The Bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807: an Unwilling Alliance

Copenhagen on fire, 1807

The bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807 occurred when Britain carried out an attack on a neutral country in order to either destroy or capture its fleet to prevent it falling into the hands of the French.  This little known action of the Napoleonic Wars was seen by many as a stain on the British character although the government remained steadfast in its belief that the attack was an unpleasant necessity.

In 1806 Napoleon launched his Continental System which was designed to paralyse Great Britain through the destruction of British commerce. The decrees of Berlin in 1806 and Milan in 1807 proclaimed a blockade: neutrals and French allies were not to trade with the British.  The Continental System damaged some English industries, but as the British had an overwhelming superiority at sea, enforcing the system proved too difficult for Napoleon. His efforts to police his blockade stretched French forces too thin, and he was never truly able to make it work.

Britain’s first response to the Continental System was to launch a major naval attack on the weakest link in Napoleon’s coalition, Denmark. Although ostensibly neutral, Denmark was under heavy French and Russian pressure to surrender its fleet to Napoleon. Despite the defeat and loss of many ships in the first Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, Denmark-Norway still maintained an impressive navy. Most of the Danish army was at this time defending the southern border against possible attack from the French.

There was concern in Britain that Napoleon might try to force Denmark to close the Baltic Sea to British ships, perhaps by invading Zealand.  The British believed that access to the Baltic was vitally important to Britain for trade, raw materials for building and maintaining warships and Royal Navy access to Britain’s allies Sweden and originally Russia against France.  The British thought that when Prussia was defeated, Denmark’s independence looked increasingly under threat from France and had previously tried unsuccessfully to persuade Denmark into a secret alliance with Britain and Sweden.

On 21 January 1807, Lord Hawkesbury told the House of Lords that he had received information from someone on the Continent “that there were secret engagements in the Treaty of Tilsit to employ the navies of Denmark and Portugal against this country”.  He refused to publish the source because he said it would endanger lives.  The reports of French diplomats and merchants in northern Europe made the British government uneasy, and by mid-July the British were convinced that the French intended to invade Holstein in order to use Denmark against Britain.

After a wealth of diplomatic to-ing and fro-ing, Canning received intelligence from Tilsit that Napoleon had tried to persuade Alexander I of Russia to form a maritime league with Denmark and Portugal against Britain.  Spencer Percival, the Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote a memorandum setting out the case for sending forces to Copenhagen.  With some reluctance, the King agreed.

The British assembled a force of 25,000 troops and Canning offered Denmark a treaty of alliance and mutual defence, with a convention signed for the return of the fleet after the war, the protection of 21 British warships and a subsidy for how many soldiers Denmark kept standing. On 31 July, Napoleon told Denmark to prepare for war against Britain or else France would invade Holstein.  Neither France nor the British persuaded the Danes to end their neutrality, so the British published a proclamation demanding the deposit of the Danish fleet; the Danes responded with what amounted to a declaration of war.

The Danish forces in the city amounted to 5,000 regular troops and a similar number of militia. Most of the civilian inhabitants of Copenhagen were evacuated in the few days before Copenhagen was completely invested.

On 26 August, General Sir Arthur Wellesley was detached with his reserve and two light brigades of British artillery, as well as one battalion, eight squadrons and one troop of horse artillery from the King’s German Legion to disperse a force which had been sent to relieve the beleaguered city. On 29 August, at Koge the British force overpowered the Danish troops, which amounted to only three or four regular battalions and some cavalry. 

The Danes rejected British demands, so the British fleet under Admiral Gambier bombarded the city from 2 to 5 September 1807. In addition to the military casualties, the British bombardment of Copenhagen killed some 195 civilians and injured 768.  The bombardment included 300 of Congreve’s rockets which caused fires.  Due to the civilian evacuation, the normal firefighting arrangements broke down and over a thousand buildings were burned.

On 5 September, the Danes sued for peace, and the capitulation was signed on 7 September. Denmark agreed to surrender its navy and its naval stores. In return, the British undertook to leave Copenhagen within six weeks.  On 7 September 1807 Peymann surrendered the fleet which was either captured or destroyed to stop it falling into the hands of the French.  On 21 October 1807, the British fleet left Copenhagen for the United Kingdom but Denmark remained at war with them until 1814.  There were attacks in Parliament on the government’s decision to invade and bombard a neutral country but Canning remained convinced that he had made the right decision.

An Unwilling Alliance, due to be published in April 2018 is a new venture for me in several ways.  It is the first book which is partly set on the Isle of Man where I live, and Captain Hugh Kelly and Roseen Crellin are both Manx.  I have been asked fairly frequently if I intend to write a book with a Manx setting.  I wanted to do so but since the Napoleonic wars were a long way from Mann, the obvious setting was the navy since many Manxmen served with great distinction, most notably Captain John Quilliam RN who was first lieutenant aboard the Victory during Trafalgar.  Writing about the army has become second nature to me; the navy took some work but I’m loving it now to such an extent that I have already decided where Hugh Kelly’s career is taking him next.

The other joy of An Unwilling Alliance is that it gives me an opportunity to combine both the army and the navy.  Joint operations were very common then as now and a lot more difficult given the limited communications of the day.  Officers and men on both sides had a tendency to assume that their branch of the armed forces was the best and jokes were common but there was genuine resentment in some cases.  If a joint operation went wrong each side often blamed the other as a matter of course; poor John Pitt, Earl of Chatham definitely came in for some of this after the disastrous Walcheren campaign in 1809 where blame could probably have been shared between the army, the navy, the planners of the operation and sheer bad luck.  I have given myself the challenge of trying to convey some of this feeling at Copenhagen, where at least one of the army commanders, Sir Arthur Wellesley, would have done things very differently had he been given the choice.  And then there is genuine cooperation and the beginnings of friendship between Captain Hugh Kelly, my down-to-earth, plain-speaking Manxman and the flamboyant, newly-promoted commander of the first battalion of the 110th, Major Paul van Daan.

Finally, an Unwilling Alliance has given me the opportunity to go back in time from Wellington’s Peninsular Wars where the 110th has been fighting for the last four books and take a look at an earlier episode in Paul’s history which was briefly referred to, but not described, in An Unconventional Officer.  It has been an odd experience to look back at a younger Paul and remember all the lessons he hadn’t yet learned in 1807 and it has also reminded me somewhat painfully why keeping detailed character lists is so important when writing a historical series.

In terms of historical sequence, An Unwilling Alliance fits in at the end of chapter seven of An Unconventional Officer, when Paul has just been promoted to major and given the news that the battalion is being posted to Denmark under Sir Arthur Wellesley.  Paul is twenty-five and still has a lot to learn about how to manage the army, his temper, his love life and his unemotional commander.  Captain Hugh Kelly is thirty and started out life as a farmer’s son on the Isle of Man; he came up the hard way and has a lot of experience that Paul still lacks.  Watching them get to know each other has been a genuine pleasure and I hope they have the chance to meet up again in the future.

An Unwilling Alliance is due to be published in April 2018 – you can read an excerpt here.

 

 

Welcome to 2018 at Writing with Labradors

Fireworks in London
Fireworks in London

Welcome to 2018 at Writing with Labradors.  It’s New Year’s Day on the Isle of Man, and it’s raining, windy and freezing cold.  In some ways this is a relief because if it had been a nice day I would have felt obliged to go out for a walk and I don’t feel like it.

It’s been a very different and very busy Christmas this year, with Richard’s family with us for the whole of the holidays, and then entertaining friends to dinner last night.  I’ve had no time to write, research or do anything else and in some ways that’s been quite hard.

I think it has probably done me good, however.  Time away from the current book has given me the chance to think through what I’d like to do with it and I feel a lot clearer about where it is going.  I’m very happy with the few chapters I’ve written and research is going well so I’m looking forward to getting on with it.  I think my head may have needed the break.

It’s made me think a bit more about how I schedule my writing time going forward.  I’m very privileged that I don’t have to hold down a full time job at the same time as writing, but I do have a very busy life with a family, my dogs, a big house to maintain and accounts and admin to be done for Richard’s business.  I’m aware that it’s very easy to let things slide when I’m in the middle of a book, but I realise that I need to be better organised both with the various tasks through the day and with time off to relax.

This year I’ve edited and published seven existing novels, with all the associated marketing and publicity, I’ve written an eighth book from scratch and published it and I’ve started a ninth.  I’ve handed my Irish dance school over to my two lovely teachers to run, I’ve supported son and daughter through GCSEs and AS levels, my old fella Toby through an operation at the age of 13 and I’ve had a major foot operation myself.  I’ve toured the battlefields of Spain and Portugal where some of my books are set and I went to Berlin, Killarney, London, Hertfordshire, Nottingham, Manchester and Liverpool.  I lost a very dear old family friend and went to his funeral.  And I’ve gained some amazing new friends, some of whom I’ve not even met yet, although I’m hoping to this year.  I’ve set up a website and an author page, joined Twitter and Instagram and I genuinely feel I can now call myself an author, something I had doubts about in one of my first posts on this website.

It has been an amazing year and I’m so grateful for all the help and support I’ve received.  I’ve not won any awards, although I’ve had one or two reviews which have felt like getting an Oscar.  Still, I’d like to do the thank you speech, because it’s the end of my first year as a published author and I owe so many people thanks for that.

Lynn and Richard
Love and Marriage

I’m starting with the man I married, who has been absolutely incredible throughout this.  He set up my website and taught me how to use it, and has always been there to answer any questions about technology.  He spent hours designing the new covers for the Peninsular War Saga and he also took the photographs which are gorgeous.  He drove me through Spain and Portugal, scrambled over battlefields and listened to me endlessly lecturing with more patience than I could have imagined.  He has celebrated my good reviews and sympathised over the bad ones.  He’s been completely amazing this year – thank you, Richard.  You are the best.

My son is studying for A levels at home and shares the study with me.  That’s not always easy, as during research I tend to spread out from my desk into the surrounding area, onto his table and onto the floor.  He has become expert at negotiating his way through piles of history books.  He is also a brilliant cook and will unfailingly provide dinner at the point when it becomes obvious I am too far gone in the nineteenth century to have remembered that we need to eat.  Thanks, Jon.

Castletown 2017
Castletown 2017

My daughter is my fellow historian and brings me joy every day.  She mocks my devotion to Lord Wellington ruthlessly, puts up with my stories, lets me whinge to her and makes me laugh all the time.  She drags me away from my desk to go for hot chocolate and to watch the sun go down, watches cheesy TV with me, helps me put up the Christmas decorations and corrects my fashion sense.  Thank you, bambino.

There are so many other people I should thank.  Heather, for always being there and for offering to proof-read; Sheri McGathy for my great book covers; Suzy and Sarah for their support and encouragement.

Then there are the many, many people online who have helped me with research queries, answered beginners questions about publishing and shared my sense of the ridiculous more than I could have believed possible.  There are a few of you out there but I’m singling out Jacqueline Reiter, Kristine Hughes Patrone and Catherine Curzon in particular.  I’m hoping to meet you all in person in 2018 and to share many more hours of Wellington and Chatham on Twitter, Archduke Charles dressed as a penguin and the mysterious purpose of Lady Greville’s dodgy hat.  A special mention also goes to M. J. Logue who writes the brilliant Uncivil War series, and who is my online partner-in-crime in considering new ways for the mavericks of the army to annoy those in charge and laughing out loud at how funny we find ourselves.

The new book is called An Unwilling Alliance and is the first book to be set partly on the Isle of Man, where I live.  The hero, a Royal Navy captain by the name of Hugh Kelly is a Manxman who joined the navy at sixteen and has returned to the island after Trafalgar with enough prize money to buy an estate, invest in local business and find himself a wife while his new ship is being refitted.  It’s a tight timescale, but Hugh is used to getting things his own way and is expecting no trouble with Roseen Crellin, the daughter of his new business partner.  Her father approves, she is from the right background and the fact that she’s very pretty is something of a bonus.  It hasn’t occurred to Hugh that the lady might not see things the same way…

The title obviously refers to the somewhat rocky start to Hugh and Roseen’s relationship, but it has other meanings as well.  The book moves on to the 1807 British campaign in Denmark and the bombardment of Copenhagen, in which Captain Kelly is involved.  The Danes were unwilling to accept British terms for the surrender of their fleet to avoid it falling into the hands of the French and as an alliance proved impossible, the British resorted to force.

In addition, there was something of an unwilling alliance between the two branches of the British armed forces taking part in the Copenhagen campaign.  There is a history of difficulties between the Army and the Navy during this period, and given that the Danish campaign required the two to work together, there is an interesting conflict over the best way to conduct the campaign.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

The naval commander during this campaign was Admiral James Gambier while the army was commanded by Lord Cathcart.  While Captain Hugh Kelly served under Gambier in the British fleet, a division of the army under Cathcart was commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley and Brigadier General Stewart and consisted of battalions from the 43rd, 52nd, 95th and 92nd – the nucleus of the future Light Division, the elite troops of Wellington’s Peninsular army.  In An Unconventional Officer,  we learn that the expedition is to be joined by the first battalion of the 110th infantry under the command of the newly promoted Major Paul van Daan and An Unwilling Alliance looks at the campaign from both the army and naval perspective, filling in part of Paul’s story which is not covered in the series.

I am hoping that the book will be published at the beginning of April 2018 and it will be followed by book 5 of the Peninsular War Saga, An Untrustworthy Army, covering the Salamanca campaign and the retreat from Burgos some time in the summer.  After that I will either get on with the sequel to A Respectable Woman which follows the lives of the children of Kit and Philippa Clevedon or the third book in the Light Division series, set after Waterloo.

We’re hoping to go back to Portugal and Spain this year for further photography and battlefield mayhem.  I’ve got some new ideas for the website and will be publishing several more short stories through the year.  My first research trip is in a couple of weeks time when I’ll be visiting Portsmouth and the Victory, the National Maritime Museum and possibly the Imperial War Museum if I don’t run out of time.  And the Tower of London for no reason at all apart from the fact that Wellington used to enjoy bossing people around there.

Writing with Labradors
Toby and Joey – Writing with Labradors

My final thanks go to the real stars of Writing with Labradors.  Toby, my old fella, is thirteen now and survived a major operation this year far better than I did.  Joey is eleven and needs to lose some weight.  They are my friends, my babies and my constant companions and I can’t imagine life without either of them although I know that day is going to come.  Thank you to my dogs who are with me all the time I’m working and who make every day happier.

Happy New Year to all my family, friends, readers and supporters.  Looking forward to 2018.

 

 

Lisbon, 1809 – an excerpt from An Unconventional Officer

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army
Book 1 in the Peninsular War Saga

Lisbon, 1809

Riding down from the villa he arrived through the arched gate of the barracks. The place was teeming with men. Two companies were executing a tight drill in squares on the parade ground, and Paul reined in to admire their work. They were almost as good as his men, and he nodded approval to a grinning captain as he rode on past. In the distance he could hear the clicks of muskets as a company of infantry practiced dry firing out at the range. And ahead of him there was a tangle of wagons as two Portuguese carters delivering food and bedding locked wheels and began to shout loudly at each other, gesticulating wildly.
An English voice bellowed at the two men and Paul grinned, recognising the dulcet cockney tones of Private Danny Carter, formerly of the rifles and now permanently part of his light company. Like Paul’s other skirmishers from the rifles Carter flatly refused to change uniform and Paul did not try to make them. He still wore the white armband that Carter’s men had given him after his first battle, and he retained an immense fondness for the independent, obstreperous riflemen.
Carter’s voice rose above the two Portuguese.
“Jesus bloody Christ if ever I saw such a pig’s ear! Stop whipping the horses you silly bugger and hold still or you’ll have the winter feed for the officers’ horses used as carpet for the bloody Connaught rangers to dance on!” Carter had run to the centre to try to disentangle the two locked wheels.
Paul stopped to admire the chaos, but before he could ride forward to intervene there was a peal of laughter and a woman’s voice called out to Carter. “You’re making a worse mull of it than they are! Hold still and I’ll come down and help!”
She had called from an upstairs window of the officer’s block and Paul would have recognised her voice anywhere. In a moment she had arrived through the door and went quickly to the head of one of the frightened horses.
“Here, ma’am, you’re going to get hurt!” Carter said in a panic, worried, Paul knew, about whether he could somehow be held responsible for the injury to some officer’s mad wife. But the girl took the bridle of the frightened beast and spoke quietly to him. The carter lifted his whip and she held up an imperious hand to stop him.
“Stop that! It will frighten him. Stop and wait!”
The sense of her words if not the content was clear and the driver lowered his whip. Anne beckoned to Carter. “Come here and hold him. Gently, now.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Carter had clearly just seen the girl properly for the first time, and Paul did not blame him for the expression on his face. She wore a white shirt, like a man’s, open at the throat, and a dark riding skirt, which emphasised the small waist and gentle curve of her hip. She had obviously run down without finishing her toilette because her hair was still loose about her shoulders and Paul remembered the feel of it under his hands and felt a stab of longing.
Carter took the bridle and Anne went to the other horse. Talking soothingly to him, she carefully backed him up, and Carter led the other horse to one side, separating the carts. The two drivers both burst into voluble thanks in Portuguese and Anne smiled at them impartially. One of them, the younger of the two, took a flower from the buttonhole of his dark jacket and leaned down to give it to Anne.
“Obrigada, señor,” Anne said, and the carter, who had the benefit of knowing that he would be gone before the lady’s husband reappeared, placed his fingers to his lips and blew her a dramatic kiss before driving off.
Anne stood twirling the flower between long elegant fingers. The other driver moved away and Private Carter came forward uncertainly.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Anne turned to look at him. Then she pointed at the retreating carter. “It’s all very well scattering flowers around to passing females,” she said, “but if he doesn’t improve his driving skills the next person he comes across is likely to be a fat choleric colonel with a riding crop and a bad attitude.” She tapped the flower onto Carter’s chest to emphasise her point and turned at the sound of an approaching horse. Shading her eyes against the sun she looked up at Paul. “And I notice that you kept well out of reach until the work was done.”
Paul was conscious of poor Carter, unable to take his eyes from the vivid laughing face. He swung down from Rufus. “I was admiring your technique,” he said.
“With the horses or the drivers?” Anne enquired going to Rufus’ head. “Hello, boy, how are you again?”
“Both,” Paul said. “Rufus is pleased to see you. He knows a woman who keeps carrot tops in her pocket.”
“He’s out of luck, I left my jacket upstairs,” Anne said. “How are you, Paul?”
“You know I do think we may have to find you a billet out of the barracks,” Paul said. “Now that I have seen you in action, I realise that it is a matter of keeping my men safe. Close your mouth, Carter.”
“Yes, sir,” Carter said. “You know the lady, sir?”
“To my cost. This is Mrs Anne Carlyon. Lieutenant Carlyon is on Sir Arthur Wellesley’s staff. I met Mrs Carlyon on my trip to Yorkshire last year. At the time she was still choosing between her many suitors.”
“Welcome to Portugal, ma’am.”
“Thank you, Private Carter. You have much better manners than your commanding officer.”
“We’ve tried to teach him, ma’am.”
Anne shot him a startled glance and then burst out laughing. She had heard Paul talking with affection about his men, but she had not fully realised the level of informality that reigned within the light company.
“Keep trying, Carter, he may improve,” she said.
“I have come with messages from Rowena. Is it possible that you could stop flirting with the enlisted men and invite me in for a drink?”
“Unchaperoned?” Anne looked up at him from under long lashes. “Is that the right thing to do here? I need Rowena to tell me how to behave.”
“You actually do,” Paul said, laughing. “Robert has all my sympathy. He is never going to be able to control you.”
“And what makes you think you’d do any better?” Anne said lightly.
“I’d never make the attempt; I know my limitations.” Paul was very aware of Carter’s interested regard.
“Excuse me, sir, but this has just come for you.”
Paul turned at the melodious Irish tones of his sergeant. “Good morning, Sergeant O’Reilly. Thank you. Carter, would you take Rufus to the stables and deliver him to the groom, who should have been here to take him if he were not probably flirting with the cook’s daughter.”
“How do you know the cook has a pretty daughter, sir?”
“I notice these things,” Paul said, scanning the message quickly. “This is an invitation to something that I have no intention of attending. Lose it, Sergeant.”
“Just as you say, sir.” Michael O’Reilly had noticed Anne. He gave her a friendly nod, and then looked again, and hard. Carter had moved away with the horse, still watching Anne. Paul glanced from one to another.
“I think perhaps introductions are in order,” he said. “Sergeant…”
“Sir, the lady may not wish to be introduced to an NCO,” Michael said warningly. At times he found himself wondering if his commanding officer had ever been taught the rules of society. But the girl with the lovely dark eyes was smiling. Paul smiled back at her and continued as though Michael had not spoken.
“Sergeant O’Reilly, this is Mrs Anne Carlyon, who is married to Lieutenant Robert Carlyon on Sir Arthur’s staff. Nan, this is Michael O’Reilly, my sergeant, without whom the light company would not function. Michael is here to remind me of my duty, and Nan is here to flirt with Danny Carter and two Portuguese drivers.”
Michael was looking at the girl’s face. He remembered her as he had last seen her, a gallant little figure in a blue cloak who refused to cry. He wondered if she had any idea who he was. And then she smiled again, a smile of warmth and recognition and genuine interest and to his complete astonishment held out her hand. “I remember you,” she said. “I saw you in the carriage that morning in Thorndale.”
Michael felt a jolt of surprise, not at her recollection but at her willingness to acknowledge it.
“You’ve a good memory for a passing face, ma’am.”
Paul looked at her. “I didn’t know you’d seen him,” he said quietly. “Nan…”
“Don’t look so worried, Paul. If you trust him, then so do I. I am glad to have met you properly, though, Sergeant. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Michael was studying her. He was very aware of her startling beauty, but there was something more about this girl that he found immensely appealing. Her frank acknowledgment of her relationship with his commanding officer was both surprising and impressive and he glanced at Paul and was shocked at the unguarded expression on his face. It was clear that the passage of time and her marriage had not affected Major van Daan’s feelings about Anne Carlyon.
“It’s good to meet you too, ma’am,” he said gently. “I’ll be getting on.” Michael looked at his commanding officer. “Are you coming, sir?”
“Yes, I’ll be with you in a moment.” Paul turned back to Anne. “Are you attending this ghastly reception this evening?”
She nodded. “Yes. Was that the invitation that you were just trying to get your sergeant to lose?”
“It was. But if you’ll be there, I’ll come. We’re only going to be here for a week or so. Wellesley wants to take Oporto back and he’s in a hurry. I don’t know if he’ll want Robert with us or if he’ll leave him here, but I’m concerned about you living in barracks without him here.”
“You mean without you here,” Anne said.
“Yes, I do.” Paul ran his eyes over her with a rueful smile. “Look at you. Poor Carter nearly passed out when he got a good eyeful, and he won’t be the only one. I don’t know how much your husband cares. I only know how much I do. I’ll talk to you later, I have to go.”
He lifted her hand to his lips and turned to catch up with his sergeant. Neither of them spoke for a while. They walked up towards the training field. Finally Paul said:
“If you’ve anything to say, Michael, better get it over with now.”
“Yes, sir. Something of a surprise, and that’s for sure. Did you know she was coming?”
“No. They were on their way to the Cape and Hookey intercepted them. He needed a good administrator. And Carlyon is one, whatever else he is. She, of course, thought we’d gone to South America.”
“And what about your wife, sir?”
“She’s met my wife already, Sergeant,” Paul said with grim humour. “They like each other.”
“God love you, sir, only you could get yourself into this one! Does anybody but me…?”
“No. I’ve told nobody and I won’t. She was a lass I met in Yorkshire and now she’s Carlyon’s wife and Rowena’s friend. That’s all.”
“Well, you’d better get bloody better at it than that, then, sir, because you just looked at her as though she’s a gift you never expected to get.”
“She is,” Paul said quietly.
Michael turned to study his commander’s face. Paul had an unusually expressive countenance and Michael had learned to read him very well. It made for an effective working relationship and an easy friendship which his sergeant had come to take for granted but he had never seen his friend like this.
“Jesus Christ, Paul, how in God’s name after sleeping with half the women in England did you come to fall in love with a girl that young and that out of reach?” he said softly. “I swear to God I thought you immune.”
“So did I,” Paul said. He glanced sideways at his sergeant. “I never intended it, Michael, but I’ve never met a woman remotely like her. I know what you see, lad, and that’s what the rest of the army are going to see as they trip over their own feet every time she walks past. But I’m telling you, there’s a lot more to this girl than the way she looks.”
Michael could not help smiling. “I get that, sir. But you need to be careful, not just for Rowena’s sake but for hers too, she’s newly married and very young and you know what the headquarters gossips are like with a reputation.”
“Michael, she’s here, when I never expected to see her again. And I will get better at it, and I’m not going to hurt Rowena. But don’t ask me to lie to you and pretend that I’m not bloody happy. Because I am. And next week I’m going to fight the French, which believe it or not is what I came here for.”

(From An Unconventional Officer, Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga by Lynn Bryant)

“Absolutely brilliant. For 40 years I’ve been fascinated by this period of history, and have read everything I could get my hands on, history, biography, memoirs and fiction. This series is the best fiction I’ve ever read – fantastically well researched and historically accurate, with wonderfully drawn characters and relationships. They give a brilliant idea of what war was like then, as well as a moving love story and brilliant relationships between the male characters.” 5 out of 5 * on Amazon.co.uk

The Border Reivers

A Marcher Lord - a story of the Anglo-Scottish borders

LiddesdaleFor 300 years the people of the Anglo-Scottish Border region lived in a war zone. Invading armies caused terror, destruction and death and the ongoing conflict forged men who were expert raiders and cattle thieves, owing loyalty to none but their own clan, their own surname.  We have come to know them as the Border Reivers.

Since the Middle Ages, England and Scotland were often at war, and the people who suffered most were the ordinary folk of the Anglo-Scottish borders.  Their livelihood was torn apart by the wars and even in times of peace, ongoing tension was high and royal authority on either side could not be relied upon to keep their people safe.

The Borderers found their own solution.  Families, kindred and surnames sought security through their own means, using strength, cunning and a degree of ruthlessness which was nothing less than piracy on land to improve their lot at the expense of whoever appeared to be their enemy at the time.  Over the years feuds and enmities grew to enormous proportions and loyalty to kin and surnames overrode any sense of national loyalty.  With any man and his family a potential target for depredations, it became important to know where it was safe to bestow trust.

It was a predatory way to live, not helped by the local inheritance system of gavelkind, by which estates were divided equally between all sons on a man’s death, so that many people owned insufficient land to maintain themselves.  Much of the border region is mountainous or open moorland, unsuitable for arable farming but good for grazing. Livestock was easily stolen and driven back to raiders’ territory by mounted reivers who knew the country. The raiders also often stole portable household goods or valuables, and took prisoners for ransom.

The attitudes of the English and Scottish governments towards the border families moved between indulgence and encouragement, as these martial families acted as the first line of defence against invasion across the border, to furious and brutal punishment when their lawlessness became impossible for the authorities to tolerate.

“Reive” is an early English word for “to rob” and is related to the  old English verb reave, meaning to plunder or to rob and to the modern English word “ruffian”.  The reivers were both English and Scottish and raided both sides of the border impartially, so long as the people they raided had no protection and no connection to their own kin. Their activities, although usually within a day’s ride of the border, might extend both north and south of their main riding areas. English raiders had been known to raid the outskirts of Edinburgh, and Scottish raids had been seen as far south as Yorkshire. The largest of these was The Great Raid of 1322, during the Scottish Wars of Independence, which reached as far south as Chorley. The main riding season ran through the early winter months, when the nights were longest and the cattle and horses fat from summer grazing. The numbers involved in a raid might range from a few dozen to three thousand riders.

When riding, the reivers rode light on hardy nags known as hobbies, renowned for their ability to pick their way over the boggy country.  They wore light armour such as jacks of plated steel, a type of sleeveless doublet into which small plates of steel were stitched and metal helmets such as burgonets or morions; hence their nickname of the “steel bonnets”. They were armed with lances and small shields, and sometimes also with longbows, or light crossbows and later on in their history with one or more pistols. They also carried swords and dirks.

During the sixteenth century, areas of the borders were a virtual “no man’s land”.  The Wardens of the Marches, both Scottish and English, made periodic attempts to bring some of the major riding families under control although corruption was rife and some of the Wardens were reivers themselves while many of them turned a blind eye to raiding, theft and the system of Black Rent – the origin of the work Blackmail.

The ordinary people of the borders adjusted to the system, suffered, paid, were burned out and sometimes died.  It was a time of great brutality and intermittent wars between England and Scotland only added to the confusion and the problem.  Feuds between families could last for decades and the original reason for the blood feud was often forgotten in the blood and death which followed.  Scott killed Kerr and Maxwells hunted Johnstones, and surnames across the border united against a common enemy with kinship held far higher than national loyalty.

In 1525, the Archbishop of Glasgow took it upon himself to excommunicate the Border thieves.  It is doubtful if the riding surnames were very impressed having long since given up on both church and state but the curse was ordered to be read from every pulpit in the diocese and be circulated throughout the length and breadth of the Borders.

I DENOUNCE, PROCLAIMS, AND DECLARES all and sundry the committers of the said of innocents murders, slaughters, burning, inheritances, robbery, thefts, and spoilings, openly upon day light and under silence of night, as well as within temporal lands as church lands; together with their part takers, assisters, suppliers, knowingly and of their persons, the goods snatched and stolen by them, art or part thereof, and their counsellors and defenders, of their evil deeds generally cursed, waking, aggravated, and re-aggravated, with the great cursing.

“I CURSE their head and all the hairs of their head; I CURSE their face, their eyes, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their skull, their shoulder’s, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their legs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the sole of their feet, before and behind, within and without. I CURSE them going, and I CURSE them riding; I CURSE them standing, and I CURSE them sitting; I CURSE them eating, I CURSE them drinking; I CURSE them walking, I CURSE them sleeping; I CURSE them rising, I CURSE them lying; I CURSE them at home, I CURSE them from home; I CURSE them within the house, I CURSE them without the house; I CURSE their wives, their children and their servants (who) participate with them in their deeds.

I Worry their corn, their cattle, their wool, their sheep, their horse, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their live goods (animals).
I Worry their houses, their rooms, their kitchens, their stables, their barns, their byres, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their ploughs, their harrows, and the possessions and houses that are necessary for their sustentation and welfare. All the bad wishes and curses that ever got worldly creature since the beginning of the world to this hour might light upon them. The malediction of God, that lighted upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that struck them from the high heaven to the deep hell, might light upon them. The re and the sword that stopped Adam from the gates of Paradise might stop them from the glory of Heaven, until they forbear and make amends. The bad wishes that lighted on cursed Cain, when he slew his brother just Abel guiltless, might light on them for the innocent slaughter that they commit daily. The malediction that lighted upon all the world, man and beast, and all that ever took life, when all were drowned by the flood of Noah, except Noah and his ark, might light upon them and drown them, man and beast, and make this realm free of them for their wicked sins. The thunder and lightning that set down as rain upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, with all the lands about, and burnt them for their vile sins, might rain upon them, and burn them for open sins. The bad wishes and confusion that lighted on the Gigantis for their oppression and pride, building the tour of Babylon, might confound them and all their works, for their open disregard and oppression. All the plagues that fell upon Pharaoh and his people of Egypt, their lands, corn and cattle, might fall upon them, their leases (of land), rooms and buildings, corn and animals. The river of Tweed and other rivers where they ride might drown them, as the Red Sea drowned King Pharaoh and his people of Egypt, pursuing Gods people of Israel. The earth might open, split and cleave and swallow them alive to hell, as it swallowed cursed Dathan and Abiron, that disobeyed Moses and command of God. The wild re that burnt Thore and his fellows to the number of two hundredth and fty, and others 14,000 and 700 at anys, usurping against Moses and Aaron, servants of God, might suddenly burn and consume them daily disobeyed and commands of God and holy church.

The malediction that lights suddenly upon fair Absolom, riding contrary to his father, King David, servant of God, through the wood, when the branches of a tree knocked him off his horse and hanged him by the hair, might light upon them, untrue Scots men, and hang them suchlike that all the world may see.

The malediction that lighted upon Olifernus, lieutenant to Nebuchadnezzar’s, making war and hardships upon true Christian men; the malediction that lighted upon Judas, Pilot, Herod and the Jews that cruci ed Our Lord, and all the plagues and troubles that lighted on the city of Jerusalem therefore, and upon Simon Magus for his treachery, bloody Nero, cursed Ditius Magcensius, Olibrius, Julianus, Apostita and the rest of the cruel tyrants that slew and murdered Christ’s holy servants, might light upon them for their cruel tyranny and martyrdom of Christian people. And all the vengeance that ever was taken since the world began for open sins, and all the plagues and pestilence that ever fell on man or beast, might fall on them for their open evil, slaughter of guiltless and shedding of innocent blood. I SEVER and PARTS them from the kirk of God, and deliver them alive to the devil of hell, as the Apostil Saint Paul delivered Corinth. I exclude the places they come in for divine service, ministration of the sacraments of holy church, except the sacrament of baptising only; and forbid all churchmen to take confession or absolve them of their sins, which they be rst absolved of this cursing.

I FORBID all Christian man or woman to have any company with them, eating, drinking, speaking, praying, lying, standing, or in any other deed doing, under the pain of deadly sin.

I DISCHARGE all bonds, acts, contracts, oaths and obligations made to them by any persons, other of law, kindness or duty, so long as they sustain this cursing; so that no man be bound to them, and that they be bound to all men. I Take from them and cry down all the good deeds that ever they did or shall do, which they rise from this cursing. I DECLARE them excluded of all matins, masses, evensongs, mourning or other prayers, on book or bead; of all pilgrimages and poorhouse deeds done or to be done in holy church or by Christian people, enduring this cursing.

“And, nally, I CONDEMN them perpetually to the deep pit of hell, to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows of the Burrow Muir, rst to be hanged, then torn apart with dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world. And their life gone from your sight, as might their souls go from the sight of God, and their good fame from the world, which they forbear their open sins aforesaid and rise from this terrible cursing, and make satisfaction and penance”.

The Archbishop seems to have lost patience with the Reivers and one imagines he was not the only one to do so.

In modern times the story of the Border Reivers has been brilliantly told in histories by George MacDonald Fraser in The Steel Bonnets and by Alistair Moffat in The Reivers.  In fiction, Dorothy Dunnett covered the difficulties of establishing law and order on the borders in the literary brilliance of the Lymond Chronicles and more recently P F Chisholm, alias Patricia Finney has told the fictional story of the real life Warden Sir Robert Carey in an excellent series of novels which have recently been reissued in omnibus editions, the first of which is Guns in the North.

My own contribution to the story of the Border Reivers is A Marcher Lord, set during the Wars of the Rough Wooing when Edward VI’s government under the Lord Protector Somerset tried to capture the baby Mary Queen of Scots in order to marry her to their young King.  The novel tells the story of a Scottish border lord, loyal to the Crown and a young Englishwoman new to the borders with no fixed loyalties but a wealth of experience of the mercenary bands of Europe.

The Anglo-Scottish borders are one of my favourite parts of the world.  I love the countryside, the history and the people.  Many of my books are set in the Peninsular War of the early nineteenth century but I enjoyed my research into sixteenth century Scotland and I intend to return soon to find out what Will and Jenny did next…

 

Time Management for Authors

Time Management for Labradors
Time management demonstrated by labradors
Labradors exercising time management skills

Time management for authors is a subject close to my heart.  When I decided to embark on a writing career I had the naive view that it was all about writing the books I love and then launching them on an unsuspecting and hopefully appreciative world.

Being an indie author is a somewhat different proposition.  I find myself hopping from one activity to another like a somewhat manic flea at times, trying to fit in writing, revising, researching, marketing and cooking the occasional meal and doing the laundry.

I’ve come to the conclusion that organisation is the key and that starting to plan my days better would be a big help in getting things done and also ring fencing my writing time while keeping up to date with all the other things I’m trying to do.  Naturally halfway through writing this paragraph I thought of three other jobs, completely essential, which I needed to go and complete before I finished this blog post.  Like I said, it’s a work in progress.

However, I’ve been doing this for a few months now and I do think I’ve developed some idea of how to manage time better.  This is obviously within the context of the other things we need to do.  My other job is part time, running a dance school, so I need to fit in around that.  I also have a home and family and one or two voluntary activities that I’d like to find time for.  Some of you will be fitting in everything around a full time job.  I’ve done that and it led to far too many three am writing sessions leaving me bleary eyed the next day, so I’m lost in admiration of people managing that one.

My guide, based purely on my own experiences, would run something like this.

  • Make a list of the roles you play.  You’re going to want to allocate some time to each of them.  They are not all equal and they will change.  For example, my roles would include dance school owner, writer, mother, home manager, publicity and marketing person etc etc.  Ten years ago the role of mother would have needed a bigger chunk of time than it does now.
  • Use lists.  Even if you don’t do everything on the list, it helps to have a guide.
  • Don’t take on too much.  Listen to me on this one.  I am an expert at ignoring my own advice.
  • Let people help you.  I’m so bad at this, it’s untrue.
  • Ring fence writing time.  If you’re working at home you need to make sure people know that it is still working.  And that can be hard.
  • Have time off.  Writing might be the most fun you have all week but there is still a world out there and no job should be 24/7 or 365 days a year.  Even if you’d like it to be.
  • Keep a diary or calendar.  You will forget important things.  I just lost my diary, I left it at one of our dance halls and it has vanished.  I now need to put all my vital information into a new diary and I’m totally bewildered until I do that.  Most normal people use an online diary but I’m strange and I like paper, whatever the disadvantages…
  • Set deadlines but make them realistic or you’ll die of stress.  If you’re having deadlines set by other people, argue if you think they’re unrealistic.  It’s worth it.
  • Don’t panic if you’re feeling overwhelmed.  Take a deep breath and just do one thing.  The rest will follow.
  • Keep computer use under control.  The temptation to keep checking social media or e-mails is overwhelming.  It wastes hours of the day.  Give yourself a set amount of time and try to stick to it.
  • Use a timer.  I got this idea a few years ago from an online home organisation site called Flylady.  I have to say this site makes me laugh in places.  There’s so much stuff on it that it’s mad and it’s all very cosy and very sweet and not always my sort of thing.  BUT if you’re feeling overwhelmed and not sure how to get moving, I think it can be great.  I still use some of the techniques I learned from it and the best one, if I’ve got too much to do and am about to explode, is using a timer and setting myself short bursts of activity.
  • Enjoy what you’re doing.  If you’re a writer, you’ve got the most fun job in the world.  Try to appreciate that…

An Irregular Regiment – Book Two coming soon

Wellington’s HQ in Pere Negro, the Lines of Torres Vedras
An Irregular Regiment
Book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga

An Irregular Regiment, book two in the Peninsular War saga, is due for publication on 4th July.

The novel continues the story of Major Paul van Daan and the 110th infantry as they prepare to meet the French on the ridge of Bussaco in Portugal.  Back on the battlefield only two weeks after his scandalous marriage to the young widow of Captain Robert Carlyon, Paul is ready for the challenge of the invading French army.

But Lord Wellington has another posting for his most difficult officer and Paul and Anne find themselves back in Lisbon dealing with a whole new set of challenges with army supplies, new recruits and a young officer who seems to represent everything Paul despises in the army’s views on discipline and punishment.  Anne is getting used to life as the wife of a newly promoted regimental colonel as two other women join the regiment under very different circumstances.  And an old adversary appears in the shape of Captain Vincent Longford whose resentment at serving under Paul is as strong as ever.

It’s a relief to return to the field but Paul finds himself serving under the worst General in the army in a situation which could endanger his career, his regiment and his life.

Given a brief by Wellington which requires him to use tact and diplomacy as well as his formidable fighting skills, it’s hardly surprising that the army is holding it’s breath waiting for Wellington’s newest and most explosive colonel to fail spectacularly.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

Read the first chapter of An Irregular Regiment here.  For those who haven’t read it yet, why not order an Unconventional Officer.

An Uncommon Campaign – Book Three of the Peninsular War Saga

Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington

An Uncommon Campaign is now published on Amazon Kindle and will shortly be available in paperback.

An Uncommon Campaign, 110th at the Battle of Fuentes d'Onoro
An Uncommon Campaign, 110th at the Battle of Fuentes d’Onoro

It is April 1811.  Lord Wellington has led his army to the Spanish border where the French occupy their last stronghold in Portugal at Almeida. As the two armies face each other in the village of Fuentes de Onoro, Colonel Paul van Daan is trying to become accustomed to his new responsibilities in command of a brigade and is learning to manage the resentment of other officers at his early promotion.  His young wife is carrying her first child and showing no signs of allowing her delicate situation to get in the way of her normal activities much to the horror of the rest of the army. And if that is not enough, Paul encounters a French colonel during battle who seems to have taken their rivalry personally with potentially lethal consequences for the Third Brigade of the Light Division.

The third book in the Peninsular War Saga will be published at the end of July 2017.

An Irregular Regiment
Book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga

An Irregular Regiment, Book Two will be published on 4 July 2017

 

 

 

 

 

In the run up to the publication of An Irregular Regiment, there will be a free promotion of An Unconventional Officer from 16 – 18 June 2017.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

A Matter of Intelligence – Wellington on Twitter

Wellington’s HQ in Pere Negro, the Lines of Torres Vedras

With the horrible events in the UK this week there’s a lot in the news about intelligence.  According to the media, there has been a lack of it, we need it to get better and we probably need a new minister for it – we usually do when something goes wrong, it’s like a job creation scheme.

I don’t do politics on this site, its a site about books, history and often labradors.  But some of the speculation this week about who ought to have known what before these attacks has caught my interest as I’m currently researching Wellington and Bonaparte’s intelligence services during the Peninsular War.  Part of this is for a book in the series and part of it is for a new Regency which I’ve just started.

Military Intelligence in the early nineteenth century was a little haphazard to say the least.  Wellington made use of local Portuguese and Spanish guerrillas who provided him with information about French troop movements.  He also had a Corps of Guides which performed a wide variety of duties of which intelligence and map-making was one.

Initially the Corps only had a sergeant, a corporal and 18 troopers. It was commanded from 1808 to 1814 by Major (later LtCol) George Scovell, seconded from the Portuguese Quartermaster-General’s Department. Wellington expanded and transformed the Corps into a military intelligence corps.  Around 15 officers, English and Portuguese, were appointed to the corps between 25 April and 3 June 1809; many more enlisted men were also added and, in 1813, the corps had 12 officers and 193 men. In 1808-1810 the corps was mostly Portuguese, its officers being generally students of the University of Coimbra. All were to speak both English and Portuguese. Later recruits were often foreign deserters or Spaniards, recruited to gather information for the Anglo-Portuguese Army in Spain and southern France.

The Corps employed a number of ‘exploring officers’, chosen for three distinct skills: they were expert horsemen, skilled linguists, and able to express themselves in writing or sketching in the briefest and most concise terms.  One of the first duties in the winter of 1810 when there was little fighting, was for the exploring officers to map every bit of the Portuguese countryside four miles to the inch. They accomplished this with the help of local inhabitants who often knew their own immediate area  never travelled beyond the sight of their villages or farms.

With the countryside mapped, the exploring officers were sent out on
reconnaissance, moving behind enemy lines, learning troop movements and strategic information and then bringing the information back to Wellington.  They led lonely and often dangerous lives and received little reward or recognition for it.  Some were even shunned by their former regiments who took the view that they had avoided the dangers of the battlefield but Wellington had enormous respect for them.

These days, so much intelligence is online, and there is a good deal of debate about personal privacy on the internet and how it can be balanced against national security.  Wellington’s needs were much simpler.  He needed men to gather the information, he needed Portuguese and Spanish partisans to capture French messengers and bring him their despatches.  And he needed a code breaker to make sense of them.  He found that in Major George Scovell, an unassuming officer of the quartermaster-general’s department who became a crucial player in Wellington’s winning the war.

I find myself speculating, between my writing, my research and reading news reports, on how different things were for Wellington and his army.  Messages were sent by semaphore or carried by riders and there was nothing instant about them.  News or orders from London took weeks to arrive and the officers of Wellington’s army were often ignorant of the latest news and of their general’s plans which they found very frustrating.  Not that modern methods of communication would have helped them.  Lord Wellington was notorious for failing to consult or inform his officers, with the exception of a privileged few.  He was a private man and it would not have occurred to him to share his thoughts or opinions with the majority of the army.  Twitter would not have been for him.  But I’ve been amusing myself today, reading some of Donald Trump’s latest efforts, trying to imagine what it would have been like if he had…

Wellington on twitter

@Craufurdlightdivision: Camped at Almeida outside fort

@Wellingtonhq: When you say outside fort do you by any remote chance mean outside the actual fortress? What are you doing on that side of the river General? Did you not understand my very

@Craufurdlightdivision: Sir only 140 characters, remember?

@Wellingtonhq: 140 characters? How can I be expected to give orders in 140 characters? This is completely absurd, where are you? Where are the French? Have you made contact with Picton? You

@Craufurdlightdivision: You need to keep it shorter, Picton an arsehole, think French approaching, might need to go, brb

@Wellingtonhq: What do you mean Picton an arsehole, dear God if the enemy is approaching and you have no support you need to get them out of there! Why are you on that side of the river? Retr

@Craufurdlightdivision: Busy here, sir, retreating over the river, very outnumbered, BFN

@Wellingtonhq: BFN what in God’s name does that mean? What numbers? How are they formed? Do you have cover? How can I give orders without any information, General, this is serious! Get th

@Craufurdlightdivision: Shit the bridge is blocked need to go BFN

@Wellingtonhq: Craufurd listen to me! Are you there? Speak to me! How dare you pi me in the middle of my orders! You forget yourself, sir! You are too rash, too ready to throw your men into bat

@Wellingtonhq: God damn it why will this thing never let me finish a sentence? Craufurd answer me!

@Craufurdlightdivision: #ohshit #thatwasclose #nearlylostlightdivision

Wellington (to his ADC): Freemantle, would you be a good fellow and check those bushes for my phone? No not those ones, Captain, those over there. I threw it quite hard. And send a message to General Craufurd by semaphore, would you?

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The Peninsular War Saga:The Joy of a Series…why one book sometimes isn’t enough…

Cannon

Many thanks to all of you downloading An Unconventional Officer, the first book in the Peninsular War saga.  I really hope you enjoy it.  It’s a long book and it’s the first in a series so I am hoping that you make a connection with the characters and want to read on.  Discovering a new series of books is something of a commitment.  You can read one book, put it to one side with a smile or a shrug, and not worry about it any further.  But to read a series, the story and the characters have to matter.

All of my characters matter to me but I probably have more invested at the moment in Paul and Anne in An Unconventional Officer because I know a lot more about them.  I’ve worked out where they are going and what happens to them and I know what they have to face along the way.  I know about their friends and their family and their children.

I love reading a series.  There’s a real sense of anticipation about the next book.  In terms of historical novels, these are my favourites, in no particular order:

Sir Robert Carey and the James Enys series by P F Chisholm (Patricia Finney)

Falco and Flavia Alba novels by Lindsey Davis

Brother Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters

Lymond and Niccolo series by Dorothy Dunnett

Amelia Peabody novels by Elizabeth Peters

The Barforth family saga by Brenda Jagger

There are a lot of others but these are definitely my favourites.  I quite enjoy some other series as well.  I like thrillers, and I enjoy Val McDermid, Jeffrey Deaver, Tony Hillerman, Jonathan Kellerman, Colin Dexter, P D James, Tess Gerritson and Elizabeth George.

