Readers, today we have one of my writing buddies, Nicole Evelina, here to talk about Arthurtian fiction! This is a genre dear to my heart, because I went through a very long period of Arthurian-obsession, and I’ll admit—that obsession persists today. Nicole has some great things to say about historical fiction and fantasy, mythological settings, and strong women in history. Check it out!
Hello, Nicole! You’re one of my #teamawesome buddies, but this is your first time here at the blog, so welcome! Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
Thanks, Kristin. I’m a historical fiction writer. I’m currently writing an Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view. I’m also planning a book about Tristan and Isolde, who are part of the Arthurian legend.
You write Arthurian novels! That delights me — my ten-year-old self desperately wanted to write Arthurian fantasy. What made you decide to write tales of Camelot?
It sounds like you and I had a lot in common growing up. Guinevere was one of my childhood heroes. I always liked her more than Arthur or Merlin. As I grew and read more and more, I realized that Guinevere really isn’t portrayed well in these stories. She’s pretty much known for being a faithless wife who is sometimes kidnapped, and often fought over. When I read The Mists of Avalon in college, I really disliked Marion Zimmer Bradley’s portrayal of Guinevere (I loved the book overall). (I had the same reaction to The Mists of Avalon. Her Guinever? BLECH!) So I started thinking, what is her story? We only hear about her while she’s with Arthur, but surely she had to have done something before and after him. In many ways, I’m doing for Guinevere what MZB did for Morgaine/Morgan in Mists.
What types of stories does the Arthurian setting make possible?
Oh, there are so many possibilities. We don’t know for sure if King Arthur existed, and if so, when or exactly where. Some stories are set in the Middle Ages, but I’ve chosen to go with current theory on Arthur’s life and set mine in the late Celtic era, roughly 480-530 AD. That’s the tumultuous time after the Romans left Britain, but before the Saxons gained power. It enables me, as a writer, to tell the stories of many different peoples: the native Britons, the Romanized Britons, Saxons, Irish, Picts, lowlanders (known as the people of the Gododdin), the Bretons, Christians and Druids. Plus, there are all the stories that traditionally go with Arthurian legend: the great battles, Camelot, Merlin, The Grail Quest, the Knights of the Round Table, the isle of Avalon, just to name a few. I could honestly write in Arthurian legend for the rest of my life and never run out of material.
Some of these stories are so familiar to many people — how does that influence your writing?
It’s an interesting situation to be in. There’s a certain amount of expectation on the part of the reader when they go into a story with which they’re already somewhat familiar. So, to an extent, I’m constrained by tradition. But I’m also free in many ways, simply because the story has been told so many different ways over the years. I feel a duty to stay true to the basics of the story, while free to put my own spin on it, just as those who came before me did. I love the idea of taking something familiar and turning it on its head in way that reflects my unique perspective, as well as the sensibilities of modern readers.
What audience do you think Arthurian novels attract? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
It really depends on the focus of the story. Usually stories focused on Arthur, Merlin, the knights and the battles attract a male audience, whereas those focused on the chivalry and courtly love themes attract women. I’m writing a story about an Arthurian woman – the Arthurian woman – so I expect to attract a mostly female audience. Because of this I’m careful to have strong, intelligent women in my books. I want Guinevere, Morgan, Elaine, Isolde, and the other women of Camelot to be role models that women of all ages can look up to (even if some of the characters are less than virtuous). Throughout history, they’ve often been portrayed as weak and docile, but if they truly lived in the Celtic time period I’ve set my books in, they would have been fierce women. So I try to make sure I’m true to that cultural aspect, while still staying true to the core of who they’ve always been.
How does the mythological setting affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?
Mythology opens up a wealth of possibilities in these stories. There are a variety of traditions to draw upon when telling the story, and it frees me to add an element of fantasy to my novels. I made a choice early on that I would portray Merlin as the Archdruid of Britain, rather than the traditional idea of a wizard.
The same goes for Morgan. She, like many of my female characters, is a priestess of Avalon. But you won’t find Merlin hurling lightning bolts or fireballs at anyone (much as he might wish to), or see Morgan putting spells on people. I’ve chosen to portray a type of magic that is much more subtle and was very much a part of Celtic life. This means manipulation of natural energy and connection to the elements and their power. Some characters have Second Sight, while others are gifted storytellers. These are all abilities you see throughout early Welsh and Irish literature, the exact stories that today we call myth, but which the people of the time would have grown up hearing – just as I grew up hearing about Arthur and Guinevere.
Why do you think people love to read Arthurian stories? How do you think these stories affect their audience?
Everyone needs a hero and Arthur has filled that role for centuries. He’s the “once and future king,” the unifying savior of a people who is promised to come again. When times get tough, we turn to stories such as these to escape reality, to live in someone else’s world for a while. We read them to feel hope.
Camelot is a powerful symbol of the peace and unity we all seek. It’s the perfect kingdom, the utopia we all strive to create in our own lives. But what’s interesting is that even within its own story, it doesn’t last. It’s never quite as perfect as it could or should be, because it is the creation of human beings with weaknesses that ultimately cause its destruction. I think that as much as we yearn to create its perfection, we also identify with its downfall because we see the same thing played out in our own lives. We try to be good, but often, we fail. Yet, that’s never the end of things. Camlann may have killed the king, but he’s not really dead. Even as Arthur lies sleeping, waiting to be awakened when the time is right, Camelot and Arthurian legend show us that we’re never at an immutable end either; we can always try again.
For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?
On my gosh. I read all kinds of stories, from historical fiction to urban fantasy and paranormal romance. I even enjoy light murder mysteries. I guess if I had to pick one, it would be tied between historical fiction and fantasy (including all of its subgenres like historical fantasy, urban, dystopian). I love reading historical fiction for the same reason I love writing it: you get the chance to tell or read the story of someone who otherwise may have been lost in the pages of history. I read fantasy because I love stories involving magic. I’ve always wanted supernatural powers and when I’m reading a fantasy book, I get them, even if only for a short time. I also have thing for elves and faeries, but that’s a story for another day.
How can readers get in touch with you?
My blog is http://nicoleevelina.com. I share new tidbits of Arthurian and Celtic history or musings on being a writer once a week. I’m on Twitter at least once a day at @nicoleevelina. I’m also on FB, Pinterest, Push Pages and Goodreads as Nicole Evelina. You’re welcome to look me up and follow/friend me.
Thanks for stopping by!
Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.