Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Getting Details Right in Historical Fiction

Getting the details write right in historical fiction can be challenging for so many reasons. For a start we often don’t know what life was like exactly in the past – or the facts themselves are up for debate. For instance is it really the case that people in the middle ages had bad teeth? They didn’t have toothpaste, but neither did they have food with as much unrefined sugar as we have today – so maybe tooth decay wasn’t so much of a problem!

However, there are some basic facts which it should be able to fact check and get right. One of my bugbears in historical fiction is where things that couldn’t be present or said appear. For instance I read quite a good murder mystery set in the mid-14th century recently. There was lots of good stuff on social conditions, labour costs etc that made me feel that the author really had done their research and got into the details of the period.

But then the characters started drinking Maderia wine, and Brandy.

What!

When I read that I was puzzled. I didn’t know for sure that this was wrong, but certainly alarm bells were ringing. From my knowledge of the Middle Ages the main drinks would be beer for the lower classes, or day to day drink, and wine for the better off. Now the types of wine might vary, but pretty much characters in 14th century England would be drinking wine, and probably red wine. I’d never come across brandy or Madeira wine being drunk in a book about the Middle Ages, or a work written in the Middle Ages. And with good reason.

The Island of Madeira wasn’t even discovered until Portuguese explorers started sailing south towards Africa in the 15th century.

And brandy also wasn’t produced in large quantities until the late 15th century.

This might be nit-picking, but for me those two errors cast doubts on the rest of the story for me. I still enjoyed the book – the characters and plot were entertaining, but the historical foundations of it feel a bit flimsy and lacking in veracity. The mistakes trivialized the detail of research in the other areas of the story, which was a real shame.

What are your thoughts on getting details right in historical fiction. Does it make your skin crawl when you spot a glaring mistake?

Time’s Arrow – Free Excerpt

Following on from my posts about Time’s Arrow and the cover reveal, here’s a free excerpt from my new short story.

I hope you enjoy the read and if you do stay tuned for details about how you can buy a copy of the story.

Times’s Arrow by Mark Lord

William Chan punched the number 1415 into the time machine. And followed it with the month of October and the day was 25. St. Crispin’s Day, 1415. The Battle of Agincourt. He breathed deeply, feeling the blood pump through his veins. He looked down at what he wore. A leather jerkin with a white badge and a red cross sown above his heart, green legged-hose, leather boots, a buckler shield, arrows stuffed into his belt and held together by a piece of rope on his right hip and a sword in a scabbard on his left. He stepped forward onto the central plate in the chamber of the machine. He adjusted the helmet strap under his chin and pealed back the woolen sleeve covering his wrist. He kept his finger pressed on a small button on the small black device strapped there and waited until the L.E.D. showed the time he wanted. Nine o’clock. Just half an hour, he hoped, before the first French attack. That should give him enough time to get a good vantage of the battle from the cover of the woods.  

A green light flashed on the device, waiting for him. He pressed another button and held it down until the green light stopped flashing and was a solid green. 

# 

The G.P.S. should have placed him perfectly into the woods where he could watch undisturbed. But it didn’t. He was standing in a ploughed field behind a large mass of men. They were archers like him, like he was pretending to be. They were all facing away from him and most were busy with large stakes of wood, driving them with mallets or pushing them, getting their whole weight behind them so that they sank into the earth. They were building an impenetrable fence between themselves and the French mounted knights. A single line of stakes, William noted, not stakes in front of each man reaching in every ranks. That was one question answered. 

“Archer! Where’s your bow? Find it and get into the ranks.” 

William turned. Behind him was a grey-bearded man-at-arms riding a huge horse. He waved a rod at William and pointed towards the archers in front of them. 

“Deserters will be hung.” The man nudged the flanks of his horse with his plate armored heals and the beast moved threateningly towards William. Just then there was a blast of a trumpet and the man looked towards his right, towards the centre of the English army. 

William looked too. There he could see what he knew was a pitifully small number of dismounted men-at-arms. He couldn’t make them out properly across the flat field, but he knew that arrayed in the centre of the English army there would be three units, or battles, of men-at-arms; a mix of belted knights, squires and common soldiers, anyone with enough money to afford proper armor and the horses that were required. But the English men-at-arms hardly ever fought on horseback these days. Their usual strategy was to dismount and wait for their French enemies to attack. The English archers positioned on the flanks would pepper the approaching French hordes with arrows, breaking up their formations and then the English, hopefully fighting with the advantage of a hill or from behind some prepared defenses would break the enemy with their pole-axes, their cut-down lances and their swords. And here, near the small chateau of Agincourt, would occur the epitome of the English victory against the odds. Only a thousand English men-at-arms, with perhaps four thousand archers arrayed in support on the flanks, all hungry and tired from a desperate march across northern France and many suffering from the rigors of dysentery, their bowels opening without any self-control. This rag-tag of an army against the pride of French chivalry, over ten thousand men-at-arms on foot, drawn up in three great lines of attack with a thousand mounted men-at-arms on the flanks ready to disperse the English archers. But what should have been forlorn hope for the English was to be their greatest victory, with only 112 dead they would leave seven thousand French dead on the field and within five years Henry V, the English King, would have forced them into a peace that would hand him the crown of France upon the death of King Charles VI of France. 

