Merlyn MacLeod, Author

Merlyn MacLeod, Author

Two wenches writing as one. Named after the falcon, not the mage.


All of the posts under the "Writing" category.

Writing Cat

A few weeks ago, I had to say goodbye to Mac — my marmalade-cat friend of 14 years. He stayed as long as he could, refusing to let me know he had cancer. I found out when I ran my hand down his back, and he made a sound I’d never heard before. There was nothing to be done — they can’t cure carcinoma.

Two days later, I was adopted by a black kitten. I grew up with black cats, so all such moggies are friends. She has very big eyes, and her humane society name was Mercy. To herself she is…Herself. Like all kittens, she likes to run and stalk and climb and play. Her favorite toys thus far are neat little chase-me balls made from small strips of flexible cohesive vet wraps that are meant to protect horse legs. They bounce beautifully as they’re made of latex, and they roll in unexpected patterns. They also catch on claws and can be carried about in the mouth. And lost under the furniture. Of course.

During my writing session this morning, Herself jumped atop a five-drawer filing cabinet, only to perch atop my ancient laser printer, to pose with William Turner (aka Orlando Bloom). (My cell phone doesn’t take great pictures, but if I had reached for my Nikon, she’d have be gone by the time I got set up.)


Herself likes to keep company with me when I’m writing, and she reminded me of Pangur Bán who was another cat companionioning another writer.

When I went looking, I discovered Seamus Heaney (who died last year) had made a new translation of the poem featuring Pangur Bán. If you’ve not heard the poem, you’ll likely not know it was written in Irish by an anonymous monk in a ninth-century manuscript that belongs to the monastery of St. Paul in Austria. And here it is, for cat lovers everywhere:

Pangur Bán

From the 9th-century Irish poem written by an annonymous monk. Translated By Seamus Heaney.

Read the translator’s notes

Pangur Bán and I at work,
Adepts, equals, cat and clerk:
       His whole instinct is to hunt,
       Mine to free the meaning pent.
More than loud acclaim, I love
Books, silence, thought, my alcove.
       Happy for me, Pangur Bán
       Child-plays round some mouse’s den.
Truth to tell, just being here,
Housed alone, housed together,
       Adds up to its own reward:
       Concentration, stealthy art.
Next thing an unwary mouse
Bares his flank: Pangur pounces.
       Next thing lines that held and held
       Meaning back begin to yield.
All the while, his round bright eye
Fixes on the wall, while I
       Focus my less piercing gaze
       On the challenge of the page.
With his unsheathed, perfect nails
Pangur springs, exults and kills.
       When the longed-for, difficult
       Answers come, I too exult.
So it goes. To each his own.
No vying. No vexation.
       Taking pleasure, taking pains,
       Kindred spirits, veterans.
Day and night, soft purr, soft pad,
Pangur Bán has learned his trade.
       Day and night, my own hard work
       Solves the cruxes, makes a mark.
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Richard III, Rasputin, Vlad the Impaler – One of these is not like the others

Mirror, mirror on the wall, Who's the most evil one of all?

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who’s the most evil one of all?

Has anyone else tried to read The Religious Life of Richard III: Piety & Prayer in the North of England by Jonathan Hughes?

I knew going in that Hughes is openly anti-Richard; I didn’t know he’s anti-Richard with a vengeance. I’m reading the book for insights into Richard and his medieval Catholicism and how it affected his personality/life. But every evil thing laid at Richard’s feet…in his introduction Hughes insists that Richard did it. Everything. No exceptions. He killed Henry VI. He killed Edward, Prince of Wales after the Battle of Tewkesbury. He helped kill his brother, Clarence. He wanted to marry his niece and so he poisoned his wife. His problem was pride; it’s better that his brother was a glutton and lustful because gluttony and lust don’t lead to the same dastardly doings as does the sin of pride. On and on and on. Ad nauseum.

Hughes even posits that Richard knew ahead of time his brother the king, Edward IV, was going to die of gluttony. (Edward did? And Richard did? Where the heck is that proven?) Richard made plans accordingly while his brother was still alive. I’m surprised Richard’s crystal ball hasn’t been dug up yet at Middleham.

While reading the seemingly endless list of Evil!King Richard III accusations and mentally ticking off historically valid rebuttals (like the Juana of Portugal and Infanta of Spain marriage negotiations, which Hughes didn’t know about or ignored; and the unreliability of More and Vergil), it occurred to me that if Richard had done everything tradition says he did, he would have been a full-blown psychopath, even more manipulative and murderous than the character Shakespeare framed.

It also occurred to me that if Richard had been as manipulative, murderous, and sneaky-crafty at hiding his intentions for nigh on 12+ years and hiding out in Yorkshire while planning to satisfy his (always hidden) overweening ambition by snatching the throne when Edward V obligingly died, then that Richard would never have lost the Battle of Bosworth. That Richard would have lost no time running away to fight another day. Because self-preservation? That’s been at the top of every known psychopath’s list of priorities.

And not only that: “All for one and more for me” would have been Richard’s obvious and consistent policy long before he took the throne. If that was the case, I doubt any Yorkshireman would have missed Richard after he died. Yet plenty did. A few years after Bosworth, the Earl of Northumberland lost his life at the hands of a Yorkshire mob because of his role in helping the man they thought of as their king to go missing.

How amazing is it that Richard as Duke of Gloucester didn’t arbitrarily go murdering children. Nor did he plot against and behead members of the gentry or the nobility during the 12 years he lived in the North — regardless he would have been within his rights legally to do so, if only because he was Constable of England.

How amazing is it that instead of hanging and beheading his way through Yorkshire, when the city of York wrote to say, “We’ve had this bloke in prison for some weeks because he badmouthed you, yer Grace. What should we do with him?”, Richard, Duke of Gloucester wrote back, “Release him.”

Maybe Richard’s reply was really code for, “Torture him until he’s very nearly dead, then lynch the bugger. While you’re at it, exile his wife and kiddies, yeah?”

Given the consistent way the Duke of Gloucester conducted his life while living in the North, and how he served as the equivalent of a circuit judge for so long (upholding the law village by town, and even taming those pesky border reivers), he’d have to have undergone a total personality transplant (or been infested with medieval demons) to do what tradition and Tudor propaganda says he did.

Maybe Richard fell off of his horse and received a great blow to the head a few days before he received word from Hastings that his brother the king had died. Maybe that’s the reason for the alleged change in his personality.

Now…admittedly Hughes wrote this book in mid-2000 and the historical analysis pendulum has swung a bit more to center in the past 14 years. I’ve read that current Richard III scholars no longer believe he did all the dastardly things he was convicted (in absentia and on hearsay — which isn’t admissible in a court of law) of doing 500+ years ago. But there’s Ross’s and Hicks’ biographies, and a handful of other books…”Selectively murderous” is what I remember from Ross, and I’ve been warned to avoid Hicks.

I know there’s Good King Richard? by Jeremy Potter, and the most excellent The Maligned King by Annette Carson (both foundationed in solid research), but I’m not seeing the centered pendulum of academia, so perhaps someone could provide a list of the more moderate scholars and their writings?

Hughes’ writing is broad-stroke, and his matter-of-fact insistence on “GUILTY!” for everything — with no more “proof” than hearsay writings decades past Bosworth — is wearying.  He isn’t as bad in tone as Desmond what’s-his-name’s poison, but close.

I’m going to continue wading through this thing, looking for useful morsels of information on Richard and his medieval Catholicism, but it’s at a cost. I’m having to read the book in short spurts. After 30 minutes, I feel like I need a shower to wash off the bad feelings that come with this book. I’m not exaggerating about the shower.

I know Richard wasn’t all treacle and divinity, but eesh. When you lay out the catalog of terrible sins he’s supposed to have committed (and I hadn’t done this in awhile), it’s a list that is unbelievable. Not because a medieval warlord wouldn’t have done those things, but because if he had done all those things, a solid evidence trail would be there for at least some of them. The “proof” wouldn’t all be hearsay and deliberate Tudor smear campaign.

If you go researching Vlad the Impaler (1431-1476/77), you run into eyewitness accounts of his medieval warlord nastiness in great, violent, and bloody detail. You learn about his childhood, his training in cruelty from the Turks when he was held captive as a child, his political and personal reasons for acting so violently toward others when he ruled. You have no trouble placing him in context with his surroundings and culture. You don’t get, “It was rumored that he impaled his enemies on spikes,” or, “Some say he nailed the visiting diplomats’ turbans to their heads, but as yet I haven’t been able to ascertain why he did this.” You get stark information. (He nailed the turbans to the diplomats’ heads because said diplomats refused to remove their turbans in his presence. Obviously, the penalty for insulting the Voivode of Wallachia could be severe.)

You can stack up the 15th century historical record in the case of Vlad and know it supports your conclusion. You back away from the blood and mayhem and realize there’s no question about it: he was a ruthless medieval ruler and a great model for Dracula.

On the other hand, the trouble with researching Richard is that you have to dig through a lot of backstairs gossip and keep digging (as Annette Carson has) before you get to reliable contemporary details regarding him, his reign, or his life. Many writers — academic and fiction as well — seem unwilling to do this. Annette Carson is the only writer I know who has based her work on the events of Richard III’s reign as they actually happened, and based on reports in only the original sources — are there others?

I simply cannot understand why historians seem to lose all their power of discernment when they come to research and write about Richard III. Shakespeare wrote a powerful play, but it’s dramatic fiction, not history. Why does tradition treat a playwright and his 16th-century sources as reliable historical accounts of actual events when they’re not?

Does this happen with other historical figures, or only with Richard?

Oh. Wait. It happens with Rasputin as well. So there’s another “He was too evil!” example of someone who lost his reputation to his murderer.

I’m going to take that shower now.

PS. Someone has whispered to me that I’ll find more sympathetic and reasonable assessments of Richard’s piety from Sutton & Visser-Fuchs, & Pamela Tudor-Craig. Thank heaven for interlibrary loan….


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Endnotes to Bertram Fields’ “Royal Blood”


In 2000, lawyer Bertram Fields published a strong rebuttal to certain authors’ hatchet jobs on Richard III.

A note in Royal Blood: Mystery of the Princes told readers they could find Fields’ endnotes in a file archived on his publisher’s site. The site was subsequently deleted from the Web, and the endnotes went missing.

Many months ago, a member of The Richard III Society discussion group managed to located the notes via the Wayback Machine.

I offered to upload Fields’ notes for someone on Facebook…so here they are. Click on the link below to download the file.



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The Richard III Network Discussion Board

Richard III Network Banner

Richard III Network Banner

I know I’m not the only one frustrated with YahooGroups’ “update”. Nor am I the only one frustrated with Facebook’s discussion group format, which makes it time consuming, if not downright impossible, to locate previous posts and discussions on such lively topics as Richard III, or the medieval world he lived in.

Behold, there’s a new Richard III discussion board on the castle block. THE RICHARD III NETWORK is a beautifully categorized forum where you can discuss King Richard III and anything related to his life and times. (Even the reburial issue? You betcha.)

It’s exciting to get in on the ground floor of anything new about Richard, and the founders are determined to make R3N a place where everyone’s comfy discussing the king, his life and times. New categories for discussion are being added as members suggest them.

The main rule is “Keep it kind,” as some discussions (*cough* Leicester or York? Plantagenet or Tudor? Were the Princes in the Tower murdered or did they just go missing? Evil!King Richard III or Maligned!King Richard III? *cough*) can become quite heated, and the draconian decree of “Mention That Here and Thou Shalt Be Silenced or Banned!” has stifled more than one participant taking part in other discussion sites in recent memory. The owners of The Richard III Network aren’t affiliated with or beholden to any other organizations dedicated to Richard III, so the discussion spectrum is wide open.

Membership/participation is free, no monies of any kind are collected, and opinions at R3N are unfettered.

Just…you know…keep it kind.

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Clubs We Don’t Wanna Belong To


Do you remember all those clubs in high school? Spanish Club, Student Government Club, Yearbook Club, Drama Club, Chess Club, Computer Club, etc?

As I was loading the dishwasher this morning (and looking forward to doing some medieval research), it occurred to me that when I was in high school I had nothing in common with 99% of the members of those clubs. I never wanted to join in  their reindeer games. I did latch onto Drama Club and ended up being a Thespian which led to a lot of neat stuff in college (like madrigals and opera theatre and touring with the Shrine of the Ages Choir with a fantastic director we called Mel, but that’s another story).

When I envision the high school clubs expanding out into the world with shiny new names (compliments of whatever marketing efforts they make), I finally understand why I don’t relate to 99% of society.

My “tribe” is something entirely different, and that’s why it’s always made me miserable to try fitting into mainstream, mundane society and corporate life as its presented in the media. Being pressured to work that 8-5 job and dress this way and don’t forget the makeup and heels and clothing that will make you look like everyone else in the cookie-cutter world because  this means security and safety (bwahahahahaa the hell?) makes me feel as if a Black Suit came around with a clipboard to my first-hour class when I was a senior, loomed over my fragile little writing desk, and growled, “Sign up with us, or else.”

“Or else,” I said then. I still say it now. I’d rather eat glass that be like the “Triplets” in the old Fred Astaire movie,  Bandwagon, who dressed alike and talked alike and thinked alike and pasteboard-smiled alike and stabbed-in-the-back alike — like so many of us today in the name of false safety and non-existent security. 

If you haven’t seen the “Triplets,” here they are:

I refuse to be a Triplet. My own geeky clubs are out there. I’m finding them.

What about your own clubs? Have you found or invented them yourself? What advice can you give for breaking away from the fake-society vampires?

NOTE: Walraversijde is an archeological site and museum of a fishing village at the Flemish coast that existed from the early 1300s to the end of the 17th century. On planet Earth, it’s near Oostende, Belgium.

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The Man With No Eyebrow

Photo by Alberto P. Viega, Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy of Alberto P. Viega, on Wikimedia Commons & Flikr.

Last night I dreamed of a man with no eyebrow. He was a burly medieval in the service of Richard III. He didn’t wear a little white boar badge announcing his affinity; I just knew, in the surreal way you automatically know things in dreams.

I’ve been doing a lot of research on Richard III lately for a book I’m working on, so it’s not surprising I’d dream of something to do with him. It’s too bad Richard himself didn’t show up in my dream, ready to answer all my questions and solve the mystery of the little princes, but my Muse is never cooperative that way. Like Joss Whedan, she gives me what I need, never what I want.

No Eyebrow loomed over me and put his face close to mine and told me many important things — none of which I can remember. The extremely close encounter revealed to me that his right eyebrow was bushy and black, while his left eyebrow was naked with the exception of a few scattered hairs. Does he pluck? I wondered. His bottom teeth were crooked and thick with yellow plaque. I expected his breath to smell, but I don’t remember ever smelling anything in a dream. (I don’t know why, like a proper writer, my Muse doesn’t know to use all the senses when she presents a scene to me.) No Eyebrow’s face filled my dreamscape, so I don’t know whether I’d been transported to Unmerry Olde 15th-Century England, or if he was wearing lovely Spanish-leather boots. (Why are boots in medieval novels always made of Spanish leather? Why not Portuguese or Italian Leather?)

I don’t usually remember my dreams. When I do, I know how to pour the pertinent details onto paper and analyze the symbolism to pinpoint what my subconscious is trying to tell me about a current situation in my life.

No Eyebrow isn’t letting me do that.

With all the research I’ve been doing at the moment on Richard III’s life, it’s no surprise I’d dream of something to do with him. I’d rather it had been him in the dream rather than some stranger with no eyebrow, but that would be too easy, and easy is something my Muse doesn’t do very often.

Since I can’t plug the symbolism of No Eyebrow into my current real life, I’m considering using him somewhere in my Richard III novel.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could train our Muses into introducing us to a character a night? Each character could tell us their greatest fear, their greatest desire, and what wonderful-horrible things happened to them in the past to make them who they are. Further, they could reveal the best use we could make of them.

Right now, all No Eyebrows has given me is a starkly visual gimmick. He’s going to have to give me a lot more before I can see if he even fits into my world.

Have you ever had someone introduce himself or herself in your dreams? Did you end up using them as a character in your work, or did they help with something in your life? Tell me about it?

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