Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Still pursuing the Grail

Just dropping by with a note to say I'm still slogging away on my edits for Daughters of the Grail. I have cut 13,000 off the original novel, and I think it's in better shape for it. I've finished the first run through and have printed off a copy to read at my desk rather than at my PC. I find that a different set of editorial skills are brought into play this way. A friend who is trained in NLP, says that it's because a different part of the brain is brought into play, depending on where you look. So gazing across at a PC screen is different to looking down at words on a page. With my regular manuscripts, I also read the work aloud to myself, (well to husband while he's playing Age of Empires on our spare PC!) thus adding audio to visual. Anyway, I hope to have 'Daughters' done and dusted by early next week at the latest, and thus have a little more time to post to my blog.
In the meantime, here's a photo of a pair of my shoes. They're goatskin 'poulaines' and are replicas of late 14thC shoes. They're a bit late for my arena, but they're of museum quality and were made for an exhibition. They were going for a very reasonable price and were my size, so I just had to have them. Fellow re-enactors will understand! You will find the originals in Shoes And Pattens: Medieval Finds from Excavations in London by Francis Grew and Margrethe de Neergaard Museum of London publications ISBN 0 11 290443 2

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

One Writer's Grail

For the next few weeks I am going to be busy revisiting and reworking a novel I wrote thirteen years ago, so my blogging activities may be a tad patchy during this time.
DAUGHTERS OF THE GRAIL is a historical novel but a slight departure from my usual style. I was commissioned to write it by a TV producer who got in touch with my agent, saying he was looking for a writer to turn his treatment into a novel. He had just read the now notorious Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln and had been inspired to sketch the bones of a story - a thirteenth century tale of the Cathar heresy in the Languedoc with elements inspired by what he had read in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. The upshot was that I was commissioned to put flesh on the bones and turn the treatment into a novel, the idea being that a script would then be written from the book and a film made. I duly embarked on the project, which was bigger than anything I had attempted before. I was still quite a new author then and this was definitely going to stretch me! The novel was titled Children of Destiny in the UK. I rewrote it for the USA market where it became Daughters of The Grail, and is, I think, the better novel for the rewrite.
Anyway, due to one thing and another, not least the demise of publishing mogul Robert Maxwell, the novel sank without much trace. I have a feeling too that it was the right novel, wrong time.
My current publishers, TimeWarner, are re-issuing Daughters of the Grail and have given me the wonderful and rare opportunity to give the novel a complete overhaul before its December publication. I'm thoroughly enjoying revisiting the book. After so long, I've forgotten most of it (I tend not to re-read my material very often once it goes out into the world). I am also realising how much I have moved on as a writer. I cannot believe how clunky some of the prose is! I wonder if writers continue to improve throughout their careers, or whether they reach a level of talent and stay there. Alternatively perhaps they arrive at the top and fall off. Looking back at my own career, after eight 500 page novels written between the age of 15 and 32, all rejected, I finally reached a level where I was good enough to be published, but I was still raising my game and expanding. I hope I still am (other than my posterior from spending my time at a PC screen!).

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Looking back in time.

Before I disappear under another mountain of editorial work, I thought I'd post about one of the more interesting and slightly unorthodox strands of my research.

About a year and a half ago, I was having coffee with my best friend, Alison. I've known her for over twenty years now and we have always met up once a week to put the world to rights over a mug and a biscuit. I have always known she is psychic and have accepted it as part of who she is. She's not weird or away with the fairies with it, but a totally ordinary down to earth person who just happens to see auras and other things as a matter of course. I was saying to her that I was having trouble finding out details about a particular character in the novel I was writing about William Marshal. She offered to 'see' back in time and try and find out the information I wanted. She explained that, while working as a therapist in Reiki and NLP she had discovered she had the ability to Remote View. Her clients often had issues in the past that needed dealing with, and she had discovered that she could return to the moments when the issue arose. Sometimes those issues involved people who had died, but she found out that she could go back and 'see' the past when those people had been alive. If she could do it for 20 years ago, she reasoned that there was nothing to stop her going back 200 years or 2,000. Very sceptically I said 'okay' and gave her the name of the character I wanted to know about, a place and a rough date. What came through was astonishing and left me open-mouthed. It was almost like when I discovered Re-enactment and realised that here was a fabulous resource for a writer of historical fiction! The session had only been impromptu, and I hadn't been taking notes, but I arranged to set the thing on a professional footing and do some structured sessions for more detailed research.
In the eighteen months or so that we have been doing the remote viewing, we have amassed an amazing body of material that might become a book itself one day. Much of the evidence can be corroborated. I have shown the work to people who are experts in the fields of Medieval history and they have told me that what is coming through is Medieval, not modern mindset. The material that can't be verified due to gaps in the historical record still gels. Nothing has jarred so far. Sometimes I haven't believed what Alison has told me, but further research on my behalf has confirmed that she's right. Even if what is coming through is something somehow dredged from the depths of my friend's imagination (she isn't interested in Medieval history at all) I have to say that it's a fantastic resource for me as a writer. However, as session by session the evidence continues to mount up, I have to say that there are more things in heaven and earth that we will never understand and she has certainly convinced me.

Here is an example from one of our recent sessions when I asked Alison to find the character of John Marshal at the court of King Henry I in 1130. Here is what she said:
I’m there and looking at something oval shaped with watery light on it. It might be an ornamental pool or perhaps a well. It’s night time and the moon’s shining on it. I can see pincers and something like a modern rolling pin with handles and a roller in the middle. (description of a pipe roll, my words in brackets. Have also since discovered the pincers were one of the symbols of a marshal). Now I am seeing something like a diagonal cross of a metal colour but a fabric texture on a metal background. Something to do with horses – it’s a piece of horse equipment.
I can feel the character of John Marshal but I can’t see him. What I can feel is calculation. He’s not emotional. He’s strong, constant, he doesn’t veer off things once he’s fastened on them. He’s still youthful and not yet tempered by experience. He thinks well of himself and that he’s entitled to more than he has. He sees himself as ready for promotion.
I can see him now. He’s tall, well made, good looking, and straight like his attitude. Taut muscles, strong cheeks – of the kind that have lines down them. Strong mouth, straight across. His eyes are very interesting. They’re blue and tell a different story about his emotions. His eyes are powerful. They have an intense look, but it’s not an intensity of emotion although it might look like that externally. In reality it’s because he’s trying to work things out, to understand and calculate. People misunderstand it and take it for emotional intensity. It’s like when you get a pop star posing about these days and impressionable people think ‘Wow!’ but it’s a projection of their feelings onto the popstar and his look isn’t caused by what he’s really thinking at the photoshoot.
John Marshal is quite a dashing sort of man. I’ve got a feeling he wears his hair differently to the norm. It’s very short at the back, but there’s more of it on top, almost like a quiff. It’s light brown with lighter streaks in it. Hmmmm…very dashing, He works with his intellect more than his emotions and he is ambitious. Oh, must mention he has absolutely lovely skin – immaculate pores. So small you can’t seen them.

I asked about the court prostitues. According to the records they came under the auspices of the royal Marshal. It was his duty to police them and organize them etc.

Yes, it’s in John’s remit and he tries them out. They give him money (backhanders) because he allows them to be on the list of the ‘women’ of the court. It’s a constant trial to get new fresh girls who are buxom enough. He even has to go out touting and chatting up the parents of likely girls telling them what a wonderful opportunity this is going to be for their daughters.
I asked about what he did when away from court. Did he delegate this duty?
No, not much. He keeps a tight reign on the new ones. That’s where the money is. His deputies would not have such powers of procurement. The most they do in his absence is maintain the status quo. He keeps the jucier bits of the business to himself.
And what about keeping order and the other duties of the royal marshal?
Alison says when I asked this, all the sparky detail drained out of what she was seeing. He doesn’t get so much out of keeping order. Bland and mundane, not half as rewarding as keeping the whores. It’s not a big stretch to manage; he can do it easily. He’s the sort of man who’d still be at work even at the office party. He doesn’t switch off. He can’t. That’s his character. He’s a very good organizer. Has his finger on the pulse all the time. A little nudge here, a tweak there, keeps it all in order. He delegates all the tallying stuff, but when he delegates he’s very hands on. He makes sure his minions do exactly what he says. If they don’t then woe betide them. He runs a very tight ship.

At a session concerning the Empress Matilda, a slightly better known character: asked to see the Empress Matilda to get an idea of the personality. I asked Alison to go to soon after the birth of her son, the future Henry II in Le Mans in March 1133. Henry’s father was Geoffrey le Bel, Count of Anjou and in his late teens to Matilda’s mid twenties.
Alison: I’m with her. I’m not seeing anything yet but I’m getting her feelings. It’s a consistent feeling, not up or down, but deep. She’s on the level and it’s from the heart. She has a very good awareness of her own position and strength in the world. A good intellect. She has fortitude and she has a sort of abstract element to her character which is more spiritual than religious – very abstract/transparent, like layers of water confined by a dam.
She’s had the baby and regards it as okay. It’s been the right thing to do and it’s in line with nature and she wouldn’t expect anything less. I’m seeing her now. She has a still face which reflects a still personality. Dark, curly hair. It looks as if she likes to wear her crown thing most of the time, not just at special occasions – likes being an ‘empress.

I asked what her thoughts were about her husband.
Alison: The first word that came to me was ‘bastard.’ She hates him. She sees the liaison as a blemish and tries to blot it from her thoughts. Looks the other way. She tries not to be ruffled by it. There may be nice things about him physically but she doesn’t really want herself to appreciate it. I asked if she was down on him because she had previously been married to an emperor and Geoffrey was just the son of a count.
Alison: Yes. Like a modern person thinking you don’t look at a man unless he’s a millionaire – there are no good benefits without it. In other circumstances she might have had more time for him, but not now. The age gap doesn’t really matter. She knows he has the beauty of youth but doesn’t want to see it. Sometimes in unguarded moments she will look at him and appreciate his looks but not when she’s on her guard.
And her relationship with her father Henry I?
She loves her father and will always do her duty by him and be ruled by him. She knows her place and will do he duty even if it’s against her own wishes. Sacrifice is a sign of the Cross and only the great get to sacrifice so much.
Her relationship with Brian FitzCount lord of Wallingford?
Alison: This feels like love – like a meeting on a more equal level. A meeting from the heart and and solar plexus – a meeting of souls and understanding. The things unsaid don’t need to be said because they are already known. They have an intuitive bond.
Her thoughts on Stephen?
Alison: Contempt. She doesn’t like him. Posturing brat. He’s so much the opposite of everything she holds regal. He waters with the horses. Goes and drinks with the men in other words and wants to be one of them. Hah! That’s no way to be a king or emperor.
Her thoughts on John Marshal?Alison: Mmmmm (appreciative sound) Very handsome man. Very agile. A strong, worthy knight and warrior. I could make use of him. She has regard for him. From her position she looks at people in terms of roles in her kingdom. She wouldn’t see his personality as a whole, just that he would fulfil the role of worthy warrior in her game plan. Also when looking at him physically, she appreciates his masculine beauty in an aesthetic way rather than a lustful one.
Her response to her half-brother Robert of Gloucester?
Yes. Now this is a man who has the right idea about kingship and honour and how to behave when you have a certain level of responsibility. He’s a person in whom she has confidence. He makes a good sounding board and knows her needs.

You can see from the above why I find this a fascinating resource - who wouldn't!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Ludlow Castle

This is by way of a hasty drop in. I've spent most of today fetching my youngest son back from the university of Aberystwyth for the Easter break. He's in his second year and studying environmental earth sciences (geography with extra bits as far as I can gather but with good job prospects - 95%- at the end of it). I said I'd post a photo of what William Marshal's father, John, may have looked like, but I'm saving that for later next week along with some research notes. I'm busy correcting the proofs of the second novel about William Marshal THE SCARLET LION, plus writing new material, so I'm fully occupied at the moment... as well as having a ravenous almost 20 year old back on my hands for 3 weeks! Still, I'll try to post when I can.
Anyway, having searched my photo archives, here's one of Ludlow Castle, one of the main settings for SHADOWS AND STRONGHOLDS where Brunin and Hawise came to know each other. The round building to the right of the picture is the castle chapel. It was probably built by a de Lacy, but is likely on the site of another chapel where I like to think Brunin and Hawise would have married.