Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Terra Australis Templar

Evening and salutations to my growing hoard of devoted readers (all several of them), let me compliment you on your excellent selection of this blog to peruse from amongst the myriad wordings hovering expectantly in the ether.

I have recently been brushing up on my research on the discoverers of Australia. This is of course a fascinating subject and one I hope to pursue in depth when thousands of my books sell. At this point I would like to remind you that two red Ned Tudor Mystery novels The Liberties of London and The Queen’s Oranges are currently available for an extremely modest price on Amazon.

But enough of this shameless self promotion, back to the theme of this discussion.

Who did discover Australia?

Egyptians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, very lost Vikings and of course the Portuguese, space alien blood drinking lizards (opps wrong story!) take your pick. Or not.
Now I remember learning in school four odd decades ago about our historical discoverers especially in the year 1970 when all Australians celebrated the two hundredth anniversary of the Captain Cook expedition. We even minted a special fifty cent piece, which I sure I can find if I diligently searched through my dusty archived childhood coin collection. But that is a digression, in the meantime on to more contentious issues. What if the first European discoverers were actually none of these, what if it was someone completely unexpected and for the kind of reason that only a historical reality that reads like a wry fantasy provides. Well I welcome you to my new soon to be released novel Terra Australis Templar.

So found a pyramid in Queensland, a mysterious shipwreck in the sand or hieroglyphics on cliff face? No doubt Peter Wilks a British medieval history lecturer and reluctant ‘guest’ of Australia’s sunny shores will be given the task to solve the mystery. That’s if he can survive a potent mix of Australian terrors including academic Stalinism, too close acquaintance with crocodiles, treachery plus a myriad of fanged, clawed and gun toting denizens of the Antipodes. Luckily he has Lampie, his attractive and deeply cynical Aussie guide who continually struggles to keep Peter on track… or at least in one piece.
This is a new series of stories of archaeological adventure with a hefty splash of mystery, humour, skulduggery and historical speculation. They follow the mis-adventures of Peter Wilks, a modern day remittance man from Britain, who finds himself deeply mired in historical controversy, archaeology and the sordid politics that infests the halls of Australian academia.

The sky was a kind of intense hammer blue that spanned all overhead, making the horizon retreat well back over the turquoise waters, breaking with a leisurely splash on the sparkling white sand. The sun was still high enough in the heaven to give the barest hint of the coming flood of burnt orange sunset, while to the north the advancing bank of dark clouds fringed the scene lending the dramatic tension of a coming storm. It was the sort of vista that’d have one of those east coast landscape photographers whimpering with ecstasy, if only they could capture the moment.

To the lean built man hunched over the narrow trench cautiously scooping away trowels of sandy brown soil, the allure of the coming sunset was irrelevant. So absorbed in his work, he hadn’t notice that the shifting sun had passed the limited shelter of the canvas tarp, crisping the already tanned skin of his left arm below a rolled up faded blue shirt sleeve and bleaching out his wild red hair that escaped the restraint of a battered ‘diggers’ hat.
Another figure slowly paced up the low hill into view. It was almost as lean as the patient excavator, though the approach through the low brush of the sandy hill would have excited a different photographer. The long elegant taper of firm smooth thigh hit the edge of the tan shorts hinting at an interesting continuation of the curved sweep. While further up beneath the gaping desert ‘camo’ jacket shadowed swellings barely restrained by an open necked t-shirt, flashed into view with each step. To finish the profile long blond hair was tied back in a slowly bouncing pony tail, enhancing the landscape with alluring potential. The scene was just made for a front cover of ‘Fish and Game’. All she needed was the rifle artfully slung over her shoulder and ‘huntin’ enthusiasts would have been clambering over each other to get a copy. Damn that, if any advertising exec had glimpsed the image he’d have signed her up in a trice to flog a new model of 4x 4 that every accountant needed to brave the perilous wilds of suburban driving.
Instead the opportunity was lost as she sauntered over to the flapping awning, idly waving off a host of flies with the sort of casual elegance that a cosmetics director would have traded his secretary for.

“Y’ finished yet Sid? Uncle Bill’s got us a fresh barra to grill over the fire and Rob and Bluey have packed all the gear ready for the next site.” The lean figure pushed himself up from the trench and sat back on his haunches, brushing a dusty hand across his face.
“No I bloody well haven’t! Who said those two could pack up anyway?” The reply may have sounded petulant, though the long blonde plait only twitched impatiently, lazily flicking a cascade of gold in the afternoon light. A dozen shampoo commercial directors missed the chance of an award winning ad.

“I told em’. Got a problem with that?” Blonde pony tail began to recite what appeared to be a well rehearsed script, ticking each point off with her fingers. “Well Sid, first is the site at Champagny Island that the museum wanted us to check. Second there’s those caves up past Brecknock Harbour for Lavost Explorations. Remember them Sid? The guys that actually pay us? Then we promised to be back in Broome by next week, so you want all that and me as pilot, we have to pack now and head off before dawn to catch the tide.”
Hazel eyes under the battered digger’s hat creased in sudden annoyance and a free hand swatted at a hovering insect. “Well Lampie that’s changed, we stay here!” The answer was short and abrupt as the dusty man named Sid returned his attention to the open trench.
Lampie gave a slow shake of her head as if she was used to Sid’s sudden petulance and this was just one more in the daily flow.
“Oh and get ’em to bring up the lights and the generator!” Sid was still staring at the dirt in his trench and casually threw the command back over his shoulder.
Lampie crossed her arms and stared intently at the fly covered shirt of the excavator, as if painting a target for immediate use. “You sure about that? We’re running pretty low on fuel and its a long way back to Derby.”
If Sid had bothered to turn around, he may have recognized the implied subtext of the question. A more observant man would have instantly translated that foot tapping stance as ‘you really don’t want to piss me off!’
“What? Yeah. One at each end‘ll do fine, angled into the trench ’d be great.” The last conversation must have strayed somewhere else, cos Sid had missed it all.
Lampie dropped the subtle approach and growled out a reply.
“Get em yourself, arsehole! I said we had to leave or y’ can paddle off with the frekin’ sea turtles!”
“And Lampie, unpack the cameras and set em up to view the excavation, I want this discovery on film!”
Like a pair of trains hurtling towards each other at breakneck speed, this conversation was looking like a collision and at each switch, Sid, oblivious to the threat, pulled the wrong lever. Lampie was clearly unimpressed and her demeanor screamed the unsubtle signs of incipient mutiny, the sort that would see the obsessed Sid tumbled into his ditch with a casual but deliberate kick, soon followed by his lights and any number of extra objects that’d serve to fill the hole. Then import of his last comment froze the coming boot.
Discovery was an interesting word, so full of promise and portent. Discovery was in fact a very overused claim. To any advertising agency it was automatically tagged to the latest model of SUV, proclaiming its rugged supremacy, even if it got bogged in a light dewfall. All of them in Sid’s crew were hoping to hear that magically stimulating word after working up and down this coast for years. At its reverberation Lampie dropping her foot, then shoved in next to her grubby supervisor and peered into the open trench.
“What have you found Sid?”
Her companion lent over the open pit and scratched at a nondescript bit of soil with his trowel. A distinct ring sounded from the steel.

