Interview with Paula Lofting
PL: Thanks for having me Wendy, I am particularly pleased to be on your blog as I was brought up in Oz in the 60’s and 70’s so it’s lovely for me to be here! Sons of the Wolf is set in the 11thc in the years leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 which heralded the Norman era in England. These are the days of the Anglo-Saxon English and the story centres on a blood feud between two neighbouring Sussex landholders, Wulfhere and Helghi. Wulfhere is the name of the main character and he is identified in the Domesday Book as owning the village of Horstede. Essentially I have created a fictional story for this man of whom we know nothing about other than what he owned as a thegn. Wulfhere’s eldest daughter Freyda embarks on a forbidden relationship with his enemy, Helghi’s son and when Harold, the great Earl of Wessex orders that he allow his daughter to marry this lad to bring peace to the warring clans, Wulfhere has to find a way of extricating himself from the deal without compromising his honour and loyalty to his Lord Harold. Set against this theme are real events and real characters. We meet the Godwin family and King Edward the Confessor and other historic characters. We follow Wulfhere as he battles with a number of challenges and see him face death on the battlefield. But although he fights for his life on bloody fields, the enemy is sometimes closer to home, far more shadowy and sinister than he would ever imagine.
WJD: Could you please tell us what drew you to write about your characters?
PL: I wanted to write in this time period after watching a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings and reading up on the subject. I stumbled across an old book written by David Howarth called 1066, The Year of The Conquest. He writes this book from the point of view of an English village as it would have been then in the 11thc. It is not fiction, but then nor is it meant to be an academic work. It was so light and easy to read and captivated my imagination. He talked about the thegn, Wulfhere and what life would have been like in the village and the surrounding forest. I had been looking for a character to write about and there he was, jumping out at the pages for me. Wulfhere, thegn of Horstede. As I read on, I was creating a world in my mind of a place where people lived in harmony with their surroundings, in little thatched cottages centred around the palisaded longhall in which Wulfhere lived with his wife and family. I pictured the forest that surrounded them, children running through the trees, laughing and playing in the woods, hunting with their bows or swimming in the pond. I pictured his wife working on her family’s clothing in the hall which was lit by a huge fire pit in a stone hearth with a cauldron of stew bubbling over the flames. Outside a blacksmith was working on his master’s new spear heads and a maid was fetching water out of a well. Before I knew it, I had my characters and the beginning of a story.
WJD: Why do you think so many writers and readers feel passionate about this period?
PL: I think you have to believe in what you’re writing. For me I feel passionate about how badly the English were treated after the Conquest by their foreign subjugators and I get very emotionally when I read things like the Harrying of the North. It’s also very poignant that by the time the Domesday Book had been finished, their remained only around 3% of English landholders and very few Englishmen remained in important official positions even amongst the clergy. The Norman and other French settlers had virtually wiped out the upper echelons of English society. That’s why I feel so passionate about this period. It was a devastating time for the indigenous population. On every level, the English were looked down on with contempt and even laughed at their names and language. Such a culture had been around for hundreds of years and they laughed at them. Grrr!
WJD: How did you research your work?
PL: I joined a re-enactment group, www.regia.org. Regia Anglorum are an Anglo-Saxon/Viking/Norman society re-enacting the period between 850- 1080. We do occasionally do 12thc too. Here I taught the rudiments of battle, weaponry, daily living, spinning, embroidery and how to make Anglo-Saxon clothing. I learned about what foods were eaten, what materials were available and seeing as Regia pride themselves on authenticity, I know that it will help me depict life as closely to what it really was like as possible. I also read widely and try to read books that have studied the primary sources as much as possible. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle is a great primary source.
WJD: How important do you think it is for a historical fiction writer to visit settings important to their historical personages.
PL: Quite important, though it is not always possible if the writer does not have the funds. If you want to have a good feel about the setting, then its a good idea if you can get there, it gives you more credibility though I am sure if you read up on a place well enough, it can be done. I was lucky in the sense that a lot of my story is based not far from where I live in Sussex and I have been to Little Horstede, as it is called now frequently. There’s pretty much nothing there, just like it was 900 years ago. Click here to read a blog post about Horstede.
WJD: Do you continue to research as you write the story?
PL: Yes I do. If I am writing a scene and I need to know something pertinent to the backdrop, such as what was happening at court or with the politics of the time or check some fact are correct, I will get the books out.
WJD: William Styron once said “While it may be satisfying and advantageous for historians to feast on rich archival material, the writer of historical fiction is better off when past events have left him with short rations.” Do you agree or disagree?
PL: If I am right in thinking he means that for historians there maybe joy in reading what sources are available, but for the historical fiction writer, it can sometimes be difficult to write about an event when there is so little written about it. I found though that you can use this plethora of detail to your advantage when you are a novelist. For the period that I write in there is much detail missing in the sources, for example, I found this with the Battle of Hereford that I had wanted to include in my story. The main sources say very little about the battle and most of it is conjecture but for me, I realised I had a framework and as a novelist, I could fill in the gaps and aimed to do so as plausibly as possible without steering away from what we know of the Battle as fact.
WJD: What authors inspired you as a child, teenager, now?
PL: I often have to rethink this because over the years since I first thought about it, I have remembered more and more. Firstly I have to say Rosemary Sutcliffe was my greatest ever inspiration and as the wonderful author of Roman stories, Manda Scott said recently, Rosemary Sutcliffe was the one who showed us the way to do it. She was the beacon as far as I’m concerned. Then Leon Garfield, he was a great influence and as an adult Mary Stewart and Sharon Penman. Helen Hollick was the first author who really helped set me on my path to becoming an author. I have a lot to thank her for. Currently, I am really inspired by Manda Scott. Her sentence constructions are breathtaking.
WJD: Any advice for aspiring writers?
PL: Take advice from experienced authors, they generally know what they are talking about. If unsure you can always check out advice with another author. Learn about POV (writing in one person’s point of view at a time) and don’t head hop. Read widely and try to cultivate a style perhaps by following someone who’s writing you admire.
WJD: Can you please tell us about your next novel
PL: Sure, following on from the first in the series, Sons of the Wolf, I am working on the sequel, The Wolf Banner which continues to follow Wulfhere’s fortunes as he weaves through the deadly traps laid before him. We will also see Harold Godwinson play his part in the lives of the men who follow him and there will be other threads that lead to and connect with the political setting of Edward the Confessor’s kingdom.
Thanks so much for giving me the chance to tell your readers about my books and myself, Wendy!
WJD: And thank Paula for such a great interview! Congratulations on winning the BRAG medallion, too!
- Author Spotlight – Paula Lofting (authorworld.wordpress.com)
- Battle of Hastings cancelled (in case someone gets hurt) (thetimes.co.uk)
- Domesday dilemma (the-hazel-tree.com)
- One in the eye for history: experts still fighting over the site of the Battle of Hastings (telegraph.co.uk)
- Battle of Hastings cancelled again (bbc.co.uk)
- The Fall of Roman Britain and the myth of the Anglo-Saxon Conquest (crashkrombie.wordpress.com)
- How Much A Knight’s Fee? (crimsonhistory.wordpress.com)