Talent and tenacity are a powerful mix. In Matthew Harffy historical fiction has found an author with both qualities in spades. Prompted to write a tale of gripping Dark Ages action after spending his formative years on the Northumbrian coast, Harffy was struck by the disaster of having the world’s biggest historical fiction author, Bernard Cornwell, bring out a book set in the same location in a similar time period.
Resolute in the belief that his story, The Serpent Sword, was one that needed to be shared with readers, he took to the independent publication route and gained a plethora of positive reviews and plaudits from booklovers as well as from some of the best writers working in historical fiction today.
It was then that Aria, an imprint of publishing giant Head of Zeus, stepped in with a deal to not only publish his debut but also it sequels. Now a bestselling author on Amazon with The Serpent Sword, The Cross and the Curse was published in August and will be followed in December by the third part in the thrilling series, Blood and Blade.
Talent and tenacity.
These are also characteristics found in Beobrand, Harffy’s chief character in his Bernicia Chronicles. They are features that can turn a mere farmhand in seventh century Northumbria into a very great warrior. Can they help Matthew to face interview at the hands of literature’s most famous authors? What will some of the most inspirational quotes from down through the years entice from him? What will literature’s most famous lines reveal?
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”
Writing is a strange occupation, full of highs and lows. At times – when you complete the draft, or sign a deal with a publisher, or get a great review – you can feel on top of the world, but at others, it can be a lonely and scary pastime, full of rejection and disappointment. To succeed you need to just keep going in the face of adversity and hope that the high will come along soon. In the past of every successfully published author is an amateur writer who did not give up.
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind”
At the moment I am nearing the end of the first draft of the fourth novel in my series, the Bernicia Chronicles. At these moments, when reaching the end of a story, the ideas and the characters all clamour for attention and the plot careens towards its conclusion.
The first third of a novel always feels like an uphill slog, and the last third is always like a downhill ski, where I struggle to keep control and to keep up. At such times, it does sometimes feel as if I am going out of my mind! I am sure I am not alone amongst writers in this experience, or at least, I hope I am not!
“A rogue does not laugh in the same way that an honest man does; a hypocrite does not shed the tears of a man of good faith”
Wouldn’t it be nice if this were true; if we were able to tell what kind of person someone is by the way the conduct themselves? However, that is not the case. In my novels there are some truly nasty people, such as Hengist in The Serpent Sword, but it is only when he shows his character through some acts of terrible violence that the book’s hero, Beobrand, realises Hengist is not a man to follow. Hengist believes himself to be righteous, with his own sense of honesty.
Does any truly evil man think of himself as such?
A running theme in the Bernicia Chronicles is whether anyone is truly good, or for that matter, truly evil. And is it possible to live by the sword and not be injured as a result, spiritually as well as physically?
These are timeless questions that I find myself investigating again and again through the varied characters, both historical and fictional, that populate my version of the seventh century.
“Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world”
This conjures in my mind images of travel; journeys to far away, exotic places. I love travelling, and visit as many places as time and my budget allows. But the idea of embarking on a journey is so much more than the physical act of getting in a car, a plane, a boat, or even putting on your walking boots and opening your front door. Novels provide readers with a means to travel with their minds and imaginations wherever the author wishes to take them. Historical fiction, such as the books I write, allow readers to travel in time.
The act of writing feels like a journey too. When I start writing a novel, I have a rough idea of where it will end up, but I never know all the twists and turns that the plot will take, or which characters will suddenly force themselves to the fore of the story. By the end of a novel, the protagonist should never be the same as when he or she started out. Neither should the reader. And I know the writer certainly never is. Every novel is a journey into the unknown.
“I would always rather be happy than dignified”
Being dignified is overrated. I find too much of life is spent worrying about how others feel about things. My philosophy is, as long as you are not hurting anyone, get on with whatever you want to do to be happy. We only have one life, so we’d better make the most of the time we have. Who’s got time to worry about being dignified?
Until recently I sang in a heavy rock band called Rock Dog. Anyone who came to one of our shows would tell you I am not someone who cares about my dignity!
Ruadh: Many thanks Matthew! Readers, keep an eye on Matthew's website for the big reveal about the name of Book #4 in the series!