Author Interview with Pru Batten
Stephanie: Hello Prue! I am delighted to be chatting with you today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion and your other awards- Readers’ Favorites award, a Rone Award and a Golden Claddagh Award for you story, Gisborne: Book of Pawns. High praise indeed! How exciting!
Prue: Thanks you so much, Stephanie. As an indie writer, I think awards are essential for proving the quality of any given novel. Indie B.R.A.G has extremely stringent standards and to be awarded a medal, a writer knows they have met those exacting conditions. It also gives readers confidence to put their faith in that novel.
Stephanie: I agree with you. How did you discover indieBRAG?
Prue: I believe it was through Alli, the Alliance of Independent Authors. They have worked very hard to make sure indie writers have opportunities to prove themselves in the marketplace. They provided a list of awards that could potentially give indie novels veracity in the cut and thrust of the book-selling trade. I read the standard required for a B.R.A.G and submitted whilst holding my breath!
Stephanie: They are a wonderful site! Please tell me a little about your book?
Prue: Here’s a little piece of the blurb…
In a story where status means power and survival depends on how the game is played, two people, one a squire wronged in life and one a noblewoman, are drawn together by lust and a lost inheritance in twelfth century England. Guy of Gisborne is a man with secrets, Ysabel of Moncrieff, a naïve and opinionated noblewoman whose world comes tumbling down like the stones of a mighty cathedral on the death of her mother.
Gisborne is ordered to Aquitaine to escort the young woman home to attend to her grieving father and whilst travelling, she discovers Gisborne’s secrets are not just connected with his family but with the throne of England.
And with revenge.
Suddenly Ysabel is confronted with the fact that history can be shaped unconscionably by those in power and that she and Gisborne could lose their lives.
Stephanie: One of my favorite periods I love reading about is in twelfth century England. Your protagonist Guy of Gisborne – is he a fictional character or is he a historical figure? Why did you choose this period for your setting?
Prue: For those who know the Robin Hood story, they will remember Guy of Gisborne as the epitome of an antagonist. Just before I began to write Pawns, I watched the BBC’s version of Robin Hood. It was a very loose, anachronistic adaptation of the legend but Guy of Gisborne was given a rather interesting character. He was played as a man who might have made good his life if the cards had been dealt any other way. That was it for me. I decided to re-write his life, taking it as far from the original canon as I could and re-inventing the man. It was a legitimate move in my mind, as we have had three different Robin Hoods in as many years and by great authors – Angus Donald, David Pilling and Steven A. McKay. So why not Guy of Gisborne?
As to Gisborne’s actual existence, I think you will find as many arguments against that as there are against Robin Hood’s existence.
I chose the twelfth century because the most popular story of Robin Hood took place on the cusp of the Third Crusade with Richard Lionheart. It suited me to keep Gisborne within that timeframe because it helped me place my characters in a time of great flux within Europe. Much fodder for development.
Stephanie: Who is the young woman Gisborne is to escort? And what is the one of the ways she changes Gisborne life?
Prue: Ysabel of Moncrieff is an entirely fictional character. Her mother was Lady Alaïs, an Occitàn noblewoman who married an English Greater Baron. Most of Ysabel’s formative years were spent being ‘refined’ in Aquitaine in the belief that a husband would be found for her amongst Occitàn nobles. However this is what she says about her time in the courts of Aquitaine:
‘…at fifteen I was as polished as I could be and becoming objectionable. By twenty, and still in Aquitaine, I was bored. Worse, I was unmarried. My father had dallied with possible marriage settlements but he had hardly been diligent, losing interest if any complication arose. Meetings with suitors were arranged but no son nor their father would have me because I was sharp, opinionated and as accomplished as all of them at hawking and poetry … even gambling. Worse, I could shoot a bow better than any of them and I suspect they felt emasculated. So I was every man’s best friend but most assuredly not a lover nor likely mother of children and my Papa seemed unworried.’
In answer to the second part of the question, it would be more correct to say that they changed each other ultimately, although it took three books for them to evolve. She was spoiled and opinionated and he was secretive, vengeful and self-serving.
There was rather a lot of scope for personality refinement shall we say…
Stephanie: I believe it is safe to say that a lot of Historical Fiction readers love reading about Knights, especially English knights. What fascinates you the most about them not only historically but personally?
Prue: Gosh, interesting question and one I have never really thought about because I am interested in all manner of people from that era, from serfs through minstrels to knights and kings. If anything at all fascinates me about knighthood, it is the code by which they lived, with fealty above, and the ordering of society below their position. I am always fascinated too with the way knights, to be quite glib, hopped off to do their ‘service’ and often left their wives in charge of estates. As has been documented academically, women held a lot more subtle power than later generations gave them credit for.
My first experience of literature with knights was King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table told in a primary reader at school. After that, I became a fan of the Arthurian legend and still remain so. Then of course, I grew up with shows on ’50’s TV like Richard Greene’s Robin Hood. Perhaps it was all very subliminal and the seed was actually beginning to sprout without me even knowing…
Stephanie: What are some of the historical aspects to your story and what is an example of a fictional one…?
Prue: I set my story at the end of Henry II’s reign when he and Richard were having explosive confrontations and when control of the English throne was beginning to shift. I was also drawn to learn about the medieval devotion to crusades. It has a rather pathetic irony to it from the viewpoint of the twenty-first century. Richard had over 2000 Muslims beheaded over a period of a day and a night in Acre.
The fictional angle would be the way Ysabel was unmarried at the age of twenty and the way she chased all over Christendom looking for Gisborne in the first instance, and later, her kidnapped son. Mind you, Eleanor set the scene with her own well-documented life of rushing here and there! But in respect of Ysabel, it is highly unlikely for a woman from a wealthy estate and whose father was a Greater Baron, to remain unmarried for so long. It is here that I am asking my reader to take a leap of faith, accept that this is a work of fiction and to come along on a fast-paced and dangerous medieval adventure.
Stephanie: I like to ask authors what sets their story apart from others in the genre they write about.
Prue: I suppose in the long run it is up to readers to make that call. But I would say that I like my characters to come to the fore and that my historical detail is included with a feather hand. I like to think I use history the way a water-colourist uses water and pigment – lightly. And perhaps this review sums up my style: ‘Batten’s understanding of this world is profound, and she wears her learning lightly enough to make every potentially jarring historical fact seem natural. The flow of the narrative glides around and over the details of daily life, and illuminates the characters rather than distracting from their story…’
Prue: What do you find historically interesting about Henry of England and his son, Richard Lionheart?
Prue: I am always fascinated with dynastic battles and even more so when it involves succession and geo-political borders. Henry’s explosive nature was always of interest, his fierce relationship with his children and Eleanor of Aquitaine and also how her support of their son, Richard, created a whole history that even now has a freshness and gloss to it.
Stephanie: What was your process for writing your story and were there any challenges?
Prue: No challenges, except my notorious lack of self-discipline. Sometimes I need to be chained to the computer!
I have a small outline of how I want my story to develop and key points that must be met as the narrative progresses. I also have character sheets with a miniature biography of those that are important. In addition, I run a style sheet whilst I am working.
I then begin writing and let the story take me with it.
Stephanie: How long did it take to write your story and where in your home do you like to write?
Prue: It takes me approximately a year from the day the first page is typed to the point at which it is released for sale. It has a handwritten draft in the first instance, an edit/transcribe to computer draft, and then a third draft. Then it goes to beta readers and is edited again. Then it goes to my formal editor in the UK and I then work on it once more. After that, it goes through the normal publishing process – cover, formatting etc.
I write best at night, as I love being out of doors during the day. I am a gardener, farmer and dogwalker amongst other things. So when all through the house is quiet, and husband and dogs are sleeping, I sit in bed with pen and paper and travel to the twelfth century until I fall asleep! If I do write in the day, I stretch on the window seat overlooking the garden – perfect place!
Stephanie: What do you enjoy most about writing and how much time to do devote to the craft?
Prue: I love traveling to a different timeframe. I love trying to work my own way through life at that time. I love creating characters who become friends (and enemies) and who talk through my pen and my fingers on the keyboard. I love that every day is a surprise and that I sit back winded when the story takes an amazing turn that even I hadn’t foreseen. That’s the true power of writing fiction for me.
I write maybe 500 words a day, although not every day. My outdoor life is demanding because I choose for it to be and my writing fits in with that.
Stephanie: How do you do your research for your stories? And how do you organize your information?
Prue: I use libraries, bookshops and Amazon constantly. I have research books marked with post-it stickers, and folders filled with research PDF’s with more post-its. I am quite anal and was a research/reference librarian in a previous life so everything has a place.
As I write, if I use a word or a fact that needs to be checked for its etymology and veracity, I will type it in red as a reminder for edit-checks later as I don’t like to stop the flow.
My only challenge when I am writing about the twelfth century is that I am a long way from the remains of medieval Europe. Tasmania couldn’t be any further away geographically which makes all published research very important. I also rely on my travel diaries which have my own reactions to the settings of my novels. And thanks to things like Facebook, I have met some of the kindest people in the world. For example in writing Book Two of this saga, Gisborne has reason to be at a small Templar Commanderie in France. Some friends of mine (I met them on Facebook) live in Provence, not too far from that self-same twelfth century Commanderie, and they visited it for me, asked the owner if they could look around and took a video, stills, and gave me their sensory experience.
It has taught me that there is always a way.
Stephanie: Thank you, Prue!
Prue: Thank you so much, Stephanie. Your questions made me sit back and think about a life and career that I take so much for granted. It’s nice to be reminded how fortunate I am to be a writer.
About Prue Batten:
A former journalist from Australia who graduated with majors in history and politics, I’m now a cross genre writer who is also a farmer, dog owner, gardener and embroiderer. I didn’t plan to be a writer in those early days, I was far more a reader. But like most writers, I’ve always written – seeing the world through the medium of the word. It was inevitable that I become an independent writer simply because I love being at the cutting edge of something and together with many other ‘indies’, being at the forefront of the New Age of Writing and Publishing is like being a sea captain in the Age of Exploration. And I’ve been fortunate – winning silver medals and honourable mentions for my work and to have them ranking unbroken in the UK for the last year.
I try to make time for other things in life. I love wine, chocolate and cooking delectable cakes and biscuits. I mess about in my gardens, dirt under the fingernails and a plant catalogue alongside a cup of tea. I stitch (I love needle and silks) – to wind down. I walk (a lot) with the Jack Russells, but more than anything I like being on beaches, boats or the water – being by the sea is implicit for my writing to sing.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Prue Batten, who is the author of, Gisborne: Book of Pawns, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Gisborne: Book of Pawns, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.