, humour, Lucey, poetry, Thomazine. Christmas

To PENTHESILEA the Amazonn Queen, on the Occasion of Her Slaying the King of The Tribe of Cynick

Fair queen! When thou shall slay thy foe
With fatal dart from amber eye
When thou with honour lays him low
To submit his sorry self, or die

When gently thou with slippered foot
Will press thine enemy’s neck
And make his heart thine arrow’s butt
And call him at thy beck

Thy CYNICK must love from afar
Without hope of return
As distant from thee as the star
To be forever spurned

I die,  pierced by Penthesilea’s lance-
No wit, no hope, no charm – no chance.

Attributed. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1665)

Later evidence suggests the poem was written by the little-known Parliament!entarian poet Lucifer Pettitt in an attempt to discourage Wilmot’s unwanted attentions to his niece, Thomazine Russell, the “Penthesilea” of the poem.

Gray, humour, Lucey, poetry, politics, romance, Thomazine. writing, women

To His Coy Mistress, Some Lines After the Battle New-fought at NASEBY

Why court’st thou death instead of me?
Why, mistress, must thou prove thy worth
By putting all thy foes to flee
Despite the virtues of thy birth?
For lady, spurn me as you must
I know and love thy bravery
That’s never failed to keep thy trust
In th’face of the King’s knavery
Yet may I hope, my mistress gay,
My plea your fair ear reaches:
You dress yourself in fine array
And put on skirts instead of breeches?
I dare not test, lest what I find
Is frailer yet, a bubbled glass
That shatters in a changing wind
Or withers, like the mower’s grass
Yet, lady, your secret’s secure
– As yet is mine: that I am yours.
If you wondered what Luce was writing during A Wilderness of Sin….
Babbitt, humour, new books, present, writing

Meet Hollie Babbitt. It is all his fault….

Captain Hollie Babbitt – rising to the dizzy heights of Colonel in the Army of Parliament later in the Uncivil Wars series, although still a captain at the point when we meet him. Hollie being short for Holofernes, a fact he prefers to keep to himself, not wishing to be known as a most notorious Puritan’s whelp. He’s also the first Leveller hero in historical fiction…. but not in this book he isn’t, the Levellers not coming into recognised existence until 1645. You can, though, see him headed that way. (He’s also fictional, but he does pal around with factual people – in no order Thomas Fairfax, Oliver Cromwell, Thomas Rainsborough, and assorted other well-known historical figures of the English Civil War.)

Present story is set in late 1643-early 1644, starting in Essex, moving up to Yorkshire following Thomas Fairfax’s campaign against King Charles in the North. This is the fourth book in the series: the third was set later on in the wars, I just happen to be moving about a little bit chronologically.

What do we need to know about Hollie? The most important thing is that he likes people to think that he’s a hard nut who doesn’t care about anyone or anything. And he isn’t. And that he has a very, very strong independent streak, a tendency to speak his mind at the most unhelpful times, and a fierce sense of justice. (Oh – and that he might fight for Parliament, but that’s only because they gave him the money first.)

The main conflict – ha! Well, in this book, there’s Hollie’s always-tenuous relationship with his father: Hollie having been brought up strict, godly, and often with the buckle end of a stirrup leather.  There’s his relationship with his wife, who’s about to have their first child, and he isn’t going to be there because he’s in Yorkshire and she’s in Essex. There’s Hollie’s best mate, the posh poet Luce Pettitt, who has a habit of taking on hopeless causes and who’s landed the troop with a scarred lieutenant with an attitude problem and a bad reputation for intemperacy. (The somewhat illegal nature of Lieutenant Russell’s attachment to the troop being why they’re in Yorkshire, as far away as possible from the lawful custody he was supposed to be in!)
And technically, the main conflict of the book is the battle at Marston Moor….
What mostly messes up Hollie’s life is King Charles and the Royalist Army, who do seem to get in his way quite a lot!

Hollie’s personal goal is, always and ever, to GO HOME. To have a quiet life, and for the increasing number of people whose welfare he feels responsible for, to be safe and happy. As a number of these people are soldiers under his command, the two are not always compatible, and he has to sort one out before he can have the other.

The book’s called “Babylon” – it will be out early next year. Currently the only place to read more about it is on my blog…. sorry!

cheese, history,, humour, new books, ponderations, writing

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers – a guest post from D W Bradbridge

I should like to welcome my good friend D W Bradbridge, who writes the popular mysteries set in Civil War Cheshire featuring Constable Daniel Cheswis.

DW Bradbridge was born in 1960 and grew up in Bolton. He has lived in Crewe, Cheshire since 2000, where he and his wife run a small magazine publishing business for the automotive industry. 
Daniel Cheswis, on the other hand, lives in Nantwich and is a respectable cheese-merchant, as well as the local constable. Everywhere Master Cheswis goes there seem to be murders and mysteries abounding. It’s all very exciting, but I suspect Hollie is glad he doesn’t live any nearer to Cheshire. It’s a wonder there’s anyone left standing!
By the late 17th century “Cheshire Cheese” was a byword for quality. In the space of little more than twenty years it had become the main cheese eaten in London and the name had become a “brand” in the modern sense of the word.  Its growing market share was reflected in the number of eating establishments naming themselves after it. Indeed in 1678 Samuel Pepys is recorded as visiting The Cheshire Cheese, an establishment close to his home near the Tower of London. 
But why did Cheshire cheese become so successful and so quickly? After all, before 1650 there were no specialist dairy farms. Farmers produced largely for their own consumption with excess production being sold off at markets to people who did not keep their own cattle. 
However, there is plenty of evidence that Cheshire cheese was relished in London, having been brought to the capital in small quantities by the gentry and well-to-do merchants. Unfortunately, at this time it was too expensive to send it by cart in large quantities. However, during the 1640s a couple of things happened (apart from the Civil War, that is), which opened up the market. Firstly Suffolk, where most of London’s cheese came from, suffered terribly from floods and cattle disease, which made the price of Suffolk cheese double. Secondly, an increased demand for butter led Suffolk farmers to skim off the cream from the milk for butter production before make the cheese, thereby reducing the quality of Suffolk cheese. 
The result was boom time for cheese farmers in the North of England. At the time, Cheshire Cheese became a generic name for cheese from Staffordshire, Shropshire, South Lancashire and parts of Wales too, partly because of the fame Cheshire Cheese had gained for itself, but also because between 1650 and 1670 all cheese from these areas was shipped from Chester. Eventually Frodsham also became a major port for cheese ships and other shipments ended up being sent from Hull, having been transported from South Cheshire along the Trent. 
So if Cheshire Cheese was the UK’s favourite cheese at the turn of the 18th century, why did the market eventually fade? The first reason was the development of canal system, which made it easier for cheesemakers from other parts of England to service the London market. This worked the other way too, as it also opened up other regional markets for Cheshire farmers. A further reason was a reduction in sea trade after the war with the French started at the end of the 1680s. This meant that cheese began to be transported by land again, which significantly increased the cost. 
But let us go back to 1650. The first recorded shipment of Cheshire cheese took place on 21 October that year by one William Seaman, a London merchant from a Cheshire family.  
“Wait,” I hear you say, “I’ve heard that name before,” and you would be right. William Seaman makes an appearance in A Soldier of Substance as Daniel Cheswis’ cheese merchant friend from Chester. History, unfortunately, does not record Cheswis’ involvement in the first shipment! Cheswis is a fairly modest chap, so he probably wanted to keep his name out of the limelight. 
 The Cheswis books are currently available on Amazon UK:
Or of course if you happened to be passing the National Civil War Centre in Newark, they are available in the shop there!

Standard, humour, new books, present, writing

A Confession – Happy Happy Joy Joy

Probably, some time over the weekend, I am going to pull the paperback copies of all three books from my storefront temporarily.

No, I’ve not retired. Not given up, not run out of Babbitt stories, because when I’ve done the Civil Wars in England, the russet-haired ruffian spent the better part of twenty years kicking around in Europe raising hell with Nat Rackhay, and since he came out of it with one sergeant, one best mate, a wife, and a maladjusted horse, that’s quite a lot of story.

Anyway, when I run out of Babbitt stories I’ll be about a hundred and three, and then there’s a degree of insistence from certain people to know what’s going to become of Thankful Russell, so he’s next up.

– an aside, at this point. Hapless is not a brooding romantic hero.Seriously. Don’t worry about him. He’s having a rough time occasionally, but he’s not going to turn into Ross Poldark. He’s twenty-one. Most things can be cured by the generous application of cake. I would not leave Russell alone and cake-less, okay?

Oh and then there’s Drew Venning, the world’s least likely romantic hero, but there he is.

Anyway. That lot are okay.

It’s like this. The National Civil War Centre have had a copy of my books for review, and they like them, I think they liked them quite a lot. So the Babbitt-boy and his rebel rabble are now officially endorsed by the Civil War Centre. (They said that. In words. Well, they didn’t call them a rebel rabble, but – meh.) They liked the content, they liked the cover art, they thought the template enforced by Amazon sucked the big one and they couldn’t market them alongside mainstream published novels in the current format.

Um, just go back and read that again. They couldn’t market them alongside mainstream published novels in the current format. 

No, I didn’t believe it either, so I asked the Commercial Services Manager to repeat it for clarity’s sake, and yes, he is happy to take the Babbitt books. My Rosie, and Luce, and Hapless, and Tinners-the-dog and Drew Venning, all glowering across the shop at the likes of Bernard Cornwell and Michael Arnold. Bestselling proper authors, who make a living out of it, not mad cake ladies in possession of a cavalry backsword. I d’reckon we know what Rosie Babbitt would say and it would start with “Eff” and end with, “Me.”

But, he needs them to look more like professionally published books and less like some bint with a laptop knocked ’em up in the back room.

