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Friday, November 18, 2011


Thanks so much for the chance to talk about my Guinevere, Judy. I spent 11 years researching and writing the Trilogy, and Gwen has become a member of my family.

When I stumbled onto the Arthurian tales I was immediately struck by the range of stories and the depth of characters they contain. There's the tremendous tension of the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot; the ironies of the aging Merlin and very young Nimue and the constant peril of the king's sister who keeps trying to kill say nothing of the fact that the noblest of monarchs is hiding a secret of the most ancient sin, incest!

Clearly there was a lot more here than the spritely music of Camelot and I began to read historically realistic--not fantasy--treatments of those characters. And when I thought about writing a novel, the Arthurian stories immediately sprang to mind, but I couldn't imagine what I could say that hadn't already been done.

Then one evening I was sitting in a friend's garden, waiting for the moon to rise, and saw Guinevere and Lancelot act out a scene in front of me. It was as if they were holograms and they were having a rousing argument as to why Lance thought she was guilty of trying to poison Arthur--another twist in the story. When they faded away I found myself thinking "What's a nice girl like you doing in such a situation?" And right then I knew what my first novel was going to be. At that time (1980) I don't believe anyone had presented a first-person Guinevere account.

I've been a journalist for years and always promise my readers I'll treat any story with as much respect and honesty as possible, and it's no different with fiction. I decided to research the time when they would have lived and no matter when that turned out to be, that's the era I would set them in. Since the earliest mentions of Arthur are in the late 5th Century A.D., I had to forget pretty castles and shiny armor--my characters would live in mud huts and Roman ruins!

Also, the legend states very firmly that the first thing the young Arthur had to do was put down a civil war fomented by the northern kings. Any student of history knows that the wise victor cements his conquest by marrying a highborn woman of the conquered tribes. So it was an easy step to replace the spoiled convent girl of the south with a feisty northern tomboy who doesn't see any reason why she has to learn to speak Latin, wear dresses and go south to marry that king.

The more I studied Celtic queens, the more clear it was that they could be co-rulers, and the idea of Gwen being an equal partner with Arthur made much more sense than the beautiful but dumb twit of the earlier authors. And because I made her an outsider, she saw everything in Arthur's world with fresh eyes, which was great fun.

This is particularly strong in the first book of the Trilogy, Child of the Northern Spring, which deals with her childhood, the marriage to Arthur and the founding of the Round Table. Various major characters show up here such as Merlin, Gawain, Pellinore and of course Morgan Le Fey.

In the second book, Queen of the Summer Stars, she and Arthur work to meld the fractious Celtic kings into a functioning court and military force to keep the Saxons at bay, and the whole tapestry of heroes and heroines comes into focus. Arthur's mother, Igraine, recounts the story of his origins; Merlin and Nimue go off together; Tristan and Isolde run away from King Mark and play out their ill-fated grand passion, and of course Lancelot comes into everyone's life and nothing is the same again.

Here Gwen has to deal with kidnap and rape, her inability to have children, and her taking in of Mordred, Arthur's unacknowledged son whose mother is killed unexpectedly. These are parts of the legend that are often glossed over, being matters pertaining primarily to women.

Now with the last volume, Guinevere--the Legend in Autumn, the Court has reached its full glory, the sons of the heroes start flexing their muscles and all sorts of destinies are fulfilled in both triumph and tragedy. Gwen and Lance have their time together, Arthur and his son engage in their fatal battle, and the seeds of a great legend are born because of the acts of some very interesting real people. I've loved every moment of working on it, and I hope the reader does too.

Persia has been a journalist since 1970 and began writing her first book in 1971. Her three non-fiction works include Creative Survival for Single Mothers, The Custody Handbook and How to Write and Sell Historical Fiction.

She began work on her Guinevere Trilogy in 1980 and it was completed after 11 years of research and writing. This included four research trips to Britain where she hiked all over the Roman and Celtic ruins from Guinevere’s story, stayed in hostels and carried everything in her backpack.

All three volumes of the Trilogy became Book of the Month selections, have been translated into seven languages, were made into a terrible movie and are now being re-issued by Sourcebooks.

Persia came to live with her son out near Freestone three years ago, but has recently moved into the town of Sebastopol.

1 comment:

Debby said...

I have always enjoyed the King Arthur tales. I will need to read this one.