My Coffee Pot Book Club Guest – MJ Porter: Pagan Warrior

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About the Book

Pagan Warrior
The Seventh Century
MJ Porter
MJ Publishing
294 pages
Historical fiction/Action and adventure
Audiobook narrated by Matt Coles

From bestselling author, MJ Porter comes the tale of the mighty pagan king, Penda of Mercia.

Britain. AD632.

Penda, a warrior of immense renown, has much to prove if he is to rule the Mercian kingdom of his dead father and prevent the neighbouring king of Northumbria from claiming it.

Unexpectedly allying with the British kings, Penda races to battle the alliance of the Northumbrian king, unsure if his brother stands with him or against him as they seek battle glory for themselves, and the right to rule gained through bloody conquest.

There will be a victor and a bloody loser, and a king will rise from the ashes of the great and terrible battle of Hædfeld.

Thank you for hosting me on your blog. [My pleasure!]

Capitals of Bernicia, Bamburgh or Bebbanburg and Ad Gefrin

Bamburgh is traditionally associated with the kingdom of Bernicia – the far northern Saxon kingdom, which was particularly prominent during the seventh century, and which was joined to the kingdom of Deira to form Northumbria on several occasions throughout the seventh century.

Bamburgh Castle, the Keep

Bamburgh, also known as Bebbanburg, is alleged to have been given by King Æthelfrith to his wife, Bebba, which is where the name, Bebbanburg comes from, in about the year 600. Much work is currently being undertaken to discover what was at Bamburgh before the later, better-attested parts of the castle were built. Famously, the old well exists, and archaeologists continue to explore how deep it was, and therefore, how old it truly is and if the water can still be drunk, while also being engaged in a bid to detect just how old the fortress lying beneath the current structures might be.

The well

For those who’ve never visited, it is an imposing location, situated on the top of a steep hill (not much fun to climb on a hot summer’s day) and with golden sands stretching along the foreshore. The Farne Islands can be seen to the right of the castle, and also, Holy Island, or Lindisfarne, where a later castle can also be glimpsed on a good day.

That said, the geography of the area has changed substantially since the Saxon period. The beach was likely not as extensive, and a harbour would have allowed access to the fortress, after a steep climb. It can be quite hard to imagine what it much have looked like then compared to today.

The iconic castle that stands today is a later building, the oldest part, the keep, dating to the very end of the Saxon period, while much of what we see today is the later work of Lord Armstrong (who built Cragside), when he significantly repaired the remains. Indeed, the family still own Bamburgh Castle, although not Cragside, which is a National Trust property. (I’ve written a 1930s mystery set at Cragside). 

Bamburgh is slightly unusual in that there are old images of the castle before the 19th-century reconstruction work of Armstrong. I enjoy collecting these antique prints. We often find such buildings falling into ruin, not being ruined and then rebuilt.

And Bamburgh Castle and its environs are stuffed with archaeology, much of it very, very relevant to the seventh century. There were some very famous archaeological investigations undertaken in the 1960s, and there’s now a dedicated team unearthing the treasures hidden beneath the current building, and they have been doing so for over twenty years. You can follow the team’s work at Bamburgh Research Project’s Blog, and on occasion, visitors can see the archaeologists at work.

You might also know about Bamburgh because of the seventh-century bones discovered in the Bole Hole, and there’s a great book about this, Warrior by Edoardo Albert and Paul Gething – available from all good booksellers. You can also learn about where these bones now lie by checking out the Bamburgh Bones project, and indeed, you can glimpse these bones if you so wish, although they are now in an ossuary in the local church of St Aidan’s.

The Saxon settlement of Bamburgh, and indeed, another equally well-known but destroyed settlement at Ad Gefrin, or Yeavering, were both important to the story being told throughout the trilogy that begins with Pagan Warrior. Ad Gefrin is believed to have been a summer residence of the ruling family of Bernicia. Set amongst the rolling hills of the Cheviots, it is a flattish space sandwiched between much higher points all around it. Again, there has been much archaeological work undertaken, and it’s believed that the ruins of a grandstand can be traced, as well as many buildings. Hopefully, one day, more will be discovered.

I’m lucky in that I live close enough to both of these two places that I could visit them and gain a very good insight into what it might have been like to live in those places and then to visualise them for my characters. It also helps that I have a very good idea of what the weather can be like in Northumbria. 😊

About the Author
MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to 
Eleventh-Century England, as well as three twentieth-century mysteries. Being raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author’s writing destiny was set.
Amazon Author Page: 
Narrator, Matt Coles:

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note: Helen has not yet read this title – it is on her TBR list!

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1066 – the events that led to the
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Harold the King  (UK edition)
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an anthology of alternative stories
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Amazon: FREE ebook!

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