After writing more than ten books set in ancient Rome, I was beginning to feel a little jaded. Don’t get me wrong – I love Rome, always have, always will – but my interest in history has never been confined to just that civilisation. I have had a voracious interest in all things historical since I was a boy. Irish history, British history, European, American, African, it is all grist to my mill. Rome sells, however, and what sells is worth repeating runs the thinking of most publishers. For years I was encouraged to continue writing about Rome, and once gently discouraged from penning a series about the Hundred Years’ War (In retrospect, this was a wise decision because for some odd reason, that conflict doesn’t sell.)
A change of publisher in 2016 saw new interest in me writing other time periods. Bernard Cornwell started writing non-Sharpe novels when he was getting a little bored, the CEO of my new publishers told me over lunch. Would I like to move away from Rome for a while? Yes, I said excitedly. Inspiration for new series is never far away from me. I cannot enter any kind of museum without coming away, mind whirring with new ideas. The same applies to almost everything, from reading historical titbits in the local newspaper, visiting historical sites, or just this Sunday, when poring over a large scale map of the Somerset Levels. I spent my two hour walk wondering about the origin of all the fascinating place names (England’s Brake, Pratt’s Corner, Bolster Lane, Withy Bed, Catwell Wood).
I have long wanted to write a series set in Ireland. The Lionheart trilogy isn’t set in Ireland, but its main character is Irish, a young nobleman from Carlingford. I have previously shied away from my homeland because 70% of my readership is in the UK. Understandably, a good number of them might not make the leap across to an historical Irish series. I have been cautious. I’m a fulltime author; my income pays for my kids’ upkeep, ergo, my books have to sell. This means to some extent that I write what is likely to appeal to readers (see previous comment about Rome).
I don’t wish to sound cynical, just practical. I’d also like to say that my love of history is such that it is easy for me to find an historical period that’s well known. This brings me to Richard Plantagenet, the Lionheart, one of the most revered and reviled English monarchs, and the subject of my current trilogy, the second of which, Crusader, is out now. My editor’s eyes lit up when I suggested writing about Richard; my own mind ran riot when I read his life story. He was the son of Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most powerful women in medieval times, and Henry II, a shrewd politician and king who unified England after a generation of civil war. Richard’s family politics were extraordinary: aided and abetted by his mother, he and two brothers rebelled against their father when the three were still teenagers. That conflict was settled, but only a few years later Richard’s two brothers were revolting against Henry for a second time. Richard stayed loyal from then on, at least until he allied himself with the French king, most prominent of England’s enemies.
Richard led armies in battle and prosecuted numerous successful sieges, all before he was twenty. He was fearless in battle throughout his life. There are countless first-hand accounts of his insane bravery and daring. How could anyone not want to write about a man who led a charge on an entire Muslim army with thirteen knights? He was not just a knucklehead fighter, however. An accomplished musician, Richard also wrote poetry. He was interested in other peoples and formed friendships with Muslims in the Holy Land, both highly unusual actions at the time. Famously curt, he was sometimes known in the Occitan tongue as ‘Oc e non’, ‘Yes and no’. His favourite expression was ‘God’s legs!’ Quick to anger, he was also forgiving of his enemies, a trait he inherited from his father. In my mind, that makes him a giant, and a fascinating character to write about.
With the inspiration and the writing come the challenges. Historical authenticity is key; without it, a novel set in the past can be excruciating. After years of writing novels with little more than scraps of information from Roman times, the scope and wealth of information about the twelfth century in general and Richard in particular felt like winning the lottery. This was especially true of Crusader. Almost unable to help myself, I wove in too much historical detail to the first draft. My editor, as all good editors do, reined me in, and gently suggested an edit. The novel lost 15% of its previous length, but is a tauter beast for it, and I believe, still deeply rooted in the world of Richard the Lionheart. I hope my readers agree!
(c) Ben Kane
KING. POLITICIAN. WARRIOR. CONQUEROR.
1189. Richard the Lionheart’s long-awaited goal comes true as he is crowned King of England. Setting his own kingdom in order, he prepares to embark on a gruelling crusade to reclaim Jerusalem.
With him on every step of the journey is Ferdia, his loyal Irish follower. Together they travel from southern France to Italy, to the kingdom of Sicily and beyond.
Finally poised to sail to the Holy Land, Richard finds a bitter two-year-long siege awaiting him. And with it, the iconic Saracen leader responsible for the loss of Jerusalem, Saladin.
No one can agree who should fill the empty throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Saladin’s huge army shadows Richard’s every move. Conditions are brutal, the temperatures boiling, and on the dusty field of Arsuf, the Lionheart and his soldiers face their ultimate test…
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