15 May 2018

Tuesday Talk: The Perfect King...

Edward III
Edward III
King of England: 25 January 1327 – 21 June 1377
Coronation: 1 February 1327
House: Plantagenet
Father: Edward II of England   Mother: Isabella of France
Born: 13 November 1312 at Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Died: 21 June 1377 aged 64 at Sheen Palace, Richmond
Buried at: Westminster Abbey, London

Wife: Philippa of Hainault
ChildrenEdward, the Black Prince, Isabella, Countess of Bedford, 
Joan, Lionel Duke of Clarence, John Duke of Lancaster,
Edmund Duke of York, Mary Duchess of Brittany, Margaret Countess of Pembroke, 
Thomas Duke of Gloucester.

Edward III
Edward III is noted for his military success and for restoring royal authority after the disastrous and unorthodox reign of his father, Edward II. Edward III transformed the Kingdom of England into one of the most formidable military powers in Europe. His long reign of fifty years was the second longest in medieval England and saw vital developments in legislation and government—in particular the evolution of the English parliament—as well as the ravages of the Black Death.

Edward III's Coronation
Edward was crowned at the age of fourteen after his father was deposed by his mother, Isabella of France, and her lover Roger Mortimer. At seventeen he led a successful coup against Mortimer, the de facto ruler of the country, and began his personal reign. After a successful campaign in Scotland he declared himself rightful heir to the French throne in 1337. This started what became known as the Hundred Years' War. Following some initial setbacks the war went exceptionally well for England; victories at Crécy and Poitiers led to the highly favourable Treaty of Brétigny, in which England made territorial gains, and Edward renounced his claim to the French throne. Edward's later years were marked by international failure and domestic strife, largely as a result of his inactivity and poor health.

He was a temperamental man but capable of unusual clemency. In many ways he was a conventional king whose main interest was warfare. Admired in his own time and for centuries after, Edward was denounced as an irresponsible adventurer by later Whig historians. This view has been challenged and modern historians credit him with significant achievements... so...

A Review (and a few thoughts) of  Ian Mortimer's The Perfect King
by Nicky Galliers

"He ordered his uncle to be beheaded; he usurped his father's throne; he started a war which lasted for more than a hundred years, and taxed his people more than any other previous king. Yet for centuries Edward III was celebrated as the most brilliant king England had ever had, and three hundred years after his death it was said that his kingship was perhaps the greatest that the world had ever known.

In this first full study of the man's character and life, Ian Mortimer shows how Edward personally provided the impetus for much of the drama of his fifty-year reign. Under him the feudal kingdom of England became a highly organised nation and experienced its longest period of domestic peace in the middle ages.

Nineteenth century historians saw in Edward the opportunity to decry a warmonger, and painted him as a self-seeking, rapacious, tax-gathering conqueror. Yet as this book shows, beneath the strong warrior king was a compassionate, conscientious and often merciful man - resolute yet devoted to his wife, friends and family. He emerges as a strikingly modern figure, to whom many will be able to relate - the father of both the English nation and the English people."

There are few historians like Ian Mortimer. The average history tome is dry and sterile and based on a range of facts selected to illustrate a point. They push kings and princes around like chess pieces on a board, and we are told that so-and-so did something because of some political ideal or expectation or every action is twisted around a tinted veil of bias.

Mortimer isn't like that. Mortimer gets under the skin of the people he writes about, he understands them, knows they were human with human failings, wants and desires, are shades of grey and are never wholly good or evil. So when he turned his hand to Edward III, the Perfect King of the title, he wrote a compelling narrative history that can move you to tears.

Edward III has not come to us with a glittering story. There is no Edward III society and novels about him are thin on the ground. This is the first reason Mortimer's book, therefore, ought to be required reading. He finds an Edward in the scrolls and chronicles and wardrobe accounts who is larger than life, who is so charismatic that his followers competed among themselves to serve him; a man who knew his worth, and knew when to let others lead; whose personal acts of heroism stand out in an era of great feats of arms. Who had fun and enjoyed dressing up and larking around.

