When I wrote my Arthurian Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy (over twenty years ago now!) I fell in love with Arthur; after all for over ten years I had worked on what was eventually to become The Kingmaking, the first book in the series. I knew that man better than I knew myself! He was a friend, a confidante, an inspiration – almost a virtual lover at times. He was also irritating, annoying and a darn nuisance, especially when I had run out of steam and hadn’t a clue what to write next, or the confidence to do so.
That’s how I see the stories I write and the characters that go with them, as movies playing in my head. Sometimes I hear the words as well (as a sort of distant echo deep inside my brain). Some scenes are very vivid in detail. A dream I had turned into the second chapter of my Saxon novel about the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings (Harold the King [UK title] / I am the Chosen King [US title]). I clearly saw men riding beside a river; Earl Godwin and his sons. The detail of their clothing, their horses; the scenery was all there. I heard their voices: the brothers were arguing, and I saw a girl crouching beneath the shadow of some trees, trying to hide from the intruders. The men rode off and I saw her running up a grassy hill, her kingfisher-blue cloak flying behind her.
The late Rosemary Sutcliff who wrote Eagle of the Ninth and other fabulous historical fiction for young adults (and older adults!) had the same problem with Arthur. I wrote to her shortly before she passed away, telling her of my attempt to write an Arthurian novel. She wrote back, in her spidery handwriting giving me encouragement and confided that she too had found it difficult to part from Arthur after finishing her novel Sword at Sunset. ‘It took me six months to get that man out of my system,’ she wrote.
I know just what she meant.
It is quite unnerving to sit at the keyboard tapping frantically away, trying to get the words inside your head out through your fingers and into the memory space of the hard drive. More unnerving when you look up several hours later, wonder where the time has gone and not recall a single word you’ve written. There are parts of all my book, but mostly The Kingmaking and Pendragon’s Banner that I do not recollect writing at all. It is as if we are possessed by an unseen spirit dictating the words.
Sea Witch wrote itself; the words poured from my head and I didn’t stop writing for two months (except for Christmas Day when I felt my family would probably not appreciate a non-appearance of a Christmas dinner). Following that first book I have completed three more Voyages, with another one about to set sail, and probably two or three more to follow in its wake. I adore Jesamiah, he is great fun and ‘unputdownable’. Only don’t say that too loud as he’s cocky enough as it is! The stories are sailor’s yarns, not meant to be taken seriously. My sailing detail is as accurate as I can get it, and the historical ‘facts’ are sort of based on fact, with a few dabs of poetic licence tossed in here and there. Where I do alter facts I mention my tampering in the author’s note. There is also an element of fantasy in the Sea Witch Voyages; after all, Jesamiah’s woman is a white witch, although her gift of Craft is written as fairly plausible. She doesn’t have a magic wand, and as she says herself ‘I can’t cast spells.’ Additionally, I make her vulnerable to a certain degree, she gets seasick when crossing water, for instance, as I didn’t want her popping up every few minutes to rescue Jesamiah from yet another of the scrapes he’s managed to get himself into.
I was toying with writing something different, going back to post Roman Britain again. I have a few chapters noted down, my lead characters sorted, where the novel will be set, some basic research etc., but goodness did Jesamiah nag and moan and mither! A constant barrage complaining that I was not paying attention to him, that I had to get on with his story…
And to be honest, well, you just don’t argue with a pirate do you?
Helen is published in the UK and the US with her books about King Arthur and the 1066 Battle of Hastings, officially making the USA Today best seller list with her Saxon novel Forever Queen. She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, a series of nautical adventures inspired by her love of the Golden Age of Piracy. She describes them as a blend of Indiana Jones, Jack Sparrow, Richard Sharpe and James Bond.
As a firm supporter of independent authors she has recently taken on the role of UK Editor for the Historical Novel Society’s Online Review for self-published historical fiction produced in the UK. In conjunction with her editor, Jo Field, Helen has recently released, in paperback, Discovering the Diamond, a handy guide for aspiring writers giving a few tips, and some dos and don’ts, especially aimed at assisting the indie/self-published writer.
Helen lives in Devon with her husband, adult daughter and her partner, and a variety of pets, including a dog, two cats, and four horses.
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