What should ‘Highwaypersons’ be called? Is the term mere political correctness?

Why is my book called Highwaypersons?

Someone has made a comment that the title Highwaypersons is just political correctness. Of course, nobody would have used that term in the Eighteenth Century, but I chose it deliberately. That was partly because I hoped I would arouse a little interest by using a new, but rather anachronistic, term and partly because I wanted to draw attention to the fact that the novel was about two people, one male and one female, who turned to crime.

Is the concept of Highwaypersons an anachronism?

No! There were women who took part in every sort of crime in that period. Famous pirates included Anne Bonny and Mary Reid. There were probably lots of women among the hordes of footpads, pickpockets and common thieves, but they do not seem as interesting as pirates and highwaywomen. That last word is also an anachronism.

The cover of Highwaypersons: which one is the woman?
The cover of Highwaypersons: which one is the woman?
Why did women become highwaypersons?

Some people have suggested that more women became criminals than you might expect because they did not have many other opportunities, apart from being housewives, domestic servants or prostitutes. Crime offered financial rewards and a certain kind of excitement, which most women would not have had in any other way.

Will there be more books called Highwaypersons?

Yes! I hope you found the above comments interesting, whatever your opinion of my choice of title for the book. As it is the first of a series, I do not intend to change it for the sequels. I hope you will enjoy all the books, whatever you think of the word, but I would love to hear your opinions.

Book One, Debts and Duties is available on Amazon, Createspace and Kindle.

Book Two, The King’s Justice, will be published soon. It just needs editing and proofreading.

What if Donald Trump had led the Armada?

Is there anything new to say about the Armada?

In the last 400 years or so, many people have produced books, articles, films, TV programmes and talks about the Armada. I could hardly believe that anyone could now find anything to add to our knowledge of that campaign. That is why I had misgivings when I decided last month to watch the documentary  by Dan Snow, Twelve Days to Save England. I got a pleasant surprise. Not only did Dan present the story in an interesting way, yet without too much dumbing down, but he also really did give some new information.

Where did the latest ‘news’ about the Armada come from?

Dan and his colleagues had drawn on research by some British academics who had had access to letters and diaries the Spanish Admiral and some of his captains wrote at the time. These had been in archives in Spain and nobody, even Spanish historians, had studied them until now. They gave new insights into the campaign.

A quill pen. The documents written by those involved in the Armada give new insights
A quill pen. The documents written by those involved in the Armada give new insights

 

Did these documents contradict previous accounts of the Armada?

No!  What they provided was an insight into the thinking on the Spanish side and this helped us see where the Armada campaign went wrong (for them). In particular, they revealed the personalities of the key players and the decision-making process. I could see how different it was from the English equivalent, as well as significant similarities.

How did the Spanish manage the Armada campaign? And the English?

King Philip was a micro-manager. He gave detailed written instructions covering all sorts of aspects of the project. Amazingly, there were significant gaps. In particular, he gave no instructions as to how the Armada was to link up with the Army waiting in what is now Belgium, although that was a key element in the plan. The English had plans, but Elizabeth left a lot up to the initiative of her Admiral Howard and his captains. They, of course, being defenders, had to be flexible, as they had to react to whatever the Spanish did.

How did personalities affect the conduct of the Armada campaign by the Spanish?

The Spanish Admiral, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, was a politician and administrator who had no experience of the sea. He relied on following the King’s instructions to the letter. Some of his captains, especially his second-in-command, Ricalde, were experienced and believed in the need to take the initiative where they saw an opportunity. They knew you can never plan for every eventuality in war. They had several heated arguments. It is possible that the Spanish could have won if they had not stuck so rigidly to the plan. The bad relations between the Admiral and his captains can have done nothing to help.

How differently did personalities affect the way the English fought the Armada?

Admiral Howard was another nobleman with no experience of the sea, but he listened to his captains and learnt – quickly. He did not abrogate his responsibilities, however. Howard made the big decisions, but in the light of advice. He also knew when to let individual captains exercise their initiative. He gained the respect of his subordinates.

Why did both sides have leaders who had no experience of the sea?

In 1588 people were even more obsessed with class than today. Captains, and even ordinary seamen, would have resented someone they considered their social inferior giving them orders. Had Drake been made Admiral, many of the other captains would have resented it, considering themselves at least as good as him. Howard was the Queen’s cousin. His Spanish counterpart was not royal, but was a personal friend of King Philip and a man who had held high political office. Both monarchs probably expected their admirals to get their practical knowledge from their subordinates. In Elizabeth’s case, she was right.

What relevance has the Armada to us today?

This episode of our history says a lot about management, planning and leadership. I wonder how Donald Trump would have got on? Would he have listened to his subordinates? If he had a plan, would he have stuck to it?

And you? What lessons can you take from this, if you are in charge of anything?

 

Review of ‘Invasion of Privacy’ by Ian Sutherland

Summary

Invasion of Privacy is a modern crime thriller set in and around London. The hero, Brody Taylor, is a ‘white hat’ computer hacker who, in the course of a competitive hack, comes illicitly upon information about a serial killer. He wants to help the police catch the murderer without incriminating himself, either for the murder or for his cybercrimes. On the way, a romance develops between Brody and the female detective inspector on the case. The events cause him to re-evaluate his career and lifestyle. There is a subplot about his relationship with his flatmate and another about the internal relationships and office-politics among the police.

Title: ‘Invasion of Privacy’

The title refers to several ways in which people can and do invade our privacy, online and off: the ultimate invasion being murder.

Plot

In Invasion of Privacy,  Ian Sutherland has created a well crafted story, with a good balance between the different elements. Invasions of privacy occur in several ways. The writer has also achieved a good balance between the on-line investigation and the more usual detective work. There are plenty of twists and surprises. The beginning, middle and end follow each other logically without too much digression. Tension and action build up towards the end, but with some at earlier stages.

It is interesting to find a detective hero who is not a police officer. Yet the police are not incompetent – just out of their depth with the level of sophistication of the IT issues involved.

Description and explanation

Descriptions of people and places are sufficient, without slowing the action. I am not familiar with most of the locations, but the descriptions seem authentic.

As we follow Brody’s efforts at hacking and at investigating the crimes, the writer leads us through detailed technical explanations of the process. I found this fascinating, but sometimes hard  to follow. It is also frightening. How safe is our privacy online?

Pace

The book is quite fast paced throughout, but with sufficient variation to let the reader recover his/her mental breath, except for some of the longer sections of explanation of the IT.

Character

I found the main characters well drawn, credible and likeable. The minor characters too are generally more than one-dimensional. The writer makes each character clearly differentiated.

Character development

We see both Brody and the inspector go through conflict and change as they react to events and each other.

Language

I found this book to be well written: the style appropriate for the subject matter, and the explanations of technical terms sufficient, bearing in mind this is not a textbook. Not all readers will agree, because it will depend on each one’s level of computer literacy. I think the author has struck a reasonable balance, given the subject matter.

General

I enjoyed Invasion of Privacy, but it is not for everyone. Its strength and weakness are the same: cybercrime is an unusual area for fiction, up to now. This makes the book contemporary and different, but it also makes it hard for the general reader to follow at times. If you can cope with the technical elements, it is a good crime thriller. There are also some nice touches of humour.

A cartoon detective using a magnifying glass studies a laptop for breaches of privacy
A cartoon detective using a magnifying glass studies a laptop for breaches of privacy

How should the BBC show religion in historical drama and documentaries?

What is the BBC doing about religion?

The BBC is reviewing the way it deals with religion: not only in ‘religious’ programmes but also in drama. A long overdue review. As a practicing Christian and a historical novelist, I have a particular interest in this subject. I cannot avoid approaching this with a certain bias, but I will try to be as objective as possible. I have written recently about Gunpowder.

Do historical documentaries treat religion fairly?

Some are very good. A lot of the ones about the Tudors have been. However, some have played down the very real threat to England from Catholic Spain and the oppressive nature of the mediaeval church against which Protestants were protesting.  It would be helpful if more documentaries gave  information, as a few have, about the role of religion in everyday life, not just doctrinal disputes among academics.

A preacher indulging in an argument about religion
A preacher indulging in an argument about religion
Which ones are most unfair to religion?

Generally, anything about the nineteenth century. They usually show, rightly, the shortcomings of the church with far too little attention to the positive side. They also tend to judge it by the standards of the twenty-first century. For instance,  most people would have expected the church to speak up for the ten commandments, at any time before the sexual revolution of the 1960’s.

What about the Empire?

Documentaries tend to blame missionaries and others for exporting both the Christian religion and the British Way of Life, wherever they went, with no cultural sensitivity. This is a fair criticism up to a point. However, there were always some who tried to separate biblical truth from Britishness. They were among the most successful in the long term. I would also like to see more information and analysis about that which Christianity and the British way of life replaced. I would like to see some discussion of the alternatives. Would modern secularists have permitted the burning of widows, the sacrificing of infants or the deprivation of property of converts? Would they not have challenged unscientific beliefs about disease and disability?

Can’t fiction depict religion as the writer wishes?

Of course, it is unfair to object to any one drama that portrays a religious person in a negative way. Noone can say it is unrealistic to suggest that there were some clergymen and religious lay people who were judgmental, hypocritical, selfish or guilty of any sin you can name. People have always been human. Likewise, there must have been many who were well meaning but naive or simply inept. My problem is that historical dramas seem to portray almost all religious people as fitting into one of those categories.

How should religion be shown in costume drama?

There is plenty of evidence from contemporary letters and diaries that many ministers of religion in every age were sincere, sensible and competent, like Brother Cadfael and Father Brown.  I especially congratulate the makers of The Last Kingdom for showing King Alfred as a sincere Christian. He seems fully human, with good and bad qualities, but with real faith. I am sorry that these seem to me to be the exceptions. Why? Perhaps it’s too easy to go for the stereotype, rather than having to create real characters.

Let us pray that the review is thorough and extends to historical dramas and documentaries. 

 

 

Do you agree with the review of Highwaypersons?

What review do I mean?

So far, only one person has posted a review of Highwaypersons on Amazon. Kathleen M Lance. She gives it a mixed reception. Her main point is that the pace picks up a lot about a third of the way through. She found the first part much less of an enjoyable read than the next two thirds. I am glad she liked the book once she got to the action.

How do I feel about  this review?

I think it’s a fair point, although I am surprised Ms Lance found the change of pace made such a difference to her enjoyment of the story. Obviously I would have been happier if the reviewer had said it was a great read from start to finish. On the other hand, you don’t learn anything from such critics. This one gives me something to think about as I work on my next novels.

Give me your review.

I would love to hear from more people about this. Did anyone appreciate the slow start? Time to get to know the characters and understand the background. Or would a shorter lead-in have gone down better? Did any of the incidents in the early part make it interesting, even if not so fast-paced? If you’ve not read the book yet, now’s the time, as it’s free on Kindle until Friday. Read the book and the review. Then say what you think.

Any other comments would also be welcomed.

Highwaypersons, Debts and Duties is free on Kindle until Friday 22nd December.
Highwaypersons, Debts and Duties is free on Kindle until Friday 22nd December.

Your Christmas present from me – get it free on Kindle this week

What is this present?

As I said in my last blog, I’m giving away Highwaypersons, Book I, Debts and Duties, FREE on Kindle. It will run from Monday 18th to Friday 22nd December, so get yours while you can. Be ready for Book II coming soon. Buy one, or both, as a present for someone for Easter? On Monday, go to the link above.

The picture from the cover of Highwaypersons, Debts and Duties, my present to you this week
The picture from the cover of Highwaypersons, Debts and Duties, my present to you this week.

Here’s something free to read over the holidays

Is this a time to read?

Got plenty to read this Christmas? Expecting books among your presents? Whatever your answer, here’s some good news. I hope to publish Highwaypersons II, The King’s Justice in the New Year. Watch for the launch. And now for more good news.

A free read!

Perhaps now is a good time to start Highwaypersons, Debts and Duties, so you will be able to get the most out of Book II. As the publication of the second book has been delayed, I’m going to offer Book I for free on Kindle for a few days just before Christmas. I’ll announce the exact dates soon.

Have a good read.

Highwaypersons, Book I, Debts and Duties will be free on Kindle shortly

Why am I still rewriting “Highwaypersons, Book II, The King’s Justice”?

How often have I rewritten my latest novel?

I have lost count of the number of times I have rewritten my latest book, Highwaypersons, Book II, The King’s Justice. Not that I have scrapped it and started again. I have revised it and changed lots of elements each time. I keep thinking I have nearly finished, but every time I am wrong. Whenever I am just going through it one last time, I notice something I am not happy with. I was beginning to think I was becoming a perfectionist, when I was reminded that most great writers, and lots of not-so-great ones, rewrite their books time after time. One famous author said, “Any fool can write: the skill is in the rewriting.” 

What am I rewriting?

Although I do keep spotting typos and grammatical errors, my main focus is the story. I find parts that don’t add anything to the whole. Someone said, “Give readers information on a need to know basis,” making a lot of the chapters redundant. I also keep finding things that need adding, in order to make clear the characters’ characters and their motivations.

Is that all I am rewriting?

No. I want to have another look at the period detail and other descriptions. I want you to feel you are right there. On the other hand, I don’t want to slow down the action with too much detail. Then I want to think if I have expressed myself as well as I could, to make it an interesting and enjoyable read. There is the complication that it is a sequel. Not everyone reading it will have read Book I. This means that I need to ensure I don’t take too much for granted, such as assuming all readers know who all the characters are and how they relate to each other. Or how my characters became highwaypersons. On the other hand I don’t want to include so much backstory that it detracts from the actual sequel.

Why is rewriting taking so long?

Every now and then, I leave it and get on with some other writing. Some of that will be published in another name but I am also working on more Geoffrey  Monmouth novels. It helps to go away from a work and come back a little fresher. You can be too close to it. I can see how difficult it would be if I was working on the same book all the time. I would fear for my sanity. (Don’t answer that!) Sometimes, I just get a bit of inspiration relating to one of my other books and I just have to follow it up before I forget it. There have also been times when I have come upon historical facts that I have wanted to incorporate into one or other of my books. OK – if I did my research properly before I started that would occur less often. Sorry!

Am I doing all this rewriting myself?

So far, yes. However, when I am as satisfied as I am likely to be, I will probably send it to an editor to correct mistakes and improve the wording, because I want this book to be as good as it can be.

 

This could be me or my editor rewriting Highwaypersons II
This could be me or my editor rewriting Highwaypersons II

Of course, this gives you time to read Highwaypersons, Book I, Debts and Duties if you have not already, before the sequel comes out. Or read it again. Or encourage someone else to read it.

Highwaypersons Book I, Debts and Duties is available on Amazon and Kindle
Highwaypersons Book I, Debts and Duties is available on Amazon and Kindle

Was there a reasonable balance of horror in “Gunpowder”?

Remember what I wrote about Gunpowder before?

It is nearly the end of November. The last fireworks have fizzled out, at least for a while. There is plenty to remind us that Christmas will soon be here. It seems a long time since I wrote about the BBC series Gunpowder. I did promise to say more when I had seen the whole series.

My overall opinion is that I liked it. It was a good drama and it told us  a lot more about Guy Fawkes and the others than most of us knew. There were some fascinating details, such as the incident where a barrel of damp gunpowder exploded just before the conspirators’ final encounter with the King’s forces. The series also showed that Guy Fawkes was just one member of the team, not its leader.

What did you think of the horrors in Gunpowder?

If you have watched Gunpowder, you will have seen not only the horrors of the British Government’s cruelty towards Roman Catholics but also the violence of the Spanish Inquisition in support of the Catholic Church. How does that affect your view of Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators? Of King James I and his government?

Is this monk writing messages to the gunpowder plotters?
Is this monk writing messages to the gunpowder plotters?
In what way was Gunpowder not fair?

My biggest negative criticism is that the series lacked context.  Of course, you can’t expect the whole of British history in a three-part drama. However, I will point out a few facts that might help explain certain things.

  • England was still at war with Spain since the Armada. It is unlikely that the Spanish would mount another invasion, but they could have backed a coup. The government had reason to be worried.
  • The last Catholic monarch of England was Mary Tudor. She had tried to impose that religion on the country. To her, Protestants were heretics. The authorities burned over 300 at the stake, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and two other bishops.
  • The Pope had declared Queen Elizabeth illegitimate and had announced that if any Catholic was to ‘remove her from the World’ he would gain ‘merit’.
  • During Elizabeth’s reign, Catholics made several plots to assassinate her and put her Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, on the throne.
  • Many people living in the days of James I would have had personal memories of those times. Others would have heard about them from their parents and others. The anti-Catholic feeling did not exist only at the Court.
The saltire: Scotland ejected Mary but her supporters tried to make her Queen of England.
The saltire: Scotland ejected Mary but her supporters tried to make her Queen of England.
What happened after the Gunpowder Plot?

Despite the oppressive measures taken by the government at that time, Britain moved towards democracy and human rights faster than it would have done had the plotters or anyone succeeded in restoring Catholicism  at that time. In an article on the Reformation, I pointed out that the Roman Catholic Church benefited from the Reformation as it gave impetus to overdue reform within. I must stress that, because that reform did come eventually, anti-Catholic attitudes today are outdated and unjustified. That Church is no longer the enemy of democracy.

 

Can only Protestants celebrate the Reformation?

Should anyone celebrate the Reformation?

In recent blogs, I have commented on other revolutions that happened, or almost happened, at this time of year: the Russian Revolution and the Gunpowder Plot. I have mentioned that the 31st October 2017 was the fifth centenary of the Reformation. OK it did not happen all on one day. But that is the day when Martin Luther nailed 95 theses (propositions, really) to the door of his parish church at Wittenburg in Saxony (now part of Germany). That set the ball rolling. It was the beginning of Protestantism and centuries of conflict between denominations. Surely, you have to take a one-sided view of history to celebrate that? Weren’t people better off when they were all members of the same church?

A preacher proclaiming the Reformation.
A preacher proclaiming the Reformation.
All Protestants should celebrate the Reformation

Not just extremists. Until the Reformation, you had to at least pretend to believe what the Church, i.e. the Pope, told you to. Yes, I know there were debates within the Church, but the papal authorities decided how far you could go before being burned as a heretic. They did not permit alternative approaches to any aspect of religion. None of our Protestant or non-denominational churches would have existed. The Church would have suppressed views within the Church that were not mainstream.

Humanists should celebrate the Reformation

I know Protestant governments, including the British, often oppressed dissident views. However, once the reformers broke the Catholic Church’s monopoly, they did not replace it with a Protestant monopoly. The idea of pluralism was there. If people could read the Bible for themselves, because it was in everyday English (or German or whatever) they could form their own views as to what it meant. This had implications beyond religion. It opened up the possibility of thinking for yourself generally.

Faith and doubt must coexist
Faith and doubt must coexist
Democrats should celebrate the Reformation

The mediaeval world was hierarchical. The structure of the Church was similar to that of Society: the Pope at the top, then the bishops, next the priests, lastly the laity. Just like the King at the top, then the nobility, next the gentry, lastly the peasants. Those in authority liked it that way. Breaking the power of the ecclesiastical hierarchy had implications for the secular hierarchy. In the short term it put more power into the hands of kings. Henry  VIII comes to mind. But in the long run it worked in the opposite direction. If church leaders were answerable to their congregations and not just to God, then kings had no divine right either. It is not a coincidence that puritans, parliamentarians, egalitarians and the middle classes were all on the same side in the English Civil War, against royalists, catholics and the aristocracy.

Roman Catholics should celebrate the Reformation!

This probably sounds a bit odd, but think about it. There were a lot of people in 1517 who wanted to see the Church reformed. They knew the World was changing and the Middle Ages couldn’t go on for ever. However, the system was just too slow and cumbersome to respond. Popes couldn’t get much done. Even the ones who wanted to. The Reformation changed that. It gave impetus to the Catholic Reformation, also called the Counter-Reformation. The process has continued. Thank God for the Second Vatican Council. And for Pope John Paul (I and II). It still continues.

Apply the counterfactual history approach to the Reformation

What? I mean, ask yourself what the World and the Church would be like if Luther had kept quiet.

  • Could we still be in the Middle Ages?
  • Would kings have clashed with the Church and imposed reform or just undermined it?
  • Would there have been more revolutions?

I think you will find lots of reasons to celebrate the Reformation, whoever you are.