Book Corner: Interview with Annie Whitehead

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Annie Whitehead to the blog. Annie’s latest book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England, was also released yesterday.

Our books are twins!

Both books were commissioned, written and submitted at within days of each other. It has been a bit of a roller coaster experience, with the advent of the Corona virus. In order to get the books published on time, it was decided that they would be released in paperback first. But at the last minute, Pen & Sword changed their minds and went for the hardback release. As a result, the books look fabulous!

For me, it has been that bit more special, having Annie and her book taking the journey with us – having someone to talk to, who was going through the same experience – has made all the difference.

Annie and I have done an interview swap where we each answer the same questions, just to give you an idea of who we are and what we write.

You can find my interview over on Annie’s blog.

What motivated you to write the book?

I’d already written about a few of these women both in fiction and nonfiction. My first novel, To Be A Queen, tells the life story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians and my second, Alvar the Kingmaker, features Queen Ælfthryth, said to be the first crowned consort of an English king, and Queen Ælfgifu, who was accused of getting into bed, quite literally, with her husband and her mother. My third novel, Cometh the Hour, also has some strong, influential women in it, from King Penda’s wife, who was left in charge of a kingdom, to various queens and abbesses who made important policy decisions and had direct influence on the men in charge; women like St Hild, for example, founder of Whitby Abbey. My first nonfiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, featured some equally powerful and notorious women, so I suppose this new book was inevitable.

The idea was to tell the stories of these women, with minimal reference to the men, and discover all I could about them. There are over 130 named women in the book, most of them royal wives, sisters and daughters, and some of them women who are familiar to us – Lady Godiva, for example – who weren’t royal but still left their mark on history.

What were the research challenges?

Tracking them down! The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle sometimes mentions them but, up to the arrival on the shores of Emma of Normandy in the 11th Century, there are fewer than 20 instances in that chronicle where the women are named. However, a lot can sometimes be deduced: Wulfrun is named as a hostage taken by the ‘Vikings’ and from this it’s clear that she was high status. Luckily we don’t have to rely on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and through other sources we discover that she was the lady after whom Wolverhampton was named and that her son was known as Wulfrun’s son, rather than his father’s. So there’s a whole other story; was his father somehow disgraced? Of lesser status than Wulfrun? When doing this kind of research it’s as well to be prepared to drop down plenty of ‘rabbit holes’!

The other challenge is keeping pace with the archaeological discoveries, of which there were more than a few while I was writing the book. Often I had to add details to footnotes, because the editing process was too far advanced to allow me to alter the main text. All were truly exciting discoveries, including the siting of the original Anglo-Saxon abbeys at Coldingham, and at Lyminge in Kent, the possible identification of Queen Emma’s bones in Winchester and the fascinating tale of the blue-toothed nun, who, it’s believed, stained her teeth by licking her paintbrush whilst working on illuminated manuscripts. Here was yet more evidence that women worked as scribes.

Do you have a particular favourite amongst the women you’ve written about?

Too many to choose, really. Because I’ve written so much about her already, I suppose most people might expect me to say Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, but there are some others whom I grew to like and/or admire. Among them would be Eanflæd, Queen of Northumbria, for sheer determination and overcoming personal loss. She travelled north from Kent, no small undertaking, to marry a man who murdered one of her kinsman. She demanded, and received, recompense for that. She outlived most of her children, which must have been heart-breaking (although mercifully she had died by the time her adult daughter was murdered) and most likely had to tolerate her husband’s infidelity and fathering of at least one illegitimate child. She sponsored the career of St Wilfrid and it’s clear that she ran her own, separate, and highly influential household.

Other women brought a wry smile to my face, such as Queen Æthelburh who arranged for her servants deliberately to trash the royal residence while she and the king were out one day, so that she could demonstrate to him the transience of earthly pleasures. She gets the briefest of mentions in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but what a mention – she razed a town to the ground. We’re not told the circumstances, but I think it’s fair to assume she was a woman with a lot of personality and fortitude!

Another lady who intrigued me was Siflæd. We know about some noblewomen because their wills are extant. Siflæd is unusual because she left not one, but two wills. It seems as if one was made before she went off on her travels ‘across the sea’. I’d love to know where she went, and what sort of adventures she had. I think of her as the original ‘merry widow’, setting her affairs in order at home before going off gallivanting.

Can you tell us briefly about your other books?

As well as the novels and the nonfiction book I mentioned earlier, I contributed to 1066 Turned Upside Down, in which nine authors re-imagined the events of 1066. Lady Godiva featured in my story, as the elderly matriarch of a powerful Mercian family. She’s often thought of as a young woman – erroneously in my view – riding naked through Coventry but she lived to a ripe old age and was a witness to many extraordinary events.

What’s next?

I’ve just finished a collection of short stories about women in history, and am part of the Historical Fictioneers Co-operative who will be producing an anthology of stories centred on the theme of betrayal, for which I’m contributing a tale of scandal from the tenth century. I’ll also be writing the follow-up to Cometh the Hour, which will feature the sons and daughters of King Penda of Mercia and his nemesis, King Oswiu of Northumbria.

Finally, where can people find you on Social Media and where can they buy your books?

Book http://mybook.to/WomeninPower

Amazon http://viewauthor.at/Annie-Whitehead

Blog https://anniewhitehead2.blogspot.com/ 

Twitter https://twitter.com/AnnieWHistory

Website https://anniewhiteheadauthor.co.uk/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/anniewhiteheadauthor/

I would like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to Annie for taking the time to give such wonderful answers and wish her every success with Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England. Look for my review of this wonderful book, coming in the next few days.

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My Books

Out Now!

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Pen & SwordAmazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide. It will be released in the US on 2 September and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.

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©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Annie Whitehead

Book Corner: Warrior of Woden by Matthew Harffy

AD 642. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fifth instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Oswald has reigned over Northumbria for eight years and Beobrand has led the king to ever greater victories. Rewarded for his fealty and prowess in battle, Beobrand is now a wealthy warlord, with a sizable warband. Tales of Beobrand’s fearsome black-shielded warriors and the great treasure he has amassed are told throughout the halls of the land.

Many are the kings who bow to Oswald. And yet there are those who look upon his realm with a covetous eye. And there is one ruler who will never kneel before him.

When Penda of Mercia, the great killer of kings, invades Northumbria, Beobrand is once more called upon to stand in an epic battle where the blood of many will be shed in defence of the kingdom.

But in this climactic clash between the pagan Penda and the Christian Oswald there is much more at stake than sovereignty. This is a battle for the very souls of the people of Albion.

I have had the good fortune of reading each book in Matthew Harffy’s series as soon as it has been released (and often before) and have been amazed and  impressed with each one. And Warrior of Woden is no exception. This has to be Matthew Harffy’s best book yet!

The Bernicia Chronicles are set in seventh century Northumbria and follow the exploits of Beobrand, a warlord from Kent who has made his home in Northumbria. In the series so far, we have watched him grow from a young fighter to one of the most feared warriors in Britain. He is loyal to his family, his followers and his king, he has loved, lost, fought and killed. Beobrand as a character is all-too human, however, every loss affects him and helps him develop not only as a leader in his world, but as a character in the book.

Beobrand slapped the shoulder of the stocky man to his right.

“Acennan, take command of the men.” Acennan did not speak, but nodded his understanding.

“Cynan, with me,” Beobrand said, his tone a sharp bark of command.

Trusting that the younger warrior would obey, Beobrand left his position in the Northumbrian shieldwall and rushed along the lines, elbowing and pushing men aside with his bulk.

“See that cross is held aloft,” Beobrand hissed. “Whatever happens, do not let that rood fall. And Cynan,” he gripped Cynan’s shoulder tightly, halting his onward rush, “the king has not fallen. Do you hear me?”

Cynan stared wide-eyed at him for a moment before nodding. Beobrand left the Waelisc warrior to his task and pushed forward towards the king. His stomach roiled but he took some comfort when, from the corner of his eye, he noted that the carved wood cross rose once more into the sky, casting its long shadow over the icy ground and the fyrd-men gathered there. He knew he could rely on Cynan. The erstwhile thrall had proven his worth many times over since he had joined Beobrand’s warband three years before.

The shieldwall was closing ranks, regaining some order at the bellowed commands of Derian, Oswald’s battle-leader. Beobrand thanked the gods for the man. The bearded thegn knew his work. There was no warrior more doughty; none more steadfast. The shieldwall would not be allowed to break while Derian yet breathed.

Two men were half-dragging Oswald back from the front of the line.

“I must stand,” Oswald protested, his voice muffled by the ornate faceplate of his grimhelm. “I will not retreat from this rabble. In God’s name, I must fight. Unhand me! I command it.”

The warriors, who had been pulling the king backward, paused, unsure of themselves. They relaxed their grip on Oswald. His legs buckled and he almost fell to the cold earth. Beobrand leapt forward and caught him. Around them, men shuffled back to make room for their king.

 

After years of warfare, Beobrand has seen almost everything, but the world still has a few surprises for him and in Warrior of Woden, he sees some of the worst humanity can do. Matthew Harffy does a remarkable job of seamlessly fitting Beobrand into the timeline of actual events, whilst giving him a story that is entirely his own, so that the reader cannot discern where history ends and fiction begins. Each character has their own distinguished style, in language, fighting and his relationship with Beobrand. Beobrand’s enemies are as individual as his friends; each relationship is well thought through and unique. You find yourself thinking ‘I knew Beobrand would react like that’.

As the chief protagonist, Beobrand is a hero we can all relate too. He is a strong, confident leader in battle, trusted by his men to not throw their lives away needlessly. He leads his men to victory but worries that he it’s not a good father and knows he could be a better boyfriend. Some things have never changed down the centuries! He has his foibles, which is want makes him believable and likeable as a hero.

Warrior of Woden is that it immerses the reader in the era. The language the author uses invokes the time period without being archaic, leaving the reader with a deep sense that they have been transported to the seventh century. You can almost hear the clash of swords, shields and axes, smell that tang of blood in your nose. The fighting is vicious and brutal, but the relationships between Beobrand and his men, and Beobrand and his family, create a dual story of men at war and men at home.

This book has that ‘je ne sais quoi’ which makes it impossible to put down. From the first page, the action is non-stop, the intrigue and action keep you hooked to the very end. To put it simply, The Bernicia Chronicles get better and better with every instalment – and I am desperate to read the next.

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About the author: Matthew Harffy grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

Books in the series: Serpent Sword; The Cross and The Curse; Blood and Blade; Killer of Kings and the short story, Kin of Cain.

Warrior of Woden, Book 5 in the Bernicia Chronicles, is  available from 1st April 2018, on Amazon.

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My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018. It can also be ordered worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly