Sunday, 30 October 2016

Drawing Back the Veil - Nicola Layouni Casts Light on Time-Slip Novels

I'm fortunate recently to have met Nicola, who, as NJ Layouni, writes a series of time-slip novels, and I invited her onto the blog to talk about her books: ~

There was so much that I wanted to ask her, so I began by noting that: It seems that you have been writing for a very long time, but when and how did the idea for the Tales of a Traveler series come about? Had you already toyed with stories that centred around time-slip?
Hi, Annie. Thank you so much for inviting me on to your lovely blog. Well as you say, I've been writing stories for decades, long before I learned that letters could be joined up to form words. From a very young age, I've always had 'another life' on the go somewhere, a playground to escape to – usually one in someone else's universe! When I was a child, I found inspiration everywhere. From Enid Blyton's Secret Seven and Famous Five, to cartoons such as 'Lassie's Rescue Rangers', 'Battle of the Planets', and 'Thundercats', the muse to create stories was never far away. Eventually I progressed, creating epic fantasy worlds of my own, although I'm afraid to say most of them were a tad on the Mary Sue* side. (More on Mary Sue here) But throughout them all, time slip was a fairly constant theme.

Obviously since these tales are fiction, you don't need to research in the accepted sense of the word. But do you find that you need to keep records of the world you've constructed, to allow for 'continuity'?
Yes! Absolutely. I'm not sure if I've mentioned this to you before, but Hemlock was originally supposed to be a stand-alone book, but it kept on growing. Being something of a 'pantser' writer, I don't follow maps and plans – although I can see how this would be incredibly useful! - so I now have a character file to keep me in check. As you probably know, it's incredibly easy to forget something as simple as, say, a character's eye colour.
Oh yes, keeping track of those details is always difficult!

Is there a finite number of volumes in this series - do you already know how the whole story ends?
Truthfully? Okay, I'll just come out and say it. I have no idea how the story will end. Yes, I have a couple of rather foggy ideas, but nothing more definite then that, which is fine by me. As I said before, I'm not much of a plotter. If I already knew the ending I'd probably lose all interest in writing it, long before I ever got there! For me, the fun of being a writer is in the finding out. Fortunately my characters seem to be extremely fond of springing surprises on me. When writing, it's not unusual for me to be gasping with shock, and/or going nooooo!

I've recently been writing elsewhere that my characters can't do that, because they are hide-bound by their historical setting, being non-fictional characters.
You're not restricted by historical fact, because your stories are pure fiction, but do you find that your 'past' characters need to conform to any historical norms? How much freedom do you have with the context of their time-frame?
The world of Erde is pure fantasy, but in my mind, in many ways, it closely resembles C14 England, complete with its feudal system. Although I'm not tethered by the bonds of history, I do borrow heavily from this period, and all my characters – with the exception of Martha – are a product of their time.

Speaking of Martha, do you know how it is that she is able to travel in time? Do you have any theories as to how it might be possible?
Ooh! I think I'd need the assistance of a certain Mr. Hawking to properly explain the theory of time travel. However, I do believe there are places in the world where the veil separating the past, present, and future can be more easily swept aside. You know where I mean, Annie. The old places. Castles and mountains, ancient oak woods, and, of course, rivers and the sea. Haven't we visited somewhere where the echoes of the past have brushed up against us and raised goosebumps on our skin? For a fraction of a second, haven't we all heard a voice, a snippet of music, or caught the hint of a scent that didn't belong to the present? What if we could prolong that moment? What if we could follow it to its source? I'm not sure physical time travel is yet within our reach, but with the mind, I believe anything is possible.
Sorry, but you did ask! :)
Yes, I did! And I know what you mean - I believe the Irish call these the Thin Places.

What's next in the series - can you tell us anything to whet our appetites?
Book four is on its way. Let's just say that childbirth is never without its challenges... especially in medieval times!
I'm sure it might invoke some non-medieval curse-words too!

Thanks so much for talking to me today, Nicola.
You can find Nicola: 


Sunday, 23 October 2016

Murder, Mayhem & Mystery - Sunday Chat with Carol Hedges

Today I am delighted to welcome author Carol Hedges to the blog ~

I began by asking her: You write for both the teen/Young Adult and the Adult market. I'm interested in the creative process: When a story comes into your head, do you know immediately which market you will be aiming at? Or does it take some time for the story to develop and then you decide?

They are entirely different genres, and, to be truthful, I have largely stopped writing for the teenage market now. My decision was 'forced' on me: in 2008 the financial crash meant that publishers started eyeing their mid-lists and weeding them out ruthlessly. Usborne decided to get rid of me, so the 5th SPY GIRL** book never saw the light of day. Five novels went the rounds and didn't get picked up. So I changed genre and have never regretted it. 

Another reason I decided to quit was that teens tend to buy books in shops rather than Ebooks and it is very hard to break into the market if you are self-published or with a small Indie as few bookshops will stock your books. Also, the teen market has been kidnapped by 'celebs' who are ruthlessly pushed. I pity the poor writer starting out in this genre today. 

So I now write adult histfic. However, if you DO write in both genres, you have to 'put on the right hat' and leave it on until the tale is told. Your thinking has to be in one or the other. I don't know of many writers who have 2 books going in both. If they are out there, maybe they'll leave a comment and say how they do it. I am full of admiration for them!

** All the SPY GIRL novels are being republished by Accent Press in 2017, including the fifth one. I am excited!

That's wonderful news. Tell us more about the Spy Girl series. Where did the original idea come from?

When I wrote them, there were a lot of 'boy heroes' ~ Alex Rider and copycat books. Or gangs of teens who solved crimes. I wanted to create a rather flawed teenager (Jazmin Dawson wants to be a size 8, but there are just too many size 10 cakes around!). Also, many of the books showed the protagonists 'hating' their parents, who were universally vile to them. I didn't like that, and tried to show how close Jazmin and Assia are ~ even though they fight like cat and dog, as teens and their mums do.

As someone who is part 'foreign', I also wanted to set part of the books abroad. Thus The Dark Side Of Midnight is set in Prague, a city I love. Dead Man Talking uses some Italian locations. Nobody was doing this when I wrote them. I'm not sure they are now. There's still a temptation to write big stories on a small canvas. Once you decide to move outwards in your thinking, all sorts of possibilities open up.

Jigsaw was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal (congratulations, by the way!) How much does your work with young people inform your writing?

All the time! Jigsaw was based on a true event: when I was on teaching practice (aged 46, a career change) a year 10 boy committed suicide. The events around Grant's death and the way the school handled it are based on what I saw going on in my own school. Annie is based on a very 'street~smart Year 11 I had in my Year 11 English class. She had a BIG issue with 'respect' which, she told me all too often, she was never shown by teachers.

She had a soft side though. On my last day at that school, as I dismissed the class, she casually dropped an envelope on my desk as she passed. Nothing said, no eye contact. When I opened it, there was a lovely card. Inside, one word: Respect.

For your current series of crime novels, you chose Victorian England as the setting. What drew you to that period, particularly?

I LOVE the Victorians! Especially the 1860s ~ a period that hasn't been mined by modern writers, unlike the 1880s. It was the time of Wilkie Collins, Dickens and Mrs Gaskell. Trains, drains and the beginning of 'women's right'. What's not to love? I studied the Victorian period at University, and I lived in London for years much of the architecture is still there to view, and I mine it extensively in the books.

Also, the historicity can be researched, as so many contemporary documents exist. I don't know how people who write fiction in a 14th century or earlier setting cope! Where do they go to check on things? How do they know they are being authentic? I do COPIOUS amounts of research, though I probably discard 93% of it. I'd be very nervous of striking out without the knowledge that I was writing 'correctly'. 

Thanks for popping by to chat. Before you go though, tell us about your new release ...

