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Strange Times by Joan Szechtman

strange timesToday, we interview Joan Szechtman, an American writer who has just published her third time-travel novel about King Richard the Third.  Fans of Joan have read her books, THIS TIME, which was published in 2009 and LOYALTY BINDS ME which was published in 2011.  Her third Richard the Third novel, STRANGE TIMES, has just been published and is available on Amazon.

Joan, to begin with, what made you interested in Richard the Third?

In 2004 I read Sharon Kay Penman’s THE SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR. It turned my perception of Richard III from Shakespeare’s arch-villain I loved to hate to a sympathetic character I had to learn about. From Penman’s book I found RICHARD THE THIRD by Paul Murray Kendall.

Those are two great sources to use when researching Richard the Third.  Please tell us how you became involved with the Richard the Third Society? I believe you hold several key posts in the American branch.

As I continued my research, I realized I needed to find resources beyond my local library and found the UK and American Branch websites of the Richard III Society. In addition to joining the American Branch, I signed on to both branches email lists so that I could ask questions of other members who were far more knowledgeable than me.

At the time I joined the American Branch, the New England Chapter had just formed and they contacted me to see if I would be interested in participating. So, I joined them as well. A couple of years after joining the New England Chapter the first moderator resigned her position and I became the new moderator for the next two years.

In 2011, the American Branch needed a new editor and I was pressed into service. I’m still the branch’s editor. We have two semi-annual publications: The Ricardian Register and The Ricardian Chronicle. The Register is more academic oriented and features scholarly papers and book reviews and is published both in print and digital editions every March and September. The Chronicle is basically a newsletter, focusing on member events, Ricardian travels, and member interviews. It’s published digitally every June and December.

Amazing resources for the American students of Richard!  Your new book “Strange Times” is now available on Amazon. Can you tell us something about it?

This is the third book of the trilogy about Richard III in the 21st century. While each book follows Richard today chronologically, the books are written so there are no cliff hangers and can be read in any order, though it’s best to read them sequentially. The book does contain a brief “previously on” for those who haven’t read the first two books or need a refresher.

What fascinates me about Strange Times is that it attempts to cover the fate of my favorite person in all of Richard the Third’s life:  Viscount Francis Lovell, Richard’s closest friend.

STRANGE TIMES takes place in both the 15th and 21st century and investigates what might have happened to Francis Lovell, Richard’s loyal supporter. Currently, there is no definitive historical record of Lovell after the Battle of Stoke where Lovell fought on the losing side against Henry VII. Richard is haunted by one possible outcome that has Lovell starving to death locked in an underground chamber in Minster Lovell. The book follows Richard using the time travel device to “see” what happened to Lovell after Stoke. Then everything goes pear-shaped.

The trilogy is available on most online book sellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble for both print and digital editions, and digitally on iTunes, Kobo, Sony, etc.

I know you have a science background which has influenced your books, so can you give us some background information? And why combine that interest with Richard the Third and the time travel books?

While I do have an engineering background, having spent most of that career working on computer science and data communication, I believe my main reason stems from my love of science fiction and time travel stories. When I began my research on the real Richard III, I dreamt of having dinner with him. Since that was impossible, I decided to write him into the 21st century. I based his character on my research.

One of the things that nagged at me was Richard III was quite young when he died—32. I felt there was more to his story than his short life revealed. I wanted to examine his character in a modern setting, without imposing our modern sensibilities on his 15th century actions. By bringing him into the future, I could challenge him in ways that I couldn’t in his own time.

A primary goal in all my books about Richard III is to get the known history right. For that which is not known, I felt free to speculate as long as it was plausible. For example, there is no extant documentation as to what happened to Edward IV’s eldest sons—Edward, putative heir to the throne until parliament declared him illegitimate due to Edward IV’s bigamous marriage, and Richard of York, next in line until declared illegitimate. I developed a plausible theory that Richard hid them in other countries, such as Spain, and they survived Richard.

In STRANGE TIMES, I have Richard learn what happened to his nephews after he had “died” and solve the mystery surrounding Lovell after the Battle of Stoke.

Good for you!  It is so frustrating to try to make people understand that there is no evidence that Richard the Third murdered his nephews.  People have this need to cling to myths.

STRANGE TIMES came to my attention because you received a “Discovering Diamonds” review. Please tell me something about “Discovering Diamonds” and the review.

Rather than paraphrase what Helen Hollick’s blog is about, I will let “Discovering Diamonds” speak for itself:

“Our aim is to showcase well-written historical fiction for readers to enjoy. We welcome indie-published writers because indie writers do not have the marketing backup of the big publishing houses, but if traditionally published novels come our way we’ll be happy to read and review them! Our intention is to have a good mix of good historical fiction to share with you, a reader.

