Sunday, 10 January 2016

Between The Covers - Meet Helen Hollick's Characters

Today I have the great privilege of chatting to Helen Hollick 
I asked her ~
What was it that drew you to the legend of Arthur Pendragon?
I had no interest whatsoever in the Medieval tales of knights and courtly drama – just didn’t do it for me! Then I discovered that IF Arthur had existed he was more likely to have been a post-Roman warlord… Now that hooked my interest!
Much debate continues about whether and how much the legend of Arthur is based on a real person. How easy was it to research the historical reality? Arthur (as we think we know him) did not exist. There probably was, however, a successful warlord somewhere in Britain sometime between 450-600 AD. That person gave rise to the legends that have expanded through the centuries into wonderful stories. (Hence Arthur is immortal!) I researched some of the early Welsh legends, which are often very different to the more well-known portrayals of King Arthur. For a start in the early legends he is not such a chivalric Christian king. I personally believe that the familiar Arthurian Medieval tales - especially the Holy Grail stories - were an early version of mass-media marketing to gain enthusiastic support for the Crusades. So those few Welsh tales formed the very basic skeleton of a story, which I wove into the bits that would make the novel believable. For the ‘facts’ I concentrated on what we know about post-Roman Britain. My Arthur is not a Christian king, he is a rough, tough, warts an’ all warlord who has to fight hard to gain his kingdom (and the woman he loves, Gwenhwyfar). And has to fight even harder to keep them!
I'm interested in strong women from history (well, I would be, wouldn't I?) so I'm curious - the Guinevere of legend sometimes seems little more than a young foolish woman who cuckolds her older husband. Can you tell us about your Gwenhwyfar?
I was reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists Of Avalon – don’t get me wrong it is a good story, but at one point I threw the book across the room in annoyance at her Guinevere. I think the scene was crossing a lake by boat and she was having a hissy-fit. My exact words were: “Oh for goodness sake pull yourself together, you stupid woman!”
I have never liked the Medieval tales of Arthur, partly because I don’t like Lancelot, and I could never understand why Guinevere was such an idiot to give everything up for him! However, I owe Mists Of Avalon a lot! Because that Guinevere annoyed me so much I decided to write my own story of how I thought she should be.
So my Gwenhwyfar (as I spell her name) is a feisty redhead who is loyal to Arthur and Welsh legend says she gave him three sons. Their relationship is not an easy one – as in real life two strong-willed people often fall out, and Gwenhwyfar and Arthur’s relationship in my trilogy is turbulent to say the least. But deep down they love each other very much, and each would give their life for the other, despite, at times, wanting to kill each other! 
When you'd told the story of Pendragon's Banner, you then wrote two books about people who were unquestionably 'real'. Can you tell us about Emma of Normandy and what made her life so intriguing?
Emma, Queen of England twice to different kings and mother of two more,  is a fascinating woman. Unfortunately not many people have heard of her because she was on the cusp of the Norman Conquest and has become overshadowed by later queens – in particular Eleanor of Aquitaine. 
The daughter of a Norman Duke she was married at somewhere between 13 – 15 years of age in 1002 to the English King, Aethelred (later called The Unready). By all accounts the marriage was not very successful, nor happy. I think this was because Emma was a very strong, forceful and determined woman. Her husband, the King, was none of these things – a weak man and a weaker ruler. When he died and England fell into the hands of Cnut (Canute – he of hold the tide back fame) the only way Emma could retain her dignity, power, and crown, was to marry him and abandon her sons by Aethelred, one of whom later became Edward the Confessor.
Because of this marriage. Edward spent many years in exile in his mother’s homeland – Normandy, and would have known the young Duke William, Emma’s Great Nephew,  very well. Their family connection, the fact that Edward thought himself more Norman than English all led, eventually, to the Norman Conquest. 
Emma came into her own with Cnut, even down to ruling England as Regent while he was frequently away in Denmark. Had the conquest not happened I think that today she would be a very famous queen indeed. The novel is entitled A Hollow Crown in the UK and The Forever Queen in the Us (and in Turkish soon!) 
Harold Godwinson - how much do you think his achievements have been overshadowed by the result of the Battle of Hastings? Unfortunately, nearly all of them. Until recently Harold II has been looked upon as a failure and a loser – something I very strongly disagree with. Harold defeated the Welsh – under his Kingship Wales would probably have become a united Principality and fared better than in later years under the yoke of the Normans. Harold was an accomplished horseman and battle-leader as well as a skilled politician. He had every legal and legitimate right to the English throne after Edward (the Confessor) died in January 1066 – no he was not royalty, but kings were elected by the Anglo-Saxons, they did not have to be family, but the best man for the job. Obviously this was usually the eldest son, for he had been trained for it, but Edward had no children, and his nearest kinsman was still a raw youth. In 1066 the English would have known that William would invade – Harold was the only man who could hold him at bay, and probably beat him. Harold fought two battles within a few weeks, one in Yorkshire (including the long march there and back) and then at ‘Hastings’. (Actually the battle site is seven miles from the coast). It was a unique battle for its time, lasting all day. Most battles were over and done with within a few hours – some were even arranged! (You can just imagine checking timetables…”Um, well I’m free Tuesday afternoon…” *laugh*) Harold II was the last English king to die on the battlefield defending his kingdom against foreign invasion. Oh, and he didn’t die because of an arrow in his eye – he was hacked to death, castrated, disembowelled and decapitated by four of William’s henchmen. In my opinion, a war crime against our legitimate king. I write my novel (titled Harold The King in the UK / I Am The Chosen King in the US) from the English point of view, and wrote it originally because I was fed up with English history books always starting at 1066!
From the Romano-British times to Anglo-Saxon England is quite a leap, but then you ended up on the high seas. Where did Jesamiah Acorne come from, and why did you decide this time to write about a completely fictitious character? Ah my beloved Jesamiah! I saw and absolutely loved the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, pure escapism entertainment – but the historian bit in me wanted to know the facts behind the fun, so I read a few non-fiction books about pirates. Then a few more, and realised what a fascinating subject the Golden Age Of Piracy is. Except I am a story-teller and love reading, so I also wanted some novels that echoed P.O.C.: nautical adventures with a dashing Indiana Jones / Jack Sparrow /James Bond / Sharpe-type hero – with a smattering of fantasy thrown in for good measure. There were plenty of ‘straight’ nautical books – C.S. Forrester, Patrick O’Brian, Julian Stockwin, James L. Nelson… but except for Young Adult or children’s books nothing at all to compare to The Curse of the Black Pearl – and I badly needed a pirate fix! So I wrote my own.
The idea for Sea Witch (which at the time I intended as a one-off novel but has turned into a very popular series; I have almost finished writing the Fifth Voyage,) came to me while we were on holiday in Dorset, England. On the last day I went for a walk on a rather drizzly, deserted beach to mull over what I’d researched and what my imagination was attempting to fuse together into a storyline. I had my ships, and a few key factual events. My supporting cast were all present and correct (eager to burst out of Imagination and on to The Page.) I had my female lead – Tiola Oldstagh (you say it Tee-o-la short and quick not Tee-OH-lah) She was a White Witch with the gift of healing and Craft. More like the Force in Star Wars, rather than the magic wands of Harry Potter. But what about my male protagonist? I sat on a rock pretending that the dull, grey English Channel was the azure blue of the Caribbean (good imagination eh?) I looked up, and there, a few yards down the beach I saw a man dressed in full pirate regalia. He had a jaw-line beard and black curly hair with blue ribbons laced into it. A gold acorn dangled from one ear. He nodded, touched his hat in salute. “Hello Jesamiah Acorne,” I said. And he vanished. And I swear - every word of that is true.
Thank you Helen for telling us all about your characters. 
Find Helen here: ~ 
Twitter: @HelenHollick 
Amazon universal link 


  1. Thank you Annie for inviting me onto your blog - I really appreciate the support of fabulous authors like yourself

    1. The pleasure was all mine, Helen - thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights and tell us how your characters came into being

  2. Most interesting. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Cheers!

  3. Interesting article. I loved your characters in The Sea Witch

  4. Fantastic interview! I love everything Arthurian...glad to know I'm not the only one:)

  5. You're certainly not the only one, Mark - the first books of Helen's that I read were her Pendragon Trilogy. Have you read Parke Godwin's Firelord? It's a completely different take on the legend, but also very good. I read them at similar times. Glad you enjoyed the interview and thanks for leaving a comment :)