Saturday, October 19, 2013

Castles, Customs and Kings

I'm delighted to introduce M.M. Bennetts on the subject of ...

History. It seems to be everywhere these days.  (And I'm not being facetious...)

There are history programmes on all channels as well as the ever popular costume dramas--covering every period of our past from the Wars of the Roses to World War I.  But what I love about the history as it's being examined today is that it's not just a dry-as-the-dust-in-the-attic recitation of names and dates.  It's putting the people back into the story.

And, because I'm biased obviously, I believe that the authors of historical fiction excel at this kind of thing, chiefly because it's not enough for them to write that General Jelly-Belly Fustylugs walloped Marshall Buckteeth-Warthog at the Battle of Molehill Valley, they want to take you there, make you a part of the story, allow you to smell the cordite, hear the clash of steel, and invite you to feel and to live in the period for the duration of their book...

All of which requires a different kind of research than perhaps has been done before.   It demands not just a knowledge of historical personages, but also a fascination with and a tenacious determination to understand what they ate, how things smelled, what the modes of transport were likely to be and how uncomfortable were they, how did they heat or light their houses, what did they read in their newsheets, ...everything in fact that contributes to what I'd call 'the fabric of daily life.'

But I'll be honest--quite often it's a case of reading 10,000 words or even an entire history book to write one paragraph of description in the novel.  Which might seem a bit of a waste...until now.

The English Historical Fiction Authors blog was the brainchild of one Debra Brown, who conceived of the idea of having a number of contributing historical authors writing a daily blog or essay covering some small aspect of their research--the bits which fascinated them, which they uncovered, all those tasty crumbs of history that get left out, maybe swept aside as historical trivia, but absolutely fascinating and delicious nonetheless.

Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales from English Historical Fiction Authors is a compilation of the 'best of' all these essays from the first year's worth of English Historical Fiction Authors blogs.

And because it's the combined efforts of 55 different authors (including some of the best-selling novelists in the field), all engaged in studying and writing about different eras and from different angles, it's an anthology literally with something for everyone.  Whether you're entranced by mediaeval knighthood during the Wars of the Roses or a night at the theatre in Jane Austen's day, from Boadicea to Brummell, Druidic slaughter to silk dancing breeches, this lovely volume has it covered.

It's possible I'm biased when I say that I think it's a cornucopia of fascinating facts.  I am, after all, one of the editors and a contributing author.

But, I have to say, even after all the editing, all the re-reading and re-reading and re-reading, I'm still fired up by the essays about the mediaeval bestiary, about when envelopes were invented and why, what a mediaeval field looked like (they ploughed in circles--how cool is that?), what happened to all those nuns dispossessed by Henry VIII's seizure of monastic lands and coffers, what it was like to be one of Elizabeth I's ladies-in-waiting...the list goes on.

These authors--including Anne O'Brien, Sandra Byrd, Nancy Bilyeau and Barbara Kyle--all love their subjects.  And it's contagious.  It lights each and every page.

Castles, Customs, and Kings. 
To my mind, the perfect compendium for anyone who's missing The White Queen (or who didn't like it and wants to know more about the period), longing for Cranford or wondering what were the turnpike roads like when Jane Austen was writing Pride & Prejudice...a book that puts the people and how they lived and who they were front and centre, and all in bite-size, easily digestible essays.  And which, I believe, often give a greater sense of an age than the name-and-date version of history that's too frequently trotted out as our island story.

Any questions?  Oh, yes, it's available in paperback (and it's really nice quality--it weighs well in the hand, which is what I like) or for Kindle from Amazon.

Slainte!  And happy reading!


M.M. Bennetts


Debra Brown said...

Thank you, Sue, for introducing your blog followers to Castles, Customs, and Kings!

Anonymous said...

It does sound a fascinating book.
Carol Warham