Murder & Mayhem is the 4th in the series of 'Stride & Cully, Victorian Detectives' novels. Set in London in 1863, it focuses on a Bow Street officer, Inspector Lachlan Greig, and deals with the awful crime of 'baby-farming' where poor or unexpectedly rich young women turned their offspring over to other women to 'mind' on the tacit understanding that the poor babe would never be seen again.

The crime wasn't made illegal until much later. The LAW blamed the woman every time, and exonerated the man who'd raped her, or deserted her. Dreadful. I shed many a tear as I wrote, as I have two tiny grandchildren and it broke my heart to think of babies being drugged and starved.

Though it isn't all doom and gloom! There are some utterly mad anarchists, and two lovely 18 year old friends, Daisy and Letitia. The book came out at the end of September and has, to date, ten 5 Star Reviews on Amazon. Not bad for a series that nearly got consigned to the cyber-bin when my then agent told me the first book, Diamonds & Dust was ''unpublishable''!

Thanks so much Carol and best of luck with the new release.
Find Carole:
On her BLOG
On Facebook
On Twitter - @carolJhedges (where she will 'serve' you a morning coffee every day!)
Buy Murder & Mayhem

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

King John - A Very Bad King? Stephen Church Casts Light

On the 800th anniversary of King John's death, it's my immense pleasure and privilege to welcome Stephen Church, Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia:

A very warm welcome, Stephen. 
A national newspaper reviewed your book about King John and said that "Wicked or unlucky - either way, (John was) a catastrophic failure." Could you sum up, in a few sentences whether you feel he was wicked, or unlucky? I was attempting to get us beyond the ‘wicked/unlucky’, bad/good debate since I think it is much more interesting to try to understand who John was. Understanding is at the heart of what historians should be about and that is what I have tried to do with John: to understand and not condemn. In that regard, John was a complex character (aren’t we all). If he was unlucky, it was that in his opponents he met two of the more remarkable men of the age, Philip king of France and Pope Innocent III.

Yet the treatment of Matilda de Braose* seems barbaric to modern observers. Was John judged by his contemporaries for this? Was it, in your view, an act of vindictiveness, and was it typical of him, or out of character?
The murder of Matilda de St Valéry is an interesting one. There is no doubt that John felt that he needed to justify the treatment of the Briouzes which is why he issued his explanation (probably dating to 1210). But at the time, it may have seemed to John a legitimate way of dealing with difficult subjects. It has been argued by Aine Foley  that starvation rather than public execution might have been seen in certain contexts as a more humane form of execution. I am not saying that this is what John had in mind. Perhaps he neglected Matilda. Perhaps someone thought that they were following John’s orders. What is certain is that the aftermath of the death of Matilda, her son, and then, in exile, her husband, caused a storm that John had to address. And that, for me, is far more interesting than passing a judgement on John’s humanity.

It's perhaps a modern concept, but how much do you think John was a product of his upbringing? Do his childhood circumstances go some way to explaining his behaviour as an adult?
Yes, we are all products of our upbringing (‘they f**k you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do'). In John’s case, sending him to Fontevraud probably meant that he was brought up in a less masculine environment than that of his brothers. He was certainly less bellicose than they and I always felt that he had difficulty dealing with men who had been brought up to wield a sword and charge the enemy with a lance. John was not a man’s man, and that, in the final analysis, counted against him when faced by the men of the court who, I don’t think, respected him.

One thing I had always believed as fact was that John lost all his treasure in The Wash. You suggest in your book that this might not be the whole truth. Can you elaborate for us?
The story of the loss of the treasure is one which was certainly bigged up in the 1220s by that scurrilous rumour monger Roger of Wendover. At the time, it was seen as a disaster, but not on a huge scale. I suspect (though we shall never know for sure) that the majority of what counted for treasure remained at King’s Lynn or was transported by ship (John hired ships from Wisbech to take his gear to Nottingham). There is also evidence that John was so cash strapped at the end of his life that he was living hand-to-mouth as money came into the exchequer. And treasure, finally, was also accounted for in cloth and relics, books and accounts. I doubt that there is much gold or silver to be found in the wash… but never say never!

