I had the opportunity to talk about my beloved Wimer on my author friend Richard Dee’s blog today…
On Friday I treated myself to a visit to the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Exhibition. If you’re in a position to go, I’d urge you to – it’s spectacular.
One of the more jaw-dropping items is the Alfred Jewel, on loan from the Ashmolean (https://www.ashmolean.org/alfred-jewel). Now I’ve visited this wonderful object many times; but for the first time on Friday I wrenched my eyes away from the striking image, the marvellous crystal, the sheer astonishment of the pierced instription running around the sides – and looked at the business end, where the pointer would have fitted.
This is the classic view, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, source Dresses and Decorations of the Middle Ages, by Henry Shaw, 1843. Isn’t it gorgeous?
But the pointer end isn’t anything particularly amazing.
Now look at this photo, which is how close a look you can get at the exhibition. (This from a user called Richard’s Flickr feed, marked for non-commercial reuse. Thank you Richard! – https://www.flickr.com/photos/tortipede/5874079689)
What does it look like to you – a boar? A bear? Scroll back up and look at the left-hand picture, showing the top of its head; maybe a great cat? The Ashmolean sometimes calls it a dragon. Not your usual Christian icon, in this sumptuous jewel comissioned by a deeply Christian King. Alfred’s passion was the translation of religious texts into Anglo-Saxon from Latin, and the British Library’s exhibition holds manuscripts which might be his translation and written in his hand (another shiver-up-the-spine moment!).
The speculation is that the jewel was one of many pointers made to accompany such a text and sent as a gift alongside the book. That kingly assocation would explain its richness and beauty – but certainly not its iconography; it simply makes it more of a puzzle. Until, perhaps, you consider who the recipients of such a gift might be – possibly missionaries going out into the perilous wild lands of 9thC Britain, with the Danelaw all up the Eastern side of the country, and tribes not acknowledging Alfred’s rule to the North and West of him.
I’ve been lucky enough to handle several Iron Age coins in silver and gold, and that’s the strongest association I have – that this Christian jewel is also using the power, imagery, and deep, deep roots of the Celtic world to get its message across.
Magical! Do you agree?
Just for a bit of fun, I thought I’d have a go at interviewing other authors. Richard Stephenson Clarke’s beautiful book of shaped poety – Presents of Mind – launched last month, and he’s agreed to be my first victim!
I’ve decided to go with a riff on Desert Island Discs – interviewees get to choose 5 music tracks and answer 5 or 6 vaguely literature-related questions, and choose one book and one luxury item to take to their island. As always, they get the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare thrown in.
Me: So, Richard – the important things first; what’s your favourite writing food?
Richard: Oh, cake! Coffee and walnut, preferably.
Me: Good choice! And drink?
Richard: Hmmm. Vintage port… or coffee. Black, no sugar, please.
Me: Is there a coffee-related theme building here? Perhaps we should move on to the music. What’s your first track?
Richard: This is terribly difficult, you know! it’s like being asked to choose which is your favourite child! Let’s start with the 3rd movement of Beethoven’s Archduke trio.
Me: Lovely! I hate to lower the tone – but what’s your favourite TV show?
Richard: Ah, that’s easy! The Big Bang Theory!
Me: No thought required on that one! And your next track?
Richard: How about anything by Supertramp?
Me: Coming right up! Here’s a “Best of” compilation:
Me: Let’s get back on books – what’s your favourite book ever?
Richard: Anything by PG Wodehouse! I could read those till the cows come home.
Me: And some music to go with that?
Richard: Let’s have Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock. Ideally with Dame Janet Baker, if possible.
Me: I couldn’t find a recording with Janet Baker. Here’s Beverley Sills singing soprano instead.
Richard: Oh yes, that’ll do!
Me: Now, what’s the last book you read?
Richard: I’m just finishing The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil.
Me: That’s a war book, isn’t it? What music would you like to follow it with?
Richard: Hahn’s L’Heure Exquise; I like the Julian Lloyd Webber recording. It’s just such a wonderful evocation of moonlight. The book is about Clementine’s journey through the displacement & horror of war, and I think music like L’Heure Exquise speaks of enduring hope, peace & beauty that transforms the dark.
Me: That is gorgeous. All right, nearly at the end. You can choose one book to take with you to your desert island – what will it be?
Richard: Something silly like The Adventures of Asterix, please. I’d need a good laugh on a desert island!
Me: – good choice! And your luxury?
Richard: A really good Hi-Fi system, please – and my music collection!
Me: All of it? Oh, all right! What would you like to play us out with?
Richard: Anything from the countertenor Philippe Jaroussky – he has the most amazing voice!
Me: Super! One of my favourite artists too. Would you mind if we had one of my favourites? Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater.
Thank you, Richard – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your choices!
Presents of Mind is a collection of shaped poetry: reflections on psychotherapy and the creative energy and healing power of the mind, in a tapestry of metaphors and forms. It is written for anyone who finds life a challenge, for clients and students of therapy, for counsellors, psychotherapists, and others concerned with mental health.
Presents of Mind is available as an A4, full-colour paperback from Etsy
Richard discusses the book, its imagery, and his process on his blog.
Richard Stephenson Clarke is one of my Dodnash Books clients, who writes the most beautiful poetry; then works to find a shape that reflects the essence of the poetry. It’s such an unusual art form, and such a pleasure to explore! I knew I wanted to help produce Richard’s work as soon as I set eyes on it, and it’s great to hold the book in your hands. Contact me – or Richard – if you’d like a copy.
