Talk of Ghostly Tales on Halloween and Throughout the Year

Anticipating an anthology of ghostly tales currently on its way to my neck of the woods, I’ve been thumbing through other collections and excitedly thinking about what the new set will bring

It’s been a crazy last few weeks and Halloween, sorry to say, fell off my radar. Well, to be completely honest, I don’t really whoop it up as a general rule, but it can be fun to engage in some of the playful traditions, such as making scary (fun scary) treats or reading ghost stories.

Wait, who am I kidding? I read ghost stories at all parts of the year! While I don’t really care for some tales that people qualify as ghost stories – yarns that tend to fall, for me, more into the camp of horror, such as werewolves and zombies – I do love a haunting. However, I’m pretty much a coward when it comes to such things, and I don’t think I’d ever go into a dwelling with a scary reputation, for example, in real life. So to follow Algernon Blackwood’s Jim Shorthouse and Aunt Julia into number thirteen, an abandoned house that has experienced a series of hastily departing tenants, provides a thrill not unlike the one Jim himself feels, even after my having read the story dozens of times. There is also a fabulously funny haunting within Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost,” one whose poignant ending provides something of a map toward the reason why we are so drawn to them, even with their unknown qualities. They scare us at times, yes, but we also feel a sympathetic curiosity, not just to their current predicaments, but also the lives they once lived, and how they came to be within the same flux as ourselves.

Hauntings is on its way to my mail box!

There are, of course, so many varieties of ghost stories as well as how they are told, it would be impossible to pin down an exhaustive catalogue in a mere blog entry—surely a reflection of all the unique characters that live and have lived in our world. I’m very fortunate in that my exploration of this genre is enabled by my son, who likes to buy me books, recently having gifted me Chilling Ghost Stories, companion to another I own (and that he also brought home for me), Great Ghost Stories. They are indeed both chilling and great, some by masters such as M.R. James and Ambrose Bierce, as well as other, lesser-known authors. Also included and to be marvelously re-discovered are novelists and short story writers whose influence has waned in this century: Charlotte Riddell, Amelia Edwards, W.W. Jacobs.

It is a truism, within the discussion of ghost stories and tales of hauntings, that as long as humans carry on, the tales will be told. Modern stories may or may not reference or allude to histories that have settled within the collective or individual consciousness, but they do continue to link us to the world alongside ours, introducing thrilling perspectives and raising hairs. One such I had the opportunity to preview, within a setting I don’t often enter in the reading world—that of a mental institution—was Samantha Wilcoxson’s “Among the Lost,” from the newly published Hauntings. Wilcoxson and nine other authors “take you through a labyrinth of historical horror,” encountering such characters as a young psych nurse who encounters a mystery at her new place of employment; a tormented Roman general; and a Norse woman confronting a terrifying destiny. I am delighted to add that I will be reviewing this collection in the next few weeks (it is currently en route), so do stay tuned!

For those ghost story aficionados and others who simply cannot wait to get their ghastly tales on, Hauntings is available at Amazon and Amazon UK. I should add that Paula Lofting, the collection’s editor and the only contributor whose work I am familiar with, is on familiar ground, historically speaking. She writes about pre-1066 in Sons of the Wolf and The Wolf Banner, both of which I have read and reviewed. So it will be intriguing to see where she takes her storytelling skills within the ghostly plane, and what her co-authors also bring to the genre.

Happy Halloween, and see you back here soon!

Where Were You When…? – Remembering 1066

Nearly 1,000 years have passed ….

In October 2016 I began a series of posts in memory of 1066, arguably the most important year in the history of England. Interestingly enough, while I enjoyed history, this era was not always my favored, as it once seemed so complicated and intimidating; my memories of studying it in school were filled with details I didn’t really understand, or there were so many layered on top of each other they seemed to crush me.

Paula Lofting’s Sons of the Wolf persuaded me out of my comfort zone, the Wars of the Roses period, and when I began to see the era as populated by people rather than a series of dates (as I was able for the fifteenth century), plus the greater significance of exactly what had happened–what I only partially appreciated during my school years–I was hooked.

A couple of years after, I read Annie Whitehead’s To Be A Queen, which was poetry in prose and simply unforgettable. Whitehead’s examination of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, indeed the Lady herself, impressed upon me our great heritage of language, literature, spirituality and yearning for freedom–plus the willingness to fight for it. While I certainly admire other historical figures and groups, the Anglo-Saxons have to greater effect shown me the importance of remembering, thus this series for them and the freedom they fought to keep for us. Unfortunately, they did lose the most important battle and the end of their era arrived, but their legacy lives on.

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Today, five years since this series, we once again mark another anniversary of Hastings, so soon after Stamford and the great hope that Harold Godwinson would drive the invading Normans from English shores. Alas, it was not to be, and the years that followed birthed more stories and writings than most modern people have ever heard of, though it’s always a good time to look into our past: where we came from, who influenced us and, indeed, the invaders. Below are just a few pieces/works for or about this dramatic period that changed the course of history, and you can also find articles about Harold Godwinson and other 1066-related topics at Murray and Blue.

hastings
By image on web site of Ulrich Harsh via Wikimedia Commons (Click image)

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: Sons of the Wolf (Updated) (October 14, 2016)  Marks the Battle of Hastings, October 14, 1066

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: 1066: What Fates Impose (October 14, 2016) Marks the Battle of Hastings, October 14, 1066

950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: 1066: What Fates Impose (October 25, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: Sons of the Wolf (November 5, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Blog: “Senlac Ridge” (Ian David Churchward) (November 12, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: The Wolf Banner (November 20, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Blog: “One Crown, Four Claimants” (G.K. Holloway) (November 25, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Poet Post: “Prayer to Woden” (Rob Bayliss) (November 26, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: The Wolf Banner (December 11, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: Marching Toward 1066 (Annie Whitehead) (December 19, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: 1066: What Fates Impose (December 25, 2016)

950 Intermission: Recording History in Film (December 31, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: The Bastard of Normandy v. the Golden Warrior (Paula Lofting) (January 16, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: Alvar the Kingmaker (January 23, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: Between Two Worlds (Annie Whitehead) (January 28, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: A Dynasty Denied (Rob Bayliss) (February 9, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Interview: Paula Lofting (B.R.A.G. Medallion Winner) (April 1, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: The Price of Love and Loyalty (Annie Whitehead) (May 13, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Interview (Glynn Holloway) (September 25, 2017) Anniversary of the Battle of Stamford Bridge, September 25, 1066

950: 1066 Remembered, Secrets Through a Tapestry of Time (October 14, 2017) Final installment, marking the Battle of Hastings, October 14, 1066

#iHeartAngloSaxons

Another series that may be of interest,

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen

Image of the Week: Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians (Blog that led to the series) (July 22, 2016)

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen, Book Review: To Be A Queen (September 13, 2016)

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen, Interview with Author Annie Whitehead and Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians (September 20, 2016)

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen, Guest Post: Invitation to the Past (September 27, 2016)

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen, Excerpt: To Be A Queen (October 4, 2016)

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen, Cover Crush: To Be A Queen (October 11, 2016)

#iHeartAngloSaxons

Update: Not Exactly Spring, But It’s Coming

Well, it’s another week in which I’m a bit late for my regular posting, and I’ve been meaning since several days to write an update regarding this, but have been rather slammed. Lots of this has been for great reasons, though, such as children going back to school. This meant I had to temporarily tweak my schedule to accommodate morning rides, which will end when the snow and ice go away, and the feel of that is definitely in the air, but still a ways away here in the Great Land. In Los Angeles they have 80° and lots of Lower 48 states are already playing frisbee, though we get to go snowshoeing for a bit more. (It’s fun, you should try it!)

