It’s Friday when, as you’ve probably noticed, I generally post something on my blog. I didn’t last week because I was away and I haven’t prepared anything for this week. So what’s been going on?
Well, I hope you have seen from all the times I mention it that I’ve been away in Malvern at the Festival of Military History. I must admit that before I went there I hid in Wales for a few days, where we have no phone or Internet. If that seems impossibly primitive, I should mention that our water comes from a well and we’re heated with oil that is delivered in a big tanker every now and then.
It was lovely to catch up on reading. Here at home, with the constant distractions of Internet and e-mail (and occasional house work) it’s not that often that I sit down for any period of time and lose myself in a good book. I was lucky to have taken Candy Korman’s Bram Stoker’s Summer Sublet, a gloriously silly spin on vampire stories, set in today’s New York. Wilhelmina (obviously cursed from birth with a name like that) is recovering from the shock of finding her fiancé in flagrante with another woman and has decamped to a stranger’s house to pet-sit her dog and strangely loquacious parrot, while her now ex-fiancé enjoys the honeymoon they would have spent together in Italy. She is in an understandably emotional state – the sort of emotional state where you might easily decide that your next door neighbour is a vampire. Having another neighbour whose name is Dr Van Helsing probably doesn’t help keep her imagination in check. Or is it all her imagination? (I’m not telling – you’ll have to read it for yourself.)
Candy Korman has a lovely prose style and writes with a strong sense of place. I felt I was in New York – quite an achievement isolated in the middle of Wales. Ms Korman has written several books based around old-school monsters and I’ll definitely be reading another.
Break in the country or not, there was no escape from Waterloo, whether David Crane’s Went the Day Well?, looking at the battle and its wider social context hour by hour or the 19th-century accounts like Chesney’s Waterloo Lectures or Bain’s less well-known Detailed Account of the Battles of Quatre Bras, Ligny and Waterloo. I generally prefer the 19th-century accounts. Modern historians will tell you that recent writings on the period give a more accurate idea of what happened, but I’m unconvinced. There’s no percentage in simply parroting the accounts of people who were there, so modern analysis often consists of interminable arguments about whether Napoleon or Ney was actually commanding the army in the field which, given that both of them have been dead for around 200 years, seems an exercise in fatuity. That said, there are some glorious new findings, like the forensics analysis of the position of every piece of munitions that modern techniques can find in the vicinity of Hougoumont, which genuinely does give us a better idea of how the battle there happened. That kind of thing is the exception though.
This brings these meanderings more or less logically to the Festival of Military History, which was unexpectedly fabulous. There were the inevitable arguments about Waterloo and a lecture on Napoleon, though even there people had interesting things to say. Perhaps the most fascinating thing for me, given what I just said about history’s best days being in the past, were presentations by Serena Jones and Ismini Pells. Both demonstrated that we can learn a lot more about the Civil War by reading documents that have been languishing in archives for the past 350 years and which provide really valuable insights into the period.
I had my moment of glory on a panel about writing historical fiction, which I shared with some much better-known writers like Iain Gale. Everybody was incredibly generous and I hardly felt out of my depth at all. All in all, it was a thoroughly good weekend and, if it is repeated, as planned, next year, I do recommend that you all go to it.
It gave us an excuse to walk the Malvern Hills, too, which is a new part of England to me and well worth a visit.
Anyway, now I’m back and all blogged out. Does anyone have anything they would like me to write about next week?