TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
M.K.: I don’t know that I have any truly strange quirks other than my personal rituals, which include writing initially in longhand with a black pen on a hard-covered book of writing paper. I also need lots of noise around me when I’m working, such as the TV or the radio. While I enjoy writing at home with my pets, husband and son interrupting me, I also like to write at cafes and pubs and I seem to gain energy from the noise of diners, drinkers and slot machines. I don’t get writer’s block, but silence is effectively an imagination killer for me.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers?
M.K.: All my pretences to literary fastidiousness will now go down the plug-hole. I adore well-written, original, popular fiction as a result of having been immersed in good classical literature for years at university (college). I love John Connolly and his original crime stories that are set in Maine. I enjoy the plotting of Lee Child, the flair of Tolkien (who doesn’t?), Kathy Reichs, Heinlein, Stieg Larsson and other assorted Scandinavian writers. I also adore anyone who writes good history (such as the Caesar series written by Colleen McCullough). I could name dozens more where individual books have given me hours of pleasure. I don’t care about genre or popularity, just that illusive originality that all writers seek. But, if I’m completely honest, I’ll read the label on a jam jar if there’s nothing else.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
M.K.: I know the beginning, and I know the end of my books. I also work hard to know my characters, their families and their families in far greater detail than I’ll ever use! Then I give my characters life - and set them free! I try to run hard to keep up with them.
I have an excellent memory, so I keep copious notes and facts contained in cheat sheets on every small detail that can trip up a writer. I also keep detailed chronologies that are essential when writing histories that cover extensive periods of time. Series have their own sets of problems, including hundreds of characters of different ages (many of whom are historically real) to record and I have to keep all the details I’ve created, not to mention marrying truth and fiction together as well as I can.
It’s a developing skill, but I do a mammoth amount of research that pays rewards when the time comes to put my work down on paper. I don’t plot in great detail at the planning stage, per se.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
M.K.: Editing. Because I spent decades working on higher college degrees where perfection was sought, I have learned to master my weaknesses in this regard. My editors at S&S (who are very, very good) still pick up my errors, but I appreciate their efforts when they find flaws. Knowing when to stop titivating your work is a difficult skill to master. Personally, I’ve found it worth my while to read my work aloud, like music, so I can appreciate the songs that are embedded in the sentences. I seem able to hear errors when I do this.
TQ: What inspired your interest in King Arthur?
M.K.: I sometime wonder if I was coerced by some weird kind of fate to focus my attention on the Arthurian legends. My life seems to have galloped pell-mell towards the legends from childhood. My favourite poem in Primary School was The Lady of Shallot and I loved the Pre-Raphaelites for their poems, writings and paintings about the period, although the overall story seemed curiously bloodless and unsatisfying. Still, as a teenager, I saw the old films on King Arthur, read every book I could find on the genre and became quite obsessive about him.
Later, I married a man called Arthur Michael and, in my thirties, I lived in a suburb in Brisbane, Australia, where all the street names were reflections of Arthurian characters. Typical of these were Gawain, Percivale, Lancelot and Bedevere, etcetera.
And then I had to choose a topic to study for my MA. I wanted to compare changes in specific symbols from one historical period to another, but my supervisor insisted that I choose one stream of subject matter. On a whim, I chose King Arthur. And so it all began!
TQ: Which novels or historical texts about King Arthur are your favorites?
M.K.: This is easy. The Once and Future King made me cry, although I didn’t like, deep down, that Arthur was a heroic bumbler and an accidental hero.
I adored all of Tennyson’s poems. I especially loved The Idylls of the King, although his work was the traditional view of Arthur. I also read everything I could find by Geoffrey Ashe who provided an historical perspective, while Wace and Layamon were enlightening (although the language was old).
I hated The Mists of Avalon and the poetry of Charles Williams, (although his poetic works, Taliessin Through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars, were the subject of my PhD). You can sometimes firm your viewpoints from what you dislike. The historical and political use of the Arthurian Tradition over the centuries has always fascinated me, and I liked Mark Twain’s version as well for the originality of his work.
TQ: Tell us something about Battle of Kings (The Merlin Prophecy 1) that is not in the book description.
