The Story So Far ...

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Interview - Lauren Gilbert

For this month's interview, I am delighted to welcome to the blog Regency author and prolific contributor to EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors) Lauren Gilbert. Lauren has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, with a minor in Art History. An avid reader, she is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She has presented several programs to JASNA chapters.

Welcome Lauren and thank you for joining me on the blog today. Can I begin by asking, why Regency? Can you put your finger on precisely what attracts you to this period?

I come from a family of readers.  My mother, grandmother and great-aunts all read voraciously, and were passionately addicted to English authors and  historical novels set in England , many in the Regency era.  My reading was never restricted and I read a lot of those books in addition to the regular fare.  I enjoyed the Regency era as portrayed in the novels.  Then I got into the history and was really hooked. The political upheaval and societal changes remind me greatly of our own time.  Somehow it seemed a natural for me.

You set your novel, Heyerwood, in England, rather than the US, where you live. Was there a particular reason for this? 

It was the novel I wanted to write, and England was only logical place for it.

"HEYERWOOD: A Novel is a romantic historical novel, set in the Georgian/Regency period in England. The story of a woman learning to cope with power and control at a time when women traditionally had little power at all, this book will appeal to readers of history, fans of historical novels, and admirers of Jane Austen alike."

How easy was it to research the novel, given that you live so far away from the setting? 

The research is the fun part.  The public library (especially inter-library loan) and the internet are wonderful things.  I have also amassed a certain number of source materials of my own.  I had already done a lot of reading just for personal pleasure.  I have also done a certain amount of research on the era for presentations for the Jane Austen Society of North America region to which I belong.  Wonderful blogs provided a great deal of information.  I was also able to locate e-mail addresses for libraries in areas for which I needed data.  It also helps that I have visited England a few times, and had the opportunity to see certain locales with my own eyes, pick up local brochures etc.  I would like the opportunity to make a serious research trip one day, for a non-fiction work for which I have some notes, but consider myself very fortunate to have access to such a wealth of information via the internet.

Where did the inspiration for the story come from?  

It’s hard to say.  I wanted to write a book that I would enjoy reading. The arranged marriage trope is always interesting. The character of Lady Russell in Jane Austen’s Persuasion also rather intrigued me - a secure widow who did not actively seek another husband and lived her life to suit herself.  I wondered what a young woman who had been compelled to make a marriage that did not turn out to be happy or even contented might have done if it ended and how she would have handled that freedom in that time.

"Due to the recent death of her husband [Catherine] could not go out into the garden without draping herself in black veils...'My house,' she thought fiercely, 'Mine!' Curled in a chair by the window, she brooded about the chain of events leading to her present circumstances, events in which she herself had had little or no input."

Would you ever write a book set in another period, and if so which one and why?  

I have notes for a mystery set in late 19th century Tampa.  I lived in Tampa for many years, and loved it there.  Many influences combine to give it a fascinating history.

Franklin St, Tampa, c. 1920-20 (image public domain via Wikipedia)

So, what is in the pipeline - are you working on anything at the moment?  

I am currently working on another Regency-era novel which I hope to have ready for release in 2017.

Thanks so much for joining me Lauren.

You can read some of Lauren's EHFA articles in Castles, Customs and Kings, Volume One and Volume Two
You can find her on her website
and you can buy Heyerwood HERE

Monday, 12 June 2017

Writing to Music - Edward Ruadh Butler

In the latest of the series about authors' connections with music, I'm delighted to hand the blog over to Edward Ruadh Butler to introduce us to Mogwai:~

"What elements go into the choice of music to which to listen while writing? I’ve heard how some authors select the sounds of rain and the waves to get them into the mood. Others crank up heavy metal to help them find a space where their writing will flow onto the page. Many more lose themselves in classical music. Why?

It is of course subjective but perhaps the answer comes in the first ten seconds of Mogwai’s debut album, Young Team:
“Because music is bigger than words and wider than pictures”
Even the Scottish lady who recites the words as the band begins to play their first song, Yes! I am a long way from home, doesn’t seem to believe it. But the band members do and over the course of eight Mogwai albums (more if you count their scores for film and TV), I have come to as well.

Mogwai - Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home (youtube)

It is the Post-Punk Scottish noise merchants who will be the subject of this piece as I try to describe why I listen almost exclusively to them as I write.

Mogwai live on stage 2007 via Wiki Commons licence

I was first introduced to Mogwai by a pal from school in the mid-2000s. Wylie convinced me to head up to the Queen’s University students’ union in Belfast to hear the band live in the famed Mandela Hall. I was a little bit reticent, listening at that time to bands like yourcodenameis:milo, Clutch, The Mars Volta, Fugazi, and Tool, very much different to the style and substance of Mogwai. Wylie described them as being like dance music, but slower – much, much slower – and without lyrics. It did not seem like my thing at all.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I can’t remember if they started or ended with Christmas Steps that night but I remember that you could’ve heard a pin drop in Mandela Hall at the beginning. By the crescendo of the song you could not have heard Slipknot if they had started up two feet away. I didn’t even go to the bar (which is very unlike me), but merely stood there with my brain shaking in my skull as a band in full denim and plaid shirts pumped out some of the loudest, most beautiful songs I’d ever heard. Immersed, entranced or beaten up by sound? Who knows, but I came out of there having had a very different experience from every other gig to which I’d been.

Mogwai started out in Glasgow in 1995 with the aim of creating “serious guitar music” and having some early success on the Indie circuit. Their first LP, Young Team, beautiful and brash in equal amount, soon appeared, but their real break-out album, Come On Die Young, was produced in 1999. In their own ‘words’:

Mogwai - Punk Rock: (youtube)

Rock Action in 2001 was a bit of a departure, but a welcome one, introducing an electronic vibe and more vocals to their almost wordless canon. A single, My Father, My King, wasn’t on this album but was released at the same time. Clocking in at a whopping 20 minutes, it remains the song I listen most often when writing battle scenes. I haven’t been to war but I would imagine that it is an all-out assault on the senses which develops and abates as does the song itself. In its quiet moments the song evokes the requisite feeling of apprehension as I find myself anticipating the storm of sound which I know is coming again. By its end I can almost see the broken earth, discarded arrows and ripped banners left by a medieval battle. I’m ready to write about war:

Mogwai - My Father, My King (youtube)

At the end of my next book, Lord of the Sea Castle, which will be published by Accent Press this month, there is a long fight sequence which pits a Norman force of 120 against a 3,000-strong Viking-Irish army from Waterford. This climactic battle, lifted almost in its entirety from actual history, took place over around six hours in 1170 and was, without giving the game away, one almighty encounter! It was also written with My Father, My King playing in my ears, its surging and plummeting soundtrack keeping the action moving (I hope!) from scene to scene.

2003 saw the release of Happy Songs for Happy People. It is distinctive due to its heavily synthesised and almost comprehensible vocals which act to draw you in, to make you listen more closely as if the Mogwai secret is just within your grasp, that if you strain your ears just a little bit harder you’ll derive the deeper meaning. I think Kids Will Be Skeletons is my favourite song off the album but perhaps Killing All the Flies is the best pointer to this album’s content:

Mogwai - Killing All The Flies (youtube)

“I think most people are not used to having no lyrics to focus on,” guitarist Stuart Braithwaite told one music journalist. “Lyrics are a real comfort to some people. I guess they like to sing along and when they can’t do that with us they can get a bit upset.”

And that statement about sums it up. Mogwai provide the backdrop and the listener can imprint what images they like upon it. Sometimes words cannot do justice to the feelings produced by music. But that is my game and I find myself attempting to do just that, to put lyrics to Mogwai’s sounds. Given that I write about the era of medieval romance when chivalric knights listened to and were motivated by stories put to song by troubadours and bards, I think that this is quite apt.

Detail from The Hawk is Howling album cover ('fair use' image)

Mr Beast (2006), The Hawk is Howling (2008), and Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (2010) are albums that continued to show Mogwai excel while their most recent, Rave Tapes (2013), added an almost Celtic electronic feel to their repertoire.

However, as well as gigging and writing albums, the band have produced a number of soundtracks are the film and television industry. As you can imagine their music, cinematic in scale, fits perfectly with each director’s vision, but I love this scene from the 2006 film, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.

Zidane - A 21th Century Portrait - best scene (youtube)

With immersive and evocative sounds that Mogwai produce I can go under for four or five hours at a time without surfacing from writing. While almost overwhelming and often muted, it creates an atmosphere of edge, an anxious accompaniment to the words I’m trying to get down on paper. There are no boundaries. It is instrumentation that conjures images in my mind without intrusion and that is what makes it the perfect music for me to write novels."

Mogwai - Folk Death 95 (youtube)


Edward Ruadh Butler is a writer of historical fiction from Tyrone in Northern Ireland. His debut, Swordland, based around the little known events of the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169, was published by Accent Press in February 2015 and in paperback on April 2016. The second in the series, Lord of the Sea Castle, is available now at Amazon (US) and Amazon (UK).
Find out more at

He also contributed to a recent blog post where three authors argued - politely - about the 12th Century

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Regularis Concordia - the Rule Book for Anglo-Saxon Monks

In the tenth-century, three men worked hard to restore the monasteries to their former glory. All these men were subsequently venerated as saints: Dunstan, Oswald, and Æthelwold.

In particular, Æthelwold of Abingdon, later bishop of Winchester, was determined that the monks and nuns of England should follow the Rule of St Benedict.

Æthelwold was the author of the Monastic Agreement of the Monks and Nuns of the English Nation, or Regularis Concordia, a document with which I'm familiar because of the wording of its preface, and the fact that, in it, Æthelwold acknowledges the status of Queen Ælfthryth, wife of King Edgar, and a leading character in my book, Alvar the Kingmaker.

A page from Regularis Concordia

However, having finished my latest piece of research, for an upcoming publication for Pen & Sword Books, I thought I would study the content of this rule book in a little more detail, to find out what those tenth-century monks and nuns could expect of their daily routines.

