Blog tour: what, how, why and how…

1. What are you working on?

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.

Oswald: Return of the KIng
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.

Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex)
Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex)

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.

CJ Daugherty
CJ Daugherty

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.

www.cjdaugherty.com

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
Julian Bell

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.

Book review: Daily Life in Anglo-Saxon England

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The only reason this is not a five-star book is that for the price (£32!!!!) I’d have expected lots of illustrations and a colour section: there’s a few black and white photos, and 25 or so illustrations, but that’s it. Leaving that aside, the actual text provides a wealth of information about the culture and environment of Anglo-Saxon England, from birth to death to burial (a lot on this, of course, as dead bodies are among the most eloquent of remains). A must read for anyone interested in the period.

The Loss of a Child

Two years ago this month, my then six-year-old son lost his best friend. Uchenna and his family had gone to Hawaii on what really was a dream holiday if you live in a grey, autumnal London, but while there, Uchenna – always a live wire fizzing with energy – slipped away. He was found, drowned in one of the hotel’s pools.

Uchenna and his sister on holiday in Hawaii

At his funeral, Uchenna’s mother read out this prayer:

Uchenna My Son
Who would have thought I’d stand here to say your days on this earth are done?
Uchenna my bright shining Star
So near in my heart, but now you must shine from afar
Ever playful, ever joyful, my Uche Boy
A true big brother,
Always most likely to give up your favourite toy
Gone but never forgotten

You’ll always shine on my son
You were heaven sent; a special one.
Now it’s time for us to say a fond farewell
Until we meet again in his kingdom where we all shall dwell
I’ll miss you, I love you
Uchenna My Son.If I could turn back the hands of time,
You’d be right here tightly in these arms of mine,
But it is not so and we must all accept
That a greater being than I has a purpose for you now
I know not where, or when or how
But I trust all will be revealed on that final day
When I will see you again and most surely say
I missed you, I love you
Uchenna, My Son.
In the two years since Uchenna’s death, his parents have displayed quite extraordinary faith and forbearance. Now, to help others who have suffered the loss of a child, Chioma (Uchenna’s mother) has set up a You Tube channel with her testimony to life after loss. You can see it here.
And there is a Facebook page for families who are grieving for lost children, here.

Hello and welcome

Greetings to everybody visiting my site – I take it the sudden spike is as a result of people reading The Dream of the Night-Shift Power Worker, yesterday’s emailed story from Daily Science Fiction. Thank you for reading the story; I hope you enjoyed it. I’ve had many other stories published, most of which can be read online via links found on my Stories page. Let me know what you think, either through a comment or by contacting me directly.

Freedom of Information

I’ve just made my first Freedom of Information request! The Blair/Brown governments may have been among the worst the country has ever had foisted on it, but credit where it’s due: at least one good piece of legislation accrued from those myriad Acts of Parliament. The request is over a personal matter, but I will keep you informed as to how long before I get a response and whether they divulge the information I have requested.

If there’s anything you want to find out about, I suggest putting in a Freedom of Information request. It’s surprisingly easy – more information here and here.

Lewis and Clarke

That’s CS Lewis and Arthur C Clarke, rather than the American explorers. The two of them corresponded and met once. Clarke wrote:

“Less sympathetic to our aims was Dr. C. S. Lewis, author of two of the very few works of space fiction that can be classed as literature -– ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ and ‘Perelandra’. Both of these fine books contained attacks on scientists in general, and astronauts in particular, which aroused my ire. I was especially incensed by a passage in ‘Perelandra’ referring to ‘little Interplanetary Societies and Rocketry Clubs’…

An extensive correspondence with Dr. Lewis led to a meeting in a famous Oxford pub, the Eastgate… Needless to say, neither side converted the other. But a fine time was had by all, and when, some hours later, we emerged a little unsteadily from the Eastgate, Dr. Lewis’ parting words were, ‘I’m sure you’re very wicked people – but how dull it would be if everyone was good’. ”

H/T: The Inklings blog.