Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Knight to remember....or perhaps not?

I'm late with my next blog because I've been away in London for the day, visiting my editors Joanne Dickinson and Barbara Daniel at Little Brown. Our lunch, with my agent Carole Blake, was partly business and partly social and altogether enjoyable. Little Brown's offices are right on Waterloo Bridge and not far from The Temple Church. Since May 19th was the anniversary of William Marshal's burial there, and thus fairly close, I took some time out to honour him and lay a posy on his breast... or on his effigy's breast. No one knows whereabouts his remains are now, as they were moved some years after his burial, and the church has suffered bomb damage too. Suffice to say that his presence remains somewhere in the precincts. The posy was just three simple flowers and a bit of foliage, but I chose his colours - green, yellow and red, and made a donation to the church in his honour.
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

The Greatest Knight: The Soundtrack!

An important part of the creative process for me as a writer is the use of music. I don't actually listen to it while I'm writing, but while I'm away from the PC doing mundane jobs, I will listen to tracks which I think suit the situations and the emotional resonances of my characters. I use music to build moods and motivations, to inspire and help me understand. This particular trait has been with me ever since I started writing stories down. Long before films and adverts were using popular music to sell their product, I was visualising my novels to a soundtrack. Indeed, I didn't know whether to be delighted or miffed when the film A Knight's Tale came out with a rock soundtrack - cos I wuz there first!
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 Hollywood. From the album Bang! The best of… I’ve used this in similar circumstances in THE CHAMPION. Hero is faced with a test which will take skill and control when he is thrown into the thick of it. I used this and the next track for the fight at Drincourt while William is still a raw recruit.

Fight – No Vacancy. From the album School of Rock. No finesse about this, but I love the energy in it and very useful for writing a battle scene.

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.

Disc 2

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 Tower of Song. Another Leonard Cohen penned number like Hallelujah. William under pressure at the Young King’s court as everything falls apart. Very pertinent lyrics. They cover the back-biting and bitchiness of the court, the suggested affair between William and Marguerite (seen from the Young King’s viewpoint) and the final quarrel with the Young King from William’s vp. ‘Everybody knows it’s coming apart, take one last look at this sacred heart before it blows…everybody knows…’

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!

The Leaving Song - A.F.I From the album Sing the Sorrow . One of my youngest’s favourite bands and standing for A Fire Inside. This is William’s down and depressed time after he leaves The Young King, and then the Young King’s Death. Should be tied in with Everybody Knows and aforementioned Hallelujah.

Protocol – Gordon Lightfoot. From the album Summertime Dream. William joins Henry II. The soldier’s code. Sad and poignant.

The Clasp – Jethro Tull. From the Album The Broadsword and the Beast. Political wheeling and dealing.

Easily – Red Hot Chili Peppers. From the album Californication. William’s coming to terms with all he’s been through, shaking it off and becoming determined to be his own man. Involves his spirituality too. ‘Shaolin shaking for the sake of his soul, everything must go.’) I like the line ‘Throw me to the wolves because there’s order in the pack.’ Also ‘You think it’s almost over but it’s only on the rise.’ Which is what William did think at the death of Henry II. He believed he was done for, but he was indeed ‘only on the rise.’

These Dreams – Heart. From the album Greatest Hits. Isabelle dreaming at the Tower when William comes for Heloise

Bring Me To Life – Evanescence. From the album Fallen. Isabelle and William’s meeting and marriage. They both need each other and this song reflects their mutual emotions. I love the juxtaposition of delicacy and raw rock.

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.

Vindicated – Dashboard Confessional. From the film soundtrack to Spiderman 2. A bitter song that totally reflects William’s brothers state of mind. He knows he’s a failure and now he’s proved it, he’s vindicated.

Fields of Gold – Sting. From the compilation Album Simply Acoustic. William’s brother bids farewell. It’s the antidote to Vindicated, poignant and sad.

All About Soul – Billy Joel from the album Ultimate collection disc 2. – William and Isabelle’s relationship after the struggles of the past five years seen from William’s viewpoint.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A visit from the Deity!

