Today Laura Vosika, Author of Blue Bells of Scotland, is dropping by to chat about her historical fiction.
Laura, would you tell us when you started writing? What was it you first wrote?
I started writing when I was eight. I used to write story books that went on the book shelf in my 3rd grade classroom. I also started a novel at age 10, but found out O. Henry had already written a similar story (The Ransom of Red Chief) and stopped.
What period do you write about and why?
Currently, I write in the years 1314 to 1318 in Scotland. Ironically, it was a piece of trombone music and a children's novel that led me there. I was drawn to the streaming banners and noble deeds in the lyrics of the piece well-known to trombonists, Blue Bells of Scotland, and I loved In the Keep of Time, a story about four siblings who go into a Scottish keep and come out in a different century. Coincidentally, both involved Scotland. I started researching what time period a modern man might arrive in, in which he might take part in noble deeds. It's not hard to find battles and wars and opportunity for noble deeds, but I settled on the Battle of Bannockburn, in June of 1314.
What is your theory or belief on how historically accurate you need to be? How does that affect your story? For alternative history writers: how did you decide to change history? How do you reconcile it with “real” history?
I think there are readers and writers for every level of accuracy. I personally prefer the highest possible level I can achieve. Of course, with researching events seven hundred years ago, with so many sources lost and destroyed in that time, and with conflicting sources, it's not possible to be 100% accurate. But striving for that accuracy means I sometimes edit things as I find new information; it means it takes me longer to write a book than it otherwise would. I hope my research impacts my writing by making it believable and very real, by bringing the people (I can hardly stand to dismiss them as characters!) to life.
In a twist on alternate history, Blue Bells of Scotland actually begins with alternate history--a world where the Scots lost at Bannockburn. However, Niall, the medieval warrior, makes it his job to get back to save his people, and with his efforts, the world is set back on track to the history we know--a miraculous, astounding victory over a much greater and better-equipped force.
Tell me about your main character, real or fictional and why?
My main characters are Niall Campbell, devout medieval warrior, and Shawn Kleiner, arrogant, self-centered, womanizing modern musician. They are fictional, two men with identical looks but very different personalities. They're fictional for several reasons, but primarily because they are the people who sprang to my mind, who were just 'there,' so to speak. Another time, I may write about someone like James Douglas, or other historical figures, because their lives are fascinating, great stories, and well worth writing and reading about.
What is the most surprising thing in the period you write about? Do you run into common misperceptions? How do you deal with them in your fiction?
I've been so deep in medieval Scotland for so long, that I can hardly think what surprised me when I first learned it! One of the things that has intrigued me, though, is how human nature can be so much the same throughout the centuries, and yet so very different.
As I research, I do run into arguments about the way things really were: Did they really love their children the way we do today? Did they bathe once a year or more routinely? Were their teeth all bad? I doubt we can ever know for sure, and probably the truth is somewhere in between the two extremes. In The Minstrel Boy (book 2 of the trilogy), I do show the white teeth of people smiling and laughing at a party, and the comment is made, "We were always told you all have bad teeth in this time." This is not to say their smiles were all perfect, only that I doubt they were all terrible, either.
I do get frustrated with the notion that women were powerless in medieval times. It was a very different world. Many of them may not have been what we, today, think of as independent and powerful, but they also were not weak and helpless. There were women like Isabel MacDuff, who defied her husband and the king of England to crown Bruce King of Scots, as was her family's hereditary right. There was the remarkable Christina MacRuari, and Robert Bruce's sister, Christina, who, in her 60's, commanded Kildrummy Castle against the English. There were great abbesses, queens, poets, writers, musicians, and more, women who influenced popes and kings.
But given the world they lived in, I think even the ordinary women, whose names are not remembered by history, were remarkable, strong, independent, and resilient. Were there downtrodden women? Of course. But there were also downtrodden men, and there are downtrodden women today, too. It's an unfortunate aspect of living in our fallen world. The lesson, to me, is that there are remarkable people in every day and age, and our circumstances do not prevent us from living remarkable lives.
Who would you most like to meet from one of your novels? Tell us about them.
Real or fictional? I'd love to spend a day with Shawn, because despite all his failings, he loves life, is a musical genius, and makes people laugh. Among the historical populace of the Blue Bells Trilogy, I'd love to meet James Douglas, Angus Og, or Robert Bruce, or of course any of the women I mentioned in the last question. They were courageous, strong, and driven. They stood up for what they believed in. James Douglas was Bruce's right-hand man. By all accounts, he was a rather peaceful and gentle man until he reached the battlefield, where he became a demon, routinely fighting and winning over forces much larger than his own. Angus Og was the Lord of the Isles, another of Bruce's most loyal supporters, yet who insisted on his own independence. He appears to be a man who commanded Bruce's respect, which says a lot about him. Robert Bruce was the King of Scots who stood against the might of England and won the incredible Battle of Bannockburn over the far superior forces of Edward II.
What is your next project?
I'm currently in the final stages of editing The Minstrel Boy, along with editing Book 3 of the Blue Bells Trilogy. After that, I'll finish editing a novel about an American widow with a houseful of boys who purchases a Scottish castle, only to discover it is already occupied: by a ghostly lady in green who insists she deal with the castle's dark secrets. I have a completed manuscript from years ago that I am re-entering into the computer. (This one is set in Boston in the '90's, so a big detour from medieval Scotland.) I also have a book in progress about large families which I very much look forward to having time to work on. When I finish all of that, I have several other novels started, and would also like to put out book of short stories from medieval Scottish history.