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Head of Zeus
The Bernicia Chronicles – the history keeps on givingby Matthew Harffy

Back in 2001, after watching a documentary about Bamburgh Castle, I started to write the story of a young warrior called Beobrand who travelled from Kent to Northumbria in search of his brother in the seventh century. I had the vaguest of ideas that it might become a novel. And, after many years of hard work, it was finally published as The Serpent Sword. But when I jotted down those first ideas for a story I had no inkling that twenty-one years later I would be writing the ninth book in the Bernicia Chronicles series, with the tenth already planned out. I didn't even know that Bernicia was the name of a northern kingdom of Britain back when I began writing!

I had started writing bits and pieces before The Serpent Sword but I had never progressed beyond a few pages. This time was different, something about Beobrand’s story gripped me, and the more I studied the history of the seventh century, a time I knew next to nothing about, the more engrossed I became. Still, even years after I'd begun writing I still believed naïvely that Beobrand’s story might be a single novel, starting with the main character as a young adult before he becomes a warrior and eventually ending with him as a grizzled warlord looking back on a life of battle-fame and adventure.

Forest of Foes, the ninth in the series, chronicles Beobrand’s journey through France whilst leading a pilgrimage towards Rome. Beobrand is now in his late thirties, so despite him getting older, there is still plenty of scope for more novels to come. And with each new story I find the history keeps offering up new plotlines into which I can weave Beobrand’s tale.

As I start each book, I search for tent pole historical events around which to base Beobrand’s fictional story and, even though primary sources for the seventh century are scarce, the history of the time often proves that reality is just as exciting, if not more so, than fiction.

So far Beobrand has battled numerous kings, befriended saints, fallen in love with royalty, and frequently changed the course of history in the northern kingdoms of Britain. Now, in Forest of Foes Beobrand and his trusted warriors have travelled to the Continent and found themselves embroiled in the intrigues of the Merovingian monarchs. I had not expected a whole novel to take place in France, but when I began doing my research, there was just too much going on for Beobrand to pass it by.

My initial plans for Beobrand’s life to be told in one novel are far behind me and I have learnt not to attempt to plan too far ahead. I don't know how many Bernicia Chronicles novels there will be before Beobrand hangs up his sword and black shield, but if there’s one thing I have learnt whilst writing this series it’s that the history will keep on giving.

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