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Photo of the front cover of The Soldier, the Gaoler, the Spy and her Lover

The king and I

Newsletter: October 2016

Dear web friend

Greetings again beneath a kind autumn sun and deep into the season of vests and mellow fruitfulness (as a friend described it to me).

Outside my window, there’s an empty space on the wood pile; Peter the seagull has left. He disappeared about two weeks ago without so much as a goodbye. Goodbyes are not his strong hand, they really aren’t. So there’s less shit around; but also less company. Always the way, I suppose, benefit and struggle forever jostling.

I don’t actually know where Peter goes when Peter goes away; he keeps himself to himself in that regard. He may have a pied-a-terre in the South of France. Who knows? Though if you know where seagulls go, do drop me a line. He’ll be back next spring, this is what I’ve learned. He always returns, arriving at the back door like he owns the place… and I don’t mention the winter, his absence or why he left so abruptly…

And linking seamlessly (like some local radio presenter), King Charles I heard a lot of seagulls during the final years of his life. You’ll know he was the only English monarch to be executed, when strangely, no one wanted such an outcome. And he spent much of that year imprisoned by the sea in Carisbrooke castle on the Isle of Wight. If it’s not an episode of history you know well, then take heart; for my next book, The Soldier, the Gaoler, the Spy and her Lover (cover above) will reveal all.

I came across the story two and a half years ago; and I couldn’t believe no one had told it. What a yarn… no need to invent anything! And full of marvellous characters. The soldier is Cromwell, adjusting to a frustrating peace after a brilliant war. If God is on his side, why isn’t life easier and the path forward more obvious? And why does his wife Elizabeth think Charles is so great? Awkward.

And then there’s the gaoler, young Robert Hammond, tired of English politics and the national stage, who fondly imagines he’s got the easiest job in the world on being appointed governor of Carisbrooke castle. When who should turn up on his doorstep but the King of England, having escaped captivity at Hampton Court? Suddenly, he’s the royal gaoler, centre stage in the national arena and increasingly skewered by desperate and competing allegiances.

There’s also a spy, the remarkable spy-mistress Jane Whorwood, who ran an underground support network of secret couriers, financiers, latrine-emptiers, laundry women and escape planners for the king… who was also her lover.

Unsurprisingly, the endlessly-inventive Jane was written out of history by the royal apologists (shame on them) after Charles’s execution. They wanted to remember a martyr, not an adulterer. Jane was inconvenient and needed to be air-brushed out.

The English civil war and the years of political meltdown which followed (1640-60) were my special subject at university. So it’s been both pleasure and challenge to return to the era as a novelist. And in particular, to focus on this remarkable year, which, well – you really couldn’t make it up, even to the final scaffold scene in Whitehall on a cold day in January 1649, when the axe fell, the crowd gasped and the English killed their king. How did that happen?

The Soldier, the Gaoler, the Spy and her Lover is published by Marylebone House in February 2017.

Two other things. Firstly, I’m very open to doing book evenings – talking about my books, taking questions/observations on whatever subject. Whether it’s God and murder mystery, Pippa and her progress… or king killing. Sadly, for logistical reasons, this has to be in or around the south of England. But if you’re an event organiser, I’m open to a conversation. For me, a book is just a conversation starter: perhaps you could arrange one?

Secondly, I can confirm, with appropriate delight, that Abbot Peter will return. The Indecent Death of a Madam will be published in September 2017 by Marylebone House. It’s already written; but must take its place in the queue.

That’s enough, I think; I feel I’ve stretched your patience already.

So in the season of letting go, I will let go. The trees do it before my eyes and survive well enough…

With very best autumn wishes

Simon

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