Monday, 27 May 2013

Blog Interview with Author ROBYN YOUNG

Author Robyn Young broke onto the historical fiction scene in 2006 with the highly successful debut novel, Brethren. Published by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK and Dutton (Penguin Group) in the US she swiftly followed that book's outstanding sales figures with two more bestsellers in the Brethren Trilogy,  Crusade in 2007 and Requiem in 2008.

Robyn Young had arrived, and readers around the world - in 20 countries to date - welcomed this new author and her Knights Templar series with avarice. She not only cracked the competitive historical fiction market, she also cracked the key to gender marketing and was able to write a story that appealed to both men and women readers. But the journey goes on.

In 2010 along came the Insurrection Trilogy, proving that the Brethren Trilogy was no one hit wonder. This trilogy kicks off with the first book which shares the series' name, Insurrection.
When the book and movie world were only really interested in the feats of William Wallace, Robyn Young broke ranks and went after Robert the Bruce. A National hero in Scotland, he is usually sidelined on an international level, in books and movies, in favour of the more popular figure of Wallace. So Young gave him his spotlight in this series. Not as a support character, but as the main character, for he is no less of a colourful and intriguing real life character than Wallace. 
Insurrection hit its mark with the fans in the UK and Internationally and so, in 2012, came the next book in the the trilogy Renegade. In 2014, the final book in this trilogy will be released, Kingdom.

Fans should not despair however, you will not see the last of Robyn Young when her Insurrection trilogy is completed in 2014. There is much more to come from this International Bestselling author. Another trilogy called Renaissance. Set to the background of the War of the Roses, it is still a few years off, but at least readers will know that Robyn Young, as an historical fiction author, will be around for a long time to come.

With the help of Robyn's Literary Agent Rupert Heath, Robyn's PA and the nice folks over at Hodder & Stoughton (UK), I recently had the opportunity to organise a blog interview with Robyn Young and I hope you all enjoy the results.
Do you think it is important to be as historically accurate as possible in an historical fiction book?
I feel historical fiction should be as accurate as possible in the portrayal of its worlds – that is to say, the author should strive to use authentic period detail, avoid anachronisms and have as deep an understanding as reasonably possible of the time and place they are writing about. But, beyond that, things become rather grey.
For one thing, history can be far too convoluted or protracted to allow for an accurate retelling of events in what is supposed to be a page-turning novel. For example, during what came to be known as the Great Cause (the trial to choose Alexander III’s successor) there were endless councils and gatherings that would have weighed down the book tremendously had I been faithful to the chronology of events, so I amalgamated them into one. Besides this, the sources we take our material from are sometimes obscure or open to interpretation, often contradictory and frequently missing the vital information that would explain a person’s motivations for actions they have taken. 
Robert Bruce switched sides several times during the Wars of Independence and although we can speculate what led him to do so we still don’t know for certain what he was thinking, or hoping to achieve. This is where the author of historical fiction can move beyond the restrictions of historians – creating the motivations that lie behind the actions of characters and filling in the gaps in recorded history. But, of course, these are our own interpretations and you can’t say these will be accurate, any more than you can say a chronicler, often with their own, usually politically motivated agenda, writing decades, or even centuries after events occurred is accurate in their retelling. 
The more I research the Middle Ages, the more I realise just how much we don’t know. But, for me, therein lies the appeal. When I write I’m not an historian, I’m a detective. It is the novelist’s licence to question “what if?” which led me to take a controversial route in depicting the fate of Alexander III, whose death, although believed to be a tragic accident, was never actually witnessed.
One thing I do feel strongly about, though, is where the author deviates significantly from established fact, or fills in gaps with their own interpretations they should explain this in an author’s note. I also provide a bibliography so readers can read the “real” history if they want to know more.

