Sunday, October 15, 2017

Richard Sharpe - the history behind his life.

 I came across a companion book for the Sharpe series written by Mark Adkin. I didn't know such a volume existed – it was published in 1998 when the Sharpe series was being written. I wish I had known about it when I first read these wonderful books by Bernard Cornwell.
It goes without saying that Cornwell's books are impeccably researched and when you read one, whatever era it is set in, you know the facts are correct.
Richard Sharpe, the hero of these books, was born in the slums of London and spent his life in the service of King and country.
It was rare for a man to be promoted from the ranks, but it did happen, and Cornwell had Sharpe save Wellington's life and so get his officers' stripes. From this point on an actual hero is followed by a fictional one. No rifleman served in the ranks of a redcoat regiment buSharpe and his men do because otherwise they could not take part in the battles and excitement of the war. The South Essex Regiment is fictional but the others mentioned are real. Cornwell himself states that he made Sharpe's unit dodge from brigade to brigade, division to division, all so they could be manoeuvred into maximum danger.
To be so historically accurate is quite remarkable considering there are seventeen books in the series.
Adkin's book is a fascinating read full of maps, pictures and diagrams and it is given me the enthusiasm to start reading the Sharpe series again, but this time with The Sharpe Companion open so I can follow the actual history at the same time as the fictional hero.
Richard Sharpe (I always visualise Sean Bean even though he was fair-haired and the real Sharpe had black hair.) was not just an exceptional soldier but also lucky one. At forty-two he had killed sixty-five men in close quarter combat. There were probably a hundred others killed in the mayhem of a battle. He was 6'1" tall and weighed about twelve stone. This was all bone and muscle. I have read all the Sharpe books at least once but can't remember ever reading this information – Adkin must have gleaned this from comments made about Sharpe by other characters.
Reading The Sharpe Companion is like reading the biography of a real person. Adkins talks about this fictional hero as if he actually did all the things in the books. Every page has a boxed text with facts that relate to the fiction which makes it a perfect read for anyone writing about the Peninsular War.
My work in progress is the fifth book in my series, The Duke's Alliance, and tells the story of Lord Peregrine Sheldon,  who is an intelligence officer in Wellington's army and goes missing behind enemy lines. The duke,  head of the family, goes in search of his missing younger brother.
I am engrossed in Adkin's book and have learnt so much that will be useful. I can highly recommend it even though it is almost 20 years since it was first published.
I have just finished writing the second book in my World War II series, Ellen's War, which follows Ellie from 1939 to 1945. In the first book she was a member of the WAAF but then joined the ATA. I've read every book I could find about the female ferry pilots and have tried to stick as closely as I could to actual events. I want my readers to finish my World War II  books having learnt more about the period as I do when reading Cornwell's books. The first in my series is available on Amazon and the second, An ATA Girl will be out in January or February next year.

Until next month,

Fenella J Miller

2 comments:

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I, too, rate Mark Adkin's book very highly. He has the knack of telling you exactly what you need to know if your hero happens to be in Spain during the Peninsular War, for example, how the horses were looked after, who cooked the camp meals and so on. He certainly makes Sharpe feel like a real person rather than a fictional character.

Fenella J Miller said...

I'm now reading all the books again, but his time wiht Adkin's book ot hand.