Some of the rules are very specific: 

"[during Lent] Whenever the subdeacon wears a chasuble he shall take it off when reading the epistle, and put it on again as soon as he has finished. The deacon, too, before coming forward to read the gospel, shall take off his chasuble, fold it and then adjust it crosswise about his left shoulder, making the lower end thereof fast to the girdle of his alb."

"On those same days of Lent when the Mass is ended, the bell shall be rung for Vespers and there shall be a space for prayer. Then, in the interval while the bells are ringing, those ministers who wish to shall partake of the mixtum; those who do not wish to shall have permission to forego it."

Such detail is the stuff one imagines being drawn up by committee, and there are sections of the Rule where one can hear the provisos echoing down the centuries:

"The brethren, vested in albs, if this can be done and the weather permits, shall go to the church."
If wet, in the village hall?

Much of the Rule is taken up with such ritual - the order of service for every part of the day, and the canonical year, is laid out. "None shall be recited when the second bell has rung. After None, they shall say for the King, Queen and benefactors the psalms Qui regis Israel and De profundis...rising up from the meal, they shall give themselves to reading or to the psalms...Vespers shall be celebrated punctually..."

However, there are also rules which cater for the basic human needs: "Thus in winter, when storms are harsh and bitter, a suitable room shall be set aside for the brethren wherein, by the fireside, they may take refuge from the cold and bad weather."

St Benedict by Fra Angelico

There is a chapter dedicated to the care of the sick within the monastic community: "Let there be therefore in that house brethren...who shall furnish the sick brother with everything he wants; if indeed it is necessary, let the help of servants be employed under a careful brother." Later, it states that "If the sickness improves, the visiting shall be discontinued, but if not, it shall be kept up until the death of that brother." There are further instructions for the washing and laying out of the deceased's body. 

This rule book is so much more than a prescription for the litany. Every aspect of daily conduct is considered. Were they a silent order? It seems not:

"The auditorium is excepted from the rule of silence; indeed, it is called by that name chiefly because it is there that whatever is commanded by the master be heard; neither is it right that tales of gossip should go on there or anywhere else." 

Now, as a teacher and a parent, I know that rules aren't laid down for no good reason. It makes me smile to think that these monks must occasionally have been prone to tittle-tattle.

Safe-guarding is also evidently nothing new: "Not even on the excuse of some spiritual matter shall any monk presume to take with him a young boy alone for any private purpose but, as the Rule commands, let the children always remain under the care of their master. Nor shall the master himself be allowed to be in company with a boy without a third person as witness."

Much is said about confession, and those who are "conscious of the guilt of sin or of weakness of the flesh shall not hesitate, in their fervent practice of the exercises of the monastic state, to receive the Eucharist daily...let those who are invited to the Lord's Supper beware lest, stained with the filth of sin, they dare to draw nigh to it unconfessed  and unrepentant."

But it was not all prayer, confession and hard work:
"On Saturdays, the brethren shall wash their feet, for which purpose each shall have a suitable basin. Having washed their feet, those who need to shall wash their shoes also."

Then "the prior shall strike the little bell and all shall assemble with thanksgiving to draw their measure of drink."

Alas, this was only a precursor to more prayer and only then could they file into the refectory.

Reading this document, one gets a sense not only of the seriousness with which the Rule was supposed to be observed, but of the daily rituals and concerns of those who led the cloistered life. Hitherto, I had only known of the historic and political importance of this document, its place in the timeline of the great monastic reform of the tenth-century, its bold statement affirming the status of the King's wife, and its enjoining of her to become the "fearless guardian of the communities of nuns" and its role in placing Æthelwold of Abingdon in the history books as one of the leading lights of the reform movement.

Now I feel I know a little of those anonymous black-robed monks, who lived behind the monastery walls, who were free to "give themselves voluntarily to private prayer" but who must not "dare to enter and frequent the places set apart for nuns." 

When they were on a journey, they were not to "waste time in idle talk," but when receiving visitors they had to be "most zealous in providing every kind service in the guesthouse." Indeed, it was laid down that "wayfarers, shall on their departure be provided with a supply of victuals according to the means of the house."

I can see them now, bustling about their daily business. This little rule book meant much to the reformers, and to the monks. It's also been invaluable to me.

Older Anglo-Saxon blog posts:
Anglo-Saxon Names
Wulfric Spott: A Mercian Man of Means

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Review/Interview: While I was Waiting - Georgia Hill

After last month's foray into 'dual timeline', another book along similar lines. This month's featured novel is While I was Waiting.

Georgia Hill Georgia Hill writes rom-coms and historical fiction and is published by Harper Impulse, the digital-first imprint of Harper Collins. 

Her first novel, Pursued by Love has now been re-released as Pride and Perdita.

Georgia Hill

She lives in beautiful Devon with her two beloved spaniels, a husband (also beloved) and a ghost called Zoe. She loves the novels of Jane Austen, eats far too much Belgian chocolate and has a passion for Strictly Come Dancing.

Find her on Twitter @georgiawrites and at 

While I Was Waiting by [Hill, Georgia]

I've often read books set in and around WWI, but it's fair to say that this book is a contemporary romance first and foremost. The modern day settings are beautifully drawn:
The blossom fuzzed around the branches like so much pinky-white candy-floss. In contrast, in the next field, there was a decrepit building housing a tractor. The unploughed field was furrowed deep in red clay mud and, above, the sky had deepened to an azure blue, warm with promise.

Rachel's new life in Herefordshire seems a little too ideal, perhaps, but it is perfect for the reader to indulge in some escapism. It contrasts, however, with the events collated in journals and letters left behind by the previous owner of the house. Reading about this, the story of a young woman living in a house once occupied by a lady who was old when she died there, I was reminded of Mary Stewart's Thorneyhold, and hoped that the plot would differ. It does.

The voices coming from the diaries and letters are period-authentic, but what we find out about war is new. Horrific, yes, as one would expect, but told from a very different perspective. As a lover of history, I enjoy being provoked into looking at things differently, and Hetty's experiences as an Edwardian woman and WWI wife allowed me to do that. As they do for Rachel, the protagonist, who mourns for the young soldiers whose lives she is reading about, and who are 'snuffed out' just as she is getting to know them. 

Overall, I felt more captivated by the modern day scenes, but this is as it should be. We never lose sight that this is a book about how the past affects the present. It is not an historical novel. It is a romance, yes, but what I found really refreshing was the glimpses we were given of what happens after the 'happy ever after' - when the irritations of domestic life rub the gleam off the shimmer of lustful new love. These scenes were particularly truthfully written.

All the characters are well-written. There are no stock characters or stereo-types, with perhaps one exception. The two main characters, Rachel and Gabe, are deftly drawn, and while we see their beauty, we also see their flaws. 

The two worlds, past and present, are pulled together in a credible way, and I found the ending satisfying. A great book to curl up with on a Sunday afternoon.

[One tiny warning - at times, the language is what my mother would call 'fruity'.]

After I had read the book, I asked Georgia a few questions:

The present day scenes in Herefordshire are beautifully described. Do you know the area well?

GH: Hi Annie, thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog. I’m delighted to be here. In answer to your first question, I lived, until very recently, in Herefordshire for nearly twenty years. Although not born and bred (I have very itchy feet and have lived all over the UK) I fell completely in love with my adopted county. It’s a border land and one which has a long and very rich history. It’s also stuffed full of myth and folklore. All good fodder for a writer. It’s stunningly beautiful and seems to have a wealth of eccentric characters. It’s fairly undiscovered although I have no idea why. It has great walking country, acres of loneliness, excellent food and exceptionally friendly people. I’ve moved to the coast now and miss it terribly (although I have to confess to love being by the sea). Thank you for liking the descriptive passages in While I Was Waiting. I really would recommend visiting the area (and no, I’m not taking a backhander from the Herefordshire Tourist Board!)

Are the episodes from Hetty’s life based on real events? Did you base the characters in her world on real people?

GH: Although I did a lot of research and used snippets and ideas from the many diaries and letters from the World War 1 period, Hetty and her world is completely imaginary. I’ve always been fascinated by the period 1900 to 1920 as people lived through such an era of cataclysmic change. Not just the war but with the coming of motorcars and airplanes, women’s suffrage (and voting rights for a wider group of men too). In the 21st century we sometimes wonder at the pace of change in our lives; it must have been quite extraordinary to live through the first twenty years of the 20th. My great-grandmother lived to her late 90s. She could remember Queen Victoria’s funeral, had brothers who fought in the war, drove one of the first cars in the town and was still running a business in the 1980s. If I had anyone in mind when I wrote the indomitable Hetty, it was her! 

And where did the idea originally come from?

GH: My family, in common with many, suffered a loss during World War 1. My great-grandfather died in battle in 1916. He was always talked about – by his surviving children and, in turn, my father. Dad was fascinated by the war. I used to look through one of his books – a collection of uncensored photographs. It was a book to which a young child probably shouldn’t have had access. It spared the onlooker nothing about what mechanised warfare on a grand scale does to the frail human body. My father’s interest in the war was passed on to me and was intensified by soaking up Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, Flambards and Wilfred Owen as an intense adolescent! Then I happened upon the story of three brothers from a local country house (Berrington Hall, now owned by the National Trust) who died during the conflict. All these things, along with my own experiences of moving to the country, were eventually sieved through the imagination to create the book.

For those readers unfamiliar with your books, would you say that While I Was Waiting is typical?

GH: That’s a very good question and one which I’ve been asking myself! I’m a bit of a two-faced writer – in the nicest possible sense – or maybe that should be two-faceted? While I Was Waiting was a long time coming to fruition. In lots of ways it’s the book of my heart and I love it. In between writing it, I wrote rom-com novellas so it’s not typical of my writing. However, my rom-coms often have quite dark themes at their core and there’s a lot of humour in While I Was Waiting, so maybe my two genres have more in common than I think. I have more dual narrative time-slips planned, it’s simply finding the right home for them. The next one is set on the Jurassic Coast – where I’ve just moved to. We’re so lucky living in the UK. Wherever you go, you just have to scratch the surface of time to find amazing history, folk stories and ideas. I’ve just moved to an area famous for its Mary Anning and Jane Austen connections. I find our history a rich source of inspiration.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Right to Reply - The Seventeenth Century

In the last of the current series of Right to Reply, I gathered three authors who write about the 17th Century and asked them some questions. Would they agree? Or at least agree to disagree? It's a full and lively debate...
Welcome Cryssa Bazos, Deborah Swift, and Jemahl Evans.

Firstly may I ask,
Who do you think is the greatest 17th century character, and why?

Cryssa: I’m entirely besotted with Charles II. Most know him as the Merry Monarch for the wild, decadent court he kept and his many, many mistresses. But we run the risk of underestimating the man if we allow ourselves to be distracted by the sexuality and not give him some due beyond the bedchamber.

Charles grew up during a very turbulent time, when his father, King Charles I, was at war with Parliament. Years later, when he was trying to reclaim his father’s crown, even through to the Restoration, he had to cut some controversial pacts to survive. He was blessed with a very different temperament than his father: more decisive, willing to compromise, and he valued loyalty above all else. 

Charles II in exile

It was this Charles’s sense of loyalty that draws me to him (that and his dry humour). After his devastating loss at the Battle of Worcester, when there was a £1000 bounty on his head, common people risked their lives to hide him and rewarded them for it during the Restoration. 

Oddly, for one that prized loyalty, he had no quibbles about openly cheating on his Queen, Catherine of Braganza. Yet when you look closely at that relationship, one can argue that he did show her a loyalty that many kings would not have extended to a barren queen. Instead of putting her aside for not producing a legitimate heir, he stayed married to her. Granted, having your husband’s mistresses (especially the obnoxious ones) being paraded in court is no joy, but the prospects of dispossessed barren queen would have been grim.

There is much speculation as to why Charles converted to Catholicism. He did make a secret pact with France, promising to convert in exchange for their badly needed financial support. In a true skirting-of-the-line fashion, Charles did…on his deathbed. Why? Was it only to fulfil a political promise? Some speculate on a number of other reasons, namely to pave the way for his brother and heir who was openly Catholic. Many suggest that he truly believed in Catholicism but didn’t dare convert before. I don’t believe he cared for one religion or another, but he did love his brother, and I believe it was his loyalty to him that served as the prime motivation for his conversion. 

Deborah: Although Charles II was undoubtedly influential – he probably couldn’t avoid it, being the King. My choice would be a commoner; a woman born at six in the evening on Saturday 2nd February 1650. We don’t know exactly where, but as her mother was an alcoholic and ran a bawdy house, it was probably a bit of a hovel. I’m talking about Nell Gwyn. 

If you ask anybody the name of a woman from the 17th century, she is nearly always the first on people’s lips because she transcended class and gender barriers to become a familiar figure at court. She slept her way to the top, I hear you say. Ah, but then she stayed there. As an ordinary commoner she must have been extremely intelligent to survive life in Charles’s court, where other pretty women of more noble birth were also vying for his attention. 

Nell - portrait attr to Mary Beale

One of the things that appeals to me about Nell Gwynn is that she was a comedienne, famous for her quick wit. And she would have needed it; for her affair with the King lasted 17 years – all through the Plague, the Great Fire, endless possible political revolts, and a war with the Dutch. She had the ear of the King for a good amount of time, and bore him a son, so her influence was to bring him the voice of the people. She was, in today’s media parlance, the people’s princess, far more popular than the Queen or any of his other high-born mistresses.

Her fame must have shown many other women that it was possible to rise above your rank; that wit and a sense of humour were as important as your appearance, and that having a profession was something a woman could do. She was one of the first female actresses and made her first recorded appearance in 1665, in Dryden’s play The Indian Emperor, and all who saw her noted her vibrant personality. Pepys called her a ‘mighty pretty soul’. But I think the Encyclopaedia Britannica nailed it; the entry called her ‘the living antithesis of puritanism’ - in other words she embodies the spirit of the Restoration in a way no other figure can.

Jemahl: Sweet Nelly would be nothing without Aphra or Dryden’s words, whatever her undoubted charms, and I have never been overly impressed with the merry monarch. I think Rochester sums up the pair of them.
"For though in her he settles well his tarse,Yet his dull, graceless bollocks hang an arse.This you'd believe, had I but time to tell ye,The pains it costs to poor, laborious Nelly."
The individual who dominates the age more than any other, who casts a long shadow over the next two hundred years, and who gave Charles II nightmares all his life, is Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell embodies both the rising prosperity of the middle classes and the religious division of the age, and, perversely for a dictator, he gave us parliamentary supremacy with one swift blow of an axe. He is a colossus of history, perhaps one of the most important figures of any age let alone the seventeenth century. For historians who subscribe to the great man theory he single-handed changed the course of British and world history. Historians of the left, who ascribe change to greater processes than individual action, recognise him as a fulcrum for class war, revolution, and the end of feudalism. 

His victory in the civil wars – whatever Fairfax’s role – and his rule as Protector fixed a fault-line of Roundhead and Cavalier, radical and reactionary, that is still central to British politics today.  It was the memory of Cromwell that forced the Royalist Stuart High Tories to accept the Glorious Revolution rather than a return to the republic or another civil war. 

Cromwell’s fight for the Good Old Cause of no taxation without representation was exported to the colonies and drove the founding of the United States. A century after the Glorious Revolution, as the Marquis de Lafayette strode through the halls of Versailles to ‘escort’ the French King and Queen back to Paris, one lady in waiting was heard to mutter: ‘There goes Cromwell!’ The hero of the American revolutionary war turned and replied: ‘Madam, if I were Cromwell I would have brought more men.’ Louis XVI just like Charles I lost his head. Cromwell was the king-killer that inspired America, France, and Russia to revolution and changed the world. So for me, Oliver Cromwell, war winning general, regicide, sanctimonious bully, iconoclast and religious fanatic is the most important individual of the seventeenth century – warts an’ all.

Which was the most significant event of the century, and why?

Cryssa: On August 22, 1642, King Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham, essentially declaring war against Parliament. This would mark the beginning of the English Civil War that lasted loosely from 1642 until 1651.  This wasn’t the first time that civil war broke out in England: the struggle between Empress Matilda and King Stephen, known as the Anarchy, and the War of the Roses are famous examples. 

But what made the 17th century civil war different was that this wasn’t a dynastic struggle between royal houses for the crown; this was a struggle for Parliamentary and religious reform. Putting this in context, this was a revolutionary concept. The King was traditionally God’s divine representative, head of the church and absolute ruler of the state. What this civil war represented was a seismic shift in thinking toward the rights and freedoms of all men. As is common with all revolutions, the pendulum swung too far and I believe that once the king was executed and Parliament was in charge of the country, they lost sight of what they were fighting for and set up Cromwell as a de facto king. But the seeds for Parliamentary reform were well sown. Even though the monarchy was restored in 1660, its archaic state would not prevail. By the end of the 17th century, England had morphed into the constitutional monarchy in place today. 

Deborah: I totally agree about the English Civil Wars, but I also think that one of the things that makes the 17th century so interesting is the sheer amount of rebellion against the established Church. English dissenters opposed government control of their worship and founded new churches which had no priest or intermediary between the congregation and God. Wikipedia has this list of sects: Anabaptists, Barrowists, Brownists, Diggers, Enthusiasts, Familists, Fifth Monarchists, Grindletonians, Levellers, Muggletonians, Puritans, Philadelphians, Quakers, Ranters, Sabbatarians, Seekers, and Socinians. And they were the ones that were best documented - this engraving shows several others.

This points to a level of confusion in belief which shows a great questioning at the heart of society, at least equal to that of how we should be governed. And that is, what is our relationship with God, and therefore, how should we behave? The ramifications of that discussion sent pilgrims to America, without whom America would be a radically different place today.

Jemahl: At some point in 1666 in a Lincolnshire garden, an apple fell from a tree. The innocuous event was observed by a young scientist who had been struggling with lunar orbits, and the forces that bound the cosmos together. Something clicked in Isaac Newton’s head, and the theory of a universal gravitational field was conceived.

Isaac Newton

OK, the date is unclear and the story may be apocryphal (Newton himself did talk about it though, so... haters gonna hate). He certainly didn’t come up with his theory there and then in the garden. It took another twenty years of theorising and calculating before Newton published Principia in 1687. It instantly became recognised as a ‘masterpiece’ of science, unsurpassed until Einstein and General Relativity or Darwin and Evolution. It was the basis of the scientific revolution that propelled human society towards industrialisation and modernity. A breath of wind, an apple falls, and the world is changed forever; chaos theory in action.

You're in a civil war battle - which is your weapon of choice, and why?

Cryssa: Stylishly, I have a thing for doglock pistols, but for practicality and self-preservation on the battlefield, give me a matchlock musket. The accuracy wasn’t terribly good, and you couldn’t just fire off multiple rounds like the Terminator, but when you didn’t have enough time to reload, the butt end doubled as an effective, if not brutal, weapon in its own right—a two for one deal. 

Deborah: My weapon of choice would be a swept hilt rapier – nice and light for a woman my size. Also, this is personal – one of my books is about a woman learning to fight at a sword school in Spain, and I did a lot of research! What impressed me the most was the sheer craftsmanship of producing a sword. It meant life or death, so they were made with immense care. 

The taking of iron ore and blending it by hand to make steel alloy and then folding and beating the metal to make a blade. The quenching of the red-hot blade – the sound of the hammer, the hiss of steam were familiar in the 17th century. The hilt was often made by a different man from the bladesmith. In a duel or a fight, the twisting quillons(or bars) of the hilt were able to snag an opponent’s blade which might open his guard, so you could make a counter-thrust with a dagger. Often a dagger and sword were used together, or a cloak and dagger.

17th Century Rapier

Of course I would have to play dirty and approach Cryssa from behind because I wouldn’t stand much chance against her gun. Though I hear tell there have been quite a few 17th century accidents with gunpowder…

Jemahl: I would probably have gone to Italy for the duration of the Civil War, but if misfortune found me on a seventeenth century battlefield, I think I would be with Deborah – although I would also want a horse to get away as quickly as I could. A battle is a horrible place to be, and fundamentally I’m a coward.


Cryssa Bazos is a writer and 17th century enthusiast. Her historical fiction novel, Traitor’s Knot, a romantic tale of adventure set during the English Civil War, will be published by Endeavour Press, UK. Traitor’s Knot is the first in a series of adventures spanning from the ECW to the Restoration (Road to the Restoration).
Find her on her website

Deborah Swift is an historical novelist. Before publishing her first novel Deborah worked as a set and costume designer for film and TV. She also developed a degree course in Theatre Arts at the Arden School of Theatre, where she taught scenography and the history of design.  In 2007 she took an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University, and since then has juggled writing with teaching. Find her on her website

Jemahl Evans was brought up in a West Wales mining village during the 70s and 80s and educated in Christ College Brecon, St Mary’s University College (Strawberry Hill), and U.W.E. Bristol. He graduated with an MA in History. His interest in the English Civil War was sparked as a child, after reading Simon by Rosemary Sutcliffe, which is probably why his sympathies lie with Parliament! Find him on his website

Monday, 15 May 2017

Writing to music - Wayne Turmel

This year, I've invited a number of fellow authors to talk about music, writing, and writing to music. This month, I hand the page over to Wayne Turmel, author of Acre's Bastard and The Count of the Sahara, as well as several non-fiction titles. Acre's Bastard has recently been awarded a Chill with a Book Readers' Award.
Over To Wayne:~

"The Rolling Stones are Responsible for My History Obsession.

It’s all Keith Richards’ fault. Seriously. If you hate my books, blame him.

What do a bunch of aging rock and rollers have to do with 1920s archaeology or a little kid caught in the madness of a religious war? The Rolling Stones started all this. I mean, it’s not like blaming them for Altamont, but they bear their share of the responsibility.

Maybe I’d better explain.

When I was a kid growing up in Canada, I really liked the Rolling Stones. I thought they were bad-ass and edgy and I just plain liked their sound more than a lot of the other bands out there. So, of course, I read and listened to everything they said and did. Yeah, my folks were every bit as thrilled with that as you imagine.
Sympathy for the Devil - The Rolling Stones (Youtube)
One thing that intrigued me was their constant talk of Muddy Waters, and Little Walter, and Robert Johnson and a bunch of other names that weren’t exactly spoken of in the lily-white, rural parts of British Columbia. That, of course, sent me on a quest to learn more about them. Before long, I was the only kid in my school who knew what a Howlin’ Wolf was, or why Willy Dixon mattered, and why Chicago was more than just the home of the Blackhawks and Cubs.

Howlin' Wolf 1972.JPG
Howlin' Wolf performing in 1972

So what does that have to do with my writing? Early on I developed the habit of finding something I liked, and working backwards (sometimes obsessively) to see where it came from. Just as “Jumping Jack Flash,” introduced me to BB King, Robert Ludlum and John Le Carre were the gateway drug to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Further digging led me deeper to Sholokhov and Pasternak and so on.
Jumpin Jack Flash - The Rolling Stones (Youtube)
As a nerdy kid, I loved Ivanhoe and Robin Hood, and the Crusades played a role in the background of all those stories. So I researched it and became a bit of a Templar geek. To this day, I believe swords are cooler than guns. Then when I stood in Jerusalem looking at the ruins of the Hospital of St John the question “what the @##@% were they thinking?” came up and… I had to find out what the @#$@% they were thinking. That, ultimately, led to my new book, Acre’s Bastard.

So I hope that when you read The Count of the Sahara, you find yourself tracking down Byron de Prorok. When you read Acre’s Bastard, you look at exactly why the Franks thought it was a good idea to head out in July without sufficient water to fight people used to the desert. You’ll also see the frightening parallels between what poor Lucca goes through and what’s happening in Aleppo and the rest of Syria.

Basically, you can blame Keith, Mick and the lads for my habit of hearing something and feeling obliged to follow it down the rabbit hole. I know that other people who love history and historical fiction do the same.

I’m pretty sure they’re also the reason I’m a Hoochie Coochie Man, but that’s another story altogether."
Hoochie Coochie Man - Muddy Waters (Youtube)


Wayne Turmel is a writer, speaker and entrepreneur based in the Chicago area. He’s the author of 6 non-fiction books, including “Meet Like You Mean It- a Leader's Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings” and two historical fiction novels, “The Count of the Sahara” and “Acre’s Bastard.” 

His motto is: Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. The rest of us are doomed too, but get to smile smugly and say 'told you so'.

You can learn more about him at

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

On Anglo-Saxon Marriage

Tradition has it that it wasn't much fun being a married woman in medieval times. I remember reading in novels that men were entitled to beat their wives, that women had no say in whom they married, that all their property belonged to their husbands etc etc...

Was this true for the Anglo-Saxon period?

A document, Concerning the betrothal of  a woman, suggests that it was not.
"If a man wishes to betroth a maiden or a widow, and it so pleases her and her kinsmen..."
It seems that the woman herself had to accept the suitor before the betrothal can proceed. Furthermore:
"The bridegroom is to announce what he grants her in return for her acceptance of his suit, and what he grants her if she should live longer than he... then it is right that she should be entitled to half the goods - and to all, if they have a child together - unless she marries again... he is to strengthen what he promises with a pledge, and his friends are to stand surety for it."
Clearly, whatever she is granted is guaranteed, and is hers to keep if they have a child together. It seems like quite a civilised arrangement, affording her a little bit of financial security.

The document bears no date, but it has been suggested that it probably dates from somewhere between 975 and 1030.

What other sources can shed light on the property rights of married women?

A marriage agreement between Wulfric and Archbishop Wulfstan's sister, dated somewhere between 1014-16, seems to confirm the guaranteed grants.
"He gave her the land at Alton to give and to grant to whomsoever she pleased during her lifetime or after her death."

An Old English agreement from Kent, dated between 1016-20, explains that, when Godwine wooed Brihtic's daughter,
"He gave her a pound's weight of gold in return for her acceptance of his suit, and he granted her the land at Street with everything that belongs to it, and 150 acres at Burmarsh and in addition 30 oxen,  and 20 cows, and 10 horses and 10 slaves."
and makes clear that: 
"Every trustworthy man in Kent and Sussex, thegn or ceorl, is aware of these terms."
These are agreements between families. What can the lawcodes tell us?

The laws of Ethelbert of Kent 602-603 decree that: 
"If anyone lies with a maiden belonging to the king, he is to pay 50 shillings compensation. If it is a grinding slave, he is to pay 25 shillings; if a slave of the third class, 12 shillings."
So, not too helpful, except to tell us that slaves had varying value. Although later in the same code we learn that:
"If a freeman lies with the wife of another freeman, he is to atone with his wergild*, and to obtain another wife with his own money, and bring her to the other's home." 
Oh dear; definitely a case of 'spoil my property, bring me a new one.'

And yet, we read that,  
"If anyone buys a maiden, she is to be bought with a bride payment." 
And that, 
"If she bears a living child, she is to have half the goods, if the husband dies first. If she wishes to go away with the children, she is to have half the goods." 
But, if anyone,
"carries off a maiden by force, he is to pay to the owner 50 shillings."

The later laws of Kent (673-685) dictate that:
"If a husband dies leaving wife and child, it is right that the child should accompany the mother, and he is to be given one of his paternal kinsman as a willing protector."

Wihtred of Kent's laws (695) declare that: 
"foreigners, if they will not regularise their marriages, are to depart from the land with their good and their sins."
No doubt this is a reference to religion and law, rather than any protective prescription for women.

Alfred's laws in the ninth-century seem to suggest that any affront to women is actually an insult to the men who 'own' them: 
"And a man may fight without incurring a vendetta if he finds another man with his wedded wife, within closed doors or under the same blanket, or with his legitimate daughter or his legitimate sister, or with his mother who was given as a lawful wife to his father."
But his laws also place special emphasis on the pregnant woman: 
"If a woman with child is slain when she is bearing the child, the woman is to be paid for with full payment  and the child at half payment  according to the wergild of the father's kin."
"If anyone rapes a girl not of age, that is to be the same compensation as for an adult."

King Æthelred the Unready's code of 1008 mentions that:
"Each widow is to remain unmarried for twelve months; she is then to choose what she herself will."
This suggests that a woman had a fair amount of choice, dispelling the notion that women were married off for monetary or political gain.

It's fair to say that the codes are mainly concerned with law, property, punishment, thievery, murder and rules of trade, as well as observance of holy law. But these women do get a mention. They are at least considered, and they do have rights.

Although, in the laws of Cnut, a man committing adultery is to pay compensation for it, according to the deed,  but if a woman commits adultery during her husband's lifetime  she becomes a public disgrace, forfeits her goods, and loses her nose and ears. So there's a little disparity there...

But if any man dies intestate, the property  is to be: 
"Very justly divided among the wife, the children and the close kinsmen, each in the proportion that belongs to them."
Cnut's laws also expand on Æthelred's, concerning the widow who remains unmarried for twelve months, decreeing that if she remarries, she forfeits the morning-gift and other possessions obtained through her first marriage. But,
"A widow is never to be consecrated as a nun too hastily" 
"neither a widow nor a maiden is ever to be forced to marry a man whom she herself dislikes, nor to be given for money, unless he chooses to give anything of his own freewill."
So, by the 1020s at least, women could be safe in the knowledge that they could not be forced into marriage, or into a convent.

But I'll close with this last little nugget. If a man brings stolen property into the house, unless it is under the wife's lock and key, she is not deemed guilty. But, 
"she must look after the keys of the following: namely  her store-room, her chest  and her coffer." 
If the stolen property is found in any of these, she's guilty.

Imagine the eleventh-century housewife's frustration, though, that: 
"No wife can forbid  her husband to place inside his cottage  what he pleases."
After the equivalent of a late-night drunken internet shopping spree:-

"Wulfgar, tidy up that 'bargain second-hand shield, one careless owner, slight spear damage'. And no, you can't put it in my coffer."

"Well, it'll just have to stay on the table, right next to the relic of St John the Baptist's foot, 'only three left in stock'. And there's nothing you can do about it." 

*Wergild - essentially a 'man-price': the value of a life, depending on rank

Other related posts:
Anglo-Saxon Names
Wulfric Spott: A Mercian Man of Means
A Brother Writes a Letter