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Looking at Both Sides – Adventures in Co-writing and Historical Fiction

 

Around the end of September 2015, my friend, historical fiction and non-fiction author, Matthew Willis, said the immortal words ‘Hey, does anyone want to write a book about the battle of Hastings with me?’ (I’m paraphrasing but that really was the gist of it.) I hadn’t studied anything to do with the Norman Conquest since a school trip to visit the Bayeux Tapestry, when I was twelve years old. I’d never attempted to co-write so much as a piece of flash fiction with anyone. And I mostly write speculative fiction and find it really quite hard to keep dragons, ghosts and genetically modified dinosaurs out of my stories. With that impressive list of qualifications, I immediately said ‘yes’ because, really, what could possibly go wrong? With a blithe disregard for the amount of work involved on research alone, I jumped in with both feet.

Have you ever seen the Disney film ‘Frozen’? I have two writing buddies who at regular intervals present me with ‘Do you want to build a snowman?’ moments and I find myself rashly agreeing to take part in all sorts of crazy schemes. Matt is actually the more restrained of those two friends. Just saying.

Back to co-writing. We threw around a few ideas. I think Matt may have had half the book mapped out in his head already, which was handy. One benefit of writing historical fiction is that you know how the story is going to end. You have a destination. Working out by what route you’re going to get there is the interesting, and occasionally difficult, process of producing a book. We both agreed early on that we didn’t want to present a single perspective. The Battle of Hastings on 14th October 1066 was one of those pivot points in history that changed the course of events forever. It certainly changed the face of England, and by extension Britain. And by further extension, the world. So many of the events we take for granted now as historical fact, would not have happened – or at the very least would have fallen out differently – if the Saxons had not lost the Battle of Hastings. Of course history is written by the winner, who if they have any sense, put a bit of gloss and spin on their own actions and scuff up the reputation of their vanquished enemies. Not as if said enemies would complain – they’re dead after all. We wanted to present both sides of the story and for both the Saxons and the Normans to have a voice. (In hindsight this is possibly why we ended up overshooting our word count target by 110,000 words but then hindsight is always 20/20 isn’t it?)

We’d already decided that William of Normandy himself should be one viewpoint character. But should Harold Godwinson be the other? For one thing, when a viewpoint character is dead, that’s it. No more Saxon voice. You lose that perspective. Another consideration was that while William and Harold Godwinson were undoubtably two of the most powerful and influential men of the time, they were both male. Recorded history often forgets or downplays the female perspective, taking the attitude of the time and valuing their contributions less. This isn’t a plug for gender equality by the way, merely a statement of fact. And yet there were many women of the time, both Saxon and Norman, who were important political players, who did influence events. It wouldn’t be as complete a story as we could make it if we didn’t include a female perspective. But who? It needed to conceivably be someone who was close to Harold Godwinson, so we could deliver his perspective without using him as a viewpoint character. It had to be someone who could conceivably have been at various different places, including on the fringes of some important battles. For authenticity, it needed to be someone about whom little was factually known. Which is where Ælfgifa came in.

Harold Godwinson had eight acknowledged siblings – in other words, brothers and sisters who shared both Gytha Thorkilsdöttir and Godwin of Wessex as parents. (In the Saxon tradition he probably had many half brothers and sisters as well – powerful men kept mistresses and had dalliances, and any offspring produced were usually acknowledged. It wasn’t considered shameful until the Latin Church really got a grip on Britain post 1066.) We know what happened to most of those acknowledged siblings. Harold’s brothers gained Earldoms in their own right and later died at the Battle of Hastings. The youngest brother, Wulfnoth, spent his life as a political hostage in Normandy. The oldest brother, Sven, was originally Godwin’s heir but got himself into some very hot water resulting in his banishment and Harold taking his place. Harold’s sisters too, were influential. Gunhild became abbess of the convent she joined – abbesses wielded a lot more power and influence politically back then. Edith of Wessex married Edward the Confessor and by all accounts is the reason he came to be known as ‘the Confessor’ since she ruthlessly scrubbed her husband’s public image and set about a careful, thorough and successful campaign of propaganda, the echoes of which we still feel today. Which just left Ælfgifa, one of the most shadowy branches on the Godwin family tree.

Very little is known or written about Ælfgifa. So little in fact that we can’t be sure of the dates of her birth or of her death. Contradictory accounts say she died in childhood, that she joined a convent and later died after the Norman Conquest. That she died around the time of the Battle. Did she even exist at all? It’s odd considering how well all of Godwin’s other legitimate children were documented. Either way, we had our second viewpoint, a Saxon and a woman. Matt and I were good to go.

As with writing alone, there are many ways to go about co-writing. Matt and I decided to work out our general direction – The Battle of Hastings – and then alternate chapters. We’d set aside October for research – again I was displaying my blithe disregard for my sheer lack of knowledge – and had decided to use 2015 NaNoWriMo to get the bulk of the book written. We both felt we could easily come up with 50,000 words each in a month. That would be the first draft more or less written. We were determined. We were geared up, raring to get started on our new project. We were confident.

We may also have been just a little bit nuts.

However at the end of November 2015, we did indeed have 100,000 words. The problem? We were only about a third of the way through the story. You see, the thing with the Battle of Hastings, is that it doesn’t actually start with the Saxon and Norman armies facing off. (Actually it doesn’t really end there either but that’s another story.) To give that pivotal moment in history context, you need to go back further in history, past the battle of Stamford Bridge. Past the battle of Fulford. Past the shipwreck that delivered Harold into the hands of William of Normandy and the subsequent uprising of Conan II. Further back, through sieges and skirmishes and assassination attempts – in fact at times you have to wonder if William the Conqueror, upon his death bed, looked back and saw he’d spent the vast majority of his life laying siege to one city or another. Even further back than that, because what caused a situation where the English crown was so precariously situated on the head of a childless king? Why were there so many claimants to the English throne? What made William, who lacked almost all the advantages Harold was born into, claw his way up from upstart boy Duke, to the formidable war leader he became? In the end, because while history doesn’t have a designated start date but a book most definitely needs one, we started in 1045 – twenty-one years prior to the Battle of Hastings.

One of the things we probably should have done from the start, rather than when we were both about 20,000 words in, was to create a timeline of events. Basically, beats that we needed to hit or be aware that one viewpoint character was hitting. When you’re spanning twenty years and two different peoples in a book, or two books as it became, you really do need a clear map of where you’re going and when. The broad strokes at least. Still once that was in place, we really took off.

Some of the best bits of co-writing are related to division of labour. I imagine if you don’t have absolute trust in your writing partner or if you’re a writer who just can’t let go of control, then our method of co-writing might not be for you. Matt and I had worked together  on creating anthologies of short stories before this and we’re both founding members of a writing group – the Random Writers – so there was enough confidence in each other to do due diligence on research and be sure that no major gaffes were included. Having someone who is writing the other half of a book with you is very motivational for just getting the words down too. And of course you’re less likely to get bogged down or stuck or really hung up on the ‘what am I doing, it’s all crap’ stage that all authors go through on every single book. And when it gets to contract signing time, and then to publication, you are once again not alone.

The worst part of co-writing, in my opinion, is a worry that you’ll let your partner down. That perhaps you’ll allow an error through or that maybe your writing won’t hold up to theirs, becoming a weakness in the story. Natural enough fears obviously and all writing has its downs as well as its ups. The downs were never enough to stymy me for long.

I might never have tried to write a straight historical novel, devoid of fantastical elements, if it hadn’t been for Matt’s suggested collaboration. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that I could write historical fiction engagingly, let alone keep up with someone who is far more knowledgeable on the subject than I am. You learn something new with every book you write, collaborating on this duology has probably taught me enough for five or six books. (So if you are an author and you like working with other authors maybe give co-writing a try.) The end result was two epic historical novels that Matt and I felt pretty justified in being pleased with. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them too.

 

 

An Argument of Blood (Oath and Crown book 1) is available in ebook and paperback from all major retailers now.

 

A Black Matter for the King (Oath and Crown book 2) release date TBC.

 

See www.facebook.com/oathandcrown for more details

Back in Print and Better than Ever!

Just a quick update post to say that I Belong to the Earth is now once again available as an ebook (Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk). The shiny new print version will be available around mid October 2016 – I’ll keep you posted. This second edition has been tidied up, given a new and improved formatting and interior design, any errors eradicated (hopefully!) and includes the FREE and exclusive short story ‘Friendly Fire’.

All for the special introductory price of £0.99 or $0.99 -depending on where you live.

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In addition, Unveiled #1.2 – Girls’ Night In (a short story) is also available for the princely sum of £0.99/ $0.99. (Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk)

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Happy reading 🙂

(And if you can spare the time – whether you love it or hate it – I really appreciate an honest review – just a line or two would be great! 😉  )

P.S. Look out for this week’s episode of Dissecting Dragons on Friday 29th September 2016 – I’ll be talking about the inspiration behind the books in the Unveiled series and just why I wrote such an unusual and in many ways, disadvantaged, MC – all with my fabulous co-host, M.E.Vaughan.

Cover Reveal – I Belong to the Earth

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Artwork copyright – J.A.Ironside

Cover Design copyright – M.E. Vaughan

From the back cover:

“There.” Grace pointed towards the moor and I saw it: there was a shape in the dark. A tall, masculine shape. No, not a man; a piece of darker darkness in the shape of a man. We were being watched.

Seventeen-year-old Emlynn knows all about grief and guilt, not to mention secrets. Being able to sense the Dead wasn’t so bad before the accident which killed her mother. Now it’s taking over her life. Broken and shut off from the world, Emlynn is horrified when her father moves the family to a remote Yorkshire vicarage: a house that stands at the centre of a centuries-old curse born of betrayal, jealousy and poisoned love. A curse that feeds on the lives of young girls. A pattern about to repeat itself once more… When her older sister, Grace, gets involved with local bad boy, Haze, Emlynn knows she has to act fast. Somehow Haze is connected to the curse. Is Grace his next intended victim? Hurtling towards another family tragedy, Emlynn must find the strength to stop running from her gift, or risk losing the rest of her family for good. Only the dead have the answers she needs. If she can bring herself to speak to them…

 

Available from Amazon on 25th September 2016 (Paperback to follow October 2017)

 

I BELONG TO THE EARTH – SECOND EDITION COVER REVEAL!

WINTER

 

I am so excited about releasing the new cover for I Belong to the Earth, that I just had to write a sort post about it.

The new cover for Book one of the Unveiled series will be released tomorrow at 6.00pm GMT.

 

If you haven’t read it yet, I Belong to the Earth is a YA paranormal fantasy about a young girl named Emlynn, who has an affinity with the Dead. After surviving a horrific car accident leaves her with brain-trauma and a strained relationship her family, Emlynn finds herself further adrift when her father moves the family to a lonely vicarage on the North Yorkshire Moors. Withdrawn and wary of trusting anyone, Emlynn wants nothing to do with her strange ability, let alone with a centuries old repeating Pattern of rage, jealousy and poisoned love. But when her hostile older sister gets involved with the local bad boy, Emlynn has to confront her power or lose the rest of her family for good. Only the Dead have the answers she needs. Rushing towards another tragedy, can she bring herself to ask them?

 

This  second edition of I Belong to the Earth will be available from Amazon on 25th September 2016. (Paperback to follow in October, release date TBC). If you happen to have read the first edition, the story has not materially changed. Instead, as a more experienced writer, I have tightened up the prose a bit and removed a few continuity errors (I’m actually surprised I didn’t get called out on those!) So the second edition is not a new book but a cleaner, better, tidier version. I promise I have not gone George Lucas on it 😉 In addition there is also a brand new, never seen before Unveiled short story included because hey, if you’re a fan, you’ve had to wait ages and that is no way to treat your readers. A gift to you from me.

 

A bit about writing the book; I Belong to the Earth is my debut novel. I’ve written more books since then but I can honestly say that I have yet to feel compelled to share a story in the same way.

I was strongly influenced by three things. Classic literature, folk lore and genuinely wondering what it must be like not to be able to read or articulate your thoughts? I mean, being able to read and to communicate is a real gift – one I had sort of been taking for granted. At this point in her half-timid, half-take-no-prisoners way, Emlynn charged in and demanded the story be told.

I also wanted to look at the relationships and power dynamics between sisters. It was something I felt I hadn’t seen enough of in books and Emlynn, together with her older sister, Grace, and younger sister, Amy, were perfect for telling that side of the story too. Some people leave you better for having known them. I can now swear to the fact that some characters do the exact same thing – and Emlynn isn’t done with me yet.

Goodies and extras; Whilst going through my files when I re-edited this book, I discovered all sorts of snippets, extras, sneaklets and short stories. The pick of the bunch will soon be available to read FREE here on my website. Look out for the ‘extras’ button on the main menu.

See the new cover tomorrow at 6.00pm  GMT on my tumblr, facebook, webpage and goodreads.

 

 

Announcing the third Random Anthology

The Random writers have not been idle in their silence. And here it is – the new anthology!

Stalking Leviathan – A Bestiary of Tales 

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“It’s out there. I can feel it in my water. I can hear it…”
 
Twelve tales that go in search of creatures of myth, legend, and the spaces between the real and the imagined. From the overwhelming confusion of the Irish Civil War to the eerie expanse of modern day Bodmin Moor; from Elizabethan England to the skies above Persia, the Random Writers quest for an answer to the question – What is the nature of the beast?
I am proud to have been an editor on the project, and I and my fellow dragon -co-host, M.E.Vaughan, as well as historical fiction co-writer, Matthew Willis and long term writing buddy, Shell Bromley, all have stories included in the collection.
Get ready for creatures that personify the wild, guard and guide the dead whilst helping the living out of grief, non-binary Unicorns, beasts that personify the madness and destruction of war or the gift of life and nature itself.
Release Date: 29th September 2016 in ebook and paperback formats.
(Special thanks to M.E.Vaughan for the fabulous cover.)
Final bit of news: Tune in the same time tomorrow for the grand cover reveal of
I Belong to the Earth – second edition.

I am the Silence – Get your free esampler now!

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(please note – not final cover)

I am the Silence – Unveiled Book 2

My feet refused to move. I was going to die a horrible death right here, right now, because I could not run.

From the other side of the fire, a huge dark shape slunk forward. I gasped in smoke and hacked it out. The shape from my nightmares. I watched as its mouth opened, lips peeled back over teeth as long as my fingers. The beast snarled and sprang…

A year after breaking the Pattern, Emlynn no longer fights her gift. She’s become quite good at sending the Dead on to rest. Perhaps too good – her overconfidence is about to lead to a fall…

Sent to investigate reports of a haunting, Emlynn finds herself facing a crushing embarrassment, and worse, a deep betrayal. It’s time to leave the supernatural alone for a while. Get away from it all. Staying with her childhood best friend, Beth, for the Milton Abbey music festival should take her mind right off everything. Ghosts, betrayals and disappointments. Except Beth seems to have changed. She’s definitely running with a new crowd, whose leader, Rhys, has an unhealthy interest in Emlynn.

As if that isn’t enough, her violin tutor is a volatile, hostile and rude young man, whom Emlynn knew a long time ago. Lucas has definitely changed and that’s one mystery Emlynn can’t leave alone. Caught between her connection with Beth’s troubled younger sister and the terrifying black beast that stalks her in her dreams, there’s no rest for the weary psychic. Facing the reality of what Beth has got mixed up in, Emlynn may have finally picked a fight she cannot win…

I am the Silence is book 2 in the Unveiled series. You can get a free downloadable esampler of the book by clicking on either of the links to join my Readers’ Group. This will also give you access to other freebies, competitions and release dates.

This book is available for limited time only.

Happy reading 🙂

(Since I am trying not to irritate my subscribers with needless mail, if you are already a member of my Readers’ Group and would like this free esampler, please get in touch via the ‘contact me’ page and type ‘Silence’, your name and your preferred email address and format – mobi or epub – into the message field. I will be happy to send it out to you.)

I’m temporarily out of print but…

WINTER

I decided after much soul searching that it just wasn’t working out with my old publishers, so we have amicably parted ways. (Since then, they have shut down. Pretty sure it wasn’t anything to do with me – more in a future blog post maybe?) So I have my rights back but I Belong to the Earth is temporarily out of print. I say temporarily because I will be releasing all of the Unveiled books, short stories and novellas under my own imprint. This means that those of you waiting patiently for book 2 – I am the Silence have just had the release date brought forward by 18 months. Can I get a whoop whoop?

Anyway, for those of you interested, I thought I’d provide a release schedule of dates to keep an eye out for:

 

Unveiled Book 1- I Belong to the Earth (second edition, new content, new artwork) release in ebook – 20th September 2016, in paper back – 10th October 2016 (roughly).

Unveiled short story – Girls’ Night In ebook release – 27th September  2016

Unveiled Novella #1.5 – Amazing Grace ebook release – 1st October 2016

Unveiled Novella #1.9 – Amy’s Academicals ebook release – 30th October 2016

Unveiled Book 2 – I am the Silence – ebook & paperback release – 19th January 2017

Unveiled short story – The Black Dog of Lyme – ebook release – 25th January 2017

Unveiled Novella #2.1 – Ciaran’s Chance – ebook release 2017 … or is it 😉 (Check back, you won’t hear Ciaran’s story anywhere else!)

Unveiled Book 3 – I Hold the Tide – ebook and paperback release June 2017 (approx)

Unveiled Novella #3.5 – untitled – ebook release July 2017

Unveiled Book 4 – I Rule the Night – ebook and paperback release December 2017

There will be regular cover reveals, short stories, other novellas and freebies coming up so keep your eyes peeled!

Hopefully I’ve given you all something to look forward too. However, if you’ve read book one and you just cannot wait until January, I will be giving away an e-sampler of the first five chapters of I am the Silence free, here on my website. (If the ‘Get your free Sneaklet’ button isn’t up on the main menu yet, please check back later. Otherwise, click away and find out what is in store for Emlynn in book 2.)

Finally, in the next couple of weeks Emlynn will be visiting haunted houses and other spooky areas all over Britain. Check back for more details or follow #EmlynnsTrail on twitter, instagram and tumblr.