2 July 2013

Tuesday Guests: Connie Jensen and Kathleen Herbert

Connie is the publisher of Trifolium Books, and is about to re-release the wonderful 'Heroic Age' novels by Kathleen Herbert.

Kathleen Herbert
Anyone back in the 80's who was reading historical fiction set in the 'Dark Ages', who was passionate about the 'Arthurian' period and the early years of English settlement should remember Kathleen's beautiful and inspirational novels. She entertained with her gift of tale-telling - and her extreme knowledge of things Anglo-Saxon - and encouraged those of us who wanted to write. 

I am one of the wannabes who dear Kathleen helped. Way before I had even started dreaming of actually being published she told me to go away and get my novel written.
We met at an Arthurian lecture-day that was somewhere or other (I think, probably, London, but I honestly can't remember). It must have been back in the early 80's. I sat next to this lovely lady who smiled and said hello and made me giggle when she murmured various corrections out the corner of her mouth when the lecturer made a few errors. In the break we got talking and I confessed that I wanted to write an Arthurian novel. She berated me, and told me to go home and get on with it. She told me that it might never get published, but it certainly wouldn't if I didn't write it. 

Several other authors have helped me up the ladder since then - Sharon Penman for one, Elizabeth Chadwick, another, but it was dear Kathleen who gave me the confidence - and the boot up the backside - to actually get started. 

In 1994 Kathleen had a massive stroke. Her tenacity, strength and humour enabled her to rebuild her life and carry on for a while, but much damage was done. She is now elderly and frail, and I am sad to hear that her physical and mental health is declining, but equally, I am so delighted that her laughter, her knowledge, and her huge love of the written word are going to continue because of Connie's fine care of her books, which are all to be re-published by Trifolium Books.

Thank you Connie, for myself and for all readers who love well-written, fabulous historical fiction. And who remember Kathleen with such fondness.

To tell you about this project, please welcome Connie, and in spirit, Kathleen herself: 

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I often wake up astonished. I rub my eyes, stretch, make my first cup of coffee, and I'm still astonished: I'm a publisher.

One choice leads to another. The first choice automatically closes down many others and with each successive choice you make you find yourself propelled along an ever narrowing channel until you arrive at a point of no return and think: How did I get here? At what point did I make the decision that led me to this place?

When I retired a few years ago, I didn't expect to be idle: I would read, garden, travel, make jewellery, and above all see much more of family and friends. The pressure, however, would be off. And now, the pressure is always on - to write a new blog post, edit the website, contact reviewers and book sellers, all in the name of promoting my authors. That's the everyday pressure - then there is the more intense and exciting pressure of bringing out a new title, with so many choices to make: internal design - typeface, margins, gutter size, running heads, chapter heads; and above all, the cover: the element that decides whether the book sells or sits on the shelf!

And this is the place I find myself today, so when my lovely host Helen invited me to write a guest blog, I was delighted to have the chance to ask more people what their choices would be. Above all, I want there to be no nasty surprises when a reader opens Bride of the Spear.

Many choices have already been made as you can see from this rough draft, but there are many more decisions still to make. You have an opportunity to influence this cover design- and a chance to win one of the first copies of the book hot off the press.

Let me tell you something about this book, its history and place in the trilogy, and its remarkable author.

Kathleen Herbert:
Queen of the Lightning and Ghost in the Sunlight
In the 1980's Kathleen Herbert was a popular and successful author, winning the Georgette Heyer Memorial prize for Queen of the Lightning in 1983.  She retired from her teaching job a year later to dedicate her time to writing and research. Ghost in the Sunlight was published in 1986 as a sequel to Queen of the Lightning. Both books were highly successful, being translated into several languages and running to many editions.

Bride of the Spear
In 1988 Bodley Head published Bride of the Spear, calling it the "third of Herbert's trilogy set during the Dark Ages of Britain". Now this was very misleading: some readers were caught by this and found the books disjointed. A respectable publishing house should have known better! It may have been published last, but it was the first to be written and it is set earlier than the others. Each can be read on its own, but you gain a richer experience from reading them in sequence.

The original title was The Lady of the Fountain, and it was privately published as a slim little book in 1982. The story of how Kathleen had to cut it is told on Trifolium Books' blog, where you can read more about the book itself, as well as its misleading earlier cover design.

The three books have been variously known as The Northumbrian or Cumbrian Trilogy. They have a much wider geographical setting than either suggests, ranging from Lothian and Strathclyde, through modern Yorkshire and North Wales to the Midlands, hence the new title: Northern Kingdoms. They were originally published in a haphazard way too- the disparate designs conveyed no sense that they belonged together. I intend not only to publish them in correct sequence, but to design all three covers with similar iconography: the moon pendant which will appear on the back cover is a piece I made for Kathleen in the 1980s (remember I mentioned jewellery?) It is my interpretation of the triple moon necklace worn by heroine Riemmelth, the last princess of Rheged, in Queen of the Lightning. The three phases of the moon represent the three aspects of the Goddess- the Virgin, the Mother and the Crone. The Mothers, and the conflict between the old religion and the new are important in all the books, and so the moon pendant will appear on all three.

Other changes in the new versions will be the addition of extra historical notes and comments from Kathleen's letters and papers.

And the story? Arthur, the last High King of the once civilised Roman province of Britannia, has been dead for fifty years. The last British kings of the North are fighting for survival in a welter of feuding and treachery.

Taniu, neglected and unloved daughter of King Loth of Lothian, is out gathering herbs when she meets a handsome young huntsman, unaware that he is Prince Owain of Cumbria. The two promise to meet in the spring, but when the awaited time comes and the King of Cumbria applies to Loth for the hand of his daughter, Taniu refuses, never connecting huntsman and prince.  Tragedy, bloodshed and separation follow, but there is a satisfyingly upbeat ending.

Competition #1
Connie: I am running two competitions: the first is a draw for a copy of Bride of the Spear. All you have to do to enter is to comment on the cover- let me know how it makes you feel, and what you think about the colour and positioning of the title etc. I originally had these in hot colours, but have used blue/greys for my latest version, following a suggestion from a reader.
(enter the competition at the link HERE - not on this page!)

When all the books are published, I intend to have another draw: a copy of the moon pendant, in sterling silver, will go to the winner, who will need to show me receipts for the purchase of all three books in order to enter. There will be more details on my blog and website in due course.

competition #2
Helen: As my own contribution to say thank you to Connie, everyone who leaves a comment beneath this blog post (on main blog only please, not FB or Goodreads) will be entered in a draw to win a copy of The Kingmaking - which would not have been written if it wasn't for Kathleen.

Historical Novels from Trifolium Books

The story of how I came to publish Moon in Leo appears here on Deborah Swift's excellent blog, Royalty Free Fiction and there is more about Kathleen on  Trifolium Books' Blog here

I have two other writers at present: Carla Nayland, whose gritty and atmospheric story of Eadwine of Deira- is set, like Bride of the Spear, in Britain's Heroic Age after the Romans; and Julia Newsome. Julia's Young Adult time-slip novel is about a young Athenian athlete from 432 BC who exchanges conscience with a modern girl. I am hoping to publish the sequels of both novels some time in the near future! 

In order to celebrate the imminent publication of Bride of the Spear, I am reducing the prices of all three e-books on Amazon- check my blog for details

After Northern Kingdoms, what next?
A note from Trifolium Books' editor Mike Jensen

Kathleen's latest novel project was one to show the breaking down of the feudal system 'and the violence, muddle, treachery and suffering that came with that breakdown.' At the same time she wanted to explore the use of the Arthurian legend in 14th century England: how the Norman aristocracy, 'in their spare time, liked to decorate their lives with the beauty and glamour of romance ... and liked to see themselves as the chivalry of Camelot.'
She also wanted to show the beginnings of 'the revival of English as an international medium.' 'It so happens that in my novel, Thomas of Kendal (an Oxford scholar and poet) has seen a copy of the ms of Layamon's Brut (it's now about 150 years old) and quotes it to a sceptical Welsh girl who thinks that English is what the proles sing in pubs.'
That "sceptical Welsh girl" is the central character, on her own heroic journey from hatred to love, from indoctrination to autonomy. Kathleen wrote 50,000 words and left lots of research notes, plot lines and incidents. I am doing my best to complete the work as she would approve.
Thank you Helen for this opportunity to write about Kathleen and my other authors, but above all, thank you for your friendship and support in my attempt to bring the work of some excellent writers to a wider audience.
Trifolium Books UK, Website and Blog:

Connie Jensen
My greatest pleasure Connie - it is an honour to be hosting Kathleen's talented writing here on my blog. I still have the original copies of her books - and let me conclude with this: 

Above, I refer to the 'Dark Ages'. Kathleen prefers the term 'Heroic Age'.
I agree with her.


  1. I loved Kathleen's Queen of the Lightning in the 80s. I'm so glad they will be republished!

    1. It will be so nice to have these new editions!

  2. So nice to see the books coming back into print; Bride of the Spear is one of my favourite novels of the Heroic Age. And how great that Kathleen Herbert's writing legacy includes not only her own novels, but also those she encouraged or inspired others to write. :)

  3. Thank you Helen for hosting me, and to Susan and Beth for supportive comments. Work continues apace!


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