I’ve never met Louise but I follow her archeology blog because she’s always got something interesting going on. I’m pleased to hear about how she used her work and love of history to come up with her debut novel, Fire and Sword (Amazon US, Amazon UK).
First of all, a big ‘thank you’ to Jennifer Brozek for her invitation! Deciding what to write has been quite a challenge: I wondered at first if I should talk about why I actually write historical fiction, when my background as a reader and a writer is grounded firmly in science fiction and fantasy. But I’ve decided instead to focus more closely on the plot of my debut novel, Fire & Sword (published by Hadley Rille Books) and the research which underpins it.
History is littered with drama and intrigue, undertaken by a plethora of sometimes quite unsavoury individuals. And yet I chose to write my novel about a relatively unknown individual who is hardly mentioned in the national story. Why I took this difficult path and the work involved in pursuing it is what I’d like to talk about today.
I live in Renfrewshire, just west of Glasgow. When I started writing Fire and Sword, it seemed practical to write a story set close to home, mainly because I was unemployed at the time and the wealth of on-line archival resources that we have now was unheard of.
The local history books were full of inconsequential details along the lines of, “See those Semples? They were dodgy characters, always feuding. See those Montgomeries? They were a right bad crowd, always feuding.” After wading through page after page of this kind of stuff, I must admit I found myself wondering how I’d ever find something worth writing about.
Then something caught my eye. A brief passage, referring to John, 1st Lord Sempill. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it went somewhere along the lines of, ‘His father Sir Thomas Sempill died defending the King at the Battle of Sauchieburn in June, 1488, and a year later John was made 1st Lord Sempill.’
Now, King James III was murdered after Sauchieburn, which meant that John Sempill’s father was killed while fighting on the losing side. This meant that his son and heir, John, was back in favour with his successor James IV just a year later.
I was intrigued. I continued my research, and learned that the constant feuding was invariably an aggrieved response to specific political events. By weaving together the national picture with the local historical accounts, I unearthed a story which was very interesting indeed, but much was inference and supposition. As a historian or an archaeologist, I couldn’t take the next step which linked all this together.
But as a novelist, I could.
The facts formed a rigid framework around which I had to build a story, but everything else depended on the characters. The process of creating characters who seemed realistic and compelling and true to their time was another major challenge. With some individuals, including John, I didn’t even know their date of birth. Some major detective work ensued. How many siblings did they have? Who were their closest relatives? What did they achieve in their lives? Who did their children marry?
In John’s case, he was the only son in a family which included at least three girls. While his father was clearly allied politically with the Cunninghame clan, John became increasingly linked with their local rivals, the Montgomeries. The Montgomeries and the Cunninghames were at each others’ throats in nearby Ayrshire. But during John’s life, while he was Sheriff of Renfrew, these same two families maintained a peaceful co-existence.
I like to think that John, 1st Lord Sempill was ahead of his time. While most of his contemporaries were happy to feud and burn, John was a builder, a supporter of the arts. His legacy includes one of the few privately funded collegiate churches to be built in the west of Scotland, a site which still can be visited today. He was, in effect, a true Renaissance man.
Even the most accomplished of historians can’t give John much of a voice or an identity. With just a scattering of charters to his name, his was a fleeting presence in a world dominated by much louder, more strident personalities.
But a novelist can take a leap of inference, and travel to places that the historian or archaeologist can only dream of. And what an adventure it has been, trying to accomplish this in a manner which is entertaining to the reader, while remaining plausible and convincing and sympathetic to the facts!
Louise Turner’s debut novel Fire and Sword is set in late 15th century Scotland and has recently been published by Hadley Rille Books. For further information about Louise and her work, see www.louiseturner.co.uk.
First, there's still the Jay Lake Process of Writing giveaway that includes the limited JayWake hardback edition of the book.
Then there is What Fates Impose GoodReads giveaway. I have a story in this. "A Card Given" is set in the Karen Wilson Chronicles universe.
Jay Lake’s Process of Writing is officially out! Of course, we, at Apocalypse Ink Productions, need to have a contest for it. Link this page on Facebook, twitter, or your blog between now and September 30th to be entered into a contest to win the last signed and numbered limited JayWake hardback edition of Jay Lake’s Process of Writing, complete with Howard Tayler’s artwork. You will also receive a JayWake pin and a JayWake smooshed penny. This contest is not limited by geography.
If your entry is on Facebook or on your blog, post that link on Twitter directed to @ApocalypseInk or contact us through email at email@example.com
Just released from @ApocalypseInk - @Jay_Lake’s Process of Writing. Win the JayWake edition! http://bit.ly/13fXDMg #contest RT to win.
Sample Facebook status update:
New from Apocalypse Ink Productions, Jay Lake’s Process of Writing. Now available in physical and e-book formats. Win the JayWake edition! http://bit.ly/13fXDMg
What will you win? We’re glad you asked. Take a look.
Hardback limited JayWake edition of Jay Lake’s Process of Writing. #47/50 and signed by Jay Lake.
The smooshed JayWake penny gifted by Janna Silverstein.
The JayWake pin designed by Howard Tayler and gifted by Minerva Zimmerman.
Is it possible to have worked on a book for nearly 30 years? No, strike that... a lifetime?
You see, my novel Shirewode will be released on 09 September, the second book in a duology of Robin Hood. It is singular amongst other recent retellings of the legend, in that it melds the hard edge of historical fact with the undeniable myth and magic of a vanishing primordial forest. It also has high romance straight from the original ballads... with a subversive and timely twist, of course.
