Thursday, September 3, 2015

THE OUTLANDER KING: Q&A with Hilary Rhodes

The story of The Lion and the Rose and the Norman Conquest continues in this spellbinding new princes, she must choose her alliances carefully in a game of thrones where the stakes are unimaginably high. Embroiled in rebellions and betrayals, Aislinn learns the price of loyalty, struggles to find her home, and save those she loves – and, perhaps, her own soul as well.

This historical fiction series from author Hilary Rhodes, pulling back the curtain on the lives of two remarkable women connected across centuries: Aislinn, a seventeen-year-old English girl caught up in the advancing army of the “outlander king,” the man who will become known to history as William the Conqueror. Thrust into the center of the new Norman court and a dizzying web of political intrigue and plotting

Almost nine hundred years later in 1987, Selma Murray, an American graduate student at Oxford University, is researching the mysterious “Aethelinga” manuscript, as Aislinn’s chronicle has come to be known. Trying to work out the riddles of someone else’s past is a way for Selma to dodge her own troubling ghosts – yet the two are becoming inextricably intertwined. She must face her own demons, answer Aislinn’s questions, and find forgiveness – for herself and others – in this epically scaled but intimately examined, extensively researched look at the creation of history, the universality of humanity, and the many faces it has worn no matter the century: loss, grief, guilt, redemption, and love.


What has been your greatest pleasure in writing The Outlander King?
As I discuss in my author’s note, the book came to me all at once during my junior year of college at Oxford University, and had a deep and lasting effect on both my time there and my life after – it’s due to the love of medieval history sparked by this book that I am about to start my doctoral studies in the United Kingdom in less than two weeks! It’s rare you can say that a project changes your life for good, but this one has, and I continue to enjoy discovering where it leads me.

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?
I enjoy historical fiction for many reasons: creating detailed and engaging settings to immerse the reader, exploring other places and times, and especially in my case, fighting back against the misperception that these people were any less complicated and thoughtful and interesting than we are. One of the joys of this time period (I’m a medievalist in both fiction and academia) is discovering the richness and intrigue of a much-maligned era, and being able to work with some truly fascinating people. As well, historical fiction often tends to be overwritten or needlessly ornate, and I think that telling a good story well, and making it accessible to someone who doesn’t want to have to keep a reference book on hand throughout, is important. I always assume the reader is intelligent and can follow a complex story, but I also don’t want the writing to get in the way of or distract from it.

Which writers inspire you?
Some of my favorite writers include George R.R. Martin, Diana Gabaldon, Neal Stephenson, Jonathan Stroud, Paul Auster, and more. I always enjoy big fat fantasy novels with great writing and a lot of world-building; if something in that genre catches my eye, I’ll usually give it a shot. The more nuanced, complicated, flawed, and compelling the characters, the better; I don’t go for black and white and simplistic interpretations. There are sides to every story and good and bad traits in everyone; I like fiction that accurately reflects the complexity of life.

What else have you written?
Many, many things! I started at the age of seven, and haven’t stopped since. The prequels to Outlander King are also available: The Lion and the Rose: William Rising and The Lion and the Rose: The Gathering Storm tell the life of William the Conqueror leading up to the climactic Battle of Hastings, and the sequel and conclusion of the series, The Conqueror’s Bane, will be released at the end of September. I also run an active Tumblr blog and enjoy participating in online fandom, and have just finished a new novel, Crucesignati, that centers around the premise of Richard the Lionheart and Sultan Saladin being brought back to life in the modern world (based on an actual quote in a medieval primary source). It’s currently being read by my agent, and I have hopes that it’ll be on its way to editors soon.

History Behind The Story
The Outlander King is both the story of the Norman invasion of England in 1066 and how it drastically changes the life of a young Saxon woman named Aislinn, and the story of Selma Murray, a young American graduate student researching Aislinn’s mysterious manuscript in 1980s Oxford. As I myself was at Oxford while writing the novel, many of the details are drawn from my time there, and I was lucky to benefit from such an unimaginably rich library system and scholarly resource for researching all the historical parts of it. (I discovered later that the tutorial I switched to on medieval England is commonly considered one of the hardest history courses in Oxford, but I wouldn’t change a thing).

Secondly, I agonized for almost the entire book if it was an act of unforgivable hubris to place a fictional character, Aislinn, squarely in the crosshairs of such a well-trodden time period. After due consideration, I have decided that it is not. There are several reasons for this. First, the contemporary sources – William of Poitiers, William of Malmesbury, John of Worcester, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Eadmer, Orderic Vitalis, etc. – are all telling different versions of the same story, and all for very specific ideological reasons. Hence, Aislinn is merely recording another version, which works with how history was written in the medieval era and how her story could have been ignored or disregarded for many centuries. As well, I very strongly object to the idea that the only people who existed in history were the ones who got written about, as so many of them are invisible – especially women, which is a natural consequence of the fact that all the sources for this period are composed by monks. It is easy to see how Aislinn could have slipped through without any comment at all, and hence I wanted to give a voice not to William the Conqueror himself (as I do in The Lion and the Rose series) but to a common-born woman, someone who could speak to us from a different side of history.


Hilary Rhodes is a scholar, author, blogger, and all-around geek who fell in love with medieval England while spending a year abroad at Oxford University. She holds a B.A. and M.A. in history, and is currently preparing for doctoral studies at the University of Leeds, fulfilling a years-long dream to return to the UK. In what little spare time she has, she enjoys reading, blogging about her favorite TV shows, movies, and books, music, and traveling.

Connect with the author at Hilary's Blog

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