When I wrote the first few pieces, I had no idea at all that I would be shaping any of them. Then one poem – which I was rearranging on the page, just to see how the lines could be best presented – began to form a very clear shape. This was the poem called Carvings, which happens to be about the mind working on things over time, quite unconsciously: forming, fashioning, sculpting, putting them away, hiding them from sight – and later rediscovering them. It seemed very appropriate that there was such a carved shape coming to light in the piece itself.
Having watched the first section fall into place, I wondered whether it would be possible to do this throughout the whole piece – and so began the climbing of Everest… I tried it on another piece, and another, and before long I just knew I wanted to…
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This article, by Matt Lewis of Matt’s History Blog – well respected, and always a good read – is a classic example of why historical fiction is such an exciting area to write in.
Matt takes a close, well-informed look at the two rebellions by young boys in the reign of Henry Tudor, the usurper who killed Richard lll on the field of battle. Was either one – or both – the son of Edward V, the Princes in the Tower, supposedly killed by Shakespear’s caricature of nasty old hunchbacked Richard the Evil Uncle?
It’s possible. But 15thC records can be obscure, and Henry seems to have been quie thorough in his burning of all relevant records. A non-fiction book summarising all this would have an awful lot of gaps and speculation. Step forward, the historical fiction writer… Someone (not me, not my period) is going to have tremendous fun writing a novel or two about this. I wish them well, and look forward to it!
This post turned into a way longer piece than I meant, so please bear with it!
When I wrote The Survival of the Princes in the Tower, I posited a theory, one of many alternatives offered. This particular idea has grown on me ever since, and I find myself unable to shake it off. I’m beginning to convince myself that the 1487 Lambert Simnel Affair was never an uprising in favour of Edward, Earl of Warwick, as history tells us. I think I’m certain I believe it was a revolt in support of Edward V, the elder of the Princes in the Tower. Sounds crazy? Just bear with me.
Why do we think we know that the Yorkist uprising of 1487 favoured Edward, Earl of Warwick? In reality, it is simply because that was the official story of the Tudor government. It made the attempt a joke; a rebellion in…
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I thoroughly enjoyed writing this post! Thanks to Cathy for the opportunity.
I’m delighted to welcome Nicky Moxey to What Cathy Read Next today. A review copy of Nicky’s historical novel, Sheriff and Priest, is sitting in my author review pile. Unfortunately, it may be there for some time so, in the meantime, I’m thrilled to bring you a guest post from Nicky about the turbulent events of King John’s reign. It’s also an insight into her research for the sequel to Sheriff and Priest, due out in 2019.
About the Book
Wimer could have become a monk. Instead, his decision to become a Chaplain – to make his way in the wider world of men – has put his soul in mortal danger.
In 12th Century East Anglia, poor Saxon boys stay poor. It takes an exceptional one to win Henry II’s friendship, and to rise to the job of High Sheriff of all Norfolk…
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I have been distracted from the 12th Century recently by a visit to a Suffolk church – or rather, by the intriguing single large stone opposite it. The stone looks for all the world like a Viking or early Christian hogsback grave marker, and has very clearly been shaped. But there are no hogsback stones in this part of the UK; they are only to be found clustered in the Northwest and Scotland. So what is it? And what’s it doing here? – the stone is not native, it’s been imported. This lovely blog post was of great help in researching that liminal phase as the Vikings became good Christians, for the short story that demanded to be written.
OS grid reference: NY 5165 3016. A short walk in an easterly direction from market Square and king street (A6) in the centre of Penrith is the ancient church of St Andrew, a Saxon foundation. At the north-side of the church stands a slight mound on top of which are two pillar-crosses and four hogback gravestones – collectively known as the Giants Grave. These stones are said to have been placed over the burial site of Owain Caesarius, legendary and heroic king of Cumbria during the early 10th century, who was said to have been a giant of a man. Also in the churchyard is the Giant’s Thumb, a damaged Anglo-Norse wheel-headed cross dating from 920 AD.
The two tall and slender pillar-crosses standing 15 feet apart are now heavily worn and it is difficult to make out the carvings on them, but they have been dated to around 1000 AD and are Anglo-Norse in…
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The appointment of Papal legates (or Nuncios) in the early years of the 13thC makes fascinating reading.
I’m currently enjoying learning about Pandulf Verraccio, who was the legate who personally presented King John with his sentence of excommunication in 1211 – THAT must have been an interesting audience! He was also the man to whom King John surrendered his kingdom in 1213, and was also present at Runymede for the signing of the Magna Carta.
He appears to have had an on/off relationship with Pope Innocent, being recalled from office several times… In one of the down times, he was granted the Bishopric of Norwich, which brings him into contact with Dodnash Priory. How could a Roman bishop understand the subtleties of local practice? This quote from the 1188 Dodnash Priory charters is going to trip him up…
“Any dispute will be settled by the common council of the churches of the Aldergrove and Battle and the incumbent of East Bergholt, and if this should fail, by the arbitration of the Bishop of Norwich, without recourse to any superior judge.”
I feel a road trip to Battle coming up…
The best writing advice I’ve read for a long time!
by Richard Risemberg
The job of a fiction writer is to lie. Still, if it were only to lie, you could dedicate yourself to advertising or politics instead and accept troubled sleep as the price for prosperity. But a fiction writer must lie to show truth, and that’s not as easy as it sounds.
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