Archive for June, 2012

I’ll get around to posting something real soon. Trouble is, I’m writing at the moment (when I’m not making Cosmo covers) so there’s no new exciting research to report. Meanwhile, there’s this.

One for all the widows.

Anne Nevill, Princess of Wales, Duchess of Gloucester, Queen of England, Cosmo cover girl

Rose of Raby issue

Countess of Warwick issue

Susan Higganbotham’s got some Cosmo girls as well. Check them out!

Twenty chapters

Posted: June 13, 2012 in The WIPs - Nevill

I feel that I should take a moment to draw a breath. Twenty chapters to revised draft. Fifteen to go. Nearly 90,000 words.

I haven’t covered much in terms of time, 1453-1455, the last fifteen chapters will take me to 1461. A lot happened in those few years, and Thomas was up to his neck in it. Stuff was going on in Maud’s life as well. Another chapter or two and there’ll be a bit of a break till 1457. The detail of their lives falls away at this point. Thomas, it would seem, was deputising for his brother in the Marches, Maud either enjoying or still fighting for her dower lands. As I still don’t know when she got custody of these, I’ve made a more or less educated guess and had it all sorted in the early months of 1455. The minute something comes to hand to change that… *sigh* Another redraft, or at least the shifting and slight changing to a chapter or two.

My most momentous achievement so far is wresting the St Albans chapter from Warwick’s hands. He didn’t want to give it up, but since I decided to restructure the book into four and pare back the voices to two in each, I had no choice. He’ll get his chance. He can have the second battle of St Albans if he likes. (I shall pay for that, no doubt!)

I’m feeling quite pleased with how things are going at the moment, but that could change in a heartbeat. My decision to alternate Thomas and Maud’s voices seems to be working. I don’t want to tie poor Maud in knots getting her to somehow tell his part of the story, and her voice, her part of the story, is pretty compelling to me as it is. I’m hoping I’ve been able to reflect that.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, and not just the last fifteen chapters (three of which have at least some words in them already), but the editing/revising/editing cycle. So, after another few moments of rest and mild self-congratulation, I’ve got a wedding to write.

Somewhere between the crowd with the banners screaming ‘IT’S FICTION!’ and the mob with the ones emblazoned ‘IT’S HISTORICAL!’ is a middle ground where most good, rational writers with integrity and respect for their readers stand. Of course there has to be ‘fiction’ in historical fiction. I’ve said this before, I’m sure I have: conversations, relationships, the actual writing of actual events, people’s thoughts and motivations – all these are fictional, even if the events themselves, or the people, or the marriages, or their actions, aren’t.

There’s been  smattering of blog posts about this lately, and they all seem to say similar things. The same kind of things that I’ve been saying, but…

There seems to be something of an obsession with potatoes! Now, I understand this to an extent. The latent (and sometimes not so) pedant in me sometimes silently screams at incorrect detail. I get this from my father. There used to be a tv show here in Australia called… oh, something Force, kind of a war drama, with spies, I think, something like that, anyway. Well, my Dad, who was in signals during the War, *sigh* the Second World War, got up and left the room in disgust at one point, vowing never to watching Something Force ever again. “They didn’t have that kind of receiver in 1943. Those weren’t made until the 50s.” No point explaining to him that maybe the props department had done their best. No, he was through with Whatever it Was Force and never watched it again, despite having enjoyed it – with no complaints – up to that point. (We didn’t have a television in our house until we were well into our teens. I just think Dad never quite got the hang of it.)

But that brings me to my point about potatoes. These emblematic tubers are so often called into action in discussions about historical accuracy. “When I see a Norman sit down to a plate of roast beef and mashed potatoes, I put the book down in disgust” kind of thing. Well, it would certainly make me blink and look twice, and possibly (if it was close to the beginning) proceed with caution, but I wouldn’t quite write the book off just yet. I’ll certainly forgive an anachronistic serving of potatoes before I’ll forgive an event moved out of its proper time, or a man with no hint of scandal attached to his name turned into a violent brute, or a queen passing off her secret lover’s child as her husband’s. But I might just be a bit trepidatious for a while after that particular meal.

When I talk about historical accuracy, it’s not these little details that bother me. For other people it is exactly these little details. For yet others it’s both the big things and the little. Sure, I think I’d get a bit irritated with a 15th century family who sat down to a hearty serving of spuds every night, but the occasional lapse can be forgiven. I think it’s because I’m not a details person in the first place. Intricate, down to the last seed pearl, descriptions of clothes have me skipping paragraphs, the same goes for rooms and wooden doors (the first 10 pages of The Name of the Rose, iirc). Other people love this, can’t get enough of it. “I loved the descriptions of the clothes,” they’ll write in a review, “right down to the last seed pearl!” I wouldn’t mention that in a review coz while I don’t revel in it, it probably wouldn’t stop me enjoying a well written book – no need to mention it. (I was going to writher ‘otherwise well written’, but this is an opinion piece and my opinion about excruciating detail doesn’t render it bad writing.)

What will turn me off a book is inaccuracy in the big things. Events moved in time and space; people being where (according to known records) they weren’t; adulterous love affairs conjured out of thin air… What’s the odd potato or two in face of that?

What all this tells me isn’t that my opinion is correct and everyone else is wrong. No, what it tells me is that the world is full of all kinds of people with all kinds of taste, preferences and opinions. ‘I don’t care about the history, I just want a good story,’ the IT”S FICTION! crowd might say. And ‘I hate it when the writer deviates one iota from what is known,’ the IT’S HISTORICAL! posse might say. What I say is: Please don’t disrespect the lives of the people you’re writing about. Please don’t think you can rearrange those lives to better fit the story you want to tell. If you think you have a better story in you than the ‘real’ one (‘real’ being a non-finite term when it comes to all kinds of things, including history and reality), then write it, but please try and resist telling everyone that it’s any kind of accurate.

Oh, and stuff about language, but it’s probably best not to get me started on that…

Well, it’s been a torrid couple of weeks on Facebook, particularly among the historical fiction sorority. I don’t mean to ignore the few men who have had their say, but it has been predominately between women. What it boils down to, for me, is that some people react strongly when challenged. They might claim that there are two-sides to an argument, but their actions don’t in any way support this. They are defensive in the extreme and resort, sooner or later, to the personal. Well, I’ve had enough. And I’m not the only one.

First, in a discussion about the Akashic Record, those of us who dared to question the validity of this kind of thing, who talked about cold readings, who suggested that the little insights ‘discovered’ by the Akashic reader were in fact prompted and supplied by the writers themselves, who did all this politely, dispassionately and intelligently, were accused of making ‘personal attacks’ and being close minded. To cap it all off, the person who began this discussion deleted the thread from facebook, moved it to her blog and made access to it by invitation only.

Next came the attacks on a writer of historical romances, Katharine Ashe. Her books might not be my cup of tea, but they sell well, from the bits I’ve peeked at seem to be written well and, as she’s a history teacher, I’m guessing she pays close attention to the historical background. I don’t read historical romance, but I don’t look down on those who do, or those who write it. This woman’s work was, publicly and often, referred to as ‘trash’, she was accused of ‘churning’ it out, it was assumed that her books are full of anatomically correct, graphic sex. Now I don’t know if they are and, frankly, don’t care. The reason for this deeply uncourteous behaviour? Katharine Ashe has the temerity to have a name very similar to another writer. That writer doesn’t like this, not one little bit! Katharine Ashe has no reason to exist and, because of her and (apparently) Rupert Murdoch’s publicity machine, the work of the other writer of similar name was being ‘suppressed’. Harden up, princess! Try having the 8th most common British surname for a while, try scrolling through page after page of google searches to find yourself. That’s what I have to do, but I don’t bitch about it or take it out, viciously, on someone else. It’s just the way things are.

Then there was the well known internet troll who screeched at me, swore at me, called me a liar, told both me and a friend of mine that we were ‘ugly pigs’, continued to screech and swear despite being asked not to, and destroyed what was a very nice post from a rather nice person. Here’s a little sample of his work: “I almost forgot, you silly women are the most b-o-r-i-n-g group of writers that I have ever seen. No wonder that you don’t sell anything and I haven’t heard of even one of you.” Here’s another: “Then don’t make snottyassed statements aimed at demeaning my ancestry. You know nothing about me and you make yet another smart assed remark. Who in the fuck are you anyway? Just shut your yap and you won’t be bothered. You started this for no fuckin reason so don’t cry about me lady!” Charming!

I almost entirely forgot one bizarre response to our Don’t Defame the Dead! campaign. Someone (one of the people who got quite personal on the Akashic thread, as it happens) suggested that it was but a small step from this to banning and burning books. Yes, that’s what the microscopic fine print on all those cards says… Burn Books Now! You might have missed it… The Don’t Defame the Dead! campaign wasn’t any kind of deliberate decision. Kathryn Warner made a card and I made a card and before we knew it there were Don’t Defame The Dead! posts on at least five blogs. All of them were prompted by some of the nonsense we come across not only in novels but occasionally even in works of non-fiction. The leap from there to suggesting that we were advocating banning or burning books was breathless and spectacular – as leaps to entirely erroneous conclusions often are. We’d just like it if writers were a little more careful, that’s all.

The latest bout of insanity, for which I and several other people were Banished Forever from the facebook presence of another writher, is still echoing across cyberspace. A claim was made about the parentage – specifically the father – of an English king. Those who know about that time questioned this person. “What is your source?” they asked. Now, you’d think that, of all the questions in the world, this one wouldn’t be particularly problematic. I’m more than happy for people to ask me for sources and I’m happy to provide them. If I make an assertion that’s contradicted by the sources, or isn’t in the one I thought it was in, then I accept that I got it wrong. I don’t get defensive and try to shout the challenger down. And I don’t unfriend and block them. But that’s what happened to me and several other people. It’s quite simple really – if a writer isn’t prepared to defend their work, maybe they should stop pretending it’s historically accurate. “I made that up  because it fit my story better” might be a blow to someone’s histcred, but at least it’s honest.

A lot of discussion about history is debate. Debate isn’t someone saying something to the ooohs and aaaaahs of those who hear it. Debate is about backing up what you say, defending your assertions, conceding ground if necessary and learning something. Debate is about having ideas that can be confirmed, supported, altered or discarded as the case may be. For instance, I am currently of the view that the illegitimate daughter often ascribed to George Nevill, Archbishop of York, may in fact be the illegitimate daughter of his uncle, George Nevill Lord Latimer. My reason for this… yes, it’s a guess right now… is that future archbishop George would have been around 14 at the time of her birth. Not impossible, but unlikely. Now if someone shows me a source that clearly shows that future archbishop George was her Dad, I won’t be furious that I’m wrong. No, I’ll be delighted to finally know the truth of it. So, I’m always surprised when people attempt to shut down debate when asked for a source. There is a connection between knowing how to engage in a debate and academic experience. Not that those with none are incapable of it, but those who have studied or taught in a university really ought to know how to. Looking down your nose and saying, “Just believe me, challenger, as my fawning fanpoodles do!” isn’t any part of debate as I know it. And if a writer sets themselves up to be better than others, then they sure as hell had better back that up.

So, politely challenging the nonsense of ‘psychics’ and the con that is the Akashic Record is ‘disrupting the conversation’; having a similar name to another less successful (but more ego driven) writer is grounds for being publicly insulted; stating something that you know to be true (and can back up) gives trolls the right to swear at you and call you names; asking a writer of historical fiction for a source to back up an extraordinary claim is to ‘pillory’ that person; and the way to win an argument is to block everyone who disagrees with you… So many new things to learn about the world of facebook. And writers of historical fiction. And trolls.

An important contribution to this discussion from Hannah Stewart, can be found here.

Welcome to Don’t Defame the Dead!: Nevill.

Elizabeth Wydeville – a commoner! – had the temerity to marry a king. And she is portrayed in all kinds of negative ways. Grasping; greedy; jealous; manipulative; spiteful… In one book. the Too Good to be True Heroine catches her mocking a fat servant (and that was before she married her king!) Now, I’m contractually obligated to hate the Wydevilles for the duration, but I’ve been give a day’s reprieve, so I’ll make the most of it. Edward IV was the one whose actions were dubious. He had no business (from the perspective that a king’s marriage was about more than personal choice, it was about politics, alliances and other stuff) marrying Elizabeth. A lifelong commitment might not have been his first consideration. So, what was Elizabeth supposed to do in that case? Say, “Oh, I’m far too lowly and humble to be your queen! Please, by all means, sleep with me for as long as you want, then walk away.” Or perhaps, “Oh, don’t worry about the wedding thing! I understand. Off you go. It’s been such fun!”

I can’t think of one book featuring the countess of Warwick where she is not in some way terrified of her husband. Strange, then, how she chose to be with him just about every second of their marriage. She went with him to Calais, though she is reported to have hated the place; she shared with him his last exile, arriving back in England on 14 April 1471 to the news that he was dead. Waurin reports (twice) that she greeted him with joy on his safe return to Calais.

It was a father’s duty to find the best marriage partners for their children. Best not just for their children but for the family in general. No child expected to marry for love. Warwick found a Duke for his elder daughter and a Prince of Wales for the younger. Advantageous to him, both of them, yes. But utterly advantageous to the young women themselves.

Hunchbacked, withered armed Richard III, anyone?

When forced to flee England in 1471, Warwick made sure his wife and daughters were with him. “Showing scant regard for his womenfolk” a lot of historians (and others) say. Leaving his family behind to be left in poverty, possibly homeless, potentially hostages, would have shown a good deal less regard for ‘his womenfolk’ (perhaps better to say his wife and daughters?) than collecting them, making sure all were together and hightailing it to Calais. I think this is mostly based on the Duchess of Clarence’s advanced pregnancy. But Warwick wasn’t to know he’d be kept out of Calais, nor was he to know that isobel would go into labour aboard ship to a deeply sad outcome. I can’t imagine a darker time for the family, burying a baby boy at sea. This was Warwick’s first grandchild, and to suggest he simply didn’t care is monstrous. Give the man a break!

The Wydevills weren’t the only ones tagged as ‘grasping’ and ‘greedy’, the Nevills are as well, particularly Warwick. He held a lot of well rewarded posts – Captain of Calais, Keeper of the Seas, Warden of the Cinq Ports, Warden of the Marches towards Scotland… And he worked hard at all of them, didn’t just sit back and wait for the cash to drop into the palm of his hand. Did Edward rely on him too much? Certainly at the start. But as time went on, he ended up relying on him too little. And that was a bad mistake.

Based on one report from Warkworth, John Nevill is forever branded as a man prepared to betray his brother. And yet he is lauded for that, treated like a hero. I don’t understand that at all. (I’ve blogged it.)

Susan Higginbotham says this better.

A couple of times during the Wars of the Roses, scurrilous rumours sprang up that Edward IV was not the son of the Duke of York at all, but an archer named Blaybourne. Tony Robinson and Michael Jones stirred the pot with their ‘documentary’ about it. A lot of people are convinced of the truth of it. The evidence for it is flimsy and circumstantial. The evidence against it rests on a number of things, not the least being the Duke of York’s treatment of this supposed archer’s son. “But he had a tiny little christening!” people say. “Not like his little brother Edmund!” So the Duke of York, faced with his wife’s illgotten offspring, puts his foot down. He would acknowledge the boy as his (he didn’t actually, there was no need), treat him like his son and heir, mark no difrerence between him and the other children, BUT… He wasn’t going to get a fancy christening! It’s nonsense.

There was a belief in witchcraft in the 15th century, and people did get accused of practicing it. Jacquetta Wydeville did, and was acquitted. So there’s no problem portraying characters who believe in witches, or even believe they are witches. But to actually endow them with magical powers? Pffff!

George Nevill’s enthronement feast as Archbishop of York is often cited as an example of excess: excess and oneupmanship. I’ve blogged it.

Just a general plea: Don’t Defame Daddy! Marriage for love was not only uncommon bur greeted with shock or scorn in the 15th century. Daughters were more likely to be totting up their future worth when Daddy suggested young Lord So-and-So or the widowed and ageing Earl of Thing, Widowed and ageing might have its disadvantages, sure, but there was always wealthy widowhood to look forward to. Please don’t feel sorry for these non-21st century girls. Their husbands didn’t have much choice either!

And here are the ‘greedy’ ‘grasping’ Wydevilles. Looking after their own interests in the same way other, more established, families did. Some of it wasn’t nice, viz Anthony Wydeville’s treatment of Maud Stanhope, but he wasn’t inventing anything new there. Sure, people looked down on them, called them upstarts, moaned about how they were nicking all the good marriages. Unless one of those good marriages went in their favour – a connection with the king wasn’t to be sneezed at.

“You’re going to marry the Prince of Wales.” “But I don’t love him, Papa!” or “You’re going to marry the Duke of Clarence.” “But I don’t love him, Papa!” Actually, there’s every reason to think that, by the time of their wedding, Isobel Nevill and the Duke of Clarence were more than happy with the marriage, from a personal perspective as well as the usual. Her father seems to have given them the opportunity to develop a friendship, if nothing else. As for Anne’s marriage to a Prince of Wales! One whose exile Daddy was working hard to bring to an end, one who Daddy was going to do everything he could to restore to his birthright. Yes, these marriages were advantageous to Warwick, but all medieval noble marriages were meant to be that. Please, stop calling them pawns.

Guess who says this better?

Weak, pale, fragile, DOOMED Anne Nevill… She’s in all the books. There’s no evidence of her in real life. So sad that she died so young, and Isobel as well, and so sad that her only son died even younger. People did. They died young a lot. It’s why we have the myth that ’60 was seen as ancient’. It wasn’t.

I’ve seen Warwick described as ‘a notable failure as a general’. His thinking was certainly a little too defensive at times – like 2nd St Albans – but just think how he’d be hailed now if he’d got the line of the enemy army’s advance right! A military genius! Innovative with defences! He wasn’t the finest general during the Wars, but he wasn’t a military dunce, either.

This is Alice Montacute, Countess of Salisbury. And, yes, she really did look like that! I’ve seen her portrayed as a helpless whimpering swooning nellie, her part in the Wars ignored, her attainder given to someone else, and I STILL DON’T KNOW WHY! Women’s history is ignored enough without this kind of nonsense.

I’ve seen it in novels, suggested in serious works of non-fiction, listed as fact in material for the study of history. And it’s not only not supported by the sources, there’s clear evidence that the contrary applied. The Duke of Clarence grieved deeply when his duchess died. He went off the rails. Yes, he’d done some dumb things in the past, but if there’s no evidence that a man was a hopeless drunk who physically abused his wife, why say it?

The Countess of Warwick was stripped of her lands and titles after her husband’s death at Barnet. Illegally. She wasn’t ‘rescued’ by her son-in-law, the Duke of Gloucester, and taken to live a life of ease and comfort in ‘her favourite castle’. The burden of taking care of her wealth and lands wasn’t gently eased from her helpless trembling hands. She was Countess of Warwick in her own right. Neither she nor her husband were attainted for treason. She really was declared dead in parliament. This was an illegal act. Turning it into a kindness is (I’ve used this word a couple of times, I think) nonsense.

And maybe this is what we all need to remember!

Please don’t forget to visit Don’t Defame the Dead!: Edward II.

The cards were created here: