Categories
Blog Reviews Seventeenth Century Life

The appeal of the 17th Century to a novelist by Jemahl Evans

this_Deceitful_Light (2)

Today I’m pleased to welcome Jemahl Evans  to my blog to tell us why he’s chosen to write three novels set in the 17th Century. Over to Jemahl.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Seventeenth Century; it is the great turning point in British history. The divisions of the civil war got fixed into our politics: royalist or roundhead; Tory or Whig; Conservative and Liberal (later labour). Our political parties and system is the product of the period. When I looked at a map of the areas that voted leave and remain in the brexit referendum, there is a remarkable correlation between the areas that declared for the king or parliament. Correlation is not causation, of course, but it does make you think about history’s long claws.

The initial spark for writing about the Civil War and its impact was a very bored Year 8 class on a wet Friday afternoon. I ended up telling them the story of William Hiseland (the last cavalier) who fought at Edgehill and then served the colours for the next sixty or so years, even serving under Marlborough at Malplaquet in 1709. Hiseland lived to the grand old age of 113, dying in 1733 as one of the first Chelsea pensioners. His life was feted and he had been granted pensions and awards for his service to the crown.

JemahlThe last roundheads were not so fortunate: pensions promised by the commonwealth were rarely honoured, estates were confiscated (or returned to their rightful owners depending on your point of view), and whilst the restored royal regime was not overly vindictive in 1660, political careers were finished and fortunes lost, at least in the short term. When I remembered that Hudibras, a satirical poem by Samuel Butler, was about Parliament’s Scoutmaster General the story all sort of fell into place – a bitter old man, mocked by the poets of the age, decides to get his version of events down.

By 1719-20, when Blandford is writing his fictional memoir, there was a massive trend for looking back to the civil war. It was just falling out of living memory (much like world war two is for us today) but the impact was still close enough to touch. There was a plethora of memoirs and recollections in the first couple of decades of the eighteenth century (and books like Defoe’s Memoirs of a Cavalier or De Sandras’s D’Artagnan). I really wanted to capture that longer view of the events and the passing of an age. It was trying to find that genuine Seventeenth Century voice and make it accessible and appealing to readers. Although saying all that, there is a lot of my grandfather’s humour in the irascible old man. One of my cousins pointed that out to me the other day.

Thanks for this insight Jemahl.

Of_Blood_Exhausted (3)Of Blood Exhausted

Having read the other two books I knew I was in for a treat, and a total immersion in another age, but you don’t need to have read the other books to enjoy this. One of the things I loved about this book is its sheer complexity; it has been lovingly and exhaustively researched. Now don’t let that put you off, because the plot is easy to follow, and it’s a cracking good read. The main protagonist, the rogue Sir Blandford ‘Sugar’ Candy has an impressive network of contacts; he is well-travelled, well-connected, and has his finger in any number of pies. A somewhat unlikely spy, he is after an assassin called the Black Bear, and this leads to all sorts of shenanigans – rooftop chases, toll-gate fights and desperate duels on the stairs. Although I still have a soft spot for the Parliamentarian Candy, it is the minor characters that I loved;  The redoubtable Sarah Churchill, Candy’s Wapping-born black servant, John, the strangely likeable Thurloe the spymaster, Candy’s love-interest Meg (not above a fight with a whip herself) – and there are warm portraits of Prince Karl Ludwig and Princess Sophia and even the sword-wielding d’Artagnan (of Three Musketeers fame).

‘The rage of a victorious army is a terrifying sight to behold’  the novel says, and the scenes at the Battle of Naseby are gut-wrenching and real. This is the climax of the book and is well-handled giving weight to both sides. The fate of the Royalist baggage train is covered in this book, but I won’t reveal more because of spoilers.

There are footnotes in the text leading to copious amounts of information at the end of the novel for those wishing more detail. There are also appendixes on things like money, and the religious factions of the English Civil War.

A novel that both informs and keeps you on the edge of your seat. If you love this period of history, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

You can buy Of Blood Exhausted in the UK here or in the US here.

Jemahl Evans’s website

Read more about Jemahl in this interview in Historia.

Categories
Blog

This Deceitful light by Jemahl Evans #HistFic

61-HYgY6URL._SX300_BO1,204,203,200_Having read The Last Roundhead, I didn’t think Jemahl Evans could produce a better book, but This Deceitful Light is a tour-de-force. His character Blandford ‘Sugar’ Candy sits right up there with Rose Tremain’s Merivel as one of the great creations of a seventeenth century man. Opinionated and rascally, Candy gives us his take on the chaos of the English Civil War. In the process he gives us a realistic portrait of Cromwell and his unfortunate teenage son, the state of the English Theatre, and the battle of Marston Moor.

The story revolves around a murdered actor, and so involves a chase after the perpetrator as well as English Civil War skulduggery. As with the previous book, the footnotes are fascinating but distracting. I found the best way to read this book was to temporarily ignore them, but then go back to the beginning and savour each one. They are well worth reading and emphasize the amount of scholarship and research involved in producing the novel.

Here are a couple of Candy’s opinions to give you a flavour:

Most servants are mercenary sycophants. Keep them happy, pay them well, and they will desert you when a wealthier patron appears — I do not pay mine well.

‘Torture is a peculiarly continental affectation. The Ottomans are masters of the art – as I know to my cost – but it has never much taken hold in England. We have juries and common law – they have despots.’

‘Three hundred dead; ’tis what the newsbooks proclaimed after our victory. I told Mabbot ’twas drivel – there were at least five thousand naked corpses on the field the next day. I would wager more than a thousand were ours.’

This is a true treasure for fans of the seventeenth century or the English Civil War. I have no hesitation in telling you to go and buy it!

This Deceitful Light is due for release on 20th September. You can pre-order it HERE.

Categories
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

evans

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?

Last
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
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