The 'Deity' as she is very fondly known by the members of the e-lists she owns, also goes by the name of Wendy Zollo. She not only runs my Yahoo reader list but is one of my best friends on the internet. I'm on the left, Wendy's on the right.
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).
We hit it off straight away and it was as if we'd known each other years. We started gossiping from the word go. I took Wendy and Kevin to Bromley House Library so I could change my books and show Wendy where I do my borrowing. We went up the stairs in photo 1 - only 1 person allowed at a time due to delicacy of staircase! After that we went to the castle and had a wander around the grounds and the museum. Having refreshed ourselves with a cup of tea in the cafeteria and waited out a shower in the museum porch, we wandered down to Broadmarsh Centre and the caves of Nottingham for a guided tour. This was fascinating and had been upgraded since I visited a couple of years back. As it wasn't a busy part of the day, we even had the tour guide to ourselves! Wendy had to be different though and insisted on having a blue hard hat instead of a white one!
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.
'Stilton is rare in being protected by a trademark. Both the word Stilton and the Stilton Cheese Makers Association logo are certification trademarks. Recently, Stilton had also been registered as a Product of Designated Origin (or PDO) in the European Community. All these protections mean that the product can only be manufactured by licensed manufacturers in the three counties of Nottinghmashire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire. All manufacturers are independently inspected to guarantee that the cheese conforms to type.'
Kevin also sampled the delights of prize winning pork pies - made in a local village and I introduced him and Wendy to the delights (or not!) of salad cream!
Being as their hotel seemed a little off the beaten track, my husband Roger offered to show them where it was, so we went out for an evening drive in convoy, dog included. Which was great as far as it went, except that we managed to get lost and had to stop and ask some locals the directions! In mitigation, the road we should have come in on, had been closed and is now part of a nature reserve, so we had to take a detour. I'm sure Kevin thought we were mad! Anyway, all's well that ends well, and we finally found the hotel, otherwise Wendy and Kevin would have been sleeping on our lounge floor. At least there would have been stilton and scones for breakfast.
All in all a fabulous visit and we got on so well, I was sorry to see her leave. (shucks!) The house next door is for sale. Maybe she could come back and move in! Other than that, I'm sure it'll be business as usual in cyber space in a few days' time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

William Marshal - the 'meme'

Gabriele tagged me to complete some statements on behalf of William Marshal. I'm a complete novice to this tagging business, but I've done my best to answer, and I hope as the great man would have wished. My apologies to his spirit for errors borne out of a gulf of 800 years and my own lack thereof. Without further ado:

I am: William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke
I want: King John to get off my back and leave me and my family alone. Just for a few days would be nice. We're off to Ireland to avoid him, but it always rains there.
I wish: Richard hadn't died. Everything's gone to hell in a hand cart since then.
I hate: getting my head stuck inside jousting helms
I miss: The glory days, my first destrier, the Southern sun warming my spine as I ride, Queen Eleanor to whom I owe my career. And there is a cold space at my side that was once occupied by my great bon ami, Baldwin de Bethune, God rest his soul. Hale and farewell.
I fear that William de Braose was not a good choice of husband for my daughter Eve. There are going to be tears before and after bed-time.
I hear: Disquieting rumours about Prince Arthur, the Tower of Rouen and a certain midnight visit by his uncle John. I will be as blind as the darkness of the dungeons in that place. I will not see. It is the only way to stay safe.
I wonder: how long dinner's going to be and if stuffed mushrooms will be on the menu.
I regret: not having lived long enough to teach Henry III more about the responsibilities of kingship.
I am not: small-minded, spiteful or petty
I dance: at tournaments and at court. I would say I am good at it, but the modesty of a prudhomme prevents me from doing so.
I sing: All of the time. It is one of my favourite occupations in my my leisure time. I am particularly fond of the rotrouenge and I enjoy teaching songs to my children, especially my eldest daughter, Mahelt who has a voice like a nightingale.
I cry: when I see the enormity of the task set before me and know that my time is running out.
I am not always: as pure as the driven snow. One has to be honourable when one is able, but temper one's chivalry with pragmatism.
I made: my wife agree not to hew Meilyr FitzHenry into little pieces (difficult as she was in a thorough temper and when you mix wild Irish with de Clare and light the torch, conflagration does not begin to describe the result) There are more subtle ways of controlling uppity vassals.
I write: Actually I don't. These days I'd be known as dyslexic. I was beaten for not being able to master words when I was little.
I confuse: my detractors by refusing to rise to their bait. They don't know what to do and I keep the upper hand.
I need: My wife Isabelle. She is my safe harbour
I should: be eternally grateful to John D'Earley for his lifelong loyalty and friendship.
I start: With the determination and courage to see things through no matter how bad things get.
I finish: What I've started.
I tag: My scribe being woefully new to blogland, I am afraid I will have to pass on that one at this point until she gets the hang of such things and understands them better! The learning curve continues. One day she'll find out how to do links too!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Cowslips and cuckoo pints

I came across a carpet of these the other day whilst walking the dog, and having my camera to hand, took a snapshot. A few years ago, these delightful little flowers, harbinger of true spring, were in danger of extincition and in fact I confess to never having seen one until recently. However, now at least, there's a field in Nottinghamshire that's positively exuberant with their blooms. Medieval folk would have been entirely familiar with them.
It makes me chuckle that the common name for this pretty little plant derives from the fact that it frequently inhabits cow fields. It used to be known as a 'cow slop' - kuhscheisse in German. That set me to thinking about our medieval ancestors and how in some ways they were much less prudish than us. Lower down the slope where I took this photo, there are masses of dandelions (also known as piss-a-beds) for their diuretic qualities. In the woods there are cuckoo pints - cuckoo penises if you happen to be Anglo Saxon. Orchids, should any be around would have been known as sweet ballocks or dogstones (dog's testicles). Should a bird now called a wheatear fly past, I should remember that it used to be known as a 'white-arse.' It's not just plants and animals that receive this treatment either. There are folk with recorded surnames such as Gildenballocks, Blakeballocs, Fartere and Wydecunthe. Hmmm...can't see those starring in polite society today no matter how appropriate. And should you happen to walk down Grape street in London, it has nothing at all to do with the fruit of the vine. In the fourteenth century it was known as Gropecontelane and had its counterparts in York, Bristol and Oxford. Of course, some Grope Lanes were a reference to how dark it was, rather than a comment on the proclivities of its denizens!

My thanks for the above enlightenment to Wordly Wise by James McDonald/Constable 1984 and The Street names of England by Adrian room/Paul Watkins 1992

Monday, May 01, 2006

Back on track....almost.

Well, I finally finished Daughters Of The Grail the rewrite (phew) and the novel ended up 14,000 words leaner than the 1993 version and a lot better for it I think. Now that's done and dusted I can return to my Marshal men and women. I'm just about to start work on the rough draft of the notorius 'Hammer and Anvils' scene. For readers not familiar with the history it goes like this.
John Marshal is blocking King Stephen's road to Wallingford with a castle at Newbury. Said castle is being besieged by Stephen and is in dire straits. John makes surrender-like noises, saying he will need to ask the Empress first before he gives in. Stephen, not trusting him, demands hostages, among them John's 5 year old son, William, later to become William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and regent of England. John hands over the little chap, and instead of setting a surrender in motion, refortifies the beleagured castle with men and supplies. Stephen, understandably annoyed, threatens to do away with little William in all manner of horrendous ways - hanging, crushing with millstone, firing from trebuchet. Dad just shrugs his shoulders and delivers the by now infamous lines ' dist ke ne li chaleit de l'enfant, quer encore aveit les enclumes e les marteals dunt forgereit de plus beals.'
'but he said he did not care about the child, since he still had the anvils and hammers to produce even finer ones.'

I suspect that John Marshal was a master of the art of bluff and knowing King Stephen was soppy about women and kids, decided to take the odds. I also suspect that John was between a rock and a hard place at the time and did what he had to do. It's going to be interesting to craft the scene, although with the help of remote viewing I'm looking forward to getting stuck into some good meaty drama. During my conventional research for this piece, I have come across the detail that the hammers and anvils speech may well be more than just a colourful analogy. It may be a pun on John's surname and the occupation of his ancestors. A blacksmith with a particular affinity for horses was known as a marshal and among other responsibilities in noble households, was a horse master. The typical symbol of a Marshal was a smith's hammer and horse shoe. While John had deputies to perform the more manual and mundane functions of the occupation at court, he would still have had strong connections with horses and the original symbols of authority People listening to the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal in the hall of a night, would have understood and perhaps smiled at the pun.
The photo at the top is a sun-streaked (purple?!) view of the mounds of what remains of Hamstead Marshal from across the Kennet and Avon Canal, taken during a research trip to Wiltshire last year.