M.K.: The concept of Merlin as a magician made me angry because it is a glib solution to the obvious brilliance of a man who was able to survive close encounters with four very different and powerful rulers who were High Kings of the Britons. He managed to survive Vortigern, Ambrosius, Uther Pendragon and Arthur. My books utilise the strands of the legends to place them in the correct period and in a rational framework, so my Merlin is highly intelligent, learned, a creature of moods and passions and he becomes a man suited to the mastery of herb-lore and Roman battlefield surgery. Merlin struggles with his fits of prophecy, for he dreads what he might say when his wits are wandering. A man of such intellectual control would loath such inexplicable fits, as much as he would hate and regret his lack of status as a bastard in a land where warriors were noblemen.
Such a man could never be a wanderer because of his high and aristocratic birth. Such a man, regardless of his aristocratic connections, could never become a ruler or rarely achieve positions of importance. How he hated this state, as much as he loved the grandmother who nurtured him and protected him from the scorn of the world. I was determined to create a driven Merlin who was caught up in a tragedy over which he had no control.
Battle of Kings is a violent novel because of the period in which it is set and the characters rarely act with the nobility of other traditional tales in the genre. My Merlin is angry and embittered; he is curious and driven to discover new things; he is obsessed with finding his father and avoiding becoming embroiled in the wars instigated by Vortigern and Vortimer and, while he is one of Fortuna’s favoured few, he pays for his status and the price is very, very high.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Battle of Kings? What is the oddest bit of information that you came across in your research?
M.K.: I was required to research the landscape of post Roman Britain, the many tribes whom we now refer to as Celtic, the lifestyles of the peasantry and the aristocracy, while making in depth studies of the Saxons, Angles, Jutes and the complex political and cultural imperatives that caused the great invasions of Britain during the Dark Ages.
I was (and still am) amazed at the term, Dark Ages, and the reluctance of many literary and historical sources to show the enemy as the barbarians they were. They destroyed everything they could and burned all trace of Roman culture. I was stunned to discover that the Angles, Saxons and Jutes left their homeland in Jutland and modern Germany because of the arrival of a tribe called the Dene (they also invaded Skandia) who would prove to become the Danish Vikings in the 8th century.
The characters of Hengist and Horsa, Friesian invaders of note, were interesting because they were real men who served Vortigern (according to legend). Historically, they certainly arrived in Britain with their families, won huge tracts of land in the south-east, and were ultimately driven out by Vortimer and Ambrosius. Hengist returned at a later date and settled in the north of Britain.
The gaps in what we know of this period was caused by the burning of all the scrolls collected over the centuries, while the destruction of Roman-built culture and civilization by the Saxons, et al, always amazed me. The bad press the Celts always seem to get was also amazing, so I enjoyed trying to fill the gaps sensibly. I was fascinated by the chaos in Europe as the Roman Empire imploded and I wondered why historians are loath to study this period.
The oddest piece of information that I discovered was not so much quixotic as indicative of Roman ruthlessness. The pogrom undertaken against the druids (male, female & children) by the Romans, which saw them driven to Mona Island (Anglesea) and murdered in their thousands, proves the Roman strategy for successful invasion. In particular, they destroyed the heart of the local religion. Over several centuries, they completed this murderous strategy not once, but twice. In Merlin’s time, the only druids left alive would be those rare few who were in the wild places when the Romans commenced their last pogrom, hence there was no longer a druid-based religion in Merlin’s time. Only the worship of Don (She who must not be named) would have become stronger because of its similarity with the Roman religion of mother worship.
The challenge for me was to weave all this information into an exciting story that didn’t lecture the readers. Who can stomach a history lecture when they want entertainment?
TQ: In Battle of Kings, who were the easiest and hardest characters to write, and why?
M.K.: The easiest character to develop was Merlin’s Mother, the child Branwyn, who was raped and escaped death because she used her wits. One of Fortuna’s unfortunates, her character is dictated by what was done to her. All I had to do was write about her experiences and her feelings truthfully while avoiding bias.
The hardest character was the enigmatic Merlin because, as earlier answers explain, he isn’t the traditional magician of common belief. I was forced to think hard and explore how I believed a boy would respond to his mother’s hatred, the lack of a father, the suggestion that he was a demon seed and his need to carve out a place for himself in his collapsing and violent world. Inevitably, aspects of the characters of people around me (and myself) came into the mix, but it was imperative that Merlin should be a boy and a man of many moods, of light and shadow, and he must become a person capable of flaws and weaknesses. I wanted him to have force and to be subtle, even unexpected. In later books, Merlin will be confronted with difficult choices, so I attempted to set out the outlines of those characteristics in Battle of Kings.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are you favorite scene(s) in Battle of Kings?
M.K.: Of course, the attempted murder of Merlin by Vortigern is a favourite, but I also like the conflicts between Merlin and the other healers in Vortigern’s army. The fall of Glevum and the freeing of Vortigern’s queen, Rowena, is special. The “Burning Man” is also the culmination of the whole novel, so I enjoyed crafting this special scenery.
As women were below a man’s horse and slightly above his dog in the status of the times, I enjoyed exploring the ways in which women saved themselves from the barbarity of the period in which they lived. Olwyn, Branwyn and Rowena are as they were made by their fathers, their menfolk, and the conventional wisdom of their times.
PS I’m not even remotely “politically correct”. However I am determined not to ignore the ills of the period. Women had few opportunities to exercise power. Even Olwyn, because of her position as a chief priestess, was firmly under her father’s control.
TQ: What’s next?
M.K.: Over a slew of books, I try to bring the Dark Ages to life and rebuild the entwined histories of Merlin, Arthur and the other characters that are so familiar, but yet so enigmatic. In the process of developing the Merlin trilogy, the healer crosses the Mediterranean Sea to Constantinople in search of his father and in a quest to discover the secrets of Roman and Greek medicine. In the process, he sees the genesis of the death of Rome and the rise of Constantinople.
Merlin faces his greatest challenge when he is forced to assist the High King, Uther Pendragon, to trick and rape the wife of Gorlois, the Boar of Cornwall. Manipulated and threatened by Pendragon, Merlin is instrumental in saving the infant, Arthur, from the jealousy of his own father, who would have the child murdered.
The Arthurian trilogy follows, where I try to build a believable hero who stops the Saxon invasions into the west along the Pennine Chain. The campaign lasts for thirty years or so – a lifetime of struggle.
I enjoyed exploring the natures of Wenhaver (Guenevere) and Nimue, and I returned to the original traditions of the tale where Arthur’s wife is seduced by his nephew, Gawain. The obsessional hatred of Morgan, the twisted ambitions of Modred and the blending of Roman methods with the battle strategies used by the Britons helped to recreate the crucial battles that followed.
In the process, I explored the stories of the loves that existed between Merlin and Nimue (The Lady of the Lake), Tristan and Iseult, Bedwyr and Elayne and also the role of women at Cadbury (The presumed site of Camelot).
Remarkably, I placed the “Round Table” at Deva (Chester) in my novels. Two years later, archaeologists made a discovery at Chester which indicates that this claim is now the likely site of the table.
The last two books of an eight-book series explore the historic references to Arthur’s bastard son and his role in the destruction of the British peoples. The role of the Dene in the slow emergence of what would become “Danelaw” in Britain saw the rise of the Kings of Northumberland that would continue into medieval times.
My novels are an attempt to fill the void between the 5th and 7th centuries that uses a fast-paced story to bring a legend back to life, or so I hope. In the process, I have attempted to relate the complete story of the Matter of Britain in a continuous line over three generations, so I hope you enjoy my version of the Arthuriad.
My best wishes for 2013 go to you and your readers until the next novel is due for release in a few months.
TQ: Thank you!
The Merlin Prophecy
Battle of Kings
The Merlin Prophecy 1
Atria Books, January 1, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages
BOY, HEALER, PROPHET—THE EPIC TALE OF MERLIN BEGINS
In the town of Segontium a wild storm washes a fugitive ashore. He brutally rapes the granddaughter of the ruler of the Deceangli tribe, leaving her to bear his son, Myrddion Merlinus (Merlin). Spurned as a demon seed, the child is raised by his grandmother and, as soon as he turns nine, he is apprenticed to a skilled alchemist who hones the boy’s remarkable gift of prophecy.
Meanwhile, the High King of the Britons, Vortigern, is rebuilding the ancient fortress at Dinas Emrys. According to a prophecy, he must use the blood of a demon seed—a human sacrifice—to make his towers stand firm. Myrddion’s life is now in jeopardy, but the gifted boy understands that he has a richer destiny to fulfill. Soon Vortigern shall be known as the harbinger of chaos, and Myrddion must use his gifts for good in a land besieged by evil. So begins the young healer’s journey to greatness . . .
Death of an Empire
The Merlin Prophecy 2
Atria Books, May 21, 2013 (Trade Paperback)
January 1, 2013 (eBook), 512 pages
“Exciting, violent, and bloody and full of historical facts” (LoveReading.co.uk review)—the historical series for fans of Diana Gabaldon and Bernard Cornwell continues with the legend of Merlin as the gifted healer progresses into a man of great renown.
Myrddion Merlinus is a product of a brutal rape, and in the second book of this epic trilogy, he embarks on a quest to uncover his father’s identity and sets sail from Celtic Briton with his band of loyal companions. Their journey through war-ravaged France, Rome, and Ravenna to Constantinople will test their skills and strength to the limit.
Roman control over Europe is weakening. Attila’s barbaric army is causing death and destruction and, bound by a healer’s oath to relieve suffering, Merlin must serve under General Flavius Aetius at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. Merlin saves the lives of thousands of warriors, but a deadlier conflict between Emperor Valentinian of the West and Senator Petronius Maximus awaits, and Merlin must use all his resolve to survive the death of an empire.
Hunting with Gods
The Merlin Prophecy 3
Atria Books, August 13, 2013
Trade Paperback, 528 pages
eBook (March 13, 2013), 512 pages
In the final book in a captivating trilogy, the legendary Merlin faces a moral dilemma when the powerful Uther Pendragon demands that he use his talents for evil.
A talented healer, Merlin has traveled extensively, becoming a trusted advisor to rulers and kings the world over. But when Merlin finds his way back to Britain, he comes under the attention of the brutal war leader Uther Pendragon. Uther wants Merlin to use his powers for evil to help him conquer women and kingdoms alike, but when Merlin protests, the insatiable Uther threatens to eliminate anyone close to him, and thousands of lives are at risk.
In the final book of the Merlin trilogy, Merlin’s personal morality is challenged like never before and he must decide whether sacrificing his sense of what is right for the good of an entire people is something he can bring himself to do. For fans of Diana Gabaldon and Bernard Cornwell, M.K. Hume skillfully weaves history with fiction and entertains readers with plot twists and captivating battle scenes, successfully transporting them into the turbulent Dark Ages. Full of action-packed fights and passionate romance, Hunting with Gods reimagines the legend of Merlin in thrilling and fascinating ways.
About M.K. Hume
(from the Author's website)
I was born in 1948 in Ipswich, Queensland. My father served in the Australian Air Force during World War II and was also a Lay Preacher in the Presbyterian Church. My mother also served as an officer in The Women’s Royal Australian Air Force.
|Photograph by Paul Sargaison|
I went to school at Ipswich State High School and, after graduating, became a High School teacher teaching Art, History and English Literature. Once “safely married off”, I followed my husband, a Search and Rescue Searchmaster, to a number of locations throughout Australia.
During my travels, I studied with the University of Queensland as a remote student. The Arthurian legends have followed me for most of my life. From early childhood, when I was first introduced to the prose stories of Tennyson and later fell in love with his poetic skills, my imagination was “hooked” by the Arthurian personae. To supplement a number of other coincidences, I once lived in a suburb where the streets were named after the knights, whether by accident or happy design, I determined to study the literature of Arthur for my Masters and PhD degrees. Even my husband shares his first name (Arthur) with the Dux Bellorum (War Leader) of Britain, the hero who played such a large part in defending the Celtic tribes for some forty years.
For my PhD studies, I undertook a major study on Charles Williams, an English poet and novelist who wrote esoteric Arthurian literature during the period from 1920 to 1940. Although unknown to most of the wider literary establishment, Williams was a genius in his own right who wrote some of the most esoteric works produced in the 20th Century. His best-known works were his poetic triumphs, “Taliessin Through Logres “and “The Region of the Summer Stars”. I loved his works, but he came across to me as a rather “weird” man.
I now live in Brisbane, Queensland, but escape to Europe and Britain for research as well as fun at every possible opportunity.
My writing is the culmination of my lifelong dream, it is very satisfying to see your own book in the bookstores and to read “favourable” reviews.
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