And so the bint with the laptop is talking to people. And is talking to a publisher who actually likes the covers. And a very helpful friend in the business who is talking to their manager about borrowing Babbitt, or rather borrowing Mistress B, for a day or so to corrupt young innocents buying decent sensible military books into reading ungodly fiction, probably with lewd promises of cake.

So. There you go. Still astonished. Still inclined to say “Bloody hell!” in a strong Lancashire accent, but –

See that bint with the laptop? Thass a proper writer, that is.

Babbitt, humour, Lucey, new books, ponderations, present, Russell, silliness

Thankful Russell – in hiding till "Poldark" finishes

Experts reveal the historical hunk that makes women swoon

“You’re putting me on,” Hollie Babbitt says faintly. “For sure?”

Russell does not look flattered. Russell, in point of fact, looks scared witless. “You have a look,” he says, in a very odd voice. Hollie looks up and raises an eyebrow. “Russell, what you talking like that for? With your mouth shut?”

The scarred lieutenant points. (That damned Amazon female. She has a habit of passing her ill-conceived and unwomanly pamphlets of seditious literature by Russell, and she knows what it does to him.)

“Seductive smile,” Hollie reads, with mild disbelief. “What, him? That bugger was in my troop and I’d have him buck his ideas up, for sure. Running round half-dressed, he’ll catch his death of cold. Small, straight incisors -” he pokes his own straight teeth with a thumb, and then looks at Russell in the manner of a man assessing the age of a horse. “Well, you do have all your own teeth, Hapless. That is true. And they are, surely, straight.  Though I wouldn’t call you seductive. You don’t do much for me, anyway.”
This is evidently of little consolation to Russell, who keeps his mouth firmly closed over admittedly-good teeth and looks quizzical.

“Manly,” Hollie goes on, “but not too muscular.” That leaves him somewhat at a loss. “You know a lot of fat cavalry officers?” he asks the ceiling. “- all right, Venning’s built on the perpendicular, but even he’s not fat. Say square, rather. Hapless, you want to have a word with that lass of yours. What is this rubbish? Manly – well, aye, we are, for the most part, fellers, yes. With one or two significant exceptions.” He glowers at Luce, who ignores him. Old news. “And not too muscular. Well, that’s three of us in this room who are masculine by gender and all of -“
“Slight,” Luce prompts.
Elegant build,” Hollie corrects him, with a sidelong glance at Russell’s lithe and greyhound-lean person. Russell – still with his mouth closed – says nothing, but tries to look untidy.

“Pert posterior.”
“Oh God,” Russell says faintly. He is, after all, a cavalry officer. Most gentlemen with a deal of acquaintance with horses have –
“Calluses on their arse,” Hollie adds. “What kind of lass is this anyway, goes around assessing men by the quality of their backsides?” He – a married man of several years’ standing – looks up in indignation. His two junior officers are looking distinctly dreamy. “I wouldn’t mind?” Luce says hopefully.

“Aye, and you probably do look good in a frock, brat. The hell is this, Hapless? Oh – frock coat. What’s one of them?” He almost throws the pamphlet at Russell and then goes back to it. (They are strangely addictive, these things.) “Plain soldier’s coat not good enough for these wenches, is it not? Bloody soft-handed womanish – thing – look at the bloody state of him. Flailing about in the water like the Lord had meant him to be a bloody fish. Wouldn’t know proper soldiering if it bit him in the ar- back of the leg.” Hollie scratches at three days’ worth of ruffianly cinnamon stubble. “Too clean by half, that boy. Give me a week with him and I’d make a bloody trooper of him, you see if I wouldn’t.”

An accent, apparently. This paragon has to have a deep, gravelly voice. Luce the Essex boy looks relieved. Russell with his soft Buckinghamshire burr, and Hollie the North Countryman, exchange a horrified glance. Luce gets up and peers at the inflammatory pamphlet. “And long hair, apparently,” he says. “How fascinating.”

Hollie shifts in his seat, awkwardly, touching the thick russet ponytail that hangs straight down his back. And Russell – thick fair hair worn loose, most of the time, just past his shoulders. It covers the –
“Scar,” Luce says. “Good lord, Thankful. Apparently this gentleman was badly scarred in the face as a young man in the wars in Spain. They say it’s most appealing to the ladies.”

It’s not helping, of course. The fact remains, no matter how many of the traits the experts deem so desirable may happen to be possessed by Russell, the scarred (and not unhandsome) lieutenant remains unconvinced. And, possibly, therein lies his appeal. He thinks it’s all cobblers. Funny, but cobblers.

Hollie’s married, so he doesn’t care, although he folds up the inflammatory pamphlet to show Mistress Babbitt. He happens to share many of these desirable traits, and he’d like to confirm his good lady’s agreement with same.

Luce? Well, Luce is – currently – single, and ready to mingle. He pulls the cord loose that binds his own fair hair neatly back, and wonders if a shaving-cut from this morning counts as a fabulous flaw….