I bet you’re all a bit confused by today’s title. What does Anna mean, a multi-dead reenactor? No one can die more than once, can they? Very true–unless, like today’s guest Paula Lofting, you are a reeneactor. Peeps who dress up to reenact battles and other historic events very often die as part of their passion (what else can one call a hobby that has people spending hours, days, weeks researching and making their garments, weapons and other accessories?) Now Paula has so far died three times while reenacting the Battle of Hastings. Need I say Paula reenacts as a hirdsman, i.e. a soldier fighting for Harold? Truth be told, I’ve never met a reenactor who fights as a Norman, but as it would be a rather dull reenactment if everyone present was playing an Anglo-Saxon, so reasonably some reenactors don chainmail and helmets with noseguards prior to charging the shieldwalls.
Paula has been in my life for several years by now. Thanks to her I’ve spent hours gawking at carefully restored medieval textiles. We’ve travelled through Sweden looking at runestones and last we met we wandered through V&A’s 17th and 18th century galleries before settling down for the truly important stuff: tea and cake.
Anyway: today we’re here to talk about Paula’s fascination with the medieval period, By now, my lovely readers, I suspect you’ve already guessed which Paula’s favourite century is, but let us not jump the gun. So, dear Paula, to start us off, tell us what it is about the medieval period that so fascinates you.
Paula: As a child I was inspired by tales of dragons, mounted knights in shining armour, castles and so on. It just seemed so different from the world in which I lived and at that time it was important for me to escape into fantasy where I could be anywhere and anyone I wanted to be.
Anna: I can deffo relate to the escaping part! Is there a particular event or person that/who has inspired your writing?
Paula: Many events have inspired my love of history. But what ignited the burning flame within me is an experience I had fifteen years ago:
Following a visit in 2005 to the reenactment of the 1066 Battle, I returned to explore and stand along the ridge where thousands of men stood in a shieldwall of death, I closed my eyes and listened to the narrator telling a story about the battle for England that took place here almost a millenium ago. I held the little electronic guide closely to my ear so I wouldn’t miss anything and listened in awe. I shivered as I imagined myself there among the pandemonium; the heaving, the shoving, the yells – the screams of the dying; the whoops of those whose spear aims meet their targets. I have always had a vivid imagination so it didn’t take much for me to picture the scene in my mind.
Since then, I have been to Battle Abbey many times and I never tire of the place. I am drawn to it like a moth to a candle. I revisit this place where the Normans defeated the Anglo-Saxons as if by doing so I could change the course of what happened that day. I don’t know why, but I am often so inexplicably affected by the trauma of that day that I cannot explain in any rational terms. Sometimes I wonder if my spirit had been there when it happened all those centurieds ago. Of course I don’t believe in such things, well not really…but its uncanny that I am filled with a multitude of different emotions every time I go there. (Anna: I think we are many who have similar experiences, Paula. There are certain places that just speak to you, the whisper of ancient voices leaking through the membrane of time to resonante in your head)
After this, I just had to get my feelings and thoughts on paper and the only way to do this was to immerse myself into the story of what it must have been like to have been there. So I inhaled books about the conquest, one of which was a novel by the well respected author, Helen Hollick. I found her account very moving and motivating and her fictional Harold drew me to learn more about him. I soon found that he was not hard to like, very much in contrast to how I feel about the man who caused Harold’s destruction, William the Conqueror.
Reading about it was not enough. I wanted to really feel what it was like to have lived in those times when people lived in smoky timber halls, cooked their food over a burning hearth while the wolves howled in the forest nearby, and sat around telling riddles and sagas of heroes! I wanted to stand in a shieldwall with spear in my hand facing William’s mounted cavalry rush and so I joined a reenactment society, Regia Anglorum, so I could use those experiences to write my book.
Anna: Wow. I like your thorough and very hands-on approach to your research. So, tell us a bit about what all this effort led up to – your medieval books.
Paula: What happened to Harold and his brothers that day (at the Battle of Hastings), though horrific, was not the whole story. I began to imagine what it must have been like to live in that time in England, in a relatively peaceful land where conflict rarely affected you, and then to suddenly lose all that you once held dear. The story I wanted to tell was but an embryo in my mind when, as if by intuition, I stumbled across a non-fictional account by well respected historian, David Howarth, called 1066 The Year of The Conquest which detailed the impact on every day life for ordinary people. I had my story: that of the ordinary people at the time of the conquest from their point of view. Mr Howarth’s book also gave me my hero, Wulfhere. Yes, of course Harold plays a central role in my narrative, but it was Wulfhere, thegn of Horstede (as found in the Domesday Book) a tiny hamlet now known as Little Horsted close to where I live, whose story was calling out to me. And so Sons of the Wolf was born, a planned series that takes us up to the Norman Conquest and beyond. So far two books are published, Sons of the Wolf Book 1 and book 2, The Wolf Banner. Book 3 is in the making and its working title is called Wolf’s Bane. I have a tentative plan to write at least 6 books and perhaps some. (Anna: SIX more? OMG. What travails will you put poor Wulhere and Tovi through???? Can’t wait – I do so love a suffering hero.)
Why so many Wolves I hear you ask? The title seemed to pop in to my head without me even having to think much about it, but I guess it had something to do with my character’s name which has the prefix, Wulf, meaning wolf in Anglo-Saxon, and the idea that many names with prefixes were inherited throughout English families in Anglo-Saxon era. So Wulfhere’s sons were also given Wulf as their prefix except for one, who is called Tovi and named after his Anglo-Danish forbear, the famous Tovi the Proud. Tovi finds it difficult to fit in with his older brothers, Wulfric and Wulfwin, being of somewhat of an ‘odd’ ball, perhaps his name also has something to do with his struggle.
The series starts in 1054 and Wulfhere and his fyrdsman and shield bearer, Esegar, are returning from having joined the campaign to fight MacBeth’s Scots in the north. He returns home wondering what sort of reception he would experience from his wife as when he had left they had barely been speaking. Wulfhere’s family is a large one and in their happier days, Wulfhere and his wife spawned seven children, four girls and three boys and their trials and tribulations are central to the story.
We also meet Harold and the other Godwinsons: his brothers and children and we get an insight into his relationship with his sister, the queen, Edith and her husband the king, Edward the Confessor. And of course no story of Harold would be complete without the presence of Edith Swanneck.
Also running along side these two threads we have the story of Alfgar of Mercia and his family, one of whom, Burghred, has a central role to play especially in the second volume, The Wolf Banner. However, it is Wulfhere’s family that will take centre stage throughout the whole saga.
Anna: I’ve read and enjoyed both Paula’s books – and I do like how she has woven her fictional characters round real people. Paula, are you planning on revisiting this time period?
Paula: Ha! I haven’t left it yet!
Anna: Very true. Allow me to rephrase: where are you at in your ongoing series?
Paula: There are still at least another 4 books in my head! I am currently working on Wolf’s Bane, the third in the series which I hope will be ready for publication sometime early next year.
Anna: Looking forward to that! Other than writing books, Paula also writes interesting posts set in her preferred time period. Here are some of her posts. I am rather partial to her post about the Battle of Hereford. Don’t like Ralph…
The Battle of Hereford: https://paulaloftinghistoricalnovelist.wordpress.com/2019/10/24/battle-of-hereford/
Paula’s take on William and Harold : https://beforethesecondsleep.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/950-1066-remembered-guest-post-the-bastard-of-normandy-v-the-golden-warrior-paula-lofting/
Paula has chosento share an excerpt from Sons of the Wolf
He’d staggered from the battlefield, more surprised than grateful to be alive. Luckily for him, he had blacked out, wedged amongst the bodies of fallen warriors. The spinners were truly on his side that day, as they spun the threads expressly made for him. Not so for most of his unit, and those of the others. He left the field – awash with scarlet pools of blood and entrails, alone – after the terrible task of releasing his dying comrades of their agony. One young horseman lay with his guts leaking out of his ripped belly, onto the grass in a congealed pile of gore. The man grasped Wulfhere’s hand, begged him in a voice that cracked with the distress of the dying, to tell his wife and children that he had fought valiantly, and that he loved them dearly. Wulfhere promised that, if he could find them, he would, before slitting the soldier’s throat, and closing his eyes with his thumbs, to ease his suffering into the next world.
Now, as he limped back through the devastation, his eyes smarting with congealing blood – or sweat – he could not be sure which. He was badly wounded. His right shoulder throbbed, and his sword arm hung uselessly by his side, his hand unable to clasp his sword. From his upper right thigh, blood oozed where the arrow tip had pierced him, still buried in the wound. Close to that, blood seeped where a sword blade had slashed him. Such was the chaos that day, the injuries could easily have been inflicted by his own comrades, as well as the enemy. His left hand held his sword, for his scabbard had been broken in the mêlée, and his right hand was useless, could not even hold his prick if he needed to piss. Hildbana dripped with the blood of those he’d put out of misery, and a trail of crimson followed him, as he forced himself to walk the two miles back to Hereford, head hammering with monstrous pain under his dented helm, gripping his head like the pincers of a giant claw.
Suddenly he heard his name and looked up. He heard it, as if it were distant. “Lord Wulfhere, thank God! I never thought to see you alive again!”
Esegar emerged out of the smoke, miraculously and wonderfully alive, astride Hwitegast, his beloved animal. Wulfhere stopped in his tracks. He sighed with heartfelt relief. He could barely see as his vision grew increasingly blurred, and it hurt to raise his eyes. He hardly believed that he was hearing the sweet sound of his treasured stallion calling to him. Alive! Hwitegast was alive! Esegar was alive! He praised the Lord and kissed the little iron cross hanging about his neck.
Through his tears, he tried to smile as they approached, but even to smile was to hurt. Although he winced, he was overjoyed. They were all alive. The last thing he was conscious of was the warm sound of Hwitegast’s nicker as he nuzzled his face. Then Wulfhere collapsed into blessed darkness.
Anna: IMO, Paula writes excellent battle scenes! What do you think?
About Paula Lofting
Paula Lofting is the author of 2 volumes in the Sons of the Wolf series and is working on her third installment. She has been a prolific reader all her life, inspired by authors like Rosemary Sutcliffe, Mary Stewart, and Sharon Penman. She is a psyciatric nurse by day and writes in her spare time whenever she can. Mother of three grown up children and 2 grandchildren, she lives in Sussex and is also a re-enactor of the late Dark Age period.
Connect with Paula:
Facebook – Paula Lofting Facebook Page