It’s hard to believe, but last month marked the fifth anniversary of the publication of Sworn Sword. My debut novel and the opening instalment in the Conquest trilogy, it arrived in bookshops across the UK for the first time on 4 August 2011.
Where has all that time gone? It seems like only yesterday that I was a wide-eyed young author preparing to release his first work of fiction into the wild, with little experience of literary festivals, book signings or radio interviews and everything else that comes with promoting a book, or indeed much knowledge of the publishing world in general.
Five years on, having just come back from chairing a masterclass on point of view in historical fiction at the Historical Novel Society’s biennial UK conference in Oxford, I realise not only how much I’ve grown as a public speaker, a perfomer and a teacher, passing on my wisdom and hard-won experience – but most especially how far I’ve travelled as a writer.
Four published novels, each very different to the one before it, sometimes in ways that might not necessarily be obvious to the reader, but which to me as the creator are very clear. Around 600,000 words in total, and that’s not including the many revisions, deleted chapters, alternate endings and discarded drafts that never made it into print, nor the pages upon pages of handwritten outlines, character sketches, diagrams or research notes.
And then there’s The Harrowing. I’m proud of all my books, but I’m proudest of this one, partly because it’s the kind of novel that I’ve always longed to write, but mainly because I feel it represents better than any of my other works the full extent of what I have to offer as a novelist. Of that five year period since 2011, more than half my time has been spent on this one project: researching, drafting, redrafting, re-redrafting, editing, polishing, perfecting.
I’ve adapted and in some aspects entirely reinvented my writing style, learnt to write in different voices, played around with unfamiliar narrative structures and devices, generally challenged myself to do things that I’d never attempted before, and (I believe) emerged from the experience a more complete writer.
So thank you, readers, for your loyalty and your continued support over the last few years, for following me on Facebook and on Twitter, for reading my blog and listening to my podcasts, for turning out to hear me speak at events up and down the country, and for buying each new book that’s released and thereby following me on this exciting and most rewarding creative journey.
Last year the novelist Joanne Harris presented her writer’s manifesto, making twelve promises to her readers. In a similar way, I’d like to end this blog post by outlining my personal writing philosophy and make some pledges of my own for the next five years and beyond, namely:
- to seek new ways of reaching out to my readers and providing you with insights into my writing process;
- to continue challenging myself both technically and creatively;
- to explore alternative, sometimes unconventional perspectives, as well as different narrative forms;
- to innovate in historical fiction and push the boundaries of what the genre can do;
- never to be afraid of going against the current or of breaking conventions in the name of originality;
- ultimately, to create something the likes of which has never been seen before.
Here’s to the future, and all that it may bring!
Look what arrived, all the way from Prague! Copies of Ve znamení meče, the Czech translation of Sworn Sword, which was published last month by Vyšehrad.
Translated by Petra Pachlová, the novel is available in what I think (and I hope you’ll agree) is a beautifully presented small-format hardcover, and it can be yours for a mere 368 Kč (around £10).
I love the elegance of the design, while its format – only about three-quarters the size of the UK and US hardcover editions – means that it sits nicely in the hand and has just the right heft, in my opinion. It’s also nice to see the Bayeux Tapestry making an appearance on the spine!
For more information about Ve znamení meče, including the synopsis, visit Vyšehrad’s website.
My first new book of 2016 is almost here! I’m pleased to announce that Ve znamení meče, the Czech edition of Sworn Sword, will be published next month, and that this will be the cover:
As you can see, it’s very different to the cover of both UK and US editions, and to that of the German edition as well, but I think you’ll agree it’s striking in its own way. It’s difficult to go wrong with such a widely known image as the Bayeux Tapestry!
Translated by Petra Pachlová, Ve znamení meče will be published by Vyšehrad in hardcover on 15 February 2016 and can be yours for a mere 368 Kč (around £10). Spread the word among your Czech-speaking friends!
For a fuller synopsis and further details, and to buy online, visit the Vyšehrad website.
Many thanks to everyone who entered my recent prize draws on Twitter to celebrate the arrival of the festive season. Each week since the beginning of December I’ve been giving away two signed paperback copies of one of the books from my Conquest Series.
Each week’s winners have been selected using a random number generator from all the entries received. And so without further ado, here they are:
Congratulations to the winners – I’ll be contacting you directly on Twitter. If you didn’t win, better luck next time! For full details of the competitions, click here.
“At Christmas the swineherd Garwulf brought me one of his fattest boars as a gift. We slaughtered it in the yard and roasted it over the hearth in my hall. The whole village came and we feasted like kings on its meat for three days, until there was nothing left but bone. There was drinking and there was dancing; the hall was hung with holly branches and the fire burnt brightly through those long nights.”
–Tancred, The Splintered Kingdom, ch. 17
To celebrate the festive season, and following the success of the competitions I ran earlier in the year, I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be running another series of giveaways. Starting on Monday 1st December, each week I’ll be offering up 2 signed copies of my books to lucky readers.
The rules are simple! The competition will run on Twitter, where you can already find me tweeting about 1066 and all things relating to the Middle Ages (@JamesAitcheson).
All you have to do in order to enter the prize draws and be in with a chance of winning is RT one of my competition tweets. You’ll be able to tell which ones they are, because they’ll look something like this:
— James Aitcheson (@JamesAitcheson) December 1, 2014
Each week’s giveaway will run for 48 hours, from midday GMT on the Monday to 11.59am GMT on the Wednesday. You can enter as many times as you like during that time. The prize draws are open to UK residents only. Here’s what will be on offer each week:
2 x signed paperback of Sworn Sword.
2 x signed paperback of The Splintered Kingdom.
2 x signed paperback of Knights of the Hawk.
At the close of each week’s giveaway I’ll use a random number generator to select the two lucky winners from all the entries received. I’ll post the results of the competitions both on Twitter and here on my blog, and will contact the winners via direct message (DM) so that they can send me their addresses.
Good luck, and happy tweeting!
Hot on the heels of last week’s addition to Tancred’s England, my historical guide to the kingdom as it was c.1066, I present to you another potted history for your delectation, this time focussing on the city of Durham.As readers of Sworn Sword will know, Durham is where Tancred’s story begins in January 1069, being the scene of an ambush by Northumbrian rebels in which his lord and many of his brothers-in-arms are killed. Controlling the north-east of England proved no easy task; even after the construction of the first castle at Durham in 1072 the Normans were faced with repeated risings as well as a devastating raid led by the Scottish king, Malcolm (Máel Coluim) III.
As you’ll be able to see by following the links above, the article on Durham is now one of five exploring some of the key places featured in the Conquest Series. In time I’m hoping to expand Tancred’s England to include not just location entries but also features on other aspects of the world in which the novels are set, and articles on various historical topics connected with 1066, the Normans and Anglo-Saxon England. Feel free to get in touch if you have any ideas that you’d like to share!
Featured podcastFor more podcasts, visit James's channel on Soundcloud.