Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wonder of Rome

Because of the blog hop and book giveaway (keep reading), we will have Zen Tuesday this week instead of Zen Monday.

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blog hop
"At the very south ende of the chirch of South-Cadbyri standeth Camallate, sumtyme a famose toun or castelle, apon a very torre or hille, wunderfully enstregnthenid of nature. . .The people can telle nothing ther but that they have hard say that Arture much resortid to Camalat."
- John Leland, 1542

I'm honored to participate in a blog hop this week called "The Wonder of Rome." Writers of Historical Fiction who specialize in Roman History are part of the hop.

Wait a minute. My novel, Camelot & Vine, is about a failed Hollywood actress who falls through a gap in time and saves the life of King Arthur, who is, at best, a mythical character. What does that have to do with the history of Rome?

Quite a bit, actually. I didn't know that when I began to research Camelot & Vine. But the more I learned, the more I understood that had there been a King Arthur figure, he would have lived in late 5th-early 6th Century post-Roman Britain. He and his people would still be feeling the effects of the Roman legacy, which had lasted 366 years and left Britain vulnerable and in turmoil.

My idea for the story came from a visit to England in 1999. From the top of the Glastonbury Tor, I asked a tour guide what was that hill I saw to the south? "That's Cadbury Hill," he said. "It's said to have been Camelot." I was hooked! Could the hill I saw have been Camelot? Was there a real King Arthur?

Yes and no. There was no Camelot, nor was there a person named King Arthur. But someone lived on that hill, likely a great warrior and his entourage, in the early 6th Century. And someone united the Britons in that part of the country, around that time, to hold off their invaders for a generation. Riothamas, perhaps. Many perhapses.

cadbury

I read everything I could get my hands on. But the history, archaeology, and speculation were not enough. I wanted to go to Camelot--not the prettified, knights-and-ladies Camelot from the musical (though I loved the musical)--not the idealized, heroic Camelot from Chretien de Troyes or Sir Thomas Mallory--not even the sweet, wise picture of Camelot painted by T.H. White. I wanted to go to the real, dark ages-era, Cadbury hill. Cadebir.

But honey, it's dangerous there!

So I sent Casey Clemens. Like me, Casey is an actor in Hollywood, rethinking her path. Unlike me, she's made a lot of mistakes. (Okay, I've made some, just not the same ones.) On the eve of her 40th birthday, Casey's mistakes catch up with her. She flees Hollywood to England, where a freak accident sends her flying through a gap in time. She lands in 500 AD, accidentally saving King Arthur's life.

Casey knows little of history, only what she remembers learning at her Daddy's knee. Her father was a historian, specializing in late Rome and early Britain. As Casey is carried across the Salisbury Plain, chained in a wagon, she gets up the nerve to ask one of her captors how long it will take to get to Camelot, where she believes they're going. He corrects her ("Cadebir," the oldest word I could find for Cadbury Hill), then tells her it won't be long. "It's a good road," he says. "Roman." As if that's all one needs to know.

Casey marvels at the condition of the road after a hundred years, and wishes her father could see it. She misses him, though it's years since his death. Casey's got a lot of things to figure out around the subject of men.

It's fantasy, but I wanted to set the story in reality. I used the kind of clothes people would have worn at that time. I researched what kinds of foods were available in Somerset (which wasn't Somerset yet) in 500 AD. I sent the characters on treks and errands along the Roman roads. I even created a bit of language, based on the few words that survive from early Brythonic, with some Cornish thrown in.

Much of the story takes place atop Cadbury Hill, also known as Cadbury Castle, not only because "It's said to have been Camelot," but because there really was a settlement on the hilltop at around 500 AD. The hill's history as a fort goes back much further, with evidence of occupation in Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age times. Excavations have shown that Romans and Saxons also used the hillfort.

Referring mostly to the work of archaeologist Leslie Alcock in the 1960's, I put a great hall, a church, and several huts on the hilltop and mapped them out as Alcock had found them. I added a Roman barracks, which Alcock's research also discovered. His work also justified the theory that a great Brythonic leader had lived there with his entourage at around the turn of the 6th Century, and that they had trade with other countries.

I believe that using as much reality in my story as I could find helps to ground Casey's adventure in truth. But it's a fantasy, really. A lost woman finds herself. That story could be set almost anywhere.

Between 8/15/13 and 8/19/13, one random commenter will win a free copy of my novel, Camelot & Vine. So feel free to say something!
Please visit and say hello to the other blog hop participants. They're knowledgeable about the topic, and creative in expressing it.

Our fearless leader, David Pilling

This post also appears on my writer blog, http://petreaburchard.com/blog-2/.

28 comments:

LONDONLULU said...

Oh how lovely to read this, Petrea. What a nice glimpse into your past (and present) inspirations. You made me think of Old Sarum, near Salisbury - these ancient places & hills are full of wonder.

