Blog Featured Seventeenth Century Life

The Intriguing History of Fort St George by David Ebsworth

Today I welcome David Ebsworth to my blog to tell us about one of the fascinating buildings he came across during his research for his ‘Wicked Mistress Yale’ Series. Over to Dave:

‘I thought it was just coincidence,’ he said. A friend for the past sixty years reading the first part of my Yale Trilogy, The Doubtful Diaries of Wicked Mistress Yale. ‘You set the story in Fort St. George – and guess what? That’s the name of my local.’

We checked it out. Mike’s favourite pub sits on the south bank of the River Cam, Midsummer Common. It’s supposed to be one of the oldest in Cambridge itself and it’s usually just known as the Fort. A footbridge crosses the river there, the Fort St. George Bridge. The place is supposedly named for its resemblance to Fort St. George in old Madras, modern Chennai. But a quick glance at the pub sign hanging outside lends the lie to this.

Dave Ebsworth Fort St GeorgeI know because, for the best part of a year, it felt like I lived at the original Fort St. George, while I was writing The Doubtful Diaries.

Fort St. George in old Madras – the start of the Raj

It had been built in 1639, the very first British fortification in India, constructed by what was then the Honourable English East India Company. Fort St. George therefore stands almost as the prologue in the story of the British Raj, warts and all. And it was built on virtually uninhabited land, bordered by two tiny villages – Madraspatnam on one side, Chennapatnam on the other. The population of the two villages no more than a few hundred souls, on the south-eastern Coromandel Coast of India.

The great thing? Much of it’s still there, the walls intact and many other reminders of those early days remain standing. Of course, it’s now dwarfed by the metropolis that’s grown around it, a present population of over 7 million, and the name changed from Madras to Chennai back in 1996, the capital of Tamil Nadu.

Fort St. George and Catherine Hynmers Yale
But let’s go back to 1670, and the arrival there of nineteen year-old Catherine Hynmers with her older husband, Joseph, a senior official for the East India Company. There, they moved into a substantial house on Middle Gate Street. The gate is still there – and so is the street, though it’s seen better days. 

Fort St George Chennai
Middle Gate Street

Catherine gave birth to four boys, possibly five, but in 1680, Joseph was taken by a fever. No wonder, for one in every five of the European population of Fort St. George died every year.

Joseph was buried inside an impressive mausoleum, beneath a tall pyramid – and his tomb still stands, complete with an inscription that confirms his status. But Catherine now had a difficult decision to make. Four surviving children, on the far side of the world, and in 1680 the far side of the world was very distant indeed. At least a six-month stinking, cramped and hugely perilous voyage, with only one stop on the way. She chose to look for a second husband, settled on an unlikely choice, a junior clerk called Elihu Yale. They were married at the newly consecrated St. Mary’s Church. 

St Mary's Church Chennai

St. Mary’s stands too, in almost pristine condition, and the record of Yale’s marriage to Catherine still viewable in the parish register.

Yale Marriage Record
Yale Marriage Record

Yale, of course, gained much of Joseph’s wealth from the marriage, used it to furnish himself with not one mistress, but two – and to set them both up in a specially constructed villa, a “garden house.”

Meanwhile, Catherine had given birth to four more children, three girls and another boy, David Yale, who died while still a baby and was buried in the same mausoleum as Joseph Hynmers. David’s inscription can be seen on the tomb, too.

The tomb of Joseph Hynmers and David Yale at Fort St. George

Fort St. George and the Indian Ocean Slave Trade

Yale himself had now risen to the position of Governor at Fort St. George and, in that position, he supervised the Company’s new and highly profitable trade in slaves – Indian slaves. 

How do we know all this? Because, for all their sins, the East India Company kept meticulous records, minutes of every single, daily meeting that took place – the Consultation Books for Fort St. George. And, from those minutes, we see that each vessel bound for the English colony on St. Helena was required to carry ten Indian slaves, for there was then a great demand for slaves in that colony. In one month alone, over 600 Indian slaves are recorded as having been dispatched, either to St. Helena in the west, or to Sumatra in the east.

By 1689, Catherine – a woman of strong Dissenter beliefs – could stand the situation no longer and returned to England with her brood of children, and that’s where the Yale Trilogy leaves Fort St. George and Madraspatnam behind, more or less. Yale would eventually bequeath his name to one of the world’s great universities, though to Catherine he left nothing in his will but the slur of branding her a “wicked wife.”

But that, as they say, is another story and, clearly, it certainly wasn’t the end of the fort’s own saga.

Fort St. George and Later Celebrities

In 1744, another junior clerk arrived there. Robert Clive. Over the following nine years he distinguished himself in the East India Company’s army and, in 1753, married Margaret Maskelyne and they lived together in the fine mansion still known as Clive House. He would distinguish himself still further, of course, at the Battle of Plassey and elsewhere, and he would literally finish the work begun at Fort St. George a hundred years earlier – the establishment of British India and the British Empire. 

Clive's House
Clive’s House

Later still, the young Arthur Wellesley had a house in Fort St. George and it was within its walls that Major Stringer Lawrence laid the foundations for the Indian Army. 

Apart from the buildings and the fortress walls, the Fort St. George Museum is still a great repository for almost four hundred years of British involvement and history in Madras, with all its contradictions.

Wellesley House
The remaining portion of Wellesley House

Fort St. George – the Cambridge Connection

But what is the connection between that original Fort St. George and the pub in Cambridge? I have a favourite theory that it’s all connected to the story of Colonel Sir William Draper, who successfully defended Madras and its fortress, in 1758, against a siege by the French during the Seven Years War. Draper had close connections to Cambridge and, at the end of the conflict, he presented the colours he’d taken – both in India and the Philippines – to his old college, King’s College, Cambridge. The presentations apparently occasioned great celebration and hence, perhaps, Fort St. George itself became celebrated and fêted in the town.

If readers have other theories, or if you’ve visited the Fort – either in Chennai or in Cambridge – it would be great to hear from you. 

Thank you to David Ebsworth for this exploration of one of the great historical buildings in India. If you’d like to contact him for more information you can find him on his website 

Or you could buy the books


Blog Featured Writing Craft writing life

On the Record – The Permanence of History through Fiction #amwriting


“Language is very powerful. Language does not just describe reality. Language creates the reality it describes.” – Desmond Tutu

Mr Swiftstory and I have been watching The Secret History of Writing on TV. If you live in England you can watch this programme on ‘catch up’ and it’s well worth a look. One of the things that surprised me was how places like Turkey changed their written language from Arabic letters to Latinate letters overnight, and how this affected their society. Writing meant the unstoppable spread of ideas, and to me as a writer, this is its first appeal.

The Permanence of Speech

But it’s not only the printed word that is permanent. Yesterday I gave a zoom chat along with some other authors and discovered afterwards that it had been posted on Youtube here. It made me realize that now, even the words you speak – far from being transient, are now indelible on the internet for everyone to see/hear. So they have gained a kind of longevity. (But no-one knows for exactly how long). Making a gaffe could be painful, and worse, it could be around for very long time. So now, instead of the written word being recorded, the spoken word is also being made less ephemeral through podcasts, youtube and other types of recording equipment.

Tape Recorder Permanence of Words
Pic from Encyclopedia Britannica

The Urge for Permanence

When we write books, often we are looking to give our words some weight and permanence, and this is why authors love to be published in a paperback or hardback edition. Digital words are only on loan to us, and so the kindle versions of books might be lost to us if no physical copy ever exists. So why do we want our words to be permanent? One obvious answer is, as a salve to the ego. A sort of proof that you were here on Earth and had made a big enough impression to leave a physical object behind.

The Inside Story

Yet its more than that, because books actually come from INSIDE us. They are a form of direct transmission experienced like an intravenous drug from one vein to another. And the fact you have experienced that journey is evidenced by the physical object, the book. This is why we can’t bear to part with books that have meant something to us, even if we never read them again. A novel transports us from the surface to the interior of who we are, and helps us understand why others behave the way they do.

It isn’t just the words but the story they carry. The novel can be a record of lived experience. In fiction the experience is an imagined one. This often makes it more of a reality for the reader than a non-imagined history. When writing A Plague on Mr Pepys, I turned to Daniel Defoe’s book Journal of the Plague Years, even though it was written years after the event and he must have had to re-imagine it all. The re-imagined history was stronger than the bare facts.

Historical fiction seeks to render realities of the past into present lived experience. But will historical fiction be permanent?

Pic by Guillaume Henrotte

Archivists will probably not save historical fiction from the fire or flood. They have to decide which documents contain intrinsic value for future generations and so deserve permanence, and often this decision is based on whether the documents are ‘true’ or ‘first-hand’ accounts, and so there becomes a hierarchy of sources:

“One word in the archival lexicon used repeatedly without reflection is the word permanent. Archivists speak almost instinctively of their collections as being the permanent records of an individual or entity. The materials in archives are separated from the great mass of all the records ever created and are marked for special attention and treatment because they possess what is frequently identified as permanent value. Whether by accident or design—and the distinction is at the heart of the modem idea of appraisal—certain materials are selected by archives for preservation into the indefinite future. They are in that sense permanent.’’

On the Idea of Permanence  – James M O’Toole American Archivist 1989


Our interpretation of the past shifts with every generation, so historical fiction needs to tap the archives anew for new fresh ways of re-presenting the same stories from history and then by making sure those interpretations are as widely available as possible.

In the programme The Secret History of Writing, much was made of the impact of printing on the permanence of ideas.

The Massachusetts Historical Society declared in 1806:

“There is no sure way of preserving historical records and materials, but by multiplying the copies. The art of printing affords a mode of preservation more effectual than Corinthian brass or Egyptian marble.”

So by printing multiple copies, we ensure that our re-presentations of history are never lost, even if archivists don’t save it, and despite any dystopia where there is no wifi, electricity, or wind-up radio.


Blog Featured

‘Changing the dream’ – An interview with author Joan Schweighardt #ecology

Joan Schweighardt InterviewI am thrilled to welcome Joan Schweighardt, author of The River Series to my blog today, to talk about her fascinating journey into the rainforests of South America and how it inspired her books.

Hi Joan, first off, tell me about your travels to South America and what made it an ideal setting for your historical novels.

My journey actually began with a freelance job I did for a local publisher wherein I was asked to read backlist books and write a short piece on each for their website. One of the books was a slim annotated presentation of the edited diaries of a rubber tapper (from Brooklyn, NY) working in the Brazilian rainforest in the early 1900s. I read it twice and afterwards I began to research the South American rubber boom to learn more. Then one evening I found myself watching a PBS special in which a journalist traveling through the South American rainforest asked an indigenous shaman what “northerners” could do to help save the rainforest from the constant threat of destruction, particularly from oil drilling. The shaman said we northerners could “change the dream.” What did that mean? I googled the phrase and found those same words used as a tagline by a not-for-profit called Pachamama Alliance. In exchange for supplying legal support to indigenous tribes hoping to push back on oil companies, the tribes were allowing small groups of people traveling with Pachamama principles to visit their villages and learn about their way of life. I signed up. My experience was life-changing. As soon as I got home I began researching for what would become the first of three novels connected to South American rubber boom.

When I finished the first draft of book one, I went to South America again, this time to Manaus Brazil, which was the headquarters for the rubber boom. I visited the city and then spent several days on a small boat with a private guide to see, among other things, rubber trees.  

The natural world of the rainforest and the challenge of how to use its resources seems to be a theme in your books. What fact or feature about the rainforest did you find the most surprising?

Virtually everything. I went in curious and came out shocked. I didn’t know, for instance, that during the boom, rubber barons began enslaving indigenous people to tap for rubber, because the men they recruited were dying left and right…from snake bites, malaria, starvation, all things the indigenous people know how to avoid. 

Did you think you would be writing a trilogy when you first set out, or did the other two books grow from the first? What gave you the impetus to keep the story alive?

I was so impacted, not only by my two trips to South America but by all that I was learning about the rubber boom, the history of Manaus, the flora and fauna of the rainforest, its indigenous inhabitants, etc., that my pleasure in the project would not confine itself to one book. As I wanted to stay immersed, I kept writing. 

Tell me about the different protagonists in your books. In the first book the main character is a man, and in the third the story has more focus on the daughter; how has this made this third book different from the first ?

Actually all three books have different protagonist narrators and two are women. The first book, Before We Died, is narrated by Jack Hopper, an Irish American dock worker from the New York area who travels with his brother Baxter to the rainforests of Brazil where they become rubber tappers. The second book, Gifts for the Dead, is narrated by Nora Sweeney, the young woman who is the love interest of both brothers in book one and who marries Jack Hopper in book two. The third book is narrated by Estela Euquério Hopper, Jack Hopper’s daughter. Collectively, the story spans 1908 to 1929.

How much does the world of the rainforest impact on the psychology of your main characters, and how much does New York have in common with the rainforest?

Each of my three narrators is affected differently by the rainforest. Jack Hopper cannot help but see it in terms of its inherent dangers and the tremendous losses he suffers there. Nora is affected by the beauty of the rainforest and the sense of balance she discovers in herself during her time there. Estela is born and raised in Manaus, Brazil. Her ancestors on her mother’s side are a mix of European and Indian blood. For her, the rainforest is home. The tie to New York is that Jack and Nora Hopper live there—actually they live in Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan. They make trips to Brazil in both books one and two. In book three, Estela travels to New York. 

How does Opera feature in your new book?

As the worldwide demand for rubber increased in the late 1800s, would-be rubber barons realized that the sleepy fishing village of Manaus, located at the center of the world’s largest rubber-yielding rainforest, was perfectly positioned to become the headquarters for the industry. Europeans came in droves to take advantage of the financial opportunities the industry promised. There was nothing there, so they built mansions, hotels, restaurants, shops, all with tile and marble and even bricks from Europe. The centerpiece of their construction was the Teatro Amazonas, the opera house, completed in 1896. For some years the Teatro Amazonas was operational, though many opera stars became ill traveling to it. Then, in 1912, the rubber boom in the region came to an abrupt end—because rubber plantations had begun to produce in English territories in Southeast Asia—and the Europeans fled Manaus en masse. The Teatro Amazonas became a symbol of failure. 

In River Aria, a Portuguese voice/music instructor comes to Manaus post boom, with the intention of teaching opera to some of the “river brats” from the city’s poor fishing community, and local officials allow him to use the grand lobby of the Teatro Amazonas for his instruction. Estela, Jack Hopper’s daughter, is one of his students.     

In the process of writing, what matters to you personally as a novelist the most?

I want to have an intense writing experience and of course I want readers to have an intense reading experience.

Brief Biography:

Joan Schweighardt is the author of eight novels, a memoir, two children’s books and several magazine articles. 

“The author transports us to a fascinating, hardscrabble, well-researched world, and compels us to want to live there for every word … I just love this story.”

—Lynn Vannucci, Publisher, Water Street Press

Buy the Book 

Joan’s website  

Follow Joan on Twitter 

Blog Featured

Never A Cross Word – The history of crosswords with Liz Harris

I’m thrilled to welcome Liz Harris to my blog today to enlighten us about crosswords. Over to Liz!

Liz Harris History of Crosswords
Liz Harris

If you heard someone claim that in their relationship that they’d never had a cross word, you’d raise your eyebrows in disbelief. ‘Pull the other one!’ you’d exclaim. At least, I would. And had ‘cross’ and ‘word’ been joined together, your response might still have been the same.

A lover of cryptic crosswords, I’d rather assumed that there’d never been a time when newspapers hadn’t included a crossword. But I was wrong. The first known published crossword that shared features with crosswords today, appeared in a Sunday newspaper, the New York World, in December 1913.

I discovered this when planning a verbal exchange between Charles Linford and his wife, Sarah, characters in The Flame Within, a novel set in the 1920s. I saw bored banker Charles as the sort of man who’d do a crossword when hidden away in his office. Before writing their exchange, I thought I ought to check that The Times, the newspaper I wanted Charles to be reading, did indeed have a crossword. To my surprise, it didn’t. Curious, I found myself looking back into the development of the crossword.

The WordCross

The word-cross, as it was then called, which first appeared in New York World, had been created by one of their journalists, Arthur Wynne, who’d been born in Liverpool. Wynne’s word-cross was published in the newspaper’s eight-page ‘Fun’ section as a mental exercise. An illustrator later reversed ‘word-cross’, which became ‘cross-word’.

Above: Fun’s First Crossword Puzzle, by Arthur Wynne, in New York World.

The diamond shape being eye-catching, and the clues easy, it was an instant hit with readers, and what seems to have been intended for children or as a light bit of fun, gradually developed into a serious adult pastime. Within ten years, most American newspapers included a crossword.

The first puzzles didn’t have any internal black squares, but as they became more popular, they developed the form with which we’re familiar – a grid made up of black and white squares, with all the white squares appearing in horizontal rows or vertical columns, but not always separated with black squares.

Anyone who’s done an American crossword knows that they’re different in style from crosswords in the UK. In the US, every letter is part of both an ‘across’ word and a ‘down’ word, and there are usually at least three letters in every answer. Shaded squares form about one-sixth of the total. Whereas, on average a traditional crossword grid in the UK has about 25% of shaded squares, and half the letters in an answer are unchecked.

So when did crosswords reach the UK?

Forms of crosswords had existed in Britain in the 19th century. These were derived from the word square – a group of words arranged with the letters reading both vertically and horizontally – and they were printed in children’s puzzle books and periodicals. There are differences of opinion about the exact date of the first appearance in a newspaper of a crossword as we know it, but there was certainly one in Pearson’s Magazine in February 1922, in the Sunday Express in November 1924, and in The Times in February 1930. The word ‘crossword’ first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1933.

Unlike in the US, cryptic crosswords took hold in Britain, and rapidly gained in popularity. A famous cryptic crossword enthusiast was none other than Inspector Morse. His creator, Colin Dexter OBE, was a huge fan of cryptic crosswords, and delighted in characterising Morse as such, too.

A Love of Crosswords

Some years ago, I was introduced to Colin Dexter at a party given by the Oxford Writers’ Group. During our conversation, much of which focused on The Archers, we found that we both loved cryptic crosswords. A few days later, Colin gave me a book he’d written, Cracking Cryptic Crosswords, and he gave a talk at the Waterstones Oxford launch of my debut novel, The Road Back.

GliColin Dexter Meets Liz Harris
Liz Harris and Colin Dexter

My favourite cryptic crosswords are those in the Daily Telegraph, but rather than buy the newspaper, I buy their books of cryptic crosswords. The first book of crossword puzzles was published by Simon & Schuster in 1924, following a suggestion from co-founder Richard Simon’s aunt. Initially sceptical about the book, Simon printed only a small run at first, promoting the book by attaching a pencil to it. To his amazement, it was an instant hit.