William licked his lips. It was an amazing prospect, and no-one from the 22nd century had ever seen it before. 

The trumpet blared again and the man on horseback turned his horse to watch. William looked across at the banners. He could see one massive banner of cloth bearing Henry’s arms, the leopards of England quartered with the fleur-de-lis of France. He watched as the banner was raised up in the air and pointed forward. Battlefield signaling in action. Something else to add to his research paper. Another first for him. 

“For flip’s sake,” growled the horseman. “We’ve only just got the bloomin’ stakes in.” William’s universal translator earpiece not only parsed Middle English, Old French and Latin into modern English, but it also, annoyingly, took most of the fun out of the swearing. 

William was no longer important to the man on the horse. William watched him ride away, taking another mental note of the man’s arms that he could now more clearly on the back of his surcoat as he rode away from him towards the unit of archers. A green shield with a number of white blobs inside it –probably representing birds. Most likely, this was Sir Thomas Erpingham, charged with commanding both wings of archers. He would be a busy man that day. 

William had nearly been caught out. But now he could make his way towards the woods and a safe place to watch the action. It had never been his intention to stand with either of the armies (especially not the French)—much too dangerous! And besides, from in the middle of the melee, would he really see much of what was going on? But a soldier’s disguise would help him get near enough. Even if he was to pose as an archer in the ranks (perhaps the least dangerous role on the English side), he would soon be shown up—there were no yew trees left in the 22nd century and his upper body muscles were certainly not strong enough to use one of the great English war-bows. 

In front of him the archers were pulling their stakes out of the ground. They would march forward several hundred yards until they were in bow range of the French and plant their stakes again and then goad the French into attacking. And the rest would be history. William walked towards the woods on the western side of the field directly to the left of the formation of archers which faced the French army in the north. He didn’t run to get his position. There was too much to take in. It was not a simple task for the archers to pull-up the stakes they had just hammered into the ground and he noticed that many were giving up. He watched one man slip in the mud as the stake he was pulling came free. The archer landed on his backside. The men around him laughed and William couldn’t help but smile. 

But the man didn’t seem to notice his comrades laughing. As he regained his feet he was staring straight at William. 

“Oi! What are you looking at?” 

William looked away and started walking quickly towards the woods. 

“You, come here!” 

TO BE CONTINUED

For a Life Forgotten – Cover Image Reveal

I am working on editing and production of the 3rd volume of my Stonehearted series, which will be called For a Life Forgotten. The story will follow the fate of Eolande as she looks for her captured father in France. If you are new to the Stoneheared series then take a look at the first two volumes, By the Sword’s Edge and By Fire and Sword.

I have now found an image for the cover. See below. I’m looking forward to seeing this volume published – after that there should be another couple of volumes to complete the series.

Mystical portrait of meditative Knight with sword,selective focus, very creative color retouching and hard lighting to underline the ancient medieval time,vignetting and possible noise,low key

New Historical Fiction Novel from Bernard Cornwell 2017

I’m a big fan of historical fiction (as you might guess from the stories that I write and the content of this blog!) So I was interested to hear that there will be a new Bernard Cornwell book later in this year – and one that’s not part of his normal series – or on a subject that he would normally write about.

I really enjoy Cornwell’s action stories–he writes well and creates strong stories. You could argue that the books are a bit formulaic after a while, but they’re good reads nevertheless.

His latest is set in Elizabethan England and follows the life of one Richard Shakespeare – it’s not out until October and there’s not a great deal of information on it – not even a cover image at the moment – but it sounds intriguing – probably the most notable difference from most of his work is that it does not involve military matters.

Here’s what I have from the Amazon website:

Fools and Mortals Kindle
by Bernard Cornwell

A dramatic new departure for international bestselling author Bernard Cornwell, FOOLS AND MORTALS takes us into the heart of the Elizabethan era, long one of his favourite periods of British history.

Fools and Mortals follows the young Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother, William. As the growth of theatre blooms, their rivalry – and that of the playhouses, playwrights and actors vying for acclaim and glory – propels a high-stakes story of conflict and betrayal.

And the link to it on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk for pre-orders.

 

The Best Historical Fiction of All Time – have you read them all?

I was doing some research recently into which historical fiction novels are recognized as being the best of all time – the books that every budding historical fiction author and reader should have read. Of course there is no definitive list – such a thing can and should only ever be a matter of opinion. I found lists on the Telegraph site, Publisher’s Weekly, and of course Goodreads has several reader-curated list- as well.

The most reference one however seemed to be a list published by the Guardian/Observer back in 2012. Here’s what they have:

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • Romola by George Eliot
  • The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
  • Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
  • Pure by Andrew Miller
  • The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
  • I, Claudius by Robert Graves
  • Property by Valerie Martin
  • The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker

I have to confess that I have only read War and Peace, Wolf Hall, I, Claudius and the first of The Regeneration Trilogy – so no idea about the others. I think given that this is the Guardian its quite a literary fiction based list. I’d agree with these 4 titles that I know being on the list for sure, but I think for pure entertainment value I would have to add The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas well. But also what about Tale of Two Cities by Dickens?

What about you? What else should be on the list – please comment below – I’d love to hear what you think.