Archive for January, 2013

I wear clothes. I like nice clothes. I have an impressive collection of jeans and t-shirts and a really cool dress for wearing to weddings. So I may have misled you a little with the post title. I don’t ‘hate’ clothes. I just hate having to talk about them. I hate even more having to write about them. I want to say: “She’s wearing a dress, ok? And it’s green!” or “He had this kind of doublety thing on and a really neat hat, all wrapped in this sort of velvety furry thing, wotchacallit, cloak? Something like that.” But I can’t possibly hope to get away with that in a zillion years, so I’ve had to do something about it. So, I bought a book. It came highly recommended by some re-enactor friends, who like to get things perfect. It’s called The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant and it’s pretty cool! It has pictures and patterns and all kinds of stuff. Not that I plan on making any of these clothes myself. The only quibble I have (and it’s not a reasonable quibble by any stretch of imagination) is that it’s, well, medieval. What I really want is a book packed with stuff specifically about the 15th century, but I’m not going to complain, mainly because of this:

I have fallen in love with men in chaperons. The right style on the right head, and that is seriously sexy.

But that’s beside the point and probably more than you need to know.

My eyes start to cross when I come upon minute descriptions of clothes in historical fiction. Other readers love them, so this is no criticism of those writers. It’s me, and my fashion blindness, and my inability to translate “He wore a doublet of fine blue velvet embroidered with periwinkles, cut close to his body, at the neck a small ruffle of linen. The sleeves were slashed to reveal his undershirt, which was of the newer style &c &c &c’ into any kind of meaningful picture. My fault, entirely. i mean, you could describe that chaperon to me and I’d be all, What? Around his where? And what the hell’s a liripipe when it’s at home?

So you see my dilemma. I have to deal with 15th century clothes by walking a fine line between what I want to write (and what I’d want to read) and what other people might appreciate. There will be no ‘down to the last seed pearl’ stuff, that’s a rock solid promise. But, with my new book, I at least have some clue how various articles of clothing were made and worn. So when Alice Fitzhugh dismisses her husband’s body servant (as she regularly does) so she can sensually undress him all by herself, I’ll know how she goes about it. And it might turn out to be a little less sexy than I’d hoped. So, check out the book and make sure you turn to p195. Maybe try turning your hand to making one for the special someone in your life. Definitely the perfect gift for the man who has everything!

The Tigress of Forli – Review

Posted: January 12, 2013 in Books

Some friends of mine were discussing Elizabeth’s Lev’s book about Catarina Sforza, The Tigress of Forli, so I thought I’d step outside my comfort zone and take a look. I’m used to bashing about in the Wars of the Roses, so I could cope with Renaissance Italy, right?


The nobility of 15th century Italy makes the nobility of 15th century England look like a bunch of amateurs. The rollcall of murder, assassination and intrigue almost left me traumatised! Give me Warwick unlawfully executing a handful of his enemies any day.

But seriously, this is an extremely good book. A ton of careful research went into it, it’s engagingly written and the people Lev writes about are well-rounded and three dimensional. I devoured this in two marathon sessions, unable to put it down. Catarina Sforza, her family and her enemies leap off the page.

Catarina was born into privilege, the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Milan. Women of her time and class settled down quietly, and demurely, into marriage and motherhood. But from the very start, given her father’s choice of husband, she had to step outside her expected womanly role and take charge of her family, her fortune and her estates. Her journey through life was rarely without incident. Wife, mother, widow, lover, warrior, papal prisoner… occasionally a victim and, from time to time, a woman of terrible vengeance, Catarina faced challenge after challenge and, until she came face to face with Cesare Borgia, somehow managed to come out on top.

If – in a parallel dimension, where Catarina had never been born – someone wrote a novel based on her life, there’d be howls of protest. “That would never happen!”; “Women just didn’t do that!”; “A 21st century heroine projected back in time!”. But Catarina was all Renaissance Italy. She had celebrity but she also had substance and a strong spirit. I’m very glad I took a chance on this book, though I think won’t venture into 15th century Italy too often. As fascinating a time as it was, I’m not sure I could cope with the trauma!

Stars? You want stars? Ok – this book gets the full * * * * *

The Next Big Thing

Posted: January 3, 2013 in The WIPs - Nevill

Many thanks to Darlene Elizabeth Williams for tagging me in the Next Big Thing blog hop! Darlene is a prolific reviewer of historical fiction and is currently working on a book, which you can read all about when you click the link to her blog! It sounds like a most fascinating project.

 What is the working title of your next book?

Thomas & Maud. There will be other books in this series, all named for the titles of their main characters. As Thomas held no title and didn’t share his wife’s dowager title, the only way to maintain consistency here is to give the book this, fairly lowkey, name. But, hopefully, it says it all. Or nearly all. The book is about Thomas and Maud, but it’s also a little bit about Gervase. Thomas & Maud & Gervase sounds dumb though, and possibly a little misleading!

Where did the idea come from for the book?

There are so many books about the Wars of the Roses and, apart from Anne Nevill, the Nevills are often relegated to one-dimensional secondary characters. My original plan was to write the whole story of the Wars from their point of view, but that was in danger of getting way out of hand, so I’m breaking it into four, each with a married couple carrying the tale. As different members of the family were often in different places, and some died in the 1460s, some in 1471 and some much later, and they weren’t all doing the same things at the same time, (in fact, they wren’t always on the same side at the same time!) there’s not as much repetition of events as might be feared. There is some, but even this is told from different perspectives. Thomas and his wife, Maud Lady Willoughby, open the series.

What genre does your book fall under?

Historical fiction. Though there are elements of love and sex (we are talking about a young married couple) it’s NOT historical romance. And the sex is very muted and, I hope, tastefully done.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

It would have to be a television drama, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves! Casting Thomas is quite difficult. I’d want a sense of continuity between him and his brothers and sisters, though usually, no two members of any one family are exactly alike. I’m not sure I’d be able to explain what I meant to a casting agency, but I’d know the right cast when I saw it! If my life depended on it, maybe someone like Guy Pearce. I see Maud as quite dark and dangerous, almost ‘exotic’, so a young Gina Bellman would do quite nicely here.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Behind every tragedy in her life, every mistake and every triumph, stands a man.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

That’s something yet to be determined. I want to publish in both paperback and ebook, so it might be a bit of both!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Do I count all the false starts? Because the answer to that is ‘decades’! As a stand alone project, I started it two years ago and haven’t quite got the first draft completed. I research as I write. I don’t do all the research then sit down and do all the writing. With one last piece of information to get, I’m hoping to have it done some time this year.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I have no idea! In terms of sticking doggedly to the bones of the real story, I’m in the Susan Higginbotham School of Historical Fiction. In terms of writing style, I really can’t say.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The Nevills themselves. The whole gloriously flawed, self-assured, larger than life family. Thomas is rarely given page space and I wanted him to stand up and be seen. From the perspective of actually getting down to research and write, I read a novel about John Nevill and his wife and felt the family deserved something better. And Susan Higginbotham, whose contribution to me getting up off my arse and getting things done has been incalculable.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Two people who get scant mention in most novels and books of non-fiction are getting their very own book! There’s much more to Thomas Nevill than his death, and there’s far more to his wife than most people would imagine. Her life after her second widowhood was turbulent and fascinating. While we only get a glimpse of that in Thomas and Maud, her story will continue on through the other books, albeit not as a major character.

I am delighted to tag David Pilling, author of Folville’s Law and The White Hawk.

Su Harrison talks about her new book, A Rose of England.