An Unconventional Officer – the first in a major new series about the Peninsular War.

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army

Introducing An Unconventional Officer, the first in a major new series about the Peninsular War which spans the years from 1802 to 1810.

Melton Barracks, Leicestershire, 1802….

“Sergeant, what is going on out on the parade ground?”

Michael had been vaguely aware of the rising noise. “Bayonet training, sir. Mr van Daan is supposed to be running it.”

He got up to go to the door. The men had been paired off and were running through the basic movements using wooden bayonets. He had looked out earlier and it had been going smoothly. The young lieutenant had obviously paid good attention to his lessons on the south coast. He had paired up each new man with an experienced soldier and he, Lieutenant Swanson and Sergeant Stewart had been doing the rounds of the men, commenting and correcting. By now O’Reilly was fairly sure that the light company had found its new officers. It was still early days, but they were workers. There had not been a single morning when he had arrived for early drill on the parade ground and found either of them absent or late.

But something had gone badly wrong now. Rory Stewart had been demonstrating a drill using a real weapon. The Van Daan lad was still holding the wooden replica he had been using earlier. What had happened, Michael had no idea, but Stewart was steadily advancing on the younger man, his face grim and set, and Van Daan was backing up, parrying quickly. Around them the men had all stopped to stare. Carl Swanson called out to Stewart to stop, and the Scot ignored him. Michael stared in horror for a moment, as Lieutenant Wheeler yelled an order to Stewart. The sergeant did not appear to even hear him.

“What the bloody hell is he doing?” Wheeler demanded, spinning round in search of a weapon. “Has he gone stark staring mad?”

“Sally Crane,” Michael whispered. He was temporarily frozen to the spot. “Oh dear Christ, this is my fault. Stewart is going to kill him.”

“Not on my bloody parade ground he’s not!” Wheeler said. He had located his pistol and was loading it fast. Michael ran out onto the parade ground, shouting again at Stewart. The Scot did not even look round. He lunged suddenly and Michael was nowhere near close enough to reach him and the point thrust directly at the boy’s throat and Michael closed his eyes in horror. And then there was an agonised yell, and he opened them again because it had been the broad Scots of Stewart’s voice that shouted.

Paul van Daan and the Scot were both on the ground. As O’Reilly watched, Paul got up. Stewart lay there, clutching both shins in agony. Van Daan tossed aside the wooden training tool and picked up Stewart’s bayonet, which he had dropped. Astonished, O’Reilly realised that the boy had waited until Stewart was close enough to reach him, and then dropped onto the ground and hit him across the legs with the wooden bayonet. He must have used considerable force, as Stewart seemed unable to get up. Paul van Daan stood over the Scot and pointed the bayonet directly at his throat and O’Reilly caught his breath. There was a completely new expression on his face and he no longer looked anything like the laughing boy from the tavern.       (From An Unconventional Officer by Lynn Bryant)

Welcome to the 110th Infantry. A new regiment and not that well regarded, it is being sent not to Europe to fight Napoleon, but to India, under a young and relatively inexperienced General called Arthur Wellesley. For months the 110th has been trying to attract new officers without success. It lacks the prestige, the history and the social standing of other regiments and commissions are cheap.

All that is about to change.

Paul van Daan is an officer with a mission and isn’t much interested in letting anybody stand in his way. From the bloody battlefield of Assaye through Europe and into Portugal and Spain, An Unconventional Officer follows the men and women of the 110th as they prepare to take a stand against the might of Napoleon’s French Empire.

With the 110th travel two very different women.

Rowena Summers, the shy young governess whose steady affection brings stability and peace to Paul’s life.

Anne Howard, lovely strong-willed and intelligent, who changes everything Paul thought he knew about women.

As Europe explodes into war, an unforgettable love story unfolds which spans the continent and the years of the Peninsular War and changes the lives of everyone it touches.

Welcome to the Peninsular War Saga book 1 – An Unconventional Officer

Published May 30th 2017.  Available on Kindle or as a paperback.

Why not head over and read the whole of the first chapter here.

The Reluctant Debutante – Ensign Giles Fenwick

The Reluctant DebutanteWelcome to a short biography of Giles Fenwick, hero of the Reluctant Debutante which is my bestselling book so far.

At the age of thirty two, Giles Fenwick, Earl of Rockcliffe had earned himself a reputation in the polite world as a dangerous rake, adept at seduction and quick to boredom with the women he pursued. The matchmaking mammas had welcomed him with open arms three years earlier upon his return from Waterloo, a professional soldier come unexpectedly into the ancient title and accompanying fortune.
These days, the Earl was aware that the same ladies eyed him askance and warned their delicate charges to avoid him if possible. There seemed no prospect of him doing his duty and marrying to secure the succession, and few mothers would have wanted to entrust their daughters to the scarred, cynical Earl with his unpredictable temper, his reputation for seducing married women, for keeping low company, having expensive mistresses in his keeping and for saying whatever outrageous thing should enter his head on any occasion.
The nobility of his birth and the size of his fortune ensured his continued welcome in the houses of the ton. Rockcliffe, who had returned from the army reluctant to be in any kind of society, was sardonically amused at how easy people found it to ignore his behaviour when dazzled by his title and money. But he had little in common with most of the well born people who saw themselves as his equals, and at times found their company stifling and overwhelmingly tedious.

Rockcliffe knew that the nature of his military service had a good deal to do with that. For many years he had served in the Peninsula under Wellington. Initially an excellent junior officer of light infantry, his intelligence, his talent for languages and his initiative had brought a transfer and he had served for much of the war as an exploring officer. These officers in Wellington’s army were under the command of the Quartermaster General. They operated on their own or with one or two local guides and their task was to collect first-hand tactical intelligence by riding to enemy positions, observing and noting movements and making sketch maps of uncharted land. The work was highly dangerous and required physical fitness, good horsemanship and a willingness to take risks. Captain Giles Fenwick had been a legend in Wellington’s army, his exploits talked of and laughed over in mess and over campfires.

It was a solitary life, and bred independence and impatience with rules and conventions. Hardly the best training, the Earl thought wryly, swinging himself out of bed, for an Earl entering polite society. But he could have done better if he had tried harder. He had not wanted to. The years of danger and excitement, the fights and the killing had culminated in the horror of Waterloo where he had seen friends and comrades cut down around him. He had expected to die from the wounds received on that day. But he had lived, had come home to be courted and feted by the polite world who would have petted him and made a hero of him if they could. He could not bear it – and made no attempt to hide the fact.

I’m delighted by how many people seem to be reading and enjoying The Reluctant Debutante which is now also available in paperback.

By the time we meet him in a humble tavern on the London road in 1819, Giles has inherited a title from his uncle and is the Earl of Rockcliffe. It has been a difficult transition for Giles who was, for many years, a penniless young officer in Wellington’s army, initially in a line regiment and then as one of Wellington’s exploring officers. He returned to regular service for the battle of Waterloo where he was seriously wounded and lost Simon Carlton, one of his best friends.

For anybody who would like to know more about Giles’ early years before he met and fell in love with a merchant’s daughter, you’ll be glad to know that the opportunity will arise during the course of the Peninsular War Saga as the regiment that young Ensign Fenwick joins is the first battalion of the 110th Infantry, commanded by the young and flamboyant Major Paul van Daan.

I wrote The Reluctant Debutante as a standalone novel and when I began writing the first of the Peninsular Books some time afterwards, the connection did not immediately occur to me. Giles was an exploring officer who operated away from the main army. However, as I spent more and more time researching Wellington’s army, it became clear to me that Giles would have started out in an ordinary regiment before being seconded to that post. We already know that he was poor, with no money to join the guards or an expensive cavalry regiment, and we also already know that his uncle, whom he visited, had an estate in Leicestershire, the home county for the 110th.

Giles is a few years younger than Paul van Daan. When Paul joins the 110th in 1802 he would have been just fifteen, still at school. But it did not seem unreasonable that when he was looking to join the army, he might have found a commission in the local regiment, the 110th cheap to buy, just as Carl Swanson did some years earlier. Moreover, I had a strong feeling that the young Giles Fenwick was probably the sort of lad who would catch the attention of Major van Daan and his clever wife. They like young officers with a strong personality and a lot to offer and Lord Wellington was always looking for men who might be suitable for his Corps of Guides.

After that the connection was obvious. Giles does not appear in the first book, although he joins the 110th in 1805 when he is eighteen. But he has the misfortune to be commissioned into the seventh company of the first battalion under the disaster that was Captain Vincent Longford, which means it is going to be some years before he finds himself under the command of Major van Daan. What happens then and how he becomes an exploring officer will be told during the course of the series.

I love connections like this, and having realised that I was going to be able to explore Giles’ back story as part of my saga, I realised that thanks to having unintentionally used the same surname in two of my books, I could create another connection, this time with the gallant Major Kit Clevedon of A Respectable Woman Kit is another officer who comes late into a title unexpectedly, but at twenty he gained financial independence from his bullying father when he inherited a small estate from an uncle. It didn’t take me long to work out that the character from An Unconventional Officer who shares his surname would have been 68 had he died that year. It would appear that Gervase Clevedon, one of Paul’s most reliable officers and very good friends, was the uncle from whom Kit inherited. I wonder if it was his idea for Kit to join the army to get him away from his unhappy home life? I rather suspect that it was; Gervase was a very good soldier and would have approved of the life for a favourite nephew…

Giles Fenwick also makes a cameo appearance in A Regrettable Reputation which is now the first book in the Light Division Romances, a series which follows the stories of some of the supporting characters from the Peninsular War Saga back into civilian life after the war.

My third standalone novel, A Marcher Lord is from a different time period entirely. However, the Scottish borders have provided fine soldiers to His Majesty’s armies for many hundreds of years. I have a strong suspicion that although nobody would know it, some red haired descendent of Will and Jenny Scott would have been fighting alongside the Van Daans, the Fenwicks and the Clevedons on Wellington’s front line. I’ll let you know if I run into him at some point.

For regular updates on this site including history, travel, book reviews and plenty of labradors (and a few freebies thrown in) please join the e-mail list here.

An Unconventional Officer – Revision Time…

Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington
An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

The battle of Talavera is officially over and revision time on An Unconventional Officer is getting easier.

After weeks of agonising over rewriting this blasted battle, the thing just happened, falling seamlessly into place with the rest of the book. I finally did this with pneumonia, spiking a temperature and with a blinding headache. It’s probably the reason describing an unpleasant battle experience in the middle of a scorching Spanish summer came so easily in the end.

The word in this house is now officially revision. AS level revision, GCSE revision and revising the final draft of this book for mistakes and inconsistencies. It’s a long and tedious process but at least I know what I’m doing with it.

This is a long book in comparison with the other three I’ve published. I struggled with the length for a while and finally decided to stop trying to prune it any further. I can’t tell this particular story any other way because it needs to fit around actual historical events so I’m just going with the flow.

The first chapter of ‘An Unconventional Officer’ is available to read for free elsewhere on this website.

I’m looking forward to publication on May 30th.

Not Just the Army…Marines and the Navy in the Peninsular War under Wellington – and a possible Manx connection?

I had one of those very odd little coincidences today which caused me to look at the role of not just the army but also the Marines and the Navy in the Peninsular War under Wellington.

I’ve been thinking about a story, either a short story or a novella, associated with the Peninsular War books but possibly with a Manx connection. I already have a Manxman ready to pop up into the action when the time is right. It was always likely to happen. I don’t know much about Manxmen in the Napoleonic armies, but I do know the navy just loved them. It’s hard not to be good at the sea when you live on an island this small. The most famous of them, a certain Captain John Quilliam RN was a Royal Navy officer and the First Lieutenant on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

When I was researching the young Paul van Daan’s early career in the Royal Navy, I was not sure of my ground. I knew a fair bit about Wellington’s army but the navy was a bit of a mystery. I knew that at fourteen Paul was far too young to be pressed, but I also knew that it happened all the time especially with well grown lads who clearly had seafaring experience. But I wanted Paul’s time in the navy to have some purpose. Those early years are vital, because in the hell below decks in Nelson’s navy fighting skirmishes and then at the battle of the Nile, Paul van Daan grew up. He arrives in the army at 21 not a naive young officer with no experience but as a tough, battle seasoned commander, a petty officer who rose from being a pressed man. He’s been through hell and back, not in the company of officers and gentlemen but alongside the lowest of the low in Nelson’s navy. No wonder he’s often happier down with the men than up in the mess…

But was it possible? Google came to my rescue, and with regard to naval promotion from being a pressed man, the first significant name to pop up was none other than my neighbour from up the road in Marown who was the son of a farmer, an apprentice stonemason until he was picked up by a press gang. From those humble beginnings he rose to be first lieutenant on HMS Victory with a place in history. I could have hugged him. Suddenly, Petty Officer Paul van Daan was not only possible but highly likely.

So when I came to thinking about a Manx connected story I naturally went back to Paul’s navy days. There were a lot of Manxmen in Nelson’s navy and it’s entirely likely that when Wellington asked for the navy and the marines to help with the defence of the Lines of Torres Vedras, one or two of them came along. I’d got my connection, and I’ve already come up with a name. Some research about their role comes next, and as I was working on that from my sickbed, I came across the following story, linked to a JustGiving page for a Royal Marines charity.

The Royal Marines 1664 Global Challenge 2017 – linked to Royal Marine history in Portugal

During the Peninsular War (1810-1812) the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Marine Artillery were deployed in support of Wellington’s defence of the Lines of Torres Vedras.

At Wellington’s request Vice Admiral Berkeley deployed ashore a naval brigade consisting of 500 seamen and 500 marines to guard the left bank of the Tagus, to provide the signalmen along the Lines of Torres Vedras and to provide Marine artillery. The main force worked in co-operation with the flotilla of naval ships in the North part of the River Tagus to ensure that the French troops could not out-flank the British lines and move on Lisbon, while Naval signalmen ensured that messages could pass along the 29 miles of the Lines in 7 minutes.

Marines along with Artillery were landed on the 3 islands to the North in the Tagus where they worked with the British Army on the left bank and the Naval ships to stop French attempts to use the islands to cross. Later a large number of Marines were moved to Fort San Julien to provide protection for the deployment of maritime logistics to Wellington’s force ashore. This area was also the 3rd Line of Torres Vedras and is close to the current site of HQ Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, STRIKFORNATO.

