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The Beatrice Stubbs Bacon Sandwich

It’s 6.30 and I’m relaxing in my Heliopolis hotel room after a day showing Egypt’s largest road contractor how to make better, longer lasting bridge joints for less money. Relaxing in this case means reading the second book in the Beatrice Stubbs Boxed Set, which is turning out to be every bit as good as the first, while wondering which of the Fairmont restaurants I should grace for dinner. I am so glad to have discovered JJ Marsh; she’s taken her place at my writers’ top table. But I just came across this:
Beatrice allowed herself a small celebration. Exotic fruit, miso soup or a salmon bagel may well do wonders for the mind but on certain occasions nothing in the world can beat a bacon sandwich.
Yes. YES! No question about it. A bacon sandwich ­– yum, yum, pig’s bum. But wait – what’s this?
Large streaky rashers curling and spitting away in the pan. Two thick white slices warming in the toaster, a bottle of HP and the papers waiting on the table.
Thick white slices? No. No, woman, no. What are you thinking of? Two slices of Poilâne rye – the only thing. (If you really must, you can substitute Poilâne sourdough, in which case yes you will need to toast it, but ordinary white bread? Never!) (You don’t need to go to Paris for the bread; if you’re in Britain, Frenchclick.co.uk will deliver it right to your door). No butter. Spread one slice with mustard if that’s all you have (English – none of your foreign muck) but Bim’s Kitchen African Baobab Pepper Jam is better and then slather both slices with home made mayo. Sprinkle a small amount of celery salt on one side, lay the fried bacon (if you grill bacon you can bugger off right now) on one side, lay on top of it slices of ripe tomato you have already scattered with salt and black pepper, press the other slice on top, cut in half and eat.
That is a bacon sandwich. A bacon sandwich fit for the incomparable Beatrice Stubbs.
I pah on your white bread.

See more reviews of other people’s books here

 

A Just and Upright Man listed for Historical Novel Society Award

A Just and Upright Man cover R J Lynch updated June 2014

The Historical Novel Society announced the shortlist for its 2015 Indie Award on Friday, and included in the list is A Just and Upright Man . The winner will be announced and the award presented at the society’s annual conference in Denver, Colorado, in June.

HNSIndieShortlisted2015

I was stunned when I got the news. Of course you always hope to be recognised, and the book has had some very good reviews, but still it’s a surprise. To know that they started out with so many historical novels and, after they’d whittled them down to just nine, mine was still in there – it feels like a validation of all my hard work.

A Just and Upright Man is the first in the five-book James Blakiston series of historical romance/crime novels set in northeast England in the 1760s (with one set in the American colonies as revolution looms). So much historical fiction is written from the viewpoint of the rich and aristocratic, or at least the well-off. I wanted to write about the lives of the people at the bottom of the heap – the agricultural labourers, shepherds, cotton spinners and miners from whom I (and, in fact, almost everyone) am descended. You think at first that these people are invisible but when you sit for hours, day after day, (as I have) poring over the notebooks and other records kept by vicars and overseers of the poor – and, indeed, the courts – individuals start to emerge from the darkness and speak to you. I wanted to tell how their lives unfolded when enclosure took away their livelihood of the past two or three hundred years and to show that they, no less than the gentry, fell in love, married and had children; that they knew happiness and grief; that they mattered. The reviews I’ve been getting suggest that I’ve succeeded, which is rewarding in itself.

Poor Law, the second book in the series, should be with the proof-reader before the end of this month.

The book is available:
Here for Kindle

Or you can get it here as a paperback (the price includes postage, wherever in the world you may be).

 

Can men write romance? Yes. We can. But there are conditions

A Just and Upright Man cover R J Lynch updated June 2014

At the Chorleywood Indie Fair on 16th November a lady asked me to tell her about my books. I did that and when I reached A Just and Upright Man I said, ‘This is an historical romance and crime book. It’s set in the north-east in the 1760s. So, you see, men can write romance.’ I meant that as a little joke and she didn’t seem to have a problem with it but one of my fellow ALLi author members who was listening to the conversation spat out a derogatory remark about the very idea of romance and male authors. A review in Romance Reviews Magazine, quoted on the front cover, said, “A very enjoyable and worthwhile read” and the Historical Novel Society (also quoted) said, “A truly superb novel and indie publishing at its very best” but clearly this lady was not impressed. Men can’t write romance and that’s that.

