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I’m pleased to welcome back Nicole Evelina, author of the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy. Nicole has been a guest here in the past when I interviewed her about her previous books in the series, Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen. Reviews of those books and my previous interviews with Nicole can all be found here at ChildrenofArthur.com. Before we get into today’s interview, here’s a little background information about Nicole.

Nicole Evelina, author of the Guinevere trilogy

Nicole Evelina has spent the last nineteen years researching the Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain, and the various peoples, cultures, and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome.

Nicole holds a BA in English and an MA in media communications. Her previous novels have won multiple awards, including two Book of the Year designations and the North Street Book Prize. Her non-Arthurian works include Madame Presidentess, a historical novel about Victoria Woodhull, the first American woman to run for president way back in 1872, and Been Searching for You, a contemporary love story. Nicole is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society.

Tyler: Welcome, Nicole. I’m delighted to have you back, and I have to say I was completely wowed by how you ended this trilogy. For starters, will you tell us why you decided to have Mistress of Legend continue Guinevere’s story beyond the Battle of Camlann?

Nicole: I’m so glad you liked it! My goal in writing the trilogy was to explore Guinevere’s whole life, not just the parts that include King Arthur. So, just like I covered her youth in Daughter of Destiny, I wanted to shed light upon her life after the fall of Camelot in Mistress of Legend. Guinevere was her own woman, independent of the men history associates her with, and it was important for me to show that in order to dispel the long-held belief that she couldn’t function once Arthur died. She still had very much living to do, thank you very much.

Tyler: To my knowledge, Parke Godwin’s novel Beloved Exile (1984) was the only other Arthurian novel to tell Guinevere’s story after Camelot’s fall. How would you say your book or your vision for Guinevere was different from Godwin’s?

Nicole: Oh, I loved that book! It was one of the two (along with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon) that really influenced my portrayal. I loved that Godwin made his Guinevere a strong, intelligent woman. It gave me the courage to do so as well. That being said, I didn’t think it very likely that the queen of Britain (SPOILER ALERT) would be taken captive as a Saxon slave as she is in Beloved Exile. The idea rang very false with me as a reader. I went in a different direction because of that, but also because of the backstory I had given Guinevere and her mother. I wanted to bring the series full circle by connecting her with her heritage. Also, it was important to me that she not seek the throne of Camelot, as she has done in other novels. After all she’s been through, my Guinevere is tired of politics and war, though she does get pulled back into both just by the nature of her former position.

Tyler: Your Arthur comes off looking somewhat weak and ineffective at the end of the novel? What were your goals in your depiction of Arthur, especially as a contrast or complement to Guinevere?

Nicole: I don’t know that I would necessarily characterize him as weak. He’s more lost and confused. Father Marius’ betrayal and its almost-deadly consequences have shaken him to his core, resulting in a king who is not only unsure of himself, he’s also for the first time being doubted and mistrusted by his people. We tend to think of Arthur as this superman, this all-powerful, almost godlike figure, but I wanted to portray him as very much human, prey to insecurities and crippled by pain just like everyone else. Whereas the events of Camelot’s Queen brought Arthur to a breaking point, Guinevere was able to use the calamity to strengthen herself all the more. In many ways, the series is about how two very different personalities process adversity. As we see in the previous books, Arthur can handle external political challenges just fine, but he is incredibly vulnerable when it comes to matters of love and emotion, especially where Guinevere and Morgan are concerned. Guinevere’s trial and sentencing and the role Morgan may or may not have played deeply affect both women, and in many ways that is Arthur’s Achilles’ heel. Guinevere, on the other hand, is more used to emotional upheaval, having dealt with so much of it in her past. As we see in Mistress of Legend, it is the external, political aspect of her role that she struggles with, despite her years of experience. If you think about it, that makes sense because she never intended to become queen, much less contemplated ruling Camelot without Arthur, so she wasn’t exactly prepared for the role fate thrusts upon her (once again) and we see her struggle with that.

Tyler: Did you find it easier or harder to write the parts of the novel that are not based deeply in the Arthurian legend?

Nicole: Easier. There aren’t nearly as many expectations involved in the parts of the story that aren’t part of the cannon of the Arthurian legend. That means I was able to let my imagination run free and use history as a guide to direct where Guinevere’s story went—when the characters weren’t totally throwing me for a loop, that is.

Tyler: I was fascinated by the role of religion in the novel, especially at one point when Guinevere decides to start praying to the Virgin Mary even though she doesn’t believe in Christianity. What kind of message about religion were you trying to convey in the novel?

Nicole: One of the things that was important for me to explore in this series is the conflict between paganism (in this case Druidism) and Christianity in the early Dark Ages. This was a very real, historical struggle that affected hundreds of thousands of people. I was able to use Guinevere’s paganism as a way to explore the old ways that were dying out and show the rise of Christianity through Arthur and his conversion from the cult of Mithras. It’s a well-established fact that in converting pagan peoples, the Catholic Church adopted or subsumed many pagan deities and traditions. One of these was the idea of a divine mother-figure. Paganism was polytheistic, and many versions included the worship of one or more goddesses, who were naturally identified with motherhood, given that is a uniquely female role. To lose that portion of their faith would be untenable to the people they were trying to convert, so the Church encouraged veneration of (although not officially, worship, but I suspect many common people did in fact, worship) Christ’s mother, the Virgin Mary.

Throughout the books in this series, Guinevere is highly aware of the similarities (and differences) between Christianity and her own faith. When she is at her lowest point, when she feels like everything and everyone she has ever loved has been taken away from her, including her own identity, she naturally turns to this mother-figure, just as we as children cry to our human mothers. At the time, she is in a Christian convent (and very hurt by what she sees as abandonment by her own gods and goddesses), so she seeks refuge where she can, at the feet of the Blessed Virgin. Some readers may note that in The Mists of Avalon, Morgaine has a similar experience, but I want to be clear that unlike Morgaine, Guinevere never considered converting to Christianity. She is very much aware that the Christian faith is not for her, yet she sees echoes of her own mother goddesses in the Blessed Virgin, and, therefore, finally gives herself permission to turn to her in time of grief, adding another goddess to her personal pantheon.

Tyler: Guinevere is not the only strong female character in the novel. She comes into conflict multiple times with other strong women, including Morgan, Evina, and Elga. Will you tell us why you included them in the novel, especially since the latter two are your own creation?

Nicole: While this book is Guinevere’s story, it would have been very boring if Guinevere was always right and always had all the answers. I’m seeking to portray her as human, so she has to have adversaries and foils, just like we all do. I also wanted to show that she was not the only woman to be reckoned with in Dark Ages Camelot, a time when respect for women was within bardic, if not living, memory. I also wanted to explore the different peoples of Britain at the time, so I needed a strong Saxon (Elga) and a strong Votadini (Evina) to compare and contrast with Guinevere. All three women have very different moral compasses and different approaches to power, which is part of what I think makes them work so well together, as well as what helps enrich the world of the book.

Mistress of Legend tells a new story of what happened to Guinevere after Arthur’s passing.

Tyler: Typically, after Camelot’s fall, we are told Constantine became King of Britain. You mention Constantine, but he plays only a minor role in the novel. What would you say was the state of Britain after Arthur’s death and what challenges did you face in depicting that situation?

Nicole: I think Britain would have been in total chaos. No one expected Arthur to die so young, and for his heir to die at the same time would have been unthinkable. There really would have been no blueprint for how to move forward. Add to that the fact that many, many power-hungry men (and maybe a few women) would have seen this as an opportunity for advancement, one which they would use any means to achieve, and you have a recipe for civil war.

One of the main challenges for me was that my story is one of women and they aren’t the ones history typically remembers, so I had to construct their story based on what might possibly have happened. Another challenge was helping readers to understand and remember the complex political situation of the time. It took me a long time to get it straight, and I have all the resources at my fingertips, whereas readers have only what I can reasonably put into the story without messing up the narrative flow. My answer to that was to try to simplify it down to a handful of key players and get readers truly invested in the roles that each person plays so they were more likely to remember who was who.

Tyler: I’m frequently asked questions about the Arthurian legend on Quora, and one question I was recently asked was “Why do you think so many retellings of the Arthurian legend fail?” How would you answer that question, and what do you think you’ve done to make yours succeed?

Nicole: Well, as with any type of book, some are just poorly written or constructed, but I think many fail because they simply retread the same old material over and over. That gets boring very fast. I have had purists criticize me for taking the story in another direction than the one they treasured/expected, but if you don’t add anything new to myth and legend, it can’t grow. As we see over and over in the evolution of the Matter of Britain, each author who has come down to us through time has added his or her own mark to the traditional story, fleshing it out, changing it to meet the needs and expectations of his or her time. This is what gives it life and keeps it from becoming irrelevant. As you can tell, I’m rather passionate on this subject; I actually wrote a book on how Guinevere has changed over time, The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend.

Only time will tell whether my books succeed or fail, but I believe I have given them a strong shot at success by doing just that, taking the character of Guinevere—and with her, the rest of the Arthurian legend—to places previously unexplored. For example, few authors have asked the question “What was Guinevere’s life like before she met Arthur?” or “What did Guinevere do after Arthur’s death? What if she didn’t take the easy way out and become a nun?” I sought to answer those questions as my way of adding to the time-honored story.

I think two other things may help my books last. One is that I created a Guinevere who can stand up to the scrutiny of feminism and the #MeToo movement. She is a strong woman for a new generation. While she’s not perfect and she has her moments of being used (especially as a political pawn in Daughter of Destiny and Mistress of Legend), she certainly is no one’s docile doormat and she finds ways to make the most of what life hands her, which is something everyone struggles with. The other thing that I hope will help my books is that they are very much anchored in the history of the late fifth and early sixth centuries. That means they have a chance of remaining relevant as a way to experience and understand that mysterious time period, if nothing else.

Tyler: Now that you’ve finished your trilogy, do you think you’ll write anything more about the Arthurian legend, either in fiction or non-fiction?

Nicole: Yes, I do. I’m planning to eventually write Isolde’s story, which already has a good head start given that I have something like 40,000 words that I cut from Camelot’s Queen that help tell her tale. Sobian, my fictional pirate-turned-assassin, wants her own novel, so that is on the horizon, and I’m toying with the idea of telling Morgan’s side of the story, given that there is so much that happens with her off the page in this series. I’d also love to play with how she sees herself versus how Guinevere saw her, and I want to find out what else happens to her daughter, Helena, whom we meet in Mistress of Legend. I see each of those being their own book, so there may well be another trilogy in the future.

I also really want to do a series guide/companion guide that gives you a behind-the-scenes type look at the world of my Arthurian books and goes into detail about many of the aspects of my world and its characters. I think I likely will end up crowdfunding that one.

Unfortunately, none of these are top priority at the moment because I need to switch my focus to books that will hopefully land me a traditional publishing deal and finance these future Arthurian dream children of mine, which likely will all be self-published.

Tyler: They all sound like fascinating books, though, Nicole, and I’ll be eager to read them. But what projects are you currently working on?

Nicole: As I said above, I’m looking toward traditional publishing. I am currently researching sample chapters for a non-fiction proposal for a book on the history of feminism in the United States, which I’d really like to release in August 2020, to coincide with the centennial of women getting the right to vote in the U.S. On the fiction front, my next novel will be a biographical historical exploration of a little-known World War II heroine who was a French nun who worked for the resistance. I can’t wait to share her story with the world!

Tyler: Those sound awesome too. I can’t wait to read them. Thank you again, Nicole, for joining me. I have no doubt Mistress of Legend is going to be another award winner for you. Thank you for helping us see the Arthurian legend in new ways through Guinevere’s eyes, and best of luck with all your future books.

Nicole: Thank you. And thanks so much for your support and enthusiasm along the way. Friends and readers like you make the writing journey so much easier. I’m so glad we have been able to share our passion for the Arthurian legend!

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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