Do I know enough about prehistoric life to set a novel in the Stone Age?

Did you think I was joking about a prehistoric detective novel?

I was serious when I answered that question recently. And I have tried to find out enough about prehistoric times to make the story realistic. I hope you will find some humour in it, but it is not a spoof. Forget the Flintstones.

Is it different from other stories set in prehistoric times?

Yes. Some writers and especially Hollywood film-makers have ignored scientific knowledge and gone in for as much drama, excitement and horror as possible. They created or maintained a lot of myths. Fake news. Well, not exactly NEWS, if it’s thousands of years old, but…

I have tried to stick to what most modern archaeologists and palaeontologists believe. What the stones and bones don’t tell them, they sometimes infer from studies of hunter-gatherers in the present. But I have used creativity to fill in the gaps.

 What’s different from those other prehistoric tales?
  • There are no dinosaurs. Mammoths yes. There are other large and fierce creatures too: bison, aurochs*, giant elk, several kinds of bear and big cats.
  • I avoid the term sabre-tooth tiger because we don’t know what colour or pattern they were.
  • I avoid the term Irish Elk, because they lived in other parts of Britain and elsewhere. Besides, Ireland was still attached to the rest of Britain at the time. We were all Unionists then.
  • Britain was attached to the Continent. Brexit had to wait.
  • People didn’t all live in caves. They built houses too.
  • It wasn’t cool to go naked. It was only just after the Ice Age!
  • People didn’t always look scruffy. If they could skin a bear or a mammoth, they could cut that skin to fit themselves properly, and they could choose  plenty of smooth-haired animals too.
  • If they made necklaces of beads, they must have cared about appearance.
A  prehistoric novel, yes, but a detective novel?

People have always been capable of murder. At least some people. Remember Cain and Abel? And I believe that there have always been at least some people who cared about truth and justice. You may wonder how anyone could solve a murder mystery without forensics. Read it and find out!

If you like reading, be a Beta reader and help me improve my next book.

What’s a Beta reader?

It’s someone who reads a draft of a book and gives constructive feedback to the writer.

There are no qualifications except you must be able to read.

They never get paid. The task is its own reward. Hopefully.

What sort of feedback should they give?
  1. Did you like the book?
  2. What did you like most about it?
  3. Was there anything you didn’t like?

Try to say something about:

  1. the story
  2. the characters
  3. the language
  4. the descriptions
How should you reply?

You can use e-mail, comments on this blog, the contact form on my website or even the Royal Mail. Write to:

Geoffrey Monmouth, Warrington Business Centre, 67 Bewsey Street, Warrington, Cheshire WA2 7JQ

A quill pen. Beta readers can reply by any means they like.
A quill pen. Beta readers can reply by any means they like.
What should they not comment on?

They are not editors. They shouldn’t waste time on grammar, punctuation, layout or other details. It’s the big story that counts. Don’t try to be an expert. Think like an ordinary person reading a book. Professional editors may be used later, when the overall story has been sorted out.

Why are they called Beta readers?

Beta is the second letter of the Greek alphabet. That’s about as much Greek as I know. I don’t know why they call them Beta readers. If you know, feel free to tell me.

Should the BBC be dumbing down history, even for children?

Who says they’re dumbing down history?

The BBC say they will be showing a new history programme for children. It will be presented by Danny Dyer of Eastenders fame. Many people assume this means dumbing down. Perhaps they have had a preview, but as I have not, I cannot say if that criticism is fair.

How do you define ‘dumbing down’?

The BBC say the programme is intended to be entertaining and amusing. They want children to watch it, but does this mean things will be oversimplified? You know, Good Things and Bad Kings. Will they select only the most ‘dramatic’ events? 1066, 1588, 1789, 1966? What sort of questions will they ask – and what will they avoid?

  • What did the Romans do for us?
  • Who were the real winners of the 100 years’ war?
  • Who gained from the Industrial Revolution?
Do I object to dumbing down?

Not necessarily. I object to fake news, old or new, which includes gross oversimplification. Let’s not underestimate children’s ability to understand and let’s encourage them to think. As I also object to making history boring, I applaud this attempt at making it fun.

Can we make it interesting without dumbing down?

Yes. I was in Pembroke shire in Summer and visited a lot of castles. Some of them will feature in my next book, Stallion Man, the third in the Highwaypersons trilogy. Nowadays, the information provided, in leaflets, on notices and in audio recordings, is interesting, accessible and mostly true. Living history exhibits and demonstrations were fun and informative.

The Red Dragon of Wales. Flown over most castles in Pembrokeshire, where they try to make History fun without dumbing down.
The Red Dragon of Wales. Flown over most castles in Pembrokeshire, where they try to make History fun without dumbing down.
How to avoid dumbing down

I must especially compliment Pembroke Castle and make special mention of the tour guide, Isla, for excellence in presenting history in a way that people of all ages and existing levels of knowledge could enjoy. I hope the BBC can do as well as them, and that’s a challenge to me as a historical novelist.

The first book in my Highwaypersons series. I hope there was no dumbing down in it.
The first book in my Highwaypersons series. I hope there was no dumbing down in it.

A palaeolithic detective – am I serious?

What’s palaeolithic?

The Palaeolithic period is the Old Stone Age. In most countries it was replaced by the Neolithic or New Stone Age. In Britain, we had to be different. We had the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age in between. What’s the difference? Are archaeologists just splitting hairs? The words refer to the different lifestyles of the three eras. In the Old Stone Age, people were hunter-gatherers, i.e. they lived by hunting and eating fruits, nuts and berries they found growing naturally. They were nomadic, or semi-nomadic, following the herds in their seasonal migrations.

What happened after the Palaeolithic Age?

In the New Stone Age they became farmers, taking control of the production of their food, and became settled. In Britain, and a few other places, there was a period between the two, when people kept semi-domesticated animals, but still migrated with them, like the reindeer herders in Scandinavia today. The dates of these ages differed in different countries, because the changes in lifestyle didn’t happen at the same time everywhere. The British seem to have been among the last to catch on. Always keen to hang on to old traditions. There were probably objectors to cutting down forests and draining marshes. Destroying the natural habitats of mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers.

Why am I talking about the Palaeolithic Age?

Because that’s the setting for my next book. About 8,000 years BC, when people began to move back into Britain after thousands of years. Not the same people. During the Ice Age nothing had lived in most of Northern Europe, but the climate was changing, making the region inhabitable again.

Did I say palaeolithic detective? Really?

If Palaeolithic people were hunters and gatherers, there wouldn’t have been many detectives, surely? Not many criminals either.

Yes, but… selfishness and wickedness have always been around, and there must always have been some sort of rules to make society work effectively. And hunter-gatherers needed discipline to work effectively, otherwise it wouldn’t have been the sabre-tooth tiger that went extinct. Rule-breakers were a threat to the rest. Someone had to exercise authority.

Wasn’t life cheap in the Palaeolithic era?

Yes and no! Life was often short, for lots of reasons, and there were probably violent clashes between people-groups at times, but cooperation was essential to everyone’s survival. I suspect that a lot of conflicts were resolved peacefully, or by limited, ritualised violence. I think murder would have been punished. Presumably by death.

Weren’t palaeolithic people too superstitious for scientific detective work?

Up to a point, but people have always been rational, capable of understanding cause and effect. Some more than others. That’s why my hero is a bit different from the average person of his day, but only a bit. He was the one who made the lever deductions, but most of the others would get it, once he pointed something out. How he does it, you’ll have to read the book to find out, but he’ll need help. The help of a dog, a god and a flint.

A palaeolithic dog - or is it a wolf?
A palaeolithic dog – or is it a wolf?

 

Have the hard brexiters and the EU forgotten the history of Ireland?

Why do brexiters need to study the history of Ireland?

I would like everyone to take an interest in history. At this moment, it is particularly important, especially for the political leaders in the UK and the rest of the EU. One of the thorniest problems for the Government has been the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

How does Brexit affect Northern Ireland, or vice versa?

The UK needs to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, if it is to comply with the Good Friday Agreement. This came into being, at the end of a long and difficult peace process. It is hard to see how we can maintain that arrangement in the event of a hard Brexit. Similarly, Ulster Unionists will regard any arrangement which treats Ulster as separate from the rest of the UK as a threat to the Union.

A cartoon man with a question mark. Trying to think of a solution for Northern Ireland?
A cartoon man with a question mark. Trying to think of a solution for Northern Ireland?
Does Northern Ireland matter?

Yes! Anyone who remembers the violence of the 1970’s and 1980’s, or who knows of the centuries of Anglo-Irish conflict, should have no difficulty seeing why we must keep to the Good Friday Agreement. Someone said the attention being paid to this issue was a case of ‘the tail wagging the dog’. Does he think minorities don’t matter? Is antisemitism unimportant, or why care about Scotland or Wales?

The saltire. If you are British, Scotland matters, as do Wales and Northern Ireland.
The saltire. If you are British, Scotland matters, as do Wales and Northern Ireland.

Who needs to remember the history of Ireland?

I am pleased that Theresa May has made the question of the Irish border an essential element in the negotiations. However, the hard brexiters don’t think it matters and could accept a Brexit without a deal, which would mean a hard border, whilst he EU negotiators suggest a solution that would treat Ulster differently from the rest of the UK. We must not put at risk peace and reconciliation between Unionists and Nationalists

What’s been the role of the Republic of Ireland?

The Irish Government has not been conspicuously proactive in finding a solution. They should look at their history and learn the lessons.

David Steele, a Scotsman, who was the leader of the then Liberal Party, once said,

The English never remember and the Irish never forget.

Let’s hope we don’t repeat the mistakes of history this time.

 

 

Questions about the slave trade and Jacobites from Highwaypersons II

Was the book about the slave trade and the Jacobites?

No! Highwaypersons Book II, The King’s Justice, was an adventure set against the background of a Jacobite plot in 1716 when the characters also encounter the slave trade.

I hope you enjoy the story as a good read, but in a recent blog, I suggested some questions you might like to consider or discuss about the historical background to Highwaypersons Book I, Debts and Duties. If you enjoyed thinking about those, you might like these, about Book II, The King’s Justice.

Highwaypersons, Book II: The King's Justice by [Monmouth, Geoffrey]

Remember, there are no right answers, as the questions are to provoke thought and develop your understanding.

Questions about the slave trade.
  1. Why did Billy and Bethan know so little about the trade at first?
  2. Did Megan’s view of slavery change after her encounter with some slaves?
  3. Why did so many British people condone or accept this trade, like the merchants at The Mermaid?
  4. Who profited from it?
  5. Who lost as a result of it, apart from the slaves?
  6. Why did Africans collaborate in the trade, as Thomas described?
  7. Why did the authorities stop sending white people into slavery in the Caribbean?
  8. Was slavery illegal in Britain but lawful in her overseas possessions?
Questions about the Jacobites
  1. Why did Sweden want to help the Jacobites?
  2. Was a Swedish invasion of Britain a serious possibility?
  3. How helpful to the Jacobites would a Swedish invasion have been?
  4. Why did some Protestants, like Charles Butler, support the Catholic Pretender, James Stewart?
Questions about King George I
  1. Why did he pardon so many of his enemies?
  2. Did he support the slave trade, not know about it or just not care?
  3. Why did Billy not realise Georg von Luneburg was King George?
Don’t be a slave to the questions!

They are there to help you get a bit more out of the books, if you want, but don’t let the questions take over from the stories. They are fiction set against a real historical background.

Enjoy your reading, and I hope the third volume in the series will be out after Christmas, if not before.

 

Do the recent arguments about Zionism show how not to use history?

Is Zionism the same as Judaism or Jewishness?

No. Zionism is political, but you can be a Jew or a follower of Judaism without holding any particular political views. However, in the debate about antisemitism in the Labour Party people have entangled the three concepts. This was mainly because they wanted to ensure they were free to criticise Israel.

What has history got to do with Zionism?

Nobody wants to deny anyone the right to criticise the Israeli Government for its current actions. Many Jews, including many Israelis, are highly critical of that government. The problem arises when people wish to criticise the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Yes – that’s history, see?  Some say it was a mistake, morally, politically and legally, to create that state against the will of the local Arabs. Others say it was only right, not to say essential, to give the Jews a country of their own after centuries of persecution in various places, culminating in the Holocaust. Where should German and other displaced Jews go, if not to their ancestral homeland?

Why is being against Zionism antisemitic?

People don’t usually call you racist for taking a view about a historical event. You might claim the Partition of India or the Union of England and Scotland were Bad Things, but that would not make you anti-Indian or anti-English. Israel is a special case. If you say  the founding of the state of Israel was wrong, you are implying it shouldn’t exist now. If it didn’t, what would all its citizens do? Where would they go? Some people think they have a solution: exterminate them. That is the view expressed by a lot of Islamic extremists and some other people. Remembering the Holocaust, you can’t expect Jews to simply write off statements like that as empty rhetoric, although that’s probably the case, mostly.

Zionism is a fact. History can’t be reversed.

Right or wrong, the British, with the approval of the United Nations, created the State of Israel in 1948. It was never going to be possible to undo that act without a lot of bloodshed. A lot. Therefore, in reality, to be anti-Zionist is to be antisemitic. The history of Zionism should help us all understand Israel today. We can all have opinions about that history, just as we can have about the British Empire, the Russian Revolution, or anything else. What is dangerous, however, is to talk as if we can now change that history. Some people say black and Asian people don’t belong in Britain and should go back to where they came from. It is not a viable proposition, as they have been here too long.

I love history, and hope we can all learn from it, but I want to live in the present to deal with the World as it is, not as it once was, or might have been if things had been different.

 

Read Highwaypersons, then think about these questions.

Why the questions?

You might be among that happy band who have enjoyed Highwaypersons, Book I or Book II, for the stories, the characters and the writing. (Come on! There must be some of you out there.) If so, I hope you will enjoy Book III when it comes out. You might not want to think about any questions. You might, however, be among the people who find the historical setting interesting. I hope you also like the other aspects of the books, but for you I am suggesting a few questions to consider. You might even discuss them in a readers group or history society group, or just with a mate over a pint.

A stack of copies of Highwaypersons, Book I, about which I am asking questions
A stack of copies of Highwaypersons, Book I, about which I am asking questions
These are not quiz questions

There are no right answers, but there are wrong answers. Considering the issues could help you get more understanding of the period and perhaps a better appreciation of the novels. This week let’s think about the Jacobites, in Book I, Debts and Duties.

Questions about the Jacobites.
  1. Why do you think they waited until after the War of the Spanish Succession was over to start their rebellion in 1715?
  2. Would the French or Spanish have helped them if they had rebelled during the War?
  3. Why did they get no help from abroad when they did rebel?
  4. Did the rebels ever have a chance? What went wrong?
  5. Should James Stewart have changed his religion, at least outwardly, and accepted negotiated terms with the British Government, before Queen Anne died?
  6. Who would have been better off if James Stewart, the Pretender, had succeeded and become king? The Scots? The Welsh? The Irish? Anyone?
  7. Why did some Protestants, such as Lewis Pryce and the Duke of Ormonde, support the Jacobites?
  8. I have put answers to some of these questions into the mouths of some of the characters in the novels, but do you agree with them?
More questions coming soon

I want us to think about other historical issues mentioned in the books.

If you haven’t read them yet, here’s where to get the two volumes.

Book I, Debts and Duties   

click here for  Kindle

Book II, paper and Kindle, The King’s Justice

What is going to change about Highwaypersons now?

Why another change?

You might wonder why I want to change things again. That’s if you remember that I reedited Highwaypersons Book I, Debts and Duties, only a few weeks ago. That was just before releasing Book II, The King’s Justice. The answer is that I have been listening to feedback and doing what I can to ensure people really enjoy reading both books. Sorry if it’s too late for some of you. I promise that I will also apply the lessons to Book III before I publish it.

What did I change?

I have moved the list of characters from the front of the book to near the back, and reduced it. There will now bet a Contents page at the beginning. I have also made some changes to the cover.

The cover of Book I before the change
The cover of Book I before the change
The cover of Book II before the change
The cover of Book II before the change
What will not change?

The characters and the story are as they were.  If you have already read either book, you will not be any worse off due to the changes. However, if you use Kindle, I believe you can download the new version(s) of Highwaypersons free. Check with the Kindle website. I hope you enjoy(ed) the read and will buy Book III, Stallion Man, when it comes out. Please let me have your feedback to help me make my next books better still. I also hope those of you who have taken me up on the recent offer to get both books free on Kindle, will be glad you did and will buy Book III.

 

 

Can Pope Francis save the Roman Catholic Church from scandals and secularism?

The Catholic Church has been around for a long time

It is hard to imagine anyone writing historical novels without taking some interest in the role of the Catholic Church down the ages. That institution has been an influence on so many people’s lives and on so many of the great movements and events in history. Not only European history. Some people say that today it is in crisis and perhaps in terminal decline. They should read more history. The Church has been through a lot of crises and many periods of decline.

A monk writing the history of the Catholic Church. Geoffrey of Monmouth?
A monk writing the history of the Catholic Church. Geoffrey of Monmouth?
What’s the current crisis in the Roman Catholic Church?

Pope Francis has just issued an apology for the sexual and other abuse inflicted on a huge number of women and especially children by priests, monks and nuns. He has also apologised for the cover-ups and lack of action by the hierarchy. Many people say this is too little and too late. He is about to visit Ireland, where the scale of the problem has been particularly bad. How will he be received? Can he put right what is wrong?

Is there anything else to worry an Irish Catholic today?

The numbers attending church services and otherwise engaged with that institution have reduced dramatically this century, as is the case elsewhere. The abuse scandal is not unique to Ireland either. However, the change is the more dramatic and its impact more traumatic, because of the huge influence the church had in Ireland for centuries.

Should Protestants feel smug at Catholic woes?

Some probably do, but it would be a big mistake. There have been abuse scandals involving Protestant clergy, although not as widespread as among Catholics, as far as we know. Anyway, bad publicity for one church does not equate to good publicity for others. Today, some secularists regard Islamic terrorism as an argument against all religion.

Why did so much abuse happen within the Catholic Church?

I expect there are many answers and I don’t claim any special inside knowledge. However, one factor I can’t ignore is the structure and culture of that church. An authoritarian hierarchy and a deferential laity is a recipe for corruption and the misuse of power of one kind or another. There is one thing I can say from personal experience. When I have looked into the finances of Catholic schools and other bodies, I have found that people were often reluctant to question the actions of a priest. When I wanted to see receipts or asked for an independent check on money handled by clergy, I was met with gasps of horror by lay administrators. Whilst I do not say financial malpractice was absent from Protestant or secular organisations, I do say there was more of a tendency to regard vicars or ministers as accountable to others on Earth, not just to the ultimate Judge.

Does this matter if you are not a Catholic?

Yes. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!

All power tends to corrupt: absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely – Lord Acton.

Pope Francis needs to address the whole structure and culture of the church he leads. He will need a lot of help. He will need to pray for a miracle. Fortunately, they do happen.

Abuse of any kind, whether the exception or the norm, needs to be condemned and steps taken to prevent it. There is also a need to help the victims. However widespread it was, it makes no difference to the message the Catholic Church, along with Protestants and other Christians, proclaims. The call to Love God and Love your neighbour is as relevant and necessary now as it was two thousand years ago. The example of Jesus and his teaching are worth following. I hope the Pope will say so.

Not all Catholic clergy are abusers!

I also hope we all remember the other victims of this scandal. The many thousands of loyal, honest, loving priests, monks and nuns who have worked hard to put Jesus’s teaching into practice, helping thousands of people with all kinds of needs. They will be ashamed of what they have heard and feel they are held guilty by association. May the Pope give comfort and encouragement to them.

Too little and too late? We’ll see!