Petrea Burchard said...

I agree about the wonder! I never even got to Cadbury Hill, but the thought of it wouldn't leave me.

John Henry Clay said...

Also never been to Cadbury Hill - but now I must!

John

http://wordpress.johnhenryclay.co.uk/

Petrea Burchard said...

Yes, you must. I get the feeling that it's a bit unassuming these days, at least less so than it was 1,000 years ago. But you will be able to imagine the details.

Dina said...

The picture is beautiful, and so are your ideas.

Petrea Burchard said...

You have taught me about Rome as well, Dina. There's so much to learn.

Mik's $ Toy said...

Is this book age appropriate for older children and teens? Thanks!

Petrea Burchard said...

It depends, Mik's $ Toy. There are no sex scenes or swear words in the book, although there's some violence. The main character refers to having sex (though we don't see it), and in the beginning she's dating a married man. She learns her lesson, though.

Ms M said...

Fascinating to read about your research and process of writing Camelot & Vine! I really enjoyed how realistically you created that world. I could smell it, hear it, feel the textures, see it through Casey's eyes.

Petrea Burchard said...

Thank you, Ms M! I appreciate your kind words very much and I'm so glad you liked it.

John Sandel said...

I will testify publically, as the husband, that Petrea has not only beautiful words & ideas, but a beautiful soul. she is delightfully shiny.

Katie said...

What fun be part of this blog hop! And I think Camelot & Vine fits right in with the History of Rome theme. You've done a great job summarizing not only the wonderful story but a bit about your research. I loved the book, and now I want to visit Cadbury Hill too! And learn more about Roman history . . . time to hop!

Petrea Burchard said...

JS: Thank you, sweetie.

Katie, I'm glad you liked it. And yes, I hope everyone will look at the other blogs involved. I've learned a lot by reading them and the stuff is fascinating.

LONDONLULU said...

Just popping in quick to say I'm so glad you enjoyed the SH/Jeremy Brett episode! (And even spotted *the door* from the photo). I became a Brett fan after Sherlock Holmes; the range of his roles is just incredible.

Susan Campisi said...

It's quite a feat to build the story of Camelot & Vine from that initial spark of inspiration. I loved following Casey along on her journey. You really made her world come to life.

Petrea Burchard said...

Lulu, I loved Jeremy Brett. He is much missed.

Thanks, Susan. I don't know everyone's process, but I would guess most writers do the same--follow an initial spark to see where it leads. Some are dead ends! It helps to find a passion for the story, because you have to stick with it a long time.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Oh Holy Grail!

The Roman Empire-Christainity is Mr V's favorite topic. For the last decade he's been using it as a theme in his work. And why we go to those reenactments down in Pedro. I'll be passing it on to him

btw: this interest included creating Roman sandals for my birthday. Funny thing, instead of being a woman's size 11 - they ended up fitting a man's size 13. Sneaky Pete

Petrea Burchard said...

Sneaky Pete ought to be able to find a plethora of inspiration on Rome and Christianity on line. He might check out the blogs in the hop and see what interests him. I didn't know about the reenactments, tell us more. Romessance Faire?

K Brennan said...

Well, I've been meaning to grab a copy - but why not try the contest anyway? Haha.

It's always interesting to hear about a writer's process after their work is published. Historical fiction certainly seems a much more daunting task than I would expect.

Baroness Barren said...

Loved reading about this. The village I lived in in the Cotswolds was right off the Fosseway, aka the Roman Road, and nearby the amazing National Trust Site, the Chedworth Roman Villa.

Petrea Burchard said...

K, we could make it all up but someone would notice.

Baroness, I am biting back my jealousy! Maybe on my next trip...

Margaret said...

Fun! I can say that this book is fabulous! I congratulate the lucky winner.

Petrea Burchard said...

Thanks, Margaret. I'm going to put all the names in a hat tomorrow and have John draw out a random winner.

I had posted this on my other blog, and some people weren't able to comment there so I posted it here. This means I'll be giving away two copies. If you want an extra chance, go to http://petreaburchard.com/2013/08/15/wonder-of-rome/ and see if WordPress will allow you to comment.

Petrea Burchard said...

And the winner is...
LondonLulu! Thank you all for reading and commenting. This blog hop has been a lot of fun.

LONDONLULU said...

Petrea, just spotted your comment! (Sorry, it's been a long day) Thanks so very much!! I know I've got your email somewhere and will drop you a note!

Petrea Burchard said...

Long day here, too! I left it in my comment at your site, but you can also find an email link in my "full profile" here.

BurkartHarrison said...

Sounds like a great book, one that you've put a lot of time and research into.

Petrea Burchard said...

Thanks, Burkart. I discovered that writing a book is easy, but writing a good book is hard. And I loved it.