Babbitt, history, Lucey, Naseby, new books, Russell, South West campaign, spoiler

A Wilderness of Sin – available for pre-order (and the first chapter for your delight and astonishment)

Naseby, Northamptonshire
June 1645
It was a pale pearl of a midsummer dawn, and Thankful Russell looked like a dead man.
            Sitting on his bed, he looked fragile and very, very young. As well he might. He’d turned twenty-one two weeks before the battle at Naseby. He was twenty-one, poor bugger, and as of three days ago, he was blind.
It had been an accident, or a case of mistaken identity, or something of the sort that inevitably happened to Russell. It hadn’t even been during the battle. Colonel Hollie Babbitt hadn’t got to the bottom of it, didn’t want to get to the bottom of it. Thank God, he had spent most of that particular sickening low point in the trajectory of the New Model Army, laid out cold in a churchyard in the nearby village of Marston Trussell, perfectly, and literally, unconscious of the vile massacre being enacted by men he’d fought shoulder to shoulder with. His own troops. Oneof the troops under his command, at least. Hollie had been endeavouring to stand between the ravening ranks of the godly, hellbent on unjustified revenge, and those poor bloody brave, stubborn, doomed camp-followers. One of the women had had smacked him in the side of the head with a griddle. Collapse, as Lucey would put it, of stout party. It had done no good in the end, either. There’d been over a hundred of those poor women dead or mutilated – hacked apart by good Parliament men. And there had been nothing Hollie could do to stop it.
            Whatever Russell had been doing to stop it, he ought not to have, because it had ended with him shot in the head, not to say having been, by the look of him, very badly beaten. Sitting upright on his bed after three days unconscious, Russell was a horrible sight, and he hadn’t been that lovely before. The scarred lieutenant had a stunning black eye, and a series of clotted, black gouges torn into the cheek that wasn’t already marred: his mouth was swollen and torn, and there was old, dry blood on his top lip and his chin. The funny thing was, the pistol ball had only grazed his skull – the troop bonesetter had taken it out from under his skin with no trouble at all. Hollie had always said Russell had a thick head, and now he had actual, slightly-flattened, lead evidence of same. It had been enough to leave him senseless for the better part of three days, though, and it had bled something fierce. 
“You can’t do this, Hollie.” Luce was bumping about like a bee in a bottle, trying every way he knew to deflect Hollie from his stated business of removing Russell to a place of safety. “You can not expect a man with a serious head wound to ride sixty miles. You’ll kill him.”
Russell turned his head to look in Luce’s direction. That was the pitiful thing, that the lad was trying to look as if he was intact. Looking at the blank wall behind Luce’s head, his head slightly cocked, looking alert and intelligent and facing in just slightly the wrong direction, his eyes not moving. “I should rather not be left behind,” he said, his voice as cool and accentless as ever it was. “Thatwould kill me, Cornet Pettitt.”
“My baggage is packed, sir. I will ride when the colonel wishes to leave. At first light.”
Luce looked at Hollie and his mouth quivered. It was first light. And proper, impeccable Russell’s baggage was shoved anyhow into a saddle-bag, one forgotten stocking still flung across the bed where it had been missed. Hollie reached across and very quietly emptied the bag, smoothing the crumpled shirts and folding them before replacing them. Russell was frowning very faintly, his head jerking almost imperceptibly as he tried to pinpoint the sound. “What are you doing?” he said, and his voice had gone high with anxiety. “Sir? What -“
            Hollie put his hand on Russell’s shoulder. “Nowt, lad. I’m not doing nowt. I just thought I’d dropped summat a minute ago.”
“Colonel Babbitt, sir, I will not allow the lieutenant to leave my care!”
All he needed, bloody Witless. The troop bonesetter, who may have been christened Witcombe but who was definitely Witless, was a fat young man with bad skin who stuttered and blushed and only had any degree of competency at all when he was bloody to the elbows. As a plain trooper he was almost wholly useless. He’d managed to put a pistol ball through the brim of his hat in battle, on one occasion. Clear through, clear enough to see daylight. Give him a lancet or a fleam and he was transfigured. The worst thing was, that lummox had trained Luce in his own image, and now the brat was an eager apprentice in his own right. Frightening.
            “Why? You going to give him a better haircut?”
Russell looked uncomprehending. Actually, he looked like a lunatic, with a patch of hair cropped to the skin where Witless had stitched that bloody runnel through his scalp. Witless was never going to make a gentleman’s gentleman. He’d hardly flattered Russell’s vanity, such as he had had in the first place. What the lieutenant was going to say when he regained his sight – and he bloody well would, Hollie would not have it any other way – and realised that possibly the only beauty he had remaining to him was stuck out at crazy angles to his head and matted with blood. Hollie shook his head, and then remembered that he had a row of stitches of his own, slightly more considerately put in by Luce, who might only be a half-trained butcher but at least he had warm hands. Head-shaking, notwithstanding, made him feel somewhat dizzy.
“I’m not sure you ought to be racketing about the countryside on your own, either, Hollie,” Luce said gently, and Hollie scowled at him.
“That’d be it, then, brat.” Luce might be his dearest friend in the world, but he was still ten years, and at least one rank, Hollie’s junior. Brat he was and brat he would remain. “You can come with us. There you go, Witless. Lieutenant Russell’s got his own private physician. There’s posh for you, Russell.”
Babbitt, history, Naseby, new books, politics, Russell

A Wilderness of Sin – out Summer 2015

A taster from the new Babbitt novel – out later this year.

