How do you pronounce that?

My lack of planning has caused me a lot of problems during the writing of my book. One of the most difficult has been the name of my protagonist, which is also the name of this blog, and my Twitter  and Facebook names. It was to be the name of the book – until I discovered a problem.

Nobody knows how to pronounce it – and that includes me!

Why did I pick on Byrhtnoth? Why not any of the other versions of his name? To be honest, I don’t really remember. Perhaps I thought it more “authentic” than the more common Britnoth. More likely, it was easier to grab a unique name for the blog etc.

ANNAL 991 IN MS D OF THE ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE. © THE BRITISH LIBRARY, COTTON TIBERIUS B.IV, FOL. 33V

There are several different ways of writing the name – here is how it was written in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The crossed d is an Old English letter called Eth and is the equivalent of th. Don’t ask me about the other letters!

Byrhtnoth’s Memorial in Ely Chathedral.

 

 

 

In Latin, inscribed on his memorial in Ely Cathedral it is Brithnothus.

J. R. R. Tolkien wrote a play called The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, describing the aftermath of the Battle of Maldon, so we know that he thought it should be written Beorhtnoth.

Britnoth, Byrhtnoth, Beorhtnoth and probably several others. Really, it doesn’t matter how you write it, as long as you know how to pronounce it. That is the problem. Since Britnoth seems to be the usual “modern” spelling, I assumed that was how it should be pronounced. So when anyone looked at my version, tried to read it and ask “How do you pronounce it?” I tell them Brit-noth.

The name itself Byrhtnoth means something like bright courage, so should it be Brite-noth? At least this gave me a new name for the book – Bright something, and since it is about a search for a sword, it became Bright Sword (after checking that there wasn’t another book of that name – surprisingly there wasn’t.) As the book became a series, I can use it for Bright Axe, Bright anything!

While we’re here, have a look at that word “Bright”. If you hadn’t come across it before, probably at school singing “All things Bright and Beautiful” wouldn’t you stumble over how to pronounce it?

Returning to my problem. My book is nearly published – less than a week to go!

Sooner or later, I will be asked to read something from it. Can I get away with a piece that doesn’t mention my protagonist’s name? After all it is written in the first person. No, sooner or later I am going to have to face up to it, I will have to stand up and say “His name is – What?

I have asked people I would have expected to know, they declined to commit. I can find nothing on the internet to tell me.

But wait. The Battle of Maldon is a poem – a famous poem. There must be a recording of someone reading it. There are several.

See here for a reading of Byrhtnoth’s speech. You can compare the Old English words with the modern version and hear the words. “Byrhtnoth” is the first word spoken , so you may have to replay it several times to hear how it is pronounced.

Here, is another, more dramatic rendition, with subtitles so you can follow the words. I find it fascinating that in places the words are so similar, you can almost understand it, the next sentence is incomprehensible.

What conclusion have I come to? I think the correct pronunciation should be something like Birrt-noth. This fits the old versions, but not the modern Britnoth. Why? Is it something to do with the Great Vowell Shift, when there were big changes in the pronunciation of the English language between 1350 and the 1600s and 1700s. See here for more information – I don’t know enough to explain it!

What do I do now? Change my version of his name? Could you, having known someone intimately for five years, suddenly call them something different? Or do I stick with what I know and risk being told I’m wrong?

Please, if anyone knows the correct version, tell me, before it’s too late!

In other news, the cold I started last week didn’t develop into anything serious, but at least it gave me a bit of spare time to write. I managed 5,429 words last week.

I will be blogging more this week, every day, up to publication day – 28th January.

I will start later today with an interview with Byrhtnoth – however you pronounce it!

Ups and Downs.

Time is whizzing past. Already it is the middle of January, which means it is less than two weeks before Bright Sword is published.

How do I feel? –  Terrible! It took a number of #BlueMonday hashtags on Twitter before it registered that it is the official “Most Depressing Day of the Year.” It’s something to do with weather, debt and failure of resolutions. For me it’s the day I went down with a cold – if it is a cold – there are some very nasty things going around this winter, all of which I have managed to dodge, until now.

At least it explains why I have found it difficult to write.

The last week has been very up and down. On Tuesday there arrived a pile of boxes – the delivery of actual copies of my book. Amazing feeling to hold one in my hand, open it and recognise the words that had come from my imagination and were now engraved forever in print – assuming anyone buys them!

On Thursday, I was about to leave for the writing class, clutching a copy to show off to everyone, when I received a report from a beta reader of book two. Talk about being brought down to earth! It was a shock, but they made lots of useful suggestions for me to think about, which is, of course, what I wanted them to do.

In between this, life was catching up with me after the Christmas break. A Family History meeting where I had to prepare a pile of parish register images for the group to transcribe. A Local History meeting, where we are putting together a new book for publication – and I haven’t even finished writing my articles. Yes, I will have another book out this year, and by coincidence it will also have an orange cover (It’s the tenth in a series and it’s the only colour we haven’t used yet! See here.)

On Saturday, there was a meeting of the Rugby Archaeological Society – a fascinating talk about Roman mosaics. Perhaps I could mention that at next months meeting (10th February) there will be a talk about Anglo-Saxon life, by Richard Denning – a much more famous author than me, although I might bring a few books, and a pen, with me!

So, yesterday, although I didn’t really feel like it, I tried to catch up with my writing. It didn’t go well. My characters were out of control – but not in an interesting way. Instead of getting out there and doing things, they will insist on getting together and telling each other what’s happened in the previous books. I wrote one conversation, deleted it, rewrote it, didn’t like it much but have left it for now. I did manage 1211 words. It got me to a  total of nearly 4000, this week, but I’m sure it will be scrapped.

An author needs to be strong and healthy to write. Perhaps I’ll wrap myself up and do some reading.

Review – The Daughter of Time

I’ve had a bit of a Tudor binge over Christmas. It started when I saw the ebook of A Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey on special offer. This is a book that I had heard of, but never got round to reading. It has been mentioned several times in class. In fact, last term we did an exercise based on it – exploring what we could find out about a face in an unknown, historical portrait.

That is what the book is about. A policeman, stuck in hospital with nothing to do, is brought a pile of portraits by a friend. She knows that he prides himself on identifying whether a person is guilty or not, just by looking at their face. He becomes fascinated by one particular face – he decides this man is not a criminal, more probably a judge or a soldier. He is shocked to find out that this is the portrait of Richard III, reviled killer of his nephews, the Princes in the Tower.

He shows the picture to other people. Everyone sees something different, depending on their own experience. For example, the doctor sees illness – “Poliomyelitis” and a nurse “Liver”. The Matron says “It is the most desperately unhappy face that I have ever encountered.” The only person who sees evil is someone who recognises the man.

The policeman, Alan Grant, decides to find out more. He wants to solve a crime, five hundred years old.

The advantages, for the plot, is that this book was written in 1951. For a start, no one would be bored in hospital, with television, internet etc, so it would never get started. In this case, he must wait, for a member of staff to bring in a book on history, then another. He finds books disagree, nothing satisfies him that the “case” has been properly solved. He needs to look at original sources. The friend  who brought the pictures finds someone to work for him; a young American doing research in the British Library. He follows the policeman’s instructions, moving from contemporary historical accounts, back to original documents. All this takes time. The focus of the book remains the policeman, never moving from the hospital room. Of course there are no mobile phones, he must wait, patiently, until his assistant visits with information and is then sent for more.

Finally the policeman comes to a conclusion – a conclusion that runs against all accepted wisdom. The American assistant, astounded at the new interpretation, prepares to write a book that will make him famous and show his father he is not worthless. Then there is a final twist – which I won’t reveal in case someone hasn’t read it.

Although written and set in the 1950s, it does not seem old-fashioned. That, I suppose, is why it is a classic. It never moves beyond those four walls of the hospital room but covers relationships from modern times back into the past. It explores the meaning of history and how it is interpreted by historians  for their own ends. And of course it is a proper detective story, with a satisfying ending – whatever your views on the “truth”.

A perfect example of how to write.

I then moved on, from the sublime to, well, The White Princess – both book and TV series. But I’ll save that for another time.

As for my own writing, I started the year well, with 2,340 words on New Years Day. Since then, I’ve only done another 989. I intended to do more yesterday, but needed to look up a fact. I couldn’t find it and ended up sorting out all my writing paperwork, class notes, homework, letters from publishers etc. At least I achieved something, if not what I wanted!