The Devil's Dyke

As the year ends, we look back to what has happened during the last twelve months; what we have done, and what we haven’t done. One of those undone things is to update this blog, so now is the time to catch up on those posts I meant to write – and then got distracted.

Back in August we spent a few days in Suffolk. The object was to visit the new exhibition at Sutton Hoo, but more about that another time. On the journey to Woodbridge, we stopped at a place I had wanted to visit for some time: The Devil’s Dyke.

There are several places in the British landscape that have been given the name of Devil’s Dyke, the most well known is a valley in the South Downs, near Brighton. The Devil’s Dyke is not a natural feature, it was built by man, and Anglo-Saxon men at that. It runs across the Cambridgeshire countryside from one unimportant place to another. Why was it there?

Everyone has heard of Offa’s Dyke; a bank and ditch that separates England and Wales, or at the time that it was supposed to have been built, by King Offa in the eighth century, to keep the Welsh out of Mercia.

The Devil’s Dyke was built, probably in the 6th or 7th century, to keep the Mercians out of East Anglia. East Anglia has always been difficult to reach from the west, even in recent times. It was not until the A14 was built that it became easier (although for travellers stuck in hold-ups on that road, that is a debatable point.)

To the north the Wash and the Fens reach deep into the land and to the south, there was thick forest. There was only one easy route, a strip of chalk grassland through which ran the Icknield Way. This ancient trackway, perhaps named after the Iceni tribe, ran from Wiltshire to Norfolk. Later, the Romans used it. In the nineteenth century a railway, now dismantled, was built that way. And where people travelled, whether traders or armies, control was needed.

The Anglo-Saxons built several dykes across the route: Bran Ditch, Brent Ditch, Fleam Dyke and the longest and best preserved Devils Dyke.

For such a large and prominent landmark, it was remarkably difficult to find. We had found maps and walks online and decided to start at the northernmost end, a village called Reach. We would walk along the dyke as far as we had time for and return to our car to continue our journey.

The drive to Reach was an adventure in itself. Small winding lanes among fenland drains, with road signs that disappeared at the most inconvenient moment, but eventually we arrived and parked close to the Dykes End pub. A good place to start – we thought.

The centre of Reach

We now encountered an excess of signs. Apart from the road signs there were a multitude of walk directions at the entrance to a footpath just behind where this photo was taken. That must be the way. We walked up it (in my experience, the correct route is always up a hill!), round corners, through a few fields, ate a few blackberries. Where was the dyke? We consulted the compass, compared it with the maps, had a heated argument and ended up back in the village – all without finding anything that resembled a dyke.

Had we misread the map? Had we gone in the wrong direction? Look at that picture (above). See that clump of trees at the end of the green? That is the dyke! In fact, once we found the cunningly hidden explanation board, we discovered that the green was originally part of the dyke, flattened.

Hoping no one had noticed our mistake, we fought our way through the undergrowth to find ourselves in what we thought was the dyke ditch. Of course, as we were walking south with the bank on our right, we were, in fact, on the defended, East Anglian side of the dyke.

East Anglia to the left. Mercia beyond the dyke to the right.

It was a warm muggy day and we tramped through the long grass disturbing butterflies and other insects. It was very peaceful. Eventually we found a steep path up onto the top of the dyke. We could see for miles.

Looking into Mercia. Is King Penda on the way?
Path along the top of the dyke, heading south.

It was a pleasant walk. We met the occasional dog walker. If we had carried on we would have eventually reached Newmarket; the southern end of the dyke forms part of the racecourse there. The dyke is seven miles long and in places the bank measures 9 metres (30 ft) high and 36.5 metres (120 ft) across.

We stopped when we got to the dismantled railway, with its own earthworks (Interesting if you like railways) about a mile from Reach. According to the map there is a Roman Villa in the area, but we didn’t spot it.

Looking back along the ditch from close to the railway.

We walked along the railway to the road and them back to the village along field edges. The dyke was in view most of the way back but almost impossible to see. The green slopes and trees which grew along the top camouflaged it against the flat countryside.

Originally, having been built of chalk, it must have stood out against the green land proclaiming the power of King Rædwald and East Anglia. How many men died on its slopes, defending their kingdom? They are long gone and now all is peaceful.

I wonder what it was like when Byrhtnoth was alive? Both Mercia and East Anglia had been subsumed in the country that had become England. But the Great Heathen Army arrived and eventually what had been East Anglia and the eastern part of Mercia were part of the Danelaw.

The Devil’s Dyke was no longer needed. It is an indication of its size and bulk that, after more than a thousand years so much of it still survives. Perhaps because it is so well hidden!

Writing a Historical Detective Novel – NaNoWriMo update

What is Historical Detective Fiction and why would I want to write it?
A good question and difficult to answer.

The short answer is that I was coming to the end of The Byrhtnoth Chronicles (at least for the time being) but wanted to continue to inhabit the same “Universe”. Byrhtnoth deserved a rest, so why not take one of the other characters and tell their story?

