Hello! If you’ve just come via the link from Daily Science Fiction (or even if you’ve turned up by chance), you’re most welcome. ‘Ghosts of Mars’ was my fifth story in Daily SF – if you’d like to read something else by me, here’s the page with links to my published stories (there’s 33 of them! For a long time, I was averaging one story published per decade. Although there might be a story in the 330-year-old writer kept alive by the slowness of his publication stream, thankfully it’s no longer autobiographical.)
I’ve also had seven books published (seven! I still find that hard to believe), with my latest, a biography of Alfred the Great, out in a couple of weeks. Here’s the link to my books page; I’m particularly pleased with Edwin: High King of Britain, the first in The Northumbrian Thrones trilogy that tells the story of the Dark Ages kingdom of Northumbria. No less a writer than Bernard Cornwell (yes, that Bernard Cornwell) called it ‘a splendid novel’, so if you like historical fiction you might want to take a look at it.
Finally, there’s lots more here on my blog, or you can follow me on Twitter @EdoardoAlbert or join me on Facebook. Thank you again for reading Ghosts of Mars’ and let me know what you thought of it – comments are welcome!
Not surprisingly, Max Adams’ book finds an appreciative reader in me: it’s all about Northumbria! Although ostensibly a biography of Oswald, in fact it tells the story of the great age of the kingdom, starting with its emergence into history under the ‘Twister’ Aethelfrith, through my favourite, Edwin, to Oswald, Oswiu and Ecgfrith, with an afterword about the golden cultural age of the eighth century. Adams is never less than fascinating, he brings to light all sorts of nuggets of information and parallels – I particularly liked the comparison between Oswald and Thomas Cochrane, the premier frigate commander of the Napoleonic Wars and a man of such daring his exploits would appear ridiculous in a film – and his book brims with a life-long love of the subject. In fact, the only other book on Northumbria I’d recommend as highly is my own, and Adams beats me into a cocked hat with the absolutely superb double page map on the inside front cover, which shows Northumbria and the other kingdoms of northern Britain in the style of the map in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, all hand-drawn hills and sketched forests. Superb, and on its own responsible for an extra, fifth star! Well done, Mr Cartographer.
Having a face that’s good for radio, I’m delighted that my first brush with the world of broadcast media did not involve any cameras! Instead, I went to the BBC radio studios in Great Portland Street and, having been ushered into a small recording studio, was told to put on the headphones, sit at the desk (surrounded by a fearsome array of technology) and wait. Then, sharp at the scheduled 10.30am, the headphones sparked into life and I was talking to Simon Logan from BBC Newcastle.
Mr Logan is a fine interviewer and he put this broadcasting virgin immediately at ease. Then, on with the interview, talking for a quarter of an hour about Edwin, Northumbria and all things Anglo-Saxon. The interview is going out this afternoon – I’m listening to the show as I type, suspecting that, when I hear my own voice, I will cringe in the horror of that unfamiliar sound.
The show should be available on the BBC for a week or so, at this link.
Another Monday, another blog tour. In this case, I was tagged by Matthew Harffy, another writer inspired by the history of Northumbria. The first volume of his Bernicia chronicles is with an agent and hopefully should soon find a publisher, and he is hard at work on the sequel – I trust the wait will not be too long, because I want to read it! Read what he had to say about Beobrand, the hero of The Serpent’s Sword, here.
Next week I pass the baton on to A.H. Gray, yet another author in love with the history and rolling sea mists of Northumbria. See below for more on her work.
Now, on with the tour.
1) What is the name of your character? Is he fictional or a historical figure/person?
Edwin. He is a historical character – in fact, one of the best attested in a period where there is very little history.
2) When and where is the story set?
The story is set in Britain in the early seventh century, specifically in the kingdom of Northumbria although it also visits some of the other kingdoms into which Britain was split at the time.
3) What should we know about him?
The story begins with Edwin in exile, and pursued by the man who usurped his throne. Exile, or death, were the common fates of kings at this time – long life was not a facet of rule.
4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?
The initial conflict is between Edwin and Æthelfrith, the man who took his kingdom. When this is resolved, the rest of the book follows Edwin as he attempts to unify his kingdom and the country under his rule. In this, he is opposed by the last great king of the Britons, Cadwallon of Gwynedd. Welsh sources indicate that Edwin took refuge in Gwynedd during his exile, staying with Cadwallon’s father, Cadfan. Later events suggest an unusual enmity between the two men, the sort of enmity born of a particular personal grudge. I try to explain this in the book.
5) What is the personal goal of the character?
Initially it is to regain his kingdom, and then to secure it for his sons. But, above everything else, Edwin is trying to understand his life and its meaning amid the violence and brutality of the world he has been born into.
6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
A H Gray lives in sunny Perth, Western Australia. She has a double degree in History and Archaeology from the University of Western Australia, yet due to the lack of Anglo-Saxon hoards or Viking boat burials down under, she has had to content herself with writing about them instead. Her debut historical fiction novel is The Northumbrian Saga and she writes weekly posts on her favourite historical period http://ahgray.wordpress.com/.
