WHERE I WRITE: ANNIE WHITEHEAD

I’m delighted to welcome Annie Whitehead as guest blogger for my series Where I Write. Annie writes novels set in the Anglo-Saxon era, a period where many of my books are set. In fact, we’ve both written books which feature Aethelflaed, the daughter of Alfred the Great. I’ve put a link to her books and blog at the end of the post, together with links to where you can find her books.

Over to you, Annie.

Annie Headshot

I had three kids in under four years. That’s not a boast, or a complaint; it’s just a fact. It meant that any attempt at writing was a bit like a bank robbery in an Ealing Comedy film – smash, grab, hope for the best, but expect that the getaway car will have four punctures.

It got a wee bit quieter during the playgroup and primary school years, but by then I was rushing between four part-time jobs, as a freelance Early Years music teacher. I would write, with a fountain pen (I love the smell of Quink!) in Paperblanks notebooks, leaving notes for myself, so that if I had to rush off mid-idea, or mid-scene, to the next job, or to do the school run, I would be able to pick up where I left off. These three books contain the first draft of Alvar the Kingmaker, (my second published novel, but in fact the first book I wrote.)Annie.Notebooks

 

 

 

 

 

Life moved on; with such a small age gap between them it wasn’t long before the kids were all at secondary school, and I was able to progress to the modern age. I bought a lap top, which quickly became so outdated that I didn’t dare connect it to the internet, so I got a little Chrome Book, too.

With longer school days, I was able to commandeer the dining room table, stopping at 4pm when the kids came home.

Nowadays the house is an empty place. Just as the kids went off to school in quick succession, so they left home equally swiftly. Recently I celebrated securing a new teaching project and a publishing deal by buying a new computer. I also swung the table round 90 degrees. Since the two of us can comfortably eat at the kitchen table, this is now my desk. As you can see, now that there is no need to tidy away, I don’t. Annie.Phases of the table

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that’s the set-up, but the desk is not always where the writing happens. Sometimes I need to just let the ideas percolate, and I have a weekly opportunity to do this. Most of my teaching contracts necessitate my getting into the car, but I have a long-standing ‘gig’ at my kids’ old primary school just over a mile away. I always walk there, while listening to music. This is when I don’t plot, so much as tune into the emotions that the music is conveying, using that to gain insight into my characters’ make-up, their likes and dislikes, their passions and their hopes.

As you’ll see from the pictures, what passes for a main road here is often traffic-free, and being farming country, there are plenty of gates where I can stop, lean, stare and not think.

I empty my mind, stop actively thinking about my stories, and the ideas will come into the space I’ve created. The music helps; I listen intently to the words, perhaps out of respect for the lyricist’s hard work, but also because I like to understand. Thus as I walk, or lean on the gate, I become aware of the emotions driving the song and will have a moment of clarity, realising that the real reason for my protagonist’s fight with his wife is her underlying concern about something else.

Annie. Walk to school -thinking time

When I was a child I was forever playing ‘make believe’, running through the woods as if I were Arthur of the Britons from the TV series, or acting out my own stories. The summer after I’d drafted my first book, I went on many long walks, noting what it felt like to have brambles scratch your ankles. As I scrambled down a hillside, observing how one must place one’s feet in order not to fall, I imagined my character Alvar as he ran down the hill to the village of his true but forbidden love, and how she’d feel if she were the one with those scratches stinging her legs. How would she respond to him; as a perfect heroine, or a real person, distracted by the pain? Working on To Be A Queen, and walking on an inclement day, I thought about what it feels like to trudge into the maw of a cold easterly when you’re tired and all you want to do is rest, not fight. Grown-up ‘make believe’.

Writing can be very small, sometimes. Small words, small letters. Full stops, commas. The physical act of writing is technical, and needs to be precise (well, eventually, after the first to umpteenth drafts are done.) Outdoors, in the fresh air, the writing gets plumped up, rounded, fattened like the lambs in the fields.

It can take months, even years, to research an historical novel, and this is where I always start. I need to know the whens, the wheres, and the whos. But outside, away from the dates, the charters, the chronicles, that is where I find my people, my characters. It’s where they become more than names in a history book. A particular song came up on my playlist just last week and I found myself considering how the female protagonist in my new novel would have felt about her grown-up sons leaving home. I fused my own experience of what that feels like, with what I know about the social expectations of her time, and got to the heart of the scene.

