This social media is a funny kettle of fish, and no mistake.
Fish. (No kettle)
I have my blog (you’re reading it), which is pretty straightforward. I write about the history behind my books, or historical things that I think might interest my readers, or writing, or completely random stuff like tango. It is a mystery to me why some posts attract a lot of interest and others, which seem reasonably similar to me, are much less well read, but month on month it ticks along with a fair few readers (and, I suspect, quite a lot of bots) and it makes sense to me and all is well with the world.
To get readers on my blog, though, I need to let people know that it is there. I do this partly through Facebook. I have a Facebook author page. This mainly lets people know what’s on my blog that week but I may use it for bits of news that don’t really justify a blog post but which may interest readers. Sometimes I just share stuff because it excites me and you might like it.
I recently posted a photo of my son’s wedding, which I expected would get quite a few visits and Facebook says that it has – partly, I think, friends (real-life friends rather than Facebook friends) who hadn’t seen any of the wedding photos yet. Last week, though, I also posted a photo of a fire flickering in the grate in our front room. I don’t know why I posted it really: it was just that I’d had a day doing no work at all and I was putting in my excuses, I guess. It turns out that this picture is (apart from the wedding) the most popular thing I’ve posted for ages.
You liked it so much I’m posting it again.
Would you like more scenes of domestic life? What, and, really, why? I’m all in favour of giving the public what they want, so do let me know and I’ll try to oblige.
“Let me know,” I say, which brings me to another strange thing. There is a comment box below my blog every week so that you can, well, comment. I generally reply to comments and it lets other people join in. But very few people comment on the blog. This isn’t because they don’t have opinions on it. They post their views on Facebook and Twitter. Very occasionally they may e-mail or message me directly. But hardly anyone puts comments in the ‘Comment’ box. I’d love to know why not.
The third social media channel I use is Twitter. Again, I let people know what’s on my blog and I even suggest occasionally that they might be interested in reading one of my books. Otherwise I re-tweet stuff that has amused or interested me, respond to other people’s tweets and generally maunder on. As we’re restricted to 280 characters, the amount of maundering is quite limited so I don’t have to worry about being too boring. Twitter is also where I post photos I think people will like. Some people have suggested, reasonably enough, that I should post photos on Instagram but, seriously, you have to restrict the number of social media channels that you use and I think three is enough for me.
Prettier than the Twitter bird, I think
I used to hate Twitter, but I’ve come to quite enjoy it, especially as people seem to be deserting Facebook as a way to keep in touch. I’ve met lovely people on Twitter, though they are overwhelmingly other writers, which seems odd as I went on Twitter to try to connect with readers. I’m also confused about what people read on Twitter. Why do some tweets seem to attract a reasonable amount of interest (none of mine have ever attracted an enormous amount of interest, but I’m cool with that) while others remain unloved and unre-tweeted?
Does any of this matter? Nowadays writers are told that they have to have a social media presence and they tend to be judged by the number of followers they have or the number of Facebook page likes they have, so many people spend an amazing amount of time on social media. Often people suggest that it’s time that would be better spent actually writing the books, but without the social media presence it seems unlikely that they will sell their books, because nobody will have heard of them. On the other hand, most writers sell so few books anyway that the hours spent on social media per copy sold might more usefully be applied to standing at a crossroads with a box of paperbacks and hawking them to whoever passes by.
It’s a quandary or, as I said at the beginning, this social media is a funny kettle of fish.
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All this social media can be quite fun, but ultimately I’m trying to sell books. This time of year is really important as far as persuading people to part from their money is concerned especially if, like me, your books are available in paperback and hence make ideal Christmas gifts. All my books are available in the US as well as the UK. You can find out more about them on this very website (click on ‘My Books‘ in the menu at the top of the page) or have a look at my Amazon author page (author.to/TomWilliams).
So, after all the build up (and a couple of weeks late), we arrive at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June, 1815.
I mentioned in last week’s blog post just how small the field at Waterloo was. Marshall-Cornwall writes that Wellington’s front extended 4,000 yards (so around 2¼ miles or just over 3½ km). Wellington’s famous despatch after the battle describes his position:
The position which I took up in front of Waterloo, crossed the high roads from Charleroy and Nivelle, and had its right thrown back to a ravine near Merke Braine, which was occupied: and its left extended to a height above the hamlet of Ter la Haye, which was likewise occupied.
Wellington had placed his army on high ground. It’s not that high, as you can in the photo below. This gives a bird’s eye view of the battlefield (from the Lion’s Mound). We’re looking toward the French lines and you can see that there is a definite slope for them to climb up, but it’s a shallow ridge rather than a steep hill. Even so, it was a wet day and the ground was very muddy, making the advance toward the British lines that much more difficult and dangerous, as every second that you spent on that slope you were exposed to their fire.
The picture below gives a better idea of the reality of that slope on the ground. The sign you can just see in the foreground says that this was the point at which the French cavalry attacked the British. In fact the British were probably a little further back from this, as we’ll discuss below, but it’s close enough. What you can see quite clearly here is that there is a dip in the ground beyond where the crop (sugar beet?) is growing. The cavalry would have charged up from that lower ground and, again, galloping through the mud would have slowed and winded the horses.
The French had taken up their position on a similar ridge facing the British, although in their case the ridge offered no real benefit as Napoleon chose to play an offensive game so his troops were soon moving ahead of his lines. Wellington, on the other hand, was fighting an essentially defensive battle. He did not put his troops on the top of the rise, but deployed them just the other side of the high ground, on what military tacticians call “the reverse slope”. This protected them from much of the French fire. Napoleon had started his career as an artilleryman and was usually very effective in his use of cannon fire. Battles started with an exchange of artillery but at Waterloo much of the French shot was wasted. The British were protected from direct fire by sheltering just below the rising ground. This would not normally have been too much of a problem for the French gunners, as cannon were usually aimed short of the enemy so that the balls would hit the ground and then bounce repeatedly, moving at just the right height to take out the maximum possible number of troops before eventually coming to rest. On that day, though, the mud again favoured Wellington. The cannon balls ploughed into the mud on the French side of the slope and stopped there. Relatively few balls bounced across the top to wreak havoc on the British lines behind.
Napoleon took up his post at the rear of his army near to the inn of ‘La Belle Alliance’ which was to become famous as the point where Blucher and Wellington would meet at the end of the battle. From Napoleon’s vantage point to the Allied lines was less than a mile.
Elizabeth Longford estimates that Wellington had 67,661 men against Napoleon’s 71,947. This means, she writes, that there was “a total of nearly 140,000 men and over 400 guns, not to mention 30,000 horses, all crammed into under three square miles.” At a time when battles could be fought across rivers, around mountains, and might include the odd town, this was an unusually small field for a major conflict. The result was that, although Waterloo was not a particularly awful conflict in terms of the absolute numbers killed, this three square miles was, by the end of the day, to be one of the bloodiest killing fields of the Napoleonic era.
Although the battlefield is small, there were two distinct conflicts within it (and, later in the day, a third, which we will come to).
Wellington wanted to hold strong points ahead of his line. He chose to place men in the chateau at Hougoumont on the right (west) of his line and at a farm called La Haye Sainte at his centre.
In front of the right centre and near the Nivelle road, we occupied the house and garden of Hougoumount, which covered the return of that flank; and in front of the left centre, we occupied the farm of la Haye Sainte.
Wellington’s Waterloo dispatch
Wellington knew that he was outnumbered by Napoleon and, with his troops exhausted after the battle of Quatre Bras only two days before and a day’s marching in heavy rain, he did not have the strength he needed to take the fight to the enemy. He was relying on holding his line until Blucher could arrive with the Prussians to move the battle decisively in the Allied favour.
I looked oftener at my watch and at anything else. I knew that if my troops could keep their positions till night, then I must be joined by Blucher before morning, and we would not leave Bonaparte an army next day.
Wellington’s fundamental strategy, then, was hardly subtle. His men were to remain on the ridge line (or, for much of the day, sheltering on the reverse slope) and hold the line as Napoleon threw the French forces against them. If the British and Allied soldiers absorbed the French fire all day without breaking, Wellington was confident that the Prussians would relieve them and that the Allies would win. It meant a particularly brutal battle, but one in which, although there were to be individual acts of heroism, the reality for most of the Allied force was that they were to stand and take their punishment or die and fall at their posts.
Napoleon probably did not believe that the Prussians would arrive and may not have attached enough importance to the speed at which he had to gain the victory. He had initially planned to start his attack at nine in the morning but nobody was ready by then. Troops were still coming up from Quatre Bras and the ground was so sodden that the heavy guns were difficult to move. In the end, the battle did not commence until around 11.30.
Various authorities give different times for the start of the battle. Frankly, the idea that anybody knows exactly when it was is straightforwardly ridiculous. Even if people had looked at their watches at the exact moment of the first cannon sounding (and many probably did) the watches would all have given different times. There was no Greenwich Time signal and people would have set their watches to the sound of a church clock, possibly days earlier in Brussels. Watches could be quite accurate, but not as accurate as today and definitely not keeping good time if they had been worn by somebody galloping on a horse, as would almost always have been the case. So “around 11.30” will have to do and anybody who claims greater accuracy is kidding you.
Whether the battle started at 11.30 or up to half an hour later, the important thing was that Napoleon had wasted several hours that he could have used to pound away at the Allies – hours that would prove critical as the Prussians drew closer to the battlefield.
The first French assault was not a massed attack on the British centre. Instead they French force moved off to the left to attack the chateau at Hougoumont. The battle there was to continue all day and the defence of the chateaux has become, for the British, one of the defining incidents of Waterloo. We’ll look at just what happened there next.
There are thousands of books about this battle. The two I’ve directly referred to are:
General Sir James Marshall-Cornwall (1967) Napoleon as Military Commander
Elizabeth Longford (1969) Wellington: the Years of the Sword
Image at top of page is Wellington at Waterloo by Robert Hillingford
A Word from our Sponsor
There is a lot of detail about elements of the Battle of Waterloo Burke at Waterloo. (“A good general account of the battles described.” – Amazon review.) Burke at Waterloo is available on Kindle at a ludicrously cheap £2.99. If you enjoy my blog, you might consider buying it. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Burke-Waterloo-Assassination-Majestys-Confidential-ebook/dp/B079K1L12X. A paperback copy should be available shortly.
If you are reading this in North America, copies are available through Simon & Schuster: http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Burke-at-Waterloo/Tom-Williams/9781682990445
A belated Happy New Year to everyone.
New Year fireworks at Tignes
I’ve had a few weeks away from my blog because I’ve been on holiday for Christmas and the New Year. We spent Christmas in Wales, arriving after the snow that would have cut us off had vanished, leaving us with grey misty days that could have been dull but, where we were, were strangely beautiful.
The snow returned just as we were leaving.
There wasn’t enough to stop us coming back to London where we were able to enjoy an afternoon of dancing tango at the Royal Festival Hall before we were off again to see the New Year in in the French Alps. There the snow fell rather extravagantly, but when the resort wasn’t closed down because of the avalanche danger, we had some lovely skiing.
I wouldn’t normally apologise for taking a holiday during what so many people (admittedly mainly Americans) now call “the Holidays”, but it was an unfortunate time to be away as it meant that we were still in France when Endeavour press published Burke in the Land of Silver.
When Burke in the Land of Silver was first published, I didn’t really understand how vital it is for writers to promote their books. I thought this was something I could leave to my publisher. I was wrong. Nowadays a good part of an author’s life – any author, from bestsellers like JK Rowling to less well-known writers like me – is spent promoting their work. With their publication of Burke in the Land of Silver, Endeavour have given me a second chance to make a first impression. Perhaps being out on the ski slopes when that chance came along wasn’t a great idea, but sometimes family commitments and the difficulty of organising everybody’s diary so we can holiday together is arguably more important than getting my blog out on time.
Still, even if I haven’t been busy on my own blog, you will have had the chance to read things I have written elsewhere. Sandra W has kindly offered me the chance to share my hopes and plans for 2018 on her bookloverwormblog while Jennifer Macaire has allowed me space to talk about the research that goes into a book like Burke in the Land of Silver. On Thursday there will be a piece about the real James Burke on Jenny Kane’s blog (http://jennykane.co.uk) and there will be other stuff coming soon – watch out for details on my Facebook page and Twitter. And if you have a blog and would like to write something (or would like me to write something for you), that would be just amazing.
Anyway, just in case you haven’t worked it out, Burke in the Land of Silver is now available on Kindle on Amazon. It’s a thrilling story based on the real-life adventures of James Burke who was spying for Britain in Argentina at the beginning of the 19th century. It’s just £2.99 on Kindle. A paperback edition should be along soon.
The second book in the James Burke series, Burke and the Bedouin, will be published on 19 January. It is available to pre-order at the ludicrously cheap price of 99p. Get your pre-order in soon!
If you live in North America the books continue to be available from Simon & Schuster.
Anyway, that’s all from me for now. Do look out for the posts that will be appearing on blogs all over the place and for news about my much promised new website, which really should be up and running very soon. Most importantly, do all have a very happy (if belated) New Year.