14 April 2014

Freedom Fighters: Widukind, Charlemagne’s Foe


“Widukind? A freedom fighter?” my Frankish characters say. “Are you mad? He’s burned churches. His murderers killed indiscriminately.”

“Widukind is a hero,” my Saxon characters reply. “He will rid us of these foreign invaders who destroyed our sacred pillar and stole our territory. When we promise to follow their odd religion, they demand money.”

So, whose side is right? Both.

To eighth-century Saxons, the Westphalian nobleman was a freedom fighter. As a 21st century tolerant American, I cannot condone his burning of churches or slaughter of war captives. Nor can I condone the Franks’ destruction of a sacred monument, coerced baptism, or shaking down anyone for tithes.

A statue of Widukind that used to stand
in Enger, Germany, circa 1900
When events are seen though medieval eyes, however, the reality becomes even more complicated. When a vanquished party swore an oath of loyalty, he invoked the divine. To a medieval Christian, there was only one true God to make the vow valid. Pagan deities were devils, and they would only need to point out the human sacrifices.

In the pagans’ minds, those sacrifices of war captives were a thanksgiving for victory. Instead of enslaving the captives, the victors offered them to the war god. And the churches they burned were symbols of foreign oppression.

Most factual information about Widukind comes from the Franks and their Christian allies. We have no way of knowing what eighth-century Continental Saxons thought. They did not have a written language as we know it. But we can glean a couple of insights:

·         The Saxon must have seen the Franks as oppressors. As his contemporaries complain of Saxons breaking their vows of loyalty to God and king, Alcuin of York, a scholar in Charlemagne’s court, writes letters pleading with fellow Christians to educate the Saxons before baptizing them and to stop demanding tithes – better to lose the money than the souls.

·         Widukind must have been charismatic. Between 777 and 785, Widukind repeatedly led Saxons to battle and inflicted damage. But then the Franks would come and chase away his forces, and Widukind would escape. Even after Charles ordered the execution of 4,500 Saxon men [http://unusualhistoricals.blogspot.com/2012/10/executed-day-river-ran-red.html] – revenge and justice for a disastrous Frankish defeat – Widukind was still an influence.

In late 784, Charles made the bold move to attack Saxony in winter at a time when most wars were fought in spring and summer. With unpredictable weather, no grass in the fields for the horses to graze, and no crops to raid for warriors’ food, the cold, dark months were bad for fighting. Charles spent Christmas at a villa in Saxony and eventually moved to Eresburg, captured almost 13 years before. He used the fortress as a base in the spring and summer then held an assembly in Paderborn.

1840 paint by Ary Scheffer of Widukind's submission
to Charlemange
That is when things changed. As Charles gained more territory, perhaps Widukind realized his enemy was relentless. Maybe he was losing support among his own people. Whatever the reason, he decided to negotiate.

The Franks see Widukind’s baptism in 785 as a victory, but it might be more accurate to see it as a bargain.

Before Widukind traveled to Attigny to go through the rite, he and Charles exchanged hostages, something two peers did to ensure their adversary behaved themselves. When Widukind made his vow, Charles was his godfather and presented him with gifts. In essence, Widukind had Charles’s protection against the monarch’s own Frankish subjects.

Perhaps the deal was for Widukind to convert to Christianity, pay tribute to Charles, and quit burning churches so that he could return to his land. The annals don’t mention Widukind after 785, but he may have founded a few abbeys, a typical penance for a nobleman.

Even after his conversion, Widukind was still revered by Saxons. A 10th century historian bears his name. That scholar, Widukind of Corvey, dedicated the history of his people to Matilda, a royal woman who claimed the eighth-century Westphalian leader as an ancestor.

Public domain images via Wikimedia Commons.

Widukind has a presence as both a hero and a villain in Kim Rendfeld’s books. The Franks in The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press), a tale of love amid wars and blood feuds, loathe him. The Saxons in The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press), a story of the lengths a mother will go to protect her children after she’s lost everything else, admire him. For more about Kim, visit her website, http://kimrendfeld.com or her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelists, http://kimrendfeld.wordpress.com

13 April 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Elise Cyr on SIEGE OF THE HEART

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Elise Cyr with her latest novel,  SIEGE OF THE HEART. The author will offer a free DIGITAL copy of Siege of the Heart to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

He fought for king and country, but that battle was nothing compared to the one he’ll wage for a woman’s heart.

Still reeling from the news of her father’s death during the Norman Conquest, Isabel Dumont is unprepared when trouble arrives at the castle gates. Alexandre d’Évreux, a Norman knight with close ties to England’s new king, has arrived to secure the land and the loyalties of the Dumont family. Desperate to protect her people, Isabel strives to keep the confounding knight at arm’s length and hide the truth about her father’s death.

For Alexandre, the spoils of war come with more than just a generous gift of land. They come with Isabel Dumont. Vowing to marry only for love, Alexandre finds himself in a difficult situation as a conqueror granted dominion over the land and its people. Isabel is the one person capable of helping him win the regard of those living in the war-torn country…if he chooses to accept her.

Just when Alexandre finds a spark of hope that he and Isabel have a chance at love, she vanishes. His quest to find her plunges him deeper into the conquest’s fallout. Was she taken? Or did she leave?

CONTENT WARNING: Entering into this novel may cause extreme affection toward knights of old, admiration for strong-willed women, and the overwhelming belief that love really can conquer all.



**Author Interview: Elise Cyr**


What draws you to the medieval time period?

There was a time when I wanted my very own knight in shining armor to come into my life and whisk me away on a grand adventure. Clearly, I consumed too many fables and fairy tales growing up. But these fantasies are linked to history, a brutal past to which the remains of any castle will attest. For me, medieval times come the closest to evoking the world of fairy tales. There were not only knights and castles, but also adventures and quests and good triumphing over evil, as in the great chivalric romances. With grand battles and power struggles, medieval history can provide a rich backdrop for a story, full of dramatic potential.

What was the inspiration behind Siege of the Heart?

As a lover of history, I am always fascinated by accounts of how one person can have a profound effect on events. This story started with one person as well: William Malet who was an English advisor to Duke William as he prepared to cross the channel and take England for his own. I wondered at how an Englishman could come to help a Norman take over his homeland, and figured there must be others in England who would be in a position to help Duke William in the conquest, given the charged political climate. Thus, my heroine’s father, Lord Bernard Dumont, was born, a man with conflicting loyalties who could ease the way for Duke William’s rule. His actions set the book’s plot into motion and are the means of placing my English-born but Norman-blooded heroine in the path of the hero—one of William’s honor-bound knights.

What challenges did you face in writing the book?

Researching the time of the Norman Conquest was particularly difficult because of its transitional nature. I focused my efforts on the late Anglo-Saxon period and the post-Conquest era, and often had to make inferences on what happened in between. To compound things, since history is often rewritten by the victor, it was sometimes difficult to take the accounts of the Norman Conquest at face value. I’m a history enthusiast, not a trained historian, so I sometimes found myself swamped by facts, but unable to find the ones I needed to serve the story. But I learned a tremendous amount, about the time period and about myself. I hope readers enjoy the manner in which I was able to bring the historical setting to life.

What was the most surprising thing you learned while researching this book?

That while there were plenty of Norman knights at the time of the Conquest, the concept of chivalry, as we know it today, wouldn’t come about for approximately another hundred years. Early on as I was developing my story, it was a huge blow to learn I couldn’t mention “chivalry” as it was anachronistic—akin to putting a turret on my motte and bailey style castle. I had a fantastic line and everything where my heroine rips into the hero for his less-than-noble behavior, but alas, it had to be revised for the sake of accuracy.

What’s next for Elise Cyr?

I’m currently revising a novella-length story set in France during the crusades. After that, I have a longer medieval story I want to tell, but I’m still thinking about it—often I let stories simmer in the back of my mind until the pot boils over, so to speak, and I’m compelled to start writing. To stay current with my upcoming projects, you can follow me on Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, or check out my blog.

*** Learn more about author Elise Cyr. Follow Elise on TwitterPinterestGoodreads, or check out her blog.

Siege of the Heart by Elise Cyr. Available in ebook and print (coming soon!) from Kensington Books. AmazonBarnes and Noble and Kensington Books.

10 April 2014

Except Thursday: SIEGE OF THE HEART by Elise Cyr

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Elise Cyr with her latest novel,  SIEGE OF THE HEART. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. The author will offer a free DIGITAL copy of Siege of the Heart to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

He fought for king and country, but that battle was nothing compared to the one he’ll wage for a woman’s heart.

Still reeling from the news of her father’s death during the Norman Conquest, Isabel Dumont is unprepared when trouble arrives at the castle gates. Alexandre d’Évreux, a Norman knight with close ties to England’s new king, has arrived to secure the land and the loyalties of the Dumont family. Desperate to protect her people, Isabel strives to keep the confounding knight at arm’s length and hide the truth about her father’s death.

For Alexandre, the spoils of war come with more than just a generous gift of land. They come with Isabel Dumont. Vowing to marry only for love, Alexandre finds himself in a difficult situation as a conqueror granted dominion over the land and its people. Isabel is the one person capable of helping him win the regard of those living in the war-torn country…if he chooses to accept her.

Just when Alexandre finds a spark of hope that he and Isabel have a chance at love, she vanishes. His quest to find her plunges him deeper into the conquest’s fallout. Was she taken? Or did she leave?

CONTENT WARNING: Entering into this novel may cause extreme affection toward knights of old, admiration for strong-willed women, and the overwhelming belief that love really can conquer all.

**An Excerpt from Siege of the Heart**

December 1066
Northern Gloucestershire, England


At least she now knew the truth.

It was little comfort though, as Isabel Dumont watched the messenger ride out of the bailey. She let out a breath, a feathery cloud on the cold air. The messenger had declined her offer of hospitality, and she did not ask him to reconsider. Instead, she had seen to it his horse was watered and had pressed a gold piece into his palm to ensure his silence.

Snow had threatened all morning. Now it fell around her in fat flakes, but she did not move. She did not think she could. Her limbs felt heavy, almost waterlogged. Like the time Julien had knocked her headfirst into the river in a moment’s foolishness. And then pulled her back to shore.

That had been ages ago. Her brother’s message now had the same effect, leaving her winded and frozen in place.

Captain Thomas, who handled the training of Father’s men-at-arms, stamped his feet beside her. “My lady, if you wish it, I will make the announcement—”

“No!” The word ripped through her chest and rang in her ears. “No. You will say nothing. To anyone.”

His eyes widened. “But this cannot be kept secret.”

His disapproving tone cut through the numbness that suddenly filled her. She twisted away from him and looked out past the gates. The graying countryside swallowed all sign of the messenger. If only his words were as easy to erase.

“Your father—” Captain Thomas began.

She balled her hands into fists. “Do not say it,” she whispered.

Captain Thomas shook his head. “I must. Your father is not coming home. I know it was not the news you hoped for, but Julien’s message…”

He lifted a hand toward her shoulder, and she gave him a sharp look. He stopped mid-motion, his fingers dangling awkwardly, before resting his hand on his belt. She turned on her heel.

Captain Thomas hastened after her. “Wait!”

She wrapped her woolen mantle more securely around herself. She would not discuss it further. She could not. Not when she could scarcely think.

My lady, please—”

She slipped her hand to the hilt of her sword—one of her father’s cast-offs—and the brush of the leather-wrapped handle against her palm made it easier to rein in her breathing. “You said there were reports of the Welsh attacking tenant farms to the west?”

“Yes. I was going to have Kendrick and some of the other men scout the area, but—”

“Good. I will join them. Tell the men to make ready.”

Captain Thomas’s mouth tightened. For a moment she thought he would disobey her, but he slowly turned toward the castle to do as she bade. Lord Bernard Dumont, thane to the king, had fallen. Now it fell to her to ensure the safety of the Dumont lands. Captain Thomas, of all people, should know what that meant.

Isabel thrust a bow and quiver of arrows from the armory over her shoulder and ducked into the stables, waving off the groom before he assisted her. She led her mount outside and fastened the leather saddle straps. Hardwin flinched when she drew them too tight and kicked his hind leg out in protest.

“Shh. I am sorry, boy.” She ran her hands over his sleek flanks. “I was careless.”

Kendrick and four more trusted men-at-arms filed out of the stables. Strong, steadfast men who should have been fighting by her father’s side in York. Not ordered behind to protect her.

Her father…

Isabel took a deep breath and pulled herself into the saddle. Captain Thomas’s gray head appeared next to Hardwin.

He tugged on her stirrup. “My lady, I must protest.” He threw a glance at the other men and kept his voice low, his lips barely moving as he glared up at her. “I am responsible for your welfare.”

She squeezed her eyes shut. Her welfare was the least of her concerns. She turned to the fair-haired Kendrick. “Ready?”

He nodded. If he observed her exchange with Captain Thomas, he gave no sign of it as he ordered the other riders ahead.

She pressed her heels into Hardwin’s sides. Captain Thomas trotted along with them, the stubborn man still clinging to the leather stirrup. She grimaced but kept her horse’s speed in check.

“Isabel…”

Before Captain Thomas had the chance to chastise her again, she leaned down as far as she could without losing her seat. “I need this,” she said through her teeth. “Can you not understand?”

His hand dropped away. She spurred her horse and did not look back.

*** Learn more about author Elise Cyr. Follow Elise on Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, or check out her blog.

Siege of the Heart by Elise Cyr. Available in ebook and print (coming soon!) from Kensington Books. AmazonBarnes and Noble and Kensington Books.

07 April 2014

Freedom Fighters: The Welsh Wars

By Lisa J. Yarde

Almost from the moment the Normans took England in 1066 and attempted to subdue the whole of the British Isles, they faced resistance in the west from people who would not be subdued: the Welsh. After 1070, a series of Anglo-Norman castles rose along the English-Welsh border, which for centuries had long been the setting of numerous Welsh battles with the Anglo-Saxons. The frontier came under the lordship of men whom the Welsh despised. The names of Earl Hugh Lupus of Chester and Earl Roger de Montgomery of Shrewsbury were synonymous with cruelty and treachery. Their motte-and-bailey castles in the Welsh Marches represented symbols of oppression; more of them rose across the landscape of Wales than in any other territory the Anglo-Normans sought to control. The Marcher lords of these medieval strongholds pushed the borders of their king’s newly conquered country as far into Wales as they could, but not without resistance from the native people. They refused to accept the conquest of their lands.

Map of medieval Wales
Up to two centuries after King Edward I imposed his rule over Wales and heirs to the English crown thereafter took the title, Prince of Wales, the Welsh fought on. Not until the ascension of King Henry VII, who originated the English Tudor dynasty and descended from 11th century Prince Rhys ap Tewdwr of Deheubarth in southwest Wales, did the Welsh acknowledge English rule. The late 11th century saw a series of conflicts unfold, starting in the year after the conquest. In 1067, Prince Caradog ap Gruffydd’s Gwent in southwest Wales came under attack. The invaders subsequently divided the region into five Marcher lordships at Abergavenny, Caerleon, Monmouth, Striguil, and Usk. Before a new century dawned, Gwent no longer existed outside the dominion of its new lords. Next came invasions of Gwynedd and Powys in the north, followed by the death in battle of Prince Rhys ap Tewdwr, who resisted the Norman invasion into Brycheiniog. Subsequent Welsh counter attacks turned back the tide and brought about the destruction of castles within Ceredigion and Dyfed in the extreme west of the country, but this was a temporary respite.

Monument at Maes Gwenllian
England’s nobles had their own internal squabbles to overcome with the ascension of King Henry I after the dubious circumstances of his brother William Rufus’ death. Once the Battle of Tinchebrai resolved Henry’s right to rule England from 1106 onward, the Welsh suffered a new round of brutal occupation. The interests of Gwynedd and Deheubarth united through the marriage of Gwynedd’s princess Gwenllian to Gruffydd ap Rhys of Deheubarth. When Gwenllian died fighting the Normans near Kidwelly Castle, “Maes Gwenllian” became the rallying cry of her husband and her famous brother Owain as they achieved crushing victories over the English. In 1136, the Welsh drove the English out of the Marcher lordships except at Carmarthen, which then fell into Welsh hands a year later. The death of Gruffydd ap Rhys prevented the Welsh from capitalizing on the momentum of their resistance and soon the English dominated the territory around their Marcher lordships again. Gwenllian and Gruffydd’s son Rhys rose to prominence and fought alongside his uncle Owain against the English, and despite a humiliating capture by the forces of Henry II and an oath of homage to him, Rhys continued the fight for his country. He captured Cardigan Castle in the west and Owain took Rhuddlan Castle in the north.

Llywelyn the Great
Of all the Welsh principalities, Gwynedd emerged as the strongest and most capable of resistance in the 13th century. As more of the surrounding countryside became lost to the English, Gwynedd’s rulers after Owain began to make concessions to keep their gains, sometimes to the detriment of other regions. Owain’s grandson Llywelyn Fawr (the Great) made a treaty with King John of England in 1200 and married John’s daughter Princess Joan. Llywelyn became the dominant power in Wales, warring with the English and their Marcher lords in one instance and making alliances with them in the next, particularly siding with the barons who forced John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. During his reign of more than 40 years, the Welsh took Cardigan, Carmarthen and Kidwelly. No longer content with his title, he styled himself as Prince of North Wales. His death preceded significant losses by the Welsh under his son Dafydd and his grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, when they faced their most determined enemy, King Edward I.

Edward, an ambitious and ruthless king, used the tendencies of the Welsh to fight among themselves against the people he intended to conquer. He had arranged for a marriage by proxy between Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and Eleanor de Montfort who was Edward’s first cousin. Then Edward welcomed Llywelyn’s rivals into England, for which Llywelyn refused to do him homage. In 1276, when Edward declared war, thousands of Welshmen fought with him to destroy Llywelyn’s power. Faced with defeat, Llywelyn accepted a humiliating treaty at Aberconwy, which restricted his power to his family’s ancient base of Gwynedd, but he finally united with his wife Eleanor. His brother Dafydd, who had sheltered with Edward in earlier years, reunited with him. Revolts against the English continued under Dafydd’s prompting. Although Llywelyn felt some fraternal duty to join the latest revolt, it proved disastrous for him and the English killed him during battle in 1282. After the capture of Dafydd, Edward ordered him executed within the following year. The Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284 established Edward’s rule over Wales, as did his castles at Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conwy, and Harlech.

