10 August 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Austin Hernon on ROBERT - THE WAYWARD PRINCE

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Austin Hernon with his latest novel, ROBERT - THE WAYWARD PRINCE. The author will offer a free copy of Robert - The Wayward Prince in Kindle format from Amazon 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.

Although Robert was the eldest son of William the Conqueror, he was not his favourite; in fact they spent most of Robert’s life at odds with each other. Robert’s disdain for his father’s cruelty and obsession with power, and William’s displeasure with his son’s demeanour and attitude to civic duties rendered the pair incompatible. Only Matilda the queen, wife of William and mother of Robert, was able to keep the peace between them.

Nevertheless, King William was not slow to deploy Robert’s other talents to ensure the security of his domains and his expansionist desires – King William had plans for Wales, and was considering expanding his influence across the Alps into Northern Italy.

A Norman empire from Northumbria to Constantinople was firmly in the mind of William when he set about putting his warrior son to the test, diplomacy and dynasty were the weapons which the king deployed from Robert’s armoury – in addition to the sword.

See how Robert’s diplomacy keeps the Scots at bay, how his skill-at-Arms cannot be bested, and mostly, how he loves.

There is Morberga, Nordic blond, from stable girl to lady of the court, as Robert loses his heart to her stately beauty.

Then Tegwin, raven haired and fiery horsewoman, imported from North Wales to beget with Robert a prince for a united Wales.

King William’s other target, Matilda of Canossa, de facto ruler of Northern Italy, the pope’s general and nemesis of the German Emperor, Heinrich IV.

See how this extraordinary family, chaotic at the best of times, are plunged into near anarchy when the Conqueror dies suddenly, leaving three brothers to sort out the subsequent mess for themselves.

Then witness the genesis of the fracture between Islam and Christianity, and how Robert found himself cast in the role of Saviour of Jerusalem.

This is a wide-ranging tale of love and war, loyalty and treachery, obsession and ambition, which will hopefully cast some light upon the previously ignored effigy of a duke, lying in the gloom of an aisle in Gloucester Cathedral.

**Q&A with Austin Hernon**

Austin Hernon, author of Robert – The Wayward Prince, first book in the Norman Princes trilogy, talks to us about whether historical fiction in some cases presents a more likely and fuller interpretation of the facts and figures than academic historians can allow themselves to do.

Why do you think that novelists can come to different conclusions from academics using the same facts?

Even where the facts are not in dispute, the difference between academic histories and novels is the words which fiction authors use to fill in the spaces between facts. Academics have opinions too, but they’re generally more reluctant to ‘imagine’ than are novelists; they usually want hard evidence if not proof before venturing an opinion. Novelists can apply a test of reasonableness, which may be argued against, but which may not be disproven.
It is very useful for novelists when the facts are in dispute. This occurs in any period of history, but the further you go back the more likely it is, when surviving evidence is considerably less than for later times. Any time of seismic change and turbulence such as the eleventh century will also provide fertile ground for the imagination of novelists. This is where I can fill in the spaces using my own experiences and life skills as well as old-fashioned historical research, and where the novelist has a big advantage in having the freedom to put flesh onto the bones of history.

Can you give an example?

Probably the best thing to look at in this regard is character. Most of the women in Robert’s story are real historical figures, and need to be accorded the respect due to them; however, there is a problem. Nearly all of the source material was written by monks, on behalf of Church or State, and with a degree of misogyny which the modern mind will find astonishing in its arrogance.

To be included within any chronicle a woman had to be exceptionally important, or do some deed which was exceptionally noteworthy; ordinary women apparently did not exist in the eleventh century. I’ve obviously not followed this lead but shown the world as it would truly have existed then as now: made up of both men and women. I’ve given a role to women who existed but were never mentioned, for example Robert’s daughter. This woman was married to one of the most powerful men in Normandy, Helias of Saint-Saens, but nobody has thought fit to mention her name. I have; she is Agnes. I’ve also explored powerful female characters who undoubtedly had a major impact on events and on historical characters. Foremost among these is Tegwin, Robert of Normandy’s Welsh mistress and mother of two of his children. While the evidence proves the existence of such a woman, it is very slender; as a novelist I’ve been able to bring life to the woman and to her influence on Robert and his history.

You have questioned the motives behind some of the chronicles of the time. Can you expand your argument as to their value?

I’ve used several academic works in my research and all the authors, to a varying degree, use the same sources. There are differences in nuance, but broadly speaking they agree on ‘facts’, and this is where my own scepticism comes in.
a.                  Insufficient weight is often given to who was writing the chronicles and when. The victors get to write their history and just as historians and record-keepers in the times of the Tudors made sure to trample the reputation of the Plantagenets, especially Richard III, to give credence to Henry VII’s rather dubious claim to the throne and the validity of the dynasty that followed, then those writing in the reign of Henry I had to trash Robert of Normandy to justify their patron’s seizure of the English throne. Later chroniclers may have followed their lead and merely repeated any adjustment of the facts.
b.                  The chronicles were written in Latin, by hand, by order, and are subject to interpretation, both by early and by modern scholars. Who knows what nuances of language are contained in scripts written a thousand years ago.
c.                   The oldest modern ‘Life of Robert’ was published in 1921 and the newest in 2008 but even in that short time span there are slight differences of emphasis and some slight differences in interpretation.
d.                  Other facts come from writings in other languages, by other authors, and have also been through the mill of interpretation more than once. What has been missed, or added, or coloured, during these processes? We can only guess.

So do you think that the scholars have got Robert wrong?

No, not any more than lawyers are wrong, or right, when they use the same facts to persuade a jury to think one thing or another. In the same way the scholars are not necessarily wrong; I just take a different view.

However, you might ask yourself why Robert of Normandy has an effigy in a place of high regard in Gloucester cathedral. The effigy was installed some years after his death, so how could such an insignificant character attract such undying veneration? –You might like to ponder that one.

You have not held back from the graphic portrayal of Robert’s love life. Was that necessary?

Certainly, this is the story of the life of a man. He was a prince and a duke, but like other men he had a love life – and what is more indicative of a man’s true character than how he treats women? To see how he was held in respect and loved by several ladies will tell you more than any simpering allusions ever will. Enjoy the experience of the whole man, with no veils drawn.

You have picked a rather obscure character to begin your novelist’s life with, why Robert?

I was actually researching the Highland Clearances, I wondered where the arrogance to inflict that sort of injustice came from – the trail led back to the Normans, and the change in style of governance, the obsession with land and power and the autocratic control of society. Here I found Robert, he was a challenge but the chronicles had left too many loose ends lying around, it was obvious that another, earlier injustice had played a part. So I pulled history apart and came up with a real character and a fascination glimpse into the realpolitik of the time.

Learn more about author Austin Hernon at www.waywardprinceproductions.co.uk