MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

27 September 2019

Don't Santander Bank On It and PC World is obviously out for the day...

Remember my 13 days spat with British Telecom a while ago?
Well, here we go again, but this time with Santander Bank and PC World (Currys) Both individual matters - but connected.

Daughter Kathy is severely dyslexic. She can't handle things like bank statements. She started getting letters a few months ago from Santander about something, but as we thought the account was empty - and closed -  we followed the last line of letter which said 'to ignore the letter if the problem had been dealt with.

(As an aside, I have given up trying to close my old Santander account because you can't just go online and click 'close account'. I tried that, the account didn't close. I still get statements saying £00.00 ... what a waste of paper!)

Anyway... these letters have started again  but we still have absolutely no idea about the reason behind them.


I wanted to talk to someone. Phoned yesterday. Got nowhere because of security. I put Kathy on the phone to give permission for me to speak on her behalf. Security questions - which she couldn't answer because we have no idea of any recent transactions or what direct debits there are on the account because there aren't any and we thought the account was closed! I gave up.

Best option is to speak to someone face to face? Yes, in theory but...

I phoned Santander this morning to make an appointment with our local (hah 14 miles away) branch manager. I had to phone the general number (they don't give out individual branches.)

I was asked:  "What is the appointment for?"
"I need to make a complaint about the poor sorting out of an issue and to see if it can be resolved quickly and easily."
"You need complaints."
"No I want to speak to a branch manager. I need an appointment."
"We can't make appointments. You can go in and ask to speak to the manager."
"What and wait for hours? No. I need an appointment."
"You can't make an appointment. You have to go in to your branch" (repeat this line of conversation several times)
Me: "So, you are telling me that the branch manager is not at all busy and I can just walk into the bank and see him/her fairly quickly without having to wait for ages?"
"No our branch managers are very busy."
Me: "Which is why I want to make an appointment."
"You can't. You can speak to someone else at the bank."!
"No, I can't. The last time we tried that the minion was an imbecile and didn't know how to handle this issue. I need to speak to (well Ok shout at, but I didn't say that) the manager."
Him: "We can't make an appointment for that issue."

Minions, Banana, Steve The Minion

(me deep breath.)
"Right, I want to make an appointment for a different issue."
"We can't do that you've already raised an issue. You need to go into your bank."
"So if I put the phone down and call back in one minute I can raise a different issue and make an appointment?"
(Give me strength)

1 minute later:

 I redialled. Got someone different.
"I wish to make an appointment with my nearest branch manager."
"Certainly madam. Which branch and may I ask why?"
"Barnstaple and to sort out an ongoing muddle with my disabled daughter's account."
"Certainly. I'll get the branch manager's diary up on screen.."

The scream you might have heard reverberating through the ether was me...

Round three will be tomorrow. Watch this space.


Went into store about ten days ago. Gave the assitant details of the new PC that I wanted. Fine. Paid, booked an appointment for tomorrow to collect it and have a 1 hour session with their technician to assist me with setting it so that I can use it (my sight problem is a problem).

Got home, discovered that he'd ordered the wrong one. an i3 not an i5.

Phoned the central number, aked tobe put forward to Barnstaple, Devon.
Them: "Where?"
"NO Barnstaple. B for bugger " (OK I said Bertie but thought the other one.)

Eventually got through. Explained situation. OK we'll order the correct one and have it here for the 28th at 11.30.

Yeah right, believe that when I see it.


Well of course, the appoinment with the above mentioned elusive branch manager at Santander bank, Barnstaple is at the same time as my appointment at PC world... wouldn't y' just believe it!

Phoned the central number again.
"Barnstaple, Devon."
B BBBBB Barnstaple!"
long wait....
"They are not answering."
"Well I need to speak to them urgently."
"You could go to the store."
"It's fourteen or so miles away. I need to alter an appointment."
"I'll email them and get them to call you back."
"When will that be?"
"Don't know. I'll mark it as urgent."

That was at about midday.

I phoned again.
At least the chap had heard of Barnstaple...
No answer from the store.
"I'll keep trying." He said. "If I can't get through I'll call you at three o'clock."

Me: "Alexa. What's the time?"
Alexa: "It's 4.01 pm."
Reult for PC world, they called at 5pm... yes the new PC is there. Yes the appointment can be changd.

So now to just battle Santander... wish us luck!

Like I said....

24 September 2019

Tuesday Talk - A Little Bit of Time

We never seem to have enough of it. The alarm goes off at silly o’clock, we get up, go to work, come home, cook dinner, go out, go to bed, can’t sleep… until it’s time to get up again. But are we ruled by Time? Is Time the master? How many times (LOL) do we hear ‘Oh if only there were thirty-six hours in a day!’

But how was it in the past? How much did Time – the telling of it, or lack of it, affect our ancestors?

Most ancient civilizations kept track of the hours and seasons via the sun and moon, with the first ‘calendars’ created by stone-age hunter-gatherers: Stonehenge in England’s Wiltshire as a possible example. (I say ‘possible’ because we don’t actually know for certain what Stonehenge was for!)

Stonehenge, Architecture, History

Sundials were among the first timekeeping tools, the oldest known being discovered in# Egypt's Valley of the Kings in 2013 and dating back to circa 1500 BC. Egyptian shadow clocks divided daytime into twelve parts with each further divided into more precise parts, the sun cast a shadow over the marks as it moved across the sky. The drawback for sundials is that you need the sun to create a shadow in order for them to work. OK for Egypt, not so good for Britain. Ancient dials had straight hour-lines of varied lengths with a day divided into twelve equal segments regardless of the season, therefore, some hours were shorter in winter and longer in summer. Using hours of equal length throughout the year was adopted in 1371, and appeared in Western sundials from around 1446. 

Sundial, Clock, Old, Antique, Metal

 To deal with the night or overcast days, there were water clocks and a system for tracking star movements. Water clocks were much used in ancient Greece and the Romans adopted a similar idea. An advantage of the water clock (apart from the weather or night) was that they could function indoors. 

Clocks have used a variety of power sources aside from the sun and water - gravity, springs, and electricity. Mechanical clocks were widespread during the 14th century when they were used in medieval monasteries to keep to the scheduling of and calling to prayers.

The earliest mention of candle clocks comes from a Chinese poem, written in ad 520 with similar candles being used in Japan until the early 10th century.The candle clock most often mentioned is attributed to King Alfred the Great, consisting of six candles made from seventy-two pennyweights of wax, each twelve inches (30 cm) high, and of uniform thickness. These were marked at every inch (2.54 cm). The candles burned for about four hours, so the marks conveyed a time keeping of about twenty minutes. They were placed in wooden framed boxes to prevent the flame from blowing out. Al-Jazari had highly sophisticated candle clocks by 1206. 

The hourglass was a reliable method of measuring time while at sea, possibly used on ships from as far back as the 11th century, although undisputed evidence dates back to 1338. From the 15th century, hourglasses were used at sea, in churches, industry, and cooking; they were dependable, reusable, fairly accurate and constructed easily. Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan used eighteen hourglasses on each ship when he circumnavigated the globe in 1522.

Hourglass, Time, Sand Glass, Hour, Glass

Medieval European clockmakers were Catholic monks. The Church required accurate
clocks to regulated daily prayer. Mechanical clocks were often wound at least twice a day to ensure accuracy. Monasteries also broadcast important times and durations by the use of church bells, which was the start of a wider-spread method of time-keeping for those living outside of the more personal sphere of timekeeping. With the coming of the need for regular prayer came the need to be aware of the hours of the day, throughout the day – and night.

Salisbury cathedral’s clock, dating to circa 1386, is one of the oldest working clocks in the world. It retains most of its authentic parts, although its early mechanism was converted to a pendulum, which was then replaced with a replica of the original in 1956. It has no dial, as its purpose was to strike a bell at precise times. 

Cathedral, Salisbury, England, Church
Salisbury Cathedral
and the clock
Early clock dials showed only hours with minutes and seconds evolving much later. A clock with a minutes dial is mentioned in a 1475 manuscript, and clocks indicating minutes and seconds existed in Germany in the 15th century. Timepieces indicating minutes were not common until an increase in accuracy became possible by the pendulum clock. Astronomer Tycho Brahe used clocks with minutes and seconds in the 16th century to observe the position of the stars.

One of the earliest references to an 'arm watch' was given to Queen Elizabeth I by Robert Dudley with the idea for wristwatches dating back to the 16th century and almost exclusively worn by women. Men had the pocket-watch. Watches were highly prone to damage from the elements, so were kept safe in a pocket, particularly when the waistcoat came into fashion at the court of Charles II. 

Clock, Pocket Watch, Movement

In England, the pendulum longcase clock (the grandfather clock) was created by William Clement in 1670/71, with a concentric minute hand added soon after by Daniel Quare, a London clock-maker, and then the Second Hand was introduced. The minute hand was added to pocket watch faces around 1680 in Britain, 1700 in France.

Grandfather Clock, Clock, Pendulum, Time

A major need to improving the accuracy and reliability of clocks was for precise time-keeping where navigation at sea was concerned, but this did not come about until 1761.

One debate for the writers of historical fiction is whether to use the expression of seconds or minutes in narrative and dialogue. The concept of ‘seconds’ was rarely used prior to the early 1700s, minutes perhaps by the mid-1600s. But did ordinary everyday folk use, or even have need of, minutes and seconds? Dawn, noon and dusk were the essentials. Without education – or accurate clocks – timekeeping outside of the hour, quarter-hour and half-hour were meaningless. So dialogue of things like “I’ll be there in a minute" for a 14th-century character is an anachronism. Maybe use ‘moment’ instead? And "she froze for several seconds" prior to the mid-1700s is again, not a good idea – heartbeats instead of seconds perhaps?

But what about narrative? Is it acceptable for us to use “he stood and watched her for several minutes" in a novel set in Tudor times OK? Or isn't it?

What do you think?

Helen Hollick

19 September 2019

To Celebrate Talk Like A Pirate Day

"Arrr! 'Ere's to tha Jolly Roger me ol' mates!"

"...a lot of fun to read whilst being an excellent opportunity to find out exactly what went on in the golden era of the pirate.Helen Hollick has an inimitable style which informs at the same time as being amusing and easily digestible."

a conversation with
Captain Jesamiah Acorne: Pirate
Governor Woodes Rogers: Pirate Hunter
Ahoy Captain! Permission to come aboard? 
What’s that? [peers over the side of the ship. Grins.] Oh, it’s you! [laughs.] You come to ask more of them impertinent questions of yours? Come on then, I’ll give you half a turn of the half-hour-glass. But as soon as the tide changes I must be on m’way.

Can you introduce yourself to those who don’t know you yet?
[raises one eyebrow] What? You mean there are still folks out there who don’t know me? I am Captain Jesamiah Acorne. I am in my mid-twenties and I used to be a pirate but I signed my name in a Book Of Amnesty. Except I’ve found that I’ve been in more trouble, had more fights, been in more danger ever since the day I did so! I was born in England but spent my first fourteen years at my father’s tobacco plantation in Virginia. I had a rotten childhood, thanks to my evil half-brother … but I don’t want to talk about that sea slug, apart from to say I beat him to a pulp a few months before my fifteenth birthday and then ran away to sea. Best thing I ever did, for I found the freedom and the joy of a life I love – to be aboard my ship.
I have a wife, well she was my girlfriend for a while, her name is Tiola (say it Tee-o-la) and she is very special in more ways than one. She is a midwife and a healer, and, well, like I said, she’s special. [Changes the subject, for Jesamiah will never reveal what Tiola really ist]. I suppose I ought to confess that I often enjoy the thrill of danger, trouble seems to follow me like a ship’s wake, although there are times that the danger gets too dangerous if you follow my drift. The hangman’s noose has come a bit too close for comfort on occasion! I’d not give this life up for a cosy one ashore, though. 

As a famous sea captain, we imagine you know Captain Woodes Rogers. How did you meet and what was your first impression about him? 
[snorts] Rogers? Oh aye, I know him. He has some good ideas but he can be a pain in the backside [touches his three-corner hat] if you excuse m’language ma’am. My first impression of him, when we met in Cape Town, Africa, was that he was a bit of a blustering idiot. He liked the sound of his own voice, got grumpy with anyone who disagreed with him. And he hated pirates. Just as well he didn’t realise that I was a pirate, back then eh? [laughs].

And what is your opinion now? 
Oh, he’s an even bigger pain the arse, but I admire him. He is doing his best to rid the Caribbean of piracy – we had our day, but to tell the truth, it all got too out of hand, too violent, too much need for greed, and too many incompetents making a mess of things and turning the merchants against us. I guess it was inevitable that it would have to end sooner rather than later. I signed my name in Rogers’ Book Of Amnesty and ceased being a pirate, although the bloody, excuse me ma’am, man decided I could do other things instead in order to help him out occasionally – things that run too close to the wind in the getting me killed department!

Have you ever believed that his promises would have worked to straighten the pirates out, or do you think a wolf’s true nature can’t be changed after all? 
Oh aye, I think he’s doing the best he can. He is a sailor – a good one – he circumnavigated the world, came back with a vast fortune from raiding the Spanish. His failure was to trust the British Government though. They took most of that fortune, and promised to finance his ideas to turn Nassau into a respectable and worthwhile trade centre – free from the threats of piracy – but they broke their word and never backed him financially. He’ll become ill and go bankrupt eventually because he’s financing everything himself, silly bugger. I feel sorry for him. He has good ideas, good intentions, just poor support. 

One last question: what kind of role do you believe you have in Woodes Rogers’ personal story, where he would be the protagonist instead? 
[Laughs] I’d have a very short part to play in his story I reckon – he’d as soon hang me as a pirate if he knew about some of the things I get up to! Mind you, his life would make a good story if someone was to tell it… Well, that’s it, the tide has turned, I must weigh anchor and be about m’business. It’s been good talking – mind y’step as you go ashore. 

available published under new colours! (Penmore Press)  
Part two: Governor, Captain Woodes Rogers 

Excuse me, Governor. Can you receive me? 
Eh? What’s that? Speak up I’m a bit deaf y’know – it’s the great guns, they dull the hearing y’know, ha ha! Come you in to my study. Can I serve ye a glass of wine? Finest Madeira y’know. Sit, sit! Sit y’self down. I can’t be standing for long, gout y’know. Pains me along with wounds received in battle against the Spanish. Now then, what is it ye be wanting, eh? 

Can you introduce yourself to my readers?
What? [frowns] Introduce m’self? I am Captain Woodes Rogers, Governor of the Bahamas, based here in Nassau. My job is to rid the seas in these parts of pirates, and protect these shores from the Spanish – both be a  bit of a task t’tell ye the truth! There’s some who say I was a pirate in m’younger days – not so, not so! I sailed as a privateer with full authority from Her Majesty, Queen Anne, God rest her soul, to have at the Spanish with whom England was at war. I was successful too – sailed around the world I did, though I got wounded for m’troubles. Nay, nay, I were never a pirate, I never attacked English ships, only the Spanish. Though I guess them Spaniards say I’m a pirate, what? Ha ha!  

We know you have quite the friendly acquaintance with Captain Jesamiah Acorne. What can you tell us about him?
[frowns again ] Hmm, not sure I’d say ‘friendly’, he’s a bit of a rascal you know. Can’t say I would trust him further than I could toss a cannonball! But, he has been useful, very useful, and I’m hoping he’ll continue to be useful in the future. I need to put an end to piracy y’see and the best way to do that? Set a pirate to catch a pirate! Though our Captain Acorne usually takes a bit of persuading to do as I ask. I think’ blackmail’ is the common term? Still wouldn’t trust the scamp, though, wouldn’t trust him. 

I noticed that Captain Acorne seems to have a bit of a problem with authority. Do you think offering amnesty will make an honest man out of him? 
[laughs] Never on your life! Once a scamp always a scamp, though I do admit to you (do not tell him I said this!) he is a decent man underneath it all. He has a sense of honour – oh not to King, Country or me, but to his ship and his pride. He is probably one of the best sailors I know, one of the best, and I know a lot of sailors I can tell ye! And I admit this, he is a darn good man to have at your side in a fight – if you ever want someone to cover your back, get Acorne. You’d probably have to threaten him or pay him a chest of gold to do it, mind you! Man’s a rascal, a right rascal. Reminds me of m’self when I was his age, ha ha! 

What pushed you into such a bold move, probably in disagreement with most powerful men of your era, of offering every pirate who would accept it a pardon?
It seems sensible to me, and you are right, it took a lot of persuading of those lump-heads in the English Parliament to see it my way. Too many of ’em are merchants of course, who have lost fortunes to the pirates. But what is the alternative? Send the Navy to fight? Don’t make me laugh! Those useless swabs of the English Navy couldn’t fight their way out of a bathtub, let alone the Caribbean! There are not enough ships, not enough trained, disciplined men, not enough experienced captains or officers. No, no, the best way is to offer amnesty. Most of the pirates have had enough anyway, few of ’em see the fortune they were expecting – the novelty of it, you see, is wearing off. When I arrived in Nassau they welcomed me with open arms – a free pardon, a chance to live instead of hang. Over two-thousand of ’em signed my book you know. Oh, there were a few like Blackbeard, Charles Vane and Jack Rackham who defied me, but I’ll have ’em, you’ll see them hang, mark my words.  

One last question: what do you believe is your role in Jesamiah Acorne’s story? 
[chuckles] To keep the scamp on the straight and narrow I’d say! For all his signing of my book, he attracts trouble – aye and not always from the Spanish or other pirates! He’s too fond of the ladies is that one, and we all know how much trouble a woman, or her husband, ha ha, can be don’t we! Nay, I’ll keep an eye on the lad – he’s too useful for me, you see. I need him to carry out some of my plans…

"Well then ye swabs, while ye be swiggin' tha rum 
would ye be interistid in readin' a foo art'cles about tha sea 
an' us pirates?"
It's Fun To Be A Pirate... Or Is It?

How Sea Witch Set Sail

What's In A Name? Pirates and Their Names

What Pirates Needed Was A Book Of Boat's Names!

The Black Heart of Blackbeard

Charles Vane - A Reign of Terror

All nations: a mixture of the dregs of alcohol left in bottles.
Anne’s fan: a disturbance or thumbing your nose at the rules.
Bagpiper: a long-winded talker.
Bark at the moon: to waste your breath.
Bear garden jaw: foul language.
Beggar maker: a publican or taverner.
Belly gut: a greedy or lazy person.
Bring to one’s bearings: to see common sense.
Bull calf: someone who is clumsy.
Calfskin fiddle: a drum.
Cat sticks: thin legs..
Clodpoll: an idiot.
Cold cook: an undertaker.
Dutch concert: everyone playing or singing a different tune.
Eternity box: a coffin.
Fire a gun: to speak without tact.
Fish broth: saltwater.
Fly in a tar box: excited.
Full as a goat: very drunk.
Grog: watered rum.
Grog blossom: a drunkard.
Groggified: very drunk.
Gundiguts: a fat person.
Gut-foundered: hungry.
Handsomely: quickly or carefully.
Hang the jib: to pout or frown..
Hempen halter: a noose.
Higgling cart: a special cart used by hawkers or peddlers.
Hog in armour: a boastful lout.
Hornswaggle: to cheat, or trick.
Horse’s meal: food without a drink.
Hot: a concocted mixture of gin and brandy served warm.
Jack Ketch: an English executioner, his name became synonymous with hanging.
Jaw me down: a talkative fellow.
Loaded to the gunwale: drunk.
Look like God’s revenge against murder – very angry.
Lumping pennyworth: a bargain.
Marry old boots: to marry another man’s mistress.
Measured fer yer chains: to be imprisoned..
Ope: an opening or passageway between buildings..
Paper skull: a fool.
Pipe: a wine cask which held up to 105 gallons.
Pipe tuner: a crybaby.
Pump ship: urinate.
Rabbit hunting with a dead ferret: a pointless exercise.
Remedy critch: a chamberpot.
Ride to fetch the midwife: be in haste.
Run a rig: to play a trick, to cheat someone.
Rusty guts: a surly fellow.
Scallywag: a scoundrel.
Snail’s gallop: to go very slowly.
Soose: a coin.
Spanish trumpeter: a donkey.
Take a caulk: take a nap.
Tilly tally: nonsense.
Trodden on your/my eye: a black eye..
Turned off: hanged.

e-book only
buy from Amazon
Not Pirates - Smugglers!

