Monday, 26 September 2016

Social media and other random thoughts

I'm sitting by a stream in Wales and wondering what to write for my blog this week. There's nothing like being stuck somewhere they don't do Internet to give you a different perspective on social media.

Photographic evidence of actual stream

Besides this blog, I have a Facebook author page and a Twitter account. It fascinates me what does and doesn't get attention on these various media.

First up, this blog. The last couple of weeks I've been writing about the real history of James Brooke, hero of The White Rajah. It's had a gratifying number of hits, though no more than a piece I wrote recently about tango, which, for some reason, always seems to attract readers.

I enjoy writing the blog. I can rabbit on about my own interests, share some of the joys and irritations of historical research and occasionally join in ongoing arguments about (for example) the importance of accuracy in historical writing or what constitutes a reasonable amount for an author to produce in a day at the coal face. I try to write once a week, so that those of you who have got into the habit of visiting me here can fairly reliably find something new every seven days or so. (Apologies for the delay this week : the problems of Welsh Internet are beyond my control.) It's fun and it lets me relax and generally chatter about life (writing is quite lonely work) and sometimes I get interesting replies and meet new friends. I hardly have any 'followers' but with Blogger it's not really clear what the advantage of following is, so I don't take it personally. I know that a lot of people read it, so presumably some of you enjoy it and that makes me feel it's worthwhile.

Mid-Wales: beautiful but with limited Internet access

The author page on Facebook is mainly there so that I can tell people when I've written a new blog post. People who 'like' my Facebook page are more important than people who follow the blog, simply because there are so many more of them. I know they read this (and thank you, reader) because as soon as I post on Facebook, I start getting hits on the new blog post. Facebook also offers a place where I can post chatty snippets or photographs that don't justify a blog post. (Photographs - even quite random pictures of things that have caught my eye - seem to be particularly popular.) Facebook is a particularly good way of getting into conversations with readers, too. People seem more likely to comment on a Facebook post than on anything that appears on the blog and I enjoy the feedback. On the whole, Facebook doesn't take much effort and is quite rewarding.

Twitter, by contrast, seems to take a lot of effort and I can't say I'm naturally at home with it. If you count the words in this post, you'll see that I tend to use more than 140 characters to express myself. Writing very short posts is a useful discipline, but encourages rather snippy comments, which I try to avoid because I'm pretending to be nice. (Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe snippy writers sell more books.) I find it difficult to 'engage' on Twitter. I reply to messages and comments on Facebook. I read everything people write in my blog comments. I struggle to find 140 characters of sparkling wit when people post something interesting on Twitter. But, however irritating I find it, there is no doubt that comments on Twitter really fire people up to read my blog. If I don't tweet about a blog post, it's much less likely to get read, so I'm out there every week tweeting for all I'm worth.

There are interesting things on Twitter. Ironically, there was advice to writers last week, telling us that we should get off Twitter and write. So I tried ramping back on tweets and the improvement in productivity was astonishing. That's made me  think that I'll spend less time with Twitter in future. I'll still tweet, but I may be slower to reply. I may get a few more notes from people telling me I should engage more. If you agree about the engagement, please 'like' my Facebook page and comment on my blog. I'll be more than happy to engage with you there. I'll do my best to respond on Twitter too - only probably more slowly and with less cheerful irrelevance. Speaking of which, here's a picture of a ferret in a bucket. 



Enjoy!

Until next week ...

Friday, 16 September 2016

James Brooke (2): Headhunters and Pirates

In last week's blog we saw how James Brooke became the first White Rajah of Sarawak. Becoming the ruler of the country, though, was just the start. Now Brooke had to decide what to do with it. 

Brooke had been very impressed with the native Dyak people of the country and he decided that his primary objective was to improve their lot. Being a Victorian gentleman, he set out to do this the only way he knew: by bringing the advantages of civilisation and trade. At least they were spared the dubious benefits of Western religion. Brooke was not an enthusiast for missionary work and managed to keep church missions out of the country for many years.

The notion of the noble savage was still a popular one in the first half of the 19th century and Brooke became sentimentally attached to the Dyaks. He thought them a noble people who lived off the land. They survived by hunting and subsistence agriculture. He saw them as victimised by the Malays and exploited by the Chinese whenever they traded with them. He was probably right in both regards, but the Dyaks were far from innocent inhabitants of a new Eden. Brooke, in fairness, recognised this. The Dyaks were headhunters. They would store the heads of their enemies hanging from the ridge poles of their homes. The heads are often dried out and appear shrunken, hanging there like macabre bunches of coconuts. I've seen them myself.

