Beautiful Star and Other Stories by Andrew Swanston Dome Press. January 11th 2018
I am delighted to share my thoughts and a few words from the author, Andrew Swanston on the final day of the Beautiful Star and Other Stories blogtour.
Thank you to Emily Glenister and Dome Press for a copy of the book to read and review.
Now to the serious stuff, my thoughts on Swanston’s book.
Beautiful Star is a collection of novella’s and short stories bringing famous and not so famous moments in history to life.
It begins with the title story Beautiful Star, a fishing vessel, built to earn an income for the Patterson family. Told from the perspective of the daughter Julia, it describes the skill and the craftsmanship of the boat builders of St Monan’s on the East coast of Scotland and the harsh lifestyle of the fishermen. When tragedy strikes the community pulls together to support those affected and build a memorial as a lasting reminder of their bravery.
In another story, it is 1002AD and a young monk, Eilmer is obsessed by birds and how they fly. Over many years Eilmer persists in his belief that man can fly with amazing results.
We meet the button seller who acts as a messenger for the Duke of Wellington during the Battle of Waterloo and Jane Wenham, tried and pardoned for witchcraft.
The common thread that runs through all of these stories are Swanston’s wonderful characters. I absolutely loved the monk Eilmer, a man with so much determination and masses of patience in his quest to fly. I will never forget the drummer boy who accompanies his father and joins Napoleaon’s army at the Battle of Waterloo, so brave and strong as he witnesses the unimaginable horrors of battle.
Where some historical novels can drown the reader in too much tedious historical detail, Swanston’s is measured, and relevant. It was actually nice to read about periods in history long forgotten or not often talked about.
I loved Swanston’s imagery, could smell the gunpowder on the battlefield of Waterloo and clearly visualise Eilmer, wings strapped to his arms as he attempted to fly like a bird!
Swanston made us feel a myriad of emotions. There is sorrow for the ‘witch’ Jane Wenham, a woman clearly a victim of circumstance and misunderstandings and admiration for the bravery and pure grit of Lady Mary Banks as she defended Corfe Castle.
Swanston’s stories are vibrant and mesmerising offering a unique and wonderful insight into British history that will linger long after the turning of the final page.
Enough of me lets here the author Andrew Swanston’s own thoughts and musings on his wonderful collection.
Imagine, please, that you are living about a thousand years ago. You are fascinated by nature and particularly by birds. How do they learn to fly? What enables them to do so? In the right circumstances could a man fly? How might you find out?
Well, if you are as brave and determined as the Benedictine monk, Eilmer, you make a pair of wings and jump off the highest point of Malmesbury Abbey, trusting to God and the wind to keep you from falling to your death.
Move on seven hundred years and you are the captain of one of Her Majesty’s warships. On your way back from the Mediterranean you are caught in a storm and have very little idea of where you are. You are responsible for your ship and for the eight hundred souls on board. A mistake could be fatal. What do you do?
Another hundred years have passed and you are a civilian happening to be at the crossroads at Mont St Jean, thirty or so miles south of Brussels, while a ferocious battle between the army of Napoleon and the British and their allies is being fought in the valley below. Lacking an aide, the Duke of Wellington himself asks you to ride down into the thick of the battle to deliver a message. How do you respond?
Sometimes these and countless other stories like them are footnotes to much bigger events – Waterloo, The War of the Three Kingdoms, the French Wars – sometimes they stand alone. The loss of a few fishing boats might not of be lasting importance, but to the extended families involved was entirely devastating. A conviction for witchcraft, on patently false evidence and against the direction of the judge, is all the more terrible if the convicted woman is your grandmother.
Researching such events is one of the pleasures of being an historical storyteller. And, in doing so, one comes across all manner of tasty tid bits. Here are a few. Scottish fisherman would not set sail on a day on which they saw a minister. Ministers presaged death. Nor would they use the word ‘salmon’ because its name frightens away the fish. They called it ‘the red fish’. On the eve of Waterloo, Napoleon ordered ‘well-cooked mutton’ for his dinner in Brussels after the battle. Eilmer the monk saw Halley’s Comet twice – in 991 and 1066 – the first brought the Danes, the second the Normans. Medieval Malmesbury was so famous as a centre of learning that the pope sent young priests there from Rome. A cake baked by a suspected witch must be burnt at once or it would bring trouble. Trivia, perhaps, to us, but certainly
to the men and women of the time.
About the author
Andrew read a little law and a lot of sport at Cambridge University, and held various
positions in the book trade, including being a director of Waterstone & Co, and Chairman
of Methven’s plc, before turning to writing.
Inspired by a lifelong interest in early modern history, his Thomas Hill novels are set during
the English Civil Wars, and the early period of the Restoration.
Andrew’s novel, Incendium, was published in February 2017 and is the first of two thrillers
featuring Dr. Christopher Radcliff, an intelligencer for the Earl of Leicester, and is set in
1572 at the time of the massacre of the Huguenots in France.