“However, we are fussy: we only publish reviews of the best books, so we also take note of correct presentation and formatting as well as the quality of writing – and when space and time are limited we may only select a few books a month to review. …”

Getting reviews is important for any author, and can be a struggle for indie authors, of which I am one. I am therefore pleased to share the link to my “Discovering Diamonds” review:

Fantastic review.

Thanks for talking to the Murrey & Blue blog.

discovering diamonds review

 

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Richard III and Robert Cecil (Part II)

In a previous post, we explored the theory that Shakespeare’s Richard III was actually based on the Elizabethan politician, Robert Cecil.

Picture of Robert Cecil

Here is another discussion of the subject, Richard III and Robert Cecil, with references to the hypothesis that Shakespeare was actually the 17th Earl of Oxford, a descendant of the previous Earls of Oxford who were such thorns in the side of the Yorkist kings and one of whom was a major factor in Richard’s defeat at Bosworth. If this is true, it is no wonder that ‘Shakespeare’ was happy to blacken Richard’s name.

There are a few misconceptions in the linked article, notably the assertion that Richard executed the 12th Earl and his oldest son; since Richard was only nine years of age on the date Oxford was executed (26th February 1462) this is obviously erroneous and it was, in fact, John Tiptoft who would have presided over Oxford’s execution, being Constable of England at that time (a position he occupied until 1469).

Such distortions of age and timing also occur in Shakespeare, of course, placing Richard at the first battle of St Alban’s, when he would only have been two and a half years old! In fact, he took part in neither of the St Alban’ s battles.

Also, the article states that the most recent attempt to refute the Shakespearean portrayal of Richard’s character was Josephine Tey’s ‘Daughter of Time’. Although this is probably the most famous such work there have, in fact, been countless more recent ones attempting the same thing, such as ‘The Sunne in Splendour’ by Sharon K Penman, ‘We Speak No Treason’ by Rosemary Hawley Jarman, ‘I, Richard Plantagenet’ by J P Reedman and my own ‘Richard Liveth Yet’.

Interview with Alex Marchant, Ricardian Children’s Author

Cover of 'The Order of the White Boar'

There is a new Ricardian children’s author on the block: Alex Marchant. Alex kindly agreed to an interview:

Q: You’ve recently published your first novel about King Richard III for children, The Order of the White Boar. What made you write about King Richard?

Alex: I first became interested in King Richard in my teens when my eye was caught by an intriguing title among the books in the school library: ‘The Daughter of Time’ by Josephine Tey. By the time I finished reading the book I was a confirmed Ricardian (even if I didn’t know the term then). I think what piqued my interest was a sense of the enormous injustice this man had suffered after his death – along with the tragedy of that death and of the preceding two or three years of his life. I joined the Richard III Society (I think as one of its youngest members), read as much as I could about the man and visited major sites associated with his life – and death.

I’d always been interested in history and always written stories, including attempts at book-length works throughout my teens. But then life got in the way as it often does – university, career, marriage, kids, house renovation – and it was only a few years ago I returned to writing. And soon after that came the announcement of the dig to find his grave in Leicester, then the momentous press conference that revealed that King Richard had, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, been found.

Q: It was quite a day, wasn’t it? What was your reaction to the announcement?

A: My first thought – after surprise and delight – was ‘This is a unique opportunity to restore Richard’s reputation. What can I do to help?’ I knew I wasn’t a campaigner – the sort of person who writes letters to important people or stands up to speak in support of a cause. But perhaps I could write a children’s book that could communicate Richard’s story to a new generation. At that point I was editing my previous book, ‘Time out of Time’, in hopes of publication and was also partway through a second book for children, so I was uncertain whether I should move on to something completely new. But when a little research showed that there really weren’t any books aimed at my target age group (10–13) showing Richard in a positive light, I realized this was a gap in the market that needed to be filled.

Q: Were you surprised about that?

A: To be honest, yes. I found that there were several such books for adults (a number that has increased over the past five years), but even an approach to the Richard III Society librarian only turned up a couple for children – neither of which was a straightforward story of his life. One was a timeslip book, ‘A Knight on Horseback’ by American author Ann Rabinowitz, which follows the adventures of a twentieth-century boy who gradually learns the true story of Richard III after his initial exposure to the Tudor myths and Shakespeare’s version. The other, ‘A Sprig of Broom’ by Barbara Willard, is a beautifully written evocation of early Tudor England – but Richard appears only in the prologue, which takes place on the eve of Bosworth. The rest tells the story of Richard of Eastwell – at least the interpretation that has him as Richard’s illegitimate son. And by the end, the main character decides he doesn’t want to be known to be related to King Richard….

With the nationwide excitement at the finding of Richard’s grave, I thought there were bound to be other books for children on the way – as has proved to be the case – but by that time my lead character Matthew was hammering on my door, demanding that I write his story, and it was very hard to say no. So I put my half-finished Scottish book on the back burner for the time being, and set to work researching Richard and his times while I finished editing ‘Time out of Time’.

Q: You say none of the previous books for children was a straightforward telling of Richard’s life. In ‘The Order of the White Boar’, you didn’t choose to take that course either, preferring to concentrate on his final years and viewing them through the eyes of a fictitious character. Why was that?

A: I suppose partly because Richard’s life has been brilliantly told already through adult fiction, in books that have been very influential in terms of changing people’s minds about him: Penman’s ‘Sunne in Splendour’ and Hawley Jarman’s ‘We Speak no Treason’ for example are often mentioned as having shown people the way beyond Shakespeare’s monstrous depiction towards the real history of the man. And maybe because I thought those books that were likely to be in the publishing pipeline after the rediscovery of his grave would offer the straightforward story – as has been the case with a couple that have appeared. Perhaps most importantly, I felt that a young narrator who was an outsider – as Matthew is, being just a merchant’s son, rather than a noble – would be able to offer a different perspective – a view of Richard that hasn’t been seen before.

Q: In one of the early reviews of the book, the writer says that, rather than portraying Richard as a warrior or romantic hero, as in most adult novels, ‘The Order’ shows him ‘as a master, as a father, as a family man and as a decent, kind-hearted adult . . . He feels much more human than he usually does in historical fiction.’ Is that what you were aiming for?

A: Very much so – and I’m delighted if readers think I have managed it! My intention was always to show ‘the real Richard’ – the man who served his brother in administering the north of England, did the job well, treated the people fairly, was a cultured family man as well as a soldier. And who, in the spring of 1483, when faced with the tragedy of his brother’s early death, had to deal with a difficult and dangerous situation. My aim was to use the contemporary sources as much as possible to lay the foundations for exploring his motivations and reactions when navigating the potentially explosive events of that time. The traditional histories seem to me to struggle with explaining how this loyal, steadfast brother changed into the murdering, usurping tyrant so beloved of the Tudor-created legend. I hope that seeing Richard’s character and behaviour through a child’s eyes in both domestic and more public situations allows the reader to work out for themselves who he was and what his actions mean.

Q: You mention the death of King Edward IV in the spring of 1483. While hoping not to give too much away about ‘The Order of the White Boar’, it does in fact end at that time. Do you think readers will be disappointed at that?

A: I hope not, although I can understand it if they are. But I hope they’ll take on board the note at the end, saying that a second book of Matthew and his friends’ adventures is coming soon. ‘The Order’ doesn’t end on a cliffhanger as such, rather at the start of a journey – one which represents the closing of one chapter in Matthew’s life and the opening of another. And the same can also be said for Richard – in some ways, the death of his brother was the start of a very different part of his life. The next book, ‘The King’s Man’, tells the story of the next two years or so – from a few days after the end of ‘The Order’ through to the fateful days of August 1485.

A: You say the second book is ‘coming soon’. How soon, and how does it build on the foundations laid in ‘The Order’?

Q: If all goes to plan, ‘The King’s Man’ will be published in spring 2018 – so not too long to wait (although it may well seem ages to my younger readers!) It’s finished, but needs some final editing before production starts. As I say, it takes up the story again as Richard and Matthew travel south to meet with the new boy king, Edward V, and catapults them into the political intrigues and manoeuvrings on the road, in court and in the cities of London and Westminster. We meet again some of the characters (historical and fictional) encountered perhaps only briefly in the first book and see the effects and influences they have on the lives of both Richard and Matthew.

Of course readers, both adults and children, who have a knowledge of the history of the time will know where the story ultimately leads, and the challenges and heartbreaks along the way. ‘The King’s Man’ is overall a much darker book than ‘The Order’. But I hope it offers not only a flavour of the times, but also a worthwhile exploration of how and why events played out as they did.

Q: Where will you go next? Back to your half-finished Scottish book? Or, as many of us who write about him find, will you be drawn back to Richard?

A: I’m not sure Drew – the main character of the other book – will be pleased to hear this, but no, I’m not finished with Richard yet! (Poor Drew – I’d already abandoned him once before, to write ‘Time out of Time’…) I’ve already started preparing a third book in the ‘White Boar’ sequence that takes the characters (at least those who remain) beyond the events of August 1485. There are events that stretch years beyond that date which, to me, are still part of Richard’s story. In some ways, of course, that story continues to today – to the many people around the world who are still fighting for a reassessment of his life and reputation in light of what we now know about him and the lies that were told in the decades and centuries after his death. But the story I’ll tell will be that of people who knew him personally and sought to defend him in living memory.

Q: It sounds like we’ll have to wait a little more than six months for the third book in the series.

