I was asked by historical fiction writer Ann Swinfen to be part of a Writing Process Blog Tour this week. Ann is a superbly elegant writer of literary and historical fiction. Formally a mainstream writer, she has now taken her backlist to the writing public independently and added to it with Flood, a stunning book on the politics of humanity in the 17th century Fens and with The Testament of Mariam which is a sensitively handled novel, poignant and crafted, about Jesus’s sister. You can read about Ann’s writing process here. http://www.annswinfen.com/column
The questions for this blog tour reveal me in situ at my ‘desk’, (bearing in mind my ‘desk’ moves from town to House every few days) pouring the sweat of my soul onto the screen. Read on:
1. What am I working on?
It’s the end of summer in Australia and I sometimes ask myself if I am actually writing at all when I take advantage of sun, sea and sand. But the truth is I write so much more and so much better in summer. I am ¾’s of the way through the final book of The Gisborne Saga – Gisborne: Book of Kings.
Three books ago, I became enthralled with the Robin Hood legend, but rather than taking Robin’s story and re-writing it, I decided to take Guy of Gisborne’s story and move it far from the original canon. We are told that Gisborne ended his life separated from his head and I suppose we all applauded that after his less than chivalrous treatment of the peasants around Nottingham.
But I had a decidedly ‘what-if’ moment.
What if Gisborne had never met the Sheriff of Nottingham? What if he had never met Maid Marian? What if he had never met Robin Hood? How would his life have been different? What might have happened? In this final book in the trilogy, we follow Guy of Gisborne, his lady, Ysabel, and a cast of favourite characters ranging from a dwarf minstrel to an Arab physician. It is a poignant, maybe even a tragic story. The Middle Ages were not for the faint-hearted and this story illuminates that.
Each day, I struggle with medieval Christian values, with revenge and brutality and one little child called William who is an angel and an innocent and can’t say his ‘s’s. I love the writing of this story. I think Ysabel has grown and Gisborne has suffered – what the end result will be I cannot say. Sometimes I wonder if I even know, as the characters have a way of riding at the quintain and spinning it off its axis every time.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don’t think it differs all that much at all and I am not sure I want it to. Historical fiction is a steady, strong genre which draws on past lives to give it texture and depth. That said, if my work is any different, it may be that I take an event and make it utterly and uniquely my own. Show me another Guy of Gisborne that has lived his life so far from the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John. That is quite simply why everyone must read the saga! It’ll change your image of Basil Rathbone and Richard Armitage forever, I swear!
3. Why do I write what I do?
I write historical fiction because I am compelled to. Isn’t that wonderfully clichéd? But I truthfully love history, I like the way it can define our own lives. And even more so, I especially love the way daily archeological and forensic discoveries are changing the way we view our history. It’s fluid and can be bent more with each find. So it was for me when I decided to take the Gisborne legend and re-write it. Fluid, bendable…
4. How does my writing process work?
*I have a one page outline of the story from the original idea.
*I have a character call-up with card profiles for each one, including images from real-life of people who might look like the characters. For major male and female characters, if they are based on a particular actor then I will watch that actor in various roles over and over to get the nuances of movement and expression. Subsequently I fill in a sheet/profile for each character (a mini history).
*I have a pinboard (Pinterest) of all images of locales, routes, architecture, lifestyles etc that are suited to the novel.
*Those research books set aside for the novel are defined by dozens of post-its that mark key points.
*You Tube sequences are bookmarked on my computer.
*I have a large (very large) A4 folder with plastic leaves into which I insert any photocopies and print-outs of research for that particular novel.
*I have a running style sheet divided into alphabetical order on which I write all names and odd words so that the spelling can be consistent throughout.
*In my head, I have key points which the novel must reach before it can move on.
* I write my whole story on A4 paper and in pen. The story evolves and I transcribe to the computer and edit every 30 pages.
*I read through and edit again.
*It is sent to two Beta-readers when finished. For unbiased comment.
*I edit again.
*Finally it is sent to my UK editor and we have a month of work nipping and tucking.
I am a much slower writer than the average independent author. The book, from idea to research to writing and editing, takes about a year. Then it has a professional cover design, formatting and is ready for release to an unsuspecting public. But that 12 months is absolutely key to me getting my work out in the way I want. Professional advice these days is to write often and fast, publishing 2-3 books a year. For me that is uncomfortable, indeed well nigh impossible because I’m a farmer’s wife and have almost an acre of gardens. If my readers can cope with a year between books, I will love them forever!
And if you wish to hot foot it over to the links below, you can read the first two books of the saga and be up to date before Gisborne – Book of Kings is released in late May of this year.
Gisborne - Book of Pawns.
Kindle UK: http://amzn.to/LrzO8l
Kindle USA: http://amzn.to/JFLNh8
Gisborne – Book of Knights.
Kindle UK: http://amzn.to/13F2im9
Kindle USA: http://amzn.to/1awRZ9Z
As part of this blog tour, I am required to invite three writers to continue the tour. I thought I would invite the three that have impressed me most in the last year and fortunately they agreed. I urge you to seek them out because in their own way, they are contributing great writing to the hist.fict genre.
SJA Turney. Not just a writer of energetic Roman fiction but also one of the most exciting series I have read in the last two years, titled The Ottoman Cycle. He’s one of the most successful independent writers to emerge within the historical fiction genre in this new era of publishing. ‘Turney … weaves a fantastic fast paced, well researched atmospheric tale that sucks the reader back in time into the mix of… dirty streets and dangerous politics. His skill is always in educating whilst entertaining and (he) does it in spades.’
He is a historian and writer of Roman and Medieval historical fiction, as well as the occasional Fantasy work. His love of antiquity and travel has combined with his only worthwhile talent to produce three series so far, with two more in the works. Simon lives in rural northern England, where he finds it easy to procrastinate.
He has just returned from a trip to Istanbul, researching the last piece of the jigsaw of The Ottoman Cycle. I’m thrilled he accepted my invitation.
I invited this gentleman because he has taken Gisborne’s arch enemy, Robin Hood, and set him in 1224 (only 30-ish years beyond my own trilogy) in a series that I absolutely loved. “Mingling fact with fiction, and drawing heavily on surviving contemporary records, “Robin Hood” is a tough and unsqueamish tale and like no other version of the ancient legend.” I urge everyone who has ever enjoyed the Robin Hood Tale to buy this version. I swear you will not be disappointed. David too, has just returned from Turkey and I long to see if we are to enjoy a novel because of the trip.
David is an English writer and researcher, addicted to history for as long as he can remember. He spent much of his childhood dragging his parents up and down the misted ruins of castles in Wales, and the medieval period has always held a particular fascination. He is also interested in the Roman period, the Dark Ages and the British Civil Wars of the 17th century. His latest book is a twist on Arthurian legend.
Steven A Mckay.
How could I not invite this furiously energetic Scotsman? Another writer of the Robin Hood legend and one who has moved the whole thing, lock, stock and screaming war-arrows to 1321 AD and the reign of Edward II. The second in the series is to be launched at the London Book Fair 2014 and that’s no mean feat for an independent. His series ‘brings the brutality, injustice and intensity of life in medieval England vividly to life, and marks the beginning of a thrilling new historical fiction series.’ It too is a must read and rounds off interpretive ways of writing history perfectly.
Steven was born in 1977, near Glasgow in Scotland and now lives in Old Kilpatrick with his wife and two young children. Bernard Cornwell’s King Arthur series was his biggest influence in writing “Wolf’s Head”, and now “The Wolf and the Raven”. He plays lead/acoustic guitars (and occasional bass/vocals) in a heavy metal band when he can find the time to meet up with his fellow band members.
Now you might say – ‘but they are all men!’
Well yes, they are, but don’t hold it against them. I love working with men and have done so all my life in the media and on the farm. The writers above are giants in the independent field and I have a great deal of respect for each one of them.
Go seek them out people, and run, don’t walk!
And if and when you do, please review them (and me). It’s one of the best ways for a writer to see his/her books reach the people he/she is writing for.