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Tuesday, October 24, 2023

New Ford Street Anthology!

 Just a quick post tonight, but I wanted to share with you the illustration for my story “Trail Of Gold” in the Ford Street anthology, Borderlands, which will be out around May next year. I’m very excited that it’s getting there, finally.

I might have mentioned this anthology in an early post. It’s the fourth produced by Ford Street Publishing, aimed at schools. I’ve been lucky enough to be in all of them so far. The first was called Trust Me! The series must have done well for there to be four anthologies. My school bought class sets of them for English and I used them myself, both for English and Creative Writing. With so many genres to choose from, it made things easy for teachers.

I was asked for historical fiction. The first two stories were set in the 1960s, one about the day of the first moon landing, the second set during the Beatles’ visit to Melbourne. Then, for the third anthology, Paul asked me to write about bushrangers, resulting in the story “The Boy To Beat Them All”, about the Eugowra gold robbery, in which bushrangers led by Frank Gardiner robbed a coach carrying gold from the gold mining town Forbes in New South Wales. I chose that event because it was witnessed by a thirteen year old boy, George Burgess, who wrote about it many years later. If you’re writing for kids, why not have a story seen from a child’s viewpoint? 

For Borderlands the authors were asked to do stories with two genres. Again, I was asked for historical fiction, so I made it a historical mystery. Those two go together well, I think. After writing and rewriting a story that just wasn’t working, about Mark Twain’s visit to Melbourne, which I didn’t bother to submit, I found myself writing a story that did work, and only took me four days to complete and edit. It’s a sort of sequel to “The Boy To Beat Them All”, only set about fifty years later, when a boy called Will, whose family owns a pub in Forbes, is thinking about some gold that might still be hidden in the area. He has been listening to George’s story over and over, because George is still being bought drinks for telling it to travellers. This time, there are two American brothers in the pub, who say they are there to do some prospecting. Frank Gardiner was banished from Australia after a few years in prison and went to California, where he opened a saloon. There was a story, which may or may not be true, that two Americans who looked like him came to Australia to dig. I decided that, true or not, it was a fun idea.

And here is the illustration done by artist Anne Ryan to go with my story! Isn’t it delightful? I have permission to share it with you. Enjoy! 

Illustration of “Trail Of Gold”, art by Anne Ryan. Posted with permission. 

Monday, October 02, 2023

Celebrating Richard III’s birthday!


Public Domain

Today is Richard III’s birthday, so I thought I’d talk about a few pieces of Ricardian fiction I have read or seen over the years.

Of course, I really must start with my all-time favourite, Josephine Tey’s Daughter Of Time, which is not historical fiction but an Inspector Alan Grant mystery, in which Tey’s police detective hero  solves a cold case mystery from his hospital bed - the very cold case of Richard III - does he belong on the bench or in the dock? This was written in 1951, so Grant has to reach his conclusions by reading books - no Internet, absolutely no Google. That book probably got the Richard III Society a lot of members - including me! I studied the Shakespeare play in Year 11 and our lovely English teacher told us about the book. I have read and reread that book, but most recently I’ve been listening to the audiobook, read by the wonderful Derek Jacobi. I do recommend that.

Speaking of the Richard III Society, one of its chairmen, Jeremy Potter, wrote a novel called A Trail Of Blood. It’s set during the reign of Henry VIII. Henry is busy dissolving the monasteries, so one of them sends out a monk, Brother Thomas, to see if he can find a Yorkist heir - in fact, Richard of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, who is rumoured to be alive. It’s a mystery story with an investigator. Well, he does find Richard of York, who is alive and well, no matter what Richard III’s enemies say, but he has very good reasons for saying he isn’t interested in taking the throne… The book is available in audiobook and print. 

If you want to watch something amusing with Richard III in it, try the first episode of Blackadder. The title character, Edmund Blackadder, is the son of King Richard IV, played by a hearty, backslapping Brian Blessed. In this episode Richard III(comedian Peter Cook)wins the battle of Bosworth, but gets his head cut off by Edmund, who has mistaken him for a horse thief. So his nephew, Richard of York, becomes king while Henry Tudor, in hiding, is blamed for Richard III’s death. 

More recently, of course, there has been the film The Lost King, about finding the King In The Carpark. It’s based on a non fiction book by Philippa Langley but I don’t think the real Philippa actually carried on conversations with the ghost of Richard III! It’s a nice gentle film, which I have bought and watched several times.

Rosemary Hawley Jarman’s We Speak No Treason is a beautiful book. The story is seen from the viewpoint of three people in Richard’s life, the Maiden, who becomes the mother of Richard’s illegitimate daughter Katherine Plantagenet, the court jester Patch, a friend of the Maiden, who survives the whole business to work for Elizabeth of York, and the Man Of Keen Sight, a loyal servant of Richard, an archer who goes under the name of Mark Eye as a joke. It’s easily available on line. 

She also wrote a novel, The King’s Grey Mare, about Richard’s sister in law, Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth was suspected to be a witch, and a descendant of French water fay Melusine; in this novel, she actually does bewitch - or drug, anyway - Edward IV, and pray to Melusine to help her. By the way, Elizabeth has descendants in the present day from her first marriage; Princess Diana was a descendant, so her children, William and Harry, are also descendants of Elizabeth Woodville and maybe Melusine…?

American writer Sharon Penman’s thick novel The Sunne In Splendour is worth a read if only for the facts behind it - she first wrote it as a young student and the manuscript was stolen from her  car, so she wrote the whole thing over again! I enjoyed it very much, though as I was reading I kept thinking, “Ah, no, Richard, you idiot, don’t trust him!”

Barbara Willard’s children’s novel The Sprig Of Broom is only available second hand in ABE Books, but there seem to be plenty of copies. It’s set early in the reign of Henry VIII and the hero, Medley Plashet, is a grandson of Richard III. He doesn’t know this  till late in the book, but his father Dick Plashet(Richard Plantagenet)is one of Richard’s illegitimate children. He was a real person, by the way, the only one of Richard’s four children to live to a ripe old age, when he was found working as a mason on a country estate by his employer, who was intrigued to see this older man reading Latin poetry during his lunch break. If he ever had any children himself we don’t know about it, but Barbara Willard gave him a son. When Dick’s mother’s relatives come after him to try to make him King, he disappears. Medley makes a life for himself at the manor of Mantlemass.

If you want to watch some Shakespeare Richard, there are some amazing versions. Laurence Olivier, of course. Ian McKellen’s version is set in the 1930s! I’ve found that on YouTube for free - about the only place I have been able to find it at all. Benedict Cumberbatch, an actual relative of Richard, plays the role brilliantly in the Hollow Crown TV series. 

I’d just like to conclude with a self published series of books by Janet Reedman (writing under the name J.P Reedman) under the series title I, Richard Plantagenet. I’m currently reading a novella of hers, The Mistletoe Bride of Minster Lovell, with Richard visiting his best friend Francis Lovell at Christmas. I bought it because I knew Janet when she was editing a Robin Of Sherwood fanzine many years ago, and published a couple of my fan stories. She does write very well and this part of history fascinates her, so she does her research, some of it appearing on her blog. You can find these books on Kindle if interested.

I was madly into Richard III fiction some years ago, but these are the ones that popped into my head. Do you have any favourites I haven’t mentioned?

Happy birthday, Richard!