June Update 2014

Whilst most of you are in the northern hemisphere enjoying blissful days of summer sunshine, here in Australia it is decidedly arctic. Well, for me it is anyway and I know a few of my friends feel the same. Winter has arrived and I have spent the better part of the last few weeks spending my evenings rugged up on the couch with a blanket and a hot cup of either tea or coffee. I even saw a photo from a friend in the south west whose children had built a mini “frostman” on the bonnet of her car, complete with twig arms and eyes. Now it doesn’t actually snow in Western Australia (with the rare exception every few years of Bluff Knoll in the Stirling Ranges down near Albany), and the lowest night time temperature for my area of the world has been -4 (for like an hour or so). Mostly it averages 18 degrees celsius during the day (a balmy spring day for you?) and today it is around 14 degrees. I know I am whinging, I have spent three winters in the northern hemisphere (one even in Mongolia and Siberia) so I know what cold feels like, but it is still too cold for this Aussie! Cold enough to sit inside all rugged up with my laptop and my writing.

So, The Captive King novella is around 18 000 words at the moment, which i’m OK with. It is still growing slowly and I think I am still on track to get this finished before the end of the year but my main goal at the moment is to get the TNS sequel up to standard.

TNS2 is doing a lot better at 72 000 words. I think in the last week or so I have had a bit of a break through with it and I can start to see the light at the end. Only a few chapters to go (I am so close to only having three chapters left to fix) and I can start getting into the major edits again. Story arcs and characters are beginning to be more cohesive and make more sense now so that has encouraged me a bit too. I guess it has taken a bit of a stumble since I decided to cut the book in half and add more major scenes to what I had hoped was the first draft, but that is the name of the game I guess and the major reason why I wanted to self publish in the first place. Being able to tell the tale that I wanted as well as having the luxury (because it really is a luxury) to spend more time writing and editing than would be allowed with a traditional publisher is very important to me. I’m pretty sure if I was traditionally published they would want me to be doing the final line edits by now and would even be having some serious doubts about signing me on for book 3 (let’s be honest, they probably wouldn’t sign me up at this rate). I just have to keep telling myself that this is not a race, that if I really want to improve my writing and do the best job I can possibly achieve, then I should take my time.

In other news of the writing kind I have joined in with another very fun blog tour about our main characters. I have enjoyed hearing about what people have thought about Aethelwin, the main character in TNS1, and I thought that this would be a good opportunity to write my own thoughts on her. I have a bit of a soft spot for Aethelwin and I guess a lot of that comes from her being my own creation, but I also really like her as a character. As I explained in the post she is NOT your typical heroine. She is strong and very opinionated and at times even I was a bit worried that she was treading too fine a line between being likeable and being a misguided … brat. But to me that is what I find fascinating in a character; realistic flaws that go beyond black and white. Strength comes in many different forms and with Aethelwin I wanted to find out when strength or fighting for something you believe in starts to turn sour and makes you into a villain. That isn’t to say she is a villain necessarily, but like the rest of us she makes mistakes and wrong choices. She also makes a small come back in the sequel and I have actually just finished a scene with her in it. It’s been a tough ol’ life for Aethelwin and I think she has finally come to terms with her demons.

And if you are a regular to the blog you will have also noticed that since the beginning of the year I have been posting a bit about Anglo-Saxon buildings and architecture. From the houses of the farmers to the great halls of kings I have tried to find out as much as possible from my own books and on the internet in order to give you a little idea of Aethelwin’s world, and in the process show you that despite being called the dark ages this time period is far from barbaric or rudimentary. This month I have posted a few examples about early churches and monasteries and in next week’s post i’ll go a little into the building of these. Next month I hope to have the last few posts on Anglo-Saxon buildings up, including defensive burhs and trading wics. I also have a few other articles all ready and waiting to go up such as King Alfred, the Viking King Guthrum (baptised as King Aethelstan of East Anglia), and their pact of peace which would eventually lead to the creation of what historians now call the Danelaw.

The history of Jedburgh… and Jedburgh?

The history of Jedburgh especially in the middle and late Medieval period and beyond is fascinating. Being only 12 miles north west of the present English border, like many towns in the borderlands it has found itself caught up with the constant fighting between England and Scotland. The tug of war between the two sides is a well known topic of history that is still felt keenly even today. I don’t have the time or space to go into an in-depth look at Jedburgh’s history during this period and I don’t pretend to know more than the basics anyway, so hopefully you will all forgive me for glossing over this time period quickly. My main interest after all is the Jedburgh, or more accurately the two Jedburgh’s of the 9th century. Continue reading

Blog Hop: Meet my main character

Edoardo Albert at the London Book Fair 2014 (Source: http://www.edoardoalbert.com)

