Tuesday, February 9

The Bernicia Chronicles Series- Interview with Matthew Harffy.

I write novels set in the 12th century, a time period that I love and am fascinated by. I have had a few comments from other historical fiction writers along the lines of ‘Oh, I could never go back that far- too difficult.’ I’ll admit it has its challenges, as the further back in history you go, the more challenging it can be to get a handle on it. And my guest on this post is Matthew Harffy, author of The Bernicia Chronicles series, which are set in Britain in 633 A.D- half a millennium before mine. I was intrigued to know more and am delighted to welcome Matthew to my blog.

Matthew published the first instalment, The Serpent Sword, in April 2015. The Bernicia Chronicles follow the story of Beobrand, a young man from Kent. His story begins with him as an orphaned farmhand, certain that his brother’s death is murder. His quest for revenge takes him to war-torn Northumbria and he becomes a famed warrior in the retinue of royalty in the Northumbrian kingdom of Bernicia. Each novel focuses on some real historical events in which Beobrand plays a part.

Although he currently lives in Wiltshire, Matthew’s early life was to prove part of his inspiration. ‘I lived in Northumberland as a child and loved the place,’ he says, ‘with its castles perched atop rocky cliffs overlooking the slate-grey North Sea.’

Like so many writers of historical fiction, he can remember his ‘a-ha!’ moment. ‘In 2001 I saw a TV documentary about 7th century Anglo-Saxon graves being excavated at Bamburgh Castle. Something sparked in me and I started writing that night. After writing a few pages, I began researching and realised what an interesting and important period the 7th century was for Northumbria and Britain as a whole. I was captivated by the era, the place and the characters that had begun to emerge in my story. After that, I was hooked, and I could not escape the idea of finishing the book.’

That book is of course The Serpent Sword, published last year to rave reviews that continue to pile up. Book #2, The Cross and the Curse came out in January 2016.

Matthew has had great success with both books and readers are lapping them up. He has chosen the Indie route to publish them and I wondered what led him to that decision. ‘It was not my first choice,’ he says. ‘I went through the process of getting an agent, who in turn queried publishers, but unfortunately, none of the editors snapped up my novels. I then needed to make a decision – give up on the books I’d written, or self-publish? Well, that was hardly a choice at all. I am quite technically savvy, so I decided to take on the process of preparing the books for release myself. The tools to get a book out to the public are available for anyone nowadays.So why allow books that have not been traditionally published to languish, gathering dust in a drawer?'

It was while he was waiting for that first sale to a traditional publisher that Matthew wrote the second book. ‘I set myself a deadline for the sequel, based on the expectation my agent would sell the first book to a publisher and we agreed it would be good to have the second book ready.’ Ah, the dreaded sequel! So many writers really struggle with Second Book Syndrome, and I count myself among them. But it wasn’t something that fazed Matthew. ‘The writing itself was not exactly more challenging. I tried to make the story of The Cross and the Curse a bit more complex than that of The Serpent Sword though, with more interlocking threads. So I didn’t have much time to worry about the writing!’

Nearing release day, he did experience a few jitters. ‘When it came to releasing the second book, I was more nervous than with the first. This is because there is a heightened expectation from others. There were people who had read The Serpent Sword and were hoping for more of the same or better. It is easy to lose faith, but you just have to hope for the best and trust your instincts.’

Along with a writer’s instincts, research also had to be done. Matthew read all around the period and specifically the couple of years the next book covered to try to find events that would be compelling and that Beobrand and his friends could get involved in. 'Once I’ve fixed the events in my mind, I put a plot together that hopefully tells a good personal story, as well as covering the historical context.’ All research yields wonderful surprises but Matthew won’t be drawn. ‘Any really fascinating snippets I try to get into the books, so I’m not telling you!’ What a tease, eh?

I mentioned earlier on in the post about the Bernicia Chronicles getting rave reviews. Matthew tells me he has been compared favourably a few times with the great Bernard Cornwell, which is praise indeed. He is also very appreciative of getting praise from established, talented and successful authors.

But as with so much with this writing game, it was something unexpected that he especially treasures. ‘I think the thing that has moved me most is a friend from work who said he didn’t read for pleasure. I gave him the first draft of The Serpent Sword and he loved it. He has since read early drafts of the next two novels that I’ve written and enjoyed them too. But more importantly, he now reads all the time. He loves reading and I feel in some small way responsible for sparking his interest in books. That’s a great feeling!’ A fabulous result indeed, and one to make any writer proud.

As for the Bernicia Chronicles, Matthew is still hard at work. ‘I have already written book three, By Blood and Blade. That should be out later in 2016. I’m also writing a standalone prequel novella, Kin of Cain, which I am close to completing the first draft of.’

After that? ‘Then I’ll start work on book four of the Bernicia Chronicles.’

And after that? Again, I can’t draw him. ‘Who knows?’

But I’m guessing he does. You can keep an eye on Matthew Harffy at www.matthewharffy.com,
https://twitter.com/MatthewHarffy and https://www.facebook.com/MatthewHarffyAuthor

Author of the Bernicia Chronicles series Matthew Harffy has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. He has co-authored seven published academic articles, ranging in topic from the ecological impact of mining to the construction of a marble pipe organ.

Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters

You can purchase Matthew's books here:
Buy The Serpent Sword: http://getbook.at/TheSerpentSword
Buy The Cross and the Curse: http://getbook.at/CROSSandCURSE

Note: the book cover images and author photo used on this post are copyright of Matthew Harffy. All others are All images are in the Public Domain and are part of the British Library's Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. 

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