Owain Glyndwr
Before the new century, Madog ap Llywelyn, related to the last princes of Gwynedd, attacked Caernarfon and Harlech. His men held out against the English by turning their own battle tactics against them, but by 1295, Madog had surrendered and spent the rest of his life in prison. It may have seemed as if the flames of Welsh revolt were finally subdued, but the last major war for Welsh independence flared to life in 1400 under the rule of Owain Glyndwr. Owain’s descent stretched back to the rulers of Deheubarth, Gwynedd, and Powys, but also incorporated the line of Marcher lords. He spent his youth in England, where he studied law. Upon his return to Wales, he married Margaret Hanmer, the daughter of his teacher. In 1399, a long-running land dispute between Owain and Reginald de Grey over territory in the northern Marches became resolved in Owain’s favor. When Henry of Bolingbroke seized power in England and became King Henry IV in the stead of Richard II, Reginald reclaimed the land. Owain appealed, but Henry IV rejected his claim and sided with Reginald, a member of the king’s council. Further, Henry IV also demanded the annual levy of Welsh soldiers to serve in England’s wars against the Scots, which Reginald interfered with and made it appear as if Owain had refused the summons, a treasonous offense.

By September of 1400, bolstered by the unfairness and illegality he had endured, Owain rose up against the English and claimed the ancestral title Prince of Powys. He and his family burned Reginald’s holdings. Offers of amnesty came for all rebels, except Owain and his cousins Rhys and Gwilym ap Twedwr, part of the line that would culminate in the future Henry VII of England. Owain captured Reginald in 1402 and held him until he received a ransom from Henry IV. No matter how desperate the English became to capture Owain or the coercive or brutal methods they adopted, his people rallied and protected their prince. The scope of the revolt grew and thousands of Welsh supported Owain. However, in 1406 with an invasion at Anglesey, the English made significant strides and began to cut off supply lines to the castles in Welsh control. In 1409, Harlech, where Owain’s wife, daughters and their children lived, fell to the English. The women entered the Tower of London, where the daughters perished with the children. Owain continued the struggle, but as the English relentlessly hunted him, he disappeared into history. Rumors of his life and death abounded for years afterward. Within a few years, his rebellion had died with him.

The Welsh were not cowed just because of English tactics. Rather, the inability of various principalities across Wales in the early medieval period to unite as one nation against their foes ensured the end to the Welsh wars. An important and contradictory factor in the lives of those who called themselves the Cymry, which in their language has invariably meant friend, companion, or brotherhood.

Sources: The Battles of Wales by Dilys Gater, Gwenllian: The Welsh Warrior Princess by Peter Newton, The Scottish and Welsh Wars 1250-1400 by Christopher Rothero, and Owain Glyndwr by Terry Breverton.

Images: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the medieval period. She is the author of historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon's Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers. Lisa has also written four novels in a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana,  Sultana’s LegacySultana: Two Sisters, and Sultana: The Bride Price where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family. Her short story, The Legend Rises, a tale of Gwenllian of Gwynedd, appears in the 2013 HerStory anthology.

06 April 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Danny Adams on LEST CAMELOT FALL

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Danny Adams with his latest novel,  LEST CAMELOT FALL.  The author will offer a free DIGITAL copy of Lest Camelot Fall to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.


Millions of people around the world know the legend of King Arthur, but the stories always end with Arthur’s death and never reveal what happened to the surviving Knights of the Round Table—or Camelot itself. Lest Camelot Fall begins with Arthur’s death and tells of the survivors’ struggle to keep Camelot’s flame of freedom burning against the darkness both of Saxon invaders and native British would-be tyrants.

Lucian Aurelianus is a descendant of Roman emperors and British kings alike, as well as being Arthur’s cousin. He receives an urgent summons to Camelot from Merlin only to arrive after the slaughter of the Battle of Camlann, in time to see Arthur’s body taken away to Avalon. Soon afterward Lucian’s brother, Constantine, claims the right to be High King of Britain—and exiles anyone who challenges him, including the surviving Knights. At the same time, the sons of Arthur’s nephew and mortal enemy, Modred, have joined forces with the Saxons, along with soldiers from a reborn Roman Empire with designs on Britain, for a final attack against Camelot.
Lucian decides he must stay to help Merlin and the Knights—and his increasingly despotic brother—if anything of Arthur’s dream is to survive. Ultimately he will do whatever it takes to keep Camelot alive, even when that means challenging the armies of southern Britain, enduring Saxon slavery, and the possibility of taking what is left of Camelot and leaving Britain behind forever.


**Author Interview with Danny Adams**

How did you come to write about Camelot after Arthur had died?

I’d always wondered what happened to the surviving Knights of the Round Table after Arthur’s death, though the medieval stories weren't much help – some say, for example, that many of the survivors went to the Holy Land to fight the “Infidel”, but in the 6th century A.D. Islam didn’t exist, and the Holy Land was in the hands of the (Christian) Eastern Roman / Byzantine Empire.

I got to thinking about this again after reading Jack Whyte’s fabulous (and super-realistically detailed) Chronicles of Camulod series, and this time went looking for answers among the earliest medieval stories of Arthur, primarily from Wales and Cornwall with some from Brittany thrown in. Those writers were as interested in the question as I was, and not long into the process of this research before I realized I wanted to answer my own question by writing a novel about them. Lest Camelot Fall, well flavored with pieces of those early tales, was the result.

What famous author do you wish had written about Camelot / King Arthur, and what writing styles are best adapted for telling that story?

This is a quirky question for me because the author I would most like to have seen write it didn’t write in the style I think would be best for it. I would have been interested in seeing James A. Michener’s take on it – it would have been epic and the period detail would have been meticulous. (And he likely would have written about all the generations leading up to Arthur’s death too, as Jack Whyte did.)

But while he wrote adventure tales and about people up against incredibly difficult circumstances, the sheer scope of his work meant a lot of characterization was left out. And I think the characters are really at the heart of the story. So it’s a pretty tall order: I would want to see someone take it on who could preserve a spirit of adventure, who understood what a challenge living and fighting in 6th century Britain was, and who would fill the story with fully-dimensional characters as well as lush period detail.

In Lest Camelot Fall, Merlin is a title rather than a single person. What are the challenges of making this character both practically wise and spectacularly magical for readers living in a sophisticated, technology-heavy world?

With Merlin I found myself in the odd position of trying to create suspension of belief over things that were actually real. That is, until the 4th century you had this great advanced civilization existing in Britain; by the 6th century that civilization was gone but its traces were everywhere, most notably in the monumental stone buildings and straight roads. Technology that would have awed whomever saw it, which couldn't be replicated by that point…but if you had access to Roman books, you could pull a lot of it off. So for the magic, there’s nothing that Merlin does that is outside the ability of Late Roman science, but to most people in 6th century Britain it would seem like he had spectacular powers.

As for the wisdom…well, he was inheriting a title, and with that title came knowledge from countless generations of Celts and Druids before him. He understands all the responsibilities this entails, both practical and in other ways. I think by the time someone gets to the point in his training and life that Merlin reached by the time of Lest Camelot Fall, they would have naturally picked up a great deal of wisdom along the way.

Part of the great appeal of Arthurian legend is the tragic love triangle and the tension it creates between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot. What do you feel Lest Camelot Fall offers readers who want the kind of romantic, courtly drama?

I wanted to make Lest Camelot Fall as historically accurate as possible…with one exception. I didn’t think I could tell the story without Lancelot and Guinevere, even though they were much later medieval additions.

On the other hand, after their betrayals—they blamed themselves for Arthur’s death, as did many others—there really couldn't be any kind of happy ending for them. As it is, any romantic ending would likely be out of the question anyway, since both took sanctuary by joining religious orders after Arthur’s death. But there was a possibility of them encountering one another again, so readers of Lest Camelot Fall will see the results of this when it finally happens.

As for the other characters…this book was mainly about survival in the immediate aftermath of Camelot’s all-but-destruction, but if other books follow it, the world they’re building will certainly allow for more romantic drama.

Are there people (contemporary, or at least within the last 100 years) who you think fit into the archetypes set by King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table? Who and why?

My first thought was Nikola Tesla for Merlin – and there’s a story I might like to write someday!

But the more I think about the question, the more I realize – and am ashamed by realizing this – that I don’t know the names of a lot of people I would consider as fitting the archetypes of Arthur and his knights. The way I see Camelot, and the way I wrote it, it was as a band of people struggling against darkness and violence to try building something good that would last not just for their own lifetimes but for the generations that follow. There are people all over the world right now – South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, right here in the United States, and almost countless other places – struggling against violence and other kinds of darkness of one sort or another. These are people whose names we may never know, but they are every bit as worthy of remembrance as Arthur and his knights.

When writing character motivations, how do you prevent contemporary sensibilities from taking over, and instead remain true to the mindset of the times you are writing about?

That’s actually my biggest hurdle when writing historical fiction, and I’m sure I’m not alone. But it has a (deceptively simple) solution.

All historical fiction authors know that they need to become experts in the period they’re writing about if they want it to sound authentic, but in doing so you also have to become an expert in your characters who live in that time. These two are inseparable, flip sides of the same coin. If you intimately know the world you’re writing about, then you should also come to intimately know the people who populate it. What they want and what drives them – and how they’ll be different than someone in the 21st century.

What is the key element for capturing the feeling of a bygone age and translating that for your readers?

I like to make a story as “interactive” as a book can possibly be. That is, I don’t want to just draw a reader into the story in a basic way. I want them to feel the way the character is feeling. To think what the character is feeling. To touch, hear, and smell what the characters are sensing. I tend to do that through a lot of detail, both period detail and what is going through characters’ mind. To feel like they’re living in the place alongside the characters. I can’t time travel (which is still disappointing to me), but I've always felt like historical novels were the next best thing, and if my readers feel like they've at least gotten a good long glimpse at the place and time I’m writing about, then I’m happy with that.


