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.


Become a fan of the Macsen's Treasure Series Facebook Page!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

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---

No comments: