Wednesday, March 29, 2006

You Got Mail!

Here's a close up photo of the rivet mail I bring with me when I give talks. Also a brooch based on finds from the late Anglo Saxon/early Norman period. The mail was made for me by Nathan Beal, a fellower re-enactor, who based the piece (a ventail, which is the bit that protects the throat and mouth) on detailed research at the National Armouries, Leeds. It's the most amazing, touchy-feely stuff, and dare I say it, very sexy - a lot more so than plate mail! It also takes hours and hours of painstaking work, so no wonder a mail shirt could cost the equivalent of a four bedroomed house today! In THE GREATEST KNIGHT, I based a scene in Poitou on an afternoon's observation of Nathan crafting this mail at a show Regia Anglorum put on at Castle Rising in Norfolk.

There may be a slight hiatus in my posting to the blog while I get to grips with the copy edits for my second novel on William Marshal - THE SCARLET LION. Plus I'm away this weekend, fetching my youngest son home for Easter from the university of Aberystwyth. However, I hope to be back soon with some more news and topical photos - including an intriguing one of what John Marshal might have looked like - and it's a stunner!

My thanks to Maggie Ingram for the above photo, taken at Folkestone library during my most recent 'show and tell' excursion.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Chepstow Castle Doors and The Bookseller

Last year I spent several days visiting some of the heartlands of William Marshal and his family in Wales and the Marches. The photograph on the left is of the castle doors at Chepstow Castle. The latter was known as Striguil in William's time. The stronghold came to him on his marriage to Isabelle de Clare. He had to wait another ten years for Pembroke.
I love these doors. It always gives me a thrill - a real feeling of being within reaching distance when I come across items like this. The dendechronology dates these doors to around 1190 - the period when William first became lord of Chepstow/Striguil. He would have commissioned them and when in residence he would have seen them on a daily basis. The castle guidebook says that these doors were revolutionary in their construction. The lattice framework is the earliest known example of mortice and tenon joints in the UK and the techniques employed have been adapted from ship-building ones. The doors are over 800 years old and are thought to be the oldest castle doors surviving in Europe. Fantastic!

On the writing front I was delighted and a little stunned by this week's Bookseller, which headed its Historical Fiction section of the July Paperback Previews with The Greatest Knight and said: 'I cannot be more pleased with what at last is happening for this wonderful author: recognition. This follows the life of William Marshal from the age of five through a turbulant Plantagenet period until Richard returns from the Crusades. I understand there is to be a sequel taking this great medieval knight into his later years. I look forward to it.'
An accolade from The Bookseller is difficult to obtain and an excellent prognosis for sales, so obviously I'm very pleased indeed - although strangely I feel more delighted for William than I do myself!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Marshalling my thoughts!

Real life tends to get in the way of the cyber variety. I was hoping to post earlier this week but by the time I'd been swimming, played darts (don't ask!) answered necessary e-mails and kept the novel writing on schedule, I'd used up all my corners of time.
Thanks to all who have welcomed me to blogland. It's still going to take a while, but I'm enjoying the learning curve.
Research wise I am still working through the excavation reports on Ludgershall Castle and attempting to assimilate the details of who built what and when. I'm also pottering through the Domesday Book for Wiltshire and Berkshire to see how much land in these counties was in the possession of Edward of Salisbury in 1086, Edward being William Marshal's great grandfather. Other than the aforementioned I have the Gesta Stephani, John of Worcester and Vol 1 of the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal keeping me company on my study desk at the moment...along with various items of writerly detritus - pencil, notebook, removed bracelet and watch because they were irritating my wrists, jar of boiled sweets, spectacle case, tissues, square of of rivet - the usual stuff!
Currently I'm working on a heavily detailed synopsis - scene sketches I suppose I'd call them. Once done, I'll go back and fill in the colours. John Marshal, his career and domestic circumstances are proving very interesting to write about; as are his wives, Aline and Sybilla.
Very different women, especially in the way they relate to him!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Still on a steep learning curve on day 1, I am now attempting to post a photo to my embryo blog.
If this works, this is me at the Temple Church last May (2005) when I went to pay my respects to William Marshal, subject of my novel The Greatest Knight, and some members of his family. William is to my left, his firstborn son William to my right. Their graves aren't actually under the effigies, but due to the vagaries of reburials, rebuilding and bombs, are elsewhere - (who knows?) within the general fabric of the church. It was difficult finding a quiet moment to pay my respects to the man who was indeed the greatest knight of the Middle Ages, and his heir as I had to share them with numerous excited tourists following the pages of the Da Vinci Code. If only they knew the real treasure lying at their feet!

First Post The Past

In between writing about King Stephen's abortive attempt to oust his vassal John Marshal from Marlborough Castle in September 1139, I am stumbling through the intricacies of setting up my first blog. It's been something I've been meaning to do for a while. Sometimes there are things I want to say that don't fit neatly into the subject matters of the e-loops to which I belong.
As the name of my blog suggests, many of my meanderings will be concerned with the research I do for my historical novels, but I may occasionally stroll off to explore other subjects as my whim and interest take me.
To keep my first post reasonably on topic and before I return to the face to face between Stephen and John, I thought I'd mention the research book currently occupying my bedside table. It's Ludgershall Castle: Excavations by Peter Addyman 1964-1972. John Marshal had custody of Ludgershall during the mid twelfth century and it's exciting looking at the finds that date to his period of occupation. I particularly like a hawthorn wood box with a ring and dot decoration of animal rib bones on the outside. One can imagine it sitting on a coffer in his chamber for use by him or his wife - and then one can write....