Does writing drive you mad?

I sometimes think that writing has driven me insane. Why else would someone drive halfway across the country to find a place that doesn’t exist?

It has happened before. I know I should do the research first, but several times I have written about a place and, for whatever reason, visited it only after the book was written. At least this time I had an excuse – the excuse that everyone now uses to explain whatever hasn’t been done – COVID.

I’m not sure why I used Maldon as the main venue for Death at the Mint. Perhaps the battle where Byrhtnoth died many years later inspired me to find out what the place was like at that time. Perhaps it was just that I needed someone to kill off and Maldon had a Mint at that time, and the moneyer had a name, Abonel, although he was not killed, in fact he was still working years after I killed him off. I fact none of the characters I invented as suspects or involved with the investigation were real people.

It probably had something to do with the fact that I had visited the town, many times. I lived not far away and would be taken shopping there – it had good shops! It was also the place to go for a trip out, usually at times like Boxing Day or New Years Day when you wanted a walk to blow away the cobwebs. More recently, after they put up a statue to Byrhtnoth, I had another excuse.

I didn’t “know” the town though and it seemed like the ideal place to go for a short break after the long lockdown. Nothing spectacular but with plenty of reasons to go, research, family history and family memories – and a sword! I had learned that a sword had been found. Described as a Viking sword, but in fact is could be Viking or Saxon, they would have been similar, but I suppose Vikings are more attractive (boo) and it was exactly the right period for the Battle of Maldon. I have mentioned this sword before, but I wanted to see it in the flesh (preferable a Viking’s flesh, but that’s another matter!)

“Viking Sword” with remains of helmet , knife and seax

We had to book a time slot to visit the Combined Military Services Museum, but in fact we were waiting outside when it opened, and it was not busy, so I could get close to the sword, and ended up having a long chat with the staff. The rest of the museum was more interesting than I expected. There were walls full of guns and pointed weapons which don’t really interest me, but there was a fascinating display of spying equipment, miniature cameras and secret poisons – they had the umbrella that was used to assassinate Georgi Markov in 1978.

Display of spying, including the famous umbrella.

Eventually we left to get some lunch and continue our tour of the town. We had downloaded some online walks that were a great help and discovered some interesting facts about the town, but what about the town that Wulfstan visited? Were there any clues? Very few. I had done a bit of research but did my imagination fit reality?

Maldon is an ancient town, first mentioned in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. It’s name was Maeldun, or monument on a hill, well I can confirm the hill – I wonder what the monument had been – perhaps a cross. Being in Essex, it was in a part of the country that had been invaded by the Great Heathen Army and when King Alfred eventually made peace it was on the “other side”, of the DaneLaw. After Alfred’s death the border was strengthened by his son Edward the Elder (and daughter Aetheflaed, in Mercia) by the building of Burhs, or fortifications to protect the borders from invasion. In 912 /913) King Edward stayed in Maldon while building the Burh at Witham and returned in 919 to fortify the town. But where was it? Nothing remains today, but apparently banks and ditches were still visible in the eighteenth century. In 1986 the Maldon Archaeological Society published a book investigating the site and came to some general conclusions As one might imagine, it was on top of the hill, perhaps the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, reused by the Romans for whom Maldon would have been an important place.

The burgh was roughly oval and lay either side of the main road. In my book, Wulfstan climbs the steep hill to a gate, where guards let him in. I didn’t venture a detailed description, but had the road run through the middle of the burh and out the other side then continue down to the river. This road is now the High Street.

We were staying at the White Horse, at the top end of the High Street, ideal placed for exploring, the first night, after dinner (the food was very good, if somewhat too plentiful), we went out for a short walk. I set out uphill, not , to my husbands confusion, towards the shops. The road eventually turned a corner and we entered a small square. I immediately recognised it – it was where Wulfstan had entered the town. I pointed to the innocent houses opposite, “That was where the burh was!” I discovered later that I was correct.

Entrance to Maldon (of course it is, the town sign is there!) Start of the High Street on the right, London Road and Saxon burgh behind. Wulfstan saw a market place here, but not a police station (the building now for sale

Quoting from the book (I don’t think I’m giving away any plot spoilers), “Gradually the road widened, and the houses became larger, surrounded by plots of land. In one, a man was digging, turning the soil ready for planting. He rested, leaning on his spade and watched them pass. He raised a hand as Wulfstan wished him good evening.The road opened out. To one side was a wooden church, with a large stone cross beside it. Wulfstan walked his horse over to take a look. As he admired the intricately worked stone he heard a familiar voice behind him.”

In fact he had just reached the White Horse. This is the view from our bedroom window.

All Saints Church, Maldon

All Saints Church, Maldon was built 13th/14th century, but there are records of an earlier Norman church on the site. Why not an Anglo-Saxon one? The monument is a WW1 war memorial, but an ideal place for the ancient memorial that gave Maldon it’s name. I didn’t mention the horse trough, but I’m sure Sleipnir would have appreciated it.

We visited the church the following day. An interesting building, with statues of famous Maldonians on the outside – including Byrhtnoth! It upset me to find him with a pigeon on his head, which I had to drive off before taking my photos.

Statue of Byrhtnoth on All Saints Church.

But we must return to Wulfstan, and the book. After his conversation, he continues down the High Street to the river. It seemed a bit further than I had imagined it, but perhaps that was because I was walking, and not on horseback. Down yet another steep hill and Wulfstan reached The Hythe. “Slowly he rode down the rutted road and out onto the dock. He knew he had been here before. Beside him was an alehouse. It was full now. Men spilling out of the brightly lit doors. The smell of frying fish swirled around him, almost drowning the permanent stink of mud, and he realised how hungry he was.

It was not difficult to imagine this scene. It can’t have changed much – the old Thames Barges tied up the dock, the busy workers, now tourists, and the pubs. Even the Jolly Sailor that I remember was now flanked by a fish restaurant.

The Hythe – river, ships and pubs. (Jolly Sailor on right)

Over the years I have taken photographs of the river here, and for some reason, the tide always seems to be out. This visit was unusual – no boats leaning in the mud, and the sun was shining. We had to see more, so we carried on to visit the modern statue of Byrhtnoth – the one I don’t like. The road peters out and the path turns into a promenade. There is the attractive Marine Lake, that many years was used for swimming – I remember the slippy muddy bottom. Further along, on the right is Promenade Park, with children’s entertainments. To the left is the river, with views across to Heybridge and the water lapping against the walls. It is a popular place for dog walking.

Looking back towards the Hythe

+

And right at the end, when you can go no further, is the statue. He is supposed to be looking down river the river toward Northey Island, watching out for invading Vikings

It was getting warm, so I sat down and had a serious discussion with Byrhtnoth about the site of the Battle of Maldon . Had he had made a mistake, I asked, and they had landed elsewhere. I didn’t get much of a reply, so I gave up and walked back and had an ice cream. Should I have bought him an ice cream as well?

The only other information that I wanted to find out, for the book, was where the Mint was. Someone suggested that, of course it was in Silver Street, a narrow street next to All Saints Church However, to me it must have been within the walls of the Saxon burgh, and according to what I had discovered, although Silver Street was close, it would not have been with the walls of the burgh. Perhaps it was where the local silversmiths had their shops, close enough take protection in case of attack. Or maybe the the theories are wrong. After all this time who know what is right. All I know is that by the end of the trip was satisfied with my research.

I said at the start of this post that writing had driven me insane. A final example: we went out for a drive, along the Old London Road towards Danbury. We drove through what would have been the burh, down the hill that Sleipnir disliked. Then I shouted “There’s the pig farm!” My husband nearly drove off the road! I explained that I had recognised the location and calmed down. And if you want to know the significance of the pig farm, you will have to read the book.

Death at the Mint, ebook or paperback

If you do read it, and happen to know Maldon, please let me know if you find my theories correct, and I am not going mad.

Thinking about Titles

I have a new book coming out shortly and had a a great deal of trouble deciding on a title. I thought I had planned everything – my first book was Bright Sword and the Byrhtnoth Chronicles continued in that vein – Bright (insert weapon of choice). It made it easy to design the covers and created a uniform “look”.

This was fine until I changed genres – not very far, the next book continues the same time line, includes the same characters, but is more of a historical detective story. More about that later (or read my original post here). Today I want to take a look at the Byrhtnoth Chronicles and the reasons for the choice of name. You didn’t think they were just random, did you?

The Bright part comes from my protagonist’s name. Byrhtnoth consists of two Old English words beorht (bright) and noð (courage). By choosing this famous character from history, I had stumbled across the perfect name for my hero. The basic story is a boy’s search for a sword, therefore “Bright Sword”. Simple. This was to cause problems when it came to the cover design. Foolishly I had given a detailed description in the book of the sword. What would happen if I couldn’t find the right image for the cover? I couldn’t, but the final version is composed of elements of several different swords – can you spot the joins?

When it came to the second book, Byrhtnoth had lost the sword. Trapped in a burning hall, he escapes with the help of an old axe. This is not the only reason for giving this volume the name “Bright Axe”. In his travels, Byrhtnoth meets Eric Haraldsson, also known as Bloodaxe, former King of Norway, but at this time attempting to become King of York. I think I describe Eric’s axe, but this didn’t influence the cover image. I could pick any image I liked.

Eric Bloodaxe also appears in the third book, but I had already used an axe. I had also become wise to the need for usable images. At a Reenactors Market, I bought a Seax. Now I could take as many photographs as I wanted and use them for the cover without worrying about copyright. This weapon, somewhere between a large knife and a small sword with a single edged blade, is what gives the Saxons their name. The name comes from a Germanic word, meaning “to cut” – also the origin of the words “saw” and “scissors”.

Very appropriate for a book set in Anglo-Saxon times, but not really suitable for a book title – “Bright Seax” might attract the wrong sort of reader! It so happened that a character called Egbert plays rather an important part in this book. Egbert is the main antagonist of the series. He was there right from the first chapters of book one, but, as such people tend to do, he lurked in the background before developing into the evil presence he was to become.

Like most Anglo-Saxon names, Egbert, also spelled Ecgberht, is composed of two elements: “beorht”, the same word as used in Byrhtnoth, and meaning bright, and “ecg”, meaning edge (of a sword) or blade. As a name for a man who is not just Byrhtnoth’s enemy, but his complete opposite, or shadow, it is satisfyingly appropriate. I wish I could claim that I had this in mind when I first gave him the name, but unfortunately, it was just a case of grabbing the first Saxon sounding name that came to mind. So that is how book three became “Bright Blade”

Bright Helm was much more straightforward. Byrhthelm, meaning bright helmet or protection, was the name of Byrhtnoth’s father. Since the series had developed from a boy’s search for a sword to a search for the previous owner of that sword, his father, it was time to solve the mystery and discover what had caused his father to disappear long ago. There could be no other title.

It also gave me an excuse to buy a a proper Anglo-Saxon helmet. During another visit to the reenactors market, I found one, handmade by Viking Crafts It is too large for me, so I don’t wear it. But it’s not my helmet, it belongs to Byrhtnoth. So it sits on a shelf and watches over me. Since I had become much more organised, I was able to describe the helmet in the book, and even invent a history for it.

Byrhtnoth likes a good read. For details of the Rugby Cafe Writers Anthology see here

From this, you might think that the Byrhtnoth Chronicles have ended. It did worry me for a while, and that was why I started a new series. Fortunately, in writing that, I have come up with more ideas. Byrhtnoth will be back.

But what the title will be, I don’t yet know.

Next time I discuss the problems in find in the right title for the new series.

A Christmas Feast

This post is part of the Historical Writers Forum Christmas Blog Hop, celebrating Jolabokaflod, the Icelandic tradition of giving books as gifts on Christmas Eve. My gift (and also a free giveaway at the end) isn’t an extract from a book, but something new. It is set at Christmas AD 947 between the end of the second book of the Byrhtnoth Chronicles, Bright Axe, and the third, Bright Blade.

It is a wedding. The ceremony has been performed and the happy couple and their friends return to the Hall for the Wedding Feast.

Hild filled two cups with mead and presented them to us. We both took a large mouthful. Saewynn nearly choked on hers, I patted her back, and we laughed. I took her arm and led her into the hall. I sat down in my great, carved chair, and Saewynn sat on the bench beside me.

            “You need your own chair. You’re too far away there. Edward, find some cushions for my wife.” There, I had said it, my wife. “On second thoughts,” I bent and lifted her from her seat and onto my lap,” there’s plenty of room for two. We can talk without shouting; it’s going to get noisy very quickly.” The mead horn was passing down the tables.

            “I can’t sit here; it’s the lord’s chair.”

