After forty years in the finance industry, I retired… oh, no I didn’t… I changed course! It’s a mind set thing; let’s leave it at that.
Right, so I changed course and began a new career writing fiction, which, incidentally, is something I have always wanted to do. So nowadays, although I am proud to be an Australian citizen, I still call myself a British novelist.
Why “British Novels” when I live in glorious, easy-going Australia?
The answer is simple: I was born and educated in England and so was my father, and his father, and his… in fact we have traced our family back over 400 years, and we were all born in Lincolnshire! Well, that’s not quite accurate because I was actually born in Norfolk, a neighbouring county, but my father was born in Lincolnshire and so was everyone else in a paternal direct line going back 400 years. What’s more, my antecedents lived mostly within twenty miles of the City of Lincoln (which I called “Codrington” in both Stealing Tomorrow’s Thunder and The Little Tin Box) with its magnificent cathedral.
When I was researching my family tree, as well as recording the important names, dates and places, I researched the history of the relevant period to learn more about the environment in which my ancestors had lived. Can you imagine, for example, living through the horrors of the English Civil Wars?
Picture being one of the Royalist Lincolnshire villagers who, on a cold day in October 1643 near the tiny village of Winceby four miles east of Horncastle, found themselves facing the combined forces of that beastly, overrated Englishman, Oliver Cromwell, and his ally, Black Tom Fairfax. The Royalist cavalry had long since disappeared, and so the villagers were left to fend for themselves. Understandably, they were no match for the trained archers, dragoons and cavalry of the Parliamentarians.
The battle only lasted half-an-hour, yet three hundred villagers were slain in the fields around Winceby that day. In comparison, Cromwell lost twenty men and his horse! The battle was so insignificant that Antonia Fraser, in her book, Cromwell: Our Chief of Men, only allotted one short paragraph to the Battle of Winceby. Even then, the author was far more concerned that Oliver’s horse was shot from under him than she was with the fate of the three hundred hapless villagers.
Sadly, no stones mark the graves of these Lincolnshire Royalists; no parish records mention their sacrifice; and no entry recording their deaths can be found in the archives in Lincoln. It is as if they had never existed. Now, they are no more than empty spaces on genealogical charts – but whose?
If you visit St Mary’s Church in Horncastle (pictured), you can see scythes hanging on the walls inside the church. It is claimed that these farm implements were the villagers' only weapons in their fight with Cromwell at Winceby. However, it is now thought more likely that the tools were used in a previous struggle known as the Lincolnshire Uprising of 1536, rather than the Battle of Winceby. The 1536 Uprising is referred to in my book, Caistor Parsons - The Gingerbread Man (previously titled "When the Time is Ripe".)
Ok… so you can see how researching my ancestors stimulated my interest in English history. And, of course, I came across the odd black sheep! It’s funny how black sheep are far more interesting than the good and the just.
Arthur Thistlewood (pictured) is certainly the blackest sheep in our
family’s history. He is my second cousin, six times removed.
Incidentally, in 1808 Arthur married his second wife, Susan Wilkinson, in St Mary's Church, Horncastle (pictured above).
Arthur was found guilty of treason for leading a ridiculous attempt at revolution that was doomed to fail before it started. It became known as the Cato Street Conspiracy. On 1st May 1820, Arthur was hanged in Newgate Prison and then beheaded. Thus he had the dubious honour of being the last man in England to be beheaded – even though he had already been hanged. They wanted to make sure, didn’t they! If that wasn’t enough, they stuck his decapitated head on a pole and exhibited it on the prison wall for all to see. Nice one!
Arthur’s uncle, Thomas, was also famous, or infamous, as a slave trader in Jamaica. Although this was a legal practice at that time, nonetheless, he surely ranks as a morally black sheep. The diaries he kept during his time in Jamaica are now in the British Museum.
John Thistlewood, Arthur’s younger brother, became a successful, wealthy and respected farmer in Wispington, Lincolnshire. John had one daughter, Susanna, who married John Penn Bradley on 12th January 1821 at Kelstern. She and her husband then disappeared from my radar. I could find no trace of them having had children or the dates of their deaths. It wasn’t until we came to Australia, that I discovered, quite by chance, that John and Susanna had emigrated to Melbourne – presumably to escape the shame of having an uncle who was hanged for treason! Our reason for coming to Australia was far more mundane. I haven’t checked, but if there are any descendants of Susanna still living, they will be my eighth or ninth cousins.
So you see, being a student of genealogy and of English history, it is not surprising that my plots are often weaved around these dual themes and are set partly or wholly in Lincolnshire. For example, Stealing Tomorrow’s Thunder, a contemporary mystery, takes place almost exclusively in and around three fictitious villages in Lincolnshire, which I collectively called “the Wapens” – Wapen being an old Norse word meaning “weapon”.
Caistor Parsons, on the other hand, is a historical mystery set in 16th century England that takes place mostly in London and partly in Lincolnshire, again around the Wapens. I set these fictitious villages near the real market town of Caistor in the picturesque Lincolnshire Wolds, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Our family name has not always been Thistlewood. In his will dated 5th December 1688, Robert, my seven-times-great-grandfather (and Arthur’s great-grandfather), spelt his surname many different ways in that one document: Thisslewaite, Thisslewhate, Thisslewhite and Thistlewaite among them. Little wonder then, that all Robert’s grandchildren changed their names to Thistlewood – they wanted to know who they were! Interestingly, “thwaite” means “a clearing” in Scandinavian, which suggests that we are of Viking/Norman origins.
Back to the present! In 1971 my wife, Isabel, and I came to Australia on what was intended to be a two-year assignment – but we are still here! Well, Australia does that to you; it is such a great place to live. Our three children and five grandchildren were all born here, of course, and are all, therefore, genuine Aussies. Who knows, one day one of them might write the great Australian novel!
Check out my latest British novels here:
Well, that's all about me and what I did when I retired. Have you thought about what you will do when you retire?
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Reviewers' and Readers'
Tony Thistlewood's books....
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Reviewed by Romuald Dzemo for Readers' Favorite (5 stars)
"...a work of great talent and imagination..."
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"...a dense, absorbing tale...bursting with subplots and theories..." - Kirkus Reviews
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...a tale full of twists and turns that will leave the reader surprised...(Christine Nguyen for Readers' Favorites)
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Non fiction: the Kings & Queens of England and how they got there.
Reviewed by Melissa Tanaka for Readers' Favorite (5 stars)
"...a wonderful primer...incredibly well organized and well written...
"...comfortable and interesting read for all ages…”
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...a brilliantly written, edited and formatted work… Wow! Recommended
for all lovers of historical fiction...
(Reviewed by Alice D. for Readers' Favorites)
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(Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorites)
…an immensely entertaining and enlightening mystery story… the real deal… Fans of literary mysteries will enjoy the fruits of Thistlewood's research into Shakespeare…
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… descriptive writing was amazingly good… I enjoyed it immensely – DGM, Cardiff, UK
… I can't put it down… will need to take it to the hairdresser with me. – JM, NSW, Australia
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