Monday, March 14, 2011

Helen Hollick Guest Post-I Am the Chosen King

This is really a part two post to a review I recently posted on Helen Hollick's spectacular historical fiction novel I Am the Chosen King.  (review post) I was so absorbed in the lives of many characters who are brought to life in this book, I had a few questions to ask Helen. Here is my rather random question and her fascinating response. 

Wisteria asks:
I read in your author notes that there was little factual information to go on when writing this trilogy. How do you develop the characters of Harold and Edith and Edith? I loved Harold, yet he had to balance the love of two women. How did you present Harold so that the reader has empathy and love for this character?  On the flip side, William adored one wife, Matilda, yet he was despicable and I loathed him.
All these characters can be identified by their personalities through your written word. Can you discuss this?

Helen Hollick

Phew, this is a one to think about!
I suppose there was more factual information for I Am The Chosen King (called Harold the King in the UK) then any of my other books, as the Battle of Hastings which occurred in 1066 – and the events that led to it – was fairly well recorded because it was such an important occurrence; one that changed history for good.
Having said that, most of what was recorded was written by the Victors, the Normans, so much of it was biased (at best) and plain untruthful (at worst)

For instance, Duke William of Normandy had no right to the English throne whatsoever – but you won’t find that written in any Norman account!
I stripped the “facts” of Norman propaganda, which meant doing a lot of reading between the lines, guessing, and using logic and common sense.
I will take one example: we know Harold went to Normandy around 1064/5. It’s depicted in the famous Bayeux Tapestry. We see him going to pray in the Church first, then going aboard a ship, then landing in Normandy and being wrongfully arrested. Why he went, why he was arrested, and why Duke William secured his release and was angry about the arrest, we don’t know. It is more than likely that Harold was intending to visit William, got blown of course and landed in the wrong place. Harold went on to be an honoured and welcomed guest at Duke William’s court – until everything went wrong. (I won’t say what!)

So I had to interpret those scenes, make sense of the bare facts and weave them into a believable, convincing story.

The framework of my characters’ characters was fairly easy to unravel. Harold I have always liked, he gave the impression of being a fair-minded, just man who saw honour and loyalty as his prime importance– be it to King, Country or family. Edith, his sister, I saw as a bit of a spoilt madam. She wanted things her own way, but I also felt very sorry for her. She got her wish and became Queen, but the wish turned out to be a disappointing one. Like her predecessor, though, (Queen Emma – from Forever Queen) Edith was determined to keep her crown, so would do anything, anything at all, to keep it.

Edyth Swanneck, Harold’s common law handfast wife I saw as a gentle, patient, motherly type of woman – who would give her life for Harold and her children if she had to. So their characters seemed natural and obvious to me, and the more I wrote the more “real” these people were to me.

I had a hard time writing about Duke William – I loathe the man, but I wanted to make him a realistic character, not an utter monster (even if he was *laugh*) so giving him an alternative background to his battle-hardened warrior image seemed logical. We know, as fact, that he was loyal to his wife and did not have mistresses or lovers because it was remarked upon and recorded (sorry I can’t remember exactly where) as unusual in a man of his status. I am not convinced he “loved” Matilda, but he was a man of principle, and I think possessive, maybe controlling. Sex, beyond producing children was not a major need for him. His “interest” was in the battle campaign, the manly world of the battlefield.
Just a pity he couldn’t keep his interests firmly in Normandy!

I want to thank Sourcebooks for the opportunity to be a part of this Blog Tour along with the review copy of her book that I received.  It is always fun to get a chance to talk to an author after you have read her/his book. I fell in love with Helen Hollick's writing when I read The Forever Queen, so I was eager to read I Am the Chosen King.  If you have not read any of her books, I highly recommend you take a peek. You might not even need a bookmark.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].


Teddyree said...

Loved the Q & A and really enjoyed the opportunity of learning more about the writing behind the characters in I Am The Chosen King, which I adored (almost as much as The Forever Queen). Thanks Wisteria and Helen Hollick

wisteria said...

Teddyree...I agree with you...I was very interested in Helen's thoughts. I think the character of Emma really grabbed me in The Forever Queen making it stand out over I Am The Chosen King. However, the battle between the two kings was almost as good. I think my bias toward strong women in fiction shows through here.