Into the Dark Ages

I think it's probably time for the big reveal now, to tell everyone what I've been working for the past week – and what I will be continuing to work on for the next three weeks until I get it ready to go. I'll start, I suppose, by reassuring that Alamo 4: Tip of the Spear is still going to happen in the near future; I currently have the idea that it's going to be a November-ish release, and as the word count indicator on this blog suggests, I'm poking away at it to make a start, a thousand words or so here and there. However, I wanted two series on the go...and so here's the plan for the second.

It's no secret – and the recent Conan collection reviews on the blog must have made it even more obvious – that I'm a sword and sorcery fan, and I've known for a long time that this was going to be on next. Then came the setting, and it took my some time to accept that what I wanted to do was write in a historical period. I didn't particularly want to write in a fantasy setting, despite wanting to write fantasy – if that sounds like a paradox. I heard the term 'historical fantasy' used to describe books such as 'Lion of Cairo', and well – that sounds about right for what I'm angling for to me. Historical fantasy written in the sword and sorcery style; after all – the Conan stories were written in that very same fashion. Howard himself said that he wrote works in fictional settings because it meant he could write them more quickly – and he was being paid by the word. Scott Oden wrote an excellent essay on this very subject, and there is an interesting interview here as well.

Then, of course, came the difficult decision of which setting to use; after all, with all of history stretched out before me, I was spoiled for choice. The end of the Bronze Age, the time shortly after the Fall of Troy was extremely tempting to me for a long while, as was earlier in that period, at the height of the Heroic Era – after all, it was called that for a reason! The Crusades certainly sang to me, the clash of two cultures fighting it out producing no end of interesting situations – and again, there is a strong Howard connection here. Both of these are still on the 'to be written' list; I haven't discarded by thoughts on these eras by any stretch of the imagination, to the point that I wouldn't be surprised if one of them ended up coming to the fore next year.

First of all, though, there remains this year. And so to the Dark Ages I travel. Dark Age England, specifically; an area I knew quite a bit about before, and an awful lot more now – though I still have some more reading to do before I am ready to write in the setting! A series of books have been coming into the house over the last week to augment my library, and I have been forced to sit down at my desk and read; honestly, I feel as if I'm back at university again! (A good feeling, actually. It feels like I'm putting the degree to good use – not something I ever felt in my old job!) Again, I'm walking in ground that has been trodden before. Howard wrote the Cormac Mac Art stories in just such a setting, and they are among my favourites – and then there is Keith Taylor's Bard series, which I have ordered – and will be reading next week as part of my preparation. I've heard excellent things about them.

Obviously, I've taken a look at the 'state of the art' of the Dark Ages, and, seems to boil down largely to two categories. Either King Arthur/Merlin, or the Vikings. Now, both of those are naturally of interest to me...but I don't really have much interest in writing another Arthurian piece. That's been done an awful lot, and to top that would require something exceptional – and that would require a lot more research. The Vikings have certainly been done an awful lot, and though I would enjoy writing a nice Viking saga, that particular zone of history is pretty full. Never say never, of course, but for the present, I think the Northmen are going to be given a bit of a miss.

What does that leave me? With the fun and fury of the clash between the Anglo-Saxon invaders and the British Celts fighting for their homeland as they were pushed further and further into the wilderness, while the last traces of Roman influence gradually faded into the background, leaving only enigmatic ruins and crumbling cities – and legends of the great warriors who once fought there. Runecasters and druids, strange beasts roaming the landscape, the gods whispering secrets to mortals – a lot of this sounds pretty sword and sorcery to this writer!

The sources for this period are somewhat limited, to say the least; I can depressingly say that I have pretty much all of the primary sources on my shelf or as easily available download. Good and bad – because it means I can go over the whole wealth of material, ranging from as far afield as Iceland to the cold lands of Denmark, the old Welsh bardic traditions, the stories of the Venerable Bede, and let us not forget Beowulf, of course! This is a fascinating time, and one that has certainly fired up my imagination. At least – I hope so!  

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