Saturday, 12 December 2015

A Winning Autumn! NaNoWriMo and Flash Fiction

So it is nearly Christmas and what have I done?  Quite a lot as happens, I've surprised even myself!

To get the bad news out of the way, the third Aten Sequence book - 'Tomb of the Golden Osiris' is still in bits on my laptop awaiting radical revision and rebuilding. A project for the dark winter nights of early 2016!

For the first time this November I participated in National Novel Writing Month - NaNoWriMo.

The aim of this challenge is to write 50,000 words of a novel from scratch between 1st and 30th of November.  NaNoWriMo was set up to get writers writing and words on the page.  The goal is to get the procrastinators amongst us to commit to their writing and produce something.  Who doesn't have folders on their laptop that have the first five pages of that brilliant idea you had back in 2002 or outlines of plots? All you need at the end of the month is 50,000 words, not a revised, edited, fully polished novel - that comes later.

Like everything in life, it is probably best you have no clue what it is going to be like until you do it. I signed up, calculated I would have to write 1667 words a day and talked about it a lot. 1st November was fortuitously a Sunday, but also the morning after the night before.  I managed a whopping 469 words and realised I had a challenge on my hands.

I won't lie, NaNoWriMo does take over your life for that month, but you get to know how you like to write and when, what excuses you make for not writing and how to push through when you really do not feel like it.

With a lot of support and encouragement from my friends I made it, with one day in hand and can now call my self a NaNoWriMo Winner. I also raised $313 in sponsorship, which goes to helping keep National Novel Writing Month going and run creative writing projects with young people. Thank you so much to all the amazing, generous people who sponsored me - you know who you are!

So now all I have to do to finish 'The Jackal Code' is write another 50,000 words, revise, edit, edit some more and then send it out there.  A busy 2016, me thinks?

Watford Writers Flash Fiction Competition - 'Revenge'

The flash fiction competition theme for Watford Writers on 7th December was no more than 300 words on the theme of  'Revenge'.  There were many excellent stories entered, with some truly fiendish plots and twists.  Don't upset some of these people, I'm telling you!  So I was thrilled to have won first place and big congratulations to Steve Clifford and Rachael Muirhead who came second and third.

So have read and see what you think.

Christmas Morning

By the time the body was taken away, the poor sod had been dead for hours.  I knew it didn’t matter.  The piece of shrapnel that took half his head off had seen to that.

It was Geordie I was worried about.  Geordie, who had held the bloodied corpse to his chest and rocked it like a baby.

‘What’ll I tell his Mam?’ he’d asked with bewildered eyes. ‘I promised I’d keep him safe.’

It took the sergeant, threat of a field punishment and hot tea laced with rum before he’d let go.

‘I made him join up,’ Geordie said.

‘Nobody’s fault, it’s this bloody war,’ I replied.  I saw the CO thread his way down the trench to rouse the men for stand to. ‘Pick up your rifle or you’ll cop it.’

Geordie stood up and shouldered his weapon.

‘I’ll kill those bastards.  Then his Mam will know I tried.’

‘Don’t talk daft! They’re soldiers, like us.  That shell was fired from miles away.’

Expecting the order to prepare for ‘morning hate’, I looked around. The Captain was huddled with the NCO.

‘A cake’s been sent over from the German lines. They want a truce for Christmas morning.’ I heard him say.

Geordie turned pale.

‘No bloody Christmas peace for them, they killed my mate,’ he screamed.

Before I could stop him, he had pulled the pin from a grenade and scrabbled over the top.  It detonated seconds later. I wept silent tears as blood-stained debris rained into the trench.

His shattered body hung on the wire, lit by the rising sun.  Down the lines the German soldiers started to sing a carol; its message of hope and love too late for Geordie to hear.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Introducing Rosemary Morris - Author of Historical Romances

 At Watford Writers there are many authors and poets of great talent, so let this blog post introduce you to Rosemary Morris who writes historical romance novels.

There is a gigantic canvas for a historical novelist to choose from. So far Rosemary Morris has chosen to set her published novels in the reign of Queen Anne Stuart 1702 – 1714 and the ever popular Regency era 1811 - 1820. She is now writing Tuesday’s Child a Regency novel and revising Proud Norman Nest set in the reign of Edward II.

Writer of Historical Fiction - Rosemary Morris
Rosemary Morris - Historical Romance Author

She chose those three periods because each of them affected the course of history. If the Duke of Marlborough had not won The War of Spanish Succession and The Duke of Wellington had not defeated Napoleon at The Battle of Waterloo the history of Britain and that of Europe would have been very different. Defeat would also have had far-reaching consequences for the rest of the world. If Edward II had won the Battle of Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce would have probably been killed. It is feasible that King Edward II would have conquered Scotland and, perhaps, as it is claimed, he would not have been murdered.

The more Rosemary reads about her chosen eras the more fascinated she becomes and the more aware of the gulf between those periods of history and her own.  She believes people who lived in the past shared the same emotions as we do but their attitudes and way of life were in many ways quite different to ours. One of the most striking examples is the position of women and children in society during bygone ages.

Rosemary presents men and women who are of their time, not those dressed in costume who behave like 21st century people. Of course, it is almost impossible to completely understand our ancestors. However, through extensive research Rosemary ensures her characters observe the social etiquette of their lives and times. If they didn’t, they would be outcasts from society.

Research of Rosemary’s chosen eras sparks her imagination. The seeds of her novels are sown. From them sprout the characters and events which will shape their lives.

Rosemary Morris was born in in Sidcup Kent. As a child, when she was not making up stories, her head was ‘always in a book’; and she has always loved learning about history, reading historical fiction and non-fiction. In her mind’s eye she visualises many people who lived in past times. Eyes closed she can visualise Princess Elizabeth sitting on the steps outside the Tower of London afraid that like her mother, Anne Boleyn, she would be beheaded. To name a few more, there she imagines Alfred burning the legendary cakes, the smoke from the fire stinging his eyes, tragic but foolish Charles I, grim faced Oliver Cromwell and The Merry Monarch, Charles II

She can’t remember a time when she wasn’t engaged in creative writing – particularly historical fiction. To research, Rosemary has read dozens of non-fiction books and visited places of interest. On a visit with a friend to Hatfield House, where Princess Elizabeth received the news that she was Queen Elizabeth the First, they saw Queen Anne Stuart’s Coronation chair. While they looked out over the knot-garden, Rosemary shared anecdotes about the queen. When she and her friend turned around a group of American tourists had gathered to listen. ‘Pass the hat around,’ her friend joked.

While working in a travel agency, Rosemary met her Hindu husband, who was reading law at Middle Temple. He encouraged her to continue her education at Westminster College.  In 1961, Rosemary and her husband, now a barrister, moved to his birthplace, Kenya, where she lived from 1961 until 1982. In Africa she was privileged to see herds of elephants. She also saw rhinos and lions besides many other animals. Besides visits to the game parks she enjoyed the white sands and warm seas at the coast.

After an attempted coup d’├ętat, she and four of her five children lived in an ashram in France. Rosemary and her children enjoyed the alternative way of life and studied Sanscrit literature. Rosemary has read and re-read the Bhagavadgita As It Is by A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and the great epics The Mahabharat and The Ramayan, which rival the Greek classics, and The Srimad Bhagavatam.

Back in England, Rosemary wrote historical fiction and joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Historical Novel Society and Watford Writers.

As well as writing historical fiction, Rosemary enjoys reading, visiting places of historical interest, vegetarian cooking, growing organic fruit, herbs and vegetables and creative crafts.

Time spent with her five children and their families most of whom live near her is precious.

Titles of Rosemary’s Books:-

Sunday’s Child, False Pretences, Tangled Love, Far Beyond Rubies, The Captain and The Countess.
The novels are available as e books from MuseItUpPublishing,, Nook, Omlit, Bookstrand Mainstream, Kobo and elsewhere. Far Beyond Rubies is also available as paper back.
You can read the first three chapters of the novels and view the book trailers on Rosemary’s website

Rosemary would like to hear from you and receive your comments and reviews. She can be contacted at:

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Writing With Feeling – Where is the Emotion?

I’m sure you’ve read books that, without quite knowing how it was done, brought memories, feelings and emotions you didn’t even know you had up to the surface to flood through you.  Books you’ve laughed with, cried with and even screamed in terror with.

They are not always the obvious books; the romantic weepy, the slasher horror story or the slapstick comedy.  They can be books about ordinary lives and the kind of people we might know. People going about their business; experiencing their daily small hurts and triumphs.

Written by authors who can make their words dance in a way that speaks straight to our hearts.
The best books let us learn something about ourselves. They illuminate parts of us we might not really want to look at; allow us to feel stuff, revisit old hurts and wounds safely in the world set out between the pages.  The tears we cry for our fictional friends are just as cathartic, the joys we share with them just as uplifting as those we feel for ourselves.  With books like these, when you turn the last page it’s like leaving home and saying goodbye.

So as writers how do we go about putting the emotion back into our writing?

I have to confess I am at the very beginning of this journey, so all I can do is share the thoughts and insights I have had and what brought me to the realisation that my writing needed more feeling, more raw life and a bit of true grit.

Writing the Aten Sequence books is fun.  It is a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek romp through science fantasy and Ancient Egypt.  So far the characters have faced some challenges, been in a bit of danger and had their petty disputes, but there’s been nothing too heavy. And let’s face it, there’s not a shred of evidence that our protagonist Aten even has a heart, let alone knows how to use it.

In the third book, which I’m currently revising and editing, this all changes.  Something happens which will have a major impact on the major characters; they will experience loss, suffer grief, regret and guilt.

Yet when I went through the chapter that would change everything for them and, hopefully the reader, it read with all the emotion of a recipe posted on a cooking blog.

The words are there, the facts are there; everything the reader needs to know about what happens and move the story along is there.  But the feeling isn’t there.  It’s as emotionally flat as a pancake!
So what have I done to help put the emotion into my writing?

 Exposure – as authors we might think we are writing solely for the benefit of our readers, but I believe the most talented authors know that they have to put themselves into their work.  They have to expose themselves.  Show who they are through the actions, feelings and thoughts of their characters.

Exposure is scary; letting people see who we really are and be honest about our feelings is hard for a lot of us.  But the only emotions we have access to are our own, so we need to use them when we are creating our characters and putting words into their mouths.  Especially, the darker, pettier, less glorious traits we possess. 

Exposure makes us feel vulnerable, but as an author I feel you have to accept you will feel a degree of vulnerability every time you send a manuscript out, every time you read your story out loud to an audience or ask a friend to critique it.  Letting myself feel vulnerable like this has been a hard one for me, as I used to hate anyone reading my writing.  But I’m having to work to get over it, or all I’ll ever have to show for my effort is a few yellowing manuscripts at the back of a drawer.

Practice – like everything you want to be good at, writing is about practice.  Just as nobody gets to be good at tennis by sitting on the sofa watching TV, your writing won’t improve unless you write.  Most experts recommend that if you are serious about your craft then you need to have the discipline to write every day.  To set aside some time and write, even if you only produce a couple of lines in the time allotted.

Intention – if, like me, you don’t think you are getting your readers to feel the range and depth of reaction and emotion you would like to call from them; take time and pay more attention to the words you choose and how you use them.  I tend to like to gallop on with the story, so miss opportunities to draw the reader in and give them the space to experience it all – to feel whatever it brings up for them.

It is also tempting to tell our readers what they should be thinking or feeling.  Avoid being too explicit with what your characters are experiencing.  The old ‘show not tell’ is just as pertinent when it come to emotion and allows the reader to create their own interpretation, come to their own conclusions.   If you tell your readers your hero Joe is heartbroken because his girlfriend left him, it is not likely to grip their imagination as much as if you painted a picture of his grief and sense of loss through his actions and dialogue.

So, taking my own advice on board, this week I have been practising!  I have been writing poetry, which is very unusual for me – love poetry no less!  It might not be very good poetry and probably wouldn’t win any competitions, but the aim was to write emotionally, to expose feelings, pain and hurt.

As an author you can never really know if you have achieved that; only a reader can tell you if you touched them with your words. It may take hundreds of thousands of these words to get it right, but if you are serious about being a writer you will keep on trying and will never give up.

 I Wish I Knew

Ribbons of thought unwind
Round kisses, words and time
When lying warm and drowsy
Sun creeping across your bed
Was all the paradise I needed
To banish the doubts from my head

From the night I first saw you
The casual glance you threw my way
When I saw in a stranger
A man to steal my heart away
The heart I left unguarded
A trust for which I’d have to pay

Didn’t know shadows could lengthen
Thought the sun would stay
Believed that in that patch of golden light
My dragons you would slay
So when I smiled and reached for you
I didn’t see you’d slipped away

For though your body lay warm beside me
In your head you’d gone
Galloped to a distant country
Where another conquest you won
I wish I’d seen, I wish I knew
That all I was, was the past to you

That even as you loved my body
My face you did not see
Patterns on the wallpaper more interesting than me
 I was a port of call, a pit stop along the way
A place to fuel and rest awhile
Till other interests lit your day

I tried to stay, I tried to pretend
Things had never changed
That the words you said still rang true; believed them all the same
But knowledge is a dangerous thing, so when I saw you smile
And look across the crowded room to catch a brand new gaze
I could hide no longer; from Eden turned away

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Winners of the Watford Live! Richard Harrington Trophy

On the 1st June  there was a special event at Watford Writers where the winners of the 2015 Watford Live! Richard Harrington Trophy were announced.

The theme was 'Fairytales' and the top ten short stories chosen by the independent judges were read to a bumper number of attendees before the winners were announced.  The creativity and original twists on the theme of 'Fairytales' was amazing, ranging from traditional stories to modern, even dark tales of the little folk.

Out local MP Richard Harrington attended the event for a short while, but was unfortunately unable to stay for the announcements or present the trophy.

The First Place went to Carolyn Storey for 'The Seeker' an charming story about a little boy who goes looking for fairies and is convinced he saw one.

Carolyn Storey - talented writer and winner of the 2015 Richard Harrington Trophy

Second Place was 'The Alley' by Louise Broadbent and the Third Place was shared by John Ward 'The Return of the Tooth Fairies' and Paul White 'A Cereal Offender'.

Louise Broadbent - Second Place Winner

All of the top three stories will be displayed in Watford over the coming summers months, along with those that came in the top ten, so look out for a great short story coming to you very soon!

Now you may be asking how did my entry do in the writing competition?  Well, gentle reader, I scraped in 10th by the skin of my teeth.  So please find below my competition entry 'The Storyteller', which I hope you will enjoy reading as much as I had fun writing it.

The Storyteller

He slipped unobserved through a side gate in the blistering heat of the desert noon.  But within a few short minutes the news was sweeping through the city like flames licking through dry straw.

‘He has come,’ they cried on the market stalls, in the workshops of the artisans, the hovels of the poor and the cool marble halls of the palace.

By the time the sun began to sink behind the distant mountains, they had gathered in the main square to wait for him.

The warm dusk air was fragrant with the delicious aroma of food being cooked on the many fires that had been lit.  Babies were soothed, children were hushed as the huge crowd continued to wait in patient silence.

The first stars were beginning to prick the night with cold, diamond light when a diminutive figure wrapped in a snowy, crisp robe and leaning on an intricately carved cane padded through the squatting crowd and sat on the cushion which had been placed there for him.

The crowd sighed their relief as he carefully composed himself and arranged the folds of his robe around him.

