Sunday 23 December 2012

Merry Geola

Midwinter is upon us. The winter solstice, or Geola, has been and gone and the days will begin to get longer soon, slowly but surely.
Geola is a dark time. A cold time. But a time for reflection and a time to spend with family and loved ones, looking forward to the time when the world will be warm again and life will spring from the land all around.
With the warmer months will come more back-breaking hard work in the fields. Perhaps enemies will attack. There may be plagues. What wyrd will bring, only the gods can know.
But for now, let us prepare a feast for Modranecht, mother's night, where those who follow the new Christ god celebrate his birth from a maiden! Those who still remember the old ways will honour their ancestral spirits, the Idisi.
But whichever gods you choose to follow, may you be safe, happy and warm this Giuli.

Sunday 16 December 2012

A little bit of writing

I've made good progress this week. Up to 56, 800 words now of the first draft.
I've written a little about what inspired me to write the book, and a bit about the tools I use to do the writing. I think now is the time to show a small section of the writing.
It is from the first draft, so may well change substantially by the final edit, but it gives a pretty good idea of the type of book I'm writing. I hope you enjoy it.

Writing Sample

Oxa woke Beobrand the next day before dawn. Men were readying themselves all around them. Many were vomiting, leaving steaming puddles dotted throughout the encampment. Oxa handed him his spear and made sure he was holding his shield correctly. Oxa was wearing his full armour and in the dark he looked like a giant out of a bard’s tale.
“Here, take this.” Oxa handed Beobrand a seaxe. It was short, not much more than a knife, with a simple bone handle. “It doesn’t look like much, but it is a good blade and holds its edge well. Once we are in close, you will 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 that was closest to the enemy. This is where the shield wall was forming and Edwin had taken Oxa’s advice and set up camp to the east of Cadwallon’s and Penda’s armies so that when they attacked the sun would be in the eyes of the Mercians and Welsh.
As they neared the centre of the line, Beobrand saw that Edwin and Osfrid were standing there, with their most trusted thanes around them. They parted and allowed Oxa and Beobrand to take up places in their ranks. Oxa could sense that Beobrand was finding it difficult to control his excitement so he turned to him and 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.” Oxa took off his helmet and Beobrand could just make out the scar running down his face from his left eye to his upper lip. “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 their enemies, who had seen that Edwin’s Northumbrians were readying for battle and were forming their own shield wall. They were standing in a ragged line at the top of a small rise, the sky behind them a dark purple. The land in between 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 strapping on shields. Preparing for battle. Preparing to kill. Smoke billowed from their campfires behind them, mingling with the ground fog.
Beobrand wondered if one of the men he could see in the dim pre-dawn light would kill him soon. Or perhaps he would kill some of them. 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. His mother, shaking with fever, lying on the straw-stuffed mattress, soaked in sweat. His father, sobbing quietly from the corner of the hut. The sound of merriment from outside as the villagers celebrated Beltain. Then the horrific image of his father, spittle and vomit dried around his mouth, his dead hand still clutching the handful of druid’s cap mushrooms, the summer sun dappling his pain-stricken face.
“Wake up, boy!” Oxa’s gruff voice brought Beobrand back to the present. Back to the battle where he would either kill or be killed. He was no longer a farmboy, he was a warrior in Edwin of Northumbria’s army and for the first time since his parents’ deaths he felt he belonged. He opened his eyes and realised that the time had come. The sun was just beginning to peak out over the trees, shedding a pale light over the battlefield and casting long shadows in front of the Northumbrian warriors.
“Come, my countrymen!” shouted Edwin. “Let us send these pagans to hell where they belong. Kill them all! Attack them now and kill every one of them!”
“For Edwin!” came back the raucous response from the army, Beobrand’s voice as loud as the next man’s.
The shield wall surged forward. Beobrand felt his shield bang against the thane on his left as they ran and he tried to keep pace and his shield in the right position. I can’t believe I’m here, he thought. 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 mingling 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.
Beobrand raised his shield above his head and kept running. He felt something hit the rim of the shield, but he was not wounded. The man to his left suddenly screamed, tripped and fell. Beobrand caught a glimpse of a javelin piercing the man’s right leg just above the knee. Beobrand looked away just in time to see that the enemy were mere steps away.
The two shield lines crashed together like waves hitting a cliff. Beobrand felt his shield smash 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 Welshman, wearing a leather helm, pushed hard as he stepped back, causing Beobrand to lose his balance and fall sprawling to the muddy ground. The Welshman, smiling at how easily he had broken through the shield wall, pulled back his spear for the killing blow. Beobrand tried to scramble up, but the Weshman moved in too quickly for him to get to his feet. But just as the spear point came hurtling towards Beobrand’s exposed chest, Oxa 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, Oxa pulled back his spear and, as their adversary feinted to draw his langseaxe, Oxa thrust his spear into the Welshman’s wooden shield. The barbs caught, and Oxa leant on the spear shaft, using his weight to pull the shield down.
“Now, boy!” Oxa shouted, struggling to hold on to his spear and avoid the cleaver-like langseaxe the Welshman had unsheathed. Beobrand scrambled to his feet, snatched up his spear and, letting out a roar that was lost in the tumult of battle, thrust his spear at the Welshman’s midriff. The man attempted to parry, but was hampered by his trapped shield and 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 deadweight 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 the warriors surrounded him. He struggled to pull his spear from the eye socket of the warrior, but it was lodged fast. He pulled for a few heartbeats and then remembered the seaxe that Oxa had given him. He unsheathed it and with abandon, he threw himself into the rift in the shield wall. 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, peaked over a shield in front of Beobrand. Beobrand’s seaxe flicked out over the shield and rammed down the man’s throat. Oxa 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 shield wall seemed to part 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 didn’t think of the danger, he simply saw a gap in the line and walked forward to fill it. The old warrior looked surprised and slightly saddened as the young man, with no armour and only a splintered shield and short seaxe to protect himself, moved towards him to die. Something in the warrior’s grim face penetrated through the red mist that had descended on Beobrand and he looked around to see where Oxa and the other Northumbrians were, searching for aid against this mighty warrior. The moment of lucidity came too late however, and he saw that he had become completely cut off from his shield wall. The tide of the battle had shifted and he could now see that the Mercians and Welsh had managed to outflank the Northumbrians, who had fallen back towards their encampment, leaving Beobrand stranded and surrounded by enemies.
End of the Sample

Sunday 9 December 2012

Writing tools

Well, as I am totally uninspired to write today, and I've made pretty good progress for the rest of this week, I thought I could write a small post about writing tools.
Now, I'm no expert, and I don't have a huge amount of experience with writing novels (my day job is technical writing, so I know about things like Adobe Framemaker and DITA - by the way, I'd go with DITA and use oXygen for large tech writing jobs).
However, I thought it might be of interest to know what tool I've settled on for writing my first novel. I investigated a few products when I realised that MS Word was very unwieldy and totally unsuited to large projects; editing becomes a nightmare and formatting is incredibly temperamental.
The shortlist to replace Word that I came up with was:
yWriter5 is free, and was created by a writer who is also a developer. It has a whole bunch of features which make it easy to edit and organise scenes within a longer work of fiction (or non-fiction). I won't go into a list of all of the features of yWriter here, but click on the link above and read all about it. It is a widely-used, popular program, but in the end, I settled for Scrivener.
The main reason for choosing Scrivener over yWriter is that is just seemed to be easier to get into, and I'm a shallow kind of person, I guess! Scrivener was originally written on the Mac and has now been ported to Windows. It includes many of the same features as yWriter (a separate file for each scene, making it easier to reorganise the structure of the novel being the principal similarity) and there is a 30, non-consecutive day free trial. It is not expensive, and the trial allows you to really get a sense of what it is like to use.
The best two things about Scrivener are that you can have all of your musings, research and writing in the same program, and that it can output to many formats with no relation to the files you see when you are editing the text. As an example, you can have bold, or italics in your text, but then choose to output to the format required by publishing houses, with the correct font, spacing, cover page, etc.
I've been using Scrivener for a few months now and I'm very happy with it so far. Hopefully, a few months more and I'll have my first draft complete!

Sunday 2 December 2012

A blog is born

Well, to celebrate reaching 50,000 words of my debut novel, I decided to create a blog where I plan to give some insights into the process I'm following and how I'm getting along. I don't know how often I'll post on here, but I hope it will be reasonably regularly. However, life often gets in the way of plans, so we'll just have to wait and see.
I got the idea for starting a blog from reading the blogs of two other writers, both of whom have written novels set in the same period that I am writing about: Richard Denning and Nicola Griffith. If you are interested in the writing process, or Anglo-Saxon Britain, I recommend both those blogs.
I'm not sure exactly what I plan to write on this blog. It will probably just be musings and ramblings when I get stuck writing the novel, but I may find other interesting things to talk about, or perhaps I'll ask questions about the historical elements of the story I'm writing. After all, I'm no historian. Come to that, I suppose it could be said that I'm no writer either, as I am yet to complete my first novel.
Normally, at this point in a blog I think writers would mention all the short stories they have had published and the prizes they have won. The truth of the matter is that I've always loved stories and writing, but I've never really taken it seriously before now.
Well, actually it was a few years ago that I started. Back in 2001, I think, I was watching a documentary about Bamburgh Castle and the Anglo-Saxon graves that archaeologists had discovered nearby and something was kindled inside me. They talked about the Kingdom of Bernicia, which I'd never heard of before, and described a time of history that I knew very little about. But as soon as the documentary was over, I sat down and started to write, having no idea what the story would be.
Over the next couple of years I did a lot of research, buying books and maps, and reading all manner of websites, and the story I had started began to take shape. I mapped out a synopsis that followed a couple of fictional characters through real historical events, starting in 633 AD.
A few years later, I had written about 25,000 words, but I'd started working longer hours and singing with my band was taking up a lot of my spare time, not to mention family life, so the novel got parked, but never forgotten. From time to time I would go back to it in my mind and revisit the characters and the events, thinking of the synopsis and where I could take it.
And then, last year I got given a Kindle ebook reader for my birthday and I got to thinking about how I could perhaps self-publish. It couldn't be that hard, right? Well, the main difficulty would be not having a finished book to publish, I thought. So, this September I printed out what I had already written, read it all through and liked what I read. I decided to set myself the goal of writing 3,000 words a week until I had my first draft completed (I read that Stephen King does 3,000 a day, but he's a full-time writer and I bet his band isn't as good as Rock Dog!). I'm not quite on track with that goal, but I am writing each week and I've doubled the number of words I had back in September, so things are going well.
Part of me now feels like this blog has been a waste of good writing time, but it is a lot easier to write this than to worry about what early Anglo-Saxon buckets were made of, or what guillemot eggs look like.
If you read this, and are at all interested, feel free to post a comment, and I promise I'll answer.
I wonder what I'll post about next... I've never written a blog before either, so this should be fun!