Sunday, 4 December 2011

Maybe it's just me...

OK, I am not going to name the book or the author. The only slight clue I'll give is it was set in the early 19th Century among the upper classes and it wasn't written by Jane Austen.

Yet again, a complete lack of understanding of titles and forms of address stood out. However, I'll pass lightly over this as I don't want to seem more obsessive than I am in reality, and I know that for a lot of people this just flies over their head anyway and doesn't spoil their enjoyment.

This week's moan is about inappropriate (for the time) social attitudes. For starters we have a gentlemen (a lord actually, although naturally he's too cool to use his title) on first name terms with his valet. Hmm, yeah, right...

But then all the main characters are so incredibly Left wing and PC that it screamed at me. I almost expected them to stand up after dinner (just before the ladies withdrew) and sing the Internationale. I mean, come on, this is early 19th Century England! There were not many Left wing PC types among the peerage and landed gentry at this time. Even reformers (Radicals) were in a distinct minority. Surely it's the art of the typical that convinces? If there'd been one, just one, fat-bellied Tory repressive among them I could have lived with it. But there wasn't even a hint of the typical social attitudes of the day.

When we talk about accuracy, it isn't just a matter of getting the belt buckles right, or what they had for dinner, or the correct name for the Bishop of Bath and Wells in September 1693. Surely, surely there has to be some attempt to reflect how the people of the times actually thought and behaved in relation to one another? And this is where it's hard - because by and large they did not think like us. Indeed, many of them did and said (by our standards) shameful things. But it's no use pretending that by some amazing chance the characters we choose to write about were all 21st Century people of correct opinions who happened to be born a few centuries earlier. Because they weren't.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Purchase Page

This page is intended as a convenient starting point for anyone who wants to buy my books:

Bewrite Books

The Adventures of Alianore Audley

Amazon UK

The Open Fetterlock  (Available in Kindle only. Just extracts, not a full story.)

The Adventures of Alianore Audley

Within the Fetterlock

The Open Fetterlock

The Adventures of Alianore Audley

Within the Fetterlock

Thursday, 3 November 2011

On a more positive note...

My Alianore Audley short story should appear in the Ricardian Bulletin in March 2012.

I gather there will be another fictional piece in the December issue also. By Rosemary Hawley Jarman.

A masterclass on titles...a pedant writes

Today I visited a library, and picked up a book by an author who had better remain anonymous. Anyway, I dipped in, like you do, and found that the main character was unable to describe herself properly. She literally did not know her own name, or to be more accurate, title. This annoyed me, especially as the novel was written in the first person, which makes it feel even dafter.

Anyway, we all have to learn, and for the benefit of my writer friends who are not as pedantic as me I thought I would set out the relevant rules for English titles, as from (roughly) the fifteenth century. In fairness, I admit things were in a state of evolution, especially in the earlier years of the century, and you might find exceptions out there.

First, and as a general point, please be aware that there has been a lot of title inflation over the years. Through most of the middle ages an earl was a very great lord indeed, especially in the earlier centuries, so if you're inventing a character you might be better sticking at knight level. There were no dukes at all until the fourteenth century and the first non-royal dukes appeared in 1398.

Similarly the title 'Prince' originally only applied to the Prince of Wales, and the random use of Prince and Princess as titles for the king's children really only took off under Henry VIII. You may find that dukes and duchesses are sometimes referred to as 'princes' or 'princesses' as were royal children, but this was not their formal title in the middle ages. It was more a reference to their status. To give an example close to home, Lady Constance of York was certainly a princess, but she was never known as Princess Constance of York, and still less as HRH. The HRH thing is, I think, 18th century, certainly post-medieval.

Second, medieval women always kept their highest title. So if a woman married the Duke of Norfolk, she remained the Duchess of Norfolk, even if she subsequently married Lord Bloggs or Mr Smith. She did not start calling herself Lady Bloggs or Mrs. Smith. This may seem odd to us, but in those days she also kept her precedence and the use of her title helped with this!

Thirdly, the use of female Christian names in titles was (and is) very particular. If Jane Smith marries Sir Fred Bloggs (or Lord Bloggs) she becomes Lady Bloggs. If she's widowed she might refer to herself as Jane, Lady Bloggs. But she can only be Lady Jane Bloggs if she is the daughter of an earl, marquis or duke. In this case on marriage she changes from Lady Jane Smith to Lady Jane Bloggs. Indeed, she's Lady Jane Bloggs even if her husband is Mr.Joe Bloggs, and there's a fifteenth century example for this - if you want to know, Lady Anne Paston, wife of Mr William Paston and daughter of the Duke of Somerset.

This may seem very picky, but in the middle ages a married woman retained her father's rank (in terms of precedence) if her husband's rank was lower. So between two knights' wives, Lady Joan Bucket always outranks Lady Bouquet.

However if a woman marries an earl marquis or duke, then irrespective of her birth she is known as the Countess of Whatever (or Lady Whatever) the Marchioness of Whatever or the Duchess of Whatever. Presumably because if she was known as Lady Mary Whatever she might be confused with her own daughter!

Complex isn't it?

Oh, and the daughters of barons and knights were not 'Lady Jane Whatever' - they were 'Mistress Whatever or Mistress Jane Whatever.'

A lot of this stuff can be picked up by reading Debrett's as long as you remember to scrape off the Tudor and subsequent accretions. Either way, dear authors, please do make the effort as failure may lead to your book being thrown at the wall, and to at least one of your readers tearing his hair out.

Oh, and another thing, if you want to produce a facsimile of a medieval letter, please do try to discover what a medieval letter looked like. The Paston Letters are a good place to start and don't need much research to find. You can modernise the spelling all you like, I'm all for translation, but please try to keep the feel, the flavour of the era you are supposedly writing about, unless you are actually intending to write a parody. Yes I like parody too, but only if the author began with one in mind.

RANT OVER!!! You may now proceed with your lives.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Poetry Corner - Lack of Steadfastness

It is tempting, the way things are, to write a sort of party political broadcast. However, I shall spare you that, and instead quote the gentle Geoffrey Chaucer, as translated into modern English by A. S. Kline:

Once this world was so steadfast and so stable
That a man’s word was his obligation,
And now it is so false and mutable,
That word and deed, in their conclusion,
Are unalike, for so turned upside down
Is all this world, by gain and selfishness,
That all is lost for lack of steadfastness.

What makes this world of ours so variable
But the pleasure folk take in dissension?
Amongst us now a man is thought unable,
Unless he can, by some vile collusion,
Wrong his neighbour, or wreak his oppression.
What causes this but such wilful baseness,
That all is lost for lack of steadfastness?

Truth is put down: reason is held a fable;
Virtue has now no domination,
Pity is exiled, no man is merciful.
Through greed men blind discretion;
The world has made such a permutation
Of right to wrong, truth to fickleness,
That all is lose for lack of steadfastness.

Envoy (to King Richard II)
O Prince, desire to be honourable,
Cherish your folk, and hate extortion!
Order that nothing which may prove shameful
To your office, be done in your kingdom.
Show openly your sword of castigation,
Dread God: seek law, love truth and worthiness,
And wed your folk again to steadfastness.

Translated by A. S. Kline © 2008 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Open Fetterlock

Following a suggestion from Joan Szechtman and with her help with the formating, I have put together a Kindle 'book' of my unpublished writings. It's called The Open Fetterlock and should be available from and within the next few days. The price will be 99c in the USA and 75p in the UK.

I should tell you that there are no complete stories in there - these are tasters, or, if you like, scraps from my cutting-room floor. However they will at least prove that I have done something these last few years, including a couple of attempts at the Richard III novel.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Novels about the Middle Ages you should read - number 2

For reasons best known to Google, I am still unable to comment on my own entries, though I can post. What strange world of logic permits this is beyond me, but if I don't respond to comments please don't think me ignorant - it's just that (for whatever reason) I can't.

My second suggestion in this series is London Bridge is Falling by Philip Lindsay. Lindsay is a much neglected author these days - the novel was published in 1934 - and his output was variable. Some of his novels are a tad melodramatic for my taste, while his biographies of Henry V and Richard III are a little to the right of hagiographic.

In his long dedication, Lindsay admits that he cut the novel down from something much bigger and says that it is more of a 'street scene' than a novel. However, as it runs to 448 pages it is scarcely a short story.

The plot revolves around the people living on London Bridge in 1450, and how, ultimately they are impacted upon by Cade's rebellion. For several, it brings death.

You will care for some of the characters; others you will strongly dislike. However, as a novel of life in medieval London, with all its contrasts of wealth and squalour, London Bridge is Falling is hard to beat.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Blogger playing tricks

Although I can post this post, for some reason Blogger is not allowing me to comment on my own posts. No idea why not, but presumably a bug.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Novels about the Middle Ages you should read - number 1

I have decided to write up a short series of recommendations for medieval novels. The qualification to get in is hard - first, they must pass all my personal tests of acceptability (and I am Mr. Picky), second they must be relatively obscure, which means that the works of people like Sharon K. Penman, Elizabeth Chadwick and Anya Seton do not qualify. Not because of any disrespect for these authors - the absolute converse is true - but because if you don't already know about their works then you jolly well should.

First in the series is In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella Haasse.

The novel is about Charles, Duke of Orleans, and starts with his birth in the late 14th Century and continues to his death in the middle 15th. It's a long book, and the reader needs stamina, but the effort is worth it. You should be aware that Charles spends 25 years as a prisoner in England, so if you're looking for lots of battle action, or even lots of romantic action you may well be disappointed. It's not that sort of novel. However there's tons of politics, tons of intrigue. You may also find Charles, as a person, rather cold and emotionally detached. I'd submit that with the kind of life he had to endure, this is probably a realistic appraisal of his character.

Not a book to cheer you up or set you laughing, but a wonderful tale of human endurance.

(Yes, I know I've reviewed this book before, but it was a 'must' for this series.)

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Daisy and The Bear

Just a brief mention of a new novel by Karen L Clark, The Daisy and the Bear.

This is a wonderful story of the Wars of the Roses, concerning Richard Neville Earl of Warwick and his true lurve. It'd be a shame to tell you who that is at it would completely spoil the plot and your enjoyment. This is a light-hearted tale, not to be taken too seriously, that seriously rips the pee out of bad historical novels. Indeed one particular author - whose name I shall not mention, but it rhymes with Dilippa Regory - has her interpretation of Elizabeth Woodville/Wydeville/however you spell it - rather delightfully parodied.

If you enjoyed Alianore Audley you will likely have the sense of humour that this book requires. (And if you haven't read Alianore Audley please buy that too, as I need the money. In fact, buy several copies for your friends.)

The ISBN for The Daisy and the Bear is 5-800056-222853. Further details may well be found on Karen's excellent website

Honesty and the reviewer's code compel me to reveal that I won this book in a Facebook competition, but I wouldn't have minded buying it. Honest.
By the way, the Blogger formatting isn't working properly today, so if this post looks odd, that's why. I'm not drunk or on non-prescribed drugs. Indeed I'm as sober as a particularly boring judge.