Characters in Motion with Derek Birks

From the Rebels and Brothers series… may I introduce Lady Eleanor Elder – the she-wolf who never stops moving.

As Paul Bennett, of the Hoover Book Review, remarked on Facebook recently: “Eleanor Elder has to be one of the toughest women in fiction.”

Eleanor has proven to be one of the most popular characters in the Rebels and Brothers series, set during the Wars of the Roses. Perhaps that is because she embodies the fighting spirit but also because the reader just knows that, when Eleanor is there, something unpredictable and exciting is going to happen. She is prone to outbursts of spectacular anger but she is also frighteningly and somehow, endearingly, loyal.

With stark red hair and piercing green eyes, hers is a stunning, but harsh, beauty. It is indeed a mesmerising beauty, but it masks a tortured soul for Eleanor is a fundamentally flawed character. Eleanor is fierce, that’s the only word for it. Even if you are on her side you would reckon that fierce is a pretty appropriate description.  In her relentless determination to survive and protect her own, she will shrug off any amount of physical pain and she will overcome even the most heart-breaking of losses. Throughout the series, Eleanor’s capacity for survival is tested about as far as it can be and there are times when only courage and sheer willpower keep her and other members of the Elder household alive.

Feud BRAGWhen the Rebels and Brothers story begins in Feud, she is only fifteen years old and the youngest of four siblings. She is motherless and soon to be fatherless and everything she has ever heard about her mother suggests that she takes after her. She is a wild child who has run with the boys for so long that she is almost out of control.

When we first encounter Eleanor near the start of Feud she is already very much in motion as she tries to evade a group of men led by a member of the rival Radcliffe family:

She seized upon their doubts, running at them, twisting this way and that and turning her blade on any man who got too close. Several tried to disarm her but clutched handfuls of air as she moved rapidly around them, stabbing at them and using her swift, lithe movement to wrong-foot them. Cornered once more on the edge of the riverbank, she thrust out towards an unprotected neck and was rewarded by a spurt of blood splashing onto her face. She smiled grimly as her victim fell to the ground, blood pouring from his wound as his comrades tried to wrest her lethal blade away. She broke from their grasp once more, her confidence growing.

One man caught her arm and she raked the knife across his chest. They were chasing shadows but there were so many of them she couldn’t get clear. An outstretched foot tripped her to her knees but she rolled and hacked at the forest of legs that surrounded her. She raised the knife to strike again but a boot kicked it from her hand and she stared up into the face of Richard Radcliffe. At once she sprang to her feet and threw herself at him, clawing at him until he punched her hard in the chest and stomach. Only then did she drop to the ground but she leapt up again and snarled at her adversaries like a wounded she-wolf, blazing eyes frantically seeking an escape route. She looked desperately towards the river but the blows rained in upon her from all sides and, with a final, bitter scream, she succumbed.

So, not only does she know what to do with sharp, pointy things but she is more than ready to do it.

A Traitors Fate BRAGAt the start of the second book, A Traitor’s Fate, Eleanor has been through the mill and the reader knows it. At the age of twenty, she is more self-aware, but no more cautious. She has returned to her roots in the Yorkshire dales and likes nothing better than to roam hillside and beck in the valley of her birth.

Eleanor Elder stood naked on the ledge staring down at her reflection in the still waters of the pool below. Thank God for a place she could be alone, just herself – well, almost alone. She was twenty years old, unmarried and the mother of a two year old son. For a lady of gentle birth, this should have meant misery but Eleanor cared nothing for such matters. What did cause her some concern was what she saw in the stark reflection: thick, flabby thighs and a slack belly – how far was she now from the lithe, sleek girl she had been only a few years before? She forced herself to look down at her breasts, scarred forever by the slash of a Radcliffe sword. There were other wounds too, any one of which might have killed her, yet here she was, still alive.

She shivered, took a breath and dived into the pool.

Kingdom of rebels BRAGEleanor’s relationship with her older sister, Emma, is a little complicated. They are chalk and cheese: where Eleanor is brash and unconventional, Emma is quiet and organised. She has run their father’s household from an early age and sees Eleanor as a nuisance – a piece that does not fit. As time goes on, the sisters often find themselves in rival camps but yet they are still sisters and can call upon each other for help. As Eleanor says in book three, Kingdom of Rebels:

“I always thought that we were poor friends, but rather better sisters…”

By the final book of the series, The Last Shroud, Eleanor has a taste of peace and happiness:

Eleanor Elder dozed contentedly outside the cottage, drinking in the scents and sounds of summer. Bees hummed around the flower heads, a pair of blackbirds scratched in the long grass and from the nearby forest came the rhythmic echo of Ragwulf’s axe upon oak. She fancied the stroke of his axe matched the lazy beat of her heart and smiled a guilty smile.

He had been away in the morning, further up the Cover valley, and she had picked up her sword for the first time in months. He would be furious with her but the feel of the hilt against her palm reminded her of all that she had once been. When she drew Will’s old blade from its worn, stained scabbard, she found the edge was bright and keen. That brought a smile too for Ragwulf must have honed it.

The last Shroud  BRAG I

Now she was tired – glowing with rude health – but tired. He had told her to rest but had she not rested for months whilst her wounds healed? She hated having to sit still – God’s blood, she would waste away from all this rest! She knew he worried about her and, now that her belly swelled with his child, he worried all the more. She would do all she could to allay his fears: she had been careful this morning not to overdo it… just a few guards, a few moves, a little exercise with a blade in her hand, feeling its balance, its weight… And it felt good, this guilty pleasure.

Ragwulf would change her if he could. So here she sat, outside the tumbledown cottage where they squatted, obediently taking her ease in the warmth of the sun… like the lady he wanted her to be.

Though she grows ever wearier of war, when the fur starts to fly, you just know that Eleanor will be in thick of it, scratching out the eyes of anyone who endangers her family.

In the first book of a new series, Scars from the Past, Eleanor Elder returns. The new story begins in 1481 and she is now approaching the age of 37, though she has aged well and retained much of her beauty. The Elder family is led by matriarchs and Eleanor is one of them but her concern now is for the future of her children and those of her brother Ned.

She remembers with bitterness when she was their age, fighting for her life in the feud with the Radcliffe family. But England is at peace in 1481 and all seems well. The days of family feuds and struggles for the throne are over – aren’t they?

Eleanor does not know the meaning of defeat. When I write Eleanor I often listen to the song Try by Pink and I find inspiration for Eleanor in the lines:

“Where there is desire
There is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame
Someone’s bound to get burned
But just because it burns
Doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You’ve gotta get up and try, and try, and try”

We will have to wait to see if there is still a fire burning in Eleanor’s breast… but don’t expect this character to stop trying… ever.

About Author:

Derek Birks BRAGDerek was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties.
For many years he taught history in a secondary school but took early retirement to concentrate on writing. Apart from his writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa.
Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period. He writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history.
His debut historical novel, Feud, is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses and is the first of a series entitled Rebels & Brothers which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family.
The fourth and final book of the series, The Last Shroud, was published in the summer of 2015.

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