How is this for a controversial assertion?

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Research is often far more important to a story than the writer’s imagination!

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I posted this as part of a short story back in 2013 after a period of extensive research. Out of it came two of my books, the science fiction adventure Cataclysm in November 2014, and the extremey short historical novella Autumn 1066 in June 2017.

Most readers simply fail to appreciate the amount of work that writers like myself put into researching the subject of any book we produce. Sadly some of our fellow writers are totally clueless when it comes to the importance of research. In their case it becomes all to evident how little they appreciate the hard work involved when you read their often disparaging reviews of well researched books.

Now take a look below at the common background information for the two books in question. By the way, if while reading you are wondering who Briggs is, he is the principal character in Cataclysm, the first of the two books. Now read on…

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Harald Sigurdsson had led a life most people with an adventurous spirit could only ever dream about. In fact his life story read like a tale written by the likes of H. Ryder Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, or perhaps even Jack London. Like most people beyond Norway’s border, Briggs knew precious little about the man except that he was born sometime during the year 1015, only to die in his fifty-first year on the 25th of September, 1066.

As the king of Norway, he had arrived in England at the head of a Viking invasion force to support Tostig Godwinson, who promised him the English crown when they beat his brother king Harold. Both he and Tostig perished during the fierce battle with Harold’s Anglo-Saxon army on and around the stone ford crossing the river Derwent close to the area known as Stamford Bridge in the East Riding of Yorkshire. In Harald’s case he would die soon after being struck in the neck by an arrow.

The popularly held belief that Stamford Bridge was actually a village at the time, supposedly accessed via a bridge straddling the Derwent, which, according to legend was defended singlehandedly by one of Harald’s berserker warriors, is nothing more than a myth.

Harald was the oldest son of the Hardrada clan, part of the Fairhair dynasty of Norway. From 1030, at the tender age of fifteen, until he returned to become the rightful king of Norway, ruling as Harald the third after the death of his nephew Magnus the Good in 1046, he spent the intervening years in exile as a mercenary, first in service to the Kievan Rus’ court where he met his future bride, Elisiv of Kiev, and later in the employ of the Byzantine Emperor, Alexios Komnenos.

Since sending someone back through time to simply tag along with Harald on the off chance that something previously unknown about him may occur was clearly out of the question, one specific event in his life had to be chosen. After endless debate, Briggs and his team unanimously decided that their observer should investigate the considerable amount of time Harald spent as commander of the Byzantine Emperor’s Varangian guard in Constantinople.

Owing to the way the Teleportation Gate appeared to bend time, whoever he sent back as an observer would feel as if they really were there for a number of years, even though in reality it would be no more than a few hours before they were returned to the present.

They had all agreed with Briggs that there was absolutely no point in sending anyone back to accompany Harald during his abortive invasion of England, simply because it is one of the most widely recorded events in English history, second only to the battle of Hastings. Over the next two weeks Briggs poured over everything the researchers could find on Harald Sigurdsson; or Hardrada as history would remember him, during his time in Constantinople.

Harald arrived in the fortified city sometime in 1034, soon after being discharged from duty in the army of the Kievan Rus’ grand prince, Yaroslav the Wise, where he rose to the rank of captain. He and his posse of cut-throats joined the many mercenaries already heading for the Byzantine Empire’s capital in search of adventure, employment and riches.

It was during his long voyage south through Russia and the Ukraine aboard a longboat on the great rivers, following the age old Viking trade routes with the Middle East, that Briggs sent his ‘observer’ Max through the Teleportation Gate to join Hardrada. He had been chosen specifically for his command of Old Norse, his powerful build and almost photographic memory. He was recommended as a future observer by one of the young female research undergraduates employed at the Institute. Briggs found out later she had put his name forward simply to rid herself of his unwanted amorous advances, a fact which Briggs kept from him.

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The Byzantine Emperor at the time in question, Alexios Komnenos, had many enemies especially within his own court who were only too willing to end his life. Like his predecessors, Alexios could not place his personal safety in the hands of his own army, simply because their loyalty was always suspect. Instead he relied upon his totally loyal Varangian Guard, made up exclusively of Germanic peoples from the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland as well as a growing number of disaffected young Anglo-Saxon warriors from England.

The Guard was first formed under Emperor Basil II in 988, following the Christianization of the Kievan Rus’ by Vladimir I. By the end of the eleventh century, it would be made up solely from the ranks of those Anglo-Saxons who now found themselves disinherited by William, Duke of Normandy and his Norman invasion force.

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Max in his new guise as Nils Holdstrum, stuck to Harald like glue. In fact they became firm friends, despite the Norwegian’s short temper. After meeting Harald he decided to ignore the instructions Briggs issued before he travelled back in time, that under no circumstances must he form any kind of relationship, or have any personal involvement with Harald or any other player in the unfolding events, citing the very real possibility of Max altering history even minutely.

When Harald rose through the ranks by his deeds to become the commander of the Varangian Guard, he promoted Max as one of his captains. During the time they spent together in the Emperor’s employ, along with their comrades they saw action on at least one occasion beyond Constantinople’s massive walls, in the partial reconquest of Sicily from the Arabs in 1038. They also fought alongside a contingent of recently arrived Norman mercenaries who had come to Italy seeking adventure, along with Lombards from Apulia. Soon after the Sicilian campaign, the Byzantine catepan or local ruler, Michael Doukeianos, had a force of Varangians, including Max and Harald, stationed at the town of Bari on the Adriatic coast of the Apulia region of Italy.

Barely two years had passed when on the sixteenth of March, 1041, another army of mercenaries arrived on the scene to threaten Byzantine control. Once again Max and Harald were called upon to fight. This time their enemy proved to be none other than their former allies, the Normans. They engaged in what amounted to a one sided battle near Venosa. Many of their fellow guards drowned in the subsequent hasty retreat across the Ofanto River, after losing the day. Both Harald and Max were lucky to survive.

On the first of September of the same year, Exaugustus Boioannes arrived to replace the disgraced Doukeianos as catepan. But he fared no better than his predecessor. Two days later on the third of September, Max, Harald and the remaining Varangians under his command were soundly defeated in battle once again by the Normans. It was during this moment of utter carnage and total confusion on the battlefield that Max was suddenly whisked away. Like all of Brigg’s observers then and now, he was returned much against his will.

~~~

Somehow Harald managed to survive until the following year when he returned to Kievan Rus’ a wealthy man, to marry his first love, Elisiv, and to plan his campaign for the Norwegian crown. Four years later in 1046, he would finally succeed when his nephew Magnus the Good died soon after agreeing to share the kingdom with him, having no stomach to fight his own uncle. From then until his death on the twenty-fifth of September, 1066, at Stamford Bridge, as Harald the third, thanks to his austere no nonsense rule, Norway became a relatively peaceful country. On his death, he was survived by his second wife Tora Torbergsdatter and his four children, Ingegard, queen of Denmark and Sweden, Maria Haraldsdatter, Magnus the second and Olaf the third of Norway.

After Stamford Bridge, Harald was returned to Norway. Initially buried at Mary Church in Trondheim, where his body remained until the end of the twelfth century, he was then re-interred at Helgeseter Priory, until it was demolished in the seventeenth century. What happened to him after that is pure conjecture. One thing that no one within the closed world of academia, or outside it for that matter, can deny is that Harald Sigurdsson otherwise known as Hardrada, or Harald the third, was one of history’s most significant players.

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Now if I’ve peaked your interest to the point where you want to read the books, their Amazon links are marked in red at the top of this blog post…

😉

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More Research on the Merovingians

I watched this half hour video yesterday about the Merovingians. Apart from the annoying academic narrating it, it is a good introduction to the subject.

While you are watching this I will be hard at it with more reading. From what the video revealed I shall also have to take a look at the Carolingians from the Frankish prince Charles Martel, his son Pepin the Short, all the way to Charlamagne.

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Charlamagne

Better get back to the swatting…

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I’m starting my latest research project, with maybe a book in mind…

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Dagobert the 1st

I’ve long held a fascination with the Merovingian dynasty. From Clovis the first king of the Franks (466-511AD) onward, they became some of the most powerful rulers in Europe.

At the moment I’m in the process of re-reading The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail (Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln). This was the first book that made me curious about them and the claims that they were part of the alleged royal bloodline that supposedly started when Mary Magdalene bore the Palestinian jew, Jeshua Ben Joseph’s child. Think san graal, meaning “royal blood” in Dan Brown’s brilliant story The Da Vinci Code.

What the vatican’s reaction was back in the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries, I’ve yet to find out. Bouts of apoplexy at the very least I should have thought. Even if the idea of the san graal is not true, does it really matter? The religious among you would have to agree, it makes one hell of an intriguing story…

Whether or not I turn the results of my current research project into a book of some kind, only time will tell…

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This book is just one of many in my library that speak of the Merovingians. All I’ve got do now is to psych myself into what will be a lot of re-reading and cross-referencing over the next several months…

At last I’ve got the historical characters almost sorted.

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As I’m now on the home stretch when it comes to the historical side of my current WIP Autumn 1066, I now have nearly all of the actual historical characters sorted. There may be one or two minor ones I’ve missed. Only further research on my part will determine that.

The whole story has led to one specific date in the history of my homeland, England. That date is October the fourteenth 1066, and the battle that determined our fate as a nation for many centuries afterwards. As I’ve mentioned previously (that’s if you have been bothering to read my past updates) it actually occurred seven miles northwest of the coastal town. Even so it is still referred to quite incorrectly by historians as the Battle of Hastings.

When I downed tools yesterday morning I had begun to assemble the players on both sides, led by Harold and William respectively, on the site in Sussex where it took place nine hundred and fifty-one years ago. This morning I begin writing about the battle itself, after I’ve posted this for you to read that is…

But what about your fictional characters, I hear the more inquisitive among you ask? You’ll just have to be patient won’t you. In other words wait until you get to read it for yourselves, when I publish it as a paperback.

Am I having fun with this one? Duh – what do you think? Of course I am. I can’t wait to begin the fictional side of the story. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

More later

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Research phase over

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At long last I’ve completed my research of all the available sources, both the highly questionable historical accounts as well as the utterly fanciful for my latest adventure story. Because of it, I’ve compiled the background of the story (slightly over four thousand words), in preparation for when I begin writing from the point of view of the characters.

Once again I’m mentally exhausted (brain-fade). So I need to take a break for a couple of days. But very soon I’ll begin writing what at this moment in time I still believe will be a long short story (novelette). However when inspiration inevitability makes it its presence felt, the story may expand to a novella or even a full length novel. I have also decided who the fictional characters will be in the story, not forgetting their nationalities nor their personal traits, their likes and dislikes.

I can now reveal what the story will be about. It concerns the short time period of barely a month in the autumn of 1066, when three decisive battles occurred in quick succession, culminating in the defeat of Saxon England by Duke William of Normandy’s army, and the Saxon king Harold Godwinson’s death, where Battle Abbey now stands, close to the town of Hastings on England’s south-east coast.

PS – I’ve also decided on the story’s title – Autumn 1066, short, sweet and to the point.

More later.

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It begins

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And we’re off, much earlier than expected. I wrote the first two paragraphs of my new historical fiction story yesterday. I have all my notes, historical figures and research references, plus my characters sorted out.

Thereby hangs a tale. To avoid criticism from anal rententives aka nitpickers, whatever I do I must ensure that anything I say about any actual historical character is accurate. It’s not as easy as it sounds when the historical records are not only thin on the ground, but also often sparsely written. Which is not surprising when you consider that at the time the nearest individual to a war correspondent was a court chronicler. Worse, one tasked with writing down what happened for the first time, a mere fifty years after the event.

I also have to ensure that the same goes for the nationalities involved, the historical locations, and the armour and the weapons used. Even the fictitious character’s names I’m employing must be correct.

As far as is possible I’ll be following the historical event as it happened. In other words I can’t say that group A were in location X when history says they weren’t!

With the written information on the historical event being sketchy at best, there will always be a danger of this story ending early. I’m hopeful it will wind up novella length. For it to become a novel might prove to be stretching things to far. But at the moment I’m putting any thoughts in that direction to the back of my mind while I concentrate on getting the story that is feverishly swirling around inside my head written down.

When I’m relatively happy with it I’ll expand on various elements within the whole, bearing in mind that my often acid tongued detractors will be looking for any excuse to find fault. Unfortunately, in this business putting up with their rants, sorry I meant to say their reviews, is the price you pay for writing a tale they couldn’t, or wouldn’t know how to write in a month of Sundays, bless their often ill educated black hearts.

As always I’ll keep you informed with regular progress reports.

More later…

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My twenty-seventeen project

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Thanks to the few of you who bothered to state their preference for a sequel in my recent blog post a few days ago It’s for you to decide, I now have my first project for twenty-seventeen. Rather, you have given me one hell of a headache – to work out if a sequel to the archaeological adventure the Forgotten Age which I wrote in 2012 is at all possible. After all Forgotten is already a sequel in its own right, in this instance to Race Against Time.

The OED definition of the word sequel is – A published, broadcast, or recorded work that continues the story or develops the theme of an earlier one. Nothing to it I hear you cry. So what’s stopping me?

First of all I need to re-read it to thoroughly familiarise myself with the story once again. Secondly I have to get myself back into full R&D mode. From memory I appear to have left the reader with the impression that I killed off the hero Nick Palmer and some of his friends by trapping them inside an ancient hermetically sealed room (The Library of the Ancients) somewhere deep beneath the Giza Plateau, between the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx. Did I, or didn’t I? I don’t recall. After all its been four years since I wrote it!

That being true, how in the blue blazes do I resurrect them? It’s not immediately obvious to me at the moment by any stretch of the imagination, hence my need to fully reacquaint myself with every aspect of the story.

For those of you who have been kind enough to read my books in the past, rest assured I’ll give it a lot of thought. If it’s at all humanly possible I’ll make it happen. But if I decide that they’re dead after all…

Either way you my loyal readership will be the first to know via this my blog. So that’s it for now. I’ve got a lot of re-reading, head scratching and note taking to do.

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