Two Authors - One Queen


On March 6th 1052, an elderly Dowager Queen of England died in Winchester. She had been wife to two kings, the mother of two more, and great aunt to another. Her name was Emma – although in England she was known formally as Ælfgifu. And unfortunately not many people have heard of her, which is a shame because she was a remarkable woman. She was wed to King Æthelred in 1002, probably at around the age of thirteen-fifteen. She was to have at least two sons and two daughters by him, her eldest, Edward, becoming King of England in 1042 - later known as Edward the Confessor. Her second husband, Cnut of Denmark became King by Conquest, and became known as being ‘More English than the English’. He found eventual ‘fame’ through the (incorrect) story of proving his influence by trying to hold back the tide. And the Great Nephew?
This was Duke William of Normandy, for Emma was not English-born but Norman.


Some years ago now, I wrote a novel about the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066, from the English point of view: Harold the King (UK title) / I am the Chosen King (US title). One of the characters I had the pleasure to ‘meet’ was Emma. I became intrigued by her life, and regretted that she was not to play a major part in my novel. I remedied this by writing a prequel, which was to be Emma’s story – A Hollow Crown (UK title) / The Forever Queen (US title).


The Forever Queen reached the USA Today Best-seller list and while I am, of course, thrilled at this accolade, I am more delighted because Emma’s story (or my interpretation of it) has been told, read, and (hopefully) enjoyed. She was a remarkable woman, and had the Norman Conquest not overshadowed the English royal household of the eleventh century, I firmly believe that Emma today would be as well-known as that later Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Patricia Bracewell

Helen Hollick

A while ago I was contacted by US author Patricia Bracewell who has also written Emma’s story, the first part of her trilogy is published as A Shadow on the Crown. Pat was concerned that I would mind another author writing on the same subject, but on the contrary I was delighted! After all, there are many novels written about the more familiar Heroines of History: Eleanor, Anne Boleyn, Victoria to name just a mere few. 

In my opinion it is about time we had many novels written about Emma. Historical Fiction readers are never content with just one view-point opinion; so read us both - and any future writers who discover that Emma is an historical figure worth writing about! Emma deserves the accolade!

To commemorate the 962nd anniversary of Emma’s death (and World Book Day!) Pat and I got together to hold an On-Line Interactive Interview.
We didn't know if the idea would work, but we gave it our best shot! And I think it was a success!
Below are six questions which we both answered and posted on our Blogs, although the 'live' bit of the event has now closed, please feel free to post comments or ask questions, Pat and I will do our best to answer.



What has been said:
Helen Hollick -
“A very talented writer” Sharon Kay Penman
“If only all historical fiction could be this good” Historical Novel Society Review

Obtain Helen's Books from:
Amazon.co.uk : Paperback  £12.99 or  Kindle e-book £6.02
Amazon.com   : Paperback   $13.82  or on US Kindle e-book
Helen's WEBSITE 
Helen's Facebook
Twitter : @HelenHollick

What has been said:
Patricia Bracewell -
“Deftly and elegantly written.” Diana Gabaldon
“A real tour de force... A five star debut!” Historical Novel Society Review

Obtain Pat's Book from 
Amazon.co.uk :  Paperback £7.19 : kindle e-book £6.02
Amazon.com : Paperback  $13.42 : Kindle e-book
Pat's WEBSITE
Pat's Facebook     :   
Twitter - @patbracewell

You are welcome to leave a comment below or on Pat's US Blog 


Here are the Q & A from Pat and I

1. Why do you think that Emma of Normandy has been ignored by writers of historical fiction until now, and why has this changed?
Helen : Until recently, the majority of pre-conquest English history has been ignored, not just Emma. That is why I wrote my novel Harold the King (title I am the Chosen King in the US). I was so fed up with English history books starting at 1066. We have a rich, varied and interesting line of history that goes back many centuries before Duke William of Normandy stole the English throne for himself. I wanted to redress the balance - and discovered Emma while doing so. It is wonderful that more and more readers and writers have finally discovered that there was life before 1066!
Pat : I think writers just weren’t aware of her. I certainly wasn’t. Until fairly recently, even popular histories that dealt with English royalty started with William the Conqueror. It was as if England didn’t exist before 1066. Writers like Bernard Cornwell and Rob Low, though, have set some pretty remarkable novels in pre-Conquest England. I think that through them, writers – who are all avid readers – are discovering a whole new cast of characters with fascinating stories.

2. What line do you draw between fiction and fact in your novel?
Helen : I think it depends on what type of novel you are writing. If based on fact, then the facts that form the basic plot of the story should be as accurate as possible. If the story is pure fiction - especially if it contains an element of fantasy or alternate history, then it is not so essential to get the facts right. Having said that, it is the accuracy of a period that makes the book believable. Someone writing about the Battle of Hastings and placing it in 1067, not 1066, for instance, would not have their novel taken seriously.
Pat : Do Not Change History has been my rule of thumb. But there are so many gaps in the 11th century historical record that I had plenty of leeway to imagine motives, passions, relationships, and intriguing plot developments.

3. What is it about the historical Emma that you find most intriguing or inspiring?
Helen : She was a remarkable woman. Her strength of character, despite many knock-backs is something to be applauded. However, she abandoned her sons by her first husband in order to re-marry, resulting in conflict and almost hatred between herself and her eldest son, Edward. I wanted to explore why this was - what happened to make these two people loathe each other?
Pat : That in her maturity she commissioned the production of a book that essentially told her side of some of the events that occurred during her lifetime. Scholars call it the Encomium Emmae Reginae, and a copy exists today that dates back to Emma’s lifetime. That it would occur to a woman in the 11th century, even a queen, to do something like that is pretty impressive.

4. Were there any events in your novel that you reinterpreted to suit the story? Can you give an example?
Helen : Yes, one major event in particular. My grandmother's name was Emma and she also was a remarkable woman. When my father was a small baby, Grandma became cut off by the tide on a beach in Yorkshire. To save herself and her son from drowning she climbed the cliffs, holding him in her teeth. Keeping in mind that this would have been done in corsets and stiff Edwardian dress - not to mention the actual event, this was an incredible thing to do. I wanted to include my Grandma's heroism in my story, so I placed the event as Queen Emma's ordeal. 
Pat : The destruction of Exeter is a good example of this. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle blames Emma’s reeve, Hugh, for betraying the city to the Vikings. In my story Hugh is forced into doing this because the Danes have threatened harm to the queen if he doesn’t. He’s not a traitor, but everyone in Exeter thinks he is.
(note from Helen - I'm taking even more interest in the history of Exeter now that I've moved to Devon!)

5. What scene in the novel was the most difficult to write?
Helen : Several of the scenes with Æthelred were difficult as I discovered that I loathed the man (probably as much as Emma did!) As a writer it is really difficult writing a character you dislike sympathetically. I had the same problem with Duke William in the follow-on Novel Harold the King (titled I Am The Chosen King in the US) How I dislike that man! I remember Sharon Kay Penman giving me some sound advice for this sort of situation: 'Think of something good about the character. Hmm, I couldn't think of much that was good about Æthelred!
Pat A violent scene between the king and Emma. Anyone who’s read the book will know the one I mean. It was difficult having to imagine that scene. At the same time, given the characters that I’d created, I felt it was inevitable. It had to happen, so I had to write it.

6. Your titles are very different, given that your books have the same central character? Can you each talk about your titles?
Helen : My UK title is fairly similar A Hollow Crown, I found it a very fitting title because even though Emma held power and status during her second marriage, it was all taken from her by her son. My US title The Forever Queen, was mutually decided by myself and my US publishers, Sourcebooks Inc. I do prefer Forever Queen as a title - the US edition had an extensive re-edit which polished the novel quite considerably. 
Pat There are three viewpoint characters in my novel besides Emma, and I came up with Shadow on the Crown because for each of these characters there is a shadow that hovers over the crown and over the very concept of queenship or kingship. It is different for each of them.


if you would like to know more of the factual history of Queen Emma
I have an article on my website
click HERE  then scroll down until you come to the headline :
 Emma, Queen or Pawn
(it's a long article)

or I have a Bibliography of useful books
click here

You are welcome to leave a comment below - but the LIVE event and giveaway here and on Pat Bracewell's blog has now ended

The Four Giveaway winners who will receive copies of 
Pat and my books are: 
 Serena Cairn
Cindie Lovelace
Helen Hart
Leah Bergen



86 comments:

  1. I won't be able to be online for either time, but this is a brilliant idea.

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    1. Thanks Petrea - feel free to leave a belated comment if you like!

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  2. How very exciting! Yesterday afternoon I happened to be on Goodreads and more or less discovered both their books about the queen. I look forward to reading them soon.

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    1. I'm just finishing my lunch and will be with you soon! Looking forward to this!

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  3. My favourite period - if not my favourite Queen!

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  4. Good morning, Helen. Sipping my tea here.

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    1. Hi Pat - just finished my lunch here! :)

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    1. Hello Harvey - thank you for joining us!

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  6. Are you ever tempted to 'fiddle' with history to make the facts fit your story?

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    1. Hello Serena - I would have loved to have changed the ending of my novel about 1066 - and let King Harold II win! :-)

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    2. Hi Serena. I think every author must be TEMPTED at one time or another. I always wrote with an imaginary historian on my shoulder, keeping me to the facts. I could only stray when the facts were unknown, or when there were points on which historians had conflicting ideas about what happened.

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    3. That's the fascinating thing about writing historical fiction though - as authors we have a 'duty of care' to write the facts as well as we can, but can use our imaginations to fill in the gaps!

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    4. I fear I would take liberties with the known facts, offering, if you will, an alternative reality. To quote the screenwriter, John Milius, “If this story is not the way it was – then it’s the way it should have been...” Maybe it's a good thing I don't write historical novels.

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    5. *laugh* I definitely think the Battle of Hastings should have ended with Harold winning! :-)

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  7. I have a question for each of you. Helen, are you planning to write any more books dealing with this time period? And Pat, is there a time frame for when your next book about Emma will be released?

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    1. Hello Shannon, thank you for dropping by. One of these days I will write a follow-up to 1066, the aftermath of the battle. I'm toying with either doing Hereward's story or King Harold's "official" wife Alditha (as she is called in my novel. We don't really know what happened to her after the conquest....

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    2. Both of those sound really awesome! I'd love to see what it was like for the Saxons living normal lives as Normandy invaded. Not the kings or really influential people, but the normal ones, how much their lives changed.

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    3. Hello Shannon. My next book about Emma is with the publisher right now. The US release is anticipated for February, 2015. No word yet on the UK edition. Thank you so much for asking!

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    4. I suppose for the ordinary Saxon farming his land life didn't really change much. It affected those higher up the scale though.

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    5. I'm in California, so that date is only one I need. Thanks!

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  8. By the way, that picture of Emma at the top, looks like a very old painting, is absolutely beautiful.

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    1. Do you mean th one with Emma sitting 7 her sons beside her? Yes it is very old - drawn during her lifetime I believe!

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    2. Yes, that's the one I mean. It's just so beautiful. I love the colors.

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    3. Shannon, that drawing was made in about 1043. It is in the book the Encomium Emmae Reginae (at the British Library) - a book that Emma commissioned. The picture is of the monk delivering the book to the queen.

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    4. It is a very eloquent picture isn't it? Very much shows Emma's authority!

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    5. I wish could get a print of it for my walls!

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    6. I think (if I remember rightly) the original is not very big. I suppose a good clear copy could be printed out?

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    7. I hope so! I'll look into it, see what I can find.

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    8. I have a part of it on my UK edition of the novel, e-mail me your address Shannon & I'll see if I can photocopy it for you - it will be small, but maybe better than nothing! my e-mail is author AT helenhollick DOT net

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    9. Oh my gosh, that would be fantastic! I'm emailing you right now.

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    10. I'll see what I can do when we've finished live here Shannon!

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  9. When filling in the blank spots in Emma's history, where do you pull that? Is it personal experiences or do you channel other historical or modern day characters?

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    1. A bit of both, I think Rob. In my novel I added a scene which was true - a woman climbing the cliffs holding her baby in her teeth when she was cut off by the tide. My grandmother did it with my father, but I used the scene for Emma.

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    2. Sounds like your grandmother's story would be quite impressive on it's own :-D

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    3. Good morning Rob. Well, that's where the magic comes from in writing. I can only write what I've experienced - whether it's personal experience or stories I've read or history I've learned. It all gets jumbled inside my head and comes out in the story. What's important is to put myself in the MOMENT of the scene I'm writing - to try to be that character. How would she feel? What would he say? But the research helps, too, in that way. What happened to other people in history that might have happened here?

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    4. Yes, Rob my Gran was a remarkable women - even more so when you ralise this was 1918 & she was wearing Edwardian dress & corsets etc!

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    5. I am slightly different to Pat here - I often write from gut-feeling, logic and imagination. I 'see' the stories I write in my head as they are being written, much like watching a movie in my mind. I hear entire conversations as well.

