The first in a brand new series of Viking adventure fantasy novels
The Book of Bera is a standalone Viking adventure fantasy novel, the first of a forthcoming series following Bera: a feisty young woman with an inherited gift of Sight. Since her mother's death, Bera has struggled both to control her gifts and to help her people endure assaults from cruel nature, sea beasts and the unburnt, walking dead.
In Part One: Sea Paths, we enter Bera’s stark world. During long Winter nights, when fires should hold back bloat-corpsed Drorghers, Bera has to defend her village alone. Her twin spirit offers no assistance and Bera's failure to understand and control her power leads to her childhood friend’s slaughter. Bera swears to make his killer pay. When her father immediately weds her to a rival clan, Bera gets her opportunity sooner than even she had hoped.
Now Bera must learn how to be a wife - and stepmother to a hostile boy - whilst all the time honing her skills to kill her foe without being caught. The trouble is, Bera’s gifts are growing every day and her predictions are becoming more and more ominous.
Will she be able to get her revenge and safely lead her folk across the perilous Ice-Rimmed Sea before it's too late?
Special thanks to the Weald & Downland Museum where the pitch video for this project was filmed.
Bera reached the waymark and took the path towards the Ice-Rimmed Sea. Marsh reeds and grasses whispered, husky in the frosted air. It was dawn, at the tipping-point of the autumn solstice; the end of fishing and trading and the start of hunting. Until Winternights, no one had time to visit the sacred sites, too busy making provision for the barren months ahead.
Only someone who needed to.
Her mother’s rune-stone sat on top of a hillock at the edge of their inlet, the place she had chosen at the height of her power. It was close enough to be reached from the village where Ottar had brought his daughter, leaving behind the rest of their folk to die from the red-spot sickness. Closer to the Seabost raiders, too, who needed his boats and would trade. Folk resented Seabost arrogance and feared their battle-scars but they needed meat, so deals were struck.
Bera paused while she was still quite far away and gazed at the grey sentinel in a bleached landscape. Beyond it, a skein of whale paths stretched to the flat horizon, with furrows and cat’s-paws where the wind whispered on the water. She sensed the distant swell of long waves, their slow tumble in the deeps. The edge of the Known World.
This was the seventh time she had come here on the day of her mother’s death. Her brother had killed her by being born and not lived long afterwards; but Bera was too young to remember much more than the heart-shape of her mother’s face. She walked on and the warmth of her skern, nestled into her neck, was a comfort. For once, she was glad he was silent.
At the rune-stone Bera opened her bag and took out a shallow dish. She had no idea how to scry and Sigrid was useless. Bera’s mother was her best friend but Sigrid was frightened of “Valla stuff” and had no knowledge to pass on to Bera. It made it even harder to live up to folk’s expectations, which was why Bera was going to try again.
It’s never going to work without water, dear.
Her skern was leaning against the rune-stone, studying his nails.
‘If you know that much, why don’t you tell me how to scry?’
I can tell you how but you either have the knack or you don’t. Seems you don’t.
‘You’re supposed to predict for me. So tell me where to find water.’
I’m not here to replace your eyes, duckie, so open them. There’s a spring over there, look.
Not for the first time, Bera wondered if her skern was unusually exasperating. All folk were born with them but only Vallas could see them throughout their lives, supposedly to receive support and guidance. The normal ones only saw their skerns again at the point of death, which Bera often had cause to envy. Like now. She stomped over to collect some clear water in the bowl and carefully took it back to rest on flattened earth, near the rune-stone. The water stilled and Bera stared at the dark surface.
Well done Joe, Mark, Unbound - and you!
Monday, 19 March 2018
Our book - which wouldn't have existed without your support - was shortlisted in The Academy of British Cover Design Awards (the Unbound tweet above). Designer: Mark Ecob, Illustrator: Joe Wilson.
I say I'm grateful for your support and it's the gift that keeps on giving! I really want to thank my supporters in person if possible and the launch of the paperback is at Waterstones Chichester…
Wednesday, 11 October 2017
This isn't a Viking fish, despite appearances. It's a pair of mittens, knitted traditionally by a present-day Viking with wool from sheep that graze the island of Birka; once centre of Viking trading. We visited this summer, on a house swap to Falun, and our excellent hosts suggested several places to research. Birka was one of our favourites, so I'll attach some more pictures at the end of this…
Tuesday, 30 May 2017
Over on my website I'm writing a blog about our sailing adventure (amongst other things). I don't want to make a link to my page here because I know many of you won't want regular updates: but if you do, follow the link below to my website and go to the blog page. The good news is, though, that I'm able to be doing this because I've finished the first draft of the sequel and it's with my astute…
Tuesday, 11 April 2017
One of the best days of my life - certainly memorable thanks to a fellow author who advised me to stay off the pop - with two of the people who helped send Bera out into the world. You can see by the way I'm cradling the book how important it is to me. On the left is John Mitchinson, one of the co-founders of Unbound, and on the right is Liz Garner, my editor. With their insightful comments and…
Thursday, 24 November 2016
Unique books finished.
Ink sketches done. (Here's how the skulls turned out, above.)
Workshop venues sorted.
Book arriving at Unbound 1st December!
Author dances round the room, whooping and getting bottles of bubbly on order. It's going to be a perfect Christmas present for us all. Thank you so much, loyal and patient supporters x
Tuesday, 11 October 2016
One of the twelve ink sketches that I'm doing to go out with the special editions in December. The runes ALU are important in the story. I'll probably play with this idea some more.
Friday, 23 September 2016
How fabulous is this? Big thank you, Joe Wilson. I was gazing at it on my phone, almost scrying, when a random bloke looked over my shoulder and said, "Wow. That's pickupable." Which is perfect, although once upon a time he would have been talking about the author herself.
I hope you like it - and the big news for subscribers is that you should have it in your hands for CHRISTMAS!! What a lovely…
Sunday, 19 June 2016
I've just finished reading the Sunday papers and I won't use this place to add to the referendum vitriol or the latest tragedy in the name of ... whatever it turns out to be. We all need a refuge in times like these and it may be no coincidence that I saw several features on huts. I'm a girl who dreams of owning a hut, if a treehouse is out of the question (it is). And what we laughingly call…
Wednesday, 27 April 2016
I know this looks like the only updates are about my knitting but, frankly, that's the only thing I'm responsible for at the moment. However, some decisions have been made: The Book of Bera will have heft. The front cover will be 234mm long and 153mm wide. One of the unique books will be swaddled in pure, undyed Irish linen and then an outer wrapping of the heritage wool, above. Wool was vital…
Friday, 8 April 2016
I'm still working on the first draft of the sequel, Obsidian. But also the ink sketches are slowly coming together, using the research I did long ago for our debut novel. I gave a talk on Tuesday this week to a local Betaplus group, who were an engaged, intelligent and kind audience. It was about the contemporary author's use of technology, including the writing tool, Scrivener, and of course I detailed…
Saturday, 13 February 2016
Our book is preparing for take off. While I await the final tweaks, I've been looking again at potential illustrators. So here are three examples each from my current favourites. You've already seen Chris Malbon's bear in an earlier post, so here are another three of his; followed by the hyper-real drawings of Cath Riley and then Joe Wilson. I like their blend of superb technical skill with a modern…
Friday, 29 January 2016
Last week a supporter said he missed my regular updates, so blame him for this one. It may seem as if nothing is happening, but my editor and I are still working hard to make Bera's story as engaging, dynamic and immersive as possible. The final submission date is 12th February, after which Unbound get cracking on all the stuff a publisher has to do. I'm as involved as I wish to be (a lot), so…
Last Post for 2015
Monday, 21 December 2015
Even I will stop writing on Xmas Day. I'm not pretending I haven't been partying at night - and drinking like a Viking! - but I'm making the story grow and that's the craic. Going back to my characters is like being with dear friends again. The first edit wasn't like that. I think writing more story engages the author as well as the reader (I hope)!
My hands will be prised off the laptop to…
Friday, 25 September 2015
We got there! Thanks to the generosity of my supporters Bera will definitely be Unbound - with the author in one piece due to the warmth and kindness of so many people. But although the train's on track, there are more seats waiting to be filled and ... OK, enough train metaphor.
I promise to stop Shed post bombardment apart from updates about what stage the book is at: but first an appeal…
Friday, 18 September 2015
The need to belong is a strong impulse and it's a rare person who deliberately refuses all ties. It was a joy to me this morning to sit in Attibassi and chat to familiar people, many of whom are now supporters. This part of Chichester is like a small village; friendlier than the actual village we moved from because you get to meet people every day. There's no doubt that social media aids any crowd…
Monday, 14 September 2015
Loyal supporters will have noticed a distinct dearth of Shed posts in the last week. I have the feeling this may have come as a relief; in any case, it was deliberate. I don't want to burden people, whilst still wanting to build a relationship with supporters. It's a nice balance. Anyway, I've been busy trying to get over the line before Friday 18th September. Why? Because I set myself the challenge…
Monday, 7 September 2015
I saw a listicle on Twitter last week that celebrates female warriors and Hermione Granger was on it. I love the fact that you can be a warrior in school cardigan and kilt (my garb of choice for years); the only difference being that I would be pointing a pen rather than a wand. Then on Sunday, this from Ursula le Guin, reviewing Salman Rushdie's latest in the Guardian: "Dunia is a mammal all…
Friday, 4 September 2015
This image was both familiar and yet strange; like catching a glimpse of yourself in a mirror you didn't know was there.
Japanese photographer Ariko Inaoka has shot Icelandic twins Erna and Hrefna every summer for five years. I first saw these amazing photographs in the Guardian and they chimed completely with Bera and her twin spirit, the skern. You can read more at: http://www.theguardian…
Wednesday, 2 September 2015
Caffeine. Who first thought of roasting then grinding then infusing then drinking the black stuff that's essential for life? And then, joy, having coffee bars where people can meet and be clever. For, unlike alcohol, I think caffeine actually does make you sharper, not only think you're smart. Our local is Attibassi. Many supporters are customers I've only got to know in there. Although this is a…
Darkness of a Winter Afternoon
Monday, 31 August 2015
The longhouse slumbered in the darkness of a winter afternoon. She listened for voices but there was only the crackle of the fire. They had all gone, apart from her skern. Shadows thickened the cobwebbed corners but she knew he was there, waiting for her to die, so that they could go on their last journey together, soon.
‘Bera?’ she called.
There was no reply. She needed…
Thursday, 27 August 2015
This was my eighth birthday and the happiest: at the tiller; dressed the way I like; aboard Freya for that one brief summer; a neighbour's dog beside me. This is so memorable, I painted it and look at it every night before I go to sleep (below). It's my birthday on Saturday 29th August and I'd be just as happy messing about on a boat again.
Goldfinger and Rebecca
Tuesday, 25 August 2015
Book covers are really important to me, especially those of books I keep returning to. These are first editions of the two novels, one of which I'm going to 'place' on my shelf in the Unbound library. I own a very tattered copy of Goldfinger (jacket design by Richard Chopping) although it isn't my favourite Bond book. I'd love to own the Gollancz edition of Rebecca. In both cases, it's memories…
A kind of Egill hut
Saturday, 22 August 2015
A cross between Little Nell and Egill, anyway. This was at the Hamble. Not much movement on the support front: I'm still working hard but everyone seems to be on holiday.
Wednesday, 19 August 2015
I took you at your word, Susan Smith, and am continuing these posts in the hope that their randomness will interest different supporters at different times. So look away now, anyone who hates etymology.
Today, I was looking for something else entirely in an old diary and came across this, written in the notes section. It's some Old Norse words I looked up when I was proposing to have some sort…
Tuesday, 18 August 2015
Here's a drawing I made of the figurehead of the Dawn Treader in C.S. Lewis' book about her Voyage. From memory. That's the power of illustration, especially when it connects to a ready fascination: in my case, Norse Wonder Tales. I don't remember the boat herself but definitely the shape is no longship but squat and tubby like the Mary Rose or - was it the Pinto? - some poop-decked midget, anyway…
Monday, 17 August 2015
It's really important to get out there and experience stuff. Tonight, it was the remastered The Third Man on the big screen. An audience changes things; it reveals humour and makes you aware of those things not currently in your own repertoire. But tonight what really struck me about this film was the plot. The POV protagonist, Holly Martins, is belittled for being a writer of pulp Westerns and…
Sunday, 16 August 2015
Here's where I'd still love to visit. I've read a lot about the way the longships were built, sails protected and so on but there's nothing like actually sailing in one. So I've relied on standing aboard the large boat already reproduced here in the Shed and making comparisons with all the sailing I've done on various types of vessel.
Anyone know of a…
Friday, 14 August 2015
Falling Stars on a Sea Path
Thursday, 13 August 2015
This beautiful photograph was taken at Vähä-Kausjärvi, Lempäälä, Finland by Juho Holmi and you can view the original on Fickr.
I stood at my window in the small hours last night, willing the Perseid shower to appear, but a mix of violent street lighting and thunderstorm foiled me... again. I did see it once. It was my watch, on a night passage and it was at that point mid-ocean, mid-night…
A Fishing Nation
Wednesday, 12 August 2015
Remember the Cod Wars? It's always been a dangerous living: there used to be 50% mortality.
Tuesday, 11 August 2015
Thanks to my supporters The Book of Bera draws closer to certain publication. Because Unbound have a submission process, the failure rate is much lower than other, unmediated crowd funding sites. No one has yet failed to get fully funded once having hit the 65% threshold. So ... I'm still writing to friends and interested parties; trying to get one more big sponsor; trying out drawings and thinking…
Pit of Ghosts
Friday, 7 August 2015
Do we protect our children too much? The image shows the sort of recurring nightmare I had a child with or without lullabies but you should see these Icelandic ones!
Auden translated one that has the word 'draugum' in it. I based my Drorghers on this: all the elements in The Book of Bera have some link to Norse…
The Great Geysir
Monday, 3 August 2015
This was my first visit, in the film. The last was with Iceland Writers Retreat and the weather was equally dramatic in a different way. The sky was cloudless blue but a ferocious wind came stonking past the geyser, making us battle against it, arm-in-arm, or run uncontrollably downwind. I was like a bouncing bomb on the return to the coach; bursting through hysterical tourists and flying past gentlemanly…
Friday, 31 July 2015
Another photo from my first research trip to Iceland. This is a real polar bear and I am genuinely in shock and awe at the size of the beast. The manager of gorgeous Hotel Ranga (in whose lobby the bear snarls) assures me that it is not by a long way the biggest. Paws like dinner plates! I'm five feet five inches tall and it wasn't on a plinth. Getting this close meant that I could describe the…
Skulls and stones
Thursday, 30 July 2015
More research, this time at Butser ancient farm. The practical innovation of carrying a loom outside for light and air; decorative features inside and skulls grading the threshold (liminal places again), all there, lived.
SEAWOMEN - the fishing women of Iceland, past and present
Wednesday, 29 July 2015
And still the research continues and it's a joy. After four years of background stuff, the process has become habitual: I I drive on with a first draft, inventing detail by 'living' in the imaginative space. Afterwards, research serves to confirm it's true! So often it also adds something special that drives the story on. Research that embroiders without moving the plot forwards makes for a very…
Jekyll & Hyde
Saturday, 25 July 2015
Robert Louis Stevenson might have been writing from experience: for authors there is a time of calm introspection and civilised living; another of rampant imagination, primeval urges and letting the beast out. So far, I'm not sure which bit belongs to novel-writing and which to getting subscriptions. Probably we need to mix it up, so after a long session in the sanctum of my writing cabin I force…
A Short Visit to the British Museum
Friday, 24 July 2015
The British Museum has always been a place where I've drawn inspiration. When I was a student at UCL I'd pop round the corner to recharge (yes, OK, in the cafe mostly with one of my early supporters, Susan Smith). In 2011 I began researching The Book of Bera. It wasn't her book at all, then, just an untitled story with a character called Freya - who never came to life. Shortly after seeing this exhibition…
Thursday, 23 July 2015
Today, a short extract. The photo is what we would call a twitten, in summer. The extract is a cold, northern spring, with snow on the ground:
Bera collected some loaves from the baker and her spirits lifted when he touched his forelock to her. Respect. She whistled on the way home. Dellingr was still in the world and there was time to prepare before Thorvald returned.
She turned into the…
Wednesday, 22 July 2015
Last night a friend made me pitch to 8 strangers. Luckily they hadn't just seen me score 1 out of 10 in the pub quiz round on 'The Beckhams'. (Though I still think I should have got a mark for correctly answering No to the question, "Do you know the name of the Beckhams' youngest child?" So, not exactly full to the brim with confidence, I forgot to get the name of the book into the first 30 seconds…
Saturday, 18 July 2015
Today's photo shows four unique books that I made for myself (sold the rest) when I was doing a Fine Art degree. Anyone pledging for one of the 3 unique versions of The Book of Bera will be able to discuss what they would like included.
This book, called Babel, was intended to gradually decay and is a bit worse for wear now! All the bits are crumbling rose petals. It was totally handmade, including…
Saxon House erection
Friday, 17 July 2015
Sorry - couldn't resist the Carry On title. At the well where I constantly draw inspiration (Weald & Downland Open Air Museum Singleton) their latest project is to build a Saxon House. Just like with my 'Viking' book, there are a few clues, a lot of scolarly opinion and mostly educated guesswork from the craftsman. Yesterday a team of carpenters under the direction of Joe grappled with the heavy wooden…
Thursday, 16 July 2015
Some parts of The Book of Bera are straight descriptions of our sailing experience. Here's an approaching storm that knocked out all instrumentation just as the engine packed up. So then it was me alone at the helm, with no modern aids between us and raw nature. Brutal.
Small acts of kindness
Wednesday, 15 July 2015
Richard and I sailed from Portsmouth down to the Mediterranean a few years ago. We kept meeting sailors going the other way.
"Turn round and head back to France. The Med sucks," they all advised, with rolling eyes like Robert Newton in Treasure Island.
We thought they were as mad as him, too - until we got there. It's a troubling place. The sky can be cloudless blue, you're zipping along on…
Tuesday, 14 July 2015
Authors shy away from the accusation that any first novel is autobiographical. It sounds as though all you really needed was therapy. I chose a time (Viking age of expansion, roughly) and place (somewhere near the Lofoten Islands), added a dash of dramatic licence and fantasy elements (of which, much more later) and made Bera the kind of girl I wish I'd ever been. And what happens? My 20 year-old…
These people are helping to fund The Book Of Bera Part One: Sea Paths.