James Calbraith is a Poland-born Scottish writer, foodie, coffee-drinker and traveler.
“The Shieldmaiden’s Pride” – Book One of the new trilogy, The Song of Madron – is now in the final editing and proofreading stages, with the release scheduled for July 1st – but I can’t wait to show off the maps that will be in the book. Keen-eyed readers will recognise I used one of the earliest maps from Saxon Might as base for this one, but with added detail and some changes in political geography in the 25 years since the period of that book.
BARBARIAN SETTLEMENT IN BRITANNIA, 475 AD
In “The Shieldmaiden’s Pride”, the story returns to mainland Britain, as seen by the natives of this land. The characters journey through the island, from hillfort to fortress, from town to villa – so it’s a good moment to run through some of the real-life villas of Roman Britain that have popped up throughout the series so far, and that will appear in the next book.
THE SAXON SPEARS:
ARIMINUM – Beddington Park, London
QUINTUS NATALIUS’s VILLA – Crofton, Orpington
THE SAXON KNIVES:
WORTIMER’S VILLA IN ROBRIWIS – Cobham Park, Kent
Rhedwyn ruled a settlement of Iutes and Britons here for a while, when the villa‘s grounds were confiscated during Wortimer’s brief exile.
CATUAR’S VILLA IN NEW PORT – Brighton, Sussex
A small villa to which the Regin Comes moved from his palace in Bignor as his wealth and importance diminished. Later, Rex Aelle took it for residence, when setting up the South Saxon capital in New Port.
THE SAXON MIGHT:
EADGITH’S VILLA – Newport, Isle of Wight
The half-ruined villa on Wecta, from which Eadgith ruled the small Iute colony.
THE CROWN OF THE IUTES:
MUTUANTON VILLA – Barcombe Mills, Sussex
The white-washed palace on the hill near Mutuanton, where Aelle kept the Briton nobles hostage.
MUTUANTON ISLAND VILLA – Beddingham Sussex
The ruined villa in the marshes, where the Saxon force kept in check the Briton army on the hill fort.
THE SHIELDMAIDEN’S PRIDE:
SOUTH SHORE VILLA – Southwark, London
Recently discovered near the London Bridge, I used this lavish mansio as basis for the South Shore ‘entertainment’ villa.
PUBLIAN’S VILLA – Rutland, near Peterborough
DORCIC PRAETOR’S VILLA – Wittenham Clumps, Dorchester-on-Thames
Another villa only mentioned in the story – the Praetor of Dorcic prefers to live here, in the remains of a hill fort across the river from the town he governs.
When I first started jotting down plot ideas for this book, the main event in the news was the refugee problem on the Polish border, so I set up some of the plot around refugees fleeing from a distant conflict. Little could I suspect that by the time I start writing the manuscript, the crisis will be replaced by an actual *war*, and a refugee catastrophe of proportions unseen since the 2nd World War…
It’s not an easy time to write any book, but perhaps especially one that is so distant from what’s happening around us. Escapism is difficult when reality is chasing you down, pins you to the ground and demands to be heard from. When checking Twitter and news sites replaces all other activity. Still, work can’t wait. Books won’t write themselves, despite the progress in artificial intelligence!
So, here it is. Only a month behind schedule, but going strong. The first novel in the new trilogy, the Song of Madron. A lot is going to be different this time – not least of which is an attempt to write a female heroine. I’m happy with how it’s going so far – hope you’ll all be happy too, when it’s finished!
Madron knows she’s destined to fame and renown. In her veins runs the blood of Wortigern, the great Dux of the eastern Britons, and of Eobba, the mighty warchief of the Iutes. Wars have been fought for her hand. Her union with the western Dux’s son brought peace to the divided land. Their child is the hope for the entire nation’s future.
But there are many who don’t want to see that future. Bands of paid warriors strike at her and her husband, forcing Madron to seek safety in the place she left many years ago, but still calls home: the greatest city in Britannia, Londin. Here, she will stumble upon an even greater conspiracy – one that threatens not only her family, but to engulf the whole island in flames of a new war.
And her only clue to discover who’s behind it all is one half of a golden solidus…
A new heroine – a new band of comrades – a new mystery – and a whole brand new story in the best-selling series The Song Of Britain – The Song of Madron!
These are not easy times, for anyone. But somehow, between bouts of plague, frantically refreshing Twitter for news of war, and general mental chaos of it all, I’m managing to keep only a month behind shedule for the next book. I’m hoping to put a pre-order in motion in a week or so – so it’s time to reveal the next book’s cover and title.
It’s a beginning of a new trilogy, the third in the saga, and a different type of story this time, which is reflected in a slightly different title style. Think more Sharpe than Uhtred; more secret missions, conspiracies and subterfuge than battles and grand campaigns… Can I pull it off? Who knows, but I’ll give it a damn good try!
Introducing: The Song of Madron, Book One: The Shieldmaiden’s Pride
(photo credit: Yuriy Seleznev, via Shutterstock)
Keep safe everyone – and long live free Ukraine.
“The Crown of the Iutes” release – ebook and paperback
A thrilling conclusion to the Song of Octa trilogy!
In the ten years since Octa’s return from Wened, the Kingdom of Iutes has thrived, under the wise and peaceful rule of his father, Rex Aeric. But now, new threats are encroaching from every direction. The Saxon pirates renewed their raids with unprecedented ferocity. Rex Aelle‘s troops are gathering at the border in secret, there is rumour of a deadly plague in Gaul, just across the Narrow Sea… And an ambitious Londin Councillor, Riotham, plots to revive the title of the Dux and subjugate Wortigern’s old domain under his rule.
It will take all of Octa’s strength and wits to save his father’s kingdom from all of these dangers at once… But not before a new adventure sends him back to Gaul, where he will first have to save the Empire itself from a barbarian conspiracy – once again!
Available from TODAY, exclusive to Amazon, as ebook and paperback.
“The Blood of the Iutes” Christmas Promo 0.99p
– A NEW GENERATION OF HEROES. THE DARK AGES SAGA CONTINUES. –
It’s not easy being the son of a king.Octa never wanted to be a mighty warrior, or a great ruler of men – he’d much rather be a clerk or a priest – but he’s resigned to his destiny as the son and heir of the first king of the Iutes. There is only one problem: under his father’s peaceful reign, there aren’t many opportunities for a youth to gain experience in combat and leadership.So when a Roman legate arrives in Britannia, for the first time in a generation, bringing dire news from across the Narrow Sea and requesting help in the coming clash between rival Imperators, Octa jumps on the chance to prove himself before his friends and his father – no matter the consequences…What follows is an epic journey across Frankia and Gaul in the twilight of the Empire, filled with battles, intrigues and romance.
The Song of the Tides – paperback
And lastly, we’ve added The Song of the Tides paperback version – it’s only a small novella, so it’s a small booklet. I haven’t got the author copy yet, but I’m sure it’ll look neat on the shelf next to the larger books in the series 🙂
In 10 days, on Christmas Eve, “The Crown of Iutes” will be released on Kindle. It is time to reveal the main map for the book: Northern Gaul, comprising of the Domain of Gauls, under Syagrius, and the lands of its neighbours – the Franks, the Armoricans and the Goths of Tolosa.
Yes, it’s that time of the pre-publishing cycle when I write a post about all the locations used in the upcoming book, The Crown of the Iutes.
A large part of the Crown takes place in the already familiar corner of Britannia – Londin, Cantiaca, the land of the Regins. But the central story takes our heroes, and the reader, back to Gaul – and to the new, to them, lands beyond the River Liger (Loire).
AURELIANUM – Cenabum, Orléans
PICTAWIS – Limonum, Poitiers
CAINO – Cainon, Chinon
Nothing remains of the Roman castrum built on the shores of the Vienne, where now a medieval castle rises upon the grey cliffs. In 5th century, Mexme, a disciple of St Martin’s, established a hermitage here, which soon expanded into a monastery around which the new town grew.
ANDECAWA – Iuliomagus, Angers
NAMNETES – Condevincum, Nantes
ALET – Aletum, St. Malo
DOL – Deols, Chateauroux
An ancient ford, with a small village and a temple attached, would have likely remained anonymous until the establishment of the medieval abbey if it wasn’t for the battle fought between Euric’s Goths and Riothamus’s “Britons”, part of the tumultuous events of 470-472, the final Roman attempt of securing Gaul.
BREDANNA – La Brenne Marsh
“How many times have you seen ‘Beautiful Dreamer’?”
“That’s all? (…) I always played it while I was home.(…) Don’t you think the movie’s really nice? It’s always the day before the school festival. Could there be anything better?”
Urusei Yatsura 2: Beatiful Dreamer is probably my most watched anime of all times – alongside Takahata’s Omoide Poro Poro. One of Mamoru Oshii’s (he of Ghost in the Shell) earliest feature films, it takes the simple surrealist gag comedy setup of the original TV series and uses it to create a masterpiece of the genre, in the same way Groundhog Day took Bill Murray’s and Harold Ramis’s dead pan slapstick and transformed them into a buddhist essay on passing of time.
Much like in Groundhog Day, the characters of Beautiful Dreamer start off trapped in a single-day time loop within tight geographical confines of Shimo-Tomobiki. But unlike Groundhog Day, their situation is not altogether unpleasant, and once they realize their predicament, most of them accept that there’s little they can do but enjoy the eternity. Because the day they’re trapped in is the day before the school festival: arguably, the best day in the otherwise unenviable life of a Japanese student. Crucially, not the festival itself; the actual event, often little more than a wearisome chore for the organizers, can never match the anticipation, excitement, hard work and the sense of companionship of the days leading up to it. No wonder, then, that it’s this festival-eve that’s used to create what eventually turns out to be a beautiful dream, custom made for the beautiful dreamer, Lum.
But one cannot live in a dream forever. Not least because even the best dream eventually reveals its flaws. Characters that don’t fit the narrative are forcibly removed; the repeating drudgery threatens the very fabric of the oneiric reality; and eventually, those forced to relive the perfection day after day threaten a rebellion in the perpetual paradise. The beautiful dreamer must wake up – and grow up.
The few sentences in Yoshihiro Mori’s We Couldn’t Become Adults which open this post might seem just a throwaway scene, serving to show off the ‘quirkiness’ of the protagonist’s elusive love interest. But if you have seen Beatiful Dreamer as often as she – or I – have, you’ll know this scene encapsulates the entire movie, and through it, an experience of an entire lost generation. Mori’s protagonist, Sato, a 40-something late Gen-X ‘creative’, wasted his years in pursuit of something he was promised in his youth, but what could never be real. Stuck in the same repeating loop of anticipation as Lum’s classmates, never reaching a fulfilment, he withers away, as all around him the world moves on, for better or worse.
Foreshadowing the experience of Western Millennials, Japan’s late Gen-Xers grew up in the rubble of a better past and unfulfiled promises. There is a post-apocalyptic quality to the Lost Decade, something I find eerily familiar, having spent my childhood in similarly post-apocalyptic Eastern Europe of late 80s and early 90s. The promise made to Sato’s generation – and to so many after them, all over the world – was of finding something better, something more exciting than the salaryman-with-kids drudgery of their parents. A life that is ‘not ordinary’, to quote the movie’s often repeated line.
Unless you’re one of the very lucky very few who managed to build a succesful life out of their ‘not ordinariness’, the only other way out of this self-inflicted loop, like in the Beautiful Dreamer, is to wake up – and grow up. What counts as plot in Mori’s movie is book-ended by two realizations: the first – that even Sato’s oddball of an anime-watching girlfriend, Kaori, “dropped out” of the loop and moved on to have an ‘ordinary’ life. And the last – that this is fine. At the end, there is neither optimism or pessimism to be found in the movie’s ending – just an acceptance of reality as it is. A dream was only a dream. And, to break with another Gen X cliche, there is no Matrix to emerge into on the other side, just a little more of the same old.
It’s far from a perfect movie; if not for the mention of Beautiful Dreamer, I probably wouldn’t be moved to write about it to such an extent. But to me, it provided that rare moment in art, when two pieces compliment each other, each providing a commentary on another and helping to understand one another’s message, even if one of these is a movie I’ve seen literally countless times before.
For most of the last half-year I’ve been mostly working on patiently carving out the main draft of the Crown of the Iutes – which has already grown into the longest and most complex book I’ve ever written, as befits the conclusion of Ash and Octa’s long stories. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have other important news coming up.
1. I HAVE AN AUDIOBOOK OUT!
This is the first time ever I released a professional audio version of any of my books, thanks to ACX and British actor/comedian/voice over artist David Lane Pusey. It’s super exciting, and a little bit eerie, to hear my characters actually speak, and he’s done such a great job on the book! (wait till you hear Eirik!)
The audiobook is for the Saxon Spears only for now. Obviously, it’s a lot of work and effort on everyone’s part, so I will probably be releasing these not more often than once a year, assuming the first one pays off, that is. The entire first book is over 13 hours long!
I have some promo codes for free downloads, if anyone wants to review it – just send me a note.
Also, here are the affiliated links to Audible versions if you want to buy/download/use a credit on my and David’s audiobook:
2. HARDCOVERS ARE COMING!
Amazon KDP now allows indie publishers to produce hardcovers! And it’s fairly easy if you’ve already done a paerback. For now, you can buy a hardcover version of the Saxon Spears, but more will be coming over the next few week, and by the time the Crown comes out, all six books should have hardcover versions for your library. I haven’t seen the hardcover copy myself yet – it’s in the post – hope it’s as well printed as the paperback!
