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2012-06-12
Ian Knight's website
Readers who have followed my earlier postings will know of my interest in the 1879 Zulu War. A while back I recommended Ian Knight's Zulu Rising which tells the story of the battles of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift. It's without doubt the best thing on the subject. I have a stack of Ian's other books as well and have enjoyed them all. I was also fortunate enough to go on a battlefield tour of the sites back in 2008 which he guided. It was a terrific trip - even if the visit to Holbane ended in weather reminiscent of the Brecon Beacons! Ian is a great storyteller whose work has fundamentally changed our understanding of the 1879 war and the whole context of nineteenth century Southern Africa. He now has a website IanKnightZulu.comwhich includes details of the books, talks and tours as well as lots of other good stuff.
 
2012-06-12
This and that

Once again all my good intentions to update the blog have resulted in months without any new posts. Apologies to everyone for that.


Life continues to be very busy. I have nearly finished the manuscript of my fourth novel,All in Scarlet Uniform which is due in with the publishers at the end of the month. It still needs some tidying up and I have to put together guides for the maps and produce a cast of characters. The third novel, Send me safely back again is on course to be released in hardback in August. Once I get over this, it will be back to Augustus for the remainder of the year.


I will post several new blog entries over the next week or so, mainly concerning books I have read over the last months and would like to recommend. At the moment I am a couple of hundred pages into Carlo D'Este's excellent WARLORD. The fighting life of Winston Churchill, from soldier to statesman. It is a book I have been meaning to read for a while, but as it is quite hefty needed to wait until I had sufficient time. His biographies of Patton and Eisenhower, as well as his works on Sicily, Anzio and Normandy are all first class. There are a couple of niggles in the early chapters of this one - General Gordon did not take a thousand British troops with him to Khartoum - his troops were Egyptian - and nor was 'every single member of his relief expedition' killed - the force did not get near Khartoum until the city had fallen and after that it withdrew. Since Churchill was not involved in the conflict for another thirteen years this is only a throwaway line filling in the background and the sort of thing it is so easy to miss when the author goes through the manuscript. The real meat of the book is very interesting. On another minor point, I confess I did not know that the young Churchill had red hair, since obviously photographs are black and white and the only colour images I have ever seen are of the elderly Churchill. Far more interesting is the detail of his experiences and that remarkable - and often difficult - character.

 
2012-04-20
Cowbridge Book Festival
Here is a link to the Cowbridge Book Festival which is held in May not far from my part of the world. I'll be appearing at 11.30 on the 16th May this year, talking about the novels. Looking at the programme they have some very interesting people attending, so it is well worth coming over.
 
2012-02-19
The Frontiers of Imperial Rome
Another book recommendation, but this time for the Romanists. I have just picked up a copy of David Breeze's The Frontiers of Imperial Rome, also by Pen&Sword. So far, I have only had a chance to dip into it, but it has been a long time since there was a detailed and accessible overview of the various frontier lines of the Roman empire. Hadrian's Wall tends to get more attention than any of the others, at least in the English speaking world, so it is well worth comparing it to other regions, to show it's many striking differences, and a surprising number of similarities. Anyone who had dabbled in the topic will probably have come across David Breeze's extensive writings already, and will know that they are in safe hands. Life is busy, so am not sure how quickly I'll get a chance to read it, but am certainly looking forward to doing so.
 
2012-02-19
True story behind True Soldier Gentlemen

I have just finished reading David Buttery's Wellington against Junot. The first invasion of Portugal 1807-1808 published by Pen&Sword last year. Studies of specific campaigns from the Peninsula War are surprisingly rare, and the early phases tend to be skimmed over quite quickly in the general accounts. Rolica and Vimeiro are less studied than Wellesley/Wellington's later, more famous victories. It is therefore very nice to come across a detailed look at these early campaigns.


For those wanting to know more about the real history behind the story in True Soldier Gentlemen I cannot think of a better place to start. The author sets the scene well, from the wider European context of Napoleon wanting to complete the success of his successive defeats of Austria, Prussia and Russia, to the politics of Spain and - the often neglected - Portugal. I tried to give some hint of this in the story, but in the end the focus has to stay with the main characters. In Wellington against Junot you get far more detail and explanation, with good accounts of the decisions for invasion, the ordeal of the ill-prepared French army on its march to Lisbon, and the breakdown of attempts to control the country, over stretching French resources already faced with outbreaks of resistance in Spain. Junot scarcely appears in the novel, and like so many of the real historical figures from this period had a life more dramatic than almost anything a novelist could invent. I confess that I did not know of his encounter with Nelson - but then until I read up for Beat the Drums Slowly I confess that it had not sunk in that Nelson and Moore had taken part in the same operations in the Mediterranean. The cross-over of many of the big names in this period is in itself fascinating.


As well as the politics, the military side is covered clearly and in detail. It is nice to know the source for the 29th fighting in a four-deep line at Vimeiro. I found that in Weller, and so had my fictional 106th do the same, but he gave no source and am grateful now to have found it - Buttery quotes Leslie formerly of the 29th: 'We were instantly ordered to form four deep, which formation afforded the advantage of showing a front to meet the enemy in line, and at the same time sufficient strength to resist cavalry.'


I can think of no better recommendation that simply to say that I wish this book had been around when I was researching TSG!

 

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