Nan thank you for the pleasure of this interview. You write about a period of time in our history that I’m fascinated with and would like to know more about. Please tell us about your book, An Involuntary King: A Tale of Anglo Saxon England.
About 35 years later I started a storytelling group called Ghost letters and while trying to decide what historical or fictional character to play on it, m y husband suggested I resurrect the characters from “The Story”. The stories and letters I now wrote were fun and showed me I could write fiction. So I started putting the pieces together. In the final draft I had a very grown up novel of love and betrayal, battle and friendship in an imaginary late 8th century Anglo Saxon kingdom, in the area and at about the time that the Vikings would soon start raids.
The 8th century was such a long time ago in our history. Were there any challenges you faced while researching for your book?
The second challenge was how to write realistic battle scenes. I eventually discovered Bernard Cornwell’s work on just these needs, but in the meantime I put out a call in the Society for Creative Anachronism for someone who would help me “choreograph” Anglo Saxon battles. That’s how I made the acquaintance of Jack graham, a high school teacher with whom I now have a mutual admiration society. He tells me tactics for battles and I turn them into prose. He is still with me, sad that my upcoming fourth novel has no battle in it.
I am severely visually impaired so cannot simply go to the library and do research the way most people can. So I have relied heavily on the Internet, which, thanks to my own assistive technology, is about as accessible as a medium can be. In the four years since An Involuntary King was published, the Amazon Kindle keyboard has come along with its text to speech feature and suddenly more books and other materials than I could ever have imagined are in a format I can read!
What is the most surprising thing you learned about Anglo Saxon England?
Besides the quite different architecture and battle I mentioned above, I discovered that in Anglo Saxon England women had more rights than they would have again until at least the 19th century. They had marriage rights, property rights, and a lot of other opportunities we would recognize now. They could also be warriors, as numerous burial finds of women buried in armor prove. The Norman Invasion in 1066 is what brought the change, bring feudalism, more influence by the Roman Catholic Church than the original Celtic influence in Britain, and a complete dissolution of women’s status in all classes.
What interests you most in Historical Fiction?
First of all, history is usually itself fiction. All we really know is what we find in the written record along with archaeological data. Same sex desiring people, for instance, seem nonexistent or negatively portrayed in the Middle Ages because the only official records are arrest and punishment. Whole populations were ignored or misrepresented, so you often have to read between the lines to come up with what might be taken as genuine facts.
Historical fiction, when it is done responsibly and accurately, brings a human face and heart to history. A historical novelist can use his or her knowledge of human nature to extrapolate what life m ay have been like during, say, a great even in history. One of my favorite examples of this is Anel Viz’s novel, The Memoirs of Col. Gerard Vreilhac. In one section Gerard is a young man living in Paris during the evolution of 1789. We all know about the storming of the Bastille. But do we know what it might have been like to live a few blocks away during the event, how one would find out about it, how one might react, how one’s daily life would change in the coming weeks, months and years. To explore this you need the leeway afforded by fiction. Otherwise all you have is dry facts.
What is your favourite time in History?
That is changing, but I think it always will be the Middle Ages. My second novel takes place during the Crusade of 1101. I plan under a pen name to write a series of novels that take place in the late 10th century in England, back with my beloved Anglo Saxons. My alter ego, Christopher Moss, just finished an American Civil War era novel, however, so clearly I am broadening my interest.
What is your next book project?
An Involuntary King came out in 2008 and had a lovely reception, and now this honor from B.R.A.G.! My next novel was Beloved Pilgrim; the story of a young woman who adopts her late twin brother’s identity to fight in what was the most influential of all the crusades and the most devastating. It came out in 2011. The book I just finished under my pen name is a gay love story that takes place on a Mississippi riverboat and in New Orleans before and during the 1860s. I want to turn that into a mystery series later on and do the same with my next book, the first of a series called Wintanceaster Hauntings, paranormal mysteries set in 985 AD in Winchester, England.
What books have most influenced your life?
My life or my writing? They probably are the same, actually. I was very into Robin Hood as a young girl, and this led me into an interest in the Middle Ages. I read Roger Lancelyn Greene’s King Arthur and the Knight of the Round Table. I also fell in love with Ireland thanks to the movie the Fighting Prince of Donegal and the book The Proud Man by Elizabeth Linigton. More recently I have become an avid fan of Bernard Cornwell’s novels, all of them, and in the area of GLBT fiction I admire Josh Lanyon greatly.
What do you think contributes to making a writer successful in self-publishing?
One has to look at the advantages having a commercial publisher offers, which is getting less and less, and make sure your book has those advantages from another source. You need to write a terrific book, but you also need to get it edited, including everything from getting advice as you write and simple proofreading. A professional cover will be vital even for ebooks. And you will have to do your own marketing. You would anyway. To do your own marketing you need to get inside the head of your ideal reader and figure out how to reach them. Since you probably won’t be on any bookshelves, you have to learn to use the Internet wisely and well. This came more or less naturally to me, but it may be harder for others.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Write, write, write. Listen to your own judgment and don’t bother with writing classes. So many of them will ultimately stifle your own creativity and style. Realize that editing and reediting will take more time than writing the novel. When you are not writing, read, read, read. When the time comes to sell books, do favors. That’s my particular secret. I naturally help others. I just plain like to. But some years ago I discovered there is a return benefit. People like to help people who helped them. Finally, strive for historical accuracy but remember two things: we don’t really know what happened in the past, and the first priority of a novelist is to tell a jolly good story. You can always include a historical note saying what you changed… like Bernard Cornwell does.
Friends. Every time I start a new novel I know that by the time it is finished I will have a whole new bunch of imaginary friends. After all, I always say that the best thing about my profession is that I get to live in a dream world for a living.
Author Bio and Links:
Nan Hawthorne’s website: http://www.nanhawthorne.com
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Nan Hawthorne who is the author of An Involuntary King: A Tale of Anglo Saxon England, one of our medallion honorees at http://www.bragmedallion.com. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as An Involuntary King: A Tale of Anglo Saxon England merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.