I'm sure that as a civilised gentleman of his period Brooke was uncomfortable with the idea of casual murder, but it was not the immorality of killing that was his principal concern. The practice of headhunting made it very dangerous for people to leave their own tribal territory, and this made trade between tribes almost impossible. With his early 19th-century ideas of the value and civilising influence of trade, it was the effect of headhunting on commerce that most concerned him. Over the period of his rule, Brooke managed to more or less eliminate the custom of taking heads and this was one of his most impressive achievements. It did resurface during World War II. When Borneo was occupied by the Japanese, the Allies tacitly encouraged the Dyaks to take Japanese heads. It is said that here and there you can see, hanging from ridge poles, small heads with little round spectacles. I must admit I have not seen these personally. Headhunting actually continues into the present-day when there is communal violence in the area. It is reported in the local press, but there seems a tacit agreement that this is not something that Malaysia wants discussed by the wider world.

Brooke thought that he had brought comparative peace and prosperity to his private kingdom, but the political intrigues of the Malay court were to ensnare him again. There was a perennial problem of piracy in the South China seas. Brooke realised that this was not a case of individual captains plundering here and there but a concerted effort by warlike Dyaks whose economy depended largely on piracy. These so-called Sea-Dyaks posed a threat to the peace of Sarawak. They had long-standing relationships with the original Malay rulers allowing them to move up-river and plunder the interior. Brooke decided that they had to be stopped. Unfortunately for the Sea-Dyaks their activities had also come to the notice of the Royal Navy.

The local naval commander, Captain Keppel,  met with Brooke and they agreed that the best way forward was to strike at the pirate strongholds in Borneo.

The campaign against the pirates started early in May 1843 and continued until almost the end of June. At this point Keppel was ordered to China and his duties then kept him away through the winter. Brooke continued to have trouble from pirates while he was away and, when Keppel arrived back in Singapore the following summer, the two men planned a decisive strike against them. This took place at the beginning of August 1844.

A fleet of small boats, supported by HMS Dido and the Phlegethon, a steam powered paddle ship owned by the East India Company fought their way upriver to the main pirate base at Beting Marau.

Attack on Beting Marau
Beting Marau was, by Dyak standards, a large settlement. Women and children lived there as well as men of fighting age. The British started their attack with rocket fire and pursued the enemy with overwhelming force. The British claimed that several thousand Dyaks had engaged in battle. The British lost 29 killed and 56 wounded. Nobody knows how many Dyaks died – probably over a thousand – but when news of the massacre reached England there were protests in Parliament.

A commission of enquiry into Brooke's rule was held in Singapore. Nowadays we tend to concentrate on their view of the massacre and the events that led up to it. At thetime, the enquiry was much more concerned with the legal status of Brooke rule and whether or not the Royal Navy should have concerned itself in the internal affairs of a country which, it turned out, was not actually part of the British Empire at all, the Rajah owing his loyalty to the Sultan, rather than to Queen Victoria. The question of the massacre was dealt with, though and evidence was given that large scale piracy presented a real danger to both British and native shipping in the area. The Royal Navy, it was decided, had acted properly in moving against the pirates in order to prevent this danger. There was no doubt that the pirates at Beting Marau were armed and resisting, so the massacre was, by the standards of the day, a justified military action.

Although he was exonerated, Brooke was bitter about his treatment. It was especially galling as, far from making a fortune by exploiting Sarawak’s natural resources, Brooke was losing money hand over fist. He estimated annual revenue at between £5000 and £6000 and out of this had to cover the salaries and costs of his administration, his own living expenses, and the upkeep of the two ships he maintained. By 1859 his family and friends in England were trying to put together a loan (more realistically, probably a gift) to bail him out of his financial troubles. Brooke himself wrote:

"If no more is to be had £5000 will satisfy me, as a return for my private fortune – but I should like £10,000 – I am most anxious to raise this money and so to avert the necessity of applying to a foreign power – but with the conviction forced upon us that no monetary assistance can be gained in England… France will be more just and more generous than England – more iniquitously unjust she could not be.”

His distress is obvious. In part it is explained by his state of health. Years in the Far East had left him a sick man and he was now spending much of his time in England. Relief, though, came from a friend of the family – Angela Burdett Coutts of the banking dynasty made a loan of £5000. In the years that followed Miss Coutts and James Brooke became good friends. She took a lively interest in political decisions involving Sarawak, which was by then a constant source of irritation at the Foreign Office because of its ambivalent status with in regard to Britain with. Her massive wealth also provided much-needed security as Brooke tried to negotiate with a European country – by this stage almost any European country – to help keep Sarawak financially viable and reasonably independent.

Angela Burdett-Coutts (National Portrait Gallery)

Brooke’s later years were not entirely happy. As his health deteriorated, he spent longer and longer in England and was increasingly preoccupied with the whole question of who was to inherit Sarawak on his death. He fell out with one nephew and dabbled with the idea of handing the country over to the British – or the French – or the Greeks – or practically anyone who could pay him off with enough money to restore his fortune and who would guarantee the defence of the country. The Dutch had taken to attacking Sarawak’s trading ships, so the defence of the country was quite a significant issue.

In the end, he passed the country onto another nephew, Charles. Rajah Charles proved to be everything James Brooke was not: a natural bureaucrat, organised and methodical and, truth be told, quite dull. James Brooke had taken a wild province of warring tribes, poverty, and political intrigue and turned it into a small but respectable state with peace and comparative prosperity for all. Unlike most British colonisers, his love for the native Dyaks meant that it was ruled with the consent and, indeed, approbation of the local inhabitants. The economy, though, was a mess and the country's relationship with the great powers the controlled the oceans around it was uncertain. Brooke's achievement was to create a nation, albeit a very small one. His nephew was to build on that to make a state that was to remain independent through three generations of white Rajahs, their rule only finishing with the Japanese invasion in World War II.

About 'The White Rajah'



The White Rajah is a novel quite closely based on the life of Sir James Brooke. Like the true story of his life, it raises issues about colonialism and our attitudes to what we now call Third World countries. But like his life, it also has pirates and rebellions and battles. And there's an orang-utan who, if I'm entirely honest, probably wasn't there in real life. It took, as you can imagine from this blog, quite a long time to research and write and is available on Kindle at the embarrassingly low price of £1.99/$2.99. You can use this book link to buy it, wherever you are in the world. Please do.

Friday, 9 September 2016

James Brooke: or how to find and rule your own country

Time for some regular history this week.

As you might possibly have noticed, a couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk on the life of James Brooke. Brooke is the real-life hero that The White Rajah is based on.

Although I have cut down the presentation quite a lot, it's still more than enough for one week, so I'm splitting it into two parts. In this first part, we look at Brooke's early life and how he came to rule his own country.

Portrait of Sir James Brooke by Sir Francis Grant
National Portrait Gallery London. Used with permission

James Brooke was a child of British colonialism. Born in Benares, India in 1803, his father was the chief of the East India Company’s provincial court. He spent his first 12 years in India, a pampered child in a country where an Englishman could live like a lord. When his parents, apparently finally noticing his lack of education, send him to school in England, it was a rude surprise. He ended up in boarding school at Norwich but ran away after two or three years and moved in with the family of Charles Keegan, a retired Indian civilian and friend of his family, who was living in Bath.

Eventually his father retired from India and he, too, returned to Bath. Reunited with his family, James eventually settled with them, but as soon as he was 16, he returned to India and commissioned into the East India Company's army. He was posted to the 6th Native Infantry and became a Sub-Assistant, Commissary-General. He was not, though, by nature a logistician. In fact he had always wanted to be a cavalry officer and when war broke out with Burma he overheard the general in command complaining they had no light cavalry to act as scouts. Lieutenant Brooke immediately offered to raise a troop and he was allowed to call for volunteers from among the infantry. He formed them into a reasonably efficient irregular cavalry, which operated ahead of the advancing column. It was typical of his character – and, indeed, normal for young officers in those days – that he led from the front and the result was that, early in the campaign, he was wounded and invalided back to Britain. His recovery was slow and it was not until 3½ years after the injury that he was able to leave England to rejoin his regiment. However, his ship was wrecked off the Isle of Wight and, though he survived, his health was again affected. He was forced to apply for six months further leave. By the time he was ready to re-embark, it was winter and bad weather delayed his departure until March 1830. The weather continued stormy or – in the days of sail just as bad – excessively calm and his voyage on the Castle Huntley was very slow. It was not until 18 July that he reach Madras. The maximum amount of leave that he could take was five years and that was up on the 30th. This gave him 12 days to get from Madras to Calcutta which was impossible. Although he looked for temporary employment in Madras so as not to break his contract, this was refused and he resigned from the Company's service.

