Richard III is it?


The whole world’s going mad for Richard III today, since those bones in the car park have turned out to be his. This is my pretext for giving you my take on Richard. He gets a walk-on part in my critically-acclaimed (and commercially nondescript) novel Things Unborn (Earthlight, 2001).

In the story, World War III breaks out as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis and there is all manner of death and destruction and little wars for years afterwards. Also, for reasons which remain unexplained, people who died prematurely in the past are now popping up all over the place, having come back to life. The novel is set some years later. It’s a sort of political thriller about how a former African slave and WW2 fighter pilot have to thwart a fundamentalist Protestant plot to overthrow King Richard III. It all makes perfect sense when you read it.

I’d quite like to do a sequel one day.

Here’s Richard:

King Richard III of England and King Richard I of Scotland was indeed hunchbacked, though only slightly, and almost certainly in consequence of his age.

      Rochester bowed floridly, Scipio bowed stiffly from the waist.

      The king waved his hand impatiently. “No need for any of that chickenshit writing-with-feathers nonsense when we’re alone,” he growled in nobby BBC spiced with a trace of a northern English. “Sit down. Smoke if you want. I’m damn well going to.”

      The king collapsed into one of the chairs around the big table in a white cloud of cigar-smoke.

      “So,” he said. “You are Inspector Scipio Africanus.”

      “Yes, sire,” said Scipio, uncertain if ‘sire’ was the correct form.

      “Bloody stupid name, isn’t it?”

      Scipio was taken aback. “Many of Your Majesty’s subjects have stupid names,” he said.

      The king nodded, and gathered some of the books and papers from the table. “D’you know what I’ve been studying recently?”

      “I cannot begin to imagine, sire,” said Scipio.

      “Oh!” said the king, “I smell sarcasm there, Inspector! Well done! I like your style, man. Don’t take any crap from me. I’m only the fucking king after all.” Richard broke into a giggle, and resumed arranging his papers.

      “American academics,” said the king, examining a table of figures, “love to visit and pay court. They sit and enquire of this or that episode in my past, but I know there’s only one question they really want answered. Being Americans, they are forward, and they eventually find the gall to ask about the business.”

      “Business, sire?”

      “Yeahhh,” he drawled. “You know. The nephews-business. The princes. The sprogs in the Tower whose assassination I am widely accused of organising … So anyway, when the forward Yanks ask me about the poor truncated squits, do you know how I reply, Mr Scipio? I cackle and turn all malevolent like the actor in the old film of Shakespeare’s play and I say … NOT TELLING!”

      Scipio realised that his jaw had dropped somewhat in the last minute or two.

      Had Richard murdered the young King Edward V and his brother? Had he caused them to be murdered? No-one would ever know for sure unless …

      “Has Your Majesty not considered the possibility that the boys will one day be re-born? And that they will then be able to bear witness before all as to what befell them?”

      “Of course I’ve considered the possibility, man! I go to bed each night sweating over when the brats will turn up and tell on me. Then again, Inspector, how do you know they have not already been re-born, and that I have not commissioned their murder a second time?”

      The King smiled, then giggled, and then puffed on his cigar once more.


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