Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ghostly Goings-On in the Court of Edward II

In the spirit of the season, I thought that I should note that Richard Felix, who evidently hosts a British TV show called "Most Haunted," spent the night of September 21, 2007 (the 680th anniversary of Edward II's death, as faithful readers of this blog know) in Edward II's cell at Berkeley Castle. Disappointedly, according to this account, Felix said that his night was uneventful. Maybe if Felix had done some midnight roof thatching, Edward II might have joined him?

Other spirits associated with Edward II's reign are reportedly less quiet. Piers Gaveston, Edward II's first favorite, is reported to haunt Scarborough Castle, where his headless spirit reputedly tries to shove visitors off the battlements. (This may simply be revenge for Braveheart.)

Not to be outdone, of course, is Queen Isabella, whose ghost is said to haunt Castle Rising. Some say Isabella shrieks and yells, others that her ghost assumes the form of a wolf. As a Google search will indicate, almost every other site claims that Isabella was shut up by Edward III in Castle Rising for life (which she wasn't) and/or that she went mad (which she didn't). It may be that with all of this shrieking, poor Isabella is simply trying to set the record straight once and for all.

Isabella, in fact, is quite the ghostly go-getter. Not only does she hang out at Castle Rising, she also can be found in London, at the site of her burial place at Greyfriars, where she clutches Edward II's heart. One site claims that a hapless watchman quit his job after hearing her ghost quarreling with that of Alice Hungerford, who was executed in 1523 for killing her husband. Sadly, the site doesn't indicate the subject of the ladies' quarrel. ("No, I hated my husband more!" "Did not!")

Less famously, perhaps, Roger Mortimer's ghost is supposed to haunt Nottingham Castle. Reasonably enough, he lurks in the underground passage William de Montacute and his band used to enter the castle and seize him.

One would think that the Despensers would be good for some hauntings also, but their survivors must have commissioned enough prayers to keep their souls happy and quiet. (Though I confess that when I was at Tewkesbury several years ago, standing near Hugh the younger's grave, some church volunteers dragging heavy objects around put something down with a loud noise. I jumped a good two inches.) The closest I found was this rather peculiar legend about Isobel Chandos, supposedly a lover of Hugh le Despenser who inadvertently led him to be hung at Hereford Castle. Perhaps a ghost that pushes deeds in front of people and tries to get them to sign land over to them just isn't all that interesting?

Monday, October 29, 2007

It's Here!

It's here! My sample copy of Hugh and Bess: A Love Story came in the mail on Saturday, and it's now available to order here, either as a trade paperback or as an electronic download. It hasn't gone live on Amazon or Barnes and Noble yet, but I'm hoping it will be within a couple of weeks.

It's going to be strange writing a book that doesn't have a Hugh le Despenser in it! My next book is very much in the beginning stages, but it's set in the Wars of the Roses and will likely be narrated by Katherine, Duchess of Buckingham, sister to Queen Elizabeth Woodville and wife to the Duke of Buckingham, the man who helped bring Richard III to power and then lost his head when he joined a rebellion against him. It promises to be fun--especially as it won't have a saintly Richard III. (And Richard III's queen was a direct descendant of Hugh le Despenser the younger and Eleanor de Clare through their second son, Edward, so I won't be totally Despenser-less.)

For you folks who voted in the poll that I should do a book set during the Barons' Wars, don't despair, I may get to that one eventually! But if you voted for the chick lit option, you might have a long, long wait.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I'm So Damn Lucky . . .

I've won the UK Lottery twice today without even having taken the trouble to enter it! And I'm going to be even richer, too, after a nice Nigerian gentleman gives me half of his fortune in exchange for letting him use my bank account.

Really, guys. It's time to come up with some more original scams.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Read With Abandon?

From Booking Through Thursday:

Today’s suggestion is from Cereal Box Reader

I would enjoy reading a meme about people’s abandoned books. The books that you start but don’t finish say as much about you as the ones you actually read, sometimes because of the books themselves or because of the circumstances that prevent you from finishing. So . . . what books have you abandoned and why?