When the Marines were finally returned to the UK in February 1812 the British General in charge of the Army in Lisbon wrote that he “cannot part with the Royal Marine Battalion without expressing the lively concern he feels in being deprived of their service, and requesting their acceptance of his best thanks for their uniform good conduct whilst in his garrison”.

In recognition of this part of Naval and Royal Marine history, the four Royal Marines based in Portugal are aiming to complete a physical challenge that will start with a canoe to the Islands in the Tagus, to run around the Islands before returning to the left bank. They will then cycle along the first line of defence taking in the signal tower overlooking Wellington’s HQ where Naval signalmen worked before turning south and arriving at St Julian Fort a distance of 64 miles.

This is part of the Royal Marines 1664 Global Challenge that will see Royal Marines around the world complete 100 challenges in 100 days, raising funds for wounded and injured Naval Service Marines and Sailors.

It made me smile. The lines of Torres Vedras are unheard of to most people in the UK, even if they know a bit about the Peninsular Wars, although having visited them very recently in Portugal I’m aware of how crucial a part of modern Portuguese history they are. Somehow I love the idea that these guys are raising money for charity in the name of that little piece of obscure history. They aren’t going to get the recognition of the lads running around the UK and it doesn’t really matter since it all goes to the same cause, but I still somehow felt a connection. I made a donation because I wanted my name on that page. It has meaning for me.

I’m going to start the story tomorrow, even though I ought to be working on my final revision of ‘An Unconventional Officer’. I love these little obscure bits of history which turn up in the oddest places. I hope you’re as interested as I am. And if you feel like making a donation, this is the link.

Officers and Gentlemen – Promotion and Rank in Wellington’s Army

Cannon

Lord WellingtonPromotion and rank in Wellington’s army was a daily preoccupation of the officers who served under him.  During the wars against Napoleon, an officer’s commission in the army was obtained by purchase, a crucial plot device in many a Regency novel. Young men wishing to enter the army were obliged to raise the money to buy their way in, and within the army promotion was, for the most part, by purchase as well.

There were several reasons for this. First and foremost, it preserved the social standing of the officer class, keeping out undesirable elements simply because they could not afford to join. It ensured that commissions were generally held by men with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, thereby reducing the possibility of Army units taking part in a revolution or coup. It ensured that officers had private means and were less likely to engage in theft or looting during wartime or to engage in profiteering. It served as a form of collateral against abuse of authority or gross negligence or incompetence, since a disgraced officer could be cashiered by the crown which meant they would be dismissed without recouping the cost of their commission. And finally the sale of the commission could provide for an officer’s retirement at the end of his service.

All of these reasons made perfect sense for the time. There was no equality for other social classes in any other area of life and nobody had any desire to see the common soldier raised from the ranks. It happened occasionally but very rarely and was seldom considered to be a success. Unfortunately, the system did not always ensure that the best men rose to positions of command ahead of those who simply had more money. Social exclusiveness was preserved not only by money but by sheer snobbery as regimental colonels were allowed to veto the purchase of a commission in their regiment if they did not think that the officer was of the right social background. This often happened in the Household and Guards regiments which were dominated by aristocrats.

During wartime, especially a war as bloody as the long Napoleonic wars, promotion on merit was more common. If an officer was killed in action his shoes could be filled by promoting a man who could not otherwise have afforded the purchase. It alleviated some of the worst effects of the system and ensured that at least some men of little means but considerable talent had the chance to rise to more senior ranks. But overall Wellington’s army was a hotbed of privilege and tradition with layers of social snobbery between officers, between the guards, the infantry and the cavalry and between old traditional regiments steeped in history and some of the new-fangled regiments recently raised.

This was the background against which the young Paul van Daan purchases his commission in the first book of the Peninsular War saga. The 110th light company was not the obvious choice for him. Paul comes from considerable wealth on his father’s side and very good birth on his mother’s side and a commission in a fashionable cavalry regiment is well within his means. He chooses instead to join with his boyhood friend, Carl Swanson, who as the son of a humble parson has not the means to buy into an expensive regiment. The light company of the relatively new 110th infantry is their choice, and after basic training down at Shorncliffe under the legendary Sir John Moore, one of the men who created the modern army with his light infantry tactics, they arrive at barracks in Melton ready to go to India.

Once in the field, a man’s progression through the ranks could vary widely. Some would be based on ability to pay and willingness to transfer between regiments. An ambitious officer might quickly go through a number of different regiments to achieve rank. By this time, rules had been introduced about the amount of time an officer needed to have served in order to purchase promotion, but in the field all bets were off and rules and regulations were set aside in the name of expediency. Commanding officers would bend and break rules to either promote or block promotion according to their preference for candidates and vacancies opened up all the time due to death or illness.

The various rules and changes going on in the army can be an advantage to a writer needing to promote a character up the ranks in a particular way, since there were so many ways this could happen with local ranks, official ranks, field ranks and temporary ranks, that it is almost always possible to assert honestly that this could have happened in Wellington’s army even if it was not the usual route to success. But despite this flexibility, all of Paul’s fellow officers would have been gentlemen and would have expected their fellow officers to share a set of unquestioned values and beliefs with which they all felt safe.

So what happened when one of them didn’t?

What happened when an officer broke all the rules of his class and his rank and cared more about his enlisted men than the comfort of his officers? What happened when an officer decided to pick and choose which regulations mattered and which didn’t? What happened to a young lieutenant who often preferred the company of his Irish sergeant and his cockney Corporal; who would rather eat by the campfire than dine in the mess; whose friends included thieves and pickpockets and ex poachers? How could any officer who flatly refused to use flogging to discipline his men expect to get on in the snobbish, hierarchical army of the early nineteenth century?

Welcome to the 110th infantry, where officers and men are about to get the biggest shock of their lives.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

Welcome to An Unconventional Officer

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Lord Wellington

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

Lord Wellington is one of the most important supporting characters in the Peninsular War Saga.  He first met Paul van Daan on a hillside in India when Paul was an arrogant young lieutenant and it was the beginning of a friendship and working relationship which lasted the rest of Wellington’s life.

As Richard Graham emerged from his billet to find his horses ready, with one loaded with his small amount of baggage, he saw Captain Sean Devlin approaching him. “They’ve gone ahead to get the German lad settled,” he said. “I waited to show you the way. You ready?”

Graham nodded. “Yes. I’m hoping we get fed. I’ve been dreaming of a drink and a meal and trying to forget about today. What a bloody introduction to Portugal!”

Devlin laughed. “You were unlucky, laddie. Normally these affairs aren’t so exciting. Come and be properly introduced.

“I’m not sure I want to be,” Graham said.

“Admit, you’re curious. And you’ll want to find out how the lassie is.”

After a moment Graham nodded. “Should I change?”

“Don’t bother, they won’t expect it.”

“No dinner in the mess?”

Devlin laughed. “Just come as you are.”

Graham complied, admitting to himself that he was curious. His impression of the colonel had been of a towering personality with a temper but he had nothing other than that to go on. On the ride across to the abandoned convent where the 110th regiment had apparently been billeted until they had marched north to fight at Sabugal, Graham glanced at Devlin.

“So what’s the story, Captain?” he asked quietly.

“Don’t know yet, laddie. That’s why I’m here. Hoping to find out. It’s just up here. Best billet on the lines, the 110th always end up somewhere good.”

“I’m not surprised if he’s in charge,” Graham said drily. “Who is he and why the big fuss?”

Devlin grinned. “As the girl said, he commands the 110th. You heard of them?”

“No. Don’t forget I’ve just spent three years in the Indies, which is the arsehole of the world, I’ve not heard of anybody. Don’t think they’ve ever been posted out there. Infantry?”

“Yes. The first battalion is out here and the second in barracks and Paul van Daan commands the regiment along with a Portuguese brigade and the first battalion of the 112th. At the moment. Given how he’s just distinguished himself in this campaign, look for further promotions, I’d say. He’s on his way up, laddie, and fast. They often fight as part of the light division, he’s got a mania for training – a perfectionist – and he’s trained all his men to fight as light infantry although they’re not officially designated as such. I imagine they soon will be. He started out in India under Wellington in the light company. They’re as thick as thieves, he’s one of the few men Wellington will tolerate arguing with him and he has a reputation as something of an individualist. He is known in some quarters as Wellington’s Mastiff. Hookey likes to keep him close at hand and often gives him the jobs nobody else wants. Which is not a reputation I’d want, but it’s certainly a quick route to promotion if you can stay alive.”   (From: “An Uncommon Campaign” Book Three of the Peninsular War series by Lynn Bryant.)

Since I decided to write a series of books set in the Peninsular War, I have spent an inordinate amount of my time reading about Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Lord Wellington, who led the Anglo-Portuguese army during it’s five year struggle against Napoleon’s forces in Portugal and Spain. I started knowing very little about Wellington and I have ended up by feeling surprisingly attached to him.

My knowledge of Wellington, to be honest, came from my schooldays when I studied nineteenth century politics in history. He was Prime Minister twice, not very successfully, pushed through Catholic emancipation and fought strenuously and unsuccessfully against the Reform Bill, and in my mind he was always a slightly grumpy and very superior elder statesman who looked down his nose at the young Queen Victoria and disliked change and modernisation.

For my Napoleonic fiction books set during the Peninsular War I have had to go right back to the early days of Wellesley’s career. When he is introduced to the young Lieutenant Paul van Daan in 1802 he is a relatively young and inexperienced general with his greatest victories in the future. He had not yet made his disastrous marriage to Kitty Pakenham and the battle of Assaye, which brought him his knighthood and some public attention, was a year away. He was ambitious, single minded and determined, a moderate drinker for the time, a serious student of military affairs and a man who enjoyed the company of women. Even then, he struggled to delegate, and preferred his officers not to show any initiative or to take matters into their own hands.

As I began to read more about Wellington’s character it became obvious that I had accidentally stumbled on the perfect foil for the flamboyant, unpredictable bad boy of the 110th infantry, Lieutenant Paul van Daan, a character I’ve had in my head for a while. On paper, Paul is everything Wellington likes to see in a young officer; he’s dedicated, intelligent and courageous. In reality, Wellington the control-freak is about to come up against a force of nature and their disagreements are frequent and explosive.

While Paul’s love story is at the heart of the novels, his relationship with his commander-in-chief is almost as important. Increasingly through the years of war, Lord Wellington felt isolated and under siege from political influences in London and worn down by lack of money, men and resources and the limited pool of talented officers available to him on the ground. It increased his tendency to control every aspect of his campaign and the running of the army himself and anybody who reads the volumes of his letters and despatches will quickly begin to realise how involved he was in the detail of administration.

There were few men in his army that Wellington felt comfortable with, but his friendship with the young officer he had first singled out on a hillside in India endures the storms of war and politics. It was a source of envy and resentment among some of the other officers but it was very much understood by Anne, who has her own surprisingly close relationship with the commander in chief.

When I set out to write these novels, Lord Wellington was supposed to be a subsidiary character with little to do apart from to issue orders. As so often happens with subsidiary characters, he developed a mind of his own and began to intrude into the action in the most unsuitable manner. As he is a general, I thought it best to let him have his way.

 

 

A Collection of Freebies

Only a brief and somewhat informational post today to remind everybody of the free promotions coming up over the next few weeks.

The Reluctant Debutante on 30th April and 1st May.

A Marcher Lord on 6th-7th May

A Respectable Woman on 13th-14th May

May 30th will see the publication of the first book in the Peninsular War series. “An Unconventional Officer” tells the story of Paul van Daan, a young officer who joins the 110th infantry in their light company in 1802 and travels through India, Italy, Ireland, Denmark and then into Portugal. His fortunes are linked to those of the young and ambitious General Arthur Wellesley whom he meets in India, and his personal life is dominated by two very different women.

Rowena Summers, the shy young governess who becomes his wife and his steady companion.

Anne Howard who marries one of his officers and changes his view of women forever.

Against the backdrop of Wellington’s war in Portugal and Spain,the Peninsular War Saga will follow the fortunes of the officers, men and women of the 110th infantry, a regiment unlike any other in the British army.

An Irregular Regiment
Book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga

The first four books have now been published on both Kindle and in paperback on Amazon and the Kindle versions now have new covers.

A Moment of Calm: time management for authors

Quill pen

References to calm and time management for authors generally raise a snigger around here.  In case you hand’t guessed, the title of this post is ironic.  I thought I’d get that out of the way first because I don’t want anybody to read this and think it’s going to be at all zen.  I’d like it to be, trust me, but it’s not happening.  I keep looking at this photograph of me at Bussaco on our recent trip and wondering when I will feel this calm again.  It’s sort of soothing just looking at it, though…

View from the Bussaco Palace Hotel, site of the old convent

I’m sitting here, dodging the battle of Talavera because it’s the first day of the new term of my dance school, we have about a billion new starters and I am surrounded by reams of paper covered in fee notes, terms and conditions, welcome letters and codes of conduct.  I have literally no idea if anybody is actually going to read any of this, but it’s good that they’ll have it.  I’m wondering if I should also give out a free chapter of one of my books as well…

I’ve often wondered if other writers live in the sort of chaos I seem to be surrounded by.  There are days when I have so much stuff on my desk and on the floor surrounding it that I can’t move.  I can’t get to the stuff on the floor (an atlas of the peninsular war, by the way) because there’s a snoring labrador on top of it, neatly hiding a map of the Estremadura.  Yesterday evening I was rampaging about the house searching for a book about the battle of Talavera which I knew I’d had only hours earlier and accusing my family of having moved it.  The response was predictable.

Husband:  Not seen it.

Daughter:  Mum, if I’d found it I’d probably have set fire to it, you have way too many books about Wellington, it’s not healthy.

Son’s girlfriend:  Do you know, I don’t think I even own a book that I could lose.

Son: Try the bathroom

It was in the bathroom.  Don’t even begin to ask why, I can’t tell you.

Perhaps my life would feel less chaotic if I had a normal job where I went out of the house at eight thirty and came back at five thirty to do normal things.  I’ve read a lot about how important it is when working at home to separate out working time from family time, but my family are entirely used to me reading history books or making notes in front of the TV and holding long conversations with Irish dance teachers while trying to do the ironing.  It’s not easy.

Still, I think this suits me.  I did the traditional thing for years and then I was a stay at home Mum.  I’m not sure I was ever that well organised at home, although my desk at work was always a masterpiece of neatness.  Perhaps it’s just in my own environment that I create havoc.  Or perhaps it’s just the way my brain works.

I’m giving Talavera a break today to concentrate on Manx Trinity, but I’ll be back to it tomorrow.  If I can find the book again.

In the meantime, look out for some free promotions coming up over the next few weeks in the run up to the publication of ‘An Unconditional Officer’.  It’s not looking good for the ironing pile…

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The Battle of Talavera – the problem of a battle

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army

The battle of Talavera has been causing me a good deal of trouble while revising An Unconventional Officer.

Talavera, 1809

 Paul had just rallied his men after their encounter with the left column, keeping a wary eye on the French and trying to assess the extent of the damage. The first company had taken the worst punishing. He had no way of knowing how many were dead and how many lay wounded on the field, but more than half of them were missing including all of the officers. His own light company was battered and bloody and there were faces he searched for and could not find.
     “Sergeant, where’s Grogan?”
     O’Reilly shook his head exhaustedly. He was sporting a bloody arm where it had been grazed by a musket ball. “Down, sir,” he said quietly.
     “Wounded?”
     “Dead. No doubt.”
      Paul nodded. The green-jacketed rifleman was one of the oldest in his company and had been with him since India. “Poor bastard. Isn’t his wife expecting again?”

I mentioned a few days ago that I am already tired of the battle of Talavera.  Home again after spending the Easter weekend with friends I am contemplating another go at it.  I’ve been whinging about Talavera but in some ways it illustrates the general problems of writing about battles.

In writing a series of books about the Peninsular War, it’s hard to avoid the odd battle.  They occur with increasing regularity, interrupting the daily life of my characters and causing death and mayhem all over the place and they are impossible to ignore.

Researching battles is actually quite fun.  There are a lot of first hand published accounts of this war as well as a fair few histories stuffed with maps and diagrams and other useful tools.  In addition, some people have written modern guides to the battlefields for people wanting to tour them.

We weren’t able to get to Talavera during our recent trip around battle sites.  It was too far off our route and I had read that a motorway recently built makes it difficult to get much sense of how the country would have looked.  I found it incredibly helpful to visit the sites of some of the other battles I’m writing about.  My fictional regiment, the 110th took part in Talavera, Sobral, Massena’s retreat and Sabugal, and then the fighting along the border the following year leading up to Salamanca and I made it to most of these places, but the two major battles in the first book were left out so I’m doing Talavera from books and maps and photos.

The problem of battles is how to write them.  Battles weren’t particularly neat and tidy, they weren’t always well organised and they often took place over ground covering several miles.  Things didn’t happen in neat chronological order, so the battle could be going well in one part of the field while disaster struck on the other.  And the most crucial problem from an author’s point of view is that for whole sections of the time the men involved had no idea what was going on.

That leaves the choice of whether to write from the point of view of the individuals involved or whether to take a more general view so as to tell the reader what is happening all over the field.  There is also, in my case, the action off the field since what is happening in the surgeons tents is of some importance to the plot.  With so much going on there is a danger of flitting from one place to another leaving the reader completely bewildered.  I suspect my first draft of Talavera was guilty of this since the man I married informed me he had no idea what was going on when he read it.

The other problem is how long to spend describing battles.  Book one of the series begins with Paul joining the 110th and describes his early days with the regiment including the battle of Assaye.  At this stage he has not met either of the two women in his life and the focus is very much on the action on the field and it’s aftermath.

By the time we reach Talavera there is some conflict.  Not only do I have to work out where the 110th is fighting and what happens to the main characters in the regiment as the day unfolds, but I need to keep an eye on my female character who has her own role to play for the first time.  It’s a delicate balance between turning the thing into a military history rather than a novel or giving the impression that the battle is a mere backdrop to the personal lives of the characters.  I’m working on how to get that right.  Time will tell.

Having said all of that, I like a good battle.  It enables me to to bring out the best in some of my characters – and on occasion, the worst.  It highlights personality traits and gives opportunities to move the plot along very quickly.  There are opportunities for some light-hearted moments but far more opportunities for tragedy.  At the end of a battle nothing is ever quite the same.

I’m rather looking forward to getting on with Talavera and I’m hoping it will be the last big section of rewriting I need to do on the first book before it’s ready to publish.  I wonder if I’ll still be as cheerful about it by the end of next week…..

Lists

Cannon

Today I have written a list.  In fact several lists.

That in itself is not unusual.  I live by lists.  If it isn’t on one of my lists, it’s very unlikely to get done.  Sometimes, even if it is on my list the chances are not good, but there’s still a sliver of hope.

My current list is of the things I need to do before I go away for the Easter weekend.  Writing a blog post wasn’t on that list so naturally it’s the first thing I’m doing.  But I will go back to the list today.

