Kim is the author of books set in early medieval Continental Europe, but I began by asking her:
You've had a few career changes over the years, but all connected with writing. How does journalism compare with writing novels? Do you need to employ any of the same techniques in both disciplines?
The styles for journalism and novels are very different. Journalism is objective and emotionally distant, and the writer never, ever fabricates anything to fill in a gap in knowledge. In fiction, the story is from a definite point of view and emotionally intimate. A novelist is expected to make things up when the facts aren’t known.
With either forms of writing, I like to keep my language simple and focus on the storytelling rather than proving how clever I am.
Another commonality is in the research. Whether I was interviewing a person for a news article or am reading a book by someone long dead, I have similar questions: What’s their motive in telling me this? Are they reliable? Everyone has an agenda, regardless of the time period.
That's a very good point - we should always be on the lookout for bias.
Your background was in English, rather than history. How did you go about researching the background for your novels, and what in particular drew you to the world of Charlemagne?
I read a legend about Rolandsbogan in a guide book while vacationing in Germany, and the story wouldn’t let me rest until I’d written it, never mind I knew very little about the Middle Ages and even less about Charlemagne. Once I started the research, I was hooked. Charlemagne had a complicated personal life, and that had national and international consequences. With wars and religious conversions, this era provides a lot of fodder for a writer.
|Charlemagne at dinner: detail from the "Talbot Shrewsbury Book"|
Held and digitised by the British Library.
A lot of my research comes from scholars who’ve read the medieval Latin and studied this time period. Google Books is my friend. I frequently turn to Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne by Pierre Riché (translated by Jo Ann McNamara). My library also includes Einhard’s The Life of Charlemagne, translated by Evelyn Scherabon Firchow and Edwin H. Zeydel; Carolingian Chronicles, which includes the Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, translated by Bernard Walter Scholz with Barbara Rogers; and P.D. King’s Charlemagne: Translated Sources. For The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, I also used The Continental Saxons from the Migration Period to the Tenth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective, edited by Dennis Howard Green and Frank Siegmund.
When I try to figure out the landscape and travel times, I often turn to Google Maps and Google Earth. The problem is that these tools show what sites look like now, and I need to know what they were like 1,200 years ago, before forests were cleared, swamped were drained, major rivers shifted, and settlements sunk into the sea.
I have exactly the same problem!
|Francia, early 8th Century|
I know that you write a lot of blog articles - how do you manage to find a balance so that you can make time for your novel-writing too?
You’ve just touched on my daily struggle: Do I work on my novel or a blog post? Sometimes, deadlines dictate the decision.
I don’t watch much TV. My stepdaughter is grown, and I am fortunate to have a supportive husband, who does most of the cooking and the errands.
What drew you to incorporate the fairy-tale aspect into your writing - was this more difficult, or did the time period in which the stories are set lend itself to this approach?
Common beliefs of this time period lend themselves to the folk tales collected by the brothers Grimm, which hooked me as a teenager. Even though the Church prohibited sorcery, early medieval Christians would still use magic for protection or healing, and they feared otherworldly creatures like kobolds. Many of the folk tales provide a reason for the unexplainable. Why is the baby suddenly not thriving? Was the unbaptized infant replaced with a changeling?
Every generation grows up with stories, and some version of these tales must have existed in the 8th century.
The folk tales were also helpful as I tried to simulate the pagan Continental Saxons’ religion, which the Church, with Charlemagne’s support, tried to obliterate.
The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar has just been re-released. It's set in the same time-frame as The Cross and the Dragon; are there any points of cross-over between the two stories?
Some of the characters in The Cross and the Dragon appear in The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, but each novel has its own set of heroes, heroines, and villains, and each stands alone. Many of the historical events are the same, but when they’re seen from different points of view—one Christian aristocrats, the other pagan peasants—the result is markedly different stories.
I was originally going to follow Cross and Dragon with the adventures of two nuns who played supporting roles in my debut, but they never did get a chance to star. A family of Saxons decided to hijack my plot and compel me to write about commoners who become enslaved war captives instead.
Thanks, Annie, for this opportunity.
Perhaps those nuns will get their turn in the spotlight in the future!
Thanks for talking to me today Kim.
Barnes & Noble
The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar
Barnes & Noble
Read Kim's guest post for this blog HERE
(Charlemagne image and map both in the public domain via Wikipedia)