‘They seek him here, they seek him there’…so things have been a little hectic of late…ok for the last three months especially. So much so, I know many of you are wondering whether I’m still alive judging by your friendly emails and very kind posts. Well, I must first report in dispatches that as far as I can tell, I’m still very much alive and kicking…for now at any rate. Let’s hope that stays the case as there is so much to do!
Life has been very busy indeed and I know I should hang my head in shame and walk the streets to the sounds of a ringing bell and the warranted cries of shame, giving my best Cersi Lannister performance as I go. My crime of failing to blog since September is after all a real one. So in a bid to redeem myself, I thought I would give you all an update as to what’s been going on.
Well first of all, Robert Bruce, King of Scots has been foreshadowing my every move. As many of you will know, after the publication of my first book, ‘Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance‘, I am now working hard on my second work, entitled ‘Robert the Bruce: Champion of a Nation‘ to be published in November 2019 by Amberley. Book two is most certainly coming together, and I am very pleased to report that after countless hours of research, scouring digital archives, libraries and getting out on the road, I started writing the manuscript nearly four months ago. I’m now over 40,000 words in with another 90k words to go before my 1st July 2019 deadline. Its been a very interesting journey thus far, exploring up close and personal, one of Scotland’s national heroes. Robert Bruce, King of Scots, who ruled between 1306 and 1329, is something of a champion in age which appears to have bred many a legend. However, like all legendary figures, there is plenty of myth surrounding the historical figure obscuring the historical facts, and the two are not always so clearly cut. It’s made the research particularly interesting if at times frustrating. At the same time, I’ve been having great fun trying to understand Robert himself, by getting to explore his character through his actions and associations, and seeing how and why he appeared to take the decisions that he did that ultimately led him to take, and then hold onto, the Scottish Crown. My manuscript, starting before his birth and with the arrival of his family into England (yes England, not Scotland) in the early twelfth century, is written chronologically charting Bruce’s life. I am now currently writing about the year 1307, when the 33 year old Bruce returns from his flight into the west of his kingdom, possibly over to Rathlin Island and/or the Antrim Coast of what is now Northern Ireland in the face of English aggression, following his unexpected coronation in 1306. It’s dramatic stuff and a hot bed for many a myth, so peeling back the layers and writing this bio is just as much fun as writing that of Edward II’s.
Of course, alongside the research, I’ve also recently watched Netflix’s long-awaited film production, Outlaw King, which stars Chris Pine as Bruce himself. It has been a bit odd, researching and writing about the very same period of history that is covered by the film production at the same time that I am penning the chapters about these very events. In many instances, Outlaw King has done its research, especially with some of the smallest of details which make it onto the screen but are only noticebale if you really know the contemporary evidence. But equally, like with all dramatised productions, key events in the film are muddled or simply made up for dramatic effect, the most notable being the battle of Loudon Hill in 1307, the characterisation of Edward of Caernarvon, Prince of Wales (later Edward II) and even Bruce himself to some extent. Bruce here is a much reluctant king which is at odds with the contemporary evidence. Films after all are dramas and not documentaries, and so their creative licence is nevertheless interesting to watch in order to judge contemporary attitudes; to see how Robert Bruce’s story, and that of Edward I and II to are still contorted today, in part to fulfil the appetite of a modern audience, but also because the screen writers fall back on the romanticism of centuries of myths and legends. In doing so they perpetuate them yet further. In many ways, film makers today and monastic chroniclers writing some 700 years ago are not altogether different people. They embellish, they contort, they get creative. Recently, many people have asked me what I think about the film. I say, much to their surprise, that I quite like it. Not because its historically accurate, far from it, but because its not. It’s a dramatic telling of the myth and like all myths, it fills a void in the soul of the human condition. In other words, it’s a bit of light hearted fun and I can quite happily live with that because I understand it for what it is supposed to be. It’s almost everything a biography of Robert Bruce can’t be in that a modern biography needs to be factual and aligned to the evidence, but can of course be fun to. So there is ultimately room for both I think; creative film and an accurate bio. We as people, always seem to want an either or which I feel falls short of something far more interesting.
Writing the book is now all consuming. But, as a fledgling writer which I still consider myself very much to be, I have a full time job alongside as a General Manager at the National Trust, where I look after three historic properties in Warwickshire. Anyone who works for a charity knows that the work is tremendously rewarding (something I have been undertaking for the best part of fourteen years in this sector) but the hours can be long. In between 40-50 hour weeks, researching and writing often takes places in the evenings, at weekends and during my annual leave. It’s partly how I wrote Edward II to. So with all this going on, I’ve been rather busy and a bit remiss at blogging…yes, I’m still holding my head in shame.
I also write for a local magazine in the Midlands, and recently I have been asked to compose more articles for them each month which is wonderful because I get to try out and experiment with different writing styles and can be quite playful about non historical subjects. My magazine editor has also asked me to become an arts and cultural reviewer for a digital platform, so if I’m not working at the day job, or writing about Robert Bruce, I’m off reviewing theatre, comedy acts, ballet and much more besides and writing up reviews. It’s been very exciting stuff, particularly because I adore the arts in the broadest terms. One of my favourites this year was The Sleeping Beauty, performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet.
But now, as the Christmas season approaches, I finally have a bit of time to knuckle down and return to my blog. In the next couple of weeks, I am going to post an article or two. For this, I’m going to hand the subject over to you. Is there anything you would like me to write about in relation to Edward II, Robert Bruce or those in and around their royal courts that you really want to know more about? If so, feel free to get in touch using the contact button at the top of the page or simply leave a comment below. I will see what information I can find and write up for you.
In the meantime, I wish you all well, and I best get back to that book.
Very best wishes,
Stephen Spinks is author of ‘Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance’ available here at Waterstones Amazon Foyles Amberley Publishing and is currently writing ‘Robert the Bruce: Champion of a Nation’, due for publication autumn 2019.