Quite a lot! First, and I’m about half way through this and typing frantically with one eye on the approaching 16 May deadline, is a biography of Alfred the Great with Dr Katie Tucker, the osteoarchaeologist (she works with bones) who is leading the search for the mortal, but lost, remains of the king. There was a recent BBC 2 TV programme, The Search For Alfred The Great, hosted by the lustrous Neil Oliver, on the efforts to find King Alfred’s body, which can be seen in part here. This biography tells his life, and extraordinary achievements, and Dr Tucker will be writing about her search for his lost remains. The book is called In Search of Alfred the Great: The King, The Grave, The Legend and will be published by Amberley Publishing.
Then there’s volume two of The Northumbrian Thrones, Oswald: Return of the King.
The sequel to Edwin: High King of Britain tells the story of Edwin’s nephew, Oswald, who with his family fled to the sea-spanning kingdom of Dal Riada when Edwin defeated and killed his father in battle when he was a child – in the Dark Ages, the personal really was political! JRR Tolkien, the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, took his inspiration for Aragorn, the dispossessed king who returns to claim his kingdom, from Oswald, and his story is crucial in the history of England. It was a time of great danger – no king of Northumbria before Oswald had managed to die a natural death – but also the sudden birth of great beauty, as if the precariousness of life made the preciousness of things made with consuming skill all the greater.
I’m aiming to have written Oswald: Return of the King by the end of October for publication next Easter. After that, I’ll be working on the final volume of The Northumbrian Thrones, Oswy: King of Kings, which is about Oswald’s half brother and successor as king of Northumbria (in a time before surnames, parents gave their children names with the same prefix to indicate they were siblings; thus Alfred the Great’s five elder brothers and his sister all had names beginning with Æthel. Presumably even his mum and dad were getting confused when they came to number seven and called him Ælfred instead). Volumes two and three of The Northumbrian Thrones will be published by Lion Fiction.
And to round things out, there’s The Light That Drowns The Stars: A Spiritual History of London. Now, I’m an unusual creature: someone living in London who was actually born here, and lived all my life in the city – to be precise, up and down a six-mile section of the Piccadilly Line. This is an exciting, making it up as I go along sort of book, where I’m writing a spiritual history of the town that is both the Great Wen, a pustule on the bottom of the country, and the inspiration of religious and spiritual movements ranging from Methodism to the Alpha Course. Also, London formed me, for ill and good, and that story, I realised, forms how I write its history and thus is part of its history too. It’s a thrilling, though, nerve wracking, book to write. It should be out later next year from Lion Hudson.
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
A lot of Early Medieval historical fiction concentrates on the heroic aspects of the Heroic Age: shieldwalls and battles, with a side order of wenching and pillaging – sort of Rambo in the sixth century. I wanted to take this and build a bigger picture: the obscurity of the Dark Ages hides the birth of England, Scotland and Wales, the foundations and many of the lift shafts of everything that came afterwards. And, what is more, it was the battles that often settled the questions: would England expand and dominate the whole country? Answered, emphatically in the negative, in the Battle of Nechtansmere in 685. Would the Romano-Britons be able to drive the Anglo-Saxons from their land? Again, a question answered in blood at Mount Badon and Catterick and elsewhere, and the reason I am writing today in English, not Welsh.
So, with The Northumbrian Thrones, I wanted to widen the focus and look at the interplay of nation building and identity, and how they worked out in the crucial period when the pagan kings of the Anglo-Saxons decided where their religious, and cultural, future lay. The personal choices made by a few men and women then determined our national trajectory up until today.
This was all made considerably easier because I had already written a non-fiction book on the history and archaeology of Northumbria, with archaeologist and director of the Bamburgh Research Project, Paul Gething. Northumbria: the Lost Kingdom, and the many conversations I had with Paul, gave me almost everything I needed in terms of historical research and, in Paul, I had access to one of the finest, most incisive analysts of the Early Medieval period there is. We spent many hours discussing the finer points of shieldwall battle tactics and the etiquette of duelling, with Paul always able to bring to bear some archaeological nugget or fascinating ethnographic parallel.
Another difference is that I don’t simply write historical fiction. Edwin: High King of Britain is my first novel, but I’ve had five books published before it, four on history and one children’s book (the details are all on my books page). I’ve also had over thirty short stories published in various magazines, in genres ranging from science fiction and fantasy, through literary fiction to a stab at romance! There’s a page linking to my stories here.
3. Why do you write what you do?
Because someone paid me! First off, writing is a job. The strange thing is, for all the years I looked on writing as an art and vocation and all that sort of stuff, I got virtually nowhere, wrote very little, and had almost nothing published. Since I’ve switched to looking at it as a job, and started – against all my instincts – to push myself forward and market myself in all sorts of hideous ways, I’ve not had time to stop.
But it’s also fair to say I get very grumpy if I don’t write – my sons found the perfect image of what I’m like if I don’t write regularly: it’s not a pretty sight, is it.
4. How does your writing process work?
I get up at 5am, make a cup of tea, say my prayers, and start writing. Getting up at that time means I get two hours before the rest of the family are up, or at least 45 minutes if I have to leave to do some freelance editing at Time Out or Bella or one of the other places I do shifts at. I know many writers find reading about the actual writing process fascinating, but I avoid reading it and I’m not much cop at writing it. In the end, it comes down to putting one word after another. The main, perhaps only, thing I’ve learned is: trust the words. They’re tough little blighters, and will do all the heavy lifting for you, if you give them the chance.
Thank you to Justin Hill (author of Shieldwall and a very fine writer) for asking me to continue the tour. Read his answers here.
The blog tour has stopped recently at Matthew Harffy’s blog (author of the Bernicia Chronicles, which are also set in seventh-century Northumbria); AH Gray who, although condemned to the sunshine of Perth, Western Australia, finds her true home also by the cold grey waters of the North Sea – she is the author of the Northumbrian Saga.
The tour continues…
Christi Daugherty takes cool and brands it in her own inimitable style. The author of the best-selling Night School series of YA novels, she combines writing about the sort of teenagers I wish I’d been with an unerring nose for a good cup of coffee.
A former crime reporter, political writer and investigative journalist, CJ Daugherty wrote for several American newspapers and for Reuters before becoming a full-time novelist. Her young adult series, Night School, set in a boarding school for the children of the political elite, has been translated into 21 languages.
Julian Bell will warm the heart of English teachers throughout the world – after years teaching the subject all over the world, he is about to step into the page with his first novel, Whatever You Say, Say Nothing.
Julian Bell has worked as a teacher for twenty-seven years in London, Hong Kong, Spain, Kent and Hertfordshire. He is currently Head of English at the Godolphin and Latymer School in West London. He has written comedy scripts for BBC Radio 4 and a variety of stand-up comedians, and his poetry has been published in a number of magazines and has won several prizes. He has also been a restaurant and book reviewer, and has been commissioned by the Royal School of Church Music to write the lyrics of a Christmas carol. He writes a weekly column on London at www.lifelonglondoner.blogspot.com.
Whatever You Say, Say Nothing, his novel set in Dublin in 1920 at the height of the Anglo-Irish war, is the first volume of a planned trilogy: the second volume, My Enemy’s Enemy, will be set in London in 1940 – 41 during the Blitz, and the third, Ourselves Alone, in Belfast, London and the Lake District in 1975. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.
There I was at the London Book Fair on Tuesday, wandering along, taking in the bustle and the deal making, enjoying the atmosphere and slowly heading over towards the Lion Hudson stand, where I had a 10.30 meeting with my publisher, when I stopped (creating something a people jam behind me). There, ahead of me, were the swirling lines of an Anglo-Saxon design, and ‘Edwin: High King of Britain’ in letters considerably bigger than my head, and ‘Edoardo Albert’ (about the size of my head), on a series of display boards. Unknown to me, Lion Hudson was featuring Edwin as one of its major new titles for the year. So, here’s a picture of me standing in front of the display.
And here are a couple more photos, with Tony Collins, publisher of Lion Fiction, and Jessica Tinker, my editor at Lion.
That’s right you can get a copy of Edwin: High King of Britain for nothing, zippo, nada, absolutely and completely free. If you’re already on Goodreads, all you have to do is register here and if you’re pulled out of the electronic sorting hat, then a copy will be winging its way to you, courtesy of the lovely people at Kregel Publications. If you’re not on Goodreads, the booksharing site for bibliophiles, I’m inclined to say, ‘Why not?’ but instead will merely remark that you’d simply have to register to have the chance of winning a copy of Edwin. The competition closes on 30 April so there’s plenty of time. Good luck to you all!
Here it is, the final version of the front and back cover of Edwin: High King of Britain. We had to, I think literally, stop the presses to get the quote from Publishers Weekly in there, but it was worth it.
The first review of Edwin: High King of Britain, from the indefatigable Publishers’ Weekly, is in, and it’s a goodie:
In the first installment of the Northumbrian Thrones, a new historical fiction series, Albert launches readers into the tumultuous world of 7th century Northumbria…Albert’s focus on the religious element does not detract from the political and dramatic aspects of the history he is portraying. Rather, it lends an extra dimension of psychological turmoil, because characters must deal with the problem of not only individual identity but also the beginnings of a national identity related to religion. Albert’s offering is a highly entertaining and refreshing work of historical fiction thanks to his emphasis on the precarious intersection of religion and identity.
This just gets better and better! After the wonderful message from Bernard Cornwell on Friday, my editor received an email from Justin Hill, author of Shieldwall (only the best novel about Anglo-Saxon England out there) this morning. He’s read Edwin: High King of Britain as well and he likes it too!
So, here’s what Justin (we’re on first name terms now, you see!) has to say about Edwin:
‘At the dawn of England seven kingdoms struggle for supremacy: but there is more than honour and power at stake; paganism, Christianity and the future shape of the English nation will be decided. A fast-paced and gripping tale of the great Northumbrian King Edwin, reclaiming one of our great national figures from the shadows of history.’
I am, I must admit, feeling slightly overwhelmed at the moment, but in a good way! By the way, if you’ve never read Shieldwall, I can’t recommend it enough. Here’s my review of it.