Genre: Historical fiction
Release Date: 7th November 2016
Publisher: SilverWood Books Ltd
Plague-widow Alice atte Wode is desperate to find her missing daughter, but her neighbours are rebelling against their masters and their mutiny is hindering the search.
June 1349. In a Hampshire village, the worst plague in England’s history has wiped out half its population, including Alice atte Wode’s husband and eldest son. The plague arrived only days after Alice’s daughter Agnes mysteriously disappeared and it prevented the search for her.
Now the plague is over, the village is trying to return to normal life, but it’s hard, with so much to do and so few left to do it. Conflict is growing between the manor and its tenants, as the workers realise their very scarceness means they’re more valuable than before: they can demand higher wages, take on spare land, have a better life. This is the chance they’ve all been waiting for!
Although she understands their demands, Alice is disheartened that the search for Agnes is once more put on hold. But when one of the rebels is killed, and then the lord’s son is found murdered, it seems the two deaths may be connected, both to each other and to Agnes’s disappearance.
Alice atte Wode, the Millers’ closest neighbour, was feeding her hens when she heard Joan’s first terrible anguished cries. Dropping her basket of seed, she ran to the Millers’ cottage. She wanted to cry out too at what she found there: Thomas and Joan both on their knees, clasped together, with Peter’s twisted body between them, sobbing as if the dam of their long pent-up emotions had burst. Alice breathed deeply to steady her nerves, for she didn’t know how to offer any solace for the Millers’ loss.
Not this time.
It was common enough for parents to lose children. It didn’t mean you ever got used to their loss, or that you loved them any less than if they’d lived. Few lost five children in as many months. But the Millers had. The prosperous family Alice knew only six months ago, with its noisy brood of six happy, healthy children, had been swiftly and brutally slaughtered by the great mortality.
Every family in Meonbridge had lost someone to the plague’s vile grip – a father, a mother, a child – but no other family had lost five.
The great mortality, sent by God, it was said, to punish the world for its sins, had torn the village apart. It had struck at random, at the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the innocent and the guilty. Some of its victims died coughing up blood, some with suppurating boils under their arms or next to their privy parts, some covered in dark, blackish pustules. A few recovered, but most did not and, after two or three days of fear and suffering, died in agony and despair, often alone and unshriven for the lack of a priest, when their loved ones abandoned them. After five months of terror, half of Meonbridge’s people were dead.
When the foul sickness at last moved on, leaving the villagers to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, Thomas and Joan Miller went to church daily, to pray for their five dead children’s souls, and give thanks to God for sparing Peter. Then the arrival of baby Maud just a few days ago had brought the Millers a bright ray of hope in the long-drawn-out darkness of their despair.
But Peter hadn’t been spared after all.
ABOUT CAROLYN HUGHES
Carolyn Hughes was born in London, but has lived most of her life in Hampshire. After a first degree in Classics and English, she started her working life as a computer programmer, in those days a very new profession. It was fun for a few years, but she left to become a school careers officer in Dorset. But it was when she discovered technical authoring that she knew she had found her vocation. She spent the next few decades writing and editing all sorts of material, some fascinating, some dull, for a wide variety of clients, including an international hotel group, medical instrument manufacturers and the Government. She has written creatively for most of her adult life, but it was not until her children grew up and flew the nest, several years ago, that creative writing and, especially, writing historical fiction, took centre stage in her life. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.
Fortune’s Wheel is her first published novel, and a sequel is under way.
Goodreads Author Page: http://bit.ly/2hs2rrX
Paperback of Fortune’s Wheel (UK only)
Ecopy of the Book (International)
Learning about the medieval past
Fortune’s Wheel is set in the middle of the fourteenth century. When I embarked upon writing it, my knowledge of the period was fairly limited. I had a lot to learn!
The novel is set in a Hampshire village in 1349-1350, just after what we call the Black Death had left half of its population dead. My research needed to cover the structure of society in a manorial village; people’s roles, including official posts and trades; how people lived from day to day, what they wore, what they ate and when; marriage and family life, death and inheritance; what people thought, their beliefs and concerns; where they lived, their homes, gardens and farming lands; agricultural practices and the farming year; illness and medicine; the role of priests. I also needed to understand the socio-political and economic history of the time, the plague itself, and something about feudal laws and justice. All these subjects relate to society in general, but the novel’s principal characters are women, so I had a particular need also to understand the position of women in the fourteenth century, and their lives as distinct from the lives of men.
As I write the sequels to Fortune’s Wheel, I have yet more to learn: currently, the way justice was actually handled, in terms of courts; rearing sheep; a little about the work of carpenters. For the next novel, I will need to know about inheritance laws and the life of nuns… For another, completed but as yet unpublished, novel, also set in the fourteenth century, to all the above I can add the famines of the early part of the century, aspects of the Hundred Years War, the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, the life of prostitutes, medieval Southampton and London, a little about France and Italy, how people travelled across Europe, and so on…
The research is, obviously, endless, which is just as well because I find it all hugely exhilarating and fascinating. So much so that I am often in danger of spending all day reading history instead of writing fiction. And I have heard many, many writers, especially historical novelists, say the same.
So, where do I find the answers in my eager search for knowledge? Well, history books, obviously, lots of them, old and new. Occasionally, I find somewhat conflicting information – as a result of more recent academic research, for example, or simply a different interpretation – or a haziness about how things were really done. Both mean that I have to make a guess on what was likely and use my imagination to fill in the gaps. Which is, of course, part of the fun of being an historical novelist.
Contemporary literature is useful for a flavour of the mindsets, including, inevitably, Chaucer and Langland, but also Christine de Pisan, Margaret Paston and Margery Kempe, as well as ballads and poems. Other types of contemporary documents, such as the records of manor court proceedings, can give a fascinating insight into very ordinary people’s everyday lives. However, I will confess that I have consulted few primary sources, relying instead on those books that contain translated extracts from them, such as Mark Bailey’s The English Manor. Lazy on my part, you might think, but, with so much to learn, I have taken a pragmatic approach, looking for resources that give me what I need as quickly as possible.
So, if speed is what drives me, what of the Internet? Speed is not, of course, the only criterion. Accuracy is pretty important too! But the Internet is a great starting point. It might be all you need for a tiny detail, but if you need more, articles often refer to the written work of historians and academics, and I tend to trust those more, though not necessarily exclusively, than those without such references. However, what I do find really useful are the various tools that some wonderful people have devised for checking things like calendar dates, sunrise and sunset times, canonical hours and medieval names. Really helpful.
I must not forget contemporary images, valuable for showing what people did and how they looked, although again a degree of caution is required. Of particular value, and a favourite of mine, is the Luttrell Psalter, produced around 1330-35 and kept in the British Library, which gives us a view of how people from different walks of life might have acted, looked and dressed.
And last, but by no means least, for the thrilling and indispensable opportunity they offer for getting a feel of where historical people lived and worked, and appreciating their scale and environment, are historical buildings. Fourteenth century cottages built of wood, wattle and daub and thatch, have mostly not survived, but vernacular buildings have been reconstructed at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, near Chichester. One such is the Hangleton medieval cottage (photograph from the museum’s website), which has always been in my mind as I have written about the homes of the ordinary folk of Meonbridge. Two English Heritage properties that have also proved to be great inspiration, whose interiors are again often in my mind when I am writing about the homes of more affluent Meonbridge folk, are the Medieval Merchant’s House in Southampton, and the wonderful Stokesay Castle in Shropshire.
How glorious and multi-faceted are our historical resources!