I am really excited to bring you my interview with historical fiction author Richard Masefield as part of the blog tour for his latest novel The White Cross! I am really excited to read this book and travel back in time to the late 12th century.
Set in the late twelfth century at the time of King Richard I’s crusade to win back Jerusalem from the Saracens, The White Cross deals with timeless issues – with the moralities of warfare and fundamental religion, the abuse of power, the heights of martial fervour and the depths of disillusionment The writing pulses with life, capturing the sights and sounds, the very smells of medieval life. At the novel’s heart is the relationship between Garon and Elise – the story of an arranged marriage which rapidly develops into something deeper, to challenge a young husband’s strongly held beliefs and set him on a long and painful journey to self-realisation, to break and finally restore a woman’s spirit as she battles for recognition and for justice in a brutal man’s world. And then there is the Berge dal becce; a character who is surely more than he appears? The only way to uncover all the secrets of The White Cross is to read it!
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- When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?
I come from a family of authors. So from childhood onwards I found it natural to experiment with writing – although it wasn’t until, as a strapped-for-cash dairy farmer I needed desperately to make a profit from my writing, that I decided to get published if I possibly could!
- As an author of historical fiction you get to time travel. If time travel were real and you could go to one time period, where would you go and why?
It’s all very well for Doctor Who. For most of us the problem with real time travel to any time other than this would be of how to get out of it alive! That aside, I’d like to have been a witness in the King’s Hall of the Tower of London for the trial of Anne Boleyn. Or an Egyptian eighteenth dynasty tourist visiting Akhenaten’s fabulous sun city of Amarna. Or a fly on the mud wall of neolithic Catalhoyuk in Anatolia, to see how that early civilisation managed to survive for a millennium without the need for warfare or oppression.
- How do you decide on what story you want to tell?
I decided early on to base all my novels in the downland landscapes of Sussex that I loved. The first derived from original research I had to hand in the form of my grandparents’ letters and diaries up to and through the First World War. Theirs was a story I wanted to share.
- What is your writing process like, and how much research do you do before you begin writing?
I get up early, sometimes very early, to write creatively while my thought processes are reasonably sharp and usually work until noon. All of my novels involve a great deal of meticulous research, which I find fascinating.
- If someone is brand new to your work, what book do you think they should start with?
Chalkhill Blue was the first of my novels to be published and read and has generally been well received – although in historical terms The White Cross is set in the earliest period, with the eighteenth century Brimstone next, followed by Painted Lady, Chalkhill Blue and the 1960s Interplay.
- What were your favorite and least favorite parts about writing The White Cross?
I like to get inside the minds of my leading characters, and enjoyed the opportunity this story has given me of contrasting their attitudes, often to the same events; the one speaking in the present while they unfold, the other from memory looking back. My least favourite task involved recreating a real and horrifically violent event, which I had to steel myself to describe and shed tears in doing so.
- The White Cross is set during King Richard’s Third Crusade. What inspired you to write this story?
Long ago a history teacher at school introduced me to the early medieval novels of the French writer, Zoé Oldenbourg, which inspired me to attempt something in that period myself if I ever had the chance. Later, a literary agent encouraged me to write something ‘bigger and bolder’ than I’d tried before’. I thought of the Third Crusade, of how it has been misrepresented. I thought of Zoé Oldenbourg. The three things conspired!
- What did you edit out of The White Cross?
Contemporary accounts describe King Richard I as sacrilegious and foul-mouthed. But when in an early version of The White Cross I allowed him a virtually free rein with his profanities, I heard that a number of readers had been upset, in the USA especially. In these days of the F and the C word that wasn’t something I’d anticipated. But I’ve no wish to offend. So in the new edition of the novel I’ve encouraged King Richard to be just a little less explicit!
- Do you have any advice for aspiring writers of Historical Fiction? Are there any common traps that you recommend avoiding?
I’m quite likely to have fallen into most of the traps myself! Publishing is tricky these days. It’s a saturated market. One bit of advice I was given when I started writing was to look at the high street and the airport bookshops to see what’s selling, and consider whether you could write something in those genres. But that’s about selling rather than writing. The best books are originals, and I’d say that if you have a story to tell and the urge to tell it, then go on! DO IT! Nobody else can, not in quite your way. You might hit the jackpot, more likely you won’t. But you will have created something that’s yours, and isn’t that what you wanted?
What do you think about this book, and if you were an author of historical fiction what time period would you most want to explore?
Let’s go on another adventure together!