Mastodon The Writing Desk: Book Launch Guest Post by Garth Pettersen, Author of The Sea's Edge: The Atheling Chronicles: Book Four

7 November 2023

Book Launch Guest Post by Garth Pettersen, Author of The Sea's Edge: The Atheling Chronicles: Book Four

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1030 C.E.: Harald, the second son of King Cnute—ruler of Engla-lond, Danmark, and Norvegr—with his wife Selia, attempt to live as landholders in Mercia, away from the constraint and intrigues 
of his father's court.

I am a Canadian writer (British Columbia) of historical fiction, also a retired teacher, once-upon-a-time logger, avid reader, and dabbler in all sorts of things that strike my interest. I write a series called The Atheling Chronicles, wherein my protagonist is a forgotten historical figure, Harald Harefoot, the middle son of King Canute, who ruled England, Denmark, and parts of Norway in the early part of the eleventh century.
Little is known about Harald mainly because after his death, his stepmother (enter the wicked stepmother) had her version of events written in a book--one of the few records of his short reign (spoiler alert--Harald becomes king). So with little known about the historical Harald, I re-create him with leadership and martial skills, but having little interest in pursuing power or indulging in political intrigue. 

In book #1 (The Swan's Road), while on a journey to Rome (which King Canute took in 1027--I have Harald go too), he meets the love of his life, Selia. Together they try to settle, first in Frisia and then in England, as landholders. Harald may try to avoid his father's court, but he is still an atheling--a term meaning "throne-worthy," and is drawn into conflicts with his brothers and step-brothers, and with the king's enemies (Books 2 and 3--The Dane Law and The Cold Hearth).

In my new book, The Sea's Edge, King Canute sends Harald to Dublin, which is a Norse city and kingdom, to finalize plans for a combined English-Dublin attack on Gwynedd (Northern Wales) to replace a strong king (Rhydderch) with a puppet king. At first, Harald tries to play the diplomat who will not take part in the actual fighting. 

But an error in judgement results in Harald having to lead the force after all. As Harald becomes more involved with the players in this power struggle, the more he comes to admire the Welsh king he must not only depose but kill. Going against his father and king would be traitorous and put an end to his quiet life with Selia.

The challenge for me in writing The Sea's Edge was the battle scene. I believe I have a knack for fight scenes, i.e. one-on-one, but blocking a whole battle I found to be rather daunting. I am more of a pantser (writing by the seat of my pants) than a planner, and I let my characters make their own decisions, which helps. Once the character has been created, he or she must stay true to their character in their choices. We see the battle from Harald's point of view, while also following the actions of several of the players (extending sub-plots).

Like actors on the stage, novel characters must stay in character but in historical novels, they also must not go against the historical record. This was a sin I did commit in the first novel when I was feeling my way through the research and the writing. The period known as the Middle Ages covers a thousand years and it did take me a while to focus the lens specifically on the Early Middle Ages. Much changed after 1066 when the Normans conquered Britain.

I find researching very enjoyable. Whenever I find an article that is informative, perhaps on clothing, for example, I print it out and file it in a binder for reference. I now have three thick binders divided into various categories. I find them immensely useful. I have a bad habit of wanting to inform the reader--I guess it is the teacher in me. 

I try to avoid info-dumps by weaving details into the interactions--everything from telling the reader what kind of vessels the folk are drinking from, what they are eating, how the hall is being lit, etc. We have been fed stereotypes for so long, that I always want to set the record straight, smashing stereotypes and scattering the pieces.

I write about a time when the only stone buildings were churches, when there were no castles in England, when Danes and Anglo-Saxons lived as neighbours and did not share a strong national identity. One of the ways of breaking down established ideas is to name things as they were named in the eleventh century, when Old English and Old Norse were spoken. England is Engla-lond, Denmark is Danmark, Norway is Nordvegr. 

I use terms such as housecarls for the guards of a high status landholder, skald for the court poet-singer, even-mete for the evening meal, wardmann for watchman, sard or swive for the sex verb, thrall for slave, etc. I have developed a love for Old English so perhaps I overdo it a bit, but I do find the Anglo-Saxon roots of our modern words fascinating. "Leeks" used to mean vegetables in general, but now it's specific to one leafy green. "Unfriend" is a verb meaning to cut loose from Facebook. In the eleventh it was a noun meaning the opposite of friend. A delightful book on Old English is The Wordhord by Hanna Videen.

Which brings me around to another favourite topic: swearing historically. The F-word never came along until the 1500s. Swearing in the eleventh century did not involve body parts or body functioning. Why? Because the body was not particularly private. Folk lived together in halls with other hirelings or with extended family members. 

There was little privacy, so you could not insult someone with something that was commonly seen every day. So, how did you curse? By referring to that which was holy in a profane or frivolous manner. "By God's wounds, I'll knock sense into you." Bad language. Or you could insult somebody by calling them a dog, a pig, a shrew, etc. or use some words that have gone out of the language. Try calling someone a nithing, a stunta, an unwita, or a badling. To explore this topic further, you should read, Holy Sh*t - A Brief History of Swearing, by Melissa Mohr.

Another stereotype we have about the Middle Ages is that people were not clean. The part of the Early Middle Ages I write about is also called the Viking Age. The Norse were rather vain about their looks. Saturday was washing and combing day. I suppose if I washed in cold water, I would prefer not to do it every day. Or maybe they went to the trouble of heating wash water only on Saturdays. I am not sure about that. 

Where is my binder? Your common man and woman had two sets of work clothes--I assume so they had something to wear while they washed the other--and a set of festive clothes. Work clothes were repaired and patched until they became rags. Clothes were expensive and time-consuming to make. If you were rich, well, that was a different kettle of eels.

I could go on about the time period I write about but I need to rein myself in. Reins--oh, and the horses were smaller. It was not until we had heavily-armoured knights that big horses were needed to carry all that weight. If you want knights, wait for the Normans to show up. For Vikings and Anglo-Saxons, you might want to read The Atheling Chronicles. I try to write the books so you do not have to read them in order. 

Thank you, Tony, for hosting. Happy reading, everyone. If you want to receive my newsletter, go here: Subscription | Garth Pettersen

Garth Pettersen

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About the author

Garth Pettersen is a Canadian writer living in the Fraser Valley near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. When he's not writing, he's riding horses and working with young, disabled riders. Garth's short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies, and in journals such as Blank Spaces, The Spadina Literary Review, and The Opening Line Literary 'Zine. His story River's Rising was awarded an Honourable Mention for the Short Story America 2017 Prize, and his fantasy novella, River Born, was one of two runners-up in the Wundor Editions (UK) Short Fiction Prize. His debut novel, The Swan's Road (Book #1 of The Atheling Chronicles) published by Tirgearr Publishing, was released in 2017, Book #2, The Dane Law, in 2018, and Book #3, The Cold Hearth was released on April 22, 2020. Find out more from Garth's website and find him on Twitter @garpet011

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