With the English army at the gates of Paris, Blackstone faces his deadliest mission yet. The fourth in the grittiest historical fiction series.
Published: 9th February 2017 | Price: £18.99
Winter 1360: Edward III has invaded France at the head of the greatest English host ever assembled. But his attempt to win the French crown is futile. The Dauphin will no longer meet the English in the field and the great army is mired in costly sieges, scavenging supplies from a land ruined by decades of conflict.
Facing a stalemate – or worse – the English are forced to agree a treaty. But peace comes at a price. The French request that Blackstone escort the Dauphin’s daughter to Italy to see her married to one of the brothers who rule Milan – the same brothers who killed Blackstone’s family. Blackstone, the French are certain, will not leave Milan alive…
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Guest Post by David Gilman
DAVID GILMAN BLOG POST
I had spent several years writing the television series, A Touch of Frost and was working on the penultimate episode prior to Sir David Jason retiring from the series. I had a few of my own television projects ideas in mind but for some time had been tempted to write, and tackle, novels. Once I had delivered the script and gone through rehearsals and rewrites my contract came to an end. I had lived in Africa and was keen to explore that fascinating country further with a Young Adult thriller that had a strong emotional basis for a teenage hero, but was also a novel that encapsulated elements like the threats to the environment and tribal people. The result was a full-length novel, the first in the Danger Zone series, called The Devil’s Breath.
An assassination attempt on my teenage hero, Max Gordon, whose scientist father had gone missing in Africa, was the starting point that took him from his school on Dartmoor to the vast expanse of African veld. The book also allowed me to explore the culture of the San Bushman in the Kalahari Desert. So I had a really good mix within the story. (Following publication I was invited by Survival International to the ‘Parliamentary All Party Committee on Tribal Peoples’ where I met two tribal representatives, Roy Sesana and Kgosimontle Kebuelemang.) This first novel also became a recommended book for the government reading scheme for boys even before the manuscript was published. It became the first in a three-book series starring Max Gordon and was followed by Ice Claw and Blood Sun, all of which were published in a dozen languages.
Then it was time to decide whether to continue with Young Adult fiction – a fascinating place to be with many school visits – or to try a different tack. I was about to go back to a life of crime (writing that is) and a novel I had been planning, but then I saw a fresco of a grand looking gent on a war horse in Florence’s Duomo. It was an English mercenary captain who lived and fought in Italy in the 14th century. I was intrigued because I knew nothing about the period. When I pitched the idea to my agent as to whether I should write the crime story or the historical fiction novel she urged me to write the 14th century book. And that was when I created Thomas Blackstone, archer, and later knight and leader of a group of men who fought across France and Italy in one of the most turbulent times of our history. (Although I had no idea where this character was going, development-wise.)
These things tend to take me along as an observer and I simply write down what I see.) I quickly realized that I couldn’t start in Italy and had to double back a bit so that Thomas Blackstone had a backstory.
I was very keen to explore the universal experience of young men going to war for the first time, but who was he before this terrifying experience overtook him? How did children and young people live in those times? The more I read – and I did a lot of what turned out to be rather daunting research – I began to piece together the story and character of this young man. Blackstone was only sixteen years old when he was called up to fight in 1346. He was a quick-witted young man who cared for his brother, a deaf-mute, and so began his character development and an early emotional complexity in the story. Children were put to work early on in those days and I decided that Blackstone had worked in a quarry since the age of six and then as a stonemason. Now I had a man who had muscle, brains and stamina and like many other village boys he had the strength and ability to draw what became known as the longbow.
And then to war. It was a brutal, unforgiving age with a counterpoint of chivalry. Courtly love, poetry, dance and the ideals of the Arthurian age tempered even the most famous of warrior knights, but if you were a bog-standard soldier you were underfed, underpaid and faced severe punishment for any wrongdoing. Having been a soldier I remembered only too well being cold, wet, exhausted and scared (and I was certainly underpaid) and that, along with the black humour familiar to anyone who works in danger and has experienced violence and death gave my characters a ‘Band of Brothers’ camaraderie.
When time permits I like to broaden my own horizons as a writer and try and squeeze in the occasional standalone novel. It usually takes a fairly long time writing part-time in the hours after the battle of the Master of War series is being waged during the day. My latest standalone is The Last Horseman, a story I had wanted to write for some time. I was fascinated by the multitude of international characters who fought in the South African War, or the (second) Boer War as it became more commonly known. I had visited some of the battle sites and it’s not hard to imagine the hardship undertaken in the conflict. But I did not wish to have a hero of Thomas Blackstone’s stature who might have come across as a carbon copy. I chose, instead, a man in his late forties, a lawyer in Dublin, an American who represented those who often fought against the Crown. It was these turbulent times that forced him to go to war in South Africa in 1899. Joseph Radcliffe was a man who had experienced war in his youth and had no desire to do so again. Against his will this anti-war character was obliged to revert to the killing skills he had known years before.
And now it’s time for me to return to Thomas Blackstone. I am about to deliver the manuscript of the fifth book, A Scourge of Wolves.And it’s not all hunky dory for Blackstone or his men. People we grow to love in the series die.
I like to have a strong sense of reality in my books and you can’t have life going on throughout a series without people getting killed. And so far in the Master of War series there have been plenty of shocks along the way.
And, of course, more to come.
The latest in David Gilman’s MASTER OF WAR series is VIPER’S BLOOD, the fourth title in the series. See more at www.davidgilman.com
Follow David on Twitter@davidgilmanuk
David Gilman enjoyed many careers, including firefighter, soldier and photographer, before turning to writing full time. He is an award-winning author and screenwriter.
Photograph: Writing Master of War series – Italy.
© Suzy Chiazzari.