What If… nine authors were to get together to let their imaginations fly?
It was not a ‘what if’ but a ‘we did’, and 1066 Turned Upside Down – eleven short stories – is the result.
To commemorate the events of 1066 and the Battle of Hastings, historical fiction author, Joanna Courtney, came up with the idea to get a few historical fiction authors together. “What if,” she said, “we wrote some ‘what if’ alternative stories of the year 1066? Would you be interested?”
Would I? !!!
I jumped at the chance to be included, as did authors Annie Whitehead and Anna Belfrage, with G.K. Holloway, Eliza Redgold and Carol McGrath following suit. Joanna and I were in the driving seat, and between us paid the initial bill for publication as an e-book and a fee to professional designer Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org to produce an eye-catching cover. (And what an eye-catching cover she came up with!)
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Joanna and I also decided to invite two non-historical indie authors, Richard Dee who writes science fiction (we wanted a time-travel story) and Alison Morton, who writes the Roma Nova series of alternative history thrillers. Each author was to be responsible for arranging professional editing for their own story, but would also accept Joanna or my ‘last word’ if we felt anything needed changing or polishing. We discussed whether to keep the spelling of characters’ names consistent, or leave each author to their own preference. In the end we decided on the latter as each story is distinct to the author’s individual style and interpretation.
As one of those different perspectives Alison Morton wondered if her genre would fit in with what we had planned. She writes contemporary thrillers with a twist: what if Rome had survived into the modern day and was administered by women? I suggested that if Rome had continued as ‘Roma Nova’ surely they would have had an interest in the escalating tension between England and Normandy? She agreed, and produced a fantastic story. “I was delighted to be asked to join this venture,” she says, “especially as it wasn’t the period I usually write in. But my work is almost entirely alternative history so I could supply the ‘theoretical’ framework. I knew Helen, so I was confident this would be managed with tact, efficiency and fairness, three essential qualities for collaboration. The most appealing aspect is the mix of writers: traditional and indie, hardcore medievalists and speculative writers, action-oriented and literary. The result is a collection that is a long way out of any box you could imagine. I very much enjoyed projecting an eleventh century Roman’s view of the Norman court which was a stretching exercise for me. Other writers have, I know, enjoyed writing ‘alternatively’ for the first time. This can do nothing but good for our development as writers.”
For Anna Belfrage the situation was different as this was not the first time shehad collaborated with other authors. She felt it was important to have a clear leadership to hold the reins. She says, “We were all inspired by the theme – rewriting history is always a perk – and I personally felt the combination of authors to be intriguing. Our valiant leaders took a leap of faith in inviting writers (such as I) who do not normally write about the period, but in doing so they broadened the perspective, which contributes to the ‘what if’ aspect.”
(the pic is of Anna and myself at a Denver conference back in 2014)
Annie Whitehead writes Anglo-Saxon period novels, so she was familiar with the history but she admits: “I had to overcome being star-struck – having been a fan of Helen’s historical novels for such a long time, it was almost surreal being asked to join the project. It was liberating being given the freedom to ‘mess’ with history. This should have gone against the grain for me as I try to stick closely to the facts, but with Helen’s encouragement I embraced the concept of ‘what if’ and really enjoyed where that line of questioning took me. To have a group of fellow authors, encouraging and supporting me, was comforting and as a group activity it was joyous to feel part of a team. Constructive feedback was incredibly useful, and it was interesting to get an idea of how other authors approach their work.”
Richard Dee says: “Self-publishing can be a lonely existence, especially when you are just starting out. You need all the friends you can get, people who will guide you through the rookie traps and pitfalls. Things that you don't like to ask for fear of sounding like you haven't got a clue. People who encourage you and help you to get the best results. The 1066 authors showed me nothing but kindness and patience, and I am grateful for the opportunity to include my work with theirs, even though I was initially sceptical as my usual work misses this period by several thousand years! Collaboration is a good thing, I've learnt about aspects of self-publishing by seeing how Helen and Joanna organised everything into a logical sequence. Their example helped me set up a better system for the my next novels.”
It was a delight to take the known facts, throw them into a pot and come out with a mixture of speculative scenarios: what if Harold had not become King? What if the ‘Viking’ Harald Hardrada had won his battle in Yorkshire? What if William’s fleet had been destroyed at sea – what if Harold had won at Hastings?Collaboration requires everyone to be open to new ideas, generous with input and to focus on the objective. Joanna and I managed to give encouragement and support while being firm, yet tactful. And we were delighted that writer and actor, C.C. Humphreys, gave us such an inspiring foreword!
I think the feelings of us all sum 1066 Turned Upside Down up nicely:
We are ready for another project!
1066 Turned Upside Down
Matador (1 Aug. 2016)
Joanna Courtney : Helen Hollick
Alison Morton : Anna Belfrage
Annie Whitehead : Carol McGrath
Eliza Redgold : G.K. Holloway
Foreword by C.C. Humphreys
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