AJ Lyndon writes about her new book, The Tawny Sash.
The walls of Warwick Castle, England are ten feet (3.04 metres) thick. For hundreds of years they kept enemies out and prisoners in. If you screamed, no one would hear you. Australian novelist AJ Lyndon found this out the hard way a few years ago when, during a visit to the UK she was accidentally locked in a room at the top of the spiral staircase in Guy’s Tower. It was the culmination of an exciting day of research, gathering material from the castle’s archivist and visiting the dungeons where ‘witch trials’ were in progress, before her guide showed her the real one! ‘It was a creepy hole in the ground,’ Lyndon says. ‘I didn’t go in!’
It was late in the afternoon, and visiting school parties were heading back to the entrance, when Lyndon’s guide took her into Guy’s Tower, where guest accommodation became prison cells for captured Royalist officers during the English Civil War. Two of Lyndon’s fictional characters in her first novel, The Welsh Linnet were imprisoned there for months after being captured at the (real) Battle of Edgehill in 1642.
‘I had already written the first draft of the novel,’ Lyndon says, ‘But it became a compulsion to visit the actual rooms, and the governor’s quarters in the gatehouse. The guide took me from one locked room to another while I filmed. There are lots of graffiti carved into the walls. The prisoners obviously got bored. One is signed “Edward Disney 1643”!’ When I finished filming in the last of the tower rooms, the guide turned the door handle but nothing happened. “That’s funny,” he said.
And that’s how Lyndon discovered how thick the walls were and that mobile phones don’t work inside Guy’s Tower! Fortunately the guides carry radios for such situations and Lyndon’s incarceration lasted no more than ten minutes.
‘It was the highlight of the visit,’ she laughs. ‘One of the French school kids going round had slid the bolt.’
After the first novel came Covid, making research trips to England impossible. Lyndon had managed one more trip before the world locked down. She walked the battlefields of southeast Cornwall where King Charles I’s Cavaliers trapped the Roundheads with nothing but the sea at their backs. A whole army surrendered; and many of the foot soldiers died of starvation on the hard slog back to London. The orange-tawny sash (seen on the cover of the book) was how the southern Parliamentarian (Roundhead) armies showed their allegiance. Northern Parliamentarians wore blue sashes, the colours of the Fairfax family. Uniforms as we know them did not exist, which made life on the battlefield a bit interesting. Red coats were first introduced by Oliver Cromwell for his New Model Army about a year after the action in this book takes place.
Lyndon says she couldn’t have completed The Tawny Sash without Zoom. ‘The pandemic was a world-wide tragedy, but there were side-benefits. Historical societies in the UK such as the Battlefields Trust began holding their historical lectures on Zoom.’ Now overseas members like Lyndon can tune in, providing they don’t mind getting up early. ‘I hate the winter though,’ Lyndon laughs. ‘Lectures in London or Manchester at 8pm are 5am Melbourne time. I set the alarm and switch my camera on with a sweatshirt hastily pulled over my PJs.’
Lyndon, who lives in the Victorian Central Highlands, has been obsessed with history and historical fiction since high school. ‘Everyone knows about the Tudors, King Henry VIII and his six wives, but far fewer people have read books set during the time of the Stuarts. The ill-fated Stuart monarch Charles I was executed by Parliament after a trial and civil war that sent shock waves through Europe and across the Atlantic to the American colonies, where it set the stage for the American revolution.
Her second novel The Tawny Sash follows the further adventures of the Vaughan and Lucie families. Captain Gabriel Vaughan has been released from Oxford Castle prison on the authority of an order bearing the signature and family seal of Sir Henry Lucie. The problem is the order wasn’t signed by him but by his eldest son Will who stole the seal. Now Sir Henry wants revenge. Gabriel and Will are on the run from a court martial amidst the chaos of civil war, trying to clear their names before Sir Henry’s hired spy can find them. The hunt for the two men follows the course of the war from Oxford to Cornwall; and features treachery, kidnappings, daring escapes and of course sword fights.
The Tawny Sash is available now.
Here’s the blurb
Book 2 in the War Without An Enemy series. Historical novel set in England 1644 during the English Civil War between King Charles I and the English Parliament. Sequel to ‘The Welsh Linnet‘.
Welsh gentleman Gabriel Vaughan and his brother-in-law Will Lucie are on the run from the vengeful Sir Henry Lucie and the threat of a court martial. The two cavalry captains must clear their names before Sir Henry’s hired spy can find them.
But then Gabriel, a follower of the outlawed Catholic faith, becomes embroiled in religious infighting at King Charles I’s most important fortress, Basing House and when a plot to betray the garrison is hatched, Gabriel is implicated.
The Tawny Sash continues the story of the Vaughan and Lucie families in the third year of the English Civil War. The bitter war has intensified and ‘quarter’ may no longer be given to those captured on the blood-drenched battlefields of Cheriton, Cropredy Bridge and Lostwithiel. When the royalists trap the threadbare, starving Roundhead rebel army at the tip of Cornwall, Gabriel and Will face further dangers and a terrible dilemma.
The Tawny Sash is an engrossing tale of the English Civil War, when families were pitched against one another, and religious division sundered England.
For all the complicated politics, religious divide, and military endeavours that take place throughout the book, I found it to be so well written that I never floundered. The English Civil War is outside my area of expertise. I know of it, but not about it. AJ Lyndon has brought the era to life by making it about personal relationships while the wider war rages all around them. There is time for love, and hatred, all played out against a backdrop of monumental change.
A fabulous story that I highly recommend. I will have to check out book 1 in the series.