Back in December, as I am sure many of you remember, Helen organised a wonderful blog tour, “And The Best Supporting Role Character Is…”, where she interviewed a supporting character from twelve different novels. I was one of the proud participants, among an otherwise rather an illustrious crowd of “histfic” writers!
Anyway, I thought that interviewing characters was such a good idea that I asked Helen if I could interview another of the characters from my novel, Fortune’s Wheel, and she said yes!
I am currently writing book two, A Woman’s Lot, in my series set in the fourteenth century, “The Meonbridge Chronicles”. Fortune’s Wheel is book one. One of the characters who I think will play a more significant role in book two than she does in the first is Emma Coupar. I spoke to her briefly in the months following the Black Death, when the events of Fortune’s Wheel take place, when I was trying to find out about all the folk who lived in Meonbridge.
Carolyn: Mistress Coupar, I am sorry but may I take you from your labours, just for a few moments, so that we can talk?
Emma [shrugging]: I scarce have time for gossip, Missus Hughes, but I can’t say I wouldn’t welcome a moment’s rest and, as it’s you, I s’pose the reeve’ll not make a fuss…
C: I promise not to keep you long. But, please, can you tell me first a little about yourself?
E: For my sins, I’m wed to Bart – my beloved Bartholomew – who’s a weak and idle clout, yet, despite his faults, I love him dearly. I were scarce much more ’n a child, he fifteen years older, when he first courted me. [giggles] Despite his age, he were still strong and handsome, wi’ a constant twinkle in his eyes. But, though he could work hard, he were known more for his idleness an’ love of ale. Yet I were so flattered by his passionate attentions, I ignored my Pa’s warnings. An’, in truth, I were already wi’ child when I married him. [blushes] But I’ve been happy enough…
C: Can you say what happened to you at the beginning of this year ?
E [eyes wide]: The Death?
E [eyes filling]: We lost all three o’ our little lads. The girls survived, that’s Beatrix – Bea we call her – she’s 5, an’ Amice – Ami – who’s 2. But losing the boys was… I can’t even tell you how… [wipes her sleeve across her face]. Sorry, I’m not one for weeping, but… ’Course lots o’ folk lost loved ones in the Death, but it were such a dreadful passing, our little ones did suffer such terrible agony an’ fear…
C: Oh, I’m so sorry, Emma. I shouldn’t have asked about it. Let’s talk of something else.
E [wiping her face again and nodding]: So, Bart and me, we’re cottars – labourers – the lowest in the pecking order on the manor. We have to turn our hands to anything, for anyone, to earn even a meagre crust. Though, in truth, it’s only me who does any work [raises eyebrows] – Bart’s usually too lazy to get up of a morning, ’cept to go to the alehouse, though he can be strong and able when he puts his mind to it.
C: Can you tell me something of your work?
E: As I said, I can turn my hand to anything, though these days I mostly work for Missus atte Wode, whatever she needs, in her fields or in her garden. I’m a good worker. I’m hoping Missus Titherige’ll let me help wi’ her sheep, ’cause I like sheep, an’ lambing or shearing, I can do anything a shepherd can! An’ I won’t hear a bad word said ’gainst either lady, for they’re both really good to me. Missus atte Wode keeps pressing me to better meself – take on some of the land that’s going spare now so many’ve died in Meonbridge. But I tell her it’s no good, wi’ Bart being so lazy and good-for-nothing… [rolls her eyes] I couldn’t manage it by meself. Which is a shame, ’cause I’d like to give my girls a better life.
C: Your life sounds terribly hard, Emma! Is it the same for all cottars?
E [grimacing]: ‘’Course it is! Specially for us women, who got the house and children to cope with, as well as the work we do for other folk. An’ I’m not the only one struggling to earn enough to keep a roof over our family’s head. In my case, I got an idle clout for an husband, but there are lots of widows too, since the Death…
C [lowering voice]: Emma, are you willing to tell me what you think of Sir Richard and Lady de Bohun? Is he a good lord?
E [raising eyebrows again]: D’you really want to know what I think? [C nods] Hah! Well, her ladyship’s probably quite nice, though I’ve never talked to her, an’ I don’t s’pose she even knows who I am! But his lordship… [grimaces] Well, he’s only interested in what he can get out of us, ain’t he? As much work for as little wages as he can get away with! Even since the Death, he’s not really budging. Even though there’s half the number of us left, so twice as much work for each of us to do, he still won’t raise our wages. I tell Bart we ought to go, leave Meonbridge and find an employer willing to pay a fair wage for a fair day’s work… [pauses, then purses her lips] Mind you, Bart don’t ever do a fair day’s work, so what’d be the point? [when she looks up, her eyes are glistening]
C [regretting her choice of question]: Oh dear, the reeve’s noticed I’ve kept you talking, so I’d best let you get on.
E [shrugging]: Naught ever changes for us cottars… [sighs and bends down again to her weeding]
Author of Fortune’s Wheel, the first of “The Meonbridge Chronicles”
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