Archive for the ‘Trivialities, rants & other ephemera’ Category

Edward: I want you.
Elizabeth: You can’t have me.
Jaquetta: I see dead people.
Warwick: Edward!
Edward: Let’s get married. Secretly.
Elizabeth: Cool!
Anthony: He’s lying to you.
Elizabeth: No, he’s not.
Edward: No, I’m not.
Warwick: Edward!
Elizabeth: Curtsey, scum!


All I can do now is hope I get to catch the rest of it on youtube.


Nothing, apparently.

Yet, there’s my name, on the STGB list. Click on it, and you’ll find two reviews. (That’s two reviews.) Mind you, it wouldn’t matter if I’d posted 100 reviews, still wouldn’t make me a troll. And if I’m not a troll, how can anyone trust that the other people listed are trolls? Like Kathryn Warner, who writes the best Edward II blog in the universe. She knows her stuff and she reviewed a book. Yep, that’s what she did – she reviewed a book. (I might say this a little more slowly so you can fully understand the horror. She. Reviewed. A. Book.) Some other people reviewed the same book and suggested that if you want to read about that particular time in history, two other writers had written better books. Yep, that’s right. In reviewing a product, two people thought that someone else’s product was better. Kathryn didn’t. She reviewed the book on its (lack of) historical accuracy and, for that, she’s named in a whole STGB post about the (non-existent) conspiracy to do Author A down in favour of Author B…

Oh, stuff it, I’m already on their ‘trolls’ list, so what more can they do? (I’m sure they believe this will damage my ‘brand’, this organisation that is so up in arms about the Amazon/Goodreads review process damaging writer’s brands. But if you’re not prepared to try and inflict actual damage on the people your (alleged) crazed fantasies insist are causing imaginary damage, then what’s the point of your existence? Actually, STGB, you might just want to answer that anyway – what’s the point in your existence?  (See what I did there? I used the word ‘alleged’ which means I can say anything I like.)

So, back to the story… There’s been an ongoing saga – two sagas, actually, that seem to have morphed into one, both bleated about in blogs, on facebook and in other internet fora. Both are about ‘nasty’ reviewers destroying the good names of the (sarcasm alert) World’s Best Writers. One involved a writer phoning the place of work of an Amazon commenter in an attempt to get them sacked. (Yes, that’s right. That’s what you do when someone annoys you. You phone their workplace and try to get them sacked.) The other involved some pretty nasty things being said about another writer. (Yes, that’s what some writers do – they attack other writers. Then, when they read a review of their work that doesn’t gush and fawn, they cry “I’ve been attacked!” Self-awareness much?) I’ve been on the periphery of these two sagas, attempting (in my capacity as occasional Voice of Reason) to get both these writers (who I don’t know well but share a couple of fora with) to stop getting involved in the Amazon/Goodreads review process because the only people they will hurt are themselves. And guess what? Their ‘brands’ have been damaged by all this. Which feeds their (alleged) paranoia even more.

I’m going to post a couple of links so that anyone who isn’t already aware of all this can see for themselves. I’ve alluded to these two stoushes before but, being well brought up, I mentioned no names. Well, the time for that is over. Linking Kathryn Warner and Sharon Penman (yes, that’s right – Sharon Penman) in a sordid little bit of ‘subterfuge’ and ‘sabotage’. So that Sharon Penman (I might just say that again – Sharon Penman) might sell more books than Katherine Ashe… Because, as we all know, Sharon Penman (not sure you heard me the first time – that’s Sharon Penman) is so desperately in need of sales and readers that she has no choice but to sabotage the practically unknown Katherine Ashe. FFS, STGB, sprinkle a bit of Lots-O-Logic onto your blog posts and it makes this kind of nonsense vanish clean away!

So Katherine Ashe self-immolates on the twin altars of Trashing Another Writer and Refusing to Accept She’s Not Infallible When It Comes to History (ok, not so snappy, but I try) and instead of taking a step back and saying “What could I have done to prevent this? Ah, I know! Maybe I shouldn’t have trashed that other writer! Perhaps I could have engaged my critics in an intelligent and reasonable way!” retreats farther and farther into (alleged) paranoia and calls in the STGB bullies. Because they are bullies. Worse than anything they imagine the people on their little list are. Some people read your book and didn’t like it, Katherine. Learn something from it. Get over it. Move on. Just don’t drag the good names of Kathryn Warner and Sharon Penman (*sigh*) into your (alleged) fevered imaginings. If you don’t fancy reading the ‘lost in a rainforest’ blog, here’s a couple of things Katherine Ashe has to say about fellow (and more successful) writer, Katharine Ashe: she writes ‘trash’; she’s the ‘mistress of the bodice ripper’; she ‘churns out’ books. Charming! And this is the writer who (according to one STGB commenter) doesn’t “ruin the reputation of another author for her profit”. Right. Oh, and while we’re about it, there’s a clear accusation in that comment that Sharon Penman (that’s THE Sharon Penman, in case you’re wondering) is somehow involved in this sordid little conspiracy.

And what does this conspiracy consist of? Three 1 star reviews for a book. Dated (respectively) 8 April 2010; 2 July 2012; and 16 February 2013. Two of them suggest that two other writers (not just Sharon Penman (no, there isn’t another, less well known Sharon Penman this refers to)) have written better books than the one in question. So a very small conspiracy that moves at the speed of pitch. You need to grit your teeth and think really hard to turn these three, unconnected, comments into ‘subterfuge’. But one bunch of people can do it – STGB! They can turn any review or comment into just about anything they fancy. And, while they’re about it, they can (ominous music) Put Your Name on a List!

Then there’s the other story. Of the writer who (ill-advisedly) launched himself into an Amazon flame war because a friend of his received a fairly unintelligible negative review. “What do I do?” the friend said. “Stand back,” ex-marine Lloyd Lofthouse said. “I’ll deal with this!” Which led to him phoning an Amazon commenter’s place of work and (allegedly) trying to get them fired. Which, further, has led to post after post after post about the ‘nasty trolls’ out there who just don’t have the sense to recognise (alleged) literary genius when they see it. And about how being involved in an Amazon flame war is just exactly the same, in every way, as being raped.

Katherine, Lloyd, please listen to me. People are going to read your books and maybe not like them. They’re going to tell other people that they don’t like them. Get over it.

And then there’s the petition. Yes, that’s right. Some writers believe that they should be able to decide who comments on their work and who doesn’t. They want the right to block commenters and reviewers from having their say on Amazon. They really do. They want to control what is said about their books. But they want to be able to say what they like about other people’s books. The other day, in a review written by one of the most (alleged) fervent STGB bullies, I found this: “I’ll tell you, I couldn’t even get through Twilight.” Yes! That’s one of the (alleged) leading lights in STGB – the How Dare You Say Something Negative About a Book What I Wrote! people – putting down in black and white that they failed to enjoy a book so much they didn’t finish it. Why isn’t this name (“Chris”. though there is some question as to whether it’s the writer’s real name) on the STGB ‘Amazon Fora Trolls’ list? I mean, that’s a really nasty thing to say about someone’s book! How dare “Chris” be so unkind! It’s probably a conspiracy. She’s suggesting, after all, that people shouldn’t read Twilight (whatever that is) but some other book by another author instead. SUBTERFUGE!!!

Also mentioned (and linked to) is the Don’t Defame the Dead ‘campaign’ and facebook group. The implication here is that it’s targeted at particular writers. It isn’t. It came from something that Sharon Penman once said, that Kathryn Warner thoroughly agreed with (she’s up to her eyeballs in nonsense about Edward II et al) and that a couple of us ran with. Here’s my DDTD contribution, with the link to Kathryn’s at the end. There’s nothing sinister in it and nothing to suggest that there’s any great conspiracy lurking behind the plaintive plea.

Here’s Kathryn Warner’s review of Montfort. This is, apparently, all the evidence anyone requires that she (and the other reviewers ‘outed’ by STGB) is in cahoots with Sharon Penman (sorry, I’m still trying to process that in my head – Sharon Penman!) to boost Penman’s sales at the expense of Ashe. I’d be ashamed of myself if I tried to blame slow (or non-existent) sales on (imaginary) fans of Genuine Great Author being out to get me. I’d call in the favour I asked some time ago and get a very good friend of mine to bitch slap me till I started talking sense again.

Kathryn Warner is highly knowledgeable in her field. If I need to know anything about any of the Three Edwards, their lives and times, I go to Kathryn. She is the furthest thing from a troll or a bully that anyone could wish to meet. There’s nonsense that needs to be stopped; heads than need to be pulled in and egos that need to be deflated. I don’t call for STGB to be silenced. They have the right to talk whatever nonsense they like; anything else would require me to sink to their level and I have this thing called dignity that prevents that. But they need to be very careful about who they make allegations about. I’m expecting a retraction in their next blog – apologising to both Kathryn and Sharon Penman. It might be a false hope, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

The entertainment business – music; books; films; tv; sport &c – is not for the thin skinned or the fainthearted. If you aren’t prepared to take criticism (and yes, sulk a bit if you get a bad review; drink a bottle of wine; vent to your husband/wife/best friend, but don’t take it to Amazon or facebook or Goodreads) then don’t get into it. And “I didn’t like this book much” however its worded doesn’t give any writer, or their friends, the right to go after the reviewer. Suck it up and move on.

As for me being an Amazon troll… I’m expecting someone to try and start a flamewar on one of my two reviews. They may be disappointed.

UPDATE: Two comments left on the STGB blog by people named in their ‘Amazon Fora Trolls’ list have not only not been published, they’ve been removed from the moderation queue. That’s two people who have been labelled ‘trolls’ by this group and not given the right of reply. Not the actions of a group that wants to be seen as aboveboard and honest. You want to call someone a troll without a shred of evidence and then not give them the right of reply? Or is it just difficult to pretend that someone’s evil when others can read their words?


Rather than actually approving either of the comments, this was posted on the STGB site overnight. Further evidence of their methods. If you have nothing to fear, STGB, let your critics speak for themselves. And Katherine Ashe did call Katharine Ashe’s books ‘trash’. Just click on the link to the ‘lost in the rainforest’ story and you’ll see it right there.

UPDATE: I’ve been given permission to include this screenshot of one of the ‘snobby’ comments that got deleted and (incorrectly) ‘summarised’ by STGB.

Is it because this comment gives the correct version of the story that it was deleted? It’s certainly not because it was ‘snobby’ or ‘self-righteous’, ‘self-important’ or any of the other adjectives used. It quoted Katherine Ashe’s own words (as I have above). And any writer who feels they’re entitled to call another writer’s work ‘trash’ really shouldn’t be complaining about three 1 star reviews! And this ‘we can say what we like about you but we will NOT publish any of your comments’ policy is a sign of cowardice and firm entrenchment in the moral low ground. If you want to hand out crap, you have got to be prepared to take it.


old woman

This is the level of debate these people are capable of. Never mind Kathryn’s research experience or the respect in which she’s held in the history community (article published in English Historical Review, among other things), if she’s not an ‘adolescent’ she’s an ‘old woman’.



… don’t look now, but you’re the ones ‘getting exposed’.

AND… UPDATE: Here’s another blog on the same subject.

ONE MORE UPDATE: Some chap who’s got his knickers in a twist about Amazon’s review policy (I really don’t care, and neither should you) has taken the STGRB ‘trolls’ list and posted it whole (without checking for himself to see whether any of those named are actually trolls or not) on facebook. So, someone who has posted two reviews to Amazon (and some who have posted none – yes, that’s right, no reviews at all!) are enshrined in some petty, opinionated writer’s facebook page as  evil trolls. “Rumor has it that some of these troll have up to 6 sock-puppets,” he says. Maybe he could introduce me to mine, we could all go out for lunch.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about historical conjecture and speculation, whether it’s right or wrong; whether specific examples are right or wrong. It’s a complicated and vexed issue because it’s always right and never wrong; or never right and always wrong, or sometimes right… only we might never know for sure which.

How we respond to conjecture and speculation is entirely subjective. Even when we run it through our most objective of objective filters, it’s subjective in the end. That’s because it’s more about belief than knowledge; more about ideas than facts. But that’s the important part of the process that’s often missed: running it through filters of objectivity. Not just accepting it because it fits our preconceived ideas, or because we like the person doing the conjecturing and speculating.

At it’s most logical and sound, where  bits aren’t added and others taken away, when its expounded by the most intelligent person in the universe, we can only plot it on a ‘likeliness gauge’; on a ‘I could buy that’ scale, where 0 is ‘not at all’ and 10 is ‘without reservation’. And the same piece of conjecture and speculation is going to be in different places on this gauge and on that scale for different people. Fascinating? Yes. Frustrating? Hell, yes!

See, the same standards should be in place across the board. Each piece of conjecture and speculation (ok, C&S from now on because my hands keep stumbling over the -ject- and the -tion) should be judged on its own merits. Does it stack up? How much filler is needed to make it work? Does it fit other more established ‘facts’? What sources have been mined? What sources have been ignored? Is there any evidence of cherrypicking? For it to work, is a leap of faith and/or logic required? Does it have internal logic? Instead we get: Do I approve of the person who is conjecturing and speculating? What ridiculous analogies do I have to make in order to refute it? Does it contradict the C&S that I’ve already internalised? (The last question will nearly always be ‘yes’. That’s the nature of the beast. But if we run it through the earlier questions, we might come to the intriguing conclusion that either might be right. And that’s ok.)

The trouble is that so much of history has become a matter of belief, especially (and you knew this was coming) the bits of history that involve Richard III. Person A (who really really likes him) conjectures and speculates the very best of and for him. Person B (who hasn’t got a view either way) conjectures and speculates more neutrally. Person C (who thinks he was evil personified) conjectures and speculates the very worst. I know which of the three I’d be more likely to listen to.

One of the things I hear most often from the Persons A of this world is: “Be more openminded!”. Which I’ve learned actually means: “Start thinking like we do!”. (Maybe I should have included Person D in this (who quite likes Richard but is prepared to deal with findings that lean more towards our friend C than A).  Or Person E (who thinks he was a bit of a villain but is prepared to give him credit where it’s due). There are probably quite a lot of other Persons involved in this, a whole alphabet of them. And that’s because responses to Richard III don’t just come in two flavours. There’s a whole beachside gelato bar out there!) Anyway, back to the ‘openminded’ thing. Of the Persons so far, B, D and E come  closer to the ‘openminded’ goal than either A or C. And B, D and E are getting tired of hearing that they’ve missed it. “Be quiet, closeminded fool!” we get told. “Go away and repeat the mantra “Richard could do no wrong” and don’t come back until you believe it.”

As for the notion of ‘objectiveness’… I’ve come to understand that, in another semantic twist, it to has come to mean “thinking like we do” as well. Saying “I don’t know what happened, I want to read everything I can and think about it for a bit. Here’s some ideas, they might be wrong, but hey! it’s a start!” isn’t, apparently, ‘objective’. Saying “I’ve just read all this stuff written by various Persons A and they’re dead right!” is ‘objective’. Apparently. In fact, the more actual objectivity you have, the more you’re shoved into the Person C basket. And they’re not hugely more objective than the Persons A. See how complicated it is? No wonder I’m exhausted!

So, just to set the record straight, I’m not a ‘traditionalist’ (with or without a capital T), I’m not an ‘opponent’. And I’m not an ‘atheist’. (Well, I am, but not when it comes to Richard III. Because he’s not a deity.) I’m just someone who wants to find out (if that’s at all possible) what went on, without too much interference from Persons A and C.

I wasn’t planning to write yet another post about the bad behaviour of authors, but the last few days have seen yet another mini-explosion of authorial hooliganism that I just had to put pen to paper… fingertips to keyboard. This has been prompted (again) by writers’ responses to critical reviews, two in particular. One was erudite, well written, well researched and referenced. The other was head-scratchingly unintelligible. I’m not going to provide links because I don’t want to add to the flamewar. Instead, I’m going to use these reviews, and the fallout, to annotate yet another Advice for Writers list.

So, you’ve written a book…

That’s quite an achievement, if you’ve done it well. For the sake of the exercise, I’ll assume that you have. You’ve gone through several drafts, checked grammar, spelling and formatting. You’ve let people you trust read it and thanked them for their honest feedback. If you have the funds, you’ve sent it to an editor. It’s as good as you can get it and now it’s for sale. And review. Your work is Out There in the world, waiting for people to buy and enjoy. You’re sitting back and waiting for all the glowing reviews that you just know are going to come flooding in because you’ve written the Best Book Ever!

Here’s what you haven’t done: you haven’t entered and won a cleverness competition with all the people out there too stupid and too illiterate to write a book; you haven’t provided the world with a masterpiece that all who read will gasp and marvel at; you haven’t proved your intellectual dominance and invincibility. Someone’s going to read your book and they’re not going to like it. You can’t help that. You’ve done everything you possibly can. It’s not your fault the world doesn’t hail you as it should.

You read a review and you learn that, according to one person (or maybe even more) your story stinks, your dialogue is stilted, you’re repetitive, your sentences are too long, you’ve made errors of fact, the formatting’s out, you didn’t proofread as carefully as you might have, the twist at the end is baffling, the prose is turgid, your plot unengaging, your characters unlikeable and one-dimensional. And this hurts. It hurts bad. You have every right to be hurt by these words. Your first instinct is to believe that this reviewer is out to get you. They want to destroy your writing career. Because they’re jealous. And stupid. They’ve probably only read two books in their whole life! Maybe they need therapy. And, if you only took the time out of your busy life to explain why they should have loved your book, they’ll understand, read it again and fall in line with all the other people who love your book. A visit to Amazon to leave one little comment won’t hurt, surely?

And here’s where it starts.

See, there are people who spend a lot of time on Amazon, buying books and reviewing them. Some of them are kind in their criticism. They genuinely want to be helpful. They believe that if they point out the flaws in a book, the author will be able to use this in their future work. “The dialogue was a little stilted” might lead the writer to improving their dialogue. It’s what happens to the reviewer in their workplace. They get performance reviews that aren’t designed to make people feel bad. They’re designed to let people know how they’re going with their work and make improvements where they’re needed. That’s the way to look at book reviews. Even though – and this is a crucial point – they’re not written for the benefit of writers but for the benefit of potential readers. The reviewer is less interested in you knowing that your dialogue is stilted than in letting potential readers know this. Some might not care, others might not notice, others still might disagree. I never buy a book before I’ve read a bit of it. A lot of people are the same. “Oh, someone thinks the dialogue is stilted,” we might say. “Better check that out.” Then, after the ‘look inside’ has been done, we’ll either agree, disagree or not care. This will influence our decision to buy the book, but isn’t that what reviews are all about? You’re asking people to pay for something. Anyone who hands over money in return for a product or a service has the right to know as much about the reliability, suitability or performance of that product or service as they can. And, if they use that product or service and find it unsatisfactory, they have the right to let other people know that. That doesn’t mean they’re jealous of the product-maker or the service-provider, nor does it mean they’re out to get them. (Sometimes, a review is personally motivated, but this is rare and can usually be spotted. Writers with sockpuppet accounts are always rumbled in the end. “I didn’t enjoy this book” however badly worded, poorly spelled or expressed isn’t a sign of jealousy and spite.) Most reviewers aren’t even thinking about the writer when they post a review. They’re thinking about themselves and others who might take a look at the book with a view to buying it. THIS IS WHAT THE REVIEW PROCESS IS FOR! Writers behaving badly threaten this process. I am one writer who will not thank them for that.

But you’re hurting and the review was written by someone who doesn’t know how to use commas! And they spelled ‘dialogue’ wrong! Clearly, they’re an illiterate, jealous 10 year old, full of spite and malice, who wants to make you cry. They need educating. You have links to all the fine, positive, glowing reviews that you’ve received for your book. You have all those awards you paid good money to win. And you have clever people, people with taste and intellect, who all just love your book! If you just pointed this out to that illiterate, stupid, malicious, possibly certifiable reviewer, they’ll be ashamed of their words and the hurt will go away.

Except there are lurkers on Amazon just waiting for a foolish writer to stick their heads up above the parapets and respond to a critical review. They do this because they’re sick of writers rallying friends, fans and family to shout down a review and insult a reviewer. They want the Amazon (and Goodreads) review process to be a safe place for readers to express their opinions. They want to be able to read the reviews of a book – from the 1 stars to the 5, from the glowing to the critical – without fear that they, or some other poor soul, will be trashed and bullied by a band of marauding writers. They don’t want to see every 1-3 star review spammed by the writer, copying and pasting their writing cv. They don’t want to see someone who struggles to put two sentences together be told they need therapy. When they see that, the red mist comes down and they (some of them) go a little bonkers. They start calling you names. They call your sanity and intelligence into question. They defend the reviewer you’ve just trashed with a vengeance. So you go in harder. Maybe you do something incredibly stupid (and potentially threatening) as to find out where they work, or live, or eat lunch, and then tell them that you know these things. That might shut them up! Because YOU have the right to behave however you like. You’re a writer! The pinnacle of human achievement. An intellectual and literary giant, striding through humanity waving your book in people’s faces. And they’re just…

They’re just people who have a real life, a personal life, a private life. And this is off-limits to you, the writer.

So, here’s my Advice to Writers bit:

1. Don’t go to Amazon or Goodreads to respond to a review of your own or a friend’s book. If you feel you must rebut, save it for your blog. Don’t stray into personal insult, stick to the points. Better yet, when you discuss this review on your blog, find the bits that are useful and thank the reviewer for pointing them out.

