Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Shining a Light - Authors of Dark Ages Novels: Millie Thom

In 2018 I'm featuring other authors who write books set in the so-called 'Dark Ages'. This month, I'm delighted to welcome author Millie Thom, whose third novel is out now. Millie writes books in which Mercia features quite prominently, so it was lovely to have the opportunity to talk to her about her work.

AW: Hi Millie, welcome to the blog, and congratulations on your recent Discovering Diamonds Award. 

MT: Thank you for inviting me to your blog. I’m delighted to be here and it’s a pleasure to be interviewed by you.   

AW: First of all, I must ask: where did the idea for this series come from? Have you always been interested in this period of history?

MT: I’ve always loved history in general, even though I chose geology to study for my degree, and geography as my main teaching subject! I confess to knowing little about the “Dark Ages” when I was at school myself in the 1950s and early 60s – other than stories of King Arthur and the Round Table, King Alfred burning the cakes and fierce Vikings raiding and pillaging. And most of those were based on folklore or legend. It wasn’t until I moved to Wantage in 1971 that my interest was sparked. King Alfred’s statue in the market place intrigued me and, even then, I considered writing his story. Then our six children came along, plus a teaching career to continue once they were all at school, and my hopes of writing were put on hold for a very long time.

The story in my series has evolved a lot since the 1970s. By the time I’d retired and had time to write, I had decided to include a second protagonist to the story. The fictional Eadwulf had become firmly lodged in my head, and I related him to the historical King Beorhtwulf of Mercia, whom the Danes “put to flight” in 851. That phrase opened all sorts of possibilities to me.

AW: It's interesting that you chose to 'send' Eadwulf abroad. Did you find the research for these scenes easier, or harder, in terms of available documentary evidence?

MT: Part of Eadwulf’s early story involves him becoming a thrall (slave) in the household of Ragnar Lothbrok – something I’d decided well before I started writing. We had a long summer holiday in Denmark so I could do some research by visiting Viking sites and museums and generally getting a ‘feel’ for the land itself. I came home with lots of background information on how the Danes lived during the Viking period as well as a better knowledge of the geography of Denmark. Since Eadwulf is actually fictional, I was careful to keep his story in line with events in Wessex at that time and to use the correct names for historical characters involved. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Asser’s Life of King Alfred were basic aids to both. I also have several other texts, including those by Justin Pollard and Richard Abels, and an excellent book I bought in Denmark entitled Cultural Atlas of the Viking World, written by various experts on this subject from across Western Europe. Some of the more “colourful” scenes in my books, including the deaths of Ragnar Lothbrok and King Aelle of Northumbria, or Bjorn and Hastein’s “Mediterranean adventure”, tend to be based on Viking myth rather than actual history anyway, so the Denmark trip filled the gaps in nicely.

Visiting sites in which my story takes place has played a big part in my research for these books. For the beginning of Book 3, Wyvern of Wessex, we had a trip down to Andalucia/Andalusia in southern Spain. I found that very helpful when describing the summer heat, the Iberian landscape, and the architecture in Cordoba. I realise that such travel isn’t possible for every writer and that there are plenty of online sites where similar information can be found nowadays. I dipped into many of those, too.

AW: It's clear that you have a passion for this period, but that's not the only string to your bow. Can you tell us a little about your short fiction?

MT: I became involved in writing flash fiction when I started my blog a few years ago. There are many flash fiction challenges on WordPress to choose from and I joined in with several of them. All provide participants with a prompt, mostly pictorial but not always, and a word limit in which to tell a story (with a beginning, middle and end). Some challenges ask for only 30 words, or even as few as 6! I prefer those asking for 100 to 200 words. The longer ones do allow for some development, at least. 

For my book A Dash of Flash I also found picture prompts of my own and wrote a few longer stories between 500 and 1,000 words – the generally accepted upper limit for ‘flash’. Many of my stories have historical settings. It’s fun using modern photos/images and translating them into historical themes. One story I wrote was from a photo of a modern bike leaning against a wall. Set in Victorian times, my story, They’re All the Rage, refers to the penny farthing bicycle which was very popular in the 1870s and 80s. Another participant interpreted the bike as a horse, so a completely different story ensued there. The prompts can be interpreted any way people choose and participants are encouraged to write “outside the box”.  I also have stories with contemporary settings, as well as fantasies, fairy tales and ghost stories.  

AW: Do you find writing flash fiction stories a completely different process - do you have a different approach when planning them, than you do when plotting a novel?

MT: Writing flash fiction is completely different to novel writing. The incredibly short length leaves no room for either plot or character development and it’s generally accepted that one or two characters are the most that should be included, if any – depending on the word limit.  Writing these short pieces is excellent practice in being succinct – especially good for born ramblers, like me. A given word limit allows no room for flowery descriptions. A twist at the end can also add interest to a piece of flash. Some people hold that the twist is a vital part of the genre.

AW: Finally, can you tell us about the new book? 

MT: Wyvern of Wessex: Sons of Kings Book 3 was intended to be the final book of a trilogy. However, by the time I’d reached a word count of 100,000, I realised I was never going to finish either protagonists stories in that book. All three books are long as it is, simply because there are the two storylines to keep going, plus those of associated characters. So, a Book 4 is now my next writing task. 

As the title of Book 3 suggests, the main focus is Alfred’s desperate efforts to stop the Danes taking his beloved kingdom of Wessex. The title refers to two things: the flag/banner of Wessex and to Alfred himself. Carried into battle, just as the Danes carried their Raven banner, the white wyvern (not golden as on the modern flag of Wessex) on its red background would fill warriors with immense pride and determination – and blood lust – to fight for all they were worth. Alfred’s determination to keep Wessex free when all seemed lost, inspired his armies in the same way. So I see him as symbolic of the Wyvern – or perhaps, vice versa. 

Although Alfred’s story is the main theme of Book 3, the first five chapters continue where Book 2 left off. Eadwulf is back with Bjorn in his great dragonship, Sea Eagle, sailing down to al-Andalus on a quest to discover whether King Beorhtwulf is still alive. Needless to say, they get more than they’d bargained for and have to leave in a bit of a hurry. Events in Cordoba, however, determine certain events later in the story.

AW: Millie, thank you so much for dropping by to talk to me!

You can find more about Millie's books on her Amazon author page and you can connect with her on Twitter and on her Website


  1. Thank you so much for allowing me to 'ramble' about my books, Annie. I thoroughly enjoyed answering the questions and look forward to reading some of your books now that the pressure to finish 'Wyvern of Wessex' has gone.

    1. You're welcome Millie - thanks for taking the time to chat to me and best of luck with the new release :-)

  2. Clearly a series I must add to my list! Thank you Annie and Millie for this interview

  3. I love this series! Great interview, Millie!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Mary Anne! I thought I'd re-run it as I've just read the first in the series and thoroughly enjoyed it :-)