Long time…..

Anne of York, Sister of Edward IV and Richard ...

Anne of York, Sister of Edward IV and Richard III, Aunt of Queen Elizabeth of York, Great-Aunt of Henry VIII and his siblings, with her 2nd husband, Sir Thomas St. Leger (Photo credit: lisby1)

No see…..

Gosh it has been a very long while since I last gave my blog any attention. Life gets busy doesn’t it? I’ve never been too busy to write but I have been busy enough to realise I have to prioritise what I write and unfortunately the blog had to go on hold.

Some amazing things have been happening over the last few months,

Finding Richard III – OK I can’t claim to have ‘done’ that, but it was a fairly major piece of news in my life. It was only a few years ago that I became so very interested in this enigmatic character and began to attempt to write about him – a fact I mainly kept to myself and those I knew had an interest themselves. It seemed strange to see him suddenly propelled into such a spotlight. Before the discovery of his body I had come to the conclusion I was not a good enough writer to create the kind of work I feel would most aptly, in my own eyes, portray the complexities of his character. I still feel that way, but the ambition is not lost, just set aside to grow quietly in the background, until I’m ready to attend to it again.

More script writing – I never had any ambition to write film scripts and yet that’s what I seem to have spent most of my time doing, certainly in the last six months. One script, ‘Watching over you’ is in production – the casting has taken place I believe and another, shorter film (probably 7mins long) is now in pre-production too. We’re having difficulty finding a convenience store or petrol station shop willing to let us film there – so if you know of anywhere (esp in the Nottingham area) please let us know!

The novel – I just don’t know what to do about this ‘thing’. It is so close to having being finished and yet I’ve stalled. Partly due to my attention being taken by the script writing, but that’s not the full story.  I intend to send some pages off to a competition, but the closing date is drawing near and I haven’t submitted. I’m also going round in circles in my own mind about whether or not to send it for a second full critique – which will cost £100s – but might be the final push I need to get it good enough to send to agents etc. But I don’t want to waste money – Ive already spent a fair amount on it, in writing courses and the first critique – but then I should have faith that its worth it. So what should I do? Stop faffing I imagine!!

When do you know it’s ready to show the world? If you’re a published writer, let me know. If you’re not, let me know if you have a theory!

Keep going writers, never give up, never surrender 🙂

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Could it be Richard III?

Because of the news from the archeological dig in Leicester I couldn’t let today past with out a blog about my favourite Plantagenet.

I first became aware of Richard III after reading a book called the Maligned King by Annette Carson. I don’t often read history books for fun, even though I am a bit of a geek, but this novel really caught me. I remember feeling excited and outraged in equal measure by the claims made by Carson. I even found myself hesitating to end the book, because I already knew all about the battle of Bosworth and the only way was tragedy. Having found this book interesting, I read a few others about Richard III, including one I’ve yet to finish (The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman – for the same reason – it’s all about to go to pot for him).

Yorkist king Richard III grew up at Middleham....

Full of verve, I began to attempt to write a few short stories/plays portraying his last days. I found it a little disheartening therefore, to find out a well known actor (a Mr Richard Armitage) and screenwriter (who is also involved in the archeological dig) have teamed up to write just such a play.

On the other hand, I am incredibly excited  I’ll be able to finally watch a play/film about Richard III portraying him more accurately; as a proven soldier, an intelligent man with a mind for law and progress, a loving husband and father, a trusted Lord. Also of course, as a brutal, pragmatic, pious King, living in a time where life was short and bloody.  How they will play the missing princes card will be intriguing to see.

The difficultly of trying to bring the past to life in the present, is to find ways to get the audience to understand the mindset of Englishmen living in a world that seems alien to us now – without it becoming a history lesson. Peoples morals and beliefs were so different then; what would seem barbaric or laughable to us now, would be see as fair, just and sensible back then.

Guy of Gisbourne in Robin Hood

Having only come to love all things Richard III in the last few years, it seems serendipitous that Leicester University decided to begin the search for his remains. When they began the dig I held out little hope anything would be found beyond a bit of pottery and a pin, but today, what a find!

An intact skeleton, found within the fallen walls of Grey Friars church. An adult male, with a clear wound to the back of the head consistent with a sharp blade, and an arrowhead in the spine. Not to mention a distinct twist in the spine (scoliosis) which would have made one shoulder slightly higher than the other. Not – I repeat Not evidence of a hunchback. (Let’s face it Shakespeare really took that idea and ran with it.)Of course there’s DNA testing to be done and who knows if that will reveal this really is Richard III, I do hope so. (And I do hope they’ve got that play written, would be a great bit of timing…. )

Here’s more info about the dig: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-19561018 and article from the New Scientist.

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Searching for inspiration 3 – in unlikely places

English: Battle of Bosworth Field

English: Battle of Bosworth Field (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As anyone who’s read my previous posts will know, I’ve been trying to develop my battle writing skills (we’re talking swords, bows & pitchforks here…) I’ve got a whole list of books visitors to my blog have very kindly suggested – most of them yet to be read and I also rediscovered Shakespeare’s Henry V (and intend to read through more of the great man’s work for other nuggets).

In my quest for inspiration (and because I am a Richard III fan) I visited the Battle of Bosworth re-enactment near Sutton Cheney recently. I was hoping to really feel the spirit of the late medieval era flood through, and I did get glimpses of it. I watched armour clad men clinging to their horses, the arcing flight of many arrows being released at once, horse-riders charging a quintain (which unfortunately was never in any danger of unseating riders….health and safety you know). There were blacksmiths making armour which added clinking hammers and smoke from the fires to the mix and proper canon fire; given their small size they made an impressive amount of noise. So, I suppose I did glean something from it, but the problem with such re-enactments is you already know the outcome, so there goes any tension. The crowd seemed particularly lacklustre in supporting either side – and I think that wasn’t because they didn’t appreciate the effort of fighting on such a hot day and (for some at least) the fighting skills on display, it was just they knew what would happen. Poor Richard would cop it again. Perhaps for just one year they could let him win? – I imagine that would cause proper civil war in the re-enactment camp! Also there was no blood (I’m not braying for real blood but let’s have some ketchup or red hankies!) no one even hit the deck.

I’m willing to admit however, it’s possible my inability to really get much writing fodder out of the day, might have been down to my self-conscious feeling at the contrivance of it all.

So, I went somewhere I thought perfect for inspiration and didn’t quite find it, yet two places I have visited recently provided some quite unexpectedly.

The first was a recent (and my first for many, many years) camping trip. It just so happened, unbeknownst to us, a bikers convention linked to the British army, was taking place in the field we’d booked to camp in. Within a few minutes of unpacking our tents, the field was full of big, hairy bikers. I must stress me and my sister were doing very well putting our massive nine man tent up (I need my space!) but the bikers were so eager to help, we felt it would be rude to refuse them.

Over the weekend we witnessed – and were a part of  – the camaraderie between this band of (mainly) men. And at night? Well we had the wonderful experience of listening to the late night drunken banter, followed by a cacophony of snoring the like of which I have never experienced. Added to this, (as I cannot sleep on air beds) I went old-style and slept on a thin mat on the floor. When I awoke the next morning – after greatly interrupted sleep, hungry, thirsty and sore, it struck me – soldiers on a campaign would wake for a dawn battle in much the same state . The idea of doing anything even slightly physical on that little sleep was an awful thought. I would really have to love my King big time.

The second was my visit to the Reading festival. I had a great day sitting with a load of friends in hot field, listening to some great bands and people-watching. Again there was the atmosphere you only get when you put that many people in a field together – every group with their own territory, but generally very friendly and happy to help each other out. There were the eccentrics and the wonderfully childish characters – Men dressed as Umpa Lumpas, mario brothers, teletubbies, gimps to name just a few. There was the stench of the campsite – a truly sickly sweet odour and the carnage that is the porta-loos (toilets).

None of this has much to do with actual battle – except if you count the idiotic ‘mosh pits’. I was standing on the less populated section of a dense crowd, yet one started right next to me. It’s surprising how quickly the adrenalin and aggressive traits manifest. I found myself utterly determined to stand my ground and  found myself tripping, pushing (and I shamefully admit, punching) the sweaty men back into their pit of pointless violence. I finally came to my senses, having locked eyes with my sister looking just as abnormally aggressive on the other sit of the ‘pit’ and retreated to a safer distance. But there it is, the stupid fights humans will have over almost nothing – and for fun.

Would love to hear about any inspiration that has struck you in unlikely places?

A little touch of Harry in the night

Sorry, no X-rated photos here of our lovely Prince Harry!! Instead a quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V.

The BBC recently produced a beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, version of this play as part of their Hollow Crown series. Unlike the old ‘televised play’ versions or the modern setting/Shakespearean language treatments, the Hollow Crown managed to combine  faithfulness to his written word  and historical accuracy with powerfully delivered scenes. Such scenes did not require you understand every one of Shakespeare’s carefully chosen and very poetic stanzas. From the voices, accents, actions and scenery you can really feel Shakespeare’s meaning bursting through. All of sudden certain lines or verses capture your imagination and stick with you.

Having been struggling to get my battle scenes just right, I don’t know why I didn’t think of accessing Shakespeare earlier. He is the master of summing up in very few words so much of the emotion of war – and really, however much detail you want to add of the mechanics of war, it is the emotions you want to engage in the reader.

I’ve included an extract below, of one the passage, as I heard them delivered by John Hurt in the Hollow Crown version, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up on end.

 

Now entertain conjecture of a time

When creeping murmur and the poring dark

Fills the wide vessel of the universe.

From camp to camp through the foul womb of night

The hum of either army stilly sounds,

That the fixed sentinels almost receive

The secret whispers of each other’s watch:

Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames

Each battle sees the other’s umber’d face;

Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs

Piercing the night’s dull ear, and from the tents

The armourers, accomplishing the knights,

With busy hammers closing rivets up,

Give dreadful note of preparation:

The country cocks do crow, the clocks do toll,

And the third hour of drowsy morning name.

Proud of their numbers and secure in soul,

The confident and over-lusty French

Do the low-rated English play at dice;

And chide the cripple tardy-gaited night

Who, like a foul and ugly witch, doth limp

So tediously away. The poor condemned English,

Like sacrifices, by their watchful fires

Sit patiently and inly ruminate

The morning’s danger, and their gesture sad

Investing lank-lean; cheeks and war-worn coats

Presenteth them unto the gazing moon

So many horrid ghosts. O now, who will behold

The royal captain of this ruin’d band

Walking from watch to watch, from tent to tent,

Let him cry ‘Praise and glory on his head!’

For forth he goes and visits all his host.

Bids them good morrow with a modest smile

And calls them brothers, friends and countrymen.

Upon his royal face there is no note

How dread an army hath enrounded him;

Nor doth he dedicate one jot of colour

Unto the weary and all-watched night,

But freshly looks and over-bears attaint

With cheerful semblance and sweet majesty;

That every wretch, pining and pale before,

Beholding him, plucks comfort from his looks:

A largess universal like the sun

His liberal eye doth give to every one,

Thawing cold fear, that mean and gentle all,

Behold, as may unworthiness define,

A little touch of Harry in the night.

And so our scene must to the battle fly;

Where–O for pity!–we shall much disgrace

With four or five most vile and ragged foils,

Right ill-disposed in brawl ridiculous,

The name of Agincourt. Yet sit and see,

Minding true things by what their mockeries be.

Oh and in case you’re wondering, yes Henry V was a Plantagenet.

The rest-less king

Apparently Richard III is the only English monarch with no known resting place. Well, that could all change very soon. Leicester University are leading an archeological search for the bones of Richard III under a council car park – thought to be the site of the old Greyfriars Church. The church was demolished by that jolly Tudor monarch, Henry VIII, after he broke with Rome to get a divorce and top up his own coffers with the church’s wealth.

I’m not getting my hopes up, I’ve seen enough episodes of Time Team, back in the day, to know it’s unlikely anything will be found – and even if something is found, proving beyond all doubt these really are the bones of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III is going to be tricky.

There is of course the old rumour that his body was thrown into the River Soar, during the ransacking of the church, by an unknown rabble – apparently a body was found when they drained the river, I don’t know what happened to these remains – so if anyone knows, feel free to comment.

http://www2.le.ac.uk/news/blog/2012/august/searching-for-richard-iii

Richard III’s demise was particularly gruesome. Having been betrayed by those he expected to aid him, and literally stabbed in the back by others, he was stripped naked, flung on his back over a horse and paraded through the town. Finally he was taken to the church to be put on display for three days. Unlike the portrayals in Shakespearean plays, he was not an old hunchback but a strong, 32 year old soldier.

Eleanor of Aquitaine – The mother of all Plantagenets


This month’s guest blogger is Susan Abernethy co-creator of ‘
Saints, sisters and sluts’ – an informative and entertaining collection of abridged histories of the worlds most notable women; from Queen of the Saxons, Aethelflaed (b868), right up to 2011 nobel prize winners Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman.

Susan has kindly agreed to help me spread the word about the glorious Plantagenets. As anyone who follows my blog and/or twitter I’m a big fan of Plantagenet King, Richard III. In this blog we’re going right back to the beginning with the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother of all Plantagenets. 

Married to two Kings, mother of two kings and at least eight other children, zealous crusader, embroiled in wars and rebellions, held captive for sixteen years and finally taking the veil; Eleanor of Acquitaine was certainly a formidable woman. 

Born in 1122, in Southern France, Eleanor was the oldest child of William X, Duke of Aquitaine. Eleanor’s father provided her with a comprehensive education covering Latin, music, literature, riding, hunting and hawking. Her brother and mother died when she was young so Eleanor became heir to her father’s dukedom, one of the largest and richest in France at the time. Beautiful, wealthy, and landed, Eleanor was a highly sought after marriage prize. The winner of this prize was French prince, Louis (later to become Louis VII) who she married in 1137. Before their marriage it was agreed Eleanor would retain rights to her inheritance free and clear of Louis, and when her future son became King of the Franks he would inherit the Duchy of Aquitaine.

Although Louis adored Eleanor, their marriage was stormy, due to Eleanor’s feisty nature, her interference in political and religious matters and his piety. It was not until eight years after their marriage she had her first child, a girl, Marie. In the same year, Louis was invited to go on Crusade to the Holy Land.

Eleanor took up this challenge with zest, pledging to the Crusade and recruiting many people to go, including her ladies in waiting. In their travels to the Holy Land, they stopped in Constantinople and stayed with the Byzantine Emperor where

English: Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen consort o...

English: Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen consort of Henry II of England. Français : Aliénor (ou Eleanor) d’Aquitaine, reine consort de Henry II Plantagenêt, roi d’Angleterre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eleanor was greatly admired. They went on to Jerusalem and Damascus but partly due to Louis’ lack of authority they were hounded out by the Turks.

By the time they returned to France, Eleanor and Louis’ marriage had completely broken down. When Eleanor’s second daughter, Alix, was born in 1151, Louis was ready for annulment. The annulment was granted in 1152 with assurances by Louis that Eleanor could retain all of her inheritance.

As soon as Eleanor returned to her Duchy, she sent word to Henry Plantagenet, to come and marry her. Eight weeks after the annulment they were married and October 1154, Henry and Eleanor became King and Queen of England.

Over the next thirteen years, Eleanor had five sons and three daughters. Henry was unfaithful to Eleanor and their marriage was not a tranquil affair. By the time her youngest child was born, Henry was deeply involved with his favourite, Rosamund Clifford and the marriage was strained beyond repair. In 1167, Eleanor agreed to a separation and returned to her Duchy in Aquitaine.

In 1173, her eldest son, Henry, rebelled against King Henry II. Eleanor may have aided and abetted him along with her two other sons, Richard and Geoffrey. King Henry eventually had Eleanor arrested and in 1174 they returned to England. Because Henry feared any alliance between Eleanor and his sons, he kept Eleanor in captivity from 1173-1189.

Henry’s eldest son rebelled against his father again in 1183 but lost, dying soon after of dysentery. After his death Henry allowed Eleanor a trip to Normandy and some freedoms, although she was still under guard at all times. She even appeared at court with Henry on important occasions.

King Henry II died in July of 1189 and their son Richard I, the Lionheart, became King of England. It is said his first order was to release his mother from captivity. Eleanor rode to Westminster where the lords swore fealty to her in the King’s name. She ruled as Regent on behalf of King Richard while he was out of the country and when he was on the Third Crusade. Richard was captured in Germany while trying to return home after the Crusade. Eleanor negotiated the ransom for his release, though it drained England’s treasury.

Richard I died from a battle wound in 1199. Eleanor lived on into the reign of her youngest son, King John. At 77 years old she attempted to unite England and France by travelling Kingdom of Castile to choose one of her granddaughters as a bride for the son of the King of France.

In 1201, King John and the King of France were at war. Eleanor went to Poitiers to keep John’s enemies at bay and was besieged at Mirabeau castle. King John rescued her and she finally retired to Fontevrault and took the veil as a nun. She died there in 1204 at the age of 82.

You can follow Susan on twitter @SusanAbernethy2

The enigmatic Richard III

OK, so the leader on my blog states a ‘little bit of history’ will be included, ‘mainly the Plantagenets’. This might seem like a pretty random subject to include on a blog about writing. It is – a bit – but as history is a subject I’ve always loved and one that provides a great deal of fodder for my writing nosebag, it might not be as arbitrary as it first appears.

A few years after starting my current work in progress, I came across the book Richard III: The maligned King by Annette Carson. Now, I’m not going to debate the accuracy, or not, of the claims made by Carson in this book, I’m just going to say it excited me more than any history book ever has.Prior to this book all I knew of Richard III was based on what I was taught at school: Richard III was a deformed, mean spirited old man who imprisoned and murdered his nephews in the Tower of London in order to seize the throne of England. He got his comeuppance when the rightful King of England, Henry Tudor killed him at Bosworth field. (I imagine I’m in the majority in believing this account for many years, except perhaps for anyone brought up around York).

Yorkist king Richard III grew up at Middleham....

What Carson’s book reminded me is that history is only a record of what we are told by our ancestors – the bits they want us to know. The many Tudor monarchs who ruled after Richard III had ample time to bad-mouth the man from whom they had taken the throne. (Henry Tudor, by the way, had no legitimate hereditary claim  and Richard III was already King when the princes were murdered.) They were ably abetted by a playwright living during that era, Shakespeare, who really went to town with the claims of Richard’s deformity…

But I, — that am not shap’d for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty,
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up…”

Propaganda might seem like a 20th century invention, but it has been going on since man could speak.

I’m not going to claim Richard III didn’t murder the princes (no-one really knows), or that he didn’t have his darker side. In some ways knowing definitively what he was like as a man and as a king, might make him less inspiring to me as a writer. I like the enigma. Having read a number of books since Anne Carson’s (and planning to read many more), what interests me is the conflict in Richard’s character and the fierce nature of his maligning.

It is my ambition to become a good enough writer to produce a play, or novel, anything in fact that accurately evokes my sense of this man. For me Richard III was an excellent soldier; strong and skilful. He was also very intelligent, interested in law and progress.  Richard was devoutly religious and attempted to improve the rights of the common man. He was possibly more devoted to his wife than was usual for men of his era and position. He was also the last King of England to lead his men out to battle.

On the other hand Richard III was ruthless. He acted decisively where executions were concerned and certainly, as a man who valued loyalty so highly (his motto being loyaulte me lie – meaning loyalty binds me), he was particularly hard on those who appeared loyal then betrayed him. I am also interested in how he is often represented as a bit of a control freak, who took his administrative duties a great deal more seriously than his predecessor. I imagine him being frustrated by the negligent attitude of other holders of high office towards their duties.

I wonder if in his last years he would have been torn apart by the frustrations of his office and questions of morality. Regardless of the fate of the two princes or his professed desire for the throne, as a man who had so adored his brother Edward IV, I think he would have been morally tormented by having to declare Edward’s sons illegitimate. I don’t think he would have seen a problem with it in a pragmatic sense; it is undoubtedly true England was better governed by a seasoned soldier than a twelve year old boy. He would certainly have accepted this.

I truly believe Richard was striving for peace in his time. He kept the southern lords in post when he took the crown because, as he was seen as a northerner, he needed their support. Of course once they tried to unseat him he was forced to bring in men from the north he could trust. The southerners were never going to be happy being ruled by northern Lords, so it did not help his popularity, but he did what had to be done. I envisage him as being utterly exasperated and frustrated by such matters. The more he tried to keep things stable and get on with business, the more the world appeared to conspire against him. Not least because of the rumour mill eagerly spreading lies about him.

By the time his young wife was dead (less than a year after his only son), Richard could have felt, if it came to it, he may as well (as Tolkien would say), ‘Make such an end, as to be worthy of remembrance.” He saw his chance to save his country by his own hand on the field of battle. By all accounts he took down the big men surrounding Henry Tudor. Unfortunately Tudor had the luck of the devil, so we’ll never know what kind of a king Richard would have been had his reign been longer. All we have is a tantalising glimpse of an enigmatic man.