How Soon Is Too Soon?

A Sweet Disorder

It must be said, I am a fairly prolific author.

(I’m lucky enough to have a publisher who encourages my profligacy, too.)

I have promised myself no more than two books a year – one Civil War, and one Restoration – or I’m going to run out of battles and that will make me very sad indeed. Almost as an aside, I cannot bear the idea that there is ever going to be a death scene for any of the characters I love. The idea of setting a book in, say, revolutionary America featuring the further adventures of Hollie Babbitt’s descendants – and it’s been suggested – I couldn’t do it, because that would be like admitting that Hollie does, at some point, die.

So I’m currently twiddling about with a pregnant Thomazine, her other half, and Aphra Behn, waddling over on the boat to Holland to indulge in a…

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An Abiding Fire – firefighting in the 17th century, by Nick Ezra

The burning issue of the day…?

A Sweet Disorder

So there you are, sitting in your parlour with your feet up in 1666 and you smell burning. After thinking “That idiot Farynor has left his buns in the oven too long again”, what could you expect in the way of help in protecting life and property?

Considering that most houses even in the major European cities were of timber and thatch, even if statutes said they should be of brick or stone,the answer is actually very little. London had had the forward-thinking Lord Mayor Henry Fitzalwin who, as far back as 1189, had decreed that all large houses should be equipped with long ladders and to have a barrel of water for firefighting placed nearby. Each ward was to provide a ”strong crook of iron with a wooden handle, together with two chains and two strong cords” for pulling down roofs and walls to make a fire break. Some…

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… And In Which Het is Grateful for the Kindness of Strangers – Winter Cheese

It would seem that a kind soul unknown to the Babbitt household has a care for Het’s husband’s feeding.

You may imagine that to receive a recipe for winter cheese gladdened Mistress B’s housewifely heart. And from Elizabeth Cromwell’s own recipe-book, too! (Het thinks she might like Mistress Cromwell. Especially her recipe for sausages. But the sausages will be made next week, she thinks.)

Take some milk or cream, and a race of cinnamon.
Scald it, then take it off the fire, sweeten it with fine sugat, thgen take a spoonful of reenet to two quarts of milk, set it by and keep it close covered, and so let it stand. When the cheese comes, strow a little fine sugar and grated nutmeg, and serve it with sippets, sops in sack or muscadine.

Another manner to make a fresh cheese presently

Take the whites of six eggs, beat them very well, and wring in the juice of a good lemon to the whites. When the cream seetheth up, put in the whites and stir it all about till it be turned, and then take it off and put it into a cheese trough, and let the whey be drawn from it, then take the curd and pound it in a mortsr with a little rose-water and sugar, and so let it stand till you send it to the ytable. Then put it into a dish and put a little cream to it and so serve it.

Was it not kind, to share such lovely recipes with Het?


Kersen – the Early Years free to download

Kersen – free short story

To celebrate the release of A Wilderness of Sin, the Uncivil Wars prequel Kersen is available for free download until April 30.

And yes, the Thirty Years War will be next, when I run out of English Civil War. I think Nat Rackhay has rather too high an opinion of himself for anything so banal as death to put a cork in it!

(And as for the Amazon… Well, she has unfinished business with that lad, doesn’t she?)


Doing something wrong….. surely?

It’s all right, I’m not going to promote this post

– but seriously…. what??

You know like when you write and you idly peruse your Amazon ranking, thinking, ooo, check me out, aren’t I summat like, and you come across –

Gay werewolf Highlander porn.

What am I doing wrong? How come I’m not writing gay werewolf Highlander porn, which must be an absolute laugh riot to write, let alone read?

“Show me your claymore, MacDubh!”

Instead of thrashing about in the mud with Rosie Babbitt, whose definition of nakedness is leaving his sword on the table.

Going to keep me up all night, that is. Gay werewolf Highlander porn. And I thought keeping your bloody buffcoat and boots on was kinky.


An Interview with Rosie Babbitt – live, perfectly exclusive, and remarkably not sweary

March 1646
It’s a beautiful spring day at Tresillian Bridge, midway between Truro and St Austell in breezy Cornwall, and the sky is a clear enamel blue with the rooks flung like rag above the trees on a brisk wind off the sea. Babbitt’s Troop of Horse are making ready to move off. Sir Ralph Hopton signed the surrender of the King’s forces in Cornwall three weeks ago, and Babbitt and his lads have been kicking their heels in and around the locality, scoping out Truro.
I fold my hands and smile nicely at Colonel Holofernes Babbitt. He looks back at me and does not smile, but cocks an eyebrow at me.
The silence lengthens. I wonder if I’m supposed to say something first. I’m not sure what to say, so I content myself with looking at Hollie Babbitt and trying to work out if he’s worth looking at or not. He has particularly fine eyes, as Jane Austen might have it. A sort of light hazel, in the sunlight, golden-green and distinctly not amused. He has an undeniably big nose, he equally undeniably hasn’t shaved for several days, and his long, thick, reddy-brown hair would be lovely if he put a comb through it. “Well, mistress,” he says eventually. (And I relax, because he has a Lancashire accent you could cut with the back side of a knife, and that means he’s nowhere near as tetchy as he’s making out to be, because if he was seriously angry he’d have no accent at all.) “What have you got to say for yourself?”
“I’m trying to write about you – your lot,” I say feebly. “I’m not spying or anything.”
“For which I thank God, for some of the information you send back would beggar belief! Bloody Hapless Russell – raffish. You said. He wasn’t fit to live with for about a month. Wench, there are people in – your place – who think that lad just stands in want of a good woman to see him right. Russell. You know, strange lad, somewhat prone to lifting the elbow and starting fights when crossed, particular about his linen – and there’s lasses in your place who want to take him on? Bloody welcome to him, mistress.” He leans forward and fixes me with a level stare. “I tell you what I will not forgive you for, madam. You introduced Lucey Pettitt’s execrable poetry to the world. It is all your fault. I have a lieutenant who thinks he’ll be God’s gift to the fairer sex in three centuries’ time, and a cornet who is periodically possessed by the muse. Dear God almighty, woman, keep away from Venning, I dread to think what you’d do to him.”
“And you?”
“Me?” He gives me a wry grin and I decide on two things. One, that despite the streak of white hair over his ear, I doubt he’s forty yet. And two, he might want me to think he’s a stern and zealous commander, but Hollie Babbitt is quite enjoying the attention of being the first Parliamentarian hero in popular fiction . “I’m not very interesting at all, lass. Plain boring married man, me. A wife, two daughters and a farm in Essex requiring my attention, which it’s not getting due to the disobliging nature of His Majesty, the slippery bugger. And don’t -” he raises a warning finger at me, “don’t mention the Scots, all right?”
“You were born in 1608,” I say, “February – what day?”
“The hell should I know, lass? There was only me and my mother there, and she didn’t draw breath long enough to tell me.” He leans back in his chair, suddenly stony-faced. “I do not know the day of my birth, mistress. You write the damned books, you tell me.”
I hold my hands up. “Sorry. I just – well, I wanted to know. People might want to know.”
People can mind their own damned business. February. Het says -” and he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t mean to, but as he says his wife’s name his expression softens, “Het says Candlemas. She gifted me with a birth date. Candlemas was the day I left White Notley to rejoin the Army at Reading. 1643, I mind. Bloody hell, lass, I been married nigh on three years. Where’s the time gone? Three years chasing that untrustworthy little -” he stops himself, “His Majesty, round the country, and he’s still not give up.”
“I think he will,” I said gently, and Hollie raises his eyebrows at me.
“Ah-ah, now, what did we agree? I don’t want to know none of it. None of your witchery, mistress. No foretelling the future. I’ll not know the date of my death – or that of any of my lads,” he says warningly, and I shake my head, because although I know, of course I know, I wouldn’t tell him. I’d like to – I know he worries about Luce the too-young widower, who’s not written a poem in months, or about Russell, fierce and passionate and miserably lonely, arming himself in a cloak of zeal which is no substitute at all for what he wants. I could even tell Hollie that his Het misses him desperately, in Essex – that baby Joyeux has her first teeth, that bright Thomazine is forming her letters even as we speak. Something of that must have shown on my face. “I’d like to,” he says, rather forlornly. “But. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter. Don’t hold with kings in our house, lass. Put not your trust in princes or any of them buggers.” I think he forgets I’m there, because he looks over my shoulder, out onto the sun-dappled spring river, and closes his eyes, as if he might be thinking, or praying, or possibly both. “Ah, Christ, never mind princes, I’ve not much trust in Sir Thomas Fairfax, lately.”

He puts his hand over the powder-burn in the sleeve of his decent plain grey suit. His rather old-fashioned, neatly-mended suit, that doesn’t quite fit him any more. His broad, flat swordsman’s wrists are meant by nature to be somewhat less bone than they are. I’d always imagined him as slight and across the table he’s not slight at all, he’s just thin. He looks at the burn in his sleeve and then takes his hand away and looks up at me with a challenge in his eyes. “We are neglected, mistress. Expected to live on fresh air, and disciplined when we protest. Unpaid. Ill-provisioned, ill-quartered, ill-kept. I have lost good men in the course of this war, and they talk of treating with His Majesty, of returning him to his place. Uncorrected, of course, because His Majesty does not deal with the likes of we. So my lads gave their lives and their freedoms for nothing. Less than nothing. I’ll not have it, lass. And you can put that in your bloody book. No other bugger will speak for those lads, because they are common men, and not bloody politickers born and bred. I’ve not got a clever tongue, but by God I’ve got a free one. Go on. Set that down.”

I owe him that much. “I will,” I say, and he shrugs.

“Get myself into trouble with my big gob, one of these days. Bloody Russell’s as bad. We’d mar another couple.” He stands up, slings his sword hanger over his shoulder. There is a sudden scent of horse-sweat and black powder and not especially clean male as he brushes past me, and then he turns with a jingle of spurs, sets his hand on my shoulder, gingerly. “Will you – would you tell Het? That I love her?” I look up into his face, backlit by pale spring sun, his russet hair gone to a blood-red halo. He’s blushing. It’s rather sweet. 

I take a deep breath. “I will,” I say. “I promise. And the girls.”

And then he’s gone, out into the sun, and I hear him yelling indulgent abuse at Venning and where the hell is Lucey bloody Pettitt, and then I hear Luce apologising, he was just getting his books together, and Venning’s dog is barking and someone’s horse is whinnying and I hear Cullis giving the orders to mount up.

And then there’s a great clattering of hooves on Tresillian Bridge and I stand in the inn door and watch Hollie Babbitt’s brave, ruffianly, steadfast company head further into the West, until they are quite gone from view. And I wish I could do more for them. 

And then I pick up my pen. “To my most esteemed friend Mistress Henrietta Babbitt,” I write.


Writing. It’s a dirty job, but….

Caution – a totally non-historical, and apolitical, post…

It is an odd thing, but there comes a time when you write when you realise that actually, you’re not writing for yourself any more.

You put the words on the page, and they come out of your head, but actually, there are people out there – real, living, breathing, feeling people – who read them and care what happens to your characters. And that’s a sobering reflection.

Now I am not, by any stretch, a best-selling author. Meh. Occasionally. But it scares me that that rebel rabble are out there – unsupervised – and that I have a sort of moral obligation to take care of them. They have acquired a life outside my head, and people have been known to talk to me about Luce and Rosie and Hapless as if I know them and may bump into them shortly this week.

Absolutely, Russell will be a lot happier when he gets a steady girlfriend. (I’m sure he will, he’s just a little busy with Army politics at the moment.) – but he’s not very old, remember, they can be a little silly at that age. He’ll steady up when he settles down with a nice girl.

Luce is going to be fine. He’s young, he’ll get over it.

Yes, I think Rosie should be sterner with his daughters, too. Hardly fair, to come home every six months and spoil them rotten, then get off and leave his poor wife to clean up the wreckage. Typical, though.

There is a part of me that thinks it’s funny that there really are people who believe there was a Caroline poet called Lucifer Pettitt who was the 17th century’s answer to William McGonagall. And I am toying with the idea of the Holofernes Thomas Babbitt Wikipedia page, detailing his military campaigns. (1632, Siege of Nuremberg, serving with Wallenstein – in a ditch, mostly drunk, or suffering from a lesser pox. You can see how it’d go…)

Always happy to provide Het Babbitt’s recipe for ember tart, on request. Hetta really does exist. Het is every woman who’s ever stood behind a famous man and looked obliging and serene, whilst secretly trying to work out how many clean shirts he’s got left and how many more meals she can get out of the ham bone in the pantry. I have been accused of being Het’s non-fiction alter ego and I’m not altogether denying it.

…And on that note, my Real Life cat has just stuck his Real Life wet nose down my ear and demanded that I feed him.