Tag Archives: Mandrill Press

“Emotions stay the same.” Not according to the vicar of Morebath

Duffy_Morebath

I read today in one of the historical novelists’ Facebook groups I belong to that the one constant when we write is how people felt in the (sometimes distant) past. We have to research the food they ate, the clothes they wore and the kind of social relationships that existed but the one thing we can be sure of is that the emotions we experience today are the same emotions as our forebears felt. I didn’t argue with the thought, but I’m just not sure that it’s true.

For a lot of years now, I have spent a good deal of my time in the Middle East and when I wasn’t there I was in other places – Africa, South East Asia and the Americas, North and South. When I started writing the James Blakiston series set in the north-east of England in the 1760s, I needed a way to show the religious views held by many of my characters. England already had no shortage of atheists but the majority of people would express Christian thoughts and you just don’t hear that in this country any more. You do still hear it in places like Saudi Arabia (though, of course, the religion being expressed there is Islam and not Christianity) and I quite shamelessly put that Islamic way of speaking into the mouths of eighteenth century English Christians. I found it worked quite well because I was reproducing a mode of speech with which I am familiar.

Religion and emotion are, of course, different things but I think you can extrapolate from one to the other. One of the things you realise in the Gulf is that the Enlightenment has not happened there which means that ways of thinking and of feeling that we take for granted in the West are far less common. I’m open to argument here, but it seems to me that a major legacy of the Enlightenment is that it makes the individual paramount. That is simply not the case in the Islamic Middle East and it seems to me that overlooking that fact is one of the most obvious mistakes made by our politicians when they formulate policy towards the region. We talk about western style democracy, in which the individual comes first, as something that everyone should have and, if they don’t seem to be asking for it, we should press it on them. For example, we completely misunderstood what people like to call the Arab Spring (and it’s questionable, in any case, how Arabic that “spring” really was since it was actually a Mediterranean phenomenon – the countries involved were Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and it’s easy from this distance to overlook the fact that those are all Mediterranean lands). We thought people were demanding the right to self-determination when what they actually wanted was to be sure of a roof over their heads, the ability to feed their families and educate their children and security from the knock on the door in the middle of the night.

One of the most interesting books I have read on English history is The Voices of Morebath. Christopher Trychay was vicar of the small Devon parish of Morebath from 1520 to 1574 and he kept a record of parish life in far more detail than most parishes can provide. The Reformation was, of course, a lot earlier than the Enlightenment and the glimpses this book gives us of what people thought and how they felt reveal an English people far from who we are today and much closer to what we still find in the Islamic Middle East.

For anyone who wants to understand who we once were and to think about how those people developed to become us, The Voices of Morebath is required reading. I recommend it in the strongest possible terms.

See more reviews of other people’s books here

 

Offcuts (5)

Zappa's Mam's a Slapper Cover for Web

This is one of those passages (see Offcuts and Offcuts (2) (3) and (4)) that didn’t make it into the finished, published book but that I think had some value – or, at least, some interest. This one was originally part of Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper and dates from the time when Billy was beginning to establish himself as a photographer.

One of the tabloids was doing an exposé of the escort business and they hired me to do the pics. The reporter was also freelance (I was a beginner in those days. Were they looking for deniability? I don’t know. Seems unlikely, but who can fathom an editor’s mind?) and she and I went round together. Some of the places and girls she found on the Net, or advertising in Yellow Pages, and some were more hidden. These were the high class call girls, mostly, and when I asked how she found them she said her SO was a crime reporter and he’d asked his friends in the Police for phone numbers. I had to ask what an SO was, I thought it must be some rank or office title in journalism I hadn’t found out about yet, but it turned out to mean Significant Other. ‘My Chap,’ she said. ‘The man who gets to remove my drawers.’
When I knew her better I discovered she’d been leading me down the path of misinformation and the person who got to remove her drawers was not a man but a woman but she hadn’t wanted to hold her hand up to that until she knew where I might stand on the matter. Apparently when she’d come out to her parents it hadn’t gone well and now she was cautious. She went by Teddy (the reporter, not the drawers-remover) and she insisted she’d adopted it when Edwina Currie said she’d had an affair with John Major and she knew she couldn’t allow herself to be known by the same name as a woman who would shag such a grey nonentity, but I don’t know. It’s smoke and mirrors all the time, the journalism business. You can’t believe a word anyone tells you.
My job was to take the pics but I listened to the interviews. Obviously.
An astounding number of women sex workers, as Teddy insisted on calling them though the red-top rewrote every one of those references with a less flattering term, had their own website. Someone must have specialised in producing websites for female escorts and I bet they made a mint. (If you don’t believe me, google “escorts” and the name of your county or local town. You’ll be amazed). (I’m also reminded of one of the first dirty jokes I ever heard. I must have been about nine at the time and I didn’t really understand it. “Did you hear about Polo the Prostitute? She made a mint with her hole.” Yes. Well. I did say I’d been nine).
There was a certain sameness about these websites. A lot of the girls had been to “a very good school” and then graduated from Cambridge. I’ve no idea why Cambridge was so popular a part of the fantasy. As opposed to Oxford, for example. They claimed interests like horse riding and theatre and dining out and said that although they had a good sense of humour and were witty and good conversationalists, they were even better listeners. The typical charge for a date was between fifty and seventy-five pounds.
Teddy eyed the clothes one of these girls had on. Carla, her name was supposed to be. ‘You don’t buy those on fifty quid a date,’ she said.
Carla laughed. ‘No. For these you need the extras.’
‘Extras?’
More laughter, which they both joined in. There was a woman’s thing going on and I was excluded. ‘They know what they want but they can be hopeless at asking for it. They pick me up and we go to dinner and they bore me to death but I keep smiling. You can see them thinking, “Am I going to get my end away?”‘
Teddy said, ‘Does no-one have the gumption to ask outright?’
‘Oh, sure. But those are usually the ones who’ve taken you to a club and kept you rocking with laughter all night. Then they take you back to their hotel and when you get there the guy kisses you on the throat and says “How much?” and you tell him. Simple. But with most, you struggle. I’ve done a menu to make it simpler.’
Teddy said, ‘A menu?’ and Carla handed her a pink card with fancy lettering on it. Twenty-six point Bickley Script Bold on 180 gramme paper, if you want to get technical. It had a list of services Carla was prepared to supply, and how much she charged for each.
Teddy went down the list. She didn’t know what some of the things were and I was ludicrously pleased that I did. Marcie and I had done most of them together.
When we left, Carla took the menu back. She said she didn’t want it falling into the wrong hands. She was a lot quicker on the uptake about Teddy than I’d been. At the door, she said, ‘There’s always a demand for a bit of voyeurism? Girl on girl action?’ Teddy said that was awfully kind but no thank you and Carla said Teddy knew where she was if she changed her mind. To me, she said, ‘You know where I am, too.’ I smiled and she said, ‘Don’t just grin at me. Remember. You don’t pay a professional girl for sex. You pay her to go home and leave you alone afterwards. Which is a little different from marriage.’

A new review for Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper

 

Zappa's Mam's a Slapper Cover for WebI did enjoy reading this :-). And I understand her reservations about the blurb.

on April 13, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Billy’s voice is incredibly strong and pulls the reader in immediately. Compelling isn’t the right word. Compulsive. I couldn’t stop reading. I enjoyed this book completely and I want more.I think the blurb does the book a disservice. This is a story about Billy’s rough childhood and teen years, how he got to prison and how photography saved him from a life of petty crime. The blurb makes it sound like this is a story about a grown man struggling to care for a small child. Dillon only enters the picture in the last 10% of the book. This is a story all about Billy’s coming of age.

Update 4 May 2015
And here’s another one 🙂
***** Unpredictable and uplifting
John Lynch has certainly found his literary voice in this very realistic delivery of the life story of a disadvantaged soul, Billy McErlane. Billy learns to forgive, let go of the bad things in life, accept with grace the good things and finally reach out to others. ‘Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper’ grasped my attention from the first page to the last, with Billy showing me through his eyes and words his ups and downs. Real, honest and insightful.

A Flyer for Sharon Wright: Butterfly

I’ve been making flyers for the upcoming litfests at the London Book Fair on 17 April 2015 and Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on 23 April 2015. This is the one I’ve made in A5 size for Sharon Wright: Butterfly:A5 flyer both pages

A5’s a bit small for the screen, so here’s the text:

Sharon Wright: Butterfly

By

John Lynch

 No-one gives Sharon a chance. Except Sharon.

In Sharon’s deprived childhood, Buggy was Top Cat – the one everyone went in fear of. Buggy ruled the roost and Buggy’s girlfriend could be the Number One female. So she married him. Of all the mistakes she could have made, that was the biggest. But mistakes don’t have to be final
All Sharon wants is a better life – a husband who takes care of her, the kind of food they have in magazines, and civilized conversation. Is it her fault that she is in the middle of a plot involving two hitmen? Well, yes, actually. It is. But Sharon is a survivor who makes her sure-footed way in a man’s world. And when she woos Jackie Gough she does it the way a female mantis might, knowing that when she is sated she may kill him. Until then she lets him think they are equal partners and will share the money she sets him up to steal. Poor Jackie.

ISBN (Paperback) 978-1-910194-10-2
ISBN (eBook) 978-1-910194-08-9

What John Lynch has to say about Sharon Wright: Butterfly
It takes a long time to write a book. By the time I’d finished Sharon Wright: Butterfly I knew my star character so well we were on snogging terms – except that snogging Sharon would be a risky thing to do. Jackie Gough tries it, and realises too late that the dumb blonde is no more dumb than she is blonde.
My sympathies are with Sharon. She’s born in a rundown place into a family that doesn’t care. Because she’s female, she’s expected to accept that her place will always be second to a man’s. She learns to hide her intelligence, but hiding it is not giving it up. She’s surrounded by South London criminals and assorted lowlife who would kill her without a second thought if they thought she posed a threat. And still she survives.
(Or does she?)

 A word about the cover
When the book was done, I trawled Getty Images till I found a face and when I did it was “Beam me up, Spotty!” There she was! Her! The woman I’d got to know so well in a year of living side by side in the same little room (the one I write in). My Shazza. Then Scarlett Rugers McKenzie, an Australian book designer of genius, took the pic and made exactly the cover I wanted.

You can find more about Sharon Wright: Butterfly here.

Offcuts (4)

The wine was okay although I think I’ll save the other bottle for a warm summer evening that beckons the diner outside. Today I’m going to the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham to see Arcadia by Tom Stoppard and that’s quite a schlep from here so, as I promised to post today the passage that followed from the one I posted yesterday, I’d better get on with it. To recap, these offcuts are passages that, when I wrote them, I expected to appear in the final, published, novel but which for one reason or another did not last the course.  When we left it yesterday, Ted was being interrogated by a chat show host about the events in Ephesus that resulted in the death at his hands of two Turks. Now, as they say, read on…

They’re waiting for him when he comes back from viewing the mosaics, though how he was supposed to look at mosaics in the dark is beyond him. He doesn’t like what he sees.
Max is sitting on a fallen pillar, his head in his hands. One of the two men stands silently, a gun trained on Max; the other is shouting at him. The woman sits a little apart, looking away towards where the sea is, though she certainly can’t see it.
‘Ridiculous,’ the man is shouting. He’s shouting in French, though it’s clear from the taxi ride that Max speaks Turkish. Later, Ted will wish he’d noticed that. ‘For two of the finest artefacts ever found in this country, you want to pay me twenty thousand francs. Twenty thousand francs! You insult me, you insult my merchandise, you insult my country!’
He makes a show of noticing Ted’s approach. ‘And what about you, Monsieur? Do you have money? Or must we kill both of you? Eh? And keep the heads and the twenty thousand francs?’
The gunman has brought his pistol round to point squarely at Ted’s chest. A terrible mistake.
‘Yes,’ says Ted, opening his leather bag. ‘I have money. Calm down.’ And he reaches into the bag, slips the safety off his gun, brings it out and shoots the man holding the revolver. Straight through the heart. Dead.
Instant turmoil. The man demanding money is backing away, screaming in panic. Screaming in Turkish which, unfortunately, Ted does not understand. Ted’s shooting arm is held straight out. It swings in a graceful arc, coming to rest on the screaming man, who now holds out his arms in supplication. That he is begging for his life is clear.
Maxim is on his feet, holding out both hands towards Ted. ‘Ted. No. You don’t understand. It was just…’
But Ted has pulled the trigger and the screaming man is silenced. In the centre of his forehead is a neat hole. The one in the back of his head is somewhat less immaculate.

‘You’d done the wrong thing?’ says Dolan.
‘By their lights, maybe. Not by mine. You point a gun at me, you’d better know I’ll shoot you if I get the chance.’
‘Which is what you told Max.’
‘Sure is. And Ibrahim, when he identified himself.’
‘How did you get back to the boat?’
‘Same way as we’d come. In the taxi.’
‘Wasn’t the driver scared?’
‘Shaking like a leaf.’

Ted sits in front this time, his gun pressed into the driver’s ribs. It is now completely dark outside and the headlights on the dusty white road pick out no more people than on the way in. Max and the woman are in the back.
‘Why are we taking her?’ asks Ted.
Max is trembling almost as badly as the driver. Feeling good as he is, Ted still doesn’t fail to notice that the woman’s manner suggests anger and contempt more than fear.
‘Because I’m what you came for,’ she says.
‘What?’
Max is trying to shut her up but she’s in no mood to listen to him. ‘You thought it was the heads, maybe? Worthless bits of stone? You thought they brought you all this way for that? It was for me. Imbecile.’
Ted says, ‘And who are they?’
To the woman, the question isn’t worth bothering with. Max simply shakes his head.
‘Suppose,’ says Ted, ‘I leave the pair of you here and sail off without you. How would you deal with that? How would you explain the two bodies back there when the sun comes up tomorrow?’
Max shakes his head. ‘Ibrahim would not let you.’
‘Ibrahim? Ibrahim is with you?’
Max looks very tired. ‘We put him into your boat. You had hired someone else.’
Ted remembers. ‘That’s right. I had.’
‘And he was suddenly unavailable. And Ibrahim came to see you.’
‘You sent him? For what? For this?’
‘Don’t get angry, please, Ted.’
‘Angry? I’m fucking furious. You…’
‘Ted. When you are angry you are even more dangerous than when you are calm. Listen to me, please. The DGSE identified you as a prospect. We saw you as someone we could work with.’
The woman snorts. Ted looks at her. She says, ‘We, the man says. We.’
‘Isabelle,’ Max starts, but she’s in no mood for interruptions.
‘Maxim is not “We,” Monsieur Bailey,’ she says. I am “We.” Ibrahim is “We.” Maxim is a dilettante, an amateur. A jolly war with the Free French and he thinks himself a master spy. Maxim is someone we use to arrange things.’
The taxi is approaching the harbour. ‘So,’ Ted says. ‘Since you are the real thing, tell me what I need to know.’
‘You need to know nothing,’ she spits. ‘You are a bigger fool than Max.’ She speaks in quick Turkish to the driver, who stops the car with a jerk. ‘We will walk from here,’ she says.
As they walk away, Ted turns to look back at the driver. He is mopping his brow, his shoulders heaving. Ted could swear there are tears on his cheeks. Ted points his gun at the front near-side tyre and blows a hole in it. The woman curses him beneath her breath.

Ibrahim’s eyes rest unblinking on Ted as Isabelle speaks to him in rapid Arabic. How old is Ibrahim? Ted has never asked himself the question before. Could be twenty, could be forty. The friendly, slightly obsequious smile Ted is used to is no longer in place, but nor is there any unfriendliness. In the tales of cowboys and Indians Ted read as a child, the braves’ faces were often described as impassive, but impassive would be the wrong word here. Ibrahim isn’t hostile and he isn’t sympathetic. He is merely absorbing information, juggling plans, improvising.
In his melodically accented French, he says to Ted, ‘We had better go now, Monsieur. They will be looking for us in the morning and we should be far from here.’
There is a light in the immigration and customs men’s cabin, but no-one comes out to watch the boat slip quietly out of the bay.
‘They are concerned with people coming into the country,’ Ibrahim says. ‘Not with those who leave. They may pay a heavy price tomorrow.’

In open water, Ted gives the boat more power. He does not need to be told that Istanbul is off the itinerary. The boat moves south, a strong wake trailing behind as they leave Turkish for Greek waters and head for the open Mediterranean. Max is silent. He will not speak another word to Ted during the voyage.
Through the long night, Ted keeps the strap of the leather bag with the gun in it wrapped around his wrist. Ibrahim offers to take over at the helm, but Ted has no interest in sleep. He does not want to be left to swim home. The Arab brews coffee and the two men drink it companionably side by side as the boat cuts through the warm, dark water. Ted offers Ibrahim a cigarette, lights one for himself.
‘You feel betrayed?’ Ibrahim asks.
‘By you?’
‘Of course.’
Ted shrugs.
‘Betrayal is what I do,’ says Ibrahim. ‘I am an Arab, and I work for the country that oppresses my people.’
‘You are a spy?’
‘I do not like that word.’
‘The woman. Isabelle. Why is she so important?’
‘You have heard her story, I think.’
‘Oh, yes, I have heard her story.’
‘It will serve. Our stories become the truth. Until we need new ones.’
‘How can you live like that?’
Ibrahim looks at him and smiles.
‘You think I am the same?’ asks Ted.
‘Do you say you are not?’

It is a few hours later, with the sun rising towards its zenith and the day hot on their faces. Ted asks Ibrahim, ‘Why did they do it like this? Why all the nonsense with the heads? Why not just sail in, pick her up and get out?’
Ibrahim smiles. ‘To complicate. They must complicate. What you suggest is simple and these people do not like simple. They make problems where no problem exists. So they ask, how will you react if they say you come to Turkey to pick up a passenger? You will want to know who she is, and why they want her. No, no, they think. Monsieur Bailey is a criminal, so we give him something a criminal will understand. Theft. The stealing of things that can be sold.’
‘Why did they need me at all? They must have boats of their own.’
‘Something might go wrong. Turkey is a friendly country. You must not be seen to kidnap people from a friendly country. Maxim is a freelance and disposable.’
‘But you’re here.’
‘I am an Arab and therefore also disposable. Also the Turks are proud people. Proud as only a country that has had a great empire and now is nothing can be proud. You are an English. You will understand that, I think.’
‘What will happen to these two now?’
‘Monsieur Maxim, he will be in trouble. This was his plan. Now two Turkish men are dead, and they were ours. They will never use him again. The money they pay him they will cease to pay him. He will be unhappy. He will blame you. You should watch out for him.’
‘And Isabelle?’
‘What did she do? Nothing.’
‘And me?’
Ibrahim smiles. ‘You will be all right, Monsieur. I will see to it.’

Offcuts

Cover 2

Before sending a book to be typeset, if you know what’s good for you, you give it to a proof-reader to find all the things wrong with it – the repetitions, incongruities, inconsistencies and plain incorrect style. Before it goes to the proof-reader though, sensible writers use either a developmental editor or (and this amounts to the same thing) reliable beta readers. I had two developmental editors on Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper and the book as finally published was a lot better than it might have been without them. Always, though, there are going to be some changes that you make at a developmental editor’s behest that you regret. One of my editors told me to remove almost everything that might seem to be a reflection of my own views. In some cases I have no regrets but I miss one or two things that are not in the final book. I’ve decided, therefore, to publish these outtakes as “offcuts”. This is the first. My editor persuaded me that the book was better off without it. I’d be interested to know whether you think she was right.

Here’s the passage that did not get into the published version:

