17 September 2021

Special Guest Post by Annie Whitehead, Author of The Sins of the Father: Tales of the Iclingas Book 2

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

AD658: The sons of Penda of Mercia have come of age. Ethelred, the youngest, recalls little of past wars while Wulf is determined to emulate their father, whose quest to avenge his betrayed kinswomen drew him to battle three successive Northumbrian kings.

I’m thrilled that Tony has invited me over to his blog today to talk about my new release, The Sins of the Father. This book is the follow up to Cometh the Hour, which told the story of seventh-century Penda, the last pagan king of Mercia, his struggles against the aggressive Northumbrians, and his quest to avenge his wronged womenfolk. 

Now, in the second volume, Penda’s children and those of his enemy have come of age. Some wish to continue the feud, feeling the need to follow in their father’s steps, while others wish to plough their own furrow. Some even find they have inherited a murderous heart. Hence the book’s tagline: Is a father’s legacy a blessing, or a curse?

Last time I was a guest here, I did a little acrostic, playing on a word associated with the title of my last book. I’d like to do the same today, using the letters of a place which features a lot in both Cometh the Hour and The Sins of the Father: Tamworth.

T is, well, for Tamworth. Though the kings at this time were itinerant, moving from royal vill to royal vill, it seems clear that they had their favourite, or main, residences. I chose to make my character King Penda part of the Iclingas, Icel being the supposed founder of the royal house of Mercia. Icel and Penda both appear in one genealogy, separated by five generations. Tamworth fell within the territory of a people called the Tomsæte, ‘the dwellers by the River Tame’. It’s often assumed that the Iclingas absorbed or were part of the Tomsæte, so Tamworth seems a fitting main residence for Penda and the Iclingas. 

Tamworth (from author's collection)

A is for Arianwen. She is the love of the main character, Ethelred. He is the youngest of Penda’s children, and he suffers from a lack of memories of what happened in his father’s day, which makes him feel disloyal because the feud matters less to him. He fears that he is not honouring Penda’s legacy, but it becomes apparent that perhaps the final outcome is entirely dependent on him. Not at first though. No, all he wants is to spend a quiet life with Arianwen, his Welsh love. She is one of the few fictional characters in the novel, and I felt a great responsibility to her, as her life was utterly in my hands!

M is for Merchelm (and Merwal). Merchelm is the son of Penda’s adopted son, Merwal, who is so much older than Ethelred that it is actually Merchelm who is closest in age to Ethelred. Merwal remembers everything that occurred during Penda’s reign, and is able to advise Ethelred, but it is Merchelm who is his best friend, his wingman in modern parlance, and these two, though in fact uncle and nephew, form the tightest of bonds. Some of Ethelred’s happiest times are spent in the company of Merchelm and Arianwen, before his duties as the king’s brother take him from his peaceful life to the bloodiest of battle fields. Even there, though, Merchelm is with him, watching his back.

W is for Wilfrid. A young boy in the first book, he is now an abbot and becomes a bishop. Wilfrid is devout, and is the confessor of the Northumbrian queens, but he has a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way. The real life Wilfrid’s career was so chequered - he was exiled and imprisoned and suffered the threat of having all his possessions confiscated during his eventful life - that I had to condense the details of it in the novel. One of his most famous roles was as a speaker at the synod of Whitby in 664, which is where, among other things, the dating of Easter was agreed. 

O is for Ositha. As a young girl she is virtually unnoticed by her father, and seeks to please by learning to spy for him. She becomes adept at listening round corners, and as a ‘teenager’ she develops religious fervour, praying to the uncle she is sure she’s named for. Feeling supplanted when a younger sibling is born, she is conflicted because she loves the new baby. A tightly-wrapped bundle of confusion, she struggles to hold onto reality, making her a ‘patsy’ for her elder brother, who dangles the carrot of a good marriage in front of her, if she’ll just do the small job of murder in return…

R is for Ripon. Wilfrid is made abbot there by one of the Northumbrian ‘princes’, which enrages the king, who despises Wilfrid. Unfortunately, Wilfrid’s first act is to evict the entire community of monks there, doing nothing to increase his popularity. There are few locations associated with this period where the visitor can still see traces of buildings, but at Ripon the crypt built in Wilfrid’s day still exists. 

Ripon Crypt 

T is for Tette. She is a minor but important character and she really existed. She was the wife of Penwal, a leading Mercian warrior, and Tette and Penwal are known to us because they were the parents of St Guthlac, the hermit of Crowland. It is thanks to Guthlac’s hagiographer, Felix, that we also know of Tette’s daughter, Pega, who appears in the book as a small girl. 

H is for Heaferth. Again, based on a real life character, but I changed his name because it too closely resembled another character’s name. Consequently, for most of the first draft he was Wossname, and then for a while I thought of him as Kevin, not at all an Old English name! Heaferth is a leader of one of the Mercian tribes, and he is a fierce defender of Mercian independence, as well as a loyal member of the Mercian kings’ hearth troops. There is nothing he will not do for Ethelred and he struggles to forgive himself for the one occasion where he feels he let his lord down by not protecting Arianwen. His determination never to make the same mistake again leads him down a dangerous path…
Annie Whitehead
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About the Author

Annie Whitehead is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an editor for EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors.) She has written three award-winning novels set in Anglo-Saxon England, one of which was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society (HNS) Indie Book of the year 2016, and her full-length nonfiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom is published by Amberley Books. She has contributed to fiction and nonfiction anthologies and written for various magazines, including winning the New Writer Magazine Prose Competition. She was the winner of the inaugural Historical Writers’ Association/Dorothy Dunnett Prize 2017. She has recently been a judge for that same competition, and for the HNS Short Story Competition. Find out more at Annie's website
http://anniewhiteheadauthor.co.uk/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @AnnieWHistory


  1. Thanks so much for hosting me today Tony!

  2. Will there be an Auidobook soon? Hopefully!!!

  3. No plans currently, but the paperback is due out very soon. I'll keep everyone updated if there is to be an audio book :-)


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