Interviews with Writers

Historical Fiction | The Saxon Wolves | Penny Ingham

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I’m delighted to be hosting Penny Ingham today as part of Rachel’s Random Resources tour for The Saxon Wolves.

Penny Ingham is chatting to us about the inspiration for her novel, her research and much more.

The Saxon Wolves by Penny Ingham

Britain 455AD. The Roman Empire has fallen. As the daughter of a king and a priestess of the sacred grove, Anya’s life in Germania is one of wealth and privilege – until she dares to speak out against the high priest’s barbaric human sacrifices. Her punishment is exile. Forced to leave her homeland, she sails to Britannia, to an island that is sliding into chaos and war, as rival kingdoms vie for power. Alone and far from home, Anya must learn to survive amidst the bloodshed, treachery and intrigue of fifth century Britain. Can she find a place to belong – a home, a hearth, a welcome?

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Interview

Hi Penny, welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.

What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?

The Saxon Wolves was inspired by a series of spectacular archaeological discoveries which are beginning to shed light on the so-called Dark Ages: The dazzling treasures of the Sutton Hoo ship burial, the mysterious Tamworth hoard and most recently, the excavations at Tintagel, Cornwall.

In my novel, Anya falls in love with Silvanus, whose stronghold clifftop fortress of Tintagel.  Tintagel has long been associated with the legendary King Arthur and while we will probably never know for certain if Arthur actually existed, the recent archaeological excavations have proved there was a thriving, high status fortress on the clifftop during the fifth century, the exact time a real Arthur would have been fighting the invading Saxons.

Tintagel might seem isolated and ‘cut off’ to us today, but in the fifth century, the sea was the motorway of its day, connecting Cornwall to the trading routes of the Mediterranean and the Byzantine world. The people of Dumnonia (Cornwall) sold their tin in exchange for the luxury goods, amphorae of olive oil, wine, fine pottery and glassware, all of which have been found at Tintagel during the excavations. It was these finds which helped me build a picture of what life might have been like in Silvanus’s stronghold.

How do your characters come into existence Penny?  Do they have a bio?

All my characters have a bio detailing their appearance, their strengths and weaknesses, their unique quirks. It’s a great way to flesh them out. My characters are often based on people I know, or an amalgamation of several different people but, strangely enough, no-one ever seems to recognise themselves! 

If you could choose to be one of your characters who would you be?

I would choose to be Anya because I admire her strength of character. She is forced into exile, and loses everything she holds dear. She sails to Britannia, an alien land rapidly sinking into chaos and war. Somehow, she has to find a way to survive. When I began writing The Saxon Wolves, I knew I didn’t want Anya to rely solely on her feminine wiles, her sex appeal. She is principled, brave and feisty. She is a gifted healer.  She is highly intelligent, and she has great empathy. Because she is the daughter of a high king, she understands politics, how the world works. And it is these skills she draws upon to survive.

And then there is her relationship with Silvanus, heir to the throne of Dumnonia – a charismatic and complex warrior-prince, battling his demons and torn between his love for Anya and his loyalty to his father, the king.

Did you do any research for your book?  What resources did you use Penny? 

The Saxon Wolves is set in 450 AD, shortly after the end of the Roman occupation. Although the Roman legions and bureaucrats had departed, their material culture was still very much in evidence, even if the tiles were beginning to fall from the villa roofs, and the bath houses were beginning to flood. Consequently, I researched Roman Britain in great detail, in order to write about it falling into decay. 

Post Roman Britain is often called the Dark Ages because very few written records survive. There is just one contemporary account of the coming of the Anglo Saxons – On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain, written by Gildas, a British monk. He talks of fire and slaughter and the British being driven from their lands by the invading Saxons.

Anya, my protagonist, is a Druid priestess, exiled from her homeland for daring to speak out against the high priest’s barbaric human sacrifices. The Druids left no written records, but Roman writers, including Tacitus, tell us they did practice human sacrifice. It has been suggested this was mere propaganda designed to discredit them, but human sacrifice was central to many ancient religions, so it’s likely there was some truth in it.  

I also delved into the evocative poetry which survives from the early medieval period. The poem Beowulf paints a wonderful picture of this heroic age of kings who ‘shared out rings and jewels at the feasting’ to their great retinues of warriors. The war poetry, including the Battle of Maldon and the Battle of Brunanburgh, was inspirational for my battle scenes.

Did you travel to any places?  Undergo any new experiences?

I very much enjoy the feet on the ground method of research. I have visited all the sites featured in The Saxon Wolves. The Roman town Calleva Atrebates (near Silchester in Hampshire) is largely beneath farmland now, but its town walls still stand to an impressive height, and the amphitheatre outside the walls is also well preserved.  The spectacular Roman fort of Andereida (Portchester Castle near Gosport, Hampshire), hasn’t changed much in two thousand years. The same goes for Hadrian’s Wall, and the Roman baths at Aquae Sulis (modern day Bath).

I have been a member of the Basingstoke Archaeological and Historical Society for many years, and I’ve always found archaeology a wonderful source of ideas for my writing. Finding a piece of beautifully preserved Samian ware (high status Roman pottery) is like diving down a worm hole – a real tangible link with the past. I also volunteer at Butser Ancient Farm near Petersfield in Hampshire, which specialises in experimental archaeology. Their fabulous Saxon long house is like stepping back in time, and a fantastic source of ideas and inspiration.  

Does your book tackle a social barrier?

The Saxon Wolves is set in a distant past, where women belonged to their fathers until they were married, and then to their husbands. They had very few rights, or freedoms. In my story, Anya is forced into marriage against her will, in order to seal a treaty. Anya’s sister, Emma, is on the autistic spectrum. Anya loves her sister dearly, but there are many who are fearful of Emma because she is ‘different’ and their ignorance has tragic consequences.

There’s no denying our ancient ancestors had a totally different moral code, but on the other hand, human nature hasn’t changed at all over the millennia. We still experience bullying, racism, sexism. And when historical fiction explores these issues, but in a different time period and from a different perspective, it can force us to look at our own world through a fresh pair of eyes.

What inspired you to write?

My father inspired me to write historical novels. He is a writer himself, and I grew up listening to the distinctive ‘clickety-clack’ of his manual typewriter. He also instilled me with a love of history from an early age. Every year, my parents would hitch up the caravan and off we’d go exploring the historic sites of the British Isles – hill forts, castles, Stonehenge…

Panster or plotter?

I am a resolute plotter. I plan every chapter, and stick to it.

Finally, are there any tips you could share with new writers?

Read as many novels as you can. If you enjoy them, analyse why. If you don’t, ditto.

It’s worth taking the time to develop your characters. If readers have no interest in them, they’re not going to read on.

Show your work in progress to family or friends. If there’s a consensus of opinion, it’s worth taking it into account.

Be prepared for rejection, but persevere and don’t give up.  It took me quite a while to find an agent (working my way through the Writers and Artists Yearbook!) but it was worth the effort.  The advice, support and encouragement of a good agent is absolutely invaluable.

Thank you for being my guest Penny. Wishing you success with all your writing projects.

Penny Ingham

Penny Inham’s father, a journalist, instilled her with a love of history from an early age. Family holidays invariably included an invigorating walk up an Iron Age hill-fort whilst listening to his stirring stories of the Roman attack and the valiant defence by the Britons. Consequently, Penny has a degree in Classics and a passion for history and archaeology. She has enjoyed a varied career, including BBC production assistant, theatre PR and journalism, but her ambition was always to write historical fiction. Her first novel, The King’s Daughter, was awarded Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society. Penny has worked on many archaeological excavations, and these ‘digs’ and their evocative finds often provide the inspiration for her books. Penny’s research also takes her to the many spectacular historical sites featured in this novel, including Hadrian’s Wall and Tintagel.”

Connect with Penny Inham

Twitter     – @pennyingham

     Facebook    – https://www.facebook.com/TheSaxonWolves/

      Instagram  – https://www.instagram.com/pennyinghamthesaxonwolves/

      Website    –  pennyingham.wordpress.com

Don’t forget to check out the other hosts on tour.

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Read all posts in the historical fiction genre on Jera’s Jamboree.

I've been blogging about my interests at Jera's Jamboree for 8+ years. My love of reading, crocheting and being out in nature are all things that help me unwind from my role as an Inclusion Lead in a primary school. I'm passionate about early help and sharing strategies with families to empower and help build resilience. I'm a member of of my Local Authority's Early Help Operational Board, working alongside other professionals to instigate change and growth.

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