I stumbled across Michael Arnold’s work when I was in search of a new book to read. There’s a plethora of historical fiction out there and plenty of historical adventure, but my first love is the 17th Century. Fortunately for my love for all things cavalier, Michael Arnold’s writing hits everything I was looking for in a new read. Alas, most of Michael’s work isn’t available in the US in eBook version, but I was able to get a copy of Highwayman: Ironside, a swashbuckling novella that takes place shortly after the English Civil Wars. You can read my review here, but here’s a quick synopsis:
A nation reeling from the turmoil of bloody civil war. An island in the iron grip of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate. The forces of King Charles have been utterly defeated. The sovereign is dead, his supporters beaten, humiliated and scattered. But it is not just former Cavaliers who find themselves hounded by the new regime. Many of those who fought for Parliament have fallen foul of the oppressive rule of the Major-Generals.
One such man is Major Samson Lyle: Roundhead, outlaw, fugitive. Forced into exile after a dispute with the ruling elite, he has returned, intent on waging war against those now in command. Skilled with pistol and blade, Lyle takes the fight onto the busy roads south of the capital, forging a formidable reputation as a notorious highwayman.
Along with his trusted young ward Bella, and Eustace Grumm, an irascible former smuggler, Lyle dodges the ever-present threat of capture to menace those against whom he has sworn revenge. But when the robbery of a powerful lawyer alerts Lyle to the imprisonment of a former comrade, the Major is plunged into a dangerous game of intrigue and deceit that may finally prove his undoing. And he must tread carefully, for Parliament have dispatched their own man to hunt the elusive outlaw.
The villainous Colonel John Maddocks is tracking Lyle’s every move, and soon he will come face to face with the Ironside Highwayman.
Michael was kind enough to answer a few questions about his writing and this Yankee’s question on the English Civil War.
Growing up on the south coast of England, there were always plenty of heritage sites to visit, so having a keen interest in history was pretty unavoidable! One of my other loves was reading fiction, so I knew from a young age that I wanted to write an historical novel. I live quite close to the English Civil War battlefield at Cheriton, and driving through it over the years made me wonder why no one (that I was aware of) had written a series on such an important period.
What I like about Highwayman: Ironside is it’s a straight up historical adventure/swashbuckler. It has everything you would expect in a story like that — action, chase on horseback, secret hideouts, bold and lively characters, a loyal steed, an obsessive arch-nemesis. It even has a masquerade to boot. Did you sit down knowing you wanted all those things in there or did they just sort of happen?
From the moment I was asked to write the story, I knew I wanted it to contain all those ingredients. My main novels are, as we’ve said, set during the English Civil War. By the nature of that conflict, they can be quite dark. There’s plenty of action, of course, but we’re also addressing themes of political intrigue, religious hatred and a nation torn apart. I saw the Highwayman series as an opportunity to write some straight up, quite light-hearted adventure.
As a historical fencer and sword lover, I especially appreciated the description of the Pappenheimer rapier. You don’t see that sort of detail in stories really. Usually they’re just referred to as rapier or sword, but you went a step or two further, which I enjoyed. Why did you choose Pappenheimer? For historical reasons or are you fond of that particular hilt design?
As I’ve mentioned, I saw Highwayman as a chance to create quite a fun character, and part of that idea was to give Lyle some cool weapons! So I searched for a sword that looked good, but would still be in-keeping with the period. He has a war hammer and a double-barrelled pistol for the same reasons!
I haven’t had a chance to read your Stryker series yet, though it’s on my “To Read” short-list. Are there any character cross-over between the Highwayman and the Stryker series?
Not yet. I’m not sure if there ever will be, but I figured I’d keep the two stories completely separate for the time being. They’re only set 12 years apart, but the whole tone of Highwayman is different to that of the Stryker series, and it seemed right to create some brand new characters
Both series are action-packed adventures, and they’re both set in mid-seventeenth century Britain, but the themes are very different. As I’ve already touched upon, the Civil War Chronicles are necessarily quite dark. The lead character, Stryker, is scarred – both emotionally and physically – and is a more brooding, sombre protagonist than Lyle. The other significant difference is the historical setting. Even though Highwayman takes place just a few years after the Civil Wars, the whole country has changed. The king has been executed, the Parliamentarians are in the ascendency, and Oliver Cromwell has been installed as Lord Protector. Lyle’s world is quite different to Stryker’s.
Is it weird that the character I feared the most for in Highwayman was Star? I think it’s similar to any movie that has a dog in it. I tend to worry more for the defenceless animal than the humans more in control of their destinies.
You’re exactly right. That’s often the way. Remember the horse in the Never Ending Story? ‘That’ scene scarred an entire generation! And, of course, I hope that Star is a significant enough character in his own right for you to root for.
Do you plan on writing more Lyle stories?
Absolutely. The next one should be out this year.
Here’s a cultural question for me and my American followers. But, looking back, how does England view the English Civil War now? The US Civil War was really a black mark on young country’s history and there are still some parts here that consider it as the War of Northern Aggression and such. Is it similar with the English Civil War? Do people in England see it as a “Go us! We took down a tyrant!” or “Holy smokes. What were our predecessors thinking?” or something else entirely?
This is a tough one, and the short answer is probably “something else entirely”.
The Civil Wars in Britain are a tricky subject, not least because even the causes are not always readily understood. The divide between Royalist and Parliamentarian was not clear cut. There was not an obvious geographical separation (as per the American Civil War) nor a religious one (as per the wars raging in mainland Europe during the same period) and those factors seem to make the whole episode sit uneasily on the public consciousness. And the conclusion of the wars hardly helps matters. Those that feel the revolution was a great thing are often tempered by the fact that it was essentially usurped by Cromwell, and then replaced – after a very short period – by the restored monarchy. And the atrocities committed by the Parliamentarian Army in Ireland are certainly viewed as rather a black mark on the whole period. Similarly, those who naturally sympathise with the Royalists are doubtless aware that without the Civil Wars, we might not have arrived at the democracy we enjoy today. It is quite a tangled web, to be honest, made more so by a general lack (in my opinion, at least) of awareness of the era in society. It is not, you might be surprised to learn, very well covered in schools. That’s one of the reasons why I think the Stryker books have appealed to people; they shed light on a period that everyone knows was important (indeed, it quite literally shaped the modern world) but not many know much about.
A lot of historical fiction writers seem to read more non-fiction than fiction because of how much research that goes into these books. Are you the same way? Do you find yourself reading more for research or do you find some time to fit in good ol’ fiction in your reading list?
I generally read non-fiction, not just for my own research, but because I just like a break from fiction after spending all day writing it! But there are still some authors I love and will always read. Bernard Cornwell, C J Sansom and Andrew Pepper being three I can think of right now, but there are others, for sure.
Who were/are some writers that have influenced your work?
Every military fiction writer seems to say Bernard Cornwell; but it’s true. I first read a Sharpe novel when I was about thirteen. It was Sharpe’s Regiment, and it basically made me realise how brilliant and fulfilling a good novel could be. But plenty of others have influenced me, I’m sure. Sansom’s books are great for conveying a sense of authenticity, and I always loved James Nelson and Julian Stockwin for nautical adventures.
What’s next? What grand tales are you working on now?
I’m just finishing the fifth Civil War Chronicles book. Warlord’s Gold will be published in the UK in July, and will see him defending the Royalist stronghold of Basing House in Hampshire. After that (and Highwayman 2) I’ll be taking Stryker to the Battle of Cheriton – something of a homecoming for me, given the inspiration that particular battlefield gave me to start the series. There are also a couple of other projects I’m working on – but they’re top-secret at the moment!
Anything else you’d like the blog readers to know?
Just to say thanks to everyone for their support! Keep reading! And to anyone writing their own stuff: Go for it. Finish the manuscript, send it to some agents, and never give up!