Thursday, 15 February 2018

The Write Stuff with... Sarah Hawkswood

Today it's my pleasure to be handing the reins of the blog over to historical crime author Sarah Hawkswood who has written a character study for Hugh Bradecote, one of the main characters in her latest book Marked to Die which is published today.

Hugh Bradecote has been the new Undersheriff of Worcestershire for five months when Marked to Die, the third book in the Bradecote and Catchpoll series, takes place. He is not unintelligent, and has learned a lot in the course of the first two investigations, which has both given him self confidence, and led to an easier relationship with the veteran Sergeant Catchpoll, who ‘thinks like a copper’ all the time. It has to be remembered that outside of being called for duty as Undersheriff, Bradecote is just another minor manorial lord in twelfth century Worcestershire, interested in the wool clip from his flock and the number of bushels of grain in his storehouse; he is the Reservist to Catchpoll’s Regular, except that he never volunteered in the first place. As the Sheriff’s vassal, and a man on hand, he found himself thrust into the Undersheriff’s role, and it has come as rather a surprise to him how much he actually enjoys it.

When I first created the character, Bradecote lacked ‘contours’, and felt a little thin. However, before the second draft of the first book, Servant of Death (published originally as The Lord Bishop’s Clerk) I saw an actor in a television role who would provide me with the voice I hear in my head when writing his dialogue, and gave me his striding walk, the mobile brows, and some mannerisms. When I am writing I see everything as though watching it from on set, and so having a very clear image in my own head is a boon. However, I  do not want to impose this upon the reader, whose reaction must be individual. He is in his early thirties, in his prime.  He is not ‘old’, because people did not age faster in the twelfth century, but rather he has been lucky because the opportunities for dying young were far, far greater than in the modern world, whether that be from disease, accident or the violent time in which they lived. He speaks Norman French to show his rank in society, but is as happy in English, and I have created a backstory for him in the same way actors do so for their characters.  Hugh’s grandfather came over from Normandy in the early years after the Conquest, not expecting to inherit much as the youngest of five sons. As with most of the single men who crossed the Channel, he took an English bride and fathered a son, Richard of Bradecote, who never left England.  Hugh Bradecote holds several small manors from William de Beauchamp, the lord Sheriff of Worcestershire, and has never been beyond Winchester. He set eyes upon the old king, Henry I, but once and, if he had to describe himself, would say he is a Norman Englishman. 

As would be expected of a man of his class, he is capable with a sword, and he also has natural leadership ability. I have given him the attribute of being able to read, slowly, though the nearest he comes to writing would be his initial, scrawled. It means not every instruction has to come purely orally, and risk being corrupted in the delivery. He is an honest man, a moral man, rather too inclined to feel guilty about his own failures and shortcomings, not least as a husband. His wife has recently died giving birth to their son, and he is very aware that she loved him whilst he was merely mildly fond of her. He even feels guilty because he does not miss her very much.

Catchpoll is very much more of the ‘ends justify the means’ school, but Hugh Bradecote has made it clear he is very set against the extraction of information by force. In Marked to Die we see that this moral standpoint does not extend to situations where things become personal and potentially life or death. In the next book I actually explore how close a man like Bradecote can be brought to breaking point by a situation, how it clogs his thought processes, and makes him less effective,  but I would not say he is in any way weak, just human.

I have been writing Bradecote and Catchpoll for a number of years, and if I have not been working with them for some time I begin to miss them. They have achieved a form of non corporeal reality and I could put them in any situation and know how they would react and interact, though they can still sometimes surprise me. Whilst Marked to Die is the third book to reach publication, I am now writing number nine in the series, and ‘we’ all still seem to be rubbing along very nicely, thank you.

October 1143. His task dispatched, a mysterious archer melts back into the forest leaving a pile of corpses in his wake. The lord Sheriff of Worcester cannot ignore such a brazen attack on the salt road from Wich, nor the death of a nobleman in the wrong place at the wrong time. And so Hugh Bradecote and Serjeant Catchpoll are dispatched to hunt an elusive killer and his gang, and put a stop to the mounting attacks.

But it is not easy to get the culprits in their sights with a reeve keen to keep his position at all costs, a lord with his own ends to serve and a distrusting and vengeful widow to whom Bradecote is increasingly attracted.

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