Tynwald Day- the Manx national day

Tynwald Day: the Manx National Day
Tynwald Day

Tynwald Day, the Manx national day, is held each year on July 5th and is a celebration of Manx independence and Manx culture. I wrote this post last year and am re-sharing it along with a free promotion of my most recent book, An Unwilling Alliance, which is set on the Isle of Man and in Denmark in 1806-7 and features a Manx hero and heroine.

Tynwald is the Parliament of the Isle of Man and no other parliament in the world has such a long unbroken record.  It has been going since Viking times, more than 1000 years and governs a tiny island in the Irish sea.  I had never heard the word Tynwald until I moved to the island fifteen years ago and I’m not sure I had really grasped the fact that the Isle of Man is an independent country with it’s own laws and its own Parliament.  The island is not part of the United Kingdom, but a Crown Dependency with the Queen acknowledged as Lord of Mann.

The ceremony held at St John’s on Tynwald Day has changed in the details but has basically been going on for more than 1000 years.  Back then the island was a collection of Viking settlements and an annual sitting of their Parliament was held around midsummer where people gathered to hear their laws proclaimed aloud, to seek justice and to air their grievances.

The Vikings or Norsemen first came to Mann around the year 800AD, and ruled the Island for four-and-a-half centuries before finally ceding it to the King of Scotland in 1266. By then they had firmly imposed their own administrative system, which continued even while the Island’s ownership passed between Scotland and England, to the Stanley family of Lancashire (Lords of Mann from 1405-1736), and to their kin the Dukes of Atholl, who held it until it was re-vested in the British Crown in 1765.  The custom of Tynwald Day has continued throughout all these changes.

On Tynwald Day, Tynwald meets at St John’s instead of the usual parliament building in Douglas, partly in the Royal Chapel of St John the Baptist and partly in the open air on Tynwald Hill, a small artificial hill nearby.  The meeting is known as Midsummer Court and is attended by both branches of Tynwald, the House of Keys and the Legislative Council.  The Lieutenant Governor presides as the representative of the Lord of Mann, unless the Queen or another member of the Royal Family is present.

All bills which have received the Royal Assent are promulgated on Tynwald day and if this does not happen within 18 months of passing the bill it ceases to have effect.  Other proceedings can include the presentation of petitions and the swearing in of public officials.  There is a formal procession which includes the Lieutenant Governor, Members of the House of Keys and of the Legislative Council, the Deemsters who are the highest judicial officers, any guests of honour from other nations, clergymen, leaders of local governments and any other state officials of the Isle of Man.  Members of the general public attend the ceremony as do local constabulary and military.  It is a highly formal affair.

Before Tynwald sits, the individual presiding inspects the guard of honour and lays a wreath at the National War Memorial.  There is a religious service in the chapel at 11am and then Tynwald proceeds to the adjacent Tynwald Hill. The path is strewn with rushes following the celtic custom of pleasing the sea god Mannanan with bundles of rushes on Midsummer’s Eve. The path is lined with flagpoles, which fly the national flag and the parliamentary flag.  The laws are proclaimed from Tynwald Hill which has existed from at least the end of the 14th century.  Once this is done, Tynwald reconvenes in the Chapel and quill pens are used to sign certificates documenting the promulgation of the laws.

Once the captioning of the acts has concluded, the Lieutenant Governor and the Legislative Council withdraw, leaving members of the House of Keys for a session of their house.  Once Tynwald Day is over there are three more sittings of Tynwald before the government adjourns for the summer until October.

Traditionally, Tynwald Day was marked by a fair and market; these customs still continue with stalls, demonstrations, music and dance throughout the day and on into the evening.  The village of St John’s is packed with people and the following week, known as Manx National Week, usually hosts a series of concerts, displays and other events related to Manx culture.

