1066 in an Hour is the first medieval title from History in an Hour. This concise account of the Norman Conquest of England is available as an ebook and an app on iPhone and iPad. We have interviewed the author of this book, Kaye Jones, and the founder of History in an Hour, Rupert Colley:
1. Why were you interested in writing about the events of 1066.
For me there’s always been something special about 1066. It was such a momentous year in England’s history and it dramatically altered the country in a way that has never been seen before or after. Most people remember hearing about King Harold and the arrow in his eye at Hastings but I wanted to show that the personalities and the politics are just as fascinating as any of the battles.
The fact that William is still in the top 10 baby names for boys in the UK really speaks volumes about its importance. So when an opportunity to write about it came up, I jumped at the chance.
2. Having to write a book that is meant to be read in an hour and on an iPhone must have presented some challenges in managing your content. How did you go about deciding what to leave in and what to take out?
When you have studied 1066 in great detail it is difficult to condense it down into an hour. The problem isn’t just managing content but there are so many historical controversies surrounding 1066. I didn’t want to get too involved with whether Harold really made the oath or whether Edward really named Harold as his successor etc, so I just presented the basic “facts” as best as I could and stated that, in some cases, historians cannot always be too sure. With regards to the content, Rupert advised me to always bear the audience in mind and this helped a great deal. The idea behind 1066 and the other ebooks from History In An Hour is that they are there to provide an overview, the basic information and then the reader is free to explore further. I’ve presented the bare bones of 1066, in chronological order, and hopefully readers will take it from there.
3. Are you planning on writing more of these books and do you have other projects in the works related to history?
Yes, I’ve already started writing The Black Death In An Hour and hopefully that will be available by the end of the year. I am also writing for History Times in my other specialist area, women’s history, and will continue researching and writing.
1. How did you come up with the concept of History In An Hour and developing history books for smart phones?
I first had the idea for History In An Hour over 10 years ago. I was in holiday in Spain and I suddenly wanted to know about the Spanish Civil War. Not too much – just a bit. Just enough so I could have a decent grasp of what the conflict was about but without all the detail.
And then I wanted to know about lots of different things in a short space of time. I wanted to know about the Russian Revolution, the American Civil War, the Anglo Saxons, the Tudors. There was no rhyme or reason to the era or location. Back then, in the late nineties, I started writing Roman Britain In An Hour. But I never finished it.
Last September I read Andrew Roberts’ new book, The Storm of War – A New History of the Second World War. At 608 pages long, much was made in the press reviews of how well Roberts had managed to compress six years of catastrophic conflict into one volume. I read it, made notes as I went along, and enjoyed it – it’s well written and very readable.
I mentioned the book to a relative who also enjoys history but has no time to read. He certainly did not have the time, he reckoned, to read a book of 600 pages. But it’s the whole of the war, intelligently written, in just one book, I argued. But no, he wouldn’t have it.
Equally he said he couldn’t be bothered with websites that have embedded links everywhere, which, if you start to follow, you soon risk losing the thread. And that’s what made me think of History In An Hour again.
I’d worked out that I had about 10,000 words to play with. If your average adult can read three words a second, then they can read 180 words per minute. Therefore logic follows that if they carry on reading, without a break, then in sixty minutes, they’d be able to read precisely 10,800 words.
So the remit was easy – to write attractive prose with no diversions, no links, just a simple, straight narrative from beginning to end. So in mid-September 2009 I put pen to paper and wrote a few words about Hitler’s invasion of Poland. And that was the start.
The project is still very new but it’s proving popular with teachers who want to provide a basic introduction to their students and also that it’s available as in iPhone / iPad app gives it the technological bonus.
2. Are you planning to publish more books about the Middle Ages?
Very much so. I want to cover as many subject areas as possible. To begin with however I want to keep the subject base fairly broad and populist.
I do get many people emailing me interested in becoming a History In An Hour writer and offering to write about a whole range of topics. But Kaye is the first to have completed the process and I’m thrilled by it. These books may be very short but I still expect high-quality writing and I think perhaps people underestimate how difficult the process can be. What I like about Kaye’s interpretation of the 1066 story is that she builds up the tension between the three main protagonists, William of Normandy, King Harold and Harold’s wayward brother, Tostig. By keeping to the facts and pairing down the prose she still manages to draw out the drama.
So yes, there’s a great interest in the Middle Ages and I hope to provide much more Middle Age-based History In An Hour.
We thank Kaye Jones and Rupert Colley for answering our questions