Category Archives: Toby Clements

Toby Clements: Broken Faith (Review) + Q&A

Author

Image: Toby Clements Author

Toby Clements lives in London: “It is Clements’s ability to excite both tender emotions and a capacity for bloodthirstiness that has allowed him to achieve what Shakespeare couldn’t manage, and spin a consistently enthralling story out of the Wars of the Roses.”

Broken Faith

(2015)
(The second book in the Kingmaker series)
A novel by Toby Clements

Buy a Signed copy

Broken Faith

‘An enthralling adventure story, honest and powerful. The Wars of the Roses are imagined here with energy, with ferocity, with hunger to engage the reader.’ Hilary Mantel England: October, 1463. The great slaughter of the battle of Towton is two years past, but England is still not at peace. The Northern Parts of the land remain in the hands of the Lancastrian king, while in the south, the princes of the house of York prepare for war. Uneasy alliances are forged and just as quickly broken: a friend one day might be your enemy the next, and through this land, pursued by the Church and the Law, a young man, Thomas, and a young woman, Katherine, must make their way, bearing proof of a secret both sides would kill to learn. Bent on revenge for a past outrage, Thomas and Katherine must turn their backs on their friends and journey to the mighty castle of Bamburgh, there to join a weakened king as he marshals his army to take up arms in one of the most savage civil wars in history: the Wars of the Roses.

Review

Book two, that terrible, fateful demand on the author, especially on an author who has produced something as exceptional as Winter Pilgrims. Can the author recreate that magic, meet it, and hopefully surpass it?

The beauty of Winter Pilgrims was always in the simplicity, in avoiding the major players as much as possible, or staying on the fringes, but still allowing the horror of the war of the roses to playout in the imagination of the reader.

Broken Faith has to go further, it is by the nature of history forced closer to the major events and players of the period, Its the only way to get our key characters into places like Bamburgh Castle at the right time.

Thomas and Katherine are slowly drawn back together in this book, the shifting perspectives both driving the plot and drawing the reader in. The shifting male and female perspectives so well written, with a keen eye on the differing perspectives and motives. The simplicity remains because this despite its harrowing backdrop and blood drenched landscape is to all intents and purposes a love story, the gradual realisation and coming together of Katherine, who works through her grief to eventually find Thomas again, and Thomas who finally comes back to himself and hunts across the country to track down the woman he needed, and then realised he loved, very hard for a man who had dedicated himself to god.

Behind this love story is also a story of revenge, revenge against the Rivers, the machinations of this family once against at the center of the woes for the King, and also the previous king. Both father and son create the perfect protagonists for Katherine and Thomas, out of their social strata, but also tied by a shared history of desired revenge.

Once again the author provides a monster read, at 464 pages and yet the book glides along effortlessly, its a simple excellent love story, bursting with action, intrigue and history. a real contender for book of the year.

I highly recommend this and cannot wait to see what Toby writes next.

(Parm)

Q&A

 

HI Toby, thank you for taking time to answer a few questions:

 

1) Given that so many authors have said book two is harder than book one to write, what was your experience like?

 

Hello Robin, and thanks for the interest. Book 2 was much less fun to write than book 1 as you suggest, because there was a deadline, and an editor, and writing it suddenly seemed much more like a job. Book 1 took ages to write, and felt, in retrospect, like a labour of love, something that I thought about privately, like a slightly suspect hobby, but book 2 was very written quickly, to order, and it felt like giving blood, or having it taken, without the moral satisfaction. Having said that, without the editor and the deadline, I would absolutely not have finished it yet, and it would already be a good 1200 pages long. It would have been unbelievably good though!

 

2) Book one Winter Pilgrims was a truly fantastic book. I hope it was the success it deserved. One of the key elements that made it so great for me was the use and viewpoint of the normal person, away from the key figures in history. Was it a conscious decision to gravitate towards those key figures in book two, or circumstance?

 

Thanks for that. It did all right, and it was pretty well received, not least because of the slight shift away from those key figures. But you have to start with them. You have to start with the nobs – the Earls of Warwick and so on – since theirs is the only history that is written, and that is what you are taught when you are kid. Can you name 10 people who weren’t dukes etc who lived before 1500?  It is tricky. But I was always interested in The Other, and after reading The Face of Battle, by John Keegan, a brilliant description of a common soldier’s experience in three battles: Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme, which I would press on anyone, I began to find more interest in the lower–status individual generally: not just him – the soldier – but his wife and children, his house, his clothes and so on.  Another reason I drifted away from the nobs, is that they’ve been done to death in fiction, really, and all I’d be bringing that was fresh would have been my voice (about which I was less than sure) and something that would have been self-consciously invented to be different from all the many great novelists to have ploughed this furrow before.

 

3) There were some fantastic images you shared as part of the research for book one, do you have anything you would like to share for book two?

 

Hmmm! I have neglected that part of it, really but look, here is a picture of Bamburgh castle in the snow, form the north. Book 2 takes Thomas and Katherine there in 1464, not necessarily the best time to visit.

Untitled

And I like this, from a longer project to show an infantryman’s clobber throughout the ages:

Boot

This is what a very well to do Yorkist man-at-arms might have had with him during the battle of Bosworth – only a few years after the setting for my story. There is something quite touching about it, I think, since we can all imagine ourselves slipping into that gear. Though Jaysus, look at the poll axe!

And because I was researching a quieter moment in the wars, I have been to a hundred re-enactment events, and taken some of my own photos, but none so good as these. I should say that I have no copyright, so if anyone wants me (you to take them down) then I am sure we could do that instantly?

Below are three ladies. Life for the reasonably well off could be quite nice, as this moment shows. There are some lovely details here – look at the way the sleeve of the lady on the left is joined to the body of her dress. It is nothing you could use in a novel, but just knowing it helps you to imagine what it might be like to be Katherine.

ladies

pike

And this is a bloke – from the continent somewhere – with a weapon – not sure if it would actually have a name – in what I can imagine pretty typical condition for someone not expecting to have to use it. This is a debate re-enactors often have: should they look after their gear as if it were special to them, or as if it were everyday? And if you were a soldier, would you try to get the best weapon you could, and keep it really sharp, or would that weapon just become something you had to carry around with you, a hassle? If that makes sense?

 

Finally, a child. I don’t know what he or she is up to, but they don’t get much of a look in, do they, usually? So here’s one.

child 

4) Was it always your intention to write a love story, or was this how the series evolved? 

 

I have to admit I gravitated toward a more repressed love story, given their – and particularly her – background and upbringing, but my editor was probably right to force me to get them to make hay while the sun shone, which I did. It was tricky, because I had been so graphically matter of fact about the violence, so I felt it would have been dishonest if they then shut the door on us while they got on with it, but trying to describe a medieval sex scene without the use of the word codpiece proved very tricky.

 

5) Are Katherine and Thomas based on any real people, or just an amalgamation of parts?

 

They are just made up. I have a theory about writers’ heroes and heroines. A really great storyteller can come up with a hero that is his ideal person, who may be the absolute opposite of him, whereas most writers create heroes who are just slightly exaggerated versions of themselves, so Thomas is the sort of man who when push comes to shove can do most things, as I sort of imagine I’d be able to, but he is also the sort of man who hasn’t a clue what to do on a Sunday. Katherine would always have a plan, hopefully better than visiting Homebase.

 

6) So what’s next?

 

Book 3 – the last in the trilogy, and a real corker, I promise, takes us up to the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. That was the battle in the Wars of the Roses that got me hooked, and so I am really looking forward to that one. Everything will come together in a massive, massive dust up, and secrets will be spilled and revelations… revealed.

 

7) Who are you reading at the moment for fun?

I have been shortlisted for the Historical Writers Association Debut Crown, along with some really stiff opposition, so I have been reading them. It is both inspiring and alarming at the same time, so I am not sure you’d call it fun. But I have also been reading The Last English Poachers, by Bob & Brian Tovey, about a couple of unrepentant villains who shoot deer on the Berkley estates. Oddly, I think I went to school – primary – with Charles Berkley, now Lord Berkley – who was a very nice bloke, who bowled left arm spin, whom I bullied, about which I feel regret, though it is probably misplaced  – so the book has an extra resonance. But it is a great read: really salty, and full of pungent, If not entirely credible, detail.

 

8) All time fav book / Series?

 

Hmmm. I have to admit it is the Courtney novels, by Wilbur Smith. I am not sure they would stand re-reading, but they were dynamite when I read them first and in my book 3 there is a little jink in the plot that is in direct homage to the great man himself. I am sick with envy that Giles Kristian is colluding with him, I have to say. Or Perhaps the Patrick O’Brian novels. I have not finished them, and got fed up with the endless exposition that took up increasingly large chunks of each book, and one day I’d love to be given the job of editing them. Robert Hardy reads the abridged audiobook, and that is a real pleasure on long – solo – car journeys.

