If Toy Soldiers were my youthful passion (Read ‘Touchstone Tuesday 5’, below), the sword is my lifetime one.
My mother always said she felt that I was born with a sword in my hand – which must have been rather painful for my Ma, birthing wise! It is certainly true that one of my earliest photos – alas, now lost! – is of me, aged three, in full Zorro regalia, complete with plastic rapier. We lived in California at the time, so he was my hero. We moved to England when I was nearly seven, and my reading led me to other heroes – D’Artagnan of the Musketeers, assorted Viking heroes from the novels of Henry Treece with their named blades ‘Soul-Snatcher’, ‘Life-Biter’; Excalibur from any tale of Arthur.
So I was more than ready, when I went to my senior school at thirteen – University College School, in Hampstead, London – to pick up a sword in earnest, and join the fencing team.
The sword you see here, with its guard on the right, is my sabre. Though I trained in all three weapons – foil, epee, and sabre – it was the last that I was really drawn to. Connoisseurs mock me, decrying it as a hooligan’s weapon of slash and leap, compared to the finesse required for the foil, or the elegance of using the epee. But for a teenager steeped in swashbuckling, the sabre was it. It suited my sporting temperament too. I have always been better at sports where I don’t have to think too much. I was a good right back at football when it came to scything down opponents – just don’t let me dwell too long on the ball and have to think who to pass it to! I preferred rugby – tackle this person now, run with ball until tackled. Simple.
Sabre was all about instant choice and acting upon it. And so I excelled. Became school sabre champion at sixteen. Reached the semi finals of the London Schoolboys Championship that year, 2 years younger than the others. If I have a ‘I could have been a contender’ story, fencing is it. I fell out with the maestro, a strict Christian disciplinarian who objected to some of my new interests i.e. girls and beer. But a fellow I regularly beat in tournaments from a rival North London school was fencing for England a year after I gave up.
Sigh! Still, I channelled my passion into my career. Essentially I became an actor so I could leap about with bladed weaponry. And I have done lots of it. If I was not Zorro I was his opponent Sir Miles Thackeray in the 90’s TV series. If I was not D’Artagnan, I fought him as Cahusac of the Cardinal’s Guards in ‘The Three Musketeers’ at the Bristol Old Vic in 1988. (Here, stabbed through the throat)
And then there is my writing. Swords abound – and came to the forefront in my 2014 novel, ‘Shakespeare’s Rebel’ (Click on title to read more of it) about William’s fight arranger in 1601 London.
And it was the thrill of my life when we launched the book at Vancouver’s Shakespeare festival, Bard on the Beach. We did an evening of swords and words, allied with my friends at Academie Duello, the extraordinary medieval martial arts school in Vancouver. For on that night I fought as my main character, John Lawley.
Using the backsword (A light broadsword) you see above – and click here to watch the fight!
I keep these weapons near. All my touchstones I will handle for inspiration at some stage in my writing process. These I will grasp and do moves with when I am too long at my desk, lost in a thicket of words. And, of course, when I am writing a fight, I will draw one, and leap about my hut – as lost in swordplay as I was when I first picked up the plastic rapier, aged three!