Interview with the authors of A Year of Ravens
Interview by Thomas A. Timmes
Today, we are extremely fortunate to present an interview with all seven distinguished authors of A Year of Ravens. Each of the authors answers the same seven questions, and, in the process, reveals their personality, wit, and knowledge. I think you will enjoy this!
UNRV: Boudica and her Iceni tribesmen lost the moral high ground when they devastated the three Roman colonies of Camulodonum, Londinum, and Verulamium. Nonetheless, the reader is compelled to side with Boudica over the Romans. Was the story intentionally written to garner support for the Iceni and their Queen?
Ruth Downie: I still have mixed feelings about Boudica, and so did my narrator, despite being Iceni herself. I don’t think Boudica would have been a comfortable person to spend time with, and we haven’t glossed over the violence she and her people perpetrated. But I think the appeal of her story is that they were forced to face a question we’re still struggling with today: what do you do in the face of tyranny?
Stephanie Dray: Who doesn’t cheer for the underdog? But we wanted to give a well-rounded picture so we didn’t shy away from the shortcomings of the Iceni and their queen. My own story takes on the task of humanizing two arch-villains of Ancient Briton and its struggle with Rome. I really came to love my own version of the wise Roman-allied Queen Cartimandua and the in-over-his-head procurator who touched off the rebellion by having Boudica flogged. I loved them so much that at one point I even started to worry that we’d gone too far the other direction and that everyone would think the Iceni should’ve sat down, shut up, and admitted their inferiority to Rome. But the way the novel unfolds, story after story, humanizes everybody. And E. Knight’s final story is too heartbreaking for a reader not to sympathize with people who had been wronged.
Eliza Knight: Of course, I’m a Boudica supporter, and who doesn’t feel sympathy for a woman who in the face of her husband’s death is beaten and her daughters raped? But that being said, I think we really tried to focus on our book not be a “death to Romans!” story. We really wanted to have ALL sides of the story, which I think the reader will find. And in truth, I think both sides of this tragic part of history made mistakes.
Kate Quinn: Not really - we had a warts-and-all approach to the Iceni rebellion, wanting to show the good and the bad done by both sides. Boudica comes down through popular legend as a purely heroic freedom fighter, but there’s no denying she wreaked terrible violence against innocent civilians during her war on Rome. We knew that would be an unpalatable truth to witness about such a popular historical heroine, but we felt white-washing the facts would do history a disservice. I think any reader will still root for Boudica (if they aren’t weeping after reading Eliza’s portrayal of her, they have a heart of stone!) but they’ll see the darker side to her rebellion too. And they’ll see that not all the Romans were such baddies, either.
Vicky Alvear Shecter: It’s an issue of perspective. You can’t help but empathize with someone on the losing side if you’re telling the story from their point of view because you can emotionally see and feel what was at stake for them. For the Iceni and the Celts, it was everything--land, freedom, a way of life, religion, autonomy, etc. All we know about Boudica and the Iceni, of course, come from the Romans who had a vested interest in making their defeated enemy look savage, dangerous, and scarily “other.” By inhabiting the stories of those who lost, we give voice to their humanity, something that is often lost when only the victor speaks.
Simon Turney: Is the reader compelled to side with Boudica? I suppose it is in the nature of humanity to side with the underdog in these things. I personally see so many both positive and negative facets of both sides that I view it as an unfortunate and sadly unavoidable clash of powerful personalities leading their distinct cultures. The Iceni in the tale are far from heroic and infallible, while the Romans are a long way from the evil despots of the ‘sword and sandal’ movies. I shall be interested to see the general view of the book from readers and see how the sympathies fall. So to answer that: no, the reader is encouraged to find his or her own side (or of course, to side with neither….)
Russ Whitfield: Yes and no, I reckon. Seven different stories have seven different points of view, so some will be more pro-Boudica than others. In Si’s story, I recall some pretty graphic descriptions of what the Britons did to civilians in Londinium - and it doesn’t paint a particularly sympathetic picture of the tribes.
I think that people who know a bit about the period (as the vast majority of Roman Historical Fiction readers do) go into these stories knowing who they want to root for. But also, we tried to show the motivations of the protagonists - these are going to colour their view of the conflict of course.
We were also pretty clear about not white-washing things… atrocities were committed by both sides. The Romans were raping and pillaging as were the Britons. There’s also the issue of human sacrifice. I have it that the Romans are appalled by this, that the Britons do it “to shit the life out of you.” Whereas to the Druids, it’s a sacred thing. Who’s right? Well, if you’re a willing victim, going to your Gods, high on magic mushrooms, then its religious and acceptable. If you’re a Roman soldier have his chest carved open… not so much.
Ultimately, it's for the readers to draw their own conclusions, but as I say above - my feeling is that readers will go in being supportive of one side or the other.
UNRV: Three of the seven authors of A Year of Ravens have collaborated previously with multiple authors, so, for them, the concept of sharing the writing is not that unusual. Enlisting seven authors for a book, however, is unusual, and, in this instant, is highly successful. Why seven and how were they selected?
Ruth Downie: I wasn’t involved in the original selection process but I suspect the others were expecting me to be a mystery writer. I hope readers won’t be waiting for the murder to happen, because for once I’ve written something with no mystery, no clues and no detective. It was a nice change!
Stephanie Dray: Oh, thank you! I had the honor to be a part of A DAY OF FIRE: A Novel of Pompeii, and we had six authors that time. It worked really well, and when E. Knight decided to invite us to write about Boudica, we thought opening one more slot wouldn’t hurt. It certainly made the book longer, but I think that’s good for the reader! Now, Kate, Eliza and I all write historical women’s fiction, so we really wanted to round that out with other styles and perspectives. So we especially wanted Vicky (who writes Young Adult), Ruth (who writes Mystery), and Simon & Russ who both write more battle-centric books.
Eliza Knight: Hello, H-Team! I really love these writers! We really felt there were seven sides to this story that were compelling and needed to be told in order to get an idea of the whole picture of the Boudica Rebellion. Four of us on the Boudica team worked together for our Pompeii book, A Day of Fire. And in fact, a fifth member, Ben Kane wrote our introduction for this book, too. Sadly, our sixth member, Sophie Perinot was unable to join us because of other deadlines, but that opened up the door to inviting in new and very talented authors--and that is how we ended up working with Ruth Downie, Russell Whitfield and SJA Turney! I really enjoyed that experience of telling one story from multiple viewpoints, and having it flow from one to the next, rather than backtracking. I think it gives a richer story to the reader to see it from so many sides.
Kate Quinn: We wanted to get the original team from A Day of Fire back together, which meant another novel-in-six-parts--but Ben Kane and Sophie Perinot had conflicting deadlines for other books, and couldn’t join this time around. That meant inviting new players. And as for why a novel-in-six became a novel-in-seven, Boudica’s rebellion proved to be a much bigger tale than the Vesuvius eruption which only took place over 18 hours! As we were looking at the history and sectioning off the rebellion’s timeline into mini-arcs that would give each story its own climax, it became clear that there was easily room for a seventh tale. I’m glad there was, because Si and Russ and Ruth were all such gems to work with, I’d have hated to miss out on having any of them along for the ride!
Vicky Alvear Shecter: As others have commented, we initially tried to get to the same group of writers that worked on A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii, but two were unavailable and we knew the story was simply too big to try and tackle it without adding new talent. It made sense to ask those writers who had already written about the ancient Romans and/or this time period, which is what we did. For me personally, it was VERY exciting to have Ruth Downie, Russell Whitfield, and SJA Turney join the group because I love their work. I’d be lying if I didn’t also add that I was terrified and intimidated. I didn’t want to let anyone down!
Simon Turney: I have been working in concert with another author on a joint project for some time, though that is just two of us and we were already well acquainted. I had never considered something on this scale. I remember reading ‘A Day of Fire’ when it was released last year and boggling at the amount of effort and skill that had to go into the mixing of six authors’ work. And now seven? I am still unsure how it worked so well, to be honest, and have to tip my hat to those of the team who had done this previously and who saw us ‘newbies’ through the whole project. Why I was asked to be a part of it baffles - but thrills and humbles - me.
Russ Whitfield: Thanks so much for your kind words! I was hugely honoured to be invited to take part. Originally, it was the original team from “A Day of Fire,” but there were scheduling conflicts and Ben Kane (bless him) asked me if I would be interested in taking part - which I jumped at. Editor-in-Chief Kate Quinn sussed out that a seven-act structure would work better in this instance because the first H-Team book took place in one location with a pretty short time-span… “A Year of Ravens” takes place over one year (natch!) and on a broader canvass.