Friday 13 October 2017

Q&A with Andrew Harris, author of A Litany of Good Intentions

Published by Faithful Hound on October 12, 2017

Can you tell us one thing we would be surprised to learn about you?

I failed English Literature at school as books sadly weren’t part of my childhood. I grew up in a family where literature was less important than football. As a late-developer, I have made up for lost time and now books are a fundamental part of my life.

What inspired you to write the Human Spirit Trilogy?

I wanted to celebrate the Human Spirit and what makes us special as a species. In particular, to highlight our scientific successes whilst commenting on what I believe has gone wrong in recent years and is now threatening our very existence. Crime fiction is the perfect genre to get the messages across.

A Litany of Good Intentions was published on October 12. Can you tell us a bit about it?

It is the second crime fiction novel in a trilogy with the same lead characters. It addresses some of the very real issues around poverty, human trafficking and slavery. How can we live in a world where 2.6 billion people have no access to something as basic as running water, a toilet or even electricity?

What did you find the most challenging about the process of writing A Litany of Good Intentions?

Trying to keep the pace and simplicity of a thriller storyline whilst weaving in the complexity of historical themes, extensive research and various sub-plots. Putting words in the mouth of Albert Einstein was an interesting challenge.

How meticulously did you (or didn’t you) plot it out?

Very meticulous. I prepared a 14 page synopsis of the story and detailed background notes on each of the main characters. I had the final scenes in place before writing the first chapter. The whole book was underpinned by personal research and a growing reference library.

Being the second in the trilogy, did the process of writing A Litany of Good Intentions differ from the process of writing book one?

Not in writing style which follows a similar format. The challenge was to introduce the main protagonists again without boring the people who already knew them from the first book. Also, as it is a sequel, to tell this story which takes place one year later, without giving too much away about what happened in the first novel.

What does your typical writing day look like?

It starts with a long walk accompanied by my Plot Development Director, who happens to be a Golden Retriever – the real life Trigger. I know in outline what needs to be achieved that day before I start. The creative bit is finding the right words to tell the story. Sometimes it flows, sometimes it is seriously hard work. I aim for 2000 – 3000 words per day. I always take a break after completion for another walk before a critical review.

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

Outdoor living and regular exercise such as golf or fly fishing I find really stimulates new ideas for storylines and characters. Spending time with my wife and family is always a pleasure. Also I find music is a great source of inspiration and relaxation. I subscribe to the view that minds are like parachutes – they work best when they are open.

If you could choose one book published during the past year that you would recommend we read, what book would that be?

A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee. Clever, complex plotting, Agatha Christie goes to 1920’s India. I loved the pace, spirituality and deductive reasoning of this refreshingly different detective novel. Mukherjee’s second book has established his name within the crime fiction genre.

Is there a book you wish you’d written? If so, which one, and why?

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo. For me this was the pinnacle of his Harry Hole series. I love the way Nesbo takes us into the mind of his detective hero who is so infuriatingly flawed that you want to shake him out of his alcoholic stupor and get on with solving the mystery. The crime scenes were beautifully crafted: the suspense was palpable. This was crime fiction writing at its very best.

Finally, can you tell us anything about what you’re working on next?

The third book in the trilogy is called More. The same lead protagonists this time will be facing the challenge of how we will feed 9 billion people without destroying our precious planet. It will address the important issues surrounding genetically modified foods, addictive thinking and behavioural types, the rise in obesity and spread of diabetes. It is intended for publication Christmas 2018.

Thank you, Andrew!

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Guest Post | Angus Donald on religion and realpolitik in the reign of Charles II

Published by Zaffre on October 5, 2017

Religion and realpolitik in the reign of Charles II
by Angus Donald

 I went to an old friend’s wedding last weekend. I wore a nice suit, prayed a little bit, received Communion, and belted out Jerusalem at the end. It was a lovely service.

I don’t go to church much, to be honest; Christmas, yes, and Easter, if I can be arsed, but apart from that it’s christenings, weddings and funerals. I’m not even sure if I believe in God. That’s right, I’m C of E. But the charming ceremony I went to on Saturday was a Roman Catholic one, and the first of its kind I’ve ever attended. I’m not sure I would have noticed the differences, really, if I hadn’t been looking for them: some little bells tinkling prettily, rather more reference to the Virgin Mary than I’m used to. Very little, really, on the surface to distinguish it from an Anglican rite.

But as I sat there in that lovely old church in Cambridge, listening to the Monsignor give the homily, my mind kept drifting back to the 17th century, to the reign of Charles II, and to the cast of characters in my new novel Blood’s Game.

This sort of service would have been treated with a great deal of suspicion then – perhaps even with horror. For then the Roman Catholic faith was proscribed in England, and only oath-sworn Anglicans could hold public office – yet there were still plenty of Catholic families about, and the priests to minister to them. Foreign Embassies had churches where die-hard English Catholics could gather and worship, the Liberty of Savoy, an anomalous few acres near Charing Cross in London, had a Catholic Church with a special dispensation to succour to the faithful. Charles II’s Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza was Catholic – and had her own chapel in the Palace of Whitehall – as was his mother Henrietta Maria, and his brother James, Duke of York, though he had to keep it secret and be seen to attend Anglican services.

However, the vast majority of the English population – roughly ninety percent – was Protestant, and for many of them Catholicism was a sinister, in fact, a downright dangerous religion. It was the faith of their foreign enemies, it was the faith of the dictatorial monarch Louis XIV of France, it was the faith of sneaking assassins and devilishly cunning Jesuits who were out to steal their souls. It was wrong, even perhaps evil, and those who owed allegiance to the Pope were never to be trusted.

Some people at the time whispered that even King Charles himself was secretly a Catholic. Some respected historians since then had also suggested this. Charles’s loud protestations of Anglican faith while in exile in the Low Countries was mere expediency, they say. For he could never expect to be restored to the thrones of the Three Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland if he were openly Catholic. And these academics also highlight to the fact that he attempted, through royal declarations of indulgence, to ease the lot of Catholics. They point out that on his deathbed – when his soul was in the balance – he converted to the Old Faith and was at last received into the Catholic Church. All of these things are true.

However, I think the reality is a little more complex. Yes, Charles II was born into the Protestant faith and died in the Catholic one. And it would certainly have been politically very difficult for him to convert to the Church of Rome during his reign – after all, his younger brother the Duke of York, when he became King James II, lost his throne in 1688 in the Glorious Revolution largely because he was Catholic.

However, I think that Charles believed that in religious matters politics was far more important than principle. In Blood’s Game, when his brother James raises the subject of his religion, I have the King saying this: “I give you warning, James, that you must keep your faith to yourself. I might well be compelled to send you from me – to France, say – quite against my wishes, if you do not govern your tongue in this regard. I say this not as a threat but as an expression of the realities of this realm. In their current mood, the English will not have a King who is sympathetic to the Old Faith – after Queen Mary and the Oxford Martyrs and Guido Fawkes and all of the bloody wrangling over their souls for the past hundred years. They will not stand for it. Not now. Perhaps one day, if God wills it, but not this year, nor the next. If, by your indiscretions, I am forced to choose between the preservation of my throne or my brother’s position at court I know which I shall choose.”

While I was researching Blood’s Game I discovered a secret treaty signed in June 1670 – which was kept under wraps by the British Government for a hundred years afterwards, and which never really came out of the historical shadows till 1910 – in which Charles II agreed to make a public profession of his Catholic faith in exchange for a huge sum of money from Louis VIX of France. Is this evidence that Charles, like his brother, was a secret Catholic? I don’t think so. Charles received the French money, and swiftly spent it, but never made the public profession of the his Catholic faith. Why not? Either because he did not truly espouse the Church of Rome or because he could not safely do it without losing his throne. Actually, I believe that Charles used the ambiguity of his religious allegiance, quite cynically, as bargaining chip to achieve his ends – in this case, much needed money. I don’t think we can read anything more spiritual into the treaty than a King’s desire to pay off his huge debts.

Charles, I think, made a sharp distinction between maintaining a political position on an issue and what constituted his private, personal beliefs. Antonia Fraser in her excellent book King Charles II, compares his attitude to that of John F. Kennedy. He made a distinction between his role as President of the United States of America and as a private member of the Roman Catholic Church. As President, for example, he would not be subordinate to the Pope in Rome. What if America were to go to war with Italy again, as they had done in 1941? But as a private Catholic he did, as he must, acknowledge the Pontiff’s absolute supremacy.

Interestingly, like JFK, King Charles was not exactly known for his chastity – while he was married to Catharine, Charles had at least seven mistresses and possibly as many as thirteen. But then the Catholic Church has always been able to understand the frailty of the flesh – and to provide absolution after confession and contrition.

The truth is that we will never know for sure what was in Charles’s heart – or, indeed in anyone’s heart. He publicly espoused Anglicanism all his life, except in the final few hours. But then he did not really have a choice in this matter if he wanted to remain King. In secret, and in writing, he promised to convert to the Old Faith but never did until many years later when he was staring into the abyss. So was he a genuine Protestant? Or was he privately a devout Catholic? Only God truly knows.

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