It seems likely that Brooke was quite happy to leave the Army. Although he had proved an able soldier in action, his was not a personality well-suited to the tedium of administration when there was no actual fighting going on. It seems likely that he could have remained in the Company's service – his father was lobbying with every evidence of success for this to happen – but he probably didn't really want to. Instead, he chose to stay on with the Castle Huntly, exploring the waters of the Eastern Archipelago and calling at the British possessions of Penang, Malacca and Singapore before sailing on to Canton.

That mad-cap voyage, during which the still-young Brooke seems to have spent much of his time simply having fun and getting into scrapes with the local Chinese, proved to be a crucial influence on the way his life was to develop. Back in England he announced that it was his intention to buy a ship and to sail in search of adventure (and profit, of course) in the Far East.

Eventually he managed to persuade his father's put up money and let him buy the Findlay "a rakish slaver-brig, 290 tons burden". In May 1834, he set off to sail to the East and a new life as a merchant-adventurer.

It was a disaster. A brig needed a large crew to run and the venture could never be profitable. Eventually Brooke decided to give up the enterprise and return to England.

That should have been that. Brooke should have learned the lesson of his youthful escapades and settled down to responsible employment. But he seemed incapable of settling down to anything. His father's pension meant that there was no urgency in finding alternative employment and he remained in England doing nothing in particular. Not that long after his return, though, his father died, leaving him with enough money to relaunch his idea of voyaging in the Far East.

This time he bought a schooner, the Royalist, which was much better suited to the sort of business he had planned. After a proving voyage in the Mediterranean, he set off  again in December 1838.

Brooke’s head was filled with romantic notions and trade was a secondary consideration for him. He had decided that the power of the Dutch was in decline and that now was the time to expand British influence in the area and that he was the man for the job. His goal was Borneo, which he considered ripe for improving trade with Britain. His initial plan was to start his adventures at Marudu Bay in the north of the island. When he arrived in Singapore, though, the political buzz was all about Muda Hassim, the Bendahara of Brunei. Essentially' a Bendahara runs the place, though he is nominally responsible to the Sultan. However, the legitimacy of the Sultan lies with the bendahara. If you think of Muda Hassim as the Sultan of Brunei, you will be hopelessly wrong in terms of the formalities of the Brunei court, but you’ll have a fair handle on the realities of the situation.

A few months before Brooke's arrival in Singapore a British brig called the Napoleon had been wrecked in Borneo. Muda Hassim had treated the crew with every courtesy, fed and clothed them at his own expense, and arranged for their safe return to Singapore.

Brooke was not a man to set out a plan and stick to it, but rather somebody always more than willing to take advantage of any change in his circumstances to strike out in a new direction. He decided to seize this opportunity to develop a relationship with Hassim. On 27 July 1839, the Royalist slipped quietly away from Singapore and headed to Borneo.

The politics of Borneo in the mid-19th century were Byzantine. Power was held by Malays. The indigenous people – the Dyaks – were relatively powerless. When Brooke arrived in Sarawak, Hassim was occupied in putting down a rising, of Dyaks, who were supported by a faction within the Malay community – the Siniawan Malays. In fact, they were almost certainly supported by elements within the Malay court who were trying to reduce Hassim’s power. By now the uprising had been going on for four years. Hassim had been in Sarawak for months and nothing seemed to have changed since he moved his court there.

Hassim saw Brooke’s arrival as providential. Although there were only 28 men on board the Royalist, Hassim looked at her six cannon and the White Ensign hanging at her mast and saw her as a symbol of British power. If he could get Brooke involved in the war, he thought he could finally bring things to a conclusion and return to the seat of power in Brunei.

For while, Brooke refused to be drawn in. In fact, he returned to Singapore and made various other short expeditions before coming back to Sarawak in August 1840. By now, the Dyaks had been defeated  and mostly come over to Hassim. However, the Siniawan Malays were holding out. Hassim again asked Brooke for assistance. Here is Brooke’s own account of his attitude to intervening in what was, effectively, a civil war in Borneo.

I may here state my motives for being a spectator at all, or participator (as may turn out), in this scene. In the first place, I must confess that curiosity strongly prompted me; since to witness the Malays, Chinese [yes, there were Chinese too, immigrants who essentially monopolised trade], and Dayaks in warfare was so new, but the novelty alone might plead an excuse for this desire. But it was not the only motive; for my presence is a stimulus to our own party, and will probably depress the other in proportion. I look upon the cause of the Raja [Hassim] as most just and righteous; and the speedy close of the war will be rendering a service to humanity, especially if brought about by treaty.

Brooke was already clearly far from a mere spectator. He provided advice and encouragement to Hassim. He was there as Hassim’s forces pushed the rebels back to their main position at a town called Belidah. He encouraged Hassim to attack, but "my proposal to attack the adversary was immediately treated as an extreme of rashness amounting to insanity.” The Malays preferred an approach where a chain of fortified positions was constructed, moving closer and closer to Balidah without any open assault. Brooke's frustration grew he saw this "protracted" warfare as "extremely barbarous". Trade and agriculture were both disrupted and there seemed no prospect of peace. Finally, in October, he sent for two of his six-pounder guns and some of his men to be despatched from the Royalist to Balidah. By 31 October the guns were up and the rebel defences were breached. Still, though, the Malays refused to storm the place. On 3 November Brooke left them in despair. His diary tells what happened next:

I explained to [Hassim] how useless it was my remaining and intimated to him my intention of departing; but his deep regret was so visible, that even all the self-command of the native could not disguise it. He begged, he entreated me to stay, and offered me the country of Siniawan and Sarawak, and its government and trade, if I would only stop, and not desert him.

Brooke did not immediately accept this offer, but did continue to support Hassim’s efforts in the war, in which the men of the Royalist were soon to prove decisive.

With the end of the war, Brooke suggested that Hassim might like to follow through on his promise to give him the rule of Sarawak. The fighting over, though, Hassim was not so sure. On the one hand, he wanted to retain Brooke's support, possibly as offering some sort of protection against Dutch expansionism and certainly to bolster his own position in the intrigues between himself and other powerful Malay factions. On the other hand, he was concerned that he should not be seen as yielding territory that technically belonged to the Sultan, or as suggesting that traditional Malay laws could be set aside in favour of an Englishman. Negotiations extended for almost a year, during which factions in the Malay camp tried to poison Brooke. Eventually, though, Hassim agreed, drawing up and signing a document giving Brooke the government of Sarawak. On 24 November, 1841 he was ceremoniously declared Rajah. 

Becoming the ruler of Sarawak turned out to be the easy part. To find out the challenges Brooke faced and how he overcame them, read the second part of this post HERE.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Presenting the fact behind the fiction

This time last week I was in mid-Wales, talking about James Brooke as part of the Llandrindod Wells Victorian Festival. Rather to my surprise, a respectable audience (most dressed in Victorian costume) paid good money to come and listen. (None of the money came to me. The council no longer funds the Festival, so they need all the cash they can raise.)


This was a new experience for me. I was not talking about my book (although it may have been mentioned once or twice) but about the historical character it was based on.

When I first had the idea of writing about Brooke (so long ago he was practically a contemporary character) I did a lot of research. Frankly, I think I did too much. My first attempt at writing about him got bogged down in the realities of his life. I had an editor who suggested that I might be better off writing a straight biography, and at that point I realised I was badly off course And I put the novel on one side until I had managed to forget most of the research I had done. Now, decades later, I had to try to remember it all again.

It's an odd idea, when you come to think about it. Although there are writers of historical fiction who see themselves basically as historians who write novels (and some actually are historians with doctorates and published research), most of us are novelists who prefer to write stories based around real events. Asking us to lecture on history is a bit like asking people who write hospital romances to remove your appendix. So why might people prefer to get their history from people like me than from experts who really know what they're talking about?

Having done it, I think it does make sense.

