My Guest, Mark Farrell - Ascribe Novel Solutions



After 13 years trudging the well-worn path of the aspiring novelist and coming agonizingly close to success, Mark Farrell was told he should consider self-publication. But the idea of touting himself on social media non-stop didn’t appeal, so he came up with another solution. 

Here’s the story of how he did it...


“I started writing historical novels back in 2000. It’s in my blood; who wouldn’t want to write, with a Booker Prize winner – JG Farrell – in the family? After five years with no success, I got my MS looked at by a literary consultant. Then another, then another, then another.

By 2009 I started a new project from scratch, and the first draft almost immediately caught the attention of Bill Hamilton, managing director of AM Heath, one of London’s oldest agencies; he diagnosed my writing as Young Adult (which was news to me) and then he handed me over to Sarah Molloy, his children’s specialist.

I asked my author friends what they knew about Bill Hamilton.
“You should be turning cartwheels,” said one.
“He’s the prince of agents,” said another.
“He’s Hilary Mantel’s agent, and Katie Fforde’s,” said yet another.

It all felt right: the logical conclusion of someone having worked hard over years, going the right path of getting trained to develop their talent. It felt like my  just reward. I’d always known deep down that I’d make it one day, and now getting a publisher would be a formality. I thought.

“This is so exciting,” said Sarah, who likewise was praised to the heavens. She knew everyone. She was the best, the Jose Mourinho of Young Adult literary agents. The Door, that had for so long been shut, had burst open in front of me. But first I had to own up that I was a bloke.

I’d had a couple of nasty experiences with feedback; more than once I’d been told that my female voice didn’t work and I disagreed so the manuscript went in to AM Heath under my initials.

Bill and Sarah both fell for it: “Dear Ms Farrell [no idea what your first name is]…” wrote Bill. “What is your name?” wrote Sarah. “I can’t keep calling you by your initials.” And finally – “Well there’s a thing: I never would have guessed you’re a man, which speaks volumes for your very convincing portrayal of a young girl.”

Why did I want to write as the opposite sex? some horrified tutors had asked. I was baffled: what was their problem? Haven’t writers always done that? And when I joined the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers’ Scheme, I was put firmly in my place: words to the effect of, how dare you?

Well, now I felt vindicated. Since I started writing I’ve read predominantly female authors, and usually female protagonists too. I don’t know why it happens, I just prefer to take my written word that way (though some have said it may have something to do with my having five daughters and no sons).

So I went for a meeting with Sarah. Talk about exciting: “They don’t take just anyone out for lunch,” I was told. We discussed changes, I set about rewriting then she asked me to change a few more things. Then she said she’d test the water by sending out the third draft to her B-list. If they go for it we’ll attack the A-list and get a contest going, she said.
An auction! Can you imagine? I was having kittens by this stage.
Three of the biggest publishers turned us down. We met again. I rewrote again. Sarah attacked the A-list. A thoughtful no-thanks from her number one target. More changes to make. I was beginning to run out of enthusiasm.

Then as I was about to start draft number five, Sarah retired. Her successor let me go. She apologized and suggested Kindle Direct: “There’s no shame in it nowadays,” she said. I asked her for a quote for my collection then looked around for an advertising website displaying self-published books like mine, which people in the trade were prepared to recommend. But nobody had thought of it.

And all the while, in literary supplements and on blog threads, writers and readers alike were bemoaning the difficulty in finding the good self-published novels among the dross. The answer looked simple enough to me: launch a website, and only admit the best.
Ascribe Novel Solutions is open to anyone, whether self-published or published by a small independent press, who has a recommendation from either a traditionally published author, a literary agent or consultant, or a professional editor working primarily with fiction. The first 100 books to apply successfully will be featured for a year, free of charge. Go to ascribeme.com for full details.

(c) Mark Farrell

The Shoemaker's Apprentice
Helen: I'm pleased to say that a selection of my books are here:
 ASCRIBE : Helen Hollick

Thanks Mark for an interesting article

Where Lies Harold?

