Historical Fiction for writers can be like a mediaeval man-trap. The research required is waiting with its jaws ready to snap shut and ensnare the author. It’s what happens when a writer shows how clever he or she is with all the detail he has spent hours and hours researching. The novel becomes a work of pseudo-non-fiction. Research has to be appropriate and help create a real sense of truth; that’s the light and shade that places my reader firmly in the book. And the research in a novel is only the tip of the iceberg.
For the kind of novels that I write the research can be as diverse as finding out how it might feel to fight on the battlefield in medieval times, how an arrow is drawn and loosed on a war bow; why a particular character cooks a certain kind of food for troops in the field and the skill required by a Frenchwoman who embroiders a purse a certain way. It’s not the research that gets a book published, it’s the telling of the story, but readers of Historical Fiction do expect the facts in the story to be accurately portrayed. Thankfully, there is often disagreement between historians on events in history and if it serves the story then I will use the option that seems to be the most suitable.
In Master of War (the first book in my Thomas Blackstone series) the English army crossed the estuary of the River Somme at Blanchetaque ford before they fought the Battle of Crécy. This desperate attempt was made with the French forces snapping at their heels and the Burgundian knights and Genoese crossbowmen on the far bank waiting for them. Some historians say that the desperate attack across the river was made by the English and Welsh archers wading in, chest-high, a hundred men abreast. Other experts maintain they were ten abreast in a column of a hundred bowmen. Does it matter? The outcome was the same, but as I considered that the ford was the shallowest point in the estuary and probably used by farmers to get their wagons across, it seemed more likely to be a narrow crossing that would allow only ten men to cross shoulder to shoulder. And that is how I wrote the assault. It gave me the opportunity to have those front-rank men brought down by enemy crossbows and to give Blackstone the opportunity to show his leadership skills and courage. The second book in the series, Defiant unto Death, required in-depth research as Blackstone and his family were pursued across France by a vicious assassin. I journeyed through Normandy (on more than one occasion), found ancient maps of Paris to describe the streets in existence at the time and, as the breadth of the book encompassed his trip to Avignon to seek refuge for his family, discovered that at that time, during the schism in the Church, the Pope was based there, not in Rome, and that he was French with an obvious bias towards the French king when it came to brokering a peace treaty. These were facts I was ignorant of before writing the book. At times, Historical Fiction can be an education.
Blurb: A LEGEND FORGED IN BATTLE: Thomas Blackstone must face an implacable foe as the 100 Years’ War enters its bloodiest phase.
Ten years ago, the greatest army in Christendom was slaughtered at Crécy when Thomas Blackstone and his fellow archers stood their ground and rained death on the steel-clad might of French chivalry. Blackstone left that squalid field a knight.
Now, Blackstone commands a war band and has carved out a small fiefdom in northern France. But the wounds of war still bleed and a traitor has given the King of France the means to destroy first his family, and then the English knight himself.
As the traitor’s net tightens, so the French King’s army draws in. Blackstone will stand and fight – in pitched battle and in single combat. He will defy his friends, his family and his king. He may yet defy death, but he can’t defy his destiny: BLACKSTONE: MASTER OF WAR.
About the author:
David Gilman was raised in Liverpool and educated in Wales. By the time he was 16 he was driving a battered 1946 Ford, ferrying construction workers in the African bush. A variety of jobs followed in different countries: fire and rescue, forestry work, JCB driver, window dresser and professional photographer in an advertising agency. He served in the Parachute Regiment’s Reconnaissance Platoon and then worked in publishing. In 1986 he turned to full-time writing. He has written many radio and television scripts including several years of ‘A Touch of Frost’. In 2007 his ‘Danger Zone’ trilogy for YA was sold in 15 countries. The first in the series – The Devil’s Breath was long listed for the CILIP Carnegie Medal and won the French Prix Polar Jeunesse. He also writes for younger children. MONKEY and ME has been nominated for this year’s Carnegie Medal. ‘MASTER of WAR’ is the first in a series of HF for adults that follows the fortunes of Thomas Blackstone during the 100 Years’ War.