Seal the Deal with @anna_chant!

  I am a writer and mother of three boys from South Devon, UK. I discovered historical fiction in my teens and fell in love with the past. At different times I’ve loved different eras from the ancient Greeks to the suffragettes but my current love is for the early medieval period, often known as the Dark Ages. I don’t like coffee but I usually have a cup of tea handy while I write!

MM: What do you love most about writing? What speaks to you?

AC: I love bringing the past to life and discovering those connections with people who, although they lived more than a thousand years ago, were in many ways no different to us.

MM: So, what have you written?

AC: I am writing a series of historical novels called Women of the Dark Ages, each one telling the story of one of the forgotten and uncelebrated women of the era. This is currently a series of five books from the sixth to the tenth centuries, Scotland to Rome!

Kenneth’s Queen – The tale of the unrecorded wife of Scottish king, Kenneth mac Alpin
The Girl from Brittia – A warrior princess from 6th century East Anglia
Three Times the Lady – The story of Judith of Flanders – Wessex queen to international fugitive!
The Saxon Marriage – The marriage of Eadgyth of Wessex to Otto, the young Hope of Saxony
God’s Maidservant – Treachery, tragedy & triumph – the story of Adelaide of Italy

MM: When did you know writing was for you?

AC: So long ago, I can’t remember!

MM: What are you working on at this minute? What was the inspiration for it?

AC: I am working on Book Six of Women of the Dark Ages, the story of another fascinating woman. It’s set in the early Merovingian Frank era and is full of mystery and magic.It’s inspired by a mixture of the history and legends of the time.

MM: Do you work to an outline or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you? Plotter or Pantser?

AC: I mostly work to an outline. The research of the story is key to its success and the first stage of any novel is a timeline of the years of the story with all the key dates of the characters and events of the story. But I am open to ideas while writing and quite often I’ll add events or even take the story in a different direction from the original plan – as long as it is still true to the historical events as far as they are known.

MM: How do you find #FP helps your writing?

AC: I love doing #FP and other hashtag games! If I use lines from my WIP, seeing them in isolation can make me instantly see ways of improving it. But I also like to use lines from my already published works – it’s like revisiting old friends!

MM: Who are your writing inspirations? How do they influence your creativity?

AC: My favourite historical fiction author is Anya Seton and it was her book, ‘Katherine’ which made me fall in love with medieval history. The amount of research which went into it, all carried out in a pre-internet era, is phenomenal. There’s a lot of world building in historical fiction to recreate the era so I also admire many fantasy authors such as J R R Tolkein and Diana Wynne Jones.

MM: What is the hardest thing about writing for you?

AC: Knowing when to stop! I find it hard to let go of my books when I publish them, finding I miss the characters who have lived in my head for months! As an indie author I also find promoting my work hard. This is an ongoing learning process.

MM: What do you tell yourself every time it gets hard? Every time the stars stop aligning? What do you do when writer’s block knocks on your creative door?

AC: I have a rule that I must write or edit at least one sentence each day. That’s it. No matter how tired or unmotivated I feel, I can always manage that. And usually once I start writing that one sentence turns into a paragraph, a page or even a chapter.

MM: Do you have any secret and wacky writing rituals that help the words flow?

AC: When I’m not writing, I often ‘talk’ to my characters in my head – it helps me get to know them! I also have a ritual for when I finish a book and am about to hit publish. I light a candle to the people of my book and thank them for sharing their story. I never forget that these were real people and I hope they would be pleased with how they’re portrayed.

MM: What advice would you give to aspiring writers and poets, anyone who wants to free the art within? What helped you make it to this point?

AC: Just write. I got my first novel finished when I made it my new year’s resolution to write at least one sentence a day. It’s best not to worry too much about whether the writing is any good. First drafts don’t need to be good. Mine often read more like a set of instructions for the characters! But once they are written, the words are much easier to polish.

MM: What genres do you find yourself most drawn to? In your books and in your #FP’s?

AC: Over the years I’ve tried many different genres but now I’m very happy just writing historical fiction. As a reader I also enjoy romances, thrillers, ghost stories and science fiction. Children’s fiction is often of a very high standard and I love sharing books with my children – rereading favourites from my childhood and discovering some of the great new books which have been written.

 

MM: How can readers discover more about you and you work?

AC: My books are available on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01E46V162
https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B01E46V162
Blog posts, info on new releases and all things Dark Age can be found at:
https://darkagevoices.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/darkagevoices/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/anna_chant
For some of the research behind the books take a look at my Pinterest boards: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/annachant/

 

Sealed ties 
By Anna Chant

Baena scrambled over the rocks pulling loose the shellfish and stowing them in the basket strapped to her side. The basket was getting heavy but she would need a lot to feed the clan that night. This was a task she usually delegated to one of her serving women but it was a balmy evening and it was a relief to be out of the smoky hall. She was even glad of a brief respite from tending to her precious, infant son.As she clambered over one last rock, pushing her red hair back from her face, she cried out in shock. Lying in one of the rockpools was a man, completely naked with long dark hair. A bruise marked his face and a ragged gash ran down his shoulder. She climbed down to him, placing a hand against his neck. To her relief a pulse still beat and the man’s eyes flickered half open.
“What happened to you?” she asked. “Have you been shipwrecked?”
There was silence. Baena suddenly realised how different he looked to anyone she knew.
“I fell against the rock,” the man said.
His voice was high pitched with a curious accent, but at least he could speak her language. “Can you stand?” she asked. “Come to my dwelling, we can treat your injuries.”
The man nodded and got shakily to his feet, leaning against her. Baena took off her cloak, wrapping it around him and awkwardly they made their way over the rocks. The further they got from the sea, the more the man struggled. He leant heavily on her, until she was almost dragging him.
“Baena?” a voice called.
It was Cinaed, the man her father had forced her to marry a few years before. She blinked, surprised at the thought. It was a long time since she had felt any resentment over that. She watched him running towards her, tall and handsome.
He took the weight of the man from her, supporting him easily. “Who is he?”
“He was lying on the rocks. I think he was shipwrecked. He is injured.”
Together they supported the man to the roundhouse which was their private dwelling. With every step, he struggled more. Baena bandaged up the wound on his shoulder.She smoothed back the silky hair, marvelling at how soft it was.
“What are you doing?” Cinaed was frowning as she ran her hands several times through the man’s hair.
She froze, not sure what she was doing. “He has a head wound. I must put a compress on it.”
Cinaed continued to frown as she slipped an arm under the man’s head, holding a cup of heather ale to his lips. But the man turned his head away.
“I must return,” he said, raising silvery eyes to meet hers. ”Take me back. Return me to the sea.”
Baena stared at him. He was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. She cradled his head closer. “You’re injured. You need to rest and eat.”
“Take me back.” The man’s voice took on a sing-song tone, sending images of cool waters and foamy waves into her mind.
The sharp tug on her arms jolted her vision away from the man. His head fell to the floor as Cinaed dragged her towards the door.
What are you doing, Cinaed?” Baena struggled free from his arms, starting back to the man.
“Stay away from him,” Cinaed shouted, grabbing her again. “Do you hear me? You are forbidden from going near him.”
This time he succeeded in pulling her out of the door, slamming it behind him. “Guard this doorway,” he cried to a couple of his men. He sounded completely terrified. “Fetch the Abbot.”
Baena tried to get away from him but he held her tightly. “That man needs our help.”
“That is no man,” Cinaed snapped. “That is a selkie, a most evil demon. A man on land, a seal in the water. Did you not see his eyes?”
Baena stared in bewilderment at the door, but before she could reply, the Abbot hurried towards them. “My son? What is wrong?”
“There is a selkie in my dwelling.” Cinaed ran his hand through his hair in agitation. “Baena found him on the shore.”
The abbot drew in a sharp breath and crossed himself. He held aloft a cross and began a prayer. A piercing shriek rang out, the mournful noise rising higher to a pitch no man could achieve. Baena put her hands over her ears. “Stop it,” she shouted, “You’re killing him.”
Somehow she escaped Cinaed’s grip. She darted to the Abbot, pulling on his arm. Wresting the cross from his grasp, she hurled it to the ground. Instantly the noise from the dwelling faded to a low moan. Everyone stared at her. “My lord,” the Abbot said. “Did your lady look into his eyes?”
“Look into them?” Cinaed cried. “She could not look away from them.”
“My lord, you must act quickly to save your wife or she will follow him back to the sea. Somewhere on the shore is his fur, the one he wears in his seal form. It must be destroyed.”
Cinaed swallowed and put his hands on Baena’s shoulder. “My love, listen to me. Where did you find the selkie?”
Baena folded her arms. “If you destroy his skin, you will kill him. I am not telling you.”
“Please listen to me, my lady,” the Abbot said. “He has you under a spell. You must tell us.”
“Nonsense.” Baena picked up her abandoned basket of shellfish and moved towards the hall. “I shall prepare our meal. I will not help you kill that poor man.”
She felt no guilt for her next actions, as she stewed the shellfish with the juices of berries, ones she knew to aid sleep. There was a tug on her tunic and she looked down to see her tiny son, just walking now, grinning up at her. She thrust him into the arms of his nurse.
“I am busy,” she snapped. “Stop the boy from disturbing me.”
Impatiently she stirred the stew, ignoring the howls of the baby as he was carried away. She knewCinaed’s men were scouring the shore for the seal pelt. As the sun set she almost wept in relief as she knew from their expressions they had not succeeded.
The stew took effect quickly, aided by the strong spirit she added to their heather ale. It was not long before every man was slumped on the ground, including the men appointed to guard the dwelling. She stepped over Cinaed, giving him a curious look. He was her husband, the father of her child. Every time he left to defend the realm, she wept, terrified she would never see him again but lying on the ground, he appeared suddenly a stranger to her. She didn’t think she would care if she never saw him again. Her heart skipped joyfully as she pushed open the door to their dwelling. The selkie looked up, his eyes glowing in the darkness.
“Take me back,” he whispered.
“I will, but you must hurry.”
It took an age for the selkie to limp back to the shore and Baena was afraid the men would awake but as the water came closer, his step strengthened. They arrived back with no soundyet of any pursuit. The man lifted a rock, taking out a seal pelt. Pulling Baena by the hand, he went down to where the waves lapped against the rocks.
“You will come with me,” the selkie said.
The moon threw out a pathway across the sea, leading to a joyful future in the water with this beautiful man. Her friends in the clan, her husband and even her beloved child seemed trivial details she could gladly leave behind. “Yes. I will come with you.”
She stepped into the cold water, letting the waves lap around her ankles, her hand still clasped by the selkie’s. The gentle tug, urged her on. A larger wave rushed in, crashing against her knees, the shock of cold water raising a sudden memory. Another memory of water. Not the sea but the icy waters of a loch. It was a joyful one. How she and Cinaed had laughed as they splashed each other before he had helped her to the bank and taken her into his arms. It was the day she had always believed their baby boy had been conceived.
The selkie still tugged her on but although they were alone on the shore, there came a stronger tug from behind. She pulled her hand free.
“You will come with me,” the selkie said, the silvery eyes gazing into hers.
Baena shook her head. “I made vows to my husband. I will stay with him.”
The selkie smiled. It was a beautiful smile but not as beautiful as the smile which lit up Cinaed’s face when he arrived in the hall each evening to find her and their baby waiting for him.
“Your husband is a fortunate man.” He threw the skin over his shoulders and instantly a seal with silvery eyes flopped in the shallows. Baena gasped, shrinking backwards as it slid deeper into the waves,its head bobbed up and down in the moonlight as it disappeared out to sea.
“Baena!” came a cry, more agonised than the earlier shriek of the selkie. “Baena!”
Baena climbed back over the rocks. In the moonlight she could see Cinaed wading up to his knees in the sea.
“Cinaed!” she shouted.
Cinaed raced towards her and caught her tightly in his arms. “Where is he?”
“He is gone.”
“But you are still here. My love, he put a spell on you. I saw it. Nothing is more powerful than the spell of a selkie.”
Baena stood on tiptoes and pressed her lips against his. “Some things are

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