The latest addition

‘Women of the Dark Ages’ is to be joined by its newest member very soon! ‘God’s Maidservant’ will be available on Amazon, initially just in eBook format, with a paperback to follow in the new year. It’s all looking good for a 16th December 2017 release date!

Hooray!

And, double hooray – Otto is back! emperor-566485_1920But it is a different Otto from the one we met in The Saxon Marriage. It’s an Otto who has lost the two great stabilising influences on his life. His old friend, ally and faithful advisor, Duke Hermann of Swabia has died. And even worse than that, he’s lost his beloved Eadgyth.

What will this mean for his children, brothers and all the other characters of ‘The Saxon Marriage’? But most of all, what will this mean for Adelheid, the young Italian widow when she seeks Otto’s aid?

Tissues at the ready – It’s God’s Maidservant

Adelaide of Italy Empress Adelaide

As a daughter of the King of Burgundy, Adelheid’s destiny has been decided at the age of two. She will marry the son of her father’s rival, the King of Italy, taking her place one day as its queen.

As Adelheid grows up, she dreads her impending marriage, longing instead for a life of contemplation and devotion in an abbey. But aware it is her duty, she and Lothair, the King of Italy are wed.

The marriage is as unhappy as it is brief, their lives dominated by Berengar, the true ruler of Italy and his vicious wife, Willa. Widowed young, Adelheid hopes she can at last take up the religious life she has always dreamed of.

But Tenth Century Italy proves to be a treacherous land for the beautiful young queen. Berengar, now the King of Italy, is jealous of Adelheid’s popularity with the people. He plots to marry her to his own son, the odious Adalbert and he will not take no for an answer.

Only one man can help – Otto, the King of Germany and the most powerful man in Christendom. But Otto’s help will come at a price. A widower, whose heart lies in the grave with his beloved wife, he demands Adelheid’s lands and her beauty for his own…

 

Like all the books in the ‘Women of the Dark Ages’ series, this is a standalone novel. But to discover the early years of Otto’s reign, to meet the younger versions of some of the characters of ‘God’s Maidservant’ and to hear the tale of the woman whose memory haunts the pages,Eadgyth of Wessex and Otto the Great Cover image by Gali Estrange/shutterstock.com The Saxon Marriage is available on Amazon in eBook and paperback.

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Scotland’s patron saint

Celebrating St Andrew’s Day again!

Dark Age Voices

In England’s patron saint I considered whether Saint George was the best patron saint for England and in many ways I could make a similar argument for Scotland. Like Saint George, Saint Andrew never came to Scotland and like England, Scotland has other options – Saint Columba and Saint Margaret are two examples that immediately spring to mind. Yet somehow, Saint Andrew feels like he belongs to Scotland. Perhaps because his association originates from a time when the nation of Scotland was in its gestation.

There are a number of legends, but the most popular one is that the Picts and the Scots had come together to raid the Angles, but were chased away, finally having to face their foes at Athelstaneford. When all seemed hopeless Saint Andrew appeared to the Pict king, Angus, promising him victory and when the Picts and the Scots faced the Angles the next day…

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England’s patron saint

Happy St Edmund’s Day!

Dark Age Voices

Today is the feast of Saint Edmund, England’s original patron saint. In many ways he has more to offer than Saint George. He was a King of East Anglia, who fought alongside Alfred the Great, unlike Saint George who never came here. Saint George is also rather a busy patron saint, with many other places to consider. George became the patron saint of England on the order of Edward III, but his unfortunate links with the crusaders (he was said to have appeared to the crusader army at Antioch in 1098) makes him a difficult saint for all English to get behind.

While Saint Edmund, a man who died rather than betray his country, is an excellent possibility for a new patron saint, he is not the only candidate. Others could include

  • Saint Alban – The first recorded British martyr, predating Saint Edmund the Marty by (possibly) over 600 years

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Ghosts of the Dark Age

Dark Age Voices

It’s the 31st of October, so what better time to tell of some peculiar goings-on from more than 1000 years ago! Back in the Dark Ages people too must have told stories at this time of year, as the harvest was completed, travel became harder and the nights became darker…

The Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in AD 451 was a bloody and brutal one by anyone’s standards. Attila  and the Huns fought against the combined Roman and Visigothic forces under the command of the Roman general Flavius Aetius and the Visigothic King Theoderic. The result of the battle was uncertain, as although Attila was defeated he escaped and continued his campaigns against Rome. It is also not known how many fought and died, but casualties may well have gone into the thousands or even tens of thousands. The battle was fought in the evening and so it was not until the next…

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Making a YouTube book trailer

Judith of Flanders

First of all this is definitely not a ‘how to make a YouTube Book trailer’. I think in this I proved a complete amateur, but I did have a lot of fun, learnt lots and hopefully you’ll think the end result is not too bad!

Every amateur needs a good mentor and I was lucky enough to have a good source of advice in my second son, someone capable of rather more professional results than me. Of course, every good mentor would benefit from a proficient student who actually pays attention…

Question one: What software do you use to make your videos?

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So, my first stumbling block came when I realised I couldn’t remember the answer to that question. “No problem,” I think. “It’s on the computer somewhere.”

Can I find it? Of course not. I do, however, come across Movie Maker. So I get stuck in.

Movie Maker is fortunately fairly easy to use. It has some interesting effects for each new screen and the text. While Clever Son is capable of editing video footage and linking it seamlessly together, that one is a bit beyond me. So I’ve stuck with a series of stills. Pixabay is a good source of images for every situation and combined with some pictures of my own and some title screens I soon had a good series and had lots of fun with the different effects.

I used text rather than reading anything myself – probably a wise move. I hate the sound of my own voice on tape!

Question two: What do you think?

So, I proudly show off my progress so far. “Hmmm, it’s not very centered, is it?” pebbles-2020100_1920Ok, who is this kid? How does any child of mine become such a perfectionist?

 

But at least he confirms that all screens have sufficient time to be read. Phew. He also asks if I am going to add a backing track. Ha! I’ve already thought of this one.

Question three: Where will I find a backing track which fits?

“Oh, YouTube has plenty of public domain music.” “Yes,” say I, feeling superior at last, because I know medieval things and he doesn’t. “I want something medieval or chanting monks. They won’t have that will they?” “They have all sorts,” he replies. And he’s right. I find this. medieval tune It’s not 9th century, but with drums and flutes, it’s only using instruments which could have been used.

Question four: How do you download music from YouTube?

I consulted Google for this one. Yes, even I can do that. Feeling very clever I download the tune. I click on the button to add backing track. Easy! Unfortunately what turns up is a quiet screen. Then the YouTube video I’ve downloaded, then the rest of my video continues in silence. comic-1583655_1920

Question five: How do you convert MP4 to MP3?

“You could layer it so the download plays underneath, but can’t be seen.” Whaaaat? Layering? What is that? computer-problem-152211_1280Fortunately, before I panic too much, I get given the look of contempt which only a near teen can give and he says, “You could just use an online MP4 to 3 converter.” Phew.

This goes well. I get my backing track on, tweak the timings of the video, make sure everything is centered. Watch it several times. Done. Movie Maker has a nice handy upload to YouTube button which even I can click on. It invites me to make a channel and I decide I’ll set up one from a new account. Here it is: Dark Age Voices Youtube Channel So I click again on the Moviemaker upload button. Answer. “Bad response from YouTube” or something like that. What does that mean?

Question six: How do you upload videos to Youtube?

I consult Google again. It helpfully tells me to log into Youtube and click on the upload button… yes, it really is that easy! Glad I didn’t ask Clever Son for that one. After that it was easy. Description, keywords, choose a thumbnail for the cover. Publish!

So, I watch it a few times, including from my other YouTube account and use that one to subscribe and like the video. Then I put some of the keywords into the search. I have a result fairly near the top, but it’s a link to the channel, rather than the actual video.

Question seven: How do I get the thumbnail to appear?

Ha. This time Son is stumped. He suggests a few things. Nothing works. I google the problem, but it seems no one else has that problem. I ask the question on a forum. It is ignored. Yes, I finally have a problem no one can solve, not even Clever Son! Good! I have just dashed off some feedback to YouTube when the penny drops. The thumbnail does appear – it just appears further down the list than my channel. Yep, I really am that stupid. (Although to be fair Clever Son didn’t consider this possibility either!)

So, here it is! Any views (and likes!) would be much appreciated, so it appears further up in the searches!

For the book: Three Times the Lady

To see some really good videos, check out my son’s channel Arbor. You even get to see me in one of the videos! And I will make a cameo appearance, reading one of my own books, in the upcoming film!

If you’ve made a book trailer, please share the link in the comments – I’d love to see them. Especially if you are, like me, an amateur! Also any tips. I’ve still got lots to learn – and I do have another three books to make trailers for. And hopefully, soon, a fourth…

In the footsteps of Kenneth Mac Alpin

Dunadd Footprint

This summer my family holiday was a long-anticipated one to Scotland. In between heading up mountains, Nessie hunting and kayaking on lochs I was fortunate enough to visit some of the locations of Kenneth’s Queen and perhaps some of the places truly visited by Kenneth (Cinaed) Mac Alpin more than a thousand years ago.

Scotland

Because we were based in the west the later locations of the book – Forteviot, Scone and Dunkeld will have to wait for another visit, but the two key early locations of the book were very much on our itinerary.

The island of Mull is referred to only in passing in the book, but off Mull is the sacred Isle of Iona. In the days of CinaedIona Mac Alpin, despite Viking raids, this was an important abbey and undoubtedly the centre of pilgrimage. In Kenneth’s Queen the family spend a few idyllic years there, while Cinaed starts some dodgy Viking deals. Was the real Cinaed Mac Alpin ever there? Iona is traditionally considered his birthplace, although I often wonder if this is really true. When upstarts rise up to take the throne, there is often an attempt by their successors to give them additional credence. Was placing his birth on such a sacred location part of that? We shall never know. He must have been born somewhere – why not Iona?

The abbey there today is on the site of the abbey founded by Saint Columba hundreds of years before the days of Cinaed Mac Alpin. Iona AbbeyAs such as important centre it seems inevitable that a member of the ruling class such as Cinaed would have at least visited it on occasion.  He certainly had enough clout with the abbey to eventually bring the relics of Saint Columba from this island to keep them safe from Norse raids.

Iona is believed to be the resting place of the early Scottish kings, including Cinaed and Domnall.  We visited the burial ground on Iona and to describe it as an emotional experience is an understatement. Iona burial groundIn Historical fiction vs Historical fact, I wrote how strange it feels to view Cinaed and Domnall as anything other than young men. For a long time those young men lived in my head. In that burial ground on Iona I was perhaps at last truly in their presence, but they are no longer alive.

A few days later we visited the fort of Dunadd – one of the great power centres of Dal Riata. Despite the lack of records, it is a near certainty that Cinaed and his family must have spent some time there. In Kenneth’s Queen it is where he first brings Baena, his young bride and later returns for some of the most momentous events of his life.

Dunadd Fort

My first thoughts on arrival at Dunadd was that it seemed smaller than I expected. But as we climbed, this proved to be deceptive.

Dunadd Fort

And looking down from the top it was far easier to imagine the King looking down on all he owned with perhaps the troops amassing in the plain beneath just as I described in the book. Dunadd Fort

 

 

 

We found the sacred symbols, the bowl and the footprint where we had a friendly dispute over which one of us could be King of Dal Riata! My foot fitted best, but only, as my eldest son pointed out, because I was wearing an old pair of his walking boots which are at least two sizes too big for me! Did Cinaed once place his own foot into a print on the rock to declare himself king?

Dunadd footprint                    Dunadd Footprint

At the top it was exciting to sit in a place where Cinaed, his wife, or Domnall might have once sat. Dunadd FortPerhaps this was the hall where so many of the key scenes of Kenneth’s Queen took place –  an announcement of the death of a chief, the selection of a king and the arrival of a Pict messenger bearing bad news all took place there.

Despite a gap of centuries this trip to Scotland brought me a new connection with those characters and an even deeper love for their land. However it also made me aware of a glaring error in Kenneth’s Queen which I would now like to apologise for. How did I write more than 90,000 words on Scotland without once mentioning the midges? Those young warriors out on campaign must surely have been eaten alive!

beautiful Scotland

Travel to 9th century Scotland yourself in Kenneth’s Queen available on Amazon in paperback and eBook.

KB5_Photo  Kenneth’s Queen

 

 

Creating a great character

Alfred the Great

I always feel a sense of responsibility when creating my characters to get them right. I can never forget these were real people, who lived their lives, ate, drank, fell in love and, yes, made mistakes just as we do. In all honesty it is probably an impossible dream to get them completely right. The history of these Dark Age people is often incomplete and even when it is not, it is open to interpretation. Really the best I can hope for is that I have at least created characters they would be pleased with.*

However when I have to create a character who has become known as The Great, the responsibility seems very much bigger. The first time I needed to do this was in Three Times the Lady, when we are introduced to Athelwulf’s young son, Alfred. Judith of FlandersCreating this character was a lot of fun, mainly because this was an Alfred who was not yet Great. This was a child, already wise beyond his years, but still a child who could get excited about being on a boat and behave in a stroppy fashion with his guardians. It was also enjoyable to plant the seeds of his greatness in his intelligence, his quiet, watchful ways and in the way “when he speaks, everyone listens”, hinting at his natural leadership. He also seemed to be someone who even at his tender years, made an impression on those he met. Hopefully it is no surprise he later became known as Alfred the Great. (and yes, I couldn’t resist a few opportunities to describe him as Great in the book!)

In The Saxon Marriage I have two characters who would become known as The Great. For the younger of the two, Bruno, creating him was not dissimilar to Alfred. This was a child, slightly mischievous, and a long way from his greatness. Over the course of the book he starts to grow into his reputation as a scholar of some repute, but even at the end he is still a teenager. However creating Otto was a very different story. For the first time I have a main character who becomes known as The Great. Eadgyth of Wessex and Otto the Great Cover image by Gali Estrange/shutterstock.comYet at the beginning it was not so different, for this was an Otto who was not yet Great. At the beginning of the book he is, as the historian, Michael Wood describes him in this excellent article, a “17-year-old toughie”. Over the course of the book, he grows in experience and wisdom. Is he Great by the end of the book? Well, I shall let the readers decide, but he surely is at least getting there! But perhaps the question is also to who else does he owe his greatness? His father, Henry the Fowler, whose role I looked at in Great Dads of the Dark Age? His close advisors and allies such as Duke Hermann of Swabia? But most of all the book looks at the role of his first wife, Eadgyth. Like so many of the women of this era, much about her remains unknown. But she was at his side from the age of seventeen, as he took his first steps to power, through the troubles of the early years of his reign. How much of his greatness does he owe to her?

 

*Charles the Bald, I don’t care if you’re not pleased with how you’re portrayed. You shouldn’t have put your son’s eyes out.

The Saxon Marriage

Eadgyth of Wessex and Otto the Great Cover image by Gali Estrange/shutterstock.com

The Saxon Marriage is available from Amazon and is free with Kindle Unlimited

“On those days when it will feel as if half the nobles in the realm are against him, the loving and unquestioning support of a wife is a blessing like no other. Promise me, Eadgyth, you will always be that for my son.”

Eadgyth’s happy childhood as the adored daughter of King Edward of the Anglo-Saxons came to an abrupt end at the age of nine, when her mother was cast away. Distraught at the rejection by her father, she learnt to keep her heart closely guarded.

After ten years shut in a convent Eadgyth is commanded by her half-brother, King Athelstan, to go with her younger sister to the court of King Henry of Germany, where his son, the brave, young Otto will choose one of them as his wife.

Indifferent to her fate, she travels to Saxony where she is welcomed by King Henry and his wife, the beautiful Queen Mathilda. As her friendship with the Queen grows Eadgyth warms to her new life, while her relationship with Otto, little more than a boy at seventeen, takes a turn she had not anticipated. Despite the ever-present threat of war on the nearby Slavic front, slowly Eadgyth dares to believe she can be happy.

But beneath the surface of this contented family, tensions are building. Otto’s brothers harbour concealed ambitions, Mathilda’s love for her son seems strangely uncertain and Otto himself reveals an unexpected secret. And as Otto prepares himself to take the throne of Germany, the hostility boils over leaving Eadgyth facing a desperate struggle to hold her family together, terrified that yet again she could lose the man at the heart of it…

 

Great Dads of the Dark Age

Everyone has a different idea of what makes a great dad, but for these dark age fathers, my criteria for what makes them great will be very simple. Each of these fathers had a son known as ‘the Great’. These fathers paved the way to their son’s greatness, yet are not remembered or celebrated as their famous sons are. So let’s remember them this Father’s Day!

Pepin the Short

Pepin was the first of the Carolingians to become king. He was a great reformer of the Frankish church, evangelising the Saxons, who were continually in revolt against him, as were plenty of members of his own family. He was one of the most successful rulers of his time, but little is known about the boyhood of his sons. However in young adulthood his son, Karl/Charles campaigned alongside his father undoubtedly helping to account for his rise to military genius. This son is more commonly known as Charlemagne, the Faher of Europe.

Athelwulf of Wessex (Discover more on Athelwulf in Three Times the Lady

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This man was a fairly successful king, who managed the Viking threat well and helped raise the profile of Wessex on the continent through his pilgrimage to Rome and his somewhat outrageous second marriage to Judith of West Francia, the teenage daughter of Charles the Bald when Athelwulf was well into his fifties. He appears to have been a  devoted father, fighting alongside his oldest son and later forgiving him for a rebellion against him. Athelwulf is known to have been of a scholarly inclination, a tendency his youngest son at least seems to have inherited. He also took his youngest son with him on his travels to Rome and the court of Charles the Bald. The impact of this on the young boy must have been immense. That boy grew up to be Alfred the Great. Athelwulf died when Alfred was eight or nine, but the influence of his father surely helped him on his way to greatness.

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Henry the Fowler

We’ve had two great dads, but if any man deserves the title Greatest Dad of the Dark Ages it is Henry the Fowler. He had not just one, but two sons known as the Great. It is hard to say how much credit he deserves for the younger – Bruno the Great, Archbishop of Cologne since Bruno was placed in the care of the Bishop of Utrecht from the age of five, but perhaps Henry recognised even then his son’s intelligence and planned accordingly. However Henry’s actions definitely helped in the success of his older son Otto. He fought alongside Henry from an early age on the Slavic Marches and it was Henry’s decision to leave his whole realm to Otto, rather than dividing it among his brothers as had previously been the custom. It was also Henry who arranged an advantageous marriage for Otto with a princess from one of Europe’s oldest dynasties, thus increasing the prestige of his son. Henry’s actions as much as Otto’s own helped create his title of Otto the Great.

To great dads everywhere

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Strange allies

When the UK General Election was called the result already seemed certain, but a week is a long time in politics and a month even longer. The result is now less certain and it looks like after June 8th there could be some strange alliances formed. Perhaps officially (in the event of a hung parliament) or perhaps unofficially (in the event of a slim majority).

Alliances, as much as wars, are the stuff history is made of and can have a lasting impact on the course of a nation. Think of the influence of the Franks on 9th century Wessex, due to their long links with the Carolingians – Egbert was an exile at the court of Charlemagne, Athelwulf married a Carolingian princess and Alfred married his daughter to the Count of Flanders.

Alliances are also a key part of my books. As well as the aforementioned diplomatic marriage of Athelwulf and Judith of West Francia, there is also the marriage of Cinaed Mac Alpin, made to cement a truce and enhance his own Pict royal connections, and the desperate need for allies which drives Radigis the Varni prince to the shores of East Anglia.

Common enemies are often a key part of alliances and it will undoubtedly be this which will play a part in any alliances forged in the next few weeks, perhaps resulting in two or more very different political leaders of very different political parties having to work together. This reminds me of an exercise I was set as part of a writing group, where you had to bring together characters from different books and see what happened. For me there was an obvious choice of characters. Cinaed mac Alpin and Athelwulf of Wessex came to the throne in the same year – 839 and died in the same year – 858. Historically speaking there is no reason to think the two leaders ever met, although they must have been aware of each other – they were two of the most powerful men in Britain.

In my books the two men are portrayed very differently. Athelwulf is pious, decorous and scholarly. Cinaed is ruthless, ambitious and martial. It seems unlikely they could possibly get on, but they did have a common enemy…

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The skirmish had ended, as it so often did, in a standoff. The two leaders stared at each other suspiciously.

“Why are you here, Wessex King?” Cinaed shouted at the fair-haired man. “Our campaign does not concern you.”

“You are too close to our Mercian allies,” Athelwulf of Wessex called back. “You cannot advance further.”

“Can we not?” Domnall called. “Are you certain, Wessex King?”

Before Athelwulf could retort, the men on both sides began to mutter and point. They were not far from the coast and smoke was rising from a nearby settlement.

“Norsemen!” Cinaed spat.

“Heathens!” Athelwulf said at the same time.

The two leaders stared at each other. Athelwulf went forward, his hands outstretched. “My lord, I think we have a common enemy. I call for a truce.”

Cinaed and Domnall exchanged amused looks. “What terms are you offering? And can you be sure the Norsemen will not offer us a more advantageous one?”

“You would not join forces with them!” Athelwulf exclaimed. “They are heathens. I know you are a Christian man.”

Cinaed’s eyes narrowed. “How can I be certain you will not trick us in some fashion?”

“You have my word.”

Cinaed and Domnall laughed at that. “We do not trust men’s words,” Domnall said.

“Prove your good intent,” Cinaed demanded.

“How?” Athelwulf was looking impatient, his eyes on the smoke.

Cinaed looked at the boy at Athelwulf’s side. He was a good-looking, dark-haired boy, not long out of childhood. “Is that your son?”

Athelwulf nodded. “Allow me to present my second son, Prince Athelbald of Wessex.”

“The lad fights alongside me,” Cinaed said.

Athelwulf’s arm went around his son’s shoulders. “I will not trust you with my son.”

“Then no truce,” Cinaed said with a shrug. “I do not care if the Norsemen sack Mercia.”

Athelwulf looked distractedly at the smoke and then back at his son. Cinaed smirked, knowing he had found the Wessex King’s weakness. But as their eyes met he felt a flicker of shame.

“I have a son,” Cinaed said, “I’ll defend your lad with my life. You have my word.”

“Are you a man of your word?” Athelwulf asked, the suspicion clear on his face.

Cinaed grinned. “No, but you can trust me on this. One father to another.”

Reluctantly Athelwulf smiled and pushed his son toward the Gael men. To Domnall’s amusement Athelbald folded his arms and glared at him.

While Cinaed and Athelwulf shouted orders at their respective troops, Domnall and Athelbald sized each other up. In a swift action Athelbald drew his sword, slashing it towards Domnall’s throat. The boy was quick, but Domnall was quicker. Athelbald’s sword fell to the ground.

“It does not seem to me that you are a man of your word,” Domnall said looking sternly at the boy.

“I did not say I was,” Athelbald retorted, looking unrepentant.

Domnall laughed and handed Athelbald back his sword. “You should stick with me and Cinaed, my lad. You will fit in very well.”

KB5_Photo   Meet Cinaed, Domnall and a host of other Picts and Gaels in Kenneth’s Queen , the tale of a forgotten queen in the tumultuous days of 9th century Scotland.

Judith WFrancia2 Athelwulf and Athelbald are both major characters in the remarkable story of Athelwulf’s wife, Judith of West Francia. Three Times the Lady