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12 October 2018

Novel Conversations...With Annie Whitehead and Æthelflæd the Lady of Mercia

Note from Helen: I am currently running a series of articles about 1066, the Battle of Hastings and my novel Harold The King (entitled I Am The Chosen King in the US) because the 14th October is the anniversary date of the battle. (click here to go to the start) As this novel was originally a traditional mainstream publication it doesn't count as an Indie BRAG contender so doesn't qualify for a Novel Conversations slot (although the UK version is now indie published) so instead, I have selected another Anglo-Saxon - a Queen...

 In conjunction with Indie BRAG
 posted every Friday

let's meet ...
Æthelflæd, Lady of Mercia

Q: Hello, I’m Helen the host of Novel Conversations, please do make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink? Wine, mead? You’ll find a box of chocolates and a bowl of fruit on the table next to you, please do help yourself. I believe you are a character in Annie Whitehead’s novel To Be A Queen. Would you like to introduce yourself? Are you a lead character or a supporting role?  
A: Good morning. A little wine would be most welcome, thank you. Although I am not sure what you mean by ‘chocolates’? My name is Æthelflæd, although my family calls me Teasel. Am I a lead character? I suppose that I am, given that the novel is about me, but many people, especially the chroniclers, thought that I played a supporting role in the history of England.

Q: What genre is the novel and what is it about?
A: The novel is a work of historical fiction and it tells my life story. I am the daughter of Alfred the Great, I’m married to the leader of Mercia, and it will be my fate to lead my adopted country in the fight against the Viking onslaught, whilst trying to protect Mercian independence. I become a ruler, practically unheard of for women of my time, and whilst I don’t ever become a queen, I learn what it takes to be one.

Q: No spoilers, but are you a ‘goody’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both!)
A: Oh, well, I’d like to think I’m a ‘goody’. I do have my challenges though, and I have a violent temper, which I control well. Most of the time…

Q:  Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy!
A:  May I speak about my brother, Edward? We were very close as children, sharing an upbringing and witnessing our father’s struggles against the Vikings. We also witnessed our mother’s torment as she tried to cope with his long absences. My brother is loyal, and has a strong sense of duty, but an even stronger self-belief. He knows he was born to be a king, and he is pragmatic and logical. Unfortunately, some of his hard-headed decisions have emotional consequences for those who love him.  My author told me that she found our relationship intriguing.

St Oswald's Priory 
burial place of Aethelflaed and her husband
Deerhurst Church: Carving of the Madonna
 featured in the novel
Q: Is this the only novel you have appeared in, or are there others in a series?
A: My author has written other books about my beloved Mercia, but this is the only novel in which I appear (although my author says see below for news of her new book!)

Q: What is one of your least favourite scenes you appear in?
A: There are a few which I’d prefer not to think about: the moment my father announced my wedding, the deaths of people whom I loved, and the day I had to break the news to someone close to me that their beloved had died. I also suffered losses of a more personal nature, which made me feel a failure as a wife, and as a woman. I’ll say no more, if you don’t mind.

Q: And your favourite scene?
A: It’s nothing extraordinary to witness, I suppose, but there is a moment when I realise that I have conquered my fears, and where I learn that my unrealistic expectations are holding me back. It happens after a game of what I suppose you people from the future would call something like chess. Such a simple thing, but you see I was playing against an enemy, and beating her took my fear away, and allowed me to see that she was just a person. From that moment on, I began to believe in my own capabilities, and realised that I was able, no matter what the personal cost, to lead my country when it needed me the most. It’s a real turning point in my story.

Q: Tell me a little about your author. Has she written any other books?
A: My author is passionate about the history of the Anglo-Saxon people, and those of Mercia especially. She’s written two other novels set in Mercia, one which concerns some of the descendants of the people in my story, and centres around Alvar, a nobleman who has to battle to save the monarchy after it is rocked by scandal and murder. He makes many personal sacrifices for the good of the kingdom; is happiness beyond his grasp? The other novel is set in the seventh century and tells the story of Penda, the pagan king who sets out to avenge his womenfolk and becomes embroiled in a deadly feud. She also wrote a story from the Mercians’ perspective for the anthology '1066 Turned UpsideDown', and she has written a history of Mercia, published by Amberley Books in September 2018, and she has kindly included a chapter about me and my husband.

Q: Is your author working on anything else at the moment?
A: She tells me she’s very busy just now, as she has a contract to write a new non-fiction book, she’s working on the sequel to her Penda novel, and she’s also writing a collection of short stories, inspired by her success in winning the Dorothy Dunnett Short Story award in 2017.

Q: How do you think indie authors, such as your author, can be helped or supported by readers or groups? What does your author think is the most useful for her personally?
A: My author likens the process of writing a book to the old idea of a tree falling in a forest. If no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise? Similarly, if a book is written, it isn’t a story until someone has read it. Readers are hugely important to authors and readers’ groups, and especially reviews, mean that the word can spread.

Q: Finally, before we must bid adieu, the novel you appear in has been awarded a prestigious IndieBRAG Medallion, does your author find this helpful, and is there anything else she would like IndieBRAG to do to help indie authors receive the recognition they deserve?
A: My author is incredibly proud that all of her novels have received this award. It is a badge of honour which means that readers have deemed her work to be of the highest quality. Interviews such as this one, and publicity on Social Media, are a great help.

Helen: Thank you Æthelflæd, it was a pleasure talking to you. Would your author like to add a short excerpt?
Æthelflæd: Yes, I think she would like that. Although she’s chosen one of the scenes which I don’t like to think about…
Helen: (frowns, a little concerned)  Well, let us two carry on chatting while she is adding it. Would you like a refill of wine? And I think I have some delicious, although rather sticky, honeycomb here somewhere... 
Æthelflæd: (takes a chunk of very sticky honeycomb, and laughs as the honey dribbles down her fingers.) Aren't bees clever to produce such a delight? And yes please, I certainly would like the wine as well, thank you. Wes Hæl!

Helen: Wes HælHere’s to being a successful Brag Medallion Honouree!
EXCERPT From To Be A Queen

She sat up, pulled on her boots and left the tent. Wulfnoth had disappeared. She was not concerned; he would not have left her unless he knew it was safe to do so. With a growing sense of hope, she walked through a camp which was now near deserted. Dear God, they must have breached the walls, or the gates, or both. Coming to the edge of the encampment she saw the gates of the town hanging open, one almost off its great hinges. Beyond the open gateway, the Danes, surrendered and surrounded, had been herded together. A Mercian banner fluttered from the watchtower. A thegn on the tower pointed his sword at her and began a victory chant. It was taken up by those below, who all joined in, shouting their triumph in the name of their lady. But Æthelflæd was looking at Frith, who walked towards her with his sword still in his hand, hanging low, dragging. He had blood on his face and his long hair was matted. He had his mail coat on and she gave thanks for his innate tendency to be sensible at such times. But he walked like a wounded man, though she could see that he was whole.
    He bowed on one knee before her. “Lady, Derby is yours.”
    She put a hand on his shoulder. “Tell me. Who do we mourn?”
   His blond brows came together to form a single line above his eyes. Beneath those blue-grey eyes, dark shadows of exhaustion robbed him of his beauty. Careworn, fatigued, speaking carefully through a cut lip, he could give her no more than a list of names.   
    "Helmstan, Ælfric, Eadwine, Wulfwine.” The rest of her personal guard. “Eadric.”
    She opened her mouth but stood, gaping. What did she think to say? No? You are wrong? I misheard you? Of course he was not wrong; he would not break his own heart with lies. He struggled to his feet and she squeezed his arm. Nodding towards the inner courtyard she said, “Do what needs to be done here. I will speak to Elfwen.”

Read more about Annie Whitehead tomorrow on 1066 Turned Upside Down


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  1. Thank you Helen, for hosting my Lady today. She asks me to tell you how much she enjoyed conversing with you!

  2. Very enjoyable piece and there are some lovely photographs as well!

    1. Thanks so much Lucienne - it was great fun to let my Lady take over for the day!

  3. The joy of Historical Fiction: You learn something new as I just did about Mercia. Thanks for introducing, ah, may I call her Teasel? Too hard to spell otherwise.
    Congratulations on and best wishes for all your authorly successes, Annie.

    1. Thanks Inge! Yes, I gave her a nickname as it was easier on the eye, and easier to type, too ;-)

  4. Lucienne and Inge - Annie will be replying soon (I happen to know she's away from her desk today (Friday). The interesting thing about Annie's books (apart from the fact that they are superbly written etc) is that Annie knows her history, so the facts ARE the facts. In my mind, the best way to learn about the past is through a well-written meticulously researched novel. Annie's book should be in every school library!

  5. Discovering Aethelflaed (sorry, can't do the dipthongs!) through Annie's book, The Lady of the Mercians' is now probably my fasvourite fermale character from history. The book was a delight and thank you Annie, Aethelflaed and Helen for this most enjoyable interview.....

    1. Thanks Richard - it was a fabulous idea of Helen's; a great way to introduce people to books in a new way :-)

  6. Thoroughly enjoyed reading about a lady from the distant past.

  7. Loved this interview, Annie and Helen. Thank you for allowing Æthelflæd to visit today!

  8. It's so wonderful to read about such an intriguing woman and one who grew to be so strong and worthy of a place in history. This is particularly timely with so much going on in our country to elevate women. I will be highly recommending this books. Thanks Helen and
    Annie- it is a pleasure working with both of you-


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