Sunday 13 November 2016

What Elaine Moxon Learnt when writing the Wolf Spear Saga

This month's guest in the "What I Learnt..." series is Elaine Moxon. Elaine writes early medieval historical fiction as ‘E S Moxon’. Her debut ‘Wulfsuna’ is the first in her ‘Wolf Spear Saga’ series of Saxon adventures and was published in 2015. She is currently writing the second Wolf Spear Saga, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain. Elaine is a member of the Historical Novel Society and a contributing author on the blog of ‘English Historical Fiction Authors’. You can find out more about book two from Elaine’s website and on her blog, Writers’ Grove, where she talks about writing and research.

What Elaine Moxon Learnt when writing the Wolf Spear Saga

I’ve always had a love of history. It has been an integral part of family life for me from a young age. Both sides of my family are keen amateur genealogists and I remember visiting a wealth of ancient sites along the west coast of southern Britain and Wales during family holidays. If there was a stone circle or a castle, we were there! One of my great-grandfathers was a member of the Ancient Order of Druids and hearing about him as a child filled me with wonder. This early fascination remained with me and found its way into my Wolf Spear Saga series in the form of seers and wood sages.

As a teenager, I was intrigued by the Saxons and Vikings, whose beliefs were the stuff of fantasy novels. I think I felt close to these people of the past as I had a Saxon maiden name and often dreamed about who my ancestors were. Moxon is a Norse matrilineal surname stemming from ‘son of Meg’ with roots in northern Britain, particularly Lancashire. This Germanic and Norse presence remains today not only in surnames, but in place names and of course our language; their legacy left behind in everyday words such as ‘thank you’, ‘bread’ and ‘field’. Being an island, Britain has always been subject to waves of migration and invasion. My heritage provided another link for me with these distant travellers, as the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, fleeing famine and fascism in rural Italy. And so, migration too is a main theme in ‘Wulfsuna’.

When writing the first saga, I learnt that rising sea levels were killing livelihoods for fifth century Germanic tribes, who began to search for new land. Many took up service for the Romans as mercenaries or ‘Foederati’. They were conveniently placed to hop over to Britain when numbers needed bolstering. The wall at Vindolanda often required additional troops to hold the Picts at bay and in the south-east, shore forts ensured Germanic savages not allied with Rome didn’t make it through the defences. Of course, these southern fortifications placed uneasy decisions upon those stationed there, who had perhaps married into the British population; they were fighting kinfolk from their homeland and I imagine this did not sit well with many of them.

All of this was conscious knowledge I had grown up with, read and researched prior to writing and publishing ‘Wulfsuna’. One major thing I did learn, however, occurred after publication. My heroine, Morwyneth, is a young Seer whose new-found powers of foresight result in her expulsion from her home. She is then found by the Wulfsuna tribe, who toss her in the back of their last wagon, fearful she is a river-witch or ‘Nix’ sent by their enemies. As the Wolf Sons travel across country, Mowyneth goes with them, receiving further visions of the future along the way. The mode of transport was a logical decision I made early in the story. The Wulfsuna knew they would not be returning to Germania and had brought wheels and axles with them so they could butcher the ship’s wood into wagons.

Researching for a blog post, quite by chance I came upon a very ancient cult involving a wagon goddess. This goddess or priestess travelled across country in a wagon, visiting towns and villages foretelling the success of the harvest for the forthcoming year. Bad fortunes resulted in ritual sacrifices of beast or man, or in some cases the kings themselves! At the end of her tour, the priestess would be ritualistically cleansed by her accompanying priests or slaves, who themselves became sacrificial victims, for they had seen the goddess unclothed. Thousands of years old, this cult is prevalent in not one, but several cultures worldwide. We can find elements of wagon travel, sacrifice and ritual cleansing in the Norse ‘Vanir’, the Celtic Nicneven or Cailleach and of course Sulis, the revered water goddess at the springs in Bath. Nerthus, another Celtic deity, lived in a wagon and is mentioned by Tacitus and the Indian texts of the ‘Rigveda’ allude to a sun chariot ridden by the sun’s bride.

I had unwittingly tapped into an ancient archetype. Morwyneth was a wagon goddess! I learned that even if we don’t consciously draw on our own experiences, segments of our lives (and perhaps things in the past we’ve read or viewed) and ancient archetypes seep through into our work as we write. Hidden layers from our subconscious or primeval memories linger beneath the surface; treasure we or our readers, may or may not uncover. But what fun to know they are there, waiting to be found! It certainly gives me food for thought as I put pen to paper, or fingers to keys, wondering if my subconscious is secretly plotting out aspects of my novel as I write.

Connect with Elaine Moxon:

Writers' Grove blog
Buy Wulfsuna from SilverWood Books