Saturday, July 29, 2006

Under The Influence!

Ali posted a list of her favourite five historical novels - Carla followed suit with some interesting choices.
I don't think I have five that I could name as top of the pile. There are way too many historical novels that I have loved and for different reasons at different times in my life. Those that have stayed with me during subsequent re-reads would be my most treasured reads, but they are numerous and I wouldn't put one above the other. Instead, I have decided to list some novels that meant a lot to me as a developing, aspiring, but unpublished writer of Medieval fiction...
So, not in any order, here are 5 novels/novelists to whom, in part, I owe my career.

1. Alinor by Roberta Gellis.
This novel blew me away when I read it. It's the second in a series - The Roselynde Chronicles, and in my opinion the best of the lot. Gellis straddles the line between historical romance and the romantic historical. Her plots, while romances, are very much grounded in the history of the period and her characters are of their time. The story lines too are meaty and detailed. Roberta Gellis showed me that it was possible to write believable, enjoyable absorbing intelligent historicals with a romantic leaning. Her male protagonist, Ian de Vipont is one of the best romantic novel heroes I have ever come across. He's tall, dark and handsome and in less skilled hands could have become ye typical boring Medieval romance hero cliche with a big sword (!), but in Gellis' hands he's something else. She makes of him such well-rounded character, complete with believable human flaws that whenever I read the novel, I expect to find him standing at my shoulder as a real person. Alinor, the heroine is that rare creature in Medieval fiction - a strong woman but totally of her time. She gets her own way 12th Century style and with panache. It's an absolute joy to see her running rings around the men in the story, Ian included!

2. Red Adam's Lady by Grace Ingram.
Grace Ingram also wrote as Doris Sutcliffe Adams, although I haven't read any of her novels under the second name because they are hard to get hold of and frightfully expensive. Red Adam's lady, however, is a delightful novel I have read several times. It concerns young Adam de Lorismond. Whilst drunk and disorderly, he abducts lady Julitta de Montrigord who has been sheltering in the village ale house while her horse is reshod. Realising his error, he does the decent thing and marries her, much to Julitta's horror. As the novel progresses, a tangled web of intrigue and treachery brings Adam and Julitta to the brink of destruction and his fate winds up in her hands. There's also a mystery to be solved. What did happen to the old lord's wife when she went out riding and never returned? There's an awful lot of novel crammed into 255 pages in paperback, but it never feels like a pint in a half pint pot. Grace Ingram was a wonderfully talented writer and should have been much better known than she was.

3.The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
The first in the series about Frances Crawford of Lymond. What a writer, Dorothy Dunnett was. In a class of her own. I feel very privileged to share her copy editor. I confess to three attempts to get into The Game of Kings, but something must have kept drawing me back, and when I finally 'got' it, I was blown away by the layers within layers in her writing. Her research, her superb use of language, her sense of humour, the scope of her imagination. I always imagine her painting her stories on a huge Renaissance canvas, with myself colouring away on my knees in a corner. Whenever I wanted to raise my game, I would read a couple of chapters of Dunnett to remind me what it was all about.

4. Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
Sharon Kay Penman is a legend in her own lifetime and perhaps best known for The Sunne in Splendour, her novel about Richard III. I did enjoy this, but it was her novel about Llewelyn Fawr of Wales and King John's bastard daughter, Joanna, that really caught my imagination. If Gellis had shown me what could be done with imaginary protagonists, then Penman showed me the path of bringing real people to life. She writes the politics of the period better than anyone I know - although Gellis comes very close.

5.Avalon - Anya Seton
Anya Seton taught me about creating atmosphere and, rather like Dunnett, how to create paintings in words. I felt she did this particularly with Avalon. Cornwall, Wessex, Iceland, all came to life for me in this novel. The colours and textures are still vivid in my mind's eye today, and the story of Merewyn and Rumon is not a traditional love story, but more of a saga-like telling of interwoven personal journeys. I always find Avalon absorbs me into the textures of the 10th Century whenever I read it.

So there you have it. Five books, five writers, who influenced this particular novelists journey towards publication. There are many more, I haven't mentioned Graham Shelby, Ellis Peters, Valerie Anand, Mary Stewart, Cecelia Holland (for showing how sexy love scenes could be even when done in a collapsing stable as in Great Maria!) and a host of others, but only because it would take a novel to list them and the reasons. My thanks go out to them nevertheless.

To finish, here are 10 novels at random from my favourites list, not all historical, but all getting maximum points and highly recommended!

1. Hanta Yo - Ruth Beebee Hill - a tale of the Lakotah Sioux on the eve of the coming of the White Man
2. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver - life in the Congo for a missionary family in the 1960's
3. The Vintner's Luck - Elizabeth Knox - 19thC Vintner meets up with an angel
4. Until The Sun Falls - Cecelia Holland - The Mongol Empire after the death of Genghis Khan
5. A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin - start to a huge fantasy series with a strongly Medieval feel.
6. The Lord of the Ring - J R.R. Tolkien. No hope for you if you don't know about this one by now!
7. A Respectable Trade - Philippa Gregory. The slave trade in 18thC Bristol
8. A Place of Execution - Val McDermid. A murder in the 1960's is re-investigated 20 years later on. If you're one of those people who always reads the end then don't in this case.
9. The Shining - Stephen King. A ghost/horror story that is an absolute classic of the genre
10 The Adventures of Alianore Audeley - Brian Wainwright. Hilarious romp set in the reign of Richard III


Carla said...

Thanks for this list! I remember Roberta Gellis' Roselynde Chronicles very well - they were among the first historical novels I remember reading, snaffled from my mother. A Game of Kings is another I liked very much, though like you I had trouble getting into it. I think it took me three tries to get past the first chapter. King Hereafter just has the ehdge for me, though, maybe because the Norse world calls to me more strongly than the Renaissance.

KC said...

I'm a big fan of Anya Seton's "Katherine" and "Green Darkness", but have never read "Avalon". It is now on my must-read list. I've read all the Sharon Kay Penman books, and while I've enjoyed them, I've found that they are not books I go back to and re-read. One of my very favorite (non-historical) authors is Robertson Davies. I've read all of his books several times each!

Stacia said...

Thanks for the list! I've heard of and read a few of these but some are new to me, so I'm putting them on the list. (I was lucky enough to find a copy of Seton's Green Darkness at a used book stall here in town for a pound. It goes for crazy money on Amazon-I payed $30 for Katherine a few years ago.

When will someone catch on and reprint those books? :-)

KC said...

I've seen both Green Darkness and Katherine in reprint at the bookstores. They have lovely paperback covers even though the covers do not accurately reflect the time-frames of the novels. Just last month I found a used copy of GD for $1, the same day that my new reprint came in the mail! A lucky day for me!

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

I have yet to read King Hereafter Carla, but it's on my TBR (along with hoards of other books!)
KC, I have read and loved both Katherine and Green Darkness. But Avalon was the first 'Medieval-ish' of Seton's that I read, and I did so love her evocation of a Norse/Anglo Saxon world.

Stacia said...

Oh, cool, kc! It's been a while since I looked on Amazon. I hope they're doing all of them!

ali said...

Thanks for the list! Alinor especially sounds interesting; not just as a good read, but because I'm always unsure about how I write historical women. It'd be nice to gave a good example of how it should be done!

Rosie said...

Oh thank goodness, a real author had problems with Dorothy Dunnet, took me a few goes to get into it to. Love Anya Seaton, I read Katherine when I was 14 and it is my very favourite book.
Just finished Greatest Knight, wonderful! Have to have a Chadwick fest now and re-read all the others. Thanks for fabulous read.