Sunday, 2 June 2019

A June Novel Conversation with Annie Whitehead's King Penda

Discovering Diamonds is taking a short break from reviews until 10th June... so to keep you entertained, and as a 'thank you' to our dedicated and enthusiastic reviewers who are authors in their own right (write? *laugh*) I thought you might enjoy a series of Novel Conversations with a few of their characters...

Meet Penda

Q: Hello, I’m Helen the host of Discovering Diamonds Novel Conversations, please do make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink? Tea, coffee, wine – something stronger? You’ll find a box of chocolates and a bowl of fruit on the table next to you, please do help yourself. I believe you are a character in Annie Whitehead's novel entitled Cometh the Hour. Would you like to introduce yourself? Are you a lead character or a supporting role?  
A: Good morning. I do not know what you mean by tea, coffee and chocolate. Some of that fruit does not look familiar to me either, but I will gladly take a cup of wine, thank you. I am Penda, Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia and I am the lead character in the novel. 

Q: What is the novel about?
A: It is about my life and my struggles against a spiteful, murderous, brother and against the northern kings who wish to make our kingdom of Mercia into a puppet state. But the story is personal, too, for these northern kings have also wronged my womenfolk. 

Q: No spoilers, but are you a ‘goodie’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both!)
A: Ah, Lady, that is a fine question! I am a goodie, I think, although my enemies hate me because I am what they call a 'pagan'. My wife often also disagrees with me, and frequently puts me in my place, much to her amusement. The world around me is changing, I become a father of children who make their own decisions, and at times this puts me at conflict with my wife. I try at all times to be honourable and I despise hypocrisy. I don't think this makes me a bad person, though.

Q:  Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy!
A: [Scratches chin] I seem to have many enemies. I do not mind what men do, so long as they do not try to take my kingdom or enslave my people. My foes treat their women and children badly and I am, as I said, a family man. The worst of my enemies is Oswii, a man with a callous attitude to his many children and a casual attitude to his wives. His latest wife, though, I'm told, is more than a match for him. This man murdered her kinsman in cold blood and she, little bigger than a child, made him more than sorry for it. Oswii thinks naught of bribery, he is devious, and my author suspects that he is also a child killer. She finds it amusing that he is beset by what he calls interfering women, including St Hild of Whitby, who frustrate him at every turn.

Q: Is this the only novel you have appeared in, or are there others in a series?
A: My author tells me that there will be another book about my family, but she won't tell me whether I will appear in it. That book has been delayed because for the last two years she has been writing about me in what she calls 'nonfiction' books. 

Q: What is one of your least favourite scenes you appear in? 
A: [Shifts in the chair and looks down at the floor] One of my least favourites is when my wife, whom we call Derwena, turns away from me because of a decision I have made, or rather, because for once I did not intervene. I let something happen, which Derwena thinks will put her family at risk, but I felt I had no choice. It drives a wedge between us, and we both suddenly feel the cold wind because we are not standing together, sheltering each other.

Q: And your favourite scene?
A: [Grins] Any where I give my whining, ineffectual, elder brother a bloody nose, and the births of all my children. Those are moments to cherish. I am, at heart, a family man. I will not lie, Lady, there is also something about a battle which makes me feel alive. I am a warrior king, after all.

Q: Tell me a little about your author. Has she written any other books? 
A: She has written two other novels, both set in Mercia, one about a lady called Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, and one set in the reign of King Edgar of Mercia which tells of murder, sex scandals, loyalty and love. She tells me she worked with you on a collection of stories about 1066, when we Anglo-Saxons are at war with someone called William. She has written two of her 'nonfiction' books, one all about the history of Mercia and starting with me, apparently, and one about Anglo-Saxon women which she says is currently with the publishers.

Q: Is your author working on anything else at the moment?
A: I'm touched by her loyalty, for she says she has been asked to write my story for a new collection - some more of her 'nonfiction' - and then she has been asked to write some short stories. After that, she tells me, she will write the follow-up to Cometh the Hour.

Q: How do you think authors, such as your author, can be helped or supported by readers or groups?
A: Perhaps I'm the wrong man to ask, not being able to read and write. I can see what she means though when she says word of mouth is an important way of spreading new about her books. Readers' groups help with this, as do reviews, so she tells me. She also loves the way authors support each other.

Thank you King Penda, it was a pleasure talking to you. Would your author like to add a short excerpt? 
And while she is doing that… chatting is thirsty work, would you like another drink…?

Thank you. Do you have any ale though? And I am sorry for not sitting particularly still, but I never was one for relaxing...


[After a fight with his elder brother Eowa, Penda has ridden to the borders of their lands, where he meets a young woman, pregnant and seemingly in need of a friend after her kinsman killed the father of her child. They sit together under the shade of an oak tree and talk. She senses that Penda, too, is troubled and they travel back to the Mercian court together.]
Before Penda had the chance to take her inside, Eowa sauntered from the withy screen which hid the users of the latrine ditches from general view. His nostril still showed traces of dried blood and there was a livid cut across his right eyebrow. He paused when he saw his brother and his gait changed as he strode towards him. “Who’s this?”

Penda said, “I found her in the woods.”

Servants were carrying loaves from the bake-house and meat from the kitchen and folk began to gather for the main meal of the day. Seeing he had the beginnings of an audience, Eowa sneered and said loudly, “Looks like someone else found her first.” He laughed at his own joke and was rewarded with a few titters from those who were close enough to overhear.

Penda’s waif stepped away from his arms and folded her own across her chest as she surveyed Eowa. Keeping her gaze upon the elder of the brothers she spoke to Penda. “This is your brother? I had thought to find someone taller.”

Eowa’s smile fell away, but since her comment fell short of a proper insult, there was little he could say and he merely countered with a “Yes, well, it is time to go within.”

They watched him shuffle off and she said, “You were wrong to ride away after your fight. You should have stayed and pulled his head off, after all.”

Penda laughed. “I think you and I are going to get on, ‘wood elf’.”

She looked at him, unblinking and said, “Your brother is a stupid turd. Your other nearest kin, if I understand you right, is one who in my kingdom is known as Cærl the Sleepy because he never moves. I would say that you are in dire need of a friend. I say again, my grief will lessen with time; yours has many years in which to worsen.”

As they entered the hall, one of the hearth-thegns, Lothar, smiled and in a much more friendly tone than Eowa had employed, said, “I see you’ve caught a wanderer. Are you going to keep her?”

Penda, still affected by her blunt appraisal of his life, whistled in wonder and said, “Lothar, old friend, I do not think this woman will be owned by anyone.”

King Cærl was already seated on his king-stool at the other end of the hall and Penda noticed how quickly Eowa had scuttled over to whisper in his ear. It was only a matter of moments before Cærl extended a bony finger and crooked it in a gesture of summons. Penda sighed and said, “The king wishes to meet you.”

She shrugged. “It is his hall. I should not eat his food without first asking him for it.”

They stood up together and made their way to bow before Cærl. Penda found himself looking at the king as if for the first time, as his new companion would see him. In front of him was an old man, who raised milky eyes to stare at them and spoke in a reedy voice.

“Who is this and where has she come from?”

Penda’s sense of mischief overcame him and he said, “Tandderwen. Derwena.” 

But Cærl, who had never taken the time to converse as freely in Welsh as some of his younger kin, did not understand the translation of the place-name ‘below the oak’, or the name which simply meant ‘oaks’. He beckoned the newcomer to step closer and he said, “Welcome, then, Derwena.”

Eowa was, as usual, clinging so hard to the earlier bad feeling that it tightened his jaw and made his tone harsh. “How can you simply welcome her? Who will feed the child; will my brother take her under his roof? We do not know who she is, or anything of her bloodline.”

‘Derwena’ gazed at Eowa and smiled sweetly. “What matter whose blood flows in me? You are the heir to Mercia, are you not?”

He grunted. “Huh. You would not think so to look at the way my brother behaves.” He indicated his bloody nose.

Penda said, “Stop behaving like an arse then, if you wish me to bow to you. Until then you know where you can shove your…”

“Bastard!” Eowa threw himself at Penda and the force knocked Penda onto the floor.

Penda swiftly turned, bringing Eowa with him so that he was now on top of him. He punched him hard, once with each fist, before standing up and yanking his brother to his feet. He noted with grim satisfaction that Eowa now had a burst lip to go with his bloodied nose.

Eowa put a hand up to his mouth, felt the blood, wiped it angrily, and seemed as if he were about to appeal to Cærl to reprimand Penda, but the king had lost interest and was looking down, inspecting his food as if he had never seen cooked bacon before.

Derwena was looking dispassionately at the royal brothers, apparently unconcerned by the sight of the blood. She stepped closer and wiped Eowa’s mouth with the end of her sleeve. “You see? No matter what flows through our veins, we all bleed the same.”

On her Website
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.... next guest >

2nd June  Annie Whitehead and her character, King Penda
3rd June  JJ Toner and his character, Ruth
4th June  Richard Dee and his character, Andora Pett
5th June  Richard Tearle and his character, Ulfus
6th June  Anna Belfrage and her character, Jason
7th June  Cryssa Bazos and her character, Iain Johnstone
8th June  Susan Appleyard and her character, King Richard III
9th June   Alison Morton and her character Conradus Mitelus

Novel Conversations, in conjunction with Indie BRAG appears on Helen Hollick's Blog Let Us Talk of Many Things on the first Friday of every month, showcasing a variety of Indie authors and their characters


  1. Thanks for a great insight Annie, I've shared it on my Facebook author page and also on MeWe. Excuse the strange profile, my Richard Dee one is disliked by this site (for some reason).

  2. Thanks Helen for inviting Penda to talk to you. I do hope he behaved himself and wiped his boots on the way in!

  3. Penda sounds like a righteous bloke. Good interview.

    1. I think he was, in his own way. Thanks so much for the comment Susan - glad you enjoyed the interview :-)

  4. Great interview and scene. Penda seems a good bloke - but I'm liking 'Derwena' with her heart of oak.

    1. Thanks Marie - she is the most sensible of the lot of them and certainly keeps Penda on his toes. I really enjoyed writing their story :-)

  5. Penda from a Mercian angle is probably very different than from a Northumbrian angle :) I enjoyed the interview and I LOVED the excerpt!

  6. Great Blog, thanks for sharing 😊

  7. Ha! Well said, Derwena!
    Great interview, Helen and Annie.

    1. Thanks Alison! Derwena is definitely the sensible one :-)


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