Action! Making a movie trailer for my new novel ‘Plague’

“I need … Caravaggio! Give me chiaroscuro. Light the candle! Camera ready? Now… Action!”

OK. So I got a little carried away. But it was my directorial debut, after all.  And the  cameraman -  my friend, the Emmy award winning documentary filmmaker Dan McKinney – just sighed and shot it brilliantly.

I will give you more details of ‘the making’ later. How my vision was shaped. For now, here’s the video. (There’s a very slight difference between the UK and Canadian versions, in the pack shot, so click on whichever is geographically closer.)

See: ‘pack shot’! I’m ready to shoot my first commercial, Ridley!




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‘Scarify that Bubo?’ I wish I hadn’t had to write that!

Contrary to popular belief, I am not an especially gruesome person. When people look at me in horror – like when I describe proper impalement (see novel: ‘Vlad, The Last Confession’) or the actual conditions on a slave galley. (See: ‘The French Executioner‘). I tell them that its just part of the job. Doesn’t put me off my supper.

I have to admit though that my latest novel, PLAGUE (Click on title to learn more. If you dare) did push a few boundaries. Some of the stuff that went on! Having to imagine what it was like to have the plague – bad enough. But then the treatments!

plaguedoctoruImagine you had it. The so-called doctors – there’s one there, if  a century out, same costume though – would arrive and this bird like horror creature would loom over you and inspect your bubo (remember: bubo -nic plague) This often looked like a black tennis ball, a swelling of your lymph glands that would thrust out, especially at armpit or groin. It was stretched skin and flesh, so distended and painful you didn’t want anyone looking at it, let alone touching it. Yet what does our quack do? (You can see where the term comes from with that mask!) He doesn’t just touch it. Oh no. He scarifies it. To draw forth the poisons, he slashes it with a razor, or pours acid on it – the tenderest piece of flesh on your body!

Happily for most the pain didn’t last long. Because the treatment killed you.

So, Thanks, Muse! I now have that in my head. Still, I have one consolation: now you do too!





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So this is weird – did a fundamentalist thief just burgle my house?

I come home and my wife is annoyed. “Something’s wrong with the stove. Look, at the LED. It says ‘sab BATH.’ What the hell is ‘sab BATH’?”

I look. “Uh, that’s ‘sabbath’.”

“Oh.” Pause. “What?” She looks at me. “Did you lock the front door when you left?”

“Of course.”

“Because it felt open when I put the key in.” She points. “Then… ‘sabbath’?”

It comes to me. “Jewish orthodox people can’t use machinery on the sabbath. Maybe it has something to do with that.” I go to my laptop to look it up. “Oh.”

The screen is cracked all over. As of someone picked it up and dropped it.

We find the cooker manual. Indeed there is a setting, a way of bypassing the automatic cutoff that would turn the cooker off after 12 hours. “Orthodox Jews can set it so it doesn’t automatically cut out. So they can preset the cooker so they don’t have to ‘turn it on’ during the sabbath.”

“There’s a sabbath setting?”

“Apparently. You have to press and hold ‘clock’ for five seconds.”

“So you’re saying a Jewish Orthodox thief broke in here, cracked your computer screen and reprogrammed our cooker?”

“Or…” I consider. “Of course, it’s not only the Jews who revere the sabbath. Many Christians do as well. Especially the fundamentalists. And I have given them a hard time in my latest novel. Especially the Fifth Monarchists.”

“Ah. So an angry fundamentalist broke into our home and smashed your computer in vengeance for your portrayal of them in a novel that’s not out yet?”

“It’s out in a month.” I smile uneasily. “It’s the most logical explanation.”

“Logical???” My wife yells at me. “I thought that living with a crazed author couldn’t get weirder. But it just did.”

“Er, perhaps I’ll just call the police.”

(So watch out for those Fifth Monarchists! Especially if you have a Whirlpool stove!)

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Armageddon In Greece: My novel in the birthplace of literature

Always a great moment when a package arrives and I get a foreign edition of one of my novels. In this case, the Greek printing of: A PLACE CALLED ARMAGEDDON

(Click on title for more information)

photoQuite like the art. Says what’s in the tin! Though when I was consulted on the UK and US versions I suggested that Gregoras – presumably the character portrayed and lead in the novel – sported a golden nose. He is ‘rhinometus’ – noseless. (It’s been severed after a false accusation of treason to Constantinople – but you’ll need to read the book to learn more)


Definitely like the Hagia Sophia in the background. One of the most beautiful buildings in the medieval world, still majestic, and a key to the story.

Alas, I speak no Greek. So a little confused as to the spelling of my name at the top. I am ‘C. C.’ and that’s… not! Also it’s a little short, isn’t it? Any Greek readers out there who can help me?

I think its my 4th or 5th book published there. Never ceases to thrill. I mean, the home of Homer. Herodotus. Heraclitus. Humphreys? Nice company!

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A Radio interview: Talking of movies, books, plays – and a sword!

Hello All! Here’s a radio interview I did this morning for the terrific Susan Wingate. Bizarrely she lives about six miles away from my British Columbian island on an American island, San Juan – or as we Brits prefer to call it, our lost colony!

Hope you enjoy it!

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In the beginning – a historical novelist’s early influence

To begin at the beginning: why did I first become a writer of historical fiction? It seems obvious that it begins with what I read. Loved to read.

The great film editor, Walter Murch – ‘Apocalypse Now’ for one – talked about early influence. He felt that if you could make a living out of what excited you at the age of nine, you would be a happy person. He was into cutting and splicing audio tape together.

I was into in historical fiction.

I don’t know exactly why I gravitated to the genre. I know that from an early age I loved ‘the sword’. I lived in California till I was seven and there was a TV series, ‘Zorro’. There’s a photo of me aged three in mask and bandana, rapier raised. Then, from seven on I was in London. I was raised by warriors – my father was a Battle of Britain fighter pilot, my mother a Norwegian spy. There were stories. And at my traditional English prep school, history was still taught traditionally – tales of a hardy people who, from a tiny island, had run the largest Empire the world had known. My Norse side gave me a passion for the Vikings. Then, like many Brits, I always loved an underdog. Especially a gallant defeat to Johnny Foreigner. The idea of sacrifice always moved me to tears. Still does.

The first time I remember crying over a book I was ten. It was Henry Treece’s ‘Hounds of the King’, a tale of a boy who wished to be one of Harold Godwinson’s huscarles, who arrives too late at the battle of Senlac and runs to his dying king as the death chant rings out:

“Here lies our leader in the dust of his greatness

Who leaves him now be damned forever.”

It floored me. And maybe, just maybe the wish came then: to one day try to find the way to convey such a passion to others.

The biggest influence though was – is – Rosemary Sutcliff. The great stories. The perfectly captured worlds, from Celt to Roman to Viking. I read her still, sometimes, when I wish to be reminded why I sought to write what I do. A few years back, while working in a 250 year old Shropshire cottage on ‘Jack Absolute’, I found her novel, ‘Warrior Scarlet’, the tale of a Bronze Age boy in Britain, with a withered arm so he could never don the scarlet cloak of the warrior – Sutcliff conjured her worlds from a wheelchair, so knew of what she wrote. I think I cried six times in the last 50 pages. And I am not really a cryer.

So there they are, some of my early influences. The start of the journey that led me to what I write, how I earn my living.

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Once more unto the pantaloons – Wisdom with the Elders

I had a wonderful time up in Comox on Vancouver Island last week. I was invited to don my pantaloons again and speak to the Elder College there.

Author in ruff holding forth!

Author in ruff holding forth!

They are running a lecture series for seniors: ‘Great Cities of the World’ at certain periods in history. I, obviously enough, talked about Shakespeare’s London 1601.

Sheer indulgence on my part! I get to take a stage for an hour and a half and blather about the Bard. Of course I issued the disclaimer at the start: not an academic but an amateur enthusiast. However what I was able to give them, I believe, is the same that people get when they choose to pick up a novel rather than a history text. A more psychological look at a time. Seeing it through character, through the minds of those who lived there, then. I also wanted to do a tour of the senses – what would it have been like to walk London’s streets on one particular day in 1601.

So the first half was more fact based – tried to do a quick catch up of history, especially the late part of Elizabeth’s reign. What Shakespeare would have called ‘the form and pressure of the age’. I wanted to give people a glimpse into the mindset of the theatre goers of the time – a time very different from ours, a police state, where spies lurked on street corners and satire had actually been banned. A time when people went to the Globe not just to be entertained but also to have their concerns addressed. It would not have been a soap opera on the platform, nothing so direct. But within a play such as – ooh, I don’t know, Hamlet? -  what is going on outside can be explored within the Wooden O. A surveillance state. Regicide and usurpation. And a man questioning his personal place set against those big events.

I explored all this terrain in my novel, Shakespeare’s Rebel, of course.

SHAKESPEARE'S REBEL 3bHere I did it live and, in the second half, took the audience as if they were out of town visitors hitting the city for a big event: the newest play from the quill of Master Shakespeare. Took them across the bridge from the city, under the gatehouse where the skull of that arrant rebel, the recently executed Earl Of Essex, has been picked clean by crows. To the Globe where, amidst the crunching of nuts, the popping of beer bottles, and the slurping of oysters a man walks out and says: ‘To be or not to be. That is the question,’ for the very first time.

Did I mention indulgence? It is where and when I would thumb a ride with Dr Who if he was passing. But since I can’t I can revisit the Globe in my own way. On a stage in Comox. Trying to speak the speech, not only trippingly on the tongue (as Will instructs the players) but also as if it is not a well known aria but someone working out something in front of us for the very first time.

So thanks, Elder College Comox for indulging me. I’ll don me pantaloons for you anytime!

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