Welcome to Historical Fiction Reader. It’s a pleasure to have you with us. To begin, please tell us a bit about yourself and your books.
I think it’s all the heroic or inspiring deeds and people we imagine populating our past – men and women like Odysseus, King Arthur, Jane Eyre, Anne S. Cuthbert, and so on. There’s something very romantic, yet still grounded in reality, about those people so it offers the reader escapism without straying too far from our current existence the way fantasy or sci-fi does. It’s also fun to research a period in history, find some interesting events and people, then mould it all to suit your own vision. I find it fascinating to discover things like, for example, the medieval monks in Selby Abbey got into trouble for drinking, fighting and fornicating – that’s the kind of thing that makes a great story!
I like to keep things rolling along without lots of unnecessary waffle – generally, there should be something exciting happening regularly, be it a fight or a chase or a plot twist or whatever. Some historical fiction authors feel the need to show us all how much research they’ve done, so they’ll describe armour, or clothes, or the wine-making process or something in minute detail. Certain readers enjoy that, but I’m here to tell an entertaining story, not take you back to school. I do research everything, and I put a lot of time and effort into making my books as accurate as possible that way, but, ultimately, I want to tell an exciting tale that moves readers. That is my goal with every book I write.
Who, if anyone, inspires you as a writer?
Because I do so much research these days, I don’t have a lot of time to read fiction anymore. People like Bernard Cornwell, Ben Kane, Douglas Jackson and Tolkien were who inspired me originally to start writing myself. More recently, I broadened my horizons with Audible and listened to some audiobooks which were not my usual fare – Daphne Du Maurier became a HUGE favourite, I loved her Rebecca and Jamaica Inn in particular. And I also loved Jane Eyre. Those stories – with wonderful female heroes – were what inspired me to write LUCIA. It’s good to try new genres!
No, not really. I thought it was a bit of a blessing that so much of the story was well known, as it meant I had a kind of map to lead me along. Obviously I fleshed it out using my own ideas and characters, but there were certain things in the old legends that HAD to be in there in one way or another so it was a little easier than having to make everything up myself. At the same time, looking at what other authors had done with Robin Hood made me happy, as they were all working along similar lines, similar time frames, similar characters – I went back to the very first, original ballads and tales and realized they were quite different. They were set in Yorkshire for a start! That meant I could stay close to the original legend AND be different to modern writers and movies and such, so that was great. It makes my books stand out I think.
Of the characters in this series, which was your favorite and why?
It has to be Little John. He’s funny, honest, good-natured, loyal, likes a drink, and stands nearly seven feet tall so he kicks all kinds of ass! I always listen to heavy metal when I write and John is definitely a guy who embodies that culture - he is very “metal”. There are so many really cool characters within the Robin Hood mythos though and I had a LOT of fun bringing them all to life and putting my own spin on them. I’m quite proud of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Yorkshire too – he’s not the usual “baddie” you find in the legend, and he kind of became more real, and more interesting, as the series went on.
Your second series, Warrior Druid of Britain, took a different direction. Historically speaking, did you find it challenging to transition from Medieval Britain to Roman Britain?
Not really. They are fairly similar when it comes to things like food and technology. Going from, say, modern day to medieval would be hard because society is SO different. But 14th to 5th century isn’t a huge jump in many ways. As always, I did a lot of research (which never stops) to make sure I’m getting things right but, honestly, although historians no longer like the term “Dark Ages”, they were called that for a reason. There’s not a lot known about certain aspects of that period and that’s excellent for a fiction writer, as it means I can make lots of things up and no-one can tell me I’m wrong! Of course, there’s still people who want to say “druids didn’t do this” or “druid’s didn’t believe that” but come back to me when you have proof. No-one knows for certain what these people really lived like and that really opens up the imagination and lets a writer be creative.
Overall, in terms of characters – it doesn’t matter what year it is, people are much the same. We live, love, laugh, cry, feel jealousy, hatred, pride and so on.
The power of the old Gods plays a significant role in this series. Why did you feel this material so important?
Religion played a huge part in daily life back then and I personally find it really interesting that they had all these different gods and goddesses. It wasn’t a case of, “Here’s a book written by God, you’ll read it and believe that and nothing else.” In those days people were allowed to believe in whatever they liked, and they saw the druids as representatives of those old gods. Of course, Christianity began to find a foothold around that period and it’s interesting to look at the struggle between the old ways and the new. We know who won in the end, but why? While the country was seeing huge change thanks to the departure of the Romans and the influx of the Dalriadans and Saxons, religion was also drastically changing. The battle between the old gods and Christianity was as important – probably more – than any other in the formation of what we now call Britain.
On a more personal level, whether you believe in one God, or ten, or none, the world is a strange place and sometimes things happen that can’t be explained by normal means. Magic, miracles or misperception – it always makes for an interesting tale. My druid isn’t of the “fantasy” type – he’s no Gandalf or Allanon who can shoot blue fire from his fingers. The magic in my books is more “real”, more subtle, and leaves space for the reader to wonder what’s actually happening. Sometimes, letting the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks is the best way to do things, as fans of HP Lovecraft will know.
Faces of Darkness, your newest release, is a standalone set in 1328, but it takes inspiration from a real unsolved case from the 1980s. Why did this case capture your attention and was it difficult reworking the context to a historic setting?
The case of Cindy James is just so strange. For those who’ve never heard of her, Cindy claimed she was stalked for years, suffering many horrific attacks in the process and eventually being found dead. I don’t want to give away too much, but I just felt like she needed some kind of closure as, to this day, no-one really knows what happened to her. So I tried to do that in Faces of Darkness. It was a little difficult to put the case into a medieval setting because back then they didn’t have things like phones for people to make harassing calls on and that was one of the most sinister aspects of the real case (listen to her answerphone message if you want to be really creeped out!). But I think I managed to tell a decent version of the story while also bringing a satisfying resolution for the reader.
I did think about setting it in the 1980’s, making it my first “contemporary” story, but I felt like Friar Tuck and Little John would be the perfect characters to solve the mystery. Readers have really enjoyed it so I will probably write more along similar lines and using the same characters.
What do you hope readers take from their experience of your work?
I really just want people to be entertained and escape the real world for a while, especially now when we’re all frightened and in lockdown. Sometimes I throw in little things that might make people want to look a bit deeper and I think my books all have this, perhaps quite childlike sense of “everything will be alright in the end”, but that’s good. We all need hope and, despite all the terrible crap some of my characters suffer, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.
For all of us!