Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Book blurb for The Serpent Sword

It's been a long time since I wrote a post about my writing and I haven't actually been doing much in the last couple of months. However, that is not to say that I haven't been making progress on my novels. I completed the second draft of THE CROSS AND THE CURSE back in September and sent it off to some beta readers. Some have already come back with some very positive comments. It needs another round of edits, and when I hear back from all of the test readers and my agent, I'll give it another once over.

In the meantime, I have started plotting book 3, and even written the first chapter. I've also had a great idea for a novella set in the same time and place, perhaps as a prequel to THE SERPENT SWORD.

I have put both of those projects on hold though, while I have focused on getting THE SERPENT SWORD ready for publication. That means I have been sending it out to other authors for endorsements (I'll post their responses in a future blog post), adding details like Acknowledgements and a map to the novel, working on layout and typesetting and a cover (again, another future blog will cover some of the things I've learnt, and the software tools I've used). I hope to reveal the cover very soon - I am very proud of it.

But first, one of the things I need to do is finalise the book blurb (you know, that text on the back of the book, and probably on the Amazon page, Goodreads, etc?). It needs to be pithy and engaging, enticing people to want to read (and buy!) the book, so it is quite important, but not something I have much experience of.

So, here it is. Please comment below with your thoughts. I'm reasonably happy with it, but welcome the chance to get some feedback before I put it on the back cover of the book, and associated websites.

BRITAIN 633 A.D.
Beobrand embarks on a quest to avenge his brother in war-torn Northumbria. When his journey leads him to witness barbaric acts at the hands of warriors he considered his friends, Beobrand questions the path he has chosen and vows to bring the men to justice.
Relentless in pursuit of his enemies, Beobrand faces challenges that change him irrevocably. Just as a great sword is forged by beating together rods of iron, so Beobrand’s adversities transform him from a farm boy to a man who stands strong in the clamour and gore of the shieldwall.
As he closes in on his kin’s slayer and the bodies begin to pile up, can Beobrand mete out vengeance without losing his honour or his soul?
Set against the backdrop of the clash between peoples and religions of seventh century Britain, The Serpent Sword is the first novel of the Bernicia Chronicles.

UPDATED BLURB  

Thanks to Steven A. McKay, Beth Mann and E.M. Powell for their input and suggestions.

BRITAIN 633 A.D.
Certain that his brother’s death is murder, young farmhand Beobrand embarks on a quest for revenge in war-torn Northumbria. When he witnesses barbaric acts at the hands of warriors he considers his friends, Beobrand questions his chosen path and vows to bring the men to justice. 
Relentless in pursuit of his enemies, Beobrand faces challenges that change him irrevocably. Just as a great sword is forged by beating together rods of iron, so his adversities transform him from a farm boy to a man who stands strong in the clamour and gore of the shieldwall.
As he closes in on his kin’s slayer and the bodies begin to pile up, can Beobrand mete out the vengeance he craves without sacrificing his own honour … or even his soul? 
The Serpent Sword is the first novel of the Bernicia Chronicles.

Let me know what you think. Watch this space - there'll be more news soon. 

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Review of audiobook "Knight of the Cross" by Steven A. McKay

Following on from my recent review of another audio book, I was lucky enough to get the offer to receive a review copy of Steven A. McKay's latest work, the novella "Knight of the Cross" that is now available as an audio book on Audible.


Story

The blurb on the book is as follows:
The Knights Hospitaller battle ancient evil in medieval Rhodes as mysterious disappearances and insane devil-worshippers threaten to turn the entire island into a bloodbath....
When three Hospitallers go missing from a local village outraged Grand Master Foulques de Villaret sends the English knight Sir Richard-at-Lee and his trusted sergeant-at-arms Jacob to discover their fate. Met with resistance from frightened locals and rumours of a blasphemous sect performing unspeakable rites beneath the village Sir Richard must overcome not only the devil-worshippers but the faceless, unstoppable demon that stalks his dreams.
I am a fan of fantasy and horror, as well as historical fiction, and I'm pretty sure my tastes are similar to McKay's. This novella blends perfectly a believable historical setting with elements of classic fantasy stories and Lovecraftian horror. I will admit to having played a lot of role playing games back in the day (and I mean the games with dice and pencils and paper, not the PC games called RPGs) and this novella almost felt like an adventure from Dungeons & Dragons.

An ancient evil stalking a village. Mysterious disappearances. A terrifying subterranean cult. And a couple of adventurous knights sent to investigate.

The story speeds along at the pace of a galloping destrier. It is relentless, exhilarating and just spooky enough.

McKay handles the occult references well, leaving a lot to the reader's imagination as the novella hurtles towards its horrific conclusion.

My verdict?

A fabulous, rich, action-filled story that manages to pack an epic punch into a novella-sized story.

Narrator


Nick Ellsworth reads with conviction and verve. He has a voice that sounds at home intoning the grave events that take place on the island of Rhodes in Knight of the Cross. His deep voice reminded me a little of Richard Burton at times, which is praise indeed.

Experience


I've used Audible a couple of times now, and the experience has always been smooth and easy.

Overall score


5 out of 5 stars

Links


Knight of the Cross on Audible.co.uk
Steven A. McKay's webpage

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A Quick Visit to Sherborne, Dorset

A couple of weeks ago, on 26th September 2014 I decided, on a whim, to take the day off work and go out somewhere with my wife. We chose to visit Sherborne, a place of historical interest that we could get to in an hour or so, as we had to get back in time to pick up our younger daughter from school.

On the way we stopped for breakfast in Frome. We went to a place that looked nice, The Garden Cafe, and it was good enough to gain a mention here. Hmm, those poached eggs were yummy!

