Sunday, 26 July 2015

Today I have the honour of being the guest on this wonderful blog by author Maria Grace.

superhero copy

Writing Superheroes: Annie Whitehead

Meet ‘The Eavesdropper’! Read on and find out more…

Please pop over to her site to read the interview:   and follow Maria on 

twitter - @WriterMariaGrace

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Excerpt from "To Be a Queen"

She slept, but only in short bursts. She would turn, and wake, remember that Wulfnoth stood guard outside her tent, and lie down on her right side to drift off for a while, only to wriggle onto her left and wake up again. The noise from the walls was ever present, like bird song. For weeks she had lived with the shouting, hammering, scraping and banging. Shouts to muster were common-place, as were the yelled curses in the foreign tongue from within the walls. As with the dawn chorus, it would wake her once in a while, she would acknowledge it for what it was, and sleep on again through the disturbance. She had lain on top of the bed, too hot to sink under the covers, and now, having slept for a while, she woke up feeling chilly. Grabbing at a blanket, she settled down again, not yet refreshed enough to consider rising. She lay down and closed her eyes once more. Then it came to her. There was no battle noise, no sound of machinery. Trundling cart wheels, digging spades and thudding boulders; all had stopped moving. 

She sat up, pulled on her boots and left the tent. Wulfnoth had disappeared. She was not concerned; he would not have left her unless he knew it was safe to do so. With a growing sense of hope, she walked through a camp which was now near deserted. Dear God, they must have breached the walls, or the gates, or both. Coming to the edge of the encampment she saw the gates of the town hanging open, one almost off its great hinges. Beyond the open gateway, the Danes, surrendered and surrounded, had been herded together. A Mercian banner fluttered from the watchtower. A thegn on the tower pointed his sword at her and began a victory chant. It was taken up by those below, who all joined in, shouting their triumph in the name of their lady. But Æthelflæd was looking at Frith, who walked towards her with his sword still in his hand, hanging low, dragging. He had blood on his face and his long hair was matted. He had his mail-coat on and she gave thanks for his innate tendency to be sensible at such times. But he walked like a wounded man, though she could see that he was whole. 

He bowed on one knee before her. “Lady, Derby is yours.” 

She put a hand on his shoulder. “Tell me. Who do we mourn?”

His blond brows came together to form a single line above his eyes. Beneath those blue-grey eyes, dark shadows of exhaustion robbed him of his beauty. Careworn, fatigued, speaking carefully through a cut lip, he could give her no more than a list of names. “Helmstan, Ælfric, Eadwine, Wulfwine.” 

The rest of her personal guard. 


She opened her mouth but stood, gaping. What did she think to say? No? You are wrong? I misheard you? Of course he was not wrong; he would not break his own heart with lies. 

He struggled to his feet and she squeezed his arm. Nodding towards the inner courtyard she said, “Do what needs to be done here. I will speak to Elfwen.” 

She found her daughter in her tent. She wished that she could be like Frith, and give Elfwen a moment more of the world when it was right, before she plunged her into a deep lake where there was no light, only despair. But she knew that her face told Elfwen all that she needed to know. “Daughter, the town is ours. But many men died in the taking of it. Among them was Eadric.” 

Elfwen gasped but shook her head, believing as her mother had not, that the news was false. “No, that cannot be.” But as she spoke, the words, having hit her ears as lies, must have come into her mind as truth, and she fell face down onto her bed and wept. 

Æthelflæd stood still and let her cry out the initial pain, knowing that there would be more, for days, weeks, mayhap even months to come. 

When the first waves had left her body and the sobbing subsided, Elfwen sat up. 

“How can you stand there like that? Do you not care?” 

Æthelflæd flinched. She thinks I do not care because I do not weep. Once, many years ago, I would have thought the same thing. Oh, Dear Lord, I have loved and lost so often that I have forgot what the first time feels like. She took a step forward. 

Elfwen put out her hand. “No. Do not come near me. You are heartless.” 

Æthelflæd lifted her chin and let her head fall back. Her mouth opened and a strange animal cry came forth from her. It rose from within her core, and shocked her with its force. She looked her daughter in the eye and said, “Oh God, if I had opened my heart upon every death and let out the part of me that died with them, it would not have the strength left to carry on beating.” 

She left Elfwen alone with her tears. The girl would have to learn the hard way. There was no other.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Every Picture Tells a Story ...

The glamorous side of research:

I've been spending some time researching for a magazine article; doing a bit of groundwork for my next novel. I can't say what it's about, because I'm not exactly sure yet myself. I thought going out to some locations might help with the 'muse'.  At the very least, I thought I would use the opportunity to take some photos, to illustrate the planned article and as aides memoire when the time for serious novel writing begins.

I'm pretty pleased with the way the pictures have turned out. Each one shows a scene of serenity, of isolation, and calm natural beauty. And they lie.