800px-Snowshoe2
Traditional snowshoe ~ Image courtesy Wikimedia

This weekend I’ll be hard at work cleaning up a project I’m finishing – more on that to come – and then I’ve got a big schedule next week. So I will probably be absent then as well, but have been making notes for lots of other posts, including the Image of the Month, some quirkage, book and product reviews, food, lovely-smelling magazines, music and more. I think I will be able to peep into Twitter and post a few archival links and reminisce a bit, plus check out what others are creating and talking about.

I’ll  leave you here with a selection from some of the music I’m currently listening to, plus links to a couple of my favorite blogs (including at least one book review). Hope you all are doing well and thanks so much for coming to check us out. See you soon!

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More from Before the Second Sleep….

Book Review Rollout (with Updates)

Additional note 2021-1-9: Circumstances have warranted a change to how authors set up book reviews. Please see Book Review Guidelines tab for additional information. 

Be sure to check out the companion post to this Book Review Rollout here.

And so here we are – 2020. It’s a long way off from 2012, when I first started this blog, and I’ve come into contact with some really fabulous people. Most of the time this site has been going I’ve done book reviews, and at one point I stopped, picking up again with other ideas and topics I wanted to talk about or delve into. To be honest, I still want to do this, but it’s kind of hard to stay away from the stories. This, of course, has happened before, and I periodically opened up to accept a few review requests. When I started contemplating things again this time, I decided to shake it up a bit. Some aspects will stay the same, though, because the goal is to make it easier for all involved.

One of my current reads

To start with: As a child and teen I was enamored of The Lion the Witch and the WardrobeThe Crystal Cave and anything by Lewis Carroll. These days I still read the aforementioned and am open to reviewing memoir, ghost stories, historical fiction, some/various non-fiction, young adult, time travel and lots of indie books within these genres. My favorite historical eras are pre- and post-1066, the Wars of the Roses (in particular, the second half of the fifteenth century), American Revolution and WWII. I have somewhat new sort-of interest in the American Civil War and possibly events related to Edward, the Black Prince (another subject I’m currently exploring).

So here’s how I’m opening up the works ~

Once you read through you should have a better idea if  pursuing a review from Before the Second Sleep it a suitable fit for you.  ~ While I used to ask that authors shoot me an email to see if I’ll do a review, I decided to just do away with that. Since I have a lot more on my plate than I used to (at least it feels that way—it could be that some things were just replaced with others), I’ve given myself permission to respond with very brief emails or not at all. If you receive a brief email from me, please do not take it personally; it is sheer necessity. The “not at all” category used to be something like authors sending me e-copies of their books without asking if I would review them. 

To be honest, these authors were on to something, even though I’d always said, “Don’t email me your books; I’ll delete them.” But they had a good idea because lots of stories looked quite intriguing and I thought, “Actually, this could be pretty efficient.” So I sort of took this idea like a piece of clay, rolled it around a bit and created my own shape to it. Out of this and past experiences, I developed these guidelines:

 

  • If you are interested in a review, just go ahead and send me your book. Please note the following caveats:

    • I only accept hard copies. Extended electronic reading gives me a headache and I’m done with it, so paperback or hardback are fine. I will provide my address below.

    • I do not guarantee I will review your book once I read it. Unless I become inundated, I will, however, start every book I receive. If I finish (which I will try to do within 90 days; be aware it may sometimes go over) and decide to write a review, I will let you know, so please be sure to provide your email address.  
  • I work really hard on my reviews and aim to make them quality pieces that provide honesty while honoring the work. Because these entries really are joint efforts—you write the book and I do a review—I don’t want either party to get any short stick. Please remember that reviewers spent their (unpaid) time to give authors free advertising, so a little promotion of those very reviews, a win-win situation, does not go unnoticed. No one is expected to wed themselves forever to the blog; I just hope to avoid one-sidedness. For my part, I’ll be posting my reviews to Amazon, Goodreads and linking on Twitter and Facebook (maybe one or two more), these last two possibly more than once. If you have book signings (once we live in normal again), launches, etc., feel free to let me know so I can contribute what I can to these types of events. 
  • Generally I don’t see the point in taking the time to write a bad review, one in which there is really nothing redeemable about the book. However, if I make note within the review of something I didn’t love, please remember this is just my opinion. Others may very well disagree with me, and that’s all right. Broadcasting why I’m wrong or that “the reviewer probably doesn’t know this but…” is in bad taste and makes an author look bad. Neither one of us wants that. 
  • Authors/publicists are responsible for providing any direct links, actual images, author bio, promotional dates, etc. they would like to include in the review blog entry. Images not your own are required to have permission to use; without this I will not include them. 
  • I work full time and am currently engaged with a few of my own projects. I am carving out very specific time to spend on reading books for the blog, but I’m just one person with a family who takes priority. Please see next two bullets for more on this and related.
  • I am very aware authors are proud of their work, sometimes anxious and are trying to promote and market their books. I truly admire people with stories who get them out there, and I’ll do what I can for some authors as well, including and especially indie. However, there are appropriate ways in which to conduct promotion, and haranguing book bloggers/reviewers is not part of that. Here is a great post about this topic. In my opinion it’s one of the better discussions out there because it also covers reviewer responsibility, which I do my level best to live up to. 
  • If you wish to send an email to let me know your book is on its way, that’s a great idea – this enables me to easily contact you for info when moving forward (plus I prefer to be able to let you know when the book arrives). Email is the method I use for communicating re: book reviews and provides greater assurance I will not miss any messaging; my email is provided below. Please do not contact me on social media re: doing book reviews (the exception is to ask for a link to this page). 
  • If you would like to do a giveaway, guest post, etc., by all means please let me know via email; I’d love to host it. Authors outside the United States can, at least in my experience, order from Amazon.com (as opposed to Amazon UK, etc.) to send books Stateside, rather than having them ship overseas. 
  • Please check back here periodically, as there may be updates or additions to the policies.  

Be sure to have a peek at my sidebar every so often as it changes to reflect my rotation of reads. I also keep a widget full of blogs I follow – which needs a thorough dusting, to be honest – so check it out when you swing by to see if I’ve cleaned up or added more. For new posts, go ahead and click that button! (Upper right on main page or tab at bottom right.) You’ll get a notification—just one, so you won’t be inundated—to let you know when there’s something new for you to check out.

You can contact me at scully_dc AT yahoo DOT com

Please be aware that sending me your book 
indicates acknowledgement of this policies page 

Be sure to check out the companion post to this Book Review Rollout here.

