The Smell of Smoke – a true story….

It wasn’t one of our better days, yesterday.

My son was at a party, and he was messing about with one of his rowdier mates. Fell off the stairs and hurt his foot, and by tea time he was crying with pain, couldn’t put his weight on it.

And then next thing my mum’s on the phone, asking if we have any butterfly plasters because she’s fallen over the vacuum cleaner and split her head open, and she’s bleeding heavily. (Mum’s 75, not always great on her feet. It happens.)

And having sorted out the mess all round, when all was quiet bar the laundry, and little ‘un was in our bed having woken up with nightmares at 2am, I decide this is the absolute perfect time to have a panic attack.

Again – it happens, I’m a lady of a certain age, I do this stuff. But the last thing my sleeping boys – the big one and the little one – need, is me shaking hard enough to rattle the bed under them. So I get up, and go and sit in the bathroom in the dark.

Oh – and the toilet started leaking last night, as well.

But I’m sitting there, very gingerly on my leaky khazi, in the dark,while the house sleeps and settles around me.

And I start to smell smoke. Cigarette smoke.

We don’t smoke. I used to, gave it up ten years ago. Husband is an asthmatic and a very passionate anti-smoker. Little un’s six.

Can’t smell it in our bedroom at the front of the house, so it’s not someone passing on the road outside. Just in the bathroom.

And that means it’s downstairs. Someone is, or has been, smoking cigarettes downstairs.

It’s two nights before Halloween. The night when the dead come back to watch their beloved living.

It’s not the anniversary of his death. It’s nothing so obvious. But I sat in the dark, smelling smoke, and stopped shaking, and went back to bed.

The toilet stopped leaking. Little un’s bruised his foot, but he’s all right. Mum stopped bleeding within a few minutes.

We’re all right, dad. We’re good.  

You can go back, now.

 

The Addiction Of Non-Fiction – the pitfalls of writing history….

I’m doing quite a lot of work at the moment on a non-fiction book, a biography of Sir John Arundell, “Jack For The King” – the man who held Pendennis Castle for the King, aged 70, against everything Thomas Fairfax and the Army of Parliament could throw at him.
He’s an absolutely fascinating chap, and the main thing I’m discovering is that there’s an awful lot of rubbish written about him.

As an instance: one source has him down as having five sons, three of whom died young in the service of the King.
Another one has him down as having four.
A contemporary sexton’s account has one of John’s sons as an ensign who died at the battle of Windmill Hill, in Launceston, in 1643, and being buried there.
One of his sons turns up recorded as a brother in some accounts.

And all of that’s interesting – it’s fascinating – to unpick, but the problem is that when I’m not unpicking the tortuous genealogy of the Trerice Arundells, I’m a novelist.

So okay. I’m assuming, if you read my blog, you either read or write historical fiction, so I’ll give you a scenario.

Three members of a family die within eight weeks, one long summer: a mother, a son and a daughter.
Plague is reported in neighbouring parish records, but mortality bills aren’t kept in the parish where they’re buried.
Father is away at the time with two of his other sons, about twenty miles away in a castle under siege.

Now you could extrapolate a number of things from that. You could interpret it to mean that one son hadn’t gone with his father and his brothers to the castle’s defence, and that perhaps the family were intending to not put all their eggs in one basket, leaving at least one of the male line on the family estate to make sure that no roving Roundheads settled themselves there while all the handy Arundells were locked up inside Pendennis keep.
You could interpret it that all three died of the epidemic that we know was rife in the locality (although we don’t know what it was.)
You could interpret that after burying her eldest son and her daughter in the space of a month, unsupported by her husband and her other sons, worn out by war and worry – Mrs Arundell died quietly two weeks after her firstborn.

You could, and a novelist probably would, and a historian can’t.

It’s interesting to try and keep a narrative in your head when you’re writing a biography, but it’s also tempting to attribute thoughts and feelings to the people in it. (We assume that Mrs Arundell loved her husband and her children, and that their absence, and loss, would have grieved her. We don’t know it, because we have no evidence to support it: none of their correspondence survives. Although the fact of six children implies a degree of familial affection, doesn’t it?And again, with my novelists’s head on, I interpret a lack of correspondence to mean that he didn’t spend prolonged periods of time away from her, if he could help it.)

It’s out there. The information that’s going to make up a coherent whole is out there. It’s just piecemeal, and the trick is to find the pieces that are in the original jigsaw, and not the pieces that have been put in two hundred years later by someone with an agenda of their own. And I know what the picture looks like.
At the moment, it’s as if someone’s jumbled up two or three separate jigsaws, all equally interesting. (Little brother Thomas. And that’s all I’m going to say. Little brother Thomas deserves a monograph of his own, if only to blow a particular persistent myth about the Civil War in Cornwall right out of the water…)

I think I’ve got the corners. I think I’ve got eight corners, actually – John and little brother Thomas – and that’s all right, because let’s just say that you’re not going to mistake one for another in their particular avenues of activity during the 1640s.

Thomas’s picture is significantly different than John’s, and that’s going to make things easier, too.
But for now, it’s back to looking for straight edges.

Making Provision for Those That Shall Be Maimed In This Present War – Medical Care in the English Civil War

Originally blogged on the English Historical Fiction Authors website, a year ago today:

Making Provision For Those That Shall Be Maimed In This Present War

But on this anniversary of the battle of Edgehill, I think it bears re-blogging.

After the first battle of the English Civil War at Edgehill on 23rd October 1642, the people of Warwickshire found themselves with an estimated butcher’s bill of between one and two thousand men injured in the fight.

Camp-followers and soldiers’ wives who followed the Army were able to care for their injured menfolk, but a casualty list of such magnitude was beyond either their capability or their resources. Most sword-cuts were not able to penetrate the sleeve of a buff-coat – but not every soldier owned a buff-coat. A musket-ball was an ounce of lead, and would break thinner bones, such as ribs; thicker bones, such as limbs, tended to be shattered on impact. Not, as you can imagine, the sort of injury with which the ordinary woman – or, indeed, the ordinary medic – would be greatly familiar with from a civilian existence!

It is not known whether either Army’s medics operated a triage system. What is known, however, is that after Edgehill as many casualties as possible were removed to a more stable environment to provide the best care. In the Army of Parliament both Lord Brooke and the Earl of Essex are documented as having provided funds for the ongoing care of their casualties by local people: a receipt presented by Katherine Hobson of Warwick, after the battle, shows that she received £25 for the care of around 150 men. (Kington being Kineton, ie Edgehill)

These are to certifie to all those whom these may any wayes concerne
That I Katherine Hobson of Warwicke dureing the time of wars imployed by the Lord Brooke in the Attendinge & dressing of the wounded soldiers that came from Kington battel (wh[i]ch said Souldiers were in number aboute Seaven score & the said battell was in The year of our Lorde God 1642) I say Rec[eive]d of Mr Richard Lacell then Bayleff of Warwicke the sume of Twenty five pounds, for the buying Of necessarys for the said Soldiers

It is not known whether the King’s troops enjoyed a similar care: the wholesale destruction of His Majesty’s always-lackadaisical administrative paperwork after the surrender at Oxford means that it is impossible to say with any certainty. It may be guessed from contemporary Royalist sources that perhaps it was not always the case; it was conceded by many that the Parliamentarian medical services were far superior to the King’s, despite having men such as the physicians Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689) “the English Hippocrates”, and Richard Wiseman (1625-1686), the greatest English surgeon of his day, in the ranks. These practitioners fought in opposing camps. Sydenham was a cavalry officer for the Parliamentary forces, whereas Wiseman was an ardent Royalist. Moreover, Wiseman became a personal friend of King Charles II, just as the pre-eminent physician William Harvey (1578-1657) had been a good friend (and hunting partner) of King Charles I.

Sydenham was enrolled at Magdalen College, Oxford, at the beginning of the war, and qualified as a Bachelor of Medicine in 1648 – presumably using some of the experience and knowledge gained in active service, in his practice. Wiseman wrote a book on field surgery, Several Surgical Treatises, and was an advocate of early amputation on the field of battle as well as an expert on gunshot wounds – also, presumably, using his field experience! He was of a similar age to Sydenham, but had entered the ranks of Barber-Surgeons just before the Civil War. (One of the main differences between doctors and barber-surgeons was that doctors were academically trained, and barber-surgeons were apprenticed.)

Edgehill seems to have been significant not only for the aftercare of its soldiers but for the fortunate coincidence of cold weather conditions which saved the life of many left on the battlefield unattended. The eminent physician to Charles I, William Harvey, who was present at the battle of Edgehill reported:

… that Sir Adrian Scrope was dangerously wounded there, and left for dead amongst the dead men, stript; which happened to be the saving of his life. It was cold clear weather, and a frost that night; which staunched his bleeding, and at about midnight, or some hours after his hurte, he awaked, and was faine to draw a dead body upon him for warmth-sake.” Harvey was also familiar with the best way of raising body temperature: “I remember he kept a pretty young wench to wayte on him, which I guess he made use of for warmth-sake as King David did, and he took care of her in his Will.

On 25 October 1642, within hours of the stalemate at Edgehill, Parliament passed an Act that for the first time acknowledged the State’s responsibility to provide for the welfare of its wounded soldiers and also for the widows and orphans of those killed -“An Ordinance of both Houses, declaring their Resolutions of making provision for those that shall be maimed in this present war, who are in the service of Parliament; and for the wives and children of those that shall be slaine“. Three weeks later, on 14th November with the pressure for care for the wounded rising, Parliament formed “The Committee for Sick and Maimed Soldiers” to rationalise the organisation and implementation of its aftercare arrangements.

Edgehill was significant not only as the battle which began the English Civil War, but, to a degree, the battle which began the concept of state responsibility for those hurt in its service. Diverse wounds and missing limbs often prevented returning soldiers from earning a living – these survivors seem to have been given a lump sum of £2 (in context, a colonel of horse in the New Model Army, three years later, would have received wages of a pound a week: £2 was a hefty lump sum, but not enough to retire on!) whilst a regular pension was agreed on. Significantly, widows and dependents of soldiers were also allowed to enter a claim for maintenance, provided they were able to provide relevant war records. Many of these widows were also in the position of having cared for injured soldiers who were wholly unrelated to them, after battle: Hester Whyte cared for wounded Parliamentarian soldiers after Edgehill, “who continued at her house in great misery by reason of their wounds for upwards of three months. She often sat up night and day with them, and in respect of her tenderness to the Parliament’s friends, laid out her own money in supply of their wants.” (Petition to the Committee of Safety for Warwick and Coventry)

There is much, much more to be said on the matter of Parliamentarian care of its soldiery – the hospital structure, the diet of sick and hurt soldiers, the value of opportunities afforded for women to be recognised in paid employment outside the home. In 1657 four women were interviewed for the single position of ward Sister at a London soldiers’ hospital. A nursing post in one of the London soldiers’ hospitals would have attracted a wage of 5s per week, with accomodation and food provided. (Set that against the widow’s pension of 4s per week, and it’s a much less impressive deal.)

That, however, is for another day entirely. On this anniversary of the battle of Edgehill, let us raise a toast to the Committee for Sick and Maimed Soldiers: the first of its kind in England.

To Free, Or Not To Free

I have an interesting ethical dilemma.
I read a lot of dialogue between other indie authors about whether it’s ethical to offer your books free.
The argument goes, this is a job. This is how we make a living. To give away our work for nothing devalues what we do: it saturates the market, and it creates an expectation amongst the reading public that they can expect a something for nothing.
And then there’s the counter-argument to that, which is that free books generate publicity for authors and allow readers who might otherwise not want to make a financial commitment to trying a new writer, give him or her a trial.
And I can see both sides of that one.
Every year, I write a free Christmas story, and I will continue to write a free Christmas story, because that’s my Christmas gift to all the people who’ve bought my books throughout the last twelve months. And if anyone wants to attack me for being unethical on that front, well, bring it on.
And sometimes if I’m feeling as if my sales need a bit of a boost I’ll put one of the books on a brief bargain-basement few days, just to raise their profile again, but then they go back to be being full price – and, you know, I do often find that readers pick one up at discounted and then go and pick up the others at full price over time, so that works for me.
But.
Here’s the thing.