My list is in a lovely notebook which is full of lists with a cartoon zebra on the front.  I feel very adult when I’m using it.  I’m not sure where I got it from, I probably stole it from my daughter along with the jumper I’m wearing and I think the socks.  My entire family has a weakness for stationery of all kinds, but whereas the men are fairly functional about it, my daughter and I require beauty or at least cuteness.  I used to have a charming notebook with the muppets on which for some reason I decided was the most appropriate tool to use at work when making notes.  My colleagues at the art gallery honestly barely turned a hair at it, but when I arrived with it for the first day of my next job the expression on the face of my new boss as I opened my notebook and took out my white fluffy flamingo pen gave me all the information I needed about my long term suitability for that particular post. Today’s list was on the kitchen table when my daughter joined me for breakfast and she casually reached for the notebook.

“Don’t touch my list!” I snarled.

Teenage eyes rolled.  “Jesus, Mum!”

There are two reasons I don’t want her mucky hands on my list.  Firstly because she has inherited her father’s need to doodle and within seconds the list would have been rendered illegible by swirls, cartoons and helpful statements such as “moo cows fly in the night sky” written in bubble letters.

Secondly because she would laugh at the list.  The list is weird, I admit it.  It’s because there are so many bits to my life.  Some of them are really normal, like laundry and cleaning the living room.  Those look okay on the list.  A lot of people’s lists have things like that on.

Then there is the Irish dance school.  That’s a bit more eccentric.  I mean “book car hire for Killarney” isn’t too bad, but when it comes to items such as “order sock glue” and “buy 15000 hairpins and 2000 sodding blister plasters” people might start to look askance.  The hairpins are only a slight exaggeration, I honestly don’t know what the dancers do with them and I’m afraid to ask.  We’ve got a competition in Killarney in two weeks and sock glue really is important…

As for the writing section of the list, this is the bit I really don’t want my daughter involved with.  It includes such items as these:

  1. Change Anne’s dress
  2. Wellington at Talavera – what the hell was he doing in that tower and who was with him.  Do I need to know?
  3. Update character list NOW before you resurrect more dead people.
  4. Shoot Goodreads

There are others which I won’t bore you with.  The other thing about my list making, is it tends to run away with me.  When I was studying history at university, people would borrow my notes to catch up on missed lectures and then return them either laughing or looking puzzled depending on their level of resilience.  One poor lad handed them back with the remark that he’d read one section three times in case it was a handwriting problem.  He seemed doubtful that I could really have written “Cromwell still buggering about outside Pontefract” in my lecture notes.  He was lucky it wasn’t worse, is all I’m saying.

I wonder if other writers have the same problem of being able to keep things short and simple?  For example a phone call to the vet actually reads as “phone vet for mind altering drugs for Toby.”

The above items listed are mostly due to my work on “An Unconventional Officer”.  I’m rewriting the battle of Talavera since the man I married read the book and informed me that although he enjoyed most of it, he couldn’t work out what the hell was going on during that episode.  I really wanted to tell him to live with the pain; the men on the battlefield mostly hadn’t a clue either, but out of consideration for my readers I’m working on it.

Wellington is another matter, he was doing his usual trick of racing around all over the battlefield and losing half his staff on the way.  He did it so often I usually just leave him to it.  It’s convenient in a way because he can turn up at odd moments when his intervention helps my plot and nobody could possibly complain about historical inaccuracy since even his own staff couldn’t find him half the time.  I’m trying to work out in my rewrite if it actually matters where he was at this point of the battle.

Anne’s dress isn’t difficult, I’m changing a description to match my shiny new book cover.  She won’t mind, she hardly ever notices what she’s wearing anyway as long as it doesn’t show the blood.

As for the character list, I’m taking that with me to work on during the journey. It’s been ongoing for a while, but it’s reaching crisis point now that I am actually getting close to publication.  During the books, a large number of men are involved and I often give them names for convenience even if they’re not a big part of the story.  Some of them get ideas once they have a name and start developing a personality and attitude but those are easy to remember.  Others are better behaved and stay where they were put and those are more of a challenge.  Some of them sadly don’t make it through the battle and although they’re not well known and probably nobody has got that attached to them, it disturbs even me to realise that although they may have died at Talavera, they’re up and around and taking down the French skirmishers at Fuentes de Onoro two books down the line.  It’s like an episode of the Walking Dead and I’m not having it.  Hence I’m putting together a comprehensive list of characters to make sure resurrections are a thing of the past.

The bit about shooting Goodreads has already been dealt with by a charming man called Ben who has now attributed The Reluctant Debutante to the correct Lynn Bryant.  I’d spent two hours trying to work out how to do it and it took him all of three minutes, which is a lesson to me about when to give in and ask for help…

For all this I’m not changing my list making techniques any more than I changed the way I wrote my degree notes.  I did all right with it in the end and I never did forget where Cromwell was at a crucial moment.  And reading the endless tasks on my list is somehow less depressing if they make me laugh as I go along.

Right.  Where did I put that list?

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