Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sarah Woodbury Talks About Time Travel to Medieval Wales

Today, my guest is novelist Sarah Woodbury, who writes historical fiction, mysteries and time travel set in medieval Wales. I've asked Sarah to talk about why she decided to write historical fiction and to give us an introduction to her After Cilmeri series, which begins with Daughter of Time. I recently finished this book (which is FREE, btw). You know it's a good book when you get to the end and realize you really care about the characters!

(Meanwhile, you can find me over at Sarah's blog as I discuss Exploring the Lives of Real Historical Figures.)

Writing Historical Fiction

Back in high school, I overheard two girls lamenting how awful their classes were and how they ‘hated’ history.  Since I was hiding in a bathroom stall at the time, I didn’t give voice to my horror at their sentiment, but it has stuck with me in the thirty years since.  How could they ‘hate’ history?

Unfortunately, all too easily if by ‘history’ they meant the memorization of facts and dates that had little or no bearing on their lives.  Why did they care what year the Civil War began?  Or who was the tenth president of the United States?  Or what happened in the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia (though knowing might clarify our wars in the Middle East today, but that’s a different topic).

That’s not what history is about.  History is about people.  It’s the anthropology of the past.  It’s about finding out why people did what they did; what they cared about; and the nitty gritty of how they lived and died.

I strongly believe with Donna Tartt that:  "The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It is a moral duty. People who read your books are sick, sad, traveling, in the hospital waiting room while someone is dying. Books are written by the alone for the alone."

But along with entertaining, what I love about historical fiction is that it can bring history to life.

Because I have an academic background, research comes naturally to me.  When I decide on a topic for a new novel, I first spend a few weeks exploring the history, culture, and geography of that time period.  It is very important to me to know as much as I can about the history of the time, even if I end up changing aspects of it to suit my novel.  At the same time, I try to keep events as historically accurate as possible.

When writing about dark age and medieval Wales, however, there is so much we don’t know that sifting through the data to find out what ‘really’ happened is often next to impossible.  Many records were destroyed—deliberately for the most part—in the years after Edward I conquered Wales, but other records were lost to time, thrown away in ignorance, were never written down, or were lost when Henry VIII abolished the monasteries.

For the novelist, while knowing the birth date of the last Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, would be helpful, it does leave enormous scope for fiction.

And that’s what makes historical fiction or historical fantasy so fun to write.  The impetus behind my After Cilmeri series is a dream I had in which I drove my mini-van through a time warp into medieval Wales.  I was fascinated by the idea of what it would be like for a modern person to live there.  Would life in the Middle Ages chew me up and spit me out?  How would I survive without hot showers, antibiotics, and coffee?

In the end, the dream was only the initial kernel of the story, which evolved into a four book series, plus a novella and has occupied my creative life for much of the last five years.

A shelf (or Kindle)-full of good historical fiction can be entertaining, but also gives us a window to the past and allows us to lose ourselves in other times and lives.  And ensures that we call can say:  I love history!


Thanks, Sarah! Here are some links to Sarah's pages and books:

Sarah Woodbury's web page
Sarah on Twitter  
Sarah on Facebook
 Sarah's books on:
Amazon and Amazon UK
Barnes and Noble


Sarah Woodbury said...

Thanks, Gemini, for inviting me to your blog!

Hazel West said...

This is a great post Sarah! I think all of us historical writers are on the same page (pardon the pun) with this. I always loved history for the people, and I love reading historical fiction that can reflect the real historical characters and the time period. Time travel novels are great fun as well. And I can fully appreciate how hard this time period is to research. I'm neck deep in it right now, actually!

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Thrilled to have you, Sarah. Loved Meg and Llywelyn in Daughter of Time!

Anita Davison said...

Great post, and I love the bit about books being written by the alone for the alone. So true.