What is the Opposite of Writers Block?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author at West Stowe, channeling Byrhtnoth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview My Character – Wulfhere, Thegn of Horstede

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

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

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

Mead if I may, the strongest you have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you most proud of about your author?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt from The Wolf Banner: The Cheampa Feoht

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Visiting the past – Ripon

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

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

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

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

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

Ripon Cathedral, west front


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

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

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

Steps leading down to the anglo-saxon crypt

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

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



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

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

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

Guest Post – The Coming of the Saxons

Today I present another Guest Post. What a good way to avoid having to think up something new to write!

Today I welcome Mary Anne Yarde, a fellow Historical Fiction writer, although of a slightly earlier period, the sixth century. Her International Bestselling series – The Du Lac Chronicles, lie in that period generally known as Arthurian, although the books are set a generation later, after the fall of King Arthur. The story of the fight against the Saxon Invaders

I was surprised Mary Anne wanted to be associated with such an Anglo-Saxon centric blog, as I have read the first book in the series and I got the impression that the Saxons were the antagonists. She assures me that some very cool Saxon characters appear in the later books – more books for my TBR list.

Although we both write about the Anglo-Saxon world, my Byrhtnoth lives in the tenth century, four hundred years later and a very different world. I have asked Mary Anne to tell us about the early period, and the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons on our shores.

Welcome Mary Anne.

Mary Anne Yarde

The Coming of the Saxons…

In the year AD 425 Vortigern became the High King of Southern Britain — or so said the 6th Century British monk, Gildas. Vortigern’s reign of 30 years was not, however, without conflict. There was the constant threat of invasion from the Irish on the western seaboard. The Picts were invading from the north, and in the eastern seaboard, the Saxons were trying to push into Vortigern’s realm. It was a war on all fronts. It was a war he could not possibly win.

Vortigern turned to his Roman friends for help. But instead of military assistance, Flavius Aetius, a Roman general, sent Bishop Germanus of Auxerre and Bishop Severus of Trier, to Vortigern’s kingdom to find out what was going on and report back to him. However, Germanus was more concerned about finding the Pelagian heretics than the threat that Vortigern spoke of. Germanus and Severus took their leave, having done very little. Vortigern realised he would not receive any military aid from Rome. If he wanted to save his kingdom, then he was going to have to think of something else.

Vortigern did not have many choices open to him. If the Roman Empire would not come to his aid, then he would have to find someone who would. He looked to the land of the Jutes. Vortigern was not the first, and he was certainly not the last to employ mercenaries to fight for his cause.  He heard talk of two warrior brothers, Hengist and Horsa. These brothers had a fine army. It was these men that Vortigern struck a deal with. It is worth noting that although Hengist and Horsa were Jutes, they shared the same Germanic language (taking into account the different regional dialects), the same religious philosophies, and the same culture as the Saxons who were causing such a problem for Vortigern in the east.

In return for their services, Vortigern gave the brothers land in the Isle of Thanet, Kent. The mercenaries brought over their families, and for a while, things seemed to work well for all. The brothers and their men kept in check their Germanic kinfolk along the east coast. They were also a good match for the Picts in the north. They also help to curb the Irish ambitions as well. 

Hengist and Horsa arriving in Britain, by Richard Rowlands (1605)

Thanks to Hengist and Horsa, the threat to Vortigern’s kingdom, although still present, was, for now, kept in check. It was then that Hengist and Horsa decided that they were not being paid enough. They were risking their lives for Vortigern. They deserved more. Much more. So they took their demands to Vortigern, along with a promise… If Vortigern did not meet their demands, then they would take his kingdom as payment. It was only fair.

Vortigern found himself in a very difficult position. He had invited these mercenaries into his kingdom. In fact, he had kept on inviting them. And now, there were an awful lot of them. Too many. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles states that:

“…the Saxons multiplied their numbers, and the British could not feed them.”

Vortigern raised taxes, in a bid to pay his mercenary army. But he could not raise sufficient funds. His people simply did not have the money, and they resented having to pay tax when these foreign settlers, Vortigern had invited over, did not have to pay at all. By the year AD 430 Vortigern faced the threat of civil war.  This unrest was led by a man, who the Welsh called, Emrys, and who others called Ambrosius Aurelianus. Vortigern did not know what to do. So he did what he always did. He recruited even more mercenaries. This decision would cost him his throne.

“Once lit, it did not die down. When it had wasted town and country in that area, it burnt up almost the whole surface of the island, until its red and savage tongue licked the western seas..”
On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain — Gildas

The Celts, although their loyalty to their High King had been stretched to the limit, rose up against these foreign aggressors. Vortigern was mortally wounded while leading a campaign to drive the Jutes back to the Isle of Thanet. With Vortigern’s death, the native Celts look to Ambrosius. In the year AD 473, Hengist and his son, Aesc, fought the Celts in Kent and were victorious. In AD 488, Aesc became King of Kent. As for Ambrosius… Nothing more is said of him.

Kent became a secure beachhead for Germanic invasions and eventually the conquest of Britain.

 

Bibliography:

(Author Unknown) — The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (J. M. Dent, New edition, 1972)
Bede — Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2012)
Berresford Elllis, Peter — Celt and Saxon (The struggle for Britain AD 410-937) (Constable and Company Ltd , 1994)
Geoffrey of Monmouth — The History of the Kings of Britain (Penguin Books Ltd, 1966)
Gildas — On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain (Serenity Publishers, LLC, 2009)
Nennius — The History of the Britons (Dodo Press, July 2007)
Pryor, Francis — Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons (HarperCollins Publisher, 2005)
Wood, Michael — In Search of the Dark Ages (BBC Books, 2005)
Wood, Michael — In Search of England (Penguin Books, 1999)

 

… and four hundred years later Byrhtnoth was killed, attempting to prevent the conquest of Britain (by then known as Englalond) by the Danes – some things never change!

Thank you, Mary Anne, for an interesting article.

If you want to find out more about the lives of the Du Lac family in these turbulent times, Book 4 of The Du Lac Chronicles, The Du Lac Prophecy is published today 28th August 2018.

Two Prophesies. Two Noble Households. One Throne.

Distrust and greed threaten to destroy the House of du Lac. Mordred Pendragon strengthens his hold on Brittany and the surrounding kingdoms while Alan, Mordred’s cousin, embarks on a desperate quest to find Arthur’s lost knights. Without the knights and the relics they hold in trust, they cannot defeat Arthur’s only son – but finding the knights is only half of the battle. Convincing them to fight on the side of the Du Lac’s, their sworn enemy, will not be easy.

If Alden, King of Cerniw, cannot bring unity there will be no need for Arthur’s knights. With Budic threatening to invade Alden’s Kingdom, Merton putting love before duty, and Garren disappearing to goodness knows where, what hope does Alden have? If Alden cannot get his House in order, Mordred will destroy them all.

You can find the book at:
Amazon US
https://www.amazon.com/Du-Lac-Prophecy-Book-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B07GDS3HPJ

Amazon UK
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07GDS3HPJ/

Amazon CA
https://www.amazon.ca/Du-Lac-Prophecy-Book-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B07GDS3HPJ/

And why not visit Mary Anne’s informative Website/Blog: : https://maryanneyarde.blogspot.com/

Finally, by the time you read this, the Historical Novel Society Conference in Scotland will be over. I hope to post a report of what happened there in the near future.

With Aethelflaed in Tamworth

I have never been to Tamworth before. I don’t know why, it’s only about 30 miles away, straight up Watling Street. Perhaps because I’ve never had a reason to go. This weekend, there was a very good reason, it was Aethelfest. This was a celebration of Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, who died in the town 1100 years ago, in 918.

I’m not sure why a town would celebrate the death of a famous visitor – not exactly good publicity. Although it can happen (Maldon, 991?).

So who was Aethelflaed? For anyone who has missed all the publicity, she was the daughter (and eldest child) of Alfred the Great and like him, she fought the Danes, driving them out of Mercia. She was not a Queen, because her husband, Aethelred (no, not that one!) was not a King. Who he was is a mystery and one of the subjects that was covered at the event, organised by Tamworth Literary Festival – Aethelflaed and Women’s Worlds: Reconstructing Early Women’s Voices.

