Please give a warm Coffee Pot welcome to historical Fiction author, Matthew Harffy. We are in for a treat today, as Matthew is going to share with us his inspirations behind his fabulous Bernicia Chronicles series…
Killer of Kings
(Book four of the Bernicia Chronicles)
AD 636. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fourth instalment in The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.
Beobrand has land, men and riches. He should be content. And yet he cannot find peace until his enemies are food for the ravens. But before Beobrand can embark on his bloodfeud, King Oswald orders him southward, to escort holy men bearing sacred relics.
When Penda of Mercia marches a warhost into the southern kingdoms, Beobrand and his men are thrown into the midst of the conflict. Beobrand soon finds himself fighting for his life and his honour.
In the chaos that grips the south, dark secrets are exposed, bringing into question much that Beobrand had believed true. Can he unearth the answers and exact the vengeance he craves? Or will the blood-price prove too high, even for a warrior of his battle-fame and skill?
Inspiration can come in many different guises. I was initially inspired to begin writing The Serpent Sword after watching a documentary in 2001 about Anglo-Saxon graves being excavated by archaeologists at Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland.
The graves dated back to the seventh century and I learnt in the documentary that Bamburgh Castle had been the seat of the kings of the kingdom of Bernicia. Despite having lived in Northumberland as a child, I had never heard of Bernicia before, nor did I know that Northumbria was for centuries the most powerful kingdom of Britain.
I had always loved the craggy coastline of the north-east of England with its cliffs, castles, beaches and seabirds, and I was intrigued to discover this hidden past, a time between the Romans leaving these shores and the coming of the Vikings at the end of the eighth century. It was centuries-long period that I had never given much thought to. And so, one night all those years ago, I started to write the opening scene of The Serpent Sword. Little did I know then that it would take me more than a decade to complete the novel, and the enormous amount of research that I would need to do.
The land of Northumbria itself is always an inspiration for my writing. As a child I lived in a small village called Norham on the banks of the Tweed. The cliffs, castles and islands dotting the slate-grey North Sea, all serve to make the past spring to life. It is easy to imagine the men and women of 1,400 years ago on those same windswept bluffs with the guillemots and gannets wheeling and diving into the sea. They too would have seen the heads of seals bobbing in the waves in the mouth of the river Tweed. The chill spray from the breaking waves would have felt the same to our forebears as to us. I find nature a great inspiration and a wonderful way to get close to the characters from my books. In fact, I think the weather and nature almost become another character in my writing.
As I have progressed in writing the Bernicia Chronicles series I’ve come to realise that inspiration can come from any quarter. Sometimes, as with the spark of inspiration for The Serpent Sword it can come from something I’ve read or seen, or heard on the radio. At other times the research itself can trigger a scene or even a whole novel.
I remember when I was close to completing the first draft of The Serpent Sword, the news at the time in the United Kingdom was all about a scandal of horsemeat being found in prepared foods. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the next chapter I wrote, the hungry characters ate the meat of one of their fallen steeds.
Writing is a very sedentary pastime, and I try to keep active, walking and cycling. I live near a canal and often cycle along the tow path. Frequently, I see a heron standing as still as a statue on the other bank of the canal. It is always on the same stretch of the canal and if it isn’t there, I miss seeing it. In the second book of the series, The Cross and the Curse, Beobrand walks the banks of the Tweed and finds quiet solace in the frequent company of a lone heron on the opposite bank.
In the case of the latest book, Killer of Kings, inspiration struck while I was researching book three of the Bernicia Chronicles, Blood and Blade. I read in the Venerable Bede’s History of the English Church and People the story of King Sigeberht of the East Anglians who renounced his kingship to dedicate himself to the worship of Christ. However, when East Anglia was later attacked by the Mercian King, Penda, Sigeberht’s people needed a leader and would not accept that their erstwhile King was now a peace-loving Christian. They forced him out onto the battlefield to confront the warlord from Mercia, despite Sigeberht having put aside weapons and violence. I had never planned to write a story based around this moment of history, but it tied in with the timeline of the novels, and was just too interesting to ignore. I won’t give away what happens though. For that you’ll have to go and look in the history books or, better still, read Killer of Kings.
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About the author
Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria's Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, THE SERPENT SWORD.
Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.