Hazel eyes widened in interest. “What is it?”
Sid, with the battered hat, shook his head and gave a crooked smile. “We won’t know until we get the lights an all. Ask Uncle Bill to bring tucker up here. I need to keep on this.”
Lampie straightened up and unselfconsciously brushed the loose sand off her knees, before bounding down the slope towards the small array of tents surrounding the fire. Sid pleased at her eager interest, took his attention off the trench for a brief moment and watched the vanishing figure, letting out a brief regretful sigh before returning his excavation.
The sun had fulfilled its earlier promise and the sky to the west was layered in bands of vivid colour, blood red to fiery orange and the narrowing arc of light blue to the spreading dark purple of night and its spray of stars in the east. The trembling whine of the small generator filled the coming darkness on the hill, as it struggled to supply power to the flood lights. The rest of the small party after setting up the required equipment, had stuck around to help, while the aroma of freshly grilled fish served to create an impromptu barbeque atmosphere. Low voices casually swapped improbable tales as they bent over the exposed discovery, deftly sweeping away the surrounding sandy soil at Sid’s exacting direction. The view through the camera on a tripod seemed inadequate to Lampie and every few minutes she eagerly bobbed her head around to peer into the trench.
It was a few hours into the full night before they’d finished digging out the hidden object, and probably a full ten minutes in stunned silence as they contemplated their find. It was rectangular in shape, probably wooden and covered in heavy bands of severely corroded iron. Any east coast archeologist would have traded his doctorate to make a find like this and as they looked at the chest shaped find, images of elaborately dressed pirates, bottles of rum and noisy parrots paraded through their imaginations. Well except for the assistant called Bluey. For some reason he just thought of fish and more bizarrely, of leather shorts. Of all of them, it wasn’t Sid who made the first tentative move to touch the chest.
“Put your hand near that Rob, an’ I’ll have it off at the elbow.” It was only a quiet suggestion from Sid, but Rob pulled his hand back faster than if it had been in a fire.
“But Sid mate!” He wailed with a distinct tremble.
“Its…its got to be a treasure chest, you know with piles of loot and gold!” Rob was a big fella, and he wasn’t used to shirking a challenge. It’d been said in Broome that when he’d caught some swanky tourist trying to cheat him over a friendly game, he’d pushed a pool table through the wall of a pub. The tourist had been airlifted to Perth, that night. The idiot’d been between the table and the wall. Despite that reputation Rob eased his bulk an extra pace away from Sid.
Even in the limited illumination of the flood lights, the others could see that Sid was serious. His right hand had closed menacingly around the haft of a shovel, while his eyes had acquired a hardened sheen, just like the one most favoured by murderous psychopaths in horror flicks before they meaningfully dismembered a few of the extras.
“We’re not scavengers like bloody Fenton! We’re archeologists. This dig’ll be handled properly, not plundered!”
The two assistants, Rob and his smaller friend Bluey gave each other a quizzical look, and Bluey, still lost in dreams of scaly delight and lacking his friend’s survival instinct blurted out a surprised comment.
“Since fuckin’ when? I thou…”

The rest was smothered by Rob’s hairy paw, as he grabbed his mate and hauled him back from the trench. The third figure of Uncle Bill stepped back into the shielding darkness, away from the glare of light and vanished.
Lampie switched off the camera and cautiously stepped forward, laying a firm hand on Sid’s shoulder. Only a blind fool wouldn’t feel the tension quivering beneath the thin cloth. “Ahh Sid, could you an’ me have a bit of a chat for a mo’?”
The leaner man slowly straightened up. He wasn’t much taller than Lampie, nor muscled like his two nervous assistants, more whipcord thin, no fat, just corded muscle and sinew like the old man ‘reds’ that bounded across the interior. He gave a brief glare of warning at the rest of his company before following her into the surrounding night. Twenty paces out past the glare of light, he joined her sitting on a low outcrop of rock set away from the thrumming noise of the generator, but in full view of the illuminated trench.

“I know being out here a while can get to anyone Sid. But have you gone freckin’ crackers? What was that shit?” You had Rob scared enough to piss himself!”
Sid may have frowned, it was impossible to see, but he did take a long slow inward breath before answering. “Lampie, how long have we known each other?”
If there was light, blonde pony tail could have been seen to tilt her head reflectively and give a long curious look at her companion. She fervently hoped this wasn’t going to be another one of those weird wandering ‘talks’ that had recently became his habit. “Its been four years Sid, two down in Perth and the rest up here. Why?”
The battered digger’s hat gave a slow unseen nod. “Yeah that’s right. Four years, seems longer. Well, after all that time scouring this God forsaken coast, fighting off mosquitoes, Irukandji and salties, all to scratch around for rusted relics and wreck leavings in the freckin’ heat. Just so some wanker in lounge loafers can gawk at it and say how much bloody better he is with his laptop and mobile! Now I think we got a real chance! Lampie this could be it!” The unsuppressed eagerness made his voice quiver as the words rushed out.
“What! I thought you liked it here?” There was an edge of anger to that question. What the hell did he think they were supposed to do? Was Sid turning into another pampered tosser from Perth?
“Yeah, well yeah. It kinda grows on you but I can’t go back to Sydney without something, well decent or maybe astounding.”
“What the freakin Hell! Why would you want to go back there? You got someone back there? Should I tell Elaine?” Sid was beginning to piss her off. He more or less said he didn’t like it up here and was just doing it to go back east. She clenched her fist in preparation. Once they got back she was sure Elaine would understand Sid’s bruised condition, he was clearly going mental!
Sid gave an embarrassed chuckle and even in the minimal light from the rising moon could be seen to give his face a nervous rub. “No, no. After Elaine, any city girl is going to seem well, insipid.”
That was a close save. Lampie ratcheted down her growing anger. Maybe Sid was just going through male menopause or something.
“No. Sometime soon, I’ve got to go back east and clear up some history, if not this year then damn soon.”
It was Lampie’s turn to slowly nod her head in agreement. Yeah that’d be right. So many ended up here in the Kimberleys due to ‘history’. Some were tightlipped and taciturn like Sid, others after a few drinks broke out into drunken rages smashing up the pub. That kind of made sense. Sid frequently joked that it was easier to come out here than join the French Foreign Legion. She didn’t think much about it, having been born in the rugged north west. The four years in Perth had nearly driven her screaming mad. A few weeks or a month may have been a novelty but two endless semesters a year! Uni field work just couldn’t make up for that much purgatory. It was too long and too many people with their heads stuffed full of stupid rules set by petty minded idiots. But that was her ‘history’ and without Sid’s help she wouldn’t have lasted. Well that and heaps of walks and meditation, actually buckets of walks and meditation and borrowing Helen’s yacht for two weeks. Well to be strictly accurate, it was her uncle’s yacht and closer to a month would not be stretching the truth too far.
Anyway, Sid was usually fun to work with and the jobs challenging and not many round here tolerated her ‘quirks’, certainly not those tossers down in Perth. Sid didn’t freak out that often. Mostly when he got drunk he told outrageous stories of his time back east, swore vividly for five minutes straight about some bloke called Ekland. Then in mid stride he’d collapse on the flooring and proceed to snore loudly until a pounding headache sent him moaning into Elaine’s capable arms. So compared to a few rounds here, Sid was good company.
So she owed him a chance to explain his freckin’ fragile temper. This last week had been the worst ever. He’d snapped at everyone, even at Uncle Bill and only those tired of life would piss off the old Wandijani cook, a man with the reputation of transforming even the most unpalatable local creature or wild plant into a mouthwateringly savoury meal.
“Okay what’s up? How’s this fit in with our commission from the museum, Lavost or our little sideline?”
Sid shifted uncomfortably. First he tugged at the brim of his hat, then gave his face another rub. Finally he made a move to grab a packet of smokes from his pocket. Damn, he must be upset. He gave them up a few years back after he got ‘rescued’ by Elaine. Finally he dropped his head in surrender.
“Lampie, I’m getting spooked by what I’m finding. There’s too much that doesn’t add up, or rather quite a bit that does and none of our employers are going to like it!”
Lampie shook her head trying to figure out what Sid was on about. This site had only marginally gained her attention. While it was mildly interesting as a beach, nothing had screamed out to her, no legends, from the local Wandijani as a warning or any of the usual signs for sacred places. The preliminary research was pretty sketchy as far as she’d seen, no eyewitness reports or visible remains, so it was as empty as she’d expected. In fact, it was so lean and unpromising, she couldn’t figure out why Sid had been so insistent on an inspection. Then within minutes of landing on the white sandy beach he had lost the plot, freaking out big time. First he’d done the preliminary site walk on his own, a bit irregular but they’d all shrugged and let him have his way while they set up camp. Then after that, he’d shut up tighter than a clam about anything and set out strict instructions on where to do the trial trenches. That was when Bluey had discovered the first graves. After that Sid just got weirder right up to now.

‘So it’s different. Makes a change to shell middens and ballast stones. Why bother? It’s nothing special.” It was her turn for an invisible dismissive shrug. It paid not to get one’s hopes up on this job. Any wild thoughts about his strangeness and the chest were shoved back into the deepest recesses of her consciousness. Obsession with the phantom glimmer of riches had killed too many along this coast.
“You saw that chest we uncovered. What do you think it is, or where it’s from?”
“Come on Sid you know I avoided those units cos they were dead boring under Richards. All we got to look at were his collection of rescued early twentieth century trash! At a guess it’s a chest, mid ninetieth century, so what! There’s a dozen in the Broome antique stores. Give me an area and I’ll find your site, then I’ll draw it. If it’s a wreck, I’ll dive it. As for identifying junk, that’s your work.”

Sid had pushed past the nervous stage and was now quivering with excitement almost bouncing off the rock. She was wondering if maybe tying him up for a while might help, when he turned and grabbed her arm thrusting his face closer. “Its older than that Lampie. Real old I reckon, around the sixteen hundreds!”
She could see the moonlight glint off his eyes. A Wandijani karadji man would have warned of possession by spirits and backed off chanting and conjuring protection. She didn’t have that option, instead dropping her right hand until it touched the hilt of her knife. Not that she meant to slice up Sid, but precaution wouldn’t hurt.
Another piece of useful knowledge bubbled up, ‘when faced with a madman be sympathetic and engage them in quiet conversation, no loud noises or sudden movements’ God knows where that came from probably one of her father’s strange Victorian era books. Oh well she made her voice pleasantly chatty.

“Really Sid! How’d you know it isn’t something salvaged from the Manfred, that went down near here, or maybe the Calliance. She kept on dropping bits all along this coast till she finally sank. We’ve found dozens of caches stashed from Darwin to Broome. Why’s this any different?”
Even in the dark night, Lampie could see the vigorous shaking of his head in the dim moonlight. Being so close gave her a clarity she didn’t need. Sid shook his head in denial like a damp dog. “No I thought that too, as I trowelled off the first layer, but along with those graves we found, I was getting pretty certain!”
“Why? They looked pretty standard dead guys in the ground to me.” That’s right, she thought, keep it calm and Sid will let go before I break his wrist.
“The decomposition was too far advanced even for here. If they were buried in the last hundred or so years we’d have fragments of cloth, maybe boot leather, nails and metal buttons. They didn’t have any of that and the orientation is strictly east-west. I could go on about the other irregularities but I reckon you’d find that a bit boring, like Richards’ tutorials.”

“Yeah, got that right!” Another bit of usually useless knowledge came to the fore, ‘engage the troubled person in talking about something they like, a happy reminiscence perhaps.’
“Tell me Sid, what’s the evidence for your supposition?” She tried to imitate the low rumble of Richards, her former lecturer and bane of her existence at uni. Sid kinda respected him, well, most of the time.
“It’s the chest. The ironwork is a lot older than a few hundred years – the simple pattern of the ironwork, excessive corrosion, the remnants of leather as a water proof cover and I think the timber is oak.”
It was incredible. She didn’t know Sid had such a depth of knowledge. Some of her amazement must have got through. Sid let go and gave an embarrassed chuckle as he waved his hand apologetically.

“Arrh, I had a mate back in the east, you see, he loved old ironwork. Used to build replicas of all sorts of things from beds to armour. The man was a walking encyclopedia on the Middle Ages and knights and such. He was one of those eccentric Brits we used to keep on getting sent out from the UK. Not near as bad as some.”
That memory caused him to pause and moonlight sparkled off his teeth with the smile or grimace of times past. “Poor Pete, he was a bit lost out here. He’d go on and on about how we didn’t have any real history worth digging up and moan about how recent all the stuff was here. Well a few months with him yakking away and it kinda rubbed off.”

The conversation dropped into a considered silence as implications and fantasies combined and percolated upwards to the conscious mind. Perhaps, just perhaps Sid wasn’t barking mad and gold glittered in the distance.
“Soo, Rob was right. It’s a treasure chest like the Batavia?” There she’d said it and now the Goddess of Fate would snatch their chance away.
“Yeah. Well y’know the laws of chance mean that even Rob has to be right sometimes.” That came out with a quavery laugh.
Sid was so twitchy it was beginning to make her nervous. It was a pretty wild possibility and took a bit of getting used to. They both lapsed into a speculative silence for a few more minutes. She’d covered enough of the basic history units to know about the wreck of the Dutch ship the Batavia, in the early 1600s. The grisly story of mutiny, murder and treasure were enough to gain the attention of even the most bored student.

“Okay, so who’s chest is it?” That question just oozed reticence. Despite the allure of a box of gold and gems, she was still reluctant to concede it wasn’t another of the usual run of stashed ship’s fittings buried by some wreck stripper.
Sid took off his hat and fiddled with the brim. “I was trying to figure that out while we were uncovering it. The list is pretty long – anybody from the Dutch to the Portuguese or maybe Spanish.”
She still suppressed a sudden surge of hope. All of those tended to carry handy chests of silver or gold coins. “What about that English pirate, Dampier? He cruised around here. I remember he tried to take one of the Manila treasure galleons.” She couldn’t help it, it just slipped out.
“I thought you said you skipped the history units? That’s why I had to arrange those special practicals for you.” Sid sounded distinctly suspicious, as if he’d caught her out stealing from the cookie jar. Well, actually he had.
“Not when they included pirates. Even Richards couldn’t make those boring! Anyway let’s go find your treasure.”

Lampie stood up and gave a stretch, but Sid jumped quickly to his feet and grabbed her arm again. Not a good move. Her other hand shot up and locked around his wrist. Ignoring the discomfort he maintained his grip. “Lampie, we got to take this really cautiously. There are a shit load of scavengers out there who‘d be onto us quicker than a saltie after a tourist, if they heard even a hint of what could be here! This could be bloody dangerous!”
“Okay, okay we’ll take it carefully, like you say.” Lampie slowing nodded her agreement and twisted out of Sid’s grip. He was definitely still hiding something, but about what?

With the discussion at a seeming end, they both returned to the floodlit trench and Sid began the painstaking task of getting into the chest. Lampie continued to monitor the camera, while Bluey and Rob took turns to check on the generator and occasionally Uncle Bill would front up and pass around strongly aromatic cups of steaming tea.
The first red streaks of dawn shot across the eastern sky, washing out the darker purple of the Kimberleys night though the crescent disc of the moon seemed reluctant to surrender the heavens. To a collective low gasp the lid was slowly eased upwards and all of them crowded around the opened chest. Then after a long moment of puzzled inspection, they all spoke at one.
“Where’re the dubblins? If this is a pirate chest there’d be golden dubblins.
“What about the jewels, an’ pearls, an’ piles of silver?”
“It’s doubloons Bluey. Now shut up.”
“Yurkch. That’s a funny way ta stow a blokes’ sconce boss.”
“I don’t think so... Now be quiet.”
“Urrh, yuk! Christ, Sid! What the hell is this box of junk? We spent so much effort digging up broken crockery and that? I told ya this was another wrecker’s stash!”

“Every body SHUDDUPP!!!!”
Silence dropped suddenly, just in time for the morning chorus of birds to start up. Sid slowly stood up, finger stiffly outstretched, pointing at the three objects in the box. After his bellow, the rest of the company dropped back in surprise. But now they clustered around closer, and leaned in over the open chest to see what Sid was so upset about.
“You see that! You all see them laid out like that. Do you know what it means?”

They seemed to glow with their own pearly sheen from the dawn light, washed in red from one side and a dark silvery tint from the other. Lampie pushed forward and had the best view of their discovery, though she still didn’t understand why Sid was trembling from head to toe. Perhaps he’d finally lost the plot. It happened to some of them out here. They went raving mad and tried to talk to a saltie or thought they were jellyfish.
She made surreptitious hand signals to the rest of the crew and spoke in a quiet soothing voice. “No Sidney. Could you please tell us?”
Sid took a long deep breath and dropped his quivering hand. “It means we’re so deep in the shit, we’re going to need snorkels to get out of this!”
And that was when, Lampie remembered later, the problems really started.

Hope you enjoyed this sample dear friends the whole novel will be out soon on Amazon Kindle
Regards Greg

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Will the Real King Arthur Please Step Out of the Shadows?

Greetings Houselings I hoped you liked the tribute to our American cousins for their 4th July Celebration in the last issue of this blog. Since then we’ve had Bastille Day and another dramatic revolution in Society that some are linking to the Arab Spring. On the events in Britain I will put my thoughts in order and give you a considered opinion in the next few days. In the meantime I was given the chance to check out a piece of historical non fiction on a subject very dear to the hearts of most if not all fantasy and historical fiction readers King Arthur. Now I remember racing home from school to watch on a very fuzzy Black and white TV the series Arthur of the Britons starring Olivier Tobias and one of my favourite British larger than life actors Brian Blessed. It was after the gruelling privations of school a real highlight. One I suppose pushed me in the direction of historical research and reconstruction archaeology that I’ve have doggedly perused ever since.

Now I now it was a made for TV production but even then it did impress me with the efforts it took to remove the ‘knightly fantasy’ of Arthur. Apart from being a damned good piece of entertainment it was as close as any TV production could be to including cutting edge archaeological and historical interpretations. Since then as we’ve seen standards have dropped a bit though one or two productions still make an effort to shrug off Hollywood History.
However it is items in the realm of print that I want to talk about. There is a definite Arthurian industry, that regularly churns out all manner of learned works that claim to either make Arthur a space alien, a purely mythological figure and of course many in the Victorian vein of the fantasy knight that he wasn’t. Thus it is refreshing to come across a book that doesn’t make extravagant claims, instead going back to look at the text and name evidence as free as possible from modern contamination. To me August Hunt’s book fulfils all the requirements of fine and rigours scholarship and research, he has present his evidence and given exhaustive reasoning for his interpretation. Now as any student of history knows the Truth of the past changes with time as new information comes to light, I suspect that it will be so with August’s book. It is not the definitive work on Arthur, but it is a damned important stepping stone on our path to understand the cloudy period of Sub Roman Britain and I hope will lead to further real efforts in research and archaeology.

The only problem I found with this was one of frustration…I immediately wanted to see the next stage of his research!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How to categorize this book well that isn't so simple, there are almost books without number claiming all manner of attributes and origins to that most famous and mysterious of British heroes Arthur-Dux Bellorum or High King of Britain. He has been presented in so many different forms a Celtic King reasserting a lost independence, the last of the Romans in an isolated outpost of a crumbled Empire or even Mallory's and Geoffrey of Monmouth's great chivalric hero. Through all this fiction it is very difficult to tell.

As a historian and reconstruction archaeologist I know that you have to look hard for evidence to base your work on and I must say that August Hunt has certainly done that. His research cutting through mythology and ignoring pet theories is based on original place names, reasonable translations and interpretations of the earliest records is to be commended. He presents a very compelling argument to place Arthur and his great battles in the north where the remnant of the old Roman field army most probably still held sway. He examines each phrase of the account of battles and give I feel a very reasoned suggestion as to their validity and location based on the textual and where possible archaeological evidence. Having studied the Arthurian conundrum for decades and been weaned as a teen on Morris' The Age of Arthur, I appreciate fine scholarship and this is it. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to any serious student of Sub Roman Britain as a valuable addition to the Arthurian discussion. Now considering this book a few days after I went through it I found that August's studies opened up a lot more questions. I can only hope that he will find the time to explore them. 
Regards Greg

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The American Revolution- What was it and Why?

Welcome my friends and fellow Houselings! Since it is has been such a along time since the doctor has given you any pearls of wisdom, I think that considering it is the 4th of July it merits a special post.

Since 1776 an awful lot of misconceptions and legends have grown up around both the Declaration of Independence and the Founding Fathers of the United States. More than a few are demolished by Bill Bryson in his excellent light hearted work Made in America. A piece that should be required reading for anyone in High School and beyond if only to show that history and myths are damned amusing and their origins are quite bizarre.

Instead today I am going to shift the focus away from the suggested seat of Liberty America and look at a single event in the Bear pit of the House of Commons at British Parliament in 1765. Charles Townsend the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke in the House for the enabling of the Stamp Act to assign taxation of items in use by the American Colonies. While no one likes taxes at anytime the basis of this one was perfectly reasonable, the monies raised were to be used to defray the costs of protecting the American Colonies. Simple and straight forward, however after that bout of commonsense the rest of the process was a disaster. Which the eminent and highly readable historian Barbara Tuchman succinctly points out in her March of Folly. If human arrogance, misunderstanding, stupidity, misconception, ego and snobbishness could put an oar in to make a poor idea into a catastrophe it did.

But there were more than enough men of backbone and character who stood up against this piece of absolute stupidity. Pitt the Elder, the architect of victory over France, the great orator Edmund Burke, General Conway and the man who first encapsulated the American Colonials situation Colonel Isaac Barré (see painting to left). This respected soldier fought with Wolfe and was with him at the time of his death on the Plains of Abraham the culminating victory of the Seven Year War that ended French control of the Canadas.

What Colonel Barré said in answer to Townsends’ slur on the Colonies was this, accord to a transcription posted immediately to the colonies (quoted from A New Age Now Begins – Page Smith)

“They planted by you care? No, your oppressions planted them in America. They fled from your tyranny to a then uncultivated and unhospitable country –where they exposed themselves to almost all their hardships of which human nature is liable, and among other to a cruel and savage foe…And yet actuated by principles of true English Liberty, they met all hardships with pleasure, compared with those suffered in their own country, from hands of those who should have been their friends.”

“They nourished by your indulgence? They grew by your neglect of em: as soon as you began to care about em, that care was exercised in sending persons to rule over em, in one department or another, who were perhaps the deputies of deputies to some member in this House- sent to spy out their liberty, to misrepresent their actions and to prey upon em: men whose behaviour on many occasions has caused the blood of those Sons of Liberty to recoil within them…

“They protected by your arm? They have nobly taken up arms in you defence, have exerted a valour amidst their constant and laborious industry for the defence of a country whose frontier was drenched in blood. Its interior parts have yielded all its little savings to your emolument. And believe me, remember I this day told you so, that same Spirit of Freedom which actuates that people at first will accompany them still- But prudence forbids me to explain myself further. God knows I do not at this time speak from motives of party heat; what I deliver are the genuine sentiments of my heart.

So folks, here we are all those noble sentiments and ringing word that moved the Thirteen Colonies first uttered here by an Englishman in Parliament endeavouring to protect your Rights and Liberties.

The Grand Union flag of the Thirteen Colonies
I think that at this time of division and the active promotion of hate and rancour within our legislative assemblies and without, perhaps we too should listen to the wisdom of Colonel Barré a man who spoke for commonsense, thought and temperance. A man who freely admitted that the current system had serious flaws and that if they were not solved it could lead to calamity. At this point I feel that it is also worthy while noting that all through the trauma of the American Revolution support for the colonies across all classes of Britain remained high. This also continued into the dreadful time of the Civil War when apart from a frothy sympathy for the South from the Upper classes the British Government was not going to go to war on behalf of States upholding the institution of Slavery. Sorry all you die hard Southern supporters, King Cotton was always a myth. So to our American Kin on this auspicious day I suggest you look hard at the realties of this occasion and think long and deeply about what those Founding Fathers and their English supporters would think of what you have done with their gift since then? Reinvigorated or squandered?

Regards from the good doctor and don’t forget keep taking them pills!

Happy 4th of July

Well, my friends and fellow Houselings the wheel of the year has turned and once more we find ourselves approaching a particualt time of signifigance for our American counsins.  Ye it is indeed almost the 4th of July Holiday.  Now apart from a wonderful mid summer break I am sure most people around the world and even here in the Antipodes have an inkling about its true origins.  Yes as the common film versions of history tell us it was all about those loathsome British and their redcoated soldiers oppressing and murdering honest hardworking colonials at the orders of a distant an uncaring king.  And as some would have it the right to bear arms.  But we won't get into that right now.  While films like the Patriot can partially convey an more modernist slanted impression, the reality was far more complex.  For one support in Britain for the Colonial cause was extremely strong and the King's war in the Americas actually faced far more opposition than the US involvement in Vietnam.  Officers refused to serve and resigned their commissions, gentlemen refused to pay taxes or subscriptions, papers like The Northern Briton by John Wilkes slammed the King's policies in Parliament.  While at Westminster Burke, Conway, Colonel Isaac Barre and the old lion of Parliament Pitt the Elder spoke eloquently and passionate day after day in  support of the rights of the colonists.  It is this later point of the of the divisions created in the British Commonwealth that made the Revolution and Declaration of Independence such a tragedy of the time, it was in every way a Civil War both in the Amercian Colonies and in Britain.  To make sense of all this and brign to life the multifaceted characters of the time none is better at telling the tale than Page Smith in-

A New Age Now Begins (A People's History 2)A New Age Now Begins by Page Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Page Smith’s multivolume history of the United States is a phenomenal work in several large books packed with details and eyewitness reports from all sides of the both the small and larger events that shaped the path of the modern United States. Now I am not an American and as a descendant of British colonists in Australia I admit to possessing a distinctly different view of American history to others. That being said I found Page Smith presentation of the Americas of the pre Revolution and the progress of the Revolution deeply absorbing, in fact fascinating. Page Smith is quite prepared to present both side’s opinions, attitudes and angst. In doing so I feel that he brings the out the real humanity of firstly the British officers like Howe trying to solve or suppress the Rebellion. A gentleman, who found to his distress that duty and loyalty had to go before personal sympathy. The incomprehension of a King who couldn’t understand the motivations of his citizens, or the endless confusion and misunderstanding created by the Atlantic time lag and his orders.

Then we have the colonials who had grievances both real and manufactured. Whom felt pushed into an action they didn’t want to take and then under the most amazing leadership, that spanned the arc from inept to magnificent struggled to gain their interpretation of liberty and government. In all of this Page Smith takes you through month by month and in the case of moments of destiny or defeat almost minute by minute. In all this, he unlike other’s does not descend into jingoism, or hero worship. All the characters of this historical pageant are alive, some hopelessly flawed but still brave, some perceptive and farsighted but hindered by chance or support.

In the end this is not a dry recitation of revisionist history, it is alive and Page Smith as any good historian takes you to the heart of the events. I have no hesitation in recommending these first two volumes to any student of history.

Most of all it lays open the massive support the American colonists always enjoyed in Britain from all levels of society from the commoners to Parliament a fact that needs to be emphasised.
In closing a little clip from Barry Lyndon the Redcoats marching to the tune of the British Grenadiers

From the Good Doctor have a great and safe 4th of July!

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Monday, May 9, 2011

At Last, its Alive-The Liberties of London is Published

The Liberties of LondonThe Liberties of London by Gregory House

The good doctor bids you all a good day, and hopes all his devoted readers and their family's are in perfect health.  Ahem, not requiring any purgatives, emitcs or perhaps drawing a measure of blood.  Excellent, so today I am the bearer of good news, my novella  The Liberties of London the first of perhaps a dozen Red Ned Mysteries has been released on both Amazon Kindle and Smashwords (please check the links at the bottom of the article)  It has been a long time in promise but here it is.  This very reasonably priced novella (99c) complete with map and the first three chapters of the Queen's Oranges is the perfect company for any discerning reader of historical fiction or the Tudor devotee.  I'm not going to give too much away but a sample of the first three chapters is on my other blog.  So if your curious hop over there and have a look, or you can download a sample from Amazon or Smashwords.  

 So parting words from the Good Doctor, read a book, keep well and keep taking the damned pill!

Red Ned Tudor Mysteries, Apprentice Lawyer and Aspiring Rogue

A series of stories following the life and mis adventures of Edward (Red Ned) Bedwell, a young apprentice lawyer at Gray’s Inn and reluctant investigator who experiences first hand the tumult and intrigue during the reigns of the Tudor monarchs from Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth I. A foot slogger’s view of the dangerous and deadly rivalries, ambitions and human foibles of the Tudor Court. His Sovereign Majesty the King may command and Councillor Cromwell will instruct, but it is poor Ned who has to deal with the inevitable consequences that lead to treachery and murder. In this Ned is mostly aided by the solid friendship of Rob Black, an artificer in iron and bronze. However it also includes the not necessarily appreciated but usually correct hectoring of his sister Mistress Meg Black, an apprentice Apothecary and suspected heretic. With this ill sorted team Ned has to balance solving his master’s instructions with retaining his honour, keeping secrets and somehow climb up the greasy pole of advancement in the Tudor Age.

View all my reviews

Available from Amazon Kindle

and Smashwords

Since I’m the author of this novella I naturally think its pretty good, however it is for you the reader to make you own judgement. Download a sample, see what you think, if you like it or have a comment please let me know.

Regards Gregory House

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Need for Anzac Day

Lest We Forget

Good day all. I hope this latest missive finds you in good health, having enjoyed a pleasant Easter in whatever fashion you found most appropriate. Tomorrow is April 25, and I hope that all my readers will remember to take some time out and remember all those killed or wounded in either this nation’s service or from where every you happen to be reading this.

My memories’ of this day are usually as one of the cadets during the parade that my school held every ANZAC Day. Full military uniform including the Macpherson kilt (school tartan) then marching around with a lee- enfield rifle on the shoulder being led by the pipe band. However that was just the usual pageantry and ceremony leading up to the culminating memorial service. Then every time they read the memorial address the colour and trapping of the preceding dissolve into meaningless confetti and I’m transported back to a hospital bed by a window in what must have been a Veterans ward and my few conversations with my Grandfather Harry James House, a veteran of the Great War. He was in pain and almost completely blind from the shrapnel wound he’d received long decades before at Pozieres. Now I was just a young child and, I suppose I didn’t know any better, or maybe it was just the insatiable curiosity of the young. So of course I asked him about the Great War. To my father’s surprise ‘Pop’ spoke for about fifteen minutes on what he’d seen and what had happened. That, in my father’s experience, was the longest conversation he’d ever heard about the events that had so affected the House clan. Harry House, in all the long years since had never spoken about the horror and suffering he must have seen daily, and the loss of friends and mates. It was something remembered ‘personally’ a long running grief.

Now every year on this day, all over Australia, New Zealand and those places around the world where Anzac blood was shed so profusely, there will be memorial services. To those of you unfamiliar with the whole Anzac idea, it is for us Antipodeans, a combination of 4th of July and the French Bastille Day wrapped up with Memorial Day (USA) and Remembrance Day. The reason this day trumps all others in the calendar of national days is that for us Down-Under, it was the first occasion our fledgling nations made an appearance on the world stage. It is perhaps unfortunate that this representation of emergent national character was expressed so dramatically on the bloody field of conflict. However that is frequently the case amongst us flawed humans and our imperfect social organisation. What is also ironic is that the day and the campaign we revere so highly was, in the end a defeat. At this point I could get all jingoistic and proclaim martial pride and valour- you know awards, tributes, the jingling of medals and other clutter. Or like the great Australian war historian, CW Bean, I could state that Australians were natural soldiers.

Bean is substantially correct, in that the life experience of Australians at that time made them intelligent, versatile and competent soldiers. Then add the British training regimen and you got men who turned out to be very good soldiers, with the added benefit of having an ingrained habit of initiative. But hardened veterans and bullet proof super heroes they weren’t. Instead the lads, that early on the morning of 25th of April 1915, stormed ashore at the beaches of Gallipoli, were as fragile and as flawed as the rest of us. But that didn’t stop them as they surged up those steep rugged cliffs to do their bit for Australia, New Zealand and their shared allegiance for the British Empire. Now that’s the simple facts. A more difficult one for us to understand in these cynical times of propaganda and ‘media management’ was that the Anzac’s who served in the Great War, amongst the mud, blood and death, were all volunteers. Even more impressive is that almost every family in the nation provided one or more to serve. Either husbands and fathers or sons and nephews, that kind of commitment is almost unprecedented. What motives brought them there were more complex than commonly repeated slogans on a poster.

Some historians have since claimed that the First AIF (Australian Imperial Force) were naively duped into serving a foreign war. Others maintain that it was boredom and the possibility of adventure and drew them into the fearful maw of war. No doubt these were contributing factors. However in the main it was patriotism, a sense of duty and a belief that it was the ‘right thing’ to do. While human nature is somewhat repetitive in its actions, this doesn’t look like the usual surge for colonial expansion. As I said in these ‘modern’ cynical times where motivation for conflict is usually rendered down to money or oil or both, these men travelled half way around the world not bent on conquest, or plunder or to seize someone else’s natural resources. No, it was in response to the unprovoked declaration of war by an alliance of non-democratic nations bent on using a political assassination for an excuse to launch a long prepared military campaign for aggrandisement and conquest.

Or so it stands my opinion. These men individually made a conscious decision to step forward either for us, for their beliefs or for their mates. Then in amongst the turmoil of Gallipoli and the dreadful conditions of the Western Front they stuck it out through fearful bombardments, incompetent leadership, poor rations and the chilling chatter of the machine gun.  Like the above painting of the doomed charge of the Australian Light Horse at the Nek, war doesn't look very glorious to me and I'm not sure modernist revisionism adequately explains these men's motivations.
So I say past the politics, recriminations, the economic persiflage of stock market derivatives and blatant self interest:


For more information visit

Regards Greg

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Fukushima Conundrum and Mistakes from the Past

Greetings my well regarded readers, all several of you, I hope that you are in your own way contributing towards assisting the people in those areas devastated by political intransigence, current war, natural disaster and technological malfeasance. If not may I humbly suggest giving to either the International Red Cross or a similar reputable organisation if you can. For many parts of the globe it has been an exceedingly grim month and has reminded us that as humans, it really does pay to look realistically to the past as a way of preventing foreseeable errors of the future. The current meltdown at the TEPCO reactors at Fukushima is I think a prime example of ignoring past lessons, because they were perhaps too unpalatable to accept.

Here I wish to speak out about our history with nuclear power generation. Unlike some I do not claim to speak with qualifications in nuclear science or research. While I have frequently contributed information to articles about the problems of nuclear power, I speak from a position of having studied how humans, both individuals and organisations, interact with complex areas of technology.

Now as we know the reality of nuclear potential was made clear to the world on the 6th of August 1945 when the B-29 Superfortess Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. As many historians and philosophers have repeated since then, on that day the world changed. The following wiki article has a reasonable report and links of the event

Since then the morality, ethics and rational of nuclear warfare have been endlessly argued, from MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) to the tactical employment of nuclear weapons on the battlefield ie ‘small’ nuclear rockets and artillery shells. Having trained for this nuclear battlefield in the Reserves some decades ago I can honestly say I’d have a better chance of survival going Over the Top at Passchendaele or the Somme. The 1960’s British film The War Game gives a very accurate and chilling view of the consequences that I was trained for in the late 1970’s. Since it is going to come up in any discussion of nuclear power I will deal with use of the nuclear bomb in the Second World War.

1. The intended target was originally Hitler’s Germany in response to the information the Allies had gained on the Nazi nuclear program and their use of the V1 and V2 rockets. Now there is a scary thought.

2. The operation of the strategic policy of the Imperial Japanese Army for the Home Islands protection ordered a last man-last bullet defence, plus the extensive use of Kamikaze operations. It succeeded, but not in the way it was intended. Instead it convinced the US political administration and Allied military command that any ground invasion of the Japanese Home Islands would have cost millions of lives, both Allied and Japanese. Thus other means of ending the war were to be seriously considered.

3. Politically, socially, culturally and historically the Japanese military elite could not admit or accept that they had lost the war. According to the evidence their efforts at negotiation were half hearted, evasive and disjointed, while their admissions of reality were at best based wholly on an out-moded mythology and ideology. One that refused to accept the current strategic and tactical facts of consistent defeat in military and technological areas.

4. Sadly I also have to say that on the Allied side human nature played all too great a part in the deployment of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. After all that effort and expense both the military and political administration wanted to see what they’d got. That wonderful human attribute of curiosity, it has been both a blessing and curse. I will present a rather bleak assessment of the human propensity to poke the hornet’s nest. In light of the strange 1950’s-80’s definitions of a ‘winnable war’, it is perhaps better that it was first used earlier rather than much more devastatingly later during the tensions of the Cold War.

Technology, Mistakes and Human Nature

Now having very briefly reviewed the warfare aspect of nuclear technology, we will examine the current situation. While the nuclear industry constantly stresses the yawning gulf between the peaceful and military employment of the atom, in public perception that separation is irrelevant.

The promotional films of the peaceful atom in the 1950’s are now viewed as blatantly false propaganda, anyone with any doubts should check out the documentary Atomic Café on YouTube.

Now for decades advocates of the nuclear industry have said repeatedly it is a viable perfectly safe technology for power generation. This message is as of the other day still being proclaimed by experts like William Tucker. In a perfect world this may be so, however the entire flaw in this argument is a simple word ‘perfect’. Such as in the following; perfect construction, perfect engineering, perfect maintenance, perfect operation, perfect supervision and perfect preparation for disaster. In this ‘perfect environment’ developed by perfect humans we obviously can’t have shoddy construction dictated by ‘rigid five year plans’, tight budgets or corrupt contractors. There can be no provision for faulty spare parts, incorrect engineering specifications or sloppy fabrication. Of course all nuclear engineers and technicians are fully trained with the best tools, equipment and communication. Then all operators aren’t suffering from overwork, illness, imposition of unrealistically tight deadlines and an idiot for a supervisor. Of course all these difficulties can be compounded by poor initial design and flawed concepts. For the final clincher we are always accurately able to predict all geophysical movements and their effects. If only this were so.
In all of the past nuclear reactor incidents we have had a selection of all of the above real life ‘imperfections’ as a quick example of some incidents will show.

