Interview with Author Elizabeth May
History. The stuff of legends and heroes. There is one area that is not always written about in historical fiction. The Roman occupation of Britain.
Elizabeth May tries to correct this in her book, Roman Sunset. This was a very good book that takes the reader into a time from long ago and introduces him to Roman soldiers who want to make Britain their home and those whose ancestors were there when the isles were created. Conflict and friendship develop.
These stories become even more interesting when I get to ask the author questions. They give me more insight to the story. Here is the interview Ms. May graciously gave me.
What attracts you to the Roman occupied British period?
I have set my books in the fifth century AD. I find this a fascinating period because though we know what went on in the previous four centuries from written sources and archaeology, the fifth century has hardly any written records. We know the Roman legions had gone from Britain by 410 but our next solid evidence is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle compiled by monks from the early 600s after Christianity was reintroduced into what was becoming England. So a writer has a blank canvas to work with. I like the idea of being able to take characters, who I think were much the same as we are now, and explore how they would have reacted to events and managed to survive those traumatic times. Although I have battles in my novels, it is the lives of ordinary people I try to explore. How did they feed themselves, start families and nurture their children?
Did you start off with the book planned out or let it develop as you wrote?
When I wrote Roman Sunset I started with two scenes: one with the protagonist, Quintus and the other with the character I thought was going to be the antagonist, Oengus (I pronounce that as Angus). I also had two characters Owain and his girlfriend Llinos whose story I intended to be the backdrop to the drama. However, the book took over and as I went from chapter to chapter the tale took on a life of its own. I found the same happened with the sequel Roman Twilight. However, with subsequent books I have tried to draw up a storyboard for the whole story and individual chapters and follow that.
How did you go about choosing names for your characters?
I try to be authentic as possible with character names. I have various nationalities and tribes in my books and try to keep them consistent. Quintus is a Roman soldier so I have given him a typical Roman name. For other Roman characters, I have used historically recorded names. Oengus comes from an area in Scotland now called Angus so I gave him an older version of that name. I have Britons and Germans as well. Owain (Owen) and Llinos (Glynis) are Welsh names; in brackets are their English equivalents.
How much research was involved and where did you find most of what you were looking for?
Extensive research goes into the books. I read extensively books by history experts of the period; Peter Heather, Ken Dark and Neil Faulkner among others. I like to include passages in my books of quirky findings, such as when the raiders escaped north they had to get over Hadrian’s Wall. In my book I mention that they used a ramp made of earth; this comes from archaeological evidence. I also like to visit the places mentioned in my books. My patient husband has been dragged around hill forts, Hadrian’s Wall forts and York to help me with atmosphere for my writing.
How long did it take to write the book?
Roman Sunset took three years to write. Although it is probably fair to point out that I was also employed full-time while writing this book and could only fit writing into my spare time. However, I already had done a fair amount of research into the subject matter.
Did you work solely on this book or did you also work on other material?
I write one book at a time. I find it hard to focus on other writing.
What do you love the most about writing?
Getting lost on the plot and trying to plan how the characters would tackle the problems I have thrown at them.
What advice can you give someone who wants to try writing historical fiction?
Do not ignore the importance of writing about an era and people that you are interested in. If the period doesn’t capture your imagination, I don’t think you can expect others to be interested in your book when you’re not enthusiastic about the background.
Is there a special place you work at?
No, I can write anywhere. I normally write on an old laptop in a converted bedroom but I write anytime I have a spare moment. Many long plane journeys have disappeared as I find myself engulfed in a story. On occasion, I have been writing longhand in a notebook only to find the plane has landed and I have been barely aware of it.
Who or what is your muse?
Historical novels have captured my attention since I could first read. My favorite authors are Rosemary Sutcliffe, Ellis Peters, Patrick O’Brian and Bernard Cornwell.
Thank You, Ms. May
Thank you so much, Ms. May for taking the time to read my questions and answer them. I want to read the book again now. I just got the sequel and will be reading it soon.
To the readers:
If you love historical fiction, check this book out. The link to purchase it is below.