Amarantine - 05 The River Sings (YouTube)

A complete change of mood now. So far, I’ve been painting a dire portrait of Hugh Montgomerie through my musical choices. But Hugh, despite his many flaws, does have his good side. In particular, he’s devoted to his wife, Helen Campbell (perhaps it might be said that this is his only saving grace…) I’ll stay with Enya now for the track which best fits the bill as ‘The Love Theme’ from The Gryphon at Bay It reminds me of a particular scene in the novel where Helen is reunited with Hugh after a particularly traumatic episode. She sings to him, in gaelic. I didn’t go into detail in the narrative, quite deliberately in fact. I certainly had a particular song in mind when I imagined the scene. It’s an Irish gaelic song, The Grief of a Young girl’s Heart (lyrics can be found here)

The reasons why I didn’t feel I could quote this poem verbatim are twofold: firstly, it’s Irish (just like Enya!), and secondly, I wasn’t convinced I could track its origins back to the late 15th century. There are, however, links between the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland and Ireland in the medieval period, and it’s possible that the roots of this poem are very early indeed. So I did feel justified in using it as inspiration. In particular, I considered the line, ‘if hard-pressed, I would strike a blow for you’ to be typical of Helen. Helen’s a Campbell, born and raised in a Highland family, so Gaelic musical traditions would have been very familiar to her. The closest I’ve come to the ‘spirit’ of how this poem might sound when set to music is this song by Enya, Water Shows the Hidden Heart, which isn’t even written in gaelic, unfortunately.

I’ll leave you now with one last track which pretty much sums up the spirit of the novel. It’s another of those all-round numbers that always put me in the right frame of mind to work on it. Yes, The Gryphon at Bay is dark, and unforgiving at times, and several of my chosen tracks reflect this. But there’s always light amongst the darkness: I don’t see any of my characters as ‘baddies,’ or ‘goodies,’ they’re just people, trying to get along as best they can. And one of the tracks I play to remind me of this fact is a rather obscure track called Cut Throat by indie band UltraVivid Scene.

I first came across this music in a workout video, of all things. It sort of lodged in my brain, and by some absurd quirk of fate (Fortune shows her hand again!) it came into my life at the same time I first discovered Hilary Mantel’s breathtaking historical novel, A Place of Greater Safety. This music is menacing, but quirky, and that’s the lasting impression that stayed with me after reading the Mantel novel. I suppose it’s fair to say that it was seeing what Mantel could achieve in a work of historical fiction that inspired me to keep writing first Fire & Sword and then The Gryphon at Bay. 

I can’t really think of a better way to finish, really! I do hope you enjoyed this musical whistlestop tour of The Gryphon at Bay, and of the musical influences which have shaped my life and my writing. And thank you, Annie Whitehead, for setting me this challenge! It’s been a lovely excuse to relive an exciting musical journey from the relative comfort of its destination…

Thank you Louise - Dead Can Dance: Aion is a favourite album of mine, too, and I own every Clannad studio album!

Buy The Gryphon at Bay

In this gripping follow-up to her debut novel Fire and Sword,
Louise Turner returns to the splendour and intrigue of Renaissance Scotland and the court of King James IV.
Summer, 1489... 

It is a year after the old king’s death, and his son now sits upon the throne. Hugh, 2nd Lord Montgomerie has achieved great things in this short time. He’s been granted a place on the Privy Council, and given authority in the King’s name throughout Lennox and the Westland.
Success is a double-edged sword. The old king’s murder has left its scars and there’s rebellion in the Westland. Now Montgomerie must choose between his king and loyalty to his kinsmen, the Darnley Stewarts, treading a dangerous path between pragmatism and treason.  
Closer to home, he is challenged by his old rivals the Cunninghames. The feud between the two warring families intensifies, with tragic consequences.  And the time comes for three women, drawn together by their hatred of Montgomerie, to plot revenge.  
As Montgomerie sees the world turn against him, just one ally remains: John Sempill of Ellestoun.  
But Ellestoun may have his own agenda. Will he stand by his so-called friend, or seek retribution for past injustices...

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

No Alums, Veri Pore: The Norwich Census of 1570

Going through some old history notes recently, I came across this little gem of a document. I've no idea how I came by it, (I have a facsimile; I don't think I'm on any museum or library 'wanted' list!) but as an historian who has close ties with Norfolk, I found it of great interest. I know Norwich very well, and I also love to pick at primary source documents to see what they can tell us of the people who lived in centuries past.

