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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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!

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