"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
- 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.
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/.