Journey to Zürich: Excerpt: Martin of Gfenn

Today author Martha Kennedy joins us once more for our Zürich series in which we are introduced to the city and a bit of its history, seen through historical fiction and the author’s own experiences. We are given a glimpse of life as a leper in the Middle Ages via excerpt from Kennedy’s first novel, the indie B.R.A.G. Medallion-winning Martin of Gfenn.

mog-2nd-edition-frontThis is the story of a young Zürich artist, Martin, who in the mid-thirteenth century, contracts leprosy at age nineteen. He fights the disease’s physical effects and ensuing social stigma to paint fresco – what he believes is his destiny and in so doing, encounters the Knights of St. Lazarus and his own philosophical focus of Christ’s teachings. Here we join the narrative at Christmas as Martin struggles to reconcile the turn his life has taken.

Do see below for a fascinating video compiled by author Martha Kennedy, who provides background to the story and that of medieval lepers overall, including how the Knights of St. Lazarus would have come to be. The last link takes us on a tour of the city through the author’s eyes.

*********

Martin’s First Christmas at the Lazarite Community in the

Village of Gfenn

Introduction and background:

At this point in the novel, Martin of Gfenn, Martin has been part of the community for two months at the most. The chapel belonging to the community of the Knights of St. Lazarus is new, just finished, and Martin has no way of knowing at this moment how important it will be for him. He is mentally, emotionally and spiritually numb, trying to reconcile his circumstances — a shortened life of diminishing powers — with his artistic drive and vision. He doesn’t want to be in this place; he doesn’t want to have leprosy; however, he has leprosy and there is nowhere else to go. 

The new chapel is about to be sanctified by the Preceptor of the Knights of St. Lazarus. Some of the other residents — all lepers — have asked Martin to join them as they go to the forest to find the Christmas tree, though then it was not called a Christmas tree; it was called a Paradise Tree and hung with red apples, symbolizing humanity’s return to Eden with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Chapel at Gfenn, winter 2016

From Martin of Gfenn

by Martha Kennedy

Christmas Eve morning, Brother Hugo spoke to Martin, “Come with us. We are going to the forest to cut a tree and boughs to decorate the sanctuary. The Preceptor arrived last night.”

Martin had no interest in the chapel though all around him saw it as a great boon, a sanctuary for those banished from all others, but his habit had become simply to go along. He followed Brothers Hugo, Lothar and Heinrich outside the gate where a peasant waited with a sled. The sun had finally risen, though fog-bound and dim.

The four lopsided men in long black tunics followed the sled across the frozen fen and into the wood, the ice-covered pine needles clinking like crystal as they passed. Martin felt the forest’s magic pull and filled his lungs with the open air, cold though it was. “Take care, Brother; you are not used to this. You’ll catch your death,” warned Brother Hugo.

They stopped in a small clearing surrounded by pines. With a sharp saw, the peasant cut branches, while the four lepers looked for a fir the right size for the Paradise Tree.

chapel-at-gfenn-christmas-tree-2016
Chapel at Gfenn Christmas tree, 2016. Elegant and lovely in its simplicity.

“Will this one do?” called Brother Heinrich a few yards away.

“We may find nothing better.” Brother Lothar was anxious. He and Brother Heinrich were assisting at the mass, and he feared they would not return in time.

After a few strikes of the peasant’s axe, the tree fell in a cloud of fresh snow.

Martin and Brother Hugo lay the pine boughs around the base of the altar and set high candelabra and large candles throughout the chapel to light the dark corners. The peasant made a stand of two boards for the tree, and Sisters Regula and Ursula tied apples and candles to its branches. For this day, the sisters had sewn a new altar cloth of white linen embroidered in white silk thread, with symbols of worship and the Lazarite cross entwined with grapevines. Benches were set near the front for those who could not stand or kneel. Minutes before the midday mass in which the chapel would be consecrated, the dark room had been transformed.

*********

Some great links to peruse …

What is “Gfenn” and where is it?

Lazariterkirche Gfenn

Quartierverein Gfenn

Zürich Through Time and Space

 And a video with fantastic background, but also vibrant, beautiful images that shed some light on the dark …

Follow Martha Kennedy to learn more about the author and her books at her website, Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, Indie B.R.A.G. author page, or her Savior blog and Facebook pages, and the Martin of Gfenn webpage.

martha-kennedy

*********

Images courtesy Martha Kennedy.

Stay tuned for more in our “Journey to Zürich” series.

*********

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: Marching Toward 1066 (Annie Whitehead)

Today author Annie Whitehead joins us with some fascinating background into the kingdom of Mercia, following the eras in which she writes, those of King Alfred the Great and its succeeding generations with Æthelred and Æthelflæd (Lord Ethelred and Lady Aethelfaed), and Edgar, all of whom appear in her award-winning novels, To Be A Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker. Earls Edwin and Morcar, too, spoken of below, are the focus in “A Matter of Trust,” the author’s contribution to 1066: Turned Upside Down. Though even the latest of her characters lived a century before the Conquest, Whitehead succinctly illustrates the interconnectedness of their lives to the drama and horror of the invasion and its aftermath.

In so doing they connect to us, we who look back upon those who conquered and those subject to the calamity and tragedy of these events that had their roots in episodes long before the arrival of the year 1066. As we  peer back into history, we wonder what they saw when they did the same, these individuals and groups simultaneously forced to stare into the future within events of their present. We know a bit of what they did, though of course they knew much more, most of which has been lost to us, or buried as it awaits re-discovery and the brushing off of earth, of questions triggered by connections here too, between what is known and that newly found. Today Annie Whitehead connects for us many of these puzzle pieces into a broader image that brings greater understanding of how the inhabitants of 1066, how their history mattered to them, and their personal experiences matter to us.

*********

Marching Toward 1066 by Annie Whitehead

Æthelflæd_as_depicted_in_the_cartulary_of_Abingdon_Abbey
Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, as depicted in the chartulary of Abingdon Abbey (British Library, Online Gallery) (click image)

Mercia. Once a kingdom, now a distant memory, preserved only in certain names: The West Mercia Police, the West Mercia Primary Healthcare Trust, and although it is now slowly dying out, the dialect of the ‘Black Country’, which is based on the old Mercian language, and is widely regarded to be as close to Old English as it is now possible to get.

At its peak, it was ruled by such famous people as Offa, who was considered an equal to the Emperor Charlemagne. As readers of To Be A Queen will know, it was indispensable during Alfred the Great’s battles against the Viking invaders, when first the Lord Ethelred and then his wife, Aetheflaed, daughter of Alfred, fought the invaders, and built strategically important ‘burhs (fortified towns).

But yes, sadly they were Lord and Lady of the Mercians. Mercia had run out of kings.

It emerged, briefly, as a significant force during the middle part of the tenth century. A succession of West Saxon (Wessex) kings had died young and/or childless. In 955, when King Eadred died, the throne passed to the eldest of his two young nephews, sons of the previous king.

The first of these boys was Eadwig (Edwy) who started off his reign by rocking the nation with a scandal, having been allegedly caught in flagrante delicto on his coronation night with his wife. And her mother! For many reasons he was not a popular king, and his younger brother, who had grown up in the house of the powerful earl of East Anglia, hankered for a kingdom.

new_minster_charter_966_detail_edgar-copy
Detail of miniature from the New Minster Charter, 966, showing King Edgar (Wikimedia) (click image to see the king flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. Peter)

This younger brother was Edgar, and at around the age of 14, he rose up in rebellion against his brother. He had the backing of the East Anglians, and now he needed the help of the Mercians and the Northumbrians. Much as the Lord and Lady of the Mercians had fought them off, inevitably some of those invading Vikings had stayed, and settled in these midland and northern kingdoms. Edgar was canny, enlisting their support and allowing them to live according to their own laws. For two years there were two separate kingdoms, until Eadwig died suddenly, aged 19, and Edgar became king of all England. Mercia was once more relegated to being simply an earldom, albeit a powerful one. At one point Edgar made direct reference in a law code to his three leading earls, and Alvar was one of those men. Mercia and the north maintained a sense of separateness from the south, a partisan sentiment that was to mar relations even as far as 1066.

Mercians made their mark on history after the period which I wrote about in Alvar the Kingmaker. Most people have probably heard about Lady Godiva, for example. Perhaps less so the rest of her family, who found themselves, 100 years after the time of Edgar and Alvar, in direct conflict with the powerful Godwin family. Godiva’s son, Aelfgar, was twice driven into exile because of them, and Aelfgar’s daughter was widowed when Harold Godwinson caused the death of her Welsh husband. When Aelfgar’s sons, Edwin and Morcar, became earls respectively of Mercia and Northumbria, the family was in the ascendant.

“Here sits Harold King of the English” Scene 37 from the Bayeux Tapestry (Wikimedia) (click image)

In 1066 Harold Godwinson felt it necessary to ride north and ask for their support for his kingship, even taking their sister, the woman he had widowed, as his wife. Edwin and Morcar were, seemingly, unassailable.

But they lost the battle at Fulford, just outside York, when they were overpowered by the forces of Harald Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson, and got to the south too late to enjoin with Harold at Hastings. And so they needed to make their peace with a certain William of Normandy.

Was it so easy? Were they really willing to capitulate to the Conqueror?

Apparently not.

In 1068 a series of rebellions began, of which Edwin and Morcar were leading members. William had not managed to assert his royal authority in Mercia and Northumbria and it took a royal campaign into Mercia to secure a surrender. The brothers were restored to favour. But the events of 1068 were merely a ‘prologue’.

In January 1069, a Flemish appointee of William’s, Robert of Comines, was murdered in Durham, along with perhaps as many as 900 of his men. English exiles at the Scottish court came south and attacked York. William also had to deal with rebellions breaking out in other parts of the country – in Staffordshire and Shropshire in Mercia, the outlaw Eadric the Wild, along with Welsh allies and men from Chester, attacked Shrewsbury. Similar attacks in the north, and in the southwest, meant that the Norman hold on England was being severely tested. Severely, but not successfully. York was recovered, and it seems that Edwin came to an ignominious end; having played no active part in the great uprising, Edwin nevertheless fled from the court and was betrayed by his own retainers whilst trying to make his way to Scotland. (An interesting side note for me is that Edwin’s lands in his brother’s Northumbrian earldom were given to Alain Le Roux in 1071, and the district was renamed Richmondshire. Alain is said to be my family’s ancestor.)

Panel from the Bayeux Tapestry depicting Bishop Odo of Bayeux, Duke William, and Count Robert of Mortain (Wikimedia) (click image)

Eadric the Wild was pardoned, and Morcar retreated, along with that famous man from folklore, Hereward the Wake. But Morcar fared less well than Hereward. William launched a campaign into the Fens and Morcar surrendered. He was incarcerated in Normandy, and it’s likely that he died in prison.

The brutal putting down of the English rebels came to be known as the Harrying (or Harrowing) of the North. And that was the end of Mercia.

Of course, the place itself still exists – and is rich in historical sites. Little survives of the Anglo-Saxon era, but in this it is no different from anywhere else. The Saxons favoured wooden buildings, which don’t survive. These days the medieval ruins are of the stone buildings of the conquest, built to intimidate.

*********

Stay tuned for my review of Alvar the Kingmaker.

*********

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 been awarded a B.R.A.G. Gold Medallion and Chill With a Book Award.

whitehead-author-picHer 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 recipient of the B.R.A.G. Medallion.

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.

*********

To Be A Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker are both B.R.A.G. Medallion recipients, with Queen claiming the additional prize of Chill With a Book Award, and appearing on the long list for Historical Novel Society Indie Book of the Year, 2016.

950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: The Wolf Banner (With Giveaway)

Today as we look back on the events of the year 1066, author Paula Lofting again shares with us an excerpt, this time from her second novel, The Wolf Banner, set in the years leading up to the one that would change so much. My review for this amazing work can be found here. The story continues the one begun in Sons of the Wolf (updated review here), the banner itself providing one of the crucial links between the two. Lofting’s excerpt below hints at the banner’s role and import, its history being revealed in the two novels.

Thank you for joining us today for a glimpse of that world, and in remembering what is arguably the most important year in English history, and one in which so many sacrificed so much, in a fight for freedom that we still value to this day, 950 years later.

*********

Author Paula Lofting is so graciously gifting a Kindle copy of The Wolf Banner to one lucky winner. If it happens our winner has not read its predecessor, they will also receive a copy of Sons of the Wolf.

How might you be that winner? Simply comment below and you will be entered in our drawing! (See below for alternate commenting options.)

*********

From The Wolf Banner

by Paula Lofting

Standing behind the front line watching his master fight the big Norþmann, Yrmenlaf clutched Running Wolf’s shaft in his sweaty hands, the pressure of his grip increasing as the tension between Wulfhere and his opponent intensified. His task as standard bearer was not to fight, but to protect the standard and to keep it out of the enemy’s hands. Wulfhere had told him he was to rally the men to him should the lines break. It was a daunting prospect at first, being charged with such a responsibility in his first battle, but as he watched Wulfhere gain his bloody victory, he was comforted. His master had fought bravely. It was an omen – a sign that they would prevail today. And that God was on their side.

wolfieHe thrust the banner upwards and cried out in victory, his voice just one of many, lauding their champion. Then his heart leapt with fear as he saw Wulfhere struggling with Harald and the spear that the dying man would not relinquish. Harald’s sister was screaming in fury. Some of the Norse, broken out of their lines, were charging toward the pair of grappling warriors. Fearing his lord was about to come under attack, Yrmenlaf let the banner slip from his hands, hitting the man in front, as he pushed past.

On the field, it was sheer confusion. As he ran, he could hear the woman wailing, an ear-piercing, ear-shattering howl, like a wounded wælcyrie interspersed with utterings of what seemed to be an incantation. Warriors of the two sides had started to push and shout abuse at each other. Anxious that the battlefield was about to explode before either side could regroup, Yrmenlaf hurried to his lord. A man from their unit was trying to prise Wulfhere’s fingers from the spear that he just would not let go of. It protruded right the way through Harald, who was now clearly dead, on his knees, slumped forward onto the spear shaft, grotesquely, as Wulfhere hung onto it. Yrmenlaf thought him dazed, touched by the heat, and confused. He spoke softly to him, telling him that the fight was now over, he had won, and he needed to let go.

“Let’s get him away from this lot before they tear us limb from limb,” one of Wulfhere’s rescuers suggested.

“My spear,” Wulfhere kept repeating, the words coming breathlessly.

“Forget your fucking spear, Wulfhere, we can get you another!”

The men were half-carrying, half-dragging Wulfhere to the safety of their lines, his arms draped over their shoulders. Yrmenlaf followed, facing the Norse, holding his seax defensively, in case anyone tried to attack them. He saw men fighting on the battlefield in front of him, and his legs turned to jelly.

*********

sonsRemember to comment below OR the review (here) OR at our Facebook thread (here) to get in on the drawing for a FREE COPY of The Wolf Banner. Let us know if you haven’t yet read the B.R.A.G. Medallion-winning Sons of the Wolf and the ever-generous Paula Lofting will send along a copy of that, too! Drawing extended to December 20, so keep your eyes peeled to see if you are our winner!

*********

About the author …

Paula has always wanted to write. Since she was a little girl, coming home from school to sit at the table with her notebook and write stories that buzzed around in her head. A prolific reader, she loved nothing better than to spend weekends with a book in her hand. Earliest influences such as Rosemary Sutcliffe, Leon Garfield, Charles Dickens, C.S.Lewis, inspired an interest in history. It became her lifelong wish to one day write and publish a book, but not being able to type, and having no funds for a typewriter to learn on, this ambition was reluctantly put on hold.

duckie-pooWith the advent of PCs and a need to retrain and use a computer, this old ambition was stirred and she decided to rekindle her love of books and writing at the grand old age of 42. At this point, she had reached a turning point in her life and studied nursing, and also decided to write the book she had promised herself one day she would write.

Her debut novel, Sons of the Wolf, was first published with the assistance of SilverWood Books in 2012. More recently she has republished it with her new publishing company, Longship Books, in Kindle. A new paperback version will be published by June. It is a story set in the years leading up to the Norman Conquest of England and the first in the Sons of the Wolf series, about this amazing time in English history.

She has always admired the works of Sharon Penman and Bernard Cornwell, Edith Pargetter and Mary Stewart, amongst many others. History is a great love of hers and her interest in the subject goes beyond that of the keyboard. She also enjoys Anglo-Saxon re-enactment with Regia Anglorum, also a great source of research for her writing. Paula says: “Write for enjoyment, write for yourself, regardless of what others say you should; for if you don’t write what you love, then how can you expect others to love what you write.”

*********

Follow author Paula Lofting and keep up with her news, including her magnificent new blog and impressively researched and written entries about 1066, as well as the upcoming Wolf’s Bane, third in the Sons of the Wolf series. You can find her at her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

*********

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Poet Post: “Prayer to Woden” (Rob Bayliss)

In the poem “Prayer to Woden,” I imagined the narrator as being a fyrdman, perhaps a free ceorl, called up by the local thegn to join Harold’s army at Hastings in the defence of his homeland. He is a certainly not a professional warrior but is a farmer, a Christian, yet proud of his heritage, dismayed by the sight of the Papal Banner being flown by the invading army of William’s.

He therefore offers a prayer to his people’s old god of war, as it seems as if the Christian faith has abandoned him and his comrades. He is doubtful of whatever lies beyond death but will be content in showing courage, and hopes, that in some small way, he and his comrades will be remembered.—Rob Bayliss

bayeuxtapestryscene52
Scene 52 from the Bayeux Tapestry, Battle of Hastings. Anglo-Saxon forces are seen in a kite shield wall, fighting off mounted Norman soldiers. Very few of the English combatants are known to history by name, though, as indicated in “Prayer to Woden,” they would have consisted in part of free ceorls such as the poem’s narrator. The image depicts arrows flying and one can very nearly make out the fearsome chant of “Out! Out!” as the men defend their homeland. (Familypedia) (click image)

Prayer to Woden (Rob Bayliss)

Woden,

Woden, hear me.

God of battles, furious.

Beyond the light of holy rood cast, we remember you.

Over the whale road you led us here.

Blessed our fathers with this sod to gain.

I stand before you, a lesser man than my ancestors.

Not for me the sword arm, bloodied in foreign lands.

I have been house-bound, to fair wife and sweet earth.

Children we have grown and crops we have sown.

Nurtured land and home.

Now behind linden shield I stand, with ashen spear in my hand.

With others called from farm and cot.

Oaths and duty not forgot.

May you watch over us, from the high world ash. Your ravens caw.

Flesh will be yielded to beak and claw.

They come, a bastard’s army of despoilers under papal flag.

To rob, kill and burn.

Beneath his banners unfurled, our king he calls.

“Ut! Ut! Ut!” we take up the chant.

Woden.

Woden, forget us not.

Know that we stood against the storm of arrows, sword and lance.

Let children remember.

If death and defeat steals all. A foreign boot strides our halls.

We stood here, huscarl, thegn and ceorl.

If I am denied Christ’s heaven or your famed benches of gold.

May my ghost remain, a curse. A fierce wind blowing cold.

Across this ridge until sea swallows earth.

Woden.

Woden, hear me.

Lord of battles, lend me your frenzy.

That I may stand with my fathers, that they may find me worthy.

*********

About the poet …

51u7vqkjalRob Bayliss is a cider loving, mandolin plucking, amateur writer and reviewer who pens for his own blog, Rob’s Ramblings, as well as The Review. He is the author of Hymns of Mortality: A Collection of Short Stories and contributor to Felinity, an anthology of flash fiction. Additionally he has published, so far, books I and II in his Flint and Steel, Fire and Shadow series: The Sun Shard and The Dead Gods, with book III in the works. Titles may be purchased here. Bayliss writes of himself:

I’ve always had a love of history (and Anglo Saxon history in particular) and through the wonder of social media I found mutual aficionados of the subject. Always ravenous of books of historical fiction, I found myself guided by Facebook friends to The Review. Here, as the name suggests, books are reviewed, discussed and word of them spread far and wide amongst a supportive network of readers and writers. Through The Review I have been made aware of, and subsequently read , a wide variety of books outside my usual comfort zone of historical fiction and fantasy.

See more of Rob Bayliss’s bio and check out his works at his Amazon author page, and follow him at the above links, Facebook and Twitter.

*********

With many regards and kind thanks to Rob Bayliss for his permission to reprint this thoughtful and poignant poem of a patriot who indeed is remembered. 

*********

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Blog: “One Crown, Four Claimants” (G.K. Holloway)

Welcome again to our continuing remembrance of the year 1066 in this 950th anniversary year of the Battle of Hastings (October 14) and start of the Norman Conquest. Today G.K. Holloway, author of 1066: What Fates Impose, discusses the motives behind the claims of four contenders to the English throne and how they pursued these declarations. In so doing he references laws and traditions that are quite different to how they are carried out today, adding significant layers of meaning to our re-assessments of this era.

Thank you so much to Glynn Holloway for joining us today!

bayeux_tapestry_scene29-30-31_harold_coronation
Scenes 29-30-31 of the Bayeux Tapestry. Coronation of King Harold II of England, where he receives the orb and sceptre. To his left stands Archbishop Stigand. (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)

1066 – One Crown, Four Claimants

G.K. Holloway

In 1066 there were four claimants to the English Crown. Obviously, some of these claims had more validity than others. So, who were the claimants and by what right did they think they should be King of England?

The four men putting forward their claims were Edgar Atheling; Harald Sigurdsson, King of Norway; Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex; and William, Duke of Normandy.

Edgar’s claim was probably the most legitimate, in so far as he was the only atheling, or throne worthy one, in the kingdom. He was the grandson of King Edmond Ironside, and great-grandson of Ethelred the Unready. He was therefore of royal blood and would probably have been named as king by King Edward and the Witan if he had been a few years older but because of his youth, somewhere between 14 and 16 years of age, he was considered too young and inexperienced to wear the crown in what was a time of crisis. Having said that, once Harold had been killed at the Battle of Hastings, rather than accept Duke William as king, the Witan declared Edgar king. It’s just a shame for Edgar and his people that he never had a coronation and his reign, if you can call it that, only lasted a matter of a few weeks.

Harold (Hardrada) Sigurdsson’s claim to the throne is often dismissed as sheer opportunism. Well, it might have been opportunistic, but there was still some validity to it. His right to rule dated back to before King Edward’s time. Harthacnut, King of England and Denmark, had agreed with King Magnus of Norway, that he would recognise the independence of Norway as a separate kingdom and it was also agreed in a second compact that when one of them died the other would inherit his kingdoms. A few years later, when Harthacnut died, in accordance with the agreement, Magnus claimed Denmark as his own but King Swein and the Danes had other ideas. So, Magnus set out to take his new kingdom by force. To Edward, he wrote that out of compassion for his harsh early life in exile, he would hold his claim to the English throne for Edward’s lifetime but reserved his right to claim it after his death. This agreement formed the basis for Harald Sigurdsson’s claim.

Harold Godwinson was sub regulus at the time of Edward’s death, at a period in England’s history when there were no strict rules of succession. The successor should ideally have royal blood flowing through his veins, be legitimate and of good character, be designated by the previous king, and, last but definitely not least, be elected by the Witan, or Great Council. Nothing was automatic. Harold was the king’s brother-in-law but that is not really the same as having royal blood. His claim would have needed the strong support of his predecessor and the Witan. According to The Life of King Edward by an unknown author commissioned by Queen Edith, when the king was dying he addressed Harold, saying, ‘I commend this woman and all the kingdom to your protection,’ which sounds almost casual but nevertheless, if these were the actual words he used, they do sound like a designation. There is also a scene in the Bayeux Tapestry of the crown being handed to Harold, which reinforces his claim. Finally, he was elected king by the Witan and became the first King of England to be crowned in Westminster Abbey. His coronation was held the day after Edward died and on the same day as his funeral. The undignified hurry was probably because Harold had to consolidate his position before members of the Witan left London for their homes in the shires and before any challengers tried to oppose him.

Finally, William, Duke of Normandy, pushed forward his claim on the basis that King Edward had promised him the Crown in 1051 when the duke was visiting the English court. Was the promise made? Did William even visit England in that or any other year before 1066? William also claimed that he was the rightful successor because as Edward had no children and no brothers, he was the heir. William was the great-nephew of Emma, Queen of England and that, he claimed, was the blood tie which, along with Edward’s promise, gave him the right to rule. Let’s look a little deeper.

The Norman rule of primogeniture dictated that the eldest legitimate male would inherit the estate from his father. William was illegitimate and was not descended from Edward but through Emma, Edward’s mother and William’s great-aunt. Therefore, William is out of luck on two counts. But what about English law? As I mentioned above, the successor would need to be appointed by the previous king, be legitimate, of royal blood, good character and appointed by the Witan. Of the aforementioned, only the promise of the crown of England to William may be true. William always said that Edward had promised him the crown. But an English king was in no position to offer the crown to anyone. Plus, Edward is on record when asked about an heir, by answering, ‘God will provide.’  I think it safe to say William wasn’t entitled to the throne but he was ambitious, ruthless and politically astute.

As the year 1066 passed by, all four claimants would appear on the battlefield to pursue his claim. Harold Godwinson met Harald Sigurdsson at Stamford Bridge and won a great victory over the biggest Viking army ever to set foot in England. Three weeks later Harold met William on Senlac Ridge and this time it was the invader who was triumphant. And finally, William met Edgar at London Bridge where Edgar won the battle. Unfortunately for Edgar his victory wasn’t decisive and when William crossed the Thames further up river, to descend on London from the north, Edgar’s support evaporated and without the forces to defeat William, the newly proclaimed king of England had to submit to the duke.

The irony is, the person with the weakest claim to the crown was the one whose claim succeeded, and it is arguable he was not legally entitled to be the Duke of Normandy.

But what did William truly believe? Did he really think he had the right to the crown or was he just a chancer who saw an opportunity? Let’s visit him at the end of his life and hear what he has to say. According to the monk, Orderic Vitalis, writing in the 12th century, these were his final words:

‘I have persecuted the natives of England beyond all reason, whether gentle or simple, I have cruelly oppressed them. Many I unjustly disinherited. Innumerable multitudes perished through me by famine or the sword. I fell on the English of the northern shires like a ravening lion. I ordered that their houses and corn, with all their implements and chattels, be burnt without distinction and great herds of cattle and beasts of burden were butchered wherever they were found. In this way I subjected a foie race of people to the calamity of cruel famine and so became the barbarous murderer of many thousands of men and women. Having gained the throne of that kingdom by so many I dare not leave it to anyone but God . . . For I did not attain that high honour by hereditary right but wrested it from the perjured King Harold in a desperate bloody battle.’

This makes great reading but as for its accuracy, that’s another matter. Orderic was born ten years after the Norman Conquest and was writing forty years after the events he described. He was not an eyewitness but for me his account has the ring of truth about it. What do you think?

*********

About the author ….

gk-hollowayI’ve always liked stories ever since I was a kid and not fussy about what format they came in; whether it be stories read out loud on the radio, TV, comics, books or films, I still get great pleasure in listening to people telling me their own stories, whether it be at a bus stop or some heart to heart conversation, whatever. When other people get bored or impatient at the supermarket checkout, I find myself picking out other customers and working out their back stories or develop a character in a novel. I just love stories, so, I suppose, it’s only natural that I tell stories as well as listen to them. The only people I didn’t listen to were teachers – unless they taught history, literature or Bible stories.

Being dyslexic, I never really read much, until, at the age of eight, I ended up in hospital with appendicitis. Lying in a hospital bed is pretty boring and as there was no TV in hospital wards in those days, I read through all the comics I could get my hands on. So my Mum brought me in a couple of books and that’s what got me into reading. In my teens I progressed through every Biggles book ever published to Penguin Modern Classics and most of what they had to offer.

After leaving school I became a compositor on a local newspaper; trained in a job that should have seen me set for life. Along came photo-film-setting and I watched as printing changed overnight and saw a machine doing the job of half a dozen men in a fraction of the time they could. I knew this was just the beginning of the end for me and decided to get myself an education and a different career. Studying O Levels and A Levels part-time at the local technical college, I went on to take a history and politics degree in Coventry.

From Coventry I went to Bristol, studied to be a Careers Officer, worked in Gloucestershire in schools, colleges and Adult Education, before becoming a Student Welfare Officer.

what-fates-impose
1066: What Fates Impose is a Wishing Shelf Book Awards Gold Medal Winner for 2014. (click image)

What made me write? My wife, Alice, bought me a book for Christmas, which I just loved. It was called Harold: The Last Anglo Saxon King, by Ian W. Walker and it shone a light into the dark recesses of history I knew little about. I found the whole period so fascinating I just read more and more about it. In fact, I found the whole era so exciting I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been covered more in films, TV, books, etc. (think Tudors). ‘Somebody ought to write a novel about this,’ I thought, and decided that somebody ought to be me. Fortunately, things worked out in such a way I was able to realise my dream. The rest is historical fiction.

*********

You can sign up for Glynn Holloway’s newsletter at his blog, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. 1066: What Fates Impose is available for purchase at Amazon and Amazon UK.

*********

Stay tuned for a riveting excerpt from G.K. Holloway’s 1066: What Fates Impose in an upcoming installment of our “950: 1066 Remembered” series.

*********

To see my review for 1066: What Fates Impose, click here. For an exciting excerpt detailing the battle of Stamford Bridge, referenced in the above article, click here

*********

Book Review: The Smoke (Tales From a Revolution: New York)

The Smoke (Tales From a Revolution: New York)

by Lars D. H. Hedbor

smokeOne of the things I like best about Lars D.H. Hedbor’s novels is the rotating perspectives they take on: Revolutionary stories, which I have loved hearing since childhood from my father, told from points of view history generally skips over. In The Prize Caleb, a young boy growing up in Vermont, witnesses the birth of a new nation and he plays a significant role in the struggle his region encounters. Farther south in New Jersey, Quaker settlers in The Light have some hard choices to make as their pacifist ways run afoul of the king’s mounting pressure against the colonies. The author brings his tales at various times through victory and defeat, and his characters utilize their unique perspectives, cultural understandings and individual abilities the navigate their particular wartime settings, wherever they may be in the colonies.

In The Smoke Hedbor brings us to New York, where love, loss, struggle and occasional victory also play their roles, introducing readers to the indigenous Tuscarora, members of the larger Iroquois Confederation. Caught between their tribal loyalties and war between the Colonial and British armies, various bands and tribes ally themselves with the Americans. Having been forsaken by their British allies, who made promises in exchange for attacks on colonial homesteads, they split from their confederation as those who stayed loyal to the Redcoats ultimately relocated to Ontario, with the rest remaining in what was to be United States territory.

As the battles rage on, two Tuscarora tribal members observe colonial scouts, whose presence in the forest the Natives can easily detect, while they remain hidden from Washington’s soldiers. Early on Hedbor sets up a thrilling continuity via alternating viewpoints portraying to readers events from each group’s point of view in something akin to real time. Very quickly readers realize that while the Americans discuss their plans and try to conceal signs of their camp, the Tuscarora—one of whom understands English—are listening. An anxious moment comes when discovery is threatened, but the alternating viewpoint keeps the tension hovering while maintaining clarity within point of view.

This alternating viewpoint continues through the novel as we follow the colonials as well as Natives, particularly Joseph and Ginawo, both of whom are counseled by their respective leaders as to the nature of their perceived enemy.

“Are they so difficult to spot in these woods?”

 “They are like smoke, Joseph, and they have lived in these woods for many hundreds of years, at the least, so they have learned all the ways of keeping out of sight and covering their tracks. Those who dismiss them as primitive men or mere savages do so at their peril.”

 This passages hints at the title’s deeper significance, referencing not only the resulting smoke from villages burned in retaliation for attacks, but also the Natives themselves, so often able to hover within the forest like smoke, though impossible to capture with one’s hands. This, however, does not guarantee victory for the tribes, for the Americans also have their techniques, not entirely understood by their adversaries.

“[The elders] believe that the best way to ensure that our people can find peace is to understand these pale men …in order to learn how we can make peaceful terms with the Colonials.”

 Overall the Natives and Americans maintain an uneasy alliance, one group caught up in a war that is not theirs and attempting to figure out which is the better side to support, the other understanding that the land they occupy is too big for the British, whose people back home will ultimately tire of the fighting. The Natives instinctively recognize this, and worry what will become of their own people and settlements. The Algonquin wars with the French, in the elders’ youth, had destroyed a key Native tactical advantage. King Philip’s War, an earlier conflict in the region now known as New England, had also resulted in the unraveling of a larger Native alliance and birth of a distinct American identity separate from subjects of the king. Certainly aware of these and other events, the Tuscarora know the colonials are here to stay.

prize

Hedbor uses his linguistic experience to effect some of this uncertainty, crafting Native dialogue smoothly when they are meant to be speaking in their own language, with rougher edges to indicate English. However, he does more than employ mere grammatical errors, instead stripping away English conventions, such as tense, and reordering it within the structure of the Tuscaroran language. The outcome is a greater sense of tension between colonial and Native when they are exposed to one another, and a more at-ease sensation when Ginawo, Tanarou or others speak amongst themselves. In this manner Hedbor’s transitions into scenes of Native life occur organically and it becomes much easier to grasp similarities and not only differences. There are memories of attraction of male to female, small children laughing at the way Joseph speaks, words of grief, pleas for longer sleep and poking fun at each other with words like “turkey.”

While Hedbor presents his audience with a need to re-examine these Revolutionary events equipped with greater understanding of Native suffering, he wisely refrains from lecturing readers, while still engaging our rapt attention. First, he openly and honestly references retaliation for violence perpetrated against innocent colonials, but also maps out dissenting views within Native politics. The consequences of these, paired with Joseph’s own experience of living his American identity and exposure to indigenous culture causes him to question much that he knows, and Hedbor guides him—and us—through his new experiences within authentic scenes that contribute to his growth—and ours.

lightOne of my favorite elements of these scenes and Hedbor’s attention to detail is that in which medical attendance—“physicking”—is described in rich prose strokes easily creating images that come alive within the narrative. Hedbor also breaks free of the confines wherein the Native perspective is given the historical “Other” treatment, or else they are portrayed as perpetual victims. While this era in history was certainly not good to them and they suffered many wrongs, they make missteps of their own while simultaneously being strong people who gallantly stand to defend what they see as theirs. Hedbor allows his Native characters greater reign to define who they are themselves, and they turn out to be every bit as complicated and complex personalities as anyone else.

As historical fiction, The Smoke is top notch, and naturally overlaps into an attraction for those interested in the Revolution, or Native Americans, even British, French or Canadian history. It is a worthy and outstanding addition to this author’s growing collection of Revolutionary stories told from unique perspectives, and serves as a portend of even better yet to come. This seems to be part of the “verdict” after each Hedbor read, as it becomes more and more difficult to decide which one we like best.

*********

Lars D. H. Hedbor tells a little about himself and how his novels came to be…

What made the American Colonists turn their back on their King, and fight for independence? How were they different from us–and how were their hopes and fears familiar to our own hearts?

headshot-4_400x400These are the sorts of questions that I think are important to ask in examining the American Revolution, and in the pages of my novels, I suggest some possible answers.

My first novel, The Prize, was published in 2011, followed by The Light in 2013, and The Smoke, The Declaration, and The Break in 2014; The Wind was published in 2015, and The Darkness in 2016.

I’ve also written extensively about this era for the Journal of the American Revolution, and have appeared as a featured guest on an Emmy-nominated Discovery Network program, The American Revolution, which premiered nationally on the American Heroes Channel in late 2014. I am also a series expert on America: Fact vs. Fiction for Discovery Networks, and will be a panelist at the Historical Novel Society’s 2017 North American Conference.

I am an amateur historian, linguist, brewer, fiddler, astronomer and baker. Professionally, I am a technologist, marketer, writer and father. My love of history drives me to share the excitement of understanding the events of long ago, and how those events touch us still today.

*********

You can follow and learn more about Lars D.H. Hedbor and his books at his website and blog, Twitter and Facebook. The Smoke may be purchased in paperback (signed copies available upon request), as Kindle, Nook, iBookKobo or at Smashwords. (Paperbacks also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble links.) 

*********

Photo courtesy Lars D.H. Hedbor

A copy of The Smoke was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.

*********

This post has been updated to correctly include the novel’s complete title in link and blog header.

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: The Wolf Banner

Welcome and thank you for joining us once more as we remember 1066 through the end of this 950th anniversary year. Today we have a peek at Paula Lofting’s The Wolf Banner, marvelous sequel to Sons of the Wolf. In both novels we journey through pre-Conquest England with Wulfhere of Horstede toward that fateful year. We will meet up with historical figures, the names of whom many may remember, such as King Harold Godwinson and the woman known to history as Lady Godiva. Fictional characters, too, appear, some of whom are based on documented figures, such as Wulfhere himself, whom the author discovered in The Domesday Book, waiting for his story to be told.

Where will his tale take us as we move closer to October 1066? We do not know all of these details as of yet, but as we witness the spinners spin, we become more than mere observers in the hands of Paula Lofting. We are part of the story and history itself.

Author Paula Lofting is so graciously gifting a Kindle copy of The Wolf Banner to one lucky winner. If it happens our winner has not read its predecessor, they will also receive a copy of Sons of the Wolf

How might you be that winner? Simply comment below and you will be entered in our drawing! (See below for another commenting option.)

*********

The Wolf Banner

(Sons of the Wolf Book II)

by Paula Lofting

We first became acquainted with Wulfhere of Horstede in Paula Lofting’s debut novel, the indie B.R.A.G. award-winning Sons of the Wolf, following the thegn as he returns from battle and gaining insight into the lives of his Anglo-Saxon family as their various trials and tribulations play themselves out in pre-1066 England. Wulfhere’s family has been embroiled in a feud with Helghi, a neighboring landholder, while his daughter becomes involved with Helghi’s son. Too young and unaware of other realities to make an informed decision, fourteen-year-old Freyda insists upon the match and Earl Harold Godwinson, to whom Wulfhere owes allegiance, agrees, believing it will end the feud.

wolfieFamilial divisions contribute to tension within the narrative and as events feed off each other, breakdown and tragedy occur. The story rounds out, but Wulfhere understands that nothing is over while Helghi still lives, leaving the door open for a sequel and readers eager to know what happens next.

The Wolf Banner picks up with Wulfhere’s aggrieved wife, Ealdgytha, as she simultaneously mourns the child recently lost and tries to keep the household running. Dealing with Freyda’s arrogant defiance wears her down and she gives in to stress and her sister-in-law, beating the girl bloody on the eve of her wedding. Thus the author brings us to a new set of tensions for the family as Wulfhere condemns the thrashing and divisions once more rent the tenuous fabric of unity that had been holding the family together.

As with Sons of the Wolf, politics comes into play, though this time we see new characters and more of them, including the Mercian Earl Aelfgar, who graduates from burning down Hereford to treason as he allies himself with the Welsh Gruffydd ap Llewelyn against King Edward the Confessor. Wulfhere’s involvement in the ensuing battle continues Lofting’s portrayal of life as tapestry, threads from each person’s days weaving with all others to complete an image, and spinners spoken of as if they were fate twilling the tale, determining the actions of all players. Indeed, as events play out, readers’ own tension can be felt in our silent urging of characters to “do the right thing,” and our anticipation as we hurry along to find out the consequences—for better or worse—of their choices.

One scene shows a portion of the humiliating aftermath of a devastating defeat, the author injecting into it the precise ingredients needed not just to like as well as dislike the vanquished, but also to experience his appearance as an onlooker, or even he himself, might have.

“I have risked my life for the king – and the earl and I will not be gunnored!”

 “You little Horningsunu! You dare to threaten a huscarle of the king’s own guard?” Furious at [the] attempted trespass, the guard on [his] left thrust his spear-shaft at [his] chest, pushing him back … he found his arms to have been grabbed from behind.

 One of the guards in front of him sniffed and said, “You’re drunk.”

 “Not quite, but I might be later, with any luck.” [He] was swaying.

 Having relaxed, [he] allowed the men to remove his belt with the sword attached to it … “That’s it!” he cried out, “take the last thing a man has apart from his diggidy; his sword. Now I am left with nothing!” He made for the doors, trying to push past the guards, and when they grabbed him again, he began lashing out, striking out at his captors blindly and uselessly. They grabbed his arms again, forcing them behind him.

 “Just let me see the king,” [he] demanded. “I have to see him. I am owed a bed of honour, don’t you understand?”

 The men began laughing at him. “A bed of honour, my lord?” one of them guffawed.

 “Come on, man, where’s your diggidy?”

We also see more of the brother Tovi and his siblings, twins Wulfric and Wulfwin, and others, all of whom have a larger voice here, significantly adding to the intrigue and gripping nature of the book. The fleshing out of characters, their circumstances and motives bring in angles not seen before, making this installment delightfully more complex, though not weighty. There are some surprises, those that make us gasp and others bringing to fruition what we might have feared.

Lofting tells the story with such easy expertise it is impossible not to be drawn into events, watching and responding to characters we have grown to care for. Wulfhere, for example, is a good man at heart, but flawed, which is what makes him more likeable: he is as stuck in and blinded to his own circumstances as we are to ours. When one of his decisions results in a cruel exacerbation of Ealdgytha’s grief, we chastise him as we simultaneously concede, “What else could he do?” Lofting is a master of perspectives, bestowing individuals with strong reasoning but allowing space for other viewpoints as well. As a result it is difficult to take sides, even when we can relate to what each person asserts.

sons
Sons of the Wolf is an indie B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree (click image)

The author brings this to bear on religious sensibilities as well, with the title playing a key role in this aspect of the family’s story, which goes back to their “wolven forbears.” In Sons of the Wolf we witness another daughter as she discovers and examines an ancestral tapestry her mother had deemed sacrilegious. Instinctively understanding that to erase the past is to rob one’s self, she keeps it for display, also rescuing and repairing a banner her father had at one time carried into battle.

Wulfhere defends Winflaed’s admiration for her ancestors, himself retaining appreciation for the need of dual understanding. When The Wolf Banner brings us to a pruning scene—itself a theological metaphor—he listens as Father Paul speaks Christian philosophy, while musing about the upcoming Candelmœsse and its attendant rituals:

Father Paul would bless the candles and everyone would proceed around the whole village and out into the fields as the priest sprinkled holy water, and granted blessings to the earth spirits and the plough. Wulfhere knew that the bishops and abbots frowned on these ancient customs, forbidding anything to do with the old pagan ways of their forefathers. But Father Paul had told him that you could not undo hundreds of years of tradition without alienating your flock.

Lofting tells these people’s stories in a similar manner, utilizing their ancient names, sprinkling the tale with references to the wolf element within their ancestry, pointing out how very different they were to us while most often concerned with many of the same issues. The novel is written, however, to our modern sensibilities and we are entertained while also enraptured in much the same way Winflaed is, knowing that what images we see of them will determine what those yet to come will see of us.

Like lives in any era, there is tragedy and also comedy. Lofting weaves into episodes the comical and farcical, as well as the emulation of tradition that results too in the good time to be had when, as played out then, it is mostly imitation that devolves into raucous funning. These people had a sense of humor. While her entire telling brings those of this era to life, this adds to their dimensions, provides balance, makes them more relatable, especially to those of us who have never had warfare directly impact our lives, as do they. Lofting rescues them from the quick and dirty image of a people set upon by little more than war and sheer drudgery, and gives them back much of who they are, and the meaning within their lives.

Even for those without great understanding or knowledge of the watershed year of 1066 or those not yet besotted by Sons of the Wolf—after this they will want to be—The Wolf Banner isn’t simply a great read or difficult to put down. Readers will be drawn into the dialogue, the story’s fluidity and the multitude of layers. There is a certain satisfaction as pieces begin to fit together, paired with anticipation for how all this will play out. Different from some 1066 stories because we don’t, as with Harold, for example, already know what will happen, it draws us in and beckons us on, and we willingly follow. We can’t help ourselves.

As delicious and gripping a read as Sons of the Wolf—nay, even more—The Wolf Banner brings us love, lies, war, merriment, jealousy, victory, feuding, loyalty, payback both sinister and hilarious, and a glimpse into the reality of Anglo-Saxon life that will mesmerize the newly initiated as well as old hands. A story so thoughtfully woven we will hardly be able to wait and see what else the spinners have in store for Wulfhere, his family and his community. Wolf’s Bane, third in the series, is slated for 2017 release and the longing to once more meet up with this thegn has already set in.

*********

Remember to comment below OR at our Facebook thread (here) to get in on the drawing for a FREE COPY of The Wolf Banner. Let us know if you haven’t yet read Sons of the Wolf and the ever-generous Paula Lofting will send along a copy of that, too! Drawing scheduled for December 3, so keep your eyes peeled to see if you are our winner!

Update: Drawing extended to December 20

*********

About the author …

duckie-pooPaula has always wanted to write. Since she was a little girl, coming home from school to sit at the table with her notebook and write stories that buzzed around in her head. A prolific reader, she loved nothing better than to spend weekends with a book in her hand. Earliest influences such as Rosemary Sutcliffe, Leon Garfield, Charles Dickens, C.S.Lewis, inspired an interest in history. It became her lifelong wish to one day write and publish a book, but not being able to type, and having no funds for a typewriter to learn on, this ambition was reluctantly put on hold.

With the advent of PCs and a need to retrain and use a computer, this old ambition was stirred and she decided to rekindle her love of books and writing at the grand old age of 42. At this point, she had reached a turning point in her life and studied nursing, and also decided to write the book she had promised herself one day she would write.

Her debut novel, Sons of the Wolf, was first published with the assistance of SilverWood Books in 2012. More recently she has republished it with her new publishing company, Longship Books, in Kindle. A new paperback version will be published by June. It is a story set in the years leading up to the Norman Conquest of England and the first in the Sons of the Wolf series, about this amazing time in English history.

She has always admired the works of Sharon Penman and Bernard Cornwell, Edith Pargetter and Mary Stewart, amongst many others. History is a great love of hers and her interest in the subject goes beyond that of the keyboard. She also enjoys Anglo-Saxon re-enactment with Regia Anglorum, also a great source of research for her writing. Paula says: “Write for enjoyment, write for yourself, regardless of what others say you should; for if you don’t write what you love, then how can you expect others to love what you write.”

*********

Follow author Paula Lofting and keep up with her news, including her magnificent new blog and impressively researched and written entries about 1066, as well as the upcoming Wolf’s Bane, third in the Sons of the Wolf series. You can find her at her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

*********

A copy of The Wolf Banner was provided to the blogger to facilitate an honest review.

Journey to Zürich: Zürich Through Time and Space (Guest Post: Martha Kennedy)

Martha Kennedy is the award-winning author of Martin of Gfenn, Savior and The Brothers Path.  To be announced at a December 9 reception, the author will also receive more details of an honor awarded for her short story submissions to Letters from Hidden Lake, the literary magazine of the Alamosa Public Library. Congratulations, Martha Kennedy!

Zürich Through Time and Space

by Martha Kennedy

grossmunster-2016-copy
Grossmünster (Great Church)

My relationship with Zürich did not start well. On my first visit in 1994, the labyrinthine passageways in the Niederdorf, Zürich’s old town, felt sinister and claustrophobic. The whole thing was “topped” by a barren, stone cathedral called the “Grossmünster” or Great Church. The few images in the church — such as Jesus whipping himself with a cat-o-nine tails — were horrific. I could not have imagined that someday those streets would fill my imagination, the church would become a place of dreams, or that the city held within its long history people who belong to me.

***

Three years later, on my second visit, I was with two friends at a famous bar, the Bodega Española. The Neiderdorf, yes, the bar was in the Niederdorf, now seemed less sinister (but equally labyrinthine). We were drinking Spanish red wine as people have done there for a century or so, including Lenin who lived for a time in Zürich. A professor, a Scandinavian man who said he taught Norse literature at the University of Zürich, leaned across one of my friends and asked me, “What brings you to the cross-roads of western civilization? James Joyce’s grave?”

“James Joyce’s grave?” I asked, incredulous. This was strange, and ghoulish.

“He lived here after he fled Trieste and the fascists,” said the professor.

I barely heard the professor. I was still hung up on the idea of Zürich as the “crossroads of western civilization.”

The wonder of complete ignorance, such as mine, is that you get to learn things.

Zürich is an ancient city, but most don’t think of it as they do other ancient European cities such as Rome, Athens or London. Zürich has been around in some form for more than 6000 years as village of lake dwellers, a Celtic settlement, an Allemani town, a Roman trading center. On one narrow lane, Thermengasse, leading to the Lindenhof, where the Romans had their palace, a visitor can look through a grating to see ruins of a Roman bath.

***

Before that second Zürich journey, I had read How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill (I bought it thinking it was a joke) and was flabbergasted by the fact that Switzerland’s patron saint is an Irishman, St. Gall. With my last name being “Kennedy” it is probable there is at least one Irishman in the woodpile of my ancestry, so I was curious about this Irishman. My curiosity about St. Gall drew me into an old world that was new to me.

Back in the day (the 7th century) St. Columbanus and St. Gall, and ten other monks, had crossed the English Channel and walked to the Lake of Constance where Gallus became ill and decided to stay behind. Gallus lived as a hermit with twelve converted Germanic monks whom he taught.

Gallus’ hermitage is now (and has been for centuries) an enormous abbey whose library contains  some of the world’s oldest manuscripts. Over the doorway is inscribed, in Greek, “Medicine Chest of the Soul.” Many of the manuscripts are written in languages known to only a few scholars. It touched me deeply that people had, long ago, written important messages to the future that the future could not read.

***

mog-2nd-edition-front-copy
Martin of Gfenn is an indieBRAG Medallion Honoree (click image)

When we returned to Zürich, my friend’s mother, knowing of my new interest in all things medieval, said, “Take Martha to see the little church at Gfenn.” Gfenn, pronounced “fen,” (a medieval German word meaning “swamp”) is a village north of Zürich.

We arrived at dusk, and the church was locked. But the stone medieval building captured my imagination. We returned the next day, and I learned that it had been built in the 13th century as part of a community of the Knights of St. Lazarus; the Leper Knights of Jerusalem.

Looking at the faded frescoes surrounding the east window of the chapel, I began a journey in space and time that became Martin of Gfenn. It was as if the protagonist of the story, Martin, a young artist with leprosy, had been waiting centuries for someone to tell his story, and I had practiced writing all my life in preparation. The thing is, I knew NOTHING about the crusades, Catholicism, the organization of the military orders, leprosy, fresco painting, medieval European history or about Zürich.

***

I began writing Martin of Gfenn in 1998 and had a completed, but not “finished,” manuscript by 2004. I went online hoping to find a Swiss medievalist historian who might be willing to read the book. I found Rainer Hugener, then a graduate student at the University of Zürich. He’d grown up only a few kilometers from Gfenn and had already specialized in the history of the very place where Martin of Gfenn was set. He was excited that anyone — never mind an American — was interested in this tiny dot on the Swiss map. He read the novel. I was concerned about the quality of my research, and Rainer replied that he was stunned by its historical accuracy. I was relieved and happy.

I decided to visit Zürich in March 2005 and I met Rainer on the steps of St. Peter’s church. Rainer had an early map of Zürich, and we used it to go around the city in our own 13th century time machine. This amazing day culminated in a trip north over the Zürichberg (where the zoo is now located) to Gfenn, mostly on foot, a journey Martin had made. Just beyond the zoo are ruins of a medieval Augustinian cloister, St. Martins, a place of which I had no knowledge, but where Rainer imagined the protagonist of my novel had been raised. It was the perfect place.

me-at-gfenn-copy
Martha at Gfenn

We reached the chapel at Gfenn just before sunset. We took photos and talked about the paintings, about the ruins of Castle Dubelstein on the hillside across the fields, about Rainer’s research. Afterward, I went home with Rainer whose girlfriend at the time, also a historian, had prepared dinner. We sat around the table, sharing fondue and champagne, and I asked them, “How do you guys like being identified as Swiss medievalist historians?”

They laughed and Rainer’s girlfriend said, “What do you think YOU are?”

Wow. I was a Swiss medievalist historian! Martin of Gfenn had brought me there; Zürich had brought me there.

***

Second cover edition for Savior, also winner of an indieBRAG Medallion (click image)
Second cover edition for Savior, also winner of an indieBRAG Medallion (click image)

The Commander, one of the characters in Martin of Gfenn, seemed to cry out for me to tell his story, so I had begun Savior in the summer of 2004. In my mind was a location, a hillside, with a castle ruin that I had seen on one of my trips to Switzerland in the 1990s. I made that the location of my story, rebuilt (in my mind) the ruined castle, put a family in it. The location was on the Albis Mountains, a small range of high hills southeast of Zürich, in the Sihl Forest, on the “back” of the Üetliberg, the highest mountain in the Albis chain. Because I’d hiked there, the setting I was imagining felt familiar to me. I imagined the family to be that of a very minor noble, a knight and his wife and sons. One of the sons, the older of the two, would become Commander of the community at Gfenn after a long journey that would include fighting in the Holy Land. I imagined it as a prequel to Martin of Gfenn. By 2005, I had more or less finished what was then called Rudolf when life hit me hard. Writing took a back seat for the next five years.

When Martin of Gfenn was finally published in 2011, I sent several copies to newspapers in and around Zürich, hoping for reviews. The book was received enthusiastically, and I was interviewed by several papers. It was read by English-speaking Swiss, one of whom sent me an email suggesting I had Swiss ancestry. He said many Americans did. In the 18th century Swiss Anabaptists, Mennonites and Amish, had fled Switzerland.

After eating macaroni and cheese in Appenzell in 1997, a dish that, in the first bite, took me back to my grandmother’s kitchen in Billings, Montana, I’d suspected my grandma of being Swiss. At that time, I did a little search, but found nothing. I gave it another shot at this man’s suggestion and there they were, a family named Lunkhofen with close connections to another family with the nickname “Schneebeli.”

The Lunkhofens had lived in a small castle fort on the Albis Mountains above the town of Affoltern am Albis, or “Appletree Village on the Albis,” the very location in which I had envisioned the family. They had two sons. The names I’d given the characters in my story were, all but one, the names of the members of my own family. My family tree provided an ending in which I could believe. Down the road, this discovery led to The Brothers Path.

Learning that part of my OWN story began in this complex, ancient and beloved place made me inexpressibly happy — but it was eerie, too.

***

This past summer I returned to Zürich for the first time since 2005. I saw the streets as familiar old friends I knew not only as they are today, but as I had come to know them through time, through old maps and the footsteps of the characters in my novels.

I met Rainer and his wonderful girlfriend, Kirsten, for dinner. As we planned our meeting, we decided to meet in front of the Grossmünster. Because the focus of my writing had moved on some three hundred years, Rainer met me with maps of 16th century Zürich and surrounding towns. We had dinner in a sidewalk cafe in the Niederdorf. It turned out very “Swiss” as a group of Alphorn players came by and serenaded everyone on the patio.

Martha pointing at the navel of the world
Martha pointing at the navel of the world

We talked as, in my life, only Swiss medievalist historians can.

“How long has it been since you saw each other?” asked Kirsten.

“Ten? Eleven years?” Rainer answered.

“That’s a long time.”

When our dinner was over, and I really had to go, we all walked to the parking garage.

We passed the Cabaret Voltaire, the home of DADA. In 2005 Rainer took a photo of  me pointing up to the “Navel of the World.” That evening, Kirsten took a photo of both of us pointing.

Rainer and Martha

As we said goodbye, Kirsten said, “Don’t wait another eleven years.”

I’m nearly 65. I quickly did the math.

“I won’t. I love Zürich. I’ve missed it.”

“Zürich loves you,” said Rainer.

And I kind of think that might be true when I look at all the gifts Zürich has given me.

*********

About the author…

Martha Kennedy has published three works of historical fiction. Her first novel, Martin of Gfenn, which tells the story of a young fresco painter living in 13th-century Zürich, was awarded the Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society Indie Review and the BRAG Medallion from IndieBRAG in 2015.

Her second novel, Savior, also an BRAG Medallion Honoree (2016), tells the story of a young man in the 13th century who fights depression — and discovers himself — by going on Crusade.

Her third novel, published in July 2016, The Brothers Path, a loose sequel to Savior, looks at the same families met in Savior three hundred years later as they find their way through the Protestant Reformation.

Kennedy has traveled intensively in Switzerland, journeys that have at once inspired and informed her writing. She has also published many short-stories and articles in a variety of publications from the Denver Post to the Business Communications Quarterly.

martha-kennedy

Kennedy was born in Denver, Colorado and earned her undergraduate degree in American Literature from University of Colorado, Boulder, and her graduate degree in American Literature from the University of Denver. She has taught college and university writing at all levels, business communication, literature and English as a Second Language. For many years she lived in the San Diego area, but has recently returned to Colorado to live in Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley.

All of Martha Kennedy’s novels are available in both paperback and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other online booksellers. You can also contact the author!

*********

Follow Martha Kennedy to learn more about the author and her books at her website, Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, Indie B.R.A.G. author page, or her Savior blog and Facebook pages, and the Martin of Gfenn webpage.

*********

Photos courtesy Martha Kennedy

slv-book-fair
Author Martha Kennedy will be signing books at the San Luis Valley Book Fair on December 2. (Click image for more details.)

This post has been updated to replace the copy of Martin of Gfenn‘s cover with the second edition image and add a link to author bio.

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Blog: “Senlac Ridge”

Today we are so grateful to host a guest blog, with re-print of lyrics from “Senlac Ridge,” by English folk singer Ian David Churchward and the Legendary Ten Seconds. The lyrics, reading like a poem, depict King Harold’s race to London following his victory against the Vikings at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. His army depleted, he now faces a terrible decision: allowing time to revive his army to fight the invading Normans would concede the continued pillage and raping of English villages on the coast. Or should they dispatch without delay to the Battle of Hastings, despite a weary army and reinforcements not yet arrived?

battle-of-hastings
The Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066 at this location: the English position was on top of the hill where the abbey later stood, and the Normans approximately where the photographer is standing. (Image and caption courtesy Christopher Hilton via Wikimedia Commons) (click image)

Senlac Ridge

At Stamford Bridge King Harold

Took the Vikings by surprise

But shortly after victory

From the south bad news arrived

William had landed

To claim the English throne

He had the Pope’s blessing,

Men at arms and knights so bold

Harold raced back to London

His housecarls close behind

Receiving news of rape and pillage

In the English countryside

Harold was determined

Not to waste precious time

Though his army was depleted

He had courage, he had pride

From the woods the Saxons gathered

Out on Senlac Ridge

Though they were weary

They would not give an inch

Up the slope the Normans charged

The shield wall held firm

The Normans they fell back

William had them charge once more

The battle raged on all day

An arrow took out Harold’s eye

The shield wall was broken

Beneath the autumn skies

Yes, the battle raged on all day

An arrow took out Harold’s eye

The shield wall was broken

Beneath the autumn skies

*********

harold
“Harold the King was killed”: Section the Bayeux Tapestry illustrating the death of King Harold and the traditional legend that he was killed when hit in the eye by an arrow. (Wikimedia Commons) (Click image)

About Ian Churchward…

woefulwonders
“Senlac Ridge” appears on the album Woeful Wonders & Stupendous Blunders. For more information, please click image.

The Legendary Ten Seconds was originally a solo music project of Ian Churchward who has played guitar in various bands after starting to play the guitar in 1979. Ian’s first band was called Chapter 29 and after this band split up in 1986 he started a new indie pop band called The Morrisons later that year. This band released a flexi disc, which was played on the John Peel show on BBC radio one in 1987. From the late 1990’s until about 2007 Ian also played in a ceilidh band called Storm Force Ten which then became a new band called Phoenix.

songs
A bit about “Senlac Ridge” appears in Churchward’s Songs About Richard III: A Richard III Music Project. (Click image)

You can learn more about Ian Churchward and the Legendary Ten Seconds and their music at FacebookCD Baby, a blog dedicated to The Richard 3rd Projects and Twitter.

For a promotional video of Songs About Richard III, click here.

*********

Click here to see my review of the Legendary Ten Seconds’ album Richard III.

*********

Lyrics re-print courtesy Ian David Churchward.

*********

This post was updated to include a correction re: the promotional video.

*********

Book Review: Susanna: The Early Years

Susanna: Volume 1 – The Early Years

(Book III in The Merencourt Saga)

by Carol Edgerley

B.R.A.G. Medallion-winning author

Download a FREE copy of Susanna: Volume 1 – The Early Years between November 10-14!

Available at Amazon and Amazon UK.

susannaWe were first introduced to author Carol Edgerley’s French side of the family via her great aunt, Marguerite de Merencourt, who lends her given name to the series’ first installment. Edgerley herself comes to this family history via clandestine story hours meant for her to improve her math grades, but thankfully her tutor aunt—a different one—gave in to her niece’s begging for family history and the result is the mesmerizing Merencourt Saga, of which Susanna is the third.

Despite being this far into the series Susanna could easily be read as a stand-alone, and if that were all any given reader wanted to dip their toes in, I would say don’t miss it. However, there is a richness in Susanna’s background, amazing tales of strong women, perseverance and a will to succeed that informs each generation. Marguerite and Claire bring us through these eras and we can see where Susanna gets the stoicism that carries her though the worst of times. Never to worry, however, dear readers, for anyone who starts first with number three will simply want to reach back and devour all the stories, much like Edgerley herself did as a child.

Marguerite de Merencourt was unwanted and disliked by her aristocratic mother, who with her favored son carried on a lifelong campaign against the girl, ultimately resulting in her banishment to an Irish convent school, followed by elopement and hasty relocation to British India. In an era when women existed in the shadows of the men they were connected to (fathers, husbnds), Marguerite’s life seems like payback for having made her own decisions. Ultimately she plans a way for herself, but the price she pays is steep.

Claire takes us to the next generation of Merencourt women, a journey through which we discover that dysfunction prefers to travel in packs, and no one seems spared from the misery of ambition, pride, righteousness and bigotry (in a variety of forms). The teenage Claire grows into a rather bitter woman whose lot in life is to deal with the overturn of almost every fortune she might ever receive. She throws it right back at the universe, not taking the time to think about those who stand in the way, and her behavior is at times very difficult to read.

claire
Claire is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

So it may come as a surprise when this very same Claire opens Susanna’s story as the doting and affectionate grandmother, now living in France, who takes the sickly toddler into her home while the girl’s mother runs a school in the Himalayas. Diana’s occasional visits seem designed to disrupt any balance or security in Susanna’s life, for she comes with an irrational anger, blaming her daughter for the distance between them, lobbing accusations and subjecting her to violent abuse. Claire is mortified by this and pleads with Diana, who only reminds her of past transgressions and denies her any redemption, thereby absolving herself of the wrongs she too perpetuates.

Not long into Susanna the girl’s delight of her mother’s new baby is severely punished when she peers into the pram and the nanny reports to Diana that Susanna has attacked the infant.

I’m catching this wicked, BAD girl attacking Baby in her pram, Madam!” declared the nanny in outraged tones. So jealous she is, wanting to hurt our little baby. See how poor Samantha is crying!”

N … no! I didn’t hurt —”

 “Why, you vicious little brat!” Diana surged to her feet, scarlet in the face with fury. “I’ll teach you to attack a defenceless baby!”

 Seizing Susanna by the arm, she hoisted the shrieking child into the air and began to violently beat her. “See how you like that, you vile child!” Diana panted between wallops. “If I catch you anywhere near my baby again, you’ll get another thrashing.”

While Edgerley writes in the same style as in her previous novels, with a flair and grace that embodies a bygone time and its mannerisms, mores and standards, she also captures events in an economic style that tells all we need to know, reaching out to our hearts for this little girl while avoiding a literary sort of voyeurism that would threaten to lessen the story’s value.

marg
Opening novel in The Merencourt Saga series, Marguerite is also a winner of the indie B.R.A.G. Medallion

One of the novel’s greatest strengths is that as Susanna grows older, the narrative takes on deeper layers as we witness the ins and outs of Diana’s horrific projection and psychological abuse. Astounded at such cruelty, I found myself frequently asking, “But why? Why and how is this mother so cruel to her child in such a way that most of us would not inflict on a dog?”

A great part of the answer goes back to Marguerite; in the review for this book I mused on the perils of wasted talent and forced idleness in a society and era in which women’s mobility barely existed. While we in our age do not often dwell on it, movement in reality equals freedom, both of which Marguerite claims for herself in opposition to her parents’ plans for her. The hand of authority—again, back to the standards of the time—nevertheless reaches to her in India all the way from France, inflicting in other ways its harsh grip and affecting her relationships.

However, the die was cast. As I read Susanna I mused more on a conversation within the events of a popular reality/time experiment television series in which a family lives for three months, in every way possible, as would a typical household in Victorian England. One participant reflects the manner in which people of the era—particularly women—threw themselves into their projects and with sustained interest because the day’s enforced limitations resulted in boredom so severe it could drive individuals to madness. While Susanna is unfortunate in being confined within such parameters, she has inherited Marguerite’s imagination and drive, never willing to settle for dutifully giving in to the tasks and activities assigned to her.

The historical Claire, aged about 48, in France
The historical Claire, aged about 48, in France

Within this Edgerley reminds us that this is not mere knitting and fainting couch dwelling—not that this isn’t bad enough, though usually the sort of image we conjure when thinking of women’s lives in this time. As Susanna’s cognitive abilities sharpen with age, so too do Diana’s strategies for emotional manipulation and mental exploitation. Inserting herself into every corner of the girl’s life, Diana even makes use of casual conversation, constantly reconnoitering, the intelligence drawn from it utilized for offensive attacks. She forcefully employs Susanna in occupations that some then and now might find interesting, but are not where the girl’s heart resides. Humiliating Susanna with accusations terribly exaggerated or blatantly untrue, each turn of the screw brings her closer to the edge.

Acting in part almost as a psychological case study—sans the paucity of soul within institutional jargon—the author skillfully shows us the delicate balance her heroine is faced with: bestowed with the benefit of strength of character, the teenage Susanna must also confront the demon that plagues each generation as a cycle of abuse is passed from one to the next. Will her strong personality become a detriment as her ambitions are thwarted? Even if she does manage to break the horrific progression, will she be able to differentiate her actual desires from choices effected by spite?

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Susanna does have an ally in her grandmother Claire, and she engages in happy times in France and India, the author vividly portraying people, places and events in a manner so marvelously descriptive the passages come alive, though not only in image form: we feel the aura, hear the roar of the ocean’s waves, mingling of the people, mouths water at the platters of food as we stride through scenes.

Flora led the way through the house to a colonnaded terrace adjacent to the swimming pool area, where elegantly dressed people chatted together in groups. A band played popular music, and white-coated bearers, wearing the traditional muslin pugri, slowly circulated bearing canapés on silver trays. Garlands of fairy lights twinkling around the pool area added to the festive atmosphere.

 Words are subtly employed as actors to facilitate our engagement with the prose: hair tumbles defiantly about Susanna’s shoulders, Diana surges to her feet in anger and the heat seeps through the ground to our feet or the salt water sprinkles noses as we travel by sea. Hints of culture sprinkle themselves through the novel as Edgerley moves us between continents and years.

Readers ought not be tempted to see Susanna, smaller in appearance than its predecessors, as a book of lesser consequence. It is so readable one might find they have read quite a chunk as the time slipped by, though despite this ease of immersion the content’s dual layers of story and study captures our attention in totality. As The Early Years in the life of Susanna Lalinski, we can expect a part two, and I shall be anticipating it as much as I did each subsequent novel after I first read Marguerite. Readers should keep alert for it as well, and in the meantime, if they haven’t done already, reach back into a room where a young girl was meant to be practicing numbers, but instead begged a tale be told ….

*********

Carol Edgerley tells us in her own words a bit about her amazing life…

Born in Calcutta, Carol spent most of her early childhood in France and then Jersey in the Channel Islands. Educated first at a French convent, she then attended Jersey College for Girls and later went to Heathfield, a girls’ boarding school in Ascot.

carol-edgerleyThroughout her long life (and three marriages) Carol has travelled extensively, visiting the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, living several years in France, India and Hong Kong.

A qualified teacher, Carol ran a successful tutorial in Hong Kong for many years, teaching children French and English towards eventual O-Level examinations. She is delighted to still keep in touch with a number of ex-pupils.

Upon retirement to France, Carol was able to carry out a burning desire to write the story of her French great grandmother’s astonishing life, told to her by a great aunt when she was twelve years of age. In the delightful surroundings of her home in the Dordogne at that time, she wrote the story of Marguerite in long hand, initially for the benefit of her three children.

Years went by, and sweating blood and tears, Carol battled the mysteries of a computer, Mac, Word and email … finally Facebook and Twitter. Encouraged by friends and her three children, she re-invented herself as a writer and typed out the manuscript of Marguerite on her new Mac computer, editing furiously as she went. The exercise, however, took decidedly longer than she had imagined!

Unwilling to pursue a (generally) disappointing path to literary agents and publishers, being dismally aware her work might end up unread, and thrown on a “slush pile,” Carol ventured into the world of self publishing. It was one of her life’s greatest emotional moments to hold a print copy of Marguerite in her hands for the first time!

Delighted by readers’ response to the book, Carol went on to write Claire, the story of Marguerite’s wilful elder daughter, who led an amazing if somewhat tragic life. Now there is Susanna: The Early Years (Volume 1), this being the story of one of Claire’s granddaughters. This particular book shines a light on bullying in its worst form, an unpleasantness that unfortunately persists to this day.

Susanna: A Tale of Passion and Betrayal (Volume 2) will follow in due course.

Carol still lives in France, now in a comfortable old farmhouse set in the centre of its own twenty-eight acres of pastureland in the Vendée. Sitting at her desk in the veranda, she is invariably surrounded by six much-loved adopted dogs of all shapes and sizes.

Find and follow the wonderful Carol Edgerley at her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

*********

A gratis copy of Susanna: Volume 1 – The Early Years was provided to the blogger in order to facilitate an honest review.

*********

Images courtesy Carol Edgerley

*********

This post was updated to include links to free downloads (between November 10-14, 2016).

*********