Who would like to read Hell has its Demons on my blog?

Just wondering if any of you readers of my blog would be interested if I posted draft chapters online of Hell has its Demons? You’d be reading early drafts and able to provide feedback and perhaps contribute to the shaping of the novel.

Or is this a dumb idea as it would be just polluting the web with more sub-standard fictional drivel?

What do you think? Yes or no?

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Medieval Military Disasters: Frederick II’s Great Defeat at the Siege and Battle of Parma, 1247-1248

Siege and Battle of Parma, 1247-1248

Frederick II Hohenstaufen is famous for defying the Papacy and trying to create a unified Holy Roman Empire based on his Kingdom of Sicily. However, the infighting between the different factions in Italy and the antipathy and opposition of the papacy made this aim all but impossible. The Siege of Palma, which together with Milan was one of the most hostile cities opposing Frederick II, marked a turning point in the war, from which the Emperor would never recover.

The source for this information is Medieval Warfare by Hans Delbruck.Federico_II_Parma

According to the Annals of Parma Frederick II had an army of 10,000 men at this battle.

Frederick set up his fortified camp opposite the smaller part of the city of Parma on the left bank of the Torrente Parma. The camp was famously called Vittoria. From here Frederick’s forces could lay waste to the area around Parma and seek to prevent reinforcements. Frederick’s likely strategy would have been to starve Parma into submission.

The city not surrounded. To cut off the city completely would have required forts of circumference of five miles with approx 40,000 men needed to guard them. Even if forts had been placed at points around the city it is likely that a force larger than the one Frederick had available would have been required. The English chronicler Matthew Paris states, however, that there were a number of castles around the city, bearing the name Vittoria, so maybe Frederick did engage in this strategy.

Unfortunately I have been unable to find any historical or archaeological sources that describe the possible location of Frederick’s camp. Looking at modern maps of Parma it would appear that the terrain around Parma apart from the river that cuts through it was fairly level undulating hills, so it is unlikely that any particular geographical features played a large party in the position of his camp or the battle.

It seems that the siege was not being particularly successful as Parma had significant forces available. For instance the Mantuans brought assistance via the river Po to the north. However, Matthew Paris in his chronicle does related that the Parmese were suffering and that they even asked Frederick for peace, an offer that he rejected, warning them that they must use there corn sparingly as he would not give them any more while he lived.

In the winter of 1247-1248 Frederick released the contingents from Bergamo, Pavia, Tortona and Allesandria and detached some of his troops to Treviso and Allesandria.

The forces Remaining were 1,100 horse and 2000 foot from Cremona, and Saracen archers. With a total of maybe 5000.

When the Parmese sallied out on 18 February 1248 Frederick was hunting with probably around 500 horsemen. The Parmese intended to move up the Po against Frederick’s son Enzo. Half of their forces did so and the other half became embroiled in an unintended battle with the Imperial forces. Again Matthew Paris is at odds with this version of events, he claims that the Parmese knew Frederick was absent, and that they planned the attack at this time to move against his camp. One expects that this could be true as surely they would be able to see Frederick leave with his large hunting party.

The Imperial forces lost and the Parmese entered the camp of Vittoria. Parmese claimed 1500 Imperials killed and 3000 captured. The Placentine annals say only 100 knights and 1500 foot soldiers were killed or captured however. One of the dead was Frederick’s minister Thaddeus de Suessa. Frederick also lost his treasury and other items of his baggage.

Could Frederick have succeeded in starving Parma if he had not suffered the ill-luck of being absent when the Parmese sallied? The Parmese did not know of his absence and Frederick’s forces engaged without any real orders apparently. If Frederick was there it is quite probable that defeat would not have occurred and that the siege would have been maintained.

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What I have been doing (and why no recent posts!)

Apologies for no recent posts, but I have been rather busy on the following:

  • On holiday!
  • Typesetting Alt Hist magazine
  • Editing the first two chapters of Hell has its Demons and trying to work out what happens next while overcoming writers block with my laptop on the train. I seemed to spend most of the time looking out of the window, before realising that chapter three should probably have a gory or violently sexual theme to it given the subject matter it was going to cover – a nightmare sequence where Jake relives finding his wife in bed with his father! I then thought I felt a bit perturbed about writing such things next to my fellow commuters! Silly I know, but it’s a bit odd to be writing things, with someone else sitting two centimetres away from you.
  • Found that my short story Bisclavret (The Werewolf) has sold its first copy on the Kindle!
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Using Google Alerts to Track Iain Banks’ Surface Detail

I set up a Google Alert (now an obsolete Google tech, but still working) to track any web news about Iain Banks’ new book Surface Detail. Very few uses of the phrase “surface detail” relate to his book though.

I am either getting stuff about astronomy/photography like:

Photo Tips for Shooting the Moon

Or stuff about about military modelling!


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Hitler’s War by Harry Turtledove: Book Review

Image by gwydionwilliams via Flickr

Hitler’s War by Harry Turtledove. I haven’t read any of Mr Turtledove’s stuff before, so I picked this up with some excitement and trepidation – you never quite know if you are going to like a new author or not!

I found it quite an unusual book in some ways.

The story is told from various viewpoints but all by someone on the front-line of the war – whether privates and NCOs fighting with the armies of the warring countries, or pilots and a U-boat captain, or civilians directly affected by the war. The action is largely away from the planning of the war and the grand view of the generals and politicians, and concentrates on the effects of war on the common soldier and civilian.

Although Turtledove does a good job of giving us a good feel of what war would be like for all his different characters, I do find it disconcerting that all his characters have an American tone of voice. The book has more the feel of a comic book strip sometimes because of this.

Also I was puzzled about where the book was going. You don’t actually get any resolution. The war doesn’t end, but just seems to be entering a new phase, one that is different from original history. I suspect that other books will follow, but this is not at all clear from anything printed in the front-matter or on the front and back covers. Wikipedia states that the novel is part of a series.

Overall I found the style engaging and readable, but ultimately I didn’t feel that I was any the wiser. Why did Turtledove see the events of WWII happening differently? The book doesn’t seem to answer that fundamental question. Also I found the structure of stringing together a series of vignettes to describe the experience of a large cast of characters ultimately unsatisfying. A lot of the episodes felt very similar, yet I never really had the feeling for what one character’s overall experience was like because the narrative never stayed with anyone for very long.

I think I would try another of Turtledove’s books, but probably not from this new series.

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Edinburgh Festival Profile of Iain Banks

A good summary of Iain Bank’s career at this site about the Edinburgh Festival.

Unfortunately not many snippets about Surface Detail though. All we get is:

His next book is Surface Detail, a Culture novel(released 7 October 2010). The utopian Culture, he tells us was created to reclaim the moral high ground of space opera where so much of the genre was right wing. It was also a reaction against the raft of Orwellian works. The new book “begins with a murder…and will not end until the culture has gone to war with death itself”. Banks describes it as “internal turf wars”.

But there are some good insights about Iain Banks the writer in the commentary on his interview at the Festival:

Questions from the audience return us to the process of creating his novels. Viewing authors basically as entertainers he is aware of the need to make his novels work for the booklover and also to provide subsequent gratifying readings. He describes his method of planning, including colour coded characters to ensure pacing. He admits to some concern that age would lessen his number of unique ideas, which he sees as vital to his science fiction works in particular – mainstream works just need to be well done but not necessarily original. Happily any diminution has been balanced by being better equipped to utilise concepts. While we are not likely to spot many influences in his work they include the Marx Brothers, Monty Python, the Goons, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Jane Austin, Graham Greene, Alan Warner and specifically the novels Catch 22, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Alasdair Gray’s Lanark.

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