Given that he was wicked/unlucky and a 'catastrophic failure' he's rarely, if ever, portrayed in fiction as a sympathetic character. You've shed a little light on his formative years; is there anything that can be said in mitigation, and what drew you, as a biographer, to him as a subject? (I know you've said in the past that biography is problematic anyway, when dealing with someone from such a long way in the past)
As a subject, John’s fascination for me is that he was such a failure. I am interested in power and especially in power mishandled. I have, since I was a small boy, wondered why people have power over other people and why they misuse it so badly. John provides a great example of a man who mishandled power and for me that is the interest of him. He is, therefore, just plain interesting, unlike his brother Richard, who is the tedious goodie two shoes of his generation. I can’t bear him.

I know that you have studied and taught other periods of history and that you are very busy with your teaching commitments. Are you planning to write another biography, and do you have anyone in mind?
I have just finished a biography of Henry III for the Penguin English Monarchs series. I have enjoyed writing that one especially as it is really aimed at a general audience. At just 30,000 words, it is a long essay, really, but it was tremendously interesting to research and write and I hope offers a new insight into this much-unknown monarch in whose reign parliament started and England (in the aftermath of Magna Carta) developed into a bureaucratic kingdom with a king constrained by a constitution. It is jolly interesting stuff!

Thanks so much for talking to me today, Stephen.
Find all of Stephen's books Here

Sunday, 16 October 2016

1066 - Anniversary Weekend Round-Up

"Ever wondered what might have happened if William the Conqueror had been beaten at Hastings? Or if Harald Hardrada had won at Stamford Bridge? Or if Edward the Confessor had died with an heir ready to take his place? Then here is the perfect set of stories for you. ‘1066 Turned Upside Down’ explores a variety of ways in which the momentous year of 1066 could have played out differently. 

Written by nine well-known authors to celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the stories will take you on a journey through the wonderful ‘what ifs’ of England’s most famous year in history."

I was thrilled to be part of this wonderful collaboration and I found writing my story both interesting and challenging, and also very satisfying - who doesn't relish the opportunity to re-write history?

I was keen to know how the other authors and contributors went about the challenge, so I interviewed them all.

In case you missed any of these chats, here are the links.
And don't forget, 1066 Turned Upside Down is on offer this weekend at just 99p/99c

The interviews:

Helen Hollick
Annie Whitehead
Joanna Courtney
Carol McGrath
Richard Dee
Alison Morton
Anna Belfrage
Glynn Holloway
Eliza Redgold
Cathy Helms

You can read more about the project, too, at our dedicated BLOG

and catch up with all the latest news on our Facebook Page

Thursday, 13 October 2016

She's got it covered - Cathy Helms on designing 1066 Turned Upside Down

Over the last few weeks, I have been talking to all the authors who have written the stories in 1066 Turned Upside Down. Now, on the eve of the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings itself, I need to talk to the person responsible for the public 'face' of the book - designer Cathy Helms:~

Why 'Avalon' Graphics? I have loved the tales of King Arthur and his Knights since I was a girl, so when it came time to choose a name for my design company, I knew that I had to draw on something from those legends. Using the word ‘Avalon’ meant that my company’s name would come near the top of any list sorted alphabetically too – and of course I think of Avalon as a place of peace and beauty which in turn I hope is a good parallel or representation of my creative body of work overall. I’ve always been fascinated by Arthur in particular – who he might have really been historically (if he ever even existed), but I will always devour any books about Camelot and the fairytale legends. Great escapism!

Can you tell us a little about your working process? What do you need from the author in order to design their cover? When initiating any new design project I always request a summary of the novel/story, any general ideas the author might have for their cover and make certain that I understand the genre and target market for the book (and a few technical details too).
My process involves a fair amount of research as well; seeking out other covers of similar subject matter/genre/plotlines for inspiration, and then I spend a good amount of time searching through potential stock image sites for suitable images to work with. 
I work on a desktop computer with a 27” monitor (eyes are not what they used to be, ha!) in a comfortable office at the front of our home – my walls are painted in my favorite color – purple!

And I have a lovely view of our front yard with roses and Hydrangea planted right in front of my office windows. I often listen to music while working as the sounds help my creative process, and I always make the time to simply play with Photoshop and attempt to learn new design tricks as often as possible.

Once upon a time, book covers were designed using drawings or paintings. Nowadays there are a lot of computer-generated images. Do you have a preference, or do you like to blend the two? Is book cover design a completely different art form nowadays? I am one hundred percent a digital artist; meaning that I work with photography, digital line art and digital brushes in order to create my designs. I started drawing with colored pencils as a young girl and still enjoy doodling from time to time (mostly with colored pens), but my open freestyle of drawing is too unrefined for graphic design (in my own opinion at any rate). I predominantly design using the vast available tools within Adobe Photoshop – to the point of being able to give the viewer the impression that the design was hand painted at times.
The program truly is outstanding and limitless. Book cover design evolved from hand lettering (typography) and hand illustration and I am actually relieved that I came along after the digital revolution! As part of my formal education, I was taught the very meticulous and labor intensive way to hand letter designs for marketing purposes, as it was done many decades before. I found the process interesting, but nothing that I would consider taking the time to do in any project today – not when I can achieve the same effect within minutes using Photoshop verses days hand lettering just a book title alone!

Do you have a favourite among all the covers you've designed? If so, why? This is always the toughest question to answer! Sentimentally, I often go with ‘Sea Witch’ by Helen Hollick because it was my first published cover design and I utilized my dear and patient husband as a model. The cover is in bold blue hues, contains a pirate ship and a pirate – and I worked my magic with grunge textures to accomplish the old world feel that the book deserved. While I cannot truly choose a single cover design as a favorite, any time that I can design a cover with a castle, knights or Ancient Rome, I am at my happiest in the creative process. I love working in the historical and fantasy realm above all other genres.

And finally, I have to ask about the 1066 Turned Upside Down cover. I love it (well, I would, wouldn't I?) It shows the concept of the book so clearly. Did you play around with other ways of showing the 'upside down' theme before you settled on this one? Presumably, like us authors, you go through several 'drafts' before settling on the final design? Believe it or not, this was one of those cover designs that simply came together right from the start without numerous design ideas. I had solid up front input regarding the design from Helen Hollick and Joanna Courtney – their initial idea was to include either a helmet or a shield wall reflected upside down. So I found a handful of potential photos to work with and then set about making the top part of the cover reflect in ripples of ‘time’ on the bottom half of the cover. Often the biggest challenge in designing for historical fiction is the ‘historical’ part – finding accurate depictions for the time of the novel. But in the case of ‘1066 Turned Upside Down’, I was able to take a bit of liberty with the elements since the novel is a time slip or alternate history collection.

So I was able to use the photo of a helmet that may have been a few decades off from the year 1066. It was a stunning stock photo, so it worked perfectly for an eye-catching cover. Having said all of that, typically I go through numerous concepts before a final cover design is chosen by the author. I begin with three to four distinct designs, then I work with the concepts until the author/client is content with a final. And I am thrilled that you love the cover design! All nine authors involved have been kind and generous with their feedback for the cover. I am fortunate to have been given the opportunity to design for such an illustrious group of writers, many of whom are friends and clients already.

Annie, thank you so much for the chance to speak with you in regards to book cover design and my involvement with the ‘1066 Turned Upside Down’ project!

Thank you, Cathy, for explaining the process to us, talking about your work, AND for our beautiful cover!
Find Cathy:
YouTube Book Trailers
Official Blog

Sunday, 9 October 2016

1066 Turned Upside Down - Sunday chat with Eliza Redgold

In the latest of this series of 1066 Turned Upside Down interviews, I'm delighted to welcome author Eliza Redgold:

I began by asking her:~
You write Contemporary Romance and historical Fiction - do you have a favourite? And if so, why? Is one easier to write than the other?
One of the first pieces of fiction writing advice I received was to ‘use my senses’. To be honest, I had no idea how. As an academic of the absent-minded professor variety (as my students will attest) I often didn’t notice what was around me, wandering around campus lost in thought. So, one by one, I decided to ‘romance my senses’ in my own backyard, by exploring the region where I live and writing about each sense in a series of contemporary romances (published by Harlequin). What an adventure! The first in the senses series is Black Diamonds, set in the world of delicious truffles. It focused on taste.  Hide and Seek, number two in the ‘senses series’, is all about sight and sound. The third in the senses series is a novella called Wild Flower. You guessed it – all about scent.  And touch? Well, all romances are about exploring the sense of touch! 

My first writing love is historical fiction and romance. There’s more research to do than for contemporary fiction, but I enjoy exploring the past. NAKED: A Novel of Lady Godiva the first of my ‘Lady of Legend’ series was released internationally by St Martin’s Press in New York in 2015.  Harlequin Historical (London) have also published two of my Victorian historical romances – and I still might write more of those. Meanwhile other Ladies of Legend are calling … 

Without giving too much away, can you set the scene for your 1066 story?
My story 'The Needle can Mend' features Lady Godiva's grand-daughter, Queen Edith. I wanted to capture the strength and power of women and the tales they weave. No more is this revealed than in the mysterious fabric of the Bayeaux Tapestry, a woman-made work of political art, secret and imagination that has stood the test of time and twists my tale ... I hope readers enjoy it.

In your novel, Naked, you tell the story of Lady Godiva. What attracted you particularly to this character?

Well, I do like Godiva chocolates! Seriously, I got the idea while writing an academic article about the popularity of the word ‘lady’. The legend of Lady Godiva intrigued me and I became inspired to write my own version of her story. To look for Lady Godiva I made a trip to Coventry. It was difficult to find remnants of Godiva’s life, but I definitely experienced a spooky feeling near the place where Godiva and Leofric are believed to be buried. Their spirits are in the air. It was in Coventry I became convinced there was an untold story.  In most of the Godiva stories, Leofric of Mercia is definitely the villain of the piece, ready to impose heavy taxes and to force his wife to carry out her daring ride. Yet by the end of his life, I discovered historical documents reveal Lord Leofric was a changed man and I became determined to clear his name. I think fell in love with him – and I know some readers have too. 

What are you working on at the moment?
This year I’ve been working on a non-fiction project The Secrets of Mindful Beauty coming in March 2017 with Skyhorse Publishing, New York. I teach mindfulness as part of my university lecturing and my students love it. There’s a big link between mindfulness and creativity. I’m so excited about this book, as my co-author is my daughter!

I’ve also completed the next fiction book in the Ladies of Legend series. ‘Lost voices. Lost lore. Lost love.’  That’s a clue… who is the next Lady of Legend? Get in touch and let me know who you think it is…

Is there another event in history that you wish had had a different outcome, another "What if"?
Anne Boleyn is a favorite historical figure of mine (she makes a glimmer of an appearance in my next Ladies of Legend book). She’s fascinating, if not bewitching, but what appeals to me most is that by historical accounts she adored her daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth 1st, even though she needed to have a son. At Greenwich Palace in England I saw a Tudor exhibition that displayed a locket owned by Queen Elizabeth. She kept it with her always. Inside the locket is a portrait of a dark-haired woman, presumed to be her mother.  
 What if Anne had lived? 

