Monday, 16 May 2011

On the bench - for 650 years

It's 650 years since the role of the magistrate was created which has become the cornerstone of the British justice system. Today, justices of the peace still handle 95 per cent of criminal cases, and civil ones.
They were originally, in 1361, knights and landowners but as property and wealth ceased to be criteria, JPs acquired their image as hat-wearing, middle-aged, middle-class, largely female women who were paid for their time, which they aren't  Though the balance has gradually shifted to include a wider segment of society,  it's still more difficult to get more men on the bench because of their work commitments. 
Sentencing may have changed from being thrown into the duck pond or confined in the stocks, to the imposition of fines and imprisonment but the system is one of the few to have survived the centuries and remain an essential and effective method of imposing penalties on miscreants. 
In my book, The A-Z of Punishment and Torture, you can read more about this fascinating subject, including and the varied and imaginative, cruel and sometimes amusing ways people have dealt with those who step out of line.  It's available as a hard back and an e-book.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Make No Bones About It - Skeletons Are The Best Wedding Gift!

While all eyes will soon be focused on the Wedding of the Century, a book which exposes the Queen’s role in keeping prisoners behind bars indefinitely is steaming up the e-book popularity list.  The A-Z of Punishment and Torture is beating Bewrite Books’ record, outselling all other ebook editions in its catalogue over the past decade. My publisher thinks the nuptials looks suspiciously like a diversionary tactic on the part of the House of Windsor!  After all, what would the Royal bride think of a mother-in-law who is part of the quaint tradition of holding people in custody until the fancy takes her to let them go? 
To be fair, the system of indeterminate incarceration, originally known as ‘Detention At His Majesty’s Pleasure’, was written into the statute books in 1800 by an Act of the British Parliament during the reign of George III.  It became better known as ‘Queen’s Pleasure’ because for most of the 2010 years since, the turnkeys have been women – Queen Victoria for sixty-four years and the reigning Queen Elizabeth II for the past fifty-eight.
The A-Z is a catalogue of cruelty, but often humour and horror sit side by side - the first gibbets chopped off heads with such vigour that they often bounced like balls into the spectators. 
Of course, kings and queens have been known to wield their power to punish in all manner of ways over the centuries.  Fortunately, things are different now but it’s always interesting to have a peek among the family skeletons.  What do you buy the happy couple who have everything?  Ah, now I know what to send them!

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Worlds Apart

I'm currently helping with research on a book to be published days after the Royal Wedding.  It's a far cry from The A-Z of Punishment and Torture but creating a book, whatever the subject, involves the same journey from inception to publication during which your world expands with the new knowledge you glean along the way.  I have to confess I had only a sketchy grasp of Royal liveswhen I started, but now I feel almost 'involved' with them.  They have stepped from my computer screen, and the newspapers and magazines I have used for research, and gradually become flesh and blood people, who laugh, cry, hurt and endure, just like the rest of us.  I suppose that's the joy of book reading.  Within those pages are other lives, with all their complexities, or similarities to our own, which enrich us with their contribution.