Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Queen's Oranges Released!

The Queen's Oranges (Red Ned Tudor Mysteries)The Queen's Oranges by Gregory House

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now as the author I could gush wonderfully about this, saying the novel was the equal of Patricia Finney’s Firedrakes Eye or a better view of the Tudor turmoil than Phillipa Gregory or even a tour de force like CJ Sansom’s Shardlake series. I won’t. That is for you, the reader, to make your own judgement. All I can give you are the opinions of my beta readers. They’ve said it is a great piece of period mystery, blending a hefty splash of humour with the politics and machinations of Tudor England and so forth.

Since I don’t pay them, they aren’t relatives and they’ve all expressed an eager willingness to vet my future stories, then just maybe it could be…true? So why don’t you cruise on by download a sample and see what you think.

It gives me great pleasure to announce the release on Amazon Kindle of my first full length novel The Queen’s Oranges. Red Ned Bedwell Apprentice lawyer and aspiring rogue having recovered from his ordeals in The Liberties of London and several other difficult tasks from his lords and masters, is once more plunged into the labyrinthine complexities of Tudor politics. This story involves an unnatural double murder, smuggling and the strange hint of a devious plot circling the King’s annulment. For Ned life would be so much easier if he also didn’t have to rescue Meg Black from the suspicion of heresy or find a vanished royal official. Oh yes and of course there are always these damned oranges!


Amazon US/Australia

Amazon UK

Regards Greg

The Queen's Oranges

View all my reviews

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Queen’s Oranges- A Cover! A story in Itself!

Good day to my growing legion of devoted readers.  First off, before we start this instalment of Red Ned’s Tudor blog, I would once more like you to take a moment to continue to think of those around the world undergoing threat or privation.  Disasters happen, and then all too soon our attention is drawn away by some other media event.  However the effects of the Japanese Tsunami and the continuing spread of nuclear radiation contamination doesn’t vanish when you change channels.  I ask you that if it is possible please donate or support a local/international charity of your choice.


Now on to the latest Red Ned news!  The Liberties of London novella is now almost across the complete internet spectrum firstly here at Smashwords, then secondly via their affiliate program through Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Diesel so far.  According to their updates, Kobo and Android will soon follow, with Sony, and Apple lagging a tad.  Right now you can acquire this (‘ahem’ to quote Lady Dellingham) magnificent piece of Tudor period fiction for the trifling amount of 99c!  In the meantime it is definitely available on Amazon Kindle at this link.  For those of you who have continued to ask for a hard copy, sorry, I fear that will still have to be much, much later this year.  But thank you for your interest.

Now on to the second book in the Red Ned Series—The Queen’s Oranges.  Within the next few days it will be live on Amazon and I will attach the link to this blog page.  In the meantime I thought we’d look at the cover art process for this novel.  In keeping with the theme of the last book, The Liberties of London, we have used a composition of the story elements.  I believe this is much better than the headless bimbo theme currently in vogue for almost every piece of historical fiction.  A wonderful article on that theme can be found here or my satirical version on Prognostications and Pouting.  As inspiration we’ve looked towards the wonderful early Dutch still life paintings of the mid 16th to 17th century.  As you can see in Claesz’s Still Life with Overturned Jug, Glass of Beer, and Food, an oil on canvas painted in 1635,it is fantastically full of life and colour. 
 Now after all that lofty discussion and inspiration we return the humdrum of real life. It came time for us to get the work done.  As Indies we have only our own resources to draw upon.  Though rich in talent and in theory, wealthy in experience, we have only the most basic tools available for graphics.  Thus improvisation is … well for us it is everything as you shall soon read.

Plan the First
Alex was to colour his excellent pen and ink sketch in Photoshop via the wonderful graphics tablet his loving parents had scrimped and saved for.  Well two weeks into this process and next to nothing had happened.  Alex, it seemed, had vastly overestimated his skills in Photoshop illustration, and fearing the undoubted wrath of his enraged parents, (here read me), had stayed silently reticent on his progress (read here very, very little).  The final editing was in its last flurry and we were almost ready to put it all together and…we had nothing, no maps, no cover and only the pen and ink sketch.  At this stage you can understand my hair pulling which achieved new levels of exasperation as soon as I discovered that Alex had also packed his not–so–well laptop so full of…ahh teenage stuff that only the odd miniscule kilobyte had room to squeeze through and run the poor thing.

A peremptory instruction finally had Alex grumblingly burn all his …ahh stuff onto a box full of discs.  Apparently he’d been under the impression that the magic backup fairy in size seven and a half boots (again once more you should read me here) was going to wave his wand and it would all be solved.  Not this time! 
All that took yet another day. Then four hours later the battery on Alex’s laptop, having staggered gamely along seriously depleted, promptly keeled over.  For its effort we awarded it a posthumous VC for gallantry above and beyond the call of duty.
So after all this we were still up that infamous creek with only the very beginnings of a sketch of a paddle.  The editing had been finished but we lacked the essentials for an ebook, i.e. cover and maps.  At this stage Lady Fortuna cast us her smile Alex’s way, and a spare mint condition netbook with all the required programs was offered for use.  Well actually it was given to Alex to use by the school and it was dragooned immediately into service.  At last we had a graphics program, now for the maps et al.

