What makes you write a particular book? Does the story find you or do you find the story?
I’ve been asked this question a few times (or versions thereof). In my case – like many other authors – I write what I love reading. I read a lot (all those library books as a child, remember) across most genres (except romance, sorry just can’t go there, unless it’s Jane Austen or the Brontes). But I know my limitations. I’m not going to win a Booker prize any time soon and I’m (largely) too lazy to do painstaking research. But I have a good imagination and I love stories that consider the many things in heaven and earth that…(yes, thank you Hamlet). So when it comes to Middengard, here are a few of the books and paintings that have inspired me.
Beowulf – I first read this epic poem over 35 years ago, in the original Old English (show off). Written in the ninth or 10th century, the tale is as heroic and gripping as any modern epic. The poetry, with alliterative verse rooted in the oral tradition, is powerful and mesmerizing. In historical terms, the characters are Norse pagans and whilst the poem’s authorship is unknown, some scholars believe it was composed in Yorkshire….(others claim the Midlands but I’ll stick with the Yorkshire angle).
Morte d’ Arthur (Sir Thomas Mallory). I can’t remember when I first read these books. When I was at school I think (although they weren’t on the syllabus) – and then later at university. Written in the 15th century, the books are a reworking of existing tales of the legendary King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Whilst many modern versions of the myths are well-known and well read (T H White’s “The Once and Future King is one of my favourites) these early retellings are captivating and the language (this time defined loosely as Middle English) has its own compelling beauty.
The Lady of Shalott – poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and painting by John Waterhouse (19th century). You can’t really go past these lines can you:
“The mirror crack’d from side to side, the curse has come upon me cried, The Lady of Shalott.”
Inspired by Malory, Tennyson wrote his own version of the Arthurian myth with his cycle of narrative poems “The Idylls of the King.” The Lady of Shalott is a stand alone poem, loosely based on the legend of Elaine of Astolat and her unrequited love for Sir Lancelot. It’s one of those fascinating, albeit melodramatic, Victorian poems that once they’re in your head…well, they clearly stay there. Look out for Lady of Shalott themes coming up in Book 4 of the Middengard Sagas…(out in 2018).