In this occasional series, members of Rugby Cafe Writers discuss the books which have influenced them. Originally from Essex, Christine Hancock has lived in Rugby for over forty years. A passion for Family History led to an interest in local history, especially that of the town of Rugby. In 2013 she joined a class at the Percival Guildhouse with the aim of writing up her family history research. The class was Writing Fiction and soon she found herself deep in Anglo-Saxon England. Based on the early life of Byrhtnoth, Ealdorman of Essex, who died in 991AD at the Battle of Maldon, the novel grew into a series. She has self-published four volumes. www.byrhtnoth.com
Here is a link to Christine’s author page on Amazon.
The book I am currently reading
War Lord by Bernard Cornwell. This is the 13th and final book in the Last Kingdom series. It came out the same day as my book and also has a helmet on the front! The first in the series, The Last Kingdom, published in 2009, suddenly made books set in the Anglo-Saxon period fashionable, leading to many other authors writing in that genre, including me.
My earliest reading memory
I remember my mother taking me to get my first library ticket and selecting a book, the first of what must be thousands. I don’t remember the title, but it was about ghosts.
The book that changed my life AND The book I wish I had written
King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett. A novel about Macbeth and very long, full of events and beautiful descriptions. I read it soon after starting to write, because so many historical fiction writers said it was their favourite. Even knowing how it would end (I have read it twice) it made me cry. Not just from the emotion, but because I knew I would never be able to write anything as good. I could have given up, but we all need something to aim for.
My favourite series of books
I could say The Lymond Chronicles, also by Dorothy Dunnett, but I have only read the first two. The others await the perfect moment, as I know I will only ever read them for the first time once.
Instead, I’ll mention The Dr Ruth Galloway Mysteries, by Elly Griffiths. The twelfth in this series of mysteries, The Lantern Men was published earlier this year. The stories are set, mostly, in modern day Norfolk. The main character is an archaeologist, and many of the plots include some incident in the past. I love the complicated relationship between Ruth and the policeman, DCI Nelson, and continuing development of other recurring characters. My attention was brought to this series by a discussion on books written in the present tense. I don’t notice it, but some readers find this difficult. The author also has a series set in 1950s Brighton which is in past tense, and she is also writing a series for children.
The book that changed my mind about something
The Charioteer, by Mary Renault. I must have been quite young when I read this book and a bit naïve. I had read other books by this author, The King must Die, and The Bull from the Sea and in its plain library cover, I thought it another tale from Ancient Greece. It wasn’t – it is what is now described as “a landmark work in gay literature.” I can’t say that it changed my mind, I didn’t have much of a view on the matter at the time, but it made me realise that love between two men, or women, could be just as deep and true as any other.
The book I couldn’t finish
Soon after starting writing about Byrhtnoth, I downloaded an ebook, called Viking Sword Saxon Shield, without a comma. That and the very home-made cover should have warned me, but it was set in Maldon and mentioned Byrhtnoth. I can only quote the blurb:
In the year 988 fleets of Viking Longships are threatening the Saxon King Aethelred’s mint situated in the Maldon Burh the fortified town.
Edward Lavengro, Eddie, a tall black haired handsome young Romani warrior is captured by the Saxons and enslaved. Discovering Eddie’s bilingual, Ealdoman Byrhtnoth uses him as his son’s interpreter to infiltrate the Vikings. This leads Eddie into battles and mortal danger many times over.
Eddie rescues Princess Catherine, Kate when the Vikings kidnap her. Eddie instantly falls in love with the stunning blonde young princess with the big powder blue eyes. From then on, despite their vast differences in social status, their fates become inherently entwined.
After bizarre happenings, Eddie and Kate realize their very existence isn’t what they’d imagined. Only strange, Druid-like genesis entities know all the answers. But will the couple solve the mystery before its too late…?
“The most Engrossing Historical Thriller for years.”
I’m not sure who wrote that quote, the author’s mother? Checking the Amazon page, I see I wrote a review – I gave it one star! The only good thing about it was that I knew I could write something better.
The book that made me laugh
The book that made me cry
Apart from King Hereafter, another book that made me cry was something that I wouldn’t have expected: Viking Fire, by Justin Hill. This is a book about one of England’s enemies, Harald Hardrada, also known as the Last Viking. It was he who invaded England in 1066, causing King Harold to race north to defeat him, enabling William to invade in the south and eventually win the Battle of Hastings. You could almost say that he caused that traumatic defeat. However, this book traces the life of a remarkable man, from when he flees a battle at the age of fifteen, and survives a Norwegian winter. He travels south to Constantinople, eventually holding the balance of power in the Byzantine Empire in his hands. He leaves, marries and becomes King of Norway. He doesn’t need to invade England, he is old, just one final battle, he thinks. And of course, he dies. By this point I had become so involved with his story, that I admit, I shed a few tears. An example that however “evil” a character, a good author can make the reader care for them.