Windscale, Sellafield Reactor

The Windscale or Sellafield disaster had at its core a very flawed design for cooling and operation of a reactor. It used air flow to maintain the reactor temperature and baffles in the chimney to trap any radioactive particles. The wiki article explains enough design, operation and engineering problems to give any person nightmares. Major nuclear contamination was only avoided by a combination of luck and bravery.

Three Mile Island

After the event operators in the control room admitted that all the switches and dials looked the same. In a crisis it was not easy to identify which was the most important readings to respond to. In fact one switch had an empty coke can over it to indicate this was a vital control. In the end an inquiry found that a contributing factor of the disaster was a single stuck valve and human error. The clean up coast was cited as one billion US dollars. Dare I say design didn’t allow for human operators, or the provision of faulty parts in a free market system?


Simply put the ‘five year plan’ ideology rewarded results on paper and in physical form. The effectiveness and reliability of the finished project where ‘never’ put to question. Any significant criticism or critical review was a one way ticket to Siberia. So this reactor as many other Soviet period projects suffered from ongoing flaws from the start. This was compounded during the crisis by the kind of planning and supervision that relied upon the ideology that soviet engineers and equipment was perfect and that reporting failure or problems was a poor career choice.

Even in the face saving culture of Japan, where reporting problems and errors to those higher up in the hierarchy is a public admission of shame, as well as being socially unacceptable, Tepco is in a class of its own. The revelation a few years ago that one or more of its workers were in the habit of transporting radioactive water in a bucket, was to say the least concerning, let alone the other more serious problems that Tepco didn’t want to talk about.
Acceptable Risk and Real Maths
Only today on the BBC a professor of risk management at Cambridge has stated that we are essentially hyperventilating over a minor problem and cites a reel of statistics for radon and background radiation and the results of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to prove his point, as to the overwhelming safety of nuclear energy. All I can say to this is a very famous quote from the ninetieth century British prime minster Benjamin Disraeli ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
I am afraid the elastic science of risk assessment was frequently used to justify the ‘acceptable casualty’ rates for any nuclear exchange by the military hierarchy on both sides of the Cold War. Carl Sagan amongst other ‘real scientists’ proved this was an deadly earth threatening misconception. Unfortunately the soft and uniquely flexible maths of statistical analysis tends to fail when put up against the hard solid physics of the half life of radioactive isotopes. Especially plutonium.

Reactor in an Earthquake zone?  No Worries!

Then there are the manifest errors of building a reactor in a known frequently active fault zone with large tsunamis within living memory. Hard maths and even our now dated knowledge of geology in the 1980’s told us that a severe earthquake was bound to affect the Fukushima site within the span of a current human lifetime. So given that and that the cooling system failed, the ‘design parameters’ for earthquake proofing were seriously flawed. Another problem that has occupied recent media attention is the pool containing spent fuel rods, as is becoming apparent it poses a serious risk that goes beyond ‘risk assessment’ since it contains far more fuel rods than are supposed to be present.

As an example of the effects of this ‘regulatory omission’ I believe a quick visit to the following blog would be beneficial:

The Fukushima Heroes
Currently the safety of a large enough area of Japan and its population is reliant on a very small crew of workers and volunteers. I fear they will suffer similar ‘casualties’ to those at Chernobyl. I somehow doubt that they will be comforted by the statistical improbability of their dying of radiation sickness. Or that their actions will not contribute to the overall protection of any significant proportion of the people of Japan.

This is a simple equation and no amount of supposed scientific malfeasance or management chicanery is going to change the steady tick of radioactive decay. As I said earlier it is an imperfect world, so it is the height of folly to rely upon a range of modern management and technical myths based upon an impossible perfection.
Regards from the good doctor and may all our prayers go towards those physically dealing with this real world crisis.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New Blog for Tudor Mystery Series

To all my dear fans and devoted readers, it is with both pleasure and trepidation that the good doctor announces a splitting of his blog. The publishing of his first two Tudor novels is imminent. On Prognostications and Pouting (pleasurable reading for the discerning devotee) we’ve had the search for a cover, which included the diverting headless bimbos theme. An introduction to the Tudors part 1 (A Modern Family) and a number of snippets from the first two Tudor novels, The Cardinals Angels and The Queens Oranges scattered amongst the blog posts. So my loyal readers considering that I’m also about to continue my posts on the two world wars along with more reports on the onward march of EBooks. I believe it is time to create a Tudor period blog, where aficionados of our favourite early modern royal dynasty can in the comfort of their own parlours view the foibles, politics and dynastic bloodletting of Henry VIII’s Court and the Reformation. All this from the viewpoint of the lowly and reluctant Red Ned Bedwell apprentice lawyer at Grays Inn and his rather forthright ahh ‘associate’ Meg Black apprentice apothecary, heretical book smuggler and occasional barber surgeon. Along with her brother Rob and the grim faced family retainer Rodger Hawkins, they find themselves entangled in the deadly schemes of the powerful.

Thus to survive Ned Bedwell has to become a Pursuivant, the Tudor equivalent of a detective. Now Ned’s no stranger to many of the doubtful pastimes of the Liberties of London and notorious Southwark. Where he has a reputation as ‘Red Ned’ victor of Canting Michael’s deadly baiting pits at Paris Gardens. However he needs more than street cunning and luck at the dicing table to manoeuvre his way through the perilous pitfalls and plots of Tudor murder, treachery and intrigue. Luckily Ned has the feisty Meg Black to ‘advise’ him, that’s if he can trust her or she isn’t running some secret heretical scheme that could also get them all hung or burnt at the stake.

So go to the new blog site
and feel free to read the prologue of The Cardinal’s Angels. Also within the month I will have a Red Ned short story The Liberties of London ready to roll out, the front cover, prologue and first chapter will be previewed on this site.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Tudors, A Quick Guide for the Perplexed Part 1

The Tudors: A Modern Family

Greetings my well regarded readers. Forgive the delay since my previous missive. It has been frantically busy here in the Antipodes. The summer holidays, as damp and cyclone and flooding afflicted as they were have ended. Now we have that special time of year when the 2011 school year starts. All the eager Houslings have been reequipped, clothed and reshoed ready for their first week, and by all that is holy, wasn’t that an incredibly expensive experience. For the privilege of free education at a State school it seems that the House clan has to cough up thousands in text books, computers and “compulsory” fees which are apparently really ‘non compulsory’ except that you have to pay them, or the Houslings are barred from accessing the computers or the library and so on. Anyway the woes of ‘modern’ education could fill a thousand blogs so we’ll leave that complaint for much later.

As my devoted readers will have noticed the epublishing debate rages on I include a link from the LA Times that may prove informative and amusing.,0,1203901,ful/l.story

Which concisely points out a simple fact ignored by many publishers- the reading public are actually the ones who work out whether a book or writer is worthwhile. As has been stated in other media, a growing number of published authors are waiting for their contracts to run out so that they can place their older work straight out in the e-book market. For e-publishers this shift is also welcome news, since they’re relying on niche markets and simple forms of advertising as well as social media to promote their work. To indie writers and especially your humble servant the good doctor its a viable and cost effective opportunity to get our stories straight to the reader, without going through the grovelling, marketing and accounting hoops of the publishing industry.

Which as far as I’m concerned is excellent, since their usual prognostications have as much validity as that famous quip from Decca to the Beatles in 1962–‘we don’t like their sound and guitar music is on the way out’. Or of course the ever popular Chairman of IBM’s prediction in 1943- ‘I think there is a world markets for five computers’. Oh dear how wrong they were.

So I suppose its entirely reasonable to understand how the publishing industry totally missed the surge in Tudor interest.

I mean its such a boring dreary period. Absolutely nothing happened, no dramatic love triangles (Henry, Katherine and Anne) no illicit affairs (Henry’s mistresses all several of them) no bloody revenge of spurned wives from the grave (Katherine to Anne as on historian has suggested no zombies though) a complete lack of tragedy and pathos (the death of Jane Seymour and the official murder of Anne). And its not as if there’s any link with a few modern social crises such as growing radical religious division (protestants v’s catholics) or even the abuses of government or elitists hierarchies (Oh dear, where to start the list, the church, the Act of Supremacy, stacking Parliament).

Then again its was such a different world and of course they didn’t have the benefit of the internet or social media. Instead the early printing presses that ran almost 24/7 pumping out books, pamphlets and ballads all striving to put new ideas into public circulation. Not that the flood of new literature or radically fast communication had anything to do with the sudden burgeoning of ideas and changes in society. So as I said it’s no wonder that the publishing industry has consigned the Tudors to the status of a lowly niche market, inhabited by readers of historical romance and history devotees nutters. (oops Uber editor’s correction that should have been devotees, after all would our dearly beloved publishing industry ever label any of their readers as nutters?

So be it, as you’ve no doubt read in my prior posts, the Tudor era is where I’ll be launching my first series of books. As I’ve briefly outlined above this fascinating period of British history is packed full of bloodshed, treachery, manipulative scheming politicians, overt sexual tensions, a dominating monarch and a simmering religious feud that threatened to erupt into civil war. This has recently been made even more accessible by the history programs of David Starkey on Henry VIII and his Wives as well as the kind of accurate cross between a soap opera and history for television series The Tudors

Leading on from that I was checking up with my ‘unbiased’ reviewer this afternoon regarding my Tudor novel I’d recently sent him to proof read. He quite gratifyingly said it was really good and a lot of fun to read. Naturally I thought this was fantastic news. Imagine at this stage a series of energetic cartwheels and popping champagne corks. Then after my brief moment of euphoria, he uttered those dreaded words feared by any writer- ‘however’. It amazing how a simple word like ‘however’ can strike you with bone shaking dread. His use of it was luckily only as a member of the very general reading audience, thus not quite so chilling. He found it a little confusing sorting out the characters and their motives. Considering the twists, turns, reversals and abrupt terminations of the Tudor family affairs that is perfectly understandable, so as a rough guide to the perplexed here is the potted version of Tudor characters

Historical Characters

Henry VIII: King of England and Ireland, though he also longs for a chance to renew a hereditary claim to the French crown, which is why it’s stored amongst the royal titles in case of need. Henry has a serious problem due to the ravages of disease and the lottery of genetics. He is the last legitimate male Tudor. Apart from him, there is only one daughter Mary and a scattering of nieces and nephews via his two sisters. What’s worse is that he knows that if he has a ‘sudden accident’, his wife Katherine will immediately arrange a marriage of his daughter Mary to her cousins, the Hapsburgs. This possibility doesn’t improve the notoriously fickle royal humour, since Henry views her family as inherently manipulative and untrustworthy. So as the biological clock ticks away Henry desperately needs an annulment of his first marriage so that he can marry again and gain a son as heir. Simple isn’t it.

Katherine of Aragon: Queen of England and aunt of the Hapsburg Emperor Charles V, who happens to be master of half of Europe as well as the limitless riches of the New World. Katherine has a serious problem. She could only provide one living child for the English throne, a daughter Mary. By 1528 she is past child bearing age and she knows Henry is desperate for a male heir. However that can only happen if she is out of the way. This presents a difficulty since Katherine likes being queen and she wants her daughter to be queen. The solution is simple- she gains her Hapsburg nephew’s support and stymies Henry’s efforts for a legal papal divorce. In this endeavour Katherine is not alone, she has a number of both public and secret English backers in positions of power and influence. Some are men of principle and honour, while others seek to gain from a continuation of the current dynastic problem, or profit from the dispute. One more factor that is frequently ascribed to her motives, is a very deep Castilian desire for revenge. No one casts aside the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain!

Anne Boleyn: the beloved mistress of King Henry and the essential reason for the annulment commission. Her sister is rumoured to have had a son to Henry so in royal eyes the odds of a male heir are good. Anne however, wants the legal recognition of a marriage for advancement and protection. Thus the complicated legal and biblical wrangling and negotiations to and fro with the Pope that lasts for years. It’s also been said around the court that Anne is both the driving force behind Henry and keen on the heretical ideas of Luther. If her potential husband has to break with Rome, then she won’t shed a tear over it. Whether she or Henry made the first move to ramp up the affair is now irrelevant. In the bitter factional rivalry of the Tudor court it has become a do or die effort. Anne is very aware of the penalty for faltering or failure- a quick river trip to the Tower.

Thomas Wolsey: Cardinal legate, Archbishop of York and the Lord Chancellor of England. The supreme administrator of the kingdom and right hand of the king. He has gained this position by solving all the king’s problems and increasing his master’s status amongst the powers of Europe. However, as an upstart commoner he is loathed by the nobility, while as the instigator of high taxes and for his supreme arrogance, he is actively hated by the commoners. With the advent of Anne Boleyn Wolsey’s power begins to slip and the Cardinal is caught in a quandary. If he pushes Anne’s cause she gains power. If he doesn’t, he loses the trust and support of the King and falls. In the end he plays a dangerous game of prevarication and delay, hoping for change of mood in his fickle royal master or until he can find a substitute for that damn Boleyn woman. Or alternately a shift in the power balance in Europe makes ‘Lady Anne’ vulnerable.

Here endeth part 1 I will conclude this blog with a promo from the up coming Cardinal’s Angels that will be released on Smashwords and Amazon very soon.

The Cardinal’s Angels

A novel of Murder, Treason and Heresy in Henry VIII’s England

This set of stories follows the life and adventures of Edward (Red Ned) Bedwell, a young apprentice lawyer at Gray’s Inn and reluctant investigator who experiences first hand the tumult and intrigue during the reigns of the Tudor monarchs from Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth I. As a comparison it is similar to the Lindsay Davis Falco novels set in ancient Rome and like other historical mystery novels examines the rivalries, ambitions and human foibles that frequently led to treachery and murder.

It is the year 1529, and the kingdom is embroiled in the factional politics of ‘the King’s Great Matter’, Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon. While celebrating the successful ‘sting’ of Canting Michael the gang lord of Southwark at the bear baiting ring, Ned finds himself dragged into a tavern brawl over honour. Later in the notorious ‘Clink Goal’ he awakes with only a blurry recollection and finds himself accused of murdering a royal official, a servant of Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord Chancellor of England, a dangerous man to cross. To save himself from the charge of treason and secure the support of his unwilling uncle, Ned has to search out the real culprits and their motives for murder. In the back streets of London he acquires some very reluctant allies – Meg Black an apprentice apothecary and her brother Rob, who find themselves caught up as witnesses to the deadly brawl. Their combined skills, inventiveness and trust are put to the test as the hunt by competing lords of the kingdom intensifies. What is so important that the retainers of the Dukes of Norfolk, and Suffolk as well as those of the spurned Queen Katherine are so keen to kill for? Is it the mystery of the Cardinal’s Angels, golden coins of the realm found hidden within church candles or a set of cryptic letters in the slain man’s purse? What could be worth more than gold and why is Dr Agryppa, the astrologer, so keen to help Ned, and if so would he risk his soul in accepting the bargain?

If that isn’t complicated enough, Ned over heard a discussion between Meg Black and her business partner regarding his permanent ‘removal’ in case ‘he’ discovered their secret trade?

As the good doctor says keep taking the pills!