The Liberties of London
Saturday, December 21, 2013
The Fetter Lane Fleece now Free on Amazon
To all my friends and readers I wish you all the best for this Yuletide season, and as my season’s gift to you my novella The Fetter Lance Fleece will be available to be downloaded free from the 22 – 25 December. In the meantime I hope that this festive season brings you all the true joys of family, love and fellowship that are the foundations of Yuletide. On must not forget the feasting, carousing and partying that remain at the core of the celebrations but without friends and family to share them they lack a certain sparkle. Though for my character Red Ned, The Twelve Days of Christmas do represent a certain opportunity to acquire some much needed extra gilt to pad out the purse of an apprentice lawyer and aspiring rogue. To set the scene of his lofty ambitions I've included Chapter 1 of The Liberties of London a tale of nefarious Yuletide doings involving Ned, his wayward and suddenly missing charge Walter, his none too pleased ‘almost sweetheart’ Meg, her brother Rob and a set of crooked dice. As the scene shifts to the dangerous Liberties of London even Ned’s not too sure if he’s going to get away with trading his purse or his life to survive the Christmas season.
As a note to my readers regarding continuity, The Fetter Lance Fleece takes place a few days after the conclusion of the Liberties of London and just before A Comfit of Rogues. All three stories occur during the Twelve Days of Christmas.
The Liberties of London
Chapter One: A Christmas Revel Christmas Eve London 1529
The trilling notes of a harp chimed gently behind him as Ned rubbed his hands in front of the blazing fire. The sounds were echoed a moment later by the throaty laugh of a girl and the soft clink of a cup of sweet sack wine bumping the table. A glance out the diamond paned window told him that they’d made it here in good time. The usual mounds of street refuse were now being steadily covered in a hefty layer of white snow. No doubt even the water tubs that stood under the building’s eaves now had a surface of ice an inch thick. Despite the chill he found the scene alluring. London looked so much different in the white velvet blanket, almost as if it was donning its Twelfth Night mask apparel. Thus in one day she transformed into a pale fair mistress, rather than as some court wit had it, a pock marked crone with the fetid stench of the Fleete Ditch. The improved aspect and the subduing of the foul city airs were to Ned only the first of the benefits the winter snow had bestowed on him.
The second had been the growling dismissal by his master, Richard Rich, that year’s esteemed Autumn reader at Lincoln Inn. Most prentice lawyers were worked hard by their masters, eager to screw the last ounce of worth from the winter’s light, before having to resort to rush lights or expensive candles. So Ned shouldn’t complain too much because his fingers were cramped from his laboured task of writing up pleas for the upcoming law term. Or that the room’s meagre fire put out so little warmth that the ink in its brass pot frequently froze over and he had to chaff it warm to write. However in his case it was worse, since his master was also inconveniently his uncle. In this season it was a common joke around the Inns that Master Rich’s filial regard for his ‘worthless’ nephew bordered on that of His Sovereign Majesty’s for his recently dismissed former chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey. Thus, despite the difficulties, Ned’s better angel kept reminding him it could be worse. He could be serving his patron, Councillor Cromwell, out in the biting cold on some thankless task. However speculation didn’t aid his plans as his frustrated daemon whispered.
As it transpired, he needn’t have fretted. Lady Fortuna in the guise of his Aunt Elizabeth swept in to remind his ‘honoured’ guardian that he’d promised to take her and the children to the first of the Christmas celebrations at the Mercers Hall. That was just as well. Three hours of enduring Uncle Richard’s disapproving snorts at his efforts had strained the bonds of service. If the old fool had sneered at his transcribing one more time Ned would thrown the pile of papers and the frozen ink pot at him and be damned. However a miracle had happened and the Christmas piety had penetrated his uncle’s hard and flinty heart. Thus he was released. At the news Ned’s oldest cousin, little Henry, some seven years old, had capered, jumped and squealed in excitement. Young Hugh though just chuckled and gurgled at the performance. At barely a year he wriggled and kicked bundled in a warm blanket. Luckily Ned had remembered to plead a prior rendezvous with his friend of last year, Rob Black, over at Williams the Apothecary. So apart from a suspicious glare from Uncle Richard, he was exempted from the chaos of the family jaunt. While Ned still chortled at the mummers’ plays, his more mature seventeen years gave him the desire to seek out the more refined pleasures London had to offer.
Just as well. He had plans for this afternoon to increase his share of festive cheer. And they didn’t involve the Rich clan. Since the conclusion of the Cardinal’s Angels affair two months ago, Ned had done some serious thinking regarding his prospects for the winter. That significant success had improved the weight of his formerly lean and starved purse. If he wanted to be regarded as a gentleman, it behoved him to look the part. Witness the heavy green woollen mantle with fur edging, new black hose and a velvet–edged and lined doublet of the best scarlet cloth. This sartorial splendour, apart from keeping him a great deal warmer, had raised his status amongst the other apprentice lawyers, as did the rumours of his part in Cardinal Wolsey’s fall. The result was the enacting of his Christmas plan. Of long standing custom, come the twelve days of celebration, the apprentice lawyers tended to scatter to their homes, though a few gained lodgings in the city with the relatives and patrons family in the city. This usually left fifty or so lads at a loose end. While it was true that the various Masters of the Inns had made provision for their comfort, it tended to be under a watchful eye, so the festival cheer was usually rather muted.
Ned, being a kind and generous fellow, had commiserated with his companions in misery and suggested a possible solution to their woes. If perhaps several of them pooled their resources, a ‘friend’ with connections might arrange a set of private rooms above a reputable tavern. Then that ‘friend’ could also supply the party with all the necessities of cheer, roasted capons, venison pies, sweet berry subtleties, and of course a goodly quantity of the finest sack. Also to complete the scene of Roman Idylls, a bevy of well disposed maidens skilled in harp and song would be at hand. Also for those wishing to compete in a gentlemanly fashion, there was bowls, or chancing the Hazards at dice or even the friendly card game of Ruff and Honour. In fact for accommodation, diversions, drink or provender, Ned reckoned he had it all covered, unless one of the more bucolic of the students began to pine for the dubious woolly pleasures of the country.
After all that pitch, Ned had laid out the final incentive – a spot at this magnificent repast could be had for the modest price of only one angel. The response had been astounding. Some thirty had handed over the required sum, while he’d accepted four shillings and a pledge from three more keen to join. That alone gave him a clear profit of ten angels after the expenses of room, company and provender, though the retention of one of Captaine Gryne’s more presentable retainers had been a little pricy. Despite the fact that his ‘friends’ were gentleman of a sort, the towering presence of Tam Bourke should provide sufficient incentive for a peaceable companionship, no matter how much sack was downed.
A flourish of harp strings and a drum roll on the tambour announced their arrival along with a resounding chorus of cheers. Ned turned with a ready smile and breathed deep the rich aroma, as his Christmas company left off their diversions and clustered round the table. The first of several trays appeared, borne by the tavern’s servitors. Ned walked over towards the repast and on the way accepted congratulations from several of his guests. It was only an hour or so in and already the good cheer was spread liberally around.
A pewter cup of sack was thrust into his hand by a large lad with brown tousled hair and blue eyes. The cup bearer towered over most of the gathering and unlike them was dressed in plainer clothes of a dark blue hue, though it wasn’t just his lack of lawyer’s garb that set Rob Black apart. For one thing, his appearance was extremely unlawyerly – at over six foot in height and with broad shoulders that looked strong enough to lift an ox. While Ned had a similar height, his hands only had the calluses’ and ink stains of a clerk. Though he was justifiably proud of his physical skill in a brawl, it couldn’t compete with the heavy craftsman’s trained muscles of his friend. Work with iron and foundry had fleshed out Rob’s build to that of a young Hercules. What’s more he also had a clear honest face, untrammelled by the daily deceits of the courts, as well as a pleasant disposition that had the girls sighing in raptures over his welcoming smile. Ned had found that aspect mildly frustrating when they’d gone drinking in the city taverns. All the girls and punks instantly fell for Rob with his cornflower blue eyes, while Ned Bedwell, handsome, well dressed apprentice lawyer, as his daemon sourly affirmed, was an after thought – though Rob was too good a company so he ignored his daemon’s whining.
A now freed heavy hand thumped him companionably on the shoulder. “Ned, this private Christmas feast is excellent, thanks for inviting me!”
Ned returned the smile. Asking Rob Black to be his business partner in this venture didn’t need any consideration. Lady Fortuna had blessed him last year when he’d been at his most desperate with barely two groats to rub together. Rob had been rescuing a poor abused country goodwife from the rough frolics of some city apprentices, as Ned had been passing by. In that glorious moment Ned had seen the golden gift of opportunity. He’d put across a credible story and immediately enrolled Rob in a cony catching play, all to recoup a hundred angels from the notorious Paris Bear Gardens owner and Southwark gang lord, Canting Michael.
It had worked brilliantly and despite what Rob’s sister, Meg Black, continually claimed, Ned couldn’t be held to blame if the immediate aftermath had involved a number of unforeseen complications. After all, how was he to know they’d be accused of the murder of a Royal official? Or have an urgent need to clear their names of treason by consorting with a supposedly deceased doctor who was a practitioner of the dark arts of divination? It was said that the politics of the Royal Court under their beloved sovereign, King Henry VIII, could be dangerous. That had proved to be an understatement. It was mercilessly vicious with friendship and loyalty only smile deep.
Though that peril was now consigned to the past, here and now was a time of celebration. Ned raised his cup. “My good friends and companions, I give you a toast, on this, the eve of Our Saviour’s birth. Good health, good cheer, good company and may we all be as drunk as bishops by Twelfth Night!”
A rousing cheer rang through the feasting room and the assorted apprentice lawyers and clerks hammered the table in a drum roll as the rest of the trays were laid out. The loudest cry came as the roasted pig made its way through the door. Ned had planned the revels to begin with a well laid feast of some fifteen courses, including poached salmon, venison pies and a march pane, almond sugar centre piece in the manner of the gate house of Gray’s Inn. That had been particularly difficult to organise. However Meg Black surprisingly offered to solve the problem. No doubt in her position as an apprentice apothecary she’d have sugar and spices by the pound, as well as access to more extensive kitchens. As the three foot tall subtlety was carefully displayed on the two tier buffet table Ned consoled himself that Rob’s annoying sister had come through and without levering an invitation. That was convenient. He didn’t know how he would have explained the diaphanously clad maidens playing the harp, shawm and tambour in the corner. She wasn’t the kind of lass who’d accepted the excuse of a Christmas tableaux in the manner of Ancient Romans.
Since he was host, Ned had taken a seat at the head of the table and after one of their number intoned an appropriate pray for the day, began to tuck into the first course, the venison pies. It was one of the specialties of the Spread Eagle Tavern. Henry Simkins, the taverner, was known to supply the Barber Surgeon’s Hall at Muggle Street. As all the lads at the Chancery knew the provender at their celebrations was almost as fine as the Mercers Guild, the wealthiest of the London guilds.
Ned was happily swapping the latest tale of Cardinal Wolsey’s woes with John Reedman, one the Chancery clerks, when Tam Bourke, their intimidating door warden, lumbered over to him and bending down, whispering loudly in his ear. “Ned there’s a’ messenger fo’ yea at the stairs.”
“Do you know him? Who’s he from?”
“Oh aye. He’s that grim faced livery man o’ the apothecary lass yea sweet on.”
Ned stifled an immediate retort denying the fact. Any rumours of his affairs of the heart or otherwise were not something he wanted bandied about amongst the gossips of the Inns. By the description, that could only be one person, Meg Black’s looming henchman, Roger Hawkins or as Ned preferred to think of him, Gruesome Roger.
“Tam, is it a tall, scar faced fellow with an iron shod cudgel hanging from his belt?”
“Aye that be him.”
Ned pursed his lips in thought. When he’d called around earlier, Meg Black had been busy with her common apothecary duties mixing herbs and the like. She hadn’t expressed any need for his company and apart from a brief snippy jibe at his propensity for including her brother in dubious enterprises, she’d been passably friendly for a change.
Ned leant across the table and asked Reedman to play the host while he dealt with his caller. His fellow clerk from Gray’s was reasonably dependable and had a good reputation at the Inns for solving arguments of precedence.
He’d left Tam on the landing as he made his way down to the bottom of the stairs. The Blacks’ retainer was standing on his own by the fire, giving the tavern’s customers a quizzical scowl. The recent snow melted and steamed off his cloak giving him the appearance of a visitor from the nether regions, an image not improved by the scar that ran across his face half closing his right eye. That was Hawkins all right. No one else in London could match that cynical visage, not even the leering grotesque carvings in the parish churches.
The retainer’s roving eye quickly caught sight of Ned and he strode over to the foot of the stairs and growled out his message. “Hey Bedwell. Y’re wanted at the apothecaries immediately, so stop guzzling wine and stuffing your face.”
Ned stepped off the last tread and consciously straightened up. They were of similar height, though Gruesome Roger had the lean and rangy appearance of wolf. In Ned’s opinions the lupine cousin had more manners. “I do not come or go at the beckoning of Mistress Black! I have business here this evening. Kindly give her my regrets.” Ned made an effort to put all the disdain he felt into that rebuff, though the answer didn’t appear to sit well with Meg her retainer.
Gruesome Roger frowned and shook his head. “Y’ right, of course Bedwell. What am I saying? Y’r y’r own master o’course. By the way y’r cods are unlaced.”
Instinctively Ned glanced down to check. The evil cackle of Gruesome Roger told him he’d been cony catched.
“So yea haven’t started with the bevy o’ punks y’ got up there? Just as well Mistress Margaret told me to fetch y’. Whether you got your hose on or around your ankles makes no difference ta me.”
Ned’s temper, never on much of a tight rein, spurred him to lash out with his own retort. “You loathsome lewdster, Hawkins. That’s a gathering of gentlemen up there, not some tumbledown ale house, like you inhabit where they hump poxed punks against the wall ‘cause they can’t find any sheep that’ll have them!”
Gruesome Roger was still for a moment, then his sneering grin returned. “Oh Bedwell, by God’s Blood, afore the weeks out, y’ goin’ to rue those words. Y’ll be wading through a river o’shit to beg my forgiveness.”
“If wishes were fishes, Hawkins, your net’d still be empty.” Ned turned his back on the unwanted messenger and began to head back up the stairs. A hand grabbed his sleeve pulling him backwards.
Ned spun around put a hand on his dagger and snarled. “Unhand me Hawkins. The Blacks may treat you as family, but damned if I don’t know you for a common foister!”
“Y’know Bedwell, any time you want, it take only a moment to tumble y’ in a ditch. Anyway enough cosseting, are y’ coming or do I tell Cromwell you refused his summons?”
Ned froze. Cromwell was involved? Silently he cursed Gruesome Roger. The cozener had played him and he’d fallen for it. Ned ground his teeth in suppressed anger. By all the damned saints and cursed devils! Gruesome Roger gave him one of his gloating grins and nodded at the unasked questioned. Damn, damn, damn! That cunning trickster had trapped him. Ned knew he had no choice. Uncle Richard may have been his master, but Thomas Cromwell, newest member of King Henry VIII’s Privy Council, was his patron and good lord. From what Ned had learnt of his new lord’s habits, Councillor Cromwell didn’t like tardy servants.
If this snippet wetted your interest I invite you to down load the full book from any Amazon site
Wasshail my friends! Regards Greg
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Greetings my well regarded readers, I hope that in the north hemisphere your Fall or Autumn isn’t proving too much of a trial after the joys of Summer.
Today I have a few announcements before we move on to the body of the blog. Firstly my Tudor novella The Fetter Lane Fleece will be available free for two days from the 15/10/13 at Amazon USA/Aust and Amazon UK so I encourage you to call by and if you haven’t already download a copy for your entertainment. In the mean time I’d like to thank those of my readers who’ve stopped by and left a review, every of them (even the obvious sock puppets) help improve the position of an Indie writer.
Now on to the meat of our discourse;
In a 1601 speech to the House of Commons, Stephen Soame, MP for the City of
London, spoke in support of a bill that would have extended the City’s jurisdiction into
the neighbouring liberty of St Katherine by the Tower. The privileges enjoyed by the
Liberties, he argued, ‘are the very sincke of sinne, the nurserye of nawghtie and lewd
places, the harbors of thieves, roagues and beggars, and maynteyners of ydle persons,
ffor when our shoppes and howses be robbed, thether they ffly ffor releife and sanctuarie, and we cannot helpe our selves.’
The prorogation of Parliament a few days later killed his bill, but Soame’s characterisation of St Katherine’s proved more durable. Such descriptions of the liberties, made by Soame and other contemporaries, have led many modern scholars to assume that the Liberties posed a constant threat to metropolitan order. There is, however, reason to believe that the Liberties were more complex and less purely problematic than their general historiographical portrayal would suggest.
In 1530 two dozen religious foundations dotted the landscape of the capital. The sixteen religious houses within or immediately adjacent to the City of London were joined by eight others in Spitalfields, Clerkenwell, Westminster and Southwark.
Extract The City of London and the Problem of the Liberties, c1540 – c1640
A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Modern History
Anthony Paul House Christ Church Trinity Term 2006.
So what are the Liberties? My main character Ned Bedwell seems to spend an inordinate amount of time frequenting the Liberties rather than attending to his duties as a Law apprentice. What could be the attraction? Well for a start the reason Stephen Soame was frothing so fervently about the disorders of the Liberties was a very simple one. They were exempt from the normal processes of civil and royal jurisdiction by fact of belonging to the English Church. Over time the Church had accumulated a lot of properties in and around London via grants, purchase or deeds, before the Great Dissolution under Henry VIII it is possible that around a fifth of the city of London was under their direct control as owners or landlords. And where they held sway so did Canon law, it was as if the city and surrounding regions were covered in a patchwork of independent tax and law free zones pretty much like the Virgin or Channel Islands today for the obscenely rich. To escape local justice if any thief or other insalubrious person made to one of the Liberties then they were immune to seizure or prosecution by the local constables and justice of the peace. Of course the upholders of civic law could always petition the Church to gain hold of the miscreant, however such proceedings were both expensive and long drawn out. The Church was jealous of its rights and maintained its exemption from civil laws. At least Until King Henry VIII clipped their wings.
Of course this refuge form common law was an opportunity that the denizens of deceit and depravity found irresistible, especially since the Church wasn’t very effective in policing its own property. Thus by the 1530’s the various Liberties were considered over run by thieves, beggars’ vagrants’ whores, malcontents, coiners, forgers and murderers. The fact that they also housed brothels, gaming dens stews and other places of vile debauchery and sin probably made them more attractive for the average Londoner, especially the young lads of the Inns of Court. Though they weren’t the only inhabitants, it was also a favoured refuge for foreigners, debtors, Guildless tradesmen and surprisingly evangelicals spreading the word of the Bible in the English tongue. However the situation of the Liberties in and around London is somewhat more complex than this simple explanation. The legal or other position of these areas was frequently a useful carrot or occasionally goad for the Royal Sovereign to use in his negotiations with the London Guildhall and the Church over taxes and privileges. For London the Liberties also served as a useful excuse for ‘failing’ to deal with crimes or imposing royal writs since these ‘territories’ made a ‘mockery of their zeal and commitment to his Majesties lawful demands’. Come the Great Dissolution in the late 1530’s the status of the Liberties changed though you’ll have to wait a few novels until Ned Bedwell undergoes this transformation of England to see what survives and what goes under. Though I suspect there will always be a place for rogues, whores and dice men in the Tudor realm.
The Fetter Lane Fleece Links from the 15/10/13-17/10/13
Friday, May 31, 2013
The Mary Rose Museum Open!
Greeting my dear friends it has been quite a while since we have a chat my deepest apologies the last few months have been pack full of action ranging from teenager education issues, seriously unbalanced humours leading to a very nasty ague (very very nasty) and of course lots of research and writing. And did I say lots of research and writing? Anyway it will be a few months until the next Red Ned stories are polished up and published along with a new Tudor period series starting with Wyatt’s Rebellion in 1553 against Queen Mary. But first on to some very impressive news, today is the long awaited opening of the new museum to house the remains of Henry VIII’s magnificent warship the Mary Rose.
Since it was recovered in an extraordinary feat of maritime archaeology and salvage starting in 1968 the vessel has proved to be a treasure trove of Tudor period artefacts and culture. Its discoveries have to a large extent revised our rather stuffy and incorrect opinions of the Tudors, proving that they were at the technological cutting edge of the Renaissance. The new museum has been a long time in the planning and construction and to my eye the design is an excellent example of form, function and style. Its fits perfectly into the dock area by HMS Victory and the timber cladding and shape gives a reverential and respectful nod to the wooden walls of the Royal Navy, so well done the architects.
I could rave on for hours about the various facets of the archaeology or the rich haul of unique items however I suspect I’d get carried away and we’d be here for days and in the end this would be thesis length. So instead I've trawled the internet to bring to you a collection of the best links and articles about the opening and the new display of restored and recovered objects.
I’d expected a better coverage from the BBC.
Wouldn’t load for me but it looks very tempting
I’d still expected a better coverage from the BBC.
This gem from the UK Telegraph is superb, rich in good quality shots and generous with information.
A very interesting article, about some unexpected discoveries regarding the Mary Rose ammunition. The comments however are a little over the top and I feel display more surly ignorance than useful review of a ‘news article’.
A very detailed Wiki page on the history of the Mary Rose, its recover and the Museum
The Museum website
Sweden’s version of the Mary Rose –The Vasa, a warship of Gustavus Adolphus
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Greeting my dear friends I’m sure by now the lasted news on the burial in the carpark has swept through the internet universe. Yes indeed the University of Leicester after some fine archaeological and rigours scientific testing has discovered the lost King Richard III. Well done that crew! In the surge of celebration as you may have seen a host of blogs or articles has appeared each with their own spin on what this discovery means to British history and the reputation of Richard III. Though from examination of the damage to the skeleton we can now be sure that Richard did die in battle as according to the almost eyewitness reports. Also Lord Blackadder is now cleared from the scurrilously assertion that he cowardly cut off his monarch’s head bringing much belated relief to his various descendants.
In celebration of this discovery I’m putting up my ‘Tudor’ novel The Fetter Lane Fleece as a free down load from Amazon for two days. Secondly I can assure you that a draft already exists for Ned Bedwell and his friends doing their own Tudor directed investigation into the death of Richard III and the fate of ‘misplaced Plantagenet’ heirs involved in a White Rose conspiracy. I can assure you that the results are not what anyone expected.
Here are the download links for Red Ned;
The promotion will run from 5/2 at approximately 12:00 AM Pacific Standard Time to 6/2 11:59 PM Pacific Standard Time.
In the mean time here is a selection of some of the most interesting links related to Richard III.
The Search for Richard III completed
Richard III Mysteries remain over the notorious King.
DNA confirms bones are Richard III
Grim Clues to the Death of a King
What the discovery of the King’s mortal remains has to do with restoring Richard’s reputation is a very good question, Polydore Virgil and Sir Thomas More were the originators of the tales of hunchback depravity. Both writers can be safely and reliably described as hack polemists, whose individual success and patronage was solely due to the glowing references they penned for the Tudor monarchs Henry VII and Henry VIII. Neither writer has what could be credible called a track record for truthfully dispassionate reporting of events. According to some contemporaries Virgil had a nasty habit of editing his sources to fit his version of events, then ensuring the originals disappeared. While Master More despite his recent elevation to sainthood is particularly infamous for the moral flexibility of his quill. This is evidenced by his grovelling panegyric to the young King Henry VIII slamming the disgraceful and greedy reign of his father. Or a better example is this one; on the fall of Cardinal Wolsey his recent lord and patron, Sir Thomas got up in the Parliament of 1529 and let loose a stream of insult, accusation and invective rarely equalled since. So much for gratitude and loyalty.
Thus it would be the height of folly to accord their descriptions of Richard III the status of historical fact, just because they were recorded by distinguished men of letters. In my training as a researcher and historian I’ve always wanted to understand the motive behind the words since it can be far more revealing. When it comes to both More and Vergil motive to cast a bad light on Richard III would be enough to get than a prime post as Stalinist historians.
What we can discern about Richard is that he was a loyal to his elder brother, accounted a good knight and a decent leader and was a fairly typical late medieval monarch. But a depraved murder and hands drenched in the blood of innocents? I don’t think so, though nor was he a blameless scapegoat as is made out by apologists. Richard was a man of his time and according to his position in late medieval England if blood needed to be shed then it would be so and masses would atone for the necessary sin. As for his nephews, hmm personally Richard doesn’t strike me as the kind of ruler stupid enough to have the Yorkist genre pool drained after the traumatic fratricidal years of the Wars of the Roses. So for the rest of my thoughts on this English monarch and his reputation you will have to wait for Red Ned in The White Rose Conspiracy.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
Greetings to all my friends and readers out there, it has been quite some time since I’ve had the chance to site down for a quiet hour and compose for my blog. What with three teenagers home all day on the Yuletide holidays and the frantic efforts to get my eldest into a university course after the regional bell curve and algebraic massaging of VTAC turned his straight A and A+’s into C’s and a pitiful scatter of B’s. But I’ll deal with that discriminatory bias by Victorian Education anon. The local bushfires and a few unfortunate tragedies too close to home of course didn’t help matters. In the meantime I’d like to bring up a vexing subject for writers, both retained and Indie, that of Amazon reviews. I know this particular theme can fill countless blog and forum pages and I don’t wish to revisit old arguments or well hashed debates, instead based on observation over the past couple of years I’ll divide them into three classifications.
- Genuine comments from readers responding to their perceived view of a novel.
- Sock puppets of aggrieved fellow authors or would be writers and hired hacks from various publicity or publishing houses.
- Trolls out to gain vicarious satisfaction and jollies by putting others down.
There of course many other sub divisions and categories but I think these three will suffice.
Now for the writer the question is do you answer these reviews? That is a ticklish question, on the one hand responding to a good or average review is a polite acknowledgement for effort. While to answer the commonly baseless accusations can be seen to be pandering to the desires, plans or prejudices of sock puppets and trolls giving them a bigger target. Though to let those go unanswered can have serious consequences on the sales and promotion of your novels. It really is a quandary, to give the benefit of the doubt to a suspicious review or reveal them as malicious frauds?
Well here’s how I’m going to deal with one review that’s left me perplexed and dismayed for the past few months. By the way my deepest thanks to my dear friends at EHFA for their helpful advice and support regarding this matter.
MarieG 2.0 out of 5 stars Confusing! 7 Oct 2012
As a great fan of historical novels I didn't expect to find myself so befuddled by the content of this story. It seemed that as a reader I was thrown into the middle of a story that I had missed half of. Without warning I was presented with a vampire strand of the story and I just got confused about where the story was. I couldn't finish it which is something that I rarely say once I start a book. Additionally the Kindle edition had many grammatical and spelling errors that were distracting in the extreme. I am surprised that there are not more reviews of this book. Great idea and style but For me lost in translation (sorry).
Thank you for review I have thought long and hard about your comments and have delayed replying as I mulled them over trying to work out the areas of your difficulties. So I will endeavour to give you satisfaction one item at a time.
- A great fan of Historical Fiction befuddled by the content of the story.
The story is listed in the historical fantasy genre as is proved by the above ranking prominently displayed on the book page. It is not, nor does it imply either by promo, prologue or genre placement to be historical fiction. While set in the nominal world of a young Henry VIII the phrase - the dark magicks of reanimation should have given a hefty hint that this novel strayed into the supernatural.
- An unexpected vampire strand of the story
Firstly I refer you to the above ranking of the story in the Amazon genre categories it is a Historical Fantasy, so by classification it must have fantastic, supernatural or magical elements as part of the story like, witches, elves, demons and so on. Secondly the book promo refers directly to these two phrases- Now Francis knows very well who killed Gwen, the problem is ensuring she stays safely dead while he tracks down the source of the dark magicks of reanimation. Now that should give the clue that we are dealing with a heavy fantasy component, as well as magick and the walking dead.
Or then, maybe Mistress Annise? That’s if you can trust a drinker of blood. As for the, to you unexpected inclusion of a vampyre, if it is in the promo and it is historical fantasy as we’ve already proved you’d have to be pretty disappointed if a drinker of blood wasn’t a vampyre.
Thirdly the first two and a half chapters are available to read in Amazon’s Look Inside option or as a sample download. Now I’m really not giving anything away in stating quite bluntly that the first few pages give more than a hint that this tale is dealing with the reanimated dead, as Francis grapples with the suddenly moving slain woman. That’s not something you’d normally expect in your average Tudor historical fiction, but does fit with fantasy.
- Grammatical and spelling errors
Ahh yes the old bugbear, this is always difficult to answer since when it comes up no evidence is provided, it’s a bit like the old Tudor cry of treason or witchcraft just enough to set the mobs a howling for blood but no proof. Considering that I can easily cite over a dozen prominent works of fiction and non fiction with the most abysmal spelling and grammar is not an excuse, but it is reality. I suggest that if you would care to equally direct your outraged ire at the larger publishing houses rather than just poorly resourced Indies then I will readily accept your admonishment. However I believe it is stated quite conclusively at the start of the book that I use Tudor spellings for places and occasionally titles and terms as well as a glossary. As for grammar both my editor and I use the Australian style manual and a very large pile of Tudor reference books (see this link for a partial list). Although, as I’ve seen what is considered correct grammatical practice can vary wildly between genres, professions and regions, let alone those between continents supposedly using the same language. All I can say is that my personal style is the product of my heritage, education, reading and environment. I can however assure you that if you direct me to any particular problems they will be remedied.
- More reviews…Great idea and style
Thank you for that part of your review, though your phrasing leaves a hanging question, was that more good reviews or bad reviews? Unfortunately the praise comes well after your emphatic expressions of confusion and dislike so I’m not sure you actually meant it, but I will be a gentleman allow you the benefit of the doubt. So my thanks, for leaving your opinion.