Blog Tour Award!

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I’m a bit staggered to have been nominated for this award, and I owe Izzy huge thanks for even thinking of me. She’s done some really good pieces of writing on her blog, Izzy-grabs-life, which are well worth checking out. Her blog title says a lot about her personality and the way she writes. Izzy is lively and full of fun – and really grabs life by the horns, or some such place!

This is a little different to the other awards I’ve responded to, and involves answering  questions about writing – which is great for me!

So these are the rules:

  • Compose a one-time post on a specific Monday (date given from your nomination – I was given March 30)
  • Give them the rules and a specific Monday to post by.  On this occasion, next Monday will be Easter Monday, April 6 2015. So I’m going to say that my nominees can either post on that date, or leave it until the following week, which will be Monday April 13.
  • Pass the tour on up to four other bloggers.
  • Answer four questions about your creative process which lets other bloggers and visitors know what inspires you to do what you do.

Here are the four questions and my answers . . .

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Q.1 What are you working on at the moment?

Right now, I’m working on the third book of my Sons of Kings trilogy. Book One was published as an ebook on Amazon in April. 2014 and Book Two in December 2014. That doesn’t mean I write really quickly. I know there are authors out there who can write, edit and publish a book in a few months, but I’m not one of them. Many authors I’ve read about take a year for a 340-50 page book, which both of mine are. But by the time I’d got Book One onto Amazon, I’d already written half of Book Two.

All in all, what I’m saying is that Book Three is unlikely to be finished before the end of this year.  Still, I know I’m going to have to put a spurt on … which, sadly for me, means that I’ll soon have to cut down on a lot of the posts I do on my blog.

Q.2. How does your work differ from others in your genre?

Every writer’s work is unique to them. We all have our own writing styles, our own ‘author’s voice’. So in those things, I know I’m unlike anyone else. As for my books … Well, there are many Viking books around today, some straight forward historical fiction, some historical romance, others historical fantasy, and so on. I classify mine as historical adventure, and know that Book One in particular, fits that description well.

Although other authors have written about King Alfred, their interpretation of his character is completely different to mine, particularly since, in my first book, Alfred is a young child. Most other ‘Alfred’ books start with him as a man and already a king. The main action in Book One comes from my equally important protagonist, Eadwulf of Mercia. His adventure takes up a good deal of the book, with frequent glimpses over to events transpiring in Wessex (Alfred’s kingdom). The two stories continue, and intertwine, throughout the three books. Eadwulf is fictional, so no one else will have him in their books!

Q.3. Why do you write or create what you do?

I write historical fiction because I love both history and a good adventure, so that’s where my writing heads to. I fell in love with the story of Alfred’s great fight against the marauding Danes many years ago, but only since retiring from teaching (and bringing up our six children) have I had time to actually write about it. I’m particularly character driven in my writing. I love to delve into my characters’ heads and ponder how they would react in certain situations – notably those I plonk them in. If you know your characters well, their actions/reactions often just follow on through.

Q.4. How does your writing/creative process work?

To start with there’s always a lot of research to do for historical novels. I did loads before I started Book One, but at least the background to the period and events stretches throughout the trilogy. Each book demands exta, too. Then I spend a long time just letting the story play out in my head – different scenes, different characters I’ll need to introduce in the new book. Ideas get thrown out and new ones step in. Unfortunately, I often get ideas for other books as well, which I just have to shelve for now. I’ve got at least two more books I’m itching to start. But, right now, I have to be strict with myself and focus on Alfred and Eadwulf.

Once I’ve worked out a rough plan of the plot I type out a synopsis, and leave it so that I can add extra bits of information as I work on the actual writing.

My writing day always starts with a walk. This is the time during which I plan out the scene I want to write when I get back. I have nice quiet lanes and fields to walk across, so my thoughts rarely get interrupted. I write my chapters a scene at a time, and won’t move on to the next scene until I’m satisfied it’s exactly how I want it. I never just keep on writing, regardless of mistakes, until I’ve finished the book, as many writers do. This is  simply the way I work, and I realise it may not be the preferred way of others.

Once the first draft is done, I edit it myself a few times. I tend to print out a lot of it, because it’s so easy to miss errors on a computer screen. (Well, it is for me, anyway!) Finally, the book goes to the professional editor I use. Of course, this does cost money, and for anyone who can’t, or doesn’t want to pay for editing and proofreading, there are plenty of people happy to be beta readers. And WordPress is an excellent platform for aspiring writers, especially the many flash fiction challenges. If writing a book is still only an ambition for you, and you worry your writing just might not be good enough yet, the challenges are great. The feedback can be really useful and the word limit is excellent practice in being succinct.

Well, that’s my bit done. Now for the last part …

nominees-winners

Now for my four nominees:

I.  Joycelin Leahy at tribalmysticstories

2. Rachel at Creatopath

3. Emily Livingstone at Unmapped Country Within Us

4. Francesca Smith at A Smith’s World

A Viking sacrifice to Odin

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Norse mythology tells us that blood sacrifices to placate the gods took place at the key times of year – spring, summer, autumn and mid winter. Some archaeological and documented evidence also supports this. Blood sacfrifices were known as ‘blots’ -the Misumarblot, for example. Though fairly scant, there is evidence to support the idea that human sacrifice took place as well as animal.

Here’s my version of one such ceremony. It’s from my book, Shadow of the Raven. The manner of’ killing the victim I describe was selected from a few different methods I’ve read about. Gruesome stuff! Here it is:


In the sombre, grey light before sunrise, the people of Aros filed from their longhouses and followed their jarl in his flowing white robes. Guided by the fiery luminance of torches borne by a handful of thralls, the column moved in respectful silence along a narrow path that snaked between the cultivated fields and up the gentle slope behind the village. On the crest of the hill stood the sacred grove, a short way from the woodland where Eadwulf had recently collected kindling for winter fires. The ancient oaks loomed dark and ominous against the silvery-grey of the lightening sky and Eadwulf shivered, overcome with sudden foreboding.

The silent train streamed between the outer rings of trees to a clearing within. At its centre a solitary oak towered proudly over its attendants; a truly gigantic tree, the girth of its trunk of such immense proportions. Its lower branches were thick and sturdy, reaching out and dividing into myriad, twisted routeways; its still abundant foliage evidence of the oak’s jealous retention of its leaves long after most forest trees stood denuded and exposed.

The jarl’s small group positioned themselves into the shape of an arrowhead, tapering away from the wide trunk, the single figure of the jarl comprising the arrowhead’s tip. Behind him stood his sons, Bjorn, Ivar and Halfdan, and five of his men formed the rear. Amongst them was the brutal Ulrik.

Ragnar moved three paces forward, and turned to face the oak, his robes shimmering in the torchlight as he raised his arms.

‘O . . . di . . . in,’ he intoned, sinking to his knees. ‘All-Father, lord of wisdom, war and death, mighty god of all gods . . .’ Around the grove the people knelt, lifting their arms to the tree. ‘We are humbled in the shadow of your sacred oak, knowing that you are close. I, Ragnar, priest of the gods, beseech you, Father: hear the voice of your humble servant.’

‘Odin, Odin . . .’ The chanting began, rising to fever pitch before settling to a lilting hum; outstretched arms swayed like meadow grasses in the breeze. People were surely evoking the very presence of their god.

‘The wheel of the seasons has turned and winter will soon be upon us,’ Ragnar’s baritone rang out. ‘We bring our gifts of thanks and ask that you safeguard your people from the hardships of the frozen months. Let them live to serve you.’

A strong, unheralded gust swept the grove, whistling through the oak’s branches. Torches listed wildly and the droning stopped. ‘God of gods, lord of earth and sky, giver and taker of life,’ Ragnar intoned, his hands reaching up to two black shapes, now perched on the thick branch above his head. ‘We are unworthy to look upon your holy companions and avert our eyes in their presence.’

Eadwulf stayed on his knees, not understanding what was happening. He knew that Odin’s ravens, Hugin and Munin – Thought and Memory – were believed to be the god’s eyes and ears; awesome, black birds sent out each dawn to fly over Midgard, gathering information to report to Odin by the evening. But he’d always dismissed such a story as pagan nonsense before.

Ragnar rose and faced the kneeling crowd. ‘To your feet, my people, and witness our offerings to the All-Father, who has given his sign of acceptance.’

The wasted body of Cendred was dragged from the wagon, his wrists bound behind him. Panic and anger surged through Eadwulf and he drew breath to cry out.

‘Do not make a sound,’ Toke hissed. ‘Great insult to Odin if you do.’ His eyes flicked up to the tree’s thick branches. ‘Could be you or me up there next.’

Cendred slumped, seeming resigned to his gruesome end after weeks of imprisonment. His filthy clothes hung limp on his half-starved body; his hair greasy and matted from his bowed head, concealing whatever expression was on his face. At his sides two of Ragnar’s men stood grim-faced, and a few paces behind, Ulrik held a huge, heavy-headed axe. Close by, Bjorn carried a large coil of thick rope.

‘Odin!’ Ragnar shouted. ‘May the lifeblood of our people’s enemy please and strengthen you.’

Cendred was yanked to his feet and the heavy, flat handle of the axe-head crashed down on his skull. Eadwulf recoiled from the sickening crunch of shattering bones as Cendred’s head caved in like a crushed eggshell under the force of Ulrik’s strength.

The lifeless body sprawled on the rotting leaves, his blood soaking into the earth. Bjorn severed the bonds holding Cendred’s arms and rolled him over, rebinding his wrists above his head with one end of rope. The two warriors dragged the corpse beneath a thick branch close to the ravens and Bjorn hurled the loose end of the rope over it. Cendred’s body was hauled up high, where Eadwulf guessed it would stay, dangling by the wrists to feed the crows.

Bright-eyed and motionless, the ravens surveyed all.

Ragnar clutched the sacrificial knife above his head. ‘Odin!’ he yelled. ‘Remember our gifts when winter comes. Let the season be kind, our huntsmen find success, and our people survive!’

The ravens lifted their wings to take flight and the strange, gusting wind raged a second time. The flapping of silken feathers hummed through the grove, then the black shapes soared into the distance to continue their daily tasks for the All-Father.

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In this extract, Eadwulf has been a thrall/slave of the Danes for a few months, and is still striving to come to terms with their customs and way of life. This is his first experience of a human sacrifice to Odin, the highest of the gods and father of the great Thor. It takes place in late October – a few days after the horse sacrifice to Thor I described in a recent post – when people have the bleakness of  winter ahead of them.

Aros was in the region of modern-day Aahus.


 

What’s In A Name . . .?

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The names we choose for the characters in our novels may come to us in a blinding flash . . . or we could spend days, weeks, or even months dredging them up from the bottom of the fish pond. Alternatively, we might have already chosen our main characters’ names before we even start writing the book. Then again, we might have known for years we would write about a particular character or characters.

How do we actually go about the name-choosing process? For example, why did we call the pretty and very feminine young lady ‘Daisy,’ or ‘Poppy’ – or any such flowery name – whereas, for the older strait-laced woman we opt for Gertrude, Beatrice or Penelope?

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You may call me Miss Gertrude Ramsbottom.

Of course, the abbreviated form of these formal-sounding names (e.g. Gertie) could be used for a less prim and starchy figure.

Often, we pick names we feel suit the characters so well, or even their professions. Or perhaps, the name is so inappropriate to the character that it’s comical – which is, undoubtedly, the author’s intent. How many times has a tall, brawny man acquired the nickname of ‘Tiny’?

There seem to be a whole list of things to take into consideration, including ethnic origin of the character(s) and/or where the story is set. Then there’s simply that gut feeling that the name is just right.

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Certain names are definitely more prevalent than others at particular periods. Many names used in novels set in the Victorian era include names we associate with that time. A few examples could be Albert, Ernest and Frederick, and Minnie, Florence and Bertha. Many Victorian names have had a big ‘come-back’ in recent years, although many tend to use the shortened versions – Sam for example, and not the complete, Samuel. My mother’s name, Millicent, is now used quite a lot for girls in the UK, but generally as Millie (or Milly).

When writing historical fiction, unless the complete cast of characters is fictional, many of our characters’ names are predetermined. We can hardly call Henry VIII, Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great anything other than those names. Right?

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Just call me Fred

“What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
-William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

My books are set in the mid 9th century, and one of my two protagonists is King Alfred of Wessex (later known as Alfred the Great).  Alfred is an easy enough name to get your tongue around (although it was originally in the form of Aelfraed, which oddly enough means, ‘Elf counsel’).

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Statue of King Alfred of Wessex in Wantage – reputed to be his birthplace

But most Anglo-Saxon names are extremely difficult to pronounce, and to spell. There seem to be letters stuck in places which look quite out of place to us. For example, Alfred’s grandfather was called Ecgberht. What’s with the extra ‘c’ and ‘h’? For pronunciation they mean little; we simply say Egbert.

I can’t change real historical people’s names. In my book, I have lots of Anglo-Saxon and Danish/Viking names, but the A.S. ones are the most confusing. Alfred himself is one of six children, their father being King Aethelwulf of Wessex. Like Aethelwulf himself, five of his children have names beginning with the prefix ‘Aethel’. Only Alfred is different, which is quite convenient, really! Even Alfred’s only sister is called, Aethelswith.

Perhaps readers could just drop the ‘Aethel’ part and just remember the last syllable. It would be easy to think of Aethelstan as Stan, or Aethelberht as Bert!

Confusing names can put people off – but what can the poor historical fiction author do about it? I have a list of characters at the front of the book and hope readers will use it. And I don’t really think that pronunciation matters so much, as long as a reader knows which character is which. One reviewer on Amazon.co.uk said that they enjoyed my book once they’d got used to all the difficult names. An honest opinion, and obviously valued as such. But I could name many novels with difficult-sounding names – many fantasy novels, in particular.

Anglo-Saxon place names are equally difficult, in many cases they are nothing like the names of English towns today. I know that some authors have used these A.S. names and added a list at the back/front giving their modern equivalents. I decided to call the towns and villages in A.S. England by their modern names, simply not to complicate things further. It’s easy enough for anyone to find a webpage of comparative lists.

A few interesting quotes about names:

Now you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.” -Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Emilie. A beautiful name for a beautiful girl.”  -Marissa Meyer, Scarlet

Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

This Self Promotion Business Isn’t As Easy As It Sounds!

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So I’ve got my book on Amazon. Now what do I do? As idiotic as that may sound, that’s exactly how I felt when I eventually published my book online. Being totally ignorant of the workings of online retailing, I thought that was that, and just let the book sit there, stagnating for a few months.

Sales?  Perhaps one step higher than the one labelled ZILCH.

Only to be expected when the book is buried beneath thousands of others!  I know that now. I didn’t, then. It never entered my head that I had to actually do things to make my book more visible. I can hear you saying, ‘Which planet has this woman been living on for the past ten years?’ I‘ve since learned of multiple strategies adopted by authors to get their book(s) visible to potential readers – both before and after publication.

I have no intention of talking about them all. I simply want to highlight a few of the ways in which I failed miserably in the art of self-publishing.shutterstock_165912134

Firstly, I failed to get the word out that my book would soon be published on Amazon (preferably several weeks prior to the date).  No one outside my close family was aware of my intentions, not even people I knew or formerly worked with. I didn’t see the need. I just imagined that once the book was on Amazon it would be seen, and hopefully sell.

Wrong!

Then I proceeded to make a great bodge of everything else.

I hadn’t tried any kind of advertising for my book. As with everything else, I hadn’t given it a thought. Now I see that there are many places/websites that feature adverts to promote books, both free and paid ones.

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Many are designed to advertise particular promotions by the author, including the 5 free days’ promotion with Amazon KDP Select.

But I hadn’t heard of Amazon Select until someone mentioned it to me -by which time my book had been published for almost three months.

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So far, I’ve only tried the five free days once, and have mixed feelings about it.  My book had plenty of downloads – well, over a thousand between Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.  (That sounded a lot to me, but perhaps it wasn’t, comparatively.)

I waited for reviews to start coming in, but none arrived, other than the few I’d specifically requested from known Amazon reviewers or bloggers who offered reviews. I didn’t realise that most readers, no matter how much they enjoyed a book, rarely reviewed. Ah, well . . .

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So next time I’m trying the Amazon Countdown Deal to see how that works. I’ve got one booked for the end of November.

I also now know that I should have sent out lots of review requests, not just a few. I suppose I’m just not the pushy type. I haven’t even ‘spread the word’ amongst people I know. More fool you, you would say – and you’d be right. Perhaps I just have too much of the famous ‘British reserve’.  But I do realise that I have to buck my ideas up, somehow!

And this is where I am today.  I’ve had some excellent reviews from the few reviewers I approached and several on Amazon.co.uk from general readers. Naturally I’m heartened by their favourable ratings and comments.

All I have to do now is find a way of getting more of them.

I’ve recently joined Goodreads, an invaluable site for authors, and I’m enjoying that immensely – except for the fact that it just tempts me to read more books instead of getting on with my own!

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I’ve also spent time writing book reviews on Goodreads, which, although enjoyable, is also time consuming – as is writing this blog, which I’m still trying to decide how best to use. As a new blogger, it’s all very much a matter of trial and error, and a lot of patience, I know.  Unless a blogger is already a well-known personality, I realise it can take a long time to build up a good following.

In conclusion, I’ve now had advice from a number of sources and read a lot about ebook promotion and advertising. At least I’m a little better informed nowadays. All I have to do now is put some of this new-found knowledge into practice!

I’ll finish with a few interesting quotes about self-publishing:

“The good news about self-publishing is you get to do everything yourself. The bad news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself.”   Lori Lesko

“Anyone who says it’s easy to self-publish a book is either lying or doing a shitty job.”   Nan McCarthy

“The best self promotion is your next book. And the book after that and after that …”  Bella Andre

I’m working hard on the last quote! This will be the cover of Book 2 of my Sons of Kings trilogy.

Pit of Vipers Final (Small)

The Trials And Tribulations Of A First Time Novelist

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At present I have one book well and truly finished (Shadow of the Raven). It has been professionally edited, and is now published on Amazon. I’m currently working on the final sections of Book 2 of the trilogy (Pit of Vipers) and hope to have that on Amazon before too long.

I have to admit that my writing speed has improved with Book 2. Shadow of the Raven seemed to take forever: I wrote and rewrote, deleted and saved, or totally scrapped so much of it. I can say with all honesty that my ‘Deleted’ file is almost a novel’s worth in itself!

But for Book 2, much of the basic research into the historical events and everyday life in the mid ninth century has already been done, and my writing style, storyline and characters have taken shape. So I feel much more confident in getting my ideas down this time around. That is not to say that the writing now just flows effortlessly to the computer keys with every scene. With some sections it does, but there are many new settings, situations and characters to be described and developed in Book 2 – and, of course, hopefully made to sound interesting – if not totally intriguing!

For experienced authors, many of the things I’ve agonised over are not an issue. Though I found little difficulty with viewpoint and character depiction, the development of the plot was a different matter. I knew what my story was about and what I wanted to include, but I soon learned that the story was not the same as the plot. Keeping the right balance between action scenes, emotional and humorous ones – or even those just necessary to move the story along – needs detailed planning, as well as careful consideration of the ‘show don’t tell’ element. Thankfully, I do love writing dialogue, and find it a wonderful way of ‘showing’ the many facets of characters.

Please bear in mind that I’m still new to the novel writing business. I have no doubt that many of you out there could easily write pages on the points I’m trying to make here. What I’m really saying is that novel writing is a long, slow learning process, and at the beginning I think it’s normal to struggle with the intricacies of the job. Me . . . well, I even whittled about word count, for goodness sake!

With regard to the latter, many of the scenes in my ‘Deleted’ file are there by virtue of my own editing once the book was finished. On consideration of the length of my original manuscript (which had grown to become a great monstrosity of a thing!) I set about deleting scenes I thought unnecessary to the continuation of the plot. For me, that was hard, since everything I had written was there because I liked it – and had taken time to do in the first place. Still, the over-long tale had to be shortened somehow.

But I love writing and no matter what ‘trials and tribulations’ I meet along the way, I know I’ll persevere. I have several ideas for future novels, but right now I’m focusing on getting my Sons of Kings trilogy finished.


I’d like to share one of the deleted sections here. It would have featured towards the end of what is now Chapter 4 of Shadow of the Raven. It’s a battle scene – something I really wasn’t looking forward to doing in the first place – in which King Aethelwulf of Wessex defeats the marauding Dane, Rorik.

Rorik’s raids play a vital part to the future events of the story, but I found that by removing the entire chapter in which this scene featured, I not only saved words but was able to move the main plot along quicker. The results of the battle are revealed indirectly in the following chapter. I still have qualms over whether I should have left it in. Anyway, here’s the scene:


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The Battle of Aclea

An owl screeched its alarm, flapping from a low branch to glide like a spectre between the oaks of the woodland behind. One of the horses whinnied in response to the harsh cry and King Aethelwulf prayed the sound would not carry to the enemy below.

Entrusting their mounts to a handful of men until the battle was done, Aethelwulf and his hundred warriors crouched at the top of a gentle slope, taut as bowstrings; shields slung across backs, two or three javelins held inside each, and swords hanging from baldrics. Beyond the slope, the shadowy plain stretched for less than a mile before rising to the wooded ridge. Along the foot of the ridge, remnants of watch fires threw muted light on the edge of the camp. Aethelwulf hoped the guards would be too drowsy at this hour to be vigilant.

The eastern sky was paling fast; at sunrise the camp would rouse, the element of surprise lost. Scanning the top of the ridge, praying that Osmund and Aethelbald’s men were waiting, he raised his arm, the signal to advance down the slope.

Stooping low they moved in silence, crouching at intervals behind scrubby gorse and bramble, panted breaths evidence of heightened tensions as inevitable combat neared. The shouted alarm came as they moved across the open ground in the growing light of imminent dawn, the camp now less than a hundred yards away. The Danes swarmed from their tents, howling to their gods; hurling spears and rocks at their rapidly nearing assailants.

‘Shield wall!’ Aethelwulf yelled.

The manoeuvre into the tight wall was instant; two rows deep, shields overlapping, left sides over right. At Aethelwulf’s side in the centre of the front line the standard bearer hoisted the Wessex banner, the great white dragon on its backdrop of red, eliciting jeers and hammering of spears on shields from the Danes, now lined in their own defensive wall barely twenty five yards away. But, as Aethelwulf had hoped, few wore body armour: shields and helmets were all the late alarm had afforded.

The drumming on shields abruptly ceased and an ominous silence pervaded the plain. Warriors stood rigid, muscles flexed for the opening strike.

The first spears whistled as the two lines strove to weaken each other’s defences. Most flew overhead. Some glanced off shields; some slammed into them and held fast. A few struck unresistant flesh. Men screamed and fell.

And the gaps in the shieldwalls reclosed.

Gradually the missiles lessened, then ceased, and Aethelwulf moved forward a pace, his eyes fixed on a bull-necked figure standing prominently in the enemy front line. ‘So… the straggling remnants of Rorik’s warband think to challenge the might of Wessex!’ he mocked. ‘Naked raven chicks are no match for the clutch of the dragon!’

Rorik stepped out and threw open his arms. ‘We quake in our boots at the prattle of a deranged old man!’ The Danes wailed in mock terror. ‘Look closely at what you face, great king. Naked of armour we may be, but we are double your number. Yet you think to better us!’ He threw back his head and roared, the sound a chilling mix of derisive laugh and snarl. ‘Our chicks enjoyed pecking the eyes from your Saxon whores and butchering the curs you call men! And your gold will serve us well.’

Aethelwulf snorted. ‘Your murderous hordes have gained no more than a few captives and a modicum of plunder from poor homesteads. Saxon gold will never be within your thieving grasp.’

Rorik seethed, Aethelwulf’s denigration too accurate to deny. ‘Say your prayers to your god old man. Your mangy carcasses will feed the buzzards!’

The clash of colliding armies defiled the peace of the dawning day. Weapons thrust through gaps between shields, stabbing and slashing at legs, feet and faces, maiming exposed flesh and bringing men down, creating crucial breaches in the enemy wall. Danes dropped like swatted flies, despite outnumbering the Saxons two to one, their lack of body armour costing them dear. Aethelwulf fought with the vigour of a warrior half his age, his focus on Rorik. But gradually the craven jarl retreated behind his men, safe from Wessex swords.

Then Osmund’s hundred men were careering across the plain. Panicked, too many Danes turned to counter the oncoming wave, ignoring the continued frontal assault. Beset from front and rear the already depleted Danish force stood little chance and Saxon warriors showed no mercy. The battle was soon over.

Shouts alerted Aethelwulf to the group of riders fleeing from the empty camp towards the Roman road, Rorik’s swarthy bulk in their midst. But Saxon mounts had not yet been retrieved, and Aethelwulf could do no more than watch the riders fade into the distance. Tracking them down would be futile. Though he knew Rorik would head eventually for Thanet, Aethelwulf could not spare the men to cover the myriad, minor tracks he might take.

They buried their dead with Christian prayers and full honour; those men had given their lives for Wessex. Enemy corpses were relieved of their spoils and left where they’d fallen, a feast for the scavengers.

‘Gather their horses,’ Aethelwulf yelled. ‘Take whatever we can make use of from the tents, then fire them. Then we head home.’


Whether or not I did the right thing in deleting this, it’s too late now. The book is published. But I’ve brought attention to it here simply to add weight to what I said about the long, slow learning path towards becoming an experienced and, hopefully, good novelist. In this instance, deleting a great chunk of this chapter rid me of 1,526 words (the battle scene itself is 879 words) but at the expense of causing me some pangs of regret – not to mention annoyance at myself for wasting time writing it in the first place.

*****

For The Love Of Writing…

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I know I’m not telling anyone anything new when I say that the writing of any work of fiction, whether novel or short story, requires both knowledge and creativity, not to mention a lot of hard work.

In the words of American writer, Dennis R. Miller:

 “Writing a novel is like traveling the universe on foot.”

And from Samuel Johnson:

“What is written without effort is generally read without pleasure.”

And this quote about writing from David Eddings, who, sadly, died in 2009, always makes me smile:

baby elephant quote

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We all gain a considerable amount of knowledge during our journeys through life, but for writing about places, situations, characters and time periods beyond our own little boxes, there’s always the good old Internet! Failing that, there are scores of books for sale out there on every subject imaginable – many in cheap bookstores, charity shops, second hand bookstores or car boot or garage sales. And in my experience, most librarians are more than willing to point us in the right direction. In short, there’s really no excuse to shirk the research, whatever the genre being written.

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But for some genres more than others – and I’m talking about fiction here, not non-fiction, for which research must be a mammoth task – thorough research is vital: historical fiction, naturally, being uppermost on my mind, with crime and law enforcement close on its heels (all that forensic stuff!). Anything involving medical issues is another one.

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Creativity in novel writing is also vital. Without it, the story would be flat and lifeless and characters very dull. In the words of Jack Kerouac WD: 

“It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”

In other words, writing should appeal to the senses, and we should remember to ‘show, don’t tell’.

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I’ve included a short scene from my book, Shadow of the Raven, here. It comes fairly close to the beginning of the story, and is intended as an introduction to young Eadwulf’s father, King Beorhtwulf of Mercia, and his brother Burgred, Eadwulf’s uncle. Eadwulf is one of the book’s two protagonists – Alfred of Wessex being the other. As the harsh winter in the year 851 begins to melt into spring, the scene also serves to present the first hint that life in Mercia is about change.


With his huntsmen and attendant thegns, King Beorhtwulf rode back from the forest, his two great wolfhounds loping along beside him. It had been a good hunt, confirmed by the quarry slung over the backs of the pack horses. Cooks flapped in appreciation as the huge deer and smaller game were laid outside the wattle-walled building that served as kitchen and bakehouse.

Beorhtwulf surveyed the carcass of the felled deer, an old stag with massive, branching antlers. The slow old beast had made easy prey. ‘It hardly seems fair, does it brother?’

‘What doesn’t seem fair?’ Burgred squinted at Beorhtwulf as unaccustomed sunshine brightened the sky. The air had lost its penetrating bite and he fingered the brooch fastening his black cloak.

‘To end a long life like this…’ Beorhtwulf shrugged his broad shoulders, touching the toe of his boot to the lifeless form. ‘He looks a noble creature; probably sired many calves in his time. To end up spitted over our hearth seems to deprive him of all dignity in death.’

‘Your sentimentality is misguided brother. The beast would surely be gratified to know he afforded many people much pleasure and kept our bellies full. And he was old… would soon have fallen to the forest floor where his carcass would have slowly rotted away, or been eaten by woodland scavengers. Does that sound very dignified to you? Besides, what use would scavengers have for those antlers, when our craftsmen can turn them into such useful things? You know how Morwenna loves her antler combs and bits of jewellery. I’m partial to antler knife handles myself, and the men would be lost without their gaming dice.’

Beorhtwulf grinned at his younger brother, half a head shorter than himself, his red-brown hair less fiery than his own bright red. ‘Point taken, Burgred. The meat will be more useful to us than foxes and the like. Let’s hope today marks the onset of a warm spring,’ he murmured, a note of optimism in his voice. ‘Our people grow restless to sow the corn and move the stock out to pasture.’

But Beorhtwulf was a worried man. The onset of spring would bring a far greater threat to Mercia than the snows, and at tomorrow’s meeting of the Witan there were urgent matters to discuss. With a heavy sigh he whistled for his hounds and strode towards the reed-thatched hall to share the morning meal with his wife and son.

*****

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‘I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.’  (E. B. White)