Writing the Legend Anew: James Wilde’s Hereward Series
James Wilde’s aim was clear from the very beginning of his Hereward series, set in England in the bloody aftermath of the Norman invasion of 1066. As the author underscored in his recent interview with me, his intention was always to help bring the English medieval legend, Hereward, back from the fog of myth and forgotten history and “to show the creation of both the man and the legend.”
In that ambition, he has succeeded with the creation of the six terrifically gritty novels that make up the Hereward series. Unfortunately for fans who have lapped up the latest adventures of Hereward in The Bloody Crown (Bantam UK, 2016), this is the last instalment for quite a while. Devoted fans may find it hard to believe, but James Wilde says that he “didn’t want Hereward to outstay his welcome with readers.” Thankfully, though, this is not the last novel featuring Hereward; Wilde reassures readers that there is “one more story to tell, about Hereward’s return to England.” That narrative will, he promises, deliver “a closing of the circle of the themes” about which he’s been writing.
Hereward has evolved considerably through the series, transforming from the almost feral animal of the first book, a man who reacted to “situations on instinct, usually in the most violent way possible,” to the far cannier operator of this newest tale, The Bloody Crown. Hereward now brandishes his sharp strategic mind almost as pitilessly as his customarily deadly weapons, his fists and his sword, in the political snake pit of Byzantium.
How did Wilde manage that character transition over the course of the six book series? “I knew from the outset what each book was about, and what it would take for Hereward to overcome each obstacle.” That knowledge underpinned the character throughout the series, with Wilde plunging into psychological research, spending time “looking at how people react to similar upbringings” and asking questions such as “What are the stages of his growth? What particular experiences developed his character?” That in-depth research gave the author a “clear psychological map from book one to book six” for Hereward’s journey.
Now that he has paused the Hereward series, what mythic treasures will James Wilde proffer to his reading public? Here, the author’s excitement is clear. Leaving behind the constraints of writing about the “story of one man’s life,” Wilde is creating a new three-book series set in England’s Dark Age, concentrating on “an idea, not an individual,” something that the author feels has offered him much greater freedom.
The Dark Age in England means King Arthur, doesn’t it? Wilde dismisses that idea straight away: “Pendragon – which is the working title of the first Dark Age book and won’t make the final cut – is NOT about King Arthur.” The new book, which will be published in early 2017, is about the broader legend, “the bloodline which eventually leads to the characters and events that helped shape the King Arthur myth.” Wilde’s new series will contain “many of the core elements of Arthurian lore, but seen from a unique angle,” and he adds that the novels to come are “epic in scope” with a story that “reaches from Britain to Gaul to Rome, includes a huge cast of characters, and covers a hundred years of history.”
James Wilde may be stepping away from the Hereward saga, but for the author there is a clear connection between the old and the new series. His Dark Age series will allow him both to explore “another of the great English foundation myths” and to continue along the path that he has already marked out with his examination of the growth of Hereward the legend. Wilde can consider afresh how “legend arises out of history” in his new Dark Age series, something fans of the Hereward series can look forward to with some excitement.
More information about James Wilde can be found at www.manofmercia.co.uk.
About the contributor: Gordon O’Sullivan is a freelance writer and researcher.
Published in Historical Novels Review | Issue 78, November 2016