The Signing of Books

After the excitement of Publication Day, I am into the world of promoting my book. How successful it has been is impossible to know. I try not to look at the graph on Amazon’s Author Central page too often. It’s a bit depressing as I have sunk from a peak of 39,496th out of the 6,000,000 books for sale, to 413,662nd today. The peak was 29th January, the day after publication, when all my friends and relatives bought it – thank you everyone! Apparently no-one has bought the Ebook version at all – yet.

Monday was a normal day. As if nothing had happened, I was back to writing – although this time it was an article for a local history book that will be published soon. I have also been proof reading and formatting that.

On Tuesday I was told by my publisher, that something I had written was published in a (online) magazine.  I had been asked to write, “10 Tips For Turning A Historical Figure Into Historical Fiction”, only the week before. You can read it here, if you can find it among the adverts. I suppose it is the sort of thing writers have to do.

Anglo-Saxon feast and books for signing

Nothing much on Wednesday, but on Thursday it was the writing class. When one of us publishes a book we usually have cake. Someone had said that it was too soon after Christmas for cake (is there really a time when people don’t want cake?), but I had already had another idea. My book is about Anglo-Saxons, I have mead! So at the break I brought out my mead and my horn, plus small plastic tasting cups, because passing round a mead horn for everyone to drink from is not very hygienic. How those Anglo-Saxons survived without modern Health and Safety rules is beyond me. I also had food: salted meat (beef and ham – left over from Christmas), cheese and bread. I explained how there would not be much food left at this time of year, most animals would have been killed in the autumn and salted. The bread didn’t contain salt, because butter and cheese would also be heavily salted to preserve it. I used the recipe on this website. It tasted better than it looked! I also signed my first book (apart from those I’d done for family). There would have been others, but Amazon had not delivered!

On Friday there was a meeting of Cafe Writers. I sold and signed another book – the first real money in my hand!

The main event was planned for Saturday – the official book signing at the local bookshop.

I had prepared. I got a piece published in the local newspaper – they got a detail wrong, but not about the book. I had put up posters, and talked about it on Facebook and Twitter. I mentioned it to everyone I knew, a lot said they would come.

I had even ordered warriors from re-enactment group Ardenweard, a Dark Ages re-enactment group affiliated with The Vikings.  I had one Anglo-Saxon and one Viking. I hoped they would have a fight, but apparently that’s against the rules. They were very friendly, talking to customers and offering samples of my mead – now officially approved by Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and the residents of Rugby.

Warriors guarding books.

There was just one thing that I couldn’t control – the weather! It was cold and windy, with showers of sleety rain. Rugby High Street was practically deserted. My warriors did their best, standing outside until their feet froze. Apparently genuine Anglo-Saxon shoes are not very warm – not new ones, anyway. A few people turned up and bought books, which I signed, but not as many as I expected. At least I had plenty of time to hold swords, try on helmets, and learn more about Anglo-Saxons (and Vikings).

I will be attending another event next Saturday, a meeting of the Rugby Archaeology Society. There will be a talk by author Richard Denning about Life in Anglo-Saxon England. Copies of his books, as well as mine will be available. At least it will be indoors!

No writing was done this week – well, not book-writing, but I have been thinking – more about that another time!

My thanks to Ardenweard for the warriors.

Memo: Remember to publish next book in summer.


A few more inches and I’ll have that Viking’s head off!


Publication Day.

Well, I couldn’t not post today! The biggest day of my (writing) life.

How does it feel to be a published author? At the moment, somewhat dazed, or is that the hangover? Not that I’ve had much to drink, but I’m not used to Champagne (OK, Spanish Cava) at eleven in the morning.

I stayed up last night, to “see” the moment that my book was born. About a month ago, I set up a useful WordPress Widget to count down the days. It’s that box on the right (or elsewhere if you’re reading this on a smartphone) that says “Bright Sword is published!”. As I sat there, in a draughty hall, I found that the final hour counted down in minutes, then the final minute in seconds. It was just like New Year, but without the fireworks!

I checked Amazon and there it was – In Stock and ready to “Add to Basket.” Sorry it’s not expensive enough to warrant Free Delivery. I checked for reviews – none yet, but early days, people have got to read it first! Actually there is one review on the Ebook edition, which crept out a few days before the paperback. 4 stars, so not a bad start. Thank you M J Porter.

I tweeted the good news to the world and sat there a while. I wanted to remember the feeling. I imagined huge lorries thundering through the night, filled with copies of my book, to deliver to readers queued outside bookshops – I’m a fiction writer – I’ve got a vivid imagination! It was emotional. I could have cried, but didn’t. Then I went to bed.

I woke up this morning, and like New Year, nothing had really changed. Breakfast, check e-mails etc, a couple of people had “liked” my midnight tweet.

Later I went to visit my mother. I took a signed copy of the book and the Bubbly. I had dedicated it to her. If she hadn’t encouraged me to read, taken me to join the library at an early age, I would never have discovered books and eventually write one myself. I’m sorry it took so long. Her eyes are now too bad to read it and if she could, she wouldn’t remember what she had read. But this morning she knew what I had done and was pleased. By coincidence, 28th January was my father’s birthday. He died fifteen years ago. I hope he would have been proud too.

A bottle of Byrhtnoth’s Mead

This afternoon I was going to write, not book three, I have a deadline for a family history article, but somehow I wasn’t in the mood. I have a book signing next Saturday (3rd Feb, 11.00-2.00, at Hunts Bookshop in Rugby – if you’re in the area. I have promised Anglo-Saxon Warriors and a Mead Tasting. The autumn before last I made some mead, I wrote about it here. I have tasted it occasionally, to toast the progress of my writing, it is quite drinkable – and alcoholic! It was time to bottle it. Then I decided it needed a proper label. By then, there was not much time to write, except this blog post.

What with everything else I managed 1627 words on Monday, then nothing else. I’m not sure when I’ll continue. I really should get back to editing book 2.

I can’t stop now, I’m a published author.

Mead and Poetry

I’m sure you have been wondering how my mead making is getting on, thanks for asking. Here is a quick update.

It had stopped bubbling and started to settle. It’s not completely clear, it may clear in time or it may not, but it was time to rack it. This means I had to siphon off the liquid from the dregs.

This is one of the best parts of the process. To get the wine flowing from one container to another, I had to suck it through. I’m sure there are other ways to do it, but this gives me my first opportunity to taste it. A good rule of thumb is: if I don’t immediately spit it out, its OK.

I can report that I didn’t spit it out! It tasted quite dry, which is a good sign. It means that the sugar from the pears and all that honey has turned to alcohol – the main purpose of the exercise. The taste will improve with age and it might need racking again.

Mead ready for racking

Mead ready for racking


It has turned a beautiful colour, a pinkish gold. It is similar to the yellow of the autumn leaves that are everywhere at the moment.

The Anglo-Saxons had a word for his special colour. It is fealo or fallow, the shade of autumn leaves, gold weapons and turbulent winter waves. It also gives its name to the Fallow Deer.

For more about the word see this wonderful post by Eleanor Parker ( @ClerkofOxford ). It includes translations of texts about Anglo-Saxon Autumns, including one of my favourite lines:

Beam sceal on eorðan
leafum liþan; leomu gnornian.

A tree on the earth must
lose its leaves; the branches mourn.

It says everything there is to say about Autumn.

While writing this, a memory nagged at me. I went and checked the original text of the Battle of Maldon (together with a translation – I wish I could read Old English, but I think I am too old to learn it now.)

Here is the original:

Feoll þa to foldan fealohilte swurd
ne mihte he gehealdan heardne mece,
wæpnes wealdan.

It comes in the final moments of Byrhtnoth’s life. He draws his sword, but is injured and:

Fell then to earth the fallow-hilted sword,
Nor could he hold the hard brand
Or wield his weapon.

It is the same word, fealo.

The colour of my mead, the colour of the autumn leaves that have been so spectacular this year, and the colour of Byrjtnoth’s sword hilt, at the moment that he fell.

Never let anyone tell you that this was the Dark Ages. It was full of Colour and Poetry.

And mourning for the end of life.

The Garden in Autumn.

The Garden in Autumn.

“Think ye of the times when we oft spake at mead

When we on the benches did raise up our boast,
Henchmen in the hall – about hard strife,
Now may each one make trial of how bold he be.”

This is a quotation from the Battle of Maldon. Byrhtnoth is dead and his kinsman Aelfwine encourages the warriors by reminding them of their boasts in the Mead Hall and how they must now make good their promises.

Today I am not talking about battles, but of mead. Almost the first thing we were told at the “Building a Shieldwall” session at the Historical Novel Society conference was “Anglo-Saxons didn’t drink mead!” A good way to catch the attention of the audience. What I think they meant was that the mead that was drunk was very different from what we think is mead; a thick fortified wine manufactured by monks. What was it they drank?

Anglo-Saxon Food & Drink by Ann Hagen has a useful chapter on Fermented drinks, but I was looking for something I could make myself. I looked in my father’s old wine making book – honey, water and mead yeast.

Ancestral Wine Making Book

The Ancestral Wine Making Book

I found a  recipe online using a milk bottle and a balloon. Perhaps I would have a go.

This is the time of year I get an urge. An urge to wander the local hedgerows and gather the abundance that is to be found there: blackberries and elderberries, sloes and crab apples. I then have a furious session of freezing, jam making and most important, wine making.  Here is a post from a different blog of an autumn a few years ago.

What would the Anglo-Saxons have done with a harvest like this? It couldn’t be frozen – unless the winter was particularly cold. They wouldn’t make jam – there wasn’t the sugar available – although they might have cooked fruit and preserved it in honey. There was no gin, so no sloe gin! Foods could be dried, perhaps larger fruit, such as apples, plums. Salting would be okay for meat and vegetables, and smoking, but not for fruit. What to do with those juicy blackberries?

Throughout history a lot of foods (most?) were seasonal. When it was available you ate as much as you could, then waited for next year. Nowadays we can eat whatever we want, when we want it and we have lost our connection with the turning of the seasons. Would we appreciate things more if we had to wait for them?

Back to the Anglo-Saxons. They were a practical people. They would not want to waste anything – and they liked to drink! Any fruit that could not be consumed immediately would be used. Apples would be pressed to make cider. If they had grapes, wine would be made (there would have been vines surviving from Roman times.) Once you know how to ferment apples or grapes, you can do the same with other fruit. Your surplus honey would be used for mead. You would improvise – use what ever you had.

This year I had pears They started to appear in the kitchen. Apparently it is a particularly good year for pears, at least in our garden, and these were the first windfalls.

Windfallen pears

Windfallen pears

Pears are a tricky fruit, difficult to tell when they are ripe. If you catch them at the right moment, they are delicious. Unfortunately that moment lasts for only a few minutes, earlier they are hard as a rock, later a soggy mush. What to do with them? Jam? We don’t eat much jam and I think I still have some jars from the last glut. There is a limit to the amount of Pear Crumble you can eat, believe me — there is. It had to be wine. My thoughts about mead and Anglo-Saxon wine making had fermented in my brain.

I would make wine, but not wine as I usually make it.

When looking for Pear wine recipes, I had found one for Homemade Pear Mead I would have a go.

A chopped my pears and poured over the boiling water and added the various chemicals – I wanted to be authentic,  but not that authentic.

Chopped pears soaking in water.

Chopped pears soaking in water.

The recipe said to add the yeast the following day. This didn’t seem right, my usual method is to soak fruit for however long, strain, add sugar and then yeast. I think I was right as there was no fermentation, just a nasty grey scum on top.

A week later I strained the liquid and added the honey (and more yeast). Within an hour or so it started bubbling!



It is being kept warm beside the radiator (when it is on) and in the sun (when it shines)

The recipe says to rack every three months for a year, then bottle and leave to rest for another year.

Can I wait that long to taste it?