Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Interview with Martin Lake

Can you tell readers a little bit about yourself and what inspired to write in this particular genre?
I've always loved books and also loved history. Some of my favourite books as a child were historical fiction, particularly the Viking books of Henry Treece and Rosemary Sutcliff's novels. My imagination was also fired by the Victorian novelist G.A. Henty. As a boy brought up in Britain I felt surrounded by history and its long coils.
I wanted to be a writer from an early age and have written continually since then. I studied Literature and History at the University of East Anglia in England. One day, many years later, I woke up and had a blinding flash of insight; if I loved writing and loved history then maybe I should write historical fiction.
What inspired you to write this book?
Since reading a Ladybird book about Alfred the Great I have been fascinated by Anglo-Saxon history. I am also intrigued by great times of change and turbulence and one of the most important of these for England was the Norman Conquest. When I was reading around it I became intrigued by the fact that the real heir to the throne, Edgar Atheling, was actually proclaimed King of England but has been virtually forgotten. I came to the conclusion that his story had been virtually erased from history. He was at the centre of many of the events of his age and a fascinating character. I decided to write a series of books about him called 'The Lost King.'
Please tell us about your latest release.
My latest release will come out towards the end of the month. It is set a hundred or so years after the events of 'The Lost King' in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Again, my fascination for this period goes back to my childhood when I was an avid fan of the TV series 'Richard the Lionheart.' But the immediate inspiration for the book came from watching Ridley Scott's film 'The Kingdom of Heaven.' In the film Balian of Ibelin knights the commoners to lead the defense of Jerusalem. When I watched it I felt this was typical Hollywood, something which could happen in modern film makers but could never have happened in twelfth century Jerusalem. Then I researched into it and found it actually happened. This got me thinking. What would happen to men who had been advanced so far above their supposed station in life?
Do you have a special formula for creating characters' names? Do you try to match a name with a certain meaning to attributes of the character or do you search for names popular in certain time periods or regions?
I am very careful to make sure my names would have been current in the times I am writing about. But I am aware that many Anglo-Saxon names are now so unfamiliar readers might struggle with them. So I tend to choose those names which have survived until recent times or are easy for the reader to remember. If I want a character to be called Alfred I use this modern version and not the technically more exact Ælfrǣd. Hardly anyone in those times would have seen the name written down then anyway.
I don't look for certain attributes in naming a character but I trust my intuition. If it feels right, if it gels with a character, I keep it.
Is there a character that you enjoyed writing more than any of the others?
I would say Edgar's best friend Godwin has been a joy to write about. Readers love him and this may be because I loved writing about him. In my current Crusades novel I have really enjoyed writing about Agnes. She is a strong-minded and determined woman.
Do you have a formula for developing characters? Like do you create a character sketch or list of attributes before you start writing or do you just let the character develop as you write?

Some characters existed so I use this as the basis of my interpretation. I try to think what all of my characters would most love and most hate. Then I imagine what they would think of the other characters in the book to try to sense how they should best relate with each other. This brings up sometimes suprising conflicts and alliances. Then I let them off the leash and they take on a life of their own.

Do any of your characters have similar characteristics of yourself in them and what are they?
My wife tells me that many of my protagonists are like me. I am fascinated by people who have been allocated a place in life and who choose to challenge this. Being brave when you're scared, clever when you're called a fool and falling in love when others warn you against it are close to my heart.
Do you have any weird writing quirks or rituals?
I don't have any rituals. What I do when I'm having difficulties is to act it out. I wander around the room or gesticulate from my seat. Getting the feel of the thing in my body seems to work for me.
When did you consider yourself a writer?
I think it was when I won a competition to write a sequel to The Wind in the Willows. Seeing the story in print was like the endorsement of the term.
Other than writing, what are some of your interests, hobbies or passions in life?
I love to travel and have now emigrated to the south of France. I am like a child getting used to a new culture, new outlook and new language. I feel really at home here and am learning so much from the experience.
What was the last amazing book you read?
'A Man of Parts' by David Lodge. This is a fictionalized biography of HG Wells, a man I have always admired. I wish I'd written the book.
What can readers expect next from you?
The Crusader novel will be published later in November. I plan to publish the third novel in my 'The Lost King' series in spring 2013.
Where can readers find you on the web?
Would you like to leave readers with a little teaser or excerpt from the book?
Here's a teaser from the Crusader novel.
The door slid open and the eunuch gestured her to enter.
She was surprised at what confronted her. Unlike the rich opulence of the rooms she had been in already, this one was austere. The floor was lined with black and white marble but the only furnishings were a huge desk inlaid with patterned wood and half a dozen chairs and stools.
She looked around. The room was empty. Plucking up courage she walked across to the desk.
Stacked upon it were two neat piles of parchment. She could read a little, enough French and Arabic to make out words necessary to run an inn. She recognised the writing as Arabic, although much neater and more regular than the rough jottings she had ever seen. She glanced around and saw that the chamber was empty. Filled with curiosity, she picked up the parchment. It was light and very white, with a different feel to any parchment she had touched. She tried to read what it said but failed with more than a few familiar words.
Next to the papers were a beautiful glass ink-pot and half a dozen sharp quills. On the chair behind the desk was the sole concession to luxury within the room, a deep cushion, richly embroidered.
She picked it up and examined the fine needlework. It contained hunting scenes and images of horses and strange beasts she did not know of. She turned the cushion this way and that, fascinated by its beauty.
'You like the cushion?' said a voice from her left.
She dropped the cushion and turned. A man was watching her from a deep alcove, his features lost in shadow.
'You admire its beauty perhaps?' he said. 'And why wouldn't you? You, yourself, are very beautiful.'
The man took a step towards her. He was short yet slim, with rich olive skin and deep, dark brown eyes. He was clean-shaven except for a well-trimmed moustache which drew attention to his round, thick lips. His hands were smooth, as though he had never had to do any rough work, and his nails were like those of a wealthy lady.
He was dressed in a simple tunic of white silk with long, flowing trousers of a delicate green. A large gold chain hung around his neck. On his head he wore a little hat with a brooch made of flashing green gems.
As best she could judge, Agnes thought he was similar in age to her, maybe a few years older but no more.
'Have you got a tongue?' he asked. 'I know you have and I know that you speak Arabic. So speak to me now.'
He stepped closer towards her. 'I am Caliph al-Nasir, supreme head of the Muslim world.'
Agnes felt the blood drain from her face. She shook her head, tried to find words.
'I do not know what to say,' she said. 'I've never met such a great lord as you.'
The Caliph smiled. His whole face lit up with a warmth mixed with a twinkle of mischievousness.
'And I've rarely met such a beauty,' he said. He walked round her, examining her closely in the same manner that she might look at a piece of fruit or meat in the market.
'Yes,' he said. 'Unusually beautiful. Especially for a woman of your age.'
He took her hand in his and kissed the tips of her fingers, gently releasing each one as if they were the petals of a flower.
'I'm not beautiful, my lord,' she said.
The Caliph smiled. 'How can you say that?' he murmured. 'I wonder that you dare to contradict the opinion of my trader. Habib is an excellent connoisseur of beautiful women. Better, obviously, than one woman is of herself.'
Agnes bowed her head, at a loss as to how to answer.
'This room is where I work,' he said. 'It is functional, uncluttered. It is, of course, hardly a place for a lady such as you.'
The Caliph held his hand out towards Agnes.
Astonished at this civility, she placed her own hand in his and allowed him to lead her across the room and through a small door.

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