31 March, 2009

March recipe: Bean and vegetable pie

This is a good recipe for those in-between spring days, when the weather isn’t cold enough to feel like beef casserole and dumplings but is sufficiently chilly that you want something hot and satisfying. It’s a very flexible recipe, so you can chop and change the vegetables according to taste and availability – a great user-up of the odds and ends in the bottom of the fridge. And it happens to be vegetarian (vegan if you use only vegetable shortening in the pastry), so it rather suits Lent.

If using dried beans, remember to soak them overnight.

Bean and vegetable pie (serves 2)

Shortcrust pastry
3 oz (approx 80 g) plain flour
1.5 ox (approx 40 g) fat (half butter and half lard, or all butter, or vegetable shortening, according to taste)

3 oz (approx 80 g) dried butter beans, haricot beans or canellini beans
Half an onion
4 oz (approx 120 g) carrots
4 oz (approx 120 g) mushrooms
4 oz (approx 120 g) leeks
Stick of celery
4 oz (approx 120 g) tinned chopped tomatoes (or fresh chopped tomatoes if preferred)
Butter or cooking oil for frying
1 Tablespoon (1 x 15 ml spoon) flour
0.25 pint (approx 150 ml) stock, water, or the water the beans were cooked in
1 teaspoon (1 x 5 ml spoon) dried mixed herbs

Rub the fat into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Add a little cold water and mix, adding more water if necessary until the mixture forms a soft dough. (If it is still floury and flaky you need to add a few drops more water; if it is sticky you’ve added too much water and need to add some more flour).
Or you can buy ready-made shortcrust pastry if you prefer.
If you prefer a different sort of pastry, e.g. flaky pastry or puff pastry, feel free to use it instead.

Soak the dried beans overnight in cold water, or cover with boiling water and leave to soak for 1-2 hours.
Rinse two or three times, then put the soaked beans in a saucepan with plenty of cold water, bring to the boil, then simmer for an hour or so until the beans are cooked, topping up the water if necessary. Dried beans vary in their cooking times, so check the instructions on the packet. Beans are cooked when they are soft all the way through.
If you prefer, you can use tinned beans, in which case you’ll need about twice as much weight as for dried beans. Tinned beans are usually also already cooked, but check the label.
Peel and chop the onion.
Peel and dice the carrots.
Peel and slice the mushrooms and leeks.
Wash and slice the celery.
Heat butter or cooking oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onion and other vegetables until beginning to soften and colour.
Stir in the tablespoon of flour, mixing well so that it coats the vegetables.
Pour in the stock or water.
Bring to the boil, stirring until thickened. Add the chopped tomatoes and herbs, and season with salt and black pepper.
Stir in the cooked beans.
Pour the filling mixture into a greased ovenproof pie dish.
Roll out the pastry to make a lid, and put this on top of the pie filling. Trim the pastry edges. If feeling so inclined, roll out the pastry scraps to make decorations, e.g. leaves, and arrange these on top of the pie.
Brush with milk.
Bake in a hot oven (200 C) for 30-40 minutes until the pie crust is golden brown.
Serve with roast potatoes (which need the same cooking temperature and so can share the oven with the pie), and vegetables or salad of your choice.

You can make a double quantity of the pie filling and freeze half for later use.

The vegetables are a matter of personal choice, so if you don’t like one of the vegetables I suggest, just replace it with something you do like, or miss it out and use more of one of the others.

27 March, 2009

The Science of Middle Earth, by Henry Gee. Book review

Souvenir Press, 2005, ISBN 0-285-63723-1. 219 pages (237 pages including the end notes).

Yes, I know. At first sight the title appears to be one of those joke book titles, like Tolkien’s Women, or The Wit and Wisdom of [insert vapid celebrity or unpopular politician of choice]. How could there possibly be anything to say about science in a world created by that arch-romantic and anti-industrialist JRR Tolkien?

Author Henry Gee tackles this question first, and makes a reasonably convincing case that Tolkien’s famous distaste for industrialisation reflects a rejection of the use of technology for domination and destruction rather than a rejection of science and technology as such. Having established this premise, the book then proceeds to explore potential real-world mechanisms and parallels for some of the apparently fantastical aspects of Tolkien’s world. A series of loosely connected essays cover such topics as dragons, the biology and culture of Orcs, drowned continents, Elvish longevity, mithril, giant elephants and giant spiders.

Committed Tolkien geeks (like me) will find much to enjoy here – and no doubt much to argue over! But even readers with only a passing interest in Middle Earth can marvel at the astonishing variety of the real world, much of which seems hardly less exotic than Tolkien’s fantasy counterpart. Did you know that Rockall, an isolated rock (and I mean a rock, not an island) in the North Atlantic about equally distant from the Outer Hebrides, the Faroe Islands and Iceland, is actually the very tip of the highest mountain on a submerged plateau? That’s remarkable in its own right, even without wondering if it parallels Tolkien’s Meneltarma and the drowned island of Numenor. Exotic materials such as yttrium silver (a metallic compound that manages to be both ductile and strong at the same time) and lithium niobate (which does all manner of weird things to light) are fascinating regardless of whether they might be some sort of real-world equivalents of mithril or the palantirs.

I found the biology generally more compelling than the physics, which may reflect my own background in the biological sciences. Could ether explain how dragons can breathe fire and hypnotise their victims? Why don’t vertebrates (except dragons) have more than two pairs of limbs, and is there a genetic mechanism that might explain how dragons managed to acquire an extra pair? How big can a giant spider realistically get before it collapses under its own weight? Did Orcs reproduce by parthenogenesis, organising their societies like social insects? I hadn’t thought of this before, but it does explain a great deal about their observed behaviour in Tolkien’s world. (It would also mean that almost all Orcs are in fact female, thereby giving a whole new dimension to the modified Fabulous Blog Award logo. If every Orc harbours hopeless aspirations to be a chic Parisienne, it could explain a lot about their bad temper….).

The writing style is clear and engaging, explaining complex concepts (quantum entanglement, anyone?) without ever taking itself too seriously. How could I fail to warm to a book with chapter titles like “Six Wheels on My Dragon” and “O For the Wings of a Balrog”?

The chapter I found most striking was the one entitled “The Gates of Minas Tirith”, which explores the theme of loss in Tolkien’s work. I agree with the author that loss is one of the most striking features of Middle Earth. Wonderful creatures like Ents, Elves, Dwarves and even the dear old bucolic Hobbits, not to mention giant elephants and the pterodactyl-like flying reptiles ridden by the Nazgul, are dwindling in numbers and about to become extinct. Marvellous technologies, like the secret of making palantirs (or Rings, for that matter), have been lost. Myths and legends have been forgotten or worn down to fragments of verse no longer fully understood. In the real world, the mega-fauna of the last Ice Age have all gone, along with the various species of humans that existed alongside Homo sapiens until about 30,000 years ago, and we may well be in the middle of a mass extinction event. We have lost the knowledge required to read Pictish symbol stones or Minoan Linear A script, and we can only guess at the culture and religion that drove the building of Stonehenge. As regular readers of this blog will know (!) we have little idea of historical events in early medieval Britain, and the stories and tales from that period can only be glimpsed from a handful of surviving remnants such as Beowulf or Y Gododdin. Tolkien may have set out to recreate the lost cultural landscape of Beowulf in fiction, but the sad truth is that we can never get it back. It is lost to us for ever as surely as the woolly mammoth.

Eclectic, erudite and engaging canter through some of the more exotic pastures of science and technology, drawing parallels with some of the (apparently) fantastical aspects of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Has anyone else read it?

19 March, 2009

Fabulous Blog Award - Edit (Alternative logo)

Thanks to Gabriele at The Lost Fort for awarding me this. The recipient has to name five things they are obsessed with, and then name five other blogs they think are fabulous.

I'm going to modify the terms slightly and name five things I'm enthusiastic about:

  • Early medieval Britain. Sometimes called "the Dark Ages" (a term I dislike), also sometimes called Anglo-Saxon England (but that misses out the British, Pictish and Scottish/Dal Riadan kingdoms, which are just as interesting), or post-Roman Britain (but that puts too much stress on the Roman Empire, which although it was undoubtedly hugely important was not the only influence).

  • Historical fiction (no surprise there).

  • Walking and cycling - in mountains I walk, in the lowlands I prefer to cycle.

  • Cookery. In the sense that used to be described as "good home cooking", i.e. things that are good to eat, have some resemblance to the seasons, and don't take vast amounts of time to prepare that could be used for doing other things.

  • Needlework. Includes embroidery, dressmaking, knitting and quilting, among others. And I can also darn socks.

Five other recipients:

  • Meghan

  • Constance

  • CW Gortner

  • Nan Hawthorne

  • Scott Oden (who is, or was until recently, writing a book about Orcs, so the picture that goes with this award is supremely and deliciously incongruous. Anyone fancy Photo-shopping an Orc into the pic in place of the dog? Or in place of the girl, if you're that way inclined)

Edited: someone took me up on this suggestion. So here it is, the world premiere of a brand-new alternative logo:

10 March, 2009

Chester in the seventh century: the fortress defences

Roman Chester was founded in around 74 AD as the legionary fortress of Deva, later called Deva Victrix from the name of its garrison, the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix. As a legionary fortress, it would obviously have been provided with a defensive wall. What were the defences like, and were they still standing in the seventh century?


The Roman defences

The initial Roman fort built in 74 AD or thereabouts had a turf and timber rampart. This may have been intended as a temporary structure from the start, and was soon replaced by a stone curtain wall. The date of completion of the stone defences is unknown, but usually placed somewhere around the turn of the first and second centuries (Mason 2001). On the south and west sides of the fortress, the Roman defences were demolished in the medieval period and replaced by defences extending to the river, so only the foundations and first few courses of the Roman walls survive to be recognised in archaeological excavations. On the east and north sides, some stretches of the Roman wall still stand to a considerable height with the later medieval walls on top.

Chester’s curtain wall was unusual, as it was entirely built using the monumental construction technique called opus quadratum, usually reserved for prestige structures such as gates. Large stone blocks up to 6 feet (1.8 m) long and 3.5 feet (1 m) wide were laid in courses 10–15 inches (25–36 cm) high, without using mortar. The wall was 4.5 feet (1.35 m) thick, reducing to 3.5 feet (1 m) at the top, and had an elaborate moulded cornice below the parapet (Mason 2001). This flashy form of construction is consistent with Chester having a higher status than other legionary fortresses in Britain (more on this in a later post).

The wall was built immediately in front of the original rampart, and the space between the wall and the front face of the old rampart was filled with rubble mixed with clay (mixed with mortar in the section between the south and east gates. This may indicate different work parties using different techniques in different sectors, or different phases of construction (Mason 2001).

How long did the defences stand?

A section of the north wall was taken down and rebuilt in the late nineteenth century, when it was found to contain re-used Roman tombstones and pieces of architectural sculpture. This could hardly belong to the original stone wall, as the fortress had only been in existence some 20 years at the time, surely not long enough to have generated large quantities of tombstones to be requisitioned for building work. Some of the tombstones commemorated serving legionaries who were married and thus probably third century. One commemorated Gabinius Felix, a soldier of legion II Augusta, and gave his legion the title Antoniniana, which was current in 213–222. The tombstone was very weathered, suggesting it was re-used in the wall no earlier than the late third century.

Further investigations have suggested two distinct phases of rebuilding of Chester’s curtain wall, both using large quantities of recycled Roman masonry and tombstones. In one phase the replacement wall was about 10 feet thick, roughly twice the thickness of the original wall, and this has been identified on the north wall immediately west of the north-east corner, and on the west wall north of the west gate.

In the other phase, the replacement wall was about 5 feet thick, roughly the same as the original wall. This rebuild has been identified on the north, east and west walls of the fortress. A section of this rebuild south of the east gate (at the Old Public Library on St John’s Street) allowed some of the sequence to be reconstructed. This showed that the ditch in front of the original Roman fortress wall had silted up completely to ground level, and on top of the soft fill lay a mass of heavy rubble including some damaged facing stones from the fortress wall. This is consistent with the wall having collapsed forwards and outwards (the wall leans outwards in the sections that are still standing further north along the east wall). This collapse might have been spontaneous or might have been deliberate demolition to make the site safe before beginning the rebuild. The rubble had been covered with a layer of sandstone brash up to 1 foot thick, and the wall rebuilt from the fourth course upwards, to the original width of about 5 feet, backed by clay instead of the original mortar, and containing at least one moulded block re-used from somewhere else. This rebuilt wall had itself collapsed, forwards and outwards again, onto the layer of sandstone brash. The rubble from this second collapse had eventually combined with the collapsed and weathered rampart behind to form a low mound. David Mason says there was evidence for a subsequent refortification, before the existing medieval wall and massive ditch was built in its current alignment probably in the late twelfth century. (Unfortunately, he doesn’t specify what the evidence for the post-Roman pre-medieval refortification consisted of).

Neither of the rebuildings can be securely dated. Mason concludes that the narrower rebuild probably belongs to the first quarter, of the fourth century and may be associated with an overhaul of Britain’s infrastructure and defences after Constantine the Great came to power. The thicker rebuild is identified as later on the basis of constructional technique. A single coin of Constantius II Caesar (324–337) was found in the thicker rebuild east of the north gate. Mason says that it means little by itself but does not elaborate; my guess is that a single coin could have been picked up accidentally along with the recycled building material and could have come from anywhere. At one point (p.211) he says the thicker rebuild could belong to the overhaul of army installations conducted by the elder Theodosius in about 370 AD, after the Barbarian Conspiracy, and at another (p. 204) he says it could be post-Roman and perhaps as late as the tenth century.

Documentary evidence

Annales Cambriae

601 The synod of Urbs Legionis [Chester].
--Annales Cambriae

This is probably the same synod mentioned by Bede for 603 or 604 AD. The use of Chester as a site for a major synod indicates that the city was still important, but does not necessarily say anything about the state of the defences.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions Chester twice at the end of the ninth century:

AD 894.
....they [the Danish army] marched on the stretch by day and night,
till they arrived at a western city in Wirheal that is called
Chester. There the army could not overtake them ere they arrived
within the work: they beset the work though, without, some two
days, took all the cattle that was thereabout, slew the men whom
they could overtake without the work, and all the corn they
either burned or consumed with their horses every evening.

AD 907
.... Chester was rebuilt.
--Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The 894 entry suggests to me that the English army tried to overtake the Danes before they arrived “within the work” at Chester, and therefore that Chester still had defences that were sufficiently serviceable to be of military use. The Chronicle often refers to “a work” in a context that implies it meant defensive earthworks. It also suggests to me that Chester and/or its immediate surroundings had sufficient of a population to have cattle and corn. The 907 entry suggests to me that Chester’s defences were incomplete enough to require rebuilding.


Clearly, the parts of Chester’s Roman walls that are still standing now (north wall and the east wall north of the east gate) would have been standing in the seventh century. It is impossible to be sure how much of the west and south walls were intact before they were demolished to extend the defences.

The second collapse of the rebuilt east wall south of the east gate was apparently left as rubble long enough to combine with the remains of the collapsed rampart behind, implying a long period without repair. If David Mason is correct that there was a subsequent refortification which predated the medieval wall, this is consistent with a long period of disrepair during the early medieval period, followed by a refortification either when the Danes briefly took the city in 894 or when “Chester was rebuilt” in 907. Since the wall was rebuilt to its original width and on its original foundation, it’s a reasonable first approximation that the rebuild may have stood about as long as the original. If the original stone wall was finished in the early second century (say 110 AD), and was demolished immediately before the rebuild was carried out in the early fourth century (say 310 AD), the original wall stood for about 200 years. If the rebuilt wall managed the same, it would have collapsed in the early sixth century (say 510 AD). It’s unlikely to have collapsed while the Roman Army was still in residence (i.e. up to c. 400 AD) or one would expect it to have been repaired again, and is perhaps unlikely to have stood much beyond, say, the early seventh century given the implied long period of disrepair. So we could tentatively assign a date of c. 500 AD, plus or minus a century or so either way, for the collapse of the rebuilt wall south of the east gate.

It is possible that the thicker rebuild of the curtain wall using recycled stone was part of the 907 rebuilding. However, the “refortification” of the east wall south of the east gate mentioned by David Mason presumably did not conform to the same pattern as the thicker rebuild, or one would expect him to have said so. So either there was a reason why the same fortification used different techniques, or they occurred at different times. I favour the latter as a simpler explanation.

On balance, I would suggest the following approximate sequence:

  • AD 100 approx – stone curtain wall built.

  • AD 260 – 310 approx - Chester largely abandoned while the Twentieth Legion is fighting elsewhere in the Empire. The ditch silts up and parts of the curtain wall collapse due to lack of maintenance.

  • AD 310 approx – Damaged parts of Chester’s curtain wall repaired to original width.

  • AD 370 or later – Other damaged parts of Chester’s curtain wall, which had presumably not needed repair in 310, rebuilt to double width.

  • AD 500 approx (plus/minus a century) – Part of the wall rebuilt in c. 310 collapses south of the east gate and the breach is ignored, the rubble being left to combine with the collapsed rampart. Either the breach was still defensible with a sufficiently large and determined force, or Chester was not an important defensive structure at the time, or any repair/refortification has not left any evidence).

  • AD 907 – Chester refortified by Aethelflaed Lady of the Mercians to create a defensive burh.

Full-text sources available online are linked in the text.
Mason DJP. Roman Chester: city of the eagles. Tempus, 2001, ISBN 978- 0-7524-1922-0.

01 March, 2009

The Kingmaking, by Helen Hollick. Book review

First published 1994. Edition reviewed: Sourcebooks, 2009, ISBN 978-1-4022-1888-0. 563 pages.

I read and enjoyed The Kingmaking when it was first published, and am pleased to see it back in print. It is the first in the Pendragon’s Banner trilogy, a retelling of the King Arthur story from Arthur’s boyhood to his death. Arthur and his wife Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere is the later medieval spelling of the same name) are the central characters. The Kingmaking covers the period 450–457 AD, and Arthur is aged 15 at the beginning of the novel. Many of the characters, such as Arthur, Gwenhwyfar, Uthr, Ygrainne, Morgause, Cei and Bedwyr, are familiar from Arthurian legend. Others, such as Hengest, Vortigern and his wife Rowena, Ambrosius and Cunedda are known from historical sources although not always associated with Arthur.

Uthr Pendragon, exiled from Britain many years earlier after being defeated in battle by Vortigern, returns to try to reclaim his throne with the help of his old friend and ally, Cunedda of Gwynedd. Cunedda’s feisty daughter Gwenhwyfar takes an immediate dislike to Uthr’s companion, a boy of unknown parentage called Arthur, until a shared dislike of Uthr’s evil mistress Morgause brings the two together. When Uthr’s bid for power ends in his death and Arthur’s true parentage is revealed, it seems that the fates of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar will be woven together. But Vortigern and his malicious daughter Winifred have other ideas, and soon Arthur and Gwenwhyfar find themselves entangled in a web of politics, war and ambition that threatens to divide them for ever.

The first thing to say about The Kingmaking is that it is a story of human love, hatred, loyalty, betrayal, war and politics without any of the supernatural elements that have come to be associated with the Arthur legends. There is no Merlin, no magic and no enchanted sword in a stone. This is no loss in my view, quite the reverse, and some of the author’s suggestions for incidents that could have led to the supernatural parts of the legend are highly ingenious and great fun to spot. But readers who like magic and enchantments should look elsewhere.

The Kingmaking places Arthur in the middle of the fifth century as a contemporary of Vortigern and predecessor of Ambrosius Aurelianus, whereas it is more usual to place Arthur after Ambrosius. Given that there isn’t an uncontested date in the two centuries of British history between the Rescript of Honorius in 410 AD and the arrival of St Augustine in 597 AD, the dates for Arthur’s life are fair game for the novelist’s imagination.

What I found most memorable about The Kingmaking was the characterisation of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar. Both are fully rounded individuals with a mix of good and bad qualities, and both do admirable and not-so-admirable things. Arthur is dynamic, enthusiastic and brave, but also ruthless, ambitious, not above lying and cheating to gain his ends, and often fails to control his appetites for drink and women, with consequences that range from awkward to disastrous. Gwenhwyfar is bold and passionate, as brave as Arthur, but wilful and hasty to rush to judgment. Both are proud, hot-tempered and inclined to speak before thinking, leading them to inflict pain on each other and those around them. Their relationship is an emotional rollercoaster even without the obstacles thrown in their way by the political manoeuvrings. Life for them and for those around them, must be exhausting and exciting in about equal measure. Gwenhwyfar is a little too much of the warrior heroine for my liking, and as far as I know not one legend even hints at Gwenhwyfar as a warrior. Though as so little is known of the period, who’s to say it’s impossible?

Of the secondary characters, I found the men more varied and convincing than the women. Gwenhwyfar’s brothers include the cheerful Etern, the quietly competent Enniaun, and the henpecked Osmail, Cei is upright and honest, and the pedantic Emrys (Ambrosius Aurelianus) has potential though he hardly appears in The Kingmaking. Even Vortigern and Hengest are rational men who deal in realpolitik, however unpleasant. In contrast, Morgause is pure evil and Winifred (Vortigern’s fictional daughter) is pure spite, and I found both somewhat tedious. I had the impression of a sharp fault line between the good guys (Arthur, Gwenhwyfar and their friends and allies) and the bad guys. Vortigern, Hengest, Rowena, Winifred, Melwas and Morgause, all Arthur’s enemies, are deceitful, cruel, vindictive, cunning, spiteful and/or selfish. Hengest is brave, but apart from that they hardly have a redeeming feature between them.

One notable feature is that the horses are almost secondary characters in their own right. I have the impression that the author knows a lot about horses and their ways, which adds an extra dimension to a novel in which cavalry warfare plays such a large part.

The complex politics of a power struggle in a dying empire are convincingly portrayed. Vortigern and Uthr are rivals for the position of supreme ruler of Britain; Vortigern’s sons and Arthur are similar rivals; Hengest and his followers are Vortigern’s paid allies, but have an eye to their own advantage; Cunedda is an independent power in Gwynedd, inclined to side with Uthr and then Arthur against Vortigern but no man’s lapdog; Rowena, Winifred and Gwenhwyfar are all rivals for the position of Queen to the current king and mother of the next one. Add in local kings and chieftains, and there are enough plot threads to weave a tangled tale. The narrative skilfully cuts back and forth between the threads so that none of them is left for too long, but you do have to pay attention. The Kingmaking is a long book (550+ pages) and a complicated one; it’s not a quick read.

A delightful feature is the ingenious take on the legend of the sword in the stone (no, I’m not going to tell you what it is). So much so that I thought it a great shame that it only appeared at the end. The marvellous sword is such a central component of the legend that I’d have liked to see it play an integral role in the plot from much earlier on.

A down-to-earth retelling of the King Arthur story as that of a ruthless fifth-century soldier and his feisty queen.

Q&A with Helen Hollick
As part of the blog tour to launch this new edition of The Kingmaking, author Helen Hollick kindly answered a few questions for me. Here they are:

Q. In The Kingmaking, you have Arthur coming to the kingship in around 456 AD and personally defeating Hengest. This is rather earlier than usual, as Arthur is more usually placed some time after Vortigern and Hengest. Why did you choose to make him their contemporary?

A. This time frame was more logical – and it was not my own idea. The Arthurian historian Geoffrey Ashe suggested it, and his theory was most convincing. There is no evidence for any of these dates – indeed, there is no evidence that Arthur even existed – but by looking closely at the early Welsh legends and the few pieces of contemporary writing that we do have, placing Arthur these few years earlier seemed, to my mind, to fit the missing piece of the jigsaw into the puzzle.

Q. In your story, Arthur's wife Gwenhwyfar is the daughter of Cunedda, the founder of Gwynedd in modern north-west Wales . Tell me more about what led you to place Gwenhwyfar there.

A. Cunedda was a real person. He and his family were forcibly moved from Traprain Law (near Edinburgh , Scotland ) to North Wales possibly around 430 – 450 ish.. We do not know why, or who moved him. I thought it was a good story to use, and since reading Sharon Kay Penman’s wonderful novels about Gwynedd (especially Here Be Dragons) I was determined to combine the two.

Then, while researching some genealogies (admitted not necessarily reliable) to my delight I discovered he may have had a daughter called Gwyn.

Well, that was it! My ideas were set!

Q. What first drew you to want to retell Arthur and Gwenhwyfar's story?

A. While working in a local public library I re-discovered Rosemary Sutcliff’s superb teenage novels set in Roman Britain – Eagle of the Ninth, Frontier Wolf, Mark of the Horse Lord etc, and then Mary Stewart’s Hollow Hills Trilogy, and there I discovered an Arthur who was very different to the one of the Medieval Tales.
I had never liked the ‘traditional’ Arthurian stories as I could not accept that King Arthur was so bad a king to abandon his kingdom and his wife and go in search of the Grail. Surely he would have foreseen that Lancelot and Guinevere would have an affair? I also disliked Lancelot and all those too-good-to-be-true knights. None of it seemed real history.

Mary Stewart’s novels had an author’s note which stated that if Arthur had existed he would have been a Romano British war lord. I liked that idea very much and read all I could about the ‘real’, more interesting Arthur. But then the existing novels began to irritate me. Knights in armour, chivalry, turreted castles… this was not right for the Dark Ages. It was fine as a fairy tale but not as an historical novel.
These stories were not how I saw things. I was so frustrated with one portrayal of Gwenhwyfar that I threw the book across the room!

I had had enough. The only way to relieve my frustration was to write my own story. There would be no knights, grails, round tables. No myth, no magic. No Lancelot, no Merlin.

Instead, I explored the early Welsh legends of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar. These legends turned out to be far more exciting and emotional than the Medieval stories. Arthur was more plausible. Arthur was suddenly real.

It took me ten years to write what eventually became The Kingmaking. It was first published in the UK almost 15 years ago – and since then the trend has very much fallen towards portraying Arthur in his correct time period – the Dark Ages, between the going of the Romans and the coming of the Anglo Saxons.

Thank you, Helen!

Helen is participating in a Blog Tour in honour of the publication of The Kingmaking. Here are the stops:

http://harrietdevine.typepad.com/harriet_devines_blog/2009/02/the-kingmaking.html 2/20

http://lazyhabits.wordpress.com/2009/02/20/the-kingmaking/ 2/21 and interview 2/27

http://carpelibrisreviews.com/the-kingmaking-by-helen-hollick-book-tour-giveaway/ 2/23

http://www.historicalnovels.info/Kingmaking.html 2/23

http://www.bibliophilemusings.com/2009/02/review-interview-kingmaking-by-helen.html 2/23

http://lilly-readingextravaganza.blogspot.com/2009/02/kingmaking-by-helen-hollick.html 2/23 and guest blog 2/25

http://chikune.com/blog/?p=488 2/24

http://booksaremyonlyfriends.blogspot.com/ 2/25

http://peekingbetweenthepages.blogspot.com/ 2/26 and guest blog 2/27

http://webereading.blogspot.com/ 2/26

http://www.caramellunacy.blogspot.com 2/26

http://bookthoughtsbylisa.blogspot.com/ 3/1

http://www.skrishnasbooks.com/ 3/1

http://jennifersrandommusings.wordpress.com/ 3/1

http://rhireading.blogspot.com/ 3/1

http://passagestothepast.blogspot.com/ 3/2

http://thetometraveller.blogspot.com/ 3/2

http://steventill.com/ 3/2

http://savvyverseandwit.blogspot.com / 3/2 and interview 3/3

http://www.carlanayland.blogspot.com/ 3/3

http://readersrespite.blogspot.com/ 3/3 and interview on 3/5

http://libraryqueue.blogspot.com/ 3/4

http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/ 3/4

http://www.myfriendamysblog.com/ 3/5

http://samsbookblog.blogspot.com 3/5

http://goodbooksbrightside.blogspot.com/ 3/5