The Flame Within - Linford family sagaCharacters and crosswords

I was determined to use what I’d found out about crossword puzzles in the body of The Flame Within, and this is how I used it. Sarah Linford is nagging her husband, Charles, over his lack of ambition, as she habitually did at breakfast:

‘That’s you all over, Charles—anything for an easy life.’ Sarah spread a thick layer of butter on her toast, her movements brusque. ‘Reading the Daily Express says it all,’ she added, nodding towards his newspaper. ‘Most people in your position would read The Daily Telegraph or The Times. On second thoughts, not The Times. I dislike the way they were all in favour of the war, and also their comment three months ago that Jewish people were the world’s greatest danger. That was quite appalling. No, The Daily Telegraph should be the paper of choice for someone like you.’


‘But it doesn’t have a crossword, does it? Whoever came up with the idea of a crossword in a newspaper is a genius. By having the Daily Express, when I’m bored in the day, all I have to do is take out my paper and do the crossword.’


‘Ah, but if you read The Daily Telegraph, you might see an advertisement for a job that would actually challenge you, and interest you, so there’d be no need to kill time with a crossword.’

Crossword History

Liz’s just started crossword is above. Hope she solved it all!

About The Flame Within


Alice Linford stands on the pavement and stares up at the large Victorian house set back from the road—the house that is to be her new home.

 But it isn’t her house. It belongs to someone else—to a Mrs Violet Osborne. A woman who was no more than a name at the end of an advertisement for a companion that had caught her eye three weeks earlier.

 More precisely, it wasn’t Mrs Osborne’s name that had caught her eye—it was seeing that Mrs Osborne lived in Belsize Park, a short distance only from Kentish Town. Kentish Town, the place where Alice had lived when she’d been Mrs Thomas Linford.

 Thomas Linford—the man she still loves, but through her own stupidity, has lost. The man for whom she’s left the small Lancashire town in which she was born to come down to London again. The man she’s determined to fight for.




Twitter: @lizharrisauthor Instagram: liz.harris.52206


Spotlight on Tony Riches’ new novel ‘Katherine – Tudor Duchess’


Katherine - Tudor DuchessAttractive, wealthy and influential, Katherine Willoughby is one of the most unusual ladies of the Tudor court. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Katherine knows all his six wives, his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, and his son Edward.

When her father dies, Katherine becomes the ward of Tudor knight, Sir Charles Brandon. Her Spanish mother, Maria de Salinas, is Queen Catherine of Aragon’s lady in waiting, so it is a challenging time for them when King Henry marries the enigmatic Anne Boleyn.

Following Anne’s dramatic downfall, Katherine marries Charles Brandon, and becomes Duchess of Suffolk at the age of fourteen. After the short reign of young Catherine Howard, and the death of Jane Seymour, Katherine and Brandon are chosen to welcome Anna of Cleves as she arrives in England. When the royal marriage is annulled, Katherine’s good friend, Catherine Parr becomes the king’s sixth wife, and they work to promote religious reform.

Katherine’s young sons are tutored with the future king, Prince Edward, and become his friends, but when Edward dies his Catholic sister Mary is crowned queen. Katherine’s Protestant faith puts her family in great danger – from which there seems no escape.

Katherine’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Available in eBook and paperback from Amazon UK and Amazon US Also on Goodreads 


About Tony
Tony Riches is a full-tiTony Riches Authorme UK author of best-selling historical fiction.
He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors.
Tony’s other published historical fiction novels include: The Tudor Trilogy: Owen – Book One,  Jasper – Book Two , Henry – Book Three, Mary – Tudor Princess and Brandon – Tudor Knight.

For more information about Tony’s books visit his website and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Twitter @tonyriches

Blog Featured Seventeenth Century Life

The Last Roundhead – the power of the written word in the 17th century

The Seventeenth Century was highly literate and the printing press really was a contemporary information superhighway.

Jemahl Evans

I’m delighted to welcome Jemahl Evans as my guest today. Jemahl is a fellow enthusiast of the era of the English Civil Wars and its aftermath,  so I asked him what provoked his interest in this period. Here ‘s his reply:

Last Roundhead


The idea for The Last Roundhead came to me on a wet Friday afternoon in 2009. My Year 8 class (who were remarkably efficient in sidetracking me from my lesson plans to tell them historical anecdotes) were supposed to be finishing the English Civil War as a topic – Cromwell’s death and The Restoration. As we started the lesson outline and objectives, a young man (I shall call him Chuckles because, a, I cannot remember his real name, b, everyone called him Chuckles, and c, he really did chuckle a lot) put his hand up.

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘Is that it?’ asked Chuckles.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Is that it; what happened next? What about all the Roundheads and Cavaliers? The King comes back and they all party?’

‘Well,’ I said, and then stopped myself, realising that this was a work evasion tactic and just how big the question really was. But, it was last lesson on a Friday; it had been a long week.

How do you explain in a lesson the long shadow the Civil War cast, the Wars with France, the Glorious Revolution, the American colonies, the slave trade, pirates, The Enlightenment, theatre and literature, Isaac Newton, Whigs and Tories, the birth of modern Britain in 40 minutes flat?

Hiseland, the Last Cavalier

So, I told them the story of William Hiseland – the last cavalier. Hiseland had been born in 1620, fought for the King at Edgehill, and followed the colours for the next seventy years fighting under Marlborough at Malplaquet in 1709, became one of the first Chelsea Pensioners, and  married at the grand old age of 100, only dying in 1733. Look him up, he had an amazing life!

As my class filed out, Chuckles chuckling happily at the lack of work, I started thinking about the last roundheads. Hiseland had been feted as a loyal subject of the crown, but the men who fought under Cromwell faced a far more uncertain life after the restoration.

I didn’t start writing straight away; the idea sat and germinated as I gathered sources together and read a lot. The Seventeenth Century was an unexplored country for me historically. I hadn’t really studied it since my A levels a nearly thirty years ago, and the National Curriculum means it is rarely taught past Year 8 in schools. However, I had studied restoration satire as a minor in my first degree, and the poem Hudibras by Samuel Butler really became my focus. Butler had written the scathing indictment of puritans and roundheads centred about Sir Samuel Luke (Sir Marmaluke in the poem) Scoutmaster General to the Army under Essex and Governor of Newport Pagnell.

Samuel Luke   National Portrait Gallery London

The poem is incredibly biased and one sided, and particularly vindictive as Butler had worked for Luke during the first civil war (1642 – 46) after being dismissed from his previous employment under a cloud. So, The Last Roundhead became a response to Hudibras by one of the characters pilloried in it.

In 2010, I came home to Wales when my father died and my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Teaching part-time gave me a lot more time to start scribbling things down, and in the summer of 2013 I began writing seriously and trying to put a novel together. It takes the form of a Georgian Apologia by an unreliable, and irascible, narrator out to clear his rather sullied reputation. I peopled it, as far as possible, with real men and women from the time and used their words if I could. That gave me the opportunity to include individuals like Lucy Hay (the real Milady D’Winter who actually did purloin the Queen of France’s jewels), Margaret Cavendish, Jane Whorwood and Anne Crosse, all women who pushed at the boundaries of social norms, as well as the politicians and generals that always dominate our history.

The power of the written word during the period really influenced me, newsbooks, letters, journals, memoirs – people wrote about everything, all the time. I think in our modern world of the internet, TV, film, radio, pro sports etc, it is very easy to forget just how important poetry, the theatre and the bible were to ordinary people. The Seventeenth Century was highly literate and the printing press really was a contemporary information superhighway. It meant lots of literary references that would be natural to someone born in the period, and language style that mimics the period vernacular. There is some language that could be described as a bit fruity, but all of it comes from period letters and poems. When you quote Rochester that can happen!

The Last Roundhead was picked up by Holland House Books in 2014 and published in August 2015. It’s been well received, with good reviews in The Times and from the Historical Novel Society, and is available from Amazon and other retailers.

Read a Sample of the Book

Jemahl’s website