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.
The 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
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.
Jemahl Evans’s website
Read more about Jemahl in this interview in Historia.