It contains details of the Parishe of St. Stevenes. The chancel of St Stephen's Church dates from 1522, and the church is one of three in the 'New French Borough', an area near the castle where 98 Saxon homes were demolished to build the stone edifice which signalled that the Normans were here to stay.

St Stephen's Church, by Ian Capper via CC Licence

In the later medieval period, around a third of the population of Norwich was made up of 'Strangers', Flemish Protestant Refugees. The famous Strangers' Hall in Norwich is only a five minute walk from St Stephen, but the first census entry I looked at was of the Rowe family, who have dwelt here ever, in other words, they were 'natives'. The head of the family, Robert Rowe, was 46, a glasier, and in no worke. His wife Elisabeth that spinne white warpe had five children. They lived in Thomas Mason's house and received no alms.

Strangers' Hall  - Public Domain Image

John Hubbard, 38, was a butcher and he and his wife had also dwelt here ever, but unusually for a butcher, his status was registered as no alums but verie poore.

Thomas Pele, 50, was a cobler in worke and Margarit his wyfe of the same age that spinne white warpe had three children. The elldist of the age of 16 yeres that spinne, and the other of the age of 12 and of 6 yeres that go to scoole, and have dwelt here 9 yeres and came from Yorkshere. Thomas and Margarit both had work, and the youngest children went to school, and yet they lived in the parish house, with no allums but verie pore.

John Tastes, a cordiner (cordwainer), and his wife who sewed, had two children at school, and lived in Mrs Broune's house with no alums, indifferent.

Mousehold Heath, Norwich - John Crome, Public Domain

John Burr was a 54 year old glasier, but verie sicke and worke not and his wife Alice that spinne had 7 children. The youngest was 2 yeres that can spinne woole. They lived in John's own house and had dwelt here ever.

The eldest on this document is John Findley, who at 82 years was not registered as 'past work' as some other elderly residents of Norwich were, but simply listed as a cowper not in worke along with his wife, Jone, who was siklie and yet spinne and knitt. They also had dwelt here ever, but in the church house, with a payment of 4d, and they were verie pore.

A quick scan of the whole Norwich census reveals that very few people, if in receipt of any payment at all, had any more than 4d.

To give an idea of the amount 4d would buy,

In another part of Norwich, in the Parish of St Gregory's, a poor man died, and his property was valued in an inventory taken by William Rogers and Gregorye Wesbye on 15th October, 1599.

St Gregory's by Adrian S Pye, via CC Licence

One borded bedsted 3s. 4d
One mattress and one under cloathe 1s. 6d
One flocke bed 2s. 6d
One bolster 2s. 0d
One downe pillowe and an old cushaigne 1s. 6d
Two leather pillowes filled with feathers 3s. 4d
One payer of shetes 2s. 0d
One bed blanket 1s. 8d
One old cofer 2s. 0d
One drye barrell 3d
2 salt boxes 1s. 0d
One hake, a fyer pann, a payer of tonges and a rosting yron 1s. 6d
One litle ketle, a sawer and 3 pewter spoones 2s. 6d
3 little boles 1s. 0d
One ketle, one potspone, 28 trenyens 1s. 0d
2 woodinge platters and 5 dishes and twoo erthen potts 8d
a stone pott and 5 galley pottes 4d
a hamper and certen old washe 6d
4 frayles and 2 stooles 3s. 0d
3 chiselles, 2 hamers and a perser 3s. 0d
(suggesting he was a carpenter by trade)
3 old cushings 6d
2 payers of hand cuffes and one dozen of hand kerchers and an old pillowbere 2s. 6d
2 old shirtes 1s. 8d
One old forme and 2 old cappes 1s. 0d
Total: £1 18s. 5d

Strangers' Hall Museum - a richer setting than our census houses

Ever wished to go back in time? Much as I love Norwich, I think I'd go back as a wealthy merchant. At the very least.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Right to Reply - The Twelfth Century

The latest in the Right to Reply series, where I ask a group of authors to talk about their particular time period, takes us to the twelfth century. Can our authors agree; or at least agree to disagree?
Here, EM Powell, Edward Ruadh Butler and Charlene Newcomb slug it out...

Welcome, Medevialists ~ Who is your 'champion' 12th century (non-fictional) character, and why?

EM: I’m going to go with one of King Henry II's most successful lords, the Anglo-Norman Hugh de Lacy. De Lacy liked to acquire land, whether in England Wales or Normandy. He also had a rather unfortunate tendency to just take it. The Norman conquest of Ireland was to see one of de Lacy’s biggest acquisitions in the kingdom of Mide (Meath). This was no paper land-grab: de Lacy personally relieved an Irish chieftain of his head to do so.  His success in Ireland grew to the point where Henry believed that de Lacy, now married to an Irish princess, was about to steal the whole island from him. Fate intervened in the form of de Lacy’s grisly murder. Chronicler William of Newburgh recorded that 'this news was gladly received by Henry’.

File:Trim Castle 6.jpg
Trim Castle, Co Meath, image by Andrew Parnell

Ruadh: Though I respect Hugh de Lacy for his castle-building and conquests, his political skills leave a lot to be desired in a champion. Had he survived his assassination in 1186 Hugh’s ambitions would probably have led to a civil war in the fledgling Irish colony. John Lackland had already placed some of his most trusted knights in possession of lands surrounding Meath and Hugh would’ve been hard pressed to win against invasions from Munster, Louth and Dublin. 

Unlike poor ‘ol Headless Hugh, my champion is a political master who could match the machinations and statesmanship of some of the greatest men of the age, maintaining his lofty position until his death as well as winning wars. 

His name is Hubert Walter. As a cleric Hubert rose to the highest offices in England as Archbishop of Canterbury and Papal Legate, but it was his career as a bureaucrat that proves him the greatest champion of the 12th century. It was Hubert who negotiated with Saladin on Richard Lionheart’s behalf during the Third Crusade, leading to the Treaty of Jaffa and the recognition of the Crusader States in the Levant, and it was Hubert who subsequently collected the ransom for King Richard after his capture in Austria. He became Regent of England during Richard’s long absences and radically changed the processes of taxation, justice, bureaucracy, banking, and feudal service to something that we would recognise today. His influence was too great for King John to have him side-lined and as John’s chancellor, Hubert maintained England as a strong kingdom despite serving one of the least-capable monarchs in all of English history. 

File:Canterbury Cathedral Hubert Walter tomb.JPG
The Tomb of Hubert Walter, d1205 - Image Adam Bishop

Char: My colleagues have chosen two fine examples of 12th century champions, but both have forgotten two remarkable individuals that I struggle to choose between: the Greatest Knight, William Marshal, who worked alongside Hubert Walter during the Lionheart's absence; and Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II. I will go with the latter: wife to two kings, mother of ten, Queen of England and Duchess of Aquitaine. 

She was a brilliant, well educated woman for her time. She was a patron of the arts; a soldier, participating in the Second Crusade with first husband Louis VII of France; a rebel, imprisoned by her husband Henry II of England for 15 years for supporting their sons' rebellion in 1173-74. She came out of these experiences stronger. In her mid-sixties, she escorted future daughter-in-law Berengaria of Navarre across the Alps in the middle of the winter to bring her to Richard in Sicily. 

She was politically savvy, a diplomat who was regent of England while King Richard went on Crusade and helped sort son John's plots to seize the throne. She was instrumental in securing support to raise the ransom monies to have Richard released from captivity and at the age of 70 traveled to Germany to deliver it. Though she had never been close to John, she supported his accession to the throne when Richard died. Her diplomatic skills were called upon once again, when at 77 she went to Castile and chose one of her granddaughters to be wed to the son of the king of France. Her journey there had been fraught with danger - she was captured, but negotiated for her freedom. Eleanor was a woman of the ages whom we can look back on with nothing but admiration.

Eleanor and her son John. (Public Domain image)

What was the most significant event of the century, and why?

EM: Canterbury Cathedral, 29 December 1170: Archbishop Thomas Becket was brutally slain on his own altar by four knights. As far as the medieval were concerned, Becket was God’s representative on earth. And Henry II got the blame. Not only was it a hugely important event at the time, it has continued to grab the popular imagination. Mention Becket and the response is instantly ‘who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?’ People remember.

Ruadh: Conquest changes everything. The most significant and long-lasting event was the invasion of Ireland in the years after 1169. The invaders’ initial successes led to a whole host of new blood and ideas introduced to the island; slavery was ended and Celtic Christianity was finally replaced by the Roman church for the first time and Latin replaced Irish as the language of the church. The Norse cities such as Dublin, Waterford and Limerick expanded as never before as did Ireland’s trade with the continent and England. Monasteries founded by the Norman lords led to the introduction of new ideas in agriculture. Norman knights from Leinster were the difference between victory and defeat at the Battle of Fornham in 1173 (which almost certainly allowed King Henry II to keep his throne) and when King Edward I invaded Scotland in 1296 his army was fed by ships out of Dublin and Drogheda. In a nutshell, the British Empire was founded from the lessons learned and wars fought bringing Ireland under control.

Char: The Angevin Empire was forever altered by the untimely death of King Richard I on April 6, 1199. I may not get many 'likes', for Richard is known as one who spent about 6 months of his adult life in England and who ruined England financially. But remember, his realm - his birthright - stretched from the Pyrenees north and across the Channel to the British Isles. What what you do to defend the lands of your kingdom? Richard's campaigns against Philip of France were generally successful, and his alliances and strength ultimately would have prevented the French from grabbing Angevin territory on the continent. Europe might look very different today had he lived. Would we have a Magna Carta?
File:Henry II, Plantagenet Empire.png
Angevin Empire circa 1172 Image Credit: Cartedaos 

Which was the most decisive battle/skirmish/siege of the century, and why?

EM: Still the altar on Canterbury! At a recent talk I gave, I got the usual Henry/Becket quote. From a young man who’d lived his whole life in Chicago.

Ruadh: King Henry I’s campaign leading up to the Battle of Tinchbray in 1106 is a thing of military beauty. Having claimed and then held on to England by the skin of his teeth in 1100 he set about establishing allies in Normandy which was then under the rule of his elder brother Robert Curthose. This proved enough to destabilise Robert’s rule in the duchy and Normandy soon disintegrated into chaos. In 1105 and having made sure that the King of France remained neutral, Henry crossed the Channel and claimed Bayeux, Caen and Falaise to further weaken his brother’s hold on the realm. The next year Henry returned and besieged the castle of Tinchbray which bordered the lands of Duke Robert’s key ally, the Count of Mortain. This forced Robert into the field along with his remaining allies. Always impetuous, Robert opened the Battle of Tinchbray with a huge cavalry charge, but this move was anticipated by Henry and he took a novel approach, awaiting the horsemen with his dismounted knights and infantry. Stopping Robert’s best weapon in its tracks, Henry committed his reserves at the most advantageous moment to totally destroy his enemy. 

Henry I of England - Illustration from Cassell's History of England - Century Edition - published circa 1902.jpg
Image: Public Domain

Char: We writers often speculate the 'what ifs' of history. Ruadh's suggestion of the importance of Tinchbray easily defines that - the history of Normandy, England, and France would have played out in a way we can only imagine had Henry I lost. But I would suggest the most significant battle of the 12th century, the consequences of which still resonate today, is the Battle of Hattin in July 1187 and the fall of Jerusalem that October, which led to the Third Crusade. Without that call from Pope Gregory to take the cross Richard I would not have gone on pilgrimage in 1190. He would have stayed home and concentrated on securing his realm. Philip of France would not have taken so much of the Lionheart's territory. No imprisonment, no ransom, no devastation of the English economy. Certainly coin was needed to fight the French and other enemies on the continent, but undoubtedly, it was nowhere near the 150,000 marks raised for the ransom. (If I recall, this was equivalent to approximately three times the annual income of England. We'll have to ask Ruadh how much Hubert Walter raised for the war against the French and other enemies 1194-99!) 

Richard the Lionheart's Tomb at Fontervraud - image public domain

You're going into battle - which would be our weapon of choice, and why?

EM: Hugh de Lacy. Granted, not strictly a weapon, but according to Gerald of Wales, ‘What Hugh’s complexion and features were like, he was dark, with dark, sunken eyes and flattened nostrils. His face was grossly disfigured down the right side as far as his chin by a burn, the result of an accident. His neck was short, his body hairy and sinewy. He was a short man. His build- misshapen.’ So, 1. Scary and 2. A dab hand with a sword. I’d just hide behind him.