Plan the Second
Initially Alex being a teenager wanted to use Google maps and then snapshot, filter, overlay, highlight, colourize and…well I’m sure you get the drift.  His ‘client’ felt this would result in another very long exercise where much play and fiddling on the netbook programs could ensure little actual progress.  The ‘client’ then made an executive decision and curtly instructed the following ‘get a pencil and a pad and draw the damned thing off the screen!  That process took less than an hour, and within two days after a ‘little’ further supervision and checking, we had scanned the excellent inked final versions ready for use. 

Now for the vexing problem of the cover.  Meg had offered to colourise the pen and ink and for a little while this was tempting.  She does have outstanding skill with colour as you can see in this example.  However we were still stumped for a cover.  Then as inspiration does, it struck in the strangest of circumstances.  At three in the morning I suddenly woke up with a Eureka moment.  Photograph an arranged still life and then Photoshop it.  Yes it could work!  I explained my idea to my dearest Uber editor, who to my chagrin was firstly already awake, and secondly had sketched out the idea on the back of an envelope about ten minutes earlier.

Plan the Third
A photographic studio was not at hand, so once more it was time to improvise.  The laundry (a rather small room on the eastern side of the house) was the least cluttered and had the whitest walls for light reflection.  So this was cleared and my Turkish carpet was tapped to the wall and draped over the freezer to provide a setting similar to that in Holbein’s Ambassadors.  Then a quick search of our re enactment gear pulled up a turned ash bowl, a Tudor period style pewter tankard and my twist pattern long dagger.  All this was artfully arranged as I said earlier to match the style of an early Dutch still life.  Easy, just go mad with the camera at variety of angles and light levels, a piece of cake!
Well no it wasn’t quite.  All this activity and moving carpets around had naturally attracted the interest and attention of our cats, who it transpired all wanted to help and none were so keen or so ‘helpful’ as my muse Myrtle.  Every couple of shots we had to pause and lift off cats, rescue other cats from knocked off daggers, stop them from climbing up their new vertical play gym (my carpet) and so on. 

In the end we had some hundred shots to pick from, and on the advice of my Uber editor two were selected for treatment via basic effects on Photoshop. 
As with every stage of this ‘simple’ project we ran into another snag.  The font we’d used for title upon the cover for The Liberties of London was perfect for this.  However it was currently locked away in Alex’s hors d’ combat laptop.  Now did desperation take hold and Alex was ‘requested’ to search through whatever options were available to him as to text styles.  The result was four choices.  One was discarded pretty quickly as way too modern while the other three scrutinised for both period character and also importantly legibility.  After a quick post around to a few of our beta readers one stood out as the most favoured and the winner is…

All that process is for now concluded, but we feel that the still life theme is worth continuing, so we will field some preliminary ideas for our up coming novels The Trade of the Thames and The King’s Counsel both to be released towards Fall.

In the meantime, as a shameless self publicist, check out my Tudor frolic The Liberties of London.  Download a sample.  If you like it splurge that 99c and help support ‘indie’ authors so that we, the crafters and wordsmiths, can directly supply you the reader with the best fiction possible as soon as possible.
Regards Greg and in conclusion the shot we had to put in!

Still life with Myrtle

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Queen's Oranges Chapter 1

Red Ned The Queen’s Oranges
Good day to my growing legion of devoted readers and friends.  Before we start this instalment of Red Ned’s Tudor blog as usual, I would like you to take a moment to think of the survivors of the most recent disaster in the US where they are enduring the savage Tornado season.  Those along with the Japanese Tsunami and the still- still on going Nuclear disaster.  It has been said by some anthropologists that ‘man is red in tooth and claw’.  Well apparently not, for on hearing of these dreadful events our first reaction across the world was to offer help compassion and support.  Thus it is our common humanity rather than greed and aggression that shines forth.  So I ask you first to not heed those tempting sirens of self interest, fear and parochialism.  Instead if it is possible, please donate or support a local/international charity of your choice.

Now on to the latest Red Ned news!  The Liberties of London novella is now almost across the complete internet spectrum firstly here at Smashwords  then secondly via their affiliate program through Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Diesel so far.  According to their updates, Sony, Apple, Kobo and Android will soon follow, when of course depends on them.  Right now you can acquire this magnificent piece of Tudor period fiction for the trifling amount of 99c!  In the meantime it is definitely available on Amazon Kindle at this link.  For those of you who have expressed a desire for a hard copy I fear that will have to be much, much later this year.  But thanks for asking, as soon as it is I'll let everyone know.

Now on to the second book in the Red Ned Series- The Queen’s Oranges.  I’m including in this blog the second pen and ink sketch by the very talented artist, Alexander House, of one of the concepts for the draft cover.  This one didn’t quite make the final selection but still it is a good study and assisted a lot in our final cover decision.
So on to chapter 1 where poor Ned is concerned with mostly mundane matters, hopefully only slightly tainted with Tudor court politics. 

