A Celtic Christian Blessing

I wish you all the blessings of the season as we gather together to celebrate the birth of Jesus!

As we all have better things to do today than read a blog, I would just like to share with you an old Celtic Christian blessing. This is my prayer for you, dear readers:

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace of Christ,
of Christ the light of the world to you.
Deep peace of Christ to you
.

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And to help keep you in the Christmas mood, here’s a bonus – an Irish/Celtic version of Go Tell It on the Mountain from Keith and Kristyn Getty. Play it after supper, you won’t be able to stop from dancing and you’ll wear off some of that turkey!

Merry Christmas!

Interview: Matthew Harffy, The Serpent Sword

I reviewed The Serpent Sword, Matthew Harffy’s first book in his Bernicia Chronicles a couple weeks back, and am delighted to share with you this interview with him today!

Thanks for joining me here today, Matthew! First off, tell us how you got interested in writing in general and in the Dark Ages in particular.

I’ve always read a lot and enjoyed writing. I sometimes toyed with the idea of writing a story, but never got beyond a few pages.

I’ve had an interest in the medieval period for as long as I can remember, but had no special interest in the so-called Dark Ages, or what is now often called the early medieval period. The trigger to start writing about the seventh century, and Northumbria in particular came when I watched a documentary in 2001 about Bamburgh (Bebbanburg in the seventh century) and Ango-Saxon graves that were being excavated and researched. I lived near Bamburgh as a child for a few years and the documentary awoke something in me. I started to write that night and began researching the period once I decided to write a whole novel.

What was the hardest part about doing the research for this novel?

The fact that I knew nothing about the period at all! It was all new to me, but I think the fact it is a little-known period makes it easier in some ways for me now, as readers perhaps do not have preconceptions of what is “right” and “wrong”.

When I went about researching, I bought all the books I could find on the period and just took on as much info as I could and then fashioned a story into the known historical events. One of the hardest things is letting go of the research and realising that the story is much more important for the majority of readers than the dry facts.

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Bernard Cornwall has a hugely popular series set in the same time and place as your own. Do you think the comparisons to his work helps you?

It has its pros and cons. I got turned down by some agents due to the similarities and I wonder if I’d chosen a different period, it might have made life easier. However, Cornwell has A LOT of fans, and that is a ready-made fan-base for me to tap into.

Incidentally, Cornwell’s Saxon books and mine are not set at the same time, mine are a couple of centuries earlier. That is like saying that the Elizabethan and Victorian periods are the same! However, it is interesting that such is the dearth of information of the early medieval period that it is easy to have it all fall into a several-centuries’-long homogeneous mishmash of facts and suppositions.

I wrote an in-depth guest blog post on Samantha Wilcoxson’s blog on the very subject of being compared to Bernard Cornwell just a few weeks ago, so I won’t repeat it all here.

Who is your favourite writer?

Funnily enough, Bernard Cornwell would be up there! I love David Gemmell, Larry McMurtry, Stephen King, Patrick O’Brian, many different writers.

The one writer whose work I never miss and always devour the fastest is Lee Child. I even pitched The Serpent Sword to agents as Jack Reacher in the Dark Ages. Not sure the description really works, but it got their attention!

Do you have any other genres you like to write in besides historical fiction?

I haven’t written in any other genre yet, but I would like to write a western one day. I can imagine writing fantasy too (historical fiction without having to worry about the history!).

What is the hardest part of being a writer? The easiest?

The hardest – finding the time to write, edit, think, promote the books, etc. Time is finite, the work of a writer is infinite!

The easiest – writing exciting action scenes!

And there are a lot of exciting action scenes in your book! Tell us about your road to publication. What’s been the hardest step along the way?

I suppose the hardest step was deciding what to do. I found an agent and he sent THE SERPENT SWORD round to all the major publishers, but none of them decided to make an offer on the book. I took the decision to self-publish after nearly a year of that book doing the rounds. At the time it felt like perhaps I was making a mistake and that maybe I should have held out for something to come through from the traditional publishing route. Now, I do not regret having taken that decision. The publishing industry is incredibly slow and I’m glad I took the plunge in the end, getting the book out there and finding readers.

