History as she is not so Wrote.

Having started at the beginning of my less than illustrious writing career with the post entitled Fits and Starts, I thought I might continue in that vein. Writers, especially beginning writers, have to be prepared to experience disappointments – not to discourage them but to steel them for what’s ahead. Readers too may wonder why the authors they read begin to sound somewhat the same when publishers prefer to bet on safe submissions instead of nurturing new talent – as was the case in far off days when money didn’t rule the world.

I recall mentioning my first ventures into writing, but didn’t go as far as issuing a post mortem of “Wyrd’s Harvest”, so here it is. While I wrote a few articles for the Tripoli “Sunday Ghibli” I was even then focussed on writing a historical novel. I think some non-fiction books I bought on time off started the plot idea – Leonard Cottrell’s “Seeing Roman Britain” and “The Great Invasion” pointed me into the fascination of the beginning and the end of Roman Britain.

When it came to plotting fiction I decided the end of the Roman province offered the most questions to worry at, and characters to discover. The last two entries in Cottrell’s chronology of Roman Britain were –
410 – Honorius tells the civitates of Britain to arrange for their own safety.
446 – Last appeal of the British civitates to Aetius. (Then Roman general/dictator)
What could offer more grist for the historical fictional mill than the breakup of empire and the plight of those who had lived so long under its protection?

The writings of the period are almost non-existent, and myth in the form of the tales of King Arthur, purport to flesh out the thin commentary in the Anglo Saxon Chronicles – the history of the victors. And the Chronicles are also largely myth, set down in writing at Alfred the Great’s order almost 500 years later and marked by repetitions of hostile landings that offer the same events with different leaders. I decided to write something that could keep a close companionship with the known facts but enlarge it into a story around characters who did live at the time, or could have.

To work out the framework of the novel I consulted a number of books, both authoritative and less so, bought quite a few, and visited a number of places when next in England (I had started the process while living in the heart of the Libyan Desert). Actually, being in Libya wasn’t too far removed from Roman Britain, because as it turns out two of the most complete Roman cities, Sabratha and Leptis Magna, are in Libya and I visited them first. Oea, the third city that gave rise to the name for the region, tripolis – three cities, is buried under the modern city of Tripoli and hard to imagine intact – the fate of all the Roman cities on the northern side of the Mediterranean, except Pompeii.

I visited places that today are not open to authors doing research – the old round Reading Room of the British Museum ( where Gandhi, George Bernard Shaw, Lenin, and Mark Twain all researched and where Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital) was one. It’s now an information centre. I went in search of a book called “De Exidio et Conquestu Britannae” written by a monk called Gildas in the early 6th century and my request turned up a copy (in olde English) printed in Shakespeare’s time.

My research was ongoing and when I actually began to start on the novel I was living and travelling in a truck camper in Utah and Arizona – and surprised to find in the library of the University of Northern Arizona at Flagstaff a reference to a contemporary source of early English history called the Exeter Book. Embarrassing because I had been raised within ten miles of Exeter and had never heard of it. Anyway, to cut a long story short – I didn’t use any of the Arthurian myth because it was all fantasy, and I found the theories that King Arthur was a composite drawn from lost tales of a number of late British and early Saxon heroes to be more credible.

But I suppose you’re waiting for a synopsis of Wyrd’s Harvest. The title, by the way speaks of the triumph of fate, a strong belief of the Saxon invaders, as typified by the very personification of fate – the god Wyrd.

Sometime in the early 400s when the Roman garrison was withdrawn and the patrol galleys of the Saxon Shore no longer kept the coastal regions safe, a raid by Saxon pirates looted and burned a villa where a young lad called Marcellus lived. His mother and father were killed, his sister carried off into slavery and he himself struck down and left for dead by the red haired, red bearded leader of the raiders.

Fast forward some twenty years and Marcellus, now grown to be a British general of the armies of Vortigern, a (historical figure in Gildas) king of the British civitates is sent to meet new allies, Saxon mercenaries hired to strengthen the forces marching north to repel an invasion of the hostile Picts, attacking from the Highlands of Scotland. He does not associate the identity of Octa, the red haired, red bearded leader of the war band with the raider of long ago, although his memories cause him to treat his new allies with suspicion. The alliance however, holds together and between them, Marcellus with the land army and Octa with the seaborne force surround and defeat the Picts.

Then there is a romantic interlude when Galaes, the daughter of Vortigern who had been promised to Marcellus, is married off to Ambrosius Aurelianus, another historical figure (in Gildas) who ruled much of western Britain – the bailiwick assigned in later stories to Arthur. Marcellus appeals to Octa, who is settled in Kent with his war bands and families, to lend him a ship to go and abduct Galaes and the two carry out this successful bit of civil war between the Britons.

But Wyrd has yet to intervene. When they return to the Saxon camps, Marcellus meets Octa’s family and finds his wife is the long lost sister carried off by the war band so many years before. Forgiveness is impossible, even reconciliation between brother and – traitorous – sister is not possible. The angry general is persuaded to let the matter rest and return to Londinium where a fragile peace holds between the Briton’s kingdom and the ever growing settlement of Saxon warriors. Eventually the inevitable friction between the imperiled kingdom and the land-hungry Saxons erupts in war. Marcellus leads Vortigern’s army while Octa leads a part of the Saxon host. They meet in battle and the ensuing duel results in the death of both – Wyrd has reaped the harvest planted by the pirate raid many years before.
You know, that doesn’t sound half bad – if I do say so myself. But the novel made the rounds of far more approachable publishers in Canada and Britain in the 70s and got as far as receiving pleasant rejection slips saying things like, “All of our readers liked it, but …” I think it would take a lot more work than a new synopsis to make it publishable today. If you’re interested in learning what my writing is like now, you might scroll down to the posts about my latest release, “The Wildcat’s Burden”, or take a look at my author page on my publisher’s site – http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/eAuthor.php?Name=Christopher%20Hoare

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