With M J Logue, you get two series for the price of one. The author, who writes historical novels set in the English Civil Wars and the Restoration, has created a family of characters who move from one series to the other, with a collection of excellent short stories and novellas popping up in between.
I first discovered the Uncivil Wars series just over a year ago, when I was in hospital and then convalescing after a foot operation. It should have been a fairly miserable time, but it passed in a bit of a blur for me, as I read my way through the series. Part way through, I contacted the author for some clarification about the best order to read them in. That conversation has been going on pretty much ever since, discussing everything from writing to cats and a few other topics to odd to describe.
The hero of the Uncivil War books is a Parliamentary cavalry officer by the name of Hollie Babbitt. Hollie isn’t your typical dashing officer type, to be honest. A former mercenary with an attitude problem, I imagine most of his senior officers must have spent a fair bit of their time with their head in their hands. Hollie, to tell you the truth, is a bit unpredictable at times, and it’s that which makes him such a fabulous character to follow through the bloody chaos of the Civil Wars.
Battles, hardship, history, romance – these books have everything. They just don’t have them in quite the same way that a lot of other books do. Hollie’s love story with his unglamorous Essex housewife is down-to-earth, unromantic and extraordinarily touching. Equally well drawn are his relationships with the scruffy collection of reprobates he commands, particularly his two junior officers, Luce Pettit and Thankful Russell. These three characters form the backbone of the series, with Luce’s wide-eyed idealism and Russell’s scarred, drunken disillusionment making them part of a perfect triple act with their irascible commander.
There are no heroes in these books, and yet every character is a hero in his or her own, undistinguished way. Be warned, once you start reading them, it’s very difficult to stop.
The same can be said of the author’s Restoration novels. Major Thankful Russell is back, serving the restored monarchy, a soldier reaching middle age, and finding himself in trouble and in love, with his former commander’s straight-talking daughter. Thomazine is twenty years his junior with a mind of her own and is determined to join her husband in every mad-brained scheme that his work as a government intelligencer gets him involved with. These books are currently being reissued, with the first book, An Abiding Fire, due out in January.
The Russell series can be read on its own as an excellent historical mystery and adventure series, although I think reading the Uncivil War books first, brings an extra dimension to understanding the characters. Both series are funny, emotional and exciting, bound together by an extraordinary knowledge of the period and an exhaustive amount of research. They are among my favourite historical novels.
M J Logue’s books are currently available on Amazon kindle. If you’ve not tried them yet, I really suggest you do, but be warned, you may find you get very little else done for a while.
Toby was the result of a snap decision after spending some time with friends who had a young black labrador. It was a decision that changed our lives.
We had lost our beloved cats, Reggie and Ronnie, over a year earlier. Both lived to be more than twenty and we couldn’t imagine finding cats with their enormous personalities to replace them. We were living on the Isle of Man by then with two young children, both of whom had fallen in love with Tavey, our friends’ dog during our visit. On the way home, Richard said suddenly:
“Shall we get a dog?”
“A labrador?” I asked hopefully. I’d spent a huge amount of time many years earlier staying with the family of a university friend. They always had dogs, black labradors and a springer spaniel. I adored Worthington and Henry and had always thought that if I could have a dog, that’s what I’d like.
“Well they’re good with children,” Richard said.
The conversation might have rested there, but when we arrived home, I picked up the free paper from among the mail and flicked through it. With our conversation in mind, I glanced at the classifieds and to my surprise, there it was, a small advert.
“There’s somebody advertising labrador puppies here, in Ballaugh,” I said.
Richard looked at me. “Ring them,” he said. “We can go and have a look. We don’t need to get one. Don’t let the children know, in case we decide not to do it.”
Looking back on that piece of naivety makes me howl with laughter.
There was one puppy left when I rang, a black boy. It was a small litter, only four puppies, the mother a family pet. We arranged a time to go up when the children were at school, having told them nothing.
The house was chaos, puppies confined to a large pen but still taking over the room. Richard sat down next to the pen and someone deposited a black puppy onto his lap. “This is him. We call him Homer, he’s the biggest of the litter. Look at his paws.”
We looked. It was hard to miss those paws, they were enormous. I stroked the puppy’s ears. It had climbed up Richard’s chest and was licking his face. “What do you think?” I asked.
Richard didn’t answer. He’d obviously lost the ability to think, he was too busy falling in love.
Toby came into our lives like a small black tornado. He was lively, he was bouncy and he ate everything in sight. He ate our shoes and our clothes and our kitchen. He resisted all forms of training or discipline and made puppy training classes a nightmare. He clearly knew his name but had no idea why it mattered since he had no intention of responding to it. He was a new full time job and we adored him from day one.
My memories of Toby are a series of snapshots through the years. Toby as a puppy, failing to look guilty as some new piece of destruction came to light. Toby taking forever to learn ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘heel’ and ‘come’, but then unexpectedly learning ‘turn’ and ‘paw’ without effort.
Toby first learning to swim down at Groudle Beach and then refusing to come out of the water because he loved it so much.
Toby as a young dog, taking pride of place beside Richard in our little red Mazda with the top down, ears blowing in the breeze as they headed off for the beach or the plantation.
Toby at two and a half, when we introduced Joey, the new puppy, patiently letting him jump all over him and then batting him halfway across the room when he got bored.
Toby at a barbecue, stealing a sharp kitchen knife off the worktop and racing out to greet an arriving guest to cries of “Hilary, watch out, he’s got a knife”
Toby refusing to come back to the car when it was time to go home, not once but many many times, making me late to collect the kids while I was coaxing him.
Toby at Silverdale, meeting an elderly man unexpectedly on the path and eliciting the remark: “Bloody hell, it’s the Moddey Dhoo!”
Toby taking the descent down Peel Hill too fast, rolling to the bottom and ending up with an operation and weeks of hydrotherapy to get him walking again.
Toby curled up on the beanbag with Anya when she was practicing her reading, listening to stories about dolphins and mermaids, loving the cuddles.
Toby on our “dog training for awkward dogs” intensive course, earning the nickname “Mr I will if I feel like it” after his determination not to walk to heel on the lead defeated experts in the field.
Toby getting older, his beard and eyebrows going grey, still handsome, very distinguished.
Toby sitting beside Jon and then Anya through their GCSEs and A levels, headbutting their books and laptops to get attention when they were trying to study.
Toby with arthritis, too stiff to move fast or go for long walks anymore, but loving the garden or a mooch around the beach.
Toby meeting Oscar, the new puppy. Standoffish at first, then interested, but very much in charge, very much the senior dog. All the little steps of acceptance; the first time sharing a bed, letting Oscar lick him, licking him back. Toby watching Joey and Oscar play fighting and then finally joining in, a bit stiff and awkward, but having fun, his tail wagging.
Toby sunbathing in this warm weather on the tiled front porch with his brothers, his fur warm to touch, snoring gently.
I’ve started to cry again as I write this. There is so much to say about Toby that I can’t write it all. He was my friend, my beloved dog for fourteen years, and I struggle to believe that I won’t see him again.
There was a day, a few weeks back, when we took the dogs to Groudle Beach. I’d not seen Toby go into the water properly for a long time but he clearly wanted to show Oscar how it was done. It brought tears to my eyes to see how happy he was, splashing about. He looked like a dog who was discovering some of his lost youth and seemed to be enjoying it.
A week ago we took the three of them to Derbyhaven Beach in the evening. He was less keen to swim that day but he paddled, and sniffed the rocks and walked around on the sand looking so happy, his tail wagging, a big grin on his face.
On Monday 23rd he joined in a huge playfight in my study, trashing the place and making work impossible until I kicked them out. They all fell asleep in mid-game, slept for about four hours and woke up to eat dinner, then sat outside with us watching the lights come on.
The next morning I found him apparently sleeping peacefully in the kitchen. There was no sign of illness or distress or any kind of trauma. Joey was sleeping next to him; Oscar nearby in his cage. He’d died in his sleep, almost as if he’d decided that this was as good as it was going to get. He refused the inevitable declining health and mobility; the misery of a family trying to decide when was the right time to let him go.
He went kindly and with dignity and that kind of death was a gift that many pet owners don’t get. I was in shock and then distraught and I cried when we buried him and didn’t know how I would ever stop. Our family has lost a beloved member and I hate that he’s not curled up next to me. There’s an empty bed; an empty space on the porch in the mornings and an empty space in my heart that will always be there for Toby.
There’s been an outpouring of sadness and sympathy online, not only from friends and family who knew Toby but from people who have got to know him online through following Writing with Labradors. I’ve been so touched at all the messages. It doesn’t make losing him any easier but it does help.
It’s only been a few days, and grief still catches all of us unawares. We all deal with it differently; the girls talk and cry a lot, the boys are quieter, sadder. Joey spent the first day wandering from room to room, knowing he was missing, which made me cry more. But we were so lucky to get Oscar, the perfect puppy, when we did. His company has settled Joey very quickly. It would have been much harder without him.
I’m never going to stop missing my big boy and I’m horribly aware that Joey isn’t that much younger than him. But the pain and the grief of loss when a pet dies is worth every moment for all the years of love and fun we’ve had with him. He was a fabulous dog, loving, funny and daft, and I don’t regret any of it.