“The Chalice is cracked…”

To All My Readers,

Please accept my profuse apologies for the silence over the last few months.  As you know, by night I plot the most horrid murders, usually based in medieval London; by day I am a Headteacher of a large high school in Woodford Green. Recently, I was approached by the local education authority and asked to take over the running of a Jewish comprehensive, King Solomon in Barkingside. I admit managing two schools at the same time is quite a challenge!  The Jewish community has given me a very warm and supportive welcome, not to mention a few ideas for future projects. I plan to give a lecture soon on the siege of Masada, the ancient fortification in southern Israel.

ROSEBLOOD, my novel about the gangs of medieval London on the eve of the Wars of the Roses, is now out in paperback.  I thoroughly enjoyed writing this and I am now working on its sequel, ROSEWOLF.  I love the period. I remember when I was at Oxford and disagreed with certain professors because, in my view, the great nobles of the 15th Century, the men of war, were not so much political or constitutional figures, but had much more in common with Cosa Nostra, the Mafia.  In both cultures, the leaders openly practised religion, patronised the church, looked after each other yet waged bloody and gruesome war against their opponents and anyone else who betrayed them.  Above all the blood feud dominated.  Take de Vere, Earl of Oxford and Henry VII’s general at the battle of Bosworth in 1485.  Edward the IV and his Yorkist captains always viewed de Vere as a real danger to their house and clan.  Edward IV tried to buy his loyalty but de Vere’s reply was worthy of any Mafioso: “You killed my father and I am going to kill you.” He fulfilled his vow. My series explores this gang culture, both amongst the great lords as well as the ordinary citizens of London.  In ROSEBLOOD, I describe the first battle of St Albans where the Yorkists were absolutely determined to break into the town and wipe out virtually every Lancastrian leader.  They almost did.  Marvellous stirring times!

Also coming out this autumn is the next in the Athelstan series, THE BOOK OF FIRES, where I make use of Mark the Greek’s Book of Fires (a genuine document) to plot murder and mayhem in the fragrant gardens, as well as the stinking alleyways of 14th Century London.  The Peasant’s Revolt, the Great Rebellion of 1381, is now imminent.   To quote a medieval phrase, “The chalice is cracked and the wine of life is fast draining into the dirt.”  My next Athelstan novel, THE HERALD OF HELL, actually ends with the news that the great black and scarlet banners have been raised and the Upright Men of Kent and Essex are flooding south….

The Great Revolt of May-June 1381 now dominates Athelstan’s life because it truly was one of the most momentous summers in English history.  For a few days London and the kingdom teetered on the brink.  The Crown itself fell under grave threat.  Of course, there had been violent battles in the past, and there would be more in the future, which would lead to a change in both dynasty and king.    What is remarkable about the revolt of 1381 is that the rebels, or at least some of them, were not just intent on toppling a government, they dreamed of a radical change of society.  If the likes of John Ball had his way, there would be no king, lord or prelate.  In my view, the Peasant’s Revolt was one of the great ‘people’ movements in human history.  In the end, it is highly ironic that it was defeated by a mere child.

I explore this revolutionary theme in THE BOOK OF FIRES and, I hope, create the real threat the peasants posed with both new weapons and old.  Gunpowder and cannon were beginning to make a serious impact on warfare but, even here, the long bow still ruled the roost.  The English archer, whether he was loosing a fire arrow or not, remained a most formidable soldier. A master bowman could loose 6 shafts in a minute.  Can you imagine what a thousand archers could achieve, an effect almost similar to that of a machine gun?  Now the real danger for the likes of John of Gaunt were that these bowmen were not skilled mercenaries like the Genoese crossbowmen hired by the princes of Europe, no, the longbow men were simple English peasants, farmers, ploughmen, carters, ditch-diggers who, in the twinkling of an eye and under the right command, could emerge as one the most effective fighting forces in the history of warfare.  THE BOOK OF FIRES portrays all this but it’s also a journey which will take you down pitch-black alleyways, treacherous runnels and dangerous coffin tracks. Along these haunted, forbidding paths lurks a killer with a penchant for murder second to none. I do hope all my readers enjoy it as much as I did, writing the book.

I have also turned my hand to writing some ghost stories set in different backgrounds: Ancient Egypt, Classical Rome and Medieval England.  I do plan to bring these out very shortly.  Sometimes, when in London I catch faint glimpses of the medieval city I have come to know so well.  Cheapside has gone, Smithfield may not be the hurly burly meadow it once was but the shadows and the ghosts still lurk there as they do along the ancient lanes and pilgrim paths of the countryside.  I am eager to tread these again!

Anyway, I hope you all had a lovely restful summer and let’s raise a glass to the fascinating times ahead – at least in fiction!

Kindest regards to you all,

Paul Doherty OBE