Jemahl Evans interview Part Two
Concluding part of Jemahl Evans Interview
Samuel Butler -Poet- 1613- 1680 . Portrait by Pieter Borsseler courtesy Wiki Commons
Continuing my interview with novelist Jemahl Evans . Part One is here To recap slightly Jemahl's lead character is one Sir Blandford Candy- " an irascible old drunk with a hatred of poets and a love of hats" : In fact 'hatred' is probably too mellow a word to describe the seething contempt he has for Samuel Butler and the poem ' Hudibras' . Blandford was ninety five years old in 1719, and the sole surviving Roundhead.
One enthusiast summed up Jemahl's 2015 novel, 'The Last Roundhead', as '"Flashman meets the Three Muskateers in a picaresque romp through Stuart England" and the sequel, 'This Deceitful Light' , is certainly of a similar nature. A collection of five short stories 'Davenant s Egg and Other Tales' (2017) , all connected to the 1643 Siege of Gloucester, has also appeared, demonstrating the bitter humour and the bizarre, as well as the heartbreak to be found in a civil war.
Who has influenced you writing ? I thought Voltaire's 'Candide' must be an influence, particularly in respect of 'Davenant's Egg'?
Gosh, Voltaire wasn't a deliberate influence but I do get the puncturing of enthusiasm and misanthropy that was very early eighteenth century. I was probably thinking more of Swift in that respect, but the two aren't mutually exclusive in their ideas. Actually, when 'The Last Roundhead' was on a free deal it got to number 1 on Amazon just edging 'Candide' into second place, which was a bit of a buzz.
George Macdonald Fraser is an influence, although I always hasten to point out (that) Blandford isn't a Flashman clone in character or morality despite his irascibility. I often say Gosciny and Underzo ( creators of 'Asterix the Gaul' ) at talks with people. They think this is a joke, but actually I find them masterful storytellers. I think anyone writing historical fiction at the moment is influenced by Bernard Cornwell in one way or another. Ever since I was a kid I have been a voracious reader, so authors like Rosemary Sutcliff, Henry Treece, Ronald Welsh, Geoffrey Trease, Mary Renault all had a profound influence on me. I draw a lot from film as much as literature; Blandford himself is an ancestor of Colonel Blimp from the Powell and Pressburger film: Ealing comedies and classic sitcoms. That generation of music hall star who into film had such brilliant timing and structure to their comedy; Stan Laurel, Chaplin, Will Hay, Sid Field, Arthur Askey, and later people like Ronnie Barker, Croft and Perry. There's a long history of comedy and tragedy entwined together in literature, and I really wanted to reflect that.
Any type of historical writing are you writing in opposition to? In some respects the antics of Blandford Candy appear to be parodying characters such as Dennis Wheatley's Roger Brook. Roger always just happens to be at every crucial event of the French Revolution, The Directorate, and Napoleon's empire, gets out of every single scrape, wins every duel, has a great time spying, gets to sleep with all the pretty girls etc. Is Blandford an anti-hero by comparison ?
I'm not personally a fan of bodice busting stuff in the Tudor court or Jane Austen pastiches, but I wouldn't object to them. Fiction is for entertainment primarily. My background in the Wars of the Roses means I consciously avoid fiction set in that period, and I have done since I was a teenager, particularly Ricardian fiction. 'The Sunne in Spleandour' is a great novel but my historian's sensibilities get riled a bit there- he was guilty as sin, get over it ! However, I am certain my portrayal of historical characters is just as irritating to some Early Modern Historians. I don't like pseudo-history about ancient aliens and a lot of the TV sensationalism around how the past is presented today. I worry about how we teach the subject, the overwhelming reliance upon facts rather than skills in the national curriculum, and nationalisation of the past in the media and by politicians. In a way my books are an antidote to that ( to go back reflecting on modern times).
Blandford is certainly a bit of an anti-hero, although I haven't read those Wheatley books ( I did like the Hammer adaptations of his novels). Making him the opposite of what was expected for his class, social standing looks, vanity, was deliberate. He is the archetypal cavalier on the wrong side according to the stereotypes, but not in this history. The war wasn't a simple division of fashion, which sometimes the conflict is boiled down into. Once I had him down as contrary, it all sort of flowed from there. I used to laugh when writers would say their characters speak to them, but its very true. Sometimes they take over and lead the writing. He gets the pretty girls, like Bond, but the husband catches up with him ; he fights the duel and loses; he is fallible, foolish, and makes some hideous mistakes, but he's also loyal, generous, brave, and relatively self-aware. I think that's what makes him human and and engaging as a character. I've always liked the moral rogues in history and fiction.
What is the future for Blandord Candy ? Is it true that he is about to meet D'Artagnan in next novel?
