Weekend in Wessex – Part 2

I had been looking forward to the Chalke Valley History Festival for a long time. I had been following the lead up to the event on Twitter and noticed a comment that it was “Glastonbury for Historians” – I didn’t realise they were talking about the mud!

I already knew before we left home that Wellingtons would be needed. However there was not room in the car for them, but we had our walking boots. They would have to do.

We set off  from Shaftesbury on Sunday morning. The forecast was cloudy, but rain was not expected. We followed the signposts from the main road. We drove on, and on, down narrow country roads. We seemed to be driving in circles. Finally we reached the back of a queue of cars – nearly there.

End of the queue

End of the queue

It must have been getting on for an hour before we reached the entrance and discovered why the progress was so slow. The car park was a muddy field. Cars drove up the hill on a road of boards. At the top, marshals directed each car individually to a parking spot – a mad dash through the mud. I imagine they still wake in the night shouting “Keep going! Second gear!” Tractors were available for those who couldn’t make it.

Next came a logistics problem. Sitting in front of car in ordinary footwear. Walking boots in boot. In between, thick mud. Another pair of shoes to clean later.

After a muddy walk to the entrance we finally arrived. More mud. After locating the loos (plenty of them and no queues), we headed uphill to the Living History area. There was less mud here and we talked to Celts about the usefulness of lime for sun protection and their everlasting cauldron. We found out about  from Vikings about making chain mail and how often Anglo-Saxons washed. We heard from a Roman doctor about trepanning and a falconer about hunting with hawks. We watched  fights by Saxons and another between medieval knights. We saw men and women from different eras mingling and unusual juxtapositions.

Multi Era Team meeting. Romans telling everyone else what to do.

Multi Era Team Meeting. Romans telling everyone else what to do.

Celts

Celts…

and Romans.

…and Romans.

Viking Ship with a rather superfluous sign.

Viking Ship with a rather superfluous sign.

Viking Warrior - not an Anglo-Saxon. How do you tell the difference?

Viking Warrior – not an Anglo-Saxon. How do you tell the difference?

Q. How do you keep the gun deck of HMS Temeraire clean? A. Leave your boots outside.

Q. How do you keep the gun deck of HMS Temeraire clean? A. Leave your boots outside.

Famous Historian holds court in muddy field.

Famous Historian holds court in muddy field.

Cafe

Cafe

By now we were getting tired and hungry. We found a cafe, but it was difficult to sit at a picnic table without getting mud all over the seat – the cakes were nice though.

We visited the book shop – another disconcerting experience. You appear to be browsing in an ordinary Waterstones, but the floor is covered in mud.

I was starting to get fed up. It was difficult to wander round some of the damper areas. You had to look where you were going, then stop to look around. Spend too much time in one place and it was difficult to move on. If we hadn’t booked for a late talk, we might have left – that and the thought of the long walk back to the car.

 

Saxon Settlement

Saxon Settlement

It was while we were searching for drier ground that we found the Anglo-Saxon Settlement. I had been looking for it, but it was hidden away in some trees.

This was run by The Ancient Technology Centre

We watched a smith working to make iron on a small fire and children having a go at turning wood.

We were taught (unsuccessfully) to make bird calls and I had a lesson in spinning wool using only a twig.

Smelting Iron

Smelting Iron

Bodging a chair leg

Bodging a chair leg

I become a spinster - How to spin wool

I become a spinster – How to spin wool

Clouds - can you spot the plane?

Clouds – can you spot the plane?

The sun had come out and things were starting to dry out a bit.

We heard that there was a display of weapons through the ages before the Saxon v Viking battle, so we made our way over to watch that.

Of course, throughout the day, heads turned to the sky to watch old planes pass over. The commentaries and announcements in general were very clear and easy to hear.

The demonstration of weapons through the ages was fascinating, from the earliest spears and bows, to “black powder” muskets and rifles. Larger weapons; a Roman trebuchet and ballista, cannon and field guns. The display finished with a Napoleonic battle between France and English, although the French refused to die.

 

The archers show off their bows while redcoats wait their turn.

The archers show off their bows while redcoats wait their turn.

Roman Balista. Efficient but takes a long time to load.

Roman Ballista. Efficient but takes a long time to load.

Viking arrive in time to finish off the French.

The Saxons  arrive in time to finish off the French.

At last it was time for the Battle of Ethandun. Just when we needed it the commentary was intermittent and difficult to hear, but I managed to identify who was who – the Saxons had the blue flag. There was a bit of discussion and the armies lined up and then attacked. After some fighting, they separated and there was more parlaying. King Alfred and his Saxons eventually defeated Guthrum and his Viking Army. They ran away, back to their ships (presumably waiting over the hill!)

The Anglo-Saxon Shield Wall.

The Anglo-Saxon Shield Wall.

The Vikings wait on the hill.

The Vikings wait on the hill.

The Battle of Athendun

The Battle of Ethandun.

The beaten Vikings run away

The beaten Vikings run away.

Charge!

Charge!

The dead were re-animated and there were other fights  – a “Circle” – a knockout fight with one winner. It turns out that there are rules in these re-enactment encounters. You don’t get the full experience of a proper Anglo-Saxon battle, they aren’t actually trying to kill each other, after all. But it is the closest I will get and it’s quite scary when they charge you head on – I regretted having wormed my way to the front of the crowd! See the video here.

When the battle was over, we went and found an ice cream. While waiting at the van, the tanks nearby started up and moved away. Later we could hear their battle from our place in the queue for our booked talk.

At last, somewhere to sit down.

The talk by Tom Holland on Athelstan was interesting. He told us about the coins he has acquired that tell the story of how Athelstan became King of all England. English history does not start in 1066, but over a hundred years earlier with King Athelstan.

Tom has written a biography of Athelstan, published just before the Festival. I intended to buy a copy and get it signed, but by the time I reached the bookshop, I couldn’t get in the door. Time to leave.

The sun had dried some of the mud. It was surprising it cleared so quickly, but with the underlying chalk it had not been thick, just wet and slippy.

So, had I enjoyed my day at Chalke Valley History Festival? By the end of the day, yes. I might have enjoyed it more without the mud, but at least it didn’t rain as well – in fact I got sunburned!

I learned a lot, took loads of photographs to inspire my writing and gained an understanding of life in the past – how on earth did they manage without paved roads?

 

Boot Selfie

Muddy Boot Selfie

Weekend in Wessex – Part 1

If you are trying to write Historical Fiction (or, I suppose, proper history) you can’t beat a little hands-on experience. So when I heard about the Chalk Valley History Festival, I had to go. With re-enactors from many different periods and talks by famous historians – it seemed to be essential research. I booked a talk by Tom Holland on “Athelstan and the Battle for Britain: The Making of Britain Part 2”. This talk was at 5 o’clock on Sunday 3rd July and the price included entrance to the whole event for that day. On the programme was the Battle of Ethandun, when King Alfred defeated Guthrum in 878. Never mind anything else, that was enough for me!

We decided to make a weekend of it and booked a hotel in Shaftesbury for three nights (Friday to Monday). It was such a busy visit, I have divided it into two posts. Sunday at he Festival will be in Part 2.

Friday

Every adventure starts with a journey and as we planned our route, straight down the Fosse Way to Cirencester, then head south. I noticed that we would be passing close to Malmesbury.

Tomb of Athelstan

Tomb of Athelstan in Malmesbury Abbey

What is so special about Malmesbury? Well, since we had tickets for a talk about Athelstan, we had to visit the site of his grave. Athelstan was the grandson of Alfred the Great. He was King of the Anglo-Saxons from 924 to 927 and King of the English from 927 to 939. He favoured the Abbey at Malmesbury and had buried relatives there who died at the Battle of Brunanburh (937).

The site of his grave is lost but he is commemorated by an empty fifteenth-century tomb.

 

Malmesbury Abbey

Malmesbury Abbey

Malmesbury Abbey, Norman doorway

Malmesbury Abbey, Norman doorway

 

The Abbey is interesting in its own right, half ruin and half parish church. Very light inside and with some beautiful Norman carving.

Other Saxon connections with the Abbey are:

Aldhelm, the scholar and first Abbot (died 709).

In the early 11th century, the monk Eilmer built wings and tried to fly from a tower. He flew over 200 yards (200 m) before landing, breaking both legs. He was forbidden to try again but calculated that he would have succeeded if he had included a tail!

William of Malmesbury (1095-1143) was another monk at the Abbey. He has been described as “a gifted historical scholar and an omnivorous reader, impressively well versed in the literature of classical, patristic and earlier medieval times as well as in the writings of his own contemporaries. Indeed William may well have been the most learned man in twelfth-century Western Europe.”

Malmesbury Market Cross - with market

Malmesbury Market Cross – with market

Can you tell we went round the town museum as well? It’s called the Athelstan Museum. It also has displays of the later history of the town.

Just outside the Abbey is an ornate market cross. There was a market on while we were there – a handful of stalls including one selling some very nice fudge (not Anglo-Saxon, but I do have other interests!)

 

 

THE view of Shaftesbury

THE view of Shaftesbury

We continued our trip and arrived in Shaftesbury to time to have a short walk around the town to see the sights. We didn’t know when we booked, but there were a number of events on in the town that weekend:  The Shaftesbury Fringe and Gold Hill Fair.

When we stood at the top of Gold Hill that afternoon, music could be heard from nearby. It was The Wandering Winds on their World Tour of Dorset. We didn’t wait long enough for Dvorak’s New World Symphony, that would be too much of a cliché, but it added to the atmosphere.

We were booked into La Fleur de Lys (who let those Normans in?) which is described as a restaurant with rooms, so we enjoyed a delicious meal and a comfortable night, before waking to a new day.

La Fleur de Lys, Shaftesbury

La Fleur de Lys, Shaftesbury

Saturday

We like to get to know a place where we stay and we had found a walk online,  so it was walking boots on.

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury. looking back up the hill

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury. looking back up the hill

It started by going down Gold Hill, through lanes and across fields to the south of the town, returning to the town via Stoney Path (a narrower but no less steep alternative to Gold Hill) and finishing at Castle Hill View.

Distant view of Shaftesbury

Distant view of Shaftesbury

View from Castle Hill, Shaftesbury, towards King Alfred's Tower

View from Castle Hill, Shaftesbury, towards King Alfred’s Tower

This was the site of the original Saxon town, founded by King Alfred in AD880 and faced north.The walk was only four miles so we were back in the town in time for lunch

 Onion seller at French Market, Shaftesbury

Onion seller at French Market, Shaftesbury

Part of the Gold Hill Fair was a French (Boo!) Market on Park Walk, so we bought some french tarts and sat on a bench, contemplating the route of our morning’s walk.

What to do now? Visit the Abbey museum and garden (just behind us) or travel further afield.
From Castle Hill we had spotted King Alfred’s Tower.

 

The weather seemed set fair so we returned to the hotel to collect the car and headed for Stourhead.

Being members of the National Trust, we had to take advantage of free entry.

Clouds had gathered so we decided to go round the house first, luckily we missed a short downpour and by the time we emerged the sun had returned and we walked round the grounds – perhaps not a good idea after all the walking that morning. An ice cream was very welcome.

Stourhead House, after the rain

Stourhead House, after the rain

Stourhead, fifty shades of green

Stourhead, fifty shades of green

Stourhead bridge and monument

Stourhead bridge and monument

King Alfred’s Tower

King Alfred’s Tower is on the Stourhead estate and I think you can walk there, but we had had enough walking that day. It seemed a long way even in the car! We reached the car park about 4.15 and we were told that the tower had closed at 4.00.

Oh dear, we wouldn’t be able to climb up the 205 steps to see the view from the top.

The tower is surrounded by trees, so there is no view of anything at ground level but it is situated in a meadow studded with wildflowers, including orchids – common spotted, I think.

Of course the Tower was not built by King Alfred. Like the rest of the estate, built by the Hoare family, over 250 years ago, it is a folly, completed in 1772 at an estimated cost between £5,000 and £6,000. However, it is supposed to be the site of “Egbert’s Stone” where King Alfred rallied the Saxons in AD878 before the Battle against the Danish army of Guthrum at the Battle of Ethandun.

 

Which we were to witness the next day!

To be continued

 

 

The First Step – or is it the Second?

After a break of a couple of weeks – holidays, sickness, I was back at the writing class. Only three more weeks and then we finish until September. How will I manage?

This weeks lesson was based on the book “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” by Thornton Wilder, one of those famous books that nobody reads. If you haven’t, it is about a group of five people who die when an Inca rope bridge collapses.

This was the start of our exercise. We talked about different catastrophes and then wrote a description of one of our own. We had to make a list of at least five characters and describe them. I hate this process – staring at a blank piece of paper with an equally blank mind. Usually something comes and sometimes it leads to wonderful things. Some amazing scenarios certainly emerged during yesterday’s class. I must make a confession – I cheated!

Since I finished my WIP first draft and edit, I have allowed myself to dream. What happens next? After all it is planned as a trilogy. A few ideas have been fermenting in my brain: places, people, events, a battle – of course, deaths – inevitable after a battle, who will die? One thing I did know is how it starts – with a catastrophe! I hadn’t gone any further. When do I start? Do I wait until I have done more editing? Should I catch up with my life for a bit?

Was I a little bit scared?

Faced with the dreaded blank page, I jumped.

I didn’t need to describe my catastrophe, I had already gone through it, many times, in my head

I didn’t need to describe my characters, I already know them. I have even interviewed some of them – see some of the posts I wrote in the April Archives on the right.

Finally, towards the end of the class, I was allowed to start writing. Here is the very first page:

start of the book

At the top you can see my five characters. I have cut out my brief notes about the catastrophe – you didn’t think I was going to give anything away, did you? You can also see why I do most of my writing on the computer. I have written beautiful exercises and then been unable to read them out in class because I can’t read my own writing! There are a few more lines and that is it, so far.

My second WIP AKA (for the moment) Byrhtnoth2 has officially started. There is a (very) long way to go but, as someone once said “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

I feel like God saying “Let there be light” (Pretentious, Moi?).

I am every writer who has ever looked at a rock/parchment/piece of paper/computer screen and thought “I’ve got a story to tell, I think I’ll write it down.”

I haven’t experienced this before. My first book just evolved. This time I know what I am doing – in the sense that I know I am writing a book, not that I think I know how to do it.

Coming back to earth, I have homework to do, permission to carry on. Where will it take me? Can I actually do it?

Hopefully some of these questions will be answered in future posts.

Thegn in a reasonably priced car.

I recently read an interesting article about Anglo-Saxon swords by Matthew (get your seax out) Harffy. You can read it here.

A patten-welded sword?

A pattern-welded sword?

One of the points made was that a sword could be compared with a modern man (It’s always a man) boasting about his car. I noticed a similar analogy on a recent TV programme about Versailles. I can’t remember what was compared with an expensive sports car – it might have been a piece of lace. This is one of those common comparisons; the size of Wales, a football pitch or a double-decker bus.

It got me thinking. If an expensive, pattern-welded can be compared to a posh car, what about the man who owned it? What is the modern equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon warrior?

I decided that it must be a professional football player. Both have to be young and fit. They have little in the way of brains and their working life is short. I know little about cars (or footballers) but the top flight international/premier league players with the exotic cars (see here for examples) are the top Ealdormen. Their weapon/car is impractical for daily use but stands out from the crowd and costs a lot to buy. Further down the league, those with a modest, but still decent car, would have had an ordinary, cheaper sword or seax. Your ordinary, amateur or local league player would be a spear carrier and drive a second-hand hatchback. I see the men whose chosen weapon was the axe as Rugby players, perhaps driving something off-road. After all, weren’t Land Rover sponsors of the recent Rugby World Cup.

Before I go further down the sporting road (Tennis players as archers?) let’s think about the women (or WAGS). Things haven’t changed much there over the years, they have always been judged by the money their partner earns. This usually means cloths and jewellery. The more riches won by your warrior, the better quality gown you wore. Silk was the ultimate achievement and equates to designer dresses. I’m not sure that high heeled shoes were important to the Anglo-Saxon woman though. Or handbags?

Finally, who held the power in Anglo-Saxon England? The king of course and his relatives. They demonstrate their status by property. An impressive hall/castle to house their retinue, a feast/garden party to feed them. Mead v A cup of tea and cake?

And then there was the church. At that time, usually the only people able to read and write. The great bishops and abbots, building churches and monasteries and advising the king. The ordinary priest or monk would be the equivalent of teachers, writers, artists, vowed to poverty. Their superiors, surely, must be the modern businessmen and politicians.  Ostensibly subject to the same vow of poverty, but dealing in power and large sums of money. The ones not caught fiddling their expenses were turned into saints.

I think I have followed this tread almost to breaking point, but if you have any suggestions, let me know. I might mention the best in a future post.

Editing

Sorry for the long gap between posts, but I have been editing. Perhaps that word should be in large black letters, such has been its impact on my life.

So, I have been EDITING.

Before I started writing I didn’t realise what it would be like. You write a book, right? Then you try to publish it. OK you need to check over what you have written, that’s easy.

It’s not! I discovered that there is only a certain length of time I could continue before I would lose concentration. But then I was fit for nothing for the rest of the day – I have never felt so exhausted. I couldn’t read anything and I definitely couldn’t write anything.

Word-Loss DietThere is a lot of information on the internet about editing, but I started with a book that someone had recommended. The Word-Loss Diet: Professional Self-Editing Techniques for Authors by Rayne Hall. This takes you through certain words to look for in your manuscript that can be cut. It starts, as is logical, with “start to” and “begin to”. Instead of “She started to run” use “she ran”. The author gives detailed instructions on how to highlight the bad words and then get rid of them. You then continue with words such as “look”, “sigh”, “smile”. I was terrified at how often I used some of these words. I am sure it is something that professional writers do without thinking, but to a beginner like me it was an eye-opener. I think it has improved my writing, because I now try to avoid these errors.
(I can also recommend Writing Fight Scenes, by the same author.)

This process was quite fun, compared with the grind of going through my manuscript line by line. I started in the middle, as I had already “finished” the first half. When I got to the end, I decided to re-edit the first part. I found as many corrections as in the second part. Had I not edited the first part properly? Perhaps my editing had improved with practise. Do I have to go through it all again? And again? I know that however many times I check my work, there will be things I miss.

All this has confirmed the statement that I made in my last post – I need an editor. So I found one!

At the Self-publishing Conference, I attended two sessions with Cressida Downing. She handed out vouchers for 10% off her professional services. I had a look at her website and contacted her. After a discussion, we decided that I would send her my first three chapters and my synopsis for analysis and suggestions for improvement.

I had a sudden crisis – what exactly were my first three chapters? There was a flurry of editing and rewriting and then I sent them off. It felt like taking a child to their first day at school and leaving them, all alone. (Actually it was worse, my children were happy to go to school and I was glad to get rid of them, temporarily of course.)

Now I wait. What do I do next? Well I have turned my manuscript into an e-book and put it on my tablet. I will leave it there for a while before I pluck up the courage to read it. I have written and edited it. I have spent the last three years thinking about it and my characters, but I have never actually read it as a whole book.

After that there will no doubt be a lot more editing.  Hacking out great chunks, rearranging and perhaps some killing of darlings.

Meanwhile I have had a holiday (well, a short break), read some books and done a lot of thinking about my next book. I have had a few ideas, even some for the book after that. I have no plan, but I think I must start writing again.

Perhaps tomorrow?

Self-Publishing – The Conference

On Saturday I attended the 4th Self-Publishing Conference in Leicester, organised by Troubador Publishing.

P1150918+

It was my first time attending this annual event, so I was a little nervous. I have been to Family History Conferences before, but I know family historians are very friendly, helpful people. What would a mass meeting of authors be like? I needn’t have worried, everyone was very nice.

I am at that point: First draft written, immersed in editing, and I have started to wonder “what next?” How do I turn that big pile of words into something that readers might want to read? Perhaps I would find out in Leicester.

The omens were good – Leicester City FC were crowned champions the same day. I had an uneventful drive there and arrived as Registration opened at 8.45, plenty of time for a mug of coffee and an orientation of the venue. Sitting on my own as the place filled, I was approached by a friendly lady (staff/bookseller?) for a chat. I was really made welcome.

At 9.30 we all collected in the main hall for the welcome and Keynote Speech: “Publishing, the media and self-publishing.” Caroline Sanderson is Associate Editor of “The Bookseller“. She told us about what she looks for in new books and what self-publishers can do to get noticed. I wrote down the sentence “Make your book the best it can be.” The rest of the day was aimed at helping us to do just that.

We separated into different groups. We had selected the subjects that interested us when we booked. My first session was on “Preparing Your Manuscript for Submission” with Cressida Downing. This dealt with how to write that all important letter to a publisher or agent. Don’t rush, wait until you really feel your work is ready. Make sure you write to the right person and send them what they ask for – if you get it wrong your time, and theirs, has been wasted. We were given information on what font to use and formatting. We also looked at some examples of what not to do. We were assured that these were all genuine – all I can say is that there are a lot of stupid authors out there!

After a break for refreshments, the next session was “Historical Fiction” – of course. I was surprised how few delegates had booked for this. Perhaps there are not many historical fiction writers about – hooray! More likely they were all at home writing – boo! Or the other subjects were more popular: “Secrets of a Successful Book Launch”, “Using Your Author Website to the Full” or “Maximising Your Ebook’s Potential”. Anyway, a small group of us had three authors: Helen Hollick, Griselda Heppel and Lucienne Boyce (with her husband to talk for her as she had a sore throat.) to tell us about what the huge range of books covered by this genre. Apart from different eras, there is historical fiction for children – a sadly neglected genre at present. When I look back at all the books I read when I was young which ignited my interest in history, I despair for the future of history knowledge – it certainly wasn’t the history I was taught at school that got me interested. Then there is the difficulty of deciding if your book is history with a bit of fantasy or fantasy with a bit of history. It all depends on who you are trying to sell to.

By now it was nearly 1 o’clock and I was ready for lunch. This was held in a building across the road which allowed us a bit of fresh air and a sight of the lovely sunshine we were missing. I was near the end of the queue and by the time a reached the food, some trays were empty. It didn’t really matter as there was plenty of choice left. The other problem was a lack of tables – and even chairs. But I discovered that sitting on the floor was a good opportunity to meet other delegates and soon we were chatting and exchanging personal details. I was glad I had thought to run up a few cards before I went – must get something more professional  printed.

We rushed back across the road, just in time for the Plenary Session in the hall. “Why I need to find a new research subject.” The blinds were now down to cut out the heat of the sun, but I think that, despite the facts, figures and graphs, most people stayed awake through this interesting talk by Professor Alison Baverstock of Kingston University. Alison has been researching the rise of self-publishing. How it has risen from a pariah in the publishing world to becoming just another way to do it. Apparently self-publishers have a very high rate of satisfaction and editors prefer working with self-publishers. “Proper” publishers beware!

Most of us remained in the hall for the next session, “Self-promotion for Self-publishers.” Mike Bodnar is an independent author who wrote a book “Against the Current” about his move from New Zealand to barging around France. He entertained us with a flood of useful information on how to get your book noticed, you can find the notes here (bottom of the page).

Cressida Downing competing with a thunderstorm

Cressida Downing competing with a thunderstorm

After another coffee break (I heard afterwards there was cake – how did I miss that?) the day ended with a bang. I was back with Cressida Downing for “Synopses, Blurbs and Keywords.” A couple of weeks before the conference, we had been invited to send in our own synopses for comment. Ten people had sent something in, some anonymously, and parts were read out. I discovered that mine needed work, but I had got the right idea. At least I think that was what she said –  above the claps of thunder and the pounding of rain on the roof! We also had fun identifying tag lines from films and guessing books from their synopses.

By the end of this session I was starting to feel I had had enough, my brain overloaded with information. I had debated whether to stay for the final Drinks Reception, especially as I was driving and couldn’t have any wine. It was still raining hard, so I had a glass of apple juice and browsed the canapés. Time for a bit more networking, then I decided to leave. I drove through another (the same?) thunderstorm and a few large puddles, but made it home safely, tired but exhilarated.

So, looking back, what did I learn?

  1. Self-publishing is not something to be ashamed of. It can cover everything from vanity publishing to something indistinguishable from the best traditionally published book.
  2. I need an editor.
  3.  I found that people have a problem with my hero’s name. It has confirmed my decision not to use it as the (main) title of my book.
  4. That sentence I noted from the keynote speech. Make your book the best it can be!

Thank you Troubador for organising the day. I’m sure I’ll be back next year.

I had planned to tweet during the day and take photos. Sorry, but it seems there was so much to do, I didn’t have time.

 

Interviewing my Character – Wulfstan

We have reached the final straight of the AtoZ April Challenge. I am glad that I am not taking part in the full event , I am not sure how some bloggers manage it.

I have been particularly impressed with Helen Hollick’s interviews with other authors’ characters (so much I borrowed her format). Sometimes getting other people to write something is worse than doing it yourself. It has introduced me many interesting characters (and authors).

Today the challenge has reached the letter W and I am interviewing Wulfstan. He is a very important character, Byrhtnoth’s friend. I thought I had invented him, every hero needs a friend; a contrast, someone to talk to, to give advice, even to argue with. Byrhtnoth is tall, fair and a warrior. Wulfstan is small, dark and… what?

Preparing this I had one of those strange coincidences that I have encountered while writing the book. I knew that there were many people about in this period named Wulfstan  (It means wolf stone – a good solid name for a boy.) I knew that there was someone of the name, an Archbishop of York, who is buried near the remains of Byrhtnoth in Ely Cathedral. I looked him up.

This Wulfstan was consecrated Bishop of London in AD996. He became Bishop of Worcester and Archbishop of York – at the same time! He was famous for his writing and died in 1023. Nothing is known about his youth or his life before 996 – five years after Byrhtnoth’s death!  So did I invent him? Let’s see what MY Wulfstan has to say.

 

Q : Would you like to introduce yourself – who you are, what you do?

A : My name is Wulfstan, failed warrior, nearly monk. But more important, friend of Byrhtnoth

 

Q : Where and when are you? Are you a real historical person or did your author create you?

A : I live in the Monastery at Ely, where my friend was buried after the Battle of Maldon in AD991. My author thinks she created me – someone to tell the tale of Byrhtnoth. I have written two introductions for her, but I suspect she will discard them.

However she has allowed me access to the teachings of your time, a document written by scholars that she calls “wikipedia”. There is a Wulfstan listed there amongst the Bishops of London and Worcester and Archbishops of York. It is said that he was consecrated Bishop of London in AD996, so it seems I might have more work to do. That Wulfstan is buried at Ely. His bones lie close to those of Byrhtnoth, so perhaps…

 

Q : In a few brief sentences: what is the novel you feature in about?

A : If you have read the previous interviews, you will know our book is about Byrhtnoth. We meet, as children, on the very first page. He is bigger and braver than me and we become friends for life.

 

Q : How did your author meet up with you?

A : As I have said, she needed me. Every hero must have a friend, a sidekick, it is sometimes called.

 

Q : Tell me about one or two of the other characters who feature with you – husband, wife, family? Who are some of the nice characters and who is the nastiest one?

A : Like others I have no family. I had a sister once, when I was young, but she died. It was my fault she died. They say I could not be blamed but it haunts me still.

I have met many nasty people, but the first was a man called Egbert. He was there at the first; one of the group of boys. Later I beat him in a competition. I humiliated him, for which I am sorry, but it was fun at the time. He took revenge, I nearly died and things changed forever.

 

Q : What is your favourite scene in the book?

A : I suppose that must be the competition with Egbert. It was on horseback. I rode Sleipnir – and before you ask, he doesn’t have eight legs! Sleipnir is not a pretty horse, but very clever. We ran rings around that Egbert, and when his horse..     but I mustn’t say too much.

 

Q : What is your least favourite? Maybe a frightening or sad moment that your author wrote.

A : When I nearly died. I don’t remember much and I don’t want to.

 

Q : What are you most proud of about your author?

A : She has stuck with us. We have all encouraged her to keep at it. I keep remembering events for her to write about. If there are any mistakes you can blame my erratic memory.

 

Q : Has your author written other books about you? If not, about other characters?
How do you feel about your author going off with someone else!

A : I have started feeding her new ideas, so I hope there will be more books. After all, we have only got to AD 946 or is it 947? So long ago! Forty years or more until he dies.

 

Q : As a character if you could travel to a time and place different to your own fictional setting where and when would you go?

A : Such a difficult question. Byrhtnoth is happy in his own time, but I have always questioned thing, wanted to know more, about the past and the future, and foreign lands. Your time appears interesting – so much information, so much ease of travel. Perhaps my author will let me tag along with her occasionally, in exchange for my knowledge about my time, about my adventures with Byrhtnoth.

 

 

Remains interned in the 10th century Saxon church, reburied in the present Cathedraland moved several times. Byrhtnoth is on the far right and Wulfstan on the left.

Remains interned in the 10th century Saxon church at Ely, reburied in the present Cathedral and moved several times. Byrhtnoth is on the far right and Archbishop Wulfstan on the left.