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Posts Tagged ‘Justin Hill’

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?

Blog tour: what, how, why and how…

Monday, April 28th, 2014

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.

Justin Hill’s read my book!

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

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!

Justin Hill

Justin Hill

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.

Shieldwall

Shieldwall

Book review: Shieldwall by Justin Hill

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Shieldwall is, I think, the best evocation of late Anglo-Saxon England that I’ve read. It’s the turn of the second millennium and England is cursed with probably the worst king it has ever suffered – Ethelred – and also, strangely but equally, the country is cursed with a people that are too faithful to their unworthy king. Despite Ethelred’s cowardice, duplicity and treachery, they stick with him through everything. Hill does a fine job of showing the reader how intertwined the House of Cerdic, the kings of Wessex, had become with the very idea of England, so that, despite Ethelred’s manifest incapacity as king, no one attempted to depose him. The author shows us an England that is still strong in its bones, in the deep layers of its society, but with its sinews wasting away before the depredations of the Danes and the treachery of some of the English nobility. Although at times a difficult read, there is perhaps no more apt Anglo-Saxon era to write of, for their poetry is suffused with regret, with the passing of things and the transience of life, and this is the history of the eventide of a culture and civilisation.

The only real drawback to the story is that it is almost too painful to read, but the author draws the reader along with prose that’s muscular and, often, stamped out with the alliterative metre of Anglo-Saxon verse. It might be an easier read for someone unfamiliar with the history of the period, but for me, knowing what was coming next, meant that there were days when I couldn’t bring myself to pick the book up and read further. As the first part of the Conquest trilogy, I suspect things are not going to get better! However, I will wait for volumes two and three with mingled eagerness and trepidation.

My only real criticism is that the paperback edition I read had a surprising number of proofreading errors. For the next edition it might be worth going over the text again. Otherwise, an enthralling, if painful, read.