He explores the stories that surround Edward and uses facts and evidence to assess their validity and examines factual accounts as well as chronicles to gain insight untainted by emotion. He quashes some of the most lurid through revealing the total lack of evidence to support them.

And that is the second reason this book should be required reading for all historians and history students, and writers of historical fiction. Evidence. No other historian writing today can examine evidence with the same objectivity as Ian Mortimer.

I was taught by my A Level history teacher how to assess evidence objectively. Mortimer is of the same mould as that A Level teacher. He looks at evidence and sees what is there, not what he thinks ought to be there. He sees what is written, not what he wants to be written. He doesn't constantly say 'he meant to say this or that' but 'these are the words he chose and this is what he wanted to say'. It is not a naive reading of the sources, but an unbiased one, an open-minded one. He challenges the status quo because the status quo is not supported by cold, hard fact.

But one thing this volume is not is cold. Edward leaps off every page, his personality uncovered, so this history text book does what no other has ever done - it can make you cry. You can feel poignant sympathy for the king who lost the love of his life in his loyal queen, Philippa, and you feel affronted that this remarkable man was so poorly treated in his old age by those who enjoyed the peace he had shed blood for.

The Perfect King is an exceptional piece of research into the life of a medieval personality and an exceptional tutorial in how to approach history as a subject, how to research and how to interpret what you find.

In short, The Perfect King is a Perfect History.

© Nicky Galliers

Nicky at Crécy
Buy the book
AMAZON UK £9.49 (kindle)
AMAZON US $13.23 (kindle) 

8 May 2018

Fiction and Fantasy (Part One)Tuesday Talk with Helen Hollick

Stories, books, novels, fiction - the gateway to other worlds, times and places...

Back in 2006 when I made the decision to 'go indie' after my (ex) agent dropped me, one of the decisions I had to make was "do I really want this book to be part fantasy?"

The novel in question was Sea Witch. I had put my heart and soul into writing it, but my agent hated it (as it turned out, what did she know... but that tale is for my next article scheduled for the 22nd May.) I had set out to write Sea Witch as a nautical adventure with a touch of fantasy because the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was:

a) very very popular
b) great fun
c) entertaining

all of which were because of:

a) Johnny Depp
b) pirates are popular
c) fantasy is entertaining.

What stories do you remember from childhood? Fairy tales - bet' ya! Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast... Of course a princess could prick her finger and sleep for one-hundred years or wear glass slippers and ride around in a coach that had been a pumpkin... How many of us believed that our Teddy was real? We believed in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy. We believed the stories because they were magical and magic is an important part of being young, of growing up and well, living life. And some magic is real: blossom appearing on the trees in spring is magical, moonlight glistening on snow is magical, the sun sparkling on a blue ocean is magical... the birth of a baby or young animal is magical... 

Who was not enthralled by the Greek Myths? By giant gods, strange monsters or by Pegasus and Unicorns? By mermaids, fairies, angels...

As we grew up so the fantasy expanded: Lord of the Rings, Anne MacAffrey's Dragons of Pern,  or the intrigue of Game of Thrones...

Fantasy is important in the realms of fiction because it is safe adventuring. Danger is met head-on, but it is in a book. It is not real - we become immersed in whatever world we have entered via those bound pages or the Kindle screen. The imagination is a powerful tool, fantasy feeds that imagination, without it the world of story fails and stories would fade away into nothingness. With it, be it tales told round a fire back in the days of the Stone Age, or the modern medium of cinema and TV, tales well-told become real. The characters become real, the adventure becomes real.

Cinema has, perhaps, overtaken novels where fantasy or science fiction is concerned. It is hard to believe that the original release of Star Wars was all those many years ago. We sat there in the cinema, the lights went down - we were wondering what this Star Wars thing was all about - the music started with that triumphal blare, the words 'In a galaxy far far away...' scrolled before us and suddenly... suddenly... that movie theatre shook! Yes my seat actually shook as something very, very, large rumbled over our heads and appeared on screen. 

That Imperial Cruiser had never, ever, been seen before and it really felt that it had, indeed, trundled in over our heads. That is the magic of fantasy. The fuelling of the imagination, the wonder of bringing what isn't real into what appears to be complete reality.

Without fantasy, without stories, without books, novels and wonderful fiction what a dreadful, dull world it would be.

What are your thoughts on fantasy? Do you love the magic and mystery of a fantasy adventure? Or do you think fantasy should stay with children's fairy stories? 

Buy the books: viewAuthor.at/HelenHollick
* * * 
coming to this blog on 22nd May..... 

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1 May 2018

Tuesday Talk: A Corner of my Heart with Mark Seaman

The premise of “A Corner of My Heart” is a tale about a young Jewish girl, Ruth, who, following her surviving the death camp at Auschwitz Birkenau and arriving in England, becomes pregnant where her child, Rebecca, after being born in a home for unmarried mothers, is forcefully removed from Ruth and placed up for adoption. Rebecca, renamed Mary by her adoptive parents, grows up rarely questioning her adoption until, as an adult and mother herself, she is asked by her own daughter about her real Grandmother, thus triggering Rebecca’s search for both Ruth and the detail of what happened so many years earlier to necessitate the two of them being separated in such a traumatic way. The story continues to unfold as we learn more about Ruth and Rebecca’s individual life journeys and of their efforts to rediscover each other.

I was moved to write “A Corner of My Heart” after watching a TV programme regarding forced adoption in Britain during the early part of the 20th Century up to the late 1960’s, where young girls who became pregnant, often through no failure or fault of their own, found themselves seeking support and shelter in the grim and austere surroundings of a home for young unmarried mothers. These were traditionally funded and run by either factions of the Church or the less than caring local authorities, both of whom offered little, if anything, in the way of comfort and solace to the sorry and desperate individuals entering their doors. The girls were expected to work long hours to pay for their keep, such as it was, and as penance for their apparent shameful disregard for both their bodies and their moral failing. Their babies would be offered for adoption within a few weeks of being born without n either the mother’s approval or consent and, once placed in a suitable home, the child and birth mother would have no further redress or legal right to any form of contact. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the law was officially changed to allow both parties any legal right to seek access to each other’s whereabouts and, in so doing, gain the necessary approval to then meet and develop a recognised relationship.

Before writing “A Corner of My Heart” I spent some time in reading and researching the accounts and detail of a number of women who had either been adopted themselves at an early age, or were unfortunate enough to have found themselves, as young girls, pregnant and forced to survive in bleak and equally unforgiving surroundings. There will be many women today who will identify with both Ruth and Rebecca’s stories.      
I also have a keen interest in both the First and Second World Wars, and especially the holocaust, along with its place in world history, the effects of which still resonate in modern society today. It was in studying the atrocities carried out against the Jewish community during the Second World War that I was inspired to develop the character of Ruth for my novel and to recount the experience of her surviving such a brutal existence in Auschwitz Birkenau. Whilst Ruth, as an individual, is of my imagination the narrative and detail of her experiences in the death camp along with her time in the home for unmarried mothers are both based on recorded factual accounts and events.

© Mark Seaman

[HH. Events that should never be forgotten or brushed aside.]

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More about Mark

Mark Seaman lives in Gloucestershire and focuses on his love of drama, writing and acting. Mark has had a number of his scripts for one act and full length plays published, including two Pantomimes which are performed on a regular basis, and has also gained some acting roles in a variety of productions on stage, TV and in film. Mark’s latest role was as Sir John Tressida in the first series of the BBC production of Poldark. Prior to this, Mark worked in broadcasting for TV and radio for 30+ years, both as a presenter and producer, and to board level in senior management.



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