Please welcome Clifford Beal to the blog. Clifford is the author of Quelch’s Gold, and his newest novel, Gideon’s Angel, came out earlier this year from Solaris. I’m giving the blog over to him to talk about world building in historical fantasy, and I’m also giving away a copy (it’s INTERNATIONAL), so be sure to check out the book details and giveaway details at the bottom of the post!
Historical fantasy needs “world building” too
by Clifford Beal
Saw a twitter message the other day from another fantasy author that was a tongue-in-cheek lament on how much easier it is writing historical fantasy as opposed to high-epic fantasy (which they had just undertaken)because one doesn’t have to make up all those dubious sounding and cheesy imaginary names. I had to laugh when it triggered a memory from when I was 18 and writing a medieval fantasy (complete with little folk). I had grabbed an atlas to search out some exotic place names for my world and had pinched “Dafur” in Sudan because it sounded cool and, well, wild . Which is what that imaginary place was supposed to be. Now, years later it’s unfortunately well known as the location of a genocidal war. I had also lifted “Tonbridge” from a map of England as the home of my protagonist only to discover some time later that Tonbridge is about as middle-class commuting, cricket-on-the-green as you can get. A bit like having Conan the barbarian coming from Bennington, Vermont. Sort of illustrates the pitfalls of stealing real life places for your fantasy epic.
It’s true that it’s somewhat simpler with a real historical framework. When I wrote the scenes in Gideon’s Angel I set them in London, Paris, and Plymouth, which are recognizable places everyone will have heard of. The trouble is, set 350 years ago, they’re places that no one would recognize today, and more to the point, places that require loads of research to get the fidelity right. And honestly, consulting a history book sometimes is just not enough for conveying the proper feel to the reader of a world long gone. It requires some “world building” license, but license based on historical fact.
We can discover how our ancestors dressed and what they ate. We know what they read, the art they painted or appreciated, and maybe, for a few, what they actually thought about the events that were happening around them. But what about peeling back the layers to get into how people actually conversed, how they actually ate (fork or spoon?), and even how they had sex? Well, as far as the latter is concerned we’re all here so obviously they did. More importantly, when a writer injects fantastical elements into their historical fiction, whether it’s demons, ghosts, or cowboys and aliens, how does one get the interplay between characters as believable as possible? That takes the craft of world-building, extrapolating from the fabric of known history and plunging into a new unknown realm. The secret is in being able to graft the amazing and fantastic onto the mundane world of our past but doing it through the eyes of our ancestors and not our own.
About GIDEON’S ANGEL:
He came back to kill a tyrant. He found the Devil instead. An amazing historical novel with a supernatural twist set after the English Civil War. This is the stunning debut from Clifford Beal.
He came back to kill a tyrant. He found the Devil instead.
1653: The long and bloody English Civil War is at an end. King Charles is dead and Oliver Cromwell rules the land as king in all but name. Richard Treadwell, an exiled royalist officer and soldier-for-hire to the King of France and his all-powerful advisor, the wily Cardinal Mazarin, burns with revenge for those who deprived him of his family and fortune. He decides upon a self-appointed mission to return to England in secret and assassinate the new Lord Protector. Once back on English soil however, he learns that his is not the only plot in motion.
A secret army run by a deluded Puritan is bent on the same quest, guided by the Devil’s hand. When demonic entities are summoned, Treadwell finds himself in a desperate turnaround: he must save Cromwell to save England from a literal descent into Hell. But first he has to contend with a wife he left in Devon who believes she’s a widow, and a furious Paris mistress who has trailed him to England, jeopardising everything. Treadwell needs allies fast. Can he convince the man sent to forcibly drag him back to Cardinal Mazarin? A young king’s musketeer named d’Artagnan.
Black dogs and demons; religion and magic; Freemasons and Ranters. It’s a dangerous new Republic for an old cavalier coming home again.
2. Giveaway is for 1 copy of GIDEON’S ANGEL by Clifford Beal to 1 winner
3. Giveaway is open to EVERYONE (Click HERE for a list of countries)
4. You must enter on or before 6/13/13
5. Please see my Giveaway Policy.
About CLIFFORD BEAL:
Clifford Beal, originally from Providence, Rhode Island, worked for 20 years as an international journalist and is the former editor-in-chief of Jane’s Defence Weekly in London. He is the author of Quelch’s Gold (Praeger Books 2007), the true story of a little-known but remarkable early 18th century Anglo-American pirate. But he’s also been scribbling fiction from an early age: his seventh grade English teacher nicknamed him “Edgar Allen” undoubtedly due to the gothic subject matter of his extremely short stories. His debut novel, Gideon’s Angel, is published by Solaris Books in March 2013.
For recreation, Clifford used to don plate armour and bash the tar out of people in the Society for Creative Anachronism before moving to more civilised pursuits such as 17th century rapier and dagger fighting and motorcycling (though not simultaneously). Today, he is more likely to be found at the seaside or the Savile Club in London, sharing good wine and conversation in a place where the sparring is usually only verbal.