Category: What I’m reading…


Reading is one of the most important skills we can develop. It’s something we use, and have to use, on a daily basis. It is impossible to function effectively without it. I can’t remember ever having not been able to read but there must have been a time when I couldn’t do it. I’m told I struggled a bit at school and needed some extra lessons but the teacher found out I was quite good and used me to help other kids. I thought I had been selected for an extra treat. I obviously got the hang of it as I ended up getting a good degree from Manchester University. 

I can remember clearly what turned me on to reading. My teacher in what is tnow called Year 3 (I’d be 7) had this system where if you progressed well enough along a path on a chart she had on the wall, you were rewarded with a form that allowed you to go to the local public library and join. I desperately wanted that. And when I got it, I was always there borrowing books that took my fancy. After that happened I guess I taught myself.

But some people, especially boys, struggle still. There are too many active, exciting things that they can do that sound better than sitting quietly and reading oa book. People are always trying to do things to encourage people to read. These book benches, decorated with characters from famous books, turned up in Central Library this weekend.

And these ones I found lining the Winter Gardens of the Arndale Centre shopping mall in the city centre.

I have to read for work but I also read for pleasure. So what am I reading now?

After reading all those books set in Anglo Saxon England I’ve jumped 500 years or so to Tudor England and I’m reading a book called ‘Three Sisters, Three Queens’ by fêted author, Phillipa Gregory.

It’s set in the years after the War of the Roses which saw the end of the Plantagenet dynasty of monarchs and the ascendency of the Tudor dynasty after the death of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, near Leicester, in 1485. Calling it the War of the Roses makes it sound a very cosy, civilised English sort of war. It was anything but and the Game of Thrones story, not known for holding back on the violence, with the dynastic battles between House Lannister and House Stark, was partially based on this period of history. 

Henry Tudor won and became Henry VII. He married a Plantagent princess as his claim to the throne wasn’t that strong. He had four surviving children, Arthur, Margaret, Henry and Mary. The book is told from the point of view of Margaret who is married off to James IV of Scotland as part of a peace deal with that country. Quite a common thing to happen to a prince or princess in those days. She is the first queen, Queen of Scotland. She had quite a happy marriage even though James was 10 years or so her senior. He’d had quite a lot of fun while he was waiting to get married and Margaret arrived at her new castle in Scotland to find it full of the illegitimate offspring of his liaisons with assorted Scottish ladies who had taken his fancy. I believe a lot of that sort of thing goes on in Game of Thrones. 

Her elder brother, Arthur, was married to Katherine of Aragon, the daughter of the King and Queen of Spain. They were the Ferdinand and Isabella who drove the Muslim Moors out of Spain finally, and sent Christopher Columbus out west to get to India. He found America instead. Katherine and Arthur are married and packed off to enjoy their newly married status in Ludlow Castle. Arthur gets ill and dies of the ‘sweats.’ We don’t have them these days, they seem to have died out. Poor Katherine is a widow half way through her teens. She comes back to London. The alliance with Spain is too important to lose so they marry Katherine off to Arthur’s younger brother, Henry. They get round the fact that she’s been married to his brother (illegal in England in those days and probably still the same today, I’ve never heard of it happening anyway) by saying Arthur was too ill to consummate the marriage. Well he wasn’t ill ALL the time they were in Ludlow and if you put two hormonal teenagers in a bed and EXPECT them to have fun, I can’t imagine them saying  ‘no, I’ve got a headache (bad case of the ‘sweats’). Henry goes on to be the famous/infamous Henry VIII so Katherine becomes Queen of England. Has Game of Thrones done the suspect incest thing yet?

Mary, the pretty one, gets married off to the aging King of France who is old enough to be her grandfather. He also has some rather unpleasant sexual practices (G o T again?) but fortunately for Mary, dies within a year. Now the Dowager Queen of France she hops it backs to England, rich, and marries a handsome boy her own age before they can marry her off to some other, past his sell by date, monarch with dodgy habits. The Holy Roman Emperor was in the frame for a while there. 

So the three Queens and three sisters (well technically two sisters and a sister in law) write to one another as the wars and historical doings of early Tudor history happen around and to them. It’s a good read. Have I whetted your appetite to read this?

I do enjoy a good book. I like to read. And, I’ve discovered it has to be a book. I do have ‘books’ on my iPad but, at the end of the day, I find I don’t like to curl up in bed at the end of the day with my iPad and read a chapter. And I do tend to forget I’ve got books there as well. I’ve downloaded some and they are just there, wherever ‘there’ is, forgotten. I’m not alone either, the sales of paper books is rising again in the UK while downloads are falling. It seemed we still like mooching about in bookshops and picking out a good read. 

I’m about to finish ‘The Flame Bearer’ by Bernard Cornwall. It’s the latest in a series of ten. To say I’ve enjoyed them is an understatement. I’ve read all ten back to back, apart from the last few pages of this one, over the last year.

I like history, and the further back the history goes, the better I like it. ‘The Flame Bearer’ is set at the end of the Dark Ages at the point where England was being forged together out of the old Saxon kingdoms of Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria. I can’t decide where Manchester was in those days. Some maps had us in Mercia, others in Northumbria, maybe we were fought over and moved from one to the other. The remains of the Roman province of Britannia are still there with the Saxons living among the ruins of their towns, wondering how those people could have built so well. The Saxon kingdoms fought each other at that time and all of them were under attack from invaders from Denmark and Scandanavia. First they come to raid as Vikings, later they come to settle, dispossessing the Saxons of their land. At one point it looked as if the Saxons would lose, with the King, Alfred, holed up in swamplands on the Somerset Levels. If he’d lost we would be living in Daneland, not England, now and, maybe, Danish would have become to lingua franca of the world. 

It was a fascinating period in our history and I’m amazed, given how important it is to how we are now, it isn’t better known. Bernard Cornwell has woven a lot of detailed history into his books with actual characters from the period actually doing the things they did. You learn a lot of history.

 

Bernard Cornwell has done a lot of research into his own ancestors and has discovered that he is related to the people who lived in Bamburgh Castle in the Dark Ages. Thanks to Gareth Evans for the great picture above. It’s a dramatic fortification on the north east coast of England, north of Newcastle. The present castle is a stunning medieval building with Victorian additions added to make it a comfortable home. Before that there was the Dark Ages building, the Romans had a place there as did the Ancient British. It’s within sight of Holy Island, an ancient religious place which still has a special atmosphere today. People who believe such things believe that the veil between heaven and earth is very thin here. Both these sites feature in the books.

Among all the history and geography of Dark Ages Britain, Bernard Cornwell has created a fictional character, Uhtred of Bebbanburg (the ancient name of Bamburgh) who may have been his ancestor. Born into a Christian Saxon family living at Bamburgh, he falls into the hands of Danes and becomes a slave. His master grows to like him and treats him as a son. He becomes a pagan and a warrior. His ability as a warrior bring him into contact with Kind Alfred and the fictional story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg becomes interwoven, very cleverly, with the real history of England as the Saxons face annihilation and fight back to establish England as the nation we know today. It’s a damn good read.

I actually started reading the series with the ninth book of the series, ‘Warriors of the Storm.’ I picked it up just before Christmas 2015 as a present to myself and something to read over the festive season. I enjoyed it and was delighted to see that the BBC was doing a televised series of the books called ‘The Last Kingdom.’ It was very well done and very faithful to the books. A second series is being shown this Spring. I am looking forward to that but don’t let the excellent BBC adaptation put you off reading the books. Speaking to a friend, he informed me of the rest of the series which he had read, and passed on the rest to me which has provided me with much of my recreational reading for 2016. I thank him. 

And the pleasure isn’t over. Bernard Cornwell is, I hope, working on the next book in the series, hopefully for my festive reading for Christmas 2017.