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Archive for December, 2009

So, the question is, “How do you feel towards the church? As your books are all based on the church doing wrong?”

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

An interesting question from a reader last week – and I’ve been intending to get round to answering. Today I did, but it makes a good topic for the blog, because it is something I’m asked fairly often nowadays. There seems to be a belief among readers that every attitude in my books must reflect my own. Well, no, they don’t. My job is to get inside the heads of other people and explain their thoughts and motives. In the same way that I don’t have to experience the joys of killing other people to write crime,

Why do I have so much misbehaviour in my books?

Because it’s what happened. Seriously.

I’m very happy with the church generally. I’m proud to be able to call the Rector of Crediton a friend. And, in my defence, you have to bear in mind that in my books I use characters like Peter Clifford, Abbot Champeaux, Bishop Walter II, the Dean of Exeter, and God knows how many others who are all decent enough guys. The bad ones tend to be a rarity, really. If you add up all the good monks, the pleasant clerics, the recorders and clerks, you’ll find plenty of amiable, patient fellows.

However, you have to bear in mind that when an organisation directly or indirectly employs somewhere in the region of a third of the total male workforce of the country, there will be some bad apples.

The cases I use are generally from documents.

So the Parson of Quantoxhead is genuine;   the Exeter Canon who broke into a house and stole goods is genuine (John Dyrewyn);   as is the case of the priest ( John de Thorntone) who kidnapped a woman, raped her, ransomed her, and then kept both woman and ransom without making restitution.  The case of the eleven who broke open St Buryen Church and beat the Dean and attendants so harshly that their lives were feared of was true, as was that of the three priests of Crediton guilty of gross immorality. As was the story of Stapledon breaking into the Dominicans; the misbehaviour of the nuns at Belstone (culled from the cases at two other Devon convents recorded in Bishop Grandisson’s rolls); the robberies, the extortion, all the cases I’ve given are from the records. As is the story of the Mad Monk of Gidleigh – except he was called the Mad Monk of Haldon Hill in the court records.

And in case you think Devon folk were uniquely venal, don’t forget that it was at this time that the Crown Jewels were moved from Westminster Abbey to the Tower of London because the monks at the abbey were complicit in a theft of the jewels in 1303!

I do see my job as being moderately impartial. I like to show how things really were, not either as a rosy-tinted view of ye olde England, nor as a repellent neo-Marxist tale of grim, unrelenting misery. I try always to tell it as it is.

Unfortunately (or, rather, fortunately since I’m a crime writer!) there are just a vast number of cases of misbehaving nuns and monks and clerks and priests and all the rest of them!

It’s why Medieval England was such fun!


Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

DSC_0094, originally uploaded by michael_jecks.

Idyllic picture. Taken on the Friday morning of our last day on the moors. Beautiful morning, made slightly better by the fact that the rain-filled stream did not quite rise high enough to engulf us. It rose above its banks and headed west towards Keith’s tent, but didn’t make it the full five feet – it stopped two feet short. He was lucky.

However, there is a tale about this picture. You see that hill in the background? The big one? Yes? There’s a bit of my bloody watch up there!

On all that walk, I had only a few stumbles. Three times into a boggy patch sticks in my memory somewhat. But that pales into insignificance beside tripping over a lump of granite on that hill.

The little tracks on the moor can be very sunken, with shoulder-high furze all around, and a path that’s six inches wide and eight deep; OK usually, but when tired . . . There was this rock in the middle of the track – and I just didn’t see it. So I tripped, put out my hand, and clobbered the little rock’s bigger brother. There was a crunch. It hurt. The nail on my thumb was ripped back. That hurt. So much, in fact, I didn’t notice the other pain on my wrist, where my watch had been. It had been wrenched from my wrist, and dangled floppily. The stainless steel bracelet had been broken, with a tiny piece of metal, less than an inch long, yanked off.

So today I phoned around for quotations. FIrst of all I asked for the cost of the bracelet. Hahahahaha. No. Then I restricted the quotes to only the clasp. And it STILL hurts as much as having my thumbnail ripped off!

Still, it was a fun walk!