Clifford Beal

historical fiction with a twist of lime

Tag: Richard III

Finding a Voice that works


Well, have gotten off to a good start on the next novel, an historical adventure, which if I can pull it off, will sprawl across late-15th century Europe and involve three knaves looking for gainful employment.

Problem is, I’m still in two minds about making the narrative first-person or third-person. I’ve written and published both and as readers and writers know, each has its advantages and disadvantages. First person can pull you in by giving a heightened sense of involvement and immediacy but at the price of a narrow focus and constrained viewpoint (and story-telling). Third-person narrative opens up the scope considerably but can take more work to develop engaging characters and intimacy. I’ve started the new WIP in first-person, as that worked to good effect with my first novel, Gideon’s Angel.  I still remember being bowled over by the voice of an emperor in I Claudius or feeling like I was sipping a single malt at my London club while listening to Harry Flashman regale me with adventures when reading George MacDonald Fraser’s series. However, I’m beginning to have second thoughts about this new WIP so I’ve decided to write the first chapter both ways and see what sits best with me. It has to be an instinctive decision for an author, listening to heart and head to find what will work most effectively for a particular piece. Like most things in the creative space of the mind, it has a lot to do with how one feels at the time. If nothing else, it should prove an interesting exercise in writing craft!

What are your preferences when it comes to reading a novel? First-person or third? Present tense or past?

Bloody Hell, I’m a Plantagenet!

Edward IV

Edward IV

With King Richard III reburied today in Leicester with all honours, I thought it was an appropriate time to let you all know a little secret about me. I am—if research is correct—a great grandson some 17 times removed, of King Edward IV, older brother of Richard III. OK, I know I had little to do with it but I still think it’s cool particularly as I’m a writer of historical fiction and fancy myself a bit of an historian. Being Yankee born and of a certain age, we New Englanders as children had ancestry drummed into us  the way other kids collect Top Trumps, particularly if your family is old pilgrim stock. I lucked out on having on a lot of the family history already researched although I filled in some gaps myself despite the Luftwaffe bollocking things up by fire bombing the Devon public records office in 1942.  But it was thanks to some distant relatives that I recently learned of the Plantagenet connection. It seems I’m descended on my father’s side from one of King Edward’s illegitimate children (of which he had several). “Princess” Elizabeth was formally recognized  by the king as his bastard and was allowed to be named Plantagenet. She eventually married Sir Thomas de Lumley, baronet, in Northumberland. As one does.

My other ancestor

My other ancestor

That said, just doing the genealogical maths, which sort of progress geometrically as the generations ensue, there have to be a hell of a lot of other Plantagenets running around the world today. Millions, in fact. Including, apparently, Benedict Cumberbatch. So really it ain’t that big a deal. The difference is I know about it and most Plantagenet descendants are blissfully unaware they had ancestors in the real Game of Thrones. Am I a “Ricardian”, one of those defenders of the much-maligned monarch? Well, I don’t know if my “great uncle” murdered my forebear’s brothers in the Tower or not. But hey, he’s family right? Gotta love the guy. I point the finger at those upstart Tudors who had just as much motive to see Edward’s line snuffed out. Right, enough said. I’m off to have the white rose of York added to my coat-of-arms over the mantle.

Could Richard III actually sling a sword?


smee_3008364b (1)

Britain’s Channel 4 aired a fascinating documentary this past week, Recreating Richard III—a forensic investigation with a twist (spinal twist really). Historians have always questioned the battle prowess of Richard III given his back deformity and after his remains were conclusively identified, and the extent of his scoliosis seen, these doubts took on greater weight.

Step in Toby Capwell of the Wallace Collection and the Channel 4 team who set about trying to discover whether Richard could have actually dealt with the physical stress of medieval battle. Amazingly, and by chance, they linked up with a 27 year old reenactor with scoliosis. And, as it turned out, with the same degree of spinal curvature and shape as Richard III. Dominic Smee became Richard’s “body double” over a period of months, training in riding and swordfighting and even had a custom suit of armour made for him to account for his twisted ribcage and back.

The results were astounding and made for fascinating viewing as it turned out that even this degree of scoliosis would not preclude swinging a sword effectively. Dominic couched a lance, smacked the quintain, and sparred with foot soldiers. Even did a charge of 700 metres over broken ground.  Admittedly, endurance was a problem as his ribcage could not expand enough for his lungs and heart to pump effectively, meaning that he would run out of puff after a few minutes. As someone who used to reenact medieval combat in full armour, I know that feeling all too well and my ribcage is A1.

Some of the points were not all that surprising: turns out that riding in a medieval saddle provides more support and control than a modern one. Duh. The postage stamp of a modern English saddle is a joke to those of us who ride Western.  There was a parallel thread of analysis on Richard’s skeleton to provide clues on his diet. Turns out that after he became king, his meat and wine consumption went off the scale (leading researchers to claim this affected his overall health and could have contributed to physical failures in the field). But what about every other noble quaffing gallons of wine and eating a whole roast pig for lunch? Seems it was an even playing field in that respect. But at the time of his death, aged 32, his spine already had arthritis and constant pain would have been his companion. Far more likely a contributing factor to his demise perhaps.

For me, the answer was never in doubt. Far too many references in the historical record of Richard’s fighting prowess and not unexpected for someone who would have started training as a boy. Overall, a fun and compelling view and well worth catching if you can online.

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