Your Questions

Q

Dear Bernard

After seeing this fantastic documentary on the 1759 siege of Quebec and the 2 Commanders Montcalm and Wolfe I wondered if you'd ever thought of doing a book on the siege ? It seems fascinating and very different to the sieges in the Peninsula war

Regards

Geraint

 

 

Would you consider a story based on the Great Siege if Gibralta, during the American War of Independence?

Many thanks for your great writing

Brendan Avallone

A

I have thought of it . . . .and maybe? No promises . . . a maybe.

 

I’ve thought rather more about this one – it’s an amazing story. So it’s another maybe.

 

 


Q

Hello Bernard

Hope you are well!

Firstly, i hope this isn't patronising of me, but i wanted to help one of your readers out. A few months ago a Loren Cohen asked you how Sharpe and Pat can know each other in Sharpe's Prey, when they are supposed to meet for the first time in Spain 2 years later. Loren said Pat had been a sailor in Prey. You said you had "no idea" what she was asking! i think Loren was confusing Pat Harper for Bosun John HOOPER, who of course Sharpe finds invaluable in Copenhagen!

Just thought i'd answer Loren's question for her!

 

i wanted to ask you about Oaths and Honour though.

I've just finished reading a novel called "Knights of the Hawk", set in 1071, and concerning the post-Norman Conquest. i could definitely spot your influence on this author, because like you with Uhtred he uses the old names for places, and provides a helpful little map for us! The hero, Tancred the Breton, is rather Sharpesqye, being brilliant and bold, with a knack for taking absurd risk, but ones which certainly pay off, and Victory is due mostly  to his efforts!   Interestingly the Hero is a Norman ! i suppose all us English grew up with the idea that the Saxons were the "Goodies" and the Normans were The "Baddies", so it threw me a little bit reading a  story told back-to-front, as it were. History though, is a bit more complicated, isn't it, and the Normans are just as much a part of Our Island Story as the Saxons, vikings, Romans and Celts before them...

Anyway, in the book there are several references to Harold Godwinson as "the Usurper" and an "oath-breaker" and it got me to wondering about the power of an Oath.

it seems to me that Duke William had NO Claim to the Throne of England, other than an Oath from Harold. I'm a bit sketchy on this, but i heard somewhere that Duke William forced that Oath on Godwinson. It was given under duress, not freely.

Is an Oath given under duress still binding though? Or can it be broken?

ii'm pretty sure you dont believe in Magic, but does an Oath have some kind of "Magic" to it, and when its broken...? So, if Harold Godwinson did indeed break faith with Duke William by taking the crown himself, did he is some mysterious way "cause" the Destruction of Anglo-Saxon England? i don't know if you see what i mean there! i'm not sure i i see what i mean there! Sort of like Fate. Once Harold had declared himself King, Fate was set and he was going to lose his Kingdom. Or was it just that fortune favoured Duke William, and went against King Harold. Pragmatism, not Fate?

Certainly Duke William believed God was on his side, because Harold swore over Holy Relics. That was, apparently, a trick though, and Harold only found out he's done it, after he'd done it!

i'm asking you this, because i saw an interview with you where you revealed that one of the characters in War of the Wolf who makes an Oath, will break it, somewhere down the line. So, i'm wondering if you believe an Oath should not be broken, and that the very breaking of it will create negative consequences, or whether its just a neat Narrative device for you to use!

Returning to 1066 though, i always like the way Simon Schama described Duke William's invasion of England, "Not a righteous Crusade, but just a grand throw of History's dice..."

Your thoughts?

oh, i'm a bit grumpy that Sharpe has been delayed! Still, it'll be a pleasure deferred, i'm sure...

Thank you for taking the time to read this and answer it!

Kind regards always

Matt

Still in Wiltshire

A

It’s certainly a neat narrative advice, but it only works because a great deal of obligation was attached to an oath – especially in a society where legal redress was rudimentary and where a belief in divine retribution was commonplace. That said, there were obviously many broken oaths, and no, I don’t believe Harold lost at Hastings because he somehow crossed the fates – I suspect it had far more to do with having had to fight at Stamford Bridge a few days before and the subsequent tiredness of his army. Yet an oath was sacred, and it was usually sworn on some holy relic, and that only works, of course, if you believe that Nobodaddy in the sky took the slightest interest in your behavior. I’m sure that both Harold and William believed God was on their side!


Q

Hello,

You have written extensively about the Napoleonic wars except for the invasion of Russia in 1812. Apart from the stretching credibility to place Sharpe there, and he was busy elsewhere at the time. Have you ever thought of a book written from the French viewpoint or one of their allies or from the Russian side?

Regards and thanks,

Adrian.

A

I have not, and probably (certainly?) never will. I have read a lot about the campaign and of course it’s utterly fascinating, but I grow old and I’m not sure I want to do the immense amount of research that  such a book will need. You can ascribe that reluctance to laziness as much as to age, but I fear the result is the same. Sorry!

 

 


Q

I recently had occasion to re-visit "Sharpe's Havoc" to set the mood for a slight diversion from our holiday itinerary. My long-suffering partner was expecting a picturesque drive from Northwest Portugal to the Douro valley but the magic of GPS allowed me to (eventually) reach the general location of the "Saltador" Bridge that featured in the climax to the book. A quick scramble down a cliff face and a stream bed and there it was. It's still intact, albeit the whole area is full of huge hydro-electric projects. It's a frighteningly narrow bridge in a very dramatic gorge - scarcely believable that Soult managed to 20,000+ men across it. You did a grand job of describing it in the novel - (very) thorough research or a vivid imagination?

Jeremy Ramsey

A

Research!!  I made it a point to visit all of Sharpe’s battlefields – in Portugal, Spain, the Pyrenees and India - with the exception of Toulouse which I was assured was so built-over that it was not worth seeing. I do remember that foray into northern Portugal and, like you, being astonished at the terrain and the achievements of both armies.  Thank you for your kind words!

 


Q

One of the great pleasures I’ve had when re-reading your books over the last 15 years or so has been a wider appreciation for some of the themes and characters in your books as I myself have grown older. When reading the Sharpe series as a teenager I of course enjoyed the action and the comradeship, and as I’ve grown older I’ve appreciated more some of the bittersweet moments – most recently Sharpe’s loss of Grace.

As I reread Trafalgar in the wake of Prey, which handles Sharpe’s grief superbly, it made their time together all the more poignant. Similarly, Derfel’s appreciation of his family and home, and his simple religiosity is quite moving at times.

I’m going to be cheeky and ask two questions – I imagine your understanding of your characters changes as you yourself change, has your view of any of your characters radically shifted over time?

Secondly, one of the things that I always think is very attractive in historical fiction is the ‘zero to hero’ factor that the setting enables. Warfare in particular as a route to riches and power works very well in fiction. Hornblower, Sharpe, Thomas of Hookton, Derfel all experience this transformation to a greater or lesser extent, and it works well as a way of rewarding the character and by extension the reader for sticking with them.

The strong, capable hero can also become wealthy and even noble, through force of arms in a way that isn’t really on the cards once you hit 1900 onwards (to pick an arbitrary date). What do you think are some of the other difficulties in writing fiction set in recent history?

Lastly, goes with saying – I’m a huge fan, particularly enjoyed Fools and Mortals recently.

Philip McGuinness

A

I suspect that any such change has been so slow as to be imperceptible (to me, anyway), but I think the answer is yes. I notice that as Uhtred gets older he has far more appreciation of the pity of war. He doesn’t deny the necessity of it (however regrettable), but he sees the sadness too. He’s wiser? I think Sharpe got wiser too, but he never stopped being grumpy. And, like me, he had an intense regret for Lady Grace - which was entirely my fault for writing the books in the wrong order. If they’d been written chronologically then I suspect he and Grace would have been together to the end.

 

One difficulty (at least for me) is that the ghosts are very much alive. That said I’m sure it’s still possible to go ‘zero-to-hero’, though maybe not in a conventional military and heroic way, but certainly in other pursuits. For me recent history simply doesn’t have the resonance of earlier periods. Sebastian Faulks and Pat Barker have shown that it can be done magnificently, so the reluctance is entirely mine.


Q

Hello Sir Bernard Cornwell,

The Warlord Chronicles (3 wounds of wisdom philosophy)

You should already know from reading the title that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the Warlord Chronicles (and listening to audio book version as well when time allowed).

One of the most fascinating things to me was all the aspects and information of druidism which didn't exactly "open my eyes" but gave me a much better image and idea of druids and their "magics" and the whole perception as well as their use/function.

My question is this: Nimue mentions "the 3 wounds of wisdom" in (I believe it is) book 1 The Winter King, shortly after or perhaps immediately after she is raped and disfigured by Gundleus and his men. This philosophy I would just like to know a bit more about, such as the resarch that led you to discover the information that brought about Nimue's words, just the way she says things piques my interest in such a way that I must request humbly any kind of links/research I can read/do to brush up on this aforementioned druidic philosophy (specifically the 3 wounds of wisdom).

I am aware that this is a concept in not only druidism but likely all other religions of the earth, however my concern is in the dogma which comes along with any religion. To me, the most important thing is to be able to discern dogma. It's exactly the same as sniffing out a lie or dishonest person, you develop a knack for it eventually. Perhaps it's even a bit like figuring out people that hold "victims perceptions", "preconceived notions" or any type of lie they tell themselves (and believe): they are just stuck in that dogma of their own mind and to me it is more and more noticeable. All this is to say that I believe there to be less dogma in earlier religions such as druidism and shamanism, even spiritualism but EVERY religion has it's own dogma. So far at least. And, yes druidism and shamanism fascinates me, yet I felt that most of the the things I learned through your books about druidism are somewhat esoteric?

You were knighted for these works though, right? Well deserved indeed Sir Cornwell!

At any rate, if there is any information you can pass onto me or lead me to I would stand in great appreciation of this kindness.

Your fan in Canada,

Shaine

A

Is esoteric good? I hope so. The books were written a very long time ago and I remember the difficulties of writing about Druidism – almost all we know about that religion are things which its enemies wrote, and that hardly makes them useful sources. So, in the end, anyone writing about Druids has to use a lot of imagination. I’m slightly ashamed (and a little proud) to tell you that the Three Wounds of Wisdom were entirely my invention. I know that’s disappointing, and I’m sorry, but isn’t all dogma, like all gods, inventions of humans?

 

 


Q

Dear Bernard Cornwell,

I've just finished reading Alan Schom's book, 'One Hundred Days' and enjoyed seeing Waterloo from the French side.  I wonder, did you model your Pierre Ducos on the real-life Fouche?

Is there any real chance of another Richard Sharpe novel? Or has may wish consigned me to joining The Forlorn Hope?   I look forward to hearing that ElizabethII has awarded you a Knighthood.  Sir Bernard Cornwell sounds pretty damn good to me.

Cheers

David Rolfe

A

It sounds very possible – I read Alan Schom’s splendid book a long time ago. I don’t remember modelling Ducos on Fouche, but I suspect I did!

I'd say there's a very real chance of another Sharpe!


Q

Three of us, from three different countries spread around the globe, are huge fans of your masterful series, the Saxon Stories. We were brought together by our mutual love of the journey of Uhtred of Bebbanburg and every character and storyline have bewitched us. We are bound and determined to grow a book club on Facebook we’ve just created dedicated to the series, in which we can have intelligent, thought-provoking discussions about the books while we wait patiently for #12.

My questions for you are:

1) What are you asked most often about regarding the creation of the series?

2) What is your most challenging topic to discuss as an author of historical fiction?

Appreciatively,

Nadine (with Des and Kate)

>From Ontario in Canada, California in the U.S., and NSW in Australia.

A

I hate to disappoint, but I can’t recall ever being asked about the genesis of the series. Maybe I have? And maybe I’ve forgotten. But for what it’s worth I’ve been fascinated by the Anglo Saxons ever since I studied their language at college, and was equally fascinated by our general lack of knowledge about them. It seems as if English history begins at 1066 and utterly ignores the process by which England itself was created. I long wanted to write that tale, but needed a smaller tale to be in the foreground – the hero through whose eyes we’d see that process. Then, almost a quarter of a century ago, I met my real father for the first time and discovered that he was descended from an Anglo-Saxon family which had held onto its lands in Northumbria despite the fall of that kingdom to the Danes. My father’s surname was Oughtred, many of the ancestors were named Uhtred and the family home was Bebbanburg. That gave me the small story!

As for the most challenging topic? I can’t say it’s very challenging, but I suppose it’s the conflict between fiction (what I make up) and reality (what really happened). Some people don’t like fiction writers writing fiction.


Q

Mr. Cornwell,

in "Sharpe's Enemy" (which takes place in 1812), Sharpe compares defending against a French attack to "being in a meat grinder."  I was curious, and according to Wikipedia the first meat grinder was invented by a German named Karl Drais sometime in the 19th century, but all of the online articles I found are frustratingly indefinite about the exact date.  Some of his other inventions are dated, including a musical recorder/printer in 1812, but most of them are dated to the 1820's.  Did you happen to come across any contemporary writing or letter that referenced when the meat grinder was first invented?

Always thankful for your peerless work.

Michael J Lee

A

I’m sure I should have checked that years ago. I didn’t. It sounds like yet another error. Ah well.


Q

What does your writing process often look like? Is it picturesque- sitting on a seaside balcony in the early morning with a hot beverage, or are you hunched over your lap top at midnight chugging caffeine, trying to meet a deadline but simultaneously checking your Facebook notifications?

LM

A

Oh good Lord!! My ‘office’, as I call it, is a bio-hazard area, crammed with books (hurrah!), reeking of cigar smoke and smelling faintly of dog. It is anything but picturesque. There are no balconies, Facebook bores me, and I try to be in bed long before midnight. I also try to begin work early – 6 am at the latest, and then work through the day to end around 5.30 pm, though admittedly long breaks are taken to walk the aforesaid dog.  I use WordPerfect on a magnificent 42” screen (I recommend it) and cannot imagine writing on a laptop. It’s a job! It’s a fun job, but the fun is in devising the story, not the view from the windows (which are covered in blinds). Sometimes, I confess, I Google ‘Accountancy as a Career’, but somehow I struggle on.