Stepping into medieval London

Dunstable Swan Jewel from the British Museum
The Dunstable Swan Jewel

‘The only plagues of London are the immoderate drinking of fools and the frequency of fires’ wrote William Fitz Stephen in his account of the city in the 12th century.

On a recent trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts I came across a little book called Norman London in a second-hand bookshop. The book contained Fitz Stephen’s account of London written sometime before 1183, together with an essay by Frank Stenton and map research on 12th century London by Marjorie B. Honeybourne. The book was a silvermine for my research as a historical novelist and it is ironic that I travelled to a second-hand bookshop in Massachusetts (the wonderful Raven Books) to find it.

Last year my novel, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, was published by Impress Books. It is the first in the trilogy charting the life of Nest ferch Rhys who was a potent symbol in the struggles between the Normans and the Welsh. The second book in the trilogy, Conquest: The Drowned Court, will be published this autumn. Nest was one of the many mistresses of the Norman king Henry I and parts of the novels are set in London.

Guildhall._Engraved_by_E.Shirt_after_a_drawing_by_Prattent._c.1805.

The complicated business of the great 12th century city was conducted by the aldermen of London in the Husting which met in the Guildhall every Monday. Husting is a Scandinavian word and it is likely that this city institution had its origin during the Scandinavian occupation of London in the time of King Alfred. The Husting was the court of civil business hearing pleas on debts, land disputes, land gifts, regulating foreign merchants, controlling weights and measures.

Stepping into Medieval Worlds is an illustrated talk on Norman London that I will be presenting at The Guildhall Library on 8 June. It will address the literary sources for my fiction, including Fitz Stephen’s account. It is exciting to be speaking on this topic at the site of the 12th century Husting in the Guildhall which is on a street, Aldermanbury, named after those aldermen in Norman London. I will talk about the range of medieval literary sources I employ to construct the fictional worlds of my novels including Orderic Vitalis’ chronicle of the ‘extremely unrestrained’ Normans, viking poems, recipe books, maps, and medical manuals from the Middle Ages, the songs of the female troubadours, and the lascivious writings of medieval archbishops and dukes.

Stepping into Medieval Worlds

Thursday 8 June 2017, 6-8pm

Guildhall Library, Aldermanbury, London EC2V 7HH

Tickets: £5.90 includes wine reception. Book at:

https://steppingintomedivalworlds.eventbrite.co.uk

Carew_Castle_(6816) copy
Carew Castle, Wales

I have more author talks coming up soon in Wales:

Fri 28 July 11am Victoria Books, Haverfordwest

Sun 30 July 1pm Carew Castle

Sat 23 September 10am-4pm Narberth Book Fair

Sat 30 September 11am Tenby Library in Tenby Arts Festival

Sat 14 Sept 10.30am Pembroke Dock Library for National Book Month.

 

 

 

Image credits:

The Dunstable Swan Jewel in the British Museum (Wikimedia photo by Ealdgyth)

The Guildhall, engraved by E.Shirt after a drawing by Prattent, c.1805 (Wikimedia)

Carew Castle, Wales (Wikimedia photo by Nilfanion).

 

A writing life in France

English Library small

at Hotel Les Fleurines

17 Boulevard Haute Guyenne

Villefranche-de-Rouergue, 12200

France

organised by The English Library

 

Many writers, from Joyce to Hemingway, have seen and used the value of the estranged position. Not entirely fitting in, being a bit of a voyeur is the ideal position for a writer. Not belonging can allow a writer to see afresh. I’m looking forward to talking in Villefranche-de-Rouergue on Friday this week, about the impacts and inspirations that living in France have had on my writing.

‘Southern France is graced by spectacular hilltop castles, medieval towns and a rash of English historical novelists,’ I wrote in my article ‘The Lure of Another Time, Another Place’, published in Historical Novels Review magazine (Feb 2016). I interviewed a number of other English writers about living and writing in France. ‘Writing starts with landscape,’ declared Kate Mosse. ‘The landscape itself often suggests the stories that might be possible within it,’ said Deborah Lawrenson. And in the same vein, Jacqueline Yallop found that, ‘It’s actually treading the ground which makes a difference, which allows…you to inhabit other lives’. Amanda Hodgkinson pointed out the supportive attitude in France towards the notion of an artist’s life. And, of course, there is an avid English-reading readership living here in France.

I will be talking alongside another locally based writer Stephen Goldenberg whose latest thriller is set in Villefranche.

The event will take place in the Salle de Travail, across from the terrace of Hotel Les Fleurines. Entry is free.

Tapas available afterwards at 10 euros per plate and must be pre-ordered by email to jackienaismith@hotmail.com.

Final rewrite

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At that satisfying stage again – ready for the final rewrite of my next novel, before sending it off to the editors at Impress Books. It is the second in a trilogy of novels on Nest ferch Rhys and the struggle between the Normans and the Welsh in the 12th century.

This new book, Conquest: The Drowned Court, concentrates on the action-packed events of Nest’s life and King Henry I’s reign between 1107 and 1121. The Flemish nun, Benedicta, took me by surprise in the writing and also plays a substantial role in this book.

The first book in the trilogy, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King is out now. This sequel will be published in the autumn. I am talking about researching and writing the Conquest series at a number of book events in Wales, London and France over the coming months. Next events:

21 April – The English Library, Villefranche-de-Rouergue

8 June – The Guildhall Library, London.

Murder Mystery in France

Villefranche-de-Rouergue_-_Place_de_la_Fontaine_-1My interview with author, Stephen Goldenberg, has just been published on The Displaced Nation website. Goldenberg has written and self-published a murder mystery set in France and thrillers set in Britain. He is now working on a novel about a man who modelled for the artist, Francis Bacon.

Stephen and I are talking about our novels at The English Library in Villefranche-de-Rouergue, France, on Friday 21 April, 5.30pm.

The English Library is a lending library for English readers with over 3,000 books. It is open on Thursday mornings and Friday afternoons and situated next to the 14th century Place de la Fontaine and the Urbain Cabrol Municipal Museum.

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Considering historical fiction

Just back from Cluny Museum of the Medieval Age, Paris.

Talking on Sat 25 Mar 10.30am at Parisot Library, France on historical fiction.

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Does historical fiction try to impose today’s moral values on another era?

7th century Visigothic votive crowns. Cluny Museum, Paris.

 

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Historical fiction takes time instead of geography as an exotic arena for exploration.

14th century aquamanile. Cluny Museum, Paris.

 

 

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One of my lead characters, a nun, uses Ovid’s rather racy love poetry as the cipher for her spy letters.

13th century censor, Limoges. Cluny Museum, Paris.

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