How I started to write.

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

 

 

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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)

 

Belated Memories of a Pirate – and other deaths.

Every year I remember the Eleventh of April. This year I forgot – well I remembered late in the day – too late to blog about it.

It is the anniversary of the death of John Madder, in 1705. He was a real person, but not a real pirate, that was the excuse they gave to kill him.

I remember him because of his name, which I used to share.
I remember him because of his tragic death, with its connections to the Union, or not, between England and Scotland.
And now I remember him as the person who started me writing. Read about that in a previous post. I could so easily have written my novel about him – perhaps, sometime, I will.

The reason I forgot to remember was because I was too busy remembering.

In another life, I am responsible for running a website remembering men who died in the First World War. We publish a biography of each man from our local war memorial on the centenary of his death (there are over four hundred). I don’t do it all myself, we have volunteers, although not as many as I’d like. But I am the coordinator. I read them through, checking for mistakes then publish them on the blog. Last weekend was the centenary of the Battle of Arras – the anniversary was in the news, mainly about the Canadians at Vimy Ridge. But from our town, in the centre of England, six men died on Sunday 9th April 1917, two more on Monday and another two yesterday. Those last two were in the same regiment, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. I have been reading the war diaries – they are not named, just included in the anonymous list of casualties.

Total casualties for the period 9th to 21st Incl.
Killed: 2 Officers,  43 Other Ranks (includes 10 died of wounds since)
Wounded and missing: 1 Officer, 0 Other Ranks
Wounded:  5 Officers,  173 Other Ranks
Missing: 0 Officers, 33 Other Ranks
Missing believed wounded: 0 Officers, 1 Other Ranks.

Most casualties were from enemy shelling as they assembled before the attack.

So many men, so many stories. Perhaps I should be writing about that period, I have learned so much about it. Many writers, better than me, have done just that.

I started thinking about Byrhtnoth. What would he think about the four year battle that was the First World War? The idea would excite him – he loves to fight. But the reality would shock him. For him, war is man to man, fighting in the shield wall. Not sheltering in a trench from overhead bombardment. We tend to think that the Dark Ages (or Early Middle Ages, as they are now called.) was a violent time. If you read some authors it was all battles! But the battles were short, afterwards the survivors went home, harvested their crops, had feasts and told stories round the hearth.

Our job, as writers, particularly of Historical Fiction, is an act of remembrance. We remember the men and woman, famous or invisible. We bring them alive, tell their stories, so they will be remembered.

So I will not say that this week I have done no writing. I have been writing biographies, in my own act of remembrance.

If you do not know the man (or woman), how can you remember him?

Interviewing a Character – Jack (a Pirate?)

For the letter J in my intermittent hijack of the AtoZ Challange,  I am not interviewing someone from my book, but a character who has been around a lot longer, although he is a few hundred years younger than Byrhtnoth.

 

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

A : Captain John Madder at your service, but you can call me Jack. I am first mate on the ship Worcester

 

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

A : Not sure where I am at present – I died yesterday. At least it was on the 11th April 1705 that they hanged me on the sands at Leith, between the high and low water mark. They said I was a pirate. I am/was a real person, reviled by history – at least in Scotland!

 

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

A : I feature in no novel but my author has written much about me; in journals and blogs and a few chapters of a sadly neglected book of non-fiction. We started a novel but were interrupted by that uncivilised boy with the unpronounceable name He’s nowhere around at the moment, is he?

 

Q : How did your author meet up with you?

A : We met in archives when she was researching family history. We share a name but, as far as I know we are not related

 

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 had a wife – and sons, but they died. I have a daughter, Isabella, but she will not long survive me. I hardly know her, I have been at sea so long. She, the sea, is who I love.

The worst man I know is Mr Roderick Mackenzie, secretary to the Scottish Company Not only did he bankrupt Scotland with that expedition to Darien (I’m told that place is now in Panama – I’ll say no more!) but he boarded our ship under false pretences and seized the crew. So who is the real pirate?

 

Q : What is your favourite scene in the book?

A : I remember a voyage to southern Spain. We sold a load of fish and bought a barrel of wine at Malaga. We drank the whole lot. At least I think I remember it.

 

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

A : That would have been my death. There were three of us; the Captain, the Gunner and me. They hanged me last, because they said I was a Scotsman. I was born there, but left as soon as I could – like most intelligent Scots!

 

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

A : She’s doing quite well at this writing lark, but it was me that got her started. We were doing quite well with that non-fiction book she planned to write. Then she insisted on trying fiction and while my back was turned that young lad jumped in and flattered her with talk of swords and battles – I could tell her few tales of battles…

 

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 : Just the blogs and things. I got a bit upset when she went off with that boy – she’s old enough to be his mother (I was going to say grandmother but then she’d abandon me all together!) I’m not that bothered. She’s only using him to “hone her craft” as she says, and then we’ll be together – she needs a proper man.

 

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 : Well, don’t tell anyone, but that’s what we’re planning. First she’s going to rescue me from the rope and then we’ll be off travelling – visiting relatives in time and space. Time travel meets genealogy; or Dr-Who-do you think you are? as she calls it.

 

Oh, and just for the record, I’m not a pirate – well not much!

Read more about Jack on my other blog https://maddergenealogist.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/remembering/