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