Monday, March 18, 2013

Batch Magna on the Welsh Marches

At Amazon (new cover)
My guest this week is Peter Maughan, a gifted writer I met on Twitter. He’s the author of the delightful Batch Magna books, home of a group of wonderfully eccentric houseboat dwellers.
     The Cuckoos of Batch Magna, now a Kindle edition under The Cluny Press imprint, is the first in the Batch Magna series (with two finished sequels waiting their turn), a novel recollected in tranquillity - or any rate in advanced middle age.
     It was born out of nostalgia, of a time in the mid 1970s spent gloriously free living in a small colony of houseboats, a bohemian outpost in a village on the River Medway in Kent. The summers when life was moved outside – particularly in the long, torrid one of ’76, when it seemed summer was all we knew, summer and the river. Boating or swimming in it, or coming together for another jolly on one of the moorings, for weekend lunches that ended up in the evening, and the parties that saw in yet another summer dawn. And the winters when the lamps were lit and the smell of log fires in the air, snug around the stove below when there was rain on the deck, or the owls in the wood across the river calling in the frosty dark.
      I carried those memories of place and people around with me for years, until we moved to the Welsh Marches and I found a home for them in a river valley there, in a place I called Batch Magna. The houseboats from those days on the Medway were converted Thames sailing barges; for my houseboats, on Batch Magna's river the Cluny, I used converted paddle steamers (once part of an equally fictional Victorian trading company, the Cluny Steamboat Company) because they too speak of fun and another time. And it seemed entirely right somehow that they should have ended up in quite dotty, amiable decline in Batch Magna.
     For the fourth novel (a work in progress) in the series, Man Overboard (which opens with one of the houseboats now turned back into a working paddler), I am heavily indebted to a real-life paddle steamer skipper, Captain John Megoran, master of the PS Kingswear, the last coal-fired paddle steamer in Britain, for unstinting help with technical details. John's vessel, after her years plying the Medway, is now back in the home waters of the River Dart in Devon. In Man Overboard, my paddle steamer, the PS Batch Castle, chugging up to Shrewsbury and back, plies the home waters of the River Cluny, carrying passengers and goods, and deck cargoes of livestock from the fields on market days, and crates of chickens, geese and Christmas turkeys, and fun – and most of all, fun.

    The Batch Magna novels are feelgood books (The Wind in the Willows for grown-ups, as one Amazon reviewer described Cuckoos), pure escapism - for me now, looking back, and I hope for my readers.

The Cuckoos of Batch Magna 

     When Sir Humphrey Miles Pinkerton Strange, 8th baronet and huntin’ shooting’ and fishin’ squire of the village of Batch Magna in the Welsh Marches, departs this world for the Upper House (as he had long vaguely thought of it, where God no doubt presides in ermine over a Heaven as reassuringly familiar as White’s or Boodle’s), what’s left of his decaying estate passes, through the ancient law of entailment, to distant relative Humph, an amiable, overweight short-order cook from the Bronx.
      Sir Humphrey Franklin T Strange, 9th baronet and squire of Batch Magna, as Humph now most remarkably finds himself to be, is persuaded by his Uncle Frank, a small time Wall Street broker with an eye on the big time, to make a killing by turning the sleepy backwater into a theme-park image of rural England – a vacation paradise for free-spending US millionaires.
     But while the village pub and shop, with the lure of the dollar in their eyes, put out the Stars and Stripes in welcome, the tenants of the estate’s dilapidated houseboats are above any consideration of filthy lucre and stand their ground for tradition’s sake … and because they consider eviction notices not to be cricket.
     Each disgruntled faction sees the other as the unwelcome cuckoo in the family nest.
     So, led by randy pulp-crime writer Phineas Cook, and Lt-Commander James Cunningham DSO, DSC and Bar, RN (ret) – a man with a glass eye for each day of the week, painted with scenes from famous British naval victories and landscapes that speak of England – the motley crew run up the Union Jack and battle ensign and prepare to engage.
     But this is Batch Magna, a place where anything might happen. And often does…

About the author 
     Peter Maughan, an ex-actor, fringe theatre director and script writer, is married and lives in the Welsh Marches, the border between England and Wales, and the backdrop to the Batch Magna novels. All the books in the series feature converted paddle steamers on Batch Magna’s river the Cluny, and he is a former houseboat dweller himself, living for a while in the mid-1970s (the time frame for the novels) on a converted Thames sailing barge among a small colony of houseboats on the Medway, deep in rural Kent. An idyllic time, heedless days of freedom in that other world of the river which inspired the novels, set in a place called Batch Magna.
A wattpad post by Peter.


Polly Iyer said...

Sounds like a lovely time, Peter, and fun too. I can see why you wanted to write about it. Your experience in the theater is perfect to develop such a colorful cast of characters. Best of luck with the series.

Jerrie Alexander said...

Peter and Ellis...great post. It sounds like a wonderful time and writing about it keeps those memories alive. Much luck with the series!

Ellis Vidler said...

Peter, thank you so much for being here today.
Your writer's voice is so rich and unusual--I love the images you create. The Cuckoos of Batch Magna is next up on my Kindle, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Leslie Ann aka LA said...

What a remarkable find Peter is! I can't wait to read the Cuckoos of Batch Magna.

If Peter's post is anything like his writing, and I'm quite sure it is, this is going to be a treat. The setting, the period, the characters already have me hooked, just by this post.

Thank you, Peter, for being here today, I wish you much success.