Tuesday, March 08, 2011
I guess I do write myself into the character of Master Hugh – the main character in my series The Chronicles of Hugh de Singelton, surgeon - at least a little: he is slender, has a large nose, and a wry sense of humor
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
"Borrowed" the local fire truck and with some other miscreants put out the college homecoming bonfire.
That sounds like fun. When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I think all avid readers dream of one day becoming a writer, seeing their name in print. I planned to write after I retired from teaching, as there was not enough time to be a full-time father, husband, teacher, and write as well. Like most writers, I suspect, there are days when I do not feel particularly inspired but now that I am retired, I have more time to focus on—and enjoy—writing.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
Historical fiction, mysteries, and histories. I taught history for 39 years before becoming a published author, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I am currently re-reading Shelby Foote's three-volume history of the Civil War. I also enjoy Tom Clancy—not every need to be historical!— and read a biography of Herod the Great a few weeks ago.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
It helps to be retired, but I have always been a calm sort in the face of problems--learned that teaching high school, I think. Master Hugh seems to be like that, as well.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
Some names I have selected from my own geneology, others I found in medieval resource books. A few I made up.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
My wife Susan and I have been married 46 years in June! We have two daughters and seven grandchildren.
We have a lot in common. James and I celebrated our 46th anniversary last November, and we have two daughters, but you have us beat on grandchildren. If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
I know I answered this question before! I would be a wolverine so that I could be the University of Michigan mascot and have a place on the sidelines for U of M football.
What is your favorite food?
Prime rib— but my wife has no trouble getting me to eat my salad so long as I can douse it with blue cheese dressing.
The greatest problem was finding an agent or publisher who would consider my work. I have a friend who teaches at Spring Arbor University. He sent some sample chapters to a friend who is editor at Monarch, and they, after a year of thinking it over, agreed to publish THE UNQUIET BONES.
Tell us about the featured book.
In A TRAIL OF INK, someone has stolen Master John Wyclif's books. Master Hugh, a former student of Wyclif's must find the books and return them. Before he can do this he must learn why they were taken, and at the same time court a pretty maid who has another suitor who wishes to eliminate Hugh as a rival.
Sounds interesting. Please give us the first page of the book.
I had never seen Master John Wyclif so afflicted. He was rarely found at such a loss when in disputation with other masters. He told me later, when I had returned them to him, that it was as onerous to plunder a bachelor scholar’s books as it would be to steal another man’s wife. I had, at the time, no way to assess the accuracy of that opinion, for I had no wife and few books.
But I had come to Oxford on that October day, Monday, the twentieth, in the year of our Lord 1365, to see what progress I might make to remedy my solitary estate. I left my horse at the stable behind the Stag and Hounds and went straightaway to Robert Caxton’s shop, where the stationer’s comely daughter, Kate, helped attract business from the bachelor scholars, masters, clerks, and lawyers who infest Oxford like fleas on a hound.
My pretended reason to visit Caxton’s shop was to purchase a gathering of parchment and a fresh pot of ink. I needed these to conclude my record of the deaths of Alan the beadle and of Henry atte Bridge. Alan’s corpse was found, three days before Good Friday, near to St Andrew’s Chapel, to the east of Bampton. And Henry, who it was who slew Alan, was found in a wood to the north of the town. As bailiff of Bampton Castle it was my business to sort out these murders, which I did, but not before I was attacked on the road returning from Witney and twice clubbed about the head in nocturnal churchyards. Had I known such assaults lay in my future, I might have rejected Lord Gilbert Talbot’s offer to serve as his bailiff at Bampton Castle and remained but Hugh the surgeon, of Oxford High Street.
Kate promised to prepare a fresh pot of ink, which I might have next day, and when she quit the shop to continue her duties in the workroom I spoke to her father. Robert Caxton surely knew the effect Kate had upon young men. He displayed no surprise when I asked leave to court his daughter.
I had feared raised eyebrows at best, and perhaps a refusal. I am but a surgeon and a bailiff. Surgeons own little prestige in Oxford, full of physicians as it is, and few honest men wish to see a daughter wed to a bailiff. There were surely sons of wealthy Oxford burghers, and young masters of the law, set on a path to wealth, who had eyes for the comely Kate. But Caxton nodded agreement when I requested his permission to pay court to his daughter. Perhaps my earlier service to mend his wounded back helped my suit.
I left the stationer’s shop with both joy and apprehension. The joy you will understand, or would had you seen Kate and spent time in her presence. I was apprehensive because next day I must begin a thing for which I had no training and in which I had little experience. While at Balliol College I was too much absorbed in my set books to concern myself with the proper way to impress a lass, and none of those volumes dealt with the subject. Certainly the study of logic avoided the topic. Since then my duties as surgeon and bailiff allowed small opportunity to practice discourse with a maiden. And there are few females of my age and station in Bampton.
I made my way from Caxton’s shop on Holywell Street to Catte Street and thence to the gate of Canterbury Hall, on Schidyard Street. As I walked I composed speeches in my mind with which I might impress Kate Caxton. I had forgotten most of these inventions by next day. This was just as well.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
Thank you, Mel, for the interesting interview.
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