feeling war through a character’s eyes

Let me take you to Outremer with the knights of Richard the Lionheart…

ignore the enemyThe term PTSD  – post-traumatic stress syndrome – was given its name in the 1970s during the Vietnam conflict. Shakespeare has a scene in Henry IV, Part 2¹ (written in 1597) that describes it, though generations have ignored or glossed over it for hundreds of years. During World War I, it was called “shell shock.” While PTSD is commonly associated with the effects of war, any traumatic event can trigger it.

War is a central theme in my novel. War leaves its scars on young Henry de Grey. Henry’s idealism about the mission to take Jerusalem back from Saladin and his naiveté about war fade as he sees brutal acts done in God’s name.

“Midst war atrocity and soldier camaraderie, [the knights] force themselves to question their own stolid values and their relationships. Their life and lifestyle decisions are as hard fought as those of the battlefield. The scars of war cause them to rethink everything about their lives – except loyalty to their King.”
(from a review by Mark Rogers, Fiction House Publishing)

I had to put myself there. See what Henry saw. Feel what he felt. I also had to see Henry through Stephan l’Aigle’s eyes:

[Stephan] had walked through battlefields where men lay sprawled, eyes blank, staring at the sky with lance, bow, or sword at their sides. He’d never really seen those men, never felt their deaths or thought twice of the carnage until he’d met Henry and felt Henry’s pain.

Can a writer who has never been in the thick of battle even come close to imagining what it must be like? The words did not come easily, but I hope you will find that I captured the fear, the exhilaration, and the horrors or war in Men of the Cross.

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¹Thank you to Sharon Kay Penman for mentioning the Shakespeare reference in one of her own blog posts.

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Men of the Cross is available in print and for Kindle on Amazon & Amazon (UK) and other Amazon sites worldwide, for Nook via Barnes & Noble, and via Smashwords in multiple formats.

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visual inspiration and the writer

Nottingham Castle

Nottingham Castle

As someone who grew up with television, visuals have always been important to me. Can’t you get a sense of time, of place, from those period dramas? Translating that to paper – or to computer screen – is still the most difficult thing for me.

As a writer of historical fiction, I have to be careful. I visited Nottingham in 2010 and took this photo of the gatehouse.

ACTION! Picture knights on the towers, archers, flights of arrows darkening the sky. Hear orders shouted out, the rumble of wagons, the stone throwers slinging huge boulders that smash into the curtain wall.

CUT! This gatehouse did not exist in 1193!

Fortunately, I knew that as I dove into my first draft of the sequel to Men of the Cross. Still, the photo is a wonderful inspiration. I can still have my siege at Nottingham Castle and have wonderful resources to pull upon, including Drage’s Nottingham Castle, a Place Full Royal, Briscoe & Lever’s A concise history of Nottingham Castle, and Foulds’ “The Siege of Nottingham Castle in 1194.”

Writers – where do you find inspiration?

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moments in Third Crusade history – 20 august 1191 – the massacre at Acre

When the city of Acre surrendered to King Richard and to King Philip in July 1191 after a two-year siege, terms of the surrender included payment to secure the release of 2,700 hostages. The deadline for payment came and went – Saladin failed to meet the terms.

Richard had options: release the hostages, sell them as slaves, keep them under guard, or – execute them. As I wrote in last year’s post commemorating this horrible event:

Richard’s problem: where do you house 2,700 hostages? How do you keep them fed when you must feed your own army? How many guards would it take to ensure the captives wouldn’t escape – he needed nearly every able-bodied soldier on the coming march to secure Jerusalem.

Why didn’t Richard sell his hostages? That would take time. It was already August. The army needed to begin the march to Jerusalem or else run the risk of being caught by winter storms….

Are these excuses or valid reasons based on morals and the conduct of war in the 12th century?

I was surprised that contemporary observers had very little to say about the executions. It is incredible to read the accounts of wholesale slaughter generally described in such nonchalant terms.

Roger de Hoveden writes:

On the seventeenth day of the month of August, being the third day of the week and the thirteenth day before the calends of September, the king of England caused all the pagans who belonged to him from the capture of Acre to be led out before the army of Saladin, and their heads to be struck off in the presence of all . . . The number of the pagans thus slain was five thousand. . .

De Hoveden does provide more detail than most chroniclers and in another sentence he describes what the Christian did to the bodies. It is horrific, and I won’t repeat it here. He continues:

On the twenty-first day of the month of August, after the slaughter of the pagans, the king of England delivered into the charge of Bertram de Verdun the city of Acre. . . On the twenty-second day . . . the king of England crossed the river of Acre with his army, and pitching his tents between that river and the sea, on the sea-shore between Acre and Cayphas, remained there four days.

Little is known about the chronicler Geoffrey de Vinsauf who writes:

. . . 2700 of the Turkish hostages [were] led forth from the city and hanged ; [King Richard's] soldiers marched forward with delight to fulfill his commands, and to retaliate, with the assent of the Divine Grace, by taking revenge upon those who had destroyed so many of the Christians with missiles and arbalests.¹

Ambroise writes:

Two thousand seven hundred, all
In chains, were led outside the wall,
Where they were slaughtered every one;
And thus on them was vengeance done
For blows and bolts of arbalest.

Even Muslim contemporary writers have not provided us more than a few sentences about the event. Ibn al-Athir writes that Saladin and his emirs did not trust the Franks (the term used to denote the European Christians). Al-Athir felt that the crusaders intended ‘treachery’ and would not free the hostages even if Saladin met the demands: 200,000 dinars, release of Christian prisoners, and the return of the True Cross that had been captured at the Battle of Hattin in July 1187. Al-Athir then notes:

On Tuesday 27 Rajab [20 August 1191] the Franks mounted up and came outside the city with horse and foot. The Muslims rode out to meet them, charged them and drove them from their position. Most of the Muslims they had been holding were found slain. They had put them to the sword and massacred them but preserved the emirs and captains and those with money. All the others, the general multitude, the rank and file and those with no money they slew.

The chronicler Baha’ Al-Din writes:

Then they brought the Muslim prisoners whose martyrdom God had ordained, more than three thousand men in chains. They fell on them as one man and slaughtered them in cold blood, with sword and lance . . .

He is one of few contemporaries who comments on Richard’s motives:

Many reasons were given to explain the slaughter. One was that they had killed as reprisal for their own prisoners killed before then by the Muslims. Another was that the King of England had decided to march on Ascalon and take it, and he did not want to leave behind him in the city a large number (of enemy soldiers). God knows best.

Richard justified his actions in a letter to the abbot of Clairvaux.² This was war, and Saladin had not met his end of the agreement. Many of Richard’s contemporaries and numerous scholars over the years have condemned the Lionheart for his decision. It was a brutal and unchivalrous act. Would Richard’s reputation have suffered less if the besieged had chosen to fight to the bitter end? Those sieges did not end well for the losers: pillaging, burning, and killing. But the garrison at Acre had surrendered. Richard sought advice from his council, and seeing no alternatives if he intended to be at Jerusalem’s gate before winter set in, he issued the orders.

The sights, sounds, and smells of the massacre haunt my fictional character Henry de Grey in Men of the Cross. He will carry these memories for the rest of his life. Many of Henry’s fellow knights do not speak of the things they saw, the things they did. Henry struggles with the king’s decision to execute the hostages. He questions how such acts can be done in God’s name. Henry cannot justify the actions, but he recognizes there is a time to fight. Men of the Cross is Henry’s chronicle.

Get swept away to the 12th century

Men of the Cross is available in print and for Kindle on Amazon & Amazon (UK) and other Amazon sites worldwide, for Nook via Barnes & Noble, and via Smashwords in multiple formats.

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¹ “Geoffrey de Vinsauf’s itinerary of Richard I and Others, to the Holy Land” is a chapter in  Chronicles of the Crusades: contemporary narratives, compiled and edited by Henry G. Bohm.

See the translated primary sources section of my reference resources page for citations for the other authors.

² I had intended to quote from the source of this information, but have to write from memory because the book (by Gillingham, I believe), was missing from the library’s shelves!

 

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Rebecca’s advice to writers – giving it to us straight

book

This book might come in handy.

Thank you, Rebecca T. Dickson, for reminding me (and other writers) that writing is not all shiny and the writing life is not easy, but if you love it, you will endure. Rebecca’s post is from 2013, but the points she makes still hit home. I really had to laugh at these 3 because I am guilty! Very guilty. (But working on it.)

• You will latch onto words or phrases and repeat them throughout your work

• The words and phrases you repeat will change over time.

• The habit of repeating shit will not.

If we don’t laugh at ourselves – and don’t recognize our shortcomings – we will never get better at what we do. As Rebecca notes, our first manuscripts will be rough. “Your later work, in its early drafts, will still suck… You may never feel good about what you write. Write anyway.”

And to end this post, a quote from Shannon Hale: “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

Have a great week!

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¹This old post of mine from 2012, in which I’d written about cleaning out those offenders, made me laugh when I re-read the line about the Crusade “novella.” Ha! And Mark Rogers has me writing a trilogy! (Okay – I have sort of admitted that I’m making plot notes about book 3.)

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oh to be 18 again… not

CTI2Once upon a time there was an eighteen-year-old who joined the Navy to see the world…

The opening of a new story? Nope. That 18 year old was me.

High school was torture at times. I think I was bored. I was a good student and stayed out of trouble except for that incident with 7 friends and a Volkswagon bug. I graduated with honors, though let’s not talk about that computer programming class. The dog ate… er, no, it was the lab assignments – I couldn’t get to the lab to do them because I worked. (I probably didn’t try very hard.)

College was not on my radar. I wasn’t ready to face more schooling unless I could get a full scholarship to Georgetown, major in Spanish and Russian, and then work overseas at an embassy. Honors, yes. Grades high enough for a full ride at a very good university? Not happening.

I visited the Navy recruiters’ office at least 3 times beginning in the 9th grade. Pictures of destroyers, aircraft carriers, and fighter jets covered my walls, along with the Bobby Sherman posters. (My kids will tell you those have been replaced by Star Destroyers, X-wings, and Star Wars posters.) I really think the recruiters were surprised I kept returning to talk to them, and thrilled when I took the oath.

Eighteen, on my own, and headed to Florida for boot camp with suitcase and guitar in hand.

Do I want to be 18 again? No way. But what an experience…

I’ll blog about boot camp and life in the Navy in a future post. 

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talking about the book: Shadow on the Crown

15752152Title: Shadow on the Crown
Author: Patricia Bracewell

A tidbit about the author
She’s a California girl who majored in English literature in college and taught high school – bless her!  She notes that teaching is “the most challenging and rewarding careers that anyone could have.”

The story
The year is 1002. Emma of Normandy, who many will know as the mother of Edward the Confessor, leaves her home and crosses the Narrow Sea at the age of 15 to marry the 35 year-old Anglo-Saxon king, Æthelred II, also know as Æthelred the Unready. The king is cruel and heartless, and a bit mad. The Vikings attack. To survive, Emma must find allies in this world.

The scene that made you laugh out loud or cheer
There are many scenes where cheering is called for: Emma learns what she must do to win the hearts of the Anglo-Saxon people; she outwits the evil Elgiva on numerous occasions; she attempts to escape from the Viking Forkbeard (go, Emma, go!), and Athelstan (son of Æthelred) arrives to save her.

The place where you wanted to throw the book across the room
Almost any scene with Emma’s rival, Elgiva, made me cringe. Elgiva is the daughter of a powerful ealdorman and could have been queen to Æthelred, but politics and power dictated who would marry whom. Elgiva is the king’s whore, torn between him, her father and her brother. But she has no redeeming qualities. I don’t feel a bit of sympathy for her. Bracewell may have done her job in creating a character readers will dislike, but I found myself skimming many of the scenes she is in.

A memorable line 
“…he noticed a movement ahead of him and to his right, like the ripple of a wind breathing across a field of wheat. Puzzled, he stared at the brightly colored crowd, and amid their hues of green and yellow and rust, he made out a lone black form moving, swift as a hawk’s shadow, toward the king.”

My verdict
This was my first foray into this time period of English history and I struggled with many of the Anglo-Saxon names – trying to keep the huge cast of characters straight was a challenge. But Bracewell paints a vivid picture of each one – so stick with the book because as the story unfolds, I dare you NOT to get sucked in.

However, if you don’t like a little romance with your historical fiction, this may not be the book for you. Personally, I loved it (and wanted more)! This is a sweeping historical adventure with a compelling story. Bracewell’s words create images of time and place – you are there. And Emma? I look forward to reading book 2 of this trilogy.

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a great review of Men of the Cross

A wonderful review of Men of the Cross posted on Tales of the Fiction House and copied here. (Thank you, Mark!)

WAR’S TENDER MERCIES

Posted on July 25, 2014
by Mark Rogers, Editor

(Taking a break from Mr. Raji Singh’s whimsical Lore of the Lindian Woods animal tales: They’ll return next week. A national news commentator’s sad remarks on the dozens of wars occuring now throughout the world, prompts this book review.)

Disclosure: Fiction House Publishing has no financial interest in the novels of any of the authors mentioned. Normally we do not comment on the works of other publishers. The thoughtful approach to her subject matter by the author, Charlene Newcomb, causes us to reconsider.

Ms. Charlene Newcomb’s latest work, MEN OF THE CROSS, Book I of the Battle Scars trilogy, traces war’s brutal effects. It lays bare the emotional scars that war inflicts. Ms. Newcomb paints a compassionate portrait of the novel’s characters. She utilizes masterful storyteller’s methods of incorporating plot, dialogue, comedy, and pathos to delve into intertwining relationships.

If you enjoyed author Sharon Kay Penman’s LIONHEART, or more recent A KING’S RANSOM, you will find Ms. Newcomb’s work a fitting companion.

MEN OF THE CROSS takes place in the later span of the Middle Ages. Knights are pledging their troth to King Richard the Lionheart. They follow him in the Crusades. This isn’t a book, which only recreates battles. It has ample humor, akin to the type you’ll find in Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H or Joseph Heller’s CATCH 22. Various characters from the Robin Hood legends arrive on the pages: Robin himself, Allan-a-Dale, and a brash Little John. Their rollicking adventures in the Middle East will have you retelling their tales to co-workers at the water cooler.char's book

The novel’s major characters are brave knights, Henry de Grey and Stephan l’ Aigle. They grow close. Midst war atrocity and soldier camaraderie, they force themselves to question their own stolid values and their relationships. Their life and lifestyle decisions are as hard fought as those of the battlefield. The scars of war cause them to rethink everything about their lives – except loyalty to their King.

The emotions in MEN OF THE CROSS are ragged and raw and often bawdy – befitting knights of valor. Unlike many novels steeped in wars, in this book Ms. Newcomb demands profound character change. Instead of becoming battle hardened, Henry and Stephan evolve into tender, merciful men. They find deep meaning in one another.

Frank Yerby’s excellent THE SARACEN BLADE is one of my favorite novels of this genre. I’ve read it more than once. I can say the same thing about Charlene Newcomb’s MEN OF THE CROSS. It is a book that tempts a first and then a second look!

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