The Battle Of Flodden: Fleck Or Fiction?

30 Nov
English: Site of the Battle of Flodden Field. ...
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If you fancy a good read…you should buy a copy of Tom Fleck.  Set at the time of the Battle of Flodden, it is a real page-turner.  I’ve read it three times and loved it each time.

Here are Tudor kings and their nobles – their documented lives are rich material for writers – but now they play a minor part. This is the story of Tom Fleck, a penniless farm labourer, who shares his dwelling with cattle. He is fictional only because he leaves no record – his people live before the keeping of parish registers, so they make no marks on parchment and are lost to history.

We find his rare surname in the register of St. Hilda’s church at Hartlepool:

Baptisms 1596, September 19th : Christofer ye child of Willm. Fleck.

Perhaps William heard tales of how his great-grandfather, Thomas, loved a strange woman and stood with the army on the terrible battlefield of Flodden. This story brings him to life.

The first chapter can be read on the author Harry Nicholson’s blog:

I have a treat for you: Harry kindly agreed to be interviewed for my blog. 

TB:  Hi Harry, thanks for doing this.  First, something banal to ease you in: how did the idea of Tom Fleck come to you?

HN: It is partly a response to what greets me when I walk into bookshops: glossy covers of historical novels that push jewelled Tudor cleavages at the reader – and within, yet more tangled intrigues of royal courts. I wonder what emotional connection I might find with these great lords and their ladies.  Where are the stories of the ancestors of people like me? I don’t see any – so I decided to write the life and adventures of forgotten men and women, people without heraldry, people who left no record except for the blood that, at least poetically, might still flow through our modern veins.

TB:  How difficult was research, given that there are no records of the lower classes?

HN:  It was a matter of combing card indexes of reference libraries and of collections in local history archives; local archives remain vital for detail, the internet is not yet the source of all knowledge (though it is wonderful for making great leaps in general research).   Parish registers, even though they did not begin until 1566, are worth consulting.  They are brief in detail of the common folk but there are entries which hint at human drama and tragedy. Here is one from St Hilda’s at Hartlepool:

Burials  9 Dec. 1596.  Christofer Harte, John Harte ye elder, John Harte ye younger, and Thomas Todd were all of them drowned out of one boat.  There is a tragedy here: four coble fishermen, three of one family – all lost. What will happen now the bread-winners have gone. Three months earlier, five men were lost from another coble.  

I feel an emotional connection with these stark lines, my mother is descended from these same fisher-folk.   Another snippet from a 16th century Yorkshire travelling  Quarter Sessions is rich in facts but also feeds the imagination. I’m sad for Matilda Wilkinson, spinster of Thornton, found guilty of stealing a pair of stockings (threepence), a petticoat (fourpence) and a neckerchief (threepence); she was to be whipped at Malton ‘and from thence conveyed from Constable to Constable, through the parishes, to Thornton, there to be whipped upon a holyday after evening prayer time, from the church stile to the place of her late dwelling there.’  These forgotten people are our fellows, they are silent ones who might sometimes whisper from the pages of historical fiction. That is how I felt when writing Tom Fleck.

TB:  How much time did you spend in research?

HN:  I never logged the days I spent walking the Flodden battlefield or studying the exhibits at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, or sifting through the journals of the Surtees Society, but it must add up to many, many hours. Whilst writing, I would sometimes break off to check something on the internet – like footwear, or what would Tom have on his feet when he kicked a robber in the shins? Would there have been red kites scavenging the streets of Durham City?   What sort of material was Cambric and would that Belgian cloth be for sale on a stall in Alnwick in 1513?  At the close of many days it seemed that I’d spent as much time on research as I did in writing the story – which is probably why it took four years.

TB: Did you have to leave much out?  If so, why?

HN:  In my enthusiasm for historical background, at first the story was overloaded with information.  It was all too much, so I cut and cut and rewrote, until only essentials were left. I gave most of what remained to the ‘actors’. In finding ways of allowing the characters to deliver vital research through their thoughts and speech, people came to life and I improved as a writer.

TB:  Will there be a sequel?

HN:  There will be a sequel, I’ve done a good deal of research for it.  I’m still reflecting on what circumstances might arise for Tom’s people – but I will not truly know until the ink touches the paper.

