Monday, 26 October 2015

# Lucky Seven - excerpt

I've been nominated by Elaine Moxon and Matthew Harffy to publish 7 lines from my WIP (Work in progress).
The idea is that you take a page ending in 7, then go to line 7 and post the next 7 lines.

Well, I've taken a couple of liberties: firstly, this is not strictly my WIP, but a completed Ms to be released in the new year.
Secondly, it is not an excerpt which began on the 7th line, nor is is 7 lines. But it IS from a page ending in 7 and it happens to be exactly 7 sentences, so I think it will count.

Alfreda sang quietly while she worked with the batches of wool. The rhythmic movement of the carding combs moving back and forth in her hands was familiar from childhood and now, as then, she was soothed by the pulsing regularity of the action. She sat slightly apart from the other women. She was still unsure how much they knew or guessed and she wished neither to insult them by pretending, nor to reveal the truth if they were not already aware. Thus rendered dumb, she worked alone, speaking only when she needed some more wool to work on. She had almost finished the latest lot when she heard the shouting. She was always frightened by the yelling, but now her hand went quickly to her belly in an instinctively protective gesture.

I nominate authors Jane Risdon, Angela Rigley, Maire Flannery, Nicola Layouni, Carol Hedges, Catherine Curzon and Sean MacCotter

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Drinking Mead, Singing Songs of War and Flying the Wolf Banner - Paula Lofting Casts Light

I'm delighted to welcome my guest today, author and re-enactor, Paula Lofting.

I asked her:

How old were you when you began writing?

     I started writing as a little girl. At school I was always top in my class for composition lessons. My stories were often those that were read out to the class. I loved it when the teacher wrote a few titles on the blackboard and told us to choose one. My main problem was that I couldn't find an ending in the time I was given. My imagination wouldn't let me and my stories would always be the longest.
     In my late teens I started hand-writing an epic post-Romano/British tale. I wanted so much to publish it but I couldn't use a typewriter to save my life. I had a hard time in my early twenties and lived in a very controlling relationship which meant that I was not able to fulfil my dream. Over the years  my confidence became eroded and it was not until my mid forties that I made that dream a reality and started to work on my 11thc novel, Sons of the Wolf. 

Is your love of history a separate thing - and who/what inspired that love?

     I believe it was books by Rosemary Sutcliffe that I read as a child; Dawn Wind, Sword at Sunset, Eagle of the 9th, and many more. I was fascinated by these times in history and loved to watch the old films like Ben Hur, Camelot, etc. My Dad was also was a great influence. We used to spend many a hot night in my childhood home in Australia sitting out under our porch going through all the kings from 1066 onwards. I was always more interested in medieval or older periods but I did dabble with the 18thc for a while.

Why the Dark Ages?

     I wouldn't classify the 11thc as the Dark Ages, more late Anglo-Saxon period or the early English period. It was around the 10thc that the peoples of England began to think of themselves in broader terms as the Englisc when Athelstan and Edgar united the different kingdoms into one. Peasants, of course, probably thought of themselves as coming from whichever town or village they came from before they thought of themselves as anything else. There were too many tribes to really individualise someone as Saxon or Mercian or whatever.
 But to answer your question, I am just fascinated with this period of time which was in some ways a very cohesive and organised culture but could also be a very violent, passionate and intriguing time in our history and because of its mysteries, I want to be able to make sense of it!

What is your writing process - do you research first, or do you have a plot mapped out in your head and then research to fill in the historical facts?

     Not an easy one for me as I wrote Sons of the Wolf and The Wolf Banner originally as only one book. I had the story in my head and knew a bit about the period already, so I wrote what I had in my head already and then plotted out the theme, created a timeline of events that happened before my book started as a reference, including the historical events and a timeline for the story of the fictional events that I refer to in my book, such as the reason why Helghi and Wulfhere hate each other so much. I had planned that this would be one big book, but I had to cut it into two halves because the size of the project was a little too ambitious for the first novel. I had, and still do have in mind, that the story will cover about three more books, broadening out to encompass more threads as it goes along to include the lives of other main characters. I hope not to stray too far from Wulfhere  and his family, who will always be at the centre of the stories and all other thread will entwine with theirs, eventually.
     I also like my book to write itself. The main outline is there, but I give my characters a free rein. Who knows where they might take me in books 3, 4 and 5?

You belong to a re-enactment group. How would you say this helps your writing? 

     I joined Regia Anglorum to help my writing, to help me create a framework of authenticity in my books, so that I can immerse the readers in the period so deeply, that they believe they are truly there in the 11thc. Now, I think my writing helps me with my re-enacting also, to create a world where people can see what it was like to be there - in a long-hall, sitting around a fire, drinking mead, singing songs of war, waiting for when the morning came when you would take your shield down off the wall with your spear, strap on your sword and throw on your mail and muster with your  lord, not knowing if you well ever see your friends again. You turn to your comrade next to you and you say, "This is what it must have been like." And he turns to you and nods, he know exactly what you mean.

     Of course, I also re-enact as a female, and not just a male warrior. There you are, cooking food for your men folk over an open fire-pit, or sewing your kid's clothes or making woollen socks for everyone. Baking bread, weaving, wool spinning; perhaps not as exciting as standing in a shield-wall, but it gives you a flavour of what it must have been like. What else apart from all this could be more exciting than to get into the world that you are creating?     

Do you find it difficult writing about an age from which so few buildings remain standing - what do you do to build the pictures on your pages to bring what is essentially a 'lost world' alive?

     At first I thought it would be, but once I had seen the Saxon building that Regia Anglorum built, sat around the fire pit, slept in it, cooked in it, fought and died in it, I really felt as if I had captured the essence of the Saxon home.

"Feast Preparation" - photo by and with kind permission from A. Tidy

The more palatial residences such as Edward the Confessor's huge domestic buildings and the church of Westminster that he built, would no doubt have been in stone, so one has to imagine the building similar to the wood-framed long-hall but made with stone. Some of our old churches that are still intact hail back to Saxon times as does the church near me in Worth, so there is a little Saxon stone here and there to see but how much of it is its original stone, I'm not sure. I also looked at manuscripts and the Bayeaux Tapestry is very useful for getting an idea of what buildings may have looked like. In some ways, the lack of archaeological evidence from this period means that we can't be criticised too much when we use our imaginations.

Who are you when you are not a writer, and do you find it easy to find time for your writing?

     It's difficult with my full-time job as a psychiatric nurse to find the time to fit everything in. I also have my duties as blog coordinator for The Review to carry out and this is a full-time job in itself. I don't really know where I find the time, but I wish I had more.

What's next?

     I hope to get The Wolf Banner out soon as it's been a long time coming, and work on the next 3 books for the series, plus do a prequel to Sons of the Wolf and work in that back-story about the feud and so on. I have always wanted to write Aethelflaed's story which I know you have also written about her
but my main character won't be her, I intend to write her story through the eyes of someone close to her and in the first person. I just love that time when there was so much unrest with the Vikings and England not yet being unified. It's so exciting to think that a woman led an army like she did and the men loved her. She must have been an indomitable character. (She was!!) 
     I also have lots of ideas going round in my head, including a semi-fantasy set in Middle Earth. But first I've got to finish the Sons of the Wolf series.

Thank you Paula, for those illuminating answers.


Paula Lofting lives in Sussex and is a psychiatric nurse by day, author in her spare time, Blog Coordinator for The Review
She is mother to 3 and grandmother to 1 and enjoys re-enacting with respected living history society, Regia Anglorum
She can be found on TwitterFacebook and her website

Thanks also to Kim Siddorn of Regia Anglorum for assistance in sourcing and using illustrations

To see my mini-review of Sons of the Wolf, click HERE

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Digging for Stories

Where do stories come from?

"An English civil war flag, captured by royalist Bernard Brocas to prove that his love for the daughter of parliamentarian Lord Sandys had not altered his loyalty to the king, is to be auctioned in April (2005). Taunted by the loyalist faction, Brocas swore an oath that he would give proof of his allegiance by winning a standard in the field. His chance came at the first battle of Newbury in September 1643. He captured a green silk damask banner with the motto "Constanter et Fiderliter" (Steadily and faithfully), but was later found dead beside the banner. Bonhams, which is handling the sale on behalf of a family descendant, expects the flag to fetch up to £5,000."

image - the telegraph

Well, there was a story waiting to be written - a tragic love story set against the backdrop of the civil war. I kept the cutting, intending to write the book, but I got distracted by other tales, other characters who clamoured for my attention.

Years ago, as an undergraduate with more summer holiday than ideas to occupy my time, I watched a documentary about the Ashburnham estate in Sussex. It wasn't a particularly inspiring story and I can't remember the main thread of the examination, but when the narrator told how one of the family commissioned the family crypt to be built, and that the last of the family line took the last available space in that crypt, my interested was ignited. I scribbled notes, I was going to write a book ...

A drawing by John Preston Neale of Ashburnham Place in 1828 showing the lake in front

... I didn't. I got a job, got married, had three children and changed career path.

But then one day I found the time to write. And it was another one-liner that came back to me. My wonderful tutor, Ann Williams, was talking about the background to the module for that term, which was 10th century Wessex. She talked about the preceding years, explaining what had led to the supremacy of Wessex and she spoke about Ethelred of Mercia. "No-one knows where he came from," she said. And I was captivated. I was going to write a book ...

... And I did. Although it turned out to be not the story of Ethelred so much as that of his wife, Aethelflaed, Lad
y of the Mercians.

Still I can't resist filing away little snippets; press cuttings, single sentences, anything that might one day make a fine story or novel.

Recently I was reading a book about myths and legends, and all things ghostly, and discovered that in 1820 the skeletal remains of a lady were found bricked up within one of the walls of the Captain's Tower of Carlisle Castle. "Three valuable rings remained on her fingers and she was still partially clothed in scraps of a tartan dress. It is unknown who she is, but evidence indicated that when she was walled up, she was still alive."

Even a friend of a friend's facebook lament:

"I apologise for last night. The lady you spoke to had one too many Calpols and was feeling ill at ease. I would text you but she felt the need to delete everything on my phone." Although in this case, I wonder if we don't already have the story in those 36 words. 

Sometimes novels start with a plot, a situation, a story to be told. At other times, they begin with a brief revelation, a tiny snapshot of another life that draws the novelist, particularly the historical novelist, down a path of discovery, collecting more and more pictures and vignettes until the whole album is ready to be laid open for other people to look at.

I'd love to hear from people who've been similarly pricked, provoked, or persuaded to write, from a single episode, sentence or fact. Please leave comments below: