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on 25 May 2010
As someone who has admired Steve Tilston's music for nearly 40 years, I was intrigued to hear that he'd written a novel and particularly that it was set in the 15th Century, as many of his classic songs have historical themes- Slip Jigs and Reels, The Naked Highwayman, Tom Paine, King of the Coiners ,Coronado and the Turk, The Turncoat, amongst others. I usually read crime novels when I read fiction and the last couple of novels that I really rated were "Engleby" by Sebastian Faulks and Blake Morrison's two novels. I thoroughly enjoyed reading "All for Poor Jack" with its detailed settings in 15th century Bristol and the New World and it reminded me of the historical novels of GA Henty and Henry Treece I read a long time back (albeit if they'd been given a dose of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy or some input from Sam Peckinpah !) , basically an exciting adventure story set in the parallel worlds of the New World and its warring native American tribes and late medieval Bristol. Without giving too much away, the story follows the harrowing experiences of two brothers, Matthew and Simon Tyrell, one taken prisoner by a Pequot tribe when shipwrecked on a pre-Cabot voyage of discovery and the other an outlaw on the run in the badlands beyond the Clifton Gorge in Bristol in 1485, just as news of the Battle of Bosworth is filtering through. A sound piece of story-telling, colourful, vivid, humorous and well-observed, dipping into a period of history which is brought to life with no concessions to political correctness and which shows, human beings forced into decisions in situations where their survival is at stake. A good old-fashioned clear narrative in which well-defined characters bring a period of history to life- a bit like one of Steve's songs, really !
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on 10 July 2010
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprized given Steve's history of writing compelling lyrics, but this novel reads as if it came from the pen of a seasoned writer. The pacing is outstanding and the end of each chapter left me unable to resist starting the next (ok, that's a flowery way of saying it's a page-turner).

As would be expected, the English characters are well-drawn and authentic, right down to their dialect (I think ... I am a yank after all). One of the interesting tidbits I picked up was that Bristol began as "Bristow", and evolved into "Bristol" due to the accents of the locals, who would typically add an "l" to the ends of words and syllables ending with vowel sounds.

The new world "salvages" were also well-written, obviously the result of a great deal of research. I was happy to see that the author didn't fall into the trap of having them speak pidgin English to each other, but the use of modern idioms was a little disconcerting at the beginning.

My sole disappointment was the lack of nautical action, which I had been anticipating given the occupations of the protagonists. However, I see why he made the choices he made and can only hope that his next work rectifies this "lack".
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on 31 August 2012
`All For Poor Jack' is a well crafted piece of Historical Fiction. It oscillates comfortably between hard-hitting realism and an almost Black-Adder style satire.
`All For Poor Jack' places the reader in the New World at a point in history when knowledge of its whereabouts was kept secret, before the natives were named, Red Indians, and long before the Pilgrim Fathers were born. It is a harsh world, a different world and yet, as the story unfolds we begin to see that, in many respects, it is an environment not too dissimilar to Bristol of the 15th Century with its `Greenwood Men', its outcasts, and its social customs.
Tilston's familiarity with archery, and affection for traditional song, add both spice and gravitas to this tale. There are passages that are evocative and lyrical, others that verge on pure farce. Not only is this a fantastic story it is also skilfully written, well paced and a real page-turner with a satisfying ending. This novel, by singer songwriter Steve Tilston, deserves every success and is highly recommended.
The one minor irritation for me was that in the Kindle version the text was not justified but, hey ho, (with a hey, nonny-nonny no...) Pete Howells
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on 20 August 2011
As someone who has admired Steve Tilston's music for nearly 40 years, I was intrigued to hear that he'd written a novel and particularly that it was set in the 15th Century, as many of his classic songs have historical themes- Slip Jigs and Reels, The Naked Highwayman, Tom Paine, King of the Coiners ,Coronado and the Turk, The Turncoat, amongst others. I usually read crime novels when I read fiction and the last couple of novels that I really rated were "Engleby" by Sebastian Faulks and Blake Morrison's two novels. I thoroughly enjoyed reading "All for Poor Jack" with its detailed settings in 15th century Bristol and the New World and it reminded me of the historical novels of GA Henty and Henry Treece I read a long time back (albeit if they'd been given a dose of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy or some input from Sam Peckinpah !) , basically an exciting adventure story set in the parallel worlds of the New World and its warring native American tribes and late medieval Bristol. Without giving too much away, the story follows the harrowing experiences of two brothers, Matthew and Simon Tyrell, one taken prisoner by a Pequot tribe when shipwrecked on a pre-Cabot voyage of discovery and the other an outlaw on the run in the badlands beyond the Clifton Gorge in Bristol in 1485, just as news of the Battle of Bosworth is filtering through. A sound piece of story-telling, colourful, vivid, humorous and well-observed, dipping into a period of history which is brought to life with no concessions to political correctness and which shows, human beings forced into decisions in situations where their survival is at stake. A good old-fashioned clear narrative in which well-defined characters bring a period of history to life- a bit like one of Steve's songs, really !
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on 29 September 2010
Yesterday, knowing that I had more than 8 hours to spend on the railway, I took a copy of All For Poor Jack for company.

Normally cross country train journeys to the accompaniment of nearby screaming children are no more pleasurable than the sound of chalk screeching across a blackboard.

Yet so thoroughly absorbed was I by Steve Tilston's first novel that I hardly heard the din disturbing my fellow passengers. Nor was I aware that my train home was running more than 50 minutes late until some time after I should have arrived at my destination.

I too have known Steve for too many years now. His talents as a musician have never been in doubt. But his abilities as an author come as a complete and very pleasant surprise.

Others here have outlined the plot. Of course there may be minor historical inaccuracies. And rigorously deconstructed the story might not always prove entirely plausible. But such matters will only trouble a pedant. This is a compelling fiction, an entertainment to be enjoyed for what it is, an exceptionally good yarn remarkably well told.

Here Steve's skill as a songwriter shows. There is a rhythm and beat to his writing that moves his narrative effortlessly forward. His abilities as a lyricist allow him to illuminate his prose with pertinent imagery and metaphor. Even though his characters may sometimes face misadventure through miscommunication no reader will ever risk a similar experience.

All For Poor Jack is a book I really enjoyed reading, literally from cover to cover. Thoroughly recommended.
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on 20 August 2010
A tale of two brothers, All For Poor Jack is a novel set in the late 15th Century, a period of history largely ignored in modern literature. As sailor Matthew Tyrell is shipwrecked on the coast of the New World and captured by Pequot tribesmen, back home in Bristol his younger brother Simon has to run from the law when he is wrongly accused of killing a man in a game of football.

The brothers' journeys run in parallel. Matthew and an older shipmate Sam Dodds, their only possessions a small mirror and a broken gun, are conveyed through the wilds by the native Pequots, obliged to join in savage battles with rival tribes, while all the time knowing their own lives are at the whim of their unpredictable captors. Meanwhile, in Bristol, Simon Tyrell has taken refuge in a forest leper colony, where lawmen fear not tread. He soon finds that most of the residents are not lepers at all, but a picaresque band of vagabonds, killers and other fugitives.

The two plots weave and twist independently. Matthew's shipmate Dodds dies; Matthew becomes gradually integrated into the Pequot tribe. At home, the Battle of Bosworth Field has led to changes in the realm. Simon moves from the forest to find the murder charge against him was dropped long ago. He is taken up by the Customs Collector, Thomas Croft, who owned the ship that Matthew sailed on. Simon, who has always believed his brother is still alive, goes to sea. The ending took me completely by surprise.

Long acclaimed as a singer and musician, Steve Tilston has found a new niche as a novelist. In its scope and depth of research, writing All For Poor Jack must have been an adventure itself. His characters are alive with humour and keen dialogue. His descriptions evoke harsh life in Olde England and the New World. His plot rolls along like a page-turner should. This is a book that should be made into a movie.

JP Bean
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on 8 February 2011
For lovers of adventure, exploration and the historical, this novel really does hit all the spots! A gripping, colourful read - I couldn't put it down until I'd read it from cover to cover.

An acclaimed folk singer song-writer of many years standing, Steve Tilston's first novel brings his mastery of story-telling to a wider, non-musical audience. It contains many of the key elements and insights that he weaves into his song lyrics but this time crafted into a fine narrative. Set in a time when an ocean voyage could lead to an experience as terrifying and unpredictable as science-fiction space travel, it takes the reader out of their comfort zone, out of the known world and into the 15th Century; thence on a journey involving Bristol, North America, English sailors and native Americans into the dark places found within all human societies and a largely uncharted, hostile planet.

I'm relieved to say that I emerged unscathed albeit breathless at the end of the book - but not unchanged. Tilston's thoughtful, non-judgemental approach to working well-researched, less-well-known material into a fictional but realistic, parallel-stranded tale certainly left me better informed and with much to chew over and appreciate long after the book had been put down. I'm certainly hoping that song-writing allows him time to follow this novel with another!
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on 21 January 2011
Like many Folk Club promoters, I have always been entranced by Steve Tilston's consummate skill as a songwriter. He has always been able, with his superb lyrics to conjure up gloriously deft images. I was completely blown away, therefore, to find that he is more than a master in the craft of writing a novel!

All For Poor Jack - the title referring to the fishermen of Bristol's efforts to bring home treasured salted cod - held me in a vice-like grip. Its pacey narrative, laced with wonderfully descriptive passages and finely drawn characters, comes over as the work of a truly experienced writer. Some of the passages have tension that left me almost breathless... such as the pursuit down the cliffs of the Avon and the native Americans' fight on the river island.

The twin plots involving the two Tyrell brothers are beautifully woven, so much so that turning the pages from one part to another compelled me to devour this splendid novel in one sitting. I would imagine that the passages describing both the climbing and the use of bow and arrow are those of a man who has experienced these skills - but elsewhere this work continually throbs with authenticity. There are some necessarily brutal passages, but they are always part and parcel of the urgency of life.

A magnificent achievement by a man who I am proud to know.
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on 21 February 2013
A cracking good yarn told in vivid prose. While not the sort of genre I am usually drawn to, I found myself totally immersed in the terrifying world of shipwrecked mariners captured by savage American natives, conjured up in Steve Tilston’s first novel. Well researched and full of fascinating details about both Amerindian tribes and old Bristol, but that doesn't stop it charging along at a fast pace. It’s a real page-turner that kept me entertained for many an hour.
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on 20 August 2010
I found myself immediately immersed in the speed of the tale and the vivid characters etched in it. After a dozen or so pages I dwelt briefly on the fact that I knew Steve as a mate and a colleague and then the story took over again.
From the clever and accurate conversion of the Bristolian dialect to the written word, (I lived there for 15 years and the dialogue reads like Hartcliffe on a Saturday night!) to the gritty portrayal of the Native Americans, this is non-stop, fiery, exciting and sometimes very bloody.
It's a harsh, imaginatively written, and often painful history (witness the 'football match'in Chapter 8) of what passed for humanity in England in the 1400's. Coupling this with the stony reality that those who first settled in North America and, under the weight of Christianity, proclaimed the inhabitants to be savages, were in many cases little better themselves, inasmuch as their self-righteousness and ignorance drove them to dismiss the ways and traditions of people, who although they were a warrior race, had found a way to live at least in part with their environment rather than destroy it. Brilliant stuff indeed.

Mike Silver
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