Hello everyone,

Research is a constant, ongoing process while writing historical fiction. Sometimes a fascinating tidbit surfaces that might be of particular interest beyond its use in a novel. As I continue to work in the historical fiction field, I will post those occasional points of interest here. Occasionally I muse on the writing process as well along with news to keep readers informed of what's going on with my books and other writings.

Please feel free to post comments--I'd love to hear from you.

The photo above is of Snowdonia in North Wales, which plays a large part in the setting of the Macsen's Treasure Series.


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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Part 1: Renditions of Camelot Online Discussion of Into the Path of Gods

The following exchange is excerpted from the Yahoogroups’ “Renditions of Camelot” reading and discussion group, which chose my first novel, “Into the Path of Gods” for its October 2007 selection. Because it covers a wide range of topics surrounding the book’s characters and creation, I thought it might of interest to blog readers.
Jacqui (moderator): Hi Everyone, today we start our new book for October - Into the Path of Gods by our own List member Kathleen Cunningham Guler. We are very lucky to have Kathleen with us for what should be an interesting month, as she has agreed to lead us through the reading & discussion of the first book in her Macsen's Treasure series. Kathleen is currently working on the last book - Book 4. Link to her website: http://kathleenguler.com/Over to you Kathleen:)))

Kathleen: Thank you, thank you, (wave to the cheering crowd...) Hope those of you who are reading enjoy it!

Karen: Hi, Kathleen, I don't know if this is a personal question or not, but may I ask: "Who was your inspiration for the character in your book Marcus ap Iorwerth?"

Kathleen: Ah, thank you for asking that question! Marcus, and indeed the whole idea for the series, originated from a dream. In fact the sequence from that dream is in the middle of this book. Characterisation (at least for me) comes from both instinct and conscious decision. Marcus is not based on any individual that I know or have known (in this lifetime). ;-) He grew out of instinct after asking: what kind of man in that time would risk everything to set things right and how would he go about it? He would have to be both physically and mentally tough, have a streak of daring that borders on suicide (and with a dark reason why behind that), and have a loyalty to an ideal that drives him. From there I knew he had to have cleverness, "street smarts", a fairly decent education for the time, stubbornness, political astuteness, a strong will to live and the ability to love very deeply. Some aspects of the character do come from observances of human nature in people I know or other characters, but the aspects are not directly based on any person. Some of his cleverness I attribute to watching endless MacGyver episodes--of course without the modern technology! There's a bit of James Bond, a bit of Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson's Lethal Weapon character) and just little nuances I've picked up here and there from all over. Sometimes I'll see something somebody does and it just fits, like--yeah, Marcus would do that, or say that, and I'll experiment with it to see if it really works.

Here's a thought: A long time ago, I posted a question on another email discussion group's list--one geared to historical fiction. I asked if anyone else ever sensed that why they wrote about a specific past era was because they had the feeling they had lived in a past life during that era. The response was amazing and sparked quite a long discussion. Many felt this could be the case. I've asked the same question in other places and received absolute silence. If it is true that we pass from one lifetime to the next, I've wondered if that's where the dream came from—that it's actually a memory that emerged. I still dream about Marcus a lot, seeing him in many different situations. They do seem to be like memories. Sometimes I'll be doing something completely unrelated and a sudden flash like a memory will come. I can usually see his face very clearly. So in this regard, it could be said that Marcus is based on Marcus! Perhaps he is not fictional at all???

I'm going to see if I can post a scan of the original artwork of Marcus in the photo section. It was on the original dust jacket from the book. An adaptation of the face was taken and used for the newer dust jacket as seen on RofC's homepage. A lot of people think he looks like my husband, but those people haven't looked very closely. They are very different, both in looks and personality.

Jacqui: What a fascinating idea! I agree about the passing from one lifetime to another but I’d never thought about seeing my past in dreams. Perhaps this glimpse of the past is vouchsafed to those who are of a creative mind:) I have found what I am sure are past life memories, are attached to places. Sometimes if I happen to be travelling in an area of the country where I have no known associations I experience strong, often quite violent emotions, sometimes euphoric, sometimes fearful, sometimes angry. Perhaps I’m wrong in my ideas but I can see no other reason why I have these experiences.

Kathleen: Yes! Yes! Yes! When I visited Dinas Emrys, we had a picnic along Afon Glaslyn, just across the road. It gave me the most peaceful sense of homeland, like I've never felt anywhere in the world (not that I'm such a big traveller...) It's only a few miles from where I've envisioned that Marcus comes from. I've got an affinity for various times and places that is totally unexplainable. The past life theory just makes too much sense to ignore.

Karen: Well, I'd say the "past life theory" is quite possible.

Jacqui: The only other explanation that I can think of is that sensitive people can pick up the 'vibes' of the place.

Karen: The funny thing is, I would never have read any Celtic/Arthurian history or literature if I hadn't had the most amazing recurrent dreams as a 5-year-old kid. On many nights, I dreamed I was walking around this really massive circular wooden structure, about two storeys high, with a thatched roof & a central hearth. In another dream, I was walking around the stone ruins of an old building; only one wall was left standing. The memory of these 2 dreams remained with me & I began searching through encyclopedias & lots of books, trying to find out what these places were. It was only much later, when I was 15, that I realised the circular building was a Celtic structure, and the ruins from my other dream were those of Battle Abbey, Hastings. Remarkably, I'd never been to Britain as a 5-year-old girl.

Jacqui: Ahhhhhh Karen spooky:)))) I shall have to pay more attention to my dreams after hearing about yours & Kathleen's amazing ones!

Harry: I too feel a past life, since I was 7, not because of a dream though. I was in the second grade, and they took us to the school library, which quickly became my favorite haunt. (I was already reading before kindergarten) Of course the big coffee table books with all the pictures were fun too. One day I picked up a picture book about Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, and *immediately* knew that I had been there. As I slowly looked through it, and read the text, it was like coming home.

Kathleen: Here's something even more weird: I've had a few very frightening dreams, the type where you wake up sweating and your heart is pounding. They all had Marcus in them, they all had an extremely dangerous situation that he was trying to resolve, he was dressed in his Dark Age medieval garb, sometimes in full battle gear, but the settings, all different, were modern. Bizarre!

Jacqui: Oooeeerr Kathleen!!! Poor Marcus he has got a bit out of his time hasn’t he! - no wonder you wake up in a fright - he must be very anxious :((((

Harry: Sounds kind of Freudian, Kathleen.

Kathleen: Hee, hee!! I wonder if he's trying to tell me something?? LOL, I probably need my head washed out with soap soon... :-0

Harry: Nah, I'd never suggest that. Old Dr. Freud haunts us all. :)

Jacqui: Kathleen, were any of the sequences/characters in the book or any other of your books inspired by dreams??

Kathleen: Since that initial dream, it seems that most of the inspiration or insights are more like memories that come flashing into my head while awake. Sometimes it's visual, like seeing Marcus walk down a hill somewhere, leading a horse. That one came to me while I watched a man with long hair walking across a parking lot across the street where I live. It was like it jarred a memory out of me and I remembered having seen Marcus leading a horse down a hillside. Sometimes it's just words, like something he or Claerwen or somebody else would say. Uh-oh, voices in my head... Yikes!

Jacqui: It is an amazing feeling, that one of peace & homecoming isn’t it? Had you already placed him before you visited Dinas Emrys?

Kathleen: I think at that time I knew he would come from somewhere in Snowdonia, but not specifically where yet. It's been so long I'm not quite sure, but if I had already designated his home, I probably would have paid more attention while going over the pass. Of course it was in the clouds that day... Couldn't have seen it anyway.

Jacqui: One question I will ask Kathleen - why did you call him Marcus & not give him a British name? Or does that become clear later in the book?

Kathleen: It does become clear later. I won't throw out any spoilers here, but I can say he was given a Roman name because of an insistent half-Roman grandmother--part of that leftover, lingering Roman influence. :-)

Jacqui: Ah right:)) Thanks.

Kathleen: BTW, I was able to upload the picture of Marcus into an album in the photo section. Isn't he gorgeous? Sigh...

Jacqui: Each to her own mi'dear:))) Wouldn’t like to meet him on a dark night (as we say) LOL – I’m only teasing:)

Kathleen: Ooo, I would! LOL--when my mother first saw that painting she said he looked mean. My husband thought he belonged on a Harley Davidson...

Jacqui: Actually, 'the man of your dreams' takes on a whole new meaning after reading your posts:))

Kathleen: Absolutely!

Karen: Uhmm...why, yes, he kind of resembles Tom Selleck striking a classic "Timothy Dalton as James Bond the Debonair Spy" pose...Just teasing. :)

Jacqui: My copy of the book has that artwork on the cover - it comes up clearer & better in your pic than on the jacket I think. Do we ever get to see Claerwen?

Kathleen: They printed the original cover on cream-colored paper, which gives it a duller look. Wasn't a good choice. Haven't got a pic of Claerwen and I haven't been able to draw her though I've tried. I've got one sketch that's really bad. Can't seem to capture her except in my head. I do have some other sketches of Marcus including a couple of his disguises from the second book.

Jacqui: Do you find that your characters 'live with you' or can you set them aside to continue your daily life? Do you identify with them or are you detached from them as you write?

Kathleen: "Live with me" is dead on. A writer friend who visits my critique group a couple of times a year has said more than once that when she listens to me read from my work in progress that I "just about breathe the characters." I think about them all the time and often think about what they would say or do in reaction to something I do in the daily drudge. Example: I bought a package of sea salt lately and was thinking, don't let Marcus see this because he hates the sea. (an issue from the third book) Or once in a while we get people dropping of religious flyers in our office. I try to think in what dignified way Claerwen might brush them off. (I wish I had her guts.)

Jacqui: Will you miss them at the end of the series?

Kathleen: Immensely!

Jacqui: How long did it take you to write Gods?

Kathleen: It took 16 years from start to publication. I started thinking about writing a novel around 1982 and experimented with different periods and characters for quite a while before settling on the Arthurian period. Marcus and Claerwen had several name and venue changes before finding the right niche. Then the whole project sat in the drawer literally for about twelve years. Finally in the mid-90's I took it out and decided: now I'm ready to get on with it and finish. Which I did. And then once Gods was on the road to publication, the project went from one book to a planned series of four. The other three haven't taken nearly so long because I'm much more focused than I was before.

Jacqui: How did you develop the storyline? Do you have a rough idea of where/what/when happens or do you write & see where the characters take you?

Kathleen: I've approached the development of each of my books differently, mostly because of the learning curve. That's another reason it took me so long to write Gods was because I started out with no outline or other sense of how to structure a novel. That book started with the sequence from the dream and then I just kept writing and writing in both directions, forward and backward from there. It was "learn as you go" but was like groping in the dark at first. Eventually, after studying the craft for so long, the structure finally came. The good thing was that I've never been afraid to cut stuff that was bad and I learned to get a feel for what works and what doesn't. I was still learning to do research properly at that time as well, so I'd write something, then research and find out it was off, then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite! Experience has changed much of that.

Anyway, to really answer your question, it's the characters who find the story. Their actions have to be embedded in the timeline of the history, but they drive the story. There are times when I'm going along and either Marcus or Claerwen or both keep dragging me off in a different direction. Usually they're right!In each of the first, second and third books, I did have some scenes in my head that I knew had to go in. It was like I "knew" this happened, I just had to figure out what came before and after. For the second and third ones, I did an outline, but only after the first drafts were done to see if the storyline worked. The fourth book is the exception (the one I'm working on now) I had the concept for it, knew who was going to be in it and that was about all. With this one, I started with an outline for about half the book, got stuck, then started writing until I got stuck with that, then went back to the outline until I had the whole storyline. This one has come to me more organically, just flowing along where the characters take me, as long as they hit the benchmarks they need to. The scary thing is that this one keeps having the pieces fall into place so nicely, one after the next. Gods was a constant rewrite, Dragons (book 2) had its ending rewritten at least six times, and Anvil Stone (book 3) was started over after a third was drafted. Maybe I'll have to rewrite book #4 completely... Yikes!

Jacqui: When you are describing a scene did you draw on memories from your trip to North Wales or did you 'make it up'?

Kathleen: I try to draw on memories of North Wales and other locales as much as I can. I'll look at the photos I have (except I'm the world's worst photographer) and if I don't have a view of the right place, I'll track down other photos in books or on the internet. Admittedly, sometimes it's necessary to make things up when places have been built over or we don't know how much has changed in the natural landscape. Natural histories are very helpful for knowing what kinds of animals or plants existed in the right time.

Jacqui: Thanks Kathleen for sharing that with us - fascinating insights into how an author works. There must be an incredible amount of research to back up your stories. How long does it take you to prepare a book? I suppose it’s easier with the later books as you have all the relevant historical detail in place.

Kathleen: Yes, the research never ends, but it does get easier with a series and I've gotten much more proficient at it over time. You should see the collection of research books I have. I've never counted how many there are--too scary. Living in a small town, the library is rather limited and university libraries are way too far distant for me to use, so I built my own collection. Many of the books cover longer periods of time so that I can use them if I eventually migrate to a different period in my writing.

If I didn't have to work to make living, I could probably write a book in a year, provided the basic research was already done. That may entail travel or tracking down experts to interview or tracking down translations of old documents. Very time consuming. There's always more research to do as you go along, because you never know what the characters are going come up with. Also, research usually breeds more research--find out one interesting thing and without fail more questions will arise. That's the fun of it.

Karen: A question about "the writing experience". Do you actually "become" the characters - that is, do you "turn into Claerwen", or "Marcus" when you write? Just curious, because that's the way I normally write, by trying to see through the eyes of different characters.

Kathleen: Yes, I do "become" the characters. I think most of us who write do that. I've been known to have a "conversation" with one or the other of them while folding laundry. [uh-oh, she's talking to herself again...:-))] It's the best way to get inside a character's head, I believe. Some of my best thinking is in the laundry--it's one of the few places I don't get interrupted so much.

Karen: And thirdly, did you base your "villain" on a person that you've actually met in real life? Sorry, I just had to ask about the villain - LOL! :)

Kathleen: Hmm, well, let's see, I don't know how far you are in the book, so I'm assuming you mean Drakar? Drakar wasn't based on anyone in particular. He's probably a combination of baddies from the news and tv. I find it more difficult to write a bad guy--it's so easy to make them over the top, like creating a caricature rather than a character. I've had to tone down more than one. I think I mentioned that about a bad guy in one of the other books we've read here, but I can't remember which right now.

Karen: Yes, it is frustratingly difficult, isn't it? I'd like my "villains" to have a good side, possibly make them "antagonistic" to the leading protagonists, and give them several valid reasons to oppose "the good guys". On the other hand, most YA bestsellers have a central theme of"good vs. evil", which usually means "good guys vs. bad guys". I suppose we have to find some sort of "balance".

Kathleen: Yes, I'm working in that direction with the fourth book now--more of a situation of circumstances than straight-up good guys vs. bad guys.

Karen: Malory & the Vulgate were giving me such a headache because they painted Carados & Turquine as a couple of evil cads – typical "cardboardy" villains - while Arthur & Lancelot came off as being more human, and Galahad way too holy... :)

Kathleen: Hmm, I would like to see more YA books move away from the stark "Good vs. Evil" plot and portray the dynamics of a situation more realistically--the shades of grey that we all live in. Just my opinion, as I'm not a YA expert at all, but I think young folks are astute enough to understand something more than an overly simplistic storyline.

Jacqui: Could you tell us how you developed the character of Claerwen? I think she is quite unusual for an Arthurian heroine as she is neither overly submissive/dumb nor is she aggressive. Although she is a women of action as witness her searching for Marcus she is also thought of as shy by the members of the Clan, quite a combination!!

Kathleen: I wanted to make Claerwen a woman of quiet determination who would make a good match to Marcus. So many times I've seen a loud-mouth woman paired with a hero, but to me a really good hero would blow off a noisy type because she'd drive him nuts. Claerwen doesn't always do what Marcus wants, but she is smart enough to not be reckless. In old Celtic law, women were considered pretty equal to men in their rights, so she doesn't need to feel submissive and Marcus treats her as an equal most of the time. Her shyness comes from the way her family was decimated when she was twelve, then the way her mother tried to pass her off in marriage to Drakar. It is only when she bonds with Marcus that she starts to feel safe again.

Jacqui: I find the way in which you have given her 'the sight' i.e.: 'fire in the head' interesting as it develops her character in a spiritual way, however she keeps her feet well & truly on the ground with her understanding & use of herbal remedies.

Kathleen: Fire in the head was another of those fun research things. I wanted to call "the sight" or "second sight" something different and when I came across "fire in the head" in a line in the ancient poem, Song of Amergin, it just seemed to fit. Fire in the head can mean a lot of things, from inspiration (awen) to shape-shifting to "seeing" into the past or future. I took it as part of the "old religion" that Myrddin and Claerwen still belonged to and that Marcus believed in.

Jacqui: Do you personally have any interest in the use of herbs or was it an expedient for the story?

Kathleen: Herbalism is a vast, fascinating field. I do have an interest in it, but I've only had time to study enough with regards to the books. Someday, maybe I'll have time to learn more.

Jacqui: All together I think you have done a great job of making Claerwen a well rounded, likeable & more to the point - believable character. Does she develop more as the series proceed?

Kathleen: Thank you! She does develop more in the later books because she becomes more involved in Marcus's work, sometimes to her own amazement. :-) Marcus had two great passions he is loyal to--her and his ideal of a free Britain. If he had to choose, he would have a very difficult time deciding, although he would probably ultimately choose Claerwen. And while Claerwen comes to believe in his ideals as well, she would never hesitate to choose Marcus first.

Karen: Wow...I don't know how you can manage it, juggling your day-job with your household chores, and writing a book...How much time do you set aside everyday for working on your novel? Do you write a chapter a day?

Kathleen: Oh, gosh, a chapter a day? That would be such luxury! So would setting aside time. :-) We have a family business that deals with the public--so interruptions are constant. I write when I can, in between everything else. All those "experts" who preach that a writer has to find a quiet place with no interruptions never had to run a business. LOL! The good thing is that it's taught me iron discipline.

Karen: Aaaah...that would be pure luxury for me as well. :) Don't you wish we could hang out in the garden, sipping tea, all dressed up in a nice pink dress & a floppy hat, dictating our novel toa personal assistant, just like Barbara Cartland used to do? :)))

Kathleen: Ahhhhhhh!!! Put some scrumpy in my tea, please?? Scenes run in my head all the time, which is actually an advantage because it's easier to write a scene once it's first been visually developed in my head. I've heard other writers say that, too. Do you do this, Karen?

Karen: Why, yes, I'm always "day-dreaming". :) The trouble with me is that I'm hopelessly fickle. I'd write a scene one day and be unhappy with it the next - because by then, I would have either come up with a new direction for the storyline, or completely changed my perception of certain characters. I've done countless re-writes - which is probably why I'm still stuck at Chapter 5 after 6 months of my 3rd. full rewrite!!!

Kathleen: It took me three weeks to write one paragraph this summer. Just couldn't make it work. Finally it came out good enough to read to my critique group but I have the feeling I'm going to rewrite it again...

Karen: What was your inspiration for "Macsen's Treasure", the holy regalia of the High Kings of Britain? Did you base them on the mythical 13 Treasures that Merlin took with him to Ynys Enlii, or the Treasures of the Tuatha de Danaan?

Kathleen: It was more just plain logic, although the mythical treasures probably had some influence. I knew Excalibur and the grail had to be two of the pieces. I thought a torque was appropriate because it's a well known item worn by Celtic nobility, and spears were important to warriors. And of course the crown that binds them all together. Hmm, if I'd gone with the 13 Treasures, I'd have to do 13 books in the series? Yikes!

---Continued in Part 2---

Part 2: Renditions of Camelot Online Discussion of Into the Path of Gods

---Continuted from Part 1---

Harry: Kathleen, you and Jacqui are having such a fascinating conversation about how you wrote your series, that I can't stay out of it any longer. I suppose that's where I am [with my book]. I intended to outline it first, then write it, but it keeps changing and at this moment I couldn't tell you for sure how it's going to end up, which isn't conducive to an outline.

Kathleen: Hi Harry, So glad you can join us! You're very welcome to jump in anytime.
Experience will tell you that the outline will constantly change. It's just a guideline and not to be considered written in stone. The outline I started with on my fourth book originally covered only about half the story. There were only vague notes after that. With every chapter I wrote, I went back and adjusted the outline as needed. Then, about two-thirds through the first draft, I got stuck. Decisions had to be made! So I took a couple of days (this was only two weeks ago) and went back to the outline to figure out where the book needs to go from there. The notes are now a plausible storyline to the end. However, I know I'm going to keep adjusting as I continue. The outline helps determine if there are any loose ends that need to be tied up or if some element doesn't work. It's just a guide. Some authors will do them in detail, some in generalities (like mine) and some don't use them at all. It's all personal preference--what works for you.

Harry: Thanks, Kathleen, I need to keep that in mind. I may be handicapped here by my background in engineering where everything is done to a thousandth of an inch and lines are absolutely straight and structures are fluidly rigid. :) I'm making my outline too rigid and it needs some of that fluidity.

Kathleen: Well, :-) I have two writer friends who were engineers. One writes very intricately woven sci-fi/political thriller novels. I can see the absolutism in his stories, yet the storylines flow very well. (And he doesn't work with an outline at all!) The other writes some of the most beautiful poetry, essays and journals. She calls herself a "recovering engineer" since leaving the profession. I used to be an accountant in good old corporate America. There's something to be said about breaking loose! LOL...

Harry: Can you define "proper research?"

