Why I Write Series

The Journey towards Fresh Perspectives: A Personal Reflection on Historical Writing-Dr Kirsteen M MacKenzie

I first of all must thank Keith for the very kind invitation to contribute to his blog. My original idea was to write a defence of the three Stuart kingdoms, essentially assessing the New British histories 20 years after the initial debate. I realise that for many the ‘new British history’ moment has passed and historians have again retreated into their own respective national histories. I thought it may be more useful to reflect upon my own journey in researching and writing my new monograph The Solemn League and Covenant of the Three Kingdoms and the Cromwellian Union 1643-1663. I will reveal how my view of mid seventeenth century Britain and Ireland has evolved over the decades. Historians should not only offer a new perspective on the past but be fully open to their own deeply held views being challenged, shaped and influenced by their own experiences and new discoveries.

Before the Three Stuart Kingdoms

If you had met me twenty years ago I was very much a Cromwellian. In April 1999 I was in Huntingdon for the 400th anniversary of Oliver Cromwell’s birth. I had been interested in Cromwell for almost a decade and had been a member of the Cromwell Association since I was a teenager. I visited the Cromwell Museum frequently, often while we were visiting my former childhood home. I had spent my formative years in East Anglia. I had seen the film Cromwell with Richard Harris and Alec Guinness at school and had an excellent teacher who encouraged me to read books on the subject. I read Antonia Fraser’s Cromwell: Our Chief of Men when I was in the first year at senior school which fuelled my interests and Cromwellian tendencies even more. Unsurprisingly I had a very Anglocentric view of the civil wars and Cromwell was undoubtedly the hero. At the time, having recently moved back to Scotland from East Anglia, Cromwell was a link back to a place I deeply missed.

My view of the conflict that engulfed Britain and Ireland during the mid-seventeenth century was firmly structured around the ‘English Civil War’. Although I was aware of the Scottish origins of the conflict the Covenanters and the prayer book riots hardly registered on the radar! I found the rise of the New Model Army and its radical elements fascinating particularly the Levellers and the Diggers and to this day Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down is one of my favourite history books. I saw Cromwell’s rise to power as a positive event that had been essential to Britain’s transition to democracy. I was a fully paid up member of the Whig school of history without even realising it. Towards the end of my undergraduate history degree I was contemplated doing a PhD on the Levellers or the Quakers but my perspectives on the period were changing.

Wider Horizons: The Three Stuart Kingdoms

In the sub honours year of my undergraduate degree I took the three Stuart Kingdoms course which examined seventeenth century Britain and Ireland from an integrated three kingdoms perspective. It broadened my horizons immensely as the Stuart monarchy had to deal with ruling three very diverse but interconnected kingdoms. The ‘English civil war’ very quickly became the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Events in Scotland and Ireland became central to understanding the conflict and were as important as events in England. One momentous shift in opinion came with the realisation that Westminster did not hold the monopoly on constitutional innovation with important developments taking place in Scotland and Ireland too. The Covenanters were eager to establish a Scottish Parliament which dispensed with the Royal Prerogative. In Ireland after the 1641 rebellion the Irish Confederation of Kilkenny was formed and evolved into a sophisticated form of government with a supreme council, a general assembly and various committees. The Wars of Three Kingdoms were an era of constitutional change across Britain and Ireland. During my time on the three kingdoms course constitutional change was also taking place across Britain and Northern Ireland.

Scotland’s own parliament was reinstated for the first time since 1707, Wales was given its own assembly and devolved government was restored in Northern Ireland. These modern constitutional developments reinforced the three kingdoms approach to the Stuart monarchy.

My view of Cromwell began to change and far from being a harbinger of positive democratic change, Cromwell and the English Republic came seen as a highly dysfunctional form of government within the wider context of Stuart Britain and Ireland. This became all the more apparent when I embarked upon my PhD research in 2001 and explored the Covenanters reaction to the Cromwellian conquest of Scotland. Interestingly over the next few months within the UK newspapers debates raged over the legality of the proposed invasion of Iraq citing precedence and international law with reference to military intervention and the occupation of sovereign states. To my surprise Archibald Johnston of Wariston, one of the leading Covenanters against the Cromwellian invasion of Scotland was using similar arguments to those opposing intervention in Iraq! Historians always write the past within the present and I doubt I would have taken Wariston’s arguments so seriously if it was not for current climate at the time.

During the course of my research I travelled throughout Britain and Ireland and began to appreciate the diversity of these islands at first hand. I also began to understand that nations, groups and individuals cannot simply be put into fixed categories. Actions and beliefs are a pandoras box shaped by constantly evolving circumstances. Many labels that historians apply to religious and political groups are overlapping broad churches of common values and internal conflicts. Throughout my book I highlight not just the common religious and political values that Presbyterians and the Covenanted interest held across the kingdoms but I also aimed to show the internal divisions. In addition, I drew attention to the differences of opinion and the distinctive approaches Presbyterians in Scotland, England and Ireland had towards the Cromwellian government based on the particular situations they found themselves within their own localities and kingdoms. Examining events from a new perspective forced me to view Cromwell and the English Republic with fresh eyes. Cromwell became a ruthless and Machiavellian operator breaking all rules, precedents, laws and customs of Stuart Britain, a far cry from the man who put Westminster on the road to democracy.

Dr Kirsteen M MacKenzie was a lecturer in history at the University of Aberdeen between 2014 and 2017. Her book The Solemn League and Covenant of the Three Kingdoms and the Cromwellian Union 1643-1663 published by Routledge is out now.

Why I Write and How I Write Jodie Collins

Up until the age of 19 I was quite certain that I was not a writer, let alone a historian. Despite the fact I had such an interest in politics and history, I found writing an excruciating process, and I had failed history at college. I am now, 7 years later, in the beginnings of a PhD in American History in a collaborative project between the University of Sussex and the British Library, specifically analysing the political pamphlets of interwar America.

Without going into too much detail, getting to this point was not straight forward, and was owed a lot to both personal and political development. But fundamentally, as I began to understand the concept of historical materialism, history began to make much more sense to me, and in turn this not only made writing an easier process for me, but an enjoyable one. Historical materialism is concerned with analysing the fundamental forces which drive history forward.

As Lenin put it: By examining … all ideas and all the various tendencies stem from the condition of the material forces of production, Marxism indicated the way to an all-embracing and comprehensive study of the process of the rise, development, and decline of socio-economic systems. People make their own history but what determines the motives of people, of the mass of people—i.e., what is the sum total of all these clashes in the mass of human societies? What are the objective conditions of production of material life that form the basis of all man’s historical activity? What is the law of development of these conditions? To all these Marx drew attention and indicated the way to a scientific study of history as a single process which, with all its immense variety and contradictoriness, is governed by definite laws.1

This materialistic approach forms the foundation of my writing, and helps to guide me when approaching new areas of research. Nevertheless, I’m still hardly confident in my writing abilities. This lack of confidence can sometimes get me in a trap of reading excessively in order to avoid writing, but the majority of the time it’s best to just get your thoughts down on paper, no matter how rubbish you think they are. I’m also prone to using uncertain language like ‘perhaps,’ ‘could,’ and ‘possibly’ far more than I should. This sort of language can indicate a lack of conviction in the ideas you are sharing, so when I’m finished writing I sometimes do a ‘find and replace’ to cut them out.

I feel that a central principle of my writing is to be direct and clear. This is often for my own benefit; when I find something complex or have difficulty understanding something, I spend time breaking it down to something more digestible, and something that I would feel comfortable explaining to others. This makes me feel more confident in my own knowledge and sure that what I am writing has solid foundations. I find that often, complex language can be used as a distraction to shield unsound ideas. But also, I hope that clarity in my writing will make my work more accessible to a broader audience, beyond simply circulating within an academic bubble.

In terms of the more practical techniques for writing, I usually simply write down a short structure for what I’m about to write (it doesn’t matter if this is later shifted around) which I find helps to motivate me. Often, I will organise my notes from readings thematically, so later when I’m writing on a topic I can easily find what I’m looking for. When I go over these notes, I’ll ‘strikethrough’ sections I’ve covered in my main writing, but never delete them. There’s nothing worse than losing track of that one quote that would’ve fitted perfectly. I also use Evernote to organise journal articles and other texts, which I feel I’d be lost without during this PhD.

Finally, why do I write? I’m drawn to history because it helps me to understand the conditions of the present day. And as the old saying goes, ‘those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.’ However, I’d argue that a lot of popular history is ideologically skewed, focusing on the triumphs of great men, celebration of nationalistic tradition, and even pushing complete myths. How can we learn from history or change the future when our popular perception of the past is distorted and restricted? I write because I want to, in my own small way, contribute to challenging this dominant narrative, and in turn, enhancing how we study and share history.


Writing About Writing-Dr Alun Withey

In her post for this site, Penelope Corfield has already given an excellent set of insights into writing practices, and tips for constructing work. I thought I would take a slightly different line and reflect on my own writing journey. I’ve been writing as an academic historian for over 10 years and have so far published three books and more than 10 journal articles. More recently I’ve also begun to write for a variety of different outputs, ranging from magazines, newspapers and websites, to my own blog. Writing is at the absolute heart of what I do, and I generally write every day – even if it only a few lines. I’m currently finishing off what I hope will be the fourth book – a study of the history of facial hair.

Whatever I’m writing, I feel it’s important to think about the audience for the work. This has to do with developing, and modifying, your authorial ‘voice’. For example, writing a newspaper article of 1000 words is completely different to an academic journal article of 10,000…or a radio script of 300 words. Each has its own requirements and constraints, and each speaks to different people, and in different ways. Whilst academic history journal articles need solid grounding in existing literature, and often the ‘scaffold’ of referencing and stylistic conventions, pieces for popular publications are often much shorter, punchier, and in a ‘looser’ style.

Some academics find it hard to cross from one to the other, since writing something without referencing it goes against the grain! A colleague also once mentioned to me that they were afraid of mixing styles, and writing for a popular audience, in case it ‘polluted’ their academic writing. I actually think that the opposite is true, and that writing different things in different ways makes for a more rounded author.

I’m sometimes asked how and where to start with writing. The obvious answer is at the beginning, but in fact even that’s not always necessarily true. Whatever I’m writing, I always need a spark of inspiration – usually something I’ve come across in a primary source, or whilst reading a book or article. Often, I find that a single source can be enough to get the creative juices flowing, and it’s important to get that down on paper as soon as possible. Where it might end up in a chapter can be decided later.

When I think about how I write, though, there are certain things that I always try to do. Whatever I’m writing, for example, whether a full article or book chapter, or even a blog post, I always start by making a short list of bullet points, outlining what I think the main arguments of the piece will be. This obviously helps to map out the structure of the work. But I also find, by writing the points as prose, I can actually use them as the launch points for paragraphs or sections. Sometimes even just outlining what you want to argue can be a very good way of getting the writing to flow.

Secondly, I think it’s important to set aside specific time for writing, and to give yourself the space, and environment to do it in. For me, this means turning off social media, email and other distractions. Some people can write in noisy libraries, or with music on, but I need peace and quiet to focus on the task.

Thirdly, I am a strong believer in having a writing target for a day. I am very lucky in generally being able to write quickly, so my own target is usually 1000 words per day. It sounds a lot but is only roughly 2 sides of A4. Once that target is reached, unless it’s really flowing, I often leave it and move on to other things. This is about as close as I get to discipline in my own writing! Indeed, in several other ways my approach is perhaps unorthodox!

For example, I never write drafts. When I begin writing a chapter, I consider it the final version. Although it will naturally be shaped along the way (things are always cut and pasted!), I rarely, if ever, start over again or have different versions of the same. Some people also like to amass all their source materials before starting to write.

The benefits of that approach are manifold. But I have always preferred to write as I research, finding inspiration from the sources that I’ve just worked on and, to a large extent, letting them dictate the shape of the argument. In that sense, although I have a broad idea or theory to begin with, it develops along the way. I’m also a great believer in ‘just’ writing, to see where it can lead. Like so many things, writing needs regular practice in order to maintain the momentum. Sometimes when I’m stuck with my academic work, I make a point of writing a blog post instead, even on a completely different subject, just to keep things ticking over. In fact, one recent blog post actually led directly to an academic article on the same subject.

In the last analysis, writing is a personal preference, and what works for one person might not necessarily work for another. That is why I’m sometimes slightly dubious about the whole ‘writing about writing’ literature, and also loathe to try and give students a prescriptive list of what they should do, beyond general tips. But writing this piece has actually been very enlightening since it’s forced me to reflect on what I do and analyze how I do it…something I’ve never really done. Sometimes the best thing to do, is just…write.


After a rather unsatisfying ten-year career with a major high street bank, I decided to take the plunge and return to study. Having begun studying for my history degree part-time with the Open University, I enrolled at the University of Glamorgan and completed my BA (Hons) there in 2005, writing my undergraduate dissertation on the medical information within a seventeenth-century commonplace book.

Having secured funding from the AHRC, I completed my MA in History at Cardiff University in 2006, and was then funded by a Wellcome Trust prize studentship to study my PhD at Swansea University, which I completed in 2009. My thesis was adapted into my first book “Physick and the Family: Health, medicine and care in Wales, c. 1600-1750”, published in 2011 by Manchester University Press.

After completing my doctorate I returned to the University of Glamorgan in 2010, as a research fellow on the Leverhulme Trust-funded project “Steel in Britain in the Age of Enlightenment”, working with Professor Chris Evans. At the completion of this project, I became a lecturer in History at Swansea University, teaching a range of modules in early modern European history. His blog can be found @https://dralun.wordpress.com/

How I Write as a Historian- By: Penelope J. Corfield

Penelope J Corfield has kindly consented to give me an article on How I Write as a Historian. Her article is divided into nine headings.If quoting please cite Copyright © Penelope J. Corfield (2018)

  1. Learn to enjoy writing: writing is a craft skill, which can be improved with regular practice. Learn to enjoy it. Bored authors write bored prose. Think carefully about your intended readership, redrafting as you go. Then ask a trusted and stringent critic for a frank assessment. Adjust in the light of critical review – or, if not accepting the critique, clarify/strengthen your original case.
  2. Have something to say: essential to have a basic message, conferring a vital spark of originality for every assignment. Otherwise, don’t bother. But the full interlocking details of the message will emerge only in course of writing. So it’s ok to begin with working titles for books/chapters/essays/sections and then to finalise them about three-quarters of way through writing process.
  3. Start with mind-mapping: cudgel brains and think laterally to provide visual overview of all possible aspects of the topic, including themes, debates and sources. This is a good moment for surprise, new thoughts. From that,generate a linear plan, whilst keeping mind-map to hand as reference point. And it’s fine, often essential, to adapt linear plan as writing evolves. As part of starting process, define key terms, to be defined at relevant point in the text.
  4. Blend discussion of secondary literature seamlessly into analysis: beginners are rightly trained to start with a discrete historiographical survey but,with experience, it’s good to blend exposition into the analysis as it unfolds.Keep readers aware throughout that historians don’t operate in vacuum but debate constantly with fellow historians in their own and previous generations. It’s a process not just of ‘dialogue’ but of complex ‘plurilogue’.
  5. Interpret primary sources with respect and accuracy: evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of primary sources from the past; be prepared to interpret them but only while treating them with the utmost respect and accuracy. Falsifying data, misquoting sources, or hiding unfavourable evidence are supreme academic sins. Historians are accustomed to write within the constraints of the evidence. That’s their essential discipline. Hence the claim by postmodernist theorists that historians can invent (or uninvent) the past just as they please is not justified. Indeed, if history (the past) was simply ‘what historians write’, there’d be no way of evaluating whether one historian’s arguments are historically more convincing than another’s. And there’d be no means of rebutting (say) Holocaust denial. The challenging task of evaluating, interpreting and knitting together many different forms of evidence from the past, in the light of evolving debates, is the essence of the historian’s practice.
  6. Expound your case with light and shade: Counteract the risk of monotony by incorporating variety. Can take the form of illustrations; anecdotes; even jokes. Vary choice of words and phrases. Vary sentence lengths. Don’t provide typical academic prose, full of lengthy sentences, stuffed with meandering sub- clauses, all written in densely Latinate terminology. But don’t go to other extreme of all rat-a-tat sub-Hemingway terse Anglo-Saxon texts either. Variety keeps readers interested and gives momentum to an unfolding analysis.
  7. Know the arguments against your own: advocacy works best not by caricaturing opposite views but by understanding them, in order to refute them successfully. All courtroom lawyers and politicians are well advised to follow this rule too. But no need to focus exclusively on all-out attack against rival views. That way risks making your work become dated, as the debates change.
  8. Relate the big arguments to your general philosophy of history: Don’t know what that is? Time to decide. If not your lifetime verdict, then at least an interim assessment. Clarify as the analysis unfolds. But again ensure that the general philosophy is shown as informing the unfolding arguments/evidence.It’s not an excuse for suddenly inserting a pre-conceived view.
  9. Know how to end: Draw threads together and end with a snappy dictum.

Penelope J. Corfield is Historian, lecturer and education consultant: info@penelopejcorfield.com Her blog can be found @https://www.penelopejcorfield.com/monthly-blogs/

Why Do Writers Write ? With Alison Stuart

I know it is hard to imagine, but I was born in a time and a place where there were no computers and very little television. Every Sunday afternoon, my father, would read to me from his favourite books (some of which I have to say were probably not really suitable for young children). Dad loved English history so many of the stories he read us were historical novels and the one that stayed with me and fired my imagination for all time was THE KING’S GENERAL by Daphne Du Maurier. If you don’t know this story it is set in the English Civil War and involves the very real life Sir Richard Grenville.

I was in love… not just with history but in particular with the English Civil War. The romance and tragedy of that terrible war between the King and his Parliament, cavaliers and roundheads, captured my imagination. I kept a scrapbook of articles cut from magazines, I devoured any book or movie I could find set in that period and when I ran out of stories to read, I started writing my own. My best friend at school also loved writing and we would spend our lunch hours perched in the willow tree in our school yard, writing away in shorthand notebooks.

Of course I grew up and life and career and family got in the way of writing but I never lost that urge to write. Over the years I continued to accumulate a library of books about the English Civil War and in my spare time I kept writing the story of my heart (which is now a published novel called BY THE SWORD). Then along came computers and the internet and instant access to resources I could only have dreamed about. I have now published eight novels, six of which are set in the English Civil War.

I studied history (and law) at university so I am, technically, a historian by training, but unfortunately living in Australia, my choice of subjects was limited and thus my qualification is in ancient history! That doesn’t matter… I think if I had pursued my love of the English Civil War in an academic sense, I would have lost my passion to write stories! That doesn’t prevent me writing the occasional ‘academic’ type article and for many years I posted regularly to a blog called Hoydens and Firebrands (it is now archived but you can still find my posts, eg this article on War Crimes during the English Civil War, are still being read regularly).

The books I write are often classified as ‘romance’ because I like my characters to have a happy ever after’ but for me historical accuracy is paramount and it is gratifying when readers comment on the colour and accuracy I bring to the story. I have had a lifetime of absorbing every detail of the period of the English Civil War and I find I don’t need to do much research, but I do go to my favourite books which often have little details I can’t find on line that bring a story to life. For example my book THE KING’S MAN came from a single line in Antonia Fraser’s biography of Cromwell which notes that a ‘Miss Granville’ threw a brick bat at the coach bearing Oliver Cromwell to dine with the Lord Mayor of London. Who was Miss Granville and why was she hurling brick bats at the Lord Protector? I still don’t know the true story (don’t tell me!) but I had fun with a fictional explanation!

I am, however, currently writing a series of historical novels set in Australia in the 1870s and that involves a huge amount of research from techniques of gold mining to what sort of lighting they used. The trick I find is not to get bogged in the research while you are writing. My priority is the story and if I get stuck on a piece of research I don’t know, I write a note to myself to go back and fix it when I come to revise the book.

Now for the practicalities… how do I write? I write all my books using a project management system for writers called Scrivener which enables me to store the research (documents, images and websites) so it is easily accessible to the story I am writing. I don’t really plot my stories – they grow organically from an idea, a character or a situation. There is no right or wrong way and trust me I have tried plotting but it killed the story for me before I even began. Every writer is different and whatever works for the individual is the right way for them.

Award-winning Australian author, Alison Stuart learned her passion from history from her father. She has been writing stories since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that her first full length novel was published. A past president of the Romance Writers of Australia, Alison has now published seven full length historical romances and a collection of her short stories. Many of her stories have been shortlisted for international awards and BY THE SWORD won the 2008 EPIC Award for Best Historical Romance. If you would like to more about her books her website is http://www.alisonstuart.com

Why I Write, How I Write by Claire Canary

Language was perhaps the initial love of my life. I was a very vocal baby, speaking early, and I’m sure my nearest and dearest would be the first to say that I haven’t shut up since. As I got older though, I found writing words down had just as much appeal as saying them and, while others at school tended to favour painting or PE, I was only ever really happy with a pen in my hand. In my teens, I acquired another love that was set to last. That was the comedy. I realised quite quickly that this second passion had a link to my first, mind you, because it was the quotable lines of comedic productions that really got me obsessed.

They were what opened my eyes to the possibilities language had to offer. Despite my huge admiration for performers, I saw the script as where the real magic lay, and there was nothing to beat the laughter it could bring. After leaving school, I took courses in Scriptwriting and Creative Writing, thinking there was a scribe somewhere inside me. I’m sorry to say that my first venture into professional writing had me questioning this, however. I was working on marketing text, so maybe it was the difference in content. Knowing rather than just dreaming that my pieces would be made public also put pressure on me. For whatever reason though, I found myself sweating over every sentence, and back then that just didn’t seem the mark of a skilled individual. It struck me that writing wasn’t my vocation after all. I went on to concentrate on less creative talents and studied Proofreading, with the intention of channelling any capability I had with words into the scribblings of others.

While my enthusiasm for writing was waning, my interest in the past was burgeoning. Harking back to my comedy enthusiasm, I cannot deny it was the sitcom Blackadder that fuelled this. To satisfy my curiosity, I started looking into the reality behind the setting of the third series, which focuses on the Regency. Still, if you’d been playing word association with me and tried me with “history”, I would almost certainly have said “Great Fire of London”. There was something about this historical event that stood out above all others in my mind. For it to hit the year following the capital’s famous plague epidemic seemed almost to add insult to injury and just when the country thought it had left behind the restriction of the Interregnum not to mention the destruction of the Civil Wars. 1666’s Great Fire appeared to be a climax of the turmoil the mid 17th century had to unleash. Many claim historians shouldn’t feel emotional about occurrences from bygone days. All I can say in my defence is that I’ve never considered myself a historian. Like it or not, I was mentally putting myself in the place of those poor Londoners. They were mostly ordinary people. Chandlers, schoolchildren, apothecaries, maids – nobody in particular, but still somebody. It was only for my imagination to decide.

So ideas were germinating, but what was I to do with them? By this time, my proofreading and editing had seen me work on a real mixture of texts, and spelling, grammar and punctuation had become a joyous part of what writing was about. While I don’t believe they are essential to the creative process, they open up all sorts of new avenues for expression on the page, many of which are lost in spoken form. Prose now had a more significant pull on me than scripts, and there was no doubt I harboured a desire to tell a tale solely by use of the written word. But I didn’t think I had it in me. Then I got to meet an author I’d been lucky enough to work with remotely. I admired him and felt I’d be a fool to ignore his advice. It was a good job then that his opinion was “just go for it”. On the train home, I set to and wrote an opening scene. From there, I was hooked. While the rocking carriage whisked me through England, my mind was firmly transported into 1666 and, quite frankly, I didn’t want to leave.

That isn’t to say it wasn’t challenging. It took me about a year before I realised I was approaching it from the wrong angle or at least in the wrong order. Getting straight into the action was all very well but my characters, like anyone in the world, had pasts and, as their earlier lives developed in my head, another yarn was born. Then there were their futures. I couldn’t be so cruel as to leave them hanging, could I? Henceforth, the amateur trying her hand at a little story decided to commit to a trilogy of novels. Now that’s a lot of words. Without the history though, her pages would be blank.

The research has been one of the most fascinating tasks I’ve ever undertaken. With the Great Fire being the central focus, it was my starting point, but I soon branched out in different directions. The involvement of the King and Duke of York led me to read up on them both and delve into their personal stories a bit. This, in turn, introduced me to all sorts of 17th-century figures, who were fun to meet but seemed very distracting. I didn’t want to lose focus on the characters of my own creation. It was surprising just how much I learned about my protagonists by studying real people though. As John Donne pointed out, “No man is an island”. When the nation was still reeling from bitter, bloody conflict, figures of authority were despised and revered, while the emerging health crisis endangered society collectively. Emotions ran high, with events and opinions of those around shaping each and every individual. Even my fictional characters couldn’t escape reality, so, to recognise what went on in these 1660s’ heads, I had to correctly understand something of Stuart Britain.

I don’t think I’d have attempted this in pre-Internet days, although printed articles and books can shed light on subjects in greater detail than online resources alone. It’s amazing how gripping a read non-fiction could be, by the way. Special mention here goes to Adrian Tinniswood’s “By Permission of Heaven: The Story of the Great Fire of London” and Rebecca Rideal’s “1666: Plague, War and Hellfire”. What I’d regard as my best research experiences came last year, through some of the many events commemorating the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire. They weren’t always ideal for the obscure details, but talks by historians walk led by city guides, charred exhibits on display in museums and a fascinating new study into the cause of the fire drove my enthusiasm all the more. The atmosphere itself was excellent. Strangers exchanged comments and I no longer felt weird to be sympathising with the victims of the time. Looking to get more of a sense of the period, I remembered the UK didn’t lack in preserved history. Banqueting House is a particularly good one, not only for its visual resplendence but also for its audio commentary talking through some of the happenings to have gone on in the building.

I’m armed with a notebook if on a visit anywhere of 17th-century relevance, but most of my jotting down is done electronically. Paper is too readily lost and overlooked. I mainly confine notes to historical facts and the majority of my plot devising is done in my mind only. If I catch myself tied up in knots over it, I sometimes resort to listing statements about what my characters have done and why. This can help clarify interlinking storylines and show me how to proceed if I’m lucky. Thinking up complex plots could well be my downfall, but it adds a sense of mystery that keeps me guessing myself.

I hope the scenarios will grab some interest and of course, I’d like to see my readers feel for the characters. Yet, if someone takes nothing more from my work than a little appreciation for Stuart Britain, I’ll have done a service to an era that has served me well. I may not have lived through it, but revolution, debauchery, conflagration, combat, mass perishing and scientific pioneering teach people an awful lot, even 350 years later.

Claire Canary is still working on her books and is so far unpublished but plans to seek literary representation soon. Meantime she freelances, as a proofreader/editor trying to write historical fiction #GreatPlague #GreatFire.
Twitter: @FlashheartFave

Why I write, How I write by Marcus Rediker

The Poetics of History from Below-Marcus Rediker, September 2010
In memory of Dennis Brutus (1924–2009)

(Marcus Rediker has kindly allowed me to include this article in my series of Why I write ,How I write. It was first published in the American Historical Association website September 10th 2010) The original article can be found @https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/September-2010/the-poetics-of-history-from-below

My grandfather, the late Fred Robertson, influenced how I think about and write history. He died years before I decided to become a historian and he was not an academic, but he was a historian and an intellectual in his own way. He was a master storyteller.

This Kentucky coal miner was a larger-than-life figure in my youth. I fondly remember sitting with him at the kitchen table. In one hard hand he held a Lucky Strike. In the other hand he held a saucer of his beloved Maxwell House coffee, which he sipped that way even when it was no longer hot. In this posture he told endless stories to a boy who sat enthralled amid the pathos, humor, and quiet heroism of working-class life. His mood changed with the story. He laughed with his whole body, like the then-popular comedian Red Skelton, at his own funny parts.

His visage grew dark and scary at moments of danger or injustice. His eyes danced with the drama of his words. I knew something big was coming when he paused, put the cigarette in the ashtray, and set aside the saucer, freeing his hands for emphasis. His stories were vivid, complex, passionate, and somehow always practical. They featured apocalyptic Biblical language (a lot of hell-fire), long silences (with fateful stares), and curse words that were normally forbidden in our house (son-of-a-bitchin’ this and that). He always managed to tell a big story within a little story.

One of the stories I remember best concerned a vigilante hanging of a man in a coal village where he had once worked, Beech Creek, Kentucky.I don’t remember why the man was hanged. Nor do I remember whether he was white or black; I don’t think he told me. I do remember my mother walking into the kitchen, expressing her doubt without saying a word about whether I should be hearing this particular story.

What I remember most of all was how his telling of the story made clear how wrong the hanging was, and how a real-life lynching looked nothing like what we had all seen on television. He described a frantic, terrifying struggle, with legs flailing, ugly cheers from the crowd, and in the end a limp body with dangling eyeballs and wet pants. The storyteller’s sympathy was firmly with the victim, whose deadly ordeal he had made terribly, hauntingly real.

My grandfather, the poetic storyteller, was perhaps the oldest and deepest influence on my life’s choice to write “history from below,” the variety of social history that emerged in the New Left to explore the experiences and history-making power of working people who had long been left out of elite, “top-down” historical narratives. He educated me about the ways of the world and at the same time about the fundamentals of storytelling. He helped me to see and appreciate the poetics of struggle. And he also helped to shape my sense of the art and craft of history. Like all good storytellers from Shakespeare to Brecht, my grandfather was a good listener. He had a canny ear for how people talked; he was attuned to voices, rich and poor, black and white, male and female, adult and child. Even animals sometimes talked in his stories; a touch of Uncle Remus! He spoke metaphorically: a crowd of people might be “as big as Coxey’s army”; something moving fast “took off like Moody’s goose.” I listened and learned about Coxey, but I never could figure out who Moody was or why his goose was in such a hurry.

I remember hearing while I was in graduate school an admonition about archival and primary sources: “Go on reading until you hear voices.” It seemed an exhortation to schizophrenia at the time, but memories of my grandfather helped me to grasp the point: humanize the sources, humanize the story. Learn to listen. And, of course, the recovery of voices has been a central purpose of history from below from the very beginning, but storytellers were way ahead of us.

The people I study did not often speak through documents of their own making, so it is not easy to hear them. This is the classic challenge of history from below, and many good books have addressed it. I listen by paying close attention to the meaning of words. I spend a lot of time looking up chronologically specific meanings in the Oxford English Dictionary. As an 18th-century specialist, I am especially fond of the words and meanings to be found in A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, compiled by Francis Grose and first published in 1785. In writing Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, a study of deep-sea sailors in the first half of the 18th century, I always had those wondrous things called maritime dictionaries close at hand to help me grasp the material conditions, cooperative work, communications, and consciousness of seagoing proletarians. I also paid close attention to sailors’ speech wherever I could find it, and to their own tradition of storytelling, or yarn-spinning. In his brilliant essay “The Storyteller,” Walter Benjamin explained that historically there have been two main types: the peasant storyteller who had a deep knowledge of locality and its lore, and the sailor storyteller who brought exotic tales from afar. My grandfather was, I suppose, a variant of the former; he helped me to understand the people I studied, the very embodiment of the latter.1

My grandfather chose his words carefully, showing me how a word, a phrase, or a quotation can bring a historical moment to life, even sear it into memory. And what could be more poetic than a note sent by a would-be arsonist to a gentleman in 1830: “My writing is bad but my firing is good my Lord.” One can almost hear the defiant laughter behind the writing. Such words were often speech committed to paper and preserved in the archive of “crime”—always an important place for those who would reconstruct the lives of the expropriated.2

Having heard the power of poetry in stories, I make it a point to use verse as historical evidence wherever possible. For example, poetry is central to The Many-Headed Hydra, a book Peter Linebaugh and I wrote about the motley proletariat of the Atlantic from 1600 to the 1830s. It appears in almost every chapter, some 50 times throughout a book that begins with William Shakespeare (The Tempest) and ends with William Blake (“Tyger, Tyger”). Famous, canonical poets (Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Shelley) rub elbows with largely unknown proletarian poets (Thomas Spence, Joseph Mather, and the ever-scribbling “anonymous,” a preferred female writer’s name for centuries). Contemporary poets such as the Martinican Aimé Césaire appear to summarize themes and ideas, for example, about the serpentine continuities of resistance.

Poetry can get the historian close to the experience and consciousness of working people and can evoke people, places, and events in multidimensional, dynamic ways. Sailor-poet James Field Stanfield crafted memorable, graphic images in his epic poem “The Guinea Voyage” and in his grimly poetic letters about life aboard a slave ship. He described, for example, the second mate of his vessel, lying sick, near death, on the medicine chest, his long hair clotted with filth as it brushed the deck of the ship. He depicted the nightmarish enslavement, flogging, and eventual death of an African woman named Abyeda. Such images can arrest the reader as surely as a surrealist object, disclosing in poetic fashion important connections, relations, parallels, and unities. Christopher Hill once wrote, “Good—imaginative—history is akin to retrospective poetry. It is about life as lived—as much of it as we can recapture.3

Poetry written by workers may be rare, but poetry to be found in action, in resistance by workers, is plentiful; it can be found most everywhere. My grandfather taught me to look for it. To give an example: I discovered a profound one-word poem in a memoir written by Silas Told, a sailor turned Methodist minister who described a drama aboard the slave ship Loyal George in 1727. An enslaved man had decided to die by hunger strike. Captain Timothy Tucker tried to force him to eat. He horse-whipped him to a raw and bloody pulp. He threatened to kill him. The nameless man uttered one word: adomma, so be it. Captain Tucker placed a loaded pistol to his forehead and repeated the demand to eat. Again: adomma. The captain fired and the blood gushed but the man stared him directly in the face and refused to fall. The captain cursed, called for another pistol, and shot the man in the head a second time. Again he would not drop, to the astonishment of all who looked on. A third shot killed the man but by this time an insurrection had exploded among the enslaved, who were inspired by the man’s resistance and outraged by his treatment.

It is impossible to know how many of the hundreds of people who witnessed this incident decided, like Silas Told, to tell the story, punctuated by the word adomma. I suspect many told it, and retold it, in several languages, on plantations, in urban workshops, on docks, and in ships, over many years. The nameless African man gives precise expression to a definition of poetry offered by Ann Lauterbach: “Poetry is the aversion to the assertion of power. Poetry is that which resists dominance.” This is crucial to history from below.4

All good storytellers tell a big story within a little story, and so do all good historians. It can be done in many ways. In my work, the big story has always been the violent, terror-filled rise of capitalism and the many-sided resistance to it from below, whether from the point-of-view of an enslaved African woman trapped in the bowels of a fetid slave ship; a common sailor who mutinied and raised the black flag of piracy aboard a brig on the wide Atlantic; or a runaway former slave who escaped the plantation for a Maroon community in a swamp. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz once remarked that the small fact of sheep-stealing speaks to the big issue of revolution because the storyteller (in his case, the ethnographer) finds connections between the two.5

Finally, I remember my grandfather and remind myself that the historian, like the storyteller, is not above the fray. One of the big questions in the Kentucky coal fields in the 1930s was, which side are you on? In that spirit, I try to develop an ethical relationship with the oppressed and exploited people I study. The relationship is imaginary but no less important for that. In writing The Slave Ship, I asked myself repeatedly, from the beginning of the project to the end, how can I do justice to the people aboard the floating dungeons and what they experienced? The answer is to show retrospective solidarity and “accompany” them through their history, to use a term proposed by Staughton Lynd to describe an egalitarian relationship between historians/intellectuals and movements of working people from below.6

Walt Whitman made the same point in Leaves of Grass. He wrote of:
The hounded slave that flags in the race, leans by the fence, blowing, cover’d with sweat;
The twinges that sting like needles his legs and neck—the murderous buckshot and the bullets;
All these I feel, or am.
I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of the dogs,
Hell and despair are upon me, crack and again crack the marksmen;
I clutch the rails of the fence, my gore dribs, thinn’d with the ooze of my skin;
I fall on the weeds and stones;
The riders spur their unwilling horses, haul close, Taunt my dizzy ears, and beat me violently over the head with whip-stocks.
Agonies are one of my changes of garments;
I do not ask the wounded person how he feels—I myself become the wounded person;
My hurts turn livid upon me as I lean on a cane and observe.

Whitman exaggerates to make a point: he cannot “become” the fugitive, but he can demonstrate sympathetic understanding of the historical subject. As a poet he can join the struggle and convey it to readers. In the end I strive to write history that is vivid, complex, passionate, and practical. I try to make it real and pose questions of justice as I lean on a cane of social and temporal distance and observe. My grandfather would have expected nothing less, dadgummit.

Marcus Rediker is Distinguished Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh and Senior Research Fellow at the Collège d’études mondiales in Paris. His books have won numerous awards and been translated into fifteen languages. They include (with Peter Linebaugh) The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (2000); The Slave Ship: A Human History (2007); and most recently The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf who became First Revolutionary Abolitionist (Beacon Press/Verso, 2017). He is also the producer of the prize-winning documentary film Ghosts of Amistad: In the Footsteps of the Rebels (Tony Buba, director), about the popular memory of the 1839 Amistad rebellion in contemporary Sierra Leone. He is currently working as Guest Curator in the JMW Turner gallery at Tate Britain.


  1. Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller,” in his Illuminations (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), 83–109.
  2. Quoted in E. P. Thompson, “The Crime of Anonymity,” in Douglas Hay, Peter Linebaugh, and E. P. Thompson, eds., Albion’s Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England (New York: Pantheon Books, 1975), 297.
  3. Christopher Hill, The English Bible and the Seventeenth-Century Revolution (London: Allen Lane, 1993), 438, 437.
  4. Ann Lauterbach, “Links Without Links: The Voice of the Turtle,” American Poetry Review 21 (1992), 37–38.
  5. Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 23.
  6. Staughton Lynd, “Oral History from Below,” Oral History Review 21 (1993), 1–8.

How I write, Why I write by John Rees

I approach writing pretty much as I approach any public activity. For the longest time, I seem to have woken up in the morning with the thought that there is obviously a lot wrong with the world and that you can either lie on the sofa and ignore it or choose to do something about it. Writing is just one important way of doing something about it.

In terms of how I write I’ve been lucky to have two seemingly contradictory influences. While I was still a teenager, I learnt about Hegelian philosophy, and its formative role in the development of Marx and Engels thought from a convinced Hegelian tutor on my degree course. I went on to research this more deeply and Marx’s early writings, and the works of George Lukacs, Franz Jakubowski, Raya Dunayevskya, and Antonio Labriola, gave me a powerful methodological framework which has been present in everything I’ve ever written, long or short, with or without explicit philosophical content.

Method won’t do all the work for you of course. There is no substitute for intense empirical research. But method will give you a hypothesis, it will help highlight essential facts and clear away inessential material, and it will help you to see important connections and patterns, even when, perhaps especially when, they contradict your initial hypothesis.

The second influence is tabloid journalism. I’ve done a fair amount of writing and copy subbing for left-wing tabloids in my time, and I was lucky to be friends with the late, great journalist Paul Foot including at the time he had a weekly column in the Daily Mirror. From this, I learnt the virtue of brevity, simplicity, and clarity in written work. Any idiot can write long, but it takes real skill to write short. Any over-educated simpleton can use long words, the skill lies in writing transparently. George Orwell’s unsurpassed Politics and the English Language codifies this approach brilliantly. Blaise Pascal encapsulated it in a phrase when he wrote to a friend, ‘I’m sorry to have written you a long letter, I didn’t have time to write you a short one’.

In terms of immediate technique its fairly standard procedure. I read extensively in both primary and secondary sources, where I can reading the secondary sources first. Although in one part of my mind I’m against marking books in operational practice I underline and make marginal notes in books I’m reading. I actually find this very important, and I’m gratified to see from some of Christopher Hill’s books that I own that he did the same, although he was tidier and made page notes in the end flyleaf of the book. This means I end up buying many more books than I can get on the shelves in my study (or afford)! For The Leveller Revolution, I also printed off reams of original pamphlets from Early English Books Online so that I could make notes on them. This also means that I have extensive files broken down into sub files on my PC for any book project.

I also always use a notebook for ideas, formulations, and transcriptions from original documents and books read in libraries. I used to use A4 notebooks but I now always use the steel-edged A5 notebooks from Manufactum. Although I prefer to write book-length projects on my PC, the iPad has revolutionised note taking so now I move between notebook and iPad, which is especially useful for photographing original documents.

By the time I come to write I’ve usually got the argument both as a whole and in its individual chapters clear in my mind. I write a structure for the book as a whole and for the subsections of each chapter as I move through the book. So when I sit down to write, the section headings in each chapter are laid out like bullet points. I then write the sections in sequence, almost like filling in a form. I’m surrounded by books, articles, documents, and open tabs on the computer as this happens. Then I tidy them all away at the end and move on to the next chapter.

When it’s done, I always pay attention to what manuscript readers and subs say about the text, even if I don’t always follow their advice. Everyone is a better writer after they have been subbed. Leo Hollis was a great editor at Verso for The Leveller Revolution. He read it chapter by chapter and kept saying ‘When’s the next sword fight?’. I couldn’t always provide one, but it was a good influence making the text as exciting as it could be whilst also being as scholarly as necessary (I hope).

John Rees is the author of The Leveller Revolution (Verso, 2016) which has just been published in paperback. He is a Visiting Research Fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London and his previous books include A People’s History of London (Verso, 2012, co-authored with Lindsey German), Imperialism and Resistance (Routledge, 2008), and The Algebra of.Marxism.

How I Write, Why I Write by Susan Margaret Cooper.

I am not a professional, I do not hold a BA, MA or Ph.D, and in fact O and A levels were never an option. Leaving school at 15 with basic typing skills was, and I am now happy in retirement after many years as a legal secretary. But what I do possess, and have for as long as I can remember, is a passion for history. And it wasn’t until later years that the researching and writing of 17th century history came to be a reality.

It is the researching side of things that really gets into your blood, and it is not as easy thing to ignore. It nags away at you, compelling you to delve further and further into your subject, seeking new material. I call it a dis-ease and as I have said on may occasions to date there is no known cure.Putting my research in written form however I do not relish as much as the research, but it is a job that must be done for the benefit of readers.

Most of my work is typed on a computer. I am not one for hand written notes, to be honest my handwriting is appalling, more scrap metal than fine copperplate, and often deciphering my own writing is sometimes a research project all of its own.Wherever possible I will always archive found material firstly in my computer favourites and then print out the most relevant pieces, with an ever growing mountain of A4 appearing on my desk. When researching away from my desk, I find using a modern Dictaphone most helpful particularly when used in conjunction with a transcription kit. Most record offices, and the like now allow a nominal fee for digital photos to be taken by a researcher. This is a real bonus, as it allows more documents to be perused, especially when travelling some distance and time is of the essence. Your photos can then be downloaded back home and the documents scrutinized at your leisure.

My fingers are not as fast or nimble as they used to be on the keyboard, so I made the decision to invest in speech recognition software, a wonderful aid and worth every penny. I was a little hesitant at first in considering this, but the modern speech recognition is superb. I found it particularly helpful in transcribing lengthy old documents. Surprisingly I found that it also works just as well in hearing direct from my Dictaphone, with the added advantage of being able to make a cup of coffee away from my desk whilst the transcription is being done for you.I find editing your own manuscript an arduous but necessary task and is a cross we all have to bear, unless of course one has the wherewithal to employ an editor.

The main sources of my research are usually many of the excellent accessible and free online websites. For instance Internet Archive is a good source of digitized old books etc., from the libraries and archives of universities worldwide. The National Archives and the like are a never-ending source of material. Wikipedia is useful as are ancestry websites but most of the latter require a subscription. But instinct does play a big part and that is something I fear only comes out with practice.

Thomas Alcock

For example my latest book, a non-fiction work on Thomas Alcock, stemmed from my studies of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester culminating in my historical faction (not a typo I do mean faction) novel ‘Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue’ published in 2014.All that appeared to be known about Alcock was his association with Rochester as his servant, his part in Rochester’s incredible comedic deception in the guise of Dr. Alexander Bendo, and also the famous portrait of Alcock c 1650 by the celebrated Samuel Cooper held in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

With my initial interest in Alcock, my first port of call was to visit the University of Nottingham’s Manuscripts and Special Collections, which hold some original works by Rochester together with Alcock’s famous manuscript book, bound in dark green leather with gilt tooling, of ‘The Famous Pathologist or the Noble Mountebank. This was given by Alcock in 1687 as a New Year’s Day gift to Henry Baynton Esq. and Lady Anne his wife, she being Rochester’s eldest daughter. At the end of this exquisite book was the following: ‘Transcribed at Mallets Court In Shierhampton Decr the 13th 1687. by Me THOs ALCOCK’. And on reading those few words, my Alcock sleuthing began.

Bristol Archives had only four references to documents relating to Malletts Court, Shirehampton, near Bristol. The four documents are Indentures appertaining to the Malletts Court. There is a Bargain and Sale of the 21st of June 1699 and a Release of the 22nd June 1699 and two further documents regarding the sale of the house to the Governor, Deputy Governor, Assistants and Guardians of the Poor in the City of Bristol, dated the 28th and 29th of July 1701. In the High Street at Shirehampton stands an old barn, purchased by the church in 2008 and known as the tithe barn and seemingly unrelated to Malletts Court. But the later two Indentures illustrate that the barn would have been part and parcel of the old manor house of Malletts Court, with the church purchasing the building from Bristol Charities, originally Bristol Corporation of the Poor established in 1696.

In the earlier documents there is mention of Malletts Court being heretofore in the possession of a Mrs. Mary Rogers widow. At the earlier time of her living at the old manor, Alcock was also living there and it is where he transcribed ‘The Famous Pathologist’ in 1687. Sadly the manor house, a beautiful specimen, was demolished in 1937 but thankfully there are photo records in existence.

It is also interesting to note that two of the signatures on the earlier deeds are those of the Earl and Countess of Sandwich, the latter being none other than the former Elizabeth Wilmot, another of Rochester’s daughters.Alcock’s employment whilst living at Shirehampton appears to be that of a King’s Waiter at Bristol Port as found in Calendar of Treasury Books entries from 1685 to 1691.Very few letters written by Alcock have survived, but these prove that whilst he was living in Shirehampton he was friends with the well-known Astry family of Henbury and with Sir Robert Southwell and his son Edward whose country seat was at Kings Weston.Two of the surviving letters are held at Bristol Archives, with the third in the private collection of the Marquess of Bath at Longleat House, Wiltshire. All three letters are of great interest; a social letter to Elizabeth Astry, one to Sir Robert Southwell regarding the Monmouth Rebellion and another to Edward Southwell Esq, in connection with the Gloucester Parliamentary Elections of 1690.

As I mentioned earlier, instinct is a great asset and as I trawled the net with the name of Thomas Alcock many surprising facts came to light that caught my eye, one of these being Joseph Glanvill’s ‘Saducismus triumphatus, or, Full and plain evidence concerning witches and apparitions’, published posthumously in 1681. Alcock’s name appears on several occasions in the book, relating to ghost stories, and as such confirms Alcock’s secretaryship for many years to the celebrated Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down and Conner, in Ireland.

My researches then led me to The Royal Society, London, where again to my great surprise Alcock’s name appears in Robert Hooke’s famous ‘Lectiones Cutlerianae, or A collection of lectures, physical, mechanical, geographical & astronomical’, 1679. He is mentioned in connection with Captain Samuel Sturmy’s investigations at the Pen Park Hole, a large natural cave near Bristol, in July 1669. Alcock was present at his descent into the dark abyss, and subsequently wrote verbatim Captain Sturmy’s exploration first hand. This was sent by Alcock to Hooke for his attention…‘I received it from Mr. Thomas Alcock from Bristol’.

Further researches then led me to a letter written in Latin by Alcock to the Duke of Ormonde, on behalf of and signed by Bishop Jeremy Taylor, in 1662. The letter is archived at Northern Illinois University.The British Library played its part too. There is a letter held by them, again in the hand of Alcock but signed by Taylor from Dublin, also dated 1662. This letter is labelled special access, and many weeks passed by before I was given permission to purchase a copy for transcription and for its image to be included in my book.

I conclude with a remarkable, intriguing and unexpected find that came to light. And what better way than to show its entry, which appears in my book:‘In the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, the National Library of the Netherlands in The Hague, shelf mark, BPH 151, there is a manuscript booklet; a tribute to Dr. Henry More who died in September 1687. The document was received by Sir Robert Southwell at his home at Kings Weston near Bristol from Thomas Alcock and as will be seen was written by Alcock at Farley Castle and dated the 14th of January 1687 (1687/88). Farley Castle was the home of Lady Anne Baynton, daughter of Lord Rochester, and her husband Henry Baynton (1664-1691). As already shown earlier, in this same month Lady Anne and her husband received a New Year’s Day gift at Farley Castle of Alcock’s leather bound copy of the Bendo escapade.’

No one until now could categorically say who had written it, being unsigned, some believing it was by Glanvill. But knowing that Glanvill died in 1680, and from the evidance above, there is only one possible author, and that is without doubt Thomas Alcock.Susan Margaret Cooper has, for many years, held a curiosity for England’s history, with particular emphasis on the Restoration period. Her enthusiasm has led her to scholarly research of those times, resulting in some of her works being published in 2011 and 2013 volumes of Oxford University Press Notes and Queries Journal. Sue also has unpublished pieces archived in Blenheim Palace at Woodstock, Magdalene College in Cambridge and in the Library Catalogue of Trinity College in Cambridge.

A Kindle edition of Thomas Alcock: A Biographical Account Kindle by Susan Margaret Cooper is free on Amazon Kindle for five days it can be found with this link- https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thomas-Alcock-Susan-Margaret-Cooper-ebook/dp/B075JKX31B

How I Write, Why I Write by Simone Hanebaum

This is the second blog article in the series How I Write. I have now included a subtitle which is Why I Write? Simone’s response has already validated that new Question. Not only should these articles give students valuable insight into how to write they will hopefully inspire future generations of students to take up the study of history.

I have wanted to be a historian since my high school history teacher led me to fall in love with history. I profoundly believe that history matters, not only intellectually, or socially, but on a personal level as well. I love the archival work and the detective sleuthing it involves, and eventually, the storytelling, and the sharing of that story, that writing enables. The ways in which I have written have evolved and changed as the requirements of my apprenticeship in the discipline and craft of history has changed over the course of my education.

As an undergraduate with a full course load in Canada, I would often have four large term papers due at the end of the twelve-week semester, which often meant one essay was written with 48 hours of mad reading, frantic writing, and very little sleep before I submitted it bleary-eyed, surrounded by several half-empty coffee cups, and an embarrassing amount of junk food wrappers just in time for the deadline set by my professor. I do not recommend this as a writing system at all, nor do I endorse procrastination as a helpful, sexy habit to develop. What I take away from my youthful mistakes though, is that sometimes you will be faced with deadlines, and whether you have years to write a book or thesis, or a day to hammer out a statement requested of you by the local newspaper on an issue pertinent to your research, you will need to sit down, and Get. It. Done. The Germans call it sitzfleisch, literally ‘sitflesh’ or the buttocks and it denotes the ability to sit down and persevere through the task at hand. It will inevitably be a part of your writing.

It goes without saying that to write anything historical you should have prepared by examining primary sources after archival work and reading a lot of secondary literature – you are not writing ‘fake news’ or Donald Trump’s speeches, so you need facts, you need evidence, and you need to listen to what other historians, are writing. It also prevents the embarrassing situation of thinking you are absolutely brilliant with your discovery of something extraordinary and groundbreaking and realizing that a historian said the same thing a decade before. But similarly, it also illuminates where you have found something brilliant and extraordinary, which should hopefully form the basis of whatever piece you are writing.

So you have your brilliant idea, now what? Write it down. Somewhere, wherever works best for you. I keep a research journal full of my ideas, my notes, my archival trips so that I have this information at hand. I also colour code entries based on what they are, paginate the pages and then create a table of contents elsewhere so I can find these thoughts later. I also write the dates of when I was using a journal since I have accrued multiple journals over the years. I keep my research journal on me most places I go because I do inevitably have an idea when I am trying to fall asleep when I’m in the shower, or when I am mid-conversation with someone (yes, I have stopped talking to jot things down).

You do not have to write your essay in the journal but note your thoughts about a particular source, the questions you have, the outline of the paper, and other ideas you might have. This notebook is also space where I do free writing where I tackle the questions I am still hazy on, or on themes I have not quite wrapped by head around as well. I have not been paid to endorse them, but I love Moleskine’s classical black ruled notebooks to use as my research journals. I am an unashamed stationary nerd, so I love the heavy weight of the paper, and the durability of the spines and covers. The associations with Ernest Hemingway are nice too as I hope in vain that his writing genius will somehow be transported across time to me. I also use a fountain pen to write in my journal. Whether it is Moleskine or a journal with unicorns on it, having good stationary, you love and makes you feel good will always help encourage you to use your notebook.

Once I have my ideas, I create an essay outline that plots what I will discuss and when – it should always have a statement of what my argument is and I try to articulate the larger ‘so what’ questions – why does this matter, why is it important – on it as well. This argument and the particularly questions one may be answering over the course of a larger work, such as an honours thesis or master’s thesis, will act as anchors for your work.

Now the tricky part – the writing. Nothing is harder than getting started. You will clean your room or flat. You will try a new recipe. You will organize your entire wardrobe by colour or alphabetize your wardrobe or discover that it is really time that you worked on your Italian. Productive procrastination has often preceded my writing. Do these things if it will create a space conducive to writing, but it is procrastination. You will need to write. Trying to get started can be crippling, even with a plan.

So I start small. I give myself daily writing goals of 500 words, because it is a small, manageable task and I know it will not take much time to write either. If writing those 500 words is as painful as visiting the dentist, I do not write more and I step away satisfied that I met a goal. But more often than not the ideas and prose start flowing and I write more, and I fall into a rhythm and before you know it I have 700-1000 words and an hour and a half has passed. I often start writing with the contextual information or biographical information because it is incredibly easy to write and helps situate myself, even more than it will eventually situate my reader. Making writing manageable makes it feel far less daunting an endeavour.

Where and when you write can have a huge impact on the writing process. That post-lunch sleepy slump in the afternoon? Forget about it. I tend to write better in the mornings and after that slump has passed. Some people are very nocturnal and prefer writing in the wee hours of the morning – I prefer to be sound asleep by then but knowing your best rhythm that suits your lifestyle will help. Where you feel most productive really helps as well. My success working from home is unreliable at best because I get distracted by Netflix and food so I write, when I have had access to them, in offices, or in libraries. Some people love cafes but the coffees do add up and my inquisitorial nature (okay nosiness – an important trait in the historian) means that I will invariably eavesdrop rather than work on my writing. Some people love the chatter and white noise though and are not as cheap as I am. I throw on motivational music that is instrumental or in foreign languages (mostly so I don’t sing and dance along).

Some instrumental EDM beats can really get my writing going, or I like listening incredible film or television soundtracks like those from Westworld or The Borgias. When I do write from home, I like to write in a good ergonomic chair, and I have invested in a laptop tray that converts to a standing desk when I put it on my desk, or a floor desk when I sit on the floor; I suffer from a great deal of lower back pain so I have to vary the positions in which I write (be careful, this is a career hazard for many of us in sedentary work!). Knowing what sort of environment works best for you will always help. And when I work in libraries, I like having a buddy, usually a colleague, who is also in the process of writing. You can hold each other accountable when Facebook or Reddit are seductive distractions, and writing can be a rather lonely experience.

Having a cohort of friends you can alongside with means you have someone to take a break with, or when they study or work on what you do, you have someone to bounce ideas off of. I also find a cup of coffee or tea, or a glass of red wine or scotch, when appropriate and in excessive amounts for the former two and more modest amounts for the latter two, can help make the writing process much more enjoyable.

Once I have finished writing, I (ideally) step away from it and forget about it for a couple of days. Writing can be an incredibly personal experience. It is hard to make the necessary edits and changes – like making sure you actually have answered your question, that the prose flows properly, or cutting unnecessary material – when you are too close to your text. I often do this by printing out a hard copy of my essay so I can read it better and annotate it, or I read it aloud and listen to how the prose sounds. As a postgraduate student I have also always set deadlines with my supervisors to get writing done. They did not require deadlines, but I did; it is a habitual hangover from my undergraduate days.

Once I have written and revised my writing then it is sent off to my supervisor for comments, or to a peer for feedback, or to a journal’s editorial board, and then promptly celebrated with a reward such as dinner with friends. And then you repeat the process all over again for the next paper, the chapter, the next article, or the next book, or the eventual revisions to come.

Being honest with myself and my writing process ensures that I can write as effectively as possible. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and playing to them can help get words on the page, and allow your creativity and ideas to flourish.

Writing is the easiest when you have passion for what you are writing and when you are driven by the indescribable excitement you feel when you know the argument, where it is going and everything else falls into place. When this happens, usually in an ideal writing location and time, the words just flow and it is incredible how you feel when you know that what you are writing is not only intellectually excellent but also written well. There is no feeling like it, and that is real joy of writing, that marriage between your conceptual ideas and your prose. But it has never been constant in my writing experience; sometimes your main goal is just getting words on the page that bear some semblance to English. And that’s okay too.

Simone Hanebaum, B.A., M.A. (SFU) is a third-year research student at the University of Cambridge working on memory, identity, and monumentality in early modern England, 1550-1650, under the supervision of Dr Alexandra Walsham.

How I write- Gaby Mahlberg

Gaby Mahlberg is an independent scholar from Berlin. I wrote to her and other leading historians asking them to provide a blog article with the title “ How they write?. Gaby’s was the first reply and has the honour of the first blog post. Hopefully, this stimulates further posts. The purpose of these articles is to provide students with better understanding of the writing process.

The way I write has not changed much since my undergraduate days, although I hope that my arguments have become slightly more sophisticated over the years. Ignoring the advice of most of my lecturers to leave the introduction to the end, I usually begin at the beginning. I need to write the introduction first to get my thoughts straight. Once the introduction is out of the way, the rest usually flows naturally – if I have done the research that is.

When I start on a new project, be it a book, a chapter, a journal article or even a blog post, I usually do all my reading and primary research first. I take extensive notes from primary and secondary sources storing them in my project folder on my computer. If the project is a book I might have a number of subfolders for different chapters and topics to make it easier to locate the notes later. I am currently writing a book on three English republican exiles in Europe: Edmund Ludlow, Henry Neville and Algernon Sidney. So I have a folder for the book as a whole and separate subfolders for each Ludlow, Neville and Sidney. Within the Ludlow, Neville and Sidney subfolders, I have yet more subfolders for primary and secondary sources. The notes on primary sources are grouped together by archive, the notes on secondary sources are listed alphabetically by author surname. In the olden days, I even used a card catalogue to reference the photocopied chapters and articles gathered in my lever arch files. But even I have gone (almost fully) digital now.

Students always want to know how much they should read. Will two books and three articles do for a 1,500-word essay? It depends, I would say, it all depends. The more you read, the better.Some people think that reading too much will only confuse them, and they are keen to keep things manageable. But the opposite is the case. The more you read, the clearer things get. You will come to see that there are lines of argument that keep repeating themselves. They often follow particular schools of thought and you will be able to group authors and arguments together (Whig, revisionist etc). You will also find that you tend to agree more with one side than with the other, or that both lines of argument have their flaws and a middle way might be the answer (e.g. post-revisionist). Reading more will thus help you to look at the arguments from all angles and give you reassurance that you know what the contested points are.

When I have read enough to have a good sense of what arguments and debates there are on the subject and what the open questions might be, I begin to structure my own argument in my head. Once I know where I want to go with the subject, I put this rough structure of my argument down on paper writing out all my thoughts with brief notes which sources I might want to quote to back it up. (Naturally, for a book I apply this system chapter by chapter. I could never remember the rough outline of an entire book, although even there you need a general idea of what the finished work should look like before you start.)

When I have got this draft outline done, I start to fill in the gaps: I look up the primary and secondary sources I meant to quote, get the quotes and put in the references. Then I usually notice that something does not quite add up or that something is missing and do another round of reading and research until the argument sounds coherent and logical – at least to me. When I am happy with what I have written or, more likely, the submission deadline approaches, I start polishing the piece. This involves supplying missing references, editing and fine-tuning the argument by tweaking little things here and there. Then I go back to the introduction and see if it still fits with the piece I have written, or if, after a number of revisions, I need to rewrite it to make the argument sound.

Once I am happy with the piece, or too exhausted to care, I find a friendly colleague or two to read my first draft, while using the break to detach myself from the text for long enough to go back to it with a fresh look when I get the manuscript back. If there is not enough time until the deadline, or the text I am writing is very short, I might skip the personal peer review, but I will still try to get some distance between me and my writing before I have another final look at it. When I get the comments back and/ or have slept on it I make the final revisions and submit the piece.