Synchron-history: ‘Le Chevalier au Lion’
The best parts of writing historical fantasy are those brilliant moments of historical synchronicity (I call them ‘synchron-history’) and the freedom to get fantastically creative with them.
When I released Sacrifice—the first book in my dark-ages, Welsh, dragony book series Y Ddraig (The Dragons of Brython)—there was one character who kept demanding more air-time almost from the moment he stepped onto the page, blades glinting.
Eifion ap Gwilim was second-in-command to the hero of Sacrifice … he was supposed to be window dressing at best … but every time he made an appearance, his quiet strength and fierce loyalty got my attention and by the half-way point of that book I knew I was going to have to do more with him. Just like that, Eifion went from the spear-bearer of classic theatre to literary hero in my research-cluttered mind.
But I had a problem … the heroes of this series were supposed to be Arthurian ‘B-listers’ and the characters of the next book Ascension were more or less set. I had already cast brothers Gwalchmai and Gwalchafad (who are the ancient Welsh equivalents of Arthurian Gawain and Gaheris) but Gawain is largely synonymous with the Lancelot character created (later) by French writer Chretien de Troyes. You know Lancelot, right? Handsome, flashy, popular in court, tight with Arthur, even tighter with his wife … That wasn’t going to work for silent, shadowy, good Eifion who had reluctantly betrayed Arthur in Sacrifice and had been living in a kind of dark age witness protection program in the Welsh mountains ever since. And besides, he was already called Eifion … he couldn’t magically become Gawain in the fortenyear between Book 1 and Book 2.
That sort of thing gets noticed.
So, I turned my attention to little brother Gaheris. But no … I had very specific plans for this fascinatingly complex and conflicted Arthurian character and none of them were hero-appropriate.
What to do?!
If there was one character in Arthurian lore who was most Eifion-esque it was young, white-hearted Galahad. But of all the many fictions in the Arthurian pantheon, Galahad is the most fictitious—invented in the 13th century (when the stories of Arthur were Christianised heavily) purely to highlight the holiness of the Grail. All of the existing characters of Arthurian lore were too flawed and too grungy to put their paws on the Holiest of Holies and so a beautiful, unachievable, unattainable (and some would argue unrelateable) young man was purpose built to carry the Grail back to Heaven in a blaze of short-lived glory.
Hmmm … I was in some trouble now. In this series, I lean toward the historical-based characters alive some six centuries before the rendering of the chivalric, medieval versions in their polished armour. Surely, Galahad could not be the only decent bloke in all of Arthurian lore.
Indeed he was not.
In a spectacular piece of synchronicity while digging back through the Welsh triads I stumbled on the Welsh Owain, known as Yvain to the Bretons, heir to the King of Rheged. He was 6th century [tick—right period], Cymry-born [tick—right bit of the country], a machine with a blade [tick—right skillset], was tight with Gwalchmai the historical Welsh figure that inspired Gawain [tick—right circle of friends], and was later banished by Arthur [tick—straight into the Welsh mountains he went]. Classically, Yvain is portrayed alongside a lion, a bit of medieval semiotics pointing to his traits of fierceness and loyalty, and he is captured in literature as a protector of female virtue often as not. If Yvain had a fault, it was that he was a bit prone to galloping off on dangerous missions at the expense of his personal relationships.
Hellooooo, Eifion!! There you are, my lovely!
This is exactly the kind of synchronicity that makes an author catch their breath. Like it was meant to be all along. Right down to the similarity in names. My character, Eifion (eye-vee-on), good-naturedly endured the crude twisting of his name into ‘Yvain’ (ee-vain) by his boyhood friends Gwalchmai and Gwalchafad because it meant something totally unprintable in old Welsh.
Bingo! Arthurian b-lister hero achieved.
And, so, my spear-bearer turned hero, Eifion, marched confidently into his own story as the protector of the woman he cannot love (no spoilers!) and the young girl that he dare not leave. But then again, he is also Yvain, and off he gallops toward Arthur on a dangerous mission to save them both, leaving one to pine miserably and the other to …
Well … that’s a whole other story.
Gwendolyn Beynon’s Sacrifice (Book 1) and Ascension (Book 2) are available now through Amazon. Australian readers can get a signed print copy (with local postage) direct from the author: Gwen@yddraig.com.au.
Greek Tycoon’s Mistletoe Proposal by Kandy Shepherd
It was not the best of starts but a story to tell their adult children: how they met.
Ashleigh Murphy works for Maids in Chelsea and has moved into the house she is cleaning. Okay, so the move is temporary, but she needs a place to stay. It is then the owner returns home as Ashleigh is singing out of tune while in the bathtub. She is mortified that she has been caught in such a state. For his part, Lukas Christophedes is annoyed that his peace has been shattered.
Lukas then ‘hires’ Ashleigh to be his pretend girlfriend as he is concerned about a female business person who seems to want to do business and to also have a personal relationship with him. He wants to use Ashleigh to be the barrier so the deal can succeed.
As they go shopping for an appropriate outfit for the dinner, Lukas learns that Ashleigh is a runaway bride. Of course Lukas gets bored shopping but is enjoying the way in which Ashleigh is expressing her joy, and at times, embarrassment about the shopping expedition. It is during this time, and the ensuing days, that Lukas gets to know Ashleigh better and to see some of the simple things that she finds joy in. Lukas believes he has many reasons to be wary of relationships, and about the time their agreement comes to an end, Lukas does explain his reasons why they cannot be together.
Lukas finds another reason to invoke the fake boyfriend/girlfriend clause when his parents come for Christmas. It is also about this time that he makes his most important discovery about himself and Ashleigh, and he wants to use that event to give Ashleigh her greatest surprise.
This is a love at first sight romance. Both are attracted in the first instant but have to work through their personal issues and baggage to get the HEA. Ashleigh and Lukas are also very opposite. She is from a country town, he is from Athens. She has a close knit family, his parents had affairs. She is in debt and he has billions. Through all that, and some mistrust from Lukas, the pair find their common ground, their love for each other.
This is another story by Ms Shepherd that I enjoyed reading as it is about love and the magic of Christmas.
Reviewed by Heather
A review copy of this book was provided by the author. ARRA members who leave a comment by 29 March 2017 will go into the draw to win a copy of the book.
Whispers at Wongan Creek by Juanita Kees
There is much activity, and many things whispered about in the town of Wongan Creek but those whispers are about to become shouts.
Travis Bailey is a farmer and sometime bull rider. He is in the coveted group of males who live in the town, and those with a daughter want him in their family. Travis is juggling a lot of balls in the air and is terrified one will fall and he will not be able to adopt his niece. Casey became his when his twin sister died. He also needs to deal with Harry, his neighbour, who seems to be starting the journey in Alzheimer’s. He still mourns his sister’s death and despairs at the rift with his parents.
Heather Penney is new to the area, as the social worker who is assessing Travis’s application for adoption. Her mother died of motor neurone disease and she is afraid that she may have the gene. She is afraid to do the tests to find out. From the start, Heather finds Travis attractive but does not want to get into relationship if she is going to die.
As the events circle around them, death, gold, murder, Travis and Heather try and deal with them the best they can but when Zac Bannister, the town bully, starts causing trouble, they find they need the united front and help from others.
This is a nice story of two people trying to overcome obstacles in their life. These obstacles may be big or small but they overshadow the positives about what they might have. Sometimes the solutions are simple, sometimes a little more work, and in this case the HEA happened for this pair.
I really enjoyed this story.
Reviewed by Heather
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.
Today is the official release of A Letter from Italy by Pamela Hart (ebook and paperback, Hachette Australia). Here’s the blurb:
A Letter from Italy is a historical romance inspired by the life of the world’s first woman war correspondent, Australia’s Louise Mack
1917, Italy. Australian journalist Rebecca Quinn is an unconventional woman. At the height of World War I, she has given up the safety of her Sydney home for the bloody battlefields of Europe, following her journalist husband to the frontline as a war correspondent in Italy. Reporting the horrors of the Italian campaign, Rebecca finds herself thrown together with American-born Italian photographer Alessandro Panucci, and soon discovers another battleground every bit as dangerous and unpredictable: the human heart.
Pamela dropped by today to tell us a little about this book:
A Letter from Italy wasn’t the easiest book to write—it changed a lot in the writing as I got closer to my characters and understood them better. Maybe because of that, Rebecca and Sandro’s story is one I feel very tender towards. I really want people to like them and wish them well. And I’ve had more fun writing Nonna Rosa, Sandro’s grandmother, than any other character I’ve ever created! She’s a mix of both of my grandmothers (they were both great cooks and strong-minded women!). There’s just a bit of wish-fulfillment, too—I love Italy, and it was wonderful to be there again, even if only in imagination.
All ARRA members who leave a comment on this post will go in the draw to win one of three copies of the book. The giveaway will close on 28 March.
I was looking for an idea to close out my time with the polls. I thought maybe some symmetry with the first poll, but that would mean asking what age you stopped reading romance, which is a no-brainer. NEVER. So instead I went with a twist on an early fave (what colour lipstick you’d wear on a date with a vamp)…
When characters take on a life of their own
Different authors use different methods to develop their characters. Some characters arrive fully formed in an author’s head, ready to be thrown under a bus (metaphorically, of course). Some use questionnaires or interviews to flesh out their characters. Some develop characters before the plot, and others plot prior to building characters.
I usually start my stories with a situation, a year and a place.
My characters start with a spark, a personality trait—snarky, or loyal, or sunny. Usually at this moment I don’t even really know what they look like—sometimes I get a glimpse of dark hair or flashing green eyes, but apart from that, they exist in a shadow in my mind.
Then, other traits will shoot off the original one. The snarky girl will also be mechanically minded, impetuous and creative. The loyal one will be gracious and conflicted. The sunny one is hard-working, opinionated and stubborn.
Their features grow with their personalities. Hair colour will usually come first, along with eye colour and body shape. I start to ‘see’ the person, along with their personality, and get an idea of how they would dress, what they see when they look out into the world, their basic understanding of themselves.
Then, I start to say to them, ‘What if you were to …’
‘What if you were to time travel to the past?’
‘What if you were to be asked to harbour a fugitive?’
‘What if you started to see ghosts?’
Novels really are a series of things that happen to people, and the people’s response to those things. It’s fascinating to unfold.
But more fascinating is how the story feels wrong when the writer tries to make the character do something against their personality. It creates a dissonance, a bell pealing out of tune, a sour taste in the mouth.
Because after they’ve been through enough development, the characters really do take on a life of their own.
I recently wrote a scene where I had the hero breaking down in tears and begging for help. My goodness, he hated me for that. It felt like I used ‘the Force’ and pushed him, resisting all the way, on to his knees. It felt wrong, and it read wrong and it was just everything that was wrong, wrong, wrong.
It took me several edits to realise that was where the problem with the scene lay. As the author god, I do enjoy bringing my subjects to abject devastation. But this particular hero slowly and painfully lifted his head, looked me in the eye and said clearly, ‘No’.
So, with a tiny bit of kicking and screaming myself, I cut three paragraphs from the scene, and instead had him a little bit flustered, before finding his way again.
Incidentally, this guy is 6’3”, muscular, broad shouldered and broad everything-else-as-well, with jet black hair and jet black eyes—that I managed to stand up to him for so long is amazing. I’m surprised he didn’t kick my backside into submission long ago.
Anyway, with those three paragraphs removed, he was free to take his buddy and go save the girl, without having to sacrifice a piece of his personality to do it. Strangely enough, the story also worked a whole lot better from that point forward. I know right? Go figure.
Another one—I have a grumpy woman in one of my many unwritten plotlines who is chosen to travel through time to fix things being done by another traveller. At first, I thought this would mean she would have to be someone who likes to travel, right?
Actually digging deeper, it turns out she’s more of a homebody, and her grumpiness is because she hates time travelling, and only wants to get done what needs to get done so she can go home again.
This scrap of understanding about her character will change just about every word I write for her, when the time comes for her story to be written.
So, are you hearing the distant clang of discordant bells? Is there a particularly sour taste in your mouth?
Perhaps the characters in the book you are reading are being forced by their author to do things they would never really do?
Bree Verity grew up on a diet of romance, old movies and musicals. It’s no wonder she ended up writing love stories—she’s a sucker for a happy ending.
She lives in Perth, Western Australia, with her teenage son, her long-suffering partner, and her two rescue dogs, Millie and Boofhead. She keeps it very quiet from them that she is equally a cat person.
She dreams of travelling the world, going off-grid and building a tiny house, although she realises she would very quickly go crazy in a confined space.
She has published two novels in contemporary romance, Perth Girls—Amanda, and Perth Girls—Lydia. Her first historical romance, The Hidden Duchess, will be published by Passion in Print in July 2017.
Amanda accidentally criticizes saxophonist Aidan within his earshot, and is forced to back up her jibe by offering to beat him in a saxophone duel. Only problem is, Amanda hasn’t picked up her sax in years. She invents reasons why the competition can’t go ahead, but with each glimpse of Aidan, Amanda gets more and more hot and bothered…
Aidan is peeved when he overhears Amanda, but her great body and sparkling personality quickly overshadow any annoyance he felt.
Their relationship starts up and moves along nicely, but when Aidan finds out Amanda is after his spot in the band, can he forgive her betrayal?