• At last

    Two reasons to say  ‘at last’ today and the first is that Macmillan have decided on a date for the launch of book 5 The Dragon of Handale. It’s going to be out in March 2015. Hurrah!   Thank you for all those who emailed in the past few months to ask when it’s coming out as ‘a proper book’ – I’m really delighted to be able to answer at last. Ebooks are useful but there’s something special about the book in your hand.

    The second ‘at last’ is that I finished book 6 The Butcher of Avignon on MaundyThursday.  The last comma, full stop, paragraph reset – the lot!  I was writing it through the terrible floods and storms early this year so some of that gothically dangerous weather has managed to seep (and storm) into the story.

    This time, scarcely recovered from the dangers of Handale, Hildegard is sent by the prioress to Avignon. Why?  The anti-pope Clement, a notorious warlord, and fiendishly rich, is in residence in the opulent palace there.  He has set himself up as head of the Christian Empire in Europe while in Rome the other pope, Urban VI, thinks he is the rightful ruler.  A perfect setting for conflict.  What does it mean for Hildegard?  It means she must find out what Clement’s intentions towards England are, given that the French are still intent on another invasion.  Will he be friend or foe?

    Meanwhile, the plot against King Richard back in England takes a vicious new turn.  He is nineteen but all the barons and magnates who run his life through the so-called King’s Council are determined to control his money and his friends.  Did they have a concept of teenager in medieval times?  If so they might have cut him some slack.

    He feels that at nineteen he is quite capable of ruling the country without their interference but like all oldies they beg to differ. Like the parents whose place they have taken since Richard was orphaned they know best.   Maybe this makes light of  the conflict between the king and his advisors but he is certainly harrassed by his uncles, especially Woodstock who is only ten years older and sees himself as top dog – if only he could get his hands on the crown.   He’s certainly confident enough and, like an older brother, gives Richard no credit for anything.  But Richard and his favourite chancellor, the Yorkshireman Michael de la Pole, have a really good idea on how to bring in some ready money and finance enough men-at-arms to defend the country against the French. Only the machinations of Woodstock can stop them

    Escaping from this quicksand of conflicting ambitions when Hildegard reaches Avignon she finds herself in an even more dangerous and complicated situation.  The anti-pope Clement is a spider at the heart of the palace complex, a self-styled renaissance prince, the wealthiest  leader in Europe.  His spectacular palace is awash with the ambitious, the treacherous, the salacious.  How can Hildegard sort one smiling courtier from another?   When the murders start to occur to whom can she turn?  And what is the secret at the heart of Clement’s personal treasury?

    I don’t know yet when you’ll be able to read The Butcher of Avignon but I’ll keep you posted.  Let’s hope it’s soon. I’m sorry I can’t reply to everybody individually but I hope this gives you some idea of what’s going ahead.

    I’m already getting inklings about book 7 but so far no title…

    And finally, did you know you can visit the palace at Avignon?  It’s really worth it.  Labyrinthine, massive, sinister, it’s full of secret corridors and hidden chambers and has all the brooding Gothic romance  you could want – no mere figment of the imagination it’s a real place where real people lived out their destinies for good or ill.