Friday, 29 October 2010


BeWrite Books is proud to announce that The Secret Report of Friar Otto can at last be revealed ... after 750 years stamped as classified information.

And that’s a fact! Or is it? In Sam Smith’s latest novel, it’s hard to tell where fact ends and fiction takes over. Maybe it’s all medieval fact because it certainly reads that way – maybe it’s all thoroughly modern fiction because it reads that way too.

Let’s ask the author himself. Play it Sam ...

Why Friar Otto? I was living in Ilfracombe, a well-known seaside resort town in England, and one May – a birthday treat for my partner in crime/life, Steph – we took the MV Oldenburg ferry out to little Lundy Island off the Devon coast, where I spotted an arctic finch by the castle. I wrote it up in the bird-spotters log there, which is kept in the Marisco Tavern.

Politics, current and past, interests me. Especially where it concerns injustice and/or misrepresentation. I’m also attracted to characters at odds with their contemporaries, the maverick likes of Frank Harris and Edward Aveling; and from Lundy onwards to one William de Marisco.

Having exhausted Ilfracombe library’s history section and the net’s resources, with the Mariscos having owned lands in Somerset and Ireland as well as the whole of tiny Lundy’s three miles of rock, I took myself off to Bath and plunged into that old Roman town's reference library.

The superficial, the accepted shorthand history view, was that William de Marisco rebelled against his king, fled to Lundy and there led a band of pirates. But that shorthand view of his story didn’t smell right. So I dug ... and discovered treachery upon betrayal upon intrigue all laced with regal and religious machinations. William de Marisco was a man loyal to the realm, ill-used by the realm.

The Secret Report of Friar Otto is dedicated to Dr David Kelly, a UN weapons inspector who took his own life in despair after revealing to the press what he know about the non-presence of weapons of mass destruction before Britain and America invaded Iraq ... another man loyal to the realm and ill-used by the realm. Friar Otto kept his information secret, probably lived to a ripe old age, and the truth waited for 750 years to be told.

Why Friar Otto? I felt that a single voice was required.

To represent such a convoluted history from an omniscient author’s view would have required more research than I was capable of undertaking. I certainly couldn’t afford to get over to Ireland and France to look into the Montmorencis, the Marisco descendants there. Stanley Marris, a Canadian descendant of William de Marisco, was however most generous with his help.

I was aware that the Franciscans were at the time of William de Marisco’s imprisonment beginning to make inroads into England. They had already placed a man in the English court. So I struck upon the idea of a friar scribe, Otto, a naïf.

Neil asked me, Why novels and poetry? Writing’s writing to me. I can start with an idea for a poem and end up with a novel. Or vice versa. Content dictates form. And very few writers stick to one form, or to one genre. Isaac Asimov wrote detective novels, Arthur C Clarke children’s stories. To me science fiction is like any other fiction: one begins by asking oneself, ‘What would happen if ...’ Then, if one’s lucky, the book grows from there. Unforeseen plot lines develop, characters take on contradictory lives of their own, and – if all is going well – the author becomes the servant of the book.

With my one non-fiction book, Vera & Eddy’s War, I saw that I couldn’t improve on Vera and Eddy’s tales and so I simply converted them to the third person. The Care Vortex on the other hand, while I had masses of material, in order to protect the innocent I had to convert it to fiction. Whereas my working in mental health, with every day being different, often moment to moment dramatically changing, that fractured experience was best represented in poetry, in the collections To Be Like John Clare and Problems & Polemics.

Right now I’m looking at the possible motivations of a serial cat-killer. Moggycide?

Thanks, Sam.

But while we’re waiting for Moggycide, here’s a brief note about Sam’s latest, The Secret Report of Friar Otto:

A gang of renegade knights takes refuge on tiny and remote Lundy Island off the coast of Devon in medieval England.

When they are betrayed, captured and condemned, Friar Otto is sent to investigate their crimes. But, confronted by dangerous ideas, he starts to ask himself awkward questions.

His secret report is Sam Smith's reinterpretation of a 750 year-old manuscript, The Report in Confidence on the Imprisonment and Execution of William de Marisco and Sixteen of His Followers. The original text has been turned into a beautifully-crafted modern novel, utterly convincing in its evocation of the Eighth Century world and mindset.

The prisoners spend as much time goading the prudish celibate with stories about 'tupping' the ladies as they do discussing doctrinal niceties. A brilliant book that deserves a readership.

Words by Sam (of course), editorial work by Hugh McCracken, cover art, internal and external design by Tony Szmuk, who also prepared the perfect ebook version in PDF, ePub and Mobi formats.

The Secret Report of Friar Otto is available in paperback and all ebook formats for all electronic reading platforms from (or simply click on the open book icon at the top right of this post and visit the bookstore), from all major and minor online stores, and on order from your local brick-and-mortar bookshop.

Best wishes, folks. Neil


  1. Sam, the knights were "tupping" the ladies? "Tupp" is Swedish for "rooster". Oh, I get it now. A bit slow this morning. Sounds like a great book!

  2. Well done, Sam. This book must have taken some hefty research. Some of us know how that feels. Put your feet up.

  3. Feet up doesn't exist, Rosanne. There's not only my own next book to carry me on, but submissions coming in to The Journal, Original Plus and BeWrite too.... Feet up? I get the concept....