He was here at last.  Many had thought he was a myth; like one of his tales.  Not a real man but a story; such as the ones he had once weaved at the feet of the mighty Sikunder as he led his conquering armies through the mountains of the north.

It seemed hours before the Storyteller began to speak, but as soon as the words started flowing from his mouth they were caught. His voice rose and fell, snaking through the crowd like a fine silk scarf brushing their cheeks and lightly ruffling their hair.

The crowd listened silently; spellbound by what they were hearing. They laughed, they cried.  They felt the pain and were swept by feelings of love.  The Storyteller led them into the tale with the skill of a master chess player, each word carefully chosen and enunciated until it became their story, their life, and their emotions.

‘As the Prince rode into the courtyard, he looked up to the top of the tower where he could see his beloved sitting before her mirror.  Her hand was reaching for the golden comb dipped in poison that her step-mother had given her.’

The Storyteller paused to look at the spellbound faces of the crowd.

‘He called her name, but she did not hear him.  She lifted the comb and pulled it through her glossy, ebony tresses.  She was so beautiful, so perfect, in that moment before her mirror, but seconds later she collapsed on the couch and his love was dead.  The only comfort the Prince had was the promise she would be placed in the heavens as a star, so her beauty could shine on the world below for eternity.’

The listeners cheered their appreciation, but when they looked again the Storyteller’s cushion was empty.

He was gone and nobody saw him go.  

Monday, 25 May 2015

Flash fiction – or How I Got with the Programme!

I suppose you could say I came to writing via a circuitous route.  I started the first Aten Sequence book a few months before I went travelling in 2007 around Australia, with all good intentions of having it finished by the time I returned. Well that never happened – too many beaches, kangaroos, outback trails, excellent restaurants and fun to be had!

On my return I discovered an American website called Hubpages and started writing articles and earning money online, so fiction writing was firmly on the back burner.  After several years, I turned back to my original project and the first two Aten Sequence books were completed and self-published

But like all things, if you are passionate about what you do, you want to learn, you want to improve, and want your writing to be the best it can be. So how to do it?  Of course, one of the best ways is to keep on writing, so I started writing short stories as well as starting on the third Aten book.  I also started reading everything I could on composing stories, structuring novels, marketing and how to get book reviews.

But the thing that always puzzled me was the amount of people who wrote flash fiction. Why?  What was the point of it?  Flash fiction, if you have never come across the term before, is a very short, complete story of under 500 words or so.  There is even micro fiction, which is generally accepted as a story of 300 words or less.  But if you have novels to write, why spend your precious time crafting these stories?

I finally learned the benefit of flash fiction and how I could use it to improve my writing skills when I joined a writers group.  Again this was something I had thought about for around three years before I plucked up the courage to attend one of the Monday night meetings, where regular flash fiction competitions are held. These stories have to be 300 words excluding the title and the theme is chosen by the group.

So how did starting to write flash fiction help to improve my writing?

·                   It made me start to consider every word I used and weigh up how important it was to the story.  Writing full length novels makes it very easy to fall into the trap of using too many words and indulging in long, rambling sentences.

·         If using adjectives and adverbs is the cardinal sin of writing, then flash fiction helps you eliminate them and forces you to find ways of conveying your meaning without using too many descriptive words.  If you have only got 300 to use, you want to make sure each one counts.

·         It helps bring clarity.  You have a story to tell, ideas to get across, points of view you want to share.  You have to get rid of all the waffling, rambling and going around the long way.  For a complete story you still need a beginning, middle and end, so you need to strip out all the unessential elements and get on with it.

·         This stripping out also means ditching characters, too much scene setting, and any dialogue that does not add to the plot.  The ‘KISS’ principle reigns supreme; to tell your story in so few words you have to keep it as simple as possible.

·         You need to wrap the story up with a decisive last line. It is too easy with so few words to leave a story hanging and not give your readers an ending that satisfies them.

·         Flash fiction poses a new challenge every time.  You are given a theme, a word count and you have to produce a piece of writing in set time period. Challenges can be scary but they push us out of our fur-lined writing ruts and test us to think differently about what we are doing and write on topics we would usually avoid at all costs.

.·        Writing flash fiction gives you the opportunity to have a long, hard look at the bad writing habits you have gotten into. What words do you habitually overuse? Do you have certain phrases or expressions that creep into every piece you write, whether they are appropriate or not?  In these very short stories, there is no place for your writing ‘comfort blankets’. They have to be discarded to crisp up your story and let it be told within the word limit.
I am no great expert in writing flash fiction and am relative newbie in producing these very short stories.  But I am already beginning to see the benefits and am starting to bring what I have learned to my longer projects.

So, if like me, you are sceptical about how writing flash fiction can help you develop as an author, why not give it a go?  There are competitions and sites online where you test out your skill or you can join a local writers group, where you will receive useful feedback and critiques.

Here is an example of flash fiction.  It is a story I wrote on the theme of 'beyond the gate' for the Watford Writers Group, which I am very proud to say won the third prize.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Darkest Hour

The shadows lengthened as the moon slipped behind the mountain.

Maren knew it was time to wake the American.  The wounded flyer would only get one chance and, if he didn’t get it right, they could both be dead by the time the sun rose.

He reached out and shook the sleeping man’s shoulder, shoving his other hand over his mouth to stop him calling out.

‘Time to go,’ he whispered. ‘The moon’s just set, so it’s as dark as it’s going to get. You need to keep low and make as little noise as possible.  I haven’t seen or heard one of their patrols in a couple of hours, but it doesn’t mean they’re not out there waiting for us to make a move.

Maren took the top off his water bottle and thrust it at the American, who took a few thirsty mouthfuls.

The young flyer gave the old Basque guide a grateful look as he handed back the bottle.

‘Won’t you come too?  Someone tipped the Nazis off, those patrols were waiting for us? It’s too dangerous to stay.’

Maren shook his head.

‘My family is here.  If I don’t go back I’m putting them all under suspicion.  Besides, Todor is only expecting one package.’

‘How can I thank you for what you’ve done for me?  You’ve risked so much?’

‘By not getting caught.  The Spanish border is over there by that stand of pine trees.  Get beyond the gate and you should be safe.’

At that moment a light flashed three times in the trees, the signal Maren had been waiting for.

‘You must go now,’ he said pushing the American out of the barn door, watching as he stumbled into the dying night to be swallowed by the darkness.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Flash Fiction - A Jolly Good Catch

This is a short story I wrote for a flash fiction competition at Watford Writers.    It was my first evening at the writing group and my first entry.  I was very proud my story was voted into second place.

A Jolly Good Catch

We’d always thought of Edmunds as a good catcher and usually we applauded him for it.

It was a good thing until that night.  A good chap to have fielding on the rutted, makeshift pitches we used for battalion cricket matches.  He could catch any ball that came at him, however fast. He’d always manage to wrap his fingers around it and throw it back in one rapid, seamless movement.

That night was bitterly cold.  There was an iron frost and the sky was full with the cold sparkle of stars.  The half moon threw shadows over No Man’s Land, turning shell holes into pits of stygian hell. Moonlight glinted off the rifles and bayonets of the dead, strewn like random, broken puppets across the frozen mud.

We huddled on the fire step waiting for a German raid. The frigid air carried every sound we made, so each cough, foot stamp and curse must have carried to the German lines.

All we could hear was crackling frost, distant shelling and a machine gun chattering down the line.  Every time a Very light briefly lit up the dark night we expected to see the raiding party creeping towards our wire.

We were so lost in our waiting that at first we paid little heed to the dark object that flew with a faint hissing noise over the parapet.

Edmunds, acting on his famous reflex, stuck out a hand and caught it.

‘Jolly good catch,’ cried one of the men as another Very light lit up the sky.

Edmunds looked down and seemed confused by what he’d caught.

‘Throw the bloody thing back over the wire.’ I screamed before scrambling to get as far away from him as possible.

But Edmunds didn’t move.  His usual faultless follow-through was gone.

The thing went off.  Ears ringing, I turned to see Edmunds explode into a human fire ball.  I saw his lips move, but could hear nothing over the roar of the flames.  His catch had probably saved us, but the price he paid was a hideous death by fire.


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Aten – Unravelling the Mystery of the Ancient Egyptian God

In the Aten Sequence Books, our not-so-noble hero Aten has persuaded the gullible Prince Amenophis that there is a new god in Egypt called Aten, who can only be worshipped through him.  The foolish prince is then persuaded to embark on a mission to clear all obstacles, including his own elder brother, out of his way of his becoming the next Pharaoh so he can impose his new religion on the Egyptians and thus allowing Aten access to the gold he needs stored in the vaults under the Temple of Karnak. But in Ancient Egypt who or what was the Aten and how was it worshipped?

The Aten shining on Akhenaten
Akhenaten worshipping the sun disc

The Aten was the god the ‘heretic’ Pharaoh Akhenaten singled out from the vast pantheon of Egyptian gods and goddesses to worship.  For the first time in Egypt’s long history, there was only one official deity; only one god who could be worshipped, a god who could only be approached through the Pharaoh himself. In the ‘Great Hymn to the Aten’, which many scholars believe Akhenaten wrote himself, the king extols his god as the creator of life, the source of all nourishment and abundance for every person, animal, and plant on the planet.

So why did he choose this particular god? The Aten came to prominence during the long reign of his father, the Pharaoh Amenophis III, so it was a religious concept which was already developing not something the young prince snatched out of thin air.  The Aten would have been discussed and worshipped as he was growing up and his father’s royal palace at Malkata was referred to in ancient times as ‘the Palace of the Dazzling Aten’.

During this reign the deity is often show with the body of a man with a falcon’s head. However, references to the Aten or sun disk did start appearing much earlier in Egyptian history than the 18th dynasty.  As far back as the Middle Kingdom, there is a reference to this radiant deity in the famous ‘Story of Sinuhe’.  The Aten was depicted as a yellow or golden sun disk and sometimes the full moon was referred to as the ‘silver Aten’. The deity’s full name was ‘Ra-Horakhty who rejoices in the horizon, in his Name as the Light which is in the sun disc’.

When he first ascended the throne Akhenaten was known by his given name Pharaoh Amenophis IV, but as he gradually embraced his new beliefs he changed his names, shut down the temples of the old priests and started building a new capital city entirely dedicated to his new religion on the Nile at what is now known as Amarna. He declared he would move to his new city, named Akhetaten, or ‘Horizon of the Aten’, with his wife and daughters and once there would never leave his city again.  To mark the boundaries of this new capital he had huge boundary stelae carved into the cliffs.

As Akhenaten was building his new capital Akhetaten, he had the name of his god carved onto these boundary stelae marking the city limits.  Sometimes it was shortened to Ra-Horus-Aten or just the Aten. From this time forward, the deity was no longer depicted in human form, but always as the sun disc emanating rays of light culminating in little hands that offered life, health and prosperity to Akhenaten and his family.  This was not a god for the people, but a deity which showered its abundance and light on Pharaoh, who then became a conduit of this divine energy to his country and people.  So in a way, it was Akhenaten himself who was now to be worshipped and seen as a god.

This was nothing particularly new in Egyptian thinking, as the Pharaoh had always been regarded as a physical manifestation of the divine, the direct link between the people and their gods.  But before there were many, many gods and goddesses in Egypt that an ordinary person could choose to honour and most houses had their own little shrines and statues of their favourite deity.  With the arrival of the Aten all this was stripped away and carvings, statues and references to the traditional gods were torn down or erased.

This new era also completely changed worship in the temples.  Not only were the old gods gone, but the temples themselves were very different.  In a traditional Egyptian temple, there would have been outer courtyards open to the sun thronging with people, but as you moved closer and closer into the heart of the complex it would get darker and darker with fewer people having access.  Finally the shrine of the god would be reached.  A dark chamber of secrets, magic and ceremonies probably only visited by the High Priest, a few of his senior clergy and the Pharaoh and his queen.

The new Aten temples were vast courts totally open to the life-giving rays of the sun.  There were rows and rows of offering tables heaped with all kinds of costly foods, drink and cups filled with smoking incense.  In the so-called Long Temple at Amarna the Egyptologists found the remains of 920 mudbrick offerings tables in a grid to the south of the temple wall and have estimated there was as many as another 150 in the central stone-built sanctuary that was, in the new way, left open to the skies.  It would be nice to think that all this abundance of food, a sure sign of Pharaoh’s wealth and power, would have been distributed among the people after the religious ceremonies were over, but there is no evidence for this.  It is not even known if the offering food was cooked on site or taken away to be prepared for feasting at the palace or a more humble family’s dinner.  Or was it just left for the god, rotting away under the merciless heat of the Egyptian sun?

Another unusual feature of these new temples was that there was no cult statue of the deity, which had to be washed and dressed in fresh clothes every day.  Because the interlinking courtyards and the inner sanctuary were all open to the sky, the sun disc was worshiped directly, by tracking its daily progress from where it rose in the east and set in the west.  There were priests in the Aten temples, but Akhenaten himself presided over some of the worship; acting as a High Priest and leading the other worshippers in reciting or singing ‘The Great Hymn to Aten’ and other prayers. 

The royal ladies of Amarna played an unusually prominent part in this worship, and Akhenaten’s queen Nefertiti was usually shown the same size as her husband, accompanying him with their six daughters in all his activities.  One of the great honours that could be bestowed on these royal women was having a small, open cult shrine, known as a ‘sunshade’ or ‘kiosk’ dedicated to them.  One of the features of the Amarna period was a turning away from the stylised art and formal depictions of gods and people towards a more natural style of art showing beautiful scenes of trees, pools, animals and all the bounty nature had to offer.  These ‘sunshades’ were often set in beautiful, sunlit surroundings where there was pools containing fish and colourful plants and flowers.  They created an oasis of tranquillity, somewhere for the women to come where it was quiet and peaceful, a place for contemplation and prayer.  

But even here human conflict crept in.  In one of the larger known sites for the ‘sunshades’ called the Maru-Aten, the names and titles of one Amarna royal lady was erased and recarved with the names and titles of Akhenaten’s oldest daughter Princess Meritaten.  It used to be thought that it had been her mother Nefertiti’s name which had been removed, but now many Egyptologists believe that it was the name of one of Akhenaten’s other queens, Kiya, which had been struck from history.

For all its glittering brilliance, the cult of the sun disc and Akhenaten’s new capital city were to last for less than twenty years.  This self-imposed exile and concentration on religion rather than affairs of state had weakened the Egyptian empire. There is also some evidence that a plague which was sweeping through the Middle East at that time, reached the Egyptian court killing some of the female members of the royal family.  When Akhenaten died there were a few shadowy years were who his successor was is disputed, some scholars thinking it was a young king called Smenkhare and others that Queen Nefertiti seized the throne and ruled on her own. 

But a few years later, when the young boy king Tutankhamen came to the throne, the capital was moved back to Thebes, the temples and old gods were reinstated and the names of Akhenaten and his god were erased.  Unfortunately Tutankhamen was destined to die young and the glittering 18th dynasty came to an end with the reign of Horemheb, who saw to it that any last traces of this religious experiment were destroyed forever.  Akhetaten had been hastily constructed of mudbrick and any stone which had been used was stripped and used elsewhere, so it swiftly fell into disrepair and crumbled.  The tombs which had been carved in the hillsides were left empty and no more offerings were made in the temples.

Akhenaten image David Holt , Jean-Pierre Dalbera Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.5 Generic


The Aten - Wikipedia

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