Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Comfit of Rogues

 New Red Ned Novel out soon!

Greetings my well regarded readers, I hope that all is well with you and yours this northern Fall or southern Spring.  Today I have a few announcements before we move on to the body of the blog.  First I would like to congratulate Hilary Mantel at winning the Booker prize for the second time for her continuation of the Thomas Cromwell story in Bringing up the Bodies.  It is a splendid endorsement for all historical fiction across the genre and shows that our common past is a fertile ground for writers and readers.  So three cheers for Hilary!
I would also like to announce that this week a new Red Ned story will be released on Amazon- A Comfit of Rogues.  This tale, also set in novella form carries on from Ned’s near disastrous venture in The Fetter Lane Fleece.  It would appear that Ned has tweaked the noses of the Masters of Mischief and Roguery in the City and Liberties of London once too often.  Putting aside their rivalry they’ve signed a compact to ensure the removal of the meddlesome apprentice lawyer Ned Bedwell.  So can Ned count on anyone in the London Underworld for support, or is the reward of five gold angels in coin too much temptation for treachery? 

Prologue. A Festive Gathering

Throughout the Christian realm of His Sovereign Majesty King Henry VIII the twelve days of Christmas was a time of celebration. Doors and lynch gates were framed with holly and ivy and the last fasting ended on Christmas Eve with a joyous feast of the Saviour’s birth in every lord’s hall, yeoman’s house and beggar’s hovel. The Black Goat on Bride Lane in the Liberties of the Ward of Farrington Without was no exception, though here they also maintained the old tradition of a Lord of Misrule. For the season some wards and parishes proclaimed a boy bishop or elevated a humble servant with complimentary ragged rogues serving as the officers of Butler and Chancellor. Here only one man held that title and the bestowal of traditional gifts and favours, Earless Nick, the Lord of the Liberties from London Wall to Temple Bar.
This wasn’t any titled demesne such as that of the Duke of Norfolk with a carefully scripted parchment heavy with gilt and seals, though like a distant Howard ancestor it was a rank gained by the practice of murder and the ready effusion of blood. Not that this distinction mattered to those in the long procession snaking out of the tavern door. Earless Nick’s whims or pleasures held them enthralled in tighter bonds than even the slaves of the Sultan of the Moors, and considering the recent debacle here at the Black Goat, Nick’s moods had tended towards the darker shades of choler. There was also another factor that held them. Past Earless Nick’s silk draped chair of state was a feast of such sumptuousness that few had beheld outside of the Cardinal’s palace of Whitehall at York Place; capons in almond douce sauce, smothered rabbits and onions, a white pudding of hog’s liver, jelly hippocras and a roasted pheasant complete with feathers. As for the sweets and subtleties, one clever cross biter whispered to his drooling friends that three pounds of blanched almond sugar went into the modelled replica of Newgate Tower alone. For fellows and punks who scrounged, begged and thieved for a bowl of warm pease and bacon potage this was a spread of foods beyond compare. A veritable paradise of pleasure…though for some surveying their skimpy gleanings, gaining a seat at the feast wasn’t their only concern.
One by one the line shuffled towards the finely dressed figure taking his ease on lordly seat, each member of the fraternity dropping to their knees and presenting their prizes for judgement. To complete the feudal scene a clerk stood beside Earless scribbling notations in an iron clasped, leather bound book as the offerings were displayed. Then if acceptable, Wall-eyed Willis, Nick’s master of rogues and veteran of fifty fights in the brawling pits, would wave one of his lumbering lads forward to take the prizes and convey them to the heavy iron strapped chest set against the wall. After this Earless Nick would stare at his grovelling petitioner for a few seconds in deep deliberation before waving them off to join the company at the back of the commons who’d partake of the feast.
However in the regard of Earless Nick not all gifts were so easily accepted. One lanky longbearded fellow in a ragged cloak stepped forward and presented a bundle of clothes. Earless Nick frowned at the offering and signalled for it to be shaken out by a waiting minion and sat there tapping his lip with a ring covered finger. “Tis a poor week for a hookman tis it, Dickon?”
The hookman cringed at the question, his beard almost brushing the floor. “Aye Master Nick. Tis the snow an’ cold. They’s keeps their shutters sealed up tighter than a bishops cellar!”
Earless Nick gave a wintery smile and nodded. “So Dickon, its latched and shuttered windows that is the cause of your miserable pickings. Hmm, two old cambric shirts and a worn patched set of hoses.”
Dickon the hook man quickly nodded and spluttered out agreement through quivering lips. “Aye Master Nick. Tis ta cold fo’ them ta hang ou’ their clothes an sa’ I can’t gets em.”
Earless Nick continued to smile as he buffed his silvered rings on a piece of damask cloth. “So it wasn’t you seen passing four fine shirts to Ol’ Simkins in Little Drury?”
Dickon the hookman gulped nervously as his eyes darted around the common room seeking out the informant. “Na’ it weren’t I Master Nick. Sum cuffin’s a lying rogue ta yea.”
Earless Nick’s smile broadened as he picked up a horn cup and dropped a pair of dice into it. “Well Dickon, it may be so. Indeed it may and I’s a fair master so according to custom yea can throw an let the good Lord decide your fate.”
The hookman’s hand shook as he took the proffered cup and the dice rattled like a gallows drummer. Covering the open mouth of the cup with a grimy hand Dickon gave a wheezing prayer then spilled the dice on the floor with an abrupt fling
“Hmm, that’s a poor cast Dickon, a two.” Earless fastidiously rubbed his fingers with the velvet damask and scooped up the dice, a quick swirl around the cup and they leapt out then rolled to a stop displaying a ‘nick’. Earless leant back in his chair and shook his head in mock sadness. “The Lord God has judged against yea Dickon.”
The defeated hookman grovelled at his master’s feet whimpering and pleading as two of Wall-eye’s scowling lads dragged him over to a close set pair of posts to which they tied his arms. Nick gave another brief wave and one of Dickon’s escorts began lashing his back with a length of knotted rope. In between the howls of pain Earless Nick cast a long slow look at the gathered members of his company. Then into the sobbing silence he spoke in a voice low and menacing. “No man cheats the Lord of the Liberties. Remember it.”
The assembly cheered with eager gusto flavoured by the fact that it wasn’t them getting the beating. Given the last reception to the head of the queue there was no complaint as a pair of figures pushed their way to the front, though they did garner a fair amount of whispered speculation. The woman from her worn scarlet kirtle and pulled down chemise had to be a punk. Only a lass interested in gathering ‘trade’ would expose that much pale breast on a chilly winter’s day. To the rest of the crowd it wasn’t just the recent flogging that had them pull back. With her long blonde hair and vivid green cap only the most blind of beggars wouldn’t recognise Earless Nick’s favoured girl, Anthea, leader of the St Paul’s punks. But favour was a tricky thing. It ebbed and flowed like the Thames and according to many a sage whisper, due to the recent disturbance, Anthea was dry beached on the shores of Nick’s ill content.
The Lord of the Liberties spent some time watching the play of candlelight on a recent present, a gold ring inset with a sapphire, before acknowledging her presence with a twitched finger. As for her guest, the cloaked and hooded figure, it was as if it were as insubstantial as a spirit for all the regard Nick gave it. “Anthea my poppet, I’ve missed yea these last days. I hopes yea have recompense for your previous failings…?”
The question hung in the air with a dreadful menace and the audience of the Tavern swung their fascinated gaze towards the advancing punk. All were keen that someone other than them should suffer the further ill–humoured wrath of the Lord of Misrule. Anthea visibly swallowed then locked her arm around that of a hooded stranger before stepping forward into the empty space between the retreating petitioners and the Master of the Liberties. The punk captaine shook her long hair out of her eyes that glinted evilly in the reflected orange glow from the yuletide log. Several nips and foisters crossed themselves flinching as she passed, some making furtive gestures to avert ill fortune. Then at a pace’s distance with much bowing and grovelling Anthea threw herself down on her knees beside the chair of state and clutched at the hand of Earless Nick, rubbing her face on it like a fawning hound. “Nick my luv, I’s have a gift fo’ thee, a wonderful gift, the likes yea have not seen afo’. A sweet gift fo’ my sweet Lord o’ the Liberties.”
Nick turned his coldly impassive face toward his formerly favoured punk. The chilling interest reflected in his eyes would have set even the meanest wild rogue a trembling with fear. His lips stretched to the barest flicker of a smile. “And what of my gift…my sweetling?”
Anthea drew the hooded stranger forward. The visitor didn’t bow or kneel instead inclining a shrouded face towards Earless Nick and with a shielding hand began to whisper. The Lord of Misrule’s face remained blandly still though to those close enough to see, his eyes did appear to glitter from time to time with a malevolent spirit. Finally the hooded figure drew back and Earless Nick clapped his hands together like the snap of an harquebus and grinned with savage delight. “Oh Anthea you are my best lass, a true pearl beyond compare and this is a wonderful Yuletide gift payment and revenge all wrapped in one. Hah! No man cheats the Lord o’ the Liberties of his winnings and certainly not that lawyerly whelp!”
Earless Nick slammed his fist onto the table and grabbing his silver gilt cup thrust it in the air. “A toast! A toast! Raise high yer cups, cos a sennight hence Red Ned Bedwell will be swinging at Tyburn, or food for worms!”
The sack fuelled cheer echoed out the doorway into the winter snow and whispered in rumour through the Liberties. The Lord of Misrule was out for revenge.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Tudors and the Modern Reader

Greetings my well regarded readers, I hope that in the north hemisphere you have all enjoyed a wonderful summer packed full of those particular seasons pleasures; boating on the river, strawberries and champagne or just soaking up the glorious sunshine. 
Today I have a few announcements before we move on to the body of the blog.  Firstly the state of play with writing and publishing, in the Indie world.  As an indie writer of historical mysteries and historical fantasy I tread the rocky road of balancing writing with publicity.  No doubt a far few of you have seen at least one of the squillion adds for writers, promising them instant success and fame if only they sign up for these course/advertising regime/buy this book/subscribe to these online classes.  Oh dear if only it were so easy…
Essentially I am my own promoter and to be honest I can either spend lots of time ‘promoting everywhere on the internet or write more stories.  Realistically I much prefer to write and leave the PR to appreciative readers, one honest review is worth more than gold (ahem, very small amounts of gold that is).  So if any of my dearest readers like my work I encourage nay implore you to leave a review on Amazon show your good judgement or else the field will be left to hateful trolls and PR flunkies.

In the meantime I have a few suggestions of current historical writers on Amazon whom you may find interesting Susan Higginbotham, R. W. Gortner, Paula Lofting, Gillian Bagwell, M.M. Bennetts, Jess Steven Hughes, Helen Hollick, Jane Steen.  Their style and periods vary, but I’ve found them all to be good quality writers in their genres and can highly recommend a perusal.  And remember if you like it leave a review.

Now the meat of the day,

Tudors and the Modern Reader

Over the past few months I’ve had a few rather strange reviews, now apart from being struck to the quick and mortified, as any delicate sensitive writer I paused, and I hope sensibly refrained from responding.  After which I took a quite look around my fellow writers to find that there seems to be a craze of ‘trolling’ and sock puppeting currently spreading plague like through Amazon.  Now I’m not about to dismiss my critics as one of these, though at least two I suspect fit in that category.  But it made me reflect on exactly what some readers may think they are getting in their quick trip to Tudor land.
Delving into the mind of the average Tudor is not the easiest of tasks.  For one there’s this five hundred year gap, with all the embedded attitudes and assumptions in our modern society it is not so easy to compare them to those of Henry VIII’s England.  Horrible Histories and the like doesn’t really count though they are a lot of fun.  I believe that TV series like The Tudors have opened up the field a little while also giving the public a very slanted and re imagined (if not complete fantasy) view of the past.  We see the Tudor figures, they say the lines, huff and puff, bonk the current wife/mistress/rent boy and that seems to be it.  After which the viewer picks up a period historical novel and (or so it seems) gets peeved that the written visit to the Tudor Age isn’t exactly like it was on the tellie.
Errr, what can I say?  If the writer I any good and does a reasonable amount of research, which to my eye appears to be most of the current crop of hist fic writers both indie and published, then the work will be a good facsimile of the era.  However bear in mind it is just that a facsimile where the writer takes on an adventure into the past both entertaining and interesting.  On the whole it will be presented in a style and form that is acceptable and understandable to our current society, with all its many differences in thought, culture and hierarchy.  After all do you really want your hero to regularly beat his wife and children, remember that it was both legal and accepted custom then, but mostly (thankfully) not so now.  Teachers were even encouraged to beat their students or be regarded as not conforming to proper standards of behaviour and risked dismissal.  How do you frame death and violence, which was an everyday occurrence according to court records in Tudor England, should it be sanitized, ignored, glossed over or given the graphic treatment?  Then we come to the vexing matter of religion both belief and practice that’s were description and depiction can get into a lot of difficulties.  And that’s a real can of worms even if you only stick to the main Protestant-Catholic line without any reference to the frequent schisms or doctrinal differences.  For instance I’ve had to put a piece in my novels having to explain that my main character’s moral dilemma and decisions use the plot device of an angel and a daemon at his shoulders.  Why you ask, because in so many period journals, writings and theological discussion that is exactly as they frame their struggles with temptation or religious motivations.  Sigh
See attached section.

A brief note on views of religion and spirituality in the Tudor Age as portrayed in the Red Ned Tudor Mysteries.  In this modern secular era, it is sometimes difficult to encompass how deeply religion was embedded in the words and thoughts of our ancestors.  The church was for good and ill part of every day life, its parish and cathedral bells announced the time of day and the whole pattern of the year was structured around the calendar of religious festivals.  Every individual in the kingdom understood this, starting from birth with the urgent importance of baptism to death and the saying of perpetual masses for the souls of the departed.  At this point we have the emergence of the concept of ‘indulgence’ and the ability of the Pope to remit sins via payment and we know were that led to with Martin Luther.  In all of this the Latin Vulgate Bible was the fount of authority and knowledge for both the King, the Catholic church and all levels of society, which is why its translation into the vernacular was believed to threaten the very foundations of ‘their christian society’.  The sways to and fro in the Tudor Age were equally about power and belief, with the two sometimes so intermixed it was difficult to separate them, especially in the figures of Sir Thomas More, Cardinal Wolsey and their Sovereign Majesty Henry VIII.
To make a valid attempt at presenting this internal and external conflict we have Ned viewing his conscience as two distinct entities his daemon and better angel.  This kind of division of moral thought and reflection represents how those in the Tudor period saw and justified their decisions.  Ie ‘the devil sorely tempted me and I gave in’ or my good angel or patron saint steered me clear of the peril of sin’.  Based on my reading of the religious writing of the times this is my interpretation for fiction of this inner debate for decisions regarding advantage, moral questions of conscience and action. 

So I’ve stated my case in my novels, I will try for as accurate a depiction as is possible within the parameters of the storyline and available research without straying into the fakery of Hollywood.  I hope that my efforts both entertain and inform my readers and at the very least prompt them to reach for another work of historical fiction. 
Ps if I’ve missed any hist fic writers in this round of names don’t worry lots more articles to come.

Regards Gregory House