A: I’m afraid so. My track record isn’t great on finishing books quickly! My first took three and a half years, my second two and a half – although I suppose you could say it was just over a year as I wrote both ‘White Boar’ books one after the other in that time, treating them as a single story at first. But I plan to self-publish ‘Time out of Time’ while working on the third ‘White Boar’ book. I hope that readers who enjoy ‘The Order of the White Boar’ will similarly enjoy it, although it’s rather a different beast. It’s a mixture of timeslip and ghost story, drawing on my former career as an archaeologist. The Scottish book is also a sort of ghost story based around an archaeological dig – that was one of the main reasons I decided to write straightforward historical fiction when it came to Richard’s story. Although at first I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to immerse myself properly in the fifteenth century in order to write from the point of view of a fifteenth-century boy!

Q: But you did manage it?

A: Perhaps too well. For months after I finished the book I missed my characters enormously, they’d accompanied me for so long on my dog walks over the local moors! I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with them – well, some of them anyway – over the next few months as I make a start on the new project.

Q: I very much look forward to reading it when it’s finished – and of course ‘The King’s Man’ in the new year. Thank you, Alex, for speaking to us today.

A: Thank you.

 

 

THE WHITE ROSE: A POEM FOR RICHARD

Several years ago I was out at Bosworth to attend an author signing with one of my favourite Ricardian authors, Sharon Penman, who wrote the mighty epic The Sunne in Splendour. We were staying in the Royal Arms at Sutton Cheney, which has a public room filled with armour, memorabilia, paintings of the battle and of Richard and Tudor (I put the latter at my back!)

Our room was in an annexe that looked out over the fields. The light was grey, heavy; the soil of the field, newly ploughed, glistening after rain, looked red. Redemore. The Red Plain. In the distance the hedges wore little crowns of mist, and a single dark-winged crow sat on the fence, its shrill cry breaking a strange stillness. A haunting place.

We went to bed. In the night we heard rain drumming on the roof. We turned over,slept.  In the early hours of the morning,  I was woken by a ruckus overhead. There was crashes and bangs as if someone, or more like multiple someones, were streaming, charging over the roof of the building. I began to fancy them as hoofbeats and laughed at myself and my infamous imagination.  It must surely be the hotel staff doing something in a room above us…but why the heck were they doing it pre-dawn when they had guests?

The sounds clattered away into nothingess. I went back to sleep. Later, when  we got up and went to pack our things in the car, I looked back towards the building.

There was no upstairs room above ours.

This poem came out of that night….

THE WHITE ROSE

I walked upon Bosworth field,
the soil red beneath my feet
as rain pelted from a stormy sky
in a grey and stony sheet

Sutton Cheney’s stolid tower
was an upturned bucket in the mist
and the whole rolling landscape
a haunted vista twilight kissed.

Why do I feel such strangling sorrow
in that lonely, empty space
where amongst the bristling hedges
the small birds dart and race

soaring like souls into a sky
unchanged by the passing years,
still on this sullen summer’s day
pouring out its bitter tears.

I found a crooked, winding path
that crossed a farmer’s land…
so plain and oh so ordinary
you might dismiss it out of hand

But I knew that here was the place
where a banner once soared on high,
and a White Boar fighting rose and fell,
a betrayed man consigned to die

So history was written
and legends false and foul were born,
birthed out of blood and treachery
on a red-tinged summer’s morn

The victor writes the pages,
speechless dead cannot defend
but I swore I would speak for him
both now and till the end.

And when I returned later
to my little rented room
at midnight I heard thunder
like a banging drum of doom

or was it something greater
that tore across the brooding sky,
passing in flashes over Bosworth…
what does it really mean to die?

Westward like winter’s geese
I saw pale horsemen flying
while the echoes of ghostly horns,
drifted outward, fading, dying….

And on the rain-bright road
its petals teared with icy rain
lay a perfect snow-white rose…
King Richard rides again.

J.P. Reedman

 

Art by Frances Quinn

Richard and two Sun(ne)s in Splendour….

Here is a link to double reviews of books that are both entitled Sun(ne) in Splendour – Jean Plaidy’s and Sharon Kay Penman’s.

http://www.encorepub.com/carpe-librum-richard-iii-takes-center-stage-again/

Both works are too well known to Ricardians for any explanation to be needed, so I will confine myself to bewailing Plaidy’s abominable cover. How could any publisher impose such a monstrous thing on any author, let alone one of Plaidy’s excellence? Cheapskates! Those immensely baggy knee-breeches, or whatever they are, are so laughable that I am sure no prospective reader would wish to be seen reading it on the London Underground! A discreet brown-paper bag would surely be necessary?

The figure on this cover looks like something cobbled together from a dress trunk in Enid Blyton’s attic. My fingers are crossed that the cover-artist doesn’t have some inside knowledge that Richard & Co really did wear such schmutter!

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