Where do you get your ideas?

With apologies to the Rugby Cafe Writers group, whose subject this was at their latest meeting, where do I get my ideas?

Writing historical fiction, I am constrained by what was actually happening in the period the book is set. The advantage of writing about the tenth century means that there is not a lot of known facts to contend with. In fact the plot outline is provided by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. Book three is set in the year A.D.948 and according to this source, these are the events:

Research – £2.99 from Oxfam according to the label.

A. D. 948. King Eadred ravaged all Northumbria, because they had taken Eric for their king.
In that ravaging the minster at Ripon was burnt down, that St. Wilferth had built.
When the king was going homewards, the force in York overcame the king’s troops left behind in Castleford, and there was much slaughter.
Then the king was so enraged that he wanted to turn back and destroy that land, and everything in it.
The Northumbrians perceived this and gave up Eric; they made amends for that deed with king Eadred.

This is quite a lot to work with. Apparently two years later, in A.D. 950 absolutely nothing happened!

How was Byrhtnoth involved in these events? Apart from (probably) being alive at the time, nothing is known. So in the tradition of most historical novelists, Bernard Cornwall and Uhtred, etc, I must put him in the heart of the action. For some reason, that I don’t remember, I started writing the second part of the book first, then went back to the start. I am nearing the end (or what will be the middle). This week Byrhtnoth arrived in Ripon.

I have never been to Ripon, so I consulted my other sources (Wikipedia and Google Maps). One important fact I discovered was the Minster, which was burnt down, was in fact built of stone – one of the first Anglo-Saxon buildings built of that material. How do you burn down a stone building? I had a lot of thinking to do: What did it look like? How was it furnished? How would I burn it – if I wanted to do such a thing. I think I came up with a reasonable solution. You will have to wait until the book is published, to find out how.

All I have to do now is describe how Byrhtnoth survives Eric Bloodaxe and the great slaughter of Castleford and the first draft will be finished.

I am now past 88k words and last week I wrote 7,709 – I’m on schedule!

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Titles, Covers and an Announcement!

The other day, I was wandering aimlessly around Amazon, when I made a search for Byrhtnoth – just checking out the competition. It was a great shock to find my own book there – my publisher must have omitted to tell me! Even more exciting was to find that it was available to Pre-order. It’s published on 28th January 2018, so there’s plenty of time, but just so you don’t forget (or if I forget to mention it again!) Why not pop along and order it here.

I had been thinking about doing a big Cover Reveal, but it’s a bit late for that now, so today I will tell the story about how I came up with the title, and the cover.

When I started writing, nearly five years ago, it was just “The Book”. It became “Byrhtnoth” and then, when I realised that it was the start of a series “Byrhtnoth 1”. I soon discovered that some people found Byrhtnoth difficult to pronounce. It is Britnoth, although I think to his contemporaries it would be something different. There is no point in writing a fantastic book if people can’t go into a shop and ask for it.

Byrhtnoth means something like bright courage – wonderful name for a hero, don’t you think? So perhaps the title could be Bright xxx. Since the book is about the search for a sword, what about Bright Sword? Like “Sharpe”, Bright has possibilities for an endless series of books. The book formerly known as Byrhtnoth II will be Bright Axe, because there is an axe in it, and a brief appearance by Eric Bloodaxe. I’m not sure what Byrhtnoth III will be – I haven’t (quite) started writing it. Is it wrong to think of a title and write the book to fit?

Have you noticed the banner at the top of this blog? That came next. I started this blog two years ago, together with a presence on Twitter and Facebook. I was starting to think about my “brand”. At the time Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics had a special offer on banners (3 for 2? – I can’t remember now) so I approached her and after some discussion we ended up with the above.

I like sunsets (or sunrises) and the sun fits the bright theme. The view is sufficiently anonymous, but in fact is the Somerset levels, where part of the book takes place. We had a lot of problems finding a sword. I was very particular – it had to be the right era, so I couldn’t use something from the Staffordshire Hoard or Sutton Hoo with all the garnets, and there was a distinct lack of stock images of 10th century swords available. I also give a description of the sword in the book. The one you see was not the one I had imagined, but it was the best we could find. Perhaps we would find something better for the book cover. The background and font were ideal for that.

Obviously, I went back to Cathy when I needed a cover. Knowing it would be difficult to find a sword, we tried other things. A picture of Byrhtnoth? But what did he look like? Against the light a silhouette might be better. One figure – standing or fighting? Two figures fighting? Once again the choice was restricted to what was available and there was nothing I really liked. Have you noticed that you keep seeing the same figure (and sword) on different book covers?

So, it was back to the sword. Gradually we got something close to what I wanted. Four different swords went into that final image! After a while it became “my” sword. The wording was soon sorted – I had added “The Byrhtnoth Chronicles Book I” by then.

The final cover – or was it?

I sat back. That was one thing settled. People who I showed it to, thought it worked. I also made sure that I have not described the axe in Book 2 – the cover will get whatever looks best!

I was expecting to self-publish, one of the advantages of that is you can choose your own cover. When a publisher came along, I told them I already had a cover – told them several time actually. Finally they said they would do their own cover. I was devastated – that was what my book looked like. Eventually I forced designer and publisher together and they came up with something different. I took a deep breath before I looked at it. It was the same cover. I had to study the two versions carefully to spot the difference.

Second version of cover.

There are three differences (I think) but why were they made?

The first is the typeface of the writing at the top. In the second version it now matches my name at the bottom. Lesson: limit the number of different fonts, or it looks messy.

Next is that the sword passes through the letter O. This now ties the images together. Lesson: Don’t have images floating randomly in space.

Finally, the main title has been lifted off the horizon. It took me some to work out this change. Eventually, I noticed that, when viewed from a distance, the title stands out more. Lesson: Designers may know how to design, but publishers know what sells.

I only hope the contents are as good as the cover.

One final thing. Have a look at that banner again. Isn’t that sword nestling in fur? Is it a wolf skin? Did it belong to Byrhtnoth? Where did it come from? At the time I was looking for inspiration for Book 2.  It now has wolves!

Eric Bloodaxe and wolves – it’s looking good! But that will be another book.