The Truth and Myths of Thomas Cromwell

The Truth and Myths of Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, Lord Privy Seal of England, has enjoyed a revival as a popular Tudor character in recent years after being reshaped into a hero. But was Thomas Cromwell ever a villain? After his execution in 1540, all mention of Cromwell falls away, only to be plucked from the archives in the 1950s and made in the villain who brought about all the Protestant changes made by Henry VIII. Did Cromwell really do all this work on his own? Was he a religious fanatic? How does a common-born man come out of nowhere to rise to the top of English society in one decade? Simply, Cromwell didn’t; he had a remarkable tale before he was noticed by Henry VIII.

A child born in Putney, to common parents, suffering poverty and violence?

Much of Cromwell’s childhood has been imagined or created from basic details, as there hasn’t been a lot of information available until now. It’s nice to think of a boy shrugging off his low-born life and escaping to Europe. But the story is more complex.

Born in around 1485, Cromwell’s father was an Irishman named Walter Cromwell alias Smith, a yeoman of many trades, particularly running an alehouse, and before the court 47 times in fifteen years for breaking the assize of ale (other words, selling ale overpriced, poor quality, etc). Cromwell’s mother was Katherine Meverell, and the Meverells of Throwley were a gentry family, making Cromwell little higher in life than assumed. Throughout this life Cromwell did favours for the Meverells and their relatives, giving them plum positions wherever they lived. Cromwell’s parents were kindly people, not cruel as sometimes portrayed.

Cromwell never forgot where he came from, or who he knew. A local boy named Thomas Megges grew up to be one of Cromwell’s many proteges, as did Thomas Mundy, all Putney boys who were of school age together. When Cromwell got elevated to the peerage in 1536, he was made Baron of Wimbledon, and his wealth and lands grew right through the very area where he was born. His wife was a Putney girl, his sisters and their families paramount throughout Cromwell’s life.

The ruffian’s “lost years’ in Italy?

The word ruffian gets used far too often when describing Cromwell, but it’s the only word Cromwell himself used to describe his childhood behaviour, and Eustace Chapuys wrote that Cromwell admitted to time in prison before leaving Putney. In approximately 1500, young Cromwell did leave Putney in search of adventure, but his time in Italy is documented through records, business transactions and by an Italian novelist named Matteo Bandello. Rather than fleeing his father, Cromwell took a place as a mercenary in the French army, who were sent to fight the Battle of Gagliano, Naples, on 29 December 1503. The French lost, as were France’s hopes forever in Naples, but Cromwell survived the killing and made his way to Florence. Cromwell was found on the streets of Florence, starving and homeless by Francesco Frescobaldi, head of a wealthy mercantile family, who was amazed to find a fluent English speaker on the streets. The novelist tells a great tale of how Cromwell is taken into the Frescobaldi family.

Cromwell had found a home with Frescobaldi, who smuggled goods from Egypt and the Ottomans into northern Europe, making huge sums in the process, even in league with King Henry VII, making England wealthy. Cromwell learned the art of trading wool and wine and had the chance to travel to the Low Countries to attend trade fairs. Francesco’s brother Leonardo traded out of Southampton, giving Cromwell valuable contacts for a new life back in England. Cromwell made many friends and business allies for the next 30 years. Cromwell also met John Hacket in Calais in 1505, and George Elyot in 1512, both in the Low Countries, giving him access to a wide range of people. By this time, the men were all corresponding as close friends in fluent French. After ten years in the Frescobaldi’s employ, Cromwell lived in Florence and Antwerp, learned Italian, Spanish and “self-consciously elegant” Latin, learned how to defraud the Pope by smuggling goods, learned to chase down debtors in the Low Countries, became at ease with the snobbery of the cloth trade, and created a huge web of friends and colleagues, none of whom he ever forgot. Cromwell started vast libraries of books, with many of the greatest Italian and humanist works of the era in his collections. He was the Italianate-Englishman and determined to be the best Italian in England in 1514. But records also show Cromwell back in Rome in 1514, working as a London-based lawyer in a dispute, and for the next five years, made himself a tidy sum working as a lawyer between London and Rome, despite having undertaken no legal training.

In his time in England between Roman visits, Cromwell married Elizabeth Wykes in around 1519, with their son Gregory born in about 1520. Cromwell also had a ward, Ralph Sadler, living in his house as his own son, and nurtured his sister’s son Richard, who took on Cromwell’s surname. By 1523, Cromwell had leased Austin Friars, a manor in the heart of the Italian community of London, had two more children, Anne and Grace. He could live a wealthy life as a lawyer and merchant. But more lay ahead – Cromwell got himself elected into parliament in 1523, at a time when parliament rarely opened, his first speech advising against Henry VIII’s possible war with France.

A sulking, unknown fixer and monastery-destroyer for Cardinal Wolsey?

In 1524, Cromwell was admitted to the bar, recognised as a lawyer by Gary’s Inn in London. He had worked for noblemen, clergymen and merchants in his time, so to be recommended to Cardinal Wolsey was no surprise. But Wolsey needed someone special; he needed money and he needed a man who could fight his way through prolonged legal issues. Failing monasteries needed to be inspected and closed, to finance Wolsey’s vanity projects – large colleges built in his name, the completion of Hampton Court Palace, and the finishing of a giant tomb made by revered Italian tradesmen. Cromwell could well deal with Italians, but closing monasteries brought him into physical and legal battles with the gentry and the locals alike. Yet Cromwell emerged with even more people to add to his ever-widening group of friends who wrote to him throughout the rest of his life.

During this time, Cromwell met many men interested in evangelical reform. While he worked for a cardinal and kept his religious affiliations quiet, Cromwell aided Reformation leaders and had them installed the new Cambridge College, helping reformers such as Thomas Cranmer, Robert Barnes and Miles Coverdale, all men who would feature in Cromwell’s rise and downfall.

Cromwell’s relationship with Thomas Wolsey grew in the short five years they worked side by side, this brought Cromwell into contact with many noblemen such as the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk and met his friend-turned-nemesis Stephen Gardiner, a friendship that would spiral out of control in later years.

Abandoning his closest friend for personal gain?

Did Cromwell step over Wolsey’s body to take his place beside the king? Absolutely not. Wolsey was Henry VIII’s closest friend and Lord Chancellor of England. When Henry decided he needed a marriage annulment, it was Wolsey’s job to procure the desired legal and ecclesiastical paperwork. Anne Boleyn would take Katherine of Aragon’s place, but Anne was only single because Wolsey forbade her marriage to Henry Percy of Northumberland years before. Anne Boleyn hated Wolsey and vice versa.

A legatine court needed to be set up, the judges Wolsey, and Cardinal Campeggio from Italy. Here Cromwell could again be helpful. But 1529 would not be a kind year, as Cromwell had lost his wife and daughters to sweating sickness and Gregory was sent away for his education. Anne Boleyn was ready to be queen, Henry wanted Katherine ousted, and Wolsey and Campeggio simply couldn’t make the charges against Katherine stick. Cromwell stood by and watch Wolsey fail in the most public arena the 16th century had witnessed. When Henry denounced Wolsey and banished him 200 miles north to York, Cromwell had to stay in London. But he did not advance himself, rather Cromwell dared to face the king and beg for Wolsey’s return to power and favour. Crowmell did a good job too, softening Henry’s angry heart, but Wolsey’s greed got the better of him, and even Cromwell’s brilliant mind could not save him, nor could he be with Wolsey when he died of illness in Leicester in November 1529. But King Henry had seen Cromwell now, saw what he could do. Cromwell also put his contacts to work, and got himself into parliament in late 1529, the first sitting in almost seven years, and tried to build a new life out of grief. All he had worked for had gone; his family was dead, Wolsey was disgraced and dead, and his own legal practice had dried up due to busy times with the cardinal. In this time, Cromwell had a brief affair with an unknown woman, resulting in the birth of his daughter Jane, While illegitimate, Cromwell paid for Jane’s quality care and upbringing for the rest of his life.

Cromwell made being gay illegal?

In 1533, Cromwell did write the Buggery Act, a law designed to hurt men accused of the crime of sodomy. The law was created as an easy way to arrest men, primarily priests, as there was never any evidence to submit, and those arrested could not defend themselves. It was used to destroy men who would not submit to Henry’s new church, rather than what happened in bedrooms around England. Buggery was an immoral sin, but now also a legal crime, punishable by death.

A meteoric rise to power as Anne Boleyn’s “man?”

Suddenly the king needed a new man at his side, and he called on Thomas Cromwell. But he was not an unknown to many; the Attorney-General sang his praises, his friend Stephen Gardiner was to be the king’s secretary, and ambassadors across Europe had already worked with him in the past. Cromwell was 45 years old when he caught the king’s eye and was no stranger, but a well-travelled and well-skilled man of many trades.

The Pope would never allow Henry to marry Anne Boleyn. Cromwell’s plans were simple; bypass the Church completely and start a Royal Supremacy over religion. He had his friend Thomas Cranmer elevated to be the archbishop, declared Henry the Leader of the Church in England, and ruled that the clergymen of England had to swear allegiance to Henry instead of the Pope or risk losing their heads. It was a pragmatic solution to a problem Henry could not solve in usual channels. Cromwell promised to make Henry the richest man in England and Henry was sold on Cromwell’s unorthodox plan. This allowed the Reformation to take hold in England, and by having Catholic men like Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher killed, the Pope’s voice began to lose its power. To everyone who already knew Thomas Cromwell, none of this came as a surprise. But the nobles, in places of power due to birth and ancient customs were stunned by this new man.

Cromwell and Cranmer worked together, creating Henry as the Head of the Church, able to end his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Cromwell wanted the Reformation in England; he could even recite much of the New Testament by heart. Anne Boleyn wanted the Reformation so she could be queen, and yet Cromwell was not “Queen Anne’s man,” not in truth. For Cromwell loathed Anne and her family but had her married to Henry in 1533 anyway, Queen Katherine banished to the country. When Anne produced a daughter and then miscarriages, Henry wanted out and Cromwell had no qualms about destroying another queen. Over the course of 1530 – 1536, Cromwell did not hesitate in doing the king’s bidding. It was business, it was a pragmatic approach to issues that arose. Now the King’s Chief Minister, the Principal Secretary, Vicegerent of Religious Matters and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Cromwell had England in his grip. But not all his new laws were terrible; many helped cities with water, sewage, and food for the poor. Cromwell fed 200 people twice daily from his own kitchens. He passed laws making sure churches helped the homeless and jobless, he changed tax laws meaning the noblemen and merchants paid to fund alms-houses. Cromwell walked a tightrope like no one else.

