Going backwards, not forwards. What’s that all about!

So many of you might be wondering just what exactly I’m playing at with my insistence on going backwards in time as opposed to forwards. With the Earls of Mercia series I started covering the time period at the end of the tenth century and intended (and will do) to go to 1066 and slightly beyond. But then, well, a friend mentioned the time period after Alfred the Great and so Brunanburh (Chronicles of the English Book 1) was born and then because I enjoyed that project so much I back-tracked to the beginning of Aethelred II’s reign as well in Wulfstan, And now, well now, it’s just become silly and I find myself back in 632. So, what’s it all about!?

Well to be honest, it’s just pure happenstance. I began writing Ealdorman in 2010 because I was researching the time period for my MA and also because I was a little fed up with my fantasy novels not being overly popular. I started it, I tried to get an agent, and then I stopped it, and only returned to the delightful thing in 2013 after a trip to the Orkney Islands inspired me to finish the story (and I FINALLY worked out which set of islands was Shetland and which Orkney). When it became successful, I immediately started Ealdormen and from there it has all become quite crazy and because I always intended to write about the end of Anglo-Saxon (or Anglo-Danish) England, I’ve had no choice but to go backwards. And it needs to be remembered, the Anglo-Saxon age covers over 600 years. That’s a lot of different characters to become embroiled with and there are many excellent stories to tell which only need a quirk here and there from my imagination to make them into interesting books. There’s also characters who dip in and out of Anglo-Saxon England who have great back stories in the rest of the Viking world at that time, but I don’t want to give too much away about my current project.

I feel as though I’ve been gifted with an arena filled with stories for me to pick and choose. It’s exciting and daunting all at the same time. After all, it’s the way I view the time period that I’m portraying, and not necessarily the accepted ‘norm’. I also (and this is the nerdy bit) love all the research. I enjoy nothing more than spending hours sifting through information on the internet, or through old notes from Uni so that I can find the information I need to write my books.

So, all the backwards, forwards and occasionally side by side stuff isn’t about to stop anytime soon.

I’d apologise but I think everyone who reads it enjoys it as much as I do!

So now, from 632, I find myself in 999 although I really should be in 942. But that’s beside the point.

The Liberties of Historical Fiction and What makes a perfect work of historical fiction

Non-fiction is a wonderful genre when the author has an engaging writing style; but historical fiction can really bring an historical event to life – so that we can visualise it and, if we’re really lucky, put ourselves in that time and place with the characters.

But with that said, historical fiction is responsible for reenforcing outdated ideas about the past, and when it becomes popular (or rather if) does it do more harm than good?

As a self-confessed history nerd, I know that if a work of fiction captures my imagination, I will nine times out of ten, research the time period myself and see how realistic the portrayal was. It doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of the fiction if I find huge errors, but it might make me a little wary when reading future books by the same author. 

Often the worse thing, in my opinion, that an historical fiction author can do is weave a fictional character into a sea of ‘real’ historical characters and present them as just as real. Not that I don’t appreciate that many ‘bit parts’ will be fictional, but surely, not the main character in a story of King’s and Princes. (I was once traumatised after reading a trilogy of books of over 500 pages each when this first happened to me – and I’m naming no names!)

But there are also far worse things – they can use glaringly modern terms, or misinterpret the events, or put a rosy ‘romantic’ glow over it all (as happens in much historical fiction about women!) or present their heroine as rising about the societal norms whilst inflicting those norms on other characters.

Don’t get me wrong here, I strongly believe that humankind has not suddenly undergone some strange enlightenment in the past century. I believe romantic love must have existed for far longer than some historians would have us believe. Today’s population can’t wholly be the result of non-consensual sex and rape, for if it us, what does that really say about men and women as two separate genders. I think some commons sense must be applied. Men and women have been in relationships since they first walked on Earth. And in Anglo-Saxon and Viking times (before the Christianisation took place) men relied on their wives or common law wives to run their homes in their absence. If not love, then at least trust must have existed.

But I digress, so far my pet hates are too much romance, too much ‘bad’ history, and too much ‘one rule for everyone else and a different one for the authors hero or heroine’. To that I must add historical fiction that’s exclusively ‘man’ orientated – battles, blood and gore (yawn!).

So what makes my perfect word of historical fiction;

1) a good storyline that’s more truth than fantasy

2) a firm grounding in the time period

3) characters who are people

4) to be taught something

5) a series of books – I don’t like stand alone novels as a reader, I’ve not yet decided as an author.

6) something different – not the same people told from a different point of view i.e. the Tudor women.

If I think of anything else, I’ll add it on. Let me know what you think.

 

Nationality before 1066

At the moment I’m writing about the battle of Brunanburh in 937, a battle between the English King, the Scottish King, the King of Strathclyde and the Dublin Vikings. It’s a great project and I’m really enjoying it, but it’s made me consider how I should be using my characters nationality, and more importantly, how I should be describing them.

http://www.wattpad.com/story/15294409-brunanburh

It all seems simple enough to use English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh but really, is that correct? The Welsh are perhaps giving me the most trouble because back in 937 the kingdoms weren’t amalgamated, instead being very much like the earlier Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the Mercians and the Northumbrians. And even the term Welsh, which I seem to think is Anglo-Saxon for foreigner, may not be how these people thought of themselves.

In the end, I’ve chosen to call those living in what is now Wales the British because the thinking is that the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons pushed the native Britons into the extremities of the UK, into Wales, Cornwall and Scotland. I know it’s a slightly picky point, but when dealing with the time period in question, it’s important to get the little details correct.

More than anything I want to portray the men I’m writing about in a way that readers today can relate to them. Yes, they might have been a little more violent, but overall, they really can’t have been that different to us.

So, have a read of Brunanburh over on Wattpad and let me know how you think I’m doing!