This collection of short stories is now available, raising money for the Scoliosis Association UK and full of wonderful tales of King Richard III.
Yes, that King Richard.
Among the many fantastic stories, Grant Me the Carving of My Name (the title used with permission of the poet who first wrote them, Carole Ann Duffy), are two stories by me – ‘Long Live the King’, a flash fiction about a possible alternative history, and ‘Myth and Man’, where Shakespeare’s Richard meets history’s Richard, at the moment of their making and undoing.
RIII on the radio!
I’m delighted to announce that I will be talking to Lucille Hughes on her Readings and Writings show on Inner FM on Wednesday 5 December.
I’m very proud to be included in this collection of stories about Richard III. The subject gives scope to a lot of storytelling approaches – ghost stories and the metaphysical; slices of history from Richard’s first battle or his happier years as Duke of Gloucester; even a little science fiction slips into the mix.
The book’s proceeds go to the excellent cause of Scoliosis Association UK, but it stands on its own merits too, as a series of glimpses into Richard’s true history, the history that was written for him by the victors of Bosworth and the new, kinder histories being invented for him by those trying to create a balance between the two.
I am so excited to announce that pre-orders are now available for the ebook of Grant Me the Carving of My Name – a book of short stories inspired by Richard III.
The book contains two stories by me – ‘Long Live the King’, a flash fiction about a possible alternative history, and ‘Myth and Man’, where Shakespeare’s Richard meets history’s Richard, at the moment of their making and undoing.
A paperback is also coming – I’ll update with those details as they become available.
An international group of authors who have all been inspired by England’s last Plantagenet King, Richard III, are working together to raise funds in support of Scoliosis Association UK through sales of a collection of their work.
Grant Me the Carving of My Name is an anthology of 15 short stories by a dozen authors from the UK, Ireland, the USA and Australia. It takes its title (with her permission) from a poem by poet laureateCarol Ann Duffy which was read by Benedict Cumberbatch at the king’s reburial in Leicester in 2015.
The collection also features a Foreword by acclaimed historical novelist Philippa Gregory, author of The White Queen, which was dramatized by the BBC in 2013 and featured a rare positive portrayal of King Richard, by Aneurin Barnard (Dunkirk, War and Peace).
As Philippa Gregory states in her Foreword, ‘This collection has come about – as so many good things do – from a dream and a joke’ – when editor Alex Marchant and Wendy Johnson, a key member of the Looking for Richard Project responsible for rediscovering the king’s grave, joked about getting together to publish short stories they had written about this most controversial king. The enthusiasm of the other authors approached to contribute led to the dream becoming a reality.
The collected stories offer an alternative view of this often-maligned king and range from glimpses of his childhood and domestic life, through battles and rebellions, to explorations of the afterlife and his historical reputation. By turns elegiac, mystical, brutal, light-hearted, uplifting, there’s something for everyone within these pages.
King Richard himself suffered from scoliosis – a lateral curvature of the spine that would have become increasingly disabling and painful as he aged, and was only revealed during examination of his skeleton after his grave was excavated in 2012. Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK) supports children and adults with the same condition throughout the UK today and was the obvious charity to support with proceeds from this book.
After a day exploring the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre (and regretting that I’d missed the annual re-enactments of the battle in August) I rested my weary head in the splendid Richard III room at the Belmont Hotel.
My possibly misplaced fondness for dear old Richard meant that I slept peacefully under the watchful eye of his portrait instead of wondering when he might instructing his minions to “rumour it abroad that Narrelle, my fanciful biographer, is sick and like to die”.
And then I went into Leicester in search of the real Richard III
Temporary displays and an excellent audio-visual presentation give a good overview of the dynastic ructions which preceded Richard’s claiming of the throne from his brother’s boy Edward V, on the basis that Edward IV’s children were illegitimate.
(There is apparently evidence that Edward V, a known philanderer, had actually been married before he married Elizabeth Woodville, and that his first wife was still alive and in a nunnery. Parliament agreed with Richard and proclaimed the boys bastards.)
Understanding all this dynastic and even tribal argy bargy between the Yorks and the Lancasters is a bit of an ask, but vital to understanding what happened to bring Richard III to the throne and shortly thereafter to an ignominious burial. The KRIII centre does a good job of this before leading the visitor through displays that precis the key points of Richard’s reign and on to the challenges to his rule, the still unexplained disappearance of his disinherited nephews, and the final battle at Bosworth Field.
