Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sir Thomas More, an example for Indie Writers?

Greetings fellow Tudor aficionados and well regarded readers, please accept my apologies for the long absence, lots of writing and editing took up too large a proportion of my time.  I thought today I’d be terribly self indulgent and link my current plight with that of perhaps the most famous Tudor writer, Sir Thomas More.  This eminent scholar, politician and the author of Utopia and A Dialogue concerning Heresies to name but two of his works, was a witness and participant of the most dramatic years of the reign of Henry VIII.  His writings have helped form modern perceptions in such diverse areas as religious thought, political morality and even Shakespeare’s plays (particularly Richard III).  I have started to discuss my perceptions of Thomas More in an earlier blog article The Reality of the Written Word and Thomas More so I won’t go over that ground again.  
Instead I think we should discuss a few examples of Thomas More and his efforts to spread the word as it were for his writings.

Now for the few of you who may not know it, apart from talent, Thomas More the writer was gifted with advantages that the rest of us modern day scribblers really couldn’t imagine.   Except for that coterie of Romantic and Gothic era writers who tended to indulge in a touch too much laudanum…among other diverse pursuits.  More was an important figure at the Royal Court even before he became Lord Chancellor so a ‘suggestion’ to a prospective printer came with the sort of implied hints that only a fool or one keen on prison food would ignore.  Secondly his brother in law John Rastell was a printer at the ‘sygn of the mearemayd next to pollys gate’ so from around 1520- 1535 this provided More with a printer on tap.  Then there was a final advantage that any modern media baron would easily understand…money.  While Thomas More’s personal wealth couldn’t compete with that of his former lord Cardinal Wolsey, it was never the less pretty damned good for the Tudor period.  There was also a suggestion in some contemporary accounts that More had been the recipient of thousands of pounds from the English Church to act as a lobbyist and advisor.  Thus Thomas More had that most amazing of opportunities for any writer, he could easily fund the printing and distribution of as many of his books as he wanted.  He had the contacts, the influence, the network, the prestige and the envious ability even now to write at a prodigious speed. So with all these advantages I have to ask one question.
Why did Thomas More forge his own book reviews? 
The advent of movable type via Gutenberg had a dramatic impact, it was the Information Revolution of the Renaissance and very much like the Internet was for us, speeding up discussion on just about very aspect of society.  Especially religion, quite a few historians have put forward that Martin Luther’s assault upon the Catholic Church may not have had as much of an impact if his declaration hadn’t instantly been rushed into print.  It is these very heretical complaints of Luther’s that had More extremely steamed up.  In 1520-21 he’d recently finished helping his Sovereign  Henry VIII compose his Assertio or the Assertion of the Seven Sacraments for which the Pope granted him the title of Defender of the Faith.  Ironically a title still held by the British monarchs.  Well just like a modern chat room flame war this prompted responses backwards and forwards until 1522-23.   More then decided on a counter blast to knock the ‘shitty befouled heretic’ for a six by publishing his Responsio ad Lutherum or the Response against Luther.  It was indeed, ‘ahem’ an astounding piece of work.  At a time which held a certain minimal level of literary decorum this little tome hit new lows giving us some lovely phrases of abuse, invective and insult. 
 For instance a quoted extract in Marius’ biography on More.
“will we not have the posterior right to proclaim the beshitted tongue of this practitioner of posterioristics most fit to lick with his anterior the very posterior of a pissing she mule.”  And that’s the polite part, for the rest he pulls out all the usual Renaissance writing ploys like exaggeration, classical allusions, fantastic legends, outright lies and occasionally when nothing else can be found …the truth.

So after going on in this vain for thousands of words More apparently decided to publish this under the name William Rosse.  Okay that’s fair enough there are hundreds of instances of pen names through out history, however More appears to have been unsatisfied with this simple nom de plume.  He decided to take this a few steps further and also added a number of fictitious reviews from apparently eminent scholars such as Hermann of Prague, John Carcelius and Ferdinand Baravellus.  Now this does sound familiar a very contemporary practice inventing reviews to boosts sales.  More though didn’t stop there, each of his imaginary reviewers then egged each other on plus backing up William Rosse in his ‘need’ to defend his slandered monarch.  Apparently More himself urged his friends to defend the right worthy Master Rosse even asking Erasmus to lend his pen to the cause.  The humanist scholar sensibly sidestepped simply remarking that Luther could learn the use of invective from Master Rosse.
As for impact it certainly was a memorable work in the literary and religious circles of Europe, though it certainly didn’t have the effect More intended.  Those heretical mischief makers increased in number and popularity thus Sir Thomas was soon forced to resort to more physical methods of dissuasion like in imprisonment and torture.  But the question remains, why did the most respected and influential humanist writer in England ghost his book and go to such lengths to fake his reviews?  Was it political, perhaps a touch of shame or did he really believe any tactic was worth the result?  Since the Catholic Church has put its imprimatur on his writings and life as well as making him the patron saint of politicians, I have to ask is this really a worthy example for writers to follow?  Do we not see too much plagiarism and faked reviews?   Where should Indie writers who desperately need an edge in promotion look to for inspiration?

I would suggest others would be more worthy, especially our readers.
Now Indie writers have many advantages, such as enthusiasm, they are able to pursue their projects with passion and verve often devoting long hours to research and finely crafting their pieces.  They also thrive on the most minuscule rewards, compliments and praise.  Always striving to directly connect with their audience and give the reader the personal link that is so frequently impossible in the commercial world.
However all that being said, they/we/I also continually labour under a number of ominously heavy burdens.  Being an Indie means you lack fully developed commercial networks, influence and resources unlike Sir Thomas More.  Covers the eye candy and blazon of your work are essentially whatever you can afford, which in my very fortunate case is my talented son Alexander.  For editing the bane and bugbear of many I have my extremely experienced partner Jocelyn, who squeezes her reviewing in between all the other tasks expected of a parent.  As for publicity, well this is it, blogs, Face book, forums and mostly the kindness of strangers.  Thus it is too these kindly passers-by that I frame this request.  The vast majority of Indies are not Thomas Mores, we cannot plug in unbelievable sums into publicity nor do we fabricate wonderfully glowing reviews (though it may get tempting).  Instead we ask our readers to pause, even for a minute or two and let someone else know what interested you about this indie book, did it amuse, enthral, satisfy or make you curious.  If it did even in the slightest, how about leaving your thoughts as a review so some other passer by can experience the same pleasure of discovery.  Go on take a minute, you can spare it and you’ll feel so much better afterwards.
Coming soon to Amazon Kindle The Cardinals Angels
Regards Greg

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