Cover reveal for Abbey of Death – which is your favourite?

Here’s the artwork for the final Forest Lord novella…

I really love this art! It goes with the Will Scarlet novella, The Abbey of Death, in which he, disillusioned with a life spent as a mercenary and outlaw, becomes a Benedictine monk. Obviously, though, things don’t go quite to plan and soon he’s called back into action….

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A                                                                      B

 

The cover on the left was the first version (A), but I thought it might be a nice little touch to have some bloody rosary beads so my designers added them and came up with the cover on the right (B).

But I’m not sure which is best! I am thinking the simplicity of A is probably going to work well but I wanted to ask you guys, my most loyal readers, what you think? Please comment below and let me know what you think, it will be a great help.

The novella is finished (first draft), I just need my editor to go over it now and then tidy it up so I’m expecting it to be available for Kindle and paperback by March or April. Audio version will hopefully follow soon after although I’m not sure about that just yet.

My brand new book, The Druid (working title), is coming along and I’m really loving writing it. Still hopeful it will be ready to publish sometime around late summer/autum this year. I think you’re all going to love it!

Have a great weekend!

Steven

OUT NOW!

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Ye Olde Christmas Traditions

This post originally appeared on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog in 2015. Enjoy!

 

Christmas isn’t a new invention – it’s been around for quite a while, in one form or another, as you’re probably aware! Many of our favourite traditions are relatively recent additions though, such as the red-suited, white-bearded Santa with his elves, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and Slade with their annoying yet brilliantly catchy song.

Of course, winter has always been a time for people to celebrate, as the old year gives way to the new and we look forward to what the future will bring us. Medieval folk shared many of our customs and they had some interesting ones of their own that didn’t carry over to the present day.

With the passing of summer, things become bleak and drab so, at Christmas we decorate our houses to chase away the gloom. In the middle-ages they used evergreens like holly, ivy and mistletoe to brighten the place, a tradition stemming from the Roman festival of Saturnalia.

Icy holly by Liz West

Holly was thought to deter witches while men wore it to attract female admirers. Ivy also kept evil forces away but it was kept outside the home, while mistletoe – a plant venerated by the pagan Druids – was really frowned on by the Church but that didn’t stop suitors kissing beneath it as they do to this day.

Of course, the main evergreen we use to see in Christmas nowadays is the fir tree, with its fairy lights and shiny baubles. Medieval people didn’t have a tree in their house but a candlelit fir was displayed in London in the fifteenth century and, in general, it was seen as a Christian symbol, possibly to combat the pagan oak.

Many of those traditions originated in even earlier times, with the Vikings, who celebrated the winter solstice, their Yuletide, around the same time as we enjoy Christmas.

Our lovely, chocolatey Yule Log, for example, which is a cake nowadays but in pre-Christian days it  was an actual log or even a small tree, carved with protective runes and brought inside with great ceremony to be used as fuel for the household’s fire during December.

That should last a while!

Santa Claus takes many elements from the Viking legends. They believed Odin, or Old Man Winter, a white-bearded old man in a hooded robe who flew around the world on an eight-legged horse, gave out gifts to the good and punishments to the bad. He would even be invited into people’s homes with food and drink.

Yuletide was often referred to as “drinking yule”, which suggests drinking a lot of alcohol played a big part in the Viking celebrations, with feasting, games and songs. Which of course carried on into medieval times and nowadays…well, I’d imagine more booze is sold in December than any other time of the year. We certainly carried on that custom!

Getting back to medieval times, the people had various saints’ days which were celebrated throughout the winter, with some of them even carrying over after Christmas Day (which is still the case for those of Catholic faith).

December the 26th was St Stephen’s day and it saw sword dances and mumming plays which sound pleasant enough, but the animals were also bled (in those days, of course, bleeding was seen as healthy!) and in Wales, female servants would have their arms and legs beaten bloody by young men with holly branches! Ouch. Thankfully that tradition died out…

Odin/Father Winter

There was also Holy Innocents’ Day on the 28th, and Epiphany on January 6th, but most interesting to me was St Lucy’s Day, which was on the 13th of December and was a celebration of light. This is another feast day that has links to earlier, pagan times, with candles and processions. Of course, Lucifer, before he became synonymous with Satan, was known as the light-bringer, so it seems clear to me that St Lucy’s Day was actually a celebration of Lucifer (bear in mind, the Latin word lucifer was once even applied to Jesus)…

Which brings me rather neatly to my own little take on medieval festivities.

Friar Tuck and the Christmas Devil is my brand new novella and December 1323 is the backdrop for much superstition and fear. I greatly enjoyed writing and researching it and, who knows, maybe reading it each December will become as much a modern tradition as Scrooge and Noddy Holder/Mariah Carey! It’s available on paperback, Audible audiobook and Kindle as part of the exclusive Kindle Singles Programme. Also now available in German!

*2016 update* – I’m currently running a Goodreads giveaway HERE where you can win one of two signed copies of the book, so check it out, it’s free to enter!


To buy Friar Tuck and the Christmas Devil click HERE

To find all of Steven’s books on Amazon, click HERE 

Sign up HERE to Steven’s email list and get a FREE short story, “The Rescue”

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References:
Jackson, Sophie – The Medieval Christmas (The History Press, 2005)
http://skandland.com/vikxmas.htm
http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/yulelog.shtml
http://freya.theladyofthelabyrinth.com/?page_id=397
http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/christmas/santa.shtml
http://www.mrshea.com/germusa/customs/lucia.htm

HAVE A FANTASTIC CHRISTMAS AND EVEN BETTER 2017 EVERYONE!

My small collection of historical and fantasy weaponry

I’ve been a fan of historical and fantasy fiction since I was a teenager so, when I got my own house as a nineteen-year-old  (twenty years ago) and I found a website called BattleOrders, I realised I could fulfil my fantasies and own all sorts of awesome swords and stuff. And at that time there were no legal restrictions, it was awesome!

I never really got into it much after that initial enthusiasm though, since I was just a young lad with a mortgage, then kids came along… I only have a small collection compared to guys like Ben Kane, Anthony Riches and Christian Cameron who you should badger to show you their stuff. It’s much better than my meagre lot. I’m quite sure many of you have lots of fantastic weapons and armour so please share it here with us!

The one thing I’d like to add would be a realistic replica of Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum but that’s never going to happen in the UK. We’re not even allowed air guns over here which I have no argument with.

Anyway, here’s my small collection…

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Sting, Excalibur, Sword of the Witch King, medieval arrows, SS Officer’s dagger, Roman Senator’s dagger.

STING

Sting was, of course, Bilbo’s sword which would glow blue when evil Orcs or Goblins were around and he passed it on to Frodo who carried it in the excellent films. Mine never glows but it is a really nice copy of the short sword you can see in those LotR movies. Most replicas I’ve come across have a dull edge to the blade but this thing is razor sharp!

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The Sword of the Witch King

This is the sword that belonged to the Lord of the Nazgul. This one is a massive piece, comes right up to my shoulders from memory. This was the first sword  I ever owned and my girlfriend (now wife) bought it for me. It’s an exact licensed replica of the one used in the LotR movies.

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Excalibur

This is an exact replica of the real sword King Arthur was given by the Lady of the Lake.

Hahaha, nah, of course not, that would be ridiculous!

It’s an exact replica of the sword Arthur pulled from the stone around AD 480.

 

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SS Officer’s dagger

Let’s just head this one off at the pass: I’m not a neo-Nazi despite my shaved head. I’m just bald, and the Nazis were pure evil.

A real one of these would sell for a lot of money (Lemmy owned a few)  but this is quite a crude copy. I don’t even think they sell these in the UK any more, presumably because people found them offensive which is fair enough. It’s not something I’d display openly. I’m sure Battle Orders used to sell these with gold or silver trim and I just bought this silver one because it was really cheap.

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ROMAN SENATOR’S DAGGER

This thing was billed as a “Roman Senator’s dagger” but I don’t think that’s very accurate. It’s a nice little dagger that would do some real damage but I have no idea where the design might come from. Anyone got any ideas? Let me know!

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Now comes the favourite – and pointiest – part of my small collection!

My Jackson Kelly guitar alongside the medieval arrows my friend Chris Verwijmeren made for me. Look at the size of those things! Imagine one of them fired from a warbow, slamming into your chest….I have to say, the guitar is amazing too – Megadeth fans would love it.

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So, readers – do you have any weapons or armour? Are you a re-enactor with a load of nice kit? Share your links with us, either here in the comments or share your links to my Facebook page!

 

The Arms and Armour of Robin Hood

by Steven A. McKay

(this article originally appeared on the English Historical Fiction Authors website on August 14, 2013)

Picture this:

You’re a well-to-do medieval clergyman quietly making your way from Doncaster to Pontefract, minding your own business, rubbing your hands in glee at the thought of all the money your brothel in Nottingham is making you. Suddenly, almost like magic, from the trees around you half a dozen heavily armed men appear.

Outlaws!

It’s a familiar image. One we’ve seen in countless TV shows and movies. How realistic are the celluloid depictions though? What would you actually see if you were suddenly stopped by the “real” Robin Hood? What were his clothes like? His armour, if he wore any? His weapons?

In the movies he’s normally depicted as a dapper, dashing gentleman with an easy smile, but what was the reality like? Was Robin Hood scary?

The clothes a medieval outlaw such as Robin wore would have been green and brown – not the bright, gay, freshly-laundered shades seen in the 1950’s movies, but more natural, earthy, downright dirty hues. Which is why you didn’t notice such large men concealed amongst the foliage until it was too late. Leather boots, simple hose and woolen tunic, possibly a hood and, of course, armour.

In a full-scale pitched battle, soldiers, if they could afford it, would have worn chain or plate-mail, but hiding out in Barnsdale Forest, trying to stay one step ahead of the law, heavy armour was completely inappropriate — you try running away from the sheriff or swinging from a tree onto the back of a horse wearing a suit of 20 kg plate-mail! Instead, Robin and his men would have worn a lighter and much cheaper gambeson, which was like a long linen vest or cuirass, padded, and with plates of material – metal, cloth or maybe horse hair – riveted underneath to offer basic protection while still allowing freedom of movement.

The outlaw might have carried a basic steel sword in a wood and leather sheath, and a dagger. Some might have favoured the oaken quarterstaff which, in Little John’s case, could have been over 9ft long!

There was no quiver to carry their arrows as these weren’t developed until much later. Instead, the missiles – perhaps as many as eighteen of them – would have simply been stuck in the outlaw’s belt, ready to be drawn and fired quickly.

Gloves and leather bracers would have protected their hands and wrists when using the bow.

And what about that bow? Well, the type Robin Hood would have used, in my opinion, would have been a longbow. In most versions of the legend, usually set around the end of the 12th century, longbows were not widely used in England, but, by the time of my own novel – the 14th century – they were quite common.

The longbow would have been roughly the same height as the man wielding it, made from yew with a hemp string. It was utterly lethal in the hands of a trained archer, offering much more power and range than previous designs.

Capable of firing up to twenty arrows in a single minute, you can imagine what even half a dozen robbers, concealed in the bushes and armed with these weapons could do to an unsuspecting party of travelers…

Firing such a powerful bow even once, never mind multiple times, took an enormous amount of physical strength though. Boys usually began training with the bow from the age of seven, but often they were even younger. By the time they were adults, these men had developed hugely muscled shoulders and arms – particularly the left arm which took most of the strain. You don’t see that in the movies – Russell Crowe or Errol Flynn roaming around the Greenwood with one arm like Popeye’s and the other like Olive Oyl’s!

So…you’re a medieval clergyman, suddenly surrounded by these hugely muscled violent criminals, some carrying 9 ft quarterstaffs and some aiming bows as big as themselves at your face…What do you think?

Was Robin Hood scary?

A Few Medieval Outlaws

by Steven A. McKay

(This article originally appeared on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog March 1, 2015)

Since the very beginning of time there have been those who chose to live a life of crime: outlaws, or, as they were often known in the middle-ages, wolf’s heads. Obviously the most famous of them is the bold Robin Hood who stole from the greedy rich to give to the downtrodden poor. But, as I found out when researching my novels Wolf’s Head and The Wolf and the Raven, there were plenty of others who, in their own day, were just as notorious as Hood and his mates and some of them might surprise you…

Back then, extortion and bribery were rife – you could be imprisoned on some trumped-up charge by a crooked sheriff or bailiff just so they could take money from you in return for your freedom, even if you hadn’t actually broken any law! If you had committed some criminal act, even a minor one, you could expect a fine you’d struggle desperately to pay, or some other even more humiliating punishment like the pillory. This was a wooden board that held the criminal’s head and hands while the crowd threw things at them. A butcher selling bad meat would be dragged through the streets on a hurdle before being locked in the pillory where he’d have the offending offal burnt under him. 1
And if you were a woman caught stealing? You’d be taken to the nearest river and drowned!2

No wonder some people chose to go into hiding and become outlaws rather than face medieval justice…

The pillory (burning offal not shown)

With so many being forced into a life outside the law it wasn’t unusual for well-organized criminal gangs to spring up and cause trouble for the unlucky people living in the villages and towns of England. John Fitzwalter, for example, who led a gang that besieged Colchester not once, but twice, holding the whole town to ransom. 3 Or the notorious Folvilles, a group of brothers who murdered a man and fled the country but were able to return – with pardons – in 1326, thanks to the help of Roger Mortimer. They robbed, raped and murdered their way around the country for the next couple of years before being captured. They simply joined Mortimer’s army and were pardoned again whereupon they resumed their reign of terror. They continued in this way for many years before, finally, their luck ran out, the law caught up with them and this time they were beheaded.4

One of the bounty hunters employed to catch both the Folvilles and another murderous gang, the Coterel’s, was Roger de Wensley. He managed to find the Coterels but rather than dispensing justice he joined them! 5 The Coterels were, like the Folville’s, ‘gentlemen’ who, as well as being vicious criminals, served in King Edward III’s army, were bailiffs and even Members of Parliament.

The funny thing is, like Robin Hood, the Folville’s eventually came to be celebrated rather than vilified by the common man. They kidnapped an apparently corrupt justice of the peace, killed a widely-hated judge and were, in the years after their death, generally seen as men who had righted wrongs. 6

Fulk Fitzwarine is another outlaw cum-folk-hero, this time from the thirteenth century and, although he was a recorded historical figure, he may have been the source of some aspects of the Robin Hood legend. Outlawed for treason, he rebelled against King John twice. Despite this the people of the time celebrated him in poetry and song, drawing in elements from Arthurian mythology – Merlin himself was supposed to have prophesied Fulk’s exploits!7

Medieval England was a dangerous place, even if you were a law-abiding citizen. You might be accused of a crime you hadn’t committed so some corrupt lawman could extort money for your release from jail, and, if you were a notorious, violent criminal you could be pardoned from the most heinous transgressions by making yourself useful to those in power. The sheriff in my novels, Henry de Faucumberg, was a real historical figure who had a criminal record for assault and, on more than one occasion, stealing wood before he found himself serving the crown as Sheriff of Nottingham and Yorkshire. 8 Justice? “…it is estimated that there were more outlaws at this time than at any other period in England’s history.” 9 No wonder – it seems like you could get away with anything back then as long as you had money or well-connected friends to help you out.

What interests me the most about all these accounts is how the outlaw – a criminal after all – usually becomes a romantic hero to the common people. The Folvilles raped and murdered for years yet a generation after their death they were celebrated as heroes poking a finger in the eye of the ruling classes. The original ballads of Robin Hood portrayed an incredibly violent man whose followers murdered an innocent child (in Robin Hood and the Monk) while he himself beheads the honourable Sir Guy of Gisbourne, sticks the head on the end of his longbow and mutilates the face with his knife! 10

What is it about these dangerous men that makes them so compelling, so heroic, to the common people, even when they’re clearly operating outside the laws that supposedly hold our society together? I believe it’s mostly down to the old idea of “sticking it to the man.” Everyone likes to get one over on those in charge, especially when the rulers are rich and you’re barely able to afford a crust of bread to feed your starving children. The medieval ballads sprung up around the Folvilles, Clim of the Clough (who appeared in a story alongside Adam Bell  11) and Robin Hood because they prospered in the face of adversity and gave hope to the common people that they too might, one day, break out of their life of thankless servitude to their betters.

Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough and William Cloudesley

700 years later audiences still enjoy tales of anti-heroes within literature and film: Batman and Judge Dredd, for example, represent the ultra-violent face of modern fictional ‘justice’, yet both are miles away from our Western judicial systems in the way they deal with criminals.

It seems our fascination for justice outwith the judicial system continues to this day. Maybe, eventually, the lawmakers will get things right – crimes will be detected, the perpetrators will be dealt with fairly and proportionately, the little man will enjoy justice as much as the wealthy, and the likes of Eustace Folville, Robin Hood and Batman will no longer seem so romantic…

Aye, right!

Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson bringing justice to the lawless in Dredd 3D

Steven A. McKay is the best-selling author of the Amazon “War” chart number 1’s Wolf’s Head and The Wolf and the Raven. The third in the series, Rise of the Wolf, is nearing completion, while a spin-off novella, Knight of the Cross, has just been released. All his books are also available from Audible as audiobooks.

To find out more go to StevenAMcKay, Amazon UK, or Amazon US

1 Mortimer, Ian The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, p95
2 Ibid, p219
3 Ibid, p240
4 Ibid, p240-242
5 Ibid, p241
6 Jones, Terry Medieval Lives, p63
7 Phillips, Graham and Keatman, Martin, Robin Hood – the man behind the myth, p115
8 http://midgleywebpages.com/shirereeve.html
9 John Paul Davis, Robin Hood – the Unknown Templar, p89
10 http://www.boldoutlaw.com/rhbal/bal118-gisborne.html
11 http://www.robinhoodlegend.com/adam-bell-clim-clough-william-cloudesly/

New novella finished!

Well, nearly…

Just finished the first draft of the new novella! It’s at about 17,500 words, but that’ll be added to as I fill in some of the blanks. Should be good value for money if I sell the ebooks for about 77p/99c, right? It’ll also be available as a (rather small I’d imagine) paperback.

I hope you’re as excited about this as I am…