And time has haunted these books. It's been a bloody long haul to get here, to this place where I have two actual novels in my hand instead of promises, and good reviews in print instead of well-meaning reassurances. The duology originally began over thirty years ago as a trilogy called Greenwode, on the verge of contract with an SF/F publisher. The main editor of that imprint died, and in the fallout a lot of things that were going to happen, didn't. It was the beginning of a run with very, very bad luck on so many fronts--and we all know luck is a big factor in publishing.
I retreated from the field, done in. But the writing still lay in wait. Other books were written, shared amongst comrades, put away in the files. And amidst them waited what would become Greenwode and Shirewode, patient outlaws in ambush. These manuscripts, gift from a childhood of pretending to be Robin Hood... of hunting and running wild over ploughed fields and through thick forests, of shooting arrows and falling in ponds, of climbing trees and chasing cousins and half-wild ponies that stood in for Sheriff's Men...
Well, these manuscripts were determined to be my debut upon a battlefield where I never again thought to stand. I'm no longer a starry-eyed twentysomething, and it was on mere chance and whim I pulled the trilogy-that-was from my file cabinets and thought about rewriting them... then did rewrite them. A lot. Then, in a process so lacking the chaos of my previous encounters that it felt like the fates were, finally, aligning beside instead of against, publication... happened. A copy of Greenwode sits in glorious colour upon my shelves. Not too long ago I got my just-as-glorious copy of Shirewode. End, yet merely another beginning, Shirewode sits on my shelf next to its mate, right between Heinlein and Herriot... and what fine company is that?
So. I spent some years railing at whatever gods would listen (still do, sometimes), but it all comes down to this:
I'm writing better books than I was thirty years ago.
Shirewode, and Greenwode, and whatever books come after are, perhaps, the books they intended to be, all along.
This the evolution of the first line of my newest Karen Wilson Chronicles background story. I don't know if the last version of the sentence is the final version but I'm happy with it right now.
The meeting place was a large, unnatural boulder. (Too passive.)
They met in the shadow of a large, unnatural boulder. (Active. Better but who is “they”?)
The Grey Lady and Sees-the-Wind met in the shadow of a large, unnatural boulder. (Good. Who is meeting but why?)
The Grey Lady and Sees-the-Wind met in the shadow of a large, unnatural boulder on the anniversary of the Pact. (Better but… meh.)
The Grey Lady and Sees-the-Wind met in the shadow of a large, unnatural boulder that marked the beginning of the Pact between the Makah tribe and the Fair Folk. (Great. Who, where, why, culture.)
As announced on the Evil Girlfriend Media Facebook page:
Jennifer Brozek joins Evil Girlfriend Media
Evil Girlfriend Media is pleased to announce that Jennifer Brozek has joined our editorial team. Jennifer brings expertise in writing, editing, and publishing to the company. She will be working on a project due out spring 2014. For more information on Jennifer, check out her website: http://www.jenniferbrozek.com/.
Dylan Birtolo is a great friend of mine and I have had the privilege of working for him several times. This time, I do have skin in the game. It is my company that will be publishing the Sheynan trilogy. The Kickstarter (5 days left) involved is already funded with extra books coming from Apocalypse Ink Productions. Dylan is here to tell me who his fictional hero is and why.
We all have heroes when we are growing up – people that we respect, admire, and want to emulate or even become. As you can imagine, I was a very imaginative child and grew up with a lot of science fiction and fantasy, for which I am immensely grateful. Heck, I am told that the first book I “read” was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The story I have been told is that I had it read to me so many times that I memorized the words and “read along.” Needless to say, there were a lot of opportunities to find heroes.
The one that rose to the top was Buckaroo Banzai from the cult hit The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Why was he my hero above and beyond all of the other stories I read or watched? I had Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings, the Chronicles of Narnia and more to pull from – a very competitive lineup. Quite simply, he did everything. He was a scientist, a race car driver, a neurosurgeon, a martial artist, a rock star, and had his own comic book. He was everything that you could possibly be. I guess when I was a child and my parents said I could be anything I wanted, I took that to mean that I could be EVERYTHING.
With writing, I get a taste of that. For me, writing is a form of wish fulfillment. I get to create worlds and characters that can do anything, where anything is possible. I have the opportunity to write the stories that I want to read. There are characters and worlds in my head that I want to explore, and “what if” questions I want to see the answers to. Writing is a way to do that. Not only that, but it also lets me share those ideas with others.
This is especially true because I write a lot of fantasy. The idea for my first novel, The Shadow Chaser, was born from a very simple wish. I wished that I had the ability to change into an animal. That got my brain going. What if I could? What if I wasn’t the only one? How would it work? What if there were hundreds of people living in this world who can do it, and we just don’t know about them? That was the seed that grew into this novel.
While I may not be able to do everything (although I am making as good a stab at it as I can), being a writer lets me emulate Buckaroo in my own way.
Right now I am in the tail end of a Kickstarter campaign to rewrite my first two novels and write the third in the series. I’m excited about this. It is an opportunity to revisit one of the first worlds I created with all of the writing skills and knowledge I have now. I have gotten to the point where, while I am proud of what I have done with my first novels, I cringe a little to read them because I know I am a much better writer now. With this project, I will be able to go back and give this world another turn so I can share it again with people.
Because let’s face it – a world where some people can take on the shape of an animal sounds like a lot of fun.