Charlene is a navy vet, a retired librarian, and the mother of three adult children – definitely the right qualifications to be a writer! Researching the life and times of Robin Hood kept her up late at night while writing Rogue.
What a rogue (no pun intended), that Robin Hood. If you’re like me, your knowledge about the legendary outlaw who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor has come from countless movies or television shows. Readers may know Robin from literature like “The Gest of Robyn Hode,” one of numerous ballads dating back to the 15th century, or from novels like Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. In most stories, Robin lived in Sherwood Forest, was a crack shot with bow and arrow, and had made an enemy of the Sheriff of Nottingham and King John.
My interest – okay, more like obsession, despite the anachronisms – with the Robin Hood (BBC 2006-09) series really piqued my curiosity, but more in the era than the character. I hadn’t intended to write a Robin Hood novel.
My first medieval historical novel centered on fictional knights serving Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade.
With a master’s degree in library science, I knew how to research. Working in a university library had its perks. Dozens of secondary resources sat on the shelves: biographies of the famous and infamous, nonfiction on the culture, society, politics, medieval warfare, etc., and journal articles, many acquired through interlibrary loan. And bless the internet, where I had access to digital resources like translations of contemporary chronicles and YouTube channels like Modern History TV.
One plus of writing historical fiction is that the facts are already on the record – though being aware of bias in those sources is always important. I regularly compared accounts from multiple sources. Contemporary works like Chronicle of the third crusade : A translation of the itinerarium peregrinorum et gesta regis ricardi gave me an almost day-by-day account of the expedition to take Jerusalem back after it fell to Saladin. All I had to do was weave my fictional characters’ story arcs into that setting. (Haha… ‘all I had to do’. More on that shortly.)
One of the secondary characters in my novel was a knight named Robin (who happened to be good with bow). I tied him to an unrequited love in England with a girl named Marian. And then two teenagers showed up, a sort of Artful Dodger-Oliver Twist duo, supposedly in a one-shot scene. They begged to be part of the story, so I called them Allan and Little John. Consciously or not, I was creating my own origin story for the legend.
A second book took my knights to England – mainly centered on Nottingham, Lincoln, and York. So off to England I went (and continue to go whenever I can)! I wouldn’t trade visiting those places for anything in the world, but there have been significant changes to the towns and surrounding countryside since the 12th century. So back down the research rabbit holes I went.
Did you know about the earthquake of 1185 that brought down parts of Lincoln Cathedral? What had been rebuilt by the mid 1190s when my characters are there? The Observatory Tower of Lincoln Castle wasn’t built until the 19th century. Clifford’s Tower (scene of a horrible massacre of Jews in 1190) in York was wooden in 1190, and part of a much larger castle very little of which still stands. Sherwood Forest, once visible from Nottingham Castle, is about five percent the size it was, and about 20 miles north of town. And about Nottingham Castle – the stone gatehouse was built more than 50 years after the time of my book. (Could have gotten myself in deep trouble if I’d missed that little fact!) The history of the castle is fascinating (including its caves and tunnels), but there aren’t many signs of the 12th century structure now. The castle was demolished at the end of the English Civil War in the 1600s; a ducal mansion was built atop Castle Rock in the 1670s, burnt by rioters in 1831, and renovated in the 1870s.
The secondary characters I introduced stayed with me through a three book series, and by the time I wrote the third book, I had introduced others from the Robin Hood legend – Tuck, Much the Miller’s son, and a brief appearance from Will Scaflock. There were hints of their Robin-Hood-like activities, but no true gang living in Sherwood.
So the characters were there, some fleshed out more than others. The settings are there. What else is there to know except the story arc for our main characters?
Well, quite a bit actually…
And what is interesting is that I started with all this information about historical persons, places, politics, society, and culture, but discovered what I didn’t know and needed to research as I wrote each novel. For example, my characters spent a lot of time in the saddle, and they weren’t the Western or English type that I used in my limited experience horseback riding as a teenager. Traveling fifty miles a day was quite a feat. What if I needed to move an entire army that same distance?
Readers of M.K. Tod and many of her guests’ posts on A Writer of History will know that even writers of stories taking place in the 20th or 21st centuries have a laundry list of research tidbits. You can’t have a person wearing Calvin Klein’s Eternity in 1980, talking on their iPhone or googling something in 1995, driving their Tesla in 2007, or using DNA analysis to solve a crime in 1901.
Writing about life in the 12th and 13th centuries sent me on fact-finding dives for the same types of things that writers of any time period might need to know: the features of a home/manor/castle, what people wear, what fabrics are used, what people eat.
I had another learning curve, too, as I chose to set the new novel 16 years after King Richard’s death near the end of King John’s reign. John’s barons had risen against him after Magna Carta (June 1215); the French had invaded and were ravaging southern England; rebel barons offered the English crown to King Philip of France; and the Scots marched south to Dover to pledge fealty to Philip’s son Louis. The Itinerary of King John & the Rotuli Litterarum Patentium was a valuable research resource I discovered while reading biographies of John and contemporary writers’ accounts. With John being a real threat to Robin and his friends, The Itinerary covers nearly every day of John’s reign and helped me narrow down the timeline for the novel.
Historical fiction shines when a writer weaves bits of the details of the time period into the plot. Avoiding info-dumps of the vast array of information gleaned from research is critical. No lectures. It’s an art. I hope I’ve done it well in my Robin-who-is-not-yet-Hood novel. Rogue is a tale of knights and outlaws, of spies and lovers, of a father and a son, set against the backdrop of the reign of King John. I hope you’ll check it out!
A knight sworn to keep a family secret.
A king who seeks revenge.
A daring plan to save one life…or condemn many.
England 1216AD. Sir Robert Fitzwilliam faithfully serves the English crown, but when the outlaw Allan a Dale, a childhood friend, is captured and thrown in the sheriff’s dungeons beneath Nottingham Castle, trouble is certain to follow.
Allan’s days are numbered. Nothing would please King John more than to see an old nemesis hanged. Nothing except watching Robert’s estranged father, Robin, dangling dead from a rope beside him.
When his father joins forces with the Hood gang to rescue Allan, enlisting the aid of friends and even the girl he loves, Robert must decide where his loyalties lie.
TALES OF ROBIN HOOD
Before there was Robin Hood, there was Allan of the Hood. You know their story – in Sherwood Forest, they rob from the rich and give to the poor. Rogue is a retelling of the origins of the Robin Hood legends set during a time of a rebellion and invasion near the end of King John’s reign. It’s a thrilling adventure of loyalty, love, sacrifice, spies, and intrigue.
Many thanks, Char. My youngest grandson was just asking me to write a novel about knights and castles. Perhaps yours will inspire some ideas! Best wishes for great success with Rogue.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, 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.