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  10. Do either of you find yourselves thinking as modern women when writing a historical character? They must have seen life so differently in many aspects. Do you think of what they'd do or say, and then have to rethink it?

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    1. I think it is inevitable that we tend to write with a modern slant - and up to a point this is possibly what the readers want as well. I think it would be very hard to write about women in history as they really were. Although Emma was not so difficult as she really was quite formidable I think!

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    2. I agree with Helen that we cannot get completely outside of our own time. I try to get as close to the past as I can. A great deal of that getting inside the mind of a character happens even before I start to write. Each character is worked out ahead of time - what they believe, think, desire, with an eye to the history of the period. Then I can draw on that when I'm writing my scenes. So a lot of the re-thinking you mention happens before I start the book.

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    3. She certainly sounds it. We all share the same fears, hopes and dreams. Perhaps it's just our lifestyles that mould our responses in different ways..

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    4. To me, my characters are very real - they are like friends, especially the main characters!

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    5. I agree Serena! That is one of the things I so enjoy about writing historical fiction - we know what happened and when, but not always why & not how the people involved felt, behaved or reacted.

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    6. *laugh* Hated Aethelred - but I hated Duke William more! :-D

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  11. Not to put each other on the spot. But I was curious about your opinions of eachother's work? Is there specific in the others that your loved? Anything that didn't sit well? Again, not to put either of you on the spot...

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    1. I know Pat will be the same here Rob - we haven't read each other's stories about Emma! Pat hasn't read mine because she hasn't finished her trilogy & doesn't want her ideas influenced by mine, and I haven't read pat's (beyond the first two chapters) because I haven't had time yet! :-) I found those two chapters were fantastic though. One day I will get time to clear my To Be Read Mountain maybe!

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    2. Spot on there, Helen. I didn't dare read Helen's book for fear I'd be a copycat, even unintentionally. And as mine is a trilogy, I'm still stuck. I do know that Helen's book covers a far larger swathe of Emma's history than all three of mine will put together!

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    3. Well, I just want to say that both are extraordinary!! Congrats to you both!

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  12. Hello both and congratulations on what seems to be a great success! I would like to know what percentage of time (approximately!) you spend on research as opposed to writing and whether you do all the research first or wait until you come across a section where you 'discover' that you need some.;...

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    1. Hello Richard, thank you so much for joining us! I spent about a year researching and a year writing. For the most part - for all the factual main detail (i.e. the recorded events) I research first and use these as the framwork of the story (the initial plot I suppose!) but I research the nit-pick stuff and the finer detail as i go along. For instance, what they were eating at a banquet, detail of costume, maybe something for a fight scene etc.

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    2. Thank you, Helen. I noticed earlier that you are thinking of following up Harold The King with a post Conquest book, possibly abut Hereward; in The Hollow Crown, you treated Edmund rather fondly (if that is the right word!) and I wondered if you had any plans there - or with Aldgyth and her escape to Hungary?

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    3. Oh I fell in love with Edmund! Had I known how much I was going to like him I might well have written HIS story, not Emma's! Aldgyth's story and her life in Hungary is also fascinating. And where did Edyth Swanneck go after 1066 ,,,,

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    4. Hello Richard. I spent about 5 years researching before I even committed to writing the book. (Not full time. Children at home then.) Much of the research happened at the beginning, but I continue to research even as I write. SHADOW took, including the revisions, about 2.5 years to write. The second book about the same. And I was at the university library last week, doing more follow-up research, because there's another book coming.

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    5. Thank you both so much for your answers and your time and I do hope there can be a repeat! I shall look forward to new editions to my library in the coming future!!

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    6. Must add - I spent ten years researching and attempting to write my first novel The Kingmaking. It gets a bit easier when its a full-time job and your children are old enough to do the cooking for you! (My daughter learnt to cook as a survival aide - I was often too busy writing to remember things like the dinner! :-)

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    7. Thank you for joining us Richard!

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  13. Any other characters you would both be interested in tackling after Emma?

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    1. Well I am engrossed in writing my pirate-based nautical adventure series, which I write for fun (the series is more of a sailor's yarn type adventure) and I would like to write a spin-off story based on my Arthurian trilogy, possibly for young adults. I really must write a follow-up to Harold the king (titled I am the Chosen King in the US) though - the aftermath of 1066.

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    2. Hmm. I still have a third book to write! After that, I don't know. I'm intrigued by Aethelflaed (the daughter of Alfred the Great), but I might go forward in history, too. Haven't thought that far ahead.

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    3. Please pick Aethelflaed! I love that time period so much!

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    4. I will definitely give her every consideration, Shannon. One advantage to staying within the Anglo-Saxon period is that I've already done much of the research! And she was really quite an amazing woman.

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  14. I'm going to have to sign out, but just wanted to say 'thank you' to you both for an informative and entertaining conversation. Hopefully, I'll be able to catch up with any further comments later, and it seems I'm going to have to get some reading done.

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    1. Thank you Serena for joining us - I've thoroughly enjoyed this!

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  15. Well I think that's all for now - thank you so much all of you for joining in. Pat & I will be on Pat's blog later (2 pm Pacific Time) 10 pm GMT) for another chance to chat http://www.patriciabracewell.com/2014/02/live-internet-event/

    I thoroughly enjoyed this last hour - which flew by!

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    1. Thank you both. This has been great and very informative.

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  16. Just to follow up : an e-mail came in from someone unable to comment, for one reason or another, here on Blog:
    Q: I am reading The Forever Queen. I would like to know what effect religion had on Emma? Your writing is able to pull me into the life of Emma. I feel that is am experiencing her feelings.
    Thank you for your responses.
    Linda Mizzell

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    1. Thanks for e-mailing Linda. Religion would have played a great part in Emma's life, the hours of the day, for instance, revolved around the set times of the various masses. What could or could not be eaten at certain times of the year would have been important, and married "relationships" were also dictated by religious events. The belief that God was all seeing etc would have had an effect too I should think. I must admit that in my novels I did not dwell on the religious aspect quite so much, partly because I already had several thousand words too many, and also partly because I am not religious and did not want to delve too deply into an area I do not personallyfeel comfortable in.

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    2. I think religion was hugely important in that time & would have played a big role in Emma's life. Emma donated money and gifts to churches and abbeys. She purchased relics - which would have been considered treasures, really - and gave them to churches. Relics were even carried into battle - they were perceived as, well, almost like talismans. The abbey at Ely had a long list of costly, gem-embellished altar cloths & gowns for the statues of the saints that were gifts from Emma. I imagine that she was very devout.

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    3. Oops, apologies for the couple of typos in my rely above! :-/
      I agree with you Pat about Emma being devout (as was Cnut - but I will not give away any spoilers!)
      Thank you for taking the trouble to contact us Linda - who is from the US!

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  17. Oh my goodness--the clliff event! Where would we (you especially) be today if she had not had the determination to succeed in that endeavor. Wow!

    kescah at comcast dot net In the US. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Debra! You make an excellent point there.

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    2. That's something I've often thought about Debra! My biggest regret is that my Gran was stone deaf, so as a child and teenager I couldn't be bothered with an old lady who couldn't hear me - oh boy is that now a regret!
      Gran (who was also called Emma!) could recite the alphabet backwards, knew all the Shakespeare plays, a lot of poetry etc. She had also been a book binder at one one point. I'm sure I get my love of books from her.

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  18. What an exciting session. I tried for a while to get on and comment but I can tell your site has been busy-busy-busy!! Well done. I'm enjoying reading all the Q&As, and the comments too.

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    1. Thank you for trying Helen - and for persisting! Interesting that you couldn't get on. This is truly an experiment!

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    2. Thanks Helen Hart - it got a bit hectic for a while, great fun to do! I'm really looking forward to this evening's session (evening UK time that is!)

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  19. I missed both events, unfortunately. I have read and really liked both novels. She's a character in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon series... but I was wondering if either of you had plans to write about Æthelflaed (Lady of Mercia)?

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    1. Hello Lalani Duda - thank you for dropping by. I would actually love to write about Aethelflaed at some point, but at the moment my "To Be Written" pile is getting a bit too top-heavy!

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  20. This was an interesting read. I thoroughly enjoyed The Hollow Crown, and am hoping, Helen, that you'll maybe get the urge to write about King Alfred one of these days. If you should feel that urge don't resist it, eh?

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    1. Alfred would be a bit of a challenge - I'd quite like to write something set in his period: the story from a different perspective maybe?

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Thank you for leaving a comment - it should appear immediately, but Blogger sometimes chucks its teddies out of the cot and has a tantrum (especially if you are a Wordpress person) If you are having problems, contact me on author@helenhollick.net and I will post it for you.
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