I can confirm that rumour...Book 3 is tentatively called 'Of Blood Exhausted' ( a line from Ovid). The writing frame allows me to play with metafiction ( don't be surprised to see Jacob Armitage and his orphaned grandchildren if Blandford ever goes through the New Forest). Dumas and Sabran based their D'Artagnan on the historical individual, so I've gone back to that history whilst also paying a bit of homage to them ( and Richard Lester and Roy Kinnear). The idea of historical figures who are also famous fictional characters being written about by a fictional narrator ( who is ridiculed by a real poet in 'Hudibras' ) allowed me to bring in lots of allusions, references, and suchlike from literature into my writing. In the short stories there are allusions to Hamlet, but also to Will Hay's comedies and even Ronnie Corbett. Henry and James, Blandord's brothers, were deliberately named after Henry James' 'Turn of the Screw' , a gothic novel, with an unreliable narrator and a found manuscript as plot devices. They're like little Easter eggs that might make you smile if you spot them, at least I hope so, but if doesn't matter if nobody notices.
For Blandford, book 3 ends with the Battle of Naseby ( I don't think that's too much of a spoiler) and Book 4 is set in New Holland and Maryland. I'm just sketching out the plan for that and researching things at the moment. I expect book 3 will be out next year, it depends on beta readers and editors reactions, publishing schedules and the like, but hopefully soon. Beyond that I have his life sketched out until around 1670ish. Book 5 should see him back in England for the Second Civil War and execution of the King, and John Hurry's capture and execution in 1650 means a jaunt to Scotland with Cromwell. There's an embassy to Sweden in the 1650's already hinted at, the Restoration and Great Plague/Fire. Samuel Luke's son wrote an account of his time in the English colony of Tangier in 1670. and there's a small reference to that in 'This Deceitful Light'. The Monmouth Rebellion has been referenced, and the Glorious Revolution, so there is a long way to go, a lot of history to cover. I plan on gaps from the main narrative with shorts here and there, maybe a novella.
You incorporate newspaper reports into the novels. How important are they for anyone studying this era? How can historians get to view newspapers of the time?
I hope they give a wider picture of the war for readers of the series to compliment Blandord's narrative. One of the drawbacks of first person narrators is the restricted perspective, so letter and news articles hopefully address that.
For historians, I think they are a vital resource. It is really the birth of journalism and the tabloid press. There's propaganda, fake news, social and political commentary, slander and scurrility. I sometimes get lost reading old newspapers, because they are such an insight into the past. We are really lucky that the bookseller George Thomason realised what momentous times he was living through, and what a fabulous legacy for the future collecting pamphlets and broadsheets would be. His collection was gifted to the nation back in the 18th century. It's now digitised on Early English Books Online, and local libraries, colleges and universities can all give you freed access to them. They tend to need a bit of tweaking on punctuation and language to make it easier for readers of the books, but I am careful to keep the information and tone of the original.
I like your use of expressions, sentiments, and remarks that seem to be so plausible for the time. I there any one particular sources historians can consult in this regard- a seventeenth century version of 'Grosse Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue' ( from the eighteenth century) ?
There's the New Dictionary of the Canting Crew which predated the Grosse Dictionary by a bit, but the slang hasn't changed much. I get a lot from Shakespeare, and the King James Bible is fabulous to try and find the rhythm of the period. Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible' was something I read again, he deals with the language and a modern audience brilliantly. Also reading peoples letters, news articles, and memoirs helps it seep in a bit. I think the challenge is to use some of the language but still make it modern and accessible to readers. I went overboard on my first draft of 'This Deceitful Light' and my wonderful editor at Holland House had to get her red pen out and drag me back to the 21st century.
Who are your favourite fiction writers ( generally speaking)? Any new writers we should be looking out for?
Oh so many, certainly everyone already mentioned. Matthew Harffy's 'Bernicia Chronicles set in the seventh century are brilliant, I'm loving that series. Angus Donald's 'Blood Series' is another that I'm really into at the moment. Julian Rathbone was brilliant, and Dave Gemmel, Douglas Adams, and Pratchett. I happily read their books again and again. I really admire C.J.Samson's ability to plot brilliant novels; Mike Jecks is another whose historical fiction is gripping. Kali Napier is a fabulous new writer whose debut ('The Secret at Oceans Edge') came out with Hatchette in Australia and Little Brown over here, a great novel set in 1930''s Oz. Kali and I got to know each other on the Authonomy writing site many years ago and I am often in awe of her work. Anthony Saunders is another from that site that really should have been published and a bestseller years ago. He's also a great historian and helped me no end in understanding seventeenth century fencing styles and swords for book 3.
Thank you to Jemhal Evans for giving such an extensive interview. Author Website