Tag Archives: dark ages

Reconsidering the Anglo-Saxon “Conquest” — and an update

Last week, I mentioned a couple of interesting books I’ve been reading in researching the era of The Pendragon Chronicles, and I had a request for more info. So I will try to provide a brief summary before I continue on to my writing update.

Both books treat the era of the so-called “Dark Ages” in Britain, dark because we have so few written records from the period. One of the few is “The Ruin and Conquest of Britain” by Gildas, a jeremiad written in Latin, which truly does paint a very bleak picture of the era in which he lived. As to the dating, it must have been written before 547 AD, since one of the contemporary tyrants he addresses, Maelgwn, is supposed to have died in a plague which struck Britain in about 547. But Gildas, a monk, had an agenda, to chastize the contemporary kings he addresses, and persuade them to turn away from their sins.

Gildas’s little rant has had a big effect on the way the fifth and sixth centuries are portrayed in history, the time during which Britain transformed from primarily Roman-British to primarily Anglo-Saxon, at least culturally. The two books I’m reading right now argue that Britain wasn’t overrun by invaders during this period, and the transition was less a “conquest” and more a cultural shift. One of the books, Britain AD by Francis Pryor, makes the argument based on archeological evidence, primarily the lack of wholesale destruction an invasion would entail, as well as gradual changes in use of sites that were originally Roman-British so that they began to seem more “Anglo-Saxon” in character. This, he argues, is the pattern seen when there is a change in the ruling elite rather than a wholesale invasion. Makes a lot of sense to me, given all the research I’ve done for previous books in The Pendragon Chronicles. One of my main resources for Yseult and Shadow of Stone, Christopher Snyder’s An Age of Tyrants, also argued for a more gradual change from Roman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England, from an archeological standpoint as well, given how many major Roman cities seemed to have survived far into the fifth century and beyond.

The other book I’m reading now, The Origins of the British by Stephen Oppenheimer, makes a similar argument based on a combination of linguistic evidence and DNA. While I’m not completely convinced yet by his linguistic analysis, his comparisons between genetic markers in England and northern Germany are fascinating. He says there is definitely a genetic divide between the so-called “Celtic fringe” and the rest of England, but he also points out a difference between southern Britain and those areas regarded as “Anglo-Saxon.” Oppenheimer then examines a much longer history of immigration to Britain which has led to these differences — including Iberian, Viking and Norman — as well as Germanic. He argues that all of those waves of immigration contributed in different ways to the genetic differences between eastern and western Britain. He concludes that the “intrusion” (from a genetic standpoint) from traditional Anglo-Saxon areas is only about 5.5% in England.

Fascinating stuff — at least for me. 🙂

Now on to recent progress. Here’s a visual:


I wrapped all those presents in the last couple of days. And while you may not be able to appreciate it from the side, I like to make my presents pretty, and it took me a while.

Still also working on organizing gifts for friends and family. So I was very surprised when I checked my word counts today, to discover that I’ve managed another 1500 words on Amber’s story since Wednesday, as well as a couple hundred more words in notes and ideas on A Wasted Land. Not too shabby, given all those presents stacked on the shelf! Of course, I would like to be producing more, but Christmas takes its toll. 🙂

And here’s a final pic, just because the sunset today was so pretty, and I probably wouldn’t even have noticed it if one of my granddaughters hadn’t pointed it out, since I was in the wrong part of the room.


Hope everyone else is successfully surviving the holiday season!

Research, lack of words, and another #WIPpet for Wednesday

Word creation has nearly come to a halt for me, for a couple of reasons. One is that Christmas is coming up, and I’ve been doing a lot of Christmas shopping. Another is that I’m kind of under the weather, and my brain doesn’t work as well when it’s fogged up. Finally, and possibly the most important, I’ve gone back to doing a lot of research for the third book of The Pendragon Chronicles. In addition to the book on the Anglo-Saxons I mentioned a couple of weeks back, I’m also reading two excellent books that support newer theories that the Anglo-Saxon “invasions” were not as invasive as previously thought, Britain AD by Francis Pryor, and The Origins of the British by Stephen Oppenheimer. Fascinating stuff. I may post more on the books and what I’m learning about the period later.

While I love research, I’m a little frustrated that I’m not getting much actual writing done. So I may return to Amber’s story a little each day, to make sure I’m also producing, and not just reading and taking notes. A Wasted Land has grown a whopping 800 words, mostly in sketches and ideas I’ve gotten from my research.

Now on to WIPpet Wednesday. My math for 12/11/13 is easy — I added up all the digits = 9. So here are nine paragraphs from A Wasted Land. Kustennin has just asked Celemon if she would consider taking the position of Master of Horse.

“I can train horses, but I do not know how to train them for battle,” Celemon protested.
“I have the greatest confidence in you that you can learn that too.”
Celemon could hardly comprehend the enormity of what he was asking of her. It was strange; on her ride just now, she’d been worrying about her age, how old she was and how few prospects she now had. Her betrothal to Aurelius had dragged on for three years, complicated by multiple deaths, wars, and the disgrace of her father. Now she was over twenty — when marriageable age for a woman was fourteen. She did not want to manage her brother’s household forever, but what else was there for her if she were unable to find a husband?
And now Kustennin was offering her an alternative.
But when she considered Kustennin’s proposal, she was struck by the opposite thought from what had been plaguing her on her ride — she was too young, or at least too young for such a position. Yes, she had grown up with horses, but what did she know of being “Master of Horse”? She didn’t even know what the duties would be, although her father had been Master of Horse for most of her life. But for Cai the Tall, Master of Horse had entailed riding with Arthur’s warriors, and Kustennin could not intend that for her.
Apparently she had been silent too long — Kustennin urged his mount forward and laid a hand on hers where it held the mare’s reins. “I know you told me recently that you would prefer if we refused to wage war,” he said. “But our lands and our people must be defended. And of course you would be a safe distance away from the battles.”
The thought crossed her mind, unless they come to us. “What would I be expected to do?” she asked.
“Run the stables of the British military forces. Decide which stallions will be bred to which mares. Buy replacement horses as needed — and as funds allow. Oversee the servants working in the stables. I’m sure you would know more about what is necessary than I.”
She wondered if Kustennin knew that he was describing a dream come true. She had always loved helping her father and Cador in the stables, had loved the discussions of what qualities to breed for in different horses, whether the dam was more important or the sire, loved to help with training the two-year-olds to take bit and saddle. At the same time, she was overwhelmed at the responsibility — and the thought that she would be raising the animals to carry Kustennin and her other friends and family members to war and perhaps even death.

WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts. 🙂

Changing horses in the middle of the stream – or, changing projects in the middle of Nano

So, I’m doing something which is probably very stupid, but I’m also hoping to learn more about myself as a writer in the process. I mentioned a couple of posts back that A Wasted Land has been coming along more slowly than I had hoped. Mostly this has to do with me needing to do more research and related brainstorming. I thought I had the plot pretty much mapped out, I had a synopsis and the first chapter with me at the last Villa Diodati workshop and I got some good feedback on it — but I also had a bunch of big, gaping holes: the progress of the battles in this novel, the secondary characters (who are still like ciphers), the settings I haven’t used in previous books. I was doing more research than writing, getting no more than 600-700 words done a day.

So I stopped. Not completely, of course. I’m still adding notes to my Scrivener file and reading some new (to me) books on the Dark Ages. Right now it’s The English Settlements: English Political and Social Life from the Collapse of Roman Rule to the Emergence of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms:

I’ve often wondered if I could write faster if I didn’t (almost) always write such research-intensive stuff. So couple of days ago, I started to think about the kinds of plots I enjoy that aren’t fantasy, historical, or science fiction, something I could set in the here and now, in places that I know fairly well and won’t have to be researching two hours for every hour I write. I hit upon escape plots where the protagonist is running from a mysterious threat. Think The Fugitive, Terminator, that kind of thing. I figured I could set the story in the Pacific Northwest where I grew up. But if my protagonist is running, she could start out someplace else that I know pretty well, the Raleigh/Durham area where I spent a lot of time over the years for IBM.

And I started writing. I don’t have a title yet, nor do I know what the mystery is going to be, but I do have over 6,000 words already. Even though I didn’t do any pre-writing, I’m now at about 1200 words a day on my unnamed thriller. Those still aren’t Nano levels, of course, and I know I’m not going to “win” this thing, but it’s turning out to be a lot of fun writing something where I don’t have to do as much prep. And I’m not trying to imply that this genre is any easier to write than historical fantasy, it all seems to come down to the time factor. I’ve had to look up a few things, of course — what are the most popular cars in the US, where are the superstores in the Triangle and are they open 24 hours, how to get more money than your limit from an ATM — but it isn’t every little detail. And I can find the answers to my questions a lot faster. Besides, for the settings I can rely at least in part on memory. Those are huge time savers.

So if I can come up with a decent mystery for this thing and finish it, I may be in the market for a genre pseudonym. 🙂

For the above reasons, you’re getting something completely different from me this week for WIPpet Wednesday, from my unnamed fugitive novel. WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts. 🙂 My math this week goes like this: 11+2+0 (11/20) = 13. So I’m giving you thirteen short paragraphs from the first scene I wrote a couple of days ago:

Then she heard Rick bellow at the top of his lungs, “Help! I’m –”
And silence.
No! Amber felt as if all the air had been pressed out of her body. She rose again slowly, gazing sideways into the room for confirmation of what she was afraid to see. Rick, slumped forward on the chair, arms limp at his sides, blood pooling on the floor beneath him.
“Do you think anyone heard him?” one of them said.
There was a brief silence and footsteps, going and coming. “No changes in the lights on the houses nearby.”
“Good,” Griffith said. “When the wife gets back, we’ll make it look like a murder-suicide. The police won’t ask too many questions — we have that covered. Then the secret will be safe.”
Amber knew that if she sobbed her pain it would be her death sentence. It was an act of will the likes of which had never before been required of her. But even as she fought with her grief, an important detail had not escaped her — she couldn’t go to the police.
But what was the secret these people thought was important enough to kill for? What could she possibly know that was worth that? She was only a high school drama teacher, after all.
And on the other side of the wall, Rick was slumped dead in their dining room. For what?
For a moment, Amber considered stepping in front of the window, making herself known, allowing them to murder her and lay her beside her husband. What did anything matter, now? And if they had someone from the police on their side, what chance did she have anyway?
Then anger came to her aid, a wave of it so strong, she was sorely tempted to storm through the door with her wimpy hammer and the element of surprise and take at least one of them out. She knew what the odds of that were — very nearly zero.
On the other hand, what were the odds of her ever avenging her husband’s death? With Griffith having the police in their pocket, and her not even knowing what it was they had killed him for? Also very nearly zero.
But better than if she too were dead.

Very rough first draft, any and all comments welcome. Especially if you have any cool ideas what kind information or cover-up or whatever could be going on here. I have NO experience writing mysteries! 🙂

Formatting Shadow of Stone for CreateSpace, & and an excerpt for #WIPpet Wedneday

The last couple of days, I’ve been spending most of my “writing” time putting together the PDF file of Shadow of Stone for the paperback version. I’ve been meaning to do this for much too long, but now with Christmas coming up, I really need to get it done. And the last couple of days before the craziness of Nano sets in seem to be a perfect opportunity.

The reason I keep putting off getting my books ready for paperback is all the work involved. Although I have to admit, Shadow of Stone ended up being a lot easier than Yseult, requiring maybe 10 hours of work, rather than 20 or 30 (I don’t really remember anymore, I just know it was a lot.) I also had to make a black and white version of the color map I have in the ebook:

Britain in ~500 AD

That was complicated by the fact that my ancient version of Photoshop decided to go on strike the first go ’round, refusing to save my changes and claiming I didn’t have enough RAM. Hmph. It did work on the second try after closing pretty much all my other programs — and my computer is not all that old or that wimpy. My version of Photoshop is a lot older. Moody software.

But for the actual formatting of the interior, I took a shortcut which helped a lot. Instead of starting from scratch with a doc file exported from Scrivener, I started with the version of Yseult already formatted for print and poured the chapters one by one into that file, replacing the text of Yseult. That had the big advantage that the chapter headers etc. were already formatted. It looks pretty good, if I do say so myself:

So since my last post, the only thing I’ve worked on is Shadow of Stone, which is not strictly a WIP. But since I did find a couple of random typos that had slipped past all my beta readers and the editor I hired and the extra editing passes I did myself, AND it happens to be what’s open on my desktop right now, it’s the book you’re going to get an excerpt from, dagnabbit! Here’s how my math works this time around: since we have 10-30-13, I’m splitting it up 103-013 and giving your 13 lines from page 103. In this scene, Arthur and his advisers have just suggested to Cador and Yseult that they wed for political reasons, to strengthen the kingdom of Dumnonia in southern Britain:

“Would you have any objections to such a match, Cador?” Arthur asked.
Only that it is what I have dreamt of since I started dreaming of such things. Only that if Yseult were my wife, she might no longer be my friend. Only that she has a lover who is also my friend. Only that having a dream so close within my reach scares me more than an army of Saxons on the other side of a valley.
“No,” he said. “The thought has crossed my mind that Kustennin would be the best choice as my heir – if it were possible. But I have no interest in pressuring Yseult into a marriage she does not want.”
“Think on it,” Arthur said, rolling up the map. “And now I suspect the two of you may want to discuss the idea alone. Myrddin, Modrun?”
The Queen of Gower turned to Yseult, practically ignoring Cador. “I cannot claim that my instinct is always right in these matters,” Modrun said. “But I suspect the two of you could be happy together.”
“Perhaps even happier than most,” Myrddin said with a smile.
With that, the Dux Bellorum and his advisors departed, leaving Cador and Yseult to their silence and their thoughts. His gaze caught on one of the ceremonial swords decorating the walls of the hall, a mosaic of bright stones in its hilt. As stunning and useless as Arthur’s suggestion. Yseult would never agree to marry him, he knew.

WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts. 🙂

A research dilemma: new archeological discoveries at Caerleon. (And an update).

I do love research. Collecting information and brainstorming plot elements that will fit what I’ve found is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing for me. And now that I’m back to The Pendragon Chronicles with A Wasted Land, I’ve been collecting new research gems and brushing up on old, creating a visual mosaic using Pinterest.

This last week, while I was googling visuals for the various settings of the novel, I stumbled across a fascinating link to new archeological discoveries in Caerleon, the Caer Leon of my novels. A complete building complex outside of the walls of the original Roman fortress, unknown of until just a few years ago, had been excavated and is being analyzed.

Archeologists are now debating whether Caerleon might have been much more important than previously presumed. While I absolutely love historical mysteries like this and the way they change the past we think we know, it presents me with a bit of a problem: when I was writing Yseult, no one knew about the existence of these “new” buildings, and so they are not a part of my descriptions of Caer Leon. I completed Yseult around 2004-2005, and these excavations did not take place until 2011. Theoretically, I could have read about these new developments while I was working on Shadow of Stone, since the geophysical surveys on which the excavations were based were conducted between 2006 and 2011. (I completed the first draft of Shadow of Stone in 2010.) But while I was writing the second book of The Pendragon Chronicles, I was under pressure to finish the book quickly, and I was relying heavily on previous research for the first book.

Now I am sorely tempted to go back and add a sentence of description here or there in the first two books, integrating the additional buildings into the setting. I realize that few readers will be aware that buildings are missing in my description, but, well, I want to get it right, you know? At the same time, I know there is no direct evidence that Caerleon was even occupied during the period I am writing about, Sub-Roman Britain and the Dark Ages. Except: the name Caerleon (Caer Leon) is derived from Welsh “fortress of the legion,” which seems a pretty clear indication that the location was regarded as a military site for some time. Also, it’s surprising how several of the streets of the present-day town are on a similar grid with the northern half of the former Roman garrison. Common sense would seem to indicate ongoing occupation, given those details, but of course, common sense is not scientific. I’m writing fiction, though, and it’s details like that which inspire me to create my own fantastic version of history.

Which I might now have to change …

* * *

Progress this week has continued to go well. Yesterday was a family day, so I only got a few hundred words of research and notes in, but today, I wrote about another 1500 words on A Wasted Land — despite more research and note-taking. The birds in the garden have no respect for my notes, however — at one point, I had to wipe a rather unseemly blotch off the papers. But better that than the keyboard of my netbook, I guess.

Anyway, A Wasted Land in now over 10,000 words, putting me at almost 7,000 words for the week. Still not breaking any records, but for me this is very good progress, especially without experiencing any kind of stress to speak of.

Next week, however, there will be a lot to do for the upcoming trip, so I’m not expecting the same kind of progress. Then Iceland and the Pacific Northwest, and this blog will temporarily become more of a travel blog. 🙂