Chapter One
Aldgate and the Friar
The Bee Skep Tavern to Aldgate
5th June 1530

Ned limped through the grey stone archway of Aldgate into the clustered noisy wards of London city. He’d been at Aldgate Bars out past the wall to the east and it couldn’t have been more than a mile or so but it felt like several and up hill at that. His better angel sternly chastened his grumbling. After all it reminded him, he’d paid for the lessons and if he was clumsy enough or inattentive then Master Ned Bedwell certainly deserved the bruises!  In answer his daemon chimed in that pain and lumps from left hip to ankle weren’t part of the bargain, nor was the painful stagger along the muddy road. Ned ignored them both. It was immaterial that the blows were unfair and not considered part of the gentlemanly code of combat. That was the point. Since the ambush last year on the way to Grafton Regis, where he had been forced to run for his life and cower in a badger’s set, he’d promised himself not to undergo similar humiliations. So as a consequence he had taken up Margaret Black’s offer and had trained diligently four times a week under the watchful eye and heavy hand of Master Robin Sylver, a veteran of the wars on the continent, and expert at the arts of staying alive in brawl, affray or battle.
The fellow was a true master of his craft, especially if it required the adroit use of the knee, boot, elbow or God forbid, the forehead. Master Sylver’s idea of combat rendered down to its raw essence was that you walked off the battleground leaving your opponent bloody and groaning in possession of the field. Ned, at the beginning, had asked him about how that accorded with the code of honour and chivalry. After all, holding the field at the end of combat was what indicated victory. Master Robin gave one of his gap tooth sneers and commented that such fancy notions were fine for fellows who were rich enough to afford playing at the sport of war, or who could whistle up twenty armed retainers to guard them in their evening strolls. Then after a hawked gob towards the battered pell, he’d said that for ordinary lads without the security of ransom to load the grim dice of battle, one scrap of dirt was as good as another so long as it wasn’t being shovelled over you.
After the badger’s hole incident, that realistic appraisal of battle made a certain amount of sense to Ned. In his last affray, Don Juan Sebastian de Alva had been very insistent regarding what he felt was the honourable way to face an opponent, even to offering Ned a dagger, in fact the one he now had at his belt. Its acquisition had been a very painful and almost fatal spur to his current training regime. For one thing, Ned knew that the affair between the Spaniard and him was far from finished, and badger sets were in short supply in London.
Ned’s battered limbs were feeling the worse for the walk and he stopped at the Bee Skep Tavern on Aldgate Street past the city gates for a firkin of refreshment. The place had been recommended by Rob Black, the artificer, and even had the approval of his redoubtable sister Meg. Taking a seat at one of the outside trestles to enjoy the passing life of the Aldgate markets, Ned took a long pull on the fresh golden ale. As it went down he could have sworn it washed away some of the ache—beneficial indeed. He was planning on further relief soon by angling towards Greyfriars and the establishment of Williams the Apothecary, hoping that his sorry state, the results of valiant efforts on the training field, might elicit some sympathy and a useful remedy from Mistress Margaret Black. His last visit had earned a surreptitious smile when he had regaled her with the tales of his mighty battle with the Blackamore pell. True, she’d given him a light buffet when he sneaked a kiss, but it seemed to lack her usual affronted vigour. At the time he’d suspected the symbolic thump was only due to the two sniggering faces of her cousins peering through the curtain.
But now as he basked in the warm glow of the afternoon sun Ned appreciated the theatre of the street. This summer had finally come into its own. Last season had been a bit of a disappointment, with a long lingering winter that seemed reluctant to release it grip upon the land, only grudgingly yielding to the approaching warmth. The winter had seen drama enough with huge chunks of ice choking the river for weeks, blocking the usual river borne bustle between London and Southwark and forcing everyone to struggle across the bridge. The wherry men had been very bitter about their loss of trade and had led processions to the riverside churches, begging for divine intercession. Whether it worked or not Ned was unsure, but all the city officials from the Lord Mayor down, joined in the petitions and organised relief for those who suffered the enforced idleness. After all considering the fracass that had raged in Parliament this winter, no one wanted a large body of angry men wandering the streets of London, disgruntled and eager for mischief. Ned had shuddered to think what would have happened if he hadn’t helped solve the grain importing cozenage during the cold, dark and hungry days of February.
The astrologers and other learned men said the heavens were a mirror to the actions below and that such ominous portents could not be ignored, though opinion was divided on what exactly those omens meant. Ned had experience in dealing with dabblers in the future and the only one he’d consider believing was Dr Caerleon. The old man had proven singularly perceptive during the crisis last autumn, though Ned’s regard didn’t extend to trust. The astrologer was adept at subtle manipulation—a talent that had Ned keep a wary distance despite his curious nature.
He took another drink of his ale and idly watched the performance over at the market square pillory. The business of malefactors must be slow for the stocks were empty. Instead a small crowd had gathered to listen to one of the wandering friars who in recent times seemed to infest the city. They received a good hearing especially after a brief snowfall on St George’s Day had the merchants panicked. The price of bread had doubled in the city at the threat to the grain. That and the recent troubles of the mighty had provided a useful field for the market prophets to till. Anyway Londoners appreciated any good bit of free entertainment. Preaching or hanging it was all the same to them.
This friar had set his scene well. He had that wild eyed look that spoke of suffering in the wilderness, along with a staff lantern that fitfully spewed gouts of aromatic smoke to put his audience in the right frame of mind. It also served as a useful prop when waved it in broad sweeping gestures. Like the rest Ned listened in.
“The time of Woe and Lamentation is upon us. We have grievously sinned and for our faults the Lord God and all the saints have turned their backs on us.”
It was a good start, Ned considered, declaimed in a hollow booming voice. A few of the crowd jumped in fright and quickly crossed themselves.