Ruadh: I’d agree that Handsome Hugh would be a good man to have at your side in a fight, but I’d rather have one of his nice castles. I’ll definitely need to build ‘Castle Butler’ no more than a day’s horse ride from another of my fortresses because I need to keep my supply lines strong if I’m going to have an effective weapon. I’ll have timber for the outer walls of the bailey pre-cut for quick assembly on site. The earth-moving creation of the motte will take longer but I’m sure with a bit of planning (and I’m sure I can whip up some locals to help me with the labouring – come on, it is the medieval era!) this should not take more than a couple of weeks. Once the castle is finished, I’ll stock the buildings in the bailey with as much grub, wine and arrows as I can and then send out my cavalry to antagonise my neighbours. Then I’ll sit back and simply say, “Come at me bro”!

Public domain image of plan for typical motte and bailey castle construction

Char: Without a doubt, I would say Richard the Lionheart. At sixteen, the man was able to defeat more experienced enemies. He is a fine example of a weapon, a skilled warrior in the charge and a great swordsman. He was also an excellent military strategist. He may have been reckless with regards to his own safety, but he understood logistics and his battle strategies kept many of his troops alive.  


E.M. Powell’s medieval thriller Fifth Knight novels have been #1 Amazon and Bild bestsellers. Book #3, THE LORD OF IRELAND, was released in 2016. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she lives in northwest England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. In addition to being the social media manager for the Historical Novel Society, she is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers’ The Big Thrill magazine and blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors. 

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Edward Ruadh Butler was born in Northern Ireland. He worked in newsrooms, bars and laboratories, and as a security guard, musician and lifeguard before his acclaimed debut novel, Swordland, was published by Accent Press in February 2016. Charting the years of the Norman invasion of Ireland Swordland and its follow-up, Lord of the Sea Castle, published in June, are a tribute to his Butler ancestors who carved lands for themselves as part of the conquest in the 12th century.

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Charlene Newcomb, aka Char, is currently working on Book III of her Battle Scars series. Men of the Cross and For King and Country, Books I & II, are B.R.A.G Medallion honorees that vividly portray the impact of love and war on a young knight serving Richard the Lionheart. Book II is an Editor's Choice of the Historical Novel Society and a finalist in the Chaucer Awards for pre-1750 Historical Fiction.
Char is a contributor and blog editor for English Historical Fiction Authors. She lives, works, and writes in Kansas. She is an academic librarian by trade, a former U.S. Navy veteran, and has three grown children.

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Thursday, 23 March 2017

Interview - Nina Romano

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog author Nina Romano, author of the Wayfarer Trilogy.

I began by asking her: ~ You write full length fiction and poetry. Do you keep these two very much separate, or do you find yourself working on both prose and poetry simultaneously?

I do keep them separate.  It seems I can hear only one whistle at a time.  I always have a poetry file going for each year and the poems are at different stages of development—so I have many drafts of the same poem.  When I receive an acceptance for a poem, I write a note of the date and in which journal or literary review it will appear.  But my head doesn’t gear up for a poetry collection unless I’ve put together a chapbook of poems around a theme or have a particular premise to cull from and many poems already published that will work as a unit

Fiction becomes sketched on a completely different canvas.  Two of my novels were born of published short stories, one from a treatment and a current one is from a novella.  

Speaking of short stories, how different is the discipline, compared to full length novels? Do you find one technique easier than the other? And when an idea comes to you, do you immediately know whether it will be a short story, or something longer?

This is a “loaded” and difficult question.  I haven’t written a short story in quite a while, but I did finish a novella a few weeks ago.    

Let me preface the answer by saying first that, for me, I think poetry is a gift from God.  Images, elevated language, strong nouns and verbs, rhythm, metaphors—they all come to me randomly and I put them down on paper—any paper, envelopes, bills, grocery lists, theater playbills—whatever.  Then I put those snatches of phrases or beginnings into a file by year. There I develop and revise them until I find the poem hidden within.  

In Grad school at Florida International University, I had a fabulous poetry professor and mentor, Campbell McGrath. He taught me to find the energy in the poem and go with it.  

I find short stories to be the hardest form of writing for me because of the compression.  Novels give you so much time to develop the story. I always wanted to be a novelist—it’s challenging and I get to follow my characters around for much longer—that’s why I love it. 

