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Tuesday 30 June 2020

Shining Light On Our Ladies - Featuring Fictional Females...Mairead O’Coneill

... on a Wednesday!
so why is Tuesday Talk appearing a day late? 
Simple... I am starting a new series for July
(and beyond)
and 1st July
(very inconveniently!)
falls on a Wednesday - not a Tuesday!

A new series running for the next few weeks
where my guests are female writers 
talking about their female characters
(and yes, I'll be doing the chaps next!)

Today: Cryssa Bazos
Mairead O’Coneill


Good day to you I’m so very pleased to be here! I’m Mairead O’Coneill, originally from Galway, Ireland. So what is this novel about? Both myself and Iain were separately taken captive by the English, me from my home in Ireland, and he after the Scots lost to the English at Worcester. We were then cruelly shipped to Barbados as indentured servants. Barbados was a wild place, as hot as the infernos of hell, and we were forced to work in the sugar cane fields. I nearly despaired of ever returning home, but an opportunity to escape arose, and we seized it.

There have been times when I’ve been less than stellar. <She leans in to whisper> Once, I cursed my dearest cousin, Ciara. I didn’t mean to—well, at the time I did—but I had been sorely vexed with her, and I hadn’t paused to consider the ramifications of my actions. Curses are like that, you know. To be sure, I regretted it every day, for she was like a sister to me, and it wasn’t truly her fault not knowing that the fickle man who had captured our hearts played us both false. After that, I resolved to protect and shelter Ciara, as best I could .

My lover, my partner, my best friend is Iain Johnstone. His strength I can rely on and while he may be gruff and confrontational when he’s been pushed to the limit, his caring and need to protect runs deep. He may be completely infuriating at times (trust me, I know), but he always brings out the best in me. He’s my rock and my island.

This novel is my first and what a trial by fire it has been! I’ve asked my author to consider me for a light romantic comedy, something that does not involve life or death, but I’m afraid she’s determined to make us work for our happily ever after. One of my least favourite scenes was the ocean voyage to Barbados - it was horrendous. Eight weeks in the foul, stinking hold of the Jane Marie. I thought I would die, and nearly did from sea sickness. I have other more trying scenes, and one that involves my cousin Ciara, but I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I shan’t mention them.

For a favourite scene I should probably be prim and correct and mention any scene where I was playing the violin. I do love music and the music allows me to express what I can not say in words. But . . .  there was one scene, which was the opposite of prim and correct. I happened to get a good look at Iain swimming in the pond early one morning, and <whispers> he was entirely nude! Seeing him come out of that water, dripping and glorious . . . <Fans herself> . . .

I suppose I had better say a little about my author,Cryssa. She’s written two novels so far, Traitor’s Knot and Severed Knot. They can be read in any order and characters from one cross over to the other, except myself, of course. She is currently finishing a novella called The Wild Hunt, which features my brother, Niall O’Coneill, who is fighting with the Tóraidhe (Tories) against the English invaders. Niall came to visit me at our uncle’s estate and only found devastation caused by the English. When I see him again, I will have words for him, not telling me that he joined the Tories. He likely thought to save me from worrying, I suppose. As for Niall’s story, I understand he will have quite the adventure. After that, my author will return to work on her third full-length novel, Sealed Knot, featuring Nathaniel Lewis, the crafty Welsh solicitor we met in The Hague.

If you enjoyed her books, please tell a friend! Leave a review, recommend her stories to your book club or pass a recommendation on to another reader. She enjoys hearing from readers as well.

Thank you for inviting me to chat!


Mairead crept forward, careful to not make a sound. She reached the edge of the brush and carefully parted the leaves, hoping to see waterfowl. 
    Sunlight sparkled on the water. A slight breeze rippled the otherwise still water. Another splash. At first, she didn't see anything, then someone surfaced. A man, skimming across the pond, arms and legs slicing through the water. Even before he turned, she knew who it was. Johnstone.
    Mairead knew she should back away and leave before he caught her watching—he’d be insufferable otherwise. That, or bark her head off as any self-respecting ogre. And yet something pinned her to the spot.
    He dove into the water, his body curving with a flash of his naked buttocks.
    Mairead’s eyes widened, and she edged closer. When he split the surface of the lake, he caused a spray of water drops to splatter. He stood facing her direction, eyes closed. Raising his hands to his head, he slicked back his dark blond hair.
     Mairead didn’t dare move. She watched how the muscles in his arms flexed. Her eyes travelled across his broad chest with its light mat of hair. A trail of darkish hair ran down from chest to stomach until it disappeared below the pond’s surface. Mairead craned her head to peer into the pond, but the water was murky and brownish-green.
     Johnstone dove under again. Mairead sat back on her heels and nibbled her fingertip, considering her options. She really should leave. A smile played at the corner of her mouth as she made herself more comfortable.
       Johnstone surfaced and began to paddle lazily in the water. His head was tipped backwards, his face presented to the sun. His skin had become tanned and gleamed against the lapping water.
     Mairead watched, captivated. He seemed at one with the water. She didn’t know too many who could swim, and none so well. Her own brothers had enjoyed a quick barrelling leap into the river back home, splashing like mad puppies and thrashing in the water. They had taught her to float, but swimming across the water as this Scotsman was now doing, with strong, purposeful strokes, was an art, and one she admired greatly. So she told herself.
     After a few moments, prudence whispered that she had stayed long enough. Mairead rose from her crouch, careful not to rustle a leaf, but just as she moved Johnstone finished his swim and headed back to the bank. Mairead dropped to the ground again so he wouldn’t notice her.
     Johnstone slowly waded out of the water, all glorious and dripping. Mairead’s breath locked in her throat. She took in that expanse of chest, the tapered waist then . . . Blessed Mother of Jesus!
    She made a slight choking sound, and Johnstone stopped to look around.
      “Who’s there?”

Connect with Cryssa Bazos through her Website, Facebook, and Twitter.  

Severed Knot is available through Amazon 
and other Online Retailers (Kobo, Nook, and Apple) 
and until 12th July is on special offer at £0.99p and $0.99c 

Next Week's Guest
(on Tuesday 7th July)
Amy Maroney
Miramonde de Oto

Full Guest List

Tuesday Talk - will be on a Wednesday this week!

Starting tomorrow (1st July)
a new series...
where my guests are female writers 
talking about their female characters
(don't worry I will invite the chaps later!)

Here's the forthcoming guest list so far!

1st July 2020
Cryssa Bazos and 
Mairead O’Coneill

7th July 2020
Amy Maroney and
Miramonde de Oto

14th July
Pauline Barclay and

21st July
Susan Grossey and
Martha Plank

28th July
Judith Arnopp and
Margaret Beaufort

4th / 5th / 6th August
Marian L Thorpe
 I: Lena of Tirvan
II: Lady Dagney
III: The Empress Eudekia
11th August


Monday 15 June 2020

Tuesday Talk - King Harold II and Duke William's invasion fleet - mistake or underestimation?

Why did Harold II, King of England, stand the fyrd (the army) down in August 1066? Thus allowing William to march into England unopposed in late September. It's a question often asked, with the conclusion that Harold grossly misjudged the situation (and therefore implying that  he made an error and was, therefore, to blame for the subsequent defeat.) Hindsight is a wonderful thing - Harold, as it happened, did make an error of judgement BUT I think he did so for a very good, valid, reason. His only mistake was underestimating William's obsessive determination.

When King Edward died in January 1066 Harold Godwinesson was crowned king - elected by the English Witan as the only man suitable for the job. (Anyone who disagrees: that's another debate, for another day!)

Harold was expecting William to come  - let's face it, he had his spies and word would have got back to him that Duke William of Normandy was building a fleet, assembling an army and was preparing to invade. All summer Harold had the men of the Southern Fyrd (Wessex, Kent, Hampshire etc) on stand-by along the south coast of England, keeping alert for any sails appearing on the horizon across the English Channel.
But in August, Harold sent the men home.

The argument of 'it was harvest' is not acceptable. The women and children left at home were perfectly capable of getting the harvest in while the men-folk were away. Contrary to popular (Victorian) belief, war did not stop because of the harvest - to use that thinking, war should also stop in spring because of the sowing / lambing / calving; in autumn because of the autumn slaughter - which leaves winter when fighting was not a good idea because of the cold, wet, dark, mud, snow.

Harold was not stupid. he was an extremely capable and experienced commander (which is why he was crowned King, of course).

The only logical reason 'why' would be because he was certain William would not be coming that year. 

I do not have evidence, just logic, intuition, and probing what was not said in various primary Norman sources. 

Dives Sur Mer
William built his fleet at Dives sur Mer - we know he sailed earlier than September (end July, early August). The next we hear, he is at St Valerey, a lot further up the coast, some of his ships are wrecked ans several of his men have died. He then hushes this up and commandeers other ships to replace those that were lost. The Norman version is that while moving to St Valerey he met a storm which destroyed his fleet. So if it was just a storm why try to hide and cover up the facts?

Many of his men were Viking descended and fishermen, therefore, experienced sailors. They'd know full well the dangers of storms, and not be overly bothered by them - not enough for the need to hide the bad news of a couple of lost ships and a few men. 

Now, consider the fact that England had a powerful and effective navy and plenty of ships. You can see the fleet as 'ghost' ships in the border of the Bayeux tapestry in the Westminster scene where Halley's Comet is depicted. Given the time of year, it is probable that this scene depicts the keels hauled up onto the land to overwinter; i.e. not made ready for sailing - an indication of the season and that Harold had not sent the fleet out yet. Or it could indicate the coming of William's fleet. Or the destruction of his fleet.

'ghost' ships in the bottom border
Given we had an effective and very efficient fleet - is it not absurd that Harold would not have ordered a blockade of the Channel? His predecessors - Aethelred, Cnut (and Edward) used blockade tactics very successfully. Harold's grandfather and father were heavily involved with the English Fleet - the scyp fyrd) Indeed the Godwinesson's main manor house was specific as a deterrent against ship-borne invasion. Bosham is on the coast near Chichester, in Harold's time it was a busy harbour. Earl Godwine had the church tower specifically built as a watch tower for invading Vikings - not as a church tower. 

Bosham Church
and harbour
It is inconceivable that Harold had not used his knowledge of the sea and shipping and available forces to best advantage. It therefore does not take much logic to work out that William met the English Fleet head onmid-channel and was turned back with heavy losses of men and ships. That fact he would want to keep quiet! 
If Harold had already defeated William - does this not explain why he assumed his rival would not be coming that summer, and therefore stood his men down?

This was a mistake on Harold's part, an understandable one, although it later cost him his life. He underestimated William's determination. Maybe he received exaggerated information? Perhaps he was told that most of William's fleet had been destroyed, whereas maybe most of the ships were only damaged. Whatever the truth, all credit to Duke William for he re-rallied and tried again - unexpectedly  in September. 

I also wonder - just throwing this in here - as Harold assumed that William would not be coming until 1067, was this why he went north to Stamford Bridge to face his brother Tostig and the invading Hardrada and his men? It's just a thought: if Harold had suspected that William would try again so soon, would he have stayed in the south and sent his brothers north in his stead? As it was, he thought the South was safe.

The Normans made no mention of a first (failed) attack and defeat by a blockade  of English ships but this does not indicate that it didn't happen. 
In fact, I think the 'no mention' proves that it happened!

And as final 'evidence', one of the first men William had arrested and imprisoned was the Commander of the Fleet - Eadric the Steersman (who later fled to Scandinavian exile). I wonder why William was so cross with this guy?

e-book buy on Amazon
I included such a sea battle in my novel Harold The King (UK title) / I Am The Chosen King (US title)  and I altered the scene slightly for an alternative story to be included in an anthology of 1066 stories by various authors 1066 Turned Upside Down. Except of course, as far as I'm concerned this story is not an 'alternative' but a 'strong possibility!'

buy on

buy on

some quotes from reviews:

'A novel of enormous emotional power'
Elizabeth Chadwick

'Harold the King has a permanent place on my keeper shelf.'

'Helen Hollick has created a brilliant portrayal of this important but neglected period of history, with a cast of charismatic characters set in a convincing landscape and timescape.'

'If you want a detailed and clever reconstruction of the Harold/William conflict, you can do no better than read Harold the King. '

'What a wonderful read!! I so totally enjoyed this book. It is obviously thoroughly researched. I really could not put it down.'

'Ms. Hollick is a truly magnificent author! She brings to life all of the characters of that turbulent time in a way that's absolutely spellbinding.'

1066 Turned Upside Down
'Excellent cover art design and a short but succinct cover blurb hooked me, I dived right in, and as I progressed through the anthology, I found myself both surprised and deeply impressed by its structure.'

'A brilliant anthology. The stories adds an alternative twist to one of England's most important events.'

'Great book with  compelling stories with twists....enjoyed it immensely.'

Monday 8 June 2020

Tuesday Talk with my guest Annie Whitehead and Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians

On 12th June, 918, Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, died at Tamworth. This very fact alone is remarkable. For most of her life, this ancient capital of Mercia had been in ‘Viking’ hands and only the southwestern portion of Mercia was still ‘free’. Only a few years earlier it would have been inconceivable that an English ruler would once again be in control of Tamworth.

Æthelflæd as depicted
in the cartulary
of Abingdon Abbey
Æthelflæd was never a queen, though she ruled a kingdom in all but name. It is often bewailed that little in modern times has been written of her, but the truth is that for all her fame, there is scarcely any information about her life. Whilst the post-Conquest chroniclers waxed lyrical about her, the only information contained in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the annal known as the Mercian Register, which focuses on her life and covers the years 902–918. 

Those years are significant, because they cover the period between her husband falling ill, and her own death, and so they mark the period of her ‘reign.’

Since the flight of her uncle Burgred from invading Danes in 874, and the death of his rival to the throne, Ceolwulf II a few years later, Mercia had no longer been ruled by kings. From that period until 911 Mercia was ruled by a man named Æthelred, whose origins are obscure but who was clearly a capable military leader, working alongside Alfred the Great to remove the Danes from occupied London in 886. At around the same time, Alfred sealed this alliance by marrying his daughter, Æthelflæd, to the leader of Mercia. 

In the early days of their marriage, Æthelred was an active leader and there is little mention of his wife. He is recorded as being a joint sponsor with Alfred when Hasteinn the Dane was baptised as part of a truce arrangement in 893, and a near contemporary chronicler recorded his presence alongside Alfred’s son, Edward, at a siege on Thorney Isle after the battle of Farnham in the same year. Danish armies were also engaged at Buttington by the forces of Æthelred of Mercia and the ealdormen of Wiltshire and Somerset. But after 902, Æthelred ceases to be mentioned by name and if we turn to other sources it seems clear that he fell ill around this time.

An Irish annal, known as the Three Fragments, recorded that he was incapacitated in some way but still able to give strategic commands to his wife, stating that in 907 when Chester was occupied by the enemy, messengers were sent to Æthelred who was ‘in a disease and on the point of death’ and that, following his suggestions, his wife successfully restored Chester, wresting it from the enemy’s control. 

I’ve never been convinced by the picture of Æthelflæd as a ‘warrior woman’ but by 902 her brother Edward was king in Wessex and he clearly felt able to trust her to lead the Mercians when her husband fell ill. The Mercian Register records no campaigns of any kind in the years 902–911 which could be attributed to her but it does outline her later campaign of building fortified towns, a strategy which was planned to work in tandem with Edward’s own building works.

Edward the Elder
MS Royal 14b vi
Between them, brother and sister pushed back the invaders, retaking the strategically important Five Boroughs of the Danelaw (Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Lincoln) and in 917 it was Æthelflæd’s forces which took Derby, where four thegns who were ‘dear to her’ were killed within the gates, and this description of them shows how much she valued the men who fought in her name. 

If we can believe the Irish Annals, Æthelflæd was also conducting a campaign against the Norse who came from Dublin. In the year of her death, she was petitioned by the men of York who came seeking her aid and pledged allegiance to her, so clearly even if she didn’t ride into battle herself, she commanded an army thought capable of assisting such petitioners. 

In an age where women rarely ruled in their own right - indeed there is only one lady named in the regnal lists, and she was not queen for very long, or very successfully - the achievements and the status of Æthelflæd really stand out as being exceptional.

Æthelflæd's statue at Tamworth Castle
© Annie Whitehead
But I want to make another point about this lady, which is often missed among the discussions about whether or not she wielded a sword or if she has been neglected by history and historians, and indeed whether her activity was deliberately suppressed by the English chroniclers.

Her brother raised no objection to her rule, either while her husband was ill, or after his death. He clearly loved, respected and admired her. He took Mercia under his direct control after she died, but not immediately. And here’s where the interesting point can be made.

Æthelflæd had a daughter, Ælfwynn, who remained unmarried and was with her mother on campaign in 915. We know this because she witnessed a charter in that year at Weardbyrig, an unidentified place but a location of one of the new burhs. Assuming that she was conceived before her father fell ill, she would have been of marriageable age by that date, and clearly she was old enough to be with her mother, perhaps learning the ‘trade’ of leadership. Was Ælfwynn still single because it was assumed that she would take over from her mother? Whether it was planned or not, this is precisely what happened and the Mercian Register complained that six months later she was ‘deprived of all authority’ by her uncle, Edward.

So yes, she did rule after her mother, however briefly, which means that the Mercian elite were in favour of her leadership. And it also means that a woman succeeded a woman as leader of a kingdom, something which would not happen again in England for 615 years. And this, to me, is perhaps the most significant part of the whole story.