I’ve re-edited, and put a new cover on, the first book of the Uncivil Wars series, and it’s being re-released through Rosemary Tree Press rather than under my personal account.
And it’s going to be free. Forever.

And it’s not about channelling traffic, or boosting sales, it’s … well, Red Horse is, was, remains, my bestselling book to date. Over 1000 downloads in its first 12 months, in fact its first 8 months – it tipped over the thousandth download at the August Bank Holiday in 2015, having been released in the January. And that’s probably now coming on for 2,000 copies of that book that my readers have paid money for: and then I’ve taken it off sale to give it a – admittedly very nice – cover, and re-edit some of the bits that have been bugging me since I released it.

Basically, I’ve gone back and made the Rosie Babbitt of Red Horse, the same Rosie Babbitt as he is at the end of The Serpent’s Root – not a swivel-eyed self-destructive revenge tragedian, but an ordinary man having a run of bad luck. It’s not massively different, it’s different enough that I wrote THE END with a sense of satisfaction, because it was right. (That feeling of rightness when you get it on the page what it was in your head, you knowto ask ?)

But that’s 2,000 people who bought it. And it seems sort of unfair somehow to tell them it’s a brand new book – which it isn’t – or to make them have to buy it again to find out how different. And possibly that’s a betrayal of my fellow authors that I’m giving away two years of work for nothing.

On the other hand, it feels like more of a betrayal of my readers to expect them to buy the same book twice, with different covers.

What do you think?

 

A Plain Russet-Coated Author

For reasons which are not mine to speculate on, the Historical Novel Society is no longer undertaking indie book reviews at the current time

And a very dear friend of mine has suddenly become a Kindle bestseller.

It’s rather given me food for thought – because, you know, I’ve never achieved more than mid-list success (albeit consistently – that’s not a complaint!), the reviewers are not beating a path to my door, there’s no possibility of a Rosie film.

-There’s the distant possibility of A Cloak of Zeal making it to the silver screen, but that’s different.

The most successful, most widely-shared blog post I’ve ever written, even more so about the one about being mental, was about a bloody Royalist.

My publisher says I’m a good writer, but he’s not keen on the historical definition.

And yet…

That’s what I am. That’s what I do.

My thing is the period 1608 to – currently – 1681. I know it, I occasionally live in it, I can tell you about it easier than I could tell you the Top 10 music charts. (Do we still have a Top 10? Is Dowland still in it?)

I like the 17th century. It is, if you like, my abiding fire.

I’ve done the research. I know people would rather read about the Napoleonic wars – which, frankly, bore the arse off me, line on line of regimented redcoats ordered about like toy soldiers – or medieval mayhem. And historical romance is where the bulk of the historical readers are, and God knows there’s precious little of that going on in my books, not in any traditional boy-meets-girl sense.

And yet I’m still stubbornly writing, and even more stubbornly selling books.

And I think that’s the thing. I love that people discover them – and I get, absolutely, that I am a niche thing and an acquired taste – and most of all I love that I have enough people buying my books that I can put fuel in the car and keep the cats in biscuits, but that I pretty much know my readers.

Not only demographically, but I can poke one and say – hey! Ms X! What do you actually think about…

I can put people’s dogs into my books – Tinners and Malley, they’re real, they were loved – and their people know.

I reach a lot of new readers on Twitter. I do use Twitter a lot.

I am, I think, one of the reenactment world’s writers of choice, especially the Parliamentarian end of the proceedings, because I know what it’s like doing the operational stuff, and they know it. (I’ve marched the march, for want of a better word.)

I’m in various wonderful supportive Facebook groups and we have a laugh and we cover each other’s backs but…not sure they sell books.

And on balance, I think that’s kind of okay.

I enjoy what I do, but although in my head I’d like to rock up to a book-signing and sell out, I’m not sure I actually would. I think not knowing my people – not being able to call my readers friends, even in the loosest Facebook-chums distant sense  – would make me a bit sad. I think I’m happiest where I am: a plain russet-coated author who writes what she knows, and loves whereof she writes, than that which is a bestseller and nothing more.

And I think that, if anything, is what I’ve learned about writing. Know what it is you want to get out of your work – and be comfortable with it.