“Grendel’s Mother” Joins List of 100 Must-Read Medieval Historical Fiction Novels

My own copy, clearly well-thumbed by both me and my daughter.

So excited that Grendel’s Mother has been chosen among 100 Must-Read Medieval Historical Fiction Novels by Book Riot. I’m especially honored since my novel is listed with other books I’ve long loved by authors like the incomparable Sharon Kay Penman, Tracy Chevalier, Sharan Newman, Melvyn Bragg, and Ellis Peters. I’m a newcomer, along with the wonderful Paul Kingsnorth, whose innovative The Wake I teach.

I was especially pleased since my novel sits in the same company of one of my favorite books of all time: Katherine by Anya Seton. I still remember where I first read it: on the main island of Orkney in late October 1994. My husband and I were living in London at the time and took a week’s holiday to that wind-swept area. Our self-catering home was nestled by the standing stones called the Ring of Brodgar.

Ring of Brodgar

And I read for hours, chilled by the wind whistling around the panes, but warmed by the passionate intrigue of Richard II’s court and the tempestuous love affair between Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt.

I like to imagine Katherine meeting my heroine, Brimhild. They would have a lot to talk about, especially how erotic desire can lead to great power but also to disaster and tragedy.  Perhaps Seton’s book was, without my knowing it, influencing me as I wrote my own novel. They are set in radically different times and cultures, but one thing never changes: the power of women and the mystery of how they gain agency in a world designed to thwart their hopes and dreams.

Spoiling the Mystery: Grendel in Beowulf Movies

Get your popcorn!

Dutch Anglo-Saxonist

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” (H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature). The secret to any, successful scary monster story is to keep your monsters clouded in mystery; a secret that was known to the Beowulf poet, but sadly lost on modern movie makers.

Grendel goes to Heorot

Grendel is one of the three monsters that feature in the Old English poem Beowulf. We are introduced to Grendel as an “ellengæst” [bold spirit] (l. 86a) who has spent the last twelve years harassing the hall of the Danish king Hrothgar, devouring anyone who spent the night there. A Geatish hero, Beowulf, arrives to save the day. After a long battle, Beowulf rips off Grendel’s arm and the monster, mortally wounded, returns to his home in the swamp and dies.

A troll, a…

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Please Join me at Malvern Books, April 14th at 7 p.m.

Germanophiles! Malvern Books, who hosted the book launch of Grendel’s Mother: The Saga of the Wyrd-Wife, contacted me out of the blue to help launch another writer’s new memoir. I’m delighted to join Rebecca Schuman when she reads from Schadenfreude, A Love Story about the trials of her time in Germany. I lived in Germany in the 1980s and am starting work on a memoir about my time teaching in East Germany. On the 14th I will read from a few of my published works about legendary and historical German women–and maybe say a word or two about the Stasi file that purports to have all the information about me!


Kids Love Runes or How Politics even drifts into Elementary School

Showing picture books I brought along.

Showing picture books I brought along.

Every year I love participating in the Young Writers’ Workshop at Travis Heights Elementary School. 20 professional writers teach various workshops to 3rd-5th graders. I teach a class called “Take a step back in time..But beware! Watch where you step! Ogres, dragons, and evil knights await!”


This year, as usual, I shared the runic alphabet and some kids took delight in writing their stories in runes. Amazing.

Kids working

Kids working

I also give them a Story Element sheet with categories like Hero or Heroine (knight, princess, peasant); Place (castle, deep forest, deserted city); Person with Special Powers (could be good or evil: druid, magician, wise healer); Monster or Monstrous Creature (werewolf, green knight, dragon); and Faithful Animal Companion (deer, board, swan).

A story with a nice drawing

A story with a nice drawing

This year was special because one kid chose as his place Trump Tower, and as his monster Donald Trump.

The student's Story Category Sheet

The student’s Story Category Sheet

In his story, the Illuminati are tasked with dealing with the monster Trump who keeps wanting to build a wall. I have to say the story was pretty clever! But I was also a little sad. In a school with a majority of Hispanic kids, Trump’s pronouncements are clearly trickling down into family discussions at home and worrying our beloved neighbors in our city.

The bad guy's pronouncement

The bad guy’s pronouncement

These kids are so creative and reflective–it has been an honor and pleasure working with them!

Drain the Fens OR How the Anglo-Saxon World is Always Relevant

A parody twitter account.

A parody twitter account.

It’s wonderful to see how folks take Anglo-Saxon politics and apply it to the world today. No matter your political strip, I hope we can all agree that a historical long view–and a sense of humor–are good things! Be sure to check out more tweets from Donaeld The Unready. My favorite? Drain the Fens.