In Conversation With... Jemahl Evans
Jemahl Evans, author of The Last Roundhead, graduated with an MA in History, focusing on poetry and propaganda during the Wars of the Roses, and started writing this, his debut novel about the English Civil War, in 2013. Now spending his time teaching, reading history, listening to the Delta Blues, walking his border collie, and whining on Twitter about the government, he took the time to tell us a little more about the book…
Why the English Civil War?
My interest in the civil war was sparked very early on by reading Rosemary Sutcliff’s book Simon. The whole Seventeenth Century is a fascinating period of British history, and really the birth of our modern state. So much was changing, politics, medieval social structures, gender roles, religious control, science and mathematics, literature. I wanted to show it all through the eyes of someone who lived through it. There is also a real resonance today; iconoclasm, terrorism, brutal civil war, religious schism. They tore Britain apart three hundred years ago, but turn on the world news, and it’s everywhere. Samuel Butler’s poem 'Hudibras' - the English Don Quixote - gave me the idea of an old man responding to his critics, and Butler’s own Civil War career led me into the story.
It’s also a period that doesn’t have a lot of fiction written about it, and Roundhead protagonists are even rarer.
What other books would you compare it to?
Well, I think the picaresque way it weaves through real history, with a footnoted structure, is similar to Flashman. I hasten to add Blandford is a very different character; he’s more Little Big Man. It has elements of The Three Musketeers and Tristram Shandy, but also more contemporary books like Bernard Cornwall’s Saxon novels, Simon Scarrow’s Eagle series, or Michael Arnold’s Stryker books.
It’s the first in a series… so what next?
Without giving away too many spoilers - he has a civil war to survive, a new world to visit, a theatre he can’t open, more civil war, Cromwell, the restoration; lots and lots. I have Blandford’s life sketched out up to the Great Fire and beyond. Book 2 is almost finished; it covers the period between the two battles of Newbury. Whilst the Roundheads are beginning to win the Civil War, life isn’t so good for Blandford.