Friday, September 15, 2017

My Three Favourite Historical Fiction Writers

Initially I wrote a post about writing and depression but then thought that was too depressing so have decided to put up something on my three favourite historical fiction writers.
Bernard Cornwall must rank at the top of this list. I have every book he has written, apart from the short series set in America to do with the War of Independence which I didn't like. His research is impeccable, his writing compelling and his heroes everything they should be. Of course, the Sharpe novels were made into a series of TV dramas with the wonderful Sean Bean in the lead role. Whenever I reread one of these books, despite the fact that Sharpe is supposed to have black hair, I always imagine Sean Bean.
There is now a series about Uthred (see below) with an equally irresistible actor playing the lead role.
Richard Sharpe, who alone can recognise the top French spy, is under orders to capture him alive.
Richard Sharpe is once again at war. But this time his enemy is just one man – the ruthless Colonel Leroux. Sharpe’s mission is to safeguard El Mirador, a spy whose network of agents is vital to British victory. Soldier, hero, rogue – Sharpe is the man you always want on your side. Born in poverty, he joined the army to escape jail and climbed the ranks by sheer brutal courage. He knows no other family than the regiment of the 95th Rifles whose green jacket he proudly wears.
In a land torn apart by conflict, an orphan boy has come of age. Raised by the Vikings, deadly enemies of his own Saxon people, Uhtred is a fierce and skilled warrior who kneels to no-one.
Alfred – Saxon, king, man of god – fights to hold the throne of the only land still resisting the pagan northerners.
Uhtred and Alfred’s fates are tangled, soaked in blood and blackened b the flames of war. Together they will change history…

Christian Cameron is next on my list. I only discovered him comparatively recently but again I have everything he has written on my keeper shelf. I love his books and am reading his latest,The Green Count, at the moment. If you haven't read anything by him then I envy you – you've got a treat in store.
Arimnestos of Plataea was one of the heroes of the Battle of Marathon, in which the heroic Greeks halted the invading Persians in their tracks, and fought in the equally celebrated naval battle at Salamis.
But even these stunning victories only served to buy the Greeks time, as the Persians gathered a new army, returning with overwhelming force to strike the final killing blow.

For the Greeks, divided and outnumbered, there was only one possible strategy: attack. And so, in the blazing summer of 479 BC, Arimnestos took up his spear one final time at the Battle of Plataea.

The third on my list is Dorothy Dunnett. I can remember fighting over who would read her latest book first with my husband when they came out 40 years ago. They are complex, beautifully written, historically accurate stories spanning many years with a cast of compelling characters. I've read all of them at least three times.  To be honest, when I tried to reread the Lymond Chronicles a few years ago I couldn't get into it. I think they are too erudite for my ancient brain nowadays.
I despised men who accepted their fate. I shaped mine twenty times and had it broken twenty times in my hands'
It is 1547 and, after five years imprisonment and exile far from his homeland, Francis Crawford of Lymond - scholar, soldier, rebel, nobleman, outlaw - has at last come back to Edinburgh.
But for many in an already divided Scotland, where conspiracies swarm around the infant Queen Mary like clouds of midges, he is not welcome.
Lymond is wanted for treason and murder, and he is accompanied by a band of killers and ruffians who will only bring further violence and strife.
Is he back to foment rebellion?
Does he seek revenge on those who banished him? Or has he returned to clear his name?

No one but the enigmatic Lymond himself knows the truth - and no one will discover it until he is ready . . .
'A storyteller who could teach Scheherazade a thing or two about pace, suspense and imaginative invention' New York Times

I haven't included Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters as they are not historical fiction writers, they are writers who wrote in their own era that we now read. I could have put Georgette Heyer in as I grew up on her books and read all of them voraciously in my teens. However, although her books are enjoyable, they don't compare the stature and gravitas of these others so I haven't included them.
Fenella J Miller

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Georgette Heyer: Watering-pots

Watering-pots are mentioned a number of times in Georgette Heyer’s novels - tearful heroines tend to apologize for behaving 'like a watering-pot' - so I thought it would be interesting to look at watering-pots more closely.

Take Frederica. The heroine, Frederica, is discussing her sister Charis with the hero, the Marquis of Alverstoke. Charis, she says, is very sensitive, ‘The mildest scold utterly sinks her spirits!’ Frederica wants to encourage Charis’s paragon of a suitor, Sir Mark Lyncham, who, she thinks, will be very gentle with her.

Alverstoke replies, caustically, ‘Judging him by myself, I should think he would murder her – or seek consolation elsewhere! I can think of few worse fates than to be married to a watering-pot!’


Inside the Garden Museum, next door to Lambeth Palace and once St Mary’s church
I’d always assumed that a watering-pot was a Regency synonym for a watering-can – until last Friday, when I visited the newly-opened Garden Museum in Lambeth and, to my amazement, they actually had an early 19th century watering-pot.

A watering-pot dating from 1800
This is it and you can see that it’s different from a watering-can. For a start, it’s rather squat and made of terracotta. It looks pretty heavy and it’s not a particularly attractive object. The short spout has what looks like an integral rose. Perhaps it unscrews but I suspect that the pot was filled from the hole in the top.

I couldn’t help thinking that it would probably break quite easily – unlike a metal watering-can – which may explain why I’d never seen one before.


Mid-19th century watering-can
The Garden Museum also had an example of a mid-19th century watering-can. It is a lot bigger than the watering-pot – and probably a lot lighter, too. You can understand why they took over from the watering-pot.

The two standing together
The case they were in was somewhat crowded – so apologies for the photo. The bottom of the watering-can is partly obscured by an early glass cucumber straightener! I’ve included this photo to show you the difference in size.  

So, dear reader, when you next read Frederica, and reach the bit at the end where Alverstoke tells Frederica that she’d better consent to Charis’s marriage with Endymion because, ‘You cannot possibly live with a watering-pot for the rest of the summer!’ you will know exactly what a watering-pot is.
Elizabeth Hawksley