The 17th century in historical fiction is starting to come into its own, and one of the authors on the front line of that battle is M.J. Logue, author of the Uncivil War series.
This is a series that has been described as the 17th century equivalent of the Sharpe and for good reason. Logue’s character, Captain Hollie Babbitt, is a hard-bitten professional soldier trying to survive a bloody civil war. It has everything you could want in historical fiction: action, rich characterization and historical accuracy.
It is my pleasure to welcome M.J Logue to my blog…
In historical fiction, there is constant dialogue around the balance between historical accuracy and fiction. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s possible to be too historically accurate, I think. I have been accused of living in 1645 – surely some mistake! – and I admit, I’m passionate about being as accurate as I can in my historical facts and my attention to detail. What I do is take matters of historical fact and put a troop of horse in them who weren’t actually there. (In fact, if history doesn’t record who did it, and it was either ill-conceived or intemperate, it’s probably going to be Babbitt!)
But. Example. I happened to come across an extract from a 16th century law case in which one Nicholas Crundall announced that he “cared not a turd for…” (the Queen’s peace) Which sounds stilted and olde-worlde to our modern ears. Nicholas Crundall couldn’t give a shit about the Queen’s peace? Almost exactly the same phrase, and yet one is immediately – and scatologically – accessible to a modern audience, and the other sounds like fancy-dress.
I think the importance of telling the story as it would have been understood at the time is the important thing. Not trying to dress it up in modern clothes, but trying to make it comprehensible to a modern reader. Trying to get across the passion and the fire and the reality of a period, living through it, without turning into a text book. The TV series Tales From A Green Valley illustrates this – four archaeologists who lived in a 17th century farmhouse for a year, working the land, living the life of a hill-farmer in the time of James I. And telling us, the audience, about what they were doing, in contemporary language.
The 17th Century hasn’t, as yet, been a popular era for historical fiction. Why should readers be drawn to this era?
I think it’s a period of history in which we can see huge number of parallels to the present, and that makes it accessible, makes people’s motivations much more human and real. Very real fears around government, and liberty, and a huge fear of “other”, a perception of being under threat by a threatening alien belief system. (In the 17th Century the great bogeyman was the Catholic church, and just about anyone even suspected of Catholic sympathies was a threat to national security- in much the same way as certain groups now look on Muslims generically as threatening. Ignorance and superstition. Haven’t we come a long way?)
And then there’s the people involved in the politics, the Rainsboroughs and the Lilburnes and the Pyms and the Hampdens – real, passionate, breathing men whose voices you can still hear from the pages of the Putney Debates.
And, of course, there are the romances – proper, real, lasting love stories: Thomas Fairfax and his formidable wife Anne, not the prettiest, but a woman he loved and lived with contentedly his whole life long without a breath of scandal. Henry Ireton and Bridget Cromwell, who crossed the country to marry him under siege in the King’s stronghold at Oxford. Lady Derby, Babylon herself, defending her husband’s honour and his house against everything Fairfax could throw at her.
And that’s before you get onto the Restoration, and really everything about the Restoration was sexy – with the possible exception of those awful wigs. Beautiful women in low-cut bodices, strong women doing dashing deeds (Aphra Behn!), the poetry, the sheer voluptousness of the fashion and the literature and the amazing scientific research being done for the sheer joy of doing it –
Oh. And I am with Oliver Cromwell on this –
“I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain, that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which is a gentleman and nothing else.”
In Red Horse, we are introduced to Luce Pettitt, a privileged, idealistic young man, and Hollie Babbitt, a professional, war-hardened man. Both men are perfect foils for one another. What inspired these characters?
They’re not actually polar opposites, those two. It’s why they don’t get on, to start off with – because Hollie can’t help wondering how different he might have been if he’d had Luce’s advantages.
Luce is, of course, Edmund bloody Lovelace in a tawny sash. To Alethea, on Going to the Wars – ugh! Sappy stuff! Nice lad, but really needs to sort his romantic attitude out.
My lot were always going to be rebels – Roundheads, if you prefer. If Prince Rupert had been born a plain backwater gentleman – and if he’d attained the age of thirty-six having been repeatedly kicked in the teeth by fate every time he got almost-settled – he’d be Hollie. Hot at hand, impulsive, fearsome on the field and probably somewhat arrogant and definitely bad-tempered off it. Obviously, Rupert is Rupert, and gets away with a lot that Hollie doesn’t, which drives our captain absolutely stark mad….
And Luce is any one of a thousand nice, slightly dreamy, hopeful young men who join up to any war because it’s the right thing to do, without much of an idea which of a sword is which, and either grow up very quickly or get shot to bits. There is always a Luce Pettitt, in wars. There’s a lot of Wilfred Owen in him. The rather diffident, gentle one at the back, who’s not great at the soldiering thing, but who will do his duty because it’s his duty.
Many writers find it hard to do battle scenes well but in Red Horse, your rendition of the Battle of Edgehill was thrilling.
The Battle of Edgehill was a lash-up, and I will be writing a blog post on it for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog on October 23rd.
I think being a re-enactor helps, actually. I have gone on the field in big cavalry battles (Cheriton being of a similar geography to Edgehill – up and down hill!) and I think even that, without being under real fire, gives you a taste of what it would have been like.
What’s next for Luce and Babbitt?
Chronologically, the next book in the series is The Smoke of Her Burning – Yorkshire, 1644, following directly on from Command the Raven. The individual referred to in the title is Babylon, by the way, rather than a slight on Mistress Babbitt’s cooking, and it’s a very silly play on words as the book after that (chronologically) is set around the Siege of Lathom House, which was commanded from the Royalist side by Lady Derby – also known to the Puritan preachers on the outside as Babylon. Ho ho. The Smoke of Her Burning is set around the Battle of Selby, and is out in October.
M J Logue has been passionate about the English Civil War since writing her first novel over 20 years ago. After a brief flirtation with horror and dark fantasy, she returned to her first love, historical fiction, and now combines the two. She has a degree in English literature, trained as an archivist, and likes Jacobean theatre, loud music, and cheese.
When not attempting to redeem the reputation of the Army of Parliament, she lives in Cornwall with her husband and son, three cats, and a toad under the back doorstep.
The Uncivil War series is available through Amazon.
Connect with M J Logue in the following forums:
“ThomasRainsborough” by http://www.putneydebates.com/Rainsborough1.gif. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ThomasRainsborough.gif#/media/File:ThomasRainsborough.gif
“Levellers’ Manifest” by John Lilburne, William Walwyn, Thomas Prince, Richard Overton – Английская буржуазная революция XVII века. Т. 1. М.: Издательство Академии наук СССР, 1954. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Levellers%27_Manifest.jpg#/media/File:Levellers%27_Manifest.jpg