Such a pretty picture of a quiet churchyard, isn't it? But as for telling a story - well, no, it doesn't. Because it doesn't communicate the fact that at the exact moment I took the shot, the heavens opened and the rain poured down. It also doesn't show that I managed to arrive while a happy bride was posing for her own photos. And it certainly doesn't convey my sheer idiocy in thinking that since she was outside having her pictures taken, the wedding must be over and I could nip inside to pick up some information leaflets. I don't do 'selfies', so my pictures can't show the horror on my face as I lunged inside, only to see about 75 colourfully-attired people turn round in delighted expectation. Their feather-strewn hats wobbled as they shook their heads in disdain. Yes, the bride was about to go in, and the wedding was about to take place.

After beating a hasty and soggy retreat, we went back to the car and ate our soggier sandwiches as the sun came out and shone down. Again, I don't do selfies so there's no evidence of my sitting in the passenger seat, red in the face and resembling a ripening tomato under greenhouse glass.

And so to a place associated with the story I'm researching, described as being 'near' to a village. Finding the village was arduous enough, with one obliging local telling us not to carry on down one particular road as the roads down there all 'get a bit skinny'. Spotting a sign which described a place that might or might not be the spot we were looking for, I went to the nearest property which was a riding stables. I asked a couple of the grooms if they knew where the place was, but neither of them did. In this short space of time my driver (aka my long-suffering husband) had barricaded himself in the car and refused to open the door to let me back in because a plague of flies had attached themselves to the vehicle. I eventually managed to get in and we drove off at speed, tyres complaining about the shingle track, and the flies clinging on with an attitude that is described in these parts as "sheer badness".

Fewer than 100 yards down the road, we found the spot. And by the looks of it we were the first human visitors in about fifty years.

It's a vision of solitude and tranquillity, no? But still photos don't tell tales like videos do and if there were a soundtrack added to this, all you would hear is the sound of my driver telling me, in bunches of four letter words, every time he found a nettle. Or should I say, when the nettles found him.  It was time to move on.

High up in the hills, we stopped to ask some walkers about our next destination. The gentleman with the hiking poles, rucksack and zip-off walking shorts looked me up and down, sniffed in such a way as to make me wonder what else we had managed to tread in amongst the bracken and the nettles, and told me, "You'll never make it in those shoes."

So we went back the next day, in the correct garb. Halfway up the mountain (I say mountain, but I used to live in East Anglia, so, you know, anything above sea level ...) we met a man who said, "No point, it's all shrouded in mist and cloud." And he was right. Except that of course, on the way back down, the sun came out and the rocks dried up and it flattened out a bit and so I really wasn't expecting to slip and fall ... I'm not proud of the moment I sat on my backside on that hill and cried like a four-year-old. And here's the photo that categorically does not tell that story, but was, nevertheless, taken about thirty seconds later:

So yes, every picture tells a story. Just not necessarily the truth. That's where we writers come in. Isn't it?

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

"Begin at the beginning..."

Okay so I'm new to all this, so please bear with me while I learn. I'm trained to work with pre-school children and my method is always to get them to have a go at whatever is the day's new challenge. I'll show them how to hold their scissors, but then I encourage them to get right on and try to cut the paper. So I think I need to apply my own teaching methods to this blog: jump right in and have a go.
The first thing I was asked to do when I was attempting to set up this page was to come up with a title. I chose this one because my first three novels are all set in the period known as the Dark Ages. But I don't envisage posting only about my novels. I also want to share my thoughts on current news items and post links to shorter articles, some of which are already written and published, some of which exist only as a series of hand-scrawled notes.

Sometimes I might just want to share my thoughts on anything that has caused me to smile during my day, or given me reason to stop and consider. These musings are what my children call my WOW moments (Wise Old Woman). If I tell you that these same children (and many of their friends) all have me on speed-dial under the name "Mother Hen", you might get the idea.

In a seminar room one stuffy summer's morning, smoke billowing everywhere (no,there wasn't a fire - everybody was allowed to smoke indoors in those days) I heard my lecturer say "No one really knows where Ethelred came from." Well, this notion intrigued me, but it wasn't really relevant to the business of studying and gaining my degree, so I filed it away at the back of my mind. Many years later, when I had the time to sit and write my first novel, that statement came back to me. But, whilst I hadn't lost interest in this mystery man who came riding into the pages of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, I realised that the story was, in fact, about his wife - Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians.

She was the daughter of King Alfred, her husband was de facto King of Mercia and yet it was she who helped keep her adopted kingdom of Mercia free from the Viking invaders and paved the way for her nephew, Athelstan, to unite the country.

I hope to tell you more about this remarkable lady and, indeed, more about the period that is so erroneously called the "Dark" ages, but for now let me thank you for visiting this page and say Wes Hal, (Welcome)