Melanie bought a digital camera of her own. She already had a computer and now she loaded Photoshop onto it. She must have spent a few hundred quid, all told, although she got the educational rate for the software which is a lot cheaper than ordinary punters have to pay.
I was shocked when I found out what sort of pictures she wanted me to take.
Shocked and excited.
You just can’t tell about people, can you? I was talking to a guy, an Artistic Director on a magazine I’ve done work for who went through the Sixties, he was one of the ones they mean when they say, “If you can remember it you weren’t there” but he remembered it and I’d say he was there all right. Probably didn’t do the drugs some people did, which is how he kept hold of his memories. Anyway, he and I were having a coffee, talking through what I’d already shot and what he wanted out of me that day and I was listening fairly closely because by that time I was billing a few grand for a day’s shooting which is top dollar, believe me, big money for anyone and I never got so blasé I’d think that sort of money was nothing. And there was a girl passing on the pavement outside with the most beautiful long legs you ever saw and she was wearing a really short skirt, a micro-mini you could call it, to show them off. And Zak, the Artistic Director (I found out when he signed a contract that his name was George, but there you go), Zak was in reminiscent mood. He talked about mini skirts and what made them possible, how until the beginning of the sixties women wore suspender belts and they couldn’t wear really short skirts because there had to be room to cover the suspenders but then Pretty Polly Holdups came in, stockings that didn’t need suspenders because they kept themselves up but you still had the patch of bare leg at the top which was lovely to get your hand on, apparently, but then came tights and now a skirt could be as short as the girl or woman wanted it to be. And he said older people, those who were already adults before the Sixties started, if they saw a girl in a mini skirt they thought she was immoral, which is how they saw it then if an unmarried girl had sex, and they assumed anyone dressed like that would go to bed with anyone who asked her. But Zak said it wasn’t the skirts, they had nothing to do with it, it was the Pill, that’s what made the difference, and if you wanted to know whether a particular girl would or wouldn’t it was no good eyeing the length of her skirt, you had to ask her, which you might do with or without using actual words. ‘But it wasn’t the length of the skirt. That was a red herring. She might have a mini or she might have one trailing on the ground like her grandmother would have worn and it told you nothing. Except maybe whether she thought her legs were attractive. Mini or no mini, she’d either fuck you or she wouldn’t. ‘
We both agreed, though, that miniskirts were a Good Thing.
While I’m talking about Zak, something else he said that surprised me was that there was far less sex around in the Sixties than people imagine there was and certainly less than there is now. ‘People were still most likely to live in families. There was still shame attached to a girl having a baby when she wasn’t married. Some people had trial marriages, where you lived together for a while before you married to make sure you really were compatible. But they were considered very daring, most people didn’t do it and those who did still intended to get married in the end. And certainly before they had a child. You never hear the words “trial marriage” now. Do you?’
I said it sounded as though people were happier now, but Zak said I was confusing freedom with happiness, a mistake they’d been prone to make at the time. The people I’d grown up with, would I say most of them were happy? And of course when I thought about Chantal and my mother I had to say no. Zak said back then they hadn’t really known what they were doing. He said it was like Pandora’s Box, except that people were so ignorant now, so uneducated, that if you mentioned Pandora’s Box they’d think you were talking about the genitalia of some tart with a posh name. He talked like that a lot, long words like genitalia mixed in with what he called the demotic. And he said opening the box was one thing but shoving everything back in, that was something else again.
‘We thought the family, marriage, chastity, all that stuff was the morality the ruling classes imposed on the people but not on themselves. Because, let’s face it, the nobs didn’t follow the rules. Didn’t then, don’t now. Prince Charles told Diana if he did what she wanted he’d be the first Prince of Wales in history not to have a mistress. And he was right. So if they didn’t, why should we? You know what they say. If work was so wonderful, the rich would have stolen it. Everything was organised to keep power where power had always been and we were going to change that. Starting with sex. We were going to have sexual freedom. Restraint was harmful. Families damaged people. Jealousy destroyed lives, and if everyone was free to sleep with anyone, jealousy would disappear. The sexes would become equal. Contentment would reign. That’s what we thought. We were wrong. Look around you if you want proof. Fathering children and expecting someone else to take responsibility for them is the route to disaster.’ He looked closely at me. ‘It’s none of my business but, if I were guessing, I’d say you know all about that.’
I said, ‘Are you married, Zak?’
‘Certainly am. For the third time. But I’ve been with this one for twenty years.’
‘Would you call yourself happy?’
‘Happier than you, mate. That’s for dead sure. I’ve seen your pictures. I mean, you’re a great photographer, one of the best, don’t get me wrong. But happy? You? I think not.’

You can read more about Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper 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).

 

How can a writer hope to compete?

I’m writing a wedding scene. Weddings are great from the author’s point of view, for a variety of reasons. A wedding is usually the only time that that exact collection of people will ever be together in one place. Unexpected meetings can take place that would be very difficult to set up in any other way. And then, of course, there are the emotional currents that may be sparked by the nuptials of two people from different backgrounds.

In the scene I was writing, I was helped by factors I had already written into the plot. The bride may or may not once have slept with the groom’s cousin. Her mother disapproves of the groom’s family and believes that her daughter is marrying beneath herself. The bride and her mother have not seen her father for twenty years and he is about to astound them both by walking into the reception and demanding a glass of champagne. Then a fight breaks out.

I could see no reason why I could not make the fight seem authentic because I’ve actually seen fights break out at weddings. (Something I didn’t mention earlier is the tendency of guests to drink too much and then remember why it is that they don’t like some of their fellow guests).

But when I began to think of the fights I had seen, doubts crept in. I was staying one weekend (on business; I wasn’t there for pleasure although, as you will see, enjoyment came to me) at the Runnymede Hotel near Staines, West of London. The Runnymede is yards from the Thames which is canalised at that point; the only thing that separates hotel from river is a towpath. It was a sunny afternoon and I was on the towpath, leaning against the lock gate with a glass of beer in my hand watching the mallards and a solitary swan while inside the floor-to-ceiling glass doors I could see a wedding reception in progress. It was a posh wedding, or at least a moneyed one (they’re not necessarily the same thing). Some extremely expensive clobber and jewellery was on view. I became aware that the amount of movement inside the reception room was increasing rapidly when suddenly the doors burst open and a brawl flooded onto the towpath. Expensively dressed women were taking wild swings at other expensively dressed women; men in morning suits were punching seven bells out of each other. One by one, wedding guests were going involuntarily into the river. I saw one man who under normal circumstances I would imagine to be a significant presence in the world of Commerce and who stood well over six feet and weighed more than 200 pounds deal with three lesser opponents in this manner when a beautifully dressed girl aged about ten with a face of unimaginable sweetness punched him with such force in the one place where no man wants to be punched that he doubled up, retching, and was heaved easily into the Thames by a man standing by. The man and the sweet young girl high-fived each other before making once more for the safety of the hotel.

On another weekend I was staying at an hotel near Sunderland of which a tender Providence has erased the name from my memory. I do remember that a golf course was attached to it. On this occasion there were two wedding receptions and something caused ill feeling between them. Maybe one party was made up of Toon supporters and the other of Mackems – I have no way of knowing. Whatever the cause, the fight that rolled back and forth across the lobby was so fierce that furniture, vases and windows were smashed with abandon and the fun only stopped when the police arrived in force.

I was still thinking about these sources for my wedding scene when an old school friend who returned to the north-east a few years ago sent me by email a joke about an Irish wedding. (Am I going to tell it to you? I think not; if I were to list the best Irish jokes I’ve ever heard this one would not get into the top one thousand). I told him my stories and he responded with this:

There was one in this area a couple of weeks ago where the bride to be gave birth at Hexham Hospital,  then discharged herself and the baby immediately so they could all leap into a van headed for their wedding at Gretna Green.  The party then went to the Anglers Arms at Kielder village (very remote) where the groom “glassed” the best man and they all ended up in jail.

How accurate a rendition of the true story that may be I have no way of knowing but it does leave me a little depressed when I contemplate the scene I have to write. To be taken seriously, fiction must bear at least some relationship with what people see as fact. When weddings in real life give rise to this sort of thing, how is the poor author supposed to compete with reality?

This review rocked my boat

Cover 2

Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper has had some nice reviews, but I particularly liked this one on Amazon.com from Mr JJ Drabble, because he understood what I was doing and why I was doing it that way and you don’t always get that:

Five Stars
I have the opportunity to read few books these days, so I give little truck to efforts which don’t have the appeal to grab and hold me within the first couple of chapters. Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper got its hooks in quickly and refused to let go. Billy (real name Zappa) tells his story in a manner that leaves the reader feeling as though they are sitting in a cafe while he unveils his life directly to them. In an unusual writing style, Lynch often has Billy expose the reader to a key fact from later in the story. On the first couple of occasions I thought “Whoa, that’s a spoiler! Don’t tell me that at this stage.” But it works. And rather than a string of spoilers it carries the story along in a series of rolling exposures and “ah-ha” explanations. Another interesting style is the use of very brief sentences peppered through the early story, tapering off to a more measured flow later as Billy’s life moves from the chaos of an existence with his shambolic family to a life driven more by his abilities. The early days of complete household anarchy and pointless bashings give way to Billy having his life controlled and “art directed” by others, most of whom have gains of their own to be made from his qualities and talents, albeit gains that also benefit Billy. The ending, although tragic, is rather satisfying and leaves the reader with sense of time well spent on the read. It was a three day book for me, and this is not a measure of brevity, but of its compelling nature. I see a movie here.