 

9) If you could write any one/ or any period regardless of potential sales, what would it be?

 

I have a slight plan up my sleeve, and I want to keep it there for superstitious reasons, but if it comes off, and out, it will involve two of my current yearnings in life: sailing and carpentry. I can see that does not answer your question at all, and sounds only 50 % promising at most, but if I talk about it, I will jinx it (and the man who gave me the idea will sue).

 

Many thanks… and best of luck with this next book, it really is another brilliant read.

Parm

 

Series
Kingmaker
1. Winter Pilgrims (2014)
2. Broken Faith (2015)
Novels
The Asti Spumante Code: A Parody (2005)
The No.2 Global Detective (2006)

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Filed under Historical Fiction, Toby Clements

Toby Clements: Kingmaker

Kingmaker: Toby Clements

Hardcover: 560 pages

Publisher: Century (10 April 2014)

Language: Unknown

Product Dimensions: 24 x 15.6 x 5.1 cm

KIngmaker

February, 1460: in the bitter dawn of a winter’s morning a young nun is caught outside her priory walls by a corrupt knight and his vicious retinue.

In the fight that follows, she is rescued by a young monk and the knight is defeated. But the consequences are far-reaching, and Thomas and Katherine are expelled from their religious Orders and forced to flee across a land caught in the throes of one of the most savage and bloody civil wars in history: the Wars of the Roses.

Their flight will take them across the NarrowSea to Calais where Thomas picks up his warbow, and trains alongside the Yorkist forces. Katherine, now dressed as a man, hones her talents for observation and healing both on and off the fields of battle. And all around them, friends and enemies fight and die as the future Yorkist monarch, Edward, Earl of March, and his adviser the Earl of Warwick, later to become known as the Kingmaker, prepare to do bloody battle.

Encompassing the battles of Northampton, Mortimer’s Cross and finally the great slaughter of Towton, this is war as experienced not by the highborn nobles of the land but by ordinary men and women who do their best just to stay alive. Filled with strong, sympathetic characters, this is a must-read series for all who like their fiction action-packed, heroic and utterly believable.

Review:

I have Ben Kane to thank for this fantastic read, When an author of his calibre posts about a book “‘Magnificent. An historical tour de force, revealing Clements to be a novelist every bit as good as Cornwell, Gregory or Iggulden. Kingmaker is the best book I’ve read this year ? by some margin.’ Ben Kane” You have to sit up and take notice.

What I didn’t expect was the scope and style of the book. Having just read excellent Stormbird by Conn Iggulden, set in roughly the same period, i had some expectations set for how a War of the Roses book should play out. Toby Clements took those expectations and stood them on their head. Instead of a book driven by the power houses of history, a book lit and led by the great and the powerful, Toby starts in a humble monastery/ nunnery,  and from their takes the reader on one of the most down to earth profound journeys I have been privileged to read in this genre. Thomas is a man living the life of a monk, a man with skills and education, but a man who finds out he has depths he had not explored, skills he didn’t expect to have or use, and that life is more than just the walls of a Monastery, and a people are more than they seem, life isn’t black and white, its many shades of grey.

Katherine, living in a nunnery, but slightly apart, a young woman with a missing past, and an uncertain future, one that isn’t helped by the continual abuse from her superiors.

One day, one event, one action changes both their lives, and slingshots them on a journey of exploration, self examination and adventure. But none of it is glorified, it is set at the coal face of life, and battle and history. Surrounded by the blood and butchery of every class of man, buffeted by the changing politics of the times and changed by the havoc of war, killing and death surrounding them. At 560 pages its not a small read, but I could have read 2060 pages and not been bored, is series has so much to offer and so much promise of more. As its a 2014 title it will not feature in my books of 2013, otherwise it would be winner of the top spot. The established order will need to work very hard to beat this in 2014.

Very highly recommended

(Parm)

Toby, thank you for a wonderful read and for allowing me to review it. Thank you also for agreeing to answer these questions

1: So who is Toby Clements? I am a journalist, I suppose, since that is the job I’ve held the longest – on the books pages of the Daily Telegraph – but it is only one of many that I have given up on because I’ve never really grasped the point of being good – by which I mean the best I can be – at anything other than writing. So I’ve never wanted to become a manager, or get on the board of a company, or become a partner, or run my own business, even if I had the talent to do so, which I probably don’t, since the only thing my heart has ever really been in, is writing. For most areas of my life my motto is “it’ll do” but for some reason I have always tried to write as well as I possibly can.

2: With the whole of recorded history at your disposal, why the War of the Roses?

Three things: the first was this book

vintage-ladybird-book-warwick-the-kingmaker-adventures-from-history-series-561-matt-hardback-1969-4902-p

I read it when I was about ten until it fell apart.

The second was this door:

tewkesburysacristy (1)

It is the Sacristy door at Tewkesbury Abbey, reinforced by strips of armour taken from remnants left after the battle there fought in 1471. After the battle the Lancastrian claimants to the throne were killed in the nave of the abbey, despite having claimed sanctuary, and the place had to be reconsecrated afterwards. I do not think you are allowed to touch the door now, but I was taken there on a school trip when I was about 12 and have never forgotten a sort of electric jolt I imagined I got when I touched it.

The third thing was – were? –  two great teachers – Colin Stoupe (English) and Hugh Fairey (History) – who knew what made boys tick, and could fire up weird and wild enthusiasms. It was they who took me to Tewksbury. Perhaps this Great Teacher thing is a bit of cliché, but it remains true, and I owe them a real debt of gratitude.

3.What led you to use the slant of the common man rather than picking one of the great men of history to follow? I am not sure. Possibly I started out reading everything I could about the Great and the Good – witness the Ladybird Book above – and I may have reacted against those early enthusiasms?  And I have come to dislike romantic takes on the period, especially if they involve any misunderstood brooding hero called Dickon who is constantly patting his horse’s muscular neck, which is a Wars of the Roses trope. Or then again the more I looked into the 15th Century, into the facts behind the dates as it were, the more impressed I became with the way in which the common man and woman just got by, against steep odds, and just kept on going.  Or, possibly, it reflects my own taste in life? I like scruffy things and scruffy people without that sense of self entitlement you have to have if you are going to be a proper medieval earl. I genuinely don’t think I would have liked the earl of Warwick if I’d met him as a man, or even William Hastings, whom I paint in a good light in my novel.  

4: What inspired you to write your first book? I had an image of the battle of Towton and how bloody awful it must have been to fight all day in the snow. I wondered what could have brought so many Englishmen from so far afield to come try to kill each other in such horrible ways. And their fathers would have fought shoulder to shoulder in France, remember.

5: What books and authors have most influenced your life most? When the Lion Feeds by Wilbur Smith was the first “grown-up” book I read on my own and I remember thinking Woah! This is ace. Really salty. Few books have had such an impact since though I have at various times been an avid reader of Patrick O’Brian, Dorothy Dunnett, Elmore Leonard and Alan Furst. A mixed bag, as you see.

6: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? I like the element of compulsion here! Do you mean mentor as in who influenced me to write as I do? Or whom would I want help from in the future, like Louis on the X factor? If the first, then… Hmmm. I just don’t know. I am a magpie, like most writers I bet, and I know I have borrowed a bit from here and a bit from there, so I suppose it would have to be a very strange looking composite of Hilary Mantel and Bernard Cornwell, each rolling their eyes at the other. Bernard would be telling Hilary no one cares what he – Thomas – thinks and she would be telling him not to start another sentence with “and” or “because”. If you mean the latter, then I’d like my Louis to be Wilbur Smith, I think. Or Harold Robbins! Dead now of course, and a horrible man I’ve read, but he could tell a story, couldn’t he?  

7: What was the hardest part of writing your book? I find telling stories the most difficult thing. I am not a natural at it at all. Early drafts of this book were all “this happened and then that happened”, and though they all seemed plausible enough, I’d look at them and wonder why anyone would ever care if they had happened or not. Hence my call to Harold Robbins above. Though I am sure he would play very fast and loose with historical accuracy.

8: Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work? I have many but at the moment I have to say it is Hilary Mantel. I love her sprawling yet meticulous characterisation, the way she gets around into different heads and makes their thoughts and actions totally compelling, totally plausible. Her use of research is fascinating, too. There is one paragraph in Wolf Hall when Thomas Cromwell wonders why Thomas Moore thinks he is evil, and he wonders if Moore thinks the Devil crept in to corrupt Cromwell with the hawthorn branches that were used to resuscitate the fire in the bread oven in the morning, or with the washing or something else I cannot now recall. In that short paragraph she gives you a brief, bright jewel like glimpse of what life must have been like for low status individuals nearly 500 years ago, but it is all about something else. What she does not do very well is huge battles though, involving men with long bows, and others smacking the crap out of one another with blunt instruments, so she still has some things to learn!

Many thanks and I hope the book is the utter success it deserves to be

(Parm)

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Filed under Historical Fiction, Toby Clements