Armchair Research

I’m just getting to the end of the first draft of (working title) The Soul Catcher. Set in early medieval Yorkshire (7th century) I’m finding I need to do much more research than for my previous novel The Weave. It’s not so much the big picture stuff I’m searching for but the little details that bring a touch of reality. Details about dress, weaponry and what it could/couldn’t do, pagan and christian rites and rituals.

I read and I trawl the internet but recently I remembered an old favourite programme of mine Time Team. For those of you who may not know it – the programmes were hosted by Tony Robinson and he and a team of archeology experts undertook a 3-day dig on a whole variety of sites from different periods in history.

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Time Team logo

I’ve been spending an hour most evenings indulging in armchair research going through any of the programmes relating to the Saxons. Apart from the enduring appeal of Tony Robinson and of the experts, the programmes are a treasure trove for an historical writer.

In The Soul Catcher, one of the characters has a brooch which has a significant part to play and there on a Time Team dig they found just what I needed. What it was made of, where it was worn and so on. More importantly after it was cleaned up I could really see how beautiful it was and could tailor my own description. Living in France on a writer’s income (Ha!) it’s not very easy for me just to pop over to the British Museum and take a gander at the goodies there so the programmes have become a valued resource for me.

I’ve learned about eel traps or hives (again a feature in the story) and about details of funeral rites and the making of swords at that time.

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Types of Eel Traps

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Early 7th century sword from the Sutton Hoo boat burial

Of course I’m not writing a factual history book so it’s important to be careful to get the balance right and not swamp the story and the characters with historical minutiae but because there is always a fantasy or supernatural element in what I write I hope I’m avoiding that trap.

So in a couple of weeks time, after I’ve finished the first draft I’ll be able to start the editing process armed with a little notebook with all sorts of eclectic snippets that I may want to introduce to bring my hot-headed hero Wulfric and his life alive for the reader.

Now back to Time Team!

Introduce Yourself: Introducing Guest Author Sheila Williams

Did another author interview. Hope you’re not getting tired of them they are such fun to do. My thanks to Yecheilyah for giving me the space.

The PBS Blog

Today, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Sheila Williams. Sheila, welcome to the PBS blog!


What is your name and where are you from?

My name is Sheila Williams. I am English, born in Yorkshire in the North of England (known as God’s own county to those who were born there!) Until five years ago my feet were firmly planted in English soil. Then, I had one of those ‘where did that idea come from’ moments and moved across the channel to the south-west of France – a region known as Occitanie (previously the Languedoc). I now live in a small village near the Pyrenees mountains with my dog Zouzou, otherwise known as the Ayatollah for his insistence on regularity – regular walkies, regular mealtimes, regular cuddles and regular snoozes on the sofa.

Awwue lol. I bet he’s adorable. Any siblings?

I am the youngest of three. My…

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Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – The Sunday Interview – Getting to Know author Sheila Williams

Here’s the result of an interview I did with the very generous Sally Cronin who is a marvel at supporting indie authors. Thank you Sally.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

My guest today is author Sheila Williams who lives in France, but in the past has enjoyed several careers, including that of sheep farmer (more about that later!). Sheila shares a mortifying experience in a restaurant, her fashion sense, the contents of her handbag and a tussle with a persistent romeo ram (of the sheep variety!)

First the official word from the author.

About Sheila Williams

Sheila Williams, author, slipped into this world on Guy Fawkes night, under cover of fireworks and bonfires. Outraged to find other nurslings in the nest, she attempted to return to her own world but found the portal closed.

Adopting a ‘make the best of it’ attitude she endured a period of indoctrination to equip her for her place in society. This included learning a language that no-one ever speaks and making complex calculations of no perceivable value.

Freeing herself as soon as possible from…

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The Dragon of Loschy Woods

Whilst fossicking around in Medieval history, myths and legend as part of research for my current work in progress I found this story of a brave knight and his dog to share with you.

*****

It happened long ago that a giant fire and brimstone belching dragon lived in a dark wood near Stonegrave, just outside York.  Said dragon had a nasty habit of dining on the local peasantry. Those who saw it and lived to tell the tale relate that its teeth were long and sharp ‘like the tines of a pitchfork’ and from it’s gaping jaws dripped a foul poison…hardly surprising with all that smoking.

 

Many knights, plumped up with derring-do, ventured forth to kill it but the monster chewed them up, bones and everything. Not yet satisfied it went onto to mash up their armour and gobble the poor horses ‘saddle and all’.

Enter a Brave Knight

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There came a knight, one Sir Peter Loschy, a warrior of renown who determined to battle with the beast and put an end to the fiery feasts the dragon made of innocent peasants and valiant knights alike. He vowed he would kill the dragon or die trying and given the dragon’s track record no-one was taking bets on the survival option.

However, Sir Peter seemed to have a bit more cunning than most. He had a suit of armour made that was covered with sharp blades. Donning the suit in preparation for the battle, his young squire asked him how he was feeling.

Sharp’ he quipped and winked at the young man.

He mounted his trusty steed weighed down by his armour, sword and shield and rode towards Loschy Wood where the dragon hung out. I expect comely maidens in pointy hats waved their handkerchiefs at him as he passed by but the bards only ever mention damsels in distress.

To the Dragon’s Den

Sir Peter rode into the wood; the further he penetrated the denser and darker it became. He had for a companion his trusty hound Leo. In the deepest part of the wood Sir Peter halted. There was a-crashing and a-bashing as trees fell and a hoarse smoky voice shouted to him.

don’t trouble yourself to come further, I’m coming to you’.

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And sure enough the dragon emerged through the flattened trees. Quick as a flash it coiled its long tail around the valiant knight and squeezed and crushed, crushed and squeezed intending to make mincemeat of Sir Peter.

However, the dragon reckoned not on the nasty spiky sharp blades that covered the knight’s armour. The blades cut into the dragon and the more it tightened its grip the more it was flayed by the blades and the greater its pain. The dragon gave a cry as only dragons can, a sort of ‘OOOOOOOOWWWAAAAAAAARGH’ as history records. 

The beast released our brave hero and really miffed, not to say enraged, it was determined to have steak haché, extra well-done for its supper.  

Yet brave Sir Peter, albeit a bit short of wind by now, swiftly drew his sword and landed a dozen fearsome cuts on his opponent. But our dragon had a secret weapon. He rolled on the earth and voila, by magic his wounds healed.

Fight to the Death

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For three hours knight and dragon fought and still the dragon survived the onslaught. However, one heavy cut lopped off the dragon’s tail and quick as a flash, his faithful hound Leo picked it up and running all the way to Nunnington Church dumped it there where it could not be joined to the dragon’s body again.

And that was the way of it. Our knight lopped of a limb and Leo ran off with it until finally only the dragon’s head was left and the dragon, unsurprisingly, was dead.

Sir Peter, patted and stroked his dog.

Well done, lad’ he said as Leo licked his face.

Oh No!

But wait! On Leo’s tongue was some of the poison from the dragon’s body. So venomous was it that Sir Peter dropped down, stone dead. Poor Leo was so sorry. He would not leave his master. He lay by the body and died of doggy grief.

Sir Peter was buried in Nunnington church and a stone effigy shows Leo at his feet. Whether Leo was buried with him is unclear.

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*****

There are, as in all these Medieval tales a few snags that the analytical among you will no doubt spot but hey, let’s not spoil a good story.

P.S. the part of Leo was played by Zouzou

  

Paperback Writer

My first novel The Weave came out in paperback this week on Amazon and I’m eagerly waiting my copies of it. The Kindle version sold OK but I have this mental glitch that it’s not a ‘proper’ book unless it’s in paperback so I have used some of the Kindle sales to fund the paperback.

All that remains now is to boost publicity for it which I really don’t like doing but know it’s a ‘must’.

Where to begin? I’m using my social media as one prong of attack; have invested a very little in some paid-for promotion as a second prong and the third has been to take advantage of some very generous bloggers who will feature the book. A final thrust, when my copies arrive, is to have them on sale in our local cafe/bar (the village attracts a fair few English-speaking visitors) and the big supermarket Leclerc is also going to take copies on sale or return.

I keep being asked whether I will have it translated into French and have looked at the possibility but as yet I have not decided. Financially it would be an investment that I can’t quite rise to…as yet. I’ll see how English sales go.

So, if you are kindly inclined here are the links to:

https://amzn.to/2TKH4pu. – UK

https://amzn.to/2HZxk9F – US

where you can purchase the book. Happy reading.

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Tiw – The Anglo-Saxon God of War

Today is Tuesday and in the Anglo-Saxon world which I am mentally inhabiting at the moment it is Tiw’s day.

Tiw was an important god for the bellicose Anglo-Saxons. He was the god of war, the sky and niffty swordplay. They also called upon Woden and Thunor when off to battle just for extra insurance.

However Tiw was the main man and supposedly the most skilled when it came to a dust-up despite the slight handicap of having only one hand.

Inevitably the details of how this came about vary but the substance of the tale is the same.

There was a prophecy (of course there was) that Tiu’s father Woden would be killed by a ferocious monster wolf called Fenris. The dwarves of the kingdom fashioned an invisible chain to hold the creature. Some accounts say it was a magic ribbon made from hairs of a woman’s beard (honestly I haven’t made it up) and the roots of a mountain.

Whichever bondage was used, unsurprisingly, Fenris was having none of it…unless one of the gods put his hand in Fenris’ mouth. Step forward dutiful son Tiu. He thrust his hand into the beast’s mouth and the rest of the gods wrapped the creature in chains/hairy ribbon, He was condemned to stay in chains until Ragnorok – the end of the world.

In the process of binding the furious Fenris, Tiu got his hand bitten off…his right hand…his sword hand.

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Fortunately Tiu was ambidextrous and just as proficient in swordplay with his left hand. This brave and filial act endeared Tiu to the Anglo-Saxons ever after.

There is never a happy ending with these myths. Poor Tiw is fated to have yet another encounter of a canine kind when he kills and is killed by the giant hound Garm at Ragnarok.

Lost Villages

One of my most read blog posts is the of the lost village of Ravenser Odd, a town once situated at the southernmost tip of the Holderness coast in East Yorkshire. Since it has proved most popular I thought I would give you a taste of a couple of the other thirty or so lost villages along that coastline.

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Map of the Holderness Coast showing the lost villages

Owthorne and The Sister Churches

The story of Owthorne and its church comes to the fore to illustrate the almost surreal events that occasionally happened when the sea claimed the land.

Owthorne was a small village just north of Withernsea. In the centre of the village was the church, known as one of the Sister Churches. Two sisters owned the manors of Owthorne and Withernsea. Since the two manors ran side by side, they decided to build a church where their tenants could worship. The site of Owthorne Church was agreed upon and building commenced. It was only when the church had reached a certain height that discord between the sisters set in. One wished to adorn the church with a tower and the other to ornament it with a spire.

Square or Pointy? That is the question.

Finally the sisters decided that they would each build a church – one in Withernsea and one in Owthorne – in the design to which they each aspired. For ever after, the churches were known as the Sister Churches but no spire ever graced either church.

Whatever the circumstances of its origin, there is no doubt that the church at Owthorne was constantly under threat from the sea. Originally sited in the centre of the village, as the sea ate away the foot of the cliffs, the church at the top became a cliff-hanger:

‘standing like a solitary beacon on the verge of the cliff’.

By 1786 the church itself was only 12 yards from the cliff and the sea began its work on the churchyard. The villagers and their vicar made plans. In 1793 the chancel was demolished and six years later the rest of the church was partially demolished. It was not until a particularly violent storm in the early years of the 19th century that the remains fell with a crash into the sea.

Whitened bones and coffins landed on the beach and, it is said, that the villagers meandered sorrowfully among these relics, even recognising some of their erstwhile buddies although quite how one recognises a skeleton is a trifle difficult to imagine. It took 15 days of grisly work to collect up the relics, hopefully matching owners and bones correctly, before taking them for reburial to a new churchyard at Rimswell.

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In 50 years the villagers of Owthorne saw the church and churchyard, vicarage, houses and streets disappear over the cliffs until almost nothing of their village remained. The second church in Withernsea fell into ruins by the late 19th century and was replaced by the parish church of St Nicholas.

Old Kilnsea

Further down the coast was once the village of Old Kilnsea – called Chilnesse in the Domesday Book. At that time it was several miles inland and established on a hill. Houses and cottages with gardens were clustered around the Medieval church; there was a village pond and green as well as numerous small fields. On the village green stood a large stone cross which was originally taken from the ancient and lost town of Ravenser where it had been erected to commemorate the landing of Henry VI in 1399. It was removed to Old Kilnsea when the sea swallowed up Ravenser. Eventually though, the sea worked its mischief in Old Kilnsea and the cross was removed altogether to safer ground.

By the early 19th century the village was under attack. In 1822 it comprised the church and around 30 houses. 30 years later only a handful of houses and the foundations of the church remained; by 1912 all had gone.

In 1824 the chancel went over the cliff and a couple of years later a huge storm took the north wall, pillars, arches, pulpit, reading desk and books right over the cliff ‘with a tremendous crash’. The tower held out for another couple of years before finally following the rest of the church into the sea.

After the loss of the church, Abbot Geoffrey de Sawtry describes Kilnsea religious observance thus:

‘… This is therefore another churchless village; but having a population of nearly two hundred, they have set apart a room for divine service, in which it is performed every third Sunday, weather permitting; otherwise, it is reported, the worthy pastor, feeling for his flock, grants them an indulgence to remain indoors and takes the same himself.’

The church bell was suspended from a beam in a stack yard and struck by throwing stones at it to call the faithful to their improvised place of worship.

Eventually Kilnsea was resettled to the west. During the First World War a small fort and gun battery was established at ‘new’ Kilnsea but these too have gone the way of the old village. The resettled village is still being chased further inland by the sea.

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Remains of the Fort and Battery at Kilnsea

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You can read more in my book ‘Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast’ which is an eclectic mix of stories from this remarkable stretch of coastline