What are you working on now?

I am now working on Book 3 of the Bernicia Chronicles – BY BLOOD AND BLADE. I am in the middle of edits and hope to have it ready for test readers soon. Book two, THE CROSS AND THE CURSE, is due for release on 22nd January 2016.

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Once this series is finished, do you see yourself moving away from the Dark Ages to write about a different era or do you still have some stories left to tell us about this time and place?

I have ideas for stories around the events in Beobrand’s life for decades to come…by the end of book 3 he is only in his early 20s, so there is still a long way to go. I am not sure how many books there will be in the series… There are at least a couple more that I have concrete ideas for. And, of course, I need to tie up some loose ends before I can move on. I think the most likely thing would be to move onto something else for a book, and then return to carry on with the Bernicia Chronicles.

My wife and I have an idea for a thriller set in the 19th century, but I’m not sure we’ll ever find the time or energy to tackle it!

And now for some fun facts:

Tell us one thing about yourself that will surprise us.

I failed English Literature and History at school! I’m not proud of the fact, but I was a terrible student until I grew up a bit.

Who would you hire to score a soundtrack for your novel? Why?

Interesting question… Probably the great John Williams. His film scores are legendary and all of them are amazing!

If we were looking for a more modern take, Brian May, from Queen. In fact, Queen with Freddie Mercury still alive could do the songs like they did for Highlander. Now that would be cool!

Who do you want to play Beobrand in the movie adaptation of your novel?

This is something I’d not really thought about until recently, and I don’t have an actor in mind. However, when watching the Rugby World Cup this year I did think that the Wales Fly-Half, Dan Biggar, reminded me of my idea of Beobrand. He is intense, tall, physically strong, athletic, tough, but seems to have a certain sensitivity about him.

What’s the best thing another author has done for you? The worst? (no names! )

The best thing authors have done is to take a chance and read my work and then give me quotable endorsements. Some very prominent authors such as Manda Scott, Angus Donald, Justin Hill, Giles Kristian, Michael Jecks, and several others have all given me their support. I know how busy life is, so I really appreciate strangers making the effort to help a new and unknown writer.

The worst thing? There have been very few bad experiences from the author fraternity, and any issues I’ve had pale into insignificance when compared to the support from successful, established authors.

Thanks for your questions and the opportunity. It’s been fun and best of luck with your own writing endeavours.


 

If you want to see more of Matthew’s work and what he’s up to, here are some links:

www.matthewharffy.com

https://twitter.com/MatthewHarffy

https://www.facebook.com/MatthewHarffyAuthor

Buy The Serpent Sword: http://getbook.at/TheSerpentSword

Buy The Cross and the Curse: http://getbook.at/CROSSandCURSE

 

Adventus

The Christian church is in the midst of Advent right now, which is the season of anticipating the coming of Christ, both as a baby at Christmas and again at His Second Coming. The word “advent” comes from the Latin word “adventus”, which means “coming”.

This observation of Advent has a long history in the Church, stretching back to the 4th century at least, and likely before. So the Celtic Church (and the Roman one) would definitely be observing this important part of the Church calendar during the 7th century, the time that my trilogy is set.

There are some differences between how it was celebrated then and how it is celebrated now, however. First of all, Advent today can encompass a wide range of observances. Some evangelical churches have very little emphasis on Advent, other than the lighting of an Advent candle set in a wreath during the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, with the candles representing hope, peace, love and joy. Sometimes the candles are different colours to distinguish each one, sometimes the candles are purple (the traditional colour of Advent). Some add a fifth candle, in the centre of the wreath, which is the Christ candle, lit on Christmas Eve.

Other, more liturgical churches, have much more emphasis on Advent, incorporating special prayers and Scripture readings into their services. They will often also have special evening services for the last week in December.

Back in the 7th century, Advent was also set aside as a special time. However, their Advent season began earlier than ours does now. They would begin Advent observances on November 15th, which would then mirror the 40 days of Lent. And like Lent, Advent was seen as a time of spiritual preparation. Fasting was a part of the Advent observances, and although this was later dropped by the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches, the Eastern Orthodox still have fasting as part of their Advent observances today. They also still retain the 40 days of Advent.

Advent traditionally had more emphasis on the Second Coming of Christ, and along with fasting involved repentance and dedication to prayer, in order to prepare oneself for Christ’s return.

Another element practiced in the early Church and still today in the Roman Catholic and more liturgical churches is the reciting of the O Antiphons during that last week before Christmas. These are short reflections on the various names of the Messiah found in the prophecies of Isaiah. Those names are Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King of the Nations, and Emmanuel. So, for example, the first one is Wisdom, and this is the antiphon:

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence. (from Isaiah 11:2-3,: 28:29)

The Emmanuel antiphon is the origin of  the carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, and it goes like this:

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God. (Isaiah 7:14)

I love these traditions that connect us with the Christians from all ages past. These prayers and observances are passed down to us in an unbroken line from the beginning of the Church until now. I love to imagine the monks at Lindisfarne on a cold, misty December night, chanting the O Antiphons and reflecting on the Christ who is to come. It’s this intertwining of past and present that is part of what makes this time of year so meaningful.

 

Wandering through the Web

I’ve fallen behind this week, and came to Friday without even a thought of what to put up on the blog. I really don’t want to just throw something up here for the sake of keeping to my (self-imposed) posting schedule, which is every Friday, but I also hate to not share something with you all.

So, just for fun I thought I would send you to some other spots around the web, and give you a little idea of some of the blogs and websites I visit often.

  1. The Rabbit Room – this blog is probably my favourite place to visit on the web. The brainchild of Andrew Peterson (one of my favourite musicians), this blog is a gathering together of Christian artists, writers, and musicians who celebrate beauty, truth, and excellence in all of the above. The fact that they are all C.S. Lewis fans and Tolkein-lovers and actually bring up Watership Down once an awhile confirms to me that these are my peeps. It’s really, really hard to pick, but here are a couple of my favourite posts from this site:

This Is For All the Lonely Writers – yep. This is me.

Mercies – this post is about one of my favourite books, A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken, and is by one of my favourite writers on the Rabbit Room site, Lanier Ivester. It’s also about life and growing up and how a book can change your life.

2. A Pilgrim in Narnia – this site, by fellow Lewis-lover, Brenton Dickeson, is chock-full of interesting tidbits about C.S. Lewis plus a bunch of posts about other things that Brenton finds interesting. He is currently doing a detailed study of all of Lewis’ works in the order in which Lewis wrote them, which is revealing some surprising insights into the creation of those works. Just recently he posted about an important discovery he made about the prologue to The Screwtape Letters, and how it reveals a surprising connection to the Space Trilogy. Really interesting! To say that I’m not jealous that Brenton has actually seen (and handled!) some of Lewis’ manuscripts would be a lie.

3. Heavenfield – good scholarship here on the Early Middle Ages. The blog’s author , Michelle Ziegler, is particularly interested in the early Saints and Kings of the era plus the study of diseases at that time. Here’s an interesting post she put up about King Oswiu (Oswy) recently; and another one about what scientists found while studying the bones of a leper from that era. She doesn’t post often (drat) but it’s always fascinating stuff.

4. Speculative Faith – a blog about exploring speculative fiction from a Christian worldview, including reviews of both Christian and secular speculative fiction, and articles about how as writers we can pursue excellence in this genre. I really enjoyed their recent series on “Story Evangelism” as they had some thought-provoking articles on the whole issue of “should Christian stories evangelize?” I particularly liked this post on the concept of vocation, but all of the posts in the series were good ones.

 

That’s it for now….I would love to hear from you as to what sites you like to visit! I’m always on the look-out for a place where I can settle down with my cup of tea in hand….