I AM BOTH AN AUTHOR AND A READER OF HISTORICAL FICTION.
Reading tastes and preferences are shaped by many things; our personalities, early life experiences, motivational drives, and also more mature adult choices, our education, life and work experience, and so on.
In this Blog, I want to share with you how I first became interested and then involved in HF and the unexpected paths that led me to its door. I can pinpoint a particular time and place as a teenager in High School, about 15 years old. My school curriculum included both Latin and Art, including art history, design, sketching, and painting. At home, my parents took a weekly Sunday newspaper. While my parents read the heavy stuff, I pounced on the visually more interesting weekly comic series Prince Valiant, drawn and written by Hal Foster.
I read each series, taking the story at face value with its sometimes-chaotic cast of fantastical beasts, savage warriors, the good and the bad. Hal Foster also snuck Prince Valiant into King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, and in a remarkably long life that extended from the early fifth century into the seventh, Val, our sword-swinging hero travelled far and wide through Europe, Greenland and into the Americas, and lodging there with friendly Native
During this time at School, our key Grammar text was a visually dull book, Kennedy’s Revised Latin Primer. Providing some light relief from the heavygoing Latin, the book contained a few grainy, black-and-white pictures of Ancient Rome. So, as we learned our Latin grammar, we also learned something of Roman history, culture, and wars. One of these pictures showed the Arch of Titus, a Roman General who conquered Palestine. Looking closely, I could just see a bit of the Colosseum through the Archway. Grainy as it was, that old picture opened, for me, an entrance into another universe. One Sunday I opened the Comic Section of the paper and found the Prince Valiant page. This is what I saw. The Prince was on a long journey through France and Italy heading for Rome, sent on a mission by King Arthur to solicit the Pope’s support. On the cartoon page were nine picture-panels; I took in each of these, reading the storylines beneath.
Then I came to the seventh panel, and a fictitious character I had grown up with suddenly rode out of the world of Fiction and into the world of History! It was for me a stunning moment of revelation! And like all revelations, it came as a gift, something I had neither asked for nor expected!
Why? Because a connection was made, in this boring photo of ancient Rome, with my Latin Primer picture of the Arch of Titus and the Prince Valiant cartoon image riding through the same Arch. A fictional event suddenly occupied the same space as the historical; History and Fiction merged before my very eyes!
Following hard on the heels of this revelation, I read Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Ivanhoe, which can justifiably be called the first Historical Fiction novel in the English language.
Scott published Ivanhoe in 1820. The story is placed in the 12th Century, not long after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, at a time when native Saxons experienced very hard times at the hands of their Norman overlords.
Although Prince Valiant’s cartoon story embraced wooing his queen and raising a family, Ivanhoe introduced me more deeply to the central place of emotion and romance in HF – along with a mixture of good and bad characters, heroic intentions, bitter struggles, power politics, relationships, and much more.
In a few short years, my school days were over, work and university called and my life was occupied with work, marriage and family over the next few decades. Around 2002, I began research into the life and mission of St Augustine and the Kingdom of Kent. While exploring the writings relating to Augustine, I came across an English Legend, popularised by abbot Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People published, in 835 AD. The legend’s purpose was to explain why Pope Gregory the Great launched his mission to pagan Kent in the year 596 AD, so giving the credit and impetus for a mission to the Saxons.
My Series, A Legend of the English, is based on this legend of young Saxon boys who arrive for sale in a Roman slave market, in the last decade of the sixth century. As the legend arose in England, it was unknown in Rome for more than a century, and Pope Gregory’s letters provided a very different reason for sending Augustine to Kent. [See Augustine of Canterbury: Leadership, Mission and Legacy; Robin Mackintosh, 2012)
If authors only relied on what we know from the historical records of the time, we would know very little of the characters and actions of people involved at the close of the Sixth Century in Rome and Saxon England. Fiction in the context of history makes it possible to build a credible story that brings us closer to the events that happened on a wider, historical backdrop.
In our time, the Legend serves to open the door for a Historical Fiction Romance that plays-out in the foreground of historical events, relating fictional to historical characters in the time and place where real events were unfolding. A Legend of the English gives us a whole new way of understanding the period, and weaves a narrative that makes sense of the era, bringing key events out of the history books into a world of credible, entertaining and relevant fiction for our own day.
The first book in the Trilogy is Scavengers from the Sea. I hope you will find it absorbing, a blessing and an inspiration!