More about covers

Another book launch! Nothing for years, then two come along at (nearly) the same time.

For those few who have read Bright Sword and said they want to read the next in the series, I’m afraid this book isn’t it. But please, if you liked it, could I ask you to post a review? Here.

By coincidence, this book also has an orange cover and has a long thin pointy object on the front. It is the latest in a series of booklets on the history of Rugby, published by the Rugby Local History Research Group. In fact this is the tenth in the series – the first was published in 1975. They are all regularly reprinted and all are available locally. They are not on-line (Actually a couple are listed, but not available.)

The books are about 70 pages and contain articles written by members of the Group. It is a very small group, which is why it tales so long to produce the books. We have done books on Rugby in the Victorian period, during ww1 and ww2 and the 2oth century. But mostly they contain a variety of subjects – whatever the member finds interesting. Memories of childhood, a local industry or some incident that has caught the eye in the local newspaper.

The articles are passed around for comment/editing and collected together,  they are proof read, a few pictures are added to fill any awkward gaps and sent to a local printer, together with the cover design.

How do we design the cover?

Each book is a different colour, depending on what card the printer has available. This time the only colours we haven’t already used were orange and a bright pink. Everyone preferred orange, the next will have to be pink! Sometimes we have a big argument on what picture to use – everyone wants a picture from their own article. Only a few are suitable as it has to make a distinctive silhouette. Why not have a “proper” picture? Because it’s always been done this way! For this book, there was an article about the R.C. Church of St Maries, in Rugby. Someone had a decent photograph, no problems with copyright and no one objected. It was turned into a silhouette, and the title was added. Job done.

It was all free – unless you count the time taken by the poor person who has to do all this – me!

Compare it with the cover for Bright Sword. I employed a proper designer. I made a few suggestions, she produced samples. We discussed them and I made a final decision. Minor changes were later made by the publisher, but that was it. No other “authors” to fight it out with. Price – a lot more, but you get what you pay for.

In the end, the Aspects of Rugby book was all done in a rush, because I was giving a talk in the library and we wanted to use it to launch the book. The talk was “Rugby: Development of a Town”. It was part of the BBC Civilisations Festival – we might have got a few more people if the Library had thought to put that on the posters, or put said posters somewhere people could see them! No Anglo-Saxon Warriors this time. Just me and a projector, although Anglo-Saxons were mentioned (was it founded by them or was it earlier?). I didn’t have the courage to mention “my” book. But we did sell a few copies of “our” book. In fact I think we sold more copies on the day, than I did, probably because it was cheaper.

If you are interested in the book, there are details on the website. Or there would be, but it doesn’t seem to be working at the moment. And guess who has to fix that?

Not surprising I find it difficult to find time to write. Around 6,500 words written. sounds good, but that’s over two weeks. I managed over 2,000 on one day, so I can do it when I try – and don’t have anything else to do!


Thinking and Dreaming

Do you ever dream about your characters? I expect some writers do, devising entire plot lines and waking to scribble it all down on that notepad that you are supposed to keep at hand for when inspiration strikes. Everyone has different dreams and ways of remembering them – or not!

There are the dreams so vivid that you are scared to return to sleep. Other people claim not to dream at all. Then there are those dreams that you half remember, leaving just a frustrating impression. I had one of the latter recently. I woke, knowing that my dream had been full of incident, but it disappeared before I could catch it in the net of my memory. All that remained was a snapshot. A big man swinging a sword. It was dark and he was surrounded by trees. It must have been Byrhtnoth and this is the only time I have dreamed about him – that I  remember.

I could use that scene, embroider details onto it, decide who he is fighting, and why. But it would no longer be the original dream that I experienced. It is very annoying, but why did I have that dream? Was it because I had not done any writing for several weeks? Was my character, or just my subconscious (which is the same thing really) telling me to get on with it.

Not wanting to end up with nightmares, I obeyed. I retreated to the writing computer and wrote just over 1,000 words – then the rugby came on. At least it’s a start and I’ll try to keep it up.

River and muddy path.

I had warmed up with a bit of editing, because those weeks of not-writing had not been wasted. I had been thinking. A weekend away in the Lake District was not just a time for walking and drinking. I had decided to send my character to this same place, and was looking at the view with his eyes, hearing the sounds with his ears, feeling the suck of mud on my boots. How far would he travel in a day? Where would he stop for the night? The only problem with this, is that I was there in February – he will be travelling in May. I can cope with that, I hope.

The other thinking that occupied me was about the structure of my books. I sat down and wrote a synopsis of book two. I then did the same for book three – a bit more difficult as it is only part written. I then wrote a synopsis – well more of a set of notes – for the unwritten book four. From the look of it, that will be the end. Of course anything can happen if the characters don’t agree!

Then it got really speculative, what next? How about a prequel? A children’s book? Tell the story of other characters? Send Byrhtnoth into outer space – perhaps not that one. A different period? Modern day? A thriller? Then I calmed down, just get on with writing the next book.

Once I had got the synopses down, I started to apply the Three Act Structure to them. It was an interesting exercise. I found that half of one book was about a completely different character – is that allowed? It was difficult to fit the structure onto the unwritten book four – how do I know how much I’ll write for different scenes? I have not become organised enough to say that chapter x will contain such and such scene. Thank goodness, I’m still a pantster at heart!

Feel free to return to this post in a few months/years time and have a good laugh at my dreams.

View down Eskdale from Hardknott Roman Fort.

Books in Limbo

Still no writing – not book writing anyway. It has been a confused week of editing and cover design for the Local History publication, demonstrating Family History websites in the library, interspersed with a guest post on the Discovering Diamonds Blog about the excitement of receiving copies of my book. Thank you Helen Hollick for accepting it.

Richard Denning explains the Anglo-Saxons. Spot the Sutton Hoo helmet.

Saturday was the second of my promotion events. I had hijacked the monthly meeting of the Rugby Archaeology Society, by suggesting a talk about Anglo-Saxons. Fellow author Richard Denning came to tell us about “Life in Anglo-Saxon England”. It was an entertaining talk including history, food, religion – everything Anglo-Saxon – even genetics. He brought a large collection of objects, which were handed round or inspected afterwards. He brought some of his books for sale, including several for children.

I had my books there, of course, and there was another chance to taste my mead. I got several favourable comments – perhaps I should give up writing and go into mead production!

Now I have a cold. I don’t think it’s anything serious, but I don’t feel like doing anything. I have forced myself to the computer to write this (it probably shows!)

Although not writing, I have been doing a lot of thinking, helped by last week’s class. It was about plotting – regular readers of this blog will know my opinions on that. This was about applying different methods to your writing: “The Three-Act Structure” and “The Hero’s Journey”. Book Three looks good – words like Birth and Death, Shipwreck, Battle and Rescue scatter the chart. The problems come with Beginning and End.

I thought Book Two, although needing more editing, was in its final shape. Was the ending too final? OK for a single book, but for a series? I was finding it difficult to decide where to start Book Three – I’ve written a lot, but the vital beginning is unclear. I had a thought – what if I cut the ending of Book Two and use that for the start of Book Three? It might work, although it might leave Book Two a bit short – more detail earlier on? It would also make Book Three even longer.

But. Could I cut the end of Book Three? There’s that convenient point when… Is that the start of Book Four? I haven’t thought much about that yet. It might work. Do I have an over arching structure for the series? I don’t even know if Book Four is the end, or not.

I think I will be spending some time in planning – comparing what I have against the various structures. I think some synopses will help – I tried to write one for Book Two. When I found it difficult I should have known something was wrong.

Perhaps I’m over-thinking. I should just get on and write. I’ve had an idea for a short story. Do I have time for that?


The Signing of Books

After the excitement of Publication Day, I am into the world of promoting my book. How successful it has been is impossible to know. I try not to look at the graph on Amazon’s Author Central page too often. It’s a bit depressing as I have sunk from a peak of 39,496th out of the 6,000,000 books for sale, to 413,662nd today. The peak was 29th January, the day after publication, when all my friends and relatives bought it – thank you everyone! Apparently no-one has bought the Ebook version at all – yet.

Monday was a normal day. As if nothing had happened, I was back to writing – although this time it was an article for a local history book that will be published soon. I have also been proof reading and formatting that.

On Tuesday I was told by my publisher, that something I had written was published in a (online) magazine.  I had been asked to write, “10 Tips For Turning A Historical Figure Into Historical Fiction”, only the week before. You can read it here, if you can find it among the adverts. I suppose it is the sort of thing writers have to do.

