People have asked me about the main characters in my book Highwaypersons.
- It is hardly an unreasonable question and it is not one I should find difficult to answer. I invented these characters and I have been living with them for some time as I have written and rewritten, edited and re-edited the novel.
- There is, strangely enough, one difficulty. I keep being reminded that I should ‘show, not tell’ in almost all situations. Advice I appreciate. Salesmen, take note! I hope you will also think how it might apply to your situation, whoever you are.
- One reason for an author to follow such advice is that the readers should make up their own minds about the people they encounter in the book.
Despite this, I will say a few things to let you know what to expect.
The main two characters are Billy and Bethan aged around twenty five and twenty six at the start of the story. They come from a farming background in the Rhondda, but have acquired more education than most of their contemporaries.
- They are both dark haired and fairly dark skinned. Billy is tall and slim whilst his sister is of medium height but well-built and buxom.
- Both are clever and determined, although he is less decisive and less aggressive than her.
- Both are troubled by their consciences when they turn to crime.
- They both have a sense of duty, as the subtitle suggests, and are loyal to each other, to their family, to their friends, and to the country. This is sometimes repaid, as will become more apparent in the sequel.
- Bethan thinks Billy is too sensitive for his own good.
- Billy loves horses.
- Bethan hates cooking.
I think that is enough about those two.
- Their cousin Megan is a tall redhead who is more temperamental than the siblings.
- There is also an older highwayman, who used to be a gentleman, and a ruffian-cum-trickster, who never was.
I hope that gives you enough. Let your imagination do the rest. Or just buy the book.
Watching the current TV series about the young Queen Victoria has been caused me to think about her image.
I have always thought of her as an old lady. This series has reminded me of the fact that she was once young. In fact, she was only 18 when she came to the throne.
You may say that it is obvious that every old person was once young. Am I stupid? If I am, I think I will not be alone. Why do people think of Victoria as an old lady when our image of Queen Elizabeth I or Queen Anne is usually more of a woman in her middle years.
Is it because we are nearer to Victoria’s time than to that of either of those other two queens? When I was young, I knew quite a lot of old people who had lived in the last decade or so of Victoria’s reign. I do not think any of them had ever seen her, but she was a figure in the background of everyone’s life and often mentioned in the papers. Of course, by then she was old. So that is how these people thought of her and that is the image they passed on to the next generation. And it has stuck.
In addition, most of the paintings and statues of her seem to depict an old lady. Even those created in her middle years. The artists probably wanted to emphasize her dignity, making her look solemn, rather than capturing a more youthful expression. The image has stuck again.
That is not all. Not only do we usually think of her as an old lady, we also tend to think of her as serious and dull. The words, uttered once and almost invariably quoted out of context, ‘We are not amused’, seem to sum her up. I remember the late Princess Alice of Gloucester being interviewed when she was a hundred years old. She remembered seeing Queen Victoria quite often when she was a child. She said the old lady was far from stern and serious all the time. Vivtoria loved playing with her youngest relatives.
So what? This makes me think how easy it is for a false, or incomplete, image of anyone to become fixed in our minds. We need to guard against this. It leads to stereotyping and prejudice. We should want to know the truth and to see everyone in more than one dimension.
Vivat Regina – Long Live the Queen!
I have written a short story Billy’s Escape about an incident mentioned briefly in Highwaypersons. It gives a taste of the sort of thing in the book and introduces one of the highwaypersons, Billy Rhys.
I am having a link put on the website, but if you can’t wait just ask me, by e-mail or by using the Contact form on the site. I will send you a PDF of it absolutely free. I hope you enjoy it.
People often wonder whether historical novels are too fictitious to be relied on for knowledge of history. I think most historical novelists nowadays try to be true to the facts to a large extent. We are not writing for the Golden Days of Hollywood.
You do have to remember that you are reading fiction but it should not be pure fantasy.
Perhaps the following points will help clarify this.
- In Highwaypersons, I have tried to be as accurate as I can about the major events and have also tried to give what I consider a reasonably true impression of the economic and social background.
- I admit that I have made some adjustments to the facts for the benefit of the story, such as making the Battle of Preston take longer than it did so as to give my heroes time to do their stuff.
- To help you separate fact from fiction, I have followed the example of certain well known authors, by including some historical notes near the back of the book. At the front I have inserted a list of the main characters, where I have indicated those who were real historical people with an asterisk.
- I fully agree with Bernard Cornwell that some of the most bizarre incidents, those which readers consider too far-fetched, are usually those based closely on actual events, such as the two-stage surrender at Preston.
If you want to learn more about the history of the Eighteenth Century, there are plenty of works of non-fiction to go to. I will not mention any in particular, as they all meet different readers’ needs.
Finally, I find this quote, the source of which I have forgotten, worth remembering.
The textbooks tell you what happened: the historical novels tell you what it was like.
The price of a printed copy of Highwaypersons: Debts and Duties is GBP 9.75 but it will be only 2.25 on Kindle.
The cost of a paper copy is more than that of a lot of comparable books. The reason is that it is longer than most. It is 429 pages and 113000 words. These figures include:
- a list of principal characters at the beginning
- a few historical notes at the end.
- the first chapter of the sequel, The King’s Justice.
Obviously, there is a cost to printing each page. So is it really more expensive than a shorter book?
If you want something shorter, you probably will not have to look very far. On the other hand you might like something to get stuck into. In the case of Highwaypersons, there is plenty of it and it covers a lot of ground.
Well it’s your choice. It’s your money. Now you know. Here’s where it is: https://tsw.createspace.com/title/5935330
Title ID: 5935330 ISBN-13: 978-1537319995
Kindle ASIN: B01LXU6LHE
And watch out for special offers on Amazon and on Kindle.
This is what Createspace said about an hour ago.
You’ve completed the setup of your book.
Your book will be available in the following timeframes:
Updates to your book will also appear in these timeframes.
- CreateSpace eStore: Immediately
- com: 3-5 Business Days
- Amazon Europe: 3-5 Business Days
- Expanded Distribution channels: 6-8 Weeks
Title ID: 5935330 ISBN-13: 978-1537319995
It is also be on Kindle now.
So what are you waiting for? Go and buy it.
This is the main image that will be on the cover of Highwaypersons. See if you can guess which is the male and which is the female. There is a clue in the book itself, but you will have to read it to find it.
I think there are lessons to be learned from the Great Fire of London of 1666. I am not talking about fire prevention or fire-fighting. Technology has moved on enough to make almost anything we might learn from 1666 redundant.
On thinking about what I just said, I realise there are two lessons we could do well to learn.
- The fire was allowed plenty of time to develop and spread. The authorities were very slow to act. Even if you can not prevent something, you can usually mitigate its effects by prompt action.
- The one thing that was done that was effective, eventually, was to create firebreaks. Buildings were pulled down and some were set on fire, so that when the fire reached them there was nothing to burn. Even if you leave it late to take action, doing something can still help mitigate the damage to some extent. Never give up.
All right, that was a digression. Here comes my main point.
Who was to blame?
The public, and a lot of people in authority too, blamed foreigners and Roman Catholics for starting the fire. This was a result of the climate of fear and suspicion prevailing at the time. One man who kept his head, determined to get at the truth, was the King, Charles II.
What was the truth?
A baker’s oven had overheated, eventually causing the chimney to catch fire. It all spread from there.
I cannot help seeing a parallel with the present. Fear and suspicion. Blame foreigners or religious minorities. See every misfortune, especially every crime, as politically motivated. I remember when ‘Reds under the bed’ was a popular obsession in the USA which soon caught on here.
Can we never learn?
As Highwaypersons and Poldark are both set in the Eighteenth Century, it is natural that people will want to make comparisons. Of course, you must make your own mind up, but I will say what I think.
- Highwaypersons is set in the years from 1713 to 1716 whereas Poldark is set in the 1780’s. However, a lot of things had not changed during the years in between. Poverty and injustice were very much present throughout that period and are reflected in my story just as they are in Winston Graham’s. You do need to be in the Jeremy Corbyn fan club to agree that those two phenomena are still with us.
- My novel is set mainly in Wales, not Cornwall. Many people think the Principality has a lot in Common with the Duchy, not just their similar Celtic languages. Yet there are differences. They do not have anything in Cornwall to match Snowdon.
- Poldark seems to stay in Cornwall, indeed in one part of the county. My story moves to London, Lancashire and the Highlands of Scotland before the final confrontation in Cardiff, but my main characters never forget their Welshness. They are indignant when Scotsmen call them ‘Sassenachs’.
- My main characters are less hot-headed than Ross Poldark. They tend to control their emotions better, but they certainly have strong emotions and feel just as angry at injustice, both social and personal, as does Ross.
- Unlike Poldark (so far) my characters get caught up in major national events. In the second book in the series they will get involved in international events too. Part of Poldark’s charm is its local focus.
- One thing Highwaypersons has, which Poldark does not, is a murder mystery. I personally enjoy a whodunit whether set in the past or the present, but do sometimes like to read and to write books which do not contain one. Variety is a good thing.
- Finally, you may wonder if my hero and heroine have as much sex as Ross Poldark. Oh, yes! That was something the Eighteenth Century was full of, from start to finish.
So, there you have my take on the comparison between the two stories. I wonder what you will think.
We have recently been reminded that this is the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Great Fire of London of 1666. It was obviously a major event at the time, affecting many people’s lives. Some of the effects can be observed today, such as the many buildings dating from the time just after the Fire. St Paul’s Cathedral is the most obvious example.
My novel, Highwaypersons, is set in the years 1713 to 1716. Well after the Fire. The changes in London in the intervening half-century had been significant. Most people would say the new buildings were an improvement on the old, although one of my characters dares to disagree.
It was also a time of growing prosperity. Historians argue as to whether the Fire and the rebuilding had any influence on that, but it is certainly true that there was a lot of economic growth in those years. It will not surprise many of you to learn that the benefits were unevenly distributed, to say the least.
During this time, London became more important than ever as the centre of everything, in the whole of Britain, its influence even reaching as far as Wales. Architecture, fashions, painting, manners: all seemed to spread from the capital to the rest of the country, if only gradually and partially.
You may notice some of these things get mentioned in passing, but Highwaypersons is not primarily about economic and social history. I have the not let the background get in the way of the story. Well, I hope not. But the background cannot be totally ignored.
The Great Fire of London made an impression that was to last. Even in Wales.