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.

How do you pronounce that?

My lack of planning has caused me a lot of problems during the writing of my book. One of the most difficult has been the name of my protagonist, which is also the name of this blog, and my Twitter  and Facebook names. It was to be the name of the book – until I discovered a problem.

Nobody knows how to pronounce it – and that includes me!

Why did I pick on Byrhtnoth? Why not any of the other versions of his name? To be honest, I don’t really remember. Perhaps I thought it more “authentic” than the more common Britnoth. More likely, it was easier to grab a unique name for the blog etc.

ANNAL 991 IN MS D OF THE ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE. © THE BRITISH LIBRARY, COTTON TIBERIUS B.IV, FOL. 33V

There are several different ways of writing the name – here is how it was written in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The crossed d is an Old English letter called Eth and is the equivalent of th. Don’t ask me about the other letters!

Byrhtnoth’s Memorial in Ely Chathedral.

 

 

 

In Latin, inscribed on his memorial in Ely Cathedral it is Brithnothus.

J. R. R. Tolkien wrote a play called The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, describing the aftermath of the Battle of Maldon, so we know that he thought it should be written Beorhtnoth.

Britnoth, Byrhtnoth, Beorhtnoth and probably several others. Really, it doesn’t matter how you write it, as long as you know how to pronounce it. That is the problem. Since Britnoth seems to be the usual “modern” spelling, I assumed that was how it should be pronounced. So when anyone looked at my version, tried to read it and ask “How do you pronounce it?” I tell them Brit-noth.

The name itself Byrhtnoth means something like bright courage, so should it be Brite-noth? At least this gave me a new name for the book – Bright something, and since it is about a search for a sword, it became Bright Sword (after checking that there wasn’t another book of that name – surprisingly there wasn’t.) As the book became a series, I can use it for Bright Axe, Bright anything!

While we’re here, have a look at that word “Bright”. If you hadn’t come across it before, probably at school singing “All things Bright and Beautiful” wouldn’t you stumble over how to pronounce it?

Returning to my problem. My book is nearly published – less than a week to go!

Sooner or later, I will be asked to read something from it. Can I get away with a piece that doesn’t mention my protagonist’s name? After all it is written in the first person. No, sooner or later I am going to have to face up to it, I will have to stand up and say “His name is – What?

I have asked people I would have expected to know, they declined to commit. I can find nothing on the internet to tell me.

But wait. The Battle of Maldon is a poem – a famous poem. There must be a recording of someone reading it. There are several.

See here for a reading of Byrhtnoth’s speech. You can compare the Old English words with the modern version and hear the words. “Byrhtnoth” is the first word spoken , so you may have to replay it several times to hear how it is pronounced.

Here, is another, more dramatic rendition, with subtitles so you can follow the words. I find it fascinating that in places the words are so similar, you can almost understand it, the next sentence is incomprehensible.

What conclusion have I come to? I think the correct pronunciation should be something like Birrt-noth. This fits the old versions, but not the modern Britnoth. Why? Is it something to do with the Great Vowell Shift, when there were big changes in the pronunciation of the English language between 1350 and the 1600s and 1700s. See here for more information – I don’t know enough to explain it!

What do I do now? Change my version of his name? Could you, having known someone intimately for five years, suddenly call them something different? Or do I stick with what I know and risk being told I’m wrong?

Please, if anyone knows the correct version, tell me, before it’s too late!

In other news, the cold I started last week didn’t develop into anything serious, but at least it gave me a bit of spare time to write. I managed 5,429 words last week.

I will be blogging more this week, every day, up to publication day – 28th January.

I will start later today with an interview with Byrhtnoth – however you pronounce it!