Updates…

Galley CopyMy galley copy of ‘The Tattered Banner’ arrived today, bringing with it the delightful requirement of a proofread (another one). It’s exciting to be so close to the end of the journey with this book though, or at least bringing one part of that journey to a close.

For anyone curious, Createspace are responsible for this physical incarnation. I’m incredibly impressed by the quality of what they’ve produced; it has easily surpassed both my expectations and hopes. They took care of the cover art and the interior formatting and if all goes to plan, I will be using their services again.

And yes, before anyone points it out, I know I need to use coasters, but I think the coffee mug rings give my desk character. *cough*

My Favourite Swashbucklers Part IV

Parts I, II, and III of this series can be found by clicking on the numerals. Again the spoiler warning; there may be spoilers below!

10. The Prince and the Pauper, 1937. Starring Errol Flynn, Claude Rains.

Based on the eponymous novel by Mark Twain. This one takes a while to get going, but there’s more of a story here, no doubt due to the novel it is adapted from (which I haven’t read), than swordplay. Flynn doesn’t even make his appearance until about halfway through. He’s at his best here though, and you can really see the qualities that made him a star shine through.

The story is a case of mistaken identity between the heir of King Henry VIII of England, Edward, and a pauper boy who takes his place after the king dies. Treachery and skull-duggery follow while the true heir, now living the pauper’s life, falls into the care of Flynn’s Miles Hendon, who gradually comes to realise the boy isn’t in fact just a bit touched in the head and may actually be who he claims to be.

It takes a while to get to the good sword fight in this one, partly because Flynn’s character is more of a supporting role. When it arrives though, it’s good, as Flynn takes on multiple opponents in a nighttime fight in a forest (at least i think it’s nighttime, you never can tell with black and whites!). There are even a few slick taunts from Flynn mid-duel, which make the scene for me.

11. The Three Musketeers, 1948. Starring Lana Turner, Gene Kelly.

The Dogtanion and the Three Muskehounds cartoon when I was a kid has always maintained this story as one of my favourites. This version of it is pretty good too, worthy of a higher place on the list. Great costumes, great sets and great fun!

I probably don’t need to outline what happens in this one, it’s pretty well known, and has been done many times although there does tend to be some variation in the story that makes it to the screen on each occasion!

There’s a good sword fight early on just to get things off on the right foot, with plenty of repartee mixed in for good measure; always an important part of Hollywood sword fighting.  Happily this swashbuckling pace is well maintained through the movie, with a comically athletic d’Artagnon providing some laughs along the way.

Well worth watching, and it should definitely be higher on the list, but the list is less of a ranking at this point and more of a collection! If you’re planning on a swashbuckling movie session, this might be a good one to start with!

12. The Spanish Main, 1945. Starring Paul Heinreid, Maureen O’Hara.

Maureen O’Hara makes her second appearance on the list. Paul Heinreid was also in Casablanca.

A Dutch sea captain, Heinreid, is captured by the Spanish and after his release becomes a pirate to exact revenge. He captures O’Hara, the intended bride of the Spanish governor who captured him. Romance ensues in the face of opposition from his own pirate comrades.

Quite a nice swashbuckler with eye catching sets and a good story. The best sword fight comes about ten minutes from the end, but I think this movie would have been a better vehicle for Flynn or Power (or even an opportunity for Basil Rathbone to play the good guy in a swashbuckler), although Heinreid did grow on me as the movie progressed.

13. The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers, 1973/1974. Starring Michael York, Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay, Richard Chamberlain.

Originally intended to be a single film, but ultimately released in two parts. Being from 1973/1974, it’s not from the Golden Age of Hollywood period and I wasn’t sure whether to include it at all. However, it’s a great version of a quintessential swashbuckler, so I’ve decided to put it in as an honourable mention and leave it at that.

That sums up my list of favourite Golden Age of Hollywood swashbucklers. There is one notable absence from the roster of actors that I have alluded to in a previous part, and that is Douglas Fairbanks (senior). He actually made versions of some of the films mentioned, such as Robin Hood, The Mark of Zorro and The Three Musketeers, but these were all silent films which I don’t tend to watch. I couldn’t make a list like this without mentioning him though!

Finally, I should point out the name format for these posts, ‘My Favourite Swashbucklers’, is something of an homage to the film ‘My Favourite Year’, not a swashbuckler per say, but the main character, played by Peter O’Toole, is loosely based on Errol Flynn.

My Favourite Swashbucklers Part III

Parts I and II of this can be found by clicking on the numerals. Once again, there is the potential for spoilers to be present below, so proceed with that in mind!

6. The Black Swan, 1942. Starring Tyrone Power, Maureen O’Hara.

Tyrone Power makes his second appearance on the list in the movie adaptation of Rafael Sabatini’s novel.

This is a pirate adventure movie set around the time of Sir Henry Morgan’s governorship of Jamaica. Power plays one of his pirate captains and supporters in the face of rivalry with other factions and the Spanish.

The climax of this film is the sword fight between Power and the pirate Captain Leech. Power’s class as a swordsman really makes this one shine as they battle above and below decks on Leech’s ship.

7. The Master of Ballantrae, 1953. Starring Errol Flynn, Roger Livesey.

Errol Flynn makes yet another appearance as the hero, ably backed up by Roger Livesey, perhaps better known for his leading role in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. This flick is set against the backdrop the Jacobite Rising in Scotland and the Battle of Culloden. It’s based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel of the same name.

Flynn’s character is a Jacobite rebel forced to flee Scotland after the rebellion is crushed, leaving behind his lands, titles and paramour. Various adventures follow before he is able to return home and put everything to right.

For me the highlight of this one is the sword fight between Flynn’s character Jamie Durie and the pirate, Captain Arnaud, which occurs a little after mid-way through the film. Another great example of Hollywood swashbuckling and Captain Arnaud is an excellent villain, stylish and colourful in his pirate finery.

8. The Moonraker, 1958. Starring George Baker, Sylvia Sims.

George Baker takes the lead role in this film set after the English Civil War. An interesting bit of trivia (to me anyway!) is that Baker provided the voice over for George Lazenby’s James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in the scenes where Bond was disguised as Sir Hilary Bray, as well as playing that character during his appearance in the film.

Baker plays a Scarlet Pimpernel type character who rescues Royalists from Roundhead persecution and facilitates their escape from England to France. Perhaps the film should have been titled The Pimpernel Scarlet. Bad joke. It’ll be the only one. I promise!

This one kind of bucks the Hollywood trend in that there are entertaining sword fights the whole way through; they don’t save it all up for a flashy finale. As an English film, it has a very different feel to it than the Hollywood swashbucklers, but it is well worth a look if you get the chance.

9. The Sea Hawk, 1940. Starring Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall.

Errol Flynn once again, swashbuckling with aplomb. Although this one takes its name from another Raphael Sabatini novel, it sadly doesn’t take its storyline from it. In saying that, the story that is used is still an entertaining enough romp.

The plot revolves around the Sea Hawks, a group of English privateer captains making war on the Spanish Empire on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I.

Once again the climax at the end is a sword fight between Flynn’s Captain Thorpe and an opponent who shall remain nameless as it would be a bit of a giveaway! All the required elements of a good clash of blades are here, including the old ‘camera focus on the fencers’ shadows’, but my favourite part is where Flynn slices through the candle sticks, quite why I couldn’t say for sure, but it looks pretty cool!

My footnote to this film is that I’d love to have seen Flynn make a movie that was true to the Sabatini novel, it’s a really good one.

Part IV can be found here.

My Favourite Swashbucklers Part II

The continuation of my post on my favourite classic swashbuckler movies. The first part can be found here.  There may be spoilers contained below, so if you haven’t seen the movies, you might want to check them out first!

3. The Mark of Zorro, 1940. Starring Tyrone Power, Basil Rathbone.

Tyrone Power was often said to be the best on screen sword fighter of his day. Here he takes on the role of the hero, Don Diego Vega against Basil Rathbone’s villain, Captain Pasquale. I should probably be putting this one in joint second, it’s that good, but, well, I didn’t!

