Greetings, everyone. I’d like to introduce myself and tell you all a little bit about how history inspires the books I write. History was a big part of my upbringing. My dad is a civil engineer who probably should have been a history teacher. Instead, he made his kids his class, and he dragged us all over the Western US, stopping at every historical site for a lecture and discussion. I can remember visiting Custer Battlefield in Montana when I was four years old, and I can still see the wind blowing my dad’s khakis against his knees as he shielded his eyes and pointed down at the Little Big Horn to tell me where the Lakota and Cheyenne camps had been and where Reno’s troop had come through the hills. He cautioned me against underestimating people as Custer had the tribes. These are my South Dakota born and raised parents at Bear Butte.
As we moved around the West, living on or near several Indian Reservations, I was surrounded by stories of the past. The Old West was still part of living memory. My maternal grandfather, a South Dakota cattle rancher, told of his mother walking west from Ft. Pierre to the Black Hills at the end of her family’s journey from New Brunswick, Canada. That was in 1880, six years after Custer’s expedition discovered gold in the Black Hills, and four years after the Little Big Horn. My grandmother told of her parents, the son of a Cornish tin miner and the daughter of a Northumbrian lead miner, and how her father had been the Wells Fargo agent in Central City, Colorado. That sounded much more romantic than it probably was, but I liked hearing about what I thought of as frontier days.
When I wrote my first historical romance, I turned to the history of the west for inspiration, setting my early books in Dakota Territory in the 19th century. I’ll be republishing those books soon.
As I learned more about my family history and where my ancestors came from before they arrived in the US and Canada, I was drawn to Britain. I talked my parents and one of my sisters into joining me for a series of what I dubbed Gene Pool Tours to locate and visit the villages and parishes where our ancestors had lived.
It soon became apparent that I had massive holes to fill in my historical knowledge of Britain. Britain had been a Roman province? Yeah, okay, I must have known that at some point because I knew what Hadrian’s Wall was and who built it, but it was all pretty hazy. And yeah, I knew who the Anglo-Saxons were—they had dozens of kings with unpronounceable names who killed each other off so they could listen to songs about their mighty deeds in their timber mead halls. And then the Vikings started raiding and immigrating, and then there was Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and then more Danes, and then the Normans (most of whom were also Danes and assorted Norskies), and then things became roughly more familiar.
When I stepped into the parish churchyard in Cornwall where I located my great-great-great grandparents’ graves, their joint headstone still standing in one of the oldest parts of the graveyard, I realized that I was related to most of the people buried there. I had to know more about them and the lands where they had lived for thousands of years. So began my serious foray into British history, and subsequently writing historical fiction set in Britain. This is the church door in that small Cornish village.
The idea that spawned my historical fantasy novella, Eve of All Hallows, came several years and Gene Pool Tours later. I was south of Chester on the Welsh border researching a possible early seventh century Anglo-Saxon monastic network that I believe was built on an older British network mentioned in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. I had a collection of evidence based on place names and stray textual mentions of an obscure Anglo-Saxon abbot, but I wanted to see the sites that had borne that abbot’s name since the early years of the English church. Harking back to those childhood days on the bluffs above the Little Big Horn, I believe landscapes tell us things if we look at them the right ways and with some history to inform our view.
Sometime around 615 AD, Æthelfrith, king of the nascent kingdom of Northumbria, took an army south to meet a combined force of British and Anglo-Saxon foes near Bangor-on-Dee. Bede tells that when the armies met, more than a thousand monks from the nearby monastery of Bannacornaburg, or Bangor Monachorum, surrounded the armies in a ring. They began to pray for the defeat of the Northumbrians. Bearing in mind that early medieval armies in Britain were often quite small, those monks might have outnumbered armed combatants. Æthelfrith’s answer to this potential threat was to order the unarmed and unprotected monks killed. Bede claimed that over a thousand monks died. It was a shocking massacre.
I walked through a quiet Welsh village, close to where that had happened and thought about what kind of man could order the deaths of so many unarmed monks and put his own sword toward that effort. From what I had learned about the kings and princes of the competing Anglo-Saxon and British kingdoms of the early seventh century, I didn’t think I would have liked them much. If they somehow landed in 21st century Britain, what would happen to them? If they didn’t find a way into the military or police work (and some of them were surely unstable enough to make that unlikely), they’d end up as criminals or terrorists.
That question started me down a long path that has included writing an as yet unpublished romantic thriller about time-traveling Anglo-Saxon warlord kings and modern-day British counterterrorism. Æthelfrith, of course, receives top billing as one of those time-travellers, but as I plotted the series, I needed to know more about his past. Early medieval history leaves plenty of room for imagination so I envisioned a life that took the real Æthelfrith as a starting point and freely embroidered the details.
Eve of All Hallows is one of those stories. In the last decade of the sixth century, Æthelfrith came to power in Bernicia, the northern part of the English County of Northumberland and southeastern Scotland. It was a time of change and conquest where ethnic and religious factions strove for control. I imagined Æthelfrith as an ambitious young man, not yet wed or with children, and with only a small kingdom. He hears a fireside tale about a British witch with the ability to grant a king unimaginable power . . . if he can find her, and if she so chooses.
Drawing on all the research I’ve done and everything I’ve learned about this fascinating yet shadowy period of British history, I’ve tried to make Æthelfrith’s world real for readers. Well, perhaps a little more than real, as there are mysteries afoot there that most of us don’t deal with now.
I’d love to hear from readers about the periods of history that interest you most, and why. Please leave a comment if you’d like to be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of Eve of All Hallows.
EVE OF ALL HALLOWS
L. G. C. Smith
A Secret Queen of Hidden Realms
She is a sorceress. A witch. Alone in the shadowed mountains she works forgotten magic to keep the land strong. Few remain who understand her sovereignty. Hers is a lonely life. One dark Samhain night she looks for one who might match her ability to bring harmony to the land and its people. If he will. His fate and the future of Britain lie in her hands.
An Enemy King
A young king of the Angles hears a fireside tale from his Welsh cousins. There is a witch who can grant him the power he yearns for most: To rule over all Britain. To gain it, he will have to prove himself worthy in unfamiliar ways. No sword or cunning will sway this witch. Can he learn the lessons she sets for him in time to earn his prize?
An Alliance to Assure the Future?
Not for hundreds of years has there has been a king with the potential to rule beside the Lady of the Isles. Strong and skillful, the young king tempts her when she tests his mettle. The Old Ways say that she can have him, or she can have his child. Which one will she choose?
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