Ideas on the other hand, abound.  They’re all around us.  An idea, will present itself to me already in the genre it needs to find a home in—I’ll know—by the type of inspiration it is, if it’ll be part of a poem, or go into a short piece, or become a novel scene.  That inner knowledge is born from years of writing—years, and years, and years.  

Can you tell us about the Wayfarer Trilogy? What is the premise, and where did the idea come from?

In a word: Giacomo.  He is in all three of the novels and he is the character I was most challenged to write.  Giacomo is loosely drawn from my grandfather’s like.  He was in the Italian Navy and travelled to China as a sailor in the Boxer Rebellion.  Giacomo is the wayfarer, but in a sense all of my strong women characters in this trilogy are wayfarers also, in the sense that they’re all going, moving, traveling. The word WAYFARER comes from the Middle English weyfarere, from wey, way way plus farere—traveler, and from faren—to go.  The word’s first known use was in the 15th century.

Lian travels all over China to find her lover, Giacomo, in The Secret Language of Women.  
Angelica travels from her secure Sicilian family nest and the desire to protect herself from intimacy into the loving arms of Giacomo in Lemon Blossoms. And Marcella, Giacomo’s daughter in In America, travels the gamut of wanting to become a professional singer to the realization that she was born too soon and was destined, instead, to be a wife and mother.  

Obviously, since book three is published, there will be no more in the series. So what's next? Are you working on anything at the moment?

I’m still working on historical fiction and romance, but a completely different genre—Westerns. I’m devising a novel of the old west set between New Mexico and St. Louis, but because I’m a Gemini, I’m working on two novels at once.  And I think I’m falling in love with my character Luke Wolf, in Darby’s Decision (working title), and my protagonist, Cayo Bradley in the other—I’ve even written poems about him that can be found in my poetry collection: Westward: Guided by Starfalls and Moonbows.  

You've presented several times at the Miami Book Fair. What words of advice would you give any new or aspiring author thinking of going to their first book fair?

Appearing at the Miami Book Fair International is prestigious.  There’s no denying that.  It’s a great honor and privilege to present a book at the Fair. I thank Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books and Books and the founder of the Fair, for having offered me the opportunity to read and present five times from my poetry and fiction.  

While the Miami Book Fair itself is free except for sending in three copies of your book, here’s the truth.   I believe if you have an already established career and have a recognizable author name with a best-selling title, you will do well in sales, but if you are a beginner or midlist author, while you will have an audience, you should not expect to sell many copies.  

I’m going to be brutally honest here.  The majority of popular authors are fully funded by large publishers.  I think that the bulk of new authors are disappointed by the fact that they are not subsidized because they have small, independent publishers or are even self-published.  The bottom line is that attending readers save their pennies for those “bigwig” authors in order to have the books autographed by them.  

The question remains: who is footing the bill for travel, housing, meals, and expenses?  If it’s a big publisher, then go for it.  But if you’re not living in Florida then you must calculate the cost—is it worth the time, travel, effort and money plus the emotional cost of perhaps not selling many copies or not even selling one? And I think this probably applies to most books fairs.  

Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity to speak with you.  I so appreciate it.

Thanks to Nina for taking the time to talk to me.
Find Nina: Amazon Author Page
Nina's Website

I've just heard today from Nina that: LEMON BLOSSOMS,Book #2 of the Wayfarer Trilogy, is a 2016 FOREWORD INDIES Book Award FINALIST. Thanks Foreword Reviews and Turner Publishing. Congratulations!

Monday, 13 March 2017

Writing to Music - Sarah Parke

For the latest in the Writing to Music series, I am delighted to hand over the blog to author Sarah Parke:~

Creating a Novel Mixtape

Listening to music is an important part of my creative process. I know a lot of writers who listen to music while writing and there seem to be two camps: those who write to instrumental music, and those who listen to music with words. There’s quite a bit of debate over whether lyrics distract the writer from their own words. Personally, I like my music wordy enough to drown out my nagging inner editor.

Music can also be a helpful tool in your writing toolbox.

Each time I begin a new novel project I spend hours “getting to know” the cast of characters I’ll be working with. I write out character sketches, conduct interviews, and locate photos that help me visualize my characters. I also create a mixtape or soundtrack with a song for each major character.