On this day, 14th October 1066, there was a unique for its time battle at a place that, then, had no name. The battle raged from around 9 a.m. until dusk and was bitter and bloody.
Since that day the location has been known by various names – Senlac Hill, the Battle of Hastings – and just Battle, which is the name of the present town which came into existence when the Abbey was built to commemorate the event by the victor – Duke William of Normandy, or William I of England as he became on Christmas Day 1066.

Battle - Senlac Ridge

Since then, a lot of conjecture – and heated argument - has passed back and forth by various sides for or against the Normans or the English (or others). We all have our own personal beliefs and argue like mad to defend them.

Since a few archaeologists dug up a certain King in a certain car park, though, there has been quite a bit of speculation about another King whose remains have not been accounted for. Harold II, Harold Godwineson – who fought and died that day on that battlefield.

Or did he?

Apparently a licence has been granted to explore his possibleburial place at Waltham Abbey – which was, back in the 11th Century founded by Harold, who was then Earl of Wessex, so it is, in a way ‘his’ church.

photo Cathy Helms www.avalongraphics.org
Speaking personally this news irritates me. For one thing there is overwhelming evidence that Harold is buried beneath the Chancel Arch at Bosham’s Holy Trinity Church (pronounce it Bozzum) in Sussex – which was the site of the Godwin’s main family manor, and where Harold’s mother, Gytha, lived in 1066. Very briefly: a grave was discovered beneath the Chancel Arch. In it, the torso of a man. No skull, one leg missing. No marker. BUT only very important people were buried in this position. Kings and Archbishops, for instance. There have been claims that this was Earl Godwin, Harold’s father – but why would only part of his body be there – and anyway it was well documented that he was interred at Winchester.

Holy Trinity Church. Bosham
HERE lies Harold Rex
Secondly, if you read the news reports carefully, all they are doing is a geophysics search sponsored by a man who has a book coming out soon, (which always makes me  bit suspicious (she said cynically as an author always on the look-out for some extra marketing *grin*) !) – which will show…. What? How will this find Harold’s remains? As far as I’m aware – although perhaps my mind is playing senility tricks on me in my old age of 61 years – I thought an extensive dig of the old layout of Waltham Abbey had been carried out a few years ago. They found nothing. No grave, no bones. No Here Lies Harold marker.

Also as far as I was aware, legend has it that he was buried under or near the High Altar – which is a spot still very clearly marked today. And very clearly quite empty.

The Harold Stone, Waltham Abbey
(myself with some members of my Australian Fanclub)

And even if this survey DID find an anomaly of some sort – a pit or a hollow which could be a grave, what will it prove? Unless it has Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Harold   – (here lies interred the famous King Harold) it will be meaningless. The remains could belong to anyone.

But what annoys me even more is the additional claim that Harold survived the Battle of Hastings and was buried at Waltham Abbey years later.
Annoys me? No I am furious!



Harold died in battle. He died attempting to defend his kingdom and his people from foreign invasion, in this instance, whether he or Duke William had the right or wrong of it is immaterial. What is relevant is that we KNOW Harold was cut to pieces. He was decapitated, castrated, disembowelled and his body cut up. (And no, he was not killed by an arrow in the eye.) There is plenty of written evidence to support his horrific death - and “cartoon” evidence for the Press of the Day – the Bayeux Tapestry. We also know that William was furious because he needed the body to prove Harold was dead – Harold’s mistress Edyth Swanneck had to identify what was left of her lord.
His mother offered the body’s weight in gold so she might take it for Christian burial.



This story of Harold surviving is just that - a story. It was written down in 1177 soon after Waltham became an Augustinian foundation. The new incumbents published the Vita Haroldi (The Life of Harold) which records that he survived the battle and retired as a hermit, and was eventually returned to rest at the Abbey. Funny how these sort of stories always emerged at times when the abbeys were in dire need of cash. The finding of King Arthur’s grave at Glastonbury is another good example of remarkable co-incidence.

This story that Harold escaped with dreadful wounds and was nursed back to health by a Saracen women is a good tale, akin to Presley still being alive, or Princess Diana… But do we seriously believe that a man like Harold – with his sense of honour and loyalty, with his determination of leadership and his legitimate crowning as king, would merely have shrugged and said “Oh well, I didn’t want the crown anyway”, and buggers off to live a life of ease as a hermit?
Absolutely no way! 
(More details about the sources here on Wikipedia )

The Conquest did not happen overnight. Yes William won at Battle – but it took him YEARS to consolidate his position. Almost up until his death he was fighting rebellion after rebellion. Rebellion from people like Edgar the Aethling (who would have been crowned King, not Harold, had he been older and more experienced); like Harold’s sons, like the Earls of the North, like Hereward…. The only way William could – eventually – put an end to nearly having his arse soundly kicked out of England was to virtually destroy the land. He decimated the North. Not only was the population slaughtered, but all the livestock – all of it, from chickens to oxen. The land was then torched. So bad was the damage those left alive starved to death, and the land itself took many, many, years to recover. (There are some who say it never did!)

So? Does it really seem likely that the King who fought all day, who was passionate about defending his crown and his throne would not try his best to at least rally and support these ongoing rebellions? Even if he could not lead them himself because of injuries all England needed during those first few years was a leader strong enough I mind and spirit to unite them. The majority of the Anglo-Saxon/English/ Danish nobility had been wiped out. Do we really think that their legitimate King, Harold, would not have stepped in?
The quote in the news story about this “archaeological dig” is:

If we find the complete remains of an old man in his late 70s with scarring to his temple from a battle wound then we need to do a DNA test.”

My answer to that is an unprintable rude word.
 But I am open to opinion. Feel free to add your comment below. I can’t guarantee I’ll agree with you though.



(note – plot spoiler…. In my Novel Harold doesn’t survive...)

13th October 1066

On 14th October 1066 Harold Godwineson, Harold II, our last English King, died in battle attempting to protect his kingdom and his people from foreign invasion. Subsequent history, written by the conquering Normans, scratched his short - and legitimate - reign from official records or returned entries to his previous title of Earl of Wessex. Kings became numbered from William I, ignoring all previous Saxon names.
For me, Harold II is a hero. He died fighting for freedom, and I honoured him by writing, to the best of my ability, a novel that reflected the people and events that led to the Battle of Hastings.
In memory of Harold II's efforts, I will be posting some excerpts over the next few days.


§ The Hoar-Apple Tree, Sussex - 13th October 1066

Evening descended with one of those soft ripples that is barely noticed. The sky had darkened gradually, so that it was only when night actually fell that it was realised the day had ended. Evening ushered in the autumnal chill, the grass dew wet, the air nipping at fingers and face. Before many nights passed, frost would be sprinkling the bronzed leaves and dying bracken.
Duke William was aware of the English muster. Normandy had scouts who knew their job - had been observed by King Harold’s own scouts. Word would have travelled before the marching army as it left London, two days and sixty-odd miles away, over the northern Weald beyond the densely thicketed forest of Andredsweald. They had marched on foot, most of them - the housecarls, the fyrd - for there were no adequate sound horses, but it did not matter. The walk was not so long from London into Sussex, and surprise and speed were not essential for this coming battle.
By the late afternoon of the thirteenth day of October several thousand men were adding their rough-made encampments to those already gathered on the wind-riddled slope of Caldbec Hill. More were coming: in small groups, pairs, ones and twos. Esegar and Godric, both Shire Reeves, settled their men at campfires after dark; Leofric, Abbot of Peterborough, joined his freemen of the fyrd with those of Abbot Ælfurg of Winchester. The men of Thurkill of Kingston and Eadric the Deacon sank wearily into the huddle of their cloaks, hardly caring that the women were offering them food, such was their weariness. Through the night men came, expecting to have a wait of a day or two, perhaps more, before their weapons and skill would be wanted. Scattered over the hill, a hundred and a hundred campfires mirrored the sparkle of the stars wheeling across the heavens: Orion the Hunter, the Bull, the Bear.
The King’s own tent was pitched within yards of the old tree, which had proved its worth as an easily recognised rallying point. Outside, his two banners fluttered, toyed with by the restless southern wind: the Dragon of Wessex beside the Fighting Man. Nearby stood the command tent of Earls Gyrth and Leofwine with their own banners. Within Harold’s tent, the lamps lit, they were arguing.
“It is senseless for you to fight, brother. If you are killed, what will happen to England? Let me take your place.” Leofwine was vehement, his obstinate stance backed by many of those leaders also present - captains, bishops, thegns….
“And what will happen to England if I did that?” Harold roared back at them, slamming his fist on the table in front of him, making tankards and goblets, maps and the paraphernalia of war bounce. “I was elected king, as Harold the second of that name, elected as the man most worthy to lead our armies. Do I, then, abandon my responsibility at this first hint of danger?”
“But you fought at Stamford Bridge - you have adequately proved your worth.” That was a captain of his housecarls.
“And I shall fight here at Hastings!”
Leofwine swung away from the table, his hands raised. “Is there no reasoning with the man?”

“Happen you could try it more successfully with Duke William?” Gyrth said drily. “Our messenger got nowhere. You might be more persuasive.” 
(unedited excerpt)




Previous instalments:
4th October - Here
9th October - Here
10th October - Here

The competition winner was:
Leah Weller
congratulations Leah

Lovely to have met everyone at the annual re-enactment
at Battle, Sussex

Available on Amazon
(UK Title) Harold the King

(US Title) I Am The Chosen King

More on Helen's Website


Previously posted 1066 related articles that may be of interest




10th October 1066




On 14th October 1066 Harold Godwineson, Harold II, our last English King, died in battle attempting to protect his kingdom and his people from foreign invasion. Subsequent history, written by the conquering Normans, scratched his short - and legitimate - reign from official records or returned entries to his previous title of Earl of Wessex. Kings became numbered from William I, ignoring all previous Saxon names.
For me, Harold II is a hero. He died fighting for freedom, and I honoured him by writing, to the best of my ability, a novel that reflected the people and events that led to the Battle of Hastings.
In memory of Harold II's efforts, I will be posting some excerpts over the next few days.




§ Waltham Abbey 
Edyth Swanneck, Harold's common-law wife of over twenty years had been politically set aside for Harold to make an official alliance with the Northern Earls, and a Christian-blessed wife. For Edyth and her children by Harold, life went on...

