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?

 

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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!

 

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?

Interviewing my Character – Wulfstan

Today I am interviewing Wulfstan. He is a very important character, Byrhtnoth’s friend. I thought I had invented him, every hero needs a friend; a contrast, someone to talk to, to give advice, even to argue with. Byrhtnoth is tall, fair and a warrior. Wulfstan is small, dark and… what?

Preparing this I had one of those strange coincidences that I have encountered while writing the book. I knew that there were many people about in this period named Wulfstan  (It means wolf stone – a good solid name for a boy.) I knew that there was someone of the name, an Archbishop of York, who is buried near the remains of Byrhtnoth in Ely Cathedral. I looked him up.

This Wulfstan was consecrated Bishop of London in AD996. He became Bishop of Worcester and Archbishop of York – at the same time! He was famous for his writing and died in 1023. Nothing is known about his youth or his life before 996 – five years after Byrhtnoth’s death!  So did I invent him? Let’s see what MY Wulfstan has to say.

 

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

A : My name is Wulfstan, failed warrior, nearly monk. But more important, friend of Byrhtnoth

 

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

A : I live in the Monastery at Ely, where my friend was buried after the Battle of Maldon in AD991. My author thinks she created me – someone to tell the tale of Byrhtnoth. I have written two introductions for her, but I suspect she will discard them.

However she has allowed me access to the teachings of your time, a document written by scholars that she calls “wikipedia”. There is a Wulfstan listed there amongst the Bishops of London and Worcester and Archbishops of York. It is said that he was consecrated Bishop of London in AD996, so it seems I might have more work to do. That Wulfstan is buried at Ely. His bones lie close to those of Byrhtnoth, so perhaps…

 

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

A : If you have read the previous interviews, you will know our book is about Byrhtnoth. We meet, as children, on the very first page. He is bigger and braver than me and we become friends for life.

 

Q : How did your author meet up with you?

A : As I have said, she needed me. Every hero must have a friend, a sidekick, it is sometimes called.

 

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 : Like others I have no family. I had a sister once, when I was young, but she died. It was my fault she died. They say I could not be blamed but it haunts me still.

I have met many nasty people, but the first was a man called Egbert. He was there at the first; one of the group of boys. Later I beat him in a competition. I humiliated him, for which I am sorry, but it was fun at the time. He took revenge, I nearly died and things changed forever.

 

Q : What is your favourite scene in the book?

A : I suppose that must be the competition with Egbert. It was on horseback. I rode Sleipnir – and before you ask, he doesn’t have eight legs! Sleipnir is not a pretty horse, but very clever. We ran rings around that Egbert, and when his horse..     but I mustn’t say too much.

 

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

A : When I nearly died. I don’t remember much and I don’t want to.

 

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

A : She has stuck with us. We have all encouraged her to keep at it. I keep remembering events for her to write about. If there are any mistakes you can blame my erratic memory.

 

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 : I have started feeding her new ideas, so I hope there will be more books. After all, we have only got to AD 946 or is it 947? So long ago! Forty years or more until he dies.

 

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 : Such a difficult question. Byrhtnoth is happy in his own time, but I have always questioned thing, wanted to know more, about the past and the future, and foreign lands. Your time appears interesting – so much information, so much ease of travel. Perhaps my author will let me tag along with her occasionally, in exchange for my knowledge about my time, about my adventures with Byrhtnoth.

 

 

Remains interned in the 10th century Saxon church, reburied in the present Cathedraland moved several times. Byrhtnoth is on the far right and Wulfstan on the left.

Remains interned in the 10th century Saxon church at Ely, reburied in the present Cathedral and moved several times. Byrhtnoth is on the far right and Archbishop Wulfstan on the left.

Interviewing my Character

A couple of years ago, in 2016 I  read some interesting posts on Helen Hollick’s blog Let us Talk of Many Things

She interviewed characters from other writer’s books  – see the full list here

What an interesting idea this was. You can learn a lot from questioning your characters – putting them in an unusual situation or asking them to explain themselves. I decided to have a go.

I sat Byrhtnoth down with a horn of mead to get him relaxed, but everything got out of hand, so I abandoned the interview until the next day. This explains some of the grumpy responses.

 

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

A : My name is Byrhtnoth. I am a warrior – at least that is what I was trained for. I did something very bad. I don’t know what I am now.

 

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

A : At the moment I am living in a small village in the English fens, near Ely. It is the year 946 or thereabouts. I am a real historical person – my author says they wrote a poem about my glorious death in battle that is still sung by the scops in your time.

 

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

A : It’s all about me. My mother died when I was young, I don’t really remember her. I was sent to the King’s court to train as a warrior – that would be King Athelstan, grandson of King Alfred who you call “The Great”. I grew up with the other boys. Some became my friends. Others I thought were friends, are not. I am sixteen now, a man. I have killed Viking raiders and rescued women – the usual things warriors do. And I am searching for a sword – it belonged to my father. I need to discover if he still lives

 

Q : How did your author meet up with you?

A : I was very crafty. She had no idea what she was doing, searching for a subject to write about. I dropped her a few subtle hints and before she knew it, she was hooked.

 

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 : As I mentioned above, I am an orphan. No wife, not even a girlfriend, although there is this girl I really fancy.
My best friend is Wulfstan, we meet right at the start of the book. I have to look after him, he is smaller than me and nasty things happen to him – he’s much brighter than me, but don’t tell him I said so!
Elfhere was another boy in our gang. Very friendly to start with, but he changes. He’s a bit posh – he has relatives, unlike the rest of us. He is good at fighting, but not as good as me. I’m the best. You’ll have to wait until the end of the book to find out what happens to him.

 

Q : What is your favourite scene in the book?

A : That has to be the scene when I discover a relative. It’s good to have friends, but suddenly to find family, after thinking you are alone in the world…

 

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

A : I was alone and injured; lost in a dark forest. Death seemed certain. I don’t remember much about it, but I’m sure there were monsters in the darkness.
My author decided my life was too easy – she really laid on the misery!

 

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

A : She’s not bad for a woman. She does what I tell her to, even if she does think the ideas are hers. Sometimes she suspects I’m in charge, but I tell her how brilliant she is and she soon calms down.

 

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 : This is my author’s first book. She has started planning a second one about me, perhaps it will be a trilogy. I’m still young and apparently I have a long life before that glorious death. How many books has that Bernard Cornwall chap written about Uhtred? His character got onto television (whatever that is) as well. Uhtred is getting old – it’s time for a younger, better looking Anglo-Saxon warrior.
I sometimes catch my author thinking about someone else. A pirate called Jack (not that one!). He’s probably a Viking and we know what to do with those, don’t we?

 

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 : It would be interesting to go back and find out more about those Romans who left so many ruins scattered around the land. They must have been giants.
I think though that I’d better jump ahead eight hundred years and get rid of that pirate chap – don’t want him distracting my author.

If we’ve finished now, can you pass the mead?

 

Look out for interviews with some of my other characters. Perhaps even Jack!

(Not if I have anything to do with it! – Byrhtnoth)

 

Review – The Briton and the Dane

“Gwyneth walked towards the formidable Keep, nodding to the guards patrolling the wall-walk once she reached the top of the tower. She breathed in the sea air, admiring the beauty of the land as the sun disappeared below the horizon, mesmerized by the rich and colorful hues of the darkening sky. She was comforted by the melodious sound of breaking waves crashing against the rocky cliffs, which was a calming respite from the throes of a violent world.”

This is the start of  “The Briton and the Dane” by Mary Ann Bernal. I downloaded this book some time ago (June 2015, Amazon tells me.) I got 18% into the book, before giving up – it was so bad. Looking for something to review this week, I decided to give it another try. After all, Amazon’s reviews for this book average 9.5 stars. The reviewers rave over it. Was I missing something?

I pressed on to about 50% – My opinion hasn’t changed.

Let’s return to Gwyneth in her castle. Not a bad start, a bit dramatic, but you need to hook the reader. She sees a wounded stranger, wandering the beach. She rescues him, patches him up and “the sight of his bulging muscles caused her heart to beat faster” and she instantly falls in love with him. A bit quick but this is Historical Romance. Actually I would have liked a picture of the bulging muscles on the cover – it would have helped to relieve the tedium!

We meet Gwyneth’s family: her father Lord Richard, her brothers David and Stephen. Gwyneth does not know that her father has arranged a marriage to another man, she runs away, etc. There are other characters all in love with or married to the wrong man. There are political complications. The language is a type of cod medieval that I last heard in (very) old films. A phrase picked at random, during a fight to the death:

“Lord, please spare David,” Gwyneth silently prayed, “and end this fight before blood is spent!” (In fact, typing it out, I’m not sure what this means!)

None of this would necessarily put me off, except for one thing – Remember? I am writing a series of posts on the subject of Anglo-Saxons and (in this case Romance). This book is set in the reign of King Alfred. The bulging muscles belong to a Dane called Eric, but you would never have guessed from the other names, that they are Anglo-Saxon. These Norman names would not appear in England for more than two hundred years.

It is set shortly after King Guthrum’s defeat by Alfred and his conversion to Christianity. Lord Richard is the Lord of Wareham. Now I’m not sure if I’ve ever been to Wareham, I might well have passed through it on holidays in the area, but I am pretty sure there are was no Anglo-Saxon castle (with keep) on the cliffs there. In fact, there are no cliffs, rocky or otherwise. A quick check on Wikipedia would tell you that:

“The town is built on a strategic dry point between the River Frome and the River Piddle at the head of the Wareham Channel of Poole Harbour. The Frome Valley runs through an area of unresistant sand, clay and gravel rocks, and much of its valley has wide flood plains and marsh land. At its estuary the river has formed the wide shallow ria of Poole Harbour. Wareham is built on a low dry island between the marshy river plains.”

Yes, King Alfred built earth ramparts round the town and it was occupied by the Danes in 976. But sorry, no “formidable fortress sitting atop the rocky cliff”. There were no stone castles until the Normans built them 200 years later. Just a few ruined walls left by the Romans.

For me this book failed on every level. The plot is difficult to follow – people tell each other what is happening, repeatedly and there are unexpected flashbacks to explain what happened in the past. The setting was wrong and there was absolutely no sense that these characters were living in the ninth century.

As for Gwyneth and Eric, I have no wish to find out if they live happily ever after. I assume they do as the series continues for two more books, with what looks like a spin-off, plus a time slip novel. There are many, much better, books out there to read instead.

Despite, or perhaps because of, this, I wrote 6,541 words last week (with this post that means I’m over my weekly target of 7k!)

 

Review – Northman

“843 AD. A Viking raid on an Anglo-Saxon village in England sets into motion a train of events that results, 1200 years later, in the release of an eternal evil into the lives of two unsuspecting and damaged people: archaeologist Kate and ‘B’ movie film director, Michael.” 

Sounds a bit like last week’s blog post? It’s not, but there is a link. Having written a review of a book combining Anglo-Saxon and humour, why not continue the “Anglo-Saxon and …” theme? I decided on Horror – I fancied a bit of gore. I don’t know where I came across this book, Northman, by J D Hughes. It might have popped up in one of Amazon’s lists of recommended books. The description continues:
Then, their descent into absolute terror begins. Ultimate conflict. Ultimate sacrifice. But more is at stake than their lives, or their love. Are you ready for terror? Come on in. Thorkild is waiting for you.” – sounds good!

By coincidence, the story concerns a ninth century Viking in a burial mound, a female archaeologist and a male film maker, but it couldn’t be more different. It starts with the Viking Thorkild, sailing up the Trent for a bit of rape and pillage. This is particularly graphic violence, as is the revenge taken by the villagers – a mixture of British and Saxon.

The book turns to a series of mysterious events. A second world war German plane drops a bomb that doesn’t explode, until, years later, a tractor hits it. Planes inexplicably crash. A poacher apparently kills himself.

Kate, the archaeologist, who has arrived to investigate the Viking remains scattered by the explosion, is attacked. She is found by Michael, who has just finished a film. They are attracted to each other, but reject their feelings. They are both grieving for previous partners, dead or just estranged.  It was at this point I nearly gave up – the characters seemed unsympathetic, almost wooden and there was too much background detail. I wanted to get onto with what I thought was the story – the usual reincarnation of the historic characters/ghosts in modern people and the fight to destroy/lay to rest the dead Viking. (As told in several of the novels by Barbara Erskine and many others.) This is similar, but much more.

Kate and Michael meet again, unexpectedly, in Madrid, but are drawn back to England. Other characters appear, a Spanish translator, Kate’s elderly archaeologist boss, an RAF accident investigator. A flask of radioactive material heading for recycling splits on a ferry at Dover, causing multiple deaths. A museum attendant in Chicago is skinned alive and a woman in Madrid is decapitated. What is the connection?

Gradually everything comes together in a climax, or several climaxes. Things change depending on the point of view. This is what makes the whole book so terrifying. You think you understand the plot, but something happens and you are knocked backwards. The action jumps from place to place, from person to person and from the past to present and back again. The random acts of violence catch you unawares, the long expositions on men and women and the differences between them start to make sense, perhaps.

There is a lot of description, particularly of dark woods, of darkness in general, but even in the heat of Madrid, there is something uneasy in the brightly lit modern hotel.

It is the ideal horror book – enough plot to keep the brain busy, and that hint of menace to keep you looking over your shoulder.

I’m not going to give away the plot, but by the end, everything has changed, in unexpected ways. Only one person knows the truth, though – and the white horses!

The ebook, published in 2014 is only £1.49 and there is a more recent paperback for £10.99.

Mr Hughes has written another, similar book “And Soon the Song.” I have already purchased it. He has also written short stories details on his blog

So, where shall I go next in my “Anglo-Saxon and …” series? Romance perhaps? One of those books with a well muscled man on the front?

Or something else? Suggestions welcome, only please make it something short – I only managed to write 5,500 words last week.

And I really must get on with some Christmas shopping!