Guest Post: The Writing of a Roman Epic

Hazel West, YA historical fiction Author of On a Foreign Field and Ballad of the Highwayman, has agreed to join me once more in a guest post about her experience in writing her newest book, By Blood or By Bond.

Mara asked me to write about my experience writing By Blood or By Bond, and I think it’s a wonderful way for everyone to look a little into my writing exploits as a whole and the reasons I wrote the story in the first place. From the start, By Blood or By Bond was actually somewhat different than some of my other books. A lot of times, I will write novels I have read about extensively because I love the time periods and find all kinds of awesome ideas while reading about them, but this book, I actually had to research nearly from scratch. Apart from Rosemary Sutcliff’s wonderful novels and Scarrow’s Eagle series, I really had not looked into Roman history besides what I had learned in school. Okay, I’ll admit, my first step of research was that brilliant BBC kids’ show, Horrible Histories. It has the most obscure facts about history and is always an idea sparker. I read Eagle of the Ninth for the first time this January, and published By Blood or By Bond this December. So you can see just how much research I had to do, and also how Rosemary inspired me so much.

It was really Rosemary Sutcliff that made me want to try writing a Roman-Celtic novel. I simply love the beauty of the way she describes the Celtic culture and even makes the Romans seem more heroic and not just pitiless conquerors. She saw the Celtic culture the way I always did; not as a savage, barbarian race, but a sophisticated, proud people with a beautiful, if not sometimes harsh, culture. The allure of the mystery of Celtic and Briton peoples too is something that sparked my interest. There’s not a lot known about them, and their folk stories and somewhat otherworldly attributes just scream for an epic. I likewise loved the way Rosemary describes the differences between the Roman and Celtic culture through Esca in Eagle of the Ninth, Chapter 7. I think it was then, that I decided that I needed to write a tale about the two peoples clashing. Her book Mark of the Horse Lord was also a wonderful look into perhaps the darker side of the Celtic culture.

And the Romans themselves, I have never really cared for until I read Rosemary’s books. Thus when I created my Roman characters like Viggo and Hector, I wanted to make them somewhat against the traditional Rome as well, and I do believe that there were people who really were like that. So, in short, there was a lot of research to do on my part. Even my knowledge of English and Scottish history didn’t go much farther back than the medieval days, but I’ve always loved the research part of writing any book, and starting out with a brand new topic is like beginning an exciting adventure! I literally had to drag my bag out of the library it was so heavy with research books!

The thing about my books, though, is that while I spend loads of time doing research before I actually start to write to get the feel for the time period (I include reading really good novels on the same time period as research) I rarely put a lot of facts in my novels. Truthfully, I don’t think historical fiction has a place for facts. My novels are character driven, and because of that, I don’t like to spend a lot of time describing clothing, scenery and historical events, unless they play a part in the book itself. Obviously when I wrote my previous novel On a Foreign Field, I went a little into the history of how the Scottish Wars for Independence started. But with By Blood or By Bond, I did not even name a date, or mention any historical figure by name. To me, this was not important to the novel. It’s not that I didn’t know my subject, but I did not see it necessary to mention the name of the Emperor and his family history, or who was rebelling and what was being built at the time. I think sometimes writing too much detail is a little bit insulting to your reader. I trust my readers to know what Romans and Celts look like, what they wear, what the places they live might be like. I tried to put just enough description to put a picture into the reader’s head, but not so much, they will have to wade through pages of boring description to get to the story. This book is about Caolán and Viggo, and their struggles with their relationship with each other and the other characters due to the events of the story. It’s a family story, a brother story, and even a father-son story with a little bit of romance on the side. It’s a story of emotions, pain, forgiveness and friendship, not a story about this battle that happened in this year and was fought by so-and-so. That is textbook history: By Blood or By Bond is historical fiction.

For the most part, this book didn’t have as many snags as I thought it might at first. I had a few plot sticking problems, and I ended up changing around the events at the end several times until I was happy, but besides that, it was pretty smooth sailing. There were a couple things I had to fake a little bit, like the gladiators’ living conditions and the court marital/trial at the end of the book. I couldn’t find anything on Roman court martials, not even in Legionary: the Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manuel (one of my favorite research books used), so I mainly just took what I knew of later court martials and based the scene off those. Of course, everything I wasn’t sure of or changed, I talked about in the author’s note.I think I always go away from new a book saying it’s my favorite, but this one, I can definitely admit, that the characters really struck a chord with me. I really connected with them. The emotional journey I took with the characters from On a Foreign Field brought me close to them, but not as much as with the characters from By Blood or By Bond. Perhaps it’s because Viggo ended up being quite a bit like myself, but I know that I could definitely continue to write about these characters. That’s one of the reasons I smell a military adventure series with Viggo and Hector for the future. I’ve already written two backstory novellas for them, and a novel, and yet, I feel I could definitely write more very effortlessly. Not all of my characters are like that.

Overall, I believed in the story of By Blood or By Bond. I’ve probably mentioned before that I’m a fan of stories where two different people or cultures are thrown together and end up respecting each other in the end. The difference about this story, however, is that it happens on several different levels. First of all, you obviously have Viggo and Caolán’s stories. They start out hating each other because of the events that threw them together. But then Viggo realizes that Caolán is quite a bright lad, and I think he, perhaps, sees a little of himself in the Celt as well, giving the promise that they might just be able to work past their original feelings for each other. And then you also have the other plotline of Caolán and Viggo’s niece Lorena. Historically, it would not be strange, perhaps, but would definitely be looked down upon for a young woman of a middle class family to fall in love with a Celtic slave/gladiator, but again, historical fiction, and Lorena and her relationship with Caolán play a major roll in the story line. Apart from these relationships, there are the brotherly bonds that tie Viggo and Hector together and then Caolán and Fáelan and Théodard. In fact, it’s partly Viggo and Hector’s relationship that softens Caolán to him a bit. I think he sees himself and Fáelan in Viggo and Hector years later, and if it hadn’t been for Hector and Fáelan, Viggo and Caolán might not have made it through the story. Thus, I had to add one of my favorite things, the power of brotherly love, especially between men who are not blood brothers, but those by bond (see?).

