An exclusive first-look extract from “Lies, Damned Lies, and History”

 

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A sneak preview of Lies, Damned Lies, and History!

Prologue

I’ve never been one for rules. They don’t really seem to apply to me. I can’t begin to count the 9781910939000number of times I’ve had to stand in front of someone’s desk while they talked at me, sometimes for some considerable length of time. The only good thing is that usually, it’s only me involved.

But not this time. This time I was in serious trouble. This time I’d done something really bad. Never mind that I thought it was for the best of reasons. This time I’d really gone too far.

I couldn’t complain. Not long ago, Dr Bairstow, who always saw further than anyone else at St Mary’s, had tried to warn me, saying, ‘You need to take care, Max. Great care. You are beginning to tread the line between what is acceptable and what is not. From there, it only takes the smallest step to find you have stepped over that line and that you have done the wrong thing for the right reasons. I am warning you, in future, to be very, very careful.’

I should have listened to him and I didn’t. This time, I’d not just crossed the line – I’d practically pole-vaulted over it.

And this time I’d involved Peterson – whose future at St Mary’s was looking very shaky indeed.

And Markham who, thanks to me, would now probably never succeed Major Guthrie as head of the Security Section.

And that wasn’t the worst of it. People had lost their jobs. Roberts, my youngest historian had given in his notice. He’d insisted on trying to take all the blame. There had been a brief shouting session with Dr Bairstow and then Roberts was gone, hurling himself through the front doors and crashing the gears of his car in his haste to get down the drive and out of the gates. With the state he was in, I shouldn’t have let him go, but there was no holding him.

And David Sands – long-time friend and ally. He’d resigned, too.

And possibly the worst of all, the Chancellor of the University of Thirsk, Dr Chalfont, who had fought our corner on so many occasions – she was out as well. She’d stood her ground and argued for us – which was good of her because she’d been more furious with me than anyone else, Dr Bairstow included – and the knives that had been waiting for this opportunity for years came out. She’d been allowed to retire. Ill health, they said, but that was just for public show. I’d got her sacked as well. And Dr Bairstow was only hanging on by the skin of his teeth.

I’ve done some stupid things. I’ve been reckless, but never have I ruined so many lives or left such a trail of destruction behind me.

I suppose the story begins with Bashford’s attempt to emulate William Tell.

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Jodi Taylor answers her fan question: Fact or Fiction?

You tend to pick some things out and describe them in detail – smells, weather, etc. Do you specifically try to base these on theories or do you make them up?

Yes and yes.

There – I think that answers that question!

Seriously, if I know the event I’m writing about takes place on a rainy day then I have to say so obviously, but from that moment on, a lot of it comes out of my head. Actually, that sounds quite unpleasant, but you know what I mean. When I wrote about the Great Library at Alexandria burning, I was actually there. How hot would it be? What would I smell? How easy would it be to see? To move? What hazards would there be? What could go wrong? What might go right – because, believe or not, sometimes that does happen. What are Max’s reactions to what is going on around her. What will she do next?

So yes, I was there when the roof came down and she was on fire. I was there when she was slowly roasting in her fire suit, unable to breathe properly, sweat stinging her eyes, panicking because her gloved hands couldn’t unfasten her smouldering suit. I was there.

Sorry – I do get carried away – be warned!

At the moment I’m writing about an event in which the weather conditions were the cause of the historical event, so at the moment, I’m looking at storm surges, flood defences, that sort of thing. Again, pages of notes will probably result in half a sentence, but that’s the way it goes. I will go on to try and establish some sort of framework. I’ll draw up a timeline, what happens to whom, when, and where they were when it happened. I’ll make a plan or map and work out how the characters move around. I’ll make sure, as best I can, that what I propose to do is feasible. Having then established a framework, I close my eyes and imagine the terror, confusion, devastation, the cold dirty water …

“The non-historical events that occur at St Mary’s, of course, are completely fictitious. Mostly. Although yes, I do know someone who did actually run into a horse’s bottom and it’s going to cost him a great deal of money to keep me quiet.”

1783758392This actually sums up what I’m trying to do for (and occasionally to) History. As I said in What Could Possibly Go Wrong, yes, we read about Joan of Arc in History books. The story always ends with – and she was burned at the stake in 1431, but that’s just a statement of fact. Dull, dry and boring. Close your eyes. What would it actually be like? How long does it take to burn a body? How did the people present react, always bearing in mind, of course, that our present day values and principles are not those of 1431. Events that would cause shock and horror today were treated much more casually then. Alternatively, of course, a throwaway joke that wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow today could win you a fun weekend for one with the Inquisition and end in having your tongue cut out. A town under siege by William the Bastard (or Conqueror as he probably preferred to be known) thought it would be hilarious to poke fun at his less than noble origins. When the town eventually fell, he continued the joke by having their hands and feet cut off.

Back to Joan – sorry, I do wander. Doesn’t your heart go out to my editor? – I researched the event, dates, times, places, etc., drew up my timeline, built my framework, and then inserted Max and the other historians into the picture. From that moment on, my control over events tends to evaporate because, if I’ve done my job properly, everything should unfold in my head, one scene after another as I frantically scribble or type (depending on where I am) trying to get it all down before it dissolves like so much smoke in the wind. And it does. It only takes the telephone to ring, or a voice in the street and it’s gone. That happens heartbreakingly often.

The non-historical events that occur at St Mary’s, of course, are completely fictitious. Mostly. Although yes, I do know someone who did actually run into a horse’s bottom and it’s going to cost him a great deal of money to keep me quiet. The ideas usually shoot into my head while I’m having a bath. No, I don’t know why, either. Interesting material for someone with psychological qualifications, I should think. I keep a pad and pen on the toilet for these little moments and twenty minutes later, I’m sitting in cold, scummy water scribbling away, damp and wrinkled. And that’s just the notebook. My idea to keep a whiteboard in the bathroom was subject to serious mockery.

Does anyone know if there’s such a thing as waterproof paper?

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