Glad to have you here and I hope each one of you is finding something marvelous in this crazy, mixed-up world.

Updated 2021-1-9

Click image to see 2016’s “Month of Mary Stewart”

Reading 2019: Better Late Than Never, Right?

I know, I know – it’s nearly March 2020. Hey, it just about matches last year, since that month was when I started to read again. Though there is a bit of an uptick this year, since I did actually blog on January 1, whereas 2019 didn’t see any of that activity until the third month.

Yes, things are still not quite as fast as they once were, but improvement does come, slow as it may be. Happily, I did finish my first book of 2020 just a few days ago and our approach toward March indeed brings my mind back to this time last year, when illness preoccupied my days and ghosts visited at night. As mentioned here, I slept a lot, but by the month of Mars, I’d sat up a bit more and began to reach for the world again.

As has been customary for me, I write a tad about that world, found in such a large portion in the books I read, and my first from last year, I am super excited to say, is coming up for review here pretty soon:

A true story based on a 1680 ballad, The Ghost Midwife is book two in Annelisa Christensen’s Seventeenth Century Midwives series.

Not long after I began to look at books I’d been wanting to read (catch up on the Alexander McCall Smith series) or re-read (Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China), and there was also some familiarity in store with authors established in my repertoire (Joanne Larner, Lars Hedbor). I did some reading about ravens, given a group of them had a longtime habit of hanging out in my back yard, and one used to perch on my window to watch me as I typed. Another curious animal showed up in The Inquisitor’s Tale and I encountered a new portrayal of old favorites (The Retreat to Avalon).

Recommendations seemed to dominate this last batch of reads, which started with Karen Maitland’s The Owl Killers, in follow up to this same author’s Company of Liars, read in 2017. In reading this second novel, I knew I was safe from dangerous events within, but Maitland’s narrative kept me on the edge of my seat and to this day I still use the word scary as one descriptor for this un-put-downable tale. Gone Girl and Little Fires Everywhere have both been made into movies, and The Midwife’s Tale came to me from someone who knew of my attachment to Annelisa Christensen’s midwives and fondness for mystery. I’m looking forward to more from both authors.

It wouldn’t be a real follow-up to my January blog entry if I didn’t mention 1066, gifted to me years ago by the same sweetie who sent this fabulous stash. It’s important because events discussed in this book are a significant reason for my current WIP, a story being partially dictated to me by someone who lived at the time of the last ubiquitous palindrome before 2020-02-02 – over 900 years ago. She’s called Adela and I bet you can easily spot the two books below that more than strongly hint at which former kingdom she called home – and that I’m perfectly smitten with.

So, I’ve only read one book so far this year, but I thoroughly enjoyed it – extra lovely given it was a Christmas present. I’ve got a few more going and, though I know it will stay slower owing to my research reading, I’m getting there, aiming to end up with another one for your shelf. In the meantime, Adela is looking forward to it.

Book Review: The Year 1070 – Survival

The Harrying of the North Series: The Year 1070 – Survival
by Rod Flint

51UFE3CwlIL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_I came across Rod Flint’sThe Year 1070 – Survival quite by accident, but once I’d found it, was rather excited to read, given that my previous 1066 and Harrying of the North material has mostly been non-fiction. I was intrigued to see how Flint would handle the storyline, how many historical details he would add and in which direction he would take the tale of Hravn and Ealdgith, young cousins suddenly displaced by the Normans’ vicious assault on their and others’ villages following the post-Conquest uprising in the year within the title’s name.

Flint wastes no time getting the harrying started and, as there must be in any group of harassed peoples, the boy and girl cousins emerge as two with the wily abilities to find an escape and proceed forward in pursuit of a safe haven. This isn’t to say the pair do not encounter doubt or setbacks; they certainly do, and both they and their creator put them to good use as perilous learning experiences. One such is when the fugitives stumble upon bandits who, amongst other threats, gleefully hint at what they plan to do with Ealdgith before killing her. It is a horrific fate that, in most people’s minds, tends to spring to the forefront of possibilities. The author’s use of the word rapeseems to reflect how it is regarded and feared by the vast majority: its presence as a potential is so glaring it hardly needs to be mentioned to know that everyone is thinking about it, whether victim, witness or perpetrator, and for the first few times anyone comments, it is only in reference. Still, Flint does not dance around the word, and the characters’ utterances of it accompanies a bold stand of defiance against any who dare try bringing it to life.

At the risk of beating too much into this angle, it is worth mentioning how well this comes off for Flint, a male author putting words into the mouth of a female character. This is a corner I do not often choose to play because, while I do think effectively portraying a female character is more challenging for a male author (and vice versa), it can be achieved, and here it is done competently. This author has the added burden of portraying characters who lived nearly 1,000 years ago, people so different to us we often forget how similar they also are. Still, they are realistic, their speech and mannerisms sincere, fears and strengths unaffected.

As the novel progressed, I found myself immersed in the characters’ lives on the run and where they would end up. Hravn and Edie – a gender non-specific name Ealdgith adopts, as a protective measure, to match her shorn locks – could have been given a bit more dimension, although it would not be accurate or fair to say they have absolutely no development, and they begin to come into their own as readers witness some of their growth, though portions of this are by reference. That said, this young adult novel will most certainly reach out to its target audience of people in a phase of life developing their own identities, with a definitive relatability, even given the differences in rank, circumstance, abilities, native historical era and so on.

The author is also well-skilled with descriptions of his settings, as if he had been there at the time the harrying was taking place. Naturally, these areas would have experienced immense change in the passage of time but, as mentioned in the author’s historical note, he utilizes tax and other records to map out harrying activities as well as Hravn’s and Edie’s chosen routes. Readers can also access these via Flint’s list of place names and the appearance of most on a map presented in the book’s beginning pages. The author is so thorough in his descriptions that one can follow the map as the tale progresses to watch the directions taken by the pair. I found this very satisfying because, apart from my regular love of maps, it also gave me a visual to keep track of where events were taking place, which can make a big difference in following many stories.

While a marvelous tale, the novel did suffer a bit from its great need of a really thorough edit, particularly in regard to punctuation. A few times I had to re-read sentences, but all in all it was not difficult to determine intent, and it definitely did not put me off the book. However, the story and the people it portrays deserve better, so I hope changes will occur in future editions.

As an introduction to the topic of the Norman Conquest, which Flint discusses quite objectively in his notes, The Year 1070 – Survival is a fantastic choice, especially for its prime target demographic, but also for adults who enjoy YA (as I do). For those more well-versed too, it provides a story of humanity in the midst of violent upheaval and a glimpse into how average people, who so often are my own heroes, might have coped and sought to claim back their own future. The series continues with The Year 1071 – Resistance and Revenge, available now, and concludes with the soon-to-be-published The Year 1072 – Retribution. I’ll be looking for both.

About the Author

Rod Flint is a Cumbrian born in exile in the south of England. A career as an officer in the British Army was interspersed with time in the financial and legal services, and as a safari guide in Cyprus.

He has lived in North Yorkshire, with his wife Judith, for twenty years and enjoys the challenge of exploring the remoter fells and dales. Unravelling the mysteries of local and family history is a hobby that has carried across into writing historical fiction woven around his own, one-thousand-year-long family connection to the north. Rod Flint is also a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Find author Rod Flint on Facebook and at his website, Hindrelag Books, and the Harrying of the North series at Amazon and Amazon UK.

950: 1066 Remembered, Secrets Through a Tapestry of Time

And so another year has passed. In October 2016, we began our commemorative observation marking the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. It has been a year of sifting through details, lamenting in poetry and song, pondering memories, tossing about the what ifs, beholding the heartache of knowledge, of this ending in 1066 certainly, but also the converging roads that led to this day, and the days and years after. Picking up the pieces and then looking back upon those shards of memory … surely even ordinary people, non-combatants, recalled this day soon and years later as life continued to move forward. Could an average person have predicted that their land and people would so rapidly and overwhelmingly be stolen by foreign invaders, so thoroughly transformed?

 

October 14, 1066: At the Battle of Hastings, Normans charge toward the Saxons’ shield wall as the defenders chant, “Out! Out!” By Dan Koehl [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
That their language, for starters, be unrecognizable to someone who lived nearly a thousand years in the future? That to later people—us—common names, the markers of individual identity, would come across as foreign and unpronounceable? Or worse, we might catch glimpses of people through the tapestry of time and perceive only that they come from some generic, long-ago past too distant to be embraced?

And it all would have started with their own children, especially those extremely young or not yet born when the battle occurred. They never had the memories, and those of their parents died with them. Their own lives were to play out in a markedly different fashion to those their parents had known, not only owing to generational differences, but also because an entirely new framework was forcibly re-defining who they were.

I wonder if William the Bastard contemplated this result as he set out to supplant an entire class of elites with new ones from his own land. His victory lap in the form of castle building began straight away and signaled without a doubt his conquest, the subjugation of England’s people and cruelly sought to end, once and for all, the stubborn pockets of resistance that kept popping up. Did he aim to be the boss of everybody, or more, to completely re-make them? As a non-historian still within the beginning phases of serious study of the Anglo-Saxon era and its end, some of my questions may already have definitive answers, or be ones scholars still debate. One thing I do know for sure is that as long as people keep making these queries, even if the inquiries re-produce themselves into scores more, this invader hasn’t completely won.

Here William gives arms to Harold, by image on web site of Ulrich Harsh via Wikimedia Commons

Now that would have been even less than cold comfort for the people who suffered under his rule, and I’m not sure it even satisfies me. Nevertheless, I believe we owe it to the people who lived in this time and after to continually seek answers and ensure they aren’t forgotten.

Someone else felt something along those lines, and for centuries it was believed he came at the ideal from a Norman perspective. No one knows for sure who designed, commissioned or created the Bayeux Tapestry, a pictorial version of events stitched out on a nearly seventy-meter long strip of linen measuring less than half a meter wide. It appears to tell the story of the Norman Conquest as a way to glorify the achievement. A magnificent piece of work, its story of survival is in itself breathtaking, as Andrew Bridgeford briefly discusses at the start of his 1066: The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry.

Hidden history, you say? Well, yes, very possibly. Bridgeford sets out to examine the tapestry and comes across some previously undetected threads, so to speak, in the story. He begins by re-iterating the now-discarded legend surrounding the tapestry’s French name—la Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde—and elaborates on that frankly astounding history of the piece’s survival, including its narrow avoidance of serving during the French Revolutionary Wars as protective covering for an equipment wagon.

Given these hints at secrets within the tapestry, and the mystery surrounding from whence it originated, it perhaps is fitting that its identity as tapestry is not exactly spot on, either. Created from wool yarn sewn into the cloth, it nevertheless remains the tapestry. Searching keenly into what it holds, as Bridgeford does, what reveals itself is the really important part, and his stunning account gives us a glimpse of someone else who may have contemplated what William was thinking, and sought to set the record straight, albeit in a “dangerously many-layered masterpiece.” The Normans had their castles and fought from horseback, but even in French country and beyond, Anglo-Saxon needlework was prized in its time, and it makes sense that the artist who designed the images was not, in fact, a Norman paying homage to his land and people’s supremacy—or to the man who was now his king.

That alone sends us whispers through the winds to our time, that Anglo-Saxons were not the products of a dark age many today still see them as, but rather a society with an art, a textile, people who could tell a story that, as it turns out, has enchanted us for many lifetimes. Even if the story is secretly told, it is done on Saxon terms, on their framework, held in a sort of trust until we could once again speak safely about these events.

Here Harold sailed by sea. Note the singing crow on bottom border, near middle, as he sings, thus tricked into dropping his cheese. Norman apologists liked to believe Harold was the wily fox, unfaithful to the oath he swore to William, portrayed here, so they believed, as the crow. By image on web site of Ulrich Harsh via Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of them often originates in the written word, Bridgeford writes, “[y]et when you close these books and pass to the Bayeux Tapestry your imagination still feels as if it has emerged out of the darkness of a cave into a world of sunlit colours.” Perhaps, if our artist could hear these words on a wind that passes him by, he might smile that his age is characterized thus.

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“Seemingly irrelevant.” A small illustration of a fox, a crow and a piece of cheese is depicted in a lower corner on the tapestry in reference to a fable that dates to Aesop. Three times it appears to warn of the consequences of treacherous flattery, once in close proximity to the scene in which Harold, having journeyed across the sea to the duke, finds himself first a prisoner of Count Guy, and then William, who presents himself as having rescued the English earl. Then we are shown HIC WILLELM DEDIT HAROLDO ARMA. Here William gives arms to Harold. William’s weighty gesture at the Breton war precedes the moments in which William demands Harold swear a sacred oath to support his bid for the throne. Here the duke sits, pointing at Harold in front of him, significantly standing, his eyes “narrowed to the width of a stitch … [t]he very atmosphere seems to have been pulled taut.” Harold understands that William had planned this all out, agonizing over the gravity of a sacred oath and that if he breaks it, he will have to answer to God. If he doesn’t, the brother and nephew he seeks to release from the duke’s imprisonment, will surely not be leaving with him. Wulfnoth and Hakon may die in captivity.

Harold swears the oath.

Straight away the Englishmen are shown on a boat and Bridgeford examines the scene, remarking that the artist’s reversal of the order in which these events actually took place “accentuate[s] the impression of duress,” that secreted within the images is the statement that Harold is permitted to return to England only because he swore the oath.

Here sits King Harold II, by image on web site of Ulrich Harsh via Wikimedia Commons

Upon his homecoming, Eadmer tells us, the Confessor reacts angrily: “Did I not tell you that I knew William well and that your going there might bring untold calamity upon this kingdom?” This and Bridgeford’s observation of a repentant Earl Harold are in stark contrast to the Norman claim that Edward sent the earl to Normandy to seal the deal regarding William as successor to the king. Why would Harold appear to be begging forgiveness of Edward, arms outstretched, if he had returned from doing as instructed?

