Monday 15 March 2021

Join me in conversation with #HistoricalFiction author, Mark Turnbull. Mark's fabulous novel, The King's Spy, is only 0.99 on #Kindle for a Limited Time @1642Author @SharpeBooks


Publication Date: 4th February 2021
Publisher: Sharpe Books 
Page Length: 125 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction


14th June 1645.

The Battle of Naseby is set to decide the outcome of the civil war in England.

The armies of King Charles I face those of Parliament and its untested New Model Army. Yet amidst the carnage, an intensely personal battle takes place between two men.

Captain Maxwell Walker is a royalist cavalry officer, widower and father. Loyal and brave, but haunted by his grief, Maxwell thirsts for revenge. His life has never been the same since his encounter with the parliamentarian Gervase Harper, a man whose ruthless streak sees him prosecute the war with vigour. Harper cuts down anyone who gets in his way. Maxwell’s wife was no exception.

The outcome of Naseby sends causes Maxwell to be tasked with a royal rescue mission. The King’s most personal possession must be retrieved. His cypher would allow Parliament to decode captured royal correspondence and that would deal a major blow in the propaganda war.

The soldier must play the spy.

His actions, however, earn him the enmity of both sides. The hunter becomes the hunted.

Facing a murder charge, as well as a great siege, Maxwell makes a discovery that might just save himself and the King’s remaining cavalry.

However, all of this rests upon his next encounter with Gervase Harper.

Mary Anne: A huge congratulations on your new release, The King's Spy, could you tell us a little about your series and what inspired you to write it?

Mark Turnbull: The King’s Spy is the first book in my new Rebellion series and follows Captain Maxwell Walker, a royalist cavalryman. It is set in the latter part of the War of the Three Kingdoms and opens at the Battle of Naseby in 1645. Much of what I’d read described the outcome of Naseby - a resounding royalist defeat - as the end of King Charles I’s cause, but in actual fact the royalists could have turned the defeat around within the 12 weeks following the battle. That crucial time, in which the King attempted to march his ‘Oxford army’ north, to link up with his Scottish forces, was full of action, adventure and politics. I couldn’t resist this backdrop and getting into the midst of it through my writing. There’s also the notorious capture of the royal correspondence at Naseby, which was a propaganda defeat for the King, and this forms part of the plot. Books two and three will give me the opportunity to move into the period around the King’s surrender in 1646 and the peace negotiations and political chaos that followed, which are quite overlooked aspects of the conflict. 

Mary Anne: What drew you towards the English Civil War in which to set your book?

Mark Turnbull: I have had a love of history from a young age, but my fascination with the Wars of the Three Kingdoms was sparked when I was 10 years old and my parents took me to Helmsley Castle, North Yorkshire. Like most children, I couldn’t wait to explore the gift shop and bought a pack of cards that displayed images of the monarchs of England on one side, and some details about their lives and reigns on the other. Some of the early monarchs and their grey tombstone effigies were rather dull, but above all others, the card relating to the life and times of King Charles I stood out. The portrait was Van Dyck’s Charles I at the Hunt and I was immediately struck by the King’s image, the artistry, clothing and colours. When I found out that he had been executed, it really did spur me on to learn more. It was like a historical whodunnit and I was eager to discover how and why something so monumental had happened. 

Not long after this I stumbled across the film, Cromwell, starring Sir Alec Guinness and Richard Harris. Although it isn’t historically accurate in many respects, I immediately recognised this newfound era and was captivated as it was brought to life on screen. 

Part of my quest to get closer to the history naturally led me to re-enactments. Whilst on holiday we visited events organised by The Sealed Knot and The English Civil War Society and these battle displays fired my imagination. The sight and smell of them was – and still is – very atmospheric and the re-enactors do a sterling job. When I was seventeen, I joined The Sealed Knot (the Marquis of Newcastle’s Whitecoats) as a pikeman. The sight of having cavalry ride straight at us, of being able to look down the length of my pike at the faces of oncoming opponents, the exertion, smoky confusion and blur of action, were all priceless experiences. 

Mary Anne: What were the challenges you faced in researching this period of history and were there any unexpected surprises?

Mark Turnbull: The beauty of researching this period is that I love doing it and find it so fascinating! One of the more challenging aspects that I researched was in relation to tunnelling and mining during siege warfare, and specifically discovering the finer details and techniques of counter-mining. Wistow Hall, in Leicestershire, which is where some of the book is set, still stands today, but because the building has been altered over the centuries and the route of roads changed, I had to strip these away so that I could visualise the 17th century house and the landscape around it. 

The most unexpected surprise by far was the life of Sydenham Poyntz. Commander of Parliament’s Northern Association armies, he features as a character in the book. I could not find any portraits of Sydenham, but I did find an online copy of his reminiscences about his time in Europe during the Thirty Years War. There was so much adventure and tragedy in his life - enough that it could make an excellent novel in itself! He ran away from his apprenticeship in London aged sixteen (when, he admitted, ‘youth and rashness are of affinitie’) and enlisted in Lord Vaux’s English regiment that was fighting alongside the Spanish. He was captured by the Turkish army and spent six years being a slave to Turkish masters. His wife and son were later killed by French soldiers and then he returned to England and fought in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Perhaps poignantly, his end remains shrouded in mystery, as he simply vanished after the surrender of Barbados to the English Commonwealth. 

Mary Anne: What do you think is the most challenging aspect of writing Historical Fiction?

Mark Turnbull: One part I find tricky, like a lot of other authors, is time. I have a full-time job, so I have to plan my research and writing time as much as possible, though I don’t set targets for how much or how little I write in each session as that would be stifling. At the moment, many authors are juggling home schooling too and lockdown also prevents visits to any integral historical locations. 

But in terms of the writing itself, the accuracy of sources and any confliction between them can prove a challenge when it comes to piecing the history together and weighing it up - especially so if you are exploring what occurred during a battle. But that said, working my way through obstacles and resolving them is simply part of the process of producing historical fiction and adds to the overall enjoyment (if not at the particular moment!).

Mary Anne: What advice do you have for aspiring Historical Fiction authors?

Mark Turnbull: Write, write and then write some more. Not just your book, but articles, blog posts – anything. I find that the more I write about the War of the Three Kingdoms, the more I learn about writing itself and the period. It really helps me develop my writing style and gives me variety. 

Engage with all those who share your passion for history; readers, fellow authors and publishers. Share your journey, support others, discuss the era, join groups, set up a website and social media accounts. Be a part of the book world and keep up with news, new releases and opinion. Collaborate and make friendships. 

Keep going. If you want to write and publish your first book, you need to remain focussed but also enjoy the writing and publishing process, however hard and challenging it can be. Look at every step as a learning curve. Don’t give up.

Maxwell was almost out of the woodland, so he finally drew rein and stopped. The furious motion of the ride and rhythmic thudding of his horse’s hooves continued to affect his exhausted body and mind, even when he had dismounted. His face was numb, eyes and mouth dry, and his head ached. Upon sight of the golden sunset rippling across a puddle, he dropped to his knees and began to sup at the water in desperation. His horse followed his lead. The surface soon swirled with an earthy brown tint, but nevertheless, it was balm to his jagged throat, if only temporarily. 

“Good, eh?” he gasped and looked at his steed. If he’d had the energy to laugh, he would have done so. Probably manically, at that. 

Maxwell had stopped to partake of the remains of a freak downpour before it was siphoned away by the gnarled tentacles of the oak trees that lined his route. He looked at the tangled criss-cross of branches lit up by the fiery glow of the evening sun, which gave the appearance of a hundred burning eyes watching him. Wistow Hall was not far, or so he kept telling himself. But rather than mount up, he paused out of sheer fatigue. The cannons, gunshot and pounding hooves that had incessantly rang in his ears were now banished by bird song; a few glorious chirps silenced his mind for just a moment. A soft breeze wafted the sweet scent of the undergrowth. It had been enlivened by the rain, droplets of which were left studding leaves like quicksilver, and this neutralised the pungent remains of gunpowder. Maxwell was alive. He had survived.

“You smell that?” He asked as his horse lifted its head and snorted.

However, the faint noise of hooves soon began to return to Maxwell’s hearing. A soft repetition started to build within his mind, relentlessly creeping up on him once more, and he cursed the way that battles would haunt him. He didn’t know if he could cope with it any longer, nor whether it would drive him insane, for in the past such trauma had always been eased by his beloved Catherine. Now every single day without her was a battle in itself. He cursed himself for being weak. Lonely. Self-absorbed.

In his battered state he tried to block all else out by covering both ears, and although the sound abated a little, something deep inside prompted him to remove his hands. He held his breath and listened. The hoof-falls were like a heartbeat. He felt connected to the woodland floor and could have been mistaken for thinking he had sensed the faintest of tremors. Then his mare adjusted her footing. Maxwell squeezed his eyes closed; the sound was real and there were, indeed, horsemen getting closer by the second.

“In the name of Christ!” 

He led his horse off the road and down an incline, tethered her to a tree and then hurried some distance from it. Crouching behind an oak, whose cracked bark was like a dragon’s scaly skin, he loaded his carbine and wound the wheel lock. The nearing riders caused a rustle from the leafy canopies overhead as birds fled, yet Maxwell had no option but to stay deathly still, coming to the certainty that there were only two horses. At this moment, he wished he was back on the field of Naseby, where he at least had his comrades for support.

Praise the Lord! Maxwell looked up to feel the pitter-patter of another rain shower, which seemed to bring the entire forest to life. Their leaves tremored and rustled from a calm breeze as if heralding the visitors. Two cavalrymen, one with an orange sash, rode by. The raindrops played out a tune on Maxwell’s ribbed helmet as he watched the troopers continue along the route and towards the end of the forest. They slowed, however, just before vanishing. It was as if the trees had united and closed behind the pair like a phalanx of pikeman and Maxwell hurried across the cushioned undergrowth to catch a glimpse of where they were headed. The woodland opened onto a field full of vibrant grass, which he soon heard the horses munching at while the two men talked. They had stopped to rest. Maxwell hid behind a sturdy oak and peered through the foliage, holding his carbine to his chest like a baby and protecting the gun from any droplets of rain.

The King's Spy is only 0.99 on #Kindle for a Limited Time:
Read for FREE with #KindleUnlimited subscription.

After a visit to Helmsley Castle at the age of 10, I bought a pack of cards featuring the monarchs of England. The card portraying King Charles I captured my interest straight away. Van Dyck’s regal portrait of the King and the fact that he was executed by his own people were the beginnings of my passionate interest in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms that has lasted ever since. In the absence of time travel, I thoroughly enjoy bringing this overlooked period to life. I have written articles for magazines, newspapers and online educational sites and have also re-enacted battles with The Sealed Knot. My fascination with this part of history has led me to producing a podcast dedicated to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms called 'CavalierCast - The Civil War in Words'.

Connect with Mark:

No comments:

Post a Comment

See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx