Today I’ve invited Nicole Evalina to tell us about her historical fantasy, Daughter of Destiny.
Tell us about your novel.
NE: Daughter of Destiny is the first book in a historical fantasy trilogy that tells Arthurian legend from Guinevere’s point of view. This book focuses on her early life before King Arthur, when she was a priestess of Avalon, a warrior and in love with someone quite different from the king. Here’s the back cover copy:
“Before queenship and Camelot, Guinevere was a priestess of Avalon. She loved another before Arthur, a warrior who would one day betray her.
In the war-torn world of late fifth century Britain, young Guinevere faces a choice: stay with her family to defend her home at Northgallis from the Irish, or go to Avalon to seek help for the horrific visions that haunt her. The Sight calls her to Avalon, where she meets Morgan, a woman of questionable parentage who is destined to become her rival. As Guinevere matures to womanhood, she gains the powers of a priestess, and falls in love with a man who will be both her deepest love and her greatest mistake.
Just when Guinevere is able to envision a future in Avalon, tragedy forces her back home, into a world she barely recognizes, one in which her pagan faith, outspokenness, and proficiency in the magical and military arts are liabilities. When a chance reunion with her lover leads to disaster, she is cast out of Northgallis and into an uncertain future. As a new High King comes to power, Guinevere must navigate a world of political intrigue where unmarried women are valuable commodities and seemingly innocent actions can have life-altering consequences.
You may think you know the story of Guinevere, but you’ve never heard it like this: in her own words. Listen and you will hear the true story of Camelot and its queen.
Fans of Arthurian legend and The Mists of Avalon will love Daughter of Destiny, the first book in a historical fantasy trilogy that gives Guinevere back her voice and traces her life from an uncertain eleven year old girl to a wise queen in her fifth decade of life.”
What prompted you to write about this historical event?
NE: When I was in college, a friend of mine gave me a copy of The Mists of Avalon for Christmas. I LOVED it, but I hated the author’s portrayal of Guinevere as meek and well, boring. That made me seek out other books about Guinevere and I read Parke Godwin’s Beloved Exile, which tells the story of what happened to Guinevere after the fall of Camelot. That made me wonder what happened to her before and after Arthur, which is something you don’t hear much about. Then Guinevere came into my head, telling me she wanted me to write her story (which I thought at the time would be all one book). The rest, as they say, is history.
How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?
NE: It’s hard to call anything about Arthurian legend “historical fact” because we know so little about what was real and what comes from mythology and legend. If we accept that someone like King Arthur probably existed, all we know is that someone beat the Saxons badly at a battle now known as the Battle of Mount Badon that took place sometime between 490- 503 AD and ushered in an era of peace. Some people also credit Arthur with the ancient title Dux Bellorum, which is like calling him “duke of battles” and means he was a great military leader, maybe not even a king. But beyond that, everything else is left up to the imagination.
I did choose to follow some of the traditional legendary sources. For example, in my world, King Lot is married to Arthur’s half-sister, Ana, a character usually dumped in favor of Morgan le Fay or Morgause, but who actually dates back to Geoffrey of Monmouth. I also use Monmouth’s story of the “Kingmaker,” a comet that prophesies the birth of a great king. Most of the older sources tell us little, if anything, about Guinevere before her marriage to Arthur, so I was on my own there.
What research did you do for this book?
NE: I spent 15 years researching Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain and the various peoples, cultures and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome. (A full list of my resources is available here.
I was fortunate to travel to England twice to research the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, where I consulted with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon. He led a two-week Arthurian legend tour that changed my life in so many different ways.
Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel? Which is more difficult to write? Which to you prefer to write and why?
NE: I’m going to substitute the word “traditional” for “historic” in my answer. Yes, I used a mixture of the names you know and love, like Morgan, Kay, Lancelot, Isolde, Arthur, etc. but I also created some of my own characters, like Galen, Rowena, Mona, Lyonesse, Grainne and Octavia. Both groups have their positives and negatives. Traditional characters give you a starting point, but you have to be able make them fit into an established framework and try not to deviate too far from tradition, lest you irritate purists. Invented characters are kind of the opposite because you have free reign with them, but you also have to make sure they fit in with the traditional ones and are appropriate for the story. It’s hard for me to pick one over the other because my favorite characters from this book come from both groups, Isolde (traditional) and Galen (invented).
In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?
NE: A lot of research, visiting the locations as they are today, a lot of meditation and imagination. The research gave me a framework for what the people and places were probably like and visiting in person gives you a sense of the vibe of a place, which while it changes over time, can still be a powerful force of inspiration. And yes, I did meditate on these places, especially Avalon. It’s my spiritual happy place, so I described it in the book as I see it in my mind. The characters were somewhat based in their traditional personalities (i.e. Elaine is unstable, Gawain is a ladies’ man, Kay is a jokester, Morgan has an evil streak), but they also took on a life of their own as I wrote and they evolved.
There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?
NE: I definitely prefer writing the female characters. In fact, my mission statement as a historical fiction writer is “To rescue little-known women from being lost in the pages of history. While other writers may choose to write about the famous, I tell the stories of those who are in danger of being forgotten so that their memories may live on for at least another generation. I also tell the female point of view when it is the male who has gotten more attention in history (i.e. Guinevere to King Arthur). I feel like men have had their time; now it’s time to tell the often-neglected female story. And beyond that, being a woman, I simply relate to those characters better than to the men.
Thanks for your very thorough and interesting answers, Nicole.
About Nicole Evelina: She is a St. Louis-born historical fiction and romantic comedy writer. Her first four books are coming out in 2016:
- Daughter of Destiny (January 1 – This is the first book of an Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view)
2. Camelot’s Queen (March 23 – The second book in the trilogy)
3. Been Searching for You (May 23 – a contemporary romantic comedy that won in the single title romance category of the 2015 Great Expectations Contest (sponsored by North Texas RWA) and the 2015 Gold Rose Contest (sponsored by Portland RWA) and is a finalist in five others.
4. Madame Presidentess (July 25 – Historical fiction about 19th century American Presidential candidate Victoria Woodhull, the first American woman to run for President)
She hopes to have the final book in Guinevere’s Tale available in late 2016 or early 2017.
Nicole is a member of and book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society, and Sirens, a group supporting female fantasy authors, as well as a member of the Romance Writers of America, Women Fiction Writers Association, the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, Women Writing the West and the Alliance of Independent Authors.
She is one of only six authors who completed the first week-long writing intensive taught by #1 New York Times bestselling author Deborah Harkness in 2014. Nicole has traveled to England twice to research the Guinevere trilogy, where she consulted with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon.