Celebrating… A Wonderful New Book: the Publication of Edith, Fair as a Swan

James Hockey, Author

Books, to me, are a source of joy.  One of the most wonderful emotions that a reader can experience is the feeling that comes when they have in their hands (or on their e-reader) a book by someone whose writing they love, whose tale-telling abilities they respect, and whose prior work sits on their shelves, sources of periodic reading and enjoyment.  And if the new book happens to be the latest in a series, so much the better.

With those pleasures in mind, I am celebrating, today, the release of James M. Hockey’s newest book, Edith, Fair as a Swan.  A masterpiece by a master storyteller, the third in a series of stories that trace the origin of England in a most remarkable way.

But first, Edith:

                           England is Conquered
The King lies dead and mutilated.  Edith, the Queen, and her daughter, Gytha, have fled for their lives just ahead of their pursuers.  They can expect no mercy if they are captured.  By command of the victor, the Queen will be tortured and then burned at the stake and her daughter strangled in the public square.  It is 1066, and the cruel enemy hot on their heels is William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, whom history now knows as ‘The Conqueror.’ Edith’s path lies from ravaged England to  Kiev, from defeat and despair through peril to hope and healing.

The story itself is gripping, and it is a true story in most of its particulars (for writers of historical fiction do know that sometimes they have to fill in the gaps or, as Hockey says, ‘Connect the dots’)  We know that Edith was here; we know William sought her life…and we know some other important things about her story. But how did they come about?  Characters cross the pages, scoundrels, villains, heroes, knights, peasants – all play their parts in Edith’s story.  And then there is Edith, herself, a queen – and a woman of courage and resolve.

In this sample, Edith and her daughter, accompanied by the narrator, are stopped by men with something less than honor in their hearts.  It is a deadly plight, until Edith steps forward:   

The hill stretched away to the east ahead of us. As we neared the top of the long, steady climb we stopped to catch our breath and rest our legs, for the walk uphill had tired us. It was a bad place to linger and we were foolish, but Asgar, the wisest of us was also the oldest and still weakened by his newly healed wounds. He was thus the most drained by the long climb and needed to rest.

I say foolish because as we topped the hill the road became flat, but also curved around a copse of trees standing out from the thick woods to our left. We were unsighted and could not see down the road ahead. If we could have seen what was around the curve we would have hidden off the road. But we could not see and thus did not hide, and what then happened happened and from that our journey was entirely changed.

As we moved on at a snail’s pace, still gathering our breath, so around the curve came a trio of Norman horsemen. From their arms and the shield of one I took them to be a miles and two serjeants-at-arms. They reined in when they saw us and stood watching us as we limped and shuffled along the road. Then at a word from the leader they spurred towards us.

They halted two horse lengths away. I grasped my quarterstaff, ready to fight, but a growl from Asgar told me to hold.

The horsemen leaned forward on their mounts’ necks to get a better look at us. There was a speedy passing of speech between them in their outlandish tongue. I did not need to understand their meaning. It was all too plain as they gazed steadily at Edith and Gytha.

Edith also understood only too well. To my horror she walked up to the leader and smiled at him, laying her hand on his thigh.

He exchanged a look with his serjeants and laughed then swinging his leg over his horse’s back dropped to the ground, walked around the beast’s head and stood grinning at Edith. The two serjeants, their harness and saddles creaking, also dismounted and stood holding the horses whilst their master sauntered towards the woman and her child. He stopped by Gytha and placed his hand under her chin, lifting her face and smiling down at her. As he put his arm around her shoulder and drew her to him he turned, spoke to the two serjeants and waved towards Asgar and me. They laughed and drew their swords.

Asgar was shuffling forward towards the serjeants, whining, ‘Please sirs, they are my son’s wife and daughter, have pity I beg you,’ edging closer to them all the while.

Edith was the entire mistress of the occasion. She placed her hand on the shoulder of the miles, drawing his attention away from the child. Sinking to her knees in front of him, causing his serjeants to pause, watching and smirking, she lifted the hem of his mail coat with her left hand. He thrust his hips at her and leered a look of pride and scorn.

Everything that followed happened so quickly I barely remember it. As Edith bent forward to perform her shameful task so her mantle caught beneath her knees. With an apologetic smile she reached behind her to free it and tugged at the mantle. Then, faster than I had ever seen a hand move, her right hand shot up under the mail coat with the speed and spite of a striking viper. The miles gave a shriek of pain as the bodkin dagger she had concealed in the waist of her mantle bit deep into his groin. His legs folded and he fell, to lie screaming, legs twitching and trembling, blood pooling under him. She leapt to her feet the dagger poised to strike at the serjeants.

The three novels are tied together by their narrator, a Gleeman, or Storyteller, named Bowdyn, who lives in the 1600’s during a time of upheaval.  He came to the village battered, wounded, a victim of ruffians. Bowdyn is descended from an unbroken line of Gleemen, akin to the Seannachies or the Bards, those who kept the old, true stories, and told them in truth and with skill.

The Axe the Shield and the Triton

It is a time of hardship, upheaval and poverty.  On a fine, misty morning, a young man sees a small, horse-drawn cart making its slow way along the road, apparently without guidance.  What did it contain?  Treasure?  Possibly.  The young man hurries to the cart, looks inside and finds – not gold, but a man. 

This man, battered, robbed, near death, is a treasure, indeed.  The village learns that he is Bowdyn, a gleeman, a storyteller that recounts history.  One evening, the town gathers.  He is healed, it is time for him to tell a story.  Bowdyn begins to speak…

 `This story,’ he said, `is old. It begins in a country east across the sea, nigh on five hundred years after the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. To Africa it goes and back, and crossing the sea, ends up close by here. It begins with Creoda’s grim tale’

And then something startling happened. The Gleeman sank back in his chair and by some cunning art of positioning, as he did so his face disappeared into the shadow. From the dark a voice spoke and I, for my part, felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck, for it was not the voice of Bowdyn that we heard, but that of a young boy, younger than I, for his voice had not yet deepened into manhood.

In the voice of the young man, Creoda, Bowdyn tells the tale of a people, adrift in the waning days of the Roman Empire, seeking safety from the Huns, gathering to make their way to a life together.  And in the course of the story, you return to the Gleeman.
I was not sure what to expect with this story. I was so pleased with what I got.  The sheer skill with which Hockey draws you into a story from the Dark Ages of Europe is impressive.  The story itself is excellent.
And here is a link to My Review

In the second book, Bowdyn again tells the tale of Creoda’s people:

                       The Axe, the Shield, and The Halig Rood

Bowdyn the Gleeman holds court before the townsfolk. He speaks again of Creoda and the arrival of his people in Britain. In Creoda’s calm voice, he moves through legend and history and tells of the forging of a strong people that steps into familiar legend.

Because the ford was narrow, Gewis shortened our line and put more of the doughties on the right flank. The century of the Second held our left. The Belgics were so slow in forming that he had the time to do this. And so we waited while our enemy formed up.

…They halted perhaps a man length away. We had brought no drum but showed our discipline with the unity of the beat of our spears and our billhooks against our shields, the measured rat-tat-tat we had used at Moridunum. More than that, our women did something that even now to think of it makes my blood run cold and goose bumps rise on my flesh. It was a trick they said they had learned from Sefu, using their voices and their tongues, which gave out a high-pitched warbling note from one hundred throats. It was a note like that of some great wyrm, of such godlike triumph that I could see the Belgics flinching and their eyes widening with fear. At that point, following Lothar, we took two quick paces forward and our shields clashed as our spears flashed. For a while the lines locked, but we had the advantage: the billhooks arced overhead and their pointed blades sliced into faces, arms and shoulders, drawing attention and guard away from our flashing spears.

Here is a link to The Axe, the Shield and The Halig Rood
And a link to my review

I have spent a longer time with this post than I usually do.  It is a mark of my enjoyment of these stories.  They have substance, wisdom, adventure and truth to them.  They are, truly, historical fiction that keeps its ties to history.

I am pasting links to James Hockey’s website.  There is more there to read and enjoy, including information about the Master Mariner, himself.  Not a dull paragraph there:



Celebrating a perfectly horrible day… (Celebrations, October 24, 2014)

Another Friday is here and I am posting in VikLit’s Celebrations hop.  We pause every Friday (as possible) and take some time to notice the small celebrations that we somehow overlook.  Friends, food, events in our lives – we all share.   If you want to join, the details are at the bottom of this page.

I am celebrating a perfectly horrible day (I am writing this Thursday).  It has been a bad day.  The workday was notable for being tiring.  I read ignorant comments on a blog post.   Other things happened that are serious and expensive.

And I just know that I will experience once more that truly wonderful moment that happens the morning after a bad day, when you first wake up, open your eyes, and for a breath of time it’s as though nothing happened.  And then you remember. 

I am so thrilled.

So, why am I celebrating?  Well, because as bad as the day has been, no one died, no one turned on me, I have my health, and I’m not out on the street.  There are others who would not mind having my terrible day just as long as their situation was similar to mine: my health, a job that pays me, my freedom and my friends.

That is what I am celebrating.  The fact that my bad day, which is, to me, certainly bad enough, is nothing compared to what others have had to put up with every day.

I think perhaps I am blessed.

What are you celebrating?  Why not join us?


Celebrating the Small Things – April 4, 2014

Little things… 

This wonderful Friday blog hop is the idea of VikLit (visit her blog and enjoy it!)   This is our time to celebrate the small things that often go unnoticed.  It is smile-making, and perhaps more importantly, makes me, at least, look at things with new eyes and find wonders I had overlooked.

Join us!  Details are at the end of this post.

A novelist, Robert Raynolds, wrote something that made me think, and made me nod years ago.   I still agree.

He said: The wonder of life is composed mostly of trivia.

If you think about it, the things that make up the fabric of our happiness are things that, taken one by one, seem so small as to be unnoticeable.  And yet, like the princess in the fairy tale who could feel a pea through twenty mattresses, once one is removed, its loss can be felt.

So what am I celebrating right now?  

I have Miss Frida (my cat – see my post about her a couple weeks back, here) beside me, sleeping.  She just turned ten years old this morning (April 4).  Old love is, indeed gold love.

I am about to head for bed (it is 12:15AM in the eastern United States – and good morning to my friends overseas!), and I know it will feel good to pull the covers up over my shoulder, settle into my pillows and drift off to sleep.

And tomorrow I will be visiting my charming mother and going with her to look at a place she may move to, which can care for her as needed, and where she will have friends.  We’ll squabble, of course, and visit antique shops and, if she’ll let  me, bake some pies.

And I will mix her an ‘Old Fashioned’, a drink she loves.  I’m blessed to have her still.

What are you celebrating?