Extract from Bright Sword

Today, it is exactly one month to the publication of my debut novel “Bright Sword”.

Am I getting excited? A bit, but I still can’t believe it.

To prove to myself that it is actually happening, I am releasing a short extract for you to read, to whet your appetite.

This piece comes from the start of the book, from the very first chapter, in fact.

Byrhtnoth has arrived at the King’s hall. It is winter, there is a feast, perhaps Christmas. He is seven years old.

 

Inside, the blast of noise almost knocked us backwards. So many voices shouting at the same time, like a battle was taking place. I felt my new friend’s hand tighten in mine.

            “At least it’s warm,” I said. After the cold outside it was almost too hot. The thick smoky heat carried with it the smell of many bodies, dirty straw and spilt ale. Best of all was the smell of food; the wonderful smell of roasting meat.

            Long boards stretched either side of the hall with warriors seated at them. Nearest were young men, clad in shades of brown or grey with only a glimpse here and there of more colourful embroidery. Further away were the older men, wealthy thegns, with richer clothes. So many colours, like a summer meadow. The bands of embroidery were wider and more intricate. Gold rings flashed as arms moved, and jewels glinted from knife hilts. Everyone was shouting, mostly in good-humour; toasts and bragging, snatches of drinking songs. There were arguments, which never quite developed into fights. Someone would pull the men apart and pour more ale from the large jugs scattered liberally along the boards.

            The far end of the hall was invisible. Hidden by the smoke of the fire pits; not just one hearth that you might find in an ordinary hall, but a whole line of them. Over every one a carcass roasted or a cauldron bubbled. Servants carved slabs of meat from the great roasts, cleverly avoiding the flames leaping up from the fires. Others rushed around with plates of meat or baskets full of warm crusty bread.

            Someone thrust some meat into my hand before dashing elsewhere. It was golden brown and crispy on the outside, still slightly bloody inside. I had never held so much meat in my hands. Before anyone could change their mind, I tore off a piece and handed it to my companion. He ripped at it like a half starved dog, gulping it down in chunks. I bit into the fragrant meat, the fat running down my chin. I had never tasted anything so delicious before.

            I was licking the last of the juices from my fingers when the door opened again. It was the man who had let us in.

            “You two still here? Someone’s given you something to eat?”

            I nodded; fearful we had done something wrong.

            “Come with me. I’m Oswald, you’ll be seeing a lot more of me.”

            Close to the door sat two men. They waved us on when they saw we had no weapons to hand in. Behind them was a vast collection. Knives and sharp seaxes lay neatly on a bench, some sheathed, others gleaming in naked menace. In the corner stood axes, firelight glinting from the vicious blades. Bundles of spears like sheaves of corn leaned against the wall. Then I saw the swords. I stopped and stared. They hung from hooks, some marked by the badge of their owner, sheathed in scabbards of different lengths, some plain leather; many dyed glorious colours and inlaid with gold, silver or decorated with precious jewels. The sword hilts rose proudly from the scabbards, matching them in decoration. Some were new, highly polished, crying out their owner’s status. Others were old, handed down through some great family, pommels worn smooth by the hands of generations of warriors. Automatically my hand fell to the small plain knife that hung from my belt.

            “Don’t worry. Eating knives are allowed.” One of the guards smiled at me.

           I hung my head and hurried away.

           “You’ll have a sword one day,” he shouted after me. I looked back. His grin broadened and he nodded before giving me a wave. As I followed Oswald along the side of the hall, I felt a sudden thrill. A sword. Could I ever earn a sword of my own? Had my father, whoever he was, owned a sword?

 

 

I’m sorry there isn’t more. For that you will have to wait until January 28th.

Bright Sword is the first book of the Byrhtnoth Chronicles.

Publisher: Book Guild Publishing Ltd

ISBN: 978-1912083404

The paperback can be pre-ordered here and through other outlets.

It will also be available as an ebook.

I hope you will enjoy it.

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Back to work, but is it too late?

With a sigh of relief, I am writing again. When I returned to Byrhtnoth 2 (first draft) I realised that I had abandoned it for four weeks.

There was no problem, it was planned. There was editing to do, a blurb to be written (still a work in progress!), chocolate eggs to be eaten, and a lot of thinking to do. Too much thinking – I am beginning to get ideas for book three, but I must resist the muse’s call and get book two finished first. At least I had left my protagonist in a comfortable position – too comfortable, but I have thrown a bucket of cold water over him and got him going again.

I warmed up on Thursday, with the first writing class of this term. Well, not actually at the class – when given an exercise, my mind went blank. But later, when I got home. I wrote about 600 words on the subject of foreshadowing. I cheated – I started book 3! I’m not sure what I was foreshadowing, because I don’t yet know what is going to happen, but it’s not looking good for a major character. I wonder who it will be?

The best type of foreshadowing is quite unintentional. Sometimes I write something, some minor detail, something to fill the gap between one scene and the next. Later, it might be a few pages further on, or half the book, something happens and you say “Oh, that’s why I wrote that bit earlier.” Is it my brain being particularly clever or is someone else in control? Perhaps I’ll write more on that another time.

Having got my hand in, I managed 1175 words on Friday and 1318 on Saturday. I am back on schedule. I have Sunday under my belt and so long as on-one drags me out to “Do something because it’s a bank holiday today” I will write more this afternoon.

It’s May Day – let’s go dancing!

The enforced break has made me think about why I write. I have heard all about these writers who started scribbling in the pram; they always keep a note-book handy to write down ideas and have a cupboard full of half completed manuscripts. That’s not me. I started four years ago and I could stop tomorrow – couldn’t I?

I found myself saying something strange, last week at the self-publishing conference (report here). “Sometimes I wish I hadn’t started writing.” Sacrilege at an event like that, but what did I mean? I have got into the habit of writing regularly. When I stopped I felt ill for a couple of days; sick, shivery, unable to settle, almost as if I was suffering withdrawal symptoms. It was probably a coincidence, a passing cold.

I remember, back in the days when I helped run a Family History class, one of the first things we taught our students was: Be very careful, researching your ancestors can be addictive. I know, I have experienced that addiction for many years, I never thought I could  escape it. But now? Yes, I still get that thrill, when I am on the trail of some long-lost ancestor, but sometimes, just occasionally, when trawling through some list of names or ancient document, I pause, this is boring, what is Byrhtnoth, or some other character doing?

Have I exchanged one addiction for another?

Am I beyond help? I recently woke in the middle of the night and scrabbled round for a piece of paper, to write down a few words. Soon I’ll be doing it in broad daylight!

Help me! My name is Christine and I am a writer-holic.

 

 

 

A Proper Writer?

I am starting to feel like a proper writer. This week was a milestone. Another writer – a proper author, with a proper publisher, contacted me to ask if I would like an advance review copy of his new novella. I mentioned, last week, that I found it convenient to read shorter books to fit in the writing. It was a book that I wanted to read and had already ordered, so of course I said yes.

I have not found time to look at it yet, but look out for my review in a few days. Of course if it’s a load of rubbish, I won’t mention it again. But I’m sure it won’t be.

We had a hard disc failure this week which delayed things. Not the main computer, but an external drive where I keep copies of all my photographs. Luckily everything was backed up elsewhere, but there was a lot of installing a new drive and copying everything back. Not my job, apart from checking everything was back to normal, but it still took up time. No writing was lost!

Another reason for thinking myself a writer, is the fact that the writing is spilling over into real life. Or perhaps my inability to keep it in its place is a sign that I am not a proper writer. Yesterday afternoon I was writing, trying to reach this week’s target. I had to stop to watch the rugby. I hadn’t bothered with the Italy/Ireland match – who would? (Apologies to any Irish or Italian readers) but I had to see the Wales/England match. As I watched, my mind got distracted with what I should have been writing. I was imagining Byrhtnoth swinging an axe, about to kill a really nasty character, when I realised a man in a white shirt was hurtling towards the try line. I shouted. I shouted very loudly. My husband was nearly blown off the sofa! I don’t know where it came from – Byrhtnoth I suppose – he would be an England supporter. Anyway, with his help England beat the nasty little Welsh. (whoops just lost my Welsh readers.)

On this subject, rugby, not the Welsh, I find it useful for finding inspiration for battles. Surely a rugby scrum is the nearest you can get to an Anglo-Saxon shield wall? It also helps with characters. I know what Byrhtnoth looks like. For a long time I searched for a man I could point to and say – that is him – the actor that would play him in the film version, whatever.

I found him on the rugby pitch. Unfortunately he plays for Scotland – not too bad – I support them if they are not playing England.

Richie Gray is the right height (6ft 9in), his hair is bleached rather than natural blond and his eyes, as far as I can tell are not blue, but he has the right physical look.

I’d better go now, the match is about to start.

Finally, word count this week: 5,836 plus 1004 exercise makes 6,840. Not quite 7,000 but near enough.

 

I’m back!

The dust lies thick on every surface, the drooping house plants beg for water and the pile of unread newspapers has become a menace to aviation. The tumbleweed has rolled unchecked across the wastes of this blog.

Yes, I have been re-writing and I have finished – well nearly finished.

It was back in October, the 18th to be precise, that I debated whether to re-write the book, or not. The one thing I knew wouldn’t work was to make Byrhtnoth the narrator.

Guess what – he is!

I realised that I am the writer, I refused to be bullied. I would decide who is going to do what in my book. So I sat him down – he is considerably taller than me, twisted his arm – and told him to have a go.

It didn’t start well, that troublesome first chapter is still being re-written, but he soon got into the swing of it.

The first thing I discovered is that he is much stricter than me. Whole scenes were cut because they were holding up the story, conversations were truncated and my darlings were massacred all over the place.

Since he is telling the story, there is a bit more telling and less showing. Instead of someone, usually Wulfstan, watching how his friend reacts to something, Byrhtnoth tells us himself – and he isn’t always aware of how he appears to others. The book has lost something, but, I hope, gained in other ways.

I didn’t start writing from scratch. I took a few sentences at a time and changed “He” to “I”, “His” to “My” etc. I think it was this concentration on every word that helped me spot errors. It also made conversations easier to write. “I said this”, “He said that” meant less use of names to differentiate which “him” was talking.

Obviously I did not take part in NaNoWriMo; I had already started the re-write before November began, but used the end of the month as a target. I thought I wouldn’t make it, but at 5 pm last Wednesday, 30th November, I came to the end.

It had been hard. There was one Saturday, I don’t remember which, when I emerged and literally didn’t know what day it was!

There is still more to do. I must go through checking that I haven’t missed any of those “He”s and “Him”s. Then its off to the beta readers (more wanted, if anyone’s interested), and a professional edit. I have even set a date for publication – sometime next year, or the year after – you don’t think I’m going to tell anyone until it’s fixed?

Meanwhile, I have watered the plants, read the paper – the dust can wait. I might even post a few book reviews.

And did someone say Christmas is getting close?

Mead and Poetry

I’m sure you have been wondering how my mead making is getting on, thanks for asking. Here is a quick update.

It had stopped bubbling and started to settle. It’s not completely clear, it may clear in time or it may not, but it was time to rack it. This means I had to siphon off the liquid from the dregs.

This is one of the best parts of the process. To get the wine flowing from one container to another, I had to suck it through. I’m sure there are other ways to do it, but this gives me my first opportunity to taste it. A good rule of thumb is: if I don’t immediately spit it out, its OK.

I can report that I didn’t spit it out! It tasted quite dry, which is a good sign. It means that the sugar from the pears and all that honey has turned to alcohol – the main purpose of the exercise. The taste will improve with age and it might need racking again.

Mead ready for racking

Mead ready for racking

 

It has turned a beautiful colour, a pinkish gold. It is similar to the yellow of the autumn leaves that are everywhere at the moment.

The Anglo-Saxons had a word for his special colour. It is fealo or fallow, the shade of autumn leaves, gold weapons and turbulent winter waves. It also gives its name to the Fallow Deer.

For more about the word see this wonderful post by Eleanor Parker ( @ClerkofOxford ). It includes translations of texts about Anglo-Saxon Autumns, including one of my favourite lines:

Beam sceal on eorðan
leafum liþan; leomu gnornian.

A tree on the earth must
lose its leaves; the branches mourn.

It says everything there is to say about Autumn.

While writing this, a memory nagged at me. I went and checked the original text of the Battle of Maldon (together with a translation – I wish I could read Old English, but I think I am too old to learn it now.)

Here is the original:

Feoll þa to foldan fealohilte swurd
ne mihte he gehealdan heardne mece,
wæpnes wealdan.

It comes in the final moments of Byrhtnoth’s life. He draws his sword, but is injured and:

Fell then to earth the fallow-hilted sword,
Nor could he hold the hard brand
Or wield his weapon.

It is the same word, fealo.

The colour of my mead, the colour of the autumn leaves that have been so spectacular this year, and the colour of Byrjtnoth’s sword hilt, at the moment that he fell.

Never let anyone tell you that this was the Dark Ages. It was full of Colour and Poetry.

And mourning for the end of life.

The Garden in Autumn.

The Garden in Autumn.

The best it can be?

I am thinking about re-writing my book.

Why on earth am I thinking of something so drastic? I don’t want to do it, but aren’t we told to make our work the best it can be?

For a long time I have been worrying about the start. I have written before on whether to have a prologue or not, and if so what it should be. I eventually decided to ditch the prologue and as I had received favourable remarks about the start, it remained. Not untouched, it had gone through my editing with slight changes, but essentially it remained the same piece of writing that came from an exercise in class nearly four years ago. This is a long time ago and I think (hope) that my writing has improved since then.

When submitting to agents, publishers etc. You have to send the first chapter/1000 words/3000 words etc plus synopsis. I had thought the first chapter was OK, but had the feeling it wasn’t as good as “that scene later on, when…”

The book is written in the third person from the protagonist’s (Byrhtnoth) point of view, except for occasions when he is not around.

Recently I was lying in bed, worrying about that first chapter and thought “Why not try it in the first person?”. In the next writing class we were talking about opposites and the homework was to write a scene about two characters showing the differences between them. The two ideas clashed and fused. I rewrote the first scene in the book in the first person, but it wasn’t from Byrhtnoth’s POV, it was Wulfstan’s, his friend. The scene is the first time they meet. I had used Wulfstan in the prologues, looking back and saying he was going to write the story of Byrhtnoth – now he was telling it!

It was easy to write and I enjoyed it. I don’t like to brag, but it was good. I could carry on and write the whole of the first chapter in his voice. The second chapter would have to be completely rewritten, difficult but possible. But what happens then?

The plot divides, Byrhtnoth and Wulfstan part, taking different paths. They meet later and separate again. In fact for a lot of the book, Byrhtnoth is on his own. You might say, why not make Byrhtnoth the narrator? It wouldn’t work, I don’t know why, but Byrhtnoth doesn’t look back – he acts. Wulfstan remembers and writes it down.

What do I do?

I could use my new piece (500 words) which take place outside a door and continue with the original chapter in  third person – through the door.
Write the whole first chapter (3k+ words – it has been three shorter chapters!) in first person. The main characters are aged 7.
The second chapter is five years later, more action and Byrhtnoth soon leaves. It really needs to be third person. Should I add a first person intro? But then would have to continue throughout the book. Would it interrupt the action?

We were talking about NaNoWriMo at class last week, I said I might use it to re-write the book from scratch in first person. I don’t know if I could do it. It would be a completely different book, perhaps better, perhaps a waste of time.

Perhaps I should just wait for some feedback from my Beta Readers!

I think writing this post is helping me to clarify things, although I would welcome comments.

Interviewing my Character – Wulfstan

We have reached the final straight of the AtoZ April Challenge. I am glad that I am not taking part in the full event , I am not sure how some bloggers manage it.

I have been particularly impressed with Helen Hollick’s interviews with other authors’ characters (so much I borrowed her format). Sometimes getting other people to write something is worse than doing it yourself. It has introduced me many interesting characters (and authors).

Today the challenge has reached the letter W and 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.