What was new in 2013?
5 December 2013
My goodness - where did that year go? I'm still thinking of it being more or less New Year and here I am, writing my Christmas doggerel. I spent an afternoon struggling for ideas - and dashed something down. But Sophie (my wife) said it was too dark and depressing. On reflection, she was right. So I had another go. This year's Christmas-card poem has an Elizabethan theme - can't think why...
27 November 2013
Filming again, novels reviewed, overseas sales
Off to London in an hour or so to be ready for filming a piece for a True North production first thing tomorrow in Westminster Abbey and other sites in London about Edward III and the Black Death. Looking forward to it.
Very flattered by Tom Shippey's review of The Final Sacrament (by me writing as James Forrester) in the Wall Street Journal at the weekend: 'For twists and turns, codes and clues, Mr. Forrester beats Dan Brown, and when it comes to social detail, he is up there with Patricia Finney, and out of sight of the rest. Yet he's not a narrow stickler for academic accuracy, insisting, against Hilary Mantel, that what's important is not being authentic but being good. Information is only there to put you inside the Elizabethan mind-set, as if you were there yourself, exposed to the stinks and betrayals and brutality of 16th-century London.' That reminded me of the Huffington Post article where I had mentioned the difference between HM's view of authenticity and accuracy and my own. I realised that this and several other pieces were not linked from my website, so that has now been amended on the Notes and Essays page.
Also good news to hear that German publishers Piper have bought the rights to my current book, Centuries of Change and Eksmo have bought the Russian rights to the two Time Traveller's Guides. It's very gratifying to think that my thoughts on life in 14th and 16th century England will be read in such exotic languages - Russian, German, simplified and complex Chinese, and Japanese. Who would have thought it!
4 November 2013
Come to the Guilty Party
As an antidote to the anger in my last 'what's new?' entry, this is simply fun. At a family party recently my son Alexander and I played a couple of my more upbeat songs. He's uploaded one of them, 'Come to the Guilty Party', to Youtube. Also on a musical theme, I'm working with three friends (who sing together as Crooked Roots) on a project 'Voices of the Past', which attempts to tell a history of England through folk songs. I'll talk about the history of each period and then the singers will perform the piece in question, covering the 13th century to 20th in about fifteen songs. First performances scheduled locally for next year and then we hope to take it further afield. Also musically but separately from the above, with two other friends I am putting together a taster album of new music being written in this very creative corner of Dartmoor, featuring twelve bands/singers from Moreton and Chagford. These two towns are only 4 miles apart and there's a long history of rivalry: it's probably the first time since they fell out over market rights in the year 1207 that they have worked jointly and collaboratively on a project! We hope to produce the result in the summer of 2014.
16 October 2013
The future of our countryside
I am truly appalled by the government's proposals in its consultation paper 'Greater flexibilities for change of use'. The authors have not thought through the consequences, and the minister was frankly an idiot for trying to promote the virtues of lifting planning permissions in rural areas without first listening to the responses to the consultation. It is madness, sheer short-term folly. Anyway, rather than go to jail for thumping a politician in my fury, I wrote a short essay on the subject. The future of our national parks. The same points apply anywhere in rural England, of course, not just national parks.
8 October 2013
Looking out of the window
It's another lovely day, looking out at the garden and the moor. After living for thirteen years on the other side of Moretonhampstead where I had no garden and only a view of one hill, living here is blissful. The house is fascinating too: I've spent far too much time working out its history. Astonishingly, it proved relatively easy to trace its ownership over the centuries. Normally townhouses are very difficult to trace
because all you have to go on is a brief line such as 'messuage in such-and-such street' and in many places small towns like Moreton did not have street names before the eighteenth century. This house, however, had two distinctive fields with it, which formed part of the tenement. In addition the tenement acquired a name inthe seventeenth century: Merdons or Maredon's Tenement. Later it became Jackson's Tenement, after one Clement Jackson (either the famous Baptist minister or his son) lived here. Furthermore it was inherited by a succession of families from the 16th century to 1811 (the Peryam family of Exeter, the Reynell family of Creedywiger and finally the Tuckfield family of Shobrook Park) and the leases from 1640 all survive in Devon Record Office. To make things even easier, the Tuckfield family only ever had one tenement in Moreton, this one, so that made it very easy to trace its ownership. Both fireplaces and most of the woodwork seems to have been done in about the time of William Stoning, gent. (d. 1618), and his wife Izot Weekes (d. 1612), who leased the house from the Peryam family. And before that, it seems the Peryams bought it along with Halstow in Dunsford in 1525 from one John Halstow alias Sutter. This John seems to have inherited it from his antecedents at Halstow, who mention their property in Moreton several times in the family documents and who descended from the Sutter family of Moreton. The earliest deed in the collection mentions the sale of the messuage by Adam de Morton, vicar of St Marychurch, to one Henry Sutor in 1300. Adam was a chaplain at Moreton before then: in 1276 he was accused of murder and was bailed by the king. He bought his house from John the Palmer, an earlier chaplain. That takes us well back into the thirteenth century - and almost back to when the burgage plot on which the house sits was laid out (in 1207 when the market was founded, presumably, as the house is on one side of the old marketplace). I've had a detailed survey of the house done to examine the fabric further and the 3ft-thick irregular front wall of the house would appear to be even older than the walls that support the smoke blackened rafters (which date from when it was a hall house in the fifteenth century). It is possible that some of the ancient fabric survives: that when they demolished the thirteenth-century house in the fifteenth century they retained the front wall as the base of the new wall.
Anyway, as you may guess, living in a historic building is not assisting my current writing project, or the various things I'm meant to be doing.
It's lovely then when someone else writes up a note on one of my recent talks. Thanks to C18thgirl for putting together a blog entry on my talk at the Weald & Downland Museum.
25 August 2013
Response to a question on Twitter
A follower on Twitter asked me: "why can't I find another historian who agrees that Edward II wasn't murdered?" Excellent question and one that I've been thinking about for a while. My thoughts on the matter are here: 'An inconvenient fact'.
5 August 2013
Otherwise the last month has been spent writing a couple of essays I felt I needed to set down - one about Shakespeare, funnily enough, and the other about speed. The latter was an essay in the proper sense of the word; it was an attempt to determine the significance of speed in modern life compared to previous ages. It will feed into the new book I'm writing. Oh yes, that was another thing. I've agreed with my UK publisher, The Bodley Head, what the next two history books will be and a rough timetable for their completion. Once more I need to apologise to those waiting for me to write The Warrior of the Roses: the life of Richard duke of York as that book is set back again. But the current book, Centuries of Change will excite, surprise and challenge everyone, and it's compelling writing. I'm coming to the end of chapter three, on the thirteenth century. I've stopped writing my diary so I have more time to spend on the book and the ideas underpinning it. It feels like imaginative gold, like my medieval Time Traveller's Guide did in those years before I wrote it. Even if people don't agree with the book as a whole - and most people won't - it is an exceptional privilege to be carrying it around in my head. I'm driving everywhere a little more carefully as a result, just in case.
Where did that month go?
Yesterday I was thinking 'it has been the most glorious summer - but it's rained on all three days that I've arranged to do something outdoors.' The fact is that it rained the day I went to Wimbledon (no. 1 court - no roof), and on my summer party (the wind was so strong it blew the rain horizontally under the canopy in the garden; not even the smokers wanted to go out there) and it was raining yesterday, as I was thinking this thought. I was at Tewkesbury, in a field, waiting for the start of Harry the Sixth, the first of the Globe Theatre's battlefield performances of Shakespeare's three Henry VI plays, edited and directed by Nick Bagnall. And as I waited I thought that I'd been unlucky. Yes, it did rain through most of the first play - but I did not feel unlucky by the end. After three plays I felt I'd been at a veritable orgy of Shakespearian drama - sod the weather. Fantastic performances by the whole cast: especially Garry Cooper as a striking Lord Gloucester, Brendan O'Hea as a most commanding duke of York and a hysterically amusing gay King Lewis, Graham Butler as a simply brilliant Henry VI, Mike Grady as the wily, conniving Bishop of Winchester (my only criticism - they should have given him a cassock), Mary Doherty as a quite terrifying 'she-wolf of France' and, oh, Beatriz Romilly... The audience lost their hearts to her as Joan of Arc, and then lost them all again as she played Lady Gloucester. Before yesterday I would have said that almost seven hours of Shakespeare in one day was too much. I would have been wrong. The three plays were edited slightly - to bring them all down to between 2h.15m. and 2h.30m. - and collectively made for compelling viewing within a larger architecture, so that the whole felt more than the sum of the parts. Details of the season - which runs until September - are available here.
4 July 2013
Good review of my Clarenceux Trilogy
Very pleased to see the last volume of the series, The Final Sacrament, given a review in The Good Book Guide and the whole series described as 'dramatic' and 'a vivid historical saga set against an enthralling Elizabethan backdrop'.
29 June 2013
Blog entry for the National Archives
As part of the National Archives' writer of the month programme I wrote a brief blog entry. Grammar wasn't so good but the message, I think, is an important one.
16 June 2013
Time Traveller's Guide over!
After three Fridays, the last episode of my Time Traveller's Guide series has been broadcast. There are still a few days left to catch in on the BBC's i-player if you missed it.
Critical opinion was interesting. Some chap working for the Telegraph really didn't think his comments through: he hated the 'gimmicks' and said he would have preferred a straightforward documentary but praised the historical detail - not realising that the whole different approach is what revealed those facts that he found so interesting. My favourite review was one that that included praise (e.g. 'This is a really vivid take on the past and how refreshing to see a history programme that doesn't contain any stately homes, muddy old bones, embarrassing re-enactments or David Starkey) as well as this brilliantly ambiguous line: 'It's also a wonderful change to see a presenter who's more interested in passing on information than... making us like him.' I chuckle every time I read that. You can read that review in full here.
13 June 2013
It's been thoroughly uplifting to see so many positive comments about my TV series on visiting Elizabethan times. And two million viewers for the first episode was brilliant. It's also been quite a revelation to see how petty some people can be in their online critcisms. When you just write history books, you tend only to get comments from people who are inclined to like history; but when you are on TV you are fair game for people to express their dislike of your accent, clothes, mannerisms, hat and even your pronunciation. My pronunciation of a long 'a' in 'pasty' is singled out by some for ridicule. Oh well. I'm not changing - it's the way my Devon and Cornish forebears said it, and I'm not changing to please people who find such trivial differences objectionable.
My current woes, however, have nothing to do with TV or books. For several weeks the ring finger and little finger on my left hand have been almost wholly numb; now they are becoming very weak and unresponsive, so I can't play my guitars anymore. It's due to a trapped ulnar nerve in the arm or wrist. So when Moretonhampstead Music day takes place this year, on 14 July, I won't have a guitar. Not sure if I'll sing unaccompanied or read some poems, or just sit out. It's all a bit unnerving (pardon the pun) - not being able to do something you love doing, and not knowing when you'll be able to do it again.
30 May 2013
An A-Z of Elizabethan England
The National Archives have made freely available a recording of my A to Z of Elizabethan England, performed as part of their Writer of the Month series. This can be downloaded as an mp3 file..
30 May 2013
The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England: review
The Radio Times preview of the first episode of my TV series - due to be broadcast tomorrow night - is available here.
21 May 2013
The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England on BBC2
The BBC has scheduled the first episode of The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England to be broadcast at 9pm on Friday 31st May. The second and third episodes are scheduled to be broadcast at the same time on the next two Fridays.
2 April 2013
Free ebook offer for American readers of my fiction
Sourcebooks, the USA publishers of my fiction (written by me as 'James Forrester'), are running a promotion through April 2013. If you preorder a copy of The Roots of Betrayal before 30 April, then you can download a free ebook of the first in the trilogy, Sacred Treason. Details are on the James Forrester website.
4 March 2013
New website for The Time Traveller's Guides
The Time Traveller's Guides project now has its own dedicated website, designed by James Housego of Jam Design, and tinkered with by me to the point where he probably wants to deny all knowledge of it. Click on www.timetravellersguides.com to see how it looks.
27 February 2013
Work on new book, and an article
Back in Devon, having been away in Germany. A successful talk in Karlsruhe, at the American Library, to a very receptive audience. Visited Speyer Cathedral and Heidelberg Schloss. Very pleased to go to Speyer as it features in chapter one of the new book, Centuries of Change. Progress continues on that. Many other little projects underway. I'm particularly pleased with my article on the history of breakfasts, which will appear in the April edition of BBC History Magazine.
27 January 2013
All the filming for the BBC2 series based on my Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England is now finished. Studio shooting was completed the week before last at the Linen Mill studio in Banbridge, Northern Ireland (where the HBO series, 'Game of Thrones' is filmed). And the last pickup day, filming in London, was last Friday - at the Globe and the Golden Hinde. Now comes the difficult bit: editing me into an acceptable form. That, I am happy to say, is not my responsibility.
25 January 2013
I heard today that my Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England will be published in Taiwan. Also a Chinese edition should appear later this year. Who would have thought that medieval England would prove publishable in the Far East?
What was new in previous years