Statue of Aethelflaed and the young King Athelstan by Tamworth Castle

I had seen this advertised some time before and had been attracted by the fact that two very good authors were taking part, both of whom have written about “my” period. Since it was held only a few days after my birthday, I knew I had to go.

I allowed plenty of time for the journey, and arrived an hour early, finding a car park right next to the venue. Plenty of time to have a look round the town. There were plenty of boards so I learned something of the history of the town and ended up at the castle. unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit but wandered round the Castle Grounds where there was an Anglo-Saxon encampment and the display of a colourful Aetheflaed mosaic.

Aethelfest Mosaic

Entrance to Tamworth Castle and floral Anglo-Saxon warrior

The Castle was Norman but Tamworth was important long before, as the capital of Mercia, home of King Penda and King Offa. It was sacked by the Danes in 874 and rebuilt  and fortified by Aethelflaed in 913. I would have liked to have spent more time exploring but I had to get back for the main attraction.

After an introduction by Dr Sara Read, the speaker was Annie Whitehead. Annie has written several books, one, “Alvar the Kingmaker”, actually includes a character I have written about – although from a vastly different viewpoint. Today she was talking about Aethelflaed, whose life she has written about in “To be a Queen”. She told us about Aethelflaed and how little information there is actually is about her. Was it because she was a successful woman in a man’s would, or was it for political reasons? The Kings of Wessex were eager to take over Mercia and when Aethelflaed died, leaving only a daughter to succeed her, she was quickly “rescued” by Aethflaed’s brother, King Edward and never seen again.

Annie has cleverly taken what is known and woven it into a plausible story, interpreting the facts to fit what might be what happened. I recommend her latest book “Cometh the Hour” about King Penda, an interesting view of a king who is usually the antagonist in other books set in this earlier, 7th century, period. It provides an explanation of the burial of the Staffordshire Hoard. Annie also has a non-fiction book coming out in September, “Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom“. I look forward to reading it.

The second speaker was treading on dangerous ground. Marianne Whiting is a Viking – or perhaps I should say a writer about Vikings. Born in Sweden, she was captured by a local while on a course at Birmingham University and has been held hostage ever since. She explained how the Vikings were not (just) the rapists and pillagers we know and love, but traders, merchants and innocent settlers. She described the difficulties of writing about writing in a time when beliefs and customs were very different from today. Should she leave out descriptions of animal sacrifice that might shock the modern reader? She doesn’t and her books, the Shieldmaiden Viking Trilogy are all the better for it. We are immersed in ordinary farming life of settlers in the English Lake District. Sigrid Kveldulfsdaughter is a shieldmaiden. She fights for her land, her family and her honour. Politics intervene, her uncle is Eirik Haraldson (Bloodaxe) sometime King of Jorvik over the period of the books. I had read the first two, “Shieldmaiden” and “To Save a Kingdom” and was particularly interested to buy the third “Honour is All” as it deals with the same period, and some of the same characters, that I am struggling with. I have read and finished it (which is why I didn’t write this blog yesterday) and it was everything I wished for, with a wonderful ending.

The third and final speaker was Dr Jennifer Evans talking about medical treatment of medieval women.  Her speciality is the Early Modern Period but she spoke to us about a little known woman called Trotula said to have been the first female professor of medicine in eleventh- or twelfth-century Salerno, who wrote a textbook on women’s medicine. This was a very amusing talk about some of the “cures” for various ailments, mostly of women but sometimes men. The main method of administration was by fumigation, which meant that the doctor didn’t need to look at or touch the woman at all.

The speakers were followed by questions and then a buffet lunch. There was plenty of time to chat and buy books.

Viking and Saxon in harmony. Marianne Whiting and Annie Whitehead signing books.

It was an entertaining and educational  event. I wish I had made more of an effort to investigate more of the whole Aethelfest experience, but it was just too hot. I retired to my air conditioned car and returned home, to read my books in the garden. Thanks to the authors for giving up their time and the Tamworth Literary Festival for organising it and of course Tamworth Borough Council for organising Aethelfest

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!