Today’s guest on What Cathy Read Next is David Boyle, author of the historical mystery, Regicide: Peter Abelard and the Great Jewel. David has kindly agreed to answer some questions about the book, its inspiration and his approach to writing.
About the Book
England, 1100. King William Rufus is killed with an arrow on a hunt. Rumours start immediately that he was murdered.
Nineteen years later in France, Hilary the Englishman is dismissed from his position as tutor when his student, Alys, a young girl with whom he has fallen in love, dies of fever. Turned out in the street Hilary meets a strange man offers to buy Hilary a meal if he does him a favour. He gives Hilary a pouch of silver, and a message to be delivered to Count Fulk in Anjou. But by morning the man is dead, and the crows feasting on his body. Fearing he will be accused of murder, Hilary flees. But he owes a debt of honour to deliver the message. Hilary knows only one man can help him. His former teacher, the brilliant Peter Abelard.
Much has happened to Abelard in the years since Hilary knew him. Although he may not be the man he was, he comes to the aid of his former student, deciphering the message… A message about the death of King William Rufus all those years before. A message about who benefited from that death and about the Great Jewel of Alfred the Great… a jewel which rested in the crown used at the coronation of kings, but has been missing since 1066. Hilary and Abelard’s journey will take them through France, England, and Jerusalem as they race against time to save their own lives, and the fate of the monarchy. For there is a mysterious Saxon claimant to the throne.
To purchase Regicide from Amazon.co.uk click here (link provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme)
Q&A with David Boyle
Without giving too much away, can you tell me a bit about Regicide?
Regicide starts in 1118 and is about a not very successful poet and clerk in holy orders, Hilary the Englishman, who is sacked from his tutor job, and finds himself – through no fault of his own – caught up in a medieval espionage murder, which appears to be related to the death, 18 years before, of William Rufus, the King of England, while out hunting. Chased across France by both sides, and himself accused of murder, Hilary begs for help from the one man who he believes can help him, his old teacher, Peter Abelard in Paris. He finds Abelard gone, chastened and beaten after his affair with Heloise – but they manage to escape for Jerusalem, knowing that they must return and find out who killed the King, to clear Hilary’s name…
Your previous books have been largely non-fiction: history, economics, politics, biography. What tempted you to enter the world of historical fiction?
I’ve always written fiction but tended in the past to keep it to myself! But I fell in love with the 12th century – its tolerance and relative openness and its art (and Abelard is key to that too) – when I was writing about Richard the Lionheart and I couldn’t resist trying to bring it alive.
How did you get the idea for Regicide?
I think the first thought was that the mystery about the death of William Rufus would lend itself well to detective fiction. The second thought was that Abelard – his great near contemporary – would make an excellent Sherlock Holmes figure. The third was that, as I researched Abelard’s life, I found he had a friend called Hilary the Englishman, a minor poet. Six of Hilary’s poems survive: three love poems to nuns and three to young monks. Immediately I discovered them, a picture of Hilary rose into my mind.
Peter Abelard is an interesting figure, a medieval philosopher best known for his affair with Heloise d’Argenteuil. What made you decide to make him a central character?
Abelard was an extraordinary man out of his own time. He is famous now for his affair but he was a brilliant teacher and thinker, a great controversialist, arousing rage and delight in equal measures. If he could have solved the Rufus mystery, I felt sure he would have done so!
How did you approach the research for the book? Do you enjoy the process of research?
I love it but have to be careful not to lose myself in it. I read around the characters and the period. It is important to me that everything I have in the book is consistent with history as we know it.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered when writing the book?
The danger if you do too much research is that you lose the story in atmosphere. I think I’ve managed to avoid that but it was a close run thing!
If you could travel back in time, what period would you choose to visit and why?
Definitely the twelfth century in Europe, perhaps in the troubadour courts of southern Europe – I managed to include the first troubadour as a character in Regicide. But I would make sure I would go to the dentist before I started my journey there!
Do you have a special place to write or any writing rituals?
I try and write in a hut surrounded by papers at the bottom of my garden. But I also have two children and a dog who require constant attention, so it is difficult.
What other writers do you admire?
I’m a huge admirer of William Boyd. Also, two generations back, of Henry Williamson.
What are you working on next? Will it be more historical fiction?
As a matter of fact I have been working on a novel, set during the Brexit debate but involving the Pilgrim’s Way – a late 12th century development. So that is rather the other way around. I have also been commissioned to write three short historical novels about the Enigma code and there is no obvious link there with the 12th century at all…
Thank you, David, for answering my questions. I can’t wait to read Regicide and find out how the mystery is resolved.
About the Author
David Boyle is the author of The Troubadour’s Song: The Capture and Ransom of Richard the Lionheart and a series of books about history, social change and the future. His book Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin and the Lust for Real Life helped put the search for authenticity on the agenda as a social phenomenon. The Tyranny of Numbers and The Sum of Our Discontent predicted the backlash against the government’s target culture. He lives in Crystal Palace, in south London, with Sarah and Robin (two years old).
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