For the first few years we were on the island it was an annual event to go to Tynwald Day.  I admit I was fascinated by the history, the idea that this ceremony, in some form or another, has been going for so long.  It is very different to the British opening of Parliament and Queen’s speech which is very much a Parliamentary event.  This is an event for the people, and the tradition of people bringing their grievances before Tynwald on this day really happens, I know people who have done it.  This year, as an example, several Manx women staged a silent protest dressed in Handmaid’s Tale type red cloaks and bonnets to show their support for reform of the island’s highly outdated abortion laws.  Democracy moves slowly at times, but it does move and Tynwald Day is a traditional forum for protests like this.

The actual reading of the laws is long and boring and I’m not sure how many people really listen.  But it’s an important part of the day.  The officials are in full robes and wigs and there’s a real sense of ceremony and national pride.

I’ve not been to Tynwald Day for years now.  It’s the day after my daughter’s birthday so it’s often difficult.  But I think I’d like to do it again at some point.  In the past, when the children were younger it was all about the fair and the activities and the market stalls.  But I think I’d like to attend from the point of view of a historian, to read about the ceremonies of the past and feel the sense of continuity which shines through the day.  The island is a small nation but has a deep sense of pride and community which I’ve a suspicion we could all learn something from.

Many thanks to Heather Paisley for use of her photographs.

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Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner - Tower Bridge, London
Tower Bridge, London

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner was played at my mother’s funeral a few years back.  It was very appropriate for her, because although for the last few years of her life she moved to the Isle of Man to be near us, she saw herself as very much a Londoner.  She was fiercely proud of it, would defend London as the best city in the world – in fact the best place in the world – against anybody.

A cat called Monty
Monty the Cat

I was in London myself recently for a few days, cat sitting for a friend of my sisters and getting some quiet time after the complete madness of the past few months.  It was as hot as Hades and I spent a few days with my sister catching up, being a tourist and getting sore feet after which she went home and I was alone and peaceful with Monty the cat.  My intention wasto catch up on a lot of admin jobs that I’ve left for too long and then to get a really good way into my new Regency novel.  It was a lovely flat with a balcony and the temptation to doze in the sun with Monty was huge, although I did try to resist.

It’s always odd being back in London.  I’m not so familiar with this part, but we took a bus out through the East End where I grew up, to Stratford and then went on to Canary Wharf and had lunch by the river.  In my childhood, Stratford was our local shopping centre and Canary Wharf was a place we simply didn’t go – it consisted of rotting and boarded up warehouses with a few dingy businesses still struggling on.  I’ve watched the evolution of docklands through my life and it’s been a fascinating process.

Despite being born and raised in the East End, I’m not really a city person.  I don’t mind small towns; Douglas is about right for me.  But I love the countryside and the coast, the feeling of fewer people and wider spaces and not feeling trapped.  I don’t think I’d ever choose to live full time in a city again, especially a city as overcrowded as London now is.

Nevertheless – and maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner – I actually do still love London.  It’s the place of my birth and my childhood.  I love the history and the parks and the odd little corners that many people never visit.  I was so lucky as a child to have parents who adored both history and walking.  Every Sunday, unless the rain was torrential, we were dragged out to the number 8 bus stop at the end of the road, to “go for a walk”.  This did not mean a twenty minute stroll through a park.  It meant a four or five hour marathon through parts of London I would never have known existed.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner: Wellington Statue
Wellington statue in London

We walked through the City and listened to my mother’s stories of the blitz and of her first jobs in old fashioned offices, learning the switchboard and typing on an old fashioned typewriter.  We wandered through the Inns of Court and the world of legal London, with my Dad stopping to read every plaque on every wall.  We discovered hidden gems like the Museum of the Order of St John and Postman’s Park.  On wet days we did every museum in London including ones I’ve forgotten even existed.  We went into obscure but beautiful churches which were always open to visitors back then, and if it was late enough in the day we would stay for evensong before getting the bus home.  When people ask me why I write historical novels rather than any other kind, I find it hard to answer apart from to say I always loved history.  But I know that this is why.  At times, wandering through the ancient streets, I would whinge about the fact that my friends from school were all off ice skating or swimming or just hanging out in the street.  But Mum was adamant that unless there was a genuine reason not to (like a broken leg – arms didn’t count, I once saw her scale the cliffs at Hastings with her arm in a sling) we would all go out together on Sundays.  Church, Sunday lunch, walk or other outing and then home for tea and whichever series was on TV on Sundays.  Saturdays were ours; on Sundays we belonged to her.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner: Tower of London
Tower of London

As I grew older the rule relaxed, but by then she didn’t have to nag me, I was hooked.  At secondary school by then, I visited exhibitions relevant to whatever I was studying, sometimes with the school but sometimes on my own.  I would think nothing – and still don’t – about taking myself off to the British Museum on a free day.  A boat trip down to Hampton Court or Greenwich was a joy.  I loved the Cutty Sark and the Tower of London – just wandering around outside them was enough.  And I adored – and will always adore – the River Thames, where my parents did a lot of their courting.

All of this came from a family with very little.  We lived, for the first thirteen years of my life, in an old rented house with no bathroom or indoor toilet.  We washed in the kitchen sink and bathed in an old fashioned tin bath by the oil stove in the kitchen because there was no central heating.  We ate healthily but with few luxuries on a daily basis although it made a meal out for a birthday or the extra treats at Christmas incredibly special.

When we moved to a council maisonette when I was thirteen, it was luxury.  I can remember squabbling over who would be the first to use the new bath until we realised my mother was already in it.  Curiously, we missed our old fashioned house; the new place had no garden.  My parents were good managers and saved for their old age but we didn’t have that much stuff.

What we did have was experiences.  We had one week’s holiday every year, always in the UK but always somewhere special.  When we were small we went to holiday camps a lot as they were cheap and there was entertainment but as we got older we rented cottages and we explored Devon and Cornwall, the Lakes and Yorkshire, the Isle of Wight and parts of Scotland.  We did it all by coach and bus and train; they had no car.

We went to the cinema to see every good new film going.  We went to the London Palladium to see the Pantomime every Christmas.  If there was a school trip to anywhere, they would find the money for us to go.  My love of music came from endless school trips to concerts, the opera, and to hear Gilbert and Sullivan.  My love of good plays and literature came from school trips to the Young Vic and Stratford upon Avon.  They had never been abroad, but I went to Russia at sixteen with the school because my Dad did overtime to pay for it.

George and Iris Bryant
My parents, George and Iris Bryant

I’m aware as an adult of everything they did for us and everything they sacrificed so that we could absorb as many different experiences as they could afford to give us.  It’s not that surprising that we both did so well.  But I don’t think they thought it was that much of a sacrifice, I think they loved doing all these things with us, enjoyed introducing us to the city they both loved.

They were poor when we were young, got more comfortable as we grew up and travelled a bit more, spent more on themselves although they still never had a car or bought a house.  They ate out a lot, discovered different cuisines and enjoyed it.  They both still walked until arthritis and old age prevented them.  But they never resented poverty or saw themselves as victims.  They were never angry.  They simply worked out what was important to them and what they could easily do without and if they needed more they worked a bit harder to get it.

They weren’t political although they never failed to vote, but they both voted on issues rather than blind loyalty to a party so at different times they voted for all three main parties.  My mother voted for Margaret Thatcher simply on the grounds that it was time there was a woman in charge.  She was a feminist without ever knowing what the word meant, or caring.  My father voted Labour that year.  Neither of them cared what anybody else voted.  Their friends and family could be Labour or Tory or Liberal or nothing at all.  It was considered rude to get personal about such matters as religion or politics.  They were old enough to appreciate the welfare state, the NHS and any help they were given.  They were gracious about it, didn’t see it as a right, said thank you when help was given.  During the IRA bombings they continued to take us to all the same places, do all the same things.  We missed the Ideal Home Exhibition bomb by a few minutes only, but there was no sense of anxiety.  We were in London and that city belonged to us, not the bombers.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner.  But when I’m back here, no matter how much it has changed, no matter how much I know that I’d never come back to live here now, I still feel a very primitive sense of belonging.  This is my city, my home, my childhood.  I feel an enormous sense of familiarity and of love and gratitude both to the people who raised me and the city that shaped all of us.  I’ve lived in many places now and loved a fair few of them.  But when I come back to London, I know I’ve come home.

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.

Georgette Heyer, Regency Romances and how much sex is really necessary…?

Of all historical novels, Regency romances seem to be one of the most distinctive genres, and although their popularity has waxed and waned they have never completely gone out of style.  Set approximately during the period of the British Regency (1811–1820) they have their own plot and stylistic conventions. Many people think of Jane Austen when Regencies are mentioned and certainly her novels are set in the right period, but of course she was writing as a contemporary not as a historian.

It has always seemed to me that Georgette Heyer was the mother of the current Regency genre.  She wrote more than twenty novels set during the Regency, between 1935 and her death in 1974 and her books were very much like a comedy of manners.  There was little discussion of sex, understandable given the different views of her generation, and a great emphasis on clever, quick witted dialogue between the characters.

These days, Regencies seem to be divided into two sub genres.  There are the traditional Regencies which are similar to Heyer’s originals, and a more modern Regency historical genre.  Many authors do not seem to confine themselves to one of these two types but may move between the two.  Both are currently popular.

Traditional Regencies emphasise the main romantic plot.  They play close attention to historical detail and take care to replicate the voice of the genre.  There is a good deal of research for writers of traditional Regencies.  Heroes and heroines generally remain within the accepted rules and conditions of the period and although their may be some sex it is very likely that the action stops at the bedroom door, probably at the proposal of marriage.

The more modern Regency historical novels break more rules.  They may be set during the time period but not necessarily in high society with an insight into life outside of the world of wealth and privilege inhabited by Georgette Heyer’s characters.  They may also include characters who behave in a more modern way, particularly when it comes to sexual behaviour and moral values.  The style can be very different to the more traditional works.  There is another sub genre, the sensual Regency which has become very popular in recent years.  These novels are far more explicit than the traditional Regency and the sexual relationship between the hero and heroine is key to the book.

There are some elements which are likely to crop up in all genres of Regency novels.  Many are set in, or will refer to the Ton, which means the top layer of English society.  They revolve around social activities such as balls, dinners, assemblies and other common pastimes.  Men are often involved in sporting activities.  There are detailed descriptions of fashion and a consciousness of social class and the rules of behaviour.  The difference between them is that in traditional Regencies the heroine is likely to stick to them; in the modern genre pretty much anything goes.

The shift in the genre seems to have come about because of a slump in the popularity of Regencies in the 1990s.  Some authors began incorporating more sex into their novels and while lovers of traditional Regencies disliked it, publishers and readers seemed to approve and the Regency novel got a new lease of life.

I grew up reading Georgette Heyer and owned every one of her books in paperback – I still have some of them and still read them from time to time.  They are, for me, the ultimate comfort book – the only other series which comes close are P G Wodehouse’s tales of Jeeves and Wooster.  These are the books I’ll turn to if I’m ill or miserable or sometimes just because my brain hurts and I can’t focus on anything else.  They are written to entertain and with their quick dialogue and comedic moments they never let me down.

I wrote my first Regency novel for the Mills and Boon market during the years I was trying to find a traditional publisher.  I’d tried several other novels, including at least two contemporary ones which are never going to see the light of day again, and had joined the Romantic Novelists Association new writers scheme.  After very positive feedback on both A Respectable Woman and A Marcher Lord it was suggested that I try to adapt these to Mills and Boon.  I did try, but it couldn’t be done.  It appeared that I simply could not have a heroine who defended herself very capably against attack; it was the job of the hero to rescue her and Jenny Marchant simply wouldn’t wait.  In fact she was more likely to do the rescuing.  Philippa Maclay was even worse, she didn’t make it through two chapters without doing something so appalling that it put her beyond hope of redemption.  If I rewrote these characters then I would be writing a different book.  I gave it up and decided to start from scratch.

