Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Forest Dwellers - Book Giveaway

Hello Everyone,

Thank you for visiting my blog. I am very happy to say that I finally have my author copies of The Forest Dwellers: ISBN:978-10908603-63-0 and it will be available at Amazon and other leading booksellers very soon. It has been a long and painful journey to get this book into print, writing it was the easy bit. As most of you know there has been set back after set back. To celebrate I thought I would hold a little competition with a free signed copy for the lucky winner.

To Enter just leave a comment (you may have to join to comment) on which side you would have fought on at Hastings and why. A friend and I will decide which comment is the most original and announce the winner both here and on Facebook on the 15th November 2011.

The Forest Dwellers is the story of a family who, several years after the conquest, are evicted from their home to make way for King William's hunting ground. Life is hard. The Norman interlopers are hated. When Leo sees a trio of Norman's molesting a forest girl, he stops the attack in teh only he can ...violently. His action triggers a chain of events that will end only with the death of a king.

The Forest Dwellers is a story of oppression, sexual manipulation and vengeance. Here is a little something from the first few pages:

We sank into the undergrowth. Leofric raised his hand and beckoned me forward. Fear scuttled up my neck as the scream ripped the silence again. We waited, listening, the pounding loud beneath my ribs.

Beneath the canopy of the trees I could see nothing. Leo cocked his head to one side, mentally blocking out the sound of the surging river. He ignored the natural noises of the wood and set his sights upon larger prey. The cry came again, echoing and terrible, sending a shrim of fear through my body. This time I recognised the sound as human, and female.

Leofric fitted an arrow into his bow. We trod stealthily forward. A twig snapped beneath my feet. Cursing my clumsiness, we moved on. The path took us downhill, Leo had scented his quarry. I knew we were close.

He drew aside a tangle of undergrowth and we peered into the clearing. We saw three men, strangers. One solidly built, the others his bondsmen. A girl cowered before them. It was her cries that had penetrated the quiet.

They grabbed her and, like an animal in a snare, she writhed in her attackers grip, her limbs pale against the woodland floor. One of them struggled to hold her legs but she broke free. She kicked him, hard, on the mouth. Spitting out a tooth, he put up a hand, bringing it away bloody. His accomplice pinioned her arms above her head. Their leader took the hem of her tunic. We heard it rip and saw it tossed aside. The other man caught and held her again. His superior, dropping his breeches about his knees, prepared to take his pleasure. It was the first time I had seen a naked woman.

The girl thrashed and screamed. I glimpsed a gaping mouth and white-blonde hair. Leo had them marked. A thin sound, swift and true, hushed through the clearing. The un-breeched man clutched his chest and fell to the ground, spouting blood.

They let her loose, backing off, hands raised as she scrambled away. Spreading their arms they asked silently for mercy. Leo drew his bow. One man took his chance and turned to flee. His accomplice fell with Leofric’s arrow through his throat.

Leo stood up, nocked another and moved into the clearing. He released it. It ripped into the back of the fleeing man. I glimpsed the girl crouched in the bushes. Heard her breath rasping. Leo kicked her tunic toward me. ‘Give her the clothes.’

I thrust the garment to her. A hand emerged from the bush. I saw fair hair strewn across a thin, naked shoulder.

A few moments later she stood before us, pulling down her torn garments. She was ready to flee, not trusting us. Her eyes darted from Leo to myself as I absorbed every extraordinary inch of her.

Unlike other forest dwellers, her hair was as white as a gull’s back. And her eyes, that seemed to burn in her narrow face, were as bright as the sky. She was filthy and about fifteen summers, a couple of years older than me, although she seemed more. The shadow of a bruise marred her forehead. Leofric put down his bow. ‘Come, we will lead you home.’

We trailed after Leo, unspeaking. I noticed her placing her grimy feet in the prints left by my brother’s and I did likewise. Half hour or so later we reached the lonely glade where her father lived. Smoke sulked from three cone shaped piles of turf and a few scrawny hens scratched in the dirt before a tumble down shack. Purkiss and his forebears had lived here for generations burning charcoal in the forest. It was an ancient craft and the life a lonely one. They kept to the deep woods, not mixing with the other forest dwellers. Leo jerked his head.

‘Send Purkiss out.’ She ran toward the hovel without saying goodbye. I hoped she would come out again. Leo and I waited until, at last, the door creaked open and a small, twisted man emerged. He nodded, blinking in the sun and grimacing in a horrible approximation of a smile. Leofric spat onto the ground.

