Monday, December 22, 2014

Yultide Bargains

Snapped up after work on Saturday after a colleague mentioned a book stall was set up in the nearby shopping centre.  Could not resist a look and came away with:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Review: The Bolter by Frances Osborne

On Friday 25th May, 1934, a forty-one-year-old woman walked into the lobby of Claridge's Hotel to meet the nineteen-year-old son whose face she did not know. Fifteen years earlier, as the First World War ended, Idina Sackville shocked high society by leaving his multimillionaire father to run off to Africa with a near penniless man. An inspiration for Nancy Mitford's character The Bolter, painted by William Orpen, and photographed by Cecil Beaton, Sackville went on to divorce a total of five times, yet died with a picture of her first love by her bed. Her struggle to reinvent her life with each new marriage left one husband murdered and branded her the 'high priestess' of White Mischief's bed-hopping Happy Valley in Kenya. Sackville's life was so scandalous that it was kept a secret from her great-granddaughter Frances Osborne. Now, Osborne tells the moving tale of betrayal and heartbreak behind Sackville's road to scandal and return, painting a dazzling portrait of high society in the early twentieth century.

Review Number 1 - 30th - 31st October 2011:
Interesting story of a woman who was obviously ahead of the time she lived in. A woman - who rightly or wrongly - acted according to her own free will and refused to be constrained by the mores of the time. Notorious or notable - or both.

Update - 20th November 2014: 
I have just finished this book for the second time (19th November 2014). I am still held in the grip of this fascinating woman's personality and character. Even the second time round I am still feeling some empathy with Idina, despite the heartbreaking choices that she made in her married life, and despite some of the choices she made thereafter.

Book 1 deals with Idina's early life, her childhood and her first marriage and its subsequent breakdown. The Second Book deals with Idina's life in Kenya and her next set of marriages - making it five in total - and five divorces (we don't count her many, many lovers).

The 1920s and 1940s were a somewhat liberating time for women - many deciding to break free from the constricting structure of Edwardian life in England, and following their own path - sometimes towards happiness, sometimes towards self destruction.

The author Frances Osborne is the great-granddaughter of Idina - a woman not mentioned in family circles and one who was not regarded as a role-model. The author takes us through her own journey of discovery and presents for us a woman with all her foibles, a woman of strength and frailty, a woman not of her times, a woman who draws us back into her web and keeps us within her grip as her life unfolds before us.

Read this in conjunction with Paul Spicer's "The Temptress" and James Fox's "White Mischief".

Sunday, November 2, 2014

November Additions To The Library

November is now here and with a lovely gift voucher from my online book shop, here are the additions to the Library for November:

The Borgias: A Hidden History by G.J. Meyer
The startling truth behind one of the most notorious dynasties in history is revealed in a remarkable new account by the acclaimed author of "The Tudors" and "A World Undone." 

Lucretia Borgia: An Exceptional and Notorious Woman of the Renaissance Papacy by Ferdinand Gregorovius
A legend of beauty and seduction The very name of Lucrezia Borgia remains, some 500 years after her time, enough to send a frisson of a thrill down the spine-particularly of men! The Lucrezia of legend has become an archetypal 'femme fatale'-beautiful, seductive and potentially deadly. 

Late Merovingian France: History and Hagiography, 640-720 edited & translated by Richard A. Gerberding
This collection of documents in translation brings together the seminal sources for the late Merovingian Frankish kingdom. 

The Welsh Kings: Warriors, Warlords and Princes by  K. L. Maund
When Edward I's troops forced the destruction of Dafydd ap Gruffudd in 1283 they brought to an end the line of truly independent native rulers in Wales that had endured throughout recorded history. In the early middle ages Wales was composed of a variety of independent kingdoms with varying degrees of power, influence and stability, each ruled by proud and obdurate lineages. 

Kingdom and People of Kent: Their History and Archaeology by Sue Harrington and Stuart Brookes
The Kingdom and People of Kent

Northumbria: The Lost Kingdom by Paul Gething and Edoardo Albert
Northumbria was one of the great kingdoms of Britain in the Dark Ages, enduring longer than the Roman Empire. Yet it has been all but forgotten. This book puts Northumbria back in its rightful place, at the heart of British history.

The Death of Kings: A Medical History of the Kings and Queens of England by Clifford Brewer
Distinguished surgeon Clifford Brewer T.D F.R.C.S. has made the death of kings the study of a life time, examining every act of violence and each unpleasant disease with a razor sharp eye for detail. 

The Gourmet Farmer Deli Book by Matthew Evans, Ross O'Meara and Nick Haddow
Matthew Evans brings us a beautifully photographed new book celebrating the way we used to cook food and how it used to taste.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Additions For October

August's books arrived safe and sound in September so here is the order for October:

  • Absolute Power: The Real Lives of Europe's Most Infamous Rulers by Chad Denton
  • Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses by Régine Pernoud
  • The Retrial of Joan of Arc: The Evidence for Her Vindication by Regine Pernoud
  • The Templars: Knights of Christ by Regine Pernoud
  • Defending the City of God: A Medieval Queen, the First Crusades, and the Quest for Peace in Jerusalem by Sharan Newman
  • Mediaeval Prince of Wales: Life of Gruffudd Ap Cynan by Simon D Evans
  • Lost Capital of Byzantium: The History of Mistra and the Peloponnese by Steven Runciman
  • The King in the North: The Life and Times of Oswald of Northumbria by Max Adams
  • The Last Templar: The Tragedy of Jacques De Molay, Last Grand Master of the Temple by Alain Demurger
  • The Northern Earldoms: Orkney and Caithness from AD 870 to 1470 by Barbara Crawford
A number of these books I have read in the past but have never before added to my own personal library - until now.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Autumn Additions

Well, it is autumn in the land down under, and the order for August has been submitted - albeit rather late in the season.  So here is the bag of bargains heading south over the next week or so:

The Northern Crusades by Eric Christiansen
The 'Northern Crusades', inspired by the Pope's call for a Holy War, are less celebrated than those in the Middle East, but they were also more successful: vast new territories became and remain Christian, such as Finland, Estonia and Prussia. Newly revised in the light of the recent developments in Baltic and Northern medieval research, this authoritative overview provides a balanced and compelling account of a tumultuous era. 

Duchessina: A Novel of Catherine de Medici by Carolyn Meyer
Young Catherine de' Medici is the sole heiress to the entire fortune of the wealthy Medici family, but her life is far from luxurious. This novel chronicles the life of a young woman who becomes one of France's most powerful queens. Includes a family tree.

Fideles Crusis: Papacy, the West & the Recovery if the Holy Land 1274 - 1314 by Sylvia Schlein
Schein challenges the view that the fall of Acre in 1291 was a watershed dividing the "classical age" of the crusade from the late Middle Ages, when the ideal had become sterile, the obsessive dream of a handful of individuals. She shows instead that the desire to recover the Holy Land remained powerful and pervasive, and was an important consideration in the policy-making of European rulers.

Princesses of Wales by Deborah Fisher
This exciting new Pocket Guide offers an in-depth discussion of the developing role of Princess of Wales, through an account of the lives of those who have held the title. 

Blood & Beauty: The Borgias by Sarah Dunant
Stripping away the myths around the Borgias, "Blood & Beauty" is a majestic novel that breathes life into this astonishing family and celebrates the raw power of history itself: compelling, complex and relentless. 

The Borgias by Michael Mallett
Fact is deftly sorted from fiction in this description of the incredible rise of the Borgias from obscurity to the very center of the Renaissance.

Lucrezia Borgia by John Faunce
“A fascinating story, rich in detail. In every case, Faunce portrays [Lucrezia] believably, with wit and sensitivity.”--Library Journal Hundreds of years after her death, Lucrezia Borgia remains one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of history.

Margeret of York, the Diabolical Duchess: The Woman Who Tried To Overthrow The Tudors by Christine Weightman
The amazing life of Margaret of York, the woman who tried to overthrow the Tudors.

Anne Neville, Richard III's Tragic Queen: The Real Story of the Kingmaker's Daughter by Amy Licence
Amy Licence reassesses the longstanding myths about Anne's role, her health and her marriages, to present a new view of the Kingmaker's daughter.

Lucrezia Borgia: The Life of the Pope's Daughter in the Renaissance by Maike Vogt-Luerssen (trans: Dr Holger M Luerssen)
This biography will reveal the true Lucrezia Borgia. It is an unfortunate reality that many descriptions of the life of the Pope's daughter and her family are based on malicious rumours by her opponents and sensationalist historians of the 16th century.

The Borgias: History'a Most Notorious Dynasty by Mary Hollingsworth
Mary Hollingsworth's account of the dynasty's dramatic rise from its Spanish roots to the heights of Renaissance society forms a compelling tale of brutality, incest, unparalleled corruption and extortionate greed.

Owain Gwynedd: Prince of the Welsh by Roger Turvey
A study of the life and career of Owain Gwynedd (c. 1100-70), who played a dominant role in the history of Wales before her conquest. He was king of Gwynedd from 1137 until his death, and was the first to be styled Prince of Wales. He was considered the most successful of all the north Welsh princes prior to his grandson Llywelyn the Great.

Daughter of Heaven: the True Story of the Only Woman to Become Emperor of China by Nigel Cawthorne
In this sensational true story, bestselling author Nigel Cawthorne reveals the dark and dramatic story of the only woman ever to rule China, Wu Chao: concubine, manipulator, politician, murderer, Emperor. From her instruction in the art of love by palace officials, to her eventual sticky end, this book opens a window into the colourful world of Tang Dynasty in China - a world of sex and of power. 

On the Trail of the Real Macbeth, King of Alba by Cameron Taylor & Alistair Murray
Travel what is now Scotland with a touring itinerary as you follow "On the Trail of the Real Macbeth, King of Alba".

A rather interesting collection of known and lesser known titles - all reasonably priced (lets face it - cheap!) which is why they have found their way into the Library.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Miniature Books

Following on from this article in the LA Times:

In 1829-30, Charlotte Brontë was 13 and her brother Branwell Brontë 12. Creating fantasy worlds they called Angria and Glass Town, the siblings made teeny tiny books. 

Measuring less than 1 inch by 2 inches,  the books were made from scraps of paper and constructed by hand. Despite their diminutive size, the books contained big adventures, written in ink in careful script. 

Twenty books, all by Charlotte and Branwell, remain. Similar books created by the other sisters, Anne and Emily, did not survive. Nine of the existing books, known as Bronte juvenalia, are in the collection at the Houghton Library at Harvard University.

Here are my miniature books that I have had since I was quite small - although the plastic case in which they originally came is now long lost, the books themselves are in very good condition.  All are beautifully illustrated, published by Merrimack Publishing Group and printed in Hong Kong - though no other details, including the year of printing, is available.

Women of the World

The following is part of a review by John Gallagher of the Telegraph of Helen McCarthy's book Women of the World: The Rise of the Female Diplomat.

Women’s involvement in global politics is nothing new. Elizabeth I’s ladies-in-waiting were adept in international intrigue; Mary Wortley Montagu penned dispatches from the 18th-century Ottoman harem; and one could even argue that the biblical Judith’s decapitation of Holofernes was early proof of women’s aptitude for cutthroat diplomacy.

But in Britain, women’s entry into the diplomatic service was approved only in 1946, 30 years after they had won the vote, and long after the rest of the civil service. In this carefully researched, stylishly written and highly entertaining history, Helen McCarthy traces the roles that women have played in British diplomacy from the 19th century onwards, and highlights the issues that bedevil their service into the present day.

The story is rich with female pioneers who proved in practice what the establishment could not accept in principle. Of course, the barriers to female progression did not fall away so quickly: in particular, the marriage bar introduced in 1946 meant that many young women had promising careers cut abruptly short. It would be 1987 before Britain named its first married female ambassador.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

July Additions to the Library

Well, as mentioned in my last post, the Library is well and truly open for business, and taking in new titles. Here are some that should be arriving this month:

The First Crusade: The Call From The East by Peter Frankopan
The First Crusade is one of the best-known and most written-about events in history. This book intends to address the history of the First Crusade from the perspective of the east, examining the role of the Byzantine Empire and its ruler, Emperor Alexios I Komnenos.
(have been promising myself to get this one for some time)

The Writings of Agnes of Harcourt: The "Life of Isabelle of France" and the "Letter" on Louis IX and Longchamp trans: Sean L Field
An abbess in the Franciscan abbey of Longchamp, Agnes of Harcourt wrote a biography of Isabelle of France and a letter detailing Louis IX's involvement with the abbey, both of which provide a window on 13th-century religious life. This translation also contains an introduction to her life and work.

The Murder, Betrayal, and Slaughter of the Glorious Charles, Count of Flanders by Galbert Of Bruges, translated by Jeff Rider
The craven murder of Glorious Charles, who had no progeny and had not yet named a successor, upset the fragile balance of power between England, France and the Holy Roman Empire, giving rise to a prolonged struggle for the countship and bloody civil war while impacting the commercial life of the most prosperous regions of medieval Europe.

William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry by Georges Duby
Recreates the life of William Marshal, the Earl of Pembroke from a thirteenth century poem and describes medieval daily life
(another one that has spent way too long on the TBR list)

The Normans by Trevor Rowley
The Normans were a relatively short-lived cultural and political phenomenon. They emerged early in the tenth century and had disappeared off the map by the mid-thirteenth century. Drawing on the archaeological and historical evidence, this title examines how the Normans were able to conquer and dominate significant parts of Europe.

The Gesta Tancredi of Ralph of Caen trans Bernard S. Bachrach and David S Bachrach
Presents a narrative of the First Crusade and its immediate aftermath, covering the period 1096-1105, but is often neglected, due in no small part to the difficulties of its Latin.

Burgundians in the Mist by Marc Comtois
A historical work focusing on the Burgundians--a Germanic people of the Late Antique/Early Medieval period--and the role they played in the transition of Western Europe in the wake of the Fall of the Rome.

Strongbow: The Norman Invasion of Ireland by Conor Kostick
The coming of the Normans to Ireland from 1169 is a pivotal moment in the country's history. It is a period full of bloodthirsty battles, both between armies and individuals. With colourful personalities and sharp political twists and turns, Strongbow's story is a fascinating one. Combining the writing style of an award-winning novelist with expert scholarship, historian Conor Kostick has written a powerful and absorbing account of the stormy affairs of an extraordinary era.

Galloglas: Hebridean and West Highland Mercenary by John Marsden
This exciting new work offers a Scottish perspective on a particularly bloody chapter of Irish history. The Galloglas were a group of mercenary warriors from Western Scotland who settled in Ireland and achieved extraordinary prominence over the next 300 years. By the 15th century they had become Ireland's first professional warrior class.

Friday, June 6, 2014

June's Books

Well, its been a while ...... quite a while since the library opened its doors for some new arrivals. But better late than never, June's order has just gone in, and here's what should be arriving before month's end:
The Third Plantagenet: George, Duke of Clarence, Richard III's Brother by John Ashdown-Hill
Less well-known than his brothers, Edward IV and Richard III, little has been written about George, Duke of Clarence, leaving us with a series of unanswered questions: What was he really like? What set him and his brother Edward IV against one another? And who was really responsible for his death? 

The Knights Templar Absolution: The Chinon Parchment and the History of the Poor Knights of Christ by A.A. Grishin
the Chinon Parchment .... Originally created in 1308, this official legal record has been recently recovered after missing for centuries. It is finally made widely available here in its original Latin with a new English translation. In the early 14th century, after a long series of defeats in the Levant, the Order was charged with heresy by King Philip IV of France. The Chinon Parchment details a crucial step in subsequent papal investigations into the Knights Templar activities.

Franks and Alamanni in the Merovingian Period: An Ethnographic Perspective edited by Ian Wood
The Alamans were early victims of post-Roman expansion of the Frankish empire. This volume considers the Franks and Alamans from a series of perspectives, historical, archaeological, and linguistic. It explores the origins of both peoples.

Owain Glyn Dwr - the Last Prince of Wales by Peter Gordon Williams
This is the compelling tale of a warrior prince and a host of other characters, ranging from his loyal bodyguard Madoc to mad King Charles of France, who influenced his life. Owain Glyn Dwr was more than a courageous and resourceful commander; he was an eminent scholar who, in the pursuit of learning and scholarship, looked beyond the boundaries of Wales.

Somerled by John Marsden
Investigates Somerled of Argyll's emergence in the forefront of the Gaelic-Norse aristocracy of the western seaboard, his part in Gaeldom's challenge to the Canmore kings of Scots, his war on the Manx king of the Isles, his importance for the church on Iona, and his invasion of the Clyde which was cut short by his death at Renfrew in 1164.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Knight Who Saved England

For a brief period in English history, a French king was named monarch of England – this was the Dauphin Louis and the time was 1216.  It was a period of turmoil in England – King John was at odds with his powerful barons, who invited the prince to England to lay claim to the throne in 1215.  Louis duly accepted and landed in England where he was welcomed by the rebellious barons.  John had only the year before signed what is now known as the Magna Carta at Runnymede (1215).

That same year as the French prince landed to claim his throne, King John died leaving his infant son Henry as England’s next monarch.  Many of the barons in rebellion against John gave their support to the young boy-king and support for Louis fizzled but not before a small force of French under Thomas, Comte de Perche laid siege to Lincoln Castle.  The English force was led by the 70yo Earl of Pembroke – the formidable William Marshal.  The French were routed and the sack of the rebel town became known as the Battle of Lincoln Fair.

The chronicler Roger of Wendover, who wrote an account of events (Flower of History trans by JA Ggiles London 1849), said …
“This battle, which, in derision of Louis and the barons, they called “The Fair,” took place on the 19th of May, which was on the Saturday in Whitsun-week; it commenced between the first and third hour, and was finished by these good managers before the ninth.

This then is the back-drop to Richard Brooks’ book, The Knight Who Saved England.

Brooks details events in English history leading up to and including the battle of Lincoln, and in doing so, recounts important events under the Angevin kings – Henry II, Richard I and John.  We are then treated to a short history of the life of England’s pre-eminent knight, William Marshal, which is based on an epic poem written after his death in 1219 entitled “ L’Historie de Guillaume de Marechal”.  

He was "marshal and then regent of England who served four English monarchs as a royal adviser and agent and as a warrior of outstanding prowess."

Brooks pays special attention to William’s career at the tournaments and his life with Henry, the Young King of England (eldest son and heir of Henry II of England).  Brooks goes on to detail William’s long military career on battlefield and siege, and gives us an insight into the chivalric and knightly class of the period.  All of this leads us up to William’s role and leadership in the battle of Lincoln, in which we find the aged knight so eager for battle that he leaves without his helm.

Needless to say, the life and character of William Marshal is extraordinary and you will find a list of further reading at the end of Brooks’ book.

Further Reading:
The Knight Who Saved England: William Marshal and the French Invasion, 1217A Knight’s Tale – Thomas Asbridge (
William Marshal by Georges Duby (trans Richard Howard)
History of William Marshal by A J Holden
William Marshal: Knighthood, War and Chivalry, 1147-1219 by David Crouch
Magna Charta Barons, 1915. Baronial Order of Runnemede  by Charles H. Browning
William Marshal: Medieval England's Greatest Knight by Myra Weatherly
William Marshal, Knight-Errant, Baron, and Regent of England by Sidney Painter

William Marshall: flower of chivalry -
William Marshall -,_1st_Earl_of_Pembroke
Medieval English genealogy – notes on William Marshall -
Battle of Lincoln 1217 -
History of Eengland podcasts – William the Regent -

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ten Controversial Books about the Middle Ages

Medievalist dot net has published an insightful article on what are considered to be ten of the most controversial books to have been written about the middle ages.

The following books are listed:

  • Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century by Norman Cantor
  • The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
  • 1421: The Year China Discovered the World by Gavin Menzies
  • Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted by Susan Reynolds
  • The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe by Robert Gottfried
  • City of Light: The Hidden Journal of the Man Who Entered China Four Years Before Marco Polo edited and translated by David Selbourne
  • The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation edited by Raleigh A. Skelton
  • Medieval Technology and Social Change by Lynn Townsend White, Jr.
  • Passovers of Blood: European Jews and Ritual Homicides (Pasque di sangue: Ebrei d’Europa e omicidi rituali) by Ariel Toaff
  • Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe by John Boswell
Medievalist dot net provides a short synopsis on each book and an explanation (which additional links) as to why each book made the list.

After reading this article, I am quite thankful that none of the above books are a part of my library - though I have considered the "1421" book a number of times but kept passing it over for something else.  It does, however, make one curious enough to pick up a copy (from a library) and read for oneself and decide whether these books really do belong on the abovementioned list.

Happy reading!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Library Open For Business

Well, this Librarian is back on board and the Library is again open for business.

A change of job, followed by an unexpected promotion two months later, followed by a move of domicile two months following that has meant that reading and reviewing has fallen by the wayside - which was unintentional.

However, house move complete, books have been re-shelved and things on the employment front have settled so it is now back to business as usual.

So all of those books which have been awaiting review will be reviewed; all those books awaiting reading will be read - shortly!

Anyway, glad I am to be back on board.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Burnable Book

Review of Bruce Holsinger's novel "A Burnable Book" by Washington Post fiction editor Ron Charles:
Forget Tom Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa tower; the hot new super-agent is 14th-century writer Geoffrey Chaucer. Thrill to his daring Middle English rimes! Gasp at his mighty scansion! Here in the pages of Bruce Holsinger’s medieval adventure, that randy old poet finally gets the “Mission Impossible” cameo he deserves.
The Burnable Book” takes place in 1385, when the walled city of London is still finding its footing after the Peasants’ Revolt four years earlier. As the Hundred Years’ War drags on, young Richard II faces myriad threats inside and outside his country. Who knows when fresh blood may flow between the Earl of Oxford and the king’s uncle, John of Gaunt?
The intrigue opens during a dark night on the Moorfields. A cloaked man is beating a young woman for information. Whatever he wants to know, she won’t tell him. She screams out two lines of an allegorical poem just before he finishes her off with a hammer. This doesn’t say much for the efficacy of poetry as a defense against blunt-force trauma, but it gets the novel off to a rousing start.

I had this one on my TBR list - and after reading this review, the book has moved ever closer to the top.  I am looking forward to getting my hands on a copy and settling in for a journey into " the grimy underbelly of London".

Sunday, February 2, 2014

New Poems by Sappho

From the Guardian:
Sappho is one of the most elusive and mysterious – as well as best-loved – of ancient Greek poets. Only one of her poems, out of a reputed total of nine volumes' worth, survives absolutely intact. Otherwise, she is known by fragments and shards of lines – and still adored for her delicate outpourings of love, longing and desire.
But now, two hitherto unknown works by the seventh-century lyricist of Lesbos have been discovered. One is a substantially complete work about her brothers; another, an extremely fragmentary piece apparently about unrequited love.

The poems came to light when an anonymous private collector in London showed a piece of papyrus fragment to Dr Dirk Obbink, a papyrologist at Oxford University.

Read Poem Here =>
Sappho's poems, which were lost from the manuscript tradition and were not collated and copied by medieval monks as were so many surviving ancient texts, have been preserved by two main means: either through quotation by other authors (often as examples of particular syntactical points by ancient grammarians) or through the discovery of fragments written on ancient papyrus. There is hope yet for more poems to come to light, preserved in the Egyptian sands.

Obit: Thomas F Mayer

Thomas F. Mayer, 62, died Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, at the Clarissa C. Cook Hospice House in Bettendorf, after a year-and-a half-long struggle with cancer. He was born Sept. 10, 1951, in McLeansboro, Ill.
Tom was professor emeritus of history and an internationally known scholar who taught for most of his life at Augustana College in Rock Island. He received his master's degree in medieval history at Michigan State University and his Ph.D. in Tudor/Stuart history at the University of Minnesota.
As the author of 15 books, he wrote a study of the early 16th century political thinker, Thomas Starkey; a biography of Starkey's patron, Reginald Pole, who missed becoming pope by one vote; and a trilogy on Galileo's trial and the Roman Inquisition. His second volume on the Inquisition was published just before his death, and another book on Galileo's trial will be published posthumously. He also edited five volumes of Pole's correspondence.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Ruin - A Word From The Author

I posed a couple of questions to John in relation to his book "The Ruin" which I shall share with you all now.
=== === ===

Following up on Melisende's review of my novel The Ruin, there were some questions she raised with me.

The first was why I chose the mid-5th century as my setting, when the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain began in earnest and the post-Roman civilisation was in its death throes. As Melisende mentioned to me, there is a pretty near endless supply of fiction set in the supposed Arthurian era around the turn of the sixth century, and that's partly why I chose the period fifty years earlier. 

Vortigern's era has some of the same advantages as the Arthurian period (dearth of primary sources, wealth of legendary material) while the disadvantages (done to death by fiction, rendered meaningless by pseudohistory) aren't quite so severe. There is simply more room to develop a story without straying into areas that get pillaged for new material every year by every conceivable medium, in fiction or non-fiction, whether anyone is paying attention or not.

That said, there are already some great fictional pieces that deal with broadly the same period - The Little Emperors by Alfred Duggan, and 'Hun' by Anthony Burgess (this is a novella in a collection called The Devil's Mode). Well worth checking out.

Melisende also asked why I didn't use the more familiar forms of some of the names in dealing with historical figures. There were a couple of reasons for this. 

The first was to avoid familiarity dictating the reader's perceptions, especially for readers who might be familiar with some of the historical figures involved. You may already know the story of St Patrick, for instance - how he was taken into slavery by Irish raiders at the age of sixteen and later became a missionary. In The Ruin he is known by his birth name, partly because he adopted the name 'Patricius' later in life, and partly to preserve the sense of danger when the raiders land near his home.

The other reason was because a lot of the names have come down to us through different linguistic routes, and they often just look odd on the page together - the Latin 'Eldolus' and 'Pascentius' alongside the Middle Welsh 'Amllawdd', 'Ynyr' and 'Glywys', for example. So I did a bit of linguistic detective work. I could explain why the form 'Vertigern' is more historically correct than the familiar 'Vortigern', but I'm afraid it would bore any sane person to tears. The same goes for the place names.

Melisende asked if there might be a sequel on the cards, and to be honest I think it's unlikely for the time being. I have a pretty clear idea in my head of how a continuation might go, just in case there was some demand for it one day, but for the moment I'm just concentrating on trying new things.

Twitter: @JohnSawney 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Review - The Ruin

"A gritty tale of Dark Age Britain, where heroes are few and the lives of thousands hinge upon the whims of greedy and unscrupulous men. In fifth century Britannia .... Eiteol, a cloddish nobleman, manages to save the dictator Vertigern from an assassination attempt and the pair must flee for their lives …...."

The story is that of the early invasions of Britain by the Saxons, Angles & Jutes, during the 5th century. It is a time of chaos and ever-wavering loyalties and the leaders fight each other and themselves for power and control - and prominent is the backdrop of the story of the Night of the Long Knives

Here are names that may be tantalizingly familiar to those whose forte is the early Anglo-Saxon history of Britain: Horsa, Hengist, Vortigern (here called Vertigern), one Eldol (called Eiteol), Gildas (Glivis), and Arthur (called Ambris, and finally Flavius Ambrosius Aurelinus). Many other of the “founding” Saxons, Angles & Jutes are here in some form as are the missionary figures who feature in the early christianisation of Britain (including St Germanus).

It is a fast paced story – though those unfamiliar with this period may find the going a little hard (ie: keeping track of the main characters) but there is enough action to keep the reader entertained.

This story is a glimpse into the past, although I wonder whether the author considers that there is more to tell …. 

For more about Vortigern visit: Vortigern Studies
For more on the author visit: John Sawney

Friday, January 3, 2014

January 2014 Arrivals

January has begun rather well for the Library - December's order has arrived safe and sound (see: December Additions to the Library) and I also picked up John Curran's "Agatha Christie's Murder in the Making" - a companion guide to his "Agatha Christie's Secret Notebook" - and a nice little satire called "A Game of Groans - A Parody of Slush and Soot" by George RR Washington (can't think what series of books this could be taking off!!!).

January's order has gone in - see below for details:
  • Women in Russian History - From the Tenth to the Twentieth Century by: Natalia Pushkareva, ed. & trans. by Eve Levin 
  • Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt, trans by:  S.G.C. Middlemore 
  • Chronicles by Jean Froissart
  • Two Lives of Charlemagne by Einhard, and Notker the Stammerer 
  • Vendetta: High Art and Low Cunning at the Birth of the Renaissance by Hugh Bicheno
  • Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses by Sarah Gristwood
  • The Crusader States by Malcolm Barber
  • Power and Border Lordship in Medieval France: The County of the Perche, 1000-1226 (Royal Historical Society Studies in History New) by Kathleen Thompson
  • The Life and Times of Geoffroi IV De Rancon Seigneur De Taillebourg, Gencay and Rancon by Roger Fisher
  • The Song of the Norman Conquest: A New Translation of the Earliest Account of the Norman Conquest (by Kathleen Tyson
I also dropped in to a quaint little second-hand book shop today (it is rarely open but the range of subject matter is too good to pass up) and picked up:

  • Egil's Saga - trans. by Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwwards
  • The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan (love the movie of this)
  • Historical Detectives edited by Mike Ashley (nice collective of historical fiction detectives)
  • Complete Plays of Christopher Marlowe - nice little 1947 hardback edition

In addition, I have decided it is time to catalogue the contents of the Library - this comes hard on the heels of me ordering the same book twice (and not for the first time!).  And with so many books sharing the same title, it can be a bit of a muddle sorting out which one I have and which ones I don't. And in between reading, reviewing and researching, I might just find time to post a blog or two.

So happy reading to all and hope this year provides you all with some interesting reads!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Fore-Edge Painting On Books

Amazing article on the use of books as a medium for art from Viralnova:
Guess what: your copy of the Canterbury Tales may actually be more exciting than you think (sorry, Mr. Chaucer). It’s very possible that your battered, old copy of the book contains some fore-edge painting, which is an illustration or painting that is hidden on the edge of the pages of the book. The technique allegedly dates back to the 1650s and we have no idea why people went through the trouble of painting on their old works of literature, but thanks to Colossal, now we know they are there.