Competition published on July 8, 2016.
In the dying days of The Wars of the Roses a secret war is born. The battle for the crown is about to become a fight for the world, both old and new.
In the final years of the struggle between the great houses of York and Lancaster – each having ripped the heart out of each other – Jack Wynter was sent to Spain with a secret document he was to keep under lock and key and protect with his life. A young man, bastard son of Sir Thomas Vaughan, who was a shrewd ambassador and king’s man, Jack had believed that one day he himself would be fighting on behalf of a noble family. As time passed, however, he believed himself banished, with nothing to do beyond winning the next prize fight in Seville. Traumatized by the circumstances of his birth and loss of a future, yearning for social standing, Jack lost interest in the highly prized vellum map in his care. This was a mistake.
Back in England, Vaughan had been executed without being able to say his goodbyes or explain this legacy. His allegiance to the wrong monarch meant he should die, leaving Richard lll to accede to the throne and the young princes, whose bloodlines should have given them the ultimate power, locked into the Tower.
Jack Wynter, unaware of England’s power-base shifting – is attacked in Spain by someone wanting the map. Now fatherless, Jack is the unwitting guardian of something being searched for over Europe. He must return to England on a quest for answers to questions he doesn’t even understand… but his life depends upon finding them.
In the background, a secret organization with Cosimo de Medici at its head is determined to explore the wisdom of all mankind, to hunt down and collect letters, maps and artefacts of many faiths and philosophies, even if they are heretical. These were beliefs that will shake traditional thought into a thousand shards, and Jack has stumbled into a leading role in the drama.
Politics, Royalty and a renaissance of knowledge. A revolution that would affect peasant, merchant, noble and monarch alike. They were all, great and small, on the verge of a New World rising.
**We have a copy of Sons of the Blood by Robyn Young to give away – scroll down for your chance to win!**
Reviewer Sara Garland read an early copy of Sons of the Blood and declared it ‘highly impressive’ so we put her in touch with Robyn to find out more…
SG: As a reader of historical fiction, I feel the genre provides a perfect blend of well researched facts, a rich depiction of places & people, conveyed using the linguistics of the time, all to create an immersive and engaging character driven story. It’s highly disciplined writing. So….
What spurred you to pursue creative writing as a degree and without a ready educational background in history to draw from– why historical fiction?
RY: I went on to take an MA in creative writing at Sussex University, after a two-year evening class, during which time I began writing Brethren – my third attempt at a novel. During both courses, I saw real advances in my writing, mostly through the act of working with other writers to deconstruct and rigorously edit each other’s work. Editing can – certainly initially – be one of the hardest, and yet one of the most essential, parts of writing. During the evening class, Brethren caught the eye of an agent. By the time I graduated with my Masters he had taken me on as a client. But even after this I didn’t want to lose the benefits that working regularly with other writers had given me and co-founded a writing group that continued to meet weekly for a decade beyond the degree. Most of us went on to be published.
As for writing historical fiction – well, that was a surprise. The story very much found me. I’d heard about the Knights Templar in a conversation around a pub table and became intrigued by these so-called “warrior monks.” A few months later, browsing in Waterstones, I came across The Trial of the Templars, by historian Malcolm Barber, which detailed the dramatic downfall of one of the most powerful and influential Military Orders of the crusades. I read it in an afternoon and by the evening I knew I wanted to tell their story. Of course, I had no idea that seven years of intensely hard work was to follow.
I suspect you might like a challenge, but from writing conception to getting published how do you manage writing self-doubts and publisher rejections?
I do indeed like a challenge – and getting published certainly was one! My partner and friends were encouraging from the get-go and the writing group I helped found was an incredibly supportive place in which to work through all the years of drafts and painstaking redrafts, plot-holes, self-doubts, send-outs, near-misses, outright rejections.
I worked with Rupert Heath, the agent who became interested in Brethren during the course at Sussex, for two years before he took me on, his appraisals of the work becoming more in-depth as the book and my writing advanced. It was a bit of an apprenticeship really. Our first send out of Brethren, as a partial manuscript, was rejected by publishers, but three well-established editors came close to buying it and despite the rejections I was encouraged.
By that point, however, I was seriously financially challenged, having got through my degree and then a year of teacher training only with the support of my partner and his family. I knew I only had one more shot before I would have to go into teaching full-time and relegate novel writing to any spare hours. I quit my part-time teaching job, rewrote Brethren for the twelfth time. And hoped. A few weeks after Rupert sent out the manuscript for the second time I had my answer – two publishers were bidding for my novel in an auction. I’ll never forget that day.
Rejections are part of what it is to become – and to be – a published author. You have to keep faith, but also to learn when more work – sometimes much more – is required, and to know when it’s time to move on to another project.
When preparing to write an historical novel what comes first the historical period or the character you want to develop?
With the Brethren Trilogy it was the Knights Templar and the period in which they existed that were the point of inspiration, rather than any one character. As I did more research, characters began to come to the fore – the French king, Philippe IV who masterminded the downfall of the Order, Baybars, the slave warrior who became Sultan of Egypt and Syria. With my next, the Insurrection Trilogy, it was the story of Robert Bruce that inspired me – so very much character driven. For New World Rising, my new series, it was a mixture of period and character that interested me – the Renaissance and the age of discovery, as well as Henry Tudor, Richard III, Columbus, the Medici family, the Catholic Monarchs.
What percentage of time do you spend researching versus writing an historical novel?
I do a lot of research initially, many months of it, reading books on the period, from biographies of my main characters to studies on weaponry, food, political institutions, clothing, religion. I complete a chronology, write tens of thousands of words of notes, study maps. I’ll then go to any locations that I know will be a main setting for the novel – I’ve just come back from Florence where much of the second book in the new series is set. That often helps me awake the soul of the novel. I might then do some physical research. For the Brethren Trilogy this was falconry and sword-fighting, for Insurrection it was horse-riding, for Sons of the Blood it was working with black-powder weapons. Like most published novelists, I don’t get a great deal of time in which to actually write the novel – publishers tend to want a book a year if possible, and none of mine are particularly short! So, I usually get around seven months to write it, but I’ll still be researching throughout that time.
Do historical times and events provide a helpful structure in which to weave the fictional component of your story or can it at times act as a constraint to imaginative flare?
A bit of both. Insurrection was fairly constricted by the history, with not only, Robert Bruce, my protagonist, but most of the supporting cast being real historical figures. Not only that, but there are huge gaps in the records, so you only get half the story and have to play detective in order to plausibly fill in the rest. That said, it can be a comfort, having historical events and people as landmarks to follow. My new series has a fictional protagonist with endless possibilities – which is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking!
Is there a pivotal book or person from your childhood that inspired and engendered a passion for reading/writing?
My grandfather. Whenever my cousins and I stayed with him, he would tell us adventure stories, in which we were the stars. He would even tape new ones and send them to us. I used to love them. I think he was really proud I became a writer and always wanted a copy of the new book as soon as it was out. He died a year ago. Sons of the Blood is dedicated to him.
Were you you a voracious reader from a young age or did you find a love for reading/writing at a later age?
My father taught me to read when I was three. I read everything I got my hands on, often staying up late to finish whatever book it was (I still can’t read at night if I’m enjoying a novel, as it’ll be dawn by the time the light goes off). My first loves were Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis, then Susan Cooper and Louise Lawrence. Clive Barker and Stephen King were favourites in my teens, and Bernard Cornwell introduced me to historical fiction in my early twenties. These days I tend to read more literary fiction, or else modern crime thrillers. I usually need a break from history!
You appear to favour writing trilogies – what’s the attraction?
Brethren and Insurrection worked very much as trilogies, mostly because there was far too much ground to cover in a single novel. Also, the neatness of a trilogy – really just a broader form of the three-act structure – was useful in helping me set out the journey of the characters and the many plot-strands they would follow. New World Rising, however, has no such boundaries, being – at present – an open-ended series.
Whilst not a formal historian you have written about the Templar Knights in your Brethren trilogy, the Scottish War of Independence with the Insurrection trilogy and now the densely written about Tudor period– where did your inspiration for writing about Thomas Vaughan and Jack Wynter come from?
During research for the new series I came across Sir Thomas Vaughan. His is an interesting story – a Welsh soldier who rose to become one of the highest officials in the realm, trusted man of the king, chamberlain to Prince Edward (one of the “Princes in the Tower”), ambassador to the courts of France and Burgundy. After the death of his master, Edward IV, Vaughan was arrested for treason by Richard of Gloucester, who took the prince, his nephew, into his custody and ascended the throne as Richard III. Vaughan was executed and is the ghost who troubles Richard on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth in Shakespeare’s play. But these are really only snippets of his life, much of which we know very little about. Thus, he was a great character to choose as the father of my fictitious protagonist, Jack Wynter, illegitimate son, and an outcast from society, who I nonetheless wanted to be able to have the skills and background necessary to traverse the courts of Europe. Vaughan provided the perfect passport.
You depict a very good battle scene, are such scenes exciting to portray or more challenging than a reader immersed in your writing may ever realise?
Battle scenes are often tough – both in terms of structure (whose perspective do you tell it from, how much detail on strategy and tactics do you go into, how much of the horror and carnage can you realistically convey before you start desensitising your readers?) – and in terms of the actual writing. These are often real battles, where real people died in horrific circumstances, and it can be emotionally draining to write such scenes.
Who was your favourite character in Sons of the Blood and why?
I really enjoyed Ned Draper – a mercenary soldier, turned player, who becomes Jack’s closest friend. He offers a bit of lightness in dark times. He’s going to be the moral compass for Jack, I think, as the story continues.
Writing is tough in so much that after pouring your heart and soul into a book, everyone that reads your work becomes a critic and with such territory comes the published mixture of sometimes good, bad or indifferent reviews. How do you deal with this and have you ever been able to use constructive feedback to inform your writing?
I tend to avoid public reviews these days if I can help it. I used to seek them out, but after a while you realise that people’s tastes are so utterly varied – what one person hated about the novel, another will love – that there’s really nothing much you can take from them, good, bad or indifferent. Of course, it is always great to hear when someone has enjoyed the book though!
Distractions from writing – good or bad? Do you have many and if so how do you keep disciplined, avoid their temptation or are they a good thing, able to give your brain creative headroom?
I walk, swim, ice-skate, or go to the gym to clear my head – doing something physical is vital in what is such sedentary, cerebral work. I love films and TV box-sets, and tend to binge on the good ones, but they can be great for thinking about plot, character and structure. I cook, listen to music, go to the theatre, and spend time with friends, most of whom are other writers, in whose company the process of plotting and thinking often continues!
Publisher deadlines… are they good for keeping you motivated and working to timescales; are you a well paced, consistent writer or do have to inject same added pace and intensity towards the end of a book?
They are great for motivation and organisation, but they are undoubtedly tough to keep to. The research and plotting stages often take longer than I anticipate and then it’s full-steam ahead to get the book written on time. Plus, there’s always the promotional work to be done – social media, interviews, literary events and signings, radio shows – all of which take time away from writing. It’s often a balancing act I fail at. Certainly in the last few months of a book, I’ll likely be working seven days a week, sometimes twelve or more hours a day, which means almost everything else has to go on hold until it’s done. I keep thinking I’ll write shorter, less complicated novels, but never manage it!
Finally how long do we need to wait for your next book?
Book two of the New World Rising series, Court of Wolves, will be out in 2017.
About the author
Robyn Young’s first novel, Brethren, went straight in to the Sunday Times top ten, becoming the bestselling hardback debut of the year. In 2007, she was named one of Waterstone’s twenty-five ‘authors of the future’. The inspiration for Robyn’s new bestselling trilogy, which began in 2010 with Insurrection, was a research trip to Scotland and is based the life of Robert Bruce. Her novels have been published in 22 countries in 19 languages and have sold almost 2 million copies.
We have a copy of Sons of the Blood to give away – simply fill in the form below for your chance to win:
The Competition is closed.
Sons of the Blood by Robyn Young, published by Hodder & Stoughton on 28 July, 2016 in hardback at £16.99
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nudge list July 2016: NEW WORLD RISING: Sons of the Blood by Robyn Young
Something for the Pain: A Memoir of the Turf
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