Review: ‘Early Modern England: A Social History 1550-1760’, Second Edition, 1997. J.A. Sharpe.

A wide-ranging and commendably balanced piece of historiography spanning the period 1550-1760. It aims to provide an overview of how life was lived by the people of England, from the highest to the lowest, during the period in question, although, alas, the sieve of history has captured far less relating to the lives of the meaner sort when compared to those of the middling and upper orders. This is an unavoidable consequence of differential rates of literacy, and what the literate deemed worthy of recording, or not.

From the middle of the seventeenth century onwards, however, the rapid growth of printed material of varying types accompanied the development of a more literate culture as the population became more educated, with the consequence that we possess a far more rounded picture of everyday life during the latter part of this period.

I particularly enjoyed the sections on popular culture and the world of work, as these helped to flesh out the daily experience of the lower strata of society, which, alas, is a theme frequently neglected or glossed over in histories that concentrate more on politics, economics and religious change. This material would prove particularly useful to any author looking to set a novel, or shorter piece of fiction, in the world of this time.

One theme that came through strongly in the book, was the fact that whereas London had already grown to be a considerable metropolis by the middle of the sixteenth century, England was still a predominantly agrarian society two centuries later, with many of its towns still being no larger than what we would term villages today. The section on the village community is therefore of particular interest.

Overall, Sharpe’s book serves as a useful complement to Keith Thomas’s three major works on early modern England; it makes for a fascinating read.

An Invitation to Readers

Time and money: it can be easy for many to spend too much of one in pursuit of the other, so I thought that I’d do my little bit to ease the pressure on you, at least for a day or two. Don’t get too excited though, as I’m afraid that I am not able to do your housework, or make one of those magical cash transfers into your bank account so oft promised by millionaire gentlemen who contact you via email. No, neither of those. Instead, from today until midnight this Thursday (31st August), you can download a Kindle copy of Anthology: Wry Out West for 99p or 99c, rather than the usual £2.49 or $3.20. Not bad for 211, 273 or 369 pages, however you reckon them (273 in the paperback version). If you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, that may not sound overly appealing, as you’ll be able to download it and read it for free anyway, but if you’re not, there should be something other than the crude offer of a discount to appeal to you.

Having purchased this anthology you may devote your attention to enjoying five twisted tales of the uncanny, four of which possess a pronounced vein of dark humour:

Old Crotchet
Old Crotchet – her manor, her rules. Cross her at your peril. There’s little that will rile a woman more than 300 years of age than the arrival of some flighty young upstart intent upon displacing her. A humorous period mystery with a supernatural twist.

Gwydion’s Dawn
Lust, mushrooms and the quest for immortality: meet Gwydion Turner, an inept, portentous, psychedelic demon raiser; a wannabe Crowley in crushed velvet. A satirical journey into Glastonbury’s occult counterculture.

Agnes of Grimstone Peverell
A pious minster guide encounters a crusty, atheistical theatre critic and his wife. She seems keen not to let them go, but return to London they must – Lionel has a play to review. That, at least, is his intention.

3:05 am
Never has a portable television set been so unsettling, nor Mike Pearce so irritating.

The Cleft Owl
A tale of occult deception in seventeenth-century Devon, featuring the roguish Dr Robert Tooley, the Worshipful Sir William Bastard, and the Reverend Tickle. The names are one of the few things about this piece not invented by the author.

Reviews for the above can be found attached to the freestanding versions of these tales on Amazon. Further reviews welcome. All of these publications, and The Rude Woman of Cerne, are available free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

 

Strewth Mate! Old Crotchet at No.1 Down Under?

Strewth mate! Old Crotchet at number one down under? She’s been having a bonzer time. I tell ya, it’s been a real boil-over that’s had me grinning like a shot fox, or it would have done if she’d been romping up the charts for paid rather than free downloads. Still, it’s better than staring at a brown-eyed mullet, although the sight of her in a cozzie would be about as welcome as a bunyip in your grundies. Crikey, I’m as gobsmacked as you are that she’s doing so well against all those better looking and younger Sheilas, nabbing the top slot in occult horror. Well, I’d better stop yabbering on. You can find her here, whether you’re in Australia, or, well . . . myBook.to/Oldcrotchet

Old Crotchet goes to Number One in Oz, Canada and the UK.

Meet your truculent Hostess

Looking grumpier and more sinister than ever, Old Crotchet is back. Emerging from a seventeenth-century dresser near you, soon. Whatever you do, don’t forget to invite her to dinner.

Dissatisfied with her former unflattering portrayal, the harridan compelled me to devise this new depiction of her squat and portly frame against an appropriate period backdrop. She does seem to have something of a glow about her, doesn’t she? That said, it doesn’t appear to be a very healthy one. Would I have been able to fool Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into believing that this was the picture of a ghost? Perhaps if I had used a few hatpins and some cardboard cutouts he would have been more likely to believe in its veracity.

The Year ahead in Writing

The past year has been a busy one in terms of writing and publications, with two novelettes and four novellas having seen the light of day, as well as an anthology of near 80,000 words containing five of these tales. That said, I’ve not published anything ‘new’ since February. ‘What has this slugabed been up to since then?’ you may justifiably ask yourself, taking note of this creative hiatus. Well, quite a bit, as it turns out, although nothing which has allowed me to issue anything new thus far.

Two further tales have been planned and plotted in some depth, and a third has been outlined. One of these, a mystery with occult elements, this time set in Yorkshire, is progressing well, with several thousand words already having been written. Its action plays out over three years – 1949, 1906 and 1537 – and incorporates an unexplained and unpleasant discovery made in the vicinity of Barden Tower. Another, a mystery set on Dartmoor in the early 1920s, draws upon a famously peculiar piece of period folklore that attracted the attention of the national press at the time. I take the raw bones of this legend, clothe them in a little fictional flesh, and add a suitable twist or two. The third, which is currently in a rather more embryonic state, is a contemporary tale of the supernatural and psychological horror that focuses upon the unforeseen consequences attendant upon the restoration of a church monument.

Which of the three tales outlined in the above paragraph sees the light of day first remains to be seen, for most of my time is being consumed by my other long-term project – the completion of my novel, ‘Pendrummel: Gwen Gwinnel’s Return’. It may therefore be the case that either this longer piece is published later this year, or I once again put it on the backburner to release one of the novellas/novelettes in the interim. Hopefully, you’ll find each of these tales to your taste.

If you should be curious as to what is already available, click here to begin unravelling the mystery.

Lust, Mushrooms and the Quest for Immortality

These would seem to be the primary inspirations underpinning the activities of the occult-obsessed protagonist of Gwydion’s Dawn, hence the original choice of an image of a psychedelicised fly agaric to grace the novella’s cover. However, given that much of the tale is set in and around Glastonbury, and that it takes its title from the name of the wannabe Crowley in crushed velvet, and one-time acid-rock guitarist Gwydion Turner, this new artwork, featuring part of the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey given an early Black Sabbathesque makeover, seems particularly fitting. That said, I must admit to missing the sinister fly that sat atop the mushroom’s cap.

The new cover artwork should be visible on Amazon in the next day or two, although anyone who downloads the Kindle ebook will find that the cover is already live.

Novel Progress

More than two years into its writing, and I’m making good headway with the penultimate draft of my novel. It would have been finished sooner, but I got sidetracked into writing, and publishing, half a dozen shorter pieces in the interim. I hope to have it finished and published before the year is out, but this should be seen as an aspiration, rather than as a definite plan, for I have a terrible habit of revising, and then revising the revisions. The first chapters have been reworked so many times that few of the words remain from the original, although the structure has altered little as I had the plot clearly mapped out from the outset. Despite this fact, the first five words that open the story remain unchanged. As to what they are, you’ll have to wait and see.

What is this book about? There is, as in most of what I have written thus far, a liberal dose of humour, much of it black, but as for its primary themes, they are rather different: superstition, greed, jealousy, slavery, piracy and religious fanaticism; nothing that wouldn’t have been familiar to an ordinary resident of a seventeenth-century Cornish fishing village, but much which would, perhaps, be a surprise to the reader today, for the slavery and piracy outlined in these pages was real enough, but is now largely forgotten. The case could even be made for saying that the form of slavery dealt with in this tale has been airbrushed out of history, because it jars with the simplistic, and simplified, ‘Black’ victim/ ‘White’ oppressor narrative that dominates historical and popular discourse today. The evil of slavery, in its many forms, has never been a simple matter of black and white, irrespective of what some may claim in support of manufactured racial ‘grievances’ and political agendas in the present.

If we are to take the dictum that it is the victors who write history, what does it tell us about the state of the world that we live in today, when the enslavement of somewhere in the region of 1 to 1.25 million Europeans by North Africans, between the sixteenth and early nineteenth centuries, goes unmentioned? Moreover, when considering that this form of raiding and slavery was justified, and legitimised, through reference to religious texts and traditions – specifically Islamic ones, citing the example of the ‘Prophet’ himself – does this form and practise of human bondage not have something to tell us about the worldview of a certain religious tradition? I have omitted from these figures the even greater number of men, women and children taken by Islamic slavers in the territories that now comprise Ukraine, Russia and the Balkans.

There is, quite rightly, much written about the evils of the Transatlantic slave trade, and this should not be forgotten, but at the same time, we should not let this skew our historical perspective so that we fall into the error of forgetting ‘inconvenient’ facts because their existence happens to upset some people. We should not let the old racist hierarchy of White = good/superior and Black = bad/inferior simply be replaced by an inverted racism where Whites are seen as innately bad and evil, and Blacks as essentially good and virtuous. Human stupidity, vice and cruelty are the monopoly of no portion of humanity, and neither are its virtues. The novel does not position itself as some crude anti-Islamic tirade, but as a critique of the stupidity of dogmatism and superstition in its many forms, both religious, and political: there are bigots of many stripes, and they can exist on the Left, just as readily as on the Right.

I’d better shut up now, and add that the book’s primary aim is to entertain. Those who delight in finger-wagging will be disappointed.

Five uncanny tales for the price of one – Anthology: Wry Out West

Download Anthology: Wry Out West, five twisted tales of the uncanny for the promotional price of only 99p/99c (normal price £2.49/$3.21) until 4pm Wednesday 5 July (price increases to £1.99/$1.99, then returns to full on Friday 7 July). Also available in paperback (273 pages). For the UK please visit https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B072P1VMM3 and for and the https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B072P1VMM3

From the acid-fried occult satire of Gwydion’s Dawn, to the dark deception of seventeenth-century Devon in The Cleft Owl; a trip into disorientation in 3:05 am, to the vengeful malignance of Old Crotchet, each tale is as distinctly odd, and unsettling, as the seemingly innocuous guide in Agnes of Grimstone Peverell.

The humour is dark, and the protagonists all too unawares of the sinister forces that lurk beneath the fragile veneer of the everyday world; shifting and malevolent, they are there to be seen, and sensed, if the characters should care to look, yet more often than not, they do not. The forces of the irrational, the supernatural and the paranormal bide their time, waiting to irrupt through the divide and come crashing into the present, with a vividness as unwelcome as it is unexpected.

Saturday 1 July – 75 Books for Free, or 99p/99c

Click on the gull below (don’t worry, it won’t squawk in anger) to view and download 75 free or discounted books from the Support Indie Authors site today only. Amongst them you will find my Anthology: Wry Out West for 99p/99c, and 3:05 am as a free taster. There will be an accompanying Facebook event where you can chat to authors about their books and writing. My slot will be from 5:30-6:00 pm UK time, or 12:30-1:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. The event can be found at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/events/1567919563226951/

Support Indie Authors July Giveaway