Writing Tom Fleck brought a rich four years; I had another world, just by my side, that I could step into – wherever I was. Now the book is published I do miss those characters; they had become real and I loved them all – even the bad guys.

‘Sharp as quivering hares are the Flecks. We’ve eyes and ears for things other folk miss.’

Much later, in the aftermath of Flodden, a young man finally understands his father’s words.

The year: 1513. The place: North-East England.

Tom Fleck, a downtrodden farm worker but gifted archer yearns to escape his masters. He unearths two objects that could be keys to freedom: a torque of ancient gold and a Tudor seal ring. He cannot know how these finds will determine his future.

Rachel Coronel craves an end to her Jewish wanderings. When the torque comes to rest around the neck of this mysterious woman, an odyssey begins which draws Tom Fleck into borderlands of belief and race.

The seal ring propels Tom on a journey of self-knowledge that can only climax in another borderland, among the ‘flowers of the forest’ on Flodden Field.   

The book is available on Amazon and other online outlets.

ISBN-13:  978-1908147769

Paperback price:  £7.99  ($12.99)

Kindle version:  £2.14   ($2.99)

Harry is happy to send out signed copies.  (£1.50 postage within the UK; overseas please contact Harry direct for postage price.)

14 Responses to “The Battle Of Flodden: Fleck Or Fiction?”

  1. SchmidleysScribbling November 30, 2011 at 16:57 #

    Wow, I can tell you worked hard for this interview, but I got confused. Social history is the new history that studies the lives of those who lived through historical times. A number of great books have been developed by historians that describe the lives of the Tom Flecks of the world. Some of these histories predate the parish records. I never cease to be amazed at the ingenuity of these historians. Dianne


    • Tilly Bud December 1, 2011 at 12:00 #

      There are relatively few available, and Harry was aiming for a fictional telling of that world. He does it brilliantly. An excellent read.


  2. laurieanichols November 30, 2011 at 16:57 #

    wonderful interview and inspirational for me as well. Thanks, I have ideas about editing in the back of my head now.


    • Tilly Bud December 1, 2011 at 12:01 #

      Excellent! If you contact Harry via his blog, I’m sure he’ll be happy to advise you.


  3. vivinfrance November 30, 2011 at 17:01 #

    Beautifully written review and interview. (darn it, there go today’s Maltesers). I too have missed Tom Fleck and the rich variety of personalities to be encountered within the pages of Harry’s wonderful novel. I hope the sequel doesn’t take four years to write.


    • Tilly Bud December 1, 2011 at 12:03 #

      Me too! I love the first one.

      I can’t take credit for the interview because Harry did all the work. 🙂


  4. Perfecting Motherhood December 1, 2011 at 06:43 #

    Very cool! Did you tell Harry you’re his #1 fan?


    • Tilly Bud December 1, 2011 at 12:04 #

      Actually, I think that’s Viv! She sent me over to ask him for the interview. But I’m definitely #2!


  5. earlybird December 1, 2011 at 07:38 #

    Good interview.

    Good book.

    If you haven’t got it – buy a copy.


  6. nrhatch December 1, 2011 at 20:53 #

    Wonderful interview, Tilly! Sounds an intriguing read.


  7. ElizOF December 7, 2011 at 02:59 #

    Excellent! I shall read it once I catch my breath… Promise. 😉


    • Harry Nicholson December 10, 2011 at 18:30 #

      Thanks for interviewing me, Linda/Tilly. I’m back from tree thinning in wildest Wales and have been sleeping long ever since.
      I’ve just been to the Turnstone Gallery in Sandsend for my Xmas drink – it is open house this weekend – the gallery sold five of my enamel pictures this morning as opposed to just one last month; so we can have a posh bottle of port this Xmas.
      Also, we called in at the local garden centre – they had sold out of ‘Tom Fleck’. Restocked them and took payment in kind: big bag of wild-bird food, veg seeds for next year, 4 bags of John Innes no.3 and an African violet.

      There is a lunar eclipse happening right now. I’m off out to take a look.


I welcome your comments but be warned: I'm menopausal and as likely to snarl as smile. Wine or Maltesers are an acceptable bribe; or a compliment about my youthful looks and cheery disposition will do in a pinch.

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