So I hope you enjoyed reading this little insight into my feelings and my adventure with writing By Blood or By Bond, and I do hope that you will give it a try!

Blurb: Which ties are stronger—those of Blood or those of Bond.
Caolán, the son of a Celtic chieftain, awaits his first pitched battle against the Roman invaders, knowing that this is the moment in which he will truly become a warrior, of the tribe.

Viggo Callias is a seasoned centurion in the Roman army on his first deployment to Britain with his newly enlisted son, Aulus. Serving under an incompetent commander, he wonders whether victory will be theirs.
But fate takes a hand in both Caolán and Viggo’s lives when Viggo’s son is killed by a spear meant for him. Enraged at the loss of his son, Viggo seeks vengeance on the man responsible: Caolán’s father. As the chieftain breathes his last, Viggo vows to take Caolán as a slave to avenge Aulus’ untimely death.

Torn from his country and people, Caolán’s only comfort is the hope that one day he will be able to avenge his father. But can the greatest wrongs be righted? Brotherly bonds, gladiators, old enemies, corrupt politicians and a young woman who captures Caolán’s heart, take a role in the physical and emotional journey that binds Caolán’s and Viggo’s fates together. Can the two wounded parties work past their hatred of each other and find what they have lost: a father and a son?

This new novel by Hazel West, explores the familial ties that bind us all, whether by blood or by bond.


About the Author:
Hazel West lives in Florida where she spend a good bit of time writing historical fiction about brave men and women who have graced the pages of history, trying to bring more light to their legacies so readers of all ages will enjoy them.

Hazel’s favorite things/hobbies: Writing obviously, listening to and playing Irish and Scottish folk music, practicing with all eras and types of historical weaponry, GOOD COFFEE, reading of course, dark (dark) chocolate, sketching/painting, hats, scarves and boots, collecting little old-fashioned things of all kinds, buying books, and don't forget dressing in period clothing!

Find Hazel at These Places!
Twitter: @artfulscribbler

By Blood or By Bond Sneak Peek!
Viggo had been seething throughout this whole altercation and now he turned back to Amatus. “Listen, Tribune. Whether or not you outrank me, isn’t the point here. The fact is that I am Lorena’s guardian and I cannot let you force your attentions upon her. And I wish to discuss the fact that you came here when you knew well enough that Lorena was alone. That is neither the mark of a gentleman nor a suitor, that is the mark of a barbarian.”

“You speak to me of barbarians and yet you keep one in your house,” Amatus told him coldly. “I am surprised that you would shun me, and yet let a savage Briton reside under the same roof as your niece.”

Caolán gritted his teeth. He wished to speak out about what the Romans had done to his own people and see how the tribune liked to hear that, but he didn’t have to because, to his surprise, Lorena was speaking for him.

“Caolán is hardly a savage,” she told the man sternly. “He is a fine young man, honorable, and he can speak Latin fluently. And he would never leer across the table at a girl half his age, thus putting her off her supper.”

"Lorena, you speak out of turn,” Viggo snapped at her as Amatus’ face turned an angry shade of red. “It is not your place to defend a slave.”

“You would have agreed with me before, Uncle Viggo,” Lorena said in a low voice and Caolán watched the struggle that went on behind the Roman’s eyes. He could see that Viggo wanted to deny her, or reprimand her, but this was obviously no conversation to have in front of a visitor, especially one they disliked so much, and so he just settled for clenching his hands and giving her a hard look before he took a long draft from his wine glass. He snapped at Caolán. “Fill my cup.”

Caolán went to fill the Roman’s cup again and when he was turning back, Amatus handed him his cup as well.

“Spirit is as distasteful in women as it is in slaves,” Amatus said dryly. “Callias, I think your niece needs a lesson like your Celtic barbarian.”

That statement hit Caolán like a punch to the gut. Who were these Romans that they liked timid women and whipped people until they lost all their fight? Just thinking of Lorena, who rode so well and loved freedom as much as he did, married to this disgusting man, who would break her and use her as an ornament, made him sick. Before he knew what he was doing, he had thrown the full cup of wine right into the tribune’s face.

COMMENT FOR A CHANCE TO WIN!
Hazel will be giving away one signed copy of By Blood or By Bond through a Goodreads Giveaway and a signed copy of her backstories collection to a lucky commenter during the blog tour. It you want to win the backstories collection, leave a comment with your name and email address and after the tour, Hazel will draw the lucky winner from her highwayman hat.

Here’s another fun thing! During the tour, if you:

a. Purchase a paperback copy of By Blood or By Bond through Amazon or Createspace, you can email Hazel at sirwilliamssquire@gmail.com with the subject “Blood or Bond” and notify her of your purchase. She will then give you a coupon code for 30% off a paperback copy of the backstories collection from Createspace.

b. Purchase an e-book copy of By Blood or By Bond from Smashwords or Kindle send Hazel the same email, and she will give you a discount code for a FREE Smashwords e-book copy of “To Save a Life”. So, if you buy the book, don’t forget to email Hazel before the 31st of January, or you won’t get your coupon!

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