Novelist Brian Wainwright has a deep-seated interest in the middle ages, especially the 14th and 15th centuries; the House of York and the era of Richard II.
He has published two novels, The Adventures of Alianore Audley (Bewrite Books, 2005; Jacobyte Books of Australia, 2002) and Within the Fetterlock (Trivium Publishing, 2004).
Currently he is working on several other book-related projects.
In this, the second of three interviews, Wainwright speaks about the factors that pushed him towards becoming a writer.
When did you decide you wanted to write?
Very early in life; even as a young child I enjoyed making up stories and writing them down. However, it took me a long time before I thought of writing as something that could be done for an audience, as opposed to just for me. It was even longer before I plucked up the courage to submit something for publication. For many years the idea of doing so scared me stiff.
Who influenced you most?
A wide array of writers; if I wrote them all down it would be a very big paragraph. Among writers of the past, Robert Graves and Philip Lindsey spring to mind. Current writers I admire include Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon K Penman.
What do you admire most about these writers?
I don’t think I have ever read anyone who could write first-person historical novels as well as Graves. He’s always absorbing, and he always convinces, introducing historical detail without making a tedious show of it. I Claudius and Wife to Mr Milton are probably my favourites.
Philip Lindsey always wrote with passion, and you could sense his love of history. He was a great inspiration to me when I started writing. I think his London Bridge is Burning is the one I remember best; it was rather a disjointed tale, but there were some wonderful characters in there, and some unusual aspects of medieval life.
I can bracket Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon Penman together. First, they write beautifully, but also they go to a great deal of trouble with their research and it’s rare if ever that I’m hit with the shock of an anachronism. Penman’s The Reckoning is an incredibly powerful novel about the ending of the Welsh Wars of Independence. It’s not an easy read in some ways -- there’s a lot of tragedy in there -- but it grips all the way to the end.
Elizabeth Chadwick just goes from strength to strength. Her book about William Marshal, The Greatest Knight which came out a couple of years back, is simply one of the best historical novels I have ever read.
Have your personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?
Not consciously, but I suspect there must be some sub-conscious influences. For example, I worked in the Education side of Local Government for a long time, and that taught me everything I ever need to know about court intrigue, backstabbing and betrayal.
Do you write everyday?
No, I don’t write every day.
At present I am rather idle and intermittent in my work; downright unprofessional in fact. I write when I feel like it and go on until I’ve had enough. This could be ten minutes, or all day.
One of the things I am trying to persuade myself to do is work a little more regularly, establishing more of a routine. I haven’t quite got into the attitude of treating writing as a job (which it now is) rather than just a hobby.
What are the biggest challenges that you face?
My own nature -- my tendency to go haring off after interesting side lines in my research instead of sticking religiously to the task of writing and getting a project completed.
I deal with this by slapping myself mentally around the head, reflecting that it would be nice to have published more than two books, and that I ought to damn well get on with it!
Elsewhere you have said you think history has misjudged King Richard II. Why is this?
Richard came to the throne at 10. That’s a bad start in itself, but the country was practically bankrupt, and engaged in what had become a losing war with the French. They were raiding the coast, and planning invasion. Even an adult taking over at such a point in history, even the greatest sovereign imaginable, might have struggled just a little.
Richard wanted peace with France, which was very much against the grain of the times. The trouble was that most of the nobles and gentry wanted war (they thought that they could profit personally from it) but at the same time they didn’t want to pay for it. There really was no way of squaring that circle. Effective wars cost big money – even back then. The English Crown was not rich, the government of Richard’s senile grandfather, Edward III, had run up massive debts, and Richard’s extended family were always looking to take more out of the pot for themselves.
Richard was only twenty when he faced an outright rebellion, led by his own disloyal relatives, the so-called Appellants, that almost deposed him and resulted in the judicial murder or exile of the majority of his advisers. From that point onward he slowly rebuilt the position of the Crown, trying to do what Tudor monarchs are praised for by historians, putting the nobility in its place. He at last achieved a 28-year truce with France, and he was also one of the very few Englishmen (and I think the only English sovereign) to fight a successful war in Ireland. His foreign policy was advanced, and praised even by historians who don’t otherwise rate him. Although not an intellectual himself he was a patron of the arts, and his court was possibly the most cultured in Europe. Although he is sometimes accused of ‘tyranny’ his political executions were few and far between, whether you compare him to the Appellants or to his successor, Henry IV (Bolingbroke).
Richard was once approached by a soothsayer, who predicted that unless he changed his ways he would be deposed. Richard laughed at him and sent him on his way. A few years later the same man approached Henry IV, and told him pretty much the same thing. Bolingbroke had him summarily executed on the spot. Nothing better defines the difference between the two cousins.
I’m not trying to suggest that Richard is up there with Elizabeth I. At the end of the day he was not a ‘great’ king, and he had many personal and political flaws. But I like him! And I think he’s underrated. Most of the things he was accused of at his deposition could have been said of his successor, or indeed of any English medieval king. I think it’s telling that within three years Henry was at least as unpopular as Richard had ever been, facing rebellion at home and with fighting going on in France, Scotland, Ireland and Wales all at the same time. It was not an easy business, running medieval England. The difference is, frankly, that Henry survived. With a great deal of luck along the way, he even managed to die in his bed.