So…what if? It’s always good to start writing with that question. I’ve taken two different approaches in my fiction, and they both started with the question, what if? The first question was what if there was a Viking inside Lindisfarne monastery when it was raided by Vikings in 796? The second question was what if there was an atheist in an age when everyone believed in God? Those two “what if?” questions were the first dominos in long lines of questions that had to be answered.
Who were those men? How did the Viking get to Lindisfarne? How did the atheist lose his faith?
Those questions have created the drive behind my writing that has produced almost 2,000 pages of material, some of which you’ll be seeing published here at Blood and Thunder Press very soon.
Of course, the real start of this adventure for me was when I discovered Beowulf as a freshman in high school. We used a literature text book that had line illustrations of the stories, and there was a drawing of Beowulf facing off with a dragon that I can still see in my mind’s eye. I think he might have been wearing a horned helmet, but then I didn’t know any better and now I’m in too deep to hold it against the artist. From there I began to read the history of the period and as I got older I realized that it wasn’t all that different from our own time. Humans then would be recognizable to humans now, and that’s what stories are all about: how humans confront their reality.
I write what I consider to be fact-based historical novels with a point of view that, while not entirely modern, acts as a filter that allows the protagonist to examine his reality more critically than his contemporaries.
CHARLES BARNITZ BOOKS
THE DEEPEST SEA
The sacking of the monastery of Lindisfarne one of the holiest sites in the British Isles, on June 8, 793, was an horrific event for the Christian world. Lindisfarne. Unfortunately for the monks living there it was one of the richest and most poorly defended sites in Christendom, exposed to the attentions of anyone who sailed by with trouble in mind. One of the residents of Lindisfarne on that day was Bran Snorrison, the son of an Irish Viking from the trading outpost of Clontarf at the mouth of the River Liffey, near present day Dublin. The Deepest Sea is the story of how an Irish Viking came to be on an island in the North Sea off the coast of the Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria and what happened after. It's a story about fate and luck and going into the wrong abandoned silver mine at the wrong time. It's a story about true love and missed opportunities. Most of all it's a story about obligation that doesn't end after death.
THE ELF-SHOT BOY
The Elf-Shot Boy is a coming of age story about a boy named Gar, who has what we now call Down Syndrome, but which was lumped under the catch-all 8th century diagnosis of “elf shot.” Gar has reached the age of majority, when all his friends are going to acknowledged as legal adults and presented with a symbolic weapon: a knife, a spear head, maybe even a seax if their family can afford one, and he doesn’t understand why he wouldn’t be among their number at the ceremony. Just turning 15 and struggling with unaccustomed feelings and emotions that his contemporaries have already come to grips with, Gar has a crush on a friend of his cousin, a girl named Oshild. Just before the mid-summer assembly, Oshild is raped and murdered and Gar takes it upon himself to help Hring, the assistant advocate in town for the assembly, investigate the crime.
THE FRITH SEAT
It’s the spring of 783, Easter is approaching, and people are being murdered in Eoforwic, the capitol of the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria. That doesn’t mean much to Hring, former protégé of Alcuin, more recently an assistant advocate in Elmet, and currently a drunk who’s living with some old friends—in fact he isn’t even aware of it until the latest victim is the big winner in the dice game Hring and his friends operate in the Frisian colona across the Foss River. The trivia of Eoforwic street crime becomes Hring’s primary concern when the geréfas chase him to the frith seat in the cathedral, where he has 40 days to make his peace with God and come to an arrangement with the secular authorities of the city. Unfortunately, Hring’s not so sure that God exists and the secular authorities are hoping to make an arrangement with him. And just to make things interesting, the kindred of an exiled Northumbrian king is scheming to restore him to the throne from his exile in Charlemagne’s court, and evidence surfaces that implicates Offa, king of Mercia, in the plot. Hring’s beginning to feel like the time has come to give up his life as a roaring boy and go back to his family. Some men are slow to learn their lesson.
You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family; as far as your family goes, you just have to make the best of it. Hring’s misanthropic brother Mæl, who operates a grist mill for the kindred, unmarried at the advanced age of 34, has fallen in love with the equally difficult daughter of a neighboring kindred, and no one is in favor of the match but the two of them. They've picked each other, and they’re resolved not to let anything stand in the way: not the objections of their families, not the disharmony between different branches of Mæl’s kindred, and not the alcoholic monkey in the silk trousers who discovers mead at the wedding feast. Will true love win out or will the forces arrayed against them prevail? And what does Whitgar think he’s doing in that bearskin?
THE PEACE WEAVER
The Peace Weaver is a collection of three stories set in the former Celtic kingdom of Elmet in the latter part of the 8th century. They concern incidents in the career of Hring, assistant to the advocate Sentwine in the gemót courts of Elmet. The first story, “Friðo-webba,” is from the early part of Hring’s tenure as assistant advocate, and centers on an assignment to escort a young woman who has volunteered to become a peace weaver between two feuding kindreds to her wedding and her new home. The second story, “The Bean Spoon,” happens two years later and involves the investigation of an apparent suicide. The final story, “Village Geometry,” takes place toward the end of Hring’s tenure as assistant advocate, when he is accompanying the commissioners who are taking the census for the Tribal Hidage for Offa of Mercia.
These stories are snapshots of Hring’s growth and increasing self-assurance in his position as he prepares to assume the advocacy of two hundreds in Elmet following a judicial redistricting. Three little tales of Dark Age Noir in the age of Charlemagne and a fictional imagining of how justice might have worked in the middle years of the Anglo-Saxon period.