Launch: Margaret McNellis’s The Red Fletch
INTERVIEW BY TRACEY WARR
How would you describe this book and its themes in a couple of sentences?
Alys Fletcher is aiming for revenge against the legendary Robin of Locksley: for her brother, for their family, for their home. Tyranny and traitors abound, and Alys must choose where her loyalties lie.
What attracted you to writing about Robin Hood and this period of history?
I’ve always loved the legend of Robin Hood because he fights for justice for the average human. However, it wasn’t until I volunteered at a Robin Hood themed Renaissance faire that I created Alys’s character and first got the inclination to write her story. It would be years later still before I began; I started writing The Red Fletch to distract myself while awaiting news on whether my MFA thesis passed muster.
If you’ve been to your setting in and around Nottingham in person, what details from your own journey did you weave into the story? If you haven’t been there, what sources did you draw on to research the setting?
Unfortunately, I haven’t been to Nottingham yet. Most of my work on this novel occurred during the pandemic, so it wouldn’t have been in the cards to travel there anyway. I spent a lot of time weaving together other resources. I visited the Nottingham Castle museum’s website. I visited a castle we have here in Connecticut—it’s not at all like a medieval castle in that it’s made of Connecticut field stones and was built much later, but it has a castle vibe. I revisited images from my trip to Turkey about a decade ago, when I got to stand in medieval buildings and look at a castle from a boat cruising up the Bosporus. I built a Nottingham on The Sims 4, and I drew my own map of Locksley village. I researched what village and town life were like in the Middle Ages. I’m so fortunate to be writing at a time when all of these resources—both for historical information and to create a setting I could think of as I wrote—are so readily available.
You are writing for young adult readers. How does that affect your approach?
I tried to embody myself at a younger age and think about ways to make Alys’s attitudes align with her era as well as make her approachable to 21st-century teens. Because of this, I modernized her language as much as I could and gave her moments where she pushed back against paths toward which the adults in her life attempted to steer her.
Your descriptions of archery are vivid. Is this something you practice yourself or how did you engage with archery as a writer?
I love archery. I have a bow, though I don’t practice nearly as often as I’d like. One of my favorite Renaissance faire activities was to challenge the actor who played Robin to archery matches. We had fun and it was a great way to spend our lunch breaks.
There are many action scenes, such as the rescue of Little John from execution. Can you tell us something about how you tackle writing action and fight scenes?
I loved writing the action and fight scenes for this book. For about 15 years, I trained in Kempo, earned a 3rd-degree black belt, and taught martial arts. It’s easy for me to block out the scenes and think about how they might pan out. I’ve also researched battle techniques for small armies at close range. This helped with the larger scenes as well.
Which character challenged you the most?
Guy of Gisborne. He’s in a really unique position, because he’s ambitious and wants to go along with the sheriff, but he also cares for Alys since they’re family. He feels guilty about how his family treated hers. But sometimes his patience with her wears thin. Where I see Alys as a character capable of moving between social spheres, I see Guy as being trapped between them—and not all that pleased about it.
Who is your favourite minor character and why?
Little John. He’s so kind to Alys, and sees her almost like a daughter or niece. I think their relationship is really sweet.
Alys is evading an unwanted marriage and wants to be a soldier or at least have the freedoms of men. She wants to be able to practice her skill at archery openly. How important is the theme of asexuality for the novel? How do you think about this theme in relation to women living in the medieval period?
I think more people would have identified as LGBTQIA+ in the past were it not illegal and if they had the terms to describe these orientations. Many women were married to men who mistreated them, did not seek consent, and I think for many women, sexual encounters were probably unpleasant. However, I also think that women were as sexual in the past as they are now, and had to hide their sexual appetites for fear of being ostracized. There are plenty of places in our contemporary world where this is still the case.
The Red Fletch is the first in a series, I believe. What is your next project and how far advanced is it?
Book two is called OUTLAWED, and I’m halfway through writing the first draft. I’ve also started planning and researching for book three.
What is the last great book you read?
The Portraitist by Susanne Dunlap (coming in 2022).
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