As my final guest in my 17th century Glory and Gore extravaganza, I have the pleasure of welcoming M.J. Logue. You want gritty? You want quirky? You want books to cry over, laugh out loud at? You want depictions of battle, of death and loss that have your guts twisting in agony? You enjoy contrasting the total gore of all that violence with the glory of tender love? Well, dear peeps, you cannot go wrong with M.J. Logue. Her books about Hollie Babbitt and his troop of men will introduce you to the English civil War without as much as a pink ribbon in sight. M.J. Logue’s characters are all firmly for Parliament against a despot king—which does not in any way strip them of their humanity or their capacity for compassion. So if you haven’t done so yet, buy her books and read them. Start with Red Horse. Like now.
Right: not that I got all of that off my chest, how about we get back to my guest, who not only writes but also re-enacts. As a consequence of all that re-enacting, she also sews. Fantastic, embroidered creations that make my efforts with a staple gun look just like what they are: pathetic. She can also play the lute which now has me envisioning her with a cat or two at her feet as she warbles “Drink to me only with thine eyes”. And of course she knows how to drive a horse and carriage. Goes with the territory, right? She cannot, however, drive a car, which must at times be something of an inconvenience, especially when you live out in the booneys.
So what was it that drew M.J. Logue to the 17th century to begin with?
MJ: I fell in love with Jacobean revenge drama as a teenager (because incest, murder, lust and black comedy – why would you not?) and then moved to Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire where local legend has it that Black Tom Fairfax was reburied under the chancel in the parish church.
All very gothic and brooding. I’m an archivist by training and I got to play with lots of 17th century records, so the period was very much one of having real people in it for me, from my teenage years onwards.
Anna: Is there a particular event or person that/who has inspired your writing?
MJ: See above – one General T. Fairfax. (Remarkably fine eyes!)
Anna: You’re always going on about his eyes! And yes, they are quite lovely, and it helps the man is rarely depicted in ruffles and lace, but it can’t just be about his looks, right?
MJ: No, the thing was, I’d studied the British Civil Wars at school and it was little more than a succession of names and dates, and then all of a sudden this cardboard cut-out figure became a man who wrote godawful poetry and was a martyr to the gout in later life, and rather bizarrely most people you talked to seemed to think he was either a) mostly mistaken for Oliver Cromwell or b) one of the bad guys.
And it annoyed me then and it annoys me still. (Also: don’t get me started on misconceptions about Puritan sexuality. Just. Do. Not. Do. That. Thing. Because I can assure you of one thing – they did that thing…)
Anna: Too right, they did. And they were also quite capable of indulging in bedsport without making babies which shows they not only did it, but liked it. Moving on: The majority of the 17th c enthusiasts tend to portray the royalists as the heroes and the parliamentarians as the evil, narrow-minded enemy. You don’t. Why is that do you think?
MJ: Errrr…. because they weren’t? ? There’s a letter from 1643 between William Waller (Parliamentarian) and his best friend Ralph Hopton (Royalist)
The experience I have of your worth and the happiness I have enjoyed in your friendship are wounding considerations when I look at this present distance between us. Certainly my affection to you is so unchangeable that hostility itself cannot violate my friendship, but I must be true wherein the cause I serve. That great God, which is the searcher of my heart, knows with what a sad sense I go about this service, and with what a perfect hatred I detest this war without an enemy; but I look upon it as an Opus Domini and that is enough to silence all passion in me. The God of peace in his good time will send us peace. In the meantime, we are upon the stage and must act those parts that are assigned to us in this tragedy. Let us do so in a way of honour and without personal animosities.
Whatever the outcome I will never willingly relinquish the title of Your most affectionated friend.
They never met again in this life. Do they read like the words of an evil, narrow-minded bigot? (Anna: *sniff*)
There were heroes and villains and men of honour and blackguards on both sides and quite honestly it made me so very sad that people like decent, pedestrian, bad-poetry-writing General Fairfax, or cake-smuggling Brilliana, Lady Harley, are lazily considered “the bad guys”. Not sexy, or soundbitey, to a modern audience, but real, rounded people just like us.
Find me a Royalist smuggling the family silver out of the house in a chest marked CAKE, I dare you!
(NB this says little for either the calibre of the Harley family cake, which must have routinely weighed a ton to not have raised anybody’s suspicions, or the wits of the Royalist besiegers who couldn’t tell the difference between half a ton of clanky silverware and a box of cake….)
Anna: Ha! Well, I am guessing some people are serious about their cakes. So, tell us a bit about your 17th century books.
MJ: I have two series-es – there are the Uncivil Wars books (which start off with Red Horse) which are set in, yep, the civil war period, following the misadventures of a troop of Parliamentarian cavalry led up by one Colonel Holofernes Babbitt – aka Rosie – under General Fairfax. They’re a bit like what Sharpe would be like if he was middle-aged, sweary, disillusioned, and somewhat broken. I don’t think there’s one of them entirely sane, and they don’t half kick up a storm. We’ve just hacked through Marston Moor – quite literally – and things are getting dark….
Fortunately, on the other hand, there is the ridiculous frivolity that is the Restoration series. Rosie’s lieutenant throughout the wars is Hapless by name and hapless by nature, and if it can happen to anybody it will happen to him – probably twice. And I absolutely could not bear to leave Lieutenant Russell where he was at the end of the first series, when pretty much everything he believed in or cared for had gone to ruin.
So I gave him a very frothy Happy Ever After, and he has absurd and sweet and rather funny romantic adventures with his wife and their children and at least one horrible little dog (and a horse called Marlowe).
Anna: Are you planning on revisiting this time period?
MJ: My honey, I’ve never left it!
Anna: Oh, gosh, that was a stupid question wasn’t it? Anyway, tell us what else you have in the pipeline.
MJ: The third book with the Russells (1671, smugglers on the Dengie Peninsula in Essex, and escaped Scottish prisoners of war from the battle of Dunbar twenty years previous) is almost finished, and the seventh Uncivil Wars book – provisionally titled A Haunt Of Owls, but may end up as A Habitation Of Dragons – is grinding mercilessly through the end of the Yorkshire campaign and the creation of the New Model Army. Readers of the earlier books are probably wincing as they read that…. (Anna: Oh dear: somehow I don’t see that as ending well for Hollie…)
Anna: What are you working on right now?
St Tu Dois Partir. It started out as a slight, sweet short story in the Steel & Lace anthology and it was initially a rather whimsical tale of how one scarred and mostly-crazy lieutenant of horse got his girl. And it was lovely, but when I started to write the Restoration series it wasn’t right. It had none of their humour or affection or joy in it – it was a nice, conventional little love story, and he was a bit tragic and Rochester-y (that’s Mr Rochester, not the Earl of Rochester – which would have been fun, but weird) and she was a classic Heyer hoyden.
It was fun, but it was not in any way the Russells.
It’s been bothering me for two books now, so I had to go back and rewrite it properly….
Anna: Given your passion for this era, I imagine you’ve written quite a few posts about this period. Please share your top three favourite posts!
https://asweetdisorder.com/2018/10/26/in-praise-of-the-plain-russet-coated-captain-or-why-historical-fiction-needs-anti-heroes/ In Praise Of the Plain Russet-Coated Captain
https://asweetdisorder.com/2018/04/16/the-roaring-girls-some-thoughts-on-women-in-historical-fiction/ Roaring Girls – women in historical fiction
https://asweetdisorder.com/2016/10/23/making-provision-for-those-that-shall-be-maimed-in-this-present-war-medical-care-in-the-english-civil-war/ Medical Care in the British Civil Wars
MJ has decided to give us an excerpt fromSi Tu Dois Partir
Hollie stood up – he was fully well expecting to get belted, and suspected he fully well deserved it, too – and leaned his hip casually against the back of Joy’s spindly chair, folding his arms. Maybe not like a razor through silk, then. Maybe more like, say, a well-worn cavalry backsword through a buffcoat.
“Well, well, well,” he said, and cocked his head – “what took you so long?”
Which was the point at which had he been Hapless Russell he would have belted his future father-in-law, and in which he was not disappointed. Joyeux screamed, but then, Joyeux would. Hollie caught the lad by the scruff of his dreadful old coat and shook him like a rat, “Behave your bloody self! The hell kind of way is this to carry on at a wedding?”
“What have you done to her?”
If they’d ha’ been in some kind of stage-play, Thomazine would have likely thrust an eating-knife into one of them, or swooned off across the baked meats. Anything rather than materialise behind her ragged lover – like that razor through silk, Hollie thought with amusement, and could have wept for it for by God’s blessing one of them at least had some grace to hand on to his grandchildren – and start wrenching furiously at the hilt of his sword, scarlet-faced and streaming with tears and snot.
“It’s not considered good form to dismember the bride’s father, children,” he said mildly. “You will observe, Russell, that the lady is in rude good health. And Thomazine, if you bite me, you hoyden, I will put you over my knee and paddle your arse, big as you are. And do not you think for a second that he’ll lift a finger to stop me. Put that bloody sword down and stop making a show of yourself.”
About M.J. Logue
M. J. Logue (as in cataLOGUE and epiLOGUE and not, ever, loge, which is apparently a kind of private box in a theatre) wrote her first short novel on a manual typewriter aged seven. It wasn’t very good, being about talking horses, but she made her parents sit through endless readings of it anyway.
Thirty-something years later she is still writing, although horses only come into it occasionally these days. Born and brought up in Lancashire, she moved to Cornwall at the turn of the century (and has always wanted to write that) and now lives in a granite cottage with her husband, and son, five cats, and various itinerant wildlife.
After periods of employment as a tarot reader, complaints call handler, executive PA, copywriter and civil servant, she decided to start writing historical fiction about the period of British history that fascinates her – the 17th century.
Get in touch with MJ
Right, dear peeps. This post concludes my 17th century blog series. I hope you’ve enjoyed it – and if you missed Deborah’s post, check it out here! Or how about you start at the beginning and work your way forward through all the lovely posts?