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Monday 25 April 2016

U is for...(A Just and) Upright Man

Click Here for a list of other A-Zers
 A Just and Upright Man

Throughout April I have invited 26 authors who had been selected as Editor's Choice by the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews
 to help me out with the 2016 A-Z Blog Challenge...
Except to be a little different I interviewed 
their leading Character/s...

Today's Character is from :

HH : Hello! I believe you exist in R J Lynch’s  novel – A Just and Upright Man, and would you like to introduce yourself - who you are, what you do?
Hello, Helen. My name is James Blakiston, I’m in my twenties and I’m Land Agent on the estate of Lord Ravenshead in County Durham in the north-east of England. Really, the work is a backward step for me; my father was a landowner in Dorset, though not on such a scale as Lord Ravenshead, and I expected to inherit eventually and to live there with a wellborn woman s my wife, but my father invested foolishly, lost everything he had and ended his life in the Marshalsea, a debtor’s prison. A cousin spoke to his Lordship on my behalf and I was taken on in this position; my younger brother joined the Navy as a midshipman. Things were worse for our sister; she is now a governess and I’m afraid she doesn't really like children. But that’s how life is; you take what it hands you and make the best of it.

HH : Where and when are you? Are you a real historical person or did your author create you?
It’s the mid-1760s and I’m afraid Durham is a rough sort of place compared with my Dorset home, but I’ve come to love it here. It was my author who brought me into life and I must say I’m grateful to him.

HH. In a few brief sentences: what is the novel you feature in about?
Well, now, that’s an interesting question, especially given my background as gentry. John Lynch is my author and he has always loved historical fiction but instead of writing about the aristocracy and the gentry – people like me – as so much historical fiction does he wanted to show the lives of the working poor. Agricultural labourers, coalminers, people without education who live a precarious life from day to day. I’m face-to-face every day with farmers who are raising themselves into the middling sort but also with day labourers and people for whom there is no work at all. And it’s been fascinating. And… Well… This is a bit personal, Helen, but I fell in love with a labourer’s daughter. Lizzie Greener. A spirited girl. Of course, it’s impossible and I know that… There’s a neighbouring landowner who has an unmarried female cousin and he wants to settle £500 a year on me and have me wed the woman and live in Hoppyland Hall which is one of his properties. Obviously, for a man in my position that’s the thing to do. I’d be restored to something like the life I’d expected and I’d be received in society. But still… And then there’s a murder, well, two murders in fact, and it falls to me to find the person responsible.

HH :  I ‘met’ my pirate, Jesamiah Acorne on a beach in Dorset -  how did your author meet up with you?
As far as I can tell, I just met a need. Some writers are like that, you know. They think, “How am I going to tell this story,” and they decide they need a particular person and, boom! There you are. Born out of nothing. What I think is that he wanted to show how life looked to the people at the very bottom of the heap and he decided the best way to do that was to have someone who’d been born into the gentry and fallen far enough to be able to examine the lives of the poor in a way that most people like me would never do. It’s amazing, you know, but the poor can be invisible to the well off. The rector, for example, simply doesn’t see them. But I have to say, his wife is an example to us all. But there you are, you see: she was born the daughter of a common seaman who became a sea captain and she brought the rector a thousand a year, so she straddles both classes, too.

HH : Tell me about one or two of the other characters who feature with you - husband, wife, family? Who are some of the nice characters and who is the nastiest one?
Well. I really feel I shouldn’t be saying this, but of course there’s Lizzie. Lizzie Greener. Lizzie was born into the lowest class and in the life I was born to I don’t suppose I’d ever have noticed her, but she really is the most captivating person I’ve ever met. If I’d expected anything, which I didn’t because I never thought about it, it would have been that the poor would be ground down with all spirit extracted from them, but Lizzie… Lizzie is an example to us all of how indomitable a human being can be.
Then there’s Tom Laws. A farmer’s son, but the second son so not much of a life in store but then he gets a chance and he takes it. Tom is the kind of young man a father would be proud to acknowledge.
And, of course, the rector. He is a snob who doesn’t know he’s a snob, but we’ve become good friends.
The nastiest character? Well, I suppose I should say the Earl of Wrekin because he mistreats Lizzie’s older sister in the most shameful way and I suppose he really isn’t very nice, although it’s perhaps not for me to criticise my employer’s son. Really, though, I have to pick out as the most unpleasant character in the book the owner of Matfen Hall who wants me to marry his cousin and go to work for him. The way he treats people he sees as beneath him… Well, it’s disgraceful. And he simply doesn’t see that he is doing anything wrong.

HH : What is your favourite scene in the book?
There are so many. I suppose, though, the one in the dairy has a special resonance for me. The one where I’m giving Lizzie a job to do and I’m so close to her I could reach out and touch and I want to do that so much I’m quite giddy. And then there’s the one where I come across her and she’s walking to the place I’m going to and I seize her round the waist and lift her on to Obsidian, my horse, and carry her there and she’s so close to me… So close.

HH : What is your least favourite? Maybe a frightening or sad moment that your author wrote.
Well, either of those that I listed as my favourites could also count as my least favourite, because I so much wanted to take her hand and tell her how I felt. And, of course, I couldn’t do that. What would people say? But probably the hanging scene, where they hang that poor boy for taking rabbits – that was dreadful. And so real.

HH : What are you most proud of about your author?
He has the most remarkable sense of people. There are a lot of characters in this book, and every one of them is fully rounded. You see the good and the bad and you understand who they are and why they do the things they do.

Master John
HH : Has your author written  other books about you? If not, about other characters?
How do you feel about your author going off with someone else!
Oh, he has, and he’s writing more. A Just and Upright Man was the first in a series of five and he’s called the series The James Blakiston Series, which makes me very proud. The second book in the series is Poor Law and I have a starring role and it will be out in paperback in April this year.
 [Helen - HNS Indie looks forward to reviewing it!]

HH : As a character if you could travel to a time and place different to your own fictional setting  where and when would you go?
Well. There’s a question. I think, you know, that what I really would most like is to keep the time the same – the 1760s – but go to the colonies in America because things are starting to hot up there. We’ve got King George and I know it really isn’t my place to disparage a king but if I were going to be really honest, I’d have to say that King George III is little short of an imbecile. I don’t think he or the people he has around him understand the feelings of the colonists. I suspect it may come to war and if it does it will be a civil war between English people on this side of the Atlantic and English people on that side of the Atlantic and, you know, civil wars are the worst kind of war. But please don’t tell anyone I said that about His Majesty. The author has hinted that I may see the Americas in book three of the series. I hope I do.
And if I really have to change time as well as place, I’d like to go back to 1415 and fight with Henry at Agincourt. What a magnificent victory that was! The English were completely outnumbered and the arrogant French believed they’d destroy them but in fact it was the English longbowmen who wrought the destruction.

Thank you that was really interesting!
Now where can readers of this A-Z Blog Challenge find out more about you and your author?
Twitter  @jlynchauthor

Here is the company we will be keeping on this 
A-Z Blog Challenge!
B 2nd Saturday  - Bloodie Bones - Lucienne Boyce
C 4th Monday - Man in the Canary Waistcoat Susan Grossey
D 5th Tuesday - Dubh-Linn  - James Nelson
F 7th Thursday - Fortune’s Fool- David Blixt
H 9th Saturday - The Love Letter of John Henry Holliday) - Mary Fancher
K 13th Wednesday - Khamsin- Inge Borg
L 14th Thursday - Luck Bringer   - Nick Brown
N 16th Saturday - A Newfound Land  - Anna Belfrage
O 18th Monday - Out Of Time  - Loretta Livingstone
P 19th Tuesday  - Pirate Code  - Helen Hollick
Q 20th Wednesday - To Be A Queen – Annie Whitehead
R 21st Thursday  - The Spirit Room - Marschel Paul
U 25th Monday  - A Just And Upright Man - John Lynch
X 28th Thursday – The FlaX flower – AmandaMaclean

So call back tomorrow 
To meet the next exciting Character! 
(unless it is Sunday - in which case, I'll have something different 
but just as interesting !)


  1. Sounds like a really good read - another one to add to my list!

    1. Thanks, Annie. If you're anything like me, that list will be a long one. So much to read, so little time :-)

  2. Love your A to Z theme!

    Happy to meet you, Mr Blakiston. Yours sounds an intriguing tale.

    1. Thanks Deniz - a lot of hard work to put it all together! Do drop by some of the previous posts - especially P :L-)

    2. Your obedient servant, ma'am. But life can be so difficult. In Poor Law, which is Book 2 of this series, my sister writes to me: "Love is not for our class, James. Love is for the poor, the labourers in the fields. Look how little good it does them and you will see what regard God has for it." And of course I see that she is right. But it is so hard...Tell me; what would YOU do in a situation like mine, torn between aching love and the need to do what my family expects?

  3. An excellent interview, John. If James will excuse me for saying so, he comes across as very real. I like the fact that he reaches both upper and lower class characters. I wonder if he will find the courage to defy convention and wed his Lizzie.

    1. Thank you, Loretta. I've tried to reply to this but so far my reply seems to have been rejected. What I set out to say was that what has most pleased me about reviews for AJAUM has been the way people have seen the characters as fully rounded and real. It's difficult for poor James, though; everyone is telling him not to be so foolish: his sister, his friend the rector, even Lizzie's sister, who fears for her sister should she flout convention and offend the gentry. And when he rejects the woman offered to him because her family is rapacious and she lacks humanity the general feeling is that he is not entirely sane. They say that love will find a way -- but are they right?

  4. Oh, I hope James gets out from under the yoke of his proffered choice to marry for a dowry and "safety." I hope he does what I did (centuries later, of course): Emigrate to America!

    1. It was so difficult in James's day, Inge -- it's hard for us now to understand the weight opinion could carry. But he's a determined young man, and she a feisty young woman.

  5. Sounds like the perfect antidote to Downton Abbey! I think this is a very interesting device, a man of 'high birth' fallen on tough times because it allows a double vision 'down' and 'up' the social scale which is an interesting perspective. I wonder where the title comes from? A Just and Upright Man has a great ring to it. Good luck to James in his American travels! Any particular writers who have inspired you, Master John?

    1. The title comes from the Book of Job, Victoria. Here's the relevant passage from the book:
      ‘Well, Rector, I shall tell you this. Whatever his actions in relation to others, Cooper served me well. If I find that his death was not a natural end, I shall wish to find the person who killed him, and I shall wish to bring the old man justice.’
      ‘Ah, Blakiston. Justice. Job tells us that the just and upright man is laughed to scorn.’
      ‘That is something that happens to me but rarely, Rector Claverley. And never twice from the same man.’
      ‘Pride goeth before destruction, Blakiston, and a haughty spirit before a fall.’

      My "thing" in historical fiction is to focus on the lives of the people at the bottom of the heap. Influences? Thomas Hardy, to be sure. Winston Graham, I would say. Antonia Fraser. Liza Picard. Charlotte Bronte. But the book that made me want to be a writer was Wuthering Heights, which I read at the dangerous age of 14.

  6. This sounds like a very interesting book and series. I really hope in a future book James, and possibly Lizzie, make it to the American Colonies. I think together they’d do quite well in the New World. I haven’t read the first book yet and I’m already rooting for these two! : )

    1. Well, Alexandra, all I really feel able to say right now is that Lizzie's two brothers make it to the American colonies in Book 1 (this book), fleeing from untrue accusations. Book 3, though, is largely set there; I wanted to show how the kind of ordinary people who were exploited in the England of the day would respond as American patriots when faced with similar demands in the New World. It helps that, though I detest most politicians, I see George Washington as a shining star.

  7. I'm with you in wanting to read something other than The Marquis of Poshville and Lady Snobbington, or the dashing Captain Toff whisking damsels off with a rakish smile. It does the history an injustice - though it is harder because there are fewer written accounts for writers to draw on. Did you find many? Have you any Durham connections yourself? Good luck with it, John.

    1. The material is there, Steven, but you have to look for it and I've spent many hours in Durham Archives, Northumberland Archives and (because that's where I live now) Shropshire archives. It takes time but the stories of people you might have thought lost for ever do emerge. As for Durham connections, my grandfather went down the Louisa Pit in Stanley when he was 12 years old, and he was in a long line of miners and agricultural labourers in Durham, though I also have plenty in Bedfordshire and Lancashire and -- of course, from my name -- in Ireland. I've tried to be faithful to the historical record in the big things but I've played a little with smaller things. For example, a minor character in the book (in fact he never appears but his story is told) called Sticky Bainbridge gets his name from the fact that he has a wooden leg. Now, Sticky Bainbridge did exist, and he did have a wooden leg, but he was born 120 years after AJAUM is set and lived in South Moor, not Ryton. When I heard his story I knoew I had to use it so I shifted him eight miles geographically and 120 years in time and there he is. But, as I say, the important things -- even the row with the Bishop of Durham over a tithe on turnips -- they did happen and they happened when I say they did.

    2. Excellent. I like that. I can see why you had to pinch Sticky Bainbridge.

  8. John, I'm super impressed by what you let us see of A JUST AND UPRIGHT MAN and I'm about to buy the book right now--I have great expectations of it. You're sure you weren't influenced by Dickens too? Good luck with the series!

    1. For some reason John's having difficulty posting, so on his behalf:
      Oh, yes, Dickens OF COURSE. When I was 10 years old I had to read a short story I'd written to the assembled pupils and parents at Benton Park Primary School in Newcastle and, looking back, I'd say the style was (my idea of) pure Dickens.

  9. As a sequel to my first comment above ... Your book is now on my Kindle. Re the American War of Independence you may like REBEL by Cheryl Sawyer (moi), also on Kindle, which deals with the beginning of the war from the French point of view (Ie Lafayette's little band). It does not neglect the pov of the common people either, though it begins amongst aristos.

    1. Again on JOhn's behalf :
      That was magnificent timing, Cheryl, because I'm about to set off for Durham where I'll have a couple of nights in a local hotel while I check some thing sout in the Archives -- so I've now got Rebel on MY iPad and I'll read it on the trip :-)


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