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!
My heating chose to show solidarity with my beloved Priory, and stop working! Brrr!
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 🙂
Today I’m grabbing an hour to write in between other committments. 15 minutes ago, I wanted to know where the market might be in Ipswich in around 1190, give or take 20 years. It’s for a very small scene near the start of the book, setting up the antagonist – the Prior of Holy Trinity priory – as a baddie. I came across this, from just before the Conquest;
And now I want to know what the Thingstead was – maybe the local version of Parliament Square? What was built on it, and how much survived the Conquest? The red crosses mark potteries – good old dark grey Ipswich ware, that I find such a lot of in the field. I hadn’t realised they were in the centre of town – what did they add to the smells and sounds? I can feel my whole hour of writing being sucked into the black hole that is research – but isn’t it fun? 😀
Both paperback and e-book versions are available on all Amazon sites (and are even linked together, after a bit of fighting with dragons), and the ebook is trickling out onto the wider distribution sites – currently available on Kobo and Indigo but not a couple of the others.
We are GO!
There is so much you could do to help make the launch successful:
I’m very proud to have a story in here 🙂 There’s some fabulous tales.
Mine is about a Bronze Age girl on the threshold of womanhood whose world is ripped apart by an invading force. What future is there for someone who is only half-marked as a warrior?
“Gripping and thought-provoking stories of people, places and times past by writers from the Historical Novel Society.
A new anthology of nineteen award-winning and acclaimed historical fiction short stories.
Distant Echoes brings you vivid voices from the past. This haunting anthology explores love and death, family and war. From the chilling consequences of civil and world war, to the poignant fallout from more personal battles, these stories will stay with you long after the last page.”
Pre-order now via the link below. Publication is on Monday 25th September.
For The Most Beautiful
by Emily Hauser
This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s review pages.
Think of the tale of Troy. What names can you remember? Active men; Achilles. Paris. Passive women – Helen, only remembered for being beautiful; Cassandra being laughed at for her unbelievable prophesies. In “For The Most Beautiful”, Emily Hauser has told the story of two unlikely heroes, women whose voices have been lost. Krisayis, daughter of the Trojans’ High Priest, and Briseis, princess of Pedasus, start off near the top of the hierarchy, but both are enslaved by the Greeks. Their struggles in the face of that disaster, and the need to preserve the essence of Troy, form the core of the book. Looking down from the clouds is the panoply of gods – with their own desires and agendas, and with two of the female gods NOT chosen as “most beautiful”…
If I hadn’t been reading a review copy, I might have abandoned it. The early vacuousness of its protagonists, and shallowness of the gods, really irritated me. But I persevered, and gradually grew to like, and then admire, the girls – very much. I got to the end of the book, and immediately read it again, this time appreciating the superb character arcs that Ms Hauser has drawn. The gods hadn’t changed, but then that is the nature of gods.
This is a fascinating picture of life in Bronze Age Troy, from the point of view of women at both the top and bottom of society. Ms Hauser’s knowledge of, and respect for, the period shines through. Read it twice. You won’t regret it.
STITCHES IN TIME – The Story of the Clothes We Wear
Lucy Adlington, Random House, 2015, £16.99, hb, 410pp, 9781847947260
This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s review pages
The author’s deep scholarship is very evident, as is her joy in clothing. A collection of anecdotes talking about an item of apparel per chapter, this book could have been entertaining froth; but it’s much, much more.
She focusses on the last 200 years, but ranges from prehistory onwards, describing the evolution of items in a very engaging manner. The book is illustrated with black and white sketches and photos, and has a colour centerfold.
From knicker elastic to hats, topics are covered in detail. My favourite timeline takes the pocket from a fold in a Roman toga to today’s handbag, covering chatelaines, a man’s “posturing pocket” (not what you might think), and the 18thC “indispensable” on the way; each journey has similar intriguing details.
I learned something new from every chapter, and was thoroughly entertained whilst doing so; there’s articles of interest here for everyone. The book has an extensive bibliography and source reference material, making it a good springboard for research. An excellent book for either the fashionista or the historical novelist in you…
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book starts off slow, and the plot continues at this pace – it’s a pretty straightforward recounting of the major events in Michelangelo’s life, with some occasionally wooden reactions to them.
What makes this book shine – in fact, what makes it unmissably stellar – is the lyrical, beautiful descriptions of both the process of sculpting, and Michelangelo’s sculptures and paintings themselves. You learn how difficult it is to mine marble, how to transport it, how to choose a piece without inclusions by watching the sunrise through it. Then Michelangelo picks up his hammers and chisels – made afresh for each sculpture – and Irving Stone takes you inside the mind of the master, so that you feel you understand the exact places to carve away the snowy grain of the marble to achieve the desired effect, and you taste the marble dust at the back of your own throat.
Stone’s bibliography leaves you in no doubt that he knew what he was talking about, and there is a surprising body of Michelangelo’s writings in existence. I think that reading this book is about as close as you’re likely to get to one of the greatest creative minds who ever lived, and this book will be coming with me when I go to Florence. It has made me yearn to see these great sculptures and frescos, which Stone describes with such authority and conviction.
I’ve been enjoying a writing course called Writing for Young Readers, on the Coursera platform. One of the exercises was to write a 500 word autobiographical vignette, about something that happened when you were young – this brought back so many memories!
Here it is; December Rain.
The girl emerged onto the top of the plane steps, that first holiday from school, and the heat hit her with a flatiron.
Wow! she thought – have I been turned into an English person already, all red and sweaty?
December weather was supposed to be cool and pleasant, just right for going on safari. The bush, newly green from the October rains, should be full of the whole animal kingdom showing off their new babies – her favourite time of year.
She walked over the tarmac to the large tin shed that was the airport building, admiring the way her uniform shoes sank a little into the melting blackness with each footstep, then released with a tiny pucker. She could see her Dad standing at the open doorway, as close as he could get to the tarmac without breaking the rules, waiting for her. His favourite purple and grey checked shirt was pulled out of his shorts, dark circles of sweat under his armpits. Thank god, he’s hot too! Behind him, half-hidden in the shade, was her Mum, waving.
She ran the last few steps, and they hugged so hard it was like they were one person thick, the girl in the middle. When they let go, she slipped her hands into theirs. Her horrid white English skin was hidden inside her Dad’s huge, freckly grasp, and her Mum’s hand fitted hers exactly. They waited until the luggage handlers brought out her case, then walked together round the shady side of the building to the car, still holding hands.
The touch of the car seat on her back made her sweat rivers. She kicked off her shoes, then wound down the window and leaned forward to let the wind cool her. Her Dad was sticking his elbow out of his window so the material of his sleeve bellied full, funnelling the cooler air over his chest.
“The rains haven’t come yet!” he said, plucking the shirt material away from his body. “Bloody ridiculous heat, for December! No safari until it breaks, I’m afraid.”
She must have made a noise, because her Mum reached back and squeezed her knee.
“Don’t worry, pet – I’m sure they’ll break soon!”
The girl stared out of the window, seeing how brown and dry everything was. They might not break all holiday! The thought of a family safari was what had kept her sane, when she was lying sleepless in the stuffy dorm in England night after night, too cold even with the windows jammed shut, listening to all the others snore. She squeezed her eyes shut, so as not to cry.
She went to bed straight after supper. She woke when it was still dark. There was a breeze, and she leapt up to enjoy that magical air just before dawn, when the world feels alive – but it was better than that! As she stuck her head out of the window, a gloriously spicy smell of wet dust filled the room, and a fat drop hit her face, then another, then another. The rains had come!