Book Quote Corner – Sheriff and Priest

I adore Norwich Cathedral. Does it show? 😀 But I’m sure Wimer did too.

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Living a mediaeval mindset today

One of the things I most love about Gozo – that is, apart from the unbelievable archaeology, the unspoilt scenery, and the glorious weather (well, mostly!) – is the fact that the whole island is steeped in the Roman Catholic faith.

Now I personally am not a believer, but I have a great deal of respect for those who practice their faith; and here in Gozo I can talk to people who have had an unbroken religious practice since St Paul landed on the islands in 60AD.

That kind of experience simply isn’t possible in the UK, with our turbulent Tudor history, and it’s an absolute Godsend for someone who writes mediaeval historical fiction. Xaghra our lady of sorrows procession 2016 mk 2

Let me give you an example; flights from Stansted to Luqa get in about 9:30pm. I generally get a taxi from the airport to the Gozo ferry, in the (usually vain) hope that I catch the just-after-10 sailing and don’t have to sit around at the ferry terminal for another hour. (Top tip; do NOT attempt to drink the liquid that the “coffee machine” produces. <shudders>) This is also a great opportunity to catch up on island happenings. I always ask if there’s anything going on that I should go and see; imagine my delight this time when the taxi driver casually mentioned the Our Lady of Sorrows processions on the Friday before Holy Week.

Every church in the island was suddenly crowded with beautiful – and huge – statues; Jesus on a cross, the Virgin Mary in various interpretations. This one here is Xaghra’s wonderful Our Lady of Sorrows, and this is the 2016 procession – alas, this year’s was rained off. (I sat and listened to the Mass said partially in Latin instead, which I also enjoyed!)

But the bit that sticks in my mind most was when I popped into Xaghra’s main church earlier in the week to admire the statues. One of the men fixing banners to the wall asked if I was interested in the church, and I clearly made the right noises; I was treated to its history back to its founding in the 17thC, along with the part his family had played – including hiding some of the church’s treasures from Napoleon’s invading army. It was so clearly a central part of his life. Xaghra our lady of sorrows procession 2016 mk 1Then the mindblowing bit – he started to describe the procession; 700 official participants from a village whose population is around 5,000. Every family has at least a couple of members involved. From the looks of this photo – again from the 2016 procession – it looks to me like the whole village turned out to follow the statue!

I think that’s why I find it very easy to write about my 12thC Priory in Gozo; because, just as it was to my protagonists, faith is just a given in Gozitan life. I wonder if I could persuade the tax-man that my trips are an essential business expense 🙂


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Snow cold

In case you missed it – the UK has had unusually snowy, cold weather this week.

My heating chose to show solidarity with my beloved Priory, and stop working! Brrr!

 Fire in snow
Image above by Jamesdlogan shared under creative commons license


Access to the Warming Room

One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever received is to incorporate your daily realities into your writing. The idea is, by contemplating a present object or experience, to sieze the depth of information available first-hand to put rich details into your depiction of the past. We were talking abut a Roman brooch I’d found, that ended up pinning Henry ll’s cloak together when he was knighted; this week I’ve had the opportunity to observe an entirely different issue when my gas central heating stopped working in the coldest weather the UK has had for some time. Luckily, I had backup electric radiators – until there was a power cut…
The year 1204/5 was one of those epic years when it was so cold that the Thames froze. Stored crops spoiled; fishponds were solid. To add insult to misery, King John called in all coinage in order to issue new money, so it wasn’t even possible to buy food at the market.
My monks were better off than most – but also had a burden that lay people didn’t share. The Rule of St Benedict stated that only three rooms in the Priory could have a fire; the infirmary, the kitchen, and the warming-room, and access to the last was to be as sparing as possible.
I have been writing scenes around this period with far more realism and insight than I bargained for – and am very much appreciating my visits to friends’ warm rooms, and hot suppers! I have a heating engineer booked. I can’t imagine how awful it must have been to have unrelenting bleakness!

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1215 and all that – whew!

I have been peacefully plugging away at my current Work In Progress; a follow-up to my book Sheriff and Priest, working title Son of the Priest. It’s about the trials and tribulations – both literal uses of the words – that Wimer’s son Jean encounters, trying to defend Wimer’s legacy from some rapacious land-grabbers.

I’m now about 2/3rds of the way through, and have begun to be very worried indeed. You see, although I know how the book ENDS – and of course, how it begins – I have had, up until today, no clear idea of why history took the course it did, in my little corner of Suffolk. Slightly problematic, for someone who prefers to lean on the historical rather than the fictional balance of historical fiction…

Enter Monmothshire County Library, the fine building whose picture you can see. In 1969 they purchased a volume of W.A. Morris’ “The Mediaeval English Sheriff to 1300”; on 23rd May 1973 it was transferred to the Students’ Library, where students are sternly injuncted:

“If there is notifiable disease in the house, i.e. Scarlet Fever, Diptheria, Thyphoid Fever, Measles, or Chicken Pox, do not return your books to the library until the Local Health Authority has inspected the house.”

Mysteriously, despite the fact that it had been taken out on loan three times in May and June, it was taken off the shelves on the 28th June 1973. Perhaps Scarlet Fever intervened… In any case, I found it in around 2005, in the second-hand book shop in Sutton Hoo, I think. And as I had scarlet fever, measles, and chicken pox in the 1960s, I thought it was safe to buy…

Now I’d used it extensively in researching Wimer’s career for Sheriff and Priest, of course; but for some reason it hadn’t occurred to me to mine it for the solution to Jean’s woes. Well, Reader – I’m not going to give away any spoilers; but should you have a copy of the book in your posession, I am finding pages 153-161 MOST useful 🙂


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Discovered Diamond!

I’ve just got THE most exciting news – Sheriff and Priest will have a Discovered Diamond review published on the 16th March! How fab is that!


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Paul Bennet reviews Sheriff & Priest

Many thanks to Paul Bennett for this fabulous review!

Historical Fiction reviews


It’s been nigh on 90 years since the Normans came to stay and to rule, and it was a tough time to grow up a Saxon.  Wimer, though is made of stern stuff and survives the second class treatment meted out by the Norman elite.  His intelligence and adaptability such that he can rub shoulders with and become friends with the future Henry II.

Once again, I found myself immersed in a period of time that I’m not that familiar with.  A time of Sheriffs and the fiduciary demands of the King and the Church.  Ahh, the Church, a subject that at once fascinates and infuriates me.  Wimer is caught up in the fervor of reaching heaven, not only for himself as a priest but for those he cares for in that capacity.  An unfortunate set of circumstances and a bitter feud between Henry and his Archbishop Thomas a’Becket has…

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Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions December 6th: Lanercost Priory

I have a huge soft spot for Lanercost Priory; my house is named after it! And I didn’t know it was Augustinian – Wimer’s order! Thanks to Historical Ragbag for a very interesting read.

Historical Ragbag

Lanercost1Lanercost2Lanercost3Lanercost Priory was founded in 1169. It was home to a group of Augustinian canons. Augustinians were not monks exactly. Each was a canon, an ordained priest, and they were ruled by a prior. The priory was founded partly as a political act; both to establish a point of Anglo-Norman control and to help demarcate the newly re-established English Scottish frontier. In fact a reasonable portion of the stone used to build the priory was probably reclaimed from the nearby Hadrian’s Wall.

The priory was founded by Robert de Vaux. As well as political considerations de Vaux also probably wanted a site to endow perpetual prayers both for himself and for the souls of his parents. The priory was endowed with both churches and lands and it was both dedicated and founded in 1169. The original buildings would have been largely wood, but due to the proximity of Hadrian’s Wall…

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Author Event – 12th December, East Bergholt

I had a number of people say that they were sorry to miss out on the launch event for Sheriff and Priest – so I thought I’d do it again!

This time the lovely people at Old Hall in East Bergholt will be hosting the event; put 12th December, 7:30 in your diary, and click through the link below to RSVP, so we know how many chairs to put out!



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REVIEW – The Midnight Queen

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s website.

The Midnight Queen


I’m not at all sure that this is conventional historical fiction – I think it’ll live on my Science Fantasy shelves! However, the world is a fascinating and complex one; magic exists, through spoken spells in arcane languages. The Kingdom of Britain includes the Duchies of Normandie, Maine, and Breizh, and excludes Eire and Alba (Scotland); Henry XII sits on the throne. There is firm, widespread belief in a slew of ancient gods – I recognised both Greek and Celtic ones – who have real powers. There is a plot against the life of the King, whose only daughter has been spirited away as a baby. The heroine is a feisty protagonist, and her character arc takes her from country bumpkin, ignorant of her magic, to a powerful mage, in the end accepting that she is indeed a Princess, with all that entails. Along the way, she meets and falls in love with her wicked stepfather’s student, who turns out to be almost her match as a mage. He returns her love, whilst developing from a callow youth with a stutter, to being a man who can defend his wife’s honour against an attack from her father the King. There’s plenty of action to keep you turning pages, and the magic is a necessary (and very interesting) part.

Overall, I enjoyed this book – it was a quick, easy read; and it’s certainly something I could see my teenage daughters devouring whole. It’s the first in a trilogy, so plenty more to look forward to.

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REVIEW – Empires of the Sun

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s website.

Empires in the Sun: The Struggle for the Mastery of Africa


Starting with the shelling of Algiers by a French battle fleet in 1830, Lawrence James paints a deep and nuanced picture of the relationship between Europe and Africa. The book is split into four parts: 1830-1881 covers the Arab legacy and the early colonial period; 1882-1918, the height of the European colonization; then 1919-1945, and the growing national movements; and finally, 1945-1990 and the end of the European colonies. The last piece of the puzzle, the birth of Mandela’s South Africa, took place in 1993.

I was born a colonial and grew up in Africa, and the continent has always drawn me. I found this book revelatory in its treatment of the early history: it fleshed out wonderfully what was taught in school in Kenya, and painted a vivid picture of events and people. I was equally impressed by the last section, the last 30 years or so of which I lived through; it was fascinating to see a multifaceted view of events. If you’re interested in the history of Africa, you’ll love this book.

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