Posted by: Sarah | January 16, 2008

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

On Saturday, 19 January the BBC2 historical documentary series will be showing a programme about William Marshal, the greatest knight of the Middle Ages. Elizabeth Chadwick has written two acclaimed novels about him, The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion. Carla Nayland posted a perceptive review of The Greatest Knight on her blog here.

Her latest novel, A Place Beyond Courage, is about William Marshal’s father, John.

These are thoroughly absorbing novels, rich in character and atmosphere, from an author who, having found her true metier, has grown in stature and maturity. It seems that her novels are at last beginning to reach the wide readership they deserve.

If you’re interested in how a historical novelist goes about her research, visit Elizabeth Chadwick’s blog Living The History. It doesn’t all come from books, you know.

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Posted by: Sarah | January 14, 2008

Sussex Back-to-Back

On a recent ramble we came across a fascinating house called Great Wapses Farm, near Twineham, West Sussex. The footpath took us past the front of the house, which looked like this:

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Then it led us past the back of the house, which looked like this:

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As we were gawping in amazement, the owner came out and explained that the timber and brick house was built in the early 17th century and the Georgian house added to its back in about 1720. It’s now all one house. Apparently, there are only about 20 such houses in England, mainly in Sussex, the rest in Suffolk.

I wondered if the owner of the earlier house had gone up in the world, perhaps through Enclosure, and had built himself an elegant house a la mode on the back of the old one, facing away from the farmyard.

A couple of weeks later on a ramble that began in Warnham, West Sussex, we hoped to find the poet Shelley’s childhood home at nearby Field Place. But no public footpath runs within viewing distance so when we got home, I Googled Field Place. Imagine my surprise when this came up:

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The website where I found this photo explains:

Although Field Place was “improved” by successive owners over the years, the house has now been meticulously restored to its eighteenth-century condition by Kenneth Prichard Jones, a past president of the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association. The house is composed of several architectural elements (for a thorough analysis of the architecture, see K. Prichard Jones, “The Influence of Field Place and its Surroundings upon Percy Bysshe Shelley” in the Keats-Shelley Review). The original thirteenth-century medieval section held the kitchen in Shelley’s time. There is also a fourteenth-century central addition.

There are more photos of Field Place on the website.

Finally, back to Twineham, then, where there’s an unusual brick church built in around 1516, replacing an older building from about 1290. British History Online has this (and more) to say about it, as well as more about Great Wapses and other historic houses around Twineham:

The church of St. Peter is a small structure consisting of a chancel with a modern north organ-chamber, nave, south porch, and west tower, with a shingled oak spire. The walls are of brick, with remains of original plastering outside; the roofs are covered with Horsham stone slabs. The church was built in the first or second decade of the 16th century, probably on the site of an earlier building.

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Posted by: Sarah | January 10, 2008

How Quickly Do You Read A Book?

According to John Crace, he of the Guardian’s weekly Digested Read, 60 pages an hour is average. Crumbs. Who has he been talking to? Or is it just me? Sixty pages an hour even on average seems like skimming to me.

When I was about 16 I timed myself for an hour whilst slogging though Crime and Punishment. I managed 40 pages. But it was very small print. And it was dense, heavy going. I tend to read lighter tomes more quickly, although reviewing has taught me to read more carefully and more critically than I used to. Gosh, if I read as carefully when I was 16 as I do now, it would probably have taken me a year or more to finish Crime and Punishment.

John Crace’s article rides on the back of this statistic:

a new report from the Office for National Statistics reveals that a quarter of people in the UK haven’t read a single book in the past year.

Shocking, isn’t it?

Posted by: Sarah | January 10, 2008

Hello from the Dormouse at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

January seems rather an odd time to be waking up (yawning and stretching) from an abnormally long hibernation. On the other hand, it’s the start of a New Year – not that I’m a believer in Resolutions of That Ilk. Still, one way or another, here I am again, hoping to catch up with all my blogging chums of yore and, I hope, meet some new ones.

Posted by: Sarah | October 3, 2006

Goodbye-ee

Sarah’s Bookarama is going into hibernation. There’s a nice, cosy cardboard box in the cupboard under the stairs, all ready for it – lined with shredded or scrunched-up newspapers just like John Noakes and the other jolly presenters used to make for the Blue Peter tortoises about this time of year.

Thank you to all who have taken the time to comment on the various posts. It’s been fun and enlightening, and no doubt I shall pop up in some of your own blogs from time to time – if you’re not careful.

Hope to be back, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, in the spring (so not really a tortoise, then.)

Posted by: Sarah | September 11, 2006

Which Medieval Plague Do You Have?

Oh, No!


Which Medieval Plague Do You Have?


Congratulations! You have Leprosy! One of the trademarks of the Middle Ages, it is actually a hard to catch bacterial infection that you probably caught years ago through respiration. Now that it is making itself known, you have noticed white patches on your skin and numbness in your fingers. Things will only go from bad to worse as more areas become numb, making you prone to hurt yourself without knowing it and thus causing massive infections. The good news is you will be given a free bell or clapper! The bad news is you will need this as you travel the countryside unwanted in rags warning people of your approach.
Take this quiz!


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Posted by: Sarah | August 23, 2006

Ingeld’s Daughter

Here’s another novel published on the Internet: Ingeld’s Daughter by Carla Nayland has been made available as a PDF file from the author’s website.

The novel is set in a fantasy world that mirrors the Dark Ages in Britain, although like The Lion of Encour (see previous post), it is populated with believable characters, but no elves or dragons. Ingeld’s Daughter is also available as a paperback – details here. On her website, Carla writes about the background to her novel and the reasons for choosing the fantasy genre rather than straight historical fiction to explore particular ideas that fascinate her. She also runs a blog on history and historical fiction, including book reviews and stimulating discussions.

Posted by: Sarah | August 23, 2006

The Lion of Encour

Here’s an exciting new writing adventure in blogland: Francesca Scriblerus is making her fantasy novel, The Lion of Encour, available for you to read, chapter by chapter, on her blog. So far she has uploaded the first two chapters, and the third is coming soon. Francesca writes:

It’s a wonderful project, trying to invent a world and a history and a cosmography, and then peopling it, and then giving the people their stories. And it has, for all its imperfections, restored to me my sense of the magic in creation. So, I am going to share it with you…Over the coming weeks I’ll tell you more about the planning and plotting and background to the story, and talking about all sorts of things to do with writing and reading and studying and researching.

With Chapter One Francesca provides an introduction outlining how she came to write the novel, and accompanying Chapter Two are some fascinating insights on the attractions of fantasy writing, along with notes on some of Francesca’s favourite fantasy novels.

So, whether you’re an aficionado of the genre or a reader or writer with an interest in intelligent and perceptive comment on the thrills and spills of writing, I’d recommend regular visits to TheLion of Encour.

Posted by: Sarah | August 22, 2006

The Vanishing Point by Mary Sharratt


I should declare an interest here: I know the author, who took over from me as a Reviews Editor for The Historical Novels Review. But I do assure you, gentle reader, that this hasn’t biased my review of her latest novel at all.

The Vanishing Point opens in in rural Gloucestershire in 1689. Twenty-two-year-old May Powers’s amorous recklessness has ruined her marriage prospects and her father has just informed her that he’s packing her off to America to marry a distant cousin she’s never met. Having got a regrettable daughter off his hands, he turns his attention to her younger sister, Hannah, a bright girl whom, having had no son, he has been training in his own discipline of physick. But this is an age when susperstition still rules and Hannah has inevitably imbibed some of this from Joan, the family servant.

In 1692, an alarming letter arrives from May, in which she writes of her own pregnancy and of a fever outbreak which has carried off her father-in-law. Then the sisters’ own father falls ill and, when close to death, makes Hannah promise to go to May. But when Hannah finally reaches May’s home in Maryland, she finds May’s husband Gabriel living alone and isolated. He tells her that May gave birth but the baby died and so did May – of childbed fever. Hannah stays a while and finds herself falling in love with Gabriel. But their love is gradually undermined by Hannah’s growing suspicion that Gabriel hasn’t told her the truth about May. She determines to find out what’s really happened to her sister.

Such a bald summary might lead you to believe that this is a straightforward blend of historical romance, mystery and thriller. It is romantic and it is mysterious and thrilling (especially as the tension builds and twists toward its climax) but it’s so much more than the sum of its parts. Mary Sharratt has set her novel in an age that was on a cusp between superstition and enlightenment and she has peopled it with vivid characters who embody these important changes (and the resistance to them), especially May who demands the same freedoms as men and Hannah who has been given a boy’s education without being allowed to use it.

Both these strong-minded sisters kick against the man-made constraints that still oppressed women in those times – May through her own sexual liberation and Hannah through the medical expertise her father has given her only because he hasn’t been graced with a son. It’s a tribute to the depth of Mary Sharratt’s research and her skill as a novelist that these sisters come across as women wholly and convincingly of their own time. And it’s a further tribute that the novel is so cleverly constructed that the reader is enthralled not only by the nail-biting suspense but also by the thoughts the novel provokes about the lives of women, then and now.

Mary Sharratt’s website is here. And here is her blog.

Posted by: Sarah | August 6, 2006

The Americanization of British Novels

Here’s a recent letter to The Times from Nancy Gay of Biggin Hill, Kent:

Sir, Like Kate Phaneuf (letter, July 25), I have raged at the Americanisation of English novels. As a young American bookworm I delighted in the British otherness of Sherlock Holmes and Peter Wimsey and countless others. I hate it that my nieces and nephews in America are being denied the same pleasure.

I regret to tell Aline Templeton (letter, July 31) that the Scots fare no better. This summer I found Ian Rankin’s Fleshmarket Alley. I could not bear to read morethan a couple of pages. I announced to my daughters: “Don’t buy any British books from American bookshops. I’ll send you the real thing.” A sister, overhearing, was distressed. “What have I been missing?” she wailed.

What she has missed, and what all victims of this cultural vandalism miss, is the delight of discovery, the joy of allowing language to work its magic on intelligence, the delicious savour of new flavours and textures. Americans are not too stupid to enjoy national differences in English usage, but I fear they will become stupid if never given the chance to be otherwise.

My husband is currently reading another of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels, Let It Bleed, and as I have a curious turn of mind, I decided to do a bit of sleuthing. I brought up an excerpt from the US edition of Let It Bleed on amazon.com. In the first 5 pages or so I discovered the following:

In “Co-op funeral parlour”, “Co-op” was dropped, “wing mirror” was changed to “rearview mirror”, “roundabout” to “traffic circle”, “L-plates” (referring to learner drivers rather than the plates themselves) to “rookies”, “transit van” to “moving van” and, silliest of all because Scots, unlike the English, really do pronounce the “r”, “arse” becomes “ass”.

Oh, and Rebus fans will notice that even the title of Fleshmarket Close has been changed for US consumption to Fleshmarket Alley, even though Fleshmarket Close is a real street in Edinburgh.

Do American readers really need this sort of linguistic mollycoddling or it it just that US publishers think they do?

I haven’t noticed the same kind of thing being done to British editions of American-set novels by US authors. It would jar terribly and ruin both flavour and authenticity. Usually we get the original US editions intact or occasionally with just the spelling and punctuation changed to British forms.

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