• A new year!

    I’ve been locked out of my blog for ages but now I’m in let me wish all you fans of Hildegard the best ever year ahead.

    Hildegard and the Abbot are returning home to Meaux after too long away.  The militant monks, Gregory and Egbert, are travelling with them as they take ship from Netley for the pirate infested German Ocean – the one we these days call the North Sea.

    Hubert’s main concern is whether his abbey has been wrecked in his absence but that is not all that awaits.

    I’m about to start Chapter One and greatly looking forward to finding out what happens to them all and I hope you are too.  Will they reach the north safely?  Will Meaux be as well-ordered, safe and tranquil as it was when they left for Avignon?  What is going to happen in the months ahead?  What dangers face them?  And while they are engaged with the challenges that lie ahead, what is happening to King Richard after the cruel fate of his allies during the Merciless Parliament?  Will he be the next victim of the avaricious and relentless enemies of the Crown?  Read Murder at Meaux to find out!

  • Strict Rules

    I was in the New Forest archive the other day – not at all dusty as archives are said to be – when I came across a few rules for nuns that would have irked Hildegard more than somewhat.

    It was men who made these rules up, of course, so we have to bear that in mind, and their interests become clear when we see what got them really agitated.

    Clothes.  Rules for how the nuns looked seemed uppermost, so nothing has changed much there then. It was suggested that hair- cloth should be worn next to the skin.  It must have been very itchy. To be fair, St Jerome, among many other sainted men, was said to wear a hair-shirt.  And Becket too, and when he was entombed he was also found to be crawling with lice – but that’s another story.

    The nuns’ garments whether of hair or rough wool, linen of course being forbidden, had to be very well tied, with strapples to the feet, and everything had to be laced tightly. Really tightly.  Well, you can see where that’s heading and I do believe some of them wore grey too, in various shades of…

    They were also forbidden to wear silken veils in any colour but black. Purple was absolutely forbidden.  The men also fulminated against silk girdles and purses (worn, as they were, on a belt slung suggestively low round the hips).   There were also to be no pins in silver or gold whether for the hair or for holding the clothes together.  They were allowed only one ring.

    What was called a peculium was money set aside from the nunnery’s common fund specifically to provide clothes although of course many women who retired to nunneries when their husbands died took their own clothes with them (as well as pet dogs, monkeys, singing birds and so forth, as you do).

    But did the nuns obey these edicts from on high?  Not likely.  The records are full of lists of the nuns’ transgressions despite the many inspections by their male bosses, the bishops, or whoever had the upper hand.  Did these men inspect the hair cloth underwear?  Not much point in making a rule if you can’t enforce it.  Records tell us that a nun called Anneys Bonneville actually wore a fur coat. Scandal.  It was full length.  For the warmth, she said.  Oh yes?  What her punishment was we might imagine but apparently she refused to give it up.

    I found an intriguing note about a priest who bequeathed to Agnes Harvey, a nun and obviously a close friend, his red mantle – a nun in red? – and, suggestively, a tapestry bed cover.  We can maybe imagine to what use these two articles were put when he and Agnes were alive.

    It’s a pleasure to discover that these distant ancestors of ours share the same delights as we do.  Some, like Hildegard, took their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience seriously and wrestled with the morality of breaking them but most people, men and women, were as naughty as they wanted to be. Human, after all.

    An intriguing and beautiful line from the Ancren Riwle is as follows: “They came forth into the nymph-hay with their rocks and wheels to spin.”

    It sounds lovely and there must be a painting somewhere to match such a line.  Any suggestions?


  • Baroque heaven

    BBC Radio always comes up with the goods, doesn it?  I wrote The Parliament of Spies to the sound of their Mozart fest in 2011, now it’s a baroque spring – joy!

    The other night Tim Marlow the art historican presented a fascinating programme on the soundscapes artists work with.  Do you work in silence or to music?  Until the Mozart fest I always worked  in silence or, sometimes, to the repetitive grind of garage or house so it was interesting to hear Tracey Emin say she played the same tune over and over again throughout the day to get into that creative trance state  we all need.  Rachel Whiteread mentioned medieval polyphony and it suggests we need something to take off that superficial layer of attention to get down to  deeper and creative source.  Some pople say they can only work if there’s the roar of traffic in the background, or the constant sound of the sea, or the rabble of a busy cafe.   Each to his own.  Can the neuroscientists explain it?

  • A sentimental journey

    To York again after some time.  The minster is still glorious, the walls intact, several wonderful buildings remain but the rest of it is so changed I felt as if I was visiting an entirely new place.  It was still buzzing however and great to be there.  Did an interview for BBC Radio York and Russell Walker was as lovely as everyone had said.  Thanks, Russell.  Then for some signing of the new paperback, The Law of Angels, at Waterstone’s and to meet their helpful and charming staff and after that over to the West Riding  to David Ford’s great little bookshop in Myrtle Place close to David Hockney’s gallery in Salt’s Mill to meet some of his customers.  All in all a really good day.  Thank you everybody for making it so enjoyable.

  • Phoenix Theatre

    It was a good evening at the Phoenix Theatre’s Arts lounge last week.   the venue is one of those old cellar bars frequented by Patrick Hamilton and was a great venue for talkative crime writers.  The brillliant Blackwell’s organised it and a lively audience fired some fascinating questions at us.  There were three of  us – Michael Ridpath, writer of city thrillers and a new Icelandic series, Imogen Robertson whose first novel set in eighteenth century London is just out, and myself, donning my  anorak for the evening to talk about Hildegard and fourteenth century life and times.  Thanks to everyone who made it such a pleasant event – and thanks for those who also bought copies of The Red Velvet Turnshoe.

    See you all again soon.