Cromwell made up lies about Anne Boleyn to kill her?

In 1536, Henry wanted a new wife and Cromwell had the task of destroying Queen Anne. Queen Katherine had just died of cancer, and Queen Anne had lost another child; Henry could wait no more. No man called to sit in judgement of Anne for crimes could go against the king, and Cromwell’s best friend Cranmer was Archbishop of Canterbury. Cromwell had allies all over court and country, and Anne did not. It is unknown who suggested Anne was unfaithful, Henry or Cromwell. But Henry did show genuine shock when he heard Anne was found guilty of seducing four men, plus the extra charge of incest with her brother. The plan could have been a possible slander of adulterous rumours which blew out of control when people got nervous. A legal mind like Cromwell could easily spin any testimony to sound like Anne Boleyn was a witch. Did Cromwell orchestrate Anne’s death? He did. Did he show remorse? Not in any outward sense, though to go through the whole process could not have been easy for any man to bear. Once Anne was buried, Cromwell assumed her father’s role in as Lord Privy Seal of England, giving him wide-ranging powers in every respect.

The Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion was all Cromwell’s fault?

In late 1536, as Henry basked in the glow of his new wife Queen Jane, upwards of 40,000 men marched toward London, demanding to be a Catholic nation again. Their enemy? Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell’s had been back to his old tricks – closing monasteries in order to reap the financial gain, albeit the money went in Henry’s pocket, not his own. Henry loved destroying the Catholic Church’s power and taking their lands and wealth. Cromwell’s inspectors raided monasteries, abbeys and convents across England and Wales, calling them houses of sin, fraud and debauchery. Relics and shrine were pulled down, unnecessary under Reformation prayer. Cromwell’s new laws were the cause of the rebellion, and he wore the blood of the over 200 clergymen, nobles and commoners executed when the rebellion got quashed during sporadic fighting between October 1536 and March 1537.

But 1537 wasn’t a total loss for Cromwell. His investment in Jane Seymour’s womb paid dividends when she gave birth to Prince Edward. Sadly, Jane’s death was as hard on Cromwell as anyone. Just three months before Queen Jane’s death, Cromwell married his son Gregory to Jane’s sister, Lady Elizabeth. Gregory’s sons were first cousins to the prince, but after Queen Jane died, all the glory the Cromwell’s could have won also died away.

Gregory Cromwell – rapist?

A tricky truth/myth to dispel. In autumn 1538, Cromwell was busy with the White Rose trials, having the final men of Plantagenet blood arrested and executed. But in Lewes, where Gregory Cromwell lived with his wife Elizabeth, their new-born son, and another son on the way, a scandal emerged, and Gregory’s father stepped in when the situation became grave. Bishop Sampson of Chichester wrote a letter stating that Gregory could go to church for punishment for a serious offence. Bishops could only demand punishment for heresy and sexual crimes. Gregory was no religious man and heresy was not in his nature. That only led to one other cause. Having sex with maids was considered a routine sin in Tudor times, but a sexual charge requiring clerical punishment was considered serious, such as rape or buggery. Gregory angrily refused a light punishment and refused to accept what happened. What did happen? The crime is not recorded, but in doing this very simple acknowledgement in church, it meant Gregory could avoid “the possibility of further business.” Gregory’s “honesty” was affected, and so ruined his wife’s “reputation.” At the same time, Lady Elizabeth wrote to Cromwell in London and said she would no longer live under the same roof as Gregory, and she moved away. Gregory and Elizabeth did not reunite for more than six months. After spending a fortune to set up Gregory in Lewes Priory, Cromwell had to forfeit the lot and move Gregory and Elizabeth to Leeds Castle, where they patched up their marriage.

Cromwell brought about his own downfall when picking Anna of Cleves?

When Cromwell’s downfall came, it did not come from a gradual decline in power or a bolt from the blue, rather a strange mix. In April 1539, Cromwell fell ill and wrote to Henry of suffering an ague (malaria) and tertian fever (malaria fever that comes in waves every two/three days). This illness really struck a knife in the heart of Cromwell’s hard work. He had not long released the latest version of the bible, nicknamed the Cranmer Bible, though it was Cromwell’s bible; he and Cranmer were even on the cover. But when Cromwell fell ill, the Duke of Norfolk and many traditionalist clergymen in power got together and wrote the Six Articles, six points of clarification needed in religion, mostly around transubstantiation and clerical celibacy. While Cromwell was unable to move for a month, Cranmer watched hopelessly as the king took on board this Catholic doctrine and tried to mix them with the Reformation ideals. Religion was still a mess, and the Reformation took a big step backwards in a short time. Cromwell spent the rest of his life trying to undo the Six Articles. Archbishop Cranmer was forced to send away his German wife and daughter and never saw them again, lest they all be punished, possibly executed.

The King wanted a new wife, and Europe was low on princesses and duchesses available and/or willing. The best was Anna von mark, Duchess of Cleves. Anna’s brother, Duke Wilhelm of Julich-Cleves-Berg was like Henry; he was not strictly Catholic or a Lutheran, he was a middle way. But Anna’s sister Sybylla was married to the Elector of Saxony, a Lutheran German state with the powerful Schmalkalden (Protestant) League and an army. England needed allies and the Schmalkaldic League looked were perfect. But negotiations frequently stalled, and when Henry liked the look of Anna’s painting and agreed to marry her, the countries still had no alliance.

It took Anna two months to travel to England, and in that time, all hell broke loose. Duke Wilhelm laid claim to the duchy of Guelders, held by Emperor Charles V. Charles travelled to his lands in the Low Countries, and threatened war with Julich-Cleves-Berg if Wilhelm did not step back from Guelders. France, bordering these two, urged peace and wanted an alliance with the Emperor. Suddenly Europe’s largest Catholic nations were aligning, and Henry was aligned to Cleves by his marriage. Poor Anna had nothing to do with this, but by marrying her, and bedding her, Henry would be aligned to Anna’s brother and must be dragged into war. England would be decimated. To top it off, the Elector of Saxony still hadn’t aligned with Henry, so even the Schmalkaldic League would not necessarily be England’s ally.

By selecting Anna, Cromwell had accidentally brought England to the brink of war while Christendom hung in the balance. Cromwell was a brilliant legal mind, so Henry and Anna’s marriage contract was so tight nothing could be done. Henry was forced to marry Anna, or Cleves would turn against England, possibly alongside the Schmalkaldic army and all of Germany. But marrying Anna meant England became the enemy of the Holy Roman Empire and possibly France.

Henry’s dislike to Anna was obvious, but it was not all about her looks, rather she was the anchor to a war England couldn’t win. The men of Europe postured and moved troops around for months, by which time, Henry was totally infuriated, disgusted by Anna, and trapped in a scenario where no one would even write to England about the impending war. Henry needed to be free, he needed an annulment, and he needed someone to take the fall. But Henry had just given Cromwell the honour he always dressed of; Cromwell was now Earl of Essex and owner of lands that encompassed his beloved home town. Cromwell was a high-ranking nobleman, the Lord Great Chamberlain, Lord Privy Seal, Vicegerent of England and Ireland, Chancellor of the Exchequer, head statesman in the House of Lords and much more. But to show the Emperor that England was not a threat, someone needed to suffer.

Thomas Cromwell, traitor?

Cromwell was arrested on June 10, 1540, for being a traitor. He had said to Stephen Gardiner, one night at home at Austin Friars, that he would not turn from the Reformation, even if Henry did, Cromwell would fight the king if necessary. Angry words from a man who never seemed to recover from malaria. Was it treason? Technically yes, by Cromwell’s own laws of never speaking against the king. Cromwell’s long-time servant Thomas Wriothesley betrayed him and told the king that Cromwell was talking about Henry’s impotence, sending the king into a rage. More rumours were thrown on the pile – that Cromwell wanted to marry Princess Mary and become king, that Cromwell was colluding with extreme Lutherans in Zurich, and was a heretic by failing to enforce the Six Articles of religion. By laws Cromwell wrote in the early 1530s, a subject could be attainted without trial and sentenced to death. Cromwell was stripped of all titles, but Henry still allowed him to be beheaded, rather than more horrific penalties. In his prison cell, Cromwell wrote out all the paperwork needed to prove that Henry was not truly married to Anna due to her pre-contract in childhood, plus lack of consummation and lack of inward consent. Once the paperwork was done, Cromwell lost his head on July 28; all he worked for scattered to the wind as Henry married Katherine Howard. Gregory and Elizabeth, plus Richard Cromwell, Ralph Sadler, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Wyatt, and countless more mourned the loss of Cromwell, but many rejoiced.

It was said Henry regretted the loss of Cromwell within a month of the arrest; Cromwell was still in the Tower when the king realised how much Cromwell did every day (while putting up with Henry’s atrocious leg smell), but it was too late to back down. By Christmas, Henry was angry at his councillors for lying about Cromwell’s crimes. Henry nor England really saw any kind of success after that, and no man could hold Cromwell’s position, instead, dozens were brought in to fill the void. Henry died a fat old man and Cromwell was forgotten, all except for one portrait of him, hidden away and saved for us today.

To commemorate the anniversary of Cromwell’s unjust execution, I am having a free kindle promo on Amazon worldwide from July 27 – July 31. Both novels in the Queenmaker Series, Frailty of Human Affairs, and Shaking the Throne, all about Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi, will be free to download. Book three, the final chapter of Cromwell’s life, No Armour Against Fate, will be available from November 1.

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AUGUST SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Fatal Sunset’ by Jason Webster

In the hills above Valencia is a notorious nightclub called Sunset. When its larger-than-life owner, Jose Luis, dies suddenly, everyone assumes it was a heart attack. Perfectly understandable for a man of his age, size and lifestyle.

Meanwhile, all is not well for Max Cámara at HQ. His new boss, Rita Hernández, has it in for him and his idiosyncratic methods. He must abandon a complex investigation into home-grown extremism to check out what looks like a routine death at Sunset. But an anonymous phone call suggests otherwise…

Back in the city, Max’s journalist girlfriend, Alicia, is working on a lead that could turn out to be the story of her career. How her own investigation connects with Max’s at Sunset, and an unholy network of drug dealers, priests and shady officials protecting a dark government secret, will place both their lives in jeopardy and push everything to the very edge.

~~

(Before I begin – I make no apology for being MIA with Spain book reviews. I didn’t see anything I wanted to read for months. Admittedly, I didn’t look too hard. If I missed something worth reading, leave me a comment)

What can I say about Max Cámara. Fatal Sunset is the sixth book in the series (I’ve reviewed the others here) and the author has decided to really mix things up this time. Fatal Sunset is longer than the previous books, which is a nice bonus, taking in a far bigger plot than in the past. 

Cámara is a Valencian cop who was in Barcelona during the last book, another was based in Albacete. This time he is back in his home city, and out in the Sierra Calderona, the mountains outside Spain, aka my favourite place on Earth and the location of three of my own books, so I was thrilled to get into this novel.

The book starts off from the point of view of the victim, and gets weird fast. Page 2 has the guy reminiscing about his childhood, watching water run along the insides of his mother’s thighs as she washes her ‘down there’ (dude! wtf). But it’s okay, because he’s a victim and is dispatched.

Off to Max Cámara himself, back at the station in Valencia, and wow, he is a changed man. Cámara used to be a likeable, pragmatic rogue, breaking all the rules (in a city/country which was so riddled it didn’t matter). But that guy seems to have withered with age. The world is changing, and at least attempting to clean house, and the women now in charge of the station want everything done properly, not rude, not disrespectful, not wasteful or illegal. Only Cámara doesn’t agree. Cámara seems to go out of his way to be difficult right from the very beginning. He’s handled some high profiles cases in the past and now has developed one hell of an ego. Congrats to the author; it would have easy to just pump out another book with the same old character traits, but Webster hasn’t taken the easy route or written a flawless character.

Cámara likes to continuously point out that he comes from a long line of anarchists, like his wonderful grandfather, and how he likes the disorder and defiance that comes with being an anarchist. Only it doesn’t work for Cámara anymore. He is middle-aged; what he learned as a kid, and was influenced by family, isn’t so important, for now he has had plenty of time to develop his own ideals; he could be a grandfather himself. Cámara isn’t aspiring to be a good anarchist to make granddaddy proud, rather he is a breed of man, breed of cop, which is dying out, and he is rebelling against everything, like an angry kid.

Fatal Sunset bounces between characters for its point of view with every chapter, with enough characters to rival a Games of Thrones book. There is Alicia, Cámara’s girlfriend (girlfriend? She’s middle-aged too. Sidekick maybe), who is, as usual, digging up conspiracies and stories but seems to achieve little, which is a shame.  As Cámara and Alicia works to solve murders and unearth conspiracies, they never work together that well. We get to hear about how she makes breakfast half-naked, or the way her thighs wrinkle when she puts on pants, but Alicia is not a strong character anymore. She has also undergone a transformation, much like Cámara; failure to adapt has also left Alicia misplaced in the world.

However, there is Carlos, the ‘bad guy’, who is digging up stuff on Alicia, and Cámara by association. Carlos is a stiff, self-inflated guy, but the trouble is, he is better at what he does than Cámara and Alicia. The ‘bad guys’ are ruthlessly efficient, where as Cámara is an old-style detective in a new world and seems to succeed with luck as much as with experience.

But the whole theme of old v. new shines through in the short-burst chapters which flick between characters. There is no denying that policing (and the world) is changing around Cámara; the days of sitting around eating paella with his buddy Torres are done. The seedy elements of Valencia, and Spain in general, gives a feeling that the place is as stale as the endless cigarettes. Webster has done a fine job in setting the tone and the vibe of everyone and everything. It’s hard to be specific without giving away the big scandals Cámara and Alicia find (no spoilers here!) but there is a sense that if Cámara didn’t spend so much thinking about himself and how he liked to be different, he could have been more successful. Sometimes it is easier to bring something down by playing by your opponent’s rules rather than your own. Cámara never really figures that out, or at least, never gives it a try. Webster has made a character you want to see succeed, but also want to ring his sweaty neck. Kudos on that score.

There was one passage that stuck out for me, pg 193

Either side of the bag strap, her breasts hung low on her chest, nipples splayed to the sides. Below, her belly was taut and firm, yet the skin sagged in small crescents beneath the navel, where he first airs of her pubis crept up, heralds of the dark silhouetted triangle of her sex. Cámara watched in awe. But for her age, and the signs of motherhood, she appeared like an embodiment of Artemis, the Moon goddess herself out hunting during the hours of night.

And this is just a sliver of the long description of the character. Really, Cámara, really? The characters in the book are all barely described, yet here Cámara is, in the countryside perving on women who run their land nudist-colony style. She could look like a goddess if only she didn’t have qualities that make women real, like age and being a parent? Really, Cámara? The constant descriptions of women as objects makes me feel uncomfortable while I read. I used to like you, Cámara, but you are practically ageing yourself out of the system with the sexism and casual homophobia. Women’s bodies are decorative features to be described for entertainment, and there are people who use words like ‘poof’, as if they were shot out of a cannon in the 50’s and landed in the 21st century by accident. Cámara is circling around a world that needs to change, whether people like it or not. The criminals are evolving, still scum, but evolving. Cámara needs to as well. Both he and Alicia are essentially good people, but this time have not done a great job with their investigations or behaviour.

Congratulations to Jason Webster for his latest installment; six novels based on one central character is no easy feat for a writer, and Webster has successfully moved the character into a new stage in his life in Fatal Sunset, rather than just churning out a book which could have just coasted on the success of previous editions. Thank you, Jason; I have not had a book in my hands that had me turning the pages this fast in a while, or thrown it in frustration at times. This book is certainly not a boring read.

If we see Cámara and Alicia for book seven, I hope they get a holiday first! Cámara needs to chill and eat rice again, but ease up on the marijuana – really, at your age, Max? Just don’t ever leave Alicia behind; a crime character with a steady relationship is rare (no rolling through women like he’s at a drive-thru for Max), and one main reason that sets Webster’s series apart from the generic crime series that are available. I have no interest in reading any crime series other than Webster’s.

Forget Words: It’s Numbers That Can Really Hurt You

Everyone is addicted to something – from the destructive to the sublime, we’re all hooked. You may dabble in the dark arts of alcohol or drugs, or the frivolous such as shoes or cupcakes. But many new addictions are internet based; just think of all those stupid game requests you get on Facebook. They must be popular, or would cease to exist. (Don’t ask me to name any, the ‘block’ function and I are tight).

Words – they can hurt, there’s no doubt. But now, so do numbers, because when used on the internet, they can hold far more validation than ever thought possible. Sure, your bank balance has had the power to inflate or deflate your ego since your first account opened, but numbers have taken on new meaning.

It’s an easy game to play. It can start simple; be part of a forum or FB group. Make comment/post and watch the numbers. How many people saw it? How many people commented? Sure, it may not matter. But sometimes, it can. Who is commenting, what are they saying, why are they saying it? How many people read what I had to say? But then, the important question – why does it suddenly matter?

For some people, it really matters. How many people are clicking on your website can be the difference between interacting with clients and making meaningful connections and income, or being out in Internet Siberia. For those who need those interactions as part of business, it’s a job to maintain contact and keep the numbers growing.

What if you don’t have that relationship with numbers? What if you write on your blogs/forum/group purely for the interaction with others, or purely so you have an outlet for your voice? Does it really matter how many people read what you wanted to share? No, it doesn’t. And yet, it’s so easy to become infatuated with the numbers, just like you did when you worried how many people would come to your birthday party as a kid. Writers (whether they admit it or not) are going to check their Amazon rating sometimes. Where are they ranked? How many books have been sold? And, in a hurtful turn, what the numbers of their ‘friends’ are.

I released a new book this week. Did I check the numbers? Hell yes, I did! In an unpleasant twist, something in my personal life arose and my opportunity to play the numbers game has been stripped back, along with my ability to promote the book. I consider this a good thing. Why? Apart from the vanity aspect of checking my own sales, the numbers game has no happy ending. What is the ‘desirable’ number of sales? And in what amount of time? I don’t have a set number of books I want to sell, a certain amount of money I need to make. This is my love, not my income. I learned from my previous two releases that there is no magic number of sales – at 100, 1000, 10000+ sales, the feeling of success did not increase. Also, no number of sales will ever impress anyone (because the reality is, unless you write and sell books, you won’t understand the whole process and reality of the industry. I’m not saying you are thick, it’s just one of those ‘learn as you experience it’ situations).

Then there is another number – book reviews. Be it Amazon, Goodreads, whatever, the number holds far more power than it should. In a day, a writer could receive five glowing reviews, which raises a smile, an ego stroke. They can then also receive a bad review, and that ONE will reduce them to a mess. Don’t say it doesn’t. Sure, it gets easier over time, but the initiation of receiving that solitary number can hold power. Why? Validation, or lack thereof, I suppose. After working your ass off for a year, not just with a storyline, but with the shitty ‘rules’ of the English language, having someone tell you that you suck dog’s balls isn’t pleasant. (That hasn’t actually happened to me, but the fear constantly looms.) That’s another reality of writing – you bleed your soul onto pages and let people take shots at you. Naked marathon running would be more private. A constant reply for this pain is – ‘you can’t please everyone’. It’s true, but doesn’t help at all. It just doesn’t.

I’m tired of the numbers game. I refused to give numbers power at the beginning of the writing process, and refuse to let others hurt me with their games. It is entirely possible to avoid the numbers game, and many people do. I gave up forum posting years ago, when ‘why does your stuff gets more views/comments than mine’ mind-games with users wore me down. My blogging and online fiction websites manage to hold their own, and their numbers are private. Judge me not! The fact the content is entirely written by me, and/or about my work brings tremendous happiness, regardless of the numbers. There is no pressure (other than to blog more, sorry about being useless recently). I noticed a friend published her blog stats not long ago, it was about 30 individual hits a day, and she was pleased. I said – congrats! Why? Her post spoke of happiness, and a lack of expecting 300, 3000 or 30000 hits a day. But will it stay that way? It’s easy to get addicted to popularity; humans have been doing it since one caveman had more artistic flair on the cave walls than the rest of the clan.

What’s the point here? I’ll tell you. If you are feeling empowered by the numbers that your work generates, it can be dangerous. If the game is hurting you, then you have the exact same problem. Too much emphasis is being put on numbers, and if your happiness is dependent/conditional on anything, then it will never be real happiness. It will be finite, given to you by people who are essentially strangers, and it could all disappear in a flash. If it’s hurting you, then run. I have just released a book where I threw out the ‘rules’ and made myself happy. The numbers can’t tell me I was wrong to do that, because this time, I’m actually happy with my work, and proud of that fact. Numbers can’t take that away. But, of course, I am appreciative to everyone who has been purchasing lately.

I shall now go back to writing about digging up historical graves in Valencia, and enjoy it, regardless of how many people eventually read it.

READ MY BOOK

READ MY BOOK

READ MY BOOK

PLEEEEEEEASE!

(I’m kidding, I couldn’t resist)

No feelings will be harmed by the comments or views of this post

Ten Things I Learned About Writing

Yes, I do actually do things other than try recipes, or write about visiting Spain. Here are my ten very unscientific tips for writing, written in my slightly rant-like prose, complete with gifs.

1) It’s okay to write for women

When I started writing, I must admit that I didn’t think about my target audience. I started simply writing for whoever wanted to read free stuff on the internet. As it turned out, my site filled with free reads had 3247 subscribers, all of them women. When I then went out and wrote Nights, all my readers and reviewers (that I know of) were women. I didn’t care in the least. Then, I wrote BITVS, and men started to read my work, and they didn’t always like it. It was ‘girly’, too ‘feminine’, too ‘geared towards what a woman would do’. (Disclaimer – not all men thought these things.) Duh, many of the characters are women! The main characters are women. I am a woman, so yes, how a woman would react to a situation is relevant. I had this discussion with a lot of people and they gave varying answers, from ‘don’t worry about it’, to ‘you alienate male readers who want to read about the subject’. It did cause me to doubt my work. But my husband, the world’s most relaxed person, said, ‘you’re a woman. Women like what you write. Women make up half the world’s population and buy a lot of books. If you write for women, then it sounds like you’re winning’. So, I’m going with that. Men are welcome to read my writing but if my work seems geared towards women, so be it. Women like to read and like lead female characters who have brains.

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2) I write about love… because the subject can still be explored

I make no apologies for writing about love. I write about war, and death, and violence, and drugs, and pain… and love. Everyone wants to be loved, have love, make love. Love comes in so many varieties. Someone blasted my work, saying it was boring to have characters besotted with one another. Hello! Of course they are besotted, they just met. Two people in a new relationship are going to be besotted; they aren’t looking for the commitment/companion type of love that a couple of 50 years have. If you have yet to experience love that makes you feel bewitched, you haven’t lived. The love that comes from a solid relationship is wonderful, it’s intimate, trustworthy, steady and reliable. But no one starts out with that; love starts out as a rollercoaster that leaves you feeling shaken. I write about all forms of love, from male and female points of view, and if you find love boring, you’re simply expressing it and receiving incorrectly.

Dave

3) People asking questions always sucks because nothing is ever good enough

This theory could be applied anywhere in life. When you are writing, people want to know when the book will be done, what it’s about, etc, etc. Then you publish, and the questions instantly go to what you will be doing next. The initial book is already forgotten, because ‘more’ is always needed. It’s like being in a relationship, and the questioning about marriage comes up. As soon as you’re married, the questions about having kids starts instead. What comes after that? No one asks if you’re going to be getting a divorce. With writing, there is no limit, so people keep asking about more books, making more money and having your worked adapted for the big screen. “You’re published… but how many have you sold?”  That question annoys me. What number is ‘good enough’? Nothing seems to be good enough, not at the first 100, the first 1000, or the first 5000… you get the idea. The pressure never seems to end. It’s important to remember what your own goals were and if you achieved them.

4) Friends won’t necessarily support what you write

I never expected every person I know to bankroll my writing success. Never. But there are two things to remember –

a) Some people don’t like to read, or don’t like to read the genre you write. Don’t feel bad that they have no interest in your work other than a polite congratulations. I understood this from the beginning, however, I can see how others could feel offended by people who had no intention to hurt them.

b) Beware of false friends. Writing a book can attract others who have similar ideas. Writing friends can be eager to know what you’re doing and praise you and your efforts, but they could be lying. People lie, everywhere, every day. I had a ‘friend’ whose constant criticism knew no bounds. Her own writing became stuck in a wasteland and she seemed truly offended when I made an attempt to publish. She has done nothing but criticise every single thing I have written since. The world has enough nastiness on its own  – don’t give time and air to people who are jealous and ruin the writing that makes you happy.

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5) Being defensive is part of the job

The last point brings me to the next point – criticism. It’s everywhere. The internet is filled with trolls who have no concept of the hurt they spread. While criticising writing is small compared with some of the stupid, ignorant and misogynistic material available in the world, it still hurts. You can’t please everyone. Everyone knows and accepts this, but still, criticism hurts. A lot. Every. Time. You. Receive. It. No matter how many times you tell yourself it’s inevitable, and no matter how many times people tell you forget it, you don’t. You can’t. It’s natural. Everyone gets bothered by negativity, and that makes you human, especially when you have poured your heart and soul into something, and sacrificed things to do the best you can. You’re not perfect, and the person who is (virtually) wiping their ass with your work isn’t perfect either. It’s okay to feel hurt. Will it help you write in the future? Probably not, it will probably whisper in your ear and make you feel insecure with your next book. Constructive criticism comes with proven tips; but most criticism is just drivel that should, but can’t be, forgotten. Write anyway.

AND IF YOU WRITE DIALOGUE IN A WAY THAT ISN’T “THE QUEEN’S GODDAMN PERFECT ENGLISH”, IN ORDER TO MAKE IT SOUND REALISTIC, GOOD FOR YOU. SCREW PEOPLE WHO PICK ON YOUR CHOICES.

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6) Planning can be useful and pointless

A story needs a plan, otherwise it veers off in any old direction and you end up with chapters that don’t let the story flow. That is writing 101. However, it’s the planning of time that I found to be useless. My time to write is at a premium; I don’t have designated time, or have much time on my hands. Writing is not my ‘day job’. What I have done is try to scratch out a schedule that includes writing time, and to set myself deadlines for my work. This only ever made things harder. I may schedule in 10am – 2pm to write, but what if I have no inspiration to do so? I know, you must sit and write, just keep going and force yourself to do the work. I disagree. If I don’t feel like it, I just don’t write. If something comes to me at 11pm, then I will sit down and write it. Waiting for a right moment usually gets me ten pages written in record time, and the ‘scheduled’ time can often leave me with a few paragraphs. If I write nothing for two weeks and then complete 20 pages in one sitting, then I’m happy. It always works out. The stories get written and the books get finished on time.

7) Writers block is far more dangerous than I thought

I have never suffered ‘writers block’. I assumed it was a myth made up by people who can’t write what they want. Why are you stuck? I kept asking. Stories just pour out when I sit down and write… until recently. With multiple projects going on, I began to worry about how one book flew out at a cracking pace, and another stopped dead in the water. So much so, that I read back through what had been written, and I hated it. Uh oh, has the magical writers block hit? Nope. The problem is, I have lost my passion for the subject, and that was the main inspiration for getting the project completed. I have decided to just let it go – either it will return to me when it’s ready, or it won’t. I could force out chapters, but they will be terrible. Instead, my other project races ahead and I’m happy with the product. I may have writers block, but it stems from lack of passion on the subject, and for me, that is very serious. If I simply had a lack of motivation to write, I would be happy.

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8) Publishing isn’t always fun

Writing is fun, editing is fun (most of the time), having a book with your name on it, out on sale and going well is fun. People so often ask where my ideas come from, and it’s an answer that I have well-rehearsed. The thing is, coming up with storylines is the easiest part. There is the process of getting it written, getting it edited and having the layout done and the cover made to get through. Then the worst part – promotion. The market is flooded with books and every genre has so much to choose from. You have promote your book and yourself all the time. I have one author on my Twitter and Facebook pages who is a master of promos, if being the master meant throwing the book in everyone’s face several times a day. I wish him and his book well, but there is more than just pushing your book to your friends via social media each day. I wish it was that easy. I would like to disappear from the world and get writing, but there is a certain amount of interaction with readers and future purchasers that needs to be done. People want to talk, read, review and talk again. Sites need details and updates. I like it and I feel happy when people come to me, I do. Please, don’t stop! But writing is the easy part of the process when compared to book promotion.

9) Mistakes happen

Do they? Hell yes, they do! You only have to look at my first edition of Nights to figure that out. The thing was ripped to shreds in the editing process and I ended up with a book I wasn’t totally happy with, and  I regret that. Once the next edition came out in Dec. 2012, I felt at peace with it. Now I can move on. I have done my best and not sit and think of books out in the world that I’m not totally proud of. Another writer recently said that she felt the same but didn’t have the will to go back, re-write/re-edit the book and improve the product. We all have to live with our mistakes. I accept all my mistakes, and I shouldn’t dwell on them, since there are other people out there all too ready to point them out. Mistakes are food for trolls, and they smell it from miles away.

10) I will never be an expert

I have two books on the market, so do I know what I’m doing? No! I don’t know if the ‘I can do this’ moment will ever come to me. I will continue to write the way I do, in my ‘kiwi’ English instead of proper British English or with a book full of Americanisms. I am who I am. Some people love it. Some people moan that I write footpath when it should be a sidewalk (not where I’m from, and none of my books are based in the States!). My characters will talk the way I think they should, based on who they are, where they are, and what they’re doing. After all, 99% of people don’t care either way. I write because I enjoy it, and if my style and subjects are an acquired taste, so be it.

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See ya!

PS – this blog is not a democracy; hate messages get deleted (unless I feel like running your hate posts just so others can laugh at you)

Caroline Angus Baker on ‘Talk Radio Europe’

On Thursday 13 December, I was fortunate enough to do an interview on Talk Radio Europe’s ‘The Book Show’ with Hannah Murray. We spoke about my latest novel, Blood in the Valencian Soil, and a bit about me and my life. It is now on youtube, if you would like to listen again. The interview will be repeated on talkradioeurope.com on Sunday 16 December, at 10am, and is available on the On Demand section on their website for seven days.

A special thank you to Hannah Murray for taking time to call me, and to Rod Younger from Books4Spain for introducing me to Hannah 🙂

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Click here to purchase – Blood in the Valencian Soil – Paperback, Kindle and all E-readers

Click here to read more about BITVS – Blood in the Valencian Soil – Q&A with the author

Click here to read more about the author – Caroline Angus Baker

Click here to see Spain in photographs – scenes from ‘Blood in the Valencian Soil’

Click here to learn more about Night Wants to Forget 2012 edition