Away from the World

For a few days I have been away. Somewhere without family and friends. Out of contact with the outside world – no internet, no mobile phone signal.

Just me and fifteen other writers.

I have just attended my first Arvon Course.

We were at The Hurst in Shropshire, former home of playwright, John Osborne. A wonderful place surrounded by woodland.A

 

Side view of The Hurst. I was in annex on right.

Side view of The Hurst. I was in the annex on right.

 

The course was Historical Novel and we writers were of all ages
Physically – from 17 to “too polite to ask”
Era – Ancient Greece to 1970s.

Why were we there? As many reasons as there were writers. Some were beginners, others were moving from a different genre (science fiction!). One had written 90,000 words and torn them all up. Another had been published but was now frozen by a bad review. Everyone had a problem they need help with.

How did we get that help?

There was the freedom. Freedom from the pressure and restrictions of home, work and life. Time to just sit and think, walk through the woods and just write.

A bed and a desk. What more do you need to write?

A bed and a desk. What more do you need to write?

Early morning walk in the woods.

Early morning walk in the woods.

There was hard work. At 9.30 in the morning we met, in a wonderful room, around a large round table, like King Arthur and his Knights. We were surrounded by shelves full of books.
Here we were set exercises by our tutors; short bursts of writing on what we were feeling, descriptions of objects and people from our WIP, dialogue between people in our own books and once with other writer’s characters. It was scary but exhilarating. Breakthroughs were made. Writers suddenly discovered a surprising new character, a new way of writing, or even a totally new book. There was a break for refreshments, but then back to work, until lunch at 1 pm.

There was advice. After lunch was free time, to write, think or walk. Apart from the tutorials. During the week every writer had two, twenty-minute tutorials, one with each of the tutors. This is when you could get an opinion of your work, ask questions and get advice.

There was food. Once during the week this afternoon freedom was cut short at 4.30 when you reported to the kitchen – to cook dinner (7 pm). Four strangers in a foreign kitchen. Ingredients and recipes were provided – what could go wrong? Nothing. Meals appeared on time (near enough) and the food was plentiful and delicious.

There was relaxation. After dinner we gathered at about 8.30 in the living room. We relaxed on chairs, sofas, even the floor. We read out loud, the tutors work, writing we enjoyed and on the final night, our own work.

The tutors were all excellent.

Manda Scott – writer of contemporary crime novels, who moved to historical fiction with the Boudica series. Her recent book, Into the Fire, brilliantly combines modern crime with the story of Joan of Arc.

Karen Maitland – writes dark medieval crime novels including The Gallows Curse – the only novel “narrated by a root vegetable”

Guest for Wednesday night was Andrew Taylor – three times winner of the Historical Dagger. He read to us from The Silent Boy, set during the French Revolution.

So, what did I hope to get from the course? I arrived at The Hurst with a 50,000 word first draft of a book about the early life of Byrhtnoth.

  1. Was I a writer or should I find another way to spend my time?
  2. To spend the time editing what I had and thinking about the sequel (I was planning a trilogy)
  3. With only 50,000 words, what was my book? Adult, Young Adult, Children?

Result:

  1. I was advised I should carry on – for now.
  2. I got more than halfway through editing.
  3. Considering the length of book and the fact the main characters do not reach adulthood (age 15/16) it is YA. But, my writing style is adult.
    I have to make a decision.
    Either I learn to write YA.  I have been given a book list – (It is not something I have ever read, it didn’t exist when I was young!)
    Or I write a longer book, extending the timeline.

I have a long road ahead. Follow this blog to find out what happens!

Which way to go?

Which way to go?

Where ever I end up. This last week has been an important point in the journey and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Finally. Thank you to the staff at The Hurst – invisible until needed, then there to solve all problems.

 

The Battle of Maldon

On this day in the year 991, one thousand and twenty-four years ago, a battle took place.

A Viking expedition had been sent to plunder Anglo-Saxon England.

King Æthelred sent an army lead by Byrhtnoth, Earldorman of Essex, to defend the coast. The Vikings landed on Northey Island, near Maldon in Essex. They demanded money to sail away again, but Byrhtnoth refused. A battle was fought and Byrhtnoth was killed and most of his companions died with him.

It was not a major battle. The next time the Vikings came the King paid them off.

It is famous because later, perhaps within a generation, a poem was written about the battle. It is one of the few surviving poems of this period.

To find out more about the poem see this fascinating post by A Clerk of Oxford.

In 1991 I attended the millennium event at Maldon.

Battle of Maldon Programme

I will write about that another time.

 

The Beginning

So. It has come. The day I never thought to see.

My friend is dead.

They brought him direct from the field of battle. I have washed his torn and broken body ready for burial. Who better than me? His first friend, his more than brother.

His gaping wounds spoke to me. All on the front of his body, proofs that he always fought to the end, never ran away, finally dying like the warrior he was.

His arm had been nearly severed. Nothing less could have made him drop his sword. How he had searched for it as a boy and, once found, how great the deeds that he performed with it. Where is the sword now?

They had hacked off his head; a powerful trophy to be taken back with them to their own country. Even they, our greatest enemy, revered his prowess.

I last saw him mere days ago, when he paused here at the Abbey on his journey south to meet the Viking threat. Leading the King’s army. Protecting our land. He complained of feeling old, tired of this life, but he didn’t appear so to his men, only to me who had known him so long.

How long? I remember him telling me of his first visit here, to Ely, the abbey then but a mere hut on an island. Now it one of the most important in the land. A fitting place for the burial of finest warrior of his time.

I will not long outlive him. My eyes grow dim and my memory sometimes fails me; but not my memories of those early days. Who else is there now to remember them?

This will be my final task. To set down here, on this smooth velum and with the finest ground inks, the story of the greatest warrior of his time.