Thursday, 26 September 2013


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Writing can be very lonely. It's always good to hear from readers.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Feedback request


Three weeks ago, I put up a post about Europeans who disguised themselves as Indians during the Mutiny. It turned out to be one of the most popular posts I've ever written. I have absolutely no idea why.

I write this blog in a vacuum. I enjoy writing it, but it takes a fair amount of time and I do it mainly to promote my books. I have no idea how successful or otherwise it is in doing this. I do know that if everyone who read it bought one of my books, I'd sell an awful lot more than I do, which would be nice (there's a link to Amazon here). What I don't know is how many fewer people would have bought the books if I didn't write this. So, for now at least, I carry on writing. It would be helpful, though, to know what makes people read some posts rather than others.

Posts about major historical figures get a lot of attention. The one I wrote about James Brooke just as 'The White Rajah' was being published has had more hits than anything else, followed by one about the Nana Sahib (one of the main characters in 'Cawnpore'). But recent posts about Clive of India or last week's offering on General Havelock have received very little attention at all.

The small war in Borneo earlier this year got rather more coverage on my blog than in the Western newspapers, so I can understand why that drew a lot of readers. Less easily explained is why a self-indulgent piece of mine about tango got so much interest that I wrote more and these continue to attract a significant amount of traffic.

I try to blog about 19th century colonial history, my own writing and other books about the period and a little bit about myself. I'm also happy to support friends who write or compose, because some of them are very good and, without huge marketing budgets, they rely on people like me to get the word out. Most of all, though, I try to write about things that interest you, my silent readers. Because if you're not interested in what I write, there's really not a lot of point. So, if there's anything that you would like to see more of, please use the 'Comments' here to let me know. Thanks.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

General Havelock

Here's another London statue to go with the one of Clive. This one is in Trafalgar Square. (The pigeon on his head is a clue.) It commemorates General Havelock. He commanded the column sent to the relief of the Cawnpore garrison, arriving just after the massacre of the women and children.

Havelock was a small man, rather stiff in his bearing as well as his manner. People who knew him said that the statue in Trafalgar Square was a reasonable likeness, except that it showed him clean shaven, while he actually had a moustache and a full beard, both vividly white against his tan.



Havelock was rather a stuffy, pompous man, not greatly admired by his troops. His wife was the daughter of Christian missionaries and he became a Baptist, being baptised in India. His proselytising Christianity typified the mid-19th century approach to religion in India, which contributed to the tensions that led to the Mutiny.

Despite the reservations many people held about his personality (he had been slow to be promoted to command), he proved a sound strategist. His march from Benares to Cawnpore – almost 200 miles in the heat of an Indian summer – was a remarkable achievement. The troops showed undoubted valour in their advance through hostile countryside in conditions that saw many die from heatstroke and cholera. At the same time, their behaviour toward civilians was appalling. There were almost indiscriminate attacks on villages and individuals believed (often with no evidence at all) to have assisted the rebels.

Havelock made considerable use of spies to gain information about the enemy as he advanced. As he approached Cawnpore, a spy named Anjoor Tewaree gave him information about the Nana Sahib's positions, which enabled Havelock to crush the last opposition standing between him and the town. The incident appears in Cawnpore as Williamson tries to redeem himself for standing by as the Europeans were killed.
I had removed my turban and made a bundle of my uniform jacket, so when I ran into General Havelock’s scouts, they did not shoot me before I had time to greet them as friends and tell them that I had urgent information for their general.
“Have you, indeed? And who the hell are you, when you’re at home.”
I opened my mouth to give my name and then I hesitated. As soon as I was known as John Williamson, I would be gathered back into the bosom of the European community. What then of Mungo, waiting trustingly for me to return to him? What of Amy Horne? Even Jonah Shepherd’s life was safer for as long as I could pay his jailer to make sure he came to no harm.
I had a whole life as Anjoor Tewaree. I had friends and responsibilities. I had someone who loved me. It was, I knew, a life that couldn’t last. One day I would have to return to the world I had known before Mungo, but not today. When Anjoor Tewaree departed this earth, he would not be sacrificed to a brutal trooper like this fellow.
“I am Anjoor Tewaree,” I said. “I have intelligence of the enemy’s position and it is vital that I give it to the General as soon as may be.”
While we were talking, an officer had ridden over and now demanded to know what was going on. I gave him a quick summary of my news and he recognised its importance immediately. Ten minutes later, I was standing before General Havelock.
The British were making a quick breakfast of biscuit and beer, anxious to be on the march. The General must have eaten already, for he was on his feet when I was brought before him. Short, like Wheeler, he seemed to stand constantly at attention, brimming with an energy that belied his white hair and the evidence of age in his craggy features. He scarcely deigned to look at me but barked questions about the exact placement of artillery, the numbers in each of the units and the morale of the men. He asked about fodder for the horses (we had none but that close to the Ganges would have no trouble foraging) and the condition of the ground (firmer where it drained into the river, marshier on the other flank). There was question after question and I was not sure that he really attended to my answers until he bent down and, with a stick, sketched an astonishingly accurate map of the rebel positions in the dust at his feet.
“Is that right?”
“Yes, sir, you’ve got it exactly.”
“Good man. Well done.” And he just turned away.
I hesitated for a moment and the trooper who had escorted me hissed in my ear. “You’re dismissed, you little runt. Now bugger off.”

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Reviews of 'Cawnpore'

About a month ago, I blogged some of the reviews that I've had for The White Rajah. I thought it was about time to do the same with Cawnpore. (It is a year since I last did this.) Here they are. I'm not putting on the Amazon ones, as I imagine most people will already have seen them.



an excellent introduction to India as part of the British Rajah, and to the siege of Cawpore. The author does not deviate from the facts and the novel is a solid piece of history turned into a fascinating story and well worth a read. 

Evocative and haunting. I couldn't put this book down. Not only is it a solid account of the tragic events at Cawnpore, it's a rattling good adventure and a gentle, understated love story. It's one I'll return to.

… approaches that ranks of Sarah Waters in storytelling.



An intriguing tale of the imbalance between two worlds, and the ultimate clash between the love of another man and love of one's country... The details are well researched and the storyline concurs well with the known facts …



a well-written adventure tale.



… The author has researched this subject well and obviously has a fondness for this era of history. For anyone who has a love for this period, Cawnpore is probably one for you.


…  I really enjoyed this novel. Highly recommended.



 a fine work of historical fiction …


Reviews remain, for books without marketing budgets, the most important way to encourage new readers. If you have read and enjoyed Cawnpore please take the time to post a review. It doesn't have to be long.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Truth may be stranger than fiction.

Some readers have told me that they have a problem with Cawnpore because our hero disguises himself as an Indian and gets away with it.

In my book, I do tell the story of Jonah Shepherd, who passed himself off as an Indian, although he was in fact an Anglo-Indian ie he had an Indian mother and a European father. Nowadays, people might think that such a deception would have been easy to pull off, but at the time of the Mutiny people were very sensitive to the difference between Anglo-Indians and Indians. Anglo-Indians were seen by many of the rebels as traitors and subtle distinctions of skin tone, accent or bearing could be the difference between life and death. The success of Shepherd's impersonation was therefore by no means assured.

Shepherd disguised himself in native clothes and had his hair cut short all round his head leaving a tuft of long hair in the centre, over which he wrapped a piece of cloth as a turban. Just the change of clothes seemed to make quite an effective disguise. As he left the British camp he was challenged by sentries who failed to recognise him as one of their number. He was, however, seen leaving by some of the rebels and taken for questioning. The episode where he is questioned in Cawnpore is based on his own account. He was worried that he might be asked about his religion. As a Christian, he did not know the Muslim creed to convince the questioner that he was a Muslim or enough about Hindu gods to pass himself off as a Hindu. He decided to pass himself off as a Chummar, which he said was a very low caste that held no particular creed and he got away with this deception.

His main concern was to disguise his height, which he did by the simple expedient of stooping a lot. Apparently he was significantly taller than most of the natives. He was also worried that he might be recognised by somebody who knew him from before the Mutiny, so he would pull a cloth about his face whenever he could. These crude devices kept him alive until Cawnpore was relieved.

As Jonah Shepherd was leaving the British lines, a European friend of his suggested that he disguise himself too and join him. Although his friend later thought better of the idea, this does suggest that Europeans did believe that they could disguise themselves effectively.

In fact, there was evidence that a European could get away with such disguise. At the siege of Lucknow, Henry Kavanagh, one of the European volunteers in the garrison, offered to pass through the rebel lines to guide in the relief column. He dyed his skin and dressed himself in native clothing before passing around the European camp and ensuring that he was not recognised for what he was. He escaped from the siege by swimming across a river but soon ran into an enemy sentry.

"I thought it prudent to be the first to speak, and remarked, as we approached, that the night was cold, and after his repeating that it was cold, I passed on observing that it would be colder bye-and-bye."

He passed several other sentries without his disguise being penetrated. At one point, he and his native companion were stopped and questioned. The native became visibly frightened. Kavanagh wrote:

"I drew their attention to his fright, and begged that they would not terrify poor travellers, unaccustomed to being questioned by so many valorous soldiers."

The sentries were satisfied and let him go.

The fictional John Williamson, of course, gets away with much more than this, but then he is a devotee of Indian culture and has his local love to help him. His exploits are fictitious, but the historical evidence suggests that he may well have had a better chance than a modern reader might expect.