If you could go back to 13th Century Scotland. To the courts, the battlefields, the private rooms and meet any of the real life characters. Stand face to face with them. Who would it be and what would you say to them or ask them?
As I’m in the thick of writing Kingdom, the final book in the Insurrection Trilogy, it would have to be Robert Bruce. There is so much we don’t know about him. His childhood isn’t documented; even his place of birth is still debated. We can only read between the lines to get the barest glimpse of his relationships with his family, his two wives and his friends. 
We don’t know why he chose to join the rebellion with William Wallace, in a move against his father and his ally, King Edward I, when he had so little to gain and so much to lose. Neither do we know (although this move is perhaps more understandable given his situation at the time) why he later submitted to Edward, two years before most of the other Scottish nobles. 
We don’t know how he met his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, nor do we have a true understanding of what happened that fateful night at the church of the Greyfriars in Dumfries when he faced John Comyn, or even a clear chronology of the events that led to that showdown. 
There are several points during the Wars of Independence where Robert disappears completely from recorded history, for months at a time, and his whereabouts during these periods has been the subject of centuries of debate and speculation.
  Ask most people to name one fact about Robert Bruce and they’ll mention the spider, but that comes from the fiction of Walter Scott. So, yes, I’d love to sit down, preferably with a goblet of Gascony wine, and ask him for the true story!
Who is your favourite historical figure and why him/her?
A tough one. I’m not sure I have a favourite as such. I’m interested in many figures from history, but particularly those whose lives have been defined, or shaped by conflict. 
I tend to gravitate towards those who experience great change or upheaval in their lives and those who instigate these things. I like to explore the human struggle within the epic narrative. Edward I fits these definitions very well (and has appeared in my 6 novels to date), as do Robert Bruce and Baybars Bundukdari, the slave warrior who became Sultan of Egypt and Syria, and features in the Brethren Trilogy.
You recently signed on with Hodder & Stoughton to start another series. Called Renaissance and set in Europe during the 15th century, can you tell us anything yet about what drew you to this era and new story?
This story has been bubbling away in me for some years now, so I’m hugely excited to get the chance to write it.   I can’t say too much yet about Renaissance, but I can tell you that my main character, Jack Vaughn, is a soldier of fortune swept up in the court dramas of the late 15th century, at the end of the Wars of the Roses and the birth of the Tudor dynasty: another period rich with discovery and convulsing with upheaval and change.
Is there an historic site (or more than one historic site), relevant to any of your books (Brethren or Insurrection or even the new series) that you have been to that you cannot get enough of and love going back to? And why?
I’ve had a bit of a love affair with Scotland since a childhood holiday spent on Mull, so one of the perks about writing the Insurrection Trilogy has been getting to spend so many weeks doing research there.  Following in the footsteps of Robert Bruce pretty much means visiting every inch of Scotland, but there are a few truly memorable sites I’d go back to in a heartbeat, just for myself - the isolated ruins of Finlaggan Castle on Islay and the haunting remains of Kildrummy, where the English caught up with one of Robert’s brothers; the twin peaks of Dumbarton Rock glowering over the Clyde, mysterious Glen Trool, the remote beauty of Barra and Lewis, and the ever-changing waters around the rugged west coast, gouged out by sea lochs. It really is a stunning country.
Which authors and books inspired you growing up to love history and want to write about it?
My interest in history came quite late in life. I didn’t particularly enjoy it at school – certainly not by the time it was GCSEs and subjects like WWII, which I think is too complex and grim for kids to be able to appreciate.  I next picked up a history book in my early 20s, after discovering the Knights Templar during a conversation in a bar. Malcolm Barber’s The Trial of the Templars, was a harrowing, but inspirational read; Barber taking me past my notion that history was all just facts and figures and showing me that it is actually a treasure trove of stories. 
From that moment, the Brethren Trilogy was born and history became my passion.
As a writer, what is the best advice you have ever been given?
Just do it!
Do you prefer to read ebooks or paper books?
I’m very old-fashioned when it comes to reading. I love books – the feel of them, the look of them and, yes, the smell of them. I can see the use of e-readers (for commuters, research work and holidays) but even then, I’d rather cram one paperback into my bag than a device filled with thousands. 
I like to be faithful to books – one at a time. I think I’d get overwhelmed by the choice on an e-reader and, possibly, rather fickle. I find this when listening to music; it’s too easy, when it’s all at your fingertips, to jump about, skip songs and not give an album time to grow on you. It all becomes somehow more disposable. 

Photo courtesy of Robyn Young 
Thanks to all those, including Robyn Young herself, involved in getting this interview to happen.
 Please NB* In JUNE the Ancient and Medieval Historical Fiction Group on Goodreads is doing a Group Read of Robyn's book Insurrection (The Insurrection Trilogy #1) and Robyn will be swinging by to chat to us.
All are welcome to join in the read, even if you are not a member of the group. 
Feel free to drop by this Blog or the A&M Facebook Page with your comments if you are not a member of A&M Group, or of course you could join the Group and comment on the A&M  Insurrection Discussion Thread.

- MM 


  1. Another excellent interview!

    1. Thanks, D.
      Love it when an author talks history with us. :)

  2. Me too. The story behind why they pick a period or personage is also fascinating.

    1. If there is ever a bunch of people that she can speak history to...lets face's us. :)

    2. Are we that transparent? ;)

  3. Great interview Terri. Really interested in how many people come to history later, because school curricula and 'historians' get it wrong. Me, I loved history at school, but maybe because I didn't study it till age 16. (there was an option to do Ancient Greek from age 13-16 which I took instead: was poor at the language, but loved the chance to study Homer and Thucydides).

    1. Hi Richard.
      Pleased you enjoyed the interview. I was very happy that Robyn gave such nice, meaty answers. She has given people something to think about and in the process helped people get to know her as an author.

      I am like Robyn. I came to history late. Not interested AT ALL in highschool. We were forced to do Modern History and Ancient History. I liked neither. Modern history to me was all WW1 and 2 or battles - things a young teen girl like me had no interest in. Ancient History was boring Greeks and Egyptians (which I don't really find boring now, but still don't exactly hanker for).

      It wasn't until I was late highschool that I started reading military stuff (Vietnam War and some earlier modern wars) and some other non fiction history. But it wasn't until my 20s that I started reading 'historical fiction' and it wasn't until my 30's (now, just) that I realised the historical fiction I was reading was actually historical romance and that solved the puzzle as to why the genre had not grabbed me until I found Bernard Cornwell. Because I was reading the wrong kinds of historicals, searching for the history, but getting mostly ghastly romance.