21 May 2019


If 'my' Arthur was asked to talk about himself and his portrayal in The Pendragon's Banner Trilogy - what would he say I wonder...?

It is the mid-fifth century, and I am Arthur, the Pendragon, son of Uthr, exiled King of the Britons, and now that he is dead, I am King, although it has been a long, hard battle to reach this position of authority. You will find me in many tales, some more outrageous than others, some more exciting, some more believable – but in this instance, I can be found filling the pages of the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy written by Helen Hollick. The three novels are The Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner and Shadow of the King, and they follow my life from youth to grey-haired old man. And it has been a turbulent life I can tell you! 

I am the boy, who became the man, who became the king, who became the legend, but whether I am a likeable fellow is up to the reader to decide. I am not the turn-a-blind-eye, God is more important than my realm king of the later Medieval tales. If anyone tried to cuckold me, I can assure you he would not live long beyond me finding out - neither would she, my wife, come to that.  But that line of a story does not fit with this Trilogy. Here, I am a post-Roman warlord. I have to fight to gain my kingdom and fight even harder to keep it. I have to be tough, even ruthless, at times. I am also passionate, and passionate people are often quick-tempered. But I like to think of myself as honourable and loyal to those who are loyal, in return, to me. I do not suffer fools, but I admire those with a brave heart. I adore my wife and Queen, Gwenhwyfar, although she too is a passionate woman and we have been known to have several rather dramatic fights. 
Still, it is always nice to ‘make up’ after our quarrels.

My Gwenhwyfar is no simpering maid, She has a sword and knows how to use it. Nor are we a childless couple, we had three sons: Amr, Llachue and Gwdre, although I will not reveal, here, how they tragically, did not come to reach adulthood. We have a daughter though - she survives us both. As for the other son, the one who in your modern times is named as Mordred, but in my time, called Medraut, the Medieval stories took the facts and twisted them into nonsense untruths. Yes, he was my bastard son sired on a woman who I did not know was my own half-sister, but he was no traitor and he fought, and died, on the same side as I.

My strengths? Dedication to my cause – bringing peace to these turbulent times here in post-Roman Britain. The Romans just upped and went back to Rome, leaving Britain in a state of chaos and vulnerable to foreign invasion. There are those, mostly my British enemies, who are certain that the Romans will return, I am equally as certain that they will not, which causes friction between many of us.

I am also convinced that the only way to achieve peace is to negotiate treaties with the Anglo-Saxons, Hengest and his brother Horsa, for instance, who are attempting to settle in what modern people call ‘Kent’, with our without my consent. I would prefer to ensure it is ‘with’, although taking Hengest’s granddaughter as my first wife was not a part of my intended plan! She is well capable of stirring trouble and is not keen on accepting that I divorced her. Frankly, I would rather have cut her throat, but that is not very honourable, or so my advisors tell me.

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My weaknesses? Women and drink. And my love for my wife, Gwenhwyfar. I guess I ought to add my stubborn pride as well? Although she has as much stubborn pride as do I.

In the eyes of factual history, whether I ever truly existed or not is a debatable point.  No author ever has the right of  'fact' where I am concerned, for probably, factually, I am nothing more than a myth, a legend, maybe several people who did actually exist rolled into one with their stories exaggerated over time. Whether I really existed or not is not the point though - I am a cracking good character, as far as fiction goes. (Or non-fiction as well, come to that!)

In the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, though, there are none of the later Medieval tales; this trilogy sets my life very firmly in the mid-fifth century and uses the early Welsh tales, not the knights in armour totally made-up stories. There is no Lancelot, holy grail or Merlin in this version. I am not a Christian king, either. My god is the soldier's god, Mithras - and my sword. And it is a better story for it, I think.

Some Amazon Reviews:

"What a story! Can't believe that I've come so late to Helen Hollick's wonderful writing. 'Pendrgon's Banner' and 'Shadow of the King' have been sitting on my bookshelf for years unread... I turned to them in desperation when utterly bored with the repetitive history fiction I've read lately....by authors worthy of more! 'The Kingmaking' I bought on Kindle. I fell in love with Arthur from the start, a flesh and blood hero with flaws and his feisty Gwen made for each other and believable (within the realms of legend). Helen Hollick's wonderful trilogy doesn't rely on unnecessary padding and her descriptions are heart-rending. I'm reading the series again and know I'll end in tears for Arthur. Here is a writer in the older style not ' jump on the bandwagon' writing!' Read and enjoy....."

"I absolutely loved The Kingmaking, the first in Helen Hollick's Pendragon's Banner Trilogy. The characterisation is superb, the action scenes memorable, and the grasp of the political machinations is so good it's like an extra fix of Game of Thrones!
Arthur is at times very unlikeable: no modern man in fancy dress here, but a man of his time - and that time was brutal. As for Gwenhyfar, I thought she was a brilliant heroine, at times strong, at times horribly vulnerable. Their relationship is compelling and feels true - no sickly romance here either!"

"From the very first page, I was hooked! I loved this book, the first of a trilogy. I'm a great fan of Arthurian Legends in general, but Helen Hollick brings such realism to her story. It is immaculately researched and far from the more usual romanticised approach. Her characters both good and bad are well fleshed out and real. Arthur himself, a ten-year-old boy at the very beginning of the book, is no romantic hero. He is a completely believable and flawed human being. A likeable boy, brave astute and loyal... he becomes as an adult, a bold and fearless warrior though no angel in his private life. Gwenhwyfar is no gentle female either, rather she is spirited and brave. As both child and woman, she is an extremely attractive, strong and interesting character. In the past, I have read various interpretations of Arthurian Britain, complete with magic and of course Merlin. You won't find those elements in this book which has a very different original approach to the legends. The battles are again truly realistic and Helen has no hesitation in describing their brutality. She ranks for me, among the very top rated historical writers of our time. I recommend it highly."


Hushed murmurs, a few mutters of protest from Arthur’s men were heard, but the invited guests this night were mostly from the settlement and stronghold – Councillors, dignitaries, men of trade and note – and well acquainted with Bedwyr. He had flirted with almost every woman present, tossing flattering remarks, giving looks of appraisal. Drawing pink blushes to a maiden’s cheek and to the elder matrons’, pleased they could still draw a young man’s attention. Women – and husbands – exchanged knowing glances. Aye, the lad was one for the ladies! Gwenhwyfar felt suddenly sick with apprehension. Her stomach heaved to her throat, her body trembled. Too easy was it to read those sneering looks on people’s faces, to imagine what vileness they were thinking and murmuring. People would more easily believe the excitement of lies than accept the tedium of truth. Arthur had his back to the table, to her. With a slight turn of his head, he cast a sideways glance at her, looked quickly away before their eyes should meet. She blinked aside tears. Surely he did not believe these lies? Did not doubt her faithfulness… surely?
He was a few yards from her. Staring ahead, not looking at her, his fists were clenched tight, the nails biting into the soft flesh of his palms, fighting the uncertainty. Somehow, Gwenhwyfar managed to get to her feet, although her body was shaking, her knees threatening to buckle. She walked calmly and with dignity around the table. Faces and voices faded. Nothing, no one, mattered except Arthur. She stared steadily at him as she came, people parting to make way for her. What madness was happening here this night?
“My husband, you are my only love. We have our disagreements and our sadness, as do all partners of marriage, but never would I betray you or that love. Never.”
Hueil had followed Arthur, stood eight paces to his other side. He snorted derision. “Do you not expect her to deny it?” He was warming to this thing, the overspill of resentment frothing to the surface. “They are lovers. Both have betrayed you as king and husband and cousin. Neither of them is openly going to admit it.”
“Ask whether she denies allowing Bedwyr to her chamber when she is alone. Whether she denies meeting with him in the garden, embracing him.” Morgause was smiling, pleasantly, almost offhandedly. The odious bitch!
Gwenhwyfar flung back a taut answer. “I do not deny either. Bedwyr is my kin, he is as a brother to me.”
Morgause gave a low chuckle of amusement. “Yet, he is not, technically, a brother, is he?” Her voice carried very well, even at a soft murmur.
Saying nothing Arthur had not moved. Gwenhwyfar stepped closer to him, her hand extended but not daring to touch him. “You do not believe this nonsense! Do you?” Her hurt for a moment had flared into anger, was struck suddenly to fear when he, at last, met her eyes. “You do!” she gasped. “My god, you do!” She bit her lip, let her imploring hand drop; dared not reach out, lest he brush her aside.
Arthur bit his bottom lip. He was breathing fast, his nostrils flaring, chest heaving for air, fingers gripping the cold touch of his sword pommel. He dared not take a glance towards the walls, dared not look, for he knew they were closing in on him, surrounding him, waiting to fall and crush him. He wanted to run, reach for cool, sweet air, for the vault of unbounded, starlit sky. Nor dared he look at Gwenhwyfar, for fear that just this once she lied to him.

Their quarrels were nothing, heated words between two people with opposing wills, nothing more than sparring or sword practice, an edge against which to sharpen ideas and opinions. All right, he admitted, whores had shared his bed even when they should not, but they meant nothing more than a way to satisfy a need. And aye, she had left him for a while, and in his solitude, he had turned to Elen, but Gwenhwyfar had gone because of her grief, not because of their often exchanged anger. He loved Gwenhwyfar, above all life he loved Gwenhwyfar, and it hurt deeper than any battlefield wound that others could snarl these vile accusations at her. He ought to make an end of Morgause, make an end to this incessant stirring of hatred and malice, and that hurt more. It hurt that even to protect the woman for whom he would willingly die, he did not have it in him to kill Morgause.

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14 May 2019

Tuesday Talk Guest Spot: Writing a Trilogy by Erica Lané

I did not set out to write a trilogy although I have always believed in the power of three. Three points are easily held by the mind, one, two, three, is valid, credible, reliable.

I like planting shrubs in groups of three, in China the three-legged stool is a symbol of strength and cooperation. Life has a beginning, a middle and an end. The French revolution gave us liberty, equality, fraternity.

In writing it’s a device that is used for the purposes of rhythm, emphasis and rhetoric. You write it, emphasise it and say it again. The cadences of the Bible are frequently in threes, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind’ and in Shakespeare too. A famous threesome, ‘When shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning, or in rain?’

A trilogy is different from a series of books. In a trilogy the main characters move forward in their lives, slowly evolving as events occur, as life happens. In a way, the first book is a setup or a foundation stone and then the story is taken further and deeper. A trilogy ends when the main character either dies or there is some natural conclusion. In a series, there are connected worlds but perhaps not a single huge character arc, or there are different characters in each book but they are all in the same world. And a series can be and often is several books.

Henry III

If I were to continue writing about Isabella of Angoulême’s family, her Lusignan children at the court of Henry III and their involvement with him in Gascony this might mean I was writing a series or it might become a second trilogy!  Olivia Manning wrote two trilogies about her main characters, Harriet and Guy Pringle, The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy and these are sometimes called a series, so the distinction is rather ambiguous.

After I had written Part 1 of Isabella of Angoulême, the Tangled Queen I knew I had to continue her story when she returned to France, this time in her life has not been written about much in fiction. Sharon Kay Penman writes her into the Welsh Princes trilogy, published 1985-1991. Jean Plaidy wrote The Battle of the Queens about Isabella and Blanche of Castile, published in 1978 and considered part of a Plantagenet Saga Series. Now there is an interesting use of saga and series for a description of several books about the same historical period. Rachel Bard wrote Queen Without a Conscience published in 2007.  Lisa Hilton wrote a fantasy historical novel, The Stolen Queen, which came out in the same year as Part 1 of The Tangled Queen, 2015.  I read some of these again before I began Part 2 but the quote that had gripped me from the very beginning came from an article by W. C. Jordan. And this was the Isabella that I wanted to write about.

Few women were in a position to play as important a role in the history of both England and France in the thirteenth century as the Poitevin countess, Isabelle of Angoulême.

I wrote and wrote and wrote and the pages grew. A few squeaks from the publisher about how it would be too big and unwieldy to produce. Could I cut it in half, make it into two books? What! Cut my baby in half? But then I found I could, and a friend who was reading the raw manuscript came to the same conclusion as I did about where it could be divided. A rather crude division, where was the middle page? Not a method that would be recommended I am sure. But it worked!

Now more research was needed, and more time could be given to events and details. New chapters had to be written and added to what was now the end of Part 2. New chapters had to be added to the beginning of what was now Part 3. I kept huge notebooks, handwritten, checking chronology and dates all the time and often getting bewildered about where I was. 

It was like being a detective, plodding police work, then an insight that gave you a clue to what must have happened. I had to make a grid to keep me on track, the story so far, dates, names, descriptions so that people were consistently described. So with some new chapters added at the end of what was now Part 2 and at the beginning of what was now Part 3, a trilogy was born. But by no means ready to walk into the world. One aspect I discovered with the trilogy was that there were events, descriptions, memories that could be referred back to, and this is a bonus when you are hoping your reader can keep up with your era and its people. 

The research and parallel editing began, for the story is full of all the historical events and facts I wanted to bring in, plus all the domestic details of life in 13th century France and England. Costume, food, childbirth and betrothals. For the larger events, there were sieges and sea voyages, military campaigns, plots and spies.  I visited Lusignan, Fontevraud, La Rochelle, Taillebourg. Niort, Saintes, Cognac, Bordeaux. Angouleme is just up the road, but the main buildings in Isabella’s life were sadly altered in the 19th century.

Finally, I could write FINAL (although I doubt it is ever really final for any writer) 
And now there was a manuscript, two manuscripts. For we still use that word, even though it is created with a keyboard on a PC and can be sent as an attachment with an email. And a manuscript today has to be repaired, not to have literal holes mended, with stout darning, but to be proofread, copy edited and sometimes there is a structural edit too. For something as long as a trilogy the latter becomes important.

A structural edit was needed and this can help the writer with the overarching story, can see where the plot has become confused, where a character’s development has fallen by the wayside, or in my case where I neatly tied up each chapter, leaving no real reason to read on. Once this had been pointed out to me I had the best writing time of all, scouring the chapters and finding ways of making the story zip along, with cliff hangers to tempt on the reader. 

And now there was a trilogy, the last two published within a year of each other. Each with a cover that has an antique map of France and a different emblem, a quill pen, Isabella’s gold matrix and her shield as Queen of England.

An interesting comment from Philip Pullman, that when you are writing you are a tyrant, a despot, in charge of everything, but when the book is published and goes into the world, the democracy begins as every reader has their own opinion and interpretation of the books. And so I wait to see how the trilogy is received but Isabella’s story has been told and that was always my most important aim with the books.

© Erica Lané

more about Erica

Erica Lainé has been an actress, a beauty consultant, a box office manager for an arts festival, a domiciliary librarian, a reader liaison officer, a speech and drama teacher, a writer of TEFL textbooks for Chinese primary schools, and an educational project manager for the British Council in Hong Kong. She was awarded an MBE for her work there. 

After Hong Kong, she came to south-west France with her architect husband to live in the house he had designed, a conversion from a cottage and barn. She lives here with him, a cat and a dog and rooms filled with a lifetime collection of books. She is president of An Aquitaine Historical Society and through this came to know about Isabella Taillefer, the subject of her trilogy. Isabella of Angoulême: The Tangled Queen.

Erica continues to be fascinated and intrigued by 13th century France and England and their tangled connections.