Longsword by David Pilling

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Dear John



To my right is Sir John Swale, knight of Cumberland, taking a breather from cracking skulls. The release date of Folville's Law is just a few days away, so I thought it worth blogging about the central character.

Unlike many of the other characters in the novel, John is entirely a figment of my imagination. He was born inside my head after I read an article by Nigel Saul, 'The Despensers and the downfall of Edward II"(published by the English Historical Review, 1984). The article concentrated on the reasons behind the collapse of the Edwardian regime in 1326, and why the Despensers were betrayed by most of the men they had promoted to official positions throughout England.

Saul goes into detail about the identity of the 'banner knights', the inner circle of knights and armed retainers that surrounded Hugh Despenser the Younger and his father. Then there were the lesser lights, minor knights who hung about on the outer fringes of the Despenser household, presumably doing what they were told and living off the scraps their lord deigned to chuck at them.

What were they like, these violent and ambitious no-marks, only distinguished from common thugs by their family pedigree? Physically they would have been rather different from the romantic image of dashing knights. To quote Alexander Rose's description of Henry Percy, a border baron and exact contemporary of Swale:

"Dentistry then being in its infancy, his teeth would have been ground down to the flat. His body would have exhibited the tell-tale ailments of the martially engaged. Falls from horses and the clatter of swords upon his armour left a painful catalogue of fractured ribs, stretched tendons, worn joints and sprains. His muscled right arm was longer than the other from wielding swords and lances since he was a youngster."

Swale roughly conforms to this description, and carries a permanent injury from a nasty encounter with a band of Scotsmen. As a man he is ambitious, taciturn, violent and not easily scared, with a touchy sense of honour. Honour and loyalty inform much of his character, for one has crippled the other. A schizophrenic with a sword, then, and not a man to cross.

Such is John Swale. Next up, Elizabeth Clinton...


Exciting times at Musa, where they have just announced the acquisition of the entire collected works of the impressively-named Homer Eon Flynt (1888-1924), the American pulp fiction author.

Homer is widely acknowledged as a pioneer of the speculative fiction genre and his works included The Emancipatrix, The Devolutionist, The Blind Spot, The Lord of Death and The Queen of Life. The manuscripts have been stored away for almost a century, and are only now seeing the light of day.

Sadly, the writer met with a violent and tragic end, apparently murdered as a result of his involvement in a bank robbery. However, Musa are keeping his memory alive and will be releasing this remarkable collection on a bi-weekly basis throughout 2012 via the Musa Gold Line on their Polyhymnia short fiction/collections imprint, so watch out for it!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Tales of Old...


...when knights were bold, etc. Unusually for me, this particular tale, 'Nightingales', has nothing to do with knights and castles, but is a ghost story set in Wales during the First World War. Tales of Old, an online audio magazine for historical short fiction, have kindly put it up as a podcast.

World War I has always fascinated me. The old BBC comedy series, Blackadder Goes Forth, has stayed with me over the years, especially its depiction of British generals as arrogant port-brained buffoons who cheerfully sent their men off to be slaughtered in the trenches. This view has been challenged in recent years by historians such as Andrew Roberts, and certainly the German tactics were no wiser. Even so, I find it difficult to walk past the equestrian statue of Field Marshall Douglas Haig on Whitehall, without wanting to give it a kick.

Words don't come easily when writing about this subject, but the scale of the casualties inflicted on both sides during the 'Great War' still beggars belief. The Battle of the Somme, for instance, was considered a tactical Allied victory, even though 'we' suffered six hundred thousand casualties in just under five months.

Six hundred thousand.

Enjoy the story.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Guest blog!




I have a guest to blog here today, the very lovely and talented Suzanne G Rogers, a fellow Musa author. Her picture should serve to distract you all from my ugly mug, for a while at least.

Take it away, Suzanne...

Suffering For My Art

Alfred Hitchcock once said, “When an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say, 'It's in the script.' If he says, 'But what's my motivation?, ' I say, 'Your salary.'”

That’s practical advice.

As a writer, I have to ask myself what’s my motivation for writing? Artistic considerations aside, the unromantic and unvarnished response is, “To get published.”

So when the right publisher for my YA fantasy manuscript showed interest in my “unique and compelling” story, my ears perked up and my tail began to wag. Like a Hitchcock thriller, however, horror lurked on the other side of the shower curtain. The publisher wanted to see the novel rewritten from first person point-of-view to third before they would agree to acquire it.

Eek! Is that my blood I see, circling down the drain?

Oh, sure, I could have just checked out of The Bates Motel and headed over to the Holiday Inn…but what’s my motivation again? To get published. So I held my nose and got on with it.

Several challenges presented themselves right away. Things that were logical when told from a 16-year-old’s perspective didn’t fly when seen from a third person POV. Scenes had to be laid out differently in order to achieve a forward momentum. Additional dialogue was required to reveal information formerly contained in the inner monologue of the protagonist.

On the plus side, I seemed to have more clarity of thought this time around. Muddled action got mercilessly cut or shortened. The new dialogue presented more opportunities for wit and humor. The whole tone of the story became necessarily less introspective and more dynamic. The process was less tedious than I had originally imagined—although I wouldn’t say it was fun.

The rewrite took me a month. Three weeks after resubmitting it, I received confirmation that I was the newest author at Astraea Press. Approximately four months later my novel “The Last Great Wizard of Yden” became a reality.

Now I have to check back into The Bates Motel, because I have the two already-completed sequels to rewrite.

What’s my motivation again?

- S.G. Rogers

Blurb:

After his father is kidnapped, sixteen-year-old Jon stumbles across a closely guarded family secret--one that will challenge everything he has ever believed about his father and himself. A magical ring his father leaves behind unlocks a portal to another dimension, but in using it, Jon unwittingly unchains the forces of evil. A crisis develops when a malevolent wizard transports to Earth to kidnap one of Jon’s friends. With the help of some unlikely schoolmates, and a warrior princess from Yden, Jon embarks on a dangerous quest to free his friend and his father from the most vicious wizard the magical world has ever known. In the end, Jon will be forced to fight for his life as he attempts to rescue the last great wizard of Yden.

EXCERPT:

One moment Jon was sitting at his drafting table. In the next, he was sprawled in the middle of a dirt road, having fallen painfully on his behind. His wrist was still tingling, as if he'd stuck his finger in a light socket, and his nostrils burned with the unmistakable scent of ozone.

“Get out of the way!” a man yelled.

A wooden cart, pulled by a team of enormous horses, was bearing down on him. Jon rolled to the side as the cart rumbled past, its wheels barely clearing his head. The driver dragged the team to a halt. “I should report you to the cygards,” he snarled.

Before Jon realized what was happening, the driver’s arm recoiled and he let loose a bullwhip. The popper cracked mere centimeters from Jon’s face. As he scrambled to his feet, the cart moved on, raising a cloud of dust in its wake. Jon stumbled backward, coughing, but then the tail of a strange animal snaked around his waist. The beast resembled a stocky horse, but it had stubby horns and hard ridges where the mane should be. The tail was reminiscent of a small elephant’s trunk. Jon shuddered and twisted out of the animal’s reach.

A plump woman hurried toward him, parcel in hand. “You there! Step away from my puleden!”

Puleden?

“S-sorry,” Jon stammered.

When the extraordinary creature wrapped its muscular tail around the woman’s parcel, Jon gaped in amazement.

“What’re you looking at, vagrant?” the woman snapped.

Without waiting for an answer, the woman unhitched her puleden from a rough-hewn post and led it away. Jon narrowly avoided the road apple the animal left in its wake.

As he took in his surroundings, his mind refused to accept what his eyes were showing him. Somehow he’d traveled instantaneously to a village plucked straight from the pages of a medieval storybook. People were shopping at a busy open-air marketplace nearby, which consisted of rustic wooden stalls, booths, and tents. No cars were on the road, nor could Jon see any modern machinery of any kind. Women were clothed in long, coarsely woven dresses, while men wore cloth shirts and trousers with hide vests. Everyone over a certain age seemed to be wearing a hat of one sort or another. The vendors at the food booths wore the same kind of two-cornered hat oddly similar in shape to ones Jon had seen at fast-food joints.
When a light rain began to moisten his skin, Jon focused his attention upward. To his astonishment he saw not one but two suns in between the streaky, gray clouds. One was nearly overhead and the other, much smaller sun was on the horizon. The realization he was no longer on Earth began to sink in.

I’m on Yden.

The clouds parted and a sudden shaft of daylight blinded Jon for a moment. Buffeted by passing crowds, a sudden vertigo swept over him. He sank down on a nearby bale of hay. He hadn't counted on magical transportation being so disorienting.

“Is this real or is it a nightmare, Ophelia?” he murmured. “Somebody wake me up.”

At least the tingling sensation in his wrist had stopped. Jon took some deep breaths and tried to pull himself together.

“Okay…this is a seriously unplanned turn of events, but don’t panic,” he told himself, even as his hands were trembling.

The proprietor of the nearest stall removed his carhop hat and tried to shoo Jon away with it. His beefy forearms would have intimidated even Uncle Chaz. “Move along. I'll have no layabouts taking up seats meant for good paying customers,” he yelled.

Rudeness always brought Jon’s ire to the surface.

“I didn’t realize this bale of hay was reserved,” he retorted.

An elderly man sat nearby, sipping a bowl of soup. “Give the lad a break, Hafne. Can't you see he’s not from around here?”

“Stay out of it, Dorsit,” Hafne replied.

“It's okay, I'm going,” Jon muttered. “I wouldn’t want to get sick from your cooking anyway.”

Hafne's eyes narrowed as he peered at the cuff on Jon’s wrist. One of his enormous hands descended onto Jon’s shoulder. “That's a transporter cuff, boy. Which wizard did you steal it from?” he snarled.

Transporter cuff?

“I didn’t steal it. It's mine,” Jon said. He squirmed to free himself from Hafne’s grip. “Let go.”

Dorsit stared at Jon, his hood falling back to reveal his skeletal face. He set his bowl of soup down so fast some of it slopped out onto the table.

“Excuse me—”

“Oi, cygards, I've collared me a thief!” Hafne interrupted, gesturing to someone across the road. “Over here!”

“Hush, Hafne,” Dorsit whispered. “Don’t make trouble.”

Jon guessed “cygards” were some kind of policemen. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he groaned.

But Hafne had caught the attention of a couple of huge, chainmail-clad brutes. They disengaged themselves from a booth selling ale and clanked in his direction. Jon’s mouth went dry. An overgrown carhop was pinning him down, and he was about to be arrested by two medieval enforcers for something he didn't do. From the unforgiving look of the cygards, Jon doubted he was going to be read his rights. His adrenaline surged and he buried a panic-driven fist into Hafne's gut. To Jon’s surprise, Hafne actually doubled over. His grip loosened, and Jon seized the opportunity to flee.

“Wait!” Dorsit cried, but Jon was already gone.

Darting through the marketplace, Jon searched for a place to hide. He finally took cover in a tent. The two cygards ran past, grunting, as they continued their pursuit. When his eyes adjusted to the dim light in the tent, Jon saw a boy crouched in the corner, watching him. He wore a black cap and was little older than Sela.

“Hey. Sorry to bust in on you, but I seem to be attracting the wrong kind of attention,” Jon said.

The boy eyed his clothing. “You're not from here.”

“No, and people don't seem to like me much.”

“In Mandral Territory, to be seen without your head covering is to be arrested as a vagrant. Unless your master speaks on your behalf.”

“I’m my own master,” Jon said. “Ever hear of a wizard named Efysian?”

“Good Solegra!” the boy exclaimed. “You'll be punished awful when he finds out you've run off.”

As Jon peeked through the tent flap, he was dismayed to see at least a half dozen more cygards had joined the search. “Yeah, well, it seems he'll have to take a number.”

The boy noticed the cuff on Jon’s wrist. “You've stolen Efysian's transporter cuff, too?” he gasped.

“No, it's mine,” Jon said, but the boy gave him a dubious look. “What's your name, kid?”

“Mozer.”

“Mozer, my name is Jon. Would you do me a favor and check outside for cygards?”

The boy didn’t need a second invitation. He darted past, shying away from Jon as if he were about to melt his face. Once outside the tent, he began to yell. “Help, Master Aeltin! Cygards! Thief! Help!”

“That’s peachy,” Jon said. “Thanks, kid.”

He fled into the marketplace again. Spotting a section of woods across a small pasture, he sprinted for cover. When he reached the trees, he discovered they abutted the steep rock face of a hill. His heart sank. With his back literally up against a wall, the only escape would be through an open field. Although Jon was motivated, whether he could outdistance the monstrous cygards or not was debatable.

From his hiding place behind a gnarled oak, Jon counted at least five cygards clanking toward the sound of Mozer's continuous shouting. Several other cygards were questioning a few people who had definitely seen Jon make for the trees, but each one shrugged his or her shoulders in response. Well, maybe the folks of Yden weren't all bad—or maybe they disliked the cygards more than they hated vagrants.
One of the cygards was nearly seven feet tall. He carried a big shiny ax in one hand, a metal prod in the other, and was the most menacing of the bunch. Mozer waved his arms at the towering hulk to get his attention and then pointed in Jon’s direction.

“What a little stinker,” Jon muttered.

Paul Bunyan’s evil twin loped toward the copse of trees, closing the distance more quickly than Jon would have believed possible. As he drew near, he could practically smell the cygard stench—unless what he smelled was his own fear. Before he realized what had happened, the other cygards had also begun to close in on his position, and his escape route was cut off.

“Ophelia, I need your help,” he managed. “I want to go home. Now.”

Ophelia's eyes flared. Jon was so horrified by the looming cygard he couldn't tell if the sensation spreading up his arms was electricity or terror. He saw a flash of light, and the muffled boom of thunder reached his eardrums at the same time the cygard swung his ax. Jon braced himself for the impact of the blade...and then he vanished.

####


Links:
http://tinyurl.com/3wfa6yk (Astraea Press)
http://tinyurl.com/3doybdm (Amazon)
http://tinyurl.com/3tev9ej (BN.com)
Twitter: @suzannegrogers
Blog: http://childofyden.wordpress.com/

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Don't speak ill of the dead...



...so they say, but in the case of Hugh Despenser the Younger (1286-1326), one is left with little choice. I previously blogged about Eustace Folville, one of the villains in my novel, and Despenser is another. Eustace was a thoroughly undesirable man, a career criminal and murderous gangster, but mere small fry by comparison to this unlovely monster.


The picture to the left is an illustration of Despenser's execution in 1326, a ghastly affair even by the standards of the time. His suffering was deliberately prolonged for as long as possible, though I won't go into details. The picture gives some idea of the tortures inflicted on him. Even so, it's difficult to have too much sympathy.


Hugh rose to power during the latter stages of the reign of Edward II, replacing the murdered Piers Gaveston and disgraced Roger D'Amory (among others) as that unhappy monarch's favourite. There were rumours of a sexual relationship between the two men, and it's perfectly feasible. Unlike the relationship between Gaveston and Edward, though, which had been one of mutual devotion, Hugh was concerned merely with the grabbing and keeping of power.


Along with his father, the slightly less repellant Hugh Despenser the Elder, Hugh set about abusing his position, and between the years 1318-1326 did his utmost to acquire lands, castles and titles, cheerfully twisting and breaking the law along the way. His thugs frequently intimidated rich heiresses, widows and helpless child wards into signing over their property, and had a rough way with those who refused. One lady who tried to resist him, a Lady Baret, was horribly tortured until she went insane. Along with the rumours that Hugh attempted to rape Edward's Queen, Isabella, it seems that a streak of violent misogyny can be added to the list of his vile character traits.


In the end, he simply made too enemies. Isabella seems to have had a particular grudge against him, and she and her lover, the Flashman-esque Roger Mortimer, conceived the torments that were inflicted on him at his execution. Much to their satisfaction, he is said to have uttered a 'ghastly inhuman howl' as the knives went into his body.


And that was the end of Hugh Despenser. Jolly good thing too, you might say. Like Eustace, he was a compelling man to write about...just not one I would care to meet.

















Saturday, 15 October 2011

The man himself...


The man in question being Eustace Folville, one of the villains in my novel, and the inspiration for the title. A fascinating character, albeit a deeply unpleasant one. A picture of his much-defaced tomb is attached.

Eustace and his brothers formed a criminal gang that terrorised Leicestershire and the Midlands in the 1320s, and the surviving court records list a whole series of robberies, murders, kidnappings, extortions and rapes committed by them and their many adherents. The law couldn't handle them, and various proclamations of outlawry did little to curb their illegal activities.

Part of the problem was that the Folvilles and their ilk were not commoners but of the knightly landowning class, and supposed to be the ones who safeguarded law and order. These criminal gentry gangs proliferated in the violence and disorder that characterised Edward II's appalling reign, and the Folvilles worked hand-in-glove with the Coterel gang of Derbyshire (who also appear in my book), the Bradburnes, and others.

Here, then, was the brutal reality behind the merry tales of Robin Hood and other fictional medieval outlaws. The history makes for grim reading, but is great raw material for fiction!


Thought I would kick things off properly here by talking about Musa, the new and dynamic e-publishers who will be releasing Folville's Law on 11th November. I have been very impressed with Musa, and the friendly, professional and efficient attitude of their staff, and look forward to continuing to work with them in the months to come.

Folville will be released as part of Clio, Musa's Historical imprint. Please follow the link below to see the other releases to come from this particular stable:

http://www.musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=8

Musa have already built up a great team of authors and I expect them to achieve great things in the future :)

Friday, 14 October 2011

Welcome to...

...the blog home of my writings, specifically a home for the promotion and discussion of my novel, "Folville's Law", due to be released by the lovely folks at Musa Publishing on 11th November, and the series of mini-sequels that Musa are scheduled to release in the next few months.

It's all a bit basic here at the moment, but much will be added. Please feel free to join if you fancy checking out my work, or just having a bit of a history chat. I am a medieval history geek in the extreme, and proud of it!

David