            “And you are the lord’s wife.” I gave her a lingering kiss and cheering filled the hall, offering toasts to our happiness.

            “Is this seat free?” asked Wulfstan.

            “I think it must be. Sit down and have a drink.” Saewynn filled his cup and helped herself to more mead.

            “Not too much of that, it’s going to be a long night.” She looked up at me and blushed. I realised what I had said. “The feast I meant,” I said with a grin.

            “Of course.” She stared down into the golden liquid and replaced the cup on the table.

            “Can I have some bread?” I opened my mouth, and after a pause, she broke off a piece, still warm from the oven, and placed it on my tongue. “Thank you.”

            The cheering grew louder when servants brought in a loaded platter.

            “It’s a boar’s head,” whispered Saewynn.

            “Where did you find that? There hasn’t been a boar hunt around here for ages.” I watched as they carefully placed it on the table before us. It gleamed in the light from the candles; a dark golden-brown reclining on a bed of fruit and vegetables.

            “Lord Ethelwine brought it,” said Hild. “He had to show me how to cook it.”

            “I wondered where you had got to,” I said as Ealdorman Athelstan’s son slipped onto the bench. “I didn’t know you were interested in cooking.”

            “A present from my mother. She wouldn’t let me leave until I could recite the instructions properly.”

            “How is she? She didn’t look well when I saw her last.”

            “Feeling better, but not as she should be.”

            “I’m sorry to hear that.”

            “Is that brawn?” Saewynn had been watching more dishes appear.

            “I remember you said you liked it,” Hild replied. “That was why we’re a bit late; the jelly refused to set. We had to dip the bowl in the river.”

            “I’m sure it will taste just as good.”

            “None for me.” I shuddered. I knew it would contain the brains and all the other odds and ends. “I’ll have some proper meat.” Someone had stuck a sharp knife in the pig’s head at a jaunty angle. I pulled it out, carved off a chunk of meat and tasted it.

            “Perfectly cooked. I’ll have some of those baked apples as well. Do you want some?” I asked Saewynn.

            “I’ll help myself from your plate. That’s far too much for one person.”

            “I’ve got a big appetite.” I pretended to nibble her ear. She pushed me away with a smile. “That reminds me, Hild, save me an ear, they look nice and crispy.”

            “The secret’s in covering them, not letting them burn.”

            “Shut up, Ethelwine.” I raised my cup to him and started on the meat. Hild served him some and continued to Wulfstan and Edith. Brother Michael nodded eagerly; I didn’t suppose they had much boar in the monastery. More slices were piled on a platter and passed along the tables.

            Saewynn searched in her bag. The movement distracted me; perhaps I had made a mistake sitting her on my lap. It could get embarrassing.

            “Pass me more bread, Wulfstan.” I took a bite and stared down the hall.

            “I knew it was in there somewhere.” Saewynn held up a small horn spoon. “Useful for feasts. I don’t want to miss any of this delicious jelly.”

            “Careful you don’t drop some on your dress,” said Ethelwine. “It’s a beautiful colour; where did you find it? It looks like silk.”

            “Byrhtnoth brought it back from Bebbanburg. Someone gave him a tunic made from it.

            “They can’t have liked him much. That yellow wouldn’t suit him at all.”

            “It split the only time I wore it, thank goodness. Someone said it would come in handy one day, and it has.” I remembered who had told me that and returned my attention to my plate.

            “Try some of this.” Saewynn held up the spoon. It held chopped meat in a clear slimy liquid.

            “No thank you, I’ve got enough.”

            “Please?” Her head tipped, and her eyes pleaded.

            “Leola would like it.” The dog’s head leaned on the arm of my chair. Her eyes held precisely the same expression. I knew when I was beaten. I tore off a piece of meat and Leola snapped it up, nearly taking my fingers with it. I opened my mouth and let Saewynn spoon in the delicacy. I swallowed. The taste wasn’t bad, it was well seasoned and contained a mixture of herbs, but I disliked the slimy way it slid down my throat.

            “Very nice.” I grabbed my cup of mead and took a large gulp. The flavours mingled and stuck in my throat; I gagged and reached for the bread.

            “Have some more.” Saewynn offered me another spoonful with a cheeky grin.

            “Help me, Wulfstan,” I begged. “She’s trying to poison me.”

            “Sorry, she’s your responsibility now.” Laughing, he turned to Edith and served her a piece of fish.

            Saewynn waited with her spoonful of food and raised eyebrows.

            “If you insist.” I opened my mouth and closed my eyes. Nothing happened. Cautiously I opened one eye. The spoon was empty, and Saewynn was licking her lips.

            “Sorry, I couldn’t resist.”

            I watched her tongue and the sheen on her lips. I leaned forward. “I want to kiss you,” I said, quietly so no one could hear, “but I think the taste would put me off.” She looked disappointed.

            I cut off a piece of cheese, stored since the summer to become hard and strong. “Do you want some of this?”

            “Yes, please. Hild said it was the best she’d ever made.” I handed her some and swallowed the rest. She took a bite and nodded.

            “Thank goodness we agree on something. Try some of this apple; it goes well with the cheese.  I picked up the slice; it fell to pieces in my fingers. Her lips opened, and I smeared them with the paste. Her tongue emerged and cleaned it away, then licked the excess from my fingers; slowly and thoroughly. Her dark eyes, so close to mine, issued a challenge.

            “Could you pass the cheese?” Ethelwine interrupted.

            I hesitated. “Later,” I promised and passed the plate to Ethelwine. I squeezed my wife and surveyed the new food that had arrived.

*

News of the combined wedding and Christmas feast had spread. Some of our neighbours arrived with a scop who was passing through the area. Hild found them a place at the board; there was plenty of food to spare. Wulfstan went to talk to them, while the scop tuned his instrument. It was an opportunity to discuss arrangements for the coming year; which meadows would be opened when, and the date the animals would be moved. I should take more interest. When were the official decisions made? That was for the future. I pulled another shred of meat from the now severely depleted skull, and called for ale; I had had enough mead for now. I moved Saewynn to my other knee; the first had become numb and settled down to listen to the song of the scop.

            He was good. His voice was melodious, and he added some exciting variations to the old stories. Perhaps it was time I had my own scop. There were cheers when he finished, and I invited him to help himself to food and ale. Would he like to stay in our hall for the rest of the Christmas celebrations? He agreed; it was not the time of year to be travelling the roads. We settled on a suitable payment, and he went back to his place and started telling riddles.

            Others joined in, and soon the hall was ringing with laughter as answers were suggested and rejected. Most of them were well known, but there was always someone new to fool and women to be embarrassed by the crude interpretations. I was careful to protect my bride from the worst, but it seemed she knew all the answers and giggled at the worst misunderstandings; the result of spending too much time with soldiers. At least she would not be shy when we retired to the private chamber. I hoped it would be soon. I bent to kiss her smooth dark hair.

            “Ouch!” Something sharp pricked my face. “What was that?” I inspected the crown that still circled her head. Slightly askew, the greenery had wilted somewhat by now, and I noticed a sprig of holly, bright with berries.

            “Sorry. I told Edith it would cause trouble.” She reached up and pulled it from her head. I pushed back her hair.

            “No damage done.” The sound in the hall changed. The laughter had died away and replaced by the whispers of women. “What’s happened?” I asked Saewynn.

            “This is what they’ve been waiting for. I must throw the crown.”

            “I remember. The maid who catches it will be the next to marry. That was why none left when the men got rowdy.” I watched the women jostle for position. One practised jumping, some eyed their favoured men, while others just looked hopeful, or desperate. As they waited, men made wagers as to who would win, as if it was some horse race.  They gathered in the space between the tables, and the scop escaped to a distant corner. Inga handed her baby to one of the older women looking on. I wouldn’t have expected her to take part; Redwald had only died that summer. Perhaps she missed a man in her bed, although from the talk around the village she didn’t lack that, just a husband. She pushed one of the other girls out of the way and staked a place in the front rank.

            “You’ve got to do this properly,” I told Saewynn. “Do you have anyone in mind?”

            “Certainly not. I will close my eyes, and God will choose.”

            “To be fair, then, you need to throw high. Stand up, on the chair.” I lifted her high and held on to her legs. My head was close to her hip. I breathed in the scent of her hot body.

            “Everyone ready?” There were shouts and remarks from some of the men. “Close your eyes,” I told Saewynn. “Now!” The crown soared into the hot, smoky air; over the flames of the hearth, almost to the roof. What would we do if it landed on one of the rafters? It seemed to hang a moment before dropping towards the women. There were high-pitched shrieks and the sound of ripping cloth. It disappeared from view.

            “Who caught it? Can you see?” Saewynn jumped up and down. I pulled her down before excitement sent her tumbling onto the boar’s head. There were arguments and complaints before the crowd opened to reveal Hild. She held a jug of ale in one hand. She had been clearing things from the tables; in the other, she held the crown. She looked at it. She hadn’t even been taking part in the competition. She looked around the hall in confusion and dropped the prize. One of the girls scrambled to claim it. Another protested.

            “No!” My voice echoed around the hall. “God decided, and no one can question His decision.” I saw Edith nod in agreement. “Hild has won the competition. Someone, relieve her of that jug and find her somewhere to sit down. You can bring me the jug; I need a drink after all that excitement.” I sat back in the chair. “Do you know if she has any plans?”

            “Didn’t you see? Who she looked at first?”

            “No? Who?”

            “Godric.”

            “Ah. I wonder what he thinks of that. I must have a word with him.”

            “Not now,” Saewynn stopped me, “another time.”  

            Eventually, everyone calmed down. Some of the girls remained in a huddle, discussing the result. Villagers with young children hurried them away; some were already asleep. A couple of men started to argue; no one had bet on Hild, and they disagreed on how to split the money.

            “You must be tired; it’s been a long day.” Saewynn’s head rested on my shoulder. She gave a lazy nod. “They’re waiting for us to leave.” She sat up.

            “Are they?” she looked around apprehensively.

            “I need to stretch my legs. You must have eaten a lot; you’ve completely flattened me. I won’t be long; you’ve probably got things to do.” I didn’t know what, but the women had probably arranged something. I kissed the top of her head and stood up. “I’ll see you soon,” I told my wife, and went to congratulate Hild, and thank her for organising the feast.

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Want to find out what happens next? Not immediately next – we must allow the happy couple a little privacy!

Will Hild get Godric to propose? Can Inga find a man, and if so, whose?

Do the bride and groom settle down happily to married life?

And how does Saewynn’s humble horn spoon save a life?

Find out in Bright Blade.
Ebook Free for a limited time (Expires 8.00 GMT 11th December 2020. Normal price £1.99.)

Please visit the other blogs taking part in this event:

Dec 3rd Sharon Bennett Connolly
https://historytheinterestingbits.com

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https://alexmarchantblog.wordpress.com

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https://cathiedunn.blogspot.com/

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www.danielleapple.com

Dec 9th Angela Rigley
Authory Antics | Angela Rigley (wordpress.com)

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https://Janetwertman.com

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https://vanessacouchmanwriter.com/blog

Dec 14th Sue Barnard
https://broad-thoughts-from-a-home.blogspot.co.uk

Dec 15th Wendy J Dunn
www.wendyjdunn.com

Dec 16th Margaret Skea
Home – Margaret Skea, Author

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JEN BLACK (jenblackauthor.blogspot.com)

Dec 24th Lynn Bryant
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NaNoWriMo plus

It is the middle of November and many writers are are the middle of National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo, as it is better known. A challenge to write 50,000 words in the thirty days of November. There is no prize in winning the challenge, only the satisfaction of achieving something, and occasionally beating your friend’s wordcount.

I have taken part, and won, twice – in 2018 and 2019. This year I am giving it a miss. I have something else to do. Because what is the point in writing all those words and not doing anything with them? I have spent most of 2020 finishing and publishing Bright Helm. What next?

Timelinewise (is that a word?) comes my detective story – last year’s NaNoWriMo which I wrote about here which I had not looked at for nearly a year. Although that is not quite true – I took the first chapter and used it as the ending of bright Helm. That must mean I intend to use it. It was time I read it and found out.

I printed out the manuscript and read it. I was pleasantly surprised – it (mostly) made sense. However, although I had carried on after NaNoWriMo I still only had just under 70k words – not enough for a novel. Never mind, there were bits missing. At one point I came across the sentence “Insert visit to XXX here” So I wrote that chapter, or was it two? I discovered a point that mentioned a character having done something – another chapter added describing those events.

Then I added a final chapter because the ending was a bit abrupt – a problem with NaNoWriMo, as you are so glad to get to the end, you just stop.

Then there was giving people names – mostly minor characters that were called NAME because I didn’t want to break the flow. A major character was renamed as well, because what I originally called him was rather unwieldy. And of course there was all the corrections in spelling and grammar and other silly mistakes.

Now I have a novel of 75k words – I was aiming for around 80k. Is it enough? Should I add more? How? After cutting so much from Bright Helm, I am more used to reducing words than increasing them!

As for the plot, I’m happy with that, but is the “Detection” bit enough? Too simple, or is that just because I know who “did it”. I’m sure Beta readers will put me right – any volunteers?

The main problem is not really the book, but how to publish it – not the technical side – stick it on Amazon and hope for the best. But how to market it. If I call it Byrhtnoth Chronicles: Book 5, Bright Wolf readers will be disappointed. Byrhtnoth appears but only as a minor character. There is none of the running around and fighting that people are used to, although some blood is spilt.

Is it a completely new series? The Wulfstan Mysteries, perhaps. Should I keep the Bright title theme/

What about the cover? I’m thinking something different, but similar. Any suggestions would be welcomed.

It’s not all confusion though. I mentioned the extra chapters – that “Insert visit” scene. Sometimes characters get away from their author and say things that she doesn’t intend. This happened here. The idea was taken up in the (new) final chapter and suddenly I had a flash of inspiration.

I had an idea for the next Byrhtnoth book!

I won’t say anything yet, it will involve a lot of research, but at least I have an idea. In fact I have too many ideas: a prequel about Byrhtnoth’s father, a piece of Historical Romance, even something different about the Staffordshire Hoard.

And then there is the 50,000 words I wrote for my first NaNoWriMo. I haven’t looked at that yet – a new genre, still historical, but a different period.

I must get myself under control. One thing at a time.

Halloween Monologue

Earlier this year an updated series of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads was shown on television. It included new and updated versions of his famous monologues which can still be seen here. It inspired a discussion in the Rugby Cafe Writers about monologues and we were encouraged to write our own.

My effort produced a few shudders and I decided it would be suitable for Halloween. I hope you enjoy it!

Hello? Is there anybody there?
There must be someone, out there in the darkness.
Where am I? If I am imprisoned, there must be a jailor. I hear nothing. Why do you not speak?
At least tell me why I’m here. I don’t remember.
I don’t remember anything.

I’m sorry about all the noise earlier, I must have panicked.
I’ve never liked the dark, but I’m all right now. I know what has happened.
There is a little light, not much, and voices, far away and muffled. I smell the sea and hear the gentle sound of waves against a wooden hull.
Still, there is no reply when I shout, but I know why.
This is a dream, and I am on the cusp between sleep and waking.
There is nothing to worry about, and when I wake all will be well and my voyage will continue.

Light! Bright light!
Colours. Blue sky, green grass.
Men shouting. Polished weapons reflecting sharp sunlight.
Everywhere movement, make it stop.
Everything spinning, I’m going to be sick.

That’s better, it’s quieter now.
I see a hall, servants preparing for a feast. Somewhere meat is roasting and the smell of freshly baked bread fills the air.
I am sitting in a chair, at least I think I am. I cannot move, only stare straight ahead. My neck aches, annoying but an improvement on feeling nothing.
I must be badly injured. How? And why am I here?
A woman approaches. I don’t recognise her.
Hello.
She doesn’t reply, only studies me carefully. She frowns. A slave brings a bowl of water. Of course, one must wash before the meal.
The woman carefully washes my face. I enjoy the trickle of scented water down my cheeks and the touch of smooth linen as she dries them.
She combs my hair. It is not my comb. Where is my comb? I don’t remember.
She is good at this; it hardly hurts at all.
It is soothing, the gentle passing of the comb as the tangles are undone, as she strokes my wayward locks back into place.

Where has she gone?
I must have slept.
The hall is brighter, the hearth flares high and torches glint off shields that hang from the walls; the devises unfamiliar, except…
Men sit at tables, meat is eaten, ale is drunk, I catch the bitter aroma of it.
A man appears.
He looks me in the eye.
At last. Someone recognises me. He addresses me by name and welcomes me to his feast.
He raises the mead horn to me, and laughs.
I cannot reply.
He disappears, out of my view.
I recognise him. Where did we meet?
Then understanding comes. This is no dream.
I saw his face, teeth clenched beneath a helm.
Saw the axe swing towards my neck and felt the pain as flesh tore and bones shattered.

Is there anybody there?
There must be someone, out there in the darkness.
This is wrong. It should not happen.
If you can hear me,
Please,
Help me.

It has an appropriate title, which I omitted to give at the start.

If you didn’t guess, it is Talking Head.

Does Size Matter? How Tall was Byrhtnoth?

I meant to write this post earlier, but preparation for the publication of Bright Helm has occupied most of my time – did I say I had a new book out?

In a previous post I mentioned that Byrhtnoth’s body was taken to Ely to be buried. Much later, in 1769, the bones were moved and a group of gentlemen attended and measured the bones and his height was calculated as 6ft 9in (2.0574m) and this is how I imagined him, although in the books I never specified exactly how tall he was – just taller than most people.

How was this figure calculated? Was there any record of the measurements? In May 2019 I was at the National Archives at Kew. I had some time to spare, Could I find anything there? There was nothing in the index, but the building also houses an extensive library; books on a whole range of historical subjects, complete runs of magazines and journals, directories etc. Many of the books are arranged in geographical sections so I search through those for Cambridgeshire. There were a lot about Ely Cathedral and finally I struck gold.


Historical Memorials Of Ely Cathedral: In Two Lectures Delivered In Cambridge In The Summer Of 1896, was written by Charles William Stubbs. Now I know what the book is, I could have ordered it on Amazon; there is even an online copy here. However I photographed the relevant pages and carried on with researching the documents I had come to see.
Stubbs quotes an extract of a letter written by Mr Bentham (James Bentham (1709? – 1794) was an English clergyman, antiquarian and historian of Ely Cathedral) to the Dean of Exeter, and read to the Society of Antiquaries, Fen. 6, 1772, describing “the discovery of the bones of these old Saxon worthies immured in the North Choir wall.”

“When it became necessary, on account of removing the choir to the east end of the Church, to take down that wall, I thought it proper to attend, and also give notice of it to several gentlemen, who were desirous of being present when the wall was demolished. There were the traces of their several effigies on the wall and over each of them an inscription of their names. Whether their relics were still to be found was uncertain; but I apprised those who attended on that occasion, May 18, 1769, that if my surmises were well founded no head would be found in the cell which contained the Bones of Brithnoth, Duke of Northumberland… The event corresponded to my expectation. The bones were found inclosed, in seven distinct cells or cavities, each twenty-two inches in length, seven broad, and eighteen deep, made within the wall under their painted effigies; but under Duke Brithnoth there were no remains of the head, though we searched diligently, and found most, if not all his other bones almost entire, and those remarkable for their length, and proportionally strong; which also agrees with what is recorded by that same historian in regard to the Duke’s person, viz., that he was ‘viribus Robustus, corpore maximus.’ This will more clearly appear by an exact measurement I have taken, and annexed thereto, of so many of the principal bones of those persons as are remaining entire. From these measurements, os femoris 20½ inches, tibia 16¾, os humeri 14¼, ulna 11 4/6, clavicula 6½, it was estimated by Dr Hunter that the Duke must have been 6 foot 9 inches in stature. It was observed that the collar bone had been nearly cut through, as by a battle axe or two-handed sword.”

So, it was Dr Hunter who calculated Byrhtnoth’s height. This must have been Dr John Hunter (1728 – 1793) the eminent Scottish surgeon, fellow of the Royal Society etc. But were his calculations correct? Time passes, knowledge increases, would a modern scientist agree? We’ve all watched TV programmes where archaeologists take a few bones and produce an accurate version of the original person. If only I knew someone like that!

Then I remembered. The Rugby Archaeological Society had had a talk by Dr Anna Williams, a Forensic Anthropologist. The talk had been about setting up a British “Body Farm” – very interesting. We had even had a brief conversation about my books (I must have been promoting one of them at the time!). I took a deep breath and contacted her. She was happy to help, and, after converting inches to centimeters then back to feet, soon produced a result for me.

All the measurements suggested a stature of between 5’9″ and 6’2″, not 6’9″. I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed. My hero had shrunk. But then I realised, “My” Byrhtnoth is a character in my books – his real height probably made him taller than a lot of men at the time anyway, and I don’t suppose he had blond hair and blue eyes either. Although they are doing clever things with DNA nowadays.

I wonder if Ely Cathedral would consider digging him up again? Although I don’t think a facial reconstruction is possible – unless anyone has found a skull without a body, somewhere in Norway, or Denmark – depending on who it was who chopped it off!

Anyone got a crowbar?

The Battle of Maldon – where was it?

Today is the one thousand and twenty ninth anniversary of the Battle of Maldon – or was it yesterday? Or two years later, or three years earlier; the sources differ. One thing is certain, we know where it took place. Or do we?

Everyone knows that the Vikings landed at Northey Island, not far from the town of Maldon, and the Battle was fought at the landward end of the causeway, when Ealdorman Byrhtnoth foolishly allowed the enemy to cross and was killed in the ensuing battle.

I wrote about the battle a month ago as part of the Historical Writers Forum Summer Blog Hop and it was as a result of that post that I received an enigmatic tweet that led me to a completely different theory.

Surely it is obvious, the Northey Island location fits the facts – if the Battle of Maldon poem can be called fact. But does it? I was shocked to learn that it was only in 1925 that this site was decided upon. Is it coincidence that the site identified was open, visible and easy to view. The National Trust put up a sign and the site was protected. It even appears on maps.

Northey Island Plaque (from National Trust website)

What is the evidence? Archaeological field walks have taken place on and around Northey Island. Roman, Medieval and Post-Medieval material has been found but nothing Saxon, and definitely no signs of Vikings. Did ninety three Viking ships arrive, full of warriors, hang around for a few days then fight a major battle – all without leaving a single coin or belt end, or trace of a hearth?

Also, when you think about it, the site doesn’t make sense. Vikings are known for sailing up rivers, as close to their destination, then hitting hard and fast before leaving. Why hang around in the middle of the river, giving time for defenders to arrive, then fighting their way ashore, still some distance from their objective; the mint located in the Burh at Maldon, built by King Edward the Elder in 912?

Even before the 1925 decision, historians had offered different locations, why were they never considered? In this situation local knowledge is helpful and knowledge that included research into the topography of the area at the time of the battle is vital.

The river has changed a lot over time, sea levels were lower and at one time the River Blackwater was navigable as far as Heybridge, where an old church, probably Saxon in origin overlooked a marsh. The road that runs from Heybridge to Maldon through this marsh has long been known as “The Causeway” and regularly flooded. There is also a bridge, which is mentioned in the poem. Wouldn’t this have been the logical place for the Viking to land? It fits the details given in the poem better than Northey

The clinching point for me is the archaeological evidence, sadly lacking at Northey. In the 1960s, work in the vicinity of The Causeway brought to light a collection of swords and what might have been shield bosses. Unwilling to experience delays, the objects were reburied, except for one sword.

This later found its way into the collection of the Combined Military Services Museum in Maldon and has been identified as Viking and dating to the late tenth century.

Viking Sword found near Herbridge, Essex.
Picture by permission of Stephen P. Nunn on behalf Maldon CMSM

As far as I’m concerned, the presence of a viking sword of the correct era is surely a clue that something happened in this area at the time, and that event must have been the Battle of Maldon.

Why are the National Trust and English Heritage so unwilling to investigate this alternate theory? Is it because it is easier to put up a sign and say “Job Done”?

All I can say is  the next time that I visit the statue of Byrhtnoth in Maldon, I will look up at him, gazing resolutely downriver towards Northey Island and whisper “They’re behind you!”

 

Thanks to Stephen P Nunn  expert on all things Maldonian for the info included in this post and permission to use of the picture of the sword.

For more information about this theory see this difficult to find page of the official Battle of Maldon website.
And for pictures and maps see this pdf from the Battlefields Trust.

The Battle of Maldon, 11th August 991 AD

When asked to write a post for the Historical Writers Forum Summer Blog Hop on Momentous Events, the obvious subject for me was the Battle of Maldon. It was certainly momentous for my character, Byrhtnoth. It was the day he died, or to put it bluntly, the day he was killed. It was not a gentle end, but I like to think, the kind of death he would have wanted.

He would have been in his sixties. He was an Ealdorman, ruling Essex for his king; several kings in fact, for 35 years. The fact that one of these kings, Edgar was known as “The Peaceable” gives some idea of the state of England at that time. By 991 though, Edgar’s son Ethelred, (better known as Ethelred the Unready) was on the throne and the Vikings were getting restless.

After the earlier invasions by the Great Heathen Army in the ninth century, things had calmed down. The invaders had settled in the Eastern part of the country, the Danelaw. In fact Essex lay within that area, but by then most of the population probably thought of themselves as English.

In 980 new attacks started. Perhaps the Scandinavians sensed the country was weak, Ethelred, only two years on the throne, was only twelve. The raids must have been successful and in summer 991 a fleet of over ninety ships raided Folkestone. They were probably led by Olaf Trygvasson, who a few years later became King of Norway. The fleet moved on to raid Sandwich and then up the East coast, where Ipswich was overrun. Finally they arrived at Maldon.

Maldon was an important place, a royal burgh with it’s own mint. It was also in the county of Essex and therefore Byrhtnoth’s responsibility. The Liber Eliensis suggests that the Ealdorman was in the the north at the time, mistakenly naming him as Duke of Northumberland. Nevertheless Byrhtnoth rushed south, like King Harold was to do in 1066, nearly one hundred years later. He spent the night at Ely Abbey, an event that they were to use to demonstrate their generosity long afterwards. Originally he sought hospitality at Ramsey Abbey, but they only offered enough for him and seven of his men. He rejected the offer saying “Let the lord Abbot know that I will not dine alone without the men you refer to, because I cannot fight alone without them” and continued to Ely, which fed the whole army and received his grateful thanks.

Memorial for ancient burials at Ely Cathedral – Byrhtnoth is in the right hand niche

On or around 10th August 991, Byrhtnoth arrived in Maldon. The Viking ships were beached at Northey Island, just downriver from Maldon. Protected by mudflats and salt marshes and with the island connected to land by a causeway accessible only at low tide, they were safe from attack, but also unable to escape, except by ship when the causeway was blocked. Byrhtnoth sent away his horses, formed a shieldwall and waited.

Causeway to Northey Island. Picture taken exactly 1,000 years after the battle.

Threats were exchanged; the invaders demanded money to go away. Byrhtnoth rejected the suggestion saying:
Hearest ‘ou, seaman, what this folk sayeth?
Spears shall be all the tribute they send you,
viper-stained spears and the swords of forebears,
such a haul of harness as shall hardly profit you.
Spokesman for scavengers, go speak this back again,
bear your tribe a bitterer tale:
that there stands here ‘mid his men not the meanest of Earls,
pledged to fight in this land’s defence,
the land of Æthelred, my liege lord,
its soil, its folk.

When the causeway opened the Vikings tried to attack. Brave men from the English Army went forward to defend the crossing. The invaders could not cross. Stalemate. What happened next has been argued about by historians for hundreds of years. Why did Byrhtnoth then allow them to cross? Why not let them sail away on their ships?

Was it because he was proud and thought he could defeat them face to face? Some form of British fair play? Or was because he knew he had to destroy them there, or they would move elsewhere, causing more death and destruction?

Whatever the reason, the enemy were allowed to cross and battle was joined. Many men died and eventually Byrhtnoth was killed, but was that the end? No, the fight continued, as Byrhtnoth’s men laid down their lives to avenge their lord, as all great warriors must do.

The Vikings won the fight, but then they left, so I suppose, in the end the victory was Byrhtnoth’s; although he was hacked to death and his head chopped off, taken by the enemy. I wonder what happened to it?

Why is this small indecisive battle, such a momentous event? Because later someone wrote a famous poem about it, The Battle of Maldon. Only 327 lines of the poem survived; the beginning and end are missing. In 1731 the only known manuscript was destroyed by fire, but luckily a transcription had been made a few years earlier.

I don’t suppose the words quoted above were really what Byrhtnoth said at the time (it’s a modern translation anyway). We will never know that, but the poet brings the event to life. Byrhtnoth has time for a lengthy death speech before his head is hacked off. Each of his supporters is named and his lineage given, before making an inspiring speech , then dying; the best know is this:

“Then Byrhtwold spoke, shook ash-spear,
raised shield-board. In the bravest words
this hoar companion handed on the charge:
‘Courage shall grow keener, clearer the will,
The heart fiercer, as our force faileth.
Here our lord lies, levelled in the dust,
The man all marred: he shall mourn to the end
who thinks to wend off from this war-play now.
Though I am white with winters I will not away,
For I think to lodge me alongside my dear one,
Lay me down by my lord’s right hand.’”

When was the poem written? The most likely opinion is that it was written not long after the battle, perhaps commissioned by Byrhtnoth’s wife Aelfflaed. The careful naming and identification of the men involved indicates that it would be heard by their relatives, or friends.

And why was it written? Well, even the payment of ten thousand pounds by King Ethelred; the first time Danegeld was paid since King Alfred’s time (but not the last), was not enough to stop them returning, and later Swegn, King of Denmark invaded. He was killed before he became king, but his son Cnut did, in 1016 Was the poem written to encourage the English defenders, or was it intended to demonstrate to Cnut, how a great leader, and his supporters, should behave?

After the battle Byrhtnoth’s body was taken to Ely Abbey. It is still there, having been moved several times as the building was rebuilt and became a Cathedral. In 1769, during one of these moves, his bones were inspected, and measured. It was calculated that they belonged to a man of 6ft 9in. There was no skull found and “It was observed that the collar-bone had been nearly cut through, as by a battle-axe, or two handed sword.”

Modern statue of Byrhtnoth at Maldon. He faces towards Northey Island, still defending England from invasion.

If you have enjoyed this post, you can find more by other members of the group on the Historical Writers Forum Blog Hop page here It has been running during June and July 2020, so why not check out some more “Momentous Events”

Inspiration – Where does it come from?

Once again it has been a long time since my last post. My excuse is that I have been writing, but now I have stopped, for a while. My next book, the fourth in the Byrhtnoth series, is with my editor, which has enabled me to pause, have a look around at what has been happening in the world – and quickly return to the tenth century!

I have been planning where to go next, a sequel, or what about a prequel; or something completely different. But I have also been looking back at the book I have just written and spotted a particularly good example of how inspiration works – at least for me.

It all started two years ago at the HNS conference in Scotland. Not actually at the conference – you can read all about that here – but afterwards. It seems like a lot of effort to travel all the way up to near Glasgow, and back, just for a weekend, so we had booked a few extra days to explore the area. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t terribly good, but we managed to explore the odd ruin. One thing that frustrated me was that having spotted the magnetic attraction of a rash of red names on the map indicating historic sites. I was told that it was too far for a day trip from where we were staying – there were several large lochs in the way! It would have to wait for another time.

The place I had spotted was Kilmartin and the area was chock full of stone circles, cairns and cup and ring marks. Several months later and we were discussing holiday plans and I suggested Kilmartin. We found what looked like a nice hotel not far away and booked. It was during that interesting process of finding out what else was in the area, that I read a blog post.

I tend to follow other authors on twitter, read their blogs and quite often learn something interesting. In this case it was a blog post by Steven A. McKay, an author who I had discovered from his “Forest Lord” series about Robin Hood and continued with “Warrior Druid of Britain” set in post Roman Britain – I am eagerly awaiting book three “The Northern Throne” of this series which is published in August.

The post was about Dunadd Fort, you can read it here, and I noticed it was one of those red place names close to Kilmartin. Inspired by that blog, it went on the list and last year, in May 2019 we visited Dunadd. From a distance the place looks nothing special, a lump rising from an expanse of flat land, but closer it is recognisable for its strong defensive position. It was originally fortified more than 2000 years ago but it became famous as the centre of the ancient Kingdom of Dal Riata, between 500 and 800 AD.

The month before our trip, I had published the second of The Byrhtnoth Chronicles, Bright Axe and the third book, Bright Blade would be published that October. I was in the middle of planning book four, so I was primed for inspiration. Walking around this atmospheric site, it struck!

In an earlier book I had introduced a character, rather mysterious with an unknown past; they didn’t even have a name (Mainly because at that point I couldn’t find the right one.) Now I knew where they had come from – Dunadd. Everything fell into place. I had added an interesting plot line to my story, as well as tying up several loose ends.

Perhaps it was just a case of being in the right place at the right time – I had several other ideas that holiday, some I used, others fell by the wayside, perhaps to be used somewhere else. If you want to find out what happened at Dunadd, I’m afraid you will have to read the book, Bright Helm. It will be published later this year, fingers crossed.

I hope you enjoy the pictures. I’m afraid the weather wasn’t brilliant, but later as we searched for cup and ring marks, the sun came out and when we arrived at Crinan for a cream tea, it was perfect. Then we had a walk along the canal (for the driver – he likes canals.) A day well spent.

The start of the climb. The entrance path winds around the edge of the rock.
Looking back towards the car park, beside the River Add. Only one other car besides ours.
Narrow entrance to the next level. Very uneven underfoot!
Main occupation level, with well (in foreground) and lookout point.
Further up and the stone where Kings of Scotland placed their feet.
Time for a Queen of Scots? Well, everyone has to do it!
View down from the summit. The only other visitors are passing through the narrow gateway.
View looking in the other direction, towards the sea and Crinan (canal on the left)
Crinan in the sun. Cream teas at the shop on the left.
View of Dunadd from the Crinan Canal. River Add in the foreground, Hills and Kilmartin Glen behind.

Review – The Last King

In the year AD 865 The Great Heathen Army arrived in England. The invasion lasted several years, changed the country for ever and led to the legend of King Alfred’s stand against the Vikings. It is also a popular subject for Anglo-Saxon fiction, such as the books by Bernard Cornwell and the subsequent TV series, The Last Kingdom; as well as The Vikings, from the other point of view. Is there room for yet another book about the period? I think there is, and this exciting book from M J Porter may be it.

So, who is the The Last King? Alfred? No, because when the Great Heathen Army arrived, England consisted of several kingdoms. East Anglia fell first and then Northumbria. Next was Mercia, and it is the fight for Mercia that is told here; the fight by Coelwulf, the Last King of Mercia.

Who was this king and why is he not as famous at King Alfred? Because he failed? And Alfred, in the end, won? In a way. It is because it is the winners of any battle that write the history and it was not in Alfred’s interest to share the glory with anyone – his is the legend, standing alone against the pagan invaders.

The main source of information for the Anglo-Saxon period is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and it was written in Wessex, by Alfred. What does it say about King Coelwulf? Very little. It refers to him as “a foolish king’s thegn”, and that he acted as steward for the Vikings, holding the land “ready for them on whatever day they wished to have it”. And for a long time that was how he was known – A nobody.

Until recently. In 2015 a hoard was found at Watlington in Oxfordshire. It contained silver: 15 ingots and 7 pieces of jewellery, including arm-rings, and 186 coins. It dates to AD 878, just after Alfred’s final defeat of the Vikings at the at the Battle of Edington. It is the coins that are interesting, as some show Alfred, others Coelwulf. There even some that show both kings, of equal status, sitting side by side, in a style known as the “Two Emperors”, after Roman coins of the 4th century. Not just a “Foolish King’s Thegn.” The objects are now at the Ashmolean Museum

The author has taken this little known king and produced a charismatic leader, fighting desperately for his country. At the start Coelwulf is not king; Mercia already has a king, Burgred, controlled by the Vikings but they have decided to dispose of him. Coelwulf hears rumours of this and must discover the truth. He is the descendant of earlier king’s of Mercia, but doesn’t want to be King, all he wants is to free his country from the foreign invader.

He hears that men have been sent to kill him, he knows he is a danger to the Vikings. Or do they want to capture him, to force him to become their king, to keep the Mercian people quiet?

The Great Heathen Army is camped at Repton, the royal heart of Mercia. Coelwulf must travel from his home in Western Mercia, to Repton, and on the way, find the bands of men sent to kill him, and destroy them.

The pace is unrelenting and the violence graphic; I wouldn’t recommend this book if blood and guts upset you. There is a lot of swearing, as well, but these are men at war, they have no other life. Along the way you learn something of this leader; his care for his men, the rules, hard at time, that ensures that they do not sink into the barbarity brought to the land by the heathens.

I enjoyed the small details of what has been lost, and gradually, with Coelwulf, I begin to wonder if the fight is worthwhile. Can the enemy be beaten, and if it is, what will remain of Mercia? Is it worth all the blood and death or should he give up, surrender to the inevitable? Is his country worth fighting for?

Coelwulf arrives at Repton, a prisoner. Will he live or die? Will he be the Last King of Mercia?


The Last King is the first book in a series; Book 2 of England: The First Viking Age: The Last Warrior, is published in June. I look forward to riding with Coelwulf again.