1066 Turned Upside Down – a review

 

As I am now writing an alternative history based on “what if the Vikings had settled permanently In North America”, I delayed reading this superb collection until I’d done more research and written my first draft. I was pleased to see some of my thoughts echoed and to discover how real historical writers craft their tales.

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1066 Turned Upside Down

by Joanna CourtneyHelen HollickAnnie WhiteheadAnna BelfrageAlison MortonCarol McGrathEliza RedgoldG.K. Holloway, Richard Dee

Ever wondered what might have happened if William the Conqueror had been beaten at Hastings? Or if Harald Hardrada had won at Stamford Bridge? Or if Edward the Confessor had died with an heir ready to take his place? Then here is the perfect set of stories for you. ‘1066 Turned Upside Down’ explores a variety of ways in which the momentous year of 1066 could have played out differently.

Written by nine well-known authors to celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the stories will take you on a journey through the wonderful ‘what ifs’ of England’s most famous year in history.

 

REVIEW *****

As a history addict, I’ve been fascinated by alternative histories for decades so when I saw this collection was being released, I had to read it. However, I delayed delving into this until my own alternative history had evolved. I was not disappointed with any of these tales as they all took different approaches and in their own styles.

In most cases, the characters were based on the historical records, although those sometimes disagree so there was room for subtle variations – as well as believable fictional creations. Sometimes the background characters in the historical panorama have the most interesting tale to tell. As I’m part-British, I kept rooting for Harold and disliked William so cheered when the Normans were thwarted by their enemies.

However, I must admit to having a Viking bias so my favourite tale was Joanna Courtney’s ‘Emperor of the North’ about King Harold Hardrada, closely followed by Anna Belfrage’s ‘The Danish Crutch’ – never discount a ‘cripple’ (or else I’ll run you over with my wheelchair). But there were moments when I laughed as well as cried, and all the stories had me nodding with enjoyment and reading avidly. There is even an amusing and clever science fiction/time travel spin in Richard Dee’s ‘If You Changed One Thing’, and I must mention Alison Morton’s ‘A Roman Intervenes’ when her own alternative Roma Nova world impacts on events.

The collection is assembled in such a way that between the ‘alternatives’ are the related facts as they happened, as far as historians and archaeologists know – which still leaves room for these experienced writers’ imaginations. After each tale, there are interesting points of discussion to make the reader pursue the thoughts raised.

With all these writers’ credits, I now have a list of books to keep me historically entertained for months – if I don’t just keep re-reading this collection of five-star tales.

This could be Kanata

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The Norwegian Viking ship Draken Harald Hårfagre sailing outside Greenland – http://www.drakenexpeditionamerica.com/

What would have happened if Leif Eriksson had settled Vinland permanently in 1000 AD?

That question was an itch that I have kept scratching for many decades. Sailing across the Atlantic, albeit on an ocean liner, and arriving in America by sea, made it one I had to resolve.

NaNoWriMo gave me the perfect opportunity, and a short story called ‘Eagle Muse’ became the starting point for a novel called Eagle Crossing. In fact, ‘Eagle Muse’ was dis-assembled to become the components in scenes from an early chapter to the ending.

So, what, you ask impatiently, is the book’s connection to the Vikings?

Well, the lead character, Torill Migisi is descended from the shamaness that helped persuade Leif Eriksson to stay and work with the indigenous people – a thousand plus years earlier. Yes, this is alternative history, set in a world that is still in the Viking Age.

It’s 2020 AD, and the Migisi family have an international shipping business, but using airships – yes there are steampunk echoes as well. But these airships are high-tech, sleek and fast – but not as fast as the jet that Torill’s brother salvaged from the depths of Lake Gichigami. Yes, the Big-sea-water in The Song of Hiawatha which we know as Lake Superior.

 

 

The indigenous people have equal, if not a higher status on this continent, so many places and people have native names. For instance, Stadacona is the capital of this confederation, and Migisi is a Chippewa name meaning ‘Eagle.’. Is any of this a clue to where Kanata is? I hope that you all said Canada, especially as that originated from a St. Lawrence Iroquoian word, ‘kanata’ meaning village or settlement. All you Canadians reading this knew that of course.

So what’s a jet doing in a world of airships? That’s the question that drives Torill’s quest to save the Migisi business because the jet has the white star markings of the Dixie States, the Southern neighbor of Kanata, with their capital at Charlotte. Hey, what happened to Washington? Did the British burn it down again? Not quite, but the Dixies lost it in a border dispute with Kanata, and Britain has been a Viking nation and Kanata ally since 1040.

Hey, what happened to Washington? Did the British burn it down again? Not quite, but the Dixies lost it in a border dispute with Kanata, and Britain has been a Viking nation and Kanata ally since 1040.

However, the major concern is the continent-wide Arms Ban. Someone must be using the star-marked jet to stir up another war with the Iberoamérica Coalition. But who? Is the answer in the past? Kanatian forces did help the Texians defeat the Mexicans at the Alamo, but Migisi involvement in the under-hand events of 2020 implicates Kanata. Can Torill prevent the continental war that the three nations have avoided for a thousand years?

Don’t panic, the book’s blurb is shorter than the above. I’m just giving you a tour of the developing world. The novel has two plotlines: 1) Torill’s quest to prevent a continental war that would cost lives and bring the end of a rich legacy; 2) the historical development of this Viking Age and the Migisi family’s role down the ages.

I track this evolution through flashback chapters like ‘1759- Stadacona’ when on 13 September, the French attempt to seize the Kanata capital – a rewrite of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, outside the walls of Quebec City. The Alamo is there, along with Columbus’s arrival in the Bahamas – 492 years too late.

There are more flashbacks, in America and back in Europe where Vikings were an influential force in our timeline. With Kanata behind them, these warrior-traders can change European history. So watch out Napoleon, and forget about the World Wars – unless that jet with the stars causes one.

 

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Wikipedia: USAFU.S. Air Force photo

 

Where can these Vikings come unstuck? Is this world possible? Do you want to live in the Kanata Samtök?

What lines set you alight?

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I was going to blog about ‘A world without William Shakespeare’ but the prospect was too horrendous – even if Christopher Marlowe hadn’t been killed so young.

Did that line grab you, or turn you livid with anger?

How important to you is the first line of a book? I admit there have been some great ones. My favourites, and I read these decades ago, are:

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. — C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. – George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

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But such lists are open to debate, and trying to pick favorites can be a challenge.

Getting that opening right, finding the right words, choosing the moment to start that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer – that’s wrong, although as writers we can suffer.

At the moment, my mind is on openings, partly as I have taken on some beta reading, but also as I am struggling with my own opening line:

“Their eyes stared at Twyla without emotion and followed every move that she made up or down the stairs.”

The real question is – what makes you read on? The opening line or paragraph? The cover and blurb? Reviews?

I can remember days past when I went into a bricks & mortar bookshop and flicked through real books. Aah that smell. I started with the cover and blurb, then sampled the opening, and even flicked further on. Harder of course with e-books, but sampling is an option so I read as far as I can. To me a novel is more than a memorable first line.

Do we stop at “Who’s there?” or tarry longer with the Groundlings?

So what hooks you? What is your favourite opening? Can you envisage no Shakespeare?

Midnight Hamlet at The Globe by TheFella on Flickr

Midnight Hamlet at The Globe by TheFella on Flickr

Nothing but the Truth

Cover of "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd"

Cover of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

I do solemnly and sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

As a fledgling crime writer in England these words should at least be embedded somewhere in the background or at least in the minds of some of my characters. Yet just because a witness claims to speak the truth, should all my characters be honest in their dialogue and thoughts? I do not have the skill of Agatha Christie to pull off the deception in Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but most of us are not totally honest so why should my fictional creations be? So my readers don’t get confused?

I try to ensure that the characters are not totally contradictory in their words and actions, unless that is clearly part of their make-up and consistent across all their actions. Deception can be a part of someone’s persona as long as it is believable. However it’s realistic to portray most people as having layers of personality and masks to hide certain things – isn’t it?

What is Truth anyway? Surely what one person sees as the truth can be another’s injustice or lie. Some people make an art of justifying their own actions and that works as much for protagonists and antagonists. Gone are the days of white-robed heroes versus black-caped villains. The power of Truth has also diminished over time, or so it seems if one glances at the following quotes:

Anti-Stratfordian Mark Twain, wrote "Is S...

Anti-Stratfordian Mark Twain, wrote “Is Shakespeare Dead?” shortly before his death in 1910. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains taken to bring it to light.

GEORGE WASHINGTON

Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing the matter with this, except that it ain’t so.

MARK TWAIN, Mark Twain’s Notebooks

Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.

ALBERT EINSTEIN, Ideas and Opinions: Based on Mein Weltbild

Or does this show that it all depends on perspective? Does Truth prevail as long as the judge and jury are society and not a single group or person? Sometimes it seems that the media can become judge, jury and executioner … or maybe I should say politicians decide they are. But then I’m only a retired journalist that tried to report only the facts, although those were often the facts as stated by those I interviewed.

However, there was one article that I had to research very thoroughly as it was a controversial doping incident – equestrian not cycling. I attempted to interview parties on all sides, and when I wrote the article for an online equestrian site, I ensured that it was a balanced assessment. Fortunately there was almost unanimous agreement that it was one of the best reports at the time.

English: Toronto: Winston Churchill statue at ...

English: Toronto: Winston Churchill statue at City Hall Deutsch: Toronto: Winston Churchill Statue am Rathaus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Was it still my version? Can a writer ever stand back and be objective? Winston Churchill said, ‘History is written by the victors‘, and looking back over thousands of years that seems so wise. What I was taught in school about the Roman Empire took their point of view, not the ‘barbarians’ that we now know had as rich a culture but it was subjugated by the victors. How much of the negative image of Marie Antoinette was Revolutionary propaganda? How will Nazi Germany be remembered if fascism writes future history books?

I’m moving perhaps into the area of Alternate History, which in most cases is merely a fiction genre akin to science fiction, although there are some excellent academic works out there. But maybe some of the old historical accounts that were once authorities strayed too – strayed from the truth for justified reasons that might have been called for dramatic or political effect.

Thus I ask again: what is Truth? My protagonists think they speak the truth but the antagonists have their own version. If a jury was asked to make a judgement then both versions would be tested, as are the jury of readers. And if the tale was turned on its head and told by the guilty victor, who would know? Is the innocent man telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.

WILLIAM BLAKE, Auguries of Innocence

*~*

Inspiration from a source close to my heart: http://duskweald.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/snow/