‘Tisn’t safe for a girl to be out alone, Purkiss. The wood is full of vermin. In future, keep her close.’

Purkiss nodded and pulled his forelock.

‘Aye, Master Leo, aye, that I will and thank ye sir, thank ye for bringin’ her safe back.’

Without further words, Leo and I trod the forest path homeward.

Ælf’s Story

Ytene – 1078

Home’ was a ramshackle holding. In winter the rain seeped through the thatch and quick, brown mice feasted among the floor rushes. In my father’s day we had been prosperous. Not rich but comfortable. He sat on the council and fought for the king. Not the bastard that rules over us now, but King Harold that led us well until he was slain at Senlache Ridge.

My family call me Ælf and at the time my tale began I lived in Ytene with my brothers. My mother had perished giving life to me and I do not remember her. As the last born, I was at the mercy of my brothers’ goodwill. They treated me fairly, teaching me how to hunt and move soundlessly through the wood. They praised me when I excelled and thrashed me when I failed. It was a good system for I learned fast. I could shoot as well as Edric and he was two years my senior. My legs were sturdy and I could run like a hound and creep like mist through the forest.

In the year that I was born our father marched off to fight for King Harold. My brothers say he was a brave fighting man until he returned with the side of his head cleaved open like a turnip. On the day he finally awoke he was not even half a man and for three years they spooned gruel between his lips and cleaned his soiled linen. On the morning they found him stiff in his bed, with his favourite hound asleep across his chest, it was a burden lifted.

Nowadays, life for us is all hardship and even my brothers can barely recall the merriment of the days when my mother was alive. At least they have those golden memories. I only remember harshness, the hunger in my belly and chilblains gnawing my toes.

Life altered for us after the conqueror came, he coveted our forest for himself. He didn’t care that our families had dwelt there since before the Saxons took the land from the Celts. He saw only a place to chase deer and hunt the wild boar. And so, our fences were torn down, leaving our crops unprotected. Our mastiff’s claws and fangs were drawn so that they would not harm the king’s stags. Where once our family had eaten well on small game, hunted in our own copse, we were afterward reduced to poaching on our own land while the king and his countrymen feasted high on the hog in their sumptuous castles.

Even the berries and acorns belonged to the king now and we were forbidden them. Instead we watched them moulder on the bush. We could no longer cut turf or collect wood for our fires. The king cared only for the protection of the venison and vert. Everyone that dwelt within the forest, and without for that matter, hated the Norman invaders. The forest dwellers were miserable…and they were cold. We spat on the name of King William.

After the shooting in the wood we kept our heads low and, when we heard that the Norman’s were questioning the people of Broceste, we took no action. We had to worry for ourselves. The hardship of our neighbours was their own affair. Deep in the forest, we stayed close to our dwelling. Leofric and Guthlac poached our supper while, out on the heath, Edric and Oswulf dug peat for our sulky hearth. We kept the fire small so that the smoke would not betray our crime. I got on with my chores at the holding as if nothing had happened but the thud of Leo’s arrow in Norman flesh remained with me. I prayed that God would understand.

To enter please tell me which side you would have joined at Hastings and why. The most original, well thought out answer will be chosen. You can also join The Forest Dwellers Face Book Page.!/pages/The-Forest-Dwellers-by-Judith-Arnopp/124828370880823

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Book Review of The Girl in the Box by Sheila Dalton

When psychoanalyst Jerry Simpson rescues a young girl from an abusive existence and takes her home with him to Canada it soon becomes apparent that the girl is suffering from more than trauma. She is mute, locked in an autistic world that Jerry and his colleagues find impossible to infiltrate. They quickly stop seeing her as a fascinating case study and fall beneath the spell of her child like innocence. But when Inez is found leaning over Jerry Simpson’s dead body and is accused of his murder, Jerry’s partner, Caitlin, is motivated to discover not who killed him but why he was killed. Caitlin is forced to confront and overcome uncomfortable suspicion, damaged trust and inner emotional conflict to penetrate Inez’ psyche to discover why her lover died.

When I began to read this book I had no idea what to expect. It is not my genre of choice and I am unfamiliar with both the setting and the psychological problems that Inez suffers. As a consequence it was a real adventure for me; a journey into a world that I soon found totally absorbing and it was immediately apparent that I was in very capable hands.

The Girl in the Box is an intelligent read. I don’t usually enjoy flashbacks but here they serve to illustrate the perplexed state of Caitlin’s mind. Sheila Dalton’s characters are fascinatingly complex and interact so naturally that you forget you are reading a book at all. The narrative is beautiful, her descriptions delicately evocative yet she never shies away from the truth of any situation. The violence is harsh, the love making sensuous and at times the narrative is uncompromising but what makes it wonderful for me is the way Sheila reveals Caitlin and Inez’s inner trauma. Their pain is understated, the scenes lightly but powerfully written providing total credibility and heightening the stunning impact of the final chapters.

I highly recommend this book whether you enjoy psychological drama or not. The characters linger long after the turn of the final page. Like people that you have met once and may never meet again, you worry about them and wonder how they are. This is not a book that you will want to give away, put it on your book shelf and read it again and again.

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Norman Invasion and the release of The Forest Dwellers

Today, the 14th October, is the anniversary of The Battle of Hastings, one of the most pivotal moments in British history. Like the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, it was the end of an era, a battle that forced Britain along a new path and forged new allegiances. If the events of those two battles could be altered, England and those living in it would be very different today.

Prior to the Battle of Hastings the country’s political influence was Scandinavia. Harold himself was half Danish and, although the Normans stemmed from the same Scandinavian branch, their outlook and ideas were very different.

With the Normans came new methods of kingship and rule, new traditions and social conduct. Most of the Saxons that survived the battle were either forced into hiding or to assume subservient roles. Despite recent historical revisionist theories the impact of the invasion must have been severe. The Saxons maintained a lengthy resistance against Norman rule, burning towns, sacking cathedrals and conducting a guerilla style campaign against William and his ilk. The Norman’s name for these people was ‘silvatici’ or forest dwellers.

Within the next few weeks my second novel, The Forest Dwellers will be published. It is set in the land of Ytene, which today is better known as The New Forest. It is so named because when William the Conqueror saw its potential he immediately claimed it for the crown, expanding Cnut’s existing hunting grounds and dispossessing thousands of people who had previously made their living beneath the rich canopy of woodland and expanse of heath. It is the imagined resentment of these people that inspired my novel.

Indeed, resentment for the invaders was widely recorded and although I could not find any
contemporary poetry from the Hampshire area I did find some from St David’s in
South Wales.
The Poet, Rhigyfarch (d. 1099), was the son of Bishop Sulien of St. David's.
The poem is rich with sorrow and a fierce resentment at the enforced changes the Normans
brought to the British way of life. I imagine feelings would have been similar in the Royal Forest.
Sorry it is a little long but poets of the day were notoriously long winded; please feel free to skip it.
From "The Welsh-Latin Poetry of Sulien's Family" _Studia Celtica_8,
1973, trans. by Michael Lapidge, pp. 89-93.
"Alas!  that the present time led us into this state of things,
where a cruel power threatens to drive away by its authority
those who are duly reading this poem.
Why have the blind fates not let us die?
Why does the earth not consume us, nor the sea swallow us?
Now an unheard-of rumour comes to our ears:
it says that free necks are subjected to the yoke.
Nothing is of any use to me now, but the power of giving:
neither the law, nor learning, nor great fame,
nor the deep-resounding glory of nobility,
not honour formerly held, not riches, not wise teaching, not deeds nor
not reverence for God, not old age;
none of these things retains its station, nor any power.
Now the labours of earlier days lie despised by the word,
heart and work of the Normans.
For they increase our taxes and burn our properties.
One vile Norman intimidates one hundred natives with his command,
and terrifies them with his look.
Alas the fall of the former state, alas the profound grief:
The people become debased, naked of limb;
each man ploughs the earth,
for with curved foot the nobleman as well as the poor man
turns over the soil.
Now the pomp of the mighty falls from the heights;
and each company is sad, the court is sad:
there are continual sorrows and fears.
Families do not now take delight in offspring;
the heir does not hope for paternal estates;
the rich man does not aspire to accumulate flocks.
No youth takes delight in pleasantries,
there is no pleasure in hearing the poems of poets.
But instead the broken spirit falls,
weighed down by lethargy, and immersed in shadows,
does not know that it is day.
Why shall I enumerate more, or rehearse this further?
Our limbs are cut off, we are lacerated,
our necks condemned to death, and chains are put on our arms.
The honest man's hand is branded by burning metals.
A woman now lacks her nose, a man his genitals.
More dire losses of our faculties follow,
And prison shuts us in for many years.
Sefdom is brought to the neck with a meathook,
and learns that nothing can be had at will.
Alas the heap of crimes of this evil race,
alas the diseased hearts of this sinful race!
Alas the full weight of these crimes which have prevented
the raising of arms against this enemy by its very weight!
Are you, British people, at enmity with God?
You, Wales, do not carry the quiver of arrows
on your shoulder, nor stretch the bow with tight bow-string,
nor gird your loins with broadsword,
nor raise the shield on your left shoulder.
Nor does the lance vibrate in the open fist.
Devoid of armament you waste away exhausted.
O unhappy and lamentable fate:
slothful in seeking peace, slothful in taking up arms.
O Wales, you are afflicted and dying,
you are quivering with fear, you collapse, alas,
miserable with your sad armament.
Nothing is joyful now, nothing pleasant.
Your beard droops, your eye is sad.
An alien crowd speaks of you as hateful.
See how ignominy fills the open face with disgrace.
Alas, the evil plague:  for the diseased mind depicts its condition in
the flesh,
just as the healthy mind shows its joys to the field.
O deserted by God, O transient glory!  What is now left for you,
Why do you rehearse these things?
It would be appropriate to weep excessively,
to weep throughout the countryside:
let every field lament, let it weep, I say.
Why would you cease watering the fields with your tears?
Why would you cease filling the stars with your lament?
Patriotism and the hope of self-rule flee;
liberty and self-will perish.
Seek now your everlasting home,
whose never-fading flowers, the lilies,
burgeon perpetually in golden fields.
Now, now, you reluctant ones, look upon heaven's heights,
which first you hated, inspired by Hades.
These things I, Rhigyfarch, sadly lament;
and, weeping over the losses of a miserable people,
I have carefully tried to depict the penalties for sins.
But, Omnipotent Father, have mercy on me who weeps over such things,
confined among them:  the asperities of life
shall not shatter me, and the sweetness
of this fragile existence shall not elevate my spirit--
let it not be either the left or the right way,
but a royal way between these two,
whereby I might ascend to the heavenly kingdom.

The local population resented the Norman rule enough to believe that the death of his sons, Richard and William Rufus, in the forest was divine justice.

As I delved further into the period I became absorbed into the age-old mystery of ‘who killed William Rufus’. Much ink has been wasted on speculation but it is undeniable that the truth died with the king in August 1100.

For many years it was believed that Walter Tyrell was responsible, and that belief has become legend. Historians have reconstructed the hunting scene, investigated the main protagonists and pieced together a patchwork of evidence so faded with age as to be indecipherable.

Today, most historians agree that the king’s brother, shortly to become King Henry I and the man to benefit most from the king’s death, was the probable person behind the deed and I tend to agree. It is more than probable that whoever fired the arrow was merely a paid assassin. That is not to say I believe it was Tyrell for not only did he not benefit personally from the killing but the denial that he upheld until his death was supported by Abbot Suger who reported in his Life of Louis VI that he ‘had often heard Tirel, at a time when he had nothing to hope or fear, affirm on the solemnest oath that on the fateful day he neither went into that part of the wood where the king was nor even caught sight of him in the wood[1]’.

The Anglo Saxon chronicle state that ‘The King was shot by one of his men.’ Geoffrey Gaimer stated, ‘We do not know who shot the king.’ And Gerald of Wales wrote, ‘The King was shot by Ranulf of Aquis.’ Clearly it was as much a mystery at the time as it is now, possibly a mystery encouraged by the new monarch and it will unfortunately have to remain so. However, a mystery does provide splendid scope for the imagination.

The Forest Dwellers is the story of Alys and Aelf, forest dwellers who's lives are blown apart by the arrival of the Normans. Armed with very different weapons the narrative follows their bitter fight for survival from the early days of conquest to the death in the forest of William Rufus. I stress that The Forest Dwellers is a work of fiction and hope my readers will enjoy discovering the world of the forest dwellers as much as I enjoyed creating it. I will update details of the publication date as soon as I have them.

The Forest Dwellers is a fiction of oppression, sexual manipulation and vengeance.

[1] Abbot Suger, Vie de Louis VI le Gros, edited and translated by H. Waquet, (Paris, 1929,1964), p.12