Not too long ago, my son asked as he surveyed his Blu Ray collection of over 500: “Remember when I opened my desk drawer and said, ‘This is where I’ll keep my DVDs’?” Indeed, at the time he had just a few DVDs, and I suppose we both didn’t think beyond the point when what he owned would no longer fit in that drawer. Since then, the collection grew, and one day he decided the DVD was a reviled thing of the past. “Dirty Vile Disks,” he called them. He set out to replace every single DVD he owned with the Blu Ray version, while simultaneously growing that collection. He now has difficulty fitting them in his room, though in my opinion this is because his shelving is inefficient.
But who am I to talk? I’ve shifted furniture every so often for his entire life and between my ideas and his, we’ve found some pretty clever ways to create more storage, especially for books. And yet I’m still running out of space. We both have a lot of books. His most recent purchase was John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed.* Mine was How to Be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman, and Digging for Richard and…well, never mind, we don’t have to get all into that. At least not now. The point is, I, uh, well, I’m in the market for an additional bookshelf, as of last Sunday at about noon when I left the library book sale a few dollars poorer and a lot of books heavier. I’ll just leave it at three boxes – some of them might have been super fat books, hey?
I’m not quite ready to divulge how much I spent, or exactly how many books I came home with. Let’s just say I had a bit of a growth spurt. Keep an eye out for more details.
A couple of weeks ago my son graduated from high school. I’m not exactly sure how this happened, because twenty minutes ago I was standing in the kitchen holding his little face as it peered up at me, telling him I won’t be able to do that much longer. He refused to believe me, but here we are, him towering over me and laughing because I can’t get my Swiffer to reach the top of the wall. Hey, it’s a cathedral ceiling! No matter, he still demands hugs, and that works.
Here is what I wrote the night he walked:
I am severely overdue for this: gratitude of the day.
I am so grateful for my son: a fine young man at eighteen, he always tries to do the right thing. He is smart, sensitive, hard-working and likes to move in sport. He has always enjoyed reading, is very into film history and can solve a Rubik’s cube without blinking, the latter portion of it with his hands literally behind his back. He has chosen at various times to immerse himself in lots of different learning: languages (Spanish & German), music (baritone & tuba), oceanography, studies of Ancient Rome and history of the Americas, theater, trigonometry, African literature, was “Swedish for a day,” loves animals and children (and is compassionate, playful and wonderful with both), attempts to understand politics thoughtfully and honestly, loves to bicycle and play basketball. We often reminisce about a research project he did in first grade about otters – he is still quite proud of that experience. He earned over $5,000.00 one summer for a trip to Europe and continued to hold down that job – in which he got a promotion within the first month – through the rest of high school, which he just graduated from with honors and as part of two honor societies, one of which he volunteered for on numerous occasions. He has written two books (one for very small children, the other young adult) and self studies techniques and other about film making. His friends are terrific and I am so happy for him that they’ve all met and shared as much as they did.
I know I’ve left a lot out, but even just that small bit above is more than I accomplished at his age, and I am so blessed, truly blessed that he is in my life. I am so excited to see where he goes! ~
I know I used which a lot at one point in there, but bear with me. I’ve got something in my eye.
You know what else is about to graduate? One of my wips is soon to be published in an anthology. It’s a short story about Richard III and you probably remember me mentioning it here. I’ve contributed to another anthology in the past, so I guess I could already call myself an author, but it wasn’t original work in the sense this is. Of course this draws on established history, but what historical fiction doesn’t? Here I create a character – or she brought herself to my attention would likely be more accurate, informing me in a rather dignified manner that she would be telling the story from here on out, thank you very much. She discovers something she wants to talk about, and ohhh is she talking. I suppose I should be grateful because when I was first recruited for this project, I recall thinking, “Sh**! I don’t think I can do a battle scene justice!” I don’t know why my first anxiety went to the need to write a battle scene, but Persephone sort of rescued me because now she does the heavy lifting. I just have to type it all!
There have been a lot of great things about this project, and the tip top is the group of people I assembled with. Scholars and researchers of many levels, they share information as opposed to hoard it, and are encouraging; they celebrate each other’s successes. Our team leader, author Joanne Larner, also lucky for me, is inclined to appreciate even the very teensy details of things like punctuation and grammar, and she both accepts and dispenses constructive criticism with grace. The project definitely lives up to the stereotype (or should I call it the reality?) that every time you look at your manuscript, you’ll find something else wrong with it, so it’s good that in my experience with this fabulous group, everyone’s attitude seems to be “it is what it is” as we plod on. Now we’ve plodded a lot together and the book awaits the completed foreword by Matthew Lewis, Chairman of the Richard III Society. Our book too has experienced its own share of growth spurts, as it went from idea to reality to contents bulging and soon – July 6, to be precise, it will be released.
It’s good that my first published work of historical fiction is a short story. I mean it makes the process a little less painful because it’s a smaller sum total to have to weave together, and I suppose it’s good practice for a longer tale, which I actually had been working on before I put it down for this. I don’t regret it, though, because it was sort of overwhelming before, and now I have a better idea of where to go with all the details and ideas swimming in my head. Swimming is said to exercise every muscle in the body, so hopefully that will help me pull it all together more effectively as my storytelling grows, in spots and spurts, and see where it takes me from there.
*You may recall Green from his video included in my blog post about
Hello, All, and welcome to the weekend! Chaos continues but reading reigns! That and, of course, cooking and calligraphy, sewing and stitching, pets and photography—well, yeah, that’s not really alliteration, so let’s move on to something else.
As any even semi-longtime reader knows, this blog stays away from politics as much as possible, which is to say, entirely. I’m not here to pundit or politic—we talk about books and poetry, TV and movies, food and fascination, and many kinds of other, related items. The internet is filled with enough doom and gloom and doesn’t need me to add to it. Despair seems to be everywhere lately.
However, I do want to tell one little story for the benefit of our collective and individual states of mind in these troubling times. I know it’s been rough and none of us is having an easy go of it. Well, perhaps some, but everyone I know has had to make lots of adjustments to keep things working. More recent current events don’t really make it any better. To that end I’d like to share that one piece of something I read long ago about people during the Lebanese Civil War, a conflict that lasted, for some, from the time they started kindergarten to roughly when they graduated high school.
I can’t vouch for the complete authenticity of this small story, but I’ve seen it in several different locations, and in my experience there is more jaw-dropping information in truth than anything the deranged minds of humans could make up—plus, those same minds, when turned to the benefit of others, often demonstrate a capacity for resilience equally astonishing, so I am inclined to believe it.
So during an evening when the bombs were dropping on Beirut, a group of medical students, having taken shelter in a university basement laboratory, continued on with their studies. I don’t recall what the anecdote actually said they were doing, whether reading books, dissecting a cadaver, looking through microscopes—I have no idea. I just remember medical students who would periodically stop when an especially loud shelling occurred, or perhaps one that shook the walls of the room they were in, determine it was not close enough to collapse those same walls around them, and go back to what they were doing, often by flashlight.
That, my friends, is a very scary situation and, though I admire these individuals, I can’t begin to understand the courage to continue in the face of such dire circumstance. Perhaps they might say, What else were we to do? Or, Well, better to die at work than huddled in a corridor. Still, it’s very different to my life and that of most Americans, and I am guessing the odds were good that, provided these students survived other portions of the war, they went on to become doctors.
Why am I telling you this? Well, because here in America, despite some very dangerous times and a year that sucked major a**, we aren’t in the middle of a civil war, despite the wishes of some to bring it to that or belief of others that we are. We aren’t and, despite some high-stress-level news and information, and the need to do some things differently lately, we should be focusing on the positive whenever possible. I don’t mean this in some New-Agey way, just in the old-fashioned manner of trying to keep the good flowing by taking care of ourselves and of helping others, even in small ways. Please note I am not saying that no one is suffering or experiencing downtrodden times, nor am I scolding anyone or claiming this blog will miraculously change anyone’s life or erase all problems. But perhaps it can provide some of that light we are talking about? Those Lebanese students chose to turn on the lights when the power failed; can we do the same in our lives, making a deliberate choice as to whether we curse the darkness or light a match?
What are some things you like or like to do? Have you tried a new hobby, as many have been doing in this past year? What about endeavors that force you to sit down and move slowly, such as calligraphy? Or focus on something right in front of you, such as knitting or crocheting? Can you make up games with your family and laugh—all-in-good-fun laughter—when things get silly? And, of course, I love books, so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention those!
How about even small, fleeting moments or things that bring you pleasure? The scent of vanilla candles or lavender oil? The taste of a peach or feel of cold sheets when you tumble into a newly-made bed, exhausted but exhilarated when you stretch out, stiffen and then relax? The lovely, crinkly sounds made by certain pages or look of food as it is spread on the table just before we sit down to share it with family? Purple pens, the first snow, the quiet of the morning, binge-watching a TV series, alpenglow, grocery shopping, books, penguins, Christopher Nolan movies, poetry, kid jokes, a newly sharpened pencil, smell of the sea, Christmas trees, spending time with my family, wrapping my son in a towel straight from the dryer and seeing how happy it makes him—these are just a few things that bring me joy on a variety of levels, and they are easy to indulge in.
There are really a lot of fun places this kind of conversation can take us to, and I find myself calling up some kooky times or memories that make me laugh—like the day I woke up on the first Saturday in our new house when my son was three. I couldn’t find him, but could somehow sense he was there, so I was more puzzled than alarmed. I finally located his little self underneath the kitchen table, clutching one of the pumpkin breads I’d made the night before, tearing off hunks with his tiny fingers and eating them. He’d always loved this bread with a passion, and when I saw his huge, sweet eyes looking up at me, I laughed and said, “Oh, honey, you must have been so hungry!” I scooped him into my lap and let him continue to eat as I nuzzled his cheeks and we started our day.
I mention others above as well, happy to add something about the delightful reality that when we do things for other people, it has an amazing capacity to make us feel pretty good, though I don’t mean in an “I’m awesome, aren’t I?” kind of way. I suspect it is the feeling of connection or knowing we made a difference, however small, and marvel at the manner in which it often also directs the nice karma back toward us.
A few years ago we had a major earthquake—actually two and miraculously no one was killed—and when my son and I arrived home I went to check on our elderly neighbor and he headed inside. When I returned about an hour later he was cleaning and I laughed at a jar of broken applesauce that looked like it was vomiting. We did have a few losses, but he, all of fifteen years old, had protected me from the dread sensation you get when everything that hadn’t been bolted down or shut in a cupboard is scattered and thrown all over the floor, by heading for my beloved books first. I did find out he’d been cleaning the entire time I’d been gone, and it was still rather bad when I came in, so I can only imagine what it had been like to walk through a sea of books. In all honesty, we both considered ourselves very lucky, and material possessions are of course the much lesser consideration. But he knows it is a collection years in the making, that I feel happy surrounded by my books, from which I derive so much joy and peace. He knew it wouldn’t be exactly inspiring for the days ahead to see it, and I was so grateful.
Three things from today that brought me pleasure: Watching a TV show with my son and talking about plotlines; getting to finally talk to a friend I hadn’t heard from in a long time; and going for a short drive.
Best wishes and lots of love to all of you.
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Well, some of you have noticed I’ve not posted a review—or anything else—for quite a while (I got a few emails, bless your hearts), and the truth is I was burned out. I know, very starkly stated, but there you have it. Though I never posted as often as some others, or blogged for as many years as them, what I have been doing was quite enough. If I do say so myself, I strive to make my reviews of a higher caliber because I like to look at details, compare/contrast, analyze and delve a little more deeply. Plus, I’ve been writing reviews since about 2012, maybe 2013, and I’m ready for a turning point.
I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities in doing this, and I want to take this moment to thank all the authors who have submitted books for review: your wonderful tales have reached into my reader’s heart, taken me to new worlds, brought me into contact with people from the past or those roaming amongst your imaginations (sometimes a bit of both), and provided me with massive amounts of information about our own history. For me this is absolutely priceless.
That sounds a bit like a departure, doesn’t it?
Well, in a way it is. As I say, I’m a bit frazzled, and I don’t want to end anything on a negative note, so I’m going to chill out for a bit, take a much-needed slowdown so nothing ever comes to that. I’m looking forward to browsing the library stacks and actually reading most of what I bring home.
And in a way it isn’t: I’ll still do some reviews, but for the time being, just playing things by ear as to what I’ll be checking out and when. I also will be focusing on some other ideas I’ve been wanting to pursue, such as writing about food. I’m by no means a foodie, but I do love to cook (baking is another story) and learn about ingredients’ relationships to each other. In fact, I just learned a baking secret (to me at least) that I’ll tell you about next time in an entry I’ve already started to write.
And you know what? I so can’t keep away from books, so you know I’ll be exploring some written works about that universal love we partake in at least once a day. Unfortunately, not everyone can say “once a day,” so I’ll be looking at that angle as well, as I’d like it too, to take me somewhere.
I’ve got some décor news, a few new photos to show, a couple more hobbies I’m trying to develop and have been immersing myself again in my very first love of the written word: poetry. In fact, I’ve finally reached out to a few people who agreed to act as beta readers to my own collection of poems, many of which were written when I was still in school. I’ve gotten some fantastic feedback, which has really psyched me up even more. A very dear social media friend persuaded me to try my hand at making a few sketches for the collection, and it’s not been so easy, but I’m trying to get on with those. One of the above-mentioned developing hobbies is something that has helped me figure out how to proceed—more to come!
I’ve also got a collection of short stories to finish writing; lots of historical nonfiction to read on various topics of fascination; my fifteen-year-old son has re-discovered the Beatles in a yuuuuuge way; full-on winter is coming and I’ve been cooking up a storm and freezing lots of it. And, of course, I’m still plugging on with the editing (more details here). My only wish for change there is that I could do it as my sole source of income. As with any pursuit worth its salt, it is rewarding: I meet (or “meet”) great people and, perhaps most important, learn from them. Sometimes they think they’re the only ones gaining new info, but that’s never true, thankfully. I have an auntie who always says, “The day I know everything I might as well just stay home.”
So who knows what the next five years may bring? I really enjoy blogging, so whatever is yet to come, I hope I’ll be still be sharing it with you wonderful people as well as reading yours, finding out more about what’s going on in your universe.
I know it’s somewhat trendy lately to downgrade Monty Python and the Holy Grail, an inclination I frown upon, given its groundbreaking nature and manner in which many of its scenes and lines have become part of a collective consciousness. Nowadays, even kids who have never watched the film shout out such classic lines as “And I shall taunt you a second time!” or “What’s your favorite color!?”
So I agree with cultural observer Adam Blampied when he talks about a film with imaginative conceits as a large part of what shapes one’s sense of humor. We may continue to grow and love other movies, or have seen Holy Grail so many times we need a break, but to suddenly begin talking about it as a less than worthy flick is simply not honest. Plus, Medieval Literature in university would just not have been the same without our professor spouting such iconic quotes as, “I’m not dead yet!”
With that said I’ll add that Blampied inspired me this morning. I’ve seen his Top Ten Films video before and got excited over his comments about how mood as a factor dictates favorites. For ages this emotion has also been what kept me from creating my own favorites list, for it is constantly shifting (apart from the reality that I typically write the most about books). Except for number one, my top ten (or twenty, in this case) is almost always dictated by mood at the time of contemplation, and could be in a very different order on any other day. When completed at various times, the list does tend to consist of the same films, although I have noticed some slipping to the honorable mentions side for a movie here and there. Still, they are shows that consistently, as movie reviewer John Flickinger also says, mean something to me. They have a story behind why I like them and contribute to my growth as a human being.
So without further ado, may I present Part I of my top twenty films of all time—at least as of September 2, 2018. I hope you enjoy them.
(Note: Header links of movie titles go to each one’s IMDb page and all blurbs come from there. All movie posters from wiki; click image for more information on each. Movie titles linked within the text lead to my own reviews from my Movies by the Minute series.)
The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target.
A movie I saw somewhat by accident, Molly’s Game quickly thrilled and had me talking for weeks. Turtle, whose birthday we celebrated at the cinema, also aimed for the book and we both were eager to own the Blu Ray. With stellar performances, wit and poignant moments that shine, this is a winner flick. (And the callback to The Crucible doesn’t hurt, either.)
Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband [Jeff Gilloly] intervenes.
Personally, I’m mostly done with the Oscars, politicized as they have become (or perhaps always were?). However, that Margot Robbie didn’t win for her magnificent leading role is a disgrace. Presenting events from Harding and Gillooly’s opposing and unreliable points of view was a fantastic choice that seamlessly incorporates drama, comedy and heartbreak.
Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac.
With Michael Fassbender, where can you go wrong? The movie gets even better with an exceptional performance from Seth Rogan, who usually appears in raunchy comedies. The cherry on top is the passionate performance of the English Winslet, who does a killer Polish accent and whose character skillfully manages Jobs and soothes our own ruffled feathers at the way he behaves as the film showcases his genius and achievements with a revolutionary product.
A man tries to rise in his company by letting its executives use his apartment for trysts, but complications and a romance of his own ensue.
Billy Wilder directed, Jack Lemmon starring, this romantic comedy-drama showed me a bit of a different side to 1960s staff of a fancy high-rise office building. Though this sort of space-borrowing may or may not occur nowadays, plot-wise, The Apartment remains relatable as the hijinks and tangles of life create hilarity and drama in the lives of the everyday.
Two pairs of parents hold a cordial meeting after their sons are involved in a fight, though as their time together progresses, increasingly childish behavior throws the discussion into chaos.
I’ll be honest with you here: I’m not in love with promoting a Polanski film, so I confess my weakness in naming what otherwise is a story of such delightful extreme: the absurdities recognized by some and given credence by others, ongoing role reversals in terms of sympathetic characters, and the expected scene stealing by Christoph Waltz. The movie opens with what one might think is a miscast; by the end you realize it couldn’t have been anyone else to play that role.
Mathilda, a 12-year-old girl, is reluctantly taken in by Léon, a professional assassin, after her family is murdered. Léon and Mathilda form an unusual relationship, as she becomes his protégée and learns the assassin’s trade.
I completely fell for Léon as well as the actor, Jean Reno, who plays him. His facial “language” is wide ranged and articulate, and he handles Mathilda in a manner bearing a bit of innocence as well as adult rigidity. As the little girl learns her trade and the pair move often by necessity, we see links to a previous Reno film, La Femme Nikita, which features a character similar to Léon, shadow government agents and the development of loyalty, betrayal, fear and love. The amazing Gary Oldman also stars in a story in which you know you shouldn’t like the protagonist, but you do.
When two escaping American World War II prisoners are killed, the German P.O.W. camp barracks black marketeer, J.J. Sefton, is suspected of being an informer.
Sure, The Great Escape has the “What do you call a mole in Scotland?” exchange and fabulous performances, but I think the reason I prefer Stalag 17 is the film’s treatment of imprisonment with more humor, which surely must have existed amongst guards and POWs alike—for the sake of both parties. Here it serves the Americans well as they try to root out the informer, keep their sanity and stay true to who they are. Self-effacement exists alongside sexual, personal and other frustration as we watch characters try to distract themselves and the guards to achieve relief and escape. But first they have to get the rat, and the clues provided present from multiple points of view, fabulously woven together by the talented Billy Wilder.
A local sheriff, a marine biologist and an old seafarer team up to hunt down a great white shark wreaking havoc in a beach resort.
If you can believe it, this blockbuster film—which coined the term—nearly didn’t get made. The animatronic shark kept breaking down, necessitating changes in the script, they went 100+ days over schedule and director Spielberg, whom we know today as an accomplished and multi-talented movie mogul, feared he might never work again after this, his first substantial job. But production eked through and the movie hit audiences like, well, a shark in a pond. Now, more than 40 years on, Jaws retains its thrill and ability to draw viewers in to the anxiety and chase as the main trio seek out the shark ravaging the small-town beach. With amazing character depictions, including the quirky Quint, who defies the political establishment and mainstream attitudes of the townspeople, this action-packed thriller manages to make us fear a creature who actually rarely ever appears. The status of Jaws in popular culture is cemented and its impact—note the recognizable theme music even those who never saw the film know—inescapable. Especially with lesser-known scenes that expand character dimension, and use of the ideal that less is much more, this is a top-notch tale not to be missed.
A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery.
In this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: those who have seen The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and loved it, and those who haven’t yet watched. Like the above entry, the theme song for this Sergio Leone-directed masterpiece is so embedded in our collective consciousness, we recognize it the moment we hear it, even if we don’t know the movie it comes from. This was the case for myself for many years, until recently when I began to watch and be seriously drawn in by the story, set during the American Civil War—indeed, Turtle once dubbed it “your favorite movie that you’ve never finished watching.” I finally did wrap it up, and by that time had long been imitating scenes and quoting lines. Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name—nicknamed “Blondie” by Eli Wallach’s Tuco, a Mexican bandit also evading the mercenary Angel Eyes—seeks a bounty whose location is revealed in two clues, only one of which he knows. As Tuco, who knows the other, and Blondie compete for access to the site, amidst mutual trickery and cruel setbacks, they encounter various obstacles that serve to tentatively unite the pair along the way. With stark and forbidding scenery host to directorial nightmares that Leone manages with aplomb, the film has earned a righteous place in cinematic history, despite the critical backlash it initially received. With a jaw-dropping finale that holds the fate of all in question, Leone and his actors keep our eyes riveted to the screen from start to finish in utter anticipation, a feat even more admirable given that the Italian-speaking filmmaker had to direct the English-speaking Eastwood via translator. You see, in this world there’s two kinds of of great directors, my friend: those who do it well, and those who do it well even when they don’t speak their star’s language. You dig?
Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg creates the social networking site that would become known as Facebook, but is later sued by two brothers who claimed he stole their idea, and the co-founder who was later squeezed out of the business.
This Aaron Sorkin-written film accomplishes the impossible: engages viewers in the story about a real-life protagonist that millions of modern people loathe. If they see him as anything more negative, it won’t be because he’s an anti-hero, or any kind of hero. To lift the words from Erica Albricht’s lips: “It’ll be because [he’s] an asshole.” He created—or stole, depending who you believe—an overwhelmingly useful product that even now continues to be questioned over new angles. However, back in the day, as the movie portrays, Zuckerberg faces litigation via an alternating timeline, referencing events that are then drawn out in scenes detailing those just discussed. Jesse Eiesenberg’s Zuckerberg is a man easy to hate; his portrayal of the social network tycoon is solid and complete. Andrew Garfield, in the role as co-fouunder Eduardo Saverin, is equally intense and he owns several scenes, particularly a smashing one in which he confronts Zuckerberg with a deadly serious promise. (You see what I did there?)
Sorkin’s writing is so superb that any given scene contains multiple themes, and through the movie we see those examining the meaning of friendship, betrayal, of success and failure, popularity, acceptance and greed. Zuckerberg’s product has changed the landscape of society, and we see in the film what it cost him, but a wider examination also implicates ourselves and what friending someone really means. The Social Network‘s closing scene encapsulates so many of the above-mentioned themes into one moment, a turn in tone that rivals The Godfather‘s haunting ending as we recognize distance, regret and loss, though it remains to be seen if Zuckerberg himself does. As psychological study or sheer entertainment, this is an exquisite film about Facebook that really isn’t about Facebook at all.
Don’t miss Part II! Top Ten coming up along with some honorable mentions.
For some great top movie videos, click Turtle’s link here.
See below for details about how to win a FREE paperback copy of any one of
Lars Hedbor’s books from his Tales From a Revolution series.
Welcome, Lars Hedbor, and thank you so much for taking some time out from your schedule to chat a bit with us. And what a schedule it must be! Apart from writing all these wonderful books, your bio mentions contributing to a scholarly journal, appearances on televised historical documentaries, linguistics, brewing, fiddling, astronomy and baking. And that’s not even counting your family and professional duties. Impressive!
So, you write about one of my favorite eras, the American Revolution, told mainly through the eyes of those we’ll never read about in history books: common sailors and soldiers, yes, but also everyday smiths, farmers, restaurant workers, the widowed, prosperous and poor, men and women, workaday rebels and even loyalists. Tales From a Revolution brings us into the days and lives of colonial people very much like ourselves.
You obviously love the revolutionary era. How did you arrive at that affection? What influenced your continued study of it? What do you hope readers will take away from your novels?
The American Revolution was nearly unique in history in that it was a war fought not to determine which prince would rule a patch of dirt, but one fought over the very concept of what an appropriate government looked like, and how it should justify its existence.
That aspect of the Revolution is too often overlooked in classroom histories, as it’s simplified into a battle over which George would rule – King George III, or George Washington. It was much more than that, which is what drives my passion for the era.
That said, the Revolution was also not a simple matter of everyone in the colonies agreeing to throw the British out. Individual Americans came from an incredibly wide range of backgrounds and traditions and political inclinations. My books reflect that complexity, because I think it’s important to not reduce the Revolution to an oversimplified caricature.
One of the repeating themes of my books is how individuals who do not make it into the pages of recorded history nonetheless have a direct hand in shaping the outcome of that history. My somewhat more subversive project is to suggest to readers that they do not need to become one of the great figures striding across the stage of history to affect history in their own way.
While this is probably a bit common a question, I know many ask it: What drove you in this direction? That is, why these everyday people, and how do you come up with characters and their personal backgrounds?
So much historical fiction focuses on well-known figures in history that I wanted to carve out a somewhat different niche for myself. Too, with historical figures, it’s far too easy to make mistakes that are discoverable by more knowledgeable historians than I. So, in part, it’s a pragmatic decision—I have more freedom in telling the story of someone who I’ve created out of thin air than I do in telling the story of someone who really lived.
Your Tales From a Revolution series doesn’t mention particular dates, not even years. Given its primary target of young adults, I thought this might be a deliberate exclusion. I know when I was in school, dates tended to flummox my whole thought process, especially given testing relied so heavily upon them. I loved, however, when a teacher would begin to describe a situation, then subtly transition into storytelling mode. Can you comment on that?
This was a deliberate choice, yes. How often in our daily lives do we say to one another, “Well, here it is, November first, 2017?” It would sound forced and artificial for my characters to make such a comment to one another, so they don’t.
That said, there are definite historic events that take place on the pages of my books, and the sequence and interrelationship of those events is explored where it is relevant to the experience of my characters.
When the Declaration of Independence reaches a small settlement in Vermont and is read from the steps of the church, we get a sense of how important it was to the people who had already been fighting the British to hear that their struggle was now “official.” When news of the shots fired at Lexington and Concord reaches Loyalist refugees in Halifax, the personal impact of that news is much more important than the date on which it reached them.
Many authors are also asked if their own backgrounds inform their stories. It seems as if this is true, at least to a certain extent, for you. For example, Quakers and their between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place circumstance during the Revolution features inThe Light,and their speech patterns add another layer of fascination without distracting from the narrative. Do you use your own existing knowledge and expertise to seek out potential historical scenarios, or do they just come to you?
I’m glad that readers have found the philosophical struggles depicted in The Light compelling. In researching the Quaker faith, there was a great deal that I thought would raise the stakes for my characters.
In that specific case, I knew that I had ancestors who declined to take part in the Revolution because of their Quaker faith, and I was fascinated to learn that the Revolution actually caused a schism in the Quaker community, which added another layer of conflict to an already incredibly complex situation.
As I study the history of the Revolutionary era, I often find some tidbit that makes me say, “Hey, I never heard about that in school!” In chasing those down, I often find the genesis of a new story.
Which works—fiction or non-fiction—helped you wade through the information and streamline into a more specific direction? Are there any you would recommend for the casual or interested reader?
I tend to prefer original sources, and my background as a linguist brings a lot of sources into reach that would be difficult for casual researchers to access. Reading ships’ logs in eighteenth-century Spanish is not for the faint of heart! Even in English sources, original journals and letters of the era tend to have erratic spelling and capitalization, and if I’m looking at the original items, the handwriting is very different from even modern cursive script.
That said, there are a lot of really wonderful books out there which are very accessible. I’ve contributed to the annual for the Journal of the American Revolution, which consists of highly readable, but rigorously researched articles covering an exceptional range of topics; I can recommend that without reservation.
Do you hear quite a bit from your readers? What kinds of things do they say? How do you connect with them?
I love going to book festivals and signing events, as it gives me a chance to connect personally with my readers. What I hear most consistently from readers is that they treasure my ability to inhabit a variety of perspectives with my characters, as well as the care that I use in my language.
My favorite encounter with readers, though, happened this past summer. I was at a regional book festival for the second year in a row, and couple of young men popped into my booth to look over the books arrayed on the table.
These same two boys had been by the year before, and had engaged in intense negotiations with each other and their Mom over which books they could buy. They had read the prior year’s haul several times already, and were back for more. That is why I do what I do.
InThe Darkness,the title of which acknowledges the “New England Dark Day” of 1780, the population also experiences what recently occurred here as well—a solar eclipse. The colonial scientific community certainly seemed to have embraced it with enthusiasm, setting up observation points, for example, even with a war going on! We certainly are no less enthusiastic: here work calendars are often marked off for some employees during hunting season, which this year also coincided with this notation: “So-and-So out: Eclipse Hunting.” What do you reckon the colonials would have thought of our approach?
I think that colonials would be bemused at the concept of taking time off for either hunting or an eclipse. That said, the newspapers and academic community certainly shared their excitement with the broader community over the eclipse, and most folks in the path of it would have paused in their daily work to observe the wondrous event as it unfolded.
How do you select the names for your characters? Just curious, but how did George Williams end up with the same name as the Harvard scientist, Dr. Williams, who studied the eclipse?
That particular case was driven by historical facts—Doctor Williams is known to have observed the eclipse from a position on a farm owned by a (presumably unrelated) family by the name of Williams. A fun coincidence, and one that I hope doesn’t confuse my readers too much!
In most cases, though, I select names based on my research of what names would have been common among the people I’m depicting. In most cases, the names come effortlessly, springing from the research. In other cases, I have to really work at them, and can only hope that I come up with something believable and historically accurate.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned—about yourself, history, figures within your stories, or all three—in creating your books?
I have to say that the whole story I relate in The Wind surprised me in its seemingly-impossible sequence of weather and military events. Even more surprising to me is that it is almost entirely uncelebrated in classroom histories and even fiction (before now).
I don’t want to spoil the story for readers who haven’t yet gotten through The Wind, but suffice to say that I sincerely hope that I’ve done something to right the wrong done in forgetting about Bernardo de Gálvez and his crucial contributions to the success of the American Revolution.
Having previously encountered Ginawo, a Six Nations Native from within the pages ofThe Smoke,I was delighted at his cameo appearance inThe Pathas Yves witnesses a gathering the Skarure chief attends, along with General Rochambeau. Personally, I love these connections amongst books: they speak to a bit of bonding between reader and character, and there’s even some thrill upon recognition. It wasn’t until I read your historical notes at the end that I knew for sure the inclusion was deliberate, but it also left me wondering: do you plan to create more links between the tales, or is this something you prefer to keep to a minimum?
Since I decided at the beginning of this series to set each book in the Tales From a Revolution in a different colony (or future state…the lines get a little fuzzy), one of the challenges I faced was that it would be nearly impossible to create continuous characters from book to book. Folks just didn’t move around as freely or as widely as we do today, and so I decided that I would have to start fresh with each story.
However, that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t sneak in little surprises for my readers. I wanted to visit with Ginawo again after the events of The Smoke, if only to see that things came out okay for him in the end. There’s also a character who originates in The Light and finds his fate in The Smoke, so sharp-eyed readers can look for that “easter egg,” as well.
Do you write more by logic, intuition or a combination?
I prepare myself with a great deal of research, immersing myself in the world that my characters inhabited—language, clothing, food, dwellings, occupations, the works. Once I’ve done that, though, I set them into the framework of the historical events that they experienced (and may have influenced), and let them do the talking.
I know that I’ve got a story the first time that a character does something that I didn’t plan for or intend. When one of them lifts their head, stares me down, and says, “I don’t care what you had in mind—I’m heading this way,” well, then my job becomes a really easy matter of hanging on for dear life and writing down what they do.
I know it sounds terribly schizophrenic, but it’s an approach that works really well for me. Of course, I still have to take charge sometimes—I once killed off a character who was threatening to take over a book, with results that changed and enriched the entire story—but it’s usually just to introduce historical events and see what the characters do with those.
Could you tell readers a little bit about your family connection to Carleton’s Prize in your novel The Prize, set on beautiful Lake Champlain?
I grew up where The Prize is set, and heard the story of Carleton’s Prize many times as a child. It’s a tiny island in Lake Champlain, and it bears a passing resemblance to an old sailing ship. The local legend was that it got its name when General Guy Carleton paused in his pursuit up the lake of Benedict Arnold’s navy to fire on the island, thinking that it was a ship from that navy.
When my grandfather moved to Vermont from Pennsylvania, he purchased nearby Providence Island with the proceeds from an eminent-domain sale of his former home. Carleton’s Prize was essentially thrown into the deal, and after his passing, my grandmother donated the tiny island to the Lake Champlain Land Trust.
As a result, the site of some of the events I’ve depicted in The Prize is protected for future generations to enjoy. I’ve walked up to the (narrow and scary) peak of the little island, and the image on the cover of The Prize is derived from a photograph that I took of it during a visit back home some years ago.
Do you, like some others, see our Revolution as part of a world war? The previous and ongoing rivalries involving England, France, Spain and the Netherlands seem to validate this idea, with a dramatic depiction of Spanish involvement in The Wind.
The American War of Independence was most decidedly a global war, yes. The French, of course, joined in, sending troops and supplies directly to the American theater of the war. The Spanish joined, allying themselves not with the United States, but with France, and The Wind depicts their most substantial contribution to the war.
It’s a little-known fact that the very last battle of the American Revolution, taking place after the Treaty of Paris was signed (but before word of it arrived), happened in…India. But that is a story for another day, and a future volume of the Tales From a Revolution.
What made you decide to add the flavor of magical realism to this installment?
Because The Wind depicts the Spanish involvement in the Revolutionary War, I wanted to give a nod to the incredibly rich literary tradition that has arisen out of Latin America. One of the most distinctive elements of that tradition is magical realism, so I imbued The Wind with just a touch of it.
Americans are generally aware that during our Revolution, the rebels were actually in the minority, though as the victors they got to write the history. Is this why you decided to pen in a bit of loyalist perspective in The Break? In your research, did you find they are as underrepresented as in school and university texts? *
I decided to explore the Loyalist perspective because it was another one that I felt was not often considered in historical fiction set in the Revolutionary era. Too, the experience of being a refugee in a strange place was one that I wanted to relate to my readers, and finally, I wanted to tell a story set in one of the forgotten American colonies, and the exodus to Nova Scotia offered a natural way to accomplish that.
I had to go to histories written in nineteenth-century Canada to get a satisfactory account of the Loyalist viewpoint, so I think it’s fair to say it’s not very well represented in texts, yes. It was fascinating to write about the American Patriot side as the bad guys—and they really were very rough in their treatment of the Loyalists—and to depict the really wrenching divisions that took place between friends who wound up on opposite sides of the fight.
Have you traveled to any or all of the locales in your books? Do you do other research trips?
Oh, I so wish that my budget permitted me to explore the settings of my books in person! However, the centuries that have passed since the events I depict have so changed those settings that I think I am able to get a more accurate picture of how they looked and felt by reading contemporary accounts.
The late colonial and early Republic periods were, fortunately, times when there were a number of voyages of discovery undertaken around North America, so I have a wealth of material to draw from.
What kind of reading do you do in your spare time?
Well, I read a lot of history, as you might expect! I also enjoy science fiction and well-written historical fiction. My bedside table is stacked fairly high with books and magazines, and my phone is loaded up with a lot of material, as well.
I don’t read as much as I would like to—my library already contains more than a lifetime worth of reading—but I love nothing more than the experience of getting pulled into a story so deeply that I don’t even notice the passage of time in the real world.
Looking once more to your bio, the brewing element caught my attention. Is it accurate to say there are different “recipes” in various regions and/or eras? If so, do you ever try your hand at any from the colonial time? Whether modern or historical, are the recipes and procedures fairly complicated?
I haven’t actually brewed from any colonial-era recipes, I am ashamed to say. I do have an extensive collection of books from the era, though, and will be trying it at some point.
Other than the availability of more standardized and cleanly-processed ingredients today, the basic process of brewing beer has been the same for a very long time. Brewers have always steeped the grain in water at a temperature that enables conversion of starch to sugar, and have always sought to then extract as much of that sugar as possible, so that the yeast can convert it to alcohol.
The tools and techniques have changed, of course—a Revolutionary-era brewer didn’t have computer-controlled temperature management, electric pumps, and the like—but the underlying chemistry is pretty well unchanged.
Flavoring adjuncts have changed over the centuries, too, and during the trade interruptions of the Revolution, hops were harder to come by, so inventive brewers had to discover and use locally-available substitutes and alternatives.
As in most cooking, recipes are less prescriptive and more general guidelines, and reproducing the exact ingredients and flavors is well-nigh impossible…but I’d sure like to give it a shot. As an aside, I wrote a short story set in the days after the end of The Prize, detailing the process of Captain Mallett brewing some beer for his tavern; it’s available on Kindle in Fireside Tales.
Have you ever attempted any colonial baking recipes? If so, any favorites you’d like to share?
I certainly have, and I wrote a series of articles about the experience for the Journal of the American Revolution. My favorite meal from that series was probably the New Orleans dishes. I made a sort of creamed corn (I detest canned creamed corn, but this was amazing), a dish of beef, onions, and peppers called ropa vieja (“old clothes”), and my personal favorite, beignets, which are simply a revelation when served fresh from the fryer.
The boiled suet pudding I made for another article was significantly less successful, and most of it wound up being food for the chickens. I’m still convinced that boiled savory puddings could have a role to play in modern cuisine, but I have a hard time making that case to my family….
Linguistics once more: I’ve heard it said that the American accent is the original British one (one!?). What do you make of that theory?
There were then, as now, a wide variety of British accents, depending upon both geography and class distinctions, and I have heard the theory that the American “Southern” accent was particularly derived from a specific regional British accent, and relating the immigration from that region to the development of that accent.
Lacking recordings from the era, though, the best we can say is that both accents changed over the years, and in the absence of ongoing direct communication, they diverged. Given the evidence of other, later British colonies having developed similar accents to the British mainland, it seems like a fair assumption that our accent represents a separate development from the pre-Revolutionary accent.
Are there any other historical eras you like and have contemplated writing about?
The early Republic intrigues me, particularly as the United States again came into conflict with the British in the early nineteenth century, and I’ve thought that it would be interesting to follow up on my characters and their descendants into that era.
I’m also deeply intrigued by the early era of trade along the Silk Road through Central Asia, and the Viking age. I still have a lot of novels left to write about the American Revolution, but history is rich with opportunities for storytellers to mine for tales.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
I have just finished drafting a very tough novel, but one containing some of my most beautiful moments yet. Set in North Carolina, it is based on the historical fact that freed slaves joined up with the Patriot militias there. The contrast between that dedication to liberty, and the incredible legal regime constraining their personal freedoms is moving and stunning.
I’m also working on a novel set in Philadelphia and its surrounds. That one’s a bit of a departure for me, as it is based on a real person, and there are a lot of appearances by people who are in the historical record, so the research has been intensive.
Colonel Isaac Melcher is in the record as having confronted the President and members of Congress at a tavern in Philadelphia. He apparently cursed and yelled at them over their failure to give him a commission in the Continental Army, and was brought before Congress to answer for his misconduct.
His career recovered, however, and he went on to serve as the Quartermaster General in Philadelphia until the city fell to the British. In telling his story, I’ve had a chance to more deeply explore just how precarious our situation was in the desperate days before Saratoga and the French alliance.
His history takes on a more personal meaning for me, as I may be descended from him. I say “may,” because there are some hints in the record of the Colonel’s actions that his son wasn’t his…and he knew it. Once again, the characters have taken charge of this story, and I am having to rein them in to conform with what is known from history.
Is there any topic or question we haven’t addressed that you would like to talk about?
I’ve been asked before how I make time for writing, between my full-time job, parenting responsibilities, and involvement in a number of community organizations. The answer is relatively simple: I don’t watch much television, much to my wife’s dismay. It’s not to say that I don’t want to watch many programs—there are a lot that I really enjoy—but she struggles to get me to hold still long enough to watch even an episode.
A few fun questions:
Which historical figure/event would you most like to spend a day with/witness in person? Why?
Oh, goodness, I have so many questions for Colonel Melcher, that would fill in holes in the picture I have of him. I suspect, too, that he would be a lot of fun to sit down with and share a glass or five of hard cider.
What is your favorite room in your new house? (And congratulations!)
Thank you! I love my library, which is lined in bookshelves, and has a small writing corner. Having my reference books close at hand is very convenient, and being able to visit with friends and listen to music there is really wonderful, as well.
What color dominates your wardrobe?
I can’t say that there’s a dominant color—men’s business clothes are pretty anodyne these days—but I do enjoy adding a splash of color with a bowtie. I inherited a couple from my Dad, and after I learned to tie them, I’ve added a lot to my collection.
Is there a particular word or phrase you love to say (proper nouns included)?
Здравствуйте! [Zdrávstvujte—Russian formal hello] In English, though, I’m infamous for always saying, “Howdy,” which is the only verbal holdover from a couple of years spent in Texas in my childhood.
What do you think of marshmallows? (OK, I have a motive here.)
They’re best when they’ve been burning for just a moment, and then slid in between a couple of graham crackers with a square of Hershey’s chocolate.
Thanks so much for answering my questions, serious and silly, and we hope to see you back!
It’s been my pleasure, and I look forward to visiting with you again soon!
*Stay tuned for more entries featuring The Break
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About the author ….
What made the American Colonists turn their back on their King, and fight for independence? How were they different from us–and how were their hopes and fears familiar to our own hearts?
These are the sorts of questions that I think are important to ask in examining the American Revolution, and in the pages of my novels, I suggest some possible answers.
My first novel, The Prize, was published in 2011, followed by The Light in 2013, and The Smoke, The Declaration, and The Break in 2014; The Wind was published in 2015, and The Darkness in 2016.
I’ve also written extensively about this era for the Journal of the American Revolution, and have appeared as a featured guest on an Emmy-nominated Discovery Network program, The American Revolution, which premiered nationally on the American Heroes Channel in late 2014. I am also a series expert on America: Fact vs. Fiction for Discovery Networks, and will be a panelist at the Historical Novel Society’s 2017 North American Conference.
I am an amateur historian, linguist, brewer, fiddler, astronomer and baker. Professionally, I am a technologist, marketer, writer and father. My love of history drives me to share the excitement of understanding the events of long ago, and how those events touch us still today.
We present this review on this, the 565th anniversary of the birth of Richard Plantagenet,
Duke of Gloucester and,
Dei Gratia Rex Angliae et Franciae et Dominus Hiberniae
by the Grace of God, King Richard III of England and France and Lord of Ireland.
Dickon’s Diaries – A Yeare in the Lyff of King Richard the Third
by Joanne Larner and Susan Lamb
See below for details about winning a free, signed copy of Dickon’s Diaries!
A few years ago I had opportunity to see a bit of social media shenanigans in which a well-known image of King Richard III was shopped to include the monarch wearing a Santa hat. It was Christmas, after all, though one person was not amused and demanded it be removed for the king to keep his dignity, wintry wonder or not.
But why should it be undignified? Can a person not stand tall while simultaneously engaging in mirth, something that will bring pleasure to others? One of the reasons I didn’t see it quite the way the lady who doth protest is because in my estimation it was drawing Richard into our activity, sharing our joy with him by him becoming “one of us” for the moment.
Joanne Larner and Susan Lamb do similar in Dickon’s Diaries, though I would add that the effect is greater because their inclusion moves in both directions. While Christmas in Richard’s time was not observed in the way we do now, keeping a diary or some sort of recordkeeping encompasses all ages. Moreover, all people have some thoughts they generally keep to themselves or within a circle of confidantes, so the concept would not be completely unknown to people then or now.
As the title gives away, Dickon’s Diaries presents a year in the life of Richard III; the book takes us through Sprynge, Summer, Autumne and Wynter, all of which encompass their attendant activities and a group of modern ladies quite fond of the king, who heretofore had shared his words of wisdom on Ye Book of Faces, and now “hath wryttn down alle Oure thoughts and anecdotes for your pleasure.” See? Even the king wills it. For our enjoyment he draws us in to share his modern experiences and bids us read on.
Dickon’s Diaries is an entertaining, light-hearted look at a medieval king who, via a bridge spanning time, engages in modern activities and responds to them, often hilariously. The Dames who dote on him make their appearances, showing affection and often providing explanation and links between what he knows of the world and that presented to him in this modern age. With a fondness for Jaffa cakes, a Capp of Chino on occasion and a growing collection of “My Little Destrier” (chronically missing a difficult-to-acquire prize piece on Ye-Bay, the “Murderous Mustang”), Richard makes his way with aplomb from episode to episode, documenting each and even advising others in an “agony uncle” column established for that purpose.
Shortly before a cake-baking competition, one nervous subject, Miss Cilla Goose, writes in for a solution to her nail-biting habit, especially given that her Grace will be judge. Assuring Miss Goose of his impartiality, Dickon then directs her to a local nail spa, where its proprietor will ensure that her nails “verily do shine and sparkle.” In his post script: “We suggest thou maketh a fruite cake—Oure currant favourite. (Didst thou see what We did there?)”
One of the best elements of the book is within its nuance, in that its wit is diversified and even subtle at times. The women who often surround him occasionally appear themselves as subject of his comments, wound into self-deprecating humor that keeps the king likeable while still able to pull off the occasional conceit. Catching sight of a particular Dame in the stands at a tournament, he bows and asks her favor. “Of course, she swooned. (We doth have this effect on alle female creatures, with the exception of Oure wyff.)”
The king is indeed hotheaded, silly or serious at times; wrapped within these (and other) emotions and elsewhere through the book are historical references that range from the obvious –
“Nay, manne! ‘Tis not the rhymes! Thou didst say: ‘Roses are redd!’ Surely thou didth meaneth ‘Roses are whyte’! Now get thee hence and changeth this treasonous verse forthwith!”
—to the artful:
‘Twas a few weeks ago that We didst consult Our box of lights [computer] … Then, lo, We didst espy a sett of changes of apparell for [My Little Destrier] also. Ye knowest fulle welle that destriers canst be caparisoned in Oure coloures and Oure standard; welle, now can ye buyeth various different cognizants, useful for ye Stanleys, We suppose, who hath always been known for changynge their coates! (Smirks.)
The narrative is also cunningly sprinkled with Shakespearean references, telling given the real playwright’s relationship to Richard Plantagenet as his protagonist. After the long-suffering Lovell devises an entertainment plan to shake off the winter blues, an “interesting manne” shows up, stating that he “is within this tent to writeth a goodly storie of us, but the musick shall bother him not, for he is a tadd hard of hearynge.” This opens up for readers to imagine or concoct a variety of comical possibilities as to how the bard got it so wrong.
As the event opens the “welcomynge speech … read[s] thus”:
Now is the winter of Oure Dis-co-tecke, made glorious summer with sandwiches of pork, and crisps, subtleties and fancies.”
Before starting the book, I’d wondered if I would have difficulty reading extended amounts of dialect, but this proved not to be a worry. The fancy font most of the book is written in may appear to be problematic when first starting out, but one gets used to it rather quickly, and it is large enough to be reader friendly. Speaking of friendly, the aforementioned woman on the social media would be happy to know (one would hope) that Richard always does maintain his dignity, even if he must engage in a series of frowns, glowers and shakes of his head in disbelief to get his point across.
Of course, we don’t know precisely what the real Richard was like in his own time. Would he have laughed at ribald jokes or seen the sparkle in silly word play? Would he be amused at the authors’ portrayal of Shakespeare, who disparaged him in a manner that echoed through the centuries? Since he was found in 2012 – within the book a topic addressed to which he queries the ability of a nation to lose its king, and the authors treat with perfect balance of the comic as well as reverence within jest – a number of “certainties” have been debunked. So why not the possibility that he had a rollicking sense of humor as well!?
If joking around for some doesn’t include modern words used within medieval speech or activities, or medieval English employed not exactly in the way it would have been in the fifteenth century, well, there’s a reason for that. Especially given the rowing over where to re-inter the king, as the authors mention in their end notes, there certainly seemed room for a bit of cheer, and that’s what this is meant to be: a light-hearted expression of Richard presenting the possibility that, indeed, he too liked to get away from the stress at times and have a bit of laughter and merriment. The diaries never claim to be what they are not, and what they are not is not its aim.
Sometimes naughty, occasionally fantastical, always clever and filled with exuberant energy, Dickon’s Diaries is the anecdote for a rough day or object of an evening’s pleasurable reading. Anyone who even periodically enjoys social media funniness, those interested in Richard III or even the uninitiated would get a great kick out of the diaries, since the “prior knowledge” involved in some of the jokes tend to be the sort most know about already (e.g. Shakespeare). Its narrative brings everybody into the moment because we all find ourselves in the midst of hilarious misunderstandings and funny fusion of cultural habits familiar and foreign, even when they are from our own time.
Despite its lack of strict adherence to period speech, the authors most definitely show themselves in a variety of ways to be keen observers of language, and we are given ample opportunity to verily bathe in the freewheeling frolics within the narrative as well as dialogue. Additionally, what the characters seem to be thinking and feeling shows up in illustrator Riikka Nikko’s drawings wholly, and the impression of them entices us into events depicted. One gets an inkling not just for the characters’ experiences, but also the environment in the actual moment, the sense of what is happening and a feel of involvement within it all. I actually would have loved to see more of these pictures included and hope that in the second volume there will be.
Dickon’s Diaries is a whirling, laugh-out-loud experience of a read that is easily re-enacted, given its light hilarity and easily digestible segments (chapters within each season). Filled with flavor, fun and individuals – some of whom are real, including writers and musicians! – readers will want to get to know even more, and can participate in on Ye Book of Faces or even within their own experimentation. With a place for everyone, Richard comes to us and we to him; together we can stand and celebrate the best parts of life.
Now readeth ye on!
Would you like to win a free, autographed paperback copy of Dickon’s Diaries? Of course you would! Simply comment below – even a quickie hello works! – and you are automatically entered into the drawing, which will occur in three weeks. Please make sure we have a way to contact you! Alternately, you may comment at the pinned post in the blog’s page on Ye Book of Faces, located here.
Click here to see my review of Richard Liveth Yet: A Historical Novel Set in the Present Day,
and for my review of Richard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country, click here.
Stay tuned for my review of Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change
About the authors …
Joanne Larner was born in London and moved to Rayleigh in Essex (UK) in 2001. She has wanted to write a novel since the age of thirteen and finally managed it in 2015. She was helped by two things: National Novel Writing Month and Richard III. Richard was her inspiration and she became fascinated by him when she saw the Channel 4 documentary The King in the Car Park in February 2013. She researched his life and times and read countless novels, but became fed up because they all ended the same way – with his death at the Battle of Bosworth.
So she decided to write a different type of Richard story and added a time travel element. The rest is (literally) history. She found his character seemed to write itself and with NaNoWriMo giving her the impetus to actually DO it, she succeeded. After she began writing the story that was in her head, she found that there was far too much material for one book and, in fact, it finally turned into a trilogy consisting of Richard Liveth Yet (Book I); Richard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country and Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change. The final installment takes place mainly in Richard’s time and Joanne found that many actual historical elements seemed to match serendipitously with her requirements. For example, the characters who were contemporary to Richard, the date of Joana’s death, the fact that Lorenzo’s wife, Clarice, had twins that didn’t survive the birth, etc.
In the event you simply cannot wait for the drawing and possibly win a free signed copy of one of Joanne’s books, you may purchase Richard Liveth Yet (Book I)at Blurb, Amazon or Amazon UK; Richard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country at Blurb, Amazon and Amazon UKand Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change at Blurb, Amazon and Amazon UK. Dickon’s Diaries – A Yeare in the Lyff of King Richard the Third is available on Blurb, Amazon and Amazon UK. The pair will again team up for a second volume, and Joanne is working on another Richard book, which will be called Distant Echoes and will involve a fictional technology, Richard’s DNA and his story in his own words. Joanne is pleased to add that she has recently had a story published in The Box Under the Bed: An Anthology of Scary Stories from 20 Authors, available at Amazon and Amazon UK.
To follow Joanne Larner and her writing, sign up or follow her at Facebook, Twitter and her blog.
Susan Lambwrites …
I am a staunch Ricardian, I love to visit places associated with Richard III, and I’m convinced that he was not responsible for the disappearance of the boys in the tower. I also love reading, I’m a passionate supporter of the Redwings horses too, and the Greyhounds. I live in the West Midlands with my husband Ray, my mom, and not forgetting Beauty the Greyhound.
Dickon’s Diaries came into being because originally I wrote (and still do) a Facebook page called “Dickon for His Dames,” where I write as him. I was talking to Joanne one day, and both Joanne and myself felt that too much was written about the seriousness, duty, and cares of his life, and we wanted to inject a little humour into an otherwise sad story as we felt that too much was written about his ultimate demise. So our book started there, and it’s not making fun of him at all, far from it, we’re having fun with him and not at his expense, unlike some other books we’ve seen.
So, Muddleham is a euphemism of Middleham, a kind of alternative universe, a little like Brigadoon I guess! Where he lives happily with his wife Anne, son Edward and Lovell, his trusty sidekick. His dames who visit him are all more than a little in love with him! White Syrie his horse has a mind of his own, and his staff and neighbours adore him, especially the buxom baker lady. Edward gets into many scrapes with the blacksmith’s son, and his essay for school left a lot to be desired! We are currently working on book two, where Anne will voice her opinions occasionally, so will Lovell, and there will be a lot more fun to come!
A copy of Dickon’s Diaries – A Yeare in the Lyff of King Richard the Third was provided by the authors in exchange for an honest review.
Author photo courtesy Joanne R. Larner
Illustrations used with the gracious permission of Riikka Nikko
A new series with rapid reviews about great movies
See end of review for assessment:
A must see on the big screen, Good show, but matinee would suffice OR Watch movie, but wait for DVD
Dunkirk is the war movie’s war movie. Set in Dunkerque, France in 1940, it depicts the aftermath, in part, of the fall of France and the Low Countries, whereupon British and French troops find themselves surrounded by German armies, virtually sitting ducks as they await rescue from across the English Channel. With the Luftwaffe bombing the beach and water, ships and men go down by the hundreds each day.
Director, screenwriter and producer Christopher Nolan tells their story from the perspectives of sea, land and air as small, private British vessels are commandeered by the Navy to travel across the Channel, able as they are, to reach past points the larger ships cannot. As this journey is underway, we witness the three perspectives mostly via the actual experiences of the individuals living them. There is very little dialogue and the music score syncs in time to events, large and small, often acting as conduit to communication and where things are headed, and it is riveting. Between the cinematography of Hoyte van Hoytema and Hans Zimmer’s score, my back never touched the cinema seat.
As the movie opens, we are already at war—there is no leading up to it. Three headers meant to give us timing information might have been better utilized with dates: “One Week” didn’t tell me if this means there is a week of enduring some plight, for example or, as I later realized, the action was happening one week before the last day of rescue, June 3.
Apart from minimal dialogue, we see very little growth of the individuals populating the film though, and it’s difficult to overstress this, there is a specific reason. Dunkirk is not about any one person and we never learn any significant background details on any of them. The picture’s spotlight is the battle itself, and Nolan spends a great deal of focus on developing events and action within that. The conflict is the main character, and viewers see it grow from a small street fight, branching out to other pockets of resistance, take on more consequence as we observe aerial shots of soldiers queuing in the water while they wait for boats, many of whom have already been bombed and torpedoed right before them, and a larger picture as the three perspectives converge with the singular aim of their goal to bring the men back to Dover.
Some movie reviewers concede the point: the battle is the focus, yet they continue to gripe about character development, and my feeling is you can’t have it both ways. Either one understands the real focus and does not downgrade the film for character growth, or they knock off a few points and leave off pretending to recognize the singular role played by the Battle of Dunkirk itself.
The cinematography and direction of Dunkirk—which includes cockpit views that turn upside down any stereotyped cliché about breathtaking aerial shots—are both set in place for Oscar 2018. While I enjoy movies as much as the next guy, it is very much not my habit to run home and write reviews about each one I watch. That I felt the inclination to share my thoughts on Dunkirk speaks volumes, and I know I will be re-visiting in thought and discussion much about Dunkirk in days, weeks and months to come. Additionally, I believe people will be talking about this film for years, because it possibly is the best war movie ever made.
I am so pleased to present this joint interview blog, Readers Voice: The Importance of Covers, which appeared early this year on Discovering Diamonds, author Helen Hollick’s brilliant blog highlighting the best of historical fiction in the form of reviews and other features. I was so pleased to join with three other bloggers as we chatted with Anna Belfrage, author of the wonderful Graham Saga series, to talk about covers and why they matter to readers. I’ve included the responses from Jo, David and Jenny, and highly encourage you to check out their blogs as well as books they’ve dipped into or treasured.
In some instances my own answers vary slightly from what appears at the original blog (linked above); owing to considerations of space, some snipping had been required for Anna’s posting. Feel free to spin through other entries too, both here and at Discovering Diamonds, as well as by Jenny, David and Jo – and as always, have fun!
Author Anna Belfrage has brought together four book-bloggers for a discussion about covers.
Are covers important? Yes or no?
Anna: I’d say they are – but let us not get ahead of ourselves. Instead, I’d like my guests to introduce themselves. Jo, why don’t you go first?
Jo: Hello everyone, I’m Jo, a prolific reader and also an active book blogger at Jaffareadstoo – a blog I share with my ginger tom, Jaffa. I live in Lancashire in northwest England, and I am happily retired after a thirty year nursing career. To fill the void after I finished work I started blogging and chatting about books to anyone who would listen. I’ve also reviewed books for magazines and online websites. My passion is historical fiction and whilst I prefer medieval history, I do also love a good time slip novel that keeps one foot firmly in the present whilst visiting the past.
The one book that has made the most impression was Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It’s the only book EVER that, as I finished the last sentence in the book, I turned immediately to the beginning and read all 863 pages again.
David: Hi, I’m David from David’s Book Blurg. I live up north near Newcastle in the UK with my wife and twin girls. I’m a lover of history but favourite period so far would have to be 1066. I particularly enjoyed 1066: What Fates Impose by Glynn Holloway.
Jenny: I’m Jennifer Quinlan, but everybody calls me Jenny Q! I am a native of Virginia—a ninth-generation Virginian, actually. My family has lived in the same county since the 1680s! I studied history and English at Virginia Tech, and I am the owner of Historical Editorial. I provide copyediting and developmental editing services, and I design book covers. I also have a book review blog, my first love, Let Them Read Books.
I will read a novel from any historical period if the subject catches my fancy, though I am partial to British, French, and American history. I can’t possibly name a favorite read, but some of the timeless books on my historical fiction shelf of honor are Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh Princes Trilogy and The Sunne in Splendour, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Gone with the Wind, Lonesome Dove, and Forever Amber. (AB: Ah, yes: Forever Amber – one of my first hist fit loves.)
Lisl: Ehem. (clears throat) Well. I’m Lisl and come from the Great Land, known to most people Outside as Alaska. (“Outside” simply means any place not Alaska.) I keep a blog called Before the Second Sleep, in which I write book reviews and other tidbits that strike my fancy. Back in September I had a series called “Month of Mary Stewart” to celebrate 100 years since the birth of this wonderful author. My mother recommended Stewart’s The Crystal Cave to me and solidified the affection I already had for Merlin. Other than this author’s Merlin Trilogy, I love to read time travel, historical fiction—mostly in Arthurian, 1066, Wars of the Roses and American history—and a few other genres.
AB: Wow, what a lovely and varied group of people you are! And, dear readers, I recommend you pop over to the various sites – these are four very different reviewers with a common passion for good books!
Now, before we get started, what can I offer you to drink? Coffee? Tea? Hot chocolate with whipped cream?
Jo: Hot chocolate with whipped cream wins every time!
David: Earl Grey for me. (A man of good taste.)
Jenny: Coffee please, and lots of it! Two creams, one sugar.
Lisl: Anna Belfrage, are you offering me chocolate? 😉 (AB:What can I say, Lisl? I live in hope ….) I would love a cup of tea, thank you!
AB: Right, with the practicalities sorted let me start by asking you how important you think the cover is. Will it sell the book to you? Or is it more a case of some covers putting you off even looking inside?
Jo: A well-designed cover suggests that time and care has gone into the story. The cover sells the book to me and I have bought books just on the basis of the cover; equally I have been turned off by poorly designed covers, or covers which bear no resemblance to the story. I have given up on a book if I have found the cover unappealing.
David: When buying a book the cover is the most important thing to me. I need a cover that catches my eye otherwise I might not even look at the back of the book to see what the story is about. I wish I could take the time to browse more but there’s so much choice out there that an author needs to stand out and the cover is the first thing you see.
Jenny: It’s both for me. I am drawn to gorgeous book covers like a kid in a candy store, so it’s more likely that a cover is going to draw me to the book rather than put me off. I tend to just skip right by books with unattractive covers. I would like to say that the importance of your cover is second only to the quality of your content, but there are many books with subpar content and outstanding covers that are selling a lot of books, so if your goal is to be a bestseller, then your cover is probably the most important part of your package.
Lisl: Oh, in some instances a cover can indeed be the pull to the whole story. It has happened not a few times that I see a cover image or design from afar and from that alone must check to see what’s inside.
AB: Consensus seems to be covers DO matter. Do you have any favourite covers?
Lisl: First I want to toss in here that I love old editions’ book covers, both size and pictures. Some are quite alluring and bring me in, while others are dated, though often still captivating! Two in particular that stand out for me are from Stewart’s above mentioned Merlin Trilogy. The first shows Merlin in his early years, which perhaps caught my attention at the time because he was a child, like me. I had been somewhat accustomed to hearing mostly about adults in my mother’s stories. On the second book in the series was a depiction of Arthur, whose attractiveness, strength and boldness—all seen in this image—appealed to me. The two covers possessed a sort of mystical feel with the night sky, troops on the move, discovery and magical growth, all set within an ancient time, one that I felt I was being beckoned to join. They both stand in stark contrast to that of The Crystal Cave’s first UK cover, which shows a bunch of crystal clumped together. A geologist might appreciate it, but I think even students of literature would find it a staid and simplistic choice, also lacking in the human touch.
David: Oh yes, Nursing Fox by Jim Ditchfield and Legionary by Gordon Doherty! Both very different but pleasing and eye catching.
Jenny: I couldn’t name a favorite cover, but here are four historical novels that had not been on my radar that I recently bought or checked out from the library for no other reason than that I found the cover irresistible.
Jo: My favourite cover is Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. I bought the book purely for the cover and had no clue what the book was about and hadn’t heard of the, then, debut author. I just knew that I had to have a hardback copy of it to keep.
AB: What must a cover have for it to grab your attention?
Jenny: I’m very drawn to women (and men) in period clothing. A gorgeous dress with a dreamy background gets me every time. I’m also drawn to evocative setting images combined with an attention-grabbing title/font combination.
Jo: Good graphics, nothing too fuzzy. Easy to read font that stands out. A design that ‘grabs’ my attention. I like simple designs using negative space rather than filling the whole of the cover with too much information. For me less is more. I want to feel an emotional connection to the story and to pick up on the mood of the book from the picture on the cover.
Lisl: Well, it needn’t have people, as my last comment may have implied—but the design should inspire some sort of sensation, even if it is simple admiration for the colors, bends, direction, etc. Ideally it would give me some sort of hint regarding the where and what for, but apart from that should at least have some element that reaches out to make a connection, even if it is a time period, for example, I don’t often read, or design that implants some curiosity into the moment.
David: For me the cover has to set the tone of the book. With Legionary by Gordon Doherty you can tell straightaway the period and that you’ll see a lot of battles being fought. Nursing Fox, however, has a much more contemplative cover, again setting the period but also has a human touch to it which fits perfectly with the tale. It’s clear we might see some war but you know mainly it’s going to be through the eyes of the nurse.
AB: What will immediately put you off a cover?
David: I hate to say it but cover with pictures of real people on them. I’m all for portraits depicting individuals; I’m just not a big fan of photos of real people being used. I like an artist’s touch rather than the Photoshop look.
Jo: A title in a font that is difficult to read. Garish colours. If the cover is too vague and confusing so that I can’t decipher what the book is about. If the cover looks ‘cheap’ or poorly presented.
Jenny: Too many elements crammed in. Text that’s hard to read. Black-and-white or sepia photos with a simple title slapped on them.
Lisl: Generally speaking, solid colors and no drawing or design. There is a very popular series whose covers are a variety of different solids. If I ever saw these books in the shops before I heard of them, I never noticed and likely wouldn’t have investigated what they are about. It was only word of mouth that brought me to them. It isn’t that I loathe this sort of cover, just that there’s a nothingness to them that produces usually the very same in terms of response … nothing.
AB: Now, one perennial cover is the “headless woman in a period gown” cover. What are your thoughts about it?
Jenny: Works for me! So often when a woman’s face is on the cover, it doesn’t match my vision of the character in my head. Her manner of dress and her body language is much more alluring for me.
Lisl: To be honest, I really enjoy taking in the different gowns—colors, styles, era designs and so on. Bodies without heads, though, well, it’s a bit weird, to be honest. That said, they do create a bit of curiosity re: what the rest of the woman might have looked like: does she seem confident in her carriage? (This you can see in the eyes.) Does she give off a strong vibe or one that shows she can be bent to another’s will?—and all kinds of questions, really. The lack of answers to these in terms of an illustration or image to give some clues matches the historical reality that, with some exception, women’s lives simply were not recorded to the extent men’s were. The humanity we often want to see is missing in the records, but it also extends the mystery of distance in time, lending it to the story.
Audiences tend to want to see into characters’ souls, and you can’t do that with a headless body, but there are other ways to captures reader attention, and one great cover image I thought was Anne Easter Smith’s Queen by Right, which depicts Cecily Neville with gloved left hand holding a goshawk and in the other, a basket of white roses. While I don’t know all that much about falconry, the image piqued my attention and bestowed upon Cecily greater individuality, strength in particular. The roses go along with the theme, of course, all adding significantly more meaning to the cover than many others, whose great dresses, unfortunately, don’t take us beyond beautiful fashion.
Jo: I’ve grown to accept this as it seems that a lot of historical fiction features the “headless woman” or a woman in period costume gazing wistfully into the distance. It’s immediately recognisable as a historical ‘brand’ and as such, survives and to be honest, I’ve become accustomed to it now.
David: I like it I’m honest. It sets the tone and lets the reader know the type of book it will be before reading, a female lead, some romance, delicate period drama perhaps. I like to know what I’m getting and this type of cover wouldn’t put me off.
Another of these perennial favourites is the “bare-chested, wild-haired man in a kilt” covers. Thoughts?
David: Not for me really… I’m not a fan of bare chested men 😊 I’m aware that books appeal to different readers so these covers do have their place but just not on my book shelf.
Jenny: I do love a man in a kilt, but I am not such a fan of the bare-chested cover. It really doesn’t do anything for me. I’m not reading the book for the man’s abs. But I’ll take a man in breeches, vest, and coat any day!
Jo: If the book is about a “bare-chested, wild-haired man in a kilt” … then yes, why not. I’m sure this type of cover sells this particular genre and if it’s what readers enjoy then that’s ok with me.
Lisl: I tend not to take them seriously, really.
AB: Which historical fiction covers do you think work particularly well? Why?
Jo: All three covers are different and yet they all appeal to me both for their simplicity and attention to detail: The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick, The First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson, The Edge of Dark by Pamela Hartshorne.
David: Oo, apart from the two previously mentioned I think others which get it spot on would have to be Wolf’s Head by Steven A. McKay, The Bowes Inheritance by Pam Lecky and I’m by no means biased when I say In the Shadow of the Storm by Anna Belfrage (AB: Thrilled! But I can’t very well include a pic of my own cover). I think each of these set the scene for the story nicely and speak to me as a reader before picking the book up.
Jenny: For me, historical fiction covers absolutely need to impart the essence of a time gone by, and the good news is there are many ways to do this using a combination of character representation, settings or objects, or even a historical-looking font. (AB: As Jenny designs covers, she preferred not to name specific covers.)
Lisl: Apart from the Stewart covers already mentioned, there are a few that come to mind straight away. I loved Annie Whitehead’s cover for To Be A Queen so much I wrote a cover crush entry about it. A mood of longing and loss is woven into the image, and even the title speaks of the distance—in time or space—between ourselves (or the characters) and what has been lost, or can never be.
I always thought the first edition for Paula Lofting’s Sons of the Wolf was as beautiful as its successor turned out to be. A ghostly rider moves amongst swirling colors that race past him, obscuring a completely clear view, as if we are given glimpses through an indistinct tapestry, the hues of which bend and blur events. The wolf referenced in the title, and who represents the warrior’s forebears, is seen above. I especially loved a particular effect of the image: one may have to take it in more than once to fully realize what it depicts, as it is not portrayed starkly, but rather as if one is seeing it—and events—through time.
I’m also a total sucker for medieval art, and I love it on book covers. Martha Kennedy uses one to grace her novel Savior, and the effect is one of growing with the cover from the first phase, before reading the book, but still admiring the image. Taken from a medieval illuminated manuscript, this one depicts knights on their coursers in the heat of war. Brought to bear on the passages set at the Battle of La Forbie, a new understanding of how these men lived and died alters what one sees in the image, a lovely cooperation between storytelling and cover art.
AB: As a final question, is there any particular period you would want to see more books about?
David: I’d like some more books set in the Wild West. It’s not a period I’m particularly familiar with but ever since I was a kid I’ve loved cowboys.
Jenny: No more Tudors please! I’d like to see more fiction set during the American and French revolutions and the War of 1812, maybe some more Irish medieval.
Jo: 11th, 12th or 13th centuries.
Lisl: I’d love to read more about the Barbary Wars. (AB: And for those who, like me, don’t go “aha!” when hearing Barbary Wars, here’s a link.)
I am rather encouraged by Jo’s periods given my own writing preferences 🙂 And I agree: no more Tudors! How about some Stuarts instead? Thank you so much for joining me here today – and I must say that the covers you’ve mentioned are very varied – which just goes to show that what appeals to one reader may not appeal to another. Duh!
Many thanks to Anna Belfrage and my wonderful co-bloggers for such a great time!
Nearly a thousand years ago today—951, to be exact—a battle took place at Stamford Bridge at East Riding of Yorkshire, between the English King Harold Godwinson and Norwegian Harald Hardrada. Though the Norwegian was aided by the English king’s brother Tostig, the victory went to Harold. Icelandic historian, mythologist, poet and politician Snorri Sturluson writes that before the battle a lone man rides up to Harald and Tostig with a message that the latter could re-gain his lost earldom if he turns against Hardrada. Tostig asks what King Harald would gain from this. “Seven feet of English ground, as he is taller than other men,” comes the reply. Impressed by the now-departed rider’s fearlessness, Hardrada asks Tostig who the man was. Tostig tells him this was Harold Godwinson himself.
Harald and Tostig are both killed in battle and the Norse lose with such severity that only a couple of dozen ships out of their original fleet of some 300 are needed to transport survivors back home. Today author G.K. Holloway, who writes in 1066: What Fates Impose of King Harold in the time leading up to this fateful year, is off to re-enactment of the famous fight which, despite Harold’s win, influenced how the next battle in his struggle to save his country would turn out.
Glynn Holloway joins us today as we look back in time and discuss motivations of Harold as well as William. Why should we remember this era? What happened before and after Harold’s shipwreck? What drove William despite the law standing against him, and the others affected by all this: soldiers, civilians, families, survivors, those who came after? What did it all portend for them, for us? Holloway’s novel portrays both figures, as well as others, thoughtfully and with great care to the reality of how various events affected each other. He speaks today of Anglo-Saxon achievement and what they set out for us before their end, why they matter and how our remembrance of them gives them some justice. I posed some challenging questions, and Holloway takes them up, as in 1066: What Fates Impose, with both sensitivity and passion, the strength of his convictions shining through as he speaks for a people who can no longer do it for themselves.
Welcome, Glynn Holloway, and thanks so much for spending a bit of time again with us as we approach the end of our year-long observance of the 950th anniversary of 1066. It’s been a time of introspection, hard thought and contemplation, remembering all the people who lost their lives at the Battle of Hastings, and who survived – or didn’t – its aftermath. Your fantastic novel, 1066: What Fates Impose, really brings so much of that home for the modern reader, as well as what led up to it all.
Your bio mentions being gifted Ian W. Walker’s The Last Anglo-Saxon King, which inspired you to research and write about the time yourself. Had you learned about it before and wanted to delve deeper? Or was it a cold call, so to speak, in terms of titles?
When my wife, Alice, bought me Walker’s book I had no more idea than the average person about what was happening in England before the Norman Invasion. Walker’s book opened my eyes and made me want to know more. The more I researched the more I wanted to know. Eventually, I thought the end of the Anglo-Saxon era one of the most interesting and exciting epochs ever. I was amazed no one had made an epic film or book about the period. So, I decided to do it myself. 1066: What Fates Impose is the result.
In writing about historical figures, what cautions did you come up against, from yourself and others? What are the ethics of writing about people who really lived?
My main concern is keeping as close to what is known of the facts as I can. No one knows everything about events that led up to the Battle of Hastings. We know quite a lot, the approximate number of soldiers on each side, whose army was filled with professionals, whose was not, who had archers, who did not, etc. Where the history becomes foggy, and there’s quite a bit of fog in the eleventh century, are places like Harold’s reason for journeying to Normandy, how he became shipwrecked, what were the circumstances of his oath swearing to William. This is where the fiction comes in but even so, I tried to keep the story within the bounds of reality. Keep the story real and balanced. If your subject is genuinely exciting, you shouldn’t need to ‘spice it up’ too much. Portray the characters as accurately as possible, even the villains deserve that, and the story should be better for being more ‘real.’ And finally, on a different note, I feel that writers of historical fiction owe it to their readers to present the history as accurately as they can otherwise we’re in danger of obscuring real events and characters and if that happens, then we won’t know what really happened in the past and it follows from there that we won’t know who we are or how we got here.
Whether writing about them or not, do you feel we owe something to Harold Godwinson and the others he fought with and against?
Do we owe something to Harold Godwinson? Well, he laid down his life for his kingdom and his people. A cynic would perhaps say, well, he owned a massive chunk of the country, so he was only fighting in his self-interest. For the following reasons, I don’t believe that to be true. William offered Harold his daughter’s hand in marriage, she would be Harold’s queen and their descendants would rule after them. This would mean Harold would have to betray/disinherit his family with Edith Swan-neck but he and his descendants with William’s daughter would continue his dynasty. But Harold didn’t take up the offer.
What convinces me of Harold’s sincerity, is his eagerness to get into Sussex in 1066 when William and his army arrived. He took his responsibilities as lord and protector seriously. He left London too early because he felt he’d let down the people on his estates and wanted to defend them. His brother, Gyrth, wanted to implement slash and burn tactics around Hastings to starve out the Normans. Harold would have none of it. He saw it as his duty to protect his tenants, not destroy their livelihoods. Naturally, my respect goes out to Harold’s followers but as to those he fought against, the bulk of them were just out to feather their own nests and this they did with zest.
Is there anything you think Harold could have done or not done that might have changed the outcome of the Battle of Hastings? What helped William the most?
I think Harold’s biggest mistake was not to wait a day or two longer before setting out from London. Having just travelled up to Stamford Bridge, battled against the biggest Viking army to land in England, before returning south, exhausting his forces in the process. If he had waited just that couple of days, Earls Edwin and Morcar would have marched down to Senlac with him, his men would have had a little more rest. That probably would have swung it for him.
What helped William the most? Luck. I don’t say that lightly. William’s first attempt at invading England came sometime around 12th September and ended in disaster. A storm had blown up in the Channel and blown his fleet onto the shores of Ponthieu. It could easily have been worse and his armada might have ended up at the bottom of the sea.
What I will give William credit for is his organizational skills. Putting the army together, building a navy to carry it across the sea is quite a feat, as is supplying his forces for a month while he waited in Dives for a favourable wind to come along. He also had political guile. Gaining the support of the Pope was a master stroke and helped draw additional support for his campaign from many countries north of the Alps.
Knowing Harold and William as you do, what do you think each would have thought of your portrayal of him?
I don’t think William would be too pleased. I portray him as cruel. There are some people who would tell you, this is in the medieval period, things were barbaric but for the harrying of the north alone, and by harrying, I mean genocide, he was more barbaric than any other king of England. I’d point to this for those who say William was no worse than the rest and don’t forget, his contemporaries thought him cruel, so he must have been cruel, even by the standards of the time.
Was he honest or a liar? He had no claim to the English throne. Under English law, the king had to be of royal blood, legitimately born and elected by the Witan. Under Norman law, the title was inherited by primogeniture, i.e. down the male line. William wasn’t eligible under either law, but he claimed the throne anyway. Why?
I think he may have been offered it by someone. If may have been King Edward or perhaps Archbishop Robert de Jumieges. Whoever it was, it wasn’t theirs to offer. But I think William thought he was in the right. He wouldn’t much appreciate me pointing out his error.
I think Harold might well like my depiction of him. He comes across as what he was, handsome, courageous, intelligent, a great leader of men and a good king. He is also not without faults. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he had a tendency to ‘dally and he was too liberal.’ So, not too bad then.
If given the opportunity, would you agree to meet with Harold in life? What about William? What would you say to them, and what do you reckon they might say to you? Would you be interested in an encounter with Harold’s ghost? (I don’t think it would be at all like William’s, as portrayed in 1066: What Fates Impose!)
It would be fascinating to meet with Harold in real life. I’d ask him all those what if questions. Where he thought he went wrong. What would he do differently if he had the opportunity? As for William, I think that would be a bit scary but I’d love to know why he really thought he was entitled to the English crown.
Do you think it would matter to either one that we know their history (even long before 1066), or that we believe in the rightness of what either of them did?
I think they would both want to be seen as doing the right thing and be recognised for doing so. I think Harold would be particularly keen to know what we, 950 years after the event, thought of the oath he swore to William and if anyone thought it binding.
What about the ordinary people, combatants and non-combatants alike? Do you think it would matter to them that we know what happened and how they suffered? What considerations do you feel they are entitled to?
Nobody likes to be forgotten and to suffer and have no one know or care would be hurtful in the extreme. I think it would matter to them we know and care. It’s as close as they’ll get to justice.
Do you believe enough Anglo-Saxon history is taught in schools today? What would you say to people unconvinced that this history is worth learning about? (Or to people overwhelmed at the thought of studying this period?)
No, I don’t think enough Anglo-Saxon history is taught in schools today. I wouldn’t be surprised if more people know about Anglo-Saxon history from reading Bernard Cornwell’s novels, or TV adaptations, than anything taught in a classroom. Anglo-Saxon history, to many, is the Dark Ages. The Romans left, the lights went out, then the Normans came and switched them on again. While the lights were out the Vikings took advantage, and robbed the churches from the feeble Anglo-Saxons who did nothing much to defend themselves.
The Anglo-Saxons laid the foundations for England and established a proto-democracy with a first-rate administration to back it up. Their society was relatively wealthy and cultured. All this is passed by. You can buy wall charts in England with all the Kings of England represented, starting with William in 1066. I can’t tell you how annoying I find it.
Do any of the characters or historical figures speak to you?
No, they don’t. I can visualize them easily enough and imagine them interacting with each other quite clearly. But no, they don’t talk to me. Heaven only knows what they’d say if they did.
Do you think one could be an effective writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
I think a writer is most effective when writing about what they know. So, if you don’t feel emotions strongly, it’s going to be difficult to write about them. My book is historical fiction. It’s all very well researching the history but for people to really engage they need to feel the fear, lust, love, hate, sympathy, etc. A lot of people have told me when they were reading 1066, in the final battle at Hastings, they really wanted Harold to win, even though they knew how it would end. I think that’s, in part, because I feel passionate about the era and what went on and that is conveyed in the story telling.
How do you balance being reader and writer friendly? For example, how do you know or decide how much background information to add and how, so that readers are not put off by either a perceived sense of being “spoon fed” or left hanging by lack of information?
You’ve asked me some interesting questions and this is the most difficult. All I can say is I write what I’d like to read. I can be quite certain my readers would like to know some details about the history, clothes, jewellery, weapons, etc. They wouldn’t be reading historical fiction if they felt otherwise. But where to draw the line? I try to weave things together so I’ll try and merge a scene, say, in a mead hall, with the customs, the kind of food and type of dance by presenting a single scene and not a series of mini lectures. Hopefully, if I’ve done my job right, while the reader learns a little about Anglo-Saxon life they’ll read an interesting scene which moves the story along.
Do you perform all your research before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were)? Or do you periodically dip back in the archives? Do you go on research trips?
I do the bulk of my research before I start typing but then I’ll come across something that I feel needs flushing out or is more interesting than I first imagined, so then I’ll research around the topic. In 1066, it was herbal medicine, horn dances, sword manufacture, falconry, Anglo-Saxon horse breeding and pagan wedding ceremonies, to name a few.
Research trips, for me, are essential. All the places I’ve written about, I’ve visited, except Norway, and that was because my wife became ill the day we were due to leave. I know they’ve changed a bit since the eleventh century but you get a feel for the places and the lie of the land, whether it be Falaise Castle in Normandy, or Bosham in Sussex.
What is one thing you would give up to become a better writer?
What does literary success look like to you?
My experience of literary success, if you can call it that, is some great reviews. Someone telling me my book is brilliant (yes, it has happened and more than once). In a word, recognition.
When not writing what do you like to read? What is your favorite underappreciated novel? Nonfiction?
I switch between novels and history books. My favourite underappreciated novel is The Boy with No Shoes, by William Horwood. It’s a beautiful evocation of a boy’s tough childhood in 1950s/60s England.
A few fun questions:
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Pies! I love them.
Are you a morning person?
These days I am but I never used to be.
What do you find difficult to throw away?
Lots of things but I have noticed I have a boundless collection of socks, most of them are full of holes.
What song would you listen to on a loop?
Van Morrison, “Have I Told You Lately?”
Do you prefer dogs or cats?
I like dogs but prefer cats.
Thanks so much, Glynn, for taking time to chat with us and I hope we will see lots more of you!
Mark your calendar for these events with author Glynn Holloway:
Book signing at The Bookshop in East Grinstead on 30th September
Per Glynn Holloway, Summer of 2018 should see the publication of the sequel to 1066.You can sign up for the author’s newsletter at his blog, and keep up with new dates added to his calendar, as well as news about his upcoming sequel. Also, follow him on Facebook and Twitter. 1066: What Fates Impose is available for purchase at Amazon and Amazon UK. He is also a contributor to 1066: Turned Upside Down.
Author Glynn Holloway writes …
I’ve always liked stories ever since I was a kid and not fussy about what format they came in; whether it be stories read out loud on the radio, TV, comics, books or films, I still get great pleasure in listening to people telling me their own stories, whether it be at a bus stop or some heart to heart conversation, whatever. When other people get bored or impatient at the supermarket checkout, I find myself picking out other customers and working out their back stories or develop a character in a novel. I just love stories, so, I suppose, it’s only natural that I tell stories as well as listen to them. The only people I didn’t listen to were teachers – unless they taught history, literature or Bible stories.
Being dyslexic, I never really read much, until, at the age of eight, I ended up in hospital with appendicitis. Lying in a hospital bed is pretty boring and as there was no TV in hospital wards in those days, I read through all the comics I could get my hands on. So my Mum brought me in a couple of books and that’s what got me into reading. In my teens I progressed through every Biggles book ever published to Penguin Modern Classics and most of what they had to offer.
After leaving school I became a compositor on a local newspaper; trained in a job that should have seen me set for life. Along came photo-film-setting and I watched as printing changed overnight and saw a machine doing the job of half a dozen men in a fraction of the time they could. I knew this was just the beginning of the end for me and decided to get myself an education and a different career. Studying O Levels and A Levels part-time at the local technical college, I went on to take a history and politics degree in Coventry.
From Coventry I went to Bristol, studied to be a Careers Officer, worked in Gloucestershire in schools, colleges and Adult Education, before becoming a Student Welfare Officer.
What made me write? My wife, Alice, bought me a book for Christmas, which I just loved. It was called Harold: The Last Anglo Saxon King, by Ian W Walker and it shone a light into the dark recesses of history I knew little about. I found the whole period so fascinating I just read more and more about it. In fact, I found the whole era so exciting I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been covered more in films, TV, books, etc. (think Tudors). ‘Somebody ought to write a novel about this,’ I thought and decided that somebody ought to be me. Fortunately, things worked out in such a way I was able to realise my dream. The rest is historical fiction.
Click here for my review of 1066: What Fates Impose, and here for links to previous entries in our “950: 1066 Remembered” series. Stay tuned for our closing entry coming in October.
I simply couldn’t wait to start gathering my piles together. I’ve been thinking so much lately about so many of the wonderful books I’ve been dreaming of reading in the new year—and very possibly sooner. Not unlike my son, who has been organizing piles since his fine motor skills were first developed enough to curl his little fingers around the items of his choice, I’ve been stacking in anticipation of the day after I post the last review in my current bracket.
What of it? Well, I had planned to re-open for a few more submissions, as I did last time, but in the end decided against that. I may do it again; possibly requests will make their way to me, and certainly I’ll do reviews of some books I read on my own, and blog about things I’ve been wanting to but haven’t had the opportunity. For right now, though, the goal is to finish up the year and open 2018 with a clear, settled, relaxing slate.
So my thinking was that on the occasional Friday I’ll share a bracket of five books I have on my TBR, works I’ve been especially chomping at the bit to get to. I may or may not read them in bracket order, as often my reading choice is subject to mood, and it’s not likely to be easy to choose—you should have seen me just now sorting through books with such indecision—but I console myself with the possession of new time and the understanding there will be other Fridays.
Four Nails (by G.J. Berger) This author’s debut novel, South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon, has been instrumental in widening my parameters to include more reading of Roman and early Celtic historical fiction. This really is a fascinating time, and other great reads related to the era or its people have made their way to me, further adding to my enjoyment of the amazing stories people have to tell. In the case of Four Nails, Ashoka, taken into a slave caravan from India, navigates his way through the Second Punic War as he discovers the power of friendship and strength “known only to those with nothing left to lose.”
The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805(by Richard Zacks) I’ve tried to read this book before and been overwhelmed by commitments I’d made to the reading and reviewing of others before it (not to mention real life). Possibly my inhalation of Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates answered my appetite for that time being, but I wanted more about the Barbary Wars and it’s been dancing around my mind, demanding answers. Having started the book once, I believe it provides more extensive details about some historical figures discussed in Brian Kilmeade’s aforementioned title, such as William Eaton, who knew well the old Barbary maxim that “whoever acts like a sheep, the wolf will eat,” an understanding seemingly forgotten in today’s world. I’m looking forward to learning more about these wars and where that might lead me.
The Lost Kingdom—1066: I am the Chosen King (by Helen Hollick) It’s been awhile now I have heard not a small amount of praise about this author, and though I purchased this volume some months ago, have not yet read it, a situation I intend to remedy as soon as possible. I can thank Paula Lofting for pushing me, if not exactly kicking and screaming, somewhat reluctantly into the Anglo-Saxon era, which I completely and utterly fell for. Here Hollick picks up in 1044, when events unfold that have a role in how the battles of 1066 will play out. In this year England stands at a crossroads and everything hangs in the balance as Harold Godwinson sacrifices all for his country. From childhood history lessons we know how this will play out, but here we are promised a revelation of what makes up the real Harold, “shattered by the unforgiving needs of a Kingdom” and given “all the honor and dignity that history remembers of its fallen heroes.”
The Path of the Hawk (by Ian Graham) This is another novel, first in a series of the same title about “an elite unit of soldiers and spies,” that I purchased and reluctantly put aside in this year of overflowing plate. It came to my attention via a review written by author Steven A. McKay (remember this name—you’ll see it again), who describes exactly what I’m looking for in a fantasy novel (when I do read one): “The writing style is engaging and entertaining, the action fast paced and imaginative, and the characters interesting and well-drawn. The world they inhabit is detailed enough to feel real but not in the boring, overdone way some fantasy writers do.” Real is a key word for me here, not dismissive of magical elements, just that they don’t appear each time like some deus ex machina, with little or no relationship to the characters or their history. I also like McKay’s mention of fast-paced, and knowing they are spies and soldiers—characters I’ve been enamored of since childhood—I’m very much looking forward to a thrilling read.
Sextant: A Young Man’s Daring Sea Voyage and the Men Who Mapped the World’s Oceans (by David Barrie) I almost feel guilty mentioning this account, given I’ve done so at least twice before. I love the sea and reading a history of mapping it, I imagine, will provide a glimpse into a world so many of us only dream about knowing, even having learned of all those important historic expeditions in school. Of course that’s not enough! “[A] love letter to the sea and sky,” this book’s blurb gives me the impression it will tap directly into more of my childhood fascinations as the two definitively linked earthly elements recount memories of my own attempts at creating a sextant—wholly unsuccessful, but the keeper of a fleet of wondrous memories.
Thanks for joining us and look for more in weeks to come!