Friday, 26 October 2012

25th. October 2012

Next Tuesday, (30th.) in the Edinburgh Central Library 7-9 George 1V Bridge Edinburgh (6 to 7.30 p.m.) sees the launch a a new book by Society member Marie Macpherson  entitled;

"The First Blast of the Trumpet"

As the Rev StewartLamont, author of "The Swordbearer", a biography of John Knox writes in his review;

 "This is an intriguing fictional tale of the early life of John Knox.

All member s of the Society are cordially invited to the opening when refreshments will be served and their will be period music  from the duo "Shattered Consort"

A renowned academic Marie is the winner of the Martha Hamilton prize for creative writing from the University of Edinburgh and also writer for the year 2011 awarded by Tyne and Esk writers Marie will be presenting a short documentary film followed by a reading from her novel and book signing.

Signed hardback copies of the book signed by the author will be available to purchase - price £20.

Society member Ann McMillan has written a review for which we are much indebted as follows;
It is Halloween in Hailes Castle. As the wind howls down the chimney the three young Hepburn sisters are crouched over the fire listening to the wisdom of their nurse Betsy. Their lives do not take the path that they would wish; Elizabeth wishes to marry David Lindsey the poet and tutor to James V, but they prove to be star-crossed lovers. Elizabeth’s Uncle, John Hepburn, the Prior of St. Andrews, has different plans for her, and for her sister who really does have a vocation for the religious life. Prior Hepburn decides that his niece Elizabeth will eventually become the Prioress of St. Mary’s Haddington, not for pious reasons but to further family interests. Thus begins the tale of the birth of the Scottish Reformation.

Most of the famous players from the 16th century appear, and because of the excellent research their roles seem natural and believable; they include Marie of Guise, John Knox, ‘Bell the Cat’ Douglas, James 1V and V, and the various warring families of the age, amongst them the brutish Douglases and the devious Hepburns. Herein James 1V is not the golden monarch so beloved by his people, but a posturing man who enjoys acting the drunken jester at a wedding and who cannot wait to rush into the nuptial chamber to comment on the groom’s performance [the bride has already been his mistress] in ‘tail-toddle’. Nothing could dissuade James from his ill-judged campaign in Flodden, with lack of planning and untried weapons and his misguided cult of chivalry. Considering the catastrophic effect of Flodden Dr. MacPherson deals with it briefly. However the aftermath and effects are apparent throughout the book: the rivalries around the young King, the ‘widows of Flodden’ with their ragged starving children and the young undisciplined orphaned nobles.

In pre-Reformation Scotland sins of the flesh were considered venial rather than mortal and almost every churchman had at least one mistress, and several had a ‘wheen o’ weans’ whose futures had to be paid for. There were constant festivals and plays to keep the populace happy, and morality and nativity plays served like the music halls of a later date with the players being insulted and pelted with weapons.

Witnessing a nativity play where  jeering comments question the parentage of the ‘Babe of Bethlehem’ and lewd suggestions query what the Virgin and the Angel Gabriel ‘were up to’, the young student priest John Knox is horrified. Unable to stand the blasphemy any longer, he stands up and harangues the raucous crowd – only to be slapped down by being hit across the face with a wet haddock for his pains. So his debut as a preacher is not deemed much of a success.

It is from this ‘puddle of Papistry’, corruption and superstition that the young Knox begins to emerge and to question the practises of the Church and the role of the ‘ Anti-Christ’.  The villain of the book is the Catholic Church and the nastiest villain of all is James Beaton, who was to become Cardinal of Scotland.  He first appears in France as a vain popinjay with every conceivable vice, there is even a sickly odour around him, and it is not the odour of sanctity! The book is peopled with marvellous characters, most of whom existed. Some have a Chaucer-like quality - the gluttonous voluptuaries, the Hepburn brother and sister. They both eat enormous meals, and dress richly under their religious robes; and Janet’s cell in St. Mary’s is full of rich furnishings and trappings. With lewd thick lips, and small eyes that examine young maidens with a lascivious stare, the corpulent Prior indulges himself in every excess.  Prioress Janet is huge, with bulbous eyes set in a podgy face and evil smelling breath.

There is an hilarious scene where she tucks into a dish of stag's testicles that ‘tastes like strumpet’s teats’. The rest of the convent ate sparse and humble fare.

The protagonists are human, and no one is presented with a monopoly of right. There is a tenderness and humanity in the presentation of real historical characters. Marie of Guise comforting another mother as she watches her beloved little daughter run happily up the gang plank to the ship that will take her out of her life. The sturdy little girl plays tig with her ‘Marys’ on board the ship unaware that her life is about to change.

Betsy the fictional nursemaid to the Hepburn girls, lovingly laying out her dead youngest charge [‘her little harebell’]   in her mother’s wedding gown, and swallowing her tears, which can be saved for later, because if ‘tears fall on the body, the spirit will not rest’. The young Adam Hepburn tries manfully to hold true to the Hepburn family motto ‘Keep Tryst’ – Keep Trust. Going off to Flodden, like a young Hector proud in his shining armour, he salutes his Andromache and his young son on the battlements and, like Hector, never to return.

Dr Macpherson’s thrilling narrative is evocative and descriptive, full of the wonderful Scots words of the 16th century and there are many quotations from the rick literature of the period. Being a linguist – she has ‘taught languages across Europe from Madrid to Moscow’- Dr Macpherson makes the Scots words and phrases sound natural and expected, and they do not appear forced nor in ‘inverted commas’.

The writer’s excellent research uncovers a harsh, decaying, unforgiving and raw world of rivalry and betrayal, where sins and decisions made can affect further generations. The brutal, earthy world of the 16th century seems real and immediate, laced with saving humour. The romances are gritty and sensual without being gratuitous. There are some surprising plot revelations but, although questionable, they seem possible and believable. In the chaotic upheavals of this uncertain world with the looming religious conflicts, there are the stirring of the Reformation to come which will change Scotland forever and lead to the Enlightenment.

I look forward with impatience to the second book in the Knox trilogy.

Ann McMillan the Marie Stuart Society. Hon. President of the Dorothy Dunnett Society
The First Blast s of the Trumpet by Marie McPherson is published by Knox Robinson
 ISBN 978-1-908483-21-8      380pp         £19.99 [Hbk] and £6.17 e-book.   
Available from bookstores and on line at The Book Depository, Amazon and Books from Scotland

is a winner of the Martha Hamilton Prize for Creative Writing from Edinburgh University and also 'Writer of the Year 2011' awarded by Tyne & Esk Writers. Marie will be presenting a short documentary film followed by a reading from her novel and book signing. The evening will be further enhanced with period music from the duo Shatter'd Consort

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