“Sean Bean only got the part of Sharpe because he looked like me.”
These words set the tone for an incredibly entertaining evening with Bernard Cornwell, acclaimed author of the Sharpe series of novels, the Starbuck Chronicles, The Grail Quest, The Warrior Chronicles and the standalone novels, The Fort and Azincourt. Cornwell was discussing the series of events within the Battle of Waterloo – the subject of his latest book and first foray into non-fiction: Waterloo: the History of Four days, Three Armies and Three Battles.
Cornwell displayed his immense and highly detailed knowledge about the Battle of Waterloo as well as sharing colourful anecdotes about its participants. In his conversation with moderator, novelist Charles Foran, he talked about the composition of the order of battle, why Waterloo could have been the very first battle that the Duke of Wellington could have lost and answered questions from the audience in a witty and enlightening manner.
Hosted by the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library, the event was, unfortunately, moved to the atrium due to an unforeseen scheduling mix-up. However, this change of internal venue did not interfere with the highly enjoyable discussion.
Foran began by asking Cornwell why Waterloo changed everything. Cornwell responded by saying that it ended a significant portion of French influence in the world by its loss of military supremacy in Europe, its bankruptcy by Napoleon and assertion of British control in Canada with the French inability to conquer British North America for the United States. While this may have seemed like a heavy academic answer, Cornwell was able to answer and lecture in a way that was thoroughly engaging and witty. It was a fascinating delight for history lovers and novel-readers alike.
During the Question and Answer portion of the evening, Cornwell was asked a variety of questions, including one from a young man who enquired if there would be any more Sharpe novels. Cornwell responded by asking the boy if he would like one. After an emphatic yes, Cornwell asked the boy his name and told him that he would write one and insert the boy’s name as a character in the novel. The audience responded to this overture with appreciative and raucous laughter, delighted by the author’s enthusiasm to include the young reader in the event.
Other questions were more academic, asking about the importance of the rain the night before the battle, the value of war as a subject for novelization or the accuracy of reports of Napoleon’s ill health during the battle. Cornwell’s expertise on the subject was unchallenged as the author not only answered each question thoroughly, but was able to cite accounts of witnesses or other contemporary authors in substantiating his answers.
History geeks, Napoleon enthusiasts, military historians or merely lovers of Cornwell’s fiction would have certainly enjoyed this evening. After a signing of his book, Cornwell was extremely gracious with his fans, posing for photos or entertaining further questions. This was an author event of great academic and entertainment value and Cornwell’s charm and knowledge certainly went far in making it truly memorable. Kudos to the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library for hosting such an extremely enjoyable event.