Looking Back – A review of 2017

So much has happened this year. I started with one book written and a second started. I ended the year awaiting the publication of the first book, Bright Sword, in four weeks time. The second, Bright Axe (probably) is with beta readers and a third, yet to be named in progress. How did all this happen?

By January, I had received my first feedback for Bright Sword. The book was OK but contained lots of errors. I knew it needed a professional edit and made arrangements.

This was also when I decided to become more organised. I worked out how many words I needed to write – I settled on a thousand a day, which worked out at 7K a week. I announced it on this blog. Although I haven’t often reached the target, it encouraged me to sit down regularly, whether I wanted to write or not. I have created a routine: after lunch I go upstairs to the old computer in the spare room, and write, sometimes an hour, sometimes I continue into the evening (with breaks for tea.)

In February, I seem to have done nothing much except write, and start to think about publication. I was planning on self publishing – When? How could I do it? There was one landmark this month, another author asked me to write a preview of his book, before publication. This was Kin of Cain, a short book (100 pages) by Matthew Harffy. This was an easy job, it was so good; better, if that is possible, than his other books in the Bernicia Chronicles series. Read my preview here.

March was spent worrying about how many corrections I would receive from my editor.

At the beginning of April I got the manuscript back. Not too bad, but my punctuation appeared to be even worse than I thought. There was a bit of discussion about one of the characters and in the end I added a couple more scenes – only about a hundred words or so. At the end of that month, I attended the Self Publishing Conference, to make  a final decision about which avenue to take. There are so many different options nowadays, that I ended up more confused than ever. Someone suggested The Book Guild. You don’t need an agent, or to prepare a synopsis (although I had one). Just send your complete manuscript and they might offer one of several options. I had nothing to lose.

In May, as I struggled with the ending of book two, a bombshell struck. A (very) famous author, Conn Iggulden had published a book set in exactly the same period I was writing (mid tenth century). It was about Dunstan, who appears, briefly, in my book. What could I do? I read the book and wrote a review. I didn’t think much of it, although other people raved over it. Was I jealous? Perhaps, but I’ve put it behind me now.

At the start of June I heard back from the publisher. They wanted to publish my book. They offered me a partnership deal, which I accepted. I was on my way!

It was in June that I finished the first draft of book two (104,542 words) and started editing. I also went on holiday – an archaeological tour of Orkney and Shetland. It was somewhere I had wanted to go for a long time, and since it was our 40th wedding anniversary this year, I managed to persuade my husband that he would survive the ferry journey. Luckily the sea was calm and the weather beautiful. I learned a lot about pre-history and Vikings, but there was not much about Anglo-Saxons. I took lots of photos which can be found on a series of posts, starting here.

Coppergate Helmet, modelled by the author.

One the way back we stopped for a couple of days in Yorkshire. A bit of research and a trip to the Jorvik exhibition in York. More Vikings, but at least I got to try on an Anglo-Saxon helmet. It was a bit too big for me! Another day, on a walk near Wharrem Percy deserted village I was inspired by wind blowing across a field of grain. By the time we  returned to our hotel I had the plot for book three. (And that is all I’m going to say about it!)

In July, we headed north again. This time to Lindisfarne. We had booked a day’s archaeology at the Digventures site, searching for the remains of the original Anglo-Saxon monastery. Unfortunately it was very wet. We only got an hour in the trench and an afternoon cleaning pieces of bone, but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. There was also a little time to explore the area for book two research (and perhaps book four!!)

At the end of August, proofs arrived. A whole new experience. It was at this, rather late, point that I discovered that I had been let down by my editor. All those punctuation mistakes that had been pointed out, were not mine. Most of them had been OK and I had “corrected” them to something wrong. Details here. It was nearly a disaster. It was a big job to rewrite the book and search for other errors at the same time. There were several runs though and gradually I signed off on the final half dozen errors. I never wanted to see that book again!

September was busy, writing reviews of books, finding people to review mine. I volunteered to review Viking Fire by Justin Hill. A great book  reminiscent of Dorothy Dunnett.  I had reviewed her book, King Hereafter, in July but in September was noticed by the fanatics (in the nicest possible way) of the Dorothy Dunnett Society, making it my most popular post this year, at 168 views.

It was also September when I found Bright Sword was listed on Amazon. I thinks it was at that point that I knew it was really happening.

In October, author G K Holloway approached me out of the blue to review his book, 1066 , What Fates Impose He has since reviewed mine and beta read book two – it’s better than Bright Sword apparently.

It was in November, with Bright Sword on track and book two on pause, I started book three. It is causing a few problems, which I’ll talk about another time, but I have written just over 30k words.

With preparing for Christmas, setting up launch events, etc and writing; book and blog posts, I have been busy.

I have taken a week off for Christmas, read a few books, and now stand on the edge of a new year. Where will I be this time next year? I’ll write a few thoughts about that tomorrow – if I am in a fit state.

Writing update for the year: I have written about 118K words of historical fiction. Words deleted and edited – unknown, but a lot.

I have written 53 blog posts – more than one per week. Say an average of one thousand (this is 1166) makes 53K.

Total 171K. No wonder I’m feeling tired!

Thank you to everyone who has helped/supported/encouraged me during this amazing year.

In 2018, may you finish/publish/sell your own books – and if you don’t write; read and add a review to someone else’s.

Just so long as it’s called Bright Sword!






Review – 1066, What Fates Impose

This book, by G. K. Holloway, tells the story of the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings. After a grisly account of the death of King William in 1087, it returns to the beginning, to 1045 and the marriage of King Edward (later called The Confessor). After many years of Danish rule, England has a king from the house of Wessex, but is Edward the right man for the job? His mother is Norman, he has spent most of his life in exile in France. It is on his wedding night that he makes the fateful decision not to provide an heir.

His wife is Edith, daughter of Godwin, Earl of Wessex. Godwin and his sons are the most powerful family in the country; they are feared and hated by other Earls and the King himself. They try to wield power fairly, for the most part. Years pass and Godwin, together with his sons are unjustly exiled but return, more powerful than before.

The lack of an heir to the throne creates unrest, as various factions jockey for position. Someone suggests to William, Duke of Normandy that he has a claim, however remote. He likes the idea and from that moment England’s fate is sealed.

This is a long book, well over 400 pages, and the author knows his subject. He has obviously done a lot of research, explaining the politics of the day as well as including vivid descriptions of everyday life. The reader soon learn of the differences between life in England and France. The reader is forced to stand by, knowing what is to come, but unable, like the participants themselves, to do anything to prevent it.

Personally, I would have liked slightly less detail. A little judicial editing would have slimmed down the book and given the characters room to breath. For example we don’t really know why King Edward behaves as he does. Does he really believe “God will provide” or does he want to destroy England? Perhaps he is just inept – he was, after all, the son of Æthelred the Unready.

William of Normandy knows exactly what he wants. He tells us towards the end of the book, on the morning of the battle:
it’s a question of will. You simply decide what you want and then you grasp it with all your determination. You do not flinch; you do not allow yourself to be distracted. You disregard criticism, you dispose of enemies and discard those who call themselves your friend but simply get in your way.” And he believes God is on his side.

Other characters  are less sharply drawn. Even Harold Godwinsson is unable to prevent William forcing him to take the vow that causes him such problems.

But perhaps this is intentional. It heightens the sense of the inevitable, that nothing can stop what the fates impose – the downfall of England and the horrors which will follow under Norman rule.

Although long, the book is easy to read and if you are interested in the history of what lead up to the Battle of Hastings, you couldn’t find a better account.


Note: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.