The character was obvious, but what story did they have to tell? Among the many historical fiction books that I have read, I have especially enjoyed series with a detective character, solving a crime, usually a murder. The first I read must have been Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael, the first “A Morbid Taste for Bones.” was published in 1977. I must have read most of the series before it was televised, which I felt was a disaster – the casting of Derek Jacobi was completely wrong.

After that I looked for other series, covering many different periods.
From the Roman era there is Lindsey Davis’ Falco.
Susanna Gregory writes about Brother Bartholomew, a 14th Century monk and also Thomas Chaloner a Civil War spy trying to survive after the Restoration.
Then, of course, there is Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer towards the end of the reign of Henry VIII written by C. J. Sansom.

In the Victorian period there is Anne Perry with both William Monk (1850-60s) and Thomas Pitt (1880-1890s) and bringing us into the (early) 20th century, Amelia Peabody, an Egyptian archaeologist, written by Elizabeth Peters.

Then there are the one-offs: Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, although in that case the detective is modern, only the crime is historical; and Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. This is on television at the moment and the plot is made more impenetrable by the bad sound quality.

“What are these words supposed to be?”

I could go on, there are many more. Find your favourites here.
I notice there is nothing set in the 10th Century. Sister Fidelma by Peter Tremayne detects in 7th Century Ireland then there is nothing until after the Norman conquest.

Can I fill that gap? That is where NaNoWriMo comes in. I posted about how I was doing at the halfway point. Now it has finished, and I am pleased to say that I reached 50,341 words on 27th November – three days early!

Is it a Historical Detective Novel? Well, it has a murder and several suspects, It has a detective and several red herrings. I have not managed to get to the traditional “gather everyone in the library and reveal the murderer” moment, but I know who “did it”. Whether it is any good will take a lot more work – I haven’t even read it through yet.

I found it easy to write, but I encountered several problems.
In particular, names. I have mentioned this subject before here. Anglo-Saxon names can be difficult – they all had the same , or similar, and most of them are unfamiliar to the general reader. There were no surnames. I think I have managed OK in my previous books, with a small group of people continuing through 3/4 books with only the occasional new addition. Detective fiction is a whole different ball game.

I knew before I started that there would be a problem. I needed a victim and suspects, so I had already found names for them. Where? What is the biggest collection of Anglo-Saxon names ever collected? The Doomsday Book! There are a lot of Norman names as well, but most places had an A-S owner in the time of King Edward.

I went about it logically. I had already found a location for my crime, so I looked it up in Doomsday, together with a few of the surrounding villages, and produced a list so that I could pick a name when I needed it. I know that the names in 1066 are not the same people who were living there over a hundred years before, but I assumed that if there were any regional variations in name usage, they would be reasonably genuine.

And I did need a lot of names! Think about a detective story. There are not just the obvious suspects; there are other witnesses. There is the local policeman, who has arrested an innocent man. There is the character with local knowledge to befriend the detective, plus his wife. There is the young boy/servant who can mix with the lower classes, run errands and take messages. This is all apart from working out what the local Anglo-Saxon equivalent is. As I said, there is a lot of work to do!

Then there is also the problem with how to address people. I was used to using either proper name or “my lord”. Just how did an Anglo-Saxon address a suspect without a Mr This or Mrs That. Did they use Sir and Madam? It doesn’t sound right.

Another difficulty I encountered was how to deal with those little phrases that crop up in an interview/ conversation. “Tell me more” “What did you do next” “Where were you that day” “Did you batter XXXX to death with a candlestick?”. So much easier to have a fight and chop someone’s head off.

Perhaps I’m not cut out to be a detective novelist. I’m sure everyone will be able to work out the guilty party long before the end. At least I have had a go, and that is what NaNoWriMo is all about. I will finish the story, leave it alone for a bit, then give it a read. Perhaps I will be pleasantly surprised. If not, at least I have learned a lot about historical detective fiction.

Meanwhile I must get back to Byrhtnoth and solve his problems. Perhaps he will have to carry on with his adventures after all.

Just to prove I did it!

Guest Post – Viking Swords

Today I welcome a fellow writer of Historical Fiction. Jen Black’s books cover different periods, but all, I think take place in Scotland or involve Scottish history. This week her new book, Viking Bride, is published. It is set in the eleventh century, in the time of Macbeth, and is about Vikings – but we won’t hold that against her. Welcome Jen.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08192245X


Hello – I’m Jen Black and I’m stealing space on Christine’s blog today to announce my latest publication ~ VIKING BRIDE. Briefly, it is a historical romance, but with lots of action and excitement as well for those who like a little more adventure.

It is set in the isle of Lewis around AD1040 when MacBeth was High King of Alba and the Vikings were settling down as neighbours and farmers rather than rampaging warriors anxious to lop off heads. They remained a dominant force in any area they chose to settle and dangerous to those who dared to argue with them. Among themselves, I am sure they were as happy, miserable, compassionate, cruel, cynical, greedy, envious and bloody-minded as people everywhere can be today.

They had many stories to tell around the fireside. Most people associate Vikings with swords and axes, shields and spears. Maybe a bow and arrow. But the predominant weapon of myth and fable was the sword, often very old and with a personal name.

They were expensive; a hand-made pattern-welded blade could be worth as much as £250,000 in our terms if the hilt furniture was jewelled or finished in precious metal. Mystical powers were attributed to them and Skofnung is a good example.

Not only a very special sword, Skofnung had a life stone which offered healing powers to those it had injured. Skofnung’s first owner was King Hrolf Kraki of Denmark and Skofnung was buried with him inside the mound at Roskilde.

Two hundred years later, Skeggi of Vlidfirtlz in Iceland broke into the mound and removed a good deal of treasure, including Skofnung. In the dry and air-tight burial chamber, Skofnung was clean, bright and covered in dried lanolin. With that cleaned off, it was as good as the day it was made.

A warrior called Kormac faced a duel with Bersi, a professional duellist, and decided his sword wasn’t up to the mark. Bersi had a sword called Hviting, which had its own life-stone and Kormac’s did not; also, his blade bent after a few hard strokes. Kormac’s mother suggested he’d better see if he could borrow Skofnung from Skeggi. Kormac did so, and Skeggi refused to lend his sword.

On his mother’s insistence he tried again, and this time Skeggi agreed, but gave Kormac lots of instructions about using the sword. No woman could look upon it, the sun should not be allowed to shine on it for too long and he must breathe on the blade as he withdraw the sword from the bag which protected it. Breathing on the blade would allow the luck of the sword to swim out into the pattern and if luck was with him Kormac would see the snake moving in the fuller.

Kormac wasn’t impressed and laughed. When he took Skofnung home he wanted to show it to his mother but could not remove the protective bag. When Kormac tore off the bag, Skofnung howled and refused to leave the bag and howled even louder when Kormac put his foot on the bag and dragged out the sword. The snake vanished into the hilt.

At this Skeggi reclaimed his sword and in time handed it on to his son Eid, who then loaned it to a man called Thekrell and to his son Gellir, who died at Roskilde. No doubt Skofnung was buried with him, very close to the mound from which it had originally been plundered, for no more was ever heard of Skofnung.

Lesser known weapons, but probably more likely to be owned and used every day, were the various shapes and sizes of saex common to the Viking age. A langsaex, as the name suggests, had a blade a good deal longer that the shorter and more common scramsaex which came in all shapes and sizes from a common eating knifr to a blade inscribed with runes and inserted into a patterned hilt. Such weapons have their own history, and Skofnung even has an island, Skofnungsey, named after it. I almost used the masculine pronoun for him in that last sentence…

And now back to my new book!
Here’s the blurb:

It was a marriage no one wanted.

Least of all the Borgunna and Asgeir.

When chieftain Ragnar and his friend Grettir force the marriage on their offspring they had no idea of the powerful feelings they would unleash, nor the dreadful consequences that would follow. Set in the Hebrides in the eleventh century, when Christianity was taking hold in Viking communities settling down as farmers and neighbours, the old familiar gods had not quite been forgotten.

Viking Bride 
https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08192245X

If any of you read Far After Gold then you will recognise Flane ~ he re-appears in this story as wedding guest and distant cousin of chieftain Ragnar.
Find it here: https://tinyurl.com/wras6vg

I have a degree in English and worked in academic libraries in the north east of England until retirement a few years ago. That’s when I began writing seriously and there are now twelve novels with my name on them – all historicals bar one.

Jen Black Author

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I have a Facebook Author page: @JenBlackauthor should find me.
and my books are listed on Amazon Author Central: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jen-Black/e/B003BZ8JNQ
My blog is https://jenblackathor.blogspot.com. I would be delighted to see you at any or all of them!

Thank you, Jen, for such an informative article. Byrhtnoth will be visiting Scotland in Part 4 of the Byrhtnoth Chronicles, so I will be reading your book with interest.

NaNoWriMo 2019 – Halfway There

Last year I took part in NaNoWriMo, also known as National Novel Writing Month, when mad writers attempt to write 50,000 words in one month (November). I had heard other writers talking about it and had a go, just to see if I could do it and I “won” – sounds good doesn’t it? All it means is that I reached the total number of words within the time limit. (I managed it with a day to spare, if I remember rightly.)

This year I am doing it again.
Why?

It’s not as if I have plenty of time to waste – the aim of the exercise is to write something new – not carry on writing what you would be doing normally. As you may have noticed, this blog has been rather neglected of late.

Back in April, I stuck my toe into the world of self-publishing with Bright Axe, book two of the Byrhtnoth Chronicles. It was so easy, I carried on and published book three, Bright Blade, last month (October 12th). Why the rush? Well I had booked a table at the Southam Book Festival held on the 20th of that month, for myself and several other authors from Rugby Cafe Writers. We had attended in 2018 and had quite a successful day. And I wanted to see all three books together. Don’t they look nice?

Over the summer, while the editing etc was going on in the background, I was writing book four in the series. As it grew I worried. If you have read previous posts you will know that, although I have a vague idea of the outline, I don’t normal plan my books. This time, I did plan. It ran to a whole two sides of A4, a list of the main points to be covered, where the mid-point came and all those other technical things – I was quite proud of it! The problem was that I have got to 60,000 words and only reached section seven (of 22!) It is all very emotional, with lots of tension, but nothing had really happened – nothing that a reader of this sort of book would expect. I carried on, because I couldn’t stop, but with the knowledge that most of it would have to be dumped.

It was at this point I had to stop to deal with the publication of Bright Blade. The problem simmered in the background.
Was this new WIP one book or two?
Should I drop the angst altogether and get on with the plot?
And what was next? I had already decided that the story would end with this book. Was I ready to let go and write something different? Perhaps using the 50,000 words from last year’s NaNoWriMo (My time travel novel)

From this chaos rose another idea. Yes, book four, whatever it was, would be the last of that plot arc, but the story would continue, with a different character in the spotlight, and it would be a different type of book, more of a historical detective style. It seemed like a good idea, but do I have the sort of twisted brain to write a detective novel?

This is where NaNoWriMo comes in. I could start this new book at the beginning of November. Within a month I would know whether I was capable of writing this sort of thing, or not. If I manage it, then I have the basic first draft of what I am calling book five. If I fail, I will have got it out of my system. I can forget about it and get on with problematical book four.

And that is the beauty of NaNoWriMo. It frees you from the straight and narrow. Allows you to to attempt something you never thought you could do – a bit like a holiday, really.

Except it is hard work. You are committing to writing an average of 1,667 words. It doesn’t seem that much, but that is every day, for 30 days. If you go out for the day, you must write when you return, or write twice the amount the next day. I find it easier to bank the extra words beforehand.
It forces you to write, even when you don’t want to write. The fear of falling behind is a great incentive!

So – how am I doing? The halfway point came on 15th November and I should have reached 25k words. I must confess that I fell short – one hundred and twenty four words short. My total had only reached 24, 876. My only excuse was that I went out and bought a helmet, a proper Anglo-Saxon helmet. It’s not an excuse I have ever had occasion to use before, but more about that another time.

It is now late on 17th November and today was difficult, the words had to be forced out, but my total is now 29,170. I must be ahead because the statistics tell me I am due to finish on Nov 29th. To prove it, this is what my progress looks like:

There’s still a long way to go, but I’ve not got a lot on for the next couple of days and as long as the dots stay above the line I’m OK.

I’m not sure I would like to do this sort of thing all the time, but for a month it is exhilarating – and it distracts you completely from Christmas preparations!

I’ll be back in two weeks to report on whether I reached the target and if I produced anything worthwhile.

What is the Opposite of Writers Block?

And where does the apostrophe in Writers go? Is it the inability to write by one writer – you, or the curse of all writers? Enough of that. I have finished with editing for now, and am back to writing. It is going well, or so I thought.

It has been a busy summer and as the year turns towards autumn, I realised it was a long time since I had updated my followers on what I have been doing. BTW, did you know that for the Anglo-Saxons, August was the start of Autumn?

Bright Axe was published in April and I spent a lot of time trying to promote it. I became involved in a Facebook Blog Hop – A fascinating, although rather chaotic exercise when a group of Historical Fiction interviewed each other’s characters. You may have noticed the other Anglo-Saxon warrior who paid us a visit last month. Originally I was in line to interview Lady Macbeth, but she was too busy. That would have been interesting! Byrhtnoth was interviewed by Jen Black. You can find links to all the interviews on the Historical Writers Forum Blog Hop Page.

I then turned my attention to my third book, to be called Bright Blade. I hope to publish it later this year. “Watch this space” as they say. It has a beautiful cover awaiting it – can you guess what weapon it will show this time?

That has now been sent away for a final edit, so I was free to make a start on book four. This has been hammering on the door to my brain for some time. It will be the final book in the series, although I’m sure Byrhtnoth will be back again for more adventures. This is the book where everything is resolved and Byrhtnoth finds what he is looking for – whatever it is!

I know where it starts – a few months after book three and I know where it finishes, with everyone happy, all loose ends tied up and the villain suffering a long deserved and horrible fate, perhaps. I know roughly what happens and when. I had even – shock horror – written an outline! Well, I scribbled a few sentences on a piece of paper. Not quite the back of an envelope – I actually bought a brand new notebook. I was able to identify the midpoint and the inciting incident. I numbered the sentences, let’s call them chapters for convenience, there were twenty two. With an aim of about 100,000 words that gives an approximate 4-5 thousand words per “chapter”.

On 28th July, I started to write. I returned to my aim of writing 1,000 words a day or 7,000 a week (Sunday to Saturday). After the first week, I was over 8,000, the second 15,000. By 17th July I had added around 4,000, but I had been away for five days and done no writing at all. I had visited West Stowe and Sutton Hoo, so I think that counts as research (more about that another time).

The author at West Stowe, channeling Byrhtnoth.

As the word count mounted, to 20,000, then 25,000, I started to worry. I know, stupid isn’t it? The words were flooding out, but were they the right words? I don’t want to go into any details but the book starts with a conflict between the two main characters. It was what I had planned, but it seemed to go on and on. I could hear my editor asking when the real story was going to start. There was no action. Everything was static, apart from that journey, and a return. All other characters were periferal, apart from that woman who…
There is fear and despair, misunderstanding, sacrifice and near death.
And I didn’t think it was what I should be writing. If this was a romance: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl, it would be fine, but that is not what this series is about, well, only partially. It is not what the reader would expect.

But I couldn’t stop writing. What should I do? I had to let it all out, otherwise I knew the words would linger, festering in my brain. Perhaps I should remove them and use them somewhere else – that historical romance that seems to be waiting to be written, sometimes in the future? I carried on. I knew that some of this plotline would remain, but most would need to be dumped. After all, this was the first draft, that’s what they are for.

Four weeks in and I had reached 30,000 words and, with relief, I could see the main plot approaching. I remembered my outline. I got it out, to work out how many of these troublesome words I would need to delete. I did some calculations, stared at the outline, re-did the calculations. According to my plan, I was at exactly the right point!

My rough outline had included this long ramble through the psyches of my characters. I still think it is too much, an indulgence on my part, but I couldn’t say that it was a mistake, it was there in black and white.

I will continue to write. I hope the words come as easily as they have so far. It has been easy, with nothing much going on. Soon life will start again and I will be forced away from my computer.

And the opposite of Writer’s (I’ve checked the apostrophe) block? It’s something called hypergraphia, a recognised condition connected with epilepsy. I don’t think it’s as serious as that. Or there is graphorrhea: writing in excessive amounts, sometimes incoherently. That sounds more like it.
Is it because I have a plan?
Perhaps it just means that I am becoming a more experienced writer.
Just don’t let it stop.

Now, I must go, I have another couple of thousand words I need to get off my chest.

Interview My Character – Wulfhere, Thegn of Horstede

Today I have a visitor on my blog. As part of the Historical Writer’s Forum Blog Hop, I am interviewing a character from the Sons of the Wolf by Paula Lofting, a series of historical novels set in the 11th century in the years leading up to the Battle of Hastings. 

Wulfhere is a rather large Anglo Saxon warrior, so I have made sure Byrhtnoth is out of the way, in case he gets jealous and starts a fight.

Welcome Wulfhere, may I offer you some mead, or would you prefer ale?

Mead if I may, the strongest you have.

I make it myself and have had no complaints. Waes Hael!
Now, please introduce yourself – who you are, what you do?

Well, Christine, I am a king’s thegn, which means I am beholden to him for my 5 hides of land. The current king is Edward, son of the old king Æthelred, whom I believe became known as the Badly Counselled. As a king’s thegn, I am expected to carry out certain duties such as attending court on a rota system where I work under the chief staller, Esegar, who happens to be a relation of my wife, Ealdgytha’s. I must also owe military service to my king, therefore I am oathsworn to Harold Godwinson, the Earl of Wessex and whose jurisdiction I live within.

Forgive me for asking, but are you a real historical person or did your author create you?

I am based on a true figure in history which my scop found in the Domesday Book. He owned ‘my’ land so to speak, which is Horstede, now called ‘Little Horsted’ so I am told. I’m not sure, but I like to think that he would have been happy with my portrayal of him, even if I am somewhat flawed. I never wanted to be a hero, because I know this image is far too difficult for a man like me to live up to, but people often put the label on me. I would say that I have done heroic things, but I am not a hero by any stretch. I try to be loyal to my king and my Lord Harold whom I have known since I was boy. My father served his father, so there is a strong family tie there. Harold and used to share a lot of time together as we grew up, but lately, since he has become more powerful, not so much. There are times when I feel I no longer know him, and because of him, I have been forced to compromise my loyalty to him and my honour. It has been very difficult at times to feel the love I once had for him as much as I used to because of what I have lost.

Can you tell me in a few brief sentences: what is the novel you feature in about?

I shall try to be brief! The novels I feature in are from a series: Sons of the Wolf, 2 books of which are published, and one is a WIP.
They are currently set in the years leading up to the Battle of Hastings which is, I understand, the most pivotal battle in our English history. The series aims to be a 6 book series and will cover the rebellions post Hastings. The central theme is based around myself and my family. We are a normal middle-class family – we have our ups and downs, my 3 sons can be unruly at times and my 2 eldest daughters a little wild, running in the forest, barefoot like urchins. But I love my wife and my children, though I am not as good a father and husband as I should be. The ongoing theme of the story is a bloodfeud between myself and my neighbour, Helghi, who covets what I own and he will go to any lengths to get it.

It sounds like an interesting story, how did your author meet up with you?

She tells me she was looking for a central character to play alongside the historical characters of the period in which she is writing which starts in the mid-1050s. I have to say that I didn’t like her at first, because she made me do things that I didn’t want to, but I found that if I played along, I get to do things that I might normally not have, had I been the perfect hero.

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?

I have a beautiful wife, Ealdgytha and she has given me seven children, three boys and four girls, one of who dies in infancy which was heart-breaking. It was terrible to see my wife suffer her grief after losing the child. Drusilda was such a lovely little thing and had not even seen two summers. I love my children very much, all of them, but they do cause a lot of heartache, especially when they die! My favourite child was my eldest daughter, Freyda, but she broke my heart when she fell in with the son of my arch enemy, Helghi, who owns the land nearby. The families of Helghi and I have had a long running feud for many years, but it had lain dormant for some time, and when Freyda begins secretly trysting with Helghi’s son, Edgar, in the forest, the affair rekindles the bloodfeud that brings all sorts of havoc to Sussex.

Helghi is one of the nastiest creatures I have ever known and sees his own failure to do well in the world as being my fault. He is envious of what and who I am, and what I have, though what I have is not that much in the grand scale of things. But he wants it, my land, my daughters, my horses, my home and my wealth, such that it is. And he will do anything to get them, even murder.

He sounds a real villain. On to something more pleasant. What is your favourite scene in the book?

Hmmm… [ rubs chin thoughtfully] So there are many favourites in both books, but I’ll pick one from each that contain me in them, of course. From Sons of the Wolf: I love the scenes where I am with Ealdgytha, my wife. There is so much burning passion, bitterness, and emotion. I get to let a lot of that out. Ealdgytha and I spend most of the books tearing chunks out of each other, but the one I favour the most is the one where I am going to betray her, and she knows and tries to stand in my way, but in the end, she realises that there is no point, because when I get an idea to do something in my head, there’s no way I can stop it. It’s like my soul is taken over and I cannot fight it. But in the end, it not only causes those I love much pain, it causes me pain too.

I think my favourite scene in The Wolf Banner has to be the one where I fight the Cheampa feoht, the fight of champions. I shall not give too much away, but here I get to show my strength and fighting skills and I get to play the hero. It’s an awesome feeling to be able to demonstrate how much I love the fight. As much as I hate war and battles, my inner warrior revels in it. Its something I was born to; fighting and killing is in my blood. It’s exhilarating.

Your author has provided us with an extract of your fight later in this post. So, what is your least favourite scene?

Probably one of the worst scenes I’ve had to experience so far is the one where I lose my son. It’s absolutely heart-breaking, and I don’t think I ever get over it. I still haven’t. I cannot explain the pain of losing a loved one in such a way that I lose him, watching them die in your arms and know that there is nothing you can do. The pain lingers long after they are gone, too, knowing I should have been there to protect him, and wasn’t.

What are you most proud of about your author?

I think the thing that makes me proud of her is the fact that she has worked so hard to produce a great story, hours of research  (she does re-enactment you know, so she can get a feel for the period and time in which I live) and editing the story. The Wolf Banner had to be edited several times before she was pleased with it. Its also had 4 editors work on it! She wants her readers to feel that they have received value for their money. Her books have won a few awards, including the prestigious IndieBRAG medallion.

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!

Sons of the Wolf, is a planned series – well, planned in the sense she knows where she is going with the storyline, however she is more of a panster than a planner. So far I am featuring as one of the central characters in the books, and although the stories are based around me, there are other threads that have their own lead characters, namely Burghred, son of Alfgar, and my son Tovi, who has just got a job with Harold Godwinson as a trainee huscarle. I do get a bit jealous when she goes off with Lord Harold at times, after all, he is the Golden Balls of our time! But I understand that she wants to create an interesting tale that keeps the readers wanting to read on because with more than one lead character, they won’t get bored! She is currently writing the third book in the series which she hopes will be out later this year or early next year: Wolf’s Bane. There is always a wolf theme going on in the books which is reflected in the title.

Finally, as a character, if you could travel to a time and place different to your own fictional setting,  where and when would you go?

Gosh, that’s difficult because I only know what’s passed, I don’t know what our future is, though my author has told me that there will be a great civil war called War of the Roses which sounds very intriguing, and interesting! I’m not sure I would want to go through all those bloody battles though, I have been advised by my author who is also a nurse of mind health, that I have something called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – or Combat Stress, which is why I have nightmares and have been drinking a lot of strong liquor these days. So I am thinking that I would like to go to a time and a place where there was little conflict for me to be involved in, if there would be such a thing, so I could live peaceably with my children and a good woman to share my bed. Do you know of such a place?

I’m not sure whether I do. My own time is probably more peaceful than most, but there is still fighting in some lands, and warriors will always be drawn to it. And authors will be attracted to the stories the warriors, or their families, have to tell.
Thank you for telling me something about you life, it has been interesting to meet you. You can collect your weapons at the door. And if you meet a tall young man outside, perhaps you can warn him about the pitfalls of a warrior’s life. Not that he will listen – you know what young men are like!

Excerpt from The Wolf Banner: The Cheampa Feoht

Wulfhere was considered tall amongst his companions, but this Harald was taller – and broader and armed with a dangerous looking Dane-axe.  He swung the weapon with effortless agility, as though it were a child’s plaything. The blade edge had a span of almost a foot long and Wulfhere shuddered, remembering the battle of Hereford, where he’d witnessed blades smaller than this cutting into horses’ necks with frightening ease.

The crowds on both sides shouted for their warrior. Amidst the cacophony of jeering and cheering, a soft wind blew an aroma of sun on damp grass and meadowsweet. It felt ironic; here he was, waiting for death, whilst nature infused the air with the sweetest odours of life. It is a pleasant day to die, Wulfhere thought ironically.

Leofwin’s priest had blessed him, and it was little comfort to know that his sins were absolved. But his sons would be watching, and he wanted them to know that if he lost today, it would be gloriously. He mouthed the words of the Paternoster, and readied himself, his spear high, shield gripped across his torso.

The big blade arced in the air. Harald stormed toward him. Wulfhere’s stomach muscles tensed, bile rising in his throat. The great broad-axe danced before him in a circular movement, revealing the vulnerable, exposed parts of Harald’s body.

Wulfhere slowed his breathing as Harald was nearly upon him. He gained control of his shaking spear hand, and fixed his glare on the snarling Norþmann. Shiny metal glinting in the sun descended, aimed at the exposed area of Wulfhere’s neck. He leapt back, clear of the blow. Harald was propelled forward by the impetus of the action, stumbling on ungainly legs. Wulfhere thrust the spear low into his enemy’s inner thigh with a satisfying sensation of splitting skin and tissue.

Harald gave a pathetic half-cry, as though merely stung by a wasp. Wulfhere tugged his spear free, blood painting the shaft a bright shade of crimson. He backed away out of Harald’s reach as the big man drew himself up and raised the axe, shaking his head, scowling. He screamed an obscenity in Norse, and Wulfhere shrugged an apology. “Oh, have I hurt you? I am sorry.”

Their supporters shouted encouragement. Harald repeated his display, swinging the axe around his head this time, showing his dexterity. Wulfhere continued to glare at him, unblinking. The eyes of his enemy reflected a thousand Dunsinanes and Herefords. Wulfhere’s fear settled, his mind a whirlpool of fury. He wasn’t going to die today, God help him – he wasn’t! He had not survived the horrors of those battles to die here at the hands of this ill-begotten lump of garbage. His children would not be orphaned. His wife would not go without a husband. Not today.

The axe whirred above and below Harald’s head as it gathered momentum. Wulfhere averted his eyes from the blade to avoid being blinded by its blur. He fixated on the deadly movement of his opponent’s arms, and counted: one, when the arms went up; two, they came down. He knew he would have to be quick. He tried to move around Harald – crab-like – to the right and to the left. It was futile, he would not get his spear into the man’s back. Whichever way he went, Harald moved with him. It was no use. Wulfhere had no choice but to let him come to him.

 At last, Harald swung his axe at Wulfhere’s head. Wulfhere flung up his shield. It took the brunt of the hit, jarring his arm, the blade through the other side. He was down, not hit, but his shield was wrecked. The crowd chanted, urging him to rise.

 Someone was calling out, “For Hereford! For Hereford!” and he was immediately transported to another time, riding amongst the carnage of that battle. Great blood-stained broad-axes, blades flashing, were cutting into the beautiful necks of the war horses. Blood rained down on his face, splattering into his mouth and eyes, screams torturing the air. The maiming of horses had made him angry then, and it was making him angry now! Men dying was one thing, but Christ on the cross – not the horses!

Sons of the Wolf Book 1
Sons of the Wolf Book 2: The Wolf Banner

Giveaway: The author has kindly offered an ebook copy of an ebook of Sons of the Wolf to two winners. To enter, simply leave a comment below this post or on the post about this interview on the Facebook page. The draw will be made on 4th July. Good luck!

Biography:
Paula Lofting began writing her Sons of the Wolf series whilst training to be a nurse in 2005 -8. Inspired by a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings, Paula wanted to explore what really happened to bring the Normans over the sea to conquer the Anglo-Saxons and so she researched, joining a re-enactment society to enhance the research.
She lives in West Sussex, not far from where her books are set, and works as a psychiatric nurse during the day and writing in her spare time. Having always been an avid reader of history and historical fiction, she has three grown up children and a granddaughter.


Links:
Website –    1066:The Road to Hastings and Other Stories
Email –        contact@paulalofting.com
Facebook –  Paula Lofting Facebook Page
Blogger –    paulaperuses.blogspot.com
Twitter –      http://twitter.com/paulalofting

If you enjoyed this post, why not visit some of the other posts on the Historical Writers Forum Blog Hop? The next one is Paula herself interviewing Prince of Agrius, Casmir, from Stephanie Churchill’s Crowns of Destiny trilogy

Visiting the past – Ripon

As a writer of books set in the tenth century, it is not often that I get the chance to visit places that survive from that period. Even the landscape can change: stretches of coast have disappeared, rivers have changed their course and towns have appeared where once the land was empty, or disappeared only to be rediscovered by archaeologists. Man has had such an influence on the land, how do we even know that an apparently immovable mountain looks the same as it did a thousand years ago? Perhaps it was once covered in forest or mining has changed the outline.

Recently I visited a place that remains comparatively unchanged. Beneath the floor of Ripon Cathedral, in North Yorkshire, is a crypt. It was built in 672AD, so it was already old by the tenth century. It was built by St Wilfrid and survived several rebuildings of the church and then cathedral above.

St Wilfrid was born in Northumbria around 633AD probably from an aristocratic family. When he was about fourteen he left home, travelling to the court of King Oswiu. He was sent to study at the recently founded monastery at Lindisfarne. After a few years he moved to Canterbury. He then travelled to Rome with Bishop Biscop and spent time in Lyons. He returned to Northumbria in 658AD and was given the monastery recently founded at Ripon by Alhfrith, sub king and son of Oswiu. The monks had come from Melrose Abbey and followed the Irish monastic customs. After his travels Wilfrid favoured the Roman version of Christianity and introduced the Rule of Saint Benedict to Ripon. He expelled several “Celtic” monks, including St Cuthbert.

Wilfrid took part in the Synod of Whitby in 664AD, when the Roman method of calculating the date of Easter was adopted, largely due to Wilfrid’s speech. He was nominated as Bishop, but considered the Anglo-Saxon bishops of Northumbria unqualified to censecrate him. He travelled to Compiègne, to be consecrated by the Bishop of Paris. After various delays Wilfrid became Bishop of York in 669AD. He travelled widely, to Rome again and throughout England, converting the South Saxons and building churches throughout the country. After he died in 710AD he was buried in the church he had built in Ripon. More about this energetic saint here.

The church at Ripon, and Hexham which he also built, were aisled basilicas, similar to those common on the continent. They were also the first buildings in England since the Romans to be built of stone. In fact most of the stone was taken from Hadrian’s wall (for Hexham) and probably the Roman town at Alborough (which we also visited) for Ripon. The only part of the original church surviving today is the crypt. It was built by Wilfrid to resemble the crypts he had seen in Rome or perhaps as a copy of the tomb in which Christ was buried.

Ripon Cathedral, west front


The crypt survived because it is completely separate from the building above, attached only at the entrance and exit. Wilfrid’s church stood nearly three hundred years until it was burnt to the ground in 948AD during a dispute between King Eadred and the Archbishop of York. A later Minster was destroyed in 1069 in the Harrowing of the North by William I and the present church was built by Archbishop Roger de Pont l’Eveque in 1180.
In 1836 the Minster became a Cathedral and in 1861 there was major restoration by George Gilbert Scott.

Interior of Ripon Cathedral. The entrance to the crypt is just behind the statue, you can see the sign at the end of the aisle.

My interest in the crypt was drawn by that significant date of 948AD. This is the year I have reached in my series of books about Byrhtnoth, and the event was just too good to ignore. I had already written the scenes, so I was interested to see if my imagination matched the facts. The place seemed smaller than I expected, but everything else fitted. Not too much editing required! Here is a brief extract from my WIP. Byrhtnoth has just fallen down the steps and makes his way along the entrance corridor, searching for illumination.

Steps leading down to the anglo-saxon crypt

The height was adequate for a normal man, but not me. The roof was flat; large slabs laid across it. I felt the joints beneath my fingers as I shuffled forward. The passage was narrow, the rock smooth with the passage of many bodies. The walls pressed in, like the sides of a grave. I imagined myself trapped forever in the cold and dark. My questing hands encountered a blank wall ahead, and I started to panic.
“The corridor bends to the right.” The monk’s calm voice came from behind. It sounded far away. I stretched out an arm into empty space.
“I’m there.” I tried to hide the tremor in my voice.
“Carry on. Watch out for a step, just before the end of the corridor. There should be a lamp there and a jug of oil.”
Although I moved slowly, I tripped on the step and fell against the rough wall. I waited for my heart to slow before finding the lamp in a niche together with a bowl of sweet-smelling oil. I fumbled in my pouch for my flint. I blinked as the spark ignited, then lit the wick of the waiting lamp. Light flooded the corridor.

Main chamber of the crypt, home to relicts collected by St Wilfrid and later his own bones.
The way out of the crypt, but not today!



I’m not going to tell you why he is there, or what happens. You will have to wait for the book! The corridor leads to the main room, through an arch into another, then up another set of stairs to the exit.
Luckily there weren’t too many people around, so I had plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere.
I even took my husband through the crypt, explaining what (I imagined) took place. He is probably glad I don’t get the chance to do that very often!

The visit to Ripon was an short break on our way back from a holiday in Scotland. I’ll write more about that another time and how it has inspired some of the action in the next book (number four) of the Byrhtnoth Chronicles.

View of Ripon Cathedral from the bedroom window of our hotel.