Incidentally, this means the Saxon Spears is now my first ever book to be released in all four formats!
3. IN OTHER NEWS…
- “The Shadow of Black Wings” has been translated into Spanish by Sebastian Esparza. For now it’s available on Nook, Kobo and iTunes, Kindle version is coming soon, I’m told. I’ll keep you posted. EDIT: It’s on Amazon NOW.
- “The Crown of the Iutes” is chugging along nicely, but it’s grown so big I may not manage to release it in time. At worst, it will be delayed by a month, though I’ll try my best to avoid it!
- Have you seen the cool new graphics on Amazon pages for Song of Britain? That’s another new promo tool available to writers that I’ve taken full advantage of. Looks very professional now, don’t you think?
That’s all for now – time for me to go back to the word mines!
(no, this isn’t about the politics 🙂 )
There’s Sussex, Essex, Wessex and Middlesex. There’s East Angles, split into Northern Folk and Southern Folk – and, once, there were even Middle Angles. There are counties and kingdoms with such undoubtedly English names as Surrey and Mercia. Why, then, in the middle of all this Germanic toponymy, is Kent not called something like “Jutland” or “East Jutia”?
Etymology will tell us that the name “Kent” comes from the Briton word for “edge” or “corner”, which in turn gave the name to the Iron Age tribe of Cantii. In Latin, it was variously rendered as Cantia, Cantium or Cantiacum. The Germanic settlers called it Centrige and Kentland. But etymology is not the same as explanation. After all, Sussex is not called “Reginland”. Essex is not “Trinovantia”. Norfolk is not “Ikenware”.
Something happened in Cantium that was different from everywhere else. The myths and what little history we have written about the beginnings of “Anglo-Saxon” settlement in Britannia tell us that it all started there – with Hengist and Horsa, and his Jutes landing on the Isle of Thanet. It’s a convenient legend, but we know there is some truth in it. More, probably, than in the legends of Aella and his son Cissa conquering the southern provinces with his three ceol-fuls of Saxon warriors, or in the muddled origins of the Western Saxons, jumping about from the Welsh marches to Winchester and Salisbury with little regard to geography and chronology.
My books are a fiction, based on guesswork. Until we find some ancient copy of the lost Chronicles of the Kingdom of Kent, all we have to go on are those less precise tools of a Dark Age historian: myths, archaeology, toponymies and etymologies. After all, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was written in Wessex, hundreds of miles away and centuries after whatever events in Kent made it keep its Briton name when all the land around it took new names from the Saxons. It is a wonder that any rumour of what happened made it to the chronicle, even if only in form of a brief snippet of a legend of Wortigern and the two brothers.
That there was no “invasion” we know from archeological record. No great battles as described by the chroniclers, and no brutal conquest, wiping out entire native population. But I’d like to think there was something more to Kent’s good fortune. I’d like to think – and it is what I propose in my books – that Kent was a unique experiment in the early history of England. That in Kent, the Germanic settlers and the Briton natives not only lived side by side in peace, but dealt with the difficulties of that age of chaos together, that they shared the burden of the time of upheaval that ravaged the rest of Britannia, and the Empire beyond. That the reason why Christianity was welcomed first, and with such ease, in Kent – while other Anglian and Saxon kingdoms resisted and sometimes reverted to paganry – was because the Romano-Britons of Kent, the native Christian population, were not subdued and quashed by their new rulers, and did not turn to imitate them with the same eagerness as those under the Saxon rule. That they were allowed to live and rule in their towns even as the Jutes settled the countryside around them, allowed to keep their Latin names, with only small modifications to accomodate the Jute tongue: Dover for Dubris, Lympne for Leman, Rochester for (Du)Robrivae Castrum – and their capital, a Burgh of the Cants. Compare that with what little remained of the old names in the land of Saxons: gone is Noviomagus Reginorum (Chichester), no trace remains of Anderitum (Pevensey) – and we can barely guess whether their main harbour of Novus Portus was at Brighton or Shoreham. And, most importantly, unlike any other tribal pagus in southern Britannia, they were allowed to keep their ancient name: the Land of Cant.
It is, I repeat, only a guess; a neat setting for a work of fiction. But I feel like it’s as decent explanation as any for why, to this day, the most south-easterly county of England is called Kent, rather than, say, Jutrey. And at the very least, it makes for a good story.