M J Logue
The first time I heard about M J Logue was through a writer’s forum where she talked about a book she was writing that featured Selby. Of course my interest was peaked. This is my home town and the battle she was writing, I, myself had thought about tackling. So I was chuffed to bits when I was offered a pre-release read.
The Smoke of Her Burning is part of The Uncivil War series and was the first that I had read and won’t be the last. From the very start, you are thrown into the world of 1640’s and that of the characters. Logue picks you up and drops you straight in which I loved. There are a flurry of different characters that flitter in and out with so much punch you can’t help but invest in them quickly and deeply. The pace is fast with very little time to breathe but while that can be seen as a negative, I feel it gives a sense of what that period was like. The English Civil war was not just small war, but one that ripped a country in two and that sense of drama and urgency is within Logue’s pages. One of the striking things was not only the detail and the amount of research she’d obviously done, but how human her characters were. There was so much humour as well as tragedy, which gave a sense of realism.
When it came to the battle scenes in Selby, Logue had clearly researched the town’s history and geography well and she’s not a local before you ask. Through her description only, I knew exactly where her soldiers were. The Smoke of Her Burning was brilliant and funny read and deserves all the credit it will no doubt gain. I would read the other’s in the series just because her characters are so addictive and I’m far too in love with them to let them go.
Thank you, M J Logue for bringing our little town to life and a well deserved 5*
M J Logue is a trained archivist and literature graduate who lived in York overlooking the Ouse for five years, studying in the archives of York Minster by day and cleaning the school by night. Her interest in the seventeenth century began when she lived next door to a ruined manor on the edge of the Peak National Park, as a result of which she wrote her first novel aged 15. She now lives with her husband, son and three cats in West Cornwall.
An Interview with MJ Logue
The period you’ve chosen to write about is 1642 onwards set around the English Civil War. What is it about that era that inspires you to write?
Oh, crikey, how could you not find it fascinating? The politics, the passion, Thomas Fairfax’s particularly fine eyes…. In all seriousness, I find the English Civil War a fascinating period because it was about people, at bottom. A very English revolution, with both sides apologising to each other at the same time as they were abusing each other. Someone described my version of the battle of Edgehill as like a giant game of cricket, with both sides very politely drawing off and pausing to take turns and actually, that’s pretty close. A very gentlemanly war, into which were inserted some appalling religious fundamentalists, a handful of poets, a dog, and a scattering of professional soldiers who knew what they were doing.
So, quite an eccentric war, full of characters, but also, full of desperate fire and passion, and the first time that the vox populi had really made itself heard, to the gentry.
And an easy one. Royalist or Parliament?
Ha! Guess? 🙂
This was my first reading of your Uncivil War books and one of the things I noticed is that you use a lot of characters, which I love to do myself. Has any of the characters surprised you since first writing them and why?
Oh, Hollie surprises me all the time. (What surprises me beyond belief is that people actually find the man attractive, despite the fact that he’s an unregenerate scruff with a big nose. A fiercely loyal and very domesticated one, though.)
Gray. I will say no more than that, except to say that the relationship between Gray and Luce Pettitt, a young man I imagine as a cross between Wilfred Owen and Hugh Grant, is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. If you think that Gray transfers into the company in “The Smoke of Her Burning” and will be sticking around for another four books before what happens in “A Wilderness of Sin” – that’s one hell of a friendship. And it was difficult, and at the same time Gray kept making it absolutely unsentimental, and Luce kept trying to make it a little bit angst-y, and… yeah, it works. I like Gray a lot. She is possibly the least sentimental, least introspective, least self-obsessed character I have ever written, and the fact that she is – well, she’s just sort of real. And she’s mates with a guy who has a habit of going poetic at the drop of a hat, and she’s very grounded, very realistic, very blunt, and he needs that. What’s difficult is not making her into a girlie love interest. She’s not interested. Not for a long time to come, not with Luce, not with Russell, and not with anybody else. Gray is a man in a girl’s body – a boy, really – and it’s quite hard to write about a genderqueer character (which is what she is) without making her into a sexualised principal-boy type.
You’ve chosen to write about a little town overshadowed by York in an equally unknown battle. What pushed you to write about the battle of Selby?
Well, “The Smoke of Her Burning” is sort of the book that should never have been.
The Uncivil Wars series was originally intended to follow the fortunes of one Parliamentarian troop of cavalry, commanded by Hollie Babbitt but not necessarily always focussing on him, from the beginning to the end of the English Civil War. So, you know, beginning at Edgehill, with the troop being cobbled together with an ex-mercenary captain and a rather nice religious oddball and a posh poet and just all sorts of tag-ends: going on to see the company achieve some recognition at the siege of Reading, and then to be posted out to Yorkshire under Thomas Fairfax in “Command the Raven”, set around the siege of Hull in 1643.
And the big battle of 1644 was, of course, Marston Moor, near York. So the idea was that “Command the Raven” ended in late 1643, and we rejoin the company in spring 1644, via Bolton, and Lathom House, and on to Marston Moor.
Except we had the minor problem of one Lieutenant Thankful Russell, who joins the troop in early 1644, and as a result of whose – rehabilitation, shall we say – Babbitt has to leave Essex (both the county and the Earl) in something of a hurry. Which puts him in Cheshire, in early spring, 1644.
And then in meandering around trying to work out what they’d have been up to for a few months before Marston Moor, I came across the battle at Selby. And they’d been in Selby for part of the previous book in the sequence, “Command the Raven”, and in 1644 Selby was massively important – because as Fairfax points out before the battle, the King is dug in at York, but Selby commands the river. Take Selby, and you’ve cut the Royalists off from reinforcements, supplies, ammunition, all that. So – maybe not that big, but, you know, it was important enough that Fairfax fought there twice.
A bit like the battle at Winceby, in Lincolnshire in 1643, where Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell fought together for the first time – not very important to us, now, maybe, but hell of an important in the civil war.
What research did you do into what Selby would have been like in the 17th Century?
Well, I came across this medieval warehouse mentioned, and I thought I could make a bit of use of that, so I got in touch with the guys at the Abbots Staith regeneration project, and they gave me lots of information.
And I was talking to this really helpful librarian who bounced ideas around a lot with me 😉
And I lived in York for five years, so, you know, I know the river quite well, and I grew up in a small town on the edge of the Pennines.
I’d already written “Command the Raven”, which is Hull and Selby and the first Yorkshire campaign of 1643, so I had quite a lot of the timeline mapped out in my head, but more than anything else I think I wanted to come back to Thomas Fairfax – who should be a national hero in Yorkshire, him and John Lambert both, both had a very Northern stubborn independence and outspokenness.
What is your writing process? Are you structured or are you a wing it and see?
As above – stuff keeps getting in the way! (A large peach cat called Aubrey, as often as not, who rests his head on the keyboard as I type.)
I have a mental timeline of where the company will be throughout the civil wars, but unfortunately they will keep diverting off into fascinating little avenues like Selby. Unstoppable, the lot of them.
In all seriousness, I recently wrote a short story for Halloween which sums up my writing process really, which is – history is people. If we forget the people, they are truly, permanently, dead. Gone. People in 1642 weren’t that different from us, they looked forward to their supper and worried about paying the bills and fancied girls (and men) and got drunk and told dirty jokes…they just did it dressed differently, and in different words. And when we think of “history” as this vast nebulous field of dates and battles and soldiers – they were real people. And when you start to put a face to “the soldier” or “the Puritan woman” or “the field officer” it starts to matter, very much, what happened to them.
And that’s my job, right there.
What other era or genre would you like to write about?
I don’t go much outside the 17th century 😉 I keep finding little battles like Selby that we don’t remember, or people who’ve been forgotten, and then having to write about them!
There will be a Thirty Years’ War book, and possibly a series, because that Babbitty-boy did not arrive at Edgehill without a good 20 years of battle experience behind him, and there are all sorts of anecdotes, like the looting of Gustavus Adolphus’ boots at the battle of Lutzen, and the siege of Turin, and various other mad adventures throughout Europe in the 1630s.
And then, of course, there’s Russell and his marriage to a young lady who will insist on being the Watson to his Sherlock Holmes, c. 1665. Because one needs to have a little light Restoration intrigue and murder on the side at all times!
Believe it or not, there are one or two romances featuring my rebel rabble, already published. Russell’s courtship is in an anthology called “Steel and Lace” which is sold in aid of Great Ormond St Children’s Hospital. Rosie Babbitt’s is a short story called “Longest Night” which is available on Amazon and one day, might be in an anthology of its own. And Luce Pettitt will get his girl at the Siege of Colchester, in a collaboration between me and the bestselling author of the Graham Saga, Anna Belfrage.
You are barricaded in some dirty muddy trench and you have to choose one of your characters to stay with you and the other to cover you both so you can run for it. Which would you choose and why?
Hapless Russell, to stay with me. Because the lad is stark mad enough, and fiery enough, that he’d do it, and probably – by dint of being as cracked as a pothouse jug, and intense with it – be intimidating enough that we’d get away with it. And, you know, Hollie is very similar, but he’s also very married, so if there was going to be any celebratory snogging at the end Russell would be easier on the conscience.
I’m afraid it would be Drew Venning who would cover us. Because if it was an order, he’d do it, and he’d do it to the best of his ability, and hold to his duty till he got shot to bits.
“The Smoke of Her Burning” is the second of the Uncivil Wars books to feature Thomas Fairfax’s Yorkshire campaign, beginning with “Command the Raven” (Bradford and Selby, 1643) and continuing in 2017 with “Babylon’s Downfall” (Marston Moor, 1644)
Keep up with the adventures of the rebel rabble at http://www.uncivilwars.blogspot.com