When Richard Massey, an editor at the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal, wrote his first novel, “Equals and Allies,” he set the action in the present day, and in the mundane environs of Columbus, Ohio.
His new novel, “The Southampton Chronicle,” heads in a different direction – Late 13th Century England, during the reign of Edward I, an era, one suspects, not the most familiar to every reader of (or every writer for) The Free Weekly.
Richard Massey will take listeners on a fictitious excursion to the Middle Ages as the Ozark Poets and Writers Collective’s Featured Writer for August – 7:00 pm, the 26th, at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. There is no charge for the event and refreshments (sorry, no mead) are available for purchase. As are books, of course, including signed copies of “Equals and Allies.”
“The Southampton Chronicle” follows the travels of one Gregory of Bordeaux, a wine merchant and lawyer, as he records the commerce of the region for the young Earl of Southampton. (These characters are created by Massey, who does not follow the modern trend of fictionalizing the lives of real people. The real people in the novel, for example, Edward I, are only incidental to the story.) He travels by horseback along ancient maintained roads, inn to inn, castle to castle, barn to open field. Friends are made, and enemies, too, and medieval adventure ensues.
Massey was a history major at The Ohio State University in the Nineties, and so historical fiction is a natural fit for the editor-become-novelist. Oddly enough, though, he did not study medieval history as a college student. He is self-taught and finds the era – especially what he calls the “high middle ages” – to be a fascinating period of transition, between the Crusades and the Hundred Years’ War, between papyrus and Gutenberg, between the Conquest and the Black Death, between the Roman catapult and gunpowder. It was a time, he says, of sweeping technological change, and the beginning of the rise of the modern middle class. And it is these changes that Gregory of Bordeaux, tri-lingual merchant and lawyer, chronicles.
A native of Texas, Massey has had a long career as a journalist in that state, in Mississippi (where he acquired a Master’s degree at the University of Mississippi), in Southeast, and now in Northwest Arkansas. Why historical fiction, on the side as it were? “You can’t say no to your brain and your heart,” he observes. And it is both his brain and his heart that inhabit the pages of “The Southampton Chronicle.” He writes, “[Gregory] and Warren entered through the north door of the transept and found themselves at the back of a large queue of pilgrims. He could not see over the crowd, but a dazzling golden glow hung in the high reaches of the ceiling, and mid-morning light radiated through the blue and green glass along the east wall of the chapel. As pilgrims said their prayers and made way for those behind them, Gregory and Warren inched closer to the shrine. With each step the mood grew more solemn, the cascade of light shone brighter and the divine pull of the saint strengthened.”
Please join the OPWC on Tuesday, August 26th, 7:00 pm at Nightbird, to hear Richard Massey read from Chapter 12 of “The Southampton Chronicle.” Before and after his reading, the microphone will be open for members of the community to share four minutes of prose or poetry with a friendly and encouraging audience.