Algytha had ordered the trestle tables brought outside for a good scrubbing while the weather held so fine. She paused, puffing with exertion; why did men make such a mess with their ale and meat? Could they not keep at least some of it within the tankard and in the bowl? A horse’s neigh attracted her attention and she glanced across the courtyard, expecting to see one of the farm folk, or someone from the village. It was too soon for it to be one of the boys home and her father would not have the opportunity to leave London. Not with this latest news of William.
Edyth heard it also. Her cheeks red from the effort of beating dust from a tapestry, she rested her fist on her hip and, breathing hard, watched the gateway for the visitor to arrive. She too doubted it would be Harold… even if he were not so busy with the Norman landing, why would he come here? Westminster, Winchester, wherever his court resided was now his home, not the manor. She wished someone would come from the palace, though, for she was anxious to hear how her two eldest sons fared - they had been wounded but would live, that she knew. Anxious, too, to hear what was happening in Sussex; how Harold was and what he intended to do.
Her smile of pleasure was exaggerated by the surprise of her wish being granted, for she recognised that distinctive bay - it was ridden by one of Harold’s most trusted captains. Laying down the beating broom, Edyth made to walk forward to greet the newcomer, but stopped short, her expression crumbling into horrified dismay. Harold was come - but he was not alone. He rode beside an open-sided litter; inside lay a heavily pregnant woman. The Queen, Alditha.
Edyth had seen her briefly at court, during those months when she had first been brought out of Wales, but had never spoken to her. Seeing her again, she was reminded of how pretty she was.
Harold dismounted, hugged Algytha who had run to greet him, then handed the woman from the litter and led her towards Edyth, who stood, conscious of her musty, old and very patched working gown and the kerchief covering her hair. Why, of all days, had he chosen this one to bring her here? On the very day Edyth, for want of something to occupy her mind, had decided to clean out the Hall thoroughly before winter? Everywhere was chaos and confusion. Oh, why today? 
Edyth dipped a curtsey to the Queen and bade her welcome to the manor, then flashed Harold a glare of anger. “My apologies that we are in disarray, my Lady. You are welcome to the privacy of my own chamber, which is not so disordered.”
Harold, she noted, wore the marks of tiredness. Was it any wonder?
Looking about her with interest, Alditha followed Edyth within doors and up a short flight of timber steps to the spacious room above the southern end of the Hall. The room was light and airy, with south- and west-facing window shutters thrown wide to allow in the sunlight. Tapestries of hunting scenes decorated the lime-washed walls, a bright patch-worked cover lay over the wooden box bed in one corner, its red-dyed curtaining swathed back with embroidered ties. There were comfortable chairs; several carved chests for clothing, linen and such; glass goblets; silver platters. A vase of autumn flowers stood in the centre of a table, at which a boy sat, legs dangling from a high-legged stool, a book lying open before him. He looked up as they entered, yelled with delight as he saw his father and ran to him, arms outstretched.
“My youngest son,” Harold explained to Alditha as the lad jumped into his father’s embrace, legs and arms clinging around his waist and neck. “This is Ulf, who at twelve years of age is becoming too big for leaping on me as if I were a pony!” With fond love, Harold ruffled the lad’s hair then pointed to the book. “What are you reading, boy?”
“’Tis one of your falconry books, Papa. Thorkeld says I may help him in your mews, if I am prepared to learn all I can.”
“Learn from Thorkeld also, there is little he does not know of hawking. You may tell him, when he thinks you have learned enough to take care of her, that you may have Freya. She is one of my best goshawks. Fly her well, lad.”
Ulf whooped his pleasure.
“Do you not already have a hawk of your own?” Alditha asked politely of the lad. He was a good-looking boy, with the features and mannerisms of his father.
“Aye, Lady, I have a merlin, I call her Beauty. Papa gave her to me on my tenth birthing day - but a merlin cannot be compared to a goshawk.”
“It most certainly cannot! I had a merlin when I lived in Wales. She was so fast when she flew that it was difficult to keep your eye on her, and when the sun dazzled on her feathers I thought her the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Your choice of name is a good one.”
Pleased that his wife was attempting to make friends with the lad - it was no easy thing for her to come here - Harold was reluctant to intervene, but there was so little time and so many things that required attention.
“Ulf, put the book away where it belongs and get you gone to tell Thorkeld your news. I would speak with your mother.” As the boy ran from the room, his tread loud on the stairs - with the unmistakable thud as he jumped the last four - Harold thought bitterly that his son’s love of hawking might, for a while, be disrupted.
Offering wine and a seat, Edyth discreetly brushed at her unbecoming gown, patted her loose-braided hair. Alditha, despite her pregnancy, was elegant and well-groomed. Edyth smiled, played the dutiful hostess, but was inwardly seething with a rage directed at Harold. Pointedly, she was ignoring him. How dare he bring this woman here without giving her adequate warning! How dare he humiliate her so!
Algytha entered, bearing a dish of sweetmeats and pastries; her mother noticed that she had found a moment to remove her apron and kerchief and to slip on a clean over-tunic.
“I would have word with you, Edyth,” Harold said, motioning for Algytha to sit. “Will you be kind enough to entertain the Queen a moment, my daughter?” Taking Edyth’s elbow, Harold steered her from the room, not waiting for a reply from either of the women.
Once down the stairs, Edyth exploded, “How could you do this to me, Harold? To bring her here with no word? Look at the place - look at me! What must she be thinking?”
Withstanding the tirade, for he recognised it was justified, Harold let her have her say. Then when she paused, apologised. “I appreciate the inconvenience, but blame it on Duke William, lass, not me. I do not have time for niceties. Edyth, I can but stay the hour, I must be back at Westminster by the afternoon. The call to arms has gone out. The fyrd is to muster on the thirteenth day of October at that old hoar apple tree on Caldbec Hill.”
Edyth bit her lip, ashamed of her churlishness. She knew the tree, had seen it on numerous occasions whenever they stayed at his Sussex manor. An ancient, grey-bearded old man of a tree, of a curious twisting shape, it thrust from the ground like a hand with misshapen fingers, two of them making the distinctive pagan horned sign to ward off evil. An appropriate augury.
“It would be prudent to wait him out, hope for a poor winter to starve him into submission - but how can I abandon those people, my people, who are suffering? Do I abandon them to his mercy until the spring?” Harold could not, of course, which was William’s whole strategy. They, the two men, had studied each other well, knew each other’s limitations. William had no conscience; Harold cared. It was a defect which William considered to be a liability.
As with most of an incredulous southern England, Edyth was struggling to accept the reality that William had landed, to understand the implications. The politics of it did not interest her, all she knew was that Harold eventually would have to fight this Norman duke. And that fighting could lead to pitiable wounds. Or death.
“And your Queen?” she asked. She could not bring herself to use the woman’s given name, that would be too much like accepting her, liking her.
“I am sending Alditha north. She is only here because I am setting her on the road, and…” Harold paused. He did not know how to go on.
They were standing apart. He wanted to hold her, touch her. Dare not, but… he lurched forward, put his hands on her upper arms, gripped them tight, with urgency. “And I want you to go with her. At least follow in a day or two.”
As she started to shake her head, Harold shook her again, lighter but no less determined. “I have sent word ahead that Goddwin is to await her at York. Edmund will not be leaving until his broken leg has healed. Magnus is looking to his needs. I have asked Goddwin to stay with Alditha.”
“He will not like it,” Edyth observed.
Harold released her, and said quietly and with despondent honesty, “Nay, he will not. But it seemed the most convenient way, without offending his pride, of keeping him from straying over-close to William’s clutches should things not go well in Sussex.” Reaching for her hand, he added, “I want you and our children safe also. I had no choice but to lose you as wife, but I can do my utmost to protect your life. If I am not here to -”
“No!” Edyth almost screamed the word then covered her mouth with her hands. Dear Lord God, do not tempt providence! “Do you think I could go north, suffer the agony of waiting all those days to hear what is happening to England, to you? I have had to endure torment these last weeks. I cannot, shall not, suffer the not knowing again!” She pulled her hand free of his hold, folded her arms, stood straight and defiant. How often had he seen that same determination once she had set her mind to something?
“You may send the Queen north, Harold, but you will not send me! The housecarls’ women will be on the heels of the army, to cook the food and tend the wounded. I shall be with them.”
“As would I, Lady Edyth, were I not so heavy with child.”
Both Edyth and Harold spun round, startled.
Alditha was coming down the stairs, her skirts held high to forestall any risk of falling. She stepped down the last and released her garments.
“Your lady, my husband, has the advantage twice over. Duke William will pay her scant attention. To him, she is merely a discarded mistress. Should Normandy see victory, you would do well to play on it, my Lady Edyth, for your own and your daughters’ safety. You are also not heavy with child. Sons, whether legitimate born or no, William will not permit to enjoy their freedom.” She put her hand to the bulge of her stomach. “I cannot risk remaining in the South to bear a son born of an anointed king. Not until we know that king is secure upon his throne.”
Alditha was frightened but hid it well. So recently to have found contentment and happiness, to have stumbled on the edge of what could become a deep and trusting love… and to have it all, perhaps, snatched away by an obdurate Norman madman…. “Until this child is born and is safe from William, I would have Edyth with you, my Lord. You are tired; you will become more so yet, before this thing can be finished. You need one of us with you to ensure you do not fall ill. That one must be Edyth.”

Easy, it was, to suggest something if you only looked at it from the practical side. 
(unedited excerpt)
Previous instalments:
4th October - Here
9th October - Here
Next :
13th October - Here

Available on Amazon
(UK Title) Harold the King

(US Title) I Am The Chosen King

Lovely to have met everyone at the annual re-enactment
at Battle, Sussex

Previously posted 1066 related articles that may be of interest