Thursday, October 29, 2009
Helen Hollick pens a different path for the legend of Arthur.
Listen to an audio interview podcast at Voices of Living Creatively website.
”I was just so intrigued that he might have been real and that all of the stories of the knights of the Round Table, the Holy Grail, Camelot and Lancelot were all just made up. But as soon as I realized that maybe there was a real Arthur, I became fascinated.”
Author Helen Hollick remembers the stories by Mary Stewart she read about Merlin and the young Arthur. But for Helen, it was something in the back of Stewart’s book that actually brought another sort of magic into her life. “The thing that intrigued me was her author’s notes which said if Arthur had been real, he would have lived around post Roman times,” explains Helen. “Now that really got me interested. Because I had never liked the stories that had placed him around Medieval times. When I read that, I thought, oh, I’ll check into that.”
That started Helen on a path leading her to write a trilogy of books about Arthur before and after he becomes king. The first book, The Kingmaking, was a down to earth portrayal of Arthur as the supposed bastard son who takes the throne and becomes king. The second book, Pendragon’s Banner covers the years between 459-465 A.D. and tells the tale of Arthur’s struggle with the power, politics and family strife. This book details the daily life of Arthur, Guinevere, their three children, servants and soldiers. Her take on the fighting among the family for control of the throne is just as believable as the battle scenes.
And begs the question, how did Helen Hollick write so richly of a past that may or may not have existed at all. The answer is some of it comes from extensive research and a diploma in Early Medieval History. Hollick says, “I looked into what facts we do know of that period, really researched post roman and early saxon, so in weaving in the real facts, that can make what we don’t know for sure to be more real. I looked into daily life. I looked into what kind of horses they would have had, harnesses, armor, and the buildings.”
Helen’s research also includes personal experiences as well. “I’ve actually been to all those places in the books, Glastonbury, visited Summerset, been to Scotland. It makes a great excuse for a holiday,” says Helen.
Some of the plot details, like the scene where Arthur’s young son falls into the river, come from her feelings and experiences as a mother. “We were actually on vacation camping by that very river,” Helen explains. “My own little girl was about 5. It had been raining, and we went down to look at the river. It was in flood, flowing very fast exactly as in that scene. I held my Cathy’s hand so very tight, because I had a vision of a child falling into the water. I pulled her back from the bank, told her to be careful and picked her up and held her. Then I went back to the camp and just wrote the scene down. It was very hard to write. I was in tears the whole time.”
And that wasn’t the only scene that was hard for Helen to write. The Battlefield scenes were a challenge as well. Helen says, “I have to say I don’t know how I manage to write the battle scenes. It really helps to be in a bad mood. It’s a really good way to get rid of angst, to write a battle scene.”
The battle scenes details aren’t the only thing that grabs you as a reader but it’s also the depth of Arthur’s feelings about the work a soldier must do. According to Helen, “When you read a story of battle it’s always made out to be a glorious thing, propaganda, of course, to get people to go out and fight. But you don’t think about the other side, people get killed, horses get hurt. This is the reality.”
The battle scene that begins Book Two, Pendragon’s Banner came after a long period of writer’s block. “I got to the point where I thought, if I don’t do something about this writer’s block, I’m not going to get this book finished,” explains Helen. “And I was determined to write the words, ‘the end’, even if I never got published. So I went along to a writer’s course and the teacher said, I want you to write down your feelings. I just wrote down the first word that came into my head. Before I knew it, I wrote the word, sword, then the word battle. And all of a sudden the whole battle scene just came into my head and I just sat and wrote. It was really funny because then the teacher said, ok, you can stop now and I said no way, I haven’t written for 6 months and if you think I’m going to stop now, you’ve got another thing coming.”
Even though Helen’s extensive historical research gives the scenes detail, it’s not what got her started writing. “I hated history when I was at school, absolutely hated it,” says Helen. “When I was 13, I was writing pony stories, because I really wanted a pony of my own and we couldn’t afford one. So I made one up.”
From then on, writing has been a life long passion. Even when her original publisher stopped printing her books, she got the copyright back and self-published them in the U.K. Then found a new home for her trilogy here in the United States with Sourcebooks. In addition to her Arthur trilogy, Helen Hollick has written a fantasy adventure series about pirates for fun and most recently, a movie script about the battle of Hastings called 1066.
“We hope to shoot in the UK but it will be on release in American as well,” Helen says. “We’re talking big blockbuster here. Fingers crossed, I’ve even got my dress.”
But whether or not her books or movies about Arthur, pirates or the battle of Hastings are a success, Helen would never stop writing.
“I’m always scribbling something down, even if I’m not working on a book. That short time when I heard that they weren’t going to publish my books, I was devastated,” says Helen. “I sobbed for 2 weeks. Then I pulled myself up and thought come on, it doesn’t mean you can’t publish your books.”
Helen Hollick advises everyone to follow their dreams, too. “Do it. Don’t think about it, go out and do it,” says Helen. “At least try, I feel that at least I tried and I’ve managed it. Ok, if my books don’t sell it doesn’t matter, at least I’ve done it. Rather than looking back in a few years time and thinking oh, I wish I’d done that. At least have a go, give it your best shot.”