Scheming? Murder? 12th century England? Set with the backdrop of one of the most important creations in history?
EM Powell’s new novel, The King’s Justice, ticks all the boxes.
It is 1176 – the height of King Henry II’s reign - and Aelred Barling and his assistant, Hugo Stanton, journey to Yorkshire to investigate what seems, on the surface, to be the straightforward death of a villager. However, the story develops into a veritable whodunit with many twists and turns as Barling and Stanton not only attempt to get to grips with the murderer but with each other.
And while the novel doesn’t deal with as a famous an event as the murder of Thomas Becket (as Powell did to kick off her The Fifth Knight series) if anything, The King’s Justice is based around and even more important occurrence – King Henry’s reform of the justice system. This was the era when Henry established laws and regulations which inform and influence our own modern law system and most of those in the western world.
Heady stuff indeed – but set amidst a high-paced investigation, murder, mayhem and maybe even a larger conspiracy? We shall have to wait and see as this fantastic new series continues next year!
The author was kind enough to take on a few questions posed by some of the world’s most inspirational lines of literature to give us a little bit more insight into her writing life, her new story, and the world at large.
‘No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.’ Virginia Woolf
I love this quote from Virginia Woolf as I think it’s a salutary reminder about what’s important in life. There’s a huge pressure to be the sparkly version of oneself, particularly on social media. One could of course avoid social media but the expectation is that writers should have an active presence on there. Some of it’s great (like Ruadh’s historical/dog photos!) but it’s not something that lends itself to a writer’s brain - at least not this writer anyway.
When I’m writing, I go into a very different mindset, one that’s almost dreamlike. I’ve gone into my fictional world and a post on the screen blaring ‘YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT MEGHAN MARKLE SAID TO HARRY!’ has the effect of a) throwing me right out of that world and b) irritating me beyond belief. I much prefer to be like 14th Century Christine de Pizan, chin in hand, staring into space/out the window while I solve a knotty plot point. As for hurrying, I’m Irish. Hurrying gives me hives.
‘We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.’ Margaret Atwood
This quote reminds me of the type of characters that I most like to write about in historical fiction: ordinary people, those who don’t necessarily make it into the history books. When one visits a medieval castle or a stately home, it’s always tempting to imagine oneself as living there in the past. But for most people reading this blog, our ancestors would be nowhere near the solars or the upper floors of the Big House. We’d have been growing crops, hauling hay, doing laundry, baking bread. If any of us were part of a fighting force, we wouldn’t have been on the back of a horse. We’d have been a front row expendable. That’s why I’ve had such fun writing my new Stanton & Barling medieval crime series, starting with THE KING’S JUSTICE. Yes, Aelred Barling is a royal law clerk and Hugo Stanton is a messenger, but the brutal murder they’ve been sent to investigate is that of a village smith. No kings or queens, just ordinary murdering folk. Like I say - great fun!
‘Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.’ Miguel de Cervantes
Yes, that’s a fair summation of what it’s like to be a historical fiction writer. The research side is of course fascinating but takes a huge amount of time and effort. It also doesn’t lend itself to perfectionists. The temptation to find just one more source, or ‘Oh, look! Another book* on Amazon that’s about left-handed medieval scythes in Yorkshire!’ is often too great. Yes, one has to do one’s homework. But one also has to stop. Otherwise one is in full Cervantes mode.
*For people who are now eagerly searching, I made this up. I’m so sorry to disappoint.
‘It did what all ads are supposed to do: create an anxiety relievable by purchase.’ David Foster Wallace
I seized upon this one because it sums up so well an issue dear to my heart: rampant consumerism and the effect that it’s having on our beautiful planet. In short, we don’t need so much stuff. We definitely don’t need the ‘gifts’ that are advertised for supposedly unmissable events on the calendar. Valentine’s Day (red rubbish), St Patrick’s Day (green rubbish), Mother’s Day (pink rubbish), Father’s Day (blue rubbish), Thank You Teacher (teddy bears with said message on its stomach/rubbish), Halloween (orange rubbish)- these are just a few. So much tat changing hands, and a huge amount of it made of plastic and almost all of it ending up in landfill/the ocean for the next millennium. And all of it bought by people who felt they ought to, because the makers of said rubbish push it relentlessly via advertising. Lest anybody think I’m just being grumpy, Advent is now a season. For shopping. Apparently, you don’t love your female significant other if you don’t buy her an Advent Calendar that has a different item of make up behind each window. Can anybody else hear the hoofbeats of the Apocalypse, or is it just me?
‘Three ruins of a tribe: a lying chief, a false judge, a lustful priest.’ 9th century Irish Triad.
This last quote isn’t one of Ruadh’s but one of which I am particularly fond. Triads, the arrangement of ideas or sayings in groups of three, are common in ancient Irish and Welsh writing. They are a type of wisdom literature, serving to instruct, enlighten and at times entertain the reader/listener with truths about life. Trecheng Breth Féne or The Triads of Ireland is a collection composed about the 9th century AD by an anonymous author who was most likely a cleric. One might think that the Irish Triad wisdom of over 1,100 years ago would be remote and/or inaccessible. But reading that quote, one has to wonder if that cleric had access to a 21st Century wormhole. And they never bother mentioning Meghan Markle.
The King’s Justice
GET IN TOUCH WITH THE AUTHOR
E.M. Powell’s historical thriller Fifth Knight novels have been #1 Amazon and Bild bestsellers. Her new Stanton & Barling medieval murder mystery series starts with THE KING’S JUSTICE. She is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers The Big Thrill magazine, blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors and is the social media manager for the Historical Novel Society.
Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she now lives in northwest England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog.