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Archive for the ‘The Northumbrian Thrones’ Category

Oswiu: What Writers Think – no.4 in a short series

Sunday, October 16th, 2016
Andrew Norriss

Andrew Norriss

Some unusual acquaintances are made online. In my case, few have been more unexpected but more welcome than my getting to know Andrew and Jane Norriss online. The name might not immediately mean anything but anyone watching TV in the 1990s will know Andrew from The Brittas Empire. Andrew wrote the first five series.

brittasempire001bBut then, with one of the more unexpected career swerves, he decided to throw in TV writing in exchange for the considerably less lucrative vocation of writing books for children. Mind, he still couldn’t completely escape the octopus clasp of television, for the producers took one read of his book Aquila and immediately saw what anyone reading it must see: that this is one of the most perfectly crafted stories ever written. And they promptly slapped it on television.

aquila-boys1

I must admit that the Aquila TV series was really rather wonderful. But, of course, past performance is not an indicator of future returns and, given the unlikely collision of talents that go into making a good TV programme, it’s unlikely that the lightning of success would strike again. Besides, working with TV people is like supping with the devil: something best done with a very long spoon.

So, thankfully, Andrew’s been able to escape the dead grasp of television, and he’s been busy writing further books for children – most of which I’ve read and reviewed, here (The Unluckiest Boy in the World) and here (The Portal)  and here (The Touchstone). His latest, Jessica’s Ghost, I fear lays him open to the further blandishments of TV land so get in there and read it before some producer ruins it.

Given my untrammeled enthusiasm and admiration for Andrew’s work, imagine how pleased I was to find out that he liked my work too. He’s actually read Edwin: High King of Britain and Oswald: Return of the King. This time, though, putting my marketing cap on, I thought I’d get him to read a pre-publication copy of Oswiu: King of Kings in the hope that his recommendation might open up the 8-12 junior reader market to me. Well, not really. Oswiu is not really suitable for 8 year olds (although I don’t think there’s anything in it that would be unsuitable for a 12 year old moving on to trying adult books for the first time). But, really,  I just wanted Andrew to read it. And he did, and here’s what he had to say about it.

Edoardo Albert conjures up an extraordinarily vivid and authentic picture of life in 7th Century Britain that is hugely enjoyable. This is fabulous story-telling, with the themes of greed, ambition, nobility and the power of religion woven together with consummate skill. This is the real Game of Thrones – a fabulous story, beautifully told, that turns out to be based on fact!

You can imagine just how pleased I am with this. Andrew is probably the most talented writer I know and to have such an endorsement is praise indeed. You hear that low pitched hum in the background? That’s the sound of a writer, purring.

Oswiu: What Writers Think – no.2 in a short series

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

justin_hill_by_deelee-photo

Take a look at this man. Most writers have the sort of face that fits on radio: Justin Hill looks like the sort of fellow you wouldn’t want to see standing opposite you in the enemy shieldwall. Only, judging by the photo, it looks like he’d favour the naked beserker style of fighting!  So, you’d listen to what he tells you about good books to read about the Dark Ages. Particularly when he’s written one of the best of them: Shieldwall, about the best evocation of late Anglo-Saxon England I’ve read (the sequel, Viking Fire, has just come out and I’m on it big time). But just to show he’s not all trapezius and deltoid, he also weaves tales around Chinese teashops (The Drink and Dream Teahouse) and memoirs around Eritrean coffeeshops (Ciao Asmara); and, a particular delight to me, writes bolter-blasting stories in the 40th millennium too when there is only war (Storm of Damocles).

This is what Justin has to say about Oswiu: King of Kings:

‘The death of the king plunges the north into crisis. A crowning achievement: meticulously researched, a long-overdue insight into our Anglo-Saxon past.’

There you go. Reading that, you’d better order Oswiu: King of Kings. You wouldn’t want to upset Justin, would you?

The Presence of the Past – no.2 in an occasional series

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

This summer, we went to Northumberland. The past lies deep over the present there, in this land of far horizons, and over the next few weeks I’ll write a few more entries in this occasional series, the presence of the past.

For today, we’ll look at the well in Bamburgh Castle. The rock on which the presnt-day castle stands has been a stronghold for as long as men have lived in Northumberland. It’s a great lump of Whin Sill, the layer of hard dolerite that extends, mostly underground, through Durham and Northumberland. 295 million years ago, an upflow of magma from the earth’s core was diverted on its path to the surface and, instead of exploding as a volcano, slid sideways, below the surface, spreading out along the fault line between two horizontal layers of rock, rather like the jam in a sandwich. But when the magma cooled, it formed dolerite, a much harder rock than the sandstone that sandwiched it. So, as the softer rock has eroded, the hard protuberances of the Whin Sill have emerged, producing features such as Bamburgh Rock, High Force, and parts of Hadrian’s Wall.

Part of Hadrian's Wall, riding along the Whin Sill

Part of Hadrian’s Wall, riding along the Whin Sill

Bamburgh Rock, rising a couple of hundred feet above the surrounding sea and land, is an obvious watchpoint and stronghold. But it lacked one vital feature of a defensible fortress: water. If the defenders were beseiged, they would rely on stored water and catching rainfall – admittedly, not an infrequent occurrence in this part of the world, but, the world being what it is, no doubt drought would be the inevitable partner to siege.

To overcome this deficiency, the Anglo-Saxons dug a well. Through granite. Through 150 feet of granite. And the well is still there, in the lowest level of Bamburgh Castle, with nothing but a small caption to remark this extraordinary feat of Early Medieval engineering.

The well head in Bamburgh Castle

The well head in Bamburgh Castle

Here’s me, standing beside the well.

Standing by the head of the well

Writer, wondering how they did it

How on earth did they do it?

And wondering how on earth they did it

And wondering how on earth they did it

This is what the caption says:

This Anglo-Saxon well was essential for providing the castle with a reliable and clean source of water. The well is 44 metres in depth and 2 metres in diameter. There are no records about how the well was made but one thought is that fires may have been built on top of the hard whinstone. When the rock was extremely hot, cold water would have been poured onto it causing it to contract and split, making the stone easier to work. Beneath the whinstone is sandstone much softer and easier to excavate.

The sides of the well are smooth and close to the bottom there is an arched tunnel approximately 1.75 metres in height which is reached by iron rungs set into the stone work. Running at a south westerly angle it travels to shrubbery outside the castle near the existing pump house and was made in the 20th century to carry services, out of sight, up to the castle.

So, that is, maybe, how they did it. Hot rock, cold water and hard labour. And, well dug, Bamburgh became well-nigh impregnable, the stronghold which became the base for the Idings take over of the kingdom of Bernicia, the land of the high passes.

Cover Reveal – Oswiu: King of Kings

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

And, ta da! Here it is: the final version of the cover for Oswiu: King of Kings. I’m particularly pleased with the bit of writing above the lion. It’s no small accolade to have the book described as brilliant by no less a writer than Conn Iggulden.

What’s more, we’ve got back some other, equally glowing commendations from other writers. I’ll tell you about them over the next few days and weeks. Only five weeks until publication!

oswiu-_-front-cover

The Presence of the Past – no.1 in an occasional series

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Writing, as I do, about the seventh century AD, you’d think there would be precious little left in the way of physical connections to this time. After all, the Romans built in stone and stone endures, but the Angl0-Saxons were master carpenters, rejecting stone and brick-built dwellings for great halls made of wood – and wood decays, or burns.

So, yes, there is on one level much less left from the seventh century than from the four centuries of Roman rule. However, in writing the Northumbrian Thrones, I’ve been surprised at what there is to be found: places, buildings, structures and artefacts that have survived the vicissitudes of the centuries to bring into the present the witness of the past.

Of these, the Bamburgh Sword (which I wrote about for History Today here) is possibly the most evocative. Excavated by Brian Hope-Taylor from the castle grounds in the 1960s, it was forgotten and, after Hope-Taylor’s death, was put into a skip when his home was emptied – it was only the quick thinking of some pHD students that saved it. The Bamburgh Sword was forged in the seventh century of six strands of pattern-welded iron, making it possibly the finest weapon ever made, well, anywhere. It was wielded, in battle and rite, for three centuries before, finally, it broke and the shards were interred in the grounds of the stronghold it had helped to protect. Such an extraordinary weapon was fit for a king – given where it was buried and when it was forged, the extraordinary possibility arises that the Bamburgh Sword was the very weapon wielded by Oswald, the Lamnguin, the White Hand, the king who returned from over the sea.

After centuries under ground, the blade itself is a corroded shadow of its once self but it is on display in the Archaeology Room in the castle. This is what it looks like now (in the hands of Graeme Young, co-director of the Bamburgh Research Project):

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And this is a newly forged reconstruction of what the sword would have looked like when it was wielded in defence of the kingdom of Northumbria:

bamburgh-sword

Far away from Bamburgh, on the isle of Anglesey, is another, much-less known, connection with the seventh century. Back then, the kingdom of Gwynedd was the proudest and strongest of the kingdoms of the Britons that continued to resist the slow conquest of Britain by the Angles and the Saxons. The kings of Gwynedd had their fortresses and strongholds in the mountains of Snowdonia, but the ancient island over the Menai Strait served both as the breadbasket for the kingdom and its political centre, with the royal court based in what is now the small village of Aberffraw. Just two miles east of Aberffraw is an even smaller village, Llangadwaladr, and set into the wall of the parish church is a gravestone. But not just any gravestone. This stone marked the grave of Cadfan ap Iago, king of Gwynedd and father of Cadwallon, the nemesis of Edwin of Northumbria.

Go to the quiet, serene church of St Cadwaladr and there, embedded in the far wall, is the stone. It reads, ‘Catamanus rex sapientisimus opinatisimus omnium regum’, which means, ‘King Cadfan, most wise and renowned of all kings’. This is what it looks like:

Cadfan

And here I am, touching this direct link to the world of seventh-century Britain, when we visited Anglesey last summer.

IMG_6180IMG_6192

It is extraordinary to think that these, the sword and the gravestone, have managed to survive when so little else has. If people are interested, I’ll write about other places and things that bring the past into the present in further articles for this new series.

Interview with Fellow Darkling, Matthew Harffy

Friday, September 25th, 2015

Fellow Darkling (an author who writes about the Dark Ages in general and the seventh century in particular) Matthew Harffy interviewed me on his blog. We both, independently, wrote about seventh century Northumbria, and then were both horrified to learn that another writer was trespassing on ‘our’ patch. Read here how we reconciled without recourse to the duelling cloak and then read Matthew’s novel, The Serpent Sword, for his take on King Edwin.

The Serpent Sword

The Serpent Sword

Book Giveaway – Edwin: High King of Britain

Saturday, May 16th, 2015
At the London Book Fair 2014

At the London Book Fair 2014

In honour of the release of Oswald: Return of the King, the second volume in The Northumbrian Thrones series, I’m giving away, to people who haven’t yet had the chance to read the first instalment, three copies of Edwin: High King of Britain. I’ll post the books anywhere in the world at my expense and all you have to do to enter is leave your name in the comments below and then use the contact me bit of the website so I have your email to get back to you if you win.

As this is my giveaway, I’m likely to look with more interest at people who give me an idea of why they’d like to read the book, but you don’t have to say if you don’t want to.

So, as the saying goes, you have to be in it to win it! Comment away.

Note: the giveaway is now over. Thank you very much to the people who entered and I hope you enjoy reading Edwin.

Book review: The Anglo-Saxon World by Nicholas Higham & Martin Ryan

Thursday, December 18th, 2014
The Anglo-Saxon World

The Anglo-Saxon World

Skimming the other reviews for The Anglo-Saxon World, I see I’m just adding to the consensus but, you know, sometimes a consensus exists because something is true: this really is the best one-volume introduction to the Anglo-Saxon world around. It’s not cheap, but it is worth every penny.

Nick Higham’s writing style has improved immensely since he wrote The Kingdom of Northumbria A.D. 3501100 (my go-to guide when working on Edwin High King of Britain and now Oswald: Return of the King), and he now combines engaging prose with his immense knowledge of the subject. Really, no criticisms; if you want to learn about the history and culture of the Early Medieval Period in Britain, read this book.

When The Old King Ends His Tour

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Source: http://jesuisnormalrassurez-moi.tumblr.com/

Edwin’s epic blog tour has finally come to an end, closing as summer draws down to autumn and the nights get longer than the days. I’m going to collect all the reviews here, with links. In the end, I’m delighted to say most of the reviews were very good – and since these are hard-core historical fiction readers, they suggest I must be doing something write.

So, here goes.

How could any author not purr with pleasure when reading A Book Drunkard’s review: What a wonderful debut novel this is.  Edoardo Albert is a stunning new voice in Historical Fiction.  The details in the story make you feel you’re there, living a life in the 7th century and I absolutely applaud the obvious amount of research that must have gone into it.

Layered Pages said: I am absolutely thrilled with this story! Outstanding read beyond any expectations I had for historical fiction. And that says a lot right there for just how good this book is. For a long time I have wanted to read about the rise of Christianity in certain parts of Britain and how it was brought about to the pagan people of its time. And in this story it is really interesting how paganism and Christianity mixed among the people, how the people who are pagan convert and their thought process in doing so.

Words and Peace said: VERDICT: England’s history did not wait for the Tudors to be full of intrigues and conflicts. This book is a wonderful entry to 7th century England, where pagan and Christian values clashed as small kingdoms fought to take prominence. Highly recommended to all lovers of history and historical fiction.

A Bibliotaph’s Reviews gave Edwin 4/5 stars, saying: If it hasn’t become abundantly clear, I have a particular love of Historical Fiction novels that focus on the medieval period and before. Edwin: High King of Britain definitely fits the bill of that love; set in a time around 625 A.D. (or C.E. if you wish to be politically correct) this book follows the story of a long-exiled king.

Mason Canyon (that really is her name!) at Thoughts in Progress interviewed me about writing Edwin and historical fiction in general.

100 Pages a Day… Stephanie’s Book Reviews said: I love reading historical fiction in order to learn about history I would have never otherwise be exposed to.  This first installment of The Northumbrian Thrones did just that.

Book Nerd gave Edwin 4 stars: Edwin, High King of Britain was a fantastic read! The first line is a perfect indication of what’s to come ” The king is going to kill you.”

Svetlana’s Reads & Views didn’t like Edwin very much, giving him 3/5 stars. Ah well, can’t please everyone: Okay, good news and bad news when it comes to this book: the good news is that the writing is enjoyable and for me it feels very accessible. Also, before accepting this book for the tour, I recall reading a review on Goodreads where the person complains that too much time is spent on Christianity. Much to my relief, while time is spent with Christianity, it’s not the whole book.

A Book Geek said: The historical period covered in Edwin: High King of Britain isn’t written about very much, or at least, I haven’t encountered it much in my reading so far. I have to wonder why, since I was captivated with the period as described by Albert in Edwin.

The Mad Reviewer is not mad at all: she gave Edwin 5/5 stars, and my favourite two review sentences: Edwin is not your typical hero in modern tales.  He’s dark and broody and occasionally prone to wartime atrocities.

 Book Lovers’ Paradise said: Edwin and his family are characters a reader can enjoy. The characters are interesting without being over the top. You want battles? This book has battles. You want gore? Well, there’s a little of that, too. This book has everything a historical fiction lover could want.

Dab of Darkness also did an interview with me, asking a fascinating – and thought provoking – series of questions. My answers are here.

Dab of Darkness said: What I Liked: Plenty of history with accuracy; conflict due to culture clashes; very interesting characters. What I Disliked: Could use more women.

Unshelfish gave Edwin 4/5 stars: Albert’s writing style and thrilling narrative consume the reader. I found myself lost in this book from the beginning. I am looking forward to this series, if this is a prelude of what’s to come, I will be ecstatic. Great snapshot into history and the brutal times of the 7th century.

Just One More Chapter said: This is Edoardo Albert’s debut and the start of a new series, The Northumbrian Thrones.  From the very first chapter, when the secret messenger makes his appearance and has his say, I was captivated.

2 Book Lovers Reviews gave Edwin 3.5 stars, saying: Edwin is a good debut novel for author Edoardo Albert. I enjoyed this in depth look into a less well known part of English history; and even though I fully realize more history has been made in kings’ courts and through councils than in bloody battles, it is still the battles that I want to read about.

Back from holiday

Friday, August 29th, 2014

We’ve been away in the garden of England – Kent – for the last week, hence my blogging silence. Not that Kent is beyond the reach of the information superhighway, but I left my computer at home and my mobile – an ancient beast in itself – switched off; digital silence…

On Hythe beach

On Hythe beach

Kent was surprisingly lovely, and I’ll long remember the clattering roar of the waves on the pebble beaches at Hythe and Deal, so different from the sound of water on sand. And Dover Castle is magnificent – William may have been a Bastard (the other standard appellation for the Conqueror was ‘the Bastard’) but he certainly knew how to build castles.

While we were away, Edwin started on his blog tour and so far it is going well, with excellent reviews, giveaways and even an interview with me (containing the most interesting set of questions I’ve yet been posed).  Here’s Edwin’s schedule:

Edwin: High King of Britain Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, August 25
Review at Princess of Eboli
Review at 2 Book Lovers Reviews

Tuesday, August 26
Review at Just One More Chapter
Review & Giveaway at Unshelfish

Wednesday, August 27
Interview & Giveaway at Dab of Darkness

Thursday, August 28
Review at Dab of Darkness

Monday, September 1
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Review at Queen of All She Reads

Tuesday, September 2
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, September 3
Review at The Writing Desk
Review at The Mad Reviewer

Friday, September 5
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Monday, September 8
Review at A Book Geek
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Tuesday, September 9
Review at Book Nerd

Wednesday, September 10
Review & Giveaway at 100 Pages a Day – Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Interview & Giveaway at Thoughts in Progress

Friday, September 12
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews

Monday, September 15
Review & Giveaway at Words and Peace

Tuesday, September 16
Review at Layered Pages

Thursday, September 18
Review & Giveaway at Beth’s Book Reviews

Friday, September 19
Review at Book Drunkard