EAnotes

Posts Tagged ‘Bernard Cornwell’

Adventures in Bookland: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019


While it looks like a novel and reads like a novel, I can let prospective readers in on a secret: Fools and Mortals is not really a novel. It’s actually a paean, an encomium, a love lyric written by an old man who has fallen in love. Old men who fall in love are always fools, but sometimes that foolishness washes away the accreted knowledge of a lifetime to reveal a silver seam lying under all that conventional knowledge.

That is what has happened here. Bernard Cornwell, who is 75 now, ten years ago fell in love. He fell in love with the theatre, with that strange, uncertain magic that happens, sometimes, when people get up on a stage and tell a story to a group of strangers, uniting them all into a shared world. According to Cornwell’s afterword, he’s been acting with the Monomoy Theatre in Massachusetts for the last ten years and this book is the fruit of that extended love affair. While ostensibly about the travails of Richard Shakespeare, jobbing actor and younger brother of the slightly more famous William, it is really an encomium to the theatre and, in particular, to that group of actors, entrepeneurs, playwrights, theatre goers and nobility who, in the late 16th and early 17th centuries created modern theatre in London. While wrapped up in a story of theft and treachery, Fools and Mortals is really about the extraordinary set of circumstances and people that made this all possible, and it’s a celebration of a sort of miracle in plain sight: the creation of a play that works. Having a wife who works in theatre, as actress and voice teacher, I’ve got some second-hand insight into how remarkable the whole process is and how contingent. If not for a London audience large enough to support the theatre and thirsty for new plays, if not for Shakespeare, Burbage, Marlowe and Johnson and their ilk, there would not have been plays to sate that thirst, and if not for a nobility willing to sponsor and protect the theatres and theatre companies from the censors and puritans of the age, it would never have come together.

Fools and Mortals is a celebration of theatre, of this every day artistic and financial miracle, with a side order of story. The story is fun, but the play’s the thing.

 

Bernard Cornwell’s read my book!

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Yes, that Bernard Cornwell, author of the Sharpe books (I’ve read 23 out of 24 of them, only excepting the one where Sharpe is cuckolded by his wife and falls out with William Frederickson, as I couldn’t bear to read it) and the Saxon War novels, and, now with Patrick O’Brian gone, probably the best and certainly the best-known writer of historical fiction in the world, that Bernard Cornwell – he’s read my book! My publisher, Lion Fiction, sent Bernard’s (we’re on first name terms now he’s endorsed my book!) agent a copy of Edwin: High King of Britain, but without any real hope of getting a reply – we had no ‘in’ with him, beyond the fact that he had once visited the Bamburgh Research Project. Then, to our astonishment, we received an email yesterday from the man himself. He’s read my book! He likes it!! He’s written a commendation for the cover!!! He’s given me even more reason to use exclamation marks!!!!!

So, when I say that I think the book is actually really rather good, I’ve now got Bernard Cornwell to back me up. Now, you want to know what he said, don’t you? Me, I kept re-reading it all yesterday. Well, here you go, this is what Bernard said, I’m sure it will have pride of place on the cover:

Edwin, High King of Britain, brings to life the heroic age of our distant past, a splendid novel that leaves the reader wanting more.