Questions & Answers
What inspired you to write about the Norman Conquest?
I first began to study the Norman Conquest in depth while I was reading History at Cambridge and researching for my final-year dissertation. It was a period that’s always fascinated me, and the more I read through the sources and pored over the literature surrounding the subject, the richer it seemed to grow.
The story of the Conquest is, first and foremost, the story of the battle for a kingdom. But 1066 also marked the beginning of a period of intense and traumatic change in England: of social, cultural and political upheaval on a scale that’s very difficult for us in the twenty-first century to imagine today.
In the space of a generation after 1066, the Anglo-Saxon elite was almost entirely swept away and replaced with a new, French-speaking aristocracy, who brought with them new laws and customs, as well as fashions in art and architecture. At the same time, the landscape itself was remodelled, as the Normans carved out fiefdoms and imposed castles to dominate both town and country.
Why did you choose to begin the series in 1069, rather than in 1066?
I think it’s fair to say that 1066 is the best-known date in English history. Most people have seen pictures of the Bayeux Tapestry and know about the Battle of Hastings, and are familiar with the scene depicting the arrow in the eye that’s traditionally thought to have killed King Harold.
Whereas the story of events leading up to the Norman invasion have been told many times, the story of the aftermath isn’t as well known, and yet that for me is the most interesting part. The Battle of Hastings was only the opening engagement in a long and bitter war for mastery of England, as the conquerors struggled to subdue a hostile country rife with rebellion and under threat of invasion from overseas.
What made you decide to write from the Norman rather than the English perspective?
From a very early stage I decided I wanted to tell the story of the Conquest from the point of view of one of the Norman invaders, a knight serving in William the Conqueror’s army. So far as I could see this was an angle that few authors had taken before, which made it ripe for exploration. In reality the Conquest was a complicated and morally messy affair, and I don’t think it would be accurate or honest to depict it as a straightforward struggle of good versus evil.
It’s too easy to paint the Normans with a broad brush and say that they were universally a bad lot. I’m sure that some did come to these shores for purely self-serving reasons, and a few were responsible for inflicting great suffering upon the vanquished English, but I also think that many, like my protagonist Tancred, were complex human beings who genuinely believed in the righteousness of their cause.
For a more in-depth answer, take a look a this recent post on my blog.
How long does each book take to research?
It’s hard to say exactly. Before I start writing each new project, I spend several days in the University Library in Cambridge immersing myself in the latest academic studies, investigating particular topics of interest and generally laying the groundwork. I also visit locations that I know are going to feature in the novel, in order to get a sense of the lie of the land. But there are often times when I have to pause from writing to look something up or delve a bit deeper into a particular aspect of the history, and so in that sense research never really stops.
Do you have a writing routine?
Novel-writing is about as far from a nine-to-five job as it’s possible to get, and I don’t always keep to regular working hours. Still, it’s important to be disciplined. Every day I try to write at least one thousand words, and I’ll just keep going until I reach that target. Sometimes that will take only a few hours, while other days I’ll still be writing late into the evening.
Which other writers have inspired you?
Within the genre of historical fiction, the writers who have most influenced me include Bernard Cornwell, C. J. Sansom, Barry Unsworth, Tim Willocks and Robert Harris. Each is very different in terms of style and subject matter but all are equally effective at evoking worlds which are very different from our own. Beyond the genre, I’m a great admirer of the works of Chuck Palahniuk, Douglas Adams and Margaret Atwood: authors whose breadth of vision never fails to amaze me.
As an author I feel it’s important to read as widely as possible, to absorb different styles and look at alternative ways of telling a story. It’s very easy when writing to become lost in your own words and ways of seeing the world. Exploring new ideas and exposing oneself to fresh perspectives is what writing and reading is all about.
If you have any more questions that you’d like to ask about myself, my books or the history and inspiration behind them, please feel free to get in touch with me via the Contact page, or come along to one of my many Events.
New & forthcoming releases
US: Knights of the Hawk, 4 August 2015 (hardcover).
US: The Splintered Kingdom, 1 November 2015 (paperback).
Czech Rep.: Ve znamení meče, 15 February 2016 (hardcover).