2. Don’t throw a facebook pity party to get your friends, fans and family to respond to a review. People can see that a mile off. Your friends, fans and family will have a ‘defend our friend/favourite writer/spouse’ thing going on and they will be feral. This will hurt the reviewer, which is your aim. It might intimidate them to silence. Which is your aim. It might get other people out on your side as well… No, it won’t do the last. It will attract the lurkers I talked about earlier. And they will call your feral and raise you a feral.

3. If you ignore this advice and get into a flame war with reviewers or lurkers, keep reminding yourself that calling their place of work, or their home, or letting them know that you know where they live, where they work or where they eat lunch is to stray into Sociopathland. You have no right to do any of these things. If you keep it up and migrate to Stalkerland, YOU will be the one who ends up in trouble. Meanwhile, your name will be on a sizeable number of Never to Be Read lists. Maybe you can comfort yourself with the notion that controversy sells books. It might. You might get a spike in sales. That doesn’t mean you’ve won a bunch of hearts and minds. When all those avid bandwagon jumpers read your book and find out it’s YOU, the obnoxious writer, that’s controversial, not your work, they’ll drop you like last week’s cold potato. You’ve gained nothing in the long term, except a reputation for being obnoxious. And a bullly. And possibly even a stalker.

4. This applies to you as friend-of-writer as well. If your writer friend gets a less-than-stellar review and they say “Please go to Amazon and vote this loser down!” take a deep breath and try and find a better way to help them. Remind them of what they have to lose. Help them put this one (or two, or even more) review into perspective. Read it and find the bits your friend might find useful. If necessary, say something like “That’s just one person. Look at all the positive reviews you’ve got!”.

5. Don’t go to Amazon or Goodreads to respond to a review of your own or a friend’s book.

6. Don’t go to Amazon or Goodreads to respond to a review of your own or a friend’s book.

Let’s call them Team Villain and Team Saint, the two polar extremes in the Richard III debate. If we drew a venn diagram, there’d be no intersection between these two sets. They have nothing in common. Except dogged persistence; absolute faith in the rightness of their position, an inability to move an inch and a talent for making everything in the record support their point of view. On reflection, they have a lot in common. Which is a little worrying.

We see evidence of it everywhere, not just in arguments about Richard III. How many battles have been fought over the centuries by forces who both knew that God was on their side? I’ve thought long and hard about this (for at least as long as it took the water to boil for the cup of tea that’s sitting on my desk) and have come to a startling conclusion. There is a sub-atomic particle that causes two or more sets of people with mutually exclusive points of view to both (or all) claim a single fact as proof positive that they are right and everyone else is wrong. I call this particle the ergo-on.

The ergo-on doesn’t change facts depending on who’s looking at them. What it does is link two unrelated facts to form a causal relationship. It doesn’t care what those facts are, and can link any two, possibly more. Ergo-ons are particularly fond of children, though they’re happy to hang around adults. Here’s a small example of an ergo-on at work, from the life of my sister. (Whose permission I haven’t sought to tell this story, but hey! she’s my sister.)

She startled our mother once by saying she didn’t want to go on a particular train journey because “the waiters drop chips in your tea”. On further interrogation, our mother discovered that, on her first and (so far) only train journey, a waiter had indeed dropped a chip in my sister’s cup of tea. “Trains” and “Chip dropping waiters” were linked by the ergo-on to form the conclusion: Waiters on trains always drop chips in cups of tea. I don’t want chip flavoured tea, or tea flavoured chips. Ergo, I should avoid trains.

Ergo-ons can link a single idea with two other competing ideas to form two quite separate, and mutually exclusive, conclusions from the same fact. It’s the only way to explain why Richard III’s scoliosis can prove both Team Villain and Team Saint absolutely right. It works like this.

Team Villian: Richard had scoliosis. Sir Thomas More said he had severe spinal deformity and he was right. Ergo: More was right about everything he said concerning Richard.

Team Saint: Richard had scoliosis. Sir Thomas More said he was a hunchback and he was wrong. Ergo: More was wrong about everything he said concerning Richard.

Being a moderate and a member neither of Team Villain or Team Saint (I’m toying with Team Let-Him-Be-What-He-Was, but I’m not sure it’ll catch on), I have no patience with ergo-ons and swat them with rolled up newspapers when they come buzzing around.

This is how I think the scoliosis/what More said should be dealt with.

Team Let-Him-Be-What-He-Was: Richard had scoliosis. Sir Thomas More said he was a hunchback. Now, a hunchback and scoliosis are two different things, so either More’s information was garbled; ‘hunchback’ was less specific than it is now; or the story was deliberately changed to make Richard seem worse. However, it was clearly not (as has been strenuously argued in the past) made up from the whole cloth. Whether it’s garbled, a misunderstanding or deliberate distortion, there is a kernel of truth in it. Richard did have a misshapen spine. (I’m sorry about words like ‘deformed’ and ‘misshapen’ but there really aren’t any other concise alternatives.)

Team LHBWHW goes on: So, clearly we can’t disregard everything More has to say, because some of it does seem to have a nub of historical truth in it. But nor can we accept everything he has to say, because at least this story, nub of historical truth or not, is some distance away from what we now know to be the truth. So maybe what we need to do is approach More with caution, but not be dismissive, examine each thing he says, triangulating it (where possible) with things other people have said and try to work out, on the balance of probabilities and the preponderance of evidence, which bits of More are truth-nubby and which aren’t.

I’ve used More and the scoliosis as an example because the two opposing ergo-on influenced conclusions mentioned above have actually been uttered over the last day or so.

Both Teams might need to give a little ground in order to bring them a little closer to the actual Richard. The as actual as we can hope for Richard, at any rate. Ergo-ons don’t belong in the discussion. Therefore-ons might, but they’re much more circumspect and sensible. They care which facts they link and are agitated by the prospect of linking unrelated facts to form embarrassingly conflicting conclusions. It sets up a cognitive dissonance wave that breaks all the therefore-ons’ bonds, yet leaves the ergo-ons’ bonds intact.

Team LHBWHW is feeling a little squeezed by both sides at the moment, but we’re holding ground. With any luck, and a dedicated ergo-on eradication campaign, we might just push the boundaries back and give the newly unearthed Richard the ‘coming home’ gift he deserves – the chance for him to be who he was, not what those on either extreme want him to be.

1. Clear him of all the crimes laid at his door by Shakespeare, More &c.

Despite the fact that common sense tell us this is impossible, it pops up every now and then, a wan hope, the most wishful of wishful thinking. A good many of the crimes of Shakespeare’s Richard are patent nonsense. Putting those aside, the accusations that this discovery* won’t solve are: 1. did Richard usurp his nephew’s throne? 2. did Richard order the deaths of his nephews? 3. did Richard poison his queen? 4. was Richard planning to marry Elizabeth of York? Nor will it absolve him of the deaths of four men, executed (so far as there’s any evidence) without trial. Assuming the remains are Richard’s, they will tell us nothing about his personality or his personal history. They will certainly tell us nothing about his guilt or innocence.

2. Prove Shakespeare, More &c right.

Tudor Propaganda, we’re told, was the source of the ‘Crookback’ myth. If they were right about that (‘they’ weren’t, there’s a world of difference between kyphosis and scoliosis) then surely the world will leap on this and claim that the TPM** must be right about everything else!

Firstly, as I keep being reminded in other contexts, stories get distorted over time. Clearly, if the skeleton with the curved spine is Richard, then those stories had some basis. More may have been writing satire. If he was, his work isn’t the only satire in history that’s been mistaken for the genuine article. That’s also a possibility with Shakespeare’s Richard III. So, the King with the curved spine becomes a stand in for Robert Cecil who did have some kind of spinal ‘deformity’. And, in the medieval world, physical ‘deformity’ was often equated with evil. That’s not the way we see things now, or I seriously hope it’s not! So, even if the TPM is proved ‘right’ about Richard’s physical imperfection, a connection between that and ‘evil’ isn’t proved.

3. Embarrass the ‘traditionalists’ into changing their views.

Historians who have written that, on the balance of probability, Richard was more likely to have ordered the deaths of the Princes than not (or than anyone else) aren’t going to feel any embarrassment at that. And I wonder why anyone thinks they should. They have researched and read, and interpreted what information is available, and come to a conclusion. Just as the revisionists have. What will change minds (traditionalist or revisionist) is a reappraisal of current sources or a new source. There’s no need for ‘traditionalist’ historians to be embarrassed, so long as their work is sound and can stand up to questioning and challenge. There’s no need for ‘revisionist’ historians to be embarrassed, so long as the same conditions apply.

4. Turn Richard into the world most popular romantic hero.

Like any disparate, loosely connected group of people who share an interest, those of us interested in history live at least part of our lives in a bubble. We are all caught up in the excitement of the discovery, our google alerts keep us supplied with articles, blogs &c about the discovery, we discuss it among ourselves (ad nauseam). The rest of the world (by and large) doesn’t really care. History groups on facebook are awash with discussion about the Leicester dig and the upcoming press conference. My own personal page is a desert by comparison. No-one in my family cares. None of my non-history friends care. There’s no requirement that they should and no expectation that they’ll all rush out and buy Sunne in Splendour in order to join the Ricardian party.

5. Shame Queen Elizabeth II for her illegitimate ancestry.

This is one of the weirder ones. In discussions of where and how Richard should be buried, the idea that the Queen is personally blocking a state funeral to keep attention away from a crackpot theory about the ‘real’ father of Edward IV leaves me baffled. If there’s no funeral, state or otherwise, it’ll be because the person found in Greyfriars has already had a funeral. I hope he is quietly reburied at Leicester Cathedral with no great fuss. Richard’s life ended in great indignity. I hope some of that is restored to him via a quiet, respectful burial. I didn’t personally know Richard and he certainly never knew me. Had I been alive in his time, he’d never have heard of me. I don’t own him, (moderate) Ricardian or not.

6. Clear up the mystery of what happened to the Princes.

Unless an explanation is etched into the bones, we’re no closer now to solving that particular mystery than we were before. I worry that there are some expecting some kind of miracle; for the world to wake up on the morning of the announcement, knowing all that befell during Richard’s reign.

7. Vindicate every revisionist argument. Ever.

There are members of the Richard III Society and staunch Ricardians who should be praised and lauded for the work they’ve done to find the remains in Greyfriars Church. Hard work, research and lobbying all played their part in getting the dig up and running. The archaeologists at Leicester University deserve praise as well. If this was a just world, those Ricardians who worked so hard would be rewarded, not just with finding the remains but by being utterly vindicated in their view of Richard. Sadly, this isn’t a just world. There remains, still, the possibility that some document or other will be unearthed that puts Richard firmly in the frame. (I think we must allow for this possibility in order to maintain our intellectual honesty.) And that would bring a double irony to this story. Richard’s genetic identity (should it prove conclusive) relies on the dna of a young woman whose father Richard executed. If any evidence of his culpability in the deaths of the princes ever turns up, the location of his physical remains will have relied on a dedicated group of people who believed, wholeheartedly, in his innocence. This second irony is one I hope we’ll never have to face, but wishful thinking and history don’t go together. History was what it was.

