Well here's an odd thing - If I am to interview the authors of 1066 Turned Upside Down in the order in which their stories appear in the book, then I must now interview myself!
How did I get involved with the project?
I was contacted by Helen Hollick - of whom I've been a fan for a very long time - and asked if I would write a story for the project. I must have hesitated for about, ooh, two seconds before I said yes!
Without giving too much away, can I set the scene for my story?
My story concerns the northern earls and the Battle of Fulford, just outside York. It was here that the English were defeated by the forces of Harald Hardrada of Norway and Tostig Godwinson, brother of King Harold. This defeat meant that Harold had to ride north to the Battle of Stamford Bridge and thus had to endure a long but swift march down south again to meet William of Normandy. What if the northern earls had won at Fulford, and Stamford Bridge never happened? This was the premise for my story but, actually, those northern earls were mainly Mercians. I love my Mercians, so I decided to think a bit more about their likely attitude not only to battle, but to Harold himself...
Did it go 'against the grain' to change history?
Usually I am at great pains to depict history as it happened. Occasionally I change something minor, if it helps the narrative to flow more easily, but I make this clear in my notes. The job of the historical novelist is, in my view, to present the facts but to fill in the gaps - plausibly - and to put flesh on the characters' bones, to try to give them a back story, to present possible reasons why they, as humans, behaved the way they did. With 'A Matter of Trust' (my story in 1066 Turned Upside Down), I tried to stick to this principle and to give logical reasons for the behaviour of my characters. Once I had got past the blatant twisting of the history, I found it quite natural to then tell the tale using the personalities of the people involved.
What draws me particularly to the stories of Mercia?
History belongs to the victors, to a large extent. The ancient kingdom of Mercia was eventually swallowed up by Wessex. The King of Wessex, Alfred the great, commissioned the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, one of our main primary sources for this period. Thus the history of Mercia was somewhat sidelined, which is a shame, because Mercia produced some wonderfully charismatic characters: Offa (he who built the dyke) Aethelflaed (Lady of the Mercians, subject of To Be A Queen),
Lady Godiva, and even evil old Eadric Streona, who vacillated so much during the time of King Canute that he must have made himself utterly dizzy!
Some, less well known, simply deserved to have their stories told, in my opinion: King Edgar, who managed uniquely in those times to rule peacefully, and his right-hand-man Aelfhere (Alvar), whose reputation suffered because not only was he an earl of Mercia, but he also took on the Church establishment, and at this time, the Chronicles weren't just written by Wessex, they were written by Wessex monks.
What really attracted me though was the anomalies - Aethelflaed was a woman leader, Ethelred was a man who wasn't a king, but fought like one anyway to save his country, Edgar was a king of peace in a very turbulent age, Alvar went up against the Church, Aelfthryth fought like a lioness for her youngest child, but had left two children behind. Why? What was the story there?
Is there another event in history that I wish had had a different outcome, another "What if"?
There is one episode in history which I really wish hadn't happened. Not because it would have changed the course of history, but simply because it was unnecessary: Anne Boleyn's death. As it turned out, her daughter came to rule England anyway, so in terms of history, this brutal act achieved little, other than to set a precedent for Henry's dealings with Catherine Howard.
If I could write another 'What if', though, it would probably be the history of Wales. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, (Llewelyn the Last) was killed during campaign against Edward I and his daughter was sent to Sempringham Priory in England where she spent the rest of her days as a nun. Llywelyn's brother, and named successor, is reputed to be the first victim of hanging, drawing and quartering. I have a strong dislike for Edward I, and I would relish a re-telling of history which preserved the Royal House of Gwynedd.
Thanks for talking to me today Annie.
It was my pleasure Annie!