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.
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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.