Anglo-Saxon feast and books for signing

Nothing much on Wednesday, but on Thursday it was the writing class. When one of us publishes a book we usually have cake. Someone had said that it was too soon after Christmas for cake (is there really a time when people don’t want cake?), but I had already had another idea. My book is about Anglo-Saxons, I have mead! So at the break I brought out my mead and my horn, plus small plastic tasting cups, because passing round a mead horn for everyone to drink from is not very hygienic. How those Anglo-Saxons survived without modern Health and Safety rules is beyond me. I also had food: salted meat (beef and ham – left over from Christmas), cheese and bread. I explained how there would not be much food left at this time of year, most animals would have been killed in the autumn and salted. The bread didn’t contain salt, because butter and cheese would also be heavily salted to preserve it. I used the recipe on this website. It tasted better than it looked! I also signed my first book (apart from those I’d done for family). There would have been others, but Amazon had not delivered!

On Friday there was a meeting of Cafe Writers. I sold and signed another book – the first real money in my hand!

The main event was planned for Saturday – the official book signing at the local bookshop.

I had prepared. I got a piece published in the local newspaper – they got a detail wrong, but not about the book. I had put up posters, and talked about it on Facebook and Twitter. I mentioned it to everyone I knew, a lot said they would come.

I had even ordered warriors from re-enactment group Ardenweard, a Dark Ages re-enactment group affiliated with The Vikings.  I had one Anglo-Saxon and one Viking. I hoped they would have a fight, but apparently that’s against the rules. They were very friendly, talking to customers and offering samples of my mead – now officially approved by Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and the residents of Rugby.

Warriors guarding books.

There was just one thing that I couldn’t control – the weather! It was cold and windy, with showers of sleety rain. Rugby High Street was practically deserted. My warriors did their best, standing outside until their feet froze. Apparently genuine Anglo-Saxon shoes are not very warm – not new ones, anyway. A few people turned up and bought books, which I signed, but not as many as I expected. At least I had plenty of time to hold swords, try on helmets, and learn more about Anglo-Saxons (and Vikings).

I will be attending another event next Saturday, a meeting of the Rugby Archaeology Society. There will be a talk by author Richard Denning about Life in Anglo-Saxon England. Copies of his books, as well as mine will be available. At least it will be indoors!

No writing was done this week – well, not book-writing, but I have been thinking – more about that another time!

My thanks to Ardenweard for the warriors.

Memo: Remember to publish next book in summer.


A few more inches and I’ll have that Viking’s head off!


How I started to write.

This is one of my first posts on this blog. It was written two years ago, in January 2016. I’m glad I wrote it for it shows me how far I have. Now, on the eve of publication, it reminds me of where it all started. Thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way. I hope your enjoy my book – Bright Sword




I discovered recently that I have been blogging for four years – it was my blogoversary (if that’s the right word). Obviously not this particular blog. This one has only been going five months and this is only my ninth post.

I started, on 3rd January 2012, with a blog about my family history research. Especially my One Name Study of the Madder surname and in particular about Captain John Madder. John Madder was hanged as a pirate in 1705. I have discovered rather a lot about him. And his brother, George. And his daughter Isabella. In fact I will be posting about my latest finds on that subject on the original blog  shortly.

So why am I writing a historical novel about an Anglo-Saxon, Byrhtnoth? Why aren’t I writing about my endlessly fascinating pirate? The thing is – that is what I had planned.

I wanted to write a (non-fiction) book about John Madder. It was hard work and I set up the blog to practice writing, as well as keep tabs on my research. I was not a writer, never thought about being a writer. I’m afraid I’m not one of these writers who started scribbling stories in my cradle. Reading, yes. Writing, no.

Anyway, three years ago, at Christmas 2012, I had a bright idea. I had been spending so much time with John Madder he had become one of the family. I would talk to him – sometimes he would reply, but only when we were alone. I would write a story for the readers of my blog. I thought about it for a long time, then tried to write it down. It just wouldn’t work. Why not? I was confused. I had been writing all these chatty blog posts, about 40 in that first year, why couldn’t I write fiction rather than fact?

Then I picked up the spring term brochure for the Percival Guildhouse, a local adult education centre. This is the home of the Family History and Local History Groups I belong to. I have helped to teach family history classes there and sometimes attended painting classes. A class was advertised “Writing Fiction”. There was space on it, so I signed up. I have been attending ever since.

I wrote in an earlier post about some of the exercises we did recently but I remember exactly how I found Byrhtnoth – or perhaps he found me!

There was an exercise to describe a landscape we knew, zoom in closer, then closer still. For some reason I chose Maldon and the modern statue of Byrhtnoth – you can see it in the picture at the top of this blog.

A bit later, it might have been the following week, we talked about the characters in well-known books. Our homework was to take a character and write a scene of their life outside the book. Byrhtnoth was still hanging about, so I wrote about him on the eve of the Battle of Maldon (Yes, I know it’s a poem rather than a book, but our tutor allows us a lot of leeway, so long as we write something!)

I had started wondering where this person had come from, what made him into the man in the poem. There was another exercise. Imagine a door, describe the door, send someone through the door and describe what’s on the other side. If you read my earlier post The Prologue you will recognise this scene – it is the start of my book. (If you haven’t read that post – not many people did, or if they did they didn’t take part in the poll – I hope you enjoy it.) I now have nearly 70,000 words and (I hope) am getting towards the end. I am starting to think about a sequel. I’ve come a long way from that first attempt at writing.

And if you’re wondering, I did eventually write that problematical story – it appeared on the original blog the following Christmas (2013). If you want to read it, you can find it here

Perhaps, one day, it will be the start of another book. After all John Madder still talks to me. He asks why I am neglecting him for that young Anglo-Saxon boy!


A blog post from 2015. Not an interview with a character, but how I was inspired to invent one – Byrhtnoth’s dog.

Where do writers get their inspiration? The initial idea can come from anywhere. Something said. Something seen. A book you read and think “I could do that better.” Once you start, details creep in from everywhere – sometimes it’s not until later that you realise where they came from. At other times you know exactly.

Autumn means that the Writing Fiction class is back. This year there were a few new students, but most of us have been there longer. For the benefit of the newbies, we started with a few basic exercises.

Out came the box of postcards – pictures of people and places, paintings and photographs. Chose one of a person and one of a place.Write about that person in that place. Perhaps one picture will spark an idea. I grumbled a bit – I don’t want an idea, I just want to carry on with my book. But a painting of a medieval lady on a horse chasing wild animals reminded me of a hunting scene I had been thinking about. Result – another scene written.

The next week we were asked to bring in three objects that meant something to us. We talked about them. We wrote about one of them. We talked about the emotions they produced and we tried to turn the memory into fiction. Some amazing stories emerged.

Greyhound statue on the mantalpiece

Greyhound statue on the mantelpiece.

One of my objects was a small bronze statue of a greyhound. It was a memorial of a dog we used to own. She was not a greyhound but of mixed parentage, from a rescue home. Her shape was lean and she loved to run. Her name was Poppy. She died many years ago, a few months after my father, so the emotions were of love, protection and loss.

For the hunting scene I had written I had looked up (good old Wikipedia!) information about Anglo-Saxon hunting dogs. It appears they were similar to greyhounds. Everything came together. My main character had acquired a dog!

For anyone who has been to The Hurst, which I mentioned in my previous post, you may have noticed two similar stone statues of dogs guarding the front door – no wonder I felt so at home there.

Inspiration is attacking from all directions and my book has reached 63,000 words. As I write, new scenes appear. I am racing ahead. Like a greyhound?






Interviewing my Character – Eadric

Today I meet a minor, but as he tells us, important character:

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

A : I am Eadric, a servant. Long ago, I served the hearth companions of Lord Byrhthelm, father to Byrhtnoth. I looked after their weapons, cooked their food when they were on campaign – everything. They are dead now and I am steward in the hall that now belongs to Byrhtnoth. I am getting old, but I have a task to complete before I can die.


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

A : My author created me. I am a minor, but important, character in Byrhtnoth’s story.


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

A : I don’t know what happens to Byrhtnoth when I’m not there. My job is to guard Byrhthelm’s sword until I decide his son is worthy to receive it. I showed it to the boy, long ago – he was angry he could not have it. Only I know where it is – he will not have it until I think he should.


Q : How did your author meet up with you?

A : I am always lurking in the background, ready to serve.


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

A : I have no family. I serve the sword, she is beautiful. Nothing else matters.


Q : What is your favourite scene in the book?

A : That will be the moment that I take the sword away from the young Byrhtnoth – you should have seen the look of loss on his face! Then, for once, I had power.


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

A : After Lord Byrhthelm went, Lord Toli looked after us all in the village. He was ill for a long time. I kept him alive, but he died. I blame Byrhtnoth for that.


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

A : I don’t know about proud. I like to shock her sometimes with what I say – I think she is afraid of what I will do.


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

A : No other books. I don’t care about other characters – I know my place.


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

A : I want to go back to when I was young, serving my lord as he fought with King Æthelstan, creating the kingdom of England.

Do you think, if I’m nice to her, my author will write a prequel?