Thursday, 28 May 2015

Guest Post: Winner of Book of the Month Award, C.R. May

Winner of The Review's May 2015 Book of the Month Award
Sorrow Hill by C. R. May

You have a chance to win a FREE COPY of Sorrow Hill. Simply comment below OR at Rob's review, located here OR at the Facebook thread for the contest, located here

Drawing May 30, 2015

C.R. May discusses his current project...

One of the things which Rob touched on during our discussion concerned the amount of information which is woven into the narrative of the Beowulf poem itself. As you know, Sorrow Hill was my first attempt at writing, so in a way I was as surprised as most people seem to be when I realised that it was going to take me far more than a traditional trilogy to tell the tale in its entirety. I remember thinking to myself about midway through book two that my tale could easily fill at least half a dozen volumes as the twisted tale of inter tribal and familial warfare unfolded across the Scandinavian lands and beyond. 

In Wræcca I was introducing primarily Swedish characters who would come to play an important part in the future of Beowulf and the Geat nation as the decades rolled by. However, as I realised the enormity of the task ahead of me and gained confidence in my writing ability, I began to hanker after creating new tales with new characters to fill them. I decided to end the Beowulf story where most people would expect, with the death of Grendel's mother. But my writing heart remained in the northern lands, and as the Brennus story was nearing its conclusion I began to think about a subject for my next series. My novella, Dayraven, tells the story of a historically attested raid made by the Geats under King Hygelac around the year AD523, three years after the death of Grendel in Monsters. It incorporates many of the characters which were in the Sword of Woden books and I decided to continue the story from that point but change the lead character from Beowulf to another. This would enable me to 'cherry pick' the highlights from events in the Scandinavian lands, but move the main focus of the story across to Britannia. The Angle, Eofer was the perfect choice for this. 

Married to Hygelac's daughter, Astrid, he crops up regularly in the Sword of Woden books. Kin to the following two kings of the Geats, Heardred and Beowulf himself, he would be honour bound to lend his support in times of trouble, despite the fact that he would now be helping the Angles carve out their new kingdom on the other side of the North Sea. His king, Eomær, is widely regarded as the leader who led the English people from their first home in modern day Jutland to East Anglia in the mid 520's, so the stories would dovetail perfectly. It's a vast canvas which I hope will keep me busily writing for years. In the first book the seat of Anglian power still resides in Old Angeln, although they are coming under increasing pressure from their neighbours the Danes, now freed from the depredations of Grendel and the fell hag. The following extract is the opening scene of chapter one, following on from a prologue which sets the scene for a major thread in the storyline. 

Eofer is returning home from a summer spent raiding and fighting in Britannia and, immediately after the squall you will read about below, the tale picks up where the Dayraven novella left off. The series is called Eofer King's Bane and the first book will be titled Vikings after the following passage from another Anglo Saxon poem, "Widsith." Considered older than Beowulf, "Widsith" contains the first recorded use of the word Viking, and yes, King Ingeld of the Heaðobeardna and Heorot itself will all be present!

Hroþwulf ond Hroðgar heoldon lengest

sibbe ætsomne suhtorfædran,

siþþan hy forwræcon wicinga cynn

ond Ingeldes ord forbigdan,

forheowan æt Heorote Heaðobeardna þrym.


Hrothwulf and Hrothgar held the longest

peace together, uncle and nephew,

since they repulsed the viking kin

hewn at Heorot Heathobards army and Ingeld

to the spear-point made bow.



The eorle scanned the horizon and chewed his lip. It didn't look good. It didn't look good at all.

Sæward wiped his hands on the seat of his trews and took a firmer grip on the steer board.

“Look at it move!”

Glancing across he shared his lord's misgivings.

“This is going to hurt.”

Away to the south, a boiling rampart of darkness was bearing down on the ships of the Englisc fleet, and the pair watched as the helmsmen instinctively hauled at their own big blades and fanned out. They would need all the sea room they could get, and soon. The squall was little more than a mile or so distant now, moving quickly, its leading edge pulsing as lightning bolts flickered at its heart.

The sea was already responding and the Fælcen began to saw as white caps showed alongside, creamy waves slapping against the strakes of the sleek longship as they shot by.

The men exchanged a look.

“Half way?”

Eofer risked a glance to the south and was horrified to discover that the storm front had already gobbled up half the distance to them. He shook his head, crying out against the force of the freshening wind as he began to make his way down the ship.

“A third. Any more and we will be lucky if we only lose the sail. If the mast goes...”

The crew had gathered amidships, and they wrenched their faces away from the wall of death as their eorle approached.

He would need the strongest, most experienced men at the oars if they were to ride this one out, and Eofer snapped out his orders. “Duguð, row. Lash your oars to the thole pin and keep us from broaching.”

He turned to the expectant faces of the younger warriors. “Youth, you bail.”

Rounding on two dark haired lads, he stabbed out a finger. “Crawa, Hræfen. Lower the spar half way down the mast and square it off. Reef the sail by two thirds, then I want you to stand by the sheets. Keep your eyes on the sail. If it looks like it is about to blow out forget pulling the pins, just use your knife to cut them.” He flashed them a smile of encouragement. “Better to go two sheets to the wind than swim home.”

The twins gave a nervous laugh and scampered off to their task as Eofer cast a look of longing at the twin wash strakes lying snugly on the cross trees amidships. Fixed along the gunwale, they were used to raise the freeboard in heavy seas but, casting a look beyond the sweep of the stern, Eofer could see that it was already too late to peg them into place. The storm was upon them.

The crew looked up as one as an outlier moved in to extinguish the light and warmth of the sun and a spray of raindrops, as large and heavy as peas, swept across to mottle the deck.

Eofer hurried back to the steering platform, ready to throw his weight alongside the helmsman. A last glance outboard and he gasped at the terrible beauty as the Englisc ships, islands of colour and life in a vista of purple and black, were swallowed by the monster. 

In the blink of an eye the Fælcen was engulfed in a maelstrom of water, noise and gloom. Wind and wave searched out the smallest chink in their defences and found one as the power of the first roller nudged the stern aside. It was only a fraction but it was enough, and the following wave smashed into the tall stern post like a shield strike, the ship recoiling from the blow and offering up a glimpse of her flank to the onrushing madness. As the Fælcen began to broach, Eofer threw himself bodily into Sæward and desperately added his weight to the push. Both men grimaced with effort and fear as they stared down at the shredded waves which threatened to engulf them. The steerboard gunwale was kissing the sea, they were a heartbeat from the end as she began to respond and drag herself back to an even keel.

Before the ship could right herself the next wave hit. Driving beneath the hull, the stern was thrust skyward as the bows were forced deep, but she was a well found ship and she lived up to her name, lithe, fearless; a hunter. Rising again from the swell, she shook the water from her timbers and forged ahead. As the great hooked beak of the prow crept around, Eofer scanned the deck and the breath caught in his throat as he saw that the boy, Hræfen, was missing from his place at the steer board side. As his eyes moved out to search the torn surface of the sea for any sign of the lad, the big arm of Imma Gold reached out from its place at the benches and casually plucked a dark mass from the waters, depositing it in the scuppers like a bundle of sodden rags. As the big warrior bent to his oar their eorle watched with pride as the bundle came back to life and the boy dragged himself back across to his station by the steer board sheet. Kissing the lashing which had saved his life, Hræfen resumed his watch on the tortured sail.

Up for'ard, Eofer saw that Spearhafoc had taken up a position in the bows. Balanced perfectly she was a woman of many talents, and he was proud of the qualities she had developed since she had joined his war band. Fearless, lithe and deadly with spear and sæx alike, the shield maiden, although no volur, regularly conversed with the gods. The tawny feathers of the hen Sparrowhawk corkscrewed from her hair as the gale snatched away her invocation to Ran. Bracing herself in the very upturn of the prow as the waves hurtled past only feet away, the young woman was holding aloft a sacrifice as she offered to fill the goddess' drowning net with something other than the crew of the Fælcen.

The gale set up an unearthly howl in the rigging, fire bolts danced at the masthead but, with the ship running steadily before the gale, Eofer knew that the worst moments were already past. Clinker built in good Englisc oak from the Wolds near his hall, the hull flexed and creaked as she was driven before the white caps like the pure-blood she was. Smaller than the dragon ships with barely a draft to speak of, the Fælcen, at twenty oars, was the type of warship which the Englisc called scegð, perfect for carrying a small, hard-hitting force of warriors deep inside the lands of their foemen.

He relaxed his grip on the steer board and let Sæward run her on. They shared a look, and each man knew just how close they had come to joining the legions of those lost at sea, spending an eternity in the hall of the sea god, Wade. Sæward leaned across and they shared a laugh as the helmsman cried above the noise.

“That was fun. Shall we do it again?"

About the Author:

C.R. May was born in Bow, East London before his family moved to South Ockendon, Essex. After hearing that Ockendon translated as Wocca's Hill in Saxon, a lifelong passion in history was kindled, which has taken him from Berlin to the site of the battle of Little Big Horn (via Erik the Red's Icelandic hall!). The influx of Germanic adventurers was recorded in the place names around him and, inspired one day, he decided to weave his own stories into this history. You can read and discover more information at his blog and the author may be found at Facebook.

Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his own fantasy series. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow.

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