Does Size Matter? How Tall was Byrhtnoth?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone got a crowbar?

The Battle of Maldon, 11th August 991 AD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 – Saewynn

Today I am interviewing another of my characters. This time it is a woman, well a girl really, she’s only about 12 or 13 and very shy.

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

A : Why would you want to know about me? I’m not important.
All right, my name is Saewynn. I am a slave, servant to the Lady Elfflaed. Her sister is married to the King, so she’s very important. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather talk to her?

 

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

A : I’m in the same book as Byrhtnoth. Isn’t he wonderful? I fell in love with him the first time I saw him. Not that he noticed me, with my mistress making eyes him. No one else notices me and no one would dream of recording my life, so I suppose my author made me up

 

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

A : It’s all about Byrhtnoth of course. I’m just there to get rescued, then they dress me as a boy to protect me. That was fun – I think I could get used to that. Men have so much more fun than girls.

 

Q : How did your author meet up with you?

A : I’m just a minor character, but I think she felt sorry for me.

 

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 : Apart from Byrhtnoth, you mean? Well there’s Wulfstan, he’s nice, he looks after me when Byrhtnoth is busy doing noble deeds. I like riding his horse, he’s very clever – the horse that is – well Wulfstan is as well.

I don’t like Elfgar. That’s my mistress’s father, well I suppose he’s my master. He can do anything he wants, and he likes young girls. That’s why they dressed me as a boy. I’ve managed to stay out of his way so far.

 

Q : What is your favourite scene in the book?

A : That was the day Byrhtnoth rescued me. I tried to hide when the Vikings attacked and got stuck under a thorn tree. He came along and got me out. It was just me and him. When I remember him carrying me to safety, I go all shivery.

 

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

A : He went away. I don’t know why, something political I think. I don’t know whether I will ever see him again.

 

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

A : I’m glad she thinks about me. And the other women that live in my time. All those big violent men ignore us and what we have to do to survive.

 

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 more books yet but she says I might have a bigger part in the next one. Just as long as I can be with Byrhtnoth sometimes.

 

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 : My author says that most women don’t have much of a life in any other time or place, except where she lives. She says women there can dress like men if they want. And men can dress like women, although I don’t know why they’d want to. Byrhtnoth wouldn’t. I wouldn’t mind seeing him without his clothes though. Oh dear, I shouldn’t say that. Please don’t tell him. I think I’d better go now.

 

Thank you Saewynn.

 

 

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)

 

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.

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?