Baldock gardener and former history teacher launches assault on literature world with novel set amid Norman Conquest

PUBLISHED: 09:58 26 February 2017

Baldock author Robert Garrod with his book The Field of Crows. Photo: Courtesy of Robert Garrod

Baldock author Robert Garrod with his book The Field of Crows. Photo: Courtesy of Robert Garrod

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A gardener and former history teacher from Baldock is set to mount an assault on the world of literature with a paperback novel set at the time of the Norman Conquest.

Robert Garrod, 45, has self-published his book The Field Of Crows after almost 20 years of research and writing, which included standing shield to shield with leather-clad warriors during 11th-century battle re-enactments.

The book – which is now available in paperback after a few years available in electronic form only – follows the elderly Wulfred of Ellasham as he recalls his service with King Harold against the invading forces of William the Conqueror.

“I wanted Wulfred to be a human character who, as the son of a great warrior, had no choice under the rigid customs of the age but to become a warrior himself,” said Robert.

“But he has no love of war, and is haunted by a terrifying memory of men killing and dying and his mother being attacked in a battle he was caught up in as a small child.

“And although he feels no great loyalty to the rulers of England, he has a keen sense of justice which tends to get him into trouble.”

The book’s genesis goes back to 1998, when Robert was inspired by one of Bernard Cornwell’s historical novels to try writing one of his own.

“I read all kinds of fiction and non-fiction, but I have a particular interest in history, and in bringing to life the people, the events and places of the distant past,” said Robert.

“I chose the Norman Conquest as the backdrop to the story as I was teaching a course in medieval history at the time and it was an area I’d recently done a lot of research into.

“I joined a historical re-enactment society to get a feel what everyday life was like in the 11th century – to learn about the daily tasks people did, the tools they used, the food they ate, the buildings they lived in and so on.

“I also took part in battle re-enactments and gained a bit of an insight into what it was like to stand in the shield wall with a vicious bunch of steel and leather-clad warriors jabbing spears and swords at me. All of this went into the book, of course.”

Robert wrote about half of the book in a few months before work commitments forced him to put the project on hold for the most part for about a decade.

When he returned from working abroad in 2008, he found he had saved enough money to take some time off and finally got stuck into manuscript again – but though he got a lot of positive feedback, no-one wanted to take a chance on an unknown author.

“It’s a very risk-averse business, said Robert.

“I did get a lot of help from one leading literary agency – several of their agents read the manuscript and gave me some great advice, which I followed, about strengthening the role of the story’s narrator and adding in more action to maintain the pace.

“But in the end, I got a bit fed up with them constantly wanting me to change things, to make my book fit in with their formula for what a historical novel should be like – so I decided to go it alone.

“The recent advent of on-demand printing means that authors can now get their work out there without the need for a publishing company or a big financial outlay – although it means a lot more work.

“Editing your own novel certainly isn’t easy. Spotting a slight spelling error or repeated word in a manuscript you know so well that you only have to skim over it is a task and a half.”

The only part of the novel that is not Robert’s work is the front-cover illustration of a bloodied sword, which is by Bradford poet, artist and tattooist Joolz Denby.

And Robert said that having the book in a physical paperback format felt like a massive step forward.

“Kindle is all very well, but there’s not so much you can really do with it,” he said.

“People kept on asking me when I was going to have a paperback version – that’s what they wanted, so here it is.”

The book is available as a paperback from lulu.com, or in Kindle format from amazon.co.uk.

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