Sunday, March 30, 2008

But Some Smell Just As Sweet

In my last post I wrote (okay, raved) about Rosemary Sutcliff.

Well, I've found a successor.

If you love Sutcliff (and if you don't, what's wrong with you? ;-) ), then scurry over to your library or local bookstore and ask for books by Rebecca Tingle. Her first, The Edge on the Sword is a terrific historical novel in the Sutcliff tradition. Aethelflaed is the daughter of Alfred, King of Wessex. Educated and willful, Aethelflaed loves nothing better than to sneak out to ride the horses. But she is a king's daughter, promised in marriage to secure an alliance against the Danes who have invaded northern England. When conspirators attempt to kidnap her, Aethelflaed convinces her bodyguard— a thrall sent by her future husband— to teach her how to fight for herself. Eventually, Aethelflaed finds herself not only fighting, but leading men in a desperate battle against Danish raiders intent on her capture... or failing that, her death.

Tingle's treatment of this very real young lady is remarkable both for the way in which she captures the culture of the time, and for her terrific handling of both the action and suspense of the situation. Tingle's Aethelflaed is a wonderful character, true to her time yet very modern in her appeal, both to girls and boys. The book is also beautifully written, engaging from start to finish. Rooting for Aethelflaed to win is made all the more exciting by the historical reality of her triumph. What a great role model for young women... and what a great book.

Tingle has written an excellent sequel, Far Traveler, about the adventures of another young lady of Old England... but I'll let you read it to learn more, as her fate has much to do with Aethelflaed's.

Two books is a good start. Let's hope that Tingle returns again with another tale from history. I'll certainly be looking for it!

--- Howard Shirley


Dennis said...

Hi. I found your blog today and skimmed over. There are some interesting things written. I like the story starter challenges. I like to write and I like to sail. I have a Hunter 33.5 on Kentucky Lake. I take it you are a full time writer. I would like to do that myself. I have been published in Sail Magazine once for a story about how stupid I was.
I live in Columbia, TN. You sound like you like to help other aspiring writers get started. If that is so, I would like to talk. I also have a couple of friends that say they want to write. Let me know. Den

Howard Shirley said...


Glad you like my blog. The best advice I can give you as an aspiring writer is to start a critique group. You mention that you have friends who like to write. That's terrific; you've got a potential group built in! Just plan a regular time to meet and choose a neutral location— my group meets in a local library— so that no one feels burdened by having guests. And remember the first rule: Respond to each other as readers, not writers. Writers try to rewrite what someone else has written, whether it's phrasing, story or whatever. Never do this. Just say what you understood, what you liked and why, and what didn't come across or sent you out of the story. And it's best if the writer being critiqued remains silent and takes notes for later. You won't be there to tell a reader what you meant, so don't waste your creative juices explaining something to your group... especially since the writing is supposed to do that.

Another recommendation I have is to join a writer's organization. I'm a member of SCBWI (The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), which focuses on the field of juvenile and young adult literature. Other genres have similar organizations. Writer's Market should offer some possibilities within your areas of interest.

Next, attend writing conferences and seminars. You need to network, and you need to hone your craft, and these are the best ways. Check out the various writers' organizations for possibilities.

And finally, do two things constantly: Read. And Write. No one can be a writer if they don't do either.

Good luck! And may you experience much success!

--- Howard