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Writing and Research – Byzantines, Romans and Vikings, Oh My! by @robshackleford #bookish #research

Writing and Research – Byzantines, Romans and Vikings, Oh My! A guest post by Rob Shackleford

When I wrote my first novel, Traveller Inceptio, I became engrossed in issues of which most writers would be sympathetic: Was my story original? Was my writing style readable? Did I really have a clue?

After all, I wasn’t a Stephen King, Andy Weir, Michael Crichton or Bernard Cornwell. What the heck did I know about innovative stories, sci-fi or historical fiction?

As my storyline looks at the survival potential for 21st century researchers sent 1000 years into the past, what did I know about the past? After all, isn’t history largely archaeology or propaganda written by the victors in war, religion and politics? I always enjoyed history and, as my father has, for some years, been a skilled genealogist, to write a story that included history appealed to me.

So many questions and a legion of doubts.

One of my main avenues of thought for any story was to rely on personal experiences. So many stories in my books are from my life or experiences of my son, who was an inspiration for one of the researchers in Traveller Inceptio. Yes, a lot of that crazy stuff actually happened!

Next, I had to make sure my presentation of the peoples of the past was as close to the actual truth as I could get. Inspired by the books on Rome as written by Colleen McCullough, I became obsessed in making sure any presentation I made of the peoples of the past was brutally accurate.

Because sometimes the truth is so much more fascinating than fiction.

I trolled my local library and accessed as many books as I could about Saxon England. Ultimately, I was threatened to have my library membership revoked as some books were kept out for about six months. Meanwhile, I scoured the Internet. Thank goodness for Wikipedia and on-line journals.

It came as some relief that there are many holes in the true knowledge of the past, especially the Saxons. I became obsessed in finding out the minutiae, such as what underpants they wore, what the floors of their homes were like, and their attitudes towards sex. For some things, I could make an educated guess, while others I would kind of fake and hopefully get away with it. Thankfully most have proved to be accurate.

As my writing progressed, I had to make the same effort in researching the various military Special Forces, Australian Aboriginals, the Byzantine Empire, Mississippi Cahokia, Maoris, Israel and Jerusalem, and more. I was most fortunate that my work contract ended, so I sold my home and property and, with my partner, Deb, I decided to embark on a trip of a lifetime. Armed only with visas to India and a ticket to Singapore (from Australia – that’s close), off we went.

We took 13 months as budget travellers and house-sitters, but that’s another story.

In the end, we were fortunate to experience Sri Lanka’s incredible Sigiriya, (in Traveller Probo), visit the great walls of Constantinople where I spent research time at an Istanbul university library, explored Jerusalem, stayed a while in beautiful England and even visited St Louis in the USA. For me, to write of those places, I had to smell and feel and see what I could.

I was driven to be credible, realistic and honest. So, yes, any ex-Special Forces personnel I met (not many I can assure you) became victim of a friendly chat about their service and thoughts. Military who have read my novels have praised me for getting many aspects of human interactions between such troops as accurate.

My research goes on! While I engage in every effort to make sure my locations, history and personnel are based on reality, I know the day will come where I’m corrected. It’s that paranoia that keeps me reading, researching and, when we can again travel, travelling.

Limited to home in this odd Covid world, I decided to try and make a few things that would help in my understanding and connection with peoples of the past. I joined the local Men’s Shed, an establishment that allows men to get together, aid in mental health, and make stuff. Thanks to my twisted imagination, YouTube, trade-qualified men and superb equipment, I’ve been able to make a Viking shield and hand axe and have just completed a bone-handled Saxon Seax.

It’s all part of research.

Do I really know what I’m doing? Well, I give it a go and bumble along.

Next? A Roman Gladius (sword) and scabbard, and then, who knows?

More novels are coming. I read and constantly research, so please check out my historical blog on Vikings (started before the show ‘Vikings’). I have to travel when I can and, meanwhile, continually look at what crazy stuff I can make.

My latest novel, Traveller Manifesto, is book three of the Traveller series. That examines the potential for modern, Special Forces trained historical researchers to travel and survive 1000 years into the past. I also have three additional, unrelated, completed novels to publish and four in the pipeline, so the joy of writing and research continues.

History is amazing and location research is an essential, fabulous and enjoyable part of my experience in being a writer and author.

Please check out my novels:

Traveller Inceptio

Traveller Probo

Traveller Manifesto – coming soon

All available online as paperback or eBook.

I hope you enjoy.

Title: Traveller Inceptio

Author: Rob Shackleford

Genre: Science Fiction and Historical Fiction

Book Blurb:

If you were sent a thousand years into the past, would you survive?

After the accidental development of the Transporter, university researchers determine that the device sends any subject one thousand years into the past.

Or is it into a possible past?

The enigmatic Transporter soon becomes known as a Time Machine, but with limitations.

An audacious research project is devised to use the Transporter to investigate Medieval Saxon England, when a crack international team of Special Services soldiers undergo intensive training for their role as historical researchers.

The special researchers, called Travellers, are to be sent into what is a very dangerous period in England’s turbulent past.

From the beaches of Australia to the forests of Saxon England, Traveller – Inceptio reveals how Travellers soon learn that they need more than refined combat skills and modern technology to survive the trails of early 11th Century life.


The Vikings dressed similar to Saxons. Their tunics were shorter and more ornately decorated, and they wore their beards long and unkempt, though a few beards included braids. They were dressed for battle, for two of the older men wore leather skullcaps and one, the leader, a battered helm of metal. They were filthy but carried themselves with a swagger as they smiled at what was obviously a fleeing family group: a soft target, and a wealthy one at that.

As Desmond drew his sword, the helmed Viking cried out in good humour. The Danes had lived long in England, so Michael found he could understand him, even though his speech was accented.

“Hoo hoo! Brothers, look to this fool! I claim that sword as my own and ye can have the cart and contents. That will come in handy to move our loot. C’mon, let’s be quick about it!” He grunted and hefted his axe, a well-used, long-handled weapon with a deep slim blade that flared with a terrifyingly sharp curve. The other axemen laughed and the younger men smiled and fanned out, weapons ready. It was an all-too-familiar move born of deadly repetition. One of the spear-wielders, barely more than a lad, pointed to Aedgyd and made a lewd comment that had the others laugh and make cat-calls to the women, who huddled, terrified, beneath the cart.

In their desire for spoil, the Vikings forgot to check their ground and surroundings before making their attack. Michael, aware of the imperative to gain the advantage, knew he had to act. Eadric watched fearfully as Michael drew his sword from the bolster between his shoulder blades. Illogically, Michael recalled how his sword was, as yet, unnamed. His heart beat faster and he hoped he and Eadric could name their swords together.

Michael jerked his head for Eadric and Hengist to follow. He saw their uncertainty and fear, but they gritted their teeth and nodded, so he smiled. Looking to the Vikings, he stood, and with a great cry, ran at the nearest warrior, the young, good-looking spear-bearer who had made the lewd comment.

One of the sword strategies Michael had learned was the traditional Samurai run-through attack. The Travellers had often discussed the effectiveness or stupidity of such a move. It might look great on Japanese samurai movies, but would it work in battle? Even Master Kim prevaricated on whether it was a sound strategy or just showy martial arts. As Michael ran forward, he hoped this would work and wondered how his sword would feel when slicing through human meat and bone. He was certain his momentum would force the sword through.

His training took over. There was no longer time to think.

So clear was his perception of the moment that Michael watched as if it was in slow motion. The Vikings turned in surprise at the attack from an unexpected quarter. The young spearman’s face barely had time to register surprise when Michael’s terrible sword fell in a blow that took his head clean off. The heavy, blonde head fell and bounced to the ground only a few paces ahead of the body while the man’s heart, designed to pump oxygenated blood to the brain, tried vainly to feed the now missing head. Blood surged in a crimson spurt as the body instantly collapsed, merely a puppet with its strings cut.

The run-through attack had worked. Master Kim would be pleased.

One enemy was down in a manner so bloody it would cause the others to hesitate. All of his training, drills, fighting and study had led to this moment. Michael felt exhilarated and free, the sword a terrible extension of his body. The first man died so quickly the Vikings had no time to react, and the second, an axe bearer, barely had time to raise his axe in a defensive reflex. The sword flashed and the Viking’s axe, with his hands still gripping the haft, fell to the ground. There was no time to register pain, only complete shock as Michael’s blade struck his leather helm above his left ear, neatly severing his head above his nose. The leather-clad skull case struck the ground and spilled its grey and white brain onto the gravel.


Brother Oeric watched in paralysing panic, for the Vikings had appeared from nowhere. He had never seen a real Viking, but had seen what they had done to young Brother Cearl, and in his beliefs they sat as far from God’s grace as the imps in hell. He watched as Michael felled two of the enemy, but the Vikings were well experienced in death and one immediately ran to thrust himself at them. The monks had practiced—oh, they had practiced—despite Brother Oeric’s strenuous objections, never knowing they would need those warrior skills. The monks would normally rely on the saving graces of the Lord, for if they were to fall it would be as martyrs, but Lord Michael had once told them that some of the mightiest warriors were monks. They laughed that off as a jibe.

The terrible steel of the spear blade sped at them, the young Viking a lad little older than Eadric. He gave a savage smile as the spearhead thrust neatly into Brother Tondbert’s chest and the young monk fell with barely a cry. As they had been trained, the monks raised their staves and blocked the second attack, though they cried out in fear and despair.

Brother Oeric cried to Brother Horsa as the spearman positioned himself for another thrust. “Brother, the relics!”

Brother Horsa nodded, for they must save the relic and the psalter from the destroyers. The learned monk’s face screwed up in terror as the spearman struck again.


Desmond saw the attack of the spearman, but was unable to assist the monks for he had troubles of his own. An attacking axe wielder fell upon him with a savagery he had never dreamed possible. Though he parried the blows, the big Viking was devastatingly accurate and fast. Desmond felt surprisingly calm, yet he knew that if he did not receive assistance soon, he would die this day.

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Author Biography:

An English-born Australian, Rob Shackleford has lived in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, with a varied career that has included Customs Officer, Scuba Instructor, College Teacher and management roles in too many places.

With degrees in the Arts and Business, he is mad keen on travel, Scuba diving, Family History, martial arts, astronomy, and playing Djembe and Congas. Despite that, he is actually not that boring.

Rob is the father of two and has made his green escape with his lovely lady into Australia's Gold Coast hinterland.

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1 commentaire

N. N. Light
N. N. Light
25 oct. 2021

Thank you, Rob, for sharing how you research. It was fascinating!

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