I recently had the chance to read Helen Hollick’s The Kingmaking and it was a very interesting read, if a bit different from what I typically read.
I was also able to ask Helen a few questions about the book and about writing it.
But first here is my brief review of the book:
The Kingmaking is a fascinating tale about the life of King Arthur. The first in a series of books about this legendary figure, this historical fiction novel focuses on the early years of Arthur rise as he becomes a warrior and the King of legends. A complex story full of intrigue, drama, emotion, and more, I was swept away by the story as Ms. Hollick brought this legendary figure to life.
I’ll admit that prior to this book, what little I knew about the legend of King Arthur came from films that romanticize the legend (both live action and animated…one of my fave movies as a kid was The Sword in the Stone if that tells you anything about my prior knowledge) and this book is definitely not a fairy tale version. This story is at times very dark, violent, and gritty, but I truly enjoyed Ms. Hollick’s take on the legend as she skillfully wove a story that enthralls the reader. Through her words we come to see Arthur as a man rather than a legend complete with flaws and fears and I was fascinated by him as well as by many of the other characters. Her attention to detail and her well-crafted characters and story made me believe in the legend of King Arthur.
And now here is my interview with the author, Helen Hollick.
Welcome. Can you please tell us a little about your book, The Kingmaking, and the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy?
The Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner and Shadow of the King are about King Arthur as you may not have seen him before.
Set earlier than expected—pre 500 A.D.—I wanted to write what might have really happened. Arthur, if he truly existed, would have been more Roman than Medieval. No armour, no castles – no Holy grail. This was a time when Rome had abandoned Britain and the Anglo Saxons were beginning to settle – and to form England. It was a time of a vast power vacuum and of intense conflict. The real Arthur would have been a hard, dedicated war lord – and according to the early legends probably Pagan, not Christian.
My books are not all fighting and battles, though. The people of that time laughed and cried, loved and hated just as we do. There is romance in the pages of my books, for Arthur must have his Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere.) But my Gwen is as feisty as they come – and their relationship is not always plain sailing.
What inspired you to write about the legend and life of King Arthur?
While at school I had no interest in history. The history teacher gave very dull lessons, I have no memory of being taught anything. The lesson I looked forward to was English. Mrs Llewellyn was passionate about the subject and often suggested exciting stories to read. She encouraged my writing and spent her own time after school showing me how to make my essays read better.
After leaving school I worked as an assistant at a local library. While there I re-discovered Rosemary Sutcliff’s superb novels about Roman Britain – Eagle of the Ninth, Frontier Wolf, Mark of the Horse Lord etc, and then Mary Stewart’s Hollow Hills Trilogy, and I had discovered Arthur.
I had never enjoyed the traditional Arthurian stories – I could not get on with the King Arthur of the Medieval tales being so poor a king. As King he obtained a beautiful wife then disappeared in search of the Holy Grail and abandoned his Kingdom. Surely he should have foreseen the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere? I disliked Lancelot, and those goody-goody knights – none of the stories seemed real history.
An author’s note was included in Mary Stewart’s novels; she stated that if Arthur had existed he would have been a post-Roman war lord. I liked the idea far better than knights in armour and read as much about the ‘real’ Arthur as I could.
I read non fiction and searched for novels – but I was so frustrated with most of them because they were not how I saw Arthur. With one portrayal of Gwenhwyfar I even threw the book across the room. That is what clinched it. I was going to write my ideas. My novel.
A ‘what might have really happened’ novel. No knights in armour, turreted castles or Holy Grails, No myth, magic, Lancelot or Merlin. Instead, I used the early Welsh legends of Arthur and his wife, Gwenhwyfar (one of the Welsh spellings for Guinevere). The legends were far more emotionally exciting than the Medieval stories. Arthur was more plausible. More real.
It took me ten years to write what eventually became The Kingmaking – and I am so delighted that Sourcebooks have published such a superb edition!
This appears to be very well-researched. What type of research did you do to help you in writing this book?
Mostly books, non fiction – whatever I could lay my hands on. Working in the library had its compensations. I am not an historian, I have no official degrees or anything, just an A+ in enthusiasm and passion. I have several shelf-fulls of books about Arthur, a few of the books are now well thumbed, and are treasured.
I also visited as many locations as possible. Some I went to see because I wanted to set a scene there – others, I happened to be in the location, thought the place was interesting, so used it in the book.
Although the modern world interfered slightly, I learnt the knack of not seeing houses and roads, or hearing traffic. At Cadbury Castle in Somerset (thought to be the location of Camelot) I stood and imagined what it would have been like in Arthur’s time. On top of Glastonbury Tor I heard the wind sing as it danced through the grass… My husband took me on a 300 mile round trip just to see a river crossing. (I am aware that 300 miles in USA terms is not much – believe me in the UK it is regarded as a long journey – a day’s outing!)
Museums were helpful – I looked at a beautiful Saxon broach in the Museum of London – and incorporated it into The Kingmaking.
Did you learn anything surprising during your research?
Yes, the Welsh legends. When I first started investigating then they thrilled me. The Arthur of these early tales was so different to the Knight in Armour one. He was far more “earthy” – a bit of a rogue, a rebel. Nor was he the chivalric God-fearing King of later stories. This Arthur was a war lord who put his Kingdom and his men first – as it would have been in the Dark Ages when the Christian Church was still emerging and Paganism was very much to the fore.
I also discovered that Arthur had several sons. I’ll not tell you any more detail though, it might spoil the books!
What is next for you?
I am currently having fun with writing an adventure/fantasy series based around the Golden Age of Piracy. I wanted to do something that was not quite as ‘serious’ as my historical novels – and I wanted to invent my own character who does not have to die at the end of the story! My pirate captain is Jesamiah Acorne, and he sails in the Sea Witch. For love interest and that touch of fantasy his woman is a healer and a midwife – and a White Witch. Her name is Tiola Oldstagh, an anagram of ‘all that is good.’ Although not “serious” fiction, I have still researched the background details thoroughly, and my sailing scenes are as accurate as a landlubber can get them.
I am also involved with a proposed movie – ‘1066’, based on my novel Harold the King, which is about the Battle of Hastings. I am co-scriptwriter, and this movie is going to be fantastic. Assuming we can get the funding to make it that is.
Keep up to date on developments on any of these websites:
Is there anything you’d like to ask my blog readers?
Not so much ask, but a slight bit of advice perhaps? Please keep in mind if you are writing your own work, how important editing is. I don’t mean just checking it over for correct spellings and punctuation, I mean asking someone you can trust to be honest to read it. No author can check their own work for “readability.” You know what happens because you wrote it – but maybe your reader does not understand why a character is doing a certain thing, or is in a certain place. You are aware of the “running order” of the scenes, of the continuity – so aware that you may not be able to spot that one moment your heroine is drinking coffee in the lounge, the next she is driving her car.
Editing can make the difference between a decent novel and a brilliant novel.
If anyone is interested I have an article giving hints and tips on writing on my website – http://www.helenhollick.net/culpa41.html. You are welcome to take a look. Please note however, that I mention “cowboy” self publishers. In the UK this refers to a company up to no good, but I understand in the USA ‘cowboy’ means the opposite.
May I wish you all happy reading!
Readers, you can learn more about Helen’s work by visiting her website and look for the recently re-released version of The Kingmaking (now available) in stores or online.
Helen is also in the midst of a blog tour right now with other sites having Helen as a guest and/or discussing The Kingmaking.
Keep Reading for the list and schedule of blog dates.
2/21 and interview 2/27: http://lazyhabits.wordpress.com/2009/02/20/the-kingmaking/
2/23 and guest blog 2/25: http://lilly-readingextravaganza.blogspot.com/2009/02/kingmaking-by-helen-hollick.html
2/26 and guest blog 2/27: http://peekingbetweenthepages.blogspot.com/
3/2 and interview 3/3: http://savvyverseandwit.blogspot.com/
3/3 and interview on 3/5: http://readersrespite.blogspot.com