I covered up my irritation (at least I hope I did) and it was only later that I looked dispassionately at the question. That’s when I realised that twenty years ago – perhaps even ten years ago – I couldn’t have written A Just and Upright Man. Romance to me then was not what it would be now. I don’t have to search very far for the reason. In my early sixties I had trouble sleeping. It wasn’t serious enough to see a doctor but I did mention it when I was at the surgery for a cholesterol check. ‘Oh, I can fix that,’ said the doc. ‘Testosterone Replacement Therapy – that’s the answer.’

He must have been joking; in fact, I told him so. Almost all the trouble in my life has come from an excess of testosterone. I don’t think that’s unusual; it’s what people mean when they say that having testicles is like being chained to the village idiot. Be that as it may, now that that tedious hormone was depleted I had no intention of building it up again. And that turned out to be the right decision because the sleeping problem went away. It’s now, in this post-lunatic stage of my life, that I find romance easy to write.

I wrote this post in my head this morning during a six mile walk along the country lanes close to my house that I took because it’s such an unexpectedly beautiful day (especially as tomorrow is the first day of winter). While I was composing it I remembered that I had actually used that testosterone replacement suggestion in a short story. I hope you will enjoy that story – it’s free and available for download here.

She stood on the bridge at midnight

She stood on the bridge at midnight is, of course, the opening line of that liberal anthem of which the first verse runs:

She stood on the bridge at midnight
Throwing snowballs at the moon
She said, “Jack, I’ve never ‘ad it”
But she spoke too bloomin’ soon.

The chorus that follows sets the tone:
It’s the same the ‘ole world over
It’s the poor wot gets the blame
It’s the rich wot gets the pleasure
Ain’t it all a bloomin’ shame?

Common politeness prevents me singing other verses outside a rugby club (which is where I learned many of my choicer ditties; it’s only now that I wonder whether other people know a more wholesome version of this song), although there’s no harm in telling you that the last two lines before the final chorus are:

She is now completely ruined
And it’s all because of ‘im.

I found these lines running through my head after receiving an email telling me why A Just and Upright Man was such rubbish and how pleased my correspondent was that she’d bought it for her Kindle and read it quickly because she’d been able to get her money back from Amazon, the miserable skinflint, and so my trash hadn’t cost her anything other than the few hours of her time I’d stolen.

My offence was to write an historical romance/crime novel from the point of view of the people at the bottom of the social heap—the poor. Lizzie Greener and her family, as well as Tom Laws and his, should be beneath notice. Literature, whatever that is, should concern itself only with the upper classes. If some people of the past are invisible there is, it seems, a reason for that. They are not worthy of notice.

Well, I can’t agree. I suppose I’m influenced by the fact that, if Lizzie Greener and Tom Laws had not lived in the northeast two hundred and fifty years ago then I wouldn’t be here now, but it’s more than self-interest. Those peasants and paupers whose every day was a struggle to survive make for better fiction than some spoilt princess.

In any case, they’re not invisible. You have to look a bit harder—I’ve spent hours in archives around the country, going through original documents, and I’ll spend hours more and after doing that for a while these “invisible” people start to look out at you from the pages. Look at this from a 1765 parish account book:
Three Fox and two Foulmartens heads four and twopence
Who trapped and killed those foxes and martens so that they could claim the bounty? And what did they do with the money? Four shillings and twopence was a fortune at a time when they could also write:
To Hauxley Todd for 2 carts of coals & loading three shillings and eightpence
and when it cost the parish a guinea—one pound and one shilling—to keep Edward Scott in the Poor House for 14 weeks.

In 1745 there were sixteen paupers in Ryton Constablery (sic) and we know their names and how much they were given to get them through the year (it wasn’t much). Turn to the parish registers and there they are lined up for us: the year of their birth; the year they were baptised (not always the same as the birth year and there’s a story there, too, for anyone who cares to look); the names of their parents; who they married (and when); what children they had; and when they died.

What about Richard Evans, imprisoned and sentenced to hard labour for being “a loose disorderly fellow of ill fame”. Evans was convicted on no more than the oath of a churchwarden. Who is going to tell his story if not me? And what would that churchwarden have made of the man I saw sixty years ago trying to get the key into the door of his miserable cottage while concealing from this small boy the fact (actually quite unconcealable) that he was as drunk as a Lord? Why does this woman who abuses me by email and steals the fruits of my labours by reading and then not paying believe that the Lord’s story would be more worth telling than the labourer’s? Those shabby cottages were knocked down years ago—is every trace of the people who lived there to vanish?

Not if I have anything to do with it.

A Just and Upright Man is available for Kindle, and you can order the paperback from Amazon–or get it here (Post and Packing included in the price, no matter where in the world you live).

Am I nuts?

A Just and Upright Man cover R J Lynch updated June 2014

I’m editing Poor Law, the sequel to A Just and Upright Man and second in the five book James Blakiston series. At least, I thought I was. But a couple of days ago a series of strokes of the sort of genius known only to the greatest minds meant I had to accept that I was into a wholesale rewrite and not just an edit. I’ve spent a large part of today in 18th century Durham county, the POV I’ve been writing these scenes in is that of a young woman and I got into that trance-like state that comes—sometimes—when it’s going well, you’re undisturbed and you’ve left your own world behind and moved completely into someone else’s. If you like—though it’s a word I don’t like—I’ve been channelling a sixteen year old girl from the 1760s. A number of things happened and Kate told me each time how she felt, what was in her mind and what the reaction of other people was. Times like that you have to keep going, keep writing because you don’t know when you’re going to have that rock-solid connection to another world again. When I finally came out of it (because I needed to eat) I was reminded of that time I’d been writing a 20th Century criminal and, when I finally stood up, I was patting my pockets, desperate for a cigarette. It took twenty minutes before I remembered that I don’t smoke.

Zappa's Mam's a Slapper Cover for Web

 

That took me on to Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper, where protagonist Billy McErlane stood over me while I was working telling me, “Don’t forget the anger management. Tell them about the psych. Wendy wouldn’t have behaved like that, she’d have done this.” And from there it wasn’t a huge step to When the Darkness Comes and Haile Selassie elbowing his way forward when he caught the scent of Barabbas (who he didn’t care for one little bit) and saying, “If he’s in, I’m in.” The Lion of Judah had no place in my plans but he wasn’t going to be denied. He took control, too. So I suppose the question is fairly obvious. Am I completely round the bend? Is there any hope?

Enclosure. A necessary evil, but at such cost

A Just and Upright Man cover R J Lynch updated June 2014

The visible crises in A Just and Upright Man are the murder of Reuben Cooper and James Blakiston’s search for the killer, and Blakiston’s equally urgent wish to deny—to himself as much as to anyone else—that he is in love with Kate Greener. Those are the matters the book is concerned with. No-one, though, can get away from the troubles in the wider world that surrounds them and the threat of enclosure weighs on Blakiston and everyone else in Ryton.

We look back now on the enclosures in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as things from which we benefited. At the most, necessary evils. In Poor Law, the second book in the series, Blakiston himself ponders on this: Times were hard for those without land, and getting harder. He was confident in what he was doing; future generations would be grateful for the larger farms, the transfer of strips of land in common ownership to more effective units, the modern farming methods that meant fewer people could produce bigger crops. Better agriculture would make the country richer, and so would the mining and manufacturing industries that were growing as men and women no longer needed on the land expanded the workforce in the towns and pit villages. Still, many of the people who had worked the land were paying a terrible price now for the benefits others would have in the future. The Rector would say that all was ordered for the best in God’s world, and the poor would have their reward in the life to come. Walter Maughan on the other hand would say that the poor were being punished by God for sins known to Him though invisible to us. But these comforts were not available to Blakiston.

Blakiston was a Sussex man before family ruin forced him to the northeast of England, and enclosure came to Sussex decades before it reached Durham. When his employer, Lord Ravenshead, asks what he knows of enclosure, Blakiston says,

‘My Lord, in Sussex all the land is enclosed. There are no common lands left.’
‘And have the enclosures been successful?’
‘For the landowners and the larger farmers, My Lord, yes. For the ordinary people, enclosure has been disastrous. They have been ruined. Cast out to make their living where and how they might.’

Tom Laws, a labourer whose marriage to Lizzie Greener brought him tenancy of a farm, knows nothing of this. We can feel his shock in this passage as he learns what the gentry can do to a hard working labourer:

‘We are poor men, master. The wife and me have three bairns still at home. You know how it is with us, for you were one of us not so long ago. Meal is dear and meat near impossible. Without the chickens and the pig and potatoes from the garden, and milk from the cow, we would starve. Now I must kill the cow because their lordships will take the common I feed it on. That land belonged to all of us and soon it will be theirs alone.’
‘It is hard, I grant. You will still have the chickens and the pig and the garden.’
‘Aye,’ said Zeke. ‘But for how long?’
‘I don’t understand.’ ‘What do you know of enclosures?’ asked John.
‘Nothing. I was never part of one. And neither were you.’
‘No. But my cousin in Barton, James Savile, he was in one. After the Act was passed the commissioners came to divvy up the land. James was to get a little piece to make up for everything they took away from him. So he didn’t have his grazing or his turbary but he would have some land. What they call his allotment. Not the best land, mind, the squire would get that, but land.’
‘Yes. That’s fair.’
‘Of course it is. But they had to pay for the fencing, see, man.’
‘Well, if you’ve got some land of your own, of course you have to fence it. You’ll be feeding someone else’s pig instead of your own, else.’
‘No, man. James didn’t just have to pay for his own little bit fence. He had to pay for the squire’s and the rector’s an’ all.’
‘No, John. No, that can’t be right.’
‘Right? We’re not talking about right, man. We’re talking about what’s in the Act, and who wrote the Act, and that wasn’t the cottagers and the squatters. It’s the squire and the rector and their pals in Parliament who wrote the Act. And that’s what it said. The squire and the rector and all them that were getting big bits of land out of it, they didn’t have to pay one penny for fencing. But all the poor little buggers that were getting enough land to raise a pig and grow cabbages, they’re the ones who had to pay for all the fencing. Their own and everybody else’s.’
‘I don’t believe it.’
‘You can believe it or not, man. It’s true. And that’s what’ll happen here an’ all. Mebbes Lord Ravenshead might be ready to pay for his own fences but yon greedy bugger in Durham Cathedral, he’ll not, the miserable Welshman that he is. And as for the Blacketts, who believe we are nothing…we’ll get no mercy there.’
‘So what happened to your cousin James?’
‘Exactly what they meant to happen when they wrote their bliddy Act. “Oh, James, man, can you not pay your bit fence money? Well, divven’t ye worry, man. We’ll help you out. We’ll buy your bit land off you for five pound and you can have yourself a nice drink and we’ll have all the land for ever. And you can forget about your bliddy pig.” And that’s what’ll happen to me and me pig and me cabbages and me chickens.’
‘I knew nothing of this,’ stammered Tom.
‘You know it now,’ said John Robinson. ‘We were wrong to talk behind your back. You are not our enemy.’
‘Mebbe not,’ said Zeke. ‘But I warn you, Tom Laws. Watch out for Isaac Henderson.’
‘Zeke’s right,’ said John. ‘Isaac hates you. If he can bring you down, he will.’ He stepped closer to Tom. ‘You are a fool to let him take your rabbits. It brings him onto your farm. He has big eyes, that one. He sees things he should not.’

Did I make that up? I did not. What John Robinson describes is exactly what some rapacious landlords did to swindle their labouring men out of the small pieces of land—the “allotments”—that the law said they should have. When I learned that while researching A Just and Upright Man I was determined to get it into the book and expose this awful piece of history to a wider view.

In Poor Law there is another insight into the effects of enclosure when Tom Laws, newly elected against his will as one of the Overseers of the Poor, tells Blakiston this:

It is not farmers who say that an old widow-woman must be removed to her place of settlement, a place she may not have seen since she came here as a young bride. It was not farmers who built the Woodside Poor House two year ago and said the poor must enter it or starve. But it is farmers who are made Overseers of the Poor and have to carry these things out on behalf of their betters, and farmers who get the blame. When a labourer has no work and must go to the mines or see his children sent as apprentices to some place from which they will likely never return, it is a farmer who has to tell him. Our people go off to the towns and the pit villages and they do not like it and they blame us.’
‘I am sorry.’
‘And when enclosure comes…’
‘…and it will come, as it has come everywhere…’
‘…people will see some farmers with big farms and many small men driven from the land. It will be the Bishop of Durham’s doing, and the Blacketts’ doing, and it is they who make money from enclosures but it is us the people see and us they blame. People have long memories. They remember not only their own grievances but those of their fathers and their grandfathers.’

Economic historians will tell you that enclosure paved the way for the Industrial Revolution, for two hundred years of world domination by the Royal Navy and for the birth of the United States of America as a bastion of freedom and I don’t doubt that all of that is true—but the price paid by the poor was a dreadful one.

The reviews come slowly—but they come

A Just and Upright Man cover R J Lynch

Bit by bit, A Just and Upright Man gathers reviews. It seems that quite a lot of people have to buy the book for each one that reviews it. Somehow, that makes the reviews even sweeter when they come. This one turned up last week on Amazon’s UK site:

4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable 23 Feb 2014

By Karen E. Proctor

Format:Paperback

Superbly written historical fiction with plenty of suspense and tension to keep you turning the page. I am not familiar with the period in history but had the distinct impression that it was an accurate portrayal of the times. Will be looking for more books from the author RJ Lynch.

“Superbly written”. I like that—who wouldn’t? Another four star review had appeared on the UK Amazon site a few days earlier:

4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing and Educational 20 Feb 2014

By Kirstie

Format:Paperback

‘A Just and Upright Man’ educated me enchantingly about the culture and practices of the late 18th century, in words I could understand. I wasn’t sure that I grew to know all the characters fully, but it was certainly clear that many of them, including the protagonist had light and dark sides, which left me curious to read more.
I was fascinated by the difference between now and then in how people communicated. If Blakiston needed to ask someone a question, there were no telephones, Facebook or Twitter, and it was not always practical or possible to visit someone or somewhere to simply ask questions. Communications were face to face, by third party word of mouth or in writing, so that geography and transportation mattered, and a single communication became an event or the day’s activity. This, and the story being set against a backdrop of political tensions over change to come and the early challenges to class and gender inequalities, characterized the period very clearly for me.
I experienced the odd unexpected shift from a safe to shocking scene, but suspect that these leaps were carefully designed to depict the harshness of certain aspects of the culture. Dark fears also lurked towards the end of the story, with an 18th century curse threatening to reach its clingy fingers out into Blakiston’s future. This worries me still, but I shall have to wait…

That’s a total now of four reviews in the UK, all of them good, and there are three on Amazon’s US site. I’m glad to have them, even though given the total sales of the book seven reviews since October doesn’t seem a heck of a lot. People like it, though, and they say they’re looking forward to the next in the series. That is so satisfying.

“Historical crime fiction at its very best”

A Just and Upright Man cover R J Lynch updated June 2014

This is some review from Book Viral for A Just and Upright Man

It is 1763. James Blakiston, overseer of Lord Ravenshead’s estate and a newcomer to the Durham parish of Ryton, is determined to solve the mystery of old Reuben Cooper’s murder – but he has no idea how to go about it.

Compelling historical drama unfolds in A Just And Upright Man by author RJ Lynch, as he commendably peels back the veneer of Georgian society to deliver an uncompromising tale of murder and mystery. Admirably eschewing the more popularly toted incarnations of the period, in favour of an altogether darker and more damning exploration of time and place, Lynch brings distinct flair to his enthralling tale with a meticulous eye for detail that is ever present. It is evident in the intricacy of his plot, but never more so than the verve with which he imbues his characters. Capturing humour and dark intent with turn of phrase that colours his telling in vivid detail; elevating this tale of detection and the dictates of a blinkered society to a class of its own.

Uncommonly authentic, highly engaging, A Just And Upright Man is historical crime fiction at its very best and rightly raises high expectations for future novels in the series. A credit to R J Lynch and recommended without reservation.

How true historically is A Just and Upright Man?

A number of readers have asked me just how accurate the historical detail in A Just and Upright Man is. Well, it’s a work of fiction. But that doesn’t mean it’s all invented.

It happens in a real place, but I made up the events and most of the people. The Greener and Laws families have been in and around Ryton for a very long time, but none of them did what their namesakes do here. A lot of other names were common in Ryton – Bent, Cowan and Saunders, to name only three of the more prominent ones – but they never did me any harm and I have left them alone. There was never a Rector there called Thomas Claverley. There was a Blakiston, but he was not Lord Ravenshead’s farm agent. If it comes to that, there was never a Lord Ravenshead – I have changed the name from Ravensworth (though the real Baron never had a son called the Earl of Wrekin). The Blacketts, on the other hand, really were the Blacketts. They did live at Matfen Hall and Hoppyland was one of their estates.

There really was a Sticky Bainbridge, and he really did get his nickname because he had a wooden leg, but I have moved him back in time 150 years and relocated him from South Moor to Ryton. The original provided the occasion for one of my Great Uncle Jot’s celebrated one-liners, repeated through three generations, which is how I first heard of him. Martin Wale was never Curate in Ryton. There really was a James Batey in Bolam and he really was a boot maker of repute as well as being my 4 greats grandfather; there was never a blacksmith in Hexham called James Meader.

The story of the disputed tithe on turnips is true. Ambrose Crowley really was the philanthropist described in these pages, though he was a businessman first. The Ryton Church bells really were cast and fitted when I said they were, the total eclipse happened exactly when I say it did, the Piper of Wall really did marry Jean Middlemas when he was ninety and she was twenty-five and the extravagant claims for his physical performance really were made. If someone could make their way here from the Ryton of the 1760s they’d find nothing to question in my description of the food they ate, the furniture they used, the houses they lived in or the clothes they wore. (I’ve actually had emails challenging the suggestion that women in 18th century England wore no underwear below the waist; I assure you, it’s true.

Oh, yes–and their really was a Kate Greener, too. If there hadn’t been, there wouldn’t now be a Me.

I could go on. What it comes down to is: If it is part of the story of murder, mayhem and love, I made it up. If it isn’t – if it is external to all that – it’s true. Whatever true means in this context. History is a fertile ground for the followers of every creed, whether political, religious or sociological. They’re all right, and they’re all wrong. There is a widespread belief that primary sources will take us back to ground zero and show us what really happened. Sometimes that’s so. And sometimes it isn’t. For example, “everyone” knows – and it’s certainly in all the text books I’ve come across – that there were no workhouses in rural parishes in the north east of England till after 1835. But go back to the primary sources and read Ryton parish’s Account Book of Overseers, including Assessments of Poor Rate, Receipts and Memoranda (Durham Registry Office, EP/Ryt 7/1). Woodside Poor House is there, starting in 1759, and the poor were given the choice of entering it or going without assistance. As so often, what everyone knows to be true is, in fact, wrong.

You can, though, read all the primary documents there are and still come up with differing versions of the truth. A Just and Upright Man is mine. Please. Feel free to see things otherwise.

If you want to discuss this, use the Comment space at the foot of this post. Or you can email me on rjl@mandrillpress.com