England, 1185. John is a prince without prospect of a crown. As the youngest son of Henry II, he has long borne the hated nickname ‘Lackland’. When warring tribes and an ambitious Anglo-Norman lord threaten Henry’s reign in Ireland, John believes his time has finally come. Henry is dispatching him there with a mighty force to impose order.
Yet it is a thwarted young man who arrives on the troubled isle. John has not been granted its kingship—he is merely the Lord of Ireland, destined never to escape his father’s shadow. Unknown to John, Henry has also sent his right-hand man, Sir Benedict Palmer, to root out the traitors he fears are working to steal the land from him.
But Palmer is horrified when John disregards Henry’s orders and embarks on a campaign of bloodshed that could destroy the kingdom. Now Palmer has to battle the increasingly powerful Lord of Ireland. Power, in John’s hands, is a murderous force—and he is only just beginning to wield it.Now, some people compare the writing and publishing of a novel to being pregnant. They often refer to the interminable time-scales, the waiting, the expectation, the preparation. I'd second (some of that), along with weight gain, mood swings and the desire for strange food.
With regard to time scales, writing a novel takes many, many months, and with a historical novel even more so. When people ask 'Do you do a lot of research for your novel?', my answer is best summed up with this photo:
|Reginald's Tower, Co Waterford:|
witness to beard-pulling.
Many are real historical figures. Royal clerk Gerald, who travelled to Ireland with John, provided me with his own outrageous historical views on the Irish and I might (just might) have gotten my own back on him a few times. I've written about Gerald's questionable views on the Irish in a previous post on Medieval Ireland. He was also a great chronicler and I talk more about that in this post.
|What Irish Women Get Up To- according to Gerald of Wales.|
And no, they don't/didn't.
'What Hugh’s complexion and features were like, he was dark, with dark, sunken eyes and flattened nostrils. His face was grossly disfigured down the right side as far as his chin by a burn, the result of an accident. His neck was short, his body hairy and sinewy. He was a short man. His build- misshapen.'Gerald goes on to tell us what a great fighter de Lacy is but that he's not to be trusted as he has taken a daughter of the Irish High-King, Rory O'Connor, as his second wife. Gold to a novelist, yes?
|Interior of Hugh de Lacy's Trim Castle, Co. Meath|
I had fun with my fictional characters, too. But the path doesn't always run smoothly with naming them. In despair one day, I sent this e-mail to another Irish writer, the wonderful and wise Kevin McMahon:
'My character is native Irish, a huge, battle-axe wielding warrior and a great fighter and I want to give him a single Irish that describes him. I also need to avoid the following letters that would start his name, as it can look clumsy on the page when people have the same one. So, to avoid: B, C, D, E, J (I know that’s out anyway in the Irish alphabet, along with K, Q, V, W, X, Y, Z, if memory serves me correctly), G, H, L, N, O, P, R (but might get away with this one), T.'
Despite my ridiculous parameters, Kevin came back with Uinseann, which means 'victor'. How wonderful and wise is that?
|The native Irish, as depicted by Gerald of Wales.|
Granted, Uinseann does actually do some of this.
And there is one character that without whom the book wouldn't exist, the Lord of Ireland himself. John, the future Bad King John. What can I say, except that I think I actually enjoy writing my villains more than my heroes. John's campaign started badly and went downhill from there. Gerald had expected the worst. He describe's John's decision to 'bypass the venerable church of St. David's' as he travelled to Ireland as a 'sinister omen for his expedition.'
|King John as depicted in Waterford's Great Charter roll c1372.|
Sinister, indeed, but a gift for me. Sir Benedict Palmer awaits you in medieval Ireland.
The images from Gerald of Wales are in the the Public Domain and are part of the British Library's Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. All other images are © E.M. Powell.