Set in the South-West of England in the summer of 1645, after the decisive battle at Naseby, Hollie Babbitt – now Colonel Babbitt, and hating every minute of it – finds himself commanding a rapidly-disintegrating company, in an increasingly bitter army.
There is, of course, no contest as to where his loyalties lie. And it isn’t with his masters in Parliament.

Fairfax was at prayer and could not be disturbed, so Hollie ambled up and down the landing outside his general’s personal quarters indulging in a habit which drove Het mad, a tendency to, literally, kick his heels. If you happened to be wearing spurred boots on a stone-flagged hall it was quite a diverting pursuit. The musical chime was a rather soothing backdrop to Hollie’s internal mental writhing. Did he, or did he not, need a lieutenant? And if he had to – if Fairfax insisted, and he might well – who the hell would it be, that he could trust, to not only turn a blind eye to Hollie’s somewhat independent accounting practises, but to translate the troop’s less conventional means of support into something that looked good on paper. And Chedglow. Who the hell was going to replace Chedglow in command of his troop of itinerant God-botherers? For a minute, Hollie was inclined to promote his own appalling father, just for the hell of it. They’d had one slavering hellfire preacher in charge already, they’d be used to being spat on at close range by their commanding officer – and they’d miss the Old Testament if they didn’t get a healthy dose every day with breakfast. On the other hand, it’d mean he’d have to deal with Elijah being stern and godly at him on a daily basis, and that he could not bear. Luce didn’t want it, even if he’d been any bloody good at it, which he wouldn’t be. (Too nice by half, that lad.) He’d have said Calthorpe, once, but Calthorpe had copped it at Marston Moor. Eliot or Ward – sweet Jesus Christ almighty, no.

The bottom line was, since the New Model Army had come in, most of the new lads were decent, obedient, dutiful plain troopers, who served their God and their commanding officer with zeal and efficiency, who turned out to drill smart and eager, who observed the Sabbath and said grace at length before their meals – and they were as stolid as bullocks in a field. They did what they were told. They thought what they were told. And if they didn’t, they sure as hell didn’t trust their thoughts with a commander they didn’t know from a hole in the ground. They were good lads and they were as efficient a fighting body as he’d ever clapped eyes on but what they were not, for the most part, was independent. The Army didn’t like independent thinkers. No, that wasn;t fair. The Parliament didn’t like independent thinkers. Look at Lilburne – denied a command under the New Model for refusing to take the Covenant, earlier this year.

No, Hollie was short of like minds, and the one thing he liked at his hand was men who not only knew what they were doing, but could do it without it having been written out for them longhand. Efficient drill was well and good but it didn’t give you initiative. Venning, now, Venning was competent and efficient and knowledgeable but he either could not or would not think for himself. Luce the same – had the ideas, but didn’t have the confidence, the brass neck, to go off and do them independently. General Fairfax had been bloody clever: he’d got a hold of anybody who looked like they might have both the fire and the skill, and he’d promoted them already. (Said Colonel Babbitt, who knew whereof he spoke, having been promoted already.) Cullis wouldn’t touch an independent command with a shitty stick. Russell, even were he fit for service, couldn’t be trusted not to go off half-cocked, left to his own devices.

Split ’em up. It was all he could think of, break Chedglow’s lads up and take a score apiece amongst the rest of the company. After Naseby Hollie wasn’t sure he could trust himself to deal with them fairly, as a troop. Not sure if you could discipline men for rape, mutilation and massacre in the Lord’s name, not in the New Model. When Hollie could have called his command his own – when he didn’t have as many regulations to sign to as the lowest of his troopers – he’d have shot the lot of the bastards, personally, one at a time or collectively it didn’t bother him.
“I see you’re as hot at hand as ever, colonel.”

He stopped musing and looked at Fairfax. Greying, pouchy-eyed, sallow. Christ, he looked ill. “Ah,” he said warily, and then stalked – trying not to jingle – into Fairfax’s quarters. “That’d be it.”
“Was expecting you before this, mind.” Fairfax said nothing unkind, it wasn’t his way, he’d just turn those fierce dark eyes on you and look mournful. “Where are you quartered, Colonel Babbitt? I sent a messenger, but he was unable to locate you?”

“Oh, you know me, usually end up round and about with Pettitt. What’s up?”

“Sir,” Fairfax prompted, and he came up short, because Black Tom Fairfax was not only his commander but his friend – he’d carried Fairfax’s little daughter on the front of his saddle one black night across Yorkshire, fleeing the Malignants two years back. Fairfax had sent some of that little daughter’s outgrown baby-things, at Thomazine’s birth. Fairfax was a North Countryman, same as Hollie was, an exile in this lush green landscape. They talked to each other in their own home accents, betimes, not the stiff and formal words of a commander and his subordinate. Fairfax looked at Hollie and cocked an eyebrow but did not smile. “How is your wife, Colonel Babbitt?” And then without waiting for an answer, “It won’t do, sir. It won’t do at all. I won’t ask for an explanation -”

“But I’ll give you one,” Hollie cut in, because he was bloody cross at that last implication. “Supposed to leave Russell in Leicester, was I? In his condition, in a town relieved of siege not a week past? Aye, I did go home to Essex, and I took Hapless with me, and Luce come because he reckoned it’d kill him doing the sixty miles on a horse so soon after Naseby. So that’s where I was, and if the Army couldn’t do without me holding its hand for three days, all I can say is God help it.”

“You went without asking leave, colonel.”
“All right, if you want to make a paper exercise of it – sir – mark me down as absent without leave and dock me according. Or have me bloody shot or whatever else it is you do wi’ soldiers that misbehave, these days.”
“Goring has abandoned the siege at Taunton.”

“Good for Goring. What?

“You heard. Goring’s headed for Yeovil. At speed.” And then, finally, Fairfax’s lean, dark face creased in a rusty smile. “If you’d been any later, you’d probably have bumped smack into him. I’m not sure which of you would have been more surprised.”
“Bloody hell.”
“Quite. I had hoped that you might be able to send some of your troops out to reconnoitre the Royalist position.”
“I’m hardly the least conspicuous spy in the Army. Sir.”
“Did I ask you to go personally, colonel? Anyway. You weren’t there. I asked someone else.”

“Sir.” Fairfax wouldn’t tear you off a strip. He’d just take whatever it was you liked to do, off you, and give it to someone else.
“I hope your horse is rested, colonel. Lord Goring has deployed his men along the line of the Yeo, from Yeovil to Langport. My father has decided to base his infantry at Crewkerne, and we will be shortly joining them.”
“I trust that will not interfere with any of your other engagements, Colonel Babbitt?”
“Sir.” He couldn’t quite stifle a sigh, and Fairfax shot him a stern look.
“You will be ready within the hour, colonel. ”

history, Naseby, politics, religious ponderations, Russell

Can. Of. Worms.

In the current climate – political, not wet and windy – thoughts of religious extremism and godly whackjobs are much in my mind (and not, for once, in the shapely form of Thankful Russell), and so I’m presently working on the fourth book, the as-yet-untitled Naseby campaign.

– As an aside, this book will be dedicated to Charlie Hebdo. I may be the clanky side of Ironside, but there were certain actions by the New Model that even I find hard to defend. The massacre of over a hundred Welsh and Irish Royalist camp followers for their perceived godless “otherness” has, for me, rather frightening parallels with our present situation. Oh, Fairfax, Fairfax, what were you thinking?

I have just requested a copy of Mark Stoyle’s academic article “The Road to Farndon Field: explaining the massacre of the Royalist camp followers”, and likewise an article called “Mark’d for Whores – Violence against female camp followers in the English Civil War” by S. O’Brien.
The abstract of O’Brien’s paper is fascinating:
“… This paper will contend that this process of demonisation was part of what Diane Purkiss has described as the gendered discourse of the English Civil Wars. The particular targets of this gendered rhetoric: whores, Celtic women, men whose masculinity was questioned, and witches, became an important dimension to Civil War propaganda; they exemplified fears that natural order had been corrupted. In particular female camp followers, in spite of the wide variety of women who followed early modern armies, were often stereotyped as immoral, and they were assaulted and murdered for their immorality or dangerous femininity. This paper will examine the way in which these accounts were both influenced by and described in newsbooks and pamphlets, and how the gendered language of witchcraft accusations was used to denigrate or demonise both men and women. This rhetoric itself reinforced particular stereotypes of femininity and masculinity in an attempt to restore order in the disorder of the civil war. Violence against women, and men, who were perceived to directly challenge these ‘purified’ gender norms, in and around Civil War battlefields can be seen as a physical attempt to enforce order upon their bodies through mutilation, murder and desecration.”

Gender. Religion. Witchcraft. Sex. Violence. Murder.

Dear God, and they say the 17th century just isn’t interesting enough to a modern audience.