Now for some things the discovery of Richard’s remains is going to do

1. Bring some kind of closure for a lot of people

When archaeologists are looking at sites of ancient habitation, there are three things they look for in determining whether it’s a human site or pre-human: evidence of bodily adornment; evidence of trade; evidence of deliberate and respectful disposal of the dead. We need to know where the people we love, admire and respect are buried. We need memorials to them, places where their remains lie (or are scattered). It’s why some people are buried in secret locations – to stop others, for good or ill, coming to their grave sites. It’s why the families of missing persons find some relief (but renewed grief) when their bodies are found. It’s why it’s so sad that (among others) we don’t know where Queen Anne Nevill or her uncle. George Archbishop of York, or her father, the earl of Warwick, and his brother, John, are buried. It’s why Warwick and Edward IV both relocated the remains of their fathers and brothers. It’s why we go to funerals; why we have urns on our mantlepieces; why we hire stonemasons to carve headstones; why we build, if we have the means, elaborate tombs; why we must know where the people we love have ended up. It’s such a deep seated part of our humanness. I can’t go to Bisham Priory to pay my respects to the Nevills. Once Richard is reburied (most probably in Leicester Cathedral) I can, if I wish, visit his grave.

2. Get people interested in Richard III, the Wars of the Roses and history

I don’t think they’ll be coming in their hordes, knocking down the doors of the Richard III Society in their rush to join, but the press coverage will surely have sparked some interest. Whether they think Richard a hero or a villain, all are welcome!

3. Put a face to the name

That’s something so many people are looking forward to. We have the NPG portrait, which shows us a fairly unspectacular man, neither of saintly nor villainous visage. The facial reconstruction of the skull will give us a three dimensional view of him. I won’t get to see the Channel 4 documentary (like so many other interested parties), or not unless it’s uploaded to something like youtube, so I’ll be relying on the kindness of strangers. If a reconstructed Richard resembles his portrait, it’ll give us slightly renewed confidence in other portraits from the time.

4. Bring some balance to the discussion

A lot of people come to their interest in history, a particular time or person in history, through reading historical fiction. This is well attested to and particularly applicable to Ricardians. I have no issue with this, it’s how things started for me. What I’m really looking forward to seeing are contributions from people whose interest in history, the Wars of the Roses and Richard III has come from the press coverage, blogs and social media discussion about the dig. These will be people with no (or few) preconceptions, who haven’t bought into this or that author’s view of Richard. They will come with a clean slate. It’s not, for me, a matter of grabbing their hearts and minds before the ‘traditionalists’ do, it’s about making a welcome and giving time and space for them to come to their own view of the man. Three years ago, when my interest in history became more active, I was looking forward to a new synthesis about Richard. We had the thesis – Evil Villain Richard – that had prevailed for centuries; and the relatively new antithesis – Saintly Pious Richard. The most exciting development is yet to come – the new synthesis. It’s a conversation I’m really looking forward to being part of.

* I am presuming, for the sake of this discussion, that the announcement this evening (tomorrow morning for many of you) will confirm the remains as Richard’s.

** The Tudor Propaganda Machine. Yes, propaganda certainly existed at the time but the ‘Tudors’ didn’t invent it. Richard duke of York was using it against Somerset and Margaret of Anjou in the 1450s. Edward IV used it after he became king. Warwick used it, any chance he got. Richard III used it when he became king. And Henry VII certainly did. It wasn’t unique and it wasn’t new. I’m afraid I’ve got to the point where, if I see or hear these words, I want to scream. Anything, it seems, can be written off as ‘Tudor Propaganda’. Some of it isn’t. Related to  #2 above, knowing that the ‘crookback’ myth wasn’t made up by propagandists (distorted and exaggerated, yes, but not made up) might lead us to a reappraisal of some other things that have been labelled ‘Tudor Propaganda’. What that will lead to, as it usually does, is a great deal of difficulty sorting out the myth from the not-myth, and we may be faced with some unpalatable conclusions.

Here’s Susan Higganbotham’s Leicester Dig Countdown, if you’re looking for some (welcome) light relief.

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!

Nevill TV – Highlights of the Week

Percy Shore

Egremont and Robert Percy travel to York to go clubbing. Their plans go haywire when Robert realises he’s left his club at Topcliffe.

The Real Housewives of Wensleydale

Alice and Anne still aren’t on speaking terms after Anne told Maud that Alice lied about being attainted. Alianor is thinking about running away with her new husband and Alice confides in Isobel that she might have to lock Alianor in a tower until she turns 18. Isobel and Maud giggle over the size of their husbands’ codpieces until Anne shows them her husband’s.

So You Think You Can Joust

Royal Wedding Final. Anthony Wydeville goes head to head with the Bastard of Burgundy. Includes candid interviews with the duchess of Bedford and a sneak peek at the Bastard’s cheersquad rehearsing their Break-a-Leg Madrigal.

Project Run Away

Me? I Wasn’t EvenThere! Challenge
With his narrow win over Warwick in last week’s Leave the Country challenge, and immunity for a record fifth time, the earl of Wiltshire is proving something of a dark horse. This week it’s a team challenge, with Warwick and Fitzhugh up against Wiltshire and Rivers and the knives are out. With the shock elimination of the popular John Nevill, the competition is wide open.

Who Do You Think You Are? (No, Really!)

Join two Edwards – the IV and of Lancaster – as they search for their real fathers.

Medieval Family

A convocation of bishops tries to have the gay ones stoned to death; the dusky princess from the far Amerikas searches London for a churros stand and the fat kid is eaten by the Archbishop of York.

Movie of the Week: Carry On Calais

It’s cross channel mayhem in this classic film. Warwick is up against it with the wily womanising Edward IV on his tail. There’s an Archbishop who just can’t get his head around the concept of celibacy and embarrassment all round when Elizabeth Wydeville discovers Margaret of Anjou’s codpiece collection.

I’m Aristocracy, Get Me Out of Here! – Tower of London

Up for elimination this week: Perkin Warbeck; the duke of Somerset and Henry VI. Vote for your favourite to keep them safe  – the intruder from Burgundy; the lovable rogue or the sensitive one.

Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?

Edmund is preparing for his first battle, but there’s still plenty of time for one last night on the town with Edward. With George sneaking out of the castle to follow them, trouble can’t be far away for our lads! Meanwhile, Richard sulks at home with his sisters because he’s frail and angelic®.

My Big Fat Wydeville Wedding

It’s Kate ‘the Duchess’ Wydeville’s turn to get married and she’s determined to outshine her sister, Elizabeth. Trouble looms as a rival family from the Midlands attempt to kidnap the groom. Even if Kate gets her special dress finished in time, is the wedding over before it begins?

Exclusive (at the moment) to facebook, Dakota faces the End of the World!

Catch up with the Story So Far… and stay tuned for further developments.

“The only things known to go faster than ordinary light is monarchy, according to the philosopher Ly Tin Weedle. He reasoned like this: you can’t have more than one king, and tradition demands that there is no gap between kings, so when a king dies the succession must therefore pass to the heir *instantaneously*. Presumably, he said, there must be some elementary particles — kingons, or possibly queons — that do this job, but of course succession sometimes fails if, in mid-flight, they strike an anti-particle, or republicon. His ambitious plans to use his discovery to send messages, involving the careful torturing of a small king in order to modulate the signal, were never fully expanded because, at that point, the bar closed.”

Terry Pratchett, Mort

The kingon was very busy between the death of Edward IV on 9 April 1483 and Richard III’s acceptance of the crown on 26 June. First, the particle moved instantaneously from Edward IV to his son, Edward V. There it hovered, not quite settling in, until it found itself spinning from Edward to his uncle, Richard. And, given the story of the precontract and Edward being declared illegitimate, there’s reason to think that it had never been in Edward at all. Because Edward was never King. Edward V’s kingship was a bit like Schroedinger’s cat. It both existed and didn’t exist in the boy at the same time. The only way anyone was going to know for sure was when they opened the box. (Just to round things out, I might try and squeeze Heisinenberg’s uncertainty principle in here as well. I’m not promising, mind.)

Related to the kingon, but much rarer and far more mysterious, is the treason. Not only is it instantaneous and not particularly discriminatory, but it may be the only particle that can travel back in time.

Here’s my thinking:

Between 9 April and 26 June 1483, two states co-existed in potentia.

1. Edward V was King (had been since his father’s death and would be until his own death);
2. Edward V was not King (and had never been).

The kingon, therefore, was both in and not in young Edward and both in and not in Richard. It was probably rather nervous. I can’t say I blame it.

On 13 June, 1483, William Lord Hastings was summarily executed in the Tower of London, having been accused of treason, dragged out of the council chamber and beheaded. So, what had he done to deserve this? It’s a question with a lot of possible answers, the simplest of which, and the one I hear most often, is ‘he committed treason’. In order to come anywhere close to an answer, we need to find out what treason is.

Here’s the Oxford Dictionaries definition.

The important part here for us is ‘attempting to kill or overthrow the sovereign’. Who was, at this time, recognised to be Edward V. So, if Hastings was guilty of treason, it had to be against Edward V.

I’m often told this isn’t necessarily the case. I’m told that attempting to kill or overthrow a Lord Protector (that is, at the time, Richard of Gloucester) is also treason. Which it is, because the Protector stands in for the King. But attempting to kill or overthrow a Lord Protector isn’t treason against the Protector, it’s still treason against the King. In 1454, when the duke of Exeter led a revolt attempting to have himself replace the duke of York as Protector of England during Henry VI’s first illness, he was arrested and locked up in a castle awaiting trial. Had Henry not recovered and, almost immediately, released Exeter, he might have been tried on charges of treason. Against Henry VI for messing with his stand in, the Lord Protector. He would not have been tried on charges of treason against the Protector himself. This is an important point…

…because Hastings is accused of plotting against Richard in order to ensure that Edward V was crowned and took his throne. As no-one in England took precedence over the King, any duty of loyalty Hastings owed Richard (or anyone) was soundly (and royally) trumped by the expectation of loyalty to Edward V. However you slice it, Hastings simply cannot be guilty of treason.

That’s all pretty straightforward. Except…

By 26 June, Edward was no longer King (and had never been king) and Richard was (and had been since his brother’s death). The kingon that had moved instantaneously from Edward IV to Edward V had now, by some strange twist of physics, moved instantaneously from Edward IV to Richard III. And not on 26 June but on 9 April. Which means that Hastings, despite him having been acting on behalf of the King, Edward V, had been acting against the King, Richard III. Only no-one knew that at the time. And, at the time, he wasn’t.

If you know where you are but not how fast you’re moving, then you’re doing better than me.

So, the treason that didn’t hit Hastings on 13 June (on 13 June), did hit him on 13 June (on 26 June). It travelled back in time.

If you’re planning a visit to Cern any time in the near future, I’d watch out for treasons. You might have been hit by one three days before you arrived.