The Mirror and the Light | Book Review

The Mirror and the Light

Hilary Mantel

Fourth Estate

ISBN: 9780007480999

£25

‘The scuffling and haste, the sudden vanishing of papers, the shushing, the whisk of skirts and the slammed doors; the indrawn breath, the glance, the sigh, the sideways look, and the pit-pat of slippered feet; the rapid scribble with the ink still wet; a trail of sealing wax, of scent. All spring, we scrutinised Anne the queen, her person, her practices; her guards and gates, her doors, her secret chambers. We glimpsed the privy chamber gentlemen, sleek in black velvet, invisible except where moonlight plays on a beaded cuff. We picked out, with the inner eye, the shape of someone where no one should be – a man creeping along the quays to a skiff where a patient oarsman with a bowed head is paid for silence, and nothing to tell the tale but the small wash and ripple of the Thames; the river has seen so much, with its grey blink.

Review

That Hilary Mantel’s ‘The Mirror and the Light’ did not win the Booker was not sad in itself – there was a worthy winner in the form of ‘Shuggie Bain’ by Douglas Stuart – and after winning a Booker apiece for ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ Mantel is hardly in need of literary gravitas. Nevertheless, it was disappointing in that the lack of such a prize did take attention from what is undoubtedly an astonishing achievement. As a sidenote, I did find it refreshing that Mantel was upfront in her disappointment at not making the shortlist, the obvious tendency amongst people being to denigrate or shrug off baubles which they do not win. Real judgement perhaps lies in legacy, and in this the Wolf Hall trilogy is unparalleled. I doubt that any writer in my lifetime will dare to attempt a similar project. Mantel’s Cromwell is the fictional portrayal by which any other will be judged, and she has probably gone beyond a fictional remit in influencing the debate about Henry VIII’s chief minister.

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Thomas Cromwell: A Life | Book Review

Thomas Cromwell: A Life

Diarmaid MacCulloch

Allen Lane

ISBN: 1846144299

£30

Review

There have been many biographies of Henry VIII’s Lord Privy Seal, but surely few so weighty or well-researched. Like many, my interest in Thomas Cromwell was catalysed by Hilary Mantel’s brilliant Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies, and the Mirror and the Light. Cromwell is atypical of Tudor dignitaries in that he was lowborn. The son of a blacksmith, he was self-made and self-educated. From these inauspicious beginnings he rose to the right hand of a capricious and unstable king. Cromwell bullied lords and dined with dignitaries. He liquidated a centuries-old religious order and ushered in political foundations that remain to this day. Not a bad biographical subject.

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Flashback Fiction | Interview

I had a piece of flash fiction called ‘Foundering‘ published in Flashback Fiction this week. They ask all of their authors to answer a few questions on their inspirations, influences, and favourite historical fiction writers. If you’ve got a piece of historical fiction sitting in your drafts folder I really can’t recommend them enough. The editors were approachable and went to great efforts to promote and advertise my work.

Read my interview here.

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Traitors’ Gate | Short Story

Oars ease through the tan water. There is the occasional dull thunk as one of the wooden blades clips the side of the barge, but little else disturbs the foetid heat. The boat is not moving fast and the crowds on either side of the river are keeping pace. If one were unaccustomed to this ritual, an observer might mistake their shouts for cheers.

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What We Leave Behind | Creative Non-Fiction

Politicians, particularly those approaching the end of their time in power, tend to focus on legacy. The Monroe Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the Third Way are all examples of attempts to leave behind something tangible. They are the fenceposts to which administrations and existences can be tethered, held fast by a conviction that time and lives were spent in the service of something greater than themselves.

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The Ragged Frenchman | Short Story


I’m delighted to have another short story published in Literally Stories. ‘The Ragged Frenchman’ was written last Christmas and involved a little bit of historical research. As such, it really was a labour of love and I was pleased with how it turned out.

One of the most evocative chapters of history is Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in 1812. A few critically misjudged decisions by Bonaparte saw the French army depart Moscow too late in the year and retreating along the same route that they had used to thrust deep into Russia. Consequently, the land had been stripped bare of resources. Harried by marauding Cossacks and dogged by rapidly dropping temperatures, army discipline disintegrated and men became feral with cold and hunger. Horses were set upon for meat after stumbling on the wintry ground, and officers wandered off from their men to end their misery rather than march on.

Hopefully I’ve managed to capture some of the chaos and desperation of the retreat, along with a healthy dollop of the supernatural.

Read ‘The Ragged Frenchman’ here.


Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Near to the Knuckle, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, and Shooter magazine. He is a PhD student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father.

Not necessarily in that order.

Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy 1945-1975 | Book Review

Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy 1945-1975

Max Hastings

Williams Collins Publishing

£20

‘…the American commitment was fatally flawed by its foundation not upon the interests of the Vietnamese people, but instead on the perceived requirements of US domestic and foreign policy, containment of China foremost among them. The decisions for escalation by successive administrations command the bewilderment of posterity, because key players recognised the inadequacy of the Saigon regime upon which they depended to provide an indigenous façade for an American edifice.’ Continue reading “Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy 1945-1975 | Book Review”

The Literary Relapse of Arthur Weston | Short Story

Little Arthur Weston had first come to my practice in July of 1811. Eyes downcast, the young lad was dragged loose-limbed into the surgery by his tight-lipped mother. Mrs. Weston struggled to speak at first. She fiddled with the cheap rings on her fingers and mumbled about not wanting to waste anyone’s time. Arthur, however, was all eyes once seated. The boy’s hungry gaze was not directed at me, however, but rather at a point somewhere several inches to the left of my head. A glance to my posterior, where my essential medical texts lay stacked, told me all I needed to know. Continue reading “The Literary Relapse of Arthur Weston | Short Story”

Book Review – Napoleon the Great

Napoleon the Great

Andrew Roberts

Penguin Books

GBP 12.99

‘…many of his civil reforms stayed in place for decades, even centuries. The Napoleonic Code forms the basis of much of European law today, while various aspects of it have been adopted by forty countries on all five inhabited continents. His bridges span the Seine and his reservoirs, canals and sewers are still in use.’ Continue reading “Book Review – Napoleon the Great”