Bridgeford believes this to be a covert English version of events, though so often passed over because Norman propaganda tells us of a perfidious Harold Godwinson, and those of the land who conquered his were unlikely to see anything else. After all, did he not break a sacred oath? Did he not later steal a throne that rightfully belonged to William? However, as we see, William flatters Harold with a sort of knighthood; it is he who surreptitiously effects the Englishman’s presence in his household and places him in an impossible position.

Perusing the tapestry once more, we see the fox and the crow again, accompanying Harold and his men back to England, and remember the ancient fable. Harold has imprudently traveled to Normandy and been tricked into a terrible dilemma, one in which his tormenter could easily wriggle away from by pointing out that Harold had a choice. Woven within all this is the disaster of which Edward speaks, that the nation must suffer owing to Harold’s improvidence, increasing the spoils of William’s duplicity. “Can there be any doubt that William is the greedy fox and that Harold is the naïve and foolish crow?”

There is, of course, more to the chapter (“The Fox and the Crow”) than presented here, and it is but one example Bridgeford presents. In some spots the detail can be intense, but it is never dense and the narrative nature of the book makes it read at times like a novel. The author also includes extensive notes to support this fascinating and impressive medieval detective work.

Part of me winces when wondering if, apart from the partial exile of the tapestry, our technological “superiority,” relieving us of so much brainwork, has played a role in why nearly one thousand years have passed before someone recognized what our artist set out so long ago? As I think more on it, I don’t believe so, for he must have been confident that even those in his own time wouldn’t recognize his coded messages so easily; with his production he might even have been betting his life on it. If he is who Bridgeford believes him to be, then he certainly had a lot to lose. He needed to shield his statements; they were for us to decipher correctly, not his contemporaries.

Wasting no time creating his strongholds. He [William] ordered that a motte should be built at Hastings, the camp, by image on web site of Ulrich Harsh via Wikimedia Commons
Whoever created this tapestry: did he even dare to hope it would last as long as it has? Did he believe the Normanization of England would falter, and that would be the time to speak openly of what his treasure spoke? Or did he know well William’s terrible determination? Was he even an Anglo-Saxon? Or was he a non-Norman French who selected this medium, perhaps as a nod to the famous Saxon skill, to weave his report?

One thing is certain: he reaches through time, gifting us who yearn to know of our past a legacy, a concrete marker of where we came from, to spare us the more complete loss of our collective memory. Something that once actually breathed in some of the same dust that today blows about in the wind, nearly one thousand years later. As physical representation of their time it may be small, but given the risk he likely took in setting out to perform the task, it is much larger than any of us.

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I’ve written before of the Russian ideal that no one ever really dies if there is someone to remember them. It’s a tenet I hold very close to my heart, because to be forgotten, for any memory of someone to be so scattered, unseen, amongst the winds, is a horrible fate. It renders them as not having mattered, one reason why names are so significant. Many people know this. William knew this.

Fortunately, we do have at least some names, even if their sounds don’t quite conform to our ears (or vice versa), and we have some identities. We also know of an unidentified someone willing to take a huge risk with his life, understanding that it mattered whether we who came next knew about events in his era. Perhaps he even understood it might take us quite some time to pick apart the threads, satisfied that once we began to sort through, there was much more to uncover, even than what initially was discovered, that William might be denied his absolute victory, even this far out. While understandably unsatisfying to many, it is at least some small justice, perhaps, as one 1066 writer recently commented, perhaps the only justice those who suffered will get. Even if so, we know much more about events leading up to and of this day, and many of the interwoven threads depicting lives, each with so much relevance.

And so today, one year after 950, and for many more to come, we see the people laid into flax, their whispers on the winds of time as we strain to hear what they say.

These busy little figures are not just eleventh-century cartoon characters stitched onto linen. They stand for real people, real people whose lives were changed, and in some cases ended, by the greatest of all events in English history. More than that, recorded in these threads are forgotten stories yet to be retold.

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With love and gratitude to those who suffered and were lost, and others through the ages,

descendants of Saxon, Viking and Norman alike, who toil to tell their stories.

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Thank you for joining us for this final installment of our year-long commemoration

of the Battle of Hastings. For a complete list of entry hyperlinks, please click here

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950: 1066 Remembered, Interview: Glynn Holloway

1066: What Fates Impose is a recipient of The Wishing Shelf Book Awards Gold Medal 2014 (click image for more about the author)

Nearly a thousand years ago today—951, to be exact—a battle took place at Stamford Bridge at East Riding of Yorkshire, between the English King Harold Godwinson and Norwegian Harald Hardrada. Though the Norwegian was aided by the English king’s brother Tostig, the victory went to Harold. Icelandic historian, mythologist, poet and politician Snorri Sturluson writes that before the battle a lone man rides up to Harald and Tostig with a message that the latter could re-gain his lost earldom if he turns against Hardrada. Tostig asks what King Harald would gain from this. “Seven feet of English ground, as he is taller than other men,” comes the reply. Impressed by the now-departed rider’s fearlessness, Hardrada asks Tostig who the man was. Tostig tells him this was Harold Godwinson himself.

Harald and Tostig are both killed in battle and the Norse lose with such severity that only a couple of dozen ships out of their original fleet of some 300 are needed to transport survivors back home. Today author G.K. Holloway, who writes in 1066: What Fates Impose of King Harold in the time leading up to this fateful year, is off to re-enactment of the famous fight which, despite Harold’s win, influenced how the next battle in his struggle to save his country would turn out.

Glynn Holloway joins us today as we look back in time and discuss motivations of Harold as well as William. Why should we remember this era? What happened before and after Harold’s shipwreck? What drove William despite the law standing against him, and the others affected by all this: soldiers, civilians, families, survivors, those who came after? What did it all portend for them, for us? Holloway’s novel portrays both figures, as well as others, thoughtfully and with great care to the reality of how various events affected each other. He speaks today of Anglo-Saxon achievement and what they set out for us before their end, why they matter and how our remembrance of them gives them some justice. I posed some challenging questions, and Holloway takes them up, as in 1066: What Fates Impose, with both sensitivity and passion, the strength of his convictions shining through as he speaks for a people who can no longer do it for themselves.

Welcome, Glynn Holloway, and thanks so much for spending a bit of time again with us as we approach the end of our year-long observance of the 950th anniversary of 1066. It’s been a time of introspection, hard thought and contemplation, remembering all the people who lost their lives at the Battle of Hastings, and who survived – or didn’t – its aftermath. Your fantastic novel, 1066: What Fates Impose, really brings so much of that home for the modern reader, as well as what led up to it all.

Your bio mentions being gifted Ian W. Walker’s The Last Anglo-Saxon King, which inspired you to research and write about the time yourself. Had you learned about it before and wanted to delve deeper? Or was it a cold call, so to speak, in terms of titles?

When my wife, Alice, bought me Walker’s book I had no more idea than the average person about what was happening in England before the Norman Invasion. Walker’s book opened my eyes and made me want to know more. The more I researched the more I wanted to know. Eventually, I thought the end of the Anglo-Saxon era one of the most interesting and exciting epochs ever. I was amazed no one had made an epic film or book about the period. So, I decided to do it myself. 1066: What Fates Impose is the result.

In writing about historical figures, what cautions did you come up against, from yourself and others? What are the ethics of writing about people who really lived?

My main concern is keeping as close to what is known of the facts as I can. No one knows everything about events that led up to the Battle of Hastings. We know quite a lot, the approximate number of soldiers on each side, whose army was filled with professionals, whose was not, who had archers, who did not, etc. Where the history becomes foggy, and there’s quite a bit of fog in the eleventh century, are places like Harold’s reason for journeying to Normandy, how he became shipwrecked, what were the circumstances of his oath swearing to William. This is where the fiction comes in but even so, I tried to keep the story within the bounds of reality. Keep the story real and balanced. If your subject is genuinely exciting, you shouldn’t need to ‘spice it up’ too much. Portray the characters as accurately as possible, even the villains deserve that, and the story should be better for being more ‘real.’ And finally, on a different note, I feel that writers of historical fiction owe it to their readers to present the history as accurately as they can otherwise we’re in danger of obscuring real events and characters and if that happens, then we won’t know what really happened in the past and it follows from there that we won’t know who we are or how we got here.

Whether writing about them or not, do you feel we owe something to Harold Godwinson and the others he fought with and against?

Memorial stone & plaque commemorating the Battle of Stamford Bridge, September 1066. The memorial overlooks the site of the Stamford Bridge battlefield, at the end of Whiterose Drive, a modern residential street, by Æthelred [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons (click image)
Do we owe something to Harold Godwinson? Well, he laid down his life for his kingdom and his people. A cynic would perhaps say, well, he owned a massive chunk of the country, so he was only fighting in his self-interest. For the following reasons, I don’t believe that to be true. William offered Harold his daughter’s hand in marriage, she would be Harold’s queen and their descendants would rule after them. This would mean Harold would have to betray/disinherit his family with Edith Swan-neck but he and his descendants with William’s daughter would continue his dynasty. But Harold didn’t take up the offer.

What convinces me of Harold’s sincerity, is his eagerness to get into Sussex in 1066 when William and his army arrived. He took his responsibilities as lord and protector seriously. He left London too early because he felt he’d let down the people on his estates and wanted to defend them. His brother, Gyrth, wanted to implement slash and burn tactics around Hastings to starve out the Normans. Harold would have none of it. He saw it as his duty to protect his tenants, not destroy their livelihoods. Naturally, my respect goes out to Harold’s followers but as to those he fought against, the bulk of them were just out to feather their own nests and this they did with zest.

Is there anything you think Harold could have done or not done that might have changed the outcome of the Battle of Hastings? What helped William the most?

I think Harold’s biggest mistake was not to wait a day or two longer before setting out from London. Having just travelled up to Stamford Bridge, battled against the biggest Viking army to land in England, before returning south, exhausting his forces in the process. If he had waited just that couple of days, Earls Edwin and Morcar would have marched down to Senlac with him, his men would have had a little more rest. That probably would have swung it for him.

What helped William the most? Luck. I don’t say that lightly. William’s first attempt at invading England came sometime around 12th September and ended in disaster. A storm had blown up in the Channel and blown his fleet onto the shores of Ponthieu. It could easily have been worse and his armada might have ended up at the bottom of the sea.

What I will give William credit for is his organizational skills. Putting the army together, building a navy to carry it across the sea is quite a feat, as is supplying his forces for a month while he waited in Dives for a favourable wind to come along. He also had political guile. Gaining the support of the Pope was a master stroke and helped draw additional support for his campaign from many countries north of the Alps.

Knowing Harold and William as you do, what do you think each would have thought of your portrayal of him?

I don’t think William would be too pleased. I portray him as cruel. There are some people who would tell you, this is in the medieval period, things were barbaric but for the harrying of the north alone, and by harrying, I mean genocide, he was more barbaric than any other king of England. I’d point to this for those who say William was no worse than the rest and don’t forget, his contemporaries thought him cruel, so he must have been cruel, even by the standards of the time.

Was he honest or a liar? He had no claim to the English throne. Under English law, the king had to be of royal blood, legitimately born and elected by the Witan. Under Norman law, the title was inherited by primogeniture, i.e. down the male line. William wasn’t eligible under either law, but he claimed the throne anyway. Why?

I think he may have been offered it by someone. If may have been King Edward or perhaps Archbishop Robert de Jumieges. Whoever it was, it wasn’t theirs to offer. But I think William thought he was in the right. He wouldn’t much appreciate me pointing out his error.

I think Harold might well like my depiction of him. He comes across as what he was, handsome, courageous, intelligent, a great leader of men and a good king. He is also not without faults. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he had a tendency to ‘dally and he was too liberal.’ So, not too bad then.

A king and his Witan – from the eleventh-century Old English Hexateuch [British Library] (click image) An entire system of succession and society existed long before the Normans.
If given the opportunity, would you agree to meet with Harold in life? What about William? What would you say to them, and what do you reckon they might say to you? Would you be interested in an encounter with Harold’s ghost? (I don’t think it would be at all like William’s, as portrayed in 1066: What Fates Impose!)

It would be fascinating to meet with Harold in real life. I’d ask him all those what if questions. Where he thought he went wrong. What would he do differently if he had the opportunity? As for William, I think that would be a bit scary but I’d love to know why he really thought he was entitled to the English crown.

Do you think it would matter to either one that we know their history (even long before 1066), or that we believe in the rightness of what either of them did?

I think they would both want to be seen as doing the right thing and be recognised for doing so. I think Harold would be particularly keen to know what we, 950 years after the event, thought of the oath he swore to William and if anyone thought it binding.

What about the ordinary people, combatants and non-combatants alike? Do you think it would matter to them that we know what happened and how they suffered? What considerations do you feel they are entitled to?

Nobody likes to be forgotten and to suffer and have no one know or care would be hurtful in the extreme. I think it would matter to them we know and care. It’s as close as they’ll get to justice.

Do you believe enough Anglo-Saxon history is taught in schools today? What would you say to people unconvinced that this history is worth learning about? (Or to people overwhelmed at the thought of studying this period?)

No, I don’t think enough Anglo-Saxon history is taught in schools today. I wouldn’t be surprised if more people know about Anglo-Saxon history from reading Bernard Cornwell’s novels, or TV adaptations, than anything taught in a classroom. Anglo-Saxon history, to many, is the Dark Ages. The Romans left, the lights went out, then the Normans came and switched them on again. While the lights were out the Vikings took advantage, and robbed the churches from the feeble Anglo-Saxons who did nothing much to defend themselves.

The Anglo-Saxons laid the foundations for England and established a proto-democracy with a first-rate administration to back it up. Their society was relatively wealthy and cultured. All this is passed by. You can buy wall charts in England with all the Kings of England represented, starting with William in 1066. I can’t tell you how annoying I find it.

Do any of the characters or historical figures speak to you?

No, they don’t. I can visualize them easily enough and imagine them interacting with each other quite clearly. But no, they don’t talk to me. Heaven only knows what they’d say if they did.

