Thursday, 13 December 2012

A Guest Post - David Pilling

A Bolton, a Bolton! The White Hawk!
Brian has kindly allowed me a guest spot to talk about Book One of The White Hawk, my new series of novels set during The Wars of the Roses. This period, with its murderous dynastic feuding between the rival Houses of York and Lancaster, is perhaps the most fascinating of the entire medieval period in England. Having lost the Hundred Years War, the English nobility turned on each other in a bitter struggle for the crown, resulting in a spate of beheadings, battles, murders and Gangland-style politics that lasted some thirty years.

Apart from the savage doings of aristocrats, the wars affected people on the lower rungs of society. One minor gentry family in particular, the Pastons of Norfolk, suffered greatly in their attempts to survive and thrive in the feral environment of the late 15th century. They left an invaluable chronicle in their archive of family correspondence, the famous Paston Letters.

The letters provide us with a snapshot of the trials endured by middle-ranking families like the Pastons, and of the measures they took to defend their property from greedy neighbours. One such extract is a frantic plea from the matriarch of the clan, Margaret Paston, begging her son John to return from London:

"I greet you well, letting you know that your brother and his fellowship stand in great jeopardy at Caister... Daubney and Berney are dead and others badly hurt, and gunpowder and arrows are lacking. The place is badly broken down by the guns of the other party, so that unless they have hasty help, they are likely to lose both their lives and the place, which will be the greatest rebuke to you that ever came to any gentleman. For every man in this country marvels greatly that you suffer them to be for so long in great jeopardy without help or other remedy..."

The Paston Letters, together with my general fascination for the era, were the inspiration for The White Hawk. Planned as a series of three novels, TWH will follow the fortunes of a fictional Staffordshire family, the Boltons, from the beginning to the very end of The Wars of the Roses. Unquenchably loyal to the House of Lancaster, their loyalty will have dire consequences for them as law and order breaks down and the kingdom slides into civil war. The ‘white hawk’ of the title is the sigil of the Boltons, and will fly over many a blood-stained battlefield.

In the following excerpt, one of the protagonists is introduced to his first taste of real combat at the Battle of Northampton:

“The Lancastrians still had their archers, and the unseasonal rain had turned the ground between the two armies into a quagmire. Geoffrey lost a shoe in the soft, sucking mud, and cursed as he was forced to hobble onward with one naked foot.

Then the skies darkened, and the man beside him squealed and went down with an arrow protruding from the eye-piece of his sallet. Geoffrey lowered his head and stumbled on, gagging at the stench of excrement and split gut that filled his nostrils as more arrows strafed Fauconberg’s division, cutting men down and breaking up their carefully ordered ranks.
Geoffrey was breathing hard, his limbs seized with weariness as he laboured through the mud. His heart rattled like a drum. The Yorkists were being murdered by the arrows, and still had to cross a deep ditch, defended by a wall of stakes and thousands of determined, well-fed and rested Lancastrian infantry. They would surely be repelled, panic would set in, and men would start to run. Then the Lancastrian knights would mount their destriers, and the real killing would begin as they pursued their beaten foes across miles of open ground.

Geoffrey’s courage and desire for vengeance shriveled inside him. He desperately wanted to turn and run, but the press of men forced him on, towards the bristling line of stakes. He glanced ahead, and saw that March’s division had stormed right up to the barricades on the right flank of the Lancastrian position. These were defended by men wearing badges displaying a black ragged staff. He recognised the livery as that of Lord Grey of Ruthin, a powerful Welsh Marcher lord.

He expected March’s advance to grind to a halt as his men came up against the stakes and Grey’s well-armed infantry, but then something extraordinary happened. The men wearing the badge of the ragged staff laid down their weapons and stood aside, allowing the Yorkists to pass through their lines. Some even stooped to help their supposed enemies over the ditch.

Lord Grey had turned traitor. Geoffrey had no idea why or how it had been arranged, being too unimportant to be made privy to such deals, but his heart sang at the result. That one act of treachery would surely reverse the tide of battle. The Lancastrians were doomed, trapped like rats inside their improvised fortress. More to the point, Geoffrey’s chances of survival had just improved dramatically…”

If all this whets your appetite, then please check out the paperback and Kindle versions of Book One below...

A Slight Change of Mind

I have decided that I am going to retain my research books after all, or at least most of them. When the dust has settled, I might start writing again, purely for my own pleasure. Which is how things started. Who knows - the joy of it may return.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing is a 'blog hop' a sort of chain letter where one author tags another and so on. I have been tagged by the wonderfully inventive author Joan Szechtman who has written a series of novels about Richard III set in the present day - the King is whizzed forward in time during the last seconds of his life. Many of you will already be aware of Joan's work - which I thoroughly recommend - but anyone who is not can catch up with her on her website or her Blog.

Now, as part of this experiment, I have to answer some questions:

What is the working title of your next book?

Alianore Audley and the Holy Grail. Sometimes I vary this by referring to it as Alianore II, but it's the same work.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

From the workings of an insane brain. Seriously, I realised that although in theory The Adventures of Alianore Audley covered all my character's active life, there were within it many blank years. What clever people call lacunae. I've already published one short story in the Ricardian Bulletin that was set in one of these 'gaps'. So it wasn't a massive step to find another, longer period that could be filled. That year looks like being 1479, though it isn't quite definite yet. I might bring it forward a year, depending on how the plot works (or doesn't). Snag with shifting years though is then you have to go back and check everything all over again! Was the Abbot of Bogland Abbey still the same guy, and so on. You see, I do really try to get things right, even though in a light-hearted work like this I could take a more relaxed attitude. But then I wouldn't be me. I'd be someone else, and probably a lot richer and better-known. I might even go about presenting myself as an historian!

What genre does your book fall under?

Demented Historical Fiction. Humour. Fantasy. Parody. All of the above. Actually, it is probably more accurate than some Historical Fiction that has been published lately.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

If anyone wants to make a movie and send me a large cheque they can cast whom they like! Difficult question. I think Celia Imrie would make a brilliant, older Alianore looking back over her life. I can't really think of anyone to play the younger Alianore - Honeysuckle Weeks perhaps, as she could certainly do the upper class Englishwoman bit. I imagine Roger Beauchamp as a bit like Richard Armitage to look at. But this casting game is too tough for me; I'd prefer to leave it to the experts, because I think casting Alianore would end up as a bit like the search for Scarlett O'Hara.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

A crazy romp through the back corridors of Yorkist England - and Wales.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Almost certainly self-published. I am however open to offers and large cheques. I believe in the saying 'never say never.'

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Wrong tense - I'm still writing it. Simple answer - too long. It suffers from my unique combination of obsession with historical accuracy (as to details) and acute literary laziness. I hope to get it finished by Summer 2013. God willing.

What other books would you compare this to within your genre?

I wouldn't, except The Adventures of Alianore Audley. Or maybe The Daisy and the Bear by Karen Clark. (Which by the way, I highly recommend if you enjoy a laugh about the era.) Karen and I seem to be the only people who have attempted humour set around the Wars of the Roses.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

One or two people who suggested that I might still be able to wring some more out of Alianore. Alianore herself, to a point. She is great fun to work with!

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

To be honest, I doubt anyone will want to read it unless they are already fairly keen on the Yorkist era. It will help them 'get' the jokes. However, perhaps this book will be seen as a bit more off the beaten track than Alianore's orginal adventure. There will certainly be surprises!

The following authors have kindly agreed to participate in the Next Big Thing. Their posts should be up on the 19th December and I hope you will visit them and enjoy what they have to say. They have one thing in common - they are excellent writers whose works I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Barbara Gaskell Denvil  Barbara is a relatively recent recruit to the circle of authors who write novels about the 15th Century. She is a wonderfully inventive and original writer whose works will delight anyone interested in this era. Humour mixes with dark moments in her stories and her descriptions are to die for! When reading her work I have at times been reminded of Juliet Merkle Riley and at others Dorothy Dunnett. 'Nuff said!

Susan Higginbotham Susan is now a very well-established and highly-regarded novelist with a number of works covering the period from the early 14th Century to the 16th Century. My only grumble about her 15th Century work is that she tends to favour the Lancastrian perspective, but that does make a refreshing change from those authors who seem to want to canonise Richard III. And I forgive her much for writing positively about the Despensers! As with Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon K. Penman, with whom she can reasonably be compared, you may be sure that anything Susan writes has been thoroughly researched. She also has an excellent website.