My next project ...
Well, an author's life certainly throws up some interesting challenges and I sometimes wonder how I can explain why the plots, twists and turns of characters' lives and the direction of narratives go the way they do ... because sometimes even I don't see things coming. It sounds bonkers even to my ears so I hardly believe my readers to believe it, but the characters do have an autonomy of their own. It's almost as if I have to listen to them, then write down what I'm told! The next novel is no exception. With a protagonist who is reflecting on his life, much of it dark, it's as if I am waiting for him to confess.
On the horizon...
I had wondered about a prequel, a back story to one of the characters in the Pendennis novels but the new novel has a Scottish setting as well as links to Pendennis Castle. The more research I do the more fascinating it gets, with the occasional bolt out of the blue that surprises even me! Inspired by ancestors, a library deep in the Scottish countryside and a beautiful chapel on the North shore of the river Forth, it is set in the later 17th century and, although it doesn't follow on from 'To Untie a Sealed Knot', one of the main characters is Hester's and Daniel's son, William.
The book will be in three parts; one covering the past, one the present and the third the future. It isn't as sci-fi as it sounds- more a means of making the narrative unfold in a more interesting way.
If you'd like a peek at the embryo of the first draft of Time's Chain read on!
They say that a person’s past will catch up with them,
but what if the memories that haunt you are not your own?
Time seems to run slowly this evening. I have walked this encampment and felt the weight of the hours in the soldiers’ demeanour. Come the dawn, Churchill will send the King’s men over these stinking Somerset dykes and expect his troops to have the rebels out of Bridgwater by dinnertime. Our commanders assure us that the pretender Monmouth won’t prevail, not with a pitchfork-army little more than a rabble, so there are a few in our ranks who will be wishing the shadows moved faster. Those with the bravado of youth that cloaks any fear have no need of a chaplain, only expect a hail-fellow salutation – and more ale. But there are others who want their faith fortified with prayers that feel as substantial to them as their pikestaffs. And there are the men who will nod with respect as I pass then return to their own quiet communing with God. Few soldiers will take Him for granted on the battlefield.
Then, occasionally, I find myself in a rare conversation with a man not truly communing with me, or the Lord but with himself, my presence only a sounding board for his reflections.
I have just left one such exchange with an ensign, William Edwards, an intelligent fellow, who has an engaging way with a yarn and who seems popular with his fellow officers.
On my last pass through the lines, noticing a lantern still flickering, I lifted the flap to find his tent largely stripped, his military kit already neatly strapped in its pack. I asked if he wanted company, remarked that he appeared troubled and with a shrug, he replied,
“My wife would have said it was dà-shealladh. Does your faith allow for ‘second-sight’ Chaplain?” I did not realise that I had reacted, but he saw something he took for censure. “Your expression speaks for you!” I tried to reassure him I meant no reproach. He gave a wry chuckle.
“None taken, sir. I am probably merely suffering from lack of sleep but before any engagement, be it a skirmish or siege, only a fool denies there is risk. Slip beneath a push of pike and a man will be lucky to rise again; fall from a horse in the mess of a battlefield and you might just as easily break your neck as be slashed by a cavalryman’s backsword. Or light the fuse on a badly filled grenade - that will be the last thing you see. Perhaps I have a premonition; perhaps it is simply a soldier’s common sense?”
Edwards had obviously been attending to his duties; the satchel of his officers’ missives lay ready for dispatch on the small campaign table, but a flagon and empty tankard stood beside it. He must have noticed my glance,
“Join me, chaplain. I have been drinking His Majesty King James II’s heath and have just sent my orderly for more wine.” Edwards handed me the only folding stool. “The quartermaster owes me a favour so I can send for ale if you prefer?” I shook my head and sat. When the soldier returned carrying a black-jack, the slopped contents dripping on his breeches, he was dismissed with brisk instructions to clean himself up. Ensign Edwards seemed clear headed, sober even, but he also seemed preoccupied.
While he perched on his bedroll or sometimes paced the small tent, head bowed in thought, I listened, occasionally being required to offer comment, but largely bearing witness to a man’s reflections.
He has asked something of me too; to keep in my custody a box of letters. By the look of them they are from a variety of correspondents, but three that he was most particular about are written in his own hand. I have reassured him that I will return them to him once we garrison Bridgwater tomorrow. His response was strange,
“I don’t doubt that you would, chaplain. But I wish you to see that they go to this Falmouth tavern.” He pointed to an address pasted on the lid of the box. What he said next was even more perplexing, “Someone else will tell my story.”
His tone, his curious military record and the revelations made this night have left me ill at ease. To clear my mind, I will write down as much as I can recall.
The words of Ensign William Edwards as recalled by Thomas Garrard, Chaplain to the King’s Army, Westonzoyland on the night of July 4th 1688.
I’m a Cornishman, raised in Falmouth, but all I ever wanted was to get away. I remember the day I told my parents. Pa’s looks were as black as thunder and I expected a beating even though he’d never lifted his hand to me before. Probably what vexed pa the most, apart from the amount that he would be out of pocket, was that I had secretly written to my godfather already. My Ma was first tearful then indignant,
“But why is the trade of locksmith not good enough now? You were keen follow it six-month past …”
“I wasn’t fifteen then; I’ve changed. I need to be more adventurous, do something I will be proud of.” Even to my ears it sounded unconvincing, but the Truro apprenticeship they’d paid for had irked me within the first week whereas the regular militia musters triggered by the war stirred my blood until I was sure that I wanted to do what my father had done: fight. Back then my notion of a fight was a scrap with older lads on the street, when the reality of war was still only the tales that my pa told of Cornish heroes, the grim filth burnished off the battered back and breastplate and pot helmet that hung in the hall.
My parents are tavern-owners but unlikely alliances in the war years left them with uncommon friends. One was an old privateer who was only ever called as Sark, and his wife Grace, my godmother and their son, Hal. My godfather is Colonel Lewis Tremayne, an old Royalist commander and sometime companion to the late King Charles in his years in exile. For as long as I can remember, our families were guests of the Tremaynes at Heligan, Lewis and Mary and their house full of children. We have been there for its celebrations and at its tragedies; Hal and I brawled with their boys as often as not but as youngsters we all knew that the best tales were the old ones of the siege at Pendennis Castle; the rebellion in ’48.
I knew Tremayne could get me an army position. The stumbling block was that my ma lost her first husband and her first born son at Pendennis in ‘46. I am their names-sake. Her expression was bleak as pa told me,
“I will not countenance you going to the army. You well know why; it would break your mother’s heart. I will have no compunction in taking you back to Truro, carrying you in chains if necessary.” Even then I recognised a bolted door when I saw one. But I also knew Tremayne had offered another option, one he knew my parents were willing to accept. The proposal was that I take post as pupil to the land agent on the Tremayne’s estates. It was not the adventure that I wanted – but, in a place I had known all my life, it was a world away from a Truro locksmith’s workshop. I began on Lady Day, 1670.
There was much to learn, from tending the estate livestock to managing the tenements in the tin bounds at Polgooth. It was interesting, varied and Tom Randle was a patient tutor. Five years seemed to pass quickly until, less than a fortnight before my indentures finished, the Colonel called me into his study. He came straight to the point,
“Master Randle has asked leave to retire.” I remember I forgot all the proprieties and whistled. I had no idea he was ill and said so. Taken aback, I had not recognised a pretended solemnity, “I am not aware of an illness, but he has worked long and hard for this family and it is a job that requires energy.” Tremayne even paused for effect. “But Master Randall believes he has a suitable successor.” My godfather could no longer keep a straight face, grinning through feigned pomposity, “Should you be willing, William Edwards, I am formally offering you the post as my new Land Agent.” I practically choked then, and got my back pounded while he tried hard not to laugh, “So shall take that as your assent?”
I only came to understand the reality of my family’s legendary royal connections just over two years later. One summer afternoon a rider caused a stir in the Heligan barton, bringing a letter, a royal command from Mount Edgecumbe near Plymouth. Two days hence His Majesty the King was to take ship to review the troops at Pendennis. He requested the attendance of his loyal Cornish subjects Tremayne, Sark and Edwards at the castle and afterwards on the royal yacht. Furthermore, it was his wish that they would sail with him on the return voyage from Falmouth to Plymouth. The monarch, revisiting old haunts, also wanted to see old friends.
“Polish your boots, Will!” Tremayne said, “Tomorrow you meet the King of England!”
20th August 1677, a day my life changed: the party from Heligan were at the castle at St Mawes as dawn broke. Tremayne was Lieutenant-Governor of the coastal fort across the Fal from Pendennis so his nominal attendance was required as the castle fired her cannons in salute to the small Royal fleet. The smoke was still drifting as we rowed across the estuary to Crab Quay, below the squat granite walls of Pendennis Castle. A track led to the sally port, where we were escorted up to the keep. Sark, Hal and my pa were waiting for us. I had to admire my father; he looked at home, though I suppose I ought not to have been surprised as it was where he’d been garrisoned back in Cromwell’s day. I, on the other hand, was self-conscious as a schoolboy as we waited for His Majesty to finish the inspection. I remember rubbing the toecaps of my boots up the back of my breeches when the Earl of Bath, Sir John Grenville, eventually beckoned us to follow up a broad spiral stair.
The King was in the Governor’s rooms. We were announced. Tremayne bowed; the king embraced him. Then my father first bowed to the King of England then had his arm clasped warmly in a particular grip, elbow to elbow, that I had seen many times at the tavern. There it was always a gesture between two old soldiers. The same greeting was extended to Sark and with equal fervour. Hal was introduced, then it was my turn, bowing while my knees quaked.
Another figure stepped from the window embrasure, and all five of us were duly presented to James, Duke of York. He was perhaps more formal but, ceremony over, the monarch and his brother seemed just like two ordinary gentlemen, enthusing about the sport to come. Not that I had ever seen a gentleman at leisure on a small skiff; boats are working vessels where I come from.
The summer storms that had blown hard for almost a week had passed leaving bright skies and a NW breeze. Loyal Cornwall presented His Majesty with the gift of perfect sailing. The sibling rivalry between the king and his brother, the duke, set the tone for the voyage back to Plymouth. Crews had been swapped; my father, Sark, Hal and Colonel Tremayne, were manning the king’s boat, ‘Neptune’. With Grenville’s teenage son, Charles, I was placed with Sir John Grenville and his gentleman, Mr. Winnow to crew for the Duke of York on ‘Royal Escape’. Court protocol applied only in as much as the King started the race with a shot from the small chaser-gun on his boat’s gunwale. After that, the voyage was a matter of challenging sailing and hard work so any conversation on ‘Royal Escape’ was disjointed but cordial, nonetheless. The Duke showed a genuine interest in my background, querying my aspirations. Initially I was disappointed not to be on the ‘Neptune’, but I discovered that the Duke was a good listener and I learned that a man seldom sees when his Fortune’s wheel turns.
Within months Colonel Tremayne received a royal request, which was more in the form of a command to the Lieutenant Governor of St Mawes Castle. With respect and with apologies for the inevitable inconvenience, Colonel Tremayne was to dispatch his former Land Agent, William Edwards, to London to take up post as Cornet in the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot.
Despite my mother’s misgivings, by royal command of the King of England’s brother, I was now a soldier.