Do you think one could be an effective writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

I think a writer is most effective when writing about what they know. So, if you don’t feel emotions strongly, it’s going to be difficult to write about them. My book is historical fiction. It’s all very well researching the history but for people to really engage they need to feel the fear, lust, love, hate, sympathy, etc. A lot of people have told me when they were reading 1066, in the final battle at Hastings, they really wanted Harold to win, even though they knew how it would end. I think that’s, in part, because I feel passionate about the era and what went on and that is conveyed in the story telling.

How do you balance being reader and writer friendly? For example, how do you know or decide how much background information to add and how, so that readers are not put off by either a perceived sense of being “spoon fed” or left hanging by lack of information?

You’ve asked me some interesting questions and this is the most difficult. All I can say is I write what I’d like to read. I can be quite certain my readers would like to know some details about the history, clothes, jewellery, weapons, etc. They wouldn’t be reading historical fiction if they felt otherwise. But where to draw the line? I try to weave things together so I’ll try and merge a scene, say, in a mead hall, with the customs, the kind of food and type of dance by presenting a single scene and not a series of mini lectures. Hopefully, if I’ve done my job right, while the reader learns a little about Anglo-Saxon life they’ll read an interesting scene which moves the story along.

Do you perform all your research before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were)? Or do you periodically dip back in the archives? Do you go on research trips?

I do the bulk of my research before I start typing but then I’ll come across something that I feel needs flushing out or is more interesting than I first imagined, so then I’ll research around the topic. In 1066, it was herbal medicine, horn dances, sword manufacture, falconry, Anglo-Saxon horse breeding and pagan wedding ceremonies, to name a few.

Research trips, for me, are essential. All the places I’ve written about, I’ve visited, except Norway, and that was because my wife became ill the day we were due to leave. I know they’ve changed a bit since the eleventh century but you get a feel for the places and the lie of the land, whether it be Falaise Castle in Normandy, or Bosham in Sussex.

Why did Harold go to Normandy? Had Edward promised William the throne? Was he now rescinding the offer? Was this an attempt to rescue Wolfnoth and Hakon? Scene 1 of the Bayeux Tapestry. King Edward the Confessor sends Harold Godwinson to Normandy. By Myrabella CC0, via Wikimedia Commons (click image)

What is one thing you would give up to become a better writer?

Twitter.

What does literary success look like to you?

My experience of literary success, if you can call it that, is some great reviews. Someone telling me my book is brilliant (yes, it has happened and more than once). In a word, recognition.

When not writing what do you like to read? What is your favorite underappreciated novel? Nonfiction?

I switch between novels and history books. My favourite underappreciated novel is The Boy with No Shoes, by William Horwood. It’s a beautiful evocation of a boy’s tough childhood in 1950s/60s England.

A few fun questions:

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Pies! I love them.

Are you a morning person?

These days I am but I never used to be.

What do you find difficult to throw away?

Lots of things but I have noticed I have a boundless collection of socks, most of them are full of holes.

What song would you listen to on a loop?

Van Morrison, “Have I Told You Lately?”

Do you prefer dogs or cats?

I like dogs but prefer cats.

Thanks so much, Glynn, for taking time to chat with us and I hope we will see lots more of you!

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Mark your calendar for these events with author Glynn Holloway:

Remainder 2017

Book signing at The Bookshop in East Grinstead on 30th September

Book signing at the Morley Arts Festival on 7th October (10:00 – 4:00).

2018

Hawksbury Upton Indie Lit Fest, Gloucestershire, 21 April 2018 (10:00 – 5:30).

Llangollen Red Dragon Festival, Wales, 18/20 May 2018.

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Per Glynn Holloway, Summer of 2018 should see the publication of the sequel to 1066.  You can sign up for the author’s newsletter at his blog, and keep up with new dates added to his calendar, as well as news about his upcoming sequel. Also,  follow him on Facebook and Twitter. 1066: What Fates Impose is available for purchase at Amazon and Amazon UK. He is also a contributor to 1066: Turned Upside Down.  

Author Glynn Holloway writes …

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.

air-detectiveFrom 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 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.

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Click here for my review of 1066: What Fates Impose, and here for links to previous entries in our “950: 1066 Remembered” series. Stay tuned for our closing entry coming in October.

 

Friday Five: The First Set

I simply couldn’t wait to start gathering my piles together. I’ve been thinking so much lately about so many of the wonderful books I’ve been dreaming of reading in the new year—and very possibly sooner. Not unlike my son, who has been organizing piles since his fine motor skills were first developed enough to curl his little fingers around the items of his choice, I’ve been stacking in anticipation of the day after I post the last review in my current bracket.

What of it? Well, I had planned to re-open for a few more submissions, as I did last time, but in the end decided against that. I may do it again; possibly requests will make their way to me, and certainly I’ll do reviews of some books I read on my own, and blog about things I’ve been wanting to but haven’t had the opportunity. For right now, though, the goal is to finish up the year and open 2018 with a clear, settled, relaxing slate.

So my thinking was that on the occasional Friday I’ll share a bracket of five books I have on my TBR, works I’ve been especially chomping at the bit to get to. I may or may not read them in bracket order, as often my reading choice is subject to mood, and it’s not likely to be easy to choose—you should have seen me just now sorting through books with such indecision—but I console myself with the possession of new time and the understanding there will be other Fridays.

Enjoy!

Four Nails (by G.J. Berger) This author’s debut novel, South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon, has been instrumental in widening my parameters to include more reading of Roman and early Celtic historical fiction. This really is a fascinating time, and other great reads related to the era or its people have made their way to me, further adding to my enjoyment of the amazing stories people have to tell. In the case of Four Nails, Ashoka, taken into a slave caravan from India, navigates his way through the Second Punic War as he discovers the power of friendship and strength “known only to those with nothing left to lose.”

The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805 (by Richard Zacks) I’ve tried to read this book before and been overwhelmed by commitments I’d made to the reading and reviewing of others before it (not to mention real life). Possibly my inhalation of Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates answered my appetite for that time being, but I wanted more about the Barbary Wars and it’s been dancing around my mind, demanding answers. Having started the book once, I believe it provides more extensive details about some historical figures discussed in Brian Kilmeade’s aforementioned title, such as William Eaton, who knew well the old Barbary maxim that “whoever acts like a sheep, the wolf will eat,” an understanding seemingly forgotten in today’s world. I’m looking forward to learning more about these wars and where that might lead me.

The Lost Kingdom—1066: I am the Chosen King (by Helen Hollick) It’s been awhile now I have heard not a small amount of praise about this author, and though I purchased this volume some months ago, have not yet read it, a situation I intend to remedy as soon as possible. I can thank Paula Lofting for pushing me, if not exactly kicking and screaming, somewhat reluctantly into the Anglo-Saxon era, which I completely and utterly fell for. Here Hollick picks up in 1044, when events unfold that have a role in how the battles of 1066 will play out. In this year England stands at a crossroads and everything hangs in the balance as Harold Godwinson sacrifices all for his country. From childhood history lessons we know how this will play out, but here we are promised a revelation of what makes up the real Harold, “shattered by the unforgiving needs of a Kingdom” and given “all the honor and dignity that history remembers of its fallen heroes.”

The Path of the Hawk (by Ian Graham) This is another novel, first in a series of the same title about “an elite unit of soldiers and spies,” that I purchased and reluctantly put aside in this year of overflowing plate. It came to my attention via a review written by author Steven A. McKay (remember this name—you’ll see it again), who describes exactly what I’m looking for in a fantasy novel (when I do read one): “The writing style is engaging and entertaining, the action fast paced and imaginative, and the characters interesting and well-drawn. The world they inhabit is detailed enough to feel real but not in the boring, overdone way some fantasy writers do.” Real is a key word for me here, not dismissive of magical elements, just that they don’t appear each time like some deus ex machina, with little or no relationship to the characters or their history. I also like McKay’s mention of fast-paced, and knowing they are spies and soldiers—characters I’ve been enamored of since childhood—I’m very much looking forward to a thrilling read.

Sextant: A Young Man’s Daring Sea Voyage and the Men Who Mapped the World’s Oceans (by David Barrie) I almost feel guilty mentioning this account, given I’ve done so at least twice before. I love the sea and reading a history of mapping it, I imagine, will provide a glimpse into a world so many of us only dream about knowing, even having learned of all those important historic expeditions in school. Of course that’s not enough! “[A] love letter to the sea and sky,” this book’s blurb gives me the impression it will tap directly into more of my childhood fascinations as the two definitively linked earthly elements recount memories of my own attempts at creating a sextant—wholly unsuccessful, but the keeper of a fleet of wondrous memories.

Thanks for joining us and look for more in weeks to come!

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: The Price of Love and Loyalty (Annie Whitehead)

Having previously looked backward into history as part of our examination of 1066, multiple award-winning author Annie Whitehead now brings us into even closer focus as we seek to make sense of this Conquest and all it has wrought. In so doing, we find we are not the only ones weighing the flood of events, actions, loyalties, what we say and what we do not. Could something have changed this deluge, could we have prevented it? Might we have escaped paying a price while remaining true? Or was it fated to happen, that we be swept up and carried along in meandering history, so like the wildest river Alvar speaks of with King Edgar?

The “thin place” author Annie Whitehead walks, where worlds old and new rub shoulders, and opportunities may arise to cross paths with those who came before …. (click image)

If we were to spy upon King Edgar, look at him from a (very) long-distance viewpoint, we would notice that, even compared to his contemporaries, he is short of stature. Perhaps his reputation is a little unremarkable, too. In a list of kings which featured Alfred the Great and Aethelred the Unready, Athelstan, he would barely stand out.

Yet in many ways, he was the most successful king of the tenth century. Respected, loved, he never had to fight, not on the battlefield, anyway. He and his brother were orphaned at a very young age, when their father the king died and was succeeded by his brother, who then died young, and childless. The teenage boys grew up separately. One of them, the eldest, was profligate, and louche, and was deeply unpopular. The other was Edgar, who grew up in the house of the powerful earl of East Anglia, where he developed ambition, and learned the art of politics. He saw how to harness the power and strength of other men, and he decided he wanted a kingdom for himself.

And since we’re having a peek, let me introduce Alvar (Old English name ‘Aelfhere’). He was Edgar’s right-hand man, helping him to secure a throne, and, much later, helping his son to secure one, too. He and his king are thinking about the years they spent together, when Alvar was earl of the powerful erstwhile kingdom of Mercia, dependent on Edgar for his position, while Edgar was dependent on the loyalty of Alvar, and the folk who lived on his lands.

Edgar: You broke an oath to serve me.

King Edgar the Peaceful, a contemporary portrayal in the New Minster Charter. via Wikimedia Commons

Alvar: I did. And it has been a cross to bear. But I saw a strength in you that I had not seen in your elder brother, whom I had sworn to serve. Some said his morals were lax, but my lord, I could say the same about yours. He was a weak man, and although it wasn’t fair what they did to him, it’s true that he was not fit to rule. He tried to buy the nobles, by giving them land. You seemed to understand what was required of a king. You respected the people you sought to rule. That was important to me.

Edgar: Ah yes, the Mercians. A proud people.

Alvar: Rightly so. Look what we achieved…

Edgar: Let me stop you before you give me a history lesson. You begin to sound like your faithful man, Helmstan. Always talking about Mercian independence…

Alvar: But you recognised it as fact.

Edgar: I did. I was nothing if not prudent. The Mercians and the Northumbrians were mainly of Danish stock by the time I came to the throne and I would have been mad not to acknowledge that. I knew I had to win their support against my brother, and I had to repay the debt. My policy was to keep everyone happy, with no reason to rebel. It worked. You all loved me.

Alvar: We did. We didn’t love each other though, that was the problem. We, the lords, and your bishops, well, let’s say we found ourselves with different ambitions.

Edgar: I held you all together, didn’t I?  Between us all, look how we even managed to arrange that all the kings of Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man bowed down to me. Now that was a team effort. I even ignored the rumours about you and my wife…

Alvar: There was only ever one person who believed those rumours, and she should have looked at the evidence.

Edgar: When you say ‘she’, do you mean my wife, or Helmstan’s wife?

Alvar: You knew? Please say you never told him. I was never disloyal. I kept it secret, or so I thought.

Upper Slaughter in Gloucestershire, where Alvar had his main residence. Courtesy Charlesdrakew via Wikimedia Commons

Edgar: You were never disloyal to anyone, and that was your failing, really. You served me and mine well and faithfully. I know how much you sacrificed to help me take the throne, to help me keep it, and I know how hard you fought for my son.

Alvar: There was nigh-on full scale civil war, you know? At first, I was merely fighting for your son, as rightful heir, and then the tide of Mercian resistance seemed to sweep me along. It carried me to some dark places. Things were done…

Edgar: But even if they were done in your name, they were not done by you. Some of your enemies could have said the same thing, could they not?

Alvar: Ah, now here is where I must beg to differ. I did all I could to prevent what happened. Had I arrived just a few minutes sooner, I could have averted a killing. Dunstan, on the other hand…

Edgar: Shall we speak of him with full honour, and accord him his title of Archbishop of Canterbury?

Alvar: If you insist. The archbishop knew of many things, some done in his name, some done for his cause, about which he should not have kept silent.

Edgar: Hmm. Perhaps you are right. So how would you sum up our story?

Alvar: It is a story of kings, murdered. It is a tale of Mercia – a once proud kingdom, with nationalist feeling still running high. It is a love story, and love, as we know, never takes the straight course but meanders like the wildest river. The key word of this tale is loyalty. We are all bound by it, we all makes mistakes because of it. Some of us die for it…

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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 (HNS) Indie Book of the Year 2016, and it has been awarded a B.R.A.G. Gold Medallion and Chill With a Book Award.

Her newest release, Alvar the Kingmaker, is a tale of intrigue, deceit, politics, love, and murder in tenth-century Mercia. 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.

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For links to previous entries in our “950: 1066 Remembered” series, including reviews for To Be A  Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker, click here.

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“Thin place” photo courtesy Annie Whitehead.