Thank you so much for dropping by to talk to me Eliza.
Find Eliza:

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Guest Post - Sir Gawain, the Gordian Knight

by Scott Howard

We all remember that Gordian Knot. A horrible, intricate tangle of rope that no one could untie (until Alexander the Great cut it up with his sword). Well, perhaps an equally puzzling and intricately tangled character in Arthurian legend is Arthur’s nephew, Sir Gawain. Outside of the big two (Arthur and Lancelot), Gawain is probably the most prominent Arthurian character, and he is certainly the most well-used side character in the tales of other knights, traditionally appearing alongside Arthur, Lancelot, Gaheris, Gareth, Agravain, Bors, King Pellinore, and even Mordred. He is also a major player in the Grail-Quest stories (and as an added bonus, he makes a cameo in just about every Arthur movie or novel and features as a reccurring ‘frenemy’ in the unending American comic strip “Prince Valiant”). If you’re looking for Gawain as a protagonist, you’ll find him there too. He is the protagonist of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as well as a number of ballads and lays—and it’s likely that he’s the main character of one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as well. But what makes Gawain so inscrutable is his incredible variation. In some tales he’s a paragon of virtue and an incredible warrior, but in others he’s a weak, womanizing murderer at the mercy of his emotions. Which is he and why? What can we gain from studying and untying his complex character? 

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain is everything a knight should be. He slays trolls, ogres, and dragons (in such an offhand way, apparently, that the victories show up in a montage in Part 2), doesn’t flinch at the prospect of being decapitated (ok, he flinches, but only once, and only for a second), and resists the charms of a woman “more beautiful than Guinevere” (is that even possible?) on THREE successive mornings. Imagine that you’re a young bachelor and someone hotter than… um, anyone you’ve ever met, cornered you in the guestroom of her house and said the following (Raffel translation): 

“Here you are, and we’re alone,
My lord and his men away in the woods,
All men asleep, and my maids too, 
Your door shut, and locked with a bolt
—And having in my house a man so loved
I refuse to waste my chance, for as long as it lasts.
Now please us both,
Decide our path.
Your arms are too strong,
I bow to your force.”

Yep, believe it or not, Gawain resisted that, saying: “Lord, how lucky I am, Lady, not to be the knight you speak of” (Uh huh, and you would have said the same, too—keep telling yourself that). In later English stories, Gawain rates a vision of the Holy Grail and is found worthy to quest for it alongside Sir Galahad.

Yet, in many tales, Sir Gawain is less than respectable. He’s cast as a philanderer, a second-rate combatant, he refuses to grant mercy to the vanquished, and in a catastrophic failure of chivalry, he actually beheads a lady. It’s even likely that Gawain is the knight-protagonist of Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath’s Tale.” True, he’s never mentioned by name, but the plot of Chaucer’s story follows that of other Gawain ballads and “Loathsome Lady” tales. If so, Chaucer takes our knight’s villainy a step father, having him rape a girl by a river, setting up the action—and placing this version of Gawain in irreconcilable contrast to the version in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Here are Chaucer’s lines (Coghill translation): 

“There was a knight who was a lusty liver.
One day as he was riding from the river
  He saw a maiden walking all forlorn
    Ahead of him, alone as she was born [I’m going to assume that this means naked]
And from that maiden, spite of all she said
By very force he took her maidenhead” 

In Le Mort d’Arthur, Malory makes Gawain a weaker warrior, at the mercy of his emotions, always bested in combat by Lancelot, often unhorsed and captured by enemies, and frequently in need of rescue. In one of Malory’s stories, Gawain is so enraged at an enemy (for killing his dogs—which I, personally, find a valid motive for fury) that he ignores the man’s pleas for mercy and decides to dispatch him anyway. The problem is that the enemy knight’s lady arrives at the last possible second and throws herself in front of Gawain’s downward-arcing blade, causing her own decapitation (and making Gawain the only Round-Table knight to kill a woman). In addition, Gawain is so consumed by rage and hatred in Malory’s work (because Lancelot killed his brothers while rescuing Guinevere) that he goads Arthur into chasing Lancelot, and thus ensures the downfall of the Round Table.

Gawain is praised and ridiculed, simultaneously a hero and an antihero. In an age of stories full of typecast, formulaic, and melodramatic characters, he’s been everything to everyone. But this, of course begs the question, “Why?” 

Here’s this author’s theory: Gawain’s treatment in medieval romance depends almost entirely on the geographic and literary background of the author. Gawain is first and foremost a British Knight. He’s the nephew of King Arthur, the son of King Lot of Orkney, and a member of the original, canonical pantheon of round table knights, dating back to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae. Before that he probably existed as a Welsh folk hero named Gwalchmei. In other words, he’s irreconcilably British. British authors who work from a British tradition treat him well, like the Gawain and the Green Knight poet, who wrote in a midland dialect and primarily in alliterative verse, the older poetic style favored by English authors. In contrast, French authors like Chretien de Troyes write in rhyme and look down on Gawain, replacing him with Sir Lancelot, the greatest warrior in England, who comes from a place called Benwick in (no surprise here) France. Lancelot, of course, gets to sleep with the English queen, beat all of the English knights in combat, and survive the destruction of the round table (all this while the English king commits incest, can’t satisfy his wife, and falls to his son/nephew). These tales rose to immense popularity during the Hundred Years War. Coincidence? I doubt it. 

But what about Chaucer and Malory? They were English, right? Yes, but they were working from French sources and under French influence. Chaucer, for example, was a multilingual scholar who admired and made translations of French works like The Romance of the Rose. He wrote in the continental style, preferring rhyming couplets and openly ridiculing the traditional English alliterative verse. He was (successfully, I might add) bringing the culture of continental Europe to England (in his defense, though, he doesn’t name his knight Gawain, sidestepping the issue to some degree, possibly even out of respect for the British Arthurian tradition). As for Malory, he worked almost exclusively from French sources, compiling his translated and reorganized compendium of tales while imprisoned. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that his account of Gawain is one of the most damning. 

So, what is there to conclude here? Well, it’s easy to say that Sir Gawain’s internal character was a bit of a battleground between the British and French Arthurian traditions, with the early rounds going to the Brits and the latter to the French, but to me there’s a silver lining here. The varying portrayals of Sir Gawain allow modern readers and writers to connect with the character in a way that they cannot with his morally perfect and idealized peers. It’s exciting to find an Arthurian character (aside from, I suppose, Lancelot and Guinevere) with a complex moral background. He’s a knight who seems contemporary and even believably human. Gawain is dynamic. He’s conflicted. He doesn’t always live up to the example that he hopes to set. He’s capable of great success and great failure. And his moral ambiguity doesn’t have to involve a predictable and overused plotline of a forbidden relationship with the king’s wife. 

And that’s the Gawain that I cast in my novel. He’s flawed, but not fatally so. He’s a good warrior, but not invincible, self-righteous, but holds himself to a higher standard than he does others. He’s medieval in his mindset, but able to transcend his own character for the greater good. He’s had successes and failures, and he works to outlive and overcome them. He’s hard to love, yet equally hard to hate. And most importantly, his victory is not assured, any more than is his morality. And maybe, in the long run, that’s all any of us can or should hope to be: a tangle of motives, history, and emotion. Complex. Inscrutable. Gordian. Human.  

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Scott for writing this wonderfully insightful guest post for the blog. Please be sure to pop back to these pages on 13th November, when I shall be interviewing Scott to find out a bit more about him and his writing.


Scott Davis Howard ( is an avid anglophile, a Virginia high school English teacher, a husband, a father of two, and the author of Three Days and Two Knights: An Amusing Arthurian Adventure

[all images are in the public domain, via Wikipedia]

Sunday, 2 October 2016

1066 Turned Upside Down - Sunday chat with Glynn Holloway

Continuing with my series of interviews with the 1066 Turned Upside Down authors, I'm delighted to welcome Glynn Holloway to the blog :~ 

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.
Find Glynn: