Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Author of the Day on

I was recently featured as Author of the Day on I talked about the inspiration behind Wolf of Wessex, research, my not-so-secret talents, The Serpent Sword TV series project, and my dog, Blue.

Matthew Harffy - Action-Packed Thriller Set in the Forests of Wessex


Please give us a short introduction to what Wolf of Wessex is about.

Wolf of Wessex, is my first departure from the seventh century, which is the period in which my series, The Bernicia Chronicles, is set. Wolf of Wessex takes place a couple of centuries later in the early years of the Viking Age and follows the tale of an aging warrior, Dunston, as he tries to find a man’s vicious murderers, keep the victim’s orphaned daughter alive and uncover the dark secret that threatens to plunge the kingdom into war. The book has been very well received, with The Times calling it “a treat of a book”.

What inspired you to write about the forests of Wessex AD 838?

I love the outdoors and have been interested for a long time in survival and bushcraft, such as is taught by the likes of Ray Mears, who has presented many successful documentaries and written lots of fabulous books on the subject of how people from different cultures live as one with the land, harmoniously harnessing nature to support them. I live in Wiltshire, England, which in the ninth century was part of Wessex, and near my house is one of the remaining parts of the ancient woodland that was known as Selwudu (Selwood, or Sallow Wood). Walking among the trees there, I found my mind transported back to a time when much of the land was covered in woodland, and I began to think what it would have been like to live alone deep in the forest away from the noise and concerns of the world. And so, Dunston was born.

Read the full interview on

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

REVIEW: A Burning Sea by Theodore Brun

A Burning Sea (The Wanderer Chronicles, #3)A Burning Sea by Theodore Brun
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In A Burning Sea, Theodore Brun, effortlessly takes us back to the eighth century, where his richly detailed and believable characters travel from the snow-wrapped mountains of Scandinavia all the way to the greatest city in the world: Byzantium.

Erlan, the single-minded warrior, is in search of redemption, while Lilla, Queen of Svealand, is looking for the man she loves and also a means to reclaim her kingdom from a treacherous usurper. Byzantium is a teeming hive of intrigue and betrayal and both Erlan and Lilla quickly find themselves embroiled in plots and treachery as the city is besieged by an implacable enemy that threatens not only the city, but the future of the very continent. Theodore Brun's writing is filled with nuance and humanity, jeopardy and violence. A Burning Sea is a dark and twisted journey into a distant time, where the only commodity that could not be bought was honour. This is epic historical adventure at its very best.

View all my reviews

Sunday, 29 March 2020

March update - filming, signing and editing!

It has been a very strange few weeks and I am sure, that like me, you have found it hard to get on with life without constantly turning to the news and/or social media. I hope you and yours are safe and well in these difficult times. This last week has seen my usually quiet house, filled with my family, as my wife has been told to work from home and our youngest daughter's school has closed. It is lovely to have them around and to know they are safe at home, but it is not the most conducive to being able to focus on writing. I am quite flexible with my routine and I'm able to write in quite short bursts pretty much anywhere. But I do need some periods of uninterrupted concentration to get the words down, and at the moment that just hasn't seemed possible. However, we are finding a routine and hopefully next week I'll be able to get back into it.

In the meantime, let me tell you a little bit about what I've been up to in the last month. The first weekend of March found me driving hundreds of miles to multiple locations in south Wales and Oxfordshire for the filming of The Serpent Sword TV project.

I got to work with some of the most talented and enthusiastic people I have ever met. As you know, at this stage the series has not been funded and apart from Patreon subscriptions and one very generous contribution from a friend of the project, to help cover some of our ongoing costs, all of the cast and crew are giving their time, experience, expertise, talent, not to mention props, armour, weapons, costumes, jewelry, and the list goes on, for nothing. It is truly humbling for me to see so many people be so passionate about something that sprang from my imagination years ago and which has frankly taken over a large portion of my daily life.

The teaser has already been watched by more than 20,000 people, which is fantastic!

The next step is for the Proof-of-Concept Trailer to be edited by the amazing guys at Cinemerse. An incredibly talented composer, Josh Evans, is composing original music for it, and we have even been offered the services of a top notch post-production studio to create the sound design (more about that in the future!). Everything about this project feels amazing and the footage I've seen so far is going to blow your minds. I can't wait to be able to share the Proof-of-Concept Trailer with the world, but till then, I have been busy with other stuff, like my day job of writing!

Early in the month saw the release of Wolf of Wessex in hardback and audio. I went to Goldsboro Books in London and signed some copies, which was a first for me (not signing books, but getting invited to London to do it!). I also got to meet my editor for lunch and have a good chat about all things book-related, which is always nice.

Wolf of Wessex has been really well-received, and thank you to everyone who has left a review online or spread the word to others about the book. March also saw another first for me. My first review in a national newspaper, The Times, no less!

So after the excitement of being reviewed in The Times, signing books in London and spending four days on set with actors and crew making my imagination come to life, it was time to get back to work!

I completed the edits of my latest book, A TIME FOR SWORDS

A TIME FOR SWORDS is now out with beta readers and it is also up for pre-order, were you can read the blurb of what it is about. I also got the copy-edits back for FORTRESS OF FURY, which took me a couple of days to go through and send back to my editor. Book seven of the Bernicia Chronicles is out in July.

If you would like to read the first pages of A TIME FOR SWORDS, and the opening pages of FORTRESS OF FURY, you can do so (and see lots more behind the scenes, exclusive and advance content) on Patreon.

Next up I am going to start planning book eight of the Bernicia Chronicles and I can't wait to get back to writing about Beobrand and his friends (and enemies!)!

Before I go, just a quick heads up that both planned events I had lined up have been cancelled or postponed. The Wrexham Carnival of Words has been cancelled, but there might be some online live events in order to allow readers to connect with some of the writers involved. I will probably be doing something for that, so watch this space.

The other event in June in Gillingham Library has now been postponed till December 10th. Hopefully, we will be allowed out of our houses and able to congregate by then!

I think that's it for the time being. Stay safe and healthy and keep reading.


Tuesday, 28 January 2020

I now have a Patreon page!

I now have a Patreon page.

For those that don't know what that is, it is a subscription service where fans can become patrons and be rewarded with all manner of exclusive and advance material. It is not for everyone, but if you are a massive fan of Beobrand and his cohort, or have recently discovered Dunston and friends, or just love the early medieval (aka Dark Ages) era and epic tales, then you might find it something of interest.

Become a Patron!

I've only just launched, but will be adding more content frequently.

So far, any tier subscriber has access to the following:
  • The opening pages of FORTRESS OF FURY (Bernicia Chronicles VII), that is not due for publication until June!
  • The opening section of my new work in progress, working title A TIME FOR SWORDS. This is a totally new set of characters and the book is not due to be published until December 2020!
  • The agent submission letter I used to secure agent representation way back in 2014. This is the first of many posts from the vaults of my hard drive, that will show some of the behind the scenes workings of getting books ready for publication and give some insights into the publishing industry.
Soon, I will also be releasing a very special limited signed edition of Wolf of Wessex, and patrons will have first access to the pre-order and a 10% discount.

There will be lots more exciting stuff over the coming weeks and months, so pop on over to my Patreon and see if there is a tier that provides rewards you are interested in.


Monday, 23 December 2019

Christmas in early seventh century Britain

"Come, remove your sodden cloak and take a place on the bench. The fire is warm and there is food and drink a-plenty." The bearded man looks at you askance. "Even one who has travelled so far to be here tonight."

He ushers you towards the long bench where others are seated around the central hearth. The feast is already well underway and the men raise their cups and drinking horns to you as they slide along, making way for you to sit.

"I see from your apparel that you have come a long way to be here in our Lord King Edwin's hall at Gefrin," says the steward as you settle onto the wooden bench. "I note you have no eating knife. I will fetch you one." And with that he is gone, bustling away through the servants and thralls who attend the revellers.

Looking up, you see the rafters of the long hall are wreathed in soot and the smoke from the hearth fogs the air around the beams. Your nostrils are filled with the scent of roasting meat, ale, mead, and the sour stink of dozens of unwashed bodies. The man beside you, a sharp faced brute with a badly set broken nose and a savage-looking scar under his right eye, pushes a wooden cup into your hand. Some of the contents slosh over your fingers and onto the board before you. The man grins. There is a gap between his strong white teeth, and judging from his scarred face you imagine he might have lost the tooth in combat. You suppress a shiver of fear, but he seems friendly enough and the warmth of the hall is welcome after the driving, bitter rain outside.

"Drink!" the gap-toothed man demands.

Nervously, you sniff the liquid in the cup. It smells faintly of a plant. Heather, perhaps. You sip it and it tastes unlike anything you have drunk before. It is not unpleasant and has a slightly floral taste.

"The ale is good, is it not?" the man asks. "It is fresh," he continues, "goodwife Aelswith made it this very morn."

You drink some more, allowing the ale to refresh you, and offering the man a nod. He seems pleased.

"Here is the knife I promised you." The steward has returned and hands you a small scabbarded knife. Its handle is smooth and made from antler. "So, tell me, stranger,” the steward says, “did you travel here with the Christ followers? They have come all the way from Cantware."

He indicates a dark robed, sallow-faced man, sitting at the high table beside the richly dressed man you assume to be the lord of the hall, King Edwin of Northumbria. Before you can answer, the steward continues.

"Now I have nothing against this new religion of the Christ, and my Lord King is wise to invite the learned men from Roma into his lands. But they say that this, the shortest day of the year and the longest night, is the birth of their god, the Christ. I suppose that might be true.” He scratches at his beard for a moment, finds something in the thatch of hair and inspects it. He squeezes whatever it is between his fingernails and flicks it over the laden board and into the fire. “But for me,” he continues, “this night will always be Modraniht, Mother Night, and I will celebrate it as I always have and as my father did and my father's father did before him. See," he waves his hand towards the carcass that was being turned slowly on a spit over the fire by a sweat-streaked youth, "a boar has been sacrificed and its head and blood offered up to the gods, that the coming year will bring us fertility and prosperity. This priest man from the south, with his strangely-shaved head, can preach all he wishes about the birth of a child god, but I think Yule will always be celebrated as we do now. With good food, strong drink, and offering up thanks to our forebears and the gods. For at this, the darkest and coldest time of the year, we must make our own light and merriment and look forward to the turning of the year and the coming of the sun and warmth of summer once more. Then the land will be green and full of life and plenty." He laughs and shrugs ruefully. "Listen to me, I speak as though I were a scop, ready to tell you a tale or sing a song. But that is not my place, I am not a spinner of words. That will come later, after the eating is done. Caedmon the bard will sing then and tell-tales the like of which you have never heard. His voice is like liquid honey poured into the ears. But now I must be away. I see Hrothgar calling for more ale. Where is Odelyna?” He tuts. “I told her to take a fresh jug over there an age ago. If I find her dallying again with young Acennan, I will take a hazel switch to her hide! Enjoy the food, friend." He shakes his head, gives you a friendly pat on the shoulder and hurries away.

One of the servants, a redheaded comely girl with skin as pale as lamb’s wool and eyes the green of a summer orchard, places a trencher of freshly sliced meat onto the board. Unsheathing the small knife, you take your lead from the others sitting around you and skewer a piece of meat. Chewing the succulent flesh, you look about contentedly, allowing the merriment of those gathered in the fug-filled mead hall to wash over you. The dark-garbed priest at the high table catches your gaze and inclines his head, as though he recognises a kindred spirit. You raise your cup to him and drink deeply of the ale that had tasted so foreign only moments before. Now, you savour the brew as you wash down the boar meat.

You look the length of the hall, taking in the throng of revellers, the raucous laughter. The heat from the fire and the redolence of the hearty food is comforting. You lean back, feeling the tension easing from your shoulders and you ponder the steward's words.

Much will change over the centuries, you muse. Until one day, this draughty timber hall is just a distant memory, veiled in an almost forgotten past. In these northern lands, raiders and invaders will come and go, kings will be born, rise to power and then go the way of all things.

And yet there will be a constant through the ages. When the year is at the wane and the longest night is come, then, whether it is known as Yule, Modraniht or Christmas, the people of this island will eat, drink and spend time with their loved ones, looking back at the year behind them and gazing forward to warmer, brighter times ahead.


This article first appeared on Mary Anne Yarde's blog.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

The power of alliance in the Viking Age

This article was first published in Historia, the magazine of the Historical Writers' Association on 13th November 2019.

My latest novel, Wolf of Wessex, is set in the south west of Britain in AD 838. It features many fictional characters, but they are placed within the tapestry of real events, places and people. One such real person is a king I had never heard of before researching the book: Ecgberht, King of Wessex.

Ecgberht (also spelled Egbert, Ecgbert, or Ecgbriht) was the grandfather of King Alfred and the more I read about his life and his reign, the more I wonder whether he might have as much right to the epithet ‘Great’ (as seen in 19th-century documents about him) as his more famous grandson.

Ecgberht didn’t have to deal with a great heathen army, but he did become the Bretwalda (overking of all of the English), break the dominion of Mercia over the south-east and, through alliance and battle, not only expanded the influence of his kingdom but also defended his shores from foreign aggressors.

The very late eighth and early ninth centuries were years of upheaval after a period of relative stability for Britain. The first account of Norsemen landing was on the coast of Wessex in 787.
Over the subsequent decade there followed a series of brutal raids all around the coastline of the British Isles. Infamously, the raiders, known now as Vikings (from the word vikingr, the Old Norse word for people travelling to raid and seek adventure), sacked Christian monasteries such as Lindisfarne in Northumbria and Iona in the Hebrides.

These Christian sites were situated in exposed locations, with access to the sea, and had no armed guards. They also housed many rich artefacts which were ripe for the taking. These Scandinavian pirates were not Christian, so cared nothing for the supposed eternal damnation they might face for defiling the sanctity of monasteries and churches.

And so it was that the Viking Age began. A time where the sleek dragon-prowed ships of the Norsemen were a constant threat to anyone living near the coast or navigable rivers of Britain and northern Europe.

For a time in the early ninth century, the number of attacks seems to have reduced. And, as so often in history, we can see how alliance made a smaller kingdom, in this case Wessex, more protected from external threats, and therefore more prosperous.

For the reduction of attacks on the British coast was thanks in no small part to Frankish ships patrolling the narrow sea of the English Channel. Like so many monarchs in the Anglo-Saxon period, Ecgberht had been exiled in his early life. He spent those years in the court of Charlemagne, the Frankish king and the greatest ruler of the age.

At the Frankish court Ecgberht learnt much about how to be a statesman and how to govern a Christian country. This knowledge would serve him well and the alliance with the powerful Frankish royal family must certainly have aided him when he returned to claim his place as the king of Wessex.

Under Ecgberht, and with Frankish support, Wessex quickly became the most powerful kingdom in Britain. While the Frankish navy kept the southern coast relatively safe from plundering Norsemen, Ecgberht focused on conquest and expansion. In 813 and again in 825 he led campaigns against the ‘West Welsh’, conquering what is now known as Devon and subjugating Cornwall to the status of vassal state.

Soon he had defeated the Mercians, his main rivals for power in Britain, at the Battle of Ellandun (probably Wroughton in Wiltshire) and then swallowed up Kent, Essex, Surrey and Sussex. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he even took the oath of Eanred, king of the Northumbrians, leading Ecgberht to be called the ruler of all of the English, or the eighth Bretwalda.

But as with all kingdoms, things didn’t run smoothly for long. Mercia, Wessex’s enemy number one, quickly regained independence in 830. And the Vikings posed an increasing threat along the coast of Wessex. This was largely due to a civil war breaking out in Frankia between the sons of Louis the Pious. As the bloody civil war raged, thoughts of protecting the Channel from Norse ships vanished, and the navy was disbanded.

So, with his Continental European allies otherwise engaged and removing their support, Ecgberht found himself having to fend for himself.

In 836, a fleet of thirty-five Danish marauders landed at Carrum (Carhampton). Ecgberht summoned his levies and they attacked the Vikings. But the Danes defeated the men of Wessex and “had the place of slaughter”.

Ecgberht was getting old by this time and the threat of attack by Vikings must have been an ever-present worry for him. Thoughts of expansion were a thing of the past and Ecgberht began to consider securing the succession to his throne for his son Æthelwulf and the defence of his realm from the Vikings. He managed to defeat a concerted assault by a joint force of Danes and West Welsh from Cornwall in 838 at Hingston Down, but as the century went on, the Viking attacks would continue.

Even as the alliance with Frankia weakened, and the Frankish commercial network collapsed, Ecgberht was still striving to strengthen those bonds of friendship once more, as attested by communication with Louis the Pious shortly before Ecgberht’s death.

It seems that Ecgberht of Wessex knew full well that his kingdom was stronger and more powerful when supported by his allies on the continent. Without the Franks’ aid and trade, he could see his influence waning and Wessex’s power dwindling.

It is often said that to understand the present we must learn from the past. Ecgberht understood that alliance with continental Europe made his kingdom more secure. Looking back from the 21st century, such a conclusion appears obvious; but maybe what Ecgberht had come to understand over a thousand years ago is thought to be too distant to be recognised as relevant today.

Wolf of Wessex by Matthew Harffy was published in ebook and print on demand paperback on 14 November, 2019. Hardback and paperback versions will be out in 2020.

Depiction of Ecgberht from the Genealogical Chronicle of the English Kings (late 13th-century manuscript): British Library via Wikimedia
Map showing places of interest during Ecgberht’s reign: by Mike Christie via Wikimedia
Portrait of Egbert: National Library of Wales via Wikimedia