Chill With A Book book of the month winner

17 September 2019

When Heroes Die...

I am posting a revisit to this wonderful article 
by Kimberley Reeman published here on my blog 
a couple of weeks ago 
because my internet was down when it went live 
- which was extremely annoying.

Her article will be of interest to readers and writers alike:

 what do we, as writers, feel about killing our characters off?
what do we, as readers, feel?

the article is also a tribute to Douglas Reeman
aka Alexander Kent
lovers of nautical fiction greatly miss him and his novels.

So here's the link - do take a look!

10 September 2019

Do you enjoy reading novels? Well then...

Authors take a lot of time and effort to write the novels that you enjoy reading, and, in the case of many indie authors, they spend a lot of money also. For the most part, for little financial reward. 

The J.K. Rowlings of the author world are, believe me, few and far between. Most of the many hundreds (thousands?) of indie authors just about cover their costs of paying editors, cover designers, the company that publishes the book for them... But that is all a part of the job, a job which, for nearly every author, is a labour of love. We write because it is compulsive. We meet our characters, we have their stories in our heads and we have to write them down. Otherwise, those characters haunt us, nagging and nagging until we get their adventures down in print.

Book, Read, Old, Literature, Pages

But why should you write a review?
Good reviews, the five and four-star ones, can help readers make decisions.  Most people read the reviews on Trip Advisor, for instance, before deciding on a hotel. Poor reviews mean 'look elsewhere'. Good, honest reviews can assist a comfortable, pleasant stay. Ditto with books. Genuine praise means a book is (probably) worth reading. 

Add to this, the number of reviews on Amazon help a book's visibility (allegedly, Amazon can be a law unto itself).  If you love a writer's work and want others to share your enjoyment, leaving a review is a brilliant way of making this happen.

Think of it as your good deed for the day!

No professional writer expects all their reviews to be 5* - a 4* is just as much appreciated.
And you don't have to use Amazon! What about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram...?

Put a quick review on Twitter or Facebook, something simple: "I've just read XXX by XXX - loved it!", with maybe the Amazon or Goodreads link so your followers can quickly go to the book.

Word of mouth, (or Tweet or text) you know, is the most effective way to hear about good books worth reading!

Book, Book Pages, Read, Roses, Romantic

 Star Rating Guide:

Except we're not really interested in the last three are we? I am a firm believer in 'if you can't say something nice, say nothing."

You do not have to write an essay! A plain 'I really enjoyed this novel, I'll be reading more by this author' is good enough.
Amazon can be pernickety about reviews for authors who are friends, but there's no reason why you shouldn't post a review if you genuinely enjoyed it (assuming Amazon doesn't delete it.) 

Teddy Bear, Teddy, Bear, Stuffed Animal

There is no 'sell-by', or 'best before' Date on writing a review – read a book a while ago? Feeling guilty that you didn’t write a review at the time? 

No Problem.
Write this in the opening line “I read this book a while ago...” 

An author will be just as pleased to get an honest review whenever it is written.

Storytelling, Story, Telling, Tale

Authors are a funny lot, it takes very little to batter our confidence. 'Why am I doing this?', 'who is going to read this twaddle?' are common thoughts for us authors.

A genuine, lovely review can absolutely make an author's day - and spur us on to get that next book written...

I'm not hinting...
Well Ok, of course I am!

On behalf of myself and my characters:
Thank You, Polaroid, Letters
Leave a review for any (or all!) of my books
(or ANY author - not just me!)
here on Amazon


6 September 2019

Novel Conversations with Annie Whitehead's character Penda

Meet Penda

Q: Hello, I’m Helen the host of Discovering Diamonds Novel Conversations, please do make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink? Tea, coffee, wine – something stronger? 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 entitled Cometh the Hour. Would you like to introduce yourself? Are you a lead character or a supporting role?  
A: Good morning. I do not know what you mean by tea, coffee and chocolate. Some of that fruit does not look familiar to me either, but I will gladly take a cup of wine, thank you. I am Penda, Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia and I am the lead character in the novel. 

Q: What is the novel about?
A: It is about my life and my struggles against a spiteful, murderous, brother and against the northern kings who wish to make our kingdom of Mercia into a puppet state. But the story is personal, too, for these northern kings have also wronged my womenfolk. 

Q: No spoilers, but are you a ‘goodie’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both!)
A: Ah, Lady, that is a fine question! I am a goodie, I think, although my enemies hate me because I am what they call a 'pagan'. My wife often also disagrees with me, and frequently puts me in my place, much to her amusement. The world around me is changing, I become a father of children who make their own decisions, and at times this puts me at conflict with my wife. I try at all times to be honourable and I despise hypocrisy. I don't think this makes me a bad person, though.

Q:  Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy!
A: [Scratches chin] I seem to have many enemies. I do not mind what men do, so long as they do not try to take my kingdom or enslave my people. My foes treat their women and children badly and I am, as I said, a family man. The worst of my enemies is Oswii, a man with a callous attitude to his many children and a casual attitude to his wives. His latest wife, though, I'm told, is more than a match for him. This man murdered her kinsman in cold blood and she, little bigger than a child, made him more than sorry for it. Oswii thinks naught of bribery, he is devious, and my author suspects that he is also a child killer. She finds it amusing that he is beset by what he calls interfering women, including St Hild of Whitby, who frustrate him at every turn.

Q: Is this the only novel you have appeared in, or are there others in a series?
A: My author tells me that there will be another book about my family, but she won't tell me whether I will appear in it. That book has been delayed because for the last two years she has been writing about me in what she calls 'nonfiction' books. 

Q: What is one of your least favourite scenes you appear in? 
A: [Shifts in the chair and looks down at the floor] One of my least favourites is when my wife, whom we call Derwena, turns away from me because of a decision I have made, or rather, because for once I did not intervene. I let something happen, which Derwena thinks will put her family at risk, but I felt I had no choice. It drives a wedge between us, and we both suddenly feel the cold wind because we are not standing together, sheltering each other.

Q: And your favourite scene?
A: [Grins] Any where I give my whining, ineffectual, elder brother a bloody nose, and the births of all my children. Those are moments to cherish. I am, at heart, a family man. I will not lie, Lady, there is also something about a battle which makes me feel alive. I am a warrior king, after all.

Q: Tell me a little about your author. Has she written any other books? 
A: She has written two other novels, both set in Mercia, one about a lady called Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, and one set in the reign of King Edgar of Mercia which tells of murder, sex scandals, loyalty and love. She tells me she worked with you on a collection of stories about 1066, when we Anglo-Saxons are at war with someone called William. She has written two of her 'nonfiction' books, one all about the history of Mercia and starting with me, apparently, and one about Anglo-Saxon women which she says is currently with the publishers.

Q: Is your author working on anything else at the moment?
A: I'm touched by her loyalty, for she says she has been asked to write my story for a new collection - some more of her 'nonfiction' - and then she has been asked to write some short stories. After that, she tells me, she will write the follow-up to Cometh the Hour.

Q: How do you think authors, such as your author, can be helped or supported by readers or groups?
A: Perhaps I'm the wrong man to ask, not being able to read and write. I can see what she means though when she says word of mouth is an important way of spreading new about her books. Readers' groups help with this, as do reviews, so she tells me. She also loves the way authors support each other.

Thank you King Penda, it was a pleasure talking to you. Would your author like to add a short excerpt? 
And while she is doing that… chatting is thirsty work, would you like another drink…?

Thank you. Do you have any ale though? And I am sorry for not sitting particularly still, but I never was one for relaxing...


[After a fight with his elder brother Eowa, Penda has ridden to the borders of their lands, where he meets a young woman, pregnant and seemingly in need of a friend after her kinsman killed the father of her child. They sit together under the shade of an oak tree and talk. She senses that Penda, too, is troubled and they travel back to the Mercian court together.]
Before Penda had the chance to take her inside, Eowa sauntered from the withy screen which hid the users of the latrine ditches from general view. His nostril still showed traces of dried blood and there was a livid cut across his right eyebrow. He paused when he saw his brother and his gait changed as he strode towards him. “Who’s this?”

Penda said, “I found her in the woods.”

Servants were carrying loaves from the bake-house and meat from the kitchen and folk began to gather for the main meal of the day. Seeing he had the beginnings of an audience, Eowa sneered and said loudly, “Looks like someone else found her first.” He laughed at his own joke and was rewarded with a few titters from those who were close enough to overhear.

Penda’s waif stepped away from his arms and folded her own across her chest as she surveyed Eowa. Keeping her gaze upon the elder of the brothers she spoke to Penda. “This is your brother? I had thought to find someone taller.”

Eowa’s smile fell away, but since her comment fell short of a proper insult, there was little he could say and he merely countered with a “Yes, well, it is time to go within.”

They watched him shuffle off and she said, “You were wrong to ride away after your fight. You should have stayed and pulled his head off, after all.”

Penda laughed. “I think you and I are going to get on, ‘wood elf’.”

She looked at him, unblinking and said, “Your brother is a stupid turd. Your other nearest kin, if I understand you right, is one who in my kingdom is known as Cærl the Sleepy because he never moves. I would say that you are in dire need of a friend. I say again, my grief will lessen with time; yours has many years in which to worsen.”

As they entered the hall, one of the hearth-thegns, Lothar, smiled and in a much more friendly tone than Eowa had employed, said, “I see you’ve caught a wanderer. Are you going to keep her?”

Penda, still affected by her blunt appraisal of his life, whistled in wonder and said, “Lothar, old friend, I do not think this woman will be owned by anyone.”

King Cærl was already seated on his king-stool at the other end of the hall and Penda noticed how quickly Eowa had scuttled over to whisper in his ear. It was only a matter of moments before Cærl extended a bony finger and crooked it in a gesture of summons. Penda sighed and said, “The king wishes to meet you.”

She shrugged. “It is his hall. I should not eat his food without first asking him for it.”

They stood up together and made their way to bow before Cærl. Penda found himself looking at the king as if for the first time, as his new companion would see him. In front of him was an old man, who raised milky eyes to stare at them and spoke in a reedy voice.

“Who is this and where has she come from?”

Penda’s sense of mischief overcame him and he said, “Tandderwen. Derwena.” 

But Cærl, who had never taken the time to converse as freely in Welsh as some of his younger kin, did not understand the translation of the place-name ‘below the oak’, or the name which simply meant ‘oaks’. He beckoned the newcomer to step closer and he said, “Welcome, then, Derwena.”

Eowa was, as usual, clinging so hard to the earlier bad feeling that it tightened his jaw and made his tone harsh. “How can you simply welcome her? Who will feed the child; will my brother take her under his roof? We do not know who she is, or anything of her bloodline.”

‘Derwena’ gazed at Eowa and smiled sweetly. “What matter whose blood flows in me? You are the heir to Mercia, are you not?”

He grunted. “Huh. You would not think so to look at the way my brother behaves.” He indicated his bloody nose.

Penda said, “Stop behaving like an arse then, if you wish me to bow to you. Until then you know where you can shove your…”

“Bastard!” Eowa threw himself at Penda and the force knocked Penda onto the floor.

Penda swiftly turned, bringing Eowa with him so that he was now on top of him. He punched him hard, once with each fist, before standing up and yanking his brother to his feet. He noted with grim satisfaction that Eowa now had a burst lip to go with his bloodied nose.

Eowa put a hand up to his mouth, felt the blood, wiped it angrily, and seemed as if he were about to appeal to Cærl to reprimand Penda, but the king had lost interest and was looking down, inspecting his food as if he had never seen cooked bacon before.

Derwena was looking dispassionately at the royal brothers, apparently unconcerned by the sight of the blood. She stepped closer and wiped Eowa’s mouth with the end of her sleeve. “You see? No matter what flows through our veins, we all bleed the same.”


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