Monday, December 25, 2006
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Back in November while visiting a re-enactment fair at Warwick, I ordered a shield. I wanted a mid 12thC kite shield with an early depiction of the Marshal Lion. This is the shield I envisage William Marshal's father John carrying into battle. Same colours as his famous son's but with the green and yellow reversed. The lion figure is based on an early existing manuscript painting.
Anyway, Royal Mail tried to deliver the finished shield today when I was out and left a note. There was a tick beside 'Would not fit in the letterbox.' Ummmm....no, I can understand that. The postman had written at the top of the document 'surf board.' After I'd finished grinning, I thought about my psychic friend's description of John Marshal and his blond good looks. From there I took to imagining him not in a mail shirt, but walking out of the California surf in a wet suit. Phew! It certainly made a frozen, foggy UK day a LOT warmer!
Sunday, December 10, 2006
I've started preliminary researching and while doing so came across a primary source account of the terrible incident of the death of Roger's uncle, Gilbert Marshal. Roger had five Marshal uncles and all of them died without issue. Foul play is known in the case of the second son, Richard, and highly suspected in Gilbert's. The other three are anyone's guess but I suspect they were helped off the mortal coil since none of them made old bones.
According to Matthew Paris, Gilbert was killed at a tourney near Hertford. He had a new Italian destrier which he was having trouble controlling - he didn't have the equestrian or military skills of his famous father. His first vocation had been as a clergyman and it had been rumoured that he was 'inexperienced and useless as a knight.' His fate was sealed when he attempted to rein the horse in and his bridle leathers snapped off right beside the bit chains. Paris suggests that they had been deliberately cut so that they would snap under pressure. With no means of controlling the horse, it was almost inevitable that he would fall. Unfortunately his foot was caught in the stirrup and he was dragged for some distance, sustaining cuts, bruises and traumatic internal injuries from which he died in agony later that same day. The damaged state of his internal organs was remarked upon when he was eviscerated prior to his body being borne to London for burial in the Temple Church.
Gilbert's effigy bears poignant testimony to his demise - and perhaps something more down the ages. Whereas most knights of this period have their feet couched upon a dog or a lion, Gilbert Marshal's feet reside upon a serpent that is twisted round, chewing at his foot. I am led to wonder if this is a hint from the family that he was murdered as well as being a testimony to the manner of his death. Gilbert had plenty of enemies but I wonder who it was who gave the order to take him down. It's going to be interesting finding out.
Friday, December 01, 2006
However, I'm dropping in to say I will be signing copies of The Scarlet Lion, Daughters of the Grail, The Greatest Knight, and my other novels at W. H. Smiths Meadowhall in Sheffield on Wednesday 6th December at 1pm. If you're in the area, do come and say hi if you've got a moment!
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Long ago, before I was published, I bought Writing Historical Fiction by Rhona Martin. She says: 'It always makes me uneasy when someone reading a story in a workshop says, 'I haven't thought of a title yet.' All too often it turns out that the writer hasn't thought about the theme either, with the consequence that quite soon he or she complains of being 'stuck' with that particular story, having run out of anything further to say.' She says that frequently writers' block comes of losing sight of your theme and that since a title should be a distillation of the theme, if you don't have a title, keeping to your theme is going to be more difficult.
I acknowledge Rhona Martin's point and agree that it might be true in some cases, but I certainly have to disagree where it applies to myself as a writer. I'm now on my sixteenth published novel and just finishing up my seventeenth for delivery sometime before March O7. Some of them have had strong titles from the start. Others have been a last minute scramble as we head to press. I have yet to suffer from writers' block. Looking at the titles of my three most recent novels about the Marshal family - one in print and a bestseller, one about to come out in hardcover and one still in progress - I find that none of them had a title at the outset.
The Greatest Knight had a working title of William Marshal - yeah, I guess that's a distillation of the theme, as is the final, but up until the last minute, The Greatest Knight wasn't carved in stone.
The Scarlet Lion - due out on 6th December was called Marshal II for most of its creation. Again it was a last minute scramble to find something more inspiring. The Red Lion of Pembroke? - Nope, too much like a pub. William and Isabelle? - too much like a drawing room.
The Countess? - no, because it's more about William than his wife, although she does feature strongly. Something, something Regent? No. You could call it a Regency novel, because William was regent of England, but of course everyone thinks of the Regency as existing in the early nineteenth century. Same problem with the word 'Marshal'. People immediately think of westerns. Then there's the problem of having a wide cross section of readers - all ages all genders, so the title needs to welcome all. The Scarlet Lion was the final decision. I like it and it does the job, but it was a tough one.
The work in progress is about William Marshal's father John: the man who told King Stephen to do as he wished with his son because he had the anvils and hammers to beget better sons. The working title has been Hammers and Anvils but the general consensus was that while the title was pertinent to the character and part of a direct quote from the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal, it was perhaps a bit too in your face and masculine for the broad scope of the readership. As aforementioned the word 'Marshal' in the title wasn't a goer. We were all out of red lions. I quite liked The Forging, (as I felt it was a pun that covered a lot of ground) but no takers. A long dog walk, the inspiration of a song by Runrig called 'Only The Brave' 1 and a quote from the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal 2 finally led me to suggest 'A Place Beyond Courage'. My agent and publisher love it. I'm relieved to have what appears to be a strong title that reflects many of the themes in the story...and in place three months before I'm due to hand it in.
I thought I'd go through all of my titles and try and remember if they came to me at the beginning or the end of the writing process. I'd also be interested to know how other writers who happen by this blog come by their own titles for their work.
The Wild Hunt - last minute scramble
The Running Vixen - Decided from the start, inspired by the above title
The Leopard Unleashed - suggested by a friend half way through the writing
Children of Destiny/Daughters of the Grail - decided on half way through
Shields of Pride - known from the start - one of the easy ones
First Knight - a given by Columbia Pictures
The Conquest - known from the start
The Champion - known from the start
The Love Knot - known from the start
The Marsh King's Daughter - known from the start
Lords of the White Castle - Decided half way through. The Spanish are calling it The Outlaw, which I think is much better actually.
The Winter Mantle - Decided late on. For a long time it was The Briar Garden
The Falcons of Montabard - known from the start
Shadows and Strongholds - a scramble at the last minute
1 The relevant lines being
Not to love is not to live
Not to live is to feel no pain
So unlock this heart of stone
Teach me the ways of mystery
In the places where they say
Only the brave can walk alone
2 The brave and the valiant
are to be sought often between the hooves of horses
for never will cowards fall down there
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Friday, November 03, 2006
I've now added it to my mantlepiece collection of 'authentic' medieval pottery, much of which I use at shows, and of course as an inspiration to my writing.
As well as the chappy on the left, I also returned with:
A 12th century replica brooch
Four wimple pins
Two cookery booklets titled: The Recipe Book of Gareth The Baker and And We Must Eat of the Yellow Wobbly Bits - being a sundry and diverse collection of notes on the arcane art of offal cookery.
A rather beautiful deep wooden trough for kneading bread dough
A trug for my husband who had his last one stolen at the village
A Venetian glass pen as a Christmas present
I ordered a pair of shoes from www.anaperiodshoes.co.uk They're in the High Medieval section and they're the twelfth century laced ankle shoe.
Not content with that, I have also ordered a late period kite shield (mid twelfth century) from
It's going to be blazoned for John Marshal, the father of the great William. Not that anyone knows his blazon and heraldry was only just beginning at that time, but I am having it done half green half yellow like William's, but with the green and yellow reversed, and the famous rampant lion in the foreground.
I think that's about all I bought - indeed, I would have needed a mortgage if I'd come home with anything else, but pennies are now being saved for a nice firebox on which to do my cooking instead of having to use the group's firebox. This will give me leeway to experiment at home. And I did find myself rather longingly eying up the rivet mail hauberks and late 12thC helms at the Get Dressed for Battle stand....Hmmmm. www.getdressedforbattle.co.uk
Monday, October 23, 2006
The photo to the left features members of the Nottingham branch of Regia, the Conroi de Vey.
I am on the far left of the photo and dressed down in my 'cooking frock'. Just before the photo was taken (by Sarah, also known as the Lady Nicolaa and the mum of the two little boys in the picture) I remembered to remove my by then disreputable apron!
De Vey has performed at most of the pageants, aided and abetted by other groups within Regia Anglorum's framework - Cestrefeld, de Bec, Deoraby to name but three, together with guests from other societies who share Regia's ethic for 'getting it right.' Not that the Robin Hood Pageant is an event calling for white-hot authenticity. It's a fun show where anything vaguely Medieval goes. Costumes range from Viking to fifteenth Century. Purple velvet, wench corsets, black leather and fantasy gear are well represented. Regia's dateline for this event was late 12thC and we dressed to suit.
Numerous traders have booths and stalls on the site and it's a great opportunity to do some early Christmas shopping. I picked up some Fraoch beer for my sons. www.heatherale.co.uk
Also a medieval drinking cup from www.themerchantventurer.co.uk
A while ago I blogged that I was considering what sort of food to dish up to the Regia members at the pageant, given that I'd be cooking outdoors, using a firebox and cauldrons and catering for approximately thirty people, including some vegetarians. I finally decided on a spicy beef stew for the Saturday, containing (as well as beef!) onions, ginger, cumin and black pepper. I'd tried this out before at Castleton and it had worked very well. Also it's a fairly generic, authentic medieval dish. Being as it was the Robin Hood Pageant, I could always claim that we'd stolen the spices off the sheriff's baggage cart! The vegetarians dined on a leek and onion pottage. People returned for seconds, so it was evidently a success! Sunday's main course was sweet and sour chicken (authentic Medieval again. The Museum of London cookbook has it in the Norman section, although more academic works put it later, but I assume it comes from a long tradition). Actually, when I say authentic, the meat should have been goat or rabbit, but chicken is more readily available today and user friendly. For smaller quantities I'd have used the original suggested meat. The sweet and sour was obtained using wine, wine vinegar, honey and currants. There were also onions in the dish and garlic.
We also had nibbles, including parsnip cakes - mash cooked parsnip with flour and salt and fry on the griddle in a little butter in the manner of a potato cake. Excellent! We had pear tarts and leche lumbard among other things. The latter is an interesting medieval dessert for which there are as many recipes as days in the year. My adaptation is this: Empty a bag of dates into a saucepan. Cover with white wine. Add a couple of teaspoons of mixed spice and one of ginger. A few screws of ground black pepper. Cook until it makes a squidgy mush. Then stir in breadcrumbs until you have a stiff but still moist mixture. When cool, mould into an oblong shape. It will look like a plate of poo (ahem!). People at shows who've never encountered it before will look at it askance, but once they've tried it, if they like dates, they can't stop eating it.
As always, when attending a show in kit, there was a lot to learn just by being around re-enactors and enthusiasts for a couple of days. I had a go with a hand quern (hard work, but wonderful to see grains gradually emerge after several grindings onto the boult cloth as flour.
Fun too to learn that a pine cone makes a marvellous brillo pad for a scummy cauldron!
All in all a great weekend. Good friends, good food, loads of research and a medieval atmosphere. What more could anyone want....apart from a bit less rain on the Sunday afternoon!
Sunday, October 15, 2006
runs a contest for the best book covers published in romance industry in the USA during the previous year - romance in this sense covering a broad church. So large and popular has this particular contest become that it now has its own dedicated site at Cover cafe. www.covercafe.com/contest/2005/coverintro2005.shtml
I am delighted to announce that the cover for Shadows And Strongholds (St Martins Press) has made the final ten in the historical section as adjudged by the panel. If anyone would care to vote for it in the final placings, then please do! I am thrilled not only on my own behalf, but on Larry Rostant's. He's the illustrator of my new look covers and when I told him Shadows and Strongholds had made the final, he was touched and really pleased because this is the first award of any kind he's been up for.
'Shadows and Strongholds' belongs to the genre of 'headless bodice' covers of which there have admittedly been a plethora since The Other Boleyn Girl brought them to the fore. Some readers say they have become tired of them, but they still seem to be doing very well across the board and personally I love mine (and not only because I have seen sales more than quadruple since their inception!) Of course there are abominations - there are in any style of cover, but done well, the 'headless bodice' and its variations 'bodyless feet' for e.g. The Time Traveller's Wife, can be dead certs for getting readers to at least notice and pick up the novel in the first place. To judge from the finalists in the historical section of the 2005 Cover contest, the 'headless bodice' has had strong appeal to the judging panel with five of the ten being of this type. I also notice from glancing around that heroines with their hands behind their backs appear to be a key feature! Here's the url to the historical section. http://www.covercafe.com/contest/2005/HST.html
When Larry first designed Shadows and Strongholds, the heroine's gown was blue velvet. I sent in an example photo of a typical gown of the period that a re-enactor friend had made using orange and gold brocade from a bolt of cloth especially woven for English Heritage. That fabric design and the colours have been morphed onto the Shadows and Strongholds gown. It's not strictly accurate in style, but the fabric is! I have been told that the cover was the hit of the Frankfurt Bookfair last year and that foreign publishers who had given Shadows and Strongholds a miss in the old hardback cover, were coming back to reconsider buying purely because of the cover art. That might not be what one wants to hear as a wordsmith, but as a commercial author, one gets down on one's knees and says thank you!
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Back in August Deborah Peake (on the right in the photo) wrote to me saying she'd enjoyed the novels and was interested to notice that I'd mentioned I used musicians such as Bruce Springsteen and Runrig for inspiration when writing. Deborah herself is a great fan of these artists and as a musician herself in a two-woman folk band has appeared supporting Runrig at the Skaagen folk festival. She asked if I'd like to hear the kind of music that she and her partner Helen Andrews composed and played. Of course I did! Deborah was kind enough to send me a couple of CDs (Dancing a Different Dream and Blame it on the Stars.) and over the past few weeks I've been listening to Amalthea. What a treat. http://www.amaltheamusic.com/
They have their own unique sound, but I would say that if you like artists such as All About Eve, Sarah Maclachlan, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Seth Lakeman, Show of Hands, the Corrs, the Dixie Chicks or Enya, you will probably love Amalthea. It's modern folk, looking both forwards and back for its inspiration. Helen's voice is just beautiful and Deborah's violin accompaniments and solos have the ability to make you ache. What's more they compose most of their material themselves. You can hear a sample at their myspace site. http://www.myspace.com/amaltheauk
They're not paying me to post this accolade - honest!
I find music a hugely influential muse to my writing. Every scene I write owes something to the singer and the song. Although I have only recently come to Amalthea, I suspect they'll be appearing on one of my novel soundtracks some time in the future!
Oh, and while I'm on the subject of music and just to pinch a moment from Helen and Deborah,
My Emo/rock orientated son has just introduced me to a band called Alter Bridge. Their album One Day Remains and particularly the track Down to My Last have been great inspiration for the siege of Newbury I've recently been working on!
Friday, September 29, 2006
It's not public, but subscription but at £50.00 a year - less than £1.00 a week, it hardly breaks the bank and it's well worth the fee to be a member of such a wonderful place. It houses a collection of over 35,000 books, ranging from rare manuscripts and tomes (a herbal of 1597 for e.g.) to the latest bestsellers. Daily papers and a selection of magazines (such as History Today and National Geographic) are available to the members. A grandfather clock ticks quietly in a corner. There are comfortable chairs dotted about in strategic corners and thoughtfully placed reading lamps. Even a pair of binoculars for bird-watching in the garden. Proper tea and coffee out of proper china cups is always available. The staff have time to talk. The books to be borrowed are recorded hand-written in ledgers. Computers do exist, but they are discreetly tucked away behind a screen and are only used in an administrative capacity. No one comes to Bromley house to faff about on a PC. They come for what a library should truly be about - choosing and borrowing books, or studying them in a tranquil, unhurried 'respectful' atmosphere that reaches out and welcomes you from the moment you walk through the doors.
As to my borrowing habits. The library is where I suss out new authors whom I might buy if I like them enough. I tend to borrow thrillers because I know that they're unlikely to be keepers. Novels by the likes of Lee Child are great reads, but fodder for one consumption only, so the library is great for feeding that particular habit. I choose books for my husband there. Working full time he can't get to the library himself, so I bring him a selection. Some are hits, some are misses. He's just dumped the latest Flashman, declaring it a 'same old same old,' but is currently reading Memoirs of A Geisha and is deeply engrossed.
When reading, I mentally score books. Any author achieving between 9 and 10 out of 10 are put on my autobuy list. Thrillers and authors scoring between 6 and 8 out of 10 will go onto my library list i.e. I like them but not enough to be keepers. Less than a 6 and I put it down to experience! On a good week these days I probably read around 2 novels. A bad week and it's 1 or less than 1 depending on size. The last library book I read was Daisy Faye and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg - 8 out of 10.
So, what's your local library like and how much do you use it/what are your borrowing habits?
Monday, September 18, 2006
This one's a strong improvement. It's not entirely historically accurate, but the fabric's a good match and the general feel is much better and will appeal to booksellers. One gets the impression of a strong woman from the composition plus there's a nod to William in the embroidery behind her.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
This is a photo of our first white carrots, planted earlier this year from a packet of heritage seeds.
Carrots in the early Medieval period were apparently this colour rather than the bright orange ones we see today which are a much later development - Dutch 17thC without looking it up, so don't quote me on that, but definitely not medieval. I cooked them this evening as on ordinary veg along with some standard orange carrots and the flavour was excellent. My husband, the grower, also assures me that the white carrots were more slug resistant than the orange. Now I've got my paws on the crop I'm going to embark on cooking some medieval recipes with them, including fritters and a stew in which the carrot goes in near the end along with crushed coriander seeds.
Ever since we've been married - 27 years now - we've always had an allottment and grown our own fruit and veg. Even when it wasn't fashionable to grow your own and be organic, we were. We're self sufficient for most of the year in potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, beetroot, peas, parsnip, broccoli, beans (broad, runner and French), leeks, brussels sprouts and cabbage. We're also self sufficient in a wide variety of soft fruits - plums, cherries, raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants. We have two bramley apple trees, a golden delicious, a 'mystery tree' (husband can't remember but reckons it's a cox crossed with something else and the apple can be either an eater or a cooker) and a greengage. We grow tomatoes in the greenhouse, which also harbours a very productive grape vine. It's wonderful to have our own produce. We know what's gone on it and into it. The taste is fantastic when compared to supermarket fare and it's ecologically sound in terms of the travelling it does. Of course the picking and freezing makes for a lot of work, but once everything is frozen and stored, it's there for the use of throughout the year and all the slicing, podding and chopping makes a good occasion for family bonding sessions! Cultivating one's own produce definitely give one a feel for the rhythm of the seasons and keeps one in touch with the land and literally one's roots!
Sunday, August 27, 2006
As I've mentioned before on the blog, I recently received the opportunity to rework a novel I wrote back in 1992/1993. The version published in the
Preliminary feedback from The Bookseller (the
'December and the last buying rush of the year will be upon you. Knowing the reluctance to renew displays, knowing paperbacks take second place beside gift buying, and knowing the lack of in-store promotions, many publishers are reluctant to splash out this month. Transworld is publishing nothing at all, but there re exceptions and those tend to be sure-fire winners.......Daughters of the Grail: an Elizabeth Chadwick re-issue which I'd treat as new as they will sell a bucket-load.'
And then later on in the edition there's a picture of the cover under the heading 'Ones to Watch' with the info
'Thirteenth Century France and the direct descendants of Mary Magdalene have Simon de Montfort to contend with. Sounds thrilling and worth recommending to Labyrinth fans.....It's been rewritten and I believe it could do very well indeed.'
It will be interesting to see what happens. On its earlier outing, I believe it was the right book at the wrong time both in terms of audience and where I was in my career. On this occasion, the signs are more auspicious, but as always it's a case of watch and wait.
I was interested re the comments on paperbacks going by the board in December. How strange. I ALWAYS buy friends and family paperbacks as stocking fillers. It's that time of year when sometimes you want to cozy up with a drink and chocolates and a good book, or wallow in a nice hot bath with a rivetting read. What do others do? Do you buy novels as presents? Do you like receiving them?
Thursday, August 17, 2006
This is just a drop by to say I haven't vanished off the face of the earth. I've been busy working on the new novel about John Marshal, provisional title Hammers And Anvils - although that might change when it comes to publication. It's going well but since it's my job, I have to keep up the word count. I've taken a couple of days off for various things, such as Regia at Castleton, seeing my agent and dealing with the usual domestic detritus. I've also been preparing some new material for my website which will be up shortly. http://www.elizabethchadwick.com
Next Thursday, I've been asked to give a talk at Ottakers in Loughborough. I'll be around from 6.30pm onwards, so if anyone's in the vicinity and wants to say hello, do drop by. I'm hoping to bring my sword and helm with me, also my piece of mail - part of a ventail belonging to one of Regia's craftsmen/warriors. In the meantime, here's a snip from the most recent remote viewing session, done on Tuesday with my agent present as an observer. For the context of what this involves, see my earlier blog post on this subject. http://livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com/2006/04/remote-control.html
I know John Marshal and his father fought a duel over the Marshalsea. Checking my notes, I see it was against William de Hastings and Robert de Venoiz. De Venoiz’s father had once been a Marshal – Geoffrey the Marshal. Dare one think noses had been put out of joint?
My Friend: Puffing and panting in panic or exertion. I’m with the father. It’s a big thing for a man of his age to do. He’s pleased his son is a healthy young man. All the lessons, all the training have been worthwhile. He’s got a helmet on and he’s looking around. There are rows of people watching and a fence in front of them. He’s taking a mouthful of liquid – it’s water – and just spitting it out. John is there. He’s a lot cooler than his father about this. He knows he has to protect his father and keep his father behind him. The other people have got a different sort of armour on. It’s burnished and bronzey while John’s and his father’s is that blackened silver colour. I’m with John now. He’s sizing up the field and his tactics. He thinks he’ll go for the older man, head him off and finish him quickly because he’s the better fighter, and then he can run round and get the younger man. If the younger man goes for his father, his father’s bulk will be able to hold him off until John can get to him. John acts as if he’s still nonchalantly taking a break, but then he suddenly turns round and with a roar, attacks. The other two are taken by surprise by the swiftness of John’s assault. They think he’s going for the younger man, but he crosses over in front of the older one. He’s using a morning star flail in one hand and a dagger in the other – he’s going all or nothing for this. If he’s going to protect his father he’s got to fight for two of them. He’s using the morning star and he’s wrapped the chain round the older man’s neck. It’s not a killing blow, but it’s enough to bring him down, choking him and wounding his neck. He might not be dead but he’s out of the fight. The younger one has been stopped in his tracks by what John’s done and the sight of the older, better fighter down. It’s what John wanted. Now John gets out his sword and challenges the younger man. The younger man is swallowing after what he’s just seen. He’s a bit reluctant to take on John. He wanted the easier job of John’s dad. He has to face John….and he’s not doing it. He’s put his sword down – yes, he’s put his sword down. John is saying ‘Come on then, you coward, come on. He pokes him with his own sword. The other won’t rise to the challenge. The wounded man is being carried off the battlefield – it looks like a horse schooling field. The young man looks at all of this, seeing the odds. He keeps his sword down. The crowd are a bit disappointed. They’re shouting ‘Go on!’
John is so contemptuous that he turns half a shoulder to the other man and then fully turns his back just to show utter contempt. Then he suddenly whips round and shakes the blade at the other man in threat. This makes the challenger look even more stupid and the crowd starts laughing. John goes up to his father, puts his arm round him and they walk off the field to cheers, their position in the Marshalsea confirmed in public.
Stirring stuff eh?
Monday, August 07, 2006
It was a glorious day - near perfect weather and the Derbyshire Peaks, including Mam Tor surrounded us in a sheltering bowl. Around 1,200 people visited the site over the weekend.
I was on cooking pot duty on Sunday and chose to make a spicy beef stew. First fry onions and beef in a little fat in the cauldron over a brisk flame. Add plenty of chopped squished garlic. Then add quantities to your taste of cumin, ginger and black pepper. Give it a good stir, add stock or water to cover the ingredients, bring to boiling point, then raise cauldron from the fire to a height where the contents will softly simmer away for a couple of hours. Result, a meltingly tender stew with a superb, almost curry-like flavour. It's a recipe of my own adaptation, but based on existing recipes and a study of various household accounts and pipe rolls (albeit slightly later than 1080). We also dined on a luscious custard tart, courtesy of another Regia member. Sundries included bread and butter (churned on site) and a large bowl of blackberries.
There are several strands to why I find re-enactment so rewarding. There's the vast, multi-layered depth of knowledge posessed by fellow re-enactors, many of whom are historians or archaeologists in their own right. To be among fellow enthusiasts and talk for hours about one's favourite subjects without glazed looks or incomprehension is a joy beyond price. Then there's the thrill of seeing and handling objects and artefacts that are recreated to museum standard. Ah, so this is what it looked/felt like. This is how that object worked. I strongly feel it helps put the '3D' into my writing to have access to this aspect of re-enactment. To wear the clothes, walk the walk and be among others similarly dressed, gives me a sense of atmosphere. This is what it must have been like...or as near as I'm going to get in the 21st century!
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Ali posted a list of her favourite five historical novels - http://alimorag.blogspot.com/ Carla followed suit with some interesting choices. http://carlanayland.blogspot.com/
I don't think I have five that I could name as top of the pile. There are way too many historical novels that I have loved and for different reasons at different times in my life. Those that have stayed with me during subsequent re-reads would be my most treasured reads, but they are numerous and I wouldn't put one above the other. Instead, I have decided to list some novels that meant a lot to me as a developing, aspiring, but unpublished writer of Medieval fiction...
So, not in any order, here are 5 novels/novelists to whom, in part, I owe my career.
1. Alinor by Roberta Gellis.
This novel blew me away when I read it. It's the second in a series - The Roselynde Chronicles, and in my opinion the best of the lot. Gellis straddles the line between historical romance and the romantic historical. Her plots, while romances, are very much grounded in the history of the period and her characters are of their time. The story lines too are meaty and detailed. Roberta Gellis showed me that it was possible to write believable, enjoyable absorbing intelligent historicals with a romantic leaning. Her male protagonist, Ian de Vipont is one of the best romantic novel heroes I have ever come across. He's tall, dark and handsome and in less skilled hands could have become ye typical boring Medieval romance hero cliche with a big sword (!), but in Gellis' hands he's something else. She makes of him such well-rounded character, complete with believable human flaws that whenever I read the novel, I expect to find him standing at my shoulder as a real person. Alinor, the heroine is that rare creature in Medieval fiction - a strong woman but totally of her time. She gets her own way 12th Century style and with panache. It's an absolute joy to see her running rings around the men in the story, Ian included!
2. Red Adam's Lady by Grace Ingram.
Grace Ingram also wrote as Doris Sutcliffe Adams, although I haven't read any of her novels under the second name because they are hard to get hold of and frightfully expensive. Red Adam's lady, however, is a delightful novel I have read several times. It concerns young Adam de Lorismond. Whilst drunk and disorderly, he abducts lady Julitta de Montrigord who has been sheltering in the village ale house while her horse is reshod. Realising his error, he does the decent thing and marries her, much to Julitta's horror. As the novel progresses, a tangled web of intrigue and treachery brings Adam and Julitta to the brink of destruction and his fate winds up in her hands. There's also a mystery to be solved. What did happen to the old lord's wife when she went out riding and never returned? There's an awful lot of novel crammed into 255 pages in paperback, but it never feels like a pint in a half pint pot. Grace Ingram was a wonderfully talented writer and should have been much better known than she was.
3.The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
The first in the series about Frances Crawford of Lymond. What a writer, Dorothy Dunnett was. In a class of her own. I feel very privileged to share her copy editor. I confess to three attempts to get into The Game of Kings, but something must have kept drawing me back, and when I finally 'got' it, I was blown away by the layers within layers in her writing. Her research, her superb use of language, her sense of humour, the scope of her imagination. I always imagine her painting her stories on a huge Renaissance canvas, with myself colouring away on my knees in a corner. Whenever I wanted to raise my game, I would read a couple of chapters of Dunnett to remind me what it was all about.
4. Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
Sharon Kay Penman is a legend in her own lifetime and perhaps best known for The Sunne in Splendour, her novel about Richard III. I did enjoy this, but it was her novel about Llewelyn Fawr of Wales and King John's bastard daughter, Joanna, that really caught my imagination. If Gellis had shown me what could be done with imaginary protagonists, then Penman showed me the path of bringing real people to life. She writes the politics of the period better than anyone I know - although Gellis comes very close.
5.Avalon - Anya Seton
Anya Seton taught me about creating atmosphere and, rather like Dunnett, how to create paintings in words. I felt she did this particularly with Avalon. Cornwall, Wessex, Iceland, all came to life for me in this novel. The colours and textures are still vivid in my mind's eye today, and the story of Merewyn and Rumon is not a traditional love story, but more of a saga-like telling of interwoven personal journeys. I always find Avalon absorbs me into the textures of the 10th Century whenever I read it.
So there you have it. Five books, five writers, who influenced this particular novelists journey towards publication. There are many more, I haven't mentioned Graham Shelby, Ellis Peters, Valerie Anand, Mary Stewart, Cecelia Holland (for showing how sexy love scenes could be even when done in a collapsing stable as in Great Maria!) and a host of others, but only because it would take a novel to list them and the reasons. My thanks go out to them nevertheless.
To finish, here are 10 novels at random from my favourites list, not all historical, but all getting maximum points and highly recommended!
1. Hanta Yo - Ruth Beebee Hill - a tale of the Lakotah Sioux on the eve of the coming of the White Man
2. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver - life in the Congo for a missionary family in the 1960's
3. The Vintner's Luck - Elizabeth Knox - 19thC Vintner meets up with an angel
4. Until The Sun Falls - Cecelia Holland - The Mongol Empire after the death of Genghis Khan
5. A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin - start to a huge fantasy series with a strongly Medieval feel.
6. The Lord of the Ring - J R.R. Tolkien. No hope for you if you don't know about this one by now!
7. A Respectable Trade - Philippa Gregory. The slave trade in 18thC Bristol
8. A Place of Execution - Val McDermid. A murder in the 1960's is re-investigated 20 years later on. If you're one of those people who always reads the end then don't in this case.
9. The Shining - Stephen King. A ghost/horror story that is an absolute classic of the genre
10 The Adventures of Alianore Audeley - Brian Wainwright. Hilarious romp set in the reign of Richard III
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
The Nottingham group is Anglo-Norman by ethnicity and a fertile source of research for my novels. With the help of its members, I have choreographed fight scenes in Shadows And Strongholds, and confirmed that yes, it is indeed possible to get one's helm stuck on one's head and have to have it prised off (helmet, not the head) by putting oneself at the mercy of someone capable of straightening it out for you.
Anyway, we have been told that we are to provide part of the living history exhibit for this year's Robin Hood Pageant at Nottingham Castle and this will involve me in researching up a menu that is a) authentic for the late 12thC, b) suitable for both vegetarians and meat eaters c) can be prepared over an open fire in whatever weather late October in the UK decides to throw at us. d) can accommodate lots of people if necessary, who might not actually say they are coming until 12hrs before the event - that's re-enactors for you!
At the moment, these dishes are on my short longlist! Beef and cumin stew for meat eaters, bean and cumin stew for the veggies. Parsnip cakes - like potato cakes, but rather obviously made with parsnips! I've done these before on the griddle and they were a huge success. Thick barley and vegetable pottage - comes out rather like risotto. Chicken in verjuice, (should have verjuice off our greenhouse grape vine later this summer), meatballs (to be researched), bread, cheese, honey, blackberry and plum compote, leche lumbard (sticky date slice), rosewater tart. I am also going to be trawling my Medieval cookery books for more ideas, plus lists of accounts. Perhaps a salmon...then again perhaps not. I'd do sweet and sour rabbit, but too many people are wussy about eating bunny. I simply have to do stuffed mushrooms as I know William Marshal was fond of them!
Once I've finalised my thoughts, I'll perhaps post again with the final list and perhaps some recipes.
The photo is of a feasting scene, late 12thC at Pembroke Castle
Friday, July 14, 2006
Even though this is my blog and I'm an author for a living, I'm not rampantly into the self-promotion thing. However, I'm too pleased to sit on this at the moment. I have heard that The Greatest Knight has entered The Bookseller's Heatseeker chart. From last week's number nineteen, it has jumped to number 2. Needless to say I'm delighted and doing the happy dance!
Sunday, July 09, 2006
The incident goes like this - roughly. John Marshal and his troop were fighting for the Empress Matilda in the war with King Stephen for the English crown. They had to guard a crossing of the river Test at Wherwell and were faced with the larger, stronger troop of mercenary captain William D'Ypres descending on them from Andover, which D'Ypres had just sacked and burned.
The two forces fought a running battle and John and his men were finally driven into the Abbey. D'Ypres set fire to it and John was burned, losing the sight of one eye.
So now I come to write this incident and find that no one report agrees with another. I have around five different versions of the same story plus other snippets garnered here and there. Sure, there are similarities, but getting at the truth is like picking up individual grains of rice wearing thick woolly gloves.
What was John doing at Wherwell in the first place? One chronicle says the Empress' forces had built a temporary castle there as a forward base and to guard supplies. Feasible, since John was the Empress' marshal and responsible for various aspects of quarter mastering. Others make no mention of such defences. Sometimes the nuns were there and squawking about what was happening to their convent, at other times they aren't mentioned. What's the reality? Anyone's guess. Two reports say that John Marshal lost an eye during the burning of the Abbey and since one is the epic poem L'Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal, it's likely to be true. But other aspects of the Histoire fudge the truth in the interests of a good story. John it says, was responsible for getting the Empress out of Winchester and for telling her to ride astride like a man. However, he wasn't anywhere near her desperate flight from the city, but was guarding that all important ford at Wherwell. Had he rushed there or was he there already dealing with supplies and surprised by the forces of William D'Ypres? What happened to the knights who were with him at Wherwell. Geoffrey Boterel was the brother of the Earl of Richmond and he didn't die there. 1148 is his given death date. What happened to Richard of Okehampton? Were they captured and led away in thongs (!) as one chronicle says. Did John really hide in the tower while the roof burned over his head, or did he make a break for it?
What I have to do with the information from all these disparate reports, plus some valuable remote viewing notes of the incident and an afternoon spend walking the ground myself, is write a credible version of the scene. I'm enjoying the challenge, but it goes to show that Pontius Pilate was right when he said 'What is truth?'
Photo is of the River Test at Wherwell. No trace of the abbey remains
Sunday, July 02, 2006
I've just returned from the heart of Wiltshire where I've been walking the ground of the Kennet Valley and researching material for my work in progress on John Marshal. We were staying in a cottage on a working farm just outside Devizes and on the edge of Salisbury Plain - so were treated to the occasional noise of 'fireworks' from the gunnery ranges, plus the frequent sight of Hercules aircraft from the RAF base at Lyneham, very close to where John is buried.
Places visited during the break included Winchester, where John had two houses, Marlborough, where he was castellan for about 20 years, Rockley on the Downs where he had a manor, which he gave to the Templars, and Wherwell, site of the hard battle between his troops and those of William D'Ypres during the flight fromWinchester. John's task was to prevent D'Ypres from encircling the Empress as part of a pincer movement by the royalist troops. John had to buy her time to let her make her getaway and he made his stand at Wherwell. He did so, but at great cost to himself and his men. His last stand was made at Wherwell Abbey, now in ruins and on private land. D'Ypres' men set fire to the church with John inside it. He survived and lived to tell the tale, but he lost an eye when melted lead from the tower roof dripped on his face. D'Ypres left him for dead and John emerged to walk, injured as he was, the twenty five miles to Marlborough.
Wherwell today- see photo - is a pretty, thatched village that looks as if it belongs in a cartoon from Thelwell Country (for those who've never heard of Thelwell, his whimsical sketches of English country life are an absolute and amusing joy). You would never guess, looking at its chocolate box prettiness that a battle so bloody and desperate had ever taken place here.
We also went walking in Savernake Forest and got lost (!). Fortunately we found our way out but had to walk back the long way via the road. However at least there was a pub en route. I thought about John Marshal. I was knackered after four hours pottering in the woods. He walked twenty five miles with a facial burn bad enough to cause permanent trauma and disfigurement. I don't know how he did it!
Friday, June 23, 2006
When I return, it'll be to the official publication of The Greatest Knight in paperback. I understand there's going to be an advertising campaign in various shopping centres throughout the South of England and it looks as if Amazon UK is already despatching copies as the book has suddenly taken a sharp leap upwards. I feel a little nervous, but on William's behalf rather than mine!
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Not only do I have two new bookshelves for the overflow study/guest room, I even have some books to put on them as my long awaited Oxbow Books order arrived this morning. I am in ecstacy. So, What have I been buying?
THE IMAGE OF ARISTOCRACY IN BRITAIN 1000-1300 By David Crouch. Cost an arm and a leg but I've been needing this one for ages.
THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF RABBIT WARRENS by Tom Williamson. Not of this minute vital to my research, but good background reading. Even after 1066 the rabbit didn't run wild in Britain for 100's of years.
MEDIEVAL OBSCENITIES Edited by Nicola McDonald - featuring nuns plucking the ummm...fruits of a penis tree. I suspect this will be an interesting read!
RELIGIOUS LIFE FOR WOMEN C. 1100-C1350 Fontevraud in England by Berenice Kerr. Something a bit more sober than the previous title methinks!
OLD LONDON BRIDGE: LOST AND FOUND By Bruce Watson. A fairly basic book, aimed at the general reader, but published by the Museum of London, so the research should be reasonably sound.
THIRTEENTH CENTURY ENGLAND X: Proceedings of the Durham Conference 2003 edited by Michael Prestwich, Richard Britnell and Robin Frame. Sundry articles. Having read Sharon Kay Penman's Here Be Dragons, I am particularly interested in the one about Joanna, wife of Llewellyn Fawr.
KING STEPHEN By Donald Matthew. Another take on Stephen and since I'm writing about the period, it'll make interesting general reading.
SURVEY OF MEDIEVAL WINCHESTER 2 By Derek Keene. 2 Volumes. Not for reading in the bath. Just under 1,500 pages. I am going to have to continue weight lifting at the gym for a while longer before I can read this one in my hands. John Marshal had a dwelling in Winchester near the castle, which he used when he sat at the exchequer there (have discovered I am writing about a guy who worked for the Inland Revenue - eek!), and I want to find out more about the particular environs.
DIALOGUS DE SCACCARIO/CONSTITUTIO DOMUS REGIS Edited and translated by the late Charles Johnson. Basically Richard FitzNigel's instructions on how the exchequer works and the establishment of the royal household i.e. who did what and how much they got paid. John Marshal was on two shillings a day at a time when an ordinary household knight could expect to receive eight pence. A hornblower on the hunting staff received three pence. Fascinating if you're into that sort of thing!
Anyway, plenty here to keep me out of mischief - except perhaps the obscenities book!
Monday, June 12, 2006
What a wonderful place - of course I forgot my camera. However, here's the url to their website. http://www.southernwriters.co.uk/
The weather was glorious which was a bonus. I arrived Friday afternoon to be greeted by tea and home made raspberry ripple cake (yum). My en suite room was very comfortable with windows opening onto a lawned garden. The grounds were populated by a variety of wildlife including some spectacular peacocks. One of my abiding memories of the conference will be opening my bedroom window on Sunday morning to watch a peacock displaying his fan and shimmying his stunning irridescent feathers. What a treat. Earnley is 15 minutes walk from the beach with a distant view of the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth. The weather being so wonderful, I went paddling on Saturday afternoon. The wind was warm and the sea was blue - heaven!
The food and service were excellent, and the workshops and the speakers educational and entertaining. Sandy Toksvig is just brilliant. My other fellow speakers, Peter Lovesey and Penny Jordan were both charming, interesting and had plenty to say that made good sense and gave the delegates food for thought.
If anyone's looking for a three day writing break with fabulous food, comfortable and beautiful surroundings, not to mention a fabulous indoor swimming pool, they couldn't do better than attend the Southern Writers' Conference. It's not just for writers from the South of England, but you need to book early. This year there was a waiting list and places are always snapped up the moment the committee starts taking bookings.
Meanwhile, historical fiction wise, I have embarked on The Agony and the Ecstacy by Irving Stone for a reading group project. So far I'm loving it, but it's going to be a long haul!
Friday, June 02, 2006
Here's what he said:
With our thanks for pointing out the slip, and with best regards
So all's well that ends well, but I wonder how long William Marshal's son, William II would have remained the 'effigy of an unknown knight' if I hadn't pursued the matter!
Sunday, May 28, 2006
I was somewhat taken aback to find that the effigies had changed placards since I was there last year. (see the earlier post on my blog 'Marshalling my thoughts where the names can be distinctly seen). The knight on the right of the photograpy is William's eldest son, William Marshal II. However, the placard at his feet currently says that it's the 'effigy of a knight' and the title of William Marshal II has been given to another worn, ratty effigy, wearing what looks to me like much earlier kit.
I am convinced this is an error. The effigy beside William Marshal I bears the Marshal lion on his shield and stylistically is very similar to the effigy of Gilbert Marshal, who lies out of shot, below his father. The Temple Church's own website even says that William senior and William junior are side by side, not at diagonals! I queried the positioning of the placard with the chap at the door, but he looked at me as if I had lost my marbles and asked me on who's authority I had this information. He also said that he would ask the Master of the church (i.e. the vicar) but that the vicar was in the best position to know who was who. (implying I didn't know anything and was just a nutty tourist). I am currently following this up as I know my Marshal men upside down and inside out and I know I'm right!
While I was there, I was amazed at the number of tourists visiting the church because of its links to the Da Vinci code. Two years ago when I visited the Temple Church, I had William to myself, apart from 2 Americans and an Australian. Last year there were considerably more wandering about the precincts taking photos. This time the place was like the January sales!
As soon as I had laid my posy, people were taking photos of it. You could tell they had no idea why the flowers were there, or that this was one of the greatest men in England's history. I suppose I can understand the custodian being a bit dismissive. He probably gets asked hundreds of ridiculous questions throughout the day by the Da Vinci Code lot, so some woman coming to tell him the effigies have the wrong names is probably just par for the course!
June is going to continue busy. I am talking at Borrowash Library as part of Derby literary festival this Thursday June 1st from 2-4pm. The week after, I'm away all weekend at the Southern Writers Conference, which looks as if it's going to be fun. I shall have to take my laptop with me so I don't get totally behind. Here's the url.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
These days when I complete a novel, part of the submission package to my agent and editor, includes the double CD soundtrack which tells the storyline in song. I receive loud complaints if I don't include it!
You would think that writing Medieval fiction, my choice would be Gregorian chant and material from the period, but not so. My taste is wildly eclectic but with a definite leaning towards rock, metal, Goth etc. As far as I'm concerned, attitudes change but emotions don't and that's what I'm seeking in the soundtrack. Something to evoke emotion...and mood. It has to give me that adrenaline buzz when I hear it, otherwise it doesn't make the cut. I confess to turning my agent onto Meat Loaf due to one such soundtrack. It was For Crying Out Loud and the grand finale to Lords of the White Castle. My agent would not normally have listened to Meat Loaf of her own accord, but exposed in this manner, she was blown away and became an instant fan. She even dragged me off to Wembley Stadium to his farewell concert in December 04. And all because of the 13thC Fulke FitzWarin and my desire to tell his life in song!
The Greatest Knight is due out in paperback at the beginning of July. (no, for all the hoards of you who have asked, I do not have the phone number of the guy who modeled for the cover image shot!) so I thought I'd post the soundtrack story notes to my blog.
All the tracks have had their part to play, but some have been there from almost the beginning and have had a more major role. Stand out tracks for me creatively have been Rufus Wainwright’s Hallelujah and very strongly Don Henley’s rendering of the Cohen written Everybody Knows, which was just so appropriate on so many levels. Billy Joel’s All About Soul and Evanescence’s Bring Me to Life were very useful for defining the relationship between William and his wife, Isabelle de Clare. See what you think!The Voice – single Instrumental track from the Eurovision song contest winning Irish entry The Voice. I used the vocal version in LORDS OF THE WHITE CASTLE and I felt this was appropriate as Fulke FitzWarin and William Marshal were contemporaries, and I like the narrative lilt of the instrumental – makes a good introduction before getting down to the story.
Relax – Frankie Goes to
Fight – No Vacancy. From the album
Fell on Hard Times – Neal Casal. From the album Anytime Tomorrow. William is forced to sell his cloak to buy a horse. I loved the fact that Casal sings as part of the lyrics ‘I sold my green leather jacket,’ because it’s a direct link to William having to sell his cloak.
Goddess in the Doorway – Mick Jagger. From the album Goddess in the Doorway. William first sets his eyes on Eleanor of Aquitaine and he’s captured for life!
She’s Always A Woman – Billy Joel. From the album Ultimate Collection. More of Eleanor of Aquitaine, not just as William sees her but as others do too.
I want it all – Queen. From the album Greatest Hits. Again used in THE CHAMPION. This partly refers to William, but mostly to the Young King, who does ‘want it all.’
Would you – Touch & Go. Clara’s propositioning of William! Definitely a fun number. I don’t even particularly like this song, but it just so suits the incident!
Addicted to Love – Robert Palmer. From the Album Addictions. More like addicted to lust! The first rush between Clara and William.
What About Love – Heart. From the Album Greatest Hits. Clara isn’t getting all she wants from the relationship.
You’re So Vain – Carly Simon. From the compilation album The Story and the Song. This and the next one are all about The Young King and his inflated ego.
That Don’t Impress Me much – Shania Twain from the album Come on Over. Definitely sums up The Young King. Yes, he had the brains, the looks, the kit, ‘You think you’re cool, but have you got the touch?’
Halleluljah – Rufus Wainwright. From the album soundtrack to Shrek. This is an all purpose powerful, poignant, tears to the eyes sad song to cover the themes of Clara’s leaving, the death of the Young King and the loss of William’s youthful optimism and innocence. Hard to know where to put it in the soundtrack as it could have gone in several places.
Don’t Speak – No Doubt. Single. The end of the relationship between William and Marguerite seen from her viewpoint
Everybody Knows – Don Henley. From the album
Over The Hills And Far Away – Nightwish. Traditional song rendered in Nightwish’s inimitable style. This was in the soundtrack early on for William’s supposed adultery with the Young Queen. Not all the lyrics fit now, but it still conveys some of the underlying emotions, and I love it!
These Dreams – Heart. From the album Greatest Hits. Isabelle dreaming at the Tower when William comes for Heloise
God Gave me Everything – Mick Jagger. From the album Goddess in the Doorway. William has everything. Lands, prestige, power, a lovely young wife, and an heir.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
We met and got a taster of each other's personalities on lists dedicated to readers of Medieval fiction and to fans of Sharon Kay Penman. From there, we followed each other round other lists in cyber space, meeting other like-minded folk along the way, the majority of whom have stayed together and become great friends and offered each other mutual laughs, madness, entertainment, more serious support and shoulders to cry on. (speaking behind my hand, I promise that I won't mention the state of Thomas Becket's underwear...not once!). We hale from all parts of the known universe, united in a love of books, discussion, and respectful interest in the diversity of each other's culture.
Wendy and her husband Kevin came over to England for a late spring holiday and of course we just had to meet up. This is us in the grounds of Nottingham Castle (what's left of it).
Nottingham is built over a network of sandstone caves and the ones in Broadmarsh Centre contain 14thC Medieval tannery pits. There's also the remnants of a pub with an illegal gaming cellar, and World War II Air Raid shelters. Plus examples of Victorian slum housing. Fascinating.
Once back at my house, we had an English afternoon tea and yet more gossip! Kevin was very taken with the prize winning Colston Basset blue stilton cheese - Colston Basset being a nearby village. http://www.colstonbassettdairy.com/ourcheeses.html