Brunanburh, Bernard Cornwell, and a Blurb

Bernard Cornwell is perhaps the greatest living writer of historical fiction today. An internationally bestselling author, he’s a legend, an icon, and a fascinating human being.

So imagine my surprise to open up his latest novel, The Empty Throne (Harper, 2015), and find my name in it.

Cornwell's Empty Throne

Bernard Cornwell’s The Empty Throne.

Go ahead, pick up a copy for yourself. Turn to the last page (296), the last paragraph of the historical note in the back. What you’ll find is this:

No place in Britain is more associated with the making of England than Brunanburh. It is, truly, the birthplace of England, and I have no doubt that some readers will object to my identification of Bromborough on the Wirral as the site of Brunanburh. We know Brunanburh existed, but there is no agreement and little certainty as to the exact location. There have been many suggestions, ranging from Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland to Axminster in Devon, but I am persuaded by the arguments of Michael Livingston’s scrupulous monograph The Battle of Brunanburh, a Casebook (Exeter University Press, 2011). The battle that is the subject of the casebook is not the fight described in this book, but the much more famous and decisive affair of 937. Indeed Brunanburh is the battle that, at long last, will complete Alfred’s dream and forge a united England, but that is another story.

I’ve picked the novel up at least a dozen times today just to check whether the words are still there. Seriously, it just doesn’t seem like it should be real. It’s extraordinary, and it’s the first of a couple Cornwell connections I want to highlight in this post.

Before I get to the second Cornwell connection, though, I have to point out, as a respectful correction, that it isn’t quite accurate — flattering though it is — to call the casebook a monograph or to give me full credit for it. My name may be the one on the cover, but the book was truly a team effort of essayists and editors and translators, where the sum was far greater than any of its constituent parts. The results are amazing, and I’m tremendously pleased that someone as respected as Bernard Cornwell found our collective arguments convincing:

The Battle of Brunanburh: A Casebook

The Battle of Brunanburh: A Casebook

That matter aside, I cannot overstate what a great feeling it is when someone you hold in high respect returns admiration or approval. I’m certainly a fan of Bernard Cornwell’s, and my deep appreciation for his work — both for its own merits and for its impact on popular interest in some of my favorite areas of study — means this citation for our casebook is really a wonderful thing.

(As an aside, I really will be interested to know if Bernard gets much hate mail regarding the location of the battle. My inbox has slowed a bit in this regard, with only a couple of letters received since December.)

As amazing as this citation from Cromwell is, however, I’m even more excited about the second Cornwell connection on my mind, which deserves its own paragraph:

Bernard Cornwell has given me a blurb for my new novel. And it’s a really good one.

How this transpired is a bit of an interesting story. I have known Cornwell’s work for a long time, but only in the past few years did I realize that he actually lives here in Charleston for half the year. Then, last year, I learned that the Citadel Honors Program needed a speaker for its annual lecture series. My suggestion of Bernard Cornwell was eagerly agreed to, so I dropped the man a line.

To my astonishment, Bernard said that he would not only be thrilled to talk to our cadets, but that he had our book on his desk.

Yep. Brunanburh. He was finishing up Empty Throne, and he was literally reading our casebook when my email arrived. Cosmic fate, no doubt.

I’m pleased to say that Bernard is a marvelous speaker, and a wonderful night got even better when I was invited to dinner with him afterward. It was a great meal, and I had the memorable pleasure of sitting beside him the whole time.

Not long afterward came the news that I had sold three novels to Tor, and when it came time to acquire some blurbs for Shards of Heaven (the first book in the series), I once again dropped Bernard a line. I doubted he’d have time for a blurb, but I figured it didn’t hurt to ask.

To my delight, he agreed to read Shards and give me a blurb for it.

I probably won’t reveal what he had to say until we are closer to the November release of Shards of Heaven — put it on your Christmas list now, folks! — but I can tell you that after reading the novel he gave it an entirely awesome blurb.

Thus I have twice now found myself connected to Bernard Cornwell, which is frankly mind-boggling to me. If you’d have told me one year ago that this was coming, I wouldn’t have believed you.

But since dreams are coming true, here’s hoping that The Shards of Heaven outsells Harry Potter and I can return the favor to Bernard by blurbing one of his books!

3 Comments

  1. Doesn’t surprise me in the least. But, of course, I am delighted for you. Congrats, Mike!

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