Sometimes a series starts well and then tails off so that I lose interest.  That definitely happened with the Alex Cross series by James Patterson.  I enjoyed the early ones enormously but then for me, the stories became too similar or sometimes too bizarre, in an effort to keep the series going.  Sometimes I suspect it is time just to find an ending and move on.

Sometimes a series just wears me out.  I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones and have followed both the novels and the TV series with considerable enthusiasm.  But the last book was a struggle and although I’m still enjoying the series, I’m not sure I’ll read the next book when it arrives.  It had become unremittingly depressing and hard to follow even for me, and I’ve waited too long for it.  I think he’s an amazing writer, but I’m just done with them now.

Writing a series brings both opportunities and challenges for an author.  There are challenges of continuity, of making sure no glaring errors occur with events and characters and history.  List making, chronologies and obsessive detail is essential here.  There is the challenge of keeping your readers interest.  No matter how much your readers love your main characters, if all the books are about them and nothing else they are going to get bored.

I think historical novelists have an unfair advantage here, because unless we want to rewrite history, we can’t cheat.  The events of the day are going to happen to our characters whether we like it or not so it forces us to think about how they might genuinely affect our protagonists.  A good example of this is the growing friendship between Colonel Paul van Daan, my fictional hero of the Peninsular Wars saga and General Robert Craufurd, the irascible, brilliant commander of the light division.  There are no spoilers here.  Both Anne and Paul are very attached to Craufurd but anybody can check Wikipedia and realise that at some point they are going to get very upset.  Craufurd died in the breaches of Ciudad Rodrigo and his friends were devastated.  I can’t rewrite that to make my characters feel better…

Those are the challenges.  The opportunities are equally important.  A series means you get to find out what happens next.  You don’t have to tie up all the loose ends in one book.  You can start and end each chapter when it makes sense.  You can explore other characters alongside your leads.  And you can develop people in the way that happens in real life, gradually, in a series of conversations and events not in a three paragraph summary which is all you have time for.

The established wisdom of publishing now seems to be, that with very few exceptions, long novels don’t work.  It is assumed that modern readers simply can’t cope.  In my opinion this has more to do with publishing costs than public opinion and I do understand why a publisher who is struggling with the advent of the internet and self publishing might not be willing to take on a new author. But for me, because I’m a realist, the phrase “you’re not marketable” actually means “you’re new and therefore too much of a risk”.  And that’s fine.  I’ve accepted it and moved on.  But since I can’t stop writing, I’ve decided to put my books out there and see.  And the good news is, they’re selling.  And getting good reviews and ratings.  Not thousands of sales yet, but hundreds.  Not dozens of reviews yet but a few and very good.

“An Unconventional Officer” was a difficult novel to publish.  It’s long.  Less that the Harry Potter book “Deathly Hallows” which was for children.  Less than War and Peace or Catch-22.  About the same as Fellowship of the Ring.  I thought about splitting it into two books when I was trying to find a traditional publisher.  They would either have told me to cut it or to split it into two books.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

In the end I’ve published it as it is.  For those of you who give it a try I hope you enjoy it.  I loved writing it and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series, most of which will be shorter books covering a shorter time period.

 

 

 

 

Creating a book – an interview with Sarah Hendy on Manx radio

Manx Radio on Douglas Head (Photo by Nigel Williams)

I had a lovely time today recording a radio interview for Manx radio with the fabulous Sarah Hendy whom I used to work with at the Sayle Gallery in Douglas.  Sarah now presents Spotlight, the stations weekly arts programme and asked me to come for a chat about my books and in particular the latest

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army
Book 1 in the Peninsular War Saga

release, An Unconventional Officer.

It took me right back to my first ever post when I wrote about how difficult it was for me to ‘come out’ and admit that I write historical novels and consider myself to be an author.  I was writing when I was working with Sarah but we didn’t talk about it because at that stage only my closest friends and family knew that I wrote at all.  I’m not sure why, looking back on it, except that it is a slightly unusual hobby.  A lot of people put reading or hiking or cycling at a hobby on their CV but writing tends to raise eyebrows.

I enjoyed the interview.  It helps a lot to know the person interviewing you and Sarah and I know each other very well.  But I also enjoyed some of the questions, in particular the one about the process of creating the story.

I don’t know how other authors put together their novels.  Do they start by typing chapter one and then write through in a logical order until the end?  I’ve never been very good at doing that.  I tend to write a selection of scenes involving my characters and then string them together.  Once I’ve got a fair chunk of the book, I can go back and fill in the gaps, and a lot of rewriting is done then.

It sounds like a slightly mad way of doing things, but my books are very character driven.  One of the comments made by Sarah today was that it sounds at times as if my characters get away from me.  It’s really hard to explain it, but they do.  Sometimes they seem to behave in ways that I find very difficult to understand.  Heroes behave like idiots, heroines lose their marbles at an unexpected moment and a villain who up until now has been completely dislikable will step up and do something good which I then have to deal with.

That’s why writing individual scenes often works well for me.  I can throw a collection of people together in a situation and see how they behave.  Sometimes it works really well and I will incorporate the scene into the book and at other times I decide I don’t want to use it.  But even the unused scenes have developed relationships between my characters and I think that makes the scenes I do use a lot stronger.

The exception to this slightly off beat way of writing has been the Peninsular War Saga.  Initially I began with the same approach but once I got to grips with the research, it was obvious I needed to focus a bit better or the whole thing was going nowhere.  Lord Wellington did not hang about during the war and my poor characters are constantly on the move, constantly busy.  Scenes I particularly wanted to include needed to be ruthlessly adapted to fit in with what the commander in chief wanted.

I didn’t mind.  Wellington was giving the orders here, it’s our job just to get on with it.  In many ways it makes the whole situation more realistic.  The number of times one of my characters needs to march out to battle just as a crisis occurs at home is numerous but completely real.  It must have happened in real life, which is probably why Wellington didn’t really like his officers and men to be married at all, and if they were, preferred their families to be left at home.  He needed his army to focus and became annoyed very quickly at requests for leave to deal with family crises, romantic interludes or personal bereavement.

Wellington remained in the field for the whole of the war apart from the one occasion right at the start when he was recalled with the other commanders to answer for the fiasco of the Convention of Sintra.  While he was away Sir John Moore marched into Spain, a disastrous campaign which ended with his death at Corunna.  I rather suspect that didn’t help with Wellington’s conviction that everything tended to go wrong if he wasn’t there to personally take charge.

With the Peninsular books I now have my characters, and a fairly fixed timeline, and all I need to do is work out what happens to them during that time period.  It’s fairly obvious where Paul needs to be.  Battle follows battle and he’s going to be involved in them.  Occasionally there’s a short break during winter quarters, but I tend to find him a job elsewhere during those periods.  He doesn’t like to be bored.

I’d like to thank Sarah and Manx Radio for letting me ramble on about my books.  It’s something I love to do.  The programme is aired on Wednesday 7th June at 5.30pm.