Death is not always the end.
A journey into the Afterlife with King Richard III
Today, I have the lovely Marla Skidmore sitting round my pool talking about... well let Marla tell us. In the meantime, do help yourself to a glass of bubbly and settle in one of the comfortable loungers.
It's all your Marla....
Thank you so much Pauline for inviting me to contribute to your Blog and for the opportunity to tell your readers about my book. ‘Renaissance – The Fall and Rise of a King,’ is my debut novel. To my delight, it became a winner in the fiction category of the Georgina Hawtrey-Woore ‘Words for the Wounded’ National Writing Prize for 2018 and in addition was reviewed by Helen Hollick’s highly respected ‘Discovering Diamonds’ team of Bloggers and awarded their logo.
Once again, the Medieval Festival Season is upon us – Barnet, Tewkesbury and Bosworth are all taking place within the next few weeks – sadly this year the Richard III Festival at Middleham Castle has been cancelled, but the organizers assure us that it will be back again in 2020. Since the discovery of King Richard III’s grave and his reburial in Leicester Cathedral these events have a special poignancy for all Ricardians.
Last August I attended the Bosworth Festival for the first time as an author and had an amazing time – giving readings from my novel , answering questions and meeting so many wonderful and enthusiastic people – all of whom knew their Wars of the Roses history – it was also enormous fun having lively and good natured debates with Tudor supporters – I even managed to get a couple of them to rethink their opinion of King Richard – and they also bought my book! At this point I would also like to express my gratitude to the lovely group of Indie Authors – Facebook friends - whom I met up with at Bosworth - their encouragement, guidance and advice made what initially was going to be a daunting prospect, a hugely enjoyable event for this novice
Betrayed and savagely slaughtered on Bosworth Field, Richard’s body was unceremoniously buried in the Quire of the Greyfriars monastery church in Leicester. When it, like most monasteries, became a casualty of Henry VIII’s Reformation and was destroyed in 1536, a persistent rumour arose - that Richard’s remains were tossed from Bow Bridge into the River Soar – never to be seen again. Their whereabouts remained one of history’s enduring mysteries - until Philippa Langley, screenwriter and Richard III researcher, made it her mission to find his burial place. The miraculous discovery of his grave, beneath the letter ‘R’ in a Leicester city car park, ignited a debate about where he should be reinterred - it raged on for over two years – his final resting place was to be in Leicester Cathedral much to the disappointment of many - what was of the most importance to most Ricardians however, was that at last England’s last warrior king has a fitting tomb – something that was denied him by Henry Tudor at the time of his death.
In the late summer of 2014, I met with a group of old university friends for our usual quarterly get together in York. Scientific testing done by Leicester University had by then confirmed that the re-discovered remains were indeed those of King Richard III. The myth of the deformed hunchback king with the withered arm had been exploded - most of us were rather sceptical anyway - about that and the villainous image of Richard created by the Tudor propaganda machine and accepted by numerous traditional historians.
During lunch, the topic of his reburial place came up in our conversation. It was generally accepted that as an anointed king, he ought to be reburied in Westminster Abbey, or in York Minster – believed to be his preferred choice. During a quiet moment, I found myself speculating about Richard’s reaction to the current controversy - if he were alive - and also to the defiling of his reputation. Another member of the group, a fellow Ricardian and a highly respected Medieval historian - being aware of my love of weaving stories - challenged me to write one about him. Her words were: “write about Richard - in blue jeans – bring him into the 21st century.” She had sown the seed – fragments of a story began to circulate in my mind - but there was so much already written about Richard III – fiction and non-fiction. How to entice historical fiction readers into reading my story and avoid a ‘not another book about Richard III!’ reaction, was the problem I was facing. To solve it, I knew that an entirely different perspective was required - so I made the decision to begin my novel where most books about him end - with his death on Bosworth Field.
To enable readers to witness the key events in Richard’s life, I took a new approach – set the story in the framework of his own recollections in the Afterlife. On regaining consciousness on the bloody plain of Redemore, he is fearful and bewildered to find himself still alive. His gaze takes in the carnage surrounding him to see Henry Tudor standing triumphant over a mauled and battered corpse – which to his utter horror turns out to be his own. And so, the reader is taken with Richard on a harrowing journey of atonement, accompanied by his celestial mentor, Father Gilbert, a Franciscan monk. During this journey he tries to come to terms with actions he took, their consequences and the legacy of the Tudor Propaganda machine, which turned him into one of the worst villains in history.
I try to take readers into the medieval mindset – where Heaven, Hell, Purgatory and the Garden of Eden are all utterly real – give them a look into Richard’s psyche – to see the king pared down to the tough uncompromising man behind the crown; and also to see the torment of a soul who believes that his honour and reputation have been defiled and forever destroyed.
The concept of a soul in Purgatory is not new – Dante Ailghieri’s epic poem, ‘The Divine Comedy’ which was written in the 14th century, tells of his own soul’s journey through hell, guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil. The second part of his poem ‘Purgatorio’ gave me the idea for the setting of ‘Renaissance.’ Dante with Virgil as his guide, climbs up the seven levels of suffering and spiritual growth that make up Mount Purgatory, until he finally reaches the earthly paradise of Eden. Allegorically Purgatorio symbolises the penitent Christian and Eden represents the attainment of the state of innocence that existed before Adam and Eve fell from Grace – which Dante’s journey represents. In my novel Richard, with the guidance of Father Gilbert, achieves Eden but is then unwilling to take the final step to heaven; Gilbert makes him examine the reasons for his reluctance which results in Richard becoming a witness to the reburial of his rediscovered remains in Leicester Cathedral, where he is faced with one final and very crucial decision that will affect his soul’s destiny throughout all eternity. By setting my novel in the Afterlife I was able to make a dead man speak – tell the reader himself what led him to that fateful battle on the 22nd August 1485.
I’ve also attempted to tackle History’s biggest murder mystery – whilst researching for the book, I came across some little known detail – held in the archives of St George’s Chapel, Windsor – which allows me to give, what I think to be a plausible answer to the question of ‘who killed the princes in the Tower?’
Finally, in the writing of ‘Renaissance,’ a number of questions arose – about history – how we perceive it, how it is written and portrayed and there is also the question of an Afterlife – if it exists – how does a soul deal with the besmirching of his/her reputation after death – in Richard’s case – when there is no one left to defend it. With my novel I wanted to do my own small part in trying to redress the balance – the victor always writes history – for too long the image of Richard Plantagenet has been painted the deepest black.
About the Author
Marla grew up in a small medieval city in North Yorkshire where she met and married her soldier husband. For a number of years, they lived a typical military life – in various postings around Europe and the UK – until she returned home to study for a degree – she emerged with a dual Honours degree in English and History and a Master’s degree in Literature and went on to become a College Lecturer.
Having dabbled in short-story writing and poetry, since her university days, she began her first novel – a romantic murder mystery set during the Peninsula Wars - when a serious health issue forced her to take a prolonged career break. It was put aside when King Richard III’s grave was rediscovered. ‘Renaissance – The Fall and Rise of a King,’ is the end result. Promising herself that she would immediately return to her earlier novel once ‘Renaissance,’ was written. Marla finds herself diverted again. During her research about the life of Richard III, she became fascinated by the myths surrounding his greatest friend. Francis Viscount Lovell – a man of peace who turned implacable avenger after Bosworth – fanning the flames of rebellion against Henry Tudor.
When not writing, she can be found enthusiastically grubbing around in her large garden, clambering around ancient ruins and taking long walks with her West Highland Terrier, Stanley, in the North Yorkshire Dales.
Social Media Links:
Website (work in progress) https://www.marlaskidmore.co.uk/
https://www.mybook.to/TheRiseofaKing (universal link)