Today Nicole Evelina joins me to talk about Camelot’s Queen, the second book in her Arthurian legend trilogy. Welcome, Nicole.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel.
NE: Camelot’s Queen is the second book of my Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view. This one focuses on the story we think we all know – Guinevere’s time as queen. (Her early life before King Arthur is told in Daughter of Destiny, the first book in the series.) All the familiar elements are there – the battles, the infamous affair, the Holy Grail – but they are told in a way that’s different from the medieval legends we’re familiar with. Guinevere is a battle queen who rules side-by-side with Arthur, rather than being in his shadow; her affair with Lancelot doesn’t happen simply out of lust – it’s actually Arthur’s fault; and the Grail is different than you’ve ever seen it. Plus, Morgan is a disrupting influence in a way I don’t think any other author has ever shown her. And I delve into the dark side of Arthurian legend surrounding Guinevere’s kidnapping which is something many authors have shied away from. No matter the situation, this is a Guinevere with agency, perfectly willing to rescue herself.
What prompted you to write about this historical event?
NE: I’ve loved the character of Guinevere my whole life; she was one of my childhood heroes. When I was in college, a friend gave me a copy of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon as a gift. I read it and loved it (it changed my life in more ways than I can say), but I hated her portrayal of Guinevere as meek, Christian and agoraphobic. That led me to seek out other fictional books written about her and I came across Parke Godwin’s Beloved Exile, which covers her life after the fall of Camelot. That got me thinking that you don’t hear too much about what happened to Guinevere outside of her time with Arthur.
Around that time, Guinevere came into my head and said previous portrayals have done her wrong, and it was time for me to set the record straight. We made a deal that day that I would tell her whole life story, from before Arthur and encompassing the time after his death.
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 really hard to know what is fact when it comes to Arthurian legend. No one can prove that King Arthur existed, much less that his wife was really called Guinevere. Pretty much all we know is that someone led a battle (which we call the battle of Mount Badon) in which the Saxons suffered a sound defeat that kept them from attacking the post-Roman Britons for the next 50 years or so – but even the historians can’t agree when or where that battle took place. It is from that unknown historical leader and a mixture of Celtic myth that the Arthurian story evolved.
I did a lot of research on the Celts and post-Roman Britain (see next answer) to try to make the time period as realistic as I could. But I also couldn’t resist keeping some of the magic and mysticism of the medieval tales, so I used those elements in a shamanistic manner that is in keeping with what little we know of the Celtic/Druidic faith.
What research did you do for this book?
NE: I spent about 15 years studying everything I could get my hands on about Arthurian legend, Celtic and post-Roman Britain, the Druid faith (historical and neopagan versions) and related topics so that I was as well-versed in the subject as I could be. Most of it was books, but I also watched several documentaries. A full list of the sources I consulted can be found here: https://nicoleevelina.com/the-books/guineveres-tale/daughter-of-destiny-book-1/guinevere-trilogy/
I was fortunate to consult with two men who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley with her research, Jamie George and Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe, both of whom were so wonderful to me. I met Jamie when he led an Arthurian Legend tour of England I took a few years ago and he introduced me to Geoffrey.
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: Yes. I have a few historic figures such as King Vortigern, the Saxon leaders Alle and Octha, and the Pictish chief Caw in this book. I also have your standard mythological characters like Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin, Nimue, Viviane, Isolde, Morgan, etc. But I have characters I have totally made up, too, such as Sobian and Father Marius. They are all pretty much equal in my eyes as far as preference and difficulty are concerned. Because we don’t know much about the historical Dark Age/early Medieval figures, I’m not bound to tradition or fact like I would be with people from a later period and I have some creative leeway with them. Tradition plays a strong role in the mythological characters and I’ve chosen to keep a lot of the familiar elements, but I like to put my own twist on characters and events as well. That’s what makes my books a new contribution to the Arthurian tradition, not simply just a retelling.
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: Traveling there helped a lot. It gives an authenticity like nothing else. Even when you are writing about the distant past, knowing that the hills, mountains and rivers that you see are still pretty much the same, even if everything else has changed, gives you a bit of feeling of what the place must have been like. Every location has its own energy and when you’ve been there, you can incorporate it into your stories.
The rest was incorporating what I learned through research and what I imagined. I think having a strong sense of place and an understanding of the culture are key. But too, you have to have well rounded characters who think as much as possible in the way of the time. That being said, the basics of human nature don’t change, so having characters people can relate to, not matter if they love them or hate them, goes a long way toward making the reader feel like they are part of the story.
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: This is exactly why I write historical fiction. I’m very much a first-person, female POV writer. My personal mission 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 women’s stories have been massively undervalued and certainly underreported, so I make it my job to do what I can to change that.
That’s not to say you won’t ever see me writing in the male POV, but when you do it will be in the context of a female-based story. For example, I plan to write the story of Isolde and Tristan from multiple first person POVs, including his, but the focus of the story will be on her.
Thank you for your insightful answers to my questions, Nicole. I share your enthusiasm for the stories of the women who are often sidelined in history books and wish you well with your trilogy.
About Nicole Evelina: She is a St. Louis historical fiction and romantic comedy writer. Her debut novel, Daughter of Destiny, the first book of an Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view, has been short-listed for the Chaucer Award in Early Historical Fiction. Camelot’s Queen is its sequel.
Later this year, she will release Been Searching for You (May 10), a romantic comedy that won the 2015 Romance Writers of America (RWA) Great Expectations and Golden Rose contests, and Madame Presidentess (July 25), a historical novel about Victoria Woodhull, America’s first female Presidential candidate, which has been short-listed for the Goethe Award in Late Historical Fiction.
She hopes to have the final book in Guinevere’s Tale available in late 2016 or early 2017.
Nicole is one of only six authors who completed a week-long writing intensive taught by #1 New York Times bestselling author Deborah Harkness. She has traveled to England twice to research the Guinevere’s Tale 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.
Nicole is a member of and book reviewer for the The Historical Novel Society, and Sirens (a group supporting female fantasy authors), as well as a member of the Historical Writers of America, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Romance Writers of America, the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, Women Writing the West, Broad Universe (promoting women in fantasy, science fiction and horror), Alliance of Independent Authors and the Independent Book Publishers Association.
She 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. Other historical interests include the Middle Ages and women who made their mark on history. She’s also a frequent visitor to Chicago, where Been Searching for You takes place.