After Hastings cover by Laura Givens
Coming up with a title or character names can be much more difficult that you might expect. The title, especially, is a reader’s first introduction to the book and the way word about the book will spread. Because of this, it needs to be as perfect as the first line.
When I was working on After Hastings, I questioned the title, trying to come up with something catchier that still captured the essence of the novel, which is set in the two years after the Battle of Hastings (specifically, January 5, 1067-January 5, 1069). I asked around and received some suggestions, such as 1067. Eventually, I decided After Hastings was the way to go. Amazingly enough, it wasn’t until after the novel was published that I looked at it and realized that its initials, AH, were how Alternate History, the subgenre to which it belongs, is often abbreviated. Sometimes we’re just too close to things.
For characters, my choices should have been easier. A lot of the characters in After Hastings are historical. Their names were selected by their parents over a millennium ago. Unfortunately, even there things weren’t always easy.
King Harold of England defeated Harald Hardaada of Norway in September of 1066. Not a problem. Their first names were generally spelled differently.
However, Harold’s wife was named Edith, his mistress was named Edith, his sister was named Edith. All played a role in the story. Many Anglo-Saxon names are familiar to our modern ears, but the Anglo-Saxons had a variety of ways to spell them. In After Hastings, I went with alternative spellings to differentiate characters. Harold’s wife, Edith, retained the modern spelling. His sister, Edith, who had been married to King Edward, used the Anglo-Saxon spelling Ealdgyth. Harold’s mistress, Edith Swanneck, became Ealdgytha Svannhals. It differentiates, but I’ll admit the spellings look odd to modern eyes. (For those who need help, I put up a listing of characters, which includes bios of several of them).
I strayed from the historical record, however, creating my own fictional characters for roles large and small. These characters didn’t have parents to give them names, so I needed to come up with names on my own.
Harold’s best friend is Earl Aethelwine. In Anglo-Saxon, “Aethel” can be translated as “Good” or “Noble.” The English King Aethelred II had a name that means “Good Council.” Historically, due his unpreparedness for the Danish invasions, his name was rendered Aethelred Unraed, which meant “Good Council, Bad Council” (often written as Aethelred the Unready in modern English, also a play on his name, but not as good as the Anglo-Saxon one). In Anglo-Saxon, the suffix “–wine” can translate as “Lord,” “Protector,” or “Friend,” so Aethelwine is literally a “Good Friend” to King Harold.
Conversely, Esnecund, one of Arnketil’s servants who offers help to Aethelwine’s son, Thurlkill, has a name which comes from “esne,” meaning servant. The suffix “–cund” indicated his origin, so the servant Esnecund is “One who comes from servants.”
There is a long tradition of tuckerizations in science fiction and that provided me with the origin of Aethelwine’s son’s name: Thurlkill. When I was in graduate school, a friend, one of the other students in my program, had the last name Thurlkill. When looking for a name for the character, it had the right Anglo-Saxon feel to it and I borrowed it. Needless to say, Thurlkill the character shares a name with my friend and nothing else.
Thurkill isn’t the only tuckerization, however. I’ve tuckerized three science fiction authors, two of whom have been known to commit alternate history. The alternate historians’ identities should be relatively easy to ascertain as you read through the novel. The third author may be a little less obvious.
There are other names throughout which have hidden meanings as well as a cameo by a legendary figure. On the other hand, some of the names were simply chosen because they felt right when I needed to select a name. Whether you know the secrets of these names or not should have no impact on your enjoyment of the novel, it just provides a little insight into this author’s mind.
After Hastings was published by Ring of Fire Press on July 10, 2020. It is 347 pages, priced at $15.99 in paperback and $5.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Laura Givens. Order copies, learn about the novel, read a sample chapter, and hear author readings here.
Steven H Silver is a seventeen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. His most recent anthology, Alternate Peace was published in June. His first novel, After Hastings, was published by Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press earlier this month. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.