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Wainwright & Fetterlocks

by Wendy Zollo

Within the Fetterlock by Brian Wainwright
ISBN: 0-9722091-1-5

Brian Wainwright claims to be an ordinary "guy," but how many ordinary people do you know who spend ten years relentlessly toiling away on a novel about a little known 14/15thc princess? This is exactly what Brian Wainwright did and the end result is a compelling, timeless piece of storytelling based on the life of Constance of York (or Constance Despencer) entitled Within The Fetterlock. What follows is a range of insights into the author, his creation, and his opinions on history, movies and historical fiction.

Wainwright was brought up in Manchester, England. He has been married to his wife Christine, who he fondly states, "doubles as my best friend," since 1989. Though they have no children, his mother Clara shares their home in Bury, near Manchester. He's consistently lived in the North West of England except for a brief "exile" in Sussex.

"I had an unexceptional education; for the most part I detested school, and I can count the inspirational teachers I had on the fingers of one hand. The best of all was Miss Margaret Mackie, a Scots lady who read us Cynthia Harnett's The Woolpack when I was about 10. It introduced me to the concept of historical fiction. Oddly enough the hero was Nicholas Fetterlock!"

When asked why he despised school to such a large degree, he answered wryly.

"Do you mean I had to have a reason? I just did. I found the discipline rules absurd and petty and the curriculum irrelevant. (I am talking the secondary post 11 education here). The system and I just did not get on together. I suppose it was in part a class thing - I was a down-to-earth working class lad in an absurdly pretentious middle class environment that I could not stomach. I probably had some kind of undiagnosed syndrome - there was no concept of such things in those days, they just hit you. The emphasis of the school was on science, for which I have mild interest and no aptitude, while sport, which I detest with a passion, was also important. The arts side was sadly neglected. I am not a fitter-in. I have always refused to sit quietly and be bored. As a result I'm afraid I can come across as rather unsocial."

Fitter-in or not, Wainwright has used his inability to be a stationary statue and his creative edge to craft a brilliant, stirring, and intelligent novel. Readers should know Within The Fetterlock unquestionably has this memorable, epic feel to it. I asked, "Is that what was needed to tell Constance of York's story?"

"I'm sure the story could have been told in other ways, and another writer might have chosen a different approach. For me, the hardest part was deciding which parts of the saga to cut out - I probably threw away as much as I used in the final version. In a way, it's a story about an enormous extended family tearing themselves and their country apart. The theme of the book (in my concept anyway) was loyalty, what it means and how we can find ourselves tested by conflicting loyalties."

I asked Brian if in the ten years to write the novel he had come to admire and dislike some specific qualities regarding Constance. He had some thoroughly specific answers to this as if he'd been pondering the query beforehand.

"What struck me about Constance - the historic Constance - was that she was quite clearly willing to stand up for herself and take considerable risks. She had courage. It would have been very easy for her to remarry and live a life of quiet, secure obscurity; instead she seemed to go out of her way to tweak Henry IV's nose in every way she could. (In fairness to him, he was quite generous to her, especially at first, when you compare it to the treatment the Yorkist Kings and Henry VII handed out to the widows of their enemies.)

"Look at Constance's situations. One minute she's the wife of an enormously successful, powerful man who is high in the king's favour. The next her immediate family (let alone her extended one) is fighting like cats in a sack, and any security she has is simply wiped out. When her husband is killed she loses everything, and effectively has to depend on what the man responsible for bringing about this disaster is prepared to hand out. She hasn't even the legal right to keep hold of her own son; it's all down to grace and favour. How exactly do you survive that? I think many of us might have signed up for the easy option. smilie

"I was a little disappointed when I discovered the historical Constance had tried to claim a free man as one of her serfs - but I gather this was a quite common piece of blackmail practiced by the English nobility, not some particular fault of hers.

"In terms of her as a fictional character, there were times when I found myself thinking she was a bloody-minded, obstinate so-and-so! But as I wrote her, I found that she insisted on going her own way. It sounds absurd, but some of the outcomes surprised me!"

I remarked that Constance was a fairly intriguing figure, though somewhat lost to history. I invited Wainwright to explore why he thought this was; her poor relationship with Bolinbroke or the mere fact she was a woman…or…?

"I think it's only in recent years that historians have even begun to look at medieval women as serious players. It's probably one of the positive things that came out of the feminist movement, that women's history has been highlighted. Having said all that, Henry IV's reign is deeply obscure, and has been seriously neglected by historians. One or two are just starting to probe it, but the leading account of the reign is still the one written by Wylie in the 19th century! I don't think it's just Constance who has been overlooked. There's never been a biography of her brother, Edward, and he was a fascinating man by any standards, whatever view you take of him. For a start, he probably holds the English, United Kingdom and Commonwealth records for escaping from accusations of treason."

The writing of Within The Fetterlock had to be the proverbial "labor of love," otherwise why spend so many years on it?

"I think it must have been, because I kept going back to it when any sane person would have given it up as a bad job. It was almost as if Constance developed a psychic link to me, in the sense that she became increasingly important to me, and I didn't want to let her down by abandoning the attempt to tell her story. I'm sorry if that sounds daft. Another way of putting it is that the investment of time eventually became so great that I couldn't bear to think of wasting it. There was also Barbara Zuchegna. I sent the early chapters to her, and she kept badgering me for more, telling me how wonderful it was. To be honest, I was always my own sternest critic and I took a lot of persuading that it was up to scratch!"

Which to me is a surprising answer considering that Fetterlock is Wainwright's second book. The Adventures of Alianore Audley being his first (a tongue-in-cheek, rollicking novel of humorous intrigue in the court of Edward IV). Hence I had to ask if he was amazed how well received Alianore was.

"Yes, because it was pretty much written for my own amusement. I admit to having an extremely quirky sense of humor and I was not at all sure that your average punter would get the joke; I even feared that someone would think it was a 'serious' novel, my answer to Sunne in Splendor. Actually, one person asked me if I'd just translated the chronicle! He had the excuse of knowing nothing about the middle ages. I have been even more surprised (and pleased, Brian added) that it has gone down well in the USA. There is a widespread belief in Britain that Americans have no sense of irony. Alianore has shown me that this is definitely not true."

There is an enormous difference between Constance and Alianore. It does take some brilliance to write on such extreme ends of the spectrum but you've balanced them easily or have you just made it look effortless and simple?

"I think it's just that I can write humour," Wainwright responded, "as well as serious stuff. As mentioned above. I have a very zany sense of humour. This is not always obvious on the surface and, I can actually come over as quite dour! Or so I have been told. I did include a couple of moments of comedy in Fetterlock but I think they were swamped by the general tone of the piece, and readers may well have missed them. For example, there's the bit where Constance loses her garter during a blazing row with her father, while sundry unfortunates are being beheaded just outside the window!"

I did mention to Brian that I had a hunch he was a bit of a perfectionist (ten years in the writing was a considerable hint, along with various historical e-group conversations.) Why else does someone destroy all their early writings? (I'm still stunned by this even if the answer to an irrational act smilie sounds rational). Therefore, I can only imagine a "dour" Wainwright answering this!

"I think I do tend towards perfectionism. Maybe because I have thrown so many works of historical fiction at the wall over the years!"

(I have to interrupt here and add for those who don't know, this is known as the wall-bangers club and a great many authors seem to belong to it!)

"Mind you, I don't believe it's possible to write historical fiction and be 100% correct about every fact. The more I have learned, the more I have appreciated the true depth of my ignorance. On the other hand, it's quite obvious that some writers can't even be bothered even to try to get things right. Indeed, I get the impression that for one or two of the 'literary' brigade, such research is beneath them! No names, no pack drill, but I have in mind someone who quoted Alison Weir as his main source. It's hard work, historical fiction, and it takes years to learn the half of it. A lot of my early stuff was not only badly written, but full of historical errors that made me cringe. It was beyond salvation - it had to go."

I got the sincere feeling he didn't regret this move and if this were an actual conversation I imagine Brian would fire back dramatically his type-written words. "No. I used to dread the thought of the rubbish falling into the hands of the enemy!"

As it happens, I first came to know who Brian was on a history e-list. Now I can't fully explain what draws me to the medieval period, thus I wondered if he could explain what drew him.

"Not in any way that would make sense to a scientist. Reincarnation, perhaps? smilie It just 'is'. I don't really remember not being interested. It was always my favourite bit of history, right back to my early years at school."

I know you are also deeply interested in Ricardian history. Which came first a fascination in Constance or Richard III? I received an unexpected answer.

"I was drawn to the Richard II era initially, and then found my way to the House of York; then to Richard III. To be honest, it's a long time ago, and I'm not sure that I came across Constance before I 'met' Richard III."

Out of all the Ricardian figures, personalities, who besides Richard III most excites you?

"It's hard to answer because I don't think there's one that towers head and shoulders over the rest. Maybe Francis Lovel, because I'm not convinced that we know anything like the full story there; I suspect the 'standard fictional impression that has developed of Francis is just plain wrong."

I pondered whether Brian could be attracted to another era or country.

"I suppose if you nail me down to it, I 'belong' in late medieval England, in the sense that it's there where I feel 'at home'. Of course, medieval Welsh and Scottish history is fascinating, but I have to count myself a foreigner. I've developed interests in Renaissance Italy, the 17th century wars in Britain started by Charles Stuart, that man of blood, and the American Civil War. I would be unhappy about writing in these eras as I am sure my levels of ignorance would astound my audience, but I do quite fancy doing an American Civil War book set in Liverpool, England, where Union and Confederate agents, working from their offices in the city, battled to outwit one another! I am a notorious Anne Boleyn fan, and I've a fondness for what might be called the Jane Austen era that runs right across the piece, from gun deck to drawing room."

When one hears about Anne Boleyn, Jane Austen and the American Civil War in practically one breath, one almost has to ask if he enjoys the research aspect of historical fiction.

"Yes. It can be dangerous though as it can easily become almost an end in itself. I spent a lot of time researching local history, and the biographies of obscure characters like Hugh Tyldesley. 99% of this never got into Fetterlock and so measured objectively it was a waste of time. It was, however, enjoyable and I find I can imagine my characters far better as I write them if I have at least some impression of their background. (I never told anyone that Hugh came from Tyldesley in Lancashire, or that his elder brother was Thurstan, but somehow this background knowledge was comforting to me.)

It was amazing what information turned up. It was almost scary to discover, just as I was completing the book, that Sir John Russell's second wife was Thomas Despenser's niece Margaret Hastings. (Rania Melhem turned this fact up for me). I already had him down as a Despenser ally but this was a bonus - I would never have dared invent this, as the dates made it barely feasible. (Margaret Hastings was already a widow with a child when she married Russell - both she and her mother, Thomas' sister must have been about 14 when they had their first baby.) I actually had to do a small re-write in consequence. (Spooky coincidence. Just a few weeks before this came up, and all unknowing, I visited Elsing Hall in Norfolk, where Margaret Hastings was born. Her grandfather's brass is in the church.)"

Moving into a little less serious territory or taking a left at the middle ages and walking three blocks down to Brian's website - www.brianwainwright.mysite.wanadoo-members.co.uk/ - I discovered his favorite historical fiction novels list (and it cost me a little money too!). Luckily, I'm a (Richard) Sharpe fan so I wasn't tempted by your mention of Patrick O'Brien's Master & Commander. But you don't cite any other of O'Brien's books, is this your favorite?

"It's certainly one of the favourites, and a good place to start for anyone who is unfamiliar with the books. O'Brien is I think one of those writers who grow on you. You have to adjust to his pace and accept that not every chapter, or even every book, will be packed full of action. It's a much more realistic view of the 18thc navy than that. I like the fact the Captain Aubrey, a lion of a leader at sea, is absolutely clueless in other areas, particularly in matters of business! The man is wonderfully human. If you work your way through the series of books you see all manner of different aspects of the man."

From your "favorites list" I ended up buying The Heron's Catch by Susan Curran and The White Boar by Marian Palmer. Tell me why these books made your list?

"I thought Curran's book was a wonderfully realistic slice of medieval life, with scarcely a page of romance in the whole work. Here are real people, at various levels of society, working their way through their difficulties. Above all, I could believe it, and I couldn't find any historical errors or improbabilities. I think Curran put a massive amount of research into that book!

The 'White Boar' introduced me to Richard III. It's as simple as that. There have been an awful lot of novels written about him - some are just that, awful. However, I have my own private 'hall of fame' that includes, The White Boar. (The others will probably not surprise you - 'Sunne in Splendor' (natch {I believe that means as in Sharon Kay Penmansmilie}), ' Treason' (Meredith Whitford), ' Fortune's Wheel' (Rhonda Edwards)."

Another book on your list was Owen Glendower by John C. Powys. I tried, but couldn't involve myself with this at all. (I may actually have forwarded it to your editor?)…yet, I know this is a "classic" read. What were your thoughts on it?

I thought Brian had a vastly realistic and perceptive response.

"I wouldn't call it 'accessible' - mind you, I wouldn't anyway as I hate the term and think it should be outlawed. It is not the easiest read by any means; it's rather old-fashioned, very complex, and there are all sorts of apparently irrelevant diversions. It's the sort of book that really needs two or three weeks on a beach to conquer. However, as far as I know it's the one decent novel that's ever been written about Owen Glendower (Owain Glyn Dwr). The only other one I know was clearly derivitative from it, to put it politely. Glendower fascinates me, and I think he's a worthy subject for fiction."

Continuing on Wainwright's favorite books list - you also have The Marsh King's Daughter by Elizabeth Chadwick and I beg to differ as I adore The Champion though I'm swinging madly now towards her latest Shadows and Strongholds - she's amazing isn't she? I also differ about Penman's The Reckoning (so staggeringly poignant); I have to turn to one of my favorite novels of all time Sunne in Splendor. Thoughts?

"Sunne in Splendor was too obvious!"

(I think Brian may have been shouting when he said this! smilie)

"However, I must admit, though it is a fine book it is not in my opinion, Penman's best. I love her books written around Llewelyn and the struggle against Edward I. For me, The Reckoning, in all its starkness and as you say, poignancy is a triumph. I could have picked any one of several of Elizabeth Chadwick's books, but I chose The Marsh King's Daughter because it was different, focused on the merchant class, and demonstrated that Chadwick can write just as brilliantly about them as she can about the knightly brigade."

After the above little shuffling of the books by the same author, I asked, besides him (of course) who do you think is writing the best historical fiction these days? (And I was pleasantly pleased to receive a straight answer.)

"Elizabeth Chadwick takes some beating. Allan Mallinson writes some great stuff about the British army post 1815. Bernard Cornwell. There are several fine writers currently doing historical mysteries instead, Penman being an obvious example."

Which led to a well-established and steadfast question; what other genres do you read? Favorite books?

"I suppose Jane Austen isn't historical fiction? It's interesting that so many people dismiss Jane as a lightweight - how many authors from the first decade or so of the eighteenth century are still read? Her prose is wonderfully economic, never a word wasted, and her dry wit appeals to me. Persuasion is my favourite. I also read a certain amount of detective/mystery stuff. Alexander McCall Smith's novels about Precious Ramotswe are a recent delightful discovery. I have even been known to read Thomas Hardy, but lately I have been quite depressed enough!"

OK, then what was the last book you read and what did you think of it?

"It was 'Shadows and Strongholds' by Elizabeth Chadwick."

(No, Elizabeth Chadwick has not sent Trivium Publishing any sort of payoff…though it's starting to feel like it isn't it? smilie Getting back to Brian…)

"It was actually the first novel I have read through in some time, and I think that says something about the quality of it. Chadwick gives the impression that writing is easy, her stories flow so wonderfully; it's easy to overlook the depth of research that underpins them all."

I thought I'd jump into movies and give Brian a change of scene by asking him what was the last good movie he saw.

"'Gods and Generals', but then I'm a sucker for that sort of thing."

And you realize why that is such a short answer when you read the answer to the following question: What do you do to relax?

"I'm a very bad relaxer, actually. (Yes, I can 'feel' that a little bit <g>) That is one of my problems. Ideally, I like to have a quiet day in North Wales or a quiet week in Norfolk, do a bit of reading, stroll about the bookshops, and maybe take a ride on a preserved railway. That sort of thing. I find it hard to just sit around - I usually get restless within 20 minutes and start looking for something else to do, though I don't always find it."

Yet, Brian does have some things that clearly allow him to relax because when I asked him what he was passionate about besides writing, his words virtually soared off the page.

"Steam railways - I've no interest in the modern railways at all, the ones in Britain anyway are a (expletive deleted) disgrace. Electric tramcars, especially old ones with lots of polished brass. Historic buildings and beautiful gardens - though I'm a looker rather than a doer in horticultural circles. Cask conditioned beer - what we call 'real ale'. Greyhounds. These are a few of my favourite things…"

Why greyhounds and how many do you have?

"I'm afraid I haven't got any greyhounds at the moment because family circumstances don't permit. A long time ago now I got interested in greyhound racing and bought a (racing) greyhound in partnership with some friends. The Guilty One aka Bobby did not race for very long before it was necessary for him to retire and he came home to me. After that, I had several more, either retiring them after their racing days or simply taking them on because no one else wanted them. Why greyhounds? They make wonderful pets and are incredibly loyal and gentle with their owners. They are a neglected - and sometimes abused breed. (By the way, Edward, second Duke of York, wrote about them in his book on hunting and stresses their nobility; they are fit for 'a knight of his lady.')"

I think Constance of York would have approved.

© Wendy Zollo


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