Giles Kristian on love and hatred in the English Civil War, and his new release Brothers’ Fury
GK: Honestly, no I’m not. Although The Bleeding Land series is set against the backdrop of the English Civil War, it is really a story about a family torn apart by terrible events, and the tale of those individuals as they strive to survive and struggle with their own internal conflicts. Of course I do what I can to draw the reader into the period and I do the research, which can be laborious. I work hard to create that sense of time and place and I’m thrilled when I hear readers say that they feel that they are totally invested in the world I’ve created. But the Civil Wars were such complex affairs that I haven’t even begun to try to really shed a light on the reasons for the conflict, be they religious, social, political or whatever. Were I to attempt to ‘educate’ the reader (and myself in the bargain no doubt) I feel I’d end up boring us all. For me the times provide a brilliant and rich setting in which to tell a story of people. It’s more a story about familial ties, love, honour, duty, anger, vengeance and hatred. In answer to the question then, I’m as immersed as I need to be to tell a great (hopefully) story, and no more than that. As the for the Viking stories, well that’s in my blood. It’s written in the tattoos on my skin. I live with that stuff.
GK: In book one, The Bleeding Land, it’s fair to say that although Tom begins the tale as a carefree young man, by the end events have taken their toll and turned him into a dark and somewhat bitter soul. There is a part of Tom that thrives on the chaos of war. He seems oblivious to the dangers of battle and remains unmoved by its horrors. Indeed, having suffered much, one feels that the only reason Tom really wants to survive is to wreak his revenge on his enemies. And to survive in war you must kill. By contrast Mun (Edmund) is an idealist, a young man keen to discharge his duty and uphold the family honour. However, this sense of family supersedes even his regard for duty, his respect for authority and his belief in the natural order of things. That’s one of the things I wanted to explore in this novel; how far my characters are prepared to go for the sake of familial bonds, or the desire for revenge, for love, for duty etc. We are all products of our environment and if war is your environment then you will change and adapt to it, and that’s what I find interesting. Nevertheless, whilst Tom continues on his nihilistic quest in Brothers’ Fury, we find that circumstances have transformed Mun into a dark, vengeful character in his own right. And yet still he cannot accept what he sees as Tom’s betrayal. He will not forgive his brother for turning his back on them all and fighting against his king. Now, Bess…
RL: Tell us about Bess and her story.
GK: Bess has suffered too. She has loved and lost (no spoilers in case you haven’t read The Bleeding Land) and yet her road to salvation lies, she believes, in the re-uniting of her fractured family. For Bess there is a real sense of place being overwhelmingly important and that place is Shear House in Parbold, Lancashire. She feels that if she can only get her brothers back under the roof of Shear House things might get better, the family might begin to heal. So in Brothers’ Fury Bess makes the incredibly brave decision to leave the relative safety of her home, and further more leave her newborn baby, Little Francis, and take to the road to find Tom and bring him back into the fold. It was important for me to write strong female characters in this series and Bess is easily as brave, if not braver, than her brothers, not simply because she is prepared to face the physical dangers of the road, journeying through a country at war, but also for her positive outlook and determination despite all she has lost. She is the best of them, really, and if she can succeed then perhaps there is hope after all.
RL: I like the importance you give to the printing press in this book. Have you used any specific pamphlets from the time in your book? How did the war of words influence and change the Civil Wars?
GK: I’m glad this plot line struck a chord with you, as I had some fun with it. I amused myself by giving Tom the mission of destroying a printing press. Now, in an age when publishing is in such a state of flux (and frankly struggling in some ways) I got a dark little kick out of the idea of Tom blowing up what was essentially a publishing house (hope my editor doesn’t read this). But there’s a more serious element to it too. The newspaper I describe, Mercurius Aulicus, was one of the first newspapers in England and as such it was extremely important. Printed in the King’s new capital, Oxford, its job was to spread Royalist propaganda in Parliament-held London. This really marks the start of using journalism as a political tool to disseminate carefully chosen information, promote ideas and divide opinion beyond conventional reach. Previously newspapers had provided information but now they would openly mock and smear their political opponents in ways we are very familiar with today. As Captain Crafte says to Tom and his comrades, ‘The threat of Mercurius Aulicus lies in its capability of addressing a greater audience than manuscripts or the human voice.’ Plus, I got to begin a chapter with the words, ‘Well, I wouldn’t wipe my arse with it.’
RL: Your covers depict a soldier story – but the books themselves are more family sagas, or sagas of families divided. Is war just a catalyst here? Or is it integral to the nature of the characters, as it was in the Raven books?
GK: I’m glad you noticed that there’s more to the tale than battles and war! Not that anyone would suspect that from the covers. Nevertheless, the conflict is integral to the characters because within the arena of war we see the best and the worst in people, the heroism and bravery as well as the brutality and draw-dropping cruelty. War is an extreme state and within extremes we learn much about the characters. I think as ingredients for fiction you can’t go wrong with love and hate. Here we have the love of family and ideals such as honour and duty. But on the flip side we have hatred, too, and that is manifested in war. And yet it feels quite different to the Raven saga (at least it does to me) because in that tale the war is almost a hobby. It’s what the Vikings choose to do and by Odin they’re good at it! In The Bleeding Land war is what must be done, the characters are thrust into the maelstrom of it and some men, such as Mun and Tom, find they have a talent for it. In many respects it’s through the savage and unforgiving lens of war that we see the characters. We see them at their extremes and this makes for good reading. I hope.
RL: King or Parliament, Catholic or Puritan: do you think it was ever as simple as that?
GK: Yes I think in some cases it probably was that simple. Some folk would never have questioned their allegiance, would have had no recourse but to do their duty to those to whom they were beholden, be they social superiors, landlords or employers. Many would simply have clung to virtues of honour and conscience. Others would have burned with their own convictions whether religious or political, and still others would have marched to war for the progression of social change. But I imagine thousands would have preferred no part whatever in the conflict, much less known which side to fight for. Such people would rather have been left alone to get on with their lives. Some folk would not even have known that the country was at war with itself. Before the Battle of Marston Moor, (two years into the conflict) some soldiers came across a farm worker going about his business on the proposed site of the battle. When told that he was standing in a field upon which Parliament and the King would soon do battle he said: ‘Whaat! Has them two fallen out, then?’
RL: I gather that you sold film rights for the Raven series – sounds very exciting. Any news on that?
GK: Well, I’ve sold the option, which is the first part of the process. Often film options get sold and that’s the last thing you ever hear about it. Even if that was what happened with Raven it wouldn’t be the end of the world (we’ll get three very nice family holidays out of just the option deal, thank you very much) but I am in regular contact with the company developing the project and I can tell you that their intention is there. It’s a long road and the movie business is full of sh…well, you know, but I know they haven’t bought the option to stick it in a drawer somewhere. At the moment they’re pitching the idea and trying to attach big names to the project (director, actors etc) with a view to securing the funding. I can’t say much about it at this stage, I’m afraid. So yes, early days, but I’m a great believer in thinking big, so we’ll see.
RL: Lead times being what they are, I imagine that you are already well on with The Bleeding Land 3. Do you have an inkling about where you’re going after that?
GK: I have lots to tell you about what’s coming next. However, as much as I’m straining at the leash to talk about it, I’m sorry to say I’m not supposed to mention it for a little while longer. But soon I shall make an announcement and you’ll be the first to know!
Posted by Richard Lee