Today I am hosting a book blast for this superb novel, check out the blurb here!
The Danish King’s Enemy is only 0.99 for a Limited Time Only!
Every story has a beginning.
Leofwine has convinced his king to finally face his enemies in battle and won a great victory, but in the meantime, events have spiralled out of control elsewhere.
With the death of Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, England has lost an ally, and Leofwine has gained an enemy. And not just any enemy. Swein is the king of Denmark, and he has powerful resources at his fingertips.
In a unique position with the king, Leofwine is either honoured or disrespected. Yet, it is to Leofwine that the king turns to when an audacious attack is launched against the king’s mother and his children. But Leofwine’s successes only bring him more under the scrutiny of King Swein of Denmark, and his own enemies at the king’s court.
With an increase in Raider attacks, it is to Leofwine that the king turns once more. However, the king has grown impatient with his ealdorman, blaming him for Swein’s close scrutiny of the whole of England. Can Leofwine win another victory for his king, or does he risk losing all that he’s gained?
The Danish King’s Enemy is the second book in the epic Earls of Mercia series charting the last century of Early England, as seen through the eyes of Ealdorman Leofwine, the father of Earl Leofric, later the Earl of Mercia, and ally of Lady Elfrida, England’s first queen
I’m an author of fantasy (Viking age/dragon-themed) and historical fiction (Early English, Vikings and the British Isles as a whole before the Norman Conquest), born in the old Mercian kingdom at some point since AD1066.
Hello and welcome one and all to my blog as we forge ahead on the Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England. If you have missed the previous stops, you will find them on the banner at the end of this post.
I am very please to be able to present to you a review of Ms Whitehead’s latest book. As an Anglo-Saxonist myself, the topic of the book is very dear to me. I can honestly say that my expectations of reading this book was very much lived up to.
First of all, I must introduce the author to those of you who are not familiar with Annie, or her works. Annie is a competent historian and historical fiction writer who has written three novels based on the lives of certain historical characters and another non-fiction, about Mercia. You can find more about Annie’s books on her website here .
So, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England.
The beauty of this work is it concisely brings together almost everything that was ever believed about the early medieval period – or the Dark Ages, and turns it on its head in the shape of its females. Annie Whitehead certainly does shine a light on the women of this era, not just a light but a huge great spotlight. Although there are many facts that cannot be possibly known about these ladies in detail, such as their character, what they liked, and who they loved, the author picks through the threads and meticulously gives us enough glimpses of their lives for us to feel some empathy and attachment. For example, Queen Edith who preferred to sit at the feet of her husband, Edward the Confessor, or the noble woman searching on a battlefield for the mutilated corpse of her husband, or the girl and her mother found in bed with a young king on his coronation celebration!
We also hear their stories as told through the chroniclers such as Bede:
We have wild tales even about those revered as pious nuns – of escape from hot ovens and down sewers, of women bringing animals and even themselves back to life, all of which seem fantastic, but were told to serve a purpose.
What I enjoy most about these books about the historical female, and with this one in particular, is the finding out that there is a lot more written about these women than previously I believed, especially by the monks in the earlier Anglo-Saxon period who seem to have been fascinated by them. And the weirder the tale, the more interested they were. A lot more seems to have been available than in the mid to later period when the monks seemed to share a dislike of women in power. Take Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians and Alfgred the Great’s daughter, for instance, of whom very little was recorded by the West Saxon version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, but whose achievements are lauded by Anglo-Norman Chroniclers after the conquest and only elements of the Annals of Æthelflæd are incorporated into the other chronicles.
Another pleasant surprise was that for many years I have been trying to find evidence of how the Anglo-Saxon women would have been able to see their reflections, and there on page 7, we find that a pope sends one of our ladies an ivory comb and a silver mirror to aid her personal care. Imagine how excited I was to find this little fact, as it is often believed that such items were not available to the people of this period as there is little evidence that there was. I am sure however it was a high status possession and not open to women of all classes, but nonetheless I am overjoyed at this snippet of information.
Another interesting observation I was able to gleam how much more interested the church seemed to have placed on women of religious orders rather than their secular counterparts, and it was almost as if a woman was only worthy if she had spent most of her life in chastity, for example Ælfthryth, who married King Ecgfrith of Northumbria and managed to remain a virgin, happier founding monasteries than giving her husband heirs, and became a saint because of her piety and unwillingness to give away her virginity. One wonders though, how much of this was true!
For me, as I turned the pages of this outstanding book, I found the content of the book was wholly satisfying. It covers a range of women in the period as early as the 6th century, and ending with the last prominent Anglo-Saxon women before the Norman invasion. I was pleased to see that several of the women featured were from my period of interest, the 11th century, including Emma of Normandy, Aldith, Queen to both a Welsh and an English king, Edith Godwinson, wife of Edward the Confessor, and Eadgifu the fair, handfastened wife of Harold Godwinson – or Edith Swanneck as she is commonly, though wrongly known as. (Her name seemed to change when the writer of the Waltham Chronicle, some time in the 11th century mistakenly referred to her as Edith, which is not a derivative of Eadgifu which are two different names.)
For a fellow Anglo-Saxonist, this is one of the few books written about women in the period, and it is, for me, a newly-acquired treasure. It truly brings these women to the fore and as one reviewing author emphatically states, it puts the women firmly back in the history where they should be, highlighting their true nature of what it meant to be a noble woman in these times. It describes to us of their existence, their roles, both religiously and secularly, in not just the lives of their husbands, fathers, brothers and sisters and children, but the lives of those who praised, castigated, and wrote about them.
It does not seek to prove the high status of them in comparison to the women of post conquest England, nor does it seek to prove that they were far more powerful than their status allowed them to be. Instead, we are treated to a rare glimpse of the opportunities women were, if in the right place at the right time, gifted with, and their importance in the eyes of those they held power over or from, or with. Their stories are endowed upon us within a variety of themes: roles as mothers, wives and consorts; nuns and abbesses. We also see what gave them their power, such as their bloodlines and the changes that the shifting sands of time wrought upon them, bringing them to and then from exultation to women condemned. And if you are anything like me, your imagination will run wild.
Annie Whitehead is an exemplary historian and writer of history who is not afraid to delve into the past head first to bring us such a jewel in this enchanting and immersing panoramic vision of historical women. It is every bit as fascinating, if not more so, as any other historical tome about the female figure of any particular time zone. The language is not laborious and it flows from one subject to the next seamlessly and what I can conclude from this is that the noble Anglo-Saxon woman was fierce and independent when she wanted to be, gentle and pious when society dictated, steadfast and loyal when needed, and as ambitious as any man of any era.
About Annie Whitehead
I am an historian and author. As an undergraduate I studied under the eminent Anglo-Saxon historian, Ann Williams, and I’m proud to say that I’ve been accepted as a member of the Royal Historical Society. I’m also a member of the HWA (Historical Writers Association).
My passion is for all things Anglo-Saxon, and Mercian in particular. I’ve written three novels set in Mercia, featuring the lives of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, King Edgar, and King Penda, as well as contributing a Mercian story to a fiction anthology about 1066. My non-fiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, was published by Amberley Books in September 2018. My latest non-fiction book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England, was published by Pen & Sword Books in June 2020.
I’m an editor for and contributor to the EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors) blog, and a member of the HNS (Historical Novel Society) 2018 Short Story Competition judging panel. The winner of the New Writer non-fiction prize in 2012, and the recipient of two Mail on Sunday Novel-Writing awards, I was also the winner of the inaugural HWA Dorothy Dunnett Short Story Competition in 2017.
My first two novels, To Be A Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker, are set in the later (9th & 10th centuries) Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. My third novel, Cometh the Hour goes back to the seventh century. A follow-up novel is in the planning stages and it’s hoped it will be released sometime in 2021.
In 2016, I collaborated with eight other authors to produce a collection of short stories, re-imagining the event of 1066. 1066 Turned Upside Down is available as an e-book.
And don’t forget you can enjoy all of the other blog stops here below.
Women of Power is published by Pen and Sword Books. Check out their books here
Blog Tour: The Last King: England: The First Viking Age
(Powered by Coffee Pot Blog Tours)
By M J Porter
July 14th – September 15th 2020
Please welcome MJ Porter to my blog as part of her blog tour, to talk about an aspect of her research into The Last King. As a writer of pre-Conquest England myself, her post here resonates with me! Imagining the landscape of England in times gone.
Mapping the 870’s
The Last King is set in Mercia in the Ninth Century, one of the ancient kingdoms of England.
One of the particular challenges of writing about Mercia, or any early English period, is trying to reconstruct the physical landscape. Places that could be assumed to be prominent, were simply not, and vice versa. The most obvious of these is that London was not England’s capital at the time. Equally, river courses may have changed, and bridges may have been built in the modern era, although there are a surprising amount of ancient bridges that might surprise you.
While there are many maps of the time period available, they never (in my experience) actually show everything that you want to know. They don’t tell you where the roads went in great detail, or even what the roads looked like. They don’t always make it clear which side of a river was inhabited, and which side wasn’t. The size of the population is unknown, and even more, the size of the Viking forces is impossible to calculate.
In writing the three books to date in the Ninth Century series, I’ve had a bit of an ace up my sleeve. My father is known as the ‘mapman’ and my ‘mapman’ has hundreds, and hundreds of antique maps of England, Scotland and Wales. And so, rather than spending hours pouring over google maps, I’ve spent my time looking at these antique maps, in conjunction with the maps available from historical non-fiction sources.
For the third book in the series, I wanted to write about both Northampton, and Cambridge. I’ve never visited either place, and more, I don’t know what they might have looked like in the past.
So, to my ‘mapman,’ and his 1610 Speed Maps of both of these places. John Speed (1551/2 – 28 July 1629) was an English cartographer and historian and is one of the best-known English mapmakers of that time period. His maps are highly decorative, and they also show little ‘cut outs’ of the county towns. And so, for Northampton, and Cambridge, I had an idea of what those places looked like in the Seventeenth Century. Still, eight hundred years later, but much closer than visiting those sites today and trying to decipher what might have been there long ago.
Yet, even here, there was a piece of information waiting to trip me up, because unlike the Cambridge of today, it’s believed that Cambridge in the 870’s was actually on the opposite side of the river.
Finding the landscape of the historical past is difficult, but I’ve found that using antique maps, rather than more modern ones, can be incredibly helpful, especially when they include images of the landscape (trees and hills)!
M J Porter
I’m an author of fantasy (viking age/dragon themed) and historical fiction (Early English, Vikings and the British Isles as a whole before the Norman Conquest), born in the old Mercian kingdom at some point since AD1066. I write A LOT. You’ve been warned!
Thank you, Paula, for inviting me to your blog site and giving me an opportunity to offer a brief sketch of the career of one of the heroic figures of late Anglo-Saxon England.
Edmund Ironside, Warrior King.
In preparing to write my novels about Emma of Normandy I immersed myself in everything I could learn about the 11th century Anglo-Saxon royals, including Emma’s stepchildren, the elder sons and daughters of Æthelred the Unready. Not surprisingly, the royal child who received the most documentation was Edmund Ironside who, after his father’s death, ruled England for 222 turbulent days.
A contemporary account of that period appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC), written by a clinically depressed monk who lamented the events in the reigns of both Edmund and Æthelred but offered the historian and the novelist few details. We know the WHAT, but we rarely know the WHY or the HOW. As a result, historians have to speculate, and novelists like me turn those speculations into story.
Edmund was born in about 989, the third of six sons from his father’s first marriage. He and his siblings were raised by their somewhat notorious grandmother, dowager queen Ælfthryth, at her estate about 10 miles from Winchester. They grew up in an England that was repeatedly assaulted by the Danish king Swein Forkbeard and his allies. By 1013 three of Edmund’s brothers had died in their teens or early twenties—illness? Misadventure? Battle wounds? We don’t know. They simply disappear from the records. That left Edmund, his eldest brother Athelstan (presumed heir to the throne), and younger brother Edwig.
In July 1013 a massive fleet led by Swein and his son Cnut landed in northern Mercia, intent on conquest. By year’s end Æthelred, Queen Emma and their young children had been forced to flee to Normandy. Did the sons from Æthelred’s first marriage accompany them across the Channel? The ASC doesn’t say, but it’s likely that they remained in England and may have led forays against the Danish garrisons that were now scattered across the kingdom.
Swein, though, was able to call himself king of England for only two months before he died suddenly in February 1014—an unwise move that brought Æthelred roaring back from exile in April. Cnut, who believed (mistakenly) that he’d inherited England when dad breathed his last, was sent pelting back to Denmark with the remnants of Swein’s fleet.
Two months later Edmund’s brother Athelstan was dead at age 28, unwed and without issue. Again, we don’t know how he died. Edmund was at his bedside and was executor of his will, suggesting that they were close, and the will itself provides a glimpse into their lives. Athelstan had servants, retainers, and numerous associates among the English elite. He owned armor, weapons, horses, movable wealth, and 16 estates in 9 different shires. Presumably Edmund had similar possessions. Athelstan left Edmund properties and weapons that included an heirloom sword of the 8th century Mercian King Offa. Historian N.J. Higham interprets this bequest as Athelstan passing “the mantle of succession” to Edmund, urging him to lead the English against the Danes.
Edmund surely got the message, but he wasn’t king yet. He was forced into action, though, when Æthelred made another of the questionable decisions that characterize his reign. In August of 1015 he ordered his son-in-law Eadric Streona, the ealdorman of Mercia, to murder two powerful northern Mercian nobles—associates of Athelstan and Edmund. The king confiscated their possessions and imprisoned one of the widows. Edmund, in a move that could not have pleased papa, seized the widow, married her, and took her north to claim her dead husband’s properties and the fealty of his men. This was not romance, but politics. (The bride’s sentiments are unrecorded, of course, but she gave him 2 sons.) The marriage gave Edmund control of a wide swath of northern Mercia, an area that two years before had harbored Swein and Cnut. It’s possible that what Æthelred probably interpreted as Edmund’s rebellious power grab was actually an aggressive response to rumors of a new Danish threat; because while Edmund was fetching his bride and claiming lands in the northeast, Cnut of Denmark landed in the southwest and began plundering.
Cnut, like Edmund, was now about 27 years old and his father had been, albeit briefly, king of England. Cnut wanted the throne. Æthelred was near 50, ill, and unable to respond to this Danish upstart. But Edmund gathered an army from his new lands and marched south to confront Cnut. He was thwarted by his treacherous brother-in-law Eadric Streona who had also raised an army and “meant to betray Edmund”. (ASC) We don’t know what Eadric intended exactly. Did the two men meet and quarrel? Did Eadric hope to curry favor with Cnut by ridding him of this fierce claimant to the throne? The novelist wonders, too, where Eadric’s wife, Edmund’s sister, was when this was going on. Were her sympathies with her husband or her brother? We know only that Edmund and his army sheered away from Eadric’s force. Eadric submitted to Cnut (which may have been his plan all along), and took with him many of the magnates in the southwestern shires of England (ie. an army). So now, Cnut had English allies riding with him.
Cnut and company ravaged northward throughout the winter of 1015, a tactic that fed and rewarded their men, terrorized the English and discouraged any resistance. Edmund twice gathered an army but his war leaders were reluctant to fight. They might not have known who to trust— Eadric, who was a powerful ealdorman of Mercia and had apparently accepted Cnut’s claim to the throne; or Edmund who was the king’s son but who had rebelled against his father, and where was the king anyway? They wanted Æthelred in their midst to be certain that they were fighting on the right (winning) side. Meantime, Æthelred dithered, and although he finally led a force from London to join Edmund, a rumor of treachery (real or imagined) sent him haring back to the city, and again Edmund’s army dispersed.
Ever resourceful, Edmund turned for aid to another brother-in-law, Uhtred, Ealdorman of Northumbria up in York; but instead of attacking the Danes who were terrorizing Eastern Mercia, they ravaged Eadric’s lands in Western Mercia, a move that puzzled even the monk writing the ASC. Perhaps Edmund hoped to deprive Eadric and Cnut of food and forage; perhaps he hoped to draw Eadric away from Cnut and so reduce Cnut’s numbers. Later chroniclers suggest he was punishing those who refused to take up arms against the Danes. Meanwhile Cnut and Eadric stormed into Uhtred’s Northumbria, and Uhtred was forced to return home to defend his people. Edmund, his army again depleted, headed for London, perhaps drawn there by news of the king.
It was now well into March of 1016. While Edmund rode south, Uhtred attempted to submit to Cnut but was murdered by one of Cnut’s allies. With Uhtred dead and Northumbria now securely under Scandinavian control, Cnut returned to his ships on the Dorset coast. Possibly hoping to trap both Edmund and Æthelred in London by laying siege to the city, Cnut sailed for the Thames estuary. Before Cnut made it to London, though, Æthelred died on 23 April, and Edmund was proclaimed king.
Edmund’s coronation must have been a hurried affair, and his first move as king was to get out of London before Cnut’s fleet arrived. He led his retainers deep into Wessex where he cajoled or coerced the West Saxons to give him their support. Cnut was laying siege to London, and Edmund needed an army to relieve the city.
Throughout 1016 Edmund Ironside’s movements and those of Cnut over hundreds of miles, each man probably leading 2000-3000 men, looked like this:
PHOTO #1 OF MAP
This map, though, only hints at the logistical difficulties that Edmund overcame in raising, arming, supplying, and transporting, on horse and on foot, at least five different armies in his effort to defeat Cnut, who had the advantage of a fleet and probably had horses as well. Edmund must have been a skilled commander and strategist, and a man forceful enough to bend men to his will. Twice Cnut laid siege to London, and twice Edmund’s armies drove him off. Battles fought at Penselwood, Sherston, and Brentford in the southwest led to casualties on both sides, but no definitive victory for either.
In September, 1016, Edmund chased the Danes across Kent to Sheppey, an easily defended island that had often been a haven for viking armies. Edmund halted his troops fifteen miles west of the island, at Aylesford, where good old Eadric Streona sought him out and offered his allegiance. Remember, Eadric had murdered (among others) the first husband of Edmund’s wife; had conspired in some way against Edmund himself; had been Æthelred’s favorite, but had betrayed the king by submitting to Cnut; and had convinced the lords of Wessex to betray the king as well. Now he was offering to switch sides a third time by throwing his support behind Edmund. Historian Simon Keynes uses the word “unscrupulous” to describe Eadric Streona; the ASC calls him “treacherous”; Jamie Jeffers of The British History Podcast calls him “a traitorous little shit”.
Edmund, though, accepted his allegiance.
“No measure could be more ill-advised.” (ASC)
Edmund!! Why??? We can only guess. Eadric was powerful, wealthy, and had a large English army with him. Edmund couldn’t kill him without huge repercussions. There were likely complex familial, political and moral complications in their relationship that we can only imagine. And if Eadric, scoundrel that he was, was fighting at Edmund’s side, at least he wasn’t fighting on Cnut’s side. Numbers in this conflict were crucial.
Cnut’s fleet left Sheppey, and Edmund may have believed that they were making for Danish-controlled York before the winter gales set in. Perhaps Eadric convinced him of that. But Cnut did not sail to York. He sailed to Essex where he beached his ships and plundered toward Cambridge. Historian Timothy Bolton suggests that Cnut wanted to draw Edmund into a final battle. He describes Cnut as cunning, and Edmund as a straightforward warrior; and Cnut’s cunning worked.
Edmund gathered another army and on 18 October 1016 he attacked Cnut at Assandun (Ashdon) in Essex. It was a long, fierce battle. The Encomium Emmae Reginae, written 3 decades later, claimed that the Danes raged rather than fought, and that they were determined to conquer or perish to a man. But at the height of the battle, that treacherous little shit Eadric Streona, fighting on the English side, turned tail and fled with all his men, “and so betrayed his natural lord and all the people of England.” (ASC)
The Danes held the slaughter field at Assandun, but Edmund still lived. He rode west with the remnants of his army, and seems to have wanted to fight on. But too many of his warlords had been killed, including two ealdormen and another brother-in-law. His councilors urged him to meet with Cnut and make peace. Eadric Streona, with a foot in both camps, (still!!!) played intermediary, and at a meeting on the isle of Alney in Gloucestershire on a date that went unrecorded, England was divided between them. Cnut could call himself king of Northumbria and Mercia, including the trading powerhouses of York and London; Edmund remained king of the West Saxon heartland, Wessex.
The two men made pledges of friendship and, according to the ASC, of brotherhood. That pledge of brotherhood, I think, is important because as Edmund’s brother, Cnut could lay claim to Wessex if Edmund should die. And 43 days later, on 30 November, 1016, Edmund died.
We don’t know what caused his death. Later chroniclers blamed Eadric Streona and there were lurid tales of an iron hook in the king’s hinder parts. A far more likely cause: a wound taken at Assandun. Of course, it could be argued that if Edmund had any inkling that his death was imminent he would never have made an agreement with Cnut at Alney that disinherited his remaining brother and his sons; but in the 11th century even a slight wound, easily dismissed, might fester and lead to death. Or, Edmund’s loss at Assandun may have made his position too weak militarily to oppose anything that Cnut demanded.
Edmund was buried at Glastonbury Abbey. As is usually the case, we have no idea what happened to his wife, Aldyth. She may have accompanied her infant sons to Hungary where one of them grew up, married and had children. Edmund’s grand-daughter would wed the king of Scotland, and her daughter would wed William the Conqueror’s son, Henry I. Edmund’s Anglo-Saxon blood line continues today in the English royal family.
None of this tells us what Edmund was like as a person, although it’s safe to say that he was bold and courageous. He hounded Cnut all over England, and faced him in hand to hand combat. But we don’t know what he felt toward his father, his wife, his sons, or even his stepmother, Emma. That emotional territory is the province of the novelist. In my first two novels I imagined Edmund as a quiet youth, but watchful; suspicious of his father’s Norman bride—something I believe was quite likely. In my third novel, not yet published, I have given him a viewpoint and a voice, and I have pitted him against an enemy far more dangerous than his stepmother. He is a vigorous man of forceful character who steadfastly defends England against Danish conquest. He is a heroic figure in the image of his forbears Alfred the Great and King Athelstan. I based that on how the ASC portrays him: a warrior king who raised and led five armies, but who lost half a kingdom through treachery, and before he could win it back, lost his life.
Bolton, Timothy, Cnut the Great. Yale University Press, New Haven, 2017
Campbell, Alistair, Ed., Encomium Emmae Reginae, Cambridge University Press, 1998
Higham, N. J., The Death of Anglo-Saxon England, Sutton Publishing, Gloucestershire, 1997
Rodwell, Warwick J., “The Battle of Assandun and its Memorial Church: A Reappraisal”, The Battle of Maldon: Fiction and Fact, Cooper, Janet, ed., London, 1993
Savage, Anne, Trans., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, CLB, Wayne, New Jersey,1997
Whitelock, D., English Historical Documents, London, 1979
Patricia Bracewell’s first two books, Shadow on the Crown (2013) and The Price of Blood (2015) are available in paperback, e-book and audio book formats. Her novels have been published in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia, Italy, Germany, Russia and Brazil. In the fall of 2014 she was honored to serve as Writer-in-Residence at Gladstone’s Library, Wales, and she continues to travel extensively for research. She holds a Masters Degree in English Literature, lives in Oakland, California, and has been in love with England and its history since childhood. She is currently completing the third novel in her series about the 11th century queen of England, Emma of Normandy.
Thank you so much, Pat, for coming on my blog to talk about one of my greatest heroes of the 11th century. Like many others who have had their lives cut short before they could reach their full potential, Edmund never had the chance to fight to regain England back from Danish rule, and I definitely think he would have given Cnut a run for his money. He was, unfortunately, the only leader at the time who seemed to have the wherewithal to stand up and take the English forces to the fight. He was indeed a great hero. Your extensive research really shows here and I am grateful that you have shared so much of it here!
One question I have is that I notice you don’t mention Godwin, later Earl Godwin under Cnut. I have always thought that Godwin was a member of Edmund and Aethelstan’s retainers, due to being returned his father’s land in Aethelstan’s will, I just wondered what your thoughts are regarding him?
Please welcome Cliff May to Writers of Anglo-Saxon Literature spot. As you can see by the premise of this blog, I’m very interested in the period once called the Dark Ages, but now called the early Middle Ages. Cliff is an author I’ve known for sometime and we have a shared interest in the post Romano period and the later Anglo-Saxon era.
Cliff, I’ve had your books on my TBR list for what seems like an eternity, but getting closer! To help me decide which one to read, I thought I’d ask you some questions about your books as I know you have written quite a number. Firstly, tell me how long you’ve been writing, and a bit about the series you have published.
Hello Paula, thanks for inviting me here! I began writing full-time at the end of 2012, so I
am now in my seventh year as a full-time writer.
At the beginning I was unsure whether to write historical fiction or fantasy, but I read an
article which advised aspiring authors to begin with a subject they already knew a fair bit about to cut down on the research needed, stop procrastinating, and actually get some words down. I am a long term fan of the Beowulf poem and it combined elements of history and the fantastic, so this seemed a good place to start. My original idea was to tell Beowulf’s story from childhood through to glorious death in old age fighting the dragon, but once I reached the Grendel episode I found that I wanted to spread my writing wings; so I ended it with the death of Grendel’s mother and it became the trilogy known as Sword of Woden.
Next I moved back a thousand years in time for my Conqueror of Rome duo, drifting south geographically to tell the story of the migration of a Gallic tribe from what is now
Northern France. Known as the Senones, they crossed the Alps to settle in Northern Italy
around the year 390BC. Naturally the peoples already living there were a bit put out
having eighty-thousand hairy barbarians turn up out of the blue, and in the fighting which followed both the Etruscans and Romans were comprehensively defeated. They sacked and occupied Rome itself for the good part of a year; it was a pivotal moment in the growth of the then small city state, in many ways the shock which led to the creation of the Roman Empire.
I really enjoyed my research and writing about the ancient Celts but I missed the Anglo-Saxons which have always been my first love, so it was back to the sixth Century for my
following trilogy, King’s Bane. The main character, Eofer, had earned the sobriquet by
killing the Swedish king Ongentheow in battle. An Angle, he had featured as a minor
character in the Beowulf books, so this gave me the opportunity to continue the timeline
from my Sword of Woden series and shift the focus of the tale from Scandinavia to the
migration of the Angles from Jutland to what is now East Anglia in England where I live.
The final book, The Scathing, sees Eofer and his war band helping to found the kingdom of Mercia in the Trent Valley.
One of the advantages of being a truly independent author is the fact that you can write
about any subject which appeals to you, so I jumped forward four centuries for my current Erik Haraldsson series. Better known to history as Erik Bloodaxe, he was the favourite son of Harald Fairhair, the first warlord to unite the scattered provinces of Norway into one centralised kingdom. At the end of the first book, Bloodaxe, a hostile political act by the English king Athelstan undermines Erik’s position at home forcing him to give up the kingdom and go Viking. I am writing the final book of the trilogy now which will see him become the last king of an independent Northumbria.
Well, that gives me quite a bit to go on I reckon! Definitely a man after my own heart, especially where the Anglo-Saxons are concerned. So, where did you get the inspiration for your books? Do you have an author who has influenced you in your writing?
My ideas all come from my love of history in general and the Anglo-Saxon period in
particular. We are surrounded by history in this country. Within a short walk or bike ride as a child I could visit a Battle of Britain spitfire airdrome, a Palaeolithic watering hole where the bones of mammoth, lions and hippopotamuses were discovered and one of the very earliest Saxon settlements at Mucking. I believe that people in the past were the same we are today with all our strengths and weaknesses, only technology has changed, so for anyone with imagination it is easy to repopulate the landscape with those who have gone before us, be they pilgrims on the way to Canterbury, children watching Luftwaffe air fleets filling the skies or Viking raiders on the nearby River Thames. As for author influences I read very little fiction; I have too many stories in my own head and I am always afraid that I will unwittingly plagiarise.
Who are the main characters in your books and tell me and my readers a bit about them?
Beowulf, I am sure, needs little introduction. A Dark Age monster killer, I wanted to delve beneath the superhero image and discover what made him tick, the influences and
experiences in his childhood and youth which made him the man in the poem. That
Beowulf can appear to be a bit of a braggart to modern ears, a bit one dimensional, so I
introduced compassion; he rescues a young girl from sexual abuse and finds her a home in a loving family, supporting her financially until she reaches adulthood. I also added a
psychological condition due to a head wound gained in battle to make him appear less
invincible. This worsened as the tale developed until… Well you will have to read the
series to find out who cures the hero, but the title Sword of Woden may offer a clue!
The Conqueror of Rome duo really contains three main characters: a female druid, a boy
destined to be a great British warrior and a young Gaul at foster who will become
chieftain of his clan. The boys become part of the warlord Brennus’s Gallic migration to
Italy, while the druid is driven by vivid dreams to discover the destiny the gods have in
mind for her. It is a story of journeying – physically, mentally and emotionally as the trio
grow from childhood to adulthood and go out to make their names in a violent world.
Eofer Wonreding is the hero of the King’s Bane trilogy, the man made famous by killing the king of Swedes in the Beowulf tale. He is highly regarded by his king and people, the go-to warrior if a difficult job needs doing and doing well. However his undoubted abilities cause problems for our man. The king and leading men of the Angles wish to elevate him from thegn to ealdorman. Following the death of King Hygelac of Geats in battle against the Franks and Frisians (which you can read about in my short novel Dayraven, which loosely links the Sword of Woden and King’s Bane series’) Eofer’s wife is now the sister of the new king of Geatland and no longer content to be the wife of a lowly thegn. Eofer resists both entreaties for as long as he can as he clings to the freedom to raid and generally come and go as he pleases without the added responsibility which would come with the advancement. Eofer is the last of the Angles to leave Jutland for the new home across the North Sea, but as Jutes, Danes and finally the Britons of Powys fall beneath his sword and the Angles become established in their new home the situation smoulders until a final tragedy strikes.
Unlike my other main characters, Erik Haraldsson is the son of a king and born to rule.
Unfortunately his father, Harald Fairhair, appears to have sired at least twenty sons, most of whom felt they too deserved to be high king on Harald’s death. A brother war followed which Erik won, only for a dimly remembered half-brother who had been fostered with King Athelstan to return with English help. But Erik is nothing if not a fighter, and along with those who remain loyal to him and his royal Danish wife Gunnhild he wins new kingdoms to rule in, first the Orkneys and Hebrides, and then the kingdom of York and Northumbria itself.
Tell us who is your favourite main character and your favourite supporting character and why you enjoy them so much?
It always surprises people when I say that Catumanda, the female druid in the Conqueror of Rome series is without doubt my favourite main character. She actually started out as a he, but when I did my first rewrites it just became more and more obvious as I read the story that the character was crying out to be changed to female. She is a very strong young woman, and deadly if you get on the wrong side of her; confident, cheery and outgoing, I am a little besotted with her to tell the truth!
My favourite supporting character is Thrush Hemming, Eofer king’s bane’s senior hearth
warrior. Steadfast could be his middle name, so much so that he earns himself a war band of his own by the end of the series. There is a period in book two, Gods of War, where Hemming has to take command of the hearth troop in desperate circumstances and he doesn’t bat an eyelid. Loyal and capable, he is the perfect second in command.
When starting a new book, how do you structure it? Do you set an outline for yourself, or do you write freely and let the story come? Or do you use any other method?
Once I have researched the subject I have a pretty good general outline of the whole story from start to finish in my mind, down to the closing scene and even the last line. I roughly sketch out the story arc for each volume so that they work both as stand-alone tales and as part of a series, and after that the details tend to take care of themselves. I use a series of sketch books for each volume in which I jot down lineages, the names of ships and other details which need to remain constant throughout the books and then just start writing. I liken it to a long motorway journey; you know the start point and destination, and you have a pretty good idea of what will happen en-route, but the smaller details are unknowable until they occur.
I like that comparison! Is there anything of you in your writing, your experiences, characteristics etc?
Coggeshall after the renovation in 2010
I think that there must be for all writers. I do believe that my own work draws on my life
experiences, and that some of the tougher times have been the most valuable. I have
crewed the replica of Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour, renovated a medieval hall and
suffered the joys of childcare; it all goes in there. Writing full time can be a tough gig
when you are the only source of income for the family, but there is no place to hide and I
am sure that the determination to fight against the odds is reflected in quite a few of my
characters. Historical fiction, like history itself, tends to be written through the eyes of
the upper echelons of society (it is more interesting than a life tilling soil after all) but I
like to think that I manage to give the common folk if not an equal voice, at least visibility in my tales.
Do you have a favourite author at the moment?
As I said above, and I know this goes against perceived wisdom, I read very little fiction.One author I do follow is Harry Sidebottom. One of his main characters, Ballista, is an Angle fighting in the service of Rome so I can get my Anglo-Saxon fix without worrying about inadvertently duplicating his ideas. It also helps that he is a terrific writer ofcourse!
What books are you reading?
Just one at the moment, The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby. He is a retired travel writer
and journalist who as a young man in 1938 crewed a tall ship to Australia and back – the
grain race of the title. I am a bit of a people watcher so enjoy reading first-hand accounts
of travel and action. Being a travel writer his descriptions of mountainous seas and broody skies are breathtaking and useful for my own work.
What are you working on currently and what are your future writing plans?
I am a third of the way into the final book of the Erik Haraldsson trilogy which will be
available this autumn. At the same time I am writing a series of short stories which will
present alternative outcomes for the various invasions of 1066 to be published this
summer. Early next year I have a book to write which will tidy up a few loose threads left hanging at the end of the king’s bane trio, in a similar way that the short novel Dayraven straddles the earlier series’.
I have it in mind to tell the story of the Angles from the time of their involvement in the Beowulf poem, through the migration to Britain and culminating with the death of their first Bretwalda, the high king Raedwald of Sutton Hoo fame. There is still a fair way to go, so the new main character for the following Anglian trilogy will come to the fore there. To give myself a little variety I may well expand on the Erik Haraldsson books by writing a string of Scandinavian/Viking trilogies at the same time.
Is there anything else we should know about you or your books – let us know of any significant appearances or events.
As I said above, I am a single parent and have been for five years now. My youngest was still in primary school at that time so I had to get my head down and make this writing lark work. That of course meant that giving book talks and attending book fairs etc were out of the question without bringing the whole tribe along with me so I learned to get by without such things. The upside was that I could concentrate my efforts on producing new material; every book written brought in new readers, and I gradually built up what can only be described as a worldwide fanbase. Very few people successfully combine the skills of authorship and marketing and I know that I am not one of them, so I concentrate on what I do best which is writing new stories. The majority of my books have been Amazon bestsellers, so thankfully most readers appear to enjoy them.
Cliff May is a writer of historical fiction, working primarily in the early Middle Ages. He has always had a love of history which led to an early career in conservation work. Using the knowledge and expertise gained Cliff moved with his family through a succession of dilapidated houses which he single-handedly renovated. These ranged from a Victorian townhouse to a Fourteenth Century hall, and he added childcare to his knowledge of medieval oak frame repair, wattle and daub and lime plastering. Cliff crewed the replica of Captain Cook’s ship, Endeavour, sleeping in a hammock and sweating in the sails and travelled the world, visiting such historic sites as the Little Big Horn, Leif Eriksson’s Icelandic birthplace and the bullet-scarred walls of Berlin’s Reichstag.
Now he writes, only a stone’s throw from the Anglian ship burial site at Sutton Hoo in East Anglia, England.
Well, that was fabulous talking to you Cliff, you sure have had some exciting adventures and this is obviously reflected in your writing. I was particularly intrigued by your admission that you have been to the site of the Little Big Horn, I can’t imagine how moving that must have been. I would definitely find that very emotional and also the Endeavour, which growing up in Australia as a kid I had learned so much about. The awful conditions that must have been faced by those transportees must have been horrific. The medieval hall experience must have also been very poignant, being able to touch the walls intimately and walk on the same floorboards that have been walked on over hundreds of years is just amazing. Thank you for guesting on my blog Cliff, it has been a great honour and here at 1066: The Road to Hastings we wish you the very best.