It turns out I do know quite a lot about James Brooke. Not as much as the man who wrote the definitive biography, which I read all those years ago, but more than people who are going to turn up to hear a talk at a Victorian Festival. But, and this is significant, I don't know all that much about Brooke. That definitive biography has so much information, so many facts, that it is practically unreadable. Professional historians, it often seems, can get so involved with the minutiae of their subject that they miss the wider story. What the public (by which I mean people without history degrees) want is a narrative. They don't want the bare 'facts' about Brooke, but they want his story. They want to know how a rather over-indulged young man, who flitted from one project to another as the fancy took him, ended up ruling (and, on balance, ruling rather well) his own private kingdom in Borneo. And that's what I can tell them, and what can sometimes get lost in the work of learned scholars.

Me, trying to prove I've done some research

Preparing a talk on Brooke's life differs from writing a novel because you have a responsibility not to simply make things up. There are historical novelists who will say that they never just invent stuff (though that must limit their ability to write dialogue, I always think). I make stuff up all the time. In fact, part of my talk was on the way that writers (including writers of non-fiction) started making stuff up about James Brooke even in his lifetime. But my talk was (as far as I know) entirely truthful. Making sure that all my facts were right was a bit of a shock to my system. I had to return to my notes, check things in books, and generally spend quite a bit of time on it. I was relieved to find that most of the detail in The White Rajah was accurate, but there were some bits of history I had changed for the convenience of the plot and then completely forgotten about the reality. At least, though, I only had to satisfy myself to my own satisfaction. Real historians (good ones at least) can't just read something somewhere in a book and take the writer's word for it. They have to chase up the original source and confirm that the book they read got it right. They have to look at alternative possible truths, or versions of the truth, and weigh them against each other and explain their reasons for coming down on one side or the other. It takes a long, long time and, in the end, people really don't care. The world is happy to believe that Alfred burned the cakes, Canute tried to turn back the tide and Harold died with an arrow in his eye. We don't want a detailed discussion of why the first of these is false, the second a misinterpretation of something that probably didn't happen anyway, and the third is argued about by real historians on, it seems, an almost daily basis. I have read the details of the negotiations that led to James Brooke being appointed Rajah of Sarawak and, trust me, you really don't want to know. They were, essentially, diplomatic negotiations which involved the competing interests of different elements in the court at Brunei, Brooke's personal interest and his perception of what would most further British influence in the region. They went on a very long time. Somewhere in all this, there was an attempt to poison Brooke, which isn't that important historically. In my talk you get told about the poisoning attempt and about the outcome of the negotiations. That's why people like me can be more interesting than some academic historians.

Does this mean that historical novelists should move into writing non-fiction about their periods? I'm not sure that it does.

My books about James Burke (a real person, so I'm stuck with the confusingly similar name) are set in the Napoleonic Wars. Besides reading non-fiction about the period, I read Bernard Cornwell's wonderful series of books about the fictional Richard Sharpe. They provide a lovely feel for the period and the brutal realities of soldiering. It seemed perfectly natural, then, that when I wanted to study the battle of Waterloo for Burke at Waterloo, I should read Cornwell's non-fiction Waterloo. I'm picking on Cornwell because he is hugely successful and big enough to take it and Waterloo has garnered a lot of 5* reviews on Amazon, so it obviously provides many readers with exactly what they want. But it really, really isn't the place to go if you want a historically accurate account of the details of the battle. There are hundreds of historians who will tell you exactly who was doing what that fateful afternoon. I went to a two-day conference on Waterloo at which I listened to a brilliant talk by a man who has spent at least three years just researching the events at La Haye Sainte, the farm in the centre of the battlefield. I'll go to Cornwell for a general overview of what it might have been like for a rifleman there, but I'll go to a professional historian for an analysis of the type of ammunition used by the Brunswickers in their defence of La Haye Sainte.

Am I right to avoid non-fiction? Perhaps not. The suggestion of that editor all those years ago gets repeated every now and then, most recently by a publisher I definitely respect. Do any of my readers here (including those who write historical fiction) have their own views that they might share? Please comment on this page if you have.

For now, at any rate, I'm back to writing fiction, this time in the Peninsular Campaign. I've been spending a lot of time with maps of Spain and contemporary accounts of troop positions and lines of march, but James Burke's adventures with the guerrillas do not feature in any history I've read. I am, though, available to talk about the real historical background to all of my books. Not everywhere is as lovely and as broke as the Llandrindod Wells Victorian Festival, so I'm not necessarily free, but let me know if you're interested and we can sort something out. Contact me at jamesburke.confidentialagent@gmail.com.