Today on The Tattooed book Geek I am pleased to be taking part in the Blog Tour for The White Cross by Richard Masefield with both an excerpt from the book and a guest post courtesy of the author himself.
Thanks to Kelly at Love Books Group Tours for the tour invite.
The White Cross.
‘A knight who isn’t skilled in arms can count for nothing in this world, remember that. It is your destiny to fight.’
With the words of his dead father ringing in his ears, Sir Garon leaves his new wife, Elise, and their green domain of Haddertun for blood and dust and disillusionment in Palestine. Meanwhile at home Elise is forced to fight for her survival and her honour in the brutal man’s world that is twelfth century England.
Set against the backdrop of the Third Crusade and a villainous King Richard, The White Cross is an epic tale that shines a fresh light on timeless issues of morality and faith and the futility of war.
Book Excerpt from The White Cross.
Some things stand out as clear as day. Others fade completely, or possibly were never very vivid in the first place? I wish I could remember everything about my first meeting with Elise. But oddly it’s the hardest thing to call to mind when I look back. Since then I’ve taxed my brain until it aches to find a memory that I can trust, and failed completely. The more I try the more it seems to slip away. Which isn’t a good start for all of this.
As I look down from heaven on the story of my life and try to work out where it all went wrong, I think perhaps that I should start with what my father said when I was seven. Or come to it as quickly as I can.
Or should I start with guilt? Because when I look down upon the world I used to share with her, to see myself as I was when I first met Elise – I am ashamed, no other word for it. I was so set on doing what I thought right. But where was judgement? Was it my fault I was such a self-regarding fool?
Or is it another kind of folly to judge what I was then from where I’ve come to now. I mean, can any addle-pated youth of three-and-twenty expect to understand what drives him? It takes an effort to remember what was in your mind when you have changed it since. But when I try to make some sense of what I was and how I acted, I see that I was fated from the cradle to become a soldier.
‘You have to be the strongest man. D’ye hear me, Garon? The bravest and the best. It is expected of you even by the peasants.’ ‘But how?’ my childish treble. ‘How must I do it, Father?’ ‘We’ll send you to the sergeantry at Lewes to be trained, my boy, that’s how. A knight who isn’t skilled in arms can count for nothing in this world, remember that. It is your destiny to fight.’
I think he only told me once, but I believe I have it word for word. My father died soon afterwards, before he’d time to teach me any of his skills, before I’d time to know him. I have so little of him even now. His voice in memory seems very loud, and the picture that I have of a red face behind a big moustache might be the real Sir Gervase or merely something from a child’s imagination. Because the truth is that I barely knew him. I only know that from that day his words rang in my memory like verses in a chanson: ‘A knight who isn’t skilled in arms can count for nothing in this world, remember that. It is your destiny to fight.’ Looking back, I see there was no other path to follow. If I’d ever wanted more, or less, I can’t recall it. I needed life to mean something and found the meaning in my father’s words. To say mine was a simple mind would be to state the obvious.
Guest Post: The White Cross: story of a story
By the time I’d published three successful historical novels my literary agent started to become excited. She took me out to lunch and told me it was time to write a bigger, bolder sort of story. ‘We call it break-out,’ she explained. ‘Choose an epic subject and research it, write an outline and leave the rest to me.’ Should I have realised then that life is never quite that simple?
Because I’d always loved the early medieval period, I wrote the outline for an epic story of the Third Crusade in which a militant young knight is traumatised by war and a famous hero shown to be a monster. The agent loved it and put it up for auction. Commissioning editors from two big publishing houses bid against each other to push the price up to a startling sum. I signed the contract with a shaking hand. They paid me the advance and I was on my way to break-out. So I thought.
I laboured long and hard to write the first third of the epic. The editor seemed pleased and paid me on the nail. Encouraged mightily, I laboured on to write another third. The editor seemed pleased with that as well and I was paid again.
But then a little hitch. My publisher, The Bodley Head was sold that month to Random House, and with it all its authors. ‘But they love your book, they really do,’ my editor (who had been sold as well) was anxious to assure me. ‘They can’t wait to see it finished.’
By that time two years had passed and I’d been paid just over half of the advance. Then when the book was finished, another hitch and this time not so little. ‘Random House don’t like it,” the editor maintained. ‘It isn’t what they wanted.’ To say my heart sank to my boots would be the understatement of the century. It went on sinking through the carpet and through the floorboards of her office to embed itself in London clay.
‘But you said you liked it from the first.’ I hope I didn’t wail!
‘We can only tell you that it’s not for us,’ the editor said crisply.
Well, I offered to rewrite the thing. But no one from the publisher would meet me or discuss the book in any kind detail. Its time they thought had passed – although the agent who had sold it for so much was able at the least to gain the rights back for me.
But then again, if you’re creative you simply can’t be told to stop creating. Which means that some years later, and almost to my own surprise, I found that I’d completed a new novel called The White Cross – an epic crusade story based on the original but fundamentally different – and whether I have ‘broken out’ or have been ‘broken in’, it’s a work I tend to think of as the best thing I have written.
Purchase The White Cross.
About Richard Masefield.
A cousin of the poet, John Masefield, Richard has worked in a variety of spheres – as an actor and an adman, as a care manager and teacher at a school for disabled children and for many years as a livestock farmer. But always he has returned to writing. He is a regular speaker at literary and reading group meetings. He lives in Tenterden in Kent with his wife, Lee.
Find Richard Masefield: website.
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