Upstairs, the displays look more at the popular opinion of Richard as influenced both by Shakespeare and the organisations, existing since the 19th century, which aimed to give a more balanced and realistic account of the man and his rule.
From there to the forensic account of the discovery of his body by members of the Ricardians, how his bones were identified and what was learned from his body.
The replica of his bones with material on the various wounds he received at Bosworth was what moved me the most. Accounts say he swore to live and die a King and not retreat from the field, and the blows he received, including an insulting post-death stabbing, seem to speak of courage, desperation and cruelty, all.
Leicester Cathedral tour
That curious sorrow for a long dead king struck me again when Tim and I went next to Leicester Cathedral, where we were guided around the church, as it was back in the day. Our guide spoke of the thousands who came to pay their respects to the lost king’s remains – spurred by curiosity as much as compassion, one supposes. The guide spoke in wonder of a woman who flew out from Moscow a day after seeing the thousands of people who lined up to see his coffin and its sumptuous funeral pall.
The simple alabaster tomb over his grave is elegantly carved and angled. “On the six sunny days we get in Leicester,” said our guide, “The sun comes through the stained glass window to reflect colours on his grave.”
The idea of that made me happy in a melancholy way. Richard’s body was bundled, naked, from the battlefield on the back of a horse. He was stabbed, post-mortem, and put on display to prove he was dead. He was buried hurriedly in a nearby Friary, so not completely without respect, but his head was bent, his hands were tied. His bones seemed small and sad in the pictures where they were found in situ. This simple, solemn, elegant grave feels like a kindness.
Although that Catholic and devout gentleman would no doubt spin in his elegant grave at thought of what that wicked Shakespearean version of him gets up to with Khan in my stories, I’m glad to see at last a more balanced and just view of his achievements and flaws, and the great shadow cast over both by those two lost boys.
The walking tour shows other parts of Leicester’s history – it’s not all dead kings and surprise wins by the local football club. There are Roman ruins too. Richard’s history is also replete with mistaken historians and uncertainties about what really happened. Until relatively recently, Richard’s remains were thought to have been dug up and thrown into the river under the Bow Bridge. Near the bridge in question, three separate plaques refer to the changing understanding of that incorrect history.
Steve’s tour gives a broader view of Leicester and elements of Richard’s story in the landscape where it took place. For all his wicked reputation, Richard is still viewed with some pride by the locals and streets are named for him as well as numerous pubs. People place white roses at the feet of his statue.
It’s an excellent way to consolidate everything I’ve learned so far while pacing the roads that, more or less, a King once rode and his body returned on.
Will the real King Richard please stand up
While Richard’s culpability in his nephew’s disappearance from the Tower and possible murder is still a subject of conjecture, elements of his character can be gleaned from his loyalty to King Edward IV, the legislation he passed during his short reign, and the few surviving letters he wrote.
His history has been written by those who defeated him (and whose ascension to the throne also relied on there being no legitimate living children of Edward V to stand in the way). Most people’s memory of Richard lodged in most people’s experience by William Shakespeare’s brilliant play.
However, if not for Shakespeare’s deliciously villainous Richard, the world may not have cared so much when, against amazing odds, his body was discovered, mostly intact, over 500 years later underneath nondescript car park.
Richard’s head was pressed upward in its hastily dug grave, hands apparently bound, his spine twisted with scoliosis. It’s an image to invoke pity, whatever version of Richard you prefer.
My Richard III
I carry in my head the vivid but fictional villainy of Shakespeare’s Richard. That image vies with the version I created for myself in fictions of a Richard and Khan redeemed not only by love but by the desire to be worthy of such love.
With these few days in Leicester, I also carry now the more balanced image of Richard: a man of his time. He was for many years a loyal brother, a courageous warrior, and a wise administrator who may have been responsible (through direct deed or indirectly through his authority over those who committed it) of the deaths of his nephews; or may have been made the scapegoat by those who had as much to gain from their deaths but less obvious opportunity to ensure them.
Unless further miracles of history occur to tell us, we’re left to choose the Richard we prefer. Our preference is probably determined by our own natures.
I prefer to believe in a man who tried to be fair and loyal but was compromised by circumstance: at worst, his own ambition, at best, a too-rigid belief in the rule of succession within the context that Edward’s children may well have been illegitimate and that made him the rightful heir, come hell or high water.
As Hamlet says of his father: “He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.”
Whether or not you’re a Ricardian, you might enjoy my most recent books: Ravenfall, a paranormal thriller and gay romance set in contemporary London, and Near Miss, a short lesbian love story with yarnbombing, set in Melbourne. If het love/adventure stories are more your thing, check out my spy series, Secret Agents, Secret Lives.
My relationship with Richard III is a bit rambling and has a few strange turns.
Like most people, what I knew of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, boiled down to one simple story: he was a wicked, hunchbacked man who stole the throne and murdered his innocent nephews, before being cut down in battle while calling out for a horse.
Shakespeare’s play – a fiction written for a Tudor audience and heavily influenced by histories written by Tudor accounts – obviously in turn influenced centuries of popular opinion on this game loser of the Wars of the Roses.
These days, I’m a much keener advocate of King Richard III as a misunderstood monarch. Books like The Maligned Kinghave sown enough doubt about his complicity in the boys’ disappearance and made me a Ricardian!
Hot on the heels of my second viewing of theTrafalgar Theatre production, my friend, fellow writer and co-conspirator, Wendy Fries, dared me to write a Richard III/Star Trek’s Khan fanfiction. After 30 seconds of denying such a thing was possible, I wrote the first of what turned out to be 14 stories of time travel, reincarnation, epic love and redemption.
I turned Shakespeare’s (and Freeman’s) mad, bad Richard into a whole new character – and my curiosity about the real Richard was revived. Not long after I’d written the stories, Richard’s recently rediscovered bones were reinterred at Leicester Cathedral. The pathos of the moment, combined my unexpected emotional investment in both the fictional and the real King, spurred me onto further reading. I read Jospehine Tey’s The Daughter of Time and then, hungry for facts, Annette Carson’s The Maligned King.
All of which brings me to Leicester, and on the trail of the history of King Richard III, who was surely no saint, but who wasn’t a black-hearted villain either.
The Bosworth Battlefield
My first day in Leicester took us to the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre. Between intermittent bursts of rain and sunshine, we were guided through the exhibition in the old farmhouse by the centre’s curator, Richard Knox.
The actual location of the battlefield wasn’t certain until relatively recently, when investigation located both the marsh in which Richard III’s horse got bogged and a wealth of medieval cannon balls. The Centre is located on what was the King’s encampment. From the nearby hill, a frame surmounted by Richard’s and Henry Tudor’s standards looks down on the valley where Richard met his end.
There’s a trick of imagination I indulge when visiting historical sites. I close my eyes and try to place myself across time, in the shoes of whoever once stood here. I have rested on the stones at the base of the Egyptian pyramids where workers once rested. I have placed my hands on Roman walls that were built by hands long gone to dust.
This day I stood on the earth that those long-gone medieval once stood on; suffered on; died on.
Here a man with a twisted spine – recently bereaved of both son and wife, an administrator with a concern for justice who was overhung with an appalling mistrust over the fate of his disinherited and vanished nephews – decided to live or die as a king of England.
Had he killed Henry instead of Henry’s standard bearer, the fate of English history may have been different.
The Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre takes no sides in the debate about Richard’s character. As Knox says during our tour, the job of the centre is to present the facts of the battle as far as they can be known. This includes presentations of the events leading to the battle, the kinds of weapons and armour used, the key events during the battle as understood from contemporaenous reports, and the aftermath.
The centre also presents material from the various archaelogical researches that went into locating the actual battlefield. Among the items on display is a boar pin, which would have been worn by one of Richard’s household, who rallied to him in the fatal final moments of the battle. Where it was found, the historians surmise, is where he fell, fighting
These final hours of Richard’s short life and two-year reign are covered at the centre with objective thoroughness. If you’re interested in medieval history, whether or not you’re a Ricardian, it’s worth the considerabal trek out to see this thoughtful and intelligently presented battlefield site.
Next I’ll be writing about the discovery of Richard’s body under a Leicester car park and his reinterment at the cathedral.