I am so pleased to welcome Helen Hollick for interview today at Reviews by Martha’s Bookshelf.
Helen: It’s my pleasure to be here!
Q1. I'm always interested to discover the story behind the story. Where did the inspiration for your historical fiction, I Am The Chosen King, come from?
Helen: The English edition of I Am the Chosen King is called Harold the King, I originally wrote it about twelve years ago – it took about a year to research and another year to write.
King Harold II died on October 14th 1066 defending England against invasion by Duke William of Normandy, and Harold is my hero.
Having finished my Arthurian Trilogy (The Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner and Shadow of the King) I had to decide what subject to write about next. Two things convinced me to do the Chosen King (Harold)
I went on a day trip to see the site where the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066. While walking the battlefield, going down the hill, I suddenly felt that if I turned around I would see King Harold’s army on the ridge, ready to fight.
An exhilarating but somewhat scary moment!
Shortly after, I dreamt the scene that became chapter two, where Earl Harold was riding beside the River Lea with his brothers and father and saw for the first time the woman who was to become the love of his life – Edyth Swanneck.
Well, I just had to write the novel.
I wrote the story because I was fed up with history books starting with the Norman Conquest, and the idea that the Normans were good for England. They weren’t. William had no right to the throne and Harold was our legitimate, crowned King.
I stripped the Norman version of Norman propaganda and told the story that led to the Battle of Hastings from the English point of view.
It is a novel of love and life; of battle and betrayal…. a story based on history, but with the gaps filled in by intuition, imagination and emotion.
I am also co-scriptwriter to the UK movie 1066 – which is currently in pre production – a very exciting project!
Wow - I didn't realize that about the movie and that IS definitely exciting.
Q2. Please share one surprising thing about your experience writing this book, or about your research efforts.
Helen: I had, before I started to write, intended to be more neutral about the conflict between the English and the Normans - while researching I was aware that I did not much like William, but when it came to writing his scenes, getting to know him, to live inside his skin as it were, I realized how much I utterly loath the man!
Some scenes I found hard to write as the dislike was difficult to overcome. I reckon there is something in my ancestry that makes me hate him so!
I have to say how impressed I was with the depth of the personalities. You really have a gift for that.
Q3. How does writing historical fiction (The Forever Queen and The Chosen King) compare with writing paranormal (Sea Witch and your “pirate series”)? What are the main differences, and what do these forms of writing have in common?
Helen: Oh there is one very big difference *laugh*; my hero in the Pirate Series - Jesamiah Acorne – gets to stay alive at the end of the book!
My research and style of writing is the same, although I do not go so deep with background detail with the Sea Witch Voyages, as they are more action adventure as opposed to historical fiction. I do also take a little “poetic licence” with a few facts – but that is the nice thing about writing “make believe” as opposed to “real thing”.
My sailing detail is as accurate as I can get it though, thanks to maritime author James L. Nelson who is my nautical editor.
My aim with the Sea Witch Voyages is to write an entertaining and enjoyable read, one that is a mixture of the Pirates of the Caribbean, Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, Hornblower and Indian Jones all rolled into one – in other words a darn good, typical sailor’s yarn.
I enjoy researching and interpreting the known facts. Putting flesh and bone on the basic skeleton - the conjectured bits that join fact and fiction together – is also an enjoyable, challenge.
Interpreting why things happened, and what made people in the past do the things they did and turning those into a believable, readable novel is the skill of a writer. But, equally, I enjoy making up the pure adventure of the Sea Witch Voyages. The restrictions of sticking to fact is lifted, the freedom of sailing away with a boatload of imagination is such fun to write – and I hope, to read!.
I am also enjoying the freedom to explore my main characters in Sea Witch – especially Jesamiah and his woman, Tiola, a white witch. Because I am not restricted by their being real characters who did real things in the past I can develop them as I want…. although both of them are revealing hidden surprises as I write each new book, which is so exciting!
I see with your description of the Sea Witch series that I will have to read them. They sound lively and fun.
Q4. Do your characters live with you as you write? Do they haunt your dreams?
Helen: Oh yes, very much so! As I said above, I decided to write Chosen King / Harold because of a dream. I often heard Arthur while writing the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy – and as for Jesamiah…. Well it’s quite nice knowing I have my very own eye-candy dish of a pirate standing behind my right shoulder. I often hear him laugh, and I get the occasional grumble when I’m not writing a chapter fast enough. I had the same for Arthur. Harold was more of a patient gentleman though. All I had from him was a polite reminding cough when the writing was going too slow. Me? A demented scribbler? Never!
Ha! I can just picture them over your shoulder now!
Q5. Do you have any rituals that help you get in the mood to sit down and write?
I can’t write if something needs doing – I can’t concentrate if I know I have something like these blog questions to answer, for instance. So I usually get “work” done first in the day then settle down to write, research or edit in the afternoon or evening.
That sounds like a nice plan. I always seem to be doing my blog "work" at night.
Q6. Do any of your work career/hobbies/interests influence your writing? (Do you include any of your animals?)
Helen: I’ve often based scenes with horses on my own and my daughter’s horses. In Chosen King, Edyth Swanneck’s pony trips and she tumbles off. That is very much from life! The cats and dogs that appear are based on experience as well – in Shadow of the King a dog falls over a waterfall; that really happened to our dog, Nesta, just as it was written.
I find some of your scenes seem so real that it doesn't surprise me they might be based on real personal happenings.
Q7. Which do you find is most important to you as a writer, voice or story? Why?
Helen: Oh story I think. Why? Because as a reader I have always found the story to be important – the escapism into the depth of the tale, the excitement of what is going to happen in the next chapter or at the end.
A book is a door into another world; if the story fails to grab the imagination and propel you through that door for five minutes, an hour – several hours, then the book isn’t doing what it should be doing: transporting you to “elsewhere”.
Very well said. I love to escape into another world in my reading!
Q8. What do you hope your readers get out of your books?
Helen: I very much hope they get the same enjoyment as I did in writing them. My main characters are my friends, to me they are not just people from the past or make believe pirates. They exist – not on this plain, maybe, but they do exist.
I hope readers fall in love with my heroes, detest the bad guys, shout with laughter at the amusing bits, and weep tears at the sad scenes.
I am not too much of a weeper but I dreaded reading the end of Chosen King because I knew I would be crying.
Q9. Are you likely to wake in the middle of the night with a fantastic idea for a character or a plot? And what do you do when you wake up like that?
Helen: Often, although I get most of my ideas in the shower; must be the swirl of ozone triggering the little grey cells, (as Poirot calls them)!
I’ve a pretty good memory for my plot and story, so I usually remember. I have been known to get up at some unmentionable hour and start writing though, or sit here at my desk not realizing that it is two in the afternoon and I am still only draped in a towel and my hair has long since dried beyond combing!
Oops. I hope you don't get unexpected visitors at the door in that condition. :-)
Q10. How involved do you get in and do you enjoy doing the promotion side of selling the book to the public?
Helen: I am very involved with promotion, especially for the Sea Witch Voyages, as for those I am only with a small independent publishing house in the UK and they do not have the huge resources of Sourcebooks Inc.
I thoroughly enjoy “chatting” to and meeting people on Facebook and Twitter. I have made many new friends because of my books through the Internet – and that is just so fantastic! It’s nice to know that people are out there reading my books and falling head over heels for my hero, but it’s even nicer making new, interesting, lovely friends. I am so, so lucky!
Promoting isn't always easy and it is wonderful that you enjoy the sharing with your audience.
Q11. What was the first book you ever read OR what books made you want to be a writer?
Helen: The first book I can remember was one of the Little Grey Rabbit books by Alison Uttley. I remember coming out of the library clutching it so tightly because it was one I hadn’t read (or had read to me) I was about 4. The books that made me want to write were a series of pony books by Ruby Fergusson – and Rosemary Sutcliff’s fabulous Roman Britain stories. Her way with words is just breathtaking.
Those are all new to me and I may just have to look them up. Maybe read Little Grey Rabbit to my granddaughter.
Q12. What are you currently reading/watching/listening to?
Helen: I am currently working my way through C. W, Gortner’s historical novels; TV I watch very little of, but I enjoy good quiz shows, Foyle’s War, Morse and Lewis. I usually have Mike Oldfield on the stereo, especially Tubular Bells II & III, and his Music of the Spheres. I also listen to the soundtrack from Master and Commander and Last of the Mohicans when I’m writing. Very evocative (and my favourite movies).
I love the music from Last of the Mohicans too. I think it is haunting.
Q13. What is something unique about you that you would share with your readers?
Helen: Gosh, giving away my secrets here! Of an evening, when it has turned dark I like plugging in the lights that are out in the garden (yard) just beyond my office window. They are Christmas outdoor lights really, all in a lovely royal blue. I also often light a few candles. Its so relaxing to have these twinkling away while I’m writing.
There you go - a dreamy setting for other world writing.
Q14. If you could have the readers finish a sentence, what would it be??
Helen: Harold slowly looked up, it was an effort, for he was so angry, so very angry with being betrayed…..
Helen: No – thank you!