27/08/2014

WRITING AND DREAMING SCOTLAND - INTERVIEW WITH GLEN CRANEY, AUTHOR OF "THE SPIDER AND THE STONE"

If you follow FLY HIGH!  on blogspot or on facebook, you must certainly have noticed I'm (kind of ) hooked with Scotland and  Scottish heroes at the moment. This is why I was glad to hear from Glen Craney, author of "The Spider and The Stone", when he proposed me to review his historical novel set in 14th century Scotland. 
I've started reading his novel and I've invited Glen to tell us more about it,  his love for Scotland and for historical fiction.
He has generously granted the readers of this blog 10 ebook copies of the book! You are all invited to take your chances to win one of them. Check the book giveaway contest below the interview. Good luck!

Welcome Glen! I’m really glad you accepted my invitation to talk about Scotland and "The Spider and The Stone"  with me.
Thanks to you for the invitation, Maria Grazia.

Scotland is the setting of your historical novel. I’m quite hooked by that amazing land and its stunning wilderness and its castles, what about you? Have you been there ? Why did you choose it as your setting?
I’ve traveled to Scotland three times, and have some ancestral roots there. I often get inspiration for my books in dreams. About ten years ago, I awoke from a particularly vivid one in which I was a mounted knight fighting a duel near a stream with a black-robed hag who wielded a sickle. In the midst of this death struggle, the dream shifted to a photograph of me standing with six other knights around a seated king in a pose of celebration. Below the photograph, a caption read: "Americans aid the King at Bannockburn."

Baffled, I launched on a quest to decipher the dream, and a few weeks later I was walking the old battlefield around Stirling. I thought I had come to Scotland to research a novel with King Robert Bruce as my protagonist. But when I boarded the plane for home, I had two new main characters returning with me: Sir James Douglas, the Bruce’s friend and commander who terrorized northern England with his dashing raids; and Isabelle MacDuff, the Countess of Buchan, who turned against her clan to crown the Bruce.

 Writing historical fiction must be challenging. How much do you work on researching and how important is historical accuracy to you?
The challenge is finding the mythic thread of the hero’s journey through the maze of “facts” handed down to us. But let’s be honest: history itself is a fiction. Whenever self-proclaimed historical purists get on their soapbox, I refer them to the work of former Gettysburg National Park historian Thomas DesJardin, who has debunked many accepted “facts” about the bloodiest battle in American history. In These Honored Dead: How the Story of Gettysburg Shaped American Memory, Dr. Desjardin demonstrated how a skewed narrative of that battle quickly took shape in just hours after the smoke had cleared. His findings are a cautionary tale on the unreliability of eyewitness accounts and primary documents and the faulty foundations of transmitted history.

What were the most exciting aspects of that age you discovered while researching.
Three discoveries surprised me. First, beneath the military struggle lay a religious conflict between ancient Culdee Christianity and the missionaries of the Roman church who tried to stamp out many of the Celtic influences and traditions. Second, Scot women played a crucial but unsung role in Robert Bruce’s miraculous triumph. Third, a spiritual thread connects the destinies of Scotland and the United States. The remarkable events of the Bruce era would leave echoes centuries later in the American Revolution.

Let’s   discuss  the historical moment your tale is set in, that is  the 14th century,  and the Scottish fights for independence against the English. Can you tell us more about it?
I capsulize Scotland’s situation at the time with a metaphor that becomes clearer as the reader moves into the novel: the kingdom’s survival hangs by a spider’s thread. When King Alexander died after falling from his horse in 1286, the clans were thrown into a struggle for the empty throne, and England’s brutal monarch, Edward Longshanks, schemed to annex his northern neighbor. My novel sweeps into that desperate time after the execution of William Wallace, which readers will remember from the end of the movie Braveheart.

You know Scotland is going to decide on its independence in a referendum very soon.  Since you seem to know pretty much about Scottish history, what’s your opinion  on the matter ?
It’s a hot debate, and I’ve made it a point to stay out of it. I don’t think Americans should be advising Scots on how they should vote. There are conscientious people on both sides of the issue, and it only adds heat that this year marks the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.

And now the hero of your book, a real Scot warrior, James Douglas,  and Isabelle MacDuff, the heroine.  Are they fictional or  historical figures? 
Both Isabelle MacDuff and James Douglas—called The Good Sir James by the Scots and The Black Douglas by the English—were real persons, and ideal characters for a novel. While significant events of their lives are known, tantalizing gaps and mysteries in their biographies remain, which allowed me to reexplore the evidence and offer new theories about their motives and actions.

What is the most important ingredient in your book? Mystery? Romance? Adventure?
There’s romance, mystery, adventure, betrayal, war—all of the hoped-for ingredients. But the engine that drives the novel is a love triangle that is repeatedly fractured and restored.

And what is the most intriguing side of writing historical fiction? And what is instead the hardest aspect?
The best historical fiction demands a look at the past in a different light, gives voice to those silenced by the victors, and raises issues relevant for today. If you can find a story with all three ingredients, you’ve been handed a gift, and have a duty to devote two or three years of your life to bring it to life. The most difficult task is smoothly yoking the thoroughbred of imagination to the draught horse of stubborn facts.

When you are not writing, what do you like doing?
Reading, of course, and traveling. I grew up in a sports family in Indiana, but my basketball days have given way to golf, which I suppose is only apt for an author writing about Scotland.

What are you up to at present or in the next future?
I roam across the centuries with my writing. I’ve just released a new novel, The Yanks Are Starving, which tells the true story of a charismatic hobo who, in 1932, led 20,000 jobless World War One veterans into Washington, D.C., only to be driven out with tanks and gas by General Douglas MacArthur. And I’m currently at work on a novel set in Georgia during the last days of the American Civil War.

Great! Good luck and best wishes for your writing, your life and your golf sessions, Glen. Thanks for being my guest and for the generous giveaway.

About the author

Glen Craney is a novelist, screenwriter, journalist, and lawyer. He holds a graduate degrees from Indiana University and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is an AMPAS Nicholl Fellowship winner and a three-time finalist for Foreword Reviews Book-of-the-Year Award. His historical fiction has taken readers to Occitania during the Albigensian Crusade, to the Scotland of Robert Bruce, to Portugal during the Age of Discovery, to the trenches of France during World War I, and to the American Hoovervilles of the Great Depression.

About the book

As the 14th century dawns, the brutal Edward Longshanks of England schemes to steal Scotland. But a frail, dark-skinned boy named James Douglas—inspired by a headstrong lass from Fife—defies three Plantagenet kings and champions the cause of his wavering friend, Robert the Bruce, to lead the armies to the bloody field of Bannockburn. A thrilling saga of star-crossed love and heroic sacrifice set during the Scottish Wars of Independence.

Praise for the book

Foreword Reviews Book-of-the-Year Award Finalist.

"[Craney] has woven a well-crafted, interesting tale." Historical Novel Society

"The best book I've read this year." John Graham, seneschal of the Society of Creative Anachronism

"It was a marvelous book and I was moved to tears." —Kathleen Ingram, Reading the Ages

"Amazingly crafted novel.... Lovers of Scottish history will love the accuracy and presentation of events, and lovers of a good story will be enthralled by its drama and intensity. I finished it today and feel as though I'm in mourning that it's over."Amazon reviewer

Read an Excerpt
Lashed by a morning sleet storm, William Douglas paced behind the frozen earthworks that guarded Castle Rising, an old royal mint so grim and neglected that it made London Tower seem hospitable. As the Earl of Mar and patriarch of his clan of Lanarkshire warriors, he had survived English assaults on the bloody fields of Neville’s Cross and Poitiers, but never had his fortitude so lagged as it did now. Drafted by King David to serve as a ransom surety for the onerous Treaty of Berwick, he was homesick for Scotland, having been away for over half a year. He stole a glance over his shoulder at the East Anglian peat beds that lay north across the low broads.  If he and his squire could break free of their warden, they might reach the Borders and hide in the tangled briars of Ettrick Forest, just as King Robert’s mossers had done half a century ago.He asked himself again: Why would the She-Wolf demand to meet him?  Did the brooding harridan seek to be entertained by his humiliation in defeat? No fellow Scot would shame him for wishing to shun the task at hand, for inside that ice-corniced mausoleum prowled the most dangerous and reviled woman in all the Isles. Isabella of France, the hoary old queen mother of England, had been at various turns in her infamous existence an insatiable adulteress, a regicide and usurper of the throne, a changeling who wore armor into battle and perverted nature by making love like a man, a sorceress who had beguiled her own son by slithering into his bed at night, a necromancer who held séances with her beheaded—The gate portcullis cranked up and a detail of English pikemen in hobnailed boots marched from the tower and across the ice-glazed boards.


Buy links



Great Giveaway  

10 ebook copies (Kindle mobi edition will be sent as email attachment; epub edition via Smashwords coupon) - Open Internationally - Deadline September 5th

a Rafflecopter giveaway

4 comments:

Eryn Utz said...

Sounds like an interesting story set in a tempestuous time!

Leah Weller (leahluvsmedieval) said...

Simply cannot wait to read this! Love the time period. I can't read enough about Bruce and the people who surrounded him.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for hosting me, Maria!

Glen

Terry said...

I love historical fiction set in Scotland and look forward to reading Glen's book. All the best to you Glen with this new book.