Usually when I abandon a book, it's either because the writing style is off-putting or because the characters aren't appealing to me. More often it's the latter. I've abandoned several first-person books simply because the narrators were overly enamored of themselves (as they indeed might have been in real life). Another book I abandoned because the main characters were straight out of a formula romance novel--I could have encountered them just about anywhere and anytime. Another novel got put back on the shelf because the heroine was such a Mary Sue--each time she walked into the room, every man fell instantly in love with her; she always handled every situation perfectly and was showered with compliments from the other characters after doing so, and so forth. And, of course, she was stunningly beautiful. I wanted to kick her and the author.

When I was younger, I used to finish every book I read, no matter how little I was enjoying it. These days, I would never finish, say, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (I know it's considered Great Art, but the main character struck me then, and strikes me now, as a upper-class twit who would have been immeasurably better for having to work for a living. And a boring upper-class twit at that). Ah, the freedom of being able to put down a book you're hating!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Keyword Fun

In a spirit of I-really-ought-to-be-blogging, I've just checked an always reliable source of inspiration, the site that lists keywords that people use to reach my website. These two were right next to each other on the list:

hugh despenser and castrated
john tiptoft impaled

Someone needs to settle down with some tea and Jane Austen for a change, I think.

historical romance granddaughter marriage

Not sure that I like the sound of that.


There's something almost Zen-like about that one.

sex night out pontefract

What about having a sex night in? Just a thought.

richard iii rivers sex

Slash fiction between Richard III and Anthony Woodville? Well, that would explain how Anthony came so readily to meet Richard at Stony Stratford, wouldn't it? So here goes:

Richard's letter rested in Anthony's trembling hands. Gloucester asked him to meet him near Stony Stratford so that their entrance with the young new king into London might be more magnificent. But was there a hidden meaning? Could Richard be seeking to revive what had happened between them that one night so long ago, that night of forbidden love that set Anthony's senses on fire, just remembering it?

He fingered the hairshirt that he wore beneath his shirt of fine linen. He'd worn it ever since that wild night, in an attempt to forget the desires Gloucester had stirred in him. For a while, he thought he had succeeded. But now, as he held the letter and read in it all of his secret, suppressed longings, he realized that all had been in vain.

Anthony stared at Richard's signature and its motto beneath: Loyaulte me lie. Even it held promise, he thought as he sank into a blissful daydream.

"Soon, my sweet Gloucester," he whispered, "it is I who shall lie with you."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bennett Cerf, Eat Your Heart Out

Hugh and Bess now has a shiny new ISBN number: 978-0-6151-7187-6. All I'm waiting on now is finding someone who can help me with the cover art, and it'll be done. Hugh and Bess even has its own imprint, Onslow Press. Here's a picture of the founder in relaxation mode:

Has having a press named for him gone to Onslow's head? I'd say not yet, but this may be because Onslow is already quite fond of himself and needs very little additional encouragement.

Anyway, I rather like this ISBN number. The "6151" has an agreeable symmetry about it, and "7187" has a nice ring also, don't you think?

Friday, October 12, 2007

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer

An Infamous Army: A Novel of Love, War, Wellington and Waterloo by Georgette Heyer.

Sourcebooks, 2007 (originally published in 1937)

This was my first Georgette Heyer novel, and I'm happy to report that it won't be my last.

An Infamous Army opens in a drawing room in Brussels, in the midst of a conversation between a group of people who know each other very well--some, I understand from reading other reviews of this book, who feature in other Heyer novels. It takes a while to sort out all of them and their relationships to each other, and the effort may be too much for some readers. But perseverance is well rewarded.

The love story here is between Lady Barbara Childe, a young widow with a penchant for shocking high society, and Colonel Charles Audley, who is instantly attracted to her and loses no time in asking her to marry him. They're both vividly realized, and Heyer does an especially good job in making us like Barbara, who could have been irritating in the wrong hands. The supporting cast, including both historical and fictitious figures, is equally memorable.

Heyer has often been mentioned as the author one goes to when one runs out of Jane Austen novels to read. There are indeed some deft turns of prose here, such as this one by Barbara after she becomes the subject of a public snub: "By tomorrow I shall be credited with a sin I haven't committed, which touches my pride, you know. I always give the scandalmongers food for their gossip." Heyer also manages one of the most moving, yet not maudlin, death scenes I have ever read.

Readers expecting a formula Regency romance novel won't find one here; Heyer takes the reader both to drawing rooms and to battlefields, and the cost of the latter is vividly depicted. This is a love story with a punch.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Why I Am Cranky Today

1) The temperature here today is going to be 94 degrees. This is October. It should be at least twenty degrees cooler. I am still wearing summer clothes, and I hate summer clothes. Especially since I've been wearing them since bloody April.

2) Troy had one Trojan horse. My computer (not the one on which I'm writing this blog) appears to have about a dozen, none of which any anti-virus programs have succeeding in deleting or blocking.

3) I am going to have to find someone to fix my computer. The last time this occurred, the offending file was deleted. Unfortunately, so were all of my other files.

3) The local bridges are not adorned with the heads of the (insert your own description here; this is a family-friendly blog) who created the Trojan horses that have infected my PC.

Ah, for a little medieval punishment for hackers.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Review: Why We Read What We Read

Why We Read What We Read: Exploring Contemporary Bestsellers and What They Say About Our Books and Ourselves, by John Heath and Lisa Adams. Sourcebooks, 2007.

First, I have a confession: Of the books discussed in Why We Read What We Read, I'm fairly sure that I haven't read nary a one. Not even Harry Potter (though I did peek at the ending of the last one).

Why We Read What We Read looks at a number of categories of bestsellers in the United States: adventure novels, political nonfiction, romance novels, relationship guides, religious books, and literary fiction. Though the authors write in a breezy style when summarizing the books in question, the conclusion they reach is a disturbing one: Americans avoid complex, challenging books in favor of escapist literature or books that fit their preconceived notions about politics, religion, or other contemporary issues. Even best-selling literary fiction, the authors note disapprovingly, tends to end on a hopeful instead of a tragic note.

I came away from this book with very mixed feelings. It's entertaining, and thanks to its summaries of books like the "Left Behind" series and The Celestine Prophecy, I'll never have to read them. It's when the authors turn away from the books themselves and start to draw conclusions about their readers that the book for me began to feel superficial in its insights—ironically, just like the type of books the authors decry here. It would have been useful, for instance, to know what sort of books were bestsellers, say, fifty years ago, to see if American reading tastes have really gone that far downhill or whether readers, at least in the age of mass literacy, have always preferred to look on the lighter side. (As Dickens's Mr. Sleary said in another context, "People must be amused.") Similarly, a comparison of American bestsellers with those in other English-speaking countries might have yielded some insights. And is it fair to draw broad conclusions about American reading habits based on bestsellers without taking into account the many books that never make the bestseller lists, but sell well and steadily enough over time to remain in print long after the bestseller of the day has been pulped? Somehow, I kept thinking that there was a bigger picture out here, one that the authors simply weren't heeding in their rush to judgment.

In addition, some of the authors' conclusions about what motivates readers struck me as questionable. It's probably safe to say that people read diet and exercise books because they want to lose weight. It's probably also safe to say that liberals aren't rushing out to buy books written by conservatives or vice versa. But is it equally safe to say, as the authors do here, that women read romance novels because they're not getting the fulfillment they need from their relationships? Or to suggest that reading romance novels is preventing women from getting out of these unhappy relationships? I read very few romance novels myself, but even so, I found these conclusions to be both facile and patronizing, the more so because the authors never talk to any romance readers or to readers of any of the other genres discussed here. (To be fair, the authors do make use of a study of romance readers by Janice A. Radway called Reading the Romance, but that book, written from a feminist perspective and based on talks with 42 women from the same city, was originally published in 1984 and reissued in 1991; it thus can hardly be called the latest word on the subject.) Here and in the other sections dealing with fiction, I found myself wishing the authors had spoken to live readers instead of going on their own assumptions about their motivations for reading what they do.

All in all, this was an interesting and often lively book, but one that because of its shortcomings failed to convince me of its thesis.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A New Edward II Forum, and a Word From Stripes

First, for all of you Edward II and fourteenth-century fans out there, check out this great new forum by Alianore, for discussions of Edward II and fourteenth-century history!

Second, following Sarah's post on LOL Cats, I put Stripes to work, in a manner of speaking, of course.