“The sins of the great are many—pride, lust, avarice, impiety and greed!  You, the good people of Christ’s Kingdom, will suffer for it. You will be the ones visited by fire and retribution—for you stood aside and allowed the Holy Sacraments to be broken!”  The impassioned voice struck a chord and a few in the crowd muttered darkly. Any fool could see the friar was preaching against the faults of the Royal Court. Ever since the Easter celebrations this seemed to be a constant theme.
“You have forsaken the devotions of Mary, the mother of our Lord!  The breach of the most holy sacrament of marriage, by the Lord’s anointed, will see this city laid waste by the cleansing flame of retribution. All within these walls will perish!  You must petition our noble King to humble himself in forgiveness.”
Ned almost sprayed out his mouthful of ale. By the saints, that call was new and this friar was pretty bold to incite the commoners so!  That was dangerous talk and would, in some quarters, be considered treason. The man was lucky he was wearing the remnants of a habit. Usually such calls would be met with a barrage of refuse. The people of London weren’t overly respectful of the monarch, but they openly despised the well–fed clerics who, led by Cardinal Wolsey, frequently paraded their wealth and power through the streets of the city.
But recently the situation had changed. Wolsey had fallen from his exulted position. Last year he’d arrived in all his usual pomp and splendour for the opening of parliament, and taken his accustomed seat in the Court of Chancery at Westminster. Ned had been next door and word had spread through the Inns of Court that the Cardinal was to be brought low. He’d been part of the jostling audience in the Court of the King’s Bench who had watched the Attorney General bring the charge of Praemunire against Lord Chancellor Wolsey. To the informed that was dealing with a foreign power to the detriment of the King’s Majesty, a dangerous charge for any man let alone a prelate who had to deal with the Apostolic See in Rome as part of his daily duties.
The issue of the summons had received resounding cheers and there had been a rush to follow the clerk as he left to present the suddenly former King’s great minister with the charge. Ned had been amongst the first and saw the shock that accompanied its delivery. Wolsey turned pale and withdrew to the hooting calls of the crowd. It may have been undignified but it was very satisfying, especially to Ned who’d almost lost his life when he accidentally became embroiled in one of the Cardinal’s schemes. Within the hour the news had spread though out the city, and thousands had gathered on the river, grabbing anything vaguely water worthy to watch the expected procession of the Cardinal down river, to his anticipated new ‘temporary’ lodgings of the Tower.
Such a spectacle was not to be. His Majesty must have been in a forgiving mood. The Cardinal was instead rowed towards his house at Escher by Putney. The cost of the a reprieve was the loss of his magnificent palace of York Place, and its coffers of gold and silver plate and yards of silk tapestry. Lady Anne Boleyn was said to be very impressed with the prize, claiming it was more worthy of a King than a priest.
That act signalled the mood of the Commons. The dismissal had been but a precursor to the raft of anti clerical legislation that the Parliament pushed through during its session, from the removal of multiple benefices to the practice of simony. The members of the Commons were in no mood for compromise. After years of arrogance and abuse, they were out to prune the abuses of the English clergy—with the King’s blessing.
There had, of course, been a bitter backlash from the Church and the bishops, who’d stalled legislation, seeing a real threat to their privileges, but with the loss of Wolsey that had been ineffectual. Most of the prelates had hated the Cardinal for his high handed manner and had exulted at his fall so were caught between celebration for the loss of a rival and dismay at the savage mood of the Commons, while the support of his Majesty for this vengeful baying had them floundering in confusion.
However that had been in winter and the difficulties since had a few muttering that the impious assault on the Church was being met by God’s judgement. No one knew if the King’s latest move in the campaign to put aside his wife, Katherine of Aragon, would see a counter reaction from her nephew, Emperor Charles V. The merchants fretted that the Holy Roman Emperor could easily close the vital Low Countries ports to English ships, thus strangling trade, or more ominously consider it an insult to Hapsburg honour, and commission an avenging fleet from Spain. So the mood of the city was nervous and twitchy, prone to violent argument and sudden outbursts of hysteria.
And now to stir up that volatile mix of London sentiment was this plague of friars calling down a vengeful rain of blood and fire. To Ned this fellow’s ranting was concerning. He called over the pot boy and slipped him a groat to have a message delivered. The lad nodded in comprehension and trotted off while Ned lent back to watch the performance. Far quicker than expected, a small troop of the Common Watch tramped into view. As a display of stout citizens and sturdy yeoman of the city it wasn’t much, but rather the best that could be had. After all, the qualifications to join the Watch were pretty low: firstly you had to be alive or at least not of knocking acquaintance with death’s door; secondly, current or recent possession of most of your limbs was considered an advantage; and thirdly, and most importantly, you must possess the wits to know when to accept a bribe.
To Ned’s practiced eye, this motley body fulfilled most of those requirements though for a couple it would be best not to inquire too closely regarding how close they’d come to missing the mark. They did, however, compare favourably with the his old friends the Southwark Watch under Constable Dewberry, though his daemon sneering reminded him that a pack of blind, starving beggars could out present those unshakable bastions of law and order in the Southwark liberties.  The Aldgate sergeant though, was a man of considerable experience as well as girth, and he stood listening to the preacher for a few minutes with his hands resting lazily on his broad paunch until the friar had said one word too many. Then, with an abrupt wave, he signalled his band to grab the offender. Considering their many afflictions and deficiencies the Watch were really quite efficient. Within moments the screaming friar was gagged, trussed and bundled off, leaving a muttering crowd in their wake.
Satisfied, Ned pushed himself off the bench and left several small coins and low voiced instructions to the pot boy, and limping, made his way west towards Greyfriars. That was one matter dealt with. The friar would probably be dumped in the nearest goal for several days as a warning. Since the Church courts had lately refused to deal with clerical offenders this was the best that could be expected. Ned had seen that the Watch got a reward for its duty. On their return to Aldgate they would find several quarts of the Bee Skep’s best double ale waiting for them.  Right now he wished he could join them. However obligation had its own demands.
Usually a walk from Aldgate to Greyfriars could be accomplished within an easy half hour at a leisurely pace. Today the bruising limited him to a more time consuming limp. He supposed it was to be endured and it gave him a chance to take in the atmosphere of the streets and alleys. While the city in this ward was still shrouded by its usual wood smoke and stinking wastes, there was another scent that undercut all this. It added a sharper tone to the street cries, and a worried edged to the conversation of the gossips clustered at the public wells and fountains.
It was the taste of fear, and the city was ripe with the bitter tang. Parliament had ended with much achieved, and there were constant rumours that it would be called again very soon, next month some said, to complete its vengeance against the bishops. But in the meantime, the lord bishops still had a stranglehold on power, despite the loss by Wolsey of his long accustomed perch. And in the recent competition for the highest position, a Londoner rather than a lord had won out, one Sir Thomas More. Both he and his family were well known in the city. His father had been a judge, while the famous son had, like Ned’s uncle, Richard Rich, served his time as the Commissioner of Sewers. But Master More had gone on from that humble position, climbing the dizzy and perilous heights of the King’s service. Whereas once he had been His Majesty’s secretary and sometime ambassador, now Sir Thomas had acquired the lofty rank of Lord Chancellor from the King’s hand.
He had wasted no time in letting his friends and rivals know were he stood on matters of import and past friendships. At the opening of Parliament he had savagely attacked his former patron, Cardinal Wolsey, by delivering the Bill of Attainder. It listed forty four offences committed by the Cardinal against the King’s Majesty and included one classic that gave Ned wry amusement every time he thought of it.
“That knowing he had the foul and contagious disease of the Great Pox broken out upon him in divers places of his body, came daily into Your Graces presence and blowing on Your most noble Grace with his perilous and infective breath.”
That was ironic for a priest. Even a child knew how you caught the Spaniard’s Pox.
After this list of treasonous offences had been read out and cheered, another member of Parliament had then stood up in the House, and defended the disgraced Cardinal—Thomas Cromwell, previously Wolsey’s secretary, now known to be in the King’s service. It was a considerable risk, but it did signal the limits of his royal Majesty’s displeasure.
Ned was in a bit of a quandary over that. On the one hand he was pleased at the fall of the arrogant prelate, but he would have preferred someone else to launch the attack on Wolsey, since there was considerable bad feeling between his uncle’s family and Sir Thomas More, while Cromwell’s defence created its own paradox, especially since Ned was now bound to him as a retainer due to a very convoluted escapade last year.
For Ned and the city, the last session of Parliament had been an incomplete victory. The clerical faction had been wounded in the affray but according to his uncle, the Privy Council had slipped up. While More was undoubtedly clever and held the confidence of the King, the new Lord Chancellor, in Master Richard Rich’s opinion, was more unpredictable and slippery than a greased weasel. Ned still recalled the violent rage of his uncle when he heard of the appointment. He’d sworn loudly and complained that ‘Lord Chancellor’ More knew the city as well as any Cheapside foister or punk.  Then he’d made it plain, that to the Rich clan this elevation was to be viewed as more a curse than a blessing. All the while during this tirade his uncle had been glaring ominously in Ned’s direction. His demon had meekly suggested the perhaps Uncle Richard doubted Ned’s ability to stay out of trouble. It was not a reminder he needed.
For the Mayor and Aldermen of the city, the appointment was greeted with mild good cheer. They, no doubt, felt that Sir Thomas could be expected to have an excellent understanding of the complex problems and difficulties that beset the city and its inhabitants, treating them with the respect and compassion expected from the famous author of Utopia. Ahh, maybe not. In Ned’s jaundiced view that was the problem. He’d read the work at university. The fantasy of Utopia was not a land where any Englishman would feel at ease. Apart from that ominous imprint, Sir Thomas More also had gained a reputation for ruthlessly pursuing and destroying of any who differed in the slightest from his rigid interpretation of the Christian faith. If the suspected person was found to be tainted by Lutheran or other heretical sympathies, or even a lack of respect for the Church, then it could very dangerous indeed.
This ingrained attitude of the new Lord Chancellor created further complications, for the people of London where renowned as the most anticlerical in the kingdom. Thus the mood of Sir Thomas More was a difficult thing to gauge, and his recent series of raids across the city had spawned a fear and apprehension far beyond their limited targets. The Churches’ Lollard towers for heretics were full, and there had been talk of using one of the older compters or prisons like the Fleet for the overflow. But whether it was ambition or delusion, the passions of the Lord Chancellor now held sway over the city streets, and tainted the flavours of daily intercourse.
In his passage through the city parishes, Ned took as careful a note of the street’s pulse as would any barber–surgeon for a patient, since he’d been awarded the useful but dangerous post as intelligencer and pursuivant to Thomas Cromwell—a sniffer out of secrets and listener to keyholes, a spy some sneeringly labelled it. Ned ignored the slander and considered his task as more a searcher out of inconvenient truths. In that duty he’d gained some measure of success and standing last year, with the mystery of the Cardinal’s Angels as well as one or two other minor matters since of unpaid debts and doubtful wills. He preferred not to remember the Dellingham incident at Christmas and he definitely didn’t want his uncle to discover his solution to the grain shortages during the crisis in February. While those were dangerous, messy and complicated, they were minor affairs for his patron who was steadily ascending in Royal regard at Court. However, as any man knew, the Wheel of Fortuna was fickle, and advantages could change with the whim of the King or a shift in foreign alliance. These were higher affairs of lords and princes and it was the here and now that concerned Ned the most. As an apprentice law student at Gray’s Inn he still had little in the way of security, and his uncle’s family was nowhere near connected enough for him to be taken on by one of the more prominent lawyers. Not that Uncle Richard would stir himself much for a bastard nephew, so continued service under Master Richard Rich with his ‘borrowed’ use by Councillor Cromwell was his only option.