Yes, the research needs to come from books, documents, libraries, colleagues. The writing implements are important; fountain pen and acid free paper for long-hand, comfortable sized screen and ergonomic mouse for typing. But mostly where I write, is in my head.

Bio

Annie Whitehead is an historian and novelist, writing about the Anglo-Saxon era:

To Be A Queen is the story of Æthelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great.

Alvar the Kingmaker is set in the reign of King Edgar and begins with a royal bedroom scandal and ends with regicide.

Annie.Both books with awards

 

She was also a contributor to 1066 Turned Upside Down, a re-imagining of the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings. She is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an editor of the EHFA blog. Currently she is working on a contribution to a non-fiction book to be published by Pen & Sword Books in the summer of 2017.

 

 

Links:
Amazon Author Page
Blog
Website
Twitter
Thanks very much for a fascinating post, Annie. As you make clear, writing’s never all done at the desk.
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WRITING: A STUDY IN STUDIES

This is a really fascinating series. There’s not one contribution which hasn’t made me a little envious. But the really nice thing is to see the diversity of places people write.

Today’s contribution is from Colin Falconer. I think you’ll enjoy it.

WRITING: A STUDY IN STUDIES

 Colin Falconer

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every writer, in search of a small fortune, needs a quiet place to work.

Some authors also need a 2H pencil and a bookshelf surrounded by their own personal library with a thesaurus, the Complete Works of William Shakespeare and a dog-eared copy of William Strunk Junior’s ‘Elements of Style’.

I am not one of those writers.

I can and will write anywhere. All I need is something to write with. I prefer a laptop. But a pen will do. A blunt piece of crayon. A Sharpie. Lock me in a cell with a knife and I will scrawl on the walls with my own blood.

For a short while anyway, until it runs out.

But every writer needs a study, some special place to work, right? A place where they can pose with a profound look for author photos?

where i work

‘Where I work now. The puppies wouldn’t keep still for the photo.’

I had one of those, once. It was the size of a basketball court. It was very nice but I don’t miss it. Over the years, I have worked at various kitchen benches; at a dining room table in a rain forest with a python stalking the busk turkeys on the veranda; on a balcony with a view of the Sagrada Familia and a little box in Sydney with a view of a wall.

All the same to me.

At this very moment, there are two puppies brawling in the corner with a cocker spaniel going psycho in the other. For me this is bliss.

In truth, I take my study with me everywhere. Here is a picture: gaetan leePhoto credit: Gaetan Lee

 

 

 

 

Actually, that’s not even my brain. That belongs to a chimpanzee, so it’s probably twice the size of mine. But you get my point.

All I need to work, anywhere, is my weird, strangely-wired mind that looks at a photograph in a magazine or overhears a conversation and immediately finds a narrative. It got me into a lot of trouble at school.

“Falconer! (Weird that Mrs Burns knew my pen name in grade five, but teachers are psychic like that.) Falconer, explain to the class what were we just saying about how clouds form?”

*** dead silence. Falconer is still gazing out of the window, oblivious ***

The shape of things to come.

I have no routine – but I am not typical, it seems. Haruki Murakami is a Japanese writer whose work has been translated into 50 languages. He gets up at four every morning, writes for eight hours then runs for ten kilometres and swims 1500 metres. EVERY SINGLE DAY UNTIL HE FINISHES THE BOOK. He compares writing to survival training.

(What’s Japanese for “Holy Shit!”)

wakarimasita of Flickr 

Haruki Murakami: photo courtesy ‘wakarimasita of Flickr’

 

 

 

Maya Angelou used to rent a room in a local hotel. She had them take down all the pictures and stocked it with a Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary and a Bible. Housekeeping were not allowed in, they had to slip notes under her door: You haven’t changed the bed sheets for 2 months, we’re worried they might go moldy.  She didn’t even SLEEP there. She went home in the afternoons to edit what she wrote there in the morning.

Starting to feel halfway normal now? Me too.

Hemingway and Nabokov used to stand up to write; Agatha Christie and Victor Hugo wrote in the bath. (I tried that but spent all my time playing submarines.) Mark Twain and – wait for it – Amy Lowell smoked cigars.

Edgar Allan Poe wrote with his cat on his shoulders. It kept the ravens away, I suppose. Charles Baudelaire composed essays and poetry with a pet bat in a cage on his desk.

Byron, of course, said he had to have sex in order to write. While he was writing? Don’t know. Maybe.

Honore de Balzac used to drink 50 cups of coffee a day. (Beat me by one!)

Søren Kierkegaard would pour sugar into a coffee cup until it was above the rim. Then he dissolved the white pyramid with strong black coffee and then gulped the whole thing down in one go. Cool.

Others needed even stronger stimulants. Samuel Taylor Coleridge took two grains of opium before writing. So did Keats. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote sixty thousand words in six days using cocaine. A real Jekyl and Hyde characters, our Bob.

stevenson

 

‘Robert Louis Stevenson. Note the dilated pupils.’

 

 

John le Carré wrote his debut novel on his ninety minute scommute into London, Sir Walter Scott composed while on his horse, Gertrude Stein wrote in the front seat of her model T Ford. D.H. Lawrence preferred to write under trees.

John, Walt and Gertie were the normals. Benjamin Franklin insisted on working naked while Edith Wharton wrote in bed; when she was finished with a page she let it flutter to the floor – where it was retrieved by her maid for her secretary to type up.

ben franklin 

‘Ben Franklin, wearing clothes.’

Dame Edith Sitwell liked to lie down when she wrote as well – in a coffin.

At last I see what I have been doing wrong all these years. I’m off into town now to get a box of Cubans and a raven, maybe try and score some coke, then pop into the funeral parlour and order a catafalque.

Yep. I can feel a bestseller coming on already.

Thanks very much for this, Colin and especially for not giving us the picture of ‘Ben Franklin, naked.’You’ve shown how it’s possible to write anywhere the imagination takes you (and some where maybe it shouldn’t have) and still produce good books.

You can find out more about Colin and his good books by following the links below:

Falconer Facebook Club: http://bit.ly/2eOYEHu

my web page: http://colinfalconer.org

Amazon page for new book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06Y3J3297

 

 

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Mandy Hager – Where I Write

This week, I’m delighted to feature a guest blog from the award winning novelist Mandy Hager. MandyShe has written a number of novels for young adults, and a marvel of a book about a boy, a girl and a whale. Her latest novel is about Heloise, the 12th century intellectual.

Over to Mandy.

I’m very fortunate to have my own writing space, tucked away for my sole use. I love this room! It looks out onto our lush garden and courtyard, with windows on three sides. To see green from every window is calming indeed.

My writing room is the one place in the house where I can totally indulge my hoarding whims – and every wall is covered with either bookcases, photos, pictures or framed awards.

I find it comforting to have the wall filled with paintings and photos of my family at my back, as if they perch upon my shoulder to encourage me!

Mandy's room.01

And when I despair after an unsatisfactory day’s writing, I can comfort myself by gazing at my wall of awards to keep me on track! Because it’s not a public part of the house, I don’t need to feel embarrassed for showing them off – just a little private pick-me-up when I need it! The one that gives me the most pleasure is an award my daughter presented to my husband, announcing he had successfully completed his Advanced Course in Step-fathering Skills! It always makes me smile!

My desk was made for me by my husband, lovely and large so I can spread out my mess.

Mandy's room.03

It’s made from Kauri, a beautiful golden timber native to New Zealand.

I have a filing cabinet and file boxes hidden behind a Tibetan wall hanging and to keep me company I share my space with a blow-up version of Munch’s ‘Scream’, which I joke is the outward manifestation of what’s going on in my head! Mandy's room.06

My small grandson is fascinated by it – comes in and talks to it; knows it as ‘Scream’ (God only knows what I’m doing to his brain development and understanding of the world!)

The paintings include two oil portraits of my Austrian grandparents, the canvasses rolled up to transport when they and my father had to flee Vienna in 1937 to escape Hitler. Between them is a tinted photograph of my maternal grandfather, who worked as a doctor in East Africa from the 1930s to 1950s (my mother was born in Zanzibar!) Others are by my children over the years, and a rather strange one of a bear-like creature, holding a baby while overlooking a sailing ship approach, was painted by a friend. I love it, strange though it is; it makes me think of colonisation and how native populations were treated as animals by their colonisers, despite having all the same emotions and intellectual capacity as the new intruders (Who is the civilised one? Who is the Beast?) I’m not sure if that’s what she thought as she painted it, but I’ve spent a lot of time gazing at it, and this is what it says to me. Well, that, and perhaps that we all share the same traits, no matter where we come from or who/what we are.

The old gold corner suite is an original of the 1970s from my family home. I can remember when it first arrived – it seemed so modern and grand! It’s very comfortable for whiling away a brain-rest moment or two – or if I want to watch something via my computer. I can stretch out to relax and still see what’s on the screen. Mandy's room.02

There are boxes of work for my teaching job piled in one corner, mostly well organised! And beside them rests a hula hoop, in case I feel the need to move and stretch! The bookshelf to the left of my desk is filled with research and resource books for my writing and teaching, while the shelf to my right contains my children’s book collection, many from my own youth or my children’s, or from my primary school teaching days. It’s layered two books deep to fit them all in!

This is the room I love to work in, and when I’m away I miss it terribly. There really is something to Virginia’s Woolf’s need for ‘a room of one’s own.’ I feel very lucky to have somewhere that makes me feel embraced by those I love and feeds my somewhat quirky soul.

Heloise will be published on 15 May.

 Product Details
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RUADH BUTLER – WHERE I WRITE

 

This is a fascinating series. I’m really grateful for the authors who have taken the time to show us a glimpse into their world. Today I’m pleased to have a piece from Ruadh Butler. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

 

‘Where I write’ is an interesting title. Does it mean the desk where I scribble down the story? Or might it also be a question about the setting into which I drop my characters? A Butler

Luckily, for me the answer to both questions is the same. Where I write is Ireland – both in the sense that I am physically standing on that little yapping, dog-shaped island off the shoulder of Europe as well as the Emerald Isle being where my books chiefly take place.

Ireland plays a considerable role in my work. More than merely a location or a backdrop, Ireland’s landscape has become as much of a protagonist in my stories of the 12th century Norman invasion as any of the human characters. It moulds and influences the story. Ireland’s geographic features become challenges to be borne, overcome or avoided.

The Ireland where I live and the one in which I write are very different places. The green fields now identified so closely with the country were only created in the centuries after the invasion of Ireland. Before 1169 it was largely a forested land of few roads and impassable bog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is a landscape all but lost in favour of ordered fields and agriculture. Pockets of that old world can still be found, however. To help me imagine it I don’t have to go very far from my desk. Rather I can take a couple of steps back and so look out of my window towards the Sperrin Mountains. At Davagh Forest or the mountain bogland around An Creagan, at Beaghmore Stone Circle or the ancient tombs at Creggandevesky, I can get a feel for the Ireland into which the Normans journeyed in the 12th century. Even today it can be a tough landscape in which to walk, but back in the medieval period it must’ve been one of the most challenging terrains imaginable. Foliage would’ve been stifling, conditions underfoot treacherous. Wide grasslands would’ve suddenly disappeared into impenetrable bog, rivers into unnavigable marsh. Throw in the unpredictable Irish weather and you have a landscape which could defeat any army before it ever had the chance to swing a sword in anger.

In my books I try to use this unique landscape to give insight into the emotional state of the lead characters. The feeling of being surrounded is one experienced by Robert FitzStephen in Swordland, the first in my Invader Series. This sentiment is reflected in the landscape around him: encroaching woods, looming mountains, and brimming bogs. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In part two, Lord of the Sea Castle, it is Raymond de Carew’s fear of being overwhelmed by a larger force that dogs him as he journeys to Ireland. I hope that my use of coastal features mirrors the state of mind in which we find Raymond and gives clues to how he will overcome the dread that he will be engulfed.

 

My writing desk is actually a three-deck open-fronted curio. The keyboard sits on deck two with the laptop/monitor at head height on the top. Ergonomically speaking, standing up to write is one of the best changes I ever made. Most of Swordland was written during lunchtime breaks when I worked as a journalist. Folded up over a laptop, sandwich in hand and feet on my desk, it wasn’t long before I began to suffer with a very sore back. As helpful as it proved, I was not a fan of shelling out money to a physio and knew a change was required. I remembered Michael Jecks and Giles Kristian mentioning that they stood while writing and thought I would give that a go. The back end of Swordland and the entirety of Lord of the Sea Castle were written in this manner and I haven’t had a sore back since.

The curio once belonged to my great-grandmother’s family, the Newtons, who owned an estate in the Blackstairs Mountains from the middle of the seventeenth century. The piece might even have been built from trees felled in County Carlow in the 1800s. I like to think that using the curio gives me a tangible link to the region in which many of the events of the Norman invasion took place. It was below Mount Leinster that Diarmait Mac Murchada and Robert FitzStephen made their last stand in the face of a vast army under the High King in the winter of 1169. It may have been by a nearby mountain pass that they made their triumphant return to Ferns after defeating the Osraighe at Gowran 848 years ago.

Facing into the corner of the drawing room means fewer distractions. Yet despite having my nose less than twenty centimetres from the screen and with little more than a light fitting and a globe in my eye line, I still seem able to find diversions. Tea is a constant requirement while the hockey stick at my side is doubly useful as prop sword for plotting fight scenes and as a diversion when I am trying to think of a particular word or plot point. Damage to the rear of the seat nearby is testament to how often the hockey ball is bashed around in frustration!

Music is always playing in the background as I write. Mogwai, Sigur Ros and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez would be on most often, but I go through periods listening to bands like Explosions In The Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Oh Hiroshima, and We Lost The Sea. Mostly without lyrics, this is mood-setting music of the highest order. The same bands have been helping me as I continue to write part three of the series. I still stand before the same curio, envisioning the harsh terrains from whence it came. And Ireland will be the setting because, after all, that is where I write.

SPEEDUP

 

CONTACT

Website: www.ruadhbutler.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ruadhbutler

Twitter: @ruadhbutler

 

BOOK LINKS

LotSC

AMAZON UK – Swordland

AMAZON UK – Lord of the Sea Castle

WATERSTONES – Swordland

BARNES AND NOBLE – Swordland

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Where authors write

I started this series in November with a short post saying where and how I write. Since then I’ve been able to post fascinating pieces by Matthew Harffy, Giles Kristian, Stephen Carver and Carol McGrath. They give marvellous insights into where and how authors produce their books.

Today, I’m delighted to give the stage to my friend Prue Batten. Over to Prue.

Prue - face

Where I write…

I recently read Carol McGrath’s contribution to Martin’s blog and her opening words were resonant. Essentially she asked if a writing retreat was a physical space or a state of mind.

I thought long about this. I’ve never been to what is called a ‘writer’s retreat’ and have no inclination to do so because knowing me, my creative juices would dry up quicker than a drought-affected waterhole and my self-discipline, or lack thereof, would have me going for self-indulgent walks, drives, swims and so forth. So maybe for me, it’s all a state of mind.

I’m a mobile writer – a necessity caused by lifestyle. I live in Tasmania, the unique island state that is part of Australia. My husband and I travel between a coastal cottage with a large garden and a small townhouse in Hobart. Mostly we live at the cottage, but there are times when city life impinges and we need to stay in town, accomplishing that which keeps our business turning.

I write in the city of course – just one or two hundred words. Prue in the city

Some editing as well but nothing huge, nothing remarkable. However, I do an awful lot of fact checking, pulling books off shelves, using post-its to mark paragraphs of interest.

Because the coastal cottage is tiny, we have little storage and so all my writing world is stored on the city bookshelves, in the ‘cloud’, on USB’s and kindle and in my section of the city office. I’ve known nothing but that nomadic life and with ten novels published and the eleventh well on the way, it’s a lifestyle that works for me.

The cottage’s location is beautiful. Prue - Maria island

It sits twenty minutes opposite the former colonial penal settlement of Maria Island and is surrounded by water that vacillates between turquoise and aquamarine. It has beaches with powdery sands that squeak as one walks. It has a temperate climate, a lot of blue sky and a sea that stretches in part to New Zealand and then further to South America in one direction, then Africa in another, with Antarctica to the south. It’s a gem…

It fires something in my blood so that when I take myself into my writing state, words flow from my innermost being and I find that I see into my characters’ souls with more clarity than when root-bound in the city. Prue - walking

Through all my books, the revelation of heart and soul is the life-blood that flows through the pages. I write character-driven historical fiction and historical fantasy so my characters need to ‘feel’. I can sit with the sound of wave, wind and seabird floating on the air and recall my own experiences of an active life, of my emotions during watershed events, and I can relate that to my characters and their historic settings without fear or favour.

The cottage itself is filled with cream, blue and taupe colours – the calming colours of the coast – and they too have the effect of pressing the starter motor of my writing state. Prue - cottage

Outside, in summer, the garden against the house wall is filled with blue and white agapanthus and my seat looks across to a border of essentially white perennials. Along with the sea, the ornamental and productive gardens are my other escape, where my mind works unconsciously through narrative glitches and character gaps. Perhaps the archtypical ‘writing retreat’. Who’d have thought?

I write with pen and paper – every one of my ten and a half novels – with blue Bic pens and standard recycled A4 pads from the city office-supply shop. I usually go through 3-4 pads and perhaps 2 pens per book.

Prue - writing space

I have a file folio which travels with me and at the end of writing, it will be shelved in the office with all the facts therein, to be available should any further novel require similar research. For example, the first book in the trilogy of The Triptych ChronicleTobias (a semi-finalist in the M.M.Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction and also a semi-finalist in the Chanticleer Chaucer Awards and an Indie B.R.A.G gold medal bearer) takes place in Constantinople. The final book in the trilogy, Michael, also takes place in that august city so there is a complete cross-over in research.

I’m also lucky to have a friends in the UK, Turkey and France who have gone above and beyond the bounds of friendship in researching for me. Tasmania is a long and expensive distance from the settings for my narratives and one never knows from one book to the next where a new plot will take one. I can tell you, no words will ever express my gratitude to those friends.

Each few thousand words (which I have edited with pen and which are cross-hatched and scribbled upon with arrows pointing over to the backside of the page) I transcribe to word document on the Macbook Air, backing up to the ‘cloud’ and to a hard-drive as I go.Prue - two beaches

All is done to the continued music of seawinds, bush and seabirds and the occasional crash of waves, but more likely the wind-brushed sigh of wash along the shore.

 

I belong to no creative writing group, relying on interaction online with readers and writers and specialist interest groups. My editor is in England, my formatter in Scotland, my beta readers in Turkey and the USA and my creative designer here in Tasmania. Nothing is beyond the realms of possibility in this global state in which we live.

My writing retreat, my writing state – call it what you will – is perhaps not unique. Thousands of writers through time have sequestered themselves in remote areas to follow their hearts. I do think though, that Tasmania is just that little bit special in being geographically isolated. One can truly switch off from the world’s intensive peregrinations.

Thanks so much, Martin, for allowing me to rattle on about my beautiful island and for making realise, yet again, how lucky I am.

PrueBatten_EmailSignature-1

For more information about award-winning writer, Prue Batten, go to:

http://www.pruebatten.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Prue.Batten.writer

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/pruebatten

Thank you so much for this beguiling piece, Prue. I really appreciate it and enjoyed it

You’ll be pleased to know that a number of writers have written about where they write and these will be featured over the coming months. I’m delighted to have contributions from Annie Whitehead, Edward Ruadh Butler, Jerry Autieri, Robyn Young, Erin Johnson, Simon Turney and Colin Falconer and that’s just for starters.

 

 

 

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Extract from my new Work in Progress

I’m in the last stages of editing my new book which is a sequel to Land of Blood and Water. This is set four years after King Alfred’s victory at Ethandun and follows the adventures of Ulf and Inga who are now making their way in the world.

******************

LONGSHIPS Mideltun, Kent, Easter 883

Ulf bent and examined his horse’s hoof.

‘It’s looking better,’ he said.

‘Be as good as new in a day or two,’ the blacksmith said. ‘But you’ll need to go gently with her.’

Ulf straightened and smiled. ‘I will. You’re the best smith and the best horse-healer I know, Cuthred.’

The smith smiled. He guessed that despite Ulf’s youth he already knew a great many smiths. One of the King’s own thegns would.

A sound of quarrelling reached their ears. ‘Hunsige and Siflaed again,’ Cuthred said. ‘And on Easter Day at that.’

Ulf groaned and stepped out into the sunlight.

Hunsige and Siflaed stood in front of their cottage, screaming at each other. Their neighbours paused in their work to watch and listen. It was one of the best entertainments in the village.

Lilla the priest, an earnest young man, came rushing towards the couple, his hands held out in a placating, calming gesture. Hunsige and Siflaed ignored him, trading insults like the doughtiest of warriors.

The priest stepped between them, Hunsige gave him an angry look and punched him in the eye. Then he slapped Siflaed across the face, sending her sprawling in the dirt. She struggled to her knees, eyes blazing, her own fists raised, then fell back again in a daze.

‘That’s enough,’ yelled Ulf. He strode towards them, uncertain that he had enough authority for his command to be heeded in such a heated situation.

He never found out.

‘Northmen,’ came a cry from the fields. ‘The Northmen are coming.’

Ulf stopped mid-stride and turned towards the river.

Five longships were speeding up the river.

Ulf stood open-mouthed in astonishment. Since the defeat of Guthrum’s army no Danish ships had sailed a river south of the Thames. His mind whirled. Perhaps they’d been sailing from East Anglia and got lost. No sooner had he wondered this than he doubted it. Northmen never got lost, their paths were always intentional. It meant they were spying out the land. Or even worse.

He observed the ships as they got closer. They were certainly not knarrs, the Viking trading craft. These were longer and leaner; dragon-ships, stallions of the sea, with space for only warriors and weapons. He calculated that each ship would carry forty warriors.

‘Get my sword,’ he cried to Cuthred.

The longships crashed against the river bank and two hundred armed warriors leapt to shore.

‘Find some weapons, men,’ Ulf cried. ‘Axes, knives, hammers, scythes.’

He raced across to the priest who was staring at the ships in horror.

‘Gather the women, children and old men,’ Ulf said. ‘Lead them into the forest. We’ll try to hold them off.’

‘There’s too many of them,’ Lilla said. ‘You won’t be able to.’

Ulf swallowed hard. ‘So hurry.’

Men raced into the village from their work in the fields and joined those who had darted into their homes for anything they could use as a weapon.

Ulf glanced at the little band, a score of terrified peasants without a sword or spear between them, preparing to fight two hundred savage warriors well armed and ruthless. Every man knew they would be cut down in moments. But those moments might just give their loved ones time to flee and hide.

Ulf smelled the familiar stench of piss and shit as the men’s bowels and bladders opened where they stood.

Cuthred thrust Ulf’s sword into his hand and shouldered his heavy hammer. ‘We’re dead men,’ he said.

‘So are some of the Danes,’ Ulf said.

And with that he leapt to the attack.

The Danes had been so eager to attack they did not come in one compact body. They came in a long line with the fastest leading the way, yelling and whooping with excitement.

It gave the villagers a brief opportunity to fight.

Ulf struck the foremost Dane, his sword piercing the man’s throat, killing him instantly. He withdrew the blade and slashed at the second warrior, hacking his arm to the bone, felling him to the ground. Cuthred appeared at his side, his hammer struck and a third Dane fell, his skull crushed into a hideous shape. Ulf feinted to the left and plunged his sword into a fourth warrior’s guts.

He heard a roar of fury as the villagers charged. The nearest Danes slowed, a handful of men, realising that they were outnumbered. In an instant the villagers fell upon them.

It was a brief and frenzied attack.

‘We’ve killed ten of them,’ Cuthred said with joy.

‘Only one hundred and ninety left then,’ Ulf said.

He looked towards the river. The Danish captain had halted the headlong charge and now gathered his men into a long shield-wall stretching to either side of the village and beyond.

They began to beat their spears upon their shields, a thunder of noise which rose across the village like a taunt and a threat of destruction.

Ulf glanced towards the forest. The priest, Lilla was on the fringes of it, shepherding the last of the women into the trees. Or not quite the last. Siflaed, still groggy from her husband’s punch, remained on her knees in front of her hut, unnoticed and forgotten.

There was nothing he could do about her, no means of protecting her. But he could try to save the rest of the village.

‘Run, men, run,’ Ulf cried.

The villagers turned and fled towards the forest. Ulf hoped against hope that the women and children had gone far enough to be safe. He pushed Cuthred away and turned towards the Danes. He was lord of the village. He would remain and hold off the Danes alone.

The Danish shield wall had all but engulfed him when a loud, gruff voice ordered them to stop. The Danes halted within a few steps of hearing the command, a sure sign they were well disciplined.

But not all of them. One man leapt from the shield wall, screaming a taunt. He turned towards his own line, eager to see how they would admire his challenge.

Ulf seized the chance, hurtled towards him and sliced open his neck while his gaze was still turned.

A rumble of anger came over the Danish wall and three warriors, friends of the fallen man, strode out to put an end to the fight.

Posted in Dark Age England, Historical fiction, Uncategorized, Vikings | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

My Writing Place(s) by Carol McGrath

Today, I’m delighted to have a guest post by my friend, Carol McGrath. Carol is a very successful historical novelist and is one of the most supportive writers around. This piece made me more than a little jealous. It gives an insight to where she writes and the way in which she goes about writing. There are links to her books at the end.

Over to Carol.

A Writing Retreat in Greece

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What is a writing retreat? Is it a physical space, a state of mind or both? I have several physical places where I write, both the Greek Mani and a village in Oxfordshire, but the true retreat really is when I withdraw from the everyday world into one that allows my imagination to flow. That is when I can recreate historical landscapes and people them with my version of historical characters. They are real personalities who once walked the earth and imagined ones who live in my head. To write, I have to be in a place where I am relaxed and can, with ease, paint scenes with words but I need to be in a state of grace to write  and, as this is not my usual state of mind, when it happens it is special.

Writing an historical novel is all about research and transferring that into a fictive form. It is all about excavation and burial in order to recreate a convincing historical world, peopled with interesting personalities as well as owning an engaging narrative. It takes me a year to research a novel and another to write one. After that, a considerable time is spent editing with my editor helping this stage along.

Researching is the easy part. I love it and as I live close to Oxford, I can use the Bodliean Library where I explore primary as well as secondary source material. I was fortunate in that much of the research I undertook for my debut work, The Handfasted Wife, set in the aftermath of 1066, served me well as a basis for the two companion novels in this Trilogy- The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister.

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I use pen and notebooks for research. I label my notes carefully and keep them on shelves in my study along with the huge library of research books I have gathered over the years. One thing I learned on a PhD programme at Royal Holloway was to meticulously note down the book’s provenance and the precise pages from which I extract material.

Some research books and notebooks accompany me to the Greek Mani every year. This is where I find my state of grace. We drive down in the late spring and back in November. I am back and forwards in-between but then I fly. We permanently rent a stone house in the southern Peloponnese between the sea and the mountains.

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It is an overgrown country cottage, covered with honeysuckle and bougainvillea. We have views of the Gulf of Messine from our windows and we can walk or cycle to the sea and to local villages.

I have written the best part of three novels there. It is quiet and though I have many friends I have few distractions. I can just be. It is where I focus best. I plan a book in three acts with lists and especially characters.

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I often write with pen and paper before transferring the work to my lap top. I keep a notebook with character notes for each story. When I am ready to begin, I write into the story for about 10k words to get my characters into my head and after that I stop, plan in more detail and review those initial chapters. I don’t write a lot in a session. I break sessions up. Of course, I further review during the editing stage, of which there are a considerable number. Importantly,  after the first lot of words, the characters are with me and I am off. If I believe in my characters, hopefully my readers will as well.

Kardamyli is a perfect place to write. Paddy Leigh Fermor wrote here, as did Bruce Chatwin on occasion. Chatwin’s ashes lie buried outside a small, difficult to find, Orthodox Church in the Taygetis Mountains above my house.

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These mountains hold hidden villages in their folds, the homes of a proud people who farm and keep sheep and goats in caves and in rocky pastures as well as in their olive groves. It is an older way of life, a slower pace, yet by no stretch of the imagination are these people poor. They own a rich culture and love to sit outside a café shooting the breeze of an evening over coffee, ouzo and wine. Many of them run successful bars, cafes, restaurants down on the coast during summer.

I am part of a small writing group. On Wednesday evenings, we play scrabble under the trees and, during August, writing friends from England come out To the Mani, stay, write and join in. That is when my house is a true writing retreat with the vibrant exchange of ideas.

At the moment, I am in England, working on publisher edits for my latest novel The Woman in the Shadows, an historical fiction about Thomas Cromwell’s wife Elizabeth.  It will be available on August 4th 2017. Accent are also republishing the successful Daughters of Hastings Trilogy with beautiful new covers, maps and family trees. After this, I am contracted to write three novels about medieval queens. I have researched the first and hope to begin writing it over the coming months. I know, of course, that the place where I shall discover my state of grace for the next novel will be my writer’s retreat in The Greek Mani.

My Links

https://www.facebook.com/daughtersofhastings

http://scribbling-inthemargins.blogspot.gr/

http://www.goodreads.com/author/dashboard

Follow me on Twitter @carolmcgrath

http://pinterest.com/carol0275/

http://www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk

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Thank you, Martin, for inviting me to ‘speak’ on your blog. I very much enjoyed mind travelling to the Hellenes as I wrote it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this and other posts as much as I have. If you’re an author and would like to share your writing place with readers please get in touch and book a slot. If you’re a reader and would like me to invite a favourite author to contribute please let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

Posted in Author's Writing Places, Historical fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments