Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Guest Post and Review: Pendragon's Banner by Helen Hollick

It is my pleasure to have Helen Hollick, author of the King Arthur trilogy: The Kingmaking, Pendragon's Banner and Shadow of the King with us today.

So why did I write a trilogy about King Arthur? Well first of all, when I was writing I had no idea that my meagre scribbling was going to take me to the dizzy heights of an actual book let alone a whole trilogy!

I became interested in King Arthur after reading Mary Stewart’s Hollow Hills. What fascinated me was her author’s note, where she pointed out that if Arthur had been a real person (that is not established fact, sadly) he is more likely to have lived in Britain during the post Roman era, circa 450 – 550 AD. I had always assumed Arthur belonged in the “Knights in Armour” Medieval 11th – 12th Century, which, apart from Sharon Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick’s novels, I have never had much interest in.

So to put Arthur in a Romano British slot excited me tremendously. I researched more detail, using respected authors such as Glastonbury-based Geoffrey Ashe, Leslie Alcock, John Morris and the excellent Osprey Men-At-Arms series (I’m not sure if these books are now in print – my original research was way back in the mid 70’s to 80’s). I also continued researching Roman Britain – a period I had grown to love because of Rosemary Sutcliff’s superb Roman novels for teenagers (Eagle of the Ninth, Frontier Wolf, Mark of the Horse Lord etc).

For visual aid I visited several locations in the United Kingdom – Glastonbury Tor, several Iron Age hill forts (including Cadbury Castle in Somerset, thought to be the original Camelot). In Wales, we camped beside the river Wye for a few days, which is where I wrote the river scene where Arthur is fishing. From Cornwall to Scotland I and my family visited anywhere that had a remote link to the legends of Arthur. For my daughter, who was then quite young, it was an excellent way to learn about history!

I had always wanted to write. I began with pony stories then moved to science fiction and fantasy. This was the time of Star Wars (first time round!) & Dr Who with Tom Baker as the Doctor. Hooked on Arthur, I switched to history and started my own novel, but I never got very far. The most I wrote was three chapters before binning it.

I was also reading fiction about Arthur but Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon annoyed me – I just did not see her Guinevere as I envisioned her. So I decided to write the story of Arthur I saw her. Again, I did not get far until it dawned on me that I was trying (unsuccessfully) to write the thing from Gwenhwyfar’s point of view. If I was to write it more from Arthur’s….

I was accepted by a UK agent a week after my 40th birthday (I am now 56!) I went to her office to talk about the manuscript and she told me “You do realise you have a trilogy here?”. Talk about knock me down with a feather! The manuscript I’d submitted, and was snatched up by William Heinemann (Random House UK) turned out to became The Kingmaking and half of Pendragon’s Banner.

Shadow of the King was the hardest to write…. But more about that next time!

Main Website: www.helenhollick.net
Blog profiles: www.acorne.blogspot.com
Muse and Views Blog: www.helenhollick.blogspot.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/helen.hollick
Monthly Journal: www.helenhollick.net/journal.html

Thanks to Helen for taking the time to give us a little insight into the beginnings of her King Arthur trilogy.

...and thanks to Sourcebooks for allowing one copy for my followers! For your chance to win a copy of Pendragon's Banner, click here.

My thoughts:

King Arthur is in a constant struggle not only on the battlefield but also amongst his council. Arthur's attempt at creating alliances and providing land rather then battle is a weakness to them. For years, Arthur is without a stronghold, always on the move to defend his Kingship.

Arthur not only has to fight on the battlefield, he has two women scheming for the throne. Winifred, King Arthur's first wife and mother to his son Cerdic, is determined her son will be next in line and refuses to acknowledge their divorce. Morgause, his father's mistress, is a manipulative woman constantly plotting against Arthur.

Over the years King Arthur and his wife, Gyenhwyfar, struggle with the time apart, having children (and losing them). Gwenhwyfar is a beautiful and clever women who can put up a good fight (just ask Arthur!). Helen makes Arthur and Gyenhwyfar come alive with passion and I love that we get to see Arthur in a different light.

Helen Hollick has an amazing ability to paint the perfect picture with her descriptive prose. Though I had not read the first book of the trilogy (which is about to change soon!), I had no problem following the story. The third book,Shadow of the King, is to be released in March 2010 and I look forward to continuing the journey.


  1. Hi, Helen! Great subject, reading about King Author's so interesting! :)

    And great review, Mel!!

  2. Great post! I had never even considered the idea of Arthur being from the Roman era instead of Medieval times. Makes things seem much more interesting!

    Sounds like a good read!

  3. Helen - I am so jealous of a trip around Britain following Arthur's trail! It has been on my "to do" list for a very long time. Thanks for the insight into your writing.

    Mel - Geat pos and review!!