Having finally reached his destination, Ned stepped through the wreathing cloud of bitter scented smoke that shrouded the apothecary’s entrance, to find Meg’s twin cousins, Anne and Alison, dealing with a selection of customers. Since there was no sign of their father, Master Williams, the apothecary must be off again doing the rounds of the surrounding counties for herbs and remedies. Though having met Meg’s aunt, Goodwife Agnes, if he’d been so wedded he’d want to spend as much time elsewhere as possible as well. He’d never seen anyone so obsessed with the meaningless minutia of social position. Goodwife Agnes’s every waking moment was devoted to gaining minuscule advantages over her friends and relations. Ned had been unfortunate enough to collide with the woman on a prior visit to her niece, Meg. It was purely concerning business of course. Instead Ned found himself dragged in by the rest of the family for an Easter feast, as a potential shield to deflect the goodwife’s endless fussing and interference, while they dealt with the preparations. It was the worst three hours of his young life, as the goodwife poked and pried to find out every detail of his social prospects and that of his family. By the end she had a list of twenty eligible girls who would jump at the chance of marriage. Ned also heard an intriguing list of each candidate’s foibles and assets, probably down to the value of a clipped groat.
After that gruelling experience, he could see why the family frequently suggested that the old parish priest needed her assistance with the myriad affairs that only a devoted parishioner could provide. He only wondered what the poor priest had done to deserve such an affliction.
After dealing with the last customer, one of the girls sauntered over. Ned had assumed a vaguely injured expression and was leaning meaningfully against one of the pillars, trying to portray an air of suffering stoicism. From the red ribbon in her hair he thought it was Anne. He still found it very difficult to tell them apart. The only way to tell the difference between the two was their red and blue ribbons, and Ned had often thought about how easy it would be for them to pull a switch.
“If you are looking for sympathy from your lady love, she’s not here Ned.”
That cut the ground right out from his proposed sorrowful declamation. Instead he straightened up and suppressing a wince, whispered a reply. “Alison, I’ve told you before that Meg is not my lady love. I have eyes only for you.”
At that witty retort she just shrugged and twitched a disbelieving eyebrow while her sister came over to join the baiting. The other one, Anne he hoped, put her hands together and sighed deeply. “If only Jonathon would learn to fight for me. It would be so romantic and courtly.”
Ned suppressed a chuckle at that suggestion. He’d met Anne’s intended, a young lad who was training to be a draper’s clerk. Not meaning to disparage the fellow, but he’d have to put on a bit more meat before he could pick up a sword without falling over. What Meg’s young cousin saw in her scrawny boyfriend—well they say love is blind. Ned just hoped the fellow had other ‘hidden’ compensations.
“So fair damsels, where is the sought for maiden?”
That at least elicited a matched pair of giggles before Alison pushed her sister away and adopted a more businesslike demeanour. “A couple of hours ago she got an urgent summons from the Steelyards, around the time of the Nones chimes.”
Ah that was the reason for the suddenly, serious expression—the unofficial part of Meg Black’s duties, the ‘secret’ that had kept the noose from around their necks and their innards unroasted during the Cardinal’s crisis last year. Ned had found out that sweet innocent Mistress Margaret Black, apprentice apothecary and keen amateur surgeon, a lass of no more than seventeen, was deeply involved in the smuggling of heretical writings. Now London was no stranger to bizarre happenings or circumstance. The surprising revelation was that one of her key patrons was Lady Anne Boleyn. The woman, it was said by some, steered the King’s complex manoeuvring over the annulment of his present wife, Katherine of Aragon. That little fact had left Ned gratefully flabbergasted, though it was the kind of exasperating one–upmanship he was beginning to expect from the resourceful Mistress Black.
So whatever the summons meant, he’d have to see Meg another time. He briefly considered asking Alison, if she knew of a remedy for his bruises. But if such a request was taken the wrong way, he might find himself with another very long and convoluted interview with Goodwife Agnes. So instead he suffered the whispers and twitters as he made as dignified an exit as possible. Maybe his aunt had a decent cure—she seemed to come up with all sorts of treatments for the bumps and scrapes of his cousins.
Before he had made his halting way to the end of the street, Ned found his passage barred by a large, sneering fellow who strode purposefully towards him, idly swinging a cudgel. Almost automatically, hand to sword, Ned sank into a half crouch at a speed that Master Sylver would definitely approve. It took a moment to recognise the scarred face of Gruesome Rodger Hawkins, Mistress Black’s menacing shadow. While the man had proven his worth and more last year, that didn’t mean his arrival was welcomed or wanted. It irked Ned that the retainer still regarded ‘his’ presence with the grudging acceptance usually reserved for impecunious relations with unsavoury habits regarding sheep, especially since the ‘Liberties of London’ escapade with young lamb Walter Dellingham. ‘Hawks’ lacked a certain credibility in claiming any moral superiority after that little chase.
“About time Bedwell!” growled out the rough voice. “At least I don’t have to tramp through all y’r sordid haunts in the city. Mistress Black wants y’ down at Smarts Key wharf!”
Ned dropped his hand from the sword hilt and adopting a more dignified pose snarled out a reply to the peremptory summons. “Despite what some may claim, I do not come and go at Meg Black’s say so!”
Gruesome Rodger seemed amused by Ned’s stand and shook his head with a grim chuckle. “Y’ will this time. There’s a death involved.”
It was simple statement but it immediately brought back memories of last year’s affray. Death had figured prominently in that affair, well murder to be precise. More deaths came later. Ned felt a chill march up his spine. If Margaret Black sought his assistance, then it must be serious. He really didn’t feel like another limping tramp across the city, but the presence of her impatient retainer left little choice. With a resigned wave of acceptance he followed on. (Copyright is retained for this work by the author 2011)
Here endeth chapter 1.  Check out your favourite ebook provider for The Liberites of London or ask for the Queen's Oranges 
Regards Greg 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New Red Ned Novel Out Soon!

The Queen’s Oranges

Good day to my growing legion of devoted readers.  First before we start this instalment of Red Ned’s Tudor blog I would like you to take a moment to think of the survivors of the most recent disaster in the US where thye are enduring the savage Tornado season.  Those along with the Japanese Tsunami and the still- still on going Nuclear disaster, make us pause and reflect that helping other’s in times of trouble is one of the saving graces of humanity.  I ask you that if it is possible please donate or support a local/international charity of your choice.

Now on to the latest Red Ned news!  The Liberties of London novella is now almost across the complete internet spectrum firstly here at Smashwords then secondly via their affiliate program through Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Diesel so far.  According to their updates, Sony, Apple, Kobo and Android will soon follow.  Right now you can acquire this magnificent piece of Tudor period fiction for the trifling amount of 99c!  In the meantime it is definitely available on Amazon Kindle at this link.  For those of you who have expressed a desire for a hard copy I fear that will have to be much, much later this year.  But thanks for asking, it does a writer’s ego the world of good.

Now on to the second book in the Red Ned Series- The Queen’s Oranges.  I’m including in this blog the pen and ink sketch by the very talented artist, Alexander House, of the draft cover.  We have since changed a few concepts for the cover art and now this will go as the inside ebook first page, a practice I think lends itself to the format of epublishing.

Before I post the prologue, I thought it would be a good idea to give some background to the Red Ned stories.  The Tudor period in English history is, as anyone who’s seen the TV series The Tudors knows, rich, extravagant violent and treacherous.  All the court factions seek to bask in the generosity and munificence that is his Sovereign Majesty Henry VIII.  However to get there usually requires either a lot of money, noble blood or the kind of political cunning and ruthlessness that would make Machiavelli’s political classic The Prince look like a kindergarten primer.  It has also been frequently speculated that Thomas Cromwell was perhaps the first man in England to have a copy, which may explain his adroit manipulation of factions as well as religious dispute. 
At this point I feel that I must dispel a number of myths that have grown up around the politics of Henry VIII’s Court.  Unlike what is seen or suggested in an unfortunately too large number of Tudor period romance literature and not a few non fiction works, the Royal Court was not a closed system.  Into this fierce competition for power and patronage at the Court intruded a number of external influences.  

In fact it could be argued that these factors drove the bloody factional striving perhaps even more than ambition.  As we know succession was one of the most powerful spurs, and in several articles I will spell out the grim realities that caused such an extreme thinning of royal cousins.  Another factor which is only infrequently mentioned is the severe impact on harvests and trade caused by the onset of the Little Ice Age.  Poor harvests and starvation are excellent prompters of society change, as is the resultant waves of disease and epidemics. Frequently in history they have encouraged the commons to question the present structure of Church and State, or overthrow it.  The other largest contributing influence was the balance of the population of England.  At the time it is estimated to be around three million.  The Court structure held a few thousand within its sphere with only a few hundred tightly clustered around the monarch.  Despite the myths of Feudalism, and the nascent Early Modern State, Henry VIII and his lords had to rule by a form of consent, this varying depending on the region or community from strictly aristocratic to almost limited franchise democracy.  Due to Henry VIII’s lack of a standing army or a dependable military powerbase, his manoeuvring to gain consent for his actions gave the Parliament more power and influence to dictate law and political direction.
In short it was the external factors and levers that drove the dynamism of the Tudor Court and political life.  Since that’s were I believe the real action of the Tudor period lies, a fair number of the Red Ned Bedwell stories will be amongst the myriad affairs of the kingdom of England.  So if the price of charcoal has shot up alarmingly, or the iron from the Weald is consistently brittle, or the Baker’s Guild displays a disregard to royal requirements for quality loaves, then it’s going to be Ned Bedwell who’s tasked with an investigation of these mundane matters of common life.  If Ned’s work usually strays into the deadly politics of faith and the Court, isn’t that only to be expected?

The Queen’s Oranges
The Goat’s Head Tavern London
Petty Wales
4th–5th June 1530

The summer nights in the city were long warm affairs, rich in the soft twilight that was the gift of the season. Where one could, the labour continued taking advantage of the lingering light—farmers, tradesmen and even the punks that strolled the riverside flashing their loose ribboned hair along with other open bodice enticements. The wherries that plied the river in their thousands also had cause to thank the weather. It meant good trade for the bear and bull pits across the river in Southwark.
The merchants, as well, had reason for good cheer. It was the week that His Majesty, King Henry VIII, had summoned the country’s lords to the city to deal with the petition to His Holiness, Pope Clement, in Rome, for the annulment of his current marriage. While the tangled politics of the situation did not concern them, they still eagerly prepared for the anticipated bounty as the crowded city filled out with the families and retinues of the lords of the land. The holy orders also were not slow to see the potential and used the gathering crowds to advantage. Hundreds of mendicant friars had joined the jostling throngs of London to preach, threaten and cajole. Or as some parish reeves complained ‘make much mischief by their disputes, alarums, beggings and affrays.’
This was a sample of life in the great city of London, the wonder of the world in the year of Our Lord, Fifteen Hundred and Thirty.
The shrouding dark of the summer night brought forth its own custom—thieves lurked in the concealing wells of shadow, cozeners played their gambits to wide eyed farmers too beer befuddled to notice the twitched slip of the dice, while outside the taverns, whores and trulls plied their trade in the alleys of the Liberties. In all this new evening the sounds of life and death echoed amongst the thatched roofed lanes—grunts, groans and curses along with the sudden scream. If you were lucky, the Common Watch trundling along may come to your aid, if not too drunk or compliantly deaf.
Other cries, abruptly terminated by the sharp blade or choking flow of blood that washed out from a slashed throat went unnoticed in the nightly hubbub that was the riverside. Hands clenched, such victims died without the grace of confession, their spirits caught up in the torment of the moment, locked on the mortal plane, frantic for the release that vengeance brings.
Two men had a seat at the dockside tavern, still some hours to go before the yellow wash of dawn. They were raucous and loud as they downed a second firkin of ale. The shorter one gazed at a blonde punk a couple of tables across. She had that sort of eye catching beauty that gave a man a case of cramp in the codpiece with only a single smile.
Shorty wiped an encrusted sleeve across his face, leaving a wide dark smear that lent his face a savage look like those of the barbarous Indies across the great waters. He wasn’t watching her smile. “I wants ‘er!”
“Don’t be a clod pate. Yer cods a’ just got the itches!  After what’s we did afore we ain’t got the time!”
“I say I wants ‘er. Always gets the raging ‘orn affer a bit o’ work like that.”
“Yer a’ daft a’ a Bedlamite. We still got to finds it!  Yer killed ‘em too quick afore they squealed.”
Rather than a serious complaint, this was more in the form of a professional judgement. The taller one lent out from their cubby and squinted towards the door, the iridescent feathers in his cap sparkling in the rush light. He was used to night work, preferred it to his daytime labour. For one thing, it was eminently more profitable.
“We’s got a couple o’ hours. ‘ow in God’s teeth are we goin’ to do it?”
“Naw got days ‘ow’s I rigged it. Any’ow stop yer yammerin’. We got friends who’ll see us right if’n they wants a share o’ the gilt.”
The shorter man gave a braying, evil–sounding laugh that startled the table of dockmen to their left. One of the younger men made to get up and complain but his grizzled haired companion put out a restraining hand and shook his head. The reputation of the two grimy drinkers was known along the river.
The one with the peacock’s feather in his cap grumbled a few more curses then slumped back into the cubby. This was the best cozener’s game they’d ever tried and all manner of men were keen to hand over their gold. He took another couple of hefty swallows and shrugged. Who was going to care about a pair of dead foreigners anyway?
Most deaths were given no more than a cursory glance in the daily mortuary bill of the city. But some deaths it was just too imprudent to encompass or ignore, for one never knew who could be drawn in by the trial of blood and heretical sin.
Regards Greg