I wish I could claim the idea for a novel soundtrack as my own. But the idea came from my high school English teacher who once gave us an assignment to create a soundtrack for The Great Gatsby. It was the most fun I ever had with a school project, and I’ve adapted it to fit my needs as an author.

One of the things to consider for your novel’s mixtape is music genres. If your novel takes place in the Gothic South, you might want to limit your song selections to country music, blue grass, or Christian music. By contrast, if your novel’s setting is India under British Colonialism, your soundtrack might consist of Bollywood music and British waltzes. The point is, consider all the cultural and historical attributes of music.

My current novel is an alternative history for a Young Adult audience, so I find myself turning to the alternative rock genre. It was my preferred genre when I was an angsty teenager, but alternative music also deals with a lot of YA themes (love, heartbreak, disappointment, anger, and independence). The tempo (fast or slow) and mood (solemn vs. energetic) are important factors when choosing music for my novel’s mixtape, but the lyrics are more important for my purposes. I pay close attention to the words in a song, looking for particular lines or refrains that speak to my characters’ motivations, or a painful memories from their past.

As an example: My main character, Mallory, is a sixteen year old girl born with goat horns and hooves in an alternative version of Victorian England where Napoleon won the Coalition Wars using Dark Magic. She is an angry-loner type because London society shuns and fears her deformity. I chose “Pieces” by Sum 41 as Mallory’s song. It has an upbeat tempo, but conveys a message of loneliness and not fitting in. The line “I tried to be perfect / But nothing was worth it” is particularly appropriate for Mallory, who struggles to find her place between two worlds throughout the novel.
Pieces - Sum 41 (Youtube)
The novel’s anti-hero, Mallory’s uncle Archibald, is a fun character to write because he is a bit of a black hat with good intentions. Archibald is a recovering magic addict. The song I chose for him was “The Pretender” by Foo Fighters. The lyric “I’m the voice inside your head/ you refuse to hear / I’m the face that you have to face / mirrored in your stare” speaks to the two sides of Archibald’s psyche that are warring with each other.
The Pretender - Foo Fighters (Youtube)
The right song creates an almost immediate connection to a specific character for me, helping me to “hear” a character’s voice when I’m writing dialogue or emotionally intense scenes. This sense of connection is especially important when I am dipping in and out of drafting mode in 20 minutes sprints during a long week of working full time. Sometimes all it takes for me to fall back into the grip of a scene is to listen to some songs from my novel’s soundtrack.

Music can also help your story’s pacing. If you’ve ever watched a horror film and gotten that fluttering sensation in the pit of your stomach as the character on screen walks down a dark hallway, you can thank effective sound design for your anxiety! Movie and television soundtracks are meant to convey tension without words and they can help improve the pacing of your scenes.

My current novel project has several fast-paced fight scenes. Oftentimes I’ll reread a “quick” scene and find it overly wordy. Then I’ll read over the scene with a fast-paced song playing in the background and I find myself cutting words and tightening sentences. A frenetic tempo forces me to write shorter sentences; abrupt banter; quick paragraphs. The pace of my writing conforms to the pace of the music. It’s a great revision strategy!

The internet has made it easier than ever before to search for free music and create playlists. The following sites require you to sign up for a free account, but you can stream music with limited ads: YouTube, Spotify, and 8tracks.

And while you’re building your novel’s mixtape soundtrack, you can also play around with creative album art with online graphics programs like Canva or PicMonkey.

Just remember that your novel’s mixtape should be a tool to help you stay invested in your story. If you find yourself spending your writing time reading music lyrics, you should probably turn back to that blank page!

Happy Writing (and listening)!


Sarah Parke is an author and editor. When she’s not writing about monsters in Victorian London or supporting the publication efforts at Globe Pequot Press, she enjoys spending time with her husband and their menagerie of animals. Follow Sarah on Twitter, @SParkeAuthor or visit her website at
Her first novel, The Mourning Ring, is a Historical Fantasy about the teenaged Brontë siblings. You can order it on:
Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Wulfric Spott - A Mercian Man of Means

Last month I wrote about Anglo-Saxon names, and mentioned Eadric Streona (the 'Grasping'). He does come into this story, but I wanted to talk about another man with an odd name: Wulfric Spott, a Mercian man of means.

Wulfric Spott was a man of wealth, but he wasn't an ealdorman; he was 'merely' a thegn, but he witnessed 43 charters as a minister and he had lands in Staffordshire and Derbyshire, estates in Shropshire, Leciestershire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire. His will also refers to lands in South Lancashire and Cheshire. He was the founder of Burton Abbey at Burton on Trent.

Confirmation of Wulfric's will, 1004

Straight away his will demonstrates his wealth:
First I grant to my lord 200 mancuses of gold, and two silver-hilted swords and four horses, two saddled and two unsaddled, and the weapons which are due with them.
A mancus of gold would be the equivalent of 4.25g, or a unit of around 30 pieces of silver.

Wulfric makes various other grants of land, but to his daughter he leaves a portion of land which seems to be exempt from the usual terms:
And the land at Tamworth is not to be subject to any service not to any man born, but she is to have the lordship.
As well as bequests of huge parcels of land - "And I grant to Aelfhelm and Wulheah the lands between the Ribble and the Mersey, and in Wirral" - he leaves personal items:
And I grant to my god-daughter,[the daughter] of Morcar and Ealdgyth, the estate at Stretton and the brooch which was her grandmother's.
The family of Wulfric Spott was one of the most influential and powerful of its day, with branches linked to the royal family and a regular involvement in power struggles and political rivalry. 

Wulfric seated on a horse, wielding a sword and clad in mail
Wulfric, from an 18th C pencil drawing of the stained glass window at Hall Hill, Abbot's Bromley

Wulfric Spott's brother Aelfhelm, ealdorman of Northumbria, was murdered in 1006, and his sons Wulfheah and Ufegeat were blinded. Wulfheah was one of the prominent ministri during the reign of Aethelred II (the Unready) and it's generally believed that Eadric Streona, ealdorman of Mercia 1007-1017, was Aelfhelm's murderer. His rise to power certainly would not have been hindered by the removal of prominent men who surrounded the king. The rivalry does not seem to have stopped there, for Eadric is named as the murderer of Sigeferth and Morcar, thegns of the Seven boroughs*. These brothers were members of this same family; Morcar was married to Wulfric Spott's niece. There is a possibility that they were related to King Aethelred  through his marriage to the daughter of Thored of Northumbria. 

Vacillating between the causes of Edmund Ironside and Cnut in the war of 1015-16, Eadric was playing a dangerous game. Edmund had defied his father, Aethelred II, and married Sigeferth's widow, thereby gaining the allegiance of the Northern Danelaw. Cnut's English wife, Aelfgifu of Northampton, was the daughter of the murdered Aelfhelm and the cousin of Ealdgyth, Morcar's widow. 

It is also possible that this family was connected to that of Leofwine, who held Eadric's ealdordom after the latter's death. His son Leofric succeeded him, and his son Aelfgar married Aelfgifu , who may have been the daughter of Ealdgyth and Morcar.

The Encomium Emmae Reginae shows us how important this family was. 

The Encomium Emmae Reginae - Emma receives it from the author
(her sons Harthacnut and Edward are in the background)

It was written for Cnut's second wife Emma, as a propaganda exercise for the claims of her son, Harthacnut, and in Book III it denies that Harald is Cnut's son. This in itself is not enough to refute Harald's claims, and the Encomium further denies that he is Aelfgifu of Northampton's son. Clearly his position as her son is important. If Emma denies that he is of this family, then she is not attacking them. The importance of Aelfgifu's kinship is clear, and Emma does not wish to offend this great family.

It's not clear exactly when Wulfric died, but the charter issued by Aethelred confirming his will is dated 1004 (pictured above) so we must assume that he died before this date. His mother, Wulfrun, was a noblewoman, after whom Wolverhampton is named. Hers was the only recorded name among the hostages taken by Olafr Gothfrithson when he took Tamworth in AD940. The fact that Wulfric Spott was also known as Wulfric son of Wulfrun, rather than of his father, suggests that she was a wealthy woman whose status outranked her spouse's.

From his will, it's clear that Wulfric did not squander any of the family fortune.

*The Five Boroughs or The Five Boroughs of the Danelaw were the five main towns of Danish Mercia (what is now the East Midlands). These were Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford.  There is a unique 1015 reference to the 'Seven Boroughs', which may have been included Torksey and York.