Kathleen: Research, IMO, has to be approached like good old-fashioned journalism. With any item, I try to find at least two sources independent of each other that corroborate each other. This can work for items in your setting--things like houses, food, clothing, flora and fauna, etc. Sources for historical events in Arthurian works are a prickly thing. Primary historical sources, as in "straight from the horse's mouth" are the best, but in Arthurian works impossible to find. Secondary sources, like Nennius, the Welsh Annals, some of the old Welsh poetry, etc, are the next best but very limited, then come the third sources, like Geoffrey of Monmouth's history. The farther you get from the primary source, the more likely the inaccuracy. By the third level down, and even still on the second level, you're already dealing with legend and mythology as much or more as history. So as an author, it's up to you to decide how much you want to cross the line away from history and delve into legend and mythology. Honestly, in Arthuriana, it's impossible to find the line.

Harry: (IMHO) My setting of Roman Britain is to minimize the use of mythology, and rely heavily on imagination. The Prologue to the book will be about Boudica, about whom the only sources were her enemies, the Romans. Specifically, Tacitus and Dio Cassius and indirectly Dio's father-in-law Agrippa. So you very much have to 'read between the lines' to reach credibility. I find that much is known about Roman Britain, but the information dies out with the fall of the Empire. Of course, that's likely Arthur's time period, just after the collapse of Rome. A fertile field for the imagination.

In an historical fiction novel, the timeline is rather fixed, isn't it? I'll be writing a lot about Roman Britain, and I can't just play with dates willy-nilly, so in a way, we are given a rough outline from the history of Roman Britain.

Kathleen: Yes, the timeline is a great tool. If you were dealing with an era with more information, that timeline would be far more rigid. I just finished reading a wonderful book about William Marshal, set in the late 12th/early 13th century. It was clear how the author (Elizabeth Chadwick) had hung her story on the framework of the timeline. Having said that, the dates in Arthur's time are impossible to nail down due to a number of issues, mostly because of the lack of information available, and also because of the many shifts in how calendars were calculated over the years. The dates I use in my books' chapter headings are merely guidelines and should not be taken as accurate. To quote Geoffrey Ashe: "...it would usually be pretentious to give even a 'circa' date..." :-)

Harry: Personally, I feel that the dates for Arthur and Gwen, if they existed at all, have been pretty well narrowed down to 480-530 CE, rather than in medieval times. I hope that doesn't seem arrogant of me, but having had to choose a time frame, that's what I chose.

Kathleen: Not arrogant at all, Harry. Like I've said before, I think your placement of Arthur's lifetime in those years is excellent. I place Arthur's birth in ca. 471 and he takes control around 487 or so, by the end of my series. While he will still be young at that time, it fits the timeframe of legend and implies that he will grow into full power by the year 500. That leaves him the remaining 20-40 years of rule before the Saxon conquest begins and coincides with Gildas's mention of a peaceful period in Britain.

Harry: This is a problem for me: I'm a yank writing about Britain, and I've never been there. So how do I write credibly about it? I'm depending a lot on Salway's "Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain." But memorizing locales and geography doesn't give me a "feel" for the land, and I'm not affluent enough to visit.

Kathleen: When my own photos don't cover the places I need (which is most of the time), I bring out some of the books I've collected that have great pictures in them or scour the internet for them. Occasionally I'll impose on a friend who has been in the right place and see if they've got pictures.

Harry: Yes, well that's what I'm doing, and I must say that the pictures posted of Tintagel are very helpful.

Kathleen: I'm lucky that a lot of the landscape I write about is similar to the area where I live in the Rocky Mountains. Makes it easier to get a "feel" for the weather. It's drier air here, but we've got the cold and snow and ice down really well. :-)) It's also lush green in the summer.

Harry: Now I've thought of that. I live in the NW United States, and as far as I can tell, the weather is somewhat similar to central England. It may be somewhat wetter and milder here.

Kathleen: It's frustrating isn't it? when you can't quite "see" what you're writing about? I have an idea for another book I'd like to do set in the early 1400's in Wales, but I'd have to go back there to do the right research in depth. Who knows when that will happen???

Harry: But Kathleen (whispering,) is it OK to admit that it's FUN?!! :)

Kathleen: Yes! As Marcus would say: Absolutely!!

Kathleen: Over the last few days I've been wrangling with trying to get a book video up on my blog and finally succeeded. It's for my third book, The Anvil Stone, but I thought you might find it entertaining since it's related to Into the Path of Gods.

Karen: Speaking of "videos", are there any plans to turn "Macsen's Treasure" into a TV series?

Kathleen: Ooo, I wish, I wish! I've been asked that many times, if the rights for a movie or tv have been sold. Alas, no. :-( I've thought about doing a script myself but haven't had the chance. If fact, there's a woman who lives here who teaches screenwriting and used to be a big-time producer in Hollywood, but I never have the time to take the class. Having said that, I've also heard how difficult it is to keep a script intact. (I have another writer friend whose daughter is a casting agent for CSI and other tv programs.) Even if you have the luck of selling the piece, or even the greater luck of being hired as the screenwriter on the set, once the producers and directors get hold of it, it's usually completely different by the time it makes it into production (if it gets that far at all.) Couldn't bear seeing Marcus turn into Conan the Barbarian, or worse, some wimpy guy who can't even grow a moustache...

Jacqui: Breaks the heart - LOL!!! :))) But I have a fondness for wimpy beardless guys without moustaches. :) No, really, I can't see Marcus as Conan the Barbarian…

Kathleen: Thank goodness...

Jacqui: …but while reading your book, I "saw" him in my mind's eye as a Celt from the movie "Braveheart", all dressed up in a kilt with a scruffy mass of flaming red hair. :) Okay, he doesn't have red hair, but that was more or less the mental image I got.

Kathleen: Hmmm, sounds like Hamish. Maybe he looked like that in another lifetime? :-)

Karen: How does Claerwen look like? I know Jacqui's asked you this before, but have you thought about her since then?

Kathleen: In my head I think she looks a bit like Lesley Ann Down in the face, but her hair would be a tawny-brown color. I've had two friends over the years who had eyes like Claerwen's--that's where I got the idea for her "green-blue" eyes, kind of an aquamarine color, very pretty.

Jacqui: I thought that you handled the battle scenes or strictly speaking 'fights' very well. They were exciting but not overdone or gory - thank you:)))) I thought the use of 'cannon balls' was an intriguing idea! What made you think of using 'gunpowder'?

Kathleen: I'm glad the battles and fights work for you. The "gunpowder" came out of my pet theory that the druids knew way more than they are ever given credit for and that Marcus stole that "secret" of theirs. Of course it's believed gunpowder was invented by the Chinese and the West only learned of it from them much later than the fifth century. But if the druids had lots of knowledge of science and astronomy and other things like that, why couldn't they have figured out some basic chemistry as well? The materials were available.

Jacqui: Why not indeed!! How much 'battle lore' do you think the Druids had? Would their knowledge be called on – s’pose it would.

Kathleen: I've seen opinions on druid warrior status that are all over the charts. My feeling is that on the continent in pre-Christian times they could have belonged to the warrior class. However, by the fifth century in Britain, that would have changed. Since the Romans destroyed their "schools" when Britain was conquered, four hundred years passed. Druids were supposed to have operated "underground" during that occupation--a long time--so who knows how much they retained in their practices? Writing things down was taboo for them and when the Romans annihilated their enclaves, a great amount of knowledge was lost. Foolish Romans! Think of what they might have used if they'd taken the time to learn and observe. On the other hand, perhaps civilisation was spared more savagery.

Jacqui: Absolutely:))) the Romans did well (or badly) enough without the knowledge of gunpowder LOL. Did you test it out at all

Kathleen: No, I didn't test it. My husband probably wouldn't appreciate the lawn being blown up. The raccoons dig it up enough at night already.

Jacqui: Now that’s not in the true spirit of research Kathleen. It’s the sort of thing that husbands of writers are supposed to be at ease with LOL

Kathleen: Yup, funny how some husbands just don't understand... LOL!! (uh-oh, the gods will get me for that...)

Harry: Here's a question for you. When did the Druids stop doing human sacrifice?

Kathleen: Ah, the question is, did the druids actually do human sacrifice?Remember, what little we know of the druids is through the Roman point of view, and the Romans were awfully good at propaganda. They wanted the druids to lose their influence over people, so the Romans sought to make them look bad in any light. Having said that, it's currently thought among historians that any human sacrifice that did occur was more in the line of capital punishment--usually a person who committed heinous crimes or a captured enemy that was executed. Unfortunately, we don't really know for sure.

---Continued in Part 3---

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Part 3: Renditions of Camelot Online Discussion of Into the Path of Gods

---Continued from Part 2

Jacqui: One of the questions we used to have for members to answer at the end of a book reading was - was the plot about good versus evil or was it more complicated??It seems to me that the basic plot is about good versus evil ie: Marcus's battle against the darkness that threatens Britain/Wales but there are also sub plots - Marcus versus Drakar, Marcus versus Taran & perhaps Claerwen's mistaken vendetta with the Iron Hawk!!BTW where did you get the idea of him from? When I first read about him I thought he sounded as if he was straight out of 'Boy's Own' (adventure comic) but as I read on I realised that in fact it worked well - especially the twist in the tail. I didn’t suspect till quite a way through:))

Kathleen: I think I'd seen too many Zorro reruns when the idea came to me. :-)) LOL!! The Iron Hawk is sort of a combination of Zorro and Robin Hood but with a much darker side.

Jacqui: LOL Id forgotten Zorro!!!!

Kathleen: You're right, the basis of the plot is good vs evil, which reflects the overall theme of Arthuriana. The greater quest of keeping Britain free of Saxon encroachment is also reflected in the personal quest of Marcus keeping his own freedom and that of his clan and family. There is also the underlying good vs evil/light vs dark side within Marcus himself and the Iron Hawk.

Jacqui: You know, i have never really realised that - duh!!! but yes, it is. Perhaps that explains our enduring fascination with the Arthurian legends:)

Kathleen: Teaser: the deep, dark reasons for Marcus creating the Iron Hawk are explored in the third book.

Jacqui: Can’t wait to read it then!

Kathleen: Glad it wasn't obvious right off who he was. I left a couple of really vague hints, but I don't think anyone's really guessed until later.

Jacqui: Must be quite difficult trying to disguise or hide information. I always admire the way mystery writers hide the villain whilst giving the reader 'clues' LOL, there is more to this 'writing lark' than meets the eye!!!

More questions:)) I was intrigued by your Merlin:) Although he has 'fire in the head' he seems quite an ordinary chap:)) Do you develop his character more in the subsequent novels? Does he become more 'magical'?? Interesting that you had him as Ambrosius's son - any particular reason why or was it just how you saw him?

Kathleen: Ah, Merlin! He plays quite a large part in the second book and kind of weaves in and out in the third and fourth books. He doesn't become magical in the sense of hocus-pocus. In fact, in the second book Marcus refers to Merlin's "wisdom" as being his "magic" because his knowledge of mysterious science-type things that only a druid would know tends to spook the unknowing, uneducated person. Of course Marcus, being the sneaky, smart spy type, has figured this out. Throughout the series, Merlin continues his close friendship with Claerwen. He and Marcus are never really friends even though they are always on the same side. Merlin's always a little jealous of the love between Marcus and Claerwen, and that annoys Marcus, though he's secure in knowing Claerwen only thinks of Merlin like a substitute brother. Marcus also is annoyed with the way Merlin sometimes talks in riddles.

The books are loosely based on Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. It's never really said in that book that Merlin is Ambrosius's son, but it's noted that Emrys, Merlin's second name, is the Welsh translation of Ambrosius. Mary Stewart made the assumption that Merlin could be Ambrosius's illegitimate son, and I followed suit there. It made sense and the elationship keeps him in the "royal loop."

Karen: That was what I wrote at another group earlier this year, but I got "pooh-poohed" for mentioning an Ambrosius the Elder & an Ambrosius the Younger. I got the idea from Gildas & Nennius' "Historia Brittonum".

Kathleen: I wouldn't have any problem with your approach and I don't think anyone else should either. Years ago, I used to try to shoe-horn everything to fit Mary Stewart's vision of Arthuriana because it was the first thing I'd ever read on it and thought it was the perfect and definitive version. Of course thirty years later, while I still love her books, I know better that they are only one version, LOL!!

Karen: Will you be writing about the relationship between Merlin & Nimue, or do you find it a tired old cliche?

Kathleen: I'm only barely touching on it in the fourth book, the one I'm writing now. I would probably leave it out except for two reasons. The main one is that Merlin's relationship with Nimue changes him in a way that is noticeable and makes him and Marcus more at ease with each other, which puzzles Claerwen. So it is necessary to the storyline. The other reason is that Arthur enthusiasts probably expect it to be in there, but that alone wouldn't be enough to justify putting it in and would simply make it a cliche.

Jacqui: This thought struck me reading your comments above. Have you found that although the series started off more in the physical realm as an adventure story, as the books progressed & the characters have developed themselves that you are slanting your interpretations in a more psychological way - ie the interplay of personalities????

Kathleen: Yes, I think that's true to a point. As time went on I think I understood how to write the characters better. They become more fleshed out and absorbing as they grow older in the other books. (Or is it me that's growing older...?) OTOH, thinking about this, perhaps it's somewhat appropriate that they are shallower as younger people and grow in smarts, wisdom, etc as they grow older. Of course that's not a good excuse for having thinly drawn characters of any age. Ah, another reason I still would like to eventually re-edit Gods.

Harry: One thing I might mention, and it is my opinion only, but it's pretty damned hard to critique a book with the Author looking over your shoulder. My mother taught me to be polite. :)

Jacqui: LOL, Kathleen has 'broad shoulders', but yes, I know what you mean - its is difficult to 'I think its a load of rubbish':)))) but I s’pose if the IMO bit is stressed then everyone's opinion is valid & good feedback!? Kathleen do you agree???

Kathleen: Yes, I do. My critique group will tell an author it's a load of crap if it is. Politely, of course, but they will say so. It's definitely a good thing to have feedback--good, bad or indifferent.

Harry: Thanks, Kathleen, I'll try to remember that.

Jacqui: I would agree but it must be hard at first to have 'your baby' criticised:( Although, I suppose a good writer is always striving for better prose so any help is welcomed. And.... better from a group you are comfortable with than 'the public'!!?

Kathleen: Yes, it's hard, but if a writer is really dedicated (or obsessed as most of us hardcore types really are...) s/he will get used to it and learn from it. I think even the writers who are at the "top of their game" so to speak still work at perfecting the art of it. Unfortunately for some of those, they get clobbered with deadlines from their pubs' bottom line syndrome,(i.e.: hurry up so we can make money off you!). When that happens, you can really see how their work suffers. It's nice to be making money from writing, but when the work becomes hack, that's not good either.

With Gods in particular, in regards to public comment, I had a couple of really snarky types rake the book over the coals for those two historical bungles (the potato and the turkey leg mentioned a while back). One wrote a letter to my publisher, the other posted comments on Amazon.com. Neither said who they were with regards to theirs qualifications as know-it-alls, but they were so condescending and arrogant that I didn't dignify their snarkiness with an answer. (What really surprised me was that they said nothing about the "gunpowder" issue!) The good thing was that these two prompted me to work very hard at the research end and that's paid off well with the other books. Otherwise, Gods got quite a few good reviews.

The difference between Gods and the other books in the series is clearly noticeable because Gods was written before I joined a critique group. They have taught me a world of difference in editing, pacing, etc. I learned that sometimes it's not what they say, but what they don't say or the odd questions that are asked that pinpoint a problem.

Jacqui: That is amazing! I read the extract of Dragons on your webpage & thought how much easier it read!! My only problem (very minor) with Gods is that is it didn’t 'flow' easily IMO:) although I think it got easier as I read on.

Kathleen: It's actually been discussed whether I should re-edit Gods at some point in the future, should the decision be made to print it in softcover. I probably will regardless after the fourth book is done --if they don't do it, the book could get picked up by another pub at some time who does want to. (I hope...) The chance to re-edit would make it match the others in tone and flow. Knowing me, I'll probably have a hard time to just do an edit instead of full-on re-write. I was happy when they re-did the dust jacket because I got to re-write the description.

Jacqui: Is it easy to edit a book that has been written several years earlier especially as it is part of a series? You have the benefit? of a sort of 'hindsight' as you have written more books in the series & are further 'down the line' as far as the characters go. I would think it is very difficult not to interfere in their lives LOL

Kathleen: Kind of like a time traveler--dont' mess up history, eh? :-) For a re-edit I wouldn't change anything in the storyline at all, just see that the writing itself is better, correcting historical mistakes, getting the tone to match the other books and see that the flow works better. That should be pretty straightforward. (I think...I haven't actually tried it yet...) OTOH, if I went for a total rewrite, then I'd have to be more careful not to disturb things that affect stuff farther down the line. A rewrite could entail tightening the point of view in addition to the edit, which would take a lot of work. I'll see when I get so far that I have time to do it. (Time? what's that?)Also, considering Gods was pubbed nearly ten years ago, I've since had time to learn much more about the history, how to research (noted before in our discussion) and the whole craft and art of writing itself.

Jacqui: Gosh yes, ten years is a while - a writer's style etc must really mature over that time.

Kathleen: I have a writer friend who does American Western stories--stuff like ranchers and horses, as well as a series on Lewis and Clark's expedition. Her style definitely improved over the years. I've seen it with some others as well.

I know some authors will get upset at critiquing, but personally, I couldn't live without it anymore. It is tremendously valuable. And after working with the public for nearly two decades, and working in both corporate America and the government before that, I've not only got broad shoulders, but a skin so thick it would make an elephant jealous! LOL!!!!

Jacqui: ROTFL Kathleen - in your pic you look quite normal!!

Kathleen: Yeah, I clean up ok... LOL!!

Jacqui: Are there any more points you would like to make about Gods? Have you told us how you planned the series? Did it start out as a 'four parter' or did it grow? Did you have the whole idea planned out even if only vaguely or did one book lead you on to the next?

Kathleen: I think I talked about how each of the four books in the series was tied to one piece of Macsen's Treasure (torque, spear, sword and grail, bound together by the fifth--the crown), and how each piece of the Treasure matched the elements (earth, air, fire and water, bound together by spirit). This is reflected in the poem that is reprinted in each of the books. When I started out with Gods, I wasn't expecting it to be part of a series. However, the idea must have been clinging somewhere in the back of my mind--series were becoming very popular at the time. I'm not sure of the exact time when it really started to nag at me that maybe there should be a sequel. I couldn't let go of the characters, or maybe it was that Marcus and Claerwen wouldn't let go of me?? :-)))

It was probably when I was working with an agent for a while who kept asking for revisions. (She never did sell the manuscript) Somewhere along the line, I realized the story wasn't finished with just one book so I decided, what the heck, let's see what happens if I start another book. The more I played with the rewrites of Gods alongside the new ms, the more the concept of Macsen's Treasure evolved into something solid, and I knew the story was going to need four books to tell.There were several scenes that played in my head literally for years during the writing of both the second and third books. These were pre-conceived benchmarks in the characters' lives. It felt really great to finally get them out of the ether of my brain and into writing! So I guess it could be said that both of these books had a basic structure planned by the time Gods was finally sold.

Now, the fourth has been very different. I only had the vague--really vague--concept that it would involve Macsen's grail and that some of the storyline threads from the earlier books, though wrapped up in those books, would come back to haunt. Nothing more than that. But oddly, it's been easier to write. Maybe because I knew where it had to start and where it will end and I could let myself feel my way through it without being locked into anything in particular. Or I'm letting Marcus and Claerwen take me along for the ride??

Jacqui: Oh, please don't stop at four... is there a way you can "expand" the storyline into a five-part series, ending with the "crown"?

Karen: Ill second that:))) You will just have to start Book 4 again bearing in mind that you have to extend the storyline - you said Book 4 was coming together quite easily - no, that’s not right - I understood authors suffer for their craft - so you’d best start again LOL. (only kidding )

Kathleen: Aaaaahhhhhhhh!!!! That was me running around the yard screaming... Was that enough suffering?? LOL!!!Of course, it looks like after Mary Stewart finished her Merlin trilogy she wrote "The Wicked Day" about Mordred. That book was kind of a sequel to the series... Hmmm, oh now don't get me started...!

Kathleen: For those of you who read Gods, here's a quiz: Can you guess which scene came from the original dream I had that started this story?

Jacqui: What a question:))))!!! Ill have a go - the battle scene in Ch 13 where Marcus & co draw Drakar into the trap. Perhaps when Marcus stands on the boulder in the pass & waits for Drakar to appear before taunting him into fighting????Well, it was a thought! Which scene was it??

Kathleen: Well, you where fairly close. It's in Chapter 12, where Marcus finds Claerwen in the tunnel under Dinas Beris. Good try!

Jacqui: LOL Kathleen - I was only one chapter out!!! That must have been a scary dream! Amazing how the creative mind works to be able to build a series of novels upon one dream!!!!

Kathleen: It is amazing! I read that passage today just for fun and I'm asking myself: how did I do that? BTW, I had another of those scary dreams the other night, again with Marcus in it, but a different one.

Jacqui: See LOL Karen & I said you’d have to write another book!!!:)))))) BTW did you name her from the Claerwen reservoir in Ceridigion? Bought a new map today & was studying it when a familiar name jumped up at me LOL there she was!!!

Kathleen: Yes! I thought it was such a pretty name and it means "bright, clear water" which describes the color of her eyes.

Jacqui: Talking of names - what was the inspiration for your other characters' names??

Kathleen: Well, let's see... Marcus got his name because of the lingering Roman influence (as noted before). Actually, I couldn't find a Welsh name I thought really suited him. They were too complicated and hard to pronounce or spell, or just didn't sound "macho" enough. :-)) So I went for a simple Roman name. "Marcus" is derived from the Roman god Mars, god of war, and being a warrior/swordmaster, it seemed like an appropriate choice.

Jacqui: Thanks Kathleen - interesting answer as ever:))) I think you were right - it is masculine sounding name!?

Kathleen: Taran comes from Taranis, a Celtic god of thunder.

Jacqui: Similar to Thor!

Kathleen: Yup, Taranis is an equivalent to Thor.

Kathleen: Drakar is a made-up name. I was watching an ad on tv for Drakkar Noir, some kind of men's aftershave or something like that and thought the first word sounded like it would fit a bad guy. Took out one of the k's and there you go. LOL!

Jacqui: Well, they made a mistake with their advertising didn’t they? ...mmmm perhaps not LOL

Kathleen: Well, there's a lot of really stinky aftershave out there, and Drakar was a real stinker.... Sorry, couldn't resist. :-)))

Jacqui: Chuckle!!! A totally OT comment but why is it that so many aftershaves are soooooo overpoweringly pongy!!???? Strength of the smell equals..... no we won’t go there:)))))

Kathleen: The names Claerwen and Grania used while hiding out in Caernarfon--Olivia and Julia--are Roman. The Arthurian legend characters are obvious, of course: Ambrosius, Uther, Myrddin, Arthur, Vortigern, etc. The rest of the names are just picked off a list of Welsh names. I have a book that lists all kinds of names, their origins and meanings, but I've found it's not always accurate or complete.

Jacqui: Do you find when you are reading a novel with lots of Welsh names that you pronounce them correctly or skim over them like me mumbling wuywuoo LOL Sometimes it can really be offputting:(

Kathleen: Wuywuoo -- oh, yes, I know that one! LOL.

Jacqui: Its a very popular name LOL

Kathleen: I usually try to figure it out and if I wear out my brain, it'll become whatshisname or soandso and I'll skim after that.

Jacqui: That’s it. I became very insular in my historical reading at a young age (20's!) because I couldn’t cope with constantly stumbling over foreign names!!!

Kathleen: Of course, to hear a word and see it written, especially with Welsh letters like dd and ll can really throw Americans for a loop.

Jacqui: Not so easy for us Brits either:)))

Katheen: I noticed that even after I've read a whole manuscript aloud to my critique group, when they buy the published book later they'll still come up to me and ask, 'how do you pronounce so and so's name?' I usually include the hardest words in a glossary/pronunciation guide. (Have those guys really been listening?? hmmm...)

Jacqui: You do what!!!! The whole book???? What an utter nightmare!

Kathleen: Yes, the whooooole thing! We usually have quite a few novels going at the same time in this critique group, so we have a lot of camaraderie. We meet once a week for a couple of hours and each person gets enough time to read about 2-3 pages of single-spaced printing, then discuss comments, suggestions, etc. Since my books are long, it takes about two years to get through one. Then come the revisions, then... well, you get the idea.:-) We did have one lady for a short time who was from somewhere in the UK and she said 'oh, it's so nice to hear Welsh again..' I must have been somewhere in the ballpark with my pronunciation!

Jacqui: You certainly did well:) I think most English people wouldn’t recognise Welsh if they heard it:(Jacqui: - do you think that an author writing historical fiction has any obligation to his/her readership to be as accurate as possible in the use of names? I realise that the Dark Ages has very few facts to latch on to but many people learn their history from novels... Personally, I don’t have a problem, providing that the author says somewhere that some of his character's names are of his own choosing. Perhaps I’m being too pedantic – don’t suppose that Mallory was too bothered about authenticity LOL

Kathleen: Accuracy is something that comes up all the time in historical fiction discussions.

Jacqui: Ah, so it *is* considered to be important then…

Kathleen: You're totally right about Dark Age facts being hard to nail down. There are no source documents to draw on and those secondary and tertiary level sources are really 'iffy' at best.

Jacqui: Yes, with all the difficulties involved with Dark Age material & as no-one knows what really happened, it is more acceptable to be more imaginative than say more recent well documented history.

Kathleen: The problem with names is that they've been butchered over the years. Not only did translators and copyists make mistakes, but originally these names came from an oral society and were not written down. Hundreds of years later when they were written down, no one knew how to spell them and coming from a language that was evolved from Brittonic into Proto-Welsh, then Old Welsh, the attempt to write down a really strange sounding name or word from the past had to be lacking in accuracy. There was no standard of spelling anyway until even much later than that. This is why you have many names that are similar, like the sons of Mordred, but you can't draw a clear line between who is who or if they are really the same person. Same thing with Morgan, Morgana, Morgaine, Morgause, etc. When you look at Welsh today, you will see that a lot of words which are borrowed from English are spelled phonetically, so when you pronounce them, they aren't so different from English. The older words are totally different.

Jacqui: Gosh yes, imagine trying to spell names that didn’t make sense:(I’ve often idly wondered how names came to be so mangled over the years - now I know LOL

Kathleen: Personally, I prefer the older Welsh-based versions of names (and place names as well) rather than Anglicised names. I'd rather see Medraut, as it's found in the Welsh Annals instead of Mordred or Modred. For my own work I've tried to track down the oldest versions of place names or make a logical deduction in naming a fictional place. Dinas Beris comes from the modern Llanberis--Dinas meaning a small fort and Beris would have been a local personal name. Probably it was a founder of the parish at Llanberis and later than the fifth century, but I willingly fudged the unknown origin as being one of Marcus's ancestors. :-)

Jacqui: You are right - St Peris - wiki link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Llanberis

Kathleen: Winchester is my one big exception. The place was Venta Belgarum to the Romans, Caer Gwynt (or something like that) to the Celtic Britons and Uintancaestir to the Anglo-Saxons. I started out using just plain Winchester simply for the familiarity factor, but if I had to start over, I'd probably use the Celtic/Welsh version and put a note in the glossary, map and author notes. As it is, I did mention the modern use in the notes.

Jacqui: I wish more authors did this. It is such a help when reading about unfamiliar names/place names or events. Sometimes the Author's Notes can be more interesting than the novel!!!

Kathleen: In my third book I used Caer Luguvalos for the Roman fort of Luguvalium at Carlisle. It's called Caer Lugualia by Nennius, Lliwelydd by Taliesin and Carleol in Old English. In my logic [such as it is :-)], after the fort was abandoned by the Romans 60 or so years before, it, like many other locations, reverted to its British/Celtic name that the locals would have used. So I kept looking and found that Lugualia is derived from the Celtic god Luguvalos, so I used the god's name. To me that just seemed the more authentic choice.

Jacqui: Thank you for such an informative post as usual Kathleen:)

Kathleen: I just want to say that it's been an absolute pleasure to discuss Gods here. I hope for those who did read the book that you enjoyed it or learned something from it. If anyone has any additional questions or comments, please feel free to post them.

Jacqui: Thank you so much for your comprehensive answers to our questions – I’ve enjoyed these few weeks so much, so I’m glad you have too:)) I found the insights into how an author's mind works fascinating I’m glad for us that Marcus & Claerwen kept nagging at you to tell their story - I hope you don’t miss them too much when Book 4 is finished!

Karen: Yes, it has been a real pleasure reading your posts – honestly.

Kathleen: Thank you very much!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Arthur's Battle List-Part 2

The sixth of Arthur's famed twelve battles, according to Nennius in the Historia Brittonum, took place on the River Bassas. As with most of the battles, the location has never been identified. It's not even sure that there were twelve battles—the possibility looms that perhaps the number may have been expanded to twelve in order to neatly coincide with other commonly known twelves: twelve apostles, twelve months in the year and so on.

But in needing to name a logical location for the battle in the setting of a novel, what to do? Currently no rivers in the UK are called Bassas or any similar name. Historians have gone over numerous possibilities and come to no conclusion. To name a location but give no hint of where it is will unfairly confuse readers. Even if the location is ultimately proven to be elsewhere or never discovered at all, a novelist should at least attempt to give the reader some sense of where the place lies.

So, in search of Bassas, I turned to my guidebook of place names (Place Names of England Wales, by James Johnson, 1994, Bracken Books) and found a number of places that begin with bas- or bass-. In considering possibilities, I weighed them against the following points:

1. The frontier of Saxon encroachment at the time of the battles likely would have been drawn generally along a north-south line between what is now Wales and the west midlands (See Arthur’s Battle List—Part 1).

2. The time would likely have been within the last ten to fifteen years of the 5th century CE.

3. The meanings of the place names, if known, must fit within the timeframe of point #2.

The first possibility I found is Baschurch, located near Shrewsbury. The location is definitely appropriate. The name means ‘church of Bassa.’ Bassa or Bassus was a valiant soldier of King Edwin of Northumbria and is mentioned in Bede’s 8th century writings. Unfortunately, the soldier’s lifetime falls in a later period than the late fifth century. Scratch that one.

A second selection is Bassenthwaite, near Keswick. Keswick is in the lake district of Cumbria, much too far north to be in the midst of the Saxon encroachment. Doesn’t look good already. The name means ‘place of Bassa.’ Is this the same Bassa/Bassus of Baschurch? If so, again the period is too late.A third choice is Bassaleg, near Newport in Monmouthshire, southeast Wales. The guidebook’s entry reads:

“Thought to be c. 800 Nennius . . . and so = the modern Welsh name Maesaleg, ‘plain of Ælloc or Aloc’. . . Close by is maes Arthur, ‘plain of Arthur’.”

The reference to ‘Nennius, c. 800’ is the citation of the entry’s source—the Historia Brittonum, attributed to Nennius, around 800 CE. This is also the source of the battle-list. Right off, the source makes this choice striking enough to start ringing bells. The reference to Arthur is more than intriguing as well. And on top of that, the location is in southeast Wales—a very plausible site for one of Arthur’s battles.

Coincidence? Maybe. Many places have Arthur’s name attached to them simply for the sake of fame or sentimentality. But gosh, a plain close by with Arthur’s name on it? That could certainly have been a battlefield. And in the Welsh language, certain consonants mutate between b’s and m’s—Bassalag, Maesaleg. And several rivers flow through the area.

Hard to ignore, isn’t it?

Who knows? My simplistic reasoning may be a shaky stretch at best in proposing that Bassaleg and its environs could be the location of the battle on the River Bassas—as with anything from the Dark Age era. Perhaps it could be suggested to professional scholars to explore this notion. Even if it were soundly dismissed in the end, it’s still a place to start. And for a piece of fiction, there’s nothing wrong with using it as a location—as long as the author’s notes explain the theory behind the placement. Best, the reader will have a spot on a map to look at.

One more note on this particular bit of research: originally I believed the battle on the River Bassas would be included in A Land Beyond Ravens—that’s why I pursued the evidence. Plus it’s just plain fun to exercise research skills and see if the Arthurian scholars can be outwitted. Alas, as it turns out, I didn’t use this tidbit for the book, but perhaps in the future it may end up in another story. Never throw away any research! Someday it may prove useful. And someday, perhaps the historians might even agree with the theory…?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Knights by any other name

King Arthur, if he existed, would have lived in the latter part of the 5th century and the early part of the 6th century, with his height of power around the year AD 500. The word 'knight' is a Norman invention, brought to England with the invasion of William the Conquerer in 1066, more than 500 years after Arthur's time. That means Arthur's Knights of the Round Table would not have been called 'knights.' Then what were they?

Novelists who have set Arthur in the high middle ages of the 12th century use the term 'knight' to comply with the later setting. Others use the term regardless of historical inaccuracy. I've seen combrogi used--an adaptation of an old Welsh name akin to brotherhood--or equites, playing on the lingering Latin/Roman influence. And then there is the ever popular 'warrior' as well!

In my research I came across another possibility. Since the stories of Arthur emerged from old Welsh tales, what were they called in Welsh? Knights were supposedly mounted--they were horsemen as opposed to foot soldiers. So, looking in my Welsh dictionary I find the word marchog for horseman, the plural marchogion for horsemen. And when you look in the Welsh to English section, marchog means horseman and...a meaning that become attached the word...knight! For a warlord or king who rose to power in the time when Britain was mostly populated by a Celtic-based culture, marchogion seems to make a lot of sense. Celtic people revered horses (and still do!) very highly and associated them with royalty and kingship, an aspect of their culture descended from their nomadic continental ancestors.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Arthur's Battle List-Part 1

So many aspects concerning King Arthur's life continue to be debated over and over within the community of Arthurian historians. Among those points is a list of twelve battles that Arthur was alleged to have fought and won in his quest to consolidate power. The list comes from the document called Historia Brittonum, attributed to a monk called Nennius. Historians conjecture and argue constantly over where these battles took place, if they happened at all. There is no consensus.

While researching A Land Beyond Ravens (the 4th and final part of the Macsen's Treasure series) the first of the battles come into play, so I've found it necessary to decide if I agree with any of the theories historians have put out there.

The first battle Nennius names is "at the mouth of the river Glein." I've seen this spelled a number of ways in various translations: Glein, Glen, or Gleni. Most historians look for any rivers in Britain that still have the name Glen. Of course names have changed dramatically over the last 1500 years) Two with that name appear on current maps, one in Lincolnshire and the other in Northumberland. According to Christopher Gidlow, in his book The Reign of Arthur, both are in plausible locations for war against the Saxons. However, he also points out that, at the time the battle may have taken place, the frontier between British territory and the encroachment of Saxon territory may actually have been closer to the eastern side of the kingdom that was called Powys. Pinning down historical boundaries in those days is fuzzy at best, but the area can roughly be thought of as where Wales now meets the English counties of Shropshire and Cheshire. There is a county of Powys in Wales now, however its modern boundaries are quite shifted from those of the fifth century.

In going beyond looking simply for river names, I snooped for relevant place names in general, and the point arose that in the Welsh language (its pre-runner being spoken at that time) the word for the mouth of a river could also mean the confluence of rivers. Another point I considered was that in those days there was little, if any, written language outside of Latin, so when names where written down later, they were spelled phonetically. So what also sounds like Glein, glen or gleni? A brief trip to the Welsh dictionary and up pops: glyn—the word for glen, as in river valley...Ah-hah! Back to the maps!

In examining them, I found two village names. One is Glyndyfrdwy that lies along the well known River Dee, or Afon Dyfrdwy, famous for the homeland of the Welsh hero Owein Glyn Dŵr. The other village is called Glyn Ceiriog that lies along the Afon Ceiriog. Both rivers flow down from the Berwyn Mountains of Wales, through river valleys that run roughly parallel to each other. They come together in a confluence near Chirk, about halfway between Wrexham and Oswestry. This area lies within what was probably the eastern side of the fifth century kingdom of Powys.

Of course this theory is as much conjecture as anyone else’s, but in my mind this is a possible and very plausible site for Arthur's first battle: at the confluence of the river glens. Within the context of the novel, this is where Arthur takes his first command and begins to earn his title, Battle Lord of Britain.

More later on additional battle sites.