Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On A Foreign Field: Interview and Giveaway with Author Hazel West


"The last thing Reeve saw was the hilt of a sword coming toward his face before he blacked out."

We have an Englishman, Scots, and swords--doesn't get better. Please join me in welcoming author Hazel West!

Did you plan to be a writer or did it just happen?

I think, like so many of us, it really just happened. Does anyone really plan to be a writer? I always loved making up stories, but eventually they began to find their way onto paper, and then I couldn’t stop writing. There’s no real accounting for what writer’s go through. I mean, we hear people talk to us in our heads and force us to write things down; we stay up all hours of the night slaving over one scene. We can either resign ourselves to the fact that we’re most likely crazy, or just decide to become a self-proclaimed writer!

What is your favorite non-writing pastime?

Reading, most definitely. There are so many books out there that inspire me, so I have to read something every day just to keep my inspiration going. And I have to support my favorite authors as well, of course. Other than reading, I like to sketch, choreograph fight scenes in my backyard, and drink coffee.

What has been your greatest challenge in writing On a Foreign Field?

I think the hardest part about writing “On a Foreign Field” was the fact that I wanted to portray things that I had never gone through personally, though, obviously, no one living has been in a medieval battle either, so that’s understandable. But for writing most of the book I had to rely on instinct more than actual experience. There was a lot of times writing this, that I really had to just sit back and put myself into the characters’ places even though it was hard both mentally and emotionally. There are some things that, as writers, especially of historical fiction, that we will just never be able to fathom. But I hope that this novel does not fall flat in that case.

Tell us about your favorite character in this book!

Oh dear, well, who to pick? I do love Reeve, the main character, but I think besides him, I’d have to say Gavin is my favorite. Gavin is one of those people who you might not like the first time you meet him, and he might not like you, but once you win him over to your side, he’s the most loyal friend anyone could ever have. He has somewhat of a wry sense of humor and he likes to play jokes on people, but he never does it to hurt anyone. I also have a soft stop for Gaelyn who’s sort of my tortured soul in this book. He lost his family to the English and blames himself for it because he was not there when they were killed. He’s a very dynamic, angsty character, and I always enjoy writing characters who I can pour a lot of feeling into.

What is your favorite scene in On a Foreign Field?

Well, let’s see. I have a few favorites, but I’ll share a couple that won’t give anything away ;-) I think one of my favorite scenes in the book was when we are first introduced to Robert the Bruce at Wallace’s knighting. I regretted the fact that I could not put a lot of Bruce into this story, because I have always found him a very interesting and dynamic character, but in this scene, I think I was able to capture at least the character I think he possessed from what I read about him. There is also a part where Reeve and Gavin have a knock-down-drag-out, and that was quite a fun scene to write!

Which character in the book will be the most difficult to part with?

Oh, all of them. I loved them all. When writing a book, I always feel like I am working with a cast of actors and actresses, and it’s sometimes very hard to say goodbye to them. These were some of my favorite characters I have ever written about (don’t tell the others!) because I really took the emotional journey with them when writing “On a Foreign Field”. There were so many things I never would have thought of if not for having to put myself into the character’s shoes. But I will probably miss Reeve most of all since he was who started this whole thing.

What kind of research was involved for the book?

Truthfully, not all that much, but let me explain the facts behind that J This is not the first Wallace novel I have written as I previously published “Freedom Come All Ye” a novel about William Wallace as a teenager, and I had also written an old version of Wallace’s story that is not much good now, but it had extensive research put into it, and since I had all the notes saved, and had collected all the books I needed and knew which ones were good and bad, I really only had to do a refresher, particularly for the battle scenes since those are more precise than others. But when I originally researched Wallace in depth, that was a venture of several months, and I’ve only learned more since, so if you count it all up, I’m probably something of a expert on the matter.

What has been your greatest pleasure or personal success as an author?  

Seriously, my greatest pleasure in being an author, is being able to meet other authors and writers. I have met so many wonderful people since I became a published author and even some before that who have been with me from the beginning. I love to have people I know I can turn to for an honest opinion if I get stuck on something. I wouldn’t know what to do without my writer’s in arms!

As for personal success, just seeing my books in print is amazing enough! Three years ago, I was only dreaming of being a published author before I decided to take the plunge into independent publishing. It was a long journey, and I’ve gotten much better at marketing and everything since I started and was clueless *laughs* but it was worth it for the end result.

What type of hero do you like best?

I personally like flawed heroes. I’m not big on the Superman types (unless they are epic heroes like Beowulf or something). Heroes who never falter or can never be wounded are, frankly, boring. If nothing ever happens to them, if they never make stupid mistakes, we’re not going to be interested in them, we’re not going to pity them, and no reader is ever going to be able to relate to them. I also like grey heroes, ones who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. You know the types; just because the judge let the bad guy go, doesn’t mean he can’t meet his end ‘accidentally’ some dark night ;-)

What type of heroine do you like best?

Okay, I’ll admit I am a very picky reader when it comes to female characters. It takes a really good heroine for me to read a book with a female protagonist and here’s why: While I like strong leading ladies, who are not the damsels in distress all the time, I do not like ones who are man-haters, and think that they can do anything they want with an attitude because they’re a girl and girl power rocks. No. That will make me lose respect in a book. I like a heroine who will work alongside the hero, not get in his way, and not make him look like an idiot because she’s a girl and he’s not. The two female characters in “On a Foreign Field” Adeline and Maggie are two examples of the kinds of female characters I don’t mind reading about. Adeline is the quiet sweet one, who is still not stupid, and Maggie is the fiery, strong, and even a bit dangerous kind of heroine. She’s a true Scotswoman and while she does what needs to be done, she does it because of that and not because she’s trying to prove a point.

Is there any place and time in the world and in history that you would like to visit?

I would love to visit the Victorian era, I just love everything about it. It was such a different time period because things were changing, all these really neat inventions were being made, the clothes were awesome, and of course there’s Sherlock Holmes ;-) And it would have to be Victorian London. Yes, I know it was smelly and filthy, but it would be amazing to see it all as it really was.

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

I will always write historical fiction because I love the past. I’ve always been a history buff, since I first learned about the American Revolution in third grade and I’ve kept my love of history ever since. There are so many amazing events that you can write about in history and craft to fit your story and characters. I also love those historical mysteries where no one knows what really happened. Those give a writer lots of liberties to play around with! I also love how historical writers have the chance to take the historical figures we might be somewhat in awe of and make them human. They aren’t just that name in your high school textbook, they’re a real person; that’s why I love historical fiction. Because I think in certain respects it is more real than your average historical account.

Which authors and books have most influenced your writing style?

Rosemary Sutcliff for one; she was a major inspiration for “On a Foreign Field”, but for my other books, I will add Alexandre Dumas, and Louis L’Amour as well as Robert Louis Stevenson. They are some of my favorite authors as well.

Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?

I’m toying with the idea of bringing the lads from “On a Foreign Field” back perhaps, either in a novel featuring Robert the Bruce, or in short stories, but that will be far in the future, so I’m not making any promises on that right now. I would love to bring them back again, but there are many other plots that are vying for my attention. As for themes, I always love to write about brotherhood, especially when the characters are not blood brothers. I also have an upcoming novel that has a very strong father-son relationship between two characters, which is something I haven’t really written yet, but I like just as much. I have nothing against romance in general, and I always end up having a bit of a romantic plot in my books, even if I didn’t plan it, but my favorite books are about camaraderie, and brotherly relationships. There’s none of the annoyance that can sometimes come about in romances and the relationship between the two or more characters in brotherly relationships is just as strong. Brothers in arms stories are definitely my favorites!

Is there a book you’ve ever read more than five times? Which book and what drew you back to it?

The Princess Bride by William Goldman. I love that book, and I’ve watched the movie even more times than I have read the book. There’s just something about it; the classic adventure, the humor, the quirky characters, it’s just good writing. It’s an ‘old friend’ book to me and I pull it out whenever I just need something to wind down with.

 The Book
Sir Reeve Montgomery is an Englishman born and bred, proud of his heritage and the right to serve his country fighting against the Scottish rebels. But when the tide is turned unexpectedly during the Battle of Stirling Bridge, he is wounded by an English arrow, left for dead by his comrades, and taken captive by Wallace's army. Wounded, and alone on a foreign field, he knows he should expect nothing but torture and death at the hands of the Scottish rebels who are known to be complete savages. But as he comes to know this tight brotherhood better, and sees Wallace's utter devotion to his men and the cause of freedom, Reeve begins to wonder whether the English are right to oppress them. Faced with these troubling thoughts, Reeve must decide whether he will stay true to his king, or join this brotherhood of freedom fighters, thus turning his back on everything he has ever known or believed in. This new novel by Hazel West is a thought-provoking, heartfelt read about the true meaning of loyalty and brotherhood.

The Author
I spend a good bit of my time writing historical fiction about brave men and women who have graced the pages of history, trying to bring more light to their legacies so readers of all ages will enjoy them. My favorite things to do are writing, obviously, listening to and playing Irish and Scottish folk music, practicing with all eras and types of historical weaponry, drinking GOOD COFFEE, and reading good books. I currently live in Florida.


 
An Excerpt
 It was in a spilt second that Reeve realized how desperate their situation was now. They had been cut off from the rest of their army with no hope of them being able to find a ford in the river to cross in time. Their numbers were now mostly equal to the Scots and Reeve hoped they would have the sense to stand and fight as one instead of scatter and make it easier to be picked off by the enemy. Men could train for years to hold a formation, but one never knew how they would react when faced with the real enemy.
The Scots had charged at them in two columns, trapping the English in the middle. The archers released their deadly rain and arrows found targets as they fell onto the opposing army. Reeve and his companions spurred their horses on immediately, knowing that to stand still was to die. Reeve swung his sword from its sheath and urged his horse forward at the charging Scotsmen, swinging the blade in a flashing arch and shouting out a war cry of his own. There was a huge clash that sounded as the two armies met head on. Reeve was immediately separated from Harold and Gerard in the mess. A lot of the knights realized too late that they had been led into a marsh and their horses were sinking in the muck, weighed down by armor. Reeve hoped neither of his friends were caught in the mire to be easy prey for the Scots. He wanted to go back and look for them, but he knew how foolish that was in a battle. You looked ahead, only at your enemy and you killed and killed again until it was done; only then could you spare the time to look for lost comrades.
He hacked left and right with his sword, catching a spear wielded by a screaming Scotsman on his shield with enough strength behind it to bruise his shoulder. He gritted his teeth against the pain as he stabbed downward with his blade and took the man through the chest. He felt hands grip his tabard from behind and he spun just fast enough to stop the man from hauling him from his saddle where he would be sure to meet a grisly end at the point of the long broadsword the man carried. He jerked his sword pommel-first into the man’s head and his attacker fell back instantly.
Reeve suddenly caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and he turned with his sword swinging up for a blow but the man who had been there was already gone. Then his horse lurched under him and whinnied in pain, rearing up before it bolted.
Reeve was flung from the back of the beast, realizing that he had been victim to one of the Scottish dirkers; lithe, fast men, who ran around the field, ducking underneath horses and jabbing their bellies with their dirks to make them throw their riders. Reeve was flung onto the boggy ground, hauling himself up with difficulty in his heavy armor. He quickly un-buckled the plates that covered his shoulders and the greaves protecting his legs. There was no need for them now on the ground; they would only hamper him, and if he was going to have to swim the river...
He quickly looked around at the warriors and knights who were rushing past. He caught sight of a fearsome Scotsman running toward him, his giant claymore upraised. Reeve stood his ground and met the man head on, ducking under the great sword and swinging a blow to the man’s legs. The Scotsman leapt to one side and with a wild yell, swept his heavy sword at Reeve.
The knight flung himself to the ground and rolled just in time, coming up several feet away only to be struck from behind by an arrow. He staggered forward as it drove into his side, cutting through the chain mail and the padded tabard under it to his flesh. He gasped at the sudden pain and subconsciously thought in one of those oddly perceptive moments in a time of danger, that it was one of their own armor-piercing arrows. He looked back up at the Scotsman who had been fighting him. The man was sneering now, raising his sword for the final strike. Reeve got his sword up just in time, but the man swung lower than he had judged, and the tip kept going, cutting deeply into Reeve’s thigh. The Englishman gave one last wild yell as he lunged forward with his sword and stabbed the Scotsman through the middle, his leg giving out at the last minute so that he fell headlong into the boggy ground.
He hauled himself up again, breathing heavily from the pain. He could feel himself weakening from blood loss and he knew he had to get out of there soon before he was killed; perhaps find a horse to ride. He suddenly looked up at another knight, recognizing the tabard he wore.
“Gerard!” he cried and his friend looked over at him before he ran to his side. He too had lost his horse, it seemed. Reeve ripped a piece off of his tabard to tie around his leg wound, trying to get to his feet. His leg had no strength, however, and every move he took jostled the arrow in him, making him groan and clench his teeth.
“Reeve! You’re wounded,” Gerard said, getting an arm under his shoulder and hauling him to his feet. “Come on, they’ve called the retreat! There’s nothing we can do. Cressingham’s been killed and the Scots have us trapped. We have to go now!”
Reeve barely heard what he was saying as he was keeping all his mind on just putting one foot in front of the other. Gerard hauled him away as well as he could.
“Come on, Reeve, just a little farther,” he said. “Come on, I’m not dying here today!”
Reeve tried to pick up the pace, but he fell again, his wounded right leg was bleeding profusely and the arrow still sticking from him twisted and dug deeper as it was pressed against Gerard’s side where he leaned against him. Reeve cried out in pain and crumpled on the ground. Gerard cursed and tried to haul him to his feet again. Reeve looked behind him, panting, and saw that a group of Scots were coming toward them. Gerard saw them too and looked down at Reeve, fear clearly written on his face.
“Get up! Get up!” he screamed. “They’ll kill us!”
“I can’t,” Reeve told him weakly. “Make a stand with me, we might be able to hold them off.” Somehow, he realized, he had still managed to hold onto his sword. He made an honest effort to get to his feet and he swore he would fight to his last breath.
Gerard looked back again and then started to back away, dropping Reeve’s arm from his grasp. “I can’t, I’m sorry.”
“Where are you going?” Reeve asked him, trying to haul himself to his feet again with the aid of his sword.
“I’m sorry Reeve. Elizabeth—I—I can’t leave her. I’m sorry.” And just like that he sprinted across the field with the retreating knights and Reeve was left stunned, not knowing what to think. When he got his voice back he finally screamed after him.
“You coward! You leave your comrade on the field?! Coward!”
“Look what we have here!”
Reeve spun around as hands grabbed him and hauled him up and he found himself looking into the wild face of a dark-haired Scotsman. He struggled to get out of the man’s grasp, but his sword was knocked disdainfully from his hand and he was too weak to fight them single-handedly with only his fists. The man struck him across the face and he fell into a puddle, sprawling out on his back. The Scots laughed as he was hauled upright again, gasping in pain as the arrow dug deeper.
“A knight is good for a ransom, I’m thinking. Perhaps we shall take him back to camp and we might get some money out of him.”
“He’s no  worth it, Gavin. He’s damaged goods,” said another man.
“Well, he can always be our camp trĂ ill. Someone needs to do the mending and wash the dishes.”
Reeve struggled up again but the man’s foot was on his chest and he was grinning down at him.
“Don’t bother yerself,” he said in mock pity. “You have no strength left. You should rest.”
“I have all the strength I need,” Reeve spat then gritted his teeth with a bitten off scream as the man nudged the broken-off arrow shaft sticking from his side.
“I think you might do better with a little rest,” the Scotsman told him in a mock kind voice. “Sleep tight, Sassenach.”
The last thing Reeve saw was the hilt of a sword coming toward his face before he blacked out.
 

7 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for interviewing me! I really want to take a look at your books eventually as I'm rather fond of Westerns and I think that you have Scottish characters in them? And that makes it all better ;)

    Slainte!

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  2. It's great having you here at the blog Hazel and the book sounds wonderful! I'm looking forward to reading it.

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  3. Excellent interview! I love good old-fashioned brothers-in-arms stories too. :-) I enjoyed "On a Foreign Field"--it was great getting the Wallace story from the perspective of an Englishman! I'm looking forward to Ms. West's next book.

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  4. Thank you for hosting Hazel today MK :). As always, excellent interview!

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  5. Well, I just ordered the book, so I'm looking forward to reading it (and of course I'll review it too). :)

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  6. I hope you enjoy it, MK =)

    @Amanda: Let's keep the brother-in-arms stories alive, yes? =)

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