This week I interrupt my series on chivalry and Balian d'Ibelin to bring you a special treat: an interview with Charlene Newcomb, Author of For King and Country, Book II in the Battle Scars Series
Char, welcome back to Schrader’s Historical Fiction Blog. As I said last time, we have a lot in common, and it’s a pleasure to have you with me again for an interview about your latest release For King and Country -- especially now that it has received a B.R.A.G. Medallion and, as an HNS “Editor’s Choice,” is long-listed for the Historical Novel Society 2017 Indie Award!
Let’s jump right in by starting with a question I asked last time as well, but as a means to refresh readers’ memory.
1. What inspired you to write this particular series of books?
There is that commonality we share: both us influenced by film or television. Where your Balian d’Ibelin series was inspired by the film, Kingdom of Heaven, my inspiration came from a BBC Robin Hood series. That Robin had served Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade and my knowledge of the man and that particular event was minimal, but I was intrigued. I dove online and discovered works of contemporary chroniclers’ fully translated. Richard the Lionheart’s story has been told many times in fiction and non-fiction, so I created a story of fictional knights who served him, showing how war, politics, and love impacted a naïve young man and a seasoned veteran.
2. Book I in the series, Men of the Cross, covers the entire Third Crusade. That’s roughly two years of action packed history that is one of the most well-documented two years in the entire 12th century. For the Third Crusade you had a number of excellent primary sources, English, French and Saracen. This book in contrast, covers a sliver of time, a little less than a year, if I’m calculating correctly, and the events are not historical but invented, albeit against a background of a real period in history. What made you change your pace? And how did you evolve this particular plot?
Though actual events of the Third Crusade feature prominently in Men of the Cross, the focus of the Battle Scars series has always been on the men who served the Lionheart. Henry de Grey, a young knight, has been profoundly impacted by what he has seen and done in God’s name. He is disillusioned by the war and, by the end of Book I, has accepted and welcomed his feelings for fellow knight Stephan l’Aigle. One theme of Book II shows the trials of their relationship as the knights return to England. Their secret love must remain hidden, though Henry knows his father expects him to marry and provide an heir. While Henry tries to avoid Edward de Grey’s matchmaking, Stephan, and Sir Robin have been tasked by the queen to identify King Richard’s enemies in England. King Richard is being held prisoner by the Holy Roman Emperor and his brother John plots with Philip of France to usurp the throne. John has supporters in England and Henry is now defending the king against other Englishmen. Politics and treachery threaten their own families and friends. Indeed, their own families may have ties to John.
Another theme of For King and Country is delving deeper into the building of a new Robin Hood origins story, what I have referred to as the ‘seeds’ of the legend. Robin, Allan, and Little John were introduced in Book I. Their story arcs, and the introduction of Marian, Much, Tuck, and Will, allowed me to build on that in Book II.
The novel does end with an actual major event, the Siege of Nottingham. Richard has been released from captivity, returns to England, and is reunited with my fictional characters who served him in the Holy Land.
3. Since you didn’t have the same wealth of sources for this slice of history, what were your principle research tools?
Interestingly, one of the shortest chapters of the book England Without Richard, 1189-1199, deals with the year 1193. For King and Country focuses on John’s efforts to fortify his English castles, but John’s whereabouts in the contemporary chronicles and biographies - with a couple of exceptions - are not well documented. That freed me up to fill in gaps, to place John and also his mother, Queen Eleanor, in a few crucial scenes. The chronicles did briefly cover the Siege of Nottingham, but Trevor Foulds’ excellent article on that event was a fantastic resource. In addition to biographies of Richard, John, and Eleanor, my principle research tools were books on medieval Nottingham, Lincolnshire and York, resources about culture, housing, life, and society in medieval times.
4. You gave a wonderful interview to Catherine Curzon on her blog “A Covent Garden Gilflirt’s Guide to Life.” (http://www.madamegilflurt.com/2016/05/an-american-in-nottingham-writing-robin.html) Here you described your disappointment when first visiting Nottingham Castle to discover it was dominated by post-1500 additions — a phenomenon that has frequently plagued my research as well! (Try finding anything crusader in modern Israel….) You were fortunate to find a written resource that provided details. But let’s return to your trip to England. What impact did it have on your writing? Was it all a disappointment? Or did visiting the scenes of your novel enable you to learn things you would not have been able to find in written sources? If so, what? Were there aspects of the novel that you changed because of travel to England?
It was a matter of location and fate that led me to Nottingham in 2010 and had nothing to do with research for my novel, but rather research for my sabbatical project. I was traveling to the United Kingdom to do site visits at university libraries. As I reached out to UK colleagues and plotted my visits, I realized that Nottingham, which I knew little about except what I’d seen in Robin Hood movies and television, was centrally located. I rented a flat there for three weeks, and managed to get to Nottingham Castle as a tourist. At that time, I wasn’t even thinking about writing a novel based in medieval Nottingham. I hadn’t even started writing Men of the Cross, which centered on the Third Crusade. But by 2013, as I was working on Men, I realized I wanted to – or perhaps was compelled to – follow my fictional characters back to England for a sequel. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to return to Nottingham for a look as a researcher, so my visits were virtual through my own photos from 2010 and others online, and through what I read, including the book Nottingham Castle: A Place Full Royal by Christopher Drage. I did get to Nottingham just a few weeks ago and find I appreciate the Castle and The Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem even more now that I have better grasp of their histories.
5. You had lots of fun writing this book. What scene did you like writing most? What scene is your favorite (which may or may not be same thing, of course….)?
I did have fun, which is one reason I like to call this series an historical adventure. There are many serious themes running through both novels – war, treason, PTSD, forbidden love, family loyalties tested – but life is sprinkled with humorous moments and I wanted to find places within all that emotion to make the reader smile. Without giving too much away, I loved writing the earthquake scene (which got added in my last month of final edits!) and the scene of Robin telling family and friends how he met Queen Eleanor. As for my favorite scene, that is tough because I have at least three, if not more, and they all involve spoilers. Let me tell you that one involves main character Henry, Queen Eleanor, Little John, and a new female character named Elle.
6. Tell us more about the series Battle Scars as a whole. How many books will there be and what period will it cover?
I am currently writing Book III, Swords of the King, which takes place during the last few years of King Richard I’s reign. All three Battle Scars books include the origins of the men who one day turn outlaw and become that band of Merry Men. I am fairly certain there will be 4th book in the series that turns the focus to the Robin Hood legend during King John’s reign. That particular novel is just a tiny acorn at the moment, but as I write Book III, I think it will firmly grasp my imagination and take root. With luck, Swords of the King will be published in 2018.
7. Tell us a little more about your readers? Who did you set out to reach with this series? Men? Women? Young people? Professionals? Why should they be interested in these books? What can they get out of them?
I thought laying the foundations of a new Robin Hood origins story might attract readers, though Robin and his “Merry Men” are not the focus of novels at this point. A few people did find Men of the Cross because of the Robin connection. Others appeared to love stories about the crusades, including a few readers, like you, from academic backgrounds with degrees in history or political science with extensive knowledge of medieval history. There may be more women reading than men—one female reader told me her husband was interested when he saw the book cover of Men, but when he heard there was a romance element, he said “no thank you.” It wouldn’t have mattered if it was romance of the male/female variety or male/male (m/m). Either way, it wasn’t for him. Other male readers (both straight and gay) have loved both the action and the gay romance, and as one female reader (who had not read a m/m work before) emailed me: “Love is universal…and if the characters are well-drawn, you want to see them together."
I would love to think that fans of great writers Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick would find my books as many of their novels cover the same time period and feature Richard the Lionheart, John Lackland (the future evil King John) and Eleanor of Aquitaine. A few have. I am still learning to write great battle scenes like Bernard Cornwell (and Penman and Chadwick have their share, too). Readers who enjoy tales of adventure against the backdrop of war—sometimes brutal and bloody—and political intrigue with romance and a bit of humor, may find Battle Scars right up their alley. Join me in the 12th century and I think you will feel I have transported you back to medieval times.
Thank you for taking time to answer my questions, Char. It’s been fun talking to you — even if only virtually. Good luck with sales!
Thank you, Helena!
Find Char online at :
Buy the books: http://author.to/CharNewcomb