Sarah Woodbury was featured on several occasions during the HNS 2021 conference. She’s an impressive author with great success in self-publishing and I wrote about one of her presentations in an earlier post.
Today, I’m delighted that Sarah is here for an interview.
Why do you write historical fiction? I chose to write historical fiction because I have always found the past compelling. I have a doctorate in anthropology, so my formal training is in people and culture, and to me history is, in its essence, anthropology of the past. My father was a history professor, and he dragged us (willingly) to every historical site on the continent. It’s interesting that between my husband and me, his father was a systems ecologist, so their vacations looked at the natural world. We did that too in my family, but mostly it was history.
My books are set in medieval Wales, specifically from the moment the Romans marched away from Britain in 410AD to 1300 AD. That’s a wide ranging time period, but that was the era that the Welsh people were responsible for governing themselves and were independent of England. Welsh culture was very different from that of their conquerors (the Saxons/Normans), being rooted in the Celtic world, and a significant aspect of my books is essentially explaining that experience to a modern audience.
Can you tell us a little about your research and the techniques you use to ensure that conflict, plot, setting, dialogue, and characters are true to the time period? I started researching Wales many years before I started writing novels, initially while at university, then as part of a genealogy project with my daughter, and then because I found the time and history so compelling. The first book I wrote was Footsteps in Time, what is now the first book in the After Cilmeri series. This series follows the adventures of a time traveling American family and was prompted by a dream where I drove my minivan into medieval Wales and saved the life of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales. His murder by the English had always hit me hard because it was one of those moments where, if things had fallen out differently and he’d lived, the world might have been a very different place. To have the future of an entire country hinge on one event seemed so improbable and tragic, I couldn’t get it out of my head, even seven hundred years after it happened.
I have been delving deeply into medieval history for decades, but when researching any individual novel, I tend to do it on the fly. I don’t entirely know how bits of the story are going to go until I get to them. These are often internet searches, but I have many books on the period as well, and I pull them out in hopes that they might be relevant!
What are some of the challenges you faced in writing about the long-ago past? One of the challenges of writing historical fiction is making medieval characters and the Middle Ages accessible to a modern audience. That era is so startlingly foreign to how we live now that it’s really important to write such that the reader can find common ground with a medieval character. In general, that’s the challenge of historical fiction as well as anthropology—to make accessible a society that at first glance appears so very different.
Maybe not everybody can claim to be the descendant of a king, but everyone can be inspired by the extent and variety of our ancient past. We can put ourselves in our ancestors’ shoes and stroll across an old bridge, enter a castle, walk Offa’s Dyke or Hadrian’s Wall, or visit an ancient church. And we can all feel that shiver down the spine when we are fortunate enough to touch stones that people—born a thousand years or more before today—chose, and crafted, and placed there.
You’ve concentrated on writing series. What do you enjoy about writing series? I have focused on writing series mostly because I have stories to tell within the worlds I have created. As an independent author, another key factor has to be that it is very difficult to succeed without writing series. I have found that most readers want the next one and would prefer a new book in an older seriesto getting to know an entirely new set of characters. I find that I enjoy delving more deeply into my characters too, which is really only afforded by writing multiple books about them.
My latest series, and my latest novel (released January 8), is Paladin, the third book in the Welsh Guard Mysteries. Unlike all of my previous series, these books take place after the conquest of Wales. The setting, then, is a world that has ended for the Welsh. Their prince is dead, much of their leadership class is dead, their laws and culture have been swept away, in many cases they have been evicted from their land, and even their language is demoted, since all government and administrative work is now done in French, the language of their conquerors. My characters find themselves still alive, however, and somehow they now have to not only navigate this new world in which they are living, but live in it.
Many thanks, Sarah. It’s truly a pleasure to have you here on A Writer of History. I too tend to research ‘on the fly’ once I’ve thoroughly explored a time period. One never knows what will turn up and the effect it might have on the story.
Catrin and Rhys investigate murder at Windsor Castle in Paladin, their third medieval mystery together…
August 1284. On the heels of King Edward’s triumph over Wales, the high point of his reign thus far, he receives the worst news possible: his eldest living son and heir to the throne of England has died. Concerned that his victories in Wales, and even more the manner by which he came by them, have brought the wrath of the Almighty down upon his house, King Edward sends Catrin and Rhys to Windsor Castle to investigate.
But although they find victims and villains a plenty, their far greater test—of friendship, loyalty, and allegiance—is managing the expectations of a grieving king, who fears his son was murdered—and fears even more that he wasn’t.
Readers can find Sarah Woodbury and her books in the following places:
- Webpage: www.sarahwoodbury.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarahwoodburybooks/
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/SarahWoodburyBooks
- Ebooks for all retailers: https://books2read.com/ap/xqN2WR/Sarah-Woodbury
DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION. FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Kobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.