This week’s entry concludes our series, “The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen,” with a cover crush of this multiple award-winning novel’s front image. It has been my pleasure and privilege both to work with author Annie Whitehead and also write on—and therefore learn more about—the amazing and inspiring woman that was Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians. She has carved a spot for herself in my heart.
Occasionally I marvel at the phrase warning readers not to judge a book by its cover because despite the truth of this caveat, the reality is that a cover image speaks to readers—or doesn’t, as the case may be—nearly as much as the story inside does. It gives one a “visual” into the world of the pages within, and a really great jacket design matches some element or aspect of the narrative: perhaps it depicts a crucial scene or the novel’s background is discernable within its layout.
When first I took in the cover for Annie Whitehead’s To Be A Queen, I saw its strength went one step further by including the title in its mood, in a skillfully subtle manner. Now this is no image simply to match a “thing” in the title, for it doesn’t contain a random noun, but rather a mood in itself.
My initial thoughts upon seeing the cover drawing were of longing and perhaps loss. Placing myself in the scene would put me near the tree; it occupies the foreground and I could reach out and touch it. Farther away lie the ruins of what once was another world, and so the loss shows itself: the structure has crumbled and the world it once occupied has slipped away from us through time.
I felt these sentiments when I spoke the title aloud, and to me they seemed to carry the weight of a melancholy, perhaps a wistfulness in memory of letting go. After reading the book I mused on how well the cover did its job, for indeed the novel’s titular character had long contemplated what it means to be a queen, while knowing from childhood she would never be one. The circumstances of this knowledge are mixed: in Æthelflæd’s native Wessex, women are by law not entitled to be called queen; in her adopted land of Mercia the office has fled with her auntie, who once occupied it. No matter the courage she displays, the fights she will endure, how many enemies she chases from her people, to be a queen is not in her cards, and she has known it all along, as long as the Vikings have chased her away from security, comfort, digging in of roots—and that has been her entire life.
A haunting statement uttered by her auntie early in the story later reveals itself to Æthelflæd as she contemplates the loss suffered by that queen, who knew it even then to be so: “What can I tell a five-year-old who will grow up to forget that I ever lived?”
Perhaps it would be a comfort to Æthelflæd, as she contemplates her loss of Æthelswith, or herself from the world in the fate of being forgotten, that even the grief of loss requires a memory. She may be in that unreachable part of the landscape we stepped into in order to examine our cover image, though, bittersweet as it is, she lives on as long as we remember her.
The tree we are so near to, reminiscent of the genus pink weeping willow, also lends to the cover’s mood, with its drooping demeanor and symbolism of death. However, it also lends strength for, even in its solitary nature, as weeping trees tend to be, its frame stands tall over time, overlooking the world we cannot quite reach, perhaps carrying memories of its own of a world it once observed.
About the author …
Annie Whitehead is a history graduate and prize-winning author. Her first novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred the Great, who came to be known as the Lady of the Mercians. It was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016, and it has just been awarded a B.R.A.G. Gold Medallion.
Her new release, Alvar the Kingmaker, is a tale of intrigue, deceit, politics, love, and murder in tenth-century Mercia, and is available now. It charts the career of the earl who sacrificed personal happiness to secure the throne of England for King Edgar, and, later, Æthelred the Unready. Alvar the Kingmaker is also a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree.
She has completed a third novel, also set in Mercia, and scheduled for publication in 2017. She has twice been a prizewinner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing competition, she won first prize for nonfiction in the new Writing Magazine Poetry and Prose competition, and she has had articles published in various magazines, on a wide range of topics. She is also an editor for the EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors) blog.
Most recently, she has contributed to the anthology of short stories, 1066: Turned Upside Down, in which nine authors re-imagine the events of 1066, and which has just been awarded HNS Editors’ choice and long-listed for Book of the Year 2017. She lives in the English Lake District with her husband and has three grown-up ‘children’.
You can learn more about and follow author Annie Whitehead and her work at her website, blog, Twitter, Facebook and her Amazon author page. Click titles to purchase To Be A Queen, Alvar the Kingmaker and 1066: Turned Upside Down.
Related post: “Image of the Week: Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians.”
Stay tuned for my review of Alvar the Kingmaker.