I’d like to welcome E S Moxon’s today to talk with me about Historical Fiction and its meaning. E.S. debut Saxon saga ‘WULFSUNA’ was published through SilverWood Books in January 2015 and Elaine is currently writing book 2 in the series. A member of the Historical Novel Society, she is an avid historian who has close links with local libraries and museums including Letocetum Roman Museum in Wall, Staffordshire, UK. She loves giving talks and is often accompanied by an Anglo-Saxon warrior! She is also a contributing author on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog.
Of Anglo-Italian heritage, Elaine’s life has always involved languages and travel. Family holidays were spent exploring Britain’s multi-cultural past at ancient burial sites or stone circles and her Italian grandfather’s tales of the roguish adventures of his youth fuelled her passion for writing from a young age. A former holistic therapist, Elaine lives with her family in the Midlands, UK.
What are the periods of history focused on for your writing?
I’m currently writing early-mid 5th Century (aka Dark Ages or Sub-Roman period) involving Saxons and Britons. ‘WULFSUNA’ is set in 433AD and book 2 (as yet unnamed) will be set in 460AD. Future books in the series will move into 9th and 11th Centuries and also include Vikings, Danes and Normans.
Why Historical Fiction?
I adore history! Every step we take has been trodden by countless other feet, all with stories to tell and the past informs so much of who we are today. Through my novels I can live in another time, take the reader to another time and hopefully encourage an interest of history in some, who had perhaps not previously considered it exciting or interesting.
When did you know you wanted be a HF writer?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer since I first picked up a pencil. As for knowing I wanted to be a HF writer, that is a recent discovery! I had written in other genres and formats and lost interest. However, I’ve always loved history. I was researching Rune stones, Old English (I love learning languages!) and Beowulf and a spark ignited. The ‘Wolf Spear Saga’ was born from two runic symbols and an idea to create my own legendary saga.
How much time do you spend on research? What sources do you use?
I estimate over half my ‘writing’ time is spent researching and absorbing knowledge from factual reading. Fortunately, I enjoy research! I find it inspiring, having had pieces of research lead to a new scene, or conversely been stuck in a scene that has led me to investigate a fascinating subject. I use books (bought and borrowed), articles (online and printed), documentaries, archaeological websites/papers, reenactment groups, the internet and physical visits to places. Some of my personal library collection includes books on wild flowers, trees, wild foods, herb lore, the kingdom of Mercia and histories of the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. Reading as widely as possible is, I find, the best way to add depth to your work.
What do you feel is the importance of historical fiction?
For me, historical fiction should inform others through an enjoyable reading experience and explore lesser-known times/concepts within the ‘safety’ of fiction. There needs to be a degree of responsibility in HF as there are those who prefer to gain their historical knowledge from fiction rather than factual reading. Don’t underestimate its role in bringing the past to a new audience, or renewing interest.
Who are your influences?
Three books that influenced me most were ‘Hotel Du Lac’ by Anita Brookner, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee and ‘Avalon’ by Anya Seton. I read all of them during my teens and each book has, in some way, helped me define my craft. Brookner’s characters are so real and her descriptions vivid; you feel the crisp air coming in off the lake and can easily visualize the eclectic gathering of guests at Hotel Du Lac. Likewise, Lee’s characters are full of life and there is an edge to the prose, created by a harsh subject seen through very young eyes. Seton’s ‘Avalon’ instantly transports you to a time shrouded in mist and legend, of a divided and foreign landscape now known as Britain. Modern influences include Dean Koontz (a master of the supernatural thriller) and Ben Kane for his dedication to historical accuracy, characterization and sumptuous prose.
How much fiction (in your opinion) is best to blend with historical facts?
Most of my characters are fictional, moving around in a real, historical landscape where their lives become dictated to by a legendary (fictional) saga. Writing HF definitely requires balance, to ensure the readers believe who and what they are reading about and also when. I research dates and events to know what is going on while my characters are involved in their own stories. I feel it is important they are aware of larger, real events as these could inform characters’ opinions and responses within my book. Also, to ignore historical fact might frustrate well-informed historical readers. Sometimes within my novels these factual and fictional paths cross and real historical fact collides with my characters, or at times is merely hinted at. The balance comes into play when I weigh up what impact the facts will have on my story, if any. Ultimately, the flow of my novel is paramount. For instance, by book 2 Hengest and Horsa have their own kingdom in the south-east of Britain. My ‘WULFSUNA’ in the west know of them and have formed opinions of what is happening. Neither side will meet as that is not the story, but to have ignored the existence of them would not have made the time and place of my own story so real.
How do you feel the genre has progressed in the last ten years?
HF has certainly grown in popularity in that time. I began work on ‘WULFSUNA’ back in 2009. The Staffordshire Hoard had only just been uncovered and had begun to stir a little intrigue into the dark ages. Aside from that, people’s interests lay elsewhere. Contemporary fiction was at a high and I was able to read a new Dean Koontz every few months as he was releasing new print hardbacks of his thrillers. Harry Potter was everywhere and the world was into magic. Bernard Cornwell was possibly the only well-known HF writer to me. Hilary Mantel stirred the nation and I think things began to tilt in our favour after that. I think HF has a long way to go yet.
What are the important steps in writing HF?
Aside from the general guidelines for writing, I would add that HF dictates you should research well, check facts and then check them again. Sources can be ambiguous or outdated, for instance if you are reading a very old print book and new evidence has since arisen. Archaeology is a fluid source and new things are being discovered each day. Be aware of new discoveries pertaining to your chosen era.
Set your period landscape well. Unlike contemporary stories, historical tales take place in a somewhat unknown land with structures, language and customs we would have difficulty recognizing today. Examine flora and fauna, wildlife, clothing, transport, farming and hunting techniques, foods and customs (and this is not an exhaustive list!). Know ‘where’ and ‘when’ you are at all times.
What must you not do writing in this genre?
Never make assumptions of the level of knowledge of your readers. Balance your writing to suit well-heeled history buffs as well as novices seeking a new adventure. This is a difficult one to master as you will never please everyone, however there are ways around it. Use a glossary of terms with translations for archaic place names or technical equipment: the buffs won’t need it and the novices can dip into it as a reference for unfamiliar words. Describe an object in the prose by mentioning its function and/or a more familiar name.
When writing, do you use visuals to give you inspiration? Such as historical pictures of people, castles, towns and such? What about historical objects?
I often set up an electronic folder where I drop pictures I’ve found that relate to my book in some way. They can be photographs of people that remind me of my characters, or landscapes evoking a feeling for a particular scene. (Yes, I have a folder containing my ‘dream cast’ of actors should anyone decide to make my book into a film!) Sometimes I take photographs while I’m out if I come across a view that depicts a scene I’m working on. I also draw maps of settlements and battle strategies and refer to old maps of the period. For instance, I have a document showing the ancient trade routes through Britain such as the Fosse Way, Watling Street and Icknield Street. I actually live by a section of Icknield Street and drive across it once or twice a week. To know ancient travellers were doing the same in their ox-drawn carts hundreds of years ago always gives me a thrill! For ‘WULFSUNA’ I did a walk through a local forest, hiding under bushes and imagining a battle fought through trees. I hope no one was watching at the time, but it was incredibly useful for mapping out the action!
I also work with Saxon reenactors, which allows me access to replica objects of the period – clothes, weapons and everyday tools. I know the weight of a chain mail shirt, a Saxon shield, sword and axe. I’ve worn a helmet so can identify the pros and cons of moving and fighting in one. And I’ve been shot at with rubber-tipped arrows, which wasn’t lethal but wasn’t too pleasant either! I am also beginning to collect my own Saxon costume. I made a peplos (Saxon tunic) and have bought some replica brooches. There is no substitute for handling these things first-hand, although this isn’t always possible for everything. Photographs of period objects can still provide inspiration and I often refer to images from museums and archaeological sites.
AD433. Torn apart when Rome abandoned Bryton, the Wulfsuna are a disparate tribe. Twenty years on, two long ships sail for the east fens to honour their Warrior-Lord’s dream and reunite with lost kin. Soon after landing however, a murderous betrayal divides loyalties, some craving revenge and others indignant on pursuing their Lord’s dream. Blood and brotherhood are tested to their deadly limits.
The discovery of a young Seer adds to the turmoil. Expelled from her village after foretelling of an attack by blue painted savages, the Wulfsuna are equally wary of the one they call ‘Nix’. None fear her more than Lord Wulfgar, who refuses to believe an ancient saga bearing his name, is weaving the Seer’s destiny into his own. But a treacherous rival threatens their fate and Wulfgar must accept the Seer’s magic may be all that can save them.
Published by SilverWood Books
Also available from Kobo and Amazon
Great interview! This novel is definitely going on my to-be-read list!