Friday, March 4, 2011

Interview: Helen Hollick

Please join me in welcoming Helen Hollick to Debbie's Book Bag today! Helen is here to talk about her new book, I am the Chosen King.

DEB:Helen, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
HELEN: I’m older than I’d like to be, broader than I’d like to be and can’t get about as much as I’d like because I need a hip replacement and the rest of me has failed its annual “not as young as I once was” check up. Just as well I’m a writer not an Olympic athlete then isn’t it? *laugh*

I live in North East London, England, with my husband, Ron, and adult daughter, Kathy – plus Rum our dog and Mab the kitten. Mab spends most of her days asleep in a basket on my desk. When she’s not patting at the cursor on the screen or trying to pounce on my fingers as I’m typing, that is.

DEB: Tell us a little about your book, I am the Chosen King?
HELEN: The English edition is called Harold the King. I wrote it about twelve years ago – it took a year to research and a year to write. It is the story of the man who is my hero – King Harold II. He died on October 14th 1066 defending England against foreign invasion by Duke William of Normandy.

I wrote the novel because I was so fed up with the history books starting with the Norman Conquest, and the common idea that the Normans were a “good thing” for England. They weren’t. William had no right to the throne and Harold was our legitimately crowned King.

I wanted to strip the widely believed story of Norman propaganda and tell of the events that led to the Battle of Hastings from the English point of view.

It is a novel of battles and betrayal; of love, of life…. a story based firmly on history, but with the missing gaps filled in by imagination and emotion.

I am also co-scriptwriter to the UK movie 1066 – which is currently in pre production – a very exciting project!

DEB: What was your inspiration for the book’s leading up to the Battle of Hastings?
HELEN: Having finished my Arthurian Trilogy (Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner and Shadow of the King) I had to decide what to write next. Two things convinced me to write Chosen King (Harold)

I went on a day trip outing to see the site where the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066. While walking down the hill to one side of the battlefield, the hairs prickled along the nape of my neck and I suddenly felt that if I turned round I would see King Harold’s army arrayed along the ridge, ready to fight. A scary but exhilarating moment. Then shortly after, I dreamt the scene that eventually became chapter two – where Harold was riding alongside the River Lea with his brothers and father and saw for the first time the woman who was to become the love of his life – Edyth Swanneck.

After that, I just had to write the whole story.

DEB: What type of research did you do for your books?
HELEN: I read as much as I could – professional works by historians such as Pauline Stafford, Frank Barlow, David C. Douglas. The British Museum and the London Museum are easy for me to get to and both have very good Saxon collections. And I visited the actual sites of places in the book – Waltham Abbey is very close to where I live, as is Nazeing. I went to York and Stamford Bridge – and the Battle Site itself, where Battle Abbey now stands.

DEB: What is your normal writing day like? Do you have things that have to be in place to write comfortably?
HELEN: I answer e-mails first, usually while in my dressing gown with a fresh cup of tea to hand, and I put something new up on Facebook every day. Then it’s a shower and get dressed and I work through all the things on my “to do” list (like answer these questions)

After lunch I might have a quick browse on Twitter and answer a few more e-mails, then I concentrate on my writing – whether this is actual writing, researching or editing.

I like having my desk tidy and I don’t like being distracted by the sound of the TV coming from the sitting room – but as my husband is now retired and a little deaf that’s something I have to put up with. I can’t complain, he does do most of the housework!

DEB: What was it like when you got the word that your first novel would be published?
HELEN: It was rather a long time ago now. 1993 actually. My agent at that time had told me that William Heinemann of Random House UK might be interested in what was to eventually become The Kingmaking and the first half of Pendragon’s Banner. I was obviously very excited, but it was early April and everything was shutting down for Easter. I was due to go on vacation with my family and friends to the Lake District in the north west of England. We had a fabulous time, but I was on edge as there were no cell phones back in those days, and I had no telephone access.

Back home I was disappointed that there was no letter waiting. Then a few days later I received a phone call – I had been accepted for a three book deal! I think I made a sort of squeeeeee noise and danced around the room for a bit (these were also the days before I had a disintegrating hip!)

There was one extra cherry on the cake – I heard the good news exactly one week after my 40th birthday!

DEB: Do have any advice for new writers?
HELEN: Along with my UK freelance editor, Jo Field, I have written an article about getting started with writing – your blog readers who want a few hints and tips about writing might find Discovering the Diamond useful:

(I am hoping that it will soon be on Kindle as well)

DEB: When your not writing, what kinds of books do you like to read? Do you have a favorite author?
HELEN: I go through phases of what I read. I like a good thriller (not horror – I have a hard enough job sleeping as it is!) Science Fiction or fantasy I enjoy. At the moment of writing this I am reading C. W. Gortner’s historical novels, but I have just finished Maria Snyder’s Spy Glass series – and I am eagerly looking forward to Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon Penman’s next novels.

My all time favorite author, though, has to be Rosemary Sutcliff, especially her Eagle of the Ninth and Mark of the Horselord. She has such a beautiful way of using words.

DEB: What are you working on right now?
HELEN: My next historical adventure novel – the fourth in my pirate based Sea Witch Voyages, featuring my Captain Jesamiah Acorne. These are exciting adventure novels, a sort of mixture of Pirates of the Caribbean, Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, Hornblower and Indiana Jones. Good fun to write and read. Ripples In the Sand is almost finished. Now for the editing!

DEB: Tell us one thing that people may not know about you?
Ooh, what secret can I give away? I love having a cup of tea and a couple of digestive biscuits before I go to bed – which is usually about 1 or 2 in the morning!

Stop by later on today for my review of I am the Chosen King by Helen Hollick!


Helen said...

Thank you for inviting me onto your blog - some interesting questions to answer!