Today, Simon joins us to tell us all about the research he did for his novel. Thank you Simon and a big welcome to the Tudor Society. Over to Simon...
I have to say first of all that The Claimant went through a very long and often difficult labour before it was delivered kicking and screaming into the world of historical fiction. To be precise the entire process from conception to first publishing took eleven years, so in terms of productivity I am no Stephen King. Slow progress aside it is nevertheless immensely satisfying to hold something in your hand that was created by you, but more importantly something you believe you executed to the best of your abilities, something that shows a little of who you really are. And when readers give it five star reviews you know you have reached out and engaged their minds in what is a very personal way – through reading a book.
The journey began in 2000 when my colleagues and I received 90 days' notice of redundancy – quite a shock after 18 years' service in my case. It was while casting around for alternative employment that I enrolled on a correspondence course with The Writers' Bureau. I wasn't expecting to make a living out of writing but I thought the assignments might give me something to occupy my time when not out job hunting. I seemed to please my tutor with my work and had an article published in a small magazine but after a while I felt I wasn't going to get that lucky break into regular contributing that might have steered my career in a different direction. I stopped doing the assignments but the writing bug had bitten and it wasn't long before I came up with the idea of penning a novel. My dear mother, one of the most avid readers of fiction I have ever known, encouraged me with the words "write about what you know". I thought carefully about what she said and decided that what I knew a fair bit about was the Wars of the Roses. The odd thing was, however, that prior to a visit to the Royal Armouries in Leeds a few years earlier I knew almost nothing about the period.
I enjoyed History at school very much. We were blessed with a charismatic and enthusiastic teacher and I always looked forward to the next instalment in the intriguing story of this island of ours. As with any curriculum, however, some things were covered in great detail and others were not. We studied the reign of Elizabeth 1st in such depth that by the end I was almost convinced that I did actually have the body of a weak and feeble woman. Henry VIII was like a friend to us – admittedly a cruel, capricious, spiteful and autocratic one, but a friend all the same. The English Civil War was also dissected in minute detail (I remember the class going out on the school playing field to re-enact the Battle of Marston Moor – happily there were fewer deaths than expected). What was conspicuous by its absence, however, was the "other" Civil War...
As a long-standing and huge fan of castles, knights, armour and weapons I was not backward in undertaking my first visit to the Royal Armouries. Inside I gazed slack-jawed at the displays of exquisitely wrought steel, marvelling at the workmanship of the armour and shivering at the chilling deadliness of the multitude of edged weapons. It was upon reaching a display about the Battle of Towton, however, that I realised I had never heard of the Battle of Towton. This didn't sit well with an incorrigible clever-clogs who likes to tell his hapless companions all about an exhibit before they see the description. Realising my historical education had a large, very interesting-looking gap in it I made it my mission from that moment on to learn as much as I could about the period.
I love a project, especially one that involves spending money. Reference books were bought, read and inwardly digested by the dozen. As I read I grew more and more incredulous as intrigue, betrayal, side-changing and deadly blood feuds piled on the drama, but this was all real. You couldn’t make it up but it actually happened. What's more is that it happened during a time in history when (provided you were rich) everything was beautiful. People were building attractive, comfortable houses as alternatives to draughty castles; clothes and art were sumptuous in their execution and, particularly interesting to me, plate armour was at the height of its elegance and effectiveness and the longbow, so devastating against the French in the recent Hundred Years' War, was used by both sides in this bloody dynastic conflict.
Spurred on by my eye-opening discoveries I wanted to get even closer to an authentic Wars of the Roses experience so, realising a childhood dream, I ordered a made-to-measure helmet of the period from a skilled armourer based in Kent. Next came an accurate reproduction of a fifteenth-century two-handed sword from a swordsmith in Italy. The flood gates had been opened and there followed a multitude of purchases including a longbow, a crossbow, two daggers, more swords, some pieces of plate armour and to top it all off a full head-to-toe outfit of bespoke clothes (even down to a pair of linen underpants!). It was by interacting with all of these items that I felt able to describe their use with something approaching authority. I also visited many locations connected with the book including Towton, Denbigh Castle and Ludlow. The perhaps odd choice of a quiet corner of the North Welsh Borders for the location of the Wardlow family home was actually dictated by a political map showing local allegiances at the time. It also happens to be a beautiful area for field research! I guess the writing of the book began early on in the acquisition of my collection. It was great fun to be able to "live" some aspects of the narrative and I particularly enjoyed shooting (please don't EVER say "firing") my longbow. I suppose the next logical step would have been to join a reenactment society but my shift rota meant I worked a lot of weekends so I really wouldn't have been able to put in the time to make it worthwhile.
At the zenith of my writing effort when the words flowed like a clear mountain spring I might at any one time have had three or four tabs open on the Internet for comparing sources, Google Maps at the ready for determining journey times on foot (with an educated guess at horseback) and at least two reference books open at appropriate pages. I may, in the end, have gone overboard but I can sleep at night knowing that to the best of my knowledge no stone has been left unturned and no corners have been cut. In terms of accuracy and authenticity I like to think I am a very particular individual and I would be mortified if a reader successfully challenged something I had written on historical or geographical grounds. I probably made a rod for my own back by placing my characters into actual events but I felt that the historical narrative would provide a framework around which my story could successfully be draped. I guess I was being a little lazy too as it meant I had a ready-made timeline! To date no-one has taken me to task about any aspect of my book (please don’t take this as an invitation to do so!) and I would like to believe that's because of the time and effort I put into my research. If you good people out there enjoy reading my book as much as I enjoyed learning as I wrote it then it's been eleven years well spent!
For your chance to win a paperback copy of The Claimant, simply leave a comment below saying what/who you'd write about if you were writing an historical novel. Leave your comment before midnight on Wednesday 18th February. I will email the winner shortly after.
Here is the schedule of Simon's book tour if you want to go back and enter the other giveaway and enjoy Simon's articles:
- 9 February - Nerdalicious.com.au - My Favourite Place: Towton Battlefield
- 10 February – The Anne Boleyn Files - The Claimant: An Excerpt
- 11 February - www.thewarsoftherosescatalogue.com/ Q&A session – Debra Bayani interviews Simon Anderson
- 12 February - queenanneboleyn.com/ - Wars of the Roses Places
- 13 February – Here – Researching the Claimant
The Claimant book details
The harvest is gathered and the country wears its autumn livery. Four years after the first battle of The Cousins' Wars, later known as The Wars of the Roses, the simmering political tensions between the Royal Houses of Lancaster and York have once again boiled over into armed confrontation. Nobles must decide which faction to support in the bitter struggle for power. The stakes are high and those who choose unwisely have everything to lose.
Sir Geoffrey Wardlow follows the Duke of York while others rally to King Henry's cause, but one in particular company under the Royal banner is not all it seems, its leader bent on extracting a terrible revenge that will shatter the lives of the Wardlow family. Edmund of Calais has a private score to settle and is prepared to risk everything to satisfy his thirst for revenge. Riding the mounting wave of political upheaval, he willingly throws himself time and again into the lethal mayhem of a medieval battle as he strives to achieve his aim. One man is out to stop him: his half-brother, Richard. Born of the same father but of very different minds the two young men find themselves on opposite sides during the violence that erupts as political tensions finally reach breaking point. Each has sworn to kill the other should they meet on the field of battle. As they play their cat-and-mouse game in the hope of forcing a decisive confrontation, their loved ones are drawn inexorably into the fray, forcing the protagonists to question the true cost of victory...
For as long as he can remember Simon Anderson has been fascinated by the medieval world, in particular the glorious triumphs and shattering reverses of the period in English history known as the Wars of the Roses. He has undertaken extensive research on the subject in both England and Wales visiting castles, battlefields, churches and tombs. Although not a member of any official re-enactment group, Simon has practised archery using an English longbow, amassed a modest collection of reproduction weapons and armour and occasionally worn a complete outfit of 15th century clothes. He sees this as the best way get a true feel for the people of those times and give his writing extra authenticity.