This delightful meeting occurred at 'An evening with' event as part of the Manchester Literature Festival this year, held at the Royal Northern College of Music which is quite an impressively artistic building.
I only heard about his mighty appearance thanks to the information sharing of Twitter. And so of course I had to book tickets ASAP in order to meet and thank the guy who truly captured my heart and mind on the subject of Vikings.
I came across his Uhtred Anglo-Saxon/Viking series many years ago when I was watching an evening long re-run of the BBC documentary Blood of the Vikings on what used to be known as the History Channel. In between all the usual adverts was a book advert displaying his first Uhtred book 'The Last Kingdom'. Of course I got it and was hooked! He created such a fantastically amazing world and so began my long love affair with any historical fiction that featured Vikings. Which later introduced me to Tim Severin's Viking trilogy, Robert Low's Oathsworn series (whom I also saw at my first Huddersfield Literature Festival event - didn't get my book signed though silly me) and my newest favourite Giles Kristian with his Raven trilogy. Bernard Cornwell though is the Godfather of the genre as he established the basis of Dark Age historical fiction as an acceptable topic to read.
The overall evening with Bernard was very exciting even though I never got to ask him a question my hand was pounding hard with excitement and nerves as I kept going over in my head all the questions I wanted to ask. Sadly no one spotted my hand waving frantically in the air but I did get some answers when others asked similar questions.
Turns out the very character of Uhtred is closely and personally linked to Bernard who it turns out didn't meet his true biological father until the age of 57, he joked that he misplaced him when he was young which lessened the shock and surprise we all felt as well as the personal revelation he was revealing to us all. He went on to explain that it is from that side of the family, which a family tree is shown to have relatives going back to being near enough Lords of Mercia at the time the story is set. So he actually has a strong connection to the stories he wrote featuring Uhtred and what made him write it was the idea of the constant struggle his ancestors must have faced during those turbulent years with the warring counties and then the Viking invasions were added to the mix.
He also answered a surprising number of questions on writing - first he said "always write your story the way you want and the way that suits the story best. If a creative writing tutor says there are rules to writing don't pay him, he's already duped you. Always write the story you want to read first. Writing is a solitary process, there is only ever you doing it when you begin so just do what you think is right, not what other people tell you what they think is right. First you write for yourself, secondly you write for an agent or publisher, and then, well the reader has to decide for themselves when they find it on the shelves."
This we all agreed with and most certainly me, as a young writer who has done a degree with creative writing involved. From my own experience my tutors never told me there was no right way to write, just helped me understand where common mistakes are made.
An American asked ‘whether it's ever ok to write in first person as his writing tutor has told him first person stories never make it.’
Bernard replied "I would simply say, call me Ishmael, Moby Dick was written in first person and it's still a classic literature success. It's always okay to write in first person if you feel it suits the story you're trying to write."
I agree with this answer as when I first began writing I instinctively wrote in third person/omniscient but as I learned more about the writing processes and techniques you could use to tell a story, I now find myself writing my developing novel in first simply because it suits the story I’m trying to tell.
There were many questions and many long and often hilarious answers to them but these are two snippets that truly highlighted what a great and understanding guy he is.
So after a round of questions with the audience we all eagerly rushed outside to try and beat the queue. I just about made it to the halfway mark but even then I was waiting about twenty minutes – but it was worth it as I could marvel at the book I held in my hands, The Last Kingdom, and consider the man I saw smiling, chatting and laughing and hoping one day I could actually be the focus of such an event. It also gave me a chance to meet other fans. I immediately wished I had brought my entire Uhtred series as there quite a few with nice piles of his collection.
But he made up for it when he said "I like your t-shirt" I quickly gabbled out that I had made it, he said "I thought you might have done." Which I wasn't sure if that was a good remark or not so I mumbled "It's a valkyrie from my own writing." At that point we posed for a photo and my fifteen seconds of famous company was over.
It was a fantastic evening and so glad I made it albeit on my own as many likeminded friends couldn’t make it for various reasons and so it proudly brought my tally of famous meetings to three and this is just in this year alone.
By Rebecca Wilson
Rebecca is a lover of all things vikingy from history to mythology (in particular mythology, a fan of all kinds of Viking historical fiction) and a budding wanna-be author currently developing her first Norse fantasy novel titled ‘Soul Chaser’ – learn more about her at her blog www.valkyriansanctum.blogspot.com where you can see how obsessed she really is about Vikings and Norse mythology.