The Last of Days is Paul Doherty’s 100th novel! We talked to Paul about his career… I cannot really decide when I became interested in history or historical novels. It seems as far back as I can remember! I was brought up on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Quentin Durward and then on to Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. Perhaps the greatest influence were two authors who write for both adults and children: Rosemary Sutcliffe and Henry Treece. They both had this marvellous ability of transporting you back in time: of being able to create past civilisations. Both novelists were brilliant at being able to take legends and put them into historical context. I still believe Sutcliffe’s Sword at Sunset is the best book ever written on King Arthur whilst Treece’s novel on Jason and the Argonauts was spellbinding. Others came my way. George Shipway’s An Imperial Governor, Nigel Tranter’s novels about Scotland and, of course, Mary Renault. My real interest in historical detection was fuelled by my thesis on the murder of Edward II in 1327 as well as Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time where the novelist brilliantly used historic techniques to resolve a real historical conundrum. Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose (perhaps the film more than the book) also influenced me. I must admit I have never read any of Ellis Peters’ Cadfael novels. It is a treat I am looking forward to someday. However, I did find Ellis, writing under her own name, Edith Pargeter, a brilliant historical novelist and her Bloody Field by Shrewsbury still ranks as a classic.
The cinema had a tremendous influence on me. Middlesbrough in the northeast during the 1950’s was rather a bleak place so the impact of the great historical films was most enduring. Of course, we now mock these “sword and sandal” films but, believe me, to go into the “Palladium” in Middlesbrough watch the lights dim and the screen turning to a blaze of colour to take you back to ancient Rome, marvellous! Indeed I was so impressed by Victor Mature, in “Demetrius and the Gladiators” I decided to run away from primary school with a friend and travel to Rome to be a gladiator. Of course, I never reached the Colosseum. I went to a much worse place, an English boarding school! Nevertheless, as you do in prison I suppose, I made the best of it. I had a brilliant Classics teacher and so my journey began. I read voraciously, historical novels, whodunits and, indeed anything I could lay my hands on. I just lived for history. At Oxford, I did my thesis on Queen Isabella and this brought together both history and mystery. Isabella allegedly killed her husband Edward II at Berkeley Castle; his corpse still lies buried under its magnificent tomb at Gloucester. But there is another tradition that he escaped. My life as a novelist began. My first novel, “The Death of a King” was a study of this mystery. I also discovered a truly amazing robbery, the only time the Crown Jewels were actually stolen when a London gang seized them from the crypt at Westminster Abbey in 1303. Edward I was furious and sent a clerk, John Drokensford, to investigate. I met my medieval detective and Hugh Corbett came into being. I have also written about medieval women detectives published under a female pseudonym. I was drawn to this because of the powerful personality of Queen Isabella and I did further research about the status of women during the medieval period. This confirmed a deep suspicion that women had more rights in 1500 than they did in 1900! Chaucer’s ‘Wife of Bath’ is a case in point: she is an independent woman who runs at least three businesses and travels Europe. More importantly, until Henry VIII stopped it in 1519, women could be physicians and very good ones, such as Matilda of Westminster or Cecily of Oxford who delivered the children of Edward III. Now that was something I had to pursue…… another gate into the meadows of murder!”
The Last of Days is published by Headline