This week I am involved in another blog tour, this time looking at the main character of my novel. I was invited to join by Edoardo Albert, author of many fiction and non-fiction books including “Northumbria: The Lost Kingdom” which … Continue reading

Melrose, a tale of two abbeys

Melrose Abbey (Wikimapia.org)

Scottish Gaelic: Maol Ros Melrose Abbey is one of those beautiful medieval monastic ruins that bring to mind images of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. Or perhaps it is this Scottish abbey’s long association with Robert the Bruce and Sir … Continue reading

May update 2014

Short and sweet post for May. I have been really busy with the day job and all the trivial things that go on in the ‘real world’, so my online presence and writing has taken a bit of a back seat recently. I have several ideas for blog posts, it’s just getting the time to write them. Plus I really need to prioritise writing TNS2. Continue reading


Under the pump a little this month so instead of another in depth article I want to share another long poem from The Northumbrian Saga, one that I like almost as much as The Wanderer but for very different reasons. This one is Viking in origin and is called Rigsthula, or the Lay of Rig. As you will see, Rig is not only adventurous but, shall we say, very friendly with the women he stays with. Behind the poem is the description of Scandinavian social hierarchy, beginning with the thralls or slaves at the very bottom (ugly and calloused from work) to the Jarls and finally Kon or King at the top.

Continue reading

Northumbrian rebellion in 862 and the exile of King Burghred of Mercia

The court of an Anglo-Saxon king (from the 10th-century Junius manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Oxford) (http://www.historytoday.com)

After nearly six months of warfare with Wessex, the pagan army went to London in Mercia for their winter quarters to recuperate. Burghred, the King of Mercia at that time and brother-in-law of King Alfred, purchased a truce from them … Continue reading

The Witan: Trying to keep kings in their place since 5th century AD

A king and his witan (wikipedia)

As I have touched on in a few of the earlier posts, Anglo-Saxon society was based on a hierarchy of kings and their families at the top and everyone else underneath them. So what was keeping these men (and let’s … Continue reading

Bamburgh Castle, home to the kings and earls of Northumbria

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

Even though Bamburgh is only ever mentioned or hinted at in the background of The Northumbrian Saga, it is an important part of the storyline and integral to the history of Northumbria. It is the seat of power for the King of Northumbria, Aethelwin’s uncle, and later becomes the seat of resistance against the Vikings for her brother Wulfstan and the remnants of the Northumbrian survivors. In the sequel that will hopefully be finished by the end of the year, Bamburgh will play a larger role, with even a few scenes centred within the hall there. With this in mind I wanted to share a bit of what I have learnt through researching this centre of medieval power. The more I researched, the more I realised just how important and often overlooked it has been.

Today, visitors to Bamburgh castle are confronted by a large Norman style castle perched atop a distinctive rock of dolerite that overlooks the Northumberland coast. It is a grade 1 listed building popular with tourists and boasting its own museum. Despite its Norman and late medieval appearance, the site is quite ancient. Since at least the first century BC there is evidence for continued habitation at the site until very recently. In fact the surrounding countryside holds evidence for human habitation for 6000 years. Continue reading

My writing process blog tour

Hi everyone. Well you are all very lucky to not only receive two blog posts in two days, but also two writing updates in a month… sort of. I have been tagged in the My writing process blog tour by author Matthew Harffy. The idea is not only to let readers know a few things about your own creative world, but to also link in with the worlds of others. Matthew Harffy and I may write about different time periods but we are linked together by our love of the history of Northumbria, or in Matthew’s case, the Kingdom of Bernicia which joined with Deira to form the Kingdom of Northumbria. You can read all about his writing process and his books here.

Now onto the sacred questions!!!

1) What am I working on? Right now I am working on the sequel to The Northumbrian Saga and a novella set in the period between Books one and two in The Northumbrian Saga Series.

Regular followers of my blog will know that I have recently decided to split the sequel to TNS1 into two books, as the storyline is too big to be condensed. I am a bit excited about this book as it will be written from a male perspective as well as delving into the Viking side of life as opposed to the female Anglo-Saxon view in TNS1. So there are a lot more battle scenes, more politics, more relationships to unravel, and a few cameos from the first book. By the end of the third book a lot will be answered, especially in relation to Ailith, Leodgar and the fate of the northern earls and King Ricsige.

The Novella is set between the two TNS novels and within the kingdom of Northumbria, but with differnt characters. It is a stand alone story based loosely on the ascension of Guthred Hardacnut from slave to King of York and the move of St Cuthberts relics from Lindisfarne around the Kingdom for seven years. It’s a really interesting story and there is even a cameo from the Archbishop of York in TNS1, Wulfhere.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? I think as far as Historical fiction goes as a genre, that before the saxon series by Bernard Cornwell, not many people wrote about this period. Especially when it came to the Kingdom of Northumbria or its history. Scholars and people like myself who have an interest in studying this period of course would have, but the general public still think of the Anglo-Saxon period as a vague time period where not much happened, or they think almost solely of Alfred the Great or the events leading up to 1066. I wanted to bring the earlier time period and one of the lesser known kingdoms into the light and hopefully portray it in a way that more people can enjoy as well as learn.

As far as The Northumbrian Saga goes, it is different in that it is from the perspective of a woman. Don’t get me wrong, I love my battle scenes, but I wanted to stand apart a little from the crowd and perhaps show a different side of the events. I wanted to show how it affected those who were left behind in York while the main Danish army attacked the rest of England. In order to describe the politics of the time, I decided to make Aethelwin a member of the previous royal dynasty, a move that I later realised set me up very nicely for book 3. She is a strong and tough woman with the best of intentions, however she is not your usual heroine. Her fight for Northumbria begins to border on the fanatical and in the end almost loses all of her chances of happiness for herself and others.

3) Why do I write what I do? I guess I kind of answered that above. I just find the time period fascinating. There is so much information out there if you only look. Of course there was once a time when the term Dark Ages was a justifiable term, but in the last ten years at the very least there has been so much uncovered by archaeologists and historians. Plus people are genuinely interested in this era. I have already mentioned the hugely popular series by Bernard Cornwell, but also the History Channel’s Vikings series, Thor, and many other books by authors such as Giles Kristian, Patricia Bracewell, Carol McGrath, Heather Day Gilbert, Paula Lofting, Nicola Griffith, John Snow, Peter Whitaker, Gina Conkle, A J Sefton, Jason Born, Matthew Harffy… honestly the list goes on and on. So that is why I write what I do. Because I want to join these people in bringing a little more awareness to the early medieval period, because it fascinates me and I love learning about it, and because writing is a hell of a lot cheaper than therapy!


4) How does my writing process work? I think this is one of the most annoying and ambiguous questions there are. Mainly because my process changes from day to day and depends on what I am working on (stages of novel or even blog posts or other ideas). I write whenever I have time. I prefer to work in the lounge on the sofa because it’s more comfy than the study (I know, but it is more of a junk room now), and it’s closer to the kitchen and has better light. Plus sofas are extremely useful for spreading out reference books and notepads on. I usually do more writing at night than first thing in the morning for some reason, but if I get a chance I can work during the day. And… well, as far as layout goes, I research and outline first to get the bare bones of the historical timeline sorted, then usually as i’m doing this I get ideas and inspiration for characters and scenes that I then weave in and out of the historical timeline. Then I flesh it out on Scrivener (God send, truly) and then spend what seems like an eternity editing. All through this I pepper thousands of cups of coffee and, don’t judge, sometimes if i’m writing after (or during) dinner I write with a glass of wine. Although usually I am not classy enough to have a red on standby so I have Jim Beam and cola. You would too. Writing is harder than you think!

So there you have it. That is all she wrote, for now.

But don’t despair, if you want to know more about the creative endeavours of writers, then there here are some more that you can check out in the blog hop.

jai Baidell blog hop Jai Baidell lives in Canberra, Australia, a very long way from the beach, and writes the blog Canberra—real place, real people. Jai has published two novels, The Corrieva Contract and The Hallami Deal.








Helena P. Schrader earned a PhD in History from University of Hamburg. As a novelist, she has focused on historical fiction and biographical fiction set in Ancient Sparta, the Middle Ages and World War Two (WWII). Visit her website:  http://www.helenapschrader.com for a complete, description and reviews of her publications, or follow her blog:  http://schradershistoricalfiction.blogspot.com for updates on current works in progress. For more on the Middle Ages visit: http://www.talesofchivalry.com or follow her blog on the Crusader Kingdoms at: Defending the Crusader Kingdoms


Stuart Anderson writes a blog that showcases his love of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy & Horror genres. It was originally started 18 months ago just as a means for him to scribble a few thoughts and self-indulgent opinions on some of his favourite movies etc – all intended with a fair modicum of self-depreciating humour. He doesn’t take himself too seriously!

 However, quite unintentionally the blog has morphed into something quite different with the opportunity to review new works and to interview a whole range of people (some well known, some not so well known) within the genre’s mainstream and the more obscure fair! Supporting British productions and the independent-minded.

jen christopherson

Jen Christopherson is a person of dreams, realistic and extraordinary. Her favorite hobby is to read and her passion for writing is unparalleled. Nothing can stop her when she gets an idea and that is not necessarily a bad thing. She can be stubborn, bullheaded, and, sometimes, even sarcastic, but there is no better person to be around when she is in a good mood. As a child, she read a library and then wrote a library.

And don’t forget, if you enjoyed this post or any other, vote for A H Gray in the Best Australian Blog Awards