Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The blog wot I write.

Besides my author page on Facebook, I have a personal page with stuff about tango dances and skate events in London. If I get two or three comments on a post, that’s an unusual level of interest. Then last week I posted this:

OK, I'm mildly OCD. But if you agree with something, please don't write 'Here! Here!' when you mean 'Hear! Hear!' It irritates me every time (cue a thousand replies all saying 'Here! Here!') but I don't want to be one of those annoying people putting passive aggressive notes on your posts. So please get it right: you're asking people to listen to ('hear') what is said, not calling them to heel like wandering puppies.

Fifty comments later, I gave up keeping count.

It seems that people really care about misuse of English. Pet hates that they shared with me included:
  • 'I' instead of 'me'.  Eg "here is a picture of Lisa and I' so annoying. Also … "myself" and "yourself" instead of me and you is SUPER annoying. And wrong.
  • The absolute WORST for me is when people say "I could care less". 
  • I can't bear people posting that they can't "bare" it. 
  • Apostrophes that don't belong in 1940s etc or to make plurals.
  • Not using the correct there for the context drives me crazy … And the same applies for your.

Language is a sensitive subject. In France, they even have laws to insist that you use the language correctly. In England, where the way you speak and the words you use precisely define where in our carefully stratified class structure you belong, you break the rules at your peril. Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves, a whole book obsessively setting out the rules on these things, was a huge bestseller.

It’s odd that at a time when many readers and writers don’t seem to care very much about the actual language that appears in books (I’m sorry, but I am going to pick on 50 Shades … because I just have to) so many people do care about the language of everyday communication.

This blog concentrates on history. (Nothing about Napoleon today: two hundred years ago he was still in Paris.) I do write about other things from time to time and, as on my Facebook, if one or two you respond, I am bowled over by your interest. One of the "other things" is the actual business of writing. So, given the number of Facebook ‘friends’who felt the urge to comment, I thought I'd post the same thing here and see what my blog readers think.

The floor is open.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Counting down to Waterloo in fact and fiction

There's lots of other blogs that are covering the events of 200 years ago. I rather like the one by the University of Warwick: http://www.100days.eu/. Jane Austen fans might prefer this one: http://janeaustenslondon.com/ or, for those who like their news condensed, have a look at #centjours.

Here, I'm taking a step back from the facts to look at how the news of Napoleon's return reaches Burke in Burke at Waterloo. Burke has been attached to the Belgian Light Hussars, whose colonel, Prince Ferdinand, has just learned that Napoleon is back in France. Ferdinand was a a real person and his response is fairly typical of the way the news was received. Legrand, the spy they are looking for, is fictional, but there is no doubt that Napoleon had agents preparing for his return throughout France.

The prince, usually so urbane, was agitated and leapt to his feet as soon as Burke entered his office. ‘Have you heard, Major?’
‘I've heard nothing, your Highness.’
‘We're keeping it quiet for now, but we'll have to make an announcement later today. Bonaparte is back in France.’
It seemed incredible, but it had happened. Bonaparte had slipped away from Elba with around six hundred men from the ceremonial guard that the Allies had allowed him to keep. Six hundred men should have posed no threat at all, but as soon as he landed in France disaffected soldiers from the French army started to join him. 
‘By now he has thousands of followers!’ Prince Ferdinand was pacing agitatedly behind his desk. ‘He is advancing on Paris! Mon Dieu, the Devil has escaped from Hell and returns to threaten our peace again!’ 
‘Legrand knew.’ Burke, not thinking, had spoken aloud to himself, but the prince seized on his words. ‘Yes, Legrand and all the other Bonapartists. This escape from Elba was not some spontaneous adventure. It was planned. His agents in France knew it was coming. And now one of the most dangerous is here in Belgium!’ He stopped his pacing and faced Burke. ‘You have to find him!’

Meanwhile, back in 2015, Laura Wilkinson features an interview with me on her blog. I've praised Laura's work here and I'm honoured that she has chosen to have me as her guest. Nip over and have a look. (Click the LINK.)

And here's a picture of Laura wondering why she let me loose on her rather lovely pages.

Friday, 20 March 2015

The Hundred Days

Anyone keeping track will know that we are now just 90 days off the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, but the period known as 'The Hundred Days' started two hundred years ago today with Napoleon's triumphal return to Paris. Between 20 March and 18 June, Napoleon rewrote the French Constitution, built up a new Army, and started his military campaign in Belgium. All Accent Press and I have to do is finalise the edits on Burke at Waterloo and get it formatted and loaded onto Amazon. Fingers crossed we're on schedule.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Countdown to Waterloo - 98 days

In an age before the telegraph, let alone the mobile phone, news took a while to travel. On 11 March, 1815, 'Cobbett's Weekly Register' published a piece celebrating Napoleon's captivity with a hastily added addendum to give notice that he was now once again in France.

Some astute businessmen were quick to capitalise on the news. The 'Examiner' for Sunday 12 March, for example, noted that 'The first notice of this most memorable event was announced by Mr Rosschild, the Exchange Broker, who sold stock to the amount of 600,000l on the receipt of the news by express from France.'

Napoleon's exploits still have an extraordinary hold on our imaginations two hundred years later. On average, there is one book about Napoleon published every day - and the anniversary of Waterloo means we can confidently expect that 2015 will see that average comfortably exceeded.

Everyone interested in the period will have their own favourite books about it. Here are five, a mix of fiction and non-fiction, that I would recommend to anyone wanting to make a start on reading, not about Napoleon directly, but about the Napoleonic Wars.

Sharpe’s Company by Bernard Cornwell. There are an awful lot of Sharpe books and it's difficult to choose between them. This is one of Cornwell’s own favourites and is a fast paced story set around the fall of Badajoz in the Peninsular War. There is a lot of military action, but also plenty of description of the relationships between the various regiments and the life of the men. Cornwell's novels bring the Napoleonic Wars alive. If your school history lessons concentrated (as mine did) on the long list of battles and the makeup of the continually shifting alliances, then these books give a useful reminder that there were real people in those red (or, in Sharpe's case, green) uniforms. Sharpe isn't an especially rounded or credible character, but he's rounded and credible enough. And the details of military life are fascinating.

The Fields of Death by Simon Scarrow. It's easy to sneer at Scarrow's books. They aren't 'proper' novels. The characterisation is thin and the dialogue unconvincing. But Scarrow approaches the Napoleonic Wars from the opposite direction to Cornwall. His main interest is the way that Napoleon and Wellington planned their campaigns at the grand strategic level and how these grand plans worked out in blood and terror on the battlefield. Fields of Death may not be great literature, but by the end of it I understood more about how and why Napoleon was finally defeated than I had ever learned before.

The Recollections of Rifleman Harris by Christopher Hibbert. For a real infantryman's view of the war, you can do no better than read Rifleman Harris's account. Harris told his story in his own words after the war had ended. There is no sense of grand strategy, no neat little parcels of story. Harris advances across Europe and retreats back to the North Sea coast without ever bothering about objectives and political goals. He's more interested in staying alive, bedding the local women and keeping on the right side of his officers. A worm's eye account of Napoleonic warfare and a valuable antidote to modern romanticisation of history.

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian. British control of the seas was crucial to success in the Napoleonic Wars and any list of books about them has to include at least one set at sea. When I was young, the obvious choice would have been one of C S Forester's Hornblower novels, but nowadays I think Patrick O'Brian is more in fashion. His attention to nautical detail is impressive and in Aubrey and Maturin he has produced two well-rounded characters, whose adventures are easy to get caught up in. As with Sharpe, it's difficult to pick out any individual book in the series. Master and Commander is the first of twenty completed novels (a twenty-first being unfinished at the time of O’Brian’s death).

The Officer’s Prey by Armand Cabasson. UK readers will find an easy diet of Napoleonic War stories featuring British heroes and perfidious Frogs. The Officer’s Prey provides an interesting look at things from the other side. The book is essentially a murder mystery, but it is set against the background of Napoleon’s Russian campaign. Although the story is a detective thriller, there is an enormous amount of military detail. Armand Cabasson is a Napoleonic Wars expert, and it shows. If you are interested in Napoleon's march on Moscow (and the retreat), the interminable descriptions of uniforms and details of the different regiments will be gripping, though for many readers they may become tedious. The descriptions of the horror of war and the scale of the disaster that was the retreat are well handled, though. 

You'll notice that, heroically, I haven't included my own "His Majesty's Confidential Agent" series about the adventures of James Burke, but I know visitors to my blog are people of wisdom and discretion and they'll click the book covers on the right to be taken to the Amazon pages to buy them. And, though it has nothing to do with Napoleon, please don't forget my latest release, Cawnpore, set in India some forty-odd years after Waterloo.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Countdown to Waterloo - 100 days

Historians often refer to Napoleon's Hundred Days, so you may be wondering what exactly was happening two hundred years ago today, with just 100 days to Waterloo.

Napoleon was still on his way north and had just reached Lyons. Here, as so often on his journey, the officials who were ordered to stop him were quick to change sides. The Mayor of Lyons actually issued a proclamation on the tenth, ordering citizens to stay indoors and trust in the law; by the next day he was proclaiming his loyalty to Napoleon. It was another minor triumph, but what was particularly significant about this event, one hundred days from Napoleon's defeat?

The answer is: nothing. The 'Hundred Days' are regarded as starting on Napoleon's return to Paris and ending with the restoration of King Louis on 8 July 1815. Constitutionally, it's important, because it marks the period while France was, yet again, without a king, though if you count it up it adds to 111 days. It doesn't, though, mark the period of Napoleon's ascendancy. The failure of Louis' men to stop Napoleon on his march north marked the end of any real power for the king and Waterloo, though not technically the end of Napoleon's rule, was the end of his control of France.

Let's leave Napoleon moving inexorably toward Paris (but carefully avoiding any areas he thought might still support the monarchy) and have a quick look at what's going on in my writing life. It's been a slightly strange time. I have written two separate series of books: the ones about James Burke, heroic Napoleonic era spy, and the ones about John Williamson, a rather more reflective chap living in the Far East at the high point of Empire. The second John Williamson book, Cawnpore, has just been re-published by Accent. It's a book I particularly like, so I've been spending some time trying to promote it. (If any of you want me to come to your book group or local history society to talk about Cawnpore and the history of the Indian Mutiny, please contact me. I'm happy to write on your blogs too.) At the same time, the third book about James Burke, Burke at Waterloo has just been finished and is with my lovely editor at Accent for her to work through it, after which will come all her requests for changes and re-writing. By then, though, I should have started on the next John Williamson book, which will see him back in England. So my brain is hopelessly split between India in 1857, Belgium in 1815 and London in around 1860. It's not helped by the fact that I am just home from Egypt, which obviously took me back to the world of Burke and the Bedouin and Napoleon's Middle Eastern adventure in 1798.

I hope you can keep track. If you haven't read The White Rajah, you can still take up John Williamson's adventures in Cawnpore, which is a stand-alone novel. It's out on Kindle and available to pre-order in paperback. We're still hoping to have Burke at Waterloo out in time for the anniversary: meanwhile, you can keep up with his earlier adventures in Burke in the Land of Silver and Burke and the Bedouin. Both are ridiculously cheap on Kindle and available in paperback for those who prefer a more traditional read.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Countdown to Waterloo - 105 days

Two hundred years ago today, one of the French king's bodyguards, Col Marie Antoine de Reiset, wrote in his journal:
An astounding piece of news arrived yesterday. We learnt, by Telegraph, that Bonaparte had landed at Cannes, near Frejus.
[The 'telegraph' referred to here was a system of semaphore. A reader has pointed out, entirely correctly, that the electric telegraph was not yet invented.]

By this time, Napoleon was already well on his way north, heading toward Paris, albeit by a circuitous route, designed to avoid areas that he believed were likely to be loyal to the king.

Two hundred years later, and my focus slips briefly away from Waterloo, as today marks the publication on Kindle of the new edition of Cawnpore. (The paperback will be out in a few days.)

Accent are now publishing four of my books, with Burke at Waterloo on the way. Check out the new page header, which celebrates with pictures of all five covers.

There's so much going on, I find it difficult to keep track. I hope you don't. All I'm asking you to do is click HERE and that should take you to Amazon, where you buy the Kindle version of Cawnpore. (Thanks to the magic of technology, this link should work whether you're in the US or UK or, indeed, anywhere else. Let me know if it doesn't.)

Please do give Cawnpore a try. It's not a particularly cheery read (it's almost certain to make you cry), but of all my books, it's the one I'm most proud of.

There'll be more about Napoleon's march on Paris in the next couple of days. Until then, get started on Cawnpore.