Out of that decision came Cordelia Summers and Giles Fenwick of The Reluctant Debutante.  Once I got into the swing of it I really loved writing this book.  It’s fun and fairly light hearted.  I was already doing a lot of research into the period for my series set during the Peninsular war and that fitted very well with a Regency so it wasn’t that much extra work.  And the fast paced dialogue and witty characters of the Regency genre exist in all my books, no matter which period they’re set in.  I realise that those years of reading Georgette Heyer and Dorothy Dunnett have affected the way all my characters speak.  They may have different accents and different levels of education, but most of them are smart mouths.  

I had a lovely response from Mills and Boon on the Reluctant Debutante.  It was a no, but a very detailed no.  They liked the setting and the characters and even the plot, but once again my characters let me down.  There was not enough internal conflict between them, it seemed; most of their difficulties were external and their way of overcoming them was not dramatic enough.  Could I rewrite it to include more conflict between Cordelia and Giles?

I did try.  I wrote a selection of scenes for them.  The trouble was, trying to fit them into the book made no sense whatsoever.  I’d already created these people and their responses to events grew out of their essential character.  Cordelia might have flatly refused to see Giles after their quarrel and there could have been weeks of agonising and misunderstandings.  But there wasn’t.  Cordelia was as mad as a wet hen but once she saw him again, she didn’t have it in her not to listen to his explanation.  She’s a practical girl with a wealth of common sense.  She simply can’t behave like a drama queen.

So Giles and Cordelia remained as themselves and I published the book pretty much as I’d originally written it, with the removal of one or two completely gratuitous sex scenes which didn’t seem to add anything to the plot.  I’ve been delighted with people’s response to it.  So far it’s the best selling of all the books although the others are starting to catch up and readers seem to love it.  

The amount of sex in my books varies a fair bit and for me that reflects reality.  Everyone is different in how they feel about sex both in books and in real life.  It’s not hard for me to write about sex; I used to be a relationship counsellor so I’m difficult to shock.  At the same time I need my characters to develop their own attitudes towards sex and it needs to fit within the social norms of the time and one of the most important things to remember is that there was no reliable form of contraception available to any of my heroines which meant that there was an enormous risk involved in illicit sex.

Jenny and Will in a Marcher Lord are very compatible.  He’s around thirty, never been married although knows he should be for dynastic reasons, and likes women.  You have the sense he had a good relationship with his mother and adores his younger sister, so he’s likely to be fairly respectful around women although given his age and status there have definitely been a few adventures along the way.  He’s not particularly a womaniser despite some of his cousins jokes about it and he knows how to behave.  Jenny on the other hand grew up in a loving family where marriage wasn’t really an issue which has given her a very untraditional view on marriage and sex.  Circumstances rather than morality dictate the progress of Jenny and Will’s relationship and they understand each other very well.

For Philippa and Kit, sex is a very different issue since at the start their entire relationship is based around his attempt to persuade her to be his mistress and her steadfast refusal.  Their stances on this are very traditional for the time but there are a lot of other reasons why a sexual relationship is complicated for this couple and it was quite hard to write about at times.  Certainly this was not a couple who were going to fall into bed every five minutes, that’s not what their story is about.

Giles and Cordelia are also fairly traditional.  Giles might forget his manners from time to time but he understands what is expected of him.  They are strongly attracted to one another but their relationship takes a fairly traditional course, for the first half of the book at least.

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

Paul and Anne are very different.  Technically, An Unconventional Officer could be considered a Regency given the period but it is not; it’s a love story but it’s also the story of two very individual people and their experiences in the army during Wellington’s Peninsular wars and the Ton and Almack’s don’t really feature.  When Anne and Paul meet there is no question of a romantic relationship between them; he’s married and she’s going to be soon.  But of all of my characters, Paul and Anne are by far the most openly physical in their relationship.  He is a shameless womaniser with a string of broken hearts behind him and she is young and inexperienced but neither of those things really matters.  For Paul and Anne the chemistry is instant and undeniable and completely irresistible.  It is also really obvious to everybody around them.  It isn’t hard writing love scenes for Paul and Anne, the difficulty is trying to get them to behave with any degree of propriety at all.

I suspect The Reluctant Debutante falls somewhere between the old and the new when it comes to Regency.  I do like my heroines to have something more about them than a pretty face and good manners, but on the whole I’ve allowed Cordelia to be fairly well-behaved in public although privately she’s a little different.  She’s very grown up but she’s also led a sheltered life in comparison to all three of my other heroines and she behaves accordingly.  It was nice to write something normal for a change…

My new Regency has the working title of A Regrettable Reputation and it’s early days yet but at least some of it is likely to be set in Yorkshire.  Sophia Dorne is very different to Cordelia both in circumstances and in character.  Nicholas Witham is nothing like Giles, having neither his fortune nor his arrogance although they do have some things in common.  I’m looking forward to seeing how things work out for them.

Watch this space…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

I first wrote A Matter of Intelligence – Wellington on Twitter last year and as today is the anniversary of the great man’s death I thought I would share it again.

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.

 

Writing with Labradors… An Unconventional Officer, The Reluctant Debutante and Hilary Mantel

Lynn Bryant and Writing with Labradors
Local news story on Writing with Labradors

Writing with Labradors, and Blogging with Labradors came about as something of a joke when I was first setting up my website.  It’s proved popular and I’ve stayed with it…hence the presence of Toby and Joey in our local newspaper this week.

Anybody looking at this post is going to work out from the title that I’ve a few things on my mind this morning.  One of them is recovering from my birthday yesterday.  Not, as you might think, a wild night out on the town, but a rather lovely meal at home (main course courtesy of my son and his girlfriend, cake courtesy of my daughter) followed by Prosecco and Trivial Pursuits.  You can tell that I know how to live…

I spent some time thinking about publicity yesterday now that An Unconventional Officer has been published.  There was a nice article in our local paper the Isle of Man Examiner about the release and I’ve been asked to do Manx Radio as well.

I can remember one of the first posts I wrote on this blog talked about my concerns regarding publicity.  I’ve never been much of a self-publicist and I honestly thought I’d struggle more than I have, but I’ve made myself do it because once I had taken the plunge and published the books it seemed pointless just to let them sit there and take their chances.  And I’ve actually quite enjoyed it.  For anybody interested in psychology, marketing and reaching the right audience is a nice little challenge.  I’m still learning but I think I’m getting better.

It helps that the books are selling – not in their thousands, but steadily.  It also helps that I’ve had one or two nice reviews and some four and five star ratings on places like Goodreads and Amazon.  There’s something very encouraging about knowing that people are reading and enjoying the books enough to review them.  All my reviews are from complete strangers, I hope they have some idea how much it makes me smile.

One of the interesting things I’m learning is what people like.  I grew up with Regency novels and loved them, and I’ve read a few more recent ones.  The Reluctant Debutante was my tribute to those and I’ve been astonished at how popular it’s been.  I had already thought I would write another Regency just because they’re so much fun, but I’m already planning it.

An Unconventional Officer is also set in Regency times and although it’s a far cry from the London Season of Cordelia and Giles, it is about the war which affected everything during those years.  It’s a longer book than any of the others and is the first in a series which follows the men and women of a fictional regiment through the years of the Peninsular War.  I loved working on this book; it’s a bigger canvas with a large cast of characters and the best part is that I don’t have to say goodbye to them at the end of the book.

I’ve done a lot of research for these books.  Earlier I saw an article in the Guardian which caught my attention about the relationship between academic historians and historical novelists which I found really interesting.  I’m sure there are a lot of academics who dislike historical novels, particularly where they take very obvious liberties with history.  Equally there are non-academics who don’t like them much either.  And there are people who like science fiction and chick lit and thrillers and even, so I’m told, those who love Fifty Shades of Grey.  It takes all sorts.

I think I can understand the frustration of an academic historian.  After publishing a book which took years of painstaking research, gained excellent academic reviews and sold very few copies it must be infuriating to see a novelist selling thousands of books which claim to be based on history but which to a serious historian could seem poorly researched, wildly inaccurate and full of mistakes.

I do have a history degree so I’ve a little understanding of both sides of this argument.  The truth is that some historical novelists are not trying to be accurate, they’re just trying to entertain, putting characters in old fashioned clothing but not caring about period detail or anachronisms or accurate timelines.  It doesn’t mean people don’t or shouldn’t enjoy their books.  It just means that they’re not intended to teach people anything about history.

I’ve read some of these and personally they drive me up the wall.  I can cope with honest mistakes but in some cases I think writers might do better to turn to fantasy where anything goes.  Still, I refuse to be a snob about it.  There are also some very well respected historical novelists whose work is clearly painstakingly researched but I just don’t enjoy their style.  Many people do, it’s a matter of personal taste.

I’ve recently come across an author called Jacqueline Reiter, who has written both a biography and a historical novel about the life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, the elder brother of the Younger Pitt who spent much of his life in the shade of his more famous father and sibling.  I’ve now read both, and it’s confirmed what I’ve always suspected that it’s very possible to be both and excellent historian and an entertaining historical novelist.  I would defy anybody on either side of this debate to be snobbish about Earl of Shadows which is the novel or to complain that the biography the Late Lord is anything other than a well-written and very scholarly work.  Both historians and novelists could learn a lot from this writer and I hope she goes on to write a lot more.

The books I’ve written so far are period specific and most of them include some real historical characters alongside my fictional ones.  I try to research as well as I can.  For A Respectable Woman I used a lot of primary sources and for “An Unconventional Officer” I read endless accounts of the war written by the men who fought it.  The problem with these is that they are frequently contradictory in themselves; they were written years after the war and people forget.

Wellington’s letters and despatches are a goldmine of information for the Peninsular War books although they’ve obviously been edited for publication.  Even so, given the immense stress Wellington must have been under during those years, did even he remember everything?

In the end, it only matters if you want it to matter.  I love reading history, both novels and non-fiction, as long as it’s well written and enjoyable to read.  I can sift through either and find what I want and the very obvious disagreements between academics over the interpretation of events means that I don’t feel guilty about putting forward my own interpretation in a novel.  My characters might well have their own views about why something happened which contradict modern historians’ thinking, but then they’re not modern historians, sifting the evidence, they’re supposed to be ordinary people living their lives in a different time and like us they’re entitled to their opinions.

I think I’ve done enough musing about marketing and the meaning of life for a while.  Now it’s back to the writing, which in the end is what I love doing most and the reason that all this is happening.

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Love and Marriage – an anniversary

Lynn and Richard

Twenty three years ago today I got married and the anniversary has made me think about love and marriage, an important issue in all of my books.

Inevitably it was in a castle.  Dalhousie Castle on the Scottish Borders is a beautiful place, converted into a hotel with a small chapel which as far as I know still does weddings.  Ours was a small affair with only close family and two or three friends.  We went on honeymoon afterwards and then came back and had a huge party with all our friends to celebrate.

I write historical fiction with a strong element of romance so relationships and how they develop are of interest to me.  I also spent years working as a relationship counsellor which meant I saw the ups and downs of more couples than I can remember.  And I’ve been in a relationship now for around twenty seven years.  Believe me, I’ve thought about love and marriage during all this.

It’s the aim of a writer of romance, even if the romance is only part of the theme of the book, to try to make it realistic while still retaining the magical element of falling in love.  A lot of romantic novels end with wedding bells, or at least with the couple falling into each others arms and admitting that after all their trials and tribulations, they want to be together.  There’s something very satisfying about reading the last page, closing the book, and knowing that the couple that you have become attached to (hopefully) have worked it out.

Of course they haven’t.  They’ve just worked out the first bit.  There’s a whole lot of work still to come which a lot of the time we don’t see.  But because I do get attached to the characters I write about, I do wonder what happened to them next.

In historical fiction, the drama of divorce would have been less common.  Certainly before the Victorian era when divorce became slightly more realistic, although still very difficult, only the very wealthy could afford divorce which had to be confirmed by an act of Parliament.  And it was only available to men.

This didn’t mean that couples didn’t separate.  For many it was a quiet affair, simply drifting apart and living separate lives.  There was not always the same pressure for couples to spend all their time together as we have now.  These days, if one partner takes a job which keeps them away for weeks, months or even years at a time, there is often an expectation that the marriage is going to fail.  In the early nineteenth century, married officers and men in the British army might not see their wives or families for years.  Some marriages did end during that time but a surprising number succeeded, helped along by endless letter writing and a determination to keep the relationship alive.

There was probably a different attitude to adultery in some quarters, for men at least.  It was not considered so shocking for a man to have relations with a mistress as long as he was discreet.  In an age where many marriages, particularly among the middle and upper classes, were arranged for reasons other than love, one wonders how often both partners were unfaithful at times.  Some of these marriages worked very well.  Others did not.  There are examples of both of these in the books I’ve written.

I do wonder, though, if some couples pushed through their difficulties and came out stronger when divorce and separation were more difficult.  Some, we know, lived in misery, and I wouldn’t go back to the days when divorce was seen as shocking.  But relationships are tough at times and there’s a feeling of satisfaction in coming out the other side of a difficult patch and feeling close again.

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

I’ve been thinking about the couples in my books so far and wondering how they’d do.  Jenny and Will from A Marcher Lord will do well, I suspect.  Both had parents who made successes of their marriages; Will’s had an arranged marriage and Jenny’s was a runaway love match but both worked.  Jenny and Will would have led a busy and active life keeping castle and estates running successfully and they have already proved they make a good working team.  They’ll argue, but they have shared values and interests and I think they’ll be fine.  I’m planning a second book featuring this couple some time next year and I’m looking forward to catching up with them.

The Reluctant DebutanteCordelia and Giles from The Reluctant Debutante come from different social backgrounds, but she’s already proved that she can make the shift into the Ton very well.  I think both of them enjoy country life.  They might argue about social obligations; she’s probably always going to be more social than he is, have better manners and be nicer to people.  But they share a sense of humour and a love of the ridiculous and I think for Giles there will always be an enormous sense of gratitude to her.  He was in bits after Waterloo and she’s a big part of his rehabilitation. There is a planned series of books set around the lives and loves of some of the men and women of the third brigade of the Light Division after the war, of which this is the second, so I think we will meet Cordelia and Giles again.

A Respectable Woman Kit and Philippa from A Respectable Woman are the most interesting in some ways.  Somebody who has just finished the book and loved it asked about a sequel and it has made me think how this marriage is likely to work.  Of all of them the gap between these two is the widest.  Philippa has a lot to learn about how to be a Countess and for all his protestations that she can do as she likes, Kit is going to need to learn to let her be herself.  I think the key to this one is going to be for both of them to find something to do outside of the marriage so that neither of them feel smothered.  They’re both used to being busy and having a job to do.  The big advantage that they have is Kit’s mother, a very wise and understanding woman who is going to be a big help to Philippa.  I think they’ll be all right but I suspect there might be a few fireworks along the way.

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

Then we have Paul and Anne who began their journey in An Unconventional Officer.  There is a lot about relationships in this and the subsequent novels in the Peninsular War saga.  There’s no point in speculating about Paul and Anne because their story doesn’t end with the book, it continues through the series.  We’re going to see how Paul and Anne and the other characters cope with trying to be together in the middle of a war and it’s not always likely to be easy.

 

 

George and Iris BryantI’ve been lucky enough to see an example of a very happy marriage with my parents.  They’d been married for over fifty years when my Dad died and there were definitely ups and downs.  But they stayed devoted to one another.  Theirs is a story I’d like to write one day

 

In the meantime, Happy Anniversary to the man I married.  23 years and we’re still here.  It feels like something to celebrate…

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