26 July 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Austin Hernon on THE WARRIORS OF THE CROSS (Book Two-Robert: The Wayward Prince)

This week, we're pleased to welcome again author Austin Hernon with his latest novel, THE WARRIORS OF THE CROSS, book two in the series, Robert: The Wayward Prince.  The author will offer a free copy of book two of Robert: The Wayward Prince 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.

Robert, Duke of Normandy, eldest son of William the Conqueror, responds to the clarion call of Pope Urban II to Christendom. In the company of the foremost nobles from Europe he undertakes a mission to liberate Jerusalem in what comes to be known as the First Crusade.

Robert, passionate and idealistic, is inspired by the idea of fighting for God against the heartless infidel – but comes to change his mind as he witnesses the godless behaviour of other Christian lords, some of whom he counted friends.

Over a long arduous journey Robert discovers that the hearts of men, Christian or not, are swayed by lust for blood, land and power. As the physical privations set in, through the deserts of Asia Minor and especially at Antioch, and fear and danger take their toll, he sees avarice and treachery overcome Christian motives and is appalled at the resulting bloody chaos. But like it or not Robert is a leader, and if he hopes to return to the woman he loves in Italy he must bring his military skills to bear to ensure his decimated war-band survives to take Jerusalem.

**Q&A with Austin Hernon**

This is the second of your fictional biographies, following the life of Robert Curthose, eldest son of Robert of Normandy. How closely are you following the true history, as we know it?

As closely as I can. The book started off as a project to learn more about Robert, Duke of Normandy and it was his forgotten history that inspired me to put pen to paper. I wondered why someone who I’d barely heard of could still lay claim to such a magnificent tomb in Gloucester Cathedral, and once I learnt who he was I needed to find out more about what he did, why he never came to the English throne and why the Conqueror’s other sons practically wrote Robert, the first-born, out of history. It’s been a fascinating journey. I’ve discovered a lot about Robert that biographers and chroniclers haven’t spotted – or at least I’ve discovered the possibilities of these endeavours and events. Robert’s leadership skills in the First Crusade is understated in the chronicles but I started digging, and found out more and more about how impressive he was; courageous and crafty in equal measure. He also, it seems to me, was ultimately a truthful man, without any side to him, as we’d say today; no ulterior motives. This might have been his undoing in terms of his personal ambitions as he could never quite grasp, until it was overwhelmingly evident, that other men might not be the same. Yet in the First Crusade, as far as I can tell, he didn’t succumb to the bloodlust nor the power-lust that gripped the other Christian leaders. Robert The Wayward Prince remains a work of fiction, and truth will always bend a knee to plot and pace in a novel, but the book’s raison d’être was to find out more about this intriguing man and get a glimpse into a fascinating historical period through his eyes, and that’s what I hope I’ve achieved.

Was writing this second book very different from the first?

Yes, very. I was finding my feet as a writer much more with the first book and that took a long time. Originally the first book was written in third person rather than first, and it was only when I tried first person – at the suggestion of editorial consultancy Fiction Feedback  – that I found my way. The writing, and Robert, came alive. By the time it came to the second book I understood much more what was involved, in terms of research, planning, the actual writing and the editing process. It was much more straightforward as a result, and I think a better book. I was able to do more justice to Robert and these calamitous events in his life because I had developed my novel-writing skills.

The Warriors of the Cross tackles some very pertinent themes, with Christian and Moslem cultures clashing in the Middle East. Did you have present situations in mind when writing the book?

No, not at all. I simply set out to tell Robert’s story, and it is sad coincidence that what was international headline news almost a thousand years ago is so again. But naturally enough, as I was researching and planning Robert’s story with all its incidents in modern-day Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel, I couldn’t help but notice and draw parallels with then and now. I hope they don’t increase.

I think that seeing the world through medieval eyes has given me an extra perspective on contemporary crises and troubles. But I can’t help but draw the lesson that the lesson of history is that we never learn, as has been said before by people wiser than me. People are people, and human nature doesn’t change very much, so it’s not so surprising that history should repeat itself. And I have no time for people who blame religion itself for these wars. Followers of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, whatever: it’s the practitioners of religions who bring about such crises, not the religions themselves who often preach peace and love, tolerance and forgiveness.

Some aspects of the First Crusade are quite gory. Here and there you give full rein to your descriptive powers in showing us scenes of deadly combat and carnage. Did you find this at all difficult?

No, not particularly. I kept it within the limits of what I felt comfortable with. I don’t like reading pages and pages of graphic violence in fiction or non-fiction so I only introduced a paragraph here and there when not to do so would give a false impression of events, or inadequately explain people’s reactions to what was going on.

Violence and bloody death was much more a part of everyday life in 1095 for many more sections of society: for nobles, churchmen and politicians as well as the rank and file. It can’t remain undescribed, but to ascribe too much space to it would I think have the opposite effect of naturalism, as it would elevate it to a significance that it wouldn’t have had then. But of course, when you have a character battling to the death with fearful foes all round, or losing a close friend in warfare, or even hearing about atrocities committed elsewhere, you have to do such things justice in the writing or the characters and the story itself would be insipid and unreal.

There are also several scenes of a romantic or sexual  nature in your book. What do you say to those who might gripe that they have no place in the story of a hard-bitten soldier?

Robert was a heterosexual man like any other and my novels don’t pretend to be military histories. They’re about a man and his full life. Robert liked the ladies and they liked him: again it would seem unrealistic not to include some scenes of sex and love. Leaving them out wouldn’t do his story justice!

The book ends on quite a cliffhanger about events back in England. What next for Robert, Duke of Normandy?

That’s the job of the third book to tell. It should be published later this next year – meanwhile there’s a lot of juicy gossip and historical fact on my website at www.waywardprinceproductions.co.uk

Learn more about author Austin Hernon