Interview with Camilla Brown
Martin Lake – I started writing in the third person and in many ways this would have suited the sweep of the novel with its multitude of settings and characters. Yet, somehow, it didn’t work. As soon as I started to write in the 1st person, using the protagonist rather than another character, I realised that I had an immediacy which would work well for the story.
C – Does writing as 1st person help you feel what it would be like to be King of England? How did you get into character?
M – I was often surprised by Edgar’s reactions to events, and continue to be. I felt him develop his own personality and view-point which was great fun. I learnt to see things through his eyes. Whenever I’m stuck I often act out the part, waving my arms around and pulling faces. Luckily I don’t often write in public.
C – What is your writing process? Do you wait for inspiration to come to you or do you set yourself up for a day of writing with a good breakfast and a coffee?
M – I used to wait for inspiration. The muse was rather fickle, however, and the novel crawled along. After I had an accident which meant I couldn’t drive or focus as much on my business I knuckled down to writing. Now, I start work early in the morning, sometimes very early. I use a series of storyboards which I use on Powerpoint. This keeps me on track but is still very flexible. I use a writing log which shows how many words I have written each day. It’s a great motivator as long as you don’t get too obsessed by it. I find that time flies like it never has before.
C – The Battle of Hastings was a time of massive change in British history, what is it about this time which interests you?
M – I am fascinated by times of change in general. I once read that a Roman nobleman the year 500 AD said, ‘We used to be Romans but we are all Italians now.’ (I’d love to find this quote by the way.) This got me thinking about times of transition, especially massive, dislocating transition. I have always been fascinated by Anglo-Saxon and Viking times, partly because of reading the Viking books of Henry Treece as a child and an interest in Alfred the Great. I have a more complex relationship with the Normans. I have always been suspicious of the old view that they were more civilised than the Anglo-Saxons who they brought kicking and screaming into the eleventh century. There was plenty of kicking and screaming, of course, but not because the Normans were more advanced or superior, far from it. English history did not start in 1066.
C – Did you need to research much to write this book, or is it an area which you already knew?
M – My fascination with the period gave me good background knowledge. I have read widely in the field over the years. Latterly I have use the internet a lot for original documents, commentaries and maps.. In particular I have made great use of the PASE Domesday site (http://domesday.pase.ac.uk/) which gives masses of information about land ownership and wealth. I discovered this after I had written Resistance but was able to use it in Wasteland, the second novel in the series. Some of the characters in this novel are derived from obscure land-owners listed in Domesday.
C – How accurate have you tried to be? Have you strayed much from ‘fact’? Did you use your artistic license to describe their appearance and mannerisms?
M – There is heated debate about this. I believe that it is the responsibility of the historical novelist to be as accurate as possible. I learned a lot of my history from such writers as G..A. Henty, Henry Treece, Rosemary Sutcliffand Frans Gunnar Bengtsson and I see no reason why novelists should tamper with historical facts. Altering history for dramatic effect is misguided and unnecessary.
The great thing about Edgar Atheling is that he was at the centre of historical events but his part in them was white-washed by the Normans. This left me with a large canvas to invent story within the overall framework, which I kept scrupulously accurate. The only time I have had to make a choice about events is in Wasteland where there are conflicting accounts of his sortie to Lincolnshire, one saying he went by land, the other by ship. I chose to send him by land as this gave me more opportunity for story.
It is the same with characters. The overwhelming majority in my novels are real historical figures. I have invented a few others but I hope that I have kept to the character of people who would have played such roles at this time.
Because the story is set so long in the past, almost a thousand years, there is little hard evidence of physical appearance or mannerisms. I realised part way through that William was very tall and strong and had to alter that and I have kept to the description of his family. For the rest, there is deafening silence. Apart from maybe this picture:
C – What inspired you to write this book? And what are your inspirations?
M – It is said that history is written by the victors and this is nowhere more true than with the Norman invasion. In terms of greed the Normans were like their Viking ancestors but they had a veneer of sophistication and far more ruthlessness. It has been calculated that the lands of ten native Anglo-Saxons were taken and given to one Norman. This huge concentration of wealth and power into the hands of a tiny, foreign elite has repercussions to this day, a thousand years later. In effect, the Norman Conquest started a period of apartheid which lasted for two or three hundred years.
I wanted to tell the story of the courageous men and women who resisted the Normans. In particular, I was fascinated by Edgar. He was a young man who spent most of his life fighting against the Norman kings yet somehow managing to survive. The later part of his life is, if anything, even more surprising than the earlier part. It is astonishing that such a vigorous, intelligent man, the great survivor of the period, has been forgotten.
My inspirations are the authors I have already listed and two more. Tom Holland makes history as exciting as the best novel and George MacDonald Fraser shows how to write historically accurate novels with verve, humour and consummate skill.
C – Favourite books/authors?
The Flashman Books.
The Lord of the Rings.
Tom Holland, especially Rubicon.
I have lately read Simon Scarrow who I greatly enjoy and have just started a novel by Ben Kane which I am enjoying.
C – Who is the book aimed at?
M – Anyone who loves historical fiction, action and adventure. I also think it would be of interest to young adults as, in some ways, this is a coming of age novel.
C – Why did you choose Amazon Kindle?
It was the first platform I heard of which would offer direct publishing on e-books. I have recently also begun to use Smashwords which allows my books to be sold on a wider series of e-readers such as Sony, Kobo, Nook and on your computer or phone.
I am still waiting to hear from a number of agents. I must admit, however, that I am hugely enjoying being the master of my own destiny with my books and getting readers from all around the world.
M – You talk of a sequel…will there be more?
M – Oh yes. Wasteland is due out in July. I think there could be two or three novels about Edgar after this.
Currently, I am writing a novel set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem before the Third Crusade. I also have plans for a First World War novel and the tale of a Victorian adventurer.
You can see Camilla Brown’s blog at semicattus.wordpress.com