Wednesday, October 21, 2015

7 Questions With Matthew Harffy, Author of The Serpent Sword

Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria's Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, THE SERPENT SWORD. The sequel is THE CROSS AND THE CURSE.

Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. He has co-authored seven published academic articles, ranging in topic from the ecological impact of mining to the construction of a marble pipe organ.

Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

When not writing, or spending time with his family, Matthew sings in a band called Rock Dog.

1.       How and/or when did you get hooked on history?
I think living in Europe and having parents who would take me to amazing historical sites sparked an interest in history from a early age. I grew up in England and lived in some fabulous places that were steeped in history. We lived for a few years in the village of Norham in Northumberland, where I would play in the ruined Norman castle on the hill overlooking the Tweed valley. Later we moved to Spain, and went to places such as Toledo, with its cathedral and castle, and the monastery palace of El Escorial. Being surrounded by such rich history, how could I not be hooked? 

2.      What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
My wife loves history too, so when we travel anywhere, we are both interested in visiting local monuments and museums. That, and our mutual love of books, are constants in our relationship and we have tried to instill the same passions in our daughters. 

3.      How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
History is of course a major part of my writing career. I've only published one novel and it is historical fiction, so I spend a large proportion of my time researching history and reading other historical fiction novels.

4.      Why is studying/knowing history important?
Knowing history is important because by understanding the past, we can try to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. It is the typical answer, but I think it is really true. It is a pity that more people don't seem to care about the lessons of the past.

5.      What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
For the last few years I have been immersed in early seventh century Britain researching for my novels. It is a fascinating time, with Christianity emerging as the primary religion of the British Isles. It is a time of clashes between the Germanic peoples known as the Anglo-Saxons and the native Britons. It is a time where the island of Britain is splintered into several small kingdoms, each vying for supremacy. England as a concept did not exist and the land would not be unified for many centuries. It is a dark age of battles, heroism, intrigue and religious conflict. It is a wonderful time to write about, with so many stories, and so little in the way of hard facts. Perfect for a novelist.

6.       What drew you to the world of the Bernicia Chronicles?
As I have said in the previous answer, the period is full of interesting characters and powerful stories. The land of Bernicia itself is what nowadays is called Northumberland, along with part of modern-day Scotland. I lived there for a few years as a child and I fell in love with the rugged landscape, rocky coastline and ruined castles. It is so barren in places, it is easy to imagine Anglo-Saxon warriors trudging through the windswept hills of the Cheviots towards the fortress of Bebbanburg (Bamburgh), atop its crag of rock, standing sentinel over the iron-gray waters of the North Sea.

7.       What will history lovers get out of your books?
They will get a feeling of total authenticity as they sit beside the protagonist, Beobrand, on mead benches in smoky halls while scops sing epic tales of dragons and night-dwellers. They will feel the rush of terror and excitement as shieldwalls clash. They will be taken on a journey into the dark past of the British Isles as Beobrand searches for his brother's killer, seeking to bring justice to an untamed land. And readers will learn of the history of those faraway northern kingdoms as the Angelfolc (the Angles) fought to gain control of the land from the Waelisc (the Welsh) who inhabited the island before their arrival. 


Bamburgh Castle at dawn

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