Interview with the authors of A Year of Ravens Part II

Interview by Thomas A. Timmes

UNRV: The rear area of any battlefield is a crowded place, and I suspect the Roman rear during the final battle with the Iceni was no different. It was probably heavily populated with Roman artillery and their crews, wounded Legionaries, wagons, drivers and draught animals, clerks, craftsmen, engineers, slaves, etc. In the story, Boudica, her two daughters, and Duro, Boudica’s right-hand man, escape through a gap in the rear of the original Roman position. Seems unlikely, but, perhaps, in the chaos of the moment it could have been possible. Any comment?
Ruth Downie: I’ll leave that to the people who know about battles!
Stephanie Dray: I have zero expertise in battles, which is why I didn’t volunteer to write any in this book. The historical Boudica escaped somehow, so I’m happy to accept Kate Quinn’s version!
Eliza Knight: I’ll admit to not being a battle expert (which is why we left it to Kate!), but, that being said, I think it is entirely possible. Duro and his son fight off the Romans that are there, allowing just a brief moment in time for Boudica and her daughters to escape. So, it wasn’t entirely vacant of Romans.
Kate Quinn: Fog of war? Blind chance? Who knows? Boudica and her daughters got off the battlefield somehow--history just doesn’t say where. I stage-managed things a bit so the requisite people could escape while the rest got appropriately heroic deaths. Seemed the least I could do for them.
Vicky Alvear Shecter: With historical fiction, we are obligated to work with the facts--and the facts are that Boudica’s body was never recovered. Nor did anyone find the bodies of her daughters. In the chaos and mass destruction it is possible they all died on that muddy field, but it is just as possible that they somehow made it out. That’s where the fiction comes in. We explore what was “possible.” Similarly, the Roman sources tell us all the Druids were killed on Mona. But it certainly was possible that one (or more) survived. So for my story, once I created that possibility, it was a matter of “inhabiting” the mind of a survivor of a mass killing, and exploring all the ways living through a trauma like that might affect one’s religious mind. For Boudica and her daughters, from a storytelling point of view, it was important to complete their arcs and let the reader know “what happened” in a way that real history couldn’t.
Simon Turney: One thing that I find in common with all accounts of conflict, from the birth of the bow to the advent of computerised warfare, is chaos. Commanders invariably sit on a hill watching the activity and saying ‘have unit A move to peak B’ and suchlike rather than indulging in the action but even then some commanders’ writings reek of panic and chaos. Caesar’s account of the Battle of the Sabis is a prime example. Half a hundred of the enemy could have gone anywhere they liked on that battlefield. From the point of view of the frontline soldier all is a sort of organised chaos. They know what is happening with their own unit and their direct seniors and perhaps have a handle on what adjacent units are doing. But few have a good idea of the whole situation. Add to that the fact that in the situation about which we wrote, the Iceni might well be hard to spot, and anything might happen. The Iceni might well be wearing mail shirts almost indistinguishable from those of the Roman auxiliary cavalry. Indeed, there were Gallic auxiliary units serving under Paulinus who were less than a century from being those same resistant Celts who had defied Caesar. It must have been chaos and the idea that four figures might slip through the rear lines is far from unthinkable.
Russ Whitfield: That’s not an easy question to answer, but I think that our modern perspective of these things is a little skewed. I’ve spoken to Phil Matyszak and Chris Cameron (these guys know their ancient battles!) at length on this and really, an ancient battlefield was more like a riot than a chess match. It was very possible to win on the left and lose on the right for instance - it would, as you say, have been utterly chaotic.

I don’t know if you’ve read Doug Jackson’s “Claudius?” There’s a great post-battle scene in it where the adversaries are just wandering around the battlefield - sporadic fights breaking out, people looting, people ignoring each other… when I was reading it, it felt “right” to me. He utterly nails it - and if you’ve not read it, please do. It’s epic.

To answer the question - In this instance, would the Romans have even been noticed the fugitives? Would a legionary even bother with two local women clearly fleeing for their lives? The instinct is to day “they’d have been pounced upon and abused” - but I don’t buy it that every single soldier was made that way… I was talking to Chris Cameron about a scene I was going to write in my current project where, having won a battle, the protagonist goes postal on the survivors. This happened in reality but the truth was that more often, people had had a bellyfull of killing and violence and were more likely to be magnanimous to the vanquished.

But, you just never know… so… In this instance, I think that it’s perfectly feasible.

UNRV: Editing the work of seven authors to ensure that the chapters flow together seamlessly as they do in A Year of Ravens must have been an enormously challenging task. How did you do it?
Ruth Downie: No, it was really easy. We locked Kate into a dungeon with all the individual stories and refused to let her out until she’d made them all fit together.
Stephanie Dray: We did this in steps. First, we were each assigned two other stories to edit. Officially. Most of us did more than that. This gave us the ability to fine-tune each other’s work so that the characters were consistent. And nobody let ego get in the way here. After that round, Ruth Downie fact-checked the manuscript and Kate Quinn took on the Herculean task of editing the novel from start to finish to make sure the timeline was consistent, the characters were consistent, and that the choices made in one story didn’t undercut another. Then our copy editor caught a few more things. In short, we all pitched in and did our parts, but the credit goes to Kate!
Eliza Knight: It is!!! But I think we have a very good system. We all worked together in the beginning with outlines that we shared/tweaked here and there. During the writing process, any cross-over scenes are worked out together. We have one Editor-in-Chief, Kate, who when drafts are complete, divies out critiques, and we each read and edit at least two-three different stories. Kate, also reads the entire thing. After that, we go through revisions, and once more, Kate read the entire, as did many of us, before sending it off to our copy-editor.
Kate Quinn: Lots of wine, and about two solid weeks of eye-crossing nit-picking reading to make sure the brunette slave girl in Story #2 wasn’t suddenly a blonde in Story #4, that the funeral rites in Story #1 aligned with the burial flashback in Story #7, and that character descriptions and dialogue remained consistent throughout. I had the Editor-In-Chief job, which I gladly took on rather than have to wrestle with formatting or marketing, but I’d have gone round the bend if not for Ruth, who was our Fact-Checker-In-Chief and went down the research rabbit-hole obsessively looking up such things as whether or not ravens were extant in East Anglia. And the whole team was just wonderfully accommodating--whenever I turned up with a desperate manic gleam in my eye pleading “Can we please please rearrange the Druid rites in your story, or the next story’s beginning is COMPLETELY SCREWED!” they didn’t throw stones at me or suggest padded restraints--they uncomplainingly worked to smooth out the problem. Nobody dug their heels in or threw fits about their artistic vision being changed; everyone worked together to make sure the stories flowed. Bless them. (And the wine. The wine helped.)
Vicky Alvear Shecter: All the kudos needs to go to the brilliant Kate Quinn, who kept us all in line. On two different occasions she asked me to adjust my opening so that it flowed better with the stories before and after my own. I was happy to do it because it was clear she was right (damn her!) and we were all devoted to making the book as a whole work. Ruth Downie was also brilliant with the fact checking. Together they made a mighty team!
Simon Turney: There have been so many levels of editing applied to polish this work. It began with editing our own work. Then we swapped stories and edited one another in a ‘peer network’ fashion. Then Kate and Ruth, who took on the roles of editorial manager and fact-checker, ran their talented gazes over it, suggesting what needed to be changed to bring everything in line. Then there were various opportunities for the whole team to edit each others’ work. Finally it went to a very, very good copy editor who finished the job perfectly.
Russ Whitfield: I didn’t. Kate Quinn was Editor-in-Chief and has done an amazing job. I can’t tell you how hard it must have been weaving all this stuff together. The big things and the small things… especially the small things, in fact - hair colour, whose sister was whose… the little details… It was a huge task and she should be given a medal. Also, there was Ruth Downie who did all the fact checking and saved me from an epic fail where my happy crew of Romans would have in fact ended up in the Irish Sea if they’d followed the route I’d set out. #stupidModernGoogleMap. OK... #stupidRuss. It WAS challenging, I know that - but Kate Quinn is a legend and was more than up to it. I am a Quinn Fanboy - unashamedly.

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