Background to the Dark Ages series
Alfred is a very special English king.
You risk being knocked over if you say "cheese" in our house. Our cat will run at great speed from wherever she is to steal the dairy product. A real cheese monster. But there is another story about cheese that is much more disturbing.
June in England is supposed to be summer. And many English families take off to the beautiful countryside and coasts of Cornwall for their summer holiday. We all have great memories of Cornish holidays.
I don't know where I'd be without the Venerable Bede. He, along with The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, is one of the major resources for my Dark Age novels.
I have not yet visited East Anglia, that rotund bump on the east of England. I do want to. I have heard that it is very flat and as I prefer hilly and mountainous terrain, that puts me off a bit. But the draw is still there, because East Anglia - the kingdom of the East Angles - was home to one of the great seventh century Anglo-Saxon kings, Raedwald.
When my daughter was small she was a little put out that her parents were married and living together. The reason being that many of her friends had two homes, two bedrooms, an abundance of grandparents and a stepmother. "You don't want a stepmother," I told her. "Stepmothers are wicked." God forgive me.
The three-spired cathedral dominates this small city of Lichfield in Staffordshire. It stands in a cul-de-sac of holy buildings and is very tranquil. It's history is fascinating and is dedicated to Saint Chad.
I am a Pisces. How does that make you feel? To some that makes me a dreamer, indecisive, creative and lazy. To others - a nutter who believes in mumbo jumbo.
The last Anglo-Saxon king of England had a short reign, which ended at the Battle of Hastings.
Every year the conversation goes like this:
Child - "Santa isn't real, he's my dad!"
Me - "Wow! Your dad is Santa? How cool is that?"
Probably the most successful English king you have never heard of.
The Battle of Hastings, where King Harold lost his life and the war against the Normans, forever remembered.
Sometimes nice people really mess things up. The simple act of being inoffensive can cause so much irreversible damage that it would be better if they had avoided diplomacy in favour of a whole load of aggro. Much better in the long run.
My daughter had to go to hospital for major surgery a few years ago. Naturally, as a parent, I was very worried about her. What if something went wrong? Of course I trusted the doctors, surgeons and other medical staff. I knew that they were the best in their field. But I needed more than that. I needed some kind of special divine power to intervene.
A few years ago, the school I taught in decided to change the history curriculum, which meant that the Year Seven children would not be studying the Battle of Bosworth in the summer term. The consequence of this was that the annual history trip was no more. I was very sad, and especially on the anniversary of the battle, 22 August (1485). The significance to history is that it was the start of the Tudor Dynasty, which led to the break with Rome, hence the birth of the Church of England. Children need this visit.
The great thing about half-truths is working out which half is the truth and which is the embroidered part. Of course, the fancy bits take a run-of-the-mill story and make it a legend. And Dark Ages England was full of them.
There is a farm in the valley where I live. When I first moved here in 1996, there was also a dairy farm but now there are only sheep and crops. I like the rural flavour that farms bring. The seasons are portrayed through the jobs: sowing, harvesting, hay stacks, golden fields of wheat and vibrant yellow rapeseed. And where would any of us be without farmers?
Anything valuable should be kept safe. And so it was with Wulfhere, one of the younger sons of King Penda of Mercia. When Penda was killed in the Battle of Winwaed in 655, Wulfhere and his younger brother were hidden away in a very safe place. Usually, royal children were fostered by other royal households, but there is no evidence where Wulfhere was taken.
Every year there is a campaign from someone somewhere about Saint George's Day. Often it is about making the national day for England a Bank Holiday, or to extend the drinking hours, or, in some cases, to be allowed to fly the English flag as some exuberant councils think it is racist. Yes, really. Bizarre.
Some years are barren and in others, abundant. Daffodils. But whether they are growing naturally or are of the paper variety, there is no avoiding them on 1 March in Britain. These lovely spring flowers of eternal cheeriness and hope are the national flower of Wales, 1 March being Saint David's Day, the Patron Saint of Wales.
11 February is the feast of Cadmon, known for his hymn which came to him during the night in a dream. Very impressive. He lived during the time of my book Teon, in late seventh century England. He looked after the animals at Whitby Abbey under the guidance of the Abbess Hild, and at this point knew nothing about songs or poetry.
When playing those naming games and pub quizzes, nobody ever mentions Sweyn Forkbeard. Okay, so he was England's shortest-reigning king but he was declared King of England, on Christmas day 1013.
I have come across some great people in history while doing research for my Dark Ages novels. Often these characters are intertwined with some amazing folklore. One of these is Wurburgh, a princess who became the patron saint of Chester and of geese.