Thinking about Titles

I have a new book coming out shortly and had a a great deal of trouble deciding on a title. I thought I had planned everything – my first book was Bright Sword and the Byrhtnoth Chronicles continued in that vein – Bright (insert weapon of choice). It made it easy to design the covers and created a uniform “look”.

This was fine until I changed genres – not very far, the next book continues the same time line, includes the same characters, but is more of a historical detective story. More about that later (or read my original post here). Today I want to take a look at the Byrhtnoth Chronicles and the reasons for the choice of name. You didn’t think they were just random, did you?

The Bright part comes from my protagonist’s name. Byrhtnoth consists of two Old English words beorht (bright) and noð (courage). By choosing this famous character from history, I had stumbled across the perfect name for my hero. The basic story is a boy’s search for a sword, therefore “Bright Sword”. Simple. This was to cause problems when it came to the cover design. Foolishly I had given a detailed description in the book of the sword. What would happen if I couldn’t find the right image for the cover? I couldn’t, but the final version is composed of elements of several different swords – can you spot the joins?

When it came to the second book, Byrhtnoth had lost the sword. Trapped in a burning hall, he escapes with the help of an old axe. This is not the only reason for giving this volume the name “Bright Axe”. In his travels, Byrhtnoth meets Eric Haraldsson, also known as Bloodaxe, former King of Norway, but at this time attempting to become King of York. I think I describe Eric’s axe, but this didn’t influence the cover image. I could pick any image I liked.

Eric Bloodaxe also appears in the third book, but I had already used an axe. I had also become wise to the need for usable images. At a Reenactors Market, I bought a Seax. Now I could take as many photographs as I wanted and use them for the cover without worrying about copyright. This weapon, somewhere between a large knife and a small sword with a single edged blade, is what gives the Saxons their name. The name comes from a Germanic word, meaning “to cut” – also the origin of the words “saw” and “scissors”.

Very appropriate for a book set in Anglo-Saxon times, but not really suitable for a book title – “Bright Seax” might attract the wrong sort of reader! It so happened that a character called Egbert plays rather an important part in this book. Egbert is the main antagonist of the series. He was there right from the first chapters of book one, but, as such people tend to do, he lurked in the background before developing into the evil presence he was to become.

Like most Anglo-Saxon names, Egbert, also spelled Ecgberht, is composed of two elements: “beorht”, the same word as used in Byrhtnoth, and meaning bright, and “ecg”, meaning edge (of a sword) or blade. As a name for a man who is not just Byrhtnoth’s enemy, but his complete opposite, or shadow, it is satisfyingly appropriate. I wish I could claim that I had this in mind when I first gave him the name, but unfortunately, it was just a case of grabbing the first Saxon sounding name that came to mind. So that is how book three became “Bright Blade”

Bright Helm was much more straightforward. Byrhthelm, meaning bright helmet or protection, was the name of Byrhtnoth’s father. Since the series had developed from a boy’s search for a sword to a search for the previous owner of that sword, his father, it was time to solve the mystery and discover what had caused his father to disappear long ago. There could be no other title.

It also gave me an excuse to buy a a proper Anglo-Saxon helmet. During another visit to the reenactors market, I found one, handmade by Viking Crafts It is too large for me, so I don’t wear it. But it’s not my helmet, it belongs to Byrhtnoth. So it sits on a shelf and watches over me. Since I had become much more organised, I was able to describe the helmet in the book, and even invent a history for it.

Byrhtnoth likes a good read. For details of the Rugby Cafe Writers Anthology see here

From this, you might think that the Byrhtnoth Chronicles have ended. It did worry me for a while, and that was why I started a new series. Fortunately, in writing that, I have come up with more ideas. Byrhtnoth will be back.

But what the title will be, I don’t yet know.

Next time I discuss the problems in find in the right title for the new series.

Thegn in a reasonably priced car.

I recently read an interesting article about Anglo-Saxon swords by Matthew (get your seax out) Harffy. You can read it here.

A patten-welded sword?

A pattern-welded sword?

One of the points made was that a sword could be compared with a modern man (It’s always a man) boasting about his car. I noticed a similar analogy on a recent TV programme about Versailles. I can’t remember what was compared with an expensive sports car – it might have been a piece of lace. This is one of those common comparisons; the size of Wales, a football pitch or a double-decker bus.

It got me thinking. If an expensive, pattern-welded can be compared to a posh car, what about the man who owned it? What is the modern equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon warrior?

I decided that it must be a professional football player. Both have to be young and fit. They have little in the way of brains and their working life is short. I know little about cars (or footballers) but the top flight international/premier league players with the exotic cars (see here for examples) are the top Ealdormen. Their weapon/car is impractical for daily use but stands out from the crowd and costs a lot to buy. Further down the league, those with a modest, but still decent car, would have had an ordinary, cheaper sword or seax. Your ordinary, amateur or local league player would be a spear carrier and drive a second-hand hatchback. I see the men whose chosen weapon was the axe as Rugby players, perhaps driving something off-road. After all, weren’t Land Rover sponsors of the recent Rugby World Cup.

Before I go further down the sporting road (Tennis players as archers?) let’s think about the women (or WAGS). Things haven’t changed much there over the years, they have always been judged by the money their partner earns. This usually means cloths and jewellery. The more riches won by your warrior, the better quality gown you wore. Silk was the ultimate achievement and equates to designer dresses. I’m not sure that high heeled shoes were important to the Anglo-Saxon woman though. Or handbags?

Finally, who held the power in Anglo-Saxon England? The king of course and his relatives. They demonstrate their status by property. An impressive hall/castle to house their retinue, a feast/garden party to feed them. Mead v A cup of tea and cake?

And then there was the church. At that time, usually the only people able to read and write. The great bishops and abbots, building churches and monasteries and advising the king. The ordinary priest or monk would be the equivalent of teachers, writers, artists, vowed to poverty. Their superiors, surely, must be the modern businessmen and politicians.  Ostensibly subject to the same vow of poverty, but dealing in power and large sums of money. The ones not caught fiddling their expenses were turned into saints.

I think I have followed this tread almost to breaking point, but if you have any suggestions, let me know. I might mention the best in a future post.