Saturday, 22 October 2016

What Kelly Evans learnt researching The Northern Queen

This month in the "What I Learnt..." series I am pleased to welcome to my humble blog author, Kelly Evans.

Born in Canada of Scottish extraction, Kelly graduated in History and English from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. After graduating Kelly moved to the UK where she continued her studies in history, focusing on Medieval England and the Icelandic Sagas (with a smattering of Old Norse and Old English).

Her first novel, The Northern Queen, was released in 2015 and she is currently working on the second book in her Anglo-Saxon series, set in the years prior to the Norman invasion.

What Kelly Evans Learnt when researching The Northern Queen

Eadric Streona was truly a horrible person.

The BBC survey named him the worst Briton of the Eleventh Century, and with good reason. What a fantastic person to have as a character!

He was a rising star and trusted advisor in the court of Aethelred and was responsible to the death of my main character’s father and two brothers. It was a dangerous time for England: the country’s borders were weakly protected and England was a tempting prize for Danish invaders. After an invasion of the Danes in 1009, Aethelred was prepared to retaliate with force but was persuaded by Eadric to pay nearly 50,000 pounds of gold to make them go away, a hugely unpopular move: most wanted to see their king fight back, not give in and bribe the invaders.

After the Danish invader Sweyn Forkbeard died, his son Canute took over. Rather than side with his king, Eadric declared his loyalty to the invader Canute, shocking his fellow countrymen. At a battle where he fought for Canute against Aethelred’s son Edmund, Eadric cut the head off of a soldier who looked like Edmund, held it in the air and told the English that their leader was dead, an act which further sealed his reputation as worst Briton of the time. Eadric wasn’t done however.

Late that same summer Eadric switched sides once again, swearing loyalty to Edmund. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s comment on this act is revealing: “No greater folly was ever agreed to than this one.”

In October the final battle occurred and with it another of Eadric’s treacheries. Edmund should have won the Battle of Assandun; his forces were superior to the Danes and he had enlisted fresh fighters, compared to the Danish forces who were fewer in number and battle-weary. But at a pivotal moment, Eadric fled the battlefield, his many supporters along with him. The sides were now numbered in favour of the Danes and the English suffered a crushing defeat.

Eadric ingratiated himself enough with the new king to remain Ealdorman of Mercia but by the following Christmas, 1017, the mood had changed: Canute either suspected Eadric of treason or had already accused him of such and he was executed.

Such a fun character to write!

I really enjoy researching my novels. A lot.

My characters are related to Rollo, whose story is currently being told in the TV show Vikings. 

While researching my characters I traced their family trees for completeness sake, and also to provide additional information for readers on my website. Rollo, played by Clive Standen (and erroneously listed as Ragnar Lothbrok’s brother – they weren’t related), after attacking Paris and Bayeux (and marrying Poppa of Bayeux), was granted land in what we now call Normandy (‘land of the northmen’). His descendants lived (and still do) in most of the royal courts across Europe, including his great-granddaughter Emma of Normandy who was offered to the English king Aethelred in a marriage treaty that would help to protect England’s interests on the Continent. Emma is one of the main characters in my novel, and my main character’s enemy.

How Manipulation was Used by Women

It was incredibly difficult for a woman, even one of high birth, to gain and wield power. Emma of Normandy was the daughter and sister of the Dukes of Normandy but was considered a pawn in the political game between Normandy and England. Arranged marriages of high-ranking noblewomen was commonplace, with little to no consideration for the woman’s opinion. But Emma became a skilled manipulator, gathering wealth and support through bribes, promises of wealth and power, and gifts of money and land, enough to eventually affect the course of events in the country.

My main character, Emma’s ‘nemesis’, Aelfgifu, also from a noble family, was married to the Danish invader’s son Canute in what may or may not have been a love match. It was certainly an astute partnership as the act brought with it support for the Danish king. Despite this she was deemed unsuitable (their marriage ceremony hadn’t been presided over by a Catholic priest, rather they used the ancient practice of hand-fasting) and replaced by Emma, who, after Aethelred’s death, was seen as a perfect match for the new king Canute. Despite Emma’s support and machinations, Aelfgifu gained her own powerbase, to such an extent that she was able to persuade the country to accept her son, Harold, as king after Canute died. Through carefully thought out gifts of land and promises of more, Aelfgifu’s influence meant that she was able to aid her son effectively in his rule.

To prepare for writing The Northern Queen, I had to do extensive amounts of research into the people and period. My previous historical study only just touched on the Anglo Saxon period so I had a lot of work to do to get all of the details just right. More than just right, historical fiction readers are an exacting bunch! I started with a broad picture then narrowed my research considerably. And I loved it, the individuals, the rulers, the politics. The whole time period. And I loved finding a new history book, or a new source of information on the internet. I’m a data addict, and the research scratched that itch for months. All to ensure I told the best, most accurate, story I could.

Another huge advantage to the research is the people I’ve met, others interested in the early medieval period, from all over the world and dedicated to bringing the period to life. And while I’m working on a novel that takes place in a different time period (black death!), I still try to write a historical article on an element of the Anglo Saxon age each month for my website. You never stop learning!

Connect with Kelly Evans


Friday, 21 October 2016

REVIEW: Oswiu by Edoardo Albert

Oswiu: King of Kings (The Northumbrian Thrones #3)Oswiu: King of Kings by Edoardo Albert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 'Oswiu: King of Kings', Edoardo Albert brings to vivid life the battle for the land and souls of the British people in the seventh century. Albert tells an epic tale of kings and queens, omens and shieldwalls, where the future of a people was decided as much through the guile of its priests as the strength of its warlords.

Edoardo Albert deftly weaves the threads of a memorable cast of characters into the weft and warp of a vibrant tapestry of war, mystery and intrigue. Yet the true strength of 'Oswiu: King of Kings', is in the depiction of the effects of conflict on the men and women of the Dark Ages, as Albert reminds us there is much more to conquest than the ringing clash of swords.

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Monday, 17 October 2016

REVIEW: Viking Fire by Justin Hill

Viking FireViking Fire by Justin Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Justin Hill is a terrific writer. His prose oozes poetry and a real sense of the time and place of his novels. In Harald Hardrada's saga, Viking Fire, Hill gives us a flawed and likable character, told in the Norwegian warrior-king's own words (as recounted to a priest in Britain before his death). This is the second of Hill's novels set during the build up of the Battle of Hastings. The first is Shieldwall, which is told from multiple viewpoints in third person. In Viking Fire, Hill has decided to tell the story from the perspective of the protagonist, which lends it an added immediacy and intimacy.

The first half of Viking Fire, that focuses on Harald's youth and his formative years, is the highlight of the book for me. The great warrior's character leaps from the page and Hill manages to make him deep and wholly believable. If there was one thing that disappointed me about Viking Fire, it is that it glosses over years of campaigns and exciting adventures when Harald was building up his power and great wealth in the service of the Emperors and Empresses of Constantinople. There are several wonderful chapters set during this period, but I couldn't help feeling there were dozens of stories hinted at, but not shown. I would have happily read more of Harald's escapades.

It is a real pity that the historical note was omitted from the hardback version I read. I recommend anyone who reads Viking Fire book to check it out on Justin Hill's website: It really added a lot for me to see why Hill had taken some of the decisions, and focused on some things more than others.

I loved Justin Hill's first 11th century novel, Shieldwall, and had been awaiting the sequel for years. Viking Fire was worth the wait. Hill brings to life the icy vastness of Nordic mountain ranges and fjords, the freezing, often deadly wastes of the Baltic, the bejeweled and heady riches of Constantinople, the ancient temples of the Holy Land, and the savage intrigues, alliances and huge battles of great nations, all in the life-saga of one truly magnificent man. A man whose name Justin Hill will not allow to be forgotten: Harald Sigurdson, known as Hardrada, King of the North, the Last Viking.

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