It was a long time coming…

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…but well worth the wait. Here is what the Flemish author of the award winning crime novel Baudelair’s Revenge – Bob Van Laerhoven, had to say about my extremely short historical novella Autumn 1066.

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As a Fleming, I knew that my knowledge of Britain’s entry into the Middle Ages was sketchy before I started reading Jack Eason’s Autumn 1066, but, after having read his novella, I must admit that it was also based on clichés and vague concepts. Autumn 1066 remedied this thoroughly. Eason has the gift of condensing and presenting historical facts in such a way that, although manifold and thoroughly researched, they hinder in no way the suspense of his war-story. Eason paints a clear portrait of the growing tensions between various factions competing for the throne, and the leaders of  various armies, but also of the common soldiers, ordinary men who were forced to fight the wars of the nobility.  For his vivid, and shocking, description of the battlefields, Eason focuses on two such ordinary warriors, Aldred and Cynric.  When he describes the man-to-man fights and the deadly swarms of arrows, the reader can actually feel the fear and the agony of the warriors. In spite of the extensive historical background, Eason’s cast of characters, high and low, doesn’t degrade into stereotypes. They remain people like you and me, tackling life as best as they can when they are poor, and victims of greed and the overwhelming desire for power when they are rich. Writing historical fiction is all about keeping equilibrium between a passionate story and historical facts.  Jack Eason has done that remarkably well.

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Hopefully Bob’s review will appear soon on all Amazon sites. So if he and Sally Cronin can deliver, why can’t everyone else who promised to write a review!

By the way, I uploaded the Kindle version yesterday at the KDP base price of US$2.99. Depending which Amazon outlet you use, determines the price you will pay. But if your quick off the mark, you will be able to get yourselves a free copy tomorrow (Friday 30th June 2017) and (Saturday 1st July 2017).

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It’s no good…

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…I’ve got to get people interested in my latest novella Autumn 1066 somehow. So, here is the opening chapter as a teaser.

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Down the centuries, particularly during the period known as the ‘Dark Ages’, the British Isles was always seen by invaders as a legitimate target for exploitation. This novella concerns the last few weeks of Anglo-Saxon dominance, ending on the 14th of October, 1066.

Chapter One

Aldred shivered in his blanket beneath his shield. The weak light of dawn began to illuminate where the warriors of the Fyrd slept in a series of shallow frosty depressions on either side of Ermine Street, the old Roman road. The ancient route stretched from London to Lincoln and on to York. Where they were was a mix of open grassland and salt marsh. In this part of England, there was precious little cover for the countless number of housecarls and thegns already following King Harold northward. The flat landscape Aldred lay shivering in, is typical of the waterlogged fenlands in the northern part of the shires of Cambridge and Norfolk as well as those of the East Midlands.

By the time they eventually arrived at their destination there would be no hiding the swelling ranks of the Anglo-Saxon Fyrd, which steadily increased in number with every mile, as they marched northward. In an attempt to make the army far less conspicuous, at least from a distance, the king banned anyone from lighting a fire at night to cook and to keep warm, on pain of death. For the moment at least, surprise was still on his side. The further north they marched, the greater was the chance that enemy spies would soon spot their approach. The glow of a fire, even hazy wisps of smoke, could so easily be spotted at a distance or smelt on the wind by anyone on the lookout for any sign of the King’s approach. Especially on a cool clear September day like today. With daylight steadily increasing, the king’s older brother, Gyrth, the Earl of East Anglia, would soon begin the rounds by kicking the backsides of Harold’s housecarls, who in turn would wake the thegns of the Fyrd in a similar rough manner for what lay ahead.

Only a few days earlier, troubling news had reached Harold Godwinson at the palace of Westminster in London after he had been elected king by the Witan in accordance with Edward the confessor’s dying wish, naming Harold as his legitimate heir over that of his teenage nephew Edgar Ǽtheling.

Harold’s banished brother Tostig and the Norwegian King, Harald Sigurdsson, known as Hardradå (hard ruler) by his warriors, had joined forces in southern Scotland, after his large invasion fleet of three hundred long ships manned by warriors eager for battle, had just arrived. Tostig’s smaller contingent of Norman mercenaries, loaned to him by Duke William of Normandy, soon joined the fleet, while Tostig was temporarily elsewhere.

The disgraced Anglo-Saxon earl had set off to recruit Scots mercenaries of his own after first crossing the North Sea to the Low Countries to obtain additional Flemish warriors from his father-in law. Now that he was back, Tostig was impatient to be on the move to reclaim his earldom in Northumbria. To his astonishment and annoyance, the seasoned Norwegian campaigner was in no hurry. As far as Harald was concerned, he had more pressing matters on his mind.

A few weeks earlier, Tostig had set off from Normandy with Duke William’s blessing to retake his lands in Northumbria in exchange for promising him his support for what was seen by William as his legitimate claim to the English crown. Hardradå’s reason for invasion was also to lay his own claim to the English crown. Both William and Harald shared a common ancestor with Harold Godwinson in the Dane Canute who had previously ruled England. For his part, Tostig wanted his brother either driven from England’s shores forever, or executed. Not entirely sure that William had the stomach for the task at hand, meant that encouraging the bloodthirsty Norwegian king to do the deed was probably the better option.

Tostig first landed on the Isle of Wight where his men ran amok among the local Anglo-Saxon population. Eventually he and his small force of Normans were routed by an overwhelming force when word of an invasion rapidly spread across the island. This left him no choice but to head back out to sea to travel up England’s east coast to seek a temporary safe haven. On his eventual arrival in southern Scotland he immediately swore fealty to the terrifyingly short tempered Norwegian king, purely for fear of his own life.

~~~

Aldred kicked the shin of the shivering youth sleeping with his back to him. Cynric still had his arms wrapped lovingly around his longbow, minus its plaited and bound bowstring made from deer sinew. Whenever the temperature fell below freezing, he always kept it inside his shirt next to his skin to keep it pliable. His quiver of fire hardened, hazel shafted arrows with Goose feather fletchings, each bearing his mark as their manufacturer, lay across his crotch.

“Come on lad wake up!” Before they left to join the Fyrd, Aldred had promised his sister that he would look after his nephew, since the youth had been told by their Housecarl Betlic, that he was now old enough to serve the king in time of war. Growing up, Cynric had made a name for himself in the small farming community where both he, his mother and uncle lived in the southern part of the shire of Cambridge. His reputation as a meticulous fletcher, together with being an excellent shot when it came to hunting wolves or boar with his grandfather’s well-seasoned Yew longbow, spread far and wide.

“I’ve never been so far away from home before uncle. Where are we?” Cynric yawned before adding, “have you got anything to eat? I’m hungry.”

“We’re barely a day’s march from home lad. You’d know that if you kept your mind on why we’re here. Now come on, shift yourself daydreamer. If you’re hungry, nibble on one of your mother’s excellent oatcakes.”

“But they dry my mouth out! Haven’t we got anything else to eat uncle?”

“No! Now bite off a small bit and chew it slowly. Better that than what you usually do at home!” Aldred growled. “Get a shift on and join the rest of the Fyrd. The king still has to recruit more thegns, housecarls and their levies from Northampton, Rutland and Lincoln before we reach the river Humber. If your belly is still complaining after the piece of oatcake we can always find something else to eat along the roadside. For god’s sake boy – shift yourself! I’m damned if I’m being punished by Betlic because you want to drag your heels to admire a tree! While you’re at it, remember that from now on, before we start out each morning you’d best string your bow. The king may have need of it before the day is over,” Aldred replied while shouldering his shield, and hefting his spear. As they set off he checked that his father’s scramasax was secure at his belt, as well as his trusty all-purpose seax.

“How much farther north are we going uncle?”

“I’ve already told you all I know. We’re heading for the Humber! It’s not for the likes of you and me to question where or why we’re heading there. You’re in the king’s Fyrd now! We just follow orders lad. When the time comes, I’ve no doubt we will fight alongside king Harold.”

As the Fyrd began marching behind Harold’s horse and those of his brothers, Gyrth, the earl of East Anglia, and Leofwine, the earl of Kent, friendly banter could be heard breaking out among the ranks.

“What do you think Beadurof?” Colby wondered.

“About what?”

“The shapely hips on the comely wench yonder. Hey Aldred, we’re glad you brought your beautiful niece with you,” Colby added, “Oh Beadurof my heart is rapidly beating. Will you just look at the way her hips swing and sway?” he sighed. “Not to mention how the cheeks of her beautiful backside quivers as she walks. Very desirable, don’t you think?”

“Well if she gets cold sleeping on her own tonight or any other night from now on, I’ll fight you for the honour of protecting her Colby. I’ll keep her warm at night, always providing she lets me have my way with her that is. What say you my beauty? Do you want to be the lover of a lusty man with fire in his veins?” Beadurof replied with a huge grin as he blew a kiss in Cynric’ general direction while continually thrusting his crotch back and forth.

Aldred bit his tongue as he fought hard not to smile. When viewed from behind, because of his slender build, long blond hair and tender years, his nephew could so easily be mistaken for a young female at a distance. Smirking to himself, he briefly glanced in his direction. Cynric’s face flushed bright red with anger at the good natured jibe by his uncle’s oldest friends.

~~~

If after reading the opening chapter, you wish to read the entire story, click on either of the following links to buy a copy, or go to the amazon link relevant to your country:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Don’t forget to write and post a review for it on the Amazon link you bought it from. Far too many good stories like Autumn 1066 fall by the wayside, due to public apathy these days…

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What it takes to write a book

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I’m taking one of my frequent breaks while writing my latest story to reveal how I go about doing it. I’ve spent the last twenty-two years honing the particular method that works for me.

First I write a paragraph. Then I take a cold hard look at the words I’ve written, in particular their order as I’m doing right now while writing this post. It is at this point that I begin to edit the words written, not only for ease of reading, but also from the point of view of spacing, capitalization when required, spelling, grammar and punctuation. While at the same time asking myself what other words can I use that mean the exact same thing, but still clearly convey my meaning to the reader, bearing in mind that there is alway more than one way to say something.

There is only one method when it comes to writing to be avoided at all costs. Sitting in front of your exercise book, typewriter or computer kidding yourself that by churning out thousands of words per day, that somehow by osmosis, doing so makes you a writer. It doesn’t! For the serious independent writer like myself, this line of thinking is a complete fallacy!

In the end all you have achieved is a big mess for someone else to fix, when you should have cleaned the manuscript up yourself before presenting it to your editor, if you use one!

All you have to do is think back to those bad marks you got in class for handing in sloppy work when you presented your essay or composition to your teacher? In this instance imagine that your editor is that teacher, wearing his or her ‘we are not amused’ expression on his or her face, at the prospect of having to make sense of your rambling manuscript…

We all see prime examples on a daily basis right here in the Blogosphere. If you can’t write an error free blog post, what makes you think you can write an error free book manuscript?

NaNoWriMo and other get it down quick notions have a lot to answer for! I’m pretty sure the concept was dreamt up by someone with an obsessive-compulsive disorder. 😉

Once you are finally happy with the paragraph, move on to the next and repeat each step I have mentioned. If your word count reaches somewhere between two hundred and fifty and five hundred words using this method, take it from me you have done a good day’s work.

Why do I limit the number of words I write each day? Simple – a little thing I call brain-fade! Ask yourself how long you can work at 100% capacity before you lose your concentration. This is precisely the reason why I constantly stop what I’m doing to take a breather. What you have to learn is to walk away from it! Go and make yourself a drink or get something to eat. In other words distract yourself. You can always return to it later. I normally work for no more than two hours at a stretch each and every day until I’ve reached the last word in the manuscript.

Each morning when I switch this laptop on, I open the Word file I’m using and once again begin the editing process by reading through what I’ve previously written. Often I see something that needs to be changed. Once I have corrected any mistakes during the daily read through, I can then begin to write the next paragraph.

See, its simple if you know how. My method of constant editing is not for everyone, but it works for me. Remember what I said earlier – a high daily word count is not a good thing unless you have no choice ie, you are a contracted writer for one of the big five publishing houses, where time is money and badly written manuscripts are the norm…

There is one last point for you to consider, turn off the in house spelling or grammar checkers within any writing software package you use. There is no substitute for having a dictionary like the Oxford English and its thesaurus close at hand. Learn to rely on the mark one eyeball like every writer worth their salt does.

PS – right that’s it, lesson over…

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So you think you can write a book…

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Big deal – so what?

If you put your mind to it, anyone can. What you have to ask yourself is whether or not more than a dozen people will actually want to read it? Reality dictates that invariably the answer will be probably not. So what do you as a writer seriously need to consider before writing word one?

Firstly If writing is merely a hobby with you, read no further… Secondly, find out which of the genres is currently popular? Thirdly, is it the genre for you, and more to the point, can you write in it? Fourthly and most important of all, is your standard of writing of sufficient quality? In other words does it meet acceptable standards? A lot of what is currently on offer fail miserably when it comes to the fourth in my list. I mentioned this in today’s previous post when I said that Amazon’s virtual book shelves are littered with millions of books no one other than the author’s family and friends want to read.

Despite its subject, not to mention the appallingly bad way in which it was written, the glaring example of what is considered to be a page turner these days is still E.L James’ first novel Fifty Shades of Grey. Purely from a literary point of view it was a poorly edited absolute shocker. Yet millions of people across the world bought, read and praised it, which just goes to show that there is no accounting for taste. Hollywood saw it as a money maker and turned it into a movie. Despite receiving generally unfavorable reviews, it was an immediate box office success, breaking numerous records and earning over US$571 million worldwide. What does this say about the general public’s literary taste? Not very much! To be frank they wouldn’t know a good story if it bit them in the backside! I’ll tell you what it says about today’s crop of books – when it comes to what constitutes a page turner, the answer is entirely in the lap of the gods!

So what can we deduce from the above example? That when considering what the reading public believe is a book worthy of their time, there are no guarantees. All any of us can hope to do is write our hearts out, even though the number of writers who can honestly say that they can make a living from participating in our calling are few and far between.

While your friends may love what you have written, unless at the very least it sells multiples of a hundred thousand copies, it is just another instantly forgettable book. I’m sorry but there it is. As fiction writer’s we’re lucky if one of our titles makes the grade.

Should all I have just said put you off wanting to write? Absolutely not. Your safe until you take a deep breath and decide to publish. By publish I’m not talking about posting a short story on your blog. Instead I’m talking about taking the deliberate step to expose your work to often cruel, not to say downright hostile criticism. Sadly the latter is the only gauge you have to let you know if you have what it takes to be a full time writer? Participating in writing workshops or reading groups is no indicator as to whether or not you are made of stern stuff. In both cases from the driven writer’s point of view participation in either is a waste of time. Take it from me, when I say that our calling is not for the faint hearted or the starry-eyed dreamer or the get rich quick fraternity. It is not to be entered into lightly. Why? Because it is one of the harshest working environments known to man.

PS – one last thought, many of today’s editors and small press publishers started out as starry-eyed writers who quit when the going got tough, unable to handle all the flack that inevitably comes our way when we publish. I’ve said the following on more than one occasion in the past – to be a writer you need the hide of a rhinoceros and a determination to succeed despite the critics…

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Totally Irrational Thinking

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The one thing that every writer, whether traditional or Indie, whose books are published in e-book form have in common, particularly in non American markets like here in the land of the literary curmudgeon where the printed book is still preferred, is the vehement prejudice against the relatively new publishing format we choose to use. Because they hate the idea of the e-book, they are missing out on so many great tales. Whether they like it or not, the e-book is the next evolution in the history of publishing.

As far as they are concerned, if they can’t hold a book in their hands and physically turn the pages, from their completely illogical point of view the electronic file is not a proper book.

What utter bilge!

I wonder if any of them realise how totally irrational they sound? Whether they like it or not the e-book is here to stay.

Before the first seed change in publishing occurred when the printing press was introduced to the UK in the fifteenth century by William Caxton, the only way itinerant storytellers could pass on their stories was by word by mouth. What the printing press did was to collect their stories in one place, the printed book, for everyone that could read and write, long after the stories would have disappeared when the storyteller eventually died.

Despite the gate keepers, today’s storytellers can be published in a format available to literally everyone who owns a smart phone, laptop, desktop, tablet or a purpose-built ereader such as the Kindle. What the traditionalist stick in the mud’s simply fail to understand is that they are a rapidly diminishing minority.

From the point of view of today’s publishers, it makes good financial sense to publish in e-book form rather than paper. This is a second seed change in publishing that is slowly being accepted by all five major publishing houses. From their point of view, if an e-book doesn’t sell they haven’t lost much financially, unlike remaindering, where to sell the printed copies in stock they have to offer them at a much cheaper price. Either that or pulp thousands of them after taking a financial gamble on what they thought would be the next best seller.

If the publishing houses fully adopt the e-book, it would not surprise me in the least if they cease incentive payments in the form of a financial advance to writers they are considering signing up in the future. Every publishing house is driven by the fact that to remain solvent, above all else they must make a profit. If they spend a lot of money on their stable of writers, they need to recoup it for every book they publish before they show a profit and can afford to pay out royalties. That simply does not occur with an e-book…

A thought just occurred. Maybe the reason why curmudgeons hate the e-book so much is because they cannot bend the ereader back on its spine like a paperback, nor fold the top corner of a page over to act as a book mark. What do you think, am I right??

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It’s for you to decide…

Well 2017 is only a few days away, and I’m toying with the idea of writing a sequel. My problem here is which of my more recent books demands one. It can’t be Race Against Time

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…because I’ve already written it – The Forgotten Age.

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Nor will it be Goblin Tales because I’m still working on a new edition when the mood takes me.

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Now here’s where you all come in. Perhaps you would like me to write a sequel for Céleste. After all I did finish the first book about her and Apkallu’s crew rather abruptly, with many unanswered questions, now didn’t I? Or maybe I should write a sequel to the sequel The Forgotten Age. If you remember I left the hero trapped in a hermetically sealed room somewhere beneath the Giza Plateau!!!

It’s up to you to decide. I certainly don’t want to, they’re both good stories!

Don’t just read this and hit like or not as is your want. Feel free to offer your opinions. On the other hand if as usual I hear nothing back from the vast majority of this blog’s followers, I’ll know I’m just wasting my time once again. In which case guess what? You get no sequel!

PS – In the meantime feel free to click on the covers…

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Newsflash – out of 612 followers of this blog, 18 bothered to look at the above post. 13 liked it. 3 took up my invitation to vote. Says it all really…

Cataclysm

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The following is the opening scene in another scifi novella of mine, born out of one of my short stories. Imagine if you will, meeting someone who to all intent and purpose, looks and acts like a woman, but isn’t. Imagine falling in love with her, or should that read in lust? Put yourself in the shoes of the story’s extremely naive hero. How would you react to her, let alone what is happening across the world?

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When the breakthrough finally happened in September 2097, Dr Gilbert Briggs, the new head of the UK Advanced Science Institute, based in the English city of Norwich, volunteered to be the first human guinea pig. No one knew if he would survive. The Institute’s more senior academics instantly took a dislike to him, mainly because of his youth and fresh approach to experimental science. Since becoming his subordinates, they all secretly hoped he would be disassembled on a molecular level forever. As the boss, he was adamant that no one but him would be the first to travel back in time.

Three years earlier he had been employed as a very junior postdoctoral researcher at the Institute when the rudiments of time travel shifted from pure theory to a practical attempt at building a working device. There was one thing none of his detractors could deny, no matter how much they may loath him – he was a gifted academic with a superb analytical mind. He had achieved two first class doctorates at the University of East Anglia, one in theoretical physics, and the other in experimental electrical engineering.

For years the only attempt at time travel in its other guise, teleportation, barely succeeded when a few particles were moved from one teleporter to another. Whether or not they had altered irrevocably was the subject of much debate within the academic world back in the first decade of this the twenty-first century. Up until that moment teleportation was only possible within the realms of science fiction. But like all the fantastic, seemingly impossible things dreamt up by imaginative writers, time travel was about to become a reality.

The successful breakthrough was finally achieved when a laboratory rat was sent from one teleportation unit, lost for a few brief seconds, before reappearing at the other unit, seemingly unharmed by the experience. That was five years ago. Now the long awaited next step could be taken thanks to Briggs’ brilliant breakthrough – the Teleportation Gate.

The time had come to send a human test subject to a place and time in the past and return them intact to the present. The notion of travelling forward in time was ruled out simply because without a reference point in the future, there was no guaranteeing that it would be successful. Common sense dictated that at least by choosing a known place and time in the past, the chances of success were almost assured.

The Institute’s most senior academic, Professor Malcolm, exhibited his academic jealousy by sharing his grave misgivings over his former juniors’ momentous breakthrough with anyone who would listen, largely without success. Since the movers and shakers in the academic world had shifted their gaze away from him towards young Briggs, Malcolm did his level best through his dwindling contacts in the academic old boy’s network to expose him as nothing more than a charlatan and an upstart. While publically backing his young boss; privately, like his colleagues, he hoped Briggs would die during the inaugural attempt.

~~~

Briggs was suitably attired for the occasion in clothes of the period he was about to go to. All evidence of anything twenty-first century was removed from him. The only item he would take from the present was the minute electronic device, another of his innovative designs, which in effect was a miniaturised homing beacon that sat hidden beneath the skin at the nape of his neck, enabling the Institute technicians to lock on, and hopefully return him.

Briggs was being sent back to eleventh century England. His mission was to observe all that unfolded on the momentous day at Hastings when the decisive battle of the Norman invasion took place. Even though the battle is well documented, how true the reports actually were was anyone’s guess. If nothing else, at least he would separate fact from poetic license. It was heavily emphasised by the Institute’s historical research department that under no circumstances was he to participate in any way shape or form other than mere observation. Should he do so, he may inadvertently change history.

Briggs was about to step into the unknown. Gathering up his leather shoulder bag and wooden staff, with trepidation he strode towards the Teleportation Gate. The operators checked that his chip’s homing signal was being received, before pre-setting the destination date and place. Nodding that he was ready, he stood patiently waiting for the process to begin. The technicians checked over all of the Gate’s failsafe systems one last time. Then at his command, the teleporter’s power slowly began to build.

His body began to tingle, not in an unpleasant way. Every atom of his very being was excited by the process as the Gate slowly disassembled him before sending him back in time.

~~~

Before he realized it he found himself standing on a small mound at the edge of the Great Weald – the massive forest that still covered the English countryside back then, behind Senlac ridge where the Anglo-Saxon army’s vast shield wall stood. The date was October 14th 1066.

His mind drew comparisons between the empty eleventh century countryside he was now observing and the heavily populated East Sussex of the late twenty-first century that he knew. Taking a deep breath of sweet unpolluted fresh air, he lifted his hand to shield his eyes while taking in the scene before him.

In the far distance immediately below where the Anglo-Saxon army stood defiant, Briggs could see Norman cavalrymen on their horses. Behind them were the foot soldiers and archers of the invading army from across the Channel.

By landing his invasion force at Pevensey, Duke William of Normandy had forced England’s King Harold into a bloody showdown. His Norman army marched the relatively few kilometres up from the beach after hearing that Harold had just arrived and was assembling his army in readiness for battle.

Briggs stared in utter amazement at the very real, and tall figure, out of England’s historical past – the Anglo-Saxon king Harold, seated on his horse a little way behind his shield wall.

A body of heavily armed bearded fyrdmen walked out of the forest behind Briggs bringing him back to reality. “What are you doing here lad? You should be down there with our brothers, not skulking up here on the hill like a coward!”

Briggs felt rough hands haul him to his feet. A spear point dug into his back as he was prodded down the hill towards the shield wall. Despite the passage of time, Briggs could understand the old English that his accuser spoke, or at least enough of the words to get the sense of what he was saying.

“Here’s another volunteer my lord,” his accuser informed Earl Gyrth, brother of King Harold, and the Housecarl in charge of the shield wall. A sword and shield were thrust into Brigg’s unwilling hands…

~~~

If you want to know what happens next, you know what to do. Buy your copy from your nearest Amazon outlet. One other thing, don’t forget that if you do enjoy it – review it! The following links are the two main ones:

Amazon.com

and

Amazon.co.uk