• Sabbatical

    Still here. It’s been long time away, a time of accidents and other stuff too much to go into but now long gone, I hope. I’m back! Now my website seems to have invited me in I’ll think up some news about the old series, the trilogy, and the new novels and hope it’ll turn out to be interesting.

    Thanks for saying hello!

    best wishes


  • What happens next?

    It’s sad to reach the end of a series. From that first midnight dream in 2007 about three mysterious strangers swapping jokes over brimming goblets of Guienne, Hildegard has taken me on an unexpectedly thrilling journey into the past.

    Hildegard, as what reviewers have called, ‘a kickass medieval nun who aways gets her man,’ has more demurely urged me to try my hand at glass painting in York, singing plain chant in Salisbury Cathedral, and trying to shoot a straight arrow with the bowmen of the New Forest. I also explored castles and abbeys as well as the sinister papal labyrinth of Pope Clement, the Butcher of Avignon, and marvelled at King Richard II’s fabulous wooden angels in Westminter Hall, still magnificent six hundred years after he commissioned them.

    Researching this amazing period at the end of the fourteenth century also gave me an excuse to hang out with historians and re-enactors and the followers of many strange and personal medieval passions. In so many extraordinary ways they became part of my explorations into the gritty real life of ordinary people in those extraordinary times.

    Unsurprisingly there were secrets to be unveiled. Shocking revelations about the personal lives of the courtiers at Richard’s fashionable palaces were written up for all to see in the chronicles. No wonder, I began to think, that the sweaty king of the jousting circuit, Henry Bolingbroke, the football hero of the day, felt uncomfortable among the scent and silks of Eltham Palace where minstrels, like rockstars, set the tone for Richard’s court. Poor Henry, the big bad usurper who hated his cousin Richard, no wonder he felt miffed, I almost thought. But bearing in mind how that particular plot turned out I soon withdrew my sympathy from the future Henry IV. A life founded on jealousy, theft, murder, and vicious loathing is nothing to admire.

    Now that my story is at an end in the Twelve Books of Hildegard and the Abbot I intend to bring you some background stories from time to time, ones that have leaped from the pages of the chronicles, from rumour, from myth, from the copious archives left by this most literate of people and from the stories written at the time that would earn their writers a hideous death in the flames of the heretics’ fires. Freedom of speech has ever been a contentious issue.

    Next week, a Victorian mystery, to throw light on a medieval horror story. Check back mid-week if you want to read all about it. I hope you’ll turn up.

  • Untitled Post

    Belinda Sykes RIP

    It was with such sadness that I heard of Belinda’s death last autumn. Today on Hannah French’s early music show on BBC Radio 3 you could hear why she was such a force in early music and why her death is so desperately sad and such a huge loss to the early music world.

    The first tine I heard Joglaresea, the group she founded, was at Holy Trinity in the East End, round about the time I started to write the Hildegard of Meaux medieval suspense series.

    The group burst onto the stage with their wild music that so wonderfully captures the way we imagine those early troubadours travelling between Christian Europe and the Muslim middle east.

    It was fascinating just now to hear that The Du fay Collective who you can hear on this website were early collaborators in her aim to promote a fusion between east and west, just as it would have been in the fourteenth century. Another unxpected point of contact for me in those years in the 90’s and later was the ‘voice of brass’ singing technique of middle Europe which was given as a workshop in Wales at that time. Could it have been Belinda running it? I cannot remember now but I can say that I am not a singer and was pretty useless but they coaxed a voice out of me somehow and it was almost as exhilirating as writing a novel!

    This afternoon since the programme ended I’ve been trying to defy Norton, and all the other hoops required in order to put up a blog on here and have only just managed to get something down. My intention was to give you the links to her music but that will have to come later now. Very soon, I hope, so watch this space as I seem (fingers crossed) to have got it to work.

    Briefly, the good news is that Joglaresa intends to continue Belinda’s fabulous work. Joglaresa forever! A brilliant epitaph for a brilliant and exciting world musician.

  • Radio

    I haven’t talked to many people in real life throughout lockdown and I’m feeling a little bit wary of doing so. There are so many variations to the Covid virus and nobody seems to know much about its long term effects. How can they when it’s all so new? Many other people on zoom, twitter and elsewhere have mentioned they feel that it’s going to be a shock to find we can yak on in real time to real people when the shutters are flung open. No editing, no retracting, and having to make it up as we go along? Good heavens! Whatever next! We’re all improvisors again.

    The upshot is that Wolfy O’Hare of BBC Radio Kingston will be asking me a few questions about my next book, second in the Rodric Chandler trilogy, THE DAY OF THE SERPENT. I hope there’ll be nothing too difficult, Wolfy!

    Look out on twitter @nunsleuth to find out when it’s being broadcast. It should be some time in August, 16th maybe, just before the hardback in the UK is released.

    I wish you well and hope that the road map will hold true and get us to our destination without much doubling back. Stay safe during the end game and remember to curl up with Hildegard and Chandler as their stories continue…

  • Blogging

    I don’t know how other writers do much when they’re writing a novel. They say they read other books at the same time, they blog every day, they use social media to promote their books, they go out and have drinks with friends, and no doubt they manage to string two words together which are not what their chief character has said or is about to say in the next chapter.
    I find this admirable if also puzzling. How do they have the energy to do all that if they’re writing at full stretch?
    I’m scarcely able to knock a meal together. As for reading? Leave my fictive world when it’s only half built? Impossible.
    If you have the secret, please let me know!

  • Redaction

    They knew about redacted versions of events in 1400.

    The usurper and regicide Bolingbroke (so-called Henry IV) sent out trusted servants to inspect the abbey chronicles  following Richard II’s death, for any hint of support for the king he had murdered.  If any were found, and there was  plenty of support throughout Richard’s twenty-two year reign, the offending pages were ripped out, blotted out, rewritten – redacted – to conceal the truth.

    Gagging orders, as now, were nothing new.  Rewards were handed out in the form of pensions and court appointments for those who penned flattering versions of Lancastrian ‘alternative truth.’

    Chaucer’s rival poet Gower can be seen in all his eternal smug greed in Southwark Cathedral, lying on his velvet, gold-braided cushions.  He amply demonstrates the reward for following the party line.  He even rewrote his earlier work praising King Richard to make it look as if he was praising ‘King’ Henry.  A lesson in how to get on as true then as now.   Goggle-eyed visitors see only an image of the rich fruit of his deceit and not what lies beneath.

    But where is Chaucer’s tomb?  Isn’t he the more illustrious poet?  Nobody really knows.  The memorial put up to him decades later when the memory of Bolingbroke’s perfidy was long buried underneath layers of lies is just that, a memorial.  No body.  No tomb.  Such was the official fate of one of our earliest and greatest writers.

    The reason I’m so interested in this is because I’ve just written a new novel about the death of King Richard II.  It’s called The Hour of the Fox and has nothing to do with Hildegard and the abbot this time.  I tried to find out how the enormity of killing a king was presented to the ordinary man and woman in the streets and fields.

    Chaucer inevitably figured in it because he was connected both by his work and by marriage to the House of Lancaster.  How did he cope with that? I wondered.  Research when writing about real people who actually lived and breathed is a tricky business.  Evidence is not always easy to find and even when it exists it can be ambiguous.  It’s my burden that I feel we have a binding duty to be as accurate as we can be about what we say about the once living.   We have to honour their memory because, no matter how long ago they lived, they were as real as we are and we wouldn’t like lies told about ourselves, would we?   I’d go so far as to say we have a sacred covenant with the past to search out the truth and to tell no lies.

    How does that fit in with the idea of fiction?  What about fantasy history of which we have so much these days?  I’ll leave that with you for now.  I’d like to know if it matters to you as much as it does to me.