I began by asking him: You’ve written ‘factually’ about 1066. How easy did you find it to ‘twist’ the story for this project – did it go against the grain?
I found it surprisingly easy to add a twist to the story but that was because I was writing history the way I would have liked it to have turned out. Usually, I like to stick as close to the ‘facts’ as possible. I think history is interesting enough without changing things too much but it was a pleasure to ‘twist’ this. To have things turn out the way I think they should have. It was as though, after all this time, justice has been done.
There are so many ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ in the years leading up to the Battle of Hastings; things could so very easily have turned out differently than the way they did. Even on the day of the battle itself, it would not have taken much to change the result; there was still time, it was not too late. Even after Hastings, there was ample opportunity to take on William while his army was tired or ill. The final opportunity was at London Bridge, when William tried to force his way across; the defenders won the battle but it was no decisive victory, it merely delayed the inevitable.
Without giving too much away, can you set the scene for your story?
1066 is often seen as the year of three battles, as well as the year of three kings; the kings being Edward the Confessor, Harold Godwinson and William the Bastard; the battles being Fulford, Stamford Bridge and Hastings. But there is the forgotten king and a forgotten battle in 1066. Edgar was the king and London Bridge was the battle. I wanted to illuminate a part of history that has remained in the dark for too long.
In many ways it’s not surprising the king and the battle he fought have been consigned to our collective amnesia. Edgar was usurped before he was crowned and he ruled for only fifty five days. Is it surprising hardly anyone ever mentions the battle of London Bridge? It was a real battle the outcome of which, if it had gone a different way, would have changed history. If Edgar had defeated William and he had been totally vanquished or even killed, I’m not too sure we today would have realised how important the battle was. Fight a battle whose result is the maintaining of the status quo, then its significance can easily fade and its importance diminish with the passing of the years. If Harold had won the battle of Hastings, today it might not be seen as a particularly important victory. This is because we would have had no idea of the changes England would have undergone.
Tell us a little about What Fates Impose. Did your history degree help with the writing of the book?
I think the time period leading up the Battle of Hastings has to be one of the most fascinating in English history and certainly the most pivotal. What did the Romans do for us? Not much. They may have left Britain with some mosaics and straight roads but the invading Saxons thoughtfully reintroduced paganism and the mud track. However, as time passed England evolved into a cohesive Christian kingdom with a relatively sophisticated government a proto-democracy if you like. Far from living in the dark ages, people living in eleventh century England lived in a time of prosperity and enlightenment. England was wealthy and the level of literacy was relatively high. The bible was available in English. This society’s sophistication was reaching a peak in the mid eleventh century and then, against all the odds, events conspire to bring the house down.
Did my history degree help with the writing of the book? Yes and no. The period I studied was mainly 20th century European and American. Origins of the Second World War and America’s rise to global prominence. Not much to do with medieval Anglo Saxons then? Well, the time period may be different but the processes are similar. Who gets what, where, when and why. More than anything it was my enthusiasm for the period and love of a good story that helped. I also have a capacity for daydreaming, and although I say it myself, it’s pretty much unsurpassed by anyone. I also enjoyed the research. So, it was all the above ingredients, that I poured into a novel.
You are planning a sequel – will this focus on the victors, or the unhappy fate of those ‘losers’ who managed to escape with their lives?
I’m quite a way into the sequel. The poor losers, or, the valiant resistance, as they’re known in our house, get most of the attention. The Battle of Hastings was only one of many battles William had to fight; the Normans didn’t just take power the day after Hastings. There was no smooth transition lasting just a few days; rebellions broke out all over the country.
My sequel covers the years 1066 to 1076 – these were turbulent times. Resistance carried on for years, especially in the north but the English had no answer to the castles the Normans built the length and breadth of the country, gradually, piece by piece, the old way of life was lost forever.
Is there another event in history that you wish had a different outcome, another “What if”?
There are lots of events that it would be interesting to see go the other way; not that I’d find them desirable. It would be interesting to see what would have happened if the Persians had won the Battle of Thermopylae all those years ago? Imagine if King Herod had succeeded in killing all the babies? Suppose Napoleon had won the Battle of Waterloo? The British winning the American War of Independence? Suppose ~D Day had been a failure? What if Khrushchev had not backed down in 1962? Wouldn’t it be interesting? Interesting but not necessarily the preferred outcome.
Apart from seeing Harold victorious at Hastings, I think Adolf Hitler meeting his end in the trenches during the First World War would be top of my list and I fancy, a lot of other peoples, too.
Thanks so much for talking to us today, Glynn.