Today, I will be interviewing Arthurian novelist Nicole Evelina about her new novel, Daughter of Destiny: Guinevere’s Tale, Book One. (You can read my review of her novel at https://childrenofarthur.wordpress.com/2016/01/04/guinevere-gets-her-say-in-new-novel-daughter-of-destiny-by-nicole-evelina/)
Nicole Evelina has spent the last fifteen years researching the Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain, and the various peoples, cultures, and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome. She is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society.
Nicole holds a B.A. in English and an M.A. in media communications, as well as accreditation from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), a distinction that tests writing and communications skill, and is held by only 8,000 people worldwide.
Her new novel Daughter of Destiny was published on January 1, 2016, and it is the first in a trilogy of novels she has planned. Her goal is to create a strong female protagonist in the person of Guinevere in the series.
Tyler: Welcome, Nicole. I interviewed you about three years ago about your novel series and interest in the Arthurian legend. Back then you were trying to find a publisher, so it’s been a long journey. How did publication come about and how does it feel now to be a published author?
Nicole: Hi Tyler! Thanks for having me on your blog again. Yes, it has been a long journey. I started out going the traditional publication route and got SOOOOO close three times (twice at Penguin), but it ultimately didn’t end up working out for this book. In the meantime, the self-publishing market exploded. I met more and more people who were doing it, and after a lot of study and serious consideration, I decided to self-publish. I created my own publishing imprint and own my own business now. My first product was Daughter of Destiny.
Tyler: Tell us how you came up with the idea to write Daughter of Destiny and why you think it stands out from other Arthurian novels?
Nicole: When I was in college, I read The Mists of Avalon, and I loved the book, but hated Marion Zimmer Bradley’s portrayal of Guinevere. So I sought out other books about the character. I found Parke Godwin’s Beloved Exile, which covers Guinevere’s life after King Arthur’s death. That made me wonder what her life was like before and after him. You didn’t hear too much about that. Then she came into my head and told me she wanted me to tell her whole life story, before Arthur, with him and after. The rest is history.
I think it stands out because I’ve done things with Guinevere that few, if any, other authors have done. For example, my Guinevere is a priestess of Avalon and that is how she meets Morgan. Their rivalry begins long before Arthur enters the picture. So that means he’s part of it, but definitely not all. Plus, I have made Guinevere’s first love someone I don’t think anyone else has ever done, but there is a mythological connection, a reason that I chose this person.
Tyler: I definitely want to know more about Guinevere’s first love, but first, you’ve said you were influenced by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon in writing the novel, but obviously, you were reacting to her rather than just imitating her. What do you think is or was valuable about Bradley’s novel and what is its place in Arthurian literature?
Nicole: For me, it was the emphasis on the female characters and telling their story. All throughout history, we’ve gotten the male perspective. Ms. Bradley turned that on its head. I also think she was groundbreaking in connecting the Arthurian story to Wicca/neopagan worship. While that’s not historically accurate, it spoke to (and continues to speak to) a lot of people in a way that they need, myself included.
Tyler: In the novel, you have Guinevere go to Avalon while young to study there. Why did you choose to have Avalon play a key part in her background?
Nicole: It was natural to me because I knew I wanted to explore the tension between Christianity and paganism at that point in history and that I wanted Guinevere to be pagan. Having Avalon be the female center of Druidism (while Merlin had the male center elsewhere) was a natural outgrowth of my love of The Mists of Avalon. It also gave me a way to have Guinevere grow up with a group of strong-willed, powerful women who would shape who she becomes.
Tyler: Okay. Now back to that love interest question. I was really surprised that Guinevere’s love interest in the novel is Aggrivaine. How did you come to that decision?
Nicole: Well, I knew I wanted her to have a first love before Arthur. Most authors have chosen to make it Lancelot, but I wanted to go in a different direction. The more I explored the legend, I realized in some versions, Mordred isn’t alone in confronting and exposing Lancelot and Guinevere. Sometimes Aggrivane is with him. I started wondering why. What was Aggrivane’s motivation for such a betrayal? Then it hit me. If he and Guinevere were together first, he would naturally want revenge. He would be wondering why, if she was going to have an affair, it wasn’t with him. So I kind of wrote the relationship backwards, from the endgame. Also, because Lot is Aggrivane’s father and Lot’s kingdom of Lothian is in the Votadini lands (where Guinevere’s mom is from), it was helpful for Guinevere to already have a connection to their family. None of it was an accident.
Tyler: That makes perfect sense, Nicole. Aggrivane is often Mordred’s accomplice in Camelot’s fall. That’s brilliant reasoning and not really so surprising then when you think about it. But there are some other surprises about the characters and their relationships. For example, Arthur’s sister is named Ana, and there’s no sister named Morgan le Fay or Morgause? Why did you make those changes?
Nicole: I feel like Ana has gotten lost in all the modern attention to Morgause and Morgan le Fay, both of whom tend to be evil characters. Although Ana is a small character, I wanted to give her back what I feel is her rightful place. In my world, she’s a strong, intelligent queen. Morgan has her own role to play, which you’ll find out in the second book.
Tyler: Of course, there is a Morgan in the novel, and she is a rival to Guinevere. Do you see Morgan as a villain? Is that a reaction against her protagonist role in Mists?
Nicole: Yes, Morgan is the villain. But she has her reasons. She doesn’t know who her parents are and so, as Guinevere observes, Morgan has no tribe, no family outside of Avalon. Therefore, Morgan must do everything she can to secure her place as the darling of Avalon, a role Guinevere also covets. It’s the only way Morgan can survive. Later on, she’s still fighting the same fight, just out in the world, trying to connive her way into survival, and she hopes, eventually to triumph over Guinevere who has been a thorn in her side from an early age.
I don’t think my Morgan was a reaction to Mists, at least not consciously. I’ve always viewed Morgan as a villain.
Tyler: I don’t want to give away too much of the novel, but it’s obvious that Arthur will show up in Guinevere’s life since he’s always her husband in the legend. In this novel, however, he’s a pretty minor character. Did you intentionally hold him off until the end of the book?
Nicole: Yes. This book is meant to show you Guinevere’s life before Arthur becomes a major part in it, to show that she was a person with friends and family, hopes and dreams before queenship ever entered her mind. He becomes a major character in the second book.
Tyler: I’ve seen a lot of Arthurian novelists, especially those who write fantasy, recently be criticized for not trying to create a perfectly historical Arthurian period. How important do you feel it is to create a historical Arthur rather than just a fantasy one, and do you think it matters whether Arthur was historical or not?
Nicole: I don’t think it matters. Personally, I think he did exist on some level, but until we uncover his diary, we just won’t know who that historical Arthur is. History and archeology are changing every single day with new discoveries (for example, they just recently announced that Christians lived at Glastonbury at least 200 years earlier than previously thought) so in some ways, it’s impossible to ever create a historical Arthur. I think you do what you can with the research you can find and as a novelist, are allowed to make up the rest. That’s what separates us from the historians. How historically accurate your world is will depend on your intent—are you trying to show what it really was like in a certain time period? Or are you more interested in the fantasy side? My personal take was a bit of both.
Tyler: I know you did a lot of research on the legend in writing your novels. Will you share with us a little of the experiences you had in doing research and what you learned that most surprised you or shaped your story?
Nicole: Oh gosh. Yes, I did lots of research. There’s a whole page on my website dedicated to it: http://nicoleevelina.com/the-books/guineveres-tale/daughter-of-destiny-book-1/guinevere-trilogy/. Book research was the majority of what I did. It was very interesting to see the number of different theories that were out there on King Arthur. It’s almost like no two people can agree.
I was honored to be able to meet one of my source authors, Geoffrey Ashe, while I was in England as part of an Arthurian legend tour. To get to hear his theories and pick his brain in person was such an honor. As it turned out, the man who led the tour, Jamie George, helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon. I had no idea until I was over there and got to talking. It is such a small world! Then, later on once the first book was finished, I was able to secure an endorsement from John Matthews. He and his wife Caitlin were two of my major sources of research and I respect them both so very much. It was a dream come true to have his name grace the back cover of my book.
I think what surprised me most was what I learned about the dizzying subject of Celtic (Brehon) law. I’ve tried to incorporate a little of it into my books because it’s one of the reasons why Celtic women were so powerful. They had so many more rights than their counterparts around the world. I wish I was enough of an expert in it to speak intelligently about it, but it is just so complex.
Tyler: I’ve traveled and done research as well, and I remember when I visited Glastonbury I felt overcome by a source of energy or power there I had never experienced anywhere else. I just felt so happy and full of energy there. Did you have any experiences like that where you felt connected to an Arthurian landscape or did you just have a favorite place you visited that really helped your imagination come to life for your book?
Nicole: Glastonbury was special to me on a personal level, but not in connection to these books. I’m hoping to get back there this September when I’m in England again. Actually, the place I felt most connected with has nothing to do with these books, but is a main setting for a future dual-time period novel.
As far as Arthurian sites, I loved getting to see Cadbury castle, which some say was Guinevere’s home, or possibly a site for Camelot. I use it as Arthur’s southern power base in the second and third books of this series.
Tyler: The novel has been out a little over a month now. What kinds of responses have you received from readers, and have you been surprised by any of them?
Nicole: I’m surprised by the number of great reviews it’s gotten! Some people really get what I was going for. And when they get it, they get it, as in ALL in. As is to be expected, some people don’t, but that just means they weren’t my intended audience to begin with. One thing I find surprising is that so far, the people who didn’t like Daughter of Destiny have still expressed interest in reading the second book. That’s going to be hard to watch because I have this fear the second book will be very divisive because it’s so dark and deals with heavy subject matter.
Tyler: When can we expect the next two books in the series to be published and what kinds of glimpses can you give us into what will happen to Guinevere in them?
Nicole: The second book, Camelot’s Queen, comes out April 12. That one covers Guinevere’s life with Arthur, her role as a battle queen, her affair with Lancelot and the discovery of the Holy Grail. I can tell you Morgan has a role you won’t see coming, and if you hated Father Marius in the first book, you will loathe him in the second. It’s a much darker book than the first one, covering the subjects of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, all of which have their origin in the legends, and I don’t feel can be ignored simply because they are distasteful. I hope readers see that I have tried to address these issues with respect and give them context so they are not just a plot device, but truly affect the characters’ lives and the decisions they make.
The third book, Mistress of Legend, is tentatively scheduled for late 2016/early 2017. That book begins with the fall of Camelot and the battle of Camlann and then covers Guinevere’s life after Arthur dies. There is a convent involved, but I can promise you she doesn’t live out her days there in penance. She is her mother’s daughter and born to lead, so you will see a strong woman to the end of her days. I have a draft written. I know how it ends. (I’ve known from the beginning.) But the middle of the story is currently missing and I’m not happy with the opening, so I have some work to do.
I tend to think of the three books like this: the first books shows her as a priestess, the second as a queen and third as a warrior.
Tyler: I can’t wait for that third book especially, Nicole. It all sounds fascinating. Thank you for joining me today, Nicole. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information we can find there about Daughter of Destiny?
Nicole: Thank you again for having me, Tyler. It’s always such a pleasure to talk with you because you understand the legends so well.
My website is http://nicoleevelina.com. In addition to learning about the book, you’ll find my research, a pronunciation guide for the character and place names, and the map that’s in the book. I’ve also got a fan section that contains my playlist, research photos, and soon will have deleted scenes and an “If List” page that lets you vote on who should play the characters if a movie was ever made. I need to link my Pinterest boards for the books up to the site as well. Also, if you’re in a book club, there’s a discussion guide, period-appropriate food, drink and music suggestions and you can contact me if you want me to speak or visit your club in person or via Skype.
Tyler: Thanks again, Nicole. It’s been a pleasure.