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03 April 2014

Excerpt Thursday: LEST CAMELOT FALL by Danny Adams

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Danny Adams with his latest novel,  LEST CAMELOT FALL. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. The author will offer a free DIGITAL copy of Lest Camelot Fall to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.


Millions of people around the world know the legend of King Arthur, but the stories always end with Arthur’s death and never reveal what happened to the surviving Knights of the Round Table—or Camelot itself. Lest Camelot Fall begins with Arthur’s death and tells of the survivors’ struggle to keep Camelot’s flame of freedom burning against the darkness both of Saxon invaders and native British would-be tyrants.

Lucian Aurelianus is a descendant of Roman emperors and British kings alike, as well as being Arthur’s cousin. He receives an urgent summons to Camelot from Merlin only to arrive after the slaughter of the Battle of Camlann, in time to see Arthur’s body taken away to Avalon. Soon afterward Lucian’s brother, Constantine, claims the right to be High King of Britain—and exiles anyone who challenges him, including the surviving Knights. At the same time, the sons of Arthur’s nephew and mortal enemy, Modred, have joined forces with the Saxons, along with soldiers from a reborn Roman Empire with designs on Britain, for a final attack against Camelot.

Lucian decides he must stay to help Merlin and the Knights—and his increasingly despotic brother—if anything of Arthur’s dream is to survive. Ultimately he will do whatever it takes to keep Camelot alive, even when that means challenging the armies of southern Britain, enduring Saxon slavery, and the possibility of taking what is left of Camelot and leaving Britain behind forever.

**An Excerpt from Lest Camelot Fall**


My nightmare had become prophecy. Camelot was very likely facing a unified army. One wielding the Saxon’s overwhelming numbers and Roman tactics they learned from Modred…and maybe others.

The next moment, I was staring up at the ceiling from the floor, my back scraped hard against the stone of Merlin’s wall. Vaguely, I was aware of the slamming closed of Camelot’s gates. Only slightly more distinctly, I heard Merlin’s voice imploring me to get up. Then I was aware we were not alone in the room.

“Forgive me, Master Merlin,” Sir Bedivere said, “but it seems King Constantine left your door open.”

“Odd, considering how many other doors he slammed shut these past weeks,” Merlin said. I tried to gather my senses enough to watch both men and follow the conversation simultaneously.

“He left this door wide open,” Kay chuckled, flanked by the other knights. “Wide enough for all four of us to enter.”

“Then I pray you all enter. What would you have of me?”

“Of both of you,” Bedivere said, and I finally felt shame at being on the floor. With one hand against the wall and Merlin’s under my other arm, I unsteadily rose.

“Where was my sword taken?” I asked hoarsely.

“The armory, Prince Lucian. You may wish to carry it, but you have not been called to war. Not yet.”

I liked the sound of that less than Camelot’s battle horn.

“King Cynric has requested a meeting,” Bedivere continued. “Constantine has granted his request. We meet within the hour at the Round Table. Your brother has requested Sir Bors, Sir Kay, Sir Lavaine, and myself to join them, along with Master Merlin.”

Not me, though. Not surprising.

“You’d better get walking,” I told them.

Bedivere shook his head. “Your brother may not have asked for your presence, but the other knights and I have. Quite frankly, Lucian, we refused to attend if you were not there—unless your absence is your own decision. Or you were too ill to attend. What say you, Prince?”

I didn’t bother hiding my suspicion. “Why are you so interested in my attending? Obviously I’m not wanted.”

“An excellent reason to go,” Kay offered.

“You are a prince of Camelot,” Bedivere said. “It is fair and your right that you should be present at a war council.”

Bors grunted. “And as the King’s protection, we aren’t allowed to speak.”

“We would be honored to have you attend,” Lavaine told me.

“Don’t look at me for more answers, my prince,” Kay, the eldest knight, said with mock wide-eyed innocence. “I don’t want to be there at all.”

I pulled my arm from Merlin’s grip and glanced outside again. Most of the enemy army remained outside; Gerallt and Cynric had entered under a flag of safe passage and with only a handful of men. As I stared at the slowly-closing outer gate, I knew it was time to shove aside whatever I might feel for my brothers.

“When we go to the Round Table, Sir Bedivere,” I told him, “I would appreciate you giving me some lessons along the way.” At his confused stare I explained, “Where to sit would be a good start, unless it truly does not matter. I would also much appreciate a quick explanation of how to behave in the presence of…enemy kings.”

Especially if all the kings surrounding me are my enemy, I did not add.

Learn more about author Danny Adams

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30 March 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Rebecca Hazell on THE GRIP OF GOD

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Rebecca Hazell with her latest novel, THE GRIP OF GOD. The author will offer a free copy of The Grip of God to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.


Rebecca Hazell's The Grip of God, the first novel in an epic historical trilogy, is available on amazon.com  and its affiliates and by special order through your local bookstore. The subsequent two novels in the trilogy are scheduled for publication later this year. The saga’s heroine, Sofia, is a young princess of Kievan Rus. Clear eyed and intelligent, she recounts her capture in battle and life of slavery to a young army captain in the Mongol hordes that are flooding Europe. Not only is her life shattered, it is haunted by a prophecy that catalyzes bitter rivalries in her new master's powerful family. She must learn to survive in a world of total war, always seeking the love she once took for granted.

Sofia's story is based on actual historical events that determine her destiny. Readers will delight in this very personal and engaging tale from a time that set the stage for many of the conflicts of today's world.

Praise for the trilogy

“How deftly and compellingly Hazell takes the reader with her into that mysterious and exotic world, and makes it all seem so very close to hand!” – Peter Conradi, Fellow of Britain's Royal Society of Literature and author of Iris Murdoch: A Life, and of A Very English Hero.

"I enjoyed watching her morph from a spoiled sheltered princess with slaves of her own, into a tough, savvy survivor, with a new awareness of social injustice. The book is action packed. I couldn't put it down." -- from a review on Amazon.com.

"I got completely caught up in the characters and story and always looked forward to getting back to them. What a fully fleshed and fascinating world you developed and it was wondrous to learn so much about that time and the Mongol culture. Your gifts come out in your lush descriptions of place and objects. All very vivid and colorful." --author Dede Crane Gaston


**Author Interview with Rebecca Hazell**

Welcome to Unusual Historicals. You certainly have an unusual setting for your novel. What gave you the idea for this series?

Thanks for hosting me. I was literally gripped by the plot for this trilogy when I was about twenty years old, and I still have the first, very crude pages that I wrote way back then. I thought I was going to write only one novel, The Grip of God, but it naturally became three.

My interest in this era actually started when I was assigned to learn Russian instead of German in high school. I got hooked on Slavic culture and majored in Russian history at university. Somehow Kievan, or Kyivan Rus’ interested me more than any other period. It was such a dramatic time, so much happened and spilled over into today’s events, but I didn’t know that yet. I had a rather simplistic idea about the whole thing that got shattered when I did the almost 17 years of research that went into the three novels.

What kept you going when it took so much research? 

It was fascinating! It had never occurred to me that so much was happening simultaneously in Europe, Asia and the Middle East: the Mongol invasions, the final years of the Assassins, the final Crusades, the occupation of Constantinople, and the French Inquisition. And St. Thomas Aquinas and Jalaluddin Rumi were writing great works while Marco Polo’s uncle and dad were traveling to China. What an era!

That was partly why it took so much research because historians generally specialize, and I had to consult many sources for each element of the story. It took me three years of research to find out a single thing about occupied Constantinople. That was a bit discouraging, but I persevered and found out enough to write about it.

How did your main/secondary characters come by their personalities? 

There were several characters that I plotted into the novel from the very beginning, like the Persian merchant, Selim, who has a secret that I won’t give away here, but whose help forms the context for the second novel. Others appeared spontaneously along the way, like Sofia’s young Hungarian servant Anna. In fact, I had to really control Anna and her doings because they threatened to swamp my heroine. On the other hand, Anna’s experiences growing up allow the reader to learn a lot about differences in rank and therefore learning, as well as lots of the superstitions and prejudices of the day.

Other characters like Lady Q’ing-ling popped up out of nowhere to tell side stories, or to help Sofia grow up. I feel that there have always been people of good heart who keep the world afloat like that while the big names start wars and sign treaties; and my secondary characters, with their personalities are like that. They are both unique and also represent their cultural heritages, so the story becomes a sort of rich stew typical of that time.

How hard was it to make the switch from writing for youngsters to writing for adults? 

I was lucky in that as my own children grew older, I started writing for older children. And Sofia was still a child by today’s standards, though twelve was considered adult by medieval standards. Then as she matured, I could show her inner journey quite easily.

What can we look forward to in the other two novels?

Sofia continues her outer and inner journey, crossing paths with many of the important people of her generation. She encounters Persian culture, Crusader culture, and the Inquisition, each challenging her to adapt to outer circumstances, some of them quite dangerous, while not becoming callous or selfish. Though she is tempted! Also tempted by love, as she meets a special someone who is as much trouble in his way as Anna is in hers! There’s lots of adventure and real history interwoven in her story. I cried at the end, and not only out of relief. I think my readers will feel the same.


About the author

Rebecca Hazell is an award winning artist, author and educator. She has written, illustrated and published four non-fiction children’s books, created best selling educational filmstrips, designed educational craft kits for children and even created award winning needlepoint canvases.

She is a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, and she holds an honours BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz in Russian and Chinese history.

Rebecca lived for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1988 she and her family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in 2006 she and her husband moved to Vancouver Island. They live near their two adult children in the beautiful Cowichan Valley.

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