Sherborne's history

Wikipedia describes Sherborne's history as follows:

The town was named scir burne by the Saxon inhabitants, a name meaning "clear stream" (see: Bourne (placename)) and is referred to as such in the Domesday book.
Sherborne was made the capital of Wessex, one of the seven Saxon kingdoms of England, and King Alfred's elder brothers King Ethelbert and King Ethelbald are buried in the abbey. In 705 the diocese was split between Sherborne and Winchester, and King Ine founded an abbey for St Aldhelm, the first bishop of Sherborne. The bishop's seat was moved to Old Sarum in 1075 and the church at Sherborne became a Benedictine monastery. In the 15th century the church was burnt down during tensions between the town and the monastery, and rebuilt between 1425 and 1504 incorporating some of the Norman structure remains. In 1539 the monastery was bought by Sir John Horsey and became a conventional church. Sherborne was the centre of a hundred of the same name for many centuries.
In the 12th century Roger de Caen, Bishop of Salisbury and Chancellor of England, built a fortified palace in Sherborne. The palace was destroyed in 1645 by General Fairfax, and its ruins are owned by English Heritage.
In 1594 Sir Walter Raleigh built an Elizabethan mansion in the grounds of the old palace, today known as Sherborne Castle.
Sherborne became home to Yorkshireman, Captain Christopher Levett who came to the West Country as His Majesty's Woodward of Somersetshire, and who remained in Sherborne when he turned to a career as a naval captain and early explorer of New England.
It is a lovely, picturesque town, with a bustling high street, that didn't seem to be quietened at all by the drizzle that fell on the day we visited.



We didn't have a massive amount of time to spend there, so we elected to focus our attention on Sherborne Abbey.

Sherborne Abbey


There has been a church on the site since the early 8th century and perhaps even earlier, as there may have been a Celtic Christian church there before the diocese of Sherborne was created in 705 by King Ine of Wessex. It is now a beautiful building, with vaulted ceilings and sumptuous stained glass windows. I would recommend visiting to anyone with an interest in history or architecture.



After a little bit of shopping (I was with the wife, after all!), we had a great lunch at The Three Wishes.

It was a great day out, and I'd like to go back with a bit more time to visit the other places of interest in and around the town like Sherborne Castle.



If you are in the vicinity and looking for somewhere to visit, I would thoroughly recommend Sherborne.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Review of Audiobook "Wrath of the Furies" by Robert Southworth

I don't often listen to audio books, but I don't really know why. When I do, I enjoy them. They are a great way to consume a book during a time when I would otherwise be unable to read; whilst driving, for example. I commute every day, and usually I listen to the radio or music, and whilst quite pleasant, the huge list of books that I would like to read is not getting any shorter.

In the last year or so, I have listened to a couple of stories during my commute, but I usually find that the books I want to read are not available at my local library in audio format and I am not keen on just listening to the books on offer for the hell of it.

So, I jumped at the chance to listen to a free copy of a new audio book from an author I've been meaning to read for a while. The book was Wrath of the Furies by Robert Southworth and it is one of the new tranche of audio books that are being produced by independent writers through ACX on Audible.


Story

The blurb on the book is as follows:

The new magistrate of Justitia has a difficult task before him. Rome is a bed of deceit and murder and with the Emperor travelling the empire, it falls to him to keep order. However, with a highly skilled assassin slaughtering members of Rome's elite and a mysterious organisation plotting to take power in the Emperor's absence, the magistrate will face constant danger. Magistrate Lucius Magro Decius must learn the ways of Rome with all hast or find himself bleeding in the dirt.
That tells you all you need to know really. The story is pacey and definitely action-packed. There is never a dull moment as it whips along from one murder or confrontation to the next. This is a good thing overall, but I did find some of the pacing a little patchy. There are some scenes which have a lot of attention to detail and characterisation and then others seem to be rattled through, seemingly desperate to get to the next event.

This patchiness was also apparent with some of the characters, most of which were rounded and believable, with strong dialogue, but a few felt as if they'd been squeezed into the story. I questioned why a couple of characters were there at all, apart from to move the story along.

Having said all that, I enjoyed the story. It is like a cross between David Baldacci and Ben Kane. Southworth obviously loves the grimy side of Roman life and the settings feel authentic. The military characters are suitably earthy and the politicians slick and slimy. The love interests are a little forced, but the addition of them adds to the emotional connection with the main characters and their quest for justice.

The plot carried me along for the most part, but I did find the end payout slightly anticlimactic. The twist at the end was good, but felt a bit signposted by the change in writing style.

The Wrath of the Furies certainly never drags, and I looked forward to the commute each day to find out what was going to happen next.

My verdict?

A solid, well-told, action-packed whodunit historical fiction story. I would certainly listen to, or read another story by Southworth in the future.

Narrator

The book is narrated by Casey Jones. I don't know anything about him (a quick Google search didn't shed much light) but I thought I detected a slight Antipodean twang to his accent. In general his reading was strong, nuanced and easy to listen to.

He gives each character a distinct voice, which I liked, but there comes a point where perhaps less is more.

Some of his character voices sounded a little too much like impersonations of Russell Crowe, and his female characters, at times veered a little too close to Monty Python territory for my liking.

I haven't read the book, only listened to it, but I got the impression that it gained from being read aloud. The language is flowery at times, but Jones' tackles it well and his voice lends it a certain gravitas.

Experience

I've not used Audible before, and the experience was smooth and easy. I logged in using my Amazon account details, selected the book and downloaded it. It was that simple. As I wanted to listen to it in the car, I installed the Android app which allowed me to download the book to my phone. I then connected my phone to my car stereo using Bluetooth and that was it. Whenever I got in the car and turned on the Bluetooth, it connected and started playing from where it had left off. You could, of course, use Audible in other ways, but this was a simple and very effective process and I would thoroughly recommend it if you have a Bluetooth-enabled device and car stereo.

Overall score

4 out of 5 stars

Links

Wrath of the Furies on Amazon.co.uk
Wrath of the Furies on Audible.co.uk
Robert Southworth's Facebook page

Friday, 25 July 2014

A bit of writing revisited - the power of editing

Way back in December 2012, when I was only halfway through the first draft of THE SERPENT SWORD, I posted a small sample of the novel here. Well, since then I completed the draft and then made quite a lot of changes in subsequent edits and I thought it might be interesting to compare the same passage in the version of the manuscript that is currently under consideration with publishers.

Have a look at the before and after if you like and let me know what you think. Anything surprise you about decisions I have taken? Are there any bits that you think are significantly better? Or worse? Any comments, don't be shy.

Before you get into reading the sample, just a quick mention about where I am at with the sequel and how the search for a publisher is going.

I am still waiting to hear back from some publishers, so fingers crossed and watch this space. Positive thoughts, everyone!

The sequel to THE SERPENT SWORD, working title, THE CROSS AND THE CURSE, is now at 104,000 words of the first draft. I can see the light at the end of the creative tunnel. I'm looking forward to completing it and then having a break before getting stuck into the edits.

Until then, enjoy the summer and I hope you enjoy this snippet from chapter 3 of THE SERPENT SWORD.

Comments welcome.

Extract from THE SERPENT SWORD


Bassus woke Beobrand the next day before dawn. Men were readying themselves all around them. Many were vomiting, leaving steaming puddles dotted throughout the encampment. Bassus handed him his spear and made sure he was holding his shield correctly. Bassus was wearing his full armour and in the dark he looked like a giant from a scop's tale.
"Here, take this." Bassus handed Beobrand a seax. It was short, not much more than a knife, with a simple bone handle. The single-edged blade shimmered with the patterns of finely-forged metal. "It doesn't look like much, but it is a good blade and holds its edge well. Once we are in close, you'll find it more use than the spear. Your brother gave it to me and it served me well. He would have wanted you to have it."
Beobrand thanked him and they walked together towards the edge of the camp. The shieldwall was forming there. Edwin had taken Bassus' advice and set up camp to the east of the Mercian and Waelisc host, so that when they attacked, the sun would be in the eyes of their enemies.
Nearing the centre of the line, Beobrand saw that Edwin and Osfrid were standing there, metal-garbed, battle-ready and proud, with their gesithas around them. They parted and allowed Bassus and Beobrand to take up places in their ranks.
Beobrand looked along the line. Spears bristled, held aloft, a deadly winter forest. Armour and weapons jingled. Somewhere a man laughed. A short, wiry man to his left drew a stone slowly along the length of his seax with a grinding rasp. Beobrand's whole body thrummed. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest.
Bassus said in a calm voice, "Easy now, Beobrand. This is your first battle and you will not be wanting to die in it, so listen to me." Bassus took off his helmet and Beobrand could just make out the scar running above his left eye. "Use what I have shown you. If you stick by me, you'll be all right. And remember, if I get one of their shields down, get in quick and skewer the bastard."
Beobrand nodded and turned his attention towards the enemy. Cadwallon's and Penda's hosts had seen the Northumbrians readying for battle and they were forming their own shieldwall. They stood in a ragged line at the top of a small rise, the sky behind them a dark purple. In between the land was flat and boggy. To the centre of the enemy line Beobrand made out a standard bearing a wolf's head and several wolves' tails. To the left of that he saw another banner, this one carried a human skull and a crossbeam from which dangled what appeared to be human scalps. The men below those standards were lifting up spears, and hefting shields. Preparing for battle. Preparing to kill.
Smoke billowed from the campfires behind them, mingling with the ground fog.
Would one of the men he could see in the dim pre-dawn light kill him soon? He felt sick all of a sudden and started breathing through his mouth in an effort to calm his stomach. He closed his eyes and leant his head against the ash haft of his spear.
Images from the last six months flooded his mind. Edita's tiny body, swaddled in a shroud being lowered into the ground. Rheda, sweet Rheda, her hollow eyes boring into his as he mopped her burning brow with a cool cloth. She tried to smile for him even then. His mother, shaking with fever, lying on the straw-stuffed mattress, soaked in sweat, reaching out to clench his hand in a grip that belied her frailty.
"Don't stay here, Beobrand!" she had hissed. "You have nothing to bind you here now. I know you wish to be gone, to seek out your brother. You were meant for greater things than tilling the land, my son." She had closed her eyes. Her breathing was so shallow he'd thought her spirit had left.
Then her eyes had opened again and she had spoken for the final time, summoning all her strength to say those last words.
"You...are...not...your...father's...son..."
What had she meant? He would never know. Her breath had left her with a sigh and his father's bones now lay in the charred remains of his house.
 "Wake up, boy!" Bassus' gruff voice brought Beobrand back to the present. To the battle. To kill or be killed.
All of his dreams with Octa and Selwyn had come to this. He had taken heed of his mother's words and left Hithe. His father had confronted him for the last time. He was a farm boy no longer. He was a warrior in Edwin of Northumbria's warband.
He cast a glance at Bassus and the huge warrior flashed his teeth in a grin.
#
The sun was just beginning to peak out over the trees, shedding a pale light over the battlefield. The Northumbrian warriors cast long shadows in front of them.
"Come, my countrymen!" shouted Edwin. "The moment of truth is now upon us. You have answered my call to the fyrd and stand here shield to shield with your kinsmen in defence of the land that is ours by right of blood.
"I am Edwin, son of Aella, direct descendant of Woden. The blood of the old gods flows in my veins and the new God, the Christ, is on our side. Paulinus has blessed us in His name and I have promised to build Him a great church when he grants us victory.
"We cannot be defeated this day. Together we will send these pagans to hell where they belong.
"I will quench my sword's thirst in the blood of these Waelisc and Seaxon Mercians."
He flourished his fine battle-blade above his head. It glinted in the dim sunlight.
"Take up your weapons with me. Guide them with cunning and might. 
"Kill them all! Attack them now and kill every one of them!"
"For Edwin!" came back the raucous response from the host, Beobrand's voice as loud as the next man's.
The shieldwall surged forward. Beobrand felt his shield bang against the man on his left as they ran. He tried to keep pace and to hold his shield in the right position. He could hardly believe what was happening; what had been a distant dream was now vivid reality. And then there was no more time for thinking. The men around him let fly their javelins with shouts of defiance. At the same time, the enemy threw theirs. Beobrand had no javelin but he watched as the light throwing spears were silhouetted against the sky. Those of each side mingled together at the apex of their flights, and then he could see the burnished point of one spear glinting as it fell straight towards him.
He raised his shield above his head and kept running. Something hit the rim of the shield, but he was not wounded. The man to his left screamed, tripped and fell. Beobrand caught a glimpse of a javelin piercing the man's right leg just above the knee. He looked away. The enemy were mere steps away.
The two shield lines crashed together like waves hitting a cliff. Beobrand's shield smashed against another. He pulled back, trying to get an opening at the warrior in front of him. As he did so, he realised it was a mistake. His opponent, a brutish, red-bearded Waelisc, wearing a leather helm, pushed hard as he stepped back. Beobrand lost his balance and fell sprawling to the muddy ground. The Waelisc warrior, smiling at how easily he had broken through the shieldwall, pulled back his spear for the killing blow. Beobrand tried to rise, but the Waelisc moved in too quickly for him to get to his feet.
But at the moment the spear point came hurtling towards Beobrand's exposed chest, Bassus turned and parried the blow with an over arm swing of his barbed spear. He swung with such force that the warrior lost his grip. The spear fell harmlessly to the ground next to Beobrand.
With practised skill and uncanny agility, Bassus thrust his spear into the Waelisc's wooden shield. The barbs caught, and Bassus leant on the spear shaft, using his weight to pull the shield down.
"Now, boy!" Bassus shouted, struggling to hold on to his spear and avoid the cleaver-like blade the Waelisc had unsheathed. Beobrand scrambled to his feet. He snatched up his spear and, letting out a roar that was lost in the tumult of battle, thrust his spear at the Waelisc's midriff. The man attempted to parry, but was hampered by his trapped shield. He only succeeded in deflecting the spear upwards towards his unprotected face. With all Beobrand's weight behind the thrust the point grazed over the man's right cheekbone and pierced his eye. He collapsed instantly and the sudden dead weight on his spear pulled Beobrand down. He stumbled, landing in a heap on the warrior's twitching corpse.
The anvil sound of metal on metal and the screams and grunts of warriors crashed around him. He struggled to free his spear from the eye socket of the warrior, but it was lodged fast. He pulled for a few heartbeats and then remembered the seax that Bassus had given him. He unsheathed it. It felt natural in his grip and with abandon, he threw himself into the rift in the shieldwall. He had killed an enemy and all his fear had vanished like morning dew in the light of the sun. The noise of battle subsided around him and an inner calm washed over him.
A snaggle-toothed man with blood-shot eyes, peeked over a shield in front of him. Beobrand's seax flicked out over the shield and rammed down the man's throat. Bassus was screaming beside Beobrand, hacking and slashing with his sword, splinters from the enemies' shields making a dusty cloud about him. The Northumbrian line was moving forward. A fallen warrior clawed at Beobrand's leg, whether friend or foe, Beobrand neither knew nor cared. Battle lust was upon him and he had no time for the wounded. He stamped on the man's fingers, feeling them snap under his foot and pushed his shield forward to meet the next enemy.
The enemy shieldwall parted and a grey-haired man wearing a fine suit of scale mail stood before him. He was wielding a blood-drenched sword and there was a pile of corpses at his feet. Beobrand thought not of the danger. He saw a gap in the line and walked forward to fill it. The old warrior looked surprised and almost saddened as Beobrand, with no armour and only a splintered shield and short seax for protection, walked towards him.
Something in the warrior's grim features penetrated through the red mist that had descended on Beobrand. He looked around to see where Bassus and the other Northumbrians were, searching for aid against this mighty warrior. Too late he saw that he had become cut off from his shieldwall. The tide of the battle had shifted and the Mercians and Waelisc had outflanked the Northumbrians. Edwin's host had fallen back towards the encampment, leaving Beobrand stranded and surrounded by enemies.
END OF EXTRACT

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

#luckyseven Book Excerpt - The Serpent Sword

Last week, Charlene Newcomb, tagged me in a writer's exercise called #luckyseven. 

You can see details of her post here. On her blog, you can also find out about her novels, the most recent of which is Battle Scars (book 1): Men of the Cross.

The rules are simple:
  • Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 lines or sentences – as they are!!
  • Tag 7 other people to do the same
So here are 7 lines from Page 77 of THE SERPENT SWORD. I am actually working on the sequel at the moment, but as The Serpent Sword hasn't been published yet, I thought I'd stick with that.

I don't think the excerpt needs much of an introduction. It is an atmospheric section, taking place in a brief moment of peace after some quite cataclysmic events.
"On waking Beobrand felt refreshed. His body still ached but he had slept through the afternoon, all through the night and long into the morning, and the rest had done him good. He lay for a while and listened to the movements of the people around him. He could hear the crackle of the fire on the hearthstone and feel its warmth against his cheek. There was the sound of someone stirring something in a bowl, and the cloying scent of malt and honey. Underneath the smell of ale being prepared, Beobrand detected the subtler aroma of baking bread. He could hear a woman's melodious voice intoning a ditty quietly, absently, under her breath. Life was going on normally, despite the tragedy of the last days. The woman had been right about their safety. The Waelisc had not returned."
So the final part of this is for me to tag seven other writers. Here goes, but be warned I have not asked them first, so they may not participate. They are, however, all great historical fiction authors, who you'd do well to check out.

My #luckyseven tagged writers are: Justin Hill, Edoardo Albert, Elaine Moxon, E.M. Powell, A H Gray, Carol McGrath and Paula Lofting.

Keep an eye on their websites for their #luckyseven posts soon.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Meet My Main Character - Say hello to Beobrand

Another month, another blog hop.

This time I have been tagged in a blog hop called Meet My Main Character, by the talented historical novelist, E.M.Powell. The idea is that each writer tagged answers the same set of questions about the protagonist of their latest work. To have a look at E.M.Powell's responses to the questions see here.

At the end of this post, I give details of the writers I have tagged, who will post their own answers the week after me. Check them out, as they are all great writers of historical fiction.

Here are my answers. Enjoy!

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historical figure/person?

The main character in my novel THE SERPENT SWORD is called Beobrand. He is a fictional character, but his life is intertwined with figures from history as he leaves his native Kent and travels to the Northumbrian kingdom of Bernicia.

Sketch of an Anglo-Saxon warrior I did way back at the conception of the story.

2) When and where is the story set?

The story is set in 633 AD. It mainly takes place in Bernicia, the northernmost kingdom of Northumbria. Northumbria in the seventh century is a melting pot of races and religions. The Angles vied for supremacy against the native Britons. Christianity was also beginning its inevitable conquest over the old religions of both the Britons and the Anglo-Saxons.

The shifts in power and the battles between the different kings of the period provide a perfect backdrop for Beobrand's story.


3) What should we know about him/her?

Beobrand is a young man, just seventeen. He travels north in search of his last remaining kin, his older brother. Arriving at the fortress of Bebbanburg, Beobrand discovers that his brother is dead. He is desolate and vows to find his killer and avenge his murder.

He is relentless in pursuit of his enemies and the challenges he faces change him irrevocably. Just as a great sword is forged by beating together rods of iron, so Beobrand’s adversities transform him from a farm boy to a man who stands strong in the clamour and gore of the shieldwall. 

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

At the start of the book, Beobrand is in a very dark place. His family are all dead and he finds himself thrown into a world of battle and conflict he had only dreamed about in the way boys dream of being soldiers.

On his journey, Beobrand fights in several battles, both small and large. He is also witness to atrocities that haunt him for the rest of his life. It is his desire to right the wrongs he has seen, and to mete out vengeance for his brother, that drives him forward.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?

In the first instance Beobrand seeks vengeance. Later he also strives to bring justice to those he has seen commit terrible crimes.

But in the end, his most defining goal, even though he himself may not be aware of it, is to find a place to belong. Like most people, Beobrand seeks love and home. Unlike most people, he is a natural with a sword, and finds himself embroiled in more than his fair share of intrigues and battles.


6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

The working title for the novel is THE SERPENT SWORD. 

I am now working on the sequel, which is tentatively titled, THE CROSS AND THE CURSE.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?

THE SERPENT SWORD is currently out for consideration with several publishers, so if everything goes well, I may have a book deal in a month or two. I imagine that the novel would then see the light of day sometime in 2015.

Watch this space!

The next writers in this blog hop

Here are the next three talented writers I have tagged in this blog hop. They should be posting their own answers to the questions a week after me.

They all write historical fiction, a couple in the same area and period as me, so, if you are interested in the sound of my main character and my story, you should definitely check out their blogs and websites.

Edoardo Albert

Edoardo Albert is, on paper, an exotic creature: Italian, Sinhala and Tamil by birth, he grew up in London among the children of immigrants (it was only when he went to university that he got to know any English people). His proudest writing achievement was reducing a reader to helpless, hysterical laughter. Unfortunately, it was a lonely-hearts ad. Edwin: High King of Britain, his first novel, has just been published by Lion Fiction; at the moment, he’s writing volumes two and three of The Northumbrian Thrones trilogy, a biography of Alfred the Great with osteoarchaeologist Dr Katie Tucker and a spiritual history of London. He is quite busy. Edoardo is online at www.edoardoalbert.com, and on Facebook and Twitter, @EdoardoAlbert, too.


Elaine Moxon

Elaine Moxon is a Birmingham-based Historical Fiction writer and former Holistic Therapist. Her grandfather’s tales of his youthful adventures in rural Italy gave her a love of storytelling, inspiring her to write from an early age. She has a passion for languages, travel, art and history, her favourite eras predominantly the Saxon and Viking ages. She has contributed articles, short stories and poetry to online magazines ‘Birmingham Favourites’ and ‘Crumpets & Tea’. Her Grime-Noir Thriller short film ‘Deception’, produced and directed by Lightweaver Productions, has been nominated for the 2014 American Online Film Awards in New York. She is also a frequent speaker at Letocetum Roman Museum in Wall, Staffordshire, giving historical talks and readings from her forthcoming debut novel ‘Wulfsuna – Blood, Betrayal & Brotherhood’.
Elaine's blog: http://elainemoxon.blogspot.co.uk/

Derek Birks

Here is what Derek has to say about himself:
I live in Berkshire in England. Apart from writing, I enjoy travelling and I spend my spare time gardening, walking and reading. I've also discovered archaeology and I am currently taking part in a long term dig at a Roman villa site.
I taught history for many years and that experience has enabled me to gain some small insight into what people find interesting in historical material. I've read historical fiction for as long as I can remember but probably the greatest influence on my humble efforts would be Bernard Cornwell.
Derek's website: www.derekbirks.com
Derek's blog: www.dodgingarrows.wordpress.com

Saturday, 10 May 2014

A day in the life of a seventh century Anglo-Saxon

April. In England.

More accurately, in Gloucestershire. At the National Trust-owned magnificence that is Dyrham Park.

And of course, as it is April, it is raining.

My wife and daughters traipse along behind me across the beautifully sculpted park. We are making our way to the Old Lodge buildings. The level of excitement is pretty low from the female contingent of our little group. I, however, am buzzing.

Because we are off to see the living history re-enactors, Wulfheodenas, who specialise in reconstructing the warrior class of Anglo-Saxons from the 6th and 7th centuries. As my novel, THE SERPENT SWORD, is set in 633 - 634 AD, I am very excited to meet them and see what they have on display.

When we arrive at the cluster of buildings on the hill overlooking the manor house, we find a small group of what appear to be time travellers, stepped out of a saga as told in the smoke-filled halls of northern Europe well over a thousand years ago.

A lady and three men are huddled around a fire cooking their breakfast.


We seem to be the first visitors of the day, and a couple of the menfolk kindly get up and show us where their hoard of goodies is laid out on trestle tables. Because of the rain, they are inside the barn, which seems quite fitting, with the wooden beams giving the feel of a mead hall.

They are more than happy for us to handle the items on display. "If it looks sharp, it probably is. And the helmets are heavy and expensive, so don't drop them." There ends the health and safety warning.

Heavy and expensive. And awesome!
They are also pleased to answer questions. Lots of questions in my case.

I'm too seaxy for my kirtle...
We stay for about as long as my daughters can stand it. It is cold and miserable, with the wind gusting and rain blowing into the barn, but I am so pleased we have come. I have learnt some interesting things and met some people who are incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the period that my novels are set in.
 
I hope to be able to see Wulfheodenas again sometime, hopefully with better weather.

Some more photos

Here is a selection of some more of my photos from the visit.

A thegn can never have too many helms!

Get off of my land!

Look at the pattern-welding on that beauty, sir. A bargain at twice the price.

Lyre, lyre, your scop is on fire.

I want your seax, baby!

7th century utility belt?

The hospitality left a little to be desired...no mead or pottage!

Matt looking moody.

Fork 'andles? No. Axe handle!

Monday, 14 April 2014

The Blogging Tour: About My Writing Process

Recently, author Courtney J. Hall asked me to join in a Blogging Tour. I've never been involved with this kind of thing before, but decided it could only be fun, right? It is a kind of bloggers' chain mail in which writers answer four questions about their writing process. You can see Courtney's answers to the questions here.

At the end of this post, you can see who the next writers are that will carry on the chain. They are all great writers, so make sure you check them out.

Now, without further ado, here are my answers.

What am I working on?

I am working on the first draft of THE CROSS AND THE CURSE, the sequel to my first novel, THE SERPENT SWORD. Both books are action-packed historical fiction set against the backdrop of the clash between peoples and religions in Dark Ages Britain.

They follow the story of a young man, Beobrand, who begins the first book seeking vengeance for his brother's murder. Beobrand is relentless in pursuit of his enemies and the challenges he faces change him irrevocably. Just as a great sword is forged by beating together rods of iron, so Beobrand’s adversities transform him from a farm boy to a man who stands strong in the clamour and gore of the shieldwall.

A symbol of power in the Dark Ages

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

That is a very difficult question to answer. 

I am not sure my work differs drastically from some of the writers I admire. I would happily be compared to Bernard Cornwell, Giles Kristian or Conn Iggulden, but I cannot say I write as well as any of them!

When pitching my first novel to agents, I described it as "Jack Reacher in the Dark Ages". Beobrand faces his obstacles directly. With strength and a good dose of violence. I write with a dynamic style. Lots of short, snappy sentences. But always trying to use words and phrases that emote the historical period.

I do not overburden the writing with lengthy descriptions. I try to give just enough information for the reader to paint their own pictures.

I write historical fiction, with the emphasis on fiction. I want to portray a world that is believable, but I do not for one moment think that if I went back in time, the world would be as I depict it. There would be some similarities, but I am sure my world makes for better reading than the reality.

Story always trumps history in my writing.

Authenticity over accuracy.

But if I deviate from what is know to have occurred, I add an explanation to a Historical Note.

Why do I write what I do?

I write what I would like to read. I really enjoy reading and writing the action scenes. I did some saber fencing a few years ago, and whilst I was never very good at it, I do think the experience has helped me to visualise combat sequences.

I love movies and some readers have described my style as cinematic. I certainly find it easier to describe the external, rather than the internal lives of my characters.

I like strong characters, with a real sense of right and wrong. But that does not mean they always do the right thing!

I chose to write about seventh century Northumbria more by accident than design.

I lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on me. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Those childhood memories have always stayed with me. When I saw a documentary about Northumbria’s Golden Age, the seeds for THE SERPENT SWORD were planted and I began researching the period.
Looking north from Gefrin (Yeavering)

How does my writing process work?

I come up with some key historical events that will form the backbone for my novels. I then look to find more personal stories that my characters can live within the context of those historical events. One of the advantages of writing about the seventh century is that not a huge amount is known about the day to day life of people. Large brush strokes of the history have survived, but the stories of the individuals are lost in time. This is what makes the Dark Ages such an apt name. The details are hidden in the shadows of time. Making it possible for me to write pretty much anything, as long as it fits within the framework of what we know and it has the ring of authenticity about it.

I map out a high level synopsis based on the ideas I have around the real history and how my characters will interact with events. I then break down that synopsis into very rough chapters. Then each of those chapters I break down into scenes. This is not all done up front, but as I get to a chapter, when I have a better grasp of what I need to propel the story along. I try to keep each scene from the point of view of one character, but sometimes I break this rule.

When I sit down to write, I usually only have an hour, or perhaps two, and I'm often not sitting at my desk at home. I may be on a gym bench, while my daughters do their Tae Kwon-Do class. Or sitting in the car, waiting for my youngest to finish her tap dancing class. Or in the local Library, while she is doing her brass band practice. (Wow - she really does loads of activities!)
This was taken last year - there are more books now!

So, given the time constraints, I really need to focus. I put headphones in. Playlist set to Classical. And I quickly read what I wrote in the last session. I will make a few minor tweaks as I go. Fixing typos, or repetition. That kind of thing. But I don't allow myself to get bogged down.

I then leap into the next scene. I try to complete a scene at one sitting and I think this gives my writing good pace. Sometimes though, that is not possible. When time is running out, I jot down some notes for me to pick it up at the next sitting.

If I come across anything that I do not know. A type of tree. Some historical detail. The name of a king. Or a place name. Anything at all that would require me to stop and investigate. I add a note in [square brackets], like that. When I finish the first draft, the next thing I do, after doing a victory dance and drinking lots of beer, is search for all the square brackets and fill in the blanks.

I write chronologically, so, although I know there are some great scenes coming later, I have to get through the rest of the scenes to get there. I think this also helps make sure the story hangs together. When I get to the pivotal scenes, I know all the details that have gone before, so it is easier to write and the scenes are richer for the extra detail.

I try to write about three thousand words a week. Often I manage a few more, but rarely do I get more than four thousand down. So somewhere between eight and nine months to complete the first draft. And then a couple of months of edits before sending out to test readers for their feedback.

It is a time consuming business, this novel writing lark! But it is rewarding when you have a finished story.

I have recently got representation from a great agent, Robin Wade. My next milestone will be to see my work make it into print and on the shelves of bookstores. I can't quite believe that is really a possibility, but Robin has just pitched THE SERPENT SWORD at the London Book Fair and several editors have asked to see the full manuscript!

Follow this blog, like my Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter, to keep up to date with what is happening.

Next stop - publication!

More writing process blogs

Since writing this post, fellow Anglo-Saxon historical fiction writer Elaine Moxon asked me to carry on the chain for her, so, although my dance card was already full, I thought I would give her a mention here too. Elaine is the author of a Saxon series entitled ‘The Wolf Spear Sagas’, which span the 5th to 11th Centuries; each one a journey quest involving descendants from the previous books. Check out her blog here.

A week from now the following writers will post their own responses and carry on The Blogging Tour. Make sure you check out their blogs and read their books!

Justin Hill

JUSTIN HILL has been likened to George Orwell, a boxer and Tolstoy. He is currently working on the Conquest Trilogy, which chronicles the momentous events surrounding the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  The first of these, Shieldwall, was a Sunday Times Book of the Year.  His fiction has won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, a  Betty Trask Award and the Somerset Maugham Award.   It also has the rare distinction of being banned in China. http://www.justinhillauthor.com
Blog: http://www.justinhillauthor.blogspot.co.uk/

A H Gray

A H Gray lives in sunny Perth, Western Australia. She has a double degree in History and Archaeology from the University of Western Australia, yet due to the lack of Anglo-Saxon hoards or Viking boat burials down under, she has had to content herself with writing about them instead. Her debut historical fiction novel is The Northumbrian Saga and she writes weekly posts on her favourite historical period at www.ahgray.wordpress.com




E.M. Powell

E.M. Powell is the author of the #1 Amazon bestseller, The Fifth Knight, a historical thriller based on the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. She was born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins, the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State. She currently lives in Manchester in the north-west of England. She is currently working on a sequel, The Blood of The Fifth Knight.


Ellie Irving

Ellie Irving is the author of 'FOR THE RECORD' and 'BILLIE TEMPLAR'S WAR'; quirky, funny stories for children aged 9+. An early obsession with 'Murder, She Wrote' inspired Ellie to become a writer, though she has yet to solve any crimes. She spends far too much time watching TV, though she insists it's all in the name of research. Ellie lives in London and her third children's book, 'THE MUTE BUTTON' is published on June 5th.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Things are looking up

It's been a good few weeks.

The incessant rain seems to have finally decided to stop. We've even had some warm weather. Foggy mornings, and hazy sunshine have replaced the floods.

I am making very good progress on The Cross and The Curse, the sequel to The Serpent Sword. I am up to 34,000 words on the first draft and adding another 3,000 or 4,000 words each week. I am guessing it will be about 120,000 words when complete, so I'm about a quarter of the way through. I have written a synopsis for it, which I didn't do at this stage for The Serpent Sword. It was a real challenge, but something very worthwhile, as it has really helped me to focus on the plot. Writing it has even thrown up some twists and turns that I had not expected when I was just dreaming the story up in my head. The best thing was that my agent liked the synopsis.

Oh yes, did I say agent?

That's right. The biggest news of all is that I am now represented by a literary agent! Robin Wade, of Wade & Co Literary Agency, is now my agent! He plans to pitch The Serpent Sword to senior editors of major publishing houses at the London Book Fair in April. I am over the moon, as this is a huge step and one that I believed would take a lot longer. Having a reputable literary agent with a proven track record means I can knuckle down to writing book 2 and hopefully, await good news when my book gets sold to an editor. Agents sell books to editors for a living and act as the first gatekeepers in the traditional publishing world. Robin's acceptance of my book is a huge vote of confidence in the quality of my writing. He thinks it is good enough to be published and I am now closer to getting that elusive book deal.

So that makes two of us who think it should be published. I hope a publisher soon joins the exclusive club of fans of my work!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Review of The Whale Road by Robert Low


The Whale Road (Oathsworn, #1)The Whale Road by Robert Low
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book. Low paints a violent, vivid world of Vikings selling their swords to the highest bidder and scheming to find hidden treasures. The ship's crew would be at home sailing alongside Giles Kristian's Vikings from his Raven series, and there are a lot of similarities between the two writers' stories and characters.

The language in this book is often exquisite. Low shows moments of real brilliance in places.

He also suffers from trying to stuff too much into one book. The main characters are strong, and the overall story arc is clear, but the wealth of locations and secondary characters are impossible to keep up with, and I couldn't really see the need for naming some of the warriors. One character gets added in the last chapter, as far as I could tell, and there seemed no good reason to name him.

It is a good thing that the writing and setting are both fun and engaging, as I almost gave up after reading the first few pages. They are a real muddle that seem to have been edited into a single chapter from perhaps two original chapters or scenes. Luckily though, after that initial confusing section, the book gets underway and is a fun read.

It settles down into a nice rhythm. It is well-written and enjoyable for the most part. The plot could be a bit tighter and I was a little put off by it turning into "Indiana Jones in the Dark Ages" at the end of the book, even though I have to say I enjoyed reading some of the last scenes very much. There did seem to be a distinct difference in tone between the early part of the book and the second half. Perhaps Low decided to add some more supernatural elements as he progressed.

If you are interested in ripping adventures set in the Dark Ages, particularly featuring blood-letting Vikings, this book is well worth a read.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The single most important thing in historical fiction

The other day I asked the following question on Twitter:

"What is the single most important thing in a historical fiction novel?"

It seemed to provoke quite a bit of interest. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it garnered more direct replies than any other tweet I've sent out into my own small dusty corner of the Twittersphere.

The responses fell into a few broad categories that I have classified as:       
  • Accuracy
  • Plot
  • Holism
  • Characters
  • Immersion

I have reproduced people's comments here in full, leaving their Twitter name. Thanks to everyone who contributed. (Anyone who would like to have their real name added to their quote, please let me know.)

Accuracy

Making sure there are no major gaffes or anachronisms is certainly at the top of some readers’ agenda.

@tattooed_mummy no one wears a watch! Glaring historical inaccuracies. It needn't be perfect, but obvious modern speech distracts.

@happyandbashful Getting the facts broadly accurate. Eg someone should have impressed on Schiller that Liz 1 and Mary Queen of Scots never met

Plot

Story got a few mentions in some of the other categories too. It should be no surprise that the story of a novel is important! No…really? Duh!


@word_seeker Story. Historical elements add depth and characters need a landscape, but neither work w/o good plot.

@Randleog As in all fiction, it has to be the story.

Holism

Holism is defined as “the theory that parts of a whole are in intimate interconnection, such that they cannot exist independently of the whole, or cannot be understood without reference to the whole, which is thus regarded as greater than the sum of its parts”.

I have added all comments here that seemed to say that everything, or the interplay between elements, was all important.

‏@mrgolder1974 A great plot, great characters and big picture historical accuracy (i.e Bernard Cornwell).

@morgan_pryce A gripping story and characters that make the reader want to enter & explore this new/foreign world.

@CathHanley Time and place being integral to the plot, not just tacked on to it

@CarmenCromer As a reader, not feeling like you're enduring (second-hand) all the in-depth background research the author did.

@PaulMMCooper The setting and period of a historical novel has to compliment the story being told, and vice versa.

Characters


A few people mentioned characters as the thing that makes them want to read historical fiction.

‏@tattooed_mummy believable characters.

@Historylecturer Some characters it is a pleasure to spend time with.

@larapawson The speech of the characters. If that doesn't sound *real* (not that anything sounds -- or is? -- *real*), you're buggered.

Immersion

Total immersion in a different time and place is very important. You could argue that some of these comments could have been placed under a different category, but hey - it's my blog, so tough!

@paulaerwe Immersiveness. A story that feels so real it's like you've literally got your boots on the ground!

‏@tobyclements1 Full on immersion in the period, but that comes from everything else - plot, character etc - doesn't it?

‏@Lee_Gregory18 Allowing you to escape from the present day and live every sight, smell and moment in the past!

Finally, they say never to judge a book by its cover. Well, some would disagree. To be exact, @counternotions , who said “The cover” was the single most important thing for a historical novel. When pushed on this, they said: “If you can't choose a book by its cover…! On a serious note, visual trumps analytical, even when the chooser is not aware.” An interesting point that shouldn’t be overlooked, particularly in this brave new world of author-publishing.

Thanks again to everyone who responded with comments. I'll be doing some more of these "Question of the Day" tweets and blogs in the future.