Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Over-looked 13th Century - Darius Stransky Casts Light ...

Today I am delighted to welcome author Darius Stransky onto the blog for some Sunday Chat.

I began by asking Darius:~
The King's Jew is an intriguing title and one which also speaks eloquently for its subject matter. Where did the idea come from? (By which I mean to have a Jew as the central character).
Answer – Hmm, that title “The King’s Jew” therein lays a tale. It happened like this … I love history and one of my favourite characters from the past happens to be Edward the First (1239 to 1307). Edward ruled England from 1272 to his death in 1307.

He was also known as ‘Longshanks’ because he was over six feet tall and went down in history as “A Great and Terrible King”. BUT – and here’s the rub as Shakespeare would say – there are not many Hist Fic books about Edward (also known as ‘The Hammer of the Scots’). 
Yet I wanted to write something different, to approach Edward from a different angle and perspective and what better way to achieve this than to tell Edward’s story through the eyes of one of his closest friends, Cristian Gilleson? 
Are you following this dear reader? 
To continue – Most people are aware that King Edward ordered that every Jew in England must leave the country in 1290 (officially no Jews lived in England again until the 1600’s!) 
Now then, what if I told you that King Edward’s best pal, Lord Cristian Gilleson, was actually, under the laws of Moses, born a Jew? Can you imagine the ramifications of such a revelation? Many people in thirteenth century England had their suspicions – none more so than the Earl of Gloucester, Gilbert de Clare – but even in those days you had to prove things in law and though people tried to split Edward and Cristian their friendship lasted a lifetime (they were actually born on the same day in the same year!)
To sum up – Cristian Gilleson is known as ‘The King’s Jew’ by his enemies because of the rumours that abounded at the time and the fact that he always had a good word for the Jews of England. 
And just as a historical note – did you know that the medieval Jews of England belonged to the King? He actually ‘owned’ them! At one time King Henry the Third (Edward’s father) sold them to his brother!!

I didn't know that! You obviously have a deep interest in all things Medieval but why particularly the 13th century - what is it that attracts you?
Ahh, the 13th century. I am attracted to this time because not many people write about it. To my mind the Tudors have been done to death. The wars of the Roses are still being re-enacted on the borders of Lancashire and Yorkshire (only kidding you Yorkists!) and the good old 1200’s were a time when the world was on the cusp of an early renaissance / enlightenment. 
Ancient texts were being re-discovered and translated from Arabic and Greek to the vernacular. Weaponry was undergoing a transformation. New ways of looking at and administering the law were taking place. Towns were being laid out to new patterns. There was a wave of optimism throughout the Western World that hadn’t been seen for a generation. 
Remember, this is only 200 years after the Norman Conquest and so much had changed in our little sceptred Isle since William and his henchmen took over. OK so we had two civil wars in England at the time – the second Baron’s War is covered in Book One – but the tenets and precepts of Magna Carta were being built upon and the times – as Bob Dylan would say – were a changing.

Talking of times a changing, you had a 'previous life' writing freelance articles. At what point did the 13th century and the story of Cristian invade your life? And what were the circumstances?
Ah the good old days!!! When as a Freelancer you could charge £100 minimum for a mere 1,000 words. The pen really was mightier than the sword in those days.
Just to mention here that if I’d been paid the same for the first book in The King’s Jew trilogy (120,000 words) I would have received £12,000. Where did it all go wrong? 
To continue – it happened like this … I was reading an article about the Jews of England and Edward’s expulsion in 1290. This got me to thinking about medieval Jewry. I’d known about Edward’s life and times so decided to immerse myself in his story. Then I had the idea of amalgamating those two threads (Edward and the medieval Jews).
But the real clincher was when a representative of Trinity Mirror Group - who I did a lot of Freelance work for - phoned me to ask if I’d consider taking a 50% cut in remuneration! I asked if that meant they wanted a 50% cut in the word count and they said ‘no, the column length remains the same’. So I asked if he was taking a 50% pay cut and he said ‘no, because I’m staff.’ So I told him where to secrete his proposed economies of scale and decided to write novels. And that your honour is the case for the defence!

So, how new was this new direction? How much did you already know about the period and where did your research take you?
Let’s just concentrate on the research question here. I learned so much new information that I could write another three books on thirteenth century England and not mention Edward the first or his court once! Some writers say research is the best part of the job but to me it’s the hardest. 
Oh it’s easy to follow a trail of new knowledge for as long as it takes BUT the clever part is knowing when to stop and what is relevant. So much of what a writer will glean from research is totally irrelevant! It has to be distilled to the Nth degree and when you’ve done that – do it again!
What I have done though is ensure that 90% of the characters you come across in the books are real people. They lived and breathed at the time and place detailed in the novels. Look ‘em up folks, Google them. They are real! Just like me and you! Start now – Gilbert de Clare – He’s the man who hates Cristian Gilleson – and the feeling is mutual! - go on I dare you!

Book Two will be released soon. Tell us about it?
Book Two should have been out as we speak but due to circumstances beyond my control it’s been delayed. It will definitely be released on Thursday, October 27th this year – so you have time to buy and read Book One folks! 

Book one took us from the birth of Edward and Cristian in 1239 up to the Battle of Evesham in 1264. Book Two picks up where book one ends and takes us up to the year 1290 and the expulsion of the Jews. 
Both books open on Friday, October 27th 1307 when the funeral of Edward the First is taking place and 2016 is exactly 709 years after the event!
The new King (Edward the Second) and his ally Piers Gaveston is intent on bringing Cristian Gilleson down. Cristian is still in Westminster Abbey hoping to live long enough to see the tomb of his friend sealed – you can go see that famous tomb in the Confessor’s Chapel of the Abbey. 
You will meet old friends in this second book though some of them will not be around at the final chapter. Fresh characters are revealed as new loves and old feuds are perpetuated. 
The plight of the medieval English Jew sometimes brings a tear to my eye but let me tell you something – there were more than a few Christians out there who did their best to ameliorate their suffering. I’m not re-writing history here, I’m just telling you like it was. 

At what point did you know that this was going to be a series and how, if at all, has it affected the writing process?
I knew at the outset it was going to be a trilogy as one novel could never do the timescale or subject matter justice. Each book can, however, be read as a stand-alone piece. The writing process is the same as it ever was – tell a story and carry your readers along with you. Sounds so simple doesn’t it? 
Thought for the day – “If it was that simple everybody would be doing it!”

Are there any more characters nagging at you to tell their stories, or have you any unfinished business with Cristian?
Hmmm … The third and final book in the series is due for publication in February 2017 and guess what? Yes, you got it – I have two endings written.  And in those two endings there are four further options. SO in answer to your question - Cristian hasn’t finished with me just yet! 
In conclusion can I just say a big thanks to Cristian of Longhurst for letting me tell his story? 
Thanks, Cristian.
And thank you, Darius, for talking to me today about your writing.

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