I think pretty much everyone is familiar with the story of Zorro; nobleman takes up the cause of the oppressed common folk, wins them their freedom from tyranny, everybody rejoices. Even after all this time it makes for a great story.

The real high point of this film is the sword fight between Power and Rathbone and it’s as fine an example of on screen swashbuckling that you will find, possibly the best.

Having this film all the way down in third place really doesn’t do it justice, and any of my top five or six are more than worthy of the top spot.

4. The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938. Starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone.

This is Errol Flynn at his peak, and is perhaps the movie he is most famous for, taking on the role of the film’s hero, Robin Hood. Basil Rathbone appears once again putting in a superb performance as the baddy, Guy of Gisbourne.

This is another one that needs little explanation. Robin Hood’s been done so many times over the years that there can’t be too many people who don’t know what it’s about!

The sword fight between Flynn and Rathbone is arguably the most exciting ever filmed. Thinking about it again, and having just taken another quick look at it I really find it hard to put it down here in fourth spot. It’s iconic and has everything you could want in a great sword fight including a shot of the duellist’s shadows on the wall as they fight. The only reason I can think of leaving it here at number four is that I really love all the movies that have come before it for reasons other than just sword play, and for some reason I’ve never been all that fond of the Robin Hood story, despite the fact that I really enjoy watching this movie every time I see it.

Again, any of the movies I’ve mentioned so far are deserving of the top spot and this one is no exception. Really worth a look just for that last fight if nothing else.

5.  Scaramouche, 1952. Starring Stewart Granger, Janet Leigh, Mel Ferrer.

The writing of Rafael Sabatini makes another appearance on the list, and it’s no coincidence that he is one of my favourite authors. Stewart Granger arriving on the scene means that we’ve now got pretty much all the greats of Hollywood swashbuckling (yes, I know there is one more!) present and accounted for. On an entirely individual level, he’s probably my favourite of the swashbuckling film stars and this is again a movie that could be in the top spot on a different day.

Somewhat more complicated storyline this time. Granger plays André Moreau, a French gentleman who does not know who his father is. The revolution comes which sees him becoming the champion of the people in opposition to the noble faction at the post revolutionary National Assembly, after a brief spell on the stage playing the character Scaramouche. Intrigue, twists and sword fights abound as he seeks revenge and also his true identity.

It’s a little difficult to pick out my favourite sword fight in this one; there are several, all of which are highly entertaining. As I write, I’m beginning to think this one should be bumped up the list a bit too. Having 5 joint number 1’s would be ridiculous though, wouldn’t it?

More to follow in Part III!

My Favourite Swashbucklers Part I

I spent quite a bit of time over the Christmas break watching classic movies. I’ve always been a big fan of the old swashbuckling Hollywood epics, and I got through quite a few of them in the past few weeks. For the next few blog posts I thought I’d go through my favourite swashbuckling classics.

The first warning is a spoiler alert. I’ll put one in at the start of each post, as I know how upset people can get when someone gives away the good bits. They’re all old movies so the chances are you’ll have come across the plots before, but if you haven’t seen them and want to, it might be an idea to watch it before reading the posts! Suffice to say, if you like classic swashbuckling type movies, all of the movies I mention will be worth a look!

My approach to this is to give a few specifics about the film, a one or two  line synopsis (if I can manage to condense it!) and a comment on the swashbuckling aspect.

Coming in at number one is my current personal favourite, and perhaps not what would be considered an obvious choice.

1. Adventures of Don Juan, 1948. Starring Errol Flynn and Viveca Lindfors.

Much of the commentary on this movie seems to be of the opinion that Errol Flynn was past his prime when he made this film. However, as a chap now on the wrong side of thirty myself, I think he did a pretty bang up job.

The title sums it up really; it’s about the adventures of the famous lady’s man Don Juan as he is punished for his general misbehaviour and gets caught up in a political intrigue at the Spanish court in the 17th century.

This film gets my number one spot not only because the whole movie is good fun, but because the stairway duel at the end is my all-time favourite film sword fight.

While picking my number one was not difficult, the next few were tough to choose between, and on another day the order might be different!

2. Captain Blood, 1935. Starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone.

Flynn’s first big Hollywood role and the one that made him a star. It’s based on the eponymous book by Rafael Sabatini and is the first mention of an actor that will feature frequently on this list (2nd only to Flynn off the top of my head) whose name you’ve probably not heard before, Basil Rathbone. This one got the edge over number 3 as the book is also one of my all-time favourites.

Captain Peter Blood gets caught up in the Monmouth Rebellion in 17th Century England and is unjustly punished by being  shipped off to Jamaica as a slave. While there he escapes and becomes captain of a pirate ship; derring-do, swashbuckling and romance ensues.

The swashbuckling peak in this movie is the duel on the beach between Captain Blood and the villainous Captain Levasseur, brilliantly played by Rathbone.

Captain Blood is a solid claimant for the number two spot, but not without stiff competition and what could easily be argued as an equally strong claim by the film in 3rd place, which will appear in my next post!

Part II can be found here.

The Mighty Scrivener

On an impulse I bought Scrivener a little while back, before I’d really read any reviews on it or knew anything about it. For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s a word processor and organiser aimed at writers. I took a quick look at it when I bought it and then forgot about it; I was quite busy at the time and really didn’t want to have to learn how to use something new, which at first glance I thought would take a while. This was an incorrect assumption, as I shall outline below.

Since then I’ve seen more and more talk online about how good a tool it is for writing novels. Long story short, I decided to give it another look. I started off with the included tutorial. It took me about 2 hours to go through, although I was dithering and distracted a couple of times, so this might not be a good guide as to how long it will take someone else.

As I worked through the tutorial, there were a lot of features that immediately jumped out as being very attractive to the way I work. With Word (I’m on a Mac by the way), I always write in focus view, which is great for eliminating distractions. Scrivener has this feature also (compose mode), so in making the switch I wasn’t losing it.

My current (now former) work practice is (was) to have my main manuscript in a word document, and all my notes, character details and what not in a separate notebook document. This meant quite a bit of jumping between my manuscript in focus view and my other documents which annoyed me a bit but I couldn’t work out a better way to deal with the situation (that’s certainly not to say there isn’t one!).

Scrivener allows all the information relating to my work to be contained within the one document, which I really like. It has a section for the manuscript, research, and templates, which can be modified to taste for describing and recording character information and locations, or anything else really. Very handy. What’s more, all this information can be accessed by a non-intrusive, disappearing menu bar while in Scrivener’s version of focus mode, compose, without having to exit it and go to another window, which I find  incredibly useful.

Manuscript handling is also very clever, with each scene, chapter and part being contained within individual files which can later be very easily compiled into a single document in a great many different formats. For me this isn’t such an earth shattering thing in the first draft writing process, but where it really comes into its own is when you are reviewing and editing. Having just come out of this process in the last couple of months with The Tattered Banner, there are a great many features here that I wish I had when doing that. The ability to move individual scenes about with minimum effort is great, as is the ability to append notes to each individual scene, outlining what happens, what is meant to happen etc and being able to display this information in an overview. All very useful stuff when working on an existing manuscript.

I’m not even gong to start on the ability to add keywords and tags for easy navigating, as I haven’t really gotten that far into this myself, but the usefulness of this is pretty obvious and I’m just starting to avail of it to make it easier to keep track of sub plots.

There’s plenty more that I could mention even after such a short time using it, but to sum up, after 2 hours going through the tutorial and about the same amount of time mucking about with a manuscript I imported into it, I’m completely sold. There are features in it that I can’t understand how I ever did without. Needless to say I’m going to be using it for the foreseeable future!

Updates and new look

Most of the changes to my site are now complete. Work on The Tattered Banner is nearing completion so the changes on the site are intended to better accommodate its release.

The most significant addition is an excerpt from The Tattered Banner, which can be found here.

Other than that I hope everyone had a good new year and is settling back into normal life after the holidays!

Swords and Honour

Number 3 in the inspiring areas of history series of blogs. Usual caveat found here applies!

Plagues aside, the Renaissance period generally saw a substantial growth in the size of cities, Venice, Florence and Genoa begin good examples in Northern Italy. As people began to spend more time in cities and with the explosion in commerce that came around the same time, social mobility was high. In a society with strong social stratification, it became more difficult to tell who came from what rank and those who wished to stand out had to find new ways to do so. Simply looking well fed and clothed was no longer enough. For gentlemen, one method was to carry a sword.

While there are other factors at play in explaining the fashion for carrying swords, one was certainly that it was a statement of social rank. Carrying, and being able to use a sword was a statement that you could afford to own it, and you had the free time to learn how to use it, i.e. that you didn’t need a day job to earn a living!

In terms of the shape and style of swords, this period takes us from the plain cruciform shape that had dominated the medieval period to long bladed rapiers with complex hilt designs. As an accessory to a gentleman, they became something of a fashion statement and there are many particularly impressive examples to be found in museums around the world. In some respects they can be seen in the way flashy jewellery is today as their design was often as dictated to by style as practicality.

With lots of ‘honourable’ gentlemen wandering about with swords and too much free time, duelling among civilians over matters of honour became more common. This brings us to an area that I think is particularly suited to interesting fiction of both the historical and fantasy varieties and is the reason behind this blog post. With people being quite sensitive to any perceived slight on their character, there is a huge amount of potential for conflict development in stories. Instead of going home and being angry about an insult for a few days and then forgetting about it, it was quite likely that a gentleman in this era would draw, or at least attempt to draw blood over it!

Gunpowder

This is blog number 2 in my ‘inspiring areas of history’ theme. The same disclaimer in the first one applies here!

I’m sure most of you have seen the diagrams from da Vinci’s notebooks of flying machines, tanks and other ahead of their time ideas. For me however, the factor that had the biggest impact on the development of technology during the Renaissance period was gunpowder.

It first appeared in Western Europe at some point in the latter half of the thirteenth century. By the battle of Crécy in 1346, canon were appearing on the battlefield. Gunpowder was yet to take centre stage; at Agincourt in 1415 it was the longbow that drew fame in contributing to the English defeat over the French, due to its success against the French cavalry.

The drawback with the longbow was that it required considerable training to use effectively, not to mention a huge amount of strength to draw. The firearm on the other hand required far less time to train someone in its use. In defining the move from the feudal age, perhaps the most significant aspect is the effect that canon had on siege warfare; they essentially rendered the medieval castle obsolete.

Similarly, by the latter half of the 16th century, with the development of the musket, it was virtually impossible to make a suit of armour that could withstand a bullet. Indeed, handguns were so effective that cavalry forces dropped the lance in their favour, which also aided in the decline of the use of armour, as mobility was favoured over heavy protection. Armour was gradually reduced, piece by piece until all that was left were the helmets and breastplates that were still in use at the time of the Napoleonic wars.

As with all great change, it is rarely possible to attribute it to any one single factor; most often there are many, but the introduction and ever greater use of gunpowder must be seen as significant among them.

In terms of inspiration for writing, I think the aspect of change discussed here is very fertile ground. This period marks a shift in military culture, from feudal knights in ever more elaborate armour and their levies, to standing forces that were taking on the first characteristics of modern armies. This means certain individuals would find themselves and their way of thinking obsolete, while for others, more receptive to change and perhaps less heavily invested in what had come before, there were great opportunities to be had. The dynamic of the clash between old and new ideas is always a very interesting concept to explore and this period, 1400-1600 or so, provides a great many examples.

Additionally, if you write fantasy, there is also the clash between technology and magic. Would the presence of magic stifle the need for technological development? Would proponents of the two different concepts come into conflict? Plenty of inspiration to work with here I think!