Today, 25th June 2021, is the one year anniversary of the release of The Last Warrior. The anniversary has come round quickly, (I promise not to start doing this with all of my books), and gives me the perfect opportunity to once more say a massive ‘thank you’ to everyone who has read, enjoyed, rated or reviewed the book. I’m blown away by how much readers love Coelwulf and his motley collection of friends, enemies, and horses, and how you eagerly embrace each new episode in their story.
I thought I’d use this as an excuse to give a few updates on the series. Book 1-The Last King is now an audiobook available on Audible. Book 2-The Last Warrior is in the process of becoming one. (I think I worried my narrator so much with The Last Warrior he had to rush to the end to find out what was happening:)).
I am busy finishing off Book 6, The Last Shield, and in the meantime, the first five books are now available in a beautiful hardcase laminate edition from Amazon, and I have to say, they look amazing, especially all together. The hardcase laminate uses the new covers as designed by Flintlock Covers. Amazon doesn’t have the preview showing of the hardcase yet so here’s a few photos, inexpertly taken by me.
In association with The History Quill, on online site for readers and writers of historical fiction, I am running a give-away for a paperback copy The Last King, with some other fab Viking authors, which can be entered here. but the closing date is the 30th June, so be quick.
So, once more, thank you for reading, and I promise to keep on writing as long as you keep reading.
I’m really quite bad at remembering all the publication dates of my books, but The Last King has certainly stuck in my mind. What started quite inauspiciously, with a few die-hard fans preordering the book, has become my most popular series, and most popular book to date.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised, but I am. The book, a few years in development, burst from me in a flurry of excitement early in 2020, when I opted for a ‘harder’ character, a man who is simply so good at what he does, he doesn’t understand that others can’t do what he can. It’s not arrogance. It’s confidence.
So, why the hesitation? It takes a lot to stomp, and I mean, stomp all over a time period made so famous by another giant of the field – Bernard Cornwell with his Uhtred, or The Last Kingdom books. And yet, I couldn’t move away from the temptation of the little known Coelwulf, and the story of Mercia which has never been told.
Yet, I needed to do it in a different way to BC. I remember handing the first few chapters to my critique partner and editor and saying ‘is this edgier?’, ‘would a warrior speak like this?’ It came back with a ‘yes’ and also some pencil marks and a bit more swearing added in, and a comment that if I was going to cauterise a wound, then I needed to do it properly, gore and all.
I’d previously written what I thought would be an opening scene, while sitting in hospital for an appointment with lots of different bits to it – but while that gave me the characters, it didn’t give me quite what I was looking for. Still, you can read ‘A Meeting of Equals‘ over on my author platform on Aspects of History.
And that was almost it (apart from a dose of my own confidence drawn from watching The Gentlemen by Guy Ritchie – which truly made me think ‘anything goes,’ and gave me the idea for the opening scene – if you’ve read the book you’ll know what I mean.) Coelwulf reared his head, and so too did a cast of characters that are unique, complex, enjoyable to write about, and often, a bit pushy.
So, how to celebrate a year since book 1? Well, by bringing Coelwulf ‘to life’ of course.
The ‘new’ covers will be going live at points throughout today, and I’m so pleased with the way he’s turned out. Thank you so much to Shaun at Flintlock Covers for being able to bring Coelwulf to life. I especially love the detail on the sword, which shows the double-headed eagle of Mercia!
And that’s not it. Not only a visual Coelwulf, but also the ‘sound’ of Coelwulf. My narrator, Nigel Gore, has finished work on The Last King, and it will be released soon. There’s a sample below – remember, it’s Coelwulf, it’s going to be pretty full-on from the word go. (18 rated)
The Last Warrior is also about to start the journey to audio, and I’m considering producing some hardbacks as well, but I’ve not yet had the time to devote to that task.
And of course, the story hasn’t finished yet. The Last Sword is released on 29th April (preorder here) and I’ll be starting work on Book 6 even as you read this.
So thank you, to all my readers and reviewers, to my beta readers (you know who you are), to the people I’ve collaborated with on ensuring the word gets out there about Coelwulf.
Oh, hello, I’m here to interview King Coelwulf about his latest book.
Really, I wouldn’t think he’d do that. He’s make some excuse about having no time, or some such. Oh wait, did Lady Cyneswith set this up?
Yes, she did, and I’ve already spoken to her. But tell me, do you know the king? You seem to know who everyone is.
Of course I do. I’m Rudolf. His old squire, and now member of his warband. Why?
Would you like to talk to us about his latest book?
Well, I suppose I have the time. If you’re quick, and I don’t get caught. I’m supposed to be showing young Hiltiberht the ropes, and Haden can be a real handful.
Tell me, what’s King Coelwulf like? As a warrior?
Bloody lethal. You don’t want to be facing off against him. I’ve never seen anyone kill so quickly. And the moves he can do? I wish I had even half of his skill. I mean, he says I’m a good warrior and all, but I make up for my lack of skill with speed. And he doesn’t have that because he’s so bloody …. Um, because he doesn’t need to do that. Sometimes, I swear the enemy make it look so easy it’s as though they’re falling onto his seax or sword.
He’s quite good then?
Better than good. I’ve never seen anyone fight the way he does. Well, apart from Icel, and Edmund, and maybe Hereman. But, certainly, the Raiders stand no chance against him.
I hear he even camps in the woodlands and forests? It’s not really the sort of thing a king should do, is it?
Now, you see here. He was a warrior long before he was king. King Coelwulf only has one aim, to kill all the Raiders. To drive them from Mercia and make sure they don’t come back. He’s not into all that fancy clothes, and court etiquette, or sleeping in a bed of silk sheets. They’d be too damn cold, anyway. He’s told me. No, the king of Mercia is a damn warrior, and the only man capable of defeating the Raiders, and the Welsh, if it comes to it.
And, have you read the new book?
Got no time for reading. I’m sure King Coelwulf told you that, and he’s right. I’d like a good night’s sleep without interruption more than I’d like to read a book. Maybe a scop could tell the tale. But, that would be Edmund and I’d have to listen to him tell the tale. He’s good, of course he’s good, but he probably wouldn’t mention me as much as I might like.
To all the young lads who do read the book, what would your advice be? How could they get into King Coelwulf’s warband?
Well, they should probably have joined it a while ago, and at the moment, there’s a few squires that need training up, so there’s no room, not for a while. So, I’d tell them to wait, and while they’re waiting, learn a few things, like how to clean saddles and seaxs. It’s a mucky job, but someone’s got to do it. And with King Coelwulf, you’ve got to earn his respect first. And then, well, once you’ve got it, you’ve got to keep it. A hard man, but a great man. Mercians should be pleased with their king. He’ll keep them safe, or he’ll die trying. You didn’t find the old king doing that. Far from it in fact. He’s scuttled off to Rome, or somewhere like that. Gone to pray for his soul. He’s got a lot to need forgiveness for, abandoning his kingdom like that.
Oh, sorry, I’ve got to go.
And there you have it. A few words from Rudolf, King Coelwulf’s old squire. I hear he fights incredibly well, and offers some important advice for any would be members of the king’s warband.
If you haven’t read my earlier interview with King Coelwulf, then you can find it here. And I also interviewed his Aunt, which can be found here.
I’m very honoured to have caught a few moments with Lady Cyneswith, the aunt of King Coelwulf. Thank you for finding the time to speak to me.
“Well, I’m sure you’ve discovered that my nephew is a very busy man, a bit rough around the edges some times, and so I’m delighted to speak with you on his behalf, smooth away any ruffles he might have caused.
Yes, I confess, I had noticed that he was short on time when I tried to speak with him earlier.
Short on time, and economical with his words. He is the king, you know, but of course, his priorities are with defeating the Raiders. I think there are those who don’t quite appreciate the persistence of the enemy. It takes a strong and decisive leader to defeat them, and we should be pleased to have one. Much better than our previous king, who gave up Mercia in exchange for his life. Shocking.
I speak for the whole of Mercia when I say we are so pleased to have such a man leading us. Some new, vigourous, blood was needed to ensure Mercia stayed together.
Our previous king, Burgred, was not blessed with the military requirements for the post. But then, I won’t be alone in believing that Burgred should never have been king. He only achieved what he did because of the manipulation of the natural right of succession.
So, you believe that all the kings since King Coelwulf, first of his name, were usurpers?
I make no bones about that. Mercia wouldn’t be in such peril if my family line had retained their hold on power, as they should have done. But, now is not the time to dwell on that. It’s important to think of the future, and of what is yet to be achieved, but which will be, and soon.
I asked King Coelwulf if had a few words to explain why people should read the latest book.
I imagine he said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t have time for reading, so I wouldn’t.’ And, of course, he means that, but it is difficult for him to appreciate the fascination others have with what he’s trying to achieve. So, I would say, read it and discover just what risks your king, and his warriors and ealdormen are making to ensure Mercia’s freedom. Read it, and understand the peril and take steps to ensure your freedom as well.
And, have you read the latest book?
I have yes, and I’m pleased to say there’s a slightly bigger part for me in, than usual. Of course, it’s difficult with all the fighting to find room for the women of Mercia, but I’m sure that one day, in the not too distant future, Mercia will have female warriors to keep her safe. After all, anyone can learn to chop off someone’s head, or slice them through the neck, the skill, of course, is in staying alive afterwards.
Um, yes, quite. Thank you for that. I wondered if I could get a few words from you about King Alfred of Wessex.
No, not really. I don’t speak about neighbouring kings, and I’ve never met the man. Now, if you asked me about the king of Gwent, then I might have something to say about him, but you haven’t, and so, I don’t.
Could I ask you about the language used in the book? It’s quite strong in places.
While I have no particular need to hear such words, I can well appreciate that, on occasion, they might be warranted. After all, our king and his warriors are risking their lives every time they enter a battle against our enemy. I put it down to the rush of adrenaline, and hope everyone else does the same.
I asked King Coelwulf about his warriors, do you have any particular favourite amongst them?
I take pride in teaching all of the men some simple techniques to treat wounds received in battle. It’s important to know how to heal as well as to maim. My favourites are obviously those who listen carefully and learn what I teach them.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
It is of course, my pleasure, and my duty, as the king’s sole surviving relative. Under his leadership, Mercia will once more be great again.
And there you have it. An interesting interview with Lady Cyneswith, a most formidable woman. I should think she’d be as lethal on the battlefield as her nephew is proving to be. If you haven’t read my earlier interview with King Coelwulf, then you can find it here.
A few weeks ago, I was granted exclusive access to King Coelwulf, to talk about his new book, The Last Enemy. Here’s what the enigmatic king of Mercia had to say.
King Coelwulf, thanks for allowing me entry into your stronghold at Northampton. It’s quite interesting to be at the heart of the Mercian defence against the Raiders. Now, can you tell me why people should want to read the fourth book about you, The Last Enemy?
“Well, I’m not saying that they will. I mean, if they’re like me, then they probably don’t have time to be reading a story. I’ve got bodies to bury, Raiders to hunt down, and a kingdom to rule. I would tell anyone to spend their time more wisely than reading a book. That sort of thing is for the monks and the clerics, not warriors trying to defend a kingdom.”
Ah, well, in that case, thank you for finding the time to speak to me.
“I didn’t have much choice. Or rather, I was advised it would be a good use of my time, by my Aunt, Lady Cyneswith.”
Well, Lady Cyneswith is a wise woman, and I’m grateful that she’s encouraged you to speak to me.
“She is a highly intelligent woman. Braver than many men when it comes to the Raiders, and skilled when it comes to healing injuries of the body, as well as the mind.”
And her dogs have very interesting names, what was it again? Wiglaf and Berhtwulf, surely the names of old Mercian kings? Men who usurped the ruling line from your family?
“Oh really. I’d never realised. Funny, that.”
Ah, well, moving on, could you tell me about your new book? I’m sure my readers would love to hear about it.
“Nothing to say really. Same old, same old. Raiders to evade, Raiders to find, Raiders to kill, a kingdom to keep whole. It’s a grand old bloody mess. I swear, I’ve barely managed to scrub the grime and body fluids from my sword and seax. Or rather, Wulfhere has. He’s a good lad. Quick on his feet. He’s one of my squires. Couldn’t do it without him.
That’s interesting that you should mention your squire, did you say? I wouldn’t have expected you to even know the lad’s name. After all, you are the king of Mercia, surely your squire is beneath you. Are there any more of your warriors you’d like to mention by name?
“Of course there are. I’d name them all if I had the time, which I don’t, just to make you aware. I’ve got to go to a crown-wearing ceremony shortly. But, I’ll mention a few, just to keep you happy. And you should know that no man is ever above knowing the names of those who serve him. Remember that.
But, I’ll mention some of my warriors by name. If only because it’ll infuriate some of them. Edmund, he’s my right-hand man, a skilled warrior, missing an eye these days, but it’s not stopped him, not at all. His brother, Hereman. Well, where do I start? Hereman does things no one would consider, in the heat of battle, and he’s a lucky b……. man, sorry, he’s a lucky man. And then there’s Icel. He’s lived through more battles than any of the rest of my warriors. I almost pity the Raiders who come against him. None of them live for much longer.
And Pybba. You know, he fights one handed now, and the Raiders seem to think he’s easy picking, but he’s not. Not at all. And, I can’t not mention Rudolf. He’s the youngest of my warriors, but his skill is phenomenal, not that you can tell him that. Cheeky b……, sorry cheeky young man. But, all of my warriors are good men, and we mourn them when they fall in battle, but more importantly, we avenge them all. All of them. No Raider should take the life of a Mercian without realising they’ve just ensured their own death.
Yes, I’ve heard that you avenge your men, with quite bloody means. And Edmund, there’s a suggestion that he’s a scop, a man who commits the deeds of the fallen to words? That fascinates me, as someone who also makes a living from using words.
“Well, Edmund has some small skills with words, but he honours our fallen warriors by weaving them into the song of my warriors. In fifty years, when we’re all dead and gone, our legend will live on, thanks to Edmund, and his words.
Can I ask you about Alfred, in Wessex? Have you met him? Do you think he’s doing a good job in keeping the Raiders out of Wessex?
“I’ve never met him. Couldn’t say either way. It’s not for me to comment on a fellow king. We’re all after the same thing. Kill the f……, sorry, kill the b……., sorry, kill the enemy. All of them, until Mercia is safe once more. And Wessex, if you’re from there.”
Well, it looks like you’re needed. Is that your crown?
“Yes, and now I need to go and perform some ceremonial task. It’ll take a long time, no doubt. Make sure you have an escort when you leave here. I wouldn’t put it passed the f……, sorry, the Raiders, to be keeping a keen eye on the bridge over the Nene.
Thank you for your concern, and yes, I’ll make sure I do. Good luck with the new book.
“I don’t need luck. I just need to kill all the b……., sorry, Raiders.
As you can tell, King Coelwulf was a very busy man. But his new book, The Last Enemy, is well worth a read. Bloody, brutal, just like the man himself, but I found him to be honourable and worthy of leading the Mercians against our persistent enemy. Long live the king.
“The Raiders have been routed from Torksey, dead, or escaped.
Mercia lies broken but not beaten, her alliance with Wessex in tatters, her new king a warrior, not a ruler. And as he endures his coronation, as demanded by the bishops and ealdormen, there are stirrings from the east.
Coelwulf must again take to the trackways of Mercia. His destination, any place where the Raiders are trying to infiltrate the kingdom he’s fought so hard to keep whole, losing beloved friends in the process